Tagged: vocals

Prayer Wheels On Fire

Phurpa
Chöd
POLAND ZOHARUM ZOHAR 127-2 2 x CD (2016)

From mystics such as Blavatksy, David-Neel and Roerich 1 to one time rituallists like Current 93, O Yuki Conjugate, 23 Skidoo (Culling era) and the thighbone-trumpet-wielding phase of Psychic T.V., it seems that the remote mountain kingdom of Tibet has been a source of fascination for a considerable amount of time. Phurpa, who’ve been engaged in exploring ritual sonorities since the mid-nineties, can now be added to this rather disparate list of worthies. They’re a Russian collective founded by group conductor Alexey Tegin who’s flanked by Edward Utukin, Alexey Naumkin and Dmitry Globa, dedicating themselves to interpreting the authentic ceremonial music(s) of “Bon”: Tibet’s oldest Buddhist discipline.

Aside from the usual recording/mastering/design credits, Chöd plays its cards very close to its chest. Its enigmatic/austere sleeve art opens out to reveal blocks of Tibetan script, using a stark (now possibly overused) black gloss ink on coal black cardstock. There’s no mention of what possible arcane instrumentation might form the building blocks of these two pieces, coming in at a challenging 46.00 and 44.14 mins respectively. However, ultra-primitive drum thuddery and the occasional agitated bleat of massed thighbone trumpets (a.k.a. “the Kangling”) do come and go, but a major percentage of total body weight is swallowed up by the quartet’s slowly building beast-like utterances. It’s easy to think we’re hearing the sounds of a degenerate, cave-dwelling race, grunting their disapproval after discovering that evolution has declined to pay them a courtesy call.

Using a tantric overtone technique (similar I’d guess to that used on the Melodii Tuva c.d. on Dust to Digital/2007), the collective lung power employed here is pretty formidable and overwhelming and on face value, the Phurpa concept could be thought of as an outing in avant black metal accapella; standing before you, theatrics-free and as nature intended.

  1. Nicholas Roerich played a large part in one of twentieth century Europe’s major culture shocks; namely the debut performance of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”, for which he was the librettist and costumier.

The Cat Who Could Read Backwards

The Carp’s Head (MONOTYPE RECORDS MONOLP018) record is an extremely unusual album featuring the vocal talents of Ghédalia Tazartès, the unclassifiable mystic from France who has been coming our way a fair number of times in recent years…his tape collages, like the LP Repas Froid, are one thing – nightmarish reconstructions of the physical world and all that’s in it – but when he opens his mouth, strange creatures emerge by the bushel. We’ve heard him singing on Superdisque (with Jac Berrocal and David Fenech) and as one half of Reines D’Angleterre, and it’s not an experience that you can soon forget.

On Carp’s Head, he does a lot of guttural throat-singing type stuff that I assume is extremely hard to do, and makes Ghédalia Tazartès sound like some shaman taking off on a magical flight, or an old man of the mountains uttering prophesies. But he also makes sound effects and animal interpretations, such as on the self-explanatory ‘Wolves And Birds’, where he not only provides the voices of these ravenous beasts but also supplies the background sound of wind on the Russian steppes, and thus single-handedly creates his own atmospheric soundtrack for a radio play that has no story.

He’s doing it with the help of two Polish musicians, most notably the multi-instrumentalist Paweł Romańczuk, who seems to have access to many exotic-sounding devices that conjure up the spirits of non-specific ethnic recordings from everywhere in the civilised world (and beyond). Romańczuk is not known to me, but he regularly performs in the experimental combo Małe Instrumenty of which he is a founder member. Romańczuk has also built his own home-made musical instruments, and maybe some of them appear on this record. The other Polish musician is Andrzej Załeski, who I think is mostly supplying percussive devices, a music curator who is known for his numerous musical collaborations, his cinema work, and performances in theatre groups.

Carp’s Head has a lot to recommend it – the all-acoustic arrangements, the spare simplicity of the playing, the unsettling atmospheres it creates, and the all-time freakiness of Tazartès’ vocalising throughout. The players have worked hard to create something innovative and new, proud of the way they “drifted away from the traditions of chamber music”. From 21 November 2017.

David Bowie (self-titled, 1967): 50 years ago today, a star man came out to play

David Bowie, self-titled, Deram Records (1967)

June 1st, 1967, was a significant day in the history of British rock and pop: an album by a highly influential act was released on that day. Naaah, I didn’t have The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in mind, important though that work might be in some people’s eyes. Besides, contrary to what is often believed, that particular recording’s release date was brought forward a week by its label EMI in Britain so the release date was actually May 26, 1967, instead of June 1st, 1967.

No, on that day, that hallowed day, the world was blessed with the release of David Bowie’s self-titled debut album. WHA-A-AT? you say, David Bowie’s first album, the one consigned to mental attics around the world as some unwanted and unloved mad relative of classics like “Low”, “Heroes” and “Station to Station”? Well yes, I want to rescue that album from its current inglorious status as one of the black moments in Bowie’s long history as an artist, equivalent to those seedy little pornographic flicks that famous actors always regret making while they were down on their last dollar as drama graduates way back when in the mists of time. As black moments go, “David Bowie” turns out to be much, much lighter in colour than people, even diehard Bowie fans, might make it out to be – c’mon, folks, can the same be said of other black moments in Bowie’s recording history like “Never Let Me Down”?

Well, I’ll grant that most of the music on “David Bowie” isn’t what you’d expect of an ambitious up-and-coming teenage pop singer: it often sounds twee and the minimal “play safe” approach doesn’t always suit the lyrics on several songs which cover themes and topics such as alienation or lack of connection with others, longing, futuristic dystopias in which irrational crowds follow self-proclaimed messiahs, fluid gender identity, population control, serial killing, necrophilia and paedophilia among others. (Some of these themes were to arise on future Bowie albums again and again.) Certainly the music on songs like “There Is A Happy Land”, which depending on one’s interpretation can carry a chilling message about the alien nature of youth, seems at odds with the track’s theme; on the other hand, its relaxed and stripped-back nature highlights the lyrics and Bowie’s crisp style of singing which varies from one song to the next. Quite a lot of vocal gymnastics is involved and if Bowie had had some training at this point in his career, the album could have been a very remarkable one for his vocal range and adventurous singing. There’s also the possibility that Bowie found juxtaposing dark and disturbing lyrics with seemingly happy or comic music intriguing and amusing, and he would not have been the first (certainly not the last) artist to discover that the happy pop song format is an ideal medium for conveying otherwise sinister messages.

Why Bowie chose to write and record his debut the way he did, with the music, the visually colourful lyrics and the sometimes disturbing messages they carry, we may never fully know. Legend has it his manager at the time, Ken Pitt, may have pressured the young singer into becoming an all-round entertainer with old music hall and vaudeville influences, and recording the album with that goal in mind. The irony of course is that Bowie eventually did become an all-round entertainer by following a different if perhaps more zig-zagging path.

Even so, with all the faults of this approach which ill-suited Bowie, several songs on the album have their own sweet and whimsical charm, and if you let them they can grow on you. Bowie’s singing which sounds surprisingly mature, even a little “old man”-ish for someone of his age, has a very distinct flavour at once intimate yet suggesting its owner might have access to some deep well of gnostic knowledge. The lyrics are often funny, self-deprecating and wry at the same time, and strong visual imagination and inventive, cunning wit are at work here. Bowie’s wacky and bizarre sense of humour – which never ch-ch-ch-changed over the years – is in full flight across several songs with a number of them containing very subtle twists in the tales they tell.

There are songs here (“When I Live My Dream”, “Sell Me A Coat” and “Silly Boy Blue”) that could have been reworked with different music arrangements and re-released, and no-one would guess that they’d been on this album. “Silly Boy Blue”, referencing Bowie’s life-long interest in Tibetan Buddhism, in particular imitates Tibetan-style droning music and rhythms and a later treatment could have incorporated actual drones and invited experimentation. “Join The Gang” enjoys a brief burst of avant jazz improv at its end which could have been extended to cover the whole song.

If one chooses to listen to the whole album just for Bowie’s voice, lyrics and subject matter, one will find very little filler even in songs with the most godawful crap music. With regard to experimentation, several tracks are quite good, given Bowie’s inexperience and the guidance he had, though they could have done with more and one track – it’s my favourite of the whole album – that will surprise listeners is the last song, “Please Mr Gravedigger”, sung entirely a cappella with just ambient effects as accompaniment. Now that’s what I call experimental!

Fifty years ago today, a star man came out to play … it’s time for this particular mad relative to come out of the attic and show us all how really mad it is!

Library Of Liberties

Some Some Unicorn are a small army of free improvisers, and on Unicornucopia (CLUTTER MUSIC CM023) I counted at least 40 names before I ran out of fingers and had to buy a new abacus. It’s a pretty healthy gender balance, too; a lot of women musicians in the group. Shaun Blezard is the mover and shaker that’s mustered this army, a fellow whose background is electronica, samplers, laptop and dance music, so it’s interesting to find him masterminding this project involving real human beings instead of machines, and music that’s mostly produced by acoustic instruments. That said, there are a large number of players credited with electronics on this record too.

Some Some Unicorn started online as a collaborative thing; now they see themselves as a collective, or even a small community, of like-minded souls who value real experience over dwelling in the virtual realms of Facebook likes and Twitter responses. The music here was recorded in a number of venues through 2016, in Salford, London, Lancaster and Ulverston; Blezard did a lot of the recording, and mixed and mastered the release itself. I’m already daunted; I feel like these 40+ energised souls have a lot of material in the pipeline, and this diffuse and sprawling record represents only a smattering of the things they are capable of doing. It would be a bold man indeed who would try and categorise the music on offer, since it’s so diverse; although you may think you can recognise elements of “traditional” free improvised music here in the free sax and trumpet blowing, there’s also drone, choral music, percussive meditational tunes like some form of souped-up Tibetan bowl music, classical chamber music, and even a species of folk tunes. Quite often, three or four of these styles and genres are blended freely on the same track, the musicians doing so in an entirely unselfconscious manner. It’s not a forced mash-up, more a natural melding of forms and expressions.

Even though not everyone is present on each track, it’s still impressive to get this many people together and not end up with a muddy, shapeless cacophony. Indeed, the simple clarity and directness of the music is one of the hallmarks of Some Some Unicorn; without trying too hard or over-intellectualising the idea of “freedom”, they’ve ended up creating music that’s arguably more free than many well-known hardcore improvisers can manage. There’s a real open-endedness to this music which invites the listener to enter and join in, rather than shut them out; and the players themselves are clearly enjoying making their explorations, which take place in a very friendly and collaborative place. That’s rare. But real unicorns are rare too. One of the benchmarks we’re reminded of is the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, which is a very apt comparison, and in particular I would suggest those voice-choir experiments John Stevens conducted in the early 1970s, such as For You To Share (which featured untrained members of the audience joining in). I’m also reminded of Cornelius Cardew and The Great Learning, though thankfully this album Unicornucopia is entirely free from Marxist and Maoist dogma of any sort, nor does it follow the wearisome and stultifying trajectory of Cardew’s old warhorse of a piece.

While some of the wordless vocalising may seem a little “arty” in places, for the most part this beautiful record is a total delight, injecting new life into a genre which has lately seemed in danger of becoming stultified and crippled by its own history and baggage. Mr Blezard, and all the musicians named on this record, can feel proud of this achievement. From 23rd September 2016.

Jemh and the Holograms

Jemh Circs
Jemh Circs
GERMANY CELLULE 75 CELL-1 LP (2016)

Jemh Circs is the latest alias of Marc Richter, the producer also known as Black to Comm. For this project, Richter has gone poking about in YouTube and Spotify with his special record-producing scissors, snipping out countless vocal samples from contemporary pop songs and stitching them all together in nine brightly-coloured, glittering patchwork quilts of pop/drone/ambience.

The overall effect is quite remarkable. Each track is like a hologram of pop music itself, a tiny part that reflects the whole. You almost feel that you could open them out and re-create entire popular music cultures. We’ll be grateful for that when the next solar storm fries all of our hard drives.

Opening track ‘Comp’ sets the pace, a blend of autotuned spirit voices, alien transmissions and sentient machine chatter that, somehow, still sounds like pop music. ‘Ordre’ takes it further, the invisible choir ascending in pitch across static bursts and bleached-out beats that nibble away at the edge of your awareness. ‘Va’ sends a kosmische synth fragment through a series of bizarre mutations, whilst ‘Arbre’ provides another synth figure that you might think you’ve heard before, somewhere. Possibly in a dream you had after a heavy night at a Cinderella Rockefella’s disco in 1984.

All of the tracks, incidentally, have these terse, one-word titles. It seems to be a bit of a thing these days, and I kind of like the no-nonsense, take-it-or-leave-it feel they provide. I very much like what Richter has created here. Seek it out, dive in and enjoy.

Till We Have Faces

The Norwegian Ensemble Song Circus are a seven-piece of vocalists, led by their artistic director Liv Runesdatter. Their Anatomy Of Sound project appears to be an ongoing thing for the years 2014-2018, and involves working with a number of modern composers…they’re trying to get into “the very microlevels of sound anatomy”, as they would say, which involves working away at microtones with their voices, exploring certain acoustic spaces, and the timbral qualities of certain objects. On the particular release we have before us (2L RECORDS 2L-117-SABD), they perform a 12-part suite called Landscape With Figures, composed by Ruben Sverre Gjertsen, a contemporary Norwegian composer. There’s a longer 70-minute version which involves and orchestra and live electronics, but this is the 44-minute version for vocalists with live electronics, a work whose full realisation involves a complicated set-up in the performance arena, where the vocalists and other musicians are positioned in the audience, and careful microphone placement is needed along with a large loudspeaker for acousmatic playback. Clearly this “Landscape” is very much about “spatial awareness” in a big way, which may be one reason why it appeals to the members of Song Circus. This may also account for why the record has been released on a Blu-Ray disc and an SACD on this package. The former probably allows 5.0 surround-sound playback for those who have the right set-up at home (I don’t, sadly), and permits a truly immersive experience. Even so, the sound on the normal CD is pristine and sharp to an extremely high degree. Gjertsen has studied the work Trevor Wishart and Brian Ferneyhough, and absorbed their ideas about “systems of notation and composition”.

Buried somewhere at the heart of these whispering voices and atonal vocal acrobatics, there may be some textual material derived from the work of James Joyce. It’s hard to make it out though, and it may also be mixed up with other texts from Demian Vitanza, the Norwegian novelist. While there’s a nice set of anagrams using the words “Finnegans Wake” printed in the booklet, I’m not sure is this is anything more than an addendum. James Joyce’s words and ideas buy kamagra online with paypal have been used in avant-garde music for some time now, most famously perhaps by Luciano Berio for his Ommagio A Joyce, composed in the late 1950s, and there’s also John Cage’s Roaratorio from 1979. I’d like to say Landscape With Figures is a worthy addition to the canon, but it doesn’t really succeed when measured up against either of those two predecessors, or against the work of Joyce itself. However, representing Joyce may not be the central aim of Gjertsen, and the cumulative effect of these mysterious fragmented voice murmurs and splintered electronic sound is quite pleasing. However, it also feels oddly old-fashioned; this could easily have been released in the mid-1960s on the Music Of Our Time series.

The second work on the disc is Persefone, composed by Ole-Henrik Moe, another Norwegian modernist who is also a classically trained violinist. This work calls for five female voices, who also lay “an orchestra of wine glasses” – the so-called “glass harmonica” that can produce pleasing high-pitched continual sounds. The Persephone of classical mythology was, among other things, the queen of the Underworld – a notion that is most likely to have preoccupied the mind of Moe when he created this slow micro-tonal work. Landscape With Figures sounds positively bustling with activity compared with this largely static set of haunting, abstract murmurs and howls. The voice of Persephone is a many-layered beast, like that of a thousand owls and sad lonely wolves.

Throughout both pieces, Song Circus perform flawlessly. In fact their performances are almost inhuman in their clinical perfection, and if we add the super-human clarity of these recordings and the very alien, abstract nature of the music, I sometimes wonder what there is left for us to enjoy. Somehow there is a certain pleasure to be found in the coldness of this work, and the remorseless way the music is executed, which may not be anything like what Liv Runesdatter and her crew intend. I think the faceless woman on the front cover is very telling, a visual index of the near-anonymous music inside. From 8th August 2016.

An Insect on the Other Side of the World Climbing up a Table Leg: a quirky and charming stream-of-consciousness work

Matthew Revert, An Insect on the Other Side of the World Climbing up a Table Leg, Caduc CD #CA17 (2016)

A beguiling work composed of spoken word monologues, field recordings, samples, occasional acoustic guitar noodling and off-key singing, “An Insect …” heralds a growing body of experimental music by Melbourne-based absurdist novelist / graphic designer Matthew Revert. This recording nods in the direction of improv, drone, light noise and neo-primitive folk without being captured completely by any of these categories. It’s quite a busy release with hardly any pauses or lapses in the continuous free-form patter of sound and I marvel that Revert is able to keep up the brisk pace without losing a beat. (Of course there would be have been a lot of cutting and pasting but any joins can hardly be heard.) All the sounds appear to be completely natural with very little processing and they are right at the forefront of the mix.

Listeners might feel a little too close to the action for comfort – there’s a phone conversation that they’ll be eavesdropping into, and Revert (I assume that Revert does all the monologues) mumbles under his breath and almost appears to drift into sleep – and possibly much of the intimacy feels too forced. Towards the end of the recording, sounds from the external environment – radio song, a soap opera soundtrack, half of a conversation – intrude into the musical narrative and turn it into something more forbidding and impersonal. It’s as if Revert’s private space which he has deigned to share with us is being invaded and torn apart.

Not too long for the stream-of-consciousness novelty value to turn kitschy and stale, and not too short either, this quirky work has much charm and many surprises. TSP readers need to hear it for themselves as to what meanings or messages (if any) it may have – but I need to warn you, the more you listen to it, the more you’ll wonder what it’s meant to be about. At least the cover art (done by Revert) is easy on the eye and looks as if it means something … or does it when you see the blank face and read the strange messages?

Flocci Non Facio

About a jillion points shall be awarded to the cassette Gara Delle Facce (TUTORE BURLATO #09) performed by the trio Flocculi. Its members Devid Ciampalini, David Lucchesi and Ezio Piermattei turn in a two-part performance across both sides of this short tape and in the process they defy human reason with some of the uncanny zany sounds that emanate from their agitated bodies. Percussion, oscillators, guitar, voice, tape and objects are all used in imaginative ways to maximise a sense of the bizarre and a sense of fun in equal proportions, and the spirited nature of their antics doesn’t let up for a moment. I suppose there could conceivably be a danger that this form of free and open playing could easily become self-indulgent and even “wacky” in a meant-to-be-funny sense that doesn’t translate; or it could become an exercise in forced “energy” music which degenerates into the usual skittery-improv chaos and clatter. Amazingly, neither scenario comes to pass and the music remains light and fleet-footed. This may be because none of the musicians are trying to prove anything about such unhelpful notions as “extended technique” or the “value” of free improvisation, and are simply playing together in ways they enjoy. But I speculate. Ciampalini is unknown to me, and Lucchesi the guitarist has surfaced on an obscure CDR as part of DeA in 2014; but Piermattei is of course more familiar to us, not only as the owner of this tape label but as Hum Of Gnats, poisucevamachenille and Autopugno, aliases under which he has made unique and funny records which to one degree or another exhibit his obvious facility for making uncanny sounds and music with his voice, and his tape overlays. Flocculi is yet another project he can be proud of. They may never surface again as a trio, but for 30 delicious minutes here they have unleashed several exciting and tasty events in sound upon the earth, with an obvious passion and enthusiasm for their work, and everything is played with a simple transparency which is highly refreshing. Things may get noisy, but never distorted; the spirit is liberating, never chaotic. The title translates into English as “Race Of Faces”, and that’s putting it mildly. Highly recommended!

One of nine cassettes received 4th July 2016 from Ezio Piermattei.

Andy’s Chest

The Chest cassette (TUTORE BURLATO #10) is a lumpy oddity of rough sound poetry and acoustic noise, slammed down onto the grooves in the “primitive” style. The players here are the Glaswegian duo Acrid Lactations (Susan Fitzpatrick and Stuart Arnot) who have miraculously teamed up with Joincey, the notorious loon from Stoke on Trent who used to be part of Inca Eyeball and Green Monkey with Phil Todd, here trading under the name Jointhee. Together, they produce an ungainly mix of absurdist, naïve rhymes and raps spoken, groaned and chanted as though the players were breathless, grey-eyed zombies chained up in a vat of hardening concrete; their very lungs breathe dust and grime. Accompanying these impenetrable texts are raw and primitive improvised noise eruptions, including many random toy keyboard stabs, detuned guitar strums, and tentative saxophone slurps – the whole party resembling children or teenagers playing at Company Week, yet stumbling upon profound sonic discoveries as they do so. Chest billows with quiet spooked-out vibes, amounting to a highly compelling session of strangeness that will keep you listening in a perpetual state of stunned amazement, awaiting the next peculiar development. I see the Acrid ones had a cassette from Singing Knives in 2013, Aura Mirror Come Fickle, Anachronous Law and Manner, which we’ve now missed sadly. Recommended, for those who like it messy and visceral…

One of nine cassettes received 4th July 2016 from Ezio Piermattei.

Phallus Dei

Meson
5C4L3
UK DISCUS 55CD (2016)

Meson is the collective name of metaphysical bard Bo Meson and an amorphous glob of hired musical help that usually expands to double figures. Strictly speaking, 5c4l3 or Scale, let’s jettison that numbers resembling letters affectation 1, comes as Bo’s debut lasering on Discus, as the Echoic Entertainment album (from 2015) was a shared project where Discus m.d. Martin Archer’s arrangements were employed as shifting back projections to the poetic/declamatory actions of the mesonic one.

The accompanying promo sheet shoehorns in ambient, ambidelic (?), free-form and improg as suitably fitting genres for this venture. Though at certain times, it can come down to an ‘all of the above’ and possibly a little bit more. I’d expect nothing less from someone who uses a word for an unstable atomic particle as part of his pseudonym. All of Scale‘s material is of an improvised nature that slumps heavily, eyes crossed, across the deep reverb/kozmik echo generator controls, clutching a P.K. Dick-endorsed blister pack of slow release capsules in its right hand. “We Traffic in Progress” with its classic analogue squeals and talk of quantum particles and the melodica-laced “Dark Matters” come almost on a default setting.

However, it’s not all centred on Copernicus, “G.Z.D.” era Arthur Brown or 90n9 dynamics (sorry!), as certain pieces travel less frequented paths. “Kem-Na Mazda” pitches mystical Jade Warrioresque exoticism against the full-bodied, classically-trained tenor of Wolfgang Seel and “Advances in Destruction by Technology” belies its attractive and serene nature with a doomy crystal ball gaze into a future where the use of artificial intelligence has led to mass unemployment within the professional classes, Could such things really happen? Only that wildly gesticulating figure behind the lectern seems to know…

  1. The typographical angel has detected a far earlier example of this, ahem, trend from 1997 and names The Fucking Champs as the guilty parties with their “III” l.p. on Frenetic Records/U.S.A.