(posted 11/13/2000)

Rhomb: Lunatic
Csero: Pikoliftor
Seofon: Immanent
Thermal: Span
Dean Santomieri: Crude Rotation
eM: Click pop

Archipelago #3 1-6

In an interesting 'experiment', 6 SF Bay Area musicians who are all interested in electronic music, though with very different approaches, have released a set of 3"cds forming the six islands in an archipelago (this is archipelago #3 : see &etc v2.2 for reviews of the first two). The aim is to offer an opportunity to view their music in relation to each and all of the others - to get a navigational fix on them - and to separate them from the mainland, though not completely. But why 6 separate disks, and not a double album? I can see a couple of reasons - firstly the 3" format is aesthetically appealing, and M Bentley has done a great job giving the a coherent, yet independent look (what a shame there isn't a cute little box to store them in, a la Main Hz: late breaking news - there are some coming). But more importantly, having them as unique items emphasises their situation as part of an island chain, and also allows the listener to listen to them in any order they want - we tend to listen to disks straight through, but with this, by playing different combinations, new ways of fixing on them can be made. (This imperative is explored further at the Archipelago website) So, what are the individual works like?

Well, unlike most archipelagos, the climate is varies significantly from one island to another, leading to unique environments - these are six very different albums (another argument for the format). Rhomb (Bentley and Kreisberg) provide an almost acoustic opening of clattering wood and long tones in 'Marium (of the seas)' which initiates a series of changing, gentle moments which flow into each other to create a varied soundscape. We move through areas with tones, glitchy scratches and organ, metallic chords, a structured expanse of deep and washing tones, synth noodles on the surface, before a full conclusion with lots of spacey synths, rumbling and tonecalls. Each mood or segment segues easily into the next creating a complete whole. With their other track 'Montium (of mountains)' a more steady base of a chiming clocklike noise runs throughout, and over which other components are built - some occurring frequently, others less so. There are swooshes, deep tones, bangings, echoed knocking and more. The pace and density picks up and recedes, recreating the mountains and valleys of the moon. Both pieces are semiabstract but demonstrate an architectural unity.

The feeling is somewhat different in Csero's 'Pikoliftor' - created on an C64-emulator on a program designed with games in mind, it is a blippy, bloopy extravaganza. Across the six tracks we move through the dense but almost random computer games of 'A0-42 (wavT_start)' into a more open, sparser and echoed quietude in 'F0-33' and then more melodic fragments and analog blurts in the similarly spacious '02-23'. It becomes more percussive and quite glitchy, with clicks and high tones in '00-08' which is followed by a beaty '01-00' where some quite regular loops get to run. '7F-02 (wrap_point)' gets back to a fuller random sound with clicky blurts accompanied by some feathery space waves. As a whole this is quite edgy, with the short bursting noises, absence of any regular grounding rhythms or beats, or soft warmth in many tones: and fascinating for that.

The machine-spectre of 'Pikolifter' is overwhelmed by Seofon who molds the three pieces of 'Immanent' into a structured whole. 'Skyle' is propelled by a beat with echoes of AmerIndian music, that carries through the track supporting guitar and synth waves. Over this some chantlike keyboards and rising tones create a driving space-tribal movement. It fades and shifts into the short 'Freemantic' which is an abstract piece of growling synths and metallic vents with some synths swirling in the mist, before the beat redevelops, growing out of the synths and into 'Eth' which is an exciting drum-and-bass like workout of layered rhythm loops with a melody sliding underneath. The three parts of the disk fit together well, rounding each other off and creating a nice balance.

Thermal, who has worked with Seofon previously (see &etc v2.2), also uses a tripartite structure - 'Span' opens and closes with short pieces: 'Onramp - sketch for fumo' is buzzes and pulses for a minute while 'Offramp - sketch for fantom' is a whistling conclusion. As the names imply, there is a sense of a journey to 'Span' and the central section, 'Main span - blues for muru', provides the bulk of the route. It is a beaty piece which itself moves through different environments: the opening stage has some Tangerine-dream like synth, a throbbing bass and some harpsichord-keyboards. It drives nicely along the auto-bridge and then drops into a contemplative squarly section with synths calling over before hitting the accelerator again and shifting into the final section where the beat redevelops, regaining the structure of the opening before slowing into the offramp. A satisfying trip which for much of the time leaves the bridge and shifts into some spacey territory.

Perhaps the most unique of the six (and yep, I know that's bad english) is Santomieri's 'Crude rotation' which uses musique concrete techniques and other electroacoustic effects - 'Gram mo phone' has abstract noises leading into jumpcut records, crackling and echoes, and longer snatches of martial records, voices and crackling. Julie Oxendale recites the poem 'Ati noko' over noises and sirens, getting cut and spliced and backwards in places during the track, developing an entrancing psychodrama. Repeating strummings and metallic noises and noisey loops underscore 'Ears & whiskers' which ends with water noises. An almost contemplative mood emerges in 'Rite of spring' which is quieter with clickingvinyl loops, a site recording of people and a banging metallic coda. And finally 'Peach skin crayon' which has a variety of people talking and singing, metallic whirring and crackling, angelic noises and distorted horns, high pitches, and (speaking of pitches) long treated extracts from a pizza ad. Each track is more complex and involved than my word picture (which is true across the board, and across most reviews) and bears close scrutiny.

eM shows us 'The small life' in a driving resonant pulse with squarls and deep chitters over, which opens 'Click pop' on familiar ground. 'Circle' starts with a deep rumbling tone which shifts half way in pitch, and the accompanies a semisungrecited/folky song, the growling crackle synced with the vocal. Unusual eM territory, but we move back to safer shores with 'Convoloptic' where high pitched bips and bops cycle across the speakers, plying a merry popping melody, and then strained electronics of 'Little robot' where a mechanical stutter rubs along with high tones we have come to expect from the blabok. 'Coded chaos' forms the centrepiece of the album, a slow clicking starts, then a swirling crackling drone out of which a voice-like noise emerges. And coalesces into another song: it reminds me of a slightly slowdistorted Numan dreaming of wires. Around it the click continues and the drone revs and whirrs - intriguing. In 'Edison naps' a slow crackling accompanies sweet high tones which peek over the landscape, their long shadows stretching after them, gradually they become more forthright and fill the air before departing. Voice modulation experiments briefly take us into 'Vox attractor' followed by a fuller pulsing 'The great attractor', with sustained tones with edges of disharmony over a looped rhythm bed, and fading and slowing as we sail from this last island. All in all another departure for eM Bentley, whetting our taste for more.

A conclusion? While the islands may be in an archipelago, the climate across the string is very variable, producing six quite different ecosystems; Thermal and Seofon are probably nearer to each other than Rhomb is to eM (despite their semi-shared creator), while Csero and eM have a basic shared interest in computer sounds, Santomieri's musique concrete is quite distant but interrelating with eM's new interest in the voice. But they all are distinct. Taking fixes between the islands is diverting, but somewhat pointless - rather it is more fun to enjoy the synergy that these artists are gaining from each other and their shared interest in music, and wallow in the pleasure of these six miniatures.