Sunday, April 20, 2014

TWO

Chicago duo Brash Flair, comprised of Kristin Johnston and  Joshua Wentz, put out their second EP simply titled Two this month, and I was asked to give it a listen. I did so, and found it enjoyable enough to review it. In all of my prior reviews, I've had some insight into the artist prior to the review. This was not the case with Brash Flair, however. So it was a Google expedition as well for me. I discovered their Facebook page, which was quite informative in their process.

And it's interesting, a mixture of whatever works, incorporating many diverse sources from samples to software synths, and everything in between. Kristin's beautiful voice is set against a rich, and yet spare at times, background of interesting sound design in every piece. I found myself listening to the pieces several times to listen to the samples  instrumentation, vocals, and effects processing. A very engaging active listening experience for me, and enjoyable.

The first tune, Good Morning, is a fitting start. Starting with a simple, very bassy pulse, the electric piano tone provides it's simple structure. Like much of the work, the setting is sleepy and almost surreal.

I really loved Blanket of Blue  which uses samples of a rainy day in a Chicago apartment as it's basis. The piano softly holds down the piece, couching Johnston's vocal in a dreamy contented space. Perfect for a summer rainstorm. In the video for it, the art of Kriss Stress is used, from the jacket art for the EP.



Your Line is an infectious electro piece, an esoteric  collage of sampled vocals over a rich background of synth, sample and ebowed bass.

Simple and spare, with pocket piano and appropriately simple guitar Sleeping has a beautiful vibe. As usual, the dreamy, sumptuous vocals float beautifully in the mix.

Ready is a piece in a rolling fast 3/4, featuring simple tenor background vocals from Joshua, which offset the Kristin's lead nicely. It wraps up the EP well.

I found the collection cohesive, which I always find enjoyable, as I prefer listing to works from a single artist in a sitting. This really engaged my listening, and I can heartily recommend this EP. I also enjoyed the album art very much, and the package appeals to my design sense. You can find the album for download in many places, but if you order the limited edition CD, you will get this wonderful package with fabulous art by Kriss Stress.



Sunday, April 13, 2014

Progress 14-04-13

©2014 Linda Palmer
I've taken to a weekly regimen of regular rehearsal on Tuesday nights. The set is shaping up nicely, and the regular pounding through it is forcing me to work through problems and tweak my settings. Of course, this is why we rehearse.

The set is developing as soundscapes and songs together. I go back and forth between the two, and hope that I can retain the audient's attention by mixing it up. It takes me about an hour to get through what is about a forty minute set at this point.  Orchestration still needs to be set in a couple of the pieces.

I've got a set in Ableton Live just for the sound on sound pieces now. It is a very simple set, and loads quickly, using the input of the SH-201 synthesizer through my DD-20 Gigadelay. The signal has a simple processing, a limiter and an EQ, so that the live sound doesn't get out of hand.

The "doom waltz" is proving an interesting challenge. Using Ableton's loopers, It builds a song almost from scratch, although it begins with a randomized drum loop in 3/4. It's a difficult beast to tame, and I find it challenging. The loops generated are a bass synth, and vocal loops. I play synth and sing leads over the loops, dropping them in and out as needed.

Listening:  Isotherme's Stupid, Stupid, Stupid Heart

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Things and Horologium

This week I'd like to discuss a couple of musique concrète  albums put together for this year's RPM Challenge. The challenge is to use the month of February to record ten songs or 35 minutes of original music. This is an album's worth of material, and is a great way for musicians to exercise the skills necessary to produce one. For some this is a very simple thing, as they are hugely prolific.

Two such artists are Chrissie Caulfield and Stuart Russell, who have been working in the field of electroacoustic music for some time now. Every year they participate in this challenge, and it's helped to hone their skills to a great degree. I watched with interest as they put pieces together during the challenge, posting them on their SoundCloud accounts to share. This gave me a familiarity with much of the material that had been produced even before the albums were finalized and posted. It was quite entertaining.

Things by Chrissie Caulfield
Chrissie describes in her liner notes that the album was made almost exclusively using samples that she had recorded in the past year. This had given her an extra challenge of trying to produce music from using just these sounds. She used effects and manipulated the samples in interesting ways to produce these tracks. She used one word titles for all of the tunes, and this has a nice cohesive touch to the album.

There are many great moments in this album. Listening to it, I can't help but be occasionally astonished and surprised at what she has done with the source material. Beyond merely as curiosities, I found the pieces quite listenable, and enjoyable. There is beauty in these works, and the skill in which the recordings have been put together is rather masterful.


Horologium by Stuart Russell

According to Stuart's blog post about the album, it is intended to be a study of clocks and time. Indeed, clocks are used as sources in it, and time is certainly an element, both in it's sense as in music, and the manipulation of time in the recording. It uses samples that are not quite as manipulated as Chrissie's, except in some necessary places. Like Things, this album is startling in what the ordinary sound of our world can be used to create music. Again, it is quite listenable, and I enjoyed witnessing it's production as well as the final product.



There are 22 pieces between these two albums, and I enjoyed them all. I found it interesting that on Russell's Drift and Caulfield's Garden Centre Gamelan they were using recordings from the same session, that from when they were visiting a local shop together and tapping on terracotta pots. There are many other similarities in the albums as well. Both have a composition based on a teapot, Caulfield's Teapot, and Russell's Boil. Both use steam as sources, and Russell's Steam uses samples from Caulfield gathered for her Outside album. They are a very engaging pair of albums, and deserve to be examined together.

You can follow them both on Twitter at @Chrissie_c and @stuartr_comp respectively.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Progress 14-03-30

©2014 Linda Palmer
Much activity in all areas of life have been consuming the time. I am pleased that the net general direction is a positive one.

Firstly I've produced my first sampled soundscape, EFC MC 14-03-16 for The Geeky Disco Experiment's Music Challenge. Using the same set of samples as used in (Welcome to the) Electric Future Collective to be found on the Static Metal album, reviewed last week, I took a different tack, and put the samples into the Ableton instrument Simpler to modify the sound. Here's the cut:



The new challenge has been issued, and I plan to work on it a little today, and then play it this week. I'd like to create some sounds to be played on the keys this time, so I'm not sure exactly how it will sound yet. Stay tuned. Find the new challenge here: The Music Challenge

I've been spending a few days mining the old Boss BR-1600 CD multi-tracker to extract stems for rearrangement to live performance. This is a tedious process, as the old beast is an Windows XP era device, and takes forever to load. However, I was able to extract the base Roland JV-35 combo synth tracks, which provide the rhythm to the piece. When I grabbed the original vocals for In Suspension, I found the original lead vocals had a lot of mic popping. A new arrangement including new vocals and lead synth will solve this problem, as well as the typical problem I'd get with the BR-1600's digital reverb of chirping being eliminated.

In addition, an electro-pop tune, I Am Here, has been extracted. I was never satisfied with the vocals on this one, but that will be easily remedied with  the vocal kit I've developed in Ableton Live. Look for a multitrack studio version coming to SoundCloud soon.

Listening: Hilliat Fields'  Apres Vous Le Deluge from Under Clear Blue Skies (Free Album Download)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Static Metal

Can an instrumental album describe a dystopian world? I think it can, and an example of this is The Geeky Disco Experiment's Static Metal.  A cohesive collection of sound collage and ominous simple melody, it reflects an increasingly difficult world rendered in sound. Unafraid of being dissonant, it's sonic imagery calls up visions of things falling apart, of clockwork menace clicking along, threatening to break down.

The opening cut, Electric Future Collective is such a vision. Using only six samples as a base it lumbers along, building the story of a mechanical future, biology all gone and replaced with an unfeeling artificial intelligence. A strong opening that states the themes of the album. It reinforces the idea of dystopia for me, and was an excellent choice for the first cut.  

The artist describes the album as growing out of an impetus to create using metallic and static sounds, with the definition of static here likely a double entendre, meaning both unmovable and noise. He often uses piano tones as a melodic device, big ominous and simple, blending with noise bursts and clicking metallic beats. It provides focus on many of the tracks. Dissonance is a tool here too, contrasting and complimenting the simple melodies and beats.

The title cut Metal Static hits you with an atemporal burst of noise, a long one at that. This reinforces the idea on this album that these pieces are not necessarily intended to be enjoyable.  That is not to say that they are not listenable, and  the dissonance created is a weave of sound that interacts and interferes with itself interesting ways. Perhaps not for the ears of a casual music listener, but gives an active listener plenty of things to consider.

Drunk Zarathustra builds from a simple rhythmic pulse . It ads a warm bass to reinforce, then builds to a huge conclusion, using tones that remind one of a drill. Again our metallic theme plays out. This cut seems to exemplify much of the collection, and is an excellent single example of the ideas presented.

T.F.A.L. rounds out the collection, and includes a rare vocal, a chant of the existential, which sits neatly in the mix, providing a focus for the infectious rhythm bed. Surely this is a track not to be missed, like the album itself.

Geeky Linkies: @geekydisco on Twitter, The Geeky Disco Experiment on Bandcamp, The Geeky Disco Experiment on SoundCloud.

Download the album now:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Progress 14/03/16

©2014 Linda Palmer
Busy times in both commerce and personal life have kept me, well, busy. I love it, but progress has not progressed as much as I'd like in my musical excursions.

However, I'm just about finished with a musical challenge posed by The Geeky Disco Experiment, in which the participants all use the same six samples to create a new composition. The results from these simple beginnings are staggeringly variant. I'll be putting the finishing touches on my contribution, a soundscape, today. Follow as the pieces are added here: The Music Challenge

I was able to re-release In Suspension to a receptive audience, and it was well received. Thanks for all the love on SoundCloud and Twitter. Here's the song:



In Suspension was written to an older instrumental that I wrote about 2005. The vocals and synth parts have been added to the ensemble  backing, and work fairly well. I'll be working on this to prepare it for live performance. I'm really glad that I captured the determination against hopelessness I was feeling at the time.

Response to the recent reviews has been wonderful. You can find them on the sidebar, if you wish to hear about some great music out there.

Listening: Candy Trash's Frozen Venice

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Good Fight XE

Sometimes we find a release we'd missed, and then wonder how we'd missed it. For me this year, I'd have to say it was The Good Fight Extended Edition  by Mr. Bitterness and the Guilty Pleasures . I'd heard and loved the original Bandcamp release, and wanted to do a review when I'd discovered this great version with remixes and goodies. It also gives me a bit of an opportunity to gush about some of the things that I absolutely adore about the original release as well. I loved it as I love my coffee, dark and strong.

It's what I might classify as electronic rock, and the album itself can be looked at as a concept album, with a unified theme, and even a story. The theme is determination and the struggle we must all face just to get through this mess of a modern world we find ourselves in. In particular, it's  about the internal struggle to brace yourself against externally imposed self doubt. The lyrics become a mantra, from the hard hitting beginning track "Get Up" to the final defeat of "Give Up". These songs are anthems, surely. And they are anthems that make me want to sing them against the harsh realities that crush us in the antagonism we must all face daily.  In the end our protagonist seems to lose the struggle, succumbing to the external crushing forces, with a chilling vocorder break towards the end. As in George Orwells Nineteen Eighty Four, our protagonist has been beaten down.

Fat synths and guitars mix with infectious rhythm back these mantras. Earworms are often formed, and I find the songs remain with me long after they've stopped playing. I've had "Benediction" in my regular playlists for months now, turning it up almost every time it comes on. Really quite a brilliant rock song, and again, providing me the self absolution that I need to move on.

The new song "Wake Up" added in the middle of the album provides an external struggle. This song can be taken as an anthem against the corporate culture that can oppress us all. A socially relevant piece, that provides an antagonist to the story. A welcome addition to the concept, and it's reflected in the album art which features a clear cut forest and industrial encroachment.

I loved the remixes too. Dust Motes, Blessed Sacrilege, and Michael 'mGee' Gregoire all deserve props for their reimagining of the arrangements. Surely an Epic extended edition.

Find it here: http://www.blocsonic.com/releases/show/the-good-fight-xe. It includes a pretty new booklet, and is available in tasty FLAC lossless as well as other more mundane formats.