High Heels “Pendulum Swing”

23 Feb 2015 — Lukas Dubro

Austin Brown is one artist in Berlin that I admire a lot. He is someone who knows entirely what he is doing. Not just by the action, but by the intellectualization of it as well. When it comes to music, Austin can tell you everything from the difference between sine and square waves to the forces behind his favourite records. On the last EP of my band 케이프 you can hear Austin's self-built amplifiers coming to work.

This experience doesn't come from anywhere specific. At the age of five, Austin began playing violin and has been playing music ever since. The US-native used to play in more than 50 bands, most notably Why?, the Anticon hip hop rock outfit. In 1991, he began studying audio engineering and experimented with recording techniques for a long time. In the 2000s, he worked as a professional sound engineer in the states before moving to Berlin in 2008. Here, he made several records for local bands and worked in different venues; "My education was just trying out a bunch of bad ideas to see what might work."

The two new songs "Pendulum Swing" and "Collide" from his moniker High Heels are a demonstration of Austin's skills. We hear perfectly arranged dense rock music with a warm organic sound. Distorted lead vocals catch up with clouds of noise produced by guitar and powerful drums. The music has a great dry '90s vibe, reminding me a lot of Sonic Youth records from that time along with newer reverb drunken noise music like No Joy. With the two songs, Austin perfects the style of his older records out under the same name.

An important part of Austin's working process is to collaborate with other people. In the course of the last years, he has recorded with over 20 other musicians. These are people he worked with in studios or wanted to work with, but didn't have the chance to. For each musician Austin carefully picked the material knowing pretty well their individual playing styles. This way, he could compile the best parts together and add them to the songs the way he wanted without making compromises. "The results are fantastic. People do their best work, when they are doing whatever they want," he says.

Especially nowadays where everything primarily seems to be about style you don't come across many people who are real maîtres of their metier. Hanging with a perfectionist like Austin is always quite refreshing. It reminds you that dilettantism and irony, as interesting as they are, are not the only things that are cool.

Photo: Elisa Longhi

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Stream: 5 Years of NFOP Anniversary Edition on BCR

23 Feb 2015 — Henning Lahmann

This little website is turning five today, and there will be a proper party sometime this spring – or so we hope. We'll keep you posted. For the time being however, without further ado, here's our Special Anniversary Editon of the NFOP Show on Berlin Community Radio, which aired last Friday. We only played songs from 2010, the first year of the blog, when it was tiny and even more irrelevant. It was the age of blogging however, even though decline yould already be felt. In June of that year, Altered Zones entered the playing field, which first seemed to make everything even more exciting but ultimately engulfed everything into the abyss along with itself (*full disclosure: this author used to contribute to AZ). The rest is history. In any case, we're still here. Thanks for bearing with us.

That being said, another announcement: The NFOP Show on BCR will from now on be biweekly, two hours long, and air from 7 to 9pm CET. The next edition will be on March 6. Tune in.

Stream both parts of our anniversary show below.

Part 1:

(1) Games ”Shadows In Bloom“
(2) Autre Ne Veut ”Drama Cum Drama“
(3) Hype Williams ”The Throning“
(4) Girls ”Broken Dreams Club“
(5) LA Vampires & Matrix Metals ”Berlin Baby“
(6) Twin Sister ”All Around and Away We Go“
(7) The Sweethearts ”Burnin' Thru the Night“
(8) Herbcraft “Road to Agartha”
(9) Velvet Davenport “Warmy Personal Routine”
(10) Holy Strays “Faint Beams Ceremony”
(11) Big Troubles “Bite Yr Tongue”
(12) D’eon “Keep The Faith (Airbird Remix)
(13) Philip Seymour Hoffman “requiem for the ghostbuster”
(14) Perfume Genius “Look Out, Look Out”

Part 2:

(15) Rangers “Deerfield Village”
(16) Tamaryn “Love Fade”
(17) Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti “Bright Lit Blue Skies”
(18) Pigeons “Fade Away”
(19) Julian Lynch “Mare”
(20) Demdike Stare “Caged in Stammheim”
(21) Ensemble Economique “Forever Eyes”
(22) LA Vampires & Zola Jesus “Bone Is Bloodstone”
(23) Sun Araw “Deep Cover”
(24) Woods “Blood Dries Darker”
(25) Herzog “Cautiously Optimistic”
(26) Coma Cinema “Only”
(27) How to Dress Well “You Hold The Water”
(28) Jeans Wilder “Blanket Mountain”

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Review: Björk “Vulnicura”

23 Feb 2015 — Andrew Darley

Every Björk album release feels like a standstill moment in music history. Her records are made with emotional brevity and shaped by restless exploration. Electronic producer, Arca, mentioned in an interview in 2014 that Björk had completed a new body of work which he helped co-produce. The trickle of information came as a surprise, yet the bigger jolt was that no one expected it to be released as early as January – not even the artist herself. Quickly after the official announcement of Vulnicura’s release in March, it was leaked online in grainy quality. Taking the issue into her own hands, Björk put the album in its entireity on iTunes to be heard as she had intended.

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In her recent Pitchfork interview about the record, she disclosed the dissolving of her marriage as its inspiration, as well as how it relates to its ambitious predecessor, Biophilia. She considers the multimedia album about the connection between music, nature and technology as her way of attempting to accomplish everything (which comprised an album, musical app, documentary, scientific instruments and a school for children). She likened the project’s completion to the closing scene in Mary Poppins; once relationships are finally resolved, the nanny must leave the house she has cared for.

The glaring transition between Biophilia and Vulnicura is that she locates herself once again at the centre of her music. Like many of Björk’s records, Vulnicura fuzes words to form a clue of its content: the vulnerability of heartbreak and its cure. The album is a stark and intuitive chronological documentation of her relationship’s disintegration. Its songs put words on the intangible abyss heartbreak plunges us into. Co-produced with Arca and additional production on two songs by The Haxan Cloak, it encompasses the touchstones of Björk’s music and positions them in a new light. "Stonemilker" begins the story with impassioned string arrangements and the artist’s babbles of disorientation, while "Lionsong" ruminates on the torturous doubts of whether two people can withstand together.

Writing in an admittedly direct way, she makes no attempt to dress up her pain. Its lyrics unfold the lucid moments of clarity amidst the depression, anxieties, loss and frustrations of love. "History Of Touches" stutters in a penetrating electronic arrangement as she laments the last night in bed with her partner (“Every single fuck we had together is in a wondrous time lapse”). The ten-minute "Black Lake" gazes into the void after life is turned upside-down. It fades in and out of focus with mournful strings and propulsive beats as she agonizingly questions “Did I love you too much?”. No matter how bleak, the heart of Vulnicura echoes in an awareness that its creator’s only way of coping with such intense and crippling emotions is through music. The music she has written here embodies the psychological and physical toll of despair – portraying the darkest streams of human thought.

The essence of the record is the distressing journey of finding solace in solitude after a life-defining relationship. On the menacing "Family" she rhetorically asks for space to lament the death of her family. Its pain is palpable in which she sings, “How will I sing our way out of this?”, without response. She offers a deep insight into her own desolation through which it offers a hand to others in suffering. She closes the record with "Quicksand" – a song that profoundly accepts “When I’m broken I am whole and when I’m whole, I’m broken”. Björk does not end Vulnicura  with a happy ending, nor does she attempt to lend any resolutions of loss. Instead she casts a light on its potential cure, as its title implies, which is the understanding that we remain to exist no matter what excruciating or terrifying circumstances we find ourselves in. Her personal account of grief is cast in universal language, which is often difficult yet rewarding if one is willing to sit with the pain she sings of. As Björk’s 20th anniversary retrospective launches in New York’s Museum of Modern Art this year, she has synchronized it with one of her most vital, deeply felt records of her career. Vulnicura is the sound of the horrors and healing of the human heart.

Vulnicura is out now.

The Spacesuits: Finding Paradise with Karneef

20 Feb 2015 — Anaïs Duplan

Sun Ra and his Arkestra were known, amongst other things, for their elaborate space garb – the sequins, the ancient Egyptian symbolism, the face-paint, the full-length capes. These were spacesuits the band wore to accompany them on their mission to ‘travel the spaceways.’ So when I first began the project I called The Spacesuits, the plan was to construct a series of costumes, modeled after the garments of the Saturnalian people from which Mr. Blount claimed to have descended. I drew inspiration from the early ILC Dover spacesuit prototypes, crafted in the mid-sixties. I also drew inspiration from artist and Afrofuturist Nick Cave, known for his Soundsuits, large wearable sculptures whose bedazzling feathers and contours are meant to obscure the race, class, and gender of its inhabitants.

The Spacesuits, however, quickly became more about the music than about the costumery. The Arkestra’s outfits, after all, were only subsidiary elements of a larger mission; namely, that to restore race relations by re-imagining a future for blacks that quite literally transcended space and time. Sun Ra’s music was, above all, paradise music. It was music, which by the process of “telemolecularization” (a word coined and used often by Sun Ra), would transport its listeners to another dimension.

Thus began my own search for Sonny Blount’s contemporary musical descendants. The Spacesuits became a collective of musicians in whose work I heard elements of new utopias. I studied their bodies of work and searched for themes like apocalypse, reincarnation, the afterlife, etc. To each musician, I provided five ‘calls to action.’ I gave them prompts like, “Create a short book on how to communicate with stars. Do not use words,” (a prompt given to Stasia Irons of THEESatisfaction) and “Imagine the instant the world began. Create the corresponding soundscape,” (a prompt for Bryce Hample of REIGHNBEAU). The responses produced by the musicians in The Spacesuits collective will form the basis of a series of 8+ multimedia installations over the course of The Spacesuits summer tour, which begins on April 24th at Mengi in Reykjavík, Iceland and then travels across North America. (See the full schedule here.)

When Portals did a micro-feature of Montreal-based musician Karneef in April 2014, I knew I’d want him in The Spacesuits crew. The feature was succinct, if humorous. It read:

Montreal’s Karneef is a man that really, really loves his bass. The video for his new single “Swimming” finds him in some weird situations, most of which involve him in his underwear. Karneef keeps it cool with a lot of smooth strumming and awkward dance moves; occasionally hiding behind paintings so he can scope out a cute girl in the studio. She seems to be in her own world for most of the video, walking around aimlessly and dancing while Karneef serenades her in different parts of the studio.

It is true that Philip Antoine Karneef does indeed love his bass. But he’s also up to much more. Karneef’s 2013 album Love Between Us is, for me, an exercise in paradise music. It is, of course, tongue-in-cheek, but its sincerity is just as unmistakeable. In fact, over time, it has become clear to me that paradise music always plays on that tension between irony and sincerity. One of my favorite moments in A Joyful Noise, Robert Mugge’s 1980 documentary, is when that very subtle smile appears on Sun Ra’s visage as he advocates for governments to give constitutional rights to angels. The smile isn’t signaling that Sun Ra is, in fact, joking around. Instead, the smile says, “There’s a lot more going on here than you think.”

Read Anaïs Duplan's interview with Philip Karneef after the break. 

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You’ve mentioned collaborating with Pascale Mercier, who has done some work under the name Mathematique, on a new project, and also with Slim Williams. Could you elaborate on that? How you see those projects relating to your other work?

Pascale has played drums for the Karneef band on and off, mostly on, for three years. I saw her live show at this terrifying house party. Terrifying because the house was very scary and dark. I can't remember if it was summer or winter but I'm pretty sure she was wearing a backpack – one of those green canvas ones that you take to school. And she had a baseball cap on. Anyway, I mixed her last EP and I recorded vocals. I’m preparing to mix her first full-length album PASCALE PROJECT which seems to be lots of robust composition with elegant, searing vocals. Simple but not easy.

We've been singing up at Slim William’s mind-blowing recording spot in the Laurentians. I have no idea how I ended up being encouraged to do stuff there, but it's really paradise. It's Slim’s and Phoebe Greenberg’s place, a very beautiful duo. I help out however I can, with equipment or media-based stuff (archival or social media), or with helping set gear up at Slim's live shows. I give him tutorials on software, etc., and I get to use the studio to work with others, like Pascale, Asaël from Bataille Solaire, Dylan III. These are some really beautiful artists and I'm so lucky to have met them, incredible humans!

Will you tell me about your video work? How did the video for "Space," for example, come about and how did that experience compare with making your other music videos? I'm thinking in particular of the videos for "Bring You Back" and "Swimming."

"Space" was just unreal. That song was chosen to have a video made, and produced by the PHI Centre team including Phoebe Greenberg, the director. That took two full days, lots of costume stuff, a great camera and technical crew. And my body-double and dear old high school friend Matthew, who played the sax in the video. The VFX stuff and images are all stunning and engaging, and to be directed in all those scenarios was a great deal of fun. I just write the songs! I enjoy seeing how people want to have them visualized. I did a music video myself once for another band and it took too long. I'm not terribly preoccupied with the visual world.

The video for “Bring You Back” was the first video I'd ever done for my own music. It was directed by Thom Gillies, who has a band called Vesuvio Solo, and it's just me dancing around in my neighborhood, which has a lot of interesting people in it. They really didn't mind the camera and seemed to enjoy watching me dance. It was edited by our friend Adam Wilcox, who is very enthusiastic about cinema, so he put a lot of effort into it and I think it shows. The cuts are all very natural and rhythmic, etc.

The "Swimming" video was just as impromptu, but it was more about objects and fabric colours. But actually now that I think about it, the two videos are very similar in that they’re just kind of weird, with me jerking around and such. But the costumes are really neat and the director, Renata Morales is, of course, a very fun person, and Antoine Bordeleau, who shot and edited it, made it look really cool on the web.

On your website you've released a set of tracks called the Midas EP. In many ways, it's quite different from Love Between Us, but I also think the Midas EP is recognizably yours. What are your thoughts on that? When you go back and listen to your work, do you hear it and recognize yourself? Are there concepts or themes that you seem to revisit?

Midas was actually written before Love Between Us, but I sat on it for a while. I would say that it's recognizably mine because, yes, I tend to oscillate between a few themes. I don't realize they’re there until I listen back and say, "Oh damnit, those are really similar ideas." There are a lot of themes that come about by adding only one instrument at a time, and that instrument is playing only one note at a time. But then, harmonically, something very striking comes out. I don't tend to hear all the voicing in my head as it happens. I hear bits of it and I add it all up. Somehow, though, I have heard from other people that there is something recognizable in my music from one thing to another, even when stylistically it’s very different, and that makes me feel nice because I like to recognize artists too. It makes me feel like I ‘know’ them. We have this understanding.

When I was looking for musicians to participate in The Spacesuits, I spent a lot of time listening in search of what I was calling 'paradise music.' When I heard Love Between Us, I was absolutely certain that I'd found it. That being said, I know how strange it is to have other people characterize your own work. What relation do you think the concept of paradise has to your music? 

A lot of people recognize, when I sing about technology in my music, that it's a really important part of my life. And when I dream, often technology creeps in there, because I know a lot about what might be possible with technology. So it's natural that those ideas enter my dreams, and of course paradise pops up in dreams – or, our projections of paradise maybe. Like being in a pilot-seat of an airplane or in a bed on a beach somewhere. I think I'm often trying to conjure up paradise in my lyrics, and just hoping that other people can relate to those silly ideas all strung together. Those shifting harmonies can really make a person feel like everything’s gonna be okay. I think when you're exposed to jazz, those rules change very drastically and ‘what’s okay’ changes. There are lots of different, faster, and smaller micro-emotions in jazz, and as I go further into the orchestral or instrumental music domain, I really question why I need to use lyric in the first place. I have to save that stuff, make it really count.

You mentioned hoping that people could relate to the “silly ideas all strung together” in your music, and I think that might actually be part of what makes your work all the more utopian. Paradise is a scary topic, or at least, it can cause discomfort – but somehow you manage to make it okay to fantasize about. What is it about shifting harmonies that makes people feel at ease? And more generally, how would you characterize what ‘paradise music’ is?

Lately I've been thinking about a lot of words in French that we use in English too, but mean something different. Like “sensible.” That's the French word for "sensitive.” Isn't that weird? How did that happen?

Anyway, paradise is everywhere these days, if you want it. I'm the worst. I'll just spend a couple bucks at the store and get a chocolate bar, and I'll be in paradise until it's done. Then maybe I'll go on Netflix, or take a bath. Winter on this planet is just devastating. I can't believe we just sit in our heated houses and go out and buy olives or work in a restaurant, or talk to your mother on Skype, who is on the other side of the Earth. Soon people will be so used to being apart and there will be crazy relationships that are born and die online. Probably already a million of those happened. I can sit alone in my apartment, reading a book on how to be a better person or how to drive a boat, or order pizza. Or look at naked people screaming with pleasure. We are doomed.

You talked about being exposed to those faster and smaller micro-emotions in jazz. Give me an example of a track that does that for you.

Well I'd like to offer any track where Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul play the theme together, because the phrases are so long and the notes that are sustained are usually beautiful harmonies interrupted by staccato chirping, a big glowing synthesizer and honking reed instrument blending together. The synthesizer is being strained to sound natural and the sax is played with such exactness and precision that it could be programmed. That's paradise, mechanical and silicone, participating while singing to you. There's no words in that music so you can listen while trying to imagine that words don’t exist at all in life, just melodic themes.

Can you say more about your relationship with technology? How does it open up possibilities for you in your music?

I'm just a freak when it comes to using and fixing stuff. I can't stand that feeling of not knowing about how some very useful device was developed, where it comes from, or how to change it. Lately I've been very scared of the consequences of piracy and received some very scary letters from my ISP. I'm very bad at earning money, so of course, like most composers, I use software that I didn’t pay for and that has been really eating at me. I decided the next big film gig I get, which might never happen, because who knows really, I'm going to pay for this very advanced, thoroughly researched world which I step into each day, staring at their colors and boxes for things that I hear and share with others. What a tragedy.

Something I might like to do when I have some ability to develop my own ideas would be more intuitive percussive interfaces, or just different ones – some things that allow for very natural movement in faking hand percussion, or maybe a mallet-based instrument that does something different than emulate a drum-kit or marimba and uses physical modeling. Or portable 3D sound that seems to be nowhere close. Where are the worn donuts that have 360 degrees of sound? Maybe it exists and I haven't seen it. I think 3D records will be a thing soon. Like easily, through iTunes. Can’t you see a donut-shaped Apple device you wear on your head? It's wireless. 10 or 12 channels. Imagine!

Karneef's newest album, Musique Impossible, will be released in April, in collaboration with the new Montréal-based composers' collective, Géocité, which includes Pascale Project, Bataille Solaire, and Dylan III.

The Spacesuits is sponsored in part by The Afrofuturist Affair, a community for Afrofuturists in Philadelphia, as well as by Pushdot Studio, a fine art printing studio in Portland, Oregon.

Sea Change “Squares”

20 Feb 2015 — Andrew Darley

Sea Change is Ellen A.W. Sundes’s musical project whose debut album, Breakage, is due out February 23rd. Based in Oslo, the musician recognizes her own shyness as an impetus for this project: “I've spent so much time being too shy to show people my music or even actually write finished songs because of my own self-censorship. This project is about letting go and just being comfortable in this space”. The record’s title, Breakage, refers to her own desire to break away from old to create a new environment for herself. "Squares" reflects the heart and sound of the debut record. Entering with breathy vocals and a stuttering beat, she sings of escaping the trappings which hold her back. It broods in its sparseness, as she vows that her “feet will run all they can”. "Squares", much like the album, drifts between a melancholic and a rising spirit. Sea Changes’ Breakage is the sound of an artist transcending the anxieties which restrain her creativity and discovering her own voice.

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Swim Platførm “HVAL FALL 2”

20 Feb 2015 — Richard Greenan

After a chance meeting in Oslo, French composer Romeo Poirier and Norwegian writer Lars Haga Raavand agreed to collaborate. The result - which chronicles the death of a whale and its ghostly descent to the Atlantic seabed - is intoxicating. Poirier's palette is vast: a swell of strings and electronics plunging fathoms deep amongst the clicks and whirrs of creatures unknown. Discordant, Copland-esque brass emerges, like some menacing flotsam. A mesmerising tow of piano chords recalls the disjointed harmonies of Jonny Greenwood or Murcof. Then, to cement the trance, Raavand lilts and enounces delicately, before he too is swallowed up. The sense of bereavement and grief is palpable. I find myself hanging on every word, despite not knowing what they mean. You can read more and purchase Raavand's book, Hvalfall, here. Also be sure to explore more of Poirier's music, which is produced under the nom de plume Swim Platførm.

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NFOP Recommends: Farfara Live in Berlin

16 Feb 2015 — Johanne Swanson

I first met Etkin Cekin at his place of work, Acud in Mitte. Our editor Henning Lahmann and I were DJing at a show for the Dublin outfit Girl Band and, as such, played a loud scuzzy set of pop songs by actual bands with girls in them. It wasn’t once but three times that the bartender lit up and gave an enthusiastic nod of approval at the beginning of a track. This was Etkin Cekin.

It should then be no surprise that Cekin’s three-piece Farfara bring a similar eager pop sensibility that is all too lacking to Berlin. The fervor in their sludgy hooks is like being fifteen all over again, the adventure of fleeting innocence. It may be that Farfara have been able to hold on to this teenage feeling because Cekin first started playing music with Tolga Böyük between kicking around their skateboards in a suburb outside of Istanbul. Three years later, in 2004, the two met Eralp Güven while studying and first realized their potential as a trio. None of this is to say that Farfara is uncomplicated; their beachy guitars falter into mature realms of spontaneous psych drone.

Tonight, supporting Deerhoof, Farfara kicks off three live dates in Berlin before breaking in anticipation of a full-length release. We are featuring all three shows, as each set is sure to be different in the nature of their propensity towards experimentation and improvisation. 

16.2: Lido Berlin with Deerhoof
19.2: Urban Spree
27.2: Acud with Derdiyoklar

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STROMBOLI “Low Radiation” (exclusive)

09 Feb 2015 — Henry Schiller

Within the world of lapsteel ambient guitar music - admittedly, one that provides very small margins for comparison - STROMBOLI seems like a stylistic outlier. Rather than ponderous or contemplative, STROMBOLI's take on ambience is evocative of the synthetic fang-baring of Italian slasher-flick scores from the mid-60s. On top of that, STROMBOLI's uncharacteristically aggressive approach to rhythm feels more akin to a dance-punk act like Liars, kicking against the notion that ambient music cannot move at any pace other than 'glacial.'

"Low Radiation" is a track from STROMBOLI's upcoming debut EP for Maple Death Records, and it briskly captures an almost punk attitude to which STROMBOLI seems hell-bent on associating with ambience. A coarse, repeating beat, which sounds like small pockets of air eploding in rapid succession, gives "Low Radiation" an immediacy that is very atypical for a genre that is historically more aligned with ponderous journeys through tone and waveform than a fast-approaching horror. "Low Radiation" is an immediately graspable package that still manages to meet one of the most important requirements for ambient music: that it sounds accidental, having emerged from your surroundings through the blind luck of some uncontrollable natural process.

STROMBOLI's debut EP is available for pre-order through Maple Death Records.

 

 

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