Sound Impression: Branches by Square Peg Round Hole

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Square Peg Round Hole is a percussion-driven instrumental trio based out of Philadelphia, PA. Members Evan Chapman, Sean M. Gill, and Carlos Pacheco-Perez all met while studying at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and formed the project around the inventive use of drum kits, vibraphone, samples, found objects, synths, and vintage analog keyboards to develop a style that draws on elements from post-rock, electronic, ambient, and contemporary classical motifs. Coming off their exhilarating self-released album Corners in 2013, it was the band’s second record, Juniper (2016, Spartan Records) that garnered them some national attention. Composed in rural Maryland and remote Wisconsin, the album unveiled a more abstract, introspective approach but still retained some of the directness and vibrancy of the debut as it was recorded almost entirely in full live takes.

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Through a Musical Lens: Test Subjects (OST) by Aaron Martin

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Alex Lockwood‘s ‘Test Subjects‘ is a short documentary that tells the story of Frances, Emily & Amy – three aspiring research scientists coming to terms with the ethical dilemmas and wrenching emotional burdens associated with conducting animal testing in the ostensible interests of bettering human health. The music for the film was scored by American composer & multi-instrumentalist Aaron Martin and follows his collaboration with From the Mouth of the Sun partner Dag Rosenqvist on the soundtrack for 2017’s acclaimed independent film ‘Menashe‘ as well as his score last year for William Armstrong’s inspiring mini-documentary ‘Adam‘.

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Video Premiere: “Lament” by Sontag Shogun

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While many of us are still savoring the kaleidoscopic panorama of It Billows Up released by Brooklyn-based trio Sontag Shogun this past spring, the band delivered a pleasant surprise along with the turning of leaves in the form of a new EP called Floréal. It is a introspective “mini-suite” in a distinctly autumnal mood that once again finds Ian Temple, Jesse Perlstein, & Jeremy Young in compelling form with their alchemical fusion of foley & tape treatments, organically derived textures, painterly solo piano compositions, and ethereal vocals.

Presented in a cassette tape format, side A belongs to a single immersive composition entitled “Photographs from a moving car” featuring guest vocals by Finnish composer & musician Lau Nau, while side B unfolds in three parts – the moving title track, the collagic “Plaid Lines”, which features the voice of Canadian artist Ora Cogan, and the hauntingly beautiful “Lament” which is featured here in a touching video created by multi-disciplinary artist Joshua Miller using old found footage shot while on a road trip across the United States with his ex-partner.  Though deeply personal in origin, the music and visuals combine to powerfully convey themes of both nostalgia and solastalgia in an especially moving and relatable way.

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Premiere: “Glaciers” by Logan Nelson

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Composer Logan Nelson has as worked on films like Green Book, Dear White People, and other Netflix shows, scored over 40 short films, two web series’, and a video game, written on commercials for companies like Google, Nexus, IBM, & Prudential and just finished up collaborating on a documentary epic about Mt. Everest produced by National Geographic and Sony including a live orchestra recorded in Budapest. That might sound like the CV of a veteran composer, but Nelson was still still a senior at the USC Thornton School of Music when he was named the Best Young International Composer at last year’s World Soundtrack Awards.

Come January of next year, Nelson will be releasing a solo EP entitled Lavender Echoes which branches off from his extensive film work to explore his interest in “blurring the lines between live instrumentalists and electronic atmospheres” in a more abstract way.  The album was recorded in Los Angeles with the members of the Calder Quartet who formed its “backbone” as well as electroacoustic harpist Lara Somogyi and Nashville-based violinist Shawn Williams all of whom gave Nelson a rich tapestry of sound to work with for his endeavor.

“It’s a process that quite literally defines ‘Lavender Echoes’… I think this process is analogous to what technology can do to beauty; taking neither a positive nor negative perspective, but a perspective of manipulation. I hope that the EP represents an honest portrayal of my relationship with music, musicians, and space; and perhaps gives a perspective on the modern definition of beauty through the lens of technology.” – Logan Nelson

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Travelogue: A Journey With Whitelabrecs

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By my count, Whitelabrecs has come out with nearly 70 releases in the four years since it was founded  by Harry Towell (aka Spheruleus).  For the first three, the label strictly followed a set formula in which each release came out on vinyl-effect CDs in a limited run of 50 copies.  This year, Towell has upped the ante with runs of 100 copies and a new packaging motif designed to emulate gatefold vinyl LPs as well as an expanded range of photographers sourcing the artwork.  What has been consistent from the beginning, however, is a steady stream of  highly engaging releases from a thoughtfully curated roster of artists currently working in the ambient, drone, modern classical, electro-acoustic and folk genres.  The six albums featured here have provided me with a great deal of listening pleasure lately, but they only represent a portion of the breadth and depth of what is on offer, so I recommend allowing oneself lots of time to explore during visits to Bandcamp.

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Through a Musical Lens: Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Thomas Bartlett

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Watching a city awaken on autumn morning through rivulets of rain running down a coffee shop window seems only fitting while while listening to the new album created by Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh with his 10-string hardanger d’amore and pianist/producer Thomas Bartlett aka Doveman while musing on the implications of their selection of ‘Snow’ (1960) by pioneering photographer Saul Leiter for the cover.

The two have worked together since 2011 as members of the Irish/American folk supergroup The Gloaming where Bartlett describes their role as making “cloud shapes” around the band’s “volcanic” core, and this new solo record can be seen as something of a serendipitous outgrowth of that project. The initial spark came while The Gloaming was on tour in Mexico in the spring of 2015 and Bartlett and ÓRaghallaigh found themselves alone in a studio session where they ended up creating two tracks (“Zona Rosa” and “The Wanderer”). The rest of the album would be developed over two more sessions, one in Peter Gabriel‘s Real World Studios a year later, and a final one in New York during the autumn of 2017. The end result is equally a fluent conversation between two musicians with a telepathic rapport and a free-spirited peregrination that draws inspiration from musical sources as diverse as Keith Jarrett and Van Morrison as well as literary ones such as WG Sebald, Roald Dahl and Antoine deSaint-Exupéry.

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Video Spotlight: Bryce Dessner and Ensemble Resonanz

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It is one thing to be a versatile musician and quite another to work at the forefront of multiple genres with the kind of virtuosity Bryce Dessner has shown over the past decade. He has won Grammy Awards both as a contemporary classical composer and as guitarist, arranger, and co-principal songwriter of The National as well as receiving both Grammy and Golden Globe nominations for his film score for “The Revenant“.  Dessner has also has written orchestral, chamber, and vocal compositions for the likes of Los Angeles Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Metropolitan Museum of Art (for the New York Philharmonic), and New York City Ballet while his orchestrations can be heard on the albums by such marquee artists as Paul Simon and Bon Iver.

This fall Dessner is releasing Tenebre, a selection of four compositions freshly recorded by Hamburg’s Ensemble Resonanz including an exhilarating orchestral version of the popular “Aheym” originally composed for the Kronos Quartet, a vibrant reworking of the titular piece featuring an appearance by vocalist Moses Sumney, the premiere of a new string trio entitled “Skrik”, and a performance of “Lachrimae”, Dessner’s first composition for string orchestra which references the musical worlds of Renaissance composer John Dowland and Bartók’s Divertimento.


This preview video provides glimpses of the music from the album and captures the palpable excitement of Dessner and the members of Ensemble Resonanz over bringing these pieces to life together, Tenebre is now available digitally with a CD edition coming out later this month.

“When I first heard Ensemble Resonanz perform my music, the energy and precision of the group was somewhat shocking. It’s like there’s a fierceness to the sound, while retaining its depth.” – Bryce Dessner

Links:  Listen/OrderBryce Dessner  |  Ensemble Resonanz

A Sense of Place: Lower River by Michael A. Muller

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In 2006, multi-instrumentalist Michael A. Muller co-founded the Austin-based ensemble Balmorhea which went on to create six full-length records and numerous EPs over the past 13 years while touring globally and producing original scores and track placements for TV & film. Now, Muller makes his full-length debut as a solo artist with Lower River, an album which began as a sound experiment in 2018 that spans from the Oregon coastline all the way to rural southern Italy and the remote fishing villages of southern France. It is an engrossing musical travelogue that is both abstractly referential and deeply introspective, a self-described exploration of “place where time, space, and self are occluded”.

“With a tape recorder in hand, Muller chronicled his journeys through sound, contemplating along the way what it means to deeply listen amid a modern narrative underwritten by distraction. Merging his field recordings with original compositions recorded in his home studio in Austin, Lower River is a sonic venture into other worlds and into the depths of one’s own mind; a study in engaging with sounds that don’t easily slot into pre-existing notions of what a album ‘ought’ to be.”

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Travelogue: A Fluid Audio Journey

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Calling UK-based Fluid Audio a boutique label may be apropos, but it still somehow seems too quaint a description for the level of creativity, sophistication, and craftsmanship that goes into each bespoke edition that comes out of their shop. The music each artist creates is only the beginning as the sense of immersion is enhanced significantly with artful packaging and curated ephemera that deepens the experience – postcards, photos, letters, scents, and other historical artifacts. Every release is truly unique and conveys an aura of authenticity and human connection that is very antithesis of commoditization. Featured here is a quartet of recent entries in their catalog by Emmanuel Witzhum, Tobias Hellkvist, Christopher Whitley, and Kirill Mazhai.

Note: As many readers may already be aware, if you have an interest in obtaining a Fluid Audio release, it is imperative to sign up for their mailing list as they typically sell out early in the pre-order phase. Also note that shortly after physical editions do sell out, digital versions usually become available on the label’s Facture Bandcamp page.

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