Andrea Neumann & Bonnie Jones — Green Just as I could See (2012, Erstwhile)
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Signal glitches, white noise, blips, squeaks, snippets of tape recordings, and granules of radio broadcasts all combine to create a challenging, yet wholly enthralling engagement on this 2012 release by two giants of improvised music(s)/sound art, Bonnie Jones and Andrea Neumann. Continuing in the tradition of Annea Lockwood, the tape music icon whose ability to interweave aural fragments never ceases to amaze, this duo truly emit their work as a collective, cohesive whole. This collaborative album treats the listener to an experience that is one-part sonic kaleidoscope, one part dialogue.With the former, one experiences a host of varying sonic phenomena: scraping sounds that demand attention, stringed instruments, placating bits of old folk songs, digital chirps, white noise, and disorienting manipulations of stereo panning. With the latter, as always, it’s up to the listener to contextual and “read” what the phenomena mean (and so too, where they originate from — in both an aesthetic and literal sense). In both instances, as aforementioned, the collectiveness of the release is palpable and engrossing in a way many music(s) are not. One is unable to both de- and re-construct the works (“Ah yes, there is Joe Strummer voice, oh and yes, there is Paul Simonon’s bass, etc.) and in doing so, subjectivity is decentered. The individuals are omnipresent and ever-active, but the resulting work is something that is neither Jones nor Neumann (nor the listener in a vacuum). In all, a fantastic listen.
The Michael Flower Band — The Michael Flower Band (2008, Three Lobed Recordings)
Having recently seen Mick Flower perform with Clandestine Quartet, it was only a matter of time before his work in some capacity entered the Marginal rotation. This self-titled record from 2008 features Flower on six blistering strings and John Moloney blasting the kit. A low fidelity treat which showcases the duo’s swagger and gritty ebullience. At times reminiscent of psychedelia’s spacey heyday, other times more akin to a free-noise Kiwi outfit, easy on the noise. Featuring two studios cuts and three live ones, fans of either John Moloney or Mick Flower will dig this release for sure.
Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe — Levitation Praxis Pt. 4 (2017, DDS)
After a September sabbatical, which included lots of work, a vacation, and more work, Marginal gears are creaking back into rotation at HQ. Just in time too, because we’re sure excited for this release from veritable sonic-journeyman and bonafide aesthete, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe. For their exhibition Atmosphere for Enjoyment: Harry Bertoia’s Environment for Sound, New York’s Museum of Art and Design commissioned Lowe (and Lizzi Bougatsos of Gang Gang Dance) to produce a series of sound and video recordings at Bertoia’s Pennsylvania sonambient barn. These recordings released on the DDS label, are the result of one such session. As is to be expected, the ambience of the barn coupled with the sculptures’ already ethereal sonic characteristics, results in a set of magisterial, widely resonant pieces, featuring manipulations of Bertoia’s sound sculptures. Where Lowe excels, is in his ability to harness the happenstance of improvised performance. Levitation Praxis allows the artist to demonstrate an artistic awareness and tact that inform the aesthetico-methodological choices: when to push on and further develop an idea, when to refrain, et al. Interwoven layers of choral melodies and urban sounds produce a rich sensory experience for the listener and explode the temporal and contextual framings around the works. Is it medieval religious chanting? Is it musique concréte? It’s dually both and neither all at once. While Bertoia’s original recordings are imbued with a certain otherworldliness, Lowe’s tasteful use of vocal and tape treatments add a new dimension to sonambient execution and composition.
A final salient point: in the relative racial homogeneity of many avant-garde circles (a point itself, that remains woefully under analyzed), as a person of color, this writer/listener can truly appreciate that Lowe’s (marginal) artistic practice(s). Indeed, his very inclusion in this project, helps to illuminate that artists of color, especially those whose artistic practices transpire on the margins, must often simultaneously navigate a host of margins, many of which are far more consequential than one’s chosen aesthetic path. Furthermore, if marginal artistic practices and music(s) are ever to serve as incubators and/or catalysts for radical social change, the spaces and imaginaries that reinforce the avant garde must first begin to chip away at homogenous understandings about who occupies these spaces and in a very literal, normative sense, what the avant-garde looks like. At the risk of succumbing to blind optimism, the future is likely to be diverse (and factually speaking: less white); but the real question is, can the avant garde remain the vanguard?
Fire! and Oren Ambarchi — In The Mouth – a Hand (2012, Rune Grammofon)
Don’t yell it in a movie theatre, but Fire! (Mats Gustafsson, saxophones/Fender Rhodes and live electronics; Johan Berthling, bass/guitar/ organ; Andreas Werliin drums and percussion) are a heady and paroxysmal ensemble, whose 2012 release featuring Australian multi-instrumentalist Oren Ambarchi, In The Mouth – a Hand, is archetype of what contemporary psychedelia should be. At times reminiscent of Mats Gustafsson’s work with Italian experimental rockers Zu, this quartet effectively bridges the gaps between contemporary improvised music(s), the free jazz of the 1960s and 1970s, and the pulsing hypno-psychedlia of the MC5 in their most incendiary moments or early counterculture kosmische. Throughout the record, moody bass grooves, taken straight out of UFO’s Guru playbook combine with hypnotic, in-the-pocket drumming, flowing strokes of guitar feedback, and Rhodes keyboard fragments to create works that are immersive, immense, and generally relentless. The psych-rock of yesteryear always remained firmly moored within the idiom of rock music, but this quartet have no inclination to do so. They are content to use the tools and motifs of 1960s psychedelia, but use them instead to traverse a landscape more consistent with Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders’ frenetic playing on Om than with the insipid neo-psych drivel in the contemporary rock zeitgeist.
Gilman Mom — Manifest Destiny (2017, Macaque)
On the bandcamp page for the latest release by Berkeley, California artist Gilman Mom, the listener encounters a disclaimer of sorts indicating that Manifest Destiny should “feel like a troubled night walk of self-reflection that blossoms into realization.” Indeed, at times, the listener is immersed in the unpredictability of a late night saunter through some unnamed urban hell. The combination of field recordings, sound clips, and ethereal electronic production craft an album that straddles the line between erratic introspection and dreamlike aplomb. Moments of minimalism emerge and mirror late night stillness and the mildly obsessive pensiveness that one is awash in when surrendering oneself to critical self-evaluation. Trip hop vibes surface and recede at varying points throughout. The sonic/compositional lightness is sometimes reminiscent of the early works of Ghislain Poirier—if he were playing fast and loose with his composing—or the KLM on an off day. At times, the deeply personal, confession-like monologues are somewhat jarring. When contextualized alongside GM’s 2016 release I Forgot to Tell You, however, everything comes into clearer stylistic focus. The artist’s propensity for sound clips, monologues, etc., while unapologetically subjective, lend a degree of rawness that is often lost or suppressed in the digital realms of electronic music(s). While it remains unknown if the clips employed are in fact the artist themself, the selection of these fragments effectively represent subjectivity and self-examination, even unintentionally. At Marginal HQ we’re musing over what an even more minimal Gilman Mom record looks like, but who knows what’s in the cards. Fans of Australia artist Pogo and the aforementioned KLM should find this palatable, whilst those who gravitate more towards field recordings and high degrees of aural abstraction will find the musicality and human voice to be a nuisance.
Albert Hunz — broken from the inside out (2010, World 8)
Hailing from the island nation of Jamaica, Albert Hunz (who hasn’t released new material on bandcamp since 2015) possess a style that seemingly draws largely from breakbeat, industrial, and even hip hop. Broken from the inside out oscillates between a sparse, menacing ambience and a vein of thoroughly disjointed breakbeat, where off-kilter rhythms precariously swing and threaten to seize at any moment. At times kick and snare are harmonious and recall the drum samples of 1990s hip hop and rap music(s); other moments, the chest pounding kick drum feels lost, haphazard, and even antagonistic. While lacking in the full-on intensity possessed by the “drill ’n’ bass” side of DHR, the listener is treated to stuttering breaks, square in the chest kick drumming, and minimalist glitch —with an unmistakable patina of industrial trepidation— all in about seven minutes time. One might argue the brevity of this release is a weakness and demonstrates the failure to fully develop themes and constricts the tracks from full realization; however, Hunz’s ability to navigate the artistic tightrope between RZA and Alec Empire* and (re)contextualize many of their stylistic motifs into a set of post-electronic études, makes for an interesting listen, no matter the length.
* Given RZA’s influence on Empire, there is a salient and interesting intertextuality between the aforementioned and Hunz, that due to space restraints, can’t be explored at greater length here, but is certainly worth theorizing in both localized and broader contexts.
Choi Joonyong and Hong Chulki — Balloon and Needle (2017, Never Come Ashore)
A skronky, scratchy live release recorded at the University of Glasgow in the spring of 2017, featuring South Korean experimental artists Choi Joonyong and Hong Chulki. Named after their own experimental imprint, Balloon & Needle features the duo producing noise tempests without the usual bombast or predisposition towards electronically-based sound crafting. This is not to suggest that advances in modern technology are a hindrance to artistic vision nor are they absent on this release. Radiant beams of feedback are central components of this performance. Regardless, the duo demonstrate that they are also adroit in their abilities to produce jarring, provocative, and captivating sounds from found objects and resonant frequencies. Laptop junkies and pedal pushers need not apply.