Chris Watson — El Tren Fantasma (2011, Touch Music)
Having visited field recording mastermind Chris Watson’s superlative Weather Report in July, today felt like an excellent day to bring the English recordist back into rotation. While his ability to identify, capture, and edit sounds into new artistic works is largely unparalleled, one point that goes largely overlooked is Watson’s abilities as a storyteller. Using sounds (and occasionally speech) in place of written words, Watson manages to craft a deeply immersive and stimulating narrative that captures the listener’s imagination. 2011’s El Tren Fantasma is haunting mix of archival recordings and sounds captured while Watson traversed Mexico on the now defunct Ferrocarriles Nacionales de México as a sound-recordist for the BBC. The listener becomes a passenger on a thrilling ride across a country of diverse landscapes. Boarding announcements feel as frantic and coarse as if one were on the platform; the anticipation of the journey upon hearing diesel engines come to life is equally tangible and immediate. Insects, birds, wind, and the twitch and spark of steel on steel all contribute to the journey and dually reinforce Watson’s creative prowess and the affectivity of sound. While few tracks match the musicality (in the most reductive sense of the word) of “El Divisadero” with its Cascading strings coupled with the rhythmic thud and clack of a train wheels soaring over lengths of track, the abundantly rich sounds captured by Watson take the listener on a thrilling voyage. As the N de M has since been dismantled and/or privatized, the recordings are something of a sonico-historical document which evokes questions related to memory, space, development and how these factors impact acoustic phenomena. As is the case with most of Watson’s work, a brilliant release.
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.
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.
C-drík — Multiples des uns (2015, Syrphe)
Here at Marginal HQ, we’ve recently tapped into the vein of non-musicality and been spinning releases from Britons Chris Watson and Jez riley French. Add 2015’s Multiples des uns, a self-described “cinema for the ears” by Congolese-German artist C-drík. Consisting of one, hour long track, Multiple features interwoven sonic phenomena from many broad, often disparate sources. Captured by the artist during travels throughout the Asian continent, the listener is treated to footsteps that intermingle with indigenous music(s), the vibrant and mysterious sounds of the jungle melding with austere heavy machinery, the sounds of children playing which overrun passing automobiles, and many other sonically rich, varied noises. C-drík demonstrates not only an ear for fascinating aural objects, but also an acute sense of cinema-like rhythm and adroitness in their editing abilities. While the continent itself possess a multitude of varying experiences, languages, cultures, topographies, histories, etc. this release fascinatingly documents a few of the sounds found throughout a diverse continent and celebrates the fundamental nature of sound itself, ever present, everywhere. One could also argue that for those with the privilege of audition, listening enables the subject to find common ground in their connection to others and to the natural world. Trains screech, insects buzz, people chatter, and children laugh all the same, regardless of whether your in Taipei, Tokyo, Toronto, or Timbuktu. In all, this is a transcendental release guaranteed to lift you out of your seat and take you on a fascinating sonic journey.
Keith Rowe and Toshimaru Nakamura — Weather Sky (2001, Erstwhile)
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Sure, this release is several years old, but here at Marginal HQ, we’ve been exuberantly waiting for the right moment to review this collaboration between free noise legends Keith Rowe (on guitar) and Toshimaru Nakamura (on the “no-input” mixing board). “Weather Sky #1” opens with a high-pitched sine wave fading in; around the :45 second mark, in fades electronic noise on the left channel. This makes way to alligator clips rattling strings at around the 2:40 mark and the duo really start to jive. Sci-fi soundscapes weave with sine waves, fizzing electronics, scrambled 8-bit gurgles, and the myriad other sonic oddities Rowe lures from his guitar. Nakamura provides continuity and a sense of (anti-?)rhythm with droning sine (or triangle) waves. There are large segments of the opening piece where little happens. When one of the artists diverges, it is often only a soupçon of sound. In the final third, things hasten. Mechanical humming (most likely emanating from Rowe) supplants nearly all else. When Rowe cuts out, Nakamura remains steadfast and enveloped in electronic bliss until the piece fades out. “Weather Sky #2” is much more accessible. Not only owing to the fact that it is only five minutes in duration, but many of themes and motifs lack the esotericism of the other pieces. Despite it’s short length, the piece does not feel forced or haphazard. The final piece on Weather Sky (“Weather Sky #3”) feels both tenuous and private. At times, the piece feels like a straight-ahead dark ambient piece; yet Nakamura and Rowe’s reinforcing of one another, creates a collective sea of sound, whose opaque and reticent surface conceals untold mysterious and captivates the listener. Whilst we prefer the din Rowe knocks out as one part of the AMM, Weather Sky is an excellent deconstructionist work by two heavyweights of experimental sound. Coupled with Rowe’s painting of an éclair on the cover, fans of either artist, Chondritic Sound, or the otherworldly racket of either the AMM or Dead C are sure to enjoy this release.
Aaron Dilloway — Live at a Museum (2016, Hanson)
Former Wolf Eyes noisenik Aaron Dilloway’s 2016 release, Live at a Museum, is a brilliant half hour of loop experimentation, well worth delving into. Comprised of a series of sets, Dilloway ventures through a universe of myriad sonic possibilities vis-à-vis tape loops, minimalism, and manipulation. “Set 1” is comprised of a hypnotic tape loop sputtering restrained panting, click-clacking, and paranoid resonances. “Set 2” is a faster, slightly more abrasive, certainly much more confrontational loop, which, despite its shorter duration, remains simultaneously soporific and aggressive. It sounds as if digital artifacting passes through the tape (or perhaps this is the sound of the A to D Transfer) before at around the three minute mark, Dilloway starts to fade the loop out. Groggy and blunt thuds intermingle with the soft swish of a hit-hat or other similar percussive sound. The loop morphs into a strange and gritty track that seems entirely apt for the end times. “Set 3” is reminiscent of Chris Watson’s later work, with the loop recalling the sounds of a windy day from inside. In all, Live in Museum demonstrates Aaron Dilloway’s mastery of analog tape delays, his patience, and his celebration of subtlety. These traits allow the artist to tap into several sonic realms at once, making for a collage-like creation of something totally distinct. Sure, Aaron Dilloway isn’t the first (or even the best) to forge a body of work relying heavily on analogue tape; he is, however, one of the few people who is capable of merging Gristle-esque discomfort with Harmonia’s pastoralism, all without committing to the musicality of either.
Catriel Nievas and Sergio Merce — Pampa (2017, Mappa)
Argentine duo Sergio Merce and Catriel Nievas come together to record a tenuous, but captivating set of sonic explorations on their debut Pampa, released on Slovakia’s Mappa label. Forging a partnership after sharing a stage in their native Buenos Aires, Merce handles electronics and plays a microtonal saxophone (formed from an alto sax with the keys removed), while Capece performs on guitar. Both musicians claim to have an interest in harmonic overtones and sonic layers; as such, this release has plenty of breathing room, which affords the listener ample listening space to fully absorb and ruminate upon what is being performed. Merce’s saxophone melds seamlessly with the electronics, in doing so, creates minimalist soundscapes reminiscent of both early electronic works of Else Marie Pade or Karl Heinz Stockhausen and contemporary electronic artists Aphex Twin and Autechre. Though impossible to tell without seeing the duo live, it sounds as if Nievas remains primarily on the margins. Surprisingly, the guitar work is reminiscent of both later Fugazi and Tortoise, making the guitarist’s contributions memorable, especially within the context. Equally notable are Nievas’ quickness to duck out – a trait which is highly refreshing given the guitar’s demand to “stick out” for a better part of the last century. In all, this would make a great release for those who are just starting to explore sound art and the fringes of music, but is equally suitable for those who are deeply committed to marginal explorations. Also of note, is Mappa’s excellent packaging. Cardboard, letter-pressed sleeve. Hand numbered, + photograph insert. A great sleeve to accompany a solid release.