July 16, 2009

ARTIST PROFILE: Mirror (Andrew Chalk & Christoph Heemann) (UK,Germany)

I previously mentioned that part of my first introduction to "noise music" was via the tape trading scene in the mid '90s, when I was obsessively collecting Skinny Puppy bootlegs and studying all their side-projects and referenced inspirations. This led to an awareness of projects such as Edward Ka-Spel's Legendary Pink Dots, a super-prolific gothic-folk-tinged psychedelic experimental group, who put out an endless stream of cassettes and vinyl in limited editions, often hand-numbered. This pattern was repeated by many fringe, noise and ambient artists throughout the '80s and into the '90s, and developed a mystique among traders searching for "rare releases" (I myself was chuffed to acquire a second-generation copy of Skinny Puppy's "Back & Forth" cassette, #14/50). While sometimes the quality of these tapes was questionable, there was a certain intimacy and personal connection with the artist as the acquisition of their music became a quest. The privilege of being one of a very few to experience a recording could border on the mystical, assuming of course that the music was well-crafted in the first place. As CD-burning replaced cassettes, and mp3s began to get people's attention in the late '90s, a file sharing program called Hotline was released on the Mac. Similar to FTP, but incorporating a message board and chat room, a list of servers could be perused, each with a short description advertising their contents/focus. By sharing some of my Japanese collection, I was able to gain membership on a server run and frequented by some relatively well-known names in the modern underground music scene, and was schooled heavily on all manners of avant-garde music. One focus on the server was the projects of Andrew Chalk and Christoph Heemann, who at the time were collaborating on a project called Mirror, and releasing incredibly gorgeous, ornate pieces of audiophile-quality vinyl in tiny editions. Heemann had started composing in the '80s as a member of a German group called H.N.A.S., which translates to Moose Without A Sofa, and was sort of like an early, kraut-Boredoms, dadaist freakout project, which again released a bunch of mega-obscure, collectible trinkets that collectors obsessed over. In the '90s, Heemann founded the Streamline record label, which released a variety of excellent darkwave ambient music, including a lovely collaboration with Edward Ka-Spel and Silverman from LPD, plus occasional-Sonic-Youth-collaborator Jim O'Rourke, as Mimir. Another favorite of mine was Heemann's collaboration with Merzbow, which featured psychedelic Max Ernst-esque collage cover art by O'Rourke, entitled "Sleeper Awakes On The Edge Of The Abyss". It is particularly notable as being one of the only Merzbow released I can tolerate listening to, mainly because the noise has been turned down to a very dull roar, which Heemann sculpts like vaporous clouds of fire. Andrew Chalk, in the meantime, produced a smattering of solo and collaborative material beginning in the late '80s, and worked in the projects Organum and Ora throughout the '90s on, both of whom made their own buzz and have about a zillion releases each, but I have still not actually heard. Beginning in '99, Chalk and Heemann collaborated in the project Mirror, and released two or three LPs and a CD or two each year until '05. The bulk of these releases were sold only at Mirror shows in various locations in Europe, released on their own Three Poplars label, rarely in an edition higher than 800, and often fewer than 200. The LPs featured incredible hand-painted artwork on the covers, drool-worthy scans of which could be seen online (the image included with this entry is the picture disc "Mirror Of The Sea"). Predictably, the records now sell on eBay and collector websites for $75 a piece and higher. Luckily, Mirror's CDs were more easily acquired domestically via US labels IDEA and Drag City, as well as German label Die Stadt, including the minimalist tribute to Tarkovsky's film "Solaris". Mirror has a very organic and dreamlike sound, combining etheric drifting tones with found sounds and field recordings. The overall effect is like a cinema of the mind, and manages to achieve a timeless sonic texture, very rarely making use of futuristic digital synthesizer effects., instead using bowed metal, inner piano strings and such. Many of Mirror's later releases were live recordings of their shows, but the quality of sound maintained a very high level. Beginning in '05, Chalk ended the Three Poplars label series and started a new label called Faraway Press, which has put out a few albums each year in artfully crafted Japanese-style cardboard gatefold cases. The label has been mainly showcasing solo material by Chalk, as well as his collaborations with Japanese ambient duo Daisuke and Naoko Suzuki. New material for '09 was available on their website earlier this year, but the site is currently down. Christoph Heemann seems to have slowed down his release schedule since Mirror, with an occasional super-limited 7" or CDr in the past couple years, as well as a "reinterpretation" album of Mimir's early recordings produced in '07. While much of these artists' material is out of print or only available by import mailorder, any of their releases that you can find can be assumed to be top-notch. As with Skinny Puppy, the vast number of collaborations and labels that Chalk and Heemann worked with and produced through form a gigantic family of fantastic experimental musicians that can provide for years and years of listening and research.