Tagged: vinyl

Iron Vultures

006

The Carrion LP by Voltigeurs (SECOND LAYER RECORDS SLR005), a Skullflower side project, is a massive, shining example of something…perhaps an example of care and craft in the genre of juicy, industrial terror-noise metal…every one of these four tracks is brilliantly constructed, like sheets of rusty metal riveted together, to deliver four crushing tromps to the ear. What may at first appear to be a wall of unpleasant feedback is revealed to contain multiple layers of seething sound, said layers equally unpleasant to the sensations if not more so…like peeling back layers of corruption and putrescence to expose yet more rotting flesh. ‘Morning Raga’ kicks in like a dose of aspirin dissolved in coffee – probably how Voltigeurs like to start the day – and the buzzing remorselessness sticks around obstinately, much like the pain I imagine a migraine sufferer must undergo. Imagine a heavy metal LP where all the guitarists are tuning up at the same time, trying to vie for to position with their squealing amps turned up to the “death” setting. Grisly.

By the time we get to ‘Iron Vulture’, we have menacing piano chords rumbling away in the lower register, added to the foul feedback miasma. Somehow it’s still possible to hear these pianos in spite of the continuous free-form guitar noise and amplifier roar. It’s at this point that the ingenuity of the structure does make itself manifest, if being struck in the temple by iron mallets is your idea of a “manifestation”, and a stepladder made out of rotting planks qualifies as a “structure”. What exciting pain…it’s not enough that my tormentor is pulling my body apart in the torture chamber, it seems he also wants me to admire the construction of his metal devices and instruments. If 20 minutes inside the iron maiden isn’t enough for you, then flip over to face further misery in the form of ‘Sirius’ and ‘Gynocide’, the latter being a particularly morbid and horror-inducing racket of sullen monotony, and realise at this point that Carrion is attempting to pass on various states of anxiety to your mind, ranging from panic-stricken terror to all-out, throat-slitting despondency.

The choice of name is highly appropriate; whether it refers to the elite skirmishers who caused mayhem to the enemy in Napoleonic battles, or to the Canadian ice hockey team, it passes on the requisite impressions of violence and pain inflicted by experts at tremendous speed. This scorching LP was created by the team of Matthew Bower and Samantha Davies and released in an edition of 350 copies. From June 2012.

009

Raw Cello

SOMA012cvr

The exceptional cello work of Okkyung Lee is well represented on Ghil (IDEOLOGIC ORGAN SOMA012), an album of solo pieces recorded in Norway by Lasse Marhaug in 2012. Although we’ve had some of her earlier records pass this way before – for instance, her duet with Phil Minton Anicca (Dancing Wayang) and her contribution to the four-way improv-noise thing Cold/Burn – this particular release is the one that has really struck home with this listener. I feel we’re getting a raw dose of Okkyung Lee, her ideas and her performance as she would wish, beaming in with zero interference. She’s a well-respected collaborator with some of the Kings and Queens in the improvising world, but perhaps her skills are best appreciated in a solo setting, because she’s doing things on this record that few musicians could possibly keep up with. I don’t just mean the speed of her thinking and execution (although admittedly her fingers do work with the implacable precision of an industrial sewing machine on some tracks), but there’s something about the inventive, wild leaps of logic which her creative spirit has ordained. Down these strange paths a Korean must go, seems to be the motto driving her music, and without doubt she’s skilled enough to execute every command from her inner Colonel Kurtz, no matter how extreme or ludicrous. At one level, there’s just much to enjoy in her sound, which is completely unique – I can think of few acoustic players who have arrived at such a distinctive and out-there sound as Okkyung Lee, where she’s not afraid to stretch the instrument to the limits of possibilities and yet she still somehow remains true to the genuine voice of the cello. There used to be improvising guitarists who hated the guitar so much that they would set out in their playing to undermine the characteristics of what they regarded, in their ideological way, as a “loaded” instrument. Lee has no such agenda. The bold and wild sounds she’s reaching for are necessary, natural, and when heard can tend to show us new possibilities, and expand the mental horizons of the listener.

Then of course there’s her multiple techniques; it would be instructive, I’m sure, to see her playing in the room; conventional classical cellists would faint dead away at the sight, and conductors would be eating their own batons with cream cheese. What is Okkyung Lee doing with her fingers and hands to produce these crazy “tearing” sounds, as though the strings of her cello were like elasticated tendons embedded in the calves of a cadaver, and she’s the surgeon trying to extract them…how does she generate those gorgeous harmonics that vibrate in sympathy and provide subtle drone effects to accompany her intense sawing actions…how does she arrive at this unique twilight area between music and noise, as though she’s a spirit able to exist in the air and the water at the same time..? 1 It’s mightily impressive, but nowhere do I get the sense she’s showing off her advanced techniques for their own sake, and it’s all in the service of beautiful music, somewhat melancholy, complex to the point of neurosis and also utterly simple, blessed with poetic titles such as ‘The Space Beneath my Grey Heart’ or ‘Hollow Water’, alluding to mysterious states of mind and wonders of nature. It remains to mention the sound of the recording on this release, which is simultaneously intimate and vivid yet also slightly limited and with the occasional dying fall, as though the aural perspective were being flattened out. This is deliberate; Marhaug used a 1976 cassette recorder for the sessions, experimented with less-than-conventional microphone placement, and did it in a range of locations around Norway (including some outdoor sites). He explicitly states that he wished to record Okkyung Lee’s music “in an expressionistic way” and likens his decision to using black-and-white photography. Fellow NYC-dweller C. Spencer Yeh provided the cover photograph, and Stephen O’Malley overprinted this image with one of his characteristic grids printed in clear ink. A beautiful LP. Now I need to investigate her 2008 solo LP for Ecstatic Peace…

  1. This takes the cake for the most laboured sentence I’ve ever constructed. Sorry about that.

Tales of the Riverbank

Another very good fine art record from the German Corvo Records label. Corvo may not flood the market with dozens of releases in the style of the all-conquering Editions Mego, but everything touched by the hands of Wendelin Büchler is always immaculately presented and a well-considered and curated item, so that the listener is guaranteed a condensed slice of high-octane art (both music and visuals) in the manner of a good slice of roast beef. In the case of waterkil (CORE 004), a record concocted by the duo of Axel Dörner and Jassem Hindi, said roast beef may at first appear so transparent and wispy such that you wonder how the chef ever managed to carve the meat so thinly, but just the same it’s packed with solid nutriments. Yes, it’s another “quiet” record, the product of a situation where one of the performers Axel Dörner has spent many years refining and reducing his trumpet playing method in pursuit of an ever-more minimalist goal. It seems to me like only yesterday I was being floored by the audacity of Durch Und Durch, a single 40-minute improvisation of breathy and abstracted trumpet tones he recorded with Tony Buck – but that was ten years ago. On this record, which was recorded half at EMS at Stockholm and half in an art gallery in Berlin, we see Axel Dörner V2.0 at work – he’s now equipped his instrument with small microphones, a mixing desk, and a special interface designed according to his wishes and desires. With this very electro-acoustic mode of setup, he’s able to bring in feedback and live sampling of his own trumpet playing – which is to say nothing of his ultra-refined playing technique, which allows him to wring uncanny snake-like tones and hisses from the bell of his trumpet. With the exception of some recognisably trumpet-like parps I can remember hearing, his playing on waterkil is mostly about extremely abstracted and minimalist sound art; I can tell you’re already shocked by the rigour of his stern, unforgiving approach.

However Jassem Hindi leavens the equation somewhat, adding a requisite dose of who-knows-what to these recordings…I don’t say this lightly folks, as this Saudi-born fellow who studied at the Sorbonne has made a studied attempt on his own behalf to make sure he falls between the cracks of the pigeon-holes. He may have worked with samples of other music, he may have created installations in art galleries, and he may have worked with experimental dance troupes…all this is admitted…but he states, quite insistently, that he is not a musician, visual artist, or a dancer. On his performing table we may see contact mics, tapes, assorted broken objects, and machines that are being diverted for the purposes of sound art. He also carries non-artistic field recordings around in his pockets, by which we understand that they are not “aesthetic” field recordings inviting us to savour the joys of a waterfall or a night-scene in Africa, but are instead badly recorded and distorted views of incredibly banal domestic scenes, like families closing the kitchen door, or something. This approach I like; it’s already starting to make Chris Watson and his imitators look like old-fashioned landscape painters. Hindi steers all of these diverse sound sources through the ever-present mixing desk, and when these gobbly nubbets of his are performed together with whatever Axel Dörner is doing, the results have made it onto these two sides of clear-pressed vinyl in an unedited suite of perplexing art music. They’ve been working as a duo since 2008, even if they don’t have many published recordings to show for it. This may even end up as their definitive statement.

It’s suggested that we listen to waterkil as a series of “audible snapshots of a river course”; even a particular river, the Moldau, is proposed for such an exercise. We’re aided in this idea by the superb cover artworks, heavy pencil drawings by the artist Matthias Reinhold. The sleeve itself is triple-gatefold, beautifully printed on both sides of white card, has a die-cut hole in one panel, and given the size of the LP edition the sleeve has every right to be regarded as an art print. I like the interior side with its idiosyncratic little shapes placed judiciously on a white field (it comes close to illustrating the music we hear). But note how the front cover represents a river, possibly, lurking behind a thick growth of brambles and reeds. I like this river-course notion, but waterkil is a largely static piece of music; or to put it another way, its forward movement is very halting and constantly interrupted. No sooner has the river voyage started than Dörner and Hindi decide they’ve found a leak in the canoe, and we have to pause for ten minutes while they think what to do about it. Or they simply pause with no explanation given, and go and stand on the riverbank looking profound and lost. There are a few aural moments of real drama on the record, where the combination of sounds makes for highly effective listening, but for some reason the duo don’t care to sustain that mood, and abruptly break off into mysterious silence (a silence punctuated by odd hisses and creaks). However, we’ve got to admire the boldness of this statement, one which shows how Dörner is pushing his work away from the confines of the “improvised” and into a more thrilling zone of collaborative, electro-acoustic / experimental sound art. Hindi, meanwhile, continues to fall through the cracks. Received in 2012.

We Are Glass

010

I have never seen Lucas Abela perform his notorious act with the sheets of glass, but now you can purchase a short 45 RPM 12-inch recording of this remarkable phenomenon on Popped In The Head All The Time Now (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR108), which was released under his Justice Yeldham alias. The press notes describe the method by which this Australian wild-fellow uses sheets of glass, salvaged perhaps from building sites or derelict factories, adds contact mics, feeds them through electronic effects, and then blows with all his might against the surface of the glass with his lips. In fact, the process is likened here to playing a trumpet, albeit in an extremely limited way; like a trumpeter who gets as far as forming the embouchure, then applies it to anything other than a trumpet. If you listen closely enough to the feral, inhuman sounds on this slab of vinyl, you can derive some information that connects it to a human action – a bit like a doting father blowing raspberries on the tummy of their baby, only exaggerated and rendered into an extremely grotesque form by means of amplification and distortion. As music, it sounds somehow constrained and constipated, in spite of the fizzing emotion and agitation which has fed into it. A reserve of energy without an adequate outlet, a steam kettle that is perpetually on the boil, with no valve for release, not even a whistle. I suspect the truth is that it’s not exclusively the sound that matters, and you really need to witness Abela cavorting physically on stage to get the full effect, and I leave it to you (or your imagination) to retrieve yarns and anecdotes about this, many of which wallow in the violence and the bloodshed. Although it’s likely that’s all in the past now. When I did see him live in London in 1999, he performed using turkey skewers with phono cartridges on the end, which he stuck into his mouth with ferocious abandon. Are you a musician, or a performance artist? I asked him afterwards. “Entertainer,” he replied firmly. “I don’t like to put any luggage with it!” He was at pains to stress than he wanted people to like him and his act, so worked hard to shed any notion that he might be a boring, worthy, serious-minded performance artist. I suppose growly and abrasive noise records like this one can only be an appendage to the visceral mess of his live act, but this beast is still worth owning and spinning as needed. From January 2013, 300 copies only.

006

The LP MuLTiLiNGuaL SaD SoNGS, WeiRD JoKeS aND eXPeRiMeNTaL STuFF FoR uSe By GRoWN-uP CHiLDReN (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR118) by BeNe GeSSeRiT is an indescribable mix of vocal experiments mingled with musical interludes, performed by the husband and wife team of Alain Neffe and Nadine Bal, who call themselves B. Ghola and Benedict G. respectively. These Belgian creators are well respected in the international Industrial / experimental music world with a string of releases going back to 1981; matter of fact some of this material dates back to the 1980s and 1990s, and has been previously released on the Falling Dreams CD on Opcion Sonica and the Norwegian Schizofrene Festsamler compilation cassette, although this is the first US release for th’ tracks. I’d situate it in the area of text/sound art with a vague New Wave feel; it’s all about mangling the spoken word. English, French and Japanese tongues are reduced to atomic particles and reassembled into dribbling nonsense, and both performers affect annoying high-pitched speaking voices and Monty Python-esque inflections to add further barriers to our understanding. One track title suggests that the Surrealists’ “Exquisite Corpse” method may have been used at composition stage, but one doesn’t sense anything like the controlled dreamlike mayhem that a cut-up approach might have introduced to the experiments. To accompany the vocal recits, we hear half-baked melodies played on synths, accordions, guitars, or music boxes; many of these tunes are palpably sarcastic in the way they imitate the sort of Euro-bland background music I’d imagine gets played in French and Belgian shopping malls. This dumbed-down approach betokens a degree of snide contempt for the listener; they’re treating us like children. I’m trying hard to regard this as a serious sound poetry LP, but it’s lightweight; it has none of the attack or coherence of Henri Chopin or Paul de Vree. I’m afraid I find virtually nothing to recommend in this silly record.

Mass. Effect

Here are a couple of vinyl long-players which may or may not reflect aspects of contemporary American underground music in and around Massachusetts.

The Mystery Triangle (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR090 / MYSTRA RECORDS #011) item takes its name from an event in November 2011, performed and recorded at the record shop Mystery Train in Amherst. It was recorded by Ted Lee of Feeding Tube Records and released here for our delectation with a gorgeous piece of cover art drawn by Joshua Burkett, who also happens to be the owner of said record shop. The sumptuous melty distortion of the lettering might take its cue from Haight-Ashbury psychedelic posters, but in terms of that spiral shape and bold use of black and white shapes, this is pretty much an ESP-Disk’ cover manqué. Notice how Paul Flaherty, the white-haired and bearded demiurge of the tenor saxophone, is rendered as a slightly unflattering bulbous lump, much like a prone Edward Lear figure, while the distended drawing of his instrument is certainly something Spike Milligan could relate to. Flaherty gets all of side one to showcase a solo saxophone blurteroo, called ‘The Jellyfish Dilema’. We’ve always enjoyed his solo records, of which we used to receive a lot in recent years. On this outing, the tension lies in his mixed emotions which pour out of the bell of his sax, almost like unwanted effusions from a cauldron; now happy, now sad, now going through complex feelings that can barely be expressed. The man can preach a sermon to the masses, then sound as intimate as a member of your family speaking to you. He can change tack in the middle of a phrase, apparently with a single breath. This happens in real time and is presented as an unedited recording. Not many players who can articulate this richness, nor play it in such an approachable fashion. Toot on, Mr Flaherty.

B side has a short billow released from the mysterious Sam Gas Can. His ‘Untitled’ documents him and his voice performing with just one microphone. He’s squeezing out a thin and painful sound neither from his lungs nor his diaphragm, but from a part of the body that anatomists haven’t yet named, or discovered. This is like an all-vocal, semi-acoustic version of Toshimaru Nakamura’s controlled feedback whine, all the more eerie for being so quiet and unexplained. Completing the B side are White Limo, a trio of players who serve up ‘Strite 15 Noslirana’, a strangely engaging bubbling broth of live electronics and percussive effects. The intermittent signals they wrench from their malfunctioning equipment are a big part of the charm. Not noise; the sounds they make may be jumbled, chaotic, even half-mad, but they are not aggressive or lazy dollops of shrieking high-volume drubbage. The only thing keeping this nebulous thing aloft is the irregular pulsations which emanate like toy car alarms from the midst of the gaseous puffs. Quite fine…I see Jess Goddard is also in Fat Worm of Error along with Chris Cooper, and the latter has links to Caroliner, those Californian nutcases who were regarded as heroes of free noise in the 1990s. Since this 2012 LP, White Limo put a solo LP out on Fogged Records which may warrant investigation.

As indicated, this LP has no fear of being labelled “parochial”. Even more of an insiders-only record is the private-joke pressed on vinyl called Fuck Brett (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR085). Recorded in a single day, and the occasion was a birthday party performance thing organised by Lisa Crystal Carver in honour of Brett Robinson, and the event included fine art painting, stickers, and musical performances from assorted marginal illuminati. Carver is Lisa Suckdog, a writer with no fear of extremes or taboos, who is considered to be extremely influential on the American punk / underground of the late 1980s and early 1990s. I have no idea who Brett Robinson may be. He apparently isn’t very popular, as many people on this record spend a good deal of time attacking him personally. The opening songs by Moose on the A side are enough to frighten away most sourpussses, and they’re indistinguishable from the general tipsy roaring and whooping of these happy American folks at this bizarre bacchanal where all inhibitions were checked in at the door. The longer workout by Big People Band – in fact a one-time offshoot comprising members of Egg, Eggs – is slightly more palatable, where the extemporised vocal chant is barked out to the accompaniment of primitive uke strumming and queer synth noises. The band sound like they’re walking around the room as they make up this hale and hearty nonsense. Improvising on the theme of Brett’s birthday, the chant wastes no time in giving said Brett an avant-garde version of the “comedy roast”, as the singer makes it clear how much said Brett is loathed by one and all. Then they start free-associating on the idea of giving birth, and the piece turns “shamanistic” as the troupe attempt to re-enact a birth-passage psychodrama right there on the floor. Unbridled screaming and hilarity ensues. I’ve not read a single line of Lisa Suckdog’s prose, but I’m guessing that this performance comes close to embodying the spirit of her work.

Assuming you were tempted to purchase this very limited record, you might fare better with the B-side which features two noise projects, Belltonesuicide and Diagram: A, engaged in a sweaty arm-wrestling match over a bank of shrieking synthesizers, or live electronics of some sort. Unlike the very specific A-side, this side is blank and abstract. It’s wall-to-wall, blanket-coverage loopy noise that takes no prisoners, but not as violent or insufferable as Merzbow despite the airless tone and pulsating repetitions. Those involved seem to layer on the effects like they were serving up triple-scoop sweet goodies in an ice-cream parlour. Chris Blair – also known as Abortus Fever – is Belltonesuicide, while Dan Greenwood is Diagram: A, and both have been unleashing free noise in the free world since 1997. 100 copies were made with paste-on covers, and a full-colour booklet with text and images is inserted.

Vinyl Sevens Muster – 3 of 3

010

Reuben Son gives us an unassuming brace of acoustic guitar pieces on Days Gone By (WAGTAIL RECORDS 003). That title is a very close match to Volume VI of the early works of John Fahey, and Reuben’s use of the plural term “guitar soli” links directly to another Takoma star, Robbie Basho, who used the exact same words on his album covers. This Boston musician also performs electronic music and does interesting sound manipulations, and anyone who’s a friend of Eli Keszler and Ashley Paul (the latter also designed the cover for this release) is welcome in this house. There’s a very honest and direct sound on these two recordings from 2010 and 2011, but I wish I could find more substance to them than the vague fuzzy-nostalgic charm that resides in the surface. The playing is slow, and feels hesitant. While there is some intimacy to the work, and even a little drama on side B, the abiding impression given by this music is sadly rather sketchy and aimless. Edition of 230 copies, from September 2012.

011

The Santarcangelo (SPÈCULA 001) record is a split EP of sound art featuring Teho Teardo on one side and JG Thirlwell on the flip. I found it plays best at 33, though this is one of those releases which fails to print the necessary information anywhere on the cover or labels, a matter which is a source of continual irritation for me with seven-inches. Both works are linked by their exploration of a cavernous space in this historic Italian town, a space which Teardo describes as “a long hole under the town” and Thirlwell calls “a cavern tunnelled into the side of the mountain”. I was intrigued by this, and find that this interesting Italian city is in fact “built over a network of beautiful, mysterious caves” according to one tourist website, and “the entire Hill of Jupiter is criss-crossed by over a hundred tunnels.” To produce interesting sound-art in these resonant spaces was the challenge presented to the Italian Teardo and the Australian Thirlwell, both of which have been associated with noisy rock music, in the form of Meatball and Foetus. Teardo’s ‘Oh Hook’ ropes in the cello work of Martina Bertoni and the singing voice of Chiara Guidi; with them by his side, he strummed his baritone guitar in the grotto space to produce a testing work made of echoing strings, whose forlorn sounds will haunt you until judgement day. What’s impressive is that he spent a full three days in the grotto, and the sounds we hear are edited highlights from that self-confinement episode. Thirlwell’s ‘Ecclesiophobia’ has a lot more going on than the A side’s bleak minimalism, and in fact represents an extremely elaborate sound installation he performed there, involving water dripping on a bass drum in the caverns, a loudspeaker setup, and another external performance space where he manipulated his bell-like sounds mingled with field recordings of church bells. This piece – composed in Santarcangelo and later reprocessed at his Brooklyn studios – is extremely imaginative and immersive, conveying a sense of claustrophobia simply through the accretions of sound and remorseless loops. Both Thirlwell and Teardo get to and from the same place, more or less; it’s just that Teardo does it by bouncing exploratory string-plucked sounds off the walls to see what responses he gets in return. Conversely Thirlwell is imposing his own personal “fear of churches”, which is what the title translates to, implying that the caverns under the town were dungeons, the site of “nefarious operations”. I can’t imagine that Thirlwell has any sympathy whatsoever for the aims of the Catholic church, hence his use of church bell sounds is not just ironic – he actively turns them into threatening agents of destruction, fear, and terror. From August 2011.

015

Another meeting of Japan’s finest screecher Junko and French guitarist Michel Henritzi is documented on Fear Of Music / Berlin With Love (L’ESPRIT DE L’ESCALIER LELE 01). These two studio recordings from 2012 aren’t so much prime examples of improvisation, but about combination of the sounds they make, Junko’s animalistic cries whimpering in a shrill high register, while the guitar occupies a mid-level range with semi-tuneful strums and riffs. Henritzi’s sound, to me, is always redolent of melancholy and decay; rarely more so than here, where his guitar has a terminal case of the mournful blues and makes a steady plaint against the sorrows of the world. Combined, the sound of the two players cuts directly into the heart of mankind, with an almost unbearable honesty.

Vinyl Sevens Muster – 2 of 3

007

From Norway, we have a single by Mummu which is a team-up between Skrap and Ich Bin N!ntendo. Skrap are the two women Anja Lauvdal and Heiða Jóhannesdóttir Mobeck who make quite a nice low-frequency and subtle drone music out of tuba and synth, while the trio of Nergaard, Winther and Heibo are capable of puking out a form of spiky high-energy noise-rock with their guitar-bass-drum setup that is appropriate to almost any musical situation, as their recording with Mats Gustafsson will testify. Both bands also have at least one CD album to their name on this label. On Mitt Ferieparadis (VA FONGOOL VAFLPS001), we have an A side ‘Feda Bru’ which is incredibly restrained, and a much more fiery B side ‘Logatunellen’. You might be more drawn to the riotous and anarchic free playing on ‘Logatunellen’, which is louder, thicker, and almost has a beat that you could frisk to, but somehow the energy feels neutered, blocked. There’s a lot more to be said for ‘Feda Bru’, even though it appears hesitant and uncertain at first spin. I would guess that Lauvdal and Mobeck are quietly dominating this session, while the three rockin’ guys are reining themselves in and acting on their best behaviour. It sometimes takes more discipline to play with this degree of restraint than it does to blast out an amplified blurt, and this does show up on the recording in the form of a seething tension that’s so sharp you could put it in a jamjar. The cover art was concocted by all five musicians with the help of Torstein L. Larsen; it looks like a primary school art mural, except it’s spiked with four-letter words, riddles, and slightly rude sexual images poking about in amongst all the incoherent dribbly visual anarchy. No idea when we got this one but it was released in 2013.

013

White Star Line (FARPOINT RECORDINGS fp042) – the label and artist would prefer it printed as White * Line – is a piece of sound art by the Irish electro-acoustic artist Danny McCarthy from Cork. He’s attempting to make some sort of statement about RMS Titanic and the White Star Line shipping company; since Cobh in Cork was the final port of call of the doomed ship, it has historical significance. McCarthy visited the harbour there and made some field recordings using hyrdophones (underwater microphones) from the very same pier trodden by the feet of passengers who originally made their way on board, before sailing off to meet their doom. If the cover photograph has any verisimilitude, said pier is now just a skeleton of decaying timbers. It doesn’t actually take a great deal of research to find this information out, and there’s a “historic experience” museum at Cobh which was established in January 2012 and is probably proving very popular as a school outing. McCarthy’s approach is to combine his watery field recordings with low-key electronic sounds, and I think there may be some post-processing on the finished work. What results is to my ears some rather dull process sound, a lot of static and whirr combined with little bubbles, and ultimately rather irritating sonically. However, there’s an added poignancy to the fact that he made the recordings on a date that coincides exactly with the centenary of the tragic event. And the cover images are strangely moving; the lone pigeon sitting there on the ruin of the pier in a rather forlorn stance is quite touching. And at least one listener claims to hear the voices of drowned souls in this record, or at least an imaginative suggestion of same. However, compared to Gavin Bryars’ grand-scale work The Sinking of the Titanic, this under-resourced and attenuated statement is not much more than a footnote. Arrived 3rd June 2013.

008

I always enjoy the playful singles released by Jos Moers on his Belgian-Dutch Meeuw Muzak label. The one by Harry Merry, Australian Sun (MEEUW MUZAK 042), is no exception – and like others in the roster, it’s melodic, has a catchy beat, and is eccentric to the point of near-daftness. Merry was born in Rotterdam and professes his love of vinyl singles, attracted as much to the sensuous colours of the labels as he was to the music he heard when he was a child growing up in the 1970s. He’s a keyboard player and pianist, and while he usually plays a Roland synth, this particular record is instead accompanied by a Belgian barrel organ. There’s a small colour photo of this beast in the press release, and it’s a shame we couldn’t get a picture on the record sleeve. In design terms, it’s a truly ghastly piece of Mittel-European gingerbread. How was the jaunty, cornball music that emanates from its pipes put into service of this quirky piece of post-punk music, with its cryptical layered lyric about the threats to global ecology, and the stiffly mannered but irresistible singing voice of Harry Merry? The answer is, I think, that the music – originally composed by Harry Merry and Ilhem Sabih – had to be rendered into “book music”, a late Victorian storage system for mechanical organs, which comprises holes punched into thick pieces of card. The pieces of card are folded into a zig-zag book, and fed into the mechanical organ. Elbert Pluer assisted with the production of the “orgelboek”, while Adrie Vergeer provided the instrument, Tom Meijer did the arrangement, and Martin Luiten did the mix. The B side contains a delightful instrumental version, allowing you to hear the sheer craft that has gone into the production of the mechanical music. You can keep your Conlon Nancarrow…it’s about time for a revival of this near-obsolete music production method! The A side is a stroke of sheer genius. If nothing else, the fusion of the lyric’s cadences with the music is little short of incredible; the ungainly phrasing of the musical composition dovetails with the words in ways that are continually surprising, like a little miniature wooden cabinet with ingeniously hinged flaps and drawers. A meeting of the old and the new, the square and the hip. A brilliant piece of offbeat pop, and a tiny miracle enacted in just over three minutes. From 21 November 2012.

Vinyl Sevens Muster – 1 of 3

003

Last heard from Trophy Wife with their eponymous EP from 2011…here they are now with Stella, My Star (PRIVATE LEISURE INDUSTRIES PLI-5), two songs which show this Tennessee all-girl band now reduced from a quartet to a trio and continuing their themes of haunted suburban angst which they deliver with lo-fi post-punkish guitars and synths and wispy washed-out vocals. Have to admit this is an improvement on the earlier EP which didn’t know where to put itself and wound up like a fakeified Goth-lite mish-mash of ideas, despite some spiky highlights in the playing. Here, the title track is a jumble of words which are hard to decipher, but it’s clear a sinister story is being unfurled and there’s no happy ending to it; matter of fact the song just stops dead abruptly with no formal warnings, leaving the listener a tad stunned. The disquieting tone of the instruments here, and the uncertain chord changes and key of the song, create the correct degree of unsettling paranoia. A dense and opaque nightmare in the daylight. B side ‘Frankie’s Song’ is certainly more limpid, and the dark nursery rhyme of the repeated lyric is incredibly basic, but the payoff to this “tale of childhood love gone wrong” feels as trite as a Hollywood teenage horror flick. I think this band have potential, but they gotta stop striking so many poses that don’t quite fit, and strive to be themselves a bit more. Arrived 10 April 2012.

004

Romvelope has a seven-incher Catomountain / Hodmandod (ADAADAT ADA0025). This is the electro-acoustic sound-artist Bjorn Hatleskog, a man with feet planted in both Norway and Scotland, who performs with handmade sound sculptures in what could be deemed a rather eccentric performance setup. He’s built an electric organ that can be played with a remote control, a guitar that strums itself, and an item called the “robotic bongo” which I take to be his personal rustic update on the drum machine, and hopefully a convoluted device that is far more complex and time-consuming than some facile piece of programmable machinery. Hatleskog also generates his own unique form of live electronic sound by processing and amplifying the otherwise inaudible buzz from fluorescent lights. This might be akin to the methods employed by Atsuhiro Ito and his optron, but I’m prepared to be corrected on that. It’s probably no surprise to learn that he’s done it in art galleries around the UK and mainland Europe; this kind of thing just begs to be seen in a confined space. Reading about his quirkoid inventions makes them appear rather brilliant, but as sound art, this record is tame and unadventurous, a dreary series of random clops and buzzes; the endearing “clunky” feel to the recording is the only factor that appeals to me, as though Romvelope were presiding over a workshop of charming wooden toys that are gradually coming to life. However, neither Pierre Bastien nor Bruce Lacey will be losing any sleep. Limited to 200 copies, arrived 8th July 2013.

006

MHFS is one of two items we received from the fine Emerald Cocoon label on 30 January 2013. This is Mark Sadgrove, a New Zealander based on Tokyo who is also an atomic physicist. The Grey Lynn Homeless Set (EMERALD COCOON EC006) was originally delivered in response to a commission from the label, who asked Sadgrove to perform a support set for Metal Rouge’s debut live show in 2006. He was too busy working on his thesis on quantum mechanics to attend, and instead turned in the recordings on this seven-incher, requesting that they be played over the PA. Well, I spun this item at home and have at first been massively underwhelmed by MHFS’s baffling outburst of arbitrary, meaningless noises. Now as I wrote this I find I can’t wait to hear it again. It’s short to the point of abruptness, the sounds generated are lazy, dull, and broken, and all the mistakes in the process – Sadgrove uses an incredibly primitive setup which can barely be called “musical” in any sense of the term – are exposed for all to hear, and indeed incorporated into the finished work. Apparently it’s all very deliberate; his selection of recording locations that allow for maximum leakage of environmental sounds onto the tape, his detuned and de-assembled acoustic guitar that has been strung with six low E strings, and a system of recording that is programmed, perhaps using mathematical methods, to deliver the certainty of randomness to a high degree. The other appealing element is that none of the above is “explained” on the recordings, which simply burst on stage and make their brief statements underscoring the absurdity of existence, before vanishing into the nearest wormhole. The A side of this item will be more “shocking” to those who crave form or structure, while the B side may win you over with its bizarrely distant voice elements and its additional textures, which contrast quite sharply with the stark minimalism of the A side. Marginal in extremis, the ultra-simple approach of MHFS calls into question more elaborate forms of sound art, making them appear labour-intensive and wasteful by comparison. This is #4 in the label’s “Alone Together” series.

Burnt Ombra

005

Sorry to bring you this news so late, but Editions Mego have been reissuing on vinyl some electro-acoustic gems from this history of the INA-GRM label as part of their “Recollection GRM” series…one of these is by Ivo Malec, called Triola Ou Symphonie pour moi-même (REGRM 006), and frankly it’s an absolute gem. I’ve not ashamed to admit I never heard of this important Yugoslavian-born composer before, even though he had two releases on the coveted “Silver Series” on the Philips label, but that’s why reissues like this are so useful / vital. He began his career as a fairly conventional classicist, until he fell under the influence of Pierre Schaeffer, a man in whose shadow many can be said to dwell, and since acknowledging him as his “one and only true master”, he embarked down the hazardous route of experimental electronic music. Like most of the greats, including Xenakis and Varèse, Malec worked with blocks of sounds and was preoccupied with timbres, textures, and all the massive sculptural qualities that “pure” sound has to offer those who are man enough to work the almighty tape-splicing machine at the GRM, a device so cumbersome it requires a team of three muscly matelots from Marseilles just to work the capstans.

This LP – pretty much an exact reissue of AM 830.11, apart from the remixed artwork – contains two pieces, the main event being the tri-partite Triola from 1978. Its name simply means “Triplet”, each of its three sections has its own subtitle, and the timbral qualities between the three are wildly distinctive – each piece makes a clear, separate statement of its own, yet the three are also linked together in a mysterious and personal philosophical scheme of the composer’s making. The opener ‘Turpituda’ is incredibly bold, one of the most powerful utterances I’ve heard in the name of electro-acoustic music; plenty of aural clashes and sweeping dynamics, producing indescribable abstractions. Yet the music is always ordered and directed, a force of nature governed by a powerful intellect, always in motion. Near-violent and quite terrifying in places, this is a truly uplifting and bracing ride through the mental storm. Loud volume is indicated for playback satisfaction; “I have had good results with a [volume] level that elicits equal parts rapture and blind panic,” reports the curator of the online avantgardeproject.org. ‘Ombra’ is calmer, a slightly more serene island of reason in the middle of this tempest, but even these sullen abrupt drones and croaks are filled with menacing intent as much as they elicit soothing, medicinal tones for your throbbing temples. Then as the triptych completes on Side B, we’re involved in the search for ‘Nuda’, a state of nakedness or nature that’s invoked by the recording of a female voice uttering this single word repeatedly, in a giddy state halfway between abject fear and Bacchanalian abandon. A gorgeous and exhilarating work for sure; all the composer will tell us is that he went into the studio after a long abstinence, and had it in mind to produce something utterly personal – hence the subtitle, a “symphony for myself” – an ambitious project, using symbolism, resolving a weighty personal matter which I can only assume is between him and his maker. Two writers, Christian Zanési and François Bonnet, praise this work’s “radicalism”, its “tense, demanding, abrasive” qualities…it’s certainly as cathartic as you could wish for, while never surrendering to the potential vagueness of the mental challenges it has taken on; unknown and unnameable forces are finding solid forms of musical expression.

The other work, ‘Bizarra’, is from 1972 and equally exciting in terms of its extreme textural treatments and fearless explorations of unusual, innovative electronic tones. The composer was inspired by Lautremont’s poetry (boy, there’s a lot of that going around lately), and was aiming to construct a wild, rather threatening, imaginary swampy landscape…the French scribes regard it as a harbinger of the main piece, a notable squall which presages the arrival of the huge tsunami that would arrive 6 years later. Originally released on vinyl in 1978, and mint originals are now fetching about 100 bones; this work did make it onto a CD reissue but even that is now out of print, so this reissue is most welcome. Nice embossed geometric cover design by Stephen O’Malley, full cover card insert with great images and notes. From December 2012.

Altered States

002

Jessika Kenney and Eyvind Kang
The face of the earth
AUSTRIA IDEOLOGIC ORGAN SOMA011 LP (2013)

Think we last heard from this talented duo in 2011 with their wispy Aestuarium record, although there was also Kang’s solo LP Visible Breath in 2012…now with The Face of The Earth we have another record of stark and strong beauty, recorded in vivid depth and where every slow and still note rings true…much economy and grace, and not a single second wasted. Where those previous records were somewhat quiet and atmospheric, there’s a lot more steel and sinew to this present work, and the combination of stringed instruments (viola, setar) with Kenney’s singing voice is akin to dipping the brain in iced water. I welcome this update on “classical” minimalism 1 which is much warmer, feels less rigid and formal, and apparently allows space for some improvisation, more spirituality, and more external forces. The duo draw influences from the ancient – in the form of 12th century poetry – and the modern, by way of Kang’s Morton Feldman fixation, which is most apparent on the simple repetitions and phrases of ‘Mirror Stage’. If this gem doesn’t come close to realising Mortie’s ideal of the music score as a woven Persian carpet, then I quit. Apart from the Morton Feldman resemblance – and I would love to hear this duo record their rendition of ‘Rothko Chapel’, for instance – one other precedent for me would be the glorious music made by singer Haco with the cellist Sakamoto Hiromichi, such as on 2002’s Ash in the Rainbow. The album walks a tightrope between fragility and utter assurance; you feel the entire structure could be shattered if you so much as breath out of turn, yet the two avatars proceed with solemn conviction as they perform their taut, inscrutable, music.

It’s also clear the duo have imbued this single recorded statement with a lot of deep, hidden layers. The printed insert – for some reason, scored with perforations so it could be divided into four cards if need arises – refers to the “Wangsalan”, a form of riddle which comes to us from Javanese culture, appears in Gamelan music, and is sung by the female vocalist. Like any good parable (look at Aesop, the New Testament), a Wangsalan uses concrete images and recognisable descriptions to tap into the unknowables, the unseen, the “primordial knowledge” and philosophy that may form the fundament of the soul…and does all of this using “hidden wordplay” and buried references for the attentive listener to perceive and decode over time. As for concrete images, ‘the Chinese gazelle’s blood’ and the ‘slender inner spine of the coconut leaf’ are intriguing enough, even if their meaning is far from clear to me on today’s spin. Some of this content comes from a ghazal 2 written by Attar of Nishapur 3, while the track ‘Kidung’ – a breathy recital which sounds like an avant-ceremonial version of Eastern forms of music which I’m not remotely familiar with – is a “sung prayer in the Sudanese language of West Java”, personally translated by Kenney, and sung by her with the steely precision of a strange bird that is capable of shooting benign poison darts from its wings.

With this austere, still music with its studied trance-like patterns, the reference to prayer and to the “highest of all realms, the Great Protector”, and the cover art from NASA suggesting the effects of a cosmic out-of-body experience, Kenney and Kang have produced what amounts to a deeply spiritual statement with moments of unearthly beauty. Received November 2012.

004

  1. By which I suppose I mean the long-form music of the 1960s and 1970s New York school.
  2. Ancient poetic form from 6th century, of Arabic origin, spreading to Asia in 12th century and associated with Sufi mystics.
  3. 12th century Persian poet, described as a mystic; documentation of his life very scarce; wrote “The Conference Of The Birds”.