Tagged: guitar

Berry Good

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Hladowski & Joynes
The Wild Wild Berry
UK BO’WEAVIL RECORDINGS WEAVILCD49 (2012)

The Wild Wild Berry l.p/c.d. comes as a debut recording from the duo of up and coming English folk singer Stephanie Hladowski and firmly established acoustic fingerpicker and Leith Hill Records’ proprietor: C. Joynes. A surefire combination of Meredith Monk and Sun Ra fan Stephanie’s formidable vocalese; once described as a “mature and ancient voice”, that’s matched with the plangent, simple beauty at the centre of Joynes’s far reaching guitar philosophy. …Berry houses an eleven strong set of ‘Brit Trad Arrs’ that are stored (and you probably know where this is heading…) in the vicinity of Camden Town/Primrose Hill, N.W. London; namely Cecil Sharp House; that vast repository of the British song form. After a little research from yours truly, I’ve discovered that six of the tracks on disc have been plundered and subsequently remodelled before by, amongst others, Peter Bellamy, June Tabor, Steeleye Span, Shirley Collins, Steve Ashley, John Jacob Niles and The Young Tradition. But in this particular case, it really doesn’t matter one jot. In the hands of this alliance, middlingly familiar standards like “Lord Bateman”, “The Dark Eyed Sailor”, “George Collins” and “Higher Germanie” emerge in the cold light of another day as fresh and as vibrant as the very instance these tails of deceit, moral decay and untrammeled lust were initially penned.

Though I’d like to focus on the other tracks which seem to have been left in the archives with precious little attention accorded to them. Like…the charming guitar showcase of ‘another’ “Greensleeves” which harks back to the recordings of Stephen Baldwin in the mid-fifties. Its attractive ticking clock rhythm being particularly ear-snagging. “Flash Company” is a melancholy and timeless song of regret. “If it hadn’t been for flash company,” she carols, “I should never have been so poor…”. Though things get way more fraught from hereon in…with the eventual body count coming in at five… The title track details the story of a young nobleman who “felt the deadly gripe of the woody nightshade” and died of poisoning. Found guilty of his death, ‘The Lordship’s Wench” eventually receives a good neck-stretching for his/her pains. Nothing though prepares us for the downright weirdness of “The Bitter Withy”; ‘a thirteenth century carol from the infancy gospel of Thomas – identified in the suppressed gospels of the Original New Testament of Jesus the Christ by Archbishop William Wake’. Rightly vexed at the arrogance of three rich young lords…Jesus “he made himself a bridge with the beams of the sun”. The trio blindly follow him across and promptly drown (!), only for the Christ child to receive a severe caning from his mother Mary with a withy stick (or Osier Willow). A strangely affecting and beautifully phrased gem which I urge you to hear. You thought high level strangeness was the sole province of the avant garde and the outsider? Well… here be monsters too.

Supermax

Retro 2038 (EDITIONS MEGO 172) from COH is Ivan Pavlov’s immaculate album of futuristic disco-tech minimalism from the later 21st-century or some such…he probably did it using time-travel methods, while also harking back with a fond eye to retro and vintage modes of pulsation and boundage techno music, about which I am ill-informed…one would have to imagine a blueprint or schematic form of graphical score for a super-imaginary work that balances perfectly astride the entire Kraftwerk-Moroder axis, albeit reduced and stripped down so that only small, atomic-sized particles remain for digestion by the hungry biscuit-muncher. I was on safer ground with 2010’s IIRON from this guy, as that was more of a noisy guitar album in the area of intellectual heavy metal. But I can see this well-produced and finely polished set insinuating its way into my system, by dint of its smooth surfaces and inhumanly clean sounds, propelled by crisp and crunchy mini-beats. “Contains no instrument samples, patches or other additives”, is the proud boast of Pavlov as he brands his work “100% home-made computer sound”, almost as if it were a product from the supermarket. From May 2013.

Minimetal are a rum duo of Swiss guys who perform on stage as a guitar-and-drum duo, apparently wearing top hats and tuxedos while doing so. They’ve gotten into music from a background in the visual arts – design, sculpture and painting, so right away one can’t help but wonder if there’s a performance-art slant to their act. Apparently they formed in 1994, and were fans of Kyuss and other stoner / rock bands of that period…they only wrote 11 songs, and their entire act consists of repeating this slightly limited repertoire to anyone who will listen. On one level they might be accused of starting off as a parody and have now evolved to the point where they’re parodying themselves, but I think there’s likely to be more going on under the surface. The songs on this record are genuinely strong examples of mesmerising and compelling rock, but they’re also performed with a precision and attention to detail which you won’t find in the music of 90% of sloppy west coast slacker bands of the 1990s. Even the vocals are a spot-on impersonation of that throaty American grunty style of singing; you might have to pause to remind yourself that they’re actually European musicians. At no time though is there any sense that Minimetal are mocking the genre, its musicians, fans, or audiences, and Never Hang Around (SPEZIAL MATERIAL SM043CD023) is a thoroughly enjoyable listen of ultra-steady rock rhythms, precision-tooled riffing and relentless syncopation. I suppose the anomalous factor is that they perform this set in art galleries rather than rock venues, but there’s nothing especially odd about that – after all how many New Wave and noise bands have performed at London’s ICA? The top hat and tuxedo gimmick might be read as a nod in the direction of The Residents, but I think it’s more likely to be another carefully-planned gesture of irony; choosing costumes that are uncomfortable and well-groomed in order to position themselves as the diametric opposite of the grunge and stoner “style”, with its comfortable leisure wear, trainers and denims, and loose sweatshirts worn over t-shirts. From 7th May 2013.

Drums and guitar are utilised in a quite different mode by Glockenspiel on their Dupleix (BABEL LABEL BVOR12108) album. The duo of Adrian Dollemore and Steve d’Enton emerge from a background in UK improvisation, and are now cocooning out of that shell into a species of ambient beat-driven jazz drone, played with Dollemore’s diffused and effects-laden guitar and d’Enton’s rather languid beats. Not unpleasant, but much of the music is a bit too smooth and cosy for me, with the exception of ‘Bellville’ which has a lot more in the way of ragged edges, discordant notes, and fire in the guts; moments of ‘Fentanyl’ work in this way too, disrupting the otherwise rather polite tone of the album. One slight reservation one might express is how dated this approach to making music seems now; Dupleix could have been made in 1996, and its aspirations towards Sonic Youth, Krautrock, and ambient music feel a bit tired and unengaging. From 13 May 2013.

Mutatis Mobilis (ATTENUATION CIRCUIT ACR 1028) is a fine item by the great Freiband (i.e. Frans de Waard), sent to us in May 2013 from this Germal label who do package their droney output in some fine tactile plastic lunchboxes for our delectation. I suppose there are two main characteristics to note with Mutatis Mobilis – its interactiveness, and its extremely recycled nature. As to the interactive dimension, Frans has timed and edited these two suites of ultra-processed drone so that they last precisely the same length; the listener is invited to open both tracks on the computer, using a suitable audio program, so that they can be played back and listened to simultaneously. And even remixed in real time, if the user entertains such proclivities. I haven’t yet tried it myself, but I expect Audacity would do the job effectively, and it’s an open source program which I recommend. However, with this release De Waard is trying to move away from strictly “digital” methods and is harking back to the 1980s when TEAC four-track machines enabled the bold experimenter to do amazing things on cassette tapes with overdubs, mixage, and bouncing-down. Matter of fact the label also released this album as a cassette (15 copies only, though) in hopes that owners of original Portastudios could get stuck in. As to the recycling element, Mutatis Mobilis uses source material created by Freiband blended with other source material from the album Mutatis Mutandis by Aalfang mit Pferdekopf, which itself was created out of sound samples provided by Freiband. This collaborative “reprocess my stuff, dude” spirit seems to be one of the mainstays of 1980s experimentation (I was just mentioning it the other day in reference to P16.D4), and Freiband are clearly steeped in that work ethic. With the multiple configurations and reconfigurations of material that are taking place here, further compounded by the possibilities that we might introduce if we open up this CD in Audacity, Mutatis Mobilis is clearly a work that is never actually “completed” in the ordinary sense of the term. From 20 May 2013.

Floating Dimensions

Feel Beetrr (VETO-RECORDS / EXCHANGE 007) is the latest item from Swiss reedman Christoph Erb and his Veto-Records label, where he’s horning it large with his bass clarinet and tenor as one third of the Bererberg Trio with the Chicago players Josh Berman on cornet and Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello. Ah, no percussion. I’m often very partial to music in the free jazz or improv idioms where there’s no drummer involved; somehow it seems to make the players more comfortable, as regards volume, dynamics, and tempo. The combination of brass, woodwinds and cello continues to create pleasing tastes for the hungry listener who’s tiring of endless corned beef sandwiches or deep-dish pizza, and wants the chance to savour a spot of raw sushi or avant-garde petit-fours wrapped with a mild form of plastic explosive instead of the conventional marzipan. The brew is livened considerably when Fred plays his electric guitar instead of the usual cello on some tracks; it’s especially interesting when he tries to match the plangent tones from the blowing part of the act through means of sustained, bended notes from his Gibson Flying V, until he decides to roughen up the surface with a touch of crazy-paving scrabble-mode riffing. Natch, Erb and Lonberg-Holm are highly familiar to us in these here parts, for example as the duo Screw & Straw or as half of the quartet Sack. Arrived 23 May 2013.

It’s possible at one level to enjoy a record like Feel Beetrr simply as a perfect combination of great sounds from well-played instruments – each player giving unique voice to their chosen “fifth limb”, as most musicians refer to the device that plagues their life so much. We might consider the same line of thought with Le Jardin Bizarre (AN’ARCHIVES AN’06), which features the French guitarist Michel Henritzi pairing his lapsteel and electric guitars along with the violins – both amplified and acoustic – of Japanese wizard Fukuoka Rinji. It’s a beautiful but sad record. Henritzi has long dwelt in melancholic, rain-sodden musical terrains; it’s as though his musical life were a Kurosawa movie. Some of his solo guitar records have more minor keys than the whole of Asia Minor, whatever the heck that means. For the most part here though he is content to provide a strumming / chord backdrop to the keening violin work of Fukuoka Rinji, who effectively captures and distils the voice of a thousand wailing tree spirits in each note produced by his ethereal digits. I often imagine him as a fragile man whose bones are made from brittle clay pipes rather than calcium, and that his flesh would crumple into grey dust if you so much as blew him a kiss. The merest touch of studio echo is added to the record to enhance the overall ambience of the recording, resulting in a very effective portrait of this “strange garden”, subtitled “a garrulous 6 pieces for night garden suite”. Indeed, night bloomers such as the Casablanca Lily and Night Gladiolus would be what I would expect to find in my imaginary time-lapse documentary film that I’m mentally playing as I spin this superbly morose and plangent record. I’m also imagining a picture book by Edward Gorey that was never drawn nor published, but he would have been an exceptionally suitable candidate for delineating this night garden using his dark cross-hatching nib and jet-black ink. Poetic track titles, and equally lyrical artwork – uncredited, but probably screenprinted by Alan Sherry of Siwa Records – complete this delicate hymn to the ipomoea and oenothera biennis. Rinji was the founder of the psychedelic rock band Overhang Party and his wiry, minimal work has graced collaborations with Sachiko and Chie Mukai; he last played with Henritzi on the 2011 PSF release, Outside Darkness. From 16 May 2013.

Another item themed on the idea of “night”, and very coincidentally featuring a Japanese artist is the delightful album The Illuminated Nightingale (NOBLE RECORDS NBL-209) by Motoomi Doi from Osaka. Apparently, he regards this as his first proper album, unless you count his two previous private press releases. One of them, N-N-N, was only available if you sent an email to Motoomi and asked him for a copy; later on, you’d get a parcel in the post. It’s his way of subverting the idea of the free digital download by restoring a tangible product to the equation. The present item comprises ten bouncy songs of electropop with plenty of drum-machine beats, poppy Casio-type melodies played by very busy fingers, and above all the delicate wispy soprano voice of Motoomi himself. He delivers his lyrics with an unaffected simplicity, and great gentleness; for the listener, it’s like being caressed by a large pink marshmallow. There’s also the impression one has of bittersweet emotions; the album is neither really happy nor sad, but floating midstream like a little cork boat on the river. Even the more upbeat songs contain a hint of imminent disappointment, an awareness that the party you’re enjoying so much now will be over the next day. I’m guessing when I say this of course, since it seems all the lyrics are sung in Japanese, but the stated intention is to “portray an entire evening from dusk to dawn” in song, and to allow the listener to “wander through a world where fantasy and reality co-exist…what kind of view will we see from this place where night calls out its end?” Melodic, lyrical, inventive.

Quiet Village

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Mike Cooper
White Shadows In The South Seas
AUSTRALIA ROOM 40 RM454 CD (2013)

Research wise – I’ll readily admit to falling ass over tip, when it comes to the career of a certain Mike Cooper. I thought that it was pretty damn unlikely that the highly regarded English avant guitarist/composer and Recedent could be one and the same guy who was behind a slew of very fine prog blues elpees back in the late sixties/early-to-mid seventies like the fabulously named Trout Steel (Dawn Records) and Life and Death in Paradise on the Fresh Air imprint. That would entail a really radical change of direction over some time admittedly… but one and the same person it surely is… mea maxima culpa and curse these blindspots!!

With a twenty-year love of all things south seas-related, Mike has gradually honed a particularly singular technique in merging experimental string bending styles/tonalities with the tiki bar ambience/birdcall-populated soundstage of lounge exotica. Souvenirs of a plastic Hawaii peopled by the likes of Arthur Lyman, duplicious first lieutenant to one of the genre’s originators: Martin Denny (read Incredibly Strange Music, Volume One for the whole story…).

White Shadows in the South Seas (c.d.) comes as a rather belated successor to the Rayon Hula 10 inch vinyl set and for about a third of the journey (by outrigger naturally), it’s all plain sailing with “Dr. Derelict” and the stellar lap steel figures of “Night Flower Tapu” easily functioning as moderne travelogue soundtracks. But further on, things get incrementally darker, with snaking tendrils and sundry foliage proving too much for the sun’s rays. Those early suggestions of Jon Hassel’s ‘Fourth World’ series and Pyrolator’s sampler-based “Wunderland” have clearly faded away and instead cuts like “Lung Collapse” and the brassy reverberations of “Tapu Lifted” (irrespective of mother nature-derived loopery) inch closer to the more foreboding area of the industrial tone poem. It’s like being so caught up in the lushness of these idyllic surroundings has made the intrepid voyagers completely oblivious to the leeches syphoning precious fluids from their flesh. Very rarely has anything from the contempo exotica subgenre flagged up this number of ‘Danger in Paradise!’ warnings.

Action Vision

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You may recall we reviewed the lovely music of Neil Luck in October 2012, the London composer who gave us Last Wane Days, a truly unique operetta baroque-pop chamber piece – a real surprise for many a powdered wig. He also appeared with one cut on the GoldDust compilation for Slightly Off Kilter records. Luck it was who sent us Songs From Badly-Lit Rooms (SQUIB-BOX NO NUMBER), received here 13 March 2013, and another uniquely somehow very English piece of wailery and squealation it doe bee. As you can tell I am already lapsing into a Jacobean-era style of writing and speaking, a transformation I considereth most appte when hearing these sodden wood-panelled pieces of musicke, as I sitte beside the fire and peepe dartingly out of a small latch window. These airres fitte for the eares of our right royalle King were played by Tom Jackson the clarinettist, with the viola player Benedict Taylor ever by his side. Both are improvisers and performers well respected about the towne, and indeed have likewise found success beyond the seas. For many pieces the players doe buzz and humme at a frantic rate, as though pursued by two tigers from Oriental parts, or else find themselves besette with unwanted small insects crawling about in their nether garments. My advice would be to wear an iron codpiece and so preserve themselves from The Enemy. Also of interest are the different timbres and acoustic qualities, which vary from track to track; perhaps the titles indeed reflect the real-world locations for their performances. If so, most sensitive to the space of a chamber they have proven themselves. No man can listen and remain unmoved at such delicious sounds; barking, crying, hooting and issuing many a plaintive mew, both raising dreadfull clamours to the skies. The duo perform roped together like two sailors on board a shipload of tobacco, and communicate by unseen means that inform their every thought and move. In fine, most high recommendation for this moving and delightful recording. Now I must needs return to gutting my fish from Cheapside market, ere I expire from hunger.

ReverseAge

From 11 March 2013 we received a glorious eccentric and fiery recording of avant-rock solo antics by GR (i.e. Gregory Raimo from France). What an axeman he’s proving himself on these solid high-volume grooves. I’d like to meet his tailor. His A Reverse Age (MEXICAN SUMMER MEX140) is a glorious blast of psychedelic rockabilly noise, the musical fabric cut to shreds by his nasal poison vocalising which mows down eight beds of precious flowers and causes entire trees to wither and die with just one billow from Raimo’s diabolical breath. With his ‘Hymn to Pan’ and his ‘The Primitive Hoodoo’ he owns himself a willing convert to the anti-religion of The Cramps, while his thudding drumming style and raw recording approach fuel the excitement to boiling pitch. The highlight though is his rich and juicy guitar style, often-times heavily psychedelic and reminiscent of Gary Ramon of Modern Art / Sun Dial (or the glorious obscurity Jesse Harper). Fans of Alan Vega and The Fall from circa 1980-1981 should devour this flaming nugget at tremendous speed, using crocodile jaws to chew the slabs of meat. Excessive and flailing adjectives abound on the press release, describing this wild trip as an “argument between myth and reality”, but such unhinged language and frothing praise is quite justifiable in the face of this rockin’ gemuloid.

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Here’s the scrapey improviser Tim Olive with another release on the 845 Audio label sent to us from Kobe in Japan on 21 March 2013. He was carrying a metal pail full of old rusty bolts at the time. On Various Histories (845 AUDIO 845-2) he teams up with Katsura Mouri, a fabulously talented sound artist who works with turntables which are doctored with “prepared records”, percussive objects and pieces of metal. She’s been a member of BusRatch, DOOG, and herviviennestrap, but also performs solo and in 2009 she toured with other contemporary turntable manipulators eRikm, Martin Tetreault and Ignaz Schick; and has assembled a cunning multiple turntable set-up, like Philip Jeck used. This is the first I ever heard of Mouri, but I love her delicate approach; there’s none of the heavy-handedness, violence or sarcasm one sometimes finds with your basic turntabling types – present company excepted, of course – who seem intent on smashing the device, breaking records, or trying to single-handedly destroy the history of recorded music through the symbolic annihilation of this culturally-loaded (as they would see it) machine. Instead she works most sympathetically here with Tim, who plays pieces of metal amplified with guitar pickups, to create five intense pieces of heavily abstracted grey rumbly sound, rich with plenty of low bass grumbles and growls, most of the music hovering gracefully on the twilight zone where it might erupt into vicious anti-social table noise at the turn of a feathered cable. However, it never actually does that, and instead suffuses all emotions into this slowly-bubbling green soup of seething restraint. One listen to this shimmery-abraso beauty and I’m head over heels with Katsura Mouri’s playing style, now tempted to seek out her 2000 and 2002 BusRatch records for PARA discs.

One Harp, One Guitar

The Harp of the New Cambria

Yeah…Rock! Rhodri Davies finally discovers the power of heavy metal! For years this Welsh genius (improviser, composer, innovator) was known for producing extremely quiet and minimal music with his harp, often in the company of other minimal improvisers, although admittedly he was recently drawn to use of the ebow as a process whereby he could extend the resonating strings into a powerful, humming, ultra-long drone. As is well known we love his work here and some of his recent records (e.g. 2010′s Carliol with John Butcher) have been exemplary in terms of their stripped-down astringency, their frightening sense of purpose, their deep-frozen “core of ice” affect such that to listen was like being stabbed in the head with an icicle. Now on Wound Response (ALT.VINYL av038) he’s embracing amplification and distortion, and with these groovy cuts he’s turning himself into a Welsh avant-garde version of Jimmy Page or Leslie West, riffing away in gorgeous circular patterns with a strong sense of simple melodic drive, anchoring down his quicksilver inventions with a solid root note, and generally updating the blues / rock mode in his own shimmering image of palpitating atonal holydom. In fine this is the sort of harp record that Keiji Haino probably wishes he could have made, during that creative purple patch when he figured he was tough enough to play any instrument known to man and create a hideous racket on it, including the hurdy-gurdy which he memorably transformed into a shrieking wheezy monster of steel and wood. Now Haino must surrender his laurel wreath to a new victor.

Davies is getting this fab new sound from use of transducers, contact mics, a volume pedal, an overdrive unit and two amplifiers, the sort of setup that produced those side-long versions of ‘Dazed and Confused’ (although in fact a theremin was also used I believe). The volume pedal in particular is one of my personal favourite devices and isn’t used enough in my view, ever since Derek Bailey trod his well-brogued foot on one of them during his brief but memorable “electric” phase 1. Mostly of course the quality of the music here is produced not by means of electronic assistance, but through the sheer dazzling brilliance of Rhodri’s attack. Man, you could use these fingers to mow an entire field of wheat – he’s his own combine harvester! Speed and coruscating energy are the order of the day, at times making music that resembles the hammered dulcimer or autoharp of an acid-fried folk musician, perhaps named Barney Pembleton, on the most gloriously impossible folk-rock record that never existed and was in fact purposely suppressed by Elektra, Island and Transatlantic working in an unholy triumvirate of conspiracy to conceal dangerously good music from the crowd. Now through the gift of channelling the spirit of Barney Pembleton, Rhodri Davies has succeeded in unleashing that monster from the vaults. Lovely screenprinted card presentation on this beast, with drawings by the organist / composer Jean-Luc Guionnet, a Phil Begg recording, and title borrowed from the musician’s personal bookshelf of great literature. And it’s pressed in clear vinyl, which ought to be the clincher. From 26 October 2012, and a total goodie.

The Persian Version

Last heard from Yek Koo with her single Alone Together, now here she is with an entire album recorded for the same label called Love Song For The Dead C (EMERALD COCOON EC009). Yek Koo is Helga Fassonaki from Metal Rouge, working solo with guitar, percussion devices and her voice for this uncanny limited-edition vinyl item, released at the same time as her one-person show at the Human Resources gallery in LA. The order of the day on this highly discursive and ghostified dron-gronathon is a fairly skeletal approach to music-making, selecting bare twigs or bent wire sticks, remnants and rags of material and assembling them with the intuitive flair of a collage artist or maker of bricolage. These tunes unfold in real time, coming to life on the gallery wall rather than enduring a half-life as tracks etched into dead vinyl. There’s a gloriously delirious tone which the press notes describe as “drunkenly stumbling”, to account for the free-swimming odd mismatches of sound-generation here. The very body of each tune appears fragile, so brittle that it might shatter at any second, or so nebulous that you could disperse the entire album by turning on the fan. Yet Yek Koo’s music keeps on going, and the mysterious drug-like logic of her music is as potent as a spell from Circe burning evil incense blocks in her copper bowl.

Everything is suggestive of alienation and distance – distorted, weirdly-echoed effects, beautifully badly-played electric guitar to produce unearthly tones, an out-of-tune waily voice drifting in from a secret chamber – yet in the final analysis, it’s the most honest and intimate music you could hope for. It’s as though Fassonaki has found a completely instinctive way to outwit the subtleties of our own mind games and ego tricks, and bypass normal channels of communication to arrive at a very direct statement delivered from the heart. The label exhibits a certain pride in the “tradition of the great outsider sides of the early 90s”. Although “outsider” is becoming a commonplace term these days, the point is well made, and even the cover art with its simple pastedown wraparound is trying to forge a link with the 1990s “tradition”, if indeed there is one, when great underground music was packaged in master bags with paste-on covers (mainly for economic reasons) and released in near-secrecy. Of course this attentuated, formless wailing sound she makes isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but I personally am completely enchanted with this LP and it’s highly worthy of your attention. Received 22nd May 2012.

  1. Best heard on the classic LP Domestic and Public Pieces. Let me know if you ever find a copy.

People in the Ceiling

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A delightful item is Tales Of The Expected (MOMENTAL RECORDS MR CD1), an assemblage concocted with joyful glee and meticulous care by the composer Thierry Vaudor. This Canadian-born composer comes to us from a musicological background, and after his studies in jazz composition at Montreal he played his bass in local jazz and rock bands before picking up the virtual editing knife under the guise of Total Normal. All the cuts on this album he classifies under the “acousmatic” term, which is what composers say when they intend the music to be used exclusively for playback over speakers. It’s all done by building layers of sampling and editing, a task over which Vaudor labours with love and dedication, and you might hear anything up to 150 separate instruments on a single track. Some of them are quite brief in duration, but the listener certainly won’t feel short-changed after digesting each intense and chunky spread of music which smears like goose liver pate over hot buttered toast. I want to emphasise that Vaudor is not one of those sampling types who wallows in irony, post-modernism, sarcasm or all the other tricks perpetrated by some dozy samplerdelic types following in the wake of John Oswald, and we are not invited to play “spot the source” nor break into a knowing smirk at each witty juxtaposition. Instead, Vaudor works entirely with his ears; he chooses the “intrinsic qualities” of a “found sound”, not for what he calls its “anecdotal or referential value”. In this way he delivers quietly impossible music: brilliant melodic poppy-jazzy rhythms sprinkled with elements of easy listening, techno-lite beats, souled-up vocals, and multiple layers of extremely odd confections of constructed sound. Lots of good humour in these seamlessly-assembled bright tunes, and intellectually satisfying too. From 1st February 2013.

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Late notice for the Untitled (SMERALDINA-RIMA S-R-015) album by Spirit Of The Positive Wind, a lumpy clunkeroo of rugged performo-noise from four Americans which was released in October 2011, received here in April 2012, and is only now surfacing to the rim of the cauldron. On this vinyl item we’ve got members of Mouthus Brian Sullivan and Nate Nelson (who also did the cover painting), plus Pete Nolan of Magik Markers and Karl Bauer from Axolotl. I’ve enjoyed the crazy noise music of all of these underground Yanks, although it’s been impossible to keep up with all of their prodigious output, and to this day I still feel unable to assess the value of what they’ve achieved over the last ten years or so. Releases like this one, while extremely enjoyable, aren’t helping me make up my mind. Their combined work has been collaged together into two suites of about 20 minutes apiece, and the process has involved a fair amount of smearing and rendering-down, at times producing extremely bizarre and unfamiliar sounds, and at other times creating a rather wearisome and unnatural bubbling drone effect. I certainly admire whatever rough-hewn techniques were employed to achieve these strange-tasting effects and exotic aural moments, but somewhere the force of the original performances has been drained away. There may be about five or ten good minutes in amongst this meandery mudbath full of purple eels and gulping carps, but there doesn’t seem to be any convenient way to extract these nuggets.

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La Géographie Sans Regret (SPECTROPOL RECORDS SpecT 15) is a fairly uncanny record, one of those wild collaborative affairs that make you wonder in amazement at the results. The young Brazilian guitarist George Christian clashes his steely howler-mode strings with the Japanese act Mehata Sentimental Legend, who is the visual artist and experimenter Mehata Hiroshi and one who describes their work as “ritual futurism”. It’s a shocking listen; within seconds you’re presented with far too much musical information to digest, as though watching a cine film with double exposures, or even triple exposures. This impression persists for the first two tracks and, apart from a lull into a slightly quieter passage on track 3, doesn’t get much easier after that point; indeed it’s these very raw and discordant qualities that make the work live and breathe for me, and keep it fresh and vital for each new spin. For just about every second of listening, you truly feel like this is a matter of life or death, that something very serious is at stake. Both musicians recorded their parts at their respective homelands, separated by significant distances, and I wonder if the totality was assembled after the fact from disparate parts, a method that is proven to work well, and if that’s what they did it adds considerably to the deliciously jarring experience of the album. Plus there’s the claustrophobic and eccentric mix, which piles all the sounds together as signs of equal value, and obliges the listener to sort it all out in the head. Both of them sing or add voice parts, but as the lyrics are printed in Portuguese I assume that’s George’s voice that dominates on such juddering haunters as ‘Abismo de Cravos’; he admits he is attempting to “test the limits of his singing voice”, and his notes also disclose the very personal exploratory nature of this work, a reconciliation of his own musical history with his interest in contemporary art. As to Mehata Hiroshi, this person is a cryptical mystic type, uttering compelling phrases such as ‘Stem and root emits life to two sides of the same coin’ and ‘Soul, such as magma deep underground that is wriggling’. Right on! The total effect of this slow-raging hailstorm of shrill and metallic sound swirling together with these plaintive howly vocals is palpable, producing a coppery taste in the mouth and inducing an apocalyptic headache of the soul. Not an easy listen and few will work their way past its forbidding surface, but once you’re deep within this tunnel / maelstrom of music you’ll find it hard to slip loose from its intestinal bonds. Besides the wild voices, you should find the guitar playing of George Christian is truly remarkable (when it occasionally climbs its way to the surface of the cluttered mix, that is) and it’s not far-fetched to predict that one day soon he’ll be held in as high esteem as Haino, Akiyama, or Li Jianhong. From 5th March 2013, and highly recommended.

Reflexion Interior

The item Eins Bis Sechzehn (CRONICA 069-2012) is by the sound artist Ephraim Wegner and the visual artist Julia Weinmann, with their audio and visual snapshots of old ruined hotels. Presumably they wander about these collapsing edifices while no-one is looking and operate their capture devices before a wedge of plaster falls on their heads. They present the finished work as a fairly short CD – just six tracks of field recordings – and a portfolio of full-colour photographs, very well printed and some of them folding out into friezes. Although at first glance / listen we may think we’re facing a rather empty and desolate set of surroundings, in fact there are minimal traces of human endeavour and past lives embedded in the recordings. We can hear something bumping about like the ghost of a portly man settling into a sofa or furniture removers operating a service lift. Also other signs of life, like birds twittering outside or the distant seashore. Evocative and airy, it’s quite a benign undertone here, and clearly not directed by Stanley Kubrick in the ruins of the Overlook Hotel while furrowing his beetling brow. I’m very much reminded of Michael J. Schumacher and his 2003 release Room Pieces – this one seems to be poking around in similar enigmatic blank zones. I haven’t read their lengthy explanation in the notes though, as I suspect it’s trying to overstretch a simple idea with one too many “resonances”.

Another nice printed book + CD package is GROC 1912-2012 (SONORIDAD AMARILLA) and may have emerged from a music festival in Sant Sebastia. Mostly printed in Spanish with English translations. Miguel A Garcia is involved, and so are Artur Vidal, Coco Moya and Alicia Grueso. The book is a puzzling set of fragmented texts, alongside equally baffling but very direct monochrome images, making me feel I’m wandering through a conceptual art exhibit from 1970s England rather than flipping the pages of a book. The CD is even more opaque, short tracks where nothing is really explained but which sound like captured output from the most avant-garde radio station ever to have escaped the attention of the authorities. There’s a gorgeous “distant” quality; you can almost see tiny figures moving about inside a small surreal TV set glowing with yellow light. Things may become clearer if you read the texts while listening. The book is a libretto, structured like scenes from a play (with very strange stage directions), and it’s possible to interpret everything as the soundtrack to a performance of a gently absurd drama, almost as empty as a Beckett drama, but without the despair. The creators are aiming at a certain open-ended framework so that the performance can “project into the viewer’s imagination”, and there are hints at painterly sensibilities at work what with the fleeting Kandinsky reference, and the fact that Groc translates from Catalan as “yellow”. It’s to everyone’s credit here that so much can be expressed in a small, compacted package, and this beguiling little gem will grow on all those who own it and live with it.

Segments (EM002) is the second release from Emitter Micro, the German label who sent us the 2 (3) Incomplete Triptychs cassette in a clear box. As HiFi / LoNoise, the trumpeter Louis Laurain is joined by the electronics of Pierce Warnecke for 21 minutes of thoroughly abstracted sound – starting as puffy blankets of “reduced improv” minimalism, then exploding into a more full-bodied broth of amplified buzziness. Evidence of strong concentration and focus from both players here. Has a refreshing “raw” quality; untreated surfaces which you could use as building blocks in modular self-assembly furniture, and transform your living quarters.

I’ll confess I’m struggling slightly to derive much meat from the wispy melodic bones of Twilight Peaks (SMERALDINA-RIMA 20), a Robbie Basho release which was reissued by the Belgian Smeraldina-Rima label in 2012. This may be because it was originally an unabashed New Age release, issued in 1985 by a New York organisation called The Relaxation Company on their Vital Body Marketing label, and existed as a cassette with a bland cover of soothing dimensions and packaged as “Rich & lyrical solo guitar”. Basho had his own reasons for treading the New Age music path; one possible motivation could have been that his music didn’t catch on as expected with the “folk music” audience, and by the mid-1980s when it seemed that New Age music was in the ascendancy, he decided to hitch his wagon to that twinkly star. Maybe it’s time for this overlooked genre to undergo some form of reappraisal. The writers Richard Osborn and Glenn Jones, who provide the notes to this release, need no such persuading and they write from the depths of their own experience; Jones, who produced this reissue from original tapes, was a friend of Basho and articulates the beauty and value of this music well, making a good case in a sympathetic manner. After all it’s fair to say that Basho has not sacrificed an iota of his skill or artistry here, and there’s still the focus and precision in the playing that characterises his earlier music. The overall saminess of the sound, and its rather thin over-processed patina, may start to grow wearisome to the ears after a while, but that’s the central paradox of this item; it might be a rare case of high art hidden within a bland and commercialised genre. This reissue adds three tracks not on the original cassette, including two live cuts; these live recordings have escaped the cosseting effects of the original studio production and have a slightly rougher edge; these extra 12 minutes may make all the difference to you if you’re considering adding this to your Basho collection. Tremendous cover art, but it’s a little bit misleading as to the musical content.

Space, No Oddity

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Tetuzi Akiyama / Jeff Gburek
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SPECTROPOL RECORDS SpecT 18 CD (2012)

Precision and restraint are the watchwords for this beguiling release, which teams Japanese guitar guru Tetuzi Akiyama with Polish-American improviser Jeff Gburek for a quartet of long, contemplative duets recorded in 2010 and inspired – perhaps counterintuitively, given the chilly cover art of the CD – by the empty deserts of New Mexico.

Both players are veterans of these types of meetings, and this experience is what makes the record so enjoyable. There’s no showing off or attempting to dominate. Instead collaboration and the exchange of ideas predominate.

Gorgeous and hypnotic, the four pieces have an arresting sense of space and stillness, emphasised by the way in which the two players’ contributions weave and mesh together together, resulting gauzy films of abstract sound. The six and a half minutes of “Respect 4” are a fine example, Akiyama’s broken chords hanging luminously in the air like wire wool as Gburek subtly brings in a whining, fuzzy drone of feedback that swoops around and then enfolds them, as if wrapping them in a warm blanket.

Akiyama focuses exclusively on acoustic guitar throughout, playing with a glacial stillness that demonstrates his expertise in improvising groups small and large. Since forging his improvisational chops in the Madhar group in the late 80’s, he ran a monthly improv session with no-input mixing board maestro Toshimaru Nakamura in the 90s, has played in a duo with Hervé Boghossian since 2006, all the while amassing a comprehensive discography of solo, duo and larger group recordings with all manner of players.

His finesse is demonstrated perfectly in “Respect 3”. On this piece – which, perhaps appropriately my CD player seems to think is the first track on the album – we get a full 30 seconds of silence before Akiyama starts, plucking pinched harmonics followed by a glisteningly melodic line that appears on the horizon, like an iceberg in a freezing sea.

Throughout this fine, meditative record, every note, chord or harmonic Akiyama plays is perfectly placed – not only in relation to the other notes he plays, but also to the space and silence surrounding him. Perhaps this is why the album’s release notes talk about its ‘post-Feldman’ quality…

Gburek, in comparison, brings everything but the kitchen sink, mobilising slide, acoustic and prepared guitar and a raft of unidentified electronics to play with. He’s a well-regarded musician and composer in his own right, who has worked with Keith Rowe, Tom Carter from Charalambides, Eddie Prevost and many other experimentalists.

He dips into his bag of tricks sparingly, though, offsetting his partner’s contributions to great effect. The insistent, Morse-code like tones at the start of “Respect 4” ,for example, anchor Akiyama’s frail guitar melodies perfectly. Midway through “Respect 2”, he plays a high, keening melody, possibly on prepared guitar, making a sound somewhere between a Theremin and pedal steel guitar that curls around the space in a peculiarly feline way. Elsewhere, low rumbles, creaks and chimes bring ghostly touches of colour and texture.

In fact, the more I listen to this album, the more I’m convinced that Gburek brings a fantastically unconventional structure to these pieces. His interventions often blindside the listener, reconfiguring a track in unexpected ways. One-and-half minutes into the pristine quietude of “Respect 2”, a burst of white noise erupts, shattering the calm, followed by a clamour of recorded voices, in French and Polish. It’s as if someone has walked into the recording studio and switched on the radio. It’s weird, but it works.

Then, in “Respect 4”, following a particularly limpid section of guitar and electronics, Gburek unexpectedly summons up a sinister, bruised wave of sound which obliterates everything else. It then dissipates as quickly as it appeared, leaving Akiyama to pluck enigmatic droplets of guitar that shine in the now-empty space.
It might be easy, given all of this stillness and restraint, to fall back on some hackneyed guff about the intrinsically calm and meditative nature of Japanese art. To be sure, this album does have a scent of the Onkyokei about it (although Akiyama is quite capable of playing loud and visceral too, as anyone who heard his playing on 2012’s Satanic Abandoned Rock & Roll Society record, Bloody Imagination will testify.

But more importantly this is a collaboration, not a solo record, one which takes its cue from the wide open, empty sky of the southwest USA, not the Off Site venue in Tokyo. Its distinctive character comes from the inspiration of this landscape, moulded and formed by both Akiyama’s Japanese and Gburek’s Polish-American sensibilities.

In fact this record actually recalls some of Manfred Eicher’s poised productions for ECM. Perhaps this is a more adventurous, abstract and dissonant ECM record than that label is accustomed to, true. And maybe the icy European landscape on the CD case recalls ECM’s distinctive aesthetic more than I should allow it to. But still, there’s a shared sense of the possibilities of space and the calm intimacy of the recording that unites the Munich-based label and this mesmeric album.

Bandcamp page

The Bloody Hammer

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Satanic Abandoned Rock & Roll Society – pretty powerful name for a band eh readers! It’s up there with the Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation, although that Fuji bunch can’t quite live up to that name, bluster as they may with their powerful slow drones and collective long hair. Us black-hearted types have more confidence in a name like Satanic Abandoned Rock & Roll Society, although to their discredit they don’t reproduce it in full on the front cover, instead opting for an obscure acronym which indicates the typographical designer for this release is preening his own sense of cleverness instead of (to my mind) representing the music properly. Mater of fact this whole album needs to be redesigned from the ground up, starting with strong shades of primary red and black instead of these sickly grey and maroon hues. And we need at least one pentagram or other magical symbol on the cover instead of these vague rotating hexagons. Come to think of it, these visual ideas of mine are pretty trite and have already been done to death by a million no-hoper Heavy Metal bands. No wonder I never get any LP design work! My idea of a record cover for The Cramps would be a skull wearing a top hat and framed by two dice…

However spin the disc of Bloody Imagination (MIKROTON RECORDINGS mikroton cd 12) and we’re certainly not disappointed by the dense and thuddy drone-o feedback noise produced by four mighty “shoguns” of Japanese music, namely Tetuzi Akiyama, Naoaki Miyamoto, Utah Kawasaki and Atsuhiro Ito. Any listening infantryman worth their salt knows the name of Akiyama, the guitarist who dresses like a 1970s New York street dude and plays in numerous rock and improv inflected styles, and might as well carry his electric guitar in a machine gun case. Utah’s name first reached my ears when Otomo Yoshihide was getting all excited about this new “Onkyo” style in the 1990s and reported that Kawasaki played a broken synth. How better to align oneself with those two Swiss noise pioneers Voice Crack than to use malfunctioning equipment. Atsuhiro Ito is a member of Intonarumori Orchestra and Optrum. If you ever Google for a picture of this fellow you’ll notice that he’s never in public without his hat (like the guitar player Taku Sugimoto, another credited with developing the slow and near-silent performing style that was later dubbed “onkyo”), and also that he appears to be gifted in playing the fluorescent lighting tube (actually it’s his “optron” – see below). Now I want to revisit his contributions to the Improvised Music From Japan box set from 2001. Lastly we have the second guitarist Naoaki Miyamoto whose name is new to me but whose career also dates from this millennial “tabula rasa” point of 2000-2001 when the music was taken for a long walk in the snowdrifts around Mount Aino, and lost its memory.

The groovy thing about this 52-minute mo-fo (continuous playing, no edits) is that the musicians characterise their work primarily in terms of the frequencies they generate – e.g., Tetuzi dominates the high frequencies, Atsuhiro occupies the lower depths. Then there’s the instrumentation itself, the “optron” played by Ito 1 and Tetuzi’s resonator (all-steel body) guitar played with a samurai sword, to get that doubled-up effect of metal on metal. This is not “minimal” music as regards the volume or the presence, which is full-on and extremely “solid”, producing a goodly chunk of impenetrable smoke in the listening parlour. But it is also extremely disciplined, the four musicians locking into a tight unit and keeping the intensity on an even keel, without wavering for a second. What great sailors they would make, pilots of an old-fashioned tea-clipper. There are no excessive gestures or unnecessary sounds, and the musical bundle is as watertight as a full-body protective suit made of epoxy resin. As far as Rock & Roll Societies go, this is one “smart set” where you’ll be glad you signed the membership papers and paid your monthly dues. As far as “satanic” goes, this record may not exhibit the same brand of theatrical horror that we get from Sunn O))) or Black Metal records, but it is still extremely – erm – affecting, both for the bodily and mental cavities. If we regard a satanic rite as something which requires intense concentration and never admits the possibility of a mistake in the procedure 2, then this record is a masterclass in the “dark arts”. Would ya believe this uncanny production, composed and produced by Tetuzi Akiyama, been boiling in the vaults since 2004? What hath befallen the world in the eight year interval leading up to its release?

  1. One pundit on YouTube has dubbed it “Merzlight”
  2. This line of thought isn’t too far-fetched if you’re of the school of thought that ascribes the “Black Mass” to the perverted invention of late 19th-century decadents, who simply created an intellectual inversion of the Catholic liturgy.