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sound/music CD reviews

 Da Contents H2

May 1 2013
Jon Rose

April 3 2013
zephyr quartet
a rain from the shadows

July 17 2012
the wired lab
wired open day 2009

May 22 2012
ros bandt, johannes s sistermanns

March 20 2012
new weird australia editions: thomas williams vs scissor lock, spartak
jewelz & nippon

October 25 2011
avantwhatever label collection
gulbenkoglu gorfinkel; ben byrne; alex white; ivan lysiak

May 24 2011
disintegration: mutation

May 10 2011
blip (jim denley, mike majkowksi)

listen to the weather

March 22 2011
difference engine

November 22 2010
artefacts of australian experimental music volume II 1974-1983

September 20 2010
clocked out
the wide alley

September 7 2010
clocked out
foreign objects

August 23 2010
matt chaumont

July 26 2010
sky needle
time hammer

May 10 2010
mike majkowski
ink on paper

November 6 2009
new weird australia vols 1 & 2

October 26 2009
clare cooper & chris abrahams
germ studies

July 17 2009
erdem helvacioglu
wounded breath

rice corpse
mrs rice

April 28 2009
james rushford

joel stern
objects, masks, props

January 22 2009
loren chasse
the footpath

mark cauvin

December 12 2007
the splinter orchestra

October 24 2007
artefacts of australian experimental music 1930-1973

August 28 2007
akathistos fragments


various artists produced by le tuan hung; dindy vaughan
on the wings of a butterfly: cross-cultural music by australian composers; up the creek

May 1 2006
ai yamamoto

camilla hannan
more songs about factories

found: quantity of sheep

philip brophy

rod cooper

December 1 2005
anthony pateras
mutant theatre

December 1 2005
charlie charlie & will guthrie
la respiration des saintes & building blocks

dj olive

new belief system

jodi rose & guest artists
singing bridges: vibrations/variations

lawrence english

lawrence english
ghost towns

michael j schumacher
room pieces

robin fox
backscatter dvd


the necks
mosquito/see through

tim o'dwyer
multiple repeat

guns, cars & guitars

warp: various artists
warp vision: the videos 1989-2004

zane trow
for those who hear actual voices


Nature Strip, 2008, NS3006

Drawn together between 2000-2007 the list of sound sources and instruments on Joel Stern’s Objects, Masks, Props reads like the contents of an old bric-a-brac shop: “car radios, pipes…no-input mixer, ukulele, pocket trumpet…electronics…rusty gate, harmonica, rabid dogs…" And like a good bric-a-brac shop, while the mass of stuff may not initially appear orderly and logical, each element feels well-pondered and lovingly handled, resulting in the album offering plenitude without clutter.

The CD consists of eight relatively short tracks (with the exception of Throat Priest) each of which run straight on to the next, not with delicate cross fades but sudden jump cuts. Each track works towards but never quite reaches its ending, shifting us to a different atmospheric place every four minutes. However the overarching world we are in remains the same with every piece underscored by birds, insects and lo-fi static.

Ironically, while Stern’s sound for the audiovisual duo Abject Leader (with Sally Golding) is often non-narrative, this collection of purely sound pieces suggest far more filmic forays. Hints are provided in the titles but, within the soundscapes themselves, mini-dramas unfold. For example on “Concertina for Henri Mouhot”, a mournful wheezy concertina, accompanied by a percussive rainmaker, increases in intensity until the piece is swirling with stumbling notes and electronic bleeping to create a kind of malarial delirium. (The French Naturalist Mouhot died of malaria in the Laotian town of Luang Prabang where Stern collected some of his material.)

“The Dead Lakes” is the most filmic in style where squawking birds, heavy rain and increasingly terrifying, howling dogs are joined by a malevolent chant and subtle melodic underpinning to suggest a horror epic yet to be made. “Pheromone Wings”, meanwhile, is perhaps the strongest example of Stern’s heightened use of field recordings, as the buzzing of bees is effected with reverb and matched with drawn out notes from reed instruments, and orchestral samples creating an agitated symphony.

“Panda Box” is the noisiest track on the CD as rooster crows are mixed with tedious childlike tinkering with the bulbul tarang [an Indian banjo played with a keyboard]. This turns into a controlled cacophony strangely moving towards cohesiveness with the use of a radio sweeping through static-filled channels.

“Throat Piece” is the most spacious track running to almost nine minutes. Sharp bird twitter is accompanied by a beautiful bubbling flutelike sound—perhaps an effected bird call, or is it an instrument? This is quite rudely interfered with by glitchy radio static, and the two textures continue in parallel for several minutes until a murky channel is settled on and we hear the distant strains of a prayer song. Eventually a sample is introduced in which words are clearly discernible—“I wish I had gone with Elsa”, adding a curious text-driven denouement. While perhaps a little looser than other tracks on the album, it clearly illustrates Stern’s associative approach—both textually and content wise—to his sound materials.

The first and last tracks on Objects, Masks, Props are the most melodically pre-occupied. In the first track, “Stradbroke Verse”, flute-like tunes drift in and out of focus like mist floating through and prettying up a landscape. In the final track “Fortitudes End”, the melancholic accordion and guitar drive the ‘song’ accompanied by strident cicadas, wailing women and general gritty atmos, each element separate yet complimentary.

Objects, Masks, Props is perhaps most interesting because rather than the field recordings grounding us in the ‘real world’, serving as markers of concrete space, Stern’s manipulations and combinations create a kind of lucid-dreaming—a not unpleasant state to dwell in for the 40 minutes of this CD.

Gail Priest

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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