I haven’t written anything about Kurt Liedwart’s Mikroton Recordings since …ooh, around 2017 I think. It’s not for lack of enthusiasm. I dig Liedwart’s dedication to producing well-designed artefacts that cover a wide territory of electroacoustic sound-making. In fact, I suspect that I enjoy it rather more than Liedwart himself, who has professed fatigue with this scene and has expressed a desire to take the label in a more electronic direction in the future.
What will be will be, I guess. Liedwart is free to take his label in any direction he pleases, but I still think there is plenty of worthwhile stuff in his back catalogue. True, there’s the odd misfire, but that’s surely understandable in such a comprehensive discography.
Here, then, are a few tidbits from Mikroton’s past year or so. Some aren’t that recent, but they are all worth investigating, and they’re all still available from the label’s Bandcamp.
Jérôme Noetinger & SEC_: La Cave Des Étendards
Two Revox reel-to-reel tape machines go head-to-head, accompanied by the usual array of unidentified devices and a laptop, in this chunky, abrasive slab of sound. Emerging from a sweet spot of musique concrete, electroacoustic improv and noise, Noetinger and SEC_ craft thick, rubble-strewn soundscapes, their hands-on tape manipulations adding a tactile dynamism to their grey stew. Stop-start eruptions nudge fidgeting bleeps into grunting chasms. Power-grid throbs dance around defunct assembly line crashes.
On ‘L’Orecchio Di Dionigi’, sudden accelerations transform monochrome noise into bleeping Kodachrome jigs, scrambled dreams of deranged raves floating free over the scarred land. Later, heavy percussive lurches stomp through the murk as meandering fizzles lend gripey accompaniment.
‘La Chateau Est Une Orielle’ pushes further into the garbage disposal, its steel-jaw chomps munching all manner of junk sonics into digestible slurry. Gastric rumbles abound, although propeller flaps, uncooperative sparks and fan-belt jitters suggest that all is not well in the cyborg gut. Maybe a peppermint tea would help? Or some engine oil?
Kurt Liedwart x Julien Ottavi x Keith Rowe: L’Or
Liedwart turns up on quite a few of Mikroton’s recent releases, as a solo artist and as part of larger groups. That’s understandable, given that it’s his label after all. 2017’s ‘Mar’ is a good place to start with the solo stuff, offering plenty of crunch and whine to get yer ears round, while ‘Punkt’, his more recent duo recording with Prague’s Petr Vrba, lays out a glorious constellation of splattered electronics and blank-eyed waveforms.
But it’s this trio session with Keith Rowe and French computer musician Julien Ottavi that’s my pick of the bunch. Recorded in Poland in 2017, it is spare and bruising, with the gestural harshness of Rowe’s late work very much in evidence throughout its two tracks.
So in ‘Aurum’, model railway clack and hiss gets punctured by contact-mic ructions, while serrated metallic scrapes and woolly bustle cut irregular shapes through whirring lines. In the final six or so minutes a wobbling deep-space drone redirects us into a frozen sleep.
Its companion, ‘Золото’ is less expansive, but more focused, the trio making the most of its shorter runtime to get into some real gone abstraction. Farm-generator throb puts a death grip on the brain, while shortwave burbles and low-wattage whines move in an enigmatic dance. A final section of electric drill growls elevates home improvement into high art. Better get those shelves put up, sharpish.
It’s not only Liedwart who is well served by Mikroton. The Mexican sound artist Angélica Castelló is one of a bunch of musicians who have developed ongoing relationships with the label, having appeared a good four or five times in different configurations. This time round she’s teamed up with Burkhart Stangl, the duo conjuring up hazy wafts of hypnagogic improv whose woozy textures and reverberant depths evoke the psychic junk of memories long-buried.
In fact, the duo’s ghostly atmospheres and tentative melodies on ‘Consuelo’ would fit right into a David Lynch flick. Those off-kilter sounds, nostalgic cover art and (mostly) Spanish titles are a shoe-in for the Californian nightmare of ‘Mulholland Drive’, while more abrasive moments are perfect accompaniment for Agent Cooper’s recent shuffles round the Black Lodge.
Check out ‘En Un Nopal’, for example, where a cute tremolo guitar line picks its way through ominous low-end throbs, skipping off into the aether leaving only iron-lung breath and motorised whirrs. In ‘Besame’, cut-up fragments – voices, a pop song sampled and looped so that only the title phrase (Spanish for ‘kiss me’) repeats with frenetic abandon – gabble through gassy clouds, while field recordings of traffic add familiar rumbles. It’s as uncanny, and compelling, as a recurring anxiety dream. And, like Castelló’s other Mikroton outings, it’s damn fine.
The Pitch & Splitter Orchestra: Frozen Orchestra (Splitter)
Massed reductionism anyone? There are, all told, 23 musicians involved in ‘Frozen (Splitter)’. Several are quiet improv veterans – Burkhard Beins and Axel Dörner, for example. Others, such as Mike Majkowski and Julia Reidy, have emerged more recently but are already establishing themselves as distinct voices. Nevertheless, this hour-long piece requires all personnel to subsume individuality into the larger group to deliver a work that is both stunning in its technical achievement as it is crushing in its intensity.
Composed by the four-piece The Pitch ensemble, who then join Splitter Orchestra for the performance, ‘Frozen Orchestra (Splitter)’ bakes down what could have been an expansive dissection of tone and timbre into a diamond-hard, super-dense block. Early sections offer wedges of sound that recall the sculptural bravado of Richard Serra or Charlotte Posenenske, their suspension (freezing?) of time so effective that when waves of shimmering piano and guitar emerge around halfway-through the resultant disorientation is almost psychedelic.
These cats probably won’t thank me when I say that I get a flavour of Aussie trio The Necks from these trippy modulations. Here, though, the combined squad mould luminous bliss into uneasy radiance, finally circling back to their initial chunky heave while carving tentative piano and brass figures into those tough surfaces. As cold as ice, but twice as nice.
The Elks: This Is Not The Ant
An enjoyable chunk of ruckus from this Berlin-based noise-improv quartet. Of all of the Mikroton artists, The Elks’ abrasive guff veers closest to no-audience underground territory, with their various trumpet and clarinet exhalations punctuated by electronics, reel-to-reel tapes and other equipment.
Four tracks bristle with subdued gonzo energy, as if a crew of serious-minded reductionist improvisers had necked a bag of magic mushrooms before the gig and then subtly detourned their set into lowercase cosmic vaudeville.
Thus for every focused trumpet exhalation there’s a clumpy burp of electronics, for every waft of considered noise there’s a goofball thump or scruffy clang. Even the shadowy textures of ‘Scuba Diving Elephants’ have a queasy, bad-trip feel, as if the crew has finally given up all attempt at communal musicking and hidden under the nearest table until everyone’s gone home.