When he decided it was time to offer other artists the keys to his album Tiger Flower Circle Sun, released in 2010 by Ghostly International, Christopher Willits went out of his way since, instead of compiling remixes by expected big names, he preferred to turn the album into a remix competition open to all. The contestants had at their disposal a bundle of one hundred and twenty-one sounds used by Willits on the album and their only instructions were to have fun and compose whatever they wanted from this material. In the end, even if it’s easy to guess that many more must have been submitted, Willits has selected no less than fifty remixes for Tiger Flower Circle Sun - Remixes, a free compilation with a donation system that can be downloaded from Overlap’s website. As it could be expected, with such a rich and polychrome album as the original one, the remixes are extremely diverse and explore all the different sides of Willits from the drifting ambient of his collaborations with Taylor Deupree or Ryuichi Sakamoto to the more overtly pop textures that the guitarist has developed these last few years. And while young gifted artists occupy most of the space, alongside a few famous names like Robert Lippok, Celer, John Hudak, Szymon Kaliski or Corey Fuller (from Illuha), it can’t be denied that they’re all equally talented and that many have been able to put the instructions to good use in order to rise above the others. A big handful of tracks have thus been able, each in its own way, to take Christopher Willits’s music to new territories. Ambient, which was the most chosen style, was adopted by Corey Fuller, Celer, Leonardo Rosado, Ted Appel and Go Dugong, while elegiac dream pop was favoured by Lamont Kohner and Chris McNamara. We also have David Noc in soft electronica and Andy Cowling in a sharper one, Roma 79 in drifting shoegaze, Robert Lippok in post-punk brandishing its bass lines like flags, The Sight Below in minimal techno. We can also find appeased techno dub (Big Phone, MimiCof) and quirky post-rock (Pearson Constantino). In the end, through its fifty tracks, Tiger Flower Circle Sun - Remixes fulfilled its function in three different ways. First of all, it gives a pleasant new life to the album that originated it. Second of all, it demonstrates the changeability and relevance of Christopher Willits’s music, a music that can adapt to all those mutations without disappearing. Finally, it makes us discover many new talented artists that we’ll gladly follow in the future. Thanks for everything!
NOBUTO SUDA : Twilight Garden / HITOSHIRES : Stella / HAKOBUNE : Believed Remains / IEVA : La Cascade de la Montagne de l’Aube [ 日ノ岡 の滝] (Taâlem)
Much favoured by a certain current of ambient minimalism, Japan has already given the parisian label Taâlem the opportunity to release a few of its most beautiful pieces, and this new batch of three-inch CD-Rs, mostly written by newcomers, gives us the chance to immerse ourselves again in this music, with its familiar and yet unknown outlines. We start our journey with Nobuto Suda, co-founder of the label Tobira Records (with Hakobune), who appeared in the ambient scene in 2010 and has never stopped since enriching it with luminous tracks, preferably long. Twilight Garden, his CD-R for Taâlem, is indeed made of one single piece based on an extensive and soft drone overlapped by melancholic layers. With very limited means, Nobuto Suda manages to create a whole universe, polychrome and loaded with emotions. For his first and so far only release, Hitoshires, a.k.a Sasagu Ota, reaches even higher and looks at the stars with the aptly-named Stella. On that record, long layers are created, evolve, repeat themselves and die before making way for new ones, and the whole process wonderfully evokes the movement of the stars that one could watch for hours in a summer sky. Pure and minimal, the clearness of Hitorishes’ ambient fascinates and opens up several spaces from almost nothing. Takahiro Yorifuji, the “veteran” of this selection, made himself known for the first time five years ago and has already written a dozen albums as Hakobune. As comfortable with short tracks as he is with longer pieces, he’s a fervent defender of the drone, which occupies the major part of his work. Over the twenty-three minutes of Believed Remains, he lets a muffled and repetitive drone build a compact framework in which he introduces discrete exhalations and other drones, thinner, and we sail over a hypnotic mass without finding any clear exit way. Finally, a Frenchman living in Kyoto, Samuel André, a.k.a. IEVA, closes this Japanese series with La Cascade de la Montagne de l’Aube [ 日ノ岡 の滝], a rich and fascinating record. While his predecessors most of the time chose very limited sound sources, IEVA prefers clear drones, field recordings and real melodies to form a pointillist landscape. Using birdsong, the wind, water sounds, indistinct cracking and aerial melodies, IEVA offers a vision of HIS Japan, the vision of a Western man in a foreign land which gets richer little by little, as ritual percussion and chanting voices (we’re somewhere between a ceremony and a demonstration, unless it’s both) let life seep in through every corner of the landscape, a vision which hardens and becomes more radical but never loses its apparent composure in the process. Yin and Yang (and all the relationships that unite them) are expressed and exposed in a little over twenty minutes: not an easy challenge, and yet a particularly impressive balance is achieved in this record.
Thomas Köner has been tirelessly exploring polar horizons all through his career, but for his first album in the past three years, he’s forfeiting the romantic illusions of an immaculate whiteness in favour of a soiled and wounded world of ice. Novaya Zemlya doesn’t lead us to the poles of nineteenth-century adventurers, but to the pole of the Cold War. By choosing to focus on the history of Novaya Zemlya, the island which is the northernmost point of Europe, Köner tackles it head on: a heavy history, with forced population movements and countless nuclear tests -- including the explosion of the biggest atomic bomb ever detonated, the Tsar Bomba, one hundred megatons that the Russians released in Novaya Zemlya in 1961. During the twentieth century, the island was the witness of the detonation of more than one hundred times the amount of explosives used during WW2, and its landscape was deeply changed following the avalanches and earthquakes that consequently took place. With such a backdrop, it’s no wonder that Novaya Zemlya is the darkest and most desolate album by Thomas Köner so far. Ashen winds endlessly blow over gloomy and arid lands, muffled explosions can be heard in the distance, interference from dead radio waves and isolated voices emerge from the void and fly over mad geiger measurements: it’s a post-apocalyptic and yet realistic world that Köner describes in this record through three long tracks in which the details can be found hidden behind a dirty grey texture. Indeed, the apocalypse has already taken place on Novaya Zemlya, but it was only trivially human and the superbly-written record leaves you with a bitter aftertaste because Thomas Köner, without a trace of lyricism, pinpoints with cold accuracy one of the most grievous ecological disasters that the arctic regions have ever known.
Audience of One, latest album of Australian Oren Ambarchi, is a puzzling record. It’s even disappointing when you first listen to it, and then it starts digging its path into your memory, where all the works that are worth it eventually find their place. It’s puzzling because Ambarchi largely discards the stringy and so subtle textures that gave that particular charm to his previous records for Touch, Grapes from the Estate and In the Pendulum's Embrace, and because he tackles varied musical forms that are not necessarily compatible. Also because he has preferred to work in collaboration with several partners who all brought their voices and their universes, and because he has chosen to present a suite in four movements where four distinct works can clearly be noted. After an ambient pop opening with the deceptively simplistic “Salt” -- which reminds one of a more ethereal Sun, Ambarchi’s side project -- Audience of One is then clearly dominated by “Knots”, a thirty-minute monster which slowly aggregates growingly impenetrable masses of rumbling bass, of cracking sounds, of cellos, horns, drones and noise attacks to the lively rhythm of the cymbal, with the different elements coming together and falling apart around Joe Talia’s crazy percussion. That’s in this frenzied race along the border, in this precarious balance, that can be found the dark heart of Audience of One, in a track so powerful that one has to listen to it over and over again to absorb its essence. After such a shock, the rest of the record understandably pales a little in comparison, and even the amazing and restrained “Passage”, whose delicate guitar lines and luminous textures underlie Jessika Kenney’s frail voice, can’t quite escape the shadow cast by “Knots”. “Fractured Mirror”, a cover of Ace Frehley, concludes the album but it doesn’t really manage to do so convincingly, with its hollow minimalism that actually hides a poorly-inspired dream pop -- the only real weak point of the record. On the whole, Audience of One can’t be considered, I think, as the complete work that Oren Ambarchi states it is, but as two distinct works which could very well have been separated. On the one hand, three short tracks still showing the radiant side of the composer, his pop past and aspirations, and on the other hand “Knots”, whose impressive power could do without any companion, but which largely makes up for the record’s few weaknesses.
PHILIPPE PETIT : Fire Walking to Wonderland (Aagoo) / Eugenie (Alrealon) / Una Symphonia della Paura (Utech Records) / PHILIPPE PETIT & FRIENDS : Cordophony (Home Normal)
He’s been all over the place these last few months with his different projects, and Philippe Petit is not willing to lose any ground: only a few weeks after the release of the album of his new project Strings of Consciousness, he’s back with no less than four records, as different as they are indispensable. Let’s start our journey with Fire Walking to Wonderland, the second part of his trilogy Extraordinary Tales of a Lemon Girl. We had left the Lemon Girl in a state of uncertainty at the end of Oneiric Rings on Grey Velvet, on the brink of an abyss that seemed to attract her against her own will. Philippe Petit has decided to push her for good this time, and unfortunately for her the fall is far from peaceful. While its predecessor managed to give its heroine a few calm breaks and oneiric refuges, Fire Walking to Wonderland is a total head-on threat made of clashing climates and contorted strings that tightly enclose it and drag it further down the depths of what appears more like a nightmarish land than a wonderland. Closer in this record to modern composition than to the soundtracks that underlay Oneiric Rings on Grey Velvet, Philippe Petit has added an incandescent barb-wired string to his bow. Much more tender in his tribute to his daughter Eugénie (fortunately for her), Philippe Petit is still not corny. Eugenie is sprinkled with traps, fortunately compensated by the gentle tones of violins and cellos that emerge from masses of noise here and go drown in sinister cracks there. With this record, Philippe Petit offers a remake of Bryar's Sinking of the Titanic with a plastic boat in a fish tank -- anything but a lullaby! With Una Symphonia della Paura, we find him on the side of brutality. The record, originating from a collaboration with justin Broadrick, is a massive and oppressively slow “Murmurs” (as if Mater Suspiria Vision had made the acquaintance of Sun O))) somewhere on the way) that opens the way for black and haunted outbursts. With its noise assaults, tribal percussion captured through tons of background noise, electric spikes, Una Symphonia della Paura overloads all the meters, and the subtle structures that Philippe Petit usually applies to his tracks are drowned in the mass to the benefit of a formidable efficiency, of the unavoidable progress of a massive and coarse block covered in protrusions like some unknown weapon. Finally, under the name Philippe Petit & Friends (the new friends including, among others, Nils Frahm, Rob Ellis, Aidan Baker, James Johnston (Gallon Drunk), Richard Harrison (Spaceheads), Reihold Friedl (Zeitkratzer) or Adrian Klumpes), we find him one last time with Cordophony, a polychrome record that mixes a neoclassic delicacy (“Eunoïa”) with a dissonant folk undertone (« The Sunflower who does not like to turn to the Sun »), with pieces for avant-garde piano (« The Modern Dance for the advanced in Age »), a tribute to the musical tradition (“Merlin’s Music Box” being presented as a tribute to Janacek), a tense-up soundtrack (« Oneiromancy »), and even a nightmarish lullaby (‘Lullaby”). Complex and fascinating from beginning to end, Cordophony is an extraordinary sound adventure that we would like to experience more often. All the more reason not to let it go!