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Plains. Into Tone CD
01. Into Tone
NZ group quietly paint a beautiful, yet desolate landscape. As lonely as a night in the desert, as peaceful as falling through space........you decide. letter press sleeve
Recorded live 8/12/04 at Version Festival, Kenneth Myers Centre, University of Auckland, NZ
|: cover by Starshaped Press
Into Tone, a
33-minute live dispatch from New Zealand sextet Plains, is an exercise
in restraint, desolation and precision. Like rain falling on a near-
silent desert, this high-tech sound-art crew makes laptops drizzle
pixels onto the barren earth, causing the air to become prickly and the
earth to rumble. Imagine a Sergio Leone western staged with no actors,
no audience and no instruments.|
SKZZZ! a column for noise, CMJ
Looking at the liner notes of Into Tone, one might expect that the result of six musicians getting together might be some sort of unholy racket of massive digital processing. The New Zealand collective (including 4 different people doing either computer or digital feedback, two guitars, field recordings, and bass) includes electronic musician Rosy Parlane (who has released several beautiful albums on Touch and Sigma), but instead of blasting out your ears, the release seems to be a study of sparse and even desolate sounds.
Recorded live at the Vernon Festival at the University of Auckland, the single track (which runs about 35 minutes) starts out very, very slow, with some soft crackling static before some low, deep hits drop in the mix and what sounds like the recording of a meadow filter in and out. The bass hits drop out quickly, and then the track is back on to more field recordings and warbling low-end that that eventually swarms and becomes the creepy centerpoint of the track. About halfway in, the piece is at its most dense, with multiple layers of humming and growling and clanking noises all cascading across one another. It's creepy and claustrophobic, and it pulls away soon enough to reveal radio static over some soft wire hum.
It's after this middle section that the album seems to reach a real high point in terms of how well it succeeds. With enough elements to keep things interesting, but not enough to overwhelm, the rising and falling mixture of sound lets your ear linger and focus on elements before they disappear again. Eventually, everything dissolves into a faint hum again towards the end, with only some odd squiggling alien electronic chatter to break the hum. After listening to the release several times, I have to give everyone involved credit for not forcing too much into the mix. It's the sort of track that sounds like it could have been done by one person, but it seems that everyone took their time and added their pieces instead of trying to force everything together. If you're into quiet and dark ambient like Francisco Lopez and others, this is a nice little disc to hunt down. It's not mindblowing, but it does have a quiet potency that a lot of similarly-minded releases lack.
A digital document of a live performance by this New Zealand Sextet at the Version Festival is presented by the
prodigious Scarcelight label. The six players on this disc are all of the interesting islands of experiment, New Zealand.
Most of them will be unknown to all but the most discerning improv/sound explorers. Rosy Parlane might be the most well known
among this group because of his international gigs, record label, and collaborations with the Mego fam and AMM old heads. But
donít sell the others short. Search the web for people with the last names Coster, Francis, Sadgrove, Watkins, and Winstanley;
you will find connections to the Japanese improv community, computer programmers, contemporary sound art, and the keenest
experimental music labels around the world.
These gentlemen of the musical edge bring all of their contact with the world outside of NZ into this bite size segment of
group projection and plop it right on top of the deep base of homegrown experimentation that their country is known for.
The result is a minimal sound that subsumes the individual and grows colonies of pure sound on circles that touch on Japanese
and European lowercase improvisation and the digital drizzle of thousands of laptop humanoids worldwide.
As the groupís name aptly directs, this sound is one of flat, open spaces. But true plains dwellers(ask any Pawnee ghost
floating around Genoa, Nebraska) will tell you that the plains are full of details. This recording is the sound of strange
mechanical cities just beyond the horizon blending in with the locusts, pebbles, smoldering fires, and stars grinding the sky.
The electrical and metallic signifiers become part of the environment. Eating and spitting out the sounds that hate it or ignore it.
These sounds are created by human hands pushing buttons on computers, manipulating field recordings, listening to their guitars,
and soothing the bass. The care and thought of the sound put into the creation of this piece give no indication of time, only place.
This could be a full 80 minutes of disc if you listen without digital counters and little hands telling you how much time youíve lost.
A brown sleeved, infinite 33 minutes that prove that New Zealand is and has been representing with the best of the world class
improvisors and sound artists.
Six people get on stage with a slew of different instruments with the intention of not really using them. From some
random crackle here and some other accidental noise there they start to explore the sounds as they seem to come from
themselves. With ingenuity and lots of care and safetymeasures they get into crackles, glitches, scratches and some
softly background droning of feedback, amp-static and bass-frequencies almost too subtle to hear. Density builds up
massively, though if compared with the sounds of the listeners surroundings, it doesn't even start to simmer before
the sounds drown out again. A symphony of nothing much. But a fascinating and intriguing piece of music nevertheless.
I read that Tim Coster, Richard Francis, Rosy Parlane, Mark Sadgrove, Clinton Watkins and Paul Winstanley, who have been
recorded here during a live session at a festival in Auckland, are the cream of the crop amongst live improvisation /
experimentalism / laptop-noise musicians in New Zealand. I wouldnt ever know, because except for Rosy Parlane, who
strikes something in connection with Mego but nothing concrete, I dont recall having ever heard any of their names.
But actually, that doesnt mean a thing. For one, I once saw Fred Frith, Sachinko M., Tom Cora and some percussionist
I have forgotten the name of, play live together and it wasn't all that great. I was coming down with fever that evening,
so I at least enjoyed it somewhat, but thats about all I can remember. So in this field of music, the big names dont mean
anything anyway. For second, I am forever thankful to labels like Scarcelight, who have made it one of their missions to
bring interesting music and sounds to the world and with what I know about Scarcelight I can at least be sure that it is
going to be something interesting I am spending the next half hour or so with. Yes, that means that Scarcelight has become a
brand name to me, which I trust and trust, as everybody knows is the most important connector between the brand and the
consumer. And for third, I have always had a certain distrust towards names or bands or things that become hyped. Even
if speaking about hypes in this area is taking it a little too far, I know that I have fallen for hypes in spite of all
the distrust and me being in the hype generating business myself at least small time, I nevertheless have an inclination to
listen to bands or records I know nothing at all about. A trait that takes me from Acid Mothers Temple to Joe Walsh to
Regurgitator, but that is a whole different story. Moreover, this introduction is getting a little long as it is, so back to Plains. Into Tone'.
I really think it should be written like this, not as a band name. The concept of a band like most traditional musical concepts
don't get a grip on this piece. It is amazing how six people can do so little with so much effects at the same time. Subtle, distant
noises, clicks and scratches slowly grow into a fascinating drone that works on various levels at the same time. A low bass-frequency
crawls in, strings are muted without being plucked first, a high hissing sound stays static for a longer time, tiny clicks turn into
gigantic percussion if only in the imagination of the listener, any outside noise might drown them instantly. The interference sounds
of an electric guitar is a most welcome sound, because of it being clearly decipherable between the lowdown clutter of the other players.
Or is it a digital feedback? There might be a three-part structure on 'into tone', that could be roughly described as ten minutes
of not doing much, another ten minutes of doing slightly more and the final ten minutes of taking most of it back again and trying
out some things on their own. I dont believe that this is how it was planned or that there was any real plan at all, but that's how
it worked out. Maybe there was a plan, but I would be surprised if it consisted
of more than a tentative: Let's start slow from silence and then go on for about half an hour, see what happens, and then
slide back again into silence slowly. Nevertheless, the fascination and dynamic remains intact. If you really get into this piece
of music, there is a moment, about ten minutes towards the end, when the soft droning feedback sound filling you head peacefully
and softly sounds like the grand finale of a classic symphony. And from there the record fades out slowly into some minutes of
almost silence, just the way it started. You guessed right, this is most definitely a headphones recommended record.
The most interesting part is the interplay between traditional instruments such as guitars and electric bass with the computer
chip generated sounds. The introduction of field recordings, albeit not clearly audible ones, is just taking the concept to its
consequential end. The apotheosis between the postulated though in reality never existing opposition between electronic instruments
and traditional instruments (though musically speaking electric guitars aren't that old, not with the tradition music has, both in
classical and in folklore terms) is being resolved once more. This trend of mixing all kinds of sources for sounds without any
inhibitions has been stated by me around here quite often in the last weeks (examples from of late would be Rusuden, Opak,
Radian, Tu M' and a slew of others). Which brings me to the most fascinating part, which is, of course, the sounds
themselves. And here it is mainly the opposition between the ratio of silence and sounds within the record and he mind
of the listener. Because whereas silence takes a bigger part of the aural spectrum on the record, posing as a massive
backdrop to the subtle crackling, feedback and ambient noises, within the mind of the listener, those sounds grow into
bigger and bigger proportions, grow details and cliffhangers and constantly surprise by their depth and undercover size.
Almost like finding the tiny opening to a gigantic cavern that suddenly spreads out in front of you. And the most admirable
part is how those six musicians structured their interplay into such a grand piece of glitchy crackling ambient drone,
hone their sounds onto each other, lure their co-musicians into highlights that don't exist and grow and fall together
like a single mind. Especially, when there was no other plan than the one cited above. Which brings me to the conclusion
that they do deserve the title of cream of the crop of New Zealand's improvisers / experimentalists / noise / drone /
whatevers, even if such a title means nothing at all, except that this is another good piece of music.
Recorded live at New Zealand's Version Festival on August 8th, 2004, Into Tone presents thirty-three minutes
of soundscaping by Tim Coster (field recordings), Richard Francis (computer), Clinton Watkins (guitar),
Paul Winstanley (electric bass, digital feedback), Mark Sadgrove (feedback, linuxCsound), and Rosy Parlane
(guitar, computer). The sextet delicately nurtures the material's development throughout, with ghostly
chords and faint voices rising from a crackling base. The quietly droning piece resembles what a microphone
perched on the window ledge of a third floor apartment might record from the city below: footsteps, distant
factory noises, birds, carriage rattles, rustlings, et cetera. The musicians' restrained sculpting calls to
mind Afternoon Tea (Ritornell, 2000), a similarly explorative (if ultimately underwhelming) set of
improvisations by Oren Ambarchi, Fennesz, Pimmon, Peter Rehberg, and Keith Rowe. Plains likewise opts
for collective ambiance in place of the individuating stamp of the contributors' personal signatures.
The idea of a sextet, y'know, a musical group with six members, isn't
anything too unusual, That is, until you venture into the world of new
improvised, electro-acoustic, noisy, post-electronic (whatever) music. Here,
the small unit is the dominant format, soloists, duos, maybe three-piece.
Six is something special. Anyone familiar with the extensive discographies
of these gents: Tim Coster, Richard Francis, Rosy Parlane, Mark Sadgrove,
Clinton Watkins and Paul Winstanley will find anticipation of this
mega-ensemble (convened by Richard last year) well-rewarded.
Reduced to its simplest form, Into Tone is a two-part improvisation, a bit
over 30 minutes long. Conventional instrumental sources occur more as
ghostings than fully-fledged voices? the tremble of a guitar, buried
soundings from an electric bass. The core instrumentality is all the other
stuff: field recordings, computers, digital feedback ? you could say
'marginal audio', reconstituted into affecting music of patient, slow
How close to silence can music get and have it still be considered music? Plains' Into Tone,
improvised live at the 2004 Version Festival starts off pretty close to silence, with just the
faintest rumbling of a faraway storm. The storm never comes, though when the music unexpectedly
gains in volume - that is, when distinct sounds appear - it does startle a bit, in the process
adding a slight sense of doom to the otherwise serene, still work. Plains follow in Brian Eno's
path, of creating a recording that when played will subtly affect the environment, even as it
won't be grasped onto in the same sense that most music is. Field recordings, computers, guitar,
electric bass, feedback, linuxCsound, and digital feedback were the instruments used for Into Tone,
yet you'd be forgiven for thinking the music was created from air, water, and dust.
The Scarcelight label likes to take risks, and that's great. Did you
ever hear of Plains, for instance? Maybe not, but it's a kind of whose who
in the New Zealand laptop scene, including Rosy Parlane on guitar and
computer, Richard Francis on computer, Mark Sadgrove on feedback and
LinuxCsound, Tim Coster on field recordings, Clinton Watkins on
guitar and Paul Winstanley on electric bass and digital feedback. The
thirty-three some minute piece was recorded last year in concert in
Auckland, and consists of a low humming piece of bass tones,
processed field recordings of rain falling on a tin roof. Everything
moves in a slow and peaceful way, and all the players keep whatever
they are doing in perfect control (unless of course in some
post-editing phase these were cut out!). Ambient glitch of the better
kind, well executed but unfortunately not freshly new in terms of