Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sound Bytes : Submotion Orchestra, Bop, Venetian Snares

In this installment of Sound Bytes, I am covering three releases which all bend the genres just a tiny bit, but enough to invent some of their own. Submotion Orchestra cleverly mixes jazz and dubstep to create some of the most amazing bass rumbling electronica, with melodies that get stuck in my head for days! Russian artist, Bop continues to perfect his sonic explorations into micro drum'n'bass with just a little bit of glitch and techno. And the prolific Venetian Snares is back with his mind warping breaks, this time deconstructing reggae from its jittering jigsaw jungle jingles... I hope jew enjoy, and jot me few jolly jives, jes? Jeez!

Submotion Orchestra - Finest Hour (Exceptional)
When the self-titled EP landed on my desk from Submotion Orchestra, I immediately recognized an amazing potential behind this group of seven musicians... well... OK, so I'm a big fan of Dom Howard's productions as Ruckspin on Ranking Records, and his bass-rolling dubstep influenced beats could only polish off this already shiny record. The single, All Yours, was already featured on Headphone Commute as Track of the Week, and since then, I have been patiently awaiting the full length. And here it is! With sublime vocals by the lovely Ruby Wood, trumpet solos by Simon Beddoe, and distant smokey keys by Taz Modi, the group creates a sweet, seductive, and ultimately poisonous concoction of acid jazz, dubstep, and soulful breaks. The melodies instantly find their way into repetitive memory banks of my mind and get stuck there for days. And I just can't stop listening... So why seven people? You see, Submotion Orchestra is a proper seven-piece band, where all participants play acoustic instruments, including bass by Chris Hargreaves and percussion by Danny Templeman and Tommy Evans, fusing an organic, incredibly atmospheric, and skillfully mastered record, which should make everyone on Ninja Tune jealous. Formed in Leeds in 2009, the band is already turning heads across UK's festivals and gigs. Finest Hour is a Submo's debut album on Exceptional Blue, a UK label that has been around for over a decade, releasing 12" in a variety of electronica genres. Fans of The Cinematic Orchestra, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble and of course, Bonobo will be extremely excited to add Submotion Orchestra to their collection!

Bop - The Amazing Adventures Of One Curious Pixel (Med School)
Releases from Hospital Records's Medschool have repeatedly appeared on my rotations. And although I mostly tend to consume label's compilations, there are definitely a few full-length albums and artists that I faithfully follow. One of them is St. Petersburg (Russia) based Alexander Dmitriev, who produces under his alias Bop. Dmitriev has previously released on a handful of Russian small labels, then moved up to Leipzig based Alphacut Records, and finally was discovered by Medschool in 2009. The label invested in Bop's first full length release, Clear Your Mind, which quickly gained attention with its experimental, minimal, and intelligent drum'n'bass. For his sophomore album, Dmitriev polishes off his glitchy beats with a touch of spacey, 8-bit chiptune vibe, deep dropping bass, and funky groove. Carefully shielding each frequency and individually processed signals from each other, the album traverses from the past of video game sound to the future of interplanetary travel. Appropriately titled The Amazing Adventures Of one Curious Pixel, the album tells a story of one lost digital picture cell, breaking off from the jumbled norm of a rasterized world, and venturing into an array of precision stitched, micro programmed rhythm, where each element has a life of its own. Spanning eleven tracks, the album includes one of my favorite remixes of Subwave's I Need You. With his second release, Bop continues to push the evolution of the genre, creating a unique style of his own. Check out our own Headphone Commute Podcast, to which Bop contributed two Micromixes consisting of tracks from his previous album and EP. The album can be purchased directly from the Hospital Shop.

Venetian Snares - Cubist Reggae (Planet Mu)
Like a tweaking Picasso on acid-laced ganja, Aaron Funk deconstructs the basic elements of reggae, then shuffles them around the straight edges and outlines of his twisted psyche. Foregoing his staple Venetian Snares delicious insanity of drill and breaks, Cubist Reggae is a four-track EP, on which Funk bends and chops basic loops into short studies of the genre. Instead of a smooth head-nodding smoke-filled vibrations, the sounds of Cubist Reggae are snipped, dropped, and then left to reverberate across extensive delays. Cutup, layered, and indeed dubbed over itself, the experimental production of the tracks strips the reggae off its glamor, leaving the naked, flesh-dripping skeleton to stumble over itself into a neurotic blender of Funk's surgical kit. Where You Stopped The Heaviest reminds me a lot of the melancholic Öngyilkos Vasárnap, from Funk's 2005 milestone, Rossz Csillag Allat Született (Planet Mu). Overall, VSnares satisfies the cravings of warped time signatures, triggered samples and low rumbling dub, enough to perhaps hold us over since his last full length, My So-Called Life, was released on his very own label Timesig, sponsored by Planet Mu. Only the lengthy track titles hold some unsolved mystery. Could these be the remains of the original reggae sources? The EP works well within its sixteen minute span (not sure how the concept would stretch out to an hour), and it's definitely nice to see Funk explore another territory. True fans of VSnares will understand...

Be sure to read this Sound Bytes entry directly on Headphone Commute

Hauschka - Salon Des Amateurs (130701) + Live at Joe's Pub

Walking into Joe's Pub at The Public Theater of New York, I have to sneak in past the security guard, past the gathering crowd, past the box office receptionist, in through a carelessly propped open back door, in towards the dark seating room of a restaurant slash bar slash performance, where I am due to meet Volker Bertelmann for a quick Hauschka interview before his show. Through the thin veils of the projector's red lights I see a figure slouched over a grand piano, operating on the innards of the instrument awaiting its transformation for the performance. Like an evil scientist working on his new creation, Volker is busy preparing the piano, inserting foil wrapped cardboard, wooden clips, and fabric dampers between the strings, testing out the newly augmented sound with a few strokes of the keys. On the inside of the piano, next to the hanging pearl-like ornaments there's a bag full of marbles. Finally it hits me: I am watching Hauschka prepare his piano! An act witnessed by only a few prior to the show!

In the green room, Volker attempts to gather last minute information through a flaky wireless connection, and I get to briefly meet his drummer, Samuli Kosminen, a percussionist from múm. It feels like Hauschka was only recently on tour, performing pieces from his last album, Foreign Landscapes, released only a year ago.  All this traveling must really be exhausting. "Yes," Volker confirms, "once I'm finished with a record, I want to present it to the public, and that's why, since 2007, I have been playing every year about a hundred concerts or so. And although, the positives of traveling outweigh the negatives, I still think I need a little break, which will finally happen this summer until the end of the year. There will still be releases in between, but at the same time I will try to concentrate on more music for film, theater and studio work."

On Salon Des Amateurs, Hauschka explores a rhythmic structure of every piece, often within a four/four beat, always centered around his light piano melodies, occasional string accompaniment by Joey Burns on the cello, Bernhard Voelz on the trombone, and the above mentioned Samuli Kosminen on the drums. This is the same good ol' Hauschka we've learned to love, but with an upbeat feel. In fact, Salon Des Amateurs really feels like an extension to Foreign Landscapes. "Well, they were two records that I wrote at the same time. Whenever I wrote a score for Foreign Landscapes, in the evening I would sit down and create these club oriented beats. I really thought that it's something that has been missing for a while. So there was always this back and forth switching between the two worlds. In the end, I composed about 40 songs and had to decide if everything should be on one record or separate. I'm glad that it was separated, because Foreign Landscapes encompasses a very melodic, classical and experimental world, while Salon Des Amateurs seems to affect more of the electronic music crowd." On the perceived departure from his staple prepared piano sound, Volker continues, "It's actually not a departure for me at all. It's been in me all this time. And when you listen to my older records, you should hear an approach to dance music, with electronic sculptural music and texture, and of course, classical music as well."

On the stage, Hauschka plays on the keys, while bells, clips and metal objects resonate along with the vibrations. Ping-pong balls are flying up in the air when the piano hammers connect with the strings. Samuli seems to be dancing with his drum kit, brushing on the snare, and moving in rhythm created with his entire body. A certain energy transfers between the players, moving back and forth among percussion instruments, and finally leaking into the crowd. I put down my drink and start tapping on the table with the infectious beat. Soon, the entire room is bopping their heads up and down along with the rhythm. Here's the true beauty of a live performance - music is actually created right in front of you.  "I feel that a live performance is there for creating new material on the fly, and give people the excitement of experimentation, risk and danger at the same," Volker adds.

Salon Des Amateurs is actually named after a a cafe/bar located in the Kunsthalle museum of Düsseldorf, Germany. Volker explains some more, "It's supposed to be a coffee place for the museum visitors. But the place is a little bit dark, and people don't really want to have their coffee there. So instead, they come there to dance and listen to poetry readings. I'm really glad that Salon Des Amateurs exists, because there's not much in Düsseldorf that has such a wonderful program, free open space, and a buzzing atmosphere." Salon Des Amateurs is released on the wonderful FatCat's offshoot, 130701. This sublabel continues to excite our neurons with the latest signing of Dustin O'Halloran and the latest release from Jóhann Jóhannsson, both of which, I'm sure, will show up on Headphone Commute's pages very soon! Make sure you check out Headphone Commute's reviews of Hauschka's Foreign Landscapes, Ferndrof, as well as our past Interview with Hauschka.

Exclusive photography by Kristopher Wuollett. Text by HC. | |

Sound Bytes : Herd, Kattoo and Haruka Nakamura

I stopped apologizing for my delayed reviews a long time ago. I just can't keep up. But I swear, one day I'll get through all of it, and get the word out about the music that affects me deeply. The music that stays with me after it's gone, the sounds that excite my neurons, and the message that just makes me feel. For this installment of Sound Bytes I revisit a few albums I have left behind, but dusted off again for this occasion...

Herd - Tangents 41-47 (fsoldigital)
What happened to the amazing formula of Future Sound of London? After all, their approach to morphing seemingly unrelated samples into the dreamscapes was the subject of a long and frivolous debate in the late 90s. I remember completely falling in love with Lifeforms (Virgin, 1994) only to read later some blasphemy on Usenet claiming that anyone can stitch random sounds together to create a similar texture. Alas, either no one tried (debatable), or no one could (most probable). And yet with so many followers of FSOL, it is a shame... Until now... Released via the duo's very own digital distribution channel,, this single track 20-minute exploration by Herd, is nothing more than an amazing (and very welcome) flashback to my favorite world of FSOL. I swear, I think I even hear some similar sounds! But to avoid the undeserving cookie cutter stamp of a copy-cat on Jason Thomson, let's examine Tangents 41-47 in more detail. Dark ambient passageways layer the cold corridors of this unnerving descent into the underworld, where the curtains sway with ghostly echoes and the doorways open out to other worlds. Then you're standing on a meadow, where the sound of a banjo slowly creeps into your subconsciousness, and distant abstract shapes slowly float up into focus to assemble broken mirrors and reflect the self. Perhaps words simply fail to describe this psychedelic atmosphere, so why not let the music do the talking? As the title of the EP implies, these seven "tangents" are just the latest in the series. There is also Tangents 1-19 (Future State of Rhythm, 2008), followed by Tangents 32-39 (Entity, 2009), both available as free releases from the netlabels. Really enjoyed this one!

Kattoo - l--ll-ll l-ll ll-ll- l-ll- l--l-ll l--l-ll ll-- ll-- l- l--l- (
About three years ago, Volker Kahl gave up on the music industry. Recording under his alias Kattoo, and earlier in his collaboration with Gabor Schablitzki as Beefcake, Kahl left his home-base of Hymen Records, and started releasing his music (including past albums) to the public on a donation basis, via his very own, where every cent goes directly to the artist. Of course, giving up on the industry also means giving up some of its perks, like the wide distribution channels of a somewhat large independent label, and the necessary promotion that goes with it. Which is why, when the fourth full length album by Kattoo "hit the streets", I totally missed it! And I'm a huge fan! In the last decade, I have absorbed every Kattoo album, from Places (2004), to Megrim (2005), to Hang On to A Dream (2006) and now, this mysteriously Morse-style encoded album, which title translates to Reivoottak, which, in turn, spells out backwards "kattoovier", and just means "Kattoo Four". The eleven similarly encoded track titles translate into basic elements, reminding me of patch names on a synth: "Tape", "Church", "Orchbeat", "Violin", etc. Alas, the titles follow the main theme of each individual track. Thankfully, everything that is hidden from plain sight with complicated visual code, is revealed in all of its glory with sound. Here is the Kattoo staple sound that I've been waiting for. Dark and brooding passageways, a sinister and ruthless approach to tight production, broken beats and old-skool breaks, deep cinematic soundscapes that take me to the other worlds... Although the album looks like it is within a jewel case on, Kahl assures us that it is no available as a physical CD. And that's the only downside - I suppose the lossless files will do. This is modern classical meets IDM at its best! Highly recommended for followers of Hecq, Architect, Subheim, Nebula and Lusine Icl.

Haruka Nakamura - Twilight (Kitchen)
There's something about electronic music coming out of Japan that is exceptionally... "Japanese"... Don't you think? From Kashiwa Daisuke to Fjordne and to Ametsub - these favorite musicians continue to work with a potpourri of styles, plucked out of a lottery bowl of influences, that somehow, when all is settled, makes some of the most beautiful music of the world. With its quiet field recordings, and minimal undertones, Twilight dissects the complex structures of life, into individual moments of relaxation and peace. Gentle piano notes, slow breathing brass instruments, and incredibly light jazzy percussion, make up this delicately rendered sophomore solo release by Haruka Nakamura. Inspired by sunset, Twilight is an album recorded in Nakamura's studio overlooking the ocean, during those hours of the day, when the light changes its presence into music. This moment is captured by Nakamura and is easily recreated wherever his sounds pour out of the speakers - and that's what a great album is supposed to do. With the help of sublime vocals from April Lee (member of aspidistrafly duo with Ricks Ang), wandering saxophone, docile guitar strums, and the subdued crackling of electronics, Twilight wraps all of the worries of the day, into an hour long meditation on the trials of the past. I definitely recommend that you experience this during long evenings, while observing the world wind itself down through the windows of your pad. In addition to Twilight, make sure to pick up Fjordne's similarly influenced The Setting Sun (2009), aspidistrafly's I Hold A Wish For You (2008), and the more recent ironomi's Sketch (2010), all released on the beautiful, Singapore based, Kitchen. Label.

Be sure to read this Sound Bytes entry directly on Headphone Commute

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sound Bytes : 12 Bytes From 12k [part four]

Wrapping up our four-part 12k special with three latest favorite releases, I can't help but point out the label's continuous attention to detail, its intricate aesthetic characteristics, coupled with an additional dimension of conceptual representation, where music really meets art, and art starts to sound like music. Whether the recordings are left to gently purr in the background, or be analyzed through a microscopic lens of a critic's discerning ear, repeated rotations of these albums continue to offer their new delights, slowly revealing their passion for acoustics, analog warmth, and delicate minimalism.

Be sure to read the first three parts : [part one] [part two] [part three]

Marcus Fischer - Monocoastal
Featuring cover art of pinhole photography taken by Marcus Fischer himself, Monocoastal is a document of found objects, a travelogue of a weary nomad across the West Coast of America, a lo-fi collection of field recordings and textures, as if heard through the camera's pinhole itself. Crumbling noises, background tape hiss, screeching wood, and gentle guitar strums make up the majority of Fischer's meditation on the Pacific coast. Throughout the recording, we hear an enormous restraint in the balance between organic sound, minimal electronic processing, and the pause of breathing instruments. Fischer's control of individual sounds within the abstract and physical space, culminates into the warm harmonic waves that fill my morning studio with atonal reverberations and a glowing hum. Based out of Portland, Oregon, Fischer's focus on composition is guided by experimentation with field recordings, self constructed instruments, and sometimes pure chance. Coupled with visual art, Fischer is also responsible for curating vision+hearing - a series of audio/visual events facilitating collaborations between musicians and filmmakers. His recordings under the map~map moniker are self released via his site, where throughout 2009, Fischer documented one creative project per day for an entire year. Monocoastal is a welcome addition to the 12k catalog, fitting the label's unique aesthetic.

Seaworthy + Matt Rösner - Two Lakes
At only thirty eight minutes in length, a collaboration between a member of Sydney based electro-acoustical group Seaworthy, Cameron Webb, and a Western Australia's sound artist Matt Rösner, the album Two Lakes is a sophisticated conceptual piece begging for multiple listens. The duo traveled to the south coast of New South Wales where they have devoted themselves to the detailed field recording study of two lakes - Meroo and Termeil. Armed with a hydrophone, a shotgun and stereo microphones, the artists attempted to capture the sounds of the Australian coastal environment and entwine them with subtle notes of acoustic guitar, a ukelele, and minimal electronics. At the center of the few improvised performances in a cabin by the lake, an abundance of nature celebrates its existence through recorded sounds. Two Lakes captures the environment in all of its exposed nakedness, while filling the missing frequencies with desolation, loneliness, and solitude. But instead of pure desperation, the peacefulness of the album reveals a recognition of pure life. The music often transports the listener to a quiet evening in the forest, where a good friend plays his guitar by the running creek. In addition to the album, Webb and Rösner have setup an Environmental Sounds blog, where more field recordings, photographs and notes continue the unfolding of the project. Be sure to also check out Seaworthy's previous releases on 12k - Map In Hand (2006) and 1897 (2009), as well as Matt Rösner's Room40 debut, Alluvial (2005).

Stephan Mathieu - A Static Place
Stephan Mathieu has been on my radar for a while now. His 2008 release on Die Schachtel titled Radioland had a profound impact on my psyche. Then there was his 2009 collaboration with 12k's own Taylor Deupree for a release on Spekk titled Transcriptions. In 2011, Mathieu managed to release two albums - there's the Remain on Line (now independently operated by Richard Chartier), and, the focus of this Sound Bytes special, A Static Place. To listen to Mathieu's latest marvel, I have to prepare myself. First - I carve out an entire hour to wholly consume the album in one take; second - I put on my favorite pair of headphones for a true sonic bliss; and third - I must close my eyes. "A Static Place is about the journey of sound," says Mathieu about the record. "Between 1928 and 1932 the earliest recordings of historically informed performances of music from the late Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque era were etched into 78RPM records. I used some of these records from my collection, playing them back with two mechanical acoustic HMV Model 102 gramophones. The initial soundwaves produced back then by period instruments like the clavichord, viols, lute, hurdy-gurdy are read from the grooves by a cactus needle to be amplified by the gramophones diaphragm housed in a soundbox. Those vibrations travel through the tonearm which is connected straight to the gramophones horn, which releases the music to my space. Here the sound is again picked up by a pair of customized microphones and send to my computer, to be transformed by spectral analysis and convolution processes." I'm afraid I have nothing more to add... Pure magic...

Sound Bytes : 12 Bytes From 12k [part three]

In this third installment of our four-part 12k special, we examine two live performances and an experimental EP. In all three, the label excels at providing a service of archiving, if you will, of single events, group gatherings, and academical studies. With these releases, 12k once again stands out among today's cutting edge experimental, improvisational and conceptual music.

More from 12k Special : [part one] [part two] [part four]

Although this self-titled EP consists of a single 24+ minute track, the experience captured by this recording begs to be repeated. MOSS is actually an acronym, consisting of four names, four artists and four friends - Molly Berg, Olivia Block, Steve Roden, and Stephen Vitiello. Out of this group, Berg and Vitiello have previously appeared on 12k with their 2009 release, The Gorilla Variations. Block has mostly released experimental works on Massachusetts-based Sedimental. And Los Angeles based Roden, has been contributing to Line, Trente Oiseaux, Interior Sounds and many others. Originally, the performance was only meant to be a collaboration between Berg and Vitiello, at the San Jose's Trinity Cathedral for the 01SJ Biennial festival. But with Block and Roden in the vicinity, an opportunity presented itself that could not be passed on. The newly formed quartet creates a totally improvised sonic space, inhaling the acoustics of the church, and exhaling an immense restraint of sound. Complimented with just a touch of Berg's voice and clarinet, Vitiello's electric guitar, Roden's lap steel fingerboard, and Block's expert live manipulations of tapes, field recordings and electronics, the music on MOSS is an intricate play between the performers, the audience, and most importantly, the space itself. Recorded at midnight, the cathedral hosted a unique moment of an extemporaneous craftsmanship unfolding live within its dark, damp, and wooden belly. Every sound is treasured, including a distant horn of a car. I am only thankful that Vitiello recorded it, and 12k released it, so that this moment can be captured, archived, and replayed.

Various - Tasogare: Live In Tokyo
There's just something about Japan. Don't you think? From its culture, where future meets the past, to its literature, where dream-state meets the present, to its music, where abstract meets the concrete. 12k is among the labels to feature more than a few of our favorite Japanese musicians. Among them, appearing on this compilation, are Minamo, Sawako + Hofli, and Moskitoo. Joined by Australia's Solo Andata and the label's founder, Taylor Deupree, this five track release collects the works recorded live at two temples in Tokyo - Komyuji and  Jiyu Gakuen Myonichi-kan. I'm not sure if the night crickets are part of Sawako's field recordings, or are simply picked up by the microphone, but the overall sonic experience transports me to the hot and humid nights of Japan, where the western traveler awaits his mind to beat the jet-lag. Sawako's lovely voice and Takashi Tsuda's (aka Hofli) soft guitar playing only enhances the overall experience. Sanae Yamasaki, recording under her Moskitoo moniker, twists her abstract pop into live experimental circuit bends. At the center of the compilation is a seventeen minute gem by Paul Fiocco and Kane Ikin, known to the faithful readers of these pages as Solo Andata. Steering clear of most software effects, the duo uses field recordings, found objects, and organic textures to create a deep, droning, drowning, and slightly unsettling environment, worthy of Japan's embedded relationship with spirits in every single object. This piece alone deserves to be a single, but on the compilation you get one more - a live recording from Taylor Deupree. With his lo-fi treatments and gentle organic pads, Deupree eases us into the early morning, wrapping this collective collaboration with a fuzzy sonic kilt. Tasogare: Live In Tokyo is yet another important document in the 12k archives, preserving a live performance that may never be duplicated again.

Giuseppe Ielasi - Tools
Opening a little small black cardboard packet I am greeted with a warning - "please do not use headphones for playback". With this a bit unusual packaging for 12k, I choose to follow the advice - the last time my brain caught a null pointer exception was when I accidentally used headphones for Florian Hecker's Acid In The Style Of David Tudor - not recommended. Meanwhile, Giuseppe Ielasi's 2009 album, Aix was covered on Headphone Commute and featured in Best of 2009 : Music For Sonic Installations In The Cavern Of Your Skull. So, my curiosity is already awake. On Tools, Ielasi takes the study into the physicality of everyday objects even further. Each track is titled after the object from which the sounds were made - "Cooking Pan", "Tin Can", "Polystyrene Box" - each a simple every day object, with a basic material from which it was made. The collection of seven pieces nods to material produced strictly for sampling or live performance by artists and DJs - Tools is kit of items that's meant to achieve a task without being consumed in the process. The process, however, is the result of this experimental 20-minute EP. Synthetically folding cooking pan, like a sheet of metal, Ielasi extracts the objects interaction with air pressure. My favorite, of course, is a Rubber Band - who hasn't played with this amazing instrument in school, and now in many boring meetings? With a little help from his computer, Ielasi manages to create a rhythmic structure, where the band becomes a percussion instrument, taking a musical life of its own. Other tracks resemble a production factory on which machines work with the beat in time with the late night warehouse techno tempo. The release may be a bit tough for a novice listener, but it is surely recommended for an experienced traveler into an array of sounds.

Sound Bytes : 12 Bytes From 12k [part two]

Here's the second installment in our four part 12k Sound Bytes special. In this particular entry, I decided to dig back a few years and cover the albums that I really enjoyed from the label, but didn't have the time to write about before. As with all music, I don't believe in assigning a numerical value to the release date, representing some form of a human calendar system based on the period of our planet around the sun. I also don't believe in the past or the future. There's only now, only this, only words and these sounds.

More from 12k Special: [ part one ]  [ part three ] [ part four ]

Machinefabriek + Stephen Vitiello - Box Music
I am already a fan of pretty much everything that Rotterdam based Rutger Zuydervelt touches. My only problem is that I simply can't keep up! Recording under his famous Machinefabriek moniker, Zuydervelt manages to output on average half a dozen records a year, and that's not counting all of the singles, collaborations, and appearances! Besides his numerous self-released albums and EPs, his works have appeared on labels such as Lampse, Low Point, Dekorder, Fang Bomb, Type Home Normal, Sonic Pieces, and now his first contribution for the celebrated 12k. Collaborating with an equally prolific Virginia based artist, Stephen Vitiello, the duo take turns in composing pieces for this five track, 50-minute long album, Box Music. With each track titled after the used ingredients, one immediately recognizes that there's a deeper concept behind the album. After the duo met online, they started talking about a collaboration centered around an "exchange" of not just ideas, but concepts across space and time. Zuydervelt and Vitiello sent each other a box full of non-musical objects and scrap recordings with the purpose of using those as source materials in their tracks. Thus, on "Broken Record, Cassettes" we hear Vitiello wrestling with clicks, cuts, and unwinding metallic hum, twisting for almost nine minutes, and finally winning, with a complete submission, by placing a loop lock over the perpetrator's heaving gasps. Perhaps there's another life for these deceased components. And on "Field Recordings, Rocks, Speakers" we hear Zuydervelt's extraction of a humming, buzzing,  meditation, squeezing a song out of a rock, and somehow managing to carve out a gem. An excellent collaboration with an equally unique concept and a successful result!

Pillowdiver - Sleeping Pills
Selected as one of the albums for Headphone Commute's Best of 2009 : Music For Bending Light And Stopping Time, René Margraff's first and only (so far) album as Pillowdiver is a perfect off-ramp from the daily grind. Sleeping Pills is the wind-down for the insomniac, a hypnotic treatment for a buzzing mind, a soporific psychoactive surpassing any prescription medication. And that doesn't mean that it sounds boring. Returning to the state of calm, suspended sensory activity, and rejuvenation with Margraff's gentle guitar strumming, warm white noise treatments, and lo-fi recording techniques is a compliment in itself. For his debut album on 12k, the Berlin based musician limited himself to Fender Jazzmaster, a few synths, field recordigs, and a 4-track cassette recorder. But as every musician has already learned during his career - it's not the toys that make the record, but what is ready to reveal itself through the process of creating music. With Sleeping Pills we are once again reminded that sound, as simple, minimal, and purely naked as it is, can easily convey the message, even with a basic toolkit. In fact, the less distractions with the knobs, the better. Listening to nine numerically titled tracks, one can't help but be transported to a dream state where the melancholia lullabies with sorrow, while the encouragement wakes up with hope. Another great find for 12k, for which I am deeply thankful.  Fans of Jasper TX, Celer, Seaworthy and Brian McBride will share my gratitude.

Murralin Lane - Our House Is On The Wall
While the name Murralin Lane may be new to the loyal 12k followers, the members of this duo should be familiar to the collectors of the latest modern classical releases. After all, one half of the group is none other than David Wenngren, known to the world mostly for his Library Tapes moniker with releases on Home Normal, Resonant, Sonic Pieces, Make Mine Music, and most recently collaborating with Danny Norbury as Le Lendemain on their acclaimed Fires (Home Normal, 2009). And the second, completing half, [what I am led to only speculate at] is Wenngren's girlfriend, Ylva Wiklund. The Murralin Lane project was born when Wenngren asked Wiklund to sing for the track that just begged for vocals. After a surprising outcome, they decided to record an entire album, Our House Is On The Wall. Recorded in their Swedish home, the seven tracks of this 30-minute album are full of textured vibrations, jittery drone pads, and lo-fi distant echoes of Wiklund's lovely voice. The nostalgic piano chords of Library Tapes are replaced with atonal resonating layers, akin to a synthetic flute being played by a lost wind in the canyon. Gentle triggers hint at the deconstruction of organic sound, ready to split at the seams, where time-stretching has failed to transmute. Wiklund's ghostly vocals evoke a melancholy of spirits, uneasy in their dwelling, wishing to only be heard. Our House Is On The Wall is a beautiful addition to 12k's already rich catalog of electro-acoustic, vocal-ambient, and pop-minimalist collection.

Sound Bytes : 12 Bytes From 12k [part one]

I've been a long time fan of pretty much everything from Taylor Deupree's Pound-Ridge based label, 12k. Undoubtedly, one of the catalysts of boundary pushing developments in ambient, minimalist, and electro-acoustic frontiers, 12k is at the forefront of today's independent labels. With well over 80 releases since its inception in 1997, the albums dominate the charts on Headphone Commute’s Best of 2010 : Music For Bending Light And Stopping Time and the previous year's Music For Sonic Installations In The Cavern Of Your Skull. Although the output of the label is always in the rotation at HC headquarters, I finally made a point to sit down and catch up to a long overdue, and much-needed, four-part special of this Sound Bytes feature, titled 12 Bytes From 12k. In this installment you will find a selection of recently released albums, as well as a few EPs, compilations and past releases from one of my favorite labels. Enjoy.

More from 12k Special: [ part two ]  [ part three ] [ part four ]

Kenneth Kirschner - Twenty Ten
At first, when a thick mailing envelope arrived at my door, I thought that perhaps Taylor Deupree tripled the output of his label. Alas, the man of the hour was Brooklyn based Kenneth Kirschner, who, along with 12k's help, of course, managed to release a triple CD, collecting four of his long-form (very long form indeed) pieces. With over three hours of music, the selection of abstract, experimental, and conceptual music takes the listener outside of the comfort zone, peeling away layers of audio veils, meticulously placed to allure. The pieces of Twenty Ten remind me of an intoxicated summer breeze, playing its ode on the lazy morning wind chimes. The music is as accidental as it is deliberate; as automatic as it is thought out; as random as it is methodical. Drones and pitches in the higher registers are cut through with distant string drops, sonic vapors and false hints of tinnitus. 142 unique chords in my speaker are closer than they appear, allowing the sound to decay, and then let the silence speak for itself. On Twenty Ten, Kirschner uses acoustic instruments to study the sonic contours, aural space and its micro-tonal outlines. With each piece titled for the date on which it was started, Kirschner pushes preconceived conceptions aside, leaving the aging piano to claw through the artifacts, and occasionally be interrupted. Although Twenty Ten may not be an easily accessible listening experience for the novice, it is indeed an impressive accomplishment outside of all boundaries and dispositions. Fans of Richard Chartier, Janek Schaefer, William Basinski, and of course, John Cage, will agree...

Fourcolor - As Pleat
The latest release from the label veteran, Keiichi Sugimoto, recording under the artist name Fourcolor, comes just in time to soothe the daily grind and blanket the room with spacial textures in As Pleat. Featuring a cover painting and vocal contributions from the lovely Sanae Yamasaki (Moskitoo), Sugimoto's third full length album for 12k (and fifth altogether) finds him further into experimentation with his guitar, slight hints of digital processing and accidental acoustic manipulation. It is indeed a very warm record, swaying in the air with gracious vibes, soft sonic fumes, and light, shimmering haze of harmonies and strummed chords. Sugimoto continues his quest in search of simple sounds in between the rest, urging his listeners to appreciate the beauty in both, simple layering and complex textures. And from ambient swells to glitchy skip-editing, the album manages to achieve just that. "As Pleat is unquestionably Fourcolor, but there is a pillow-like quality to the sound, a softness that plays beautifully off of the more organic edits and sharper plucks that all combine to create the most engaging Fourcolor album to date." Be sure to check out Yamasaki's previous releases on 12k: Air Curtain (2004) and Letter Of Sounds (2006). As well as his work with the electro-acoustic quartet, Minamo: Shining (2005) and Durée (2010), also available on 12k. Recommended if you like Tomasz Bednarczyk, Opitope, Chihei Hatakeyama, Lawrence English and Pillowdiver among the many.

Taylor Deupree - Shoals
I'm always excited when Taylor Deupree releases another album. Even if it's a short, 45-minute, four track release! Deupree's attention to detail, minimalism and subliminal aesthetics seems to seep from everything he touches. And although he appears to be constantly busy with curating the releases on his very own label, 12k, laboriously mastering almost every album that goes out to print, it's nice to know that he can find the time to compose a rare beaut, which is a treasured boon, like a surprise gift from a long-lost relative. Of course, from my perspective, it's difficult to cover the output of the label without talking about the man himself. But so much has been already said on these pages and many others, that I will practice great restraint, and instead concentrate on the music. On Shoals, Deupree finds himself even more ingrained with acoustic instrumentation, strict conceptual control, and at the same time sophisticated sound design and DSP programming. Using an extensive collection of Javanese and Balinese (Indonesian) gamelan instruments, provided by the University of York Music Research Center for the artist residency program, Deupree set out to unravel and reveal the exterior imperfections, by scratching, tapping, or scraping with an eBow at the surfaces and strings. An array of eavesdropping microphones appear on the album, capturing incidental movement and physicality of extracting the resonating sound waves. Developing a powerful audio software in Kyma, Deupree manipulated, layered and looped these meditative elements to create Shoals - "an album referencing the sonic and emotional world that can be discovered by scraping away surfaces to reveal a worn interior of comfort and time." The result is the most captivating, most elaborate, and Deupree's most triumphant statement made to date.