Monday, November 28, 2011

Peter Broderick - Music For Confluence

The manner in which Broderick can nail these feelings on all these classical instruments is endlessly captivating. It’s the subtle touches between the melodies that gives each track its unique voice. To score a scene where a kid finds a “deer skull” at the side of the freeway, only to realize it was actually human, Broderick puts together a Stars of the Lid-style respiration, executed with pointilist piano consumed by tremolo violin melodies and ghostly female vocals. In the opening moments, barely audible, haphazard strikes of strings or piano hammers litter the background. One of the final pieces, “Circumstantial Evidence” uses both tremolo and well-tempered violins in tandem to generate a palpable feeling of unstable resolve. The closely-miked piano, the distorted thrum (of a cello?), the dropping of a bow: everything that happens in the background is just as interesting (perhaps more!) as what requests our immediate attention.

The trailer for the film for which this music was created is here:

Confluence (Official Trailer) from Erased Tapes on Vimeo.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Plaid at the Biltmore Cabaret

I went to a concert on a Monday night. I'm getting too old for this shit.

For over a decade Andy Turner and Ed Handley have rallied past simply making electronic albums, having composed for giant wooden machines that play music, worked with myriad visual artists, scored several films, all while regularly shuffling software. The artificial vocals on Plaid’s 2011 release Scintilli sound so real, they raise the audio freak’s eyebrows. Plaid’s sound palette blends round-cornered, cerebral digitalism with highly active and organic electro-percussion.

The last time Plaid played in Vancouver was in 2003, and it stands as the best sounding show I’ve ever attended, one that featured intensive video imagery as well as a remote-operated camera droid that essentially “remixed” the footage it gathered of the performers on stage. In 2011 Plaid played the increasingly popular Biltmore Cabaret, much to the chagrin of the aurally particular. The low ceiling ensures sound has little room to breathe, indicating that Plaid were not going to sound anywhere near as good this time.

The Square Root of Evil is Jen Pearson
The Square Root of Evil gets svelte between hardcore beatscapes.

Local glitch-thumper The Square Root of Evil opened with a set that never lost momentum. Sometimes her aggressive rhythms gained such speed to the point of banality, only to transition lusciously into a jungle-esque storm seen through a Fuck Buttons lens. Spearheaded by the constant pulse, it was like Bogdan Raczynski extending a triumphant 80’s moment over time via 8-bit Nintendo sound libraries. Jen Pearson had a chipper energy about her, but her connection to the audience never exceeded the gaze of the giant cat eyes that appeared on her white tee shirt. Her wardrobe served as the entire concert’s lasting image.

Plaid opened with the sunshower and chimes of “35 Summers”, a piece originally created for the beautiful underwater video work involving a woman and an octopus filmed by Richie Burridge, which they naturally displayed. Much of the show's remaining video work was created live by Plaid’s on-board software, but it all paled in comparison to their previous touring visuals. Aside from the actual music videos they showed, this tech feature felt like a baby step toward a future triumph.

Next came “Sömnl”, a piece off Scintilli whose wah-wah bass emerged like a golden lion out of the speakers. Its bass kicks punctuated with welcome urgency. This is what the live electronic show is all about: revitalizing tracks, suddenly making the recording sound stale by comparison.

The opposite happened with “Eye Robot” which packed less punch and clarity than Scintilli’s version. The Biltmore’s limits were seemingly tested as the carbonated engine that drives this song was muddied into a cauldron of undestinguishable features. Other pieces like the circuitous “The Launching Of Big Face” and the inebriated “Talk To Us” suffered similar fates. The highlights ended up being the pieces with more percussive dynamism rather than cerebral headgames. “Crumax Rins” totally slayed, inspiring folks to dance harder. This “oldie” from Spokes injected more narrative motion into the set, sending Plaid’s dodecahedron down a worm hole.

Plaid down the wormhole
Ed Handley and Andy Turner cast an iSpell in Vancouver, BC.

Before long, they laid it on thick with an exercise in multiple polyrhythms, a drumming deluge that was more confusing than stimulating. Plaid often toy with different time signatures to great success, but anyone who had ordered a PBR at this experimental detour really noticed their beer wasn’t alcoholic enough. The way to get people back into it would be to play the hits, and for Plaid that’s “Eyen” off of Double Figure. Retooled quite a bit from the original it put a fresh spin on the end of the set. The encore was the delightful “At Last” which features those artificial female vocals that continue to beguile.

Plaid’s focused stage performance resembled what you’d expect at a laptop concert, except this time the artists had iPads. Plaid are using them as controllers, and they serve as yet another icy fire in which to gaze alongside the three Macbooks. The stage was exceptionally dark, obfuscating whether or not Handley or Turner smiled or ever made eye contact with the humans in attendance. Sometimes you wonder if they’re just checking Facebook up there. If one of their laptops caught on fire then we’d have something to watch. All things considered, it was a show that featured satisfying adventurism in the song interpretations, but it was done a disservice by the sub-par sound. Those hypnotically bouncing cat eyes lingered in the periphery as everyone made their way home.

35 summers from Siam Liam J. I. on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Birds of Passage and Leonardo Rosado - Dear and Unfamiliar

I almost feel like I went out on a limb saying this was one of the better ambient/vocal albums of the year (wait, there can't be that many of those). Still, while Alicia Merz's vocals are kind of like a sweeter version of Lhasa, they almost strike me as a guilty pleasure. Like it's a bit over-dramatic at times. But that's why this album works, since it's a re-creating of Casablanca's soundtrack. My review on The Silent Ballet analyzes further. Here is a sample:

The album is a tale of two sides, each concluded by Leonardo Rosado's trademark: animated drones and instrumental escapades. “A Kiss Is Just a Kiss” enters with a faucet of eastern drones and turns up the water pressure until the crescendo. These lyric-less bookends, as well as enchanting elements like the sitar on “Of Your Charm”, ensure that Dear and Unfamiliar stretches time. Each piece is paced a little differently, but on the whole they all create a living dreamspace so that the 43 minutes seem a lot longer, putting time and place on notice. Casablanca is in Morocco, but that raga sounds Indian, and the players are from two other completely different countries. Where is this beautiful place? Somewhere dear and unfamiliar. Let’s hope this isn’t a one-time collaboration between these two highly talented artists.

Here's lookin' at you, kid - Birds Of Passage / Leonardo from Hugo Goudswaard on Vimeo.

Benoît Honoré Pioulard - Plays Thelma

From the opening wheezing of processed feedback to the distorted organ outro graced by the calls of many a swainson's thrush, this EP is distinctly a product of the Pacific Northwest. Plays Thelma offers glimpses and impressions of an imaginary lake and its surrounding fauna (Thelma) that exists in a liminal realm visited by Portland-based Benoît Honoré Pioulard. The hypnogogic chords of "Malick" hearkens the overcast, nostalgic leanings of Rafael Anton Irisari's The North Bend (another PNW-inspired album). The EP transpires via processed, ambient adventurism, most of which was recorded onto magnetic tape. This medium is not clean sounding and gives these audio dreams that hazy nowhere feeling, often keeping the point where the guitar begins and the harmonium ends indistinguishable. "Hushes Gasp" is a very active piece, with many types of vocal takes pinging across a vast field at each other. A bit like birdcalls, performed by stranded spirits. "Calder" sounds like a heavily reverbed and gently electrified guitar feedback-looping on behalf of itself, but we may never know. This quality of hazy source material secures the dreamspace being orchestrated by Thomas Meluch (Benoît is his performance name, didn't you know?), but the textural aspect has been ramped up a notch in comparison to previous albums. Plays Thelma is a lively and personal experience in the nether, one that ends with a rich, Concern-like drone that escorts the listener to sleep under a willow tree by the lake.

benoit honore pioulard - plays thelma (album preview) by experimedia

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sculpture - Toad Blinker

TRON showed us what it would be like to be sucked into a digital video game, but what about being absorbed into a pinball machine? The electronic wizardry and analogue tape manipulations on Toad Blinker demonstrate what this would be like. This is the audio/visual duo Sculpture’s second full length zoetropic picture disc, and much like Rotary Signal Emitter, it’s a tidal pool of playful energy and audio mayhem. Toad Blinker is 35 minutes of carbonated caprice and while its music stands on its own, the album cannot be fully appreciated without Reuben Sutherland’s fantastic animation that is best viewed through filming the LP in motion at 25 frames per second with a high shutter speed? Don’t have a good camera? Neither do most of us, leaving us to observe the picture disc through a homemade viewer (demonstrated here) while Dan Hayhurst’s effervescent music concrète takes center stage. Imagine the ghostly fanfare of Philip Jeck sent through a grossly exaggerated machine built for Willy Wonka, and you might get an idea. The music is exciting: never stabilizing but also never running off the rails. Sounding much like the mind of a toddler, it’s surprising how intriguing Toad Blinker is despite the melodies and themes being hidden or absent all together. This duo is producing an artistic product that is highly unique, further pushing the idea that music when grafted into other realms of expression can be more than a folder of mp3s.

Elk Cloner from Sculpture on Vimeo.