It’s been a bumper few years for us Horacio Pollard fans…since 2013, we’ve heard solo tapes and CDRs such as The Words Came Through The Bung and The Frequencies Of Seizure, plus his manic contributions to band projects such as Clifford Torus and Fully Blown Dental Reform. From 25 July 2014 we have his solo album The Emotional Freedom Technique & The Theta Brainwave Amplitude Caused by Manta Ray (ADA0034), released on the London label Adaadat which has been very consistent in sending us some splendid examples of world-wide loopiness and insanely frazzled musical utterances. When working solo, the English-Argentinean Pollard can produce endless streams of delightful gibberish, but for this album he opts for the “pop-song” length and serves up 10 examples of illogical tape assembly and incomprehensible performance mayhem, more or less crowbarring the constituent parts into something that resembles an instrumental tune. There is an over-abundance of ideas, noises, sounds and sprawling musical information to absorb; each track proceeds remorselessly along its path, capering forwards like The Fool in the Tarot Deck with a dog snapping at his heels as he careers over a cliff. Not only are the assembly methods completely nuts (loops, wobbly tapes, distortion, treatments, sounds played back to front and upside down), but the original sources sound like they were already pretty crackpot to begin with. The brain and the ears struggle hard to keep up, but it’s worth exerting yourself as the reward is an incredibly liberating sense of absurdity, all done with good humour and a healthy sense of fun.
From Maxi Bacon, we have the nauseating pleasures afforded by Maci Bacon (ADAADAT ADA0033), a fairly indescribable racket that borders on the indigestible…the “charismatic” half of this strange duo is undoubtedly Scott Sinclair, an Australian performance artist who also appears as Company Fuck, a riotous karaoke / table-noise hybrid act that has been embarrassing audiences around the world for the last eight years. Clearly unafraid of the “bad taste” label, Sinclair’s act is one that mercilessly takes the mick out of “serious” music, and gleefully mixes music and sound from all manner of sources, carrying on the high-art low-art dialectic on his own dumbed-down terms. From the one video I’ve managed to find of his Company Fuck hi-jinks, the word “irrepressible” springs to mind when faced with this hyped-up cheesy-grinning court jester. He’s also associated with Borborg, The Superusers, Stick In Your Eye, and Kottbusserdamm Terror Corpse. A wonder to me that this phenomenon hasn’t yet been signed to Dual Plover Records.
Could be that Sinclair, currently based in Berlin, has found a suitable sparring partner in the form of Freeka Tet, aka Sgure, a Parisian loon who’s been assaulting the civilised world with his extreme take on electronica-noise-gabba-glitchcore (whatever…) since 2005 and his Surr Grr CDR album, which distinguished itself with the catalogue number DUMB001. My hunch is that Freeka is the one who’s nimble with his fingers and may be supplying the “customised music software” which Maxi Bacon use to cut up and rearrange the materials, in order to advance their mind-shattering outbursts. On the evidence here, the project aim is to achieve total meltdown of multiple music sources (this goes far beyond the humble “mash-up”), transform them into hideous, unrecognisable shapes, and combine everything with shocking explosions of obnoxious noise, deliberately ignoring any precepts of compositional order – “thrown together” is the order of the day. When this strategy is used as backdrop for the intense and stinky vocalese of Sinclair, you can be sure the sparks will fly. If you’ve played your 1990s Boredoms collection to death and still clamour for more insanity in like vein, I suppose this is your next stop.
Not every single track is a one-way ticket to the Bughouse, though. I’m struck by ‘Analchemy’ which doesn’t fit any of the profile outlined above, and emerges as an interesting sample-jigsaw piece that makes effective use of exploding cymbals and slow, treated noise. In this context, it’s practically Bernard Parmegiani. And the long track ‘Careless Sniffle’ feels uncharacteristic somehow; it’s as though the duo left the tape running in the studio to capture aimless humming and random noise, and published the half-baked results just to annoy the listener. But it’s a strangely compelling episode, for all its tawdry banality. For the most part, though, be prepared for shocking noise assaults, fun, silliness, and just plain weirdness. The “outrageous” cartoony collage cover art is an exact visual analogue to the music herein. From 25 July 2014.
Following on from their release by oMMM (which was sent here at the same time) the bizarre London label Adaadat has sent us another marginal and thrilling example of DJ culture going insane. The record PSS4 (ADAADAT ADA0029) by DJ Topgear – i.e. Simon Petre – is a sprawling rag-bag of far-out ideas, executed using a radical, splurgy approach to editing and mixology methods. Samples, field recordings, illogical electronic sounds, strange noise, and extremely randomised beats are piled up in exciting disarray on each of these 12 experimental tracks. It’s as though the creator were a voracious monster attempting to consume as much information from the 21st century as possible, with all parts of its body called into play – teeth, stomach, eyeballs, claws and tongue. If our culture suffers any damage under this gluttonous and omnivorous assault, then so be it. Topgear sometimes can’t escape the restrictions of the bedroom experiment, but the occasional touches of clunkiness on this album add considerably to the combined effect, and when he unleashes his imaginative spirit into the wi-fi equipped shopping malls of Canary Wharf, you can be sure the sparks will fly and ignite many a pile of over-priced tat in that obscene monument to consumerism. Some listeners appear to find this work rather bleak, but on the contrary – there is a savage glee in his eyes as he sets about his work with fiery passion, usually yielding maximal results. Simon Petre is also known as Auaua and Onthema, and used to be one half of Wang Wang Gou. The first two releases in this PSS series were released by Animal Fact Records, but good luck finding volume 3 – it was only ever out as a very limited cassette and given to friends.
A rich mish-mash of audio surprises is Borderline (EH? 78), an hour-long sprawl of tape edits assembled by Milwaukee’s Neil Gravander appearing here as Lucky Bone. He’s sewn together recordings from multiple sources, including found tapes, field recordings, live tapes of rock musicians and bands, and answering machine tapes purchased from charity shops. There are probably extensive treatments going on too, because what reaches our ears is quite often a delirious jumble of noise, distortion, repetition and looping effects. Fragments of “real life”, in the shape of documentary field recordings, leak into this fascinating and sometimes overwhelming maelstrom; they are no less strange or other-worldly than the extreme tape treatments that Gravander is constructing, and the listener needs to be prepared for a very strange journey through many surrealist corners and side-roads of the American landscape. The work is structured as four parts, each described in allusive prose by the creator writing with the associative brio of an early Jack Kerouac. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gravander is also an experimental film-maker, and while I haven’t yet ventured to experience the delights of his cinematic craft, numerous examples can be found posted on Vimeo. From 19 February 2014.
Some very imaginative and textured, dynamic electronic noise-whatsis from the Italian creator SEC_. His Outflow (dEN RECORDS 017 / HEART & CROSSBONE HCB052) was generated using the full frying pan of now-familiar methods – tape recorder, feedback, radio signals, field recordings, contact mics, synths, etc – but the outputs are tightly composed and assembled, enabling him to serve up a tremendous wallop at the business end. His highly abstracted sounds may run wild and crazy when he lets them go free, but he’s in total control at all times, and he can pull in 13 errant barking dogs with just a single tug on his mechanical leash. Each track is a fascinating assemblage of layers, all competing for oxygen inside a tight, compacted space; SEC_’s editing skills are merciless, always knowing precisely where to let the blade fall. Fans of Miguel Garcia’s brooding night-bloomers are invited to check in here immediately, but whereas Garcia likes to let his surly, ugly sounds go for an extended rampage around the garden to terrify whom they may, SEC_ is all about measured control, economy, tautness, and selection. Every second counts in his no-nonsense, monochrome world. This is the fifth solo record from SEC_, who is Mimmo Napolitano from Casamarciano. Beautiful fold-out package printed silver on black. Arrived March 2014.
Great four-track 12-inch EP by The Slate Pipe Banjo Draggers, called Peeled Up For The Sake of Fruit Music 2012. This is the work of Londoner Andy Rowe, and it’s a superb slab of lo-fi grunged up collage-techno nonsense, making a mockery of most beat-based musical genres while still retaining a strong and unignorable rhythm of its own. How does he produce these clanking, heavy, churning rhythms, which are almost like a toy-robot version of drum tracks from Can albums? He seems to be layering together several loops which don’t quite match up, and at times produces the effect of an old Gibson Les Paul being used as a drumkit. Plus there’s plenty of lovely abstract noise, general scruffiness, and obscured sampled voices. The posh Southern lady telling a banal story on the title track becomes a completely surreal personage in this context. Lovely! Last noted the work of this talented multi-media creator with his Prime Bolus Music 2010.
The Big Oaks are or were a “pop-punk” band from Newcastle Upon Tyne, and the album Monster Turd (DISTRACTION RECORDS DIST20) is intended as a tribute to the band’s main man John The Rat, also called Simon Windsor – the songwriter and personality behind this little-known but remarkable band. I’ve been unable to date the music, but Windsor died in 2012 and it all seems to have been very recent, which surprises me as it reminds us so much of Half Man Half Biscuit, Ted Chippington, or even some earlier antecedents like cassette-band unknowns The Twizzlers. Yes, The Big Oaks have a very twisted and black sense of humour, and the lyrical content comprises John The Rat’s wackoid and warped view of UK popular culture, refracted through the twin lenses of television and football, but mostly representing his own unique thought patterns. No quirkoid observation, no matter how trivial or pointless, is overlooked in Windsor’s world, and he seemed to have an uncanny ability to turn each odd detail into a short song at the drop of a hat. The rest of the band are not especially talented – you won’t want to tune in for inventive chords or dazzling guitar work, and most of these 28 songs are as simplistic as an adult nursery rhyme, with clunky 4/4 beats and very basic axe-shredding moves. But that’s all that’s needed. The label, also Newcastle based, got this release funded through a kickstarter project, and while I can’t quite share their view that The Big Oaks are “real outsider music, folks”, there’s no doubt that The Shaggs comparison is appropriate. Absurd, lively, incendiary stuff with deranged singing with lots of songs about sex and monsters, and it’s pressed in coloured vinyl – how can you resist?
Santasede‘s ten-inch (LE SOUFFLEUR 74) is on Raymond Dijkstra’s imprint and I expect we received it along with the horrifying NIvRITTI MARGA item noted here. It has a similar cover image, cut-ups of photos of antique furnishings, only now printed in negative. Grisly, nerve jangling metal percussion is to the forefront of both sides of this white vinyl slab; lurking in the background are quiet but fatally sinister chords of a murderous nature, lurking like shrouded assassins. The entire release is a ghostly vision, hinting at a dissipated European past of decadence and ghastly buried family secrets. It’s like the soundtrack to an Italian horror movie, only nowhere near as lurid as you’d expect from your typical Dario Argento gore-fest, and if a cinematic abortion existed to accompany this unsettling music, it would be a severe psychological horror of such monstrosity that viewing two reels of it would send the cinema-goer straight from the theatre to the bughouse, transported in a special truck constructed for the purpose with padded walls. Santasede is a collaboration between Raymond Dijkstra and Tiff Lion; Tiff, who might be better known to Italian indie-rock fans as the singer Tying Tiffany, provides the eerie voice work, electronic music, and acoustic instruments. Chilling, distant, alien.
J Marks / Shipen Lebzelter
Rock and Other Four Letter Words
UK PARADIGM DISCS PD28 LP (2012)
Here’s a real one of a kind item from 1968, reissued in 2012 by Clive Graham on his own label…once in a while Graham gets his hands on some real freakeroonies, such as Beyond The Black Crack by Revd Dwight Frizzell and the indispensable Bunhill Row by Adam Bohman. Rock and Other Four Letter Words, as a partially spoken-word LP, also fits into his personal interest in the Sound Poetry genre, and he has played it on his radio show Sound Poets Exposed alongside the works of Peter Handke, Kenneth Gaburo and Lou Harrison.
The original album was put together by J Marks and Shipen Lebzelter, and released by Columbia Masterworks. The story of it is that J Marks had just compiled a paperback of this title for Bantam Books featuring photographs of contemporary rock stars by Linda Eastman, with quotes from Hendrix, The Doors, Janis Joplin, The Bee Gees, The Mothers of Invention… The record we now hear was built around his tape recordings of these interviews. I should say that this LP is very far from being the “album of the book”. In fact neither these tape snippets, nor the LP itself, really explain anything about the rock musicians or their music. Instead their statements are largely fragmented, cut up and rearranged with tremendous care to form ambiguous and witty collages. It’s form of electro-acoustic manipulation, and does in some sense qualify as “sound poetry”. At least four of the tracks here allow us to hear imaginary surreal dialogues and conversations taking place between Townshend, Page, Grace Slick, Tim Buckley, Lou Adler, the Dave Clark Five and other luminaries. In these meticulously assembled segments, can we expect the “truth” about rock music in 1968 to leak out, Burroughs-style, from these compressions and cut-ups? Hear (and read) to judge for yourself. On ‘Eine Kleine Hayakawa’, Marks edited together various out-take portions – strings of pauses, yawns, mutterings and stutterings from these genius rock stars, not necessarily to make them look stupid, but simply to create 90 seconds of gloriously loopy mouth-gibberish.
I suppose we might expect “rock music” to appear here somewhere, but apart from a “rock riff” supplied by J Marks on the first track, there isn’t much of it. There is gospel, soft pop, absurd songs, microtonal chanting, and an orchestra of session musicians playing all sorts (some of them are from a free jazz background, see below). It’s a verbal and vocal album – if I can state the obvious, there’s a lot of vocals on this album, and they’re producing a veritable tidal wave of verbal information, crashing against your brain in slow motion. “This is the Word” is the opening statement on the insert, as if we’re being read scripture from the Gospel of Rock. On top of the recorded voices and cut-ups, we’ve got two separate choirs – the Gregg Smith Singers and the Greater Abyssynian Baptist Choir, and occasional lead vocals from Marks and Lebeltzer joined by the soloists Hilda Harris and Carol Miller. Harris and Miller do a fine turn on ‘It’s True’, one of many easy-listening swoonalongs on the record, Lebeltzer recites a poem on ‘Essence of its Own’, and all four are featured on ‘Greatest Hits – Love Your Navel’, a vaudeville parody song with absurdist lyrics which would’ve felt right in place on the first United States Of America album (one of this disc’s progenitors, in my estimation; another would be Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy). Harris and Miller are also called upon to recite random words plucked from US sportscasts as the libretto for ‘Poop for Sopranos and Orchestra’, another grandiose nonsense which inflates the ridiculous into the size of a Macy’s parade balloon. To their credit, the very professional singers take it all perfectly seriously, never once cracking an audible grin. Can this possibly get any better?
Well, there’s Gregg Smith Singers who on side one perform ‘In the Middle of Nothing’ which is a gorgeous Fifth Dimension soundalike with a suitably smooth arrangement, but they also sing a remarkable free-form microtonal piece on ‘Essence of its Own’, worthy of a Ligeti choir piece. At moments like these it’s clear the record has an artistic side and the creators’ printed dedication to Karlheinz Stockhausen “who destroyed our ears so we could hear” is not merely empty posturing. Besides that, they somehow recruited Alan Silva to contract some of the session musicians, and he brought in some of his free jazz friends – Andrew Cyrille, Roswell Rudd, Stephen Furtado, Martin Alter…seems astonishing that CBS would have lavished all this money on such a bizarre project from two unknowns, but I suppose this was a more innocent time. The back cover blurb “Featuring a cast of thousands” isn’t far from the mark…and that phrase resonates nicely with the hucksterism promised by the front cover, which resembles a Barnum & Bailey circus poster as much as it’s inspired by Dada typography.
It’s one thing to zoom in on various odd aspects and single tracks of this unusual album, but the totality of it is a very well-integrated and strangely mind-sapping listen. It hangs together beautifully as a fuzzy, dream-like and hilarious-serious album. It’s a unique counter-culture statement of some sort – using themes from underground and mainstream rock, free jazz, gospel, easy listening, poetry, Burroughs cut-ups…and released on a major label. “Remarkably, it is also the first record either of them made,” points out Clive Graham in his sleeve notes. “Nothing of [their] later work compares with the grand scale of their debut.” Graham has done his research, too; J Marks appeared on one other album for the same label by the 1st National Nothing, a colourful rock-theatre combo from California who wound up in NYC. After this he seems to have become Jamake Highwater and is claiming a Native American heritage in his writings and documentary works. Lebzelter’s story is no less strange; he joined The Trees Community, a travelling Christian group of folkies who made a record called The Christ Tree in 1975, which has since acquired some of the same cultiness that attached itself to Father Yod. A fine reissue job, and particular care has been taken with the insert to approximate the wild typography of the original. Groovy! Mad! Intense & really subversive but reasonable!
I think we last heard from Neil Campbell / Astral Social Club as one half of Iibiis Rooge, a duo who produced an extremely trippy and de-centred experience of cluttered dronery for Dekorder around 2010. Fans of that LP should tune in to Generator Breaker (DEKORDER 055), a 2011 solo record by Astral Social Club, but it’s frankly hard to believe it’s just two sides of 33 RPM groove, since there’s probably enough information and layering packed into the wax here to fill at least a triple album box set. It’s thick and dense as lead-lined marmalade…Astral Social Club’s method, if I can attempt analysis for a second or two, is to blend drones, rhythms, melodies and beats in ways that should not really work, as if creating a three-dimensional art painting on sheets of perspex in a deserted aircraft hangar, with results that magically always look fantastic no matter where you’re positioned as a viewer. Even Ellsworth Kelly woulda turned in his shingle at that. High sounds, low sounds, big bass and tiny tinkling details – enormous ranges of aural saturation are welded together with great craft and skill. At moments during this album, when the layers slightly shift and drop away leaving us glimpses of other source materials through little sound-windows, I was reminded of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, a record which for ages had a reputation of being merely random noise when in fact (as was recently uncovered) there are speeded-up tapes of a musical sort shrieking their heads off inside the chaotic and inhuman mixture. Astral Social Club ain’t inhuman though, and to be sure he makes highly compassionate and luv-enriched droneathons fit for listening by happy humans. But he also flirts with chaos in an exciting way, accreting his layers and additions until you think the impossible structure can withstand no more weight. Then he puts a dollop of whipped cream on top, and amazingly the gigantic sonic sundae still stands, wobbling its way to your table. I never heard any of Psychic TV’s excursions into Acid House dementia in the late 1980s, but I would like to imagine they were as thickly intoxicating as these brews. (03/10/2011)
Last noted the talented Ashley Paul in January 2012 with her single for the Emerald Cocoon label. It’s a pleasure to receive Slow Boat (ORANGE MILK RECORDS), a full-length album of songs. She sings and plays all the instruments, apart from some assistance with percussion from Eli Keszler. Once again she produces an opaque, poetic and deeply personal statement, entirely on her own terms. I enjoy her approach to music very much, although I can also see how some listeners might find it somewhat challenging listening. It’s very hard to make out the words she sings, the album proceeds at a very slow pace, every note played seems uncertain and vague, and there isn’t a recognisable melody in sight within this brittle atonal zone. But these qualities are Ashley Paul’s strengths. She is pushing herself out on a limb the entire time, working hard to refuse any sort of conventional sound or over-familiar turn of musical phrase. She has distilled her work – both words and music – to an essence, where nothing superfluous or unnecessary remains. While this might lead her at times to appear mannered and stilted in her vocalising, you only have to listen for three minutes to discern the absolute conviction of this artist. Net result is an album that, in terms of its sound, is genuinely unique and original. If so inclined, you could separate out some of the sounds and find consonances with minimal avant-garde jazz in the clarinet and percussion effects, but soon other weird sounds haunt the track and you’ll find that comparison will not stand for long. What is Ashley Paul’s message to the world? I think it could be summed up as “life is uncertain”…1 the cryptic and allusive lyrics she mouths so hesitantly are one clue in that direction, and another clue is the still-born caution in each performance; every track is performed by a frightened steel-wire puppet, not knowing where the next step will lead. And the abiding atmosphere is underpinned by further groans of unknowing from the percussion section, which is sometimes capable of yielding a heavy sigh that makes you think the world is about to end in five minutes. In all, I really do think Ashley Paul has many profound things to say, but she herself isn’t entirely sure what they are; so she works out her uncertainty in public, on record, taking baby-steps out of the comfort zone and into the bleak world of unknowable powers. She makes music to find out why she wants to make music. 2
Vapor Gourds has made an entertaining and innovative record called Dagger Magic (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FRT086). If lo-fi and raw electronic mish-mash are elements that feed potassium to your inner plant life, then seek out this marginal curio and plant it in your flowerpot. This first came out as a cassette in 2008 and has now been repressed as a vinyl item by the Feeding Tube Records label, keen to spread the waywardness a bit further than the original broadcast. Jake Meginsky is Vapor Gourds, and also works in Slaughterhouse Percussion and X.O.4, beside being a percussionist, DJ and sound engineer. Dagger Magic is very much an assembled album, rather than a performed one, but it’s hard to tell with any certainty the tape loops and samples from the live electronic components, if any. I enjoy the rough collaged edges and slightly mismatched elements, giving Dagger Magic the lively feel of a thrown-together experiment instead of a product that’s been cooked to death through overdubbing and studio technique. Some tracks work as a form of minimal dub-electronica, all tasty micro-melodies and snappy beats; others are inchoate noise, barely responding to the rule of the “near-subliminal pulse work” that is laced through the album; much more of it is impossible to identify in any way. It all adds to a distinctive, tinny, barely-works flavour; no wonder the label invokes comparisons with Voice Crack on that account. I like the honesty and simplicity of Vapor Gourds on this outing, he has the spontaneous creativity of a sculptor working in coloured plasticine, whose lumpy figurines instantly harden into silver-plated miniature robots.
Jamka / Urban Failure / RBNX
SLOVAKIA URBSOUNDS COLLECTIVE 10 LP (2004)
A nice vinyl compilation from the Slovakian underground electronica team. This one showcases early work from Jamka, Urbanfailure, and RBNX, recorded in late 2003 and 2004. The five tracks from Jamka are all live recordings made with various synths and sequencers, each one presenting an overloaded surface of near-chaos, scattered liberally with squiggly noise and frantic scrabbling. A recognisable pattern of beats, or pulsations, barely emerges from the frenetic activity of the duo of Monika and Daniel. It’s hard not to love their intuitive, near-primitive approach to the way they hammer their devices, and they regard their music as a response to everything around them and a piece of collaborative teamwork which could only be performed by them. (They are friends of mine and they commissioned me to draw a T-shirt, so I will declare an interest). Urbanfailure has a good dose of the same happy amateurism in his music, but his cuts feel much sketchier and half-finished; I don’t feel the same drive or passion in these rather random collisions of minimal drum-machine programs with errant keyboard stabs and yoopling electronica, but ‘External Clock Jitter’ is a great title and quite descriptive of his “machines going wrong” approach. Like Jamka, he seems determined to subvert steady patterns with his beats and tries his best to disrupt linearity. RBNX just has one track. His work takes a while to get going. Random pieces of electric noise, mistakes, doodles and jumble are fished out of a storage unit and stitched together according to a highly illogical scheme. For this very reason it is also quite endearing, though it’s almost impossible to follow the creator’s line of thought, if indeed there is one. A true bedroom mixing-desker.
GERMANY DEKORDER LP (2011)
First heard from Sculpture with the 2010 release Rotary Signal Emitter, about which we enthused mightily. Now here’s more of the same, another gorgeous 45RPM picture disc with the music by Dan Hayhurst and visual by Reuben Sutherland and an art object that in some respects conjures up the live performances of this unique and very creative English duo. Apparently it is possible to recreate the zoetrope effect of the picture disc when it’s rotating on your deck, but only if you capture it on a camcorder from just the right angle. Hayhurst’s music is an irresistible melange of cut-ups from old records, beats, analogue squelchiness, and sources that would baffle us if the truth were known. Perhaps he uses a time machine and rescues old singles pressed onto cardboard cereal packets from the 1960s. All is thrown together with a bric-a-brac carelessness, a right-first-time boldness of gesture, qualities that would surely have endeared him to Claes Oldenburg. In fact I could easily see a record like Toad Blinker making a very good soundtrack for a visit to an Oldenburg exhibition full of glazed plaster casts and brightly painted papier-mache assemblages heaped up in disorder on the rickety wooden tables. Sculpture may have one foot in club culture, but like our urbsounds friends above they find ingenious ways of sabotaging the four-square tyranny of the beatbox, and any over-familiar or trite keyboard sounds are likewise disrupted and denormalised by the hyper-busy collaging technique. Hayhurst has the nimble fingers of a Carnaby Street tailor cutting a paisley shirt for some rich Kensington hippy in 1968. I may have noted this before with Sculpture, but these movie-picture disks represent a highly integrated art statement that puts all of their strengths into a single portable package of audio-visual information.
We heard from Sula Bassana in February when he contributed to the monstrous Electric Moon LP The Doomsday Machine…we first gained the impression that Dark Days (SULATRON RECORDS ST1204-2) might, in title at least, be following from that depressive slab in a similar vein of blackened, thundering, ultra-heavy psychedelic space-rock…on the contrary it turns out to be a generally uplifting and sometimes mystical album of mighty guitar riffs, supremely steady drumbeats, and cosmic flurries of synth-winds howling around every corner. Apart from percussion assist on a couple of tracks by Pablo Carneval and vocals by David Henrikkson, this is totally a solo album by Bassana (i.e. Dave Schmidt), also assisted to some degree by Komet Lulu who did the sleeve paintings of orange, brown and green mosspit-shapes crawling from the belly of the universe, said images being used in turn by the musician to influence and shape his playing as he scoped these impasto swabs of lurid smearage. Another strong album from this retroid genius, a man so besotted with Krautrock he is capable of dipping the genre in gold, while condensing all his favourite Pink Floyd moments into intense hits of overamped smokiness…this outing contains the memorable 20-minute ‘Surrealistic Journey’ which sends the listener on a “far-out trip” in line with the aspirations of any given album by Gong or Hawkwind, while for those who prefer something punchier we have the very strong opening cuts ‘Underground’ and ‘Departure’…only place where the mood sags a little is on ‘Bright Nights’, a meandering odyssey into brain cells best left unturned, resulting in shapeless noodly guitar lines and, ultimately, dollops of rather pointless noise…and I’m not so keen on the frenetic beat-loops of ‘Arriving Nowhere’ which sometimes seems to be turning its ageing grey hippy head in the direction of Techno music and misunderstanding what it sees. From 20 June 2012, also available as a double LP.
Got a large bundle of curios from the Spectropol Records label in Bellingham (Washington State)…first picked out from the envelope was Elle Avait Raison Hathor (SPECT 11) by Vincent Berger Rond. He is an electro-acoustic composer based in Quebec, and presumably appears on the back cover in his winter garb standing besides an ice sculpture of a female head and shoulders. The winter wear is our first clue that this is difficult and inhospitable music for seasoned hardy outdoors-types only, on which more shortly. Meanwhile any attempt to stare fixedly at the image of the woman in order to decipher her features will simply result in even less definition, as it gradually recedes from your intelligence evasively. The whole album, you see, is a conceptual composition addressing “notions of womanhood” and doing so by filtering its music through an understanding of mythological treatments…Japanese, Greek, Inuit and Egyptian texts are found within the booklet, dropping hints that are somewhat less than lucid, yet strangely illuminating. Circe is the well-known enchantress from The Odyssey, but in a few lines you learn more about her meaning and symbolic resonance than you could have wished for. We’ve got a female vocalist Laura Kilty on the first track, where she intones her own settings for the poetry of Rond, but after that the remainder of the album is instrumental. It features strings and piano as you might expect from classical chamber music, but also synthesisers in a couple of places, electric organ, and the multi-dubbed electric guitars of Fred Szymanski. But none of this knowledge prepares you for the sheer weirdness of the distorted soundscape – the whole record just sounds completely bizarre. Vincent Berger Rond’s technique involves a lot of cutting up, editing, reshaping, modification and recomposing, such that Szymanski’s improvised guitar lines, for example, are completely recast into incredible, impossible shapes. The notes also refer to the composer’s “spasmacousmatic” method, which is a highly evocative term suggestive of a deeply radical and idiosyncratic approach to this contemporary form of composition. Not easy to listen to, but he plays fair; the work has clearly been assembled with great care and commitment to the form, and each piece, though at first bewildering, clearly adheres to an internal logic. The womanhood theme is not really explained in detail, which is a relief to any readers who are doubtful about long-winded explanations of an artist’s intentions, but Rond provides terse informational notes about this and would probably be very pleased if we did some research into the area for ourselves. From 13 June 2012.
We noted eRikm‘s Austral in November 2012 – at any rate, the audio dimension of it, which was released by Room40 as part of the Transfall album. Now here it is again as a DVD (DAC2031) from D’Autres Cordes Records, reminding us that the composition is a mixed-media work, combining electronic music with video. The visual side to the work was also created by the composer, and shows him weaving electronically-generated abstract shapes across the screen in shades of gray, green, and red, which multiply and germinate in jerky animated fashion. These images used photographs of cities as their starting point, taken from his journeys to South America. The music is played by the Laborintus Ensemble and remains a sharp snappy piece of atonal chamber music, sounding even better in this DVD presentation. But the visuals are rather banal, very process-heavy, not much more adventurous than a first year art student exercise. From 15 June 2012.
Fractures (DEBACLE DBL076) is a perfectly pleasant record of electronica / beats music by Rainbow Lorikeet. I like the “dubby” construction of the music that emphasises the heavy beats and the spaces in between, reminding me in places of Techno Animal – which I’ll admit is one of the few points of reference I have for this musical genre. Lorikeet’s electric sounds are not very distinctive or inventive though, and I find my attention wavering very quickly after only a few moments of this over-familiar crunch-and-squelch morass.
Anita‘s Hippocamping (WILDRFID RECORDS WLDRFD006) is more successful as an example of inventive and personalised electronica. We’re not given much reliable information on her technique, but I have the impression she’s something of a mosaicist, piecing together musical fugues out of very small fragments of sounds, tones, and whatever shapes she can find lying around the floor of the workshop to pick up and add to the collage. Resultant album is a highly textured listen – you can feel your ears being dragged over a thousand different rugs, textiles, vinyl floors, coconut matting, and assorted soft (and hard) furnishings. While she doesn’t abandon form completely, Anita has very little interest in composing a tune, and would prefer to leave you spinning in an unfamiliar micro-landscape for three or four minutes at a time, while she makes a cup of coffee (small black espresso, natch) and admires the results of her labours with a wicked smirk. What’s also impressive is the very firm and muscular core to these steel-belted monstrinos; Anita is never content to settle for a comforting decaffeinated drone when she can tie you up with eighteen yards of fencing wire. Track 11 is titled ‘L’Ultimo Yogurt’, which is precisely the sort of dessert I’d expect to be served if I was invited to a dinner party by this mysterious woman. This exists as a limited LP with a screenprinted cover and insert provided by visual artist Sofy Maladie.
The Bunwinkies LP Maps Of Our New Constellations (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR062) is a collection of acoustic songs from these fey American types who play plenty of acoustic guitars and sing, adding many pleasing instrumental touches from the piano, slide guitar, autoharp, melodica. They are particularly good with the percussion which ornaments in spare and original ways. So far we have like a model version of a country and western backing band, only reduced and updated for the no-nonsense 21st century. But there is also the strong singing voice of Beverly Ketch put to the fore, a voice which once it’s heard will bring a ray of sunshine to every tear duct. Her lyrics are about flowers, colours, life, skies, countryside, the weather, the seasons, the grass and the trees, and such. Mainly about the joys of looking at beautiful things and what we can learn about life thereby. Only a miserable bitterling could complain about that. Another telling song on side one is celebrating the values of the family and the simple country life, as opposed to being ruled by the tyranny of the clock and working for another man, presumably in the city with a huge pocket watch strapped to the back. This is sung by one of the male Bunwinkies. Apparently they like to project the idea of a rural family 1, even if the band members aren’t all quite related. The production is direct and clear. I like the very simple and plain arrangements – nothing is “hidden” or occluded under studio cloaks, and all the plain instrumental technique is there on full display. Pieces of homespun furniture might adorn the living room of this rural family if we ever visited. If carping, I might say their tunes are not especially original or memorable, and often the singers (the men in the band also vocalise) default to rather obvious melody lines which are already implied in their chord changes. But it’s still a jolly and assured sound they sing out with as they swagger and swing along the country road, without any free-form burbling or off-key nonsense that has oft-times been associated with lesser entries in the “free folk” genre. The album is a pleasant piece of non-weird Americana. From December 2011.
The Ship Chop LP (DEKORDER 059) is edited by Daniel Padden, the talented and visionary Glasgow composer who is also known as a member of Volcano The Bear. His Pause For The Jet LP for this label remains a fave in these quarters. This newie is a cut-up special, the result of a pro-active guerrilla raid on a record collection, perhaps his own, of ethnographic recordings. Apparently when he started his labours, he began keeping careful notes of sources, dates, countries, and other salient details that fell into his sampling sack, and then found that the work he produced was taking on a life of its own, at which point he decided the notes became superfluous. Or at any rate they were a degree of administrative detail which hampered the creative process. I take this to mean that he started out with an interest in significant geographical connections between the history of indigenous music, and then grew more interested in creating these exciting and weird collages that are a law unto themselves, coiled with an internal logic that only a Padden can explain. The results burned onto the vinyl are certainly rich in content. At any given time across these 11 tracks we could hear recordings from “at least three different countries”. Samples, snatches, loops, overlays, cut-ups, and multi-layered playbacks are among the techniques used to create this impossible fantasy of world history, expressed in tongue, foot, hand and arm. A great deal of ingenuity has been used in building these musical juxtapositions. Melody lines from weird bagpipes and horns, vocalists intoning in foreign or lost tongues, and invented rhythm patterns made perhaps from gamelan and drum samples. Unlike Ghédalia Tazartès say who would make it his mission to use ethnographic music history to terrify us with its strangeness, Padden takes a more approachable view and arrives at a sort of latterday Exotica concoction, applying the mannerisms and stylings of Martin Denny and Les Baxter as he boils and fricassees the record collection in the hard drive. He completes the assemblage (and emphasises the artifice of it all) by adding wonderfully contrived fragmented titles, some of which read like lost counsels from the writings of a wise Chinese philosopher, while some of them are just shopping lists of objects which might feasibly have been found in 1930s Africa, Peru or Thailand. Arrived November 2011.
Unusual and striking experiments in song form called Always Already (ASH INTERNATIONAL ASH 10.1) by Purity Supreme. I like the way the package presents a stern countenance explaining very little, assuming that we all know the parties involved; already the release feels like an odd riddle. Two songs on the A side. The main attraction to the listener is the singing-intoning voice of the lead
fellow singer, who may or may not be the French half of the act. Cracked and dusty his their vocal cords be, whether through mannered device or naturally desiccated, trying to convey the effect of a dissolute and broken man person. Just right for followers of Wm Burroughs we might think, but this sort of prose-speak-sing also shades into areas once occupied by Nick Cave or Michael Gira, as does the lugubrious and dense content. The lyrics are highly ambiguous, even when they seem straight to the point and use plain English at all times. I like to hear multiple repetitions of slightly mysterious phrases in songs and Purity Supreme does this trick very well. The first song keeps saying “It’s Nice To See You”, when the mood of the singer and indeed the music itself is expressing the exact opposite of that sentiment, and it’s a song that wishes we would just go home and stay there. Angst-ridden steel strings and a relentless drum pattern make this snarky item a vicious twin brother to Leonard Cohen’s later works. The second song is slightly more recognisable as something a weary Lou Reed might have recorded at any time between 1975 and 1988, and with its basic guitar and drum sound could almost pass for any decent slab of indie art-rock music. On the flip, even more words and more repetitions in the two remaining songs. So many words, these songs are more like recited poems or short stories really, very much like a slightly nastier Tom Waits or what we might hear if Charles Bukowski turned his throaty husk to song. Indeed the words are privileged by appearing in full on the front cover. And there’s a very strong cinematic component too, with vivid film noir images somehow encoded in the very sound of the record. Narrators alluding to scenes unknown, to backstories we cannot know, and delivered with a snarling curl to the lip at all times. The creators here are the French musician Christophe Van Huffel, and the American writer-composer Leslie Winer. Quite unusual, muscular, and opaque music from these offbeat modern beatniks.
[Updated above review 16/01/2013: I think I got genders wrong and misidentified performers.]
Big Shadow Montana (HELEN SCARSDALE AGENCY HMS020) is a rich abstract droner from BJ Nilsen teaming up with Stilluppsteypa. As electronic ambient mood music goes this is surprisingly rich and full of hidden information. A lot of hidden layers are buried in its vaguely shifting masses of treated sound, and odd segments bob to the surface until we can make out their shapes in the cauldron, at which point they vanish below again. Heavenly choirs, church organ, opera singers, and even some sitars are among these semi-occluded elements. The record even manages to morph into some musical passages now and again, rather than simply meandering around the textured fields of digital linoleum in padded Turkish slippers. To yield these results, much judicious selection and assembly of sources would have been a requisite discipline, methinks. A great deal of time spent by the creators listening and editing. Nilsen is very good at bringing a multitude of field recordings and samples together into a small space and somehow getting them to tell a story, in very loose terms. This one is like a psychedelic sleep-walk episode through a dayglo Tibetan landscape. It is divided up into subtle little episodes, and moves forward on its sluggish feet from one ambiguous stepping stone to the next. Lots of keyboards in evidence, in case I didn’t mention that. And a knack for breaking into a little pop melody when you least expect it. Arrived here 16 February 2012.
- For other examples, perhaps see The Grateful Dead and the verso of their Aoxomoxoa LP cover; and Quicksilver Messenger Service, with their outlaw ranchhouse lifestyle. ↩
I think we last heard from Noah Creshevsky with his 2010 album Twilight of the Gods, released on the Tzadik label, and there is also the 2008 item Favorite Encores where he teamed up with If, Bwana. Now here he is on Al Margolis’ label Pogus Productions with Rounded With A Sleep (POGUS 21063-2), containing seven recent-ish examples of his dazzling and impressive “hyperrealism” compositions. Creshevsky is a meticulous electro-acoustic maestro who uses an extreme form of editing, cutting and pasting together sounds from multiple sources; on this record, he does it using the recorded performances of numerous musicians, so we have a rich array of musical notes and sounds from clarinet, voices, guitar, banjo, steel guitar, cello, bass, and improvised piano music. Twilight of the Gods went all-out for the wow-factor with its intense and utterly impossible layered compositions, its runs of notes rushing past at ridiculous speeds, and a generally breathless tone throughout most of the album. Rounded With A Sleep feels somewhat more manageable than that tornado, and its keynote to me seems to be an intimate contemporary form of chamber music. This may be simply because there aren’t as many instruments to listen to, but this outlandish composer does not skimp on the “can such things be?” factor, presenting us with a lavish feast of layered, cropped, varispeeded and intricately assembled musical phrases, the like of which hasn’t really been heard since Frank Zappa overworked the Apostolic Studios board on the Uncle Meat album in 1968. This is particularly evident on the clarinet and keyboard interplay on ‘La Sonnambula’, and the astonishing recastings made out of Stuart Isacoff’s piano work on ‘What If’, which is like a surrealistic walkthrough the history of classical European keyboard music. If I knew more about the field, I might be able to identify resonances with Bach, Mozart and Haydn with more confidence, but as it is I can only effuse my vague ill-informed impressions. I’m on slightly safer ground with the guitar-based piece ‘The Kindness of Strangers’, which offers us a virtual trio of guitar, bass, lap steel and banjo players, refashioned in the studio to create an utterly mangled form of anguloid country and western music, where not even the singing voice is spared the full Creshevsky treatment. One is usually left somewhat exhausted by listening to only ten minutes of this dense music, but it is clear Creshevsky is not simply out to surprise or stun the listener with a zillion cultural references and juxtapositions in the manner of many plunderphonics artists over the last 20 years. On the contrary, he aims to advance music. His sleeve notes here offer a robust critique of the norms of classical music performance, highlighting the “bad economics” of paying “good wages to a live performer who merely sings a 10-second coda at the end of a string quartet”. Creshevsky’s hyperrealism, and by extension any music that has been collaged in a studio through judicious selection of the best performances 1, offers a viable alternative to that old 19th century concert-hall based model. However the composer is not out to completely junk the past, and he is driven by traditional musical values of virtuosity, sonic palettes, and the production of an expressive musical language. His edits produce a form of super-virtuosity from the work of the already highly-capable musicians he works with. If his music seems exaggerated to us, it’s because he feels he also has to compete with the excesses of the information age, where we have been exposed to so much culture that he fears the power of music may be diminished. Creshevsky’s response to the situation is far from pessimistic; he devotes himself to creating energised and uplifting music, that truly refreshes the sensory passages. From 17 February 2012.
The American composer John Bischoff studied with Robert Ashley at Mills, and was also a member of the League of Automatic Music Composers. The latter team of experimenters made use of early (late 1970s-early 1980s) computer technology to generate random electronic music in endearingly home-made ways. On Audio Combine (NEW WORLD RECORDS 80727-2), we hear five of his more recent works dating from 2004 to 2011, which are broadly related in their use of physical objects or instruments being employed to trigger electronic sounds. There are subtle variations to do with the use of amplification, timing patterns, and attempts to subvert or re-order the original time sequences by ingenious methods. Most of this very process-heavy music seemed uneventful to me, but I enjoyed parts of ‘Sidewalk Chatter’ which was made using the STEIM crackle box 2 and effectively documents some sort of interactive hands-on dialogue between the performer and a computer, via the exposed metal circuits of the box. ‘Surface Effect’ is also sporadically exciting and works on similar principles, that is the interaction between a trigger device and a computer program, but this piece makes more extensive use of pre-planned random structures and allows, in a control-freak sort of way, the oscillators to create unpredictable patterns. A complex form of a detuned and unstable synthesiser, if you will, which benefits from being entirely hand-made by Bischoff. From 20 February 2012.
Trophies is the oddball project of the Italian composer Alessandro Bosetti, a vehicle for his complex prose-poem concoctions which he intones rather emotionlessly on top of a free-form musical structure provided by the drummer Ches Smith and the guitarist Kenta Nagai. Bosetii also adds uncertain electronic tones, colours and washes, and Nagai’s guitar is fretless, meaning he is able to make music while avoiding constructing familiar riffs or tunes. These strategies add to the deliberately obtuse contours of the sound and the open-ended nature of the compositions, producing sensations in the listener that are very hard to explain. Six examples of this perplexing music can be heard on A Color Photo Of The Horse (D.S. AL CODA #4), all recorded in Brooklyn in a single day in 2010 under the production guidance of Alex Waterman. Trophies music is always a bit daunting and overwhelming to listen to. For starters, the music is half-familiar, half-unfamiliar; at times it almost resembles a form of dissonant experimental jazz-minimalism performed without any sort of underpinning rhythm or pattern, and at other times proceeds with the urgency of a tricky Trey Gunn riff from a latter incarnation of King Crimson. Mostly, it is dissonant and unpredictable, wriggling about the turf like a structural-materialist centipede. Then there’s the equally tricky lyrical content, a jumbled explosion of prose verbosity which may sometimes repeat certain phrases, and which occupies some halfway mark between Samuel Beckett and Lenny Bruce. As soon as I think I stand on the verge of grasping the meaning of these breathless texts, they almost instantly collapse back into a sea of absurdity and gibberish. The situation is not helped by Bosetti’s studied ambiguity as he performs his half-musical recits, at times almost parodying the emotional dramas of a soul singer or operatic diva, but mostly rattling through his forests of words with the speed and efficiency of a human typewriter. True meanings are masked in this post-modern diatribe. Make no mistake, this is a truly fine art piece of business – conceptual art trammelled up with music in ways that make Laurie Anderson sound like pop music. In some ways this could be the closest we’ll get to hearing a Raymond Pettibon drawing in sound. This release is one of numerous oddities, including some DVDs, we received from this inscrutable art label in January 2012. All of them are packed in sleeves which cannot be unfolded.