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It has been a few years since I heard an album by Aethenor and during that time the band lost an original member (Vincent Roguin) and gained two others, Kristoffer Rygg of Ulver and drummer Steve Noble for this recent recording at least. "En Form for Bla" was made over a couple of days (widely separated) in April and one day in June in 2010, according to the sleeve information, while the musicians were staying in Oslo, Norway. The addition of percussion has greatly changed Aethenor's style from what I recall as deep and moody, almost pregnant, ambient music: it's now leaning away from nearly formless sound and tone sculptures to more structured, even a bit crazed and jerky, jazzy music. Yes, Aethenor are now firmly in the experimental improv camp - they might stay there a long time, or this album might be the only experimental improv work they'll ever do, who's to say? - as long as they enjoy the territory and find it stimulating and challenging, that's the important thing. To hear this recording, you would never guess that two guys in the band as it was constituted in early 2010 had backgrounds in doom drone (Stephen O'Malley) or black metal (Rygg).
The music over the sometimes frantic drumming can still be dreamy mood pieces done with a light delicate touch. There's a lot of space within the music for listeners to savour and still be able to keep up with Noble's pace. Strings of tone can appear to arrange themselves into proto-melodies that strut about in the ether for a while before disappearing into the sonic soup. Plenty of noisy, brassy blunder including what sounds like a passage of fart sounds mixes with the more fragile tone poems and there seem to be plenty of instruments at work. You could be kept busy trying to guess at all the different instruments the musicians are playing, or seem to be playing - or replicating maybe.
Everything is lively and active and there's as much blustery noise as there are spaced-out mood and delicacy. In spite of its near-hour length, the album is best heard in one sitting. True, the music is divided into seven named tracks and they were recorded at different times but apart from obvious pauses between some tracks, there doesn't seem to be much correspondence between sections of music and the beginnings and endings of tracks on the CD player. A "piece" of music might actually be several passages of very different music with their own melodies and riffs, moods and sometimes even instruments and playing and recording methods. Overall the work is enjoyable and not all that difficult to follow; there are just two layers of music, the drums laying out the structure and the synths and guitars going over them, so listeners don't need to be totally alert to catch all the melodies and textures. The music, loosely structured, sounds very fresh and energetic and incorporates a lot of moods and atmospheres.
What perhaps could make this work more accessible for readers here at MA - I see Aethenor don't have all that many friends here, judging from the small number of reviews their albums have attracted - might be some information on the album sleeve about the instruments, the recording techniques and methods the guys used and where they made the recordings. With much experimental improv, the surroundings are often an important part of the recording process: how big the space is, how good the acoustics are, whether there are many people in the area with whom the musicians might form a bond and be inspired or challenged by to produce their best efforts - all these factors and others have a huge influence on what is produced and how it turns out. For this reason, appreciating improv music has to be a holistic experience (it's at least visual as well as aural and then there are sensory aspects like feeling the sound vibrations through the air) and the CD release can only offer a fraction of this experience.
The upshot of the foregoing is Aethenor and other experimental improv bands might consider issuing DVDs or loading clips of live performances on Youtube, Facebook or other social networks or their own websites and blogs, rather than or in addition to releasing purely sound-based media. As for the holistic experience bit, I guess Feelovision or Smellovision is some years away ...