Tagged: industrial

White Elephant In The House

Elephant House
Pony Ride
UK ADAADAT ADA0049 LP (2017)

Much as the cynic in me wants to see smugness in the small print: a Harry Potter-referencing, ‘London-based, Sino-Hellenistic psychedelic drone duo’ playing ketamine pop inspired by ‘the traditional Mongolian coaxing rituals used to encourage female camels into accepting new-born calves’, it’s difficult to deny that Elephant House (aka Christos Fanaras and Shenggy Shen) have everything it takes to make sparse, no-nonsense lo-fi pop. From kick off it’s all willful and workable ass-backwardness: woozy, 8-minute opener ‘Camel Mom’ would do time as a psychedelic closer on any other record; its metronomic tick-tock telling time while a sparse acoustic guitar refrain, reverse-motion drone and slithering microtonal keyboard wash it away – easy on the ear, but as unignorable as a thumb pressed into a sleepy third eye. It might have escaped from Eno’s studio in the late ‘70s only to end up here, miles from anywhere and yet strangely in the centre of things.

That every ‘song’ features a distinctly different arrangement says that Shen and Fanaras worked quickly and instinctively. Each passes deceptively quickly, teasing us into listening once more. Something of a stand-out, ‘Pearl’ features warm-wash drone with loads of wibbly synth and girl-in-a-bathtub background vocals that raise listeners to the plateaux of pleasantry. The pastoral and also pleasant ‘Shuidiao Getou’ might well have been forged to con credulous audio tourists into believing they’re hearing an example of traditional Chinese songcraft and dammit it’s working! Transplanted into a pool of longform ambient with only the sparsest of drum beats, the folky piece flows like coloured water from a watercolour on the other end of a telescope. All told, Elephant House have delivered a beautifully ephemeral and unassuming record, the success of which owes to the fact that it belongs to a moment in time and not a discography. If they were to quit now, at least they’d do it while ahead.

White
White
UK ADAADAT ADA0050 LP (2017)

Some time before moving into Elephant House, the peripatetic percussionist, occasional vocalist and one-woman mascot for Chinese New Music Shenngy Shen worked with guitarist (and vocalist) Zhang Shouwang in (and on) White – a more ‘industrial’ proposition than said drone pop act, the foresaid and cringe-inducing designation being qualified by the duo’s involvement with Blixa Bargeld, who produced this record in 2007 and invited the pair to tour with Einstürzende Neubauten the following year. Yet, while the record is not without a certain rhythmic tyranny, we invoke the ‘i-word’ not simply describe a dystopian atmosphere, it can just as easily signify infrastructural development and the optimism it can bring (think ‘Autobahn’, but racing out of Beijing) as it can the monotony of the assembly line.

There are plenty of rhythms sans merci however, where Shouwang’s breathy tones redeem us from the monotony, but inadvertently deliver us a dominatrix unperturbed by her gloomy environs. ‘Space Decay’ is sandpaper-skinned techno-pop soaked to the skin in gloomy drones and riddled with fascistic speech clips that command the listener to ‘come back to the real world’: a revenant of old-world patriarchy and physical threat. Somewhat more seductively, ‘Build a Link’, makes a motivational mantra of the title atop a monotonous keyboard pulse, till gradually it dawns that it refers not to personal development, but is effectively persuading the listener to accept a slave’s role on a mammoth civil engineering project. The ambivalence that attends municipal and national development is here refined into something far less strident and interrogating than obvious forebears such as Neubauten, Kraftwerk, Raymond Scott and even the American Minimalists, but in subsuming them seamlessly into its lo-tech-no pop weft, White respectfully historicises them, and in doing so introduces itself (a decade after the fact) as something far more substantial than a cheap knock-off.

CDR vs DJ Topgear
CDR vs DJ Topgear
UK ADAADAT ADA0042 12″ VINYL (2015)

Tokyo’s prolific CDR aka Hikaru Tsunematsu is noted for belting out furious, manic and near-tasteless mentalist antics of the Shitmat / Scotch Egg / Kid606 / Venetian Snares variety – long after most of us would be forgiven for having thought the show was over. I hadn’t realised breakcore was still being made, though it does stand to reason that a genre so utterly relentless should remain perfectly incapable of sitting still or – indeed – of changing in any sense other than the type of shrapnel it immerses itself in at any given moment. ‘Soumatou’ shoots varispeed breakbeats like clay pigeons into the wind and shatters them into splintery detritus. Without cease, but with a redeeming appetite for Aphexian acid: thwarting our need for gratification by ever-so slowly disinterring cutesy wee keyboard melodies from the sandstorm of beats and samples. Meanwhile, ‘Ebi’ shrimps the lugholes with Even More slamming dn’b going twice the legal limit under the influence with more RDJ-era synths spiking us with sweetness for ‘good’ measure. ‘In for a penny…’ boasts CDR, aware that he can only get punished once for such wholesale pilfering. Onto UK’s DJ Topgear, peddling more breakcore bullying with a side serving of circuit-bending sound effects on Side B. Ostensibly, there’s not much to differentiate the two DJs, barring a speed differential of about 12rpm, Topgear actually not living up to his name in this case. Their tag-teaming on this split 12” is a double-whammy of evangelistic violence designed to batter listeners into an avuncular acceptance of this ever-anachronistic nonsense.

Transmission and Distribution Industry

The name of Genetic Transmission is I confess entirely new to me, but it’s plain to see that this Polish industrial one-man band (real name Tomasz Twardawa) has his own distinct approach to the gritty, urban, industrial noise thing, and I am fully prepared to believe that he has “cult status” and that he has been highly influential on Polish musicians working in similar areas, both assertions which are baldly stated in the Zoharum press release. Genetic Transmission’s catalogue of output begins in the mid 1990s, and there are a number of CDRs released on his own private press label Die Schöne Blumen Musik Werk; titles such as Bruit Assemblage and Garbage Substance Manipulations may give you some idea of his process, or his aims, though I never heard these records. Tomasz also traded as Zilch, Godzilla, and Ladne Kwiatki; not sure at time of writing if these were indeed groups, or simply aliases for his solo work.

Zhoarum have now taken it on themselves to reissue some back catalogue material as proper CD pressings in an enterprise which is optimistically called the GT Archive Series. The first item to hand is Genetic Transmission (ZOHAR 130-2 / GT 01), significant as the first album made by the artiste 1 and originally released as a cassette tape on Obuh Records in 1997. I see the cover art for that 1997 item contains a lot of the visual clues we’d expect from the genre – photo collage, typography printed at weird angles, and the use of vaguely unsettling imagery which suggests the conflation of human anatomy with machinery 2. However, I can see why someone would want to reissue the tape, as this is not a “generic” industrial item and there’s a lot of buried treasure here. While the surface is pretty repellent, and deliberately so, these mind-numbing rhythms really creep under your skin in a highly effective manner, soon taking over your motor functions and causing the listener to walk and move like a robot. The label are keen to stress that everything is analogue; already in these times when we’re saturated with over-processed digital noise, it seems that old school all-analogue processing and recording is becoming a hallmark of authenticity. Whatever you think about that shift in the culture, there’s no doubt that Twardawa assembles his elements with a fierce determination, and his somewhat primitive (in a good way) methods really make the music crackle with life – and even if that metaphor suggests Dr Frankenstein creating his monster in the lab, that isn’t far off the mark. “Bruit collages, harsh metallic sounds and mechanical structure” are some of the features we are advised to savour. I also appreciated the variety of this set; veering between loud and abrasive noise and the slower, more rhythmical pieces; but throughout, everything is grey, gritty, and completely abstract, and bound up with an inescapable sense of doom. Almost all music tagged with “industrial” aspires to that doomy sensation, but few deliver it with the conviction and force of Genetic Transmission.

The second CD, also in the Archive Series, is called Chrząszcz Brzmi W Trzcinie (ZOHAR 131-2 / GT 02). Here we jump ahead to 2006; the 2005-06 recordings were issued as a limited CDR by the Berlin label Tochnit Aleph, a connection which need not surprise us as Twardawa had already formed some connection with Dave Phillips by this time. Matter of fact they released a tribute split record to Rudolf Eb.er in 2000. Apparently, the CDR of Chrząszcz sold out very quickly to those “in the know” and hasn’t been heard since this reissue. Right away we can discern things have moved on for Tomasz Twardawa and he’s in a different creative space. The cover art is even more vague and unsettling, with details from treated photographs arranged in such ways to reduce the possibility of recognisable and familiar imagery, and maximise confusion and disorientation for the viewer. Analogous methods may have been used for the music, which by now – only eight years later – has become even more brutal and primitive. The press notes vaguely describe Tomasz’s working method for this, where no post-processing or tidying up has taken place, and the aim seems to have been to select only the most “primal” materials in the first place and slam them together in unwieldy chunks. Whatever editing has taken place is for reasons of concision, but also mainly for reasons of shock. On that account, the record delivers. Chrząszcz Brzmi W Trzcinie – a title which translates as “a beetle buzzes in the reed” – is a chaotic jumble of noise and sound, dour and grim in tone, and the edits are very harsh, aiming for maximal brain-scrambling power. If Tomasz thought the world was a depressing place in 1997, at least his plaint still had form and structure; by 2006, he’s evidently decided the entire universe is absurd, and there’s a madman in charge. For all these reasons, I found this Chrząszcz heavy going, and started to long for the comparative coherence of the earlier record, but I find that eventually you get used to the samey landscape and tasteless grey murk that’s on offer. I suppose one observation would be that the sound-world here seems much more cut-off and internalised than the earlier record, with the sense that the composer will not allow a chink of outside light into his composing dungeon. This adds to the sense of claustrophobia and doom. These may be regarded as positive outcomes, perhaps, in the context.

While not pleasant listening by any means, these are pieces of history and both of these records will have a home in the serious scholar and collector of industrial music, and both are well presented and packaged. From 23rd November 2017.

Bandcamp page for first album
Bandcamp page for second album

  1. Although there is something which predates it slightly, the cassette Vanitas Vanitatum Et Omnia Vanitas from 1996.
  2. I feel the force of that collage has been diluted on the CD reissue, despite using the same source matrial.

Who Let the Dogs Out?

Stray Dogs
And The Days Began To Walk
UKRAINE KVITNU 48 CD (2016)

On paper there’s not a lot to distinguish the murky, downtempo minimalism of Belgian post-techno duo Stray Dogs (Frederik Meulyzer and Koenraad Ecker) from peers such as Raime and Emptyset in that well-eked theatre of interstitial operations, though they do show gratifying humanity where po-faced aloofness is often the norm. Their take on industrial techno subordinates the pre-sets to man-ufactured polyrhythms that see muscular limbs reaching through perpetual darkness; tribal drums clattering through cinematic synth-scapes and dub effects echoing the much-loved motif of urban decay. Constant tension between these dynamics amasses a potent, ritualistic energy.

So, while And The Days Began To Walk is likely to please many a serious and sedentary listener, messrs Meulyzer and Ecker often write with choreography in mind: their work over the past few years has included commissions for theatre and contemporary dance as well as more standard AV collaborations, and on this occasion choreographers Ina Christel Johanneseen and Stephen Laks benefit from their competent composition. One earlier video shows the pair blasting live cello and drums onto a set piece that sees a sea of lithe bodies contorting like molten rubber zombies in one turmoiled tableau after another. The musicians remain partially veiled throughout, as if to blur into uncertainty their diegetic relationship to this frenzy. Thus this album slots easily into the ‘soundtrack without a film’ category and it might have been a contender for a place on the new Blade Runner soundtrack, were that not already taken. It might even have had a cleansing effect on such doggerel as the ‘rave’ scene in Matrix Reloaded, though this association would probably have killed the duo’s credibility altogether.

No One Deserves Happiness: an adventurous sludge / doom progression into songs of love and loss

The Body, No One Deserves Happiness, United States, Thrill Jockey Records, CD digipak THRILL 047 (2016)

I admit I haven’t followed The Body’s progress in sludge / doom metal much since the duo released “All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood” several years ago. In that time, the band relocated from Rhode Island to Portland in Oregon and released heaps more product (mostly collaborations, splits and EPs) than I can keep up with even if I were to commit myself to listening to nothing else. The band’s fifth album would have passed me by too if I hadn’t stumbled across it while looking for something else (that always happens, doesn’t it?) on Youtube.

Even a casual first hearing tells me how much The Body has grown in the range of music and subject matter they’re keen on covering: this album is very song-oriented, even inclined to rock / pop thanks partly to frequent collaborator Chrissy Wolpert who lends her larynx to a number of songs, and to vocalist Maralie Armstrong on “Adamah” and “Shelter is Illusory” who comes across as an underground metal answer to Adele. There are plenty of influences from genres like industrial, noise and hiphop, and electronic instruments and effects are present across the album. But at heart The Body is still a sludge / doom beast with Chip King managing an astounding act of playing guitar in time with Lee Buford’s drumming and the other guest performers while screaming his lone-outsider-prophet-in-the-wilderness shrieks in a way at variance with whatever his hands (and everyone else) are doing.

The Body (Chip King and Lee Buford): hunting for more interesting musical collaborators

The best tracks are those where The Body incorporates influences from other genres into the sludge / doom template to produce a very layered, unique fusion that simply couldn’t exist if any one of its parts were removed. “Shelter is Illusory”, combining swooping and snapping electronics, doom grind, a thumping tribal-drum percussion rhythm roll, a siren’s voice in the background and frying noise, is one such track; “Two Snakes”, including hiphop rhythms and sound textures along with guitar and a gritty drum machine, is another. “The Fall and the Guilt” is a beautiful song whose structure relies entirely on sung lyrics by Wolpert over disjointed piano chords, a lazy violin and a running gritty industrial drone texture layer.

On the other hand there are too many songs that repeat over and over without coming to a definite resolution of their ideas, or where King’s hollering and whooping carry on endlessly without much change from one track to the next. One gripe I have also with the album is that there are many good and varied tracks that are too short and could do with a longer treatment and development of their musical themes and ideas that might lead The Body into even more interesting and offbeat detours.

As it is, even with its repetitions, this album is very brave and adventurous, taking its creators and their fans far into new worlds musical and non-musical. On one level there is plenty of discovery and the joy of creating incredible musical combinations yet at the same time this is a highly accessible recording with themes of doomed love and loss. It may be heavy going for a lot of listeners but I’m sure most people will be very satisfied, even over-sated with musical richness, after the last song has played.

Boa / Cold: a mesmeric fusion of droning desert Western doom and cold heavy industrial techno dub

Earth / The Bug, Boa / Cold, Ninja Tune, ZEN12394 12″ vinyl (2014)

I sure did not see this collaboration coming at all and I was surprised to discover this release by Dylan Carlson (Earth) and Kevin Martin AKA The Bug from way back in 2014 … but on further reflection I really shouldn’t have been astonished. Both Carlson and Martin have been exploring, pushing and redefining the limits of their respective genres over the past 25 years, and among many other things Martin is known for his work with Justin Broadrick (of Godflesh / Jesu fame) in Techno Animal, so it was really a matter of when, not if, Carlson and Martin’s paths in out-there extreme underground and experimental music would cross. “Boa / Cold” grew out of The Bug’s recording sessions for his album “Angels & Devils”, in one of which Carlson was originally one of several collaborators.

This recording is unlike anything most of us will ever hear. “Boa” stands somewhere in a futuristic industrial sci-fi shadow zone between Desert Western Country Doom Guitar Melody Wander and Arctic Cold Heavy Hiphop Dub. The two genres sit side by side rather than try to blend into one fusion style. The contrast / tension between the two and the comment each style of music makes on the other make for a daunting and very sinister listening experience. The sound wash, the rhythms and beats (with occasional break-beats) are massive and the feeling can be overwhelming and hellish, as has often been my experience in dunking my head in Techno Animal’s sonic worlds. For all that, “Boa” is a short track and the actual playing by the musicians is as gentle, slow and relaxed as can be.

“Cold” is more of a fusion between Carlson’s guitar rambling and The Bug’s beats and rhythms that writhe around the guitar melody and the drone echo wash that follows in its wake. This seems a more structured piece than “Boa” if much colder, industrial and inhuman, with a shambling tribal feel. I have always had the impression that in their own ways Carlson and Martin have always been interested in music of a hypnotic shamanistic nature for the trance effects it can have, and this track certainly has a mesmeric, consciousness-altering effect on this listener.

If only both “Boa” and “Cold” were longer – at least 20 minutes each longer and more! – such an album of continuous serpentine droning doom / industrial techno dub would hold me spellbound forever.

Nihil Ex Nihilo

The kings of UK confrontational Noise Music, The New Blockaders, surface yet again with these 2012 recordings on a Japanese CD. Live At The Rammel Club / The Dome (VLZ PRODUKT VLZ 00043-CD) features two lengthy performances captured in venues in Nottingham and London respectively. The first was part of the Broken Flag Festival held that year, the second as part of the Harbinger Sound Festival. That information alone might be helpful to put these recordings in context…after all Steve Underwood, the owner of Harbinger Sound, had just published his first (and only?) issue of As Loud As Possible in 2010, an exhaustive magazine dedicated to furthering the cause of Industrial Music and Power Noise, and what’s more it featured an in-depth overview of the whole Broken Flag thing, in a bid to understand not just the music and the label, but also see it through the eyes of the main contributors to the label, including M.B., Paul Lemos, Skullflower, and…erm…Tim Gane. That publication is the closest I for one have come to getting any kind of purchase on the dark and foreboding world of Gary Mundy and his thoroughly alienated cohorts.

It makes sense that all the brutal noise-loving diehards of the world would wish to keep the flame alive in the form of two Festivals that year, showcasing what they would regard as two important locuses of their preferred form of cultural endeavour. And what better way to underscore these sentiments than by offering a platform to The New Blockaders, who since the early 1980s have been pummelling the ears, minds and bodies of anyone who cared to listen, doing so through their own unique brand of formless, destructive noise, a racket which often appears to have been assembled from equal parts of malfunctioning metal devices, feedback, and the rubble from a bomb blast site. Those who have collected the works of Richard Rupenus and his men over the years may have some idea what to expect from this CD, although The New Blockaders in 2012 is somewhat of a different proposition from the original incarnation. It’s now a four-piece of collaborators.

We’ve heard rumours that other performers besides Richard and brother Phil have been involved in the tour band versions, but this is now confirmed by the credit note here, which clearly identifies Mark Durgan, Michael Gillham, and Phil Julian as the three able supporters of Richard Rupenus for these concerts. True, they stick to the expected form – they still have the ski masks, the jackets and ties, and they still set about the task on stage as though working on an anti-building site where everything has to be demolished before the five o’clock whistle. And they make a tremendous noise doing so. But they also do it knowingly, perhaps a bit too knowingly; a record such as Changez Les Blockeurs could be seen as something of a leap in the dark in 1982, with its creators having no idea if their contribution to the culture would even have any effect. By 2012, we’ve had time to assimilate that assault into our collective bloodstream; and so have Durgan, Gillham, and Julian, next-generation noisesters who are more easily able to step into the ground cleared by TNB, and produce a highly convincing take on the music, but also one that’s ever so slightly “facile”. I’m not feeling the struggle, the pain, the internal strife that Richard Rupenus poured into his best and most alienating work. However, I would like to think that Rupenus chooses his collaborators with care; it’s not the same as recruiting for a tour band version of Gerry and The Pacemakers, after all. This is undoubtedly a “dream team” for a viable performing version of TNB; as Putrefier, for instance, Mark Durgan has produced some scathing statements in the harsh noise mode. His four-CD Hypertension Classics Vol 2., released by Harbinger Sound in 2005, is not something I can forget in a hurry.

Another side of the TNB project is the abrasive, nihilistic “anti-art” stance, a stance which mostly consists of saying “I’m against it” while still striving to locate the music and culture of TNB within an avant-garde framework of some sort, whether that’s performance, Fluxus composition, or visual art history. It involves the careful positioning of TNB alongside fine art, in order for Rupenus to say he rejects it completely, and that TNB has nothing to do with it. On the present release, this aspect is represented by some characteristically hostile paragraphs of invective reprinted from Glissando magazine.

A thoroughly depressing, misanthropic, and negative release; everything about it brings you down, including the sickening colours of the artworks, the extreme bitterness of the printed texts, and the grim, suffocating noise music on the disc. The only development I might remark on is the audience sound; it’s the first time I think that I’ve even heard an audience reacting to TNB. More to the point, they’re obviously loving it, whooping and hollering as if they were mainstream rock fans at a U2 concert. I’m not sure what this means, but I think it’s interesting; perhaps despite all Rupenus’ strenuous efforts to produce a noise and a performance that is completely toxic and fatal to society, that same society still manages to consume it, and enjoy it. From 8th July 2016.

Age Of Enlightenment

Image sourced from http://fangbomb.com

Imaginary Forces last came our way in March 2016 with the unsettling and implied violence of Corner Crew, a record he made for the Sleep Codes label. With the Visitation EP (FANG BOMB FB026), we’re back on the shadowy ground which we know and love him for ever since his 2013 Begotten cassette for the same label, and here are four tracks of grim and slow avant-techno laced with diabolical repetitions, mercilessly loud and heavy bass thumps, and joyless beats that are intent on propelling the listener down a slow but sure slide into oblivion.

London player Anthoney Hart projects a low profile in his music and image, a strategy which I admire heartily, and every release seems to be an attempt to undermine our collective certainties, using stealth and invisible means…each beat is a hammer blow delivered with the surgical skill of a geologist prising loose a keystone from a pyramid of power…the temples of the Establishment are sure to topple, but not before our masked hero has long made good his escape under cover of night. The A side contains ‘Preternatural’ and ‘Enlightenment’, both hugely effective pulsation and throb experiences that can sap the vitality from a hundred civil servants in just ten minutes.

The B side includes the unusual ‘(A Drift)’, a version of a Closed Circuits track which is even more skeletal and bare-bones in its arrangement (if that’s conceivable), where the beat is unprocessed and raw, arriving like the knocking of a hammer on an empty wooden crate (or coffin). Chris Page intones a dark and defiant lyric in a resigned tone of world-weariness, while around him strange minimal electronic tones dart about like small birds.

To complete the package and its tone of strange despairing symbolism, we have the excellent cover art: a troubling image of a man with a head split in two, blood trickling down his nose, yet wearing an impassive and calmly accepting expression. His striped shirt and jacket might almost mark him out as a businessman or other enemy of society. The half-tone printing employed on this monochrome image adds to the weird mood; you certainly wouldn’t welcome a “visitation” from this menacing apparition with his grey, clay-like features. From 19 May 2016.

Natural Incapacity: single-minded industrial ambient noise drone with no beginning and no end

Relay for Death, Natural Incapacity, The Helens Scarsdale Agency, 2xCD HMS039 (2016)

Jim Haynes who sold me this set was right when he warned that this double CD work was not party music … though I’m sure it’ll come in handy late in the night or during the early hours of the morning when dawn is about to break and party guests need a reminder that they have to catch the train to go home. Disc 1 certainly sounds like an eternal train rumbling and travelling at brisk speed on lines that carry it all over the globe, encircling the planet continuously, in the manner of the snowpiercer in the joint Korean / Hollywood sci-fi flick of the same name. Now and then extra puffy white smoke hisses from the release of high-pressure valves and in the distant background human voices call out to one another to warn that another valve must be opened, temperature gauges must be monitored and maybe more coal must be shovelled into the mechanical beast’s ravenous hot maw. This soundtrack to one’s Industrial Revolution steampunk fantasies is constant all the way through the disc yet for all its essential sameness its details in their continuous variation ensure that Yours Truly’s attention level stays at a high level: a remarkable achievement given that this cat has a low tolerance level for anything that seems even a weeny bit monotonous.

It’s such a long piece that it even extends across a second disc longer than the first with the same po-faced attitude and intense single-minded focus. You can hardly find much more relentless and implacable industrial ambient noise drone than this massive monster. As on Disc 1, the details within this droning piece change continuously: the same occasional hissing puffs, the rhythmic churning, that sense of surging motion charging along a single path into an unknown future, above all the indifferent attitude to the humans being swept up unwillingly and helpless in this unyielding machine tsunami … it’s all there, wearing down the listener’s resistance and driving all hope for a better future away. Towards the end of Disc 2, the music begins to pause, go quiet and start up again, only to repeat the process, as if the machine powering it is running down and falling apart.

You’d be right in guessing that urban and post-industrial decay and breakdown, and accompanying environmental and chemical pollution and blight might be major themes here. The place of humans in this world is as individual cogs, all of them of equal (minuscule) value to the functioning of the gigantic machine monster that swallows them up. Despair and resignation are paramount as there is no hope of escape or remedy. The funny thing though is that the more I listen to these recordings, the more I actually find their unbending linear tenacity predictable and thereby comforting.

Relay for Death are twin sisters Rachal and Roxann Spikula who call Richmond in California home and “Natural Incapacity” is their second album as Relay for Death. Familiar eminence grise James Plotkin has mastering credit – one day I will have to review something that actually has his name on it as artist, not just way down in the fine print – and Jim Haynes designed the artwork which includes a hand-rusted metal cover that’s sure to be the talk of most parties, even parties where this album probably won’t be brought out until quite late in the night.

Onden: a surprisingly soothing set of interwoven soundtracks of man-made and natural sounds

Kassel Jaeger, Onden, Belgium, Unfathomless, CD U37 (2016)

If you enjoy the soothing frying sounds of electromagnetic fields captured from lights and cables, and want something of the ambience of Japanese cities as well, you’ll feel at home with this surprisingly calming urban soundscape of field recordings made by Kassel Jaeger in various locations across Tokyo over a six-month period in 2015. The material has been spliced into one continuous flowing track of layers of droning textures, all frying away and intriguing in their sonic pointillism, each dot of sound complete in itself as a tiny mini-universe and all of them joined up in long extended linear strings that are more than the sums of their minuscule atoms. Jaeger lets these sounds speak for themselves, not trying to shape them into structures with recognisable beats or rhythms and the result is a leisurely sinuous, almost organic river of metallic or sparking textures brimming with alien life and energy.

The actual sounds are very difficult to describe and yet they can remind listeners of all sorts of objects and memories: a hydrofoil coming into a bay and settling down beside a wharf to deliver its passengers; a leaf-blower in the far distance from where you’re sitting; cargo trains passing in the night; machines laying asphalt on a road; and probably lots more besides, depending on the individual listener’s own past experiences. No sound in particular evokes a mood or feeling and as a listener you tend to passively observe the sounds passing by rather than feel engaged with them. Yet these soundscapes can be very hypnotic and through their mesmerising quality keep boredom at bay. Some listeners may even find a spiritual dimension in the sounds, especially near the end of the recording where deeper tones begin to resound amid the receding textures.

There are actually two very different soundtracks here on the album: the more obvious urban-generated soundtrack of electromagnetic humming and droning, and people going about their daily business in the city; and the world of birdsong, insect ambience and other murmurs of the natural world that acts as a counterpoint and commentary on sounds generated by humans and their machines.

I do find this a very likeable recording though its length and obvious lack of musical structures won’t endear it to most people. You’d be hard put to find another recording of droning metallic noise drone that’s just as serene, majestic and impassive as it rolls by.

Long Overdue Part 2

tbc33

A nice old one from 2010, when giants walked the earth. TBC / Das Synthetische Mischgewebe split it up nice inside a DVD cover. German avant-garde sound art at its most marginal and brutally difficult. ‘Notre Besoin D’attachement Est Aussi Celui De Rupture’ declares DSM, i.e. Guido Huebner, who unfailingly produces the most mystifying sound art on the European continent. On this one, lasting for over 39 minutes, the sounds are quiet and understated, completely unrecognisable, and impossible to understand. As ever, everything appears disconnected and untidy. It’s not that DSM violates the rules of formal composition, rather he/they have posited an entire universe where such rules don’t even exist. If what Guido believes is true, then it’s likely that even the laws of physics can also be challenged, and we can all walk around defying gravity. “Entrancing electroacoustic/industrial mess”, says the cipher productions website.

TBC is Thomas Beck from Hamburg. Besides doing sound art, he also had a radio programme and a magazine. He’s been producing a lot of stuff under his own Wachsender Prozess label since 1997. Here he turns in 20 mins of ‘They Never Come To Hit The Public’. Whereas I think DSM’s stuff is largely produced by junk and physical objects (sometimes…), this one by Beck was generated with synthesisers, tapes, mixing desk, and so forth. Much more noticeable than the low-key DSM track, Beck’s work gets pretty noisy and agitated here, uses plenty of cross-cuts and timbral clashes, and overall there’s a lot more aural damage per square metre on offer. Quite “industrial” in texture, but none of your infantile pounding rhythms or sense of imminent doom. Beck is quite serious about exploring the potentialities of his sounds and his methods. The CD was released jointly by Wachsender Prozess (WP31) and Reduktive Musiken (redukt014).