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(Un)heard in December: So close the hammers hit your forehead

Each month, in the (Un)heard series, I present extraordinary sounds that do not go unnoticed and unsung. In this December edition: Brume, Cinema Perdu, Emanuele de Raymondi, Mark Fell, Zeno van den Broek and James O'Callaghan.

Like a vise around the neck

Brume - Mother Blast (LP, Grautag)

Nicolas Moulin's Grautag label guarantees dystopian soundscapes. The label presents those landscapes live in concerts in which acts succeed each other without breaks or announcements in old-fashioned orange sodium light. Stasis plays an important role: the audience should abandon all hope. Caught in the now, the listener is made aware of how much Moulin's vision breaks with grand narratives and compelling vistas.

The French industrial pioneer Christian Renou, with his Permafrost-album, which appeared under nom-de-plume Brume, the wind chill was already well below freezing. Brume induced a comatose vacuum; a no-man's land that was at Mother Blast gets an update or second chapter. The menacing compositions are pregnant with cold war menace and evoke fear the way JG Ballard does.

It makes little difference if the drawn-out and haunting kraut-industrial had been revisionist and reactionary nostalgia. Renou, however, manages to place the ominous condition for four albums in a present that knows neither past nor future. His dreariness seems of all times. Mainly because of this, his hold feels like a vise around the neck. Music for tomorrow's day that has been thrown away anyway.

This is what the Dutch art line sounds like

Cinema Perdu - Interventions in a Landscape (CD, Moving Furniture)

Martijn Pieck, member of The [Law-Rah] Collective, directs solo soundtracks without films from Utrecht. He kneads fragments, fragments, red lines and storylines, dialogues, inner musings and flashbacks into a narrative. He tells a story with manipulated field recordings and sparing use of sampler and synthesiser. His work wanders in the grey area between fact and fiction. He offers plenty of clues for factual recognition and leads with a certain romantic touch the human scale into the digital, machine-like world. As a result, Cinema Perdu's compositions sound little industrial. Rather, they tie in with the pioneers of the GRM such as Luc Ferrari.

Interventions in a Landscape verklankt places along the Dutch coastline where human intervention has had an impact. Pieck hears contrasts magnified there, such as between the churning of the surf versus the calm on the other side of the dike at Leihoek. The romanticism of that the composer brings local focus to the sounds and relief to the layers, rhythms and textures. It is like being there and Pieck (especially, but not only) pointing out certain sounds to you and telling you about them glowingly - up close and personal.

What could have been a grand, compelling discourse creeps so small and intimate under skin. That makes it intensely personal. In that time shared with Pieck, the lost (narrow) film can be (re)found as a personal story for everyone.

Playful declaration of love to Jarre

Emanuele de Raymondi - EXUL (Download, Zerokilled)

Roman composer Emanuele de Raymondi is influenced by electronics, sound art and contemporary (minimal) composed music. Acoustic instruments were previously put through the digital wringer by De Raymondi. This is how he arrived at new interactions in which works with clarinetist Oguz Buyukberber made both human and machine virtuosity shine. At EXUL he flips the script he has been following so far.

With this EP, the Raymondi sings of his love for synthesizers and electronics, adding sparse acoustic instrumentation. It delivers a playful declaration of love to the grand master of the synth genre, Jean-Michel Jarre. Analogue, vintage synthesiser sounds blend seamlessly with the twinkling key of the grand piano. In wide strips in the low flapping apreggiators and sequencers through mists in which violin, cello and harmonium seem to inhabit.

The Raymondi does away with the distinction between electronic and acoustic instrumentation. He even merges the two to the point where they cannot be separated. EXUL with its ten minutes of playing time, turns out to be a finger exercise and harbinger of work with more haunting depth that elaborates on this premise.

One of the best releases of 2016

Mark Fell - Focal Music , , #5a, #5b (Cassette, Tapeworm)

These four works from the Focal Music-series by Mark Fell may, on first hearing, seem miles away from his typical electronic dance music with punishing, albeit messed-up rhythms. However: Fell's compositions do touch on the unconventional and staggered time signatures and his keen ear for texture and timbre that also speak from that more familiar work.

Fell generates with his Focal Music a pattern sent via headphones to violinist, pianist or viola player. They play in real time along and try to keep up with the unusual and subtle changes in that pattern. This proves difficult, especially when the intervals become detached from any hold. The players have to rely on their experience and the palette of sounds their instrument knows to fill the gaps in the 'chase'.

Focal Music may be strongly conceptually based, the elaboration speaks volumes even without knowledge of the mathematics behind it. Fell's solo pieces actively involve the listener in the intriguing interplay between rigid system, skill of the soloists and the human tendency to predict, explain and fill in the blanks. What Fell's composition is, what is filled in by the soloists and what you yourself think you should expect is completely mixed up. It is disorienting as a newfangled version of music of changes and of chances. Again and again so unpredictable that the highest focus in listening is required. Mark Fell delivers one of the best releases of 2016 with this cassette.

Move you will

Zeno van den Broek - Shift Symm (Digital triptych, Sedition // Download, Establishment Records)

Swarms of oscillating sine waves bounce through indeterminate spaces. They crackle through extremely high frequencies and make the glasses in the cabinet rattle with bass waves. From his current home in Copenhagen, Dutch (sound) artist Zeno van den Broek presents an essentialism in spatial exploration. The extremely boned work questions, shifts and manipulates familiar parameters of symmetry in composition, only to ultimately subvert them.

Shift Symm constantly puts you on the wrong track. This happens visually in the form of the video artworks [hints]which together form a triptych and appear in a limited edition at the online gallery Sedition[/hints], but also in the form of the audio-only EP. Van den Broek tends towards simplicity. However, he strikes mercilessly by distorting and disrupting the very patterns you think you recognise panoramically both in image and sound, leaving you with little to hold on to as yet.

Van den Broek fills in the empty space of conceptual architecture with filligrain noise, crunching and screeching spikes to noise, punishing beats and disorienting sub-basses. Or: with panels that appear to be able to rotate around various axes, slide in and out of each other and form a grid or lattice, but that, again, does not stand still. Flashily, Van den Broek draws textures with the spots before your eyes.

Move you will: walk to the left, then to the right speaker, move your head slowly as you stand in the middle of the speakers, do so while following the choreography in the video art. Seeing and hearing, the space both fill; your own position in relation to one and the other: Van den Broek may serve simplicity, but his work is anything but simplistic, easy or unambiguous. This compressed reduction offers every opportunity to fill especially the space of the not-knowing, the not-described. You yourself do that perhaps even more than Van den Broek in whose work reduced minimalism maximises the space(s) left over.

Hammers against your forehead

James O'Callaghan - Espaces Tautologiques (CD, empreintes DIGITALes)

Sound artist and composer James O'Callaghan presents from Montreal a foursome of akoesmatic works midway between contemporary-composed music, concrète experimentalism and sound art-installation. O'Callaghan has a highly refined ear for colouring sounds he finds in ambient sound, found sounds, spatial acoustics, but also in minutely researched typical characteristics of timbres of acoustic instruments.

O'Callaghan is extremely meticulous and skilful in showcasing not only this wide variety of materials, but equally the musical form. At first, that form seems to have little to no coherence and to be full of coincidences. On closer listening, however, O'Callaghan's work turns out to be a compelling celebration not only of the multicoloured palette, but also of resonances that surprise him himself. He finds the latter through the mere repetition of procedures: imitation, amplification, compression, stacking, repetition.

The composer puts the listener in the middle of the piano, with strings stretched to the limit before snapping. They reverberate among a subtle clatter of water droplets, while the sound box is used as a woodblock and the highest notes are extended beyond the auditory threshold by pure sine waves. All sounds stand to each other in an organic relationship that presents the composer's adventurous listening. The CD is a snapshot of this.

O'Callaghan tells a story in sound that he assembles from a multitude of original sounds. That journey itself has at least as many possible 'results'. That is true in live performance, but also for playback in the concert hall to the stereo at home or by headphones on the road. With O'Callaghan, then, the needless repetition is above all not petrifying, but an open invitation to keep exploring, sounding out and listening to spaces. If necessary, with your ear to a grand piano, so close to the hammers that they hit your forehead.

Sven Schlijper-Karssenberg

Sets his ear to places he does not yet know in today's sound. Writes the catalogue raisonné of Swedish artist Leif Elggren's oeuvre, is a board member of Unsounds and programmes music at GOGBOT Festival. His essays on sound art have appeared on releases by Pietro Riparbelli, Michael Esposito, Niels Lyhnne Løkkegaard and John Duncan.View Author posts

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