Radboud Mens and Matthijs Kouw have collaborated since 2001, when they started working on an album firmly rooted in the ‘clicks ’n cuts’ movement of way back when. After collecting source material using only feedback produced with a mixer and minidisc recorder that was broadcasted live on Amsterdam’s Radio 100 to unsuspecting listeners, they started working on their album ‘Mens/Kouw’ (2002), which features both rhythmic pieces and more abstract elements. With the passing of time, they found themselves working more and more in the realm of tonal and timbral long-form pieces. Their use of software, recordings of acoustic instruments and a modular synthesizer, leads to what can perhaps be described as ‘electro-acoustic drone’ that nods to the American minimalists of the last century.
This record is the first of a two-part album and is recorded live in the studio in December 2014. Released as LP on Moving Furniture Records on February 15, 2017.
If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all
Whenever we hear sounds, we are changed, we are no longer the same, and this is more the case when we hear organised sounds; music.
The highest point of music for me is to become in a place where there is no desire, no craving, wanting to do anything else. It is the best place you have ever been, and yet there is nothing there.
Drones that are heard constantly (fluorescent tubes, mechanical ventilation, refrigerating equipment, high voltage lines in the countryside) are all aligned on the frequency (and harmonics) of the electrical network (50Hz in Europe, 60Hz in North America). When we ask someone to sing a note spontaneously, the pitch often corresponds to a harmonic of the electrical network frequency. The evolution of lighting techniques, the amelioration of the quality (notably acoustic) of household appliances, and the wider use of low voltage rather than high voltage leads us to believe that this phenomenon will diminish with time. Some drones are so integrated into our perspective habits that any modification of their characteristics results in confusion. For instance, the replacement of the burner in a central heating boiler can result in complaints if its sound spectrum is different, even if it is actually less noisy in terms of dB. When a listener becomes accustomed to a sound of a certain spectrum, this sound will be easier to ignore than a sound of the same type that may be even quieter. This new sound requires a listening adaptation before it is integrated into the familiar soundscape. In the physiological domain, there is tinnitus – a drone or ringing sound that originates within the ear. Both children and adults use a form of linguistic drone: grumbling and mumbling. The general intent of mumbling is to mask the intelligibility of a message in the low frequencies when the speaker does not want to be understood. Mumbling is the oral expression of an intense introverted activity. (Napoleon’s grumbling was famous and frightened new secretaries for correspondence!)
[Jean-François Augoyard And Henry Torgue]
I hadn’t heard of either Moving Furniture Records, nor either of the artists Radboud Mens or Matthijs Kouw before checking my inbox a few weeks ago. It was apparent within seconds of hearing 1 that this ignorance was a huge shame on my part. I live for this kind of longform ambient drone, and the two ~20 minute tracks that make up collaborative release from the two artists are absolutely top draw, with evolution that burns slowly and brightly in a fantastic forty minutes of minimal perfection.
The first piece, simply entitled F begins with one single deep pulsating drone, deep in frequency, but with no heaviness or huge distortion, instead warm and rich in texture slowly burning away for the first few minutes,while lighter synth textures gradually make their way into the track slowly and softly, twinkling in and out like the rays of the sun shining through the surface of the ocean. These warm, bright textures float and drift in and out, slowly and calmly, gradually taking more of a lead role as the deep drone from the start slowly recedes into the background. Several tones glide and drift over each other with a warm sunny glow over the quieter sound of the deep earthy drone from the start, giving a rich palette of sounds and textures before it all fades out back to the starting drone, bringing to an end a gorgeous piece of blissful minimal ambience. The second track is similar as a single deep drone burns away for several minutes as gradually and slowly the bright sound of synth-organ comes through with a higher pitched drone, oscillating slowly and lazily in frequency in another lovely piece of minimal ambience. Both pieces grow gradually from one very deep frequency into a simple but gorgeous collage of textures and frequencies.
“1” is minimal ambient/drone at it’s finest, masterful use of slowly burning textures to create beautiful calming atmospheres that evolve slowly and gradually, but noticeable enough to be completely engaging throughout their 20 minute lengths – the pacing is perfect. It’s an interesting release that could be one of the best ambient albums of the year.
Conceptually boring sounds turning non-boring by means of John Cage’s ideas, how sounds can change you following Karlheinz Stockhausen’s trains of thought and desireless being inside music as the best place to be as exemplified by Terry Riley form the backbone of 1 by Radboud Mens and Matthijs Kouw. Abstract modular drones, barely there in terms of rhythm, weave in and out of an evolving aural field like the protuberances thinning out at the edges of Mark Rothko’s fields of colour gently being washed out into the base plane. Mens and Kouw’s figures level out around pulsating and undulating frequencies in a GRM-like symphony which is indebted as much to the aforementioned composers as it is to visual artists such as Agnes Martin and Alan Charlton. Recorded live in the studio Mens and Kouw experiment with the ease and unease with which domesticated and habituated frequencies work within our bodies; both mentally and physiologically. The results are appeasing, easing and peaceful but surprisingly enough subtle movements and slight shifts produce a confusing, complex mesh of dense drone – colliding tones, clusters forming in space like thin layers of almost washed out white paint collecting nuance and grey-ish moiré overlays. Dynamic turns do not necessarily seem to occur by means of controlled volume masses in crescendo or diminuendo, but grow almost naturally from accretion of non-habitual waves grinding along side each other. No head-on collisions here but a slow bend in and blend of acoustic phenomena where minimal tonal material produces massive (literally) results in terms of tactile, immersive monumentality in aural power. A record that produces magnitude in the shades thrown by towering sine waves. (Vital Weekly – Sven Schlijper-Karssenberg)
Radboud Mens and Matthijs Kouw have been working together for quite some time now, but “1” is the first collaborative effort I have heard from them. The album takes the form of two long-form drones, each piece ostensibly a single chord held for around twenty minutes, though in each case the chord changes substantially over that duration. The titles of the pieces seem to indicate the root notes of the chords in Western musical notation: F for the first piece, A for the second. Each piece begins with a deep sustained bass note establishing the root of the chord. Then faint glimmers of other tones begin to emerge, and the chord builds in energy and complexity. Interactions between the notes of the chord, and between the notes and the environment in which they sound, create a rich tapestry of resonances, rings, oscillations, and overtones; the sounds transform themselves without much in the way of obvious gestural interventions from the two musicians. Indeed, I half-wondered whether the two tracks were created via some sort of algorithm that takes the starting note as its initial parameter, then builds the piece autonomously based on feedback detected as the chord emerges, though perhaps this is a little too far-fetched. What’s interesting is that the two pieces make quite different impressions, despite the similarity of their forms. ‘F’ has perhaps the most momentum, its pulsating, thrumming mass evocative of breathing in and out or of waves breaking in slow-motion on a shore. In contrast, ‘A’ is a majestic ocean liner gliding serenely and perhaps a little euphorically into port. From what sound (probably deceptively) like such simple ideas, not one, but two weighty and attractive pieces of music emerge. (Fluid Radio – Nathan Thomas)
The basic motto for this album is a quote from John Cage: “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.” This is especially true when listening to what we call drone music. If you listen to drones at the wrong moment, for the wrong reasons, without the right mindset or intention, you might dismiss it as boring. And it may very well be boring – but it is intentionally so. If you surrender yourself to the sound, immerse yourself it, can be receptive to its many details, it opens up a world of timeless wonders. Miraculous waves of sound interacting with your body, your location, your hearing, your perception. Radboud Mens and Matthijs Kouw have previously worked together, exploring all kinds of experimental electronic music. Their collaboration for this album is the first of a two-part album, recorded live in the studio in December 2014. This edition presents two minimalistic electro-acoustic drones, created using software, recordings of acoustic instruments and a modular synth. The tracks, each around 20 minutes, are effectively called “F” and “A”. The start of each piece is like adjusting to a tuning fork. Once you’re tuned to the basic sound you can simply wait for the variations to start happening. The funny thing is: it never gets boring, not even after 2 x 20 minutes. So, if you want to test Cage’s statement, you’ll have to put it on repeat! (Ambientblog – Peter van Cooten )
Released February 15, 2017.