Tagged: supernatural

Disabled By Fears

In February this year we noted a couple of CDRs from Emanuele Lago, a highly prolific Italian fellow who makes dark ambient electronic music under numerous aliases, some of it following a supernatural bent, and publishes it on his own Psychotic Release imprint. On 2nd March 2016 he sent three more instances of his craft.

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As Ghastly Marshes, he made Ancient Spirits Of The Fen (PRCD20) around the winter of 2015-2016, aided by the visual skills of D. Finley (Invercauld), who provided the front cover image of stark fenland trees lit up in ghostly white against an uncertain night sky. With titles referring to ghosts, fog, witches, spirits, tears, anxiety and solitude, the listener can be sure of a highly atmospheric sojourn in a spooked-out zone for 60 minutes. Indeed the 15 titles are so elaborate they pretty much tell a story, chapter headings to a chilling ghost story where we can feel ourselves being pursued through inescapable woods by unknown supernatural agents. The sound of Ghastly Marshes is not especially inventive, but I do like the open-ended nature of these ghostly tones which refuse to resolve into recognisable musical chords or tunes, and simply murmur with a mixture of sighs, moans, and eerie winds passing gently through the branches overhead. Ancient Spirits Of The Fen may appear understated and samey, but there is a lot of information and detail packed into these evocative grooves. This is his second release under this name after 2014’s Shallafrost Course And Other Tales, which also appeared on cassette.

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As Kurai Keshiki, Lago’s plan is to work with urban field recordings to produce supernatural ambient vibes, as noted on the earlier Mozaiku. In like manner, Senseeshon (PRCD19) is based on “samples and field recordings taken during real life – home, job and small travels”; there is some electronic processing, but not much, and the discipline here is to keep himself away from the keyboards, synths, and computers, in order to extract the underlying qualities of mystery and sorrow he craves from these mundane aural snapshots. Another understated release, but the nuances of light and shade are quite different to those on Ancient Spirits, and the work is filled buy kamagra uk online with mysterious silences and gaps punctuating equally mysterious events. Real life is subtly transformed into a slow-moving dream, and as we listen we’re walking over pavements and roads like a ghost inhabiting a deserted shopping mall. Unlike the work of “serious” phonographers who have political and social agendas and are quick to point out the ground truths of the places in which they set up their microphones, Kurai Keshiki makes no claims to objectivity at all; the work represents Emanuele Lago’s highly personal (and somewhat introverted) take on his surroundings. As such, I like it just fine.

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Black Mountains Chronicles was another mantle adopted by Lago, I think as a follow-up to his Tombstone alias; the intention here is to mix ambient with industrial sounds, and explore dark gothic horror themes. My Lolly: Or, The Shadow Of Her Former Self (PRCD18) is dedicated to the memory of a black cat, and right away you may think that Lago wishes to project the image of himself as a warlock with his familiar rather than a sentimental animal lover. I’m not sure if it’s as simple as that however, as the printed dedication reads “In loving memory of Lolly” and the titles make many references to the theme of rebirth and revenants, as if by making this music he was weaving a spell which could bring his beloved pet back from the dead. If this interpretation is halfway right, the record represents a compelling set of dark magick rituals mixed with more wholesome and down-to-earth emotions, so that the listener is halfway to being frightened to death by these stern ambient tones while simultaneously welcoming the brief apparitions of the cat; Lolly’s voice, I think, surfaces as a brief sample on at least one track, though its plaintive mew is more like a strange bark, and one imagines the poor creature is much puzzled by its passage through the afterlife. In all, the depressing ambient drizzle here will do much to dampen your enthusiastic mood, yet the clouds are sometimes shot through with glimpses of hope, and there are occasional skewed perspectives showing vistas of the world beyond.

No website; to buy these, email rerechan@alice.it

A Sanguine Disposition

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Scarlet (HELEN SCARSDALE AGENCY HMS030) is a most excellent cassette in which Jim Haynes, up to now widely perceived as the “Jon Anderson” of unobtrusive sound art, at last discovers the power of supernatural noise…well, almost. Scarlet is pretty much a continuous listen of compellingly strange, eerie and (in places) loud and disturbing noise, divided into eight sections with descriptive bloody titles such as ‘Mordant Red 15’ and ‘Racine To Vermillion’ which prime the listener for a session of decadence, blood-bathing, and grand guignol. What follows is pretty much the haunted TV screen effect of the Poltergeist movie to the power of ten…unsettling, tense, inexplicable waves of sound. The notes here tell us it was derived from hot-wired strobe lights and shortwave radio (hacked using wire-tapping devices), but also “psychic disturbance…within the Helen Scarsdale Agency’s shipping container”. Intriguing…while I have no idea what this “shipping container” may be (unless it’s simply the mail room for this Californian label), the notion of capturing psychic disturbance on tape is always a popular way to go. Just look at the large number of YouTube videos uploaded under the rubric “ghosts caught on tape” (or aliens, ditto). On the other hand, don’t do that.

Jim Haynes has always created beautiful sound art, and he has always left it largely unexplained, undetermined, with no explanation of what he is pointing the microphones at (if indeed there are any microphones) or what if anything he is doing in the way of editing, post-processing, filtering. This deliberate ploy usually invites the baffled listener to simply listen harder (rather than forcing us to do so, like some more aggressive types do). Haynes’ second triumph is the “humanity” as I would call it of his work, by which I mean he doesn’t generate dull process sound-art for its own sake, but always manages to discern the spirits of things, the ghosts in the machines, or perhaps he can clearly see the chain of life that connects everything in the world, using the gifted vision that is somehow hard-wired to his ears, however anatomically strange that may seem. His patient, sympathetic methods always yield fascinating results, where the human being can always find something recognisable that strikes a chord deep within. He is never out to alienate, nor drive the listener to distraction with boredom.

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“I’ve made attempts at rhythm in the past,” says Haynes about this release, “but here I throw caution to the wind with numerous variations on the noise-pulse theme.” He describes the results as “jagged and torn electronics” and feels that a cassette release is the best medium for the statements. Fans of John Duncan and Candor Chasma are advised to check in a.s.a.p. to hear this “study in scarlet”…Haynes doesn’t go quite as far as Duncan into the dark, sensory-deprived realms of psychological despair, nor does he seek to spin supernatural yarns like Candor Chasma, but this release is (for me) a clear departure from the more understated and slow-moving material that I am more familiar with. If you want more, there is a ninth recording which exists as a video piece, part of the 18 Films Of Ted Serios project. From February 2015.

In Mirror Arms

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Last heard from Sum Of R with their Ride Out The Waves EP, which we noted in August 2013. The LP Lights On Water (UTECH RECORDS URLP085 / SUM01) is another well-constructed studio spook-out, played mostly by Swiss genius Reto Mäder who does multiple overdubs of his keyboards, bass, percussion, samples, and electronic effects; while guitarist Julia Valentina Wolf is given ample room to screech and squeal. The music this time is characterised by much in the way of “martial” drumming, and most of the pieces tend to build from a creepy, atmospheric opening up to a histrionic finale of sheer gibbering terror. I get the impression the musicians would rather do anything than play conventional chords or melodies, yet everything tends towards a minor key; all the special effects are designed to induce unease in the listener (the unnatural wailing voice on the first track is particularly memorable), and the musicians paint a grim, noirish, supernatural picture of the world. But it’s also one rooted in a fantasy milieu, such as Sword and Sorcery or horror movie culture, and almost every note played is but one step away from the patchouli-scented realm of the black-suited Goth. Somehow Sum Of R don’t deliver quite enough conviction in the forces of evil. Reto Mäder rarely fails in his convincing many-layered studio constructions, but this time I feel the guitar playing of Wolf is a shade too conventional for me; while her acidic tone is welcome, the minor-key melodies she plays are quite ordinary, and the record is sometimes let down by her heavy metal-derived riffs and blues-based soloing. Corrine Futterlieb took the cover photographs. From February 2014.

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Nice piece of contemporary Italian industrial evil-drone music from Candor Chasma on The Key (OLD EUROPA CAFE OECD 194). This is the duo of Simon Balestrazzi and Corrado Altieri, who take their name from a canyon on Planet Mars and are proud of their “no digital processing” stance on their heavy, gritty records which often have what the Annie Hall 1 character would have called a “negative capability”. The Key is another occult release not far from the tenor and atmosphere of Rings, an ectoplasm-heavy item which we noted in 2012. This time the underpinning theme is the life and works of Madame Blavatsky, the 19th century Russian spiritualist who made quite a name for herself with her extensive worldwide travels, and went on to found the school of Theosophy. Select events from the life of this Empress of the Paranormal are explicitly referenced in Candor Chasma’s track titles; clearly something eerie transpired on board the S.S. Eunomia, and in Hyde Park on 12 August 1851, but I will leave this for more advanced students of esoterica to discover. Candor Chasma yield to no man in their stern droning endeavours, even if most of these tracks follow the same structural formula – start out quiet and scary, and gradually build up multiple layers, to end up as on a terrifying roar replete with old-school abstract noise terror bursts interrupting the queasy, pulsating flow. And of course they make effective use of found recordings of voices, buried deep in the mix, murmuring and whispering to summon instant impressions of a darkened séance parlour. It’s convincing material and well executed, even if these are tropes and themes which are currently being done to death in Hollywood, in movies like White Noise, Ouija, Insidious, etc.; even the front cover looks like one of those damned souls trying to escape from the TV set in Poltergeist. On the other hand, Hollywood movie-makers have little interest in things like history, research or scholarship to bolster their juvenile fright-fest romps, and at least Balestrazzi and Altieri have done their homework into this interesting chapter of European history. From 02 May 2014.

  1. My error – of course this should be Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979).

Terror Tales

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Sixteen Fingers is one of the more edgy and anxious artists on LF Records, itself a home to the more extreme and angst-ridden forms of underground electronic and digital music. We last heard from Sixteen Fingers with their self-titled record released around 2011, a fierce and coruscating blast of anger and frustration. For Glooms Vol. 1 (LF034), the anger seems to have dissipated somewhat, and we’re left with a the sound of a sorrowful soul who appears resigned to their fate; eight episodes of unremitting misery, in the form of very rich dark ambient cloudstorms, or attenuated electrical malfunction-buzz that grates on the pelt of every flea-ridden mutt who dares to pass by the home of Sixteen Fingers. Some of the tracks use spoken word elements, which might be broadcasts captured from the radio – the one on Track 01 does have the sneering patrician tones of an English politician – but all content has been drained away, the voice rendered unintelligible through distortion. This accurately reflects a very acute state of mental desperation, when things in the outside world start to mean nothing to you, and become mere ghosts or empty projections. Track 07 is a particularly outstanding achievement, an indescribable blend of vague and faintly-perceptible sounds, all as malnourished as a 1930s shoeless tramp living in a nameless derelict site, and set to a backdrop of chilling waily drone music. Nightmarish…I do kind of miss the agitation and anger of previous release, but this creator is truly one of a kind. Every single sound here conveys a vivid sense of abject despair and futility, and the album more than lives up to its title. Looks like Vol. 2 is already out…maybe it will include a free razor blade with every copy.

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Seems a long while since we received any “product” from Ian Watson, the talented hollow-eyed mystic from Cardiff who runs Phantomhead Recordings, is a musician in his own right, and an exceptional draughtsman capable of producing quite twisted images of supernatural horror, death and decay with his gnarled and spiny brush or his unholy collage technique. His cover for the Bear Man cassette (circa 2011) is an image I personally cherish in the art gallery I keep inside my head. Here he be with 12 untitled tracks on the compilation album Terrestrial Gone Tropic With Some Pretty Fancy Animals (LF032), each of which is a unique venture into his own highly warped “take” on dark ambient and drone music. How is he creating this near-organic mulch, this non-artificial mush made only from the choicest sourced ingredients? He studiously avoids over-familiar sounds and I would imagine that almost everything we hear is hand-crafted by him in some way, hopefully using home-made instruments concocted from a tin of pineapple chunks and an Ever-Ready battery from 1969. Through layers of vague sonic distortion, evil tales of swamp life and inhuman creatures are spun; indeed every track itself seems to have been dredged from the heart of the swamp, squishing about covered in mud and weeds, and it slithers towards us with diabolical intent. I’d as lief face up to “Brown Jenkin” for 25 mins. as endure any one of these supernatural groan-a-thons. No titles, and in fact no contextual information, but apparently these grotesque smogged-up droners have surfaced before, mostly on various very small editions from Watson’s own label. A highly effective and original “spooker” to be sure, it scores 15 points on the “murkeroo” scale, which is my scientific method of applying a metric to music of this ilk.

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TX Ogre has named all the tracks on his Brrr Blobs (LF036) after popular ice cream lollies of the 1970s, including Jelly Terror, Melting Monsters, Pineapple Mivvi, and Jack of Diamonds. The latter I remember well for its crunchy biscuit and chocolate coating around its vaguely coffee-flavoured filling. This mini-CDR is highly percussive – either produced with an old broken drum machine, samples of percussion, a live drum kit recorded in a metal garage, or some combination of all the above, producing the impression of several boxes of Sheffield steel cutlery being thrown down a spiral staircase at speed. TX Ogre embellishes his angry, walloping attacks with errant jets of squiggly synth doodles and electronic belches, and the total effect is of wild crazy energy firing off every which way. TX Ogre is the sculptor and free musician Henry Collins, who also performs / records as Shitmat and a host of other humourous aliases, including Evil Roast Beef Administrator.

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The visual artist and noise-maker Robert Ridley-Shackleton is a new name to me, but I see he’s already released a number of CDRs and cassettes since 2012, including some interesting splits, on his own Hissing Frames label – many of them with zanoid titles that persuade me he’s not lacking a sense of absurdity. His Ovencleaner (LF033) mini CDR may be short in length, but it’s dense and detailed in attack – 20 minutes of very imaginative and layered textured-processo racket wielding a sonic Brillo pad for your hide that you’ll be glad you submitted to. Or will you? While it’s not an unpleasant harsh noise blasterthon, there’s still enough basic grind going on here to produce a vague sense of unease, as if the downtown bus we boarded in good faith some moments ago is now heading on a one-way course towards an abattoir’s conveyor belt. Or the reassuring drone from the propeller engines of this old-fashioned passenger aircraft is now turning to the sinister as the pilot directs us into the mouth of an enormous ogre which we mistook for the side of a mountain. Compelling in an evil goblinesque way…and the washed-out cover artworks won’t provide much in the way of clues. I wonder if all of his paintings are this way…cloaking as much as they show, hiding strange realities behind painterly swathes of dishevelled and distressed canvas? If I had the time, I would immerse myself in more of these disorienting episodes from Robert Ridley-Shackleton, fearsome character though he be.

All the above from 12 November 2013.

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.

Seesaw of Dreams


Great package from Darren Wyngarde aka Filthy Turd…no-nonsense English noisemaker of prolific proportions…active and social he be, engaging with noise in a physical and sweaty manner, aided by fellow oddballs, not footling around with computers or antiseptic conceptual notions…arrived here in May 2012…two cassette tapes, wrapped up in a magazine spread (and I use the word advisedly), with some underfloor felt / debris / muck thrown in, hopefully lifted from under one of his fetid carpets…neither tape is titled that I can see, although one of them might be called URDWYG THE GOLDERR – CASSETTE PSYCHIC VOLUME 1 …this one is made from a recycled musicassette, wherein El Filtho has recorded his dire diablry over top of pre-recorded elements but not allowed any remnants of original to survive…such cassettes are probably impossible to give away even in charity shops now, who have turned their backs on VHS tapes long ago…the deal with this release is that the item is not for sale or manufactured in conventional sense, and to hear it you must send a tape in your possession to the warlock himself, whereupon he will refashion and refit it with his grim horrors, hand-making all covers, each one unique…at same time guaranteeing to wreck your equipment…a potent spell then…seems he has already enlisted over 50 subscribers to the scheme, each man willingly signing up for a walk to the gallows tree…so far a pretty convincing raid from under the floorboards, subterranean spirits and demons surfacing to take what is rightfully theirs among the sweepings, the leavings, the dust, the neglected cobwebs of England’s collective murky psyche…obvious clue to remark on here is the sex-magic undercurrent, as bejudged by the magazine pages ye see, but also perhaps to some extent by the choice of musicassettes that have been assaulted by the hands of Senor Turdoo…Shirley Bassey, Charlotte Church, Nana Moskouri are among the celebrity victims of this demented stalker in sound…some might read that enterprise as a nasty form of “aural rape”, but I think it’s more like a demonic possession, an inhabiting of female bodies…not to say that is any more wholesome…also a concerted effort to erase and wipe out all forms of bourgeois good taste by any means possible, dubbing over tapes of Mum and Dad music and effacing printed information from record company by means of blue magic marker…two enemies disposed of in this way…the second tape is also hard to identify like any good criminal renegade walking abroad should be, but the word UR is ensculped in middle of the case…would be possible to read title as 90-O-UR-O-A if wrecked on strong drink at time of scoping…it contains subtle but unsettling looping and murmuring effects, quickly degenerating into a pile of echoed and uncertain wail-noise that can freeze the hearts of strong men, many of them blanching or fainting at the prospect…continuous noise with scads of ghastloid vocal elements, which may morph at any time into a devilish prayer or chant, and certainly no good is boded if screams on tape are evidence of anything…now let us turn to the Cassette Psychic item for ear-trial….of course I was not a subscriber to the plan so Darren the Monstro sent me the Shirley Bassey palimpsest on his own account…wrapped in silver foil…note title inside scrawled in blue biro and torn from notebook of a muttering loon…it is disturbing to hear…again surprisingly at first a departure from the intense and caustic noise wall which previous outings from the Northern climes may have prepared us for…instead a low-key and muffled sound disguises some potent and radical tape experiments with voice, echo device, electronic oozings…still a foul and unpleasant experience, reaching into this bucket of earwigs, worms, and other garden effluvia…what will my hand touch next?…edited and hashed up for maximum disorienting factor, one illogical splice after another, baffling documents and sleep-talk wrenched from the mind of a four A.M. insomniac…at times almost comic, but instantly warping into grotesque and amateurish anti-art, with distorted microphone effects and vari-speeded effects, trivial fragments of sound that even the most hard-bitten cassette band of 1982 would have distanced puny selves from…is this making sense? It is unmaking sense…these scrawls and doodles on magnetic tape could be secret messages intended for your ears only, if you can realign your inner radio antennae onto the wavelength. By writing “Stuff For You” to me and drawing red witch on verso, Darrenacious has succeeded once again in casting the runes on me, sealing my doom.

Standing Waves


Heavy dark drone of the day comes from Ural Umbo, the fourth release from this very productive Swiss-American team who continue to enact their uncanny studio-bound rituals and bottle the results like so much bubbling black tar. The Umbsters have always exhibited a predilection for peering into the dark occult realms through the magic mirror of their intensive pitch-black drones, but with Delusion Of Hope (UTECH RECORDS URLP070) the scrying activities seem to have taken a much more pessimistic turn. For sad visions of the end of the world, and constant reminders that all our hopes for improvement will turn out to be completely delusional, tune in here. While ‘Initial Magnetization Curve’ puts us in the required apprehensive mood in anticipation of things sinister, ‘Sych’ hints at violence and bloodshed with its cruel drumming and psychopathic electric guitar bursts, wielded like a sharp scimitar or claymore. Survive that slicing, and scan ‘This Dead and Fabled Waste’ for an utterly bleak and blasted heath of a landscape, a zone unfit for human habitation, and populated only by a nameless slime whose grotesque voice murmurs darkly and mumblingly throughout most of the track. After that dramatic opening, the remainder of the album offers mostly various shades of ambiguous drone music to salve our wounds, although ‘Self Fulfilling Prophecy’ has gritty textures and undertakes to give the listener a prolonged bludgeoning. In its grandeur and weight, this cut can be reckoned as a splendid example of the ingenious and excessive studio craft of Mader and Hess. Put simply, they add layers upon layers, paying no heed to the restraints of good taste. In this instance, the method produces a living thing that simultaneously crawls, groans, sings, writhes tentacles, and smashes ivory hooves upon the charred earth. It’s a sprawling bundle of wrath assembled from the parts of many creatures, escaped from both natural and mythological worlds; at their best, Ural Umbo put the theories of Dr Frankenstein and H.P. Lovecraft into grisly practice. The only thing missing from the package is the beautiful photography of Rik Garrett, who has been an important part of the visual identity of this band, but Alexander Binder’s “octopus” motif does exert a certain weird influence on the retinas. This is a vinyl release (my copy is a promo CD) but you get a CD version thrown in if you buy a copy. From February 2012.

Another grim and sinister dark music project which references H.P. Lovecraft is Kreuzweg Ost, whose Gott Mit Uns (COLD SPRING RECORDS CSR141CD) I happen to be spinning as I write these lines. Well, the reference is a bit buried, but this album was recorded in 2009 at the Miscatonic Acoustics studio 1. This Austrian trio is led by Michael Gregor who calls himself Silenius and might be better known as a member of Summoning, plus Oliver Stumming and Ronald Albrecht, and while they’re not exactly prolific (this is their third release in 12 years), it’s fairly evident they pour a lot of effort and imagination into the assembly of these bizarre, over-the-top hymns of darkness and dreariness. Every track is like an 8-minute excerpt from a wild horror movie, laden with voices, dialogue, sound effects, and dramatic musical shifts, which allow the listener to imagine incredibly vivid and elaborate cinematic visions 2. After hearing nine of these intensely theatrical concoctions in succession, your head will be teeming with gothic visions of flying vampires, dark-haired maidens whispering urgently, ruined castles full of spectres, oppressive stormy skies, insane chanting monks, and armies of desperate men on horseback equipped with swords ready to cut you into beefsteak tartare. You may also find yourself suffocating under the weight of the remorseless layers of synths, virtual choirs, martial drumming, and embittered minor-key melodies on this album, but it’s certainly an experience you won’t forget in a hurry. As title and sleeve art indicates, Gott Mit Uns is invoking assistance from Jehovah, but it’s a clearly a very vengeful Old Testament God they have in mind as they embark on their semi-occult Holy War against the forces of Evil. Not Black Metal as such, apparently it more correctly belongs to genres called “martial industrial”, “darkwave”, and “deep ambient”. Whatever the name, this is strikingly original and overwrought work. “It is I who say it – I!” 3

Heart Of Palm are the Cincinnati trio whose deranged take on avant-rock psyched-out freak-music has been a firm favourite with us since around 2008, a time when they were still called Hearts Of Palm. It’s enheartening to know I am not their only fan in the UK, since last year Ian Holloway of Quiet World released their Psychopomp (QUIET WORLD TWENTY FIVE) album. Holloway also publishes the online journal Wonderful Wooden Reasons, which we should have investigated ages ago as it’s a splendid resource replete with snappy reviews of records, books, and films. On Psychopomp, the core trio of Wilson, Davidson and Hancock are supplemented by the musicians Tim Moore, Mark Milano, Nebulagirl and Dave Rohs. Listen in amazement as they allow us to enter their private world. These 13 tracks document an almost fragile, living thing, a breathing laboratory of music where the slightest wrong influence (window left open or curtains not properly drawn) is apt to break the spell, and cause these benign agents of divine musicality to withdraw back to the Elysian Fields. Percussion, electronics, guitars, and voices – all familiar elements are being reinvented and refashioned as we behold, refracted and distorted through echo chamber, phasing machine, and other disorienting effects. Singers invent mangled glottal languages as thickened tongues refuse to unstick from roof of mouth. Musicians with silver fingers suddenly discover magical sequence of notes like alchemical secret, but it can only be played for 30 seconds and then vanishes forever from the earth. All creators involved improvise freely yet never settle for rolling around in a musical bed of infantile dribble, and many of the cuts are quite short – making their statement in two minutes time or less. The music is half-grotesque, half-absurd, always beautiful; you feel that nobody is afraid of making a fool of themselves, and all pretensions to high seriousness in art are dissolved in this almost ideal, ego-less atmosphere of free play. Given that it’s very difficult to make these music collective situations work at all, it always seem miraculous to me how Heart Of Palm manage to sustain the production of such gloriously demented and out-there music, that withstands replaying and reinvestigation. Highly recommended if you like early Faust, the original Amon Düül, Red Crayola, and Sun Ra Arkestras from the early 1960s. With suitably acid-fried cover art by Bruce Riley.

  1. The Miskatonic University was the fictional starting point for many of Lovecraft’s fantasies. Visit http://www.miskatonic-university.org/ for evidence of Lovecraftian fandom spinning out of control.
  2. As Harlan Ellison has remarked, listening to horror stories on the radio enabled him to conjure up visions of castles in his mind that were far more terrifying than any visual equivalent ever built, at enormous expense, in a Hollywood studio.
  3. See The Beetle by Richard Marsh.

Slip Inside This House


About time we took note of this large package of goodies from the Pilgrim Talk record label in Illinois which arrived 21 February 2012. The label is mostly Nick Hoffman who is interviewed in the current issue.

Noish & Xedh have a cassette tape rlhaaaa to (PILGRIM TALK PT18) of which the A side ‘Coyote’ is frankly pretty tough going with its puzzling tracts of humming noise and half-hearted feedback squeals. The B side ‘Psy Htgu’ contains radio bursts and occasional intriguing snippets of electronic garbage, but the interminable humming continues to dominate, even as matters develop into full-blown chaos and massive disorder. Some of this is richly insane noise monstrousness, while some of it is curiously vacant and monotonous, where it’s very hard to discern the underlying logical pattern. May take some time before we start to sensate the hypnotic magickal intensity of which we know Xedh (Miguel A. García) is capable of weaving with his bony stumps. Noish (Oscar Martin) is also a diabolical fiend who experiments with computer language and home-made processing tools to mutate his field recordings in unpleasant ways. The figure of Death is printed in red on the green card cover and he steps out of a coffin while lifting its heavy lid as if made of balsa.

Plenty demonic imagery on Exhaustive Expulsion (PILGRIM TALK PT19) by Aaron Zarzutzki and Nick Hoffman. Two cassettes in a white vinyl pack. That’s Hoffman’s linework on the cover there. This is another example of near-futility. I would almost be tempted to call it a cross between doom metal and minimal improv. This low-key electric drone noise and shuffling about is just so modest it’s almost afraid to show its face. It’s like hearing the work being performed in the house next door. Only it’s more like workmen banging about with electric drills and belt sanders. There is more activity and even a little more presence and purpose as the work progresses though, and if you persevere across these four sides of magnetic tape you too may end up as inert and impassive as the anonymous man in suit and tie on the back cover, so ominous a figure his image appears three times. The inserts give us images from religious icons, the pyramids, and a magnificent possibly Chinese building in the mountains. And what’s with these minimal printed texts? Are they track titles? They just keep restating short, punchy messages about death. They are like crossword clues to a morbid cryptic crossword. So is the music. The only way to solve the crossword is by killing yourself, or others. It’s like the template for an extravagant masterpiece of doom metal music, merely awaiting the requisite musicians to step in and complete the outline with their loud amplifiers and expensive guitars. 50 copies of these edited live recordings, made on an “ancient tape machine”. You’ll be exhausted and expulsed, not to mention exasperated.

Electronic musician and improviser Jin Sangtae made Sacrifice 2 (GHOST & SON GHOST 4) using car horns. Another piece that sounds like it was recorded at a tremendous distance. I sense a pattern emerging here which may help us understand Hoffman’s aesthetic. This is a primo example of junkyard art improv with a vaguely “metallic” feel underpinning the largely unidentifiable sounds. It also presents the atmosphere of the room very well. The space in question is the Seoul Art Space Mullae. You will come to know its walls, via acoustic methods. After about 15 minutes of uncertain rumbling and shuffling, the work finishes off with some high-pitched squeals that are completely insufferable. More like car alarms than car horns. But maybe they do things differently in Seoul, automobile-wise. So far Hoffman’s vision of musical Hell is shaping up to be fairly grim in its desolation and unshakeable sense of futility. A strong vision, i’faith.

Just found Red River / Rio Tinto (GHOST & SON GHOST 5) by Miguel A. García in the package. Already reviewed this one and it’s a fiery bowl of chilis. Great to have another copy of this cobra-infested cable-biting noise-jam. Nine tracks of loopy abrasive gibberish. Almost a whole band at work on this Madrid mash.

Hell House (PILGRIM TALK PT 16) is quite a different proposition to all the above in many ways. Credited to Nick Hoffman, all the music is by Eyeless Executioner. Given that he’s the type to form and disband 18 bands and projects before breakfast, Eyeless Executioner could be one of Hoffman’s forays into the field of satanic metal (another one being Back Magic, a sort of garage-metal combo which I personally enjoy). It’s just that compared with the above, it sounds almost like a professionally-produced record. There are overdubs, power riffs, melodies, drumming, vocals, and guitar solos that make sense. It may not be especially innovative, but it’s a decent slab of Black-ish guitar metal with the strained and grunting generic singing we love so well, its melodies played in mean and menacing minor keys. Hell House is presented in a superb oversize 56pp booklet packed with Hoffman’s lovely drawings and artworks, on shifting paper stocks, some printed in full colour, with a gold on red screenprinted cover. The drawings are presented one after the other in a near random fashion, not telling a story or anything, and some of them have little inset images which make even less sense. Plus a little purple folded gewgaw with some lyrics printed on it. Unfold it and die…think of ‘Casting The Runes’ by M.R. James. 100 copies of this niftaroo.

In many of these Pilgrim Talk releases under discussion, even those not made by or involving Hoffman, there seems to be a discernible commonality in certain key areas:

  1. The reluctance to edit out “mistakes” or “boring sections”, and for the most part presenting the material as it happened, and at some length.
  2. A preoccupation with lo-fi or poor quality tape recording methods.
  3. A general indifference to explaining how or why the music was made.
  4. An abiding formlessness in the finished piece, which rarely begins or ends in what we might call a satisfactory manner.
  5. An implied (or outright stated) theme of futility and despair, often expressed in supernatural terms.

While some listeners and indeed many musicians might tend to regard the above shopping list as a catalogue of calamitous proportions, to Pilgrim Talk these things are core to the label’s defining aesthetic, I would propose. #3 in particular is very refreshing to me personally, when one is constantly being fed “explanations” of a piece of music by its eager creators. Even if you might think from my descriptions that the music here is unbearably boring and painful to endure, I would still recommend that you seek it out. All this music has a directness, honesty and spontaneity that is hard to come by in the world of over-manicured, pre-processed and self-professed experimental noise. Let the sense of strangeness and weariness dissolve, and you too will come to perceive the fascinating corners, alcoves and bricks of Hoffman’s Hell House.

Sentient Darknesses

Razine a Ruckus

Good contemporary French improv on Razine (MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO43), a team-up between the saxophonist Michel Doneda and erikm, the turntabling live electronics fellow. We last heard these two working together on the Ronda release Dos D’Ânes, where Jérôme Noetinger added his vicious electronic outbursts to the mix. Doneda can be capable of slow and minimal squealing, but he’s much livelier on these improvisations from 2009. He works well with erikm and the collaboration delivers good results. His rhinoceros pelt is soon filled with breadcrumbs from the crazy antics of erkim, and the pair deliver crazy sqwawks and illogical whoops a-plenty, be it free-form atonal sucking and sputtering from the saxophones, or surprising chatterments and hurlements from the sampling-electronics half of the act. On the first track that errant craziness is tempered with long passages of growly rumble, effected by the familiar ploy of using scratches and crackle from old rotating vinyl, but the feathers are heavily ruffled for the second half of this 22-minute essay, with fireworks and roman candles fizzing into the cold night air. Continuous live playing here which never lets up and creates almost an airless effect, but not an unpleasant one at all. The second cut is even livelier. Doneda manipulates and twists his sound until he’s wringing painful sobs and sighs from the bell of his sax as surely as an old floor-cleaner at the hospital wrings his mop into his pail. Erikm brings in further stabs and swipes from his boodle-box of samples: drumbeats, fierce noise, voices, and unrecognisable fragments, doling them out in tiny portions to fill our ears with seconds of glorious madness. A very disciplined squonk+electronica fest which makes for a compelling listen. Fine moody monochrome jacket too.

Runic Tunes

Gloomy power-electronics with sinister voices can be yours to enjoy on the new album by Hungarian band Heldentod, an entity that’s apparently been in existence since 2005 and may have produced one or two albums in the “dark folk” genre. On The Ghost Machine (COLD SPRING RECORDS CSR131CD) the cover beckons us in with images of hooded acolytes at a nameless ritual surmounted by a glowing rune, while on the disc there are eight tracks of abstract, dense and well-constructed drone-noise of an extremely sinister hue, each lasting around 5-6 minutes, but feeling more like an eternity of doom in each case. Keeping their sounds deliberately vague and shady, the better to populate these murky realms with shadowy figures, Heldentod varies the emotional pitch quite successfully across the album – ranging from the grisly & harrowing to the pessimistic & desolate, using brutal noise loops or dismal synth layers as needed. The album opens with a vocal recit spoken by Jill Lovinitnun, with its rather pretentious lyrics fed through an echo chamber, but luckily this turns out to be uncharacteristic of the remainder. Vocals do appear on some cuts, but the haunted satanic voice simply utters single words and allows technology to repeat them (as on ‘Incorruptible’); and the vocal element is just one more part of the heavy and occluded mix, buried and distorted to conceal its meaning and to increase the diabolical mood. The press release informs us that Heldentod have always expressed a number of key “themes” in their work, mostly to do with histories of the supernatural and the pagan, and continue to do so on The Ghost Machine. Although I found the near-histrionic pitch of this album a bit heavy going, I do enjoy its obsessive use of loops, patterns, and repeats, and it could prove to be the perfect company for an insomniac night in the middle of Winter.

The Ethereal Thing

Oddly enough Heldentod might just find they share some common ground with Candor Chasma, whose new CD Rings (OLD EUROPA CAFE OECD 152) was produced by the duo of Corrado Altieri and Simon Balestrazzi. Admittedly, Rings is very much an “art” CD and more refined in its approach than The Ghost Machine, which admits to its predilections right from the start, but they overlap in their shared interest in the unknown outer worlds and spirit-infested zones that lie beyond the human plane. Candor Chasma speak of the ‘The Third Void’ and ‘Hallucination Doors’ with some apparent relish, undertake experiments such as ‘Chemical Analysis of Ectoplasm’, and presume that the most fruitful time and place for communing with the spirit world will be ‘Inside the Ether at 06.00 A.M.’ Accordingly, their thickened droney electronic music is exactly like a dose of chloroform for the listener, slowly inducing intense hypnotic states with its pulsating throbs. Through these grey mists of sound, eerie distorted and whispering voices swim. Each track emerges as the aural equivalent of a 19th century photograph taken at a séance, an image confirmed by the cover painting made by Daniele Serra. There is also the suggestion of using the tape recorder to capture ghost voices, in the well-known tradition of EVP. This album has its strongest material on the first two tracks which do come very close to inducing the hoped-for trance states, and the duo list all of their equipment (synths, filters, FX, mixing desks etc.) on the inside cover, as if to reaffirm their faith in factual and tangible objects after having dabbled with the ethereal and emerged rather shaken from the experience. The last track ‘Apophenia’ may be intended as the keynote track. Well, it is certainly very long, but it’s also a bit aimless and feels rather thin and washed out after the intensity of the earlier tracks. Even so there is still plenty of ectoplasmic detritus to be scooped from its swirling interior by the questing ghost hunter. Ironically, apophenia is the scientific term for a phenomenon of human perception that can be used to explain away much of what we regard as paranormal activity. For more supernatural music with similar undercurrents, you may care to investigate Balestrazzi’s Magick With Tears label.

The Generation Game

The above records clearly have an interest in using electronic music to help their creators tell stories or weave elaborate musical fictions. On Generators (EDITIONS MEGO DEMEGO 024), we hear Keith Fullerton Whitman approaching electronic music production more from the basis of an interest in pure sound for its own sake. On the first of these two pieces, both lasting precisely 17 minutes and 34 seconds, he performed at a festival in honour of Eliane Radigue. Radigue is a French composer whose use of sine wave tones and minimalistic electronic drones is truly monumental, but even she is not interested in process for the sake of it, and much of her work is underpinned by a firm belief in transcendence and the passage of the soul. Whitman’s ‘Issue Generator (for Eliane Radigue)’ may not aspire to the same degree of spiritual grandeur, but it is an extremely accomplished and satisfying piece of music. Starting with simple elements, it builds logically and perfectly into something complex and rich and as three-dimensionally precise as a sculpture made out of laser beams. Gorgeous. The second piece ‘High Zero Generator’ was performed at the Baltimore High Zero festival, and is quite different. Where the first piece arrived at a species of melody through process-based methods, this one is more abstract and harder to fathom. Alien sounds spit out of the dark centre almost erratically, one voice crackling and fizzing like a malfunctioning electrode, while other voices sigh profoundly or shriek like swooping bats. Like the recent vinyl masterpiece from Lehn and Schmickler, this piece somehow recaptures the terror and strangeness of early electronic music from the mid 20th century, and reinjects it directly into the culture of 2012. I’m astonished to learn that these are two manifestations of the exact same performance piece, which was executed several dozen times over the course of a year’s touring by Whitman; the two versions on this LP were selected as being among the best examples of its realisation. From what I understand of the process developed by the composer, it represents something of a creative breakthrough in the use of digital and analogue computer-based tone generator systems in the context of live performance. Personally I would like to think it represents the beginnings of a backlash against music made with laptop computers. Musically and creatively, this is an innovative record that deserves your attention. Graham Lambkin drew the cover art.

The Rector lived in Hampshire


Very eccentric and unusual record here by Socrates That Practiçes Music, one which we’ve had leaning its way in the vinyl pile since at least September 2011, although the limited vinyl actually came out in May 2011. Further Conclusions Against An Italian Version (Bat) (JUNIOR ASPIRIN RECORDS ASP 021) is an impressive art-rock statement by a London group who are completely new to me, containing an uncategorisable mix of content – songs, cut-ups, and instrumentals, with a very English awkwardness and generally puzzling air. The lyrics are fragmented and perplexing, riddles providing glimpses into sometimes rather dismal vistas and inexplicable events, and highlighting the underlying conundrum by simply repeating its hermetic phrases over and over. Lyrically this is easily on a par with Graham Lambkin’s profoundly disturbing texts for The Shadow Ring. Where the tone of these texts isn’t apocalyptic or nightmarish, it’s eccentric to a very extreme degree – ‘The Measures’, which intones sets of statistics for the dimensions of the human body, is so absurd it’s almost funny, but also a tad unsettling. Other songs, like ‘Tommy Dawsey’, impart tremendous significance to trivial and futile details, blurring the edges between madness and insanity. ‘Mrs Hammersmith’ offers an unsympathetic portrait of civil service bureaucracy, and could be read as a political critique or diatribe about society’s ills, but it too soon grows into something very strange. The singer delivers all this in a crisp English accent, emphasising syllables and consonants in mannered fashion, further deepening the strangeness of it all. He has a peculiarly English streak in the tradition of some of the best post-punk vocalists – Edward Ka-Spel of Legendary Pink Dots, Charles Hayward’s singing for This Heat, or that of Colin Newman for Wire. Not a bad set of precedents to pin to your bedroom wall, although Socrates is certainly upping the ante in many areas, partly due to the great conviction and powerful imagination in the execution.

Musically, we’ve got a fairly skewed approach to rock music and electropop songs, where the aim is not to uplift but generally to darken the mood where possible. There is the skeletal “angular” riffing on the guitars that also characterises the post-punk mode. There are short but incredibly beautiful piano fugues; and there are eerie backing vocals like a choir beaming in from a distant buy kamagra jelly radio set. The production technique on the record knows how to use this “distancing” effect sparingly, but to great effect; it all contributes to the abiding sensations of unreality, of dream-like content. Then there’s the use of cut-up and mangled tapes, also used with economy. The LP opens with a twisted tape melange that welcomes the listener to the Italian Version world, letting us know we’re entering a realm of great artifice. ‘I am Alive Order’ is one of the more grotesque tape experiments, a paranoid vision not unlike Mark Stewart and Maffia, where the radically time-shifted and layered voices evoke a horrifying military disaster. Side one ends with an unexpected fragment from a lecture on English monastic history that could be taken from a 1970s schools and colleges programme. And on ‘Ruthless Rake’, the voice element is dropped in to accompany the music, and seems a slightly more benign episode involving a very English woman creating a tape-recorder letter to a friend; its vision of pastoral calm in a garden is quite at odds with the sinister tenor of the music. It’s all part of the deliberately mixed messages sent out by this odd record, with its well-crafted mix of the ugly (terror, madness, absurdity) with the beautiful.

Socrates That Practiçes Music is mostly the work of Andy Cooke, who wrote all the songs, plays keyboards and guitars, does the singing, and recorded and mixed the record with the help of Nathaniel Mellors. Alex Ellerington is the drummer in the group, there’s the guest vocalist Alexander Friske-Harrison on one tracks, and the cellist Dan Fox adds some delicious moments of resonant string work to ‘The Measures’. I’m very grateful to independent label Junior Aspirin Records for releasing this curio and sending a copy, and it seems quite at home with the work of label-mate The Rebel, whose astonishing LPs of disturbing songcraft we noted in TSP #20. It remains to mention the macabre collage cover, with a large bat suspended across a stone circle vista with a yellow ground. With its supernatural undercurrents, it vividly suggests haunted English countrysides and has led other writers to pick up on the M.R. James vibe of the record. So, if you’re a fan of ‘Spectre Vs Rector’, you need a copy of this!