Releases of The Month

January 2024

17 January, 2024 | Kristoffer Cornils

Eine Schallplatte in Nahaufnahmen, man kann die Struktur ihrer Rillen erkennen.
©Kristoffer Cornils

It has now been a little more than four years since a novel virus made its rounds in the world and it quickly became apparent that we would have to deal with that for months, if not years. Being hurled into this pandemic created all kinds of hurdles for the cultural scene, but at the same time emphasised its knack for innovation. Events were outsourced to the internet or entirely new formats were developed in order to stay resilient and offer safe social togetherness through cultural means. What has actually remained of this now that all restrictions in public and private spaces have been lifted?

Very little, one might think. But a new series launched by the label 901 Editions shows that innovative concepts such as the online festival Amplify were indeed formative for experimental and electronic music. To mark the 15th anniversary of the Italian imprint, owner Fabio Perletta is organising a »virtual residency programme« in which musicians from all over the world reveal their creative work processes. The series offers a glimpse into the studios and working processes of various artists as it was the norm in 2020 and 2021. This doesn’t happen out of lockdown nostalgia, of course, but with a heightened interest in what happens behind the scenes and remains hidden from the public.

Elena Kakaliagou kicks things off with »9⁰ (7),« on which it sounds as if the Berlin-based horn player is speaking through her instrument for a minute and a half. Her words however are barely intelligible; they remain an attempt to communicate through aesthetic instead of verbal means—while posing the question whether aesthetics can be self-effective communication. This short piece raises many questions about the boundaries of art and how meaning can be conveyed, how a connection of the soloist (even solipsist?) to her environment and fellow human beings is being made through the means of a medium. This also brings back memories of a time four years ago and serves as a reminder that it remains worthwhile to reflect on and discuss these questions.

The Releases of the Month, as always selected by field notes editor Kristoffer Cornils, offer even more food for thought and discussion. New releases by Ben Glas, Eiko Yamada and the late Phill Niblock as well as a new issue of the Blank Forms magazine with articles and conversations with Amelia Cuni and Akio Suzuki, among others, provide plenty of mental nourishment for the new year.

Ben Glas – Fugal States (Room40, digital)

For his last release, Berlin-based composer Ben Glas threw a bunch sex toys into a few pianos, but with »Fugal States« on Lawrence English's Room40 label, he is devoting himself to more abstract things—if only on a conceptual level: As the name suggests, Glas uses the structure of the fugue as a starting point for pieces that are constantly in flux. Thanks in part to the wonderfully cool and yet not harsh sound of its realisation, this provides the perfect soundtrack for the next snowstorm.

Blank Forms 09: Sound Signatures (Blank Forms, magazine)

Das Cover des Magazins Blank Forms
© Blank Forms

The centrepiece of the ninth issue of the Blank Forms magazine is an almost bizarrely detailed interview conducted by journalist Mike Rubin with Detroit house producer, DJ and label owner Theo Parrish—it takes up 180 of the total 324 pages. There is however also plenty of space for a conversation with and contributions from Dhrupad artist Amelia Cuni as well as thoughts by Akio Suzuki and Aki Onda on Takehisa Kosugi, who in turn is featured with a text of his own. Sounds like a wild mix? It sure is! And as we all know, those are the best ones.

Cedrik Fermont – K7 & Eine Geschichte ohne Drehbuch (Syrphe, digital)

Syrphe founder Cedrik Fermont welcomed the new year with two new releases. Francophones will recognise the title of »K7« ([ka.sɛt]) as one that speaks for itself: The sound material used in these four pieces comes from blank tapes and cassette recorders. Fermont's media materialism elicits both abstract and concrete noises from these relatively scarce sources—familiar echoes of times past, manipulated and morphed in an unapologetically contemporary way. With »Eine Geschichte ohne Drehbuch,« Fermont takes a quasi-classical electro-acoustic approach for a piece that clocks in at just under ten minutes and full of intuitive dynamics, similarly doing its title justice.

David Wallraf – The Commune of Nightmares (Karlrecords, MC/digital)

David Wallraf is not only a noise artist, but also a certified expert on everything that is dismissed as noise and the reasons for that: His book »Grenzen des Hörens. Noise und die Akustik des Politischen« (parts of which he has translated »quick and dirty« and uploaded to his website) is a compelling read that we cannot recommend enough. Wallraf's new album »The Commune Of Nightmares« for the Berlin label Karlrecords is comparatively (everything is relative, isn’t it?) non-noisy, but draws on methods used by especially the early noise scene as well as the conceptual framework of what Mark Fisher called »hauntology« in reference to a term coined by Jacques Derrida: Tape loops from various cassettes come together according to the surrealist principle of the cadavre exquis to haunt the present as the return of the past. Wonderfully creepy stuff.

Eiko Yamada – This Summer… (Ftarri, CD/digital)

Eiko Yamada has been living in Germany since 1984 and in Berlin is likely best known as a member of ex tempore, with whom she recently returned to celebrate the reopening of the exploratorium at its new location last September. Shortly before that, she was in Japan and gave a two-part concert together with pianist Fumi Endo at Ftarri, which has now been released on the Tokyo venue’s in-house label. »This Summer…« documents a solo set by Yamada on soprano and bass flute, in which she draws unexpected sounds from these instruments: they boom and bubble, quietly and yet intensely. In her duo with Endo, both focus on the harmony and even consonance of their instruments, developing gentle yet exciting dynamics out of their considerate inter-action with each other.

Haino Keiji / Jim O'Rourke / Oren Ambarchi – With pats on the head, just one too few is evil one too many is good that's all it is (Black Truffle, 3LP/digital)

An album with a title like »With pats on the head, just one too few is evil one too many is good that's all it is« surely must be in some way associated with Japanese improv legend Haino Keiji, and this massive triple LP on Black Truffle is of course no exception. Label owner Oren Ambarchi and, of course, Jim O'Rourke were also involved to varying degrees in this live recording from 2018—it is the trio's twelfth album together. Among other things, Haino plays an instrument with the beautiful name »Strings of Dubious Reputation,« O'Rourke proves his versatility as a guitarist and Ambarchi politely and firmly reminds us that he always remains adept behind the drums, whether he’s swinging softly or thundering away. This is an album that’s even longer and more wondrous than its title—a rare thing, even in their discography.

Ian Mikyska & Fredrik Rasten – Music for Sixth-tone Harmonium (Warm Winters Ltd., 2CD/digital)

Already his album »Lineaments« was one of the highlights of 2023 and for »Music for Sixth​-​tone Harmonium« the Berlin-based composer and musician Fredrik Rasten now teams up with Ian Mikyska from Prague for an even more ambitious project: They explore the qualities and untapped potentials of a curious instrument together, yet separately: Each of the two pieces works with the eponymous instrument that was originally commissioned to be built in the first half of the 20th century by a Czech pioneer of microtonal music, Alois Hába. The pieces by the two composers, originally premiered by Miroslav Beinhauer in 2021, reactivated its potential alongside other commissioned works for the same instrument. Mikyska and Rasten take very different paths: The former puts its qualities into a dialogue with a plethora of other elements, while the latter makes it literally reverberate with bowed electric guitars.

Mattin – Seize the Means of Complexity (Xing, LP)

»We are in the asshole of history,« proclaims Berlin-based Basque noise, improv and conceptual artist Mattin in a text accompanying his new LP with the wonderful title »Seize the Means of Complexity.« If you’re wondering what that means, don’t worry, he’s got you covered: »To seize the means of complexity, we must comprehend the tools of algorithmic subsumption, and leverage that knowledge to steer their development towards an open-source conception of subjectivity.« With a dialectical twist, he therefore uses recordings from TikTok and Instagram for two plunderphonic noise tracks that are just as wild and disturbing as their source material—but communicate this openly. Capitalist realism must be overcome, Mattin demands in allusion to Mark Fisher, who in turn once wrote that » emancipatory politics must always destroy the appearance of a ›natural order,‹ must reveal what is presented as necessary and inevitable to be a mere contingency.« This might be very well understood to be the implicit aesthetic guiding principle of this wonderfully confusing album.

Xing · XX09: Mattin - Seize the Means of Complexity - excerpt A

Phill Niblock – Boston III / Tenor / Index (Alga Marghen, LP/digital)

Phill Niblock passed away on the 8th of January, just a few weeks after his 90th birthday. Just how immeasurable his influence on the world of music, film and photography will have been became clear in the days that followed: there was hardly anyone who did not pay tribute to him and his vast body of work. At the end of the year, the Italian label Alga Marghen had released »Boston III / Tenor / Index,« three recordings of compositions from the late sixties and early seventies, on which Niblock on guitar was joined by Gregory Reeve, Martin Bouch and Rhys Chatham. A beautiful, albeit inadequate farewell to an artist whose work always seemed to press on into eternity.

PYUR – Lucid Anarchy (Subtext, digital)

Sophie Schnell could hardly have come up with a more suitable title for her second album as PYUR: »Lucid Anarchy« sounds (and, thanks to its cover artwork that apparently deconstructs new age tropes, also looks) exactly as these two words promise. The Berlin-based composer redefines the supposed temporal art of music as the art of intensity and creates sound clusters whose hyperreal elements follow their own dream-like dynamics. It is indeed remarkable how light and friendly this otherwise radical sonic anarchy ends up sounding. An experience in and of itself.

Roman Rofalski – Fractal (Oscillations, digital)

There is, of course, a tradition in this country of treating pianos a little more roughly—but Roman Rofalski's intentions are different to those of Nam June Paik and the likes. For »Fractal,« the Berlin-based artist took recordings of his experiments with a prepared piano as the starting point for a recombinatory working process that emphasises both the inherent sound qualities of his Schimmel K280 and the rhythmic possibilities of his approach, reinforced in the opener by drummer Felix Schlarmann. Abstraction and concretion have seldom met as smoothly as on this album, which is at times even reminiscent of abrasive, noisy hip-hop, but is also characterised by moments of tense silence.

Spectra Ex Machina: A Sound Anthology of Occult Phenomena 1920-2017 Vol. 2 (Sub Rosa, LP/digital)

It is no secret that Guy Marc Hinant and Fred Walheer have a penchant for the obscure, but with the release of the compilation »Spectra Ex Machina: A Sound Anthology of Occult Phenomena 1920-2017 Vol. 1« in 2019, the Sub Rosa owners also revealed their love of the mystical. »Spectra Ex Machina: A Sound Anthology of Occult Phenomena 1920​-​2017 Vol​.​ 2« offers two séances with Elvis Presley and, with recordings by Joe Meek and Howard Menger, an insight into the minds of those who discovered the recording studio as a means of communication with the cosmos in the context of pop music in the mid-20th century. The supernatural and extraterrestrial, horror and pleasure: This anthology, which can also be understood in (media) anthropological terms, offers plenty of all this.

VARIÁT & Merzbow – Unintended Intention (I Shall Sing Until My Land Is Free, LP+7inch, digital)

Masami Akita has been a guest on the Berlin-based label I Shall Sing Until My Land Is Free with his Merzbow project on several occasions, for »Unintended Intention« he has teamed up with label operator Dmytro Fedorenko alias VARIÁT. The style of these five tracks—the vinyl version of the LP comes with a bonus 7inch—is comparatively subdued, orientated more towards sparse industrial rather than whipping harsh noise. They are pervaded by an uneasy atmosphere, a grim rumbling. Less is much, much more here than it is anywhere else.

  • Releases of the Month
  • Eiko Yamada
  • Releases des Monats
  • Syrphe
  • Karlrecords
  • Black Truffle
  • Cedrik Fermont
  • Ben Glas
  • Mattin
  • Phill Niblock
  • Subtext
  • Roman Rofalski
  • I Shall Sing Until My Land Is Free

For further reading

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