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Douglas Lilburn, "Complete Electro-Acoustic Works"

Douglas Lilburn was already an award-winning composer when he turned from conventional music to focus on electronic music, founding New Zealand’s first electronic music studio at Victoria University of Wellington in the late 1960s. The three CDs and the DVD comprising this collection contain many valuable pieces that highlight Lilburn’s contributions to the electronic form.

 

Atoll

Lilburn was particularly interested in evoking New Zealand’s natural environment, which he does through meditative drones. Using electronics to replicate concrete elements like ocean waves and birds, he also adds conceptual touches like the stretched tones mimicking bird flight in “Sounds and Distances.” Although he doesn’t often use voices in his work, when he does they are among his better pieces. One of the best tracks is “The Return,” which uses a Maori woman’s voice as a compositional element before turning to a man’s recitation of Alistair Campbell’s poem of the same name.

In addition to his more formal works, included here are his studies documenting his experimentation with singular ideas or techniques, such as the two separate groups each collectively entitled “Five Toronto Pieces,” which were recorded six years apart, as well as a soundtrack for a dance sequence. The DVD contains a few all-too-short excerpts from films that find Lilburn demonstrating his techniques and talking about his ideas, two songs reproduced in four channels as he originally intended, and an illuminating audio interview.

One commonality among these different musical projects is the meticulousness with which they were created. Lilburn struggled with the primitive equipment he had at his disposal and his poise and patience are evidenced in every recording. Rather than settling for unpredictable effects, he took the time to study the technology in depth and harness it to his own end. There are a few places in the collection that hit an introspective plateau and lose some momentum, but for the most part each disc is arranged non-chronologically in a way that balances the different dynamic levels found in Lilburn’s works. I found the third disc to be the most consistently rewarding, yet the other two discs hit peaks just as high.

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The Eye: Video of the Day

The Sea and Cake

YouTube Video


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Review of the Day

PHILIP JECK, "STOKE"
Touch
Philip Jeck always seems to surprise and surpass expectation every time I hear him perform. I've heard him spin out haunting loops for avant garde dancers to strut about to in art spaces. I've heard him spin stickered platters alongside guitarist Vergil Sharkya and fractal videographer Gerd Willschvetz in an underground car park in Liverpool. I've heard his scaffolded ranks of old car boot turntables mash up crackly memory traces from worn needles bumping into wires and stickers in a London gallery. I've heard him go walkabout at a festival opening, cutting up dictaphone recordings with the pause button. After his ambitious quartet of lengthily (r)evolving 'Vinyl Codas' released by the Intermedium label, he returns to Touch with seven shorter live excerpts from performances in Liverpool, Manchester, Osaka, Tokyo and Vienna. With only a single sample Casio keyboard to aid the junkyard turntables spinning varispeed deteriorating vinyl, he necessarily limits his options but unlocks endless potentials from abundant alternate histories coded in the grooves. When he loops records at low speed, worn old cliches morph into haunting new textures. A phantasmal keyboard hoot that forms the bedrock of "Pax" sounds like it might've morphed slowly from a cheesy old J. Geils Band charity shop hit. "Above" cuts scratchy old vinyl into train chug clunks and chicken squawk with some slowed speech narration to explain what exactly isn't going on. "Lambing" is a home recording, soundtracking a film by Lucy Baldwyn, and wouldn't sound out of place on his previous Touch CD 'Surf,' with groaning ghost vox repeating an eerie refrain over the crackle'n'drone spin, until slowly a sunrise glow cracks dawn beneath the locked groove rhythm faultlines. "Vienna Faults" waltz around like a music box in a tumble dryer. There's some crazily mangled sitar "Below," reversing into hollow metal hammering, cut dead by a sudden descending blues guitar riff. "Open" seems to rework familiar noises from 'Surf' into a noisier delayed clatter. "Close" does just that, with some more sitar loops, more meditative but just as playful as before. Stray starry plucked fragments drop in at odd angles until a loop locks and deteriorates to a stutter as a single piano note bashes to infinity. A ghost choir of Hamaiian folk singers emerges from the vinyl crackle fog to bid a fond farewell. If you haven't heard Philip Jeck before, this is not his most immediate recording and 'Surf' or the 'Vinyl Coda' series might be better ports of entry. He has not yet left the building.

 

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