Tagged: ethnic

A Worm is At Work

Kink Gong is Laurent Janneau. He’s been very active recording the speaking and singing voices of ethnic minorities in Asia, China, Vietnam and Laos, and quite often contributing extensively to the Sublime Frequencies catalogue with his recordings. On Voices (DISCREPANT CREP08), he creates imaginative and unusual assemblages using these recordings of his, supplementing them with archive tapes, field recordings, electronic music, and computer transformations; in this way he creates dazzling vocal-heavy collages of sound events that never existed, but are full of drama and incident, amounting to beautifully strange music and aural portraits of a vanishing world. Or perhaps glimpses of a fantasy world, one that is disappearing before our ears even in the very telling of it. Unlike Ghédalia Tazartès, who wants to turn world music inside-out so that he can spin us fantastic yarns of the impossible, you can sense that Janneau is being very true to his source material here. The long track ‘3 Hani Pipa’ is particularly impressive, and one that’s bound to attract descriptive terms such as “shamanistic” or “delirious”. Sometimes, life truly is as strange as this. From 16 April 2013.

Another who presents us with snapshots from remote corners of the worlds is Glochids, on his solo cassette Originals (WEIRD EAR WER-002). This is James Roemer from Arizona, whose work here comprises short and extremely opaque assemblages, combining odd and rather mysterious field recordings with instrumental snippets. Roemer not only plays many instruments, but is an electronic musician and computer programmer. His locations are many and various, and he appears to have roamed South America, Chile and Bolivia, as well as picking up additional recordings in parts of North America. The press descriptions are quite specific about some of the locations, yet Glochids himself prefers to remain “evasive”, and what ends up on the tape tends towards the vague and drifty. Originals does have many moments that intrigue, but the work is rather formless in its assembly; it’s uncertain where things start or end, events or musical passages fail to gain traction, and sparkling moments end before they have a chance to pass on anything of value. All of this leads to a somewhat frustrating listen. From 15 April 2013.

From Oslo, another quality release on the Va Fongool label…the duo Skrap is Anja Lauvdal and Heiða Jóhannesdóttir Mobeck, making a very distinctive abstract noise-blart in the studio, using just a Korg MS-10 and a tuba. Synths and brass instruments have rarely created such a strange sound together in a single space. The brevity of the duo on K.O. (VA FONGOOL VAFCD004) is admirable; many of these tracks come in at around two minutes, some last even less than 60 seconds, yet these miniatures are packed with ideas and incident. Skrap claim to be partially inspired by Sunn O))), but if they are, it’s certainly not by the durational aspects of Stephen O’Malley’s excessively amplified and over-long drones. That said, Skrap don’t seem to have quite enough material to fill an entire album satisfactorily, and some of the work descends into aimless doodling. After a while you also begin to notice the rather flat and toneless quality of the recording, made by Christopher Brenna; somehow the team have yet to find a way to bring a more sculptural quality to their sounds, give them more mass or density. Even so, it’s a solid and sustained attempt at innovation and experimentation, apparently brought about by accident when the two musicians were locked in a small room with just two bass amplifiers for company (unless the press notes are being jocular on this matter). The word Skrap translates as “scratch” in English, even though the K.O. of the title might lead us to expect a scrap or fight. Related musical endeavours of Anja and Heida are Muskus, Skadedyr, Broen and Your Headlights Are On. From 20 May 2013.

Russian electronicist Dmitriy Krotevich is from St Petersburg, has released a couple of download albums for Enough Records and Treetrunk Records, and has played with Ilia Belorukov (probably a mandatory part of any underground musician’s apprenticeship in Russia). His olgoi-khorkhoi (INTONEMA int006) arrives in a lurid sleeve printed with a fantastic illustration of a red snakey monster, drawn by Solongo Monkhoorai. This is the Mongolian death worm of the title, a hostile beast which is supposed to live in the Gobi desert and emit acid or electric shocks when attacked by the incautious traveller. Although not explicitly stated in the supplied text, it’s also as gigantic as the worms in Tremors and has a taste for terrifying the local cattle. Using abstract grinding and scrapey bursts generated by his turntables and no-input mixing desk, Krotevich summons all his brooding energies to limn a sonic portrait of this beast. The menacing noises he makes start out subtle and understated, growing ever more abrasive and threatening; each track of this four-part epic broadly follows this developmental arc as to the musical construction. Gradually, he arrives at some extremely unpleasant and sickening tones, some of them quite unacceptable to the human ear, and it’s something of a relief when each segment comes to its conclusion. But the slow build-up creates a lot of tension and is quite effective; unlike the “traditional” noise artist who dives straight off the deep end into an unbearable harsh noise assault, Krotevich prefers to “worm” his way into that zone through means of patient burrowing and writhing. In short, he has become the Mongolian death worm. From May 2013.


Universal is Born

The lovely EM Records label in Japan has been busy with more of its characteristically wonderful reissues of scarce, choice and exotic items. All the below were received here 02 May 2012. I happened to visit Honest Jon’s Records in West London yesterday and found they were still stocking a few copies of the label’s older releases, some of which are out of print. I’m personally very excited to receive and hear I Saw The Outer Limits (EM1098CD) by Matsuo Ohno. The work of this exceptional Japanese electronic music composer is not exactly easy to come by. There were three CDs issued on King Records in 2005, but these volumes of The World of Electro-Acoustic Sound and Music are in the process of becoming collector’s items. If known at all, Ohno is probably best known to a Western audience through his soundtracks to the TV anime series Astro Boy, but that’s become something of an astral albatross for him. In fact he has a complex history behind him, working in documentary and nature films since the late 1950s, developing a very personal philosophy, and some details of his fascinating life have been recorded in the very simpatico sleeve notes to this release, written by the label owner Koki Emura. There are other and more obscure anime works, for example the work of Hiroshi Maname, which had an influence on this creator, and he also made his own innovative documentary films in the 1960s, including some highly personal film projects about the treatment of disabled and mentally ill children in Japan. He produced and directed a 1972 documentary following the Taj Mahal Travellers on tour.

In 1977 he scored the soundtrack for The War In Space for Toho, the large Japanese studio that produced the Godzilla movies, and he was commissioned by director Shinji Hinoki to produce an album of purely electronic music. I Saw The Outer Limits is the result, Ohno’s first release of non-soundtrack music, and an art statement in its own right. To emphasise the unique nature of Ohno’s music, Emura gently opines how much electronic music of the 1970s (and a lot of it was quite commercial and even sold well) was not only rather bland and boring to listen to, but also tended to simply recreate the sound of conventional instruments; many times we heard quite ordinary melodies being played on a keyboard, except that the keyboard happened to be a synthesizer. It’s worth bearing this in mind as you delve into the extremely subtle tonal shadings of Ohno’s work, which are the result of pure process – the sounds here can only be created by electronic means, and the only method to arrange them involved tape editing. While this is not wildly different from the techniques used by many classical electro-acoustic composers, the results here are blessedly free from theories of structure and compositional techniques. The music just floats…it makes a lot of electronic music seem clumsy and stilted with its delicacy and weightless grace. One senses that Ohno worked in a very intuitive way, and Emura for one is convinced that Ohno has “broken free from musical genre…also from the very framework of the standard composition process”. The other thing that listeners will notice is how strange and almost impersonal the work is, a quality which is another product of Ohno’s unique personality, his reluctance to preach or express direct messages in his music. Outer space music has rarely sounded so outer-spacey, in short – cold, distant, alien, and forlorn. The release comes with a bonus mini-CD of Animal Noise Music called Choju Gigaku, and the composer himself explains how this oddity came about for the World Expo in Japan in 1970. He himself is charmingly baffled as to why anyone would want to reissue this obscure item which was intended for a very limited audience and sold virtually zero copies at the time. For the rest of us music fanatics, prepare to be delighted for 12 minutes of electronic animals singing their beautiful little tunes. I think the label has also pressed this as a nifty seven-inch vinyl item. Essential purchase!

Portrait of a Prodigy (EM RECORDS EM1099CD / MEDITATIONS MEDI 02CD) collects a number of recordings by the enigmatic Indian flautist T.R. Mahalingham, remastered from 78 rpm discs of the 1940s and 1950s. Indian music is not quite in my line, but it seems this fellow did much to reinvigorate the Carnatic tradition with his attempts to put more voicing and emotion into his playing. In doing this he caused some controversy among the purists, and made matters worse by his slightly disreputable lifestyle; an occasional gambler who was not very reliable or punctual, often arriving late for concerts or storming off the stage in the middle of a performance. These however could be taken as indicators of his perfectionism in music, and signs of a temperamental genius. I’m not at all versed in the traditions here, so have nothing to compare it to, but my ears tell me his playing is clearly detailed, taut, and very meticulous. He may not exactly be the John Coltrane of the Carnatic flute, but his music is beautiful to listen to.

Another record guaranteed to expose my musical chauvinism and ignorance of world music is Diew Sor Isan: The North East Thai Violin of Thonghuad Faited (EM1101CD). This album compiles a number of mid to late 1970s recordings of this exceptional player of the Sor Isan. The Sor Isan is a fairly grating instrument and its keening sound may be an acquired taste to Western ears at first spin, but some will also love its rawness and direct qualities. It’s a very distinctive voicing you don’t hear too often. Thonghuad Faited is notable as one of the few players who managed to bring the instrument to the fore, and achieved notoriety as a soloist – again, going against the grain of tradition. The music is completely beyond my ken, and I’d be lost without the contextual notes provided by Chris Menist and Maft Sai (who also compiled the release) – they achieve an interesting blend of musicology and regional history in their concise essay, and bring the story to life. All of these tunes have something to recommend them, whether it be a syrupy ethnic drone, an intriguing vocal part, or even a lightweight easy-listening “rock” backdrop with drums and guitars. The other thing I like is that while the Thai violin is the “lead” instrument, it’s clearly nothing like the sort of musical excess we would associate with jazz, improv, or rock solos, and rather than relentlessly propelling forwards, the music keeps circling in on itself in a compelling manner.

On Istikhbars & Improvisations (EM1096CD) we hear the piano music of Mustapaha Skandrani. This is another example of a relatively obscure musician whom Koki Emura clearly regards as a hidden gem and one most worthy of wider exposure. This Algerian musician recorded this music of his piano improvisations in 1965 under the auspices of a French patron, and once again it is something I have never heard the like of. Skandrani was trained in the traditions of Arabic or Andalucian music, but in the late 1930s he came under the influence of a musician named Hadj M’rizek, who was on a mission to modernise and update the traditional forms of hawzi and shaabi music. It seems that the piano, that most European of instruments (the development of the well-tempered clavier, and indeed the entire Western scale, is a fascinating tale in itself, full of competing factions), was considered totally unsuitable for the rendition of the half-tones and microtonal structure found in Andalucian music. On these 18 short and exquisite piano improvisations, Skandrani provides plenty of evidence to the contrary. Admittedly the grand piano in question was tuned especially to accommodate him, but even so it’s hard not to be flabbergasted by the precision and assurance with which he executes complex runs of notes and tricky Middle-Eastern intervals. The dryness of the recording only adds to the husky, spicy flavour of the music. The album upset quite a few musical purists on its release, so perhaps Skandrani is a visionary “outlaw” who appeals to this label for the same reasons as Mahalingham above. Even so, Mustapaha Skandrani was highly respected and successful in his field, and did many great things for Algerian music in his lifetime. It’s surprising that this was his one and only recording.


Four Vinyl Vamaritans

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.

  1. 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.

Then I saw the Congo, creeping through the black

As part of my musings today I consider a photograph I took on Friday of a Lego Giraffe in Berlin. All of us like to think we’re seeing something special on our travels overseas, but with the internet and digital cameras and everyone immersed in a rising tide of instantly-available images, I find some of that magic is wearing a bit thin. I need only click on to Flickr.com to discover multiple images of the Lego Giraffe from multiple contributors, each of them probably equally unexceptional, with mine being the most banal of them all. Before digital cameras, I suppose it was only the poor bloke who worked in the one-hour photo place that experienced this awful disenchantment brought about by a plenitude of interchangeable views of the seven wonders of the world. By sheer volume and repetition of images, the specialness and unattainability of experience is being worn away, its erosion measurable in bits and bytes.

An artist ought to give us a special view of the world. Today for me it’s possible to imagine a surreal vista of green sunlit fields of Cambridge in June, overlaid with a view of the Savannahs of Africa, a 1930s photograph of mud flats in Mississippi and the floodplains of Thailand as presented by National Geographic magazine. It’s a kaleidoscopic vision, but it’s coherent – all the geographical features match up. Hard by is my guide C Joynes in his sun helmet, his acoustic guitar and banjo under one arm, and a clutch of albums under the other – English folk from the Topic label, 1960s free jazz on Atlantic, old 78s by Skip James and Charley Patton, his mind constantly making cross-references between these and with the Folkways LPs of Indonesian and Asian music provided by friend Simon Loynes, who is within hailing distance. Images swim back and forth, birds fly backwards reversing time with their wings, mighty trees sink into the ground, and spectres rise from unknown locales. All this is accomplished in short, compressed musical utterances performed with the grace and lightness of touch of a true master.

Hope some of this conveys how delighted I am with the new album from C Joynes, Congo (BO’ WEAVIL RECORDINGS WEAVIL46 CD) which arrived here in October 2011, the follow-up to Revenants, Prodigies And The Restless Dead released in 2009 by this same label in a similar “house style” package. C Joynes continues to make gloriously beautiful instrumental music and, just like two years ago, I am barely able to write anything useful about it. In creating his crystal-clear blends of stirring melodies inspired by the folk musics of the world, Joynes plays mostly acoustic guitar and possibly the banjo, maybe some slide guitar on one track; he’s joined by his team of collaborators including Patrick Farmer, Dominic Lash, Simon Loynes and Richard Partidge, here credited as The Marsh Arabs and adding delicious touches of percussion, bass and stringed instruments. The violin work of Partridge is especially welcome, adding its scrapy and mournful drone sparingly at key moments, causing hairs to rise on the back of the spine. Further exotic voicings are added by Loynes (a.k.a. The Doozer) with his Indian Tarang, and his Phin (lute-ish) and Khaen (harmonica-ish) from Thailand. These additions are subtle, understated, not a jarring mix or a mannered contrivance; all natural, all good.

Bruce Russell, famed New Zealand guitarist and musical connoisseur, contributes the sleeve notes to this one and he joins the long list of writers, myself included, who are amazed and astounded to the point of being flummoxed at Joynes’ fluency with a wide range of international musics from the past and presents configurations of our wonderful globe. On this album Russell can hear exciting confluences of Indian, African, English folk and American bluegrass music, delivered by Joynes with his characteristic playing style – assured, measured, accurate as a diamond, and with no attempt at flashiness. Joynes is not attempting to bewilder the listener with an indigestible stew that mixes up genres, styles and indigenous musics simply for novelty’s sake. It’s not incumbent on us to decode all the resonances and layers of meaning, nor to attempt to spot the joins (pun intended) where the early country blues tune cross-bred with Martin Carthy leaves off and the Java gamelan music informed by Congolese drumming begins, and I’m not a musicologist in any case. Joynes has done all that work for us, and with his intelligence, discrimination, intuition and sheer raw talent, is carefully and quietly crafting a fully-articulated musical vocabulary that is quite unique and his alone. No purist he, one who insists on preserving ethnic music through slow fossilisation. Nor does he need to extemporise on his guitar at length with 20-minute guitar-orchestra symphonies; he packs dense volumes of information into tunes some two or three minutes in length. We can be assured, as we listen, that there is an honesty and authenticity to every note he plays, and all we need do is open our ears and let the beauty come streaming in.

I would add that on this occasion, what comes over very strongly is a sense of warmth and compassion as well, and it’s embedded in the very musical forms they play but also in the collaborative playing which is much more to the fore than previous releases that have tended to showcase Joynes solo. In his trusted team of cohorts and friends, Joynes is constantly arriving at a shared view of the mysterious other-worlds in past and present incarnations, and they are able to pass this on to us, giving us magical glimpses of ‘Joseph in the Sea of Corn’ or the terrifying ‘Ghosts of the Field’. As with previous releases, the musical tapestry is enhanced by a rich array of visual and written clues, scattered about the artwork of the release, and I will leave you to discover and interpret these in your own time, but the patterns continue to emerge – nature, fields, birds; musicological studies, tracing of sources, unlikely and unexpected connections; travel, geography, transport; personal and poetic names for things, such as ‘The Beast of Elham’ which is just too wonderful a name to simply be another musical instrument. Through these combined and oblique magical forces, Joynes welcomes you back into the world of the living and invites you to open your eyes and share the joy of simplicity.

Also available as a limited vinyl LP with a silkscreened cover.

1st March 2012 update: C Joynes writes to point us here and tell us “If Congo had an annotated bibliography, it’d look like these two mixtapes.”

Flotsam and Jetsam

Cold Cuts

While we’re enjoying something of a Ghédalia Tazartès bonanza, seems the right time to mention this LP Repas Froid (PAN 17) which I’ve had lurking in the Summer 2011 bag for a while now. Unlike the recent Superdisque, Repas Froid does not feature the uncanny singing voice of M. Tazartès but is a tape collage suite which here is presented as two side-long suites on vinyl, although I gather it originally came out in 2009 as a CD on the French label Tanzprocesz, where it was divided into short index points and packed into an all-black cover. At first I thought this astonishing disc had been concocted from lost audio tracks from the cinema of Jean Renoir, but it seems the aural bricolage has been assembled from Tazartès’s personal audio archive. It’s mostly human voices, young and old, male and female, speaking or singing in French and perhaps other languages, cut up or fragmented or simply allowed to spill forth their inner ramblings at length; plus sound effects, bird song, and rare ethnic musics and rhythms gathered from exotic travels I can only dream about. The genius comes not just from the selection of sounds, which are fascinating enough, but from the careful assemblage and editing, and the making of judicious tape loops and repetitions to underscore certain points and not just done for the purpose of creating weird rhythms to mesmerise your mind. The creator’s unexpected juxtapositions and intelligent clashing of elements bring home a particular view of the world. Many voices are cut in at the moment where their emotional pitch is at its highest, starting with the anguished family dispute which opens side one. The old saw “all human life is here” is totally inadequate to express the depths and peculiarities of the human race which this LP presents to us. It’s true that most of the surprises and emotional jolts are on side one, but if side two’s global survey of the magic and beauty of the human singing voice does not provide you with a source of continual amazement, I’ll eat my own hat. Which brings us to the mystery figure on the cover, of which I have a monochrome reproduction on my promo CD, but as usual I will endeavour to locate a full-colour version for your visual stimulation. Another treasure from the small but select Pan label.


Driphouse (SPECTRUM SPOOLS SP 008) is another example of overlooked electronic music in the ongoing series from Spectrum Spools. Daren Ho plays synthesizers and electric piano (I think) on a release that originally surfaced as a limited run cassette on Root Strata. Driphouse bubbles up with some attractive old-fashioned sounds and has a pleasant pop-art colourful sheen, but for me the music just feels slack and disorganised; not enough effort was spent on making coherent arrangements, melodies, or musical patterns.

Spill Your Guts

Bloater‘s Radiac (NO LABEL) is a very satisfying chunk of improvised noise made from the electric guitar of Steve Smith and the electronic noise of Ken B, who recorded this in Brooklyn; I’m not sure how I got hold of a copy unless it was sent along with a package from P.A.S. The duo are proud of how they produced this music out of single takes with no overdubs, and the strong impression is that they’re tearing this uglified gloop straight from their own innards, letting it pile up around their ankles in twisted ropes until the local dogs scurry in and scavenge these intestinal leavings with their foaming jaws. No rhythms or structure to these groaning drones, but they are packed with dynamic twists that wrench your body around every 60 seconds, and the black emotion is raw, palpable and direct. These filthy musical eruptions are produced as a specific criticism of Radiac Research Corporation, a radioactive and hazardous waste storage plant that since 1978 has, many claim, been polluting the Williamsburg area and contributing to local incidences of disease. There’s plenty of information about this environmental liability included on the CD insert. No doubt the toxic subject matter accounts for the slippery, slimy and sludgy nature of Bloater’s environmentally-aware music on this release. And the blurry front cover photograph is none too reassuring either, suggesting a massive billow of black sludge in the water, with radial lines either side that could be the timbers of a boat or an X-Ray of a human ribcage clouding over with cancerous darkness. The printed insert is a direct statement on the situation, but the music is more oblique; it’s as if the duo have, for one hour, transformed themselves into cancer victims, out of sympathy.

Duck You Suckers

Here is I think the last of the CDs sent to us by the Italian guitarist Elia Casu in June 2011. For OSTinLOOP (PUSHIN RECORDS PH1005.2), he teams up with the bass player Matteo Muntoni and the drummer Stefano Vacca, and as the Piccolo Ensemble Elettroacustico they perform one original composition and six pieces composed by Ennio Morricone, most if not all of them drawn from his famed Sergio Leone soundtrack scores. As such, this is a far more melodic and structured record than Casu’s other releases of lengthy and sprawling improvisations for abstract guitar, but he still allows himself and the other musicians plenty of room to improvise quite freely on the Morricone themes. When the original Morricone melodies do surface in the middle of these jazzy suites, it’s quite unexpected. It is to this trio’s credit that they aren’t setting out to produce a slavish imitation of the Morricone orchestral sound as directed by Bruno Nicolai, but I feel they’re doing this at the expense of many of the original music’s best qualities. Morricone’s gift for unforgettable tunes, taut arrangements, unusual instrumentation and spine-tingling tension in every chord are overlooked in favour of spacey jams, “tasteful” and rather ordinary sounds, and self-indulgent soloing. The main melody of ‘Giu La Testa’, one of Morricone’s strongest and a personal favourite of mine, is rendered in a particularly ineffectual and perfunctory manner. Adding vocal samples from the films to the mix hasn’t helped restore much excitement either. On the other hand, on its own terms this emerges as pleasant and well-produced melodic jazz music.

Quando Quandary

Superdisque (SUB ROSA SR321) was sent to us in November, an uncanny record made by three towering personalities in Paris and musically occupying a twilight area which somehow includes improvisation, jazz, rock, folk, African and Tibetan music, poetry, pop, sound poetry, and much more. With this release, the strange world of Ghédalia Tazartès is slowly coming together for me. I’m usually stricken by a horrible sense of inferiority when faced with his work because I don’t know anything about the Middle-Eastern musical forms (and presumably many other ethnic sources) that have fed into the mind and body of this astonishing Turkish-Parisian singer, and I look despairingly at my shelves which are sadly unoccupied by items from the Ocora back catalogue. Listening to the uncanny bellows, drones, songs and vocal improbabilities of Tazartès on this record, which the press release helpfully orients with its references to African and Tibetan music, it feels more like the ethnic music of a completely fictional race of human beings – strange shamans, wizards and druids that never actually existed. Maybe it’s more helpful for me at the moment to think of Tazartès as a gifted fiction-writer, a musical version of Jorge Luis Borges who conjures up his impossible visions in sound and music instead of the written word. Certainly the sound poetry of vocalist extraordinaire Henri Chopin is another useful navigational aid for the listener, and few vocal artists took more liberties with “reality” than Chopin, a lyrical fictionist of the first degree who repeatedly delved into his own two lungs in an effort to serve up deep and confusing psychological torrents of voice-based mash. In his unique form of fiction-making, Tazartès ends up revealing equally deep truths about the richness and strangeness of humanity.

Equally remarkable to find Jac Berrocal playing on this album too. To me he’s another musical conundrum whose incredible music does not yield its secrets lightly, and I’ve been working hard at the puzzle as manifested on his 1970s Futura and D’Avantage recordings, only to find all my solutions are confounded by any subsequent revisits to those essential Alga Marghen reissues. If we’re going to allow speculative fiction, what if Miles Davis had remained in Paris in 1949 and never returned to America, truly steeping himself in the existentialist philosophy and free-thinking atmosphere? The results might be something like the muted and serpentine trumpet work we hear slithering around this Superdisque record, where the studio echo effect of Teo Macero has been replaced by the digital proxy of David Fenech’s mixing desk. Last year my Berrocal fave rave was the Hot Club LP Straight Outta Bagnolet, but there his oddly syrupy sound was dissolved and mutated into an even more glutinous strawberry parfait thanks to Dan Waburton’s far-out production on that weird group collaboration. Here, Berrocal only has one other instrumentalist to contend with (see below), and his brassy melancholic lines stand out like the cries of chimeras, unicorns and hippogriffs rescued from a mythological past and recast as sculptures in a magical workshop. You can run your fingers over the sinewy lines of Berrocal’s trumpet work as surely as you touch a Brancusi or Giacometti.

David Fenech recorded and mixed this item, but he also plays electric guitar, turntables, toys, percussion and sampling, working as hard as Fred Frith did to provide the matchless instrumental backdrops for Art Bears. Presumably as founder of the trio and owner of the studio where this was made, he’s the unofficial producer of the album and may be responsible for the uncluttered sound. It’s a very direct record where studio technique has been used to a bare minimum; few overdubs, a little sparing echo. All the strangeness comes from the performances, a strangeness somehow confirmed by the surreal back cover image where the musicians appear on a blank field with a gigantic octopus suspended above them. Shared secret knowledge with Captain Beefheart.

With the accordion playing on some tracks (Zap Pascal does it on ‘Porte De Bagnolet’, but elsewhere it’s Berrocal or Tazartès himself), we’re almost on safer and recognisable turf as the singer appears to be approximating a forgotten rural French folk song, occasionally even with lyrics recognisable as French on an album otherwise characterised by wordless vocalising. This has the fleeting effect of suggesting all these other fictions actually have a basis in historical reality. To bolster this impression further, there is ‘Ife L’Ayo’ which is inspired by the work of the Nigerian drummer Solomon Ilori; ‘J’Attendrai’, which derives from the singing of the pre-war chanteuse Rina Ketty; and ‘Sainte’ which is a setting of a poem by Stéphane Mallarmé, the untranslatable French symbolist. The presence of conch shells and human bones used as wind instruments is but another adjunct to this uncanny woven tapestry of half-true, half-mythological musical extravagance.

Their Hearts were full of Spring

Excellent Dutch improv by Premier Roeles on Ka Da Ver (VINDU MUSIC VINDU20111). Nice to see this quartet still uses the old-fashioned term of “instant compositions”. The line-up is all-acoustic – drums, piano, bass and saxophones, and the music is full of lush free playing with an occasional nod towards jazz forms. Saxman Gerard van der Kamp really shines and Nico Huijbregts imaginatively fills many empty spaces with his McCoy Tyner-esque fills. Includes the 17-minute ‘Grasbestlevend’ where the players really stretch their feathered wings, although you may enjoy the four one-minute inventions sitting in the middle of the album. Odd image on the back cover of a fashion model underneath a dead mouse.

Demian Johnston & Mink Stole recorded Trailed & Kept (DEBACLE RECORDS DBL037) in Los Angeles; they seem to alternate full-on electric guitar monolithic tracks with quieter, mysterious ambient-esque meanderments, whose mannered vocals are buried deep in a soggy quagmire of strange treatments and pulsating effects. At all times, anything remotely resembling a familiar instrumental sound is kept at arm’s length. Vaguely sad music useful for ruminating on past disappointing chapters in your life.

I Compani‘s Mangiare! (ICDISC.NL 1101) is a concept album inviting the listener to celebrate the joys of the table. This Dutch nine-piece play a strain of entertaining instrumental music which veers from smooth cocktail lounge to rollicking circus jazz, covering various romantic moods in between. A shade too mainstream for normal TSP turf, but it’s jolly music and they all play absolutely flawlessly. Recorded live in Nijmegen and Amsterdam.

Arev Konn is London sound-artist Antony Harrison, and Nospelt (HUMMING CONCH CONCH 008) is a solo set of loud drones released on this Berlin label. Excellent use of amplified guitars and analogue synths to generate many powerful mesmerising hums, spliced through with field recordings for additional grit. Pit Weber contributed to the title track, but I like ‘The Fourth Peninsula’ best, serving up sixteen minutes of ambiguous murk with a sinister intoning voice lurking somewhere in the background.

The great Richard Pinhas (French hero of 1970s electronic prog rock) has never been more prolific, and what’s more his new releases keep improving all the time. Metal / Crystal (CUNEIFORM RECORDS RUNE 308/309) is a huge double-CD sprawl of exciting and excessive sci-fi guitar and synth rock, and three of its six tracks come in at nearly half an hour apiece; plenty of room for intellectual science fiction readers to wander in these imaginary worlds. Merzbow, Wolf Eyes, and original members of Heldon all participated in the making of this monster, and the tracks are titled after various extreme mental states – starting with ‘Bi-Polarity’ and working up to ‘Schizophrenia’. Tremendous cover art by Yann Legendre. An overpowering feast of multi-tracked old-school rock sounds, with Pinhas’s guitar soaring like a jet fighter throughout.

Another sumptuous feast of American minimalism from the excellent David First, who we have not heard since his restaurant-themed Dave’s Waves record. Here’s a 3-CD collection called Privacy Issues: Droneworks 1996-2009 (XI RECORDS XI 134), a survey of extremely lengthy drone music pieces with a booklet of useful notes from the New York-based XI Records label. Disc one features some all-electronic heavy vibes (solo performances for theremin or e-bow) for those who like the analogue reverberations, but there’s also a composition played by a small ensemble using woodwinds, guitar, piano and violin – a five piece of players turning themselves into a well-tempered human chord. Disc three is a single piece played mostly by the trombones of Peter Zummo and Christopher McIntrye, although “Blue” Gene Tyranny also guests on keyboards on this Niblock-esque piece of musical solidity. Disc two offer us numerous shorter compositions and experiments, using transistor radios, computers and slide whistle. Truly immersive, powerful and shimmering tones to bathe in.

I’ve been dilatory in mentioning Ante-Mortem (HINTERZIMMER RECORDS HINT 09) by Ghédalia Tazartès, but only because I cannot think of a single useful thing to write about this astonishing record by an astonishing performer. Rational thought is confounded by the incredible singing of this Parisian-born Turkish genius, not to mention the instrumental arrangements, and the overall weird sound of the record, which at times is breath-taking and shockingly bold. A very idiosyncratic and inventive take on various forms of Middle Eastern music, often delivered in overpoweringly beautiful segments that last less than one minute. Alga Marghen are reissuing his (brief) back catalogue from 1979 onwards, but this is an essential addition to that collection.

Also long overdue notice for Chicago band Bird Names and their wonderfully uplifting 12-track album Metabolism: A Salute To The Energy Of The Sun (NORTHERN-SPY RECORDS NSCD006). Impossible to resist these luscious explosions of psychedelic guitar music, poured out with joyous percussion and delirious harmony vocals; beautifully played with plenty of naïve, rugged charm and strangely quirky angles. Crazy, endearing and eccentric mix of rock and pop styles, played with infectious enthusiasm.

No less eccentric in production and performance is Wicked Work it Out (PORTER RECORDS PRCD-4055) by Zac Nelson, a solo record by this member of Trawler Bycatch. 12 odd songs performed with stripped-down rock band arrangements pulling some surprising twists and performed with effortless skill; some guests add sax or extra guitar, but it’s mostly a solo affair. The real genius is in the vocals, which are piled high with melodic harmony overdubs until the record starts to resemble a freakoid version of The Fifth Dimension. Is that really his singing voice? He’s got a very sweet alto range; in fact I thought it was a woman singing, but I can’t find any printed evidence in the credits, so it must be him. Label are describing this as a nice balance of experimental and pop music, and I agree; a winning combination.

Dynamite Day

Got some very delectable items from the Japanese EM Records label, often a reliable source of enticing and exotic reissues of all stripe. I think these arrived around November 2010. International Music (EM RECORDS EM1088 CD) is credited to Bharat Karki and Party, comprises just 22 minutes of entertainment in eight sumptuous tracks of Indian pop music, and is adorned with a psychedelic bikini-clad Eastern dancing girl on the cover. Hard to resist. This was originally a 1978 private press LP, and the large group of musicians and singers are effectively making a fist of playing funky disco music on traditional Indian instruments, which means you get lots of sitars, enthused vocal whoops, and scads of exotic percussion, all mixed up with Farfisa organ, heavy bass and party-time guitar licks. The crazy every-which-way energy of the music is further reflected in the centre gatefold collage; apparently the team were also mixing Latin and Arabian music into the mix, perhaps for an additional shot at broader appeal and commercial success. Wild!

We were also sent a second copy of Roland P. Young’s glorious recent record Istet Serenade, which we noted here and in more detail in the current issue of the magazine. I’m still looking for Isophonic Boogie Woogie, Young’s notable item from some thirty years earlier, of which even the EM Records reissue is rare. For the time being here is Escape: The Reconstruction of Isophonic Boogie Woogie (EM1084CD), a studio assemblage put together by young and gifted Japanese beat merchant / producer / remixer Altz. In a nutshell the album aims to “magnify the cosmic bliss-vibe of the original release”; what we hear is some very inventive (and not unsympathetic) splicing and editing of Young’s original horn-blowing work, already highly unusual and forward-looking in its embrace of his own special approach to wild-eyed free-form blowing that represents a potentially strong new direction for Free Jazz, if only it had been more widely adopted. Altz weds his edits to dynamic and complex rhythm tracks, never once settling into mindless Techno mode, and is aided in this respect by Muneomi Senju who has drummed for Boredoms. Result: an exciting and sensuous slice of hot pizza. Normally I would keep a project like this at arm’s length, but I’m utterly enchanted by this spicy fruit salad of jazz, drones, beats, and electronic noise.

Also received Mali: Essential Recordings of Carnatic Bamboo Flute 1969-70 (EM1089DCD) by the flautist T.R. Mahalingham. This reissues two LPs of the work of the man nicknamed Mali, who was apparently a startling innovator in this particular strand of Indian classical music. A little out of my line, but it’s beautiful music beyond question, its grace emphasised by the quietness of the original recordings.

In no way related to the above is the odd release by Vladimir Bozar ‘n’ Ze Sheraf Orkestär. Universal Sprache (FRANCE LE CHANT DU MONDE CDM 164 CD) is the product of a French contemporary prog band which came together out of two other bands, one of them devoted mostly to covering Frank Zappa tunes, the other playing a dangerous strain of circus music, hopefully fit for the Grand Guignol version of the Cirque Du Soleil which, in my alternative universe, was quickly suppressed by the French authorities. This glorious record was made in Nice and Seattle and for a time only available on iTunes, but following their discovery the physical version has been around since 2009. The combo take some of the hallmarks of great modern prog, such as versatility, hyper-fast fingering and noodling on keyboards and guitars, very difficult time signatures, and razor-sharp dynamic turns that the late Zappa bands prided themselves on, taking the idea of “chops” into the Ninth Dimension. These hallmarks are wedded to a huge range of ethnic musical quotes and impressions, with vocals sung and squeaked by numerous singing contributors in grotesque voices which may be yabbering in pastiches of any language from Rumanian to Arabic, or actual tongues beyond my ken. Restless, hilarious and packed with insane details, this is the sort of “everything and the kitchen-sink” enterprise which ought to be tripping over itself like a parade of deformed circus animals, but instead succeeds with all the grace and deftness of a troupe of tumblers or acrobats. Me, I like it!

USAISAMONSTER arrived on 6th December 2010. On R.I.P. (NORTHERN SPY NSCD001) The core duo is Colin Langenus and Tom Hohmann, here joined by keyboard players Maxx Katz and Peter Schuette, and they perform brilliantly strange songs which I can only describe as updated Shaker hymns set to prog-rock rhythms and decorated with superb but understated instrumental prowess on guitars, keyboards, and flute. The highly poetical and intricate lyrics are printed in the digipak for your delectation, and while some of them shadow the path of “untamed nature” walked by Walt Whitman or Thoreau, other songs make a bid to connect imaginatively to elements of Native American heritage, as hinted at by the lovely cover painting. For a brief moment as I removed the shrink wrap on this item, I thought we might be in for another Pocahaunted variant with langourous mystical drones and chants, or some sort of free-strumming music in the mode of Valley Of Ashes. How wrong I was; these are well-crafted songs delivered with precision and fire in the playing, and stirring conviction in the singing, everything stamped with a very American larger-than-life capacity. Recommended.