Francisco Meirino - Sonic Anthems For Unsuccessful Winners
EAGLE KEYS with Tim Olive
CD, Even Stilte – ES105, 2007
Francisco Meirino - Computer & Acoustics
Tim Olive - Electric Bass
Artwork by Marc Bell.
1. Eagle Keys Part One (34:14)
2. Eagle Keys Part Two (15:28)
Marc Bell - Artwork
Marc Bell lives in Vancouver, BC where he divides his time between his cartoon-like drawings and his painted cardboard constructions. His work has appeared in the New York Times and in such book anthologies as The Ganzfeld and Kramers Ergot. Drawn and Quarterly (Montreal) published his book The Stacks in 2004. Marc is represented by the Adam Baumgold Gallery in NY.
Eagle Keys is a collaborative project from Osaka-based experimental bassist Tim Olive and computer/acoustic artist Francisco Meirino (aka Phroq). Meirino's past works, starting in 1994, are computer-based electro-acoustic pieces, exploring the combination of programmed and "chaotic" sounds. Tim Olive has been active for even longer, from noise-rock to his more recent soundscapes. While he's credited here with electric bass, you wouldn't know it without being told.
This CD is divided into two tracks, titled simply parts One and Two. The first, and longest at 34 minutes, opens with quiet cracklings and droning strings, interrupted by sporadic gurgling and scraping sounds. Factory-like buzzings and the sounds of machines toiling at some unknown purpose come and go. The duo conjure a mysterious place filled with noises that, while prickly, aren't coldly artificial nor forbiddingly harsh. These are small sounds, made audible.
Even knowing what I do of the artists, it's hazardous to guess at who's doing what. But I would guess that Meirino's more often than not providing the more solid acoustics, while Olive throws in the chattering squeaks and rattles. While the combinations may often feel haphazard, there are more than enough synchronous moments that make it clear how well the two are listening to each other.
It's not all just freestyle scrape and drone, either. Towards the end of the first part, there's a combination of distorted scree and glacial tones that's like a weird mix of Organum and Skullflower, both peaceful and head-slapping. From there, it builds slow but inexorably toward a fascinating conclusion that's equal parts Merzbow and AMM, with plucked string sounds cleanly shining through a dense wall of noise.
The second part follows a similar modus operandi; while it's not immediately clear why it's divided from the first part, it is a fairly self-contained piece with a particular personality. In any case, it offers another 15 minutes of work, marred only by a preponderance of high-pitched tones that I found a bit annoying and difficult to listen to (though I'll admit to being particularly susceptible to high frequencies).
Adorned with a sleeve featuring nice work by Canadian artist Marc Bell, Eagle Keys offers a fine collaboration that takes good advantage of the differing audio palettes of Meirino and Olive, as well as their abilities to listen and interact.
Three continents get representation on this disc of two intriguing tracks. Francisco Meirino is based in France and may be better known to some by his project moniker Phroq, under which he has been recording since 1994. Quite active as a soloist and collaborator with the likes of Guilty Connector, Sickness and Cindy Van Acker, here is is credited with 'computer and acoustics' and seems to be the architect of the resulting sonics. Electric bassist Tim Olive is a Canadian-born/ Japan-based experimentalist who made a splash in recent times with the Supernatural Hot Rug And Not Used project (with Nisikawa Bunsho) and has also collaborated with Nimrod and Fritz Welch of New York's inimitable Peeesseye.
It's hard to discern if this is a live/real-time collaboration or if Meirino is simply reworking the pre-recorded sounds of Olive's bass, but that's really neither here nor there. Olive's table-top approach to the bass as an amplified sound source renders his instrument's trademark sound all but obsolete. At times idiosyncratic characteristics of the bass are clearly audible but are subject to such a colorful array of treatments and juxtapositions that this could easily be mistaken as purely electronic music.
The first track clocks in at over 34 minutes and is a fine example of concrete music in the digital age. Sounds scrape, crackle, bump and roll across the stereo spectrum like a sampler engaged in a game of gravity-defying ping-pong after having a contact microphone rubbed along every surface of your home. It's these types of sounds and recurring drones that comprise the material for this piece and give it cohesion. The drones sound as if they could be amplified electrical grounding hums or perhaps some ambient room feedback. Dramatic effect is achieved by sudden bursts of silence and something akin to Olive's bass being run over by a truck. One particularly fine moment occurs about three-quarters in when a gentle loop of static is introduced with the drone over which some natural overtones swirl in contrast to the string scraping of the source material. This passage serves to tie everything together until the track reaches its dynamic climax and concludes with a sedate coda. It's not easy listening by a long shot, but never ceases to engage this listener in wondering what will come next. Pierres Henry and Schaeffer would be proud of their countryman Meirino.
It's on the second track where Meirino's credited 'acoustics' become evident. Small bell-like sounds give way to piercing high frequency tones that dance over some rustling fuzz. This sets the stage for a very pleasant 15 minute electro-acoustic workout. It's hard to tell at times whether we're hearing a mbira, some wooden mallet instrument or prepared bass. Either way it's processed tastefully and ultimately has more of an improvised feel than the first piece. This one's constant stream of sound contrasts nicely with the angular edits of Part One.
There's a lot to be explored with both Meirino and Olive and 'Eagle Keys' is as good a place to start as any. Considerable mention should be given to the visual artist Marc Bell of Canada for his original, if whimsical, artwork. His ambiguous severed objects and cartoon-like illustrations suit the music well, for they both have a mischievous and mysterious quality. Bell's contribution seems more collaborative than decorative in his four panels.
Since I last spewed about Tim Olive, he's put together the great Supernatural Hot Rug And Not Used (and a great self-titled album) with Nisikawa Buhnsho, which I implore you to seek out if you haven't. This is his new project with computer/acoustics artist Francisco Meirino (aka "Phroq"?), and it's the standard kind of high-level, attentive improv that Olive has trademarked. Lots of minimal, reductionist bites of noise - rattling static, small whines, crunching blips - mixed with solid columns of heavy sound. As with SHRANU, I'm not sure who's doing what here, but I am sure that Olive knows how to coax smart shit out of his equipment and his colleagues, and Eagle Keys is perhaps the best example of one of his most unique talents - the ability to mix and match sounds so that nothing ever sticks around too long, but no contrivances or artificial shifts ever emerge.
Lausanne-based Francisco Meirino, aka Phroq, returned home from his recent Japanese tour with a recording of a solo electric bass by Tim Olive (currently studying traditional Japanese fast food in Osaka, if his recent emails are anything to go by), added computer and electronics and ended up with these two extended tracks – total duration just under 50 minutes – of splendid soft noise EAI. Quite how the pair of them make the sounds they do is a wonderful mystery – there's very little on here that remotely resembles what I can recognise as the sound of an electric bass, but, carefully swaddled in Phroq's discreet drones and blankets of hiss and hum, there are plenty of elusive crackles and crunches. Perhaps if you hid a couple of contact mics in your kid's toybox, surreptitiously recorded the sounds of various plastic, metal and wooden small objects being assembled and dismantled by tiny inquisitive hands, took the resulting tape and hid it somewhere in your air conditioning system it might sound something like this. Olive's last outing with Bunsho Nisikawa, the intriguingly-titled Supernatural Hot Rug And Not Used, was mysterious and compelling; Eagle Keys – not sure that's just the name of the album or has become the name of the duo by default as is often the case with these collaborative ventures – is even better. It's superbly paced, carefully constructed and above all sounds terrific. Check it out.–DW
Super-crunch with honey drones.
Tim Olive, last seen with Supernatural Hot Rugs and Not Used, is credited only with electric bass here though I’m challenged to hear anything remotely resembling even extended technique output on such. But I’ll take his word for it. Francisco Meirino (aka Phroq), seems to have taken Olive’s sounds, transmogrified them via insidious means and egested two tracks worth of blustery, difficult, clangorous, wheezing and altogether obstreperous noise.
It’s pretty good.
There are elements, if you take your life into your hands and lean close to the speakers (on a few occasions, enormous enough sounds emerge, capable of cracking nearby thin glass—beware) which you can actually pick out that may have had their origins in strumming, though it’s in the manner you might expect to hear from Frith’s great-great-grandchildren. But who cares? This is one of those recordings where the result seems so far removed from issues of touch that you simply either wallow in the rough ‘n’ tumble or don’t. If I find the longer track somewhat more engaging than the shorter, it may only be because it raised more bruises. One intriguing aspect is how strong the drones, which one might initially relegate to background status, become on subsequent listens. There’s more than enough going on to reward many return listens. Just remember to bring those safety glasses.
Eagle Keys are Francisco Meirino (aka Phroq) on computer and "acoustics", and Tim Olive on electric bass. While I'm familiar enough with the latter's work and enjoyed his Supernatural Hot Rug And Not Used records with Nisikawa Bunsho quite a lot, this is my first approach to Meirino - unbelievably, one would say, since he's released over 30 albums in various formats, working "on the tension between programmed and accidental results". Introduced by the fabulous artwork of Marc Bell, the CD is riveting all the way, presenting loads of miasmatic drones and knotted contortions that spell "freedom" without the need of a programmatic manifesto. For large portions of the first track, Olive seems to be the motor after a series of impenetrable hums - often graduating to "impressive rumbles" - that create substrata over which Meirino clatters, chatters, wheels and deals, his riposte to his companion's calmness an ever-dangerous, lucid destruction of conventional codes that maintains a firm stranglehold on our aesthetic desires. At the same time, we're left contemplating finely chiseled sonic tissue and sparkling details, a testimony to the extreme care put by these musicians in their cultivated articulations; the jangling low-resonance string layers in the final section are a thing of beauty, propagations recalling motor airplanes in the sky before a massacre of Merzbow-like noise discharges. The same hypnotic mantle wraps the beginning of the second part, deranged music boxes and bell clocks lodged in what sounds like distorted shortwave to determine once and for all our extraneousness in a conversation that is as subliminal as bodily. Piercing high frequencies and half-discreet interference put a worn-out cloth on a subterranean pulse, then we're back to desolation all over again, the final ten minutes of the album reminding of how charming ugliness can be, if only observed by a different perspective.