Recording again under the name twincities, Fletcher McDermott sums up his latest album, memoirs: to dust,in four words – “the sound of decay”. On the record, shortly to be released by Unknown Tone Records, he presents a sublime, occasionally gritty sonic exploration of this concept; sublime in the way it evokes the wistful allure of decay as a form of beauty in itself and gritty in the way it acknowledges decay as an agent of disintegration and decomposition, a silent and immutable force.
The weekly travelogues begin for 2015 with a round-up of recent releases, previews, and other gems of music discovery to share. Daily updates are available on the Stationary Travels Facebook and Twitter feeds and audio/video links to all tracks featured during the month are available on the Songdrop page.
Various Artists | Europe [A Strangely Isolated Place]
Based in Portland Oregon, A Strangely Isolated Place is both a music community and a label that produces excellent music often centered around compelling themes and concepts. Europe is perhaps one of their most outstanding releases: It is “a meticulously curated compilation inspired by some of the most beautiful locations on the continent. Spanning ambient, modern classical, drone and electronica, it’s a journey experienced through the eyes and ears of the artists, capturing their memories, travels, tributes, and exquisite musical depictions.” The list of contributors is top drawer, including names such as Dalot, 36, Marsen Jules, Carbon Based Lifeforms, and Yagya. Unfortunately at this writing the stunning blue vinyl editions are sold out, but even if you missed out, a digital download is a highly recommended. A beautiful collection in both concept and execution. Order: https://astrangelyisolatedplace.bandcamp.com/album/europe Featured track: ‘Home’ by Dalot
Various Artists | sans titre, 2014 [taâlem]
Belgian label taâlem has just released a V/A compilation of artists on their roster called sans titre, 2014. The collection spans a pleasing spectrum of ambient & experimental sounds including the always mesmerizing Tomonari Nozaki, Kissy Suzuki (a side project of Soft label founder David Teboul, aka Linear Bells), and Pleq with Philippe Lamy. Links are provided on the page to other EPs and albums on the label by each artist. Definitely worth exploring. Order: https://taalem.bandcamp.com/album/sans-titre-2014 Featured track: ‘million dreams’ by Tomonari Nozaki
Loscil | For Greta
Loscil is deservedly getting much praise and attention for the stellar Sea Island and Fury and Hecla, his collaboration with Fieldhead. Not to be missed however is this little gem, a 3 track EP called ‘For Greta’ which the artist has released to help raise funds for friends whose daughter is battling Ewing’s Sarcoma, a form of bone cancer. The response visible on Bandcamp is heartwarming and it is not too late if you would like the opportunity to hear these beautiful pieces and contribute. Order: https://loscil.bandcamp.com/album/for-greta Featured track: ‘Lucioles’
Darren Harper | 2/1/15~Drifting/White.Two
Ambient musician Darren Harper brings us another lovely extended work inspired by his locale in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. 2/1/15~Drifting/White.Two is “A late night improvised drift with [his] Telecaster & Ableton Live”. Get lost for 15 minutes in this beautiful sea of gentle noise. Order: https://darrenharper.bandcamp.com/album/2-1-15-drifting-white-two
Jilk & Haiku Salut | Periscopes
‘Periscopes’ is a new collaborative single by two UK based groups, Jilk and Haiku Salut which reflects the whimsical and musically diverse nature of both bands. In the space of 5 plus minutes, it manages to touch on ambient, folk, electronic, and modern classical. It is quirky and fun as it engenders a sense of childlike wonder, but it does so through a cinematic lense making it also very compelling. It is a very nice track and perhaps for some a nice introduction to two very creative bands. Order: https://howdoesitfeeltobeloved.bandcamp.com/track/periscopes
Jo Quail | This Path With Grace
Cellist and composer Jo Quail is back with a stunning new work called ‘This Path With Grace’, a twenty minute excursion in four movements which she says is probably her most ambitious and testing piece so far. It was debuted in her “Nocturnes” concert performance held on Feb 7, 2015 at St. John on Bethnal Green with The Green Army Choir. The listener is held in rapturous attention as her stunning electric cello sounds meld with acoustic strings, voice, and percussion as the music creates moments both intensely intimate and incredibly expansive. Order: https://joquail.bandcamp.com/track/this-path-with-grace
Porya Hatami | Shallow Remixed
Shallow was one of several outstnding releases in 2014 by Iranian ambient and electroacoustic artist Porya Hatami. The music from the recording has been place in the hands of a group of stellar electronic musicians to rework with a roster inlcuding Loscil, Sven Laux, Purl, The Green Kingdom, and Arovane. Expanded textures and subtle dub aesthetics meet serene minimal ambient to create something new that will no doubt be eminently listenable and gorgeously atmospheric. Shallow Remixed will be released by Dewtone Recordings. Pre-orders are available and the official release is planned for Feb 17. Order: http://dewtonerecordings.com/album/shallow-remixed Featured track: ‘Fen’ by Loscil
Tracey Chattaway | Nightsky
Australian musician Tracey Chattaway specializes in “piano and cinematic soundscapes” and she will soon be releasing her new full-length effort “Nightsky”. Based on the sparkling melodies and tender arrangement of ‘Love is Here’, this should be a very enjoyable outing. Pre-orders and a sampler of all the tracks are currently available. Official release is planned for Feb 19. Order: https://traceychattaway.bandcamp.com/album/nightsky Featured track: ‘Love is Here’
twincities | Memoirs: to dust [Unknown Tone]
Fletcher McDermott who records as twincities had a stunning 2014 releasing a stunning pair of recordings, the full length Variations on the Celesta and the September Tapes EP, as well as mastering one of the year’s finest albums, A Comet’s Coma by Aaron Martin. He follows up with a new full length record on Unknown Tone called Memoirs: to dust, an elegant study in decay: “The, “sound of decay” thing I’ve kind of had floating around as a tagline for the album of sorts. I don’t know that I like using the term “concept album”, but if my last full length focused on the celesta, this one definitely focused on decaying sound.” – Fletcher McDermott A full review is soon to follow, but this record only enhances McDermott’s growing reputation as a fine craftsman of electroacoustic sound. The addition of viola and cello on some of the tracks only enhances the beauty. Not to be missed. Order: https://unknowntonerecords.bandcamp.com/album/memoirs-to-dust Featured track: ‘gentle melody’
Tegh & Kamyar Tavakoli | Through the Winter Woods [Hibernate]
Shahin Entezami (aka Tegh) and Kamyar Tavakoli have worked together before as Artirial, but their latest recording under their own names promises to explore deeper and denser sonic territories. Through the Winter Woods will be released via Hibernate Recordings has been mastered by none other than Lawrence English. The preview track, ‘Hollow’, is simply stunning. Release is planned for March in a limited run of 60 3″ CDs. http://hibernate-recs.co.uk/2015/02/tegh-and-kamyar-tavakoli-through-the-winter-trees/ Featured track: ‘Hollow’
Bill Seaman | f (noir) [Eilean Rec.]
Looking at their catalog, it is hard to believe that the Eilean Rec. label only started last year and there are no signs of letup in the creative flow. In early March, a new map point will be added in the form of an album by composer Bill Seaman called f (noir). I confess to not being familiar with his earlier work, which looking at his CV is quite extensive in both composition and academia. But I was quite entranced with the preview track called ‘ending (part 2)’ and am looking forward both to the album and learning more about his work as well. Featured track: ‘ending (part 2)’
Ben Chatwin | The Sleeper Awakes [Village Green]
For the first time recording under his own name rather than Talvihorros, Ben Chatwin will put out The Sleeper Awakes on Village Green, his first full length work since Eaten Alive. While there is a continuity in style in evidence in the preview track ‘Mirroring’, there is also the promise of something that is both brighter and more expansive than it’s somber and unflinching predecessor. Chatwin writes: “I wanted ‘The Sleeper Awakes’ to represent the idea of a future that has been and gone. Before the information and telecommunications revolution there was a beautiful yet weird, naivety about what the future might bring and it was this that I tried to tap into whilst making the record.” – Ben Chatwin We will have to wait until May for the complete album, so mark your calendar. More info: http://villagegreenrecording.co.uk/news/ben-chatwin-the-sleeper-awakes Featured track: ‘Mirroring’
Gothenburg based poet & musician Leonardo Rosado has devoted himself to “working the collision between sound, poetry and everyday life”. Sometimes those collisions become albums, as is the case with Adrift, a seven song opus released by Oak Editions. One would understandably be tempted to call it ambient drone, but Rosado prefers to label it as “drone expressionism” and “sound poems”. After spending sometime with this gem of a recording, I would find it hard to argue with either of those appellations.
Before diving into the music, it helps to know where the artist was coming from in creating it and Rosado provides a lucid and eloquent explanation for us:
“Every once in awhile real and imaginary stories are the stuff that occupy our thoughts. They populate our dreams at every stage of our biography, they evolve backwards to previous iterations or leap forward to uncharted territories. Adrift was composed trying to capture this set of emotions, images and barely coherent scripts to give a glimpse of my own journey through sensations. The use of sound to convey emotions is perhaps the common denominator in all my work and the search for a universal code language is what I mostly want to achieve.” – Leonardo Rosado
So while the music here does have the characteristics of drone in terms of atmosphere and flow, it can also be viewed as a distillation of human experience into musical form, a portrait of memory and emotion painted in sound. This is evident in the titles of the songs, the emotions bonded into the musical layers, and the grainy textures and environmental sounds which ground it with a sense of place and time.
‘Descent’ opens the album with an earnest solemnity that immediately strikes a pose of introspection and stillness. Rosado then uses the sea as a motif and a metaphor for the next several tracks. ‘Adrift’, with its undulating tones soaked in light amid a soft cacophony of passing cars and seagulls squawking overhead, gives way to the denser twilight sounds of ‘Washed Ashore’ and then the submersed tones of ‘Sinking’. In the next section of the album, ‘Flatline’ breathes melancholy while the stark ‘Ground and Sky’ explores both earthy and airy textures creating a sense of tension which is only resolved by the gentle catharsis of the concluding track, ‘Cleansed’. It is a satisfying arc and an absorbing musical journey.
Adrift is available from Oak Editons in digital and limited edition CD formats and includes a poem written by Rosado centering on the themes expressed in the album.
Featured track: ‘Adrift’
Leaves Stories is a project started in Finland by ambient musician & composer Emmanuel Toledo (aka Eeem) and Lauri Hallikainen, who has been recording natural sounds around the world for nearly 20 years. Hallikainen explains how the project formed and what it aims to acheive:
“This project got started when Emmanuel took contact with me and asked if he could create ‘Electronic Music’ along with the recordings of the nature I had produced. In that way, ” Leaves Stories ” is our first true collaboration, as the result of a process involving many layered iterations and blending digital and analogue techniques. The piece seeks to combine natural sounds and electronic music in the way that these two unusual worlds complete each other” – Lauri Hallikainen
The pair released Leaves Stories (reed) in May of 2014 and began 2015 with the second installment of the series, Leaves Stories (usnea). Each is a long form single track that transports the listener far from the madding crowd to remote Finnish landscapes and lingers there long enough to acclimate the mind to a tranquil but alert state in tune with the patient rhythms of nature.
Leaves Stories (usnea) is described as “an ode to wind and Moog modular V” and the piece begins with these two voices in unison, the rushing breeze raking across tall grass and through the trees in harmony with the oscillations of the synth waves with no other accompaniment other than occasional birdsong in the background. The listener can almost feel the gusts tussle the hair and buffet the face and smell the scent of the woods carried in the brisk air. Any temptation to impatience is muted by the celestial tones of the music as it emerges and recedes into the subconscious.
Toledo and Hallikainen have combined their respective crafts seamlessly to create a world of pure ambient bliss, a place of seclusion and renewal to which one may want to retreat again and again. At this writing both recordings are available as digital downloads offered on a pay what you want basis. The door to a beautiful journey has been opened wide…
Is it possible to create an expansive and engaging full-length sonic journey around just four chords? If those chords are taken from the work of a master like Claude Debussy and subjected to the tender ministrations of an artist as capable as London based composer & sound artist Ed Hamilton, then the answer is a resounding “Yes!” and that is exactly what we find on Hamilton’s second outing on Futuresequence.
“On Arabesque, Hamilton takes the first four chords of Debussy’s ‘Arabesque #1’ and subjects them to various manipulations, reductions, elongations and strangulations. Continuing where ‘Sketches For Skomer’ left off, the resultant sounds are meticulously arranged, this time creating elongated compositions that envelope the listener in loops of minimal electronic tones and ambient backdrops, carefully aligned into repetitive melodic phrases.” – (from the Futuresequnce site)
What makes the album so interesting and absorbing are the inventive juxtapositions of acoustic and electronic instrumentation that create a wide variety of textures and fluid patterns. Just as an arabasque is an ornamental design consisting of intertwined flowing lines, Hamilton weaves tendrils and volutes of sound into seamless arrangements that mesmerize and delight the ear. Strings, piano, percussion, and voice all float on viscous, oscillating ambient waves to create sounds that are alternately beguiling, contemplative, and even majestic.
Sometimes the transformation happens in the same piece as on the opening track ‘Rhaeadrau for RM’ which begins with what sounds like a decelerated music box which slowly decays before blossoming forth into string like swells. This pattern is reprised somewhat in the following track, ‘Blue Lagoon’, before a sunny warmth appears in ‘Cirrostratus’ by way of harmonium sounds and jangling percussion in a slightly off kilter marching cadence. This sets up the gorgeous centerpieces of the album, ‘Arabasque #1’ and ‘Waterlog’. Hamilton then brings the proceedings to a conclusion with the crackling textures of ‘Rake, Migrate’ and the ethereal ‘A Year in a Day’.
The idea of elongating and manipulating classic pieces of music to create ambient soundscapes appears to be becoming more popular. Other recent noteworthy examples are Freudvoll und Lindvoll by Sima Kim (on Dronarivm) and Ganymede by Danny Clay (on Hibernate Recordings). Hamilton’s Arabesque demonstrates that this is a fruitful, if not fallow, field in which to work and it is a delightful recording.
Arabesque will be available on vinyl, but note that it is a crowd-funded pre-order which will proceed only after a minimum number is reached. Pre-orders of the digital version can placed on the Bandcamp site. Links are provided directly below.
Vinyl pre-order: http://www.futuresequence.com/arabesque/
Featured track: ‘Arabesque no. 1’:
Note: If like me you were not completely familiar with the original piece by Debussy, here is a recording accompanied by a wonderful video visualizing the musical patterns:
Richard J. Birkin has not only a fine ear for music, but apparently also a keen eye for unique & creative contexts that suit his ideas and compositions. While he continues to develop in a band context with Emphemetry and Crash of Rhinos, he is building up a lovely body of work to accompany art installations and multimedia projects. Consider Night Sun, a beguiling interactive music & photography exhibit commissioned by Arts Council England and Accretions which he composed for the Event Horizon exhibition at QUAD in Derby, UK.
His latest is Songs for Spoken Words, which has multiple components: (1) an EP of instrumental music, (2) a mobile app that provides words to accompany the music, and (3) live performances which utilize yet another app called Rubato to interact with the audience during the performance. In addition, Birkin will performing the music at a couple of special launch shows with the Iskra String Quartet who have collaborated with artists and notable and diverse as Johann Johannsson, Radiohead, the xx, Vampire Weekend, Sufjan Stevens, and Dustin O’Halloran.
Focusing on the music aspect of the project, the overall mood is reflective and melancholic spanning a spectrum that ranges from the warm slow-indie vibe that bookends the album (‘Being That Person’ and ‘Goodbye’) to modern classical motifs rendered with a dash of cinematic melodrama in such achingly beautiful pieces as ‘That Night’ and ‘One’. Everything is elegantly and minimally arranged, featuring crystal clear acoustic guitar, resonating strings, and just a faint smattering of electronics.
Songs for Spoken Words is worth the price of admission for the music alone; each tune is engaging, both easy on the ear and able to summon wistful feelings in the listener. But one can grasp how Birkin set the pacing and left open spaces so that the music could both be enjoyed both on its own or as soundtrack to accompanying words that will follow. The latter pleasure can be enjoyed by attending one of the live shows or downloading the app after obtaining the album.
Songs for Spoken Words is available via Time Travel Opps as a digital download or as a single-sided cream coloured 12″ vinyl with printed inner sleeves limited to 250 copies. Links below for more information about the recording, apps, and shows.
Official site: http://songsforspokenwords.com/
Featured track: ‘Being That Person’
Video about the Rubato audience interaction app: