Tagged: cut-ups

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.

Ornate Verbs

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Here’s a popular trope or theme – electro-acoustic art-music derived from old wax cylinder recordings. The last time we heard something directly produced by this method was Music For Wax-Cylinders by Merzouga in 2014, where two improvising electronic types were allowed to get their stubs on thousands of rare cylinders stored at the Berlin Phonogram Archive, and produced subtle and delicate sound-art. There was also John Schott’s Shuffle Play: Elegies For The Recording Angel (from 2000), which included historic Edison cylinder recordings woven into its ambitious fabric. It’s always welcome in our line of music – everyone loves “old” recordings, the distressed surface noise, the “ghostly” hauntological vibe…78 RPM recordings are fair game too (just ask Robert Millis), but for sheer rotational groove and fragility, you can’t beat a wax cylinder.

In the case of RRBVEETNSOA (National Screen & Sound Archive of Wales / Sian Records GENCD 8002), we have a single recording made around 1904 or 1905 by Evan Roberts, an important Welsh revivalist / evangelical speaker whose enthusiastic preaching, along with the singing of a small male choir, was captured on a cylinder. John Harvey, the Professor of Art at Aberystwyth University, used this as the starting point – or I should say, one of several starting points – to compose the present work. The first piece we hear on the CD is the source recording itself. For 2 mins and 22 seconds, the stentorian voice of Evan Roberts struggles to be heard across 110 years of history. He wins that struggle. The authority and confidence with which he makes this “revival address” are astonishing; the force of his religious conviction can still be heard, and felt.

Professor Harvey faced a second challenge; the cylinder he was working with was broken into 11 pieces when it was deposited at the National Sound and Screen Archive of Wales in 2002. The archivists had it repaired and restored, using (unlikely though it might appear) the services of an American dentist. At the end of the process, the Archive had a playable object ready in time to coincide with centenary events and exhibitions celebrating Welsh revivalism. But it’s this “fragmentation” which clearly preoccupied the composer’s thoughts; even when we hear the source material, the clicks and scratches and breaks in the cylinder are audible, providing the impromptu “rhythm track” which many composers and scholars in this area appreciate, a mechanical rhythm further accentuated by the rotation of the cylinder itself in the machine, and the heavy needle scratching away.

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Exploring the idea of fragmentation, John Harvey proceeds to subject the source material to various re-recording and playback methods and technologies (all presumably digital in nature), producing samples, overdubs, remakes, cut-ups, and generally radical rearrangements of the potentially unpromising source. All elements are eligible for inclusion: voice, music, surface noise, artefacts. The extensive reworking processes transform them into drones, echoes, strange unearthly sounds. What does he create in these 12 episodes? Sheer beauty. He rescues and unleashes the evangelical power of Roberts the preacher…scrambling his words, but advancing the underling messages, now dark, now joyful, now full of foreboding, now promising salvation. The choir becomes, on ‘Servant Robes’, a celestial choir of angels with a virtual church organ accompaniment. Some of the reworkings exhort us to action; some are quiet and meditative, allowing space for prayer. Others, such as ‘Braver Notes’, are near-horrifying views of a bleak apocalypse spreading across the earth. Far from being an empty process exercise, the overall composition is entirely in sympathy with the devotional and religious meaning of the recording.

To call attention to the fragmentation theme and his own scrambling processes, Harvey has titled all the works using anagrams of the letters in Evan Roberts’ name. Even the title of the piece is such an anagram, and goes further to advance the theme through its use of reversed letters (which I can’t replicate here). Issued with a short booklet of explanatory notes and a full transcription of the sermon / address, this is a powerful and fascinating statement of electro-acoustic music, as well as a sympathetic reworking of a historical source. Recommended! From 20 April 2015.

Divan, Divan…Weisst du wer ich bin

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Montreal genius Martin Tétreault does not come our way very often, so it’s nice to savour a solo effort by this significant creator who’s usually associated with turntabling and collage techniques, the latter not just restricted to cutting up tapes, since he also clips up magazines to make visual puzzles for the roving eye. His cassette tape Sofa So Good (TANUKI RECORDS #12) is a highly glorpified admixture of epoxy resin, stale molasses and overlooked fragments of trash found in the streets. “I used to have trouble sleeping,” admits Tétreault from the confines of his cosy apartment, “until I bought a fine new sofa from Style Labo, in Rue Saint-Laurent. Now I just curl up on that French-Provençal styled beauty and I’m out like a light. I have all my best musical ideas when I’m on that sofa.” Clearly, the oneiric process has served him well on this occasion, and the processed organ drones, uncertain percussive effects, and general air of mistiness on this 33-minute episode is not something you encounter in the realms of the everyday. His throwaway sleeve-note, “Rèvé A Montréal entre 2010 et 2014” confirms the above. The B-side of the tape is blank; label owner of Tanuki Records is particularly keen that the listener should use this blank canvas to record their own piece, and submit it to him. He even provides an email to assist in this purpose. From 15 April 2015.

Acid Breakdowns

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Which Head you’re Dancing in? (MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO082) is the enigmatic title given to latest collaboration between Johannes Frisch (bass player, one of the main men in Kammerflimmer Kollektief) and Ralf Wehowsky, the German maverick experimenter and rugged electro-acoustic grand master. They’ve met up before on Tranende Wurger (Korm Plastics, 2005) and Unwahrscheinlichkeiten (Waystyx, 2010), but this time the conceptual “theme” of the record is dedicated to the music of Ornette Coleman. Even the track titles make references to his compositions or album titles, such as ‘Crisis in Space’, and sometimes doing it in a darkly detourned fashion, such as ‘Skies Of Guantanamo’ – the latter a clear reference to Skies Of America, Ornette’s 1972 orchestral suite, but these cynical Europeans perceive those skies which once shone with hope and opportunity are now permanently darkened by covert political operations and anti-terrorist measures taken too far.

The colour scheme of the cover – sickly green and pessimistic greys and blacks, decorated with images of grotesque puppet heads – further confirms the caste of this album, which is somewhat gloomy and angst-ridden, veering between abstract passages of uncertain moody contemplation, and restless beat-heavy electronica episodes which are like a sarcastic parody of techno or jungle or other forms of dance music, spitting out twisted noise spurts among wild computer-drum patterns. Wehowsky plays all the instruments apart from the bass, and he also does his “sound transformations”, throwing a lot of instruments and samples into this sprawling, angry melange, quite often overwhelming the ears with the generosity of his layers and bricolage. And then the next track will be minimal and perplexing, still ugly and strange, but grunting out inexplicable and solitary noises like an unhappy pig in a factory farm.

Frisch responds manfully to the impossible task of attempting to “accompany” Ralf as he freaks out on these crazy flights, weaving his bass plucks and bowing his strings into whatever gaps might be suitable, and driving the faster and more agitated tracks along with his manic free jazz energy. What often results is like a darkened, 21st-century parody of free jazz updated with more recent forms of music, depicting an unhappy world where all the 1960s dreams of civil rights, justice, and freedom are being buried under a welter of political incompetence, paranoia, and rampant misuse of computer technology against its own citizens. It’s disturbing to imagine that Ornette’s uplifting music could have been the inspiration for such bleak pessimism, but I suspect that’s entirely the point; if this is a “message” record, it’s a message which ought to give the President of the United States something to choke about over his morning muffins. Even the title indicates the general “wrongness” of things: the simple clarity of Ornette’s “Dancing In Your Head” is recast as the awkward, ambiguous and not-entirely-grammatical utterance “Which Head you’re Dancing in?”. Not a happy listen, then, nor a particularly comfortable musical/aural experience, but a very strong and timely statement. Released in September 2014.

Palace Of Words Reversed

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Flee Past’s Ape Elf (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR096) is an infamous cut-up record from the 1970s, which Feeding Tube Records have now reissued in “expanded” form as a double LP. Robert Carey was a student at Hampshire College (in Amherst, MA) in the early 1970s and studying electronic music, where he got his hands on a stack of reel-to-reel tapes of voice recordings. Hauling himself up by his own hamhocks, he starting cutting and splicing the material to arrive at his own personal style of musique concrète and tape editing, inspired by William Burroughs cut-ups and by Frank Zappa’s use of the technique on his early records, especially Lumpy Gravy. An LP appeared in 1979 on the Twin/Tone Records label, under the name Orchid Spangiafora, with an absurd and slightly unsettling collage artwork on the back cover, and no other information apart from the track titles. Byron Coley, the music journalist, may or may not have assisted with the work. That same year, Orchid Spangiafora was namechecked on the equally infamous Nurse With Wound list 1.

The record’s a fun and bewildering listen. Carey’s source materials were perhaps unpromising – almost everything comes from the TV, so it’s a mix of adverts, game shows, actors, news clips, announcers, and banal background music, none of it particularly well captured or well recorded in the first place. His methods were simple but bery painstaking, making small mosaic-like fragments of sound, and carefully assembling them to form nonsensical or absurd statements…or sometimes they are repeated and looped – not always in exact patterns, but slightly varying ones – to likewise arrive at verbal gibberish. Surreal humour emerges, and this has proven to be one the most endearing and popular aspects of this avant-zany item. These cut-ups also make a kind of musical sense sometimes, such as when we hear the differences in timbres and tones of voice all collided and mixed up with each other; and the fragments of background TV music which accidentally leak into the mix also create fragmented non-tunes. At the more extreme end of his experiments, the record dispenses with spoken words completely, and simply samples phonemes, pauses for breath, gasps, and other “errors” in human speech. It’s all in the service of scrambling common sense, of bypassing rational thought. I suppose there’s some part of the human brain that wants to make sense of it when we’re apparently hearing another human being talking. When this fails, thanks to Carey’s multiple tripwires and booby traps, I further suppose that the brain goes slightly bonkers.

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I call this approach “uniquely American”, because to my mind it’s clearly fundamentally different in method and intent to the French school of musique concrète. The latter was proposed from the start as high art of some sort, and made serious-minded, methodical explorations of the potentials of magnetic tape and its playback; even the original sound sources were created or selected for their aesthetic properties. Conversely, the Orchid Spangiafora record derives from decidedly “lowbrow” source material, and Carey while perhaps not a pure autodidact plumped for the “hands-on” method of tape splicing, rather than any dry, academic approach. The intentions behind it are, I suggest, more about having mischievous fun than creating an artistic statement. The record wallows in its meaninglessness, and is almost devoid of content 2 …you’d have no problem tracing its lineage back to American Pop Art, and it also carries a lot of Pop Art’s sneering, nihilistic cynicism with it too. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but you can also see how this record is one of the missing pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that includes Negativland, People Like Us, the Illegal Art community, and the Broken Penis Orchestra. All of the above came after Orchid Spangiafora, and they have all been ruder and nastier; they’ve also used similar methods to make well-aimed subversive attacks on the mass media 3.

This reissue includes a booklet compiling images, photos, stories and research that shows how this record has resonated over time, “landing in the ear” of not a few influential and significant listeners, including Boyd Rice, Richard Rupenus 4, Mark Mothersbaugh, members of Pere Ubu, William Burroughs, and Gary Panter. Coley’s exemplary research pays off again in this fine reissue of an essential slice of historical freakdom which still delivers many twisted thrills. From March 2014.

  1. Although the chronology may appear a tad puzzling, since that first NWW LP came out in January 1979 and the Orchid Spangiafora not until October; I think it the explanation is that it had been circulating as a cassette tape since 1977, before the record deal was struck.
  2. That said, many listeners have found a species of absurd Dadaist poetry in the bizarre utterances, and Steve Stapleton went so far as to title an album track after his own (mis)hearing of one of them.
  3. My point here would be that although Flee Past’s Ape Elf may derive from mass media sources, it doesn’t explicitly critique them in the way that Negativland did.
  4. His early Mixed Band Philanthropist records, and the Bladder Flask LP, are fine examples of absurdist tape cut-ups; “I…knew how laborious it could be”, he states on the back cover here.

Boy, I really get around

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A pleasure to get a newie from Fred Bigot, who impressed us heavily with that 2009 compilation on Holy Mountain Mono/Stereo from 2009, a disc which compiled a handful of his much earlier 12-inchers from 1999 and 2000. Since we’re firm devotees of the Rockabilly genre, Fred’s reverbed and meaty guitar riffs combined with electronica pulsations proved an irresistible mix of lean, mean and slightly nasty twangification, propelled by modernist beats, and with a slightly nasty darkened edge hanging over all…but La Voix de la Route (LES DISQUES EN ROTIN RÉUNIS / NO SCHOOL TODAY LDRR#048) is quite a different quarter-pound of beef. The A-side’s ‘Bon Voyage’ is the immediate audience-pleasing grabber, but even this is less a sampling of his Rockabilly riff chord book and more a knowing dip in the water of very well-known Krautrock tropes, including borrowings from Kraftwerk and Neu!…it’s got oodles of what muso-journalists are fond of calling that “motorik” vibe. In this context, the three tracks on the B side are much more experimental, forming vague sound-pictures out of throbbing reverb drone effects, voice vocoder chants, sound effects and field recordings, and just plain odd assemblages of tape cut-ups. Clearly, as car records go, we’ve come a long way since the innocent days of the Beach Boys and their ‘Little Deuce Coupe’…this particular roadster is fuelled with irony, humour, and lashings of lead-lined darkness. Plus there’s nobody at the wheel and we don’t know where we’re heading.

Matter of fact the entire disc makes references to American highways and road trips in both titles and sounds, and even the cover art features two dummies relaxing in the back of a chauffeured futuristic buggy…that’s because this record is in fact a distillation of Bigot’s 2011 road-trip across America, a funded art project which he undertook with money from the Institut Francais, and an exploit whose other published statements included weekly sound reports, an installation, and a performance by Werner Hirsch, whose voice is sampled on two tracks here. Oddly enough, the Discogs entry for this release tells a slightly different story and proposes this album is the soundtrack to an art exhibition called “Sur La Route (au hasard)” created by Arnaud Maguet 1 in 2014. So now I’m confused 2. At any rate, Maguet provided the cover to this release, and that is beyond dispute. It’s a powerful theme to be sure (European take on American road myths), but hasn’t this been definitively explored by Wim Wenders in the 1980s, and possibly even by Jean-Luc Godard before him? No matter, since Bigot – whom we haven’t heard from since 2012 as one half of Melt Famas – has turned in an exemplary and entertaining disc of art music. The B side of the vinyl is noteworthy for using parallel grooves, so you never know what track you’ll hear when the needle drops. Arrived 12 September 2014.

  1. Maguet’s career shows he is one who “questions the basic aspects of 1950s to 1970s subculture”, whatever the Heck that means.
  2. It doesn’t take much.

The gift of brain-waves

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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.