CD Reviews

Tuesday 12th May

May 12, 2009

A good day at work today, mainly because I didn’t really do any work and then got home early, but still. Once home I made the mistake of trying to contribute constructively to an I Hate Music thread again because I felt I had something to add. Oh well, I guess we never learn…

Maybe when your mood has been lowered so suddenly it isn’t a good idea to really challenge yourself musically with something you make not like, but hey ho that’s what I did this evening. I played the new album by Cheapmachines called Secede, released on the excellent Ent’racte label. Now this was always going to be a tough one for me to write about here for a few reasons. First of all, and most obviously, Cheapmachines (aka Phil Julian) has a history in noise based music, and as a widesweeping generalisation I often have a problem with noise music. He has recently begun working in far quieter, improvised groupings, but his heart and soul (correct me if I am wrong Phil) probably remains in music that can shake the walls as much as anything. Before playing it I had no idea how loud this release might have been. Also over recent months I have got to know Phil a little bit and he has begun to help out here with the events calendar.  I don’t make it easy for myself…

I’m really pleased to say though, that with no extra consideration needed for the fact I know Phil I can state that I enjoyed listening to this release. I should probably start though by clarifying what it is I usually don’t like so much about the noise music I hear, so it is clear why I find this release different. Generally speaking I don’t like having to struggle with high volumes. This applies to just about everything in life. I don’t tend to get on well with people with loud voices, I hate passing cars and motorbikes that make so much noise they intrude on my conversation, I walk right out of shops that blast music out so loud I can’t focus on what I went in for. A lot of this has to do with age I will happily admit. As a teenager I spent hours at My Bloody Valentine gigs that were all louder than anything I have witnessed in the last ten years, but as I have aged I need content before I can accept volume, and too often in my experience the content isn’t there with the noise genre. Detail and considered construction are replaced with adrenalin and drama. That is not a fair trade if you ask me.

There are of course many exceptions. I wrote about how much I enjoyed Mattin’s Broken Subject album here, and Tandem Electric’s Intaglio here, both of these are albums I would say are only really influenced by noise music but retain a distinct interest in the matters of composition. I quite like the recent Pita/Schmickler R/S album and have always enjoyed Daniel Menche’s music. Volume and/or aggression can certainly work, I just don’t like it to be the most important element of an album.Â

I should add here, that clearly I know little about noise music and that ignorance colours my opinion. I can only talk from the experiences I have had though, if someone would like to send me music from the genre that they think may prove me wrong I am more than happy to eat my words.

Much of Secede is actually not that loud at all, and when things do get near the higher end of the decibel scale the music, very much like with the Mattin album mentioned above retains its sense of composition, never slipping into an all-out roar of sound, always contains enough twists and turns and changes to remain interesting.

The music on Secede was originally intended to be part of a filesharing collaboration with the Austrian sound artist Helmut Schäfer, who sadly passed away in 2007 at far too young an age before the project could come to fruition. The final tracks on the album, (maybe the last two?) were completed by Julian with his conversations with Schäfer about how the project may develop in mind. So the first tracks here are full of grungy, dirty electronic sounds that slosh about forming interesting and constantly evolving shapes. I suspect these pieces were at least initially improvised in real time by Phil. They have an immediacy and urgency about them that could probably only come from improvisation. There is also a subtle use of space that offsets the claustrophobia of continually oppressive sound but also adds drama by breaking things up into separate parts, each leading into the next.

If I am to criticise the music at all then I would say (as with that Mattin CD) that I wonder how this music might benefit from more added colour, a wider palette of sounds beyond the grainy, slithey digital sounds in use here. The fifth track does touch in this direction, allowing deep luscious tones to slow the music right down and provide a different background for the glitches, hisses and splutters to spread themselves out over. It is probably boringly predictable that I find this partially quieter, more varied track to be the standout of the album but of course that is because it just reflects my tastes better, and perhaps the fact it stands out as something marginally different to the rest of the album has an impact as well. My least favourite piece is probably the final one as well, where noises are layered into a deeper mesh of sounds, but even here while some of the subtlety may be lost the vitality of the music, with all of its richness in detail is still present, keeping the music alive and holding the attention.

So yeah I like this release and have played it three times this evening without having my mood further dampened. If anything it has actually restored the chirpinessness I felt earlier.

Comments (4)

  • ATOM

    May 13, 2009 at 5:25 am

    Hi Richard,

    you mentioned that you often miss content in noise music. But there is content in noise music, content in form of compactness or denseness, the opposite or antithesis of silence. In my opinion the most interesting point in noise music is to structure a most possible compactness/denseness. Why should we always reduce ourselves?
    And remember – music isn’t only for ears but also for the body.
    But don’t forget you earplugs!
    Your ears are very susceptible to noise!!!
    And don’t forget the silence ……

  • Richard Pinnell

    May 13, 2009 at 9:31 am

    Thank you ATOM for your thoughts, they are appreciated. Unfortunately though you underline much of what I dislike about noise music. The act of compacting as much sound as possible into one period of time seems a destructive, aggressive and uninteresting one to me. I need to be able to distinguish different parts of the content from each other so that they react with each other, create tension, surprise, delay…

    At the end of the day I guess I process music that I consider to be thoughtful in my mind, and my body is somewhat irrelevant. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the adrenalin rush of purely physical music, I spent the summer of ’88 at acid house raves, and have surfed across the crowd at thrash metal gigs, but these things were all in my youth, and looking back now I can see that music as fun and important for my understanding of things now but ultimately frivolous.

    Volume itself isn’t a physical problem for me. I have never actually felt the need to use earplugs, even at some of the noisiest gigs I have seen recently (and I have seen a good few noise gigs, and will attend another that leans 50% that way next week) What really concerns me (apart from the puerile graphic imagery that accompanies some but certainly not all noise music) is its seemingly one-dimensional need to just compress sound into one space with a degree of force and a generalised lack of imagination to do anything interesting with the music’s structure. For instance why do most noise sets start quieter and gradually build to a deafening crescendo? Why always do that? The comparisons with the brutal ugliness of the male climax is inevitable. I’d love actually to witness a performance that began with its loudest point and slowly took itself apart until it ended with a whisper and the crowd sat back in their seats!

    Thanks anyway. If there is an album that you can recommend that captures what you think it important in noise music well then let me know and I will give it a try.

  • Phil Julian

    May 13, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Firstly, thanks very much for finding the time to give this a listen (three listens no less) and for the review. Much appreciated.

    “He has recently begun working in far quieter, improvised groupings, but his heart and soul (correct me if I am wrong Phil) probably remains in music that can shake the walls as much as anything.”

    It’s paraphrasing someone or other, but my interest is largely in sound that completely occupies the space it’s given. That doesn’t really have much to do with physical volume as such and more to do with the “presence” that the music has. This for me can come from “detail and considered construction” OR from “adrenalin and drama” as you put it.

    Certainly though, noise music (particularly live) gave me the initial push I needed to start doing my own work, and I’m always happy when I turn up at a venue and there are massive speaker stacks either side of the stage 😉

    “The final tracks on the album, (maybe the last two?) were completed by Julian with his conversations with Schäfer about how the project may develop in mind.”

    Just to clarify slightly, Schäfer certainly heard all the basic tracks with the possible exception of the second to last which I have a feeling came slightly later in the proceedings. All the tracks were improvised in real time initially but nearly all have had various edits and additional material included.

    “For instance why do most noise sets start quieter and gradually build to a deafening crescendo? Why always do that?”

    Actually, there’s two structures. The one you mentioned plus the “start loud, get quiet in the middle, get back up loud at the end, finish suddenly”. Why? Lots of noise is very formulaic for all of it’s claims to freedom and “anything can happen” sadly.

    Thanks again Richard, the events calender is safe from the latest heavy metal gigs for at least another month or two 😉

  • simon reynell

    May 13, 2009 at 9:35 am

    Hmmm…perhaps it is an age thing. I don’t like Noise as a genre at all, and don’t have much time for most improvisation that borders it – including most drone pieces, however quiet they may be.
    Having said that, my feelings about Secede are very similar to Richard’s; I’ve enjoyed it and been impressed by its construction. Of course – boring old fart that I am – I too prefer the quieter and less dense tracks, but there’s a balance and variety across the disc as a whole that makes it a successful and substantial album in my opinion.

Leave a Reply