Futurism Restated #50: Colombian Minimal Piano, Smartphone Concrète, and More
Plus thundering club tracks from the Bug, Will Hofbauer & Sangre Voss, and DJ Kolt
[Update! I am mortified to have just realized, almost a week too late, that I elided Bogotá—where Julian Moreno Motta y Antonio Correa are from—with Bolivia, which is what I put in the original headline for this newsletter. I swear I know where Bogotá is, but that’s still no excuse. My deepest apologies. The post has been corrected below.]
I’m back from three days in Berlin—my first trip back in more than five years, and the longest stretch I’ve stayed in the city since moving away more than 11 years ago. I was there on a reporting trip; I’m working on that piece right now, so stay tuned for more on that next week. It was strange being back in a city where I lived so long ago now, from 2008 until the end of 2012. It hadn’t changed as much as I’d expected; there were new cafes and vintage stores on my old street in Neukölln, but not as many as I’d expected, and the run-down vibe remained omnipresent. There were more American accents than I’d remembered, but not as many as five years ago, said my friend Adam, who I stayed with. I didn’t go to any clubs, and I didn’t go record shopping, so I can’t make any reports on those fronts. I was somewhat shocked by the Zalando building and surrounding development on the Spree, and the massive WeWork buildling I encountered walking from Kreuzberg to Mitte. But mostly, it all felt more or less as I’d remembered it—even if my mental map of the place had deteriorated heavily. (I had the realization that I lived in Berlin in the pre-smartphone era, which means that I never actually used Google Maps to get around, at least not on my phone; nor did I perpetually have a camera in my pocket, which means I don’t have a detailed visual record of my time there. It’s strange.)
Mostly, besides interview and concert obligations, I walked. (Part of that was thanks to the BVG strike, which had me hoofing it from Neukölln to Mitte at 9 a.m. on Friday morning, to meet a friend for coffee.) And while I walked, I listened to the new Burial EP. I listened to the new Burial EP so much, in fact, that I began to think of it as a unit of distance—e.g., Urbanstraße to Alexanderplatz was about a 50-minute walk, or two Burial EPs away. It was a fitting soundtrack for the city; the sooty, tumbledown vibe matched the gray weather, crumbling facades, endless trash, and graffiti scrawled on every conceivable surface. I reviewed it for Pitchfork; you can read more of my thoughts on the record there.
And now, let’s get to it.
Futurism Restated is a reader-supported publication. Sign up for free weekly emails (with bonus perks—like exclusive posts and this year’s ongoing playlists—for paying subscribers).
Record of the Week
Poppy H: Grave Era (Cruel Nature)
Sometimes, the universe seems determined to lead you to a certain artist or record. Last week, in Berlin, I met up with my old friend Heiko Hoffmann, the former editor of Groove magazine, and he told me about his friend Stephan Kunze’s Substack, Zen Sounds. I wasn’t familiar with it, so I subscribed. The first issue I read was about an artist I wasn’t familiar with either, Poppy H. So I listened, and I was blown away.
Poppy H—a London-based artist whose anonymity seems much more tied to their exhaustion with social media than to any desire to be mysterious—makes music that doesn’t sound like anything else I can think of right now, a suggestive swirl that’s too uneasy to be called ambient yet doesn’t fit neatly in any other categories. The defining aesthetic is a kind of electroacoustic collage assembled from field recordings, guitar, piano, and who knows what else. Some tracks are percussive—“Big blue c TWO” takes overlapping strands of incidental rhythms and spins them into a kind of weightless footwork—while others bring melody to the fore. “We Feared the Worst, and It Was Worse” (that title!) might be a kind of gothic folk.
Poppy H has a remarkable method of working: They told Kunze that they create all their music—recording, arranging, mixing—using just their iPhone. It’s hard to wrap my head around that, in part because the music doesn’t necessarily sound lo-fi; there are squashed frequencies, sure, and sometimes a weirdly claustrophobic sense of space, but the fidelity feels intentional, and has a real sense of clarity to it. But then, I’ve never tried making music with an iPhone (the artist clarified in a message to me that they use the Garageband app, just using the onboard mic), so who knows what the results can be like. But I like the disconnect between the extreme limitation of their methods and the expansiveness of their sound; the tools may be unpretentious—chosen in part because of their availability and accessibility—but the music is mysterious, bobbing just out of reach, albeit always in a way that beckons you in its direction, always further outward, because going back is never an option.
Ariel Kalma, Jeremiah Chiu & Marta Sofia Honer: The Closest Thing to Silence (International Anthem)
After Jeremiah Chiu and Marta Sofia Honer’s incredible Recordings from the Åland Islands, from 2022, the Los Angeles duo links up with French-born, Australia-based Ariel Kalma, who has been making cosmic ambient and new-age music since the 1970s. Where the Åland recordings, captured in a remote Finnish archipelago, were wispily atmospheric, as ephemeral as the light around them, these trio recordings dig in more tenaciously, adding a little earth to all that air. The title track pairs Detroit-inspired flickering chords with Kalma’s saxophone; “Dizzy Ditty” is part Kraftwerk and part Stereolab; “Une Ombre Légère” is a horizon-wide drone piece; “Écoute Au Loin” takes cues from the minimalism of Reich and Glass. Every time I listen, I find something new.
Julian Moreno Motta y Antonio Correa: Iluminaciones (También)
Speaking of Glassian minimalism, Bogota’s Antonio Correa and Julian Moreno Motta tread similar territory on this gorgeous record for Quito, Ecuador’s ambient-adjacent label También. Pianist Correa performs these pieces, whose composition is credited to both musicians, while Motta handles recording and processing. The 13-minute “Fau,” the album’s longest track, is the piece most firmly in the pulse-minimalist wheelhouse, riding a repetitive arpeggiated sequence that just flows, despite its deceptively tricky timekeeping; others are more lyrical, even romantic, but never maudlin, and always beautifully understated. (Then there’s the outlying “Tunnbaq,” a dark-ambient percussion sketch.) The second-longest piece, the 12-minute “Lampyridae,” takes cues from Frederic Mompou’s Música Callada, mulling over a wispy, elusive right-hand melody and feeding it through cascading delay chains until it glistens like dew on a spiderweb.
Le Mystérieux Orchestre Électronique de Paris: Le Mystérieux Orchestre Électronique de Paris (Versatile)
I’m not sure who le Mystérieux Orchestre Électronique de Paris actually is, though it wouldn’t surprise me if it were a fixture of Paris’ Versatile label (I:Cube, or Gilb’r, or maybe both of them); they call their debut album a collection of “furniture music,” after Erik Satie’s term, which feels about right. Six tracks of gently drifting ambient—composed, they say, using generative methods—that bubble along gently (and occasionally not so gently), providing a warmly panoramic backdrop for both zoning out and zooming in, part Berlin school and part Global Communication.
Variant: Cosmic Currents (Echospace)
Variant, aka Ann Arbor’s Stephen Hitchell, calls this epic two-tracker “nearly 2.5 hours of deep space drifting, a sonic travelogue for the wandering mind, a slow-motion time lapsed multi-dimensional panoramic experience of infinite movements in the darkest depths of space.” On Twitter, though, he tells a different story: “truthfully written with the sole intention of getting my teething 1 year old out of terrible pain.” Whichever angle appeals to you more, it’s a lovely expanse of bassy throb wrapped in rainfall-like white noise—hardly ambient rocket science, but a deeply satisfying sonic cocoon all the same.
EPs & Singles
The Bug: Machine V (self-released)
Just when you thought this whole newsletter was going to be ambient, here comes Kevin Martin to fuck up your day. In keeping with the previous EPs in the series—and a world away from the mournfully atmospheric music he’s been making under his own name—Machine V is nothing but the grittiest, gnarliest, dirtiest, dirgiest post-dancehall conceivable. Since the days of Techno Animal, Martin’s signature sound has been a weird fluttering effect that sounds like wind rushing through a torn speaker cone, and he goes whole hog on that effect here, laying out shredded low end over slow-moving boom-thwack rhythms that make piledrivers sound delicate in comparison. I love that, with the exception of track four, the tempos get slower as the EP progresses, lending the impression that you’re sinking deeper into quicksand with every agonizing beat. Despite his dub/dancehall roots, there’s more going on here than that—“Exit(Wasteman)” is essentially a bottomed-out dubstep anthem, while “Bodied(Send for the hearse)” has an old-school New York illbient glint—at least until it turns into an apocalyptic noise track. Wildly exhilarating stuff, guaranteed to turn a bad mood absolutely murderous.
Will Hofbauer & Sangre Voss: “UKA” (whirm)
Back in December, my friend Ben Cardew devoted an issue of his great newsletter Line Noise to the legacy of broken beat, which had me reminiscing on y2k-era classics like Mark de Clive-Lowe’s “Move on Up,” Cousin Cockroach’s “This Ain’t Tom & Jerry,” and Seiji’s eternal “Loose Lips,” tunes that took the swing of garage and threw a heavy dose of percussive funk in the works. The new EP from Will Hofbauer (who I’ve written about a time or two here) and Sangre Voss, on the duo’s recently launched whirm imprint, taps into a similar vibe—the tune’s offbeat snares come straight out of the “Loose Lips” rulebook, though the rest of the production trades broken beat’s slight wonkiness for the post-dnb precision sonics (or at least that’s how I see it) of contemporary UK techno. It’s minimalist, it’s loopy, it’s textural, but my goodness, does it ever have that swing.
People You May Know: Megafauna EP (Vimana)
If you know Ylia primarily through her releases on Paralaxe and Balmat, here’s an entirely different side of the artist: People You May Know is her duo with Phran, a Venezuelan-born, Barcelona-based musician I’ve written about in the newsletter a couple of times. (Still in print and highly recommended: His zine Logos of the Venezuelan Minitecas.) Their Megafauna EP gathers four tracks of techno and electro recorded on hardware just before the pandemic. Three tracks are fast (but not, like, “fast techno” fast) and sinister (but not self-parodically sinister), full of whip-snapping drum programming and slippery synth leads; “Luminaqua,” meanwhile, radiates the most blissful Detroit vibes. The whole thing’s a jam.
DJ Yirvin: Changa Fusion (Vimana)
Also from Phran’s Vimana imprint (and check out that merch while you’re at it) comes this four-track sampler of Venezuela’s DJ Yirvin, a central figure in the country’s overlapping changa/raptor-house scenes, where techno and dembow commingled in new sounds and rhythms. This EP gathers four tracks produced between 2002 and 2007, including “Petarazo,” which tells the story of a community uprising against its local police precinct. All four tracks are fast and kicking, yet they also move with a feeling of lightness, perhaps because of the ample empty space in between their powerhouse drums.
DJ Kolt: Verdadeiro (Príncipe)
DJ Kolt, of the Blacksea Não Maya crew, says that he’s stepping back from making music, but not before dropping a final record or two from Lisbon’s Príncipe. These four tracks are dark and clattery and not a little evil sounding, in the far corner from the more contemplative style of batida heard on DJ Danifox’s recent Ansiedade LP. The percussion on “Fiqexpert” sounds unusually 4D; tonally, it flits between melancholy folk guitar and siren-strafed rave anthems, turning on a dime. There’s a seriously ravey undertone to most of these tunes—in the detuned synths of “VUGUVUGUU,” say, or the growling sawtooths and diva-vocal samples of “Shaman”—but always delivered in a deeply idiosyncratic style. The way “Shaman” flips from thudding 4/4 doom-house into shuffling, triplet-driven (gothic) batida is a shape-shifting masterstroke.
tibslc: chronicles of greeeches (Cime)
Lush, fluttering digitalism from Leipzig’s tibslc, whose Sferic album Delusive Tongue Shifts - Situation Based Compositions I reviewed back in 2021. I get the feeling there’s a kind of world-building project going on here—thanks to titles like “lonely greeech been feeling kinda sad lately,” “gardening greeech watering the water,” “greeech greeech no sunset ever the same”—and the fact that said world is so mysterious only deepens the pleasure. All four tracks share a palette of shimmery chord stutter, metallic spritz, and iridescent wibble-wobble; they make me think of singing tides, despondent shortwaves, and cellophane taking flight.
Herb Sundays: Huerco S.
It’s a good thing that Sam Valenti IV has a record label and a weekly playlist series to keep him occupied, because otherwise he might start writing more and put the rest of us music journalists out of business (and lord knows there’s not even enough work to go around these days). I love what he has to say about Huerco S. in the introduction to his playlist: “Hauntology was a British phenomenon, and American ghosts haven't been dead long enough to take on such grandeur; instead, they are unsettled beings that possess Leeds’ sound.” This is also an interesting take: “I also admire that Leeds' albums are not big statements, though they can amount to something large, at least not on their face, but the art and signifiers can draw you all the way down.”
The 1990s Bay Area beach rave that collectively hallucinated a UFO
With UFO hype at an all-time high, this SF Gate piece on a UFO sighting at an early-’90s rave—a longstanding urban legend in the Bay Area—is right on time.
That’s all for this week—thanks for reading!