Alejandro & Aeron: Billowy Mass
Kning Disk

Erik Enocksson: Farväl Falkenberg
Kning Disk

Giuseppe Ielasi & Nicola Ratti: Bellows
Kning Disk

These three high-quality releases from Göteborg, Sweden-based Kning carve out sonic spaces for themselves, and then unhurriedly fill that space with intimate sketches and engrossing stories.

‘Sound art' can seem an intimidating term, as it invokes expectations of obscure intellectualism. The approach adopted by Alejandra Salinas and Aeron Bergman is anything but alienating, however; every moment of their acoustic-electronic material brims with warmth and humanity without diminishing the conceptual integrity of the work in question. Having previously issued material on Orthlorng Musork, their own Lucky Kitchen, and other labels, they now rework two previous sound installations, Campanas (2001) and Billowy Mass (2005), for this Kning release. The first section of the six-part Campanas begins with Emiliana Sainz reciting (in Spanish) a legend about Somiedo town residents who rang bells to ward off oncoming storms, and then progresses through various bell tone episodes, some of them heavily processed. Creaks, voices, outdoor field noises, and shimmering chords bob to the surface, punctuated by tinkling bells and gamelan strikes, and passages alternate between placidity and animation. The two assembled the comparatively more aggressive Billowy Mass from sound fragments of the typhoon season that were recorded in Taiwan. Winds howl threateningly and creaks groan amidst turbulent water noises, as moments of relative calm alternate with violent episodes that suggest the storm's rapid onset. Exploiting fully the three-dimensional space, Alejandra and Aeron carefully distribute sounds between the left and right sides, enhancing the already engrossing quality of their material.

Farväl Falkenberg, Stockholm-based Erik Enocksson's soundtrack to the identically-titled film, is like a backwoods Swedish town brought sonically to life. At ten songs, Enocksson's album is lean too but not displeasingly so, and it's still long enough that multiple moods can be explored. The opener “The Joy of D.H. Lawrence” merges acoustic guitars, whistling, and a dusty old piano into a breezy folk tune that'll have you instantly pining for a rustic holiday, and the vibes and acoustic guitar in “The Nylon Waltz” are pretty too (Enoksson's clearly got a thing for waltzes as many songs sway in 3/4 time). Darker by comparison, the low moan of a pump organ adds brooding drone ambiance to “Dusk Settles In” and “With Its Dark Tail Curled ‘Round the Garage #1.” Song titles suggest that the sea plays a prominent role in the film: there's a creaking drone (“What Drove Her Shivering into the Cold, Cold Sea”), a stately guitar meditation (“The Sea Waltz”), and a dramatic dirge played a piano so old it sounds like it's being played underwater (“The State the Sea Left Me In”). Humanizing the material even more, a wordless choir adds occasional punctuation (perhaps most appealingly in “Thru Thick Night” and “The Sea Waltz”), an idea that culminates in the gorgeous choir chant that swells in the outro “The Lingering Procession” (aka “The Slow Walk Towards Death”). Processing interventions are kept to a minimum, though they're clearly audible in the hiccupping acoustic guitar stutter that grounds the glockenspiel's bright ping in “The Breaking of Waves.” Even sans visuals, Enocksson's material is strongly evocative.

Giuseppe Ielasi and Nicola Ratti clearly want their music to do the talking for them, as there's next to no information accompanying their Bellows release, though we are told they used guitars, percussion, turntables, and electronics to produce the seven untitled pieces (untitled, unless you count song durations). But that's fine; we're quite happy to base our impressions of the recording's merit on what really counts. Ielasi and Ratti create provocative electroacoustic mood pieces that, compared to the other two albums, are more electronically-oriented, experimentally bolder (at least more explicitly so), and, being more ‘machine-like,' colder. The duo often creates a repetitive, multi-layered base for a solo instrument (often guitar) to range freely over top; consequently, the material sometimes (the fifth track especially) suggests kinship to Fennesz. A fly-like guitar snarl buzzes over a placid electric piano base in the opener, while a phalanx of raw guitar blisters drags itself into battle in track two and abrasive guitar scrapes discolour dancing marimba patterns in the fourth. The stripped-back sixth features bluesy guitar thickets as tangled as tumbleweed, while the remarkable, eleven-minute closer aligns disparate parts: on the one hand, a slowly shifting, oceanic drone that contains a surging techno rhythm struggling to reach the surface, and, on the other, muffled tones that are so melancholy they recall Eluvium.

There was a time when I bemoaned a forty-minute running time, given that the CD format affords almost eighty, but those days are long gone. These three discs reside in that forty-minute, mini-album zone that suits their contents perfectly. Once again, one discovers that brevity is, more often than not, the soul of wit.

October 2007