Jacaszek: Glimmer (CD, Ghostly International, December 2011)

Micheł Jacaszek is a Polish composer and producer. This record features harpsichord, bass and soprano clarinet, acoustic guitar, various metallophones, and a great deal of static, washing over and occasionally threatening to drown the delicate chamber pieces. The result hovers somewhere between minimalist early music and modern ambient, which I find surprisingly effective.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Home Listening / Modern Classical / Ambient.

Leyland Kirby: Eager To Tear Apart The Stars (CD, History Always Favours The Winners, September 2011)

The other day, I was listening to Raudio’s stream of Leif Inge’s 9 Beet Stretch, which slows the glorious Ninth of Ludwig van down to fill 24 hours. (I assume this must have been inspired on some level by Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho?) In places, this is what Leyland Kirby’s latest reminds me of: an unmistakable classical sound, but stretched out into an ambient drone, what used to be vibrato now a glacial ebb and flow which takes the place of melody, so I find myself getting obsessed with the minute shifts of tone and timbre as strings bend and harmonics beat. Elsewhere, there is distortion, and reverb, and even — gasp! — actual melodies played at the right speed, melodies whose tinny and echoey appearance somehow makes them seem more intimate. For me, this doesn’t (yet?) have quite the same classic status as his epic Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Was… but it comes pretty close, and that’ll do for now.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto: Summvs (CD, Raster-Noton, May 2011)

It’s no exaggeration to say that my first hearing of this duo’s 2005 album Insen, and their concert at the Barbican, were transformative experiences for me. I’ve steered clear of their two subsequent releases, for fear that they would be disappointing (while developing a considerable awe of Carsten Nicolai’s other work, and Raster-Noton in general). But this time, I felt ready.

Within the first few seconds, something new is obvious: there is a wonkiness absent from the earlier work… everything is still very precise, but now sometimes it’s very precisely slurred. Sakamoto’s piano is as achingly perfect as every, its minimalism leaving you craving more. Nicolai has dialled down the glitches which dominated his contributions before, and instead has developed a knack for a subliminal throbbing tunefulness which counterpoints the delicate piano trills. The effect is awesome. My highlight is the eleven-minute Naono, in particular what we might call the second movement: a bassy hum plays a snippet of melody which is constantly resolving itself, a sequence which wouldn’t be out of place in the closing bars of a romantic symphony; this sense of coming home is challenged by persistently questioning piano flourishes, and punctuated by occasional Morse code blips… the timing is perfect, and the overall effect is of a combination of stasis and perpetual motion and I just don’t want it to stop.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Home Listening / Modern Classical / Ambient.

Goldmund: Famous Places (CD, Western Vinyl, August 2010)

Earlier this year, I discovered and was charmed by Goldmund’s 2008 release The Malady Of Excellence. I am equally taken with this year’s follow-up. Like its predecessor, Famous Places is dominated by the piano, recorded with wonderful intimacy by Goldmund (aka Keith Kenniff) himself. However, this has more other instruments and electronic effects than I remember hearing on TMOE. These are never intrusive, though, the additional layers are gossamer-thin and only enhance the effectiveness of these highly atmospheric compositions.

I bought this from Boomkat. They describe it as Home Listening / Modern Classical / Ambient.

Brian McBride: The Effective Disconnect (CD, Kranky, October 2010)

Brian McBride is half of Stars Of The Lid (whose …And Their Refinement Of The Decline was a big hit in these parts), and The Effective Disconnect is the soundtrack to the documentary movie The Vanishing Of The Bees. I suppose that makes this drone music in two senses, and a lot of the tracks are indeed built around long slow string composition which could put me in mind of a distant hive. In the sleeve notes, McBride says ‘I hoped that the pieces would do justice to the “gloriousness of the bees” theme, striving for a more overt hopeful quality. But old traditions die-hard [sic] and the more hopeful side of the music was eventually subsumed by the more lamentable.’ Nevertheless, this does have some up-tempo moments (quite unlike anything I’ve heard from SOTL), especially the lively piano numbers: they aren’t quite The Flight Of The Bumblebee, but their sparkling trills definitely evoke their subjects idiomatic busyness. Elsewhere we get horns, heavily reverberated guitars, and on just one brief occasion the actual buzzing of bees. A very involving exploration of the space between ambient and classical.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Home Listening / Modern Classical / Ambient (and for once this makes real sense).

Hildur Gudnadóttir: Mount A (Touch, September 2010)

This is excellent, clever, involving modern classical. These compositions are largely for strings (there is a plenty of cello, which is always good for me), but there are also appearances by zither, gamelan, vibraphone, and some processed wordless vocal sounds. Gudnadóttir plays all these herself. The album has a quiet urgency about it — if it was techno, I’d probably call it propulsive. It has some sinister moments, some uplifting. (This is a remastered rerelease of recordings originally released in 2006 under the truly awful artist name “Lost In Hildurness”.)

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Home Listening / Modern Classical / Ambient.

Scott Tuma: Dandelion (CD, Digitalis, October 2010)

There are three distinct sessions to the expanded CD version of this album.

We start with the 9 tracks of the vinyl release, which mix Americana (banjo, fiddle, accordion, and so on) with an organic ambient sound (field recordings, tape treatments, and unidentifiable snippets and textures). It’s really very lovely, and quite moving: I felt that the traditional tunes seem delicate and lost in the dense humming of the ambience. It might not be too much of a stretch to read this as a metaphor for a tradition which is at risk of getting drowned out by the chaos of modernity. Or something.

Then comes the Intermission. After two minutes of actual silence, we get a twenty minute collage of crackling found sounds, much of it apparently 78s or ancient film sound tracks. We get dramatic flourishes of trumpets, snatches of romantic symphonies, and urgent pronouncements in a variety of European languages. Very different, but equally magical.

The final three tracks, called Smallpipes, are a return to the Americana of the first half. Here Tuma is joined by an actual band, and the gently melodic strumming is more to the fore — though it is still filtered and tweaked and given a top-dressing of ambience.

Any one of these sections would have been a treat. Have all three, fitting so well together, is simply fantastic.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Home Listening / Modern Classical / Ambient.

Jóhann Jóhannson: And In The Endless Pause There Came The Sound Of Bees (CD, Type, April 2010)

Jóhannson is an Icelandic composer, probably best known for the concept piece IBM 1401: A User’s Manual. This (splendidly titled) album is big, swooshing, string-drenched, and shamelessly dramatic. There are moments which remind me of Philip Glass, others which remind me of György Ligeti. He has a great knack for structure, bringing back themes from earlier in the piece with great emotional effect. I can see a case for saying the record lacks subtlety, but I love it. A poignantly beautiful masterpiece.

I bought this from Juno. They call it leftfield, whatever that means. I’m pretty sure that Boomkat would call it the Home Listening / Modern Classical thing.

Rameses III: I Could Not Love You More (CD, Type, September 2009)

Awww, my headphones are hugging me.

The basis here are long, droning string-like sounds, which pulse at something like the rate of a fast but not frantic heartbeat, and modulate over a much longer period whilst still being recognizably rhythmic. Around that we get touches of lap steel (which can’t help reminding me of the KLF’s Chill Out), very gently jangling guitars, a melodic bass hum, and occasional wildlife sounds. It’s all very ambient, yes, but it never struggles to keep my interest. It has a serene quality to it — it feels a bit like the closing bars of a great romantic symphony, where all the frantic energy has been spent and the dissonant elements have resolved into an uplifting, euphoric transcendence… only there was no symphony, and the closing bars have somehow been stretched out to almost an hour without for a moment losing the warmth of their embrace.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Home Listening / Modern Classical / Ambient.

Peter Broderick & Machinefabriek: Blank Grey Canvas Sky (CD, Fang Bomb, December 2009)

Aw, now, this is fantastic. Peter Broderick’s delicate and richly emotional strings and pianos meet Rutger Zuydervelt’s electronic droning and clicking, found sounds, and production trickery. And they sound like they were born to go together. It’s at once very human and completely alien, defiantly experimental and completely natural. There’s a fair range of styles, from gentler tracks (Rain has vocals with actual words; the closer, Homecoming, is centred around a delicate piano work played by Nils Frahm) to more leftfield explorations (Blank Grey is nearly 14 minutes, and comprising several movements, bringing in a radio collage dominated by the reassuring tones of a BBC sports reporter, an urgent minimal piano line, an interlude of mostly scratching noises, and a mysteriously ambiguous finale of a processed string loop and strange echoing voices). I can’t get enough of this. Superb.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Home Listening / Modern Classical / Ambient.