variious cover art

various artists



Signal to Noise
I commend this compilation to anyone as a fine example of what's good and exciting in today's electronic music.
Desiderata B.Wildered
This is one to learn from, in that the possibilities of a diverse series of approaches is explored. a superior collection, deserving of my highest recommendation.
Creative Loafing
Lang Thompson
Check out Variious (yes, with a double "i," released by Intransitive) to hear minimalism conversing with other experimental tendencies... field recordings, feedback improvisations, turntable collages and general mad-scientist deviousness. This is some of the most exciting music being made; if nothing else, it'll have you hearing your drive to work tomorrow quite differently.
Free 103point9
2003 Top 100
Transmission art from Michael Prime ("Steam Radio") and Voice Crack ("Transmission"), and excellent experiments from Howard Stelzer + Brendan Murray, Kevin Drumm, The Brutum Fulmen, John Hudak, and others. #18 in 2003 top 100 list.
Michael Heumann 
Sep 2003
The Summer 2000 edition of Computer Music Journal is subtitled "Encounters with Electronica." This academic journal usually focuses largely on what they call "serious music" or "high art," rather than the "lesser" work of artists who generally create music for popular consumption. So, with this issue, the journal wanted to explore the kinds of electronic music being created in the popular field they called "electronica." So, who did they focus on? Orbital? Autechre? Carl Craig? Nope. The artists examined in this look into "popular" music included Kim Cascone (who wrote one of the articles), Taylor Deupree, Oval, Pan Sonic, Carsten Nicolai, and Fennesz. These are all relatively well-known artists, but I wouldn't really call them "popular."

All this leads me to Intransitive Record's Variious compilation, a 2-CD set featuring works from artists such as Taylor Deupree, Richard Chartier, Pimmon, *0, Michael Prime, and a bunch of artists most music fans (even electronic music fans) have never heard of. Intransitive is better known to the electro-acoustic community (the community of "serious" musicians) than other experimental labels like 12k, Line, List, Faalt, Trente Oiseaux, Ritornell, Mego, and Raster-Noton, and it is consequently less known to fans of these other labels. But their music is still not what most asshole academics would call "high art"; in fact, most academics would probably call this stuff "popular." Well, they would be wrong, of course, but so would the people who would stick this release into the "high art" category. The music on this release suggest, to me, a space in-between these two stupid labels, a space where popularity, academic notoriety, and financial success are less important than the desire to create and release interesting, intelligent music.

Variious fuses a variety of different musical approaches together into a seamless whole. Some of the artists featured--especially Taylor Deupree and Richard Chartier--are well known to fans of experimental music. Their tracks, indeed, contain small traces of rhythm and other rhythm-like textures, though (as you might expect from such artists) these traces are less concerned with creating an overall "beat" and more concerned with examining the minute variations that are created when a bunch of little tiny noises come together. However, the bulk of the tracks do not even go that far. Some (like Justin Bennett's "Grasslands" and John Hudak's "Gamelon") are acoustic recordings that have been processed and reshaped by computers, and others (like Michael Prime's "Steam Radio," "Roel Meelkop's "1 (Transition)," and *0's "20k-20-19k-21") are works that take a variety of sounds and process them into a variety of different ways. All of these works are great listening, but only if you are willing to venture into the nebulous realm of weird sounds and twisted ideas.

Variious is Intransitive's first compilation, and acts as a good introduction to this interesting label. The work is especially interesting because it so effortlessly bridges that imaginary gap between "popular" and "serious" electronic music, in the process demonstrating that those terms mean absolutely nothing. When I listen to Variious, I hear music and just music, and that's all I should hear when I listen to music. Labels are created to prevent us from hearing the many different sounds that the world has to offer. Ignore labels; enjoy music instead. To me, that's the lasting message of this work.

Flux Europa 
Stewart Gott 
Oct 2001 
The first CD I ever bought over the 'net was an Intransitive disc: Stone Blind by Howard Stelzer. I liked that, and I like this, the latest Intransitive offering to drop through the letterbox. A twenty-two track compilation of interestingly varied electronic hum, whine and skitter, packaged in a suitably minimalist sleeve designed by Richard Chartier, Variious succeeds not only in its individual parts, but as a coherent whole. Featuring such consistently inventive artists as John Hudak, Michael Prime, Marc Behrens and John Watermann, as well as the always excellent Chartier himself and Howard Stelzer (here in collaboration with Brendan Murray) the two CDs veer back and forth across the sound spectrum, from the noisy efforts of Watermann and Pimmon to the barely audible contributions of Toshiya Tsunoda and Nosei Sakata. The dense, drony clatter of The Brutum Fulmen's 'Dusk' is a standout for me, as is Justin Bennett's 'Grasslands', cobbled together to stunning effect from field recordings made in France and Spain a decade ago. Top of the pile for me however is Jerome Noetinger's alarming feedback piece (confused on the track listing with Roel Meelkop's more contemplative effort, which follows it). Beginning from an impossibly high pitch, reminiscent of Minoru Sato's track on the RLW tribute compilation Tulpas, the track descends into swarming tortured electronics that seethe from the speakers in complex, layered bursts and swells of sound. It's even better on headphones, so long as you figure it's worth never being able to hear anything that way again. Another favourite is Michael Prime's puffing, bleeping 'Steam Radio', which sounds not unlike the stuff on his excellent Domestic Science CD. I bought Domestic Science over the 'net last year from a site based in Los Angeles, five and a half thousand miles away. A week or so later it showed up, and I saw on the sleeve that Michael Prime lives about ten minutes walk away from my house on the outskirts of London's suburbia. Another fine example of modern technology shrinking the world.
The Brain 
Jon Witney 
Nov 2000 

Intransitive Recordings has given us a souvenir of a non-existant wrap-party for the first series of recordings from this discriminating label. "Variious" also functions as the start of series two for the label. Featured recording artists on the set include a Richard Chartier, *0, Pimmon, Mark Behrens and Brume. The music is for serious listeners only with a serene mesmerising headphonic contribution from Taylor Dupree to an aural rollercoaster by John Waterman, cut and processed field recordings by Justin Bennett to a sea of radio waves from Michael Prine. Chicago's own Kevin Drumm's bit sounds like electronic mice scurrying through an underground train station while an improvisational noise track from label-owner Howie Stelzer and Boston-based electronician Brendan Murray was pulled here from a live in-store recording at the local Twisted Village, and that's only the beginning! Exploring various avenues of improvisational and calculated sound textures, Intransitive has essentially been taking audio snapshots of movement. With this in mind, this 2xCD set is much like a photo album featuring some of the photographer's most favorite pictures. With all Intransitive releases, this disc is limited and I'm predicting it will be a much sought after item before long.

[ The Brain website includes several audio samples along with this review, including the Brutum Fulmen track "Dusk". ]

David Opdyke 
Nov 2000 
With many (but not all) leaning toward the current state of pop/click glitchiness, 21 Various Artists have given generously to variious, a limited-to-1000 2CD compilation from Intransititive. Big names within the eclectic listening crowd mingle with lesser-known artists of similarly experimental soundesign tastes; the resulting complexities are sure to confound mainstream ears while delighting the hard-core explorer.

Following a brief spoken intro, Taylor Deupree (of 12k renown) sets the pace with the clicks and bleeps of "_doClip" (3:01). John Watermann's "Killing a Dove in an Echoless Room" abruptly shifts from more mechanical textures to wheezily droning space and back again, interspersed with other sonic aberrations, like utterly fragmented voices. Justin Bennett's everchanging "Grassland" was originally recorded in Spain and France circa 1992, then more recently re-edited into this continually fluctuating collage of nature, man, machine and who-knows-what.

Toshiya Tsunoda bends the ear in a different way with very quiet goings-on within "Solid vibrations of the surface of concrete ground (pts. 1 & 2)" which directly collides with the noisier approach of (Intransititive head) Howard Steltzer and Brendan Murray; their "The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces" offers a twisting core of sound which seems about to explode from claustrophobia, then sputters out quickly. Roel Meelkop's "1 (Transition)" emits piercingly thin strands which begin waver and squelch with increasingly distortive radiotronic contortions, gradually rumbling into industrial-strength power-electronics mode.

Improvising feedback from his mixing desk directly to DAT, Jérôme Noetinger achieves subtler (ambient, even) results as "Larsen Lux" burrows into not-quiet-silent zones; ghostly electric presences loom nearby, radiating unknowable energies.

Disc 2 is understatedly opened by *0 and the low-low-low frequencies of "20k-20-19k-21"; turn it up or you may not even realize what's happening (a deep-ear-canal massage of sorts...). The wafting accordian-like chords of Klas Augustsson's "Rosa surv" are stippled with static and blurry cut-scenes. From a dark churning murk emerges "Dusk" as rendered by The Brutum Fulmen; creaking medieval equipment seems to clunk and groan amid swirling vapors in this dreary, decidedly more-low-tech tableau.

Besides designing the packaging for this comp, Richard Chartier "sent" these audio transmissions of hushedly expanding tones; their flatly hovering plane is visited by trilling electro-chirps. The ruffling, chiming and bleeping of "transmission" (8:54) by Voice Crack creates an immersively (and often aggressively) alien atmosphere, replete with watery ripples and careening highs. Clattering through heaps of plasticoid refuse and gleaming with industrial drones, Brume's "Coltrane Colony" paints a post-apocalyptic surreality, closing on semi-musical plops and transmuted horn licks.

Other sound designers who appear include Michael Prime, Kevin Drumm, Pimmon, Jos Smolders, Martin Tetreault, John Hudak, Mark Behrens and Jason Lecalleet. The disc includes many of the artists' e-mail addresses.

Exploring sonic mutations in various modes yields a broad overview of just how far "sound" can be bent in very different directions. A top-notch gathering of experimentally-minded electronic composers/designers make variious a worthy (if not always easy-to-take) 8.4 listen.

The Din
Nov 2000 
S. Bolle 
This elegantly packaged, two-CD compilation from Cambridge's Intransitive label contains an intriguing mix of experimental electronic music, ranging from electro-acoustic to noise to pinprick-like microscopic minimalism. It features twenty-one exclusive compositions by an impressive list of contributors, including Pimmon, Marc Behrens, Martin Tetreault, Nosei Sakata, Taylor Deupree, Justin Bennett, Brendan Murray and Howard Steltzer (who compiled this excellent collection) to name but a few. The music here is generally sparse and ultra-minimal in structure, coupled with sometimes dense, occasionally subtle sonic textures, comprised of whirrs, hisses, pops, clicks, rumbles and squeals. This is certainly a disc that rewards very close listening, preferably on headphones; otherwise many of the details of quieter tracks, such as *0's "20k-20-19k-21," which shifts between silence and incredibly subtle, static-like textures that virtually disappear as they mingle with the ambient noise of even an apparently quiet room. Of course, such interactions between the music and the context in which it is heard can be quite astonishing, as was the case one Sunday in early November with the duet between Jérôme Noetinger's amazing "Larsen Lux" (based on the feedback from a mixing desk) and the squeal and hum of my refrigerator. Recommended for those interested in venturing into the outer reaches of electronic music. (Intransitive Recordings/2xCD/US)
Paris Transatlantic Magazine
Nov 2000 
Dr. Dan 
I studied computer music at the Eastman School of Music in 1986 in the "good old days" when you had to learn about three hundred UNIX commands (all of which I've mysteriously forgotten) and submit big job files involving a lot of number crunching to the machine during the night so as not to slow up the system for the other users. Back then I thought it was wonderfully impressive and efficient (it was compared to the laborious manual tape-splicing that the early pioneers of electronic music in 50s had to go through), but looking the current wonders of music software, my old Music 11 program files seem about as primitive as flint axes. The advent of affordable and accurate software has led to an extraordinary democratization in the field - being able to create complex works of electroacoustic music is no longer restricted to those with access to state-of-the-art studios hidden away in music faculties and recording studios: source sounds can easily be captured with eminently portable MiniDisc equipment (no substitute of course for a Neuman but if all you're going to do at the end is mangle the sounds with downloaded DIY software, who's going to notice?) and data transferred to the hard disk at the click of a mouse to be sampled, looped, morphed and mashed up with alarming ease. If you're familiar with your programs you can probably turn out in a day what it took Karlheinz Stockhausen a month to graft together - in terms of data, that is: I defy anyone today to come up with something as elaborate and exquisite as "Kontakte" in an afternoon on ProTools.

And that's precisely the point - a lot of the music featured on this excellent double CD from Intransitive sounds a little too.. easy (not that it's easy listening: far from it). Recent years have seen a veritable explosion of new labels specializing in electroacoustic music (a term I use to include all the various sub-genres of electronica from ultra-minimalist to hardcore Japanese), all seemingly in touch with each other via email and file transfers, and hence it's no surprise that this austere yet elegant compilation features music from all over the planet. The back tray text piece by Achim Wollscheid sets the tone of the project: "the further we distance ourselves from what once directed the idea of "music" (a coherent sonic body that relates to a present social body) the clearer we can now recognize certain forms of sound realizing multi-layered relations in time and space." Wollscheid argues cogently that this music (if "music" is still a word he's prepared to use) demands listening conditions radically different from those that have prevailed up to now in concert halls, clubs, living rooms and Walkman headphones. Certainly, it was only through extremely concentrated listening through good headphones that I was able to appreciate the extraordinarily beautiful micro-sonorities of Toshiya Tsunoda's "Solid vibration of the surface of concrete ground" (like a tiny trickling of water in a thin metal pipe recorded somewhere deep underground) or the delicate filigree nuances of Jérôme Noetinger's "Larsen Lux", a direct-to-DAT improvisation using mixing desk feedback. The Walkman, my usual listening medium through necessity, was totally incapable of giving me an idea of the timbral sculpture in John Hudak's "Gamelan", and a truly extreme example of high and low frequency minimalism such as *0's "20K - 20 - 19K - 21" (and it is exactly that) didn't register at all. The pieces that exploit the computer's potential for organizing mass-event sounds à la Xenakis - John Watermann's "Killing a Dove in an Echoless Room" (the title's better than the piece), Marc Behrens' "Revelation" and Brume's "Coltrane Colony" (though how this latter relates to the late tenor saxophonist is beyond me) - worked well out there in the street on the Walkman, but these were not the works that impressed me the most.

Justin Bennett's "Grassland" cuts and splices diverse field recordings to make a constantly surprising metacollage of interior and exterior soundworlds - distant rainfall intercuts abruptly with close-up cicadas, night crashes into day, intimate human conversation becomes threatening flying insect noise. This piece puts the linear narrative aesthetic of Luc Ferrari's "Presque Rien"s put through the mincer. The result is striking and modern, though the studio sleight-of-hand that characterized Ferrari's original seminal 1970 "Presque Rien N° 1" which condensed events recorded over several days into a totally coherent daybreak lasting just over twenty minutes is conspicuously absent: Bennett makes no attempt to smooth over the cracks, nor does his aesthetic demand it.

While some of these works use found sounds - albeit transformed almost beyond recognition - many inhabit a soundworld that is new and unique to computer music. Pimmon's "Front Lawn in Winter", four minutes or so of weird fluttery buzzing followed by a disturbing (door?) slamming three times is as striking for its sonic originality as its seeming formlessness: the piece just is, and that's it. Similarly Kevin Drumm's "Untitled" could be the sound that micro-organisms make in a petri dish (if ever anyone gets round to recording them); a vague carpet drone of indefinite pitch arrives from nowhere in particular, on top of which sporadic swooping glissandi and very distant twanging noises appear and disappear. Again, the final clattering flourish is unprepared and disconcerting. Elsewhere, other works inhabit simple binary and ternary forms and disguise the fact by their extraordinary sound surface - Jos Smoulders' "Frequenzen" is essentially a simple ABA+coda(A+B) structure, though its garbled extraterrestrial speech fragments ("alleged use of illegal drugs" - haha - is the only clearly recognizable phrase) seem designed to throw listeners off the scent.

For all the wonders (Michael Prime's eerie "Steam Radio", Roel Meelkop's clinically brutal "1. (Transition)", Taylor Deupree's (almost) danceable post-Mego "_doClip") one can't help feeling that the guys at Intranstitive could have thinned this down to a single disc: the offerings from Voice Crack and Martin Tetreault add nothing to their existing discographies in terms of new developments, Klas Augustsson's "Rosa surv" (which sounds like Pauline Oliveros recorded from an unstable short-wave receiver) is weak, and Stelzer and Murray's "The Social Life of Small Urban Species" and Jason Lescalleet's "Tape Deck Model RD 504" visit territories better mapped out by other contributors. Richard Chartier's "sent" is seductively atmospheric, with its tropical birds duetting in a digital reverb-drenched rain forest, but is little more than a snapshot.

When the then Cambridge Professor of Music Alexander Goehr was asked once why Music Undergraduates had to spend a year writing exercises in late-Renaissance counterpoint, he replied memorably: "Because they knew something that we have now forgotten." I would venture to suggest that the same dictum holds true for those pioneers of musique concrète and Elektronisches Musik such as Henry, Stockhausen, Xenakis, et al.. Although the talent on display here is impressive and promises much for the future, I question to what extent the featured composers have had to really live with their sounds, let alone create them from scratch. With respect to form (or perhaps the younger generation would prefer the word "architecture"), hijacking a bit of philosophical gobbledygook from Gilles Deleuze about "rhizomes" is no excuse for not being to put together a structurally coherent and convincing span of music. The hip young Powerbook-wielding cats may pay lip-service to the founding fathers of acousmatic music (many of whom are still going strong, thanks to a surge of vampiric energy culled from the young lions' media exposure), but they could do a lot worse than go back to the work of Parmegiani, Bayle, Dhomont and Vande Gorne and learn how to manage a large-scale form with both technical and musical maturity. Such quibbles aside, however, I commend this compilation to anyone as a fine example of what's good and exciting in today's electronic music.

[ This review managed to mention everything in the comp except the Brutum Fulmen track! ]