Gen Ken Montgomery - Birds + Machines
never really 'away' from the scene, Gen Ken Montgomery's career has been up and
off the radar quite a bit, but these days he feels like a born again composer.
He has been around since 1980 and recently reviewed the first decade of his career,
and compiled this overview from these years and released it on Pogus, a label
he was one of the founding fathers of (a fact I was unaware of). Heavily under
the influence of electronic music, from all sorts of directions.
From industrial music to Conrad Schnitzler and the serious sixties avant-garde,
but also working, early, with field recordings (bird sounds return in various
pieces). This collection spans all of these interests and makes up a highly varied
disc of experimental, electronic music. The free spirit of these pieces, mostly
made through improvisation with synthesizers, electric violin, found sounds, is
partly crude, inherent to the period it was recorded I guess, is great. Not every
track is great, 'Crema Di Roma' just gets on and on a bit too much for my liking,
but there is enough great music here in this package to enjoy. If you missed out
his own early tapes and records, and 80s styled electronic music was just discovered,
then this is a must have. All others already made a note to fill in the gap in
history. - Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly
This release from 2010 offers 71 minutes of engaging noise.
These tracks are a selection of Montgomery's compositions from 1980 through
Montgomery has a fondness for blending abrasive electronics with environmental
sounds and produce abstract recordings that are baffling yet engaging. Even
those who spurn "noise" find themselves mesmerized by his work.
A fine example of his quirky sensibilities can be found in the two versions
of the title track: one of which concentrates on the mechanical aspects, the
other focussing on ornithological elements. The former injects harsh industrial
machinery into the flow; the latter uses bird calls instead. Both auxiliary
elements are dropped into a pastiche of aggressive electronics--the results
are surprisingly unique and attractive.
His tendency to collect found sounds and force them to share the stage with
erratic electronics is unparalleled. He has a special ear for combining the
uncommon and ending up with special consequences.
Melody isn't really a prerequisite for this material, although melodic conditions
can be found among them. Clutter is gathered and given a new life in this music.
There are several tracks that explore the appeal of manipulated drones. In
these, the abrasive factor is low, replaced by the appeal of wavering texturals.
Included are a few notable rarities: Montgomery's track from the Onslaught
Magazine's flexi-disc from 1982 (an industrial tune that blends treated vocals
with blooping diodes), and a live snippet from a WFMU radio broadcast in 1982
(which explores percussive cadence punctuated by vocal observations).
Also included is a bonus track recorded in 2009 which contrasts warped violin
with fettered static and modulated electronics.
A worthy documentation of sonic experimentation. - Matt Howarth, Sonic
A plethora of slipping sounds (probably from mechanical sources), the chirping
of birds and vibrant electronics stimulate our attention from the very first grooves
of this release signed by Gen Ken Montgomery, a digital experimenter and founder
of "Generator", an art gallery, collaborative network and music store
that shaped the history of the underground music of East Village in New York City
in the nineties (in addition to contributing to the birth of Pogus, a prestigious
label in the field of contemporary electroacoustic research). "With the enthusiasm
of a born again composer" Montgomery has revisited some of the projects of
his early days (the years between 1983 to 1989), recordings where the sounds evoke
"work" situations and people are busy with assembling and stirring a
large variety of items. One is immersed in an environment where the human and
the machines seem to coexist and technology is almost sacred. What remains is
the charm of a noisy excitement, an attitude made thinner in the bonus track,
"B+M Redux", a piece - recent - that gives us hope for a renewed commitment
of the seminal teacher. - Aurelio Cianciotta, Neural
Co-founder of Pogus with Al Margolis, Gen Ken Montgomery is often unfairly disregarded
when assessing the history of radical music in the last half-century. This collection
another clarification of a unendingly probing creativity examines
works from the decade in which the American composers terminology was first
met by yours truly, at that time seriously hooked in the unearthing of entrancing
materials of post-industrial derivation. But dont let this piece of news
mislead you: Montgomerys world is not exclusively made of clunking machines
and deranged electric circuits, though those colours outweigh everything else
in several of the tracks contained herein. The Subliminal Clutter
triptych or Treat The Hell Out Of It might be utilized played
at high volume to torture war prisoners: a mix of obsessive pulse, strained
drills, eviscerated voices and fast-forwarding tapes whose spirit is quite disturbing.
This notwithstanding, musical qualities abound both in these and other episodes
the title track or the gorgeously string abrasions-cum-harmonium (???)
of Crema Di Roma, for instance so that even the harshness of
the less human structures gets somehow sweetened by the combinations of motorized
rhythms, misshapen sequencers and inexplicably harmonic layers of distortion that
the man is able to produce with rather poor means, typically unstipulated. Whats
strange is that the brain acknowledges these aggressively non-belonging clusters
as a familiar element: either by giving all your attention or using the record
as an environmental complement, theres no danger of being left disgruntled.
People like Montgomery are gifted with a sympathetic inner ear, extracting juices
of consequence from what could appear unadorned triviality. Its the inside
logic that wins, electroacoustic junk turned into thought-provoking aural stimulation
at the end. - Massimo Ricci, Touching
I cant help but notice that a lot of the records Ive bought recently
have been re-issues: it seems to be one area of the music industry that's truly
thriving. These re-issues serve to add detail to the map we already have - whether
by drawing in forgotten, lost or overlooked areas (the vast plethora
of compilations of old 78s for example, or the lost gems being
resurrected by the Finder Keepers label, for another); or indeed by simply adding
that detail, and showing that the standard textbook history of music - with
innovations by singular pioneers - is simplistic and untrue. This album falls
into the latter category.
Birds + Machinery 1980-1989 collects up works by Gen Ken Montgomery,
recorded across these years and across New York, New Jersey, Berlin and Rome.
Theres three different forms compiled here: sprawling long pieces; very
short, focused pieces and songs. These are all constructed predominantly out
of analogue synthesizer, electronics and found sounds or field recordings; though
there is also room for violin, voice and tapes. The overall sound is quite lo-fi,
though not deliberately so; I presume that most of the tracks were home-recorded.
Saying this, the Berlin pieces were recorded at the great Conrad Schnitzlers
studio; which gives you an idea of the avenues that Montgomery was exploring.
The non-song recordings strike a bizarre balance of being quite cluttered,
but also patient and expansive at the same time; theres often a great
sense of space on display. This cluttered feel might be down to the generally
distressed nature of the sounds being used; the synthesizer parts in particular
sleazy? Sleazy is perhaps too strong, but the sounds lurch;
theyre not clean, they shriek and gurgle. Montgomery layers up these drones,
bleeps and screams into detailed, chaotic tangles; but for all the noise (and
some of the tracks - Subliminal Clutter part 3 or Crema Di
Roma, for example - have overt noise elements and textures), theres
no sense of an attack on the listener or any suggestion that the works aim at
any negative atmosphere. The pieces are quite emotionless - in a good way; Montgomery
just lets the sounds play alongside each other, as pure sound. As a rule, theres
very little insistent rhythm; though Nylon Glasses 3am is built
around galloping synth blips - and Subliminal Clutter part 2 has
brief bursts of almost industrial strength beats. If this gives you a flavour
of the machinery element, youll be pleased to note that birds
are well represented too. Indeed, the whole of Birds & Machines (bird
suite) explores bird sounds; with actual recordings of birds alongside
what sound like synthesizer approximations of bird calls - ending with a tape
of a human voice being transformed into a duck-like, quacking sound. Or at least
thats what it sounds like; in fact, its actually hard to discern much
processing on these recordings at all (beyond some reverb) - whether this is
down to very intelligent, rigorous transformations, or just no processing, its
hard to say.
The compilation also contains three short songs; or rather, three short, incredibly
noisy songs. All recorded in the very early 1980s, these simple little tracks
are absurdly abrasive; the first, Shoot Me Down, is better described
as noise with a song buried underneath. They remind me of a scratchy Throbbing
Gristle, or the Residents recorded way into the red. But, again, theres
no particular sense of noise as signifying extreme discontent, anger or any
negative emotion; which is not a bad thing at all.
The last track, B + M Redux is rather fascinating; as the title
suggests, it appears to be a 2009 reworking of Montgomerys earlier pieces.
It delivers a concise summary of his aesthetics and ideas (as evinced on this
album, at least), with the same interplay between electronic and acoustic elements;
though whilst still noisy, it is noticeably less wild.
Birds + Machines 1980 -1989 is a great album, from someone I had
never heard of before. (Behold the power of the re-issue!) It actually reminds
me, in spirit, of New Zealands Omit: they share the same sense of bedroom
electro-acoustic; the same expansive, detailed sound-environment, constructed
out of somewhat basic elements. A noble pursuit.- Musique