Six Projects is my new CD/LP on the Innova Recordings label. Its called Six Projects, because that's literally what it is. Six discrete music projects that have been created over the past 13 years. They have been grouped together in this one recording, because they work well together aesthetically and because they show the development of my fragment-based compositional process in action. The oldest piece on the record, Shift, served as my transition to working with fragments. It uses the technique only sparingly and only in one section. After its completion, I plunged head first into my new fragment-based composition method and have never looked back. That's because I love the results I've been getting, and this album showcases some of the best examples of my fragment work.
In addition to the compositional process employed, (which I submit may ultimately be irrelevant) the six pieces on this album share an aesthetic orientation, which creates a coherent linear through-line. They work well together due to the manner in which they have been sequenced. I'll leave the subjective descriptive adjectives to the reviewers, but you can listen to the excerpts below to get a feeling for what I'm talking about.
This album is available as a CD, and LP and of course as a download. The CD is in a beautiful full color digipack case with an 8-page full color booklet. The LP is pressed on 180 gram translucent green vinyl and is packaged in a full color gate fold tip-on jacket, with an insert and unique special goodies included in each one. I only pressed a very limited run of 100 of these beautiful LPs.
Each of the six pieces has its own page here on this website, which you can link to off of this page. There you'll find a wealth of information about the various compositions.
Mike Olson's "Six Projects" provides just as many, if not more, compelling reasons to revisit the album. Even though at times audible information is sparse, and the album is perhaps on the long side at just over 55 minutes, I often found myself captivated, wondering what would happen next. I kept wanting to descend deeper into the sonic trove of his fragment-based compositions.
"What They're Doing", which was created from preexisting musical fragments performed by the contemporary music ensemble Zeitgeist, very successfully invokes the spirit of Frank Zappa's so-called "xenochrony" style of composition. Said fragments are layered and re-orchestrated to create a work that sounds simultaneously totally random and highly deliberate. And impressive!
20-minute-long "Noopiming" is a single-movement a cappella choral piece in which the title of the work also functions as the text. Beautiful, brilliant chord voicings pierce the soul and ebb and flow in the form of primordial-inspired vocalizations. "Noopiming" was inspired by the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota, a locale I have actually been to, albeit 20+ years ago.
"Implied Movement" and album closer "Shift" are similar in that Olson utilizes a Minimoog for both. Hello Minimoog: meet minimalism courtesy of a Big Muff distortion box! "Implied Movement" has the distinction of employing repeated ostinatos, and though there is rhythmic similarity throughout, the patterns are slickly orchestrated by what the composer describes as "chance operations", which are created by random voltage applications. The driving motif of "Shift" reminded me of a John Carpenter score, slowly pulsating amidst mutated voice samples.
Mike Olson is a Minneapolis-based composer that entered music (rock/jazz) as self-taught, then got that higher education (degrees in composition, etc.). Olson combines vocal, acoustic, and electronic (both digital and analogue) generation of sound(s) for his panoramas, and the results are mesmerizing and often beautiful. These six piece involved sustained and overlapping tones and motifs, rich textures and eerie silences, evoking such touchstones as Ligeti (who composed some of the haunting choral works heard in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey), Fripp & Eno, Tangerine Dream (in their pre-soundtrack daze) and their Krautrock brethren, Arvo Part, Robert Rich and voyage-to-the-bottom-of-bass ambient music of Bill Laswell. This is not so much an album to "listen" to as it is an album to get "lost" within; contemplative yet not placating - when you may least expect it there's rhythm and some foreboding, even jolting undercurrents. Let Olson take you into the twilight zone of his night gallery.
Mike Olson has gone full circle from intuitive to formalist and back to intuitive again. The latter approach holds sway in a collection of Six Projects (Innova 817), the latest offering from the Minneapolis-based composer. A creator in the new music realm since the mid-'70s, his music gains new life through a compositional method he calls fragment-based. What that means is that each project begins with several to many thousands of inter-related recorded fragments and a conceptual idea of what he wants to fashion from them. He then gathers the fragments together in creatively specific ways to sequence each project and make of them an evocative, coherent whole.
The results are six soundscapes that have an other-worldly quality at times, rooted in influences as diverse as Zappa, early Kraftwerk, Ligeti and Eno. That makes perfect sense to me after hearing this volume a good number of times. The end result is Mike Olson and nobody else, but the terrain will seem like home for anyone who follows such things, that is to say the avant-classic fringes of rock and atmospheric high modernism.
And of course what matters in the end is not his working procedures of structuring fragments into an appealing and logically sequenced whole, but the sort of seaworthy quality of the crafts he has built out of it all, so to speak. The music sails along in each case without effort, though of course much has gone into its construction.
Every project has a kind of aura of its own, from the ethereal sustained choral heaven of "Noopiming" to the virtual sound color and rhythmic vitality of "Implied Movement".
This is electronic, electroacoustic profundity that wears extremely well and has abundant musical substance. It puts the listener in zone after zone with a flourish. It makes for an excellent listen.
Mike Olson has arrived. If it is full-circle, it is nonetheless coming to a place that has spiraled upwards with musical structures that are as livable as they are beautiful.
Kudos to Mike Olson for this!
Avant Music News
Minneapolis-based Mike Olson is a composer and producer who has developed his own rather unique style and sound in an evolutionary and organic manner. At first blush, his recent release, Six Projects, seems to plant him in an as yet unnamed category – musicians utilizing a combination of space / ambient music and modern electroacoustic composition and improvisation. Others who might be placed in a similar musical geography include Sound Awakener and Robert Scott Thompson.
But any attempt to classify Olson is an exercise in futility. While the first two of his “projects” on this release, Flute Clouds and Noopiming, do harken to the works of Klaus Schulze, Brian Eno, Steve Roach, and Robert Rich, they also incorporate snippets and samples of actual instrumentation. These micro-recordings, however, seem to be heavily manipulated into each piece as a whole. For example, in the 20-minute Noopiming, overlapping vocal shards slowly build into a dense wall-like texture, then dissipate into a looming atmosphere. Rather than composing with notes, Olson seems to be using samples as his atomic elements.
Other tracks take on a tribal-ambient approach with emphasis on complex patterns of percussion with background drones. What They’re Doing approaches being a modern chamber-orchestra piece, with squealing sax and manipulated spoken word over vibes, strings, and drums. Implied Movement combines sequencers with metal percussion and undulating waves of sound.
Another aspect of Six Projects that makes it an ultimately rewarding listening experience is Olson’s clever use of dynamics. Parts of these recordings are barely audible, or make use of a frequency range outside of the expected. This results in, at least in my experience, hearing the album anew when piped through powerful speakers instead of a computer or headphones.
Regardless, it takes a while to get your head around what Olson is doing here, but doing so is time well spent.
The record release party on July 31st was a smashing success. I performed some old school live electronic music, (without the aid of a computer, I might add) and collaborated with Paul Christian, who provided some multi-projector realtime computer generated imagery. Dale Klous, my photographic collaborator from the Noopiming project was on hand and had some of his prints up on the walls for the event. And Lynn Fellman, my animation collaborator from the De Novo project had some of her electronic illustration work running on a loop on a big video monitor in the lobby. The food was great. A lot of people brought goodies to eat. I did pulled pork sandwiches and my mother was on hand baking her fabulous cinnamon rolling on site. (The smell was intoxicating.) All in all, it was a great evening.
Here are some of the promotional materials associated with the record release party.
In this video, I discuss why I've chosen to charge an premium price for the vinyl version of my "Six Projects" album, and how you might be able to acquire one at no charge.
Here's a short video from the LP mastering session at Rare Form Mastering in Minneapolis. Greg is doing a test cut on the lathe, trying to cover as many low and high frequencies as he can for my electronic piece, "Implied Movement".