Sunday, September 27, 2009

Grischa Lichtenberger - ~Treibgut (Raster-Noton)

~Treibgut fits snuggly into the sonic world of Raster-Noton. For this EP, his first release for the label, Grischa Lichtenberger's primary sources are found sounds from the world around him, including the sound of a sliding tabletop, the noise of a radiator and the humming of a broken device. Apparently, the music reflects Lichtenberger's reflections on the landscape of the river Rhein. Which, frankly, comes as something of a surprise since nature is just about the last thing that the music evokes. The atmosphere is extremely industrial and manufactured. Like the music of label primus motor Alva Noto, Lichtenberger's work is all percussive. He takes his sound sources and manipulates and processes them, cuts them up and rearranges them into rhythmic structures. But while Noto's music is often quite refined and minimal, ~Treibgut is like a jackhammer and power drill got together and decided to form a band. Opening track, 0406_01_RS!, is like the cacophony of a factory – metal on metal, pistons pumping rhythmically, distorted bursts of steam, flying sparks from a welder’s blowtorch. With one exception, the tracks all bear similar names, rows of numbers and letters, like numbered incidents in a long line of laboratory experiments. Or products on an assembly line. There are no melodies in the conventional sense of the word or other discernible instruments at play. The drill effect that users of the Ableton Live's Beat Repeat are so familiar with is the defining sound throughout. It’s a mechanical world. The one exception is calipso, which appears to refer to the CALIPSO environmental satellite launched jointly in 2006 by NASA and CNES, the U.S. and French space programs, and which measures aerosols and clouds 24 hours a day. Appropriately, it features a slightly lighter touch and an unusual sounding guitar providing the sole instance of melodic content on the EP. But the power tools are back in full force on the closing track, 0106_13_lv_3 sand ausheben, which translates as "excavate sand" - an indication that there is more heavy lifting to come. The title ~Treibgut refers to the German proverbial Treibholz, describing a piece of wood floating in a river or the sea. "In this sense it expresses a relation to things: between the observer and the floating thing, which has obliterated its functionality, there is no immediate connection – there is a lack of unifying meaning. Of it, the observer always only sees aspects, while the thing, without him on its mind, drifts by." It'll probably take you a while to grasp the meaning of the concept. Meanwhile, it is best to let the power tools do their work... Recommended for all Raster-Noton fan, as well as Pan Sonic, SND, Hecker, and Atom™ |

Saturday, September 19, 2009

On Silence and Transition...

Here's a quick update on all the beautiful things at Headphone Commute. First of all, we want to thank you for your patience while enduring the silence during our move. It's not over yet, but we have been slowly settling in at our new home on the East Coast. The listening studio is almost setup, but the slap back is still pretty awful, and is a bit depressing. So a pair of headphones help us through the day, for the time being. If you are a record label or an artist with whom we've had previous relationship, by now you should have received our new mailing address. We've got plenty of promos right here to catch up to, but the time is still restricting, so please bare with us while we clean up the queue.

Have you noticed our new logo? That's right! The new face of Headphone Commute is none other than Zoetica Ebb - artist, writer, photographer, style technician and a co-founder of Coilhouse magazine who has written up a praise for Headphone Commute, and now agreed to be our new protagonist, if you will. Let's be honest - we think Zo is beautiful, and love the presence she adds to the music, the mood, and the weight of our words. We hope you feel the same. Check out Zoetica's recently relaunched site,, and drop us a line on your thoughts.

We would also like to welcome Tigon as a new contributor to HC. Tigon has been following our write-ups for quiet some time, and finally decided to try his hand at writing. We've stumbled upon his reviews and they closely resembled our words and more importantly our taste. Basically, Tigon covered albums that we've lacked the time to praise. Not to mention the fact that his posts came at a time during our transition, becoming indispensable words to carry us through the move. Tigon's recent reviews covered music by Proem, Rival Consoles, and even Alva Noto + Ryuchi Sakamoto, with a follow up of our Two and a Half Questions! We're looking forward to having Tigon as a regular contributor to HC with many more great things to come!

And last, but not least, to carry you through the silence during this dreadful period of our relocation, we offer you another mix. This one is a little special to our hearts, titled Thank You, Chicago, Good Bye. Recorded live at Chicago's Hidden Forms radio, WNUR 89.3FM, the one hour mix of crunchy IDM and melodic electronica features a handful of special tracks from significant moments during our five year stay in Chicago. It's not exactly nostalgic or celebratory, but more of a marking point in time of yet another transition. Here are your usual suspects like Lusine, Hecq, Deru, Yasume, KiloWatts, Trentemøller and many more...

Download this free mix, and see full track listing only on Headphone Commute

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto with Ensemble Modern - utp_ (Raster-Noton)

Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto are unquestionably among the masters of modern experimental music. Noto has crafted a musical language all his own based on the most elemental of sound sources - electricity, static, white noise - and helped to raise laptop production to new heights. Sakamoto has such a varied an brilliant career, ranging from his days in the pioneering Yellow Magic Orchestra and his Neo Geo Japanese pop, to bossa nova, classical works and majestic film scores - including the unforgettable theme from Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, in which he also starred opposite David Bowie. And, of course, his explorations in electronic music where his collaborations with artists like Fennesz and Noto stand as milestones. The release of a major new work from the duo is noteworthy to say the least. Utp_, the third collaboration between Noto and Sakamoto, opens with a sustained electronic tone that is gradually joined by a cello note to form an electro-acoustic drone. On top, a series of angular jabs from the Ensemble Modern string section combine with rhythmic bursts of white noise from Noto. Sakamoto's muted piano is introduced on track 2, "grains", but is much less prominent throughout than in the duo's previous collaborations. The piano is only out front on a couple of tracks - "grains" and "broken line" 1 and 2 - which also happen to be the most melodic and easily approachable tracks on the disc, bubbling along to Noto's delicate microbeats. Like the previous collaborations, utp_ blends together electronic and acoustic sounds to hair-raising effect. The contribution of Ensemble Modern, one of the world's leading ensembles of 'new music', adds dynamism and breadth to the sound pallet but the tone is not so far removed from the intimacy and melancholy of Insen, the duo's last full-length release from 2005. The most striking difference is that while the previous outing centred on Noto's laptop treatment of Sakamoto's piano, here it is the Ensemble - particularly the string section - that is most prominent. There's a sombre intensity to the music, which blends modern classical with experimental electronic music in a way that bridges the divide between past and the present. The piece was commissioned on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the city of Mannheim in Germany and at times the deep and vibrant cello tones seem to be calling from that distant past. But most of the time the Ensembles' instruments are employed to produce sounds that are far removed from the 'classical' conception of music, melding seamlessly with the bleeps and glitches of the present in a way that feels completely organic. On tracks like "silence" and "particle" 1 and 2, the result is a blanket of ambient sound while on "plateaux" 1 and 2 the electro-acoustic drone is all encompassing. The title of the piece, utp_, is derived from the word "utopia" and the concept that Sakamoto and Noto developed for it is derived from the rasterized structure of Mannheim, which was conceived as the "ideal city" in the 17th century. This and more is explained in the documentary film on the development of the piece, which is included along with the utp_ concert movie on a DVD that accompanies the CD. So far I've only had a chance to listen to the music but it looks like the DVD provides a lot of insight into the development of the piece and the way Noto and Sakamoto work. I can't wait to get my hands on it. Also included in the impressive package, which is indeed worthy of the music, is a full colour booklet and the score. Utp_ is another feather in the cap of these two masters of modern experimental music and one can only hope that there is more to come.

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Original review posted by Tigon on Tigon World.
Republished with permission of the author. |

Two and a Half Questions with Carsten Nicolai

[editors note: below is an edited transcription from an audio interview]

Utp_ is a commissioned work. Can you tell us about the inspiration for the piece?
Utp_ was commissioned by the city of Mannheim. Ryuichi and I were very happy that we got this offer to work with Ensemble Modern because we had already made future plans to work with an orchestra. It helped us pushing our work to a new level. The inspiration for the piece is based on two elements. One is the classical music tradition of the city, the so-called Mannheim school, with one of their major musical tools that has also influenced parts of the final piece: the crescendo. The other element was the city’s architectural structure. Planned as an ideal city it is based on a regular grid system that we took over to structure our piece.

What was it like working with Ensemble Modern?
It was very exciting to work with Ensemble Modern. It was very inspiring and ground-breaking, especially since we were in the luxurious situation of working with them for more than a year. They're very well trained and very open minded to use their instruments in ways that you usually would not expect. It was a process of pushing each other’s limits and expectations further to find a new way of musical communication.

Can you tell us a little bit about the dynamic between you and Ryuichi Sakamoto - why you have continued to collaborate and what it is that each of you brings to the partnership?
Each record or each project was a little different, of course. I think after we finished the insen tour, which was a very intense touring schedule, we realized that we could even push things further. Not only in a recording environment but also in a live situation. And I think this helped making the fourth collaboration, utp_ so different. We developed the compositional ideas together and so everything became much more coherent. Of course, some parts Ryuichi took care of more, such as the process of the notation of the piece. I was a bit more involved in the visual and stage design. But for the music pieces themselves, we really collaborated very, very closely from the start to the end. Not so much in defining or specializing different parts of the work but more in terms of really collaborating in a very natural way.

You obviously put a lot of thought into the conceptual part of your music. Does it matter to you that the listener may be completely unaware of the concept? Does it matter in order to appreciate the music to its fullest?
I think, personally, that it's not really necessary for the listener to know the full background of the concept. But when you create such a piece over such a long period of time and with such a large number of people, you have to be really clear and really strong in your concept from the start. Otherwise, you kind of lose ground in the middle of the process. So for us, the concept was very important in order to stay focused from the start to the end. But this is almost impossible to communicate completely. The listener can just enjoy and listen without any preconception. But what is great about the release of utp_ is that if you want to know more, if you want to have a really detailed view, you can go deeper and you can explore several levels of the piece. It can be enjoyable to be able to see the background of the piece, how it grew, as well as having the possibility to see the visuals, the visuals on stage, how we developed the visuals, how we worked through the process, the concept of Mannheim, etc. You mustn't forget that this piece was commissioned by Mannheim and, of course, a commissioned piece has a purpose in some way. It was communicating the 400th anniversary of the city. That's not clear when you listen to it but I think it's very beautiful to know that there is a strong relation to a specific topic.

I read a quote of yours a while back where you said: "What I realized is that my work has little reference to art history, but is closer to science or mathematics or geometrics..." How do you see the relationship between art and science?
I think, for me, art and science share very similar processes in terms of creative research or creative work in general. And for me, it's very inspiring to look into research processes in science, or natural scientific discoveries, because nature is one of my biggest inspirations for art. We are part of nature, so for me it feels very natural to relate to natural science in a lot of my works. And I think it's very challenging to work with these kinds of topics. Maybe one of the main reasons is also that I'm very interested in the future — the unpredictability of the future and what is to come. Innovations, technologies and research are, of course, a very big factor when you are curious about the future. And this feeds back into the work. |

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Rival Consoles - IO (Erased Tapes Records)

Rival Consoles' debut album, IO, comes as quite a surprise after the 'modern classical vs. breakcore' vibe of his last EP, Helvetica. Instead of the rather unique mix of piano and strings on top of drill 'n bass, IO offers up a heap of crunchy analogue synths and straight ahead techno beats. Once you've gotten over the surprise, what really makes IO stand out is Rival Console's "lust for catchy music", as Ryan Lee West - the man behind the music - put it himself in an Interview with Headphone Commute back in March. He really hit that one on the head. You couldn't ask for a more anthemic start than the troika of Milo, IO and 1985 that kicks off the album. The first few times I listened to the album, I couldn't make it past these three because I found myself going right back to the beginning to hear them again! The other defining feature of IO is the down and dirty sound. There's nothing fancy or refined about it. It's old school synth action - just your basic waveforms in all their gritty and distorted glory. Rival Consoles doesn't try to wow us with complexity, studio trickery or a smorgasbord of effects. IO stands and falls with the tunes. OK, admittedly track 7, PVAR, does feature some heavenly strings that pop up at just the right moment to sprinkle a pinch of pixie dust over the proceedings. But on the whole, the sound is uniformly bold and direct. It's not all "wave your hands in the air" on IO though. Midway through, the vibe gets weightier and boxier for a few tracks but picks up steam again as the end approaches. The penultimate track, Agenda, is the only one where West reverts back to the rapid skittering beats of the Helvetica EP. But then it's quickly on to rousing closer ARP, another techno barnstormer that quickly gets lodged in your brain and has you reaching for the "repeat" button. It may come as a surprise to find Rival Consoles' music sharing a home with Ólafur Arnalds and Peter Broderick on Erased Tapes Records. But the London-based label focuses on what it calls "Cinematic Pop Music" featuring a wide variety of genres and styles, ranging from neo-classical to post-rock. IO is obviously a very welcome addition to the mix.

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Original review posted by Tigon on Tigon World.
Republished with permission of the author. |

Two and a Half Questions with Rival Consoles

IO is a big change in style and sound compared to the Helvetica EP, which came out just a few short months ago. What prompted you to take such a different route?
The production and ideas on IO is much more defined. It's nice to make music which is in conflict with other music you make. A lot of this music was made at the same time as the Helvetica EP, so it's not so much a question of taking a different route after some glamerous epiphany, it's more like a chaotic ball of musical ideas which get filtered into coherent bundles of sound over time. If anything the majority of IO was influenced by some of the music that I was hearing which was irritatingly dull and wanting ideas. I wanted to create something which had defined ideas and lots if them.

Who would be a primary target for this output, clubs or home listener? Or better yet, the headphone commuter?
It sounds great in a club due to the nature of the production, and that's where I prefer people to experience it. Clubs are generally dark, and IO to me is quite colourful, so they bond well.

The crunchy synths really define the sound of IO. What kind of equipment did you use for this album? Do you have a lot of outboard stuff or do you primarily work in the box? What‘s your favorite synth?
I use both Hardware and Software. Though I only use a few selected pieces of each. I love DX-7 and TR-707 to name a few. Treating synths with the right filters and Eq is the most important shaping process for me, so a poor sounding synth is potentially interesting with a certain treatment. The problem here is that you have an obsurd degree of options.

What can we expect from Rival Consoles in the future?
A barrage of ideas in a plethora of forms. I'm currently working on album deux which is going very well. |