Switched On – NETHERWORLD: Algida Bellezza (Glacial Movements)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

There is a deeply personal story behind the composition of Algida Bellezza. The man behind NETHERWORLD is the founder of Glacial Movements, Alessandro Tedeschi, and he wrote the core music of the album, which loosely translates as ‘frozen beauty’, in 2015. Each of the five ‘movements’ were born – literally – as he cradled his new daughter. In June 2019 the music was mixed and mastered by Tedeschi’s good friend, sound engineer Matteo Spinazzè Savaris – and the completed album ready for release.

As the cover would suggest it is a great example of Tedeschi’s chilly ambience, which this time takes the all-important Greenland sled dog as its principal focus. The titles of the five tracks all relate to a prominent species of the area – respectively Vulpes lagopus (Arctic Fox), Somniosus microcephalus (Greenland Shark), Orcinus orca (Orca), Monodon monoceros (Narwhal) and Ursus maritimus (Polar Bear).

What’s the music like?

Tedeschi has a way of working that is both ambient but incredibly intense too. The five soundscapes here are characterised by thick textures that resemble weather systems, each putting forward prominent melodic features that work in slowly orbiting loops.

Vulpes lagopus is large in scope, the arctic fox taking very slow, recurring musical breaths, establishing ‘D’ as a tonal base but allowing for other thoughts too. Somniosus microcephalus is almost claustrophobic, its profile like that of a big ocean liner or an incredibly dense cloud with small musical points of reference to hang on to. It effectively wraps the listener in a comforting swathe of cotton wool.

Orcinus orca captures the good and the bad of the killer whale, the passage of a large body expertly portrayed but also its foreboding and potentially inflammatory nature. Monodon monoceros – like the narwhal it portrays – is slower and gentler, the music dominated by soft minor key chords.

Finally Ursus maritimus matches the white of the polar bear, with a lovely sound the listener can really dive into. Tedeschi uses a big bass drum and cymbal effect akin to large waves crashing in the near foreground, before the music settles onto a long sustained note and ultimately settles to rest – even hibernation.

Does it all work?

Yes. Tedeschi brings remarkable depth to his compositions, a blend of easy on the ear ambience and cautionary harmonies that imply everything on the surface is not as comfortable as it seems. This is cold, wintry music that moves slowly, best summarised in visual terms like an icebreaker in the Antarctic – but also managing to portray the five different species in the track titles.

Knowing of Tedeschi’s connection to his little girl only heightens the emotional impact of the music.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Despite its difficult title, Algida Bellezza is typical of Glacial Movements’ output. It works for listeners approaching it from the electronic side but also the classical, where listeners will appreciate the natural, stately development of its ideas. Crucially it is also incredibly ambient and immersive!

Stream

Buy

Switched On – Quarion: Shades (Drumpoet Community)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Music and colour have a strong relationship of course, one that has been incredibly productive over the years – and which really came to the fore in early 20th century classical music. The bond has remained strong, particularly in electronic music with use of lights and images. It is not a great surprise, then, to find the likes of Quarion – aka Yanneck Salvo – exploiting the connection with an album of different shades. Getting the music to accurately represent a colour, however, is a harder task.

Initially Shades began as a series of EPs but soon outgrew the concept, meaning Quarion’s previously lauded single releases could be knitted together as an album and combined with a few more experimental tracks.

What’s the music like?

The icy washes of Turquoise (’99 til Infinity) begin Shades with a glacial calm, but it’s not long until Indigo (Aries) asserts a rhythm-based presence, with bleeps and percussion that suggest a Detroit influence.

Shades then shows itself to be a really strong albums of tracks that stand as well on their own two feet as they do in the longer playing context. Cobalt is excellent, and is ideally complemented by the beatless Ultramarine. Azure (Émotion), a collaboration with Ripperton, is notable for its subtle layering, while Sapphire lays more acidic squiggles into the electronic mix.

As you might expect Teal allows you to dive deep into lush, exotic textures, while Cerulean is nicely done, with attractive melodic lines and deep beats. Three of the longer tracks are over eight minutes but pass in a flash – Indigo (Aries), Cobalt (Plains) and Azure (Émotion) all develop with an impressive and compelling command of structure.

Blue is definitely the implied colour here, but there are many shades that are beautifully interwoven by Quarion’s craft.

Does it all work?

Yes, and it all feels natural too. The colours and the music behind them are strong matches, and the move between the tougher, more acidic beats and atmospheric washes of sound means that Shades embraces light and dark ends of the spectrum with ease.

Is it recommended?

Yes, strongly. In an age where some seem determined to turn their back on the album format for playlists, while others celebrate the format anew, it is a real plus to see Quarion embracing the format for all its strengths, and putting together such a coherent and ultimately danceable piece of work. From happy experience, Shades is a record that repays many repeated hearings. Ultimately it proves that even if you have been making music at the top level since 2006, as Salvo has, it’s never too late for an album!

Stream

Buy

Switched On – Piksel: Places (Modularfield)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Places is one-third of a multimedia project by Syntrex. Described as ‘an interdisciplinary collective exploring the sense of transition’, it is equal parts contemporary dance (Magnus Westwell), projected animations (Amy Dang) and live music (Piksel herself).

Syntrex: PLACES – Pickle Factory from Amy Dang on Vimeo.

Piksel, real name Ieva Vaiti, is a Lithuanian musician and producer based in London, whose disciplines include classical violin and electronics, with an ever-increasing film score portfolio. The half-hour long soundtrack for Places brings both her specialities together, presented for listening either in eleven separate tracks or one mixed whole.

What’s the music like?

Both descriptive and ambient. Like all good descriptive scores, this is music that as well as fitting the specification works on its own feet.

The track titles are strongly represented by the music. Walk In sets the expansive scene, while Boxes gives a vivid representation of heavy cubes being pushed around, with white noise and electronics squeezing the sound. Breathing senses the wide open air, Travel has a pulsing bass drum – but She Ghetto is rather disarming, the quarter tones and sighing vocals working together to heighten anxiety.

This is ultimately calmed in the musical hug that is Serenity, offsetting the previous tension with weather-based ambience. Time is a little less calm as it shuts off quite dramatically, but that makes way for Home, the jewel in the crown, where Vaiti plays a richly coloured violin solo that soars over the textures.

Does it all work?

Yes. Places is strongly suggestive in its musical descriptions, meaning the listener can approach it without knowing anything of the project to which it contributes.

Ieva Vaiti’s classical and electronic sensibilities work off each other really well, so that the result is a piece of work suiting both approaches.

Is it recommended?

Yes. It works equally well either listening to the divided tracks or the continuous half hour, where the sense of departure and homecoming is heightened.

Stream

Buy

Switched On – Lapalux: Amnioverse (Brainfeeder)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Amnioverse has a pretty heady back story. Its creator, Stuart Howard – known as Lapalux – sees his fourth album as ‘a sort of portmanteau of the amniotic sac and the universe’. That means a study of the continuing life cycle, from birth through life to death and round again.

This is brought to the listener through field recordings of the elements and an impressive battery of modular synthesizers. Each track has a deeply personal edge through the inclusion or stimulus of spoken word from figures close to the composer. That means friends, loved ones and even exes, Howard prepared to get as personal as he needs to for his music to make an impact.

What’s the music like?

With the above taken into account, it is no surprise to report Amnioverse as the most emotional and direct Lapalux album to date. The field recordings give it a big presence on the stereo and a massive sound perspective on headphones, which can be truly thrilling at times, especially when the beats kick in.

The clattering drums on Voltaic Acid are a great example of this, as is Thin Air, where the brooding soundscapes that have built up over time are emphatically released. The album operates on a vast dynamic scale, barely audible in some private moments while others have a thunderous depth to them.

Earth manages to walk the tightrope between both sides. The vocal statement is telling – ‘When we look at the situation, out there in the big world, it just breaks my heart. We just seem to be lost’ – and is capped by a full bodied break beat and wide open sonic backdrop, reminiscent of Way Out West at their very best in the 1990s.

Momentine develops into a widescreen panorama, with a four to the floor rhythm briefly taking charge, while Thin Air and The Lux Quadrant benefit from the glacial vocals of JFDR. However Lapalux leaves the most haunting of all his work until last. Esc has a dislocated vocal which sings, rather disconcertingly, “So long, life breath”. It is a striking way to finish.

Does it all work?

Yes. Be prepared to jump on the very first noise of the album, where a high pitched ‘contact’ noise can be heard – but after that keep the volume up, as it will help full appreciation of Lapalux’s way with wide open sonic textures.

The music reflects its stunning cover, which is from a photograph of James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyspace installation in Texas. While it was hugely ambitious for Stuart Howard to attempt a musical translation of this, a listen to Amnioverse confirms he has largely succeeded.

Is it recommended?

Yes. It is a relative rarity for electronic albums to get quite so personal in their making, but Lapalux does so in a way that keeps the listener fully on board. You can feel the deep emotion up close, but also pan out to appreciate the sheer scope of Howard’s workings. The beats, too, are superbly manipulated by an artist who continues to plumb greater depths and richer shades of musical colour. Just like the cover.

Stream

Buy

Talking Heads: Amongst The Pigeons

Interviewed by Ben Hogwood

Amongst The Pigeons is the name under which Worthing-based artist Daniel Parsons makes his electronic music. Those Stolen Moments is his new album, regenerating the project after a few years’ hiatus. One of the tracks on the album, Perching, was inspired by a distinctive rhythm from the clinking of coffee cups – so it seemed only appropriate to decamp to a cafe for a discussion on electronic music and the stolen moments Daniel needed to make it.

His way in to electronic music was a heartening one. “For me it was when I was at school doing GCSEs in the early 1990s, listening to John Peel on the radio. Probably the biggest electronica influence I got in to was Orbital. I saw them a lot at festivals, and then into the mid-1990s it was The Chemical Brothers and Underworld. It was a tried and tested route I guess!”

All roads eventually led to Britain’s biggest festival. “I watched Orbital on TV at Glastonbury ’94, the first year it was televised, and then I went to the 1995 festival, which was the first time I went. I was 15 and I’d just finished my GCSEs, and Orbital played the main stage just before Pulp. On the Friday the Prodigy played on the other stage, which was brilliant. It was the first time I’d been to Glastonbury, and one of the things I remember was a lady in her fifties or sixties coming up to me and saying, “D’you wanna buy some pills?” It really freaked me out! Orbital were on the main stage on Saturday, and it was brilliant. Happy memories.”

Parsons has kept an open musical mind since then, though “probably less so as I’ve got older. Having said that in the past couple of years I’ve tried to get back into listening to newer music, and I’m following newer stuff. Growing up I was always the kid in the common room who would put on all of the new music. I used to go to Our Price on a Monday, buy new releases and try to influence everyone else.”

The shift online has been telling. “I follow a lot of blogs these days. A place I always used to go for new music was John Peel or The Evening Session on Radio 1. I don’t listen to the radio a lot but I do read blogs and follow stuff on Twitter. You get waves of stuff that bubbles up to you, like the BUNKR album that has come out recently. One of his tracks is on the playlist that I’ve done for Arcana.”

We move on to the making of Those Stolen Moments, recorded in pockets of time that Daniel had to seek out for musical use. “When I made my first album, most of the songs on it started out as two minutes long, which is the time you take to brush your teeth – and so it was called Music To Brush Your Teeth To! With Those Stolen Moments the idea behind that was more around the opportunity I had to make music. Being at work and having a family means you don’t have a ton of time to do stuff, so I would find time sitting in a coffee shop with a laptop, building up an idea, or on a train, as I have a four hour commute – or in between other things that were going on. It was taking an opportunity to progress my music a little bit more. A lot of the songs would come together late at night, so everyone else would go to bed and I’d be up between 10 and 1-3 in the morning. The stolen moment is if you don’t do it then, you won’t do it at all! I did purposefully try to keep things around two and half or three minutes with the new stuff.”

Does the album purposely fit today’s shorter attention span society? “Well my wife is one of my biggest critics”, he laughs, “and she can get incredibly bored of things. If we listen to an album you’ll get to track five and she’ll be bored of it. I always think of trying to power through but without cutting off what something could become – trying to include lots of ideas or journeys in a short space of time. A lot of the ideas do start off a big longer, but things get pruned over time. A lot of dance music is about the 12-beat introduction and the slow build, whereas I like the slow build very quickly!”

Inflight Entertainment, the album’s second track, began on the airport gravel itself. “I was recording it on my iPhone on GarageBand, and it was initially the take-off noises and the air stewardess talking. There’s a bit where I’ve cut out some of the words she says, looped them back through and they trickle in the background as a noise, building up the effect of where it was recorded. Perching is the same, with the cluttering of the cutlery turning it in to something that told a story. I was aware of the rhythm going on, and the beat in the song is very much edited to be in time with it.”

By contrast, Polly Bee Gone goes much lower. “That’s a weird one. I was working on it when I didn’t know that I was going to rejuvenate Amongst The Pigeons, and it’s one of the heavier, more dubstep-based sounds that I generally don’t go too near.”

The 25th Hour, meanwhile, celebrates the extra hour available when British Summer Time segues into Greenwich Mean Time – and was in fact made in that 60 minutes of freedom. “It links into the whole stolen moments theme running through the album, about taking any opportunity and doing something where you don’t usually have time to do it.”

Meanwhile there is a subtle warmth and humour running through tracks like Beautiful Negative Space. “I’m glad that comes through,” he says. “The earlier stuff I did was very much sample-based, trying to find unusual comedy in a way in some of the music I make. As I was making the Amongst The Pigeons stuff it started going down a route where it lost some of that frivolity, and when I was doing this I wanted it to be fun. Tracks like Thinking Is Addictive, you have the sample that takes me through and the noises in there that are all about trying to make it more accessible as electronica.”

One producer that comes to mind when listening to Parsons’ music is Andy Votel – though it should be stressed the two are individual voices, their common ground in the snapshot approach they can take to electronic instrumentals. “I listened to a lot of his stuff when I was at university, along with Lemon Jelly and Mr Scruff, and I always try to keep an element of them in there as well. I try to find that little element of humour wherever I can.”

Parsons refers affectionately to his place of recording as the ‘sheddio’, a place for his musical self in the garden, bolted onto the family home. Does the location come through to him in the music? “That’s a very good question”, he says, “and quite poignant in terms of doing this album. When I made the older Amongst The Pigeons stuff I did a lot in hotel rooms, trains and planes when I used to travel with work, and I never used to think about the context of where people would listen to it. When I was restarting I was keen to get back to doing it live, and found it difficult to find the right tempo for an hour-long live show with the older stuff. I kept trying to bring the newer songs into the live show. In terms of what I hear back when I listen to them, it’s some of those shows that I’ve done.”

Having had formative experiences with electronic music at Glastonbury, Daniel is now making them for himself. “I played The 25th Hour there this year, and I remembered the exact moment where it really kicks in, and all the people in the tent were dancing to it. I remember the songs more from live performances now than when they were recorded. When I’m in the ‘sheddio’ the majority of it is looking at triangular and pyramid tiles. The other thing I’ve been trying to do recently is to record standing up, rather than sit down to record and program, so that when I’m looping things I’m thinking of how it will work playing live. When you’re in a band you’re stood up and playing, but when you’re doing electronic music you’re sitting down and programming.”

Radio support from previous Amongst The Pigeons material was headed by Steve Lamacq, whose positive take was “I’ve no idea how to describe this, but I really like it!” “He’s played some of my stuff a few times”, says Parsons. “There was one he played where he said that, and there was another one where I made a song called Waiting In The Rain. I hadn’t realised but there is a sound that is like electronic ‘cooing’ at the start. He played it and said, “I like the way he’s captured the electronic cooing”, which I hadn’t thought about. I really like that first quote as a comment though.”

It is a phrase a good many artists would be happy with, away from categorisation or ‘amongst the pigeon’ holing, so to speak. With that in mind, what are his hopes for the album? “That a couple of people listen to it! For me it was all about resetting, a statement to say I’m back and making music again after a six-year break. If new people like it that’s great, and if people who have listened to me before like it that’s great too, and they will hopefully tell other people to listen to it. It’s not about selling loads of copies, as I’m not doing a physical release, but if people say it’s cool then I’m happy.”

There are live dates too, despite the occasionally daunting prospect of a one-man musical show. “It can be daunting, and it was the thing I found hardest doing this album. In the gap between albums I was releasing music with my friend Ollie as Exactly Zero, and within that we always had each other as sounding boards to decide when something was finished or where it should go. One of the things I struggled with on this album was questioning whether anything was good at all, and trying to get the confidence back to be able to be self-critical with it. On the live element, when it’s just you standing there and talking to people, you can feel quite exposed. It’s hard work, but it’s nice that I’m my own boss, can do anything when I want and don’t have to rely on anyone else!”

Listen & Buy

You can order Those Stolen Moments, the new album from Amongst The Pigeons, by clicking this link

Meanwhile the ATP Bandcamp site enables streaming and purchase of the album:

Daniel’s playlist choices and a review of the album will appear on Arcana soon. For more information on Amongst The Pigeons, head to the artist website