Michael Henning & Philip Ringler:
Selaroda: Ashes From Another Lifetime
In early July, a package arrived courtesy of the Oakland, California-based Petit Mal Music label, a small imprint specializing in sound art recordings issued primarily in a three-inch CD format. One of its latest releases, the eighteen-minute EP Ashes From Another Lifetime (sixty copies), features the work of Bay Area sound artist and The Why Because founding member Michael Henning under the Selaroda name; preceded by four releases (the most recent 2014's Polytexturalism on Sanity Muffin), Ashes From Another Lifetime includes four pieces that collectively argue that a generic term such as sound art is simply too vague for material of such broad scope.
In keeping with its title, “Black Icicles” presents a dark, icy ambient-dronescape rich in synthetic atmosphere and portentous in mood. Truth be told, its slowly unfurling swaths evoke a deep space locale as much as a subterranean crypt, especially when Henning builds the piece's multiple layers into a seductive, mystery-laden zone over the course of its eight-minute run. The onset of “Branches to the Sky” engenders a dramatic shift in the musical terrain, with a hammered dulcimer-like pattern resonating loudly before being supplanted by a peaceful synth drone, while “Aquatic Drift” is pretty much what one would expect from a piece so titled: vaporous ambient-dronescaping well-designed for submersion. One final surprise arrives when the title track caps the release with one-and-a-half minutes of sombre acoustic guitar picking.
Henning's other new release, Supplemental Dimensions, is a collaborative set recorded live with Philip Ringler, a kindred experimental explorer who operates under the Phil Deez and Sir Cup Ears aliases and who's played with Jess Quatro, Tetsunori, The Atomic Bomb Audition, and others in addition to Henning. Issued on cassette, the release, which splits four eight-and-a-half-minute settings between two sides, comes with the following text: “Four alien soundscapes inspired by four earthly herbal entities. Music to travel inside and outside, by any chosen modes of transport.” The description, the first part especially, turns out to be a pretty accurate encapsulation of the material on offer.
“Mucuna,” its title a reference to a species of climbing vines and shrubs found in the woodlands of tropical areas, inaugurates the tape with tribal-ambient soundscaping pitched at an even keel, while the comparatively brooding “Kratom” oozes a slow kosmische burn whilst also keeping its roots firmly planted in the soil thanks to a stable base of percussive thrum (kratom, incidentally, is a tropical tree whose leaves are used for medicinal properties and whose impact upon ingestion is psychoactive). “Kava,” a crop of the western Pacific whose plant roots can produce a drink with sedative properties, is suitably restrained though isn't bereft of activity or change; melodic patterns occasionally rise to the surface before retreating below, and tabla playing burbles across the surface of the deep-throated drone as well. The energy level rises significantly during “Eleuthero” (eleutherococcus senticosus is a small, woody shrub found in Asia with a history of use in traditional Chinese medicine), which Henning and Ringler animate with a loping pulse and pepper with sputtering synth work and psychedelic electronic touches. A nice and unexpected final surprise arrives when the two turn the beat around five minutes into the piece by twisting it into an even more jaunty lope. Listening to the release, one guesses that the collaborators didn't merely read up on the four herbal entities but perhaps ingested them during the production process in order to become truly inspired.