011: James Ginzburg / Cadu Tenório

Our round table forays into fields of drone and worlds of synth

Welcome to the eleventh issue of Organ Grinder. Busy schedules and other obstacles have gotten in our way these past couple months, but we’re back with reviews of two new albums: crystallise, a frozen eye by James Ginzburg and Signal Eustasy VI by Cadu Tenório, both released May 7—the former on the Berlin-based Subtext Recordings, the latter on Japanese/Brazilian label Ultra Gash Records.

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Round Table

Our writers’ thoughts on a new release. This section is the core of each issue.

James Ginzburg, crystallise, a frozen eye (Subtext Recordings, 2021)

From Bandcamp: “crystallise, a frozen eye is a patient, meditative album, built slowly and pointedly around largely repurposed folk instruments… Harnessing the evolving, tonally rich qualities of both familiar and forgotten instruments, Ginzburg has reached a poetic musical peak, fusing his engineering experience with the expressive, fallible humanity of acoustic performance. It continues ideas laid out by artists such as Catherine Christer-Hennix, Ellen Arkbro and Laraaji, melting folk history with deep listening practices and the sheer enjoyment of both sound and duration.

Written in the fall of 2020, crystallise, a frozen eye brings up universal themes of isolation, safety and mortality, but traps them beneath a veneer of archeological curiosity. In looking back to the sounds and textures of pre-Christian Europe, Ginzburg occupies a space that falls outside of current cultural trends. His music instead reflects our shifting relationship with time, inspiring us to contemplate memory, repetition and stasis.”

About the artist: “James Ginzburg is an artist and musician whose work has encompassed experimental electronic music and art production, folk music, film and film score and extensive dance music production. Together with Paul Paurgas he founded Emptyset (Thrill Jockey, Raster-Noton and Subtext).”

Purchase crystallise, a frozen eye now on Bandcamp.

Maxie Younger: These are songs drenched in the cool dew of the morning: brash drones that sit, fixed, perching atop trees. I take them in alongside the day’s first cup of tea (jasmine); the trembling wash of impossibly clean bass and buzzing strings that opens “light evaporates” coaxes flushing sweat from my cheeks. I don’t slow down like this very often. crystallise, a frozen eye is good for that: a measured reduction of pulse, moods of like hues that coat the mind’s eye in shades of amber, honey, gold; the world is as molasses under James Ginzburg’s touch, drizzling down in slow, syrupy strands as he pulls away. Before I know it, I’m considering clumps of wet tea leaves to the final shimmering waves of “absence intact”; the noise fades quickly. I’m left with thoughts that swim deep at the bottom of my head, stirring quiet ripples to the surface. What interests me the most about this record is its tendency toward diffusion. Searing blasts of energy are made supple, languorous, stretched to the point of degradation. Each track, out of context, might be a climax in its own right; stitched together, the effect is strangely soothing, like the sun hidden behind clouds. Heat, of course, can’t quite reach me this way: I’m chilled by the breeze, pin-and-needle goosebumps rolling across my arms. I pour another cup of tea. Small tendrils of steam hover in the air, brushing my nose. crystallise, a frozen eye leaves time in its wake like boats cutting through the water; as soon as it ends, I’m ready to begin again.

Audrey Lockie: As in the music he makes as one half of Emptyset, James Ginzburg’s crystallise, a frozen eye stretches out the meat of one musical moment until you can peer at each individual tendon. Guided by an ensemble of bright, droning acoustics, crystallise plays out like a study of textures, physical resonances and aleatoric sonic phenomena. Lacking concrete momentum, the music instead fills in vertical space like a web of thick, black pen strokes all toppling over and tangling into each other. One of the track titles literally suggests “a direction, standing still,” a fitting summary of the album’s identity: crystallise sits in agitated stasis, where the act of existing and the exertion required to simply not move mean more than a longitudinal going-to.

The music’s lack of forward direction doesn’t equate total stillness, though, with Ginzburg trading out propulsion for bottled-up turbulence: pulsating, vibrating, jolting, stuttering movements. “the eyes, behind —” tangibly shimmers, the bright, reedy drones of Ginzburg’s acoustics tumbling down like firework tails. The most stunning moments on the album arrive on the backs of the most extreme atmospheres, whether that’s blinding light (the aforementioned “eyes,” the angelic “a gate left open disappeared”) or impenetrable darkness (“light evaporates”). It’s in variance, no less, that Ginzburg’s directionless, totalizing approach falters. Though abound with spine-tingling beat frequencies, “a time — crossing” carries none of the album’s sense of physical weight, instead offering a momentary detour into more reserved vibrational expression (a trait held across a stretch of brief tracks on the album’s second side). crystallise, a frozen eye harnesses the lurch and groan of organic matter, speaking best when its voice feels the most in touch with its churning organs and grinding bones.

Jinhyung Kim: The drones on crystallise, a frozen eye are larger than life: impossibly vibrant, almost too radiant to bear. The fact that nearly all its constituent layers of sound are acoustic is jawdropping, and their harmonic saturation and depth evokes the full-bodied sonorities of Ellen Fullman’s long-string instrument. Some of the instruments here, such as bowed psaltery or shruti box, produce resonant, enveloping sustained tones on their own; dulcimer, guitar, and other chordophones are strummed in time with relentless, pounding rhythms on several tracks, creating hypnotic suction by way of repetition. On cuts like “the eyes, behind —” and “a gate left open disappeared” that lack this rhythmic grounding, swirling arpeggiation colors soundscapes of staggering breadth. It often feels as if the sound-making capacities of these physical objects are being pushed to their limits; there were times while listening when I was afraid something would break—the recoil of a string against its sound board reverberates prominently on “on obsidian expanse.” Moments like these are indicative of the palpable tension coursing throughout the album: Each track, despite its modest (i.e. song-length) runtime, feels like a marathon, and each draws breathlessly to its close—a brief denouement offering a glimpse at the human hands propping up the wall of sound.

Cadu Tenório, Signal Eustasy VI (Ultra Gash Records, 2021)

Cadu Tenório is a musician who’s been active in Brazilian experimental and electronic scenes for roughly a decade now, with prolific output both as a soloist and in collaboration with other Brazilian artists (many of whom he lists here). He’s released music on labels such as QTV, Fusty Cunt, Blue Tapes, and Ukiuki Atama. Tenório’s timbral palette encompasses synthesizers, field recordings, tape loops, and processed instruments. His earlier work skews toward noise and drone, although he’s involved himself in a range of other projects, from MPB (with an avant edge) to web-based multimedia. Recent albums, such as Monument for Nothing and Waifu, draw inspiration from Japanese video game soundtracks. Signal Eustasy VI follows up these two records and is Tenório’s third release within the past year.

Purchase Signal Eustasy VI now on Bandcamp.

Audrey Lockie: Two nearly 20-minute tracks sit at close of Cadu Tenório’s Signal Eustasy VI, acting as towers which stand over the entire album’s penchant for sonic diversity. “Grimoire Noire (feat. Borgia Rossetti)” and “Grimoire Weiss” counter each other as (respectively) a skronk-heavy, free improv freakout and a tense sea of MIDI choral voices; a restless burst of expression against a drone piece that takes nearly three minutes to fade in. The remaining dozen tracks range from layered, ’90s Warp-esque ambience on “The points where things could easily be broken.” to soft, percussive rustlings on “Diamond Dust,” from the the bite-sized synthesizer experiments found within the myriad tracks featuring Lucindo to the grooving strut of “Gunblade (feat. Kiko Dinucci).”

If Tenório hopscotches from spot to spot (and no playground game better describes Signal Eustasy VI’s stylistic cherry-picking), his compositional voice retains and maintains a sense of composure throughout the album. He consistently settles into jumbles of contrasting rhythms folded onto and into one another, as on “Heartless Angel” and underneath Juçara Marçal’s vocal lamentations on “El-Seibzehn.” So too does Tenório imbue his work with a distinctive tenderness: For all its sonic dissonances and distancing aesthetics (the abject refusal of simple patterns and processes, the stoic mysticism suggested by the track titles, album art and scant liner notes), a romantic personality weaves its way into the tracklist. The burbling synth lilts of “Cursed Woods” and “Yellow Flower” possess the most palpable nostalgia, while “Sleeping Beauty” lingers on after “Grimoire Weiss” with bell chimes like lullabies. Signal Eustasy VI is perhaps jagged on the outside, but no less gooey toward the center once time melts things away.

Jinhyung Kim: Most of the tracks on Signal Eustasy VI are bite-sized concoctions of old school (though not analog per se) synthesizer play—except a pair of 20-minute behemoths, “Grimoire Noir” and “Grimoire Weiss,” that make up over half the album’s runtime. Some vignettes comprise dense, looping synth and drum machine layers that gradually lock into rhythmic cohesion with each iteration; others spotlight a particular synth motif or texture, variations of which often crop up in subsequent tracks. Neither approach generates any novel sonics—the base elements aren’t that special on their own, and that’s an issue when track lengths preclude real development. One counterexample that comes to mind is the hi-hat sound that shows up on cuts like “Heartless Angel” and “Gunblade,” which slices through the mix and starts and stops like a malfunctioning slot machine.

The two “Grimoire” pieces, then, become measures of Tenório’s ability to develop material over time. The results contradict each other: “Noir” is an ambling jam with bouts of sultry saxophone, jazz fusion-esque electric piano, crackling bursts of guitar noise, and synthesized drone on top of a constant, lulling synth ostinato that, despite ample room to flourish, manages to get nowhere over its side-long runtime—the instrumentation at points feels almost random. “Weiss,” however, weaves the crunch and sputter of granular white noise with shimmering sheets of choir pads and other synth palettes to mesmerizing effect; the track rewards attention paid to its patient timbral shifts, moving effortlessly between gradients of mood ranging from eerily cavernous to ethereal. I would’ve liked to hear more of this sort of longform soundplay—that could still have been a mixed bag, but there might have been more than one track on it that I really enjoyed.

Chloe Liebenthal: I’ve always wondered what happens to the world of a video game when you’re not playing it, and Cadu Tenório’s latest album may just contain the answer. Conjuring a digital universe in staticky stasis, Tenório and his party of distinguished collaborators (including two thirds of the incredible neo-MPB band Metá Metá) traverse its long-abandoned overworld in search of new sounds to wring from the old tropes and standbys of JRPG soundtrack-core. Described aptly with Bandcamp tags such as ‘iceberg-core’, ‘battle theme-overdose’, ‘spellsynthbreak’, ‘math-synth bop’ and ‘noir jazzatronic’, this album recontextualizes the ennui of a long afternoon spent staring at sprites on a screen into a startling examination of how we choose to fill our time, the escapist fantasies of the art forms of both video games and music, and the sense of wonder and trepidation of booting up a brand new JRPG for the first time. Melodies and beautiful instrumental tones that would bring a tear to even Yasunori Mitsuda’s eye wind their way around cavernous, fuzzed-out ambient soundscapes, like walking off the edge of a game’s map and into its unprogrammed out-of-bounds underworld. Although the two back-to-back near-20-minute compositions towards the album’s end nearly overwhelm some of the shorter songs, I still feel confident in declaring Signal Eustasy VI a masterpiece. Taken as a whole, it’s a monumental tribute to the memory of losing oneself in another world of mages and Chocobos, and the feeling of letting go and letting its digital world rest peacefully forever, waiting with hushed breath for the return of a player who’s never coming back.

Thanks for reading the eleventh issue of Organ Grinder—we’re happy to be back, and we’re going to keep at it! Feel free to share with your friends and spread the word.

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