Tagged: conceptual

Secrets Of The Sun

One of three items received from the label Every Contact Leaves A Trace…the odd English micro-label from whom we last heard in 2014, specialising in quite marginal sound art with a somewhat conceptual dimension…they also continue to adhere to their weird packaging strategy of issuing CDRs in cardboard sandwiches held together with bulldog clips.

Helen White is an artist in residence at The Watershed gallery in Bristol, specifically operating in the “Pervasive Media Studio”. Her work there is something to do with the environment, and she’s interested in working with data collection to make sound. On Solar Wind Chime, the CDR we have in front of us, there are three manifestations of her experiments with satellite data. What it comes down to is that we’re hearing “energy being released by the sun”, which I naively assume is being emitted and captured as some form of radio signal (my knowledge of astro-physics is less than zero). If you went to the Watershed, you might be able to see Helen making a visual representation from the same data sources. Come to think of it, the insert showing a network of overlapping and intersecting purple lines might be just that. I see from the web page that her work received coverage from Physics World and The Weather Channel.

We could note that Disinformation / Joe Banks was doing similar things in 1996, though I hasten to add I don’t think art should be seen as a “competition” to be the first artist to use a particular method or technique. That line of thought tends to see conceptual art and sound art (and fine art) as little more than a series of “gimmicks”, where success depends on being the first – and the only – person to use such a gimmick. What interests me in this instance is how similar source data can, in different hands, create two totally distinct forms of sound art. Disinformation’s Stargate record, which presented radio emissions from the sun and noise storms associated with sunspot activity, sounds completely different to Helen White’s more soothing Solar Wind Chime. Stargate was a record of “the seashore effect” as some have called it, a somewhat threatening roaring sound, which to my demented imagination suggested the terrifying power of solar flares. Solar Wind Chime is, by contrast, a rather benign if slightly strange droning tone. Through Helen White’s vision, the sun is certainly a smiling entity shedding its warm rays upon the earth, much like the sun as drawn in a book of Renaissance science.

Solar Wind Chime is also surprisingly unengaging as a listening experience. I applaud the method: White has noted the recent growth in scientific datasets and their availability, and set herself the task of “giving form to an aesthetically bereft mass of data”. Presumably this means that the digital data by itself was not something that could really be considered art, and she found ways to reprocess it into an aesthetically pleasing shape. One method has been the processing of real-time data from the satellite into this droning sound. It comes close to being music. But it’s difficult to find much of interest in this unvarying long tone; it does change, but not in very interesting ways, and the basic inertness of the source material keeps showing through. Me, I like more sublimation, not just process for its own sake. A more successful instance of what I’m talking about is Yird Muin Starn, the 2013 record by Kaffe Matthews and Mandy McIntosh. Part of this work used data derived from star constellations to reprocess field recordings made in the Galloway Forest, and the results were far more imaginative and aesthetically pleasing. However, this is still a worthwhile and interesting experiment, and it’s nice to have these snapshots of the work published in CD form. From 29th September 2016.

Webcor, Webcor

Very good and absorbing process-art piece from Stephen Cornford and Ben Gwilliam. It’s called On Taking Things Apart (WINDS MEASURE RECORDINGS wm46). Evidently the thing they took apart was an old tape recorder, a Grundig TK5, a piece of kit which my sources indicate was manufactured in the mid-1950s. The release provides a printed list of their actions, a recipe if you will, not far apart from a set of instructions that might have been used by conceptual artists or modern composers in the 1960s. The first step was to post the tape machine to another country, then dismantle it, and do things with the separate components. If you read your way through this list you’ll see the actions start out as quite productive and experimental, using the pieces to make noise, but gradually the plan becomes more destructive, and at the end of it the poor machine has its springs heated up, all its components crushed, and finally buried in the ground. Yipes! A prisoner in a medieval torture chamber would have received kinder treatment.

Cornford and Gwilliam manage to create a hefty wodge of interesting sound from their activities. It’s far from being one of the ultra-quiet releases we used to associate with this excellent experimental small label from America. In places On Taking Things Apart does become quite agitated and noisy. I like the variety of their approaches, for instance using the fixing plate of the machine as a broadcast antenna, and using the chassis to generate feedback. One’s natural inclination, possibly, might have been to fixate on the motor action of the tape recorder and thereby create 19 variations on a scrapey, grindey noise (step forward A-F Jacques). But our plucky team have been extremely imaginative in how to repurpose this Grundig. It’s also been a very exhaustive, comprehensive piece of work; the deliberation and concentration is evident on the sounds that have been published. Incidentally I note they also state “all recorded to tape”, which might mean they used old-fashioned magnetic tape for this work rather than digital recording, a decision which would be entirely in keeping with the project, giving it a satisfying conceptual wholeness.

I see Stephen Cornford is a UK sculptor and installation artist and runs the Consumer Waste label, a project which sounds worthy of attention, and may likewise involve an emphasis on recycling. We did note a single of his many years ago, Two Works For Turntables released in 2009. We also heard Ben Gwilliam on a record with Jason Zeh around 2011, which exhibited a similar concern with the behaviour of separate components of cassette tapes and their players. Paul Morgan has also referred to “Gwilliam’s mastery of frequency manipulation” in the live situation. This release is a limited edition in a letterpress cover. From 14 September 2016.

Murder at the Disco

Here’s the latest sound missive from Rinus Van Alebeek. Although he regularly sends us things from his Staaltape label, we haven’t heard a solo tape by this fellow since January 2016. That item was quite obscure and I am still not sure what its title was, although it involved a collaging from his tape collection. The same observation might apply to the current cassette. The reason I think this is because of the note appended to the inside of the wrapper, stating “all sounds and words that are used can be found on the tapes that are part of my collection”, although this isn’t exactly a lucid or revealing statement in terms of what it indicates. It would be like me saying you can find the answer to the meaning of life on a page in a book in my library. It may well be true, but which page?

The A side is called Don’t Talk At The Disco, a 2014 composition which was put together in Italy. It apparently encloses six separate suites, with subtitles such as ‘Helmets and Gasmasks’ and ‘A romantic’s vision on death and the afterlife’. I’ve enjoyed this side enormously. It seems to be Rinus doing what he does best, assembling sounds that on the surface appear to be fitted together with a random logic. Yet the connections are there, and seem to make some kind of subconscious sense, even though I frankly own I have no idea what Don’t Talk At The Disco might be about. It proceeds at a leisurely pace, sometimes causing the listener to feel like one is floating about the grass on a sunlit day. A pleasant dream state ensues. Some identifiable sounds, some murmured speech, some intelligible speech, and sounds which are hard to name. Some piano music, near the start, injecting a sense of nostalgia. Tape manipulation, wrong-speeding, spooling sounds. Church bells, the sounds of the sea. A lot of silent passages. No outright loud noise; Rinus isn’t out to shock or confuse anyone with alarming juxtapositions.

This is a highly successful instance of audio collage which shows how it’s possible to bring out connections, meanings, allusions, and resonances in a very subtle manner, yet causing quite a powerful effect on the listener. Even feeling mystified, as I do, is surely a legitimate response. I’m always impressed how Van Alebeek achieves this strong result by such imperceptible means. I have an image of him lifting up delicate tape segments with tweezers, assembling them with the care of an entomologist handling dead insects.

“You might remember finding Don’t Talk At The Disco in your postbox”, remarks Rinus in his letter. “That was a release heavy with time-consuming collage artwork.” I don’t recall receiving anything like this in the mail, but he calculates that the price tag for each unique copy ought to have been 253 Euros (about £215 based on today’s rate), given the amount of effort he put into them. Realising he’d never recoup that money, he gave all the copies away instead. I mention this as another cryptical sideline on today’s item, hoping it might shed some light on this artist’s attitude to his work. I wish more creators would take a leaf from his book; so many are career-minded, have their eye on a main chance, or are simply too “grabby”.

While Rinus has alluded to pop music in previous releases – for instance The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, and Buddy Holly – I can’t find any such themes on Don’t Talk At The Disco, in spite of the title promising some sort of observation on the music realised during that fascinating period that peaked around 1978. The B-side does contains flashes and fragments of disco music, however, even though it might not be part of the same theme as the A side. Entitled Elvis, Ein Volk it seems to be a very unusual meditation on the Elvis Presley phenomenon as refracted through the associative method of Van Alebeek tape assembly. It was created two years after the A side, and realised in The Netherlands, yet it has many of the same surface effects – including the sad and slow acoustic piano music, the sounds of the sea, the murmuring speech, and the squealing tape manipulation sounds. To some degree it sets up a “correspondence” with the A side, through throwing out these similar noises and themes as a kind of call-out. There are also some snippets of dialogue, spoken in drawling American accents, by pundits reflecting on the cultural importance of Elvis, though these utterances feel quite isolated in the sea of sound-art, odd field recordings, and general ambience of mystery that surrounds them.

If submitted to a conventional music radio station as a documentary collage on Elvis, this release might not be accepted by the editorial board with open arms. However, I like to imagine that (as ever) Van Alebeek has somehow gotten closer to a more profound “truth” about popular music than a million banal documentaries on the subject that begin and end with a visit to Graceland. What that truth may be, however, I’m unable to articulate for you. Can Van Alebeek’s texts help? All he will comment on this piece is that it’s “A sad tale of political power struggles, diagrams, and road accidents”, which is a highly puzzling remark. 1 From 25th August 2016.

  1. Of course, historical scholars will be quick to point out that “Ein Volk” is the start of one of Adolf Hitler’s notorious slogans – Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuehrer. But I think this is just a small detail; there’s no substantial evidence here that Rinus is drawing parallels between pop music culture and totalitarianism, in say the rather heavy-handed manner of The Third Reich N Roll.

Attack and Decay

Some lovely organ music played on a church organ on the record Organ Safari Lituanica (INTONEMA int019). The release is credited to Arturas Bumšteinas, the excellent Lithuanian composer and conceptualist, although the actual organ improvisations are played by Gailė Griciūtė. From what I can make out, the concept is down to Arturas Bumšteinas…it’s part of a much bigger project which he calls Organ Archipelago. Five radio programmes were commissioned by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation; these broadcasts make use of an archive of organ recordings which Bumšteinas has previously gathered from Lithuanian towns and villages, and then extended the music into improvisation, and radio drama. The improvisation part is supplied by five musicians from across the globe – Africa, Japan, and Russia are all represented. There’s also some fragmented story-telling going on, using voice actors, and some of it seems to be based on a book by Arthur Russell Wallace. So many layers. This is what we’ve come to expect of Arturas Bumšteinas…he’s a right one for mixing up many cultural sources of information into a dense wodge of conceptual spaghetti, and expecting the audience to keep up with him as they untangle the strands. Or perhaps he’d rather liken it to baking a layer cake, and we have to roll up and cut ourselves a slice, evincing surprise as each new stratum of jam and cream is exposed to our hungry eyes.

The above is not fully represented on Organ Safari Lituanica however, and I just added all that in to give you some context. For this record, Arturas Bumšteinas continues to claim “composition” as a credit, but as noted all the music is actually played by Gailė Griciūtė. I suppose it’s really a Gailė Griciūtė album, but maybe we’re entering into a John Cage / David Tudor area of similar tension, and I don’t wish to cause trouble. Gailė Griciūtė is a talented composer, visual artist and conceptualist in her own right. I’m not here to review her music to day, but if you visit her website the first thing you see is an old upright piano against a decaying plaster wall. Right on, girl! I think that image speaks volumes about her musical plan. To the left of that image you see a picture of the woman herself, and the poise and dignity with which she comports herself throughout life is evident. Some of her exhibits, as described on other pages, are highly intriguing multi-media installation pieces, involving sculpture, projections, live performances and pre-records…and seem to be based on interesting scientific ideas and observations. For instance: “Linger On Your Pale Blue Eyes explores the quest for freedom of a scientist through observing the rhizomatic unfolding of her inner monologue.” Not often we get a Lou Reed lyric and rhizomatic unfoldings together in the same sentence.

Judging by her performances here, evidently she’s also a great keyboard player and improviser, and I could happily listen to this strange curlicued music all day, if required. Really digging the weird mixed chords and unexpected explorations of melody lines. Invention just seems to pour out of her. Excellent stuff.

I’m still unsure where the Organ Archipelago concept comes in to all this. Neither can I interpret the odd cover image, which shows a detail of a hand whose fingers are picking at a piece of decayed wood. Perhaps this summarises (or even documents) what was found when they did the tour of the Lithuanian churches. Maybe all the organs are decaying. That would make a good observation about the state of the world today. Our organs are atrophying, like our brains and our hearts. From August 2016.

The Payoff

Pierre-Yves Martel

Estinto is an interesting title for this disc, as it means “extinct” or “(a debt) paid off”. However, what or whom Pierre-Yves Martel is paying off with this single 54 minute piece of music is not acknowledged. Treble viol and harmonica played simultaneously by Monsieur Martel, in a room, while sitting on a chair, probably; whilst being recorded by Ross Murray. It’s kind of like a pulsing sub-Wandelweiser silence-followed-by-signal-followed-by-silence piece; so if you imagine a guy sat there on his chair playing harmonica and treble viol simultaneously for 54 minutes. More like durational performance art, which arguably you might prefer to experience on dvd.

If you look at his website he is presenting himself more as an artist – it’s that ubiquitous term: “sound artist”, rather than “musician” although he does say that “he also works outside of instrumental music altogether, using a variety of objects rife with new sonic possibilities, from contact-mics and speakers to motors, wheels, surfaces and textures.” Like the label, he is Canadian; from Montréal I believe? The label is based not far away, in Hull, Québec. It is a piece of work that has a little trouble with its own existence outside of the artist’s head… I hesitate to use the word “conceptual” because there isn’t really much of a concept here. Clearly he’s playing with silence – the idea of using silence as a compositional tool which as I said before, is an idea I think he may have seen used by members of the Wandelweiser collective – although its equally possible that he came to this way of working in his own logical or logistical process of development – it is interesting to me (for reasons that admittedly have nothing to do with this disc before me) that Wandelweiser have gained or encouraged a reputation for using silence or quietness when quite a lot of their output is undeniably maximalist; Michael Pisaro’s A Wave And Waves for example – you couldn’t get much more maximalist than that, or at least this is the Greg Stuart rendering of it that I’m thinking of.

Pierre-Yves Martel’s work here is aimless, lacks the thrust of development and is somewhat repetitive. There are only two major changes that happen; although as an architectural tool compositionally this strategy works well. Overall, perhaps it could occupy the function of background music for an art gallery, say, were it not for the fact that sonically, it is so strident. This is a challenging piece. Do I applaud the artist’s decision to produce this piece of work? Yes. Yes, I do. Will I listen to it again at home for pleasure? I’ll let you know.

Sad Music for the End of the World

The fourth in a related series of releases from the UK small label A Year In The Country is The Quietened Bunker (Dawn Edition), which is labelled Audiological Transmission Artifact #4. As ever, it’s a showcase for contemporary electronic and ambient music. If you’ve followed the others in this AYITC series, you’ll understand these compilations are themed on notions about England and its forgotten, sometimes obscure, history; one previous release looked at the vanishing villages of the countryside, while another proposed a fanciful idea about schisms in the fabric of time, and suggested that 1973 was the year when everything went wrong in Albion. The Quietened Bunker is about military installations.

If pursuing this historical subject, it would be feasible to survey what’s left of coastal defence forts, pillboxes and other buildings from WWII, but our compilers are interested in the Cold War, and the existence of now-abandoned bunkers which were originally built in case of a nuclear attack. The compilers explain this in the insert, and they’ve also done their research into the network of underground monitoring posts, which were needed to report on such attacks; from here, they muse on the possibility of a populace living under the threat of “annihilation”, make a few mildly subversive remarks about the government and the power base that caused this catastrophe to happen, and conclude that “now it can all seem like a dream from another world”.

AYITC aren’t really troubled by hard factual data, and decline to cite dates, grid references, or even specific places in the countryside where we might find such bunkers (as Joe Banks / Disinformation might have done in the 1990s); the project is simply a cue for vague and rather banal sentiments, expressed in allusive texts and ambiguous music. I realise I make this same mean-minded quibble every time when I get these records. Even so, as a listen, The Quietened Bunker is strangely satisfying; each of the nine pieces creates a definite mood or atmosphere, and sustains it through subtle changes. Some are alarmist and paranoid in tone, some are wistful and melancholic, some are so wispy and washed-out you can barely discern their grey, fading tones. Only ‘Crush Depth’ by Unknown Heretic comes close to a watered-down form of industrial music that might seem appropriate for a record about concrete bunkers and atom bombs. The programming is very good, creating a sequence of music that “feels” right, suggesting some sort of narrative progress towards a dismal nuclear winter, and signposting several moving elegiac farewells along the way.

Featured on the comp. are such previous favourites as Polypores, Keith Seatman, Time Attendant and David Colohan, and others beside. Sad music for the end of the world, imaginary soundtracks – though probably more suitable for The Bed Sitting Room (1969) than for Threads by Barry Hines (1984). From 12 July 2016.

Beethoven: A Sonic Translation

Sébastien Roux

Quatuor is an immensely satisfying 1 and skilfully woven four movement electroacoustic suite, which yields fresh sound perspectives and connections with each subsequent listening.

How form is developed and communicated is a problem confronting any composer of electronic or electro-acoustic music. Roux has fashioned an interesting developmental method of his own, which he terms ‘sonic translation’, using pre-existing works (visual, musical or literary), as ‘scores’ for new musical pieces. This method has not only generated Quatuor, but also a piece (Inevitable Music no.1) based on Sol LeWitt’s ‘Wall Drawing no. 260’. LeWitt’s notion that ‘the idea becomes a machine that makes the art’, seems foundational to Roux’s own ‘sonic translations’, and has much in common with the methods of ‘process music’.

In Quatuor Roux has set himself overarching formal or process constrains; firstly, all of the material is drawn from Beethoven’s String Quartet No 10 in Eb Major, secondly, the structure of Quatuor follows that of the original string quartet (sonata form, rondo, scherzo, variations). Roux asked fellow composer, Mathieu Bonilla to transcribe nineteen short fragments of the quartet for an ensemble of flute, clarinet, french horn and percussion. These recordings are the material that Roux then transformed electronically into Quatuor, and Roux’s method of working locates the work within the field of musique concrète. The final overt constraints were that the transcribed fragments from the quartet should appear in the corresponding movements of Quatuor (and in the same position), and that the proportions of each part of each movement should be the same.

Whether similar ‘micro’ specifications apply to the electronic transformations that Roux applies to his acoustic material is less clear, but, on the evidence of his planning for Inevitable Music No.1, it’s certainly possible. I, for one, would love to know how – and through what – he processes his material. It’s one of my small bugbears with electronic / electroacoustic works; I can’t always work out or ‘hear’ what’s creating a sound!

Roux has placed sufficient references and signifiers around the artwork itself to lead us to the expectation that Quatuor will be a serious work of art music, even before a note of music has been heard. Such signifiers include the use both of the Beethoven quartet as ‘material’ and in his adoption of the original quartet’s Italian movement names for his own work, and also the use of the ‘traditional’ technique of transcription whereby the set of forty variations of nineteen fragments becomes, for a while, the most important element of the work; a score – an interpretable set of instructions 2 by a composer to performers (that foundational necessity of the European art music tradition).

By subtly weaving together the transcriptional and the transformational, Roux has found a method of deploying all of the elements of ‘traditional’ music, albeit in artfully re-purposed ways. Glimpses of melody, metre and harmony linger like embers throughout the arc of Quatuor due to Roux’s subtle interpolation of traces of the original ‘real’ instrumental variations with their electronic transformations. Pitch, timbre, texture, dynamics and rhythm are equally present, and these elements Roux deploys with great skill and sensitivity to create an extraordinary, and often very beautiful, flow of dynamic, textural and rhythmic accords and contrasts.

If the work of Bernard Parmegiani or John Wall or Stockhausen’s early electronic works appeals to you will almost certainly find yourself greatly taken with Quatuor. Alternatively, if you are looking for a way into the acousmatic sound world, then I would recommend this album, wholeheartedly and unhesitatingly. I hadn’t come across Sébastien Roux before this review, but I’m very pleased indeed for the introduction.

  1. The fact that seventy or so minutes of sound can be accommodated on a CD seems mesmerising to some musicians and labels, so it is good to see Sébastien Roux resisting this temptation, and producing instead a concentrated focus on a single thirty-six-minute work.
  2. Interestingly, by publishing sets of detailed instructions for the Wall Drawing series, LeWitt left open the possibility that the set of instructions for the artwork was itself the work of art, just as a score is arguably the ‘real’ work of art in European art music. Roux, on the other hand, by choosing to leave at least part of the generational process opaque, points us more directly to the artwork itself.

The Smile You Send

Another segment from the Stille Post (BÔŁT RECORDS BR R010 / MONOTYPE RECORDS mono100) box set by Alessandro Bosetti. CD03 is called A Collection Of Smiles. This is another piece for WDR, dating from 2011. Listening to this one “blind”, it seems at first like a stream of rather banal chatter from the mouths of a pan-international set of middle-class people (Australian, Europeans), not saying very much of substance to each other. In fact, the reality of the event wasn’t far from that. Bosetti set up a “situation” where a group of people would meet in the studio and told to speak to each other for one hour, without any directions as to what they should talk about. Some of these people knew each other, some of them were total strangers. Since the artist was recording every speaking voice on a separate input, at the end of this social experiment he now had in his hands a collection of voice elements which he could splice and rearrange as he saw fit. This is what ends up on A Collection Of Smiles. What may start out as something resembling a document of idle restaurant chatter soon turns into a form of vocal music (the repetitions of certain phrases become evident very quickly, creating a song-like effect with verses and choruses), or a form of abstract sound poetry as the voices pile up in rapid-fire collision edits, resulting in pleasing effects of near-gibberish. Meanings are altered subtly, as unrelated sentences are glued together. Although we might stress that there’s no processing of the sounds; Bosetti isn’t out to transform these voices into monstrous groans, for instance, which could be done by time-stretching. The rapid-fire effect, I’m slowly coming to realise, may be one of Bosetti’s trademarks; he likes a rush of information delivered in a dense parcel, and he expects us to keep up with these changes.

The other major dimension to A Collection Of Smiles is the musical score. Bosetti has noted down certain cadences and changes in timbre in the way his subjects speak, and annotated them, transforming them into a musical score. This score is then played back at certain junctures by a small chamber ensemble, in which I can hear piano, guitar, and I think some woodwinds. The precision and ingenuity with which these musical passages are matched against their spoken-word sources is uncanny, yet Bosetti doesn’t even call attention to it; he does it effortlessly, and weaves the passages into the fabric of the work without us even noticing at first that it’s even happening. The first time I heard an instance of a musician doing this was Harry Partch and his Bitter Music, where he was able to document speech patterns of people he met during his hobo years in America, and recast them as musical phrases. (See the third disc of Enclosure 2, INNOVA 401, 1995)

This leaves us with the possible task of “decoding” the content or meaning of A Collection Of Smiles. But I’m not sure if there is any. On the surface, the work feels like a 50-minute musical approximation of a Twitter stream. There’s something relentlessly upbeat about the self-satisfied tone of these individuals and their jabbering that prompts this observation, and the shallowness of their observations is only increased the more it’s repeated under Bosetti’s editing knife. As directed conversations go, this is clearly of quite a different order to the stoned freaks sitting under a tarpaulin with a piano set up by Zappa for his Lumpy Gravy album. However, the record does once again display Bosetti’s remarkable talent for fashioning dense and complex statements from his source materials, and the “different and ever-changing constellations” he is able to build in mosaic fashion clearly delights him.

We Speak From The Air

Stille Post: Radio Works 2003-2011 (BÔŁT RECORDS BR R010 / MONOTYPE RECORDS mono100) is a boxed set of radiophonic works by Italian sound artist Alessandro Bosetti which we received 21 June 2016. There are four CDs in the box. I’ll try and get through them one at a time, which means the reviews will be distributed. Arcoparlante is CD01 and dates from 2009, when Bosetti staged a game of Stille Post (Telephone) on German radio, with the help of the Klangkunst team at the station. The exact method used for this piece of live performance art isn’t crystal clear to me, but it involves sending “almost incomprehensible radio messages” over the air and having them repeated, transcribed, and re-transmitted. It’s a gigantic game of Chinese Whispers..even the simplest and most commonplace phrase is immediately misunderstood and transformed into polysyllabic nonsense, or some vaguely amusing jumble of words.

Bosetti describes the process as a “gigantic sound poetry generator” and calls Arcoparlante “an electromagnetic feast of misunderstanding on a grand scale”. You can feel the delight in his words as he writes this, pleased as Punch with having created this odd Tower of Babel situation for 50 minutes. I get the “grand misunderstanding” part of this project, some of which is to do with mistranslation between European languages, and lot of which is to do with distortion; what I don’t quite get is who was receiving the messages, how the misunderstandings were relayed back into the process, and whether anyone was even listening to the broadcast. But I don’t expect any of that matters. It’s a compelling listen, mainly because it’s so complex and happens so quickly, and the fragments of ultra-fast gibberish just whizz by like errant birds or insects in the ether. You really need to be paying attention or you’ll lose the thread in short order.

There is a structure to the work – each episode or example of the game is prefaced by an announcement which helpfully numbers the experiment in a frightfully Germanic manner – but this structure seems to break down very quickly, and the underpinning logic is hard to fathom in among the intense swirl of clipped words, phrases, static, music, distortion, and more static. Even so, it’s clear we’re intended to hear this as something “episodic”, like 300 episodes of The Archers compressed into less than an hour. I wonder if there was any post-production editing to bring about this delirious rush of information, distilling a night’s work into CD length, or if it all went down like this on the night. Souped-up John Cagean methods at work…a controlled form of chaos…a great record.


Ants, eh…you can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em…at any rate, it’s always these six-legged bastards who show up in pseudo-scientific articles when some nincompoop author is clutching for a metaphor for human society. Perhaps it’s because we suppose these tiny black rogues have organised themselves into a hierarchical system, one with a monarch at its centre, and capable of productive activity on an industrial scale we puny humans can only dream about. Then there’s their elaborate communication system, which involves flopping their pathetic antennae about in some way, to relay signals throughout the entire colony. It’s only a matter of time before some smart alec compares that to “The Internet” and starts to make outlandish claims, for instance that “Ants Invented The World Wide Web” or some such nonsense.

I for one have never trusted the ant, and regard these crawling devils with the same suspicious eye as I do most of the smaller creatures who share the earth with us. They’re up to something, and I don’t like it. One interesting trend for many years has been the cultivation of a so-called “ant farm”, which I believe involves creating a mini-colony of these unpleasant monsters inside a glass box filled with sand or porous earth, allowing us to observe the ants plotting their nefarious schemes. These ant farms have proven especially popular among American school children, who proudly exhibit them as “science projects” when they wish to earn points in entomology. The truth is far more sinister, of course…any given ant farm is just a way of proving the inevitability of capitalism, perpetuating the exploitation of labour, and the “need” for a caste system that keeps us all oppressed; and where better to indoctrinate children with this poisonous ideology than at secondary school. It’s all there, in among the ants.

Some of my justifiable paranoia and bile has, I like to think, informed the record we have in front of us – titled Ant Farm (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR241) and credited to the players Elliott Schwartz and Big Blood. It’s a slightly creepy and weird slab of sound art and music, not without its frequently beautiful moments, but mostly issued as a warning against the rise of the ants. The music was originally the soundtrack for an art exhibit, also called Ant Farm, an event which was held in Maine to showcase the work of The Ant Girls, a visual art group including Colleen Kinsella and Dorothy Schwartz. Right there you’ve got a strong thread of “ant-ness” detectable in the genesis of this particular record. I shouldn’t be surprised if The Ant Girls knew more than they were letting on.

Colleen Kinsella is also one half of Big Blood, along with Caleb Mulkerin, and they’ve been making records since 2006, many of them issued as CDRs on their own Don’t Trust The Ruin label. Weirdly, they’re actually a four-piece but only have two members. They probably came under the influence of the ants to arrive at that point. Elliott Schwartz is a veteran American composer whose modernistic (I assume) escapades date back to the 1960s, although he also made a remarkable record with Marion Brown called Soundways, issued in 1973 by the Bowdoin College Music Press. It’s remarkable for its combination of electronic keyboard music with free jazz sax blowing, a combination which always works for me. Schwartz has no traceable connection to the world of ants, and is just guesting.

The Ant Farm record will draw you in at first by dint of its unusual sound – lo-fi, crackly, misted-up recordings as if heard through a layer of aural fog. From these gentle rumbles and purrs, there will emerge strange tunes and eerie keyboard fugues, some of them played on gamelan instruments such as the Baliphone, or other hammered instruments like the Dulcimer. There’s more atmospheric home-brew electronics than you could fit in a shopping bag, and Schwartz plays his heart out when called upon, offering near-classical tunes of intricate delicacy, many of which have a narrative vibe very fitted to telling the stories of these darn ants. For instance, ‘The Queen’s Egg’ or ‘Winged Pile’ or ‘Swarm’. All of these uncanny musical elements – plus some occasional whispery breathy songs on side two – are blended into a seamless suite of gentle, vaguely sinister music of a supreme oddness, leading the listener through that evil maze-like warren that is the tunnel system of the ants. To top it all off, it’s packaged in some gorgeous sleeve art and inners, featuring paintings of – guess what! – ants at work. These images are uncredited on the release but are possibly provided by one of the Ant Girls. Great! From 17 May 2016.