Posted on Sep 23rd 2009 12:26 am
Not Applicable 2009
05 Tracks. 55mins18secs
With Icarus, British musicians Ollie Bown and Sam Britton have, in the twelve years since their first release, progressively moved from relatively conventional electronic music to much more challenging work. Their more recent records, I Tweet The Birdy Electric (Leaf, 2004), Carnivalesque (Not Applicable, 2005) and Sylt (Rump Recordings, 2007) have investigated the confines of experimental electronica and electro-acoustic. With his own project, Britton pushes much further into electro-acoustic territories to produce music that is, in essence, much more orchestral. Having studied architecture, Britton then went on to complete a Masters course in electronic music and composition at the IRCAM in Paris. Recording under the name Isambard Khroustaliov, Britton has collaborated with Italian-born percussionist Maurizio Ravalico and Dutch saxophonist Lothar Ohlmeier on two separate electro-acoustic projects (Five Loose Plans, 2006 and Nowhere, 2008), both released on Not Applicable, has contributed soundtracks to a handful of short films and done remixes for Icarus and Four Tet.
Britton’s latest project collects five tracks, recorded over five years, and features a number of contributors, including Gareth Humphreys (prepared piano on Ping, Traum and Ohka), Philippe Pannier (guitar on Aporia, banjo on Junkspace), Lothar Ohlmeier (bass clarinet on Traum) and Oren Marshall (tuba on Traum). Far from being straightforward and linear, the music resulting of these various collaborations is taken apart piece by piece, blasted into minute particles, treated and processed, then finally assembled in entirely new configurations, retaining very little of the original aspect of the various instruments used as sound sources. Occasionally, remote elements of melodies subsist, often in advanced stages of decomposition, but they are only fleeting pointers lost in a vast ocean of abstraction.
The primary components here are the sound sources themselves. Taken out of their original context, these become unsettling and are at times totally unrecognisable, while at others, their nature remains perfectly clear, yet the use Britton makes of them is extremely abstract. The scope of each of these five pieces is incredibly vast, ranging from the poetic and delicate, on the more nuanced moments of Ping or on the majority of Aporia, to the incredibly dense and intricate, especially in parts of Traum or Ohka. Often, this record appears to go through alternate cycles of quietude and violence, as sounds are either delicately dispensed an applied or pushed forward in chaotic clusters.
The relentless assaults of information and the constant shift in the tectonic of the various soundscapes inflicted by Britton makes Ohka a difficult record to grasp in its entirety at any particular moment, but it is also a gratifying piece of work which continuously reveals new facets of its complex structure. With Icarus, Britton has only just scratched the surface of electro-acoustic composition, but as Isambard Khroustaliov, he is free to push as deep as he can afford to. With Ohka, he does so with panache.
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