More music on the Independent Ethos, you say? Well, every month, “Purehoney Magazine,” which I also contribute to, puts together a compilation of alternative indie rock that includes free downloads and steamable tracks from artists around the world. They’ve granted us permission to share the latest comp here. This month’s compilation features The Casket Girls, Painted Palms, Nightmare Boyzzz, and The Sh-Booms, among others. Stream it below:

This month’s issue, which also has a print counterpart available and many indie stores across the Tri-County South Florida area, also features two articles by this writer. One is on the Miami International Film Festival (click here), which kicks off tonight, and musician/author Jon Glassman (read that here). More on him coming soon, as his band, Luna Rex, scheduled not one, but two CD release shows. For now, enjoy some free music!

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

dirk serries' microphonics at Roadburn 2013 by Jan Kees Helms 4

Before he coined the term “ambient music,” Brian Eno released an album called Discreet Music. Inside the 1975 album’s liner notes he described listening to a record of harp music at an extremely low level. It was a serendipitous event. “This presented what was for me a new way of hearing music – as part of the ambience of the environment just as the colour of the light and the sound of the rain were parts of that ambience,” he writes.

Dirk Serries happens to be an electric guitarist who shows a profound understanding about this notion. The Belgian-based artist has experimented with ambient music for over 30 years. He released his earliest work behind the pseudonym Vidna Obmana. His latest work is a sort of return to Vidna Obmana but informed with a subtlety that only comes with his growth as a musician who has spent decades exploring his craft.

Some might find this music so spare it may seem undeveloped, but it’s quite realized in its subtle quietness. Serries avoids hooks, and there is little sign of sentimentality in his music. Serries returns ambient music to its discreet origins. This month saw the release of three ambient records by Serries on limited edition 180 gram vinyl. The pieces are unedited, live run-throughs meant to fill up a side of a vinyl record, released on the boutique tonefloat/ikon imprint. Visit this website to stream all six pieces in their entirety and learn about ordering details: tonefloatikon.bandcamp.com.

2013-10-18 08.34.17

The album titles are all “Streams of Consciousness” followed by varying numbers. For instance, the first release is titled Streams of Consciousness 130806. The names of the individual instrumentals, however are more evocative. “The Illusion of Sense” opens the first release. It starts with what feels like an almost orchestral swell for a couple of notes. It almost feels like the notes are prepared to take off in a rhythmic dance. However, the piece reveals itself as something else as the volume slowly rises and something much more minimal comes to light. It is composed of a throbbing whine and a distant response from a slurred, falling note. The pattern repeats at a hypnotic, slow pace until it gradually fades away, at about 20 minutes in. It’s the perfect introduction to the sonic world of Dirk Serries.

Not much changes across his pieces, as Serries seems much more interested in creating atmosphere over melodies. “Harmony is an Effect” takes up the second side of the first release. It is composed of what sounds like a distant horn cutting through the gloom of a fog that gradually morphs into a bright, shimmering piece.

Streams of Consciousness 131006 opens with “A Ghostly Apparition,” which reveals how Serries can play with high-pitched notes yet remain unobtrusive. As soon as the music enters the high range, a series of lower notes drone below. The high note is hardly ever allowed to differ in timbre or duration. It appears with the routine quality of an oscillating fan, melding into the background. The dynamic comes from the varied lower notes, which throb, hum and shimmer like the sparkle of light on the undulating surface of a night-drenched ocean.

2013-10-18 08.35.43

With “An Ideal Opposite” on the second side, a minor key progression is revealed during a very slow fade-in on sighing electric guitar strings, as an undulating chorus of shimmering chords seem to tug at each other, taking turns between silence. They blend closer and closer with each refrain until they overlap into a cozy union of chilly yet luscious harmonies that ebb and flow with a random quality that speaks to the nature Serries reaches to capture in his unique orchestrations.

Streams of Consciousness 131106 starts with “Principle Origin,” which sometimes features a distant trickle of falling or climbing notes that appear with little pattern. It could also be composed of a sustained howl. This is the audio-hallucinogenic effect of Serries’ music. It does not drone. It has a verve of randomness, despite its lulling quality. Finally, “Faith and Reverence” appears as one sustained stroke of the guitar, shifting low and disappearing. It returns again and again, only a tad louder each time.

The hypnotic nature of Serries’ music comes with time and restraining anticipation. It’s all about a delicate touch that never disturbs between sound and silence. Though improvised, it’s carefully crafted work. I was keen to tap into the mind of this musician from Belgium, and I reached out via email with some questions. I was grateful he was game to entertain my queries and also share some images of the vinyls which were just released:

2013-10-18 08.36.30

Hans Morgenstern: So, I was looking into your history, and I see you have been at this for years. Have you made a career of it?

Dirk Serries: I believe the only thing I really succeeded in is to establish myself as a willful artist with a persistence to move forward, explore and expand my own specific sound palette.

Over the years, I met pro and contra and despite some bigger success in the mid ’90s, I never was able to make a career of it. But now with almost 30 years of baggage I’m really proud of what I managed to build up and the music I’m currently focusing on.

From the time you’ve been going, since the mid-80s, how has your approach to this ambient music changed?

I always have been pushing the boundaries on what ambient could be to the disappointment of many followers back then. The world of ambient music is a pretty conservative one, as from the moment you’re exploring new elements criticism was to follow soon. It’s therefore that I deliberately moved away from making ambient music per se. I never shied away though from incorporating harmony, mood and expansion in my music, but it surely was different, and a break with the ambient circuit unavoidable. But with the re-installment of the tonefloat:ikon label, I returned to the harmonic spaces I was known for in the late ’80s, early ’90s. The current experience and maturity made me recapture the ambience with solely an electric guitar and a few pedal-effects, while back in the days, I needed a stack of synthesizers and outboard effects to create those spaces. The fulfillment now is bigger, more intense and rewarding.

What to you is special about droning music? Where do you find the pleasure in performing it versus listening to it?

I don’t know really. I hardly call my music drone music either, as I feel it’s much more. Each piece is a moving canvas where layering timbres, shifting harmonics and subtle dissonances meet each other or not over the course of numerous minutes. It’s just that breathing quality that is so essential in ambient and minimal music. For me, personally, it’s precisely that process that draws me to this kind of music. Focusing on just a few configurations of notes but working towards a maximum effect in atmosphere, emotion and construction.

The music I make now is all about performing real-time and this is exactly where you get so in tune with how the sound moves, modulates and expands. Listening to what comes back, interact [with it] but most of all anticipate without playing those unnecessary notes. It truly heals, guides you to focus and makes you enjoy the effect of each note, no matter how sparse and minimal they are.

dirk serries' microphonics at Trix 2013 by Benjamin Van der Zalm

What ambient/drone music do you enjoy listening to and how do you listen to it? Is it accurate to call it musical wallpaper?

I hardly listen to ambient or drone music, and the ones I’m currently listening to and enjoying, although not sure to use this label, are Duane Pitre’s Feel Free, Cory Allen’s The Great Order and Richard Skelton’s Verse of Birds. I feel it’s absolutely not correct to label ambient or drone musical wallpaper. With good ambient music you actually need to listen closely and attentively to discover its progress and subtle changes, but I can relate to the fact why most of the people call this musical wallpaper. OK, there’s music out there that only serves the purpose of being background music, but the music I perform and listen to demands much more from the listener. Therefore, with the current improvement of vinyl quality, I decided to release this new series of minimal music exclusively on vinyl. The format does demand more involvement of the listener and therefore avoids the risk of having the music being used in the background. It’s sort of re-educating the listener to the point of going back to where listening becomes discovering.

You ask that the music be played at a low volume. What does this do to affect the listening experience?

Simple, because it was made that way. The tonality, the combination of the harmonies and the slow-expanding nature of the sounds is especially made for listening to on lower volumes. The low volume accentuates, to my ears, the movement of details, particular notes and tones that move in and out, appear on the surface and fade out. An experience that would be less effective if played louder. Another option is the headphone, as it’s combination with playing it on lower volume results in discovering the full sonic pallet.

Hans Morgenstern

Visit the following website to stream Serries’ latest sonic experiments and learn about ordering details: tonefloatikon.bandcamp.com. These records are limited to only 99 physical vinyl copies each.

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

MGMT vinyl clouds. Photo by Hans Morgenstern

MGMT continue to drift down the rabbit hole with the brilliant, if at times mixed bag, that is its new self-titled album. If you can get past some rather heavy-handed early efforts in weirdness that open the album, you will find some amazing rewards in this further experimental album by Benjamin Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden. The center of the duo’s fourth full-length album stands as the band’s most triumphant moment in its career. Songs like “Introspection,” “Astro-Mancy” and “I Love You Too, Death” might sound like filler to some but actually harbor some of MGMT’s most inspired moments of creativity ever.

Though rather sweet, get past the child’s voice that kicks off the album (“Alien Days”) and transitions into VanWyngarden’s hazy voice and some rather banal guitar strumming with some zippy, perky synthesized space-rock decora. You can even skip the second low-key, sleepy-voiced number, “Cool Song No. 2,” peppered with the sounds of the jungle, like the howls of monkeys. It’s easier to like “Mystery Disease,” with its dense layers of throbbing electronics, but despite some rather original thoroughly deconstructed samples that includes covers of “You Are My Lucky Star” and “Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes” by Werner Müller and His Orchestra, the track never seems to go anywhere after four minutes. However, it’s when you arrive to track four where things really become interesting.

The cover of Faine Jade’s “Introspection” truly sets the album in motion toward post-psych-rock inventiveness. The phasing left-right-left-right-left of VanWyngarden singing the opening lines both brings a clichéd added dimension to the mix and an affectionate nod to the loopy stereophonic indulgence of the genre. MGMT vinyl detail. Photo by Hans MorgensternAs they did when they covered bands like Pink Floyd (“Lucifer Sam”) and Cleaners From Venus (“Only a Shadow”), MGMT stay true to the original tune but pump it up with a witty, almost cartoonish sense of psychedelic rock on steroids. But the track is also filled with shimmering bits of décor like phasing reverb and, God Bless them, a flute solo, not to mention Goldwasser’s complimentary bits of synthesized space rock sprinkles, as it builds to a soaring finale of all the bits layering up together to come to a sudden ecstatic cut.

The percussive “WHACK” of “Your Life Is a Lie” suddenly kicks in with hardly a chance for a breath. It’s a ruthless track on many levels. The lyrics offer an exploration of brutal honesty while the music feels like a non-stop assault. “Here’s the deal/Open your eyes/Your life is a lie/Don’t say a word/I’ll tell you why/You’re living a lie/Your life is a lie,” VanWyngarden sings with a deadpan delivery to conclude over and over that you are “on your own.” MGMT prove they still have a sense of looking at a deeper layer of existence, not too different from the sensibility that so richly informed the nostalgic moment of “Time To Pretend” (“I’ll miss the playgrounds and the animals and digging up worms … Yeah I’ll miss the boredom and the freedom and the time spent alone,” he sang juxtaposing those lyrics with “I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin and fuck with the stars/You man the island and the cocaine and the elegant cars”). But with “Your Life Is a Lie” something purer lies in the lyrics’ directness that skip subversion and get right to the point that speaks to today’s tendency for everyone to indulge in personas propagated by generation Y’s “We’re all so original together,” not to mention the social media filters provided by cyberspace and the whizz-bang edits of “reality television” that’s ironically and heavy-handedly contrived.

The song structure, with a metallic cowbell smack for punctuation, bobs on a perpetual, dense, unrelenting percussive racket with no real hook. With its sharp clacks of metal, rumbling bass and a range of instrumentation joining in to clang along to illuminate a humming buzz, the first single off the album was a slap in the face against all that is catchy about early MGMT. The video offers witty literal visuals, which is appropriate considering the words are far from subversive:

Side B, opens with a brilliant, ghostly shimmer that could have been lifted from a Broadcast record. A hypnotic electro pulse overtakes it, soaring off to space-rock heights until a burbling, creaking sound fades in to underlie the song’s pulsating electronics. With these three musical evolutions, “A Good Sadness” settles into a groove for VanWyngarden’s voice to appear. It’s mixed low, weaving through the din of electronics, breathy and layered and almost as inhuman and spectral as the multi-tracks. He becomes difficult to understand, but a few words like “memories” and “to feel it’s all right” appear among the sibilant vocals before the din swells and peters away in the distance on echoing beeps. It’s another impressionistic, layered— if more electronic— triumph that maybe the band’s most celestial moment.

“Astro-Mancy” kicks off sounding like “Abdulmajid,” an obscure David Bowie-Brian Eno collaboration from that duo’s time together in Berlin. You half-expect this busy track with its jungle-like rhythms and sporadic, active electro-whistles and phases to be an instrumental. Once again, VanWyngarden’s voice returns, with even more dreamier treatments.MGMT Side B. Photo by Hans Morgenstern It may as well be an instrumental, as he seems just as hard to understand as the previous track. But a glance in the lyric sheet reveals a surrealistic theme more interested in creating atmosphere than offering a concrete message. With coos and oos exhaling below his echoing vocals, VanWyngarden seems to sigh his lyrics: “My green silken river and two lights/I could almost touch the free walls.” It sounds like the aural equivalent of an LSD trip.

Just when you think the album could not go stranger, here comes the audio-hallucinatory build-up of melodies and synch shifts in “I Love You Too, Death.” Buzzy and pulsing electronics meld with flutes, ticking brushes and reverberated single dings on a tiny bell. Again VanWyngarden’s voice appears spectral and drenched in echo but much clearer, as he half whispers lines alluding to the grim reaper (“Who is much more than a friend/But never by my side?/All beginnings are an end”). As with many songs on this album, the lyrics grow more surreal as the song layers up with instrumentation (“Autumn hurts far less than sticks, knowing winter’s five feet tall”). Very gradually more melodies appear, first harmonium sighs then a strumming guitar. Still the track’s opening melody of flute and bell carries on, and the song ever so subtly morphs into something completely different while still maintaining a subtle familiarity. It’s the musical equivalent of deja-vu, and it’s brilliantly crafted.

It may be MGMT had little where else to go at this point, as the next track returns to the self-conscious zaniness that opened the album. “Plenty of Girls in the Sea” breaks up the strangeness like “Excuse Me” interrupted Peter Gabriel’s weirdo/dramatic first album. The cabaret-like tune feels out of place and too sly for its own sake. It’ll be new to some kids and may even sound weird for the sake of being weird, but it’s the obvious kind of bizarreness, despite the sometimes ironic lyrical play (“There’s plenty of girls in the sea/And plenty of those are not women”).

MGMT. Image Courtesy Columbia Records.

But then comes the capper, “An Orphan of Fortune,” which earns it’s spot as a closing number. It feels rather unfinished but still mysterious. It opens with a misty, creepy quality until shifting to a cascade of percussion and layers of creaking, warped electronics. At first listen, this could be a lost Bauhaus song. When the song explodes in an elastic, blurring “melody,” VanWyngarden’s voice emerges, again immersed in the mix to impressionistic quality. A few words jump out like “morning” and “erode” before the song once again shifts, breaking it down for a melodica solo. Then the wash of percussion returns with the vocals and more instruments piling in and freaking out, as VanWyngarden repeats “into Twilight” until everything halts for a shimmering phasing fade out, which gives way to a rather grotesque, roaring organ solo that kind of just peters out, almost exhausted in an anti-climactic fade out.

And so the short album ends on a rather low-key note that may sound like a shrug, if this band were not so sly. This is music for fans of the early Brian Eno and Pink Floyd. MGMT wrote a couple of great pop tunes early in its career that expanded their audience far wider than its heart for weirdness could handle. It’s great that “Kids” and “Electric Feel” where both witty and catchy, but so much of their stellar work is moody, atmospheric, dynamic and ultimately transporting. With this self-titled album, the duo has returned to work with Dave Fridmann, who made a name for himself by shaping the sound of the Flaming Lips and first worked with MGMT on its breakthrough 2008 album Oracular Spectacular, which featured those aforementioned singles. As much as the band showed growth working with Sonic Boom on its last album (My review: MGMT grow with Congratulations), their ease in working with Fridmann shines through on this new album. The genius hinted at in Oracular, like the shifting atmospheric “Future Reflections,“ reaches new organic heights in many songs of this new album.

Finally, the band has had visuals made for each track in an “optimizer” mode found on the CD or as a download in the vinyl version. As revealed by the trailer below, the “optimized” album features animated psychedelically-colored digital images from alien creatures to skyscapes that accompany the music on the album.

Music history is filled with artists who have tried to visualize music, from Walt Disney to Len Lye. Though there has been science that shows some correlation with color and music, this music critic prefers the evocative quality of music in relation to one’s own imagination. For instance, few probably feel the sensation of peering into a darkened corner of a desolated, run down, dusty mansion when they hear the opening drones and whistles of “A Good Sadness.”

MGMT vinyl. Photo by Hans Morgenstern

The “optimizer” trailer above implies the enhanced experience of watching visuals accompanied by the music. However, as ever, the vinyl is the true treat, offering pure aural bliss with nothing but the imagination to accompany the listening experience (again, note the research). Music is a blur of impressions, offering a feeling more than anything visual. There’s a taste of nostalgia and cracks into the subconscious dreamland that defy words. The creativity of this album works best as it was initially intended by the musicians: as music. The fact that the LP arrives on 180 gram vinyl, “pressed in Europe” (Columbia Records does have access to some of the best plants there), shines through on this record of rather intricate audio gymnastics. Because it’s so active and dynamic with so many layers of melody, contrast and din, it is best experienced on the separation and space provided by vinyl.

Hans Morgenstern

Columbia provided a promotional copy of the vinyl version of this album for the purposes of this review.

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
Sigur Rós: (L-R) Jónsi, Georg Hólm, Orri Páll Dýrason. Photo: Ryan McGinley.

Sigur Rós: (L-R) Jónsi, Georg Hólm, Orri Páll Dýrason. Photo: Ryan McGinley.

One of the concerts of this year we’re most looking forward to is Sigur Rós’ overdue visit to Miami. It’s scheduled to cap the Icelandic band’s current U.S. tour, which kicked off on Sept. 14 in Detroit. Last Friday, I suddenly learned I had the chance to chat for 10 minutes with the band’s longtime drummer/percussionist Orri Páll Dýrason, thanks to Live Nation and the “Miami New Times” pushing their agent for an interview.

The group was in Philadelphia and Dýrason was about to head in to rehearsal. I had many questions, but could only go superficial with such limited time— a bit sacrilegious for a band I have been following from the start, but it was a nice opportunity, so pardon if this post jumps from one topic to another. There is a link to a more cohesive piece at the bottom of this post, which gets into much more subject matter and opens with a rather in-depth description of Sigur Rós’ music.

One new song from the band’s seventh album,sigur-ros-kveikur-album-cover Kveikur, which saw release earlier this year, appeared conspicuously absent from the set list prior to this tour. The brilliant, soaring “Rafstraumur” seemed like a no-brainer for inclusion in the live sets. “Actually, we’re rehearsing it now,” Dýrason revealed, “so when we get to Miami we will play it.”

Dýrason joined Sigur Rós before the band recorded ( ), or what he calls “the brackets album.” He explains, “I was in another band, and we were sharing our rehearsal space with Sigur Rós. It was in 1990s, when they were finishing Ágætis Byrjun. They were still working in the studio when Agust decided to quit, and the guys asked me if I wanted to join.”

He said it was not a hard decision to join the band. “Probably after the first rehearsals that we did together [I decided to join],” he said. “It was nice from the beginning.”

Currently he and singer/multi-instrumentalist Jon Thor Birgisson (a.k.a. Jónsi ) and fellow founding member bassist Georg Hólm are the band’s core. Keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson, also a founding member, left the band before they recorded Kveikur, a dynamic, powerful album released earlier this year that stands as another distinctive record in the brilliant, varied catalog of Sigur Rós.

The band’s previous album, the mostly hushed Valtari saw release the year before, in 2012. But don’t let its subtleties deceive you, Dýrason sigur-ros-valtarisaid it was an album long in the making. “It was very quiet,” he agreed about the record, “and we had been working on it since 2005. Our earliest recordings are from 2005, and we were adding to that album kind of slowly. First we wanted to do a choir album, only with choirs, but we only did two tracks like that, but that was kind of stiff and boring, so we decided to do a more experimental album.”

There had been rumors of a scrapped ambient-like album the band had been trying to prepare before the band’s hiatus when Jónsi indulged in a solo career of some merit (Read: Jonsi [of Sigur Ros] gets poppy). I asked Dýrason if any of those lost recordings made it on to Valtari. “Yes,” he said. “There’s one song actually, um, I think it’s ‘Valtari.’”

There’s much more to read of my interview with Dýrason. Yesterday, the “Miami New Times” ran a profile piece as a result of this short chat, which includes more on Kveikur, an aborted percussion experiment by Dýrason and Jónsi’s blacksmith father, the departure of Sveinsson and their first Miami performance providing backup to Merce Cunningham. Read it by jumping through the “Miami New Times” logo below:

Miami New Times logo

The tour continues through Oct. 13, when the band will play a rare show in Mexico City. I will be at the Miami show, which I may write a review about. To see all tour dates visit their website (that’s a hotlink).

I leave you with “Rafstraumur.” Play it for yourself and hear why this will make for quite a gorgeous performance live:


Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

20130612-ovalfreeThe other day, thanks to a friend, I took a trip down memory lane listening to some early music that would later come to define a movement now often referred to as “glitch” music. A pioneer of this once obscure and now quite influential music genre, Oval, real name Markus Popp, had just released much of his back catalog as free album streams via bandcamp.com (link).

Characterized by rhythms and melodies that appear on an almost subliminal level, Oval’s music stands as something beyond gimmick. It’s the aural equivalent of art that looks better from the corner of the eye. Forced attention makes the music seem jarring. A casual listen, with the mind preoccupied on something else, like writing, enhances the experience. It is then when the music expands and swells and breaths, shimmering with a life inequitable to traditional music. These are the unseen atoms of life that barely hold matter together made manifest as sound— almost a portal to another dimension sprung to aural life. In turn, put it on some headphones and look out at the world, and you might feel a strange disconnect, as if everything has turned noisily silent. A fellow blogger paying tribute to the music Oval admitted he finally “got” Oval after having his wisdom teeth pulled out and taking painkillers (read the blog post here).

The notion of glitch music comes from its source: samples of damaged sound sources like CDs and records. It’s the skips in the disc or the hiss of surface noise that interest these artists. They then process them into subtle rhythmic and melodic patterns on a computer. The first I ever heard of anything like this was on Tortoise’s 1995 post-rock masterpiece album Millions Now Living Will Never Die (you can read a thorough review of that album here: Albums that have stood the test of time: Tortoise – ‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’ [1996]).

Popp was the sole figure behind Oval when I first met him on tour with fellow Thrill Jockey Records label mates Tortoise sometime in the late 1990s. Markus PoppI had a chance to watch him work his magic on a MacBook on stage during soundcheck at Club Firestone in Orlando, Florida, and I introduced myself. This may have been one of the first times I had ever seen a musician work solely on a laptop, and I was skeptical but also curious how he employed musicianship via this tool.

Standing over his shoulder he showed me how he moved tiny midi files into an array of folders, in effect turning the craft of mixing into a performance. I recently got back in touch with him via Facebook, and he reminded me, “That was SoundMaker, an OS9-only shareware app made by a dude from Italy. Parts of the workflow still unrivaled today.”

I’m not sure if I reviewed his first album for Thrill Jockey, Dok, before or after this meeting. Regardless, I had been impressed by it. I wrote the review for the record collector’s magazine “Goldmine.” I had been the go-to guy at to write reviews for some of the more difficult to classify music, and Oval’s 1997 album Dok was one of those albums that required my attention.

I have dug up my old draft of that review. Save for a couple of spelling errors this is what I handed in to my editor:

Oval Dok album artOVAL
Dok
Thrill Jockey (THRILL046)

Presented in layers of hushed, yet dense sounds, Oval’s latest release, Dok, feels like the soundtrack to a dream.  The surreal music sounds as if it were coming through walls or from down the street.  Like clouds drifting high overhead, it’s music appreciated from afar.

“Lens-flared Capital” opens Dok with thick layers of harmonic hiss and fizz, creating a sound one might hear in the deep, suffocating stillness of the ocean, while the hum of a raging tsunami echoes in the distance.  The album is filled with lush soundscapes that rumble along quietly with the threatening potential of explosive character.  On most of Dok’s tracks, melodies, driven by bells, ring under rumbles of dissonance, while unintelligible voices loop and fade in and out among layers of whispering static.

On earlier recordings, the Berlin-based Oval scratched records and marked CDs with paint to create a pallet of sounds to work from. To create Dok, Oval’s third album, Tokyo-based “installation artist/sound designer” Cristophe Charles, who has two doctorate degrees in music, provided sounds from his travels to foreign towns— particularly the sounds of bells among everyday noise.  Markus Popp, Oval’s sole member, took Charles’ clatter and processed it with loops and tones to create musical collages of sound.  The sounds are so thoroughly processed that the only true noises one can distinguish are the chattering voices that appear from time to time.  The resulting tracks are soft, yet luxuriant, ambient pieces that aren’t as difficult to listen to as the concept seems to suggest.

Ultimately, it’s the sound of this album that makes it worthwhile.  Its modest 45-minute length transports you to another dimension of sound, where environmental noise becomes music, but you don’t have to be John Cage to appreciate this record.  Rather than wading in self-indulgent noise and sound freak-out, Oval does what so many ambient artists overlook: add a depth to found sounds through conceptual pieces that are pleasant to listen to.  Eat your heart out, Brian Eno.

“Eat your heart out, Brian Eno.” Lol. Some nerve, but at that time, Eno’s music was not treading such pioneering ground as Oval. It was an utterly refreshing re-invention of ambient music that I can still appreciate. Popp’s a true music pioneer with a firm sense of the independent ethos. He has agreed to answer some questions regarding his thoughts on his peculiar brand of music. Come back to “Independent Ethos” for that exclusive interview in the next week or so.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Daft Punk PR stillMore than half-way through the new Daft Punk album, and I feel it’s just Daft Punk lite. The inventive beats have mostly been supplanted by jangling disco guitars. Some of it reminds me of Hall and Oates with robot voices. There are some funky moments in Random Access Memories that recall late-1970s era Prince, but it’s still not as strong as some of the music on that legendary artist’s early work like Dirty Mind.

It’s a weird thing anticipation does. Having followed Daft Punk from the start, this new album seems to seep and swoosh around as easy-listening Saturday morning music, and lacks the sudden impact that earlier albums have had. How appropriate it shows up early in the morning on the weekend as the sun rises. If it’s dull, it’s pleasantly dull.

Decide for yourself, click the image below to visit the iTunes store and open your iTunes player (or download it) to hear it:

daft-punk-itunes

Edit: The last five minutes includes a bit of the noisy, driving Daft Punk that I first fell for.

Edit 2: Daft Punk have now released the entire album to stream via YouTube (iTunes stream still sounds better, though):

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

the_king_krill_v3It was a longtime coming, but more than a year since poet Rick Holland shared his first step beyond his collaboration with Brian Eno (Old Man Diode brings poetry of Rick Holland into “disco” territory), his work with UK underground electronica artist Old Man Diode has finally resulted in a full-length album. The King Krill will see release as a digital-only release via the London-based indie label WW Music on March 26 (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase direct through Amazon via this link) … and on limited edition vinyl on April 25.

The album might seem more accessible compared with Holland’s work with Eno. Where Eno had chosen “vocalists” like a secretary to recite the lines on the Drums Between the Bells, vocalists on The King Krill bring often soulful, soaring voices to the mix. Notable UK artists on the album include Chris James (singer/keyboardist/guitarist for Stateless who most recently worked with Deadmau5) and vocalists Onallee (a collaborator with Roni Size), I Am FyaBeth Rowley and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Andrew Plummer. Still, even with more proper singing in the mix, Old Man Diode does not lean on the typical dance hall rhythms, choosing to explore more slippery beats inspired by such experimental electronica predecessors like Aphex Twin. For a limited time, you can listen to an exclusive stream of the whole album here (that’s a hyper-link).

As Holland and Old Man Diode (née Jo Wills) are in London, all three of us recently corresponded via email for a little question and answer session. They offer such beautiful insight into the care and approach to the music versus the words, the possibilities of interpretations and the creative process for the pure pleasure of experimenting and creating (Note: my questions are in bold, Holland’s responses are in plain text while Old Man Diode’s comments are in italics).

OMD and Rick Holland Black+White

Hans Morgenstern: Rick, you wrote all the lyrics, correct?

Rick Holland: In some cases we wrote together, myself and the featured artist, so their ideas filtered through me, or fragments of our writing fused together.

HM: There is a dance quality to this record. Were you conscious of that when composing the lyrics used on the record?

RH: I always wrote to a beat-track, a skeleton of the track, and we wanted to keep the settings sparse and honest to their origin. I wrote from the instinctive response I had to Old Man Diode’s beats and bass pulses.

HM: What are some of the themes that you address in your words?

RH: These emerge after the writing. I’d like Jo to answer this one. There were powerful shared image banks for sure.

Old Man Diode: We didn’t have anything in mind at the start of writing, the starting point was wanting to collaborate, both of us (and the vocalists) talking and making and talking and making. In the end, the themes that have come through are about humanity really and the urban dichotomy of needing to be part of a group and an individual at the same time, trying to avoid becoming an automaton whilst seeing people being just that all around you. I think there’s a strong sense of being constantly being pulled in different directions, there’s beauty and desolation all around us. Maybe that feeling has come out through this strong oceanic vibe that infuses a lot of the writing. Somehow it’s part grimy concrete and barren cliff top at the same time.

RH: I like that. I would add that there are moments in there about being completely submerged and released, the ocean keeps coming back. And there is a love song in there too, an old-fashioned love lyric, but about shedding some of the more possessive elements of love.

HM: To what extent did the sound of Old Man Diode’s music influence your writing?

RH: It triggered and moulded the writing, it made it, in tracks such as “The King Krill.” “Clearing Song,” the words are the music passing through me, they are the music translated as instinctively as possible. In others, there is more input from my own life and experience, moulded to the atmosphere of the music.

OMD: Just to flip this question a bit and answer if from my perspective. I think we’ve both been influenced by each other and the process music I’ve written in the past has been very different to this. There’s a shared ethos in approach, a sort of minimalism that gives as much power as possible to each action. Also, one of the reasons I was keen to work with Rick was to make myself focus on words. My ears are drawn to texture when I’m listening. It’s hard for me to remember words in tracks I’ve just listened to or know really well. I hear them as part of the whole sonic, working with Rick has forced me to really focus on that content.

HM: Were you surprised by any results, the effects of the words turned musical? If so, where?

RH: I tended to listen to some of the work of a featured artist once I knew we were working with them, so in the writing process somewhere hidden in my back brain would have been an imagining of how that artist would sing the words, and whether they would “work.” Beyond that, though, all of them surprised me because they are all creative artists and all brought their interpretations to the process.

For some, the words took centre stage, for others they were more sounds to riff from, I love both approaches. Some less fluid “lyrics” on a page became beautiful through the artist, Chris James sliding over words springs to mind, and Onallee singing “Time hangs, like a torn sheet, we disappear through hopes” (OMD: is this not just in your head?!?!?!?!?!)* which may have started out as “holes,” but that lyric is just pure poetry for me, how it is sung, it could mean so many things to so many people.

OMD: It’s been great to see the words take shape, become melodies and textures. Sometimes it’s had a more operatic/libretto approach to setting and others have been more like writing a pop song with everything in between. Everyone has been great to work with, bringing their approaches and philosophies to the table.

RH: *quite probably, it’ll be what’s printed on the back of the vinyl though… haaa… and I prefer it.

HM: Rick, how much of a say did you have in the music that accompanied certain words?

RH: We have such an understanding of each other from years of working together and a shared sensibility that we usually just know when words and music were meant for each other, and this extends to production ideas too. We share ideas throughout the writing process, and our best work usually happens without over thinking. Luckily, we find effective ways to communicate in real time in the studio and most of the time we find the ground we both believe in.

OMD: Hahaha, some pretty funny ways of communicating as I remember, using words to describe sounds and vice versa. The best parts of the writing process have been when all three of us (Rick, myself and whoever’s singing) are in the room together, creating on the fly, everyone is influencing everyone else, that’s a real buzz, and the track comes pouring out.

HM: The vocalists vary a lot. Where did they come from?

RH: Wonderful mixture isn’t it? They are all just open-minded, creative artists drawn together by Old Man Diode’s vision and his life. There were a couple more surprising names interested in collaborating, we may hear from them later. This has been a dream team. They are all real artists.

HM: How different is working with OMD versus Eno  (Eno collaborator/poet Rick Holland corresponds on craft – An Indie Ethos exclusive [Part 1 of 2])?

RH: This is such an interesting question. There are some huge similarities. Both believe in giving ideas space to become something without over complicating, yet both have some deep-lying beliefs in essential values of production. Both are constantly curious about their crafts and open to the input of other people. Eno (left) and Holland. Image courtesy of Bang OnBoth come up against their limitations from time to time yet accept and find new ways to circumvent them. Both believe very passionately in the fruits of good collaborative practice. Both remove the ‘I’ from the process.

In terms of less wooly specifics, it is different working with OMD because I grew from the same cultures and have a far more similarly mapped life to each other. Occasionally, with Eno, I would inadvertently suggest something that he felt he had covered before, or the essence of an idea would change entirely over time. I was in my early 20s when Drums Between the Bells started out, and early 30s when it was released. It was a really unusual process to turn that great a span of life into an album, fascinating and difficult all at once. With this album, Jo and I managed to finish it in just over two years (I think) and it is the shared work of two people in a more shared single world I think, less patchwork.

I could write a book about this question to be honest. Interestingly, I also think Eno may have taken some direct influence from this project, listening to some of his new work with James Blake, so the two subconciouses have certainly melded, feedback both ways.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)