Tagged: sound art

Loving the Alien

MeiZhiyong Dave Phillips
MeiZhiyong Dave Phillips
SLOVAKIA URBSOUNDS COLLECTIVE URB035 LP (2017)

Schimpfluch Gruppe’s prized Humanimal-Aktionist Dave Phillips needs no introduction round here, though Mei Zhiyong – his confederate for this collaboration LP – may be less familiar to SP readers, which didn’t stop him racking up kudos in 2014, when he organised a tour of China for/with Herr Phillips. Live videos show the man to be a beast behind the mixing desk, pumping out torrents of effluent noise that could pass for that of ‘80s/’90s scum-noise-mongers such as Hijokaidan, Incapacitants or even Otomo Yoshihide on a strident night. This LP, a typically Schimpfluchian cut n’paste montage, is sourced from slivers of the Sino-Swiss double-act’s subsequent, 20-city rampage across Europe in 2015, which must have left audiences breathless and Phillips with much to wade through while editing this monster.

First thing out the window is linear time: the record obliterates any sense of what happened during these shows, but in its warped continuum of sudden shifts, subdermal explosions, subterranean drones, dulled voices, animal growls, and occasional sonic pixelation as Phillips zooms deep into his materials, offers some idea of the audience’s disorientation. The prolific Phillips’ probably threw this all together on the fly, filleting his digital archives of tasty bits as he gave them the once-through; burnishing the sum into a ferocious form of electroacoustic wizardry without wasting a moment. Hewn of fat, flatulence and dead air are the visceral shits and giggles, leaving only muscle and menace: an approach eminently preferable to even a highlight-cuts compilation, much less the bloated live document format. For this we are eternally grateful.

Gilles Aubry
And Who Sees The Mystery
GERMANY CORVO RECORDS core 011 LP (2017)

Between 2013-14, well-commissioned radio producer and sound artist Gilles Aubry took to Morocco’s in-between spaces to collect and process the recordings he went on to map out this 38-minute composition or ‘sonic exploration of Berber-Amazigh voices and instruments, rhythms and spaces’ as the literature has it. The Berber are an Afro-Asiatic (but largely Islamic) ethnic group dispersed across Northern Africa, with concentrations in Morocco and Algeria; their languages a blur of related autochthonous tongues under the Tamazight umbrella. Reasons for Aubry’s interest in the group are unclear, but what distinguishes this recording is its distance from the motifs, the vigour and the verve one might expect from a part of the world so frequented for its sense-sharpening music. Indeed, hot countries are not usually known for such introspection. However, behind the curtain of our thwarted expectation, we may, perchance, bear witness to the titular ‘mystery’.

Much like the expansive sound collages of Sublime Frequencies (and as far back as the proto-collage on Sun City Girls’ Low Pacific), And Who Sees The Mystery is both an excursion through and remote from from the standard issue sound sources encountered in field recordings and fixed-medium electroacoustic both. It openly trafficks in faintly-familiar fragments (street sounds, bird calls and rousing musical performances), binding them with the dissonant yet adhesive properties of ‘performative’ feedback and a recurrent drone that tints everything it touches, till the whole artefact succumbs in time to sonic degradation: tape corrosion, piercing feedback and the dust of field recordings that demands cognitive reparation for our audio tourism. Neither travelogue nor scrapbook, the record is more of an interior tapestry of nameless voices echoing through the darkness of either an alienating reality or dispassionate dream world, at least inviting the listener to ruminate upon this strange, fictional realm.

Andi Otto
VIA
GERMANY PINGIPUNG 53 / JAPAN NIGHT CRUISING NC-LP02 2 x LP (2017)

Berlin’s Andi Otto first touched our radar in 2014 with Where We Need No Map, under his Springintgut monicker – a lightweight deck of beat-driven backpacker postcards from all corners of Asia. He followed this with a fine collaborationThe Bird and White Noise (with F.S. Blumm) – an uplifting ‘travelogue of naturalistic melodies’ that I have turned to in many a time of Too Much Dark Ambient. His current self-image is of an ethno-beat maestro of the Four Tet/Daphni school, who crams the channels with suave string samples, modular whoops and warbles, and selectively swiped Asian girl vocals doing loops around slow-burning deep house and dub rhythms.

With more in the way of a blissed-out Buddha Bar vibe than ‘Map offered, tracks like ‘Dub For Ian Waterman’ balance eye for detail with ear for delicate melody, though this is an exceptional instance of a build-up leading to a payoff, where many other tracks level off to a predetermined pace and stay there. The effect of this is that for all the variety of content, identity quickly becomes homogenous. Besides, Four Tet perfected the art of middle-class beat-smithery with his Morning / Evening record in 2015. Thus, while clearly a talented producer, Otto and his skills might be better off in good company.

Making Out in Windy Stockholm

From 17 November 2016, we received these four volumes of a vinyl LP series called Text-Sound Compositions kindly sent to us by Daniel Rozenhall, current incumbent and custodian at the Fylkingen Records HQ. On them we can hear some fascinating examples of sound art dating from 1971 to 1974, works which were originally presented at the annual festival of Text-Sound Composition held at Stockholm. Right away I wondered why the series starts at Number 8. It seems the label are continuing a series of seven LPs originally released in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which ran out of steam at #7 for “economic reasons”. These new LPs continue the series, and coincide with a happy discovery of the original materials. The project must have been a labour of love for Rozenhall, who compiled and produced the set, did the mastering for the vinyl, did the research and wrote the annotations. There’s a generous amount of unreleased material seeing exposure for the very first time on these sides.

Given the creators involved on these records, and the nature of the work which often focuses on the human voice, one is tempted to characterise the material as “sound poetry”…but even that is quite a nebulous term. I recall listening to the Revue OU boxed set which reissued most of Henri Chopin’s audio magazine and which naturally tended to favour the French school of this most marginal of 20th century art forms, showcasing important works by Bernard Heidsieck, François Dufrêne, Raoul Hausmann and Chopin himself. However, it’s always been an international movement, and the American, English, and Swedish wings were represented in the box too. When writing about it, I struggled as I tried to edge towards a definition of what “sound poetry” might be, and to this day it remains elusive. To me the “purest” form would be the human voice dramatically transformed through use of tape and amplification, but based on what I hear on these four Text-Sound Compositions LPs, the activity could legitimately include electro-acoustic composition, performance art, free improvisation, radio plays, electronic music, noise, and more. Swedish Radio and EMS Stockholm had a big part to contribute. But it’s not all Swedish; these four LPs are also very inclusive in terms of nationalities, as we shall see.

On Volume 8 (1971) (FYLP 1039), poet and composer Bengt Emil Johnson kicks off your day of strange listening with ‘Under the rejoicing of the audience’. Crowd noises are fed through filters, including what sounds like the phase effect, and edited into perplexing snippets. Odd and slightly unsettling. Johnson regards these emotional expressions of the crowd as a “collective language”, which he might be trying to decode as he studies and works with the grain of what finds on his tapes. Tape manipulation has rarely sounded so subtle and understated.

Gust Gils turns in ‘Making Out in Windy Stockholm’. I never heard anything by this Belgian-Dutch poet, and on this evidence he seems to have been a pretty far-out loon. He drew inspiration from experimental literature, science fiction, and surrealism. Some or all of these influences might show up in this weird clutch of symbolist free-form poems, which amount to a sprawling, free-form narrative of some sort. On the surface, he’s rewriting classical history and legends on his own terms – there are snippets of the Prometheus myth, glimpses of Christians fed to lions, a political prisoner being tortured. If there’s a linking theme, it might be something to do oppression of minorities by the authorities. Gils had a spare style, not overdoing the use of tape loops, overlapping voices and electronic processing. The only off-putting aspect is the slightly smug “hippy” tone to his reciting voice; he’s not working very hard to convince us of his thesis, and kind of assumes we’re already on his side.

Herman Damen made four minutes of ‘Magic’ – in some ways sound poetry in purest form, if you agree with my generalisation above. Language pared down to the basics; just syllables, breath, coughing, snorting, and mouth sounds, bordering on absurdist Dada grunts. Real nice work. It was improvised, but improvised onto multi-track tape, and Damen worked to a careful structure with a deliberately limited range of syllables available to him. This Dutch visual artist has a rich history of unusual ideas, including intriguing areas like “kinetic language”, semiotic theatre, the use of a three-dimensional alphabet…all in the name of expanding our idea of what language might be, pushing the envelope in wild ways. Both he and Gils are described by Rozenhall as creating “verbosonies”, which is a wonderful word.

The last quarter of Volume Eight is given over to the great Bob Cobbing, a man who it’s fair to say was the first name in English sound-poets, and was also a pivotal figure in avant-garde 1960s London in terms of publications, happenings, performances, and poetry readings. In my fantasy life, I often dream of travelling back in time and visiting Better Books, a hub for the UK underground in London. Cobbing was also represented on Revue OU; Trunk Records collectors who purchased the Jeff Keen Noise Art LP in 2012 may be interested in Cobbing’s contributions to Keen’s Marvo Movies. Here, on ‘Trilogy Three’, Cobbing was joined by John Darling to produce the most near-musical piece on the LP. Eerie overlaid and simultaneous voices using much primitive tape echo, creating a sort of monstrous chorus. No words, just mouth sounds and wailing, amounting to an almost song-like effect, both dreamy and grotesque.

Backyard Architect

Last heard the Australian sound artist Philip Sulidae in 2015 with his History Of Violence, which was a sonic exploration of a forest area using field recordings and ambient noises…to generate an extremely effective sense of “atmosphere”, that elusive quality so many claim to seek. Here he is again with Scenes From A Duplex (NO LABEL), where his subject “a single dwelling in the inner west of Sydney” – not only his subject, but indeed his inspiration and the very means by which this record was created. Once again he sets himself the challenging task of capturing an entire environment into some form that can be adequately recast on a CD.

Among the sources used in this work, he refers to “architectonics”, which is puzzling…the word simply refers to the study of architecture…but perhaps some knowledge of the cantilevered overhang and the foundations of this duplex enables the diligent sound artist to determine things like mic placement for his intensive studies. Two 15-minute suites emerge from his long-form gazing. They both seem to have involved a rainstorm happening at the time, which is referenced in the titles of the tunes and indeed the sounds of thunder and falling rain (often a popular favourite with phonographers) do surface on the record. It’s oddly compelling listening material, despite the general uneventfulness…once again Sulidae has a keen sense of tension, keeping us in a perpetual state of expectation, not simply content to let mundanity roll by on a conveyor belt of the mind.

The History Of Violence record had a dark subtext (murder, psychopaths…) which is not overtly present on this record, but Scenes From A Duplex is still vaguely unsettling, casting doubts on the seemingly-safe suburban environment it is drawn from, seeming to see mysterious goings-on behind every picture window. The visual inserts do much to reinforce this impression; otherwise ordinary snapshots treated heavily with process dots, until our sense of alienation is complete. From 14 December 2016.

Black Broadcast

On the split LP FYLP 1037 from Fylkingen Records, we hear one of the last team-ups between Lars Åkerlund and Zbigniew Karkowski, two past masters of death-dealing noise. Between 2012 and 2016, you couldn’t get a melon between these two – they would drop everything for a good collaborative project, one of which crossed our threshold in the form of Horology, a 2013 escapade (with Jean-Louis Huhta) where they took horrendous liberties with the Buchla synth system that’s housed in Stockholm. Gustav, the old janitor at EMS studios, hasn’t been the same since that fateful day…Further materials from that session may have surfaced on the double CD from Sub Rosa, disappointingly called A Bird In The Hand Is Worth Two In The Bush, but we never got a copy of that. Looks like my ears won’t be turning into grey mush just yet.

Åkers and Karkers – as they called each other familiarly – had a partnership dating back to the late 1980s, when they made a record as part of P.I.T.T. with The Dreamers and released it on Carl Michael von Hausswolff’s Radium 226.05 label. That Drakon item from 1989 might not have been cut from the same cloth as today’s jet-black dark droner, leaning more towards tribal rhythms and inspired by industrial nightmares of charred metal. We might say something similar for the grisly Mental Hackers LP, also released in 1989 on the same label, which featured Karkowski and a number of drumming Swedes battling it out with bass-playing Swedes, all of them out-staring each other in a contest of grim scowls and baleful glares. Later the duo formed a trio with Dror Feiler, and also realised an avant-garde opera based on The Idiot (by Dostovesky). Whatever next? Flash-forward to 2012, when those Mental Hackers jokers resurfaced at an “acclaimed” concert in Fylkingen, after which Lars Åkerlund and Zbigniew Karkowski were inspired to create this split LP. It would turn out to be Karkowski’s last project – as the sleeve note penned by Daniel Rozenhall points out, evidently seeing weighty significance in the fact.

For his side, Lars Åkerlund created ‘Aware Not Aware’. Round these parts we mostly know Lars for his Xenon record of 2011, a solo emanation that caused sales of gas cannisters to fluctuate wildly in some parts of the world. Here, he creates reverbed droney menace for 23 minutes, murmuring in stern manner and varying the pitch as needed – now hard, now soft. The sharp dynamics of the piece give it some variety, but he doesn’t do much to earn these dynamics; they are forced changes, not organic ones, and the general ill-conceived nature of the piece means it just ends suddenly after several dreary passages of motor-boat puttering. A very dismal motor-boat, going round in circles on a sluggish grey ocean, with only a skeleton for a passenger and an emaciated loon behind the wheel, piloting aimlessly.

Zbigniew Karkowski’s ‘Radio Enemy’ is more satisfying. For the most part, he uses the simple trick of distorted voices passing through extreme amplification, creating the effect of the short-wave radio set from Hell. For as long as I can remember, which isn’t very far, the short-wave radio has been a familiar tool in the hands of many, from industrial music denizens to dark ambient dabblers of all stripe, and it’s a convenient way to create instant fear and paranoia in the listener. I wonder if we all have some shared memory of being a serviceman in an imaginary Cold War, receiving these unwanted messages from the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. If we have, it may account for why the Conet Project recordings continue to strike such a raw nerve on the collective psyche. Karkowski however has his own take on this marginal “genre”, and he pushes it far beyond the limits of tolerance, as is often the way with his extremely testing near-physical noise assaults. The human ear struggles to decode these hideous messages, but in vain. The piece gives way to a slightly more subdued episode for its final third, almost entering a pastoral zone of tense chirping and hissing, laced with small sound events which may be radio signals we stand a chance of understanding. However, the mood is no less pessimistic, and ‘Radio Enemy’ will not leave you with a smile on your lips nor hope in your heart. If this record is indeed an epitaph to the mighty Karkowski, it’s not an unfitting one. From November 2016.

Mud Men

Great rumbly growly lower-register improv from the Norwegian trio Muddersten on their Karpatklokke (SOFA SOFA555) CD. The tuba player is Martin Taxt, who plays in the microtonal way on that instrument and also uses electronics; we much enjoyed his menacing antics on the recording Pan On Fire, when he did it with the Japanese feedback king Toshimaru Nakamura. Muddersten also boast the guitarist (he also plays tape loops) Håvard Volden from Flymoden, Moon Relay, Nude Ono Sand and The Island Band; and Henrik Olsson, from Gul, Skog Och Dal, Skogen, Slötakvartetten, and Unforgettable H2O, credited here with objects and friction, which means he’s joined the ranks of the “rubbing” improvisers who seize inanimate things and apply the frottage technique with varying degrees of franticness.

The stern and burbling non-music that emerges from Muddersten is supposed to be saying something about a particular kind of cracked muddy terrain and the way that plant matter grows in it, clearly a concern of some import for your Norwegian farmer or keeper of orchards. In keeping with this agricultural theme, the cover photos may depict such terrain, and while the front landscape is a pretty banal image, the inside spread of fissures and scraggly grass will delight viewers who enjoy textures and surfaces in their visual art. The Muddersten men may be somewhat “minimal” in their restrained playing and small-ish gestures, but the sound they create is very far from empty and simplistic, and indeed there’s barely a quiet moment or a smooth surface which they won’t roughen with their scrapey and parpy actions. I assume this says something about the old Nordic ways of ploughing the land in an extremely thorough way, leaving no acre of turf ungrooved, using dragon’s teeth and brass pins. From 3rd January 2017.

Key Largo

Leighton Craig
Green Coronet
AUSTRALIA A GUIDE TO SAINTS SNT018 CASSETTE (2016)

This is a four song cassette and download release from Lawrence English’s Room40 tape offshoot A Guide To Saints (since 2012), although I actually have a cd-r promo here on the desk in front of me. As it’s a release designed for the cassette format, I’ll stick to the Side A/B protocols when discussing each piece of music. Those with an interest in American automotive history will be disappointed to learn that this release is not a tribute to an American muscle car from the 1960s, but Craig’s own Australian-made Coronet Phase 2 guitar amplifier.

The first piece (track A1 on the cassette), “Green Shroud”, has a core of a sleepy keyboard figure which repeats over which Craig layers high pitched sine waves, synthesiser, birdsong, some other pre-recorded material sourced from who knows where and heavily treated – with an analogue delay of some kind I think – somewhat out of control vocals. It might be my imagination, but there’s room noise on this track as well which suggests that something acoustic was recorded with a live mic that was neither edited nor gated later on. All of this gives one the feeling of wandering around a phantom new age festival with nothing better to do than soak up the mix of sound systems, stalls and sounds of nature on a lovely summer’s day. “Drowned World” (track A2) is a chord held down on a keyboard with clarinet extrapolations and more birdsong overlaid. Apparently, Craig dangled microphones out of the window of his Brisbane studio to capture his environmental recordings and the sound of an aeroplane passing overhead produces a pleasant effect here.

“Arc The Solar Causeways”, (B1), begins on unaccompanied electric piano. Delicate. Distant processed vocals like eddies in a stream, flowing around bulrushes. I like the way the processing becomes more and more evident; slowly taking over everything, not just the vocals. There’s a period where the music seems to fight it; the repeated vocal sounds skirt around dissonance briefly, before the entire mix becomes unstable and collapses into itself. The final piece, “Divided By Zero” (B2), is initially a conflation of what could be electronic feedback and vocals. This is the most like a “song” of all the four pieces. Although what the “song” is about exactly is hard to discern. The feedback is processed but this time the dissonance is more pronounced – it sounds like a Roland tape echo being abused here. A keyboard part cycles around the latter part of this composition, with the long-suffering tape echo being manipulated to within an inch of its life. Great bit of studio technique – I’m all for that.

On Safari

The cassette by Usurper is on Singing Knives Records, the Sheffield label who are doing their part to keep the lunatic fringe alive…the Scots duo Usurper occupy the first half of this 45-minute tape with an interminable piece of absurdist poetry / performance art, on which they recite words such as “snake, monkey, mosquito, giraffe, elephant” with bizarre vocal inflections, and create their own brand of broken, formless acoustic noise using whatever non-musical objects they can clasp in their paws. We are invited to read this escapade as a warped 19th century jungle expedition, along the lines of a lost Joseph Conrad novel…to me it feels more like they’re glancing at pictures in a children’s story-book, which is not meant to be a disrespectful remark, but there is a sense of infantile fun at work here, a possibility which is not dispelled when you see pictures of them performing with hand-drawn paper masks attached to their heads with masking tape. This “jungle” side appears to have begun life as an experiment using the Google search engine, subverting its “normal” use and instead using it as a random word generator of some sort. As they near the end, and the cries of “snakes! snakes!” become increasingly more demented and alarming, we might almost be hearing an episode of The Goon Show…it conjures up comic-strip images of hapless explorers in pith helmets and khaki shorts, flapping about as they face their doom.

Usurper are Malcy Duff and Ali Robertson from Edinburgh, and have released a fair number of CDRs and cassettes since 2005 for labels such as Giant Tank, Sick Head, Harbinger Sound, Unverified Records, Bug Incision Records, and Chocolate Monk. I’m unsurprised to find that Malcy Duff has worked once or twice with fellow loons Anla Courtis and Dylan Nyoukis; Usurper’s inchoate noise is not far apart from the churning porridge mass that Nyoukis specialises in. While I enjoy the absurdity of Usurper, their noise disappoints me as sound art; it seems thin and under-nourished. They seem to have no interest in using the microphone as anything other than an inert instrument to document their flat and uninteresting voices, which would be fine if there were a bit more energy and variation to the vocal performances. Consequently much of the tape is a dreary listen.

Usurper continue on the B-side which, judging by other online accounts of the tape, involves a dialogue around a kitchen table with more non-musical objects and simplistic repetitions of “rat-a-tat” and “blam”, while a young child occasionally intervenes with their own vocal contributions. Again, the rather flat delivery of the monosyllabic nonsense words is disappointing; in the hands of a Dadaist like Tristan Tzara or Hugo Ball, this vocal salvo would have created an explosive situation and every “blam” would have struck terror into the hearts of the bourgeoisie. By contrast, Usurper just seem bored and unengaged; this may be a deliberate post-everything beyond-ironic stance, but it also makes for a tiresome listen. However things liven up somewhat when events take them outside, and against the roar of traffic Duff and Robertson suddenly erupt into an impromptu improvised dialogue that blends clichéd dialogue from cowboy movies and pulp novels with surreal, florid, stream-of-consciousness gibberish. Overlapping voices give the listener too much to digest, and the sheer lunacy of their performance is enough to short-circuit common sense in 50 seconds. From 30th December 2016.

Big Sky

Very strong set of musique concrète compositions from Michel Redolfi on the album Desert Tracks (SUB ROSA SR418); the Belgian label Sub Rosa have taken it on themselves to reissue this album which first appeared on CD in 1988, as the first half of a set that also included Pacific Tubular Waves. Redolfi is associated with the Marseille wing of the French school, and was co-founder of the Group de Musique Experimentale de Marseille since 1968; he also served as director of the Centre International De Recherche Musicale (CIRM) in Switzerland. Although he’s collaborated with Ferrari, Parmegiani and Henry, he’s also not averse to working in America, and in fact lived there for nearly a decade, forming alliances with American composers and working in Californian University music centres. It was in the Californian deserts in 1987 that he captured the basic sounds that have gone to make up Desert Tracks.

While we’re more than familiar with field recording types and phonographers who settle for capturing rather uninteresting aural snapshots of the landscapes they visit, Michel Redolfi was aiming high right from the start. He used digital recorders (one of the first ones ever manufactured), binaural mics, and mics poised on stands, in pursuit of a “3D depth of field” and “divine silences”. He speaks of “hypothetical poly-sensorial desert tones”, clearly enthused by something more profound than a mere sense of atmosphere, and responded eagerly to what he regards as the high drama of these desert environments. To capture these impressions on tape was enough of a challenge; then came the editing and processing stages, back in the studios of Cal Arts and CIRM, where he added synthetic drones and electronic music. But this addition was done with tremendous care and sensitivity; he wanted to keep the electronic elements “sparse and bright, to express the crude light”. I like that reference to the sunlight; old Sol must have presented an unforgettable presence in that airless Californian desert hell. Clearly, Redolfi had more than his retinas burned by that fiery orb, and was intent on creating an authentic landscape painting in sound, building on his documentary recordings and displaying a deep awareness of the environment, the weather, the light – to arrive at his own series of profound and imaginative meditations on the subject of the desert.

Desert Tracks follows a kind of trajectory, where there’s something approaching a musical theme at the start – the rather ominous ‘Opening’ – followed by the sparse grimness of ‘Mojave Desert’ and the near-insufferable surface of ‘Death Valley’, which contains some pretty harsh textures of broken noise. This particular segment may owe something to “the impeccable strip of asphalt” that you can walk down to cross the valley. So far the desert is emerging as a hostile, uncaring zone of bleakness and pain. After this we enter the relative calm of ‘Palm Canyon’, which was purposely composed to evoke an oasis and the wildlife (wasps and birds) that inhabit that area near the Mexican border. U2 fans would probably know it from the cover to the best-selling 1987 album. The album ends with ‘Too Much Sky’, 10 minutes of beautifully serene sound that rewards the patient traveller who has made it across this wilderness in one piece, and again indicates Redolfi’s perceptive take on the landscape, the quality of light that must seem overwhelming to Europeans. By this point even the listener is in need of a pair of good sunglasses. Incidentally ‘Too Much Sky’ predates the main suite by three years, and is only available on the CD version of this release, thus making a nonsense of my “trajectory” theory.

Redolfi’s no stranger to elemental subjects like this; his first published works for INA GRM Immersion / Pacific Tubular Waves have a “watery” theme, which recurs with Sonic Waters (1984), Crysallis, the underwater opera (1992), and his many Underwater Music releases. This aquatic jag has been obsessing him since 1977, so this shift to giving the desert sands their due clearly marks another chapter in his thematic pursuits. From 12th December 2016.

Simulacra of Songs

Highly unusual release is Spam Me (CUCHABATA RECORDS CUCH-095), sent to us by the Quebec composer CE François Couture, and first spin reveals a dazzling, dense and engaging array of lyrics, sounds, complex arrangements, weird noises, and hyper-intelligent art rock settings. He’s doing all this in the service of the concept, which is to call attention to the “spam” problem – those irritating emails we all get, and in some cases (mine at any rate) coded messages invading our very websites, through exploiting weaknesses in WordPress and other blogging platforms. One of these is the common CSS hack, which finds a way to use the cascading stylesheet as a mule to smuggle in its verbal contraband. Couture is clearly exasperated by this modern phenomenon, calling the spam messages “pests” and “flagrant failures at communicating”, but also observing that spam is so commonplace it has become almost invisible to us now. His plan is to set the spam texts to music on this album, almost in spite of his own frustration, or perhaps to exorcise himself of certain demons…he admits the texts, which are often scrambled and meaningless and badly written, “hold a poetic charge” for him. All of this feeds into what he calls “Simulacra of Songs”, the sub-title for Spam Me.

Apparently this is Couture’s 1 first solo record as a composer, a fact which I mention because it’s such an impressive and convincing set of songs, but he’s been active in music since 2010 working in free improvisation, and performing with groups La Forêt Rouge and RBC. There’s no musical style he won’t parody or plunder for this Spam Me project, a strategy which feels somewhat in keeping with the subject matter (getting revenge by poking fun at your enemy), and you can hear him try out everything from hip-hop (‘Magie Rouge’) to art-prog (the title track); some of his post-modern ballads, with their imaginative intervals and dissonances, reminded me of Slapp Happy and Peter Blegvad, with all the awkwardness and mannered style that implies. He’s also prone to high drama, such as on ‘Parajumper Kodiak’, where he delivers the nonsensical spam text in an actorly, declamatory style over a klunky musical backdrop worthy of Magazine or A Sudden Sway. What I appreciate about the vocal delivery is there’s nothing tongue-in-cheek, no matter how ludicrous and absurd the text may be (and they get pretty cracked, lemme tell ya); he takes it all seriously, and lets the spam subvert itself.

An enclosed leaflet tells us a little more about the process of creation and composition – all the spam texts were left on his own music blog – and reproduces the texts in full, so you can double your twisted pleasure by reading as you listen. Just watch your face in a mirror as you do so…your eyebrows will soon reach the top of your head. Parts of this record reminded me of recent work by Alessandro Bosetti, particularly the Stille Post record set; but where Bosetti has some residual faith in our ability to communicate effectively using technology, CE François Couture evidently thinks the human race has completely lost the plot, and all we can do is propagate incoherent gibberish on a global scale. Hard to argue with that…one of the more unusual items we have received lately, and a real winner. From 1st December 2016.

  1. His name is spelled this way to denote THIS François Couture, which would be the French translation of CE. This is because the name is apparently quite common in Quebec.

We Are Glass

We have a lot of time for Richard Kamerman, the New York sound artist who operates the great label Copy For Your Records to release slabs and snippets of unusual noise of great power and mysterious charm. I see it’s been a while since we received anything from that label, but it may be because postage from the USA to the rest of the world is now so ridiculously high. His last solo album heard by us was None For The Money in 2012, though since then he has duetted with Anne Guthrie and as one third of Delicate Sen with Guthrie and Billy Gomberg. Very pleased to receive this cassette tape Music For Glassblower’s Studio and Broken Toy Piano (ORGANIZED MUSIC FROM THESSALONIKI t33), which arrives with a powerful “furnace” cover and two sides elegantly titled in ways that are typical of Kamerman’s minimal sentence construction and clever use of punctuation to subvert meaning. At first you may think this is just going to be a “normal” field recording type thing with its documents of the interesting sounds of a glassblower at work, but in fact it’s layered and dotted with all manner of unusual details – weird faraway echoes of unidentifiable sounds, distorted speaking voices, creaky drones, and even small portions of tentative melodies. Apparently it’s a blend of “site-specific recordings and performance”, suggesting that it’s valid to read the whole tape as a record of a piece of performance art. Natch, the purpose and meaning of all these invisible actions is completely opaque, yet it’s a highly compelling listen, a wonderfully textured and rewarding slab of mystery noise broadcast directly from the imagination. I would compare this one to the work of Jim Haynes, only less slow and wispy, with noisier elements and not quite so overtly mystical…100 copies made, released in July 2016, arrived here 5th December 2016.