Got a couple of tapes from the Belgian Tanuki Records label, which is operated by Patrick Thinsy who used to be a member of martiensgohome. To be honest I never cared much for anything I heard from by the mgh collective, so I approach Thinsy’s Disappearances (TANUKI RECORDS #4) with a little trepidation. The A side is a simple experiment in minimalism, operating small variations on a single (very high) monotonous tone; you never heard such a thin and delicate drone in your life, as though he were trying to extend one gram of platinum in a wire so thin it would encircle the earth. High tone on one side, a low tone on the B side; a mysterious grumbling bullfrog making its moan in a forgotten swamp, wheezing like a very restrained old harmonium, until it too becomes an extended tremulous drone, so faint you can barely notice it. It’s likely that both of these simple compositions operate according to a structure; they proceed with an inscrutable methodology, and a basic trajectory is perceivable from start to finish. Not quite achieving the monumentalism of Phill Niblock, but not bad. From 27 February 2013.
The press notes describe Woodger Speece and Thierry Burnhout as “two very interesting Belgian sound artists”, and 14 Rhythms for Jamilla / This Beehive State (TANUKI RECORDS #3) is their debut. Though not made clear on the release, this appears to be a split and Woodger – who is actually someone named Pauwel de Buck – has four, not fourteen, of his rhythm tracks on the A side, combining strangely attenuated beats with prickly radio static. It’s amazing he gets anything solid out of this unlikely combination of elements, but he persists doggedly until these severe, alienating tones begin to cohere at some level. It’s the kind of music you imagine that small insects, or microbes, would enjoy dancing to on the sub-atomic plane. After ten minutes of this art-minimal reduced Techno buzzery, even Atom TM will sound “over-produced” to your ears. Thierry Burnhout occupies all of Side B with 22 minutes of This Beehive State, which like Thinsy’s above is operating in a droney and floaty area, where the skies are mostly grey and we dance to the whims of the wind. Though de Buck describes him as a “troublemaker”, Burnhout’s abiding mood here is somewhat serene and peaceful; in places, he generates pleasing harmonic passages that inspire a sense of well-being with their rich vibrato and throbbing undercurrents. I just feel it’s scant on ideas; having established one mood, he’s uncertain where to take it next, and he either treads water for too long or runs out of steam at crucial moments.
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.
Stefan Thut and Johnny Chang Two Strings And Boxes FLEXION RECORDS flex_005 CD (2012)
Johnny Chang and Stefan Thut are part of the Wandelweiser collective of musicians, a group who take John Cage’s ‘silent’ 4’33” as a point of departure to create works on the threshold of audibility. This CD is a recording of performance by Chang and Thut in Switzerland from 2012, of a piece composed by Thut for zithers and objects.
It is quiet. Very quiet. In fact, it’s too quiet for me. I have to admit defeat and say that I struggled, really, to get anything (any meaning, stimulation, enjoyment) from this recording. There are probably some very good reasons for this. My ears aren’t used to it, for one thing, frazzled as they are from years of rock filth, crushing drones and brain melting electronica.
He describes how, after hearing the musician Kunshu Shim, his thoughts on silence and music were transformed. He says: “Silence in music was not the cessation of sound, or even a gesture: it was a different sound, one with more density than those sounds made by instruments.”
Hmmm. A good point, but I feel I haven’t got to that stage with this CD. I can pick out a pleasing rustling about a minute in, and some ethereal humming tones around the ten minutes mark. That’s about all though. Penetrating music journalism, eh?
Another problem is that, in the weeks during which I’ve had this CD in my possession, I’ve found it impossible to find a suitably quiet spot in which to listen to it. My home, which never seems that noisy to me, suddenly seems to have turned into some frenetic zone of inner city pressure, with sirens, roadworks, arguments, dogs, the whole caboodle.
There’s something telling about this, the fact that fractured, overloaded nature of modern life prevents me from engaging with this recording in any meaningful way. Where can you find silence in a modern city?
Having locked myself in a small back room, I still only lasted about six minutes in my first attempt, before the first request for assistance with homework came from my daughter. It was, apparently, a matter of great importance – as was the next request, and the next.
The second time, I picked a moment when my children were at school, the cat was out and the house was quiet. Even the tumble dryer – which can emit a Merzbow-style wall of sound in full flight – had completed its cycle and was sitting dormant and sullen in the kitchen.
I grabbed my chance, excitedly firing the CD up in anticipation of 40 minutes of close attention. Alas, it was not to be. The CD timer hadn’t even passed the six-minute mark – my previous record for this – when a car alarm from the street below exploded into a ferocious screaming, jolting me from my deep listening and making me jump out of my chair.
So it went on. Each time I composed myself for a bout of engaged listening only to be knocked sideways (metaphorically of course) by some random interruption.
Defeated, I give up. So if you’re expecting this review to describe what actually happens on this CD – well, I’m afraid you’re out of luck.
If you know these artists, or the Wandelweiser aesthetic, you’ll have got enough information from the first paragraph of this review to know whether this CD is for you.
If not – well, perhaps the final word should go to Michael Pisaro: “Once one has made the turn onto this strange road, a world of difference opens up. What looks like a narrow passageway from the entrance, turns out to have all kinds of byways, pathways, way stations — it becomes a world of its own.”
So if that sounds like your bag – tune in, turn on and dive in.
Frank Bretschneider Super.Trigger
GERMANY RASTER-NOTON R-N 149 CD (2013)
Returning to some of the then-groundbreaking sounds of the early ‘90s – among these, the Warp-championed ‘Artificial Intelligence’ – it’s less surprising how dated much of it sounds now than how charming such a pejorative adjective can be. Aphex Twin and Autechre fared better than most, and have gone on to fashion stimulating, retroactive works such as ‘Analord’ and ‘Oversteps’, which sort of ratifies the notion that being ‘dated’ or ‘of its time’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s possible to watch Star Wars for instance, and still be charmed by the resourceful special effects – such is not the case with the CGI on those egregious prequels though.
Hearing Raster Noton’s ‘Archiv 01’, which accompanied an issue of The Wire in 2005, was a real lightning bolt for me, emerging as it did during the first or second tidal wave of sub-par ‘bedroom’ electronic music, which effectively castrated the DIY democracy value stemming from a new glut of affordable equipment. Clinical in its administration of sound elements and events, and palming the devolutionary baton of techno minimalism from Plastikman, Mille Plateau and the like, the pared down Raster Noton sound alluded that a more ‘authentic’ form of AI had been born: a striking notion, even now.
One of the sonic architects, Frank Bretschneider – Raster Noton co-founder – has continued to refine (though not necessarily redefine) his sound over the years, and this process culminates (for the time being) in this menacing, techno-splicing platter. Full stops bolted into track titles such as ‘Over.load’ and ‘Mean.streak’ offer visual analogue to the intricately machined nuts that connect countless strata of drilled and ballistic, cross-directional rhythms, which in their entirety resemble the densely layered traffic networks envisioned in comics such as ‘2000 AD’. But he doesn’t reveal it at once: Bretschneider is calculating in his administration: each piece whirrs into life like a robotics factory that slowly gains sentience; there’s an incremental shift from cold mechanical repetition to self-assured robo-funk, which seems to mimic the very genesis of consciousness. On every side, rhythmic components vanish and reappear capriciously, as though Teo Macero were our ghost in the machine.
Is it formulaic? I suppose, but attentive listeners will perceive the ‘patterned’ connotation, as opposed to ‘repetitive’. The ruse of the mechanical opening might serve to delude credulous listeners, before the piece’s beating heart becomes apparent in one exultant flash. Subtle stylistic shifts separate one piece from the next, but the whole is peppered liberally with ground Detroit techno particles; entailing a cocktail of dread and awe as the final product – like some replicant – parades its unique, physical perfection for its short life span. Divine in proportion, these tracks display a seeming immortality, which will probably seem quite quaint a decade or two down the line. Will it have been supplanted by something even more lifelike? For that matter, will we?
Senking Capsize Recovery
GERMANY RASTER-NOTON R-N 152 CD (2013)
If Bretschneider brings us the birth of machine intelligence, then Senking’s soundworld is the ponderous and skull-crushing dark nightscape of the soul after the Terminators have declared war on mankind. Taking as his prima material a dread-inducing low-frequency rumble that other producers might misuse as a welcome mat into their post-techno exhibitionism, Senking claws deep into the darkness to excavate an eerie array of disconcertingly familiar motifs drawn from dubstep to dub-techno. It’s an uneasy listen: partly because it threatens to yield to one or other of these well-worn styles (though never quite does) and because it expresses all the emotion of a sociopathic cyborg.
Most tracks kick off with an uneven, shuffling meter that calls to mind the inner-city prowl of Hyperdub stalwarts King Midas Sound and Burial, or Squarepusher’s electro-jazz superlative, ‘Plaistow Flex Out’. To this solid-but-shifting foundation he adds layers of growling lazer beams, drunken snares and the odd, disconcerting allusion to a known subgenre, such as on ‘Cornered’, where the cocksure bass reverberation suggests dubstep, which does get my spider senses tingling admittedly. Elsewhere, delivery is of a colder, more ‘Blade Runner’ bent, such as on ‘Nightbeach’, which evokes the silent stalk of a seasoned serial killer on a breezy midnight.
I never bothered to decipher the contents of The Fall’s ‘Dr Buck’s Letter’, thus its meaning remains unknown to me, though its filthy bass oozes through each of the eight pieces heard here. Another mystery is how capsizing could possibly affect a vessel as bottom-heavy as Senking’s, but he is evidently a more seasoned nautical engineer than myself. Perhaps the force encountered is that of the storm itself, and the perpetual malaise that informs every melodic gesture is the true indication of peril. With that in mind, and serious flooding affecting England on an unprecedented scale of late, and much speculation about our future of inundation, Senking’s aquatic apprehensions provide me with an apposite soundtrack to the heralding of end times.
Pure I believe was this electronic extremist who did stuff for Mego and attained notoriety for sampling the run-out grooves of vinyl records to create his very austere digital music. He’s still milking the “end of vinyl” concept apparently, since on No End Of Vinyl (CRÓNICA 079-2013) he’s enlisted ten prominent electronica creators to contribute tracks (some of them remixes) based on the theme. Even the sleeve itself is cleverly overprinted with concentric circles on black card, so that it looks like an idealised vision of microgrooves. Hereon, @c – slow and increasingly menacing fragments of gurgly broken sounds; Christoph de Bablon – remix of the original ‘The End Of Vinyl’ to produce a boring and pompous synth tune; JSX with his ‘Biological Agents’ and a decent piece of techno-stealth dredged from the sewers of Paris; cindytalk hurling buckets of digital water over a cliff in slow motion; Goner’s remake of a Pure track, using too many effects and gimmicks until incoherence dominates; and Opcion – an effective object lesson in “less is more”, with chilling desolate tones. We also have the very interesting ArturasBumšteinas, whose ingenious ‘Opera Povera’ was probably constructed from classical music on vinyl, and exhibits a painstaking craft that is notably absent from the other auto-piloted submissions. But Rashad Becker is also memorable with his strangely rotating and colliding elements, spinning in layers like a wall-sculpture made of 100 bicycle wheels; and Pita, whose solo work I don’t seem to have heard for a long time now, and whose ‘This & That Edit’ has the kind of purity of form that Terry Riley would adore, plus a clarity of tone that’s like spring water on an otherwise rather sludgy-sounding comp. All of these contributions show us possibilities, ways of opening out an idea through remaking and refitting. Yet very few of them really reflect the vinyl-ness of records, apart from a few audible samples of crackles and clicks which surface in some of the contributions, and the digital “identity” is very much up front – processed, artificial, impossibly “perfect”. There’s a double-edged irony to all of this, since (as the label webpage indicates) the original release of fourteen years ago was full of millennial uncertainty about the future of media carriers, and recorded music in general; it was asking the question “will vinyl die?” and weeping a solitary tear as if every CD being pressed were another nail in the coffin. Now of course, the way the tide is turning in favour of vinyl and analogue media again, it seems the question is whether the digital has a future.
Speaking of your “millennial uncertainty”, the Norwegian quartet SPUNK just completed an extremely lengthy musical project which they started in 2001. Every year they would meet up to play a single tone and continue to hold it as a sustained drone, using mostly acoustic instruments (strings, brass, woodwinds) and voices. By the time they had finished they had completed a realisation of all 12 notes in the scale. Now the collected recorded results have been released as Das Wohltemperierte Spunk (RUNE GRAMMOFON RCD2140) as a six-disc boxed set, meaning you get two of these drones per CD at approximately 30 minutes apiece. The players involved are the lovely Maja Ratkje (constantly proving herself as a formidable all-rounder – singer, composer, improviser, noise artiste) and Hild Sofie Tafjord (see previous remark), plus the cellist Lene Grenager (guesting from +3dB Records) and Kristin Andersen who plays trumpet and flute. Although not remarked on in the press notes, that’s an all-female team making this ethereal yet wiry music, and among the first things you notice is how unlike American minimalist (masculinist) music this set is: and by unlike, I mean it’s intuitive instead of programmed to death, sensitive to the listener rather than running them over with a relentless systems-based steamroller, and almost completely lacking in the enormous ego drive that, for me, characterises the long-winded work of some composers in this area. This isn’t to say Das Wohltemperierte Spunk is a set of drifty ethereal wispiness (though some may hear that at first), since there is a very simple structure at work in realising the 12 notes in a pre-determined sequence, drawing ideas about mathematical composition from Bach, and there’s an unflagging determination to see the work through to the end over a very long period. I also like the fact that they did it in a variety of locations around Oslo, including a cabin on a fjord, and a mausoleum with a very long decay time within its walls. Usually they played to a very small audience; no wonder they regarded this as a “secret shared among…closest friends”. Clearly the four of them found it a very unifying experience, and one of the keywords (which may get up the backs of some readers) is “meditative”, but there is no pretentious pseudo-spiritual psycho-babble here, just a commitment to finding (and creating) enough space to play and to listen in a very simple way. In the interests of disclosure, I’ll admit I haven’t got much beyond D# in the set so far, but even so I can report that these drones are far from being flat, smooth or boring progressions; there’s a very ragged surface to all the performances, with unexpected angles, corners and planes fully on display, and much of the genuine spontaneity that we would hope for from good improvised music; plus much variety and dimension in the tones and timbres that are being explored. In short, listening engagement is guaranteed throughout these 12 slow but intense pieces. Methinks that the effects of hearing it all in one sitting would be considerable. (13 February 2013)
From Groningen in Holland we have the fairly bizarre combo Sexton Creeps, who for their third album Alex Hotel (HEILSKABAAL RECORDS HK023) have teamed up with the sound artist Kasper van Hoek. The Creepsters pride themselves on their international membership, their shared passion for psychedelic music, and the use of home-made instruments alongside the more traditional guitar-bass-drums-keyboard setup. The opening drama ‘Homophone / The Unicorn Dies’ is a genuinely odd escapade, mainly because it works through about three different dynamic shifts, starting off as a quasi-Nick Cave dirge which lumbers forward for some minutes before exploding in the centre with a crazed echo and guitar screech-out of acid-fried freakery, then descending into the quagmire of a dark fairytale acoustic ballad sung in a minor key. The Sextoneers may come on like indifferent, slouching stoners, but when a certain switch is flipped upwards, they instantly transform into vibrant electric eels. ‘Pissing In The Woods’ is also a rum fish, a moody spookster with a compelling organ sound that would make Tom Waits trade in his golden trilby, and mumbled lyrics which may be packed with menacing symbols. As for ‘Elderly Ladies’ Umbrellas’, it confirms the band’s penchant for formless slow slide-guitar jams underpinned by eerie wailing effects; it’s as though they’d read all about Pink Floyd (1967 period) and their lost and unrecorded performances at the UFO Club and decided to reimagine for themselves what it must have been like to be that band. Did I forget to mention the contributions of the vocalist, J.C.? He’s got a great line in lugubrious mumbling when he’s doing the creepy death-ballads, but also capable of erupting into shouty and screamy blasts of horrifying proportions when the occasion demands it. While I can see this strange record appealing to the prog and psych revivalist brigade, there is also a thoroughly weird strain that writhes at the heart of this album, and the listener will struggle to pin it down like a wriggling centipede in the core of your apple. Bert Scholten did the unsettling artwork of sleeping bodies packed into a compressed grid, like human sardines. (28 February 2013)
I’m warming to the music of Noteherder & McCloud, an English duo who are really growing on me with their odd and inscrutable noise-filled approach to saxophone and electronics. Chris Parfitt does the strained hooting with his brassy soprano while Geoff Reader supplies the crackly boxes, and they both add voice elements too. We haven’t reviewed them since 2011 (their mini CDR Field Log), and I have the sense they can be pretty raucous and outspoken when the circumstances deem fit, but The Bottle Loose In The Drawer (SLIGHTLY OFF KILTER sok043) is slightly more reflective, subtle, and drawn-out; the full length album format gives a bit more space to their unique qualities, and each track stretches out into a puff-driven event showcasing the yowlage of the human throat or the metallic bell of a ghostly sax, accompanied with requisite doses of strange alien drone or bizarre electric twittering. The duo have a very eccentric and personal approach to instant music creation which I like very much. It would probably be a mistake to characterise N&M’s music as “jazz” or “improv” in any way, and to me it feels more like they are creating spontaneous sound-art installations, doing so in any environment in need of such an artistic statement. They change things for the better, wherever they play. To my mind, local councillors should sponsor musicians like this and send them out to any given spot in the city in need of attention, and give them free rein to cure the problem with sound art. Urban blight would soon be a thing of the past. From 24 January 2013.
Label boss of above release is Paul Khimasia Morgan, who walks everywhere in crepe sole shoes, so that none may anticipate his silent advance. He’s released a short performance piece called Eaves Drop (AURAL DETRITUS audet001) and it’s the first item on his own Aural Detritus sub-label. It’s taken from a Brighton concert where he performed with Jason Kahn, who also recorded it using the spindly tubes that grow from his forehead. 17 minutes of highly minimal slow music; there’s a piercing high tone at the start, overlaid in the middle with additional elements which might have been generated by a slow-motion underwater guitar played backwards with electro-magnets by dying turtles. Then we enter a realm of uncertainty, with small boxes being rearranged on an imaginary supermarket shelf of the mind. In a short space of time this impenetrably blanked-out sound art works itself through at least three or four timbral changes, which if closely attended will assume a certain dramatic flair. We’d hesitate to describe it as a “composition”; perhaps it’s more like the outline for a composition, presented in a short pamphlet where the pages consist of pencil notations that have been 90% rubbed out using a Staedtler Mars Plastic Eraser. From 24 January 2013.
Fancy cover, quality pressing, clever titles and grand ideas on Extant (THE GEOGRAPHY TRIP TRIP 002) the vinyl offering from OH/EX/OH, but only rather ordinary ambient drones within. Their musical plan is to offer a bleak and depressing experience on side one, with a slightly more hopeful message delivered on side two; this means we hear flat monochrome ambient music, interrupted only by a spoken-word quote which I suspect is a sample from a Planet of the Apes movie (it’s about a post-nuclear disaster), and a general sense that we are living through the last days of humanity with solemn music that proceeds at a leaden pace. The “Utopian Tones” of the B side make more prominent use of sequencers walking along at a brisk pace on ‘Close Encounters’, while on ‘With Nova A New Beginning’ we finally hear the identikit synth droning resolve itself into chords of some sort, instead of the usual nondescript blancmange. However, even this track is blighted with cliché, and feels like it should appear in a fourth-rate arthouse cinema film to coincide with a corny sunrise shot and a life-defining moment for the lead character. One would like to encourage this relatively new Manchester-based label (this is their second release), but this entire album is bogged down with over-familiar sounds and scant ideas. However the packaging, as indicated, is first-rate.
American players Steve D’Agostino and Ted Lee form the core duo of Zebu!, who have had their most recent record released by Feeding Tube Records – home to all that is currently bizarre in US underground rock noise. On Chill Wave (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR 082), Zebu! are clearly influenced by early 1960s surf music, a genre which was looked down on for a long time on account of its supposed naivete, but which has I think since been reclaimed into cultural appreciation, a process which may have begun with the Rhino Records compilations (The History Of Surf Music) in 1982. I’ll admit Zebu! exhibit plenty of energy in their rough music and evoke a suitably amateurish garage-rock feel through the flat recording, but I don’t like it much. They have no gift for a memorable melody, and their sloppy guitar work is an insult to the precision and care of The Surfaris, Dick Dale, The Challengers and Santo & Johnny (the creators of ‘Sleep Walk’), all of whom struck their guitar notes with a purposeful simplicity that these boys can’t hope to match. The saxophone work of guest player Peter Van Siclen is nauseating to my ears, and the band’s lapses into 1980s punk rock are embarrassing. “Classicist American instrumental ho-daddyism”, indeed!
It’s been a while since I did any backpacking – ensconsed as I am these days in the trappings of urban convenience – and long forgotten is the excitement I found kicking around in unknown climes. Sounds like a different story for Springintgut (aka Andi Otto) though: so romanced has he been by the heady sites and cities cited in this CD’s tracklist – among these Kyoto, Bangalore and Yakushima – that he’s pumped out an eclectic set of foreign-flavoured electro-pop numbers in tribute. It’s a light-hearted affair, of moods one encounters in the serendipitous delights and ephemeral friendships of time spent traveling on a budget, and occasionally touching on the more tender moments found in the Touch catalogue, though I offer this as both a qualifier and a caveat. Your level of enjoyment may well depend on how much you enjoy films like ‘The Beach’.
Ever hapless, tracks take one blind turn after another – giving credibility to the titular cartographical crisis and the giddy sense of adventure engendered – flying along with a ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ sense of abandon, which alas delves into disposability in the less cultivated episodes. These I would name and shame as ‘Bangalore Kids’ and ‘Bangalore Crows’ – in which clumsy, cringe-inducing electronic rhythms warbling tones rub incongruously against recordings of locals singing and chanting, the resulting mass sounding like a beach party full of grinning ecstasy neophytes. Bangalore is – I gather – India’s silicon valley, so such artificiality is to be expected I suppose, but it’s a faux pas that really has no place in the music of 2013 (or ‘14), and pretty much completes the case against cultural appropriation in music. Also questionable are tracks that feature the breathy tones of Sasha Perera. Nothing wrong with her singing as such; but combined with bland, uneventful loops (and likewise lyrics) the whole melange sounds rather like trip-hoppy cocktail lounge runoff.
The music works best – to my ears anyway – when instrumentation and effects are most sparing in their application, such as those found in the first half of the album. ‘Kamogawa Cycling’ through to ‘Western Kyoto’ (all of the ‘Japan’ tracks, in fact) are, in particular, beasts very slight of frame; composed of galloping, grasshopper-taut phrases plucked from the ‘fello’ – a custom variant of the cello – and smatterings of similar strings, sounding somewhat suave, if slightly sentimental. The rest of the album – which closes on a note of ghostly longing – falls somewhere between the above extremes.
Also Japanese and devoid of flab, Aoki Takamasa has been on the ‘IDM’ list for over a decade now; collaborations with Tujiko Noriko and others among a respectable cache of releases, which have seen him honing his craft in a rather exclusive niche in the techno realm. RV8 is his follow up to the Rn-Rhythm Variations EP (also) on the Raster Noton label, and apposite tenement it finds there: its precision-cut beats and intricate, textured layers locating it neatly between the likes of Alva Noto and Thomas Brinkmann. As the title suggests, Takamasa works to a formula, but it’s a compelling and thoroughly explored one. Every track is propelled by complex layers of digital rhythm, which so subtly admit ballistic bursts, ball bearing clusters and split-second vocal snippets that accumulation is practically imperceptible. A standard 4/4 tempo leads for the most part, slyly suggesting dance-floor compatibility, though only for clubs that cater for androids. Still, it’s a friendlier sound than one finds elsewhere on the RN label; briefly shimmering microfibre layers obviating any hint of sterility, and placing matters on the more dynamic side of ‘clinical’, where we find the likes of Surgeon and Plastikman. Takamasa’s rhythmic mastery is impressive, and he displays incredible finesse in his allusions to a variety of electronic styles, from the host label’s stock-in-trade minimal electronic to digitised house and dub techno; hitting a confident swagger in the penultimate track (my personal favourite), but ever expressing a sense of adventurousness (and spaciousness) that can be appreciated through headphones and speakers alike. Full marks.
Recorded by Simon Reynell who is perhaps more widely known as the man behind the UK’s Another Timbre label. A sound recordist by trade, I believe he is also responsible for engineering most if not all the live recordings released on his excellent Sheffield-based imprint. Concret is a very fluid 34 minute improvisation by Ruth Barberán, Ferran Fages and Alfredo Costa Monteiro. I’m interested to see Ferran Fages’ name here as I have very much enjoyed his solo guitar improvisations and his collaborations with the zither player Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga under the name Ap’strophe.
The linear sleeve design by Alfredo Costa Monteiro is carried on to the front of the disc itself (and on a loose card insert), and in a way reminds me of the work of Savage Pencil’s work for vinyl, particularly the scraffito style design he did on the surface of the b-side of Lee Ranaldo’s solo lp From Here To Infinity… In fact the gatefold sleeve itself is nicely designed; a die cut, stylised man on the interior fold and the subdued palette of the two-colour printing process; the whole package finished in its own tailor-made resealable transparent polythene sleeve.
The music on Concret is very low-key. Barberan, Fages and Monteiro are in no hurry, but you get the sense that no amount of time or indeed hard disk space (I was going to say “tape”) is wasted either.
But this is no back-slapping, self-congratulatory exercise in ego-hugging. Nor is it hesitant or sloppily experimental – every technique used is a well-honed skill presented with the appropriate level of mastery. Furthermore, I can honestly say this is one of the most stripped down and astringent expressions of emotion I’ve ever heard in the electro-acoustic improv canon. This trio spit out their bile in one bitter amorphous lump; their quivering, caustic version of improvisation threatening to eat a hole in the floor.
Like many of the current investigative sound-makers whose names I could invoke to offer some sort of context (Lee Patterson, Jason Kahn, Choi Joonyong, Burkhard Beins) as a group, ATOLÓN determine to ruthlessly prise every last unlikely sound and utterance from their respective choice of instrumentation. Dynamically, the single 34 minute piece covers a lot of ground; each instrument is allowed to take precedent in turn, and the feeling of a tight live unit performing at the edges of their abilities is almost tangible. Around the halfway point, they have reduced their playing almost to the minimal/automatic nature of a Max Eastley wind sculpture, momentarily; and then an unsuspected crescendo of juddering, distressed, slowly fracturing incandescence for the listener to come to terms with. And like all the best examples of eai, it demands your full attention. Not for the faint-hearted or listeners new to this kind of music, perhaps, but if given the level of concentration it deserves, guaranteed to deliver the goods.
Mixed and mastered by Ferran Fages, and mastered by Ilia Belorukov (of grindcore experimentalists Wozzeck, interestingly) and Mikhail Ershov released in unknown quantity but judging from the type and quality of the package, there can’t be huge numbers of this item around so I’d hurry to obtain a copy if I were you.
Philip Corner Rocks Can Fall At Any Time
GREECE MORE MARS TEAM MM010 LP (2013)
Corner, amongst many other things, is noted for the performance in the 1960s of his Flux event in Germany that ended in the dismantling and dismembering of a piano. Something that caused a minor scandal at the time, supposedly due to the sacrosanct significance of the piano as cultural symbol, but which in fact was not specified in the instructions for the piece. This twist evidenced a spirit of physicality and utility – apparently the artists would have had to pay someone to remove the piano otherwise. A similar physicality and a thriftiness of sound, expression and presentation is something that Corner retains to this day, selecting and minimally burnishing to reveal delicate expansive impulses latent in simple materials and open structures.
Over the years he has shown a particular affinity for gamelan and metal percussion, a major strand of his work being his Gamelan Son of Lion associated pieces, which explore in a Western context the musical languages and approaches of Indonesian gamelan musics, and his ongoing explorations of resonant metals, which are flavoured very much by those Indonesian influences.
The influence of a heady hash of eastern derived thought systems is also evident throughout his work, be it the ‘Om Duet’ here or a randomly picked title out of many such in the back catalogue such as ‘Uhhm (After a Deep and Tibetan Image)’. Considering this, I have no doubt that the readymade koan of the album title, featured on the road sign photographed in the booklet accompanying this LP, appealed to both Corner’s Fluxus roots and his Eastern mystical leanings. This mix of ingredients hints of a certain time and space, a little American, a little far-out Far-East 1. A smattering of musicians this mix has manifested to some degree in would include John Cage, Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Henry Flynt…no doubt you can also provide your own examples. This mix bubbled up with the Beats as well, and can also be discerned in the counter-culture of Ed Sanders, The Fugs, ESP-Disk, etc. A time and space, like I said. But as is the way with time and space, not limited to one of either.
In Corner’s case from Fluxus he derives a directness of approach, from Indonesia a sense of movement and rhythm, alongside a Japanese Zen-like mindfulness and simplicity. The music here is danced and performed. Rather than the long form, the eternal drone, Corner is interested in discrete, physically derived sounds in the here and now that in their transitory and ephemeral nature – like Blake’s winged joy or the compressed meaning conveyed with a few select symbols (cymbals, in this case) in Japanese poetry – become possible drops of satori.
Sound quality is various degrees of verité – in the case of the earliest recording, a pretty gnarly tape. Wrapped-up and encapsulated succinctly this collection is not (rather like this review, then) – consider it more of an open-ended proposition, comprising historical document, off the cuff performance, sketches, marginalia, off-cuts from an on-going exploration. The four pieces presented represent four disparate points in time and space on our peripatetic composer/performer’s journey, all threaded together loosely through a unity of focus and open approach.
Resonating in physical space, the spinning of the record edge round like a cymbal, we first hear on the A-side ‘Gong (Ceng Ceng)/Ear’, recorded in 1989, in Bali. The piece combines Corner’s solo cymbal work with an exploratory, ritualised, performative edge hinted at as well by photographs and notes
For ‘Two in Thailand’ (performed New York, 1997) the score is reproduced in the notebook. It is a poem in space for cyclical movement, instruments, and sound. Rubbing of cymbals, procession by one performer around another, slow hits on the nipple of a gong. ‘Time is a Man Space is a Woman’ as Blake tells us, which may come to mind as we see in the evocative back cover photograph and hear this personified on record, Corner defining the pulse, circled by the travelling cymbals of Phoebe Neville, his partner in the performance. Many fine filaments of poetic connection can be hung on these choice but earthy elements. The booklet provides more hints for imagination.
Both these percussion and dance pieces have something of a beautiful shimmer of Indonesia about them, a subliminal bloodstream of rhythms of the Gamelan and graceful, stately movements of court dances.
On the B-side we flip back in time to New York, 1972, towards the tape and Fluxus era documented on various excellent Alga Marghen releases. ‘Om: Duet for Jug and Bottle’ (also featuring James Fulkerson) is a primitive, primal piece, a stoned age Jug band mantra. Breath as the beginning. The first letter of the first word of the first paragraph of the first chapter in a monograph on pre-Columbian pottery vessels aspirating and aspiring with burgeoning self-awareness. The cooing of pigeons hidden beyond cool plaster walls, linoleum on the floor of a midnight apartment, for some reason I think of an allegorical figure out of Ginsberg melding with the nocturnal all-vibes, simply the roundness of a bottle and jar in a kitchen at some still hour, emptiness containing the idea of the animating breath.
The final piece, ‘Satie’s Chords of the Rose + Croix … As a Revelation’ presents another aspect of Corner. The side that also has incorporated Baroque keyboard influences from Lully and Couperin. A room recording, cut from the frayed corner of bellows cloth, glow off-stage, creaks of a wooden body and room front and centre with the occasional passing car in the distance or sighed breath, or exhaling instrument. The piece, recorded in 1999 in Vermont, gently teases various Satie related implications viz. entr’acte (a pun almost on the musical interval of the two chords that Corner chooses to explore), rickety furniture music, unadorned as in the ancient Greek gymnos. A wealth of allusion in the lightest, simplest sounds from a room with a squeaky piano stool.
Throughout there is an air of unforced concentration, attuned listening. The rotating of the cymbals against each other or the pumping of the harmonium bellows like quietly observed personal rituals, the dull thump on the gong the tap of a Zen masters stick on his zazen-seated student. Of course, Corner wears this as lightly as baggy pair of unbleached cotton trousers; impression, allusion, wisp of suggestion that can enter and pass like clouds in frame of view. Music of material, of pleasure in, contemplation of. Not overly-determined moments.
Package-wise, whilst the cover isn’t the best ever – the geometric shapes seem a little clumsy when compared to Corner’s fluid calligraphy which has been showcased on other recordings – the documentary material included is excellent. The booklet contains writings, descriptions and notes on each piece, graphic score, notation, sketches etc – all intriguing and thought-provoking – and helps to shed light on what we hear on the record.
Taken as a whole, the collection of material is somewhat fragmentary, by nature, although the concept of the definitive piece would not, I imagine, be an over-riding concern of Corner’s. We only have fragments of Heraclitus, after all 2. What we hear through each recording is interplay of intuitive movements and simple ideas executed with a magnanimity and lightness of touch which pay attention to the extra-musical harmonies and happy accidents of time, place and material. A scrapbook of thoughts and actions, attuned to dance, movement, sonority and rhythm, modest, quietly assured and engaging, which can indicate plenitude found in the partial and hint at intimations of the infinite OM in the momentary and ephemeral.
Not pinned down too much by the stylus these four documents, although quiet and sometimes unassuming, retain a sense possibility. The possibility of lightbulbs flashing on, of illumination stemming from connection with the basic and physical considered mindfully – of rocks falling at any time.
Father Yod once told us ‘East will meet West and that will be that’. Composers like Corner have been working on a similarly syncretic mission since the sixities. ↩
Speaking of flow, some of my favourite pieces by Corner are those involving his kitchen sink. ↩
This should be the last of the bundle received from Richard Kamerman’s Copy For Your Records label in August 2012. Developer’s self-titled (CFYRT04) is a cassette most likely made by Matthew Reis of Ohio, whose email address for his Factotum Tapes label is supplied in the inner of this short, small-run tape. Despite indications of brevity, Developer manages to compress a good deal of overpowering factory-noise and metallic shriek into a tiny frame, creating a rather haunting sensation of alienation and futility with his echoing klang. Oddly enough, I like it less when the episode collapses into more conventional harsh noise, but even so there is plenty of evidence of skill and subtlety in the way Developer handles his very abstract, abrasive material – especially in the editing. Reis is one of these impossibly prolific creators who not only has numerous releases under this name, but has also operated under numerous aliases, including Antennaeboy, Black Almas, Disasternaut, Heart Of The Whore, Wasteland Jazz Ensemble, and Yes, Collapse. (09/08/2012)
Another noisy cassette is the one from Darren Wyngarde aka Filthy Turd, who also sent a package in August. For this C20 release, “The Filthy One” extends his filth into the packaging itself, which arrives with a little packet of dirt in a plastic bag, marked with the legend “This mud protects against Radiant Cracks” – presumably just one of many spells and charms lifted from his warlock’s cabinet of magic philtres. This even made me slightly reluctant to open the thing at all, which is another index of this uniquely English noise-maker’s success; he radiates powerful waves of unapproachability. Two titles are printed on the skuzzy photocopy insert – ‘A Rotting Throb’ and ‘Rancid and Trmblin’, and it’s released on Urine Soaked Rag as #23 in that catalogue. When you succeed in spinning the tape itself, you’ll know that the world has finally come to an end amid a cacophony of distorted screaming, sirens, extended explosions of devastating destruction of earth-shaking building collapse proportions. With this release, Filthy Turd manages to pollute at least three of our five senses, and right now he’s probably working on methods to assault our noses and taste buds too. Another triumph for this remorseless, absurdist fun-loving magickal-prankster. 30 copies only. (06/08/2012)
UN NU is the team of Pascal Battus and Benjamin Duboc, and their Recoupements (EH?63) was recorded in 2010 at a performance space in Albi in the middle of the Pyrenees. Battus has wowed listeners before with his radical “rotating surfaces” method by which he produces slow and grindy sound-art, and his 2010 Ichnites (a collab with Christine Sehnaoui Abdelnour) was a “classic” of that genre. No surprise to learn Battus has been seen grinding his axe with that other primo scrapey fellow, Alfredo Costa Monteiro, for a goodly number of years. For Recoupements, he’s working only with guitar pickups, probably using them as a low-grade electronic instrument to generate the intensely irritating background squeal that permeates most of the length of this 52-minute endurance test; when he’s given the chance to “take a solo”, you won’t believe the obnoxious results nor the shrill, inhuman nastiness that Battus is capable of. Duboc meanwhile veers between attempting to play some simple tunes on his bass – free-form bowing to create simple two-note patterns, as if expecting Cecil Taylor to arrive and rescue the session – and making boxed-in clattering noises that are slightly more suited to the austere sound-art nature of the gig. As an album this has some great moments, but I sense the duo keep running out of steam every ten minutes, and the pauses in between ideas are a little bit awkward. But I’m a sucker for minimal improv when the noises produced are as deliciously abrasive, introverted and unfriendly as this. (08/08/2013).
Highly unusual item credited to HÁK-DAH is in fact the team of Hákarl (i.e. Kevin Nickells) and Daniel Alexander Hignell, and their Bambi (LF RECORDS LF025) includes a small insert which indicates, by means of a Venn diagram, what their musical contributions are where they overlap. Based on the scant 32 minutes of mist-drenched gumbo they provide here, I’d tend to characterise this music as a form of sinister ambient crawl, an assertion I make when faced by the nebulous clouds puffed out by Hignell’s fog-pumping electronic machines, and the experience is made ten times more creepy by the insistent violin work of Nickells. He himself calls it a “screaming violin”, and with good cause. One has rarely felt so terrorised by the sound of the instrument, which in his hands becomes a very persistent ghost stalking us along the deserted shore with all the tenacity of an M.R. James spectre. The agonised faces reproduced on the cover of this item are but a small indicator of the mental anguish that you, as the listener, will endure upon purchase and playback of this excellent item. Both players are based in Brighton, and on the strength of this they must have spent many hours wandering by the sea during off-season, when skies are grey and a mysterious offshore mist swirls around the feet of the unwary traveller. The record becomes even more of a weirdie around its mid-point, as voice elements and drum beats are added; one would hesitate to say it mutates into a “song”, but I’m lost for words to best describe the unsettling dirge that emerges from my tremulous speakers – the rhythms are askew, the pace lumbers like a crippled sea-monster, and Daniel’s vocals are just plain harrowing. HÁK-DAH would be lost with their echo chamber device, but they put it to very good use. This record may not be especially enjoyable listening, but it is quite unique and delivered with as much conviction as the two pallid ghoul-like creators can manage, as they brush the dirt of the grave from their faded black funeral outfits. (30/05/2012)