Cultural Bulletin
Cultural Bulletin is a quarterly magazine that provides an international view of creative work. We look to film, music, design and art as signifiers of our cultural moment.
Posts tagged Music
MUSIC: Michael Nyman - Decay Music

Label: Obscure

Year: 1976

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From 1968 to 1976, Michael Nyman worked as a music critic for various magazines. He studied 16th and 17th c. baroque music in the mid-1960s, composing only a handful of musical pieces prior to ‘Decay Music’ in 1976, the real starting point of his carreer as a composer.

 ‘1-100’ is an auto-generative composition for piano. The track is played at half the speed it was recorded. It was written for Peter Greenaway's film of the same title but rejected because it was too long. It was inspired by Frederic Rzewski's Les Moutons de Panurge, which Nyman often played with the Scratch Orchestra.

 ‘Bell Set No.1’ is a pseudo-gamelan composition built from metallophones, ie: bells, triangle, gongs, cymbals and tam-tam. It is a system piece based on the percussions’ sharp attack and slow decay, alternatively enhancing each. It works perfectly as a sound installation devoid of progression or change, without beginning nor end.

Plato's HouseMusicComment
In Review: Acolytes - Rupture

Label: A L T E R

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Highly Recommended

As the name of the release suggests, a rupture is a low lying, disruptive force that occurs deep below the surface remaining undetected for sometime. Acolytes’ Rupture, accounts for those who say ‘everything is fine’, ‘my life is good’ or ‘I don’t see a problem’. It is easy to imagine that a key characteristic of this rupture would be a blindness to the impending doom - like a volcano about to erupt - and a general inaction borne out of apathy, ignorance, denial (fear), moral righteousness (superiority), the list goes on...

Perhaps the most important feature of Acolytes’ Rupture is that once the implosion/explosion is apparent, it is too late. By virtue of its existence we have already gone too far and consequently lack, at an inherent level, the tools to turn it around. 'Auto Cannibalising Loop' (perhaps the best song title of 2018) lays the responsibility at our feet suggesting that this rupture, although human made, is beyond our command and is now self-consuming. When considering a future that holds such a bleak outcome it's a not stretch to consider climate change or the outcomes of AI (if the pessimists are correct) as key proponents of our civilisations collapse. 

Rupture can be viewed beyond a literal interpretation of our situation, existing on the plane of a cautionary tale or prophecy. The picture is overwhelmingly negative and is best conceptualised in the same way we view a Goya drawing, Chapman Brothers sculpture or Francis Bacon painting. Like these, Rupture is an unrelentingly dark work, depicting the worst aspects of humanity. There have been many ruptures throughout human history and Acolytes do well to articulate the peculiarities of form that a rupture in our cultural moment might take. Unsurprisingly, it is complex - worlds away from the simple hammer fist of a meteor or the uniformed simplicity of death by flood, death by lava etc. 

This rupture is technical, linked inextricably with the role systems of information and technology play in everyday life. There is a claustrophobic hysteria pressed into the record - a maze that you don’t see a way out of, a hyper-information anxiety. The unexplained first track, untitled, seemingly has no words yet there is the recollection of a human voice that has crashed, forever looping, unintelligibly. The damage suffered by the imagined victims of these songs is brutal,  viscerally complex. Rupture is a death scene. AG

Revisiting: O Yuki Conjugate - Scene In Mirage/ Soundtracks

Rereleased on reissue label Emotional Rescue, in 2017 - O Yuki Conjugate’s Scene In Mirage/ Soundtracks originally released in 1984 presents a record of instrumental proto-punk and synth-noir ambience. 

If the record was a soundtrack to a film it would likely be set in a totalitarian future with a society living under oppressive rule - not indistinct from an Orwellian nightmare or Blade Runner, in which the human form is regulated, subverted and sedated under the guise of optimisation but ultimately for control. The idea of numbing the wild animal inside is not just a futuristic ideal but is a cross-culturally widely appealing course of action - even an aspiration held in the personal realm. Beyond feeding children with too much energy and not enough focus (ADHD) amphetamines, we regularly dose up ourselves with sedatives (sleeping pills, alcohol, weed, anti-depressants and a plethora of prescription meds) as if we understand that, really, we should be more agreeable. 

Expanding this thread, Scene In Mirage is experienced from the first-person perspective of someone heavily sedated in the 'utopia', wandering around and blissed out. Maybe here, maybe not - track 8 From Here to Where poignantly captures what would likely be a transiently experienced high-point of being routinely micro-dosed into sedation. However, Missing Brain Scan, presents how stressful and confusing it might be when, for example, you’re busy at work and frantically search for the medical records you probably misfiled. 

O Yuki Conjugate balanced the pendulum between serenity and anguish through oscillating the pace of Scene In Mirage between ambient offerings and high-tempo drum machine driven cuts. It’s sonically driven by lovely classic analogue synth sounds that are soaked in warmth and hazy edges. Musically, the record can warble and distort the component pieces to transition a track from mirage to serene to subdued nightmare to panic. 

Viewed from a wider lens, Scene In Mirage communicates the repetition and patterns of a culture that is unbalanced but oscillating in its own dysfunctional rhythm - not at the moment of implosion but not at the peak-point of its desired outcome. Track 14, Flute Cloud, communicates the unhealthy, nullifying ambience that would have been in the air of Huxley's Brave New World. The record ends as if the transmission into the future is fading for us in a story that will carry on for a long time to come, the ending is indiscriminate in this sense. The allure of the future is both its exotic otherness but also the opportunity to more potently distil nuanced aspects of our reality, after-all, a vision of the future is best served as a means to understand our present situation. AG

Buy it here: https://emotional-rescue.bandcamp.com/album/scene-in-mirage

In Review: Christina Vantzou – No. 4

Record Label: Kranky

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Brussels based Christina Vantzou is a composer that has been exploring music for upwards of a decade. Through releasing via the American based label Kranky, she has created a unique and immeasurable landscape in her music.

No. 4, in keeping with its minimalist tone, has been released in April (the fourth month of the year). Her previous releases were numbered 1, 2 and 3 accordingly with remixes taking the .5 moniker in-between full album releases. As you enter the world of No. 4, you are taken on a trip – just the way music should be.

Throughout No.4 there are flourishes of choral colour. Glissando for Bodies and Machines in Space feel like they could have been included in Ridley Scott’s Alien; the descending voice adheres to the film's famous tagline. This track sets the tone for the album. The repetition of the vocal and a tension-filled, rising drone, make for an uneasy start. Percussion in Nonspace follows the opening and the sound created fits literally with its title. The track disappears into the ether with a magical flicker.

Doorway has a gentle bass that slowly slides the track along as sparse, twinkling piano shimmers above the earthy and sometimes distressing tone. Some Limited and Waning Memory contain more beautiful, abstract piano work reminiscent of Nhor’s most recent work in his Wildflower’s collection.

Lava is another tension-filled string led piece that again is aptly named; there is no conjecture or trying to be cute in titling here. Sharp, shrill notes fill the short duration. As the album draws to a close, there is more of an electronic, synth-led layer added. Garden of Forking Paths would not be out of place in Stranger Things as its musical anxiety grows. Remote Polyphony features Steve Hauschildt, who himself is in a rich vein of form with Stands (2016) and Where All Is Fled (2015), both being widely lauded. He adds his inimitable modular touch to the piece to end the album.

No.4 doesn’t play with tempos; this is slow burning, hauntingly beautiful ambient minimalism. It has an evocative aura and tone that allows the listener to mentally go wherever they want amongst the music. DW

In Review: Bränn Ner Hela Skiten - Various

Record Label: Förlag För Fri Musik

Swedish label Förlag För Fri Musik, home to Blod and Enhet For Fri Musik, take the idea of lo-fi to new heights in this ripped up and fragmented compilation of agony. Bränn Ner Hela Skiten, which translates, amusingly, to ‘Burn Down The Whole Shit’ features a host of Swedish bands and artists as well as a few cited as ‘unknown artists’ that all contribute towards a compilation that fulfils the title’s prophecy.

Many of the tracks, a minute or less, do perish before your eyes like pages of a book on fire or a camera film disintegrating, projecting a memory only once. The fragility of these songs, which sound more like moments, hang by the thinnest of threads oscillating between oblivion (see the atonal noise of Leda’s Hög Puls, På Väg) and the quiet softness of Alltid Hemåt by Enhet För Fri Musik or the sombre mood of Pig’s (great name) Mist Of Confusion.

The record follows a similar pattern to Enhet For Fri Musik’s fantastic Det Finns Ett Hjärta Som För Dig with the record heavily rooted in a distinctive blend of death folk, noise/industrial and field recordings. The disparate tonalities between songs and recording styles create a distinctly visual record that sounds every part documentary as much as it does music. AG

In Review: Caçador do Futuro - Tropa Macaca

Record Label: Dunno Recordings

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'Instrumental Music is supposed to be a-semantic' states the accompanying text on Dunno Recordings Bandcamp page for Tropa Macaca’s latest album Caçador do Futuro, a follow up to 2016’s fantastic VIVA. The term a-semantic in this context can be understood as being self-evident, in and of itself - not a story. These precursive ideas link nicely with what is, in essence, a head-melting record, layered densely and promising no answers.

Caçador do Futuro is reminiscent of sound art, in which the matter of fact presentation aids the impression that it could have happened all at once, starkly lit in a room upstairs or in a basement art gallery somewhere. Considered as art objects, they hold an opaqueness in their abstraction and indifference in their unwillingness to please. Reminiscent of Cluster and Throbbing Gristle’s more dissonant work, it is ground well-trodden yet presented with their signature dose of eternally collapsing rhythms and scraping disharmony. Split across two long-form tracks (PART 1 and PART 2) spanning 45 minutes in total, Caçador do Futuro builds and moves subtly with around 4 things happening at all times. There is a bleakness and disorientating sickness to the overall experience - something akin to a panic attack or mental collapse. If those things aren’t happening in your life, the record can be sort-of meditated to and observed, as if looking at an impenetrable piece of conceptual art or something banally grotesque. Despite the meaning shaped void that exists, the record provides no escapism, it instead serves as a kind of one size fits all soundtrack for whichever way your life is falling apart. All the best.  

In Review: Det Finns Ett Hjärta Som För Dig - Enhet För Fri Musik

Record Label: OMLOTT

Released as a limited run of 300 copies through label Omlott, Swedish group Enhet För Fri Musik present Det Finns Ett Hjärta Som För Dig. This record feels closer to a memory than a set of songs - it becomes a form of audio diary and, when considered through this lens, is strangely beautiful. It is youthful with an irrepressible decay - a delicately balanced thing.  Everything in the record sounds remembered and not deliberate, the songs sound like field recordings which gives them a feel of a belonging to a documentary as opposed to a studio performance.

The record has the remoteness of a hazy memory where only the most significant aspects remain: the emotions. Like a secret, there is an intimacy and vulnerability that shakes through all the component pieces, perhaps this frequency is what unites the seemingly disparate moments into a something that connects as a whole. The record leads up to its emotional end: a 10 minute wondering piece that, even if you don’t speak Swedish, (I don’t) could break you into pieces. It speaks to the visceral softness that exists of our time, tragedy in nothing, despair in bliss and hope in love. AG

In Review: Phantom Thread (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Jonny Greenwood

Record Label: Nonesuch Records

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Jonny Greenwood’s Oscar-nominated score for Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film Phantom Thread, co-written by and starring Daniel Day-Lewis, marks the third time the director and composer have worked together. Set in the fashion world of 1950’s London and centred around a fractured and all-consuming relationship between waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps) and dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), the film provides fertile ground for a fascinating score. 

Working with a 60 piece orchestra, Greenwood captures the opulence of the era with a series of elegant and lush pieces dominated largely by layered string sections. The score projects a sense of tradition and order that rather than simply paying homage, as other period dramas might, contains Greenwood’s DNA within it. This can be heard particularly in the high register of the strings, moving from beautified passages before turning into something darker. These moments are reminiscent of Greenwood’s score for There Will Be Blood which powerfully took the idea of droning and roaring strings to the absolute limit.

At points, the strings are employed suggestively with high register singular melodies that, in their sharpness and winding patterns, evoke the fluency of a needle and thread. Yet, as the high melodies progress throughout the record, they lose their precision and elegance, beginning to slow - suspiciously pondering with neuroticism and dissonance. Other moments seem to capture the flow-point of creative endeavour, which is characterised by pulsating arpeggios and contain a sense of contentment. These moments are only fleeting.

Woodcock is a dysfunctional genius and Greenwood’s score successfully and creatively represents the line between genius and madness as well as the vulnerability that exists in the most ardent of souls. 

As a record in and of itself, Greenwood has added something that stands up to and expands on his canon of work as a composer and has deservedly received an Oscar nomination. It is a record that, like his others, has merit outside the context of the film it has been made for. The score speaks in favour of chasing an ideal (or a phantom) due to the glory held within the quest and the beauty within the prize - it also might serve as a cautionary tale for those who try to fly too close to the sun. It is a record of beauty, bliss, confusion and an irrevocable sadness - a timeless combination. AG

In Review: Red Lantern at the Kallikatsou - The Chi Factory featuring Hanyo van Oosterom

Record Label: Astral Industries

Hanyo van Oosterom’s (aka Chi Factory) Red Lantern at the Kallikatsou is a remix of DeepChord’s Lanterns and was released on Astral Industries on the 12th December, 2017.

Red Lantern at The Kallikatsou presents two 21 minute pieces filled with amorphous chambers soaked with history and emotion. They are set in worlds that hold the grandeur of lost civilisations - where only ruinous structures remain and haunted dissonance echoes eternally.

The record begins with water depicted figuratively, layered with indistinct speech and field recordings, before being enveloped by more mystical overtones that establish a theme that continues throughout. Over the course of the record the liquid becomes thicker - we hear cascades, dripping voids, eruptions, distant tides, reverberant rivers, still pools and at its end we experience full submersion. Each of these moments are articulated through impressionism, enhanced by synths and slow rhythms that the record is imbued with. The varying forms of water symbolically represent the power play between light and dark - a metaphor for the fragility in which life hangs, and its ability to transform between peace and chaos at any moment.

Sonically, the record employs a vast array of low fidelity YouTube samples, cassette recordings and pitch-shifted audio. The combination of these sounds, coupled with the complex layers, give a translucent quality in which the listener can hear elements that disintegrate in slow motion as something new emerges in its place. The soft distortion and distressed artefacts suggest a vulnerability within the balance of the component parts that, over time, depict a tension and unease as more somber and dissonant sounds appear.

Real beauty is both complex and simple at the same time. Witnessing beauty appear amongst distress substantiates its truth, meaning that we can more greatly appreciate its presence. AG

In Review: Raum - H. Takahashi

Record Label: Where To Now? Records

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Sound Designer and architect H. Takahashi’s third record Raum is a deeply ambient record that is rooted in the functional aspects of the genre. Inherently centred in minimalist forms, the project’s themes of light, space and shape feel synonymous with the idealism held within Modernist architecture. Raum draws a comparison with Brian Eno’s exploration of the harmonious relationship between sound and space and its ability to aid the well-being of its inhabitants (see Music For Airports as a key example of this). Constructed solely on an iPhone whilst wandering through his home city of Tokyo, the connection between architecture and music is inescapable. There is a strong feeling that this record was made to serve an ergonomic function for people living in modern cities.

Although very relaxing, the music is clinical in its delivery, as if constructed by an algorithm to pacify the human mind, rather than a subjective expression of a single creator. It is at this point where Raum takes on more surreal qualities, so focussed on a transcendent harmony that it produces an artificial malaise - giving way to a hyperreal experience. Indirectly, it alludes to the conundrum of technological advancements, designed to make our lives easier and in the process disconnect us from something inherent within our nature. In the future, when humans are invariably enslaved and placed into quarantine by a superior artificial intelligence, something akin to Raum may be playing softly in the background and we’ll probably be blissfully unaware. AG