Mar 09 Julien Skrobek/Miguel Prado – American Nightmare Why Not Ltd (Malasia)


Why Not Ltd 00023

Julien Skrobek: synthesizer

Miguel Prado: prepared cello (01), prepared piano (02)

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Reviews

Paris Trasantlantic by Dan Warburton

When this limited edition (ridiculously limited edition, like all of Goh Lee Kwang’s Why Nots) CDR was released a month or two ago it provoked a teacup-size storm of protests from certain quarters, who were “offended” by its accompanying text (which I won’t bother to quote, for I don’t find it particularly provocative), but musically it’s about as offensive as Music For Airports. Indeed, I’d argue that much of this post-Malfatti stuff – music where the silence to sound ratio is tilted heavily in favour of the former – is the new Ambient music. It works perfectly well in the background while you busy yourself with various sundry domestic tasks – the less noisy ones, that is: hoovering the apartment and using the spincycle on the washing machine aren’t recommended if you want to catch all the delicate sprinkles and squiggles of prepared cello and piano (Prado) and synthesizer (Skrobek) – but it’s also satisfying enough to sit down and give your full attention to. The sounding events, when they appear, are carefully constructed and beautifully paced across the album’s two tracks, which last respectively 14’53” and 24’58”. Forget the silly “politics”, and just use your ears. There’s much to enjoy.–DW

The Watchful Ear By Richard Pinnell

So as promised, a few words about Miguel Prado and Julien Skrobek’s American Nightmare CDr release on the Why Not label. Before mentioning the music, a few words on the mini-furore (if half a dozen or so people getting upset can be called a furore) that sprang up at the I Hate Music forum in response to the sleeve image and brief liner notes that accompany the disc.

Julien and Miguel are politically motivated people. The liner notes talk about the commodification of improvised music, the fact that music has become a marketable object, and that the worth of that object is judged by aesthetic criteria laid down as part of a “new orthodoxy,” the heart of which stems from the USA, from where the term EAI and its inclusiveness has (according to Prado and Skrobek) originated. Although in a statement on the CD made at IHM Miguel and Julien do not point the finger at any individual names, the main target would appear to be Jon Abbey, owner of Erstwhile Records and an outspoken, opinionated voice in online circles on improvised music and also on its division into two subgenres, “EAI” and “EFI”

The artwork shows two members of the Red Army, with one of them holding up a book of rules labelled EAI. On one hand the whole use of this imagery and in particular the title American Nightmare is a bit silly, schoolyard stuff. On the other hand though if someone of influence in online circles is to make firm statements about this music that they hold to be true then it is probably inevitable that there will be those that choose to stand against this. Miguel and Julien clearly do not like the way that certain ways of playing improvised music are held up to be more valid than others. Whilst in essence I agree with them I also think the argument is all over something that does not really exist outside of the small world of internet circles. While the rules for what music may be considered to be “EAI” (and thus implicitly not old or irrelevant “EFI”) do seem to have been developed in forums such as IHM, with Jon Abbey playing a major part, such criteria seems completely irrelevant to the musicians I see and hear making music. No one really seems to care what fits into which bracket, at least not in this country. So although I can sympathise to some degree with the sentiments behind American Nightmare I don’t think they were really worth making at such a microscopic level.

Miguel and Julien also mentioned that the music on American Nightmare is designed to stand in contrast to perceived ideas of “good taste” and that it rejects such ideas as “virtuosity”, “beauty” and the “perfection of timing.” These ideas, while maybe not in any way original are of much more interest to me than any question about the impact of online subgenre names on the music. The two tracks on American Nightmare are not so different from other recent Skrobek releases in that they often use “ugly” sounds that do not fit together well in any commonly recognised manner and are spaced apart by silences that can last up to ten seconds at a time. It would appear (I don’t know for certain) that the two musicians put the two tracks together at a distance, each recording their parts (Prado plays prepared cello on one track, prepared piano on the other while Skrobek uses a digital synthesiser) separately and the music then being pieced together by file exchange.

So what we get is a series of partially disconnected sounds arranged alongside each other, separated by awkward silences. Often the sounds are brutally truncated, cut short by digital silence, and often (mainly thanks to Skrobek’s synth it would seem) they appear strangely absurd, out of place when considered alongside the other sounds around them. These challenges to easy listening are common themes through Julien Skrobek’s music and are interesting elements to me. It isn’t possible to describe the music of American Nightmare as beautiful. It also isn’t possible to talk about timing, layering, gradual shifts of texture or any of the other standard terminology from the improvised music thesaurus that we (myself very much included) often fall back upon. The music does indeed stand as a challenge to the easy pigeon-holing of music into convenient categories. It also (ironically given the liner notes referencing of improvised music) appears to be a composed work, at least in some manner or another. That it isn’t quite possible to work out exactly how the music was made, and also because I am never quite certain how I am meant to enjoy the end “product” I find American Nightmare to be an intriguing release.

Yeah so someone on the cover is holding up an EAI rulebook. Get beyond this though and instead listen to the music and try and figure out a way to respond to it. The music itself, its awkwardness and refusal to give the listener any easy reference points is far more interesting than what is written on the sleeve. At the end, after the challenges of the music have been faced there is still the question of whether I find the music enjoyable to listen to or not. I guess I probably do, but I’m not so sure I would feel the same after repeated listens.

Vital Weekly by Frans de Waard

A duet of Julien Skrobek on synthesizer and Miguel Prado on prepared cello (first piece) and prepared piano (second piece). Both seem to me new stars on the front of improvised music, department ‘soft’ and ‘silent’. They play their music with ‘gaps’ in between. A sound, maybe two or even three, and then some silence. Its a method they apply in both tracks here, and it works well, even if perhaps both could have been a bit shorter. Or perhaps just the second, which lasts twenty-five minutes, would have been fine enough, I think. Its music that demands quite a bit from the listener and requires full attention, so even at just under forty minutes, this is still on the long side. But as said, especially the second piece I really liked.

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