Tagged: performed

Arrival By Degree

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Huntsville
Past Increasing Future Receding
NORWAY HUBRO MUSIC HUBROCD2521 (2013)

Gentle, pensive post rock circumambulations with a penchant for sharp turns into imposing territory, an inky infusion of low-register doom/gloom motifs and the odd smattering of remorseless machine drumming, which raise tension in what could so easily blend into the wallpaper as just another genre workout. The lack of scope one finds in the field of long-form gloom-rock pieces is ultimately the elephant in the room, though it’s probably as enticing a selling point as it is an epitaph. To be clear, there’s really nothing devastatingly ‘new’ about this recording – nor many of its ilk: those days are long gone my friends. Even the last Godspeed album – one I have much time for – found redemption merely in a fresh lick of paint. That said, as an exercise in collective expression, Past Increasing Future Receding holds up well. The trickling guitar lines and now-standard echo-blurred cymbal swirls are at once trite and hypnotic, while somehow suggestive (at times) of some imagined orient.

The musicians adjusted themselves to a mutual crawl over the course of three days as their presences resonated in the capacious blackness of Emanuel Vigeland’s barrel-vaulted Mausoleum in Oslo, their lack of hurry a suitable inhabiting spirit for those available dimensions. So clearly are the acoustics rendered on record that the room is said to have constituted a de-facto fourth member (I don’t suppose this has been said before, has it?). Of those hours, these thirty-four minutes are the revealed portion, and there is beauty in this brevity: one anomalous in a genre that checks its watch so infrequently. Of the three pieces, ‘The Flow of Sand’ captures the elements in their finest form: the dull, telltale throb of a buried siren and a stray banjo strumming vaguely middle-eastern modes. If you like this sort of music, then I imagine you will enjoy this recording as well!

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Niski Szum
Siedem Piesni Miejskich
POLAND MATHKA NO NUMBER (2013)

At times a spindlier, more mournful proposition than Huntsville, Niski Szum (aka Marcin Dymiter) favours long stretches of the same monologue-spliced, slowly ascending chord progressions as many post-rock heroes of our constellation, driving plangent pins into listeners’ hearts upon a tidal wave of resignation. Yet in spite of the audible familiarity it still manages to sound pleasant and virtually epic at times. Virtually, as in ‘not-quite’, that is. Still, Dymiter sustains the drama the way slow period dramas can do, and ameliorates the impatient with an ear for variety (by degree): eschewing excessive theme-and-variation laziness and escorting us through climes of differing murkiness: a Penderecki-esque purgatory of strings on one journey; elsewhere a vision of hell across an unforgiving Midwestern landscape with windblown shards of guitar clang and a brittle violin lament. Surely as worthy of a place on the Hubro label as Huntsville, but perhaps these two labels are one and the same?

Raw Cello

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The exceptional cello work of Okkyung Lee is well represented on Ghil (IDEOLOGIC ORGAN SOMA012), an album of solo pieces recorded in Norway by Lasse Marhaug in 2012. Although we’ve had some of her earlier records pass this way before – for instance, her duet with Phil Minton Anicca (Dancing Wayang) and her contribution to the four-way improv-noise thing Cold/Burn – this particular release is the one that has really struck home with this listener. I feel we’re getting a raw dose of Okkyung Lee, her ideas and her performance as she would wish, beaming in with zero interference. She’s a well-respected collaborator with some of the Kings and Queens in the improvising world, but perhaps her skills are best appreciated in a solo setting, because she’s doing things on this record that few musicians could possibly keep up with. I don’t just mean the speed of her thinking and execution (although admittedly her fingers do work with the implacable precision of an industrial sewing machine on some tracks), but there’s something about the inventive, wild leaps of logic which her creative spirit has ordained. Down these strange paths a Korean must go, seems to be the motto driving her music, and without doubt she’s skilled enough to execute every command from her inner Colonel Kurtz, no matter how extreme or ludicrous. At one level, there’s just much to enjoy in her sound, which is completely unique – I can think of few acoustic players who have arrived at such a distinctive and out-there sound as Okkyung Lee, where she’s not afraid to stretch the instrument to the limits of possibilities and yet she still somehow remains true to the genuine voice of the cello. There used to be improvising guitarists who hated the guitar so much that they would set out in their playing to undermine the characteristics of what they regarded, in their ideological way, as a “loaded” instrument. Lee has no such agenda. The bold and wild sounds she’s reaching for are necessary, natural, and when heard can tend to show us new possibilities, and expand the mental horizons of the listener.

Then of course there’s her multiple techniques; it would be instructive, I’m sure, to see her playing in the room; conventional classical cellists would faint dead away at the sight, and conductors would be eating their own batons with cream cheese. What is Okkyung Lee doing with her fingers and hands to produce these crazy “tearing” sounds, as though the strings of her cello were like elasticated tendons embedded in the calves of a cadaver, and she’s the surgeon trying to extract them…how does she generate those gorgeous harmonics that vibrate in sympathy and provide subtle drone effects to accompany her intense sawing actions…how does she arrive at this unique twilight area between music and noise, as though she’s a spirit able to exist in the air and the water at the same time..? 1 It’s mightily impressive, but nowhere do I get the sense she’s showing off her advanced techniques for their own sake, and it’s all in the service of beautiful music, somewhat melancholy, complex to the point of neurosis and also utterly simple, blessed with poetic titles such as ‘The Space Beneath my Grey Heart’ or ‘Hollow Water’, alluding to mysterious states of mind and wonders of nature. It remains to mention the sound of the recording on this release, which is simultaneously intimate and vivid yet also slightly limited and with the occasional dying fall, as though the aural perspective were being flattened out. This is deliberate; Marhaug used a 1976 cassette recorder for the sessions, experimented with less-than-conventional microphone placement, and did it in a range of locations around Norway (including some outdoor sites). He explicitly states that he wished to record Okkyung Lee’s music “in an expressionistic way” and likens his decision to using black-and-white photography. Fellow NYC-dweller C. Spencer Yeh provided the cover photograph, and Stephen O’Malley overprinted this image with one of his characteristic grids printed in clear ink. A beautiful LP. Now I need to investigate her 2008 solo LP for Ecstatic Peace…

  1. This takes the cake for the most laboured sentence I’ve ever constructed. Sorry about that.

It’s a thin line…

DEVINDISANTO

Devin DiSanto
Tracing A Boundary
TASK RECORDS TR001 CD (2013)

This is an odd one. At first, this sounds like a fairly standard airy slab field recording. Someone, presumably DiSanto, is going about his business. We can hear the sounds of people and traffic in the background, and what sounds like DiSanto rummaging around. Occasionally there are more dissonant sounds, a loud hissing, for example, which suggests some other activity. There’s the odd twang of a guitar and ukulele at around the 35 minutes mark. Not exactly the most dynamic thing I’ve ever heard, but actually quite engaging. There’s looseness to it, a lack of focus that renders it pretty engaging, not engaging the deep listening way that you might listen to a more intense nature recording, but the kind of pleasure you get on those afternoons when you can hear the neighbours bustling around in their backyard and you can’t help but eavesdrop.

Yet there are several things that hint this might not be as lackadaisical a recording as you might expect on first listen. The first thing is the number of musicians credited on the back of the CD. Trumpet, trombone, two guitarists and a ukulele – not to mention a bass clarinet credited to DiSanto himself. Then there’s the fact that, as well as these musicians, a group of different people are credited as ‘performers’. Finally, there are the periodic vocal interventions from Desanto, mainly announcing lengths of time. So, for example, at around the 13-minute mark, he says ‘Eight minutes’.

What is going on? If I’m honest, I have no idea. But I like it. It’s as if Disanto has assembled his musicians for a Wandelweiser-style quiet performance, but one where the process of setting up and preparing to play is as important as the playing itself. By doing this, it unpicks the conventions of this kind of performance. It seems to conflate the bustling, workaday nature of preparation with the intense focus of the playing – an act which itself combines as it does the physical acts of plucking or bowing with the intellectual activity of listening and responding to other musicians – into a single plane of action.

Or it might be something completely different. There’s no talking, for one thing – apart from the aforementioned vocal interjections – which undermines my thesis that we’re eavesdropping on preparations for a performance. It’s all very mysterious. But it is a playful mystery, like Tom Waits’ ‘What’s He Building?’ as performed by the cast of The Good life. It’s something that invites us as listeners to join the dots that DiSanto has left for us, pushing us to bring our own view of what we think this piece should be. An enigmatic, beguiling and yet strangely satisfying work.

Progressive? Moi?

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Skadedyr
Kongekrabbe
NORWAY HUBRO HUBROCD2536 CD (2014)

The press release for Kongekrabbe is, it has to be said, slightly over-the-top and prone to hyperbole, although the idea of a twelve-piece democractic/anarchistic band from Norway is an exciting one. It’s difficult to deduce from the publicity sheet whether this is improvised in the studio or not: there is mention of two musicians being ‘the driving force behind the inventive material on [this] debut album’ and also mention that ‘the members of the band rehearse and arrange all the music jointly – without notes, but with wide-open ears and eyes’. Maybe I should just listen?

A noisy introductory piece leads into an almost ska-driven track, ‘Linselus/Due’ which also fleetingly recalls some dreadful 60s bands with its use of wordless vocals, a mad kind of Swingles Singers, if you know what I mean. These voices, a little more focussed this time, also appear in ‘Kongekrabbe’, the next track, weaving through some precise and careful brass arrangements. It calls to mind not only the dense arrangements of Terje Rypdal’s early works, but the jazz band Azimuth, and perhaps odd moments of Henry Cow (which is high praise indeed).

‘Partylus’ arrives like a demented ragtime song, before swiftly turning the corner into a more minimal moment which is then interrupted by the arrival of a brass band who are pushed aside by some violinists. In fact it’s hard to shake off the idea of musicians being elbowed aside by the next musician; the track is a kind of endless procession of moments that are never allowed to develop, are merely interrupted and pushed aside, although a female singer is allowed to outstay her welcome. It’s a confusingly structured and thought-out piece that to these ears lets down the album.

‘Lakselus’, which concludes the CD is a more intriguing piece which slowly develops from abstract soundscape into apocalyptic noise then unfolds into a new musical spectrum underpinned with percussive rhythms and then distant piano. The by now expected wordless vocals make an entry and spoil this otherwise standout piece.

If Skadedyr can roam their ‘broad musical landscape’ a little less, and perhaps talk to each other more about the type of music they want to play, they will produce even more original music. As it stands it’s a little bit pick’n’mix at the moment, underdeveloped and unfocussed, but exciting nonetheless.

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Gushing Cloud
Beat Wings In Vain
USA INTANGIBLE CAT CAT-18 CD (2013)

Whilst the press release for Skadedyr mentions ‘an appreciation of psychedelic, progressive and outrageous’, that for Gushing Cloud’s new CD prefers the ‘realms of groovy electronic, thoughtful ambient, and noisy/experimental.progressive rock music’. It’s hard, however, to hear much of interest on this CD, which mostly sounds like bedroom synthesizer doodling.

Simplistic programmed grooves and beats underpin simplistic approximations of Tangerine Dream guitar and/or keyboards, which meander on towards promised aural epiphanies which never arrive; instead, each track drops away into another rhythm which gradually returns to the starting point.

The hyperbolic press release’s comparisons with Eno and Faust do nobody any favours, neither does the claim of ‘an organic earnestness’, as though some kind of honesty, truth or well-meaning intention might make the music good. This is dull, second-rate ambient noodlng that needs both disrupting and focussing to get anywhere with. When I say that I mean it has neither the chaotic freshness of Faust, nor the kind of focussed process or concept which often underpins Eno’s own work. I have no idea what Gushing Cloud is trying to do here, and I don’t think he has either.

We Are Glass

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I have never seen Lucas Abela perform his notorious act with the sheets of glass, but now you can purchase a short 45 RPM 12-inch recording of this remarkable phenomenon on Popped In The Head All The Time Now (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR108), which was released under his Justice Yeldham alias. The press notes describe the method by which this Australian wild-fellow uses sheets of glass, salvaged perhaps from building sites or derelict factories, adds contact mics, feeds them through electronic effects, and then blows with all his might against the surface of the glass with his lips. In fact, the process is likened here to playing a trumpet, albeit in an extremely limited way; like a trumpeter who gets as far as forming the embouchure, then applies it to anything other than a trumpet. If you listen closely enough to the feral, inhuman sounds on this slab of vinyl, you can derive some information that connects it to a human action – a bit like a doting father blowing raspberries on the tummy of their baby, only exaggerated and rendered into an extremely grotesque form by means of amplification and distortion. As music, it sounds somehow constrained and constipated, in spite of the fizzing emotion and agitation which has fed into it. A reserve of energy without an adequate outlet, a steam kettle that is perpetually on the boil, with no valve for release, not even a whistle. I suspect the truth is that it’s not exclusively the sound that matters, and you really need to witness Abela cavorting physically on stage to get the full effect, and I leave it to you (or your imagination) to retrieve yarns and anecdotes about this, many of which wallow in the violence and the bloodshed. Although it’s likely that’s all in the past now. When I did see him live in London in 1999, he performed using turkey skewers with phono cartridges on the end, which he stuck into his mouth with ferocious abandon. Are you a musician, or a performance artist? I asked him afterwards. “Entertainer,” he replied firmly. “I don’t like to put any luggage with it!” He was at pains to stress than he wanted people to like him and his act, so worked hard to shed any notion that he might be a boring, worthy, serious-minded performance artist. I suppose growly and abrasive noise records like this one can only be an appendage to the visceral mess of his live act, but this beast is still worth owning and spinning as needed. From January 2013, 300 copies only.

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The LP MuLTiLiNGuaL SaD SoNGS, WeiRD JoKeS aND eXPeRiMeNTaL STuFF FoR uSe By GRoWN-uP CHiLDReN (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR118) by BeNe GeSSeRiT is an indescribable mix of vocal experiments mingled with musical interludes, performed by the husband and wife team of Alain Neffe and Nadine Bal, who call themselves B. Ghola and Benedict G. respectively. These Belgian creators are well respected in the international Industrial / experimental music world with a string of releases going back to 1981; matter of fact some of this material dates back to the 1980s and 1990s, and has been previously released on the Falling Dreams CD on Opcion Sonica and the Norwegian Schizofrene Festsamler compilation cassette, although this is the first US release for th’ tracks. I’d situate it in the area of text/sound art with a vague New Wave feel; it’s all about mangling the spoken word. English, French and Japanese tongues are reduced to atomic particles and reassembled into dribbling nonsense, and both performers affect annoying high-pitched speaking voices and Monty Python-esque inflections to add further barriers to our understanding. One track title suggests that the Surrealists’ “Exquisite Corpse” method may have been used at composition stage, but one doesn’t sense anything like the controlled dreamlike mayhem that a cut-up approach might have introduced to the experiments. To accompany the vocal recits, we hear half-baked melodies played on synths, accordions, guitars, or music boxes; many of these tunes are palpably sarcastic in the way they imitate the sort of Euro-bland background music I’d imagine gets played in French and Belgian shopping malls. This dumbed-down approach betokens a degree of snide contempt for the listener; they’re treating us like children. I’m trying hard to regard this as a serious sound poetry LP, but it’s lightweight; it has none of the attack or coherence of Henri Chopin or Paul de Vree. I’m afraid I find virtually nothing to recommend in this silly record.

The Deaf That Hath Ears

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Gabriel Saloman might be better known to you as GMS, one half of the estimable Yellow Swans with Pete Swanson. Since that band’s demise and Swanson utilising his production and mastering skills to become the Trevor Horn of the underground noise world, the Vancouver musician Gabriel has been pursuing his solo career with releases like Soldier’s Requiem (MIACD026) which is released on the Norwegian label Miasmah Recordings. An assured and confident statement of abject gloom, it starts out very boldly with the lengthy and interminable ‘Mine Field’, a tune which sets the tone of deep melancholy and slow-motion despair, with its aching piano chords, layers of plangent violin tones, and carefully-placed discordant ambient murk rumbling menacingly in the background. As mine fields go, this resembles a long slow tracking motion by a 16mm movie camera passing over Passchendaele by the time the engines of war have finished carving deep ruts in the surface of the earth. This “military” theme continues with ‘Boots on the Ground’, where a long dreary march through mud is conveyed by the rainfall sound effects and the deeply miserable guitar solo murmuring its plaint into a reverb chamber. If Saloman ever played a duet with Michel Henritzi, I expect their combined efforts would have a profound effect on the world’s weather systems, and it would never stop raining. ‘Cold Haunt’, the album’s closing track, builds up to a dramatic symphonic finish of sorts, the mixed minor keys and layers of stringed instruments producing emotive sensations that are almost too painful to endure. The cover art confirms the musical anti-war themes, not least with its skull-headed violin player reminding us of the fragility of human flesh, but also with its suffused monochrome tones which exactly match the pitch of this musical statement. Superfluous to add this beautiful record sounds like no Yellow Swans record I ever heard, and perhaps Saloman’s introverted and sensitive side was being stifled in among all the abrasive and distorted guitar-rock rhythms. From 26 September 2013.

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More items from the Norwegian label Van Fongool which arrived 27 September 2013. The trio As Deafness Increases have made a very impressive piece of focused, poised, quiet improvised music for their eponymous album (VAFCD007). The bassist Inga Margrete Aas, the guitarist Rudolf Terland Bjørnerem and the trombonist Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø manage to lock together perfectly as musicians, although as an alternative to “locking” perhaps a more apposite verb might be one that describes the actions of live sponges curling around each other in a ritual undersea dance which we’ll never see, and which amazes the local seahorses and other marine life. To begin with the players are not afraid to make sounds that we can hear, which is always a good start. While I hate to use this clichéd thinking about the role of the bass in a trio, the bass of Aas does indeed create the “skeleton” around which the others can wrap their fleshy blobs, and she achieves this by leaving large, intuitive gaps in her playing, suggesting twice as much volume by the use of silent space. I’m full of sculpting metaphors today; Inga Margrete Aas creates the armature. Nørstebø is good with the abstracted breathy rasps, generating the hoped-for sensations of mysterious snakes at work on the marble floor, but when he strikes a recognisable note he blasts forth with the chilly passion of a distant ship’s horn on a cold foggy night. Lastly we have the very versatile Bjørnerem whose “electro-acoustic guitar” contributes tuneful droney strum effects as well as the spiky forlorn notes that stab the air like the tongues of spiteful insects. I suppose the 20-minute ‘Svalbard’ is the shiniest example of their subtle craft, a slow and inscrutable piece which showcases a wide range of their effects, but also one which grows and shifts in a wholly natural fashion, coming close to creating a satisfying thought-through statement in music and almost restoring our faith in the power of free improvisation. But the other cuts have much to recommend them, such as the growly low-frequency rumblings of ‘Adib’, and the poignant clashes of long tones on ‘Adic’, one which prog fans might easily mistake as a lost improvised set between Fripp, Wetton, and David Cross in 1973. I like the first half of ‘Adia’ too, which is dominated by a gorgeous episode of “riffing” from Bjørnerem until it changes tack midway through, meandering down a lonely and distant corridor into ethereal nothingness. I see the bassist is now signed to ECM Records as one half of Vilde&Inga, while Bjørnerem has one album out on Editions Wandelweiser. Very good.

Hammer of the Gods

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Here’s another release featuring the great Jean-Marc Foussat, the Algerian synth player who I regard as one of the unsung heroes of free-noise-improv of Europe. Actually he’s here as one third of the trio Marteau Rouge, with the guitarist Jean-François Pauvros, another overlooked genius whose work I really must try and catch up on, based on his sullen and murky performances here. I see he made a couple of records in the 1970s – No Man’s Land with Gaby Bizier, and Phenix 14 with Siegfried Kessler, and in more recent years has “jammed” with some of the greats of Japanese guitar noise, including Haino and Kawabata Makoto. He may have been responsible for bringing the drummer Makoto Sato to the group, and he’s equipped with a healthy knowledge of free jazz licks. Foussat, as the world knows, wields a VCS III synth, and when his jackplugs and knobs are on the correct setting then few can match him for free-flying, unhinged sounds. Noir (GAFFER RECORDS GR035) is described the first release proper from Marteau Rouge, and was preceded by a live album they made for In Situ in 2009, where they were joined by Evan Parker. The present album, recorded in the studio, was made in 2004 but not released until 2012. (… Un Jour Se Lève, the 2002 CDR, surely preceded them both?). Sonically, this album most reminds me of Masayuki Takayanagi and his New Direction combo; Takayanagi was the guitarist held in awe by Otomo Yoshihide, and indeed by many others including a stunned Henry Kaiser. Marteau Rouge comes close to delivering the same degree of beyond-free deep underground murk, of the sort that Takayanagi wrestled with in his many recordings where he’s tackling a giant octopus beneath the sea. What I mean by this is that individual notes don’t really stand out, there isn’t much recognisable structure, and instead the layers of synth, guitar and drums just pile up and coagulate into a glorious, heaving ruin. Foussat adds plangency, melancholy, and the keening sound of Arabian horns from his synth; most of the propulsive energy is supplied by the tireless drummer, and the incredible Pauvros creates wonderfully abrasive textures, stabs, whines and painful groanings. Just great! Apparently other listeners regard Pauvros as quite a “violent” player, and I can sort of get that, but he’s also capable of sinking into a deep introspective sulk and howling like a Cyclops. I’ll admit the tunes are quite “slow to start”, and the trio generally start kicking heavy butt by the mid-section, and some listeners may lose patience with this. Not me. From August 2013.

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One of two items received from Romain Perrot in September 2013 is Les Escaliers de la Cave (DECIMATION SOCIALE / SKUM REX / NARCOLEPSIAHN), which he released under his Vomir cloak. An hour-long blast of abrasive abstract noise is preceded by a five-minute one on this CD. These two may be ‘Escalier 1’ and ‘Escalier 2’, though printed text on sleeve suggests there’s a third track ‘There’s a riot goin’ on’, which I somehow doubt is his tribute to the coked-up paranoid funk music of Sly Stone. Monstrous, unlistenable, Vomir’s work always reminds us of an avalanche, one that takes place in slow motion over a very long time, and where the rocks involved are dense, heavy, and very solid. One’s psyche emerges bruised and pummelled, assuming one even makes it out alive. Vomir sees the world as a perpetual slaughterhouse for our walking hunks of meat, and proposes that we savour the process of being transformed into viande hachée over the course of 60 insufferable minutes. Beautiful cover art by Jacques Noël; suggestive of illustrations from a 1920s fantasy novel.

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Large stack of great CDRs from the UK label Quiet World which arrived 17th September 2013. Argh…I am always too late with publishing reviews for these highly-limited pressings, which means by time you read about them, they are likely to be sold out at source. Here’s one great piece of UK experimentalism called Albion Geared (QUIET WORLD THIRTY-TWO) performed by B. Lone Engines, which are the twosome Spider and Ant Blone who come from Reading. The great thing about Spider is he really is a spider, so able to use all eight limbs to perform on musical instruments in ways that puny humans cannot achieve. Ant Blone may or may not be distantly related to one of the many colonies that thrive in the Reading area, and he’s the kind of guy who gets what he wants through formic acid attacks. They previously had a release on the Northampton CDR label Dark Meadow Recordings, and Ian Holloway picked up their “contract” after that label bit the dust in 2012. On this fine album, I was grabbed by the opening track with its spiky and discordant guitar clashes fighting a steely battle of some ilk, but apart from one other instance of it, this turns out to be somewhat uncharacteristic of the whole; their specialism is turning in long and cold tracts of bleak, formless abstraction dronery, the interminable wasteland occasionally punctuated with perfectly-judged details of mysterious brushwork and sculpture, such as a tree painted by Sidney Nolan. This pair have an occluded sense of darkness brewing inside their collective stomachs, and their brand of minimal krautrock-noir is bound to appeal to any night-dwelling creature such as the badger or owl.

Vinyl Sevens Muster – 2 of 3

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From Norway, we have a single by Mummu which is a team-up between Skrap and Ich Bin N!ntendo. Skrap are the two women Anja Lauvdal and Heiða Jóhannesdóttir Mobeck who make quite a nice low-frequency and subtle drone music out of tuba and synth, while the trio of Nergaard, Winther and Heibo are capable of puking out a form of spiky high-energy noise-rock with their guitar-bass-drum setup that is appropriate to almost any musical situation, as their recording with Mats Gustafsson will testify. Both bands also have at least one CD album to their name on this label. On Mitt Ferieparadis (VA FONGOOL VAFLPS001), we have an A side ‘Feda Bru’ which is incredibly restrained, and a much more fiery B side ‘Logatunellen’. You might be more drawn to the riotous and anarchic free playing on ‘Logatunellen’, which is louder, thicker, and almost has a beat that you could frisk to, but somehow the energy feels neutered, blocked. There’s a lot more to be said for ‘Feda Bru’, even though it appears hesitant and uncertain at first spin. I would guess that Lauvdal and Mobeck are quietly dominating this session, while the three rockin’ guys are reining themselves in and acting on their best behaviour. It sometimes takes more discipline to play with this degree of restraint than it does to blast out an amplified blurt, and this does show up on the recording in the form of a seething tension that’s so sharp you could put it in a jamjar. The cover art was concocted by all five musicians with the help of Torstein L. Larsen; it looks like a primary school art mural, except it’s spiked with four-letter words, riddles, and slightly rude sexual images poking about in amongst all the incoherent dribbly visual anarchy. No idea when we got this one but it was released in 2013.

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White Star Line (FARPOINT RECORDINGS fp042) – the label and artist would prefer it printed as White * Line – is a piece of sound art by the Irish electro-acoustic artist Danny McCarthy from Cork. He’s attempting to make some sort of statement about RMS Titanic and the White Star Line shipping company; since Cobh in Cork was the final port of call of the doomed ship, it has historical significance. McCarthy visited the harbour there and made some field recordings using hyrdophones (underwater microphones) from the very same pier trodden by the feet of passengers who originally made their way on board, before sailing off to meet their doom. If the cover photograph has any verisimilitude, said pier is now just a skeleton of decaying timbers. It doesn’t actually take a great deal of research to find this information out, and there’s a “historic experience” museum at Cobh which was established in January 2012 and is probably proving very popular as a school outing. McCarthy’s approach is to combine his watery field recordings with low-key electronic sounds, and I think there may be some post-processing on the finished work. What results is to my ears some rather dull process sound, a lot of static and whirr combined with little bubbles, and ultimately rather irritating sonically. However, there’s an added poignancy to the fact that he made the recordings on a date that coincides exactly with the centenary of the tragic event. And the cover images are strangely moving; the lone pigeon sitting there on the ruin of the pier in a rather forlorn stance is quite touching. And at least one listener claims to hear the voices of drowned souls in this record, or at least an imaginative suggestion of same. However, compared to Gavin Bryars’ grand-scale work The Sinking of the Titanic, this under-resourced and attenuated statement is not much more than a footnote. Arrived 3rd June 2013.

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I always enjoy the playful singles released by Jos Moers on his Belgian-Dutch Meeuw Muzak label. The one by Harry Merry, Australian Sun (MEEUW MUZAK 042), is no exception – and like others in the roster, it’s melodic, has a catchy beat, and is eccentric to the point of near-daftness. Merry was born in Rotterdam and professes his love of vinyl singles, attracted as much to the sensuous colours of the labels as he was to the music he heard when he was a child growing up in the 1970s. He’s a keyboard player and pianist, and while he usually plays a Roland synth, this particular record is instead accompanied by a Belgian barrel organ. There’s a small colour photo of this beast in the press release, and it’s a shame we couldn’t get a picture on the record sleeve. In design terms, it’s a truly ghastly piece of Mittel-European gingerbread. How was the jaunty, cornball music that emanates from its pipes put into service of this quirky piece of post-punk music, with its cryptical layered lyric about the threats to global ecology, and the stiffly mannered but irresistible singing voice of Harry Merry? The answer is, I think, that the music – originally composed by Harry Merry and Ilhem Sabih – had to be rendered into “book music”, a late Victorian storage system for mechanical organs, which comprises holes punched into thick pieces of card. The pieces of card are folded into a zig-zag book, and fed into the mechanical organ. Elbert Pluer assisted with the production of the “orgelboek”, while Adrie Vergeer provided the instrument, Tom Meijer did the arrangement, and Martin Luiten did the mix. The B side contains a delightful instrumental version, allowing you to hear the sheer craft that has gone into the production of the mechanical music. You can keep your Conlon Nancarrow…it’s about time for a revival of this near-obsolete music production method! The A side is a stroke of sheer genius. If nothing else, the fusion of the lyric’s cadences with the music is little short of incredible; the ungainly phrasing of the musical composition dovetails with the words in ways that are continually surprising, like a little miniature wooden cabinet with ingeniously hinged flaps and drawers. A meeting of the old and the new, the square and the hip. A brilliant piece of offbeat pop, and a tiny miracle enacted in just over three minutes. From 21 November 2012.

New (Brain)Wave Influence

Wellenfeld

Rudolf Eb.er, Joke Lanz, GX Jupitter-Larsen, Mike Dando
Wellenfeld
FRAGMENT FACTORY [FRAG 31] CD (2014)

Bagged this blighter as it left the gate: a 300-copy document of a memorable set at the ‘Extreme Rituals’ festival in Bristol in 2012; a ‘carnival’ peopled by the legendary Schimpfluch Gruppe and selected associates: all in all probably the most exciting festival I’ve ever attended. Obnoxious co-attendees, audience vomit and poor sound quality were conspicuously absent, or at least compensated for by the earthy antics on and offstage, among which Rudolf Eb.er manipulating the sound of the same camping stove that was filling the room with vinegar fumes, while conducting breathing exercises; a feast of appliance smashing and vegetable mashing from the balaclava-clad New Blockaders; and an orgy of war drums and baseball bat-to-mirror smashing from Vagina Dentata Organ.

The festival closed with Wellenfeld: a piece dedicated to the late Urs Schwaller – who is said to have first introduced participants Eb.er and Lanz – which grew, hovered and descended like a sentient, poisonous gas cloud fed by the collective brainwaves of eb.er, Lanz, GX Jupitter-Larsen and Mike Dando. Probably the first set to begin a little late, audience had turned expectantly towards the performers while they consulted soundman Rashad Becker at the back of the venue. Nothing happened. When they finally took the stage, they forsook the theatrics that had defined the festival thus far and adopted comfortable seating postures, Eb.er’s lithe form in full lotus position. All wore electroencephalographc (EEG) headsets for what was probably the most ‘experimental’ (as in ‘unrehearsed’) performance of all: feeding brainwaves into a mixing desk, which Becker dutifully fed back as an octophonic mix.

The result (as I listen now) is a slow coalescence of ripping Velcro that gradually swells and pixelates into a roiling swarm cloud of surging voltage, which struggles to maintain its integrity over 25 minutes, while morphing into varying measures of the above tendencies. A soft organ drone pipes in and out and lingers for a while as well. The extent of individual contributions will remain unverifiable, indicating that a perfectly democratic dynamic prevailed among that impressively focused foursome, though Eb.er’s creepy, twitching eyelids and whitened eyes did suggest a bit of ‘above and beyond’. Charlatan or otherwise, he looked the real deal and left me very persuaded about his otherness.

Listening to the recording cold is obviously a different experience, and understandably underwhelming after the live experience. On its own terms though, it’s an original and satisfying piece of noise, the intensity of which is exceeded only by the delighted ovation at the end. Sound quality is tip-top as well. So ironically enough, it was a perfect-first-impression piece that will now take me time to get used to.

Ordo ab Chao

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Carter / Chen / Wooley / Yeh
NCAT
POLAND MONOTYPE RECORDS monolp016 LP

Vast, cosmogonic explosions jump-start another galaxy thanks to this crew of hardy improvisers who ceremoniously ‘blur the line between electronic and acoustic music’ (it still exists?). Consisting of the ubiquitous C. Spencer Yeh, saxophonist Nate Wooley, cellist Audrey Chen and audio engineer Todd Carter, the string-centric sessions were recorded by Yeh, Chen and Wooley during a residency in Amsterdam then shipped to Carter for extensive editing in NY. While those recording sessions appear to have been a galactic free-for-all: all amplified, scraped strings, thrumming electronics, groaning drones and fathomless feedback (a prohibitively pricey proposition were it the analogue tape days), there’s ample evidence of the musicians applying the best of their respective crafts to ensuring the listener endures nothing too exhausting or tedious.

In this respect, Carter is clearly our hero of the hour: he spent a week sifting through the recordings (whether alongside his other work I know not), startling the trio soon afterwards with this taut and tidy electroacoustic suite. Considerate are his track times, ranging from two to fourteen minutes (depending on the content), which effectively render side A into a sound collage, somewhere between Tony Conrad and early Faust. Accompanying and accentuating the studio antics are fleets of distant sirens alongside all manner of mysterious sounds and transformations Carter saw fit to add, resulting in a dripping tunnel vision of a mechanised dystopia, in which electricity is the inhabitants’ lifeblood.

Yong-Yandsen-Disillusion-2013

Yong Yandsen
Disillusion
FRANCE DOUBTFUL SOUNDS DOUBT10 LP (2013)

Seven servings of industrial-lunged, post-Ayler/Kaoru Abe screeches and bellows from Malaysian sax warrior Yong Yandsen, who is one quarter of doom jazz unit, Klangmutationen, and one of a putative handful of new music exponents comprising the ‘Experimental Musicians & Artists Co-operative Malaysia’, situated ‘on the fringes’ of Kuala Lumpur.

It would certainly seem that he’s the first of them to issue a solo recording, and quite a debut it is: nearly three quarters of an attack-happy hour with the tenor sax, which find Yandsen indefatigably wrestling new sounds out of the thing. Of course, comparisons to Ayler and Abe are now de rigueur, though in this case they belong more appropriately to the latter, as Yandsen lacks the audacious melodic deconstructions that were Ayler’s bread and butter during those glory years. It’s abstraction all the way, and delightfully so, even if the style is one burningly familiar to free jazz fans. It does feel authentic to me though: I get the sense that every audible emission here represents the cathartic erasure of yet another hint of melody from Yandsen’s being, in a public exhibition of musical therapy.

The sessions on side A consist of shorter, sharper attacks, with lots of pauses in between as he gets his bearings. Side B revels in more masochistic breath stretches, which flow into gliding scale runs and through a punishing range of dynamic extremes. You know the deal. Over forty-five minutes, it is the listener who is ultimately put to the test, and I’m glad to say I’ve made it through in the rudest of health, spirit rejoicing.