Star and Crescent

Kaffe Matthews was the heroine of “real-time” live processing in the late 1990s, with her lively and spirited electronic transformations of improvised music which she did with LiSa software. She kindly sent us a copy of Yird Muin Starn (ANNETTE WORKS AWpd002) in February 2013, released on her own label and a collaboration with the film-maker and visual artist Mandy McIntosh. It’s a fairly “cosmic” release –  the title translates from old Scots into “Earth Moon Star” – and one might almost want to label it a concept album, or at least following in the traditions of certain 1970s prog masterpieces I know so well, were it not for the highly unusual take these two artists lend to their star-gazing themes. What emerges is not clumsy Erich Von Daniken rehashed drivel, but genuinely mysterious and sometimes haunting observations about the cosmos. The verbal half of the album, penned and sung or recited by McIntosh, contains explicit various space-bound themes, but written from an oblique angle: the ode to Neil Armstrong, likening him to a wandering Odysseus figure, is especially poignant, but there is also a narrative description of a Scottish meteorite (probably read from an early chronicle) delivered in crisp and didactic terms, and an “Earth Mother” hymn of sorts embodied in the song ‘Himiko’. Matthews meanwhile approaches the theme from a more abstract and structural position, and apparently uses data derived from star constellations as a means to reprocess her field recordings in the computer – said field recordings retrieved from the Galloway Forest, natch. Did I mention the duo have been working in Galloway for about two years now? This album is just one of a series of works they’ve been commissioned to make in that area, supported with money from the Scotland Forestry Commission, and the completed multi-media works in the series include The Galloway Spacesuits and the Three Sky Gazer Chairs. Given McIntosh’s undeniable Scots accent, whose sweet tones are present throughout over half of this album, and the numerous local references scattered through the lyrical and imagistic content, it’s probably not far of the mark to deem this a very site-specific work, one where the very environment itself has been recast and reworked into music by Matthews, in ways described above. The results are totally unique, and I can guarantee you have never heard the like…the best documentary / spoken word / poetry / song+electronic music / astronomy sound-art album of 2013!

Fee Kürten from Germany is also a visual artist and sound artist, and as Tellavision she has made Music On Canvas (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR111), a 45RPM 12-incher which was released in April 2013. Given the title of this mini-album, it’s possible she regards these songs as extensions of her paintings or drawings; if she did the cover art (it’s not credited), you can see the qualities that interest her, those half-finished and tentative lines brushing some parts of the canvas, with bold gestural marks of colour in others. In like manner, these songs are remarkably bold as studio constructions: using very stark instrumentation (guitars, drum machines, harmonica, keyboards) to build a framework which leaves yawning gaps to be filled by her vocals, said vocals quite exploratory in they way they search for the hidden or implied melody in each tune, and even more allusive and hard to fathom when you start looking into the content of the lyrics. In just ten short songs, your intrigue-ometer will be bubbling around the 98-degrees mark and you’ll know it’s time for you to come out of the oven, but is anybody waiting for you with a pair of oven gloves? Probably not Fee Kürten, who’s more likely to have taken off on an unexpected three-month trip to Asia without so much as a note to the landlord. The press notes are impressed by her “minimal pop aktion”, and liken her sounds to various manifestations of 1970s New Wave Music. I found her mannered vocals a tad difficult at first, and had the impression she sounded bored and unengaged, but I’ve since come to enjoy her “abstract expressionist pop”.

Lastly we have a Kim Gordon “side project”, and while I gather that this Body / Gate / Head was pretty much a one-off performance from 2012, her Body / Head group with Bill Nace has continued to be quite productive since 2011. Glare Luring Yo (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR099) sees Gordon and Nace playing with Michael Morley, the New Zealander who is Gate and was one third of The Dead C. Their three massed guitars were recorded in Massachusetts when they performed at the “Yod Space” and at Feeding Tube. If you can get hold of a copy of this vinyl item (released January 2013), you’ll be greeted with two interminable sides of slow, desolate, guitar grind, the sickening sensation of abject doom occasionally alleviated by Gordon’s harrowing vocals. Naturally, I was appalled on first spin of this pallid horror, but now I’m digging into the frozen ground and starting to discern some of the ultra-subtle guitar twangamaroos in the fabric, which we can attribute to these thirty deep-frozen fingers at work. There’s a sort of chilling beauty within this deathly and ethereal drift, even if it’s akin to the beauty of smouldering angels dissolving in the ruins of a chapel after a nuclear holocaust. One senses that prolonged listening would induce similar effects to a dose of nerve gas. Apparently the performance took place with a film screening; all I know about Catherine Breillat’s Une Vraie Jeune Fille is that I haven’t yet seen it, but it’s reckoned to be something of an overlooked cult gem of story-less surrealism and bizarre imagery, a 1976 oddity that’s just ripe for rediscovery by today’s jaded appetites. To heighten the pleasure of whatever wide-eyed audience of hungry wraiths turned up at Florence MA, said film was projected at a much slower speed than normal. Speculating, you could say that the trio of guitarists were playing in sympathy with that projection speed, but I think it’s more plausible to say the music has the effect of slowing down the rest of the world to its own inhuman pace, just by the power of amplified ultra-chill boniness. A car crash in slow motion. Hearing this is like being subjected to the Buffer Gas beam, resulting in masses of cold, slow-moving molecules which cluster about your face and neck.

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