Tagged: collage

With Best Wishes


An astonishing collage-tapework sound-art piece is Just Like A Flower When Winter Begins (MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO060), which was concocted by the highly prolific non-stop German genius rlw collaborating with srmeixner, who is Stephen Meixner from the UK dark ambient group Contrastate. It’s dense, almost impenetrable stuff they come up with, and a single listen raised over 25 question marks over my head. In trying to solve the puzzle, I’m not entirely assisted as I peruse the artists’ notes which accompany each track, and which describe the overall project and how they got there over the course of two-three years. It seems they share common ground in their contempt for schlagermusik, a genre of popular musical entertainment in Germany 1. I’m not really an expert in this field, although in my mind I vaguely associate the genre with spangly jackets, smooth easy listening music, superannuated crooners and wholesome fresh-faced youngsters. Schlagermusik is probably similar to the all-round family entertainment which we Britishers used to suffer in the 1970s and 1980s on the telly, on shows such as Top of the Pops or Seaside Special, or anything featuring Torville & Dean. Well, not only do rlw and Stephen despise it as entertainment, they seem to look down somewhat on those who do enjoy it. Just Like A Flower represents their attempt to do something about the situation through their art. I’ll admit I’m faintly put off by the condescending tone behind this piece, particularly if the target is merely some harmless old-age pensioners simply having a German knees-up. I suppose to these wild-eyed underground geniuses, schlagermusik must represent The Enemy in the form of family values, good taste, sentimentality, the mainstream media, popularity, and just plain bad music. I should stress that this condescension doesn’t appear on the record, which is highly intellectual and rarefied – a Jean-Luc Godard-esque study in deconstruction.

The album is a fascinating listen. A fractured conceptual melange of words, music, song, speaking voices, and unidentifiable gobbets of sound – all lined up with fastidious neatness and respect for order, to create an impression of non-stop chaos. It’s sound poetry in the finest Henri Chopin tradition. It’s an explosion of ideas, which leaves behind the neatest pile of rubble you’ve ever seen 2. Creating it was a highly collaborative back and forth process, if the diary notes by Ralf and Stephen are anything to go by, a continual process of editing and re-editing and re-shaping each others’ contributions; the finished work is ordered under theme-based headings, and the fellows are able to elaborate in some detail as to what the themes mean. One note regards “nostalgia” as a disease; another muses on the vast number of schlagermusik superstars there are, and how impossible it would be to count them. There is an effort made by both to transform “shit into gold”, to take such an unpromising starting point and make a worthwhile artistic statement out of it – the same sort of superhuman effort that could remix 100 Hot Hits LPs 3 and arrive at greatness thereby. Guest vocalists add readings and songs to selected tracks, and there appears to be some connection to a related release Mit freundlichen Gruessen 4. Apparently if this album had been released first, it would have been called Vomiting agents of several generations. I’ll drink to that! From November 2013.

  1. Although if we believe the wikipedia entry, it’s been spreading like a blight across most of mainland Europe since the 1950s.
  2. This metaphor borrowed from Marc Newgarden. He used it to describe the work of cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller.
  3. Budget compilation records where chart singles were re-recorded by anonymous session bands and singers. Allegedly Elton John worked on some of these at the very start of his career.
  4. I have found no evidence this other release even exists, and it may just be part of the overall conceptual joke.

No Love Lost


I Cannot Tell You Where I Am Until I Love You

“I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine.” Thus spake the narrator of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and a similar sentiment informs this patchwork of dreamy drones and disquieting interactions between monologue mentalist Bryan Lewis-Saunders and others. The story – to refer to it thus – is dissociative in nature: five narrators cut off from the bigger picture, delivering pseudo-psychoanalytical monologues to empty space; monotone responses to truncated messages; while language constitutes the chiefest obstacle between event and emotional experience. We recognise this in the separation of call and response by expanses of grey noise, snail-slow samples and by the meaningless verbosity of the discourse itself, which at best resembles robotic academics gainsaying each other with the emptiest of collocations.

The process of compiling and assembling the ingredients took Murmurists mainman Anthony Donovan some two years, suggesting a measured, on-off relationship with the project, which the long passages between speeches reflect as clearly as an internal monologue. The methodology employed might correspond on paper to that of musique concrète, though at risk of implying a hidden purpose it might be better to split hairs and call this a collage in which – as Donovan himself reminds us – ‘all signs fail to signify’ (to this listener, certainly). The emotional anti-drama of total alienation – from self and others – washes over the listener in bleak and unyielding drones and echoing industrial emptiness, with distorted snatches of warehouse electronics; remote, purgatorial choirs and martial rhythms underlining the dormant frustration of those unable to articulate emotion. Such sounds he extrapolates from several solo improvisations informed by presumably gnomic mandates.

For sure, the ‘love’ looks unlikely to happen for as long as these sexless, wordy correspondents continue to draw breath. In spite of this, the overall composition, though relentlessly bleak, is never less than hypnotising: its lack of drama a reassuring certainty for those able to surrender to ennui. If you thought Chris Morris’ JAM sketches were too rich in humour and direction, then these forty-five minutes should assuage that dissatisfaction.


Deliberate Mistakes

Home Service

The latest entry in the Vernon & Burns catalogue sees this Glasgow duo teaming up with Lied Music, the duo of Luke Fowler and John W. Fail. Lost Lake (SHADAZZ SHA.11) is one of the stranger and darker emissions from these talented creatives, particularly if you care to compare it with the sometimes more playful assemblages of V&B, or the deliciously offbeat melodic avant-pop tunes created by Fowler as part of Rude Pravo. At first spin the record is a near-bewildering toasted-cheese sandwich, a concoction which contains at least a zillion ideas apparently thrown together any which way. Faced with such an array, discerning avant-LP listeners may want to reach for The Faust Tapes as one touchstone, but another credible precedent is the unearthly Bladder Flask LP 1, that ne plus ultra of cut-up sound art put together by a teenaged Richard Rupenus as if possessed by some fevered desire to surpass the worst excesses of the lunatic fringe end of the United Dairies catalogue. But the Bladder Flask release had the underlying sinister aim of sending all those who heard it mad, through highlighting the complete absurdity and futility of everything. Lost Lake has a more benign mission, thankfully. The album has been very carefully crafted, using sets of recorded improvisation sessions produced by the four players, aiming to resculpt the near-chaos of that source material into a coherent structure. Within that structure, fractured songs and equally fractured stories emerge; yes, a scrambled form of a radio listening or cinematic experience, which is an effect Vernon & Burns have striven for with a good deal of their work (and have produced many items expressly in radiophonic mode). As to the cinematic, Fowler is also a film-maker. There is a logic to this scheme, but it is hard to follow and weaves its way around in a highly secretive and intuitive fashion, like an errant underground stream full of eccentric fish and darting river-insects stained in unnatural colours. We could account for some of this quirkiness by pointing out that all four creators were involved in the refashioning process, rather than a single editorial hand behind the editing knife; one can imagine the clashing dynamism generated by four powerful personalities, each of them bending the path of events in their favour. Additionally, the source material itself was not exactly straightforward music to begin with, but created using the now-virtually-standard set-up of the modern improviser, that is amplified instruments, toys, found tapes, field recordings, and live electronics. From this rich stew, voices and tunes emerge from amid a varispeeded and highly layered humid aggregation of extremely strange sounds. And yes, like the Rupenus LP, it is quite absurdist, but I like to think it’s a fun and cartoony absurdity, rather than bleak and Beckett-like. That said, this aural bric-a-brac crawls out from a dark attic of the mind, and is as much an unsettling listen as it is entertaining. Corin Sworn’s cover art encodes all the above information quite perfectly. Using collage technique (naturally), it depicts a figure sitting on a sofa surrounded by hideously “tasteful” drapes and furnishings. This image of bourgeois normality is thoroughly disrupted by replacing the outline of the figure with fragments of urban horror and machinery, then further scrambling the visual schema with concentric rings and diagonal bars, suggesting the power of the aural emanations on the record. The album is, we are told, a sequel to a 2006 release called Lied Music vs Boy-Band Tax Returns, which we reviewed in our Vinyl Viands issue.

Pedal to the Metal

A promising experiment in steam-driven innovation is the one-sided 12-incher by DJ Mistakes (PHASE! RECORDS PHR-81). The two creators are Casey Farnum and Elliot Hess, who built a complex apparatus allowing them to power their turntables using bicycles; the cover art and the enclosed drawing, as if torn from the pages of the English comic illustrator Rowland Emmett, give some indication of the set-up and its concomitant paraphernalia. These drawings also reminded me of the sketches Hans Reichel used to include on his early FMP albums (e.g. Bonobo Beach), indicating how he assembled his own hand-built guitars. On the record, we actually hear live recordings of the infernal machine, made in Brooklyn in 2006-07 and also using gongs, microphones, a mixing desk, and of course records on the turntables. The artists may be slightly poking fun at the conventions of DJ culture, but also intend to put more spontaneity back into the artform, and they hark backwards to the time of the hand-cranked Victrola, harbouring a certain intellectual nostalgia for an undefined early modern period when “gears and bicycles were the stuff of aural and physical revolutions”. If I were a writer of the Ken Hollings school, no doubt I could bring forward numerous references to the place of the bicycle at key political moments of the Russian revolution, the First World War, or in the films of Eisenstein, thus making ingenious connections across political and cultural history. Farnum and Hess may even be attempting to begin that undertaking with their front cover collage, which although let down by rather murky printing, does suggest a darkened industrial landscape where the bicycle wheel on the horizon resembles part of a mining operation, and the two men in old-fashioned suits have their heads replaced, John Heartfield style, with objects which I assume are bicycle seats. Unfortunately, the record itself doesn’t live up to much of this promise, and is merely odd and amusing where it could be radical and wild. Some unusual moments can be heard, but it is mostly a lot of wobbliness and speed variations, which is pretty much what you’d expect. This arrived around June 2011.

The Charred Rise

The double LP Atonal Hypermnesia (MEGATON MASS PRDUCTS PIKADON002LP) by French avant-metallists P.H.O.B.O.S. is their third release and arrived here in June 2012. We last noted them in 2009 with their album Anœdipal, and this new release provides an even more remorseless manifestation of their craft. They began life in 2000 using the “conventional” four-piece set up of guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, and vocals, but from the start their driving mission has been to create a degree of sonic intensity that transcends the conventions of the many generic labels that are flung in their direction, including Black Metal, doom, stoner, sludge, noise, industrial, etc. As a matter of fact the principal creators are proud of their “maximal” approach to amplified noise, which while it may use a lot of churning, droning effects is arguably more “eventful” than any given release from the Sunn O))) school of imitators. They also aim to structure their tunes, rather than merely reverberating their Marshalls into infinity. Stefan Thanneur once again provides the cover artworks, but where the Anœdipal record made provocative use of religious icons, the keynote this time is heavy abstraction, a restricted colour range which allows only black (lots of it) and silver, and an allusion in the direction of geological formations, intended to suggest this is music that causes earthquakes or was engendered inside the crater of a volcano. As a listen, it’s very heavy going; treated guitars, much studio fog and choking drone effects, solemn vocal grunts, and relentless hammer-blow drums throughout. In fact I can’t stress enough how inescapable these drum beats are. They strike their way into the very fabric of the music like geologists’ mallets, and serve mainly to illuminate how trapped we are by the cavernous walls of this extreme sound. These drums make the entire sonic environment sound hollow, and start to make me feel hollow inside too. As to the guitar and electronics (if indeed that’s what we hear), they produce endless, clotted clumps of noise, and to endure them is like eating lumps of burnt coal or solidified nuclear waste. Certainly this is very well-crafted music and is quite some way removed from the more primitive end of Black Metal (e.g. Striborg, Bone Awl, and Beherit), and the elaborate titles such as ‘Solar Defrag’ or ‘Necromegalopolis of Coprolites’ point to a strongly intellectual influence on the work, adding additional layers of context to what is already an extremely dense statement.

  1. One Day I Was So Sad That The Corners Of My Mouth Met & Everybody Thought I Was Whistling, originally released in 1981 on Orgel Fesper Music.

A Round Cube

Plaistow Patricia

Lacrimosa (INSUBORDINATIONS NETLABEL INSUB.DLT01) has some fine instrumental music from the Swiss trio Plaistow, comprising Johann Bourquenez on the piano supported by the bass guitar of Raphaël Ortis and the drumming of Cyril Bondi. In their own understated way, these three talented Europeans are doing a lot to overturn a listener’s expectations of jazz trio conventions, and on this album frankly own their interest in the minimal piano arpeggios of Glass and Reich, allied with a solid approach to mechanical drum and bass playing. On the title track this results in some 23 minutes of compelling, repetitive music which won’t let your ears go nor surrender its friendly embrace as it weaves you, the unwilling dancer, around a virtual grand ballroom. Bourquenez in particular fills out the cold precision of standard minimalist techniques through striking rich and warm chordal shapes that evolve and shift in line with very human, intuitive rules…he paints chord changes in diffuse watercolour mode, rather than delineating them sharply in the style of a Mondrian or Ellsworth Kelly. Then we have the equally warm and human rhythm section, who far from acting as a two-man version of the sequencers on a Massive Attack album (as they would seem to wish, according to the press pack), provide a suitably solid structure for the colourful piano drapery to unfold. The results in this case are like a tent of the Bedouin in the desert of contemporary music. On ‘Cube’, the bassist and drummer are showcased with far more complex and tricky time signatures and flourishes that owe as much to European progressive rock as they do to trip-hop. Bourquenez meanwhile restricts himself to single-note plucks that have been treated and filtered to resembled the obsessive plectrummings of a very disciplined lead guitarist. On dirait a more laid-back version of 1970s Miles Davis without any egotistic posturings…it’s supremely accurate music, the tautness of every note and the simplicity of the clean, direct approach is just a delight. They’ve released five albums to date and Plaistow have made all their music available free for download as a matter of principle, and find this attitude doesn’t damage sales of physical product at their concerts; hence they found a home on the Insubordinations net label. The “feathery” cover art may not be much to look at, but the music is like a muscular “wee gem” lettuce standing on two sturdy legs.

In Dreams I Walk With You

American oneirist Joe Frawley has self-released a lot of his oeuvre, but 13 Houses And The Mermaid (TRS013) was put out by Time Released Sound, a small hand-made USA label which specialises in tiny editions with individually crafted covers. I wish I’d told you sooner about this fine item which arrived here 09 March 2012, as it’s already sold out at the website. Musically, Frawley works with his familiar techniques of layering his romantic piano fugues with exquisite sound-collages, using spoken word and sound effects. Previous works (no less beautiful) have resembled elaborate literary puzzles which, given enough time and a library of Borgesian proportions, we might be able to decode. 13 Houses And The Mermaid by contrast is more fragmented in its underlying meanings, much more dreamlike in its connections, and sparing in its distributed verbal and visual clues. There are however suggestive themes which recur from previous records; train travel, and the image of a lost or homeless young woman. Imagine a very fractured, evanescent form of cinema, much like the impossibly wonderful miniatures which Joseph Cornell used to craft through his patient editing and distillation of existing footage. Frawley is also content to align himself with David Lynch’s films, most likely the confusing and labyrinthine structure of Lost Highway. Frawley doesn’t quite probe into the same dark corners of noir psychology, nor are his charming “dreamstories” especially threatening; but in his measured and crafted manner, he does succeed in stirring nostalgic emotions in a completely unique fashion. Aided by Greg Conte and Melanie Skriabine, whose musical and vocal improvisations were incorporated into the composition.

The Mystery of the Red Dragon

Enigma of the month was sent to us on 08 March 2012 and may have arrived from Manchester. Only a small red printed symbol on the hand-made card cover gives any indication of the creator’s name, and said symbol is also stamped on the four postcards inserted in glassine wallets inside the cover. The murky grey images may correspond in some way to the four pieces of sound-art on the CDR, which is likewise a thoroughly baffling spin. The second track is 17 minutes of uncertain vaguely musical plucks on what might be an underwater guitar or a harp strung with lengths of chewing gum, surrounded by some equally hesitant percussive noises. So far this resembles music made by two shy ghosts in white sheets who won’t even come out of hiding as they perform their wispy and ethereal music only for the ears of those who dwell in the phantom zone. The recording itself has a slight hiss too, adding to the distancing effect. After this, the third track is just about identifiable as saxophone music, a lone horn played with such a melancholy quaver and sob of futility that you want to go and throw a warm blanket around the shivering husk of a man who’s making this music. Shortly, he’s joined by the rhythm section – some guy rattling the steel bannisters of a deserted factory stairway. Or is it the underwater guitar again? This music plays hob with a man’s senses until you start to feel somewhat unreal, floating in a dreamlike world where logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead. At length, a piano joins the ensemble and somehow the music gradually begins to coalesce into a washed-out, wafer-thin parody of improvised jazz. You were expecting melodies, maybe? Forget about that…the “Red Monad” group, as I shall temporarily refer to them, take atonality in music into a new dimension, and this forlorn track stumbles along like a wounded insect walking across a plate of Copydex glue. There are two other tracks, including the gritty short opener of chuntering noise which might almost be mistaken for field-recording type music (of the industrial machinery genre), and the last four-minute piece which contains more full-bodied playing, continuous rather than broken sounds, and evidence where the musicians are communing with emotions that resemble warmth and compassion. You’ll find the pace of this one infuriatingly slow, but if you can find your way to the core of this very extreme music, I’m fairly certain it will be something you have never heard before. Assuming you can ever find a copy, that is. The “Red Monad” group have chosen the path of complete anonymity and I have absolutely zero information to pass on about contacts, names, or websites, nor even a recognisable project name. If the creators wish to make themselves known, qu’ils le disent!


Vacationing Beats

Somebody Else’s Nut Tree

American musician Andrew Weathers is not speaking lightly when he names his CD Someone Else’s Summer (VISCERAL MEDIA RECORDS VMR007). The music was assembled during a long and arduous house move where for a long time he barely had a bed of his own to speak of, no end to the ordeal was in sight, and his dreams were doubtless fervid and tortured. His response to this rather restless and uncertain season has been to create a 45-minute drone-work of the utmost serenity and calm, as if reclaiming his own “missing” months of sun-drenched happiness and fixing them in an artistic statement. It’s the ultimate wish-fulfillment action. This lengthy minimal drone may have begun as some form of acoustic guitar music, recordings of which were deleted from his hard drive; what we hear could be a sort of process of rediscovery and rebuilding in some way, making beautiful micro-chords and tones from lost fragments of sound. As it happens there is guitar music on the disc too; it opens with about 90 seconds of rather uncertain ripple-picking as of a home recording of someone trying to teach themselves how to play in the “Takoma” manner, which is exactly what Weathers was doing. The composition then concludes with nine minutes of something even more ambiguous, perhaps a field recording of an empty room with cars passing in the distance; but our attention is occupied mostly by a rhythmic and repetitive half-sound which might be the remnants of an air conditioner going on the frizz or two lumbermen sawing a two-by-four in a field about ten miles away. I love it. I would like to think this is a poltergeist tape, a ghostly impression of Weathers engaging with his guitar practice while his summer months dissipate away in the atmosphere, and a stern John Fahey looks down from guitarist heaven. From 11 January 2012.

Disco Dud

Frank Rothkamm‘s Reno (FLUX RECORDS FLX15) feels like a joke I don’t quite “get”. This German experimenter based in Los Angeles has excelled in providing witty tongue-in-cheek sleeve notes to his own releases of electronic music, sometimes so convoluted it’s impossible to tell when the joke leaves off, if indeed it ever does. Reno is no exception; the written insert would like us to entertain the notion that’s it’s music for a futuristic, superhuman ballet, and was executed using a program on an old Atari system connected to a suite of synths, drum machines and sequencers, which we are invited to view as an “orchestra”. Rothkamm refers in passing to rave culture in San Francisco, to New York downtown music producers, and to a genre laughingly called “Beefy House”, a term coined to express the idea that this music “has meat on its bones”. In spite of all this good natured and chortle-worthy contextualising, all I hear on the record is very average identikit disco music. Wha…? Arrived 5 January 2012.

The Great Pumpkin

Another nice item from PAS, sent to us by main man Robert L. Pepper of Brooklyn. This unusual and eccentric band of experimenters have released albums on their own PAS Music imprint, but Flanked By Women And Pumpkins (ALRN031) happens to have been picked up by the UK label Alrealon Musique. The notes here speak of “textures” and “collages”, and the music here does indeed taste about as rich as an overpacked pastrami sandwich from the Carnegie deli. The quartet of players never stint on layering on thick swathes of electronic and electroacoustic weirdness, and there’s not a moment of dead air or unfilled space on these 12 tracks of instrumental diablery, each one replete with the sort of surreal title that, if they’d been used for paintings in an art exhibit, would have culture-hungry freaks forming a line for ten blocks from the Guggenheim’s main entrance. PAS may not have developed a recognisable signature sound as yet, but I like the slightly rough edges to their music which I take as an index of their eagerness to explore and experiment, rather than spend 85 hours in the studio fruitlessly polishing the sound of a single synth track. A captious listener might complain about the half-finished meandery nature of these unkempt groaners, and start asking reasonable questions about editing or concision, but I think this is also a large degree of the charm of PAS. And while other releases of theirs have left me feeling a bit queasy with their indigestible sound, this Pumpkin record sweetens the deal with its peculiar and eccentric bursts of humour, both in the track titles and the occasional oddball voice sample which lets you know the creators are not trying to shock or offend you, just welcome you into their private worlds of half-creepy, half-hilarious antics. In short, imaginative goofball electronica with good pulsating rhythms, dayglo colours mixed with black gloss paint, and shades of Krautrock elements to boot. Excellent colourful images by Patrick Glassel too. Arrived here on 25 January 2012 but not released until April this year!

Flotsam and Jetsam

Cold Cuts

While we’re enjoying something of a Ghédalia Tazartès bonanza, seems the right time to mention this LP Repas Froid (PAN 17) which I’ve had lurking in the Summer 2011 bag for a while now. Unlike the recent Superdisque, Repas Froid does not feature the uncanny singing voice of M. Tazartès but is a tape collage suite which here is presented as two side-long suites on vinyl, although I gather it originally came out in 2009 as a CD on the French label Tanzprocesz, where it was divided into short index points and packed into an all-black cover. At first I thought this astonishing disc had been concocted from lost audio tracks from the cinema of Jean Renoir, but it seems the aural bricolage has been assembled from Tazartès’s personal audio archive. It’s mostly human voices, young and old, male and female, speaking or singing in French and perhaps other languages, cut up or fragmented or simply allowed to spill forth their inner ramblings at length; plus sound effects, bird song, and rare ethnic musics and rhythms gathered from exotic travels I can only dream about. The genius comes not just from the selection of sounds, which are fascinating enough, but from the careful assemblage and editing, and the making of judicious tape loops and repetitions to underscore certain points and not just done for the purpose of creating weird rhythms to mesmerise your mind. The creator’s unexpected juxtapositions and intelligent clashing of elements bring home a particular view of the world. Many voices are cut in at the moment where their emotional pitch is at its highest, starting with the anguished family dispute which opens side one. The old saw “all human life is here” is totally inadequate to express the depths and peculiarities of the human race which this LP presents to us. It’s true that most of the surprises and emotional jolts are on side one, but if side two’s global survey of the magic and beauty of the human singing voice does not provide you with a source of continual amazement, I’ll eat my own hat. Which brings us to the mystery figure on the cover, of which I have a monochrome reproduction on my promo CD, but as usual I will endeavour to locate a full-colour version for your visual stimulation. Another treasure from the small but select Pan label.


Driphouse (SPECTRUM SPOOLS SP 008) is another example of overlooked electronic music in the ongoing series from Spectrum Spools. Daren Ho plays synthesizers and electric piano (I think) on a release that originally surfaced as a limited run cassette on Root Strata. Driphouse bubbles up with some attractive old-fashioned sounds and has a pleasant pop-art colourful sheen, but for me the music just feels slack and disorganised; not enough effort was spent on making coherent arrangements, melodies, or musical patterns.

Spill Your Guts

Bloater‘s Radiac (NO LABEL) is a very satisfying chunk of improvised noise made from the electric guitar of Steve Smith and the electronic noise of Ken B, who recorded this in Brooklyn; I’m not sure how I got hold of a copy unless it was sent along with a package from P.A.S. The duo are proud of how they produced this music out of single takes with no overdubs, and the strong impression is that they’re tearing this uglified gloop straight from their own innards, letting it pile up around their ankles in twisted ropes until the local dogs scurry in and scavenge these intestinal leavings with their foaming jaws. No rhythms or structure to these groaning drones, but they are packed with dynamic twists that wrench your body around every 60 seconds, and the black emotion is raw, palpable and direct. These filthy musical eruptions are produced as a specific criticism of Radiac Research Corporation, a radioactive and hazardous waste storage plant that since 1978 has, many claim, been polluting the Williamsburg area and contributing to local incidences of disease. There’s plenty of information about this environmental liability included on the CD insert. No doubt the toxic subject matter accounts for the slippery, slimy and sludgy nature of Bloater’s environmentally-aware music on this release. And the blurry front cover photograph is none too reassuring either, suggesting a massive billow of black sludge in the water, with radial lines either side that could be the timbers of a boat or an X-Ray of a human ribcage clouding over with cancerous darkness. The printed insert is a direct statement on the situation, but the music is more oblique; it’s as if the duo have, for one hour, transformed themselves into cancer victims, out of sympathy.

Duck You Suckers

Here is I think the last of the CDs sent to us by the Italian guitarist Elia Casu in June 2011. For OSTinLOOP (PUSHIN RECORDS PH1005.2), he teams up with the bass player Matteo Muntoni and the drummer Stefano Vacca, and as the Piccolo Ensemble Elettroacustico they perform one original composition and six pieces composed by Ennio Morricone, most if not all of them drawn from his famed Sergio Leone soundtrack scores. As such, this is a far more melodic and structured record than Casu’s other releases of lengthy and sprawling improvisations for abstract guitar, but he still allows himself and the other musicians plenty of room to improvise quite freely on the Morricone themes. When the original Morricone melodies do surface in the middle of these jazzy suites, it’s quite unexpected. It is to this trio’s credit that they aren’t setting out to produce a slavish imitation of the Morricone orchestral sound as directed by Bruno Nicolai, but I feel they’re doing this at the expense of many of the original music’s best qualities. Morricone’s gift for unforgettable tunes, taut arrangements, unusual instrumentation and spine-tingling tension in every chord are overlooked in favour of spacey jams, “tasteful” and rather ordinary sounds, and self-indulgent soloing. The main melody of ‘Giu La Testa’, one of Morricone’s strongest and a personal favourite of mine, is rendered in a particularly ineffectual and perfunctory manner. Adding vocal samples from the films to the mix hasn’t helped restore much excitement either. On the other hand, on its own terms this emerges as pleasant and well-produced melodic jazz music.

Dead Occasions

Under Japanese Influence

Expo 70 are Justin Wright and Matt Hill. On Blackout (DEBACLE RECORDS DBL054) they play a couple of half-hour cosmic improvisations using guitar, moog, Korg, drum machine and bass guitar, doing it live in parts of New York while they sat on the floor wreathed in a crepuscular haze. Pretty good mind-numbing drone and proggy sludge pours out of their set-up, resplendent with the characteristically “thick” sound of many experimental rock and prog LPs from the 1970s, and you can almost imagine the band travelling in time to the Osaka World’s Fair from which they take their name, only to be greeted with bewildered looks and numerous Polaroid flashes. Especially effective is the layering of insane synth curlicues on top of Stooges-like guitar riffs that chunter away insistently until dawn breaks. The first track is the fugged-up rockin’ beast, the second one drifts more towards the New Agey and ambient side of their krautrock collections with its languid echoplexed guitar licks on top of melodic keyboard inventions. One of three releases from the ever-productive Seattle label which arrived here 14 February 2011.

Misty Roses

More missives flying out from the contemporary American synth-playing retro-scene that’s spreading across the continent like the silver flying glove of Klaus Dinger. Mist have an entire double LP called House (SPECTRUM SPOOLS SP004) on which John Elliott and Sam Goldberg play their Moog Voyager, Korg, Roland and Prophet synths, while Dave Smith adds something called “instruments morpho” which may be a form of post-production which equates to what Dr Moreau is to surgery. Nothing unpleasant about this rich and melodic instrumental music, which is almost indistinguishable from any given record released on the Sky Records label between 1977 and 1987. The sound of Mist is ultra-clean and the players clearly relish the possibilities afforded by their filters and sequencers, filling every available moment with incident and flourish.

Inverted Liturgies

I’ve kind of lost track of which point we have reached in the MZ.412 reissue programme from Cold Spring records, but presumably a lot of lovers of extreme occult-metal horrendousness have been made very happy in the last 12 months. Domine Rex Inferum (COLD SPRING RECORDS CSR145CD) is another one in the set of works masterminded by Kremator, and was originally issued in 2001 on Cold Meat Industry in Sweden. This one isn’t so heavy on the sheer sonic violence as others I’ve heard, and it stresses the ritualistic and curse-spinning side of this bleak noise project, most of the music amounting to a set of very ominous low-rumble synth growling and equally ominous percussion rolls. Even the titles, with their combination of strange made-up words in unusual languages with numbers and punctuation lined up in a very particular order, are as precise and deathly as a warlock’s spell or witch’s receipt. Governed by strange and unpredictable dynamics, this music has a terrifying weight and authority, and is not afraid to keep the listener waiting for hours in the corner of a cold marble temple set in a grisly wind-swept plain while we wait for the next fearful event to pass before us. Sheer desolation and abandonment will descend and sit heavily on your soul. As such, all these MZ.412 records make most “Ambient Black Metal” releases look pretty ineffectual.

Autumn Cannibalism

Cock E.S.P. is one of the “big names” of the underground American noise scene, a force of nature set into trundling motion in 1993 in Minneapolis and currently involving Emil Hagstrom, Elyse Perez, Matt Bacon and a host of imaginary members with absurd pseudonyms. It’s thought they took their name from part of a Hanatarash release, and to this day they’re doing everything possible to keep alive the flame of chaotic Japanese theatrical noise, in a way that even Boredoms have long since abandoned. In May 2011 Emil kindly sent us a copy of Historia De La Musica Cock: A Tribute to Experimental Music 1910-2010 (SUNSHIP SUN56 / LITTLE MAFIA LM078 / BREATHMINT BM330), a powerful tour de force that at once sends up, mocks, mutilates and celebrates the history of free music as it’s been manifested in the 20th century Western world, and as such it contains insane pastiches and parodies of (for instance) free jazz, punk rock, psychedelic rock, krautrock, avant-garde composition, cut-ups and sampledelica, and even noise music itself. The resultant splintered and mosaicified record, realised with the help of a significant number of guest noiseicians, is an unparalleled act of auto-cannibalism, the sort of thing you’d expect from people who have incredible record collections of insane and iconoclastic music, yet who are often seized with a mad impulse to throw all that rare and important vinyl onto a bonfire and dance around the crackling flames as they watch plumes of acrid black smoke rise into the air. There are 99 very short tracks of intense energy and hysteria, they’re divided into eleven episodes arranged as a grotesque parody of the history of music, and the titles are packed with knowing, snide citations and clever détournements; you could use this insert as a baseball scorecard or personal IQ test as you listen your way through the sizzling racket. To put it another way, it’s your map across the sonic minefield where every sniggering aside is another grenade in the face. These titles also revel in puerile humour with their incessant pornography, sodomy, fellatio, scatology, onanism, and of course much phallocentricity and anal-fixated references. I’m not quite sure why I’m using all these two-dollar words to describe this joyful and playful inanity, but you get the idea. An exciting and violent (and hilarious) record and one that ought to reinvigorate your love of music, because only by smashing and destroying the things we love in a bonfire of the vanities can we renew ourselves and return to music with a fresh pair of cleansed ears. Rest assured, Cock E.S.P. will also be thoroughly cleaning out all your other body cavities in ways you can’t begin to imagine. Arrived here 05 May 2011.

Loop Di Love

For a more respectful, one might even say reverent, approach to the modernist composers of the last century, we might turn to Loops4ever (MAZAGRAN MZ001) by Manuel Zurria. Here, following on from what he did on Repeat! in 2008, the Italian flute player offers 12 performances of compositions by Alvin Lucier, Pauline Oliveros, Terry Riley, Alvin Curran and Frederic Rzweski; pays homage to more recent contemporary maestros such as John Duncan and Jacob TV; and to remain loyal to his home country, the double-disc set leads off with a version of a work by the great Giacinto Scelsi, one of the most severe and problematic of the modernists. A flawless selection, even if the music doesn’t always excite or challenge us as much as I feel it should; quite often Zurria gives the impression he’s lost in his cloudy world of digital recording, loops, electronics and multi-tracked overdubs, simply enjoying the waves of minimal sound for their own sensual pleasures. But his seventeen minute rendition of ‘The Carnival’ by John Duncan is strong, a piercing work featuring the high-pitched whines of a piccolo flute enhanced with loops, electronics, and the laptop of Duncan himself; it’s got a good feel for the mesmerising and immersive terror that I associate with Duncan. Elsewhere, Zurria’s take on Lucier is slow and minimal, and yet not yet minimal enough; for me there’s just a little too much body and volume in the combined flutes and oscillators of ‘Almost New York’. As to Oliveros and Curran, they come out a shade too sentimental and melodic, as though Zurria were reading a bit too much meaning into the musical text. That romanticism does come in handy on the second disc though, when he applies his flutes and temple bells to performing ‘A Movement in Chrome Primitive’ by William Basinski, the New York composer who is an unabashed Pre-Raphaelite of modern composition. By this point I wondered if Zurria would have made a good addition to the Zeitkratzer Ensemble, but I think he’s just too interpretative for that. The enclosed booklet is overflowing with contextual interpolations, with detailed notes on each piece and sometimes short interviews with the collaborating composer.

Conseguito Silenzio

Excellent CD reissue of Fifteen Saxophones (UNSEEN WORLDS RECORDS UW06), a solo record by Dickie Landry who was a founding member of the Philip Glass Ensemble. There are a couple of his solo records on Chatham Square which predate this (and I suppose you’ll be lucky to see original copies of those), but this was recorded in 1974 and released on Northern Lights in 1977. The following year it was reissued on Wergo in Germany. Here Landry is working on the simple process of recording his tenor saxophones or flutes, while the engineer Kurt Munkacsi added Revox tape delay. Through overdubbing, and a basic mathematical equation, Landry arrived at fifteen saxophones, and presumably a similarly large number of flutes on ‘Alto Flute Quad Delay’. However this is not a boring “process” record, nor does it have much immediate connection to the repeated arpeggio structures of Philip Glass’s music, but was intended as an exploration of what the instrument is capable of. Landry works with long forms and uses studio techniques, but there is not so much of the system-based approach that we find with other New York minimalist composers, visual artists or sculptors, and there is much humanity, spirituality and transcendence in his music. The musical lines follow unpredictable paths, refusing simple patterns. So much for the first two pieces, but ‘Kitchen Solos’, a 22-minute piece for tenor sax which originally took up all of side two, is a great performance piece which uses tape delay to enhance several short inventive improvised phrases very much in the free jazz mode, with plenty of wild honks, screams and overblowing techniques. Clifford Allen, who wrote the new sleevenote for this release, reckons that Landry could have been a hero of the NY “jazz loft” scene in the 1970s, but there seems to have been a general closed-mindedness in music scenes at the time which prevented this crossover taking place. It seems then we can put Landry alongside people like Charlemagne Palestine, whose music depends very much on its performance by the composer, and is probably why the label’s press note suggests that this release is “Recommend if you like Steve Reich, Eliane Radigue, Phill Niblock, Albert Ayler and Joe McPhee”, the latter two names of course being free jazz maestros of the first water. Recommended! Note there is a limited press vinyl issue available also. Released 12 April 2011.

From Porter Records, a very good soundscaping composition collage thing from the Italian Salvatore Borrelli, here recording as (etre). Inferno From My Occult Diary (PORTER RECORDS PRCD-4056) is an ambitious suite that combines performance with field recordings, and sees (etre) using a large number of instruments, objects, toys, keyboards, electronics, tapes and so forth, to produce evocative and effective pieces that are quite cinematic in their sweep. His use of layers and cross-fades is matched visually by the cover artworks (by Federica Ravanelli) here, which are nice examples of double-exposure images making use of old source materials. I haven’t seen this technique in a long while and it makes me wonder if this Occult Diary is performed with cinematic or photographic projections? Borrelli is not short of ideas, nor does he stint on interpretative meaning of same – all the pieces use lengthy titles and round brackets and read like miniature essays, and when he tells us inter alia “this work is dedicated to the memory of all people whom haven’t voiced their life”, you begin to sense he’s a man with a mission, carrying a heavy burden of things that need to be said. His mosaic-like technique is applied not just to the field recordings and voices, but also to the instrumental sections, where he loops and repeats short phrases with dedication and meticulous craft. A very dense listening experience awaits you here, one that certainly creates the intended “dream-like snapshot” and exudes the “dark ritualistic tone”, but is also very compelling and rich with with humanity.

I grabbed Kiss Of Acid (MONOTYPE REC MONO033) next from the bag as it seemed to have some visual consonances with the above. It’s in a nice chipboard pack with a booklet inserted, which reads almost like an avant-garde cinema flipbook, with moody monochrome photos, high-contrast lighting, and some double-exposure images also. I think we have Lasse Marhaug to thank for this enigmatic visual treat, as he’s credited with “Art Direction”, and it’s well known he’s no slouch when it comes to graphic design for his own releases as well as being highly visually literate. He’s done at least one record and performance connected to the films of Stan Brakhage, and indeed this insert could almost be frames from a lost Brakhage movie. At any rate, Marhaug certainly was involved in making the music here, which is his reworking of some gong music (he calls it by the Classical name of the tam tam) provided by Mark Wastell, the English minimalist improviser. Marhaug has added some subtle electronic effects and is responsible for the structure of this 41-minute work, a slow and ultra-intense construction of layered recordings that is like entering a stare-off competition where your opponents are Aleister Crowley, Anton LaVey, and Rasputin the Mad Monk with his mad starin’ eyes. So complete is your mesmeric doom here that when Marhaug decides to terminate the first episode (around 16:00) with a grisly little electronic crackle, the shock you feel on awakening is almost brutal. It takes a long time for the intensity to gradually rebuild itself after that jolt, but when it does and you enter the final Mephistophelean circles of this particular jaunt you’ll feel segmented walls of iron clasping themselves around you like the embrace of the “iron maiden”. At title suggests, this music offers a grim and painful form of intimacy. One of a number of items sent to us from Poland in April.

The composition Horpma (CARRIER RECORDS 009) was sent to us from Carrier Records in Brooklyn. In its understated way, this is a fairly staggering and highly innovative work by the Icelandic composer Guðmundur Steinn Gunnarsson, an elaborate composition that requires six musicians to pluck and hammer the strings of harpsichords, pianos, guitars, harps, and some other instruments I’ve never heard of before such as the chumbuz and langspil. The strings are tuned to very precise intervals, and the players have to follow specific playing instructions which scroll before them on a computer screen, rather than any sort of traditional notation or grid-based system. The outcome is that we’re intended to perceive the work as the voice of a single 54-stringed instrument, rather than separate performances. Even the performance method is unique, as mentioned above; it’s supposed to reflect something about “traditional Icelandic prosody”, which I assume refers to the unique speech patterns we hear in those northerly climes. When I met the wonderful Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson in Reykjavik, he told me that the sagas and stories of Iceland were pretty much all they had in terms of a lasting cultural monument, unlike say the mainstream European tradition of creating buildings and cultural institutions like art galleries and museums that are intended to last hundreds of years. The press notes here tell us that fans of Harry Partch will probably enjoy Horpma, which is probably true if one is thinking about home-made multi-stringed instruments and just intonation tunings, but what also resonates is that Partch sometimes attempted to score the patterns and rhythms of human speech in his music. Traces of this can be found in the recording of ‘Bitter Music’. At all events, I’m very impressed with this extremely distinctive and unusual work by Gunnarsson, and it’s presented in a very nice embossed cover.