Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo – Doropea (C30, Old Bicycle Records)

ambient, Drone, Noise, Review

Doropea is an homage to Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo’s hometown of Torino, in reference to that town’s fountains and in part the rivers that make up its geography. In true thematic fashion Doropea is split into two parts, just like the duality of the two rivers. Both span one side and about 15 minutes, and they document two different styles for this artist.

The first side is a hypnotic series of sustained feedback drone tones with occasional found sounds, like the clacking of a typewriter. The whole thing is held together by occasional piano plinking and organ work, creating an ambient soundscape that works very well to pull the listener in. It feels organic and thoughtful, almost bucolic, and it’s an enjoyable fifteen minutes.

The second part also incorporates found sounds, although this one tends focus more on droning electronic elements. A faint repetitive tone seems to be sourced from the track’s early snoring recording, and Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo allows the track to expand outward from its initial drones, even giving the track some humming every now and then. It even quiets down for a slow climax outro, a twinkling echoing synth line that ends the album.

Doropea is an interesting release and one that certainly captures the intricate essence of “home” for an outsider; the ideas here help tell the story of what Palumbo memorializes from Torino, and it’s a deeply pleasant motif.

KP Transmission/ Омутъ Мора – Split (C60, Ciel Bleu et Petits Oiseaux Records)

ambient, dark ambient, Noise, Review

Honestly, I don’t know much about KP Transmission or Омутъ Мора  besides what I can get from the Internet. KP Transmission is Karina Kazaryan from Moscow and Siberia, a dark ambient and self-described illbient artist; Омутъ Мора (AKA Omut Mora) is a Russian experimental/dark ambient/folk project as described by the artist’s VK profile. KP Transmission has had a couple of releases, mostly splits, and over the years Омутъ Мора has racked up a number of album credits. On this tape split on Ciel Bleu et Petits Oiseaux Records, they both spend about 13 minutes per side.

First up is KP Transmission, and it’s clear how she fits into the illbient subgenre tag; ignorant about what that was, I did a search of the tag to find it was first created to characterize Brooklyn DJs in the 1990s, describing a trend in ambient music that features both ambient atmospheric sounds and accompanying beats. KP Transmission works in dark, noisy textures, sometimes less ambient than they are droning and subtly harsh. The first track, “Pranicheskaya Ataka”, features a rumbling dark tone that marches forward, almost like the sound of a continuous roll on a snare drum with the snares untightened. There’s a quiet bass pulsation moving forward, and KP Transmission works in electronic alarums and gentle maneuverings to add rhythm to the drone.

Her next three tracks almost feel like continuations of each other. “Pristup I” and “Pristup II” are certainly titularly linked, but “Pristup II” has a direct lead-in to the vocal-tinged sounds of the longest track from KP Transmission, “Kain.” “Pristup I” is a crackling tone that continues to disassemble as KP Transmission unfurls ambient textures out of noise; then, “Pristup II” adds a layer of slicing feedback underneath it all that comes and goes within the rhythm.

“Kain” features the most open ambiance of the four tracks, seemingly incorporating found sounds like bird calls, spoken word, and lilting, ghostly melodies that sound slightly muffled; notably, this is a collaboration between the two artists, and it certainly feels very akin to the dual natures of these projects.

KP Transmission’s tracks are often enchanting, and it’s interesting to hear how she works her way through rhythm and noise. These aren’t particularly difficult tracks, and often they can be quite beautiful. But there’s a layer of darkness winding its way through the first pieces that I find particularly attractive.

Омутъ Мора encompasses a similar technique on the second side, starting with “Chernaya Astma.” That’s a crumbling bit of static that eventually morphs into a filtered ambient texture, quite like KP Transmission’s “Pristup” series. The other two tracks are a bit longer to allow for the ambiance sonic space. “Nedra” is a ringing, often shuddering warble that builds to a loud climax in its last minutes, ghostly and sometimes shrill but featuring solid movement throughout – though it ends a bit abruptly. The final track “Kak Cherv” opens with some muffled instrumentation before introducing more sustained notes and echoing plunks in the background. It’s quite a bit different than the previous ambient piece, with a wind instrument carrying a sloppy melody while reverb effects threaten to overtake the sound.

The biggest issue with this release is not the tracks themselves but the C60 tape it comes on; it leaves a lot of blank air towards the end of both sides, and I’m not really sure why that was chosen. Otherwise, though, this split from KP Transmission and Омутъ Мора is a great offering for fans of dark ambient and noise, deserving of a listen.

Yen Pox – Between the Horizon and the Abyss (CD, Malignant Records)

ambient, dark ambient, Music, Review

I’ll be honest – writing for a noise/drone review blog, I hear a lot of dark ambient works. At this point, it’s difficult to get excited for most of them, even if the idea behind them seems solid. There are many artists working in the field who are prone to dropping a few long, sustained synth notes into a track and calling it dark ambient, and it’s the kind of oversaturation that is really hurting the subgenre. Yen Pox, however, are not newbies to this kind of music, and it truly shows on their latest album Between the Horizon and the Abyss. This isn’t a couple of notes alternated over an 8-10 minute track; it really is an ambient experience, full of moody sustained chords, swirled instrumentation, with a tension apparent from the first minutes of the near-80 minute album.

They start things off with “The Awakening,” which focuses on those sustained notes – the kind of thing that can often make for an underwhelming listen – and then integrates a wavering complexity to them. And morphing right into “White of the Eye,” it’s clear that Yen Pox understand that dark ambient’s atmosphere takes more than just dreary, held-note progressions; the swirls of sound ebb and flow, and nuance takes precedence here. There’s a reliance on the minimal within their sound that one should not mistake for a lack of complexity, because a close listen rewards with a number of subtle changes in the wavering tones of Michael J.V. Hensley and Steven Hall’s compositions.

It’s not always so quiet, though. “Cold Summer Sun” finds Yen Pox hammering on the chords, breaking out chains and rattling whatever metal was on hand – it’s almost like an updated version of A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s theme from the boiler room scenes, even complete with ghostly giggles in the background.

The flaw with Between the Horizon and the Abyss, which I would argue is a flaw with almost every album of this style, is that the listener begins to get desensitized to the flowing darkness within each of these tracks. While Yen Pox spice things up with new ideas within each song, the central idea remains mostly the same – plodding tones, sweeps of sound, and an ambiance that forces the listener to feel uneasy. That’s really the intention, to overload the audience with the abyss, but Between the Horizon and the Abyss feels a tad overstuffed. The tracks are a bit too long, or, there are too many of them. At 80 minutes, this will be a difficult listen for all those save the lover of the subgenre.

Still, Yen Pox delivers exactly what’s expected of them, with some seriously dark and brooding tunes. The vocal deliveries and the clangs of distant metallics combine with the swarming synth textures for an album that is brimming with ethereal darkness. With Between the Horizon and the Abyss, the listener finds oneself in a limbo that feels tense and uneasy – an album that showcases the best of the dark ambient genre.

Illusion of Safety – Surrender (C60, No Part of It)

ambient, Drone, harsh noise, Noise, Review

surrenderIllusion of Safety has been releasing records for over thirty years now, and this cassette (or CD) from No Part of It feels like a cumulative soundtrack of all that he’s done. On Surrender, Daniel Burke works with guitars, synths, and various noise-making devices to craft some intensely spiritual droning tracks, at the same time challenging the listener with the vast assortment of layering that is taking place below the surface. It’s a tough listen not because of its harshness but because of the overwhelming supply of sounds that Illusion of Safety conjures.

The tape edition of Surrender is what I received from No Part of It, and in general all of the tracks tend to meld into each other. On the CD edition, it would be easier to pick out the changes because of track numbering, but with the cassette I’m unable to tell the transitions. In this regard, I can’t really comment on tracks individually, but can speak of Surrender in terms of the whole release.

The way these tracks fold into each other is mesmerizing, moving from one to the other smoothly and maintaining the sense of overall tone. Like the clown cover artwork, this is a veritable carnival of sounds; there are the standard drones of guitar and synth here, but as the tape moves forward, there’s a clever use of silence to space the sounds out. Illusion of Safety uses the silence to form cohesion, slowly shifting between organ chords before diving into beeps and boops of spacey technology. Whistles and warbles combine with a slow rhythmic churn. It’s all somewhat disorienting because of the array of sounds Burke provides, and the use of dynamism really works to keep the listener off-guard.

Side B still has the vignettes of silence with subtle instrumentation in the background, but it also switches off to some heavier, beat-driven performances as well. There are cut-up samples, and there’s a metal-esque rhythm that cuts in almost meant as a rave dance. Illusion of Safety’s tendency to move all over the gamut on Surrender is not a flaw but an example of how wide-spread noise’s subgenres can be, and Burke knows how to incorporate them all into a cohesive tape.

Surrender is a great return to the genre for Illusion of Safety, a release that finds Burke switching expertly between forms of noise for a variety of great tracks. The first side is generally quieter, while Side B opens up for catchy beats, sampling, and a more pronounced sound. Both are good listens, and fans of Illusion of Safety’s work will find Burke has crafted another exceptional record.

recommended

Hunted Creatures – Mogollon Rim (C30, Dynamo Sound Collective)

ambient, Music, Noise, Review

mogollon rimMogollon Rim is an area in Arizona known for its natural beauty near the Colorado Plateau. It’s also known for sitings of a monster that closely resembles Bigfoot. Known as the Mogollon Monster, this beast has been the subject of folklore since the early 1900s, and members of the Apache tribe that live close to the Rim claim to have seen the monster even more recently. As Hunted Creatures’ name suggests, the idea behind this tape seems to be inspired by the Bigfoot-esque creature, and the team of Micah Pacileo, Amy Hoffmann, and Ryan Emmett deliver with a very ethereal set of six tracks. Mogollon Rim has a hazy feature to its songs, and all of them span the course of about five minutes while weaving various guitars, electronics, and violins into the mix. “Whisper Bullets” starts things off with a quiet looping rhythm of ambient sustained chords and percussive elements, adding in the waver of electronics here and there. It builds up into reverb-heavy wallops and whispers, water-droplet blops and bubbles, that heads right into “Interlude”. A soft guitar melody pairs with the clanks and patters of “Whisper Bullets”‘ rhythm section until vibes take over. It seems important to note that the fogginess of each track carries into the next, especially on the first side – what was once important to the percussion becomes the backdrop of a new track. The somewhat melancholy violin on Mogollon Rim is a lovely aspect of the tape, the alternating rhythms in “Hallway” becoming mournful as warped guitar wails overtop. “Dream Snake” has an alluring power electronics vibe to it, the classical violin sounds working as a backdrop to a plucked, exotic guitar repetition. “Human Dust” provides a tribalism with is percussive sounds and synchronous violin/guitar riff. Though Mogollon Rim often feels repetitious, the idea behind crafting these hazy tracks is to highlight the subtleties of change throughout. Hunted Creatures are constantly adding additional noise and instrumentation to the tracks, and the most interesting parts of these songs are the noticeable inclusion of a new sound. It makes Mogollon Rim feel effortlessly fluid, and alludes to the hidden nature of the tape’s Mogollon Monster – perhaps it’s there, if you look (or listen) hard enough. recommended

Mark Van Fleet – Alien Versions (C122, Little Miracles)

ambient, Drone, Music, Noise, Review, soundtrack

alien versions

Mark Van Fleet’s Alien Versions is an ode to Ridley Scott’s film Alien, a film-length alternate soundtrack to the film meant to be played at the same time with the volume of the movie turned down. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to actually listen to it with the film, and instead listened to it alone, but it doesn’t seem to matter much: even without the film’s visuals, the atmosphere of Van Fleet’s release is more than enough to evoke the stimulation and tension of Alien.

Alien Versions contains a lot of ambient noise that sits very well within the film; bleeps and bloops of space computers pair with quiet backdrops of electronic dread. Van Fleet often allows his soundtrack to thud along patiently, quietly droning with an ambient pounding or a subtle buzz. Side A’s 60 minutes often pair the ambiance with the alien growls and clicks, immediately visualizing Scott’s intense drama.

Side B’s opening pounds along with a soft feedback squeal behind it, the kind of muffled sound expected from a space shuttle. Without seeing the alien at all, the threat is there; and with this kind of alternate soundtrack, I think it’s just as important to listen to it without any visual aid as it is to listen to the two paired together. The effectiveness certainly comes from both combined, but Van Fleet is just as impressive at crafting intensity from sounds alone. In general, the cassette builds and builds without end, only multiple recesses before the next terrifying encounter.

The dark, somewhat muffled aspect of the approach is important to the soundtrack, too. The listener feels completely alone in its confining structure, subject to whatever horrors await. It’s a testament to what Van Fleet can do, and I certainly look forward to other re-imagined soundtracks because of this. Alien Versions is tense but also very much in line with Alien‘s atmosphere and mood, a difficult thing to re-enact but something Van Fleet is very good at.

Whether you’ve seen Alien or not (you need to rectify that though, really), Alien Versions is an important listen. Van Fleet effectively transitions between quieter moments and swelling, climactic encounters, forcing the listener to engage just as the characters in the film do. It’s a tight soundtrack full of dread, and one that shouldn’t be missed.

recommended

Mulo Muto/B E T A – Tape Crash #11: The Examination (C60, Old Bicycle Records)

ambient, Drone, Noise, Review

mulo muto beta

Mulo Muto is the duo of Joel Gilardini and Attila Folklor, a project of synths, guitars, and drones; B E T A is from Michele Basso and Marcello Bellina, and they mostly utilize guitars for a hypnotic, psych-y trance dance. Old Bicycle Records’ Tape Crash is a series of cassettes seemingly matching up artists for a split, and really The Examination could not have worked out better for two alike projects.

First up is Mulo Muto with their side-long droning piece “When the Sounds of Nature Collide With Our Inner Selves and Resurface As a Stream of Noises.” It’s about a half an hour long and sees Mulo Muto combining dark synth tones with a wall of buzzing rumbles. Beginning with insect chirrups, the track picks up into a droning crescendo, offering up the collision of the title for chants and radio transmission buzzes. Eventually we come down again after a glorious high, coming back to more nature sounds and some wind chimes.

B E T A offer up five songs on the second side, often of thick reverbed guitar and noise effects. “Pluto is a Planet to My Heart” gives a quick summation of what’s to come, a short track of soft guitar plucking, climaxing up until a “Shhhh…” quietens everything. “The New Order Song” starts with a guitar track and some junky electronic crackles before becoming a spacey jam of dueling guitar riffs. “Kill Collins!” shimmers, then rumbles, with a ton of reverberation leaving the ears tickled, until the Death in June cover “Behind the Rose” calms things; the original song is preserved, but under a heavy dose of echo that more resembles Boris at their noisiest. “Karma, please” is a sinister guitar riff, one taking the lead while the other strums out backing notes; “A (Ha Ha)” rounds it out with a crunchy, modulated riff and some moaned, ghostly vocals.

If Tape Crash is meant to be a way of seeing how two artists sound mashed up onto one cassette, then Old Bicycle Records have done a fantastic job on The Examination. Either way, this is a solid cassette all around from two very capable artists; Mulo Muto starts things with a lengthy, ambient drone, and B E T A provide a soundtrack of guitar manipulations. If you can’t find this tape, then just listen to the thing on Bandcamp.

recommended

Vinland Special Services – The Articles of Confederation (C80?, Red Light Sound)

ambient, Drone, harsh noise, Noise, Review

vinland special services the articles of confederation

Vinland Special Services is a from the same artist who does Ilsa Koch and runs the label Winter Solace Productions. On this release, Red Light Sound collects various recordings from Vinland SS, either compiled from small-quantity demos or other tapes the project has put out in the past. Because of this, the title The Articles of Confederation is fitting; these are old, somewhat outdated tracks for the project, yet still important to its history.

The first side starts off with the three tracks from the demo tape Vinland Protection Squadron. They’re mostly very quiet, confined cuts, beginning with the marching procession of “ZB Delirium.” The soft patter of footsteps continues to the tune of whistling feedback, which begins to open up into louder and more insistent noises later in the track. At over 20 minutes long, this track is the longest on the cassette but also has the most depth, often pushing the boundary of what the listener imagines the sequence will do. It’s followed by “The Patriots March on Washington,” with sizzling electricity and an constant whirring/churning texture that grows throughout its ten minutes. Ending side A is “Imposters in Glory Suits,” a very quiet echo of voices with soft feedback.

Side B features some of the B-sides of Vinald Special Services’ output, including “People’s Radio,” which did not make the cut on Vinland Protection Squadron. This is another lengthy track of repeated whirring, eventually morphing into what sounds like a distorted scream intentionally becoming static crackles. Eventually the track returns to its whistling alarms, and starts the process over again. Towards the end, it starts to become too repetitive, alternating between textures too quickly.

“Untitled” is the unique track on this release, tremendously different from the rest with its free-form ambient drones because it was not originally a Vinland SS track. “U-Boat Resistance Campaign” rounds out the noisier aspect of The Articles of Confederation with quiet feedback whistles and what sounds like a buzzing of strummed guitar in the background. Lastly is “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye,” Vinlad SS’ take on the traditional Irish song. It’s a creepy crackle of electronics and soft whistling drones, set to Vinland SS’ own vocals.

This is a nice release from Red Light Sound that compiles some of Vinland Special Services’ older tracks into a generally cohesive album; these tracks are often quieter yet still quite difficult, and certainly worth a listen.

Klontaveum/Protocols – Glory & Hope/Fa (C90, Winter Solace Productions)

ambient, Drone, harsh noise, Review

klontaveum protocols

The reason I took a guess on the length of this tape is because it doesn’t say anywhere exactly how long it is. The tracks themselves are about 35 minutes a side, putting this at a 70 minute length, but the tape runs along for a while after the tracks are finished. I’m guessing C80, but it could be closer to C90. Edit: Confirmed C90.

Anyway, Glory & Hope/Fa is a split tape from Klontaveum and Protocols (also known by the much longer title The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Klontaveum is a fairly new project I’d guess; I can’t find any information on the project, and Glory & Hope/Fa is the only release listed on its Discogs profile. Protocols have been around for some time releasing noisy ambient stuff, like their massive 6xCD-R set on Mein Kampf that runs about 7 hours long.

Glory & Hope/Fa is said to revolve around fire samples. First up is Klontaveum with four tracks, a quick intro with “When It Began” and then three longer entries. Klontaveum’s tracks are very cloudy, potentially the product of poor recording equipment or an echo-y studio. Whatever the case, it’s difficult to hear much dynamism in these tracks, because the audio is so muddy that the noise tends to blend into itself. Most affected is “Lies of a Lie Forged,” one of the longest tracks from Klontaveum and one that tends to have the least effect on the listener. Its noises often sound sludgy and undefined, only sometimes breaking free of the low bass shudders. “You Know” and “Glory & Hope” are slightly better, with more depth to the sound and somewhat changing tones of sound, where the breadth and pitch is more spread out.

Protocols’ side of the split has only two tracks, “Fa” and “Sandraudiga.” The first has some pretty defined fire samples along with dark synth dirges and a repetitive format that lasts for its twenty minutes. The ambiance of this track is aided by the fire crackles, and Protocols do a good job of keeping things fresh despite the fairly obvious use of repeating textures. The same goes for “Sandraudiga,” with another subtle fire crackle, more dreamy synth drones, and a loose warble that makes the tune feel like its weaving in and out. The Protocols side is absolutely recommended.

It’s a 50/50 release from Winter Solace, with Klontaveum’s side not very striking or profound; Protocols, however, sincerely deliver a nice droning ambient 35 minutes that is definitely worth the while.

Dave Phillips – At the Heart of It All (CD-R, Ruido Horrible/Ruido Latino)

ambient, Drone, found sound

at the heart of it all

At the Heart of it All is a significant departure from where Dave Phillips began in Fear of God. That was a grindcore band back in the late ’80s, as raucous as one would expect. But his solo work on At the Heart of It All comes down from all of the aggression of the hardcore scene for a collage of found sounds out of the Amazon. The two 35 minute tracks on this release were collected by Phillips during his time near Chuallacocha, where he let his microphones record whatever sounds of the wildlife surrounded him. Simply organized and layered, At the Heart of It All features no manipulation of the various calls, and instead allows them to blend together for a cacophony of natural harmony. The disc comes with a short essay from Phillips on the transformative nature of this experience as well, explaining the reasoning behind the title.

The two tracks are split in two; “Dawn Until Dusk” gathers the sounds of the Amazon during the day, and “Dusk Until Dawn” collects them during the night. Both have familiar concepts – there’s an overwhelming amount of insect chirruping throughout both, and squawks from birds are fairly normal as well. In a way, these tend to form a wall of shrill cries throughout both tracks, allowing Phillips to layer calls of monkeys and frogs in the background to add variation.

At the Heart of It All switches off and on; the listener sometimes feels like they’re simply listening to a chorus of cries in the wild, and then all of the sudden Phillips collage will morph into an interesting loop of animal calls that form a rhythmic base. These moments are staggered throughout the album, and most likely not intentional; it is the audience who pulls the meaning out of insect sounds, and these are great experiences.

It’s certainly not a CD you’ll want to listen to all of the time; the found sound format, along with the relatively sparse editing, means that At the Heart of It All is best used as a relaxation soundtrack. Even so, I’d recommend “Dusk Until Dawn” over “Dawn Until Dusk” because the intensity of the insects becomes harsh over time. Still, if nature sounds are your thing, or if found sound interests you in any way, At the Heart of It All‘s composition is more than just heading to the zoo to listen to the animal buzz.