Vienna has a storied history as a ground-zero for new music. Radian, who calls Vienna home, embodies the city’s spirit of innovation. Martin Brandlmayr (drums, electronics), Martin Siewert (guitar, electronics) and John Norman (bass) are stalwarts of the European contemporary music community. Radian’s angular, expansive music delights in tension and contradiction, sound and silence, improvisation and composition. The trio employ a singular and wholly unique sense of microtonality. While their creation process is complex, the resulting music is emotionally affecting, creating an aura of suspense and at times unease. Distorted Rooms presents a dazzling new elevation of the trio’s employment and manipulation of microtones with a new emphasis on abstracted guitar motifs, often employing a more loop-based or electronic approach to the guitar’s sonics.
Distorted Rooms creative process began as most Radian albums have, with multi-stage recording of often the smallest of sounds from pickscrapes to an amplifier’s latent hiss. These slivers of sound are then restructured and processed through a variety of techniques that transform them, at times subtly, and often more drastically. Radian has always been interested in sounds that might be considered byproducts and maximizing their creative and aural potential. Smaller gestures like switching a pedal on and off or toggling the guitar’s pickup are mic’d and spun into textures that crackle and froth to fascinating effect. The trio expertly hone in on sounds often removed from the sheen of the recording process and mine them for unique, rich textural sound palettes which they then use to paint their meticulous arrangements with. “We often use what we call microscopic micing,” the band notes, “having very quiet sounds that we mic up and amplify to be very loud, thus playing with the usual dynamics and expectations of listeners in a creative way. We also use super-loud sounds and put them in the mix very softly.” With this sound library, pieces are formed by arranging these microstructures and then further shaped by precise overdubs layered on the frameworks.
Album opener “Cold Suns” traces out a fully three-dimensional sonic landscape in the gloom, spidery guitar architectures and gusts of weightless, skittering percussion arcing from amps while electronics blossom through the cracks. “Skyskryp12” highlights Radian’s use of dynamics to elicit an emotional response. On the track, Radian explains “Skyskryp12” “plays with the idea of recording an unamplified electric guitar (giving this really thin, ‘zingy’ sound) that only later comes into full flight when the big ‘wall of sound’ guitar amps kick in. There’s a very high dynamic range from the very quiet and abstract middle part to full on playing band in the end, with melodies buzzing around in the room. It's all about suspense.” “Stak” eliminates nearly all traces of the original performance while still maintaining a distinct physicality with its relentless forward-motion. Throughout the album the trio masterfully blur the lines between human and machine to create a performance that sounds at once physical and unearthly. With ethereal guitar textures loosened from their original plucked notes and played percussion augmented with analog drum machines, Radian reconfigures the very bounds of what three musicians can create together.
Radian’s visionary approach to composition speaks to lifetime working in forward-thinking music. Brandlmayr, Siewert and Norman share an unconventional, wildly imaginative approach to sound. The trio’s collective experience finds an expansive and egoless outlet in Distorted Rooms, uncovering new sonic universes. After nearly 30 years of making music together, their excitement for sonic experimentation is palpable.