“Nowhere: Exercises in Modular Synthesis and Field Recording” reviewed by Bad Alchemy


Smolders sieht sich durch jahrelange Zenübung vom niederländischen Planer zu Klangkalligraphen befreit. Ein Klangfluss kann sich nun in einem Zug entfalten, statt erst in akribischer Feilerei und Korrigiererei Gestalt anzunehmen. “Nowhere” spielt dabei schon auch irgendwo, ‘Incident at Ras Oumlil’ führt nach Marokko, irgendwo zwischen Guelmim und Tan-Tan. Aber es gibt Orte, an denen man zwischen ‘NowHere’ und ‘NoWhere’ schwer unterscheiden kann. Zudem sind Menschen wichtiger als Orte. Etwa der mit ‘For Rudy Carrera’ gewürdigte Blogger, der über Religion und das Leben als solches schreibt, auf “A Miscellany of tasteful…’ über Film, Literatur, Kunst und Musik und der mit Carrera-Linn Cultural Exchange (CLCX) sogar ein kleines Label betreibt. Oder die Filmemacherin Maya Deren, der Smolders mit ‘Song for…’ Tribut zollt. Seine ersten Klänge knattern wie ein Geigerzähler, dem Radioaktivität kleine Botschaften morst. Eigentlich viel zu harmlos, um die plötzliche Panik zu erklären, die Lautsprecherdurchsagen, die Evakuierung, die von Drones und tickenden Pixeln auch schnell kaschiert werden. Die Stimmen gehören wohl auch eher zu einem touristischen Spektakel, das Kraftwerk bei Sidi Boulbra ist immer noch Zukunftsmusik. ‘NowHere’ rät zu Vorsicht, vor dem Hund, vor der Bahnsteigkante, vor Billigfliegern, vor allem der Köter bleibt einem hartnäckig auf den Fersen, selbst als es regnerisch vom Himmel pixelt. Die Carrera-Hommage stapft in brummigen Tupfen voran, die hastig joggend überholt werden. Dann detonieren krass krachende Störungen, gefolgt von MG-Geratter. Ist das narrativ ? Es ist gar nicht so einfach, nichts zu sagen. Die verzerrenden Durchsagen, die wummernden Wellen, das sanfte Gedonge, der kristalline Klingklang, die ominösen Schübe, das brodelnde Prickeln und kuriose Trillern, das schrillend eskaliert, das flötende Getüpfel, das stimmhaft und mit Mundharmonika anschwillt oder spieluhrzahrt, zeitvergessen, ungezielt seinen Gang geht, all das spricht für sich.

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Sven Schlijper on Jos Smolders’s “Nowhere: Exercises in Modular Synthesis and Field Recording”

Nowhere marries brutalism to beautalism. Smolders knows the tools of his trade, inside and out. Movements are trained, skilled and well honed. The performance and the product it delivers open up to the moments of making and of reproduction. The controls handed over to aesthetics, again: moving swiftly. Gently also, like an inked brush gliding across the surface of prepared rice paper.

A brutal mark made, ever so softly, creating a work of fragile beauty. Smolders’s brutalism can be found in his daring approach to let the story tell itself. Let the lines flow. Contemplate only the now. Be the created instance. With or without what goes on around, switching on and shutting off. Hearing is thus turned into probing, into hard won, intense listening. Smolders delivers the concrète béton for our time and age, this very instance.

Nowhere does away with rigid structures. The album accepts whatever aurally happens as a musical given, at all times, against all odds. Smolders therewith presents us with a Cageian narrative ‘holos’; a Gesamtkunstwerk of the human and the mechanical, of the found and constructed, of art, artifice and the natural. That’s just as brutal as it is beautiful – here and now.

Sven Schlijper

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Massimo Ricci on Jos Smolders’s “Nowhere: Exercises in Modular Synthesis and Field Recording”

Those who have seriously attempted to operate a synthesizer know from experience how easy getting lost in the meanders of programming is. In a plurality of parameters and wave shapes, finding a way to produce a decent result – let alone a beautiful one – is not exactly a walk in the park when the necessary practicality is missing. Moreover, in order to achieve that goal a whole life of intense listening and, in turn, a thorough understanding of the constitutional particles of sound are required. Unsurprisingly, the large part of synth-based contemporary wallpaper exploits presets, either in “as is” mode or with the slightest modification. It’s an ever-expanding blob of mediocre homogeneity with a risible percentage of artistic meaningfulness.

The decision of leaving intuition primarily in charge of a process of creation – thus putting the mind temporarily out of business – can be problematic. The border between dignity and irrelevance is a dangerous place: chaos is acceptable if a regulating entity is ready to break in. In the work of Jos Smolders, the awareness of the so-called “inside structure” defining every intelligent human being represents a decisive factor. His music is “free” in the widest acceptation of the adjective, but still characterized by a high degree of compatibility: not only with a hypothetical audience, but also with surrounding environments that may range from utterly silent to heavily vociferous. Smolders’s choice of combining synthetic emanations with vague apparitions of reality certifies a truth: what we really hear – be it from an instrument, a recording, or the outside world – is often determined by our interior extensions rather than the actual source.

In that regard, Nowhere straightens up the wrong tendencies of the psyche which, given man’s self-damaging nature, would reject anything not organized according to individual preferences. Some of these textures bring instant comfort, captivating as they are in their glowing warmth. Elsewhere, a quantity of unconscious analysis is needed to capture the vibrational impact of the intrinsic pulses; rarely intricacy and naturalness look so entwined. Smolders extracts luminousness from blackness; delineates cosmic implausibility with considerate gestures; reinforces with radiant tones what was born inconsistent. After silence falls, what remains is an almost tactile integrity: something that can neither be taught, nor described in mere words.

Massimo Ricci

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Chris Dooks on Jos Smolders’s “Nowhere: Exercises in Modular Synthesis and Field Recording”

The first track from Jos Smolders’s Nowhere is a good example of music generating images of somewhere, even if it is an unstable, ungraspable locale.

Smolders’s modular synthesis works are surprisingly cinematic for music of a kind that is often labeled clinical, academic or heavy. The work has a ‘materiality’ that is nimble and strong, like a kind of sonic carbon-fibre.

Incident is not without traces of life in the most literal sense either; clicks and pops that may be as loose and dry as fragments of old bones cluster together to reanimate in unpredictable phases of excitation. Geigercounter sonics seem to infer that a radioactive anomaly has passed some time ago, and has left a strong audible signature as we speculate what the incident of the title was.

What results is something taut, tense and controlled. Images of post-meltdown Fukushima or Chernobyl come to mind, as we pick over the bones of these sites and survey the ecosystem. Maybe my language here is a little dramatic, but I’m going with a Zen-like ‘first thought, best thought’ instinct, inspired by the front cover calligraphy on the CD.

The work develops into more expansive terrain; plate reverbs imply a kind of tubular, metallic container, aluminum perhaps, maybe the inside of a large empty petrol tanker or a modern agricultural grain silo. Here the piece changes significantly; granular particles coalesce into phantasms of human voices before unpredictable tectonic drones permeate the soundscape.

The work takes on the direction of a radiophonic experience, one where the swells of unstable transmissions pass through thin walls. The tic of the Geigercounter remains but it is now picking up more than radioactivity.

There is an urgent orchestration at play, and the drone work is focused and fragile – you get the sense that something could pop or snap at any moment and the movement dies away into the terrain it began with – a vertebrae of attraction that passes.

Chris Dooks

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New release: Jos Smolders’s “Nowhere: Exercises in Modular Synthesis and Field Recording”


Crónica is elated to present Jos Smolders’s new CD, “Nowhere: Exercises in Modular Synthesis and Field Recording”!

During his preparation, setting up the paper, wetting the brush and grinding the ink stone, the calligrapher is in deep concentration. Then, when he is ready, he performs the drawing in a few swift strokes.

My works have always been precise, meticulously edited. In the last decade or so I have left the idea of a preconceived/designed composition. There is only a vague idea before I start recording. Through my Zen practice I have become interested in the approach described above. I translated the calligrapher’s method to my sessions with the modular synthesizer. I concentrate while connecting the patch and setting the parameters at the start of a session. Then I start the various sonic movements, letting things flow and interfering only when necessary. Afterwards I leave the original sounds intact as much as possible, trying to limit overdubs and extensive editing. The flow of the ‘here’ and the ‘now’ guides me.

Jos Smolders

All compositions performed, edited, and mastered by Jos Smolders at EARLabs Studio, 2015-16.

  1. Incident at Ras Oumlil (revised 2016) (10:01)
  2. NowHere (07:49)
  3. For Rudy Carrera (revised 2016) (08:06)
  4. Song for Maya Deren (12:03)
  5. Up. Up and Back to 1982 (17:00)
  6. NoWhere (19:40)

“Nowhere: Exercises in Modular Synthesis and Field Recording” is now available from Crónica’s website, from cronica.bandcamp.com and from selected retailers.

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Soon in Crónica: Emmanuel Mieville’s “Juryo: Durée de la vie de l’ainsi-venu”

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Tonight: “Nowhere: Exercises in Modular Synthesis and Field Recording” will be playing at Gregory Taylor’s RTQE


A track from “Nowhere: Exercises in Modular Synthesis and Field Recording” by Jos Smolders, will be playing tonight at Gregory Taylor’s RTQE at WORT-FM in Madison, Wisconsin.

“Nowhere: Exercises in Modular Synthesis and Field Recording” will be released next Tuesday.

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Soon in Crónica: Gintas K’s “Under My Skin”

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Under My Skin” will be available as a limited-edition tape or as a digital download.

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Futurónica 183


Episode 183 of Futurónica, a broadcast in Rádio Manobras (91.5 MHz in Porto, 18h30) and Rádio Zero (21h GMT, repeating on Tuesday at 01h) airs tomorrow, January 6th.

The playlist of Futurónica 183 is:

  1. Coil, Queens of the Circulating Library (2000, Queens of the Circulating Library, Eskaton)
  2. Coil, Batwings (A Limnal Hymn) (1999, Musick to Play in the Dark Vol. 2, Chalice)

You can follow Rádio Zero’s broadcasts at radiozero.pt/ouvir and Rádio Manobras at radiomanobras.pt.

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“Nowhere: Exercises in Modular Synthesis and Field Recording” reviewed by Vital

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A few years ago, Jos Smolders sold all his records, switched off his laptop and invested in the purchase of modular synthesizer parts; a whole lot of them. Simply because it was time to do something new. Before that he worked extensively with tape-machines, found sound and later on with laptop technology to create his own version of musique concrete, his own take on what Pierre Henry, one of his heroes, started to do in the fifties. Perhaps he’s now doing the same thing, but with different means and a different attitude. Since some time Smolders is practicing Zen meditation and that he translates to the modular synth. Setting up his system, very much like a Zen painting, to do one piece in a few swift strokes, Smolders plays his modules, recording the whole lot and then starts a bit of editing them into a final composition. Unlike so many others, his work is not ‘let’s see what this button does’, ‘let’s stick another cable in here’, the end result is not some snap shot or pastiche of sounds, but what he releases on a disc (or download, which seems to be his preferred format, because you can present files that sound even better than is possible on CD) passes for the best he produces. Also if we consider the Zen aspect of his work, we could easily think that Smolders produces some hippy-dippy new age music, light the incense and space out. That’s far from what’s happening on this disc. In some of these pieces, at various times, the music is very sparse, such as in ‘NoWhere’, but even then some of the frequencies used by Smolders are hardly friendly. But that piece is all what the new Smolders about; an excellent build up in tension, throughout the piece, adding more tones, subtracting frequencies and maybe some contact microphone manipulation. In other pieces the field recordings play a bigger role, but I would think that there are very rarely used in an untreated way (except maybe the voices in ‘Incident At Ras Oumlil (Revised 2016)’ but more as a trigger to set the system of modules in motion. An oddball in this selection of pieces is ‘For Rudy Carrera (Revised 2016) in which Smolders also uses some of heavy noise sounds, as well as some beats from a bass synth. I didn’t like the pitch shifted sounds of ‘Up. Up And Back To 1982’, which sounded too easy for my taste, but otherwise I was very pleased with this release. It shows that modular synthesizers not necessarily have to pave the way to another version of Tangerine Dream, or the umpteen version of Eno-esq ambient doodle, but that it can also result in some great set of experimental electronic music pieces, which are simply a delight to hear. (FdW)

via Vital

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