Someone let abstract-electronics-expert Phil Julian into the EMS (Elektronmusikstudion) studio in Stockholm! I can only dream of the delicious range of sound machines one might find in a proper electroacoustic music studio like that… This LP on Harbinger Sound is the result of two weeks in residence at the EMS, and it sounds quite frankly gorgeous.
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This morning at Norman Towers we have been wondering - how many stormtroopers does it take to change a light bulb? I think this record may have stumbled upon the answer - two, one to change the lightbulb and one to shoot Phil Julian for trying to steal it and turn it into a composition. Actually it looks like the first one has given up and has decided to slap Ian for fanboying all over Star Wars and rooting for Luke.
A sound artist hailing from the UK, Phil Julian is into all sorts of abstract musical skullduggery, from driving speakers into feedback to fathering digital autobots to generate compositional change. It is no wonder then that noise purveyors Harbinger Sound would dig this. The sheer magnitude of this record’s centrepiece ‘Open Form’ speaks for itself. Let’s ‘trace’ its progress: during a residency at Stockholm’s notorious Elektronmusikstudion, Julian fed custom built computer programs into the studio’s old analog gear, only to mix the resulting material down to a 17.4 surround system. That equals a whopping 17 speakers in a ring around the listener, with 4 subs handling the low end! Ludicrous! Sadly, modern music technology is struggling to keep up with these lofty heights and we’re stuck in the crawler lane with measly stereo headphones. As you can imagine, this must have been a particularly frustrating reduction of scale for Phil, but he’s done his best to pan it around the 2 channels available to him. The result is a barrage of strange audio forms buttressed by the worlds of electroacoustic composition and musique concrete. Dissonant and constantly evolving, oscillating tones constantly shift in speed and register, occasionally joined by (Ben) frosty noise wretches. You can’t help but imagine the spatial immersion of the original 17.4 system though, which sadly looms over this piece, leaving it as a computer music curiosity.
On the flip, ‘Corona’ brings a much more straight up wail to the fore, changing in much more subtle ways with that inescapable ‘broken alarm’ sound as the drone, but it is on ‘Arrival’ that Julian’s skill really shines through. Primarily made up of layers of pitchshifting string-like instruments, their sonic malleability keeps them drifting in and out of the harmonic and the cacophanous. Anyone who enjoys nails on a chalkboard will metaphorically jump on this, while those that don’t will actually jump on it. I’m leaning towards the former right now.
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