Andreas Oskar Hirsch came our way in 2015 with his unusual and beguiling solo LP Summe 1, which was like an imaginary voyage into an undiscovered part of the world, executed with field recordings, bird song, unorthodox percussion instruments and much imagination. Here’s Hirsch again teaming up with Richard Eigner, the percussionist and field recording fellow from Austria associated with the Ritornell label (a sublabel of Mille Plateaux). Their 7-inch single Stalker/Swoop (OUS 006) is an uneasy mix of precision drumming with vague and uncertain electronic burbles, and both these short swipes of music seem to be packed full of yawning gaps – I mean not just spaces in the music, but the fact that much is understated and unexplained, as to their intentions or musical ideas. ‘Stalker’ is the one with the offbeat swing-beat rhythm, proceeding at a very deliberate and unhurried pace, where the drumming is accentuated by a warped marimba pattern which might be mistaken for a minimalist-urban version of Gamelan…perhaps produced by digital means. This feels like a dance track remade as a matchstick model, fragile and spindly and quite unsuitable for purpose. ‘Swoop’ is equally inscrutable, and if the title is meant to be describing the action of a predatory bird, the music is completely unrelated to the grace and agility of that peregrine falcon. The rhythm here is more suggested than played, Eigner playing around the beat with sharp rolls and fills like a free jazz drummer. In the gaps, Hirsch inserts his languid ambient drones of vagueness and doubt. A perplexing listen, all in all. Pressed in green vinyl. From 14th November 2016.
The lovely American singer Ruth Garbus has impressed us in recent years with her Rendezvous with Rama LP and the more recent Joule EP of songs for OSR Tapes. Here she is again on the same label as Ruth Garbus And Friends with Hello Everybody (OSR#75), with another bright set of her melodic pop/folk songs, where she sings and plays electric guitar supported by Zach Phillips, Larry McDonald, and guest singer Julia Tadlock. As ever, her hallmark is a gift for sincerity and directness, which is reflected in her crystal-clear singing voice. There’s nothing to hide and her intentions are plain. There’s also the deceptively simple construction of the melodies, which mostly stay close to the root chord but then occasionally lift off into an unexpected flight of genius for ten glorious seconds. Against all this clarity must be set the relatively opacity of her lyrics, which (on this release at least) are dense, numerous and allusive, apparently telling stories in a diary-like fashion but, I sense, concealing stronger unseen forces beneath the surface. On these four brief songs, I’m often left with an impression of having read 15 pages of a book; where’s all this extra content coming from? A very nice record indeed. From 21st December 2016.
Noteherder & McCloud have released a nifty limited edition lathe-cut piece of product…a 7-incher with two tunes of “pop song” length, which I totally recommend if you can still get one of the 32 copies in existence. ‘From Ledge to Ledge’ sees Chris Parfitt freaking out on his soprano sax like Evan Parker having an epileptic fit in a zinc tunnel while Geoff Reader parps out spastic techno-bursts from his ultra-primitive synth deck. This was from a 2015 live set at The Green Door in Brighton organised by Spirit Of Gravity, who released this as GRAV116…on the flip there’s 3 mins and 50 secs of ‘Jammed In The Shingle Middle, It Comes Right In The End’, on which the electronic half of the act is doing a superb low-key impersonation of the Network South train that presumably took them to Bar 42 in Worthing, where this was recorded. Meanwhile Parfitt has evidently discovered the one “perfect” note on his sax, and keeps repeating it for at least sixty seconds. Either side of this are some highly tasty Lol Coxhill-styled licks with the honeyed curlicues and effortless breath control that were among Lol’s hallmarks. I think this duo are one of the UK’s best kept secrets, but half of the Brighton cognoscenti seem to be hip…for further Brighton doings, you could do worse than scope out the Spirit Of Gravity links, for programmes of events and embedded Soundcloud links so you can catch up on the radical noise you’ve been missing for the last 56 months. From 23rd December 2016.
Great single by Black Bananas, a US combo which amazingly features Jennifer Herrema, the singer from Royal Trux. Ever since everyone’s favourite junkie band broke up around 2001, it seems RTX emerged like a phoenix from the ashes, and Jennifer’s been yawping in that combo since around 2004 producing 3 albums for Drag City. Also in RTX is Brian McKinley of Marsona, and Black Bananas may be a sort of spin-off project or alter-ego. At any rate since they joined forces with Nadav Eisenman and Kurt Midness, they’re produced Rad Times Xpress IV and Electric Brick Wall for Drag City, both of which look like sizzling platters worthy of scoffage. Spydr Brain (OSR TAPES OSR 76) is their first (and probably only, since the label’s future looks doubtful just now) single for OSR Tapes in Brooklyn, coupled with Frozen Margaritas; it’s an excessive, distorted take on the Funkadelic sound, fed through the mincing machine of white urban angst, powered with an insane groove and plenty of hyper-splash colourful studio effects drenching every move. Jennifer’s vocals sound particularly wasted as she romps her way through this sleazy psychedelic nightmare with a five-pound slab of assurance and two buckets of sheer snarkey attitude under her arm. The A-side’s the real trouper, but the B-side while slower is cut from the same funky cloth and could be used to manufacture 18 pairs of insanely flared disco trousers…now I want to investigate back catalogue of these delirium-merchants, purely on strength of this slice of dementia. Totally bonkers cover art too. From 21st December 2016.
London-based sound artist Louie Rice has been ruining my life for some time now with releases from his labels Wasted Capital Since 2013 and Hideous Replica, home to ultra-minimal reductive electronic music that refuses to explain itself. That mode continues with 33/45, a seven-incher released by Organized Music From Thessaloniki, which makes plain its intent to alienate the listener with its severe sleeve – strange futuristic grid imagery on the cover, and stark black typography on the back. Indeed the press release is proud of the cryptical and opaque stance presented thusly, describing “two tracks marked only by their playing speed and no additional info at hand”. As with all minimal art, I suppose, the intent is limit the options faced by the audience, to encourage (some would say force) our total concentration on the message at hand. This particular outing contains many fragments of broken noise, which resemble snapped pieces of scrap metal being popped open in your face, recordings of which have been scrambled and rendered into nonsense by very drastic editing. On the first side, these noises are suspended in a near-vacuum, with only an insistent cyber-pulse to remind us that we’re still alive and not trapped in some conceptual science-fiction Hell. The B-side, which plays at 45, frames the noises in a setting which I expect we could read as Louie Rice’s idea of “disco” music. It’s often tempting to think that the contemporary generation of experimenters are influenced by Techno music as much as by the 20th-century schools of musique concrète and electro-acoustic, and indeed this is a theme that has been carried on in much of the discourse surrounding Mego, glitch, the Cologne school, Raster-Noton, and many others since the late 1990s. To his credit, Rice (and his compadres Alves and Asnan) seems to be developing his own uniquely “evil” and alien take on the genre, seething with implied threat and hostile gestures. From 5th December 2016.
Last heard from Frank Hurricane when he appeared as Hurricanes Of Love on the Quintorian Blues double LP, a solo effort which impressed us with its zeal for life, but underwhelmed us with its acoustic guitar wizardry. Today’s record Mountain Brew Light (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR256) contains ten short songs from the mouth and brain of this bearded American, everything sung in a bucolic woozy style, and he’s joined by Tha Spiritual Band who contribute vocal additions and freakoid musical backdrops, sometimes played on odd instruments such as the shofar, hunting horn, and tuba. I can dig the stoned vibes, the freedom-embracing mountain-loving lifestyle that emanates from this benevolent fellow…but on this outing the actual songs are still quite pedestrian and ordinary. If it weren’t for Frank’s cracked and tuneless wailing, this wouldn’t be much more than a late Jerry Garcia solo album. Themes of spirits, spirituality and ghosts crop up a lot in the lyrics (see the printed insert) along with much colourful imagery; and then there’s the completely addled cover painting by Turner Williams, which promises a lot more in the way of frazzled rural thrills than the LP actually delivers. Not a massively unpleasant listen, and the record generates a highly positive upbeat mood; but the psychedelic details are used far too sparingly, and I wish Frank would learn to write a decent original tune instead of plodding his way around these over-familiar chord changes. From 15 November 2016.
On this vinyl LP by Neuköllner Modelle we have a lengthy session of free-jazz-improvised music played by the trio Bertrand Denzler, Joel Grip, and Sven-Åke Johansson. One thing to mention about Sektion 1-2 (UMLAUT RECORDS umlp03) is that it was actually recorded in Neukölln, a Berlin district known and loved by us Bowie / Eno fans since the Heroes LP, and a piece of music which happened to feature a memorable saxophone blast from Bowie. It’s also referenced in the liner notes written by Bastian Zimmermann, evidently a fellow who’s a cognoscenti of modern cafe society in today’s German bustling environs, and who contextualises the performance in an oblique manner with his penmanship. He’d like us to know that Neukölln has moved on since 1977 when the Bowie-Eno angstified view of the neighbourhood was published. “Every religious group is represented here,” he tells us. He also describes the Sowieso club where this record was made, with its unusual stage setup and choice of alcoholic beverages. So far it sounds like certain hipster zones of London, such as Dalston or Hackney, but probably less forced and self-conscious.
French saxman (great improviser and composer/conceptualist) Denzler has been puffing his tenor around these parts for some years now, most recently on Le Ring with Gerbal and Dörner…I’ve got to admire his restrained work on this recording, mainly because I like the short repeated phrases he keeps giving out. At key moments, you’ll get stuck in a delicious music loop with these simple statements of his. I’m convinced it means more than it appears to, especially if you think of more forthright 1970s improvisers who felt as though nothing short of 45 minutes of continual invention would do, never allowing a single repeat of anything if possible. Here of course it’s the same but not the same, the repetitions changing as they advance along, always framed and reframed by the very elastic context of the rhythm section. Some of this is down to the superbly flexible bass work of Joel Grip, but a lot of it is down to veteran drumster Johansson, who delineates one of the most open-ended percussion frameworks that an improvising musician could hope for. He also does it doe a long time – the whole record is over 52 mins long. And it’s quite understated, like the whole record in fact; energy is implied, for sure, but there’s none of your explosive roaring free jazz squonking afoot here. The dead-on accuracy of Johansson’s beats is uncanny, if we can use the word accuracy when trying to describe such a free-form, nebulous, pattern of activity.
Johansson is a long-serving hero of free improvisation and free jazz, first appearing on the FMP label in 1972, much to Sweden’s credit; he’s played with most of the greats of Europe, but to my shame I don’t appear to have collected or heard much of his back catalogue. Speaking of FMP, the pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach teamed up with this trio in 2017 and the foursome created Sektion 3-7, a double CD set which hopefully continues the grooves and themes laid down on this platter. I’m still trying to come to terms with the achievement of Sektion 1-2, running it mentally against certain templates in my brain; the New York Art Quartet from 1965 on ESP-Disk is one touchstone, with a similar constrained power and acoustic brittleness, but today’s record also has the slippery lines of certain Albert Ayler records, yet without feeling the need to overstate, overblow, or otherwise belt out histrionic excess. This may say something about the European temperament of the players and their Protestant roots. But this isn’t a cold, unfeeling record, and it still transports us from one place to another in its laid-back, close-lipped style. From 4th November 2016.
English sound artist Mark Vernon is a firm fave here at TSP Mansions, required listening if you want to get on the good side of me. The last two releases noted in these pages were Sounds Of The Modern Hospital and Framework Seasonal Issue #5. The Hospital record was derived from a residency in a Scots hospital, but though based on real-world documentary recordings it ended up as a surreal, episodic mystery broadcast from the Wards of Never-Dom run by the mysterious matron Sister Nemo. The Framework release was Mark’s snapshot of English tape clubs from the 20th century, a phenomenal record that rescued these lost and unknown “trainspotters” of the magnetic tape and hand-held recorders. In one of my rare visits outdoors, I saw Vernon this year (March 2017) at Cafe Oto supporting Graham Lambkin, on a memorable evening. One thing Vernon was doing there was playing snippets from his car-boot sale finds, old and discarded tapes he has scavenged on his treasure hunts. One recording in particular, apparently that of an embittered man nursing a murderous grievance he held against his spouse or girlfriend, reminded me of the obsessive tones of Mark E. Smith on The Post-Nearly Man – I recommended that Mark try and find a copy. He also wondered what had happened to the promo copy of his Kye Records release, which he sent me in October but was unfortunately buried in my vinyl submissions queue. Using hand gestures, I tried to indicate to Mark the dimensions of this queue, which caused a wry expression to wring his otherwise friendly features.
Said LP is called Lend an Ear, Leave A Word (KYE 44), and is Vol. 1 in a projected series called Audio Archaeology. If you want continuity with the above anecdotes, Kye Records is operated by Graham Lambkin, and the label deals in unfussy, no-nonsense cover artworks, high-quality mastering and pressing, and a mostly vinyl-only format policy. What I have heard on Kye has always been amazing, and I would like to think Lambkin selects the content personally. Lend an Ear, Leave A Word is true to form and a highly impressive collection of work, based on documentary recordings. The theme here is that it’s all based in Lisbon, the recordings were made in that country and collected by Mark Vernon from trips to a flea-market in Alfarma. Right there we’ve got another indication of his scavenger-hunt methods; I have visions of Vernon’s garden shed, hopefully the size of a warehouse, packed with his precious hoards of booty.
Lend an Ear, Leave A Word is a delirious listen – almost instantly induces a trance-like state, and real life acquires a wonderful unreal caste. There’s also a strong sense of deep sadness and melancholy in these sounds, a mourning for the human condition. How did this all come about?
In his notes, Vernon describes processes of how magnetic tape acquires layers of information, often by accident when the recording devices are in the hands of amateurs making mistakes, as is the case here. He muses on the “archaeological” aspects of the work, having dredged up 40 years of content to perform his experiments. He lists the things we’re hearing (answerphone messages, TV, baby recordings), and he lists the extra field recordings (air vents, traffic noise, waves breaking). None of these prosaic descriptions even begin to account for the strange sensations induced by this record, which over two sides and ten tracks creates near-hallucinatory experiences, surreal dream-scapes, and a general sense of having entered the looking-glass world, full of unknown languages spoken by alien creatures, performing actions which can’t be understood.
In collating his “lists” of content, which are useful, Vernon modestly downplays his own role in the selection, editing and assembly of these fragments, a unique artistic process which passes through his own fingertips directly onto the surface of the record. I think what makes it all so compelling is the fact that he is so ready and willing to depart from the supposed “purity” of documentary recording, and can’t help uncovering the incredible strangeness of life through his art. And it’s more than just juxtaposing two or more unconnected recordings; there’s music here as well, there are (as ever) fractured stories and dramas unfolding, and there’s a real sympathy for and interest in the human condition. Mark Vernon is not some unfeeling voyeur of the human pageant, like Scanner used to be with his secretly-monitored mobile phone conversations set to ambient music. On this record, he deals in human truths, but he also respects boundaries and asks questions, refusing to draw simplistic conclusions. And while this LP is not filled with the same wow-factor moments we often find with Aki Onda’s tape diaries, that too is part of Vernon’s understated charm. From 11 October 2016, and very warmly recommended.
You may recall us raving about this Hen Ogledd LP in 2016, a great LP resulting from the team-up of avant-harpist Rhodri Davies and Richard Dawson, the English folk singer and scholar who created the remarkable record The Glass Trunk in 2013 (on which Rhodri played, come to think of it). Well, these two have now turned Hen Ogledd into a band or project of some sort, and here’s their LP Bronze (ALT-VINYL AV069), an astonishing six tracks of musical noise realised with the help of Dawn Bothwell, plus guest players Laura Cannell and Jeff Henderson.
That’s Richard’s artwork on the front cover, a collage called ‘Golden Person’, and with its near-anonymous implacable stare and inscrutable alien visage, this face immediately clues you in that you’re about to spin a very special record. From the opening track I thought we might be embarking on some pagan-mystery theme, rich in dark magick and old straight tracks and stone monuments…it’s called ‘Ancient Data’, an evocative title if ever there was…and on one level may summon up visions of early astronaut visitors and dreams inspired by Erich Von Daniken, or more simply may be a fancy way of referring to archaeology. However, musically it’s an uncategorisable sound, and only the voice work of Dawn Bothwell and the haunting recorders of Cannell might substantiate my theory, adding a mystical folk-flavour to the strange electronic and plucked jumble of inventiveness.
As to that, I suppose a cursory read of the credit notes may give some small indication of what Davies and Dawson were doing at Blank Studios under the watchful ear of Sam Grant (who recorded it), and once again Rhodri is amplifying and electrifying his harps to produce intense, astringent noise and bone-shattering drones, even surpassing his incredible work on Wound Response (amplification and distortion used for devastating results). But he also plays the loudhailer, nails, and marble. Richard Dawson’s credit list is even more arcane, including a number of things which might seem more at home inside a witch’s cupboard than in a recording studio; I could read these two lines of text over and over, until they resemble a form of poetry.
I say this in some attempt to account for the uncanny force and deliberation behind these eerie sounds, at times crude and brutal as the best post-punk band that ever existed, at times ringing together with a spiritual harmony and peacefulness that puts the listener at one with the universe, such as on ‘Beyond Belief’, a superb English update on the music of Popl Vuh. Perhaps Dawn Bothwell, with her synths, effects, and mostly her singing voice, is doing something to temper the alien-inspired antics of the two male players, and her sweetening influence is most evident on the short but gorgeous ‘Gwawr in Reverse’. But she also ends the album with her spunky lyrics to ‘Get My Name Right Or Get Out!’, a title which needs no explanation, and a song which comes over as feisty as a combination of Poly Styrene and Honey Bane.
There’s also the uncanny epic sprawl of ‘Gondoliers’ (the A side of this LP is so right-on it just destroys) and a real misfit on the B-side called ‘Amputated Video’. The broken electronic yawp of this gem has to be heard to be believed; so many English players aspire to capture the truth of the Radiophonic Workshop in their synth-led tributes, but this is the real goods, something which has crawled out of a demented dream-version of 1970s BBC daytime television like a manifestation of all your worst Dr Who fears. I think this record wipes the floor with a lot of contemporary pretenders who dabble in “ceremonial” or “pagan” music without any real understanding of what they mean, and the breadth of its sonic ambition is enormous. Truly astounding, and highest recommendation for this incredible piece of work. From 15th November 2016.
Mei Zhiyong is a contemporary Chinese noise artist, also active in field recordings, experimental film, and photography…he’s been doing it live since 2007, appeared on the compilation NOISERISING released in Hong Kong a few years ago, and has made a few releases on his own account – many of them split items, including team-ups with Torturing Nurse, one of our favourite noise acts from the Eastern zones. He’s also formed a profitable relationship with international mischief-maker Dave Phillips of Zurich, he of Schimpfluch renown, and when they played together in China in 2014 the enterprising Mei managed to get a DVD out of the situation, which is titled Sonic Rituals. “It’s about feelings, atmosphere, travel, friendship, sounds, passion and ceremony,” according to our Chinese friend.
Flushed with success, Mei toured Europe with Phillips in 2015, and the LP before us Live In Switzerland (AUSSENRAUM AR-LP-007) is one of the outcroppings of that particular exploit, capturing short explosive performances from Cave12 in Geneva and at the Lausanne Underground Film Festival. The record’s pressed in red vinyl, has a completely bonkers cover of digital flower petals going mad created by Flokim Lucas, and Mei Zhiyong himself has extremely long hair which evidently flies about when he’s doing his table-noise thing. All of the above are good harbingers, yet I found myself surprisingly disappointed by Live In Switzerland. The Cave12 side is inventive, making use of quite evil voice samples, and the stop-start dynamics used here are pretty extreme. But that same dynamic works against the performance, which comes over much like a bad-tempered car refusing to start despite frenetic turns of the ignition key. The energy feels blocked somehow.
The LUFF side flows better for sure, but still lacks a decent punch and I’m not feeling the body-blows which one might expect…I sense Mei Zhiyong may lean on his effects pedals a little too much, as about 40% of what he does is pretty much just feedback fed through reverb, resulting in the same harsh noise as many other noise-assaulters in this genre…it’s evident Mei Zhiyong is very serious about what he does, and has high hopes for noise music to offer a particular kind of mental liberation, a healthy short-circuit between mind and body, and an effective means of loosening one’s psychological shackles. Or, to use his own expression: “All the manic, quiet, extreme, abnormal have been preset by procedures and tools…only impaling nothingness will real make you get rid of the contradiction between voice and body, between body and mind.” I applaud these libertarian sentiments, and the visceral terms in which they are expressed, but Live In Switzerland falls short somewhere, just a shade too over-thought and reticent where it should be devouring all like a roaring tiger. I will revisit and play louder next time, hoping for a more explosive release. From 31st October 2016.