clicking down the delta: paul margree on mikroton recordings

September 10, 2017 at 6:05 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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MKM – Instants//Paris (Mikroton Recordings)

Burkhard Beins / Lucio Capece / Martin Küchen / Paul Vogel -Fracture Mechanics (Mikroton Recordings)

Ease – No No No, No (Mikroton Recordings)

Alfredo Costa Monteiro / Miguel A. Garcia – Aq’Ab’Al (Mikroton Recordings)

Kurt Liedwart / Andrey Popovskiy / Martin Taxt – Hjem (Mikroton Recordings)

The Holy Quintet – Borough (Mikroton Recordings)

 Kurt Liedwart’s Mikroton Recordings has been broadcasting dispatches from the outer realms of aural voyaging since 2009. Its discography takes in luminaries of abstract improvised sounds such as Keith Rowe, Jason Kahn and Burkhard Beins, as well as newer voices such as Lucio Capece or Miguel A. Garcia.

Mapping the label’s aesthetic would probably encompass the slow ruptures of Crypt-era AMM, the bruising subtleties of Berlin Echtzeitmusik and the glacial intensity of reductionism and its adherents. Electroacoustic improvisation is the phrase you’d reach for, I guess. But take a few steps into this Moscow label’s back catalogue and it becomes clear that this term is about as useful as mapping the ever-widening delta of these musicks as a paper cup is for boiling an egg.

Keeping up with Liedwart’s release schedule can be exhausting. But it’s rewarding, too. Time spent with a Mikroton release opens your brain and ears to the wonders of unconventional sound. Everyday objects are reconfigured into talismanic sonic generators and the orthodoxies of conventional instrumentation are subverted. Hurricanes in the bathtub. Prickles on the skin of a bubble. Scuffles in the grey dawn.

Most of the releases under review here came out earlier in the year. There have been several more since. But as entry points into Mikroton’s fascinating discography, they can’t be beat.

mkm

MKM – Instants//Paris (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

Back in 2012,the Swiss trio of Jason Kahn, Günter Müller and Norbert Möslang assembled in Paris for a lively session of hustle and grind. It wasn’t the first time they’d played together – their debut release was back in 2008 – but sufficient vitality remains here to counter any familiarity.

Kahn has since put his analogue synth and radio setup to one side in preference for longform vocal extemporizations, but this performance never feels like a museum piece. His contributions lock together with Müller and Möslang’s cracked consumer electronics to produce bursts of junkshop argy-bargy in which individual contributions are subsumed into the overarching grey drizzle.

Early sections are a bustling farrago, the collection of gritty burps and high, needling tones not dissimilar to ‘Valentine’, Kahn’s head-to-head with Phil Julian from a year or so back.

It’s chewy, tangible stuff, the irregular bursts of noise like some slo-mo Super 8 footage of a trio of dune buggies carving up the terminal beach. The crew swerve away from any kind of crescendo or manipulative sonic topography, instead allowing the vicissitudes of their kit and caboodle to create natural peaks and lulls. They can’t help building up a head of steam towards the end, though, with a full-spectrum chunter that would give a factory full of boiling kettles a run for its money, before cutting out for an appropriately deadpan finale.

Fracture-Mechanics

Burkhard Beins / Lucio Capece / Martin Küchen / Paul Vogel – Fracture Mechanics (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

An allusive take on multidimensional improvisation from this collection of veterans, most of whom exist as points on the Echtzeitmusik/reductionist/electroacoustic axis.

Where ‘Instants//Paris’ was rough-edged and impolite, ‘Fracture Mechanics’ is enigmatic and considered. Long, breathy saxophone hoots waft across a jittery bed of interference. Glottal clicks rattle between glassy tones like a spittle flecked metronome in a temple. In ‘Pebble Snatch’, two saxophones – Capece on soprano and Küchen on tenor – moan in prehistoric lament. ‘Pendentive’ sets a cavern of ritualistic percussion against lattices of frowning gurgles and hand-bell tinkles.

There’s a lot going on under these unruffled surfaces. A wide-ranging array of equipment – the usual speakers, iPod, radios and objects you’d expect from this milieu, plus saxophones, hand oscillators, e-bowed zithers, monotron, snare drum and, best of all, ‘air from another planet contained in terrestrial glassware’ – yields a rich matrix of effects, but the space is never crowded. Restraint is as important as variety, the cumulative experience of the four players giving them an intuitive sense of when to hold back and when to push out.

Recorded in Ljubljana in 2014, ‘Fracture Mechanics’ is a prime example of the Mikroton aesthetic, with the slow-burn epic of ‘Transmogrification’ a highlight. An ear-rinsing squeal is a low-decibel, high-frequency endurance test, its groan as insistent as a fridge left open in the middle of the night. Godzilla rumbles drag themselves across a vast plain. Its 30-minute runtime resembles an aerial flythrough of a sleeping hive mind, occasional neuron flashes lighting up the dreaming nerve-centre. When it ends, you awake, refreshed.

Ease

Ease – No No No, No (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

I have a soft spot for handmade or custom-built instruments. They force innovation through defamiliarisation. Lacking history, tradition, convention, players have to bend their usual techniques into new shapes, or adopt new ones.

In electronic music, where easy-to-use interfaces combined with infinite variety results in comfort zone-produced cliché, self-made or hand-coded systems are an essential part of keeping things fresh.

And so it goes with ‘Ease’, a Viennese duo of Klaus Filip and Arnold Haberl, aka Noid. The pair uses ppooll, an open-source software tool, to create eerie and minimal computer soundscapes. Both musicians are programmers and are deeply involved in ppooll’s development community (indeed, Filip was one of the founders of the system) and so both are adept in manipulating their system to achieve astounding results – the compositions here are elegant, dense and compelling, moving with the unpredictable implacability of a weather system across a mountain range. There’s an occasional resemblance to fellow countrymen Farmer’s Manual’s live-coded suppleness in the constant, gradual shifts of these two long tracks. There’s also a gritty edge, recalling Kevin Sanders’ briefcase synth cosmologies.

In fact, of all Mikoton’s recent releases, ‘No No No, No’ is the one that fits best into the No-Audience Underground or Extraction Music taxonomies. It’s thanks mainly to the way in which Filip and Haberls’ individual contributions come together – the former moulding sine waves and high tones into beautiful forms, like a glassblower creating a set of skeletal, numinous sculptures, while the latter processes field recordings and natural sounds into rough, low-end rumbles and soft beachy huffs. An addictive, immersive recording.

aq-ab-al

Alfredo Costa Monteiro / Miguel A. Garcia – Aq’Ab’Al (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

If that all sounds a tad refined, Aq’Ab’Al might just be aggressive enough to whet your whistles.

These four chunks of intense cyborg aggression from this Iberian duo balance driller-killer vibrations with a seismically-potent low-end, all rendered in terrifying hi-definition clarity. Skynet tone-clouds meet earthmover grumbles in abrupt, dystopic visions of posthumanity. It’s thrilling, visceral stuff, brutal enough to shatter the gallery politesse of much art-music, yet retaining sufficient detail and ideas to keep you interested through repeated exposure to its tungsten surfaces.

The title comes from Mayan astrology and refers to opposites, change and renewal. While it is strange that something so unnervingly futuristic should take an ancient religion as its touchstone, Monteiro and Garcia are only the latest in a line of experimental artists reaching back through the past for inspiration. Think of Eliane Radigue’s ‘Song of Milarepa’, (inspired by the teachings of the ancient Tibetan Buddhist scholar), Morton Subotnik’s ‘The Wild Bull’(the title comes from the Epic of Gilgamesh) or Milton Babbit’s ‘Philomel’ (based on a myth from Ovid’s). In any case, listeners familiar with Mayan ideas about the end of the world – remember 2012? And Mel Gibson? – won’t have to try too hard to find the duo’s high-velocity screeches and catastrophic thunderclaps appropriately apocalyptic. These guys have seen the future. And it is murder.

Hjem

Kurt Liedwart / Andrey Popovskiy / Martin Taxt – Hjem (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

The ppooll system makes another appearance here, this time in the hands of label boss Kurt Liedwart, in a trio with Norwegian tuba player Martin Taxt and St Petersburg violinist Andrey Popovskiy.

This is quiet noise of a superior kind, Taxt and Liedwart ganging up to create laminal extended horizons through which Popovskiy scratches rough and ready paths. Taxt’s tuba is great, its long brassy parps calling out like the mating calls of mysterious sea monsters, the affectless playing unable to banish the final traces of the instrument’s characteristic pathos. Liedwart’s electronics fizzle and splutter in parallel, muddy splatters morphing into frothy sploshes before emptying into micromanaged arpeggios.

If this were a duo, this would all be rather too symmetrical for me. Fortunately, Popovskiyis a wild card, his viola, electronics and objects adding welcome wayward notes to the meditative jam. At one point, a sound like a rusty gate cuts through the cool drones, soon followed by a load of bashing and banging, as if the janitor of the Dom Cultural Centre in Moscow (where this was recorded) has chosen the worst possible time to repair the central heating system. It’s a cue for things to get scrappier, with various rustles and clonks prodding Taxt into exhausted, erratic honks, while by nervy gusts of electronics chatter their support.

borough

The Holy Quintet – Borough (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

 Recorded in the Welsh Congregational Chapel in Borough, southeast London, this quintet of Johnny Chang (Viola), Jamie Drouin (suitcase modular and radio), Dominic Lash (double bass), Lazaridou-Chatzigoga (zither) and David Ryan (bass clarinet) takes on an appropriately spectral quality as their manifold creaks, strikes and crunches fade in and out of hearing.

Like a lot of Mikroton releases, the link between the players, their instruments and the sounds that we hear on the record are mysterious. Here the disconnect is even more pronounced. Sure, those stringy bumps could be Dominic Lash’s bow bouncing across his cello strings and that hollow, silvery tone could David Ryan’s bass clarinet. But, on the whole, sounds float free from their moorings, sonic manifestations divorced from their physical aspects. As a result, these two sets exist somewhere between possession and haunting, the personnel mimicking a Victorian spiritualist meeting, the attendees channeling the ghostly music of the aether even as they’re taunted by cheeky, restless spirits.

The uncredited sixth player in this quintet is silence. There’s a talk a lot about silence in the experimental music world – how much of it to allow in a performance or a recording, whether we can ever achieve true silence, how to banish it, even.  Yet we rarely acknowledge that silence is not a fixed, immutable entity. It can be blissful, mysterious, meditative, depending on the context. Here it is oppressive, claustrophobic, bearing down on these ghostly voices like a force field. Absence becomes presence, and sound becomes a last barrier against oblivion.

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