"An arbitrary succession of more or less irritating sounds"

Monday, 30 May 2011

Hell and Bach

Portland's man of Porcelain (Opera), Jeff Witscher, with a follow-up from Hell (Rene) for Type, The Terminal Symphony, that’s a quite different kettle of chips from that debut and its handy little bonus disc.

There he was quite the nu-Kosmische cowboy, riding a wild frontier of high pressure atmos and bubble'n'squeak, giving a refresh to what was turning into electronica’s latest over-chewed Flavour of the Month gum. But with a sonic template based more around experimental 90s electronica The Terminal Symphony slips sneakily into a completely different decade, with an obsessively rigorous compositional style and an electronic take on classical minimalism.

Following the debut there were a series of collabs, 7”s, cassettes, and splits, though none really prepared us fully for his latest flame. He takes classical minimalism's forms as a main springboard from which he forges his own Hell-ish re-contextualisation in which the digital and analogue synths and drum machines of Porcelain Opera are reframed in a different structures. Type reckons Witscher “has used his enviable background in noise, punk and synthesizer music to come up with something totally removed from the current scene, and absolutely singular.” Certainly he’s been around the block a few times, as anyone with more than a cursory lurk in the experimental cassette undergrowth would have seen, but it was clearly the recent analogue and Kosmische fetishism of OPN and Emeralds et al. that put Hell on wheels. The Terminal Symphony is definitely a leaner, punchier animal than more generic peers leaking incontinental drift and arpeggio overflow. It opens with a familiar grunt and grind that tugs and chugs through “Chamber Forte” before the dissolve into the album’s main theme, whence familiarity fades and a neo-symphonic voice (more like that of Marble Sky (see further down this post) emerges. This voice returns on the hauntingly elegiac closer, “Adagio For String Portrait.”

Chamber Forte by _type

Comment from Hell: "I wanted to make a tighter record without flooding the content and giving up the space, instead blurring it, […] I had some older material around, but for most of I started with a clean slate for all arrangements and with a list of ideas I'd formed over a few months while living in Europe. This record was a shift, consciously and unconsciously, towards whatever is next."

Lighthouse Marvel by _type

James Knapman, a contrib colleague from igloomag, says: “Some albums may dazzle, glitter and shimmer, but few do so with the blinding intensity of The Terminal Symphony and never more so than on the scintillating “E.S. Des Grauens in Fifths.” Here, the classical and baroque influences are truly obvious, as are the sounds of the classic Moog synthesizer, as it builds from a repeating two note analogue waltz into an exquisite choir of rolling arpeggios, bass synth pads, ascendant washes and mesmerizing swarms of meticulously arranged, dancing beeps and bleeps.”

Rene Hell "{e.s. des Grauens in fifths}" from Megazord on Vimeo.

And then: “The smeared, bleached out and flat colours of seventies television are constantly merged with loud, nineties experimentation. There’s the tinny harpsichords of “Juliard Op. 66″ bristling with brightly coloured synth keys, the wowing, off-kilter warbles and flutters of “Oxford Meter End” and a sort of lo-fi texture running through “Detuned Clarinet” that is quite endearing in the context of the Vangelis pitch-bending and urban atmospherics that surround it. Rounding things out in unforgettable style, “Adagio for String Portrait” immediately brings to mind the translucent, glowing but melancholy beauty of track twenty-four on Aphex Twin’s seminal Selected Ambient Works 2.”

That’d be “Matchsticks,” incidentally, as memorably deployed by Chris Morris in his Blue Jam episode, “Welsh Water Daddy.” Any excuse for some Jaaaaaaaam:

Back to Hell's beauty:

Adagio for String Portrait by _type

“From harsh noise freak outs to meditative drone works, Witscher’s ever evolving approach to music has been well documented in the cassette underground with releases as Impregnable, Deep Jew, Secret Abuse, and Marble Sky as well as founding the Callow God and Agents Of Chaos labels. The music Witscher produces as Rene Hell draws from the deep well of post-war electronic music but manages to sound like nothing else, no small feat considering the rampant cannibalism and repackaging of synthesized sounds from the 70’s and 80’s that passes for “progressive” music these days.”

Fragment from an interview with Jeff Witscher:

“JW: […] I was really inspired by North Star and Glassworks. I’m really into the idea of reinterpreting classic minimalism.

EVR: Have minimalist composers been a strong influence for you won work?

JW: Well, I’ve listened to them for quite a while but I suppose I’m just seeing something different in them now. I love Terry Riley, Roberto Cacciapaglia and Arvo Part. I’m a huge Cacciapaglia fan, I think Sei Note in Logica is flawless. You should check out Sonanze and The Anne Steel albums.”

This prompted an esoteric minimalist tangent - a Roberto Cacciapaglia chase turning out not to be of the wild goose kind:

In fact, much of Witscher’s output prior to going to Hell - as Marble Sky, Abelar Scout, Disfigure Mare, and such like - was towards the ethereal and ambient noise end of the spectrum, offering up hours of layered ambient and drone pieces. Marble Sky’s The Sad Return was a particular favourite from 2009 – it dripped with plangent slow-fi low-core symphonics, as on the wistful ambient-drone-tastic “Pulling Up Grass Under Blanket”

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