Thursday, February 9, 2012

Kohwi - Hidden Trees on Black Tent Records

Got this full length in from the guys over at Black Tent Press who do more than just press Tonetta records, if you can believe's this full length, from sound craftsmen Kohwi or Cory Levinson, who's been doing plenty of glitchy, electronic manipulation of all forms; working on installations, creating new instruments....I saw a post of his where he created some kind of visual midi trigger out of beer bottle caps. You easily get the sense on these recordings that he's been seriously innovating these sounds and album represents the distilled process of someone's obsession with these alien, unnatural sounds...which makes sense, there's a huge disconnect when you trigger a sound that's just digital sine waves, no air is moving, and there's no physical connection to the instrument so when this sound that has no relation to your movement's kind of a surprise all the time, especially to the artist.

The A-Side, track one, "Reeling the Warmth", has a lot of vocal manipulations and cycles through various electronic rhythms, things are heavily panning, fading in and out, a lot of tricks from the opening of the whole experience. It's dense, almost like Kohwi is setting this tone for a truly insane  ride; cut up clips of stuttering high hats, rim shots, abbreviated shakers form this frantic, disjointed structure for the equally as manipulated vocal which jumps around barely piecing together this abstraction of a melody. Shimmery electronics and twinkling keys work their way front, panning in between a full on dance of electronics. The beats become more and more over-the-top chaotic, in fact, there's nothing human about any of this, even those vocals themselves couldn't be delivered in anything close to what's been hammered out. During a floaty little interlude, a washy, watery beat jumps right in and I'm back listening to The Orb, and little puffy clouds, when electronic turned into ambience, drop that booming bassline, which got boring immediately, you can only BPM so much. Then later, like Boards of Canada, it's the kind of electronics that don't have to demand your attention...this works in that same way, relying just enough on circuits to define it, but not to the point that it's so placed in a specific time period that's it going to be cripplingly specific later. That's the balance for this kind of a thing to work. A lot of this is thanks to his method, breaking down the ways these sounds are actually coming together, in a counterintuitive organic way: peering into the guts of the keyboard and looking for new connections.
"Weekroot" then foregoes the human voice altogether, instead maybe trying to emulate it with these off key electronics, "they shall have feeling, and it will come out of the imperfections." Also showing off in this track that he's more than a great cut and paster, there's lots of sheer composition, a hell of a performance going on here with the electronics...he's hitting on those classic emotional elements of a song in unconventional ways. When this orchestral sound comes in, I don't think we're still on that machine level anymore.
"Tides" takes that theme from the last track and completely devolves it into a mess of junked instruments which are trying to recreate the last track, there's a broken monologe underneath this loop about an abstract scheme...the notes really get whacky and broken to pieces when a new harmony of vocals start. Video game, heavily gated, pure digital sounds, really fast, building and a falsetto soul cut scene. There's some fun in this one, like Drukqs, there's a lot of traditional sounds just cut to hell.
"Over Clothes" is a soft fire sound, distant piano, water, these kind of temperal things, a player paino...creepy stuff
"Hobbies" (ft Mutual Benefit) then picks up on that Aphex, Panda Bear vibe again, the loops coming on heavy and strong with an untraditional beat, abstract vocal expressions all over this thing. This rhythm working between the heavy electronics and organic acoustic manipulations a lot like Tunng's sort of play in between the folk and glitch worlds.

The B-Side opens with "Rem" a heavily atmospheric slow burn, messing with the reproduction of sound itself, the clipped off cut from a snare? Who knows what kind of a malfunction this is that's bouncing around in a somewhat rhythmic way. He's taking his time subtely developing these broken up melodies. Quiet and understated percussion here and these unnatural sounds never get abrasive or start to take over, it's a long calculated ride. Sort of a quiet factory field recording. The whole album for that matter is essentially one long piece, there's no need to break these up with titles even, it truly becomes a whole experience. Kohwi lays out this evolution of any one particular sound, all the ways it's been deconstructed and pieced back together.
"Play with me" starts out ominously then does that kind of "I would like some milk from the milk man's wife's..." warped samples out of context from children's musicals, or tv shows, it's all getting chopped up in physical turntable ways, like listening to a DJ Shadow 45 battle video. Heavy, 2 bit sample sounds of a guitar? It it possible that you could hack a cd laser to actually read those 1's and 0's like this? I'm sure Kohwi owns the patent.
The last track, "Under Close" then leaves you with all sorts of iterations of piano under blankets of effects (why don't they ever do that practically, treating home furnishings like another elements at Lincoln Center?) with rising and falling 'oh's' of vocalization, it's like we've come full circle, the fight between these two modes of music has finally come to some kind of conclusion that can satisfy both? It's a pretty intersting piece that can't possibly be a straight lifted sample. This is an original piano composition played in a space with the intention of it being the beginning of this piece. The creak of the bench gives it away.

This album is the culmination of someone who is intimately examining the sounds of digital, what the finite limits of manipulation are, as well as keeping the surprises intact for the listener along the way, it's just as interesting to catch a piece of an unusual sound, or hear a familiar one in a completely new way.

In the obligatory thick cardboard, serigraphed sleeve that Black Tent specializes in. Great packages, always. An equally crafted CD inside with bonus remixes, which all of these tracks were dying for.
Limited Edition of 500, from Black Tent Press.

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