Thursday, May 24, 2007

ALOG: Amateur (Rune Grammofon)

ALOG
Amateur
RCD2069
Rune Grammofon 2007
12 Tracks. 59mins34secs




Buy it: CD | LP
Alog | Rune Grammofon

Thanks to tirelessly inquisitive minds and an unquenchable thirst for sound processessing, Norwegian duo Alog have, in just three albums, stretched their musical universe beyond recognition. In their hands, nothing ever sounds totally ordinary, and as their approach as become more experimental with each release, moving from largely electronic structures to much more delicate soundscapes built around acoustic instrumentations and found sounds, they have developed a truly unique semantic and continue to refine it. Alog deal with sound on a large scale, taking as much consideration perfecting elements of their tracks which are not directly within audible range as they do crafting overhead components, resulting in extremely detailed and complex pieces more fitting to avant-garde than to traditional electronic music.

Following last year’s excellent Catch That Totem! published on Melektronikk, which collected some rare and previously unreleased material, Eide and Haugan return to Rune Grammofon with their fourth album. With this opus, the pair do not quite revise their work ethic as drastically as they have done in the past, but instead refine techniques applied on 2005’s Miniatures and manage to produce a record which is at once more complex and more accessible.

Amateur, here used in the context of ‘person who appreciates’, was recorded in various locations on the west coast of Norway, especially in schools, where the pair, accompanied by Nicholas H. Møllerhaug and regular Nils Økland collaborator Sigbjørn Apeland, made use of the sometime rudimentary facilities at hand. At times, the quartet found themselves stranded in one location for days because of bad weather and passed time by building their own instruments, adding to the eclectic sources used across the album. The result is an incredibly dense tapestry of sounds and noises, at times used in their barest form, at others treated and processed beyond recognition. Opener Son Of King is a bubbling piece on which Møllerhaug’s vocal acts as a continuous thread throughout. Various phrases are chopped up and re-assembled in apparently random fashion, creating a strangely disconnected tale from which pretty much only the title can be heard intelligibly, over a backdrop of wood and metal percussions which sounds increasingly more like a trotting horse as the track progresses.

At times, Alog seem primarily concerned with the very musical essence of their work, bringing melodies to the forefront, while at others, the focus is much more on the rhythmic aspect of their compositions. It is when the two meet however, like on the fascinating The Beginner, which share with label-mate Svalastog a taste for acoustic loops, that the pair are at their most enchanting. As loops and patterns settle, the track becomes a haunting incantation. A Throne For The Common Man has a similar feel, but the context is very different. Eide and Haugan begin by defining the sonic space with bells and chimes before progressively building a dense layered structure from a variety of acoustic instruments. What results is a grinding groove that absorbs everything in its path. Sleeping Instruments questions of the notion of silence and whether it is a sound in itself. As its title suggest, this piece is entirely built around fragments of sounds sourced from instruments ‘at rest’, whether it is wood contracting or fingers running on the surface of an instrument. The Future Of Norwegian Wood works on a similar principle, but silence is not quite as intrusive here. As various wood sounds are processed and assembled, Alog create a surprisingly consequent piece which comes alive around the three minute mark as a rhythmic sequence is set in motion. The ten-minute Bedlam Emblem sees a dense cloud of saturated noises, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Spunk record, slowly materialise and become overwhelmingly oppressive. On close inspection, this constantly changing ball of sound is made of a multitude of entangled minute debris interacting with each other.

In comparison, Write Your Thoughts In Water or Turn Back. Undo appear almost too straightforward, but there again Alog play with lights and shades to create illusions and deflect the attention away from the painstakingly complex and extremely detailed assemblages that are these tracks and focus instead of the poetry that results.

After ten years, Alog continue to develop and refine their approach to sound, as they move away from recognisable musical forms. As their most abstract record to date, Amateur is surprisingly accessible and playful, and this is certainly what makes Alog one of the most compelling outfits around.

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