Miasmah & Sonic Pieces: Autumn Selection

Autumn is a golden season, and the same is true for music. September light is mellow and as milky as pale skin. A softer light. Leaves blush and burst into orange flame. Others flush red, but they both fall to the ground. Miasmah and Sonic Pieces will be producing a ripe harvest this September. Before the chill of Halloween plagues the air, before the candy comes out, and before hats and scarves are draped over the body. 2019 slides towards its tail, but before that, autumn will produce a fertile crop of new music. These new arrivals from Sonic Pieces and Miasmah come out at the perfect time, and within nine days of one another.

The latest in the Pattern series (Sonic Pieces) brings listeners face-to-face with Danish female quartet We Like We, whose Time is Local release comes out September 27. Time Is Local links the Danish collective with sound artist Jacob Kirkegaard. Built around a 12-hour live sound installation and performance at Thorvaldsen Museum, Copenhagen – during the G((o))ng Tomorrow Festival in 2017 – Time Is Local seems to hover in the air. The ensemble wandered the halls and chambers of the museum for an entire day, performing extended compositions in front of a small audience. As the sound lingers in the air, haunting the space, each musical discourse unfolds. We get to travel through the recessed rooms, too, as the 12 pieces mark the 12 different chambers. The museum has a lot of history, and you can feel the weight of it in the recording; hundreds of years, condensed into one structure, one body. The music has more than a handful of visitors, and they aren’t all human. Eerie strings and high, wavering vocals bring an air of intrigue, the feeling of levitating through the halls of an otherwise empty museum. Statues gaze blankly back at the beholder. The marble busts of Greek gods, long buried in history and mythology, resonate as the music shudders and shrieks. Some of that shrieking could’ve come from the Ringu soundtrack and Sadako’s well, her own tomb from which she would crawl out of.

Katrine Grarup Elbo (violin), Josefine Opsahl (cello), Sara Nigard Rosendal (percussion), and Katinka Fogh Vindelev (voice) create music to send a shiver down the spine, and Jacob Kirkegaard’s involvement flips it still further, until it becomes something even more ominous, creeping through an after-dark and after-hours hallway. The museum should be closed at such a time. The scuttling sounds and the scraping strings tear at and then obliterate reality with their sharp claws, bringing in something from another world via a gateway of unnerving sound. Kirkegaard chooses to reflect the complexities of civilization, studying themes such as radioactivity, melting ice, tinnitus, and border walls, all of which manifest through distressed waves of sound. Voices occasionally pierce the dark tomb, revealing a little more light, but the museum is closed, and the lights are out.

Christina Vantzou’s composition, Six Cellos for Sol LeWitt, releases on the same day. The composition was inspired by visual artist Sol LeWitt, an artist Vantzou has admired ever since she was a child.

‘My mom took me to several exhibitions growing up and there are a couple LeWitts in the Nelson Art Museum in my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri’. 

Six Cellos for Sol LeWitt was performed and recorded in 2012 at the M-Museum in Leuven, Belgium, in front of a live audience. Vantzou was asked to choose the performance room, and there was a large Sol LeWitt exhibition at the time, with around 20 wall drawings on display. She chose a gallery of large black and white stripes. Vantzou’s music echoes Sol LeWitt’s work. She made a score out of a ‘tower of black lines, some broken, some continuous, extended across a sheet of A4 paper’. The lines were to be played in the key of F, and the cellists performed the score by reading left to right and top to bottom. The ensemble performed the graphic score – made using Photoshop – twice over, and the music can also be thought of as a row of black and white stripes. The sound is vertical and long (even though both pieces amount to little more than eleven minutes), wavering occasionally. Quality has nothing to do with quantity, though, and the music is well worth every second. The minimal music stretches out, elongating and moving in one direction. But even though this is linear music, it still has the ability to transform, because it can surprise with a sudden spike in volume, or a quickening of the pulse. Basically, it’s alive. The more you gaze into it – the closer you listen – the more you begin to see (or hear). It isn’t a static sound, even with its cello-drones and long, single notes. Thanks to the six cellos, the music is dark, thick, and painted in ash.

Over on the other side, Miasmah have been busy finalising their high-quality re-issues of the late Marcus Fjellström’s first two albums, Exercises in Estrangement and Gebrauchsmusic. They arrive in time to mark the two-year anniversary of his death. The Swedish composer passed away in September 2017 at the age of 37.

Exercises In Estrangement, Fjellström’s first album, was released a decade-and-a-half ago. The album will be re-issued on September 20 and it’ll be available as an LP (limited to 300 copies) for the first time. Exercises In Estrangement is still a fascinating work, and it still sits at the forefront of experimental music. Fjellström was an avant-garde composer and audiovisual artist who explored the outer edges of classical music…and that’s putting it lightly. This isn’t classical music in the traditional sense. Marcus not only bent the rules – he snapped them completely. Unique, densely-populated, beguiling, and utterly engaging, his work here is a Teatro Grottesco, a world of wonder with the carpet rolled up to reveal an underlying, horrific darkness. The scab under the healing wound. His music veers off the path and goes to dark places. Dynamically, it’s capable of exploding and retreating. There’s a sense of playfulness (as in all notable experimental music), but there’s also a strong rhythmic dexterity and complexity within his work. It will take you to unexpected places. His love for the bizarre and the macabre is evident within the music, which sometimes resembles a night out at a demented carnival. Taking inspiration from the likes of Aphex Twin, Autechre, John Cage, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, Bernard Herrmann, and Angelo Badalamenti, the darkness is palpable and immediate. Sometimes, fairy-tale melodies fit for a Disney film emerge from the multiple, frenzied phrasing, but the cartoonish appearance melts away to reveal a lurking – and borderline-insane – darkness. Of course, this adds to the album’s brilliance.

Marcus was a student of the conservatory in Piteå, Sweden, and spent the last six months of his life scoring the excellent AMC series The Terror. His music confronts the ideology of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ taste, of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture (and the ridiculous nature behind those terms), as well as self-imposed dividing lines. Art is art. Everything is subjective. Non-conformist and unconventional, this is visionary music.

Gebrauchsmusik is German for ‘Utility Music’. His second album is even more of a jolt, beginning with the resurrection of the opening ‘Reanimation Music’, which plays in reverse and shocks the system back to life. His experimentation is bold and brilliant. Not a single tone or note is wasted. War, art, festivity, sadness, death, and resurrection are all themes within the album, and he expresses these subjects in his own unique style – electronically-concentrated, but with the stark and dark elements of broken classical. The music intentionally dislocates. The Frankenstein sounds are back from the dead.

The body looks fine, but the mind is confused, distorted, and on the verge of becoming wreckage. These thirteen tracks express unlimited possibilities. The fantastic, the euphoric, the downright weird. He touched upon music’s outer limits, and that made him a musical genius. Rhythms drive forward. Sounds dissolve into the nightmarish. Fantasies are broken apart. Speech becomes muffled and confused. Syllables stop working.

The death music takes Fjellström to dark areas. Classical elements form the main skeleton. Disjointed electronics make up the dressing, clothing skin over the bone. It came from a dark, wide-open space. Isolated. A chill is in the air, and the introduction of a low, gusting bass hints at the presence of an outsider. The clanging and clunking tones have no right to exist in music’s alphabet. Like death, and the music is one of close proximity, permanently hanging around any and every corner, waiting for you, and waiting for the right moment to strike. Taking its ripe harvest.


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