K5. Frank runs through the ramifications, numerological, linguistic, esoteric, epistemological and also, but most importantly, those pertaining to synthesiser identification. Japanese instrument manufacturer Kawai brought out a range of digital synthesisers during the 80s that included the K5, a grey box that, unusually, offered the user the ability to generate sounds using additive synthesis, still one of the lesser encountered synthesis methods even today. Having owned a (dire but enjoyed) K1 – similar to, but slightly worse than, a Roland D10 or D50 – I felt the warm glow of nostalgia for obsolete, unintuitive, obstructive and unlovely instruments that somewhere in their cold machine hearts may offer an unusual effect or hidden feature more easily and satisfyingly accessed through other hardware.
From the years 2004 and 2012 we are presented with nine pieces, titled but also catalogued by the composer using the classical opus numbering system, a conceit which points towards the electro-orchestral nature of the box-symphonies within. Atonalities, sine waves, alien drones and glissandos slide around like the shadows of Platonic solids looming in a grey pixel-mist. Indeed, these CD slices shift like a Plato’s cave Xerox of Cologne WDR produkt. No tape friction, no heat – moving images projected.
Rothkamm delights in arcane logic structure, obtuse menu systems appealing to the hermetically minded, push button accessed sub menus, office furniture taken through a black hole, laminated sheets of plastic sound extruded like one of Gen Ken Montgomery’s lamination pieces. The album a monomaniacal exploration of parameters of a single instrument, almost arbitrary and absurd, but pursued with straight-faced rigour – a sort of well-tempered synthesis module. For him, the romance of the manual – a ring binder of instructions for an instrument that doesn’t exist populated with the harmonics of the imagination.
These multiple variations on grey tones induce dreams of plastic walls, a Silicon Valley labyrinth, 3D Monster Maze infiltrated by self-replicating machine sprites, endlessly repeating cubicles, blank, moulded casings open to a Blue Öyster Cult sky populated with silently hulking Apple Macintoshes and IBM PCs, grey dots on black monitors.
There is a Californian tinge that reminds of Erik Davis’s Techgnosis tome, equally there are echoes of the endless mutations of human art generator Conrad Schnitzler. You get the feeling there could be zip discs full of this stuff and it could be churned out as quickly as printing a pdf instruction manual. And that’s a compliment in this context (in case you couldn’t tell).I regard Schnitzler as a great artist and poet of our times, reformatting and subverting, amongst other things, man-machine myths. Rothkamm’s interchangeable studies of machine symphonics share a steely grind and similarly impish humour combo. Do not be fooled by the featureless plastic exterior. Or, in fact, do be. Mr Frank Rothkamm sails a similarly lone course through the uncharted digital oceans, the winds of concept and phone-numbers for long-since-disappeared tech-support departments filling his sails, scanning the horizons, hunting the great white midi monster.
A whale of a time is guaranteed for all pop lovers. Be sure to visit the website for more floppy disc riffs on additive synthesis, sine waves and Plato. If I can quote Mr Rothkamm: ‘the K5 synthesizer is a Platonic Machine because I can personally assure you a posteriori that while working with it you do not experience any pleasure or pain whatsoever, only the numbing sensation of tedious repetition, which is quite sinusoidal.’. Amen, and enjoy!
Paul Carr The History Of Aviation
UK BUILD MUSIC BM001 CASSETTE (2012)
Walking through the Art School Canteen, nodding to Godley and Creme, Wire had also been around, but had caught Brian’s Ferry rather than the plane. The plain and mundane get a look in in the shape of Currys, presumably appliances rather than Anglo-dubbed Indian food. No Tikka Masala, then. But there is some sort of ode to ‘reversible jackets’. The artist apparently does not like them. To be honest the reviewer is not sure he is totally into songs about preferences regarding them.
Name drops include the artists Bruce McLean (I had to Google, but there’s a Slade connection – University rather than Holder or Reeves and Mortimer) and Ian Breakwell. This should suggest a certain angle and context which – assuming sympathy to such suggestions – could influence engagement with this short tape. Musically very low rent keyboard and close-mic’d clutter-loop, with mumbled vocals and an overall hesitant rattle and vaguely spindly nature, an introspective pencil and a shoe-box idly trying to imagine sketches of This Heat by someone who’d only ever heard descriptions of them. Fits into some sort of English tradition of tentative uncertainty. (Perhaps).
Like the light switch in somebody else’s bedroom, it’s plastic and there. Aha, but the sky is outside! I find that’s good to remember whatever the circumstances, anyway. But then again, it’s also through the window. Unless the curtains are drawn. Hmm.
There is a website, and hints of more sprawling, perhaps ambitious, projects such as radio plays should you be drawn (you see?) to investigate further.
Barry Altschul The 3Dom Factor
FINLAND TUM RECORDS TUM CD 032 CD (2013)
Joe Fonda’s jaunty and melodically irrepressible tenor saxophone slices into the woody thicket of the rhythm section in this excellent free-jazz album from drummer Barry Altschul; also joined here by bassist Jon Irabagon. The sleeve notes profess a commitment to making the listener “at the very least” feel good; in this they entirely succeed. The close communion of the ensemble playing suggests a band entirely at ease with each other’s playing. This isn’t to say that the 3dom Factor is in any way a cosy listen, the artists clash heads as much as they smooth sonic paths for one another; witness the way the gasping spluttering sax of ‘Martin’s Stew’ yanks the band down a path not immediately obvious from Irabagon’s patiently reiterating bass riff, or the drums skewing the groove on ‘Papa’s Funkish Dance’. The 3dom Factor is a wide-minded stroll around free-jazz and contemporary improv.
Jean-Luc Fafchamps Back To…
BELGIUM SUB ROSA SR353 CD (2013)
Cog-like process-music, a central rhythmic spine is examined, twisted, atomised, and quite often discarded entirely. Jean-Luc Fafchamps’ Back To…, here performed by Stephane Ginsburgh, consists of three individual piano pieces that can be combined in multiple configurations. While not attempting all of the suggested orderings, this writer found the standard 123 sequence particularly entertaining; the first piece’s frequent diversions into key-smashing tantrums acting as an effective starter for some of the lighter and winding Reichian passages occurring later. Encompassing a wide range of tones and pressures, this absorbing album holds the attention throughout; rapid minimalist passages abut stormy atonal cloudbursts; near silence introduces sections of intricate ringing beauty; the dense fusion of styles is never over-cooked. Back To… deserves your repeated and close attention; it is a twisting kaleidoscope of an album, shards of noise and melody clashing in complex and fascinating fashion.
RM74 Two Angles Of A Triangle
USA UTECH RECORDS URCD076 2 x CD (2012)
Two Angles of a Triangle by Reto Mäder alias RM74 is a study in sonic alchemy; the melding of dissonance and concord, noise and stillness, the electronic and acoustic, causticity and sweetness. Comprising tape loops, atonal scraping, echoing prepared piano, gusts of drone, kalimba, and ringing distressed glass, among many other components, this rusting hulk of an album is one to sink yourself in. It finds beauty even in its darker moments; the strummed dusty strings on ‘Spineless’, for instance, contrast wonderfully with the moss-soaked decrepitude of its rotting background ambience. The whole album is also surprisingly song-like given the method in which it’s constructed; loose rhythms and almost folkish melodies present themselves at odd moments, catching the listener unguarded, squinting into the fog of chaos, unexpectedly glimpsing grace amidst the clamour. A subtle and confusingly pretty record, soaked in a wilted sadness and knitted from strands of junk and found-sound.
A somewhat misleading title, this, for an album of improv that is blowsy and swaggering rather than confrontational and unforgiving. The record teams the Dutch/German duo of horn player Ab Baars and bassist Meinard Kneer with American drummer Bill Elgart for a playful and varied set ranging from full-on fire music to insectoid free improv.
Opener ‘Anacrusis’ sets the tone, with Meinrad Kneer’s rubbery, insouciant bass rubbing up against Ab Baars’ mewling sax. The title track, meanwhile, is a sharp elbowed assault, Kneer’s atonal sawed bass keeping the rackety structure from falling apart.
Elgart skates around these pieces elegantly, as befits a drummer with a venerable pedigree, having backed up such luminaries as Paul Bley and Lee Konitz. He matches flights of extrovert whimsy – as on ‘Specific Gravity’, where he whirls and flutters to match Baars’ stuttering horn curlicues – with beautiful restraint, of which his rustling brushwork on ‘Boreas’ is a fine example.
This is a great album if you like your improv loud and of the band-falling-down-the-stairs territory. There is just enough blues in Baars’ horn and Kneer’s bass lines to nod towards jazz, but it’s kept on a tight leash, as on ‘Song for Our Predecessors’, where the sax moos ruminatively as the bass scrapes and drums skitter.
‘Tale of the Bewildered Bee’ delivers a suitably apian treat, with both the fizzing reedy horn and bass mimicking the yellow and black buzzer of the title. ‘Complementary Progress’ hits a similar groove, the saxophone flightier here while Elgart’s drums work harder at nailing the whole thing down, clattering and banging in a mischievous grump. This is the highlight of the record for me, the trio locking into some kind of bizarre Tom & Jerry-style chase around the house, lurching and crashing into one another in good-natured competition, never quite managing to shut one another down.
That said, at certain points it all feels a mite comfortable. I get the feeling that the trio are well within their comfort zone here, and, for all Baars’ Ayler-style howls, there’s no angst to match the euphoria – in other words, not enough blues in them there blues. Yet, for all that, Give No Quarter is still an immensely enjoyable album, full of intriguing corners and the odd laugh out loud moment at this experienced trio’s brazen playfulness.
The Wild Wild Berry l.p/c.d. comes as a debut recording from the duo of up and coming English folk singer Stephanie Hladowski and firmly established acoustic fingerpicker and Leith Hill Records’ proprietor: C. Joynes. A surefire combination of Meredith Monk and Sun Ra fan Stephanie’s formidable vocalese; once described as a “mature and ancient voice”, that’s matched with the plangent, simple beauty at the centre of Joynes’s far reaching guitar philosophy. …Berry houses an eleven strong set of ‘Brit Trad Arrs’ that are stored (and you probably know where this is heading…) in the vicinity of Camden Town/Primrose Hill, N.W. London; namely Cecil Sharp House; that vast repository of the British song form. After a little research from yours truly, I’ve discovered that six of the tracks on disc have been plundered and subsequently remodelled before by, amongst others, Peter Bellamy, June Tabor, Steeleye Span, Shirley Collins, Steve Ashley, John Jacob Niles and The Young Tradition. But in this particular case, it really doesn’t matter one jot. In the hands of this alliance, middlingly familiar standards like “Lord Bateman”, “The Dark Eyed Sailor”, “George Collins” and “Higher Germanie” emerge in the cold light of another day as fresh and as vibrant as the very instance these tails of deceit, moral decay and untrammeled lust were initially penned.
Though I’d like to focus on the other tracks which seem to have been left in the archives with precious little attention accorded to them. Like…the charming guitar showcase of ‘another’ “Greensleeves” which harks back to the recordings of Stephen Baldwin in the mid-fifties. Its attractive ticking clock rhythm being particularly ear-snagging. “Flash Company” is a melancholy and timeless song of regret. “If it hadn’t been for flash company,” she carols, “I should never have been so poor…”. Though things get way more fraught from hereon in…with the eventual body count coming in at five… The title track details the story of a young nobleman who “felt the deadly gripe of the woody nightshade” and died of poisoning. Found guilty of his death, ‘The Lordship’s Wench” eventually receives a good neck-stretching for his/her pains. Nothing though prepares us for the downright weirdness of “The Bitter Withy”; ‘a thirteenth century carol from the infancy gospel of Thomas – identified in the suppressed gospels of the Original New Testament of Jesus the Christ by Archbishop William Wake’. Rightly vexed at the arrogance of three rich young lords…Jesus “he made himself a bridge with the beams of the sun”. The trio blindly follow him across and promptly drown (!), only for the Christ child to receive a severe caning from his mother Mary with a withy stick (or Osier Willow). A strangely affecting and beautifully phrased gem which I urge you to hear. You thought high level strangeness was the sole province of the avant garde and the outsider? Well… here be monsters too.
Got a couple of tapes from the Belgian Tanuki Records label, which is operated by Patrick Thinsy who used to be a member of martiensgohome. To be honest I never cared much for anything I heard from by the mgh collective, so I approach Thinsy’s Disappearances (TANUKI RECORDS #4) with a little trepidation. The A side is a simple experiment in minimalism, operating small variations on a single (very high) monotonous tone; you never heard such a thin and delicate drone in your life, as though he were trying to extend one gram of platinum in a wire so thin it would encircle the earth. High tone on one side, a low tone on the B side; a mysterious grumbling bullfrog making its moan in a forgotten swamp, wheezing like a very restrained old harmonium, until it too becomes an extended tremulous drone, so faint you can barely notice it. It’s likely that both of these simple compositions operate according to a structure; they proceed with an inscrutable methodology, and a basic trajectory is perceivable from start to finish. Not quite achieving the monumentalism of Phill Niblock, but not bad. From 27 February 2013.
The press notes describe Woodger Speece and Thierry Burnhout as “two very interesting Belgian sound artists”, and 14 Rhythms for Jamilla / This Beehive State (TANUKI RECORDS #3) is their debut. Though not made clear on the release, this appears to be a split and Woodger – who is actually someone named Pauwel de Buck – has four, not fourteen, of his rhythm tracks on the A side, combining strangely attenuated beats with prickly radio static. It’s amazing he gets anything solid out of this unlikely combination of elements, but he persists doggedly until these severe, alienating tones begin to cohere at some level. It’s the kind of music you imagine that small insects, or microbes, would enjoy dancing to on the sub-atomic plane. After ten minutes of this art-minimal reduced Techno buzzery, even Atom TM will sound “over-produced” to your ears. Thierry Burnhout occupies all of Side B with 22 minutes of This Beehive State, which like Thinsy’s above is operating in a droney and floaty area, where the skies are mostly grey and we dance to the whims of the wind. Though de Buck describes him as a “troublemaker”, Burnhout’s abiding mood here is somewhat serene and peaceful; in places, he generates pleasing harmonic passages that inspire a sense of well-being with their rich vibrato and throbbing undercurrents. I just feel it’s scant on ideas; having established one mood, he’s uncertain where to take it next, and he either treads water for too long or runs out of steam at crucial moments.
An evocative album, this one; full of rattling bone snaps and overlapping ringing gongs, conjuring an undulating metallic soundscape, a dry-as-dust swell of noise, like a fibrous delicate take on James Tenney’s ‘Having Never Written a Note for Percussion’. Harsh and forbidding, it offers little shelter from a malignity that pervades most of its running length. Rumbling reverberating drum skins, squealing manipulated sheets of tin honk like a sick Albert Ayler, insectoid clicking mandibles smack wetly onto chitinous carapaces; the whole resembling an army of ants processing in military fashion under cobwebbed banners to war with other hives. Collusion is almost entirely percussive, like Shackleton isolating every beat he’s ever made, removing bass lines, forward motion, and all rhythmic and melodic intent, and hurling the collected atomised mess into an erratically revolving centrifuge; an album of uneasy nerve-twanging death-gamelan.
This untitled album is an excavation of fluff and audio detritus, feathery caverns being mined for tangled fibres. Insular and close, the sound-environment captured by this trio is somewhat akin to water-logged ears; a pressured confusion of indistinct voices, tape-whispers, and buzzing electronics. It unfolds in languid contemplative fashion, curling endlessly in upon itself, a burrowing within rather than an expansion out, each additional sound compressing the whole further towards some eventual event-horizon. The trio explore the tactility of the sounds they’ve created: fluttering cassette-flicker, muffled dialogue, the clasping of zips; a mutating bricollage collapsing slowly under its own lazily accumulating mass. Their textural qualities examined both in close-up and at distance; enshrouding the listener in a space of uncertain extent, sudden shapes looming against a backdrop of shifting shadows.
Fireroom is the flash-burnt trio of Ken Vandermark, Paal Nilssen-Love, and Lasse Marhaug; Second Breath was recorded live at London’s Vortex venue in 2011. Vandermark initially inhabits upper register squeals and sharp pops over Marhaug’s scorched crackle and laser-strafing, Nilssen-Love, as ever, a restless interrogator. The relatively still portions see him straining to re-enter the fray, creating a dense patter that nudges V’s post-Coltrane profuse wanderings onto sterner ground. The electronics often create an aircraft rumble as if Gillett Square outside has become home to an aviation show, the roar of engines leaking through the walls. The group commune and co-operate rather than clash; locking together in quickly disintegrating cogs, fleetingly meshed. Each player still strikes out on their own terms, giving fully-committed solos to this explosive set of fire-improv. A performance of grumpy and irascible mood, Second Breath is propelled with effusive blurt and pure noise abstraction, thrilling and immediate.
Another three connected items from Michal Libera’s Populista series. We were mightily impressed by the first three we heard in this series – delvings into modern clasical music and very radical reworkings of same – and now that I look at the literature I find I’m missing three others in the series that I most sorely need, including Ergo Phizmiz’s take on Robert Ashley. The present set is called the United States Of America (Triptych) and is a very unusual and imaginative reflection on the history of American music – on selected aspects of it, at any rate – involving numerous international performers who forgathered in Warsaw in 2012 to do it as part of a week-long residency called Playback Play 2012. Libera downplays his own role in the editing, assemblage and conceptual planning, but I think a lot of the continuity of ideas and coherence here can be attributed to this fellow, who’s proving himself a true “man of ideas” in curated statements like this one, and through exhibitions such as Making the Walls Quake… and its accompanying book of essays. The thread running through all his work seems to be about combining far-flung and apparently unrelated ideas and looking for connections that have been overlooked, and he’s not afraid of imposing connections that may not even be there; the resulting intellectual “constructs” are relevant, regardless of how they may have been arrived at.
The first CD is 1939 Southern Recording Trip Fieldnotes (BR POP07) – and on one level it’s a showcase for two extended performances (about 11 minutes apiece) by Pete Simonelli, performing two rough-house vocal recits in a contrived country-Americana idiom. He roars them out; they are more like declaimed poetry than songs, even where they use repeated phrases and motifs clearly plucked from the history of American blues music – “Tell me how long…”, “Since I was born…” – and every sentence rings out packed with folk-symbolism bordering on the supernatural. Simonelli belts out these soul-searching texts like a Golem possessed by the spirits of Nick Cave and Tom Waits, aiming for that sense of a cursed spirit wandering the earth who’s seen too much. He’s accompanied on these apocalyptic journeys by Miron Grzegorkiewicz (guitar), Michal Biela (bass), and DJ Lenar on the turntable. Right there you’ve got a post-modern stripped-down rethink of blues instrumentation, its surface mussed up in bizarre ways by Lenar’s interpolations. The works takes place in a framework referencing the field recording work of John Lomax and Ruby Lomax; John Lomax, as the world knows, was the ballad-hunter of the United States, performing much the same work of detailed surveying as Cecil Sharp, Francis Child and others did in the United Kingdom and Scotland. Libera’s record uses texts extracted from the Lomax’s written notebooks, and more importantly short excerpts of their tape recordings – spoken word, snippets of songs – to contextualise the piece. These very brief Lomax fragments demonstrate an enquiring mind at work – one who asks questions from the people he’s recording, and not a collector trying to assemble evidence to prove a foregone conclusion or bolster a preconceived idea. It’s especially haunting when the tapes surface in the middle of the Simonelli performances, like superimposed old photographs in the middle of a documentary film. As for Simonelli, his performances are not only over the top, but are spinning a fantasy of a pre-war America that never existed, propped up by hints of folk mythology. This is absolutely in line with Libera’s declared aim – “reinterpretations, overinterpretations and misinterpretations of the past”.
The second CD is Ten Intrusions (BR POP08), a tribute to the work of Harry Partch. We are now in 1949, ten years later from the first part of the trilogy. The musicians perform all but one of Partch’s Eleven Intrusions, although the 1949 date is a little arbitrary if we consider that Partch began the work as early and 1930 and completed the set in 1950. He began considering they could be performed on the adapted guitar, but by 1950 these vocal pieces had been arranged for his unique home-made instruments, such as the harmonic canon, diamond marimba, and cloud chamber bowls. None of the words were Partch’s own; he’d adapted them from poems and writings by Ella Young, Willard Motley, and even Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher and poet. Not sure why I’m bothering to pass on all this information to you, since the recorded performance here has departed massively from Partch’s original score, and the trio don’t play the original Partch instruments. David Grubbs (guitar), David Maranha (organ) and Andrea Belfi (percussion) provide another minimal and pared-down musical framework for the vocal work of Pete Simonelli; hints of blues idioms suggested by the slide guitar mingle with elements of free improvisation and drone music. Simonelli’s histrionics from the first CD are abandoned in favour of a severe, tight-lipped no-nonsense recitation, that admits of virtually no emotion. All of this is in almost complete contrast to the recordings I’ve heard of the Eleven Intrusions, which are delicate statements full of wistful and graceful emotions, where a melancholic voice wails its plaint against the modest but very rich instrumentation. This sombre and stern remake changes Partch’s dream-like poems into hard facts, facts which we can live by. The intention may have been to emphasise the solitude of the composer (he wrote some of the work in an isolated studio in Gualala); Libera’s note also claim that this music is “perhaps one of the first cosmopolitan reinventions of American native music”. If that statement holds any water, then it’s possible to hear a lot more alternative history in Simonelli’s stark vocalisations, as if he was brooding long and hard on the encroachment of the land by rapacious settlers motivated by John Sullivan’s “Manifest Destiny”.
The last panel of the trilogy is Vanishing Point: How to Disappear in American without a Trace (BR POP09). It’s the most unfathomable of the three, and the most intense. The implied date structure of 1939-1949 has been abandoned now, and we’re deliberately left stranded in an uncertain, undated future. It’s a spoken word piece with music, and the text comes from a book apparently edited by Susanne Burner, though it may also be an anonymous work written by a “survivalist”; it’s all about detailed advice on how to operate as a fugitive and leave no tracks as you flee your adversary. Natch, it’s teeming with paranoia; on “Kill the Dog”, Simonelli makes a real meal out of the unpleasant text and throws himself into the role, putting himself and the listener directly into this drastic no-win situation where a fugitive has to kill a dog that’s on his heels, and there’s a seemingly endless description of how to go about it, and why. Whoever wrote this text clearly lived and died by the ultimatum “It’s him or me”. Musically, the alarming mood is fuelled by the nerve-wracking abstractions created by Grubbs, Maranha and Grzegorkiewicz with their guitars, organ and violin. If you can endure the 16 minutes of “Die with Dignity” with your fingernails intact, you’ve got nerves of steel; the vivid descriptions of police operations regarding fugitives is not for the squeamish. How does this contemporary, neurotic vision square with the rest of the trilogy? Well, it’s well known that Harry Partch was a hobo; but on the other hand he chose to drop out of society in the 1930s with some expectation that he could drop back in, and the rail-riding world he detailed in Bitter Music seems positively genteel compared to the urgent all-or-nothing imperatives glimpsed in Vanishing Point. Likewise, the itinerant voyages of the Lomaxes are shown to have degraded by the later 20th century into these futile car chases escaping the police. There’s one last thing. With the striking and terrifying dog image in its centre, I would also suggest that this canvas in the trilogy connects strongly to America’s rural blues history; what else could that dog be but the hellhound on the trail of Robert Johnson?
“Three images of America facing each other” is just one possible interpretation that Libera himself offers for this whole work; he intends the trilogy to remain open-ended, a series of questions rather than answers, yet many clues are inserted in its stark near-deserted landscapes. The cover artworks, all depicting figures faced with barren and hard-to-negotiate landscapes, were created by Aleksandra Waliszewska. From 12 April 2013, highest recommendation for these excellent meta-text musical statements.
Kordik Lucas is the duo of Daniel Kordik and Edward Lucas, making a bizarre and near-indigestible improvised noise with one trombone and a “Vostok” synthesizer on the cassette MMXXII (URBSOUNDS COLLECTIVE N. 28). I found this intensely irritating at first, but now I’m finding some way to key into its craggy and non-musical surfaces; they seem intent on noise-creation rather than music, but that isn’t to say they don’t coalesce nicely as a duo. The title ‘broken bone’ is highly applicable, if you use the word ‘bone’ as an abbreviation for trombone; all of their music is deliciously “broken”. The duo can’t keep their hands still – they saw, they sputter, they doodle, they bluster, and from much frenetic activity some sort of half-knitted unpatterned fabric may eventually emerge. Not tremendously satisfying, but at least you can hear what they’re doing; I think I’ve just about had my fill of “reduced” or near-silent improv. From July 2013.
One fine split cassette of gritty death-dealing noise (TR-013) on the Spanish micro-label Truco Esparrago records. Generic Death are a trio of disaffected young Spaniards grinding out a ten-minute howl called ‘Continuity of Deception’ with just vocals, a bass guitar and drum kit, making a splendid angrified and fiery punk-noise racket. Plenty of grisly pedal effects, distortion and feedback are used to punch the message home, and while it starts off with a steady beat, the song collapses into an anarchic state, leaving the listener in no doubt as to the depth of the bitterness felt by these three firebrands as they exact their revenge on society. I for one would love to be in a band where a guy named Iago is playing the bass. Since Othello, the very name is redolent of revenge tragedy. On the flip side, Varunian take us on a ‘Black Hole Trip’ for fourteen minutes; he too favours excessive effects and creates a non-stop, dense and thickly layered coagulation of ugly noise which is tempered at the finale by sweet but desolate angelic drone effects – a very compelling and near-psychedelic concoction, a Technicolour rendition of the Apocalypse. The creator is Roberto Bustabad, who also calls himself Rober or even Graverobber; he hasn’t made too many records as Varunian, but has been very active in the Spanish grindcore and Death Metal “scene” since 2001, playing his diabolical guitar (probably built in the shape of a scythe) for the bands Banished From Inferno and Machetazo. It’s fair to say his entire work’s underlying theme is an attempt to recreate Paradise Lost in sound, and this spectacular horror-show is no exception. From October 2012.
Another fine split from Truco Esparrago. This cassette (TR-017) features Mubles on the A side and Grassa Dato on the B. I raved about Mubles in 2012. It’s the team-up of the great Miguel A. García with his buddy Alvaro Matilla, although on ‘Oh Pequeno Muble’ there may be some other contributors involved to the general hurly-burly. They create a very jumbled, layered and disconnected sound, as if assembling parts found in a junkyard, and the illogical electronic music brews like a fetid gaseous mist around your ankles, while Matilla intones his chants and poems in a surly snarling rap, this time speaking through a broken telephone receiver. This is completely incoherent, half-insane continuous art-drivel and bound to irritate the heck out of 99% of normal listeners; just great! Grassa Dato’s side is called ‘Los Que Habitan en la Obscuridad’, and is likewise jumbled and chaotic, but with considerably more emphasis on the aggressive and unpleasant power electronics. There’s a voice to the forefront of the hideous murk, said voice naturally enough transformed into that of an ugly barking cybernetic creature intent on covering us with radioactive slime before chomping off our limbs with crocodile jaws. Grassa Dato creates a highly effective and dynamic roar, not without its fair share of grotesque distortion and shrill air-bomb bursts. This all seems to fit the profile of this very prolific noise and power electronics act which has made about 28 albums since 2011.
Somewhere on this computer I’ve a folder full of music podcasts, lectures and interviews that I somehow never have time to listen to: ever burgeoning; so many words gathering digital dust. I require some sort of audio anti-desiccant that releases the music in the words, to bring this goldfish attention span to attention.
Sound designer and psychoacoustician, Hecker’s Chimerization offers the sort of hybrid information transmission I’m after. Realised as a gallery piece entitled dOCUMENTA (13) (Kassel, Germany), it comprises electronically rendered fragments of a high-concept ‘experimental libretto’ by Iranian writer and philosopher Reza Negarestani entitled ‘The Snake, the Goat and the Ladder (A board game for playing chimera)’. For the occasion, Hecker recorded recitals of Negarestani’s script in English, Farsi and German in an echo-less, anechoic chamber, with three speakers per language. In situ, he installed speakers to play the processed recordings inwards in a triangle formation, engendering, I imagine, a pleasantly disorienting sensation in visitors. That said, spatial location of the recorded sounds is never in question, which is not always the case with Mr. Hecker.
Chimerization is available in three separate volumes (one per tongue), which presumably offer listeners worthy approximation of the installation experience. The visuals supplied for the dOUMENTA event, while providing delirious and accurate analogue for the music, appear on the sleeves. However, whilst the sounds themselves are easier on the ear than certain of Hecker’s earlier works, the subject matter remains a little elusive to me. For safety reasons, I’ll simply quote:
‘Hecker characterizes ‘Chimerization’ as a concept derived from psychoacoustic investigations on difficult-to-define areas between language and non-language, a process focusing on the decomposition of sound and synthesizing incompatible modalities, surpassing their respective particularities without fusing them, in order to obtain a narration beyond immediate comprehension, which may be deciphered through repeated, ‘active’ listening.’
The operative adjective is ‘active’: focus is necessary if ‘sense’ is to be made of these bewildering information overloads. For one thing, the recorded script (and I refer to the English version here) undergoes extensive digital decomposition (partly a result of multiple voices merging), coming out a bit like the sadistic droid EV9D9 in Jabba the Hutt’s palace in Return of the Jedi. The more garbled sections constitute what I assume to be the ‘non-language’ matter. And even when audible, the text is a little circumlocutory for my immediate comprehension, which is not to say I’m not enjoying trying, even if I’m left wondering whether attempting comprehension is missing the point. As one of Negarestani’s admirers, author Graham Harman, put it: ‘reading Negarestani is like being converted to Islam by Salvador Dali’. In this case, it’s not Dali but Florian Hecker, and it’s probably best just to let ‘it’ happen to you.
The underlying theory appears to liken modern existence to a metaphysical game of snakes and ladders: an apposite analogy, for the game itself originated in ancient India (under the name ‘Moksha Patamu’), and reflected Hindu notions about life 1. Not quite sure where the ‘goat’ fits in though. Accordingly, key terms include ‘snakes’, ‘ladders’, ‘topography’ and ‘the abyss of modernity’ abound; all connected amidst a panoply of colourful sesquipedalians. Reminds me a bit of something similarly verbose Squarepusher did on Ultravisitor, though I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean it. Still, Hecker’s carved himself a distinctive niche in electronic music: confronting our senses, aesthetics and intellects throughout and occasionally with a cheeky sense of humour (remember ‘Sun Pandämonium’s lavish, glossy green inlay booklet?). I’m in agreement with those who regard the new vocal aspect as adding a bold new depth to his work, and as verbiage goes it’s easy to surrender to. Chimerization may leave me feeling a bit slow on the uptake, but it does get much easier on the ear (and mind) with each play.
I’ve DJ Spooky to thank for that one, included in his foreword to Eric Schneider’s volume on ‘Toy Instruments’. ↩