Entia Non: Inter Alia
Forrest: Summer Sounds Asleep
Ontayso: Solar Terrestrial Activity
Utom Alla: Älskade Sjukdom
Entia Non: Zero Comma Zero
Sonmi451: Cloud Atlas
Joel Tammik: Matte
Managed by Ontayso member Koen Lybaert, the Belgium label U-cover specializes in a nuanced and highly evocative brand of electronic soundscaping that, judging by the eight CD and 3-inch releases under review here, occasionally veers in the direction of dubby Basic Channel-Chain Reaction atmospherics. Ontayso (Esther Santoyo, Koen Lybaert, Dave Vanderplas) and Entia Non (Australian James McDougall) appear in both formats, with the former heard on the full-length Solar Terrestrial Activity and minidisk Blackout, and the latter on Inter Alia and Zero Comma Zero. Single releases by Forrest, Utom Alla, Sonmi451, and Joel Tammik round out the label releases sampled.
Ontayso's five Solar Terrestrial Activity tracks (all presumably titled by date recorded) inhabit a meditative realm filled with gently flowing loops whose hypnotic character might remind some listeners of William Basinski. Time feels suspended in these settings, all of them longer than nine minutes and each one flowing into the next. The collection alternates between delicate passages and more aggressive episodes that feature the group's recognizable dub electronics and staccato beat patterns. Speaking voice samples briefly surface amidst the surging streams of “Solar 20060715” and “Solar 20060117” but Solar Terrestrial Activity otherwise captivates as a purely instrumental affair. Evidencing strong Basic Channel flavour, “Nineoneone,” the first of two cuts on Ontayso's 3-inch Blackout, is eighteen minutes of dubby, flickering atmospherics prodded by bulbous bass muffles and percussive clatter and augmented by an overlay of US police radio communications. The speakers' voices are initially a little clearer in “Blackout,” focusing the listener's attention on the content of the transmissions, but the chattering percussion and syncopated dub patterns eventually bubble to the surface and supplant the voices altogether.
Entia Non's 3-inch U-cover debut Zero Comma Zero and full-length follow-up Inter Alia pursue a less ascetic approach to ambient sound design. Apparently willing to exploit anything as source material (samples, records, shortwave radio, contact microphones, field recordings, toy instruments, etc.), McDougall constructs highly congested fields of constantly flowing sound where voices, wildlife noises, rustles, whistling tones, crackle, and bells blurrily mingle. Representative of his style is Inter Alia's “Existential Consent” where fluttering electronics, voices, and music box tinkles intermittently bob to the lulling surface. Words like gelatinous and viscid spring to mind while listening to the thirteen mutating set-pieces spread across the two discs.
From a recording studio located in the woods of southern Sweden, David Gülich and Johan Lenason create their hallucinatory Utom Alla material using acoustic instruments, computer software, and assorted gadgets. Abetted by vocal support from Elin Almered (aka Little Death) and Janina Frank, the group's Älskade Sjukdom debut is an arresting travelogue through thirteen alien and disturbed settings. Beatless smears, willowy tones, and phantom murmurs emerge in nightmarish plunges into the netherworld such as “Stelkramp I Gräset” where raw electric guitar shudders and clattering crackle collide. Were the album not issued on U-cover, Utom Alla's haunted material would make a natural Type partner to Deaf Center 's Pale Ravine, Xela's The Dead Sea, and The North Sea & Rameses III's Night of the Ankou.
Forrest's Summer Sounds Asleep may be the most appealing of the full-lengths, due in part to the contrasts generated by its five contributors. Ohio-based Warren Kroll (aka Forrest) recorded five pieces in single takes with no overdubs using a guitar and various effects. Accompanying his five, Kroll intersperses four remixes by Orlando Copping, Dorosoto, Ontayso, and Milieu based upon that same material. Kroll's originals are huge, blurry drones, with the remarkable “Merci (Fading)” almost twelve minutes long. Forrest's two-minute “Can You See?” gets two overhauls: Orlando Copping's version provides a semi-blurry meditation, while Ontayso's ‘Pray' mix sprinkles speaking voices and dub electronics over the original. Elsewhere, Dorosoto refashions “Free Loop I” into a quietly exuberant, dub-techno jaunt, and Milieu gives “Free Loop II” a ten-minute ‘Ring Drones' mix that would be more splendid if it didn't sound so much like a Boards of Canada knock-off; even so, its mix of hazy synths and breakbeats offer a welcome change in stylistic direction.
Bernard Zwijzen, whose Sonmi451 alias and Cloud Atlas title both take their inspiration from David Mitchell's fantastic novel (Sonmi451 itself is a slave robot in the book), presents three heavily-textured forays into meditative soundscaping on his EP. The restrained ebb and flow of lulling masses in “Cumulonimbus” suggests overcast skies. The sun peeks through on the brighter “Nimbostratus,” with slow unfurls punctuated by recurring bell tones, while “Altocumulus” paints a picture-perfect afternoon filled with waves of textured sparkle.
Estonian Joel Tammik's Matte is clearly the anomaly of the 3-inch quartet. Though dramatic washes of steely vapours open “Eile” in a vein that's stylistically kin to the others, Tammik adds crackle-drenched breakbeats that push the material in a hazy hip-hop direction. Slippery beats, sputtering synths, and spacey atmosphere lend Matte's other three originals a jazzy hip-hop vibe, which is offset by Ontayso's heaving techno treatment of “Eile.”
Though the four full-lengths and four EPs are a diverse lot, they act as satisfying ambassadors for U-cover's engrossing take on electronic music production circa 2007.