Gallow Gate

Harpist Rhodri Davies sent me a copy of his great new record, a team-up with the saxophonist John Butcher. Carliol (FTARRI-220) is released on a Japanese improv label and represents two of the most distinctive talents working in the UK today. These seven pieces of distilled music have the same kind of intense, filtered purity you’d expect if you discovered mountain spring water on an unknown planet. Both players make use of amplification, feedback, and semi-prepared instruments (Butcher uses motors on a few tracks), and on the final divine piece ‘Distant Leazes’ we hear an Aeolian electric harp played with help of sister Angharad Davies, herself a string player of no small mien. Working slowly and deliberately with very precisely constructed sound worlds, the duo achieve trance-like states of concentration as they produce this semi-composed, semi-improvised music of great stillness, depth and mystery. Plus it uses evocative photography and place-names as titles to suggest something of the psychogeography of Newcastle upon Tyne, where the album was recorded. Gorgeous record, packed in a heavy card gatefold “miniature LP” sleeve with no expense spared on the print and production quality.

Scots “Industrial” musician Chris Connelly (ex Ministry) has produced a singular item for Lens Records called How This Ends (LENS0117). Exploring his songwriting and poetry skills to the nth degree, the CD consists of two long tracks (the first is over 30 minutes) which amount to extended quasi-operatic song-suites, performed with an ensemble of singers, narrators, poets and musicians. A baffling and constantly-changing sequence of events unfolds, including abstracted grey droning and hissing sounds, melodic piano fugues, harrowed voices wailing in nightmarish ways, and calm actresses narrating dreadful scenes with all the detached calm of a Greek chorus. How cathartic! The theme of this work is a very timely one, commenting in oblique fashion on torture, genocide, fascism and displaced victims attempting to escape global evils. While pessimistic in tone, ultimately this is supposed to be an uplifting statement, and a testament to the indomitable spirit of humanity. A real curio and strangely affecting. Will be released in July this year.

From Vomm, a strong piece of Black Metal-inflected noise released as Black Catharsis (HELL LIES IN OTHERS HLIO02), a C30 tape of grim and growling grindery, recorded using experimental field recordings and whispered narrations to supplement the solid forcefield of amplified evil which pours from his guitar, bass and drums set-up. Vomm (known only by his initials W.E. here) played everything on this introverted, shapeless, self-hating cesspool of nihilism, and wishes it to be known that he has chosen the path of the political pariah due to his personal disgust with “modern life”. Instead, he finds release in occult ritual, an activity perhaps embodied by the striking cover art which depicts a man caught halfway in the act of turning into a tree even as he’s reduced (perhaps by self-mutilation) into an armless and legless trunk. Shades of the Odin myth that lies behind the Hanged Man Tarot card. Stephen Wilson of Black Uroborus produced the luxury foldout artworks, of which there are two variant states using black inks on black card, for an edition of 100 tapes. Prepare for Inner Hell!

I get the sense that K11 also dabbles with some form of personal ritual, although free from occult associations, on Waiting For The Darkness (AFE RECORDS AFE126LCD), an installation art piece which is described as “an action of instrumental transcommunication”. Produced entirely with short wave radios and recorded in a lonely forest in the night, this is a disturbing and troubling record of powerful shuffling, hissing and pounding noise that recalls Disinformation when he was at his most powerful manifestation, harnessing the sonic possibilities of pylons and solar emissions. K11 (Pietro Riparbelli) however is interested in something more psychological and wants to “investigate the dimension of fear”, and I must admit this atmospheric beauty delivers much more effectively in these areas than any recent Stephen O’Malley project. The CD arrives with a QuickTime movie burned in, a component which I’m unable to access as a PC user.

From same label, As A Leaf Or A Stone (AFE123LCD), another example of the recondite work of Mathieu Ruhlmann, the Vancouver-based sound artist who uses some highly unlikely found objects (both natural and man-made) to produce his strange and distant meditations on the overlooked and unseen sides of life. His work sits somewhere between field recording and performance (with some traces of sculpture thrown in, believe it or not) and in its quiet, unassuming way his work is always very involving. If you look at the cover long enough (perhaps a canvas stained through being buried in a forest or singed in a campfire) you’ll start to see faces and other recognisable shapes.

Continuing in the vein of experimental musicians who attempt to “deconstruct” their instrument by finding unusual ways to play it and change its voicings completely, we have the Swiss accordion player Jonas Kocher with his Materials (CREATIVE SOURCES RECORDINGS CS 164 CD) album. It’s made completely with an accordion with some added percussive and bowed objects, and sparing use of electronics. As if bound by a sacred vow that no single recognisable wheeze or squeal shall ever emerge from his hands, Kocher proceeds to concentrate on manipulating the separate components of his squeezebox (bellows, buttons, etc) to produce very abstracted and alien effects. Gotta give him full marks for innovation, but I still don’t feel the same degree of concentration in the playing that we get with say Robin Hayward and his tuba or Axel Dörner and his trumpet; it’s a bitty album made up of bitty tracks that start and stop vaguely, with no apparent intention. I’d like to hear him really climb “inside” his instrument and turn those concertina folds into the workings of a gigantic, menacing machine.

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