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

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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