"An arbitrary succession of more or less irritating sounds"

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Not acquiescing

Not as extreme as his very intense Collaboration with Datashock on Ikuisuus last year nor as wilful & sprawling as his F*ck Krautrock mix for Type, Black to Comm's Alphabet 1968 might be seen as some kind of acquiescence or dumbing-down. It isn’t, I don’t think – though its pleasures are clearly gentler than theirs.

Compare the tone-setting openers with the mounting claustrophobia of the Datashock piece. Where it is all metallic inwardness from the first (& very, very affecting), Jonathan & the immense Forst mostly glow & twinkle. Clinking bells, crackles, shimmering washes & eventually even muted fanfares underscore their nearly bucolic warmth (driven by the first’s simple, resonant piano, the second’s enveloping Frippiness).

Not sure that anyone needs ‘speed drone’ unveiling as a new genre. But that’s Alphabet’s territory, pretty well – after those two longer tracks, only one of the subsequent eight even makes it past five minutes. Instead we get a swift succession of briskly satisfying, highly detailed, gem-like vignettes that are careful not to outstay any welcome.

Only the powerful five-plus Houdini Rites, with its hammering clangs & muttered intoning, & following Void really take the tonal palette darker. Of the others, the beguiling, layered Musik fuer Alle particularly stays with me. It & Trapez (all phased, faux-naif xylophones…) feel like a pair that Leaf-y Colleen might have been very glad to unveil.

Music for Films re-scored by Mountains? Mountains’ Choral with the acoustic guitars taken away (though not its acoustics, since one of ‘Alphabet’s qualities is its creaking physicality)? Neither, probably, but denseness/concentration, texture & mood are the connection – & certainly the important qualities here.

Ironic, perhaps, after an earlier discussion of what constitutes the right length for drones (whatever feels right, clearly) to be wondering whether this ’speed’ version is sometimes too short… But longer explorations of some tracks would be great to hear.

Not that they aren’t composed & satisfying at current length. But I’d relish an extended Houdini Rites , for example – you can imagine its cacophony starting to echo across & in on itself & taking on new shapes over more time.

The Amateur/Traum GmbH micro-sequence is the most obvious candidate. But despite being the longest piece, what everyone seems to hear as the Gaseous Forst (though to me, it’s rather sharper & more metallic, less enveloping…) could certainly stretch out further too (how about a 15-minute Voigt remix/revision?!).

Must cite a typically smart & insightful review of the album by mapsadaisical, an exceptional guide to this territory. I’m still fretting over how to take the album’s title. One possible way is suggested by maps’ lovely, cunning point that “Richter’s alphabet takes him through Ambient, Beats, Classical, Drone, Exotica, Field recordings and beyond”.

A raft of others here. One important point coming out of these: Alphabet isn’t Richter’s work alone. Jonna Karanka & Renate Nikolaus also feature, as Richter confirms (though all I’ve seen confirmed is that Karanka plays some piano & contributes her voice at some point…).

To finish at the end seems fair enough since Alphabet is such a shaped, deliberate set of pieces. It's notable how Hotel Freund – another candidate for lengthening that is probably best enjoyed as originally presented – works to close & resolve the album’s sequences (long to short & sweet to sour, for example).

Maybe its chimes are a bit glib, too much of a shorthand for the sublime. I’d certainly be tempted to do without them – or substitute an element of harder-won, more Xenakisian beauty.

But to these ears the mood is well judged nonetheless – melancholy more than mournful, somewhat cinematic both through the obvious resonances of the strings & the sense of summing-up & fading out: a ‘real’ end to this picture-show…

Finally, applause for Type. The label’s huge care over its releases, so obvious in the quality of their sound & artwork, is complemented by its exemplary use of Soundcloud streams – every album, in full, online. That’s confidence in your music – to set it before the world this boldly & unapologetically, with the message that if you want to own it that’s fine: but it’ll be here anyway.

NB: post edited from comments in Disquiet MP3 Discussion Group.

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