Tagged: cut-ups

Terminal Beach Boys

Image from https://pharoahchromium.bandcamp.com/album/gaza
Image from https://pharoahchromium.bandcamp.com/album/gaza

We’ve heard from Pharoah Chromium a couple of times, most notably with his sprawling double LP Electric Cremation from Grautag Records, which was an intense but punishing listen, something of a slog if you wanted to reach the end of it. I had no idea that the sole creator behind this project, the German-Palestinian musician Ghazi Barakat, also had a political dimension to his uncompromising messages. On Gaza, he makes his intentions more explicitly clear by turning his attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict in general and a 2014 episode in particular, a military action referred to as “Operation Protective Edge”. In doing this, he might be aligned with other musicians who have chosen sides in this affair, notably Muslimgauze and David Opp, whose records Mesarveem Lihyot Covshim and We Are All Terrorists were very extreme examples of sonic protest (and great music too).

On Gaza (NO LABEL), Pharoah Chromium doesn’t go to the extreme lengths of David Opp, but he still turns in two memorably harsh sides of noise and collage. He calls it a “sonic deconstruction and reconstruction”, using terms which aren’t far apart from the sort of language we’d expect to find in a Marxist textbook on radical activist cinema. The record has mostly been assembled from “found sounds”, which means most of its sources are derived from media blitzes. You can expect to hear lots of voice-overs, reportage, and documentary snippets of people telling their stories; mixed with this is the sound of gunfire, drones, vehicles, and anything redolent of a military operation in deployment. The vinyl LP even ends with a locked groove of a drone engine, “to give listeners the experience of the sound of day-to-day life in the Gaza Strip”. Alongside this assemblage, Barakat adds electronic noise to underscore his points, create an aesthetic effect, or simply to disrupt normal lines of thought for the listener.

There’s a real jumble of communication at work here, conflicting signals and contrasting styles of presentation; news reporters trying to appear objective and rational, fighting men seized with a passion and a cause. Where the sound of jets and rockets leaves off and the electronic noise of Pharoah Chromium begins is deliberately left unclear. The enduring sensation as we listen to Gaza is that of chaos, an insoluble confusion. Perhaps that is the message he wishes to convey, or else make a veiled commentary on media reportage of the situation. It’s hard to digest this release, and we’re not let off the hook by the provocative titles like ‘Death In The Making’ or ‘Against Terror’, nor the equally stark high-contrast photo showing devastation and destruction of cities in the Middle East. A private pressing in clear vinyl, 150 copies. From 1st February 2016.

This Is Your Captain Speaking

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The album Tapes Von Unterwegs 1971-1976 (90% WASSER WVINYL 018 / MOLOKO PLUS PLUS 079) is by Jürgen Ploog, a German experimental writer…it’s extremely unusual and a fascinating document, besides being a compelling listen…at first glance, I thought it was simply a collection of interesting field recordings captured on airline flights in the 1970s, and that’s how I initially approached the strange jumble of disembodied voices, radio static, and fragments of messages.

In fact it goes a lot deeper than that. To begin with Ploog was a pilot, not a passenger – he worked for Lufthansa for 33 years. I’m assuming this means he had direct access to more radio messages than the average traveller. The tapes are partially a document of his travels, but not in a touristy manner; using his portable tape recorder, he captured radio signals, announcements on the plane, voices of passengers and crew, and also fragments from his hotel room and cities overseas – TV and radio snippets by the cartload. Foreign voices, an international survey of jabbering. Media communication, official communication. But he’s certainly not after some banal travelogue effect; rather, this is the impression of a rather restless and unhappy mind. “My life was a series of interruptions,” he writes, “both geographically (outwardly) and psychologically (state of mind) with exposure to different countries and the constant effects of jet lag.” At one level then, he succeeds in representing very successfully this near-delirious condition of his brain, unable to make sense of the multiple layers of information with which he’s bombarded.

On another level, it’s also interesting to hear these documents of assorted bits of old-school hardware – typewriters, telephone dials, aerial televisions badly tuned, interference on the radio…added to which, there’s Ploog’s own portable tape recorder and magnetic tape. Contrary to the smooth presentation offered by digital methods, we have a view of the previous generation of analogue technology and how we used it across the world. This may be just a by-product of the time it was recorded, but it’s still of interest. Ploog was probably more concerned about how these devices were failing us, not presenting clear signals, and wondered if deeper messages were embedded somewhere in the distortion.

There’s a third, more important, dimension…interspersed with the field recordings are recordings of Ploog himself speaking certain texts, perhaps his own writings. The entire assembly of Tapes is thus a sophisticated form of the cut-up, and Ploog is advancing the ideas of fellow Beat William Burroughs (they knew each other very well), looking for the truth to leak out in between the interstices of the edit, hoping to glimpse the future in snatches, and exploiting the power of the tape recorder, and the tape splice, as much as the written word. In this light, it makes sense to see Tapes as an extension of literature, rather than as pure sound art (regardless of how it may overlap with certain Sound Poetry experiments). “Cut-up as a drug that leads to a different relationship with language,” is how Ploog intended this work to function, “just as a hallucinogen leads to an altered relation with the so-called reality. The result is a fundamental shift of meaning.”

The collection before us is a selection made in 2014 by Robert Schalinski, who did further montage and editing. Schalinski is a member of the Berlin art group Column One, whose double CD we recently noted here. This is a very strong introduction to the work of Ploog, who is highly regarded as a seminal figure in the “German-language literary underground”. Along with Jorg Fauser and Carl Weissner, he was co-founder of the small-press zine Gasolin 23 which ran from 1971 to 1986, which featured contributions from avant-garde writers and artists such as Burroughs, Bukowski, Ginsberg and Warhol.

From 30 November 2015.

Presidential Karaoke

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We received Mad Genius Presents…2012 from Mad Manor Multimedia in Madison WI, creators who call themselves “an anonymous collective of found sound addicts”…the ten tracks on their CD use collaged voice samples from the media and intend to create a global portrait of doom, disaster, and civil unrest. It seems all the sources come from YouTube videos published in the year 2012…the original plan of our plucky subversive team was to create a podcast from these materials, and say something about the “End Of Days” – it seems apocalypse culture is still alive and well, nearly 30 years after the publication of Adam Parfrey’s survey. But the Mad Manor dwellers were convinced they had something even more explosive on their hands, and assembled this album in 2015 in response to what appears to be a significant upsurge of interest from the online community. “It was played and shared thousand of times online”, to use their own expression; the present release is a remastered and “reimagined” version of the original internet piece.

From a welter of news reports, satirical and surreal sound collages have been forged, and set to the thumping tunes of disco beats and synth pop tunes with primitive simplistic melodies, the better to hammer home the messages. Among the subjects under scrutiny are crime and urban decay, race relations, contraception, the judiciary, shootings in schools, hurricanes, the discovery of the Higgs-Boson particle, and politics. Mostly American politics, I might add… It’s one thing to present “a sonic time capsule for the end of days”, but apparently this imminent disaster doesn’t apply to the rest of the world outside of the United States; yet the collages were created “using the world’s social media”, implying a more global ambition. This may simply reflect the near-domination of YouTube by American source materials and American commenters, but it tends to limit the range of this would-be subversive statement; and I find it’s already quite limited by concentrating so exclusively on media reports.

As satire, the device of chopping up the recorded words of politicians so they apparently say something contradictory, or rude, is a very old joke; I can’t say that Mad Manor improve on the formula much. A lot of their jokes fall flat because they’re so obvious – hypocritical media discussions on contraception are an easy target, likewise are most utterances of mealy-mouthed CNN presenters and other brash journalists. Some jokes don’t travel; the minutiae of the madness underlying presidential campaigns has been a perennial favourite of American satirists, lovingly detailed every four years by Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic strip in the 1950s and beyond, for instance; but it always baffles me why they think the rest of the world should care so much about it.

I prefer this album when the targets are less obvious, and the intended message far more ambivalent; for instance, ‘The Adventures Of Hurricane Mike’ succeeds in this regard, and amounts to a slightly creepy and unsettling four minutes of frown-inducing sound art. But there are few such moments; and the album browbeats more than it persuades, delivering its “clever” collaged sound-bites and agitated music with the subtlety of a Bren gun, resulting in a wearying listen. Negativland and The KLF are name-checked as precedents, of course, but I still much prefer the subtle and more humourous approaches of People Like Us. The cover art also plays games; it inserts the impassive, sun-glassed visage of Mad Genius into various real-life photos, thus enabling him to stamp his presence across time and space. This is a fairly obvious diluted version of the image of J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the whole Church of Subgenius trope. From 13 November 2015.

Le Clavier Oculaire

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The album Kindspechleber (EMPIRIC RECORDS EMREC I) by Aalfang Mit Pferdekopf is certainly one of the more perplexing oddities we’re had stowed in these quarters for a while. In terms of previous items sent here, we don’t know much about the Aalfangers apart from their involvement in a Freiband project from around 2014 – he remixed their Mutatis Mutandis album, which itself was composed from Freiband samples. They call themselves a “German experimental sound collage collective” and have been at it since 2004, with their earliest releases appearing on their own AAL label; on the other hand, it might all be the work of one man, Mirko Uhlig, rather than a collective, a possibility which only deepens the mystery.

Kindspechleber is certainly a collaged statement. In places, particularly on side one, I got the feeling it was trying to aspire to the condition of the first Faust LP, with its startling juxtapositions of sounds and ideas – clashing stabs of mundane populist music with profoundly odd arty electro-acoustic drones. Nothing could ever be as innovative or ground-breaking as Faust’s debut, but there’s no harm in treading in the footsteps of its collaging technique. Aalfang Mit Pferdekopf also use a lot of voices here, many of them treated in the studio through filters and distortions to become hideous, sneering, alien; their messages, spoken in German, are quite obscure to me, but you can tell by the underlying tone that all is not well. One might almost call Kindspechleber a troubled post-modern update on Gesang der Jünglinge.

Mirko Uhlig also favours chilling and portentous drones, almost theatrical in their sense of imminent doom, and not too far apart from something a fan of Nurse With Wound / United Dairies records would relish. But he also favours moments of utter naffness, such as clichéd rock guitar riffs and badly-executed moments of heavy metal nonsense, which are inserted in the semi-surreal narrative flow for no good reason – except to irritate the listener, perhaps. Speaking of which, that bicycle bell is pretty annoying too, chiming in randomly as if to punctuate scene changes. Other aural irritants can soon be found as the reluctant listener trudges across the six tracks on offer, and the sense of disorientation and bewilderment will only grow.

It may appear from the above that I am expressing a certain disenchantment, but I liked this odd album; the overall effect is actually quite winning, for reasons I can’t understand myself, and you reach the end sensing that there’s a conceptual wholeness to the strange journey. As well as the names mentioned above, we could happily file this alongside the more perverse moments of LPs by H.N.A.S. or Doc Wör Mirran, both acts which can share a similar preoccupation with collaging near-nonsensical materials into a carefully crafted stream of gibberish, and arriving at a similarly absurdist view of the world, intended to unbalance the mind of the listener. The cover art continues these themes, picking up from the Max Ernst technique of using old engravings as used by 150 Murderous Passions or Bladder Flask (and probably other 1980s Industrial musicians too), to convey here the idea of a modern Ship of Fools. The ship itself is disintegrating, composed of errant fly-away typography, suggesting something about the friable nature of language and the impossibility of communication. From 24 October 2012.

Janet and John

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On John, Betty and Stella (MONOTYPE RECORDS monoLP017) the duo of Krojc and Fischerle have built an album around found spoken-word samples, all of them sourced from a collection of English language learning tapes. The duo were presumably quite attracted to the mannered, stagey delivery of the actors on these tapes, as they mouth banal phrases in their plummy accents which, removed from context this way, instantly become cod-surreal vignettes of everyday life. To these elements Krojc and Fischerle add their slightly eccentric electronic bleeps and weedy Techno beats. It is meant to be funny, but the single joke wears thin very quickly, and I can’t discern any traces of the “radio drama” which the creators apparently intended. As I listen I can’t help but think that this has been done before, and much better, by People Like Us – whose carefully woven juxtapositions are far livelier and much more subversive than this slightly sarcastic and wearisome melange. The duo, Jacob Pokorski and Mateusz Wysocki, are both Polish musicians with many aliases, and have assorted backgrounds in sound installation, remixes, and collaborations with other electronica types. From September 2015.

Bedtime For Autocracy

...From Filthy Tongue Of Gods And Griots

Dälek
…From Filthy Tongue Of Gods And Griots
FRANCE ICI DAILLEURS IDA074 CD (2015)

The other day I glanced at a comment that the golden age of hip-hop was not the ‘90s but the ‘00s. Having paid relatively little attention to this period in rap history, I read no further, though it struck me that in blatant contradiction of the view stood the post-millennial rap group Dälek, who saw the times as the Kali Yuga itself: A world defined by conspiracy and social disconnection – not unlike our current reality – depicted in phraseology so arcane as to both ensnare and potentially liberate the mind with its marriage of Burroughsian cut-up, unlikely and audacious meters, and some of the most scorched earth beats since Public Enemy brought The Noise. After a relatively ‘conscious’ (but equally impressive) debut (Negro, Necro, Nekros), things really blew up on their second record, From Filthy Tongues of Gods and Griots, which found a sympathetic audience on Mike Patton’s Ipecac label – home to a couple of hip-hop strays like lo-fi vagabond Sensational – where the group stayed till their eventual dissipation in 2009. The album has aged well, hence its reissue on French label Ici D’ailleurs, coinciding with a 2015 revival and tour.

Less militant than their forebears, at times Dälek adopt a similar, though less cleverer-than-thou, approach to contemporaneous art-rap outfit Anti-Pop Consortium: language with obtuse angles and a smooth(-ish) flow, set to the industrial rhythms of Kevin Martin’s Ice, or Techno-Animal circa Brotherhood of the Bomb, albeit with less of the stark, dub-flavoured monotony. The ‘songs’ are encryptions of geopolitical conspiracies, apocalyptic prophecies, the media’s demiurgic sorcery and the reductive influence of globalisation on individual identity, especially education and the calculated misrepresentation of history in the classroom as a means of crippling self- and social awareness.

The lyrics are generally tough to follow, but exhibit a clear motive to Destroy All Rational Thought by overturning hip-hop’s oft-conservative structures/strictures and its ever-facile role as social status soapbox – be it ghetto life or neo-bourgeois bling; redefining it as a forum for metaphysical-rumination in which mind-altering mantra and hypnotic haiku provide the rhythmic underpinning. Among the more radio-friendly couplets we find for instance: ’33 degrees new continents I’m mapping – What the fuck happened?’, which MC Dälek delivers like blood flow. Such feats serve a purpose, just as Gysin and Burroughs’ formulated cut up did: as an attack on conservative power structures and a subversion of language-as-means-of-production. Dälek’s hip-hop could (and still can) silence sceptics and offer proof that paranoids really have all the facts.

Tropical Hot Dog Night

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Another fine package from Kayaka, the Japanese creator whose delightful, distinctive and good-humoured work has endeared itself to use since 2011 and a run of obscure CDRs, some of them featuring her bass clarinet playing but most of them exhibiting her cut-and-paste skills in constructing new music out of old records, samples, and effects. Her new release has found a home on the London-based Adaadat label, one of the primary sources for imaginative weirdness and quirked-out genius in the UK just now. The nine tracks on Sonic Kitchen (ADAADAT ADA0040) were created in Berlin in 2013, and once again Kaya Kamijo produces a dense, foggy quagmire of overlaid sounds, adding as many layers and rhythms as she thinks she can get away with, before the production collapses under the weight of its own varnish. If indeed she was a cook in a “Sonic Kitchen”, she’d be the kind of baker who can produce an iced cake 30 feet high and covered with filigree icing, producing an impossibly tall and spindly balletic sculpture that apparently defies gravity. Or she’d build a replica of the Brooklyn bridge out of Porterhouse steaks, that you can only eat using a lawnmower. Either way I’d like to think she would serve something more imaginative and appetising than the split hot-dog sausage that appears on the cover.

All of these tunes proceed with the easy-going, walking-pace rhythm that I describe as a “clonking” beat – the opposite of high-speed Techno music or the like, and certainly Kayaka exhibits zero interest in a slick dancefloor production when she prefers calling attention to the mechanics of how each song is assembled. This strategy allows the listener a degree of instant familiarity and comfort, before we’re led gently into the realms of the surreal and the bizarre, as each new unlikely musical element is ushered in, doing battle with spoken-word samples or excerpts from movies. We’re required to follow at least three or more lines of continuous information – a good exercise for the noggin. This time around, one key note or recurring theme appears to be a nostalgia for the past, expressed as old 78 RPM records, including cabaret songs, classical music, and dance music, all cleverly repurposed so as to instantly transcend cliché.

Lesser talents attempting to do similar things with transmuting the history of music into new forms often come a cropper; for one, they use too many samples, perhaps in an effort to convince us of their encyclopedic knowledge, or simply because they have no idea when to stop. For another, they fall prey to the crime of irony, and can’t help sneering ever so slightly at the corny old music our forebears used to enjoy. Kayaka stands innocent of both charges; her sparing use of source material is guided by good taste and an unfailing instinct that tells her precisely when “enough is enough”; and there is genuine affection for the old music she dusts down from the shelves, and she gives it new life in the context of her wonderful concoctions. Enjoy these ‘Pickled Tangos’ and ‘Hungarian Rhapsodists’ today! From 27th August 2015.

Embryolymbic

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We’ve heard a few items from the Illinois collective Amalgamated in the past, mostly short CDRs on their own Intangible Cat label. In June 2015 we were sent a large package of more recent projects associated with this low-profile combo, three of them cassette and book packages in a series called Aubjects. Number 2 in the series is not a cassette, but a new CD album by Amalgamated, released I believe in November 2014, and their first full-length release. As with the previous CDRs, one of the keywords is reassembly; each track is a construction from studio recordings and improvisations, recast and remoulded into new works, much like Holger Czukay would do with Can recordings on Limited Edition. Phil Klampe, Bob Newell, Cory Bengsten, Mike Richards and D. Petri are all involved, along with occasional bass player Frank Rathbun; the raw material used here was recorded 2004-2007 and was mixed and re-ordered over a period of three years. To put it another way, they have a backlog of home recordings which they can draw on at any time to create these new Frankenstein-monster assemblies; “these tracks have been sculpted from their original improvised form into more delicate and intensely textural states” is how the band themselves refer to this process.

Amalgamated continue to project a slightly mysterious vibe and while they have a heavy debt to Krautrock and some of the further reaches of spaced-out psychedelic rock, they can also produce moments which are strikingly original and fresh. Some of the longer tracks are especially effective, creating enough cosmic layered murk for the listener to get lost inside. Maybe they’re not quite as lo-fi or as brutally avant as they would like to think they are, despite their avowed allegiance with 1970s home-cassette bands and industrial / electronic music. Even the editing / refashioning is not especially radical or daring, and we never sense there’s much boldness behind the mixing desk nor any daring painterly sensibility in applying studio effects or post-processing; most of the coherence is created by a simple looped-beat method. It’s slightly troubling that it’s taken such a long gestation period and considerable remixing effort, just to create these nine tracks, but I’m all for editing and producing a distilled statement, rather than flooding the world with too much product. In all, I’ve got a lot of time for Amalgamated, and as ever they deliver nothing short of enjoyable, off-beat, and accomplished instrumental music here.

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Studio Tan

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Catherine Jauniaux (see previous post) shows up again on NINSHIBAR: From the Above to the Below (UNORTHODOX RECORDINGS UNHX011CD), an album credited to Alessio Riccio who plays most of the instrumental backdrops with drumming and percussion, and uses his laptop to process the sessions involving the guitars of Hasse Poulsen and a second vocalist, Monica Demuru. Riccio also credits himself with “organic sound mosaics”, which presumably refers to his facility with making hyper-fast and startling edits, which is what the finished product largely consists of. To put it another way, he can’t stop tinkering; not two seconds of a musical performance is allowed to pass before it feels the sting of Riccio’s editing knife. Plus, there’s an enormous catalogue of samples lifted from his favourite records of avant-garde noise, leading him to credit Fred Frith, Lasse Marhaug and many others as “indirect performers” in his grand scheme.

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The end result for the listener is an exhausting, restless experience, where the fatigue induced by the hard work our ears must do is barely counterbalanced by any pleasurable exhilaration we may derive from this “impossible” mosaic music. This technique is more or less in the area of Noah Creshevsky, except the latter American composer does it with taste and discrimination, while I can’t help feeling that Alessio Riccio’s primary intention is to numb us into a perpetual state of shock. It’s like hearing the complete catalogue of The Art Bears force-fed through a drum-and-bass blender. I can’t say he does any favours for Jauniaux’s work with his aggressive macho technique, nor that of Demuru, who used to be a member of Italian improvising-jazz combo Timet. The label, Unorthodox Recordings, appears to be nothing more than a vanity press to support this overwrought music of Riccio’s, and the enclosed booklet of photos and texts is conceited and self-serving, presenting an unbalanced view of the aesthetic merits of his work. If you’re in need of more Italian art-bombast, you might want to know Riccio used to be a member of Stefano Battaglia Theatrum, a small army of Italian players who created a form of big-band avant jazz whose proportions can only be guessed at.

Politics of Madness

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Recently noted Andrew Liles for his contribution to the unusual single The Glottal Allowance. Since I’m not as familiar with the work of this prolific and well-respected soundster as I ought to be, I’m not sure what to make of the A-side to his ultra-wacky single Monster Raving Loony (dotdotdot016v), released on the Irish noise label dotdotdotmusic. It plunges us into the depths of grotesque hilarity and insanity from the off, with a creepified vocal muttering lines from Lewis Carroll in the sputtering wheezy tones of a disturbing, wizened old loon. Musically, there’s a cheesy rhythm and organ melody which you’d expect to hear in some nightmare reimagining of 1970s Saturday TV, along with the carelessly-strewn TV cartoon sound effect samples which punctuate it like playful barbs. But there’s a vague nastiness underpinning Liles’ nonsensical jabbering vocal, even as he blows his raspberries at the grotesque farce that is the UK General Election (they had meant to get it out in time for 7th May this year, or 1st April – whichever comes first. Either way a carnival atmosphere of zaniness was intended.)

The B side, ‘Loony Monster Raving’, is supposed to blacken the air with a more “sinister” take on mental illness and insanity, but it still seems overly wacky to me, with its speeded-up voices a-cackling, its unexpected drum machine silliness, and an out-of-context recit that makes it resemble a bad dream from daytime Radio Four. Nurse With Wound (with whom Liles has worked) has done does similar jokes which I don’t quite get, in the form of easy-listening record cut-ups which are intended to be both mirth-inducing and darkly subversive in some way that eludes me. Jake Blanchard did the cover art of a psychotropic head explosion, and it’s pressed in orange vinyl limited to 300 copies. Arrived 6th July 2015.