Monday, 23 August 2021

JAMES BLAKE — LIFE IS NOT THE SAME


"I wore your favourite clothes / I said the things you'd say" — the lines in James Blake's elegaic 'Life Is Not The Same' are elegant in their simplicity, evoking the everyday remembrances that sting when someone leaves. To a metronomic beat, ticking insistently as time tends to when it means the most, Blake spins his tale of woe, centred around the chorus, the central question: "So if you loved me so much, why'd you go?" Fair logic.

With co-production from Take a Daytrip, ensuring those glitching intricacies in the beat, the crashing waves (and sharing on writing duties), Blake's voice — by turns splashed with clarity or drenched with reverb or pitch-shifted — layers on itself like a feedback loop of longing: "Life is not same when you're miles if we're miles away." As his music has shown over the years, James Blake has a knack for detail and dynamic, and 'Life Is Not The Same' is another in a long line of this minimalist-meets-massive sound.



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Friday, 20 August 2021

[PREMIERE] MARCUS HERNE — FORMS


"I have always been fascinated by evolution," says UK-based composer Marcus Herne, and it certainly shows. 'Forms' is a track that begins as practically nothing — whispering wind with glimmers of sound like dappled light — and evolves into something momentous.

What starts as ambient haze, this fragile, pastoral scene with shimmering synthetic birdsong (almost) gradually grows into something more complex and nuanced. A twinkle of piano here, a croon of cello there; analogue synths tumble in from the distance, falling like angular rain, a hail of colorful, textured static. Finally 'Forms' gallops into life.

It's an apt title, as each formless element entering into earshot is sculpted into something recognisable — that rainy synth, for example, rolls into a galloping frenzy of melody. It also refers to the interplay of organic and artificial sounds, something that Herne is eager to blur the lines between: "My sound lives somewhere in the expanded middle," he says.


  • 🔔 'Forms' is taken from Marcus Herne's Forms EP, which is out today. Listen to it over on Spotify.

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Tuesday, 10 August 2021

EXP001: TOP GEAR — BARRY LEITCH

Box art for Top Gear for SNES

This interview with Barry Leitch, composer behind dozens of games including Top Gear, is the inaugural feature in our EXP series, showcasing the stories behind some of the world's most iconic and interesting video game soundtracks

Top Gear was one of the first racing games to appear on the SNES in 1992. It was also one of the best racing games for the nascent console. Fans of the game often cite its simplicity: choose a car (some are faster than others); what country you want to represent; automatic or manual; and away you go.

And, though probably true for any two-dimensional racers, the way the cars whipped and screeched around corners — while in reality they were stationary in the middle of the screen — was exhilarating. It was transportive, too, whisking young gamers to places they’d barely heard of let alone visited — Bordeaux, Hiroshima, Stockholm — with the help of neat scrolling backgrounds.

But Top Gear fans also cite its music. Combining rock sensibilities with breakneck Europop, the soundtrack featured driving rhythms (no pun intended), with pulsing drums, juddering low slung bass and leads that spun sparkling, simple melodies — as well as some famously glittering arpeggios — Top Gear sounded good. Really good.


"It was decided that I would spend the week either sleeping in the office, or on some programmer’s living room floor"

Top Gear was developed by Gremlin Graphics, a now defunct studio then based in Sheffield, U.K. The game's musical maestro was Barry Leitch. Born and raised in Strathaven, a “nice wee town… full of the usual Scottish influences” just outside Glasgow, Leitch, 51, cites video games as an early creative outlet.

“Me and some of my friends who got computers around the same time simply embraced them,” he says. “I sold my first game soundtrack when I was 15 years old, just shy of my 16th birthday. That was 35 years ago.”

Seven years later, Leitch began working on Top Gear.

Was there a brief? “Fuck no! ‘Gremlin are doing a driving game, can you go down and do the music for it’ — that was the brief,” he says, adding that he had no real idea about the tracks or locations that would be involved in the game. Levels were still being made at the time Leitch joined the team.

Far from any luxurious studio endeavour, creating the music for Top Gear sounds like a much more rock-and-roll experience for the game development world.

“Gremlin were about an hour away from where I worked in Dewsbury, too far for public transport, and I was too poor to own car,” Leitch says. “So it was arranged for me to be delivered to Gremlin, and that I would spend the week either sleeping in the office, or on some programmer’s living room floor.”

In this Sheffield base, he acquainted himself with what he had to work with. The development manual was in Japanese, but one of the programmers found a source code file for the music, which Leitch started “messing around with.”

“I put in an arpeggio for my favourite chord progression (the one in the Vegas piece), just an arpeggio going up and down to test how many octaves I had, how things sounded etc. Just making sure shit worked,” he continues.

“I found the echo command [which was] amazing!” he says. “I set it to maximum and it sounded glorious.” But there were limits to the technology at the time: the echo was using all the memory, and there would literally be no game with the echo set so high. Leitch settled with minimum. “It sounded ok…” he recalls.


"I wrote a few soundtracks for games where you have to kill everyone, but it takes a personal toll. There is no upside to shooting games: It's all just death"

Aside from the new technology in synthesising music, constraints in the number of channels that could be used at any one time led to innovation in composition. The title theme, for instance, features a lead arpeggio with a secondary arpeggio playing between the gaps; what with the short notes and additional arpeggios of the bassline, the drums and lead melodies, it feels more like five or six channels, not just four. “Electronica always sounds great on sound chips that use wavetable,” Leitch notes.

Nintendo DSP-1 chip was the most widely used of all the SNES DSPs
That glittering, echo-heavy sound, prevalent throughout the Top Gear soundtrack, was quite groundbreaking at the time. “It was the first sound chip to have a built-in DSP (Digital Signal Processing) effect like this, and I totally dug it,” Leitch notes.

After the arpeggio, he extended the melody, adding drums, bassline, and more arpeggios. “By that time it was Tuesday afternoon.” He'd arrived on Monday, and that was one track.

The sheer reality of having to spend so long not only composing music, but also programming it, meant Leitch would have been spending more than a week crashing at the Gremlin Graphics. The solution was to recycle some of his previously written music.

Leitch grabbed pieces he’d composed for Lotus Turbo Challenge 1 and 2, both for the Amiga, and essentially remixed them, taking the choppy, somewhat harsh and staccato sounds of the Amiga soundtracks into the more glimmering aesthetics of Top Gear. The Top Gear title theme, for example, is the Lotus 2 completion music but remade with new, better hardware.

“I got finished in time to go home on Friday.”

The legacy of Top Gear continues today. It could be down to the gameplay, but key to any visual or motor memory is audio. It could also be down to the genre of the game itself, which is one that Leitch can get on board with.

“I like writing music for racing games,” he says. “I like a lot of powerful and energetic music, that whole melodramatic edge to things, I love that stuff, so writing a bunch of tunes that make it sound like you could win the championship any second, or go straight into a tree at 200mph is a lot of fun.”

Shooters — less so. “I wrote some game soundtracks [for games] where you had to kill everyone, and it takes a personal toll on you, because the outcome is always the same,” he says. “[You’re] killing everyone. There is no upside to that: It’s all just death.”

Specifically, Top Gear enjoys a large fanbase across South America, in particular Brazil. Leitch puts it down to price: “When the first PlayStation was released, it must have been too expensive for these markets, and as such the SNES had an extended lifespan,” he says.

The popularity and renown of Top Gear in the region has seen the game spiritually remade in the form of Horizon Chase Turbo (2018), by Brazilian developers Aquiris Game Studios, again with Leitch on music-making duties; he’s also given talks in Brazil, at Feevale University, Novo Hamburgo, to name one venue.

Being a game that’s almost 30 years old now, memories of Top Gear for many people — whether they’re from Sao Paulo, San Francisco or Surrey — come complete with nostalgia.

“You have no idea how many times people have told me heartwarming stories about how they used to play TG with their brothers, their fathers, their sisters, their mothers while they were growing up,” Leitch says.

“Those melodies have become theirs now, and when they hear them, it instantly transports them back to that time.

“It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of that.”

EXP is an interview feature series dedicated to sharing the stories behind some of the world's most iconic and interesting video game soundtracks, and showcasing the composers who created them.

| EXP000 ← |   | EXP001 |   | → EXP002 |
Brazilian-developed Horizon Chase Turbo is the spiritual successor to Top Gear

  • 🔔 For a split of reworked tracks taken from both Top Gear and Horizon Chase, head over to Barry Leitch's Bandcamp.

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Wednesday, 4 August 2021

INWARDS — RAINDROPS


Highlighting negative with glossy, unobtrusive columns of bass, Inwards aka Kristian Shelley throws handfuls of sparkling synth into the air — clean clusters of beeps, tracts of phasing fizz — for his latest track ‘Raindrops’. Throughout, amorphous vocal samples snap like elastic, burst with watery clarity, matching the track’s title.

Though lacking its techno thump, ‘Raindrops’ recalls the freestyling antics of the synth at work in the Chao Lobby theme from Sonic Adventure 2: Battle. Perhaps it’s that carefree reminiscence, or maybe it’s the sheer cartwheeling joy involved in Shelley’s soundscape, but ‘Raindrops’ is like a sonic expression of innocence.

The warm bass envelops you, the vocal samples and synth spin like toys, the percussion hopscotches along like a clapping game, then there’s that nostalgic 8-bit element. Shelley's track inches very close to being a small portal opened on an idealised, pixel art remix of your childhood home; yet at its core yawns a bristling void of detachment, an inane world-weariness.



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Sunday, 1 August 2021

PICTUREPLANE — AVALANCHE


There’s a cocktail of influences at work in ‘Avalanche’ by Pictureplane (aka Travis Egedy), a track as hefty as its title suggests. But aside from the macrocosmic weight of Egedy’s music — the crunchy synths, the industrial-strength drums, the clusters of metallic breakbeats — there is the microcosm of the avalanche beyond the shattered pines: the close-up of soft snow. Here be bright synth, hushed waves of ambience.

This creative contrast is an apt soundscape for tale of love and loss spun by the lyrics, sung in a caressing, guttaral whisper. These also give an easter egg-esque hint to influences at work on Egedy: “I’ve been in the garage again / listening to dungeon synth”. Accordingly, while the bridge features crushing wobbles of distortion, there is a mythic flavour, a fantastical element, infused in the music. It’s an avalanche alright, but it may not have even happened in this dimension.


  • 🔔 'Avalanche' is the opening track from Pictureplane's latest album DOPAMINE, which is out now on 100% Electronica. You may stream or purchase it on Bandcamp, if you like.

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WATARU SATO — FADING SPACES


Taking cues from Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds — and studying under Lubomyr Melnyk — ‘Fading Spaces’ by pianist Wataru Sato is inextricably gentle. It begins with meandering touches of the keys, the spaces between poised like unformed thoughts, before a voidsome chasm opens up into the heroic ostinato at the heart of ‘Fading Spaces’.

This spiralling melody is the form to the track’s introductory formlessness, and is marvellous in its ambivalence — it reaches to optimism, but remains a hair’s breadth from it, almost descends to despair, but lifts off before it falters. There are options here, different pathways as if nothing is finite.

With an exploratory volta in the middle that sees bright variations tumble out from Sato’s fingers, a fervent flash of possibility, the piece purposefully, heavily returns to where it began, a vista of decisions ahead.


  • 🔔 ‘Fading Spaces’ is taken from Sato’s Spaces EP, out now on fledging label 1magine (part of the Disk Union family). You may purchase and/or stream it from a variety of places.

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JODÖVADE — IT’S NOT IGNORING YOU IF I TURN MY PHONE OFF


Behind the eminently evocative title of this track, Jodövade (aka Jodie Primadonna) conjures more than the simple action of deliberate social denial. The world of ‘It’s Not Ignoring You If I Turn My Phone Off’ is expansive and glacial, the bass boom providing a gloopsome contrast to the playful mundanity of the modular synth chords and melody, padding like phantomatic footsteps throughout; the wibbling, wordless vocal chops like unheeded words of someone you wish not to heed. (Why do any of us turn our phones off, right?)

An additional clatter of beats and the angularity of those synths give Jodövade’s track an excavatory feel, the twist and turn of cavernous corridors — the sonic shoulds and coulds of life.



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Saturday, 31 July 2021

TSUNDERE TWINTAILS — HAPPY WEDNESDAY


Part inescapable groove, part pastel playground, ‘happy wednesday’ by apparent composer of “comfort synth” tsundere twintails is a tumble through an upbeat world washed with cute video game sensibilities. The organic beat rattles and thuds alongside FM bass, bold and booming as the backdrop to the soft and colourful gloss of glassy keys.

The whole track is characterised by small noises, giving the perspective that somehow it is smaller than other sounds: a car going by, shutting the fridge door, K-pop. Accordingly, synths like virtuoso birdsong swaying into the air, and scattered vocal chops wobble and snap, adding humanoid minutiae to proceedings.

In an interview with Real Simple, forensic psychiatrist Varun Choudhary said: "Subconsciously, we positively associate tiny objects with the security and comfort they brought us in an earlier time in our lives.” Does the same go for small noises? If so, well, then this really is comfort synth.



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ROGER LINDAHL — SEASONS IN THE MESOPELAGIC


The mesopelagic zone begins at a point deep in the ocean where only 1% of light filters through, and ends where there is no light. The prospect of such a place is terrifying — the pressure, the darkness, the blobfish — which is why Swiss artist Roger Lindahl’s exploration of it is all the better.

Rather than submerge listeners in these baleful depths, Lindahl’s ‘Seasons in the Mesopelagic’ is a natural history museum in miniature; an indistinct, four-note bass keeps things civic, like the calculating eyes of gallery-goers, while before them floats an adumbral ambient symphony.

Slow, bubbling, and splashed with a harsh yet hazy wash of sound, the sweeping soundscape from Lindahl’s submersible is superb.


  • 🔔 'Seasons in the Mesopelagic' by Roger Lindahl is the inaugural release of Unmade Records, the new sub-label of Zurich’s Red Brick Chapel. You can stream and/or purchase it on Bandcamp.
  • 🔔 Roger Lindahl is actually the alter-ego of Florian Schneider — part Jacques Cousteau, part Brion Gysin, and named after a character in Philip K. Dick’s Puttering About in a Small Land (1957).

    "I first started thinking about the [upcoming album] Pacific Dream Machine around 1954 as a device to induce a hypnagogic state when listening with your eyes closed by stimulating the alpha waves in the brain. The first tests on tape were promising, so I hope it helps you too," says Lindahl.


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MAGNETIC VINES — MAGNETIC VINES


⌾ LISTEN TO MAGNETIC VINES BY MAGNETIC VINES ⌾

Billing itself as “a soundtrack for tending rooftop gardens by moonlight”, Magnetic Vines’ eponymous release is a selection of essentially relaxing soundscapes. Many of the tracks have evocative titles; for example, there’s ‘Vines and Old Concrete’, ‘Night Bloom’ and ‘Quiet Old Shipwreck’, all of which feature age-warped acoustic guitar, plucked as if from a bygone time and space entirely.

Particularly interesting are the pieces forming the second half of the album; four tracks titled ‘Cyanotype’ and four named ‘Constellation’, ordered by key like an etude or a prelude. While the later Constellations are expansive and magnetic, the Cyanotypes — named after the blue-hued photographic printing process — are melancholic, inward looking, and range from space-filled and poignant (‘Cyanotype in G# minor’) to starkly ambient (‘Cyanotype in Eb minor’), with a warm nocturne in the form of the finale in C major.

Overall, the tones and textures of its Mediterranean-flavoured guitars, crooning brass, cradling harmonicas and subtle synthwork are perfectly paired with album’s core value: imagination. Magnetic Vines in its entirety is a wash of soft clarity, like holding an old book in your hands for the first time, or as its concept suggests, tending to the new sprouting leaves on familiar shrubs — all bathed in moonlight, of course.



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Friday, 30 July 2021

FIVEIGHTHIRTEEN — SOME QUESTIONS ARE ANSWERS


Pulsing to the velcro snap of hip-hop infused drums, yawning ambient synths roar at the base of fiveighthirteen’s ‘some questions are answers’. But being the chimeric track it is, there’s more to it than that. It’s a mix of sensitive drones and legible grooves, an urgent, infiltrative bassline, a shuffling math rock spirit, with an indefinable synth melody played in soft, mythic sweeps.

The bass becomes distorted, rampaging in a steady gallop in the track’s most propulsive parts, with officious vocal samples (reminiscent of Public Service Broadcasting) topping it off like a psychedelic trip through archival ruins centuries from now.


  • 🔔 'some questions are answers' is taken from fiveighthirteen's upcoming album a fever of rays due out on 13th August.

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EMMA JOHNSON'S GRAVY BOAT — SUN STONES

Emma Johnson's Gravy Boat — Worry Not

⌾ LISTEN TO SUN STONES BY EMMA JOHNSON'S GRAVY BOAT ⌾

If there was ever a fitting title for an album, Worry Not is one. You can thank jazz outfit Emma Johnson’s Gravy Boat for that. It’s on this collection of tracks is where you’ll find ‘Sun Stones’, a joyful piece that flits between boundless energy amid ozone skies, and the drugged, tender haze of an afternoon alcoholic beverage.

Angular, minimalist riffs persist in a storm of skittering drums, while Emma Johnson, the Leeds-based bandleader and saxophonist, brings a wakeful dreaminess to proceedings, swaddled in waves of piano like scudding clouds. Bubblingly bookended by clusters of kinetic ostinato, and with this floating core of calm, ‘Sun Stones’ feels like a reflective yet escapist soundtrack for these times.


  • 🔔 'Sun Stones' is taken from Worry Not, the debut album from jazz quintent Emma Johnson's Gravy Boat. You may purchase it or just steam it over on Bandcamp.

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Saturday, 5 June 2021

ÆGIR — LOOK AT PRETTY THINGS


To hear something from Iceland that isn’t solely gently electronic or obviously introspective is a huge gulp of fresh air. ‘Look At Pretty Things’ begins with a mesmeric fumble through tracts of bubbling synth, an oscillating hot tub of thick relaxation, but this serves to lull your ears into a state of malleability.

For Icelandic musicmaker Ægir, clearly this is the ideal ground on which plant his bumper crop of barrelling breakbeats. These come into earshot like a mob of metallic beetles — the snarling snap of snares slapping the air while the kick drum thunders and quakes.

Ægir’s background as a hardcore drummer gives the percussion a living-and-breathing feel; the sense of direction in the beat, despite its speed, is expertly crafted. Overall, ‘Look At Pretty Things’ is a cross between an alien abduction and a sweaty basement gig: weird, but 100% worth it.



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Wednesday, 2 June 2021

ÜUCE — GURU-GURU’S WINDMILL WALTZ


Capturing the melancholic mood in which Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes are mired (particularly recalling Gnossienne No. 1), American musicmaker ÜUCE has reworked the Song of Storms — aka the Windmill Hut theme — from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (and Majora’s Mask).

ÜUCE expands on the original, accenting it with shivering sweeps of the keyboard, adding clinking percussion, straining strings and a foundation of mythic drone. The original is synonymous with Guru-Guru, a character from both games, whose sudden angry face must be etched in the minds of all who saw it; accordingly, the fragile atmosphere of ‘Guru-Guru’s Windmill Waltz’ pries open the polygons and takes a look inside the fraught mind of this unhinged character.



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Wednesday, 26 May 2021

POSTCARDS — HOME IS SO SAD

⌾ LISTEN TO HOME IS SO SAD BY POSTCARDS ⌾

The mesh of distortion and fuzz that lies over this track by Beirut-based band Postcards creates a fitting aesthetic for its title: 'Home is so Sad'. It's the refrain that runs through the track, voiced by lead singer Julia Sabra like a mantra with descending notes — sadness far removed by time, but present and watchful. A simple melody plays with timeworn wheeze; keeping time are an insistent barrage of decayed drums, regular and metronomic but sometimes (and fittingly) accented to create arrhythmic chaos.

The sound is rooted in real life. The song was one of three the band wrote following the devastating 2020 Beirut explosion, and features poignant lyrics that juxtapose the everyday experiences of the city, of the eponynous "home", with the very un-everyday catastrophic event itself:

"Glass in our coffee / Towels on trees [...]
Soil splattered on the walls like drops of blood."

Completing a considered, slow-motion and dreamlike balance of soft and harsh — sunk in sadness but with the swell and crash of trauama — a guitar wheels like a portent of doom into the scene. Notes screech and clash, buzzing and grinding to and fro with shoegaze grit, while somewhere in the background a light, electronic cloud of sound floats by, like a thought bubble — an ever-present vehicle for visceral memories.



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Monday, 24 May 2021

GRALITSA — MORNING BUSTLE IN THE HOUSE OF INTELLIGENT PEOPLE


What a wonderful noise this is. It’s a frenetic collection of objects thrown together, a series of chaotic collisions, unidentifiable percussion and cartoonish sound effects, that gives Gralitsa’s track its spark. Titled ‘Morning Bustle In The House Of Intelligent People’ (as if that wasn’t enough), this truly is the horror of waking to last night’s detritus, the morning routines, pouring cereal into bowls.

Like a sort of Dadaist folk song, it’s a soundtrack of all the switches and buttons we press, the doors and compartments we open and close, all little noises we make on our way to working our way out of the door, and how we deal with that. A semblance of calm composure wavers behind in the form of wobbling synths, and finally the day begins: chords reverberate out of earshot, resonating onto the street.


  • 🔔 Gralitsa’s ‘Morning Bustle In The House Of Intelligent People’ is taken from their album Little Mosquitos Are Sleeping This Night. Stream and purchase it on Bandcamp.

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Thursday, 20 May 2021

MATTHIAS GUSSET — FAREWELL


The organ is the original drone and ambient instrument from way back when, let’s be honest. It’s a wonder that it isn’t used in more tracks, as Matthias Gusset has expertly employed it in ‘Farewell’. The track’s chord progression is simple enough, a switching oscillation between two chords, then another, in cyclical rotation from start to finish. This provides a soft backdrop, dim lighting, for the emotive action that follows.

Melodies rise up from the bright drone of ‘Farewell’, at first like birdsong, or the dappled light of the sun twinkling on bough-shaded paths, and then in more prominent, layered stretches, calling out from the grove and its summer flowers and its butterflies a warm, pastoral goodbye.


  • 🔔 Taken from Matthias Gusset’s Inbetween Birdsongs, out now on Radicalis, which you can purchase and/or listen to on his Bandcamp.

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Friday, 30 April 2021

TAMON TAKAHASHI — GHOST OF PROW


⌾ LISTEN TO GHOST OF PROW BY TAMON TAKAHASHI ⌾

There’s a richness to the soundscape at work in Tamon Takahashi’s ‘Ghost of Prow’. A swaying sweep of guitar floats through like the slow swell of the sea, paired with brass that peals and tapers with a stoic lilt — a sombre contrast to the evocative guitar solo that ends the piece. The vocals in the Hokkaido-based artist’s track are a hefty pairing of voices that add organic texture to proceedings, the bass smooth and crooning beneath it all.

Ultimately, with its pendulum-esque rhythm, and lavish, illuminated textures, the bittersweet charm of ‘Ghost of Prow’ illustrates the doomful passing of time with a world-weary sparkle.


  • 🔔 Listen to more from Tamon Takahashi over on his Spotify.

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ODALIE — LES HYBRES


A robust pizzicato arpeggio picks its way through the aching air of ‘Les Hybres’, a hybrid track by French musicmaker Odalie. Urgency arrives as ticking modular synth chimes in like a clock ticking too quickly through the seconds, the bow now drawing across the strings and giving an extra richness to the track.

It’s not just this difference in organic sounds though, but the subsequent evolution of the track as the synthesiser grows into a many limbed beast, a creature of plasma that tumbles and twists as the cello strains and scratches below. Human and machine, soft and harsh, ‘Les Hybres’ is the exploration of biomechanical creativity.



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Wednesday, 28 April 2021

CRYSTAL — PHANTOM GIZMO

CRYSTAL — Reflection Overdrive

⌾ LISTEN PHANTOM GIZMO BY CRYSTAL ⌾

CRYSTAL’s music always feels a little bit like constructivist art: A red triangle here, a blue square there, a black squiggle or two, all set in arrangements of bold, jagged simplicity. Accordingly, that’s how ‘Phantom Gizmo’ erupts into view, unfolding rapidly with staccato orchestra hits like a transforming robot. A collage of beats like crazy scaffolding waltzes throughout; MIDI bass (composed by Stephen Bruner, aka Thundercat) pops and gallops.

But the Tokyo-based duo (Sunao Maruyama and Ryota Miyake) elevate the track into something more than its vital foundations. Though synth stutters and the heavily vocodered vocals keep some parts lively and minimalist, other sections of ‘Phantom Gizmo’ seem to soar into the sky, the blocky buildings of the bass and beat immersed in pastel fog and indistinct video game visions. Cue virtuoso leads wiggling into through the soft-yet-hard space of the song with all the joy of an artist’s paintbrush.



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Tuesday, 27 April 2021

KIWOKUZA — 茶摘み


⌾ LISTEN TO 茶摘み BY KIWOKUZA ⌾

A tumble of beats gallops at the heart of ‘茶摘み’ (Chatsumi; “tea picking”) by Tokyo troupe Kiwokuza. This kinetic foundation is perfectly complemented with a collage of synth: ebbing, electric chords, bouncing mid-level pops, rapid-firing trickling synth, soft melodies. The vocals also play a part in the track’s forward motion, wordless syllables keeping syncopated time.

But the vocals, or rather the lyrics, play a deeper part than their role in the rhythm section; as with many of Kiwokuza’s songs, ‘Chatsumi’ is a reworking of a folk song of the same name, bringing the unknown composition squarely into the modern day.



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Friday, 23 April 2021

LUCRECIA DALT — COSA

Ryuichi Sakamoto, Visible Cloaks, Lucrecia Dalt et al. — PRSNT

⌾ LISTEN TO COSA BY LUCRECIA DALT ⌾

It may only be 32 seconds in duration, but ‘cosa’ by Berlin-based Colombian producer Lucrecia Dalt is a dense piece of music. The distant hum of a machine growls in the background, something continuously and secretly working — calculating, processing. The ambient fuzz of this hidden room gives Dalt’s micro-song a voyeuristic, or more correctly entendeuristic quality of listening to something obtained from a concealed recording device.

Knowing that the album from which 'cosa' is taken aims to be "a reflection of how we consume as a society today," the rasping sounds and wheezing organicity of it take on a more foreboding air. It's a chilling thought: the wonder, or worry, of exactly what it is you're streaming, liking and sharing.

Biomechanical insectoid clicking and fizzing constitutes a slow beat, synthetic but gruesomely organic; twice, like a dynamic cymbal, a screeching sound whips the air. A start-up sound gleams at the end — as if the tape were turned off at some crucial moment, or the recording device were discovered — and voices disjointedly murmur.


  • 🔔 Lucrecia Dalt's track 'cosa' is taken from the collaborative album PRSNT. Also featuring 32-second tracks by artists such as Ryuichi Sakamoto, Visible Cloaks and more, it's scheduled for release on Barcelona-based label Modern Obscure Music. You can pre-order PRSNT on vinyl (black or white, shown above) or digitally on Bandcamp.

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Thursday, 22 April 2021

SQUAREPUSHER — THEME FROM ERNEST BORGNINE

Squarepusher — Feed Me Weird Things

⌾ LISTEN TO THEME FROM ERNEST BORGNINE ⌾

A frenzy of drums propels ‘Theme From Ernest Borgnine’ along, metallic snares rifle and tumble over themselves, a torrent of hi-hats and cymbals splash as a backdrop. Listening to this storm and surge of percussion is like feeling the weight of a waterfall: unceasing, multifaceted, and in the tumult of both, strangely soothing.

The natural connection to Squarepusher’s track doesn’t stop there. Lead synths chirp in snippets of stave-hopping brightness like the songs of robotic birds; soft, muffled chords provide a heavy haze, the type that fogs the sky on hot days. It’s only in its coda, the final minute and a half of the track, that it feels suddenly synthetic — human, basically.

The ambience falls away, revealing the true harshness of the drums, while acid synths wobble and crack in energetic celebration. Squarepusher symphonises jungle, creates rollicking rave beats garnished with emotive washes of sound, but he also wakes the dreamer from their peaceful slumber.



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Squarepusher Internet Presence ☟
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NO LORE — WITH LITTLE LIGHT

No Lore — With Little Light

⌾ LISTEN TO LITTLE LIGHT BY NO LORE ⌾

Poetry in gentle motion. ‘With Little Light’ is just that: ripples of emotive poetry and soft sounds flowing out from a centre of blissful simplicity. Created by Tita Halaman and Jerald Angelo, aka Manila-based sister-brother duo No Lore, the song features vocals from both, a continuous lilting harmony on a backdrop of glassy synth chords and acoustic guitar.

As the instrumental flows on, gleaming and nocturnal, the relatable refrain croons sweetly throughout: “How I wish I’m good at guessing / Oh how I wish I’m always right”; the intertwining of both their voices recalling the vocal duets of The xx, though with warmer instrumentals to accompany them. 'With Little Light' is a tale of emotion, crossing minimalist aesthetics and considered space with the soulful kinetic energy of a live performance.



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No Lore Internet Presence ☟
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Wednesday, 21 April 2021

DEREK MURO — ROVE FEAT. DAISY PRESS

Derek Muro — Rove feat. Daisy Press
⌾ LISTEN TO 'ROVE' FEAT. DAISY PRESS BY DEREK MURO ⌾

This track by begins as if it were about to erupt into a rave-ready tract of Balearic breakbeats: synth chords wobble and sigh on a backdrop of elastic intent. Instead, it evolves into a cross of Gregorian chant and jazz (like a future revival, perhaps, as if it has already been a thing), the voice of experimental vocalist Daisy Press soaring in an aerial display of virtuosity among phrases of saxophone like scudding clouds.

Sub-bass punctuation and gradual glimmers of light gives Derek Muro’s ‘rove’ yet more cathedralic height and space — and then it breaks off, a rapture interrupted by the everyday, the bubble of dreaming burst. Peals of anguish surface through the found sound chatter, and most pointedly, Muro sprinkles the coda with a ticking clock: though it had seemed halted in its tracks, time has actually not stopped, and never does.



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Derek Muro Internet Presence ☟
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Tuesday, 20 April 2021

THEO ALEXANDER — BRIGHT-EYED HUNGER

Theo Alexander — Bright-Eyed Hunger
⌾ LISTEN TO BRIGHT-EYED HUNGER BY THEO ALEXANDER ⌾

Wild and skittering, the melodies weaving into each other in London composer Theo Alexander’s ‘Bright-eyed Hunger’ at first appear nursery rhyme in nature. They skip and dance in a sort of random uniformity, naturalistic but synthetic. Piano glides in, cool and glassy, counteracting the frenzied woodwinds; gradually this set of jovial intricacies becomes a cohesive whole.

Beneath it all, beneath the dappled light on leaves and insects tumbling in the air, an unknown something looms large — the “hunger” to the otherwise “bright-eyed” sentiment of the song — organic and growling, a carnivorous spirit shuddering inside the body of a double bass (played by George Cremaschi). As light and playful as Alexander makes this track seem on the surface, underneath it is positively snarling.



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Theo Alexander Internet Presence ☟
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CHRIS OTHER — NEW MORNING

Chris Other — New Morning

⌾ LISTEN TO NEW MORNING BY CHRIS OTHER ⌾

As if whirring into being, ‘New Morning’ by Brooklyn composer Chris Other certainly feels like a beginning. Hushed room ambience sets the scene, like dust dancing in the air between shards of light lancing in from curtain cracks. Then again, with its greyscale tones and the sheafing sounds throughout, this could be a rainy morning. The piano is tentative, reflecting a gentle awakening of the senses after sleep — the touch of bare feet on floor, a pre-glasses glance around the room.

The title ‘New Morning’ does not necessarily equate to a “good” morning; this morning is new, signifying a starting afresh, putting something something behind its sunrise. The textured mechanics that Chris Other puts into this track does summon that feeling of timeworn memory, a tenderness. Or else it is the biological analogue to hearing an old PC jolting awake — fans cut the still air, processors creak, something beeps, just as a body lurches slowly into life.


  • 🔔 'New Morning' is taken from Chris Other's Til We Feel That Hope Again EP, which is out today (23rd April). You can stream the release or purchase it digitally from Bandcamp.

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Chris Other Internet Presence ☟
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Saturday, 17 April 2021

KUMI TAKAHARA — TIDE

Kumi Takahara — See-Through

⌾ LISTEN TO TIDE BY KUMI TAKAHARA ⌾

In ‘Tide’ Tokyo violinist and composer Kumi Takahara creates a thick soundtrack to a marine sunset. Violins glisten in playful counterpoint, piling in layers that crescendo in a tumult of colour, orchestral and expansive: clouds sprayed across the sky in kinetic whisps, tinted by evening light.

Columns of sound rumble below, a sombre and subterranean like something unthought of weighing on your mind; on the surface, one violin soars into the air, and later another. And as well as the strings, Takahara's voice lilts throughout adding yet more humanity to a piece of music already powerfully human.

Featuring production from aus. (Yasuhiko Fukuzono, founder of flau records), ‘Tide’ is held in place and time with the sound of waves, natural bookends, starting tranquil and ending in a shiver of dusk and leftover emotions — shreds of gleaming unknown sound, the afterglow of the giddy fugue that shines brilliantly at the centre of this composite epic of a song.




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Kumi Takahara Internet Presence ☟
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Thursday, 15 April 2021

KLINGER — HORST


Taken from Klinger’s Persona project, which sees the composer creating a series of musical portraits, this one looks at Horst — 76-year-old proprietor of Crazy Horst, a once lively pub in Hamburg’s St. Pauli district. Used to closing up shop for just one day a year prior to 2020, the pandemic has hit hard.

Accordingly Klinger’s piano paints a touching vignette, the music weighed down in the middle by heavy notes of slow, stifling despair. But there is a sense of continuity, which lies in a certain bounce to the notes, an almost galloping, heartbeat-esque rhythm, as the piece ends with hope hanging like a haze in the air.


  • 🔔 Check out Klinger’s Persona project here, and watch the video featuring ‘Horst’ himself here.

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Klinger Internet Presence ☟
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Saturday, 10 April 2021

MASAYOSHI FUJITA — BIRD AMBIENCE

⌾ LISTEN TO BIRD AMBIENCE BY MASAYOSHI FUJITA ⌾

The natural world. That’s the overriding force at work in ‘Bird Ambience’ by Berlin-based vibraphonist and composer Masayoshi Fujita. But that — signalled by the track’s robust percussion, tumbling marimba and keen ceramic reverberations — is only half of the story here. For all of its organically glossy and glomping collisions of beater against solid object, there’s a smattering of inorganic glitch, sharp and harsh, zooming around within; an ancient computer of some forgotten century still whirring brokenly amidst vast trees and choking vines. And all around, ghosts — the nebulous vocals of singer Hatis Noit cooing through the canopy.

The sheer space between each knock, each tap, hit and plonk — and the constrasting soft, sheafing ambience of each successive contact — gives Fujita's ‘Bird Ambience’ an empty-yet-full feeling: Navigating the voidsome depths of woods, its trees and the heavy air between the trunks and branches. There’s an essence of kankyō ongaku or “environmental music” here, with textural elements reminiscent of Hiroshi Yoshimura’s ‘Time After Time’. There's less in the way of melody, of rigidity, Fujita's track instead creeping along almost at random, solidly and yet as if it were mist.




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Masayoshi Fujita Internet Presence ☟
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Friday, 9 April 2021

CHIHIRO ONO — HACHIREN

⌾ LISTEN TO HACHIREN BY CHIHIRO ONO ⌾

A bell rings three times, announcing the apparition of Chihiro Ono’s suite. Ono, a violinist and violist born in Chiba, Japan, but now living in London, based these four short movements chiefly on the music (and life) of pianist and composer Rentaro Taki. She calls it "super Romantico Classical music" not classical nor experimental, and certainly not pop.

Born in 1979, Taki attentended Leipzig Conservatory in 1901 as the third Japanese musician to study in Europe. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis and travelled back to Oita, Japan in 1902, where he died in 1903. He is perhaps most famous for ‘Kojo no Tsuki’ (Ruined Castle by Moonlight) appropriately inspired by the ruins of Oka Castle in Oita, and with lyrics penned by poet Bansui Doi (1871-1952). "His musical life had many Western influences, yet he never lost the strong core of his nation in his heart, which I can relate to," says Ono. "Doi’s words and Rentarou’s music resonate strongly with me."

‘Kojo no Tsuki’ is fairly well known and has been given renditions throughout the years. For one example, it was jazzed up (literally), albeit without its title, by Theolonius Monk as ‘Japanese Folk Song’.

It’s Taki’s song that works its way through Chihiro Ono’s HachiRen, particularly in ‘Kojo’ (Ruined castle), strings crooning smooth in lament, harsh chords scrape into the air, the whisper of the bow falling silent. That whispering, like a dry brush stroke, flecks of sound colour against the void, feel characteristic of the suite as a whole, particularly in final track ‘Ren’ — a poignant, if melancholic, reflection on mujō (無常) or impermanence, and a fitting coda to the all-too-short life of Rentaro Taki himself.

Violin is the main component of the suite, of course, but that doesn’t stop other elements from making an appearance. What sounds like a steam locomotive appears in ‘8 (Hachi)’ — the first movement, signifying Taki’s summertime birth (24th August); strings appear ghostly and agitated, taking inspiration from Niccolò Paganini’s turbulent playing. Japan’s summers are humid and stifling, the air so crammed with the untethered scream of cicadas that it feels the sky could break open, and worthy of the addled sound Ono has portrayed them with.

On the subject of summer and Paganini (sort of: “La Campanella”) are the bells. In Japan, their clear sound is supposed to inspire cooling thoughts during the heat of summer. At the same time, fūrin (most often glass wind chimes) are symbolic of keeping evil at bay. With HachiRen concerned mostly with ghosts — of Taki, of Oka Castle, and even in the analogical “death” of cherry blossom falling to the ground in pale pink whirlwinds (in ‘SakuraFubuki’) — it makes sense that chimes punctuate the suite, marking a delicate boundary between inspiration, memory, intangible things, and the music itself.



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Chihiro Ono Internet Presence ☟
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