Compact Listen : Tim Coster. June 2006

This CD was compiled by sound artist Tim Coster. Coster and Gaelen MacDonald came down to Christchurch in 2006 for their show T&G Building. After the show HSP asked Coster if he was interested in putting together a compilation of sound artists as part of our quarterly programme. The result is Compact Listen - a CLaudia label collaboration - which includes the work of Arie Hellendoorn, Mhfs, Jane Austan, Greg Malcolm, Ray Off, Sam Hamilton, Sweetcakes, Rosy Parlane, Tim Coster and Nigel Wright, Metal Rouge, A.M, The Futurians and Stefan Neville.

Started by artist and musician Tim Coster in 2003 as a platform for releasing his own solo work, the Auckland based CLaudia label has quickly established itself as one of the finest small press experimental music imprints in the country. Early releases focused on laptop music and processed field recordings, with works from a range of young artists including Sam Hamilton and Jane Austen. Other titles include the excellent Spoken and Field (2004) and Witching Hour (2005) compilations, one a collection of pieces loosely centred on the human voice, the other a series of field recordings all created at night. Compact Listen features the imprint’s most diverse output to date, a generous cross-section of the New Zealand underground and experimental scenes, covering free noise, liminal dronescaping, loose ‘rocky’ pieces, manipulated field recordings and computer processed sounds along with wholly instrumental improvisation from both established names (Rosy Parlane, Greg Malcolm) and emerging artists (M├ętal Rouge, Arie Hellendoorn).

Some forms of experimental music, particularly certain strains of improv, progress by complete reversals of musical dynamic, a deliberate avoidance of pre-established patterns – improvisations coterminous with their own performance time, a string of one-dimensional presents. Generally NZ artists take a more studied approach, working a slow accretion of details through stratification, lamination, steadily building up thick sonorous plenums. This layering approach attempts to spatialise time, to bring it to a standstill or at least reduce it to a tectonic crawl; forward momentum is less important than a sculptural manipulation of sonorous textures. Fittingly, this approach lends itself particularly well to a compilation of NZ underground music. Over the course of this album, the dreamy, blurred song fragments of Ray Off and Mhfs are effortlessly fused to the Futurians and Stefan Neville’s more abrasive walls of guitar texture through a measured piecing together of the individual tracks, creating a dense, centring lava-flow of sound. This approach creates a cohesive listening experience while simultaneously highlighting the diversity of the underground scene in its geographical spread. This ranges from the primitive noise brut of Sam Hamilton’s “Into Navigation” to Tim Coster and Nigel Wright’s eerie “Cathedral,” where a pulsing tone is slowly engulfed by a solid column of digital sound brocaded with small, haptic percussive events. A.M. produces a similarly immersive sound but through completely different means: “Poerua acid 2” offers a murky derailment of the rock song, reconfigured here in classic post-Xpressway fashion as pure sound intensity and affective projection. Many of these artists create music that seems to function directly on the listener’s nervous system, a sensual, often drone-based sound, and here the distinction between thought and embodiment tends to fall apart. Unlike more academically aligned audio art, the NZ underground generally eschews high concept for a more immediate and immanent exploration of sound and the unity of embodied thought in sensual practice. Even when it is laptop based, this music feels organic and rough-hewn, with a trajectory and structure born of its own internal logic. Compact Listen is an important new compilation attesting to the diversity and ongoing vitality of the local scene. – Jared Wells.