Tagged: spoken word

With Best Wishes

rlw

An astonishing collage-tapework sound-art piece is Just Like A Flower When Winter Begins (MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO060), which was concocted by the highly prolific non-stop German genius rlw collaborating with srmeixner, who is Stephen Meixner from the UK dark ambient group Contrastate. It’s dense, almost impenetrable stuff they come up with, and a single listen raised over 25 question marks over my head. In trying to solve the puzzle, I’m not entirely assisted as I peruse the artists’ notes which accompany each track, and which describe the overall project and how they got there over the course of two-three years. It seems they share common ground in their contempt for schlagermusik, a genre of popular musical entertainment in Germany 1. I’m not really an expert in this field, although in my mind I vaguely associate the genre with spangly jackets, smooth easy listening music, superannuated crooners and wholesome fresh-faced youngsters. Schlagermusik is probably similar to the all-round family entertainment which we Britishers used to suffer in the 1970s and 1980s on the telly, on shows such as Top of the Pops or Seaside Special, or anything featuring Torville & Dean. Well, not only do rlw and Stephen despise it as entertainment, they seem to look down somewhat on those who do enjoy it. Just Like A Flower represents their attempt to do something about the situation through their art. I’ll admit I’m faintly put off by the condescending tone behind this piece, particularly if the target is merely some harmless old-age pensioners simply having a German knees-up. I suppose to these wild-eyed underground geniuses, schlagermusik must represent The Enemy in the form of family values, good taste, sentimentality, the mainstream media, popularity, and just plain bad music. I should stress that this condescension doesn’t appear on the record, which is highly intellectual and rarefied – a Jean-Luc Godard-esque study in deconstruction.

The album is a fascinating listen. A fractured conceptual melange of words, music, song, speaking voices, and unidentifiable gobbets of sound – all lined up with fastidious neatness and respect for order, to create an impression of non-stop chaos. It’s sound poetry in the finest Henri Chopin tradition. It’s an explosion of ideas, which leaves behind the neatest pile of rubble you’ve ever seen 2. Creating it was a highly collaborative back and forth process, if the diary notes by Ralf and Stephen are anything to go by, a continual process of editing and re-editing and re-shaping each others’ contributions; the finished work is ordered under theme-based headings, and the fellows are able to elaborate in some detail as to what the themes mean. One note regards “nostalgia” as a disease; another muses on the vast number of schlagermusik superstars there are, and how impossible it would be to count them. There is an effort made by both to transform “shit into gold”, to take such an unpromising starting point and make a worthwhile artistic statement out of it – the same sort of superhuman effort that could remix 100 Hot Hits LPs 3 and arrive at greatness thereby. Guest vocalists add readings and songs to selected tracks, and there appears to be some connection to a related release Mit freundlichen Gruessen 4. Apparently if this album had been released first, it would have been called Vomiting agents of several generations. I’ll drink to that! From November 2013.

  1. Although if we believe the wikipedia entry, it’s been spreading like a blight across most of mainland Europe since the 1950s.
  2. This metaphor borrowed from Marc Newgarden. He used it to describe the work of cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller.
  3. Budget compilation records where chart singles were re-recorded by anonymous session bands and singers. Allegedly Elton John worked on some of these at the very start of his career.
  4. I have found no evidence this other release even exists, and it may just be part of the overall conceptual joke.

Speaking Charms

From 25th October 2013, a bundle from Nick Hoffman sent from his Oregon address. This one was even sent in a decorated envelope, and the images of butterflies and bees have a certain charm to be sure, but given Hoffman’s “occultist” leanings they also have a faintly sinister hum to their translucent wings. No matter, I am confident he wouldn’t actively direct a curse against one of his biggest fans.

Primary item is blue and gold cassette by Coppice and it’s called Epoxy (PILGRIM TALK PT26) because, like glue, it sticks to everything and doesn’t melt under high temperatures. The A side, ‘A Defective Index’, apparently refers to the transfer process by which these cassette tapes are produced and indicates that “artifacts” may have crept into the finished product. This is a little vague; am I hearing something that’s the result of an accident, or have the accidents been used to distort the musical recordings in some way? Even “musical” might be stretching things somewhat in this context, but the printed notes do indicate that a series of performances took place in Chicago in 2011-2012, and that at least four people were involved. These were the vocalist Carol Genetti, the composer Sarah J Ritch, and the all-rounder Julia A Miller (composer, electronic music, guitarist, poet, and teacher). They are all Chicago-based, but the Icelandic flautist Berglin Tómasdóttir also took part. Their contributions to the composition ‘Seam’ are represented on the B side ‘A Refracted Index of “Seam” with Girls’. And there’s another reference to “indexing” which I don’t quite get, but I do like the way this mysterious project is gradually disappearing into a mist of hints and allusions. Lastly we give credit to Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer, who are the actual members of Coppice, and perform in Chicago using a combination of electronics and bellows, although here they’re content to credit themselves with “indexing and arrangement”. When these verbal layers have peeled away, we’re left with a fascinating tape of very curious sound art, verging on the cold and inhuman in its utter opacity, with peculiar gaps, distortions, false starts, and very irregular patterns. Clearly there’s a concern with keeping things simple, to a very radical degree. There’s also the sense that the music is being discovered as much as it’s being created. It would be a brave man who would want to guess how this strange music is being built, but it’s utterly compelling to hear. It’s a wild guess, but I think Coppice – and their four gifted collaborators – are somehow finding their way out of many of the cul-de-sacs of modern music, tentatively exploring new ways of playing and composing, subtracting the cult of personality and moving towards a genuinely collective, ego-less work. I’m not exactly sure what I am basing all this on, but hearing this remarkable music gives me high hopes and more confidence for the future.

Secondary item is a purple and green cassette by Double Morris called Best of the Hightone Years (PILGRIM TALK PT25). Duo of Aaron Zarzutzki and Morgan Bausman surprise everyone with these charming home-made guitar-based songs of alienation, boredom and disaffection. They surprised me at any rate, since when Zarzutzki teams up with Nick Hoffman he tends to generate some of the most “blank” and bewildering improvised music I have heard in my life. Double Morris’s tape is by no means blank, but it’s still teetering on the brink of a nameless psychological void. Some hallmarks of these very odd post-post stoner songs: (1) a vague resemblance to USA 1980s underground rock, e.g. Minutemen, Firehose, Dinosaur Jr, as if that genre were reinvented by Mongolian tribesmen after consuming opiates; (2) distortion and poor recording used to deliberately mask the lyrical content, though the precisely-calibrated sense of urban boredom is still detectable in the flat and weary singing voice; (3) no attention whatsoever paid to “rules” of song construction, so songs end up ridiculously truncated with no repeat sections or versification. It’s as though the writer ran out of things to say, or couldn’t be bothered to express them, or even to finish the song. Great! These are very strong qualities which already intrigue me, and I’m certain I will come to love them the more I listen to this tape.

Tertiary item is Bruiser (PILGRIM TALK PT28), a solo CDR by the very wonderful Nick Hoffman, a release which he has cloaked in quite elaborate fold-out packaging where each image, printed across 12 panels, stands alone and makes the wrapper feel like a piece of Fluxus artwork or a conceptual artist’s book, notwithstanding the familiar occult theme here represented by distressed images taken from a book of medieval woodcuts and printed in assorted colours. In fact it’s as if the Hexen DVD had been repackaged by George Maciunas. Musically, these 2008 recordings from Illinois (processed in Oregon in 2013) present a highly baffling tableau of process tones, which appear to have been produced exclusively by computer programming. Hoffman may want to stress the term ‘programming’ so as to differentiate his work from laptop music, a genre which is now ubiquitous and which, although it involves computers, does not necessarily require programming skills. Hoffman’s sound art here alternates between tracts of total gibberish (a computer babbling to itself in its own language), imperceptible yet menacing low hums, and a very harsh crunchy noise of a sort which only the broken and hacked digital toolkit can produce. I’m basing that assumption on most of the similar crunchy outputs I’ve heard from the New York label Copy For Your Records, which harbours many cruel sound-artists evidently bent on wreaking havoc with digital methods and abused machines. Come to that, the first three tracks of Bruiser could comfortably fit that label’s profile, with no loss of earnings for either party. The fourth long track, meanwhile, might also have found a home with Winds Measure Recordings; its pale-white (ghostly) understated tones and carefully layered textures have a pristine beauty that I think Ben Owen would appreciate. But the whole record has a dark side too; I can never put my finger on why, but I feel that each Hoffman release I hear is like a carefully-executed curse against the world, a wizard’s rune or a witch’s spell.

Ben Owen might also appreciate the presentation of Miguel Prado‘s 45RPM single, a lathe cut on clear plastic. Miguel Prado is a conceptual sound artist who I think uses the diary form as a means of documenting his own life and transforming the narrative into his ongoing artistic statement. In short, he’s making himself into his art. His Kempelen’s Lesson (On Voice And Tape) (PILGRIM TALK PT27 / HERESY 04) is the result of mangling and reshaping a spoken word tape, taking great liberties with altering the playback speed, mixing it with musical interludes, and subjecting the whole meshugana lump to even further distortions, in the way of wild edits, unexpected gaps, and other interpolations. The titles ‘Criptolalia’ and ‘Glossolalia-Laden’ refer (respectively) to the development of a private language, and to the act of “speaking in tongues” often associated with certain religious fundamentalists. It’s clear Prado isn’t out to present a lucid scientific lecture on these subjects, but rather to demonstrate them – through his extreme manipulation of the very same instruments and agencies which can be used for voice capture. Just another spoken-word item, you may think? Au contraire, mon brave. This is one of the most chilling instances we’ve encountered in the genre; the whole record just sounds grisly and monstrous. It, like almost everything heard in this bundle, has left me with a vague discomforting chill which has endured for hours.

Pictured: Back Magic‘s Blood Plaza, previously noted here.

No Love Lost

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Murmurists
I Cannot Tell You Where I Am Until I Love You
FRANCE ALREALON MUSIQUE ALRN049 CD (2013)

“I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine.” Thus spake the narrator of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and a similar sentiment informs this patchwork of dreamy drones and disquieting interactions between monologue mentalist Bryan Lewis-Saunders and others. The story – to refer to it thus – is dissociative in nature: five narrators cut off from the bigger picture, delivering pseudo-psychoanalytical monologues to empty space; monotone responses to truncated messages; while language constitutes the chiefest obstacle between event and emotional experience. We recognise this in the separation of call and response by expanses of grey noise, snail-slow samples and by the meaningless verbosity of the discourse itself, which at best resembles robotic academics gainsaying each other with the emptiest of collocations.

The process of compiling and assembling the ingredients took Murmurists mainman Anthony Donovan some two years, suggesting a measured, on-off relationship with the project, which the long passages between speeches reflect as clearly as an internal monologue. The methodology employed might correspond on paper to that of musique concrète, though at risk of implying a hidden purpose it might be better to split hairs and call this a collage in which – as Donovan himself reminds us – ‘all signs fail to signify’ (to this listener, certainly). The emotional anti-drama of total alienation – from self and others – washes over the listener in bleak and unyielding drones and echoing industrial emptiness, with distorted snatches of warehouse electronics; remote, purgatorial choirs and martial rhythms underlining the dormant frustration of those unable to articulate emotion. Such sounds he extrapolates from several solo improvisations informed by presumably gnomic mandates.

For sure, the ‘love’ looks unlikely to happen for as long as these sexless, wordy correspondents continue to draw breath. In spite of this, the overall composition, though relentlessly bleak, is never less than hypnotising: its lack of drama a reassuring certainty for those able to surrender to ennui. If you thought Chris Morris’ JAM sketches were too rich in humour and direction, then these forty-five minutes should assuage that dissatisfaction.

Fragments Shored against my Ruins

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Lucrecia Dalt‘s Syzygy (HUMAN EAR MUSIC HEMK0032) comes across as a record that’s trying to tell me something; it’s studded with written texts, short mysterious paragraphs, not only in the gatefold interior of the cover but printed on the CD disk, and on the tiny cover sticker which asks me “are you in a hurry?”, in a faintly chiding tone. The opening track title ‘Glossolalia’ also clues you into a preoccupation with the spoken word, and when playing with the printed text she chooses to print her track titles backwards on the cover, and provide her name in embossed form; one step away from the Braille text which appeared on the back cover of Paul McCartney’s Red Rose Speedway. So far, no opportunity has been wasted to keep the meaning of the text at arm’s length; Emily Dickinson could have done no better. Even her website is likewise served up as disjointed fragments, short texts and disjunctive images inviting us to follow clues and dig into deeper meanings, and she makes more allusions per square inch than the complete works of Jorge Luis Borges.

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I’m not here to pass on any deeper understanding from today’s listen, but the record is oddly compelling in a very gentle and mysterious manner; Dalt makes sparing use of instrumentation such as muffled keyboards, synths, and acoustic guitars, to build fragile structures which her voice inhabits like a fleeting phantom floating past on floorboards greased with candle wax (viz. Lewis Carroll’s Phantasmagoria). This sonic world, like a more avant version of Kate Bush crossed with Virginia Astley or Enja, is the perfect white-walled and heavily carpeted arena for her disjunctive fragments of text to thrive. Is she even a singer? Half of the time she’s delivering a spoken-word recit, and doing so in breathy whispers that occlude the text still further. While you may not notice the impact of her work at once, I feel sure that it will manifest itself weeks later when you find yourself scrutinising a text printed in a foreign language, and suddenly find you can understand half of it by the sheer power of intuition. This unique item was recorded in Barcelona, though apparently the artist was born in Columbia. I would guess she’s made a virtue of solitude, contemplation, and exile, and that’s going to be her lifetime’s work. Interested listeners may which to investigate her previous release for this label, Commotus, or her debut album Congost. Received this one in October 2013.

JULY199

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.