Mark Solotroff "Not Everybody Makes It"
August 6, 2021
An elegy for loved ones lost, Mark Solotroff encapsulates this despair within six ten-minute drones that enclose the listener with the buried ghosts of melodies, appearing to only be dragged back under, prolonging that ache for an unbroken hour. Best for fans of experimental/drone.
THE VIKING IN THE WILDERNESS
Mark Solotroff, "Not Everybody Makes It"
August 1, 2021
US artist Mark Solotroff is out with the album "Not Everybody Makes It", and ambient music is what we are treated to here. This isn't your typical new age variety of the form however, but a dark, dystopian and minimalist take on the style. Machine-like drones dominate the sparse landscapes here, with subtle fluctuating lighter toned sounds and drones adding a careful and often alien sounding contrast. Soundscapes that would have been fitting as the musical backdrop for someone traveling through a post-nuclear wasteland. Those who like their ambient music to be dark, dystopian and minimalist in nature should have a very good chance of finding this album to be quite the rewarding experience.
Mark Solotroff, "Not Everybody Makes It"
July 31, 2021, by Rowan Howard
But what can be said is that Solotroff’s ear for sound is more unique than most. A listen to this record may inspire a new way of thinking and appreciating noise; a ponder into the authenticity of sound regarding what we consider to be music. Or, it may have no affect on you whatsoever. That’s the beauty of artistry and its audience, and we’re sure Solotroff would agree.
THE SLEEPING SHAMAN
Mark Solotroff, "Not Everybody Makes It"
July 29, 2021, by George Green
How important is it to be acquainted with the oeuvre of an artist before embarking on the listening required to review their work? Should the reviewer be au fait with the back catalogue of the creator, their side projects, solo work, former bands before committing an opinion, or even a guided tour of the new dispatch to words? Do I need to have at least an overview of a musician’s previous output in order to contextualise their new creation? Or does having their artistic back catalogue as a point of reference colour the way that any and all listeners hear, experience and formulate views on everything the artist does ad infinitum?
In short, is it better to dive in cold or to gradually immerse oneself in the heated pool of historical creation?
No idea. But it is a question with some relevance when one comes to the work of Mark Solotroff, who, for those who are unaware, is a veteran of the doom band Anatomy Of Habit as well as the electronic band Bloodyminded. He founded the early post-industrial band Intrinsic Action and has played a part in, or otherwise collaborated with, a list of acts as long as your arm, including The Atlas Moth, Brutal Truth, Consumer Electronics, Indian, Locrian, Plague Bringer, Sigillum S, and The Sodality. There are as many polarities as there are points of useful comparison in this list but there is a vein coursing with a consistent lifeblood that underlies Solotroff’s work, and that sanguinatory fluid is a love for the analogue synth.
I’m no synth expert – analogue or otherwise – but this album is awash with swathes of synth drones, tones, and noise, huge washes of brittle texture bordering on crisp, stretched percussion in their timbre and pitch. Against this sonic setting the melodies, such as they are, comprise simple, short softer phrases that contrast with the thin, continuous drone that form the backbone of each piece.
The drone shimmers throughout this collection sounding for all the world like a glass armonica, swelling and rising, swirling around the head of the listener, giving the feeling of being lost in the baleful fog of a nineteen seventies children’s television programme in which psychedelic horror, far too adult for its audience, threatens the protagonist (and vicariously the viewer) at every twist. This music is metallic enough to leave a coppery taste in the listener’s mouth but it certainly ain’t metal. This is a pure, fragile, crystalline drone, one that conjures images of its creation on Tibetan singing bowls and the aforementioned glass armonica, though one assumes that these sounds were teased by Solotoff out of his beloved analogue synths.
Re-listening to Not Everybody Makes It I keep coming back to the idea that there’s an all encompassing stillness in this music, and yet at its heart is an inexorable motion, a movement that is perpetual but keeps us trapped within a Escher-like circuit, ever gliding on, never to reach the end, yet always at the end. The accompanying promotional material describes this work as unexpectedly tranquil and that maybe true if the listener is expecting something akin to Solotroff’s previous work. I can’t help feeling that within the brittle drone is a dark ambivalence bordering on menace – one could, with little difficulty, imagine certain scenes from a Ben Wheatly or an Ari Aster film being played out to any of the pieces herein.
There is a device within this album, in that each piece is exactly ten minutes long. There are two views one could take of this: Firstly, that shorter pieces have been pointlessly stretched and longer pieces cruelly curtailed in order to satisfy the conceit. Secondly, that the artist has disciplined his ambition to provide himself with a constrictive frame within which he must work. I like the latter way of looking at it, by placing limits on his work Solotroff has stretched himself, rather than the ideas, has forced himself to answer a self-imposed question. This, I would imagine, requires some rigour from a creative, a willingness to corral and cull any organic growth that wants to spread beyond the prescribed space.
This collection was in part Solotroff’s response to the emergence of the pandemic last year, a set of circumstances that intensified the significance of the themes with which his work is usually concerned – how people navigate and interact with each other, particularly in an age of alienation caused by severe digital fragmentation, how cities develop and how the human body navigates urban environments. Taking this into account the layers of stillness, movement, fragility, ambivalence, menace, and unease wrapped in the strata of glassy, metallic drone make sense. This is a very beautiful yet disquieting collection that Solotroff has created, perfect for our times.
Mark Solotroff, "Not Everybody Makes It"
July 25, 2021, by Creaig Dunton
Mark Solotroff could never be accused of taking it easy when it comes to music, both in terms of style and productivity. Since the beginning of 2020 he has been responsible for three side project releases (Nightmares, The Fortieth Day, and Ensemble Sacrés Garçons), two archival releases from his early Intrinsic Action band, and just a matter of weeks ago a BLOODYMINDED live compilation. Add that to three volumes of compiled solo material and an album last year, and there’s a massive stack of material that Not Everybody Makes It now sits atop. Even with all of that material, this new album stands out as distinct, and somewhat of an unexpected turn for Solotroff's work, but is still clearly his.
What makes this disc stand out is the more significant restraint and lighter touch he employs on all six of these (exactly) ten minute pieces. I would be significantly concerned if he released anything that is not constructed around lo-fi analog synth noises, and that is certainly the foundation of everything here, but the mixes are less dense and the volumes are lower, giving everything a bleaker, more isolated sensibility.
Themes of isolation have been prevalent in Solotroff's recent work, with a series of eight tapes in the past few years (compiled earlier this year onto three 2CD volumes as the Strategic Planning series), but while those captured a sense of urban loneliness and anomie, Not Everybody Makes It is more personal and introspective. Besides the intentional imagery conveyed by the title, the hushed volumes and pseudo-melodies (not something often associated with his work) lock on to this sense of loneliness and despair.
Even with this more ambient (or isolationist, to borrow the fitting term for the 1990s ambient offshoot genre that never was) turn, certain staples from Solotroff's repertoire could never be abandoned: his love of heavy sub bass frequencies appears throughout, especially on "Charged Matter (The Problem from the Inside)" and "Suffering Sun (Barren Winter)." For both of these that low end is still prominent, but on the former it is an undulating passage beneath lightly drifting electronics and synths like bowed strings mixing with amplified hums. On the latter, it gives a slow, trudging propulsion beneath melodic sweeps and subtle white noise sheets.
The rumble also underscores most of "The Chaos of Objects (Tell Her to Follow Me)," paired with hissy metallic static. Here, even though the instrumentation never really deviates from those basic elements, Solotroff still effortlessly blends the basic parts into a piece with distinct movement and flow. This contrasts with the idling engine ambience of "Spatial Unrest (Irresistible Belief)," which is perfectly still and frozen. He saves the most peaceful piece for the end: "Return to Pleasure (Body Into Voice)" is a suite of droning tones that slowly drift away, making for the most peaceful work I have ever heard him have a hand in.
The shift of studying isolation from the spatial to the personal is pretty clear from this series of vignettes that complement Solotroff’s Strategic Planning works. Emphasizing the incidental melodies and sounds that are usually obscured by distortion and noise in his discography, there is thematic linkage, but the end products are distinct. For that reason there is a sense of vulnerability to Not Everybody Makes It that is rarely so obvious in his many projects. When placed alongside his other recent releases, it shows just how, in the hands of an expert, decades old electronic equipment can conjure such varying experiences and emotions. It may be a slight deviation from his normal approach, but the results are just as captivating.
Mark Solotroff, Not Everybody Makes It
July 22, 2021, by Monica Kendrick
Chicago sound wizard Mark Solotroff has been wielding his powerful electronic grimoire since the mid-80s as the leader of Intrinsic Action, Bloodyminded, and Anatomy of Habit. He’s also collaborated with a who’s who of industrial and metal artists, including the Atlas Moth, Indian, Locrian, Plague Bringer, Wrekmeister Harmonies, Brutal Truth, and the Body. Then there are his side projects: in the past couple years, he’s remastered the extensive body of lo-fi synth music he released under the name Super Eight Loop, put out an album with dark-synth trio Nightmares, and revived his Milan-Chicago post-industrial collective Ensemble Sacrés Garçons, who put out their first album in 25 years. Solotroff brings the sum of his experience to bear on the albums he puts out under his own name, which reflect an artistic discipline that makes each record a distinct work with its own specific intentions. His new release, Not Everybody Makes It, is somber and deliberately restrained, meant to be played at a volume that allows the ambient sounds of the listener’s home to slip through (unlike some of his other work, which is definitely meant to be heard overwhelmingly loud). With its six songs, which run about ten minutes each, Solotroff shapes sound into bite-size meditations that thread the needle between representing anxiety and soothing it. Much of his work is confrontational and violent, but he’s also a master of the elegiac (such as in Anatomy of Habit), and that’s on full display throughout Not Everybody Makes It. Like much of the music I’ve heard from the past year and a half, its emotional perimeter has been shaped in part by solitude, grief, and worry. The opening track, “Charged Matter (The Problem From the Inside),” lays down the thesis and the challenge: to ground oneself and accept a new reality, to sit with the present moment and feel the sorrow for what has been lost. Solotroff often focuses on the relationship between the body and consciousness, and the windlike sweep and nagging drone of “Attention to Flesh (Compel Yourself)” make it sound like music for a spiritual workout with a ghostly personal trainer who isn’t going to cut you any slack. Solotroff recorded and mixed the album himself in April and May 2021, and Collin Jordan mastered it at the Boiler Room in May, as vaccines were being distributed en masse and Chicago began to slowly open up. A sense of hope permeates some of the tracks, such as “Return to Pleasure (Body Into Voice),” which invokes a cautious sense of relief that can only come after a difficult ordeal. Not Everybody Makes It is a beautiful, subtle record that will reward repeated listenings.
Mark Solotroff “Charged Matter (The Problem From The Inside)” (video)
July 20, 2021, by Caleb R. Newton
The song feels like a meditation on solitude amid noise — or at least the sense of such a thing, since dissociative unease proves readily apparent in the sound. The ominous track comes with a video that Solotroff put together, and the imagery that he’s provided supports this idea. The video, in which images have been altered and presented in a grayscale color palette but remain recognizable, follows a journey through city streets, and there’s an impression of feeling alone, or perhaps weighed down, even as signs of activity continue on largely unabated — and largely uncaring for the people living within their wakes. A cityscape stands as a monument to something — but that “something” is not always the people who move within it. Suddenly confronting an expanse of bustling inhumanity can prove jarring. Teeming, subtly piercing tones extend across this track’s runtime, and the sonic whir ends up sporting a somewhat metallic edge. This trek proceeds under the inward weight of the dynamically shimmering tones, which suggest unrest. The fog is never quite overpowering — instead, Solotroff focuses upon emotional states, as through chronicling a mix of anxiety and mourning. There’s space to immerse within the morose sounds that Solotroff presents. The track gets cinematic via its drawn out tones, and it moves forward, but this movement proceeds slowly and contemplatively — it’s quietly surreal.
Mark Solotroff "You May Be Holding Back"
March 22, 2020, by Chris Groves:
Mark Solotroff’s work is redolent of isolation. ‘You May Be Holding Me Back’ treats field recordings with careful synthesizer infiltration, the sounds of the city kept at bay through “A Literal Territory Occupied Literally” by a thick treatment of billowing synth fog, an insistent dying wind chime, and a slow delay which accents moments of occasional field recording clarity. The claustrophobia is gradual in onset but intense: slivers of Mark’s field recordings emerge as increasingly worrisome moments while the bilious synth coagulates unperturbed, smothering the broader city’s interactions in its cloud.
The isolating effect in “All In The Straw Together” is even more intense, the walls having closed in and starting to crawl with visual infestation. The field recordings are barely discernible and the thrum of the city has disappeared, replaced with a multi-layered haze of vibrating high end hallucinating and cyclic mid-toned insomnia. “All In The Straw Together” doesn’t pretend isolation is loneliness; rather, isolation manifests as apparitional disturbance wrapped around a depressed core, flickering in and out of reality as images of the chaos outside manifest as self-isolated mania.
Mark Solotroff, "Symmetrical Spaces of Communication", "Social Objectives"
February 11, 2019 by Creaig Dunton
Mark Solotroff’s contributions to harsh electronic music cannot be overstated. Beginning with the adult bookstore sleaze of the 1980s power electronics project Intrinsic Action into the present day psychologically disturbing noise of Bloodyminded (which, in a live context, becomes the perfect deconstruction of rock performance) and the doom metal tinged Anatomy of Habit, he has been an influential force for the past 35 years. This does not even take into account his multitude of solo and side projects, such as these two recent cassettes. All of his work is joined together by a single, distinct thread: a love of analog synthesizers that borders on the obsessive. Here those synths are used to create the perfect soundtrack to city isolation.
One of Solotroff’s most ambitious projects of the past was Super Eight Loop: 100 hours of just the rawest analog synth improvisations possible. Completed over the span of 25 years, albeit with a ten year hiatus thrown in there, it is a perfect distillation of his obsessive love of the instrument. Super Eight Loop was intended to capture the New York City of old, the one full of seedy movie theaters and an omnipresent sense of danger. His latest work follows this same line of abstract soundtracks for urban spaces, but reoriented to the contradictory sense of loneliness and isolation that arise from a large, heavily populated city, in this case his current home of Chicago. Symmetrical Spaces of Communication and Social Objectives are the two most recent installments this series of recordings joined by themes of the intersection between sociological theory and distinct urban spaces.
Compared to the Super Eight Loop works, there is less aggression and filth to be had, but instead replaced with sounds of corrosion, decay, and isolation. "Ego Machine", on Symmetrical Spaces opens with an industrial grind and acidic, rust laden electronics slicing through concrete decay. Eventually Solotroff arranges the sounds into a sustained drone, not unlike a humming power generator or far off airplane passing through. He does an exceptional job at capturing bleakness, casting out cold sheets of sound like frigid rain falling in a vast, deserted space.
On the other side of the tape, "Achievement Society" features Solotroff keeping the same isolated mood and cold concrete spaces, but here awash in echo and hollow drone. Non-specific rumbles appear far away, just far enough out of focus to be forceful. At times, he blends in what almost sounds like a bit of melody distant in the mix: an appropriately desolate bit of delicate beauty in the otherwise cold and inhospitable mix. Even amidst all of that bleakness the melody adds in that tiniest bit of hope, as remote as it may seem.
In comparison, Social Objectives exemplifies a bit more of Solotroff’s noisier tendencies. For "Emotive Issues", he sets his synths up to just below the noise threshold, keeping things to a shimmering burst blended with a duller mechanical hum. He again captures the sense of despair via distant echoes and lower register, haunting tones. There may be a lingering sense of harshness, but he keeps the mood much more to depressive than anything on the violent end of the spectrum. "Population Advisor" is less textural in comparison, but is instead an excellent approximation of the dull noise of the city. The whole of the piece is a nicely dull machinery hum, with passages approximating the sounds of power lines, florescent lights, or other malfunctioning equipment. There may be the occasional fragment tone that passes through, but as a whole the piece is the perfect audio accompaniment to being alone in a city late at night.
Solotroff has been extremely active as of late, digitizing and remastering older works (including the aforementioned Super Eight Loop project), releasing some archival performances as Bloodyminded all the while working on a new album, and keeping up with his other projects. Even with all of this other activity he has still found time to indulge in his analog synthesizer fetishism. The long form pieces on these tapes never meander or drag on, but instead make for the perfect imaginary soundtracks to the urban landscapes that inspired them. Even spread that thinly across his multitude of projects, this work is obviously a labor of love. The sound is grey, bleak, and isolating, but in the most fascinating and beautiful of ways.