Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Synth Britannia

October 28, 2009 Leave a comment

Since first seeing the trailer some months back I have to admit that I’d been very much looking forward to the BBC’s Synth Britannia documentary, which was shown recently.

Following on from the decade-spanning, multi-episode Folk Britannia and Dance Britannia documentaries, Synth Britannia set out with a much narrower remit – to chart the adoption of the synthesiser by a few Kraftwerk-savvy individuals through to the mainstream onslaught on the UK charts by “synth pop.” In other words, about 5 years in a single hour-and-a-half programme.

Split into 2 parts, I found the first to be fantastic. One thing that was portrayed very nicely, and that I hadn’t appreciated previously, was the isolation in which each band had been working, largely unaware of the others. Excellent use was made of period footage to drum home the point that the music was very much a sonic analogue for the architechtural brutalism inherited from the late 60s and early 70s – I don’t think I’ve heard the word “dystopian” used with such density before. In amongst the talking heads was a rare opportunity to meet Richard H Kirk, from Caberet Voltaire. Having not seen him in “real life” before my minds eye picture of him had been formed by listening to the stripped down bleep-funk he created as Sweet Exorcist. It was something of a minor shock to be greeted by an elder statesman of the Goth tradition!

After such an assured start, part 2 made a slighty less cohesive job of retelling how this new music spilled out from art schools and into the charts at large. The problem for the most part lay with the bouncing back and forth in time that the narrative took. With that said, all is forgiven once the archive footage is taken into account. As Depeche waxed lyrical about the hammers, steel and anvils used as sampling source material for their “Constuction Time Again” album, the footage told a different story as we watched Martin Gore roll a small pebble along the metal sill of a sliding door. Just lovely. The blanket omission of the term “New Romantic” had an almost Orwellian touch. Whilst I can fully appreciate the undesirable associations – Spandau Ballet anyone?! – it was undeniably something that happened, and made heavy use of both synths and pop.

As a bit of a synth boffin, there was always going to be as much appeal in seeing the artists in their studios as there was in hearing what they were saying. And in this regard Synth Britannia did not disappoint, unless you include Throbbing Gristle who, as far as I could tell, were interviewed in their kitchen. It would seem that you don’t count as a bone-fide ex-synth popper unless your studio contains at least a Moog IIIc modular and an example of each model in the Korg MS series! With the odd small editorial oversight aside (Chris Carter posing in front of a Roland System 100M in one shot, then declaring in the next that Throbbing Gristle didn’t use “Roland stuff”) the programme was refreshly accurate in the technology department. my only disappointment was that Vince Clarke’s appearance on the BBC’s Rock School series wasn’t included. Here it is via YouTube:

So, all in all an excellent programme that lived up to expectations – you don’t get too many of them to the pound!

Categories: Music, Reviews, Synthesizers

Warp20 Box Set – Part 2

September 30, 2009 2 comments

Part 1 of my look at the Warp20 box set can be read here.

Since part 1 went online, I note that Hard Format has given his copy the once over and produced some very nice images that make my efforts look supremely amatuerish. Whilst not as luxuriant in the photo department, Gutterbreakz has also produced a post documenting the arrival of his copy. And yesterday, The Quietus went live with the strangest of reviews.

With the (Recreated) collection largely digested, it’s time to take on the (Unheard) series. Spread across 3 10″s, each housed in a heavy card sleeve with embossed text, they really are quite the objects.

Boards Of Canada begin the proceedings with Seven Forty Seven. As any self respecting Boards Of Canada boffin knows, Seven Forty Seven isn’t actually “unheard,” as such, having originally made an appearance on a short lived incarnation of BoC’s website (archived here) some years ago. Non-exclusivity aside, it’s fantastic to not only be able to hear the piece uncompressed, but also to own it on vinyl.

Favourites of this writer, Autechre, contribute a single track to the package, taking up the majority of side B. The familiar sound of a TR606 and Juno106 immediately betray this as being from the Incunabula period. A quick peek at the small print confirms this with publishing rights for the track dated at 1991. Listening to Oval Moon, one can hear why it wasn’t included on the first album as it’s cut from a different cloth entirely concerning itself more with groove than the so-called ‘artificial intelligence’ that personified Warp’s output of that time.  What’s interesting though, is how much kinder the passage of time has been to Oval Moon than to other Autechre tracks from the same period. Whether this is down to the mastering process that the track would’ve been subjected to for this compilation, or that the IBC Mix subtitle infers that the piece has been the recipient of some more recent tinkering is difficult to tell.

Unfortunately, with the first 10″ done and dusted, there are no more blockbuster surprises to be had on the remaining two. And the definition of (Unheard) continues to be stretched. Two contributions each from Nightmares On Wax and Plaid are joined by a token track from Elektroids, an uncharacteristic turn from Flying Lotus, and solid tracks from both Broadcast and Seefeel.

Whilst I’ve always been a big fan of Nightmares On Wax’s Biofeedback, I’m not sure that the Dub version included here is either better or different enough to warrant inclusion. The second track from Nightmares On Wax, Mega Donutz Dub, from the same era, was an abomination in the first place and is not helped in any way by the Dub treatment! Both tracks from Plaid exhibit the usual Plaid trait, a bit dull to begin with, build to a luscious cresendo, and forgettable once the track has finished.

Finally, things pick up on the last side of the last disc. The sound of Broadcast is one that I can listen to over and over and Sixty Forty is no exception. Pretty much the same goes for Seefeel, whose Succour album I often find myself returning to. I’m looking forward to hearing the new Seefeel material that’s rumoured to be in the pipeline.

With all 3 10″s devoured, I have to admit that I’m left with 1 big question on my mind – where’d the contribution from Aphex Twin get to? Is it really possible that a chap who boasts in nearly every interview about how big his mountain of unreleased material is was unable to locate a single DAT from the stock pile? Similarly, Squarepusher is also notable by his absence. Perhaps less Plaid and Nightmares On Wax might have made these additional inclusions possible?

Categories: Music, Reviews

Thomas Köner – La Barca

September 28, 2009 Leave a comment

Thomas Köner - La Barca

I’ve had this album for a couple of weeks now and I like it. I like it a lot in fact. I picked it up when it was listed as “Album Of The Week” at Boomkat (what album isn’t listed as an AOTW at the ever-effusive Boomkat?!) As I hadn’t seen much mention of the album in my online travels I thought I’d give it a review here.

For those unfamiliar with the name, Thomas Köner comes with great provenance having formed made up one half of Porter Ricks, a mainstay of Berlin’s Chain Reaction label, in the mid to late nineties. Other than a similar sense for both density and space, there is little about La Barca that betrays this DNA.

I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been listening to Brian Eno’s “Ambient 4: On Land” alot, but I’ve been hearing its influence all over music I’ve buying of late. For the most part this probably comes down to the current vogue for combing field recordings and treated acoustic instruments. La Barca is quite the case in point.

Thomas Köner - La Barca

Each of the 12 tracks is named for a GPS coordinate, which seems somehow spurious given that each recording wears its location on its sleeve by virtue of the inclusion of, and focus on, the human voice. The inclusion of the coordinate in the title of each piece actually further reinforces that this CD documents how we speak and how our location and environment affect not only how we sound but also what we hear. I was unable to resist looking up the location for a few of the track titles and can confirm that the recording locations correlate to the GPS coordinates! For all this locational tomfoolery one thing is certain – I am massively envious of Mr Köner’s travel itinerary.

Where La Barca really shines is in the interplay between the field recordings and instrumentation. Unlike similar experiments in this area, you don’t feel as if you’re listening to a collision of two disparate sound worlds. The field recordings flow in and out of the mix amidst a sea of reverb, whilst a bed of melancholic, suspended strings is never far away, knitting togther the whole. Occasionally, your ears are pricked as Köner takes an element of the natural world and subverts it with postprocessing. Then there’s the bass. This album has a lot of bass and that’s a good thing.

The bad news is that the album is limited to just 600 copies so snagging a copy may prove difficult. I wish you luck.

Categories: Music, Reviews

Warp20 Box Set – Part 1

September 26, 2009 1 comment

So, it’s finally arrived. The Warp20 box set.

As I was unpacking it the first question from my step daughter didn’t concern what this marvelous object was, or how it had come to be in our house. No. She wanted to know how much it cost. To which I mumbled “about eighty pounds,” rounding the actual price down and failing to include postage. Things are a bit topsy turvy in our household.


To the beast itself. The first thing you noticed upon picking it up is the sheer heft. Somehow appropriate, though, when you consider the weight of legacy Warp have created over the last 20 years. So what do you get for your, cough, eighty pounds? There’s 5 CDs covering the (Elemental), (Chosen) and (Recreated) compilations; 5 10″s, of which 2 contain lock grooves and 3 contain unreleased material from the vaults of Warp Towers; and, finally, a 192 page book containing the cover art of every release on the label.


With the initial examination complete I immediately plumped for the (Recreated) set, which reprises the concept initially laid out in the 10+3 Remixes compilation that formed part of Warp’s tenth anniversary. The idea being that Warp (and related) artists chose a track from Warp’s sizable back catalogue and remix it.

Things get off to a bad start on the first disc with Born Ruffians making an attempt to combine Aphex Twin’s Milkman and To Cure A Weakling Child. Sadly, the childish humour of the original is lost due to a lyrical omission – it is not the milkman’s wife’s tits, per se, that are funny but more the fact that RDJ would like to drink milk from them! Jimi Tenor reprises his role as a 10+3 highlight with his rework of Japanese Electronics by Elektroids, which goes someway to making up for Born Ruffians. I can only assume that Maximo Park’s contribution is intended as a joke? With Born Ruffians and Maximo Park out of the way, Disc 1 is left free to continue unhindered. To my ears, Autechre, Luke Vibert and the lullaby-glitch of Guillermo Scott Herren’s Diamond Watch Wrists deliver the real gems.


After Mark Pritchard’s almost reverent reinterpretation of 3/4 Heart at the start of disc 2, the time comes for Mira Calix, with the help of Oliver Coates, to return the favour that Boards Of Canada did for her all those years ago when they remixed Pin Skeeling. Her string and field recording laden interpretation of In A Beautiful Place In The Country is very special. I’m still not sure if I’ve forgiven Bibio for turning his back on the guitar-driven tape-tronica that he created prior to signing with Warp, so I’m reserving judgement on his recreation of Kaini Industries by Boards Of Canada for the time being….Oh go on then. It’s excellent! Leila chooses to take on the hyper kinetic drill and bass of Aphex Twin’s Vordhosbn using only an acoustic piano, in some ways echoing the solo piano pieces that featured in the hosting album, Druqks. Disc 2 closes with the welcome return of Seefeel, sadly minus the voice of original member Sarah Peacock, but sounding good nonetheless.

Part 2 to follow….

Categories: Music, Reviews