Switched On – Rival Consoles: Overflow (Erased Tapes)

rival-consoles-overflow

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Ryan Lee West’s new album under the pseudonym of Rival Consoles was written for a dance production, Overflow, choreographed by Alexander Whitley. The aim of Whitley’s work was to explore ‘themes of the human and emotional consequences of life surrounded by data’…echoing ‘the concept of social media, advertising, marketing companies and political factions exploiting our data to gain wealth, political advantage and sow division.’

West noted the potential of the combined artform to ‘create an otherworldly space the listener/viewer can escape to and explore’. A big feature of the finished work is a light sculpture created by Children of the Light, with a long LED bar that moves around the stage.

What’s the music like?

Rival Consoles responds to his theme with music of real presence and tension. Right from the off there is an air of foreboding to Monster, with its brooding colours and slightly irregular pitches and rhythms stretched over ten minutes.

I Like ratchets this up still further. Mashing up a short vocal sample, which is effective but also infuriating as the speaker never quite gets to the point. The Cloud Oracle also treats speech intriguingly, with a held note that has talking heads spun around it.

Flow State is a thrilling ride at a high tempo, with crossrhythms generated by the keyboards that are redolent of Steve Reich and which have plenty of opportunity for development over twelve minutes, the percussion hammering more incessantly on the door.

All these examples are an indication of the invention Ryan Lee West gets in response to Whitley’s brief, resulting in music that pushes him further technically and creatively from the previous album Articulation.

Does it all work?

It does. Overflow is a compelling piece of work, a musical equivalent to the striking colours that adorn its cover.

Is it recommended?

Yes. There was a general feeling that Articulation did not quite meet Ryan Lee West’s full potential as Rival Consoles, effective though it was. There can be no such doubt here.

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Switched On – Rival Consoles: Monster (Erased Tapes)

Rival Consoles – aka Ryan Lee West – is back with a new album, scheduled for release in December. Described as ‘a resonant and explorative soundscape of original music’, it was written for Alexander Whitley’s contemporary dance production Overflow.

The first calling card we have from the record is a substantial one, the ten-minute Monster. West describes Monster as having “a kind of drunken madness to it, highly repetitive to mirror the repetitive nature of how we as humans engage with technology such as social media. It’s sometimes edging towards chaos but yet always returning back to the same starting point, but eventually giving way to exhaustion. I wanted to create a bold opening piece for Overflow.”

It certainly has an ominous presence from the outset, West using micro-adjustments to a single pitch as a slow beat gradually takes hold. The atmosphere is tense, like an approaching encounter in a Ridley Scott film:

Overflow will be released by Erased Tapes on 3 December 2021. For more information click here:

Switched On: Masayoshi Fujita: Bird Ambience (Erased Tapes)

masayoshi-fujita

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Until now, Japanese multi-instrumentalist Masayoshi Fujita could declare the vibraphone to be his ‘principal’ instrument. It would be top of a long list including drums, percussion, synths, effects and tape recorder. Fujita completed a triptych of vibraphone-based works for the Erased Tapes label in 2018, while continuing to record under his other alias El Fog, where he makes dub music, and in his improvisations with other artists such as Jan Jelinek.

Bird Ambience takes a decisive step to unify all those elements of his musical personality, but at the same time changes his principal instrument from the metallic vibraphone to the wooden percussion of the marimba.

What’s the music like?

Enchanting. Fujita’s ear for instrumental colour is once again immediately apparent when the music for this album begins, and he shows just how expressive the marimba can be, especially when played as softly as it is in Cumulonimbus Dream. He also shows the wide variety of sounds it is possible to coax from the instrument, using different levels of attack and sustain, both in real time and in production, to go with other pitched percussion, ambient melodic lines and carefully managed levels of distortion.

Often the music has an improvised quality, but the styles vary quite markedly. Thunder starts with crisp down beats applied to full chords, the track gradually expanding outwards to fill the headphone space. Stellar adds extra white noise to its beats, the raucous cymbals contrasting with the padded percussion elsewhere. Noise Marimba Tape goes a similar route, its ticking motif gradually taking on new lines and a firm beat, with the occasional distorted aside. Anakreon offers a complement, moving to gentle droplets of melody from the main instrument alone, while Nord Ambient and Pons remove the attack almost entirely for pure, glacial ambience.

Fujita’s judgment with the textures of his other instruments is unerring, and the music is always colourful but never crowded, and not afraid to turn towards discord and distortion as Gaia does. The lovely Morocco, meanwhile, contrasts the watery marimbas with a deep hum from a brass section, building small cells through a more classical method. Finally Fabric sets a lasting spell, sustaining bright textures in an exquisite orbit while time is marked by simple blocks.

Does it all work?

Yes. Bird Ambience is an album that demands your time as a listener for its spell to be wholly cast, since there is a lot going on here that you might miss if you choose the approach of a background listener. Only by listening closely will you appreciate the melodic cells Fujita works with, ranging from clipped marimba phrases to much longer sustained electronics. Each complements the other.

Is it recommended?

Highly. Masayoshi Fujita must have been a little anxious about moving over from the vibraphone, after such a thorough study of it over three albums, but his achievement here is rather special and often deeply moving. Bird Ambience can be relied upon as a cushion from a heavy day, an aid to thoughtful contemplation, or something to bask in as the different sources of sound rain gently on the listener’s parade.

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Switched On – Peter Broderick: Blackberry (Erased Tapes)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

This is a surprise release from Peter Broderick, the Oregon multi-instrumentalist giving us his first vocal album in five years, since Colours of the Night in 2015. The release will not be as much of a surprise to Broderick’s followers, however, as they are used to his prodigious output on several musical levels. While more recently he has been lending violin to Tim Burgess‘ band, Broderick still finds the time to write his own classically-infused music and the sort of song-based material we find here.

The whole of Blackberry was recorded in Broderick’s home in south east London, an environmentally friendly album in concept and execution.

What’s the music like?

Subtle, meaningful, light-hearted and affecting. Broderick recognises the need of listeners to have something consoling in the times in which we find ourselves, but he offers a few witticisms along the way. Stop And Listen and But are both quirky songs littered with wordplay and wry observations, Broderick’s sonorous voice working well with the humour.

As the album progresses however so the music becomes more deeply affecting – and the thread of environmental awareness, which runs through the album, comes more to the front. Blackberry itself is a celebration of foraging, and is really nicely done, while the wordplay on The Niece is clever. Broderick’s voice has folk music inflections without directly using traditional source material.

The soft but compelling storytelling of What’s Wrong With A Straight Up Love Song leaves its understated mark, Broderick working really well with a longer structure of nine minutes on the album’s centrepiece. The soft brushstrokes of Let It Go are lovely, as are the autumnal strings on What Happened To Your Heart.

Does it all work?

Yes. The humour in the opening songs might not strike a chord with everyone but it is an essential part of Broderick’s carefree style, and works really well. His skill in orchestration and songwriting, meanwhile, comes through at every opportunity.

Is it recommended?

Definitely. Seasoned collectors of Peter Broderick’s music will be used to spending a bit of money to keep up with his prolific output, but that’s because they will argue the outlay reaps musical dividends. That is very much the case once again.

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Switched On – Rival Consoles: Articulation (Erased Tapes)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Articulation is the fifth album for Erased Tapes from Rival Consoles, the name under which Ryan Lee West releases much of his music. The inspiration for this album is György Ligeti, not in an explicitly musical sense but in the art of making music from a graphic score. The idea behind this was to get away from the computer and start with patterns, shapes or structures drawn by hand. This would generate musical solutions. Two of the initial scores sketched out by West are shown below:


Articulation


Sudden Awareness of Now

What’s the music like?

Articulation has less obviously musical content than its predecessor Persona. There are admirable and often striking sounds and textures achieved through this music, which often creates powerful pictures and atmospherics. Yet while the chord progressions are strong there is not so much of a melodic strength in depth.

Opening track Vibrations On A String is a study in tonal colour, moving between distortion and a more consonant sound until a forthright beat kicks in. There is a tension between the energy of the beats and the slow four-note progression of the string itself.

Forwardism and Articulation follow similar paths, with relatively minimal means. The former strips back to beats and jagged atmospherics, while the latter takes a more active broken beat and spins threads around it. Melodica is much warmer, the beats retreating and the music panning out a little, the approach allowing for more improvisation, while Still Here resembles an extended peal of mid-range electronic bells, delivered without beats.

Most impressive and enduring is the final Sudden Awareness of Now. With a dazzling array of textures applied to its central riff it crackles with energy, sending out trance-like pulses but surrounded by a warm haze of sound.

Does it all work?

Yes, in terms of conforming to West’s blueprint, but the shift away from computer towards drawings has not necessarily given the music more emotion. If anything, it sounds more processed, a collection of sounds rather than melodies. It is very effective for mood-setting and creating colours but does not always leave a lasting impression.

Is it recommended?

Articulation is an easy recommendation for Rival Consoles devotees, but it does not yet come across as his strongest album. Time will tell if it has the same staying power as other Erased Tapes releases, but for now Articulation is easier to admire than an album with which to form a strong emotional bond.

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