Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Tod Dockstader/Mordant Music/Ekoplekz - Electronic Vol 1

When I read a few months ago that Mordant Music were preparing to reissue two rare volumes of music by early electronic pioneer Tod Dockstader, I was excited at the prospect of finally being able to replace my rather low quality vinyl rips. I also couldn't help feeling that it was about time this largely forgotten pioneer of electronic music was given a little more credit for the massive influence he has undoubtedly had on the modern audio landscape.  

Both the albums in question were recorded over thirty years ago for library music specialists Boosey & Hawkes who made them available exclusively to film and TV studios. They were both called Electronic, and carried the subtitle "Recorded Music For Film, Radio & Television".

It seems that just recently, people have finally begun to fully appreciate the music contained on these hard to find LPs, the vast majority of which were never given a full commercial release. It's commendable that some of these largely unheard volumes are now being released into the public domain by forward thinking labels and are no longer the sole preserve of obsessive vinyl junkies willing to pay hundreds of pounds for a battered secondhand copy. Over the past few years there have been some sterling reissues of material by the likes of Daphne Oram, Suzanne Ciani, David Cain and Bruno Spoerri so it's only fitting that seventy four year old Tod Dockstader should now join this group. 

Dockstader began his career as a film editor in 1955 after studying painting and film at the University of Minnesota. He became a sound editor a few years later and released his first album - Eight Electronic Pieces - in 1960. This album would later go on to be used by Federico Fellini as the soundtrack to his 1969 film Satyricon. Following the closure of the studios where he had worked since 1958, he found himself rejected by the established electronic music institutions due to a lack of academic experience and so he eventually moved into audio-visual work. After his retirement in 1990, he built himself a home studio and spent the next fifteen years recording short wave radio transmissions which he used as the basis for his Aerial series of albums on Sub Rosa.

Although he achieved only modest success during his career as a composer and musician, he managed to establish a small back catalogue of recordings which have since become hugely influential despite being virtually unknown outside the aficionados.

Listening to these twenty three musical miniatures, I find it almost impossible to place them on a timeline stretching back to their original recording date of 1979. If recent albums by Moon Wiring Club, Pye Corner Audio and almost anything associated with the Ghost Box label are anything to go by, it's clear that Dockstader's presence is still felt today.

Bridging the reissue of these two volumes is a 10" remix disc of sorts. It contains three tracks which have been suitably deconstructed and rewired by the good Baron himself and Mr Nick Edwards under his Ekoplekz moniker.

It shouldn't be any great surprise that this album is being issued by the redoubtable Baron Mordant's label. After all, he did release Carrion Squared, his own entry into this field back in 2007. It was culled from sessions recorded for a library music album called The Drone Continuum which was commissioned by Boosey & Hawkes and released via the Strip Sounds imprint. 

Both these releases are essential listening for anyone remotely interested in the evolution of modern electronic music.

Electronic Volume 1 is available on vinyl and digitally through the Mordant Music online store as is the remix EP. Electronic Volume 2 will be available soon.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Carlos Giffoni - Evidence

It's still possible in this age of social networking, music blogging and near ubiquitous internet access for good records to get lost in the usual weekly deluge of new releases. After carrying out some digital housekeeping last week, I came across this two track offering from No Fun Productions boss Carlos Giffoni sitting on my hard drive and was surprised that it was even there. I have a much played copy of his last full length offering, Severence from 2010 (which is fantastic incidentally) but couldn't for the life of me remember picking this one up. I duly added it into my iTunes library and hit play…

First track 'Evidence' starts with a beautiful, mournful piano line (courtesy of Laurel Halo as it turns out). For a moment I thought I'd playlisted the wrong track, then came the vocal which made me certain this wasn't the right track - an accented monotone voice delivers the lines "It would be so easy, to fall in love with you / But we can't talk to each other any more no, we just can't talk to other any more". This is rapidly followed by an aggressive 303 squiggle and a single 4/4 kick-drum as the voice intones the brief lyric a few more times. Once established, the track plays out against a muted synth line, also the work of Laurel Halo before reprising it's opening piano motif. It's a simple track with just a few components but it works so damn well. This basic precept is repeated on 'Desire in the Summer' but builds itself around a grainy pulse and adds a few, sparse electro drum rolls before descending into a vat of gradually decaying echo.

This release is nothing short of incredible and as far away from Giffoni's signature experiments in noise and abstract laptop manipulation as is humanly possible. I can only hope that he has a few more tracks like these tucked away for an album sometime soon, until then, I suspect these will get some heavy rotation.

12" vinyl and digital download versions are available via Boomkat.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Time Attendant - Tournaments

Paul Snowdon is an artist from Deptford, London who creates beautiful abstract paintings depicting various geometric, cubist forms. He has a blog site which contains images of some of his work which you should go and look at as soon as you have finished reading this article. On his blog, he makes the following statement;

"Heraldic abstract geometric colour deception"

Actually, this isn't so much a statement as one of his "six steps of painting". His final step is determined as follows;

"Cubism Vortism Constructivism Futurism Modernism"

Looking at his work whilst considering these two lines, his words make perfect sense. 

Paul Snowdon is also a musician and the man behind Time Attendant. He has associations with such luminaries as Pye Corner Audio, Moon Wiring Club and Jonny Mugwump whose Exotic Pylon Records has just issued the Tournaments EP.

The four tracks that make up this release contain portions of the following elements in varying degrees;

Rattling electronics and the gurgling wheeze of vintage synthesizers / Tone bursts, tape hiss and other disintegrating audio artefacts / Decaying drones and pulses daubed onto fractured rhythms / Spluttering reverberations bleeding from mouldering tape stock.

If any of the above descriptors mean anything to you, or you have recently enjoyed Nick Edward's Plekzationz album then this EP should be playing in your home/head right now.

Tournaments is available on 12" vinyl (with a bonus track) and digital download via Exotic Pylon Records. Once you've obtained this, you'll also want to check out the Time Attendant Bandcamp page for two earlier releases which are equally indispensable.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Silent Servant - Negative Fascination

The last time we heard anything from John (Juan) Mendez it was with Camella Lobo as part of Tropic of Cancer on a three track EP called Permissions of Love issued via Italy's Mannequin label last month. Prior to this, Mendez released several more singles and EPs as part of this duo in addition to a couple of  twelves as Silent Servant on the now decommissioned Sandwell District imprint. It's hard to believe that this is the first full length solo release that Mendez has worked on since his debut back in 2006 and so my expectations were unusually high after grabbing a copy of the disc.

Noise supremo Dominick Fernow's Hospital Productions seems an odd choice of label to issue this album but, given his recent work under the Vatican Shadow moniker there is some kind of skewed logic behind it I guess. I had spent some time listening to the previous Silent Servant releases as well as Sandwell District's Feed-Forward album in preparation for my initial session with this LP but I needn't have bothered - the approach taken here is from a different set of reference points entirely.

Lead track 'Process (Introduction') is as much about texture as it is rhythm. Synth drones are layered above minimal arpeggios and a voice intones wordlessly in a foreign tongue against ricocheting percussive elements. 'Moral Divide (Endless)' starts off sounding like a muscular take on something from Throbbing Gristle's Twenty Jazz Funk Greats before adding a drifting flute sample to it's trebly beat-box chassis. But it's on 'Temptation & Desire' that Mendez lets his love for post-punk aesthetics run riot by using a blunted drum track and bass guitar rumble as it's backbone whilst more disembodied voices flicker and billow. During the penultimate track 'A Path Eternal', Mendez pulls the beats completely and uses another heavily manipulated voice which is set against a spectral, almost ambient drift. 

After a few spins, there's no mistaking that this is a Silent Servant album but over the course of thirty six minutes, Juan Mendez constantly redesigns his signature sound whilst retaining the basic elements that have made his previous work such compulsive listening.  

Negative Fascination is available as in limited edition vinyl, CD and as a digital download via Boomkat.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Nick Edwards (Ekoplekz) - Plekzationz

Back in the early 1990s, Nick Edwards began writing a blog called Gutterbreakz on which he offered up his opinions on the music which had shaped his life and the new releases that informed his current listening habits. He wrote enthusiastically about what he loved and why, he had no agenda and covered everything from obscure library music LPs to the sounds of the emerging underground. What was special about his writing was that he did it with the passion and conviction of a man who was obsessed with music for music's sake, not as some name-dropping hipster with a vinyl fetish.

I had the pleasure of discovering Ekoplekz after picking up a copy of last year's immense Memowrecks collection which was issued via Mordant Music. It contained thirty three tracks of tape saturated electronic experimentation and was an absolutely gripping listen despite it's almost two hour running time. Since then, there have been several more EPs, a few collaborations and an almighty live/studio double tape set which was released in April 2012.

From the first moment I heard Memowrecks, I was completely hooked. His reference points were upfront and explicit - Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire immediately came to the fore - but his tracks were also informed by early radiophonics and post-punk experimentation as well as dub dynamics. This was an album which easily transcended it's influences whilst retaining that raw, unstable edge inherent in so many nascent sonic offshoots.

Plekzationz is the first release to bear Edward's given name since 1994, his debut being a cassette called Controlled by Voltage Vol. 1 on Volatile Records. The reasoning behind this eighteen year gap is not apparent, nor is it clear if the Ekoplekz moniker has now been retired. There has been some conjecture that this may be an attempt to make a 'serious' statement, even pointing to the cover portrait as some kind of proof. I don't accept this rationale however, a large majority of musicians in this field routinely work under a variety of nom de plumes so why should Edwards be any different? Also, the cover painting isn't an example of simple figurative portraiture designed to cast it's subject in a flattering, media-friendly light. It clearly takes it's cues from Francis Bacon's distorted grotesqueries and creates something which is as unsettling as it is beautiful.

But, this is all empty speculation by people who should be listening to the album instead of searching for meanings behind its presentation. There are no answers to these questions, all we really have is the music and that should be quite enough to be honest.

The first major change I noted is that the album only contains four tracks rather than the more concise pieces which make up the Ekoplekz releases, each of these weighing in at around the quarter hour mark. Secondly, the overall sound of the album is quite breathtaking. After installing some new audio kit in our listening area over the weekend, it came as a bit of a shock that this would prove to be such a great test record for the equipment. Gone is the resolutely lo-fi cassette tape murk and hiss of old, this has been replaced by crystal clarity and a widescreen stereo soundstage. Edwards is obviously using the same vintage machines and broken effects as before but his production values have soared. This is a fantastic sounding record.

First track 'Chance Meets Causality Uptown' bounces a succession of reverberating high frequency tones and pulses around the mix underpinned by a loose bass guitar line which is gradually replaced by caustic drones. 'No Escape From '79' is an apt choice of title as it plots a course through similar dystopian electronic territories charted by Messrs Kirk and Mallinder thirty-odd years ago. After taking a short diversion through a series of loops, the track's coda briefly returns to another rhythm carved from primitive devices and sparse guitar lines. 'Inside The Analog Continuum' is a twisted excursion into lysergic dub effects whilst 'A Pedant's Progress' dispenses with all notions of rhythm and presents itself as a freeform sonic tangle.

This album is without doubt the finest thing that bears Nick Edward's name to date, and with a back catalogue containing such a large amount of high quality material that's some feat. It's a revelatory listen in terms of it's spectral production and the extended track times which clearly suit the nature of these four pieces, allowing them to fully develop in a way that we're unused to. Whichever moniker he chooses to release his music under, this should rightly cement Mr Edward's name amongst the luminaries of electronic music where it rightfully belongs.

Plekzationz is available over at the Editions Mego site as either a double vinyl set, CD or digital download.