Asymmetrical Head: Feeling Sorry for Inanimate Objects

Illusion of Safety: The Need to Now

Koen Park: Everything in Shadow

The relatively new imprint Experimedia raises its profile significantly with three high-quality releases by Illusion Of Safety (Daniel Burke), Asymmetrical Head (William Rosario), and Koen Park (Ian Hawgood). The recordings prove that there's considerable life left in the experimental electronic genre and ample room for artists of innovation and imagination to maneuver.

Burke's Illusion of Safety must be one of the longest-standing of existent electronic projects, considering that the group has been with us since 1983 and has issued twenty CDs on labels such as Die Stadt, Staalplaat, and others. Apparently the group has variously involved as many as ten members and as few as one, with The Need To Now a seeming example of the latter . The fifty-seven-minute work's seven pieces flow into each another, making the album feel like a travelogue of sorts, if a radically shape-shifting one. Using electronic synthesis, samples (footsteps, closing doors), fragmented voices, guitar, and all manner of unnatural sound, Burke conjures immersive environments of disturbing and gloomy character that are sometimes so hallucinatory they're capable of inducing altered states. “Lost” is dominated by low-level swirls of whistling tones, crepuscular ambiance, and softly tinkling melodies whose innocence belies the dread-filled landscape surrounding them, while “A Purpose” crawls through a brain-addling swamp of female voices, clicks, whirrs, ripples, woozy buzz-tones, and marauding synth eruptions. Things turn especially squirrelly during the nine-minute “About When” when writhing concoctions slip-slide into passages of distorted music-band and plinkety piano playing. “Temporary Amnesia” spends much of its time transcribing a deep sleep-state into softly shuddering drone until a mass of creatures' chirps and whispered voices emerge to darken the landscape. Pushing the trippy vibe even further, multiple songs woozily overlap during the closer “History Is Selective” before the piece abruptly collapses into silence. The seven electroacoustic collages comprising The Need To Now are tightly compressed and occasionally convulsive but they're also quite unlike anything I've heard before.

The Asymmetrical Head collection Feeling Sorry For Inanimate Objects by Central Florida-based Rosario is as impressive as Burke's and, if anything, even more arresting, for the simple reason that every one of its eight tracks reveals an entirely new universe. Throughout the hour-long recording, familiar elements do appear yet they repeatedly configure themselves into startling, unfamiliar configurations. In eight tracks, thrusting, bass-heavy neo-tribal and mutant-funk rhythms rumble while metallic percussion patterns clatter and thrum. “White Elephant,” for example, crosses guitar-based funk patterns with skeletal rhythm patterns and squelchy IDM synthesizer melodies, the combination of which coheres into some alien variant of electro-tribal-soul that seems simultaneously futuristic and primitive. Similarly, the pinging rhythm in “Abandoned Bike” has some distant connection to booty-based techno yet sounds as if it's been mashed through a neo-industrial shredder, and elastically twisted electro-techno drives the rambunctious “Bizarre Apparatus” to dizzying, head-scratching heights. The nineteen-minute closer “Beartrap in the Ocean?” pushes the Asymmetrical Head sound to its zenith when the piece briefly shatters into shards but it's generally far from abrasive, filled as it is with sing-song keyboard melodies and a panorama of other startling effects: wiry acid patterns, string and woodwind interjections, and even a surprisingly straightforward house and vocal coda.

The relatively more accessible Everything in Shadow veers closer to conventional electronic music in style but is no less appealing for doing so. Armed with keyboards, drum machines, field recordings, sun-dried guitars, glockenspiels, and multiple effects, Tokyo/London-based Hawgood squeezes sixteen tracks into a dense, detail-rich hour so you know he'll be shuffling sounds and melodies rapidly (the shape-shifting slew of beats, melodies, and samples crowding “People As Ants” is downright dizzying). Generally speaking, there's a wistful quality to much of the material, with modulating organ chords floating through tracks while taped voices careen on all sides like memories reverberating within one's mind during idle moments of reverie. Sometimes the Koen Park sound suggests some strangely skewed twist on Boards of Canada's kaleidoscopic style, as if the pastoral essence of the latter's been sullied by bits of dirt and grime. Certain tracks are definite scene-stealers: a melancholic spirit pervades the organ melody at the hazy center of “Your Broadcast” while a jazzy hip-hop-inflected drum pattern provides bright support; smothering swarms of shimmering synths bury voice samples and broken beats during “S.l.a.n.”; and downtempo broken beats hiccup over congas and a crackle-drenched organ drone during “Fixed Luminosities.” Hawgood makes an abrupt left turn by following the opening fourteen tracks with two long pieces, the eight-minute “I Fall Into You” and fourteen-minute “Wake Me, It's Time To Sleep.” Both adopt reflective poses, with serene synth motifs courting entrancement amidst babbling voices and broken beats in the former and swirling dust storms of bird calls and insects somersaulting across placid streams of limpid electric guitar melodies.

November 2008