I blame myself and my overall busy life for letting Experimental Half Hour fall of my radar for the past little while. But I was happy to be reminded of its existence recently, particularly with the announcement of a new episode posted just this month. This edition was recorded in August with some marvelous performances by Dead Channel, Three-Legged Race, MSHR, and the Portland Bike Ensemble.
A new collection of songs from Daryl Groetsch’s project Pulse Emitter is always welcome. Especially on a day like this when all you want to do is stay in and watch the weather happen to the outside world. I can think of few better soundtracks for watching snowfall than this spacious run of intertwining modular synth melodies and shimmery builds in volume. This track comes from Groetsch’s brand new album Crater Lake, a four song LP apparently inspired by our state’s gigantic and awe-inspiring hole in the ground. Either pick up a copy from Immune Recordings, or buy one from the man himself when he plays Little Axe Records on Saturday the 14th with Ilyas Ahmed and Dolphinity.
The title of this track from Justin Smith is as direct as the music found underneath it is not. A multitracked batch of strings swoop and bite at one another, drawing a little of bit of blood with each pass. For such otherwise tender instruments, there’s certainly something creepy and almost threatening about the way these parts lock together and pull apart.
Jordan Dykstra is an artist about whose praises we Portlanders should be singing more often. It could be for his work backing up Bradford Cox in his solo endeavors or helping Dirty Projectors on their album Bitte Orca. But I’d rather gush about Dykstra’s solo material, usually drone-based modern classical compositions that are as uplifting as they are chilling. He’s been adding to this Bandcamp page off and on with stray material that never ended up on a full release, and this most recent is this “drift study,” a track he recorded in a couple of hours this past October. When I hear this track, my mind flashes to being on the coast of Oregon, watching the waves spill over on the beach near Manzanita on a cold, but beautiful winter morning. What does it stir up for you?
What we have here is the longest of three versions of this denatured new age exploration. I swear I heard this same piece of music in a truncated form as the stinger for a videocassette company logo back in 1985. The nostalgic flashbacks of watching shitty horror movies in my parents’ basement as a preteen flood back to me with each minute of this that rolls by. What I want most with this is answers. Is this a new project of Dirk Zorsan aka Dasani Reboot or is this E.T./Videolink name just placed on Soundcloud for fun? Details…I need details.
A good deal of ambient music floods the sound spectrum with washes upon layers of rich pads and subtle tones ebbing and flowing in a non-offensive, meditative manner. It’s essentially texture music; it provides the same feeling one gets from crawling under a pile of layered blankets on that January night the space heater quits functioning. Sunfalls’ most recent EP, They Love Data embraces just the opposite. Forget the broken heater, fuck the blankets, the cold is still there. Why hide from it? Lay naked on the bed. Imagine the warmth and let the mind produce any layer it wishes. This release isn’t exactly ambient music, but it is a close approximation; subdued glitch-noise meditations may act as a better representation. The release’s descriptor notes explain the formulation process as an “exploration in hybrid modular environments.” The resulting environment is a frigid one indeed. Even when the most basic human element arises in the fourth track, “I wasn’t lookin”, with the vague semblance of a voice building in the distance, it is processed to such a degree that it is rendered inhuman, robotic, and wafting about in a just out of reach state of barely there inaudibility, perhaps providing the listener with the sense that, while the numbing isolation persists, there is something out there in the vast void of space…somewhere?
In fact, the most beautiful thing about They Love Data, I find, is that sense of space. They Love Data is a starkly minimal EP, but in no way is it depriving the listener of anything. On the contrary, that is part of its charm. The framework provided by all the intentional sounds we hear creates an aural environment for the listener to either succumb to that cold wintery sense of isolation, or, even better, let its electric jolts prod the listener’s cerebral cortex into doing something so much music does not: to imagine.
This type of music makes for a great, eyes closed, headphone experience. By working with a delicate restraint, and not entirely filling the stereo field, we are left with distance, which provides room for Sunfalls’ sounds to create dynamics through movement. It also gives the mind the time to picture the unreal world that the music lives in. Spry crackles maintain the semblance of a consistent rhythmic theme while the mid and low end gurgle, sputter, fading in and out of existence. Beats bounce into existence whenever they need to, if just for a second, and then fall off for extended intervals. White noise static bursts sporadically. High frequency digital pulses generate random squiggles and resonate, trailing off into the ether. Grains break apart into chaos, disappear, and re-emerge fully formed as something new. Abrasive moments seem somehow light and quiet instances menace by never foreshadowing the origin of the next lingering sonic stab. Embrace this paradox, shed the blankets of easy comfort, and find your own warmth in Sunfalls’ icy space-scape.
Somewhere in my not so vast archives is some jam sessions that I did with Roger Hayes and another friend (whose name escapes me) when I lived near Astoria, Oregon. It was when I was seriously exploring the world of experimental music for the first time, and I felt like I was scrambling to keep up with these two very talented entities. I think when you watch this clip and hear Roger’s beautiful loop-based guitar composition, a track that would fit neatly inside an early Spectrum album, I think you’ll see why I was put on my heels a bit. Or see for yourself when his band Existence Habit performs at the next Experimental Portland Presents… show at Ash Street on November 2nd.
Word came down just yesterday that the ever-amazing labels Medical Records and 2510 Records was gearing up to co-reissue a rarity of the Portland music world: Paul Nelson’s self-released 1981 synth record Vortex. The music is ripe for rediscovery, especially here in the city where Control Voltage is helping so many young and old artists become self-reliant masters of the electronic world. Vortex feels like it was created under the sway of a binge-listening session to vintage Tangerine Dream and Gary Numan albums. Some songs are dark electro pop while others ape the album’s artwork and aim to capture the sound of the cosmos as heard via Nelson’s handmade and store bought gear.
I’ll let the press release from Medical Records tell the rest of the story about this amazing album and artist:
Paul grew up around Portland and had a strong background in music and music theory. He built a PAIA synthesizer when he in junior high and developed a keen intuition into analog synthesis. Eventually he purchased a MiniMoog and was very influenced by Alan Parsons, ELP, and ENO. Armed with more gear as time went on (Sequential Circuits 600 sequencer, Oberheim DS-2, etc), Paul was offered an opportunity to record his own album which led to the Recording Associates sessions during which “Vortex” was born. The LP was also half-speed mastered at JVC Studios in CA. 1000 copies were originally pressed and self-distributed by Paul. The opening track “Automated Man” which also happens to be the only track with vocals, is a slab of genuine electro greatness with it’s sharp synth hooks and vocoded vocals. The LP takes many twists and turns with many tracks of sequenced pulsations, electronic drums, and rhythms reminiscent of the Sci-fi soundtracks mixed with a healthy dose of almost proggy space/cosmic disco crossed with later-age Tangerine Dream. “Vortex 2” is a perfect example of the above description with imagery of a Blade Runner-esque chase scene meets Carpenter at his most upbeat. “Labyrinth” takes more a more relaxed synth odyssey approach with slower percussion and a spacier vibe overall. The rest of side 2 “Vortex 3-4-5” is a magnificent build up of ambient soundscapes that morph into a slow cosmic burner and fades out again into the darkness to close the LP. All tracks have been restored and remastered by Paul Nelson for this release. For many years this LP could be found in the PNW in record bins but over the last decade, it has been become quite rare which has led to it fetching rather high prices on the collector’s market. Medical Records is thrilled to introduce the world to this work of art again. For fans of library synth, sci-fi soundtracks, and other more sequenced electronic acts such as Tangerine Dream, Axxess, and minimal synth. This reissue is presented on high-quality 180gram splatter paint on opaque white vinyl. Features exact reproduction of the front and infamous back covers. Contains bonus insert with in-depth interview with Paul Nelson by Else Teicher. Limited edition.
One of the finer record stores here in our fair city Beacon Sound is making the leap that fellow shops Mississippi and Jackpot have done and are starting their own in-house imprint. They’ve already dipped their toes into that world with a trio of cassette/digital releases, but now they’re looking to dive right into getting out its first vinyl release.
As is the way of our mixed up world, they need some help from their supporters and customers to make it happen. To that end, they’ve enacted a Kickstarter campaign to help them get out their first release: a collaboration between former Yellow Swans member Gabriel Saloman, and multi-instrumentalist Peter Broderick.
And that ain’t all: the store is going to be having a celebration of this new venture in, of all places, my old stomping ground in Seaview, Washington. Held at the Sou’Wester Lodge on October 25th and 26th, the event will feature sets by Messrs. Saloman and Broderick, as well as performances by Grouper, Rauelsson, and Apartment Fox.
I don’t tend to make straight up pleas on this blog, for fear of sounding like all the desperate PR folk that fill my inbox every weekday. But the deal is this: the booking folks at Ash Street Saloon are changing, and the gent who is taking care of it now sounds already very suspicious of what I’m bringing to the table with these shows. He hasn’t outright said this but the implication is: if these shows don’t look like they’re worth the venues while (aka if no one shows up), he’s going to nix the one I had planned for December and the two things I have booked there next month will be it.
I realize that the Ash Street is an odd place for shows of this kind, but they treat the people who play there well and the sound system is amazing. I’d much rather book a modular synth player like Obsolete Synthesis and let him be heard as he wants to be heard rather than through some crappy PA in some DIY garage/basement space (as much as I love those too).
So, my simple plea is this: can we prove to the Ash Street folks that there is an audience for this music and that having me have at least one night a month to celebrate it is beneficial to them? In short: can I rely on y’all to show up tonight and support the blog, the musicians, and the scene as a whole?
Details on the show are here in this poster. I hope you can make it.