EYE | Sabine (Knekelhuis 2016)

In a preview hosted earlier this summer on Juno Plus, Knekelhuis label boss Mark Van de Maat described Sabine as “a breeze and a blast at the same time”. Yes, the image fits: but both pass quickly while Laurène Exposito’s first full-length record might just remain for a long time. We knew a few things about EYE via a sequence of discreet releases on her own Waving Hands, a deeply DIY-indebted label inaugurated with her own band Prisma, of which she released a series of covers of underground synthwave classics – by Antena, Experimental Products, Turquoise Days, Elisa Waut – which made her historical affiliations crystal clear. Listeners might also remember, earlier this summer, a re-edition of the bizzare child-synth tape The Old Guard by Nicole Campau. She released Facit’s Måndag Mon Amour, discreet, elegant and functional like Swedish interiors; she also reissued Gust De Meyer’s Casioworks, punching a hole into our hearts, at least certainly into mine. And now, it turns out Exposito’s one of a host of contemporary women operating old machines with new expertise and heartfelt depth, of the likes of Marie Davidson or Heather H. Celeste. Women who, by referencing without mimicking, are able to freshly and unpretentiously reinterpret the message of that elusive thing called minimal synth – which, as Exposito’s record reminds us, thrives in the hands of women.

Sabine starts hard and softens as time goes on: it bangs out of its wax encasing with the nightmarish “There Is” and “Undress”, two hammering bursts of negative energy, the first in which something like the structure of an English lesson turns deeply existential (“There is no more secrets in your eyes / there are no more love and no more pain”), the second a science-fictional pulsating thing with girly screams and that repeated sentence “into the night” which is almost de rigeur for anything wanting to penetrate the kind of sonic lands EYE inhabits. Later in the record, the almost military melancholia of “Nachtwasser” and “Harvest Heart” show off an intelligent innocence, alternating toy organs, Bontempis and flurries of Juno and speaking back to a whole canon of Mitteleuropean solitary synth music, reinhabiting bedroom and basements of the past and of the present and demonstrating that, while certain sonic choices might have gone out of fashion, the sensibility behind those choices is very much alive. And while the title track “Sabine”, a haunted love song in the shape of a discreetly pop dance piece, might be the retro-tinged earworm of this record, EYE also offers some more contemporary efforts, such as the closing pieces “Pale Eyes” and “Soft Grey Moon”, both of which carry a much more 21st century taste for a fuzzy abstraction.

Sabine picks up the baton of 30 years of European electronic sadness and blows it like an icy wind into the future

EYE has made a touching album that in all of its candid and unpretentious freshness manages to pick up the baton of 30 years of European electronic sadness and blow it like an icy wind into the future. To those who say that minimal synth is a genre invented by ebay sellers, this is a good album to say, look what minimal synth was and continues to be: intelligent, sober music, as painful and as gleaming as a tear on Pierrot’s cheek. As someone once wrote as a closing line, oh deep sigh.

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“If You Love Me You Can Tell Me”, or some Thoughts about Mirovna Poraka (self-released 1992, reissue Stotrojka 2014) by Elektro Kultura aka Vladimir Muratovski ‘Divo’

There are records that walk into your life without knocking and say that they intend to stay. After a couple of weeks, you realise they had always been there, that you knew that record already. Not because you’d heard it elsewhere: it’s just that you just knew, you knew that record before you were born. For everyone, those records are rare. For me, Elektro Kultura’s record is one of those records. I’ve only had two or three – so I take it very seriously: I know that it’ll keep giving. I am thankful it was made and thankful for its reissue. A very deep благодарам for both.

What is it about Mirovna Poraka and about its live execution, almost 22 years down the line? There is something, undoubtedly, about the production – its starkness, its amateurish sound which sits so strangely with the natural authority and decidedness Vladimir Muratovski ‘Divo’ has over his material, which also feels rehearsed from birth. Something similar occurs in the perfomance, both in 1992 and in its 2013 incarnation: there are slippages, there are hesitations, yet Muratovski’s ownership over the songs makes those glitches worthwhile, even important – the record sounds somehow inevitable, like a folk tradition, like it had to be made and it had to be made like this.

This record sounds inevitable, like a folk tradition

In the aftermath of being introduced to Elektro Kultura’s work by Gjorgji Janevski, most of my conversations about his work with his Skopje-based fans and lovers had to do with the record’s astounding simplicity; they had to do with how minimal it was, both lyrically and melodically, yet so powerful. One piano, two hands, one sentence per song. One phrase, one idea, one nucleus of meaning and sentiment per track. And most of it squeezed into the typically punk less-than-three-minutes format. The whole thing is shrouded in a sort of cold naiveté, as even Ansome sort of cold naiveté, as even the title of the album suggest: ‘Mirovna Poraka’, ‘message of peace’, is a perfect yet somehow strange introductory concept to this record, at least now.

Now it’s different, though. It’s a title from another place and time. Then again, the times have also changed, and Macedonia now is not Macedonia in 1992 (which in fact was barely Macedonia as we know it at all). And as strange as that title is for this largely dark, profoundly sad, sometimes apocalyptic, always disarmingly sincere record, it is a title that opens up onto the aesthetic spheres we are invited to inhabit by Vladimir Muratovski Divo, spheres seldom indulged these days. Interesting spheres: a sort of childish, teenage melancholy. A simple, gentlemanly arrogance. Or all of these ‘religious’ songs, which rather than being tongue-in-cheek speak, as the Macedonian tradition has accustomed us to, of a deep – punk – morality, in which imagining the end is coincident with the idea of ‘being good’, almost a form of responsibility. And it’s all performed and it’s all true: the listener is being played with but never cheated, and Muratovski neither, he is not cheating himself.

There’s Love Song, irresistibly stylised, handsomely punk; Beg, the gloomiest but also the most controlled track on the record – where Muratovski slips knowingly between the voice of the little boy and the voice of the world-weary man to offer us a deeply painful and universal portrait of the adolescent within; Nema, song for an empty room, so nihilist in feeling yet so melodically abandoned; Electric Things, humorous little piece on the all-absorbing ‘love’ of futurist sounds. He’s a true romantic, Mr. Muratovski, the kind of romantic we really need now: he happily surrenders to big ideas, big melodies, big feelings and all the time stays small, quiet, discreet. The journey of the instrumental on Mirovna Poraka is probably the best example of the romantic complexity the record is capable of, and in spite of its lack of words, it is – as all the record is – exquisitely narrative. The track starts and we’re thrown into a terrible darkness, and then progressively off we waltz, into the light, into pink cherry blossom. The road is full of detours, interruptions, obstacles, of course, but it’s a journey against the odds, and it was never going to be easy.

All of these ‘religious’ songs are not tongue-in-cheek, instead they speak of Muratovski’s deep – punk – morality

Muratovski tells us of this journey through his electro culture: it’s nowhere near an electro record, but the culture within it is electro. Electric. Electronic. The Divo synthesises. He plays piano like it was synth. Alternating moments of anguish and moments of infinite tenderness, Muratovski shakes his way through the kling-klang of the 1970s and ‘80s, during which, clearly, his identity as an artist was formed. He reminds us that in post-punk that word, ‘post’, lasts forever: this is not music that looks to the past but music in which the past is continuous. He also hits his piano keys (and he hits them hard!) across the dusty landscapes of traditional melodies, and folk song becomes what folk song should be – immortal – in his hands. Yet, his record sounds like nothing else – although you’re constantly reminded of something, and although he wears his influences on his sleeve, there is an honesty and a candour in these songs which evades the contours of influence, genre, or style. In fact, apart from sounding like nothing else, all the songs sound very much like one artist: indeed, like Vladimir Muratovski Divo. Because although he moves between terrifying murder ballads (Darkness), the epic rattling bells of byzantine mysticism (Gospod Trgnal Pesh…), Kraftwerkian obsession (Electric Things), goth moodiness (Beg), folk madrigal (Jana) each track belongs to an organic whole that very starkly has its own, extremely original, very personal and deeply felt internal logic. Away from genre-chat, it’s rare for an album (and indeed for an album so minimal, almost poor in production) to sound so theatrical, so grand, so controlled with such ease – and to never sound artificial, self-conscious, or self-referential. Here delicate, unpretentious ideas have been working in Muratovski’s mind, voice, fingers, for decades – and they have become very powerful over time. You can hear a resistance: this is music that resists. And I think it will continue to resist, too.

Of course, this record is made in Skopje. And it tells a story, maybe even many stories, about Skopje, and also about Yugoslavia, about Macedonia, and perhaps even more about FYROM, born just as Mirovna Poraka was made. Too many stories to tell here, but stories that don’t need to be told and can’t be told any better than they are in the record. Skopje is a place where you think about buildings all the time, and where you think about everything as if it were a building: power, decay, attack, neglect, fun, loneliness, age, nature, war, fear, love, time. Elektro Kultura’s building is a monochrome, effortless, elementary facade holds corridors of complex, elegant, serious interiors. The sentence Muratovski chooses to introduce himself to the world with synthesises it quite well: if you love me, you can tell me. Obvious, really. Obvious beyond pop, in the true sense of the word: it’s something anyone can say. And have you ever said that sentence to anyone?

London, 19th April 2014

Text written for Vladimir Muratovski / Gjorgji Janevski / Ako Nikoj Ne Sviri.

Listen – or indeed buy – Mirovna Poraka here: https://elektrokultura.bandcamp.com/

Archive Fever 2015: Ten Records

  1. Lena Platonos – Gallop (Dark Entries)
  2. Various Artists – Der Zeltweg: Italian Tapes Industrial Music 1982-84 (Mannequin)
  3. Fernando Gallego – Maquinismo Operatorio (1984-1986) (Domestica)
  4. Boche – Beats (Entr’Acte)
  5. Daniele Ciullini – Domestic Exile Collected Works 82-86 (Ecstatic)
  6. Rex Ilusivii – In the Moon Cage (Offen)
  7. Irsol – First Contact / Half Life (Vinyl on Demand)
  8. Paki-Visnadi – Imaginary Choreography (Antinote)
  9. Dariush Dolat-Shahi – Electronic Music, Tar And Sehtar (Dead-Cert)
  10. Vincent Max – The Future has Designed Us (Discom)

Read at Juno Plus, along with other great staff lists: http://www.junodownload.com/plus/2015/12/18/best-of-2015-staff-lists/

Archive Fever 2014: Ten Records

1. Elektro Kultura – Elektro Kultura (Стотројка, 2014)
2. Bossa Luce – Cicli Siderali verso L’annientamento (Direct Cut, 2014)
3. Colin Potter – The First Six Albums (Integrated Circuit Records, 2014)
4. Victrola – Maritime Tatami (Dark Entries, 2014)
5. Ende Shneafliet – The Trumpett Years 1981-1983 (Vinyl on Demand, 2014)
6. Guyer’s Connection – Portrait (Minimal Wave, 2014)
7. Schleimer K – Schleimer K (Infrastition, 2014)
8. V/A – Electronic Jugoton: Synthetic Music from Yugoslavia 1964 – 1989 (Croatia Records, 2014)
9. Martial Cantarel – Austerton (Onderstroom, 2014)
10. Vogue – Sahara (Annalogue, 2014)

Read at Juno Plus, along with other great staff lists: http://www.junodownload.com/plus/2014/12/12/best-of-2014-staff-lists/

 

Juno Plus Staff Mix Vol. 7 (2015)

Mix copy for Juno:

More than attempting any kind of technical somersault (I’m a radio woman, me), this is a rough, wintery mix made following my heart and instinct, without any conceptual agenda other than the desire to give a gift of things I love. It’s intended as a nocturnal and very loud listen, dark but not necessarily cold, made in a few hours on a Friday evening in the calm and concentrated privacy of my study.

My archival bone got the better of me, and it’s all old stuff apart from the Kiew-Aspirin-N piece, which is new and completely gets my tastes and moves me. Some of the tracks are very old loves: Bene Gesserit are a sort of motherly figure, while East Wall are the kind of thing I grew up listening to. I was initially planning on doing something full of childish melodies, but I think we all know that mixes have a life of their own; they just take over and forget about their author’s plans, hence The Ceramic Hello repetition. Some reissues are recent too: Bossa Luce came out recently on Direct Cut, and the Gasdehyde track is from the Der Zeltweg reiusse on Mannequin which I recently reviewed here on Juno Plus.

A lot of the sounds on here come from an underbelly of home made and home-taped dark wave which crosses between theatrical spoken word, lyrical industrial, and experimental goth. There’s a smattering of empty city melodies, an excellent dash of Yugoslavia, and generally some rough, opaque stuff. The Logic System track is another idea I had to base the mix around: clean but epic Japanese synth music to accompany you towards the eerie but stellar “Decline of the West” by B.E.F. – which, by the way, is taking place, so we might as well enjoy it. I certainly hope you do.

Flora Pitrolo

Tracklisting:

1. Ceramic Hello – Ex Im (Vinyl on Demand)
2. Bene Gesserit – Existentialisme (Insane Music)
3. Doxa Sinistra – Televisor (Trumpett)
4. Vanila Pakt – Andaluzija (Radio Televizije Beograd)
5. Interaccion – Aelita (self-released)
6. Gasdehyde – Ratio Legis (Mannequin)
7. Kiew-Aspirin-N – Dad Gone It (Clockwork Tapes)
8. Bossa Luce – Mrs. Mestizia (Direct Cut)
9. Videoclips – Little Machine Box (Runde Sache)
10. Amor Fati – The Law (FLESH)
11. Logic System – Unit (Express)
12. B.E.F. – Decline of the West (Virgin)
13. Ceramic Hello – Ex Im (Vinyl on Demand)
14. East Wall – Demo k7 track 05 (self-released)

Tse Tse – Land in Sicht (Medical Records, April 2015)

With the likes of Deutsche Wertarbeit, Der Plan and Christof Glowalla in their catalogue, Seattle’s Medical Records clearly has a way with the Neue Deutsch Welle archive, and notably with those artists whose connections to prog are particularly audible, and who make a mission out of digging out novel routes around synth-pop. Tse Tse’s Land in Sicht has been sitting in the vaults since 1983, when it came out on the small but rather interesting Neuland Tonträger. This reissue from Medical opens up yet another path in the dark green plaines of NDW (and the record’s dark green, too).

Cheaply and instinctively home-made by Claas Mehlhop and Clement Hülse (one a classically trained flutist, one had recently been kicked out of a punk band), Land in Sicht manages to juxtapose a nervous, brash, youthful sentimentality with a masterful control of gloomy cinematic atmospheres, the whole thing peppered with reoccurring folky – and in fact even churchy – melodies. As a condiment to all of this, Tse Tse mastered the art of extracting the ghost out of very cheap equipment (Casios!) and Land in Sicht seems to revel in its ability to do things with ten-a-penny sounds. There is a bleakness tinged with a tongue-in-cheekness here, but less cynical than a lot of NDW, almost teenage. Rewarding and surprising little record.

Alex Valentini – Beautiful Life (Archivio Fonografico Moderno)

The Italo archive isn’t only made of mega-producers, but also of millions of records made without Miami-induced dreams or starry-eyed fantasies. Originally released in 1985, and written and produced by a team of relative unknowns, Alex Valentini’s Beautiful Life is one such charming example of a record that really shaped Italo Disco’s identity as a genre, in its most realistic incarnations. The record comes from the passionate underworld of private radios and summer parties in provincial Tuscany, where Valentini worked as a DJ before and after this magnificent fluke of a track.

Stark and tormented but boyishly awkward, “Beautiful Life” is a melancholy Italo piece where everything sounds right: just the right dose of minimal angularity, the right brush of tropical suggestions, the right cheapness, the right sadness, and the right emotion, to use an Italo word. The utterly mysterious lyric is stated almost matter-of-factly by Valentini, accompanied by a powdery, unpretentious female voice that sentimentally utters words we will never really understand. After recent beauties such as Decadance’s “On and On (Fears Keep On)” and B.W.H.’s “Livin’ Up”, this is another blessing from Archivio Fonografico Moderno, made all the more special by re-edits from Italoconnection and Flemming Dalum. This is one for the arrival of summer, and there’s enough of it to keep you dancing until September.

Lena Platonos – Gallop (Dark Entries, April 2015)

Released a few days before April, Galop was undoubtedly the reissue that threw the longest shadow over the month, and about time too. Lena Platonos’s contribution to electronic music has been acknowledged by the Greek underground for a long time, so it’s good for us all to finally bite into it, above and beyond the hit “Bloody Shadows From Afar”. Platonos has a true sense of pop and a strong experimental instinct, her finger absolutely on the pulse of her time.

The album oscillates effortlessly between dark, pulsating analogue landscapes and tense storytelling, as she crafts a world which is knowing, smart and ironic, and also very warm. Rigid drum patterns, metallic vocoders, frozen basslines and crazed synths are led imperiously by Platonos’s languid voice, which seems to come from a time suspended between the never and the now. To listen to Galop is to enter a world of slow pulses, phone bleeps, threatening supernovas, and language taking pleasure in itself.

Made by Platonos single-handedly in 1985, Galop was described by its maker as “a study in the mythology of urban population of the contemporary metropolis and also a gaze into the future life of it.” An extremely accomplished study no less, which deserves attention, and this elegant record is essential to the story of Mediterranean post-modernity.

Redolfi – Pacific Tubular Waves/Immersion (Recollection GRM-Editions Mego, April 2015)

With work from Beatriz Ferreyra, André Stordeur, the epic Pierre Henry boxset and more, April saw a wealth of reissues in early electronics. Michel Redolfi’s debut opus, Pacific Tubular Waves / Immersion, which dates back to 1980, is a welcome re-edition of a somewhat neglected piece made between Marseille and San Diego as a reflection in two parts of Redolfi’s encounters with the Pacific Ocean. Freezing and crystalline, full of circuitous sonic events, it’s a good introduction to the Frenchman’s later works, which continued (and continues) to research an idea of subaquatic music and underwater listening.

The A-side is a synthetic interpretation and ‘imitation’ of the rhythmic and textural dynamics of tubular waves, composed for and executed on an early, mesmerising digital synthesiser. The B-side, “Immersion”, consists of those same recordings remodelled by the sea itself, as Redolfi experiments with underwater transmissions of sound with the partial and full immersion of his equipment.

Overall though, the music doesn’t sound like an experiment. It glistens like a calm sea as repetitive tones are interspersed by rough, watery field recordings and moments of threatening drone, with white crisp atmospheres punctuating the sound here and there with a sort of science-fictional menace that suggestively drags you in underneath an imaginary abyss. Indeed, it’s a small ‘utopia of the senses’, which is what Redolfi said he wanted from his electroacoustic music. Pacific Tubular Waves / Immersion makes present a complex sonic world which you can somehow feel, and engages not only your ears but your body, your skin.