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Rum Music: The Best Of 2016 With Russell Cuzner
Russell Cuzner , December 7th, 2016 09:33

Compiling an end of year ‘top ten’ of music from the more undefinable end of the sonic spectrum always proves challenging for the Rum Music Library. But, being more accustomed to stubbornly standing with difficulty than rolling over into the recovery position of enjoyment, Russell Cuzner has risen to the challenge to highlight how 2016 has provided the widest range yet of audacious audio experiences from music’s borderlands

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As festive celebrations get underway and another year comes to a close, the Rum Music Library has assumed the position of pouring scorn on the concept of enjoyment, like eagerly covering a pleasing plum pudding with a brandy butter known to be rancid. It seems this unseasonal and curmudgeonly attitude has been made manifest through the process of compiling a list of the "best of" 2016’s adventures in avant audio.

It should be a simple annual survey, as outlined in the memo distributed to each member of staff merely inviting nominations for their ten favourite releases of the year. The results would then be aggregated and published as the Library's final top ten. But the process always receives more considered responses in terms of its flaws than it does enthusiasm for the rich harvest of sonorities the past year has blessed us all with.

Many of the issues soberly flagged tend to echo one or other of the 13 reasons Matmos' Drew Daniel gave when tQ asked him to complete a similar exercise a couple of years' back, ranging from the philosophical challenges of aesthetic appraisal to the ethics of inclusivity. Meanwhile, those lists that do make their way back undaunted by such views are so wildly disparate they remain unblendable.

For this year, having already concluded that its audio acquisitions are not only unarticulable but unexplainable, that neither controlled craftwork nor free improv guarantees greatness, that compositions can benefit from both contexts and their absence, and that aspiring to newness need not eclipse old forms, the Library's staff are now impishly setting consensus even further adrift by rejecting enjoyment as a criterion for selection. The anhedoniacs argue that enjoyment is the preserve of entertainment and not a measure that should be foisted upon the sort of art the Library serves to signpost. They proudly (if not gladly) proclaim that enjoyment is an unimportant by-product of the listening process more easily found in the crowd-pleasing packets serially spilling off the production lines of genre - melodic and rhythmic patterns solely designed to sate their audiences' anticipatory reward centres.

Instead of being concerned with titillating our idling pleasure circuits, our more earnest colleagues highlight how those artists favoured here offer experiences that are unique and often challenging. These experiences can take the listener to hitherto unexplored places where neither journey nor destination are motivated by entertainment. On the contrary, like hardy expeditions, they may prove testing in terms of open-mindedness, endurance levels, thresholds of patience or pain and untold other experiential limits.

So, as once again our end of year survey is stopped in its tracks by the immeasurableness of its entrants, the Library has decided to ignore individual votes and compile a list that represents the wide range of rare experiences 2016 offered – from cleaving ancient channels with new technologies, through nonsensical parades of irrational assemblages, to walkabouts across post-industrial wastelands… Enjoy!

Hen Ogledd – Bronze
(Alt.Vinyl)

The duo of Richard Dawson and Rhodri Davies were joined by Dawn Bothwell to produce one of the year's strangest yet inviting excursions.

"The wayward sounds of Bronze… promoted a strong sense of being deeply rooted in a confluence of place and time… [and yet are] defiantly modern, exuding experimentation…While not always immediately accessible, it encourages its listeners to go with it, to delve in and find a way in to its way-out-ness. Perhaps this is due to the extraordinary balance of mysticism and realism it can strike where primitive drums invoke the ancients as contemporary creative manoeuvres are evoked on top.” Reviews, October 26th, 2016

Himukalt – Conditions of Acrimony
(Helen Scarsdale Agency)

2016 saw the debut of Himukalt, the solo project of Ester Kärkkäinen. The Nevada-based artist released two cassettes, See One Dark Eye (on Rome’s Angst label) and Conditions of Acrimony covered here, that deployed a distinct power electronics sensibility with an unusually vivid and infectious drive.

"Initially similar to the sort [of noise] Maurizio Bianchi and MZ.412 have built, but whose sharp production values ensure subtler details remain evident and intriguing… layers of electric engine churn, travelling from the hum of low gears steadily turning over to hi-speed squealing violence… intercut with rapid, short fragments of distorted voice, often distressed or commanding. On paper it perhaps doesn’t sound so enticing, but in the hands of Kärkkäinen they’re laid with strict attention to the sounds’ qualities, where textural modulation, rhythmic editing, and theatrical panning bring her most unmusical machines to life.” Rum Music, April 2016

Michael Begg – A Moon That Lights Itself (Omnempathy)

A Moon That Lights Itself effortlessly connotes the human emotions and numinous qualities of the French impressionist Daubigny's nights on canvas with a series of rich soundscapes. Begg's orchestrations bear a remarkable attention-to-detail - the 'instruments' have an acoustic richness that is deftly, and stealthily combined with smooth, electronic undertows and found sounds (such as bird song, water and glass). Together they transpose Daubigny's nocturnal impressions into a more visceral experience, dwelling particularly on the "deep melancholy" Begg found in Daubigny's later paintings.

Early in 2016 Begg released Let The Cold Stove Sing, which also bore a similarly synaesthetic approach with visual art, albeit from later periods that provoked more abstract sounds. Of that release we noted how "its nimble stepping through figurative music and abstract sound paints such rich, rewarding contrasts... to form an enthralling exhibition." On A Moon That Lights Itself the tender music lit by rare sound design exhibits a more refined approach than before, providing a deceptively potent form of moon music, wholly accessible yet with great emotional depth.

Nurse With Wound – Dark Fat
(United Dirter)

For those who didn’t get to experience Nurse With Wound live in 2016, or have yet to indulge in the chaos Steven Stapleton, Andrew Liles, Colin Potter and Matthew Waldron commandeer at these essential events, Dark Fat was your chance to catch-up.

“Being a reliably awkward band, [it] isn't quite a live album in the regular sense, but is formed from recordings of their shows and rehearsals, all meticulously collaged together by Stapleton and Waldron into a generous two-hour dose of brimming excitement, equal parts danger and delight… it comes across like a phantasmagoric journey on a Victorian steam train where creaking carriages are populated by Ray Harryhausen's skeletons whose bones clack in time with the voodoo-like rhythms of the wheels on the rickety track while the air is filled with the engine's diverse, intoxicating vapours. The irregular stops at many and varied stations and maintenance depots see the carriage doors open up onto alien interzones where unpredictable excursions ensue, ranging from psychedelic wig out to electro-acoustic skulduggery.” Rum Music, June 2016

Drøne – Reversing Into The Future
(Pomperipossa Records)

A new ongoing collaboration between the singular talents of electronic artist Mark Van Hoen and Mike Harding of audio-visual organisation Touch, produced its first fruit in 2016 with Reversing Into The Future for Anna Von Hausswolff’s Pomperipossa Records.

“In the brief sleeve notes [the duo] reveal that during their ‘analogue session… the forms seem to determine themselves,’ prompting them to ask ‘how much control do we have? How much do we want?’ By eschewing the more common inclination of musicians to determine what happens in sound, Harding and Van Hoen instead become both composer and listener… Constantly brimming with energy, yet filled with rich contrasts, the parade manages to be both musical and non-musical and seems different on each subsequent playback, maintaining its curiosity and charm.” Rum Music, June 2016

Claire M Singer – Solas (Touch)

Although “commissioned, exhibited and performed throughout Europe and North America”, the beguiling music of Claire M Singer had not made its way onto a recorded release until 2016.

“The deep, transcendental works for church organ, cello and electronics… tend to inspire visions of a pre-industrialised countryside. Each emergent piece initially evokes an unpopulated bucolic panorama, but, as the instrumentation slowly and seductively swells, our gaze intensifies and begins to note the odd labourer in the field or child running down a hill, until a whole community has somehow materialised… Although traditional themes occasionally float to the surface of Singer’s sonorous pools… the work focuses more on the sensuous dimensions of sound than their musical heritage. This leads to something very special indeed – each piece is timeless and genuinely magical.” Rum Music, August 2016

Maja S. K. Ratkje – Crepuscular Hour
(Rune Grammofon)

It was another prolific year for Maja Ratkje, the polymathic Norwegian artist, that saw the release of several albums from And Sing’s matching of her extraordinary vocals with contemporary classical ensembles, through a collaboration with the modern jazz band Poing, to an album commemorating the 20th anniversary of Spunk, the notoriously experimental quartet she forms with Lene Grenager, Kristin Andersen and Hild Sofie Tafjord. But it was, Crepuscular Hour, her composition for three choirs, a church organ and three pairs of “noise musicians” that felt like we were witnessing a contemporary masterpiece.

“This genuinely awe-inspiring work… is designed to surround its audience with dramatically contrasting sound to evoke ‘crepuscular rays’, those shafts of sunlight that strike the earth through gaps in the clouds like the hand of god… But this is no celebration, instead it travels from soft lament through portentous nervousness to a realm of terror. Forget Slayer, forget Orff’s Carmina Burana even – this is evil! The combination of ritualistic choruses of ancient texts and sinister and violent suggestions of machine gun fire, marching, thunder and occult danger initially provoke images of war and terrorism, ‘the evil that men do’ etc. But as the compelling piece drives onward you realise the crepuscular rays are not the hand of god, but the claw of the devil, as it invokes hell on earth in an immense and deliciously dark epic.” Rum Music, June 2016

Catherine Christer Hennix – Live At Issue Project Room
(Important Records)

“Catherine Christer Hennix' compositions have been called 'hallucinogenic ecstatic sound environments'… the profound audio experiences the Stockholm-based artist deals in… are the product of a rare blend of studied disciplines covering the spiritual, sensual and scientific… Live At Issue Project Room is an exquisite recording of a show from a couple of years' back... raga singers, a brass quartet and live electronics… stir up a devotional and increasingly hypnotic trip. Seemingly palindromic in shape - each sound type has specific, mirrored positions on the 80-minute course in which to rise to the surface - but for the most part remains deftly confused with their fellow players to encourage heady diffractions in a full-spectrum sound that genuinely monopolises the senses.” Rum Music, April 2016

Valerio Tricoli – Clonic Earth
(PAN)

“Following on from 2014's Miseri Lares, the Italian artist Valerio Tricoli presents Clonic Earth, another long form electro acoustic composition… Throughout Tricoli's compositions it is as if he is somehow working with field recordings of our thought processes - a disjointed, abstracted inner rhapsody of questing energy and sensory processing that occasionally forms words but also, crucially, functions in ways words cannot convey… Arrived at through a combination of analogue electronics, live sampling and Revox tape manipulations, Clonic Earth is a sensuous, acousmatic masterpiece that reveals new nuances, none of them articulable, on every repeat listen.“ Rum Music, August 2016

Autechre – Elseq 1-5
(Warp)

All of a sudden, and without any fanfare, Autechre released five albums at once in May this year. If this, along with their digital-only format, suggested it was in any way less of an event than previous albums whose pre-release phases are normally filled with a particularly fervent fanboy clamour, then you would be very much mistaken. Despite the quantity (over four hours) of new material, Elseq’s 21 tracks are among the finest of Autechre’s most idiosyncratic audio art. There’s no hint that this is a round-up of outtakes, or unedited jam sessions for completists, instead it all feels sensitively sculpted to balance the groove with the avant garde, putting the electro into electro-acoustic with a greater overall coherency than any of their previous releases.

The super-vivid sounds throughout Elseq’s five chapters centre around a kind of mercurial yet monochrome morphology that can shine intensely or become blackened as if badly burnt (and often both at the same time, like some kind of digital lava flow). Their three-dimensional kaleidoscopic movements are mostly threaded on a vital pulse, whose regularity is often brought into question to psychedelic effect but never lost entirely. This presents well the paradox of machine-made free improvisation: like expensive CGI it is polished to perfection yet bears organic qualities computers alone cannot render.

While there are some discernible rave mutations, particularly on Elseq 4 (like ‘7th slips’ and ‘acdwn2’s dashes of darkcore), the rest reminds of Autechre alone. Their signature sound cannot be sampled without it being clear from whence it came; with beats indistinguishable from tones and textures, all taking on rhythmic, tonal and textural dimensions to bewildering effect as they build their own novel eco-systems in sound. The result is a long yet invigorating parade of unique sonic illusions, puzzles and thrills unequalled in all of 2016.

Tracklist for the Rum Music Xmas Experience 2016 mix

00:00-00:20 Intro (includes an excerpt from ‘Music of the Spheres’ - Johanna Beyer / 1938)
00:16-04:17 Gwawr in Reverse – Hen Ogledd (from Bronze /Alt.Vinyl 2016)
03:52-08:24 I Started (excerpt) – Himukalt (from Conditions of Acrimony / Helen Scarsdale Agency 2016)
08:24-14:12 A Last Dance Under the Moon – Michael Begg (from A Moon That Lights Itself / Omnempathy 2016)
12:49-20:18 Congealed Entrance – Nurse With Wound (from Dark Fat / United Dirter 2016)
20:06-25:30 This Strange Life I (excerpt) – drøne (from reversing into the future / Pomperipossa Records 2016)
24:55-29:14 Solas (excerpt) – Claire M Singer (from Solas / Touch 2016)
28:07-35:16 Crepuscular Hour (excerpt) – Maja S. K. Ratkje (from Crepuscular Hour / Rune Grammofon 2016),br> 34:03- 45:45 Blues Alif Lam Mim in the Mode of Rag Infinity / Rag Cosmosis (excerpt) – Catherine Christer Hennix (from Live At Issue Project Room / Important Records 2016)
44:09-52:05 III. Interno d’Incendio (excerpt) – Valerio Tricoli (from Clonic Earth / Pan 2016)
51:10-59:08 mesh cinereaL (excerpt) – Autechre (from elseq 3 / Warp 2016)
59:06-59:25 Outro (includes an excerpt from ‘Music of the Spheres’ - Johanna Beyer / 1938)

Taun Aengus
Dec 9, 2016 5:17am

Happy Solstice Russell Cuzner, thanks for Rum Music.

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