“Poke It With A Stick / Joining The Bots” reviewed by Fluid Sonic Fluctuations

Today I’m featuring an interesting and nicely long release as part of my Fluid Label Focus series on the CRÓNICA label. I received an advance review copy from the label from this new album by Electroacoustic music project TRONDHEIM EMP, titled POKE IT WITH A STICK / JOINING THE BOTS, so at the time of writing this review this album hasn’t been released yet. The release date at the time of writing is March 5, 2019. POKE IT WITH A STICK / JOINING THE BOTS is an album that’s the result of recordings made of experiments done with a cross adaptive performance system created by TRONDHEIM EMP band leader and instigator Øyvind Brandtsegg on the first part POKE IT WITH A STICK (which is DISC 1 on the 2 CD physical version of this release) and on JOINING THE BOTS (which is DISC 2 on the 2 CD physical version of this release) these experiments are edited, joined and developed into several longer pieces. Øyvind worked with the large number of musicians that make up TRONDHEIM EMP on the experiments as well as the later composed pieces as part of his Crossadaptive research project at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Øyvind’s Crossadaptive system uses audio analysis data from one instrument to influence the processing of the other as well as data feedback manipulating the processing from the first instrument by the analysis of the second one (and often third one) POKE IT WITH A STICK / JOINING THE BOTS features a total of 23 tracks over 2 hours 11 minutes playing time, most of which are the relatively short POKE IT WITH A STICK tracks. The advance review copy I’m using for this review features the album cover in decent resolution as well as a press release PDF file featuring artist name, album title, catalogue number and release year, release format, release link, album credits and release date and promotion contact info as well 3 pages describing this album. All pages of the PDF feature artwork as well and there is also a tracklist, financial support credit, list of researchers and performers as well as a list detailing all musicians featured on this album per track.

First part POKE IT WITH A STICK starts with the track Unwitting Accomplice (the tracks in the download version feature labels relating to which part they are part of that repeat per track). The piece is a vocal improvisation in which two female vocals are mixed together. In this first piece the Crossadaptive processing is still a bit hard to discern as mostly delay and reverb effects are used. You can hear a certain movement (very slightly fuzzy compression) in the vocals however, which does hint that the vocals are effects by each other’s dynamics and loudness. The improvisation definitely has some kind of dadaist playfulness to it but also feels nicely “classic” in a way, as the abstract, sparse sound and minimalist effect manipulations makes me think of 60’s electroacoustic compositions and sound compositions made by contemporary music composers of that time. Very abstract but also very fun to listen and a well paced improvisation. On Voluntary Convolution we can hear saxophone and guitar in a recognisable Free Improvisation style, the performances and manipulations do follow quite an intriguing direction and the glassy sound generated by the processing add a great glimmering colourful sound to the guitar and sax’s funky and jumpy improvisations, it adds some mystery to the sonic palette as well. Vision Of Hope Surpassed features two female vocal layers, against with dadaist vocal improvisations, in this case we also have delay and reverb effect manipulations but also lovely stereo stutters effects, making the vocals sound like liquid. Sweet squeals and wild performances in general on this one and the stutters and delays create a great glitchy metallic edge to the vocals, very nice. Then we have Rapid Random Response Unit which features flute, guitar and female vocals. The piece feels quite like a soundtrack of a tropical forest, the vocals are subdued and the flute is choppy high pitched, quickly moving like wild animals and the guitar has a mostly percussive role in this track, clicking and shifting like little drops of water. The ring modulation on the flute further adds to this animal like sound and the reverb adds this nice sense of space in the music. Then we have Just Add Gravity, on which wild male vocal improvisations are further enhanced by stutters delays, creating a very animalistic primal texture. Pretty funny as well, nice piece. On Artist in Resonance we have Bass and Guitar which are manipulated into liquid and resonant baths of effect processing, there are very nice string sounds in here as well as pitch sweeps, I love the bass string buzzes especially. On Backbeat Sketch female vocals and bass form an ambience that feel pretty similar to Arthur Russell’s music (though with female vocals instead), though it also features some cool stereo panning buzzing effects. Overall a more straightforward melodic piece but with a great classy acoustic sound with touches of effects processing. Then we have Now We Try It My Way in which the Crossadaptive processing is much more subtle. It’s quite Free Improvisation freakout but the piece also has plenty of cool touch in the percussive bass playing and detailed airy sound of the saxophone. It has a very physical sound to it and great improvisational energy. Screechy sax sonics at times almost turn into wild squeaking birds, great sonic textures created in this piece by the instruments. I Confess is another piece that has an Arthur Russell like sound to it, again great performances in this and tasteful effects processing as well as a captivating positive melody which has some Middle Eastern touches of mystery to it. Then we have title track Poke It With A Stick on which mostly hissy “noisy” vocals create abstract clicking and metallic structures, some of the vocal sounds ending up sounding like scattering bits of plastic stuttering and falling. Lovely abstract rhythmic soundscape in this one. In Total Internal Reflection saxophone and bass create resonant waves of atmospheric glassy sound through their “staircase” like improvisations of staccato rhythmic melodic patterns. A great mixture of ambience and jumpy rhythms in this piece, very nice. Heavy Meta only features drums but still there are guitar like drones audible, most likely derived from resonances in the drums themselves. The track feels like a cross between a percussion improvisation and a both atmospheric and experimental Post Rock track. The subtle drone resonances combined with the clattering, filtered and subtly distorted drums create a curious vibe that feels like the music is sometimes moving in a melodic direction, whilst at other times shifting more into percussive soundscape. On Not Invented Here saxophone and (mostly unrecognisable) guitar jump around in a swamp like water filled ambience. It’s a very odd sounding free piece with the notes jumping all around as well as the quirky sonic textures of the instruments making it sound like animals communicating with eachother, very wild and fun track. Then on So Much For Subtlety spoken vocals are manipulated into resonant panned and ghostly echoes blended with subtle sung vocals. There’s a great nuance in the separate words being especially put into focus in this piece which gives it a great expressive movement both in the content of the words as well as the textures created. Final track of POKE IT WITH A STICK, Zero Credibility features a lot of cool stuttering glitch effects in the mouth sound heavy vocals but also features some subtly resonant droning vocals creating an alien artificial soundscape of disembodied voices, very good. 

On the first track of JOINING THE BOTS, Hollow World, a bass gets turned into the sound source for a hollow glassy resonant round atmospheric droning composition. Many shifts in sonic texture occur in this piece as they keep evolving and changing shifting from cleaner bass sound to droning filtered images of bass resonance. Plucked strings add extra percussive details to the composition as well, a hypnotic, meditative but also active piece of music. You’ll Thank Me Later is the first piece on this album when the music shifts into a much noisier kind of sound than we’ve heard before. Wild dadaist female vocals are combined with electronic percussion and a digital instrument called the Marimba Lumina, creating constantly changing waves of heavily filtered and effected vocals, distorted thumps of percussion as well as equally distorted Marimba Lumina parts creating a very free composition, oftentimes abstract, aleatoric and fuzzy but at some moments also more recognisably melodic. A curious blend of jazzy marimba improvisation and avant garde Noise experimentation in an often quite deep sonic stage, very nice. Within Reason has the same instrumentation as You’ll Thank Me Later but moves into metallic and harsh Industrial sonics. The distorted and ring modulated percussion takes more of a foreground part in here though the vocals are still an essential part of the piece, there’s even some bursts of Noise and hard hitting distorted kick patterns. There’s definitely a very different approach to the Crossadaptive processing and different instrumentation on here than on POKE IT WITH A STICK and it adds some great variation to the two part album release as a whole, very nice. Then we have the track Irregular Apocalypse which features some very extreme sounds and performance, think of Within Reason but with much more Noise bursts and Industrial percussion hits and wild wild strange alien female vocals and screaming. Great intense vocal and instrumental performances and processing on here. Tactical Grace is a more sparse piece featuring tinkling bells resonating in the quiet space, haunting ghostly female vocals and mysterious synth tones, Marimba Lumina and both funky and jazzy guitar tones (especially in the last part of this piece). I love how this piece evolves from the calm ritualistic improvisation in the first half to the space jazz improvisation in the second half, it’s got a classic performance feeling to it yet still with contemporary sonic textures, very nice. I did notice however that on the JOINING THE BOTS part of this release the instrumentation of the music is organised in sets featuring the same or similar instrumentation rather than the varied mixture on POKE IT WITH A STICK, fortunately however the music on JOINING THE BOTS is varied enough to not make it sound repetitive or similar. On title track Joining the Bots we can hear the stutter glitch effects from POKE IT WITH A STICK on female vocals combined with a sparse but also expressive resonant drum performance, after some time into the piece the guitar (which at the beginning is only playing rhythmic staccato notes) turns into more of a haze of dissonant Noise which adds some great edge and energy to the piece as well as building towards an exciting climax. Great combination of minimal instrumentation with glitch elements and Noise in this piece which also features good usage of silence in its composition. Synchronize Your Dogmas follows pretty much directly from the previous piece and features the same instrumentation and processing but the vocals get more chaotic both in performance and processing and the music builds towards a calmer and more atmospheric end with repeated mysterious guitar drones shifting in the background while the glitched vocals and scattered drums slowly “disintegrate”. Works well as a second part of Joining The Bots. Then we have final track Echo System which features drums, vocals, guitar and Marimba Lumina. The piece moves from an ethereal atmospheric first half into a more jumpy improvisational second half. The first half features some great female vocals creating glowing drones through the delay and reverb effects which are accompanied by additional tones and subtly rattling percussion, very calm and meditative. Around the second half the music starts to move into a wilder and funkier direction with waves of noisy sound, funky bass synth, distorted guitar melodies and ambience as well as more intense rimshot percussion. The quirky synth melodies and waves of fuzzy guitar are particularly nice as well. Great closing piece.

POKE IT WITH A STICK / JOINING THE BOTS by TRONDHEIM EMP is two part album that features quite a lot of variation in both the (improvised) performances and Crossadaptive processing and through its series of experiments on POKE IT WITH A STICK and more composed pieces on JOINING THE BOTS showcases many interesting often free moving pieces of Electroacoustic music with Jazz, Funk and Noise influences that is sometimes quirky and dadist anarchistic in approach, at other times it’s atmospheric, hypnotic and meditative. The expression by both the musicians Øyvind Brandtsegg’s processing give the music a very lively, human feeling but the element unpredictability of the processing also adds new waves of inspirational feedback from the system to the musician’s approaches of playing there instruments and singing / vocalising. And with its extensive tracklist and long playing time the two part album never feels like simply a documentation of an experiment but is also an intriguing journey of a listen and the creativity and musicality of all people involved make both the style and textures of the music to be very free from genre boundaries. I would therefore recommend this album to any listeners interested in experimental music, Electroacoustic music but also to listeners who like free, expressive music that leans towards Jazz at times. Orlando Laman

via Fluid Sonic Fluctuations

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