Tagged: radiophonic

Sad Music for the End of the World

The fourth in a related series of releases from the UK small label A Year In The Country is The Quietened Bunker (Dawn Edition), which is labelled Audiological Transmission Artifact #4. As ever, it’s a showcase for contemporary electronic and ambient music. If you’ve followed the others in this AYITC series, you’ll understand these compilations are themed on notions about England and its forgotten, sometimes obscure, history; one previous release looked at the vanishing villages of the countryside, while another proposed a fanciful idea about schisms in the fabric of time, and suggested that 1973 was the year when everything went wrong in Albion. The Quietened Bunker is about military installations.

If pursuing this historical subject, it would be feasible to survey what’s left of coastal defence forts, pillboxes and other buildings from WWII, but our compilers are interested in the Cold War, and the existence of now-abandoned bunkers which were originally built in case of a nuclear attack. The compilers explain this in the insert, and they’ve also done their research into the network of underground monitoring posts, which were needed to report on such attacks; from here, they muse on the possibility of a populace living under the threat of “annihilation”, make a few mildly subversive remarks about the government and the power base that caused this catastrophe to happen, and conclude that “now it can all seem like a dream from another world”.

AYITC aren’t really troubled by hard factual data, and decline to cite dates, grid references, or even specific places in the countryside where we might find such bunkers (as Joe Banks / Disinformation might have done in the 1990s); the project is simply a cue for vague and rather banal sentiments, expressed in allusive texts and ambiguous music. I realise I make this same mean-minded quibble every time when I get these records. Even so, as a listen, The Quietened Bunker is strangely satisfying; each of the nine pieces creates a definite mood or atmosphere, and sustains it through subtle changes. Some are alarmist and paranoid in tone, some are wistful and melancholic, some are so wispy and washed-out you can barely discern their grey, fading tones. Only ‘Crush Depth’ by Unknown Heretic comes close to a watered-down form of industrial music that might seem appropriate for a record about concrete bunkers and atom bombs. The programming is very good, creating a sequence of music that “feels” right, suggesting some sort of narrative progress towards a dismal nuclear winter, and signposting several moving elegiac farewells along the way.

Featured on the comp. are such previous favourites as Polypores, Keith Seatman, Time Attendant and David Colohan, and others beside. Sad music for the end of the world, imaginary soundtracks – though probably more suitable for The Bed Sitting Room (1969) than for Threads by Barry Hines (1984). From 12 July 2016.

Robot Love

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Polish oddity of the week comes to us from Kamil Szuskiewicz, a Polish musician who’s had his other works published on Wounded Knife, Elementworks, and Slowdown Records. The text on Robot Czarek (BÔŁT RECORDS BR K008) is all printed in Polish, and I can’t find out much about it except it’s intended as a “sound cartoon”, “audio comic”, or more simply a radio play. Polskie Radio describes it as “the story of a sensitive machine”.

Listening to this entertaining work (all the libretto is spoken in Polish too) doesn’t reveal all the story’s secrets, but the trope of the robot / human dilemma and the “ghost in the machine” has been around as long as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and probably even earlier than that; a common theme with pulp science fiction writers too I should imagine. Sonically, Szuskiewicz’s composition is fascinating, a nifty blend of very simple music and sound effects served in small bite-size snippets, where brevity and repetition are the order of the day; these are structured either side of the dialogue, which is overlaid, spoken in overlapping sentences, and delivered by a number of actor’s voices – some of which are of course treated to sound like robots. Sometimes there’s a dialogue, sometimes the authority of the speaking voice makes me think we’re hearing a narrator advancing the plotline with his voiceover.

While the music and sound is mostly used to illustrate and illuminate the tale, it’s possible to enjoy it as a species of robotic toy-techno music, with its erratic beats, metallic tones, and warped minimal electronic effects. Guest saxophone players Ray Dickaty and Dave Jackson appear on two tracks, Piotr Zabrodzki did the recording, and the grey metallic artworks are by Paulina Okninska and Janek Ufnal. A highly successful blend of talents and an endearing work. The general tone of this piece appears to be both whimsical and melancholic, a wistful blend of emotions which seems uniquely endemic to the Polish race somehow. Treat this as a Polish update on Kraftwerk’s The Man Machine, with a more elaborate story and a more ambiguous interpretation of the same themes. This was also released as a cassette by Wounded Knife; if you download it, you also get a PDF of the libretto (in Polish). From 21 June 2016.

Everything’s Going Jackanory

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English pastoral moods, themes, and whimsy on The Quietened Village: Dawn Edition (AUDIOLOGICAL TRANSMISSIONS ARTIFACT #2), an 11-track compilation of contemporary artistes from the micro-label A Year In The Country. They present the work in two different editions, a Night edition and a Dawn edition, but the audio content is the same, just the packaging varies (the Night edition arrives in a box). Everything is hand-made, textured papers are favoured, and little chunks of ephemera including a small badge and a stringed tag are attached. I like the care and attention in the packaging, which is described in extensive detail on the label website, but I find the actual imagery is severely impoverished; the cover, which looks like it might have started life as a nice bit of photo-collage work, is printed in such a light grey that it seems to be fading away before our eyes.

This is probably the whole point, however. The project is setting out to produce a “reflection” on lost villages of England. We are invited to muse upon matters of coastal erosion (village has fallen into the sea), villages no longer featured on maps, or cases where populations are evicted and when they come back it’s all changed. As to that last one, the paragraph that describes it is clearly referring to Imber, yet doesn’t name it explicitly, resorting instead to flowery phrases like “great conflicts between nations”. Imber was indeed evacuated during the second World War and never recovered from its careless treatment at the hands of the MOD; another record, oddly enough made by the Norwegian guitar duo kÖök, covered similar ground, and is noted here. They drew very pessimistic conclusions.

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This vagueness (I suppose they would prefer to call it “allusiveness”) on the part of A Year In The Country is evidenced throughout the album. Only two tracks here actually dare to name an abandoned village; there’s ‘The Drowning Of Mardale Green’, referring to a place in the Lake District that was submerged underwater due to a reservoir blunder by Manchester Corporation; and ‘Lost Villages of Holderness’, referring to parts of the East Riding in Yorkshire that were lost to erosion. I discount David Colohan’s reference to the Mitta Mitta, as this is a small town in Australia, and doesn’t seem to fit the overall theme of Englishness. Evidently, the music on The Quietened Village prefers to evoke, rather than to deal with specifics of geography or history; and likes to mix reality with imagination, fictions and myths, as demonstrated by the press release with its reference to The Midwich Cuckoos, and “dystopic tales told and transmitted in times gone by” – a sentence which, while lyrical, would not have earned its author a pass mark in CSE History.

The music itself, mostly instrumental, is pleasant enough. If the musicians share any common ground, I’d say it’s that they are trying to trigger memories and associations in the listener, and doing so mostly by pastiche and quotation. In this, they are not far apart from their nearest rival, the well-established Ghost Box label with its loving recreations of a fictional England refracted through memories of incidental music on BBC television emerging in some undefined period between the Suez crisis and the joining of the European common market. Two cuts which to my ears most closely resemble the Ghost Box “style” (admittedly a very broad church) are ‘Playground Ritual’ by Polypores, and ‘47 Days And Fathoms Deep’ by A Year In The Country. The latter is a pleasant folk-y tune presented with slightly treated sounds, and it fades away sadly into the sound effect of the blowing winds. to illustrate the passing of a lost village. The former has a clunky synth tune acting in quite an agitated manner, with richly evocative sounds; I like its slightly dark undercurrent, the vague creeping noise approaching, which may be taken to stand for encroaching modernity threatening the old ways.

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From here it’s a stone-throw to some good old Radiophonic Workshop quotes; our good friends Howlround have made a career from quoting BBC music in clever and well-informed ways, and their ‘Flying Over a Glassed Wedge’ does not disappoint, reminding us of incidental music for Dr Who episodes that never existed. ‘Day Blink’ by Time Attendant, is likewise of a sci-fi bent, using distortion and unusual synth sounds punctuated by random beats. Time Attendant is a great name, but sadly time-keeping is not in their skill-set. Like much of the work on this compilation, it’s an attractive but poorly-composed piece, lacking form or direction or a satisfactory conclusion. Cosmic Neighbourhood’s ‘Bunk Beds’ is likewise littered with quirky electronic sounds, in a nonsensical confection that ends the comp on a note of whimsical fun.

The Rowan Amber Mill have made more of an effort to compose and arrange music; their ‘Separations’ reminds me of a Dolly Collins arrangement from Love Death and The Lady, lean and spare, and given the context that’s not a bad association to have. 1 The Soulless Party have their ‘Damnatorum’, a pleasing tune rendered in a sort of minimal romantic classical style. Only the synthetic string keyboards let this one down slightly. ‘Damnatorum’ is a strong title too, and let’s not forget the film made of The Midwich Cuckoos was called Village of the Damned. Another track with classical leanings is Richard Moult’s ‘Quopeveil’, where the piano and oboe produce a very tasty and unusual combination, even if the melody is very uncertain and comes out haltingly. It feels a bit precious, strained; as if striving to be mistaken for a British Light Music classic.

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David Colohan’s ‘At the Confluence of the Mitta Mitta & Murray’ relies almost entirely on a “nostalgic” ambient drone to achieve its effects; it’s in the same general area as Sproatly Smith and their ‘Lost Villages of Holderness’, a piece which makes extensive use of sound effects such as ocean waves, seagulls, wind, etc. It feels a bit glib, but the juxtaposition of these recordings with the nostalgic music works well. The second half of the piece shifts dramatically to a “modern” folk song, sung in a charmless style.

For other musicians who have tried to capture the charms of the United Kingdom’s imaginary past, see Hidden Rivers (i.e. Huw Roberts) who idealised the Welsh countryside on Where Moss Grows; Nigel Samways, at a stretch, with his Nuclear Beach and Temple of the Swine; and Jon Brooks, with his 52 for the label Clay Pipe Music. From 6th April 2016.

  1. Somehow I expected a few more explicit references to English folk music. Maybe it’s because the title reminded me of The Imagined Village, which is a hyper-critical book by Georgina Boyes, amounting to a direct attack on the person and work of folk song collector Cecil Sharp. Boyes wanted to disabuse us of any notion we might harbour that folk music is “ancient” or produced by unlearned rustics; she aimed to debunk myths. The phrase “The Imagined Village” was then lifted by Simon Emmerson of the Afro Celt Sound System and applied to his multi-cultural music project. Allez savoir pourquoi.

Memory Forms

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Following The Night Parade (see here), another recent release by Joe Frawley is A Week of Fevers (JOE FRAWLEY MUSIC JFM-CD14) …having suggested he appeared to be relinquishing his earlier narrative style, I find there are traces of that approach still in evidence here. Piano tunes are still the backbone of the work, but Frawley illuminates them with the delicate sound-collages he does so well, in this instance using recordings from “unidentified individuals”, some salvaged magnetic tape recordings from the Chawner family, and public domain sources – perhaps sourced from YouTube, or any sound archive which has digitised its audio content and made it available online.

I would add that the sound collage this time is much more subtle than it ever has been; Frawley downplays story-telling and is content to evoke or suggest fleeting ideas with just the merest touch of sampling. Others have reworked old and damaged materials from the past – just recently we noted the Fossil Aerosol Mining Project who do just this – but I like to think Frawley has a sentimental attachment to these materials, and will only select choice items which stir a chord in his own nostalgic leanings, and he can thus be seen as a sympathetic foster parent for orphaned sounds. He’s also using collaging for the actual compositions; a number of published songs are used, and credited, as sources of samples or as the starting point for his own musical interpretations, and the shopping list includes such romantic tunes as ‘Meet Me in My Dreams Tonight’ and ‘I’ve Heard That Song Before’, both examples from the pre-war Golden Age of Tin Pan Alley songwriting.

I’ve previously likened him to Joseph Cornell, and he explicitly makes the same connection himself with the tune ‘NympWight, for Joseph Cornell’ which ends the album; and the collage cover art is a strong visual analogue to the music. Further, the very title A Week Of Fevers is surely a nod in the direction of A Week Of Kindness, the collage novel by Max Ernst and one of the guiding lights of all artists who use this technique. Of course to some degree Ernst intended to subvert the stuffy Edwardian past from which he clipped his engravings; Frawley’s intentions are more benign I would think, and he wishes to invoke kind spirits from history. True to its title, the album takes the form of a diary, with a track for each day of the week and the final revelatory chapter as track 8. From 17 December 2015.

We Take Chances

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Happy to receive any and all content from Gen Ken…here is a well-presented C60 cassette which reissues a project he did with his old sparring partner and friend Conrad Schnitzler in Berlin in 1988. New Dramatic Electronic Music (GENERATIONS UNLIMITED) is a reissue of a 1988 LP, pretty much split into two halves. Side one emerges as a sort of fractured radio play with music, with a strange mix of found voices, spoken word, overlapping babble and field recordings interspersing the music and songs, which are spread out in episodic fashion. Even the titles read like chapter headings in this half-imagined story. I like the way each episode tends to fade out or wind down just at the point where we want to hear more. It’s an uneasy mix of hard-core experimental electronic music with lighter pieces which are like the duo’s take on 1980s electropop music, all mannered stern voices, simplistic chants, and stripped-down melodies. A very enjoyable and exciting listen.

Side two contains ‘The Story in 8 Parts’, and is a much more elaborate thought-through piece. Presented in six movements and a continuation, it’s one of Conrad’s CONcerts composed for 8-channels of cassette tape playback. As such it’s more formal and coherent than the A-side, and is a unique piece of modernism stamped with the composer’s fingerprints. Both melodic and atonal passages can be found within its labyrinthine structure, and the sounds realised are the best that 1980s technology could do when it came to emulating the sound of brass, piano, strings and percussion on synthesized equipment. (Listeners may well be reminded of The Residents from this time, especially their unsatisfying American Composers series with the weedy keyboards pretending to be trumpets.) A virtual orchestra goes nuts playing this bizarre music. One of Schnitzler’s keynotes is a persistent rhythm – some of his earlier 1970s experiments in electronic music exhibit similar tendencies with their obsessive pulsations, and with their endless supply of ideas these works wipe the floor with 90% of dance and techno music.

David Myers (Arcane Device) did the cover art for this release; originally the mischievous Ken wanted to print different titles on either side of the LP cover, in order to confuse retailers, but this didn’t pan out. The conceptual interchangeability of GENCON and CONGEN is now partially restored on the artworks for this cassette reissue, as is the entirety of the B side’s music which originally had to be trimmed to fit on one side of vinyl. This is part of a relaunch programme for Generations Unlimited, Gen Ken’s curremt enterprise which by June 2015 had produced eight cassette tapes in editions of 100 copies, all of them remastered from original recordings in his catalogue. The list includes gems by If, Bwana, Arcane Device, Thomas Dimuzio, and other notable noise electronic types from the 1980s.

Call Signs

I’ve got a lot of catching up to do to dig deeper into the world of Konrad Smolenski, a young Polish artist who’s been garnering positive reviews, awards and plaudits for his work lately. Looks to be a maverick type who makes powerful and enigmatic statements in video, installations, performance, and sound art…many astute critics are bowled over by the strong integration of sound elements within his visual pieces. I say this because we received a nice tape called Split from the West Den Haag gallery in the Netherlands in September 2014, along with an invitation to their Sept-Oct 2014 exhibition. The tape has three of his aural pieces on one side, ‘Fly’, ‘The End of Radio’ and ‘Judge’, all of which are abrasive no-nonsense utterances of semi-industrial process noise arranged in highly intelligent ways. The radio piece is already a strong favourite; it includes distorted voices that are fit for any given nightmare, except it’s clear that the nightmare is no fantasy and has been derived from the here and the now, and may be applicable to anything from deceitful politicians to the pernicious media who assist in that deceit. So far in less than half an hour, Smolenski impresses with his judicious tightrope act, balancing the need for abstraction and texture with social engagement and strange but potent symbols. I’ll wager many critics liken him to Mike Kelley or Raymond Pettibon, favourably at that.

On the other side of cassette, we’ve got three other notable sound artists, starting with that agit-prop imp of noise, Mattin. His ‘untitled’ is some precious moments of insufferable high-pitched whine unrolled with as much grim intent as the loading of a machine-gun. Even so, I’ve heard things from Mattin with far more force and attack. American Gregory Whitehead is one of the more literary and provocative workers in the radiophonic field, and it might be interesting to investigate some of his radio plays and essays commissioned for BBC Radio. His ‘As We Know’ is an eerie miniature which deconstructs the words of Donald Rumsfeld in a careful manner that Robert Ashley would be proud of. Speaking of eerie, better keep the lights on when you play the last track by Jack Sutton, ‘Contacts Dead Airmen’. Sutton is described here as an English trance medium. This audio piece apparently documents a conversation with the ghost of a terrified, breathless wartime pilot who burned to death in a crash. It’s spine-tingling stuff; with its echo effect, the tape itself feels like it’s been rescued from the wreckage of an airplane, the wreckage of the past.

The last part of this jigsaw is a printed text by Michal Libera, whose compilations for Bolt Records I’ve been enjoying very much, particularly his work in the Populista series. He’s provocative, sometimes almost pretentious, but at least he’s original in his vigourous and imaginative linking of ideas, making intellectual connections across time and space that few academics would dare. At least, that’s what I’m expecting to find when I read Knowns And Unknowns Of New Trends In Cleaning The Landscape, a printed booklet which is an integral part of the Split exhibition. Maybe Libera will join the dots between the above enigmatic sonic statements.

Shadow Plays

Three cassettes we received in January 2014 from the Voice Studies label which, along with its parent venture My Dance The Skull, is run by the London artists Marco Cazzella and Bethania Dick, whom I encountered recently at a performance event called Spoken Weird at the Whitechapel Gallery. We’ve noted previous releases in this series from Mag Resistance and Jaap Blonk.

Image sourced from label website
Image sourced from label website

Aki Onda is well known to readers as the Japanese-American artist who records large parts of his daily life on his handheld cassette Walkman devices, and has over time become the reigning emperor of the sonic diary form. One aspect of this activity involves listening to the radio in foreign hotels on his travels. It helps him get to sleep to hear foreign voices talking. He’s got a special radio-cassette Walkman which enables him to tape these programmes, and it’s selected portions of these recordings that we hear on Midnight Radio 1 or Part A (VS17). The crux of the matter is that he himself can’t understand these foreign languages, and he appreciates these spoken-word broadcasts purely as sound. “There is no bigger joy than the moment when I begin to hear these languages that are foreign to me not as words but as sound”, he reports. “In these moments, I am wading in voices.” On the face of it this may not seem especially remarkable, but the published result is a delight, and rich with the sumptuous detail which Aki Onda seems to bring to much of his work. Even if you just enjoy the sound of radio static and mild distortion you will find much to investigate here. It’s a strong blend of radiophonic and tape sound art.

Image sourced from label website
Image sourced from label website

Maurizio Bianchi recorded his Phonemissions (VS15) using his “phonetic voice”. Extensive research has failed to uncover what “phonetic” means in this context, but it may simply refer to the phoneme, the basic building block of the spoken word. As is well known, The Residents used the term “phonetic organisation” as a little in-joke during the early phase of their career – it was more likely to have been a euphemism for “we can’t play a musical instrument properly”. On the two pieces ‘Precursor Molecules Metastatic Phonation’ and ‘Linear Receptors Terminal Cell-Matrix’ we hear Bianchi intoning and humming fractured syllables using his throat and nose, in extended phrases of dronus-interruptus…he does appear at times slightly distracted, like a fellow singing in the shower, while at other times he comes across as serious and devoted as a lonely monk chanting prayers out loud in his cell. The ceremonial aspect is suggested by the very simple metallic percussion effect (some have characterised it as banging a stick on a metal pipe) which chimes, sizzles and rattles its way through the performance. I’ve not followed the career of this creator in detail, although I gather he used to be associated with extreme industrial noise in the 1980s.

Image sourced from label website
Image sourced from label website

Bryan Lewis Saunders was also present at the Whitechapel event to which I refer. It was good to see this fellow performing in person as his body movements add a considerable amount of significance and authority to his spoken-word pieces. He never shies away from “difficult” content, even at the risk of alarming the audience; he can come across as fairly extreme on vinyl or disc, and this effect is only intensified when you see him face to face. His release ‘Me and My Shadow’ (VS16) was realised with the help of Z’EV. This release could represent more content from his ongoing “dream diary” project…unlike Aki Onda above, who always seems to enjoy a good night’s sleep when listening to foreign radio transmissions, Saunders’ demeanour often suggests he hasn’t had a restful night in two or three years. He’s constantly troubled by his own dreams, the voices he hears in his head, and his own speaking voice – he’s a chronic sleep-talker, and has assembled a voluminous collection of his own sleep tapes. This might be what we’re hearing on ‘Me and My Shadow’, although it’s somewhat more coherent than we might expect, and might be extracts from an insomniac’s journal. The abiding theme is physical discomfort; bodily complaints heap up, and are described in painful detail. The voice sounds distant, washed out, and beaming at us from some nameless long night of the soul. The chilling effect is aided by ZEV’S delicate white-noise sound art in the background. Nearly two hours of this unsettling sound can be yours to enjoy upon purchase of this tape.

Ruidos Sombrías

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

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

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

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

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

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

Un, Deux, Trois

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Un

Les Hauts De Plafond
No Ask Lévrier
FRANCE SATIE CHAPO SC01 LP (2012)

Highbrow yet accessible, this sumptuous sonic melange melds vintage musique concrète’s rigorous exploration for new realms, scattershot syllable poetry and the propulsion of a studio-savvy avant-rock outfit that’s comfortable in any gear. No Ask Lévrier, Les Hauts de Plafond’s four-wheeled fantasy, chugs through forests of mystery with sat-nav flagging up every musical detour along a 40 minute ‘scenic route’, in which sound upon intriguing sound is layered and woven into the next like a patchwork quilt, stitched together by hands adept at intuitive combination; the music suffering not in the least from absence of climax; joy lying largely in wedding one strange sonic situation with another. As a result, you can leave the room and feel certain that someone’s changed the CD while you were out.

Something of an extended radio piece, this recording also belongs in the tradition of live meets sampled sound collage, and while it never quite attains the ecstatic poles of seminal works such as My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, nor does it stray into the less enthralling zones. Those familiar with the hardcore collagists (and a personal favourite) Milk Cult will also have some idea what to expect, the miniatures of their Project M-13 exuding a similar penchant for playful mystery, wherein vignettes of avant-pop collage engender eclectic and serendipitous psychological spaces; a perpetual scrapbook of adventure as in ‘Dieu Est Une Voiture En Plein Phare’, which immerses a metronomic bass in a web of voices and the motor blasts of a car race.

A press shot shows the pensive pair attempting to record pieces of fruit, suggesting a quirky sense of humour and a ‘concrète’ mandate to distil drama from the quotidian. Further homage to the sound-spelunking forefathers can be found in ‘L’insoutenable Objet’, featuring clattering crockery and a deep, squeaky door that opens the portal to Pierre Henry’s Variations Pour Une Porte Et Un Soupir. Les Hauts de Plafond has also been said to broadcast music from a 2CV used as a mobile amplifier, the myth enhancing their capacity to illuminate the sublimely ridiculous within the ostensibly ordinary.

Sylvain Chauveau

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Sylvain Chauveau
Kogetsudai
FRANCE BROCOLI 013 CD (2013)

Sylvain Chauveau’s 10th recording Kogetsudai is the second in a trilogy based on convergence of abstract and natural forms. Where the first part, Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated) drew upon the mysteries of abstract painting, Kogetsudai reflects (and reflects upon) a more eastern phenomenon: Japanese rock gardens, such as Ryoanji in Kyoto, where the piece was conceived. I’m pretty sure Ryoanji was also the site of an incongruous photograph of Rudolf eb.er and Dave Philips, joined by a bevy of Japanese schoolgirls, which I can’t locate right now. Further bemusement notoriously occurs in response to the site itself: 248 square metres’ worth of pebbles raked to resemble… nothing much, leaving many a westerner wondering what they travelled all that way for.

In a similar manner, the Kogetsudai resonates with naturalistic intrigue, oscillating fragile ripples and whorls, from the centre of which issues the odd snatch of haiku-like lyric, delivered so gradually as to force you to pay attention. Emotionally adrift somewhere between Fennesz and Eleh; archetypally minimal; it’s not Francisco Lopez, but it is delicate in construction, every piece just a gossamer layer or so, consisting of location recordings, sine waves or, in ‘Lenta’, soft, suspended piano chords. While I’m not drawn to the laboured vocals – I don’t know – something like a frozen Bill Callahan’s, the tenuous musical gestures are genuinely evocative, suggesting a space outside of time the way Aphex Twin did in his second round of Selected Ambients. Evident is the attention to detail, and a seemingly genuine appreciation of the meditative mentality of Chaveau’s subject matter, which to my ears is a significant accomplishment, given that one cannot simply ‘turn Japanese’.

minizza-a-rebours

Trois

Minizza
A Rebours
FRANCE BROCOLI 014 CD (2013)

To realise a long-term ambition, French electronic trio Minizza recruited six collaborators for their third and most considered recording: a radio rendering of J.K. Huysman’s dense novella about a decadent misanthropist named Jean Des Esseintes. In the novel, Des Esseintes retires with his many worldly possessions from Paris – sick of society and its tiresome mores – to a house in the countryside, where he spends day upon day keeping strange hours, reflecting upon and rejecting orthodox literature, criticism, Catholic writings, and rewarding his senses to the gills with the finest substances he can treat them to. He also encrusts the shell of a tortoise with gems, causing its death; an indulgence analogous to the lifestyle that nearly kills Des Esseintes himself. Seemingly sedated by the knots of memories and sensory experiences past and present, the narrative proceeds quite ponderously at times, and is best reserved for times devoid of distraction.

Similar attention may be required here, for though an easier experience than the novel, it’s not a casual one. Realised for French radio, Francophones will certainly fare better than I in appreciating it in its fullness, though I begrudge it not the inaccessibility: rather the French vocals engender a sense of emotional distance analogous to the protagonist’s. Besides, I couldn’t see an English version living up to this standard, to be honest: the obsessive yet languid atmosphere is far more suggestive of a continental decadence than a conceivably more inept, British one. As if to drive the point home, in ‘De La Nature Des Choses’ a Gallic slur slinks sleazily behind a familiar bassline, through the same firelit drawing room as in Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘Melody’, and offering the set one of its more seductive sections. That said, the narrator’s resonant, often breathy delivery I find difficult to correlate with as sickly a figure as Des Esseintes, unless it is a self-dramatising interior monologue, where none can taint his schizoid, scholarly reveries.

Arrangements are on the whole airy, moody and evocative of Des Esseintes’ sensory forays. Instrumentation is spare, implying precariousness and single-mindedness, and further by layers of soft, echoing electronics, seemingly bathing the voice in sickly rays of light. ‘Dominé Par Des Abstractions’ delights especially in the ebb and flow of it. These faint sonic veneers sometimes admit voices: revenants from Des Esseintes’ distant, debauched past; figments of the dimly remembered, lit by faint flickers of Badalamenti-esque jazz. As it approaches the final stages, the atmosphere becomes quite disorienting, culminating in a radio dial blitz in ‘Agonie’, but all in all it’s an enticing listen, as rich in tone and pretension; as ornate and fleeting as the world of Des Esseintes, and perhaps as appropriate to specific points in time as a reading of the novel itself.

Bristol’s Event Horizon Presents…

ensembleska006

Ensemble Skalectrik
Trainwrekz
EDITIONS MEGO eMEGO 169 LP (2013)

A Proust moment! Dropping needle on this unknown, recollection of past experience swiftly follows: fortunate was I to witness the silhouette of Ensemble Skalectrik aka Nick Edwards (on the night) along with Mordant Music’s titular Baron hunched over a portable lab at an ‘F.C. Judd Reinterpretations’ launch last year. About six other people attended that fog-filled flight of the supernatural. Six. The next night a packed-house went crazy over some lame-ass indie rock showcase from London that I made the mistake of taking a punt on. What the hell is wrong with these garbage-chewing idiots? Lapping it up like so much milky tea. I split during the first act: a stoned trio of Coldplay wannabes who couldn’t muster feedback without piercing every eardrum in the room; and still the hypnotised applause. Score one for mediocrity.

Said cognoscenti would have grimaced (and good for them) at this fine follow up (of sorts) to Nick Edwards’ Plekzationz LP (as Ekoplekz, also on Mego), which forsakes the latter’s long form format for far shorter, improvised and individualised, studio-born homunculi that nonetheless bear familial resemblance to that double LP’s weightier portions of black-dimensional slithering, and for which many reviewers were unsparing in their admiration. I suppose qualifiers such as ‘side project’ and ‘sketches’ might raise a supercilious eyebrow or two, but they needn’t. Of the three jam sessions that yielded the contents of this record, we have but six, supple, post-produced tracks, not one of which I would advise to diet or take more exercise (several hours’ excess fat splodged the editing suite floor, presumably). One might regard this as an exercise in ‘spontaneous’ creativity after the compositional rigour that yielded the non-linear, musically concrete elder sibling. Perhaps even – gasp – a tip of the hat to Edwards’ home-taping halcyon days!

In any event, fans will not exhibit a jot of surprise upon learning that the Radiophonic influence is just as strong on Trainwrekz; syphoned from the deeper and darker end of that hallowed gene pool albeit. (In fact, when my girlfriend remarked thus during the first spin she received an immediate, looped cry of ‘DOCTOR!!!’ by way of reply; and who am I to gainsay a synchronicity?) Along with allusions to our favourite vintages of Time Lord, this swirling atom soup ripples with all sorts of supernatural sounds summoned from selected grooves of his ritually abused record collection, from the mean-spirited, marauding grind that opens to the comparatively pastoral, delay-drenched whirl of closer ‘Wreksikz’ (yeah, all the titles feature a ‘Wrek’); ever adorned with vari-speed wobbles, rattles and ruler rumbles. In this dark Fantasia, the studio comes to life in accordance with the capricious will of our sorcerer’s apprentice, and at times the sickening loops look likely to rend the fabric of space itself with roll after cavernous roll of reverbed matter timewarped from the B-side of White Noise’s Electric Storm LP, or from somewhere deep inside Mr Bungle’s ‘The Bends’, or even from Daphne Oram’s bubbling cauldron, which inquisitive listeners of ‘Oramics’ might have been allowed to pop over to see if they’d had the presence of mind to take her up on her end-of-album invitation. But I digress. I would recommend this album most to those least likely to enjoy it. We can all benefit from the odd dose of existential dread in helping us get to grips with who we are. Why should it be wasted on those of us who will simply derive pleasure from it?