DJ Olive: Sleep

Friedl/Vorfeld: Pech

Keith Fullerton Whitman: Track 4 (2 Way Superimposed)

VA: Incidental Amplifications

One can always rely on Brisbane-based ROOM40 for provocative music-making and these latest four releases uphold the tradition: there's eerie soundscaping by Reinhold Friedl and Michael Vorfeld, DJ Olive's ambient somnambulance, a ‘bi-directional' work by sonic experimentalist Keith Fullerton Whitman, and a compilation of pieces originally presented in, you're reading correctly, Brisbane shopping areas.

Though German duo Reinhold Friedl and Michael Vorfeld play piano and percussion respectively, their instruments' traditional character rarely appears. More precisely, the musicians alter them (Friedl is credited with 'inside piano' and 'prepared piano' while Vorfeld plays percussion and stringed instruments) so that alien sounds haunt Pech's three long pieces: piercing, knife-edged string tones reminiscent of horror soundtracks and dissonant Ligeti-like clusters of whistles dominate the ghostly title piece while “Torf” takes the style to a more nightmarish extreme. Less disturbing yet still unusual, rapid percussion and string passages in “Keks” evoke the scurry and chatter of rodents.

DJ Olive's Sleep is the second in a projected trilogy of ambient recordings and a natural complement to the inaugurating Buoy. Those familiar with ROOM40's discography will also hear Sleep as a companion to the 2004 compilation Melatonin – Meditations On Sound In Sleep. Finally, DJ Olive's disc also serves as an interesting comparative work to the three-part “Sleep” series Paul Schütze included on 1995's Apart. Gregor Asch (aka DJ Olive the 'Audio Janitor') wrestles with the same problem as Schütze: How does one convincingly translate the unconscious state of sleep into sonic form? In truth, the problem proves far from insoluble, given how effectively ambient calm implies a restful, undisturbed state while violent dissonance conveys agitation. Opting for the first approach, Asch sculpts a gently modulating and immersive flow that, like sleep's stages, evolves through subtly contrasting passages. The work's already-subdued tonal mass quietens further at the halfway mark as Asch reduces the sound to a skeleton before building it back up again. Distant singing and creaking noises are heard on occasion, suggesting the onset of a dream state. Sleep, it hardly bears mentioning, is quintessential headphone listening.

A 21-minute 2005 work that started out as a 10-minute 2002 piece, Whitman's “track4 (2waysuperimposed)” is the CD single of the four room40 releases and, like “track3a (2waynice)” on Playthroughs, the new one plays the same forwards as backwards (though you'd likely not know it without being told). Generated using processed guitar and electronics, “track4 (2waysuperimposed)” eschews Hrvatski-styled intensity for aquatic serenity. There is development albeit of an unconventional and non-linear kind but it so subtly appears behind the meandering fabric of ripples, washes, and organ tones one could just as easily miss it. An interesting piece certainly but hardly as compelling as Whitman's recent Lisbon.

Curators Lawrence English and Lloyd Barrett commissioned artists to create non-Muzak pieces for a spatial sound installation placed in Brisbane shopping spaces during summer 2005, 14 results of which are collected on the 70-minute Incidental Amplifications. One wonders whether shoppers ran for cover when confronted by the shuddering wail of jet thunder in Chris Watson's “Runway O2e” or set off in disoriented sales searches when besieged by the indecipherable babble of Aaron Ximm's “Sales_Pitch_Phase.” Terre Thaemlitz brings a hall-of-mirrors dimension to the project by embedding a hip-hop track within a sea of crowd noise while Daniel Blinkhorn bludgeons the listener with violent creaks and rumbles in “Resource14.” Identifiable noises offer literal frames of reference in some pieces (Camilla Hannan's churning factory machinery, the elegiac piano piece that emerges during the dying moments of Mathieu Ruhlmann's “Rest”) whereas others' sounds only hint at origins (Le Grand Jeu's gauzy electronic textures). Those with an appetite for such experimentalism will already realize that the collection's field-oriented pieces work just as effectively when separated from the project's shopping center theme.

August 2006