Review of LCLX by Creaig Dunton from Brainwashed, 28 January 2018
LCLX is a rather fast follow-up to this Texas duo’s other recent work, Kruos, but by no means does it seem rushed or hurried. Alex Keller and Sean O’Neill again have produced a work that is both familiar and alien, through careful use of field recordings and understated processing to capture the world around them, mixing the mundane with the uncommon to create environments that sound much more unique then they likely were in the first place.
The lengthy title piece that opens LCLX is actually a reworking of material Keller and O’Neill utilized for their first performance together in 2015. The nearly 16 minute work is based solely on recordings captured at the Charles Alan Wright Intramural field in Austin, Texas, with little or no discernible processing or treatment to the sound. A heavy droning bass and complementary buzzing noise are immediately apparent from the start, apparently capturing the field’s bright lighting that is as sonically distracting as it apparently also is visually.
Alongside this somewhat abrasive sound is the recordings I would expect in this sort of location recording: passing vehicles, the occasionally disruptive motorcycle revving by, or car honking to add to the feeling of audio pollution. The same recordings also capture more pleasant moments, such as the chirping of birds and other wildlife. Somewhere in the middle of natural beauty and the sonic ugliness of industry lies the occasional snippet of conversation by passersby.
The remaining five pieces that make up this album come from less clear pedigrees, but all revolve around field recordings captured in urban and rural areas, and all manner in-between. Some of these are perversely enjoyable: I would hate to have to listen to the jackhammering captured on “Ununbium” against my will, but captured on record there is revealed an almost musical quality to it, emphasizing nuances to the sound I would have otherwise ignored.
In a more natural mood, “Ununpentium” is the classic sound of a rainstorm. The pitter-patter of raindrops both near and far from the recording device is a rather peaceful bit of wet, muggy sound. The added rumble of thunder that appears later on adds to that “enjoying nature” feel, but the passing airplane makes for an intentional distraction. The ten minute “Ununquadium” mirrors “LCLX” in its complexity, bringing in a series of sounds that are in this case not overly recognizable, but work well alongside one another. Distant rumbles and near static bursts act as the core, with the occasionally overt bit of bird chirping showing up. Later on a rhythmic clattering appears that could be studio treated with reverb and echo, or perhaps completely natural in their source. This ends up being mixed with a series of other unspecified mechanical sounds, resulting in a piece that lies in somewhere between the purity of nature and the sonic pollution of mankind.
Special note should be made of the CDs unconventional packaging. Folded within a piece of heavy paper and even heavier stamped fabric, it has that tactile, handmade quality to it that was so prevalent in the 1990s noise scene (such the G.R.O.S.S. label run by the late Akifumi Nakajima/Aube) that too many releases lack these days. Like Kruos, LCLX is another example of the intricacy and nuance possible from just using everyday field recordings. Alex Keller and Sean O’Neill are, at least superficially, just capturing the world around them as it happens, but the difference lies in their recording techniques and the final presentation. It is that use of the familiar and the unfamiliar that makes these works so engaging, and is an exemplary example of the art form.
Review of Black out by Frans de Waard from Vital Weekly 1014.
A very long time I reviewed a CD by The Phonographers Union (Vital Weekly 423) and it listed among its members one Alex Keller. I am not sure if that is the same one as this one (but it shows that I sometimes investigates these things, and not always write: here’s someone I never heard off, and it turns out I already reviewed a bunch of things). This Alex Keller is an audio artist, sound designer, curator and teacher, who has interest in architecture, language, abstraction and music. In the piece ‘Black Out’ he used the empty theater at Salvage Vanguard Theater in Austin and recorded his analogue synthesizers, humming in low frequencies through this space, picking it up and re-transmitting them as they travel again through this space. Think Alvin Lucier’s “I’m Sitting In A Room”, but less about the concept of decay. This piece rumbles through the space and sounds very good. There is not a lot of variation in each section; it quickly arrives at what it is and then stays there for the entire duration of a section, which is usually aboutsix minutes. The low-end frequencies are very suitable for playback at a low volume and still make a strong presence in your own space. Each of the five sections starts with a few breaths, like some exhaling. It ends on the lowest note with everything vibrating and shaking, buried under that heavy weight of low, oscillating humming sounds. This release comes in a great risographic cover, silver on black. With a label name like that you could hardly expect something else. Excellent release.
Review of Black out by Ed Pinsent from The Sound Projector, 29 December 2015.
A splendid piece of droney process-art from Alex Keller…his Black Out (MIMEOMEME MIMEO 012) was produced using analogue synths, used to create recordings of various low-level tones, layered and overdubbed, which he then played back in an empty theatre in Austin. The idea was to make the walls “rustle, vibrate and wheeze in sympathy”, and ultimately to make the room come alive as a breathing entity of some sort. The underpinning concept is to do with the natural rhythms of breathing.
We have heard a number of records and projects which try to do this sort of thing, i.e. exploiting the natural tone and acoustics of a performance space – one that springs to mind is Venison Whirled, also of Texas as it happens, where Lisa Cameron made her miked-up drums drone until the sound bounced off the walls of the venue. But few have made such a deep impression as this evil droner…Alex Keller is determined to explore a single powerful effect as far as he can take it, and document the journey. He seems delighted with the way he made the light fittings tremble with his playbacks; evidence of the true power of the subsonic taking its toll. It feels like a sinister horror movie, bringing a terrible unwanted presence into the room. Title and all-black cover suggests strongly it should place in total darkness. I don’t suppose it would work as well if the theatre was occupied (too many human bodies might muffle the effect, perhaps), so I wonder if he’s every tried performing Black Out for an audience. Chances are the venue owner wouldn’t ask him back if he did, not after he received a bill for 100 replacement light bulbs next day.
As to the rhythm of breathing, we always invoke the name of the Deep Listening Queen Pauline Oliveros at this point, and although I suppose other musicians influenced by Tai Chi or Buddhism might make similar claims, La Oliveros is the one who has turned it into a compositional philosophy, and lived by it. Keller’s Black Out does open with the sound of an intake of breath, a sound which appears twice more I think, punctuating the length of the piece, and reminds us of the conceptual integrity of what he’s doing here. In ways which are not explicitly described here, I assume he also mapped the rhythm into the structure of the piece and its playback; certainly it feels organically “just right”, there’s a recognisable human dimension to the piece, as opposed to one of those monumental minimalist pieces which passes all reasonable limits of human endurance in the name of art. At less than 30 minutes of playback, we could never accuse Black Out of that.
Keller is an active sound artist, performance artist, installation artist and teacher of media production in Austin and Seattle, and his work contains ideas about “architecture, language, and abstraction”. Very happy to have Black Out as an addition to our collection of “room” records; even the simple cover design is very attractive.
Review of Black out from Muad’Dib at KJFC http://spidey.kfjc.org/?p=25439.
Room-filling low drone tones from Austin knob twister Alex Keller. He recorded this single 20 minute track and then played it at high volume in an empty dark amphitheater in Texas. This is a recording of that performance, we primarily hear the drones but accompanied by subtle rattles and thrums from various equipment in the space. Limited edition EP is long on concept, meditative, stately and grand.
Recreating the Domain: Eerie soundtracks for our ‘second downtown’ from The Austin Chronicle by James Renovitch http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/review?oid=oid%3A777969
Still haven’t been to the Domain, that not-so-radical experiment in New Urbanism beckoning from Northwest Austin? Still need a reason to use the gas to drive there, assuming you’re not one of the few residents of the rental units above or around the outdoor shopping mall? Here’s a rationale for visiting the controversial district envisioned as a second downtown without losing your cred in Austin’s first Downtown.
It starts at www.recreatingthedomain.com, where six artists have created walking tours of the Domain. Download the files, put them on a portable music player, use that gas to get to the magical melding of residential and commercial units, and press play.
Alex Keller, the curator of this experiment in audio art, comes from a background of sound design and co-hosts KOOP Radio’s aptly named experimental music show, Commercial Suicide, making him uniquely qualified to wrangle the disparate offerings of the Recreating the Domain project. “I wanted it to be a smart examination of … whatever this is,” Keller says, summarizing the impetus behind collecting these ongoing artworks. “I used to walk around here during lunch, and I always wanted to see the cracks, looking for the cast-only doors.” It’s that Disney-fication that fuels the surreal nature of the Domain and what these pieces hope to bring into focus.
The tours range from performance art, where you’re told to be the performer, to avant musical musings using the white noise of the Domain itself as a jumping-off point. Sometimes the audio tours call attention to themselves, asking participants to listen to the produced audio more intently. What ties them all together, however, is a common aim to make listeners look more closely at their surroundings. When the narrator of Brent Fariss’ Dominion: a walking tour says to cross the street illegally, only then is it apparent that the Domain is designed to prohibit jaywalking. Keller’s Curator’s Notes points out the speakers on the light poles and how strange a canned soundtrack would be in any other “neighborhood.” Other pieces merely flavor the experience of walking the Domain. Tan Bodies, by Bill Bridges, combines jumbled buzzwords, ad speak, and other language for an end product of creepy poetry. Similarly, Vanessa Rossetto’s ambient soundscape combines field recordings with violin tones, making J. Crew bargain shopping eerier than ever before, as if seeing the cops on three-wheeled Segways wasn’t enough.
Review of Three Augusts from Monk Mink Pink Punk: http://www.ronsen.org/monkminkpinkpunk/12/austin.html
Keller, known for his work in the Seattle collabaration Rebreather with Christopher DeLaurenti, moved to Austin in 2003 and has established himself as an electro-acoustic performer and installation artist in a town sorely lacking in installation art. He has mainly worked solo, but has performed with various ensembles of Rick Reed (now eschewing the Abrasion Ensemble name) and participating in Austin New Music Co-Op events. The three Augusts in the title refer to three pieces performed or recorded in the Augusts of 2004, 2005 and 2006. August 2004 found Keller diffusing the ultra minimal “bonneville” to Bill Thompson and Brent Fariss’s Loft concert series. Three repeated elements – low tones, a digital sample of a waverly chord, and a faint, high-pitched crackle – cycle through an unknown pattern, hypnotic and meditative. The denser “Comes Marching” – debuted at the AMODA performance series in 2005 – employs extreme time-strecthing techniques to create layers of ghostly tones. “oleander (foreign)” completes the tryptich with a quiet droney opening that abruptly tranisitions to a grittier, crumbling ending. All three pieces exhibit a restrained approach to sound, almost if the sounds are meant to slowly creep through an architectural space. Or nervous system.
Review of John Cage’s Songbooks from Austin 360: http://www.austin360.com/xl/content/arts/xl/2005/05/reviews_05-26-05.html#song
The Austin New Music Co-op’s presentation of John Cage’s experimental “Song Books” Saturday evening led spectators to wonder: What exactly is a song? And if, in such a context, the idea of a “song” becomes something cosmically all-embracing, is there something for a critic to review?
The short answer is “yes,” particularly if you’re going to charge people money to come in and share the room with you. Theoretically, you could present yourself saying, “I am standing here doing nothing, and this is my song.” But do you expect an audience to hang around for that? Happily, none of the presentations got that irritating.
Brandon Young, one of the vocalists and the artistic organizer of the event, placed five vocalists paired with five electronic musicians around a good-sized but ugly and uncomfortable concrete room at the AMLI Downtown apartments. All five teams worked simultaneously. In the most interesting presentations, considerable creativity and artistry were displayed.
Young was entertaining as he seemed to be singing in French, but was rapidly switching between amusing high-and low-pitched character voices and postures. A second young man sang a melody setting Thoreau’s famous quotation, “The best government is no government at all,” but also later played a delicate percussion duet with his electronics partner. My favorite pair selected 36 songs, photocopied them, with an enlarged line portrait of Thoreau distributed on the backs of the sheets, and pasted them on the wall. Each of the men rolled a die, and the numbers that came up determined which of the 36 songs on the wall would be turned over and performed. Sadly, there isn’t room to describe some of the clever and fascinating “songs” that they devised. Theirs was a John Cage performance well worth seeing.
Review of The Four Hundred Boys from Erasing Clouds: http://www.erasingclouds.com/25octrev.html
Silence, static, grumblings, buzzings, whirring, people speaking…these are some of the myriad sounds that make up The Four Hundred Boys, a collection of seven pieces, recorded between 1995 and 2000, by Seattle-based sound artist Alex Keller. Manipulating sounds in all sorts of ways which will not be easily understood by listeners (but are detailed in the linter notes for those with a need to comprehend what’s going on technically), Keller creates sonic art which is complicated in the best way–meaning it is difficult in the way that gets your brain moving in various directions, not in the way that means what’s going on is too abstract to enjoy. While not filled with surface-level aesthetic pleasures of the empty sort that people listen to top-40 radio for, these pieces are layered with unique sounds and juxtapositions of sounds. The opening track, “And the walls became the world all around,” delivers an intermittent but creeping wave of sound, at times metallic, at times electronic, at times almost nonexistent but not. The second, “Decades II,” uses something like a chime or a gong in the background and a squirming buzz/siren in the front. Both increase in loudness, unity and pitch until they collide like a train; then the track cuts to ancient-sounding tones and eerie silence, feeling like the spooky aftermath of something (with metallic ghosts lurking). From there the track continues to build like a cloud in different ways, with various sorts of clanging going on. All of these pieces can be appreciated on numerous levels. “Decades II,” for example, is awe-inspiring in one way while listening the first time, and in a completely different way after reading in the liner notes that it was an exploration of the sounds that can come from an electric guitar. That multiplicity in listener reaction is part of the appeal of these pieces; another is simply the mystery which lies behind such a breadth of sound. From “Landscape: Still Life With Bug Lamp,” an ambient track with a consistent buzzing sound, to “Gun,” a cut-up story where someone is speaking but nothing makes any logical sense, Keller relies on all sorts of techniques. Each technique, and each track, has a different background and sounds different from the next, yet each has the effect of getting listeners to try to figure it out on their own. Art which will likely mean something different for each listener, The Four Hundred Boys shines with a striking intricacy which should please listeners looking for something to intrigue, mystify and challenge them.
Review of The Four Hundred Boys from Vital Weekly week 39 number 292
Alex Keller lives in Seattle, and releases his first solo CD. Besides he is a member of Rebreather, an improvisational unit with Christopher DeLaurenti. Not that I ever heard their music… Improvisation is not something Alex is doing on his solo CD. Each track is described on the sleeve in terms of intention and what he has done to create it. One piece just uses guitar sounds, in order to create a serious piece of electronic music, another uses piano sounds (the title piece, which unfortunately is not a great piece, as it’s dabbling too much in the academic world but with lesser power) or field recordings. Keller’s music work best if he works with stretched out, drone like sounds, with small events happening under the surface, such as in ‘Landscape: Still Life With Bug’ or ‘Cosmetic’. They too are the result of sturdy processing and examining the ideas of the serious avant-garde, but at the same time result in a music that will appeal to the underground. Overall a very fine CD.
Review of The Four Hundred Boys from Unlock Austin, http://www.unlockaustin.com/BandReviews/Alex+Keller
Alex Keller’s The Four Hundred Boys represents some of the very best sound artistry of the decade. Each of the seven pieces is a distinctive composition with a unique and empyrean element of genius. The diversity of the techniques, instruments and technologies used, and the composers mastery of them makes for engrossing, entertaining and intellectually-challenging listening.It is overall a very impressive disc, and one I will be listening closely to for a long time.
Review of The Four Hundred Boys from IEM Webzine, http://svalemor.chat.ru/k_.htm#3
A new name for me in the experimental music, with debut album – an always interesting and breathtaking experience. Alex Keller is Seattle based composer who has a kind of academic music education and worked with Christopher DeLaurenti. Intrinsically atonal fragments like the back side of the artificial, technological music around us, its contrast with the harmony between sound and silence in the quiet parts, careful collection of dissonantly sound events which are impossible to hear in half-ear (as much as you can’t escape the sense of reality of definite sounding objects when feel its presence aurally) – to follow my description, you should imagine works in musique concrete and other abstract styles of composition. Seven pieces, mostly pretty long by duration, partly hypnotize listener with the dreamlike evolving, and partly disturb with their uncontrolled and constantly changing, breaking basis. Every piece demonstrate the perfect skills in the field recordings technique, computer software & processing, electronic treatment of acoustic instruments like piano and guitar, rhythms and even spoken word. I can’t say that this album leave some sort of radical impression – it’s quite typical for experimental music school, as much as appealing for the mass-culture consumers. And that’s also the main reason for which I can recommend it to somebody who will be interested.
Review (in correspondence) of The Four Hundred Boys from Prisms, http://prismsonline.org/
It’s a damned good album. You really have your own voice, and you also managed to crack through a particular bias of mine. Allow me to explain briefly. As far as electronic and collage-oriented works go I have a tendency to avoid ones that claim they will recreate the dynamics of narrative (as when you say, re: The Four Hundred Boys itself: “My intention… was to use layers of creative translation… to achieve some of the narrative richness and dischord that the text had”). It’s not that this isn’t a very laudable goal (I’m somewhat influenced by Susanne Langer, incidentally), and I *do* think such objects *can* be crafted, but many who try to do so, simply fail. Pieces which so aspire may turn out to be nice, and even generally worth listening to, but for all that they often don’t quite achieve what we might call a truly narrative texture. Indeed I resisted listening to your album for a day or so, I think because I feared disappointment. But I shouldn’t have worried, as you actually seem to be able to do what needs to be done. Interestingly enough, the piece in which your own voice seems least clear is in Cosmetic: I like that piece, but perhaps because it was composed as a soundtrack, there is some clash between your voice and Mr. Authement’s. However, The Four Hundred Boys worked exceedingly well, both in living up to its stated goal as well as in instantiating (what seemed to me to be) your own voice as a composer, and since it too is inspired (effectively) by a scenario, my hypothesis may be in error; and at that point I draw a blank on further analytic insights for now.
Anyway, little of that really matters. It’s a fine album, I hope it finds its audience upon release…
Review of The Four Hundred Boys from Ampersand Etcetera, http://ampersandetc.virtualave.net/ampv2001_09.html
This is Keller’s first album, combining pieces composed between 1995 and 2000. He was educated in music theory at Huston, and his theoretical background is evident in the extensive liner notes and the methods and objectives they outline. And I love liner notes: I think it is great sometimes to get an angle on what the composer is intending – the Sound Drifting set is great for that too. And it also helps to place Keller in an electroacoustic part of my mind – it can be quite confusing if you put on what you expect to be drifting ambient and out comes gestural precision.
On ‘And the walls became the world around us’ he uses a ‘limited sound palette’ – a rising and falling tone, squealy buzzing noise, organ tones, pops and crackles – and creates a subtle, quiet sound world that lives in the silences between sounds and the solo and overlapped components. Quite restrained compared to ‘Decades II’, an exploration of the guitar sound, which shifts dramatically between noisy buzzing tones, gentle shimmers, rhythmic choppy mechanical edgy parts and more as we swing between recognisable guitar and more treated and bent versions.
The title work is a strange conceptual piece, written by taking a piano part and playing it backwards, modulating it, rewriting and more: the reality is a fascinating twisted tonality of odd notes in unexpected progressions, electronic hummings and pulsing scrapes and scratches which is oddly entrancing – and has some affinity with ‘Decades II’ in its tonality. A more sensuous mood envelops ‘Landscape: still life with bug lamp’, which is constructed from 12 layers, and for the listener is a shifting soundscape of deep resonances, shimmering chimes and bells, much closer to ambience.
The long ‘Cosmetic (soundtrack)’ encapsulates and extends the album: it is a sequence of short segments, all created on the computer, which span a continent of moods: quite gentle tonal works; mechanical industrial rhythms with descending notes; cut up and sequestered voices, probably from television; edgy harsh buzzing and squeals; and more. A searching demanding piece which is quite intriguing. Which segues well into ‘All of these things’ which is intriguing in different ways: created from field recordings both natural and in an echoing bunker, together with read texts, Keller processed them in a variety of ways – stretching, convolution and more – and has created a soundscape which hovers at the edge of familiarity, sounds which are almost comprehensible, shivering and swaying at the edge of our auditory cortex. And the final disorientation – ‘Gun’ in which a text of a dream is read, but the text was previously put through some cut-up techniques, and again, reality seems just a confused thought process away: almost understandable, a powerful conclusion.
My experience with musiqueconcrete/electroacoustic is not broad, so I can’t say how this album fits within the genre: but I can say that I find it intriguing, entertaining and stimulating, in the same way the Empreintes Digitales disks I looked at a few issues ago were. If you enjoy music composed and constructed in this way, I think that this album would appeal.
Review of The Four Hundred Boys from AmbiEntrance, http://www.spiderbytes.com/ambientrance/0701ov.htm
Alex Keller is serious about his sonic manipulations, presenting several pieces he’s devised over the past few years. The disc opens on And the walls became the world all around; the title comes from a quote from “Where the Wild Things Are” and the bizarrely droning/sputtering sonic mutations are created/processed in MetaSynth. Based on ancient Mayan Popul Vuh, the fifteen-minute title track involves multi-reversed piano phrases (though you’d never know it) in its start and stop tonal blurts. Ringing tones swelter around Landscape: still life with bug lamp (3:46), a smeary layered blur dating back to 1995. Spastically exploding with media-samples and static, Cosmetic (soundtrack) (19:54) changes gears several times… to big rippling soundwaves, then squealing streams of starkly wavering scree, then to murky beats, Space-Invader bleeps, thunderous assaults and more. Less-aggressive All of these things is often quietly percolating with unknown organic activities and muffled voices. The closing piece, Gun, features a fragmented spoken dream recollection. Though the intent of Keller’s experimentations aren’t always clear, the results are always unpredictable.
David J. Opdyke
Review of The Four Hundred Boys from Incursion.org, http://www.incursion.org/imr/archive/040.html
This CD brings together seven electroacoustic pieces created over the past six years by Alex Keller, a man whose fascination with the omnipresence of sound as artifice has led to his interest in sound design and difficult music. Each of these pieces tells a different story, and is constructed with different methods and sound material. Keller describes his intentions and methods for each piece in the liner notes, and this is where you get the sense that he is a real enthusiast for experimenting with sound. The first, “And the walls became the world all around”, uses a limited number of sounds from a soft synth, later treated with effects and then assembled in ProTools. The second piece uses the sound of an electric guitar; the third, a piano. Others use field recordings, samplers, and soft synths, all put through the wheels of various effects and cut-up techniques. Some of these pieces are wonderful; they exhibit coherent and inspiring sound worlds filled with rich textures and captivating sounds. For example, the harmonic drones which coast through the short piece “Landscape: still life with bug lamp” occupy an impressive dynamic. Also, the field recordings and vocal manipulations in “All of these things” form one of the strongest pieces on the CD. Others might feel a little fragmented in places (parts of “Cosmetic”, for example, feel a little crowded with ideas and transitions), but always with an impressive presence of carefully structured sounds. An ambitious collection that surely makes for difficult listening, but will also reward the careful listener. Nicely done.
Richard di Santo
Review of The Phonographers Union: Live on Sonarchy Radio from the All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com
More free-form and easy-flowing than musique concrte, much more concrete than experimental electronica, this music speaks to the mind and the soul, as some of these sounds are very familiar, but their combinations evoke surreal situations. Since there are too many details, too many events to possibly absorb and remember everything in one sitting, each listen provides a different experience. And even people usually closed to avant-garde music will be able to sense the poetry and the immediacy of this album. Highly recommended as a key statement in the development of “field recording” or “phonography” as a form of sound art.
Review of The Phonographers Union: Live on Sonarchy Radio from Grooves
Of the nine musicians involved with the Phonographers Union, I¹m onlyfamiliar with Christopher DeLaurenti, who¹s best known for his drifting darkambient work. This recording, however, has very little to do withDeLaurenti¹s usual music, though even with so many players involved, thislive radio session hardly sounds more cluttered than his sparse electronics.Instead, the sound field is lightly splattered with hints of guitar (bothlightly strummed or scraped to make a harsher creaking noise), sampled fieldrecordings, clattering percussion, and electronic tones. Apparently,everything comes from recordings, both manipulated and untouched, anensemble of record players and sound recorders speaking to one anotherthrough the voices and sounds of others. All of it combines in a driftingcollage that¹s surprisingly seamless and is also completely egoless – evenfor those familiar with all nine musicians, I doubt anyone could pick outindividual contributions from this sea of noises and gentle sounds. Voices harmonize delicately in the distant background, water rustleslightly over a country creekbed, and somewhere a cock crows good morningrepeatedly. This rustic impression is echoed in the rattling of metallicobjects and soft scrapes, evoking a farmer going about his daily chores.It all sounds very naturalistic, like eavesdropping on a private scenerather than listening to an improvised (and broadcast) performance. Thisgroup, more than most field recordists, seems particularly interested inusing recordings as a vehicle for improvisation. Rather than creating theirown sounds in real time to blend with the contributions of the others, thesemusicians are placing pre-recorded sounds into the constantly shiftingcontexts created by their peers. Each new addition subtly shifts theongoing dialogue, taking it to new places as the layers add up to a powerfuland cohesive whole.
Ed Howard, Grooves
Review of The Phonographers Union: Live on Sonarchy Radio from The Wire, http://thewire.co.uk/
“Presented in its entirety, their set on Sonarchy Radio, a weekly hour-long show devoted to new music…is a work of gentle concentration. The resultant interplay between the various ‘captures’ displays an agreeable subtlety and sensitivity in its shifts of focus and range. Impossible to reduce to any kind of linear development or narrative, it reveals a bustling acoustic realm existing just outside our senses that deserves to be attended to.“
Review of The Phonographers Union: Live on Sonarchy Radio from Electric Current, Ann Arbor http://www.ecurrent.com/art/musrev0604.php
The Phonographers UnionLive on Sonarchy RadioAccretions (2004)accretions.com, phonography.org In their natural habitat, sounds have a context. An atmosphere, a sonic landscape, and a relation to objects and events within a space. The Phonographers Union, nine “field recorders,” capture and reproduce these sounds, like a game of sonic catch-and-release.Live on Sonarchy Radio is a collection of this zoo, played back through laptops and minidiscs, without any effects or adornment. The result is captivating, evocative and surreal without being insistent or forced. Dripping water overlays Buddhist chanting along with dogs breathing and cocks crowing, spring peepers play against an Asian market, and drains burble under jet plane screams, all without any sense of intended meaning in the juxtapositions. There isn’t the sense that any of these environments are constructed by foley artists, and it’s mixed well enough to avoid the New Age white-noise label. These tracks become the subtlest suggestions of surrealist narratives, and are more interesting as background noise than as something to actively tune in. Divided into two parts (which are, in turn, made up of several tracks), Live on Sonarchy Radio moves slowly from more concrete and obviously musical noises (like the subway car chugging by) and into sounds that are less and less representational and more and more colored by their lack of context. Even words and conversations are both so distant and so incoherent as to turn into texture over meaning, giving the sense of being somewhere else without knowing where that is, exactly.
Review of The Phonographers Union: Live on Sonarchy Radio from Accretions, http://www.accretions.com
Every recording I’ve heard that Doug Haire was involved in brings new meaning to “different”. He& Marcos Fernandes (who is part of the Union) have captured an exquisitely revealing listen to the works of 9 field recordists. It is an amazing sonicj ourney, & improvised in the finest traditions of freedom. If you walked inon this bunch in th’ Jackstraw Studio, you probably wouldn’t have the foggiest as to what was going on… it’s when the collective sonicexperience hits your ears that you know you’ve been exposed to something that’s sonically “down under”. If you’re stuck in 3-chord listening mode, &have been forever, you probably won’t find much to attract you here, but if your mind knows that there is something more to listening than AM radio all day – GET THIS! I’ve been involved in a few such projects myself, but never on the grand scale that these folks approach, & the recording captures it flawlessly! This gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for people not afraid to listen to new adventures. VERY interesting.
Review of The Phonographers Union: Live on Sonarchy Radio from Butterfly Webzine, http://butterfly-zine.com/HTML%20Explorer/Phonographers-Union–Live-On-Sonarchy-Radio–N.htm
This review is in Greek! FYI. I’m only posting the link for that reason.
Review of The Phonographers Union: Live on Sonarchy Radio from Ragazzi, http://www.ragazzi-music.de/phonographer.html
And this one is in German.
Review of The Phonographers Union: Live on Sonarchy Radio from Metamorphic Journeyman, was at http://metajour.50megs.com/reviews/phonogra/sonarchy/review.htm but now apparently offline.
This collaboration / compilation consists of field recordings by folk whomay or may not be familiar to you – MARCOS FERNANDES, MARK GRISWOLD, STEVE BARSOTTI, CHRISTOPHER DeLAURENTI, ALEX KELLER, DALE LLOYD, PERRI LYNCH, ROBERT MILLIS and TOBY PADDOCK. Each piece is constructed from various found sound sources – mainly recorded in public places such as busy streets, parks, railway stations and open areas throbbing with the myriad goings on of everyday human activity. Some recording are more obscure – the ambient dullness of a dripping tap in an enclosed space, for instance. Nature also contributes, with birdsong and cicadas, juxtapositioned beside, or rather against, a more Industrial, mechanical sound. Many of the sounds here sound processed and manipulated, and there’s even trace elements of musical instruments at the opening end, although these sounds are mostly tuneless,forced into patterns whereby they might be mistaken for ‘composed’ or ‘deliberate’ by the contributors themselves. They add a fair bit of studio process to the tapes – treatments and enhancements without removing the bright essential life from them.So, does it work?Well, I’d say it’s kinda hit and miss, and while I enjoy the slice of sonic world they have captured and brought clinically into the walls of my home, I find that often it’s too random to really get the juices flowing, and as complicated and multilayered as they have made it, it’s probably as difficult to listen to as to compose (so many variables to make such a pure ambient music into what we nowadays perceive as ‘Ambient’)But when it does work, it can chill the air – disembodied voices small-talking about very little may not seem too strange when you happen upon them when walking down the street, but captured forever against an on-judgemental shifting background they are focused into something no longer innocent or instant – caught like holograms, moving so slightly, or frozen in, yet out of time, they become immortalised trivia, a momentary glimpse into the lives of the most dangerous creature on the planet. And when you hear the voices of children it always seems somehow they have, if not been robbed of their innocence, then certainly they have had it put outon public display. And the multilayering gives it an ever-changing sound -sometimes seeming like Industrial Ambience.This is DUCHAMP territory – found sounds are readymades, no matter how much work goes into cleaning them up. What these guys do, they do well, although approach with caution – it may not be to everyone’s taste.
Review of The Phonographers Union: Live on Sonarchy Radio from Signal to Noiseissue 35 Fall 2004, page 79
Live on Sonarchy Radio documents two long improvisations (divided into 8 tracks), when 8 members of the Seattle-based Phonographers Union got together with Marcos Fernandes; everyone whipped out their CD and mp3 players – plus one laptop – and threw down their found sounds. Doug Haire did an excellent job engineering the live mix: every sound source appears and disappears with finesse, allowing our listening mind to follow the conjunctive trail of ideas and sounds without any intrusions of hard, unbalanced signals. I love hearing so many people improvise using nothing but the best samples of what they’ve collected from the-world-as-it-exists-through-microphones. Sure, some of the sounds are things you can easily identify and would even be likely to suspect to crop up on a document like this – footsteps, kids in a park, birds, rain, etc. – but the force of this recording depends on the deft composite created by these kinds of sounds blended into a tapestry with more ambiguous! ones.Oscillating rhythms of grainy bug swarms, warped rubber gongs, someone’s dance class, matches striking, mothers chatting, saw blades sharpening, murmurs, luminous fly-zapping machines, basketball gymnasium confrontations, rural weather, carnival-barking church bell tolling toilet bowl gurgling train station dock rumbling: the stories are there if you’ve got the imagination to make them. Otherwise, the sounds themselves do a fine job affirming their powerful polysignificance in our lives.
Review of The Phonographers Union: Live on Sonarchy Radio from Q: The Ultimate Rock and Roll MagazineI haven’t actually seen this one; it was sent to me in an e-mail. Apparently we received three stars, the same as the (then) new Cure album.
The sound of the suburbs – quite literally.Somewhere between the jazz-rock experimentalism of Radiohead and the sort of art installations that so upset Daily Mail leader writers at Turner Prize time, you’ll find Seattle’s Phonographers Union. This album is a radio broadcast of a live mix made out of the nine-strong team’s MiniDisc and DAT field recordings. Rain pours down, a dog barks, a child’s crying is looped into a Public Enemy-style screaming motif: it has the quality of music, but is sounds like sitting in a park. One of them even claims to have recorded a tree singing. Such ludicrous ambition can only be admired.
Review of The Phonographers Union: Live on Sonarchy Radio from Vital Weekly
With a name such as The Phonographers Union, I am bound to think of theSonic Arts Union. In the sixties this was a group of composers who playedlive electronic music and included Robert Ashley, Gordon Mumma, Alvin Lucierand David Behrman. With The Phonographers Union I sort of see the samething: this large group of people, nine in total, all armed with theirmini-discs, CD players and even a laptop, plugging these into the mixingboard and making this giant sound collage of field recordings. The fieldrecordings are not in any way processed or altered, but just a little bit offiltering and EQ-ing. It seems to me that the majority of these people isinterested in the ‘social’ aspect of soundscaping. Apart from the beginning,where we hear animal calls, there is a great deal of people talking (thoughmost of the time not to be understood what they say) and other signs ofhuman activity. The sound is a bit dull at times, I must say as there aremany things happening at various levels all the time, but due to the bitmuddy mix it’s hard to make a good seperation. Maybe it would have been abetter idea (but probably not conceptually right) to put all nine players ona multi-track tape (computer) and do a sort of mix afterwards, thus bringingin sharper edges to the material and make it less of a continuos flow.Players include: Steve Barsotti, Christopher DeLaurenti, Marcos Fernandes,Mark Griswold, Alex Keller, Dale Lloyd, Perri Lynch, Robert Millis and TobyPaddock. Many of these people have solo recordings with field recordings, soif you like this (and despite my comments, there is no reason why youshouldn’t be interested in hearing this, since it’s not bad at all), a worldof field recordings will open up for you.
Review of Searching for the Inverse Square from Vital Weekly, week 12 number 415
Music from Meri von Kleinsmid and Alex Keller have been reviewed before (343 and 292 resp.) but those were solo projects. Here the two offer a CD of four concerts they recorded together, in which they loosely improvise with toys, radios and bent-circuits. Important however is that they are moving through the space in which they perform. The four recordings here are all done using a microphone (but I’m sure can never capture the event if you didn’t witness them). In the opening piece ‘Phar Lap’ they move about using a modified Texas Instruments ‘speak ‘n math’ and five toy parrots recording it while moving through the space. This is I think the best piece of the CD and would have loved to seen this live (maybe a DVD in the future). The other three tracks are twice as long as ‘Phar Lap’ and unfortunally can’t capture my attention through out. The distorted radio waves and amplified toys take a lot of time and do not necessarily go anywhere. Here the lack of visuals is most sad, because it would have made more sense.
Review of Searching for the Inverse Square from Igloo Magazine, http://www.igloomag.com/document.php?task=printview&id=694&category=reviews%5C%22
And they’re off with the familiar start for “Phar Lap.” Recorded live at Vital 5 Gallery in Seattle, musician/educator/curator Alex Keller and composer Meri von KleinSmid team up to create something eloquent and off-putting. By modifying electronic toys, these two have truly affected the sound effects of a racetrack circa 2010, when all live action will be replaced by free-form animation. With the radio dial spinning, a family is caught while playing hide-n-seek in and around a Seattle gas tank. These unintended collaborators make for a foil to the serious toll of AM radio preaching of illiteracy, AIDS and all things Driving Miss Daisy. DATs and mics gone wild! Actually, this is quite grounded, but the radio broadcasts do get to me, even as a creative AM (ab)user myself. But in these nineteen minutes the family’s laughter just winds through frugally as the echoes of the static frequencies serve as the base. I recommend that Keller and KleinSmid attend a Negativland show near them, they are “almost” there on this track, it just lacks the inherent humor in the tongue-in-cheek self-appointed authoritarian language of the media. More like a radio-thon, “The Best Station Is No Station” certainly makes it point self-evident. The knob-centric “Focused on the Conflict at Hand” finds them in the basement of a local Community College sampling the resident Ataris. So let the games begin as the track captures the tempo of excitement. It’s great to hear these old-fashioned gaming sounds, where you would certainly mistake them for perhaps the warp of say, a Theremin. “Message from Bunker 23” is aided in part by its outdoor surroundings with geese and other flying craft, mixed with found cassette starts and stops atop Magnuson Park in Seattle. The voiceovers discussing prostate cancer prevention and disease are contorted through crude physical manipulations. A dada threat is made loud, and unclear. In its ambiguity, the end result of “”Searching for the Inverse Square” is something that would make Kurt Schwitters smile a mile.
Review of Searching for the Inverse Square from Gaz-ETA, numer 33 – LIPIEC 2005 http://www.gaz-eta.vivo.pl/gaz-eta/recenzje/gazeta.php?nr=33&id=s_9
Humming. Hisses. Scratches. Radios cutting in and out. It’s all part and parcel of Meri von KleinSmid’s work. Some call it experimental brilliance. I’ll just state for the record that it’s simply stunning.
The duo of Alex Keller and Meri von KleinSmid is one that is equally quirky as it is wonderfully adventurous. ‘Searching for the inverse square’ is a compilation of sorts, bringing together some of the duo’s most recent works.
Most of their music is made with use of simple machines ’ DATs, condenser microphones, Minidisc, cassette players. The sounds on this disc are simply put eerie, and rightly so, having been recorded in basement and an old gas plant. My favourite piece is ‘Focused on the conflict at hand’, which turns out to be a calling card for old Atari game consoles. Both musicians use old Atari 1200 XL and 2600 systems as sources so we get a lot of blinks, oinks, pops and all around, this is just a fun piece. Another great experiment is ‘The best station is no station’, where two battery-operated radios are manipulated [basically, the dial is swung from right to left ’ as we hear short snippets of voices along with lots of static] and a family that just happened to be at the recording location [an old unused gas plant] plays hide-and-go-seek. Voices of various family members yelling at the top of their voices as they’re found are interspersed with the voices originating from the radios and at times you’re guessing, which is which.