Tagged: vinyl

Psychedelic Train

Many years ago we received and noted two unusual records from Cream Of Turner Productions, a label based in Philadelphia. Both Heart Land and Sunlore existed in vinyl editions, but in 2011 they sent us CDR versions which had been hand-crafted to a high degree, using art materials, in order to resemble exact miniatures of their vinyl counterparts. The musicians David Marino, Ron Lent, Bill Errig and Ahmed Salvador (joined by Ford Sylvester on one of the LPs) created two dream-like records of intense, dank, psychedelic music, fit for restless sleepwalkers. In my mind I filed these records alongside those by Heart Of Palm, the Chicago unknowns who somehow fail to create much of a stir anywhere, yet create fine krautrock-inspired music on their own terms.

Well, after some six years, Cream Of Turner have finally managed to release their third LP, Union Pacific Vol. 1. (CT./458) credited to Heart Land. David Marino and Ahmed Salvador are still active and play on this one, along with Matthew Pruden, the guitarist Peter Tramo, the bass player Wilbo Wright, and the excellent vocalist Patrice Carper. The entire record is based around the recording of a model train set, which is close-miked or amplified in some way, in order to generate abstract electronic sounds. On top of this shifting mechanical drone, Patrice Carper contributes her free-form moaning vocals, and the work is supplemented by layers of guitar, bass and percussion. No keyboards or synths in sight, which might seem slightly surprising given the very droney and kosmische feel of this record. It seems to tread roughly the same inter-galactic ground as Tangerine Dream or Cluster, achieving the sensations of infinite distance and space-travel largely through use of echo, amplification, and effects. I like the idea that this sense of vastness is conveyed through such modest means, i.e. the sound of a miniature train set; it seems to say something about the possibilities of art, and how we could all be bounded in a nutshell and count ourselves the king of infinite space.

While this music may be languid and spaced-out, delivered in a slightly hippy-drippy fashion (not even the soggiest Steve Hillage records were this laid-back), it’s evidently being played in real time by real human beings playing real instruments, responding to changes in timbre and direction, and not following a programmed path nor needing to be propped up by digital processing or synthesis. What emerges on the record may feel unfinished – Heart Land haven’t yet figured out how to end their lengthy explorations in a satisfactory manner – but in this instance, it creates a convincing environment which surrounds and nurtures the listener. In this, Heart Land and the label fulfil their goal of creating their “own personal hybrid of improvised psychedelic and avant-garde music”. I’m slightly disappointed by the cover. It’s not a great design, and more to the point it weakens the mystique of the music to see these rather ordinary photos of the musicians at work, no matter how evocative the lighting and colour scheme may be. Still, a minor quibble when you have such an unusual and pleasing item in your hands. From 7th September 2016.

Games People Play

The Four Thing LP (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR 290) is a highly unusual art-record of songs created according to the rules of a complex game. Zach Phillips, the prolific New England musician and song-writer, is the main driving force behind this creation, credited with music, direction, and recording; to give the record its full title, it’s “Four Groups Of Four Songs With Words”, and the credited writers are Jeremy Daly (of Lou Breed), Quentin Moore (of Big French, Heat Wilson and Martyr Group), Hanna Novak, and Christine Schneider. They crafted the “libretto” to this avant-garde “opera”, which is sung by Becca Kauffman, Ben Russell, Sami Stevens and Colin White. These are new names to me, but I see Sami Stevens is also part of Tredici Bacci and has sung backup vocals for Gary Wilson, no less.

None of the songs on Four Thing have any titles, and are only identified by their timings. This is unusual, given the large amount of verbiage per square metre contained in these songs. It’s almost too much to follow. It’s a delicious jumble of tasty words, sung and delivered with precision and care by the four vocalists, with never a slurred line – but moving a shade too quickly for us to process. This decoding problem is compounded by the absence of a conventional song structure – no four beats to the bar, no verse-chorus form, no repetitions, or any of the other devices that a pop song writer would use to hammer the point into our heads. Instead, it’s more like a stream of consciousness. Further twists follow. If these songs are stories with characters, it’s very hard to tell who is speaking (or thinking) at any given time; men and women may trade dialogue back and forth, but in this post-modern schema there is little clarity as to the tale, or its meaning. While some of the lines resemble mysterious modernist poetry, while other lines are packed with American slang, and four-letter words pop out in unexpected places. Something of a tension between high-brow and low-brow which we don’t encounter much in modern composition, save for the work of Harry Partch, which this record did make me think of more than once.

It would be one thing for four vocalists to recite these texts like fractured poetry, but to add to our entertainment and wonder it is expressed in song form, and Zach Phillips has put much effort in creating these compacted, non-linear gems of anti-pop music, exhibiting those skills of his we love so much. The voices are the main element, but each song is accompanied by a guitar (sometimes a banjo) played with the effortless grace of a Kenny Burrell, and many tunes occupy a nether world between jazz, pop, country and western and soul music. If it weren’t for the clipped and mannered delivery of the vocals, we could almost be hearing a schematic post-punk rendition of the Halls and Oates catalogue.

Many of the above traits we have previously discerned in the songs of Zach Phillips, and also in the music of Chris Weisman, a friend and collaborator who provided the press notes for this release. Even these notes are unconventional, with Weisman clutching at phrases such as “some unholy chug of gem crashes in the popping by below” in his attempt to describe the process behind this record. He seems to liken it to a computer program. As indicated above, the composition process is based on a game called Four Thing, whose rules are printed on the back cover. I won’t attempt to summarise it, but it’s a highly cerebral memory game or guessing game, one with as many forking paths as a Borges story. Success in this game clearly depends on the players being quite good friends and also of a very intellectual bent. I can see how it would ruin more marriages than the post-mortem after a bad game of bridge, if not handled carefully.

Quentin Moore and Zach Phillips devised this game. It’s not clear to me how we get from this game to the record in question, but I think I can see how the game represents an attempt to lose creative control, to free the artistic mind to go places it normally wouldn’t. I would liken it to a surrealist game, but on the face of it there appears to be no interest in probing the subconscious mind, regardless of how dream-like and uncanny the finished work may be. At this point I’m reminded of the works of Alessandro Bosetti, another gifted conceptualist who is likewise preoccupied with words, and who sets up similar game-like structures for his compositions. A very impressive tour de force. From 18th October 2016.

7th June update: Zach Phillips writes to inform us that “Sarah Smith and Quentin Moore and I devised the game — in that order ! I contributed the least to the invention of the game . would be cool to include Sarah if you don’t mind . thank ye !”

Death Knell

Ilpo Väisänen
Syntetisaattori Musiikkia Kuopiosta
UKRAINE KVITNU 49 LP (2016)

Unfortunate is the timing of this new arrival from Ilpo Väisänen – former Pan Sonic partner to the recently and sadly departed Mika Vainio – which, through no fault of its own, renews the sting of that prodigiously prolific ex-cohort’s death. Compounding this exceptional timing is the rumour of its being Väisänen’s first solo work in 16 years, though such pretensions to the momentous are quickly thwarted by the facts of a) his solid cohort of contemporaneous collaborations (many, poignantly, featuring Vainio) that show his to be a similarly workhorse constitution; b) it isn’t his only solo work: the recent I-LP-O project features a solid lineup of Ilpo, Väisänen and himself; the trio but a masquerade. What’s more, Syntetisaattori Musiikkia Kuopiosta is but a mini album and not a game-changing one, but I think I’d best move on lest I talk readers out of reading on.

‘Osat’ parts 1-9 cover some ground. Though much less abrasive than many of Pan Sonic’s balls-out blitzkriegs, in a blind-test situation Väisänen’s restless yet understated rhythmic peregrinations would still draw comparisons to the ‘other’ act. ‘Osat 1-5’ pushes pattering, pulmonary palpitations that murmur like muffled machinery in an envelope of escalating hum, setting up a spell of car-sickness-inducing arrhythmia in its final lap. Flipping over, ‘Osat 6-9’ pulsates with Porter Ricks-style nautical dub and the squelchy gibberings of dolphins deftly navigating the sweeping bleeps of depth-sounding technology. Lacking both Pan Sonic’s napalm distortion and military stamina, movements are brief and sufficiently well-blended to keep ‘the rut’ at an ever-comfortable distance and ensure a taut and enduring freshness in even the dourest and most impersonal moments.

Jamka
Inter Alia
SLOVAKIA URBSOUNDS [/]031 LP (2016)

Keeping Pan Sonic firmly in mind (and in recognition that those operations were long-closed before Vainio left us) is this brief blast of dread-inducing drone techno, responsible for which is Jamka aka Slovakians Monika Subrtova and Daniel Kordik, who have issued a steady trickle of such artisan efforts in the last decade and a half. Tracks like ‘Patemp’ and ‘Anazmo’… well, this whole album… makes liberal use of panic-inducing drones and dub-flavoured attack formations of sinewed and bludgeoning beats; making a virtuous show of punishing discipline; exhibiting fewer of the excesses of distortion and over-production than those Jamka model themselves on – your Regises and Techno Animals – not becoming over-repetitive, though breaking no rules either. This is ‘clean’ techno for clubs where the only hint of danger is the smoke they pump in to make punters thirsty, but it’s ideal for those who prefer home-listening to the slap of recognition that one is at least a decade older than every other tight-assed white-boy doing the dancefloor indie-shuffle.

From the Lap of Cougar

May I declare myself a long-standing fan of MX-80 Sound, one of the more unusual American bands to have ever been tagged with a New Wave or No Wave label, a love affair which began when I snarfed up a UK Island pressing of their Hard Attack LP in Coventry. It was a time when Woolworths still existed, they still sold vinyl records, and they marked down items they couldn’t sell, so I secured this tasty zonkeroo for about 50p. Since I was also in love with The Residents at the time, it wasn’t too long before I found out about MX-80 Sound’s superb LP releases for Ralph Records, namely Out Of The Tunnel and Crowd Control, all of them gems. I’m still looking for an original of Big Hits, their debut EP, but it’s rare and costly. Byron Coley, who has done the press for the band’s new LP So Funny (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR250) is also a loyal supporter I assume, since he interviewed the band for Forced Exposure magazine in 1991 and put them on the cover too. During that interview, he demonstrated arcane knowledge of their discography that even the band didn’t know about. Coley also penned an authoritative essay on this Indiana band for the Superior Viaduct CD reissue of Hard Attack, a release which is worth owning for that sleeve note alone, although the remastering of it is also excellent. Well, MX-80 Sound never gave up in all that time, despite lack of commercial success; my 50p cut-out story is only one manifestation of their inexplicable inability to sell large numbers of records.

1977’s Hard Attack pretty much comes roaring out at you like an out-of-control heavy truck, except you then realise the truck is following a crazy roller-coaster route of its own making and the drivers and passengers have a laconic, offbeat sense of humour, and mean no harm. On So Funny, there may not be the same effusive and scratchy energy, but the core trio of Bruce Anderson, Dale Sopheia and Rich Stim still have their own unique electrical voice. On these grooves, I would characterise it as a weird blend of guitar chords creating mixed frequencies that probably shouldn’t really work, but they do. I have that same sensation of being drenched, almost drowned, by these guitars as I enjoyed in 1981. I also savour the way that all the guitar parts are slightly mismatched, as if we were hearing the aural equivalent of an off-register screenprint made by Andy Warhol and his team; MX-80 Sound have never seemed to particularly care for being a “tight” band, and it’s one of their greatest strengths. Stim’s singing voice is another irreplaceable element, and I still savour the bemused tone he evinces as he rattles off his slightly surreal lyrics and slanted observations. Why did we ever settle for Michael Stipe when we had Rich Stim?

This LP, recorded in California around 2013-2015 (the band moved to the Bay Area in the 1970s, which is probably how they hooked up with The Residents and could be aligned with the SF New Wave “scene”) was originally issued as a file-based album on 2015 on their own label, and now surfaces on vinyl. The band are fleshed out by a new drummer, Nico Sophiea, and the guitarist Jim Hrabetin (who also played on two Family Vineyard releases in the late 1990s). Original drummer Marc Weinstein sings on one track. Along with the songs, the band continue their preoccupation with surf guitar-like instrumentals, and soundtrack music – hence cover versions of ‘A Man And A Woman’, John Barry’s ‘Goldfinger’, and oddest of all the ‘X-Files’ theme. None of these are taken completely seriously, and the sleek menace of the James Bond tune is replaced by a faintly absurdist humour. The X-Files music ends up far stranger than the original theme, and seems to emerge from a place that accepts alien abduction and UFOs as everyday occurrences. I’m delighted with this record, and only the goofy cover painting by Rhode Montijo puzzles me. Even so it’s possible to read that image as a metaphor for the way that veteran bands like MX-80 Sound are treated by the uncaring youth of today. From 6th September 2016.

Blood’s A Rover

Time for me to brush up on Mark Cunningham’s career, following the receipt of the new LP by his Blood Quartet. Cunningham was a member of the “incendiary” No Wave group Mars, a band whose flame the label Feeding Tube Records are determined to keep burning through the steady release of live recordings that keep surfacing from the brief career of this important band. Along with two other members of Mars, he joined forces with Ikue Mori to make the one-of-a-kind John Gavanti record, a distorted rock opera epic composed mostly by Sumner Crane and released by Hyrax Records in 1980. After 1981, Cunningham took more of an art-rock / jazz fusion direction when he joined Don King, a quartet with Lucy Hamilton from Mars and the bass player from Pere Ubu. Cunningham had picked up his trumpet by this point, and before long he was playing alongside Pascal Comelade in the Bel Canto Orchestra, then in the 1990s as part of a Spanish trio called Bèstia Ferida. I think Blood Quartet is a more recent venture; at any rate, the only other release by them we know of is a cassette from 2015 on a Spanish label.

Deep Red (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR 283) is their first vinyl release, and the very accomplished and assured band are effectively banging out an abrasive jazz-rock mix enriched with occasional sputterings of analogue synth – both the guitarist Lluis Rueda and bassist Kike Bela play Korgs, but most of the discordant waywardness of this record comes from the mangled guitar work and juddering time signatures that tie drummer Candid Coll into an Iberian knot. No conventional arrangements or structures to these slightly formless tunes, nor pleasing major-seventh chords played on a Fender Rhodes; the only concession to “jazz” as we might recognise it is Cunningham’s trumpet sound, which when fed through the echoplex is squarely in the Bitches Brew mould. But even so the players deny themselves the element of “muscular funk” that’s often associated with Electric Miles, and Blood Red mostly exudes a cold, steely, passionless take on the world. Even when the band apparently think they’re playing conventional rock, it comes out damaged and dispirited, performed by men broken on the wheels of authority after a failed revolution.

Even so, don’t be fooled by the subdued tone; there’s a subtle power lurking under the surface of this album, and it’s impressive how the combo pack so much density into comparatively short tunes. Most pieces here weigh in at the four-minute mark, yet they feel longer somehow, more grandiose in their epic ambitions. A band like Earth often required five times as much time and space to get to the same zones of melancholic sombreness. All recorded live in the studio with no edits or overdubs, so unlike Miles no need of a Teo Macero figure to build up music in a composite fashion. Frederic Navarro created the alarming red cover, and needless to remark the LP is pressed in red vinyl. From 6th September 2016.

Have His Carcase

Danny Hyde is a producer and remix genius known to many as the man behind the console for numerous releases by Nine Inch Nails, and also the Spanish pop-electro combo Fangoria; he’s also been associated with Psychic TV and Depeche Mode. But true cognoscenti of this dark mistico-sex-disco genre know him for his work with Coil, particularly his production work on milestone releases such as Horse Rotorvator and Love’s Secret Domain, the latter being an item that was recommended to me many years ago if I wanted to try and get “into” Coil. It didn’t quite work, and neither their music nor their themes have ever completely clicked for this listener, but I recognise it would be churlish to ignore the depth of the cultish feelings that Coil inspire in their acolytes, pilgrims and followers.

Hyde is also known as Electric Sewer Age, a project which sometimes featured Peter Christopherson from Coil, and the album Bad White Corpuscle (HG1607) has recently been released on vinyl by Hallow Ground. It originally came out in 2014 on the Italian label Old Europa Cafe, in a limited digipak, but this new issue has a bonus track called ‘Redocine (Death Of The Corpuscle)’. Given that all the tracks have the word “Corpuscle” somewhere in the title, one is tempted to read the album as a story of some sort, a day in the life (and death) of one of these micro-organisms that are associated with red and white blood cells. However, given the overall theme and the largely sinister caste of this electronic music, clearly things are going wrong in the body politic, and it might be more realistic to view this as a grim musical interpretation of slow death by cancer, AIDS, leukaemia, or sickle cell disease.

The press notes advise us to listen out for “dark, futuristic environments” and “glacial synth suspensions” on this record. Today’s spin has been underwhelming, though. I kept waiting for something to happen, some musical event or concrete moment to pass before us, then realised I was nearly at the end of side one already. What I mostly hear is rather samey and thin electronic tones, repeated in sloppy and ill-fitting patterns; there isn’t enough backbone in this “soupy” music for me. However, it’s clear that Danny Hyde has spent a good deal of time figuring out how to arrange his various layers and elements into these subtle, shape-shifting globs of sound, and he’s a producer who pays close attention to timbral shifts and tones, working out how he can match them together, along with foreign elements such as voice samples. What he lacks is a sense of shape or structure, meaning that no track ever really develops in a meaningful way, nor reaches a satisfactory conclusion. Call it modernistic mood music for the lonely and disaffected ones…a soundtrack to a rather maudlin bout of self-pity and overwrought sentiment. From 11th October 2016.

Interstellar Low Ways

The record Low (OPA LOKA RECORDS OL16008) by Gintas K is supposed to complete a trilogy, of which the earlier parts were Lovely Banalities and Slow, both of which have been noted in these pages. I have previously enjoyed what I regard as the intuitive approach of this Lithuanian solo electronicist, but today the experiments on Low simply feel unfinished and unsatisfying. Despite care and attention being given to the sounds he makes, there’s a troubling lack of ideas in each tune, such that they fail to engage the listener for very long. There’s also the samey tone and pace to Low, meaning we are never lifted out of this rather gloomy and grey zone which might be a dismal European village on a rainy Sunday morning. Still, the very introverted nature and muffled sound of this album may give it a certain appeal if you fancy a day at home as a lonely shut-in. From 3rd October 2016.

Reinier Van Houdt is a Dutch pianist who has “done” some 20th century composers such as Shostakovitch and Valentin Silvestrov as part of his classical repertoire, and also played works from the New York school including Robert Ashley and Charlemagne Palestine. Paths Of The Errant Gaze (HALLOWGROUND HG1606) however is a more unconventional and experimental record; he concocts studio assemblages of ghostly, spectral sounds, somewhat in the vein of a Nurse With Wound collage, and with similar aspirations to a “surreal” state of mind. Unsurprisingly, Van Houdt plays in recent Current 93 line-ups; I sense he has just the right balance of fragility and occluded, precious details stored in his brain to please David Tibet. The mysterious drifty sounds on Paths Of The Errant Gaze can’t help but evoke a ghostly sailing ship like the Flying Dutchman or H.P. Lovecraft’s The White Ship, and the cover art confirms this “lost at sea” theme. Van Houdt uses these unsettling, nightmarish washes of sound, textures, and found fragments as a platform for his minimal, melancholy piano fugues. I found the mannered style and solemn tone a little off-putting, but there’s a lot of variety here across two sides of the LP, and the listener can’t help but feel the sensations of being taken on a strange voyage to a lost Edgar Allen Poe island in the middle of nowhere. From 11 October 2016.

Dark Carnival (DYIN’ GHOST RECORDS) is the latest release from the team-up of French guitarist Michel Henritzi with the Japanese player Fukuoka Rinji. On this occasion Rinji bows his violin to Michel’s lapsteel guitar. They’ve made a lot of records together and while we always enjoy them, I can’t see much significant advance here on any of their previous outings, for instance the relatively recent Descent To The Sun LP. Once they get going the pair just can’t stop, and what characterises their sound is a relentless, aching rain-sodden screech that wears away the listener by sheer persistence. Full saturation is another one of their specialities; barely a space left for anything else in this teeming atmosphere of full-on droning, sawing, strumming, and howling. These recordings were made in Tokyo in 2013-2014 and feature various medieval woodcuts on the ancient theme of mortality and the Dance Of Death, while the title comes from Ray Bradbury. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may…as you are now so once was I…and other such memento mori spring to mind while scoping these images and drowning in this intense music, which really rubs the heart full sore. From 13 October 2016.

The Swiss jazz trio Day & Taxi has been active since 1988 and Way (PERCASO 34) is their 8th studio release. Christoph Gallio, the saxophonist, is their driving force and he also happens to run the record label that has released most of the trio’s records. Way appears to be slightly unusual in their repertoire as it includes three very short songs, sung in German by their bass player Silvan Jeger, and their inclusion may give you a clue as to Day & Taxi’s open-minded musical aspirations – they would like to broaden out jazz forms, include composition as well as improvisation as a strong element, and are not afraid of including “sentimentalities” in their bright, rather melodic music. The flipside to all this user-friendliness is the abstruse sleeve note penned by Berni Doessegger, which attempts to deconstruct the meanings of the word “way”, through speculations on paths through a labyrinth. I found the actual music competent enough in its execution, and Gallio is an extremely fluent player with an exceptionally clean tone, but it’s just too tidy and correct to be mistaken for real jazz; the attempts at swing feeling are laboured and plodding, and even the saxophone screams feel as though they’ve been carefully studied from annotated Coltrane solos. From 2nd November 2016.

Strip the Lining

Jason Kahn
Songline
SWITZERLAND EDITIONS 004 2 x LP (2015)

It must take a bit of dogged self-belief to release a weighty 2LP of one’s own vocal improvisations when a) one is not, by trade, a vocalist and b) one lacks the urgency to make as good a session of it as might happen during an adrenaline-fueled live set, but this is exactly what the prolific, multi-disciplinary journeyman Jason Kahn has done on Songline: four sides of vinyl, four GPS-free vocal improvisations that do what the tin says, or in this case the heavy card sleeve with symmetrical daubings of neon orange poster paint – a primitivist mosaic that as good as informs listeners that while Kahn’s vocal palette may be limited, his strokes are bold and appealingly rough-round-the-edges.

Hiding himself away like some hermit in the main room of a former Swisscom telephone relay station one winter evening in 2015 – the glass-sealed solitude broken only by gurgling from ‘deep in the bowels of the building’ – Kahn bulldozed his voicebox through the twilight with the tenacity of a magic(k)ian intent on invoking and capturing intact guileless, demonic beings. Sealed in the darkness of each groove is a complete idea or expression of a single ‘thematic and technical area’ as he puts it, entering swiftly with side A’s graveyard of gruelling and grievous groans, which reveal some prodigious lung capacity. Some might register death bed exhalations, but they’re more like the respiratory warm up a corpse might carry out when returning to a state of stunted animation. Trying to ‘sing’ along to it soon proves to be an effective exercise for the listener as well, which perversely introduces an audience element into an explicitly one-sided equation. Side B shapes A’s emphysemic pallor into more robust and sustained vowel chants that course through the air like stretched and flattened yodels that get right into the skull if one strays too close; beaming across space like some post-apocalyptic, long-distance communication device. Side C graduates through great globs of glottal, feline hiss and longer pauses between these attacks (on his own throat as much as the now-terrified audience) onto D, where he exhibits his widest range yet of anguished groans, growls, yowls and other tokens of his prolonged discomfort.

By Kahn’s own admission, the recording process was largely an exploration of his vocal limitations; of pushing himself ‘towards the brink of failure… exploring new ground, reaching for the cracks in my vocal chords’ with as best an approximation of the spontaneity one might achieve before and audience. And it’s this same self-aware spirit that makes Songline so easy to return to. There’s a time and a place for the developed comic strip vocalese of your Phil Mintons and Henri Chopins, but Kahn has the good grace to pursue each of his simple ideas to fruition over a full side of vinyl, investing in his performance a level of concentration only possible in a distraction-free environment, where the pursuit of novelty might otherwise derail each train of thought. Kahn makes no claims to grandeur, and in this modesty lies a dash of intrigue.

Esoterica

We have not encountered the work of sound artist Manuel Knapp before, but this Vienna and Tokyo-based fellow has a few scattered releases of electronic noise to his name dating back to around 2008, some of them in conjunction with Tim Blechmann. His LP Azoth 1 (VENTIL RECORDS V0004) does indeed contain some powerful blasts of ear-splitting, scorching noise, but he does it in a very structured and composed way, tempering the extremes with other textures, layers, and moments which are almost melodic in their approach. In this instance, he’s working entirely within the computer, radically departing from his analogue noise roots to experiment with the digital realms. Azoth is realised with freeware plugins for manipulating digital audio, by which I suppose is meant filters and processing tools and digital synths, some of which might even be downloadable from the web. It’s Knapp’s plan to push these tools to their limits, using them for purposes which their authors did not intend.

I’m happy to report Knapp does a very good job of this. While the opening moments of Azoth’s side A were rather irritating – where the limitations of the puny digital tools were clearly exposed – by the end of Side A, and throughout Side B, he’s cheerfully demolishing the world around him as we wallow in a gloriously wild and unfettered orgy of bombistas. Manuel Knapp certainly has his own authorial signature, which is not easy when we’re dealing with the many variant poisons of harsh noise that glut today’s market; it may have something to do with his attention to structure, the use of extreme dynamics, the deliberate programming of musical elements and root-note drones, and a very adventurous spirit when it comes to manipulating these chunks of digital audio and freeware tools. He’s like a bull in a paintbox, a kid in a Play-Dough factory, and a pair of eyes without a face.

I’d like to recommend this album as a product you can rush out and buy, but I’m not sure if I can. To begin with, it costs 666 Euros, a high price which reflects the fact that there are only 15 vinyl copies available for sale. Each one does have a hand-made work of art for a cover, but even so…and why invoke the “number of the beast” for a record which, although noisy, has no discernible satanic connotations? At the hour I write these lines, 5 copies of the vinyl are still available, though I’m mystified as to why the label wish to tell us that this particular pressing and retail deal was their “fastest break-even ever”. Why the heck should we care about their business plan? For those of you disinclined to spend such a high figure on one record, it is possible to hear some of Azoth on their Bandcamp page. Peter Kutin, who is well represented on this label, assisted with the mixing and mastering. From 3rd October 2016.

  1. “Azoth” is an alchemical term. See also Our Glassie Azoth, the superb Welsh noise-drone act whom we interviewed in 1998 and whose records are highly recommended.

Kutin Edge

Ambitious piece of modern sound art by Peter Kutin (last noted in these pages for a split record with Asfast) and Florian Kindlinger in the shape of Decomposition I-III (VENTIL V0001)…this particular item emerged as a double LP on Ventil in May or June 2015, but for some reason we did not receive a promo copy until 3 October 2016. In one sense this might not matter, as the complete suite of Decomposition has been growing and evolving for a few years now, its separate parts presented at various European festivals and art centres since 2014. This double LP is the best way to get the narrative of the piece though, as it leads the listener through a three-part travelogue of internalisation, self-examination, and alienation, probably leading to some profound form of metaphysical despair by the end of it.

The story is told over four sides with the titles ‘Absence’, ‘Introspection’ and ‘Illusion’, and the plan is to subject the listener to some pretty harsh and bleak environments which they must endure, forging their soul on the anvil of endurance. “Territories antagonistic to human life”, is how they would describe their choice of surroundings. It’s kind of like field recordings, because the basic sounds were captured in places like a desert, a snowy waste, a glacier, and an abandoned mining village with wind blowing a howling blast…in these extreme zones, they find the existential misery they are seeking to capture. But they also argue that “field recording” is a “moribund” genre in any case, and they’re out to change all that with their radical new approach to pushing recording gear and microphones into places they’re not supposed to go. We’ve got to admire rough-tough artistes who are prepared to throw down the gauntlet with this kind of reckless thinking, and Decomposition I-III has a lot going for it in terms of the vivid and stark nature of its sound surface. I also like the very contrasting clashes between nature and civilisation that are reduced here to extremely simplistic arguments, the better to bring home the intended messages about estrangement and the searching questions about mankind’s place in the world today.

Christina Kubisch is credited here too, though she worked only on side four, the 18-minute ‘Illusion’. For this she was commissioned to record “electromagnetic signals” from the city of Las Vegas, later to be reprocessed by Kutin in the studio using just edits and splices. The plan was to use Las Vegas as a gigantic form of synthesizer, the entire city unwittingly participating in a bizarre sound art experiment. The artists speculate on the fact that Las Vegas used to be a desert not so long ago, and presumably this makes it fair game for inclusion on the set, conceptually linked to their other recordings of hostile terrains. That den of gambling and vice certainly sounds bleak and remote here, reduced to a series of clinical robotic pulses and whirrs. Bizarrely, in places, the piece turns into something resembling 1990s glitch or avant-garde techno with its mechanical rhythms, but this may simply be a by-product of the process. ‘Illusion’ won the Karl Sczuka prize for best radiophonic composition of 2016, and well-deserved too.