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A closer listen // The top 20 albums of 2016 (UK)
Medicina‘s haunted sounds are composed out of half-forgotten melodies and rusty orchestral compositions. They arrive from the 60’s and 70’s, but they sound much older than that: like some lost Disney picture from the 1940’s that was actually never released for fear of it being too dark. And, seemingly overnight, this kind of music disappeared, too; it never showed up in the record stores, never mind year-end lists. These easy sounds are lifted from muzak, but they’re more than that. As they’re looped and layered, they weave a darkly magical spell through its hundred-acre woodland of ambient. Sustainer (Barcelona’s Alex Alarcón) has created a record that is made all the stronger for its use of overlooked, lonely and undervalued elements. Remember, music is for life, not just for Christmas. At times as light as the hop of a bunny, it later drunkenly descends into a dark daze where its dreams morph into ink-stained nightmares that blot out the joy of the conscious mind, and the bright rays of an animated sun, its smiling face etched in pencil and ink, are slowly erased.  (James Catchpole)

A closer listen (UK)
On the surface, Medicina seems like a lost album from The Caretaker, until one considers its pedigree.  These old records didn’t come from the 20s and 30s, but the 60s and 70s.  They represent a loving reclamation of a maligned form of music: as Alex Alarcón (Sustainer) puts it, “muzak, light music, easy listening, elevator music, or whatever they like to call it”.  Wait a minute ~ these sounds were good?  In the hands of Barcelona’s Sustainer, they are.

Context is important.  For Alarcón, records like these, played by his parents, were some of his first musical sounds.  We never forget our first love.  As a child, what do we know about taste, or kitsch, or the dismissal of forms?  The purpose of this brand of music was to be unobtrusive, the tone introverted, inspiring the term “aural wallpaper”.  In order to create it, musicians had to fight against an urge to be noticed.  Yet as dull or cheesy as one might consider this sub-genre, it did possess a certain off-kilter beauty.  This wasn’t the way music was supposed to sound.

The otherworldly nature of Medicina highlights the feeling that something in the music is out of vibration with the rest of nature.  These loops, every one of them beautiful in their current context (making one curious about their original sources), approach like mist from distant shores, visible yet intangible.  They seem like the fulfillment of an audiophile’s childhood dream: taking the best parts from otherwise unimpressive songs and using them to form a collage.  While such techniques are often used in hip-hop, they are meant more to highlight the samples than to liberate them from unflattering settings.  And in this instance, the majority of the loops are orchestral.  Alarcón uses field recordings, as well as light touches of original music, to flesh out the compositions: footsteps, distant drums, and of course, an elevator.  The difference is that this is the rare sort of music that would make one want to stay in an elevator instead of racing through the doors as it opens.

This brings us to a larger point: the use of muzak in general.  Now on the wane, such music is often replaced by 80s pop-rock hits, the “new non-obtrusive”.  Yet for those who lived through these songs when they were popular, they are obtrusive.  We thought that we were done with them, but they keep coming back.  They make one want to put down the phone, exit the shopping line, leave the carnival.  Curious music, on the other hand, has a way of drawing one in.  Might shoppers be enticed to enter a store playing music both like and unlike any they’d ever heard?  For the general public, Medicina fits the bill.  We may have even heard these specific songs before, but never in this context.  Alarcón has taken the wallpaper off the walls to reveal the luscious wood beneath.  (Richard Allen)

Polyphonia (PL)
Sustainer to solowe przedsięwzięcie Alexa Alarcóna pochodzącego z Barcelony. Producent aktywnie działa od 2003 roku, publikując płyty w takich labelach jak Italic, Thinner, Room40, Tessellate Recordings. Artysta tworząc materiał na „Medicina” sięgnął po niepublikowane nagrania ze swoich zbiorów, a także skorzystał z sampli – głównie partii orkiestrowych – wyjętych ze starych winyli z lat 60. i 70., wypełnionych muzakami. Alarcónowi udało się nadać zupełnie inny wydźwięk tym banalnym formom instrumentalnym. Hiszpan utkał z nich swoistą muzykę ilustracyjną w stylu Ryuichiego Sakamoto z domieszką hauntologii The Caretaker, a następnie podkleił ją ambientowym krajobrazem.

Music won´t save you (IT)
Nell’incessante processo di osmosi tra sperimentazione elettronica e sonorità acustiche, capita sempre più spesso che a queste ultime si avvicinino artisti invece in precedenza completamente dediti alle macchine. L’ultimo in ordine di tempo a compiere il percorso, tanto per smentire i luoghi comuni su musicisti che si limitano a premere i tasti di un computer, è il catalano Alex Alarcón, alias Sustainer, che in “Medicina” raccoglie sette tracce create a partire da strumenti acustici e calando singoli frammenti sonori in contesti ambientali non filtrati dall’elettronica.
Applicando tale approccio a una varietà di materiale raccolto nell’ultimo biennio a partire soprattutto da opere di compositori degli anni Sessanta e Settanta, Alarcón ha confezionato variegate texture analogiche giustapposte in loop più o meno estesi nelle quali le fonti sonore originarie rivivono sotto forma di ambientazioni spettrali, costellate da una sequenza di frammenti in graduale evoluzione, verso saturazioni moderatamente rumorose o, più spesso, nella direzione di vere e proprie aperture orchestrali velate da una opaca patina temporale. Brani quali “Medicina 01” e Medicina 04” rimandano infatti a un approccio “hauntologico”, seppure applicato a contenuti meno risalenti e granulosi rispetto a quelli compilato da Leyland Kirby nei suoi dischi a nome The Caretaker, ulteriormente amplificato nella pièce lirica che funge da elemento portante di “Medicina 06”.
Sull’altro piatto della bilancia creativa di Alarcón permane tuttavia inalterata la sua vocazione ambientale, risultante nelle modulazioni vaporose di “Medicina 02” e nell’oscura densità sintetica di “Medicina 05”, ancora popolata da residui impulsi ritmici depotenziati, come quelli che scuotono appena l’orizzonte nebbioso della conclusiva “Medicina 07”.
Combinando l’estemporaneità di una materia sonora concreta con la consapevole costruzione di sequenze atmosferiche immateriali, nella stessa misura in cui nella sua musica gli elementi di sintesi convivono con quelli acustici, Alarcón ha tracciato in “Medicina” una terza via all’”hauntologia ambientale”, frutto al tempo stesso dell’aspetto fotografico di tale pratica artistica e, soprattutto, di un processo di rielaborazione tanto pronunciato da trasformarne le suggestioni in qualcosa di vivo e distante dalle proprie premesse apparenti.

So what musica (IT)
Hanno il sapore di colonne sonore che giungono da lontano nel tempo, commenti sonori di immagini sbiadite cariche di ricordi, le sette istantanee create da Alex Alarcón aka Sustainer  che definiscono il punto 48 sulla mappa eilean.
Costruite a partire da vecchie incisioni risalenti agli anni ’60 e ’70, le tracce creano un flusso analogico fatto di suoni estrapolati e rimodulati in stratificazioni dal sapore nostalgico e vagamente sinistro, che nel loro reiterarsi danno vita a narrazioni dense e avvolgenti. L’ambience risultante ha in sé una vena costante di inquietudine dal portato cinematico amplificata da enfatiche aperture orchestrali (“Medicina 1”, “Medicina 3”, “Medicina 4”), che a tratti vira  verso eteree tessiture su fondali finemente polverosi (“Medicina 2”) o si concretizza attraverso trame maggiormente cupe (“Medicina 5”).
“Medicina” segna attraverso l’utilizzo delle fonti acustiche uno stacco rispetto la precedente produzione di Alarcón incentrata in modo pressoché esclusivo sui suoni sintetici, costruendo un microcosmo sonoro affascinante e misterioso.

Foreign Accents Pdx (US)
On Medicina, long-active Barcelona musician and sound artist Alex Alarcón, aka Sustainer, plunders keening and swooning string samples to create an ephemeral hauntology that’d certainly go well with a Saul Bass opening titles sequence. The swirling loops, generally sourced from obscure easy-listening records, through sheer repetition become something else entirely, draped with tension and romantically-flowing evocation of memory. Capturing these brief windows of dramas in music that is generally so forgettable, Sustainer creates a nostalgia for waiting times and moments in transit– he even included a field-recording of an elevator ride, as if to drive the idea home! It is most definitely worth mentioning that this project, begun around 2014,  represents Sustainer’s first foray into sampling. The forty-eighth point on the Eilean map is pretty lovely stuff, and sure to go down as easily for you as it did for I.

Clubbingspain (ES)
Nos llegan noticias desde Lincolnshire, lugar desde donde Harry Towell dirige su sello Tessellate Recordings desde el 2012 ya que el próximo lunes sale a la venta su nueva referencia, un CDr firmado por el productor barcelonés Sustainer.Este nuevo trabajo de Alex Alarcón, nombre real del productor que se esconde tras el proyecto Sustainer, está formado por cinco piezas de electrónica intimista y atmosférica cuyos snippets puedes escuchar más abajo.
Durante el proceso de grabación, Alex buscó cada objeto resonante en su casa y descubrió que los artículos de metal, cerámica y cristal tenían un uso particular. Estos fueron golpeados con mazos de caucho y posteriormente los cargaba en un pedal. Una vez que recogidos estos sonidos y tonos, fueron luego cuidadosamente pulidos utilizando diversas técnicas. El artista ha intentado crear un disco formado en su totalidad a partir de los sonidos de su entorno, utilizando su casa como instrumento. Su intención era crear texturas que reflejaran la paz de la casa, algo que sólo podría lograrse allí, ya que las grabaciones de campo al aire libre en ocasiones pueden ser muy ruidosas.
Sustainer lleva en activo desde el año 2003 y a lo largo de estos 12 años de carrera ha editado en sellos como Italic, Thinner, Enypnion y más recientemente en Room40 (con un álbum titulado Radiolas del que hablamos hace un par de meses).

Irregular Crates (UK)
Tessellate Recordings have released their 8th release and this is their fifth physical edition. The label has seen artist albums from Spheruleus, Felix Gebhard, VLNA, Polaroid Notes and now Sustainer as well as compilation material from many of the world’s finest modern Ambient artists, such as Offthesky, The Green Kingdom, Pleq and Damian Valles. The label has seen packaging that has ranged from a simple printed card wallet, a digipack, envelope packaging with card photo prints and now a hand-stamped edition from Sustainer which features a beautiful vinyl-effect CDr. The album itself is a liquid affair, with artist Alex Alarcon recording sounds in and around his house, then liquifying the tonal sounds of ceramics, crystals and various other objects.

Fluid Radio (UK)
Barcelona based artist Alex Alarcón, who has been recording as Sustainer since 2003. His work has appeared on labels such as Italic, Thinner, Enypnion and most recently the digital album ‘Radiolas’ on Room 40. His sound is built around harmonic Ambient drones and in ‘Taps’, we are proud to present a short album of liquiform pieces which started life as tonal household objects, woven into a watery tapestry. During the recording process, Alex searched for every resonant object in his home and found that metal, ceramic and crystal items were of particular use. These were struck with rubber-textile mallets and fed into a loop pedal via contact mics. Once these sounds and tones were collected, they were then carefully polished into fluid timbres, using various techniques. He strived to create a record made entirely from the sounds of his environment, using his home as an instrument. He wanted to create textures that reflected the peace of home which could only be achieved there, since outdoor field recordings can be so noisy at times.

Lend me your ears (US)
These ears have made few more welcome new acquaintances this year than Alex Alarcon’s Sustainer. No real surprise, though, considering the pedigree of his ravishing Radiolas – released on Lawrence English‘s Room40, mastered by Stephan Mathieu.
Frosted with shortwave fuzz & punctuated by morse-like bleeps, these eight pieces constitute a hymn of & to communicating across the darkness – a set of aural messages in a bottle, pushed into the void out of hope & longing. & now there’s Taps too – a lovely, glowing exercise in a kind of muffled domestic Gamelan via Tessellate.
Sustainer’s Radiolas, shares a similar tale of horizontal inspirations. Whilst recovering from a serious health condition, Alex Alarcón aka Sustainer, began working with a very limited palette of equipment at arms reach. This mix of small recorders, pedals and other electronics become a processing chain through which he started to feed shortwave radio recordings.
Having worked with radio recordings previously it didn’t take long for these recordings to take on a very personal and cathartic aesthetic.

Ondarock (IT)
A ben dodici anni dal suo esordio solista, “Cuántico”, e una serie di Ep seminata tra 2009 e 2011, Alex Alarćon torna a sfornare un album a nome Sustainer. Il disco, intitolato “Radiolas”, è uscito il 16 ottobre per Room40, l’etichetta discografica di Lawrence English che quest’anno ha già sfornato lavori, fra gli altri, di Rafael Anton Irisarri, Mike Cooper, Chihei Hatakeyama e Tim Hecker (la ristampa di “Norberg” e “Apondalifa” usciti in 7″ ed Ep una manciata di anni fa).

Stationary Travels (USA)
While recovering from a serious health condition, Alex Alarcón, aka Sustainer, took a page from the book of none other than Brian Eno by embracing his condition as an opportunity for musical exploration within the constraints forced upon him and the equipment within his limited reach. Whereas Eno drew inspiration from the sounds of hospital machinery around him, Alarcón found his unlikely muse in radio frequencies which he fashioned into his latest recording now out on Room40, Radiolas.
The label describes the album as “a metaphoric ocean of harmonic noise”. Indeed it takes some time listening to acclimate the ear to the harmonic elements, but the effect is mesmerizing and eventually quite soothing once it does. The grainy hum and sizzling crackle of overlapping frequencies begin to coalesce into patterns as melodic fragments emerge and recede. I found the middle section of the album particularly immersive with a string of tracks that manage to summon a vague sense of nostalgia (‘Radio 04’) and melancholy (‘Radio 06’). It is an ambitious concept, but an inspired one that succeeds in creating a unique and absorbing listening experience.

Netlabels And News (ES)
El trabajo de Alex Alarcon aka Sustainer merece una mención especial. Ultimamente esta publicando excelentes trabajos en distintos netlabels. Aquí se comento su trabajo para addSensor: “Puerto ep”, al que le han seguido: “Vertice” en escala, “Utopia” en Chiennoir y ahora este “Distancia” para audiotalaia. Pese a que en un principio Alex se intereso por los aspectos mas bailables de la electrónica, desde 2008 viene desarrollando un ambient minimalista, meditativo e introspectivo, con lentos y sutiles desarrollos y cuyos principales elementos son improvisaciones y sonidos aleatorios obtenidos de sintetizadores modulares así como instrumentación acústica y grabaciones de campo. En esta ocasión, los sonidos acústicos han sido obtenidos de un piano roto. El álbum se compone de dos piezas de 12 minutos aproximadamente cada una, masterizadas por Ian Hawgood.

Culturas- La Vanguardia (ES)
Entre los intereses fundacionales del sello alemán Italic consta “dar a la dance music repetitiva la dirección del pop”. Y ahí ha encontrado la cabida este austero trabajo del barcelonés Alex Alarcón, unos temas en los que de todos modos, prima lo más minimal y repetitivo que la exploración del pop, donde sigue mandando el ritmo sobre la melodía. Eso sí, siempre con un ojo puesto en una pista de baile que predisponga al trance. (Ignasi Moya).

Florida 135 (ES)
Se habla del sonido Colonia, pero hoy en día la geografía pinta menos en clubland que un laptop en un concierto de Iron Maiden. El sonido de Colonia ya te lo hacen en cualquier parte, incluso, ya puestos, en Barcelona. Porque Sustainer suena talmente como si el mismísimo Mike Ink se hubiera puesto a hacer ritmos con sus máquinas, pero con la diferencia de que quien maneja los aparatos en este absorbente “Cuántico” ni habla en kartoffen ni habita en las frías calles de la ciudad más occidental de Alemania. Alex Alarcón es el hombre que se responsabiliza del proyecto Sustainer, y como tanto artistas del país que han dado recientemente el salto hacia sellos de empaque en el circuito internacional, es alguien que se defiende más con sus actos que con su boquita. No ha necesitado recorrerse clubes de mala muerte, figurar en las revistas o malvivir hasta conseguir un mínimo puesto de privilegio: simplemente ha trabajado, ha sabido escuchar la música a su alrededor y finalmente ha completado un puñado de temas que, escuchados uno tras otro, dibujan una línea de hipnotismo techno que en nada debería envidiar a tantos nombres prestigiosos de los ámbitos del techno-dub o el microhouse. El único pero que se le podría poner a “Cuántico” –cogido con pinzas, por supuesto, ya que nada malo se puede decir de la secuencia alucinante formada por “Dinámica”, “Múltiplo” y “Sólido”– es el de saber desprenderse del todo de sus referentes e imprimir una personalidad identificable al producto final. Pero, vive dios, este es uno de los mejores discos españoles de este año, y eso no sucede todos los días. Ademá, el sello, Italic –cuna de Antonelli Electr. y Borneo & Sporenburg– mola. Aunque en vez de ser de Colonia sea de Düsseldorf, pero nadie es perfecto.

Laut (DE)
Die Dubabteilung des Kölner Italic Labels kann einen erfreulichen Zuwachs vermelden: Neben A Rocket In Dub bekommt Sustainer nun ein anerkanntes Forum, um seinen künstlerischen Output veröffentlichen zu können.
Alex Alarcón stammt, wie unschwer zu erkennen ist, von der iberischen Halbinsel und lebt in Barcelona. “Cuántico” beeindruckt durch eine sanfte Schwerelosigkeit, die jedoch nie ins Belanglose abdriftet.
Schöne wie interessante Flächen lassen einen vor sich hin treiben, eine nicht zu aufdringliche Bassdrum sorgt für ausreichend Schub, und zwischendrin setzen kleine markante Clicks smarte Akzente.
Eigentlich erscheinen die von Alarcón produzierten Tracks seltsam unaufgeregt, sie schreien nicht unbedingt nach größter Aufmerksamkeit. Sie laden den Hörer schlichtweg ein, eine kleine oder große Ewigkeit zu verweilen und zu chillen. Alle acht stören einfach nicht und vielleicht liegt gerade darin ihr größter Pluspunkt.

Dusted Magazine (US)
Alex Alarcón, the 28-year-old Spaniard who records under the moniker Sustainer, deems his debut album Cuántico a “new Spanish Modernism”. While a comparison between his Basic Channel techno and the revolutionary brilliance of Picasso and Falla sounds facetious at best, Alarcón’s penchant for historical reference is not completely out of place.

As Falla and Picasso gained crucial perspective on their trips to Paris in the early 1900’s, Alarcón ventures far beyond the borders of Barcelona to create his Cuántico sound. Berlin’s signature dub sound is quietly rampant throughout these eight songs, as is the synthesized pop of ’80s Italo Disco, although thankfully not to the same degree. When combined with a distinct nightclub aesthetic, the sound teeters between mindless accessibility and cultural innuendo, a formula that successfully circumvents any potential alienating extremes like pop or pedantry.

“Cuántico” (Spanish for “quantum”) is an interesting title for a project that blurs the line between distinguishable electronic locales. In physics, a quantum represents the tiniest bits of matter than can exist independently, or that can be distinguished as independent units. Alarcón’s philosophy would at first seem to rebel against such a theory, that one can dissect a particular sound into discernible genres or nationalities. Yet, upon further thought, perhaps he’s merely recognizing the Lego-like construction of electronica, and on a grander scale, digital music in general. While the seductive ambiguity of Cuántico resonates with international intrigue, Alarcón’s title of choice acknowledges the fundamental base from which it came. This subtle nod towards microscopic building-blocks interestingly enough buts heads with Basic Channel’s smoke and mirror celebration of wax – perhaps a deliberate shift to differentiate this modern sound from its archeological influences.

Each song on Cuántico is represented by a geometrical sculpture in the album’s sleeve notes. Again, the Spanish modernism movement is referenced through an overt cubist bent. The affiliation between Alarcón’s sounds and objects is enticing, almost like an invite to study the accompanying art while listening to the album. The songs themselves support the idea of art appreciation – Alarcón develops a stabilizing foundation for each track and then subtly adjusts dynamics, timbre and sequencing as if recreating the contours of sculpture and their multiple viewpoints. At first, these songs can seem monotonous in rhythm and sound, but the pernickety electro glides and propulsive bass slowly reveal an arrhythmia of texture and perspective.

“Dinámica” delves deepest into the dub, balancing a heady bassline with metronomic accompaniment. Synths fade and disappear into ether while the two extremes jog in place. Cuántico’s on Italic starts to make more sense on “Múltiplo”, an uptempo number with enough 4/4 sensibility to induce a few wiggles here and there – a worthy opener for Antonelli Electr.. “Sólido” shifts dramatically to Rhythm & Sound territory abstraction at first, but eventually blooms into a grayscale kaleidoscope of micro-haus regalia.

Alarcón is pleasantly adept in the construction of atmosphere on his debut album – now he can start concentrating on color. Like the graphite tincture of his two-dimensional sleeve note sculptures, his minimalist compositions sometimes lack the personality of an Antonelli Electr. or Vladislav Delay track (although, how many contemporary electronica artists could claim their equals?) Cuántico may not be a quantum leap ahead of the competition, but it’s certainly deserved of note, both for its accomplishments and its aspirations. (Otis Hart)

Real Tokyo (JP)
Obviously influenced by the likes of Seefeel or Pole, techno artist Alex Alarcon aka Sustainer introduces on this brilliant album “new Spanish modernism.” On the cover and in the booklet are etchings of crystals, and this symbolizes the music too well to be a coincidence. Carried by permanent, very decent hisses and noises, but without any superfluous ballast, the music on “Cuantico” comes across as solid yet transparent, and as sharp-edged yet polished as the stones that each seem to represent one track. Look at the etchings long enough and the crystals slowly turn into clouds. And so does the music. (Andreas 4.5/5)

Einblick (AT)
Wer schiebt denn da so spät noch die frisch gedubbten bunten Klötzchen durch seinen Sequencer? Der Klang mag einem suggerrieren, daß es sich hier um einen Jünger der kölschen Technofraktion handelt, der zugleich Basic Channel und deren Inspirationsquellen diggt. Doch der Beipackzettel erteilt einem schnell eine Lektion in Sachen globalisierte Rezeptions- und Produktionsverhältnisse, denn der in Frage stehende Künstler kommt aus Spanien. Die relevanten Soundkoordinaten des Mannes liegen zwischen Pop, Ambient, Dub und Techno und fügen sich dabei elegant in das System Italic ein, das uns schon Antonelli Electr. bescherte. Solide Schallwellen für das urban geprägte Nachtschattengewächs mit etwas Ruhebedürfnis. (Phi)

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