Review: SunFalls – They Love Data

Today’s post was written by Nicholas Swartz, one of the gents behind Sonic Debris Multimedia and the band Sister Mamie Foreskin

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.

Video: Roger Hayes – Brittle On the Stem

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.

Music: Paul Nelson – Vortex

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.

News: Beacon Sound Starting Label; Needs Kickstarter Support

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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.

TONIGHT: Experimental Portland Presents… #18: Doug Theriault/Obsolete Synthesis/Daniel O’Brien-Bravi @ Ash St. Saloon

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.

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Music: Desert of Hiatus – Eros

The title of this new cassette release by Desert of Hiatus is as perfect as perfect can be. As the band says on the Bandcamp page for these new songs:

This album was originally inspired by Anne Carson’s literary criticism, Eros: the Bittersweet. However, after much deliberation on the topic that is Love, there yielded no conclusive data. It happened to me, the bastard Eros had actually shot me, the triangulation began and after a couple of tattoos and flutterings in my chest I felt responsible to worship what is glukupikron – sweet bitter. The contrapasso that is Love. As it aims to be both sweet and bitter simultaneously, living on the same plane.

You’ll hear that sweet bitter and those flutterings in these two long, sensuous tracks. As the music swells and rises, don’t be surprised if you can feel any hardness that may be surrounding your person peeling away layer by layer until you’re bathing in its softly lit glow.

Music: bloom offering – Don’t Stop

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, in a world full of oversharers and bands willing to give away pints of blood for a little promotional attention, stumbling upon an artist for whom there is little or no information is a rare and wonderful treat. Such is the case with bloom offering, a musician about which we know very little. We gather the artist is a she from the picture on the Soundcloud page and what we can perceive of the vocals, hidden as they are underneath a grimy wall of distended electro filth. And through that page, we know that bloom offering is from here in Portland. Beyond that…who knows? And frankly, who the fuck cares? With daring, grumbling wonderment like this at her disposal, she owes us nothing. Just keep the noise coming, please.

Music: The Wishermen – Tied Love

I will admit my reticence at hearing this track after drummer Barra Brown e-mailed me a link, saying that it was an “experimental mashup of two Justin Timberlake songs.” Because if there’s one trend in modern jazz that puts me off a bit is a quick embrace of radio hits or winking covers of classic rock songs (I’m looking at you Bad Plus). This skirts the line a little uncomfortably at times, but there’s such an embrace of weird tonalities and a fantastic rhythm track that lets Brown find the perfect Venn diagram meeting place between the two songs that I can’t help but fall for it. I’ve been promised that the Wishermen sound “waaaaay different” now than their earlier post-jazz outlays. If this is a small taste of that difference, I’m excited to hear what comes next.