Helmut Lachenmann - Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelholzern
It was bound to happen. After listening to noise, improvisation and free jazz for some time I just needed to submerge myself into modern composition. Do not ask me any musical specifications about this one because I am far from steeped in the finer points of counterpoint, pitch, serialism or twelve-tone theory. But I sure know this is one of the best things I have ever heard. As you can guess from the title this is sort of an opera. There are actually not too much vocals, rather vocalisations and Sprechgesang. I just wish now that I had taken up musical theory when I was younger, because now I can only tell you that I am playing this to death. I think, though, that it, again, has to do something with the recurring silence and the minute gradations of volume in this kind of music. And of course with the fact that Ralf Wehowsky (of P16.d4) once pointed out in an interview that this music sounds right and everything by Madonna sounds wrong.
[It would not be honest to throw that last bit in the reader's face without providing any context, however. What Wehowsky meant was that to listen to pop music you do not need to adapt yourself, because the melodies are for the most part quite simple and harmonically pleasing. Listening to dissonant, unpredictable music requires of your brain that it adapts itself to patterns that it is not used to. Adapting is learning and learning is acquiring more knowledge. Anyway, I think he is right.]
Karl-Heinz Stockhausen - Mikrophonie I & II / Telemusik
Einstürzende Neubauten, but 25 years earlier. These are probably the Stockhausen works that were most ahead of their age. The musical equivalent of stealing the fire from the gods. Amazing.
Cornad Schnitzler - Rot
I knew Schnitzler from his pioneering roles in Kluster and Tangerine Dream, but I had not yet checked out his solo works. So this came on like a revelation. 'Meditation' is a mechanic ambient soundscape much in the vein of Seesselberg or Vangelis's Beaubourg, while 'Krautrock' is the real works: lots of bubbling proto-industrial electronics with an ensnaring percussion loop being segued in later on. Schnitzler's music (and there is an awful lot of it) always sounds a bit like an automatic factory turned into music, so refrain if you are looking for emotional satisfaction. Of course I am exaggerating here, because there are pleasing sweeping synth tones woven through most of 'Krautrock'.
Magma - Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh
Mostly when people reference Magma it is to ridicule them for their self-invented Zeuhl language and general hippy antics. But then they better take heat of this. This reminds me of Archie Shepp's Attica Blues and that's saying something. Probably one of the best prog records ever. Shows that these guys were highly knowledgeable of the most interesting periods of black music (Tribe, Strata East, Black Jazz). You have got to take the ridiculously high female chanting for granted, though, otherwise you will not be able to sit this through.
Robert Ashley - Automatic Writing
Robert Ashley now makes experimental opera's but this is something different altogether. The title track consists of no more than two voices, one female whispering in French (think L'Année Dernière à Marienbad, and closer to home Nurse With Wound's 'Echo Poème', which is a total rip-off of Ashley) and one slowed down to a sort of unholy grunt, plus some unidentified background noises.
On 'Purposeful Lady Slow Afternoon', when a girl's voice is talking about a guy who puts his fingers between her legs and then tries to put that finger in her mouth (and so on) over the sound of a music box, things get very creepy, as if you are listening to an excerpt from Sex, Lies and Videotape, but without any help of context. 'She Was a Visitor' is no more than that same sentence repeated ad nauseam over particularly uneasy listening.
One of the most powerful and impressive pieces of sound art you are bound to hear. Ever. Do not play this with the lights out, unless you want to end up in an asylum for the mentally challenged.
Robert Ashley - Private Parts
After Automatic Writing this is almost easy listening, though it is also far from that. Basically it is a guy with a soothing but also slightly bored voice reciting a text of seemingly unrelated text fragments over tablas, piano and delicate synth tones. Alienating to say the least, though less psychologically invasive as Automatic Writing.
Mordant Music - Carrion Squared
Mistah Fisha is going all "hauntological" over this ("Music is dead. Long live hauntology!", LOL), again, although he hastens to set aside this release from the label's usual output. He'd better, because this album was made for library music publisher Boosey & Hawkes* and consists of no less than 40 mini-drones à la Cluster, Conrad Schnitzler or Seesselberg. So no "hauntology" then, but kosmische music, though of course the shortness of the pieces contradict their cosmic nature. All very confusing, but that's "hauntology" for ya, I guess.
Threshold Houseboys Choir - Form Grows Rampant
Being Peter Christopherson's first outing since the demise of John Balance, Coil's other half. This actually sounds like an instrumental version of the new Throbbing Gristle album. That it contains heavy trace elements of the later Coil (and Balance's voice for that matter) will not surprise either. Themes and even melodies of certain Coil records are leisurely reemployed (especially the heavy use of vocoders from post-mortem album The Ape of Naples) and thus this sounds a lot like the slightly perverted fairy-tale music that the duo were famous for in their later carreer. And yes, you are probably right about the homosexual innuendo contained in the project's name, given the fact that Christopherson has been living in Thailand for some while now. Intriguing as ever nonetheless.
Box of Dub
Always nice to notice that dubstep has some margin for progression. The top dogs of the game come up with roots inspired dubstep and show along the way that dubstep is really only at the beginning of its odyssey. Which in this case means going back to the roots of the style and toning down the overall darkness.
Rumble in the Jungle
A supreme compilation that shows after the fact where jungle went wrong. No electronic basses or metallic percussion here, just vocally hyperactive rude boys and superfunky drum'n'bass. Party time music.
Burial - Ghost Hardware
No sign of slacking here. Three tracks in the style of the album with lots of wet background noises and sad echoing vocals. Nothing new or much progression compared to his previous outings but that need not always be the case as we all know. I would have wished he'd chosen another title, though. "Hauntology", is there no escape?
Digitalism - Idealism
Justice - †
Or I'm getting old, or I just don't like this. The Digitalism album, though, is much better than the Justice abomination, which is just plain vulgar in its desire to please the less discerning ears. Furthermore I always will despise people who choose a symbol as title for their album. I am not going to waste any more words on this, neither am I going to vilify these guys. I just think Daft punk was better. So it would seem I am getting old after all. Nevertheless I am pretty sure that these two will tear the roof off in a live setting. Mixed feelings, then.
* There are two ways to interpret the fact that Mordant's "hauntology", a music that has library music has one of its main influences, is now in turn being used as library music. You could, if you are a believer, say that "hauntology" has come full circle. One could also, more viciously, state that it pre-empts itself, having turned into a sort of parody on its own influence. Probably the truth lies somewhere between a bit of both.