Roundup Galore, The Beginning: Room40

Hey, these labels keep throwing out goodies by the dozen, so what’s a poor writer to do?

I’ll start my roundup series with Lawrence English’s Room40, but expect more accumulations in the future. (Thanks to Brian Olewnick for unintentionally suggesting this kind of approach to multiple-CD reviewing).


A recording from the OFFF Festival in Lisbon dated May 9, 2008 gives both the frame and the title to a CD lasting about 36 minutes, delicately unobtrusive and somewhat melancholic. The set was played by the two artists sitting side by side, a single piano in front of them and laptops switched on, Kirschner dealing with the keys, Deupree with the inside parts of the instrument. The outcome is a fine combination of crystalline taps and melodic reminiscences – in some instance maybe a little too sweet-sounding for my taste but definitely not persistent – over a stratification of looping variegations and poignant shades. I hesitate in calling this music “ambient” – it’s more a stimulation of our nostalgia glands symbolized by a peculiar kind of seraphic sinuousness, with a turn to an ominous greyness at the end. Very nice album, growing with each listen.

ROBBIE AVENAIM – Rhythmic Movement Disorder

This was made with “drums, junk, e-sticks, vibrators, tuned percussion and concrete cutters”. Avenaim has worked with Oren Ambarchi and Keith Rowe, but nothing could have prepared yours truly for this splendid – if too short at 24 minutes – episode of percussive transcendence. The first track, aptly titled “Headbanging”, is quite hyperactive in terms of dynamics, while the remaining three mostly propose crinkly timbres and pulsating annihilations of willpower underscored by a multitude of frequencies that might occasionally sound threatening, yet remain good-tempered enough to exalt luminescent amorphous shapes and further magnify already prominent details. A cross of acousmatic painstakingness and charming spatial resonance, likely to keep your CD player spinning in repeat mode for at least four consecutive times.

DJ OLIVE – Triage

Third instalment in DJ Olive’s “sleeping pills” series after Buoy and Sleep, Triage – originally the soundtrack for an installation at the Whitney Biennale – is most probably the ideal pick as a single taster of the triad. God only knows how much thin-skinned people need these kinds of record in times of growing tensions and repressed anger, so let me tell you: this is just what the doctor should order for nerve-soothing purposes. By following the composer’s instructions as usual (“please listen to it quietly”) we’re immediately and endlessly embraced by successions of stifled aural scenarios where one can barely intuit some sort of harmonic progression gradually drowning in the quicksand of nebulousness. Illustrious guests such as David Watson and Christian Fennesz are listed in the collaborating line-up, yet trying to weigh their contribution would be futile. The stretching of the limits of our semi-wakeful mental territory is what the CD attains without difficulty, placing this work in a hypothetical Hall Of Fame of the post-Eno era. Like looking at a huge aquarium while the brain is fading to black. Utter quietness, possibly at late evening, is a must.

LUC FERRARI – Tuchan-Chantal

For a non-speaker of any given language, understanding a piece entirely articulated in that idiom is obviously a hard task (enter “Massimo Ricci” and “French” here). One can always rely upon the musical qualities of the words, either by considering them elements of the soundscape or plain instruments (René Lussier’s Le Tresor De La Langue being an untouched masterpiece in that sense). Although partially revealed by the explanatory notes, the social implications of this – basically a 41-minute interview of a girl from a small town in Corbières (department of Aude, South-Western France) conducted by Luc and Brunhild Ferrari and interspersed with environmental intrusions and oddly slanted classical guitar interludes – don’t justify a public release. Even more so the resulting “music”, which doesn’t sound as a documentary at all and, at times, is manifestly tedious. Not wanting to appear blasphemous, my feel is that Tuchan-Chantal has very little to add to this great composer’s recorded output; it’s similar to a radio play performed by adolescents and dilettantes, whose best is to be found in the few seconds of silence during the conversations, underlined by cicadas, buzzing flies and faraway vehicles.

ASHER – Landscape Studies

A work born from Asher’s customary interest in creating “recordings which have the unique characteristics of a particular room or space which only exists in the context of that recording”, Landscape Studies is probably the less unfathomable – but still entrancing – among this composer’s releases. The instantly noticeable new ingredient is the use of repetitive synthetic waves whose ebb and flow influences the music deeply, thus pushing the whole nearer to Installation Land than usual. Listen carefully enough, though, and you’ll recapture the Bostonian’s distinctive external undercurrents blemishing an otherwise flawless geometry, a timid reassurance of sorts against the dangers of excessive consonance. This notwithstanding, the electronic factor remains primary in the mix, so that these pieces are likely to be (superficially) associated to the world of ambient instead of being scrutinized as the “studies” of internal environments that their originator had in mind.

I8U – 10-33 cm

Described by the press release as a “compelling meditation on the nature of sound in time”, this work by Canadian France Jobin was conceived by taking into account the “theoretical size of the strings that makes up the universe”. The impression is mainly one of morphing resonance, like someone manoeuvring an equalizer while a sequence of consecutive drones is unfolding. A chain of pretty static visions, some of them in fact engrossing, rarely presenting truly shocking elements yet effective, at least in spurts. Still, the compositional effort doesn’t appear extreme; this will probably determine a filing in the jam-packed folders of “good but not really memorable” near-minimalism, with the exception of “String 6” and “String 7”, whose impressive bottomless rumbles and subsonic purrs are something to be heard. Dulcis in fundo, indeed.

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Audible Geography

A collection of 11 tracks, theoretically responding to “the shifting and expanding field of geography” while “providing insights into our relations with space and place”. The featured geographers are Eric La Casa, Stephen Vitiello, Lee Patterson, Asher, Jeph Jerman, Toshiya Tsunoda, Philip Samartzis, Marc Behrens, James Webb, Andrea Polli and Francisco López. In actual fact, this is yet another gathering of urban and/or rural aural landscapes – untreated or manipulated – ranging from nearly obvious (but well made nonetheless) to awesome (“Dundee Law” by La Casa, “General Electric” by Samartzis, two veritable jewels). If you take a close look to the participants’ list, then determining the average quality level (=tending to high) comes rather natural. And yet, the magnitude of the basic concept reads as inversely proportional to the unavoidability of situations that the record presents, except maybe for Polli’s inscrutable “Round Mountain”, the third favourite here. The world may be changing but its sounds – rarefied or in-your-face, processed or not – remain virtually the same, even if López’s birds always seem to chirp and whistle more clearly. Quite beautiful to hear at home in full-tranquillity mood.

DNE – 47 Songs Humans Shouldn’t Sing

Reissue of a very rare item, a 250-copy vinyl edition by Eugene Carchesio (recording under the DNE moniker) that quickly disappeared after the advent of the CD and the closing of the pressing plant which was holding the original tape. This digital version was remastered from one of the remaining LPs, which in turn were born from 4-track cassettes. An oddity amidst this batch of (often) introvert-sounding items, these miniatures are small masterpieces of self-made improvisation – often in a well-defined structural musculature – with all sorts of overdubbed instruments including guitars, drums, keyboards, reeds, flutes and god knows what else. The press release quotes Ayler and Chadbourne as (vague) stylistic resonances, and who am I to argue? This record symbolizes the wholesomeness of ingenuous artistry, an ode to the fun that a creative mind can generate while closed in a room at home. Yes, you guessed right: it did remind yours truly of his own adolescent experiments, but Carchesio’s elucubrations sound definitely better than mine… Unclassifiable, lively, hilarious, perfect length at just over half a hour. Recommended.

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