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Gen Ken Montgomery - Birds + Machines

Ken Montgomery - Birds + MachinesAlthough 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 1989.

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 Curiosity

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 composer’s terminology was first met by yours truly, at that time seriously hooked in the unearthing of entrancing materials of post-industrial derivation. But don’t let this piece of news mislead you: Montgomery’s 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. What’s 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, there’s 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. It’s the inside logic that wins, electroacoustic junk turned into thought-provoking aural stimulation at the end. - Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes

I can’t help but notice that a lot of the records I’ve 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 78’s 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. There’s 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 Schnitzler’s 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; there’s 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 often sound…sleazy? Sleazy is perhaps too strong, but the sounds lurch; they’re 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), there’s 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, there’s 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, you‘ll 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 that’s 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, there’s 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 Montgomery’s 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 Zealand’s 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 Machine

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