(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Mountains (2005), 7/10
Sewn (2006), 6/10
Choral (2009), 6.5/10
Koen Holtkamp: Field Rituals (2008), 7.5/10
Air Museum (2011) , 5/10
Centralia (2013), 6/10

The Mountains, i.e. the New York-based duo of electronic musicians Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp, debuted with Mountains (Apestaartje, 2005), four pieces of ambient music for digitally-assembled layered sounds of fingerpicked acoustic guitars, processed instruments and field recordings. The 13-minute Paper Windmill begins with abstract soundpainting of slow guitar tones against a cello drone, but then adds a layer of raga-like meditation and then collapses everything into a very low drone littered by feeble piano-like notes, thus becoming an exercise in "deep listening". The 16-minute Down Under The Manhattan Bridge Overpass begins from that idea of almost inaudible audio events, a muted duet between an electronic pulse and the guitar, like a chat between a galactic signal and a squirrel. Then the guitar picks up volume and speed, embarking on a John Fahey-ian journey of exploration. This latter piece stands as the "humane" counterpart to the former piece. The shorter Blown Glass Typewriter is a surreal collage of musique concrete and fingerpicking. The 21-minute live jam Sunday 07.25.04 Live At Tonic stages a slow metamorphosis of a tinkling guitar melody against the backdrop of a cymbal-like percussive pattern.

Sewn (Apestaartje, 2006) upped the ante with the symphonic whisper of the 12-minute Hundred Acre but, in general, was a more fragmented work, leaning towards a colder form of electroacoustic chamber music rather. It certainly displayed amazing skills in combining and morphing artificial, natural and acoustic sounds, especially in Simmer, that blends a crackling electronic and percussive tapestry and harmonica languor, Below, that recycles water and guitar until they become one, and the 12-minute Hundred Acre, that transitions from mellow ambient drones to harsh industrial hisses and to a celestial "om" ending with a multifaceted buzz that fuses all three modes.

Koen Holtkamp debuted solo with the mesmeric ambient music for guitar and field recordings of Field Rituals (Type, 2008). After the hypnotic melodic repetition of Half Light, the 14-minute Sky Flowers employs the voices of children in a playground, lulled by a gentle tide of tinkling guitar tones, to introduce a slowly ascending sitar-like drone. The drone breaks down and unfolds into a swarm of fluttering butterflies, the most chromatic moment of the solo. The fervor dies down and yields two disparate strains, one of trippy droning and one of jovial chiming, that play call and response. The nine-minute Bear Bell begins with a similar dichotomy between a soaring drone and a stream of sparse quasi-percussive tones, with the former turning into an ecstatic and vibrating "om" to the universe. The juxtaposition of the two modes pervades the 15-minute Haus Und Spirale Im Regen with a pulsating energy comparable to the yearning of Terry Riley's Rainbow in Curved Air but, like elsewhere, it's the drone that tends to prevail, and in this case it has a tragic and melancholy quality, although it harmlessly disintegrates in the very last seconds.
Most of the pieces are driven by a calm logic, but occasionally Holtkamp also engages in free-form soundpainting. The electroacoustic chamber music for natural sounds, electronics and strings of Walker straddles the border with highbrow art. The stealthy quasi-jazz doodling of Night Swimmer evokes both primordial landscapes and inner catharsis.
Holtkamp's guitar art evokes Roy Montgomery and other masters of post-psychedelic meditation, but it is clearly the product of a more scientific mind living in a more scientific age.

Choral (Thrill Jockey, 2009), recorded live, churned out ambient and dream-pop vignettes for guitar, synthesizer, piano and percussion. The 13-minute Choral (12:53) is a denser sprightly extroverted version of the austere pieces of the first album. In general, the emphasis is towards a more "entertaining" sound. Hence Telescope, that creates a warmer atmosphere by combining a melodic guitar progression with cello lines even though they are eventually drowned in an ugly hiss. Hence the 12-minute Melodica, that metabolizes pinball-like musique concrete to launch a majestic harmonica drone. The general mood is more serene and domestic than on the previous releases. The notable exception (and the standaout) is Add Infinity, whose floating oneiric tones assemble to compose a dilated open-ended raga.

The blissful ambient piece contained on the A-side of the EP Etching (Thrill Jockey, 2009) was a corollary to the album's newly found serenity. The B-side was a less naive version of the same concept, closer in spirit to Add Infinity, with the floating drones coalescing into a more turbulent and distorted rustling cartilage. Overall, the EP continued the transition towards a cohesive and smooth music with more electronics and less guitar.

Koen Holtkamp's Gravity/Bees (Thrill Jockey, 2011) contains a live performance and a new studio recording (built around the sound of bees).

The Mountains adopted an aggressive synth-heavy approach for Air Museum (Thrill Jockey, 2011), that bridged the pulsing electronica of Tangerine Dream and the new-age bliss of the early 1980s in a less spontaneous manner, trying too hard to sound like better clones of themselves, ending up sounding like clumsy remixes of the previous albums.

Having mastered the technology of drones and loops, Mountains Centralia (2013) bridged the electronic and acoustic worlds in the hypnotic, tinkling, ten-minute Circular C (that embeds an almost jazzy piano sonata) and in the John Fahey-esque guitar trip Tilt. Fat synth timbres mark the eleven-minute Sand, that combines bubbling impressionism with raga effervescence and appends a mantra-like coda, the twitching minimalist repetition of the nine-minute Liana, dynamited by power electronics, and the live 20-minute improvisation Propeller, that transitions from new-age harmony to noisy neurosis and ends with distorted sounds of nature (alas, a rather childish form of "musique concrete").

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