Tagged: spoken word

Blowing Hot and Cold

Here is CD04 in the Alessandro Bosetti box set Stille Post (BÔ?T RECORDS BR R010 / MONOTYPE RECORDS mono100). It contains two related pieces under the combined title Campanas & Whistling Republic. On The Whistling Republic, a piece for WDR from 2003, we hear another mosaic assemblage made of fragments of recording, mostly spoken word and a strange whistling language. These elements are underpinned with an electro-acoustic droning sound which grows gradually darker over the course of some 25 minutes, leaving the listener with a highly ambiguous snapshot of something. The theme of The Whistling Republic is to do with communication, a characteristic it arguably shares with all the records in this box. La Gomera is one of the Canary islands, where people sometimes communicate in whistles. This “silbo gomero” as it’s known is described as “a whistled register of Spanish”, and has been included by UNESCO on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Bosetti may or may not be interested in protecting or preserving that heritage, but he’s certainly interested in it as a language. When he stayed on Gomera, he wrote down some texts – some of them diary records of his sojourn, a couple of them complete works of fiction – and then passed these texts to the locals, asking them to express his words using the “silbo”. He was apparently standing over a mile away at the time with his microphones, yet he still captured these amazing whistles on his tape deck, because one of the features of the “silbo” is its ability to carry a message over long distances. The spoken texts on the record are the attempts made by the Gomerans to decipher and translate these whistles back into the spoken word. As ever, I expect the lively cross-communication dynamic is what appeals to Bosetti in this situation which he has set up. I would interpret it as a metaphor for all human communication; we’re all acting as transmitters and receivers, sending out messages in one language and decoding them into another.

On Campanas, Bosetti revisits Gomera some six years after he did the Whistling Republic piece. This time he took with him some of the unprocessed recordings from the earlier piece, and replayed them back into the air as he wandered around the island, looking for “acoustically interesting spots.” Sounds layered on top of other sounds. He re-recorded these sound events, and edited them into the suite we now hear on this 2009 piece. His own voice appears on the set; he speaks of returning to the island and giving something back, after he previously took something away. He writes, in his printed text, of “putting something inside a space in order to hear it”, making an observation perhaps about the nature of acoustics, but more likely an observation about the importance of context. He also draws, in yet another attempt to make himself understood, and the tentative doodles on the cover here illustrate some of the fantastic things he saw on Gomera; some of them are re-asserted by his vocal descriptions of them on the recording, and he states with some conviction that he “wasn’t dreaming” when he saw a man with two donkeys disappear into the clouds. Other magical-realist fragments emerge through the richness and wizardy of these recordings, and it’s a record that casts a compelling spell over the listener with its imaginative recasting of field recordings, forming uncanny broken narratives and rich atmospheres. Excellent.

Stille Post: Lid of box and front cover of booklet

Previous reviews:

CD01
CD02
CD03

The Smile You Send

Another segment from the Stille Post (BÔŁT RECORDS BR R010 / MONOTYPE RECORDS mono100) box set by Alessandro Bosetti. CD03 is called A Collection Of Smiles. This is another piece for WDR, dating from 2011. Listening to this one “blind”, it seems at first like a stream of rather banal chatter from the mouths of a pan-international set of middle-class people (Australian, Europeans), not saying very much of substance to each other. In fact, the reality of the event wasn’t far from that. Bosetti set up a “situation” where a group of people would meet in the studio and told to speak to each other for one hour, without any directions as to what they should talk about. Some of these people knew each other, some of them were total strangers. Since the artist was recording every speaking voice on a separate input, at the end of this social experiment he now had in his hands a collection of voice elements which he could splice and rearrange as he saw fit. This is what ends up on A Collection Of Smiles. What may start out as something resembling a document of idle restaurant chatter soon turns into a form of vocal music (the repetitions of certain phrases become evident very quickly, creating a song-like effect with verses and choruses), or a form of abstract sound poetry as the voices pile up in rapid-fire collision edits, resulting in pleasing effects of near-gibberish. Meanings are altered subtly, as unrelated sentences are glued together. Although we might stress that there’s no processing of the sounds; Bosetti isn’t out to transform these voices into monstrous groans, for instance, which could be done by time-stretching. The rapid-fire effect, I’m slowly coming to realise, may be one of Bosetti’s trademarks; he likes a rush of information delivered in a dense parcel, and he expects us to keep up with these changes.

The other major dimension to A Collection Of Smiles is the musical score. Bosetti has noted down certain cadences and changes in timbre in the way his subjects speak, and annotated them, transforming them into a musical score. This score is then played back at certain junctures by a small chamber ensemble, in which I can hear piano, guitar, and I think some woodwinds. The precision and ingenuity with which these musical passages are matched against their spoken-word sources is uncanny, yet Bosetti doesn’t even call attention to it; he does it effortlessly, and weaves the passages into the fabric of the work without us even noticing at first that it’s even happening. The first time I heard an instance of a musician doing this was Harry Partch and his Bitter Music, where he was able to document speech patterns of people he met during his hobo years in America, and recast them as musical phrases. (See the third disc of Enclosure 2, INNOVA 401, 1995)

This leaves us with the possible task of “decoding” the content or meaning of A Collection Of Smiles. But I’m not sure if there is any. On the surface, the work feels like a 50-minute musical approximation of a Twitter stream. There’s something relentlessly upbeat about the self-satisfied tone of these individuals and their jabbering that prompts this observation, and the shallowness of their observations is only increased the more it’s repeated under Bosetti’s editing knife. As directed conversations go, this is clearly of quite a different order to the stoned freaks sitting under a tarpaulin with a piano set up by Zappa for his Lumpy Gravy album. However, the record does once again display Bosetti’s remarkable talent for fashioning dense and complex statements from his source materials, and the “different and ever-changing constellations” he is able to build in mosaic fashion clearly delights him.

We Speak From The Air

Stille Post: Radio Works 2003-2011 (BÔŁT RECORDS BR R010 / MONOTYPE RECORDS mono100) is a boxed set of radiophonic works by Italian sound artist Alessandro Bosetti which we received 21 June 2016. There are four CDs in the box. I’ll try and get through them one at a time, which means the reviews will be distributed. Arcoparlante is CD01 and dates from 2009, when Bosetti staged a game of Stille Post (Telephone) on German radio, with the help of the Klangkunst team at the station. The exact method used for this piece of live performance art isn’t crystal clear to me, but it involves sending “almost incomprehensible radio messages” over the air and having them repeated, transcribed, and re-transmitted. It’s a gigantic game of Chinese Whispers..even the simplest and most commonplace phrase is immediately misunderstood and transformed into polysyllabic nonsense, or some vaguely amusing jumble of words.

Bosetti describes the process as a “gigantic sound poetry generator” and calls Arcoparlante “an electromagnetic feast of misunderstanding on a grand scale”. You can feel the delight in his words as he writes this, pleased as Punch with having created this odd Tower of Babel situation for 50 minutes. I get the “grand misunderstanding” part of this project, some of which is to do with mistranslation between European languages, and lot of which is to do with distortion; what I don’t quite get is who was receiving the messages, how the misunderstandings were relayed back into the process, and whether anyone was even listening to the broadcast. But I don’t expect any of that matters. It’s a compelling listen, mainly because it’s so complex and happens so quickly, and the fragments of ultra-fast gibberish just whizz by like errant birds or insects in the ether. You really need to be paying attention or you’ll lose the thread in short order.

There is a structure to the work – each episode or example of the game is prefaced by an announcement which helpfully numbers the experiment in a frightfully Germanic manner – but this structure seems to break down very quickly, and the underpinning logic is hard to fathom in among the intense swirl of clipped words, phrases, static, music, distortion, and more static. Even so, it’s clear we’re intended to hear this as something “episodic”, like 300 episodes of The Archers compressed into less than an hour. I wonder if there was any post-production editing to bring about this delirious rush of information, distilling a night’s work into CD length, or if it all went down like this on the night. Souped-up John Cagean methods at work…a controlled form of chaos…a great record.

Counting Crows

Veteran composer Francis Dhomont is one of the big noises in Canadian electro-acoustic and musique concrète composition, so it’s no surprise to see him represented on the showcase label empreintes DIGITALes with his recent composition, Le Cri Du Choucas (IMED 16138). Astute readers (and viewers) will instantly recognise the piercing eyes of Franz Kafka collaged on the cover art there. Le Cri Du Choucas takes the ideas of Kafka as its theme, a pursuit which Dhomont has been following since 1997. There’s a previous chapter, Études Pour Kafka, released by this same label in 2009; I don’t recall hearing that one, but the body of it has been reworked here. The composer also positions this release as the third and final part of a grand triologie, begun in 1981 as Sous Le Regard D’un Soleil Noir (released by INA-GRM in France) and continued in the mid-1990s as Forêt Profonde. He aims at extremes of drama, enriched with ideas about psychology; he wishes to plumb the depths of a man’s mind, through sound.

You could pick no better creator who personifies “unknowable depth” than your man Kafka; I’ve been reading his short stories since about 1979, and one day I hope to understand them. I can’t claim to have studied a great deal of critical analysis of Kafka, and I’m not sure that I care to; there’s a pleasure to be had for the reader in the constant mystification he sets up with his warped visions of European vistas, his mental labyrinths and strange symbols. I’ve no doubt there are numerous interpretations and explanations of The Trial and The Penal Colony, both works which feature in this music, but Francis Dhomont emphasises one particular aspect: the Law. Dhomont takes “the law” in Kafka to be “a metaphoric representation of the impenetrable realms the human mind hits”, and explores this theme with some determination. He probably reads Kafka’s work as describing a maze which always leads back to the same inescapable place, and ascribes the tone of despair and futility to the gloomy inevitability of mankind’s fate.

Dhomont also gives us his sonic take on other significant Kafka themes, including guilt, solitude, dreams, death, the family, and “impossible messages” – the last one being an apt description of Kafka’s own short stories, for this reader. On Le Cri Du Choucas – a title which incidentally translates as “The jackdaw’s call” and makes a punning reference to the Czech word Kavka – he does it through rich and maximal fugues of abstract sound. Everything has been heavily treated and processed through a vast amount of expensive-sounding digital crunch and filter effects, yet you feel you could somehow reverse-engineer these noises into their sources if you only listened for long enough. Alien though they be, some sounds closely resemble swarms of chattering voices in a huge mass, which is how I remember parts of Frankenstein Symphony by this composer (from 1997). Often these sounds coalesce and rush forward in a massed advance which seems unstoppable; it creates a suitably nightmarish and unreal mood for the listener.

The work is further illustrated and signposted by a good deal of spoken-word narration (in French), fragments of texts and documentary recordings which I assume highlight significant milestones in the design. But these interpolations also interrupt the flow of the music, and keep reminding us of the grand abstractions that Dhomont wishes to convey, barely allowing us any space to conceive our own thoughts. This is one of the stumbling blocks for me on this otherwise exciting release, as it lends an air of didacticism to the work; it’s like being lectured by stern academics in a stuffy University where the Kafka syllabus hasn’t been updated in over 35 years. One senses that the masters at this academy would have no truck with Orson Welles’ free-spirited cinematic interpretation of The Trial. It’s also something of an old-school musique concrète technique, one which has tended to mar my enjoyment of Pierre Henry’s Apocalypse De Jean, that famed Oratorio Electronique from 1969. This aside, you can comfortably play this meticulous work at peak volumes for immersive and transporting effects, to induce profound states of mind…from 25 May 2016.

Horrible Gas Emissions

Italian composer SEC_ (i.e. Mimmo Napolitano) has landed here a few times, notably with his exciting and severe Outflow record where we admired the “measured control, economy, tautness, and selection” in the compactness and editing; and the old-school tape-recorder approach delighted Paul Morgan on 2013’s Moscaio album, even though he complained “there’s no doubt [SEC_] has successfully created an alien, unnatural soundscape, but I found that it takes a few listens to be able to comfortably inhabit it.” Here today is Mefite (TOXO RECORDS tx07), a highly alarming and disorienting composition, which like Outflow also contains a near-overload of information, and which like Moscaio successfully induces strange sensations of loathing and dread.

Mefite has a classical theme, inspired by the Roman fertility goddess (called Mephitis in English) who was often associated with water, swamps, and volcanoes; some scholars think she’s the personification of the sulphurous gases which were naturally emitted by these geographic features. Our man Mimmo is 100% sold on the myth; he describes the Ansanto Valley with some relish as a secret cult location where “horrible gas emissions…kill those who go too close”. These themes are bolstered by the murky cover images, portraying inhospitable rocky areas, perhaps riddled with lava streams and poisonous gases.

To articulate the voice of Mephitis, Mimmo has enlisted the talents of M. DellaMorte, who intones her vengeful words through a distorting filter as if speaking to us mere mortals using the broken telephone receiver of The Gods. She may have got the job based solely on her surname, which translates as “Of Death”; hopefully she’s a gothic beauty with stunning black hair, a wan expression, and prominent cheekbones. The texts she’s speaking were derived from a film about insects by Peter Liechti, which in turn was inspired by a book bearing the chilling title Diary Of A Mummy by Shimada Masahiko. Apparently it’s a macabre story about death by starvation, told in diary form. Brrr…but I do like this multi-layered approach to culture, allowing one subject to illuminate another; juggling the nested ideas seems like just the sort of complex exercise that SEC_ would enjoy, given his elaborate music.

This barrage of information reaches a head near the middle of Part 2 of the composition, creating an overload of unnerving sounds in which the relentless voice continues to chatter implacably. Matter of fact there are multiple speaking voices, generating nightmarish sensations. I should count myself lucky I only have a CD; the original performance in Naples was a multi-channel operation, involving radios and speakers with a live vocal performance. Small wonder the inhabitants dreamt of death by volcano that night, some of them reliving the last days of Pompeii.

I had an idea that European electro-acoustic composers of the 20th century also liked to do occasional updates on Greek and Roman myths, but I can’t find any examples now to support this claim. Even so, one senses that SEC_ is following in a good tradition, giving free vent to his tortured imagination through these strong themes, and creating powerful music thereby. Very good! From 28 June 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.

From the country and the concrete jungle

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Two more cassettes from Staaltape arrived 9th May 2016. It so happens both releases are by women, and very coincidentally the imagery on Rinus Van Alebeek’s collaged decorated envelope (which he customarily includes with every mailout) features the faces of women clipped from his vast stack of old magazines.

Patrizia Oliva has created Numen – Life Of Elitra Lipozi, a most beautiful work clad in a smoky black cover with just a single blue butterfly spray-painted on. The A side, titled ‘Danse Des Fantomes’, is dreamy and evocative and makes me a willing dancing partner of the proposed ghosts and spirits. Voices, loops, and even some vaguely operatic elements are refashioned by Oliva into something personal and strange. She’s playing with magnetic tape like a gifted child sets to work with a box of watercolours. I don’t know why musicians (like Michael Nyman) are drawn to the work of Oliver Sacks (this release includes dedication to that deep thinker). But Oliva may be trying, like Sacks, to map the strange pathways of the brain in her atmospheric and charged music.

The B side ‘A Day Long To’ showcases the “Annette Peacock” mode of this performer…vaguely jazzy free singing she emanates from an indefinable part of her singing apparatus, in an inflected and mannered mode…the lonely avant-ness of Joan La Barbara is notched back two degrees and edged a shade closer to a ghostly portrait of Ella Fitzgerald…by which I mean it’s not clear if she’s singing from her mouth, or her brain-waves. Of course the minimal arrangements that back her up are pretty inspired too, making the most of a studio housed in a matchbox and two rubber bands holding everything together. More tape loops and much dreamy unfinished music drifts into the ether. A nice not-quite-there quality, slightly balmy. Oddly the B-side feels to me like separate songs, where the A side feels like a mini-opera telling a story. Not all that’s here is a song; there’s one very effective piece which is extremely abstract, just repeated patterns, sound effects, and whispered / murmured voices, yet it’s uncanny and highly effective in its dream-like mood sustaining of same. The side ends with a fascinating anecdote about synaesthesia, how it’s possible to see music as colours, and how no two people who have the condition ever agree on what the “right” colour is. Interestingly, the condition was first recorded in medical history by another Dr Sachs, this time a German physician of the 19th century.

In all Patrizia Oliva not only has a singular vision but also a very delicate touch in the creation of her work which is determinedly “non-masculine”, which isn’t to say it’s feminine and decorative, but organised along non-aggressive lines, without the usual male need to follow structure blindly and rush to a contrived ending. “Patrizia lives in the country, surrounded by nature,” write Rinus helpfully. “One lady from the old world”. If that’s true, that’s one old world whose passing we will come to regret. Every commonplace remark made on Twitter hastens the death of these old worlds.

The tape by Valerie Kuehne is of a different order. I couldn’t find a title but it might be called Audiozone #3, part of a series; release is just identified by the two sides, called ‘Ball Side’ and ‘Other Side’. Patrizia Oliva is pleasantly balmy, while Valerie Kuehne is an inspired screwball, in the nicest possible way of course. “Valerie moves in the concrete jungle”, writes Rinus about this American performer. Her songs here feature a kind of demented folk-inflected chanting and yawping, for instance the opener ‘Haul Away Joe’, a sea shanty which requires the artiste to remake herself as a crusty nautical cove on board an 18th century rigger. A grotesque opener. ‘The Graviton’ is better, more of a shamanic free-form wailing trip…like a lost ESP Disk recording from such waywards as Erica Pomerance, much free warbling with plenty of percussion and manic performances from her side musicians. ‘Apocalypse Berliner’ is a spoken word recit which gradually becomes more, erm, impassioned…as she describes some situation which sounds like a grave social injustice, her sarcasm shoots through the top of the thermometer and she becomes positively demented with her passion and commitment to the cause. The sort of loopy radical who might have featured in any 1970 Hollywood hipster road movie made in the wake of Easy Rider. Then there’s ‘Long Long Sleep’, which is like a nightmare parody of Edwardian parlour music with its poised and mannered vocalising which over-stresses certain phonemes in an annoyingly pronounced manner. But you can still sense the underlying nuttiness…her cello work, just now beginning to surface among the chaos on offer, is also certainly highly distinctive and evidence of a wild, peculiar talent.

B side of this weirdie in tape form contains ‘Sunshine in the Sunshine’, which is her freakoid take on the Fifth Dimension pop hit, with emphatic singing, chaotic playing from the guest musicians, her mad cello sawing and her frantic attempts to stir up collaboration among all participants. A glorious mess. You’d hate to have her at your birthday party, unless you love to be embarrassed and mortified. A mostly solo work follows, ‘Architecture at Muchmore’s’, with its cracked all-over-the-show melody, and alarming dynamics which require these abrupt shifts of tempo and sudden bouts of intense delivery. Shocking, crazed. Voice and cello only, I think, were used to realise this insight into the cracks of Kuehne’s brain. After this it might be a piece called ‘Leader Eater’ but it’s getting harder to tell one track from another. Part of what we hear sounds like a confrontational performance-art piece that involves yelling at the audience, and further ingeniously complex songs where it’s a wonder she manages to sustain the difficult long tones which the tunes require. I’m a-warming to this release now…Valerie Kuehne is a very acquired taste, but you don’t get this exceptionally high degree of uncut humanity and honesty captured on tape every day. Ably supported by her side players, which include Natalia Steinbach. Alex Cohen, Hui-Chun Lin, The Columbia Orchestra, Matthew Silver, and others, she saws and sings away. Other releases by Valerie Kuehne include Dream Zoo and Phoenix Goes Crazy, both very obscure low-run CDRs.

The tape itself is a provisional attempt at an “album”. Rinus Van Alebeek made the selections and put it together, but didn’t get much in the way of preferences expressed by the creator, who’s presumably so creatively chaotic in her life that she doesn’t bother with bourgeois things like organisation and planning. So “it is not an album by Valerie; it is an album about her”, is the stated claim, along with an attempt to document the “subculture she is a part of”. This provisional aspect is even reflected in the cover, showing details from a notebook, where the track order and even the titles are subjected to much crossing-out and rethinking. Most intriguingly, the result “leads to a couple of obscure passages into 21st century life somewhere in the US.” What in the name of Condoleezza Rice does that mean?

Cultural and Educational Activity

Herewith the latest three cassette releases from Saint Petersburg’s finest underground label Spina!Rec, delivered here on 10 March 2016. As ever, the editions of physical product are tiny, and collectors of cassettes will have to move fast.

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SR023 is a split betwixt Dubcore and Andrey Popovskiy. Dubcore sounds more like it ought to be the name of a label, or a genre, but here it’s an art project which experiments with found sounds and/or field recordings. They offer two pieces under the heading ‘Tea-N-Pepsi’, an endearing latterday cafe society proposal if ever there was. ‘Tuning In’ is a delicious jumble of sources, a fractured radio broadcast. Nothing spectacularly new in the approach of cutting up and random assemblage, but I happen to like the results on this occasion. The creators are genuinely capable of surprising the jaded listener with their juxtapositions and exciting cross cuts. A distinctly urban feel emerges; railway stations, media messages, street sounds, electronic noise, static, and beats. Everything is served up in aggressive micro-second slices, pandering to the minuscule attention spans of our atrophied brains. ‘Theyyam’ by Dubcore feels slightly less paranoid and tense, even admitting the possibility of some pastoral undercurrents, and quieter passages, to the overall mix of unpredictability. Here the listener is intrigued and puzzled. While not as subtle or inventive as the tapes we get from Staaltape and Rinus van Alebeek, Dubcore are operating in much the same area. “Six multilayered tracks full of sounds and changes,” is the description from the website, adding that Dubcore began life as something to do with exploring long tracts of silence. It so happens this tape is the exact opposite of that strategy, and has resulted in a glorious clutter of sonic detritus. A nice one.

Andrey Popovskiy occupies Side B with his 30-minute epic ‘Kryukov’. If credit list rings true, Popovskiy is operating various chunks of hardware for playback of pre-recorded elements (turntable, cassette player, dictaphone, CD player, etc), plus a violin, and e-bow, and additional field recordings. Hard to detect much of this equipment on the finished product, though. It comes across rather like 30 mins of a fellow stumbling about the room not really knowing what to do next, like a lethargic musician trying out ideas, opening the window, or turning the TV on. The recording doesn’t present the music, but documents the event, so that we pick up a good deal of room tone, random sounds, TV or radio in the next room, and general atmosphere of life in a Saint Petersburg apartment. This description may make it all appear infuriating and trivial, but in fact ‘Kryukov’ is a compelling listen. “Different kinds of interaction with environmental sounds,” is how the website describes this episode; “sometimes you can hear contingently appearing sounds of spaces, sometimes it’s prearranged processed recordings.” A lot to explore and get lost inside, varying textures, stories, and effects.

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Open Readings (SR024) is a high-minded attempt to reclaim historic culture from the forces of Evil: “Barbarization of content, devaluation of moral and spiritual values and denial of cultural archetypes” are the declared Enemy, though the perpetrators don’t go into more detail about how this pernicious effect is coming about, or who are the agencies wreaking this vandalism. Are they talking about the media, television, movies, newspapers, the internet? I suspect many forces are culpable when it comes to dilution and bastardisation of culture. The retaliation from the Russian underground comes in the form of the spoken word, readings from “works of the best classical writers of the Silver Age”. In Russia, the Silver Age is the beginning of the 20th century, a highly productive time for experimental poetry, modernist novels, and short stories. On the A side, it’s done by Alexander Mashanov & Ilia Belorukov, who on ‘Blok’ (most likely named for the poet Alexander Blok) belt out short phrases and paragraphs, spoken in Russian, of course, as if words were weapons, to be fired like bullets from a gun. Inevitably, this approach soon develops into a clumsy form of rap music, the rhymes chanted aggressively over a clunky drum beat and tepid electro backing. In less than 11 mins, we’re barked to death. On the B side, the readings are done by Natasha Shamina with a musical backdrop by Sergey Kostyrko. Their ‘Vvedenskiy’ is less contrived than ‘Blok’, and instead of rapping the reading is delivered with the accompaniment of a menacing electronic growl, now and then turning into a nasty squeal, and contributing to the overall tension. The sense of purpose in Natasha Shamina’s steely speaking voice is unmistakeable; she may not be firing bullets, but you sense she’s staring at you with a disapproving eye, and is capable of acting as a silent assassin if the situation demands it. I prefer this B side; it makes zero concessions to entertainment, and demands your engagement with the content.

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SR025 is another split and represents another chapter in this label’s friendly and ongoing collaboration with the Finnish underground. Umpio is the Finn, from Turku; Kryptogen Rundfunk is the Russian. Both are solo acts. Umpio turns in a typically over-baked stew of sounds on his ‘Rio De Venas, Gusanos, Pulso Insectal, Craneocapsula, Bajo Hielo’, and by typical I mean this is the sort of purposeless over-dubbed melange which the Finns have always done so well. This “cunning sound synthesis” as the website would have it is all done by electronic means, digital and analogue working together for that rich “swampy” sensation. ‘Rio De Venas’ doesn’t really progress anywhere, but as a half-realised vision of an alien world, it’s fairly convincing. Pentti Dassum is the fellow behind this pleasing gumbo, and he runs a record label called Nekorekords and was involved in the mastering of over 100 Finnish underground releases, besides the production of about 40 of his own solo records and split releases.

Kryptogen Rundfunk offer us a live recording from 2015 from a venue or event called ESG-21. Feedback and electronic noise are used to create slow and doomy textures…they lurch gradually out of the speakers like so much tar-encrusted sludge, and the outpouring won’t stop until every available surface is covered in this unpleasant morass. Some occasional nice effects are achieved by Kryptogen Rundfunk’s remorseless execution, but in the final analysis he creates the sort of environment that drives you away rather than invites exploration. Dank, grey, gloomy; saps the vitality of most humans, kills many forms of plant life, poisons the air. Artyom Ostapchuk is the creator of this dismalness, and he has made a few sporadic recordings of his brand of industrial ambient death music since 2004 onwards.

The Doctor Is Sick, pt 5

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Part Five of the Doc Wör Mirran roundup.

Lastly here is Walm Art (Make Twentyeight / MT-575), the zaniest of the discs in this batch. It’s 38 tracks of insanity, noise and mayhem – voice works, poems, tunes, songs, electronic and tape malarkey..the track titles make little sense, and there’s an enormous credit list to add to the confusion. Taken on its own terms, Walm Art is not half bad, certainly in the tradition of The Faust Tapes or Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy, only far more playful in its experimentation. A true taste of absurdity in experimental music, and some of the individual music pieces are nothing to be ashamed of. To get anywhere near them, you have to go with the flow and subject yourself to all manner of irresponsible and crazed outpourings, spliced together with short ten-second noise experiments. A real fruitcake of an album. It’s DWM Release #125, was formerly titled Fred’s Got A Satelite Problem, and is “Dedicated To Zoogz Rift who would have liked it”. Well, if we’re name-dropping American loons and misfits, I’d like to think this album is more in the vein of Trumans Water, not that I ever got very far with listening to those records…

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I just found two more. A Tale Of Two Titties (Make Twentynine / MT-576) in title, cover and track titles resembles something Peter Griffin would have come up with when he was self-publishing porn books, and it’s a real mixed bag much like the Kunstlergruppe album – nice guitar ballads, electropop songs and uncategorisable tunes nestling alongside coarse and ugly one-joke noise recordings. Raimond appears with Ralf Lexis, Bernard Worrick, Denise Kusiak, Peter Schuster, and many other names, and the selections may or may not have been recorded “over the span of twenty odd years”. There’s some serious talent lurking in the half-mad sprawl that is a Doc Wör Mirran album…in the quest to stay out of the clutches of the music journalist’s pigeon-holing, it seems this kind of misdirection is their best tactic.

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Recipe For A Memory (Make Thirty / MT-581) does have some dates attached, and represents work from 1985 to 1993; the same names from Titties, along with Adrian Gormley, Russ Spiegel, Michael Wurzer, Volker Zippelius and John Griffith, elusive personalities dodging in and out of the fluid Doc Wör Mirran collective. The cover art for this one made me think of Karel Appel. The music is great too. I think ‘Die Berge Der Indianer’ is one DWM effort most likely to be mistaken for a Can bootleg, while ‘Remonstrancing A Taboo (Version 2)’ is the sort of techno-festival cosmic mush likely to have found favour with 1990s ecstasy-freaks when they rediscovered Gong and Hawkwind. Indeed much of the music is extremely approachable modern rock with experimental touches, and while I don’t care much for the songs and lyrics when they appear, there’s enough latterday Kraut groove here to make this one well worth investigation.

Mental Notes

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Last heard from Maja Osojnik as one half of duo Rdeca Raketa on their 2013 release, and before that she surfaced as the singer with Broken Heart Collector on their moving self-titled album in 2011. Here she is again with an impressive double album set Let Them Grow (ROCK IS HELL RECORDS RIP66 / UNRECORDS unrec11). Maja was born in Slovenia, but is based in Vienna just now. Let Them Grow is pretty much her solo, studio-based project, where she plays and sings everything including a rich mix of acoustic and electronic instruments and noise-generators, plus is credited with tape manipulation, “abandoned pianos”, radios sets, and installation tubes; she also acknowledges four musicians who she has sampled, including bass players Manu Mayr and Matija Schellander, the latter from Rdeca Raketa. Across four sides and 16 tracks, we soon enter into another world, an introverted and internalised landscape of the mind, an asylum for the disaffected. Make no mistake, this statement is the product of a restless and unhappy brain, as Osojnik explores her personal and very real mid-life crisis where she is no longer able to make any sense of the world, relationships with people and things seem to be unachievable, and she despairs at the possibility of communication. “I am amazed at how often this world is slipping out of my reach”, she observes helplessly.

Dealing with these psychological terrors through your art is always a good idea – I recommend it personally. It is good therapy. On Let Them Grow, Maja Osojnik makes artistic capital out of her own alienation, through a number of varied approaches. There are strange, cocooning drones, which envelop the listener in a sort of anti-womb environment, all billowing shrouds and unseen shapes moving in the background. There are songs which are as Teutonic and threatening in their melodic range as anything Nico ever recorded on The Marble Index, strident marching songs for a battleground of the psyche. There are spoken-word recits, accompanied by eerie non-musical backdrops, on which Maja unburdens her soul in fragments of broken text. All of these methods are likely to be analogous to the state of her troubled soul.

One interesting detail in the making of this album is her digital library of “rejects”, described here as “broken sound scraps”, which may be failed experiments, glitches or sound samples that went wrong. I like the idea that she is retaining and curating these errors, and then reworking them into the fabric of her music, without making a fetish out of the process or calling attention to it. As an artist, don’t throw anything away – that was advice I was given by one tutor. You never know what you’ll find in discarded sketches, doodles, or half-finished ideas. Today’s rejects are tomorrow’s mashed potatoes, or something like that.

You may think from this description that Let Them Grow is a cold and distant document of alienating tones and distressing texts, of no value to the listener except as a depressing bout of melancholia. Far from it. There’s an intellectual honesty and clarity to Osojnik’s work, by which I mean she is determined not to wallow in a swamp of unmixed emotional spew. Rather, she distils these feelings into sound poetry, into workable musical forms; hearing these can have an empowering, cathartic effect on the listener. Together, it seems we can work a way through the pain and uncertainty, and not get stuck in it. Perhaps we need more works like this in the world, as a way of understanding and dealing with these very common human feelings; Maja could take the place of 100 social workers, with her Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy. From 1st February 2016.