2015.03.25 A Winged Victory For The Sullen & Loscil: Live at The Warhol Theater

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Image from the Carnegie Museums website.

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.

You can stream the entirety of their set below.

Derek Piotr – Raj

Derek Piotr - Raj

On ‘Raj’, the third release from Poland’s Derek Piotr, the music featured throughout is a very vocal set of experimental and beat oriented compositions that draws much of it’s content from the voice which is processed and arrange, sometimes acting as a part of the beat itself.

This is my first introduction to Piotr’s music but before I began this review I went back to his previous two releases, ‘Agora’ and ‘Airing’, both of which show Piotr’s subtle but nevertheless, progressive movement through his vocal practices and the digitalized aura that at all times surrounds his work, that being his heavily processed but otherwise organic approach to the broad genre that is electronic music. Throughout Piotr’s previous releases it is apparent that his music has always been hard to pin down and on ‘Raj’ it is even more difficult. In a moment of harsh glitching and hot digital distortion (Spine, Grave)  I want to call it noise, during the bits of eclectic beat-oriented madness (‘Amendola’) I am reminded of dub and minimalist techno, throughout the menacing atmosphere that fills the album I want to call it dark ambient, and even then there are so many other genre’s one could tack on to ‘Raj’ yet there is no single point in time on this album in which any of the aforementioned genre tags could fully describe it. With all of that said, Piotr’s third entry is an undoubtably complex effort, brimming with abstract beats, unexpected shifts in direction, and unusual song structures that can be as uninviting as they can be accessible.

Musicians, particularly electronic musicians of Piotr’s kind have always expressed some interest in the manipulation of the voice and the use of it as an instrument but it hasn’t been until recently, within the past few years that is, that this vocal processing, this sound shaping of the voice has become a seen and used by musicians as a tool for creating beats, melodies, and song structures. Musicians like James Blake, Vladislav Delay, and AGF (whom Derek Piotr has collaborated with) can all be heard using vocals as the primary instrument, alongside synths and the whir and glow of the computer in the post-digital age.

Unlike many electronic musicians, Piotr does not so much work within the perimeters of electronic music as much as he exploits them. The otherwise polished sheen of digital music becomes distorted; ripped free from its most “proper” uses. You can hear the static glitched out synths, pitch shifted tones, and chopped up beats all moving at varying speeds, and Piotr’s own disheartening vocal embellishments that are arranged in a rather eerie way over the industrial, menacing soundscape that fills this album. The minimalist compositions and echo of the cold beats remind me of Andy Stott’s two 2011 EPs prior to his move toward a more polished sound on his 2012 full length.  It’s a very visual type of music and I think this aspect has been made even more apparent by the two music videos that accompany the tracks, ‘Sand Defacing All Surfaces” and ‘Grave’.

Piotr’s constant vocal manipulations paired with the desolate digital atmosphere shows a lot of ambition and potential but I do feel like there are many times where these elements come off as more of a burden for the listener than a unique aspect of his work. The vocal manipulations become especially grating along with the repetitiousness of the albums tracks. I found myself thinking it would be nice to hear Piotr’s own raw voice, removed of the guise of his editing skills. While individually, most of the tracks aren’t something you would listen to as independent pieces the album does pick up on that aspect in that, holistically it works very well, perhaps because the music is so conscious of what it is, even without an established concept.

The tracks are minimal, bare, stripped down, skeletal, and sometimes repetitive; there is a strain of despair and desolation that runs throughout each track. There are moments on this album where this moodiness works much to Piotr’s advantage in that it leaves me feeling unease, never feeling content or comfortable in knowing where the next track or sudden shift in direction might take me; never a moment where I felt like I knew what was going to happen next, which proves to be one of the best aspects of this piece of music by the end of the album. In the end, as experimental and impenetrable as ‘Raj’ may initially sound, there are many moments interjected throughout where the album can feel very accessible, even for audiences unfamiliar with Piotr’s unorthodox approach to electronic music.

Have a look at the videos that accompany two tracks from the album:

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Overall Rating: 6.8

Favorite Tracks: ‘Flow Through Light’

Recommended: AGF, Vladislav Delay, Andy Stott

Released: 26 February 2013

Links: http://derekpiotr.com/raj/

-Tyler Thompson