Tagged: spoken word

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.

She Kept Birds

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We noted Martin Archer’s Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere in November, a large-scale epic release whereon the 25-voice choir Juxtavoices were occasionally spotlighted. Now Juxtavoices have their own album, called Juxtanother Antichoir from Sheffield (DISCUS 44CD), and there’s nine examples of their unique craft to be had. Their work shades from atonal choral singing to spoken word recits by way of Sound Poetry, and back again. The Sheffield poet Alan Halsey (owner of the West House Books imprint, and married to Geraldine Monk, also a Juxtavoices member) has, along with Archer, stamped his identity on the album – he’s co-director of the choir, and has composer credit for about half of the cuts; the rest of the choir are a rough mix of creators, including visual artists, poets, or just enthused amateurs 1 ; only a few of the choir members could be deemed “musicians” as such, some of them from an improvising background. If you were expecting the sort of free-improv babble-speech that Maggie Nicols is known for, perhaps look elsewhere as this record barely resembles much I’ve heard from the world of UK improvised music. Come to that, it’s almost entirely free from genre. The only precedent I can think of might be the music of Tom Philips, the famous UK painter who occasionally performed in free-form semi-directed choirs, sometimes interpreting his own texts from ‘A Humument’ 2. You might want to tune to the 14-minute ‘Ha Nu’ to hear some Ligeti-like microtones, but such moments are but fleeting in the wider arena of collective murmurings that this track comprises. The lovely piece ‘Are Your Children Safe in the Sea?’ also has links to another avant-garde genre, that of concrete poetry / sound poetry, by dint of Bob Cobbing’s original text, which is “freely” interpreted by the hushed and breathy choir so that they sound like caricatures of concerned parents wondering about the whereabouts of their children at the seaside. An eerie spooker, whichever way you cut it.

We’ve also got ‘Nine Entries from the Encyclopedia of Natural Sexual Relations’, based on a text by Christine Kennedy, and one which most resembles a forgotten 20th-century avant-garde opera which Pierre Boulez has never conducted. Plenty of overlapping voices and a delicious mix of sing-speak for your ears, and the structure of the direction – allowing for soloists and duets – has really paid off. Hard to discern any remotely sexual content in the piece, but I expect the point has been to bury the text in its own interpretation. With the numerical chapter structure which is emphasized here, I’m reminded of the films Peter Greenaway used to make, with embedded number or alphabet sequences. Further cross-cultural content to be found in ‘Three Iterations of a Poem by Samuel Beckett’, where Halsey’s somewhat downhearted tones seem most apt for the dismal futility of Beckett’s text. Another highlight for me personally is ‘She Kept Birds’, derived from a text by Geraldine Monk and with music composed by Martin Archer and Bo Meson. Next to ‘Ha Nu’, this mysterious and beautiful piece is about the most conventionally “musical” piece on offer, and is filled with dramatic shifts of tone and mood, high notes and low notes swooping about the canvas with an uninhibited joy. It’s easy for this sort of endeavour to result in very mannered and stiff music; not here.

  1. I use this term to designate “one who loves music”, mindful of the Latin root of the word. My use here is in no way intended to suggest that the singers in Juxtavoices are unprofessional or lack ability.
  2. See for the example the 1975 LP Words And Music, Edition Hansjörg Mayer ?F 65.344; although the LP Irma (Obscure OBS 9) from 1978 might be slightly easier to find.

Quaff, oh quaff this kind Nepenthe

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The sound artist Raymond Dijkstra is highly regarded by many. I admit I have always found his work, what little I heard, extremely austere and difficult to process. Around 2008 he sent us two of his hand-made art objects releases Die Sonne and Die Wille. which resembled case-bound books in black buckram, and were both as foreboding as a necromancer’s spell book. More recently, we received an LP by NIvRITTI MARGA on 9th July 2013 and this is mostly played and performed by Dijkstra with the help of Timo van Luijk, the Belgian player who I associate with Noise-Maker’s Fifes and the droney art-trio Onde; and Frédérique Bruyas, who contributed the voice work to the record. At any rate, it’s more eventful than the ultra-minimal and perplexingly cryptic LPs I heard in 2008, which isn’t to say it’s exactly “listenable”. On one level, Nivritti Marga (ÉDITION LE SOUFFLEUR) is a spoken-word record showcasing selected texts of the Comte de Lautréamont, the 19th-century French poet who wrote Les Chants De Maldoror and had such a big influence on the Surrealists (and later, the Situationists it seems). I suppose André Breton and his crew tended to favour anything that was an affront to polite society, and with his fixations on dirt and filth and dung and parasites and nasty insects living in the dung, coupled with his apparent wish to annihilate the entire human race, Lautréamont fit the bill and was instantly elected as a poet maudit by the Surrealist cabal. I’m not here to tell you how Raymond Dijkstra interprets these bizarre texts, but this record of his disturbs and troubles the mind as soon as the needle is dropped. Eerie formless semi-musical noises produced by means unknown are set out in a lurid, spooked-up framework enhanced with judicious smears of grisly echo; it’s electro-acoustic music creeping out from the most extreme regions of the composerly soul. On top of this disjunctive and tuneless musical arrangement, the voice of Bruyas is dropped in, remorselessly intoning the texts (spoken in French, although printed translations are provided) in a crisp, unemotional manner; to add to the general malaise, the tape of his voice has been speeded-up ever so slightly to make it less human, and more like the voice of a malignant goblin spitting out curses against the world.

But this isn’t an especially shocking record, on the surface. Dijkstra executes his plan without any outright sonic violence, and in fact the work is not especially noisy, nor explosive in its emotional range. Instead, it remains distant and cold to the point of reaching near-zero temperatures, and very few familiar toe-holds for the intrepid listener can be found as we try to scale this forlorn, rocky peak of alienation. The sense of disjuncture extends to the sleeve collage; a “tasteful” array of antique chairs, furnishings and stucco walls has been shattered, through cut-ups, negative images, and tilted horizons, to induce instant visual nausea at first sight. This monochrome image puts me in mind of Last Year in Marienbad, and could almost be read as a still from that cinematic work which arguably carries the torch of surrealism into the latter half of the 20th century. In both music and imagery, I would guess that Raymond Dijkstra is attempting to undermine all that’s bourgeois, safe and mainstream, doing so by subverting normality; the record is a nightmarish parody of classical chamber music, and the cover art is pretty much a direct attack on our cosy homes – by way of the centuries-old European traditions of furnishings and decor. In doing this, I’ve no doubt that he aligns himself 100% with the nihilistic spirit of Comte de Lautréamont. Outside of that, I don’t pretend to understand one iota of what this record proposes, but I’m still feeling quite sickened after a single listen to its inhuman tones, and the memory of what I heard brings an involuntary shudder to my pallid flesh. If any of this appeals, by all means check out this disturbing and marginal art statement.

Birds flying high

Last heard from Yannick Franck in 2012 with his Memorabilia album, now here he is teaming up with the American sound artist Craig Hilton to produce Flowers for L.P. (IDIOSYNCRATICS idcd009), a truly centre-less piece of hollowed-out drone, one where the excavation is so entire that it leaves a near-vacuum of non-sound for the listener to float like an agonised goldfish. The creators intend this chilling ambi-desolation as a tribute to an obscure French poet named Jacques Rigaut, a tragic suicide who was pegged by history as one of the Dadaists, but was so disaffected by the absurdity of everything that he never really completed his work, and left behind a few unfinished novels before shooting himself in the head. The richly-layered yet vague drones attempt to invoke Rigaut’s “dark, surreal, fantastic journeys”, acting in sympathy with his troubled soul.

Another glorpoid monster of improvised electronic murkiness with twisted dark funkoid beats from PAS Musique in Brooklyn. Abandoned Bird Egg (ALREALON MUSIQUE ALRN035) contains many surrealist-kosmische excursions by Robert L. Pepper and his crew – Michael Durek, Amber Brien, and Jon Worthley. I often visualise their collective musical outpouring as gobbets of coloured oil paint smeared thickly on the surface of a plaster wall, and their recording sessions are an attempt to capture the fascinating ways in which those paints mingle and swirl as they course downwards. If they left it too late, we’d be witnessing nothing more than a puddle of brown sludge lapping around our ankles, but their timing is usually dead-on. No vocals, apart from a few mysterious voice samples gabbling unconnected statements; otherwise very enjoyable instrumentals replete with drone, bizarre noises, extreme treatments and modifications, all heaped up in generous fashion. Natch, the finished product is somewhat uneven – not every track can be claimed a sparkling success, and some listeners may struggle with the overall “formless” approach of PAS Musique construction, but that philosophy of open-endedness is probably how they get the job done in the first place. Pepper also did the artworks; a bit like Karel Appel coming under the influence of John Dee and inscribing mystical sigils on the ground. From 24 June 2013.

Giöbia are a four-piece of Italian players from Milan producing the retro-flavoured late 1960s rock music that finds its natural home at Sulatron Records on their debut full-length album Introducing Night Sound (STI302-CD). I’m personally very partial to all the psychedelic revivalist types that swarm like mosquitoes to this label, and I do like Giöbia’s very saturated sound – scads of vintage organs and synths have their keys pressed relentlessly, and the unusual strings played by Stefano Bazu Basurto include bouzouki and electric sitar strummed to death alongside his electric guitar excesses. And the recording quality has that rich, deep sound that’s so redolent of 1969, bad acid and the imminent demise of Hendrix. I’m not as keen on the bored-sounding vocals, which I appreciate have been deliberately mixed in the background “to produce a more far-out atmosphere”, but they end up sounding just like Sundial or Spacemen 3 records. They include cover versions of songs by The Electric Prunes and Santana, but this is just further evidence of their confused identity. There’s also something off-putting about the rhythm section, which too often is heavy-handed and lumbering in the drumming, or reaching for a slightly trickier rhythm which they can’t pull off as a band. These obstacles prevent us diving headlong into the truly immersive and trippy sensations the band so earnestly wish to share. Even the gratuitous umlaut in the name feels wrong; isn’t that more of a heavy metal thing? From 6th June 2013.

YOL is a performance artist based in Hull. He kindly sent us a copy of his mini-CDR Neck Vs. Throat Volume 2 (FENCING FLATWORM RECORDINGS) where he does his shouty-gibberish thing with the help of Miguel Perez, an aggressive guitarist from Mexico who is credited with “string damage” and “guitar neck”. They never met for this recording; Perez sends his sound files to the UK digitally over the internet, and YOL just performs instantly as soon as he hits playback, “improvising over them on the first listen”. Results are certainly exciting, even slightly alarming, heady stuff; the sheer nervous energy generated by their twin manic scrabblings can be electrifying, even where you can’t understand the barked and yawped lyrics. Well, I think there may be some free-association Dada-like absurdist word streams buried somewhere here in the general hue and cry; check out the short booklet for some printed examples of YOL’s own unique approach to “words in freedom”. These texts do more than hint at urban squalor and shabbiness, and present a vision of the world from a gutter’s eye view. YOL describes the release as “an attempt to explore inside/outside noise”, whatever that means. I prefer the more user-friendly description “some sort of idiot noise busking”. As to that, I think if I met a busker like this in the London underground, I’d love to leave a £20 note in his cap, but I’d also be afraid to go anywhere near him; I have a vision of a hairy wildman cavorting about, his unwashed stringy hair flying madly 1 as he psyches his way into a groove. I realise this sort of thing is marginal as heck, but to me it’s lovely stuff. Limited to 50 copies, from 12 July 2013.

  1. This is just colourful imagery which I provide for effect; it is not in any way intended as a comment on the appearance or personal hygiene of YOL, whom I have never met.

Crazy Like a Fox

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Alessandro Bosetti has scaled new heights of achievement with his Renard project, a fine art commission which has also found expression as an LP record (FRAC FRANCHE-COMTÉ FRACFC 002). He’s continuing to work in the “area between spoken language and music”, and while there is a fair amount of spoken word on this immaculately scored piece of chamber music, it’s actually more complicated than that…after one listen I’m as exhausted as I might be after hearing a 5 LP box set, since the work is so dense and compacted. If Bosetti was a film-maker, he’d combine all the best elements of 1960s Jean-Luc Godard and 1980s Peter Greenaway. Godard for the words (and inter-textual games), Greenaway for the precision of composition.

The idea for Renard derives from an ethnographic film seen by Bosetti. An African woman divines the future by casting objects on a table and reading them, learning hidden truths from their configuration; it’s not unlike the I Ching with its casting of coins or sticks 1. Bosetti devised his own updated version of same with help of Annette Stahmer, and assembled his own set of objects (perhaps similar to the array seen on the front cover), then experimented making a few castings with invited participants. They brought their questions to the table; they were instructed how to read to interpret the objects. Fruitful and emotional exchanges resulted 2; apparently, all of this was the basis for how Bosetti composed Renard. I’d like to think he found a way to recast the raw material of human speech into notated form (as Harry Partch did, on occasion), but it’s probably even more complicated than that…at least the clarinet parts, brilliantly played by Laurent Bruttin from Lausanne, seem to match the patterns of excitable human speech during some passages.

Though the album opens with something resembling a melancholic ballad or chanson (all the words are in French, by the way) and closes with a perplexing conversation between two disembodied voices, the most part of Renard is this fascinating and detailed chamber music, performed by Bruttin’s clarinets, the classical guitar of Seth Josel – a much-in-demand New York player who lives in Berlin – and Bosetti’s speaking voice, sometimes underpinned by his unobtrusive electronic device, an oscillator which murmurs up and down the scale to punctuate certain phrases. The clarity of the recording enables these ultra-precise pieces to shine like cut diamonds. Sonically, we’re invited to find affinities with the chamber music of Anton Webern, and the 1960s jazz music of Jimmy Giuffre, at a time when Jim Hall was the guitarist in his Trio. It’s not only highly distilled – I’d imagine hours of work from the “divining table” sessions were required just to generate two minutes of music – but also thoroughly composed and notated, so that every micro-second of this elaborate music could be replayed as needed. I like the way it’s described in the press notes as “hand made hyper-realism”…suggesting that Bosetti is making “life size casts” in sound. Of course, it moves past at such a brisk pace that it’s hard for the non-French listener to keep up, but fortunately the entire “libretto”, if we can call it that, is printed in the gatefold cover.

Speaking of the cover image, when I first saw it I thought it represented a parlour memory game which I used to play in my youth. You’d arrange some two dozen objects on a tray, let the guests view it for two minutes, then take it out of sight and remove one object. The point of the game was to identify the missing object. I often feel that Bosetti’s work is governed by game-play rules of some sort, but they’re much more challenging, and he plays for keeps. It remains to mention the title. It refers to another form of African divination, that of the Dogon people. They would trace secret diagrams in the sand, then read the tracks of the white fox the next morning. At the same time, it’s not hard to see Bosetti himself as a Reynard the Fox figure, sly and cunning as his namesake from European folklore.

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  1. I need hardly tell you which American 20th century composer is famously associated with this.
  2. Perhaps we could consider this a fine art variation on how Pink Floyd created the spoken-word sections for Dark Side Of The Moon.

One Nation Indivisible

Another three connected items from Michal Libera’s Populista series. We were mightily impressed by the first three we heard in this series – delvings into modern clasical music and very radical reworkings of same – and now that I look at the literature I find I’m missing three others in the series that I most sorely need, including Ergo Phizmiz’s take on Robert Ashley. The present set is called the United States Of America (Triptych) and is a very unusual and imaginative reflection on the history of American music – on selected aspects of it, at any rate – involving numerous international performers who forgathered in Warsaw in 2012 to do it as part of a week-long residency called Playback Play 2012. Libera downplays his own role in the editing, assemblage and conceptual planning, but I think a lot of the continuity of ideas and coherence here can be attributed to this fellow, who’s proving himself a true “man of ideas” in curated statements like this one, and through exhibitions such as Making the Walls Quake… and its accompanying book of essays. The thread running through all his work seems to be about combining far-flung and apparently unrelated ideas and looking for connections that have been overlooked, and he’s not afraid of imposing connections that may not even be there; the resulting intellectual “constructs” are relevant, regardless of how they may have been arrived at.

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The first CD is 1939 Southern Recording Trip Fieldnotes (BR POP07) – and on one level it’s a showcase for two extended performances (about 11 minutes apiece) by Pete Simonelli, performing two rough-house vocal recits in a contrived country-Americana idiom. He roars them out; they are more like declaimed poetry than songs, even where they use repeated phrases and motifs clearly plucked from the history of American blues music – “Tell me how long…”, “Since I was born…” – and every sentence rings out packed with folk-symbolism bordering on the supernatural. Simonelli belts out these soul-searching texts like a Golem possessed by the spirits of Nick Cave and Tom Waits, aiming for that sense of a cursed spirit wandering the earth who’s seen too much. He’s accompanied on these apocalyptic journeys by Miron Grzegorkiewicz (guitar), Michal Biela (bass), and DJ Lenar on the turntable. Right there you’ve got a post-modern stripped-down rethink of blues instrumentation, its surface mussed up in bizarre ways by Lenar’s interpolations. The works takes place in a framework referencing the field recording work of John Lomax and Ruby Lomax; John Lomax, as the world knows, was the ballad-hunter of the United States, performing much the same work of detailed surveying as Cecil Sharp, Francis Child and others did in the United Kingdom and Scotland. Libera’s record uses texts extracted from the Lomax’s written notebooks, and more importantly short excerpts of their tape recordings – spoken word, snippets of songs – to contextualise the piece. These very brief Lomax fragments demonstrate an enquiring mind at work – one who asks questions from the people he’s recording, and not a collector trying to assemble evidence to prove a foregone conclusion or bolster a preconceived idea. It’s especially haunting when the tapes surface in the middle of the Simonelli performances, like superimposed old photographs in the middle of a documentary film. As for Simonelli, his performances are not only over the top, but are spinning a fantasy of a pre-war America that never existed, propped up by hints of folk mythology. This is absolutely in line with Libera’s declared aim – “reinterpretations, overinterpretations and misinterpretations of the past”.

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The second CD is Ten Intrusions (BR POP08), a tribute to the work of Harry Partch. We are now in 1949, ten years later from the first part of the trilogy. The musicians perform all but one of Partch’s Eleven Intrusions, although the 1949 date is a little arbitrary if we consider that Partch began the work as early and 1930 and completed the set in 1950. He began considering they could be performed on the adapted guitar, but by 1950 these vocal pieces had been arranged for his unique home-made instruments, such as the harmonic canon, diamond marimba, and cloud chamber bowls. None of the words were Partch’s own; he’d adapted them from poems and writings by Ella Young, Willard Motley, and even Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher and poet. Not sure why I’m bothering to pass on all this information to you, since the recorded performance here has departed massively from Partch’s original score, and the trio don’t play the original Partch instruments. David Grubbs (guitar), David Maranha (organ) and Andrea Belfi (percussion) provide another minimal and pared-down musical framework for the vocal work of Pete Simonelli; hints of blues idioms suggested by the slide guitar mingle with elements of free improvisation and drone music. Simonelli’s histrionics from the first CD are abandoned in favour of a severe, tight-lipped no-nonsense recitation, that admits of virtually no emotion. All of this is in almost complete contrast to the recordings I’ve heard of the Eleven Intrusions, which are delicate statements full of wistful and graceful emotions, where a melancholic voice wails its plaint against the modest but very rich instrumentation. This sombre and stern remake changes Partch’s dream-like poems into hard facts, facts which we can live by. The intention may have been to emphasise the solitude of the composer (he wrote some of the work in an isolated studio in Gualala); Libera’s note also claim that this music is “perhaps one of the first cosmopolitan reinventions of American native music”. If that statement holds any water, then it’s possible to hear a lot more alternative history in Simonelli’s stark vocalisations, as if he was brooding long and hard on the encroachment of the land by rapacious settlers motivated by John Sullivan’s “Manifest Destiny”.

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The last panel of the trilogy is Vanishing Point: How to Disappear in American without a Trace (BR POP09). It’s the most unfathomable of the three, and the most intense. The implied date structure of 1939-1949 has been abandoned now, and we’re deliberately left stranded in an uncertain, undated future. It’s a spoken word piece with music, and the text comes from a book apparently edited by Susanne Burner, though it may also be an anonymous work written by a “survivalist”; it’s all about detailed advice on how to operate as a fugitive and leave no tracks as you flee your adversary. Natch, it’s teeming with paranoia; on “Kill the Dog”, Simonelli makes a real meal out of the unpleasant text and throws himself into the role, putting himself and the listener directly into this drastic no-win situation where a fugitive has to kill a dog that’s on his heels, and there’s a seemingly endless description of how to go about it, and why. Whoever wrote this text clearly lived and died by the ultimatum “It’s him or me”. Musically, the alarming mood is fuelled by the nerve-wracking abstractions created by Grubbs, Maranha and Grzegorkiewicz with their guitars, organ and violin. If you can endure the 16 minutes of “Die with Dignity” with your fingernails intact, you’ve got nerves of steel; the vivid descriptions of police operations regarding fugitives is not for the squeamish. How does this contemporary, neurotic vision square with the rest of the trilogy? Well, it’s well known that Harry Partch was a hobo; but on the other hand he chose to drop out of society in the 1930s with some expectation that he could drop back in, and the rail-riding world he detailed in Bitter Music seems positively genteel compared to the urgent all-or-nothing imperatives glimpsed in Vanishing Point. Likewise, the itinerant voyages of the Lomaxes are shown to have degraded by the later 20th century into these futile car chases escaping the police. There’s one last thing. With the striking and terrifying dog image in its centre, I would also suggest that this canvas in the trilogy connects strongly to America’s rural blues history; what else could that dog be but the hellhound on the trail of Robert Johnson?

“Three images of America facing each other” is just one possible interpretation that Libera himself offers for this whole work; he intends the trilogy to remain open-ended, a series of questions rather than answers, yet many clues are inserted in its stark near-deserted landscapes. The cover artworks, all depicting figures faced with barren and hard-to-negotiate landscapes, were created by Aleksandra Waliszewska. From 12 April 2013, highest recommendation for these excellent meta-text musical statements.

Three Rotary Rampages

Kordik Lucas is the duo of Daniel Kordik and Edward Lucas, making a bizarre and near-indigestible improvised noise with one trombone and a “Vostok” synthesizer on the cassette MMXXII (URBSOUNDS COLLECTIVE N. 28). I found this intensely irritating at first, but now I’m finding some way to key into its craggy and non-musical surfaces; they seem intent on noise-creation rather than music, but that isn’t to say they don’t coalesce nicely as a duo. The title ‘broken bone’ is highly applicable, if you use the word ‘bone’ as an abbreviation for trombone; all of their music is deliciously “broken”. The duo can’t keep their hands still – they saw, they sputter, they doodle, they bluster, and from much frenetic activity some sort of half-knitted unpatterned fabric may eventually emerge. Not tremendously satisfying, but at least you can hear what they’re doing; I think I’ve just about had my fill of “reduced” or near-silent improv. From July 2013.

One fine split cassette of gritty death-dealing noise (TR-013) on the Spanish micro-label Truco Esparrago records. Generic Death are a trio of disaffected young Spaniards grinding out a ten-minute howl called ‘Continuity of Deception’ with just vocals, a bass guitar and drum kit, making a splendid angrified and fiery punk-noise racket. Plenty of grisly pedal effects, distortion and feedback are used to punch the message home, and while it starts off with a steady beat, the song collapses into an anarchic state, leaving the listener in no doubt as to the depth of the bitterness felt by these three firebrands as they exact their revenge on society. I for one would love to be in a band where a guy named Iago is playing the bass. Since Othello, the very name is redolent of revenge tragedy. On the flip side, Varunian take us on a ‘Black Hole Trip’ for fourteen minutes; he too favours excessive effects and creates a non-stop, dense and thickly layered coagulation of ugly noise which is tempered at the finale by sweet but desolate angelic drone effects – a very compelling and near-psychedelic concoction, a Technicolour rendition of the Apocalypse. The creator is Roberto Bustabad, who also calls himself Rober or even Graverobber; he hasn’t made too many records as Varunian, but has been very active in the Spanish grindcore and Death Metal “scene” since 2001, playing his diabolical guitar (probably built in the shape of a scythe) for the bands Banished From Inferno and Machetazo. It’s fair to say his entire work’s underlying theme is an attempt to recreate Paradise Lost in sound, and this spectacular horror-show is no exception. From October 2012.

Another fine split from Truco Esparrago. This cassette (TR-017) features Mubles on the A side and Grassa Dato on the B. I raved about Mubles in 2012. It’s the team-up of the great Miguel A. García with his buddy Alvaro Matilla, although on ‘Oh Pequeno Muble’ there may be some other contributors involved to the general hurly-burly. They create a very jumbled, layered and disconnected sound, as if assembling parts found in a junkyard, and the illogical electronic music brews like a fetid gaseous mist around your ankles, while Matilla intones his chants and poems in a surly snarling rap, this time speaking through a broken telephone receiver. This is completely incoherent, half-insane continuous art-drivel and bound to irritate the heck out of 99% of normal listeners; just great! Grassa Dato’s side is called ‘Los Que Habitan en la Obscuridad’, and is likewise jumbled and chaotic, but with considerably more emphasis on the aggressive and unpleasant power electronics. There’s a voice to the forefront of the hideous murk, said voice naturally enough transformed into that of an ugly barking cybernetic creature intent on covering us with radioactive slime before chomping off our limbs with crocodile jaws. Grassa Dato creates a highly effective and dynamic roar, not without its fair share of grotesque distortion and shrill air-bomb bursts. This all seems to fit the profile of this very prolific noise and power electronics act which has made about 28 albums since 2011.

Board Game Theory

Hecker
Chimerization
EDITIONS MEGO eMEGO 153 LP (2012)
Chimärisation
EDITIONS MEGO eMEGO 154 LP (2012)
lettering

EDITIONS MEGO eMEGO 155 LP (2012)

Somewhere on this computer I’ve a folder full of music podcasts, lectures and interviews that I somehow never have time to listen to: ever burgeoning; so many words gathering digital dust. I require some sort of audio anti-desiccant that releases the music in the words, to bring this goldfish attention span to attention.

Sound designer and psychoacoustician, Hecker’s Chimerization offers the sort of hybrid information transmission I’m after. Realised as a gallery piece entitled dOCUMENTA (13) (Kassel, Germany), it comprises electronically rendered fragments of a high-concept ‘experimental libretto’ by Iranian writer and philosopher Reza Negarestani entitled ‘The Snake, the Goat and the Ladder (A board game for playing chimera)’. For the occasion, Hecker recorded recitals of Negarestani’s script in English, Farsi and German in an echo-less, anechoic chamber, with three speakers per language. In situ, he installed speakers to play the processed recordings inwards in a triangle formation, engendering, I imagine, a pleasantly disorienting sensation in visitors. That said, spatial location of the recorded sounds is never in question, which is not always the case with Mr. Hecker.

Chimerization is available in three separate volumes (one per tongue), which presumably offer listeners worthy approximation of the installation experience. The visuals supplied for the dOUMENTA event, while providing delirious and accurate analogue for the music, appear on the sleeves. However, whilst the sounds themselves are easier on the ear than certain of Hecker’s earlier works, the subject matter remains a little elusive to me. For safety reasons, I’ll simply quote:

‘Hecker characterizes ‘Chimerization’ as a concept derived from psychoacoustic investigations on difficult-to-define areas between language and non-language, a process focusing on the decomposition of sound and synthesizing incompatible modalities, surpassing their respective particularities without fusing them, in order to obtain a narration beyond immediate comprehension, which may be deciphered through repeated, ‘active’ listening.’

The operative adjective is ‘active’: focus is necessary if ‘sense’ is to be made of these bewildering information overloads. For one thing, the recorded script (and I refer to the English version here) undergoes extensive digital decomposition (partly a result of multiple voices merging), coming out a bit like the sadistic droid EV9D9 in Jabba the Hutt’s palace in Return of the Jedi. The more garbled sections constitute what I assume to be the ‘non-language’ matter. And even when audible, the text is a little circumlocutory for my immediate comprehension, which is not to say I’m not enjoying trying, even if I’m left wondering whether attempting comprehension is missing the point. As one of Negarestani’s admirers, author Graham Harman, put it: ‘reading Negarestani is like being converted to Islam by Salvador Dali’. In this case, it’s not Dali but Florian Hecker, and it’s probably best just to let ‘it’ happen to you.

The underlying theory appears to liken modern existence to a metaphysical game of snakes and ladders: an apposite analogy, for the game itself originated in ancient India (under the name ‘Moksha Patamu’), and reflected Hindu notions about life 1. Not quite sure where the ‘goat’ fits in though. Accordingly, key terms include ‘snakes’, ‘ladders’, ‘topography’ and ‘the abyss of modernity’ abound; all connected amidst a panoply of colourful sesquipedalians. Reminds me a bit of something similarly verbose Squarepusher did on Ultravisitor, though I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean it. Still, Hecker’s carved himself a distinctive niche in electronic music: confronting our senses, aesthetics and intellects throughout and occasionally with a cheeky sense of humour (remember ‘Sun Pandämonium’s lavish, glossy green inlay booklet?). I’m in agreement with those who regard the new vocal aspect as adding a bold new depth to his work, and as verbiage goes it’s easy to surrender to. Chimerization may leave me feeling a bit slow on the uptake, but it does get much easier on the ear (and mind) with each play.

  1. I’ve DJ Spooky to thank for that one, included in his foreword to Eric Schneider’s volume on ‘Toy Instruments’.

Un, Deux, Trois

020

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

Deux

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.

Teban Slide Art: triple set that casts parallels between Nazi Germany and current times

M.B., Teban Slide Art (The Come Organisation Files), Menstrual Recordings, 3 x CD LH40 (2013)

“M.B.” refers to Maurizio Bianchi, the noted experimentalist in industrial / musique concrete / noise whose career extends back to the late 1970s / early 1980s, the period in which he made these early recordings which have now been re-released, some of them without his consent, it must be said. The recordings were originally issued by the Come Organisation label under the name Leibstandarte SS MB and included speeches and addresses made by Adolf Hitler in his role as leader of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945.

I’ll be frank: these recordings can be long and tedious to listen to. The tracks appear to have been released to profit from his current period of hibernation away from music creation and performance, and the attention his activities have attracted over the years. Those of us who aren’t British probably wonder at the obsession that British contemporary culture often expresses with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, especially when we compare the extent of British encounters, military and non-military, with the Nazis with those of other European countries unfortunate enough to have borne the brunt of the Nazi German onslaught in terms of lives lost and the lasting political, social and economic effects. In those countries, particularly Russia and Ukraine where the most brutal and vicious conflicts between the Nazis and Soviets were fought and many of the most hideous atrocities were committed by both sides against each other’s forces and on civilians, these effects continue even today, nearly 70 years after Nazi Germany surrendered to Allied forces, in subtle ways: among other things, I have seen on the Internet a suggestion that in 1954, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev bypassed proper government procedures and made a gift of Crimea by decree to Ukraine to push people there away from supporting the Ukrainian ultra-nationalist and notorious Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera and his followers who were still active (with contacts in Britain and West Germany) during the 1950s. (And of course even after his assassination in 1959 Bandera still has his acolytes in Ukraine as recent events in that country have so far revealed.) Then again, we are not – and many if not most British people also are not – always aware of the extent to which fascism gained a strong foothold among some sectors of society in Britain during the 1930s (Oswald Mosley notwithstanding); perhaps as a loosely held set of often contradictory beliefs fascism never really went away in that country.

I am not necessarily counting the people who made and / or compiled these recordings among those sectors: over the past 50+ years, Nazi symbols and recordings have been used in popular and youth culture as symbols and expressions of rebellion and dissent from mainstream discourse which itself has often been authoritarian and repressive. The folks at Come Organisation themselves would be aware of the extent to which Nazi iconography was being pilfered by musicians in the punk, new wave and industrial scenes at the time and it’s possible that they released these recordings to call attention to the fact that the Nazis were real people who carried out or encouraged other people to commit the most heinous acts of violence, destruction and theft, physically, socially and culturally.

If you don’t know any German, the spoken voice recordings are painful to listen to in their unrelenting haranguing and monotony, and I suspect that if you do, you may find the content of them repetitive to the point of inducing mental numbness even if you’re not offended by it. The music is not always bad though on very long tracks (and Disc 1 “Triumph of the Will” especially – you can see the obvious reference to the Leni Riefenstahl documentary here – features very long pieces of over 20 minutes each in length) it can be unrelieved monotony playing a secondary role to the spoken word recordings. A better time can be had with Disc 2 “Weltanschauung” where the music assumes a more expansive mood and is slightly atmospheric; on tracks like “Endoradiation”, the droning sounds and undulant rhythms supply all the menace needed and require no additional enhancement. Parts of Disc 3 “Lebensraum” appear to draw parallels between Nazi German society and popular culture of the 1930s on the one hand and popular culture in the UK on the cusp of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s reign in the 1980s on the other, and suggest that the political, social and economic conditions that birthed Nazi Germany might also have existed then in Britain and other countries (and might do even today). The wavy yet stuttering music is relentless, absolutely inhuman and machine-like, yet it also possesses a seductive power that can mesmerise listeners. Recordings of speeches given by other leading lights in the Nazi German regime that include rapturous audience applause given at regular intervals throughout the speeches have the same call-and-response litany structures that religious ceremonies and large music festivals and concerts employ.

Listeners are at liberty to pick and choose which tracks they prefer to hear: Discs 2 and 3 are the easiest on the ears. Those listeners of a generation for which Nazi Germany seems as temporally distant as the empire established by Alexander the Great over 2,000 years ago might find the spoken voice recordings tiresome and puzzling, and probably need to know some 20th century history and an understanding of how Nazi German symbols and propaganda have been appropriated by contemporary Western culture and art as symbols of modern rebellion.