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Apollo Records Reviews from EST 7

Het Apollohuis is a very European type of arts institution, largely baffling to the British music listener thanks to its ability to secure funding for and generate interest in what might seem terminally esoteric. Despite its focus on what seem to be relatively uncompromising areas of visual art and music, Het Apollohuis has survived and thrived since 1980.

The venue presents installations, concerts, exhibitions, lectures, performances and festivals, with the music covering a wide spectrum of the avant-garde, from free improv to sound sculpture. Paul Panhuysen, who with his wife Hélène runs Het Apollohuis, is involved in a wide variety of innovative art-forms himself, having first participated in Fluxus-type actions and happenings in Holland in the 1960s. He is perhaps best known for his interest in long-string installations, where huge steel wires are installed in exhibition spaces, and rubbed to create drones that evoke the resonant frequencies of the walls they are attached to (documented on an out-of-print triple LP collaboration with Johan Goedhart).

Apollo Records has documented the work of sound-sculptors such as Ellen Fullman or Terry Fox, as well as improvisors like vocalist Shelley Hirsch. The five discs reviewed below give a good idea of the wide-ranging concerns that Het Apollohuis provides space for.

Maciunas Ensemble
Number Made Audible

(Apollo Records ACD039211) CD 66 minutes

Named in tribute to Fluxus-founder George Maciunas, this Ensemble (Paul Panhuysen and three others) cross disciplines (art, music and science) with ease. As the title of their previous record, Music For Everyman suggests, they attempt not just to document their own music but to inspire the D.I.Y. spirit in others. The tracks on this CD show a great interest in instrument invention: "musical bows", "spring strings", modified guitars and unusual playing techniques on conventional instruments all play a part. There's also a clear debt to minimalist music, with an interest in layered drones and the exploration of harmonics. Leaping Berates, for cellos and double bass, matches Tony Conrad for its sheer abrasiveness and ability to evoke overtones, while the excellent Macrosonography takes similar textures to an even more raucous level. Not every piece is successful, but the whole album conveys an open-minded, exploratory attitude, full of rich, engaging sonority.

Douglas Quin
Oropendola

(Apollo Records ACD049413) CD 70 minutes

Quin's main activity is as a wildlife recordist, but he's also active as a composer. This wonderful album focusses on bird sounds (albeit with a few other guest animals), with compositions such as Aurorasong sampling and layering a huge variety of chirrupping and whistling, gradually transforming in this case into an intricate field of granular electronics. Alar Grace transforms sampled sounds of bird wings, insect wings and whispering, with bizarre results, although not as strange as the alien buzzings and poppings of the processed cicada on Aria Locustae, while tracks like Yasashii Kaze combine the birdsong less successfully with other instruments, in this case a lyrical solo clarinet. However, it's the birdsong itself that makes this such an entertaining listen, especially since Quin seems to have gone out of his way to record some of the richest dawn choruses and weirdest bird voices on earth: the Green Oropendola that provides the album's title is one of the most impressive. Quin's extensive sleeve notes provide informative and fascinating background regarding both his compositional strategies and his many field trips.

Paul Panhuysen
Singing The World Into Existence

(Apollo Records ACD039212) CD 68 minutes

All of these Apollo albums have a tendency towards the odd, but this is one of the more eccentric. During 1990 and 1991, Panhuysen "collaborated" with a group of canaries, keeping them in his studio, and featuring them as part of his exhibitions. He experimented with different ways of recording the sounds they made, attaching contact microphones to their cages aand exploring the use of different types of effects processing. More intriguingly, he experimented with ways of inducing them to sing, singing himself or playing a variety of instruments to see how they responded (think of this as a free improv team-up and you're on the right lines). After the first few minutes, it's easy to feel as if listening to a whole hour of random clatterings and occasional bird whistles will be an impossible chore, but the more I listen to this album, the more that feeling disappears (largely thanks to Panhuysen's ability to apply his effects judiciously and subtly). It's hardly my favourite out of these recordings, but the intricate, crystal clear canary-song has an inescapable charm.

Paul Panhuysen
Engines In Power And Love

(Apollo Records ACD019210) CD 65 minutes

It doesn't take so long to figure out the attraction here. This is a recording of a performance with Panhuysen, five dot matrix computer printers, and an effects board / mixing desk. The printers are set to churn out typical office documents, and connected via contact microphones to the mixing desk. Anyone will know the irritating, abrasive sound of this kind of printer, but Panhuysen has an ability to highlight other aspects of the sound, such that I may never find the real-life sound annoying again. His effects create a kind of industrial psychedelia: jagged repetition continuously metamorphosing into murky drones that sound like distant aircraft. A connection to minimalist music is clear, both due to the interlocking rhythms of the various printers and to the microtonal complexity of their sound. The music explores both ambient drones and pointillistic textures, evoking both the overall resonances and the intricate details of the dot-matrix printer sound, and although I expected to dislike the album, it's a real ear-opener.

Paul DeMarinis
The Edison Effect - A Listener's Companion

(Apollo Records ACD 039514) CD 74 minutes

However unusual the above albums might seem, The Edison Effect takes the proverbial sweet, crisp, flat cake. The disc is a spin-off from a visual exhibition dealing with the repercussions of Edison's invention of the recording wax cylinder, and with the difficulties in locating and interpreting the noise-obscured signals of the past. The exhibition featured interactive "sculptures" where ancient recordings could be played using that most modern technology, the laser beam, and similar medititations on our technological relationship to the past fill this disc. The single first word ever recorded ("Mary") is mutated in various ways; the sound of a wax cylinder itself (i.e. recording silence) laid bare; various extremely intriguing attempts to reconstruct a 1915 wax cylinder recording of piano playing; typical examples of early sound recording (plenty of historical resonance for the many marches that seem to have been recorded early in the century); and most mysteriously of all, the sound of millennia-old voices obtained by laser-reading minute evidence of vibration on a clay cylinder. It's all accompanied by Het Apollohuis's usual thought-provoking sleeve notes.

[Het Apollohuis, Tongelresestraat 81, Eindhoven 5613 DB, Netherlands; distribution via Gelbe Musik, Forced Exposure, Anomalous etc]


All reviews by and © Brian Duguid.