Mohammad

Spiriti (3LP) May 2011 Antifrost |afro2050/2|

PARIS TRANSLATLANTIC (FR) This 280-copy limited edition triple-LP box, the sequel to last year's intriguing Roto Vildblomma, will, I suspect, appear in many reviewers' best-of lists. Mohammad – Nikos Veliotis, Coti K and Ilios – seem to have been born to produce ominous sonorities together, and this set definitely places them in favorable position to dominate Subsonic Valley while keeping a residence in Dark Melody County. There may be three discs, each with its own title (respectively, "Malad Van", "Yap Divòce Tectónica" and "Dis Koraci"), but the core of this music is one and only one: the purveying of gaping tremor, either self-sufficient or strategically placed in a basic configuration not describable as a "tune", but maybe a part of one, perhaps conceived by Black Sabbath, played on a mellotron and transposed down an octave. The timbral recipe – cello, double bass and oscillators – leaves no doubt on what the ears identify and descramble for the brain to retransmit to the body. The essential traits are right there: a powerful kind of subliminal throb – the sort of oscillation that sets loose objects in rattle-and-buzz mode at less than whispered volume – is persistently in motion, almost never absent. Its clutch is occlusive and convincing, the habitual sturdy pulsation materializing in a few seconds. Still, it's not just low-frequency galore. The lyrical material (no better way to call it) revolves around extensive tones intertwined in mournful counterpoint and a quasi-systematic use of glissando, a phenomenon which some scientist should study to understand its emphatic repercussions on human consciousness. Similarly, the extraordinary morphing hum that characterizes "Ülvi Borzadás" at the onset of the second album would be valuable for therapeutic purposes. On the other hand, "Moniman", the awesome "Tectonica" and "Grad" sound like East-European folk melodies slowed down to tortoise pace, unembroidered funeral marches for the ottava alta. Not to mention a handful of infinitesimal details (including even a barking dog) that underpin the gloomy moods and the sense of physical desolation. Act fast and secure a copy of what is destined to become a cult item.–MR

THE WATCHFUL EAR (UK) Another early start, another depressing day, but home early enough to be able to first get some rest and then spend some quality time with some music. I have been listening today, and on and off for a few weeks now to a new box set of three vinyl discs by the Greek group Mohammad, who consist of Nikos Veliotis, (cello) Coti.K (double bass) and Ilios (oscillators). This new set, named Spiriti comes a year after their fine debut Roto Vildblomma, which I wrote about here. As I wrote this evening though, despite having been sent digital files of the music quite some time ago I notice from the Antifrost label’s website that the release won’t be out for another ten days or so. I guess then that for once my slow approach to writing about things has actually seen me time this one about right. The music here then is really interesting, thoroughly riveting stuff, but it isn’t quite what I had been expecting, which is always a good sign. The three discs each have individual titles, which are then split down into further tracks. There are eleven tracks in total, with five of the six ‘sides’ containing two tracks each of roughly seven minutes in length per track, and the one remaining side, the second half of the first disc containing just the one eleven minute long piece. So disc one is named Malad Van, and the first side opens with a really striking, and surprising piece that I can only really describe as somewhere between death metal played on classical instruments and a traditional string quartet slowed down so far that only heaving bass groans remain. The music is entirely composed, and actually thoroughly melodic, essentially a series of riffs that you find yourself humming along to, but all working with extremely deep, bassy notes, churning, grinding strings wrapped around a simple three or four note tune. Yes, a tune! albeit it a very simple one that doesn’t really develop beyond this simple coda and regularly slips into the more familiar constant drone we are used to from these guys. Its actually really addictive, to some extent fun music. The use of the minimal repeated forms reminds me a little of a group like Tortoise, but slowed right down, with rhythm replaced with a study of bass-heavy overtones and an overall sense of claustrophobic maybe even oppressive drone. The theme follows into the second piece, with some variation, but the third track, which takes up the whole of the reverse side is a very different affair. Here we are presented with a dark, murky, field of straining grey abstraction, sprinkled with bits of clatter and with Ilios’ oscillators cranked up (or down) to such a degree that the throbbing pulses seem to crack up into an almost mechanical sounding rattle. It all remains low key but with so much happening at almost subsonic levels. At low volume it feels like the calm after the verve of the opening pieces, but turn the dial a little and the room begins to shake. The second disc, named Yap Divoce then continues the pattern of mixing understated drones with more dramatic passages. The opening Ülvi Borzadás might be the most beautiful piece in the set, more virtually stagnant tones undermined by hard to identify abrasions and the slightest of tonal patches. Its followed immediately by Sunn O))) meets Bach at one third speed though, a deeply morose if consistently tuneful piece named Moniman. The other side matches two similar tracks again, one subsonic and empty, the other darkly melodic. Disc three, titled Dis Koraci continues in a similar vein, the opening Grad being a monolithic stream of intense bowed chords that really overpowers the listener. The following Dis Kumi is then contrastingly low-key but with plenty enough going on under the bonnet to keep my speakers trembling on their stands here. The pattern is broken slightly on the last side of Spiriti though as the brittle pulse that opens the track is pushed backwards by a thick, syrupy sinetone that into which we suddenly hear traces of more familiar sounds, first an aircraft can be heard, maybe then dogs barking and we question if we really heard it or was it just an illusory effect caused by the layering of tones. As the music drifts into what sounds a bit like a diesel engined bus engine ticking over in a resonant tunnel other sounds appear, maybe water dripping in a damp space, then traffic. Are these sounds there or does the music play tricks on our ears? They are there, but the almost hallucinatory effect of the droning throbs leads you to wonder what we are really experiencing. The closing Koraci is then a rousing, bold piece akin to the track that opened the entire set, but with a sense of grandeur and magnitude that is fitting for the close of such a bold statement of a release. I don’t think I know of anything else quite like Spiriti. It shifts severely away from improvised music, but also contains an awful lot more than just any old drone album. Its a really physical, viscous set of music, a study in low frequencies and how they interplay when forced into different, often surprising circumstances. This is completely uncategoriseable music that could appeal to a very wide audience as it touches on so many different areas, but it will only be released in an edition of 280 copies, so, if like me you want a copy then it might be a case of getting orders in quite quickly. Extraordinary.. RICHARD PINNELL

Roto Vildblomma (CD) May 2010 Antifrost |afro2044|

 

THE WATCHFUL EAR (UK) One CD has been on constant rotation here for a few days now though, the debut disc by Mohammad- no not that one, the Greek trio of Coti K, Ilios and Nikos Veliotis. The album, titled Roto Vildblomma has been out for a few weeks on the Antifrost label. Now, so much about this project seems shrouded in a degree of mystery and/or misdirection. Online, it all seems very simple- the group have a website that lists the three musicians and their instrumentation, with Coti K credited with contrabass, Ilios with oscillators and Veliotis the cello. However on the CD sleeve itself, not even the group members’ names are listed, let alone any instrumentation, and if there isn’t a saxophone playing on the final track then I’ll eat my hat. Now, given my previous experiences with these three excellent musicians I expected this music to be all about rich drones, and well, about two thirds of it is, but there is more here besides. Mohammad state that they got together to make music that follows the principles of intermodulation, but also to study the ideas of kullu wahad, which appears to be an arabic concept referring to being “all one”. Apparently there is also a Greek informal use of the term as well, that suggests something of a messy state. How genuinely important these concepts may have been to the group, and how much of all of this is tongue in cheek is hard to tell, though certainly the idea of “all-one” could easily be applied to this music. It displays a remarkable degree of cohesiveness across the three musicians. The opening Vildblomma is a big, bold, and intriguing affair. The cello and bass combine to repeat a four note figure over and over, with each of the musicians adjusting their playing to feed harmonic shifts throughout the opening, which is thoroughly beautiful in a kind of heavy, mournful way. The music feels religious to some degree, weighty in its intentions, like the opening to a huge atmospheric opera. After three minutes of this the oscillators join in, and a sense of a drone appears, for the final ninety seconds of the track, rich, thick and full of layered textures. While sounding exactly like the musicians involved, this track sounds like nothing much else I’ve heard before and is a really powerful, rousing four and a half minutes of music that sounds incredible turned up loud. The opening of the second piece, titled Skora is utterly gorgeous. The two string instruments hold a very soft, low note, perfectly in tune with one another as the oscillator drags a kind of quiet, scorched texture over the top, all very muted and restrained, and yet absolutely teeming with tiny detail and interplay between the sounds. In time with one another the strings drop an octave (I think) on a couple of occasions, giving the music a feeling of slight queasiness and uncertainty. This piece is just breathtakingly beautiful in such a simple manner, the way the strings and electronic sounds merge is testament to the skills of the musicians here, but it works on a very basic harmonic level, perfectly in tune to each other. All-one indeed. For the third track, Lamone Kradoj (I have no doubt that these titles have significant meaning, but I can’t trace what it might be) the soft drones continue, with the oscillator pulsing rapidly over the gentlest of thin notes, gradually beginning to take a firmer hold until simmering like a lorry engine in neutral gear, the strings wonderfully restrained, staying way down in the mix, often appearing to drop away entirely. The track almost segues straight into Letzten Tranen, another hushed affair, but here as the electronics burble and grind gently on top again, so some kind of dry rhythm comes from the strings, or perhaps rather from the body of the two instruments. As the oscillations slow to a steady, relentless but slow throb so a series of deep, glowing pulses rise from the background and the harmonics begin to intertwine again, this time in low bassy territory that makes the metal lamp on my writing desk rattle if played at high volume. Then, as the music seems to have slipped into this beautifully pitched state of carefully and very accurately constructed pulses and drones, so the final track, the five minute long Luminus Vuori appears. It opens with wonderfully deep, very cloudy strings, the bass and cello almost suggesting Scelsi to me for a brief moment until they die to a second’s silence before kicking right back in behind a bouncy, deep sax solo. The strings here are played in a chiming, percussive manner, and this coupled by the repeated sax refrain suggest some kind of slow march, like a vaguely humorous funeral procession if that’s possible. The sax doesn’t sound like its being played by someone used to the instrument, so maybe one of the group (Ilios?) picked it up, but whoever is playing they seem to hold the simple tune well enough to add little embelishments here and there as the strings march steadily and unswervingly behind. This is such an odd, unexpected track. it is as carefully executed as the previous pieces but of a completely different character, and yet, somehow, and don’t ask me how, it works. So this CD leaves me a little perplexed, and yet it has also really affected me over the last few days. From the unusual, slightly provocative group name, to the mysterious album sleeve to the offsetting of some of the most beautiful music I’ve heard in a while against the strange little tunes that bookend the album, Rota Vildblomma is a release that refuses to play to type and so leaves this listener intrigued and wanting more. I’ve not seen this one reviewed or even mentioned much anywhere else, do yourself a favour and take a listen. RICHARD PINNELL

TOUCHING EXTREMES (IT) ILIOS, Coti K and Nikos Veliotis are Mohammad. Except for the first and the last track, in which there’s a sort of vague hint to the structure of a “tune” (actually, a couple of passages in the opening “Vildblomma” remind me of the mellotron intro to Genesis’ “Watcher Of The Skies”…) the whole CD is constructed upon what these guys are better known for, which translates into “low frequencies” and “subsonic throb” (and, yes, let’s add it: “drones”). It’s one of those albums in which we can hear the walls quivering depending on our position – it even happens when entering an adjacent room – and walking around becomes in effect the best way to enjoy the prevailing mass of tremors, independently from the presence or less of a preconceived design. A fascinating characteristic is the absolute impossibility of defining the sources (that is, if you don’t surf the web: contrabass, oscillators and cello is the answer), whose fusion works wonders on our neurological responses. The haunted quality of some of these tracks doesn’t leave any residual space for smiles, letting us alone in a bleak perspective of sunless reflections and exoneration from joy. The rattles and the groans do the rest quite successfully. A sturdily murky good album. MASSIMO RICCI

CROW WITH NO MOUTH (US) Anyone seeking engulfment in the throb and thrum of the low- end frequencies- and sometimes nothing else will do- look no further than Roto Vildblomma, released in May 2010 on Dimitris Kariofilis' Antifrost label. Kariofilis, a.k.a., ILIOS, meshes his oscillators with the seething drawn strings of cellist Nikos Veliotis and contrabassist Costantino Kinakos, a.k.a., Coti K. Following the brief, anthemic first track, we are immersed in tremors and troubled waters that push the air [and your innards] around, unrelieved save for a motoric development on the fourth track, an acceleration, as oxymoronic as that sounds, of Mohammad's pervasive gravitas. Celllist Veliotis has become, in my recent, overlapping listening spheres, a somewhat ubiquitous presence. He brings the swot and strum of his cello to another trio offering this year, the stellar Cooper Fields. He is half of the excellent duo Texturizer, with Coti K, whose two releases on Antifrost are well worth searching for. He is part of the imminent Looper release, with saxophonist Martin Kuchen and percussionist Ingar Zach, yet another trio that investigates long-form throb and shimmer. And on Roto Vildblomma, he is one third of the grounding gestalt field this trio achieves, with only occasional glimpses of the discrete parts of the instrumental whole. Veliotis has gradually developed his approach with the BACHbow, the creation of a fellow cellist that extends the arco possibilities, enabling him to draw across as many strings as he wishes. Mohammad create a nearly seamless garment, satisfyingly replete with the frayed, loose ends such harmonically close, pitch-based drone works reveal. Another reviewer referenced the "religious" aura of their sound; while I think I hear what he was referring to, I would suggest a different coloration- ceremonial. For what rite this sort of low-end strum might be created, who knows? I do know the two individuals I have heard from who have caught Mohammad's sound in live performance report the experience is overwhelmingly powerful. Mohammad have dedicated their collective efforts to the subtle striations of the low-end strings, and Roto Vildblomma is, for me, without a dull or stray moment. It is fantastic to hear some of the new music coming from Greece and, to date, when any of the members of Mohammad are involved, there is reason to anticipate it with high expectations.

PARIS TRANSLATLANTIC (FR) If A Tribe Called Quest hadn't snagged the title Low End Theory for their second outing, it would have been just fine for this outing from Antifrost head honcho Ilios (oscillators), Coti K (bass) and Nikos Veliotis (cello), whose five tracks need to be heard at considerable volume over a good set of speakers to yield their spectral secrets. It's serious, mysterious stuff, as hard to translate at times as the track titles which appear to be in Polish, Swedish, German and another language I can't identify – free earplugs for anyone who tells me where "Luminus Vuori" comes from. This last piece is the most curious of all, probably because it's the most conventional, with Coti's bass sounding like some ancient folk fiddle played at 16rpm, with Veliotis's torpid strumming in the background. After all, gloomy drone is par for the course these days, while hummable, metrically regular melody is so rare it sounds positively extraterrestrial. That said, the former prevails here, and as all three musicians have been playing the low, slow game for over a decade now you can be sure they know what they're doing in the nether regions. Still, it takes a bit of courage and concentration to follow them down there.–DW

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