Tagged: noise

The Fire Next Time

pizMO is a collective / collaborative entity that could be enormous and diffuse, wishing to project a façade of anonymity while also claiming to be a hydra-headed entity of many creators, although it may just as likely be the laptop trio of Christophe Havard, Jerome Joy and Julien Ottavi. The group sent us a copy of blst (FIBRR RECORDS 012) in June 2013. This current line-up is the “born-again” incarnation of the group which began 13 years ago with Joy, Ottavi and Yannick Dauby. In describing this work, terms bandied about include “environments” and “audio architecture”, suggestive of a large-scale distribution of events, statements, and effusions happening – very fleetingly and temporarily – in places which cannot even be identified with any certainty. Ay, it’s hard to pin down exactly what’s going on with this assemblage of live recordings, captured from festivals in France and Norway during 2012, but for over 53 minutes you will experience a continuous barrage of formless, bewildering and strangely exciting electronic music, dispersed over a wide area without explanation or context.

As you have gathered, pizMO have high ambitions for their music, hoping to somehow bypass conventional means of communication and presentation, and even transcend the limits of human perception to some degree; they’d be pleased to see all forms of centralised system collapse, and want to place themselves in the centre of a musical revolution. This is all expressed in a manifesto printed on the artworks, stated in English and in French. Their attitude is redolent of a certain impatience with the way things are (narrow, confined, predictable, monolithic), and a desire to find some new, secret, invisible space of vitality where their music can freely exist and thrive in a near-infinite continuum. The main thing is to ignore and undermine the dominant music industry, and especially concepts of ownership; the work is made available under “copyleft” terms. A lot of this, it seems to me, is about bumping one’s head on technological limits; I get the feeling that pizMO would love to exist as an unending stream of digital data if they could, transmitted forever around the world across broadband networks, and made freely available to the people. The actual music /sound they make is not so incendiary or innovative as any of this may imply, but when it doesn’t lapse into meaningless white noise, this is a very engaging listen, with many unexpected swoops and slippery sensations.

Womb C: a wide range of genres searching for communion with dark sinister cosmos

Womb C, self-titled, Bestial Burst, CD BeBu-059 (2013)

Dark space ambience, post-industrial percussion, sinister electronics, black metal and trance psychedelia combine to form this quartet of instrumental pieces that trace an individual journey into communion with the cosmos. The musicians responsible for this unique if weird and wonderful set of soundscapes include members of Finnish BM bands Dead Reptile Shrine and Ride for Revenge as well as musicians from bands I don’t know: Blutleuchte, Cloama (who share members with DRS) and Will Over Matter (the brainchild of the man behind Ride for Revenge). This looks like a Finnish-Russian affair which might mean (in a good way of course!) plenty of sparks flying here.

We begin with “Satan Universe Moloch”, a long sprawling track that takes in glitchy electronics, noise-lite textures, trance guitar work and atmospheric soundtrack music effects among other things. At times you fear the music might travel down some very dangerous paths menaced by black devils itching for a chance to ride the sounds and drones out of the loudspeakers or headphones and into your ears and head. Second track “Bug Humanity” is no less adventurous, daring to tread through some very low-key sections of darkness where a heavy atmosphere reigns or inhuman distorted voices make pronouncements in the far distance. A monster percussion rhythm, its edges fuzzed over with acid noise, thumps through the track. Later moments include some very odd and deranged robot voices in an apparent emptiness and some bombastic industrial metal knees-up bashing.

The music enters underground metal territory proper with “She Male Vegetation” which is dominated by a repeating series of harsh textured drone guitar riffs over a shambolic drum pattern. As the album continues into the fourth track, we enter a strange universe of beings that are partly organic and partly mechanical living among environments that are at once beautifully space ambient and terrifyingly machine-like in their natural rhythms. Increasingly the record acquires a more interior and precious feel, as if it were retreating into some hallowed space where only a privileged few may be allowed to enter: it could be a shrine to unseen gods or it could be the cell of a deranged prisoner. A kind of tinny chainsaw black metal whine forms the backbone of the music over which drills whine, a melodic country-western guitar melody plays and a sorrowful clarinet-like sound follows the chaos that gradually develops. The album’s conclusion is rather ambiguous: unity with the universe is achieved in a way that suggests a return to the cosmic womb and therefore death promises a slim chance of rebirth, leading perhaps to another tortuous journey back to the darkness of the womb, risking one’s identity and sanity again. (The CD sleeve offers a prose piece which listeners can follow to make sense of the music and what it’s aiming at – but I can’t promise that the prose makes any more sense than the music does.)

The recording does feature a dry atmosphere typical of those Ride for Revenge albums I’ve heard which is no surprise as the fellow behind RfR and WoM plays a big role in creating and assembling together such a wide disparity of musical elements and genres. For all its musical expanses, the album is actually well ordered rather than full-on blatant and intense. Though it can be heavy-going in parts due to a heavy black atmosphere, the music is often very minimal and every bit of sound, no matter how far back in the distance it seems to be, can be discerned. Quite a lot of polish and care must have been applied here even though the music has its demented moments.

For fans of the bands whose members participated in creating this work of dark twisted soundscapes with a mystical message, this album is a must-have that showcases a more varied and experimental side of their heroes.

Teban Slide Art: triple set that casts parallels between Nazi Germany and current times

M.B., Teban Slide Art (The Come Organisation Files), Menstrual Recordings, 3 x CD LH40 (2013)

“M.B.” refers to Maurizio Bianchi, the noted experimentalist in industrial / musique concrete / noise whose career extends back to the late 1970s / early 1980s, the period in which he made these early recordings which have now been re-released, some of them without his consent, it must be said. The recordings were originally issued by the Come Organisation label under the name Leibstandarte SS MB and included speeches and addresses made by Adolf Hitler in his role as leader of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945.

I’ll be frank: these recordings can be long and tedious to listen to. The tracks appear to have been released to profit from his current period of hibernation away from music creation and performance, and the attention his activities have attracted over the years. Those of us who aren’t British probably wonder at the obsession that British contemporary culture often expresses with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, especially when we compare the extent of British encounters, military and non-military, with the Nazis with those of other European countries unfortunate enough to have borne the brunt of the Nazi German onslaught in terms of lives lost and the lasting political, social and economic effects. In those countries, particularly Russia and Ukraine where the most brutal and vicious conflicts between the Nazis and Soviets were fought and many of the most hideous atrocities were committed by both sides against each other’s forces and on civilians, these effects continue even today, nearly 70 years after Nazi Germany surrendered to Allied forces, in subtle ways: among other things, I have seen on the Internet a suggestion that in 1954, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev bypassed proper government procedures and made a gift of Crimea by decree to Ukraine to push people there away from supporting the Ukrainian ultra-nationalist and notorious Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera and his followers who were still active (with contacts in Britain and West Germany) during the 1950s. (And of course even after his assassination in 1959 Bandera still has his acolytes in Ukraine as recent events in that country have so far revealed.) Then again, we are not – and many if not most British people also are not – always aware of the extent to which fascism gained a strong foothold among some sectors of society in Britain during the 1930s (Oswald Mosley notwithstanding); perhaps as a loosely held set of often contradictory beliefs fascism never really went away in that country.

I am not necessarily counting the people who made and / or compiled these recordings among those sectors: over the past 50+ years, Nazi symbols and recordings have been used in popular and youth culture as symbols and expressions of rebellion and dissent from mainstream discourse which itself has often been authoritarian and repressive. The folks at Come Organisation themselves would be aware of the extent to which Nazi iconography was being pilfered by musicians in the punk, new wave and industrial scenes at the time and it’s possible that they released these recordings to call attention to the fact that the Nazis were real people who carried out or encouraged other people to commit the most heinous acts of violence, destruction and theft, physically, socially and culturally.

If you don’t know any German, the spoken voice recordings are painful to listen to in their unrelenting haranguing and monotony, and I suspect that if you do, you may find the content of them repetitive to the point of inducing mental numbness even if you’re not offended by it. The music is not always bad though on very long tracks (and Disc 1 “Triumph of the Will” especially – you can see the obvious reference to the Leni Riefenstahl documentary here – features very long pieces of over 20 minutes each in length) it can be unrelieved monotony playing a secondary role to the spoken word recordings. A better time can be had with Disc 2 “Weltanschauung” where the music assumes a more expansive mood and is slightly atmospheric; on tracks like “Endoradiation”, the droning sounds and undulant rhythms supply all the menace needed and require no additional enhancement. Parts of Disc 3 “Lebensraum” appear to draw parallels between Nazi German society and popular culture of the 1930s on the one hand and popular culture in the UK on the cusp of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s reign in the 1980s on the other, and suggest that the political, social and economic conditions that birthed Nazi Germany might also have existed then in Britain and other countries (and might do even today). The wavy yet stuttering music is relentless, absolutely inhuman and machine-like, yet it also possesses a seductive power that can mesmerise listeners. Recordings of speeches given by other leading lights in the Nazi German regime that include rapturous audience applause given at regular intervals throughout the speeches have the same call-and-response litany structures that religious ceremonies and large music festivals and concerts employ.

Listeners are at liberty to pick and choose which tracks they prefer to hear: Discs 2 and 3 are the easiest on the ears. Those listeners of a generation for which Nazi Germany seems as temporally distant as the empire established by Alexander the Great over 2,000 years ago might find the spoken voice recordings tiresome and puzzling, and probably need to know some 20th century history and an understanding of how Nazi German symbols and propaganda have been appropriated by contemporary Western culture and art as symbols of modern rebellion.

The Kryptokontur Factor

Here’s the third CD just prised out of the P16.D4 Passagen (MONOTYPE RECORDS mono58) box set. The story of Nichts Niemand Nirgends Nie is quite involved; originally released as a double album in 1986, it was a collaboration between P16.D4 and S.B.O.T.H.I., the latter of course being Achim Wollscheid who was the co-founder with Ralf Wehowsky of the important and seminal Selektion Records label. On this CD, we’re only getting the tracks from that double LP which were directly attributable to P16.D4, a selection process which thus excludes those tracks explicitly “composed” by Achim. However, since Achim transformed a lot of the original sounds on P16.D4’s studio tracks, it’s not always crystal clear where one man’s input leaves off and another begins. This amorphous and rather “blendy” quality seems to have permeated the whole of this record of 1985 recordings; somewhere, we seem to have lost a few rough surfaces and sharp edges, and the music / sound is generally less “prickly” than the two cactus plants I have impaled my ears on previously. However, the radical and rugged experimentation that characterises P16.D4 is clearly still in evidence. There are lots of conventional musical instruments being played, apparently – the track notes list them meticulously – but virtually nothing sounds familiar to our ears, bar the occasional moment of church organ which makes its way into the strange sonic minefield of ‘Virtuelle Altare’. Everything else – piano, double bass, synths, guitars, piano – has somehow been refashioned into various concoctions of evil, swamp-like gloop, pulsating with the life of a million teeming insects from Hell, and glowing with an eerie incandescence which we can only attribute to nuclear irradiation. One swallow brings the Spring, or at least a fatal ingestion of Plutonium.

As to “concept” and “realisation” of the music, RLW and Stefan E. Schmidt are responsible for the lion’s share of the studio tracks, although Roger Schönauer gets a credit on the highly memorable ‘My Last Words Will Be…’, a somewhat bleakified and ambiguous journey through a slow-moving fog, a yellow fog that thickens and coagulates the more we press on. It’s from the original side C of the double LP, so it’s live recordings – this particular project deploying pre-recorded tapes, played by two separate groups of participants. The use of the swimming pool as an instrument here is commendable. You could use ‘My Last Words Will Be…’ to induce a cheese-infested dream that would alarm any one of Windsor McCay’s Rarebit Fiends. This process-heavy album culminates in the only way it can – by recycling elements from the rest of the double LP in an orgy of reprocessing, and accordingly we get the pre-programmed chaos of ‘The Other Cellophane Upsurge’, where in just 8 and a half minutes RLW and Schmidt manage to make even the most solid of everyday objects appear doubtful, ambiguous and unfamiliar. If they’d been architects, they would have constructed a block of flats with disappearing floors that drop the dwellers to their doom in a pit full of bones, and ceilings that flip over 180 degrees to release a colony of live tarantulas into the room. NNNN – as RLW refers to it, for convenience – is superficially easier on the ears than the fragmented and reassembled rubble we’ve heard so far in the box, yet that sense of safety is a complete illusion. The record is in fact made even more subversive by dint of its smooth corners and gently sloping pathways; it’s a dose of strychnine concealed inside a chewy caramel. The CD release includes a 1991 piece, ‘Ephemeral March of the Dead Monks’, which was selected because it reused some of the live material from the original 1985 project. It’s coming from the same dark corner of the brain as ‘My Last Words Will Be…’, may even have some of the same content, yet is more extreme, spooked-out and ghastly than its brother, an intensified re-experiencing of that dream, only with a stronger brand of cheese.

CD1 reviewed here
CD2 reviewed here

A Worm is At Work

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

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

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

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

Upset Twilight

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From 12 March 2013, fabulous cassette in a mostly black package from the swell Fang Bomb label of Goteborg. As you may know Fang Bomb is a personal favourite of mine for some reason. Maybe we share the same sense of the macabre. If they were a printing or engraving workshop, they would etch their lines deep and use a black ink of the deepest hue, resulting in evil tomes which, when opened, would give the reader forbidden glimpses of an ashen world and induce nuclear-holocaust strength headaches. Imaginary Forces is the London composer Anthoney J. Hart, who comes to us from a background shaped by 1990s drum and bass music, and whose Begotten (FB022) is a very rich piece of complex dark ambient music, with multiple layers – “environmental field recordings, the chug of train on rail, percussive chatters, insect song and whipping wind” all fed into its creation, selon thequietus.com. The fact that he was approached by Anthony Di Franco for a collaboration may also help you to situate his work. That and the fact that Begotten is based on his own personal obsession with a movie of the same name. I expect he’s referring to the 1990 experimental horror film made by E. Elias Merhige, which looks like it could be a mind-searing experience. Ironically, Hart spent a lot of money getting hold of a copy of this deleted item, but for the non-squeamish among you it can be viewed on YouTube now. The music of Imaginary Forces is compelling, not quite as “bleak” as much emptied-out dronery I’ve heard in this area, where the creators insist that we accept and participate in their sense of futility, and endure the aural equivalent of sub-zero temperatures that numb the brain. By contrast, Begotten gives us a lot to listen to and in its subtle layering often appears to be spinning in four directions at once, its elements shimmering and shuffling apart like decrepit tree limbs slowly withering away before our eyes. Yet it also retains an insistent and mesmerising power. Hart seems to have found a way to suffuse and disguise his pulsations so that they have the same impact as an entire week spent in a club with high-volume dance music, yet remain almost imperceptible in the mix.

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Here’s CD 2 of the mammoth P16.D4 box set Passagen (MONOTYPE RECORDS mono58) which we broached some weeks ago. For Distruct, the trio of Ralf Wehowsky, Roger Schönauer and Ewald Weber were joined by Stefan Schmidt, Gerd Neumann, Thomas Memmler and Peter Lambert, for these 1982-1984 recordings which were released by Selektion on LP in 1985. RLW had been given the idea – by Harry C. Poole of Smegma – to do a remote collaboration; Poole proposed to send across tapes from America for P16.D4 to complete, without having to meet up. Apparently the American found the idea of a thousand-mile distance extremely appealing. This kind of thing is fairly commonplace nowadays, especially since file-sharing has been made easier by the internet, but I suppose it was an innovative and bold step in the early 1980s. Although Smegma don’t actually appear on the finished item, RLW went ahead with the idea anyway, and with his characteristic productiveness organised collaborations with numerous international names from the “noise” and “industrial” music areas. Consequently, you can hear contributions from Bladder Flask, DDAA, De Fabriek, The Haters, Merzbow, Nocturnal Emissions, Achim Wollschied and Nurse With Wound, plus many others. Even an anonymous submission was used for this ambitious postal project; on ‘Aufmarsch, Heimlich’ you can hear a choir from a tape sent to the band from somewhere in Eastern Europe. Said tape has of course been severely mangled by RLW’s unusual treatments and deep slices as he wields the scissors of truth. Impossible to summarise the intense and wild music on this release – every track seems to exhibit a different approach or inhabit a new sound-world – but one thing they all have in common is that they produce very disjointed, broken and difficult listens. The rubble and bracken of unpleasant noise is jumbled and rehacked every which way, resulting in an extremely uncomfortable ride. Truly radical deconstruction techniques at work here. While admirable and important, it’s not much fun to listen to with its general air of nihilism and misery, although I found some respite from the grimness on ‘Les Honteuses Alliances’, whose success might be attributable to the fact that it’s a multiple collaboration: Merzbow, Bladder Flask, Nocturnal Emissions and Phil Johnson all supplied elements to the work, although once again it’s mostly Wehowsky putting the materials into the frame. A very clever and elaborate frame it is too, one made of robust wooden struts and held together with dovetail joints and screws. The CD release includes a couple of related bonus tracks, which have only been available previously as part of a subscription-only Vinyl On Demand box set.

None but the Brave

French artiste Romain Perrot endeared himself to us many years ago with the first thing I heard from him under his Vomir alias, even if that vocal-heavy item turned out to be quite untypical of the rest of the Vomir output (and I use the word advisedly) – he was proud of being the self-appointed king of “Harsh Noise Wall”, and spewed out multiple instances of small-run CDRs and cassettes where the atrocious and unlistenable electronic roar would not vary by one iota for its entire duration, often an hour at a time. I mention this so you’ll have some idea why this new item is from him is quite a departure 1. Credited to Roro Perrot et son héroroïne, it’s titled ta bouche de fraise me rend si sauvage (DECIMATION SOCIALE NO NUMBER), and it’s a devastating example of what he appears to call “Ultra-Shit Folk”, as if he’s just invented an entire micro-genre of his own and elected himself its sole practitioner. On it, he plays about 14 short tracks – some of them less than a minute in length – which consist of him frantically strumming an acoustic or semi-acoustic guitar, and gasping out his nauseating, incomprehensible vocals in a completely lunatic way. New depths of dreariness and incoherence are reached, in a matter of minutes; he plays, and he growls, like a wild beast. Some of the tracks are “enhanced” with spastic synth solos and sporadic drum beats, but the essential minimal and highly unpredictable framework prevails, making it hard for the listener to gain much traction. Exhibiting a complete disregard for production values of any sort, Roro Perrot appears to have simply turned on the recording device and let rip, holding true to the ideals and methods of the bedroom cassette genius of the 1980s. No structure, no tunes, no guitar chords, no songs – you get the feeling this material is just crawling out of his body, almost against his will. To finally confirm his rejection of all conventional values, the cover itself is a hilarious parody of “rock album” covers, as Roro poses with a long-haired leather-jacketed beauty in frankly rather unprepossessing surroundings and the pair of them fail to project much in the way of convincing “rock” moodiness in their mannered poses or bored-looking facial expressions. In short this is a fabulous work of unmitigated, natural genius which I totally recommend. If you want to experience the work of a real “outsider”, stop dithering over those Jandek LPs and walk this way.

Superb short album of very English songs from The Sound Of Antler, whose Them Bones (HARK RECORDINGS HARK!015) was sent to us 4th April 2013. It’s the solo work of Joceline Colvert from Hamilton Yarns, and she sings and plays everything (keyboards, accordion, field recordings). I’ve noticed before how Hamilton Yarns members deliberately sing in an unaffected English accent, and I find it very endearing; it’s the case here too; it’s not that I’m a Marxist A.L. Lloyd type who thinks that everything went wrong after World War II, but it seems that 99% of bands in the UK default to singing in an American accent, quite often without even being aware of it. Colvert not only sounds unmistakeably English, but at times she has the directness and honesty of Robert Wyatt at his finest, praise which I wouldn’t want to dish out lightly. There’s also a lot of richness and symbolism in her narrative-heavy lyrics, with an underlying theme which addresses the sorrows and loneliness of old age. Colvert has served time in hospital wards and interviewed senior citizens, including apparently the great Vera Lynn whom she spoke to about Remembrance Day. Undoubtedly what she learned from these experiences has fed into these songs, and she exhibits a degree of compassion and poetic musing about old age that we haven’t heard since Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends album. Lastly, there’s the largely acoustic musical backdrop with its warmth, small sounds, and slightly soft-focus perspective, all lending a bitter-sweet patina to this highly nostalgic album. At times, it’s like she’s singing forgotten sea shanties from a distant world, updated with opaque Leonard Cohen-styled lyrics. Impressively, she found the time to put this album together in between her day job, studying for her degree, and working for Resonance FM as an engineer. Beautiful record, which I recommend.

Now for a thick slab of underground improvised clay-like mummery from the Glasgow-based duo With Lumps. Fritz Welch is the American percussionist who has made his home in that Scots endroit, Neil Davidson the guitarist from the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra. They are doing lots of music up there in various permutations and bands, and we’ve noted their clotted non-musical activity in the past with a mixture of relish and sheer dread. Lumps For Lovin’ (NEVER COME ASHORE NCACD1), with its sickening green and red cover, is a release from April 2013 and has been greeted in these quarters with much the same hesitancy. Listening to this inspired fulsome gunk is, for me, always akin to being coated with heavy clay-like substances, such as mud, lumpy porridge, old emulsion paint, or clay. This impression may be connected to the slow, obstinate movements made by the music – it’s as though we’re trying to drag an old decrepit mule out of its stable, the rope around its neck is fraying and about to break, and we lack any inducements to further its progress, such as carrots or bales of hay. Four tracks here of interminable, clunky scraping and grinding, produced by means of guitars, amplifiers, and percussion objects. Three of them are studio works, while the fourth was recorded live at a church in Manchester, lasts for nearly 30 minutes, and is called ‘National Bird of England’. The duo often seem to work at this leaden pace, which may at first seem a bit infuriating for some listeners, but there’s much to be said for their unhurried approach, which allows a thorough and comprehensive exploration of each sound, each theme, each new development. Be sure to check out the Never Come Ashore micro-label for further examples of insanely marginal improvised noise like this.

  1. It’s not a complete departure if we count 2011’s Application À Aphistemi, on which he played a 12-string guitar.

BlakesianWilliamness: a heady noise psychedelic journey of inner space

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Holism Gaea, BlakesianWilliamness, Heart & Crossbone, CDR-HCB042 (2013)

As its title suggests, this debut album by new duo Holism Gaea is inspired by the British poet / artist William Blake, in particular his early personal philosophy as expressed in his work “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”. I must admit I know very little about Blake and have not read that work but I hazard that some of its ideas on dualism in art and human existence prefigure Friedrich Nietzsche’s later concept of the development of art and culture in Western societies, revolving around two polarities of Apollonian order, structure and authoritarianism on the one hand, and Dionysian spontaneity, inspiration and creativity on the other. To be honest, I get very little sense of Blake’s early dualistic worldview from this recording and I think your enjoyment of the music need not depend on knowing any of the writer’s corpus.

The music is a mix of noise, tribal and space ambient, and post-industrial. “Antares Fall” leads off with a sinister beat against a weird spitting and hissing space-travel noise / electronica background. Cold sculptured tone effects form a repeating melodic motif while wubbly electronic sounds erupt and bubble continuously. The track develops into a lumbering majestic opus of mesmeric spooky voodoo rhythms and beats, runaway electronic thrills and flips, and echoes of a distant alien god looking over its cosmic creation and voicing more commands as galaxies and nebulae spring into being and fly out to the farthest reaches of the universe. Altogether this is a most strange and impressive opus that could well stand on its own as it draws in listeners and takes them on a trip through huge vistas of space at the speed of light. “But into the Wine Presses” is a more mysterious piece of spiralling noise and frothing texture over which sharp pin-prick tones dance lightly. “Ah! Sunflower” is a wonderful track of both early shuddering noise storm, eerie UFO lift-off effects and warm gentle cosmic-space tone ambience over which the Blake poem of the same name is recited.

More deliriously cosmic trance music, highly immersive to the point where it might be overwhelming and suffocating, follows: “The Argument” especially is a dark and sinister psychedelic mindfuck of wobbling rubber drone and abrasive texture crunch and shuffle. A robot voice detracts from the music which is forced to assume a more passive role while the vocals drone on but whenever the speaking stops, the noises and tones are able to fly as sky-high or as deep in the bowels of Sheol as they like. The album concludes with another epic space voyage that takes listeners deeper into realms and sub-realms of the extended universe as its branches stretch ever further into infinity. The sounds and textures quickly overflow the limits of restraint and boil into exaggerated clouds of noise chaos. The structure collapses and cannibalises itself, staving off final implosion where it can. But Dark Nemesis claims her own eventually.

This is quite heady music, highly absorbing especially when the singing or chanting ends and allows the instrumentals to launch themselves as far into the firmament of the heavens as they can. At times though some passages of music can become a bit comical possibly because the musicians let themselves go with the music and it flows or falls into excess. A lot of the music here is not exactly original; most parts will sound familiar to people already steeped in epic space-ambient psychedelia and it seems as if Blake’s early philosophy provides a convenient excuse for an all-embracing space-voyage soundtrack. But if you simply want music to transport you away into inner space, there are few recordings that can match this one for its consistency.

Great Invisible Crashing

We’ve got this six-CD set Passagen (MONOTYPE RECORDS mono58) which is a “career-spanning” box of the undefinable work of the German combo P16.D4. It’s been lurking in the cannisters for many a month, but today I’m just going to try and look at the first CD. It’s called Kühe in 1/2 Trauer and was (sort of) the first proper LP put out by the team of Ralf Wehowsky, Roger Schönauer and Ewald Weber. This album wasn’t released until 1984, but the band was started in 1980 and had been steadily recording all that time. Even then Ralf (or RLW) was terrifyingly prolific, as his solo career will demonstrate. In fact this album contains a jumble of live and studio recordings mostly made between 1982 and 1983, and often we’ll find two recordings from different dates or actions, spliced together to make an unholy lump of gnarled noise. Before the release of Kühe in 1/2 Trauer the band put out various single tracks as contributions to cassette compilations. Did I mention the band were originally called P.D.? Their Inweglos LP from 1980 under that name is a real gem. I haven’t got an original LP of course but the later CD reissue on Absurd Records. Real tasty minimal electronic rhythms and analogue blattery. I seem to recall it as somewhat more tuneful than the hateful, depressing noise I am enduring today. Which isn’t to say I’m not enjoying it or appreciating it. This music is staggeringly original and innovative, and while it’s possible to locate it in a chain of circumstance that links it to “industrial” music, P16.D4 indulged in none of the empty cliches associated with the genre, worked incredibly hard, and seem to have been aiming at a form of sound art that was much more profound, varied, subversive, and potentially dangerous.

You can be impressed just by reading the printed credits for each track, which indicate their radical approach to making music: lots of improvisation, lots of live electronics, extensive use of tape loops, some conventional instrumentation, and much that isn’t – like the milk churn on ‘Paris, Morgue’ or the use of baking tray and washing machine elsewhere. Even when guitars, drums or keyboards are used, they’re played very weirdly. It’s not even made clear who was doing what; the main credit is “Concept”, which I assume means that one of the three devised the framework in which the noise would operate itself, and while RLW gets the lion’s share of these credits, a lot of the cuts are evenly divided among the team and (without reading the history in the booklet) I have no doubt that the group operated in a very democratic or libertarian manner. None of this prepares you for the insane and troubling sounds that reach your ears, composed with scant regard for conventional logic and following an exciting, absurdist path, especially in the matter of tape edits and juxtapositions of recordings. Take a simple three-minute song like ‘Rückplötzlich (Scheitze)’ – it clashes a group improvisation played with organ, drums and guitar with some unsettling tapes of screams, voices, laughing and radio noise; in less than three minutes presenting an unhinged and distorted view of society’s follies that George Grosz would’ve applauded mightily. The musical instruments are played with a ferocious amateurish attack, making a nonsense of “musicianship”, yet producing the correct degree of angry, hideous malevolence and seething discontent. At this juncture it’s hard to escape making comparisons between P16.D4 and This Heat, but P16.D4 seemed to have gone even further; it’s as though the whole band were at the level of Gareth Williams, the musically-untrained trickster in the This Heat pack. P16.D4 may also share some of Charles Hayward’s troubling ideas about the impossibility of communication; at one point in his life, Hayward despaired of human beings ever communicating anything, and it informed just about every song he wrote for that band. P16.D4 seem to take this state of affairs as a given, and are constantly striving to find expression in the most desolate and God-forsaken zones possible. They speak in desperate, blocked growls and fowl buzzing tones, defying anyone to make their way past this palpable membrane of alienation. Powerful!

Another abiding impression I have from today’s spin is one of broken-ness, a deliberate attempt to realise a broken and fragmented music; the music itself is shapeless, abrasive and lumpy. That milk churn image just won’t go away for me; the music itself might as well have been made by a churning process, and that’s reflected in the semi-mechanical churn of the sound. And it usually produces a sour coagulated whey, music that is virtually indigestible by the human system. Tracks are contrived to begin and end in the middle of nowhere, resisting conventional form, often breaking off just at the point where you think you might want to hear more of it. It’s hard to fathom the sensations of “beautiful ugliness” which this music induces. We’re left stranded in a world governed by absurd and incomprehensible rules; not much fun to listen to the unholy noise they make, but it’s even worse when it stops. “Funny, the more you eat the worse it gets,” said Estragon in Waiting for Godot. “With me it’s the opposite…I get used to the muck as I go along,” replied Vladimir in Beckett’s play.

Besides the entire Kühe in 1/2 Trauer album, this CD also contains the three Masse Mensch tracks from 1982; these were released on a Selektion LP of this title that year. I think it was the first vinyl release on this label, which Ralf operated with Achim Wollscheid. These items are no less chilling than the preceding work, but they also have a starkness in their realisation, often comprising not much more than a ghastly bass guitar riff with a layer of angst-ridden guitar noise growling on top. On one track, tapes of crowds shouting are manipulated to nightmarish proportions. On another, a saxophone and piano are added to the minimal set-up, but no sense of joy is imparted by this quasi-jazz instrumentation, and a very forlorn conversation ensues. The sound of the saxophone alone – a ghostly inhuman and echoing wail – will induce an instant melancholy, which can only be cured by the suicide’s noose. Most grotesque of all is the five-minute ‘Halbmensch’ where the treated voice stutters, moans and wails over a fragmented backdrop of tapes produced from kitchen utensils, along with the desultory minimal bass-guitar murmurations. The voice is struggling to make itself understood through a mouthful of dough. This stunning aural portrait of a “half man” is for me a particular highlight of the set, a penetrating observation on the human condition that imparts many uncomfortable truths.

I’m looking forward to digging into the other five CDs, and reading more from the booklet with its history, photographs and critical essays; a fitting showcase for this massively significant band.

BOT Commands

023

APO33
BOT: Compositions Continuums des Machines
FRANCE FIBRR RECORDS fibrr011 CD (2013)

There always seems to be those out there who shamelessly choose to flout convention. When presented with review CDs like Compositions Continuums des Machines, I always like to know just who exactly is responsible for the sonorities on offer, and, dear reader, in this case, all is not as it seems. After looking at the rather impenetrable crib sheet a few times, I now realise that I just might have the measure of things. Y’see it transpires that BOT isn’t the name of the artist or collective, but is the name of a series of listening posts that are active in the Nantes, St. Nazaire and St. Sebastian districts of France. And… scanning the sleeve’s small print can reveal that Julien Ottavi, Romain Papion, Jenny Pickett and Jean-Francois Rolez (aka APO33) are the obscured/blurry figures behind the processing of audio data for this rather unusual entry in the field recordings canon. And rather fine it is too.

Coming from Fibrr Records (“a copyleft label since 2000″), this 48-minute plunge into certain aspects of the livelong day is a busy collage of bell-tones, nature sounds, urban bustle and shortwave transmissions. A certain composerly ear hovers over the proceedings too, as colour, shade, presence and at times, industrially-voiced dynamics are all in full evidence. I’m reminded of a couple of late seventies U.K. bedroom experimentalists, where a Dada-informed imprint of Bizarro world laced with a warped sense of humour were integral and telling ingredients. So…advance Bladder Flask and early N.W.W. offshoot, Hastings of Malawi. Their non-linear scalpel-meets-tape reel constructions seem to have some foundation within the BOT universe. That same “seat of your pants” approach seems very much an attribute of shadowy foursome. Perhaps it’s the toot of factory (?) klaxons that’s pitched alongside a plethora of birdsong? The latter sound source having distant echoes of Jim Fassett’s extraordinary Symphony of the Birds album of yore (reissued on EM Records of Japan). Though in this case, this avian broadside soon appears to take on a shrill mechanized edge, much like the massed chirpage of a roomful of nineteenth century caged automata. Bless their tiny metal beaks…