Yesterday evening I saw A Winged Victory For The Sullen Perform at The Warhol. It began with one man project Loscil who played a bass heavy soothing set of ambient and minimalist electronic music. His music consisted of pulsating low end bass and minimalistic electronic noise that were accompanied by a nice series of videos and graphics that appeared to interact in response to the electronics. His set was pretty to the point, beginning promptly and as many of these ambient / drone shows go he stood center stage behind some equipment with a laptop to his side which made the accompanying visuals all the more necessary for entertainments sake – a really nice surprise seeing as I haven’t yet delved into Loscil’s catalog as much as I would have liked to but it was performance that seemed to fit perfectly as a precursor to A Winged Victory’s performance.
Between sets there was a brief intermission and A Winged Victory took stage. Typically they are a duo but with their latest release, ‘Atmos’, they expanded their sonic pallet considerably with the addition of more electronics and a string trio. The set was considerably more low key than I had expected – the screen behind them was illuminated with a still pixelated image of what appeared to be static or maybe a blown out image of some hay. I kept expecting at any moment for the image to quickly change to a stark black and white video of some scenic landscape or perhaps even more appropriate, a video of choreographer, Wayne McGregor’s dance piece in which A Winged Victory’s second LP shares its name with but still the static image remained casting the performers as stark silhouettes. To make up for it the performance was one that sounded even better than their recorded material. There were moments – although brief where rippling sub bass came beneath the swirling strings, that kind of Ben Frost-esque bass that you can feel resonating with the swells of the strings and throughout your entire body – it was a performance somewhere between the relaxing lulls of Stars of the Lid, a duo in which Adam Wiltzie was also a part of and dynamic songwriting of Kranky Records labelmates, Godspeed You! Black Emperor; a great mix of both the cascading simplicity of their first record and the more structured form that can be heard on ‘Atmos’. The group played for nearly an hour before performing a little encore.
After the show the duo hung out and chatted with fans at their merch table. I took a look around while picking up a copy of ‘Atmos’ for myself and noticed the variety of people hanging around – some were older types, people you might see at a gallery showing, some were crowd of flannel wearing kids with the thick rimmed glasses, some had their jackets covered in the patches of various punk and hardcore bands. I think the amount of diversity says something to the type of people their music is speaking to; modern classical is no longer for the posh gallery crawl goer but talks more to the kids who are willing to sew a cutup t-shirt graphic onto the back of an old denim jacket or even just the type of people who wouldn’t listen to classical on its own. For my girlfriend and my roommate this was their first experience seeing anything like this live – which is always a rewarding thing – to turn someone on to a style of music they naturally wouldn’t listen to.
TAIWAN is an experimental recording artist from Edmonton who creates a breed of ethereal jazz infused ambient music that harkens back to the sound of forgotten direct to VHS romance and horror movie soundtracks. While the music is already creepy enough there is an added eeriness from the tape crackle and hiss to the spot on replication of such an obscure sound; BELLADONNA is a 30 minute 18 track foray into the sounds of something lost and forgotten in time, something strangely romantic, familiar and alien, and nostalgic yet new all at the same time.
While the idea of replicating old film scores and bringing a modern twist to them is nothing new (see Zombi, Bohren & der Club of Gore), the type of music that TAIWAN replicates and how similar his interpretations are is where this album shines. TAIWAN’s lo-fi aesthetic and attention to detail in recreating such an obscure sound is surely an art form within itself.
The sounds on BELLADONNA are mostly cheesy Casio style synth arrangements. TAIWAN’s sound is very 80’s-esque inspired new wave, kitschy with what would be the sonic equivalent of some old VHS tapes, forgotten in someone’s basement, the tapes damaged by so many floods and worn out by constant fast forwarding, rewinding, and playing. All of the tracks, although different in style are tied together by their easy listening sound from gritty detective noir themed jazz to sensual piano ballads. It evokes a powerful nostalgic response bringing back memories of wooden paneling and grainy discolored photography, memories that even if one had never experienced are still able to evoke a sense of mystery and wonder that is just as visceral.
The album’s sound is contributed heavily to the phenomenon of nostalgia; instead of rejecting these old sounds it embraces the archaic, taking it back and reworking it into something partially new and listenable even if it still deliberately holds ties to the past. Part of me really enjoys this aspect of replicating, or more accurately this reworking of something old and obscure into something even more strange yet part of me wonders if it would be possible to expand on something like this. The future, a concept TAIWAN openly rejects is quickly closing in and I wonder where the project is going to go when it is confronted with the idea of just that, the future.
TAIWAN has turned drone and ambient music, two genres so focused on a futuristic sound into something old yet new at the same and while I do feel that this stylistic decision is extremely limited in a world where time is quiet literally speeding up I can’t deny the uniqueness that BELLADONNA possesses and the firm hold that these curious and eerie tunes have on that nostalgic longing for the past that everyone possesses from time to time.
Teotl Expansion is a duo specializing in minimalist piano compositions, similar to the likes of fellow purveyors of glitch based ambient music such as Alva Noto, Fennesz, and Tim Hecker their debut ‘EP’ consists of three chopped up glitchy tracks that provide the listener with a breed of easy listening that never feels boring.
The music Teotl Expansion make could be easily described as simple or minimalistic and while that may be true the description itself is too simple for its own good because beyond the clean droning washes of spacial beauty and piano arrangements is something far more vast and complex. The duo has made one of the most prominent instruments, an instrument that is associated with, perhaps lost to music of the past and shaped it into something new using instruments pertaining to a more modern identity.
The glitchy ambient compositions that musicians such as Tim Hecker and Fennesz have pioneered are present within Teotl Expansion’s sound although while similar Teotl Expansion keeps things much simpler, not so much in playing, the layered piano based patterns are fairly complex but the music is limited mostly to these glitchy piano melodies as opposed to atmospherics and textures. Although I do enjoy the idea of using a limited sound pallet, their choice to refrain from ambitious and unnecessary sounds, at times the simplicity of the music this duo creates does make me want to hear what they could achieve by implementing textures and other sounds into their work. The duo does a nice job at making an old instrument sound so modern while keeping things simple and while it is organic in a way, their were a few moments where the compositions began to grow uninteresting. While glitchy techniques do change things up and help keep my interest one can only listen to a variation on a theme for so long. The third track, “Geodesics” features much more progression than the other two tracks by breaking away from the structural layered patterns that were present on the other two tracks and featuring more synthetic tones.
We’ve all heard these sounds before; these serene piano melodies that our ears have become so accustomed to, sounds that do not pertain only to one style of music but one that spans genres. We can easily identify with them but it is only now within the context of modern times, by digital means that we can hear them take a new shape and sound, we have the ability to mold them into something new and vastly expand upon what we’ve grown so familiar with, tired of even and this is what Teotl Expansion has proven to be capable of with this 3 track EP. The name of this release suggests what I am assuming is a possible series of sorts; what that series entails I am not sure, however, Teotl Expansion’s debut EP is a nice taste for what is hopefully an exercise in a continuous pursuit to mesh classical instrumentation with a modern sound which the duo already does so well. This is definitely one of the most original EPs I have heard this year so I anticipate to see what this duo is capable of with further releases.
Overall rating: 7.4
Favorite Track: ‘Geodesics’
Recommended: Glitch based ambient bliss similar to Alva Noto, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Tim Hecker, and Fennesz