Ian Hawgood: The Great Allure

Shinobu Nemoto: Improvisations #1

Ryonkt: Small Conversations

Sylvie Walder: Moments

Four excellent new releases from Experimedia, which deftly demonstrates, in these collections just as it has done in previous ones, that the experimental and accessible can be comfortably united with no compromise to either.

Ian Hawgood's been flooding the aether with new music of late; it seems like only weeks since releases by the Home Normal curator appeared on Hibernate (Wolfskin) and Dragon's Eye (Snow Roads) and now comes The Great Allure for the excellent Experimedia imprint. With six diverse pieces weighing in at seventy-one minutes (four of them between thirteen and twenty minutes), it's probably as thorough and varied an overview of Hawgood's work as is available (the composer himself admits that, while he typically applies a singular technique or approach to an album, he explored different techniques in each of the six pieces). Track titles such as “North India in 1998 with My Dad” imply that The Great Allure is a particularly personal collection, and apparently Hawgood conceived the album to be a tribute to the memories of traveling by train in various countries (as the fifth track, “The Great Allure of Train Travel in The Land Mass That is America,” reveals); as such, its generally celebratory and sometimes melancholy mood contrasts with the desolate and lonely feel that permeates Snow Roads. Opener “Brightness in the Centre Where it All Began” punctuates an epic cloud of fog with speckled dust as it rolls on with the relentless force of a train clattering down its tracks at top speed. “The Great Allure of Train Travel in The Land Mass That is America” arranges guitar-generated tendrils into bright clusters in a way that's reminiscent of Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint, though Hawgood also distances himself from the purity of Reich's piece by working some rhythmic, steam engine-like combustion and train crossing signals into the piece. On the shorter tip, there's a shimmering drone (“Summer in the City Again”) and some dusty piano playing that Hawgood splinters into shredded fragments (“A Moment to Stop, a Moment to Carry On”). However, the album's most engrossing piece is “The Yesterdays of Today, the Tomorrows of Now,” which begins by weaving high-and-low-pitched voice fragments into a multi-layered chant before claps and percussion build the crystalline sound mass into an even more hypnotic, heavily-processed swarm of lulling flicker. Near the end, the percussion drops away and leaves only the voices behind, a move that makes the singing seem even more sirenesque.

Moments draws us into Sylvie Walder's world via her premiere public release. The French sound artist, whose music is so delicate and understated that listening to it becomes an intimate experience, brings a background in drone music and field recordings to the album, which is dominated by rumbling drones and ambient settings of soothing, Eno-like character. Keyboard-generated sounds—piano the primary source—are melted into a gauzy form that dovetails nicely with the generally dream-like character of her material. Though Walder's blurry piano sound resembles Harold Budd's, her focus is less on entrancing melody and more on enveloping atmosphere, and she also works a field recording (bird sounds, mostly) now and then into the material. Describing “Pastiche” as five minutes of shuddering tones and bird chatter isn't inaccurate, but it hardly captures the seductive pull of her material; the track briefly changes direction midway through when a nomadic mini-ensemble passes through, but such change is a rarity in Walder's music where a given setting typically retains its identity for the duration. One additional exception to that rule is “The most abstract to date,” which is, naturally, collage-like in its blend of orchestral playing, echoing piano motifs, creaking noises, and elongated tones. That the album includes a piece titled “Réminiscence close et nostalgie” is telling in that much of Walder's work deals with feelings of nostalgia, reverie, and memory, whether it be manifested in drift of a cloud-like (“Nuages flottants”) or organ-oriented (“Paris failure”) kind.

Ryonkt is the nom de plume adopted by Ryo Nakata who operates the Slow Flow label based from his home base in Sapporo, Japan and who creates refined ambient music using guitar and computer. Very much a companion recording to Walder's Moments, Small Conversations wraps four long-form movements into a succinct, thirty-seven-minute package. It's next to impossible for one not to be reminded of Celer while listening to Ryonkt's material, even if his radiant, shimmering tracks are on the whole slightly more assertive and bold. Experimedia pitches the release as an example of “modern classical ambient,” a description that isn't wrong necessarily but perhaps a bit misleading. Or, to put it another way, Small Conversations is “modern classical ambient” to the same degree that a protoypical Celer recording would be. As such, even though a querulous orchestral theme does rear its head near the end of the second track, “Synphony” [sic], it would be more accurate to describe Small Conversations as ambient drones of meditative and crystalline character. It's also lovely, as shown by “Toy Camera,” which shimmers in place like a gently swinging hydro wire, and by “Aurora,” wherein a bright tinkle punctuates elongated tonal whispers.

Improvisations #1 by Japanese artist Shinobu Nemoto trumps the other Experimedia releases in at least one obvious regard, as all five of its settings clock in at running times between thirteen and twenty minutes. The material was recorded in its entirety over five days in January, 2009 and was recorded to a 4-track with no overdubs and using electric guitar and stomp boxes only. What Nemoto does, however, with such minimal means is rather amazing. There's some sameness of approach—each piece begins quietly and gradually swells in volume and intensity—but the impact is strong nevertheless. Representative of the five, the twenty-minute opener starts placidly enough, as elements arrange themselves into a peaceful mass, but things change at the five-minute mark when the volume and intensity of the droning mass both increase and the guitars begin to bleed and smolder. With the whole now churning at a powerful pitch, Nemoto counters the controlled violence of that churn by adding the swoop of a slide guitar—a lulling presence that's constantly on the verge of being swallowed by the ever-building mass. The second piece blossoms like a psychedelic swirl until its semi-violent careen is crowned by razor-edged sheets of electric guitar tones, the third resembles a recording of Nemoto playing an extended electric guitar solo at the center of a wind tunnel, and the stuttering fourth ebbs and flows like immense ocean waves. The fifth parts company with the others in its menacing and macabre ambiance, as Nemoto stretches deep, brooding tones like the kind one might hear in a horror movie soundtrack across the track's scarred terrain. The awesome, wrist-slashing wail that the piece eventually rises to would no doubt make Xela envious were John Twells to hear it.

December 2009