Hati Zero Coma Zero
POLAND ZOHARUM ZOHAR 050-2 CD (2013)
Of a more kinetic ambience than recent reviewees Howlround and Lethe, the ritual percussion duo Hati (Rafal Iwanski and Darek Wojtas) nonetheless establishes an equally eerie atmosphere in their psychogeographically remote recordings. Heaven (or Hell) knows where they performed these pieces, but they sound as dark and distant as certain of Coil’s or perhaps Paysage d’Hiver while he’s trapped in a blizzard. Like their longish-term collaborator, Z’EV, Iwanski and Wojtas build their own percussion instruments from salvaged and recycled metal, a process that lends itself both to a genuine intimacy with the means of production, and to an evocation of the cycle of death and rebirth, from which this collection conceives its title. The CD compiles a 250-copy, 2005 CDR release, Zero Coma Zero and a 121-copy, 2006 mini CD, Recycled Magick Emissions, the latter title denoting an initially disconcerting association with Thelema, though initial fears of encountering gaudy, lo-fi goth-pop were quickly subsumed by muted delight at the lengthy trancelike vibrations beamed through my speakers from an imagined/imaginary Tibet.
With sparing elegance, Hati command voices of primordial grandeur from their extensive, metallic battery and arsenal of skeletally sourced wind instruments. In ‘Animal’, a slow, thumping rhythm is yawned through by a backmasked, extra-dimensional ice-cat, suggesting a candle-lit darkness from which issues a clattering voodoo-esque rhythm that accompanies the lively arrival of dance troupe of Goetian demons. Though just shy of seven minutes it is rather brief for my liking, but actually one of the longer tracks on the album. Presumably the pair believes that welcomes are not to be outstayed. Still, they go on to stir up showers of shimmering cymbals, thundering peals of bonging gongs, howling woodwinds and disquieting clangs, all laced with metallic grey reverb that seems to conjure up one eyeball-sucking vortex after another. The nine tracks that form Zero Coma Zero are generally more jarring and dynamically varied than the more meditative drones of Emissions, but the EP forms a soothing coda or a banishing ritual of sorts. It’s a slow burner for sure, but burn it does.
Martin Archer Blue Meat, Black Diesel & Engine Room Favourites
UK DISCUS 43CD (2013)
By pure chance, I’ve recently been getting a hefty fix of seventies Brit prog jazz – written on a large scale – courtesy of the two Mikes (Gibbs and WestBrook). So, picking up on meta-musician and label magnate Martin Archer‘s Blue Meat, Black Diesel & Engine Room Favourites gives a rare continuity to my, ahem, listening regime. The rock fusion complexities of Martin’s more recent projects (Orch. of the Upper Atmosphere, Combat Astronomy) have taken a back seat for a while as Blue Meat… dives d-e-e-p into the world of the AACM-influenced, multi-directional jazz blowout. A less travelled route for sure.
Reuniting after a one-off gig a couple of years previous, this twelve-strong aggregation – made up of violin, vibes, piano, double bass, four percussionists and a wind quartet – finds Martin opting for a cameo role; eschewing the more common concept of the bandleader being at the very epicentre of the action. A perfect democracy is created where all the instrumental voices get more than a fair crack ‘o’ the whip. Though a special gold star must be awarded to violinist Graham Clark, whose lyrical and, at times, edge-of-seat bowing skills really do take this three-parter into other dimensions. All roads though, seem to lead to the vast machinations of the title track (don’t they always?), where twitchy free form dialogue seamlessly coalesces into a recurring theme that comes on like a twenty-first century homage to Johnny Dankworth’s “African Waltz” single from 1961. Strange but true.
So here’s yet another triumph from the Yorkshire quadrant. I’d defy you to name another label that consistently delivers a more solid body of challenging work than the house of Discus. And…as to the titling, I still don’t get quite why there’s an allusion to Commander Cody & the Lost Planet Airmen’s Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Truckers Favourites album of yore…country swing certainly isn’t on this agenda. Answers on a postcard please.
Retro 2038 (EDITIONS MEGO 172) from COH is Ivan Pavlov’s immaculate album of futuristic disco-tech minimalism from the later 21st-century or some such…he probably did it using time-travel methods, while also harking back with a fond eye to retro and vintage modes of pulsation and boundage techno music, about which I am ill-informed…one would have to imagine a blueprint or schematic form of graphical score for a super-imaginary work that balances perfectly astride the entire Kraftwerk-Moroder axis, albeit reduced and stripped down so that only small, atomic-sized particles remain for digestion by the hungry biscuit-muncher. I was on safer ground with 2010’s IIRON from this guy, as that was more of a noisy guitar album in the area of intellectual heavy metal. But I can see this well-produced and finely polished set insinuating its way into my system, by dint of its smooth surfaces and inhumanly clean sounds, propelled by crisp and crunchy mini-beats. “Contains no instrument samples, patches or other additives”, is the proud boast of Pavlov as he brands his work “100% home-made computer sound”, almost as if it were a product from the supermarket. From May 2013.
Minimetal are a rum duo of Swiss guys who perform on stage as a guitar-and-drum duo, apparently wearing top hats and tuxedos while doing so. They’ve gotten into music from a background in the visual arts – design, sculpture and painting, so right away one can’t help but wonder if there’s a performance-art slant to their act. Apparently they formed in 1994, and were fans of Kyuss and other stoner / rock bands of that period…they only wrote 11 songs, and their entire act consists of repeating this slightly limited repertoire to anyone who will listen. On one level they might be accused of starting off as a parody and have now evolved to the point where they’re parodying themselves, but I think there’s likely to be more going on under the surface. The songs on this record are genuinely strong examples of mesmerising and compelling rock, but they’re also performed with a precision and attention to detail which you won’t find in the music of 90% of sloppy west coast slacker bands of the 1990s. Even the vocals are a spot-on impersonation of that throaty American grunty style of singing; you might have to pause to remind yourself that they’re actually European musicians. At no time though is there any sense that Minimetal are mocking the genre, its musicians, fans, or audiences, and Never Hang Around (SPEZIAL MATERIAL SM043CD023) is a thoroughly enjoyable listen of ultra-steady rock rhythms, precision-tooled riffing and relentless syncopation. I suppose the anomalous factor is that they perform this set in art galleries rather than rock venues, but there’s nothing especially odd about that – after all how many New Wave and noise bands have performed at London’s ICA? The top hat and tuxedo gimmick might be read as a nod in the direction of The Residents, but I think it’s more likely to be another carefully-planned gesture of irony; choosing costumes that are uncomfortable and well-groomed in order to position themselves as the diametric opposite of the grunge and stoner “style”, with its comfortable leisure wear, trainers and denims, and loose sweatshirts worn over t-shirts. From 7th May 2013.
Drums and guitar are utilised in a quite different mode by Glockenspiel on their Dupleix (BABEL LABEL BVOR12108) album. The duo of Adrian Dollemore and Steve d’Enton emerge from a background in UK improvisation, and are now cocooning out of that shell into a species of ambient beat-driven jazz drone, played with Dollemore’s diffused and effects-laden guitar and d’Enton’s rather languid beats. Not unpleasant, but much of the music is a bit too smooth and cosy for me, with the exception of ‘Bellville’ which has a lot more in the way of ragged edges, discordant notes, and fire in the guts; moments of ‘Fentanyl’ work in this way too, disrupting the otherwise rather polite tone of the album. One slight reservation one might express is how dated this approach to making music seems now; Dupleix could have been made in 1996, and its aspirations towards Sonic Youth, Krautrock, and ambient music feel a bit tired and unengaging. From 13 May 2013.
Mutatis Mobilis (ATTENUATION CIRCUIT ACR 1028) is a fine item by the great Freiband (i.e. Frans de Waard), sent to us in May 2013 from this Germal label who do package their droney output in some fine tactile plastic lunchboxes for our delectation. I suppose there are two main characteristics to note with Mutatis Mobilis – its interactiveness, and its extremely recycled nature. As to the interactive dimension, Frans has timed and edited these two suites of ultra-processed drone so that they last precisely the same length; the listener is invited to open both tracks on the computer, using a suitable audio program, so that they can be played back and listened to simultaneously. And even remixed in real time, if the user entertains such proclivities. I haven’t yet tried it myself, but I expect Audacity would do the job effectively, and it’s an open source program which I recommend. However, with this release De Waard is trying to move away from strictly “digital” methods and is harking back to the 1980s when TEAC four-track machines enabled the bold experimenter to do amazing things on cassette tapes with overdubs, mixage, and bouncing-down. Matter of fact the label also released this album as a cassette (15 copies only, though) in hopes that owners of original Portastudios could get stuck in. As to the recycling element, Mutatis Mobilis uses source material created by Freiband blended with other source material from the album Mutatis Mutandis by Aalfang mit Pferdekopf, which itself was created out of sound samples provided by Freiband. This collaborative “reprocess my stuff, dude” spirit seems to be one of the mainstays of 1980s experimentation (I was just mentioning it the other day in reference to P16.D4), and Freiband are clearly steeped in that work ethic. With the multiple configurations and reconfigurations of material that are taking place here, further compounded by the possibilities that we might introduce if we open up this CD in Audacity, Mutatis Mobilis is clearly a work that is never actually “completed” in the ordinary sense of the term. From 20 May 2013.
Miraculously, a CD reissue appeared about this time last year of Superstitions (MUSIC À LA COQUE COQ-05) by Nu Creative Methods, an item which originally came out on cassette in 1984 on ADN tapes. This is the team of Pierre Bastien and Bernard Pruvost, both unique creators in the field of jazz-inflected French experimental music of the 70s and 80s, and part of a pantheon which by rights ought to include Jac Berrocal and Pascal Comelade as twin deities at the top of a very high but relatively unknown totem pole, with Daniel Deshays cavorting at their feet, acting as the medicine man. I think this is the third item from the duo; they also made a release called Nu Jungle Dances in 1977, of which the vinyl original on Davantage is a pretty major rarity, likewise Le Marchand De Calicots which came out on the same label in 1981. Bastien has been building his own musical instruments pretty much as soon as he could climb out of his playpen, and is fairly well known for his mechanical orchestra, built using Meccano parts, which comprises instruments which can “play” themselves by means of rotary engines (often using turntables), producing a clunky but extremely endearing musical effect that is akin to a three-dimensional music box. I suppose Bruce Lacey would be the nearest UK equivalent to this delightful genius, if we’re looking for parallels…
Superstitions doesn’t feature that mechanical orchestra, but Bastien plays his own weirdified electric guitar on three tracks, and contributes cornet, double bass, and alarm clock elsewhere. Pruvost plays an astonishing array of percussive and stringed instruments, including a thumb piano, xylo drums, and a hunters harp lute. Most of his arsenal is derived from African and Eastern instruments, there’s a lot of tuned percussion, and the music created by Nu Creative Methods leans towards an ethnic sound, distorted and détourned in imaginative fashion by Westerners, even taking in some influence from free jazz or improvisation, and using a map provided by Harry Partch to assist as they navigate this uneven and bumpy terrain. Imagine Don Cherry’s Mu as remade by cartoon mice from an unseen and suppressed black-and-white animated film of the 1930s unearthed from the Gaumont Pathé archives. Conventional rhythms are non-existent, and each tune rattles along like a rustic hand-made cart passing over a rickety bamboo bridge; in like manner, melodies bypass all known modal scales and the notes tend to land where they may, as contented as a swarm of fat bees or horseflies settling on the backs on a herd of moving cattle. The music is never out to shock or startle us, but remains perpetually surprising and extremely engaging in a gentle, open-ended way; all the more impressive for being 90% acoustic; even the electric guitar is not heavily amplified, the better to let us hear and appreciate Bastien’s odd swoops and glissandi, his hands darting about like friendly spiders.
If you don’t fall in love with this music instantly, then scope the back cover image of the pair; how can you resist? Just the sight of Pruvost blowing his transverse horn buru and wearing a decorated jacket to die for ought to make you clasp this release to your warm bosom, not to mention the mouthwatering array of musical paraphernalia strewn across park benches. I wish I’d been picnicking there on that day! There’s also a photograph inside the CD cover which suggests Superstitions may have played some part in a dance theatre piece; Bastien has certainly been involved (with Pascal Comelade) in creating music for dance companies, but I have found no evidence to link these recordings to any specific performed work. There’s also artwork on the CD which resembles Bali shadow puppets, making a not-inappropriate visual link to gamelan music. This reissue includes a short bonus track, ‘Alpinic Railway’, a jaunty and jolly little throwaway piece which in both title and sound exactly recreates the feeling of being transported along a bumpy and mountainous route by old-fashioned, steam-driven, mechanical methods – much like the entire record. At a time when so-called civilisation is attempting to digitise just about everything that moves, what a refreshing treat to hear great acoustic music made using an understanding of old school Newtonian principles.
A very obscure release from 1979, copies of which were usually sold privately by the group itself, this is a charming set of mallet music made by a group of 14-year-old girls working on xylophones, glockenspiel, marimbas, vibraphones and timpani drums under the guidance of their percussion teacher and conductor. The group got its unusual name from the girls’ home suburb of Cults in the city of Aberdeen in northern Scotland. The only thing that may be a little sinister about these lasses is the hypnotic and sometimes dreamy music that pours forth from their hammers which the youngsters apply to their instruments with a light and skilful touch.
Although a lot of the music on this album can be very cartoony and kitsch, there are some very beguiling pieces worthy of a band with a name like Cults Percussion Ensemble. Early track “Baia” is a gorgeously languid glide through shimmering lush tropical forest and turquoise-blue waters gently lapping sandy crescent beaches hugging the edges of palm-fringed islands. The ambience enchants the senses with jewelled raindrops of sound. Diamond tones seduce the mind into floaty journeys over coral reefs in tropical waters. “Circles” is an urgent hyper-energetic spin through a twinkling kaleidoscope of fragile tones. Amazing that young teenage girls could play music with such a light airy touch and delicate feel that landscapes they would have little or no familiarity with could spring fully formed from their hands and mallets. “The Little Dancer” must surely be the last word in music describing the lonely and melancholy path taken by a lone unnamed protagonist in her life’s journey.
“Two Jubilee Pieces” comes close to abstract experimental darkness as the girls race up and down the bars or carefully trace the orbits of planets circling a lonely red dwarf star in an atmosphere of stark introspection. After the halfway point, the music goes down a cloyingly kitsch direction and this part of the album, emphasising technical virtuosity and playing to its audiences, is the least satisfying section for this listener. The album picks up and ends on a high note with “Polymers”, a soulful atmospheric piece that features singing.
For such an old recording, the sound quality is very good with very little hiss, and the instruments seem fairly soft in tone. While I wish that the selection of music in the album’s second half could have been better and could have demonstrated more of the girls’ feel for and sympathy with their material, as opposed to merely exploiting their technical skills and speed in playing popular sentimental tunes, I’m aware that the material chosen may be all that has survived of their work.
A tidbit of historical interest is that the ensemble includes the virtuoso percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie as a member.
Leo Ciesa Coat Of Arms: Music for Solo Drumset
USA SOUNDYARD 001 CD (2012)
There is a drawing of a literal ‘coat of arms’ on the front of the CD wallet. A piece of clothing made of arms and hands. A reference, for sure, to the agility of this drummer/composer, Leo Ciesa, whose movements are apparently sometimes too fast for the eye to follow whenever he is going for it behind his drum kit. The title and drawing are a play of words of course, and we read on the back that it “reflects his interest in seeing and hearing beyond the obvious”.
The agility and the ‘beyond the obvious” I directly believe when listening into his CD. The wallet explains that we are listening to Leo Ciesa “powerful, melodic, polyrhythmic, compositional and virtuosic drumming. (…) Twenty-two distinct solo-pieces on a basic traditional drumset without any overdubbing or layering.”
His skill is undoubtedly high and Ciesa showcases on this album all the different sides of solo drumming that spark his interest and passion. Pieces are short, with an average length of two minutes. One longer piece, “Sweet Butter”, sticks out. The rest of the CD feels like quick dips into the sea of sound that Ciesa is able to create, which leaves a listener like me rather frustrated at times. Often, the moment something interesting is established, the piece already stops. It makes the listening experience somewhat cerebral, as piece after piece, different ideas are showcased, but nothing is given the time to mystify, bewitch or enthuse the listener. The feeling is that of an album of ‘modern etudes for solo drumset’ rather than ‘music for solo drumset’ as the subtitle suggests. And this is a shame because the musical potential of what Leo Ciesa is offering us is high.
Drumming, even the contemporary type, can usually really lift me up and drive emotional vibes through my body and in Leo Ciesa’s virtuosic playing, there are in principle all the ingredients to do just that. But just as I start getting carried away in a beautifully frantic piece like “I’ve got an accent” (2:25) or the weird, slow and mystifying “Emotional Cream Sauce” (1:58) it – just stops!
Due to this, the only longer piece on the CD – “Sweet Butter” (6:40) – really feels like a relief. Finally we are allowed to dwell a little bit in a sea of rhythms, and get engulfed by the music.
All in all, it makes for a CD that seems to be recorded for fellow drummers, showcasing ideas. I am no percussionist myself, so I am not qualified to say something about what the album potentially could mean for that insiders community, but after checking his website, it seems that Ciesa indeed has this audience in mind. All tracks of the CD are described there in a technical fashion. For the aforementioned “Sweet Butter” (track 9): “This African rhythms inspired piece starts with a 5 way independence intro. Entering one by one, it begins with the right foot on the bass drum playing 2, followed by the left foot on the bass drum (double pedal) playing 3, then the left foot heel on the hi-hat playing 6, the right hand on the floor tom playing 4 and last, the left hand on the rack tom playing 8. (…)”
On the back of the wallet, we read: “Creativity, curiosity, emotionality and spontaneity characterize this iconoclastic and highly personal work”. I do believe immediately that this describes Leo Ciesa’s musicianship well, but to really experience it, my ears and soul would need a different type of album. I guess with 22 minutes per piece, stringing together different ideas and letting them cook for while so that I can taste them, rather than 22 pieces per CD where I am only allowed to look at the ingredients, the whole listening experience would be totally different.
Concerning the emotional and ‘highly personal’ side of Leo Ciesa’s musicianship, Coat of Arms only allows us a few glimpses. I would be curious to hear more of it. For the moment, Ciesa holds it off by offering us only very short, though undoubtedly exciting, dips into the waters of his solo drumming universe. I am looking forward to an album with much longer dives!
Yeah…Rock! Rhodri Davies finally discovers the power of heavy metal! For years this Welsh genius (improviser, composer, innovator) was known for producing extremely quiet and minimal music with his harp, often in the company of other minimal improvisers, although admittedly he was recently drawn to use of the ebow as a process whereby he could extend the resonating strings into a powerful, humming, ultra-long drone. As is well known we love his work here and some of his recent records (e.g. 2010′s Carliol with John Butcher) have been exemplary in terms of their stripped-down astringency, their frightening sense of purpose, their deep-frozen “core of ice” affect such that to listen was like being stabbed in the head with an icicle. Now on Wound Response (ALT.VINYL av038) he’s embracing amplification and distortion, and with these groovy cuts he’s turning himself into a Welsh avant-garde version of Jimmy Page or Leslie West, riffing away in gorgeous circular patterns with a strong sense of simple melodic drive, anchoring down his quicksilver inventions with a solid root note, and generally updating the blues / rock mode in his own shimmering image of palpitating atonal holydom. In fine this is the sort of harp record that Keiji Haino probably wishes he could have made, during that creative purple patch when he figured he was tough enough to play any instrument known to man and create a hideous racket on it, including the hurdy-gurdy which he memorably transformed into a shrieking wheezy monster of steel and wood. Now Haino must surrender his laurel wreath to a new victor.
Davies is getting this fab new sound from use of transducers, contact mics, a volume pedal, an overdrive unit and two amplifiers, the sort of setup that produced those side-long versions of ‘Dazed and Confused’ (although in fact a theremin was also used I believe). The volume pedal in particular is one of my personal favourite devices and isn’t used enough in my view, ever since Derek Bailey trod his well-brogued foot on one of them during his brief but memorable “electric” phase 1. Mostly of course the quality of the music here is produced not by means of electronic assistance, but through the sheer dazzling brilliance of Rhodri’s attack. Man, you could use these fingers to mow an entire field of wheat – he’s his own combine harvester! Speed and coruscating energy are the order of the day, at times making music that resembles the hammered dulcimer or autoharp of an acid-fried folk musician, perhaps named Barney Pembleton, on the most gloriously impossible folk-rock record that never existed and was in fact purposely suppressed by Elektra, Island and Transatlantic working in an unholy triumvirate of conspiracy to conceal dangerously good music from the crowd. Now through the gift of channelling the spirit of Barney Pembleton, Rhodri Davies has succeeded in unleashing that monster from the vaults. Lovely screenprinted card presentation on this beast, with drawings by the organist / composer Jean-Luc Guionnet, a Phil Begg recording, and title borrowed from the musician’s personal bookshelf of great literature. And it’s pressed in clear vinyl, which ought to be the clincher. From 26 October 2012, and a total goodie.
The Persian Version
Last heard from Yek Koo with her single Alone Together, now here she is with an entire album recorded for the same label called Love Song For The Dead C (EMERALD COCOON EC009). Yek Koo is Helga Fassonaki from Metal Rouge, working solo with guitar, percussion devices and her voice for this uncanny limited-edition vinyl item, released at the same time as her one-person show at the Human Resources gallery in LA. The order of the day on this highly discursive and ghostified dron-gronathon is a fairly skeletal approach to music-making, selecting bare twigs or bent wire sticks, remnants and rags of material and assembling them with the intuitive flair of a collage artist or maker of bricolage. These tunes unfold in real time, coming to life on the gallery wall rather than enduring a half-life as tracks etched into dead vinyl. There’s a gloriously delirious tone which the press notes describe as “drunkenly stumbling”, to account for the free-swimming odd mismatches of sound-generation here. The very body of each tune appears fragile, so brittle that it might shatter at any second, or so nebulous that you could disperse the entire album by turning on the fan. Yet Yek Koo’s music keeps on going, and the mysterious drug-like logic of her music is as potent as a spell from Circe burning evil incense blocks in her copper bowl.
Everything is suggestive of alienation and distance – distorted, weirdly-echoed effects, beautifully badly-played electric guitar to produce unearthly tones, an out-of-tune waily voice drifting in from a secret chamber – yet in the final analysis, it’s the most honest and intimate music you could hope for. It’s as though Fassonaki has found a completely instinctive way to outwit the subtleties of our own mind games and ego tricks, and bypass normal channels of communication to arrive at a very direct statement delivered from the heart. The label exhibits a certain pride in the “tradition of the great outsider sides of the early 90s”. Although “outsider” is becoming a commonplace term these days, the point is well made, and even the cover art with its simple pastedown wraparound is trying to forge a link with the 1990s “tradition”, if indeed there is one, when great underground music was packaged in master bags with paste-on covers (mainly for economic reasons) and released in near-secrecy. Of course this attentuated, formless wailing sound she makes isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but I personally am completely enchanted with this LP and it’s highly worthy of your attention. Received 22nd May 2012.
Best heard on the classic LP Domestic and Public Pieces. Let me know if you ever find a copy. ↩
Well here I am, back from travelling through Father Christmas’s black vortex and spat out the other side, not looking back like Orpheus – no way – stumbling into the light without a drachma to my name, just a number of scrawls on the back of some wrapping paper which I will endeavour to transcribe for you in the here and now being as it is such a beautiful February morning the sun is shining the birds are singing and it’s time to give a tip of the hat to some cult objects of the 21st century earth-dwellers that TSP has jiffy-bagged my way at some point or another. Call it a round-up, if you want. Phew! Let’s hope we can make it and still go and soak up some vitamins.
In no particular order, then:
Let’s start with Charlemagne Palestine and Z’EV with their double CD of collaborations and solos from last year, Rubhitbangklanghear Rubhitbangklangear (SUB ROSA SR340). Issued on Sub Rosa it is as you would expect a fine and pleasing production visually and tactilely, in the classic tradition of ‘professionally’ produced CDs, an art multiple for you to own and hold, and sometimes to hear. Which is what happens if you place one of the two shiny plastic discs in an appropriate playing device.
For this tag team match-up Charlemagne plays his carillon, hitting it and pedalling for all he’s worth, and Z’EV, as you might expect, also hits things – he also does some scraping, and maybe a little tickling. Funnily enough, although Charlemagne is playing tuned percussion, melodic content mostly comes from the tonalities of Z’EV’s percussion, padded basslines creeping from the lower depths and mournful wails from the guts of metals. The carillon plays like an extra-slow-motion version of Palestine’s strumming music, large and clanging like a clapper ringing in the empty Belgian sky, cycling through the limited intervals available continuously, although in an ambulatory rather than mechanical manner. Around these coded, elephantine dabbles, giant ripples, hints of bells ringing the hours in fresh air, Z’EV’s percussion dances, organic and low, like a bodily function, yielding and pulsing with the hidden energies of the lower centres. It’s a strange mix of the earthy and airy, the heavy and ponderous and the light. Students of the cabala may in fact be able to apprehend which precise path describes the experience evoked here, there are hints of pattern and systems in the combination of elements notes and parameters. Like an uncertain day, though, tentative clouds hinting at promise yet masking the sky, it doesn’t give up its secrets easily. Or perhaps its secrets are there for all to hear, merely registered on a more instinctive, bodily, level. Bells in the sky, elusive moods from a big sound. It should also be noted that on the second CD you get three solo pieces, one Charlemagne, two Z’EV, the second Z’EV one being the length of an album itself (40 minutes plus) and a thoroughgoing burrowing into rhythm and physically derived pulsation which is very useful.
Next, also on Sub Rosa, Zahava Seewald and Michaël Grébil – From My Mother’s House (SR349).
These artists, who delivered an instalment of John Zorn’s Radical Jewish Culture series as part of Zohara present here, using the works of various Hebrew and Jewish poets as a starting point, a text-heavy, implication-dense montage of thought and reflection, personal and cultural, on the Jewish diaspora, poetry, Yiddish song, Auschwitz, memory etc. elided and superimposed together similarly limpidly, although without the sheer ravishment of mysterious sound, as Luc Ferrari. In the way material is put together there is also a faint echo of say, Pousser’s concrete paeans to Liège. As with both of those composers there’s an interest in speech and the sound of the voice, here Zahava sings and recites, dialogues, monologues, poems. Other voices are layered or respond. There is a mix of other sound sources: domestic scenes, snatches of Middle Eastern radio and melancholy reflection; Singing, composition and improvisation all edited into a gliding digi-montage which in its overall form reminds more of a visual-less film than a piece of music as such. Subject matter and treatment may also recall literary works (inevitably perhaps given the poetry-based nature of the work) including the Sebald of Austerlitz, the Emigrants etc. Also certain mittel-European art films. Heimat perhaps? Buried in the booklet text is a dedication to Chris Marker, which provides some sort of context and hints as to where the artists are coming from and perhaps what they hope to achieve; in fact I found the whole thing best appreciated as an audio analogue to a film such as Sans Soleil, although I remember Sans Soleil, which admittedly I haven’t seen for quite some time, as being far more invigorating – aesthetically and imaginationally intoxicating. This does, however, share a wide-angle view of humanity and cultures, obviously adjusted for subject matter, temperament and concerns, with scenes and locations passing and cutting adroitly and transparently; furthermore, it is undoubtedly one whole text-sound-music essay rather than a musical album of discrete songs.
As to content it is historically aware, perhaps even saturated. The texts themselves (although not all of them) do not shy away from blood and flames and travesty, framed musically by the always pristine – perhaps even aloof – formalism derived from cinematic editing and to some degree musique concrète. There’s a sense of the dry bitter taste of ashes or Passover herbs and of lamentation, or in some sections the cloistered dryness of an unenjoyable university course or anonymous cultural institution.
The voice is ever present -mutter, murmer, mother. One work of the poet Rose Auslander in particular seems a keystone for the project, regarding as it does questions of a ‘mother tongue’ ‘father land’ and portraits of humanity and peoples; an excavation of the cultural and social through the personal. As to temperament I found the piece in parts rather heavy going, and sometimes cloyingly melancholy. There is certainly an air of introspection and inner inquiry on both a personal and a cultural level. Needless to say a lot of hard work has obviously gone into the work, but the overall tone, and a lurking sense of the didactic, does colour my response to it. Allowing for quirks of personal taste, however, it certainly lives up in some respects to its inspiration from Rose Auslander, reflecting her neologism ‘Menschmosaik’, i.e. a Mosaic of Humanity, presenting some sort of collage of the Jewish diaspora in Europe over the years, united by shared culture and history.
As a personal investigation and rapprochement through art with some weighty concerns it contains plenty to unpack and engage with, textually and formally, even if it doesn’t necessarily inflame the non-analytical levels of the imagination ( above and below) in the same ways as Charlemagne Palestine and Z’EV do 1. If I find it less than satisfying emotionally, it does however as a whole showcase an abundance of material, emblematic of a culture that may be unfamiliar, to engage with, or at least encounter. Which must have been one of the artists’ aims, and is surely a worthy one. Whether that makes for wholly successful art or not. Well, I’ll evade that thorny question and let you decide…
Unfortunately, I have at this point run out of steam in my rounding up. The round is only a hump, the circle is not unbroken, it has turned into a parabola, distending as it has from the concise to the wordy. Two items do not a round up make, I know, the good news though is I did manage to have a walk in the sunshine before it got dark – the vitamin D was excellent, since you ask – , the bad news is that I will endeavour to continue to review some of the pile I have here as soon as I can. Stand by for more words…
Z’EV, himself Jewish, has also recorded for Tzadik, who released the preceding instalment of Seewald and Grebil’s three part work; Charlemagne Palestine, as well as one of his middle names being Tzadik, is also Jewish. Z’EV’s lifelong investigations into Jewish mysticism and Palestine’s experience training as a cantor growing up in Brooklyn – he discusses in a recent interview the importance of Jewish sacred singing in his musical education – both feed into their work. Palestine and Z’EV draw from their cultural roots and knit them into their work in very different ways, synthesise many strands of their personal histories and passions sublimate them into powerful and individual musics that can still be viewed in some degrees as reflecting aspects of Jewish culture(s). ↩
Fuck me. This gave me a headache. On the cdr it sez something akin to ‘Numb Sock Rinse’ which I thought was a great noise name… but the writing style was so aberrant that I couldn’t be sure if that’s what it really said. After spending two whole days analysing the cover I eventually spotted a sticker emblazoned with the name ‘Dave Welsh’ in the tinniest writing imaginable. Well, that got me mad. Dave Welsh, what a shit name. Utter toss. Not my thing at all. If Someone called Welsh Dave’ tried to sell me his noise works I would BUY!BUY!BUY! and if someone called Dave Walsh tried to sell me his noiseworks I would spit in his EYE!EYE!EYE! – at one point I chucked this CD/R in me bin so profoundly upset was I. Me mate Andy visited later that day and fished the thing out. Andy makes a living from bin robbing and coffin bugging. He’s the finest in Burselm. He was intrigued to know why I was binning the works of Fritz Welch! FRITZ WELCH!!!! Here’s a tip Fritz, it’s an ageing population and we have nothing to live for, if you cause me massive eye-strain-again with DELIBERATELY TINY PRINT, ‘pon my turning the age of 70 I’m going to shoot up some PCP (or the future equivalent which will hopefully be much better) strap some home made explosives to me noggin and come a calling for you, YOU SMALL TYPE BASTARD. Anyway, it was nice to see Andy and hear all about what’s happening in the world of bins and coffins. I had a quick browse of Fritz’s web site where he bangs on no end about ‘Human Sacrifice’ which is all right by me, without human sacrifice how will the gods know we love them? Ahhh, now I see. Human Sacrifice = Numb sock Rinse. Everything always makes sense in the end. Somewhere on the website something says something about how Fritz has got an urge for ‘percussion and objects’ – I love percussion. I love objects. I had a little hope a little flower in my little heart that Fritz in his own tiny writing way was going to build the bridge that joined rockabilly and noise in perfect perfection. Also on his website it says he plays gigs in old Hair Dressing salons. I love hair dressers. Lorna’s Salon in Burselm is like a CHURCH. When I quit the noise game I’m going to become a barber. You can go to the worst, deprived hellhole on Earth and I can guarantee the one man doing good business and loved by all is the fucking barber. Honestly. I’ve done me research and it is an irrefutable FACT. I’ve gone all happy now. Apologies to Welsh Dave for the earlier threats. Oh shit. This isn’t rockabiily. You can file this under ‘sound poetry’ . It’s vocal yammer. Where’s the bloody percussion I was promised? If you wants some lazy ass journalism, I can put it thus if you like vocal theatrics ala Bllood Stereo, then you will surely like this. Me? I find a lot of this thing upsetting. When I see some youth gurning and wheezing and spitting out nonsense I get an urge to kick them straight in the face and send them back to the hell from which they came. I like Keith though. On this CDR he does one long 30+ mins thing with lots of silence. Silence to me is a track break. It says this track is over and another one is just around the corner. To me this is a CDR with 40+ tracks. Keith’s gargling and shouting is committed stuff. Clean sound but it’s not ineffectual. I can sit and listen to this and imagine a lost tribe somewhere, living under an all mighty rock (perhaps they live under ground?) and over the years they have heard a rumour of a rumour of a rumour of a rumour of something called ‘thrash metal’ and they are all fired up by it. With little idea of what is and no instruments at all they create a studio out of the skulls of beetles and set about creating and recording some thrash metal and then they get involved with the international tape trading scene. Am I being a twat? Possibly but no one cannot deny how nice it would be if 90′s noisecore fans / bands (7 Minutes of Nausea, GeroGeriGeGeGe and the like) gravitated to this kind of thing and anyway what could be more metal than ‘human sacrifice’ it’s a lot more metal than a numb sock rinse. Pardon me. There is percussion on this. It’s not just mud from the lungs, there is some noise and effected trickery…but not much, it doesn’t overpower. It’s all quite sparse. Sounds like it could be edited together from live recordings (or even one straight take) with either no overdubs or very minimal ones. It’s all very CONCISE. Compact. Well executed and deliberate. There’s nothing out of place here, there is no fat to trim. In short this is an evocative and enjoyable release – definitely one I’ll be coming back to for repeated listens.
Simon Balestrazzi sent us a copy of Hashima’s record from Italy – Simon may not actually appear on this 47-minute stretch of doom-laden rattling noise, but he is credited with the mastering and I venture to say that it’s a project laced with a palpable dose of the characteristic Balestrazzi traits, including that sense of blackened occultism and semi-magickal ceremony in the enactment of the mysterious sounds. Collapsing New Buildings (SANTOS PRODUCTIONS SNTSR08) echoes its way into infinity; it resounds with such ominous natural echo that it might as well have been performed in a long, old-fashioned corridor some several hundred metres in length and lined with civil-service styled wooden panelling decorating the drably-painted walls. One is reminded of the anecdote often told about the recording of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer’ and how the dramatic percussion effect on that record was achieved by setting up an enormous bass drum at the end of a studio corridor for Hal Blaine to bash 1. Hashima’s intentions are far from benign, and this darkened record reeks with fugged-out screams and tortured feedback effects – much like prising open an enormous door in this ‘new building’, and the entire record is characterised by ferocious percussion work reminiscent of the demolition crew hammering down walls with sledgehammers, or ripping apart metal siding inside an elevator shaft. The other part of the puzzle is that Hashima Island is a real-life location (off the coast of Japan) and a notorious site of dereliction and ruined buildings – what was once a prosperous coal mining town in the first half of the 20th century is now a major symbol of serious neglect. Two other artists who have been intrigued by this world-famous “ghost town” are CM Von Hausswolff and Thomas Nordanstad, whose response was to make a video “installation” out of the place. I have seen this video, and believe me, it’s a haunting and harrowing experience. Perhaps Hashima is another alias for Balestrazzi? Perhaps the work was actually recorded in one of the decaying buildings on that bleak atoll? Speculation aside, I would imagine the cover art for this release is a genuine Hashima photo, and you couldn’t wish for a more palpable image of extreme urban decay. The record itself more than lives up to that visual promise! Arrived 3rd January 2013, but may have been released in October 2012.
Blue Poles (SLIGHTLY OFF KILTER sok046) is a collection of aural experiments by Paul Khimasia Morgan, recorded in various locations during 2011 and 2012. They don’t seem to have any theme or connection and are related only by appearing together on this album. They comprise field recordings, pieces where he’s working with musical instruments in various combinations, or more abstract experiments in sound art using feedback and white noise through a mixing desk. Morgan restricts himself by only allowing an interpretative dimension to appear inside his titles, some of which are like isolated fragments from poetry or the opening lines of mysterious short stories. For the rest, all description is stony-faced: he delivers only a completely factual shopping list of the objects and bric-a-brac used to create each track, noting the location and place where he did it. On this outing at least, Morgan shows himself as a devotee of the “small objects and small sounds” school of sound art, creating curious creaky episodes of rather dry rattling and rustling like a slightly more fulsome version of the later Jeph Jerman. The work may occasionally produce some odd musical notes or drones from a guitar or zither, or some low-key electro-acoustic effects where a microphone or mixing desk may interact with the activities. Largely though, Blue Poles takes a non-musical and documentary approach; the musician’s own work is treated as though it were an event taking place in the countryside, and recorded as though he were making a field recording of it. This lends a diffuse quality to each piece; it’s not clear where it begins or ends, if indeed it can be said to occupy such certain ground. Rather than finished compositions, it might be more apt to regard these as fleeting snapshots of unusual phenomena in progress. (24/01/2013)
Piatcions are an Italian psychedelic rock group who made an LP called Senseless Sense in 2011; we received an advance copy of their 12-incher, Heaven’s Sins (FC009V12), from the London label Fuzz Club Records. Three tracks in fifteen minutes, including a remix of ‘Reel Loop’ by Atom Eye. I won’t pretend that any of this music is particularly “experimental”, but I like it. It brings home the bacon in terms of solid, trancey avant-rock with all the desirable qualities – a solid beat, fuzzed guitars, trippy keyboard drones. Not as self-consciously proggy or kosmische as the retro items we often get from Sulatron Records, this is good treacly dark-drug music that’ll keep a few Spacemen 3 diehards happier for a bit longer. Allegedly, they’re great in a live situation too. (22/01/2013)
The three-inch offering by Vile Plumage is another odd ‘un sent in by Filthy Turd. The Plan Be Vile, Conceived In Shame (NO LABEL CDR) is described as a “metaphysical journey…through Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent”, and consists of lo-fi field recordings made around that undistinguished locale. The recordings have been layered with an uncertain acoustic guitar plucking the idle music of the damned like a diabolical busker in the streets of Hades. Plus menacing whispers and grunts which are occasionally dropped into the continuum. The gentle noise grows into more alarming proportions, with echoed chants, strange howling effects, and gasping women victims; all the while that relentless acoustic guitar keeps on trotting out its implacable rhythm, as though its player was grinning at us with the sinful smile of the fallen. Vile Plumage is the team of Filthy Turd and Andy Jarvis, but in true magus fashion (shape-shifting like a witch’s familiar) even their very name can change at will and they are sometimes called Vile Goldenn Plumage or Goldenn Viles. The actual surface of this recording may not strike you as especially inventive at first, but persevere ye must, since a desolate and spooked vibe runs through it; it’s as though the pair shrunk themselves into small hobgoblins to capture the sounds from the “parks, tunnels and ginnels” of the area, and at length are able to transform into the hideous horned and hairy creature on the cover. Filthy Turd continues to shine his light into odd places, and you may not like what he reveals. From August 2012.
Other reports say this effect was achieved with studio reverb. ↩