Passing Resemblance

You Can Come And Shake My Hand
Why Elephants Are Not Allowed To Cross A Bridge

Recorded at home by Grisha Shakhnes,
January, 2012

cover art: Yael Skidelsky
tray photo: Inbal Milgrom

glass-mastered CDs in full color digipacks
edition of 150 copies

Mites (Grisha Shaknes) continues his streak of fine, fine recordings. I supposes there's a certain amount of collage aesthetic at work in the use of processed field recordings and samples (is that Derek Bailey popping up at the end of the first track?) but the conception is more cohesive, thicker, elusively logical, something I find myself slipping into quite easily and not asking questions. As on the earlier releases, the sheer sensual enjoyment provided by the sound selection, the positioning of some sounds with others, goes a great distance toward the music's success. He keeps a quasi steady-state structure going, bleeding from one matrix to the next, the various strands of irregular (though long) length, the dynamics mutating, though rarely abruptly, almost always including at least one rough, granular current in the mix.

In the relatively brief second cut, "Comfort", one head distant incantatations of some kind (Islamic? Hebrew? --we are in Israel, after all) buried in a fibrous static that could be rushing air. A bell tolls indistinctly, faint car engines, a bird--great little snapshot. The third and longest track, "Why Elephants Are Not Allowed to Cross a Bridge" (Grishas has a way with titles), begins in rumbling, troubled quiet, It remains there a good while, gradually become more agitated, yet still contained, pops and crackles sounding like muted, distorted gunshots. But they resolve into non-incendiary noises, perhaps the pops and squeaks of dock timbers. A voice speaks in Arabic, more quiet shuffling, silence, furtive sounds, a dull gong struck regularly. It leaves in a dense, thorny wash.

Absorbing all the way through, strong work.

- Brian Olewnick, Just Outside

The music of Mites, who is Israeli Grisha Shakhnes, reminds me of a sensation I also have while listening to Jeph Jerman’s music- a kind of strange disorientation that comes partly out of the feeling that I should be able to recognise many of the sounds that appear in his tape collages, but they are all slightly removed from reality, doused in a sheen of analogue distortion or filtered through their recording onto far from pristine media. I reviewed a recent album here a while back. This new album of three pieces, titled Passing Resemblance and yet another new disc from the Copy for your Records label uses similar techniques to that earlier disc but also adds a new dimension through the more episodic structure in places and in particular throughout the long closing track Why elephants are not allowed to cross a bridge. Shakhnes seems to use multiple cassette tape recorders to (I would guess) record a number of murky, lo-res field recordings, which he then (guessing again) combines with found tapes and perhaps some recordings of instrumental sounds into a charmingly simple stream of layered textures and hazy, faintly recogniseable events. There is a very lo-fi feel to it all, but also a sense of composition rather than improvisation, even if the music has been executed in one take. The careful accumulation of the raw materials for this album is no accident.

The opening piece here, You can come and shake my hand masses cloudy field recordings of who knows what, (industrial sounds? helicopters? machinery? rain? traffic?) together into a dense wall of highly detailed and yet frustratingly difficult to identify sound. The piece works where other field recording collages may not because of the way the tapes used to construct the work blur the recordings into that familiar tinted soundworld that cassettes give us. One moment near the end of this piece really stands out however. As the track draws to its close, a recording of what certainly sounds very much like Derek Bailey playing acoustic guitar appears out of the mass, staying in the foreground as everything else dies away to leave just the guitar for a minute or two before the piece ends. The arrival of this element completely throws you and gives the album a completely different perspective away from merely aesthetically pleasing textures. The second piece, the much shorter Comfort portrays a much quieter mood as some thin grey hums barely mask a quiet recording of what I think could have been recordings of wailed prayer in quiet outdoor surroundings. The piece slips away as quietly as it arrived, offering a lovely little vignette of calm between the density of the opening track and the sprawling variations of the closing one.

That third track drifts through long passages of what sounds vaguely like boats creaking as they rock against a harbour wall, and more unidentifiable clanking and muffled roaring, until around the sixteen minute mark when everything cuts dead for about a minute, completely unexpectedly, almost as if there was a fault on the CD. After about sixty seconds of complete silence similar sounds suddenly burst back in, but then a strange faintly mechanical purring, perhaps the sound of a tape player malfunctioning as its mechanisms turn appears, eventually obliterating everything else until it in turn cuts away. Five seconds of silence later bits of spoken voices in a foreign tongue to me appear, leaping in and out of the foreground frequently. The voice is then superseded by small scratchy sounds, and then the long half hour plus track goes through a series of little sections, from chiming bells set against the gentlest of abstract cracking to the thin fizz that gradually brings the disc to its close.

Passing Resembance is a very nice album indeed. It manages to work with the field recording collage methodology on its own terms, finding its own voice through the blurry fuzz of the materials used to make the music and the occasional use of jarring juxtapositioning. There is a depth of subtlety and a sense of real consideration gone into these compositions that make them highly listenable both as aesthetically pleasing soundworlds and also as occasionally mischievously playful, disarmingly awkward enigmas. Really engaging music from a musician developing very interestingly indeed.

- Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear

Mites is the sobriquet of Grisha Shakhnes, a 32-year old performer from Moscow currently residing in Israel. Due to a singular concurrence, I have received his last pair of outings separately in a week’s span: the juncture looked auspicious for a comparative/cumulative review of the man’s recent production.

Broadly categorized as a field recordist, Shakhnes would maybe prefer to be known as “tape composer”, although there’s no doubt that the specific environments he chooses to utilize – together with the elaboration and combination of the principal characteristics of the tapes he works with (an expanding collection of 150+) – represent the kernel of his music. About the processes and the actual origins of what we hear, Shakhnes is relatively tight-lipped, which this writer appreciates: there’s nothing worse than reading every fart and their place of birth meticulously listed on a cover, thus destroying the listener’s wonder and willingness to stay dumbfounded and deceived by the conveyed moods.

Passing Resemblance (Copy For Your Records) consists of three tracks, the last being a 35-minute semi-quiescent marathon of heterogeneous scenes discontinued by snippets of hush. Though the principles of Shakhnes’ approach to the handling of the matter are au fond analogous, there’s something slightly contrastive here in respect to the preceding opus. The wish of uprooting our aural confidence without explanations remains a requisite in Mites’ silent manifesto. The opening subdivision, for example, lulls into forgetfulness via clattering mantras, bulldozing metropolitan frequencies, hissing pressure and tinkling percussiveness for its entire continuance, then – for no apparent reason – ends with the outgrowth of a freeform steel-string guitar hit and plucked with the intention of extracting harmonics and small noises besides the regular notes. Elsewhere, Middle-Eastern vocal shards – perhaps captured on the radio – appear for a few seconds prior to going away forever, possibly the lone moment of “high-definition humanity” heard throughout the two albums. Again, this is not stuff that one can spin absentmindedly then blank out with a “been-there-done-that” expression: there is a discernible grade of forethought in the grouping of the sequences, even when they come out as protracted sessions of “let’s see what happens” taping. A serious scratch of the skin-deep attitude is all it takes to enjoy recurrent moments of introverted, if noisy brooding scented with damp smogginess and backgrounded by faded black-and-white photographs.

- Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes

A heavy rattle of machinery – a washing machine maybe, full of stones – and a nearby siren wail open Mites’ Passing Resemblance, the latest in a growing line of found-noise collage releases on the fascinating Copy For Your Records.

Mites is Grisha Shakhnes, a sound artist who has quietly issued an impressive collection of albums over the past year. Using his collection of field recordings - purposefully avoiding what he terms the ‘nice and ambient‘ - Shakhnes gently welds sounds together into long, patient interpretations of the everyday. The machinery that opens the album, on ‘You Can Come and Shake My Hand’ (he has a way with titles) ends up coming so close to the microphone at stages that it sounds as though you’ve been caught in a forest fire. ‘Comfort’ is a short primer for the mammoth ‘Why Elephants Are Not Allowed To Cross A Bridge’, combining street sounds with distant prayer in a way you will almost certainly have heard countless times before but which remains so effective as to make it worthwhile all the same. At some point here a car horn drones through the mix, bringing the track to a strangely eerie close. One imagines a vehicle on its side with its wheels still spinning and the engine hissing as the sound of prayer echoes in the stricken driver’s ear.

For almost twenty minutes ‘Why Elephants Are Not Allowed To Cross A Bridge’ rolls over, severely muffled as though drowned in concrete. This is where Shakhnes is at his most composed, allowing the track to develop so slowly as to be almost imperceptible. The sudden pause at the halfway point comes just as the creaks and cracks heard so quietly at the start rise to the top and into full clarity. The effect is like swimming upwards from a great depth and, unfortunately, not quite making it. When the sound returns it ebbs pathetically amongst wood and debris, like a body floating into harbour and snagging on the pier. Shakhnes breaks the track up into sections from here, chopping in part of a foreign language TV show and rain so heavy it reaches white noise levels, but it never quite reaches the same heights – or plumbs the same depths – as the opening twenty minutes.

- Steve Dewhurst, Foxy Digitalis

Ceci est ma première rencontre avec Grisha Shakhnes, alias Mites, un artiste sonore israélien. J'ai mis quelques temps à passer outre sa nationalité, mais une fois qu'on se laisse absorber par son œuvre, il n'y a plus rien qui compte. Une œuvre monumentale, remarquable, sombre et dérangeante. Passing Resemblance est une suite de trois pièces aux structures déséquilibrés et aux titres étranges ("you can come and shake my hand"/"comfort"/"why elephants are not allowed to cross a bridge") - qui n'expliquent surtout pas la démarche de Mites. A l'intérieur de ce disque, beaucoup de field-recordings, manipulés et étouffés, distordus et ralentis, qui semblent provenir de cassettes. Hélicoptères, sirènes, coups de feux, tirs de mortiers, radios, prières, paroles, le quotidien d'un pays vindicatif. Mais tout du long, un son lourd, sombre, comme un enregistrement hydrophonique à la Thomas Tilly ou un souffle analogique, field-recordings ou synthèses granulaires? Peu importe, cette ligne apporte une cohésion à des structures pas toujours évidentes (rien que la durée des pièces interroge: 15 minutes, puis 4, et 35 minutes pour finir...). Ceci-dit, la musique est toujours claire, Mites utilise peu d'éléments, il superpose avec une grande sensibilité au son et à son architecture deux ou trois éléments au maximum. Dans un pays dont la réalité est devenue insupportable pour beaucoup, il vaut mieux transformer cette réalité en abstraction. Et Mites produit ici une sorte de musique concrète filtrée et manipulée jusqu'à l'abstraction, dérangeante, qui laisse place à une imagination sombre. On croirait par moments entendre des coups de feux étouffés comme s'ils étaient enregistrés dans une toile de jute au fond d'une cave dissimulée ou d'un bunker. L'ambiance est pesante, obscure, lourde de sens. Mais pas seulement. Car les constructions sonores de Mites sont remarquablement absorbantes, ce sont des plongées immersives à l'intérieur du son et de quelques unes de ses propriétés abstraites. Une suite puissante d'immersions sonores et de constructions abstraites, où Mites sait jouer avec facilité et douceur des différentes dynamiques du son. Recommandé.

- Julien Héraud, Improv Sphere

I am not sure if I heard of Mites either. Its the alter ego of Grisha Shaknes and alike the others the cover is giving that much information, but its the only CD to have three titles in stead of one, but just as with the others its not easy to grasp what is going on, what the input it, what sources of manipulation are used and the outcome is not unlike that of Kirby, however it sounds less randomly put together and more composed. I might be entirely wrong, but I think there is a great deal of field recordings at work in these compositions and I somehow don't think there is a lot of digital processing going on here. Like the Kirby release, I wouldn't be surprised to learn there is a certain amount of old fashioned cassette or reel-to-reel recorders at work here. Everything is paced out more, and placed somewhere in a mass of hissy textures and smart old fashioned drones. The final track is the longest and here there is a fine sense of loops being used, but at times it seems to be a bit long to get the ball rolling in this piece. Maybe it could have used a bit more editing here and there and make the whole thing a bit stronger? However following the chaos of the big city sound collage offered by David Kirby, this is a breath of fresh air in the country side.

- Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly