Tag Archives: Taylor Waite

[Review: Alfred Brown, ‘The Seagull: A Song Cycle’]

It’s been a productive year for Alfred Brown, a Buffalo-based electro-acoustic composer and audio engineer. First, he contributed the excellent Music for Moving in Slow Motion to Asthmatic Kitty’s ambitious Library Catalog Music Series. Now he has put the finishing touches on a project that apparently had been hibernating inside his personal audio vault.

According to Brown, The Seagull: A Song Cycle was originally intended as a soundtrack, but then evolved into a “wordless song cycle of sorts” based around Anton Chekhov’s late-19th century play, The Seagull. And while Brown does not provide much contextual insight into the connection the play and his album share, it turns out that the lack of any artistic précis does nothing to prevent one from enjoying this  first-class instrumental production.

Masterfully composed and elegantly arranged, The Seagull will undoubtedly appeal to aficionados of the orthodox strain of ambient (Ambient with a capital ‘A,’ that is). Listener’s who revere the music of Stars of the Lid, Kyle Bobby Dunn, Nicholas Szczepanik, and of course Eno, will recognize that Brown is the real deal and he should perhaps earn consideration as a future appointment to this exclusive pantheon of neoclassical prodigies. Time will inevitably tell.

For now, it is clear that Brown’s training as an audio engineer plays an important role in his ability to construct drones that are at times faint, at other times vigorous, but always layered very carefully and teased out with long, sustained tones that glisten like elongating icicles in the sun. Ellen Fullman, and the trademark sound of her long string instrument, is a definite reference point here. In fact, it’s only a mild exaggeration to say that tracks three through eight flow as if all sound emanates from a single captivating string. That string then bends, rises, and sways under the graceful guidance of the unseen performer. The listener can either focus intently on the gentle fluctuations in rhythm and tone or absorb the cycle as a whole, which is very possible to do since the songs wisp in and out of one another in very fluid manner.

The Seagull: A Song Cycle, put out by ACrawlsPace (a sub-label for Abandoned Buildings), is the second strong release from Brown in 2012 and it will be very interesting to hear what’s in store for him in 2013.

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Review by Taylor Waite

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[Review: Loud & Sad, ‘False Intimacy’]

The liner notes found within Loud & Sad’s handmade, silk screened, numbered matchbox case cassette False Intimacy list the five slow unspooling sonic sketches as “Example 1-5.” Apparently, these aptly titled “examples” are nothing more than solo pieces of processed piano, which the liner notes seem to imply were created with only the use of the black keys. You probably wouldn’t assume as much after listening to False Intimacy, which was recorded by long-time collaborators Joe Hupert (Dust in the Light) and Nathan McLaughlin (the Blanket Fort) and released by the cae-sur-a label out of Rochester. There is a richness of sound here despite the minimal tones that the duo make use of. But the point being made seems to be that less is more. This stands in very stark contrast to the many noise/sound artists that self-consciously fill up space with unnecessary knob twiddling. Here, instead, patience is demonstrated with an austere reserve that seems determined to let sounds exist and morph through evolution, as opposed to intervention.

At times, in almost all of the pieces, there is a sense that the machines or software or whatever is creating or manipulating these sounds are just left on to breathe in and out of sync with one another, like two people lying asleep next to one another.

There is a particularly daring passage that comes at the midway point of Side A that lasts roughly five minutes (I believe its “Example 2,” but is hard to discern exactly when one track begins and one ends). Anyway, this passage consists of little more than a rhythmic buzzing sound that flickers along in the background. Eventually–and I mean eventually–a distant filtered noise begins to gently chip at the top of the audio panorama. A little clicking here, a little tape hiss there, and what you get is the sonic sweep of a desolate landscape cloaked in a nuclear winter. The piano motif is gone, while any tones or notes are also expelled. After multiple listens, this passage begins to stand out not as the barest, but as the starkest. It’s almost as ballsy as John Cage sitting at a piano doing nothing. Here the duo retreat from their instruments and simply leave them be, letting (or perhaps forcing) the listener to really sit with these sounds. It really is a compelling section for its starkness and refusal to compromise by adding even the simplest of flourishes that might hint to the listener that this seemingly static scene is in fact a movement that is slowly unfolding to something grander. No, instead the listener is given no other option but to take it as it is and deal with it.

Moving to Side B, both “Example 4” and “Example 5” contain stunning piano moments that sound as if they are reverberating while covered in analog dust (imagery reminiscent of the title of Hupert’s solo project, Dust in the Light). It is here, especially in “Example 5,”that the loneliness trope –discussed in the liner notes and explored in a more amelodic manner on Side A—really comes to the forefront.

Then for a moment, right toward the end of the cassette, the piano playing emerges uninhibited by processing and it dances gracefully as if it were the score to melancholy documentary compiled of lost footage from film’s most glorious era. The cassette then ends on a somber, but resolute note.

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Review by Taylor Waite


[Review: M. Mucci, ‘Days Blur Together’]

Even casual students of drone will immediately notice the sonic similarities between The Disintegration Loops, William Basinski’s magnum opus, and Days Blur Together, an expansive 65-minute drone recording from Guelph, Ontario native M. Mucci. These grand compositions share a number of similarities, including an internal rhythmic engine that churns with a breath-like quality and the use of soft tones that are fuzzy around the edges like a Rothko rectangle (this no doubt the result of both artists utilizing tape as their primary medium).

There is an obvious distinction that defines these two works from one another, however, and that distinction is hinted at in their respective titles. While Basinski was literally studying  disintegration–as his magnetic tape loop slowly consumed itself–Mucci is instead investigating transition or transformation. This semantic distinction sets a trajectory for Days Blur Together that is altogether different in its conception and thus in tone. While Basinski’s work–which is graced with a cover image of Manhattan smoldering in the wake of the 9/11 attacks–is melancholy (to say the least), Mucci’s work is infused with a sense of serene, yet empowering contentment. The sort of contentment one encounters when the timeless secrets of the universe seem to reveal themselves, even if only for a moment.

Days Blur Together is an extraordinary simple recording that consists of Mucci looping guitar recordings onto 1/4″ tape and then playing it back on a busted reel to reel deck. The result is a gorgeous shimmering sound that unfolds ever so slowly, so slowly in fact that that change within the piece can be very difficult to detect. In fact, listening to Mucci’s piece all the way through–which is the only way one should listen to it–requires a fair amount of mental energy. The payoff, however, is more than worth it.

Mucci’s disciplined approach to drone construction has to be commended. It would be completely understandable if Mucci had elected to litter this piece with suggestive field recordings, twinkling bits of electro-acoustic sounds, or other random cliché noises that would break the monotony that is surely to set in for listeners unwilling to commit to this challenging composition. Admirably, however, Mucci–who also hosts the Sounds from the Tall House radio program on Guelph’s CFRU 93.3FM–correctly forgoes these distractions. By doing this he is able to preserve and focus the listeners’ attention on the fundamental lesson that this drone conveys–change that is seemingly non-existent has actually long been in motion whether one has had the perceptual tools to pick up on it or not.

From its onset until its conclusion over 65 minutes later, the beautifully crafted multilayered drone that comprises the whole of M. Mucci’s Days Blur Together demands the listener’s singular and focused concentration. So much so, in fact, that perhaps the CDr’s hand-made packaging should come with some sort of warning label to alert unsuspecting ears that this CDr is encoded with a work that is not intended simply for the traditional consumption by one’s ears; rather, this work seems to function as an audio mechanism that trains the mind to perceive things at a slower almost glacial rate. Perhaps a second warning label should also be attached; embracing the perception-altering regimen contained within will result in a fascination with observing things that appear to be still, but are in fact changing, like the growth of grass or the rotation of planets. As the title of this piece indicates, Days Blur Together is an appreciative meditation on the often unperceivable pace of change that is occurring around us at all times.

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Review by Taylor Waite


[Review: Cinnamon Aluminum, ‘We Ate the Wrong Crab Spirit’]

Since the release of Cinnamon Aluminum’s 2010 debut album, Mad Monty in the 8th Dimension of Nine, the Buffalo trio have proved to be a music writer’s wet dream. Their unique and seemingly effortless re-configuration of all the right strands of experimental indie/rock into a throbbing acid-drenched soundtrack transports hard-to-please listeners to a place they’re always hoping to go, but can seldom find a ride to.

And while the group’s first album–and ensuing EP Holdin’ It Up–proved to be sufficient vehicles for taking listeners on that trip, their new album, We Ate the Wrong Crab Spirit, marks the first time that the band provides first-class accommodation to all those ready to undertake the journey. What is the name of this dementedly humorous and scifi-infused virtual destination where psychedelic characters like Mad Monty and a tripping robot roam freely, you ask? Perhaps the name of their label, Level 4 Activated, is more than the name a simply a label . . .

Regardless, Cinnamon Aluminum doesn’t get by just because they have the right influences. In fact, they even manage to dip into the wells of lamer musical genres like trance and jam band—as on “Eighteen Four (End of the Robot’s Dream)”—without getting cornered by the inherent corniness of those sounds. Instead, it’s as if the trio is dropping into these worlds for a brief moment to show the musicians who never leave it how it is done before zooming along to the next world.

This should come as no surprise considering the collision of influences that occur across their three releases. When the band’s three multi-instrumentalist members–Zach Acard (aka Kid On Purpose), Chris Svoboda (aka Kristachuwan), and Mike Schroeder (aka Milk Soda)–put their heads together, their sound takes on shades of Devo, Zappa, Panda Bear/Animal Collective, Of Montreal, Atlas Sound, P-Funk, and Kraftwerk, to name a few of the more obvious.

The song “Swing Swar” is reminiscent of the saturated wall-of-sound that Canadian producer David Newfeld pioneered with Broken Social Scene on albums like You Forgot it In People; a swollen sound field punctuated by frantic, but subtle electronic whirring and buzzing at the edges that creates  a sonic foundation that is felt, as opposed to simply heard. On top of this, Cinnamon Aluminum rests crisp, treble-heavy guitars, tightly wound and tense drum patterns, and chanting vocals that sound like they were recorded in the Grand Canyon.

Another highlight is “When I Was You,” which melds the grimy horn-fueled electro of Beck’s Odelay period with modulated disco synths, which then ends in a spectacular duel between Svoboda’s fluttering saxophone and a lone syncopated synth.

The highlight of the album, though, is no doubt its anthemic centerpiece “Forest of Leisure.” This densely layered electronic track is anchored by a funky groove that slowly morphs alongside shimmering melodic flourishes. This is also where the vocal-trading duties of Schroeder and Acard realize their full potential. The ‘he’s tripping/I’m tripping/we’re tripping‘ call-and-response between the two is musically as good as it gets and also perfectly captures the exhilaration of a collaborative hallucinogenic adventure.

Regardless of the sci-fi narrative or concept that underlies We Ate the Wrong Crab Spirit, it seems that the entire album–and everything else that the three members of the group do under the banner of Level 4 Activated–is in the spirit of a collaborative hallucinogenic adventure. Fortunately, they record those adventures so that the rest of us can tag along.

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Review by Taylor Waite

 NOTE: Cinnamon Aluminum will be in studio for this week’s episode of The Upstate Soundscape to play tracks off of We Ate the Wrong Crab Spirit. Tune in at 10pm on Wednesday night (4/18) to 91.3 FM WBNY. Stream at WBNY.org.

Also, Cinnamon Aluminum will be having an album release party on 4/20 (of course) at the Vault. More info here. 


[2011 in Review: Chapels, ‘I Have Tried’]

Chapels, 'I Have Tried' (House of Alchemy)

Adam Richards, the mastermind behind both Chapels and the Buffalo-based label House of Alchemy, has long cultivated an audio/visual aesthetic that is both antiquated and, shall we say, creepy. Whether it is the strangely archaic pictures that adorn many of his label’s releases or the weird collision of disquieting tape-warped sounds found on his Chapels recordings, one would not be totally out of line to wonder if Mr. Richards was perhaps a rather odd fellow from decades past.

And while both of these assumptions prove to be a complete misconception when one listens to the rather pleasant interview that Mr. Richards conducted on air with Upstate Soundscape host Needles Numark back in September, his 2011 mini-CD-R release I Have Tried only seems to re-affirm this guy’s antediluvian weirdness.  

In fact, to offer a visual comparison to I Have Tried–and much of Chapels’ work—one could look to the Japanese horror film Ringu or even David Cronenberg’s classic scifi-mindfuck Videodrome, whereby old analog sources like VHS tapes seem to serve as conduits to sinister supernatural realms. Likewise, this 3-track mini-disc could easily convince the unsuspecting listener that it—format aside—was created decades ago and contains within it latent paranormal possibilities. The purring voice that emerges among the bell-like clattering on “Part 1” or the warbled background discussion that underlies “Part 2” both infuse I Have Tried with a haunted aura that threatens to reach out and grab the listener by the you-know-whats.

The fact that I Have Tried was released on mini-disc–a format that many are no longer able to utilize—and in a super limited run only adds to this release’s well-crafted mystique.

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Review by Taylor Waite


[2011 in Review: Bob Ohrum, ‘All Around Me’]

Bob Ohrum, 'All Around Me' (Relaxed Machinery)

Combining dronescapes reminiscent of Windy & Carl with simple but impressionistic field recordings, Buffalo-based ambient artist Bob Ohrum continued to refine his sound in 2011 with All Around Me, his third release for the Relaxed Machinery netlabel.

Ohrum’s pieces are sparsely colored with delicate, far away sounding guitar work that rides along serene, but somehow tense soundscapes. His heavy hanging guitar strings resonate with muted emotion, while various supporting instruments like chimes or bells twinkle softly in the background.

There is an immersive feel to Ohrum’s compositions in that–like most quality ambient music–they are not trying to take you anywhere, but rather they are trying to draw you in. The focus of your attention is not directed toward an endpoint, but rather toward a center that may not be visible at first, but comes into view after careful listening. Attaining a glimpse of Ohrum’s ‘centers’ can be profound; something akin to sensing the divine fingerprints in natural phenomenon like a fleeting rainbow or the sounds of the deep woods on a dark night.

Because of the non-linearity of Ohrum’s work, tracks like the above “Beauty in the Aftermath” could easily work as a film score for a melancholic mood piece, like Gus Van Sant’s Gerry or Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff. And like the beautiful, but hauntingly vacant desert settings depicted in both Gerry and Meek’s Cutoff, Ohrum’s worlds are filled with many paths that are mentally difficult to avoid going down and getting lost in.

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Review by Taylor Waite


[2011 in Review: Grasshopper, ‘Miles in the Sky’]

House of Alchemy 044

Imagine for a moment, if you will, two conservatory-educated musicians who have forsaken their training and tutelage in order to pursue the reckless adventurism of surfing sine-waves from another dimension. This is essentially the story of Grasshopper and its two members, Jesse DeRosa and Josh Millrod, who have cultivated their dual-trumpeted noise-infested attack since 2006.

On Miles in the Sky, these two produce together sheets of sound built on trumpet play that is on the one hand reminiscent of Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew (hence the album’s title and cover) but also of Rhys Chatham or other No Wave elements. It is all then filtered through screaming electronic filters to devastating effect.

Consisting of one track per side, the highlight of Miles in the Sky comes at the beginning of Side B’s “I Sang a Sad Song Today.” Here a sample from a reading of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach is used as an intro. This gentle playful beginning quickly gives way to a sonic assault that then carries on for close to 10 minutes before collapsing into a swollen trumpet riff surrounded by walls of noise. A really breathtaking sequence that you can preview for yourself with the Soundcloud link above.

While Miles in the Sky originally appeared in a very limited tour-only cassette run back in 2009 on Baked Tapes (a label run by Grasshopper member Jesse DeRosa) Buffalo-based label House of Alchemy wisely put together a re-issue of the Brooklyn duo’s stellar tape this past year. And even though deciding whether or not to do a re-issue can sometimes be a tricky decision for micro-labels like HoA, re-releasing this Grasshopper cassette had to be a no brainer. Some re-issues often fall flat once made more widely available outside of the original context they were created in. With Miles in the Sky, however, getting re-introduced into circulation has only increased the notoriety surrounding this tape and the duo that created it.

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Review by Taylor Waite