Blond:ish: Welcome To The Present (CD, Kompakt, October 2015)

You know I don’t like to leap to judgements, but I’m going to go ahead and call it: this record from Canadian duo Anstascia D’Elene Corniere and Vivie-ann Bakos is the most exciting thing I’ve heard from Kompakt in, ooh, about a decade. It’s a blend of minimal house burblings (lead single Endless Games has a lovely Gui Boratto-ish warmth), laid back psychedelia, field recordings, and sampled vocals and traditional instrumentation from around the world. Done wrong, this could have been spectacularly annoying — even quirky. But I love every bit of this record. Its magpie-like attitude to sounds never strays into exoticism for exoticism’s sake, and everything seems to flow together effortlessly, to a really pleasing effect. It ends strongly, too, with the shuffling tech and rootsish vocals of Inner Jungle (the vocals are Sunru Carter), and the strangely wonderful It Starts Now which gives a talk on meditation and spirituality by Alan Watts a piano-led backing track and sounds far better than you could imagine that ever would. Every time I listen to this record I hear some new sound, and I’m impressed again by the skill with which it’s put together, and all in all it makes me very happy.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Techno / House.

Andrea Taeggi: Mama Matrix Most Mysterious (LP, Type, September 2015)

This is pretty splendid. It’s made entirely with vintage modular synths, but it’s no retro noodling: this, to my mind, is proper techno. Minimal, sure, but the complex polyrhythms and the little blippy melodies are really compelling. It’s kind of like Ricardo Villalobos by way of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Most importantly, though, Taeggi’s timing is perfect, it’s one of those records which is full of those really satisfying moments where just the right thing happens at just the right instant. (Oh, and the title is a quote from Finnegans Wake, so one bonus point for that.) This is a record which I keep coming back to and which I love a little more every time.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Rrose: Plays James Tenney: Having Never Written A Note For Percussion (LP, Further, May 2015)

Minimalist composer James Tenney (an early member of the Philip Glass Ensemble) wrote Koan: Having Never Written A Note For Percussion for experimental percussionist John Bergamo in 1971. It is for a percussion instrument (he doesn’t specify which) and consists of a single note, initially quadruple-pianissimo, then with a crescendo to a quadruple-fortissimo, then with a diminuendo back to quadruple-pianissimo. This note should be “very long”. (The score is helpfully included on a slip of paper in the sleeve of this record.) And people think that the Pixies invented that quiet-loud-quiet thing…

This record contains two fascinating performances on a gong by left-field techno adventurer Rrose. The A-side is a studio version, just over 27 minutes and utterly engrossing: I can get totally lost listening to the resonances build up and new sounds start emerging and interacting with each other. This is, I’m pretty sure, the closest I’ve ever come to a gong bath on vinyl. The B-side is a 30-minutes live recording in the abandoned trolley-bus station beneath Washington D.C.’s Dupont Circle. The effect is quite different, you can hear the interaction between the instrument and the environment and there are some quite loud clanking noises presumably from people moving around in the cavernous-sounding hall. It’s also pretty fascinating, and both by itself and as a companion piece… I think I slightly prefer the purity of the studio version, with its intimate, intense, and disintermediated relationship between the instrument and the listener.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic, which is just crazy-talk.

William Basinski: The Disintegration Loops (Special Edition) (5xCD+1xDVD, Temporary Residence, November 2013)

So, we have to start with the stories. Here’s the first story: In 2001, William Basinski came upon some tape loops of slowed-down recordings from radio which he’d made in the 1980s, back before he got (relatively speaking) famous in the ’90s. He decided to transfer them to digital, set the loops going, and hit record. Then he watched as the magnetic material flaked off the tape as it went round. The result is a work which is slowly but inexorably disappearing as we listen to it. Here’s the second story: He completed the work on September 11 of that year, and played it through for his friends sitting on the roof of his apartment in Brooklyn, watching the smoke billow over Manhattan.

And we really do have to start with the stories, because this is the kind of music which wouldn’t be the same without knowing the context of its creation. The first four CDs (originally released individually in 2002 and 2003) are made entirely from a few loops of music each a few seconds long. They have a gentle, ambient minimalism, the effect is pleasingly meditative. As such, they would be pleasing to dip into, but their combined running time of almost five hours would probably be a little much. As a complete work it’s something else again. Okay, so the metaphor isn’t exactly subtle, but this music is excellently suited for calm contemplation, and I find the effect rather moving. Its monumental scale makes it all the more powerful.

The fifth CD, new to this box set, contains two live versions of the first (and best known) track. These are rather strange propositions, both being painstakingly literal orchestrations, in which the performers play the same few bars over and over, the disintegration being effected by notes getting cut short or dropped from the melody. At first, it seems a somewhat pedantically literal effort, but on reflection it kind of works, and as part of this package it stands as a testament to the importance of the work. This is especially true of the first, purely orchestral, version, performed by The Wordless Museum Orchestra in a concert in the Egyptian Temple of Dendur as rebuilt in the Metropolitan Museum of Art to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11 (and so of the work). The second version is from the Venice Biennale in 2008, and is played by Alter Ego (who, like all right-thinking people, I love for the performance of Gavin Bryars’ The Sinking Of The Titanic which they did with Philip Jeck), this time with the addition of an overlay of distant-sounding clangs and pops described as a “Field Recording Of Venice With Empty Cigarette Pack” by Basinski himself. Finally, we get a DVD of the track being played over video footage of the smoke over Manhattan shot at that first play-through in 2001. This is undeniably unsettling, but I admire its unsentimental attitude.

A delightful person bought this for me from Boomkat. They call it Dark Ambient / Drone / Metal.

Ricardo Villalobos: Dependent And Happy (CD, Perlon, September 2012)

I formed a strange idea once that Ricardo Villalobos is turning into the György Ligeti of minimal house, creating music at once desperately fragile and thoroughly confident, rejecting the usual structures but ruthlessly committed to their own strangely alien rule-set. Then I got over myself. Still, I think it’s fair to say Herr Doktor V has, for a number of years, been setting a pretty unique course, way out in the deep ocean, with mainstream dance music a distant speck on the horizon. Of course, as far as I know, Ligeti never put his voice through a process which made him sound like a deranged Japanese woman and moaned “I’m moist” at his collaborator, as Villalobos did to Andrew Gillings on a particularly strange track on his all-original-material Fabric 36 mix. Gillings doesn’t appear to have been too traumatized by this experience, as he’s back here, along with a number of other collaborators — most significantly Max Loderbauer, co-mangler of the ECM back catalogue and Conrad Schnitzler’s Zug. We pretty much know what to expect: an intricate assemblage of unidentifiable noises, just barely staying in touch with a thin and twisted 4/4 shuffle, punctuated by abrupt clatters and parps of passing traffic, and occasionally accompanied by frankly peculiar processed vocals. Oh, and a chair solo, performed by a man who may or may not be an HR consultant, I’m not quite sure. But he has been honing his art, and the time away on the remix projects with Loderbauer seems to have done him some good: I think this is his best solo(-ish) material in years, possibly since 2006’s Salvador. Not that anything here is as obviously accessible as Dexter or, er, that Señor Coconut remix. But he seems to have found a way to take this ultra-abstracted sound and make it oddly catchy. What’s more, there is an emotional warmth here which has been missing from some of his late-noughties work. The more I listen to this, the more rewarding I find it.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Minimal/Tech House.

Isolée: Well Spent Youth (CD, Pampa Records, February 2011)

It seems hard to believe that this is only Isolée’s third album. There’s more variety on here than on, say, his microhouse classic We Are Monster: there are spots of gloopy acid, and I think I detected a dub techno influence in places. But it still sounds very much like Isolée. Which is, on the whole, a good thing. It doesn’t excite me madly, but it’s a good listen. The only bum note, for me, is the attempt at a quirky song, Transmission, which I just find a bit annoying.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Techno / House.

Ellen Allien: Dust (CD, BPitch Control, May 2010)

I’m always glad to see a new album from Ellen Allien come along, and although it took me a while to get around to buying this one, I’m glad I did. It’s a more approachable record than 2008’s Sool, perhaps most obviously reminiscent of her collaboration with Apparat, Orchestra Of Bubbles, in its warm melodies and gently glitchy beats. There are lots of vocals, all gently and sympathetically processed (see, vocoders needn’t be instruments of torture). I can tell you just where this album got me: there’s a bit on the first track, Our Utopie, where she sings “We count 1… 2… 3… And we’re still here…”, and there’s something kind of magical about it. It’s the kind of moment that makes me feel “I am in good hands, I can just settle back and enjoy the ride”.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Minimal Tech/House.

Pantha Du Prince: Black Noise (CD, Rough Trade, February 2010)

This record pairs the most laid-back shuffling techno beats to some delicately pretty melodies, with an emphasis on the chiming sounds of bells, vibraphones, steel drums, and the like. At times it risks being just too sophisticated for my taste, a bit too late night cocktail bar, but for the most part it reins it in, and we get nicely understated minimal goodness. I don’t think much of either of the tracks with vocals, mind, especially Stick To My Side (feat. the guy from Panda Bear).

I bought this from Juno. They call it Minimal / Tech-house.

Raudive: Chamber Music (CD, Macro, October 2010)

Oliver Ho (for it is he) marries über-minimal 4:4 beats with dark atmospheric instrumentation, and creates something that sounds very fresh. At times, I was unsure whether or not I was listening to a techno record. But I like music which keeps me guessing, so that’s okay. The clicks and pads of the drum machine may often take a back seat to strings, processed guitars, and even a saxophone… but they’re a back-seat driver, and underpin everything rather than feeling tacked on. I don’t think this is as ground-breaking as some reviewers have suggested, but it is still very enjoyable.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Minimal / Dancefloor.