Koen Daigaku: Phosphorescence
Marihiko Hara: Reflexion, und dann, Metamorphose
Strom Noir: Ylomejja
Goro Watari: Hinode Tracks
The latest in a semi-regular series of U-cover round-ups, the August installment focuses on six releases in the Belgium label's “Limited On 155!” series. To keep things simple, we'll deal with the artists alphabetically, which means Phosphorescence by Koen Daigaku (aka Shimizu Kei from Japan) gets the pole position. In ten untitled tracks, Kei sculpts deep ambient rumble from manipulated and re-shaped samples of classical music. The emphasis on bass throb and see-sawing loops makes GAS the obvious reference point but Kei often pushes the concept further by burying samples under blurry windstorms so dense the listening focus shifts from the classical elements to the weather patterns (listen closely, however, and faint strings can be heard near the end of track six). As is often the case on U-cover outings, the label's resident act Ontayso caps the release with a remix and, as is also often the case, the eleven-minute closer is in the familiar Ontayso style of metallic and propulsive dub-techno. Think of Phosphorescence as a soundtrack for a cloudy and overcast Sunday afternoon.
Hailing from Kyoto, Japan, Marihiko Hara delivers fifty minutes of abstract electronic sound sculpting on Reflexion, und dann, Metamorphose. The album features eleven meditative settings where occasional glimpses of digitally-processed piano and melody fragments surface within quiet drones filled with whirrs, clicks, and static-laden white noise. Though Hara's sound palette is machine-based, his handling of the material is delicate and restrained, and consequently the material proves inviting rather than alienating. While the pieces are generally abstract in character, some strongly suggest naturalistic associations. “Lethe” could pass for an electronic simulation of forest life while “Panta Rhei” suggests the gentle patter of water droplets and the shimmering reflection of sunlight off the water's surface.
Paths is a fifty-minute ambient collection of live improvisations and field recordings from one Wannes Kolf, a twenty-eight-year-old based in Hasselt, Belgium. His acknowledged Eno influence comes to the fore during the pretty ambient piano meditation “Mem,” which is frankly more engaging than the ten-minute drone of lulling streams that precedes it (“ToweringWindTowering”), even if the amount of hiss threatening to drown the piano seems excessive. Kolf's focus, however, is less on song-based melodic constructions than on atmospheric, long-form soundscaping. It's a scenic trip, with the listener transported to the tumultuous center of “Inside Cloud” and serenaded by whistles and tinkling bell tones in “Metronn” and set adrift on rippling washes in “Oubys”; “Blue Caves” adds a different wrinkle by adding head-nodding rhythms to the album's pulsating flow.
Ryan Parmer, a nineteen-year-old from sunny Orlando, Florida, mans the controls on the eponymous Phasen release (music lessons must have started in the womb given that he's previously released five albums on the I/O Netlabel). The bucolic sparkle of “We Found a Log Cabin” immediately hints that we're in Boards of Canada territory, and sure enough the polished tracks that follow make good on that promise—think downtempo hip-hop beats, softly whistling tones, voice samples, willowy synth atmospheres, and sunlit melodies and you're in the right ballpark. No one would have batted an eye had the soothing flow of “This is What Happiness Sounds Like to Me” and hip-hop swoon of “Who Is You” appeared on The Campfire Headphase. In a change of pace, Sufi vocal samples push “Beam” into an Easterly direction and “Wekiwa” lands us in pristine Boltfish territory but otherwise we're in the English countryside dazed by the afternoon heat. Though the style may be familiar, Parmer proves himself a remarkably deft practitioner. Low marks for originality, then, but fanatics whose appetite for all things BOC can't be sated may want to track it down.
Ylomejja by Strom Noir (Slovakian Emil Matko), by comparison, is as distinctive sounding as its title. As a case in point, consider the droning “Sunday Soul,” for example, which sounds like the staggered moans of a foghorn choir. Working from a base of acoustic and electric guitar loops, synths, and field recordings, Matko produces blossoming fields of ambient haze that unfurl in slow motion, which in turn enhances their meditative potential and celestial character. Unlike many recordings, each of the album's pieces is a surprise and offers a new adventure: in “Planet Catcher,” clipped phrases of metallic sound shudder loudly, and then split into blurry shards of ambient material; blurry tendrils of vaporous tones stream through “Ylomejja” while planetary masses move glacially in “The Orbs.” Like Phosphorescence, Ylomejja closes with an Ontayso remix, in this case a meditative, fifteen-minute “Planet Catcher” treatment whose voice samples and slow-motion beats give the original a slightly different spin.
The final member in this sextet, Hinode Tracks, comes from Tokyo-based Goro Watari whose background includes guitar-playing stints in hardcore and metal bands as well as more recent forays into experimental electronic music-making. His hour-long set's oft-peaceful ambient character is exemplified by “Era” whose tonal streams are as still as an isolated pond, its tranquility disrupted by soft punctuations of droplets striking the surface. But the material's not always so tranquil: “Revt” clearly visits Tim Hecker territory when Watari buries hymnal melodies under a mountain of static—a derivative track but beautiful nonetheless. His execution of the slow transformations in “Joya C,” another exercise in willowy soundscaping, impresses, and there are surprises too, such as the rather jarring move into techno on the uptempo “Joya 3D” and the pulsating mix of percussive loops and fluid tones that courses through the Jon Hassell-like “Tortoise and Me In Kotatsu.” All of which makes Hinode Tracks a scenic and, in general, consistently interesting trip.