A CLOSER LISTEN weekly #47.5
The calm before the storm
Dear Listeners, Happy Sunday! If you’re one of our subscribers who doesn’t check the blog very often, you may have missed that we’ve already begun posting our END OF YEAR lists. So here’s a little off-cycle bonus newsletter to catch up on a few things before the lists completely take over the next few installments.
knowing more about nothing
Our friend RM of KMAN 92.5 (who released a tape of mine a few years back) recently announced his latest endeavor, a website and eventual series of physical publications called know more about nothing, “devoted to music, visual art, literature, film, etc. Culture at large, both local and global. Overambitious and loving it.”
In his announcement he writes,
Hope you enjoy what's currently on offer, and feel free to send submissions of music for review, mix ideas, proposals for writing / art you'd like to share... the sky's the limit.
Thought it might appeal to our readers, so please do check it out.
Joseph Sannicandro reviews the 19th edition of AKOUSMA in Montreal, including an interview with Aho Ssan, who closed out the festival.
Shortly after the release of his stunning new collaborative album, Rhizomes, Aho Ssan presented a live diffusion of The Falling Man at Montreal’s Akousma immersive digital music festival. He had previously presented the Rhizomes A/V show at Berlin Atonal, but Akousma emphasizes multichannel diffusions, encouraging experimentation with different modes of presenting live music. The Falling Man was produced at Paris’s GRM studios, and while elements of that track appear on the album, it is a distinct work from Rhizomes, exploring the sensation of falling as a means of processing grief. Akousma affords artists the rare opportunity of presenting immersive works such as this which simply don’t translate to stereo listening.
Afterall, what is the point of going to concerts anymore, when so many of us have hi-fi setups or good headphones waiting for us at home? I find myself asking this question more frequently since the pandemic, and in this I suspect I’m far from alone. Many records simply sound better than the artist can hope to sound live. What is great about recorded music is the ability to make a work reproducible, able to be relistened to in great detail and with our utmost attention under conditions we control. Live performance makes a very different kind of experience possible. There’s something to be said for listening together. We just don’t hear things the same way when we’re listening with others. But for many, live concerts are an opportunity to witness musical virtuosity on display in person, to enjoy the pure spectacle of stagecraft and performance. As I’ve often said, however, these are outdated values, and while they have their place in the broader musical ecology, they were never a natural fit for electronic music. And no matter how great your home stereo, it’s not 48.8 channels.
Montreal’s AKOUSMA festival pursues a different ideal experience, one of dedicated listening in high-fidelity multichannel concerts mostly focused on diffusion rather than “performance” as such. Organized by Réseaux des arts médiatiques, whose mission since 1991 has been to publicly present a variety of “electroacoustic works using an array of loudspeakers,” Akousma has presented a range of works, including acousmatic diffusions, tape music with live instrumental accompaniment, live electronic or electroacoustic performances, as well as other art forms, including dance, video, and installations. And while some concerts have been presented venues including a renovated church and a modern performance hall, the heart of Akousma is Usine-C, a former marmalade factory converted in the late 1970s in a multi-million dollar renovation, resulting in one of Montreal’s finest multimedia venues.
The 48.8 sound system is tailor made for GMR-style acousmatic diffusions, and connections with Paris continue to play an outsized role in the festivals programming (see my 2019 interview with Ina-GRM director Francois J. Bonnet aka Kassel Jaeger). As the second largest city of native French speakers, a strong connection with Paris is perhaps inevitable, yet Quebec has its own history of early electronic music. But is there a Quebec sound? With the Akousma festival and their off-season Électrochoc series, often highlighting artists and composers based here in Quebec, Réseaux has done more than any other organization to answer in the affirmative.
Beyond showcasing local talent and making available opportunities for young and emerging composers to work with multichannel diffusion, Réseaux has also played a central role in presenting international artists to audiences in North America. The 19th edition of Akousma ran 18-20 October at Usine-C, featuring performances including Marja Ahti, Nicola Ratti, Olivia Block, and Tomoko Sauvage.
It’s been over a year since the last time I posted a mix of my own here on ACL, and nearly as long since the last mix I published in general (Soundtrack Politica, commissioned by Cinema Politica in Montreal). So it seemed time to fix that, just before we head into our End of Year season.
On 27 August 2023, Stefan Christoff organized an event at La Sotterenea in Montreal, bringing together artists and community members in opposition to the CAQ government’s proposed legislation to end the tenants’ right to lease transfers. Lease transfers are one of the few tools renters have in this provence, allowing us to pass on apartments without the rent being increased beyond the percentage mandated by the Rental Board. Removing the right to lease transfers during a housing crisis is nothing other than a gift to predatory landlords. September saw several large protests against the proposed legislation, which many more actions to come.
In comparison our event was just a small gesture of defiance, welcoming a variety of musicians, community organizers, and others to speak against this bill. I DJ’d at the start of the event, between performances, and with a longer set at the end of the evening. This mix is a version of what I played that night, recorded at my home studio in mid-September. Some of the selections were made to reflect the occasion, though mostly I kept things more upbeat and danceable (by my standards, at least).
The morning of the event, the world also learned of the passing of Brian McBride of Stars of the Lid, and so I worked in a few tracks that night in his memory, particularly at the start of the night. For this version, I open with a track from McBride’s second solo album, Effective Disconnect, and end with a track from SotL.
The very last track is a modified version of the intro of Reverberations d’une Crise / Sounding the Housing Crisis, an 8-episode bilingual French/English podcast series I co-produced with Hubert Gendron-Blais and a collective of Montreal tenant sound artists.
Reviews are at the heart of ACL. Here are (excerpts from) a few of my favorite reviews we posted on the blog in the last few weeks.
Gil Sansón ~ con richard (por la adversidad a las estrellas)
Note to recording artists: when you include a staffer’s name in the title of your release, someone is bound to notice and smile. con richard (por la adversidad a las estrellas may have been written for another Richard, but I’d like to think that all Richards are in solidarity throughout the world. Our name was once one of the most popular on the planet, but now we are a dying breed. According to one site no Richards have been born in the U.S. in the past three years, compared to 58,862 in 1946. But Gil Sansón remembers his NYC friend Richard Garet from their musical adventures once upon a time, and dedicates con richard to those memories.
Lea Bertucci ~ Of Shadow and Substance
A terrifying hallmark of the anthropocene is that it stands to be the age in which much of the human race perishes, owing to our heedless reliance on fossil fuels and concomitant embrace of an exploitive consumerist system. To an artist enmeshed in these culturally lethal forces, a conundrum presents itself: What is the value of one’s art and how does one continue making it in the face of such an overwhelming, life-or-death dilemma? As musician, composer, and visual artist Lea Bertucci has done on her latest album, Of Shadow and Substance, released on her own label, Cibachrome Editions, you do it because you have no other choice. But you also make of your art a kind of activism, one that offers a critique while engaging with the cause of your concern in real time.
Ká ~ Pilgrims to the Kingdom of Heaven (Poutníci do Království Nebeského)
Pilgrims to the Kingdom of Heaven is an album about war and peace, past and present, fear and trust. It is an album about faith, but it is also an act of faith. The invasion of Ukraine has reopened young wounds and revived old anxieties in the Czech Republic, itself no stranger to russian aggression. War and the specter of war loom large in Ká’s soundscape, primarily a set of field recordings, occasionally bordering on radio-play. Harry Truman announces the surrender of Japan; the thread extends to today’s headlines. Planes pass over a murder of crows. Sirens sound amid the midday bells. The juxtapositions are unsettling. And yet the album as a whole reverses the mind’s typical script. Instead of dwelling in anxiety with brief appearances of peace, the album dwells in peace with brief appearances of anxiety, demonstrating that despite all doubts, this is an achievable goal.
PoiL Ueda ~ Yoshitsune
After sending a tremor through the prog-rock world earlier in the year, PoiL Ueda return with a surprising sequel to their powerfully theatrical montage of the Heike monogatari, an epic from around the 13th century that was foundational to early modern literature from Japan. Where the first album began with a prayer and dived straight into the mass suffering of the battle of Dan-no-ura in the 12th century, Yoshitsune dwells upon the titular character, a samurai warrior and general of keen military skill, the great victor of said battle. The prayer’s promise of permanent transformation reaches its highest point in Yoshitsune’s story, as his victor’s glory and prestige are stripped by false accusations of treachery made by his own brother, the better political strategist and a classic manipulator. His tragedy is both an inevitability and an inspiration, a heroic tale of grand inner violence.
(complete list with Bandcamp links here)
The release slate always quiets down at this time of year. After the autumn rush, labels and artists turn their attention to the following year and only a trickle of music flows through. Late-year releases are often lost in the shuffle, which is why we gather them here for your listening pleasure. New previews are added to this page daily; we hope that you’ll find your next favorite album right here! In the meantime, we’re making our (year-end) lists and checking them twice; our year-end festivities are just around the corner. Happy holidays to all of our readers!
Spanned Canyons ~ Snowload EP (12 December)
Polar Moon ~ Where Have All the Wolves Gone (Past Inside the Present, 13 December)
iu takahashi ~ Sense/Margin (LAAPS, 14 December)
Bagaski ~ Azalea (See Blue Audio, 15 December)
Hannibal Chew IV ~ Loros Locos (Sinfonías Destrozadas en Tenerife) (Discrepant, 15 December)
øjeRum ~ Your Soft Absence (Room40, 15 December)
Scott Twynholm ~ Orbits (Bigo & Twigetti, 15 December)
Stars Without Light ~ Beneath and Before (Cyclic Law, 15 December)
Suspension Bridge Workshop ~ 001 (Fluttery, 15 December)
Variat & Merzbow ~ Unintended Intention (I Shall Sing Until My Land Is Free, 18 December)
Ben Richter ~ Aurogeny (Infrequent Seams, 22 December)
Wild Anima ~ Photosynthesis (USM, 22 December)
Sebby Kowal ~ Wonders (Decaying Spheres, 29 December)
Build ~ Orienting Points (Audiobulb, 1 January)
Trem 77 ~ Vivid Vibration EP (1 January)
Benjamín Vergara and Amanda Irarrazabal ~ último sosiego (577 Records, 3 January)
Hourloupe ~ Opera of the War (12 January)
Pyur ~ Lucid Anarchy (Subtext, 12 January)
Rone ~ D’Argent et De Sang (Original Series Soundtrack) (InFine, 12 January)
Billow Observatory ~ Soliton (Felte, 19 January)
The Golden Age of Wrestling ~ Scorpion Deathlok (Intranet, 19 January)
Playfield Carter et al. ~ Magic Heart (577 Records, 19 January)
Annie Aries ~ It’s Not Quiet in the Void (Everest, 26 January)
David Wallrag ~ The Commune of Nightmares (Karlrecords, 26 January)
DB & the Soho Nine-Six ~ S/T (Mariposa Groove, 26 January)
E-Saggila ~ Gamma Tag (Northern Electronics, 26 January)
Francesco Meirino ~ A Perpetual Host (Misanthropic Agenda, 26 January)
Lumpeks ~ Polonez (Umlaut, 26 January)
Point of Memory ~ Void Pusher (Misanthropic Agenda, 26 January)
V/A ~ FLux Gourmet OST (Ba Da Bing, 26 January)
Vertex Loop ~ Cataclysmic Events (GRAPH, 26 January)
Francisco Mela & Zoh Amba ~ Causa y Efecto, Vol. 2 (577 Records, 2 February)
Panghalina ~ Lava (Room40, 2 February)
Wil Bolton ~ Null Point (The Slow Music Movement Label, 8 February)
C. Diab ~ Imerro (Tonal Union, 9 February)
Philippe Petit ~ A Divine Comedy (Cronica, 13 February)
Hexorcismos ~ MUTUALISMX (Other People, 15 February)
Julia Govor ~ Laika and Ulka Were Here (Semantica, 16 February)
mega cat ~ S/T (Share It Music, 16 February)
Petar Klanac ~ Sept cordes (22 February)
Aviva Endean | Henrik Olsson ~ Split Series Vol. 2 (FRIM, 23 February)
Maya Shenfeld ~ Under the Sun (Thrill Jockey, 23 February)
Michael Vincent Waller ~ Moments Remixes (Play Loud, 15 March)