Tagged: noise

Terror Tales

arrtw326

Sixteen Fingers is one of the more edgy and anxious artists on LF Records, itself a home to the more extreme and angst-ridden forms of underground electronic and digital music. We last heard from Sixteen Fingers with their self-titled record released around 2011, a fierce and coruscating blast of anger and frustration. For Glooms Vol. 1 (LF034), the anger seems to have dissipated somewhat, and we’re left with a the sound of a sorrowful soul who appears resigned to their fate; eight episodes of unremitting misery, in the form of very rich dark ambient cloudstorms, or attenuated electrical malfunction-buzz that grates on the pelt of every flea-ridden mutt who dares to pass by the home of Sixteen Fingers. Some of the tracks use spoken word elements, which might be broadcasts captured from the radio – the one on Track 01 does have the sneering patrician tones of an English politician – but all content has been drained away, the voice rendered unintelligible through distortion. This accurately reflects a very acute state of mental desperation, when things in the outside world start to mean nothing to you, and become mere ghosts or empty projections. Track 07 is a particularly outstanding achievement, an indescribable blend of vague and faintly-perceptible sounds, all as malnourished as a 1930s shoeless tramp living in a nameless derelict site, and set to a backdrop of chilling waily drone music. Nightmarish…I do kind of miss the agitation and anger of previous release, but this creator is truly one of a kind. Every single sound here conveys a vivid sense of abject despair and futility, and the album more than lives up to its title. Looks like Vol. 2 is already out…maybe it will include a free razor blade with every copy.

arrtw325

Seems a long while since we received any “product” from Ian Watson, the talented hollow-eyed mystic from Cardiff who runs Phantomhead Recordings, is a musician in his own right, and an exceptional draughtsman capable of producing quite twisted images of supernatural horror, death and decay with his gnarled and spiny brush or his unholy collage technique. His cover for the Bear Man cassette (circa 2011) is an image I personally cherish in the art gallery I keep inside my head. Here he be with 12 untitled tracks on the compilation album Terrestrial Gone Tropic With Some Pretty Fancy Animals (LF032), each of which is a unique venture into his own highly warped “take” on dark ambient and drone music. How is he creating this near-organic mulch, this non-artificial mush made only from the choicest sourced ingredients? He studiously avoids over-familiar sounds and I would imagine that almost everything we hear is hand-crafted by him in some way, hopefully using home-made instruments concocted from a tin of pineapple chunks and an Ever-Ready battery from 1969. Through layers of vague sonic distortion, evil tales of swamp life and inhuman creatures are spun; indeed every track itself seems to have been dredged from the heart of the swamp, squishing about covered in mud and weeds, and it slithers towards us with diabolical intent. I’d as leif face up to “Brown Jenkin” for 25 mins. as endure any one of these supernatural groan-a-thons. No titles, and in fact no contextual information, but apparently these grotesque smogged-up droners have surfaced before, mostly on various very small editions from Watson’s own label. A highly effective and original “spooker” to be sure, it scores 15 points on the “murkeroo” scale, which is my scientific method of applying a metric to music of this ilk.

arrtw323

TX Ogre has named all the tracks on his Brrr Blobs (LF036) after popular ice cream lollies of the 1970s, including Jelly Terror, Melting Monsters, Pineapple Mivvi, and Jack of Diamonds. The latter I remember well for its crunchy biscuit and chocolate coating around its vaguely coffee-flavoured filling. This mini-CDR is highly percussive – either produced with an old broken drum machine, samples of percussion, a live drum kit recorded in a metal garage, or some combination of all the above, producing the impression of several boxes of Sheffield steel cutlery being thrown down a spiral staircase at speed. TX Ogre embellishes his angry, walloping attacks with errant jets of squiggly synth doodles and electronic belches, and the total effect is of wild crazy energy firing off every which way. TX Ogre is the sculptor and free musician Henry Collins, who also performs / records as Shitmat and a host of other humourous aliases, including Evil Roast Beef Administrator.

arrtw324

The visual artist and noise-maker Robert Ridley-Shackleton is a new name to me, but I see he’s already released a number of CDRs and cassettes since 2012, including some interesting splits, on his own Hissing Frames label – many of them with zanoid titles that persuade me he’s not lacking a sense of absurdity. His Ovencleaner (LF033) mini CDR may be short in length, but it’s dense and detailed in attack – 20 minutes of very imaginative and layered textured-processo racket wielding a sonic Brillo pad for your hide that you’ll be glad you submitted to. Or will you? While it’s not an unpleasant harsh noise blasterthon, there’s still enough basic grind going on here to produce a vague sense of unease, as if the downtown bus we boarded in good faith some moments ago is now heading on a one-way course towards an abattoir’s conveyor belt. Or the reassuring drone from the propeller engines of this old-fashioned passenger aircraft is now turning to the sinister as the pilot directs us into the mouth of an enormous ogre which we mistook for the side of a mountain. Compelling in an evil goblinesque way…and the washed-out cover artworks won’t provide much in the way of clues. I wonder if all of his paintings are this way…cloaking as much as they show, hiding strange realities behind painterly swathes of dishevelled and distressed canvas? If I had the time, I would immerse myself in more of these disorienting episodes from Robert Ridley-Shackleton, fearsome character though he be.

All the above from 12 November 2013.

Agog and Magog

The American sound artist Zan Hoffman impressed us greatly when we heard just one tape of his called Zanstones Fur Berlin, released by Staaltape and noted here. I now learn that another one of his many guises and projects was Krynge, described as a “mutli-collaborative international supergroup” which he masterminded in the years 1987-88, and the CD Spd Kld Spd Rcr (ATTENUATION CIRCUIT ACR 1012) represents the first time that a Krynge cassette has been reissued in digital form. I would guess that Zan produced it by layering and reprocessing contributions from the other home-taping collaborators – Agog, Minoy, and Swinebolt 45 – who were presumably part of the Krynge cabal, although it’s described here simply as “reimagining”. Much to Zan’s credit, he did it all with a four-track recorder, and I agree whole-heartedly with the sentiment that declares he is using the technology as a compositional tool. He succeeds in creating a delirious whirl of sonic information, absolutely teeming with life and vitality and mad ideas rushing past at speeds of mach number. Amazingly, it seems that much of the original source material is recordings of contorted speech, where the speakers themselves – presumably Agog and company – are doing everything possible to distort their own voices, without the aid of technology. They are simply speaking in a weird way. Without exaggeration, it’s fair to state that Hoffman unleashes the hidden inner power that is inherent in everyday events, re-presenting the world as an incredible powerhouse of seething energy. While this raging force may at first at seem a storm of chaos and randomness, you should try and calm down and listen out for the loops and repeated elements which will serve as anchors or index points. And though it may also seem to present a scary view of an unfamiliar world, it’s not an outright evil sound – Zan is not on a mission to terrify us or destroy normality, rather perhaps to reinvigorate our sense of the breathtaking beauty of humanity, of the creation. In that regard I would liken him to Aki Onda, even though they probably use quite different methods, since they seem to share common ground on the way that magnetic tape can not only capture amazing things, but then make them seem even more amazing through distortion and playback. Dreams made into the concrete…since we last wrote about Hoffman and his ZH27 label, it appears he has now made his catalogue freely available here.

Norwegian noisester Gaute Granli is the guitarist and vocalist in Freddy The Dyke, a duo which we mentioned recently in our round-up of Drid Machine tapes, but he’s also made a solo tape called Velkommen Til Forus (SKUSSMAAL SKUMC01) in an edition of 50 copies, which he kindly sent us on 26 November 2013. Where Freddy The Dyke by and large aim for a wholesome and joyful sound experience, solo Granli is much more fractured and inchoate by comparison, with a sense of lumpy ugliness informing each turgid groan. He moans vocally and wordlessly into an echo chamber with sinister intent; his guitar throws out shapeless strums and aimless riffs like a baboon casting coconuts from a tree; and percussion effects stumble blindly about the room like a hooded goblin. When a synth or other electronic keyboard joins in the fun, it’s as though the machine has been possessed by the spirit of Jerry Lewis, or other zany knockabout comedian. This release may not be much more than a chunk of studio doodling and pottering on behalf of Granli, but it’s spontaneous, good fun, and not weighed down with any grim aspects we’d associate with portentous industrial noise. Nor does Granli let any nonsensical concerns about editing, production values or retakes spoil his larking about. As such, we like it fine.

Another fine item from Arturas Bumšteinas, already noted earlier this year with his concept album themed on “Sleep”. For Meubles (CRÓNICA 081-2013), he’s enlisted a small ensemble of players from Poland and elsewhere, called them the Works and Days Ensemble, and commissioned them to perform the three suites of music. Meubles is a concept album about “furniture” 1. By way of underpinning the project theme, each musician was asked the poignant question “If music could be furniture, which piece of furniture it would be?” Their replies – all very imaginative, individual and personal in their interpretation of this vague and open-ended question – result in an almost surrealist catalogue of objects, including a wine cabinet, a stove, a bed, a window, and (my personal favourite) a Billy bookcase from Ikea. It’s my guess that these responses have been the basis for the score of the Meubles suite. I’m all in favour of using unconventional methods to fuel the generation of music. If Stockhausen could write prose instructions for his players for Aus Den Sieben Tagen, then why can’t Bumšteinas get his players to concentrate on a piece of furniture to help them focus on the music production? As the Ensemble perform their (semi-improvised?) parts, the instruments – brass, strings, piano, guitars, percussion and organ – all wrap around each other with the intimacy of a fitted carpet lying snugly in place in a well-appointed room. There are no patterns or melodies that I can discern, but the continual music does hang together in a very harmonious and pleasing manner; no hideous discordant moments await the listener. Slow and syrupy it be, but certainly not formless drone. It’s nice to hear such concord and agreement between people, and it all conveys the pleasant sense of stability that you might associate with a good armchair. From November 2013.

  1. The astute reader will of course be aware of Erik Satie’s furniture music, where the idea was to provide background music for specific events and occasions in salon society, such as drinking tea or playing croquet. Satie’s work is commonly taken, perhaps wrongly, to be the forerunner of ambient music. No doubt Bumšteinas is aware of this too, but he makes no explicit connection to Satie with this composition. Nor to Bill Nelson’s Red Noise, I might add.

Shadows and Light

00covers309

Last noted the Norwegian free-noise-rock-a-boodle combo Staer with their self-titled release on Discorporate Records, and here they are again with another aggressive blast of bass-heavy riffing and attack-mode drumming on Daughters (HORSE ARM RECORDS HAR CD10). The threesome of Kristoffer Riis, Markus Hagen and Thore Warland are joined by sax player Kjetil Möster for these 2012 live-to-tape studio sessions, and it’s a joyously black-toned blast of unkempt splurginess which spills out from their collective blowhole, where feedback, reverb units and bass drums tend to rule the roost, and the keynote emotion is a hearty embrace of despair and pain. Look elsewhere if you want remorseless stoner or grindcore sludge played by formulaic rules; Staer are much more “artistic”, and have a strong concern with using their musical limbs to perform clever dynamics and acrobatics, in the form of stop-start rhythms and illogical guitar stabs. They also like to control their excessive noise bursts, causing them to jump like fish on a line. It takes some nerve on their part to title one of their tunes after a line from a favourite Bowie song (‘Flashing Teeth of Brass’), but I’ll overlook this. A good avant-stomper for your elephant boots, and packaged in a silkscreened box thing. A vinyl edition is also available from Gaffer Records.

Lemures 083-2013-b

A curious work is Lemuria (CRÓNICA 083-2013), a collaboration between the sound artist Enrico Coniglio from Venice and the photographer and field recordist Giovanni Lami of Ravenna, here working as the duo Lemures. The record is a puzzling mix of field recordings and minimalist drones, and you know how commonplace such methods are these days. So perhaps on one level this is nothing very special, and yet the scant aural information they give us is presented in such a very deliberate order that it does implant strange impressions in the brain. It’s as though we’re just hearing the traces of an event that has long since passed, or are being given a handful of unconnected clues to solve a complex detective story. An episode of CSI in sound; aural forensics.

ikeda-cvr-1113

Ryoji Ikeda for me bestrode the late 1990s like a colossus, except that he did it entirely in digital sound rather than standing bodily over the entrance to a major port with his mighty legs astride. His Matrix album for the Touch label was one of the highlights of punchy minimal precision in electronic music for the year 2000, and if he’d been left to design the world’s millennial fireworks exhibitions, he’d have done everything with advanced virtual reality techniques, setting off Roman Candles of the mind that would have amazed half of Europe with their neatly-arranged orange patterns bursting across the night sky. Well, it’s probably fair to say he’s found his spiritual home on the Raster-Noton label, and his Supercodex (RASTER-NOTON R-N 150) is the latest item for that label – the last one we heard was Test Pattern in 2008, and it so happens Supercodex is the final part of a trilogy which began in 2005 with Dataplex. Apparently all the music here is constructed from cannibalised versions of his own earlier works, plus other art installation pieces thrown into that cauldron, and portions of his current Superimposition project too. When other musicians do this kind of “melting pot” rendition of their own recent history, we can usually expect a sticky gumbo of over-processed nonsense, but Ikeda avoids the problems that can arise from pointless statement and restatement, and somehow manages to pare everything about his work back to the fundamentals. The essence of his work, already ultra-minimal to begin with, is recast here in a form that’s even more clean, white, and precise. If he was a chef in a fish restaurant, I’m confident that he could fillet a large bluefish in 20 seconds, using sharp stainless steel knives and laser beams, and then repeat the process to produce the fillet of a fillet. At the end of this culinary experiment, there might not be much food on your plate in terms of cubic volume, but it’d be full of compacted goodness – one bite of it would nourish you for 48 hours. There’s also some concern to explore the sound of data and the data of sound, which probably means he’s capable of rearranging the parameters of a sound file using a hexadecimal editor. If any of the above is true, or makes any sense, then Supercodex lives up its name – a super-music, a species of futuristic hyper-music built out of its own source code.

A perfect and absolute blank

003

Conceptual process piece of the month is a cassette tape (LOVE THE CHAOS LTC016) by _blank, released on the Spanish experimental electronica label lovethechaos. Every so often we hear from a sound artist who has hit on the idea of “playing” non-audio files in the computer; it seems to me I have encountered many instances of it. For instance, Keith Moliné did it with Andy Diagram on Ley, and Yann Novak did it on Presence at the Torrance Art Museum. In this instance, _blank has taken 186 photographs of cassette tapes, saved them in the JPG format, and then exported this to the RAW format – which happens to be compatible with sound editing and image edition applications. When we spin the tape, we’re “hearing” image data. What emerges is flat and pointless process noise; no shape, no pattern, and resembling an irritating form of white noise interference. To be honest, it sounds very boring indeed.

The work is bolstered by a short art history essay on the theory that “colour, light and sound are intrinsically related”, as originally set forth in the works of Pythagoras and Aristotle. We are invited to see parallels in the work of Renaissance scientists (Newton) and painters (Arcimboldo), before jumping ahead to 20th century experiments in the area of avant-garde cinema by Lis Rhodes and Guy Sherwin; also Daphne Oram and her Oramics system, and inevitably the UPIC tool developed by Xenakis. Not unrelated, I suppose, would be the GenDyn program which Russell Haswell and Florian Hecker have experimented.

I’m quite prepared to believe that colour, light and sound are indeed intrinsically related. But I also doubt that this theory can be demonstrated by this random recasting of computer data. By migrating image data into another format which might be playable on another digital media rendition tool, you aren’t experimenting with the actual physics of colour or sound (which is what Newton understood); you’re merely tweaking file format specifications, and swapping data between players. It says more about the limitations of computers than anything. If you succeed in creating halfway-interesting sound art this way, I would suggest it’s more by luck than design. Still, _blank is unperturbed; these experiments are also finding their way into other avenues now, including cinema, with their “ongoing research on the boundaries between film and video.” The cassette itself is issued in a cover where all printed words (except the name of the creator) have been struck through, as though we had hold of a heavily-redacted top secret document from the CIA archives.

A Gruesome Twosome

IMG151

We Will Fail
Verstörung
POLAND MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO074 CD (2014)

Woozy, downtempo beats that gravitate towards a William Gibson future, where potential for redemption or wrongdoing stand on equal footing but remain unrealised thanks to a perpetual disinclination towards dramatic change. Which is not to say the music is unambitious: With cracked palm outstretched, We Will Fail (aka Polish ‘ex-visual performer’ and ‘amateur musician’ Aleksandra Grünholz) demonstrates commendable patience as he rolls his rhythms in subtle atmospherics, one that puts him in the illustrious company of Raime, Senking and Andy Stott, whose penchant for the hiss-overlaid and ponderous somehow manage to elevate their craft above perilous monotony. Individual titles are forsaken for fourteen numbered ‘Verstörung’ or ‘disturbances’, a subordination of identity to the overarching statement that persistence is king, which means yes, a little pugilism aside there’s little stylistic variation beyond dubby/doomy techno pulses and smoggy interludes, but minimalistic components deliver maximum depth, for which we’ve every reason to be grateful. Grünholz is also responsible for all of We Will Fail’s exquisite sleeves, though his illustration style suggests a more naturalistic concern than the doom and gloom pulsations we actually hear.

IMG136

Olekranon
danaus
USA INAM RECORDS 115 CD (2013)

Misanthropic snatches of gnarled, growling, gothed-up noise rock, feedback with whiffs of dark wave/industrial techno, though I’m happy to report that nothing merits the common comparison to Russell Haswell (of which I am often guilty). Wolf Eyes and Prurient (hear the flayed atmosphere of ‘Crooked Wheel’) don’t escape mention though, sharing Olekranon’s affection for the raw and spontaneous first take, as well as the odd incursion of dreary drone. Unashamedly gloomy is it for the duration, marching in a mechanised and somewhat grudging manner like black metal teens that have to get up for college. There is however reasonable stylistic variation afoot, possibly reflecting the breadth of Olekranon’s CDR corpus of the past few years, from lead-footed electronica to a decent approximation of ambient black metal anthem in ‘Marionette’ and its anaemic herald, ‘Severed’, which are still but pale approximations of Darkspace’s majestic black whoosh. I’d not be surprised in fact to learn that Danaus was compiled from these years; the lack of cohesion between diverging tracks being the telltale. Still, while there’s a fair measure of the forgettable in between eventful tracks, few moments are really wasted: pieces do end abruptly, which can be pretty annoying, but such lack of ceremony here suggests a pragmatic path clearing for successors. In other words, Danaus pretty much does what it’s supposed to, right down to the nightfall drone in closer, ‘Libertine’. Noise aficionados might do well to keep clear, but the CD could serve to entice curious newcomers into the dark fold.

Unsolved Puzzles

IMG140

Various
Opensound
FRANCE FIBRR RECORDS FIBRR:013 CD

My last encounter with the France’s fine Fibrr label was their exemplary ‘scene’ survey, Nantes Is Noise: an adventurous collection of electroacoustic composition and sound art that inhabits the harsher end of the audio scale, which I’ve turned to many a time when the ears have needed clearing. The good news is that they’ve seen fit to lavish us with a similar collection: one that tends more towards collage, concrete and Olympic stretches of control room hum, with generally lower ‘noise’ levels. Among the few returners we find the ‘French electro-acoustic anarcho-poet’ (thanks Ed) and man-about-town Julien Ottavi, who’s on a mission to terrify and bewilder eardrums from a variety of line-ups, including a recent turn with K.K. Null. His neutral ‘Composition for Oscillators’ is an agreeable respite from the more deliberate activity that surrounds it, while similar success is found in the spatial tectonics of Farahnez Hatam’s ‘In The Margin Of Moments’ and the magnified electron-flow of J Milo Taylor’s ‘Spectral Traces’. Elsewhere we find a restless superfluity of ‘by-numbers’ activity, which may prompt similar restlessness over the skip button.

Beyond a mention in the news section of the Fibrr site, there’s precious little online information on this collection, though it would appear to be ideologically motivated: title and label rhetoric championing a spirit of inclusive, international collaboration with shared resources and creativity; more ‘copyleft’ than ‘copyright’ as it were. Participants include non-profit organisations from Norway, Portugal, Spain, the UK and (I think) Germany, which might lead one to anticipate a great stylistic diversity, but alas the reality is far more underwhelming; possibly by dint of expectation, but more because the spirit of sharing has brought about a pervasive homogeneity: the pan-Europeanism commemorated by over-similar cut-up conversations in Spanish, German or whatever, dunked in processed recordings of distorted doings that sound like car doors slamming in a burning warehouse. All too rare are tracks like Goodgod’s ‘Das Unheimliche’: a nerve-shredding plunge into the strummed innards of a piano flanked by war drums and power electronics, which is truer kin to the dark n’dirty denizens of Nantes Is Noise, and to which I would still direct you if you’re well-acquainted with such music as this.

IMG135

Cédric Dambrain
Subjective Slave
BELGIUM ROUGHLEDGE ROLE001CD (2013)

From searing to contemplative: ten blasts of digital noise to add nuance to as many settings, even if it all resembles an unsolved Rubik’s Cube. Cédric Dambrain’s pithy portraiture in noise-based/electroacoustic composition has the potential to alarm, soothe or both, is curt to a point and sudden in transition from one scene to another. Opener ‘Splace Genesis’ – a volcanic shower that really is as exhilarating as it can get – makes as clear a case as any while setting the standard for the aural alternation between hot and cold that follows; followed as it is by the radiant twinkle of ‘Ee Duct Con’. At the same time, it introduces one of the two chief weaknesses of this collection: the abrupt transitions that festoon the album’s first half are needlessly jarring, as though Dambrain couldn’t settle on a more suitable opening/closing strategy. Secondly, the tracks are mostly far too short for pure chewing satisfaction: averaging three to five minutes apiece, which probably won’t appease hardened noise fans; a matter exacerbated by those sudden stops. Overlook all this though and you’ll have ample fodder for a thought-cancelling, five-minute meditation or two.

Ruidos Sombrías

“I want to send you some more new records”, so said an email I recently received from Miguel A. García. He’s making so many lately that he’s afraid of sending out duplicates. I asked him to send me pictures rather than titles – it’s easier for me to identify them that way. In the meantime I need to take up the slack and look at this bundle-maroo which he sent on 22 November 2013, which is chock-full of grim noises. One of them, Asto Ilunno, was already sent to us by Nick Hoffman and was reviewed here.

Sohorna (OBS RD#1) is a split with Oier Iruretagoiena and is #1 in a series called Radical Demos, subtitled “places, objects, electronics”. Yes, field recordings, electronic music, miked-up objects, the mixing desk…these are the commonplace tools of your young sound artists these days. García uses them like pickaxes and delves deep into the coal mine of ultra-processed sound…coming up with four stern lumps of pitch-black seething and grumbling. You’ll be lost in the abstraction of it all within moments. Iruretagoiena has just one cut, the 26-minute title track, and it’s one of those horrifying onslaughts that jangles the nerve-endings and induces unbearable tension and fear in the listener, with no remorse. Thank your lucky stars only 100 copies of this exist. Score so far: 5 points for the steady droning sound, 50 points for the cruelty.

On icgs el (NADAcdr nada 14), García changes identity and slips on his xedh guise (I assume it involves wearing a wrestling mask, much like El Santo or Mil Mascaras) to join forces with his old sparring warrior buddy noish (Oscar Martin) and the fab Lali Barrière. Lali must one of the few women experimenters who is not only well respected in the areas of improv and computer music in Spain, but can also square up to these two macho bastards in the arena, probably matching them drink for drink in the cantina. Close-miked objects, hacked software, feedback and “raw electronics” are the basic components of these two 20-minute slow-motion punchfests. By and large, a less “grim” experience for your ears than Sohorna above, but that’s a relative term. I like the fact that every moment of the aural canvas is filled with activity of some sort – fizzing, burbling and writhing about like a rag-tag assembly of bizarre wildlife cavorting about in an unknown landscape. On the first track, that is; the second piece has more in the way of minimalist tones and desiccated longeurs inserted into the continuum, at which point the music loses some of its momentum for me. Score: 10 points for the “witches brew” impressions this conveys, plus 5 additional points for the ego-less collaborative dimension.

Hiztun! (ATTENUATION CIRCUIT ACM 1008) is quite a grabber…from the start, we know we’re back on more cerebral hard-core experimentation turf as it’s published by our conceptual German friends Attenuation Circuit, and as such comes packaged in one of those sandwich cartons which you could also use for storing half a piece of Ryvita. This one is an all-radiophonic piece, created using radios, and intended for broadcast on the online experimental radio station, Hots!. García does it brilliantly, bringing a portable radio set for use as a receiver / FM tuner but also as an additional sound-source in his murmuring electric broth, and a third time when he plays back voice tapes through the speaker (and re-records them, I might add). The spirit of the work is “hacking” into radio technology, a strategy which I think we can all approve of as that was the basis for much 20th-century experimentation and discovery in sound – just ask Theremin, Stockhausen, Keith Rowe or Hugh Davies. Hiztun! is an exciting and dynamic listen with its remarkable textures and contrasts, alien voices drifting in from the ether with their foreign-language barks, stray music phrases likewise wandering in, and moments of high tension when you can hear the creator flicking his switches live on air. Dramatic! Score for this gem: 80 points for innovative manipulation of the crackling ether, 20 bonus points for its raw-edged exposure of the processes involved, plus an additional “silver antenna” award for radical reinvention in radiophonic art.

Lastly we have the untitled split tape (ABOS4-137) on A Beard Of Snails Records. The first side is Star Turbine, a duo whose name are new to me, but this Danish-Norwegian pair of improvisers are certainly stirring a fine pot of beans with these live recordings from London, Reading, and parts of mainland Europe. Poulsen and Bjerga have only been working as a team since about 2011-12, but have already made about six full-length albums of their own and have a couple of European tours etched in their passports. Unlike your average Joe Drone types, they have a unique approach to manipulating their broken electronics and cracked objects which produces compelling sensations; the music creates the hoped-for mesmerising experience, without having to resort to oversimplified methods like one-note drones. Plus they even seem to have a sense of humour, if I’m reading these interspersed electric doodles correctly. Hope to hear more from these two astral travellers in due course.

The flip shows our man García noising it up with Swiss creator Valentina Vuksic on Live At Radio Ruido, NYC. What we got here is three extracts from a lengthier performance recorded in a radio studio. Oddly enough I was expecting their side to be a brutal blast of heaviness that would beat Star Turbine into a cream puff, but in fact the Gar-Sic team are just edged out from the top spot due to a deficiency of engagement and innovation. There’s something slightly tentative about the duo’s work here, as though they’re padding around each other like two mismatched ocelots, and I appreciate that neither of them may have felt completely at home on the New York turf. Even so they belch out plenty of feedback, stuttering, hissing and buzzing noise combined in tasty textural layers, enough to satisfy the hungry anteater who’s in search of more tasty noise-ants which he can scoop up with his sticky tongue. Score for this tape: 100 points for latterday cosmic explorer vibes, but this is mostly due to Star Turbine’s input. Regrettably, García loses 10 credibility points for treading water on his side. The label gets a “best in show” ribbon for its preposterous name and for publishing this tape in a garish pink shell. Now that’s class!

Crossed Wires

epaugust215

Got more nice CDRs from the German label Attenuation Circuit from 28 November 2013. One of them is part of their Concert Series, and it’s an exceptionally fine volcanic eruption of delicious semi-dangerous noise performed by a noise “supergroup”, of sorts. The team of elektrojudas, Sustained Development, Kim Jong-Un and EXEDO call themselves Knark Esion, and their Disturbed Communication (ACC 1010) is a lovely wodge of dynamic, rough-edged and snaggletoothed improvised blat. How long have this quartet been working together? They’ve already got it down; no meaningless, wasteful feedback blather or egos getting in each other’s way. Instead, taut discipline and high-performing band dynamics are the watchwords. Through combined synths, electronics, drum beats, voice samples and guitars, frightening images of destruction of instantly evoked, including the usual hideous fantasies I am regularly haunted with – collapsing buildings, attacking helicopters, and a general brouhaha among the populace. As observed, I wouldn’t want you to think they’re just creating 25 minutes of formless howlage, which as a genre has been done to death since 1990 onwards in any case; instead, they leave enough space for all the broken pieces of the jigsaw (very large pieces, probably made of concrete or steel) to lock together effectively. Except that the jigsaw, when assembled, makes no sense whatsoever to eye or brain. There’s also enough space for the listener to insinuate self into gaps, providing that is you don’t mind near-misses from runaway trains, being scorched by blasts of flame, scathed by falling boulders, or nearly being munched to a pulp by large electronic crocodile teeth. I’m clutching at images of violence and broken-ness to convey some of the sense of this electrifying performance, but even so I can’t seem to encompass the grandeur and towering melancholy which its creators share, creators who start to assume the proportions of disaffected Pagan gods, tearing their own creations into pieces and howling into the cosmos as they do so, before retiring to some nameless Valhalla to drink red wine from the skulls of the fallen. The label notes allude to “the use of noise as a sabotage of cultural codes”, a subversive approach which is well and good, but I think Knark Esion are aiming for something far less cerebral than that, and this is the sort of powerful grotesquerie that really feeds the fires in your bones and your belly.

epaugust216

Colin Webster is a young improvising sax player based in London and who is a member of The Uniteam All Stars and also plays in Anthony Joseph and The Spasm Band; I think we last heard him on Languages, whooping it up with Mark Holub and Sheik Anorak (Stuart Marshall praised his guttural barking on those live Vortex recordings). His Antennae (GAFFER RECORDS GR039) cassette is more of a process-thing, where he’s keen to showcase a tight range of very minimal saxophone sounds where the stress is placed on his own breath and the “mechanical noises” that result from his operations on the sax, performed under the discipline of what I take to be very strict rules. To this end, he’s insisted on close-miked recordings to allow us to hear every nuance of the real-time creative endeavour he has undertaken. This is by no means the sort of “reduced improv” music which is excessively quiet and where event and drama is all but lacking; on the contrary, Webster not only has a pulse, but he scuttles about like an entire sackful of hopped-up cockroaches who have been spoonfed cocaine in large doses. But it’s also incredibly austere sound art, with a very limited range; recognisable musical notes are not really allowed here, and it’s as though he stifles them at birth rather than let them escape from the bell of his instrument. I admire the rigid control that is presumably required to do this, but Antennae remains a very tough listen, a true bowl of gruel for the lugs. I think he’s done something for Richard Sanderson’s label too, so watch this space for notice of that item. This arrived 18 October 2013.

The Drid Machine Turns You Up

So, in October 2013 I reviewed the cassette from Clifford Torus – a maniacal avalanche of raw avant-rock boulders from threepiece Horacio Pollard, Kjetil Brandsdal and Anders Hana, released on the label Drid Machine Records. That same month I received another copy, this time sent by Kjetil himself in Stavanger, plus five other goodies on this label. Note the sumptuous screen-printed covers, many with eyeball-rattling graphics and imagery. If you’d found tapes like this on the shelf of Rough Trade Ladbroke Grove in the late 1970s, they’d have been snapped up like hot lobsters. Let’s peruse said rotary ratmeisters from Norway and find what noises we can.

Noxagt live tape Kill Yr. Ego, Oslo 13.08.03. (DMR9) is a fine black bat of violence flying in the urban night. Noxagt have been Norway’s premier Underground power trio since about 2001 onwards, but all I’ve got to show for it personally is a seven-incher from 2000 which is in fact not the trio but an earlier incarnation of the “project” when it was simply a showcase for Brandsdal’s solo work. Boy, have I been missing out on some seriously poisonous rock. Here the trio is in fact a four-piece – drummer Lauritzen and Nils Erga on the viola joined by vocalist Anderson, and as title may indicate they’re keeping the spirit of Sonic Youth aflame on these 2003 recordings. Actually they’re a lot punchier, more compressed and determined than Sonic Youth have ever been, and on this blistering tape when you’re not being physically scorched by gasoline-fuelled feedback, you’ll be pounded repeatedly in the mush by the remorseless percussive attack of bass guitar and drumming. Once you get past a little audience banter at start of tape, it’s a non-stop assault course from then on. Commandos only for this ride, slugger, and be sure to bring your bulletproof helmet.

DMR8 is a split venture where Freddy The Dyke and Blodsprut cleave the cassette in twixt, doing so under a beautiful collage artwork created by Yasutoshi Yoshida. Visually it’s one of the finest realisations to have been printed in this genre (i.e. decapitated / mechanised heads with blood and veins laid bare). Freddy The Dyke is known to us for their solo LP which came out this June on Skussmaal, one track spun in these quarters though not yet reviewed; they’re a guitar and drum duo from Stavanger, name of Bendik Andersson and Gaute Granli. Here on ‘Hamenikashe’ and ‘Tambacounda’ they produce a hugely entertaining row where the frequent whoops of joy from their vocalising indicate the degree of illicit fun that was had by both during the sexed-up, sweaty, orgasmic session. Unlike MoHa!, the “other” Norwegian drum-and-guitar pairing 1, these grinning gorks don’t propose to pummel us alive with an excess of flatulent noise, and in fact most of the energy comes from the intense drumming and the singing rather than amplified blooey. A sort-of stripped-down version of Boredoms with elements of Lightning Bolt thrown in. I only regret the brevity of the tape, wanting more of this.

Speaking of MoHa!, here’s Anders Hana from that combo who is also one half of Blodsprut along with Patrick Petterson. Unashamed “grindcore” is their trade, which in this instance means very short tracks, devilish screaming, and drumming that defies belief with its intensity and speed. There may be a guitar or bass or synth in here too, but it’s so tightly locked-in to what the drummer is doing that I find it hard to credit a human being with “playing” an instrument at all. Blodsprut’s fiendish brand of grindcore takes the “genre” into another century and another dimension, seeming truly to have been spawned in Hades – at any rate, a very efficient and mechanised region of that diabolical kingdom. After this ultra-violent episode, you’ll be only too glad to return to Freddy The Dyke for their brand of “fun”.

Can’t find out much about Abuseman and his Greatest Hits (DMR10), but from cover blurb it suggests this puzzling collage of electronic tunes and samples was created at Banan Studios by Mr. Bernaise. Not that that’s very informative. Unlike what we’ve heard so far, this is not a tape of guitars and ferocious drumming, but instead a fun-loving concoction using synths, drum machines and studio ingenuity to produce highly entertaining instrumentals, with a high degree of professional polish in the production. The creators here play with pop-art “weird” sounds and 1960s exotica in a way that clearly indicates they have no small love of a certain strain of library music – anything by Piero Umilani from the 1970s probably floats their boat – and the only thing it shares with our remorseless rockist friends above is the same sort of driven quality, where some of the tunes proceed with an airless intensity that only well-programmed machines can deliver. High production values, sharp editing, upbeat tempos and melodic treats galore make this item the poppiest lollipop in today’s envelope…

Now we have my favourite marginal loon-boon of DIY weirdness and noise, the one and only Horacio Pollard. The cover of his Frequencies of Seizure (DMR11) first fries your lids with its ghastly dayglo orange tones, then opens out to reveal overprinted images of the Korg DD1, which I gather is one of the more coveted pieces of 1980s drum machine hardware. Pollard here offers two suites of non-stop electronic zaniness, characterised by looping rhythms, chugging beats, and scads of grotesque noises smeared into the mix like so much melted cheese scooped from the top of a five-day old pizza. Pollard as ever manages to be absurd, entertaining and repulsive all at the same time – it’s frequently hard to position yourself as a listener in the face of this much great / ridiculous music, and you won’t know whether to guffaw or groan. Who can resist the fun-charged pull of these primitive patterns and primitive, near-ugly sounds? Pollard is one of the few creative people on the globe (Romain Perrot is another) who understands that “good taste” is the very death of art, and as such he needs to be cherished like a Siberian Tiger, albeit one whose pelt is made from artificial dayglo blue fur.

Last item of the batch is second live tape by Noxagt, Checkpoint Charlie, Stavanger 08.03.03. (DMR7) This time the Sonic Youth quotations are again made explicit by opening track title ‘Thurmaston’, followed by further titles which do more than hint at rampant group sex and violent perversions – Norwegian style! The band is back to trio formation here, and I for one find this a lot more enjoyable without the shredded vocals of Anderson spitting on my parade. There’s more opportunity to savour the remarkable string work of Nils Erga with his melancholic, depressed viola that scrapes out the inner chambers of the heart as surely as David Cross did in 1973 King Crimson. Meanwhile Brandsdal and Jan Christian Lauritzen turn in exemplary performances of dynamic, heavified slugging with the bass and drums, and each song works away obsessively in its narrow frame. A very harrowing attack is the trademark of Noxagt on this performance; the trio won’t rest until the operation, one involving much blood-letting and painful organ replacement, is fully completed whatever the cost to themselves – and to the patient. Labour-intensive rock at its hardest; Noxagt never short-change their audience.

  1. I’m about half-right here; they use electronics as well, but you get the idea. Manic noise is the dominant characteristic.

Humanity Won’t Be Happy Until…

JULY200

Socialism is still alive and well and thriving in Italy, if this release from Sparkle In Grey is anything to go by – and so is Progressive Rock and (to some degree) an interest in Italian library music for TV and movies…their Thursday Evening (GREY SPARKLE GSCD007 / LIZARD LIZCD 0093/ OLD BICYCLE RECORDS OBR010 / SHOW ME YOUR WOUNDS PRODUCTIONS LESION # 0012) is a convincing set of highly melodic tunes played with conviction by the four-piece of Carozzi, Lupo, Krostopovic and Uggeri, who use a lot of guitars and old-style buzzy synths, and their work is helped by four guest musicians. They are fond of string arrangements and the warm violins and cellos add a poignant melancholic touch to many tunes, sustaining the overall mood of world-weary sadness and heartbreak. What they’re heartbroken about is most likely the state of the world today…they start off by discussing the stress of their working week, and it seems that Thursday Evening has special meaning to the band as it’s the only time they can all rehearse together. Then the discussion somehow widens into talk about ethics and resistance and change, at which point you see the cartoony coloured figures on the front cover are actually an angry mob hungry for reform.

That’s about as far as it goes for the Sparkle In Grey call for insurrection, as they emphasise they don’t like to use slogans any more, so there are no politicised lyrics on the album, and instead just a few samples of vox pops which bring home their points of view. One of them occurs at the start of track two, a heartfelt ecological plea attempting to reverse the trend of monopoly capitalism for the sake of Mother Earth. The subtler strategy has been to release the album with a free pebble (I didn’t get one, because it’s just a promo copy); the purchaser is invited to email the band with suggestions for what to do with the pebble, and you then get sent a free track in return. If you buy the “Riot Edition”, the pebble is hand-painted. I have no doubt that this latterday proggy band are familiar with ‘Take A Pebble’, the 1970 ballad by Emerson Lake & Palmer, but they probably want us to use the pebble as an instrument for effecting change in some way. By way of example, the central character on the cover holds his yellow pebble aloft in a defiant pose. Jointly released by four labels (two in Italy, two in Switzerland). Arrived 11 October 2013.

JULY201

From Saint Petersburg comes the latest instalment in Wozzeck‘s grand design, simply called Act 5 (INTONEMA int008); the idea has been that each release would be carefully numbered and planned in advance to emerge as significantly different from all the others in the series, so that where Act I was “aggressive free improvised noise”, Act 4 turned into an avant-garde doom metal project of great ferocity and power. Act 5 is a single piece and it lasts for precisely 40 minutes, although the sleeve notes indicate it’s actually in five separate parts. The five parts each last 40 minutes and have been layered together into a single concentrated composition. It reflects the band’s growing interest in “ordered and compositional music, but at the same time more conceptual and weird”…their current thinking has somehow allowed them to embrace the music of Evan Parker and Radu Malfatti and the texts of Samuel Beckett, so you know you’re in for something very extreme and very bleak. Ilia Belorukov, Mikhail Ershov and Alexey Zabelin are the composers and players, and it’s executed with synthesizers, laptops, the iPod touch, lots of percussion instruments (both real and virtual, I would expect), guitars, and multiple effects pedals. The work is built around percussion and electronics, played with an inhuman precision and near-brutal force; as the piece works through its layers, it’s like hearing large numbers of drum machines and sequencers battering us into submission. The march of the robots, all armed with hammers and industrial staple guns.

The work is through-composed to a manic degree, and the small amount of information I’ve gleaned from the thick booklet of notes, charts, staves and explanatory diagrams has been terrifying; it’s taking the idea of mathematical construction and serial composition about as far as it can go. The performance is manic, too; I started off thinking it was played by electric typewriters, and I ended up with images of shipworkers driving steel rivets into the hull of a ship, possessed by the sort of focus and intensity that only old Papa Joe could’ve inspired. I can tell you it’s music that starts out shocking, and grows gradually more berserk as it progresses, with additional layers of even more extreme and indigestible noise, sampled voices, and rhythms attempting to escape from the prison of the regimented grid, only to be dragged back into the frame again. The cover artworks restate this theme, the monochrome photos clearly showing how the tyranny of the grid operates in modern cities, through town planning, signs, railway stations, civic spaces, and even your living room; and the graphic design, cropping and framing these images with white borders, restates the grid motif yet again. In all, a most claustrophobic and overloaded listen, but like Sparkle In Grey above I expect that Belorukov and his team are urging us to take action against the lamentable condition of modern society. Will we win? When records like this exist, we stand a chance! From 7th October 2013.