Tagged: electronic

Terror Tales

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Sixteen Fingers is one of the more edgy and anxious artists on LF Records, itself a home to the more extreme and angst-ridden forms of underground electronic and digital music. We last heard from Sixteen Fingers with their self-titled record released around 2011, a fierce and coruscating blast of anger and frustration. For Glooms Vol. 1 (LF034), the anger seems to have dissipated somewhat, and we’re left with a the sound of a sorrowful soul who appears resigned to their fate; eight episodes of unremitting misery, in the form of very rich dark ambient cloudstorms, or attenuated electrical malfunction-buzz that grates on the pelt of every flea-ridden mutt who dares to pass by the home of Sixteen Fingers. Some of the tracks use spoken word elements, which might be broadcasts captured from the radio – the one on Track 01 does have the sneering patrician tones of an English politician – but all content has been drained away, the voice rendered unintelligible through distortion. This accurately reflects a very acute state of mental desperation, when things in the outside world start to mean nothing to you, and become mere ghosts or empty projections. Track 07 is a particularly outstanding achievement, an indescribable blend of vague and faintly-perceptible sounds, all as malnourished as a 1930s shoeless tramp living in a nameless derelict site, and set to a backdrop of chilling waily drone music. Nightmarish…I do kind of miss the agitation and anger of previous release, but this creator is truly one of a kind. Every single sound here conveys a vivid sense of abject despair and futility, and the album more than lives up to its title. Looks like Vol. 2 is already out…maybe it will include a free razor blade with every copy.

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Seems a long while since we received any “product” from Ian Watson, the talented hollow-eyed mystic from Cardiff who runs Phantomhead Recordings, is a musician in his own right, and an exceptional draughtsman capable of producing quite twisted images of supernatural horror, death and decay with his gnarled and spiny brush or his unholy collage technique. His cover for the Bear Man cassette (circa 2011) is an image I personally cherish in the art gallery I keep inside my head. Here he be with 12 untitled tracks on the compilation album Terrestrial Gone Tropic With Some Pretty Fancy Animals (LF032), each of which is a unique venture into his own highly warped “take” on dark ambient and drone music. How is he creating this near-organic mulch, this non-artificial mush made only from the choicest sourced ingredients? He studiously avoids over-familiar sounds and I would imagine that almost everything we hear is hand-crafted by him in some way, hopefully using home-made instruments concocted from a tin of pineapple chunks and an Ever-Ready battery from 1969. Through layers of vague sonic distortion, evil tales of swamp life and inhuman creatures are spun; indeed every track itself seems to have been dredged from the heart of the swamp, squishing about covered in mud and weeds, and it slithers towards us with diabolical intent. I’d as leif face up to “Brown Jenkin” for 25 mins. as endure any one of these supernatural groan-a-thons. No titles, and in fact no contextual information, but apparently these grotesque smogged-up droners have surfaced before, mostly on various very small editions from Watson’s own label. A highly effective and original “spooker” to be sure, it scores 15 points on the “murkeroo” scale, which is my scientific method of applying a metric to music of this ilk.

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TX Ogre has named all the tracks on his Brrr Blobs (LF036) after popular ice cream lollies of the 1970s, including Jelly Terror, Melting Monsters, Pineapple Mivvi, and Jack of Diamonds. The latter I remember well for its crunchy biscuit and chocolate coating around its vaguely coffee-flavoured filling. This mini-CDR is highly percussive – either produced with an old broken drum machine, samples of percussion, a live drum kit recorded in a metal garage, or some combination of all the above, producing the impression of several boxes of Sheffield steel cutlery being thrown down a spiral staircase at speed. TX Ogre embellishes his angry, walloping attacks with errant jets of squiggly synth doodles and electronic belches, and the total effect is of wild crazy energy firing off every which way. TX Ogre is the sculptor and free musician Henry Collins, who also performs / records as Shitmat and a host of other humourous aliases, including Evil Roast Beef Administrator.

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The visual artist and noise-maker Robert Ridley-Shackleton is a new name to me, but I see he’s already released a number of CDRs and cassettes since 2012, including some interesting splits, on his own Hissing Frames label – many of them with zanoid titles that persuade me he’s not lacking a sense of absurdity. His Ovencleaner (LF033) mini CDR may be short in length, but it’s dense and detailed in attack – 20 minutes of very imaginative and layered textured-processo racket wielding a sonic Brillo pad for your hide that you’ll be glad you submitted to. Or will you? While it’s not an unpleasant harsh noise blasterthon, there’s still enough basic grind going on here to produce a vague sense of unease, as if the downtown bus we boarded in good faith some moments ago is now heading on a one-way course towards an abattoir’s conveyor belt. Or the reassuring drone from the propeller engines of this old-fashioned passenger aircraft is now turning to the sinister as the pilot directs us into the mouth of an enormous ogre which we mistook for the side of a mountain. Compelling in an evil goblinesque way…and the washed-out cover artworks won’t provide much in the way of clues. I wonder if all of his paintings are this way…cloaking as much as they show, hiding strange realities behind painterly swathes of dishevelled and distressed canvas? If I had the time, I would immerse myself in more of these disorienting episodes from Robert Ridley-Shackleton, fearsome character though he be.

All the above from 12 November 2013.

Unsolved Puzzles

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Various
Opensound
FRANCE FIBRR RECORDS FIBRR:013 CD

My last encounter with the France’s fine Fibrr label was their exemplary ‘scene’ survey, Nantes Is Noise: an adventurous collection of electroacoustic composition and sound art that inhabits the harsher end of the audio scale, which I’ve turned to many a time when the ears have needed clearing. The good news is that they’ve seen fit to lavish us with a similar collection: one that tends more towards collage, concrete and Olympic stretches of control room hum, with generally lower ‘noise’ levels. Among the few returners we find the ‘French electro-acoustic anarcho-poet’ (thanks Ed) and man-about-town Julien Ottavi, who’s on a mission to terrify and bewilder eardrums from a variety of line-ups, including a recent turn with K.K. Null. His neutral ‘Composition for Oscillators’ is an agreeable respite from the more deliberate activity that surrounds it, while similar success is found in the spatial tectonics of Farahnez Hatam’s ‘In The Margin Of Moments’ and the magnified electron-flow of J Milo Taylor’s ‘Spectral Traces’. Elsewhere we find a restless superfluity of ‘by-numbers’ activity, which may prompt similar restlessness over the skip button.

Beyond a mention in the news section of the Fibrr site, there’s precious little online information on this collection, though it would appear to be ideologically motivated: title and label rhetoric championing a spirit of inclusive, international collaboration with shared resources and creativity; more ‘copyleft’ than ‘copyright’ as it were. Participants include non-profit organisations from Norway, Portugal, Spain, the UK and (I think) Germany, which might lead one to anticipate a great stylistic diversity, but alas the reality is far more underwhelming; possibly by dint of expectation, but more because the spirit of sharing has brought about a pervasive homogeneity: the pan-Europeanism commemorated by over-similar cut-up conversations in Spanish, German or whatever, dunked in processed recordings of distorted doings that sound like car doors slamming in a burning warehouse. All too rare are tracks like Goodgod’s ‘Das Unheimliche’: a nerve-shredding plunge into the strummed innards of a piano flanked by war drums and power electronics, which is truer kin to the dark n’dirty denizens of Nantes Is Noise, and to which I would still direct you if you’re well-acquainted with such music as this.

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Cédric Dambrain
Subjective Slave
BELGIUM ROUGHLEDGE ROLE001CD (2013)

From searing to contemplative: ten blasts of digital noise to add nuance to as many settings, even if it all resembles an unsolved Rubik’s Cube. Cédric Dambrain’s pithy portraiture in noise-based/electroacoustic composition has the potential to alarm, soothe or both, is curt to a point and sudden in transition from one scene to another. Opener ‘Splace Genesis’ – a volcanic shower that really is as exhilarating as it can get – makes as clear a case as any while setting the standard for the aural alternation between hot and cold that follows; followed as it is by the radiant twinkle of ‘Ee Duct Con’. At the same time, it introduces one of the two chief weaknesses of this collection: the abrupt transitions that festoon the album’s first half are needlessly jarring, as though Dambrain couldn’t settle on a more suitable opening/closing strategy. Secondly, the tracks are mostly far too short for pure chewing satisfaction: averaging three to five minutes apiece, which probably won’t appease hardened noise fans; a matter exacerbated by those sudden stops. Overlook all this though and you’ll have ample fodder for a thought-cancelling, five-minute meditation or two.

Portable Crocodiles

A moody, sullen collaboration is what we’d expect when Miguel A García and Nick Hoffman play together, which is what Vile Cretin (INTONEMA INTO010) delivers across four tracks of seething desolation. In terms of what I’ve heard from either of these players, it’s one of the more three-dimensional improvised efforts, by which I mean the elements are distanced and positioned in ingenious manner, perhaps using skilled studio placement techniques, to suggest vast depths and enormous spaces. There may not be much happening in the aural department other than surly crackles and nameless echoing whimpery whispers, but they are happening in a fabulously resonant manner. Their two personalities, as far as I understand these enigmatic creators, can be discerned manifesting themselves on the album to some degree, for instance I’d like to think that Garcia brought the bad tempered sulking aspects to track 01, while Hoffman’s penchant for steely and imperceptible anti-sounds has dominated track 02. But the pair succeed in creating unusual sound art that is more than the sum of their personal characteristics, and it’s a fine slow-moving broodster of electrical gloomery. Of course, Hoffman’s surreal and violent cover drawings, this time printed in a sumptuous red, may give you a completely different impression of the work. From 29 November 2013.

Coen Oscar Polack and Herman Wilken paint two landscapes in sound on their Fathomless LP (NARROMINDED NM064); one side depicts the Barents Sea, the other side a green wilderness in the Sundarbans. And my goodness, what a very literal job they make of it; the first side is sluggish ambient drone spread thickly with sound effects that imitate the sound of the ocean tides and Arctic winds in a highly prosaic manner. The “jungly” side is peppered with bird-song effects, and hazy drones attempting to invoke shimmering heat of the baking sun. Atmospheric and pleasant, but not very imaginatively done; it’s one step away from being a BBC Sound Effects record. From November 2013.

Haven’t heard from The Magic Carpathians Project for some years, but they sent us a couple of interesting items which arrived 11 November 2013. On T.A.M. (WORLD FLAG RECORDS WFR 043), the duo of Anna Nacher and Marek Styczynski are joined by Tomasz Holuj for five extended group improvisations, which they describe as “symbiotic music”. I suppose the term “symbiotic” is another way of highlighting the dependencies that can grow between musicians who play together. The Carpsters have made a name for themselves over the years, on account of their unique way of extending the traditional musics of Eastern Europe by blending them with Indian music, free jazz, radio waves, and the unusual singing styles of Anna Nacher. At one point it seemed like they were going down quite well with your latterday psychedelica revivalist types, and they enjoyed an association with the American label Drunken Fish Records – home to many freaky wild-eyed droners in the late 1990s and early 2000s. T.A.M. seems to be more in the area of traditional music, being mainly acoustic and featuring a lot of percussion instruments, but it’s also very strong on ethereal droning effects and unusual stringed instruments, and the music they create is extremely original and hard to pin down. The trio just keep on playing, wailing, hammering and droning in a deceptively gentle mode, doing little to vary the mood, tempo or root note for long periods of time, until a species of greyed-out Nirvana is attained. Not an immediate “grabber”, but your listening perseverance will pay off. I think the recordings are all live, there’s no overdubbing and the mixing was done in real time. Released on their own label World Flag Records. My copy has a nice original artwork insert.

On Vtoroi (MIKROTON CD 25), we have the team-up of two Russian heavyweights – the most estimable Ilia Belorukov, and Kurt Liedwart, who is in fact Vlad Kudryavstev and the owner of Mikroton Records who released this sulky brooder of contemporary improvisation. On these 2012 sessions, Belorukov is playing a prepared saxophone, an iPod, contact mics and objects – in short, the sort of setup I used to associate with the “EAI” school of improvisers; at any rate I recall that Günter Müller frequently used an iPod as part of his live processing. Liedwart brings his field recordings and objects to the table, along with ppooll, a program which appears to be some sort of networking bridge that works with certain implementations of Max/MSP. The majority of this record is a bit too under-eventful for me on today’s spin, particularly the long track ‘Ikkemesh’ with its hissing, beeping, and long periods of uncertain rustling and clunking, but I’m very taken with ‘Antra’, which is a nice extended slab of grumbly white noise mixed up with other scuzzy layers, and containing just the right amount of semi-musical content to keep it interesting. It gives off a mood of existential futility. The duo sustain this taut position for over ten minutes, as if performing painful physical exercise, and probably gazing into the mirror with blank expressions the while. Kurt also did the cover art, showing some Stephen O’Malley influence in overlaying a found photograph with geometric shapes. From 6th November 2013.

Ruidos Sombrías

“I want to send you some more new records”, so said an email I recently received from Miguel A. García. He’s making so many lately that he’s afraid of sending out duplicates. I asked him to send me pictures rather than titles – it’s easier for me to identify them that way. In the meantime I need to take up the slack and look at this bundle-maroo which he sent on 22 November 2013, which is chock-full of grim noises. One of them, Asto Ilunno, was already sent to us by Nick Hoffman and was reviewed here.

Sohorna (OBS RD#1) is a split with Oier Iruretagoiena and is #1 in a series called Radical Demos, subtitled “places, objects, electronics”. Yes, field recordings, electronic music, miked-up objects, the mixing desk…these are the commonplace tools of your young sound artists these days. García uses them like pickaxes and delves deep into the coal mine of ultra-processed sound…coming up with four stern lumps of pitch-black seething and grumbling. You’ll be lost in the abstraction of it all within moments. Iruretagoiena has just one cut, the 26-minute title track, and it’s one of those horrifying onslaughts that jangles the nerve-endings and induces unbearable tension and fear in the listener, with no remorse. Thank your lucky stars only 100 copies of this exist. Score so far: 5 points for the steady droning sound, 50 points for the cruelty.

On icgs el (NADAcdr nada 14), García changes identity and slips on his xedh guise (I assume it involves wearing a wrestling mask, much like El Santo or Mil Mascaras) to join forces with his old sparring warrior buddy noish (Oscar Martin) and the fab Lali Barrière. Lali must one of the few women experimenters who is not only well respected in the areas of improv and computer music in Spain, but can also square up to these two macho bastards in the arena, probably matching them drink for drink in the cantina. Close-miked objects, hacked software, feedback and “raw electronics” are the basic components of these two 20-minute slow-motion punchfests. By and large, a less “grim” experience for your ears than Sohorna above, but that’s a relative term. I like the fact that every moment of the aural canvas is filled with activity of some sort – fizzing, burbling and writhing about like a rag-tag assembly of bizarre wildlife cavorting about in an unknown landscape. On the first track, that is; the second piece has more in the way of minimalist tones and desiccated longeurs inserted into the continuum, at which point the music loses some of its momentum for me. Score: 10 points for the “witches brew” impressions this conveys, plus 5 additional points for the ego-less collaborative dimension.

Hiztun! (ATTENUATION CIRCUIT ACM 1008) is quite a grabber…from the start, we know we’re back on more cerebral hard-core experimentation turf as it’s published by our conceptual German friends Attenuation Circuit, and as such comes packaged in one of those sandwich cartons which you could also use for storing half a piece of Ryvita. This one is an all-radiophonic piece, created using radios, and intended for broadcast on the online experimental radio station, Hots!. García does it brilliantly, bringing a portable radio set for use as a receiver / FM tuner but also as an additional sound-source in his murmuring electric broth, and a third time when he plays back voice tapes through the speaker (and re-records them, I might add). The spirit of the work is “hacking” into radio technology, a strategy which I think we can all approve of as that was the basis for much 20th-century experimentation and discovery in sound – just ask Theremin, Stockhausen, Keith Rowe or Hugh Davies. Hiztun! is an exciting and dynamic listen with its remarkable textures and contrasts, alien voices drifting in from the ether with their foreign-language barks, stray music phrases likewise wandering in, and moments of high tension when you can hear the creator flicking his switches live on air. Dramatic! Score for this gem: 80 points for innovative manipulation of the crackling ether, 20 bonus points for its raw-edged exposure of the processes involved, plus an additional “silver antenna” award for radical reinvention in radiophonic art.

Lastly we have the untitled split tape (ABOS4-137) on A Beard Of Snails Records. The first side is Star Turbine, a duo whose name are new to me, but this Danish-Norwegian pair of improvisers are certainly stirring a fine pot of beans with these live recordings from London, Reading, and parts of mainland Europe. Poulsen and Bjerga have only been working as a team since about 2011-12, but have already made about six full-length albums of their own and have a couple of European tours etched in their passports. Unlike your average Joe Drone types, they have a unique approach to manipulating their broken electronics and cracked objects which produces compelling sensations; the music creates the hoped-for mesmerising experience, without having to resort to oversimplified methods like one-note drones. Plus they even seem to have a sense of humour, if I’m reading these interspersed electric doodles correctly. Hope to hear more from these two astral travellers in due course.

The flip shows our man García noising it up with Swiss creator Valentina Vuksic on Live At Radio Ruido, NYC. What we got here is three extracts from a lengthier performance recorded in a radio studio. Oddly enough I was expecting their side to be a brutal blast of heaviness that would beat Star Turbine into a cream puff, but in fact the Gar-Sic team are just edged out from the top spot due to a deficiency of engagement and innovation. There’s something slightly tentative about the duo’s work here, as though they’re padding around each other like two mismatched ocelots, and I appreciate that neither of them may have felt completely at home on the New York turf. Even so they belch out plenty of feedback, stuttering, hissing and buzzing noise combined in tasty textural layers, enough to satisfy the hungry anteater who’s in search of more tasty noise-ants which he can scoop up with his sticky tongue. Score for this tape: 100 points for latterday cosmic explorer vibes, but this is mostly due to Star Turbine’s input. Regrettably, García loses 10 credibility points for treading water on his side. The label gets a “best in show” ribbon for its preposterous name and for publishing this tape in a garish pink shell. Now that’s class!

Crossed Wires

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Got more nice CDRs from the German label Attenuation Circuit from 28 November 2013. One of them is part of their Concert Series, and it’s an exceptionally fine volcanic eruption of delicious semi-dangerous noise performed by a noise “supergroup”, of sorts. The team of elektrojudas, Sustained Development, Kim Jong-Un and EXEDO call themselves Knark Esion, and their Disturbed Communication (ACC 1010) is a lovely wodge of dynamic, rough-edged and snaggletoothed improvised blat. How long have this quartet been working together? They’ve already got it down; no meaningless, wasteful feedback blather or egos getting in each other’s way. Instead, taut discipline and high-performing band dynamics are the watchwords. Through combined synths, electronics, drum beats, voice samples and guitars, frightening images of destruction of instantly evoked, including the usual hideous fantasies I am regularly haunted with – collapsing buildings, attacking helicopters, and a general brouhaha among the populace. As observed, I wouldn’t want you to think they’re just creating 25 minutes of formless howlage, which as a genre has been done to death since 1990 onwards in any case; instead, they leave enough space for all the broken pieces of the jigsaw (very large pieces, probably made of concrete or steel) to lock together effectively. Except that the jigsaw, when assembled, makes no sense whatsoever to eye or brain. There’s also enough space for the listener to insinuate self into gaps, providing that is you don’t mind near-misses from runaway trains, being scorched by blasts of flame, scathed by falling boulders, or nearly being munched to a pulp by large electronic crocodile teeth. I’m clutching at images of violence and broken-ness to convey some of the sense of this electrifying performance, but even so I can’t seem to encompass the grandeur and towering melancholy which its creators share, creators who start to assume the proportions of disaffected Pagan gods, tearing their own creations into pieces and howling into the cosmos as they do so, before retiring to some nameless Valhalla to drink red wine from the skulls of the fallen. The label notes allude to “the use of noise as a sabotage of cultural codes”, a subversive approach which is well and good, but I think Knark Esion are aiming for something far less cerebral than that, and this is the sort of powerful grotesquerie that really feeds the fires in your bones and your belly.

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Colin Webster is a young improvising sax player based in London and who is a member of The Uniteam All Stars and also plays in Anthony Joseph and The Spasm Band; I think we last heard him on Languages, whooping it up with Mark Holub and Sheik Anorak (Stuart Marshall praised his guttural barking on those live Vortex recordings). His Antennae (GAFFER RECORDS GR039) cassette is more of a process-thing, where he’s keen to showcase a tight range of very minimal saxophone sounds where the stress is placed on his own breath and the “mechanical noises” that result from his operations on the sax, performed under the discipline of what I take to be very strict rules. To this end, he’s insisted on close-miked recordings to allow us to hear every nuance of the real-time creative endeavour he has undertaken. This is by no means the sort of “reduced improv” music which is excessively quiet and where event and drama is all but lacking; on the contrary, Webster not only has a pulse, but he scuttles about like an entire sackful of hopped-up cockroaches who have been spoonfed cocaine in large doses. But it’s also incredibly austere sound art, with a very limited range; recognisable musical notes are not really allowed here, and it’s as though he stifles them at birth rather than let them escape from the bell of his instrument. I admire the rigid control that is presumably required to do this, but Antennae remains a very tough listen, a true bowl of gruel for the lugs. I think he’s done something for Richard Sanderson’s label too, so watch this space for notice of that item. This arrived 18 October 2013.

The Drid Machine Turns You Up

So, in October 2013 I reviewed the cassette from Clifford Torus – a maniacal avalanche of raw avant-rock boulders from threepiece Horacio Pollard, Kjetil Brandsdal and Anders Hana, released on the label Drid Machine Records. That same month I received another copy, this time sent by Kjetil himself in Stavanger, plus five other goodies on this label. Note the sumptuous screen-printed covers, many with eyeball-rattling graphics and imagery. If you’d found tapes like this on the shelf of Rough Trade Ladbroke Grove in the late 1970s, they’d have been snapped up like hot lobsters. Let’s peruse said rotary ratmeisters from Norway and find what noises we can.

Noxagt live tape Kill Yr. Ego, Oslo 13.08.03. (DMR9) is a fine black bat of violence flying in the urban night. Noxagt have been Norway’s premier Underground power trio since about 2001 onwards, but all I’ve got to show for it personally is a seven-incher from 2000 which is in fact not the trio but an earlier incarnation of the “project” when it was simply a showcase for Brandsdal’s solo work. Boy, have I been missing out on some seriously poisonous rock. Here the trio is in fact a four-piece – drummer Lauritzen and Nils Erga on the viola joined by vocalist Anderson, and as title may indicate they’re keeping the spirit of Sonic Youth aflame on these 2003 recordings. Actually they’re a lot punchier, more compressed and determined than Sonic Youth have ever been, and on this blistering tape when you’re not being physically scorched by gasoline-fuelled feedback, you’ll be pounded repeatedly in the mush by the remorseless percussive attack of bass guitar and drumming. Once you get past a little audience banter at start of tape, it’s a non-stop assault course from then on. Commandos only for this ride, slugger, and be sure to bring your bulletproof helmet.

DMR8 is a split venture where Freddy The Dyke and Blodsprut cleave the cassette in twixt, doing so under a beautiful collage artwork created by Yasutoshi Yoshida. Visually it’s one of the finest realisations to have been printed in this genre (i.e. decapitated / mechanised heads with blood and veins laid bare). Freddy The Dyke is known to us for their solo LP which came out this June on Skussmaal, one track spun in these quarters though not yet reviewed; they’re a guitar and drum duo from Stavanger, name of Bendik Andersson and Gaute Granli. Here on ‘Hamenikashe’ and ‘Tambacounda’ they produce a hugely entertaining row where the frequent whoops of joy from their vocalising indicate the degree of illicit fun that was had by both during the sexed-up, sweaty, orgasmic session. Unlike MoHa!, the “other” Norwegian drum-and-guitar pairing 1, these grinning gorks don’t propose to pummel us alive with an excess of flatulent noise, and in fact most of the energy comes from the intense drumming and the singing rather than amplified blooey. A sort-of stripped-down version of Boredoms with elements of Lightning Bolt thrown in. I only regret the brevity of the tape, wanting more of this.

Speaking of MoHa!, here’s Anders Hana from that combo who is also one half of Blodsprut along with Patrick Petterson. Unashamed “grindcore” is their trade, which in this instance means very short tracks, devilish screaming, and drumming that defies belief with its intensity and speed. There may be a guitar or bass or synth in here too, but it’s so tightly locked-in to what the drummer is doing that I find it hard to credit a human being with “playing” an instrument at all. Blodsprut’s fiendish brand of grindcore takes the “genre” into another century and another dimension, seeming truly to have been spawned in Hades – at any rate, a very efficient and mechanised region of that diabolical kingdom. After this ultra-violent episode, you’ll be only too glad to return to Freddy The Dyke for their brand of “fun”.

Can’t find out much about Abuseman and his Greatest Hits (DMR10), but from cover blurb it suggests this puzzling collage of electronic tunes and samples was created at Banan Studios by Mr. Bernaise. Not that that’s very informative. Unlike what we’ve heard so far, this is not a tape of guitars and ferocious drumming, but instead a fun-loving concoction using synths, drum machines and studio ingenuity to produce highly entertaining instrumentals, with a high degree of professional polish in the production. The creators here play with pop-art “weird” sounds and 1960s exotica in a way that clearly indicates they have no small love of a certain strain of library music – anything by Piero Umilani from the 1970s probably floats their boat – and the only thing it shares with our remorseless rockist friends above is the same sort of driven quality, where some of the tunes proceed with an airless intensity that only well-programmed machines can deliver. High production values, sharp editing, upbeat tempos and melodic treats galore make this item the poppiest lollipop in today’s envelope…

Now we have my favourite marginal loon-boon of DIY weirdness and noise, the one and only Horacio Pollard. The cover of his Frequencies of Seizure (DMR11) first fries your lids with its ghastly dayglo orange tones, then opens out to reveal overprinted images of the Korg DD1, which I gather is one of the more coveted pieces of 1980s drum machine hardware. Pollard here offers two suites of non-stop electronic zaniness, characterised by looping rhythms, chugging beats, and scads of grotesque noises smeared into the mix like so much melted cheese scooped from the top of a five-day old pizza. Pollard as ever manages to be absurd, entertaining and repulsive all at the same time – it’s frequently hard to position yourself as a listener in the face of this much great / ridiculous music, and you won’t know whether to guffaw or groan. Who can resist the fun-charged pull of these primitive patterns and primitive, near-ugly sounds? Pollard is one of the few creative people on the globe (Romain Perrot is another) who understands that “good taste” is the very death of art, and as such he needs to be cherished like a Siberian Tiger, albeit one whose pelt is made from artificial dayglo blue fur.

Last item of the batch is second live tape by Noxagt, Checkpoint Charlie, Stavanger 08.03.03. (DMR7) This time the Sonic Youth quotations are again made explicit by opening track title ‘Thurmaston’, followed by further titles which do more than hint at rampant group sex and violent perversions – Norwegian style! The band is back to trio formation here, and I for one find this a lot more enjoyable without the shredded vocals of Anderson spitting on my parade. There’s more opportunity to savour the remarkable string work of Nils Erga with his melancholic, depressed viola that scrapes out the inner chambers of the heart as surely as David Cross did in 1973 King Crimson. Meanwhile Brandsdal and Jan Christian Lauritzen turn in exemplary performances of dynamic, heavified slugging with the bass and drums, and each song works away obsessively in its narrow frame. A very harrowing attack is the trademark of Noxagt on this performance; the trio won’t rest until the operation, one involving much blood-letting and painful organ replacement, is fully completed whatever the cost to themselves – and to the patient. Labour-intensive rock at its hardest; Noxagt never short-change their audience.

  1. I’m about half-right here; they use electronics as well, but you get the idea. Manic noise is the dominant characteristic.

T.R.A.S.E. (Tape Recorder And Synthesiser Ensemble): early 1980s UK teenage outsider synth-pop (yes, really!)

T.R.A.S.E.

T.R.A.S.E. (Tape Recorder And Synthesiser Ensemble), self-titled, UK, B-Music / Finders Keepers, CD BMS050 / FKR067 (2013)

Here’s a recording where the history of the artist and the equipment used is so unusual and engrossing that it threatens to overshadow the music itself. The group’s name might seem twee and antiquated to us jaded sophisticates today but in 1981 the concept behind the name and project was just slightly ahead of the trends prevailing in the commercial pop music industry in Britain. The astonishing aspect of T.R.A.S.E. is that it was actually the music project of a 16-year-old boy who started it as an extension of both the work he was doing at school, in class and in extra-curricular activities, and his own interests in pop and rock music. Even more amazing is that the youngster, Andy Popplewell, built his own synthesiser (the Elektor Chorosynth), a 6-channel audio mixer, a phaser and a fuzz box using instructions from electronics magazines and the school woodwork and electronics skills he gained. With money earned from delivering newspapers, Popplewell built all these himself (his father having died years earlier), acquired and assembled a drum machine kit, and off he went, experimenting with composing and playing his own music, some of the results of which have now been released on vinyl and CD.

Admittedly if you were to hear the music and you didn’t know that this was all the work of a young teenage boy with some help from his guitar-playing kid brother, you’d swear that the artist behind the various rhythm texture pieces making up the bulk of the recording was a bit conservative in the way he coaxes sounds and melodies out of his machines, with very few sounds hitting the extremes of the instruments’ capabilities and burning up the wires. The drum machine beats anchor the music rigidly and apart from a couple of instrumental tracks near the beginning and the end, there’s hardly any experimentation with basic elements like sound; the music is driven by repetitive melody loops held in place by fixed beats. Sometimes the music is so slow or monotonous that you almost fall off your seat in slumber. On the other hand, there are some good tracks that show music composition potential (“Electronic Rock”, “War Machine”, “Unrequited Love”) even if very little is done with them. There are some beautiful ambient mood pieces like “Harmonium”, a radiantly sunny instrumental that includes a trilling melody and plucked warm-summer guitar tones. That a school-kid was able to progress as far as he could building his own equipment and writing and playing his own music within fairly commonplace artistic and musical conventions of the time might say something about his middle class upbringing in early 1980s Britain and how much (or how little) exposure children had to music, art and other avenues of creative intellectual enrichment.

In the booklet that accompanies the CD, Popplewell lists among his musical influences acts like Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, Jean Michel Jarre, Joy Division, Ultravox, the Human League, Gary Numan and John Foxx and his own music certainly reflects those inspirations. (The booklet also mentions his interest in Cheap Trick, Led Zeppelin and Motorhead but their influence, if any, can’t be discerned, perhaps for obvious reasons: their music was dominated by guitar and was not minimalist in structure.) Some tracks have a melancholy air as well as a definite pop orientation and the deadpan singing style Popplewell employs might owe as much to his heroes as to his own inexperience as a singer. Although in the booklet he states his suspicion of being close to having Asperger’s syndrome, I detect in the music he may have had something of a talent for picking sounds and tunes that conjure up particular moods.

I don’t have many favourite tracks on this CD but the one I like best is one I might treasure for the rest of my life and that’s “War Machine” for its delirious slightly off-key and dazed synth tones and the clicky mechanical rhythms. Probably by the time Popplewell composed this song, he’d already had considerable experience writing, playing and polishing his music. The singing is frail and boyish and the whole track sounds a bit like a cross between early Depeche Mode and The Cure. A solo lead guitar turn by little brother Phil Popplewell adds a soulful blues mood. The song is crowned by the sort of abstract early-Kraftwerkian experimentation, here simulating machine-gun fire and falling bombs, I’ve been dying (err …) to hear all through the album.

The value of this recording lies mainly in the circumstances in which it was conceived, the DIY culture that existed in the UK in the late 1970s / early 1980s and the fact that it was made by an artist still at high school and what this suggests about how much Western society still underestimates the creative potential of adolescents. Some of the songs may well grow on listeners over repeated hearings.

Alas, Popplewell did not follow up his early precocious start as an experimental electronic pop musician; he became a BBC radio broadcast engineer (though he curiously manage to miss falling into the BBC Radiophonic Workshop) in the 1980s and has held other technical and engineering positions since. It may not be too late for Popplewell to resurrect his music career if he so wishes, though I doubt that the novelty value of his having been a child musical prodigy would last long; advances in music technology and electronics have been so great over the last 30 years that audiences born after 1980 might well be mystified by the music and instruments used, and several tracks really are just not much more than rhythm texture studies.

Contact: Finders Keepers, www.finderkeepers.com

No Love Lost

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Murmurists
I Cannot Tell You Where I Am Until I Love You
FRANCE ALREALON MUSIQUE ALRN049 CD (2013)

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

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

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

Climatologies Old and New

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Emptyset
Recur
GERMANY RASTER-NOTON R-N 151 CD (2013)

More masterful manoeuvring through interstitial zones of perennial instability where explosive power is condensed into potential energy and refashioned into new refinements of Emptyset’s unmistakeable dystopian techno. Even the introduction section – so commonly the dilettante’s excuse for a lie-in – affects Poseidon’s shockwave stride across a sandpaper beach. But belabouring neither the science nor the scientism behind such feats, the pair pares down all data to the point of obliqueness and lets the music do the stalking.

‘Recur’ alludes both to an impersonality – that of a natural occurrence – and elements of Emptyset’s MO: their return to Raster Noton (and to form) after their Collapsed 12” for the label in 2012, as well as the increasingly divergent orbit of their off-kilter tempos: perpetual rhythmic derailment by great white noise blasts; the tug of super-gravity on the radiant thrum of nightmare factories. The sonic possibilities may not be endless, but destructive ones are. Plus it sounds fantastic when the paper shredder’s going.

Quite averse to re-inhabiting a familiar coordinate, the hull-breaching heard hitherto is hinted at here as part of an upwardly mobile theme and variation exercise: ‘Fragment’ – to choose just once – makes this clear through the application of alternating modalities to their signature arrhythmic bursts. You may think you’ve heard this before, but listen more closely. One clear and significant differential to earlier work appears when Recur is weighed against their earlier LP, Medium, with power accruing unequivocally to the newcomer. This provides optimism for the power-up potential of future releases: (as scarcely imaginable as is that that their work could permit further refinement) which could assume increasingly diminutive proportions as Emptyset’s craft approaches singularity state.

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emiter
air/field/feedback
POLAND MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO072 CD (2014)

Initial impressions of Polish sound artist Marcin Dymiter’s Emiter project were of Emptyset steamrolled to a steaming hiss; mechanised rhythms forsaken for more organic emanations: misshapen bulbs and tendrils sprouting from shocks of black gas that unbalance and subsume the unwary over the course of four extended pieces; the sum truly towering over the mire of so much whine-fed peer work.

I was quickly surprised to learn that Dymiter also purveys post-rock plangency as Niski Szum, whose maudlin marathon of many dour landscapes: Siedem Piesni Miejskich, I recently enjoyed reviewing. Though the sad guitar is stored in case for the time being, Air – Field – Feedback expresses a similarly peripatetic spirit: drawing the listener through subtly differing phases of the night sky, which is liable to erupt in sudden chaotic events (the titular ‘feedback’ in other words) to distract the ear from more subtle tonal changes that signal transition. The listener might not even notice for minutes at a time the extent of their drift from their last known location.

Emiter’s sources are the traditional elements: wind and sea being two components in this meteorological tapestry of varied quality recordings that interact aloofly; remaining crisp and distinct amid a climate that alternates between beatific and brutally clear. As is his wont, Dymiter carefully adorns all this with electronic pulses, textures, clippings, cuttings, blasts, drones and surging whines; adding up to an even signal-to-noise ratio and a relaxing listen that will still prevent passivity.

Watch Out For The Silent Types

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France Jobin
The Illusion Of Infinitesimal
FRANCE BASKARU KARU:27 CD (2014)

One of the more ‘silent type’ sound art selections to cross my path of late; volume’s now up so high so I’ll probably be blasted into next year when I forget to reduce it for the next CD. Though drifting for the most part in a zero-gravity bliss state, these minimalist compositions do distinguish many a frequency between remote rotary rumbling and a fan-like spreading of sine waves that pierce the head bone, bleach neglected skull lining and fill the sterilized space with a waft of hygienic vapour.

France Jobin returns thus inspired from the realm of subatomic particles and their nebulous existential status, engaged this round by the quantum conundrum of angular momentum: as I understand it, the directional attribute possessed by gyroscopes and Frisbees. Particles possess a more limited version of this; a matter quite mysterious given that they have no discernable size. Moreover, their tendency to alternate with the wave state has rendered objective analysis a notoriously tricky business.

The compositional parallel Jobin draws from this involves working from a given emotion while neither pursuing nor exploring said state, just as one keeps an eye floater in view by keeping the eye still (to paraphrase inexpertly). From this point she painstakingly pares sounds down to their ‘unique essence’, from which point she is equipped to ‘communicate intent without influencing its unfolding, a delicate balance between perfection and detachment.’ This definition of ‘intent’ – perhaps less commonly used – can be found in meditation and internal martial arts with specific reference to the manipulation of the opposing forces of yin and yang. It can designate ‘intention’ divorced from ‘desire’: the information the brain sends to a limb for example. This neutrality is well demonstrated across these three unemotional yet involving compositions, which reveal and conceal different attributes with each listen.

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Gintas K
Nota Demo
PORTUGAL CREATIVE SOURCES RECORDINGS 244 CD (2013)

Rather an unforgiving fix of digital fragmentalisations and obliterated data from Lithuanian composer Gintas Kraptavicius, who has appeared on the Sound Projector radar several times now, impressing one and all with the intuitive path he’s been cutting through psycho/electroacoustic music for the past 15-odd years. Perhaps as some sort of atonement gesture for his last set of ‘slow’ pieces, Gintas treats us now to a set of entirely more abstruse and increasingly volatile liquid glass eruptions, which swiftly recall the work of Hecker, whose Chimerizations and Sun Pandemonium have both graced and grazed these ears of late. Had I not been properly briefed I might have mistaken this CD for one of his, though present is a merciful cohesiveness that Mr. Hecker would mirthfully pulverise given half a chance.

Not to be outdone by the Mego veteran however, Gintas is enigmatic to a point with regard to his methods and motivations. One imagines his mute astonishment at the sudden extra-dimensional manifestation of this ever-bifurcating torrent of audio mulch, indeed so much so that its division into eleven parts – perhaps for prime number purposes – constitutes a sincere and wilful break for freedom from such raging chaos. But perish all doubt as to the material’s palatability, for the longer the ears’ immersion, the more distinct becomes the composer’s guided footfall. That said, I’d also venture a claim that a degree of satisfaction in the listener’s bemusement falls not far from his remit.