Sunday, April 20, 2014


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 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.