Janne Hanhisuanto – Quiet Places (ambient)
self released, 2012, CD-R & DD album, 1 h 3m 41s
$9.95 (CD-R) $5 (DD)
Quietness has been an important trope in avant-garde music since the days of Minimalism I guess, but it has been articulated in many ways, within a diversity of musical practices. The near inactivity to which some free improvisors have gravitated, or John Cage’s invitation to listen to the contextual ambience for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, or the work of many ambient composers, all exploit the signifying power of low amplitudes. Place is also an important theme in many musics; in Cage’s famous piece, the performance space itself becomes composer, performer and material, whereas ambient music usually aims either to colour a place, or to invoke one. The places invoked by Janne Hanhisuanto here are nothing if not quiet. The first sound on the recording is an environmental ambience, some gentle hiss from an indeterminate source, although it is quickly joined by a variety of electronic utterances; placidity and gentle emergence are the order of the day, the compositions inviting a non-interrogative response, a feeling rather than a reading, although they are often complex, both in their timbral structures and their unfolding narratives. This is not to say that they present the listener with no challenges however; although the majority of the music on Quiet Places is consonant and gentle, there are moments when its smooth, subtly shifting skeins of colour assume a dysphoric and ominous aspect. There are also moments, at the opposite affective pole, when they eschew their predominant modalism in favour of confirmational tonal progressions, brief phrases of harmonic closure reminiscent of Vangelis, even developing a beat and skirting space rock territory. Between these extremes a territory is delineated, in which a modicum of creative tension allows a great deal of shape and form to emerge from an ostensibly formless creative practice; ‘quiet places’ these certainly are, and although I’ve heard quieter places, I’ve rarely heard more ‘located’ quietnesses. This immersive album is one to visit as much as to listen to.
Barren Waste – Pick them clean (avant-metal)
self released, 2012, DD album, 45m 53s
$1+ (name your price)
Rock is a particularly diverse area of musical endeavour, so diverse that, as an over-arching descriptor, it tells you very little. Barren Waste are similarly diverse, although in a way that locates much of their output beyond rock’s boundaries; Pick them clean is quite emphatically rock, however, of a loud and experimental bent. Such a bent is what I’ve come to expect from this band, but given their equally consistent penchant for transforming their working practices, I’m always braced for a surprise. In comparison to their earlier outbursts of guitarocentric savagery this release seems somewhat less pre-occupied with the riff, or with the rhythmically unified group aesthetic, and pursues the individualist ‘self-expression’ of psychedelia or the jam band. There are obviously exceptions, such as the oddly stressed ‘Blame it on the Plant people’, but for the most part this is an album of soundscapes and diffuse textures, frequently with upper register guitar improvisations standing proud of a supporting context in a kind of dissonant, grinding, aharmonic homophony. Distortion is a central part of the sound-making here, frequently bleeding out of the guitars into the recording process to spice the whole mix harshly with hard clipping; it is, paradoxically, exploited to greatest effect at the dynamic troughs of the album, such as the first half of ‘Swan’, where it becomes a drifting fog through which the piano phases in and out of focus. Atonality is a persistent strategy throughout, but the rhythmic approaches vary from the intricate and precise to the open and aleatory. This is also the first Barren Waste release where I get the impression the players are letting themselves go and simply enjoying their instruments; it certainly features more overtly ‘musicianly’ playing, and as such it invites the listener to hear it more as an emotional expression of the performers’ inner states. Pick them clean is a fascinating, enjoyably noisy addition to Barren Waste’s already diverse catalogue.
Pigeon Breeders – Nocturnal Reveries (ambient improvisation)
Ramshackle Day Parade Records RDP_12, 2012, CD & DD album, 31m 12s
$5 (CD, edition of 100 with unique artwork) $0+ (name your price DD)
Pigeon Breeders say they ‘specialise in improvised music’, but they don’t say what the parameters of their improvisations are, whether they agree on anything in advance, or whether they simply find their way interactively each time they start playing. Frankly, I like not knowing, and I would tend to argue that, when the result of the improvisation is this sort of music, the degree of agency, preparation or intentionality is largely irrelevant, although clearly the creative fluidity of improvisation is important. So what is ‘this sort of music’? Well, I try to avoid reducing peoples’ specific, lovingly crafted artistic utterances to a generic typology, but what I meant there was music that doesn’t appeal to the conventional ideology of art and craft to fix and locate its meanings. The music on Nocturnal Reveries is essentially ambient, in that its pulse is indeterminate, and that it evokes an atmosphere or implies a space, rather than articulating a (melodic, lyrical or any other kind of) narrative arc. The sounds in which it trades are recognisably the product of musical instruments, but Pigeon Breeders largely eschew the traditional signifiers of musicality, preferring instead to explore the sonic landscape of mechanical repetition, material stresses, and other processes in which sound creation is an incidental by-product. Only in ‘Melatonin’ and ‘Cold Sweat’, the final two tracks, do they allow overtly melodic materials to creep in, and then only as grist to the same repetitious mill that has ground out the rest of the album. These improvisations, while demonstrating an impressive degree of instrumental control, more importantly (and interestingly) proceed from a creative discipline and focus that is as unusual as it is single-minded. To resist the urge to vent your inner state runs counter to many people’s conception of improvisation, but Pigeon Breeders keep their collective eye on the ball, and Nocturnal Reverie successfully navigates the gap between impersonal automatism and subjective expression.
Chestburster – They Mostly Come Out At Night… Mostly (horrorcore)
self released, 2012, DD album, 19m 49s
Many of these tracks are also to be found on other releases, such as Chestburster’s original promo release, or their split cassette with Meadows, but there’s enough material that’s unique to They Mostly Come Out At Night… Mostly to justify the entirely reasonable asking price, and when tunes are as short as these seventeen songs, finding material from an older release is more a welcome reacquaintance with an old friend than it is a tedious disappointment. Chestburster are big on horror, they’re big on movie references, and they’re big on humour; their music is intense and brutal, with some songs being merely short, and others impenetrably brief. The title of the album is a quote from Aliens, and there are samples from various choice sources, such as Re-Animator and Predator, but this is far more than a series of guitar atrocities decorated with pop-culture quotations; the band finds space for a remarkable variety of approaches to making a racket within their close, self-imposed constraints, with the closer (‘Get Away From Her You Bitch’, another Aliens quote) marking a high point with its keening feedback over a thunderous drum solo serving as an extended intro for a song that turns out to be about half a second in length… It’s hard to say where Chestburster’s references end and their own material begins, but that’s pretty much the point, as far as I can tell. Text editing gave us the dominant metaphor for such approaches, ‘cut and paste’, but the Alien franchise offers an equally powerful one; this band has sat quietly and incubated its material in the chest cavity of mass culture, before bursting out violently and spraying distortion around the room. Making you (and themselves) laugh is obviously a big part of They Mostly Come Out At Night… Mostly, but it’s far from being a cheap-shot or a flippant gimmick. This is a hip, knowing and culturally literate response to a whole range of commercial cultural practices, and it’s musically very enjoyable to boot.