Objects, Masks, Props

by Joel Stern

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    The Wire - December 2008


    'Objects.masks.props is a suite of studio daydreams (2000-2007), a compulsive wandering revealing a strong poetic sensibility, a re-enchantment of the world via the musical composition of abstractions. Melancholy and sometimes harsh, but most often tender.



    Metamkine


    "Objects.Masks.Props" is a collection of lucidly confusing places from Joel Stern, purveyor of various audio/visual underwater-improv delights including the beloved "Sunshine Has Blown" release on MYMWLY as well as countless other collaborations and exercises in processed technicolor. The clarity of composition in these affected field-recording cut-ups is astonishing even as the sense of place they contain is constantly erased under a barrage of electronic interference and instrumental damage, leaving a bewildering trail of utterly gorgeous elements interacting seemingly of their own accord.

    Often a piece will enter with some bird calls, a barking dog or some other environmental touchstone and become ever more rotated by the skew of tonal appreciation, yet the layering doesn't wipe the original source - or if it does, literally, then the lovely attention to detail which pervades all eight, relatively short, tracks allows the mood set by the opening gambit to flourish and dance with the incoming sonic apparitions, they in turn looking as much "back" to the trail of bleached air and painted leaves as "forward" as a record ineluctably must. The record then, is on one level a quite beautiful experiment in 360º editing, as the temporal sense in these pieces is constantly swallowing its own movement, the juicy gulps of airborne feedback, melodica hum, mbira notes and concertina squeeze articulating the action with delicious acuity, playing with previous sounds and offering them up in a new light whilst moving by turns and loops into new territory.

    The constant interaction between "found" and created sound sources is fertile ground for such a plot, and both are managed with precision and joy - what makes Stern's use of "environmental" effects so keenly collaborative with the "artificial" ones is that they work to gradually dispel the untenable notion that environment consists of such diametrics, each composition a process of re-imagining the natural to an aspect of worldly involvement. So that the equipment list can consist of "...musicboxes, accordion, bell, wires, bees, rusty gate, harmonica, rabid dog..." as any recorded sound at once becomes a separate entity from the environment it was extracted from and is yet embedded in the same continuum and is approached with the same measure of reality - practically, this means that the sound of bees, dogs and birds can and will interact with devices designed to make music in remarkably real ways, that properly and beautifully capture the total subjective experience of listening without shutting out environmental "interference"; in fact precisely without "capturing" sound but enabling it to form new languages from its own ways of working. And the electronic processes involved in the tracks as they shift and slip in playful asides is the perfect image of such a collaborating experience. The huff, buzz, glow, loop, crunch and whoop of the music then becomes inseparable from its ordering or coding into these effervescent nuggets, which might sound obviously like the results of any laptop-processed gumpf but is rarely accomplished with such attractive patience (the album was put together over 7 years recording bits and bobs in Stradbroke Island, Pushkar, Jaisalmer, Melbourne and Luang Prabang among other places).
    And yes, some bits do sound like the best bits on "Sunshine Has Blown", bubbles of tone rising to the surface in an orchestra of flowering blub. One of those rare records that manages to be methodologically exciting and gorgeously enticing at the same time. Tuck in.

    9/10 -- Joe Luna

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about

wandering throughout Australia and regions far further out, Joel Stern, has been restlessly, compulsively, devising, capturing, constructing this album on and off over the past 6 and a bit years (2001-2008).
Created from instrumental debris, snatches of environmental sound (Ethiopia, India, Toowoomba, his lounge room), and a poetic sensitivity for incoherence, Objects.Masks.Props, is the clearest and most potent reflection yet of Joel's musical and artistic approach - somewhere between music concrete, art brut, free noise, cinema, abstraction, and the farmyard...

credits

released January 1, 2008

NS3006

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naturestrip label Australia

Naturestrip is an independent Australian sound and art supporter that has evolved to fund and assist a variety of projects. Visit website for more information. Naturestrip started life in 2003 releasing seven albums creating quite a following in the world of experimental sound. It focused on working with artists who created compositions using field recordings as material in their art making. ... more

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Track Name: Concertina For Henri Mouhot
"listening to Joy Division as a teenager in the sun-drenched, hedonistic Sydney of 1981." 

Maybe it's a bit of a cliché, maybe it's just me, but "sun-drenched" is the kind of adjective that often springs to mind on listening to what comes my way from down under – from the gamelan clutter of the Pateras / Baxter / Brown trio to Jim Denley's environmental improv (Through Fire, Crevice + The Hidden Valley), from the rich hues of Oren Ambarchi to the garden intimacy of Carchesio and Craig's Leaves (also on Naturestrip). 

And there's certainly a lot of sunshine and colour in Joel Stern's latest offering, made with "car radios, pipes, bulbul tarang, no input mixer, ukelele, pocket trumpet, doors, electronics, junk, concertina, rainstick, music boxes, accordion, bell, wires, bees, rusty gate, harmonica, rabid dogs (!), mbira, megaphone and bits and pieces." But these eight brief pieces, dating from between 2000 and 2007, weren't all recorded in Australia – among the many places Stern lists is Ipswich. Hardly my idea of sun-drenched, but never mind. Stern is clearly having so much fun sticking his mic into beehives it really doesn't matter. And I guess you could find a bee or two in Ipswich, if you looked hard enough. My esteemed Editor Nate Dorward recently moaned about the overuse of "cinematic" as an adjective to describe much recent sound art, and I'm reminded of Michel Chion's observations on music as image in his recent interview here: "People tell me there are images in my music. They hear a dog barking, and say it's an image. To which I'd say, if a dog barking is an image, tell me what kind of dog it is. A big dog, or a poodle or what?" (At least Stern informs us that the canines whose mad yelps we hear on "Dead Lakes" are "rabid"..) It's certainly good music in my book – beautifully recorded, carefully sequenced and aurally immensely satisfying. Along with the above mentioned Leaves, it's my favourite outing on Naturestrip to date.

Dan Warburton - Paris Transatlantic
Track Name: wake in fright
have a beer with me mate.