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Minamo, "Durée"

cover imageHaving been stalwarts in the Japanese electroacoustic microsound scene for over a decade now, the quartet has always focused on unifying the usually disparate worlds of laptop based programming and improvised organic music.  For their second release on the 12k label, they have done exactly that, marrying acoustic guitar with software patches, all presented in a warm, post-rock influenced analog audio bath.

 

12k

Minamo - Durée

The opening of "Elementary Domain" matches beeping tones and distant noises with the untreated pure sound of guitar strings and bells.  The structure is definitely one of a more abstract and laptop-composed nature, but the parts used are definitely warm ambient pop, weaving together a complex piece that is far more natural and inviting than expected.  "Help Ourselves" has a similar feeling to it, but employs a great deal of warm piano, shimmering analog strings, and all so subtle laptop noises.

Surprisingly enough, the remainder of the songs are, for the most part, actually more "natural" sounding. "When Unwelt Melts" is a slow building piece that begins with the gentle chimes of a music box, with a bit of acoustic guitar above.  As it continues, the addition of analog and digital instrumentation fleshes out the song, leading through a natural evolution that delicate and beautiful.  "Helical Scenery" also joins acoustic guitar and shaker percussion with soft synth textures.  As the track is given room to grow and change, lush accordion-like tones and more pronounced guitar intermingle above the subtle keyboards.

Towards the latter half of the disc the music becomes slightly more forceful and obtuse, but never out of control.  "Be Born" mixes lush, infinite harmonium and harmonica passages with abstract organ noodling, and by the time the massive, crashing percussion shows up at the end, the track rivals some of the best krautrock out there.  The long piece, "First Breathing At Last," again uses the digital elements as instruments alongside synths and guitar to create a structured, yet rhythmically disjointed piece that definitely has structure to it, but a very abstract and esoteric one.  The track allows the heavier synths and electronics to rise up at the end, creating a heavy, but not oppressive sensation.

One thing that separates them from so many other laptop artists is the fact that Minamo is a band.  They play together, mostly working with live recordings, and use laptops and other digital based technology as instruments, not as a crutch.  The music they create has that organic, "live" feel to it, even though the instrumentation is at times anything but traditional.  Like label mates Small Color, there is a warmth and soul here, proving that digital music does not need to be abrasive and inhuman.

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Review of the Day

hirsche nicht aufs sofa (reissues part one)
Dom Elchklang
Something happened first when in Aachen, Germany, in the year 1886, in the shadow of Aachen Cathedral (aka the Dom!), one of the most legendary Gothic pilgrimage churches, Mies van der Rohe, modern architecture's wunderkind, was born. Almost a century later, the next generation of Aachen art royalty was birthed through the collaboration of Christoph Heemann and Achim P. Li Khan. In the shadows itself, of the Dom's pointed arches and Miesian glass-box skyscrapers, Heeman and Khan's Hirsche Nicht Aufs Sofa was a group on the cusp of contemporary experimentation and one possessing, in equal bounty, an almost Gothic, grotesque quality. This rare hybrid, present also in the likes of Nurse With Wound (to which H.N.A.S. is often compared), produced music that effortlessly resists sounding "dated," and is in many cases some of the best likely to be heard. The Dom Elchklang and G. Gonge labels are set to reissue a brand new batch of H.N.A.S. (and related) recordings. These first five, however, are considered by many to be the group's "classic" albums.

Abwassermusik of 1985 was the first H.N.A.S. LP and was culled from the duo's earlier cassette works. Credited to H.N.A.S. and Mieses Gegonge, the record is the most raw of these first five, relying heavily on the manipulated loops and cut-ups that ground the H.N.A.S. sound, and less on the unique instrumentation that dominates the next three records. A rudimentary industrial sound carries over most tracks, but here elements of kraut-rock and tinges of surrealism do emerge. The album's long centerpiece recalls Throbbing Gristle at first, though evolves into a chorus of tribal drums, chirps, and theremin flourishes. As on most all of these Dom reissues, an album's length of bonus tracks has been added here, most very early, very sparse tape works. Exceptions and highlights include a pummeling live track from Mieses Gegonge, sounding something like 50 drug-addled Faust-ians grooving in the bottom of a lake, and the first H.N.A.S. vinyl release, an early showcase for Heemann's elegant drones.


Melchior, released by United Dairies and featuring Steven Stapleton and wife Diana Rogerson, is the first in the great trilogy of early H.N.A.S. albums. The increased influence of surrealism is notable from the start in a brilliant faux-lounge number complete with Rogerson's twisted croon. The record is indulgently theatrical in many places; humorous shouting bits and guitar flourishes fill the gaps between more overt kraut-rock borrowing (surprisingly Achim has said at the time the band "knew nothing about Faust, Neu! and all the OHR/Kraut bands...") and handclap-ful post punk jogs. The whole mess is beautifully paced with soothing guitar lines and Heemann's incomparable drones rescuing each moment of acid-headed confusion. Bonus tracks are mainly '85/'86 era H.N.A.S. tunes, including one of the first (and best) songs recorded by the Melchior line-up, a gnarled landscape of trumpet squeal and organ pulse with the spoken refrain, "Listen to the sun rise, hear the birds scream." Experimentation with a variety of unlikely instruments is at a high among these tracks, creating an atmosphere so difficult to place that it belongs solely to the ageless obscurity of the Dadaists.


Recorded around the same time as Melchior, Küttel Im Frost is often described as the most pop of H.N.A.S. records. According to Achim, its primary influence was early Chrome, but where it is at all similar, Küttel towers above its peers. Rogerson's vocals return, but they've gone from surreal chanteuse to psych screamer. The astounding title track marks a peak in kraut-rock similarity without giving an inch; it's quickly and artfully unclear how much of a mockery Küttel's mish-mash of raucous pop and noise-burst is supposed to be. Bonus tracks all come from H.N.A.S.' first of only two live appearances. The concert is an excellent addition to this disc as much of the performance comes from the Küttel album.


Im Schatten Der Möhre, the third of the truly amazing early H.N.A.S. works and the only one Heemann has felt necessary to reissue on his Streamline label, combines the tenuous, staged beauty of Melchior and the twisted jubilation of Küttel to glorious effect. More dense and cohesive than its predecessors, Im Schatten is also less humorous and more demanding. As such, the album could be the group's most substantial. Bonus tracks here continue on Im Schatten's more abstract bent, fore-grounding Heemann's future work in Mimir and Mirror. Most are compilation tracks or studio outtakes from the '89-'91 period, samples, tape loops, and guitar licks (courtesy of Heeman and brother Andreas Martin) have never been harder to peel apart or label.


The release that should be the least substantial, 1988's The Book of Deingenskirchen, comprised of the group's unaltered '86 - '88 studio leftovers, is oddly one of the most entertaining. Understandably more choppy and raw than Aberwassermusik, Book features a bare-bones industrial sound with elegant, even playful interludes and spoken female vocals throughout. Despite its being essentially a trash heap, Book is the most soothing of all early H.N.A.S.; comparable to falling in and out of sleep during an old German art film. The bonus material here is by far the most various, collecting obscure compilation tracks from '85 to '92. Bizarre Melchior-ian swing tunes line up next to driving kraut grooves, pseudo-surf tracks, alien drones and absurd found sounds, all effortlessly pieced together in the way only H.N.A.S. can, or would.

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