Thursday, May 24, 2007

Silence (and what to do with it)

Right now listening to Radu Malfatti's Nonostante II, a piece of solo piano. It stretches well over 30 minutes, but - and this is the crux - there is about ten minutes of music on the cd (and then I am being generous, I think it totals even less).

Though I was forewarned by a review in The Wire, I still thought it was some kind of mistake, since the first minutes were reasonably filled with piano tones. But then a strange thing happens. You literally have to count the minutes before you get served some more notes. Sometimes you get three notes, sometimes only one, sometimes four or five. In between there is just silence.

It creates quite an awkward atmosphere. You are actually waiting for the music to come. So, what to do while you are waiting? Listening, of course. And while you are listening the sounds of the immediate environment (me typing this, lighting a fag, my pets moving through the loft, public transport in the streets) get sort of amplified. Silence yes, but no void.

With Nonostante III it is mostly the same, though the instruments (mostly clarinet) are different. The thing is, you do not mind, because it kind of puts you in touch with your surroundings, something a melomaniac like myself tends to forget. Music tends to fill up your living space, be it as a mere backdrop or as a more intense experience. Moments of silence change all that. It allows your hearing - and your body - to build up a system of suspense and release.

The effect is different also from a radical piece like Cage's 4' 33". In that case, you know there will not be any music played at all, and although Cage put it forth mostly with philosophical considerations, silence has become some kind of a gimmick, employed from time to time by many a lesser spirit, solely as an empty reference.

For the majority of people, for whom pop music is the only music they recognize as such, silence has become a threat rather than a moment of contemplation. Silence forces the mind inward or outward, stasis becomes impossible. Anyone who attends a live show these days will have noticed that artists regularly have to ask the audience to shut their big mouths. People nowadays just do not know how to handle silence anymore.

With Malfatti's recent music your listening experience is continually suspended. The surprising element of improvisation comes alive again. Most improv sets tend to be exciting for just one listening, but this way the discovery is allowed to happen time and time again.

Note the difference with minimalism. With minimal music (be it La Monte Young, Steve Reich or or the ultra-minimal techno of Richie Hawtin and Wolfgang Voigt) you tend to fill in the empty parts with your imagination. You amplify not your surroundings, but a single element within the minimal composition, which becomes a focal point. Or, alternately, you switch from one element to another, choosing to single out one sound over another. Returning silence compells you to listen more attentively, it instigates a search for sound in itself.

Ultimately this leads to the realization that silence is a defining part of music. Classical and jazz musicians and people who are into musique concrète or sound art will consider this a truism of course. But like most truisms its significance has long been lost.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Rather Raving (about)

Grails - Burning Off Impurities

I am repeating myself but this is my record of the year so far and I am predicting the 'so far' will become a 'definitive'. Awesome record that encompasses almost everything I love: folk, ethnic sounds, the best bits of postrock, epic progressive and twangy motorik. Love it, love it, love it! Play loud and all the time!

Poor School - Voor Niets In Zijn

I am predicting hereby that Joris's productive label will be a household name by next year. After the brilliant Psalm Alarm release this is already the second absolute scorcher on Cut Hands. This guitar-drums-sax trio goes freak-out all the way on two sizzling hot avant jazzrock workouts. Blistering shit!

Merzbow - Coma Berenices

This is the first Merzbow release that I found listenable. More than that, I even enjoyed it. OK, it is still a whole lot of unpenetrable and pitch-black noise but at times I could hear some kind of beauty deep down in the heart of darkness. A nice entry into the Merzbow catalogue for the uninitiated.

Goldie presents Rufige Kru - Malice in Wonderland

Six new tracks that sound like mid-nineties d'n'b. Nothing wrong with that. Liquidly exciting.

Björk - Volta

Stop the presses of the world! Björk has made a good record. And Goldie too! This resurrection of two old lovers can be no coincidence. No, seriously, the Timbaland tracks are the best (no signs of running on empty from the R&B maestro) and even Antony is agreeable. Rejoice!


Four more ambientish dark epics inspired by the sounds of the previous Kindertotenlieder. Not a lot of guitar to be heard this time around (except, and this is typical, on 'Abattoir'), but still creepy as hell, particularly the almost psychotically intense 'Theme' with its distorted organ tones.

Mute Audio Documents Volume 1

37 tracks constitute the first episode of the reissue program of the first Mute releases. And what a joy it is to hear all those classics again. Fad Gadget, The Normal, Silicon Teens, Depeche Mode, DAF... each and everyone groundbreaking and, more importantly, still relevant. Also included: timely cd reissues of the insanely rare Robert Rental, Boyd Rice and Smegma 7-inches. The second set is on the way as you read this.

Embryo - Reise

From 1981 and a great mix-up of progressive, funk and ethnic sounds from the Middle East and Central Asia. The band was on a two year journey to record sounds for this album and rather unluckily got stuck in Teheran during the Islamic Revolution of Khomeiny. I just love that kind of anecdotica. An album that proves that there was still plenty of life in the old Krautrock bitch well into the eighties. Highly recommended.

M.I.A. - Bittersüss

Long time ago that there was some techno on these pages (To be honest I am very, very bored with techno, especially of the minimal persuasion, at the moment). This is a nice one, though, from Michaela Grobelny. Sexy nocturnal electro-ish not-too-minimal techno with a female touch (love those longing string samples) and featuring M.I.A.'s sensual vocal(i)s(ations) on top.

Shackleton & Appleblim - Soundboy Punishments

A fat and über-essential compilation of the first five Skull Disco releases plus some unfindable Shackleton tracks on other labels, AND - at last, at last! - the 19-minute Villalobos remix of 'Blood on My Hands', one of those addictive Ricardo remixes that gets better and better with each listening. Ricardo rules, man! But Shackleton and Appleblim rule even harder with the fattest basses on the planet and the best percussion in the whole of dubstep. Get punished!

Sunday, May 13, 2007


"All of this we choose to forget. We devise a counter-system of elaborate forgetfulness. We agree on this together. (...) But the experience is no less deep because we've agreed to forget it."

Don DeLillo, from: The Names

I have now read three novels by Don DeLillo: White Noise, Underworld and The Names. And out of those reading experiences re-emerges the essence of what makes a great writer. The great writer, in essence, does not write about the so-called great themes of life. He does not write about (on) love, hate, loss, sex, health, madness, politics, ethics. No, the great writer writes about the things that escape the incidental, the surface look. He writes about what is beyond all those grand themes. He writes about what is beneath. He writes about the things under these things. He understands.

The great writer (Borges, Dick, Ballard, Pynchon) mentions, employs and deploys all these great themes to keep his story going and he may even say very meaningful things about them. But he does not position them as the essence of his story. His story is about the phenomena that are always there, so omnipresent that we tend to forget the realm of their importance. The noise, the murmur in the background (in White Noise), waste and junk, the things we use and then throw aside - and then are stuck with (in Underworld), language, the words we use, the way we express ourselves (in The Names).

In parallel you will see emerge other important undercurrents in Borges (language, myth, knowledge), Dick (reality, believe and make believe), Pynchon (science, history) and Ballard (violence, dis-ease, man against nature). It is not the believe in, the knowledge of, the science of, the myth about, the language with which that are important. No, it is the believe itself, the science and the knowledge themselves, language itself that need explanation, inquiry. It is not what those mechanisms produce, no, it is the mechanisms themselves that a great writer concerns himself with.

It is no coincidence, then, that the sentence that emerges as most important from those DeLillo's three books is the eternal "What does it mean?". The truly great writer does not care for surface, symptom or attributes. They all come second, they are a means. He is looking for the first causes. He is trying to unforget. He may not immediately find what he is looking for. Of course, he does not find what he is looking for. That is why he writes.
You do not sense what is really wrong with a certain kind of music until you hear that one record that does things differently, grabs you totally, takes you away to places you thought you would never reach. The psychedelic noise rock that has been going under the name of New Weird America, for some time now, has been hitting rock-bottom. In the same way it is getting harder and harder to equal, let alone surpass, the intensity of Wolf Eyes or Hair Police in the noise quadrant, it was becoming almost impossible to excell in the neo-psych folk corners after definitive statements by Six Organs Of Admittance, Jack Rose, Pelt, Charalambides et alia. To cut it short: A lot of noodling has been going on lately, thousands of 'interesting' cd-r's flood the market, but nobody is making a point anymore.

And then suddenly there is Grails, a band that makes you point your ears and realize there is still a margin for progress. Grails boldly reach across continents, their music is literally of this world. Like the best moments of Can, they transport you from the endless prairies and highways of America, sweep you through the Indian backlands and deserts of Central Asia and then safely put you down so you can take a breath again and marvel at the sultry Mediterranean vistas of Greece and Turkey and Spain. In the time of one record they make you feel as if you are experiencing soundless dawn and plain sunlight and atmospheric dusk and the still of the night. Grails relish in rain and thunder, wind and storm, mountains and sea, sun and moon, steam and sand. Grails has eloquence, Grails knows what intimacy is, Grails loves grand gestures, Grails revels in datails. Grails make music a discovery again. Grails prove that music can still be exciting. Grails dare but do not fail.

Grails have many things for them. But most of all, they have got IT. Hearing is believing.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Folie à la française

So it is Président Sarkozy. As if I care. As if policy makers today are anything more than commissaires du capitalisme. As if the world would have stopped turning if Mme Royal had been elected, a new French Revolution coming our way. Yeah, right!

Nevertheless those French lefties are a strange bunch. Libération could not wait a day to report that nasty boy Sarko spent his pre-presidential retreat on the yacht of a business friend (the scandal of it!). So what? Do presidents have to spend their retreat in a cave or something? Furthermore the newspaper is already comparing Sarkozy to mobster Berlusconi. Bottom-line: this guy must be the Antichrist in person.

Next, two lady writers report in a suspiciously timely new book that Royal and her husband-not-husband François Hollande did have a quarrel during the presidential campaign. This quarrel would then have subverted her abilities to campaign. Yeah, right! As if the French are not and have not always been one of the most rightist countries in Europe, where, as everywhere else, the villagers and farmers always vote for the rightist candidate.

And all the while extreme-left sympathizers are torching cars and destroying whatever comes their protesting ways because they suspect Sarkozy is the new Hitler.

Will someone please put some tranquilizers in the French drinking water and tell these people to get a grip.

Rather Raving (about)

Boris - Vein

I am currently very much into Boris, another one of those groups who seem to shit (or should that be vomit) records. As usual with this trio there are more versions of this record (Southern Lord even put out a special low frequency version of one of their records). There is an hardcore version (the so-called 'crust' version) and a slow/drone version. I have only heard the hardcore version and when I put it on I first thought I had mistakenly put something on by Merzbow (with whom they frequently collaborate by the way), so fuzzy and noisy is the attack. Saying that it gets more accessible further on would be a lie. This is as hardcore as it gets, with undecipherable Japanse lyrics to go with it. If you got something to drive out of your system and there is no booze around, go with Vein. The original raw shit.

Jegor Teplov - LAC

Do not know who Jegor Teplov is but I know Sleeparchive collaborated with him on this first release on the Stamp label. It actually sounds like a German version of dubstep, that is, dark, misty and technoish at the same time. Always nice to hear the bonds between minimal techno and dubstep being strengthened. Hopefully more to follow.

Battles - Atlas

This is the one with the funny-sounding vocals. Hate it or love it. More instantly loveable is DJ Koze's remix, who does not leave that much of the original intact but does a fine job anyway, especially because he shuns the easy let's-make-Kompakt-track-out-of-this-track approach.

Anaal Nathrakh - Eschaton

Ok, this is death metal, but there are also some pretty great melodies on this one. As Martijn put it once: Deep down there is something beautiful in Anaal Nathrakh. But you got to dig deeper than a title like 'Between Shit and Piss We Are Born' (which I actually think is a pretty strong title, but do not mind me). Hellish and brutal power to the max.

CoH - Patherns

How have I gone so many years without CoH. Every record I have heard until now by this Russian is great. It would be perhaps best to describe his music as subtly menacing electronics, leaving him somewhere between the Kraftwerk obssession of Dopplereffekt and the brooding soundscapes of the later Coil. On Raster-Noton and not completely anal, faut-le faire.

Fantastic Ego - Trips the Light

On Foxy Digitalis this was described as having leanings with Current 93, but in my opinion it has absolutely nothing to do with that quadrant of psychfolk. I am tending more to link it with the unholy mothergrooves of Belgium's Silvester Anfang. Considering the fact that that last reference is merely a hunch, I cannot possibly give Fantastic Ego a greater compliment than by saying his sound is pretty unique in the current all things freaky and folky climate.

Fursaxa - Alone in the Dark Wood

Most of the time I find Fursaxa, although she is always making very beautiful music, lacking spunk. She is always floating somewhere above the witches circle in the deep forest. But this one is her finest piece to date. I will probably not amuse her by comparing this to the better parts of the early Dead Can Dance discography, but that was the feeling it evoked. Anyway, for the first time I was totally involved into her music.

Library Tapes - Feelings for Something Lost

This is probably one of the most beautiful records I have ever heard. Consisting mostly of piano loops mixed up with gently creaking noise it is so much more than the sum of those parts. It sounds as if someone invaded an old derelict house, one of those places where you can hear the wind blowing through the age-old cracks, stumbled onto a dirty old creaky piano and decided to record an album on the spot with one of those old portable cassette recorders. In the league of Basinski's Disintegration Loops, and the cognoscenti will know that this is one hell of a compliment.

Holy Modal Rounders - 1&2

Never heard anything before by these folkies and it was a pleasure. Very simple bluegrass, country and folk ditties brought with the most basic means. Honest music - never thought I would ever use those two words next to one another - without pretense or pose.

Coil - The Remote Viewer

In 2030 people will still be wandering through the Coil backcatalogue and discovering masterpieces. This one was rereleased with two bonus tracks a few months ago and it defies description. But try to imagine bagpipes, hurdy gurdy and electronic beats in one song, add some early Tangerine Dream kosmische vibes, a tad of Material's 'Mantra', a spoonful of haunting emotions and you are not even halfway there. The effect alltogether is like watching Borges' City of the Immortals rising up from the steaming desert. Massive! Masterful! Genius!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Monday, May 07, 2007

"Yes, it's a very bodily thing, and academics and sex is a very sad story. It's very hard to explain to intellectuals about the need to incorporate the body."

Jan St. Werner, of Mouse On Mars, in this month's The Wire

Need I say more?
Ultimately my resistance to psychoanalysis comes down to the fact that it tries to destroy the spiritual and the sublime, reducing them into mere symptoms of societal and cultural conditons. One cannot make science out of the workings of the soul and the mind. Those should forever remain the things that science cannot touch. Once everything has been catalogued and explained (away) there is no more humanity.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

"Being called a 'bad citizen' is a compliment to a novelist, at least to my mind. That's exactly what we ought to do. We ought to be bad citizens. We ought to, in the sense that we're writing against what power represents, and often what government represents, and what the corporation dictates, and what consumer consciousness has come to mean. In that sense, if we're bad citizens, we're doing our job."

Don DeLillo

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Radical Thoughts (3)

"The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species."

Christopher Hitchens

from: God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

Have a Laugh

This guy is the single most funny writer in the blogosphere. He is also the writer of quite a few Doctor Who books, always a plus at the Fireplace. Because, make no fookin' mistake, Doctor Who is the epitome of sci-fi cool.

Nonetheless he also can put up a mean truth, too, as proven by sentences like:

"As a nation which only came into existence through the slavery of the blacks and the extermination of the locals, the US is the only country in the Western world that was founded on evil, and not only remains unrepentant but likes to turn its crimes into a kind of mythology."


"No country other than the US would spawn a writer like John Grisham, because no country other than the US would be daft enough to believe that the modern legal profession is really as manly and heroic as wrestling bears."

Suck on that, Jesuslanders!

Afterthought: If those Americans are really that stupid, while at the same time ruling the world, then how stupid is the rest of the world? Something to think about, hey?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Am not a fan of Reynolds, but when it is good, why not say so, hey?

Nonetheless, there is something horribly wrong with music journalism if the facts of life are tackled by dinosaurs like Julian Cope and Simon Reynolds. So, thank God for the dinosaurs, then?