Phil Maguire’s Verz Imprint has been operating since 2016, mapping the varied terrain and practices that encompass low-decibel sound making. It’s not a scene as such, more a series of overlapping territories that leaks across post-Wandelweiser modern composition, lower case computer music, pared-back electro-acoustic improvisation and all sorts of related endeavours.
Of course, the best music never quite fits the genre labels that are applied to it and Verz Imprint does a great job of identifying those releases that hover in the grey areas between categories. Check out ‘The Old Earth’, an exemplary collection of low-key synth drones inspired by early 20th century science fiction from Edward Trethowan in his Net guise, or Ryoko Akama’s stunning ‘Dear Martin’, whose intuitive, almost improvisatory sound-making belies the fact that it is a realisation of a score (‘While Listening’) by Thomas Martin Nutt.
Verz’s latest bundle is firmly on-message, with smoggy atmospherics, watery environmental ruminations and super-reduced machine throb highlighting the dynamism and power that can be achieved without overdoing the volume control. Pipe down, and step inside.
Maguire/La Berge: Three Cities
A triple (and a bit) dose of longform breath and buzz from label founder Phil Maguire and composer/flautist Anne La Berge. A flute and electronics duo may prompt expectations of pastoral tranquillity, but this pair keep things chilly and unsettling from the start. On ‘Duluth’, La Berge channels thick wafts of sound that drift over Maguire’s low-end glower, her exhalations ramping up in frequency across 20 or so minutes until they reach a kind of feverish chant. Their weirdness is exacerbated by a combination of cool technique (I’m no expert, but I suspect multiphonics, whistle tones and the like are involved) and well-judged effects that, together, give the impression of swarms of malevolent chaff swirling around slow-moving toxic clouds.
Maguire is fairly restrained here, but other cuts are less flute-centric, the duo aiming for synergy rather than exchange. ‘Duluth (coda)’ matches jerky puffing squalls with gurning diode murmurs, with occasional bass surges disrupting the quirky Brownian motion in fine style. ‘Cloquet’ is a staticky, tetchy thing, all wire-wool huff, hollow knocks and itchy rattles. Imagine a termite army broadcasting insect propaganda to its brethren while in deep the throes of arboreal munch. Most fun is ‘Yoker’, whose squishy blurts and ferric groans blow raspberries at ideas that ‘quiet’ music should be all about politeness. La Berge’s flute becomes a vessel for dense, metallic outbursts, while Maguire’s electronics twitch and spit with grumpy fervour. Taciturn zingers, every one.
Chris H. Lynn: Configurations with clouds and sea air
Chris H. Lynn’s ‘Configurations with clouds and sea air’ documents recordings of locations along the east coast of North America, with environmental sounds – usually the water and wind suggested by the title – augmented by various human activities. The watery stuff is generally sourced from rivers, the rain or the ocean, which is just fine by me as these sounds generally send me into all sorts of cosmic reveries. ‘Clouds In May’, for example, serves up a fine aqueous hiss, courtesy of a spring thunderstorm, which acts as a backdrop of soothing white noise and grey rumble for Lynn’s intriguing fumbles with stones and cymbal.
‘Shells and Sea Air’, meanwhile, majors on the aural bliss of the seaside (Black Point, Rhode Island to be exact). The crash of waves in the distance combines with the gritty scrunch of sand and stone in a proper Proustian jag, for me anyways. Nostalgia is the enemy of rigour, however, so rather than giving us ice creams and funfairs we get a rather enigmatic soundtrack of mooch and rustle, Lynn’s small sounds magnified into enigmatic and eerie gestures.
A similar mood predominates on ‘Ray’s Meadow Park’, Lynn transforming a muddy tramp through the countryside into a melancholic, slightly alienated peregrination. You don’t have to be Rebecca Solnit to dig the benefits of a solitary ramble, mind, and locking onto Lynn’s minimal soundscape can provide similar rewards, spurring all sorts of mental wanderings and aimless-yet-productive digressions as the chirrup and slosh oozes in and out of focus.
Bruno Duplant: Souvenances
Reductionist techno, anyone? With ‘Souvances’, scene veteran Bruno Duplant lays out a selection of muffled rhythmic excursions, whose propulsive lollop and shuffle is never quite obscured by layers of monochrome haze. The release notes consist of a single phrase: “des machines et des souvenirs” (of machines and of memories), which is both ambiguous and evocative, especially if you’re into the whole ‘Blade Runner’ replicant thing. Yet the tracks themselves give us plenty to get our ears and brains around, their thumps and screeches evoking all sorts of unhinged phenomena.
In ‘Premiere’, a submerged pulsation could be a washing machine heard from the next room, or a cement mixer chewing over its sand and gravel outside. Insectoid fizz adds higher-register interest, while an intermittent bass thrum drips textural grease into the strange machinery. ‘Troisieme’ (it comes second in the running order for the mega lolzzz) shrouds its echoing gurgle and headache grind in impatient, reedy rustles. But that only makes its off-centre loops more hypnotic, ghosts of kitchenware long since departed trying desperately to poke through the veil to cook up one last cassoulet before departing forever.
Duplant’s ability to conjure scuffed magic from relatively few sources is testament to his judgement and experience. Less is more, after all. As a result, there may not seem to be much going on across these three tracks, but it’s always compelling. In ‘Seconde’, interlocking cog and wheel whirrs are punctuated by fan belt squeaks in mesmerising, hyperactive clockwork motion, the sounds chasing each other in giddy spirals. I’d be happy if it went on forever, but after half an hour Duplant hits the fader and the whole palaver dissolves, gyrating frantically as it disperses into nothingness.