As CDs gradually stop selling en masse, and as financially it becomes increasingly silly for companies to keep spending a lot of money on making them, the future of music released as a hard copy seems to be in small run, niche-market CDr editions, often with hand-made or easy to create packaging. This isn’t a big problem for me. I really like little releases that have had a lot of human contact, folding, cutting, or in the case of some of the items that have arrived here in recent weeks, knitting, heat embossing and screwing up in a ball… The five new releases that have arrived on the Â Mini Kwanyin sub label of the Beijing based Kwanyin/SubJam imprint are not so extravagantly produced, but they are great little examples of how simple modular packaging can be created that will work for a number of releases without increasing printing costs dramatically. The CDrs all come in the same white card sleeve, but each includes a business card styled insert carrying the name of the particular release, and then everything is inserted into a see-through coloured paper sleeve. The packaging is quite individual, certainly stylish, but then also easy and cheap to produce, so allowing the label to get music out into the world to the small number of people that care about it. The first of these discs I received and will write about now is a disc by Olaf Hochherz, the German laptop and electronics musician who has also spent some time undertaking research at a Beijing University. The music is charming, intriguing, and very much worth listening to, but would this release have been picked up by a label willing to spend significant money on it? Given that its hard to sell many copies of even the biggest names in this music right now? Probably not, which is why this kind of little venture gets a big thumbs up from me.
So how does it sound? Well like something that is broken to be honest. The single track here that makes up Hochherz’ Tropoi lasts fifty-two minutes in its entirety. It opens with a series of small bursts of pops, clicks and scuffing sounds, perhaps made by the abuse of a contact microphone in some way. These little cracks of sound are separated by digital silences at first, but then a couple of minutes in, one of them resolves itself into a hazy patch of white noise for a minute or two before cutting out into pure silence again. So the piece goes on. The palette of sounds used by Hochherz changes little. What we hear sometime steels digitally produced, but also at times has a really rough, analogue electronics feel, but nothing really settles into anything more than the patches of white noise that come and go, and for the most part the work consists of these little shards, fragments of abstraction, like bits broken off of other, more ‘musical’ works left scattered about on this disc. Searching for a musical comparison isn’t easy, but Sachiko M’s later contact mic music springs to mind, but there is more depth and variety here, albeit with a more alien, inhuman quality to it. It is actually quite hard to imagine this music being ‘played’ by a musician such as Hochherz. It sounds more like something happening by itself as it misfires, very slowly and quietly.
As the piece progresses the sounds move between sparse little fragments and longer passages of scribbling and back again several times, and at one point it suddenly becomes clear that ‘external’ sounds can also be heard as a vehicle passing by is clearly heard, albeit it muffled in the distance. The appearance of the passing traffic comes as something of a shock, despite being buried in the background, as suddenly it comes as a reminder that these sounds were recorded deliberately in a room, by a musician, and not the result of some rogue electronic circuits burning themselves out. Tropoi is a fascinating, unusual and uncompromisingly focussed work. I personally really enjoy its tiny soundworld, and for once actually found turning the volume right up, so allowing the little shards of sound to become brief, jarring explosions to bring another dimension to the music again. Olaf Hochherz is an interesting musician, and I have found every release of his music so far to be rewarding in one way or another. I look forward to hearing more and am pleased that through the Mini Kwanyin series Tropoi has found its way into my attention.