Last month, Montreal’s Kohlenstoff Records released a trio of experimental releases on the same day: new works from Liz Helman, Line Katcho and Ezequiel Esquenazi. Each of these works has its own distinctive appeal. This is no surprise from the label who recently brought us winning works from Adam Basanti and Maxime Corbell-Perron; the label continues to go from strength to strength.
London-based artist Liz Helman has been active in installation and video work for the past decade, but The Truth Inside is her first album. Her particular focus is on reflections of “dislocation and displacement,” which would make her music a perfect match to the writings of Andre Aciman (especially False Papers: Essays on Exile and Memory). Her sounds are all over the map, pun intended: from field recording to drone, and on earlier recordings, a touch of synth and even industrial (“out of this world”). It’s as if she is declaring that nothing is stable, especially sound. Her album is sequenced in an unusual way, from thick drone to ambience to light conversation; one might experiment with the order at home, playing it from back to front. In its current setting, the album proceeds from loud to soft, thick to thin, abstract to defined. But flip the script, and it plays like found to lost, grounded to disconnected, or to paraphrase a Helman title, “there to not-there”. The familiar operator prompt “please hang up and try again” thwarts a repeated dialer in “Elsewhere St.”, as if intimating that nothing will work again, ever. As the trains and pedestrians pass, the call continues to bounce back. The rustling for change is like a plea for understanding. As Pink Floyd once asked, “Is there anybody out there?”
Montreal festival favorite Line Katcho has also built a resume on film work, her latest Vimeo entry being the fractured symmetry of Shapeshifter (not on the album). From that work, one gets the impression that Line Katcho is more of an electronic/dance artist, which is also the impression provided by the cover image. However, Pulsions is more of an electroacoustic work, as demonstrated by the manipulated experiments of “Aigullage (switches and crossings)”. As such, it has more in common with the recent Nickolas Mohanna album, Phase Line, which also sampled traffic control devices. (Perhaps a new micro-genre is being born!) Katcho’s work tends to be extremely intricate, and this piece is particularly precise, with slices placed gently upon shards. The two thicker tracks, “Dérive” and “Sweet rumbles”, offer more in terms of extended tones. The former melds traffic horns and drones, strings and fluttered wings, creating an artificial street symphony; the latter begins with controlled static bursts that coalesce into clouds. These provide an indication of the artist’s power; when everything is plugged in at once, there’s bound to be feedback.
The loudest of these three new Kohlenstoff releases is Esequiel Esquenazi’s Conflictos con la metáfora (Conflicts with the metaphor). This Argentinian professor and artist produces raw tones that are confrontational and at times abrasive: short bursts of electric current that cause a start to the home listener, like errant plugs and burned hands. The pieces are percussive, yet without obvious percussion; instead, these are collections of sounds, carefully arranged. Esqunazi shares with the composers above an interest in the sounds left out as well; at times throughout the set, all sound seems to disappear, creating sonic voids into which other pieces, precariously set, might tumble. The highlight of the set is the prize-winning “Caída, memoria y restitución” (Fall, memory and restitution)”, which contains a surprising call-and-response segment, unusual for this kind of work, like a modem and a circuit board calling to each other across a deserted factory floor. But the closing “Forclusión XI” and “Moreno” make strong impressions by including improvisations on stringed instruments and piano. The artist’s musical training is put to good use here, although likely not the sort of use his own professors intended.