Tagged: percussion

Terror Tales

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Collapsing

JK

Many aspects there be to Things Fall Apart (HERBAL INTERNATIONAL CONCRETE DISC 1302), a record by Jason Kahn documenting his live activities at a performance space in Zurich from April 2013. The first records I heard from Kahn showcased his brittle and crisp percussion work in various performing and collaborative improvisation contexts, but he’s since widened his ambitions and become a sound artist and composer. Here, there’s plenty of percussion work for sure, and also electronic sounds (quite primitive ones, perhaps generated by his magnetic coil and speaker setup), amplified and non-amplified vocalising experiments, noisy buzzes produced by a short-wave radio set, and non-musical sounds produced by non-musical objects, such as plastic bags which rustle about in a compellingly mysterious manner.

These approaches are offered up as stand-alone episodes in the suite. But the record also documents his use of the room, which from his description appears to be the ideal space guaranteed to delight the heart of any electro-acoustic performer – the floors and ceiling of the Kunstraum Walcheturm are made of wood, it’s a large space, and “the floor creaks tremendously when one walks over it”. In short the acoustics are very warm and wet. Without doubt Kahn is “playing” the room throughout, and no more so than on track two simply called ‘Im Raum’ where he appears to be dragging tables or chairs across the floor, thereby staging a two-minute impromptu recreation of La Monte Young’s ‘Poem for Chairs, Tables, Benches, etc’.

Kahn’s exasperated sleeve notes document his misadventures trying to stage the performance in the first place, where the whole evening was almost ruined by a litany of unfortunate mishaps and sonic intrusions, and to some degree the piece represents his triumph as he snatches victory from the jaws of defeat, where The Enemy are represented by wedding parties, horses and carriages, and disco music. The title refers to a personal philosophy he’s carried around with him since his studies at SOAS in 1981, inspired by reading a novel of this title by Chinua Achebe. From 15 October 2013.

Humanity Won’t Be Happy Until…

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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.

Dragon’s Kitchen

JULY180

KK Null + The Noiser (MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO054) is a meeting between one of Japanese noise-rock’s heavyweights and the French electro-acoustic anarcho-poet loon Julien Ottavi, with results every bit as fractured and unpredictable as poisoned sushi wrapped in a crepe suzette. The album’s first half is seven short-ish experiments in grotesque electronic rhythms and crazy samples intercut with each other in ways that make no sense; after you’re reeling from that onslaught, they finish you off with a 25-minute monster that’s just chock full of playful edits so as to resemble an episodic, cartoon-like composition in the form of an acid trip. Free jazz piano, birdsong, unhinged electric noise and odd percussive gamelan doodling are just some of the elements you can expect from this garbled spew. While it includes some live recordings made in Vienna, this is mostly a fun-filled and semi-dangerous studio concoction – which is evident from all the half-mad control-freakery that’s going on here. From October 2013.

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On the face of it, CMKK’s Gau (MONO065) is a pretty sickening proposition – four artists producing a single 47-minute meander through some surreal sludgy ambient drones while one of them recites their strange poetry using plenty of pastoral images like black water, swans, fields, and mist. There’s Celer with laptop and samples, Machinefabriek with laptop and tapes, the guitars of Romke Kleefstra and the poetry of Jan Kleefstra. However, listen to the end of this slow dampened odyssey across joyless and sunless flatlands and you’ll feel the rewards as your brain is softened into malleable mush, fit to be sold as Sten Hanson’s Canned Porridge. Not unlike hearing Polwechsel after they’ve swallowed a dose of Mogadon, with added zombified electronics and a stoic TV announcer trying to remain calm while he watches the whole world being flooded. From October 2013.

JULY182

Here’s some French heroes of indefinable music and sound art: Eric Cordier and Jean Luc Guionnet, discreetly rubbing their organs together in a deserted temple in Metz. By “organs” I mean the hurdy-gurdy of Eric, which has been amplified and processed while he squeezes it, and the amplified organ of Jean-Luc – an instrument which he’s previously played to great effect in various church and cathedral settings. De Proche En Proche (MONO061) comprises live recordings from 2004, mostly rather uneventful and slow droning. Things liven up from the third piece onwards as vaguely menacing machine-like qualities are exhibited – it sounds like a milking machine going wrong and the cows are moaning in complaint. Or perhaps reaching a cow-like orgasm of some sort as they feel the errant mechanical clamps around their udders. From October 2013.

JULY181

Unearthly slab of live electro-acoustic music here from Charles-Eric Charrier, who is manipulating two musicians – their instruments, at any rate – on C6 GIG (february 2012) (MONO059). Martin Bauer is playing the viole de gambe and Nicolas Richard plays percussion and accordion. From this we derive 45 minutes of continual, mysterious sounds, at times approaching the shape of a nightmarish cloud of purple filth descending on the belly of the fitful listener. I’d have liked a tad more commitment to sustaining this crapulous mood, but I can understand why Charrier feels the need to layer this inexplicable composition with long silences, pauses, and other existential longeurs. Still, when the strings pluck bass throbs from the lower registers and the percussion rattles its cage like a snoring gorilla, you’ll find me there with my concrete pillow. From October 2013.

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Bartek Kalinka concocts some fairly bonkers music on Champion of the World Has No Monopoly on the Legions (BOLT RECORDS BRK003), through overdubbing meandering acoustic guitar strums, wonky synth tones, and arbitrary percussuon bashes. These ten tracks feel all of a piece and sonically they occupy the same zone of solitary, intimate conversations – except I feel like the conversation is taking place with a balmy loon who doesn’t even speak my language. By time of eighth track, called ‘King Is Approaching’, my mind is reduced to small lumps of gravel and any sense of proportion has been sapped by the tropical, heat-cooking weirdness that boils the brain slowly. By the end, I give in and am prepared to admit that the King is indeed approaching, and that creator Bartek Kalinka is in fact Napoleon.

Five Uneasy Pieces

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Virgil Moorefield
No Business As Usual / Five Ideas about the Relation of Sight and Sound
SWITZERLAND HINTERZIMMER RECORDS HINT17 CD + DVD (2013)

Virgil Moorefield is a Zurich-based drummer, avantist composer and near polymath whose previous projects have found refuge with such highly revered institutions such as Innova, Tzadik and Cuneiform. As a ‘have drums, will travel’ freelancer, he’s collaborated with Bill Laswell, guitarist Elliott Sharp, and The Swans around the time of the Burning World l.p. He was also the sole panel-beater (and that’s no mean feat!) for John Cage’s favourite guitar slinger Glenn Branca, on his herculean “Hallucination City – 100 Guitars” tour which kicked up vast chunks of orchestrated metallic chordage over the heads of the N.Y. populace from 2006 to 2008.

Moorefield’s latest release on the Hinterzimmer imprint is the No Business as Usual c.d. which is coupled with the Five Ideas about the Relation of Sight and Sound d.v.d. No Business… is primarily a showcase for his Bicontinental Pocket Orchestra; a sixtet comprising Aleksander Gabrys on contrabass, baritone saxist Jürg Wickihalder, Taylor Levine on guitar, percussionist Martin Lorenz, pianist Vicky Chow and Ian Ding on vibes and drums. They and their bandleader can all be observed very much following a cerebral/muscular mindset on the title track; a five part commissioned by New Music Detroit and Detroit Per Se. Both of these experiments in post-minimalism edge towards a certain jazz noir in the Naked City feel, purveying in the main an appointment in unease, plotted on graph paper with slide rule, compass and protractor, where the contents, under extreme pressure, are seemingly fit to burst at any moment. Some passages resemble a debut album era Lounge Lizards under the batonship of Steve Reich, while other fragments seem to refer to a more rigid version of Magma’s ever-building dynamics circa Kohntarkosz. The most prominent figures in this unwavering/take no prisoners script are the icily cool vibraphonics of Ian Ding and the high end (and beyond) keyboard attack of Ms. Chow, which appears to be an angry, fingerpointing pianist’s curt riposte to Bernard Hermann’s shower scene nerve shredder from Psycho.

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As to the visual side of events, the Five Ideas… shows a number of different takes on how moderne technology can affect the interchange between sound and the moving image (this includes a couple of sub-two minute interludes, possibly fulfilling a latterday testcard function). “River of Color” is the opener and explores/expands on the tonalities originating from the guts of a grand piano when struck and its innards plucked. This generates a series of everchanging vertical bands of colour issuing from a huge bank of screens that almost dwarf the two instrumentalists. “Grainy Film” is based on a sequence of simple guitar shapes which build to nightmarishly kozmik proportions and eventually shake themselves free of their wire on wood connotations completely. The closing “Trio” is a processing overload involving the measured thud of a drumming threesome, which is reconfigured into real-time visuals, while, simultaneously being tweaked into an all enveloping electronic soundscape. Wow.

Within the confines of a fairly understated packaging concept employing the joys of four-panel chipboard lies an undisputed treasure trove of left field thought for ear and eye. Highly recommended.

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Bonjour Tristesse

hakon stene519

Håkon Stene
Etude Begone Badum
GERMANY AHORNFELDER AH25 CD (2013)

Norwegian Percussionist Håkon Stene presents six lively yet politely unrestrained interpretations of contemporary composers’ works. Included are pieces by Americans Alvin Lucier, and Michael Pisarro, Vienna-based Marko Ciciliani, plus three much briefer vignettes by Norwegian Lars Petter Hagen. It is not stated who else performs what whereas it is made clear that Håkon Stene plays electric guitar on Ciciliani’s “Black Horizon”, amplified triangle on Lucier’s “Silver Street Car For The Orchestra”, and “rice on objects” on Pisarro’s “Ricefall (1)”.

Track one, Lars Petter Hagen’s “Study #1 In Self-Imposed Tristesse” – tristesse is a French word for “sadness” – the first of the three studies appearing on this album, is a good start to this disc. These three studies are so diaphanous as to be barely there. The second track, the Marko Ciciliani piece “Black Horizon”, utilises a recording of conversation; the questions “how did lunch go so far?” and “any good?” for example, are audible at the beginning. An interesting use of the banal. There’s more at fifteen minutes, although much quieter and possibly intended merely as a texture. Things take a shift for the crazy at 17 and a half minutes where it becomes like being trapped in a movie by Allessandro Jodorowsky – great if you’re in the mood for it but, somewhat like his movies, a bit disconcerting if you’re not. He is joined by Marko Ciciliani also on electric guitar on this piece. “Black Horizon” is one minute a chime-fest, the next scant rubbing and droning, possibly the results of manipulations with e-bows. Other techniques have been employed, certainly there are preparations aplenty and possibly non-standard tunings and extended technique. Music for the art gallery. They have achieved the feel of a late 60s synthesiser composition (reminiscent of Subotnik or Stockhausen?), only with the more restricted palette and brittle timbre of the guitar. It becomes percussive and faintly ridiculous after ten minutes; just the wrong side of the line where “freedom” becomes “messing about”? This feeling though, is shortlived – there is some nice crunchy textures after this and a pulsing of hum-fuzz that reminds me of a recurring dream I had as a child – or the sound of blood rushing in your ears – it then becomes as ghostly and ethereal as much as electronic music can and I think I can hear the influence of Haroon Mirza’s bleeping sound art here. It sounds a little like a second bridge has been inserted onto one or both of the guitars; guzheng-like, hammered delicately. An overdriven interruption of rising tone. Voices – American? – taken from a film? If these sounds are performed in real time without use of software of any kind – it is just credited as two guitar players – I must say I am very impressed with this recording and over a duration such as this (over twenty minutes), I’d be more likely to perceive this as an improvisation rather than a composition if I didn’t know differently – at least I’d expect a rigorous approach to the score to reflect the amount and type of preparation of the instruments if nothing else.

“Silver Street Car For The Orchestra”, as with a lot of Lucier’s work, is about what happens in a space when the space itself is activated, in this case by striking a triangle repeatedly. Fans of Sejiro Murayama’s sawing percussion style will be no stranger to this sort of thing. I saw Seijiro Murayama perform in Brighton a couple of years ago and he’s certainly got stamina. This piece is missing the vital visual component of actually being able to watch the piece being performed; in other words, someone actually wandering around a room banging on a triangle for just over eleven minutes. Looks easy – is not easy. The closing piece is “Rice Fall” by Michael Pisarro. I have heard a realisation of this by Patrick Farmer and Sarah Hughes and the Greg Stuart version on Gravity Wave. This is a more maximalist interpretation. In fact, is it possible that it is taking the score a little too literally? Stene’s version of “Rice Fall” is a veritable monsoon. If you are going to perform “Ricefall”, I suppose the fundamental characteristic is dependent on how much rice you can get your hands on. Håkon Stene must have gone to a good supplier because it sounds like he’s used enough rice to fill a dumper truck.

Austere packaging, a double-fold digipack with minimal text and no other visual information, although we are informed that the project is supported by Arts Council Norway and the Fund For Performing Artists. Would have been nice to see some evidence of the scores, but there is a nice big barcode on the sleeve to look at if that’s the kind of thing you’re into.

Metal, Machines, Music

What is it about modern artists and urban desolation? They can’t get enough of that abject despair and industrial ruin 1. Just give one of them a video camera and they’ll come up with a movie like Entrailles (DAC RECORDS DAC 2018), which was produced by the French artist Gregory Robin, and his subject was the Saint Etienne coal mine in the Loire, which was decommissioned at the end of the 1970s. Natch, even though it’s currently unused, there’s still plenty of amazing sights to be had as his camera enters the installation, passes by the rows of showers, and dips down into the depths via the still-functioning elevator. There he finds tons of fascinating machinery, dials, cogs, and handles, and mining overalls and helmets hanging from a vast ceiling and looking like alien bats with their dirty wings folded up for the night. In the centre of this space he also finds Franck Vigroux, the French electro-acoustic noise guy whose work we love so much, playing his keyboards, mixing desk, or rocking out with his amplified red guitar while surrounded by cast iron, chains, and distressed surfaces. Yes, Vigroux did the soundtrack for this vision of modern abandonment, a symbol of a near-dead industry and a reminder of the complexity of technology that was pretty much based in the 19th-century, but had a long half-life. I can’t get enough of Vigroux’s stern, unsmiling sounds, which are usually enriched with plenty of reverb and other juicy effects; in this electronic drone music, he transforms the idea of “metal music” into something you could chew with your mandibles. The video starts off fairly promising, and does have some nice images in places; but a good chunk of it is just documenting Vigroux playing his setup, dressed in black, stood in the middle of the old installation. He’s a great musician, but in terms of giving off a stately brooding presence, he’s a tad lacking. At these moments, it becomes just like any other naff music video, and quite a dated one at that. From 19 February 2013.

Speaking of “metal music”, we’ve got Daniel Menche and his Marriage of Metals (EDITIONS MEGO 174) LP whereon he offers up two sides of metal-sourced material carefully forged and fused in his personal studio furnace. This project started when he was allowed within handling distance of the Gamelan instruments held at Lewis and Clark College in Portland. After he recorded a bucketload of gong sounds, he ported the results through assorted distortion techniques, and subjected the material to his inimitable cutting and assembly technique. Net result is two side-long episodes of surprisingly gentle and highly compelling murmuring, detailed noise. I say “gentle” in full knowledge of the bludgeoning racket Menche has sometimes been capable of, but Marriage of Metals is far more beguiling and even somewhat musical; root notes can’t help bleeding into the bubbling potage, no matter how much noise, grit and feedback he brings into the stew. Don’t expect much in the way of variation across each side, though; instead, you get a mesmerising and unchanging continuum teeming with strange details, much like metal shavings and iron filings dancing in the air. From April 2013.

While we’re in this vaguely “mechanical” and metal-based mode, we ought to bend an ear to the Offset (DOUBTFUL SOUNDS DOUBT 11 / UNIVERSINTERNATIONAL UI 019) LP by Pali Meursault. When I played this jet-black grindathon with its oil-drenched cover it induced instant visions of a faintly grim mechanised world where old-fashioned robots had all but taken over the world, except they weren’t doing a very good job of it and they needed a lot of oiling just to get out of bed in the morning. Like most of us, in fact. Imagine my surprise when I read the liner notes and found that Offset turns out to be based on field recordings of an old litho press. He did it in two print workshops in Grenoble and Paris, and presumably performed some transformative and editing work on the recordings at a later date. There’s an intention to give us something that’s both a decent sound recording of these near-antique machines working away in hot pumping action, and a suite of composerly electro-acoustic variations on their repetitive chugging rhythms. As Meursault worked on this piece, hypnotised by the insistent back-and-forth motions of the cylinders, feeders and rollers, he started to weave a dream of how the machine has been celebrated and perceived in sound art over the last hundred years. His main plot-points in this cultural schema are the work of the Futurists, industrial music, and techno; hard to argue with that lineage, although it’s not a terribly original line of thought either. No matter, because the actual LP is a splendid listen, never once descending into any of the sonic violence or clichéd manipulation one might have expected from those of the Industrial school. Where some see metal cogs as instruments that will crush mankind’s spirit (or at least mash his fingers into a pulp, if he’s unfortunate enough to trap his hand in the mechanism), Meursault’s cogs are somehow more benign, and the record makes us nostalgic for a time when Newtonian physics still held sway in the world. What he should do next perhaps is make a typewriter record. From October 2013.

  1. I’m thinking principally of Hashima Island, the Japanese ghost town which used to be a mining community. Artists throng to its ruined magnificence, most notably Carl Michael von Hausswolff and Thomas Nordanstad.

Fire Down Below

MIKE523

Hati & Z’EV
Collusion
BELGIUM IDIOSYNCRATICS IDCD 006 (2013)

An evocative album, this one; full of rattling bone snaps and overlapping ringing gongs, conjuring an undulating metallic soundscape, a dry-as-dust swell of noise, like a fibrous delicate take on James Tenney’s ‘Having Never Written a Note for Percussion’. Harsh and forbidding, it offers little shelter from a malignity that pervades most of its running length. Rumbling reverberating drum skins, squealing manipulated sheets of tin honk like a sick Albert Ayler, insectoid clicking mandibles smack wetly onto chitinous carapaces; the whole resembling an army of ants processing in military fashion under cobwebbed banners to war with other hives. Collusion is almost entirely percussive, like Shackleton isolating every beat he’s ever made, removing bass lines, forward motion, and all rhythmic and melodic intent, and hurling the collected atomised mess into an erratically revolving centrifuge; an album of uneasy nerve-twanging death-gamelan.

MIKE525

Kopek Quirin / Anton Mobin / Kris Limpich
EMITTER MICRO RECORDS EM003 CD (2013)

This untitled album is an excavation of fluff and audio detritus, feathery caverns being mined for tangled fibres. Insular and close, the sound-environment captured by this trio is somewhat akin to water-logged ears; a pressured confusion of indistinct voices, tape-whispers, and buzzing electronics. It unfolds in languid contemplative fashion, curling endlessly in upon itself, a burrowing within rather than an expansion out, each additional sound compressing the whole further towards some eventual event-horizon. The trio explore the tactility of the sounds they’ve created: fluttering cassette-flicker, muffled dialogue, the clasping of zips; a mutating bricollage collapsing slowly under its own lazily accumulating mass. Their textural qualities examined both in close-up and at distance; enshrouding the listener in a space of uncertain extent, sudden shapes looming against a backdrop of shifting shadows.

MIKE526

Fireroom
Second Breath
POLAND BOCIAN RECORDS BC-FR CD (2013)

Fireroom is the flash-burnt trio of Ken Vandermark, Paal Nilssen-Love, and Lasse Marhaug; Second Breath was recorded live at London’s Vortex venue in 2011. Vandermark initially inhabits upper register squeals and sharp pops over Marhaug’s scorched crackle and laser-strafing, Nilssen-Love, as ever, a restless interrogator. The relatively still portions see him straining to re-enter the fray, creating a dense patter that nudges V’s post-Coltrane profuse wanderings onto sterner ground. The electronics often create an aircraft rumble as if Gillett Square outside has become home to an aviation show, the roar of engines leaking through the walls. The group commune and co-operate rather than clash; locking together in quickly disintegrating cogs, fleetingly meshed. Each player still strikes out on their own terms, giving fully-committed solos to this explosive set of fire-improv. A performance of grumpy and irascible mood, Second Breath is propelled with effusive blurt and pure noise abstraction, thrilling and immediate.

Industrial Action

HATI_001

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.

Full Steam Ahead

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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.