Tagged: melodic

Drei Vier, Grenadier

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From Carlin How in North Yorkshire we have split CDR Vier Mit Vier (ELM LODGE RECORDS 012a), with four tracks each by Forkeyes and Marcus HP Davis 1. They both decided to give the release a title that fits the “German 70s experimental music” vibe which they happen to have alighted on. Many aspire to imitate the holy grail of kosmische and krautrock these days, which has resulted in a lot of name-checking and bad music in recent years, but in this case we have an exception. The stuff by Forkeyes is actually quite appealing – retro-styled rock music with guitars, bass, drums and keyboards with that rough-hewn rehearsal studio sound, enhanced by very little in the way of processing. Forkeyes plays with some guts and passion and does indeed turn in a creditable emulation of the Neu! template, inflected with a certain amount of no-nonsense Englishness, although without much of the trippiness or psychotic dementia we might have otherwise hoped for. I particularly like his tracks ‘Whaletrash’ and ‘Noy’ for their adherence to these vaguely 1970s stylings, while ‘Wild Wooley War’ attempts to incorporate more modern sequenced elements and disco beats (as I call them), overcrowding the sound somewhat. Even so, full marks for energetic bouncing-about and making music that sounds like fun. Forkeyes is Mike Bryson, who used to be a member of Bogshed – Hebden’s finest, a personal favourite of mine from the mid-1980s and a band who stayed far truer to the spirit of The Magic Band than the much-vaunted Stump. Plus they had a great sense of humour. Bryson’s also a cartoonist (published in Private Eye) and may have supplied the quirky cover art, including the drawing of two ugly giants lifting up the side of a house (or is it a gigantic music centre?)

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If Forkeyes is a cocktail of Neu!’s rhythms and the thuggery of Guru Guru mixed with the melodic guitar work of prog giants like Steve Howe, then I don’t know how to characterise Marcus HP Davis 1, a musical jackdaw who has a considerable number of trinkets stowed in his nest. On ‘Slacker bidder overlord’ he’s put all the rock music elements through a mincing machine and stirs them liberally into a swirling casserole, whose rhythms and general lack of centre owes much to Acid House of the 1980s 1. ‘Rheintum Earbuzz’ time-warps Delia Derbyshire melodies through a slightly bleak wasteland of synth drones and processed guitar stabs. ‘Life in the wrong lane’ is even more of a mish-mash, attempting to reference Kraftwerk’s Autobahn with its flute samples while applying them to rhythm tracks that don’t quite match up; in his brave genre-crossing effort, the composer forgot to include things like ideas, coherence, or a melody. Of the pair, Marcus appears to be more the studio-bound musician, with his layers and mixings, compared to the lively Forkeyes who has an exciting real-time sound in all his recordings, even when he’s playing everything himself by overdubbing. Perhaps not essential, but this is an unusual slice of English underground music, parts of which have attracted notice on Radio 1 and in the pages of The Wire. From 02/11/2012.

  1. I am guessing when I say this.

Travels in my Armchair

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Ametsub
All Is Silence
JAPAN NOTHINGS66 N66CD003 (2012)

Ametsub is the Tokyo-based musician and producer, hailed in 2006 with the perfect debut album released by the respected Progressive Form label. All Is Silence is his third CD published by the Japanese Nothings66 label which is quite new on the scene, but which has already impressed the post-IDM crowd with its multifaceted Duskscape Not Seen compilation and further releases of Sketches For Albinos and Moshimoss fame. Throughout those five years, Ametsub achieved appearances on many prestigious festivals and performed with such great artists as Plaid, Fennesz, Alva Noto, Vladislav Delay etc. – his talent gained necessary experience and now is in full bloom, resulting in the exceptional work he did with All Is Silence. The combination of floating melodies and melancholic mood with spacious and aloof beats leaves us with the sense of a dreamy place, where everyone can find his hidden thoughts, and becomes clear and appealing. There is the sort of contemplation stimulated by sonic colours and atmospheres, situated by harmony and ending up with the nostalgic sadness. What really make it different from the other IDM sounding efforts is the peculiar use of field recordings, giving us the sense of travelling and never-stopping movement. The compositional techniques are also far from the standard and boring computer programming – the prepared piano and taped sounds arranged through the old fashioned recorder makes the listening experience kind of unique and unforgettable. If you like soundscape-oriented electronic music with some beats thrown in, you should check out this stuff before exploring the new Tympanik Audio releases schedule.

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Budhaditya Chattopadhyay
Eye Contact With The City
GERMANY GRUENREKORDER GRUEN 108 CD (2013)

Oh yes, the Gruenrekorder label turns 10 this year, and through this decade it gains the deserved reputation as one of the finest European labels dealing with field recordings and electronic music utilising field recordings. Operated by German sound-artists Lasse-Marc Riek and Roland Etzin, Gruenrekorder has released over 130 albums up to this moment, and most of them are highly interesting for all of you phonography lovers. All these releases are on digital format (CD, CDr or downloads), so you can expect outstanding recording quality with each new release, but also very special aesthetics of listening to the world surrounding us, and wonder how musical these ordinary sounds from everyday life can be. One of the most recent outings is the new album by Budhaditya Chattopadhyay – sound artist, audiovisual media practitioner and researcher from India who currently based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Based on the field recordings made in Bangalore (the capital city of the Indian state of Karnataka), it became a sound/video installation-project involving the audio from old reel-to-reel tapes found at the city’s flea markets. What really differentiates this work from other published field recordings is the narrative quality of music, which flows continuously for about one hour, forming the massive soundwalk without any certain direction, guiding us only by some strange crash/squeak-like sounds and distorted voices. There’s also a bit of processing over there, but not in a soundscape manner, just to sustain certain sounds and create a sort of hypnotic alignment. If you have heard the Buildings New York album by Francisco López, you will feel some similarity in structure. At times the soundflow receives a very ambient-like sonority, ending again with strange Eastern harmonisation and a definitive musique concrete quality. So you see, the music here is something that’s always changing but with no overall progress, just like a state of mind. Interesting album, not to miss out if you like to travel in your armchair.

Key Acoustics

The plaintive cry of Loren Connors and Suzanne Langille is I Wish I Didn’t Dream (NORTHERN SPY RECORDS NSCD 031), on a highly opaque CD of intense experimental guitar murk and equally plangent vocalising. These short, clipped poem-songs are exemplary manifestations of the Emily Dickinson approach taken to its post-modern extreme – broken images, unfamiliar emotions, and nascent ideas stumbling into the world scarce half made-up. Who better to delve into these uncharted seas than the two talented Americans in this duo, who singly or collectively have been producing musical puzzles for over thirty years, producing a large body of work that’s proving impossible to decode – and the problem only increases when you have obtuse, distanced and frown-inducing releases such as this one. We last heard from them as two-thirds of Haunted House, a group producing the wonderful Blue Ghost Blues for this same label in 2011, whose hard-rocking and lengthy guitar noodlings may well have struck a chord with all good lovers of avant axe-excess, but this particular sleep-talking mystery bucket of murmurations and unfinished utterances is quite another brisket of bones. The guitar meanders and squeaks, producing icy cold tones from a meat locker situated thirty miles from the studio. The vocalist is closer to hand, her urgent whispers magnified in a small echo chamber, but her cryptical half-sung sketches – fleeting portraits etched on a frozen window pane with a dusty twig – will have you straining to catch the implications behind each intimate gasp. This is blanked-out, impenetrable minimalist art music of the highest water, a more austere version of Annette Peacock and Joni Mitchell running across the snow with the distorted and attenuated guitars of Japanese ghosts in pursuit of their threatened souls. It also comes with a booklet of stark abstract paintings by M P Landis, completing a package that’s guaranteed to confirm everything you ever suspected about the emptiness and futility of life. Gradely! (01/11/2012)

Another American who, I suspect, is no stranger to staring the Gods of futility in the eye is our good friend Nick Hoffman, the sullen and stern genius who utters little while issuing great but perplexing music on his Pilgrim Talk label. One such batch arrived in November 2012. Cockroach Boy (PILGRIM TALK PT22) is a teamup with Satoshi Kanda, one of his many connections in the steaming continent of the East, and they also made a split cassette for this label in 2010. Kanda has been improvising since 2003 using nothing but an electric bass and some empty milk bottles. Well, he certainly delivers the cream on this recording! It’s one of Hoffman’s “play it and guess” recordings where absolutely nothing is explained and it’s up to the listener to decide when the duo have started or ended performing, and whether or not what they are creating can even be called “music”. Ultra-minimal, confusing, yet it’s full of the unbearable tension that these dangerous situations can often create. Soon you too will be drawn into contemplating these strange tones and lengthy silences, and wishing you were nailed inside a coffin at the cemetery in Fukuoka, where this was recorded. The lengthy title to this 40-minute work, if indeed it is a title, compacts references to demons, corpses and Gods and also retains the air of a schlocky horror movie, in keeping with the grotesque Insect-Fear cover art by Hoffman. I love the way this music consistently refuses easy digestion, and all these Pilgrim Talk releases are recommended. (09/11/2012)

The Polish trio Sonda recorded Sonda (AUDIO TONG AT26.2012) in Sopot, a little town abutting the Baltic Sea, performing in an attic space in 2006. Now released on Audio Tong, it’s an engaging set of music played by the drummer Krzysztof Topolski and the guitarist Marcin Dymiter, with vocalist Tomasz Pawlak “Czaszka” joining them with his husky yawps for three tracks. In their endearingly untidy music, the group make a point of confusing musical genres, aiming to indulge their love of “rock, blues, metal, drone, punk, electronics and improvisation”. Two of the seven tracks are a species of obnoxious guitar grindcore racket that should grease the wheels of die-hard Napalm Death fans, while two other tracks are meandery improvisation of the rattle-and-creak variety, with much emphasis on the metallic resonances produced by cymbals and metal-wound strings. Other pieces are just plain impossible to categorise, although the 12-minute ‘Wszystko Dobre, Co Sie Dobrze Konczy’ has a definite vibe of Can threaded into the sinews of its drumming and electronic drone, making snake-like movements across the carpet with the help of the violinist Marek Dybusc. Competent enough performances, but the trio ultimately lack force and conviction, no matter which style they adopt. Lovely deep sea cover art. (02/11/2012)

Strange furry thing from Jüppala Kääpiö, the duo who brought us Spring Promenade in 2010. Despite their Finnish name this band is actually two Japanese musicians Hitoshi and Carole Kojo who live in Belgium. Rewound Grooves (OMNIMOMENTO OM 07) may be a concept record telling the story of the Krampus, a vicious and hairy beast drawn from Alpine mythology who is associated with Winter and may be the enemy of St Nicholas – a sort of early manifestation of the Grinch. The music by Jüppala Kääpiö is however anything but beastly, and comprises four lengthy and limpid drones of ambient swirlery, all created from numerous layers of gentle electronic tones, breathy vocals and endlessly spinning tape loops (probably enhanced by digital means). The album strikes a thoughtful and contemplative pose, and is generally soothing and positive, with only the third track ‘From Veins To Nebulae’ introducing an element of drama or danger. Somewhat diffuse and static music, but there is much craft in the Kojos’ sound-generation technique, and they rarely commit a careless or half-baked statement to tape. Besides the fake fur wrapper, there is also a screenprinted band of card which can be worn like a mask. (29/11/2012)

If you’d prefer drone music with more darkness lurking in the corners, then as ever Sum Of R will satisfy your thirst for all that’s lugubrious and sombre. The sounds on Ride Out The Waves (STORM AS HE WALKS SAHWLP001) are produced mostly by Reto Mäder working in the studio overdubbing his keyboards, bass, electronics and percussion, although Julia Wolf (what a brilliant name for a supernatural horror combo like this one) adds poignant stabs from her fatal guitar at chosen stages on the forest pathway. I tend to remember Sum Of R records as an unbroken feast of thick occluded dark ambience, but Ride Out The Waves has a lot more variety and incident than their usual output, each track quite unlike the last, until the LP becomes the soundtrack to a very disjointed and episodic horror film. Said film, if it exists, is characterised by much bloodshed, sabres, and men on horseback cutting down villagers with a pitiless scowl of contempt. Aye, there is still plenty of the characteristic bubbling black tar music which induces fear and misery, but the heavy metal guitar swipes add a very welcome element of tension, plus the spare percussion will appeal to all you hard-boned stoner freaks – just check out the slowed-down battering effects on ‘Alarming’, the truly apocalyptic nightmare that brings the album crashing down into ruins. I’ve always said Reto Mäder should have made a Black Metal LP, but I feel that genre may sadly be in decline now. Even so, Mader should join forces with MZ.412 some day, and the results would be truly monstrous – they could produce the ultimate “atmospheric dread and cold death” album. The photo shows a promo CD, but the release is vinyl.

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Transpontine Secrets

Modern Mall-aise

Let’s delve into another from the January bag of Unfathomless field recordings. Here’s the English phonography guy Simon Whetham who has done many good things for the Gruenrekorder label. Here on Mall Muzak (UNFATHOMLESS U07) he offers field recordings captured in a shopping Mall in Bristol. He thereby joins similar enterprising fellows who have made interesting recordings out of buildings and specific urban locales, such as airports 1 – which are really just shopping malls by any other name. I’m always waiting for these people to create a recording that is deeply critical of these modern examples of unwanted capitalistic blight and bloat, but it seems I’ll have a long wait. Whetham’s work here is fascinating, with very long and soaring understated tones which keep varying and shifting, occasionally punctuated with clicks, whirrs and creaks. The record paints a vista of metallic and uninhabited desolation, yet one with a fiendishly attractive aura. Perhaps we are constantly building environments like this (or simply allowing them to happen) which are not only uninhabited but in fact uninhabitable, not fit for humans, animals, birds, or any living creature. Whetham’s photos, treated by Daniel Crokaert, tend to endorse this with their visions of a grisly realm where architecture has sunk into physical decay, and gone mad. The anemic green floor surface (if that’s what it is) is scuffed and distressed, as my mind often is. The framing of the photo emphasises that we can’t orient ourselves among these strange planes, whether ascending a filthy escalator or peering up at ghastly ceiling tiles. Through all these ruminations, Whetham’s half-mechanical sound art keeps pulsating gently, a flickering robot heartbeat which we cannot turn off.

Dust Thou Art

Antoine Chessex once made a fiery single 2 with Arnaud Rivière which I love, but in waxing joyous about its noisy charms, I wrongly identified Chessex as French. In fact he is a Swiss composer. On Dust (CAVE12 C12 02) he doesn’t actually appear in person, but this piece of stark and unsettling minimalism was performed on his behalf by three violinists deemed “completely in their element”, and Valerio Tricoli on the tape recorder and electronics. The violins are “stretched” in some way. It’s certainly resulted in a lot of long tones in the piece, and we have the constant sensation of sounds being pulled like so many strings of taffy, extending out into the cosmos, thin as a strand of molten gold. Chessex intends resonances with outer space travel and images of the creation of the world with these high-pitched, swooping and attenuated glissandi, and the 29-minute work eventually consumes itself in a thrilling cataclysm. 20th century composers used to work very hard to achieve these sorts of dissonant affects for strings, by means of patient scoring and exasperated string players. I’d imagine Chessex has done much the same, and he’s been lucky to find musicians capable of rendering such difficult tones. Desolate, chilling, almost horrific, alien. Dizzying op-art cover and foldout with a visual schema which corresponds quite well with the music.

My Hero in Wonderful Clothes

Nick Pynn is an exceptionally talented singer and musician who’s quite a big splash on the Edinburgh Fringe and has appeared on the telly with Stewart Lee. We’ve had his talktapes (ROUNDHILL MUSIC RHLCD011) record here since December 2011 – just six songs in 14 minutes, and a splendid wee gem it be. Nick plays everything in an unusual one-man band set-up which includes guitars, violin, banjo, harmonium, theremin, and bass pedals, and I’d like to think all these songs were recorded live in one take, though that might be wishful thinking – there have to be some vocal overdubs in places. On top of these crisp, mostly-acoustic, inventive and dynamic folk-inflected tunes, Pynn sings in an endearing warm and muttery voice that induces almost instant trust in the listener – his uncontrived singing manner is reminiscent of Robert Wyatt or Kevin Ayers. An added dimension is the “cryptical” subtext that has bene packed into all six of these exquisite little miniatures – the subtitle for the album is “a small album of secrets”, one song deals with a “secret obsession”, and the dense lyrics deliver resemble crossword clues. I expect all this is Nick Pynn’s way of telling us that his poetic subject matter is just too personal to explain, which is as it should be. I like crossword puzzles, but even I do not expect to make much headway in decoding this tapestry of delights, especially considering Pynn’s studio technique on the last song ‘The Secret World’ which deliberately obscures certain keywords through backwards-masking or slowed down tapes. In some ways this man might turn out to be the Kit Williams of music, and although there is no prize of a golden hare for listening to the album, in another decade (the 1970s) Pynn would have released a gatefold double LP for Island Records with a sumptuous, clue-laden cover illustration by Alan Cracknell. Very nice; along with all the refs above, I can also recommend this to fans of the literate and witty songs of Slapp Happy.

Quadlibet for Tenderfeet

Nick Pynn is one who knows how to make his notes “stand out” – it’s to do with simplicity and economy, instead of showing off or indulging one’s technique. Another musician, also acoustic, who does likewise is the excelllent Erik Friedlander, whose records of lively jazz cello music we unfailingly enjoy here at TSP. His Bonebridge (SKIPSTONE RECORDS SR010) is pretty much Jean-Luc Ponty meets The Grateful Dead; there’s a rich variety of rhythmical and musical styles provided by his able backing trio on guitar, bass and drums. They swing for sure, but also embody elements of country and western, pop and rock music in their amiable grooves, albeit delivered in a listenable and non-agressive fashion throughout. Each tune is a vehicle for cello solos and slide guitar solos of impeccable melodic extemporising. Ay, Erik’s inspired decision to team up with the Memphis guitarist Doug Wamble has paid off dividends for this irresistible set. While one precedent might be the unusual and delightful harp records of Dorothy Ashby, the quartet have almost earned the right to be regarded as the US equivalent of La Quintette Du Hot Club De France. Warmth and honesty abound in this shining music, and the aural blend of plucked cello with slide guitar is as nifty as ice cream with hot butterscotch sauce.

  1. I’m thinking of Carl Michael von Hausswolff, for one.
  2. For Le Petit Mignon records.
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The Cold Wind’s Grasp

Photo-Mechanical Transfer

The English trio of PMT play bass drums and guitar in a decidedly odd manner on Frosty Lee / THFCKWT EP (SLIGHTLY OFF KILTER SOK035). Not to say they’re especially loud or even “raw & primitive” in the manner of a latterday rockabilly combo. Their playing is full of stops and starts, half-patterns, lumbering and lurching about, as the trio move from uncertain doodling to confident riffing and back again, often in the space of a single 10-minute track. I suspect some of this unusual dynamic is due to simply turning the recording device on and off, but (for two tracks at least) that is an integral part of the listening experience of this bizarrely charming slab. In 1981, PMT probably would have been selling hundreds of cassette tapes of their brand of naïve sub-post punk discordancy. However it’s also clear that these players, who recorded this record in a South London tower block and a barn in southern England, have taken the 1990s “slacker” attitude and turned it into a philosophy that guides their every musical thought and action. The first two tracks have the insouciant druggy rehearsal-room feel, while ‘Frosty Lee’ is a more straight-ahead free-form rocky jam with the kind of exciting live edge that almost makes me think I’ve discovered a rare 1971 heavy-prog underground guitar group to match Captain Marryat. Nifty, edgy, vital playing throughout. Added bonus – no effects pedals whatsoever as far as I can hear. This arrived 17 January 2012.

The Carrion Crow

Further heaviness now from Wold, the obscure Canadian Black Metal trio. I may not have reported this in the pages of The Sound Projector, but I am a huge fan of Wold. When I first heard their 2005 release L.O.T.M.P. I thought I was dreaming – they have a fascinating nightmarish delirious quality to their intensive noise, like a much less benign version of the over-produced guitar wall records of My Bloody Valentine. Imagine my delight on receiving Badb (CRUCIAL BLAST CBR91) which predates L.O.T.M.P. by one year and was originally released on cassette by Regimental Records. This November 2011 reissue is thus most welcome. The trio of Obey, Operationex and Fortress Crookedjaw may or may not use conventional guitars and amplifiers to generate their scalding blasts, but the unsettling and nauseating properties which I cherish are still very much to the fore. They are kings of controlled distortion, using that element as a potent weapon of destruction, rather than a dark cloud to mask their activities. Behind walls of feral, manic riffing and vatloads of reverb effects, uncanny ghost notes and impossible musical sound events are unfolding and taking wing like verdigris-encrusted demons. At front of mix, the singer is ripping out his own lungs and tearing out his teeth via a painful throat operation in attempts to convey the brutal devastation passing before his eyes. Which brings us to the theme of Badb, which is attached to “the mythology of the war goddess”, an unpleasant spirit which apparently “lurks at the edge of the battlefield”. According to Irish mythology, she often took the form of a crow, ever-ready to peck out eyes and strip flesh from the bones of the fallen. More pertinent to this record is Badb’s ability to bring fear and confusion to the enemy, two emotions which will certainly flood your senses within seconds of hearing this wild album. In retelling the fantastic tales of this war-blackened shroud-hag with wings, Wold appear to me to be bringing back martial forces from ancient history (Alexander The Great, or even earlier) and somehow replaying them through modern technology. A painful and aggressive listening experience, but also a cathartic torture session that simultaneously celebrates and exorcises the horrors of mortal combat. Issued with a booklet of lyrics; the cover design for the booklet is just superb, a stark graphic showing Death astride a blackened and incandescent globe, with a carrion crow perched on his bony claw. What more potent image of nuclear holocaust could you wish for? Arrived 30 January 2012.

Winterreise

Another record which achieves similar degrees of bleakness to Wold is Winter (COPY FOR YOUR RECORDS CFYR009), by the duo of Wade Matthews and Alfredo Costa Monteiro. They do it by means of process art rather than extreme black metal, and they use a combination of amplified springs and motors, a radio set, digital processing, and field recordings. Nowadays the above shopping list is admittedly quite commonplace, but Wade and Alfredo destroy a lot of the competition with these highly textured and dynamic assemblages, their brows set permanently in a frowning and scowly attitude. Generally, the sound of Winter is quite heavy and rich, without a trace of the wispiness or uncertain dabbling that ruins the efforts of lesser men. Through crackle, burr, intensified drone and alien-sounding effects, the pair plod on through snowy wastes and cross frozen lakes wearing only raggedy newspapers on their feet, intent on reaching a lonely shack in the middle of nowhere. Potent and deeply mesmerising abstract greyness abounds in this music. One of three beauts received from this New York label on 16 January 2012.

Sweet Honey in the Rock

The Polish composer Michal Kedziora took about four years to produce all the tracks on Honey (ETALABEL ETA-CD 018), working under his Noiko guise and assisted by the turntablist Luke M. on three tracks, with mastering by Krzysztof Orluk. I suppose it took a long time to complete because it’s such a painstaking assemblage of samples, taken from a range of conventional instruments – clarinet, guitar, percussion, piano – which were then refitted into these pleasant and enjoyable instrumental jigsaws. It’s kind of like an avant-gardish ambient record with slow irregular beats and looped patterns, almost the sort of backdrops that Portishead would also have spent years working on for their second album before emerging from their windowless lair and waving the white flag to the representatives of their record company. The overall “fuzzy” vibe that I’m getting probably comes from varispeeding – a lot of the tracks are like dreaming about a walk through a 19th century drawing room filled with orange-coloured glue, only to stumble upon a wind-up musical box brought downstairs from the nursery. But then Luke M. adds the customary vinyl crackle sound as part of his contributions, adding greatly to the gentle hypnotic atmosphere with its lulling rises and falls. Noiko is not afraid of melody or even tastefulness, elements once considered to be the enemy of the avant-garde; indeed it sometimes feels like, given enough time, his skeletal chord frameworks could easily resolve into the chords for a tin pan alley song or jazz standard. These sentiments are not unforgivable, as the record was inspired by the birth of his daughter, although I can’t quite square those family-centric emotions with the photographs of the 8,000 ton merchant vessels on the cover. The record makes a virtue of the old-fashioned analogue equipment that was used in the mastering process, including a “tube saturator” invented by the engineer Andrzej Starzyk. Arrived 30 January 2012.

Or TUM in New York


Big bundle of experimental jazz and improv albums arrived from the Finnish label TUM Records on 13 October 2011. All these releases are very well produced records and are smartly attired in colourful triple-gatefold digipaks with generous booklets of notes and photos and abstract painting cover artworks.

Olavi Trio & Friends features the trombone playing of Jari Hongisto supported with Teppo Hauta-aho’s bass and Niilo Louhivuori’s drums, but guest players join in with trumpet, tenor sax or electric guitar on some tracks of Triologia (TUM CD 026), and in many places the group dynamic is a very successful negotiation of mixed voices. I like it best when they manage to disguise their instruments’ natural tones and arrive at a low, growling rumble effect which grinds away like the teeth of an old man eating cake. But the pace of this album is a bit too subdued for me, and I wish it had a little more menace or tension. Kalle Kalima’s electric guitar seems to liven up the players somewhat and I like some of his atonal meanderings on the long track ‘Biologia’, but in the final analysis this record murmurs and mutters a little too vaguely; I just wish they’d get to the point and say something definite, instead of all these constant allusions and obscure remarks.

Route De Frères (TUM CD 027) is a much warmer and even a very entertaining jazz album. The great free jazz drummer Andrew Cyrille, famed for his work on ESP-Disk and with Cecil Taylor, goes back to his Haitian forebears as he joins forces with the combo Haitian Fascination, a foursome which is half American and half Haitian. Not really a free jazz album; these are 12 jolly tunes and toe-tapping melodies which are showcases for the players taking solo turns one after the other, in the good old-fashioned small combo jazz style. The uptempo numbers like ‘Marinèt’, ‘Deblozay’ and ‘Isaura’ can’t help but make a hit in the stoniest of hearts, and you’ll be pulling on your dancing shoes in five seconds flat. What a terrific rhythmical swing it all has. No doubt the Haitian master percussionist Frisner Augustin (also artistic director of a dance company in NYC) has a lot to contribute, but all the players provide an irresistible and unusual lilting rhythm which you won’t hear on many contemporary jazz albums, and Cyrille’s restrained drumming is a joy throughout, his bass toms giving a solid foundation to the gently skipping melodic lines on top. What strikes me is the very open and refreshing sound of the album; the acoustic guitar of Alix Pascal is as light and delicate as autumn sunlight on the falling leaves, sometimes reminding me of Dorothy Ashby’s harp albums. Hamiet Bluiett’s baritone sax also adds an unusual flavour to the combo, and it’s a splendid combination of voices. While some of the tunes may stray a little close to easy-listening, it’s still a winning and heart-warming set.

Now we come to Clustrophy (TUM CD 025), an intriguing album by Mikko Innanen & Innkvisitio. This group is led by the “free-minded” saxophonist Mikko Innanen who is a graduate of music academies in Helsinki and Copenhagen, and leads what is essentially a sax-trio album with Fredrik Ljungkvist and Daniel Erdmann, supported by drummer Joonas Riipa, with no bass player in sight. So, a very full sound on the record and one which has been immaculately scored and arranged to make much of the cross-rhythms and three-way interplay of the saxophones, and the full range of woodwinds is on offer – alto, baritone, tenor, soprano and sopranino. Like a well-oiled acoustic machine they function beautifully. The band’s secret weapon is the synthesizer player Seppo Kantonen, who adds fabulous touches of fruity electronic wildness to the sound. While the title track isn’t much more than a sophisticated take on Duke Ellington, I very much enjoy the awkward and craggy compositional style of ‘Earth’s Second Moon’, which also showcases the band’s distinctive voices very well. It ain’t quite the Sun Ra Arkestra, but it’s got a strong Nordic flavour of reinterpreted and repurposed American jazz motifs. We’ve also got the subdued mystery drone of ‘A Panoramic View from the Top Floor’, where the massed breathy saxes are again augmented and coloured by Kantonen’s lovely filtered keyboard settings. And there’s the ultra-complex Zappa-esque circus jazz music of ‘The Grey Adler Returns Again’, which really puts the drummer through his paces as he attempts to render the jumpy, herky-jerky rhythms, never missing a trick; and the hauntingly melancholic clarinet tones on ‘Ardennes at Dawn’. Perhaps Innanen never quite overcomes his conservatoire training, and there is an overhanging sense of “seriousness” to the album, but this isn’t to say the music is stilted or pretentious. Clustrophy is a varied set of good experimental jazz-rock, free jazz and electronic music moves, with a perfect production sheen and not a misplaced note anywhere. I also bet if you saw this band live you would not be disappointed.

Another American free jazz hero is Billy Bang, who passed away in April 2011 just as History Of Jazz in Reverse (TUM CD 028) by Fab Trio was entering its final production stages. Simply great violin playing from Bang, with bassist Joe Fonda and drummer Barry Altschul, and this excellent album is truly the goods. Seeing as how Bang has played with personal favourites Don Cherry, Sun Ra and James Blood Ulmer, I can’t figure out why I don’t own any of his solo records. As I listen to the variety of styles in his playing, how he performs impossible feats with evident ease, I can only sit back and enjoy in admiration. Of the records in this list so far, this is the one that hasn’t forgotten how to swing. Dynamic motion that’s like a cross-country car ride into other dimensions, sometimes as on ‘From Here To There’ speeding along at a demonic rate of knots with Bang recalling Leroy Jenkins at his most possessed and frantic, although you may prefer the brilliantly syncopated rhythms of ‘Implications’ or the smoky serenity of ‘Chan Chan’. And if it is indeed an album that contains a statement on the history of jazz in its grooves, then it’s a personal odyssey that ends with a nod to New Orleans (the cradle of jazz, natch), along the way pays a tribute to 1960s free jazz in the form of Don Cherry, and begins with a wistful tune called ‘Homeward Bound’, to the accompaniment of which I would like to think Bang is ascending to his rightful place in Jazz Paradise where he may play his golden violin for eternity. Recorded and flawlessly improvised in the studio in New York in 2005. May I recommend this great album wholeheartedly.

Can’t say the same for More Than 123 (TUM-A CD 001) which is a little out of my line; it’s a showcase for the singing and guitar playing of Dave Lindholm, with a jazz band combo under the baton of conductor Otto Donner. Lindholm, a long-serving singer since the early 1970s, may well be respected in the Finnish scene, but his croaky blues-influenced crooning is too corny for me, seriously lacking in conviction and pressing too many flattened fifths on autopilot, to say nothing of the cliché-ridden lyrics. We are invited to find resonances with Tom Waits, but it feels more like a Finnish version of the hateful Jools Holland Big Band. The supporting musicians play competently enough however. Lindholm is attempting the Zoot Suit look on the front cover, but with that cut and the sort of ordinary grey material you’d associate with a businessman or a conservative politician, a shape in a drape he ain’t!

The Voice of Unreason


Univrs. (RASTER NOTON R-N 133) by Alva Noto is a record which I would like to think celebrates the joys of typesetting – Univers is everyone’s favourite font – but in fact it’s a follow-on from a previous release Unitxt, and has something do with the properties of a universal language. Given Carsten Nicolai’s very digital predilections, you can bet his conception of language and universality has little to do with quaint notions such as Esperanto, The United Nations or international détente (how very 20th century, my dear), and instead features the microchip and the modem as the mandatory basis for all communications henceforth. As is customary, Alva Noto does a son et lumière version of this record which also involves computers, digital images being manipulated by audio signals and projected on a screen. One digital language mutating another, as it were; I seem to recall this particular trope was meat and drink to Farmers Manual and Hecker over ten years ago, but in some cases artists who followed this path of interchangeable digital information ended up with endless streams of gibberish on their records. Not so our Alva Noto, whose impeccable logic always produces clean and rigourous music, like a diagram for club music, expressed as unadorned thumps, clicks and burrs.

I have a lot of time for Hate-Male, the English creator of very extreme and very loud noise music, even when faced with the rather unsubtle and near-crass imagery that he sometimes uses. The cover for Total Fucking Hate (DOGBARKSSOME DISCS DBSD18), with its lurid pulp paperback gouache image of a fearsome moll in a red dress with an armful of murderous hardware and an expression you could use to sear a ribeye steak, is certainly quite – erm – memorable. The music is pretty hard to recover from, too. On these 11 tracks, one experiences the familiar sensations of tumult and catastrophe normally reserved for earthquakes and collapsing buildings, but in between the now-commonplace harsh noise bursts Lawrence Conquest is making strong use of the human voice, sometimes sampled from records or used as the voice of a mechanical man barking out unintelligible commands, such as on the very effective and nightmarish ‘Live In Vegas – White Night #1′. Guest player Jennifer Wallis adds vocals to the album, maybe here and on ‘Live In Vegas – White Night #2′, but if so her tones have been subjected to some ultra-insane processing method that renders her quite inhuman. Powerful stuff. We also have the lengthy rhythm and echo attacks, such as ‘Under the tent of their rough black wings’ and ‘Taste The Poison’, which are both very heavy going – the noise-listener’s equivalent to a 40-mile forced march in the desert with full military kit. Throughout, Hate-Male is at all times wild and full-on, but also very thoughtful in executing his absurd and crazy dynamics; he uses the digital delay like a paintbox, and he can manipulate tones to ensure that certain abstracted curls and shrieks are foregrounded, so they really stand out sharply from the background fuzz. Among noise-men, many of whom are content to push their pedals to the floor and keep them there, this is a rare talent.

Get Lost (EDITIONS MEGO 123) is the title of a Mark McGuire collection showcasing the solo guitar and synth work of this young American player, fairly well-known by now as a member of Emeralds, the electronic drone-ambient trio from Cleveland. Not especially experimental, this one; a highly melodic release produced by carefully crafted overdubs of stringed and keyboard instruments. The Mike Oldfield of the present time, perhaps, although McGuire doesn’t have quite the same gift for a memorable tune.

On same label as McGuire but a guitarist of quite another stamp is Bill Orcutt, the Harry Pussy guitarist whose return to the performing and recording arena is a well-told tale by now. In February we raved about his A New Way To Pay Old Debts record for this label which compiled some of his earlier private press records, and now here’s How The Thing Sings (EDITIONS MEGO 128), seven new home recordings made in San Francisco. Titles like ‘Heaven is Close to me Now’ and ‘No True Vine’ may put you in mind of Rev Gary Davis, but the comparisons with early pre-war blues have been done to death by now, and in any case they won’t stand when faced with this onslaught of biting, aggressive free guitar improvisation. Orcutt’s technique is to play like a condemned man, packing as many notes as possible into each musical moment, using lots of shorthand and abbreviations, compressing the vital information into taut and urgent phrases before they wheel him away to fry in the hotseat. Plenty of hammering on, string-pulling, unexpected flurries of strumming which stop equally unexpectedly; it’s almost an alarming listen. Lovers of Derek Bailey’s music will find much to admire in these fragmented, tuneless clusters, but even Bailey stopped short of putting so much raw emotion and sheer volumes of angst into the steel strings as Orcutt does. And if you like to share another man’s pain, you’ll love his vocalising too – unrestrained yawping with no attempt to form recognisable words, adding to the sense of near-demonic possession. Essential record, 34 minutes of electrifying acoustic playing that instantly forms a cage of barbed razor-wire around your head.

On Deus Ignotus (EPIPHANY 06), English folk singer Andrew King moves away from his recent sea-faring themes in song and makes a return to what he knows best, that is highly personal interpretations of gloomy old ballads and songs sung against industrial-music style backdrops with tape loops, drums and drones. I can’t resist any record which is front-loaded with two all-time great ballads, ‘The Three Ravens’, a song about carrion birds who find a knight’s dead body in the field, and ‘The Wife of Usher’s Well’, a supernatural winter-time song where a mother’s drowned sons come to visit her for one night. For the latter, King’s sepulchral and quavering tones are aptly suited to the grisly and unsettling content, and he transforms that ravens ballad into a sort of inverted battle-anthem with martial drums and declamatory chanting. Other traditional ballad material in like vein on the record includes ‘Edward’, ‘Sir Hugh’ and ‘Lord Lovell’, but the material that represents something of a departure from the norm is that inspired by texts from the gospel and church singing; this includes ‘In Upper Room’ and ‘Judas’, the former King’s interpretation of a poem-novel from the 1950s by David Jones called The Anathemata. I need to research these properly, as they look fascinating. For all these astonishingly innovative and unusual works, King is joined by the musicians Hunter Barr of Knifeladder, industrial music veteran John Murphy, and Maria Vellanz, who adds some devilish violin work. The entire record is an intoxicating mix of industrial music, traditional folk, religious song and psalmery, and interminable harmonium drones with doomy drumming, and with its mixed content and wide variety of singing styles, it refuses any sort of easy categorisation. As usual, it’s all tied together by King’s concise annotations, citing his sources and inspirations, drawn from music, literature, and history; 24 pages of information, libretto and images, set in tiny 8pt type, for you to digest and enjoy. King’s music is an acquired taste (like the voice of Peter Bellamy), but it’s hard to overlook the depth of his scholarship and the originality of his ideas. I support him totally, and this – which apparently took over nine years to realise – looks to be one of his best works.

Two Moments that Negate Each Other


Always a pleasure to hear from Gen Ken Montgomery in NYC, the only man whom I would allow to persist with such a gross mis-spelling of my surname. It so happens we managed to meet up very briefly in London in the Autumn, and now he sends me a CDR version of Gen Ken & Equipment, a cassette tape he originally released in 1981, because I was so enthused about the extracts that appear on Birds + Machines. Also he sent a new tape called Termites (BP164) on Banned Production along with the affirmative declaration “Yes, cassettes are back!” Remember you read it here first. The Termites tape turns out to be two examples of location recording delivered with imagination and gentle quirky humour, giving it a real edge over the countless hours of dreary and earnest European field recordings I’ve had to endure of late. The 1981 recordings are near-classic examples of avant-fuzzed minimal synth pop, rendered with drum machines, distortion effects, cheap keyboards and low-rent electronics, and hearing it is like taking a trip back to a golden age when Triangle and The Borgias were the worst things on UK television. I realise that plenty examples of this genre of music were created during those days of bedroom variants of The Human League and Depeche Mode, but I enjoy Ken’s wayward and open-ended approach to the style. You genuinely never know where a song is going to go next.

Mathilde 253 (SLAM PRODUCTIONS SLAMCD 528) features two of my favourite musicians, Charles Hayward and Lol Coxhill playing together in the same group, plus Ian Smith the trumpeter from London Improvisers’ Orchestra and the guitarist Han-Earl Park. On CD of same title we hear seven pieces they performed live at Cafe Oto last April. The real strength of the work is when the individual voices begin to shine, as they do on ‘Aachen’ for example – some savourable moments of interlining lines from Coxhill’s liquid fruit-juice sax and Smith’s horn. Park manages some imaginatively dissonant barbedly-wire phrases and false-harmonic scatterings from his detuned axe on ‘Similkameen’, placing him very much in the Bailey mould, but that’s not a bad thing. Hayward puts in tons of hard work on his drum kit to keep up with the changing dynamics, and executes almost every paradiddle in the drummer’s manual on the long track ‘Kalimantan’ in his efforts to derail the collective train and steer the ship’s company over stony ground. Aye, the ingenuity and invention of these combined performances is impressive, even if the album suffers slightly from a rather “samey” sound throughout.

Another bonkers release by Music From The Film, the American duo who brought us World War Tree in 2009. This time Gary Young and Arthur Harrison are joined by drummer Brett Gross on some tracks, as they demolish preconceptions and dissolve stylistic barriers on How The West Was Once (NO NUMBER), a cranky and gnarly item which they regard as a “slightly more rock-oriented” release. Most of the instrumentation on these nutso cuts is performed by Young, who makes no distinction between a musical instrument and a power tool or common household object so long as he can play it in some way. As he thrashes away with his surreal choice of objects in a very mad way, Harrison attempts to add shape to the tunes and songs with his Theremin and Cacophonator. This oddball release is not without its charms, but I get the feeling that MFTF never really know when to stop piling on the absurdity; “just one more overdub” appears to be their guiding motto, as they reach for the remote control on that vibrating chair they found at a thrift store.

The Norwegian take on Kosmische and space-rock is well manifested by Kobi on their Urstoff (ENDOFHUM 13) album, which also exists as a double LP in a gatefold sleeve. We heard from Kobi before in 2009, but the acousticks release was mainly a compilation of droney music collaborations put together by the main man Kai Mikalsen. The band here are a quintet playing with a replete cosmic-rock plateful of instruments, including many guitars, organs, synths and groovular 1970s effects pedals buckling under the pressure of many Norwegian feet; and I’m pleased to note familiar names Petter Flaten Eilertsen and Fredrik Ness Sevendal in the band. Not a man among them but doesn’t also play in a side project, and if you can trip the names of Dip Apple, Ka, Love Hz, Phonoloid and Slowburn off your tongue at a cocktail party in Hampstead, you’ll be esteemed a hipper dude than most. The overall sound of the album is distinctive and spaced-out fer sure, but if you’re seeking more development and dynamics from your quota of avant-rock, you may be baffled by the oblique and meandering nature of these performances. But we should expect no less from a member of the Origami Arktika collective, of course.

From Vancouver, Aeroplane Trio play excellent semi-melodic free jazz tunes somewhat in the mode of the early Ornette, and they also deliver fractured and desolate pieces of scrapey noise episodes on Naranja Ha (DRIP AUDIO DA00647). For the latter mode, the musical saw of bassist Russell Sholberg adds a fine dimension of creepy atmosphere that some Theremin players spend their lives trying to achieve. Some cuts allow trumpeter JP Carter the space to riff his way through jazz history with considerable skill, though he’s a shade too polite for this listener, never quite cutting loose with an angry atonal blast. Aeroplane Trio work best for me when they join together on the massed effort to produce slightly gloomy and uncertain moments of mixed-up free-noise drone and scrape, and as such they might share some commonality with label-mates Subtle Lip Can. The second disk in this package is a DVD documenting live performances at Ironworks.

Songs – Eighter from Decatur (TSP radio 08/08/08)

  1. Todd Rundgren, ‘Sometimes I don’t know what to feel’ (1973)
    From A Wizard, A True Star, UK CASTLE COMMUNICATIONS CLACD 134 CD (1987)
  2. Help Yourself, ‘Your Eyes are Looking Down’ (1971)
    From Help Yourself, UK BEAT GOES ON RECORDS BGO LP52 LP
  3. Van Dyke Parks, ‘Orange Crate Art’
    From Moonlighting. Live at the Ash Grove, USA WARNER BROS RECORDS 9 46533-2 CD (1998)
  4. Lowell George, ‘Two Trains’
    From Thanks I’ll Eat It Here, UK WARNER BROS / WEA RECORDS K56487 LP (1979)
  5. David Bowie, ‘Let me sleep beside you’
    From Bowie at The Beeb. The Best of the BBC Radio Sessions 68-72, UK EMI / BBC MUSIC 7243 528629 2 4 2 x CD (2000)
  6. The Bonzos, ‘Alley Oop’ (1966)
    From Gorilla (digital remaster), UK EMI 0946 387889 2 8 CD (2007)
  7. John Cale, ‘Ship of Fools’ (1974)
    From The Island Years, USA ISLAND RECORDS 314 524 235-2 2 x CD (1996)
  8. Pavlov’s Dog, ‘Julia’ (1976)
    From Pampered Menial, USA COLUMBIA 32480 1 LP
  9. The Band, ‘In A Station’ (1968)
    From Music From Big Pink, [EUROPEAN UNION] CAPITOL RECORDS 7243 5 25390 2 4 CD (2000)
  10. Ry Cooder, ‘Goin’ to Brownsville’ (1970)
    From Ry Cooder, GERMANY REPRISE RECORDS 44093 LP
  11. Warren Zevon, ‘Accidentally like a Martyr’ (1978)
    From Excitable Boy, GERMANY ELEKTRA / ASYLUM RECORDS 7559-60521-2 CD
  12. The Holy Modal Rounders, ‘Voodoo Queen Marie’
    From Alleged in Their Own Time, USA ROUNDER RECORDS 3004 LP (1975)
  13. Bob Dylan, ‘Love Henry’
    From World Gone Wrong, UK COLUMBIA 474857 2 CD (1993)
  14. Terry Reid, ‘Things to Try’ (1973)
    From River, USA WATER 107 CD (2002)
  15. Michael Hurley, ‘I Paint a Design’
    From Watertower, USA FUNDAMENTAL MUSIC SAVE 051 LP (1988)
  16. David Crosby, ‘Laughing’ (1971)
    From If I Could Only Remember My Name, GERMANY ATLANTIC 7567-81415-2 CD
  17. The Byrds, ‘Going Back’ (1968)
    From The Notorious Byrd Brothers, USA COLUMBIA LEGACY 486751 2 CD (1997)
  18. Michael Hurley / The Unholy Modal Rounders / Jeffrey Fredericks and The Clamtones, ‘Slurf Song’
    From Have Moicy!, USA ROUNDER RECORDS 3010 LP (1975)
  19. Randy Newman, ‘Living Without You’ (1968)
    From Randy Newman Creates Something New Under the Sun, GERMANY WARNER MUSIC 7599-26705-2 CD
  20. Fairport Convention, ‘If I had a Ribbon Bow’ (1968)
    From Fairport Convention (remastered), UK POLYDOR 068 291-2 CD (2003)
  21. Kate Bush, ‘Blow Away’ (1980)
    From Never For Ever, JAPAN EMI RECORDS TOCP-67817 CD (2006)
  22. The Band, ‘Yazoo St Scandal’
    From Music From Big Pink, op cit.
  23. Neil Young, ‘See the Sky About to Rain’ (1974)
    From On The Beach, GERMANY WARNER MUSIC GROUP 9362-48497-2 CD

The Sound Projector radio show,
originally broadcast on Resonance 104.4 FM

Folk-Rock (TSP radio show 03/11/06)

The Faded Flower of England: Folk and Folk Rock of Albion

  1. Comus, ‘The Herald’
    From Gather in the Mushrooms, UK SANCTUARY RECORDS GROUP CMQCD840 CD (2004)
  2. Albion Country Band, ‘Albion Sunrise’
    From Electric Muse. The Story of Folk Into Rock, UK ISLAND RECORDS / TRANSATLANTIC FOLK 1001 4 x LP (1975)
  3. Albion Morris, ‘Upton Stick Dance’
    From Electric Muse, op cit.
  4. The Pentangle, ‘Bells’
    From The Pentangle, UK TRANSATLANTIC RECORDS TRA 162 LP (1968)
  5. Trees, ‘Glasgerion’ (1970)
    From Garden of Jane Delawney, UK DECAL LIK 15 LP (1987)
  6. Shirley Collins and The Albion Country Band, ‘Hal-An-Tow’
    From No Roses, USA ANTILLES AN-7017 LP (1973)
  7. Steeleye Span, ‘Boys of Bedlam’
    From Please to See the King, USA BIG TREE RECORDS BTS 2004 LP (ND)
  8. Albion Country Band, ‘The New Saint George / La Rotta’
    From Electric Muse, op cit.
  9. Ashley Hutchings (with Shirley Collins), ‘Staines Morris’ (1972)
    From Morris On, UK ISLAND IRSP 6 LP (ND)
  10. Fairport Convention, ‘Nottamun Town’ (1969)
    From What We Did on our Holidays, UK ISLAND REMASTERS IMCD 294 CD (2003)
  11. Pentangle, ‘Cruel Sister’
    From Cruel Sister, UK TRANSATLANTIC RECORDS TRA 228 LP (1970)
  12. Martin Carthy, ‘Farewell Nancy’ (1966) [Failed to complete!]
    From Second Album, UK TOPIC RECORDS TSCD341 (1993)
  13. Barry Dransfield, ‘Be My Friend’ (1972)
    From Barry Dransfield, UK SPINNEY 003CD (2002)
  14. The Fisher Family, ‘Joy of my Heart’ (1965)
    From The Acoustic Folk Box, UK TOPIC RECORDS TSFCD4001 4 x CD (2002)
  15. Etchingham Steam Band, ‘Hard Times of Old England’ (1975)
    From The Acoustic Folk Box, op cit.
  16. The Three City Four, ‘Across the Hills’ (1965)
    From The Acoustic Folk Box, op cit.
  17. Lal and Mike Waterson, ‘Bright Phoebus’ (1972)
    From The Acoustic Folk Box, op cit.
  18. Nic Jones, ‘Singer’s Request’ + ‘Some Say the Devil’s Dead’
    From From The Devil to a Stranger, UK TRAILER LTRA 507 LP (1978)
  19. Lal and Norma Waterson, ‘Bonny Light Horseman’
    From A True Hearted Girl, UK TOPIC 12TS331 LP (1977)
  20. The Young Tradition, ‘Daddy Fox’ (1967)
    From So Cheerfully Round, UK CASTLE COMMUNICATIONS ESM CD 409 (1996)
  21. Shelagh MacDonald, ‘Liz’s Song’
    From Gather in the Mushrooms, op cit.
  22. Lindisfarne, ‘Turn a Deaf Ear’
    From Electric Muse, op cit.
  23. The Bothy Band, ‘The Kesh Jig / Give us a Drink of Water / The Flower of the Flock / Famous Ballymore’
    From The Acoustic Folk Box, op cit.

The Sound Projector radio show,
originally broadcast on Resonance 104.4 FM