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experimental electronica
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Utility Fog

Your weekly fix of postfolkrocktronica, dronenoise, power ambient, post-everything improv... and more?
Sunday nights from 9 to 11pm on FBi Radio, 94.5 FM in Sydney, Australia.

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Sunday, 24th of December, 2023

Playlist 24.12.23 - Best of 2023, Part 2! (11:34 pm)

Wait, it's still 2023... but... why?
(PSA: It will still be 2023 next Sunday too, just. I will be away though, so somebody else will keep you company until Sunday the 7th of Jan, when we'll have the final Part 3 of Best of 2023, with the year finally out of the way!)
Tonight is non-dancefloor, non-song music... Except the first track is a bit of a segue from last week.

LISTEN AGAIN, careful now! Stream on demand from FBi, podcast here.

soccer Committee - No Turn To Harm [morc tapes/Bandcamp/soccer Committee Bandcamp]
I have been a dedicated fan of Dutch singer-songwriter Mariska Baars for many years, via Rutger Zuydervelt aka Machinefabriek - both working with him under her own name, and then in equally mysterious projects such as Piiptsjilling and FEAN with the Kleefstra brothers and others. Where Jan Kleefstra performs his poetry in Frisian, Baars sings either wordlessly or in English. Her work, as soccer Committee and in other groups, is characterised by an exquisite restraint, whereby if you're listening you can't help but be drawn into the patiently unfolding melodies and subtle but essential textures. Even without Machinefabriek's sensitive deconstructions around the edges of their collaborative work, Baars seems to dismantle and rebuild the fabric of her songs so that they are as attenuated as possible while still holding together. In 2023 she released ❤️ /Lamb, her most confident and fully-realised album yet. I do want to point you to where I discovered Mariska Baars, with Machinefabriek on their incredible album Drawn, which birthed the Redrawn compilation of remixes and covers - an album I return to frequently.

Yara Asmar - objects lost in drawers (found again at the most inconvenient times) [Hive Mind Records/Bandcamp]
The artistry of Beirut's Yara Asmar doesn't end with synth waltzes and accordion laments, beautifully descriptive though this album title is. She creates delightful video art on Instagram that's somehow lo-fi and modernist at the same time, and beautiful, strange puppetry. All is tied together with whimsy and delicateness, with her own music accompanying the performances and videos. It's a very different take on the YouTube-archaeology of vaporwave, all her own, and these synth walzes and accordion laments feel like they come from somewhere outside of time.

DAAU - Die Anarchistische Abendunterhaltung - Cinema [Sub Rosa/Bandcamp/DAAU Bandcamp]
This was a really nice surprise. I discovered Belgian shapeshifters DAAU (short for Die Anarchistische Abendunterhaltung, or "the anarchist evening entertainment") in the late '90s, by accident in a European CD store, noting that they were a kind of cross between a classical chamber group and an indie band. In 2000 they appeared on my radar again contributing an incredible remake of The The's song ShrunkenMan (you can listen here, switching between chamber classical, jazz and almost industrial rock - there are also interpretations by Foetus and John Parrish, each as different from each other as they are from the original).
It took me a while to collect DAAU's catalogue, which ranges from acoustic classical, folk and jazz (the original lineup was violin, cello, clarinet and accordion) to electronic, indie/hip-hop hybrids and more. Releases are so few and far between now that one keeps thinking they're gone for good, but while the lineup has changed frequently, here they are again, in a collaboration with Rudy Trouvé, an original member of another legendary Belgian band, dEUS. Musik f​ü​r Animierten Tonspurfilm is, well, "music for animated soundtrack film", or rather music for a series of animated films by Trouvé. The writing process was a back-and-forth between acoustic/analogue and electronic, originating with tape recordings of accordion, double bass, clarinet and percussion, which were passed to Trouvé who sampled, edited and chopped them up into loop-based collages. These were then overdubbed by the band using electronic instruments: not double bass but bass guitar, not accordion but synths etc. The music retains a kind of cabaret vibe of twisted jazz and classical, filtered through krautrock and electronic aesthetics. In some ways DAAU have always been an alternate-universe version of Utility Fog's aural obsessions, a strange bridge between my "other" musical side of rock string quartet, gypsy/klezmer and 20th century classical which only surfaces occasionally within these playlists. Here, more than ever, DAAU have found their way right into the core of what this show of mine's all about. I don't like to make this all about me, but maybe this will explain why this release is really special to me. (Now to convince Guy-Marc and Fred of Sub Rosa to put it out on CD!)

WSR - Flatwound [WSR Bandcamp]
Aperture - Siren [Stray Signals/Bandcamp]
Siblings Elisabetta and Emanuele Porcinai, Italians based in Berlin, work together in various ways. Elisabetta's artwork has adorned the releases by Emanuele under the name WSR as well as other releases from the wider Berlin scene that Emanuele has appeared in. But with Threads in 2018 the brother & sister became a musical duo, Aperture, in which Elisabetta's poetic spoken words, in Italian and English, are embedded in Emanuele's productions. The debut album was described as an exploration of "aural intimacy", an apt description also of their follow-up Stanze five years later. The self-described intimacy is achieved through explicitly spatial mixing and recording techniques, in which acoustic and electronic sounds creep and rattle around virtual rooms while the voice whispers close, or finds itself shudderingly degraded through slap delays. Simple poised acoustic guitar or piano lines are interrupted or underlined with huge industrial bass thrums or unplaceable percussive anti-rhythms of found-sound. Many of these techniques are common to both albums, but on the new release the duo are joined by guests on a few tracks - including brief, crushing drums from Andrea Belfi on one track - and notably Elisabetta's words are sung by Emanuele on two pieces. This is uncompromisingly avant-garde, experimental music, but sonically engrossing in a way that should have broad appeal.
When Aperture's brilliant debut Threads came out in 2018, I initially didn't realise that I'd been following Emanuele since his second EP Chambers, released under the name WSR. Now, three years after the last WSR release, Dicasmia showcases a similar aesthetic to the earlier releases: close-mic'd acoustic instruments - notably cello - are moulded into dark, heavy masses of sound, seamlessly mutated into industrial electronics. The juxtaposition of acoustic and electric instruments with digital sound-design is very much what WSR is about, and as you know it's very much what Utility Fog is about too, so I couldn't be happier to have both these new works out in 2023.

tom schneider - serpentines [Macro/Bandcamp]
The first solo album from German pianist Tom Schneider should be no surprise to followers of his recent band Loom & Thread, which took the traditional jazz piano trio into the cyber realm with live sampling and manipulation - and the sampler as instrument is something Schneider has perfected in his other band KUF, in which Schneider plays the role of lead vocalist entirely from the sampler. The surreal piano manipulations are found throughout Isotopes, which, like both previous projects, is released on Stefan Goldmann & Finn Johannsen's Macro Recordings. Virtuoso jazz piano runs and sensitive melodies coexist with granular processing and re-sampling of the instrument, sending the sounds into stratospheric pitch-shifting, or stuttering glitches, blended together so that it's impossible to tell what's composed or improvised, produced live or processed in post. It's mastered very quietly, and works best as listening music to close your eyes to.

Leah Kardos - Pegs [bigo & twigetti]
Australian-raised academic, composer & producer Leah Kardos is busy writing books, writing reviews & features for The Wire, and organising the Kingston University Stylophone Orchestra. In 2023, the bigo & twigetti label coaxed one track out of her for their Perceptions Vol. 4 compilation of piano music. Kardos offers here a piece in her vein of cyclic prepared piano (Aphex Twin drukqs fans will be in familiar territory) - and Kardos has a keen ear for the heart-pulling chord changes. It's simple enough, with a couple of crescendos bringing a bassline in and tapering back to finish, but it's the kind of stuff I'd happily leave on repeat for hours.

Rắn Cạp Đuôi Collective - What Cherubs [Nhạc Gãy/Bandcamp]
When I first came across Vietnamese musical explorers Rắn Cạp Đuôi Collective it was through their wonderful collection of sodden glitchscapes on Flaming Pines called Degradation. But everything about them changes radically from release to release, whether it's lo-fi punky indie or post-rock, messy proto-hyperpop, or deconstructed club sounds. Last year's album on Subtext, with production help from Ziúr, gained them a substantial new following, and on follow-up *1 key member Zach Sch is on most mixing duties, with production shared collectively (two tracks are mixed by Raphäel Valensi aka Nahash). The result is an album that combines all their previous influences and more - there's a lot of World's End Girlfriend there with breakcore and hard-chopped digital edits, and then there are choral vocals from a host of members, confounding switches to live guitars or equally to plunderphonic collages. Like their catalogue as a whole, you never know what's coming next, and that makes for highly enjoyable repeat listens.

world's end girlfriend - FEARLESS VIRUS [Virgin Babylon/Bandcamp]
Katsuhiko Maeda's music as world's end girlfriend is absolutely emblematic of Utility Fog's mission: genres such as IDM, breakcore & glitch are mashed up with post-rock, punk, classical and J-pop, in a fashion, mind you, that's perfectly natural within Japanese culture/counter-culture. Maeda also runs the phenomenal Virgin Babylon, collecting a diverse array of artists covering most of those aforementioned genres - think Vampillia, Kashiwa Daisuke, DRUGONDRAGON, and more recently idoru figure Madobe Rika. From a varied career over 2+ decades, including acclaimed movie soundtracks as well as many albums, Resistance & The Blessing seems like a suitable capstone (although I hope it's not his last!) It's released on 3CDs or 4LPs, many of which are now sold out, as well as a 35-track download. The physical editions are gorgeous - the 3CDs are slipped into a vinyl-sized package in a box with cut-outs... Three CDs allows ample space for Maeda to indulge all sides of his work, so we have pretty piano passages switching into thrashing guitars, plenty of breakcore splatter-breaks, glitch and ambient interludes, spoken word, song... and in amongst it all are some absolute gems, as great as anything in his catalogue. I didn't play it tonight, but his setting of Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria" is superb, in which the sampled soprano's voice is drowned in static or heard through layers of crackle, but the music surges in time with Schubert's beautiful progressions - until eventually everything's subsumed in blast-furnace noise, dissipating back into Schubert to finish. Bracing, yes, but also euphoric.

Noneless - Neurocannibal [☯ anybody universe ☯]
The North Sydney/Kuringgai artist now known as Noneless previously released some pretty crazy breakcorey hybrid music as elfaether, but has returned to music production a couple of years later with their amazing album A Vow of Silence. It has the well deserved cachet of being released on ☯ anybody universe ☯, the label run by Japanese IDM/breakcore latter-day legend Laxenanchaos. On this album their classical violin training and love of erhu is married with breakcore splatterbeats, joyous distortion and a bit of Zen Buddhism. Lovers of World's End Girlfriend or Kashiwa Daisuke, not to mention Venetian Snares, will gobble this up. Compulsory listening.

DREAMCRUSHER - In Due Time [PTP/Bandcamp]
Non-binary New York-based interdisciplinary artist DREAMCRUSHER has been plying their trade for 2 decades, and is as energetic and creative as ever. Suite One, released through PTP, collects two short tracks which combine heavy shoegaze textures, heavy beats, warped samples and plenty of oversaturated distortion in patented DREAMCRUSHER style. Both cuts essential IMHO.

Deepchild - Underworlds [Seppuku Records]
2022 was a big year for Sydney's Deepchild, now comfortably ensconsed on Gadigal land after many years in Berlin. His deep techno know-how is evident in releases like last year's Black Atlantic and the recent 77, a set of DJ tools in tribute to the long-running Club 77 where he has a residency. But in 2022 Rick Bull also unleashed his ambient side, harkening back perhaps to his days with Frigid/Cryogenesis and Club Kooky in late '90s and early '00s. The archetypal '90s ambient underground label Mille Plateaux (sister label to techno heavyweights Force Inc) released Fathersong, his moving tribute to his late father, and then LA-based idm/ambient lovers A Strangely Isolated Place released a postscript to Fathersong, Mycological Patterns, which spread like fungus into the nooks and crannies of the ambient internet - a highly deserved success. Deepchild's follow-up ambient (or at least non-techno) album Portals came out in August through his own Seppuku Records, with more murky and profound electronic works, still redolent of life's passing. Lots of humanity goes into these pieces as always.

Saint Abdullah & Eomac - Wali [Planet µ/Bandcamp]
Last year's Patience of a Traitor was a revelation from two forward-thinking acts, the New York-based Canadian-Iranian brothers Mohammad and Mehdi Mehrabani aka Saint Abdullah and Irish IDM/techno producer Eomac (Ian McDonnell of Lakker). 2023 saw two new releases from the group: the EP A Vow Not To Read in July and the album Chasing Stateless in October. Despite the brothers and McDonnell still not having met in person, there's a clearly sympathetic resonance between the artists' styles, across cultural and physical distances, and even with Saint Abdullah working on outboard gear and Eomac in the box. There are electronic beat workouts and pieces with the location-based recordings Saint Abdullah often use (Shia mourners on "Wali"), and the EP is just as great as the album. Essential work, all of it.

Yuko Araki - ‡Magnetar [Room40/Bandcamp]
Japanese multi-instrumentalist Yuko Araki is the drummer in psych-rock trio Kuunatic; her earlier solo EPs & albums drew from harsh noise, rock, free jazz and more, culminating in End of Trilogy for Room40 in 2021. It seems it wasn't really the end, nor a trilogy, because IV appeared this year, again via Room40. This seems like her strongest work yet to me: a kind of industrial post-club music, still with noise references, with a sinister throughout.

Starving Weirdos - Haiku Nagasaki [Discrepant/Bandcamp]
Brian Pyle aka Ensemble Economique and Merrick McKinlay have made uncategorisable weirdo music for almost 2 decades, but it's been over a decade since their last, 2012's Land Lines. It's very hard to pin down what they do, which makes it archetypal Utility Fog music - anything from drone to psych rock, folk, postrock... To me, it feels like "noise" in the very broad sense that includes Burning Star Core and Wolf Eyes and so on. This album surprises from the get go with percussive electronic bass drops triggering delay tails, slowly being subsumed under churning drones. There are layers of sound densely packed with sounds and styles that probably shouldn't go together, but somehow work. Coming in without expectations, I was pretty floored - especially the sonic elements that seem to come from that deconstructed club/bass music.

Simone Sims Longo - Babele [Esc.rec/Bandcamp]
The highly dependable Dutch experimental label Esc.rec brought a number of excellent releases this year. Paesaggi integrati (integrated landscapes) is an album of electro-acoustic sound-art from Italian composer-producer Simone Sims Longo that takes sound from a host of acoustic instruments - sax, cello, horn, violin, accordion, tuned percussion and clarinet - and transforms them into electronic music, split into granular fragments, flittered across the stereo field in rhythms that accelerate and decelerate, seemingly referencing deconstructed club techniques but outside of the club context. The sense of discombobulation is only heightened on headphones by the use of mid/side technique - technically this means that the left & right are in opposite polarity (so if you try to listen in mono you'll lose a lot of the signal!), but it also means that the stereo image is particularly vivid.

David Bird - Aetheric Resonance [Oxtail Recordings/Bandcamp]
The now Sydney-based Oxtail Recordings also had a very strong year. The stunning album Wire Hums sees NYC/Chicago composer David Bird deconstruct and reimagine the cello in ways never before seen. Inspired, we're told, by the (gut-wrenching) sound of a cello falling to the floor and snapping its neck, Bird set out to recreate the physicality of the instrument itself through software modelling. There are no real cello recordings here, yet in amongst the frenetic layering, smudged melodies and glitches, it's impossible not to hear vibrating strings, resonating (and sometimes splintering) wood, catgut and rosin. The techniques of modern composition and electro-acoustic production combine to create a set of uncanny solo cello études twisted through folded dimensions. I'm sure that as a cellist I'm particularly attuned to these resonances, but I'm also sure that anyone interested in sound-art, glitch or contemporary music will be highly rewarded.

Kirk Barley - Courtyard [Odda Recordings/Bandcamp]
I'm very pleased to say I've been supporting Kirk Barley's delicate, rhythmic music on Utility Fog since his 2019 album Landscapes. Although that's the debut from "Kirk Barley", it wasn't by any means his first release - he'd previously appeared as Bambooman among others, at times making feints towards the dancefloor - but under his own name he consolidated a sound that filtered acoustic guitar, cello and field recordings through an idiosyncratic electronic lens - and often with drums from Matt Davies, with whom he has since frequently collaborated under the name Church Andrews. For the second release on Thea Hudson-Davies' Odda Recordings, he's Kirk Barley again, presenting a mixture of new and previously-digital-only recordings. The music on Marionette comes from modular synths, guitars, and on this track cello upon cello, looping little phrases, undulating in amongst the sound of running water. Unassuming music, but please give it your attention!

Nicholas Thayer - on growing [Oscillations/Bandcamp]
I'm so glad that I'm following new London label Oscillations, which started operations last year with an EP from Gabriel Prokofiev, the composer who founded the nonclassical label back in 2004. Oscillations calls itself an electronic music label, but so far has had a "composer" bent to it, and it has gifted us with this brilliant album from Nicholas Thayer, a composer & producer from the Netherlands who happens to have some ties to Australia - he's composed for Sydney Dance Company and Queensland Ballet, although he's now based in Groningen the north of the Netherlands I believe. Actually it's not an album, although it briefly appeared as such before being split into 3 in:finite EPs. The music here is again for a dance work, titled in:finite, commissioned for the Swedish Skånes Dansteater, and in the vein of contemporary dance, it encompasses abstract sound-art, contemporary composition, glitched audio and even some beat-heavy sections. Thayer clearly has a love for drum'n'bass in there, with fidgety programmed breaks on some tracks, and growling neuro basslines elsewhere (d'n'b/dubstep legends Noisia happen to hail from Groningen too). I also can't pass by the Motley Crüe reference in his bio! Cello is the main acoustic/classical instrument here, beautifully performed by Mikko Pablo, expressively interpreting Thayer's score which is at times straightforwardly melodic, elsewhere processing the sound or employing extended techniques. It makes sense that the performance this music is written for is considered a work of "multilayered hybrid art", combining choreography, music, set and costume design, as this is not just music for accompanying a stage performance - it's a very rich, satisfying listen on its own, highly recommended.

Helen Money / Will Thomas - Thieves [Thrill Jockey/Bandcamp]
As Helen Money, Alison Chesley has never been a conventional cellist, preferring to play through guitar pedals and amps even on her solo work, as well as playing with the likes of Earth, Neurosis, Russian Circles - and I do believe she used to call herself a "doom cellist". Her last album Trace - her third on Thrill Jockey - drew away from the looped metal riffs which on the previous two had been augmented with drums from Neurosis' James Roeder, instead complementing riffs with drones and melodies accompanied with piano and synthesizers, including electronics from soundtrack composer & producer Will Thomas. Now we have a whole duo album from Helen Money & Will Thomas, even more sumptuous and experimental than the last. On "Thieves" shimmering loops of cello harmonics are accompanied by stop-start industrial techno beats and thrums of distorted cello. It's cinematic stuff, the work of two excellent musicians working on the same wavelength.

Lawrence English & Lea Bertucci - Geology Of Fire [American Dreams/Bandcamp]
The quite incredible first collaboration between sound-artist/composers Lawrence English & Lea Bertucci, Chthonic, came out on American Dreams in August this year. This is the sound of tectonic plates moving against each other, of mountains slowly rising. Across these 5 tracks, Bertucci's many instruments (cello, viola, flute, lap steel guitar) blend with field recordings and electronics from English, sumptuously mixed in cavernous ultra-widescreen. This is very different from the tape manipulations and acoustic instruments of Bertucci's two duo releases last year. Differently brilliant.

Koenraad Ecker - Copper Mountain [Koenraad Ecker Bandcamp]
Belgian cellist and sound-artist Koenraad Ecker is known to me equally for his mutated club music with duos Lumisokea and Stray Dogs (both of which strayed into beatless sound design frequently), and for his electro-acoustic works involving cello and myriad sound sources. Ecker has recently uploaded a stash of unreleased music to his Bandcamp, encompassing stereo mixes of installation works, high-definition field recordings, found-sound constructions, and more. Copper Mountain is a rich and wondrous electro-acoustic stew of differently pitched (and re-pitched, stretched, bent) chimes (including a "very drunk carillon"), field recordings, and one one track, the haunted voice of fellow cellist and vocal experimentalist Audrey Chen. It's beautiful and surprising. I do recommend checking RACING MUSIC for the contrast to this track: two short, sharp electronic tracks made, but not used, for a car racing game - perhaps the level of distortion along with hammering kicks was too much for the game designers.

emer - sea salt [Lillerne Tapes]
sea salt is the debut release from Brussels-based Lithuanian sound-artist Marija Rasa under the emer moniker. Rasa is one half of electro-acoustic/electronic duo Ugné & Maria, from whom we heard a lovely album in May. With Ugné Vyliaudaite, Rasa hosts a monthly show on Kiosk Radio; similarly with Konradas Žakauskas she makes experimental electronics as Forgotten Plants, and they too have a monthly show, on Radio Vilnius. So it's no wonder, perhaps, that this "debut" solo release is so accomplished, but it is truly special - downtempo ambient beats and synth pads, with pitch-shifted vocals and an estranged, slightly flanged sheen to the sounds. It could almost come from some '90s ambient, post-rave compilation - almost, but there are reminders throughout that this is music of now. Superb.

Daniel Bachman - Someone straying, long delaying [Three Lobed Recordings/Bandcamp]
"American Primitive", the fingerstyle guitar technique pioneered by John Fahey in the 1950s, was from the outset a way of playing folk and country blues but transforming it in experimental ways. The incredible Imaginational Anthem series released by Tompkins Square charts the style from its earliest days to the futuristic present, and our man Daniel Bachman has indeed appeared there. This is all to say that When The Roses Come Again, Bachman's remarkable new album, is perhaps not as radical as it may appear, despite the lovely fingerstyle guitar being sent through all manner of processing, turning into distorted noise, crackling drones, or fizzling glitches. The album is really one long work split into separate tracks (and the track titles are the lyrics of the Carter Family song from which the album takes its title). It's stretched-out and deconstructed, but it's still American Primitive in all its freeform gregariousness, and it's a beautiful listen from start to finish.

Jamie Hutchings - Everything Alive is at War [Jamie Hutchings Bandcamp]
Jamie Hutchings was lead singer/songwriter for legendary Sydney indie band Bluebottle Kiss and more recently fronts the krautrock-inspired rock band Infinity Broke. In both these bands, Hutchings and cohorts have been comfortably uncompromising with their experimental aspects - free jazz references, unusual structures and harmonies - along with his emotive singing. Making Water, however, is something different. At least, superficially it is: these are not songs, even if there's some singing at times; this isn't a band at all, in fact most of the playing is done by Jamie himself; and the instrumentation shifts from clattering found-object percussion to abandoned piano to scrabbling, detuned acoustic guitar, often recorded in unusual ways. And yet there's a definite Jamie Hutchingsness to the proceedings, and not just the occasional wordless vocals. Maybe because this adventurous musical spirit has always been present in his work, this seems almost like a logical progression. There's a purity to it, messy and primitive and spontaneous as it is. Listen with open ears.

Megan Alice Clune - Sonic Metaphor [Room40/Bandcamp]
Following her exceptional album If You Do, released in 2021, Eora/Sydney singer/composer/sound-artist Megan Alice Clune is back on Room40 with the beautifully deceptive album Furtive Glances. It's derived from a large collection of piano improvisations recorded as voice memos on her phone, generally little asides when preparing for something else. These unpretentious non-compositions have been repurposed via MAC's impeccable ear and craftsmanship into something new, with little added except vocal snippets - but there are other extraneous sounds allowed to be present, like the feedback that opens the album. Even the most contemplative of tracks are accompanied by distant, filigree distorted drones, or almost-inaudible vocal layers, or that robust feedback heard here... It's a disturbed peace, but peace all the same, in Clune's capable hands.

Machinefabriek - + Christine Ott [Machinefabriek Bandcamp]
Machinefabriek - + Jeremy Young [Machinefabriek Bandcamp]
The first release for 2023 from Machinefabriek was comprised of 52 tracks, each derived from a 1-minute improvisation contributed by a different musical friend of the artist. It presented a solution to Rutger Zuydervelt's circumstances in the latter part of 2022, having become a father for the first time, trying to work out how to balance his time with making music, design work and parenting. Creating a collection of short works seemed like the ticket, and the result is the monumental album simply titled +. As you'd expect, Zudervelt's collaborators range from acoustic instrumentalists to electronic experimentalists. Canadian tape manipulator and sound-artist Jeremy Young contributes the sine waves and radio that he's been using lately, and Christine Ott her signature ondes martenot. Ott's track is a good example of how Zuydervelt absorbs and reworks the sounds of his collaborators, with jungle's amen breaks buried somewhere in the analogue sounds.

Ben Carey - Towards the Origin [Hospital Hill/Bandcamp]
When I first met Eora/Sydney musician, composer & academic Ben Carey he was playing saxophone with autonomous electronics, investigating computer improvisation. For some time now, though, he's become more & more proficient in the fractally deep world of modular synthesis. His first album on Matt McGuigan's Hospital Hill came out of some of his early work with Eurorack modular systems, but Metastability was produced in two sessions at Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio (MESS) with the LaTrobe Serge modular synth, designed in the mid-'70s by Serge Tcherepnin for the La Trobe University Music Department, and restored more recently so that anyone can work on it at MESS. Linking back to my first encounters with Ben, he describes working with the so-called "Paperface" Serge as a process of dealing with the human/non-human interaction necessitated by the complex way that it works, and the delicate balance required to produce desirable sounds. This complexity aside, the pieces Carey has created are beautifully refined and incredibly organic-feeling, tactile and emotive, and the interleaved drones of closing track "Towards the Origin" are exquisitely detuned, like separate alien transmissions hesitantly singing their lonely chorale in deep space.
Later in 2023, Ben and Sonya Holowell released their first studio album as Sumn Conduit, Valve Is Released, which I also cannot recommend highly enough.

Martyna Basta - Slowly Forgetting, Barely Remembering [Warm Winters, Ltd./Bandcamp]
Like many, I was stunned by the debut release from Kraków-based sound-artist Martyna Basta, 2021's Making Eye Contact With Solitude. Her equally wonderful second album Slowly Forgetting, Barely Remembering came out early in 2023, again released by Adam Badí Donoval's Warm Winters, Ltd.. This is again patient music build from found sounds, vocal snippets and layers, guitar loops, zither, violin... These elements (including a guest spot from fellow sound-conjuror claire rousay) serve to build half-remembered emotional resonances, gentle tension and subtle release - and they add up to undeniable beauty. Also notable, in December Belgium's STROOM.tv released her EP Diaries Beneath Fragile Glass.

Ryuichi Sakamoto - 20220404 [Milan Records]
Tragically lost in 2023 was Ryuichi Sakamoto, whose cancer returned and took him from us. While he was in remission, Sakamoto recorded an album of 12 pieces mostly improvised on dates throughout 2022, either on his signature piano or synthesisers or both. These are very sparse works even when involving the electronics, ranging from quite short studies to still quite short, beautiful contemporary classical works. Sakamoto was always brilliant at heart-pulling little melodies - he was after all a soundtrack composer as much as a pop musician, electronic trailblazer and all the rest. As well as melodies, there are little ambient works along the lines of his old friend Brian Eno, and also some more avant-garde piano works. I was honestly expecting something much thinner than what we have here - it's a genuinely captivating work of some substance, only made more touching as it's his last recording.

Listen again — ~199MB

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