The Genetic Choir The Early Years 2011-2013
NO LABEL CD (2013)
It’s a tribute to a group’s confidence in their individuality and future when their debut CD earns the title Early Years, but beaming in from the Netherlands – supposedly home to the world’s wealthiest, tallest and overall happiest natives – self-assurance is to be expected I suppose. Besides, this simple title sheds light on the 17-strong improvising choir’s chief function as a live (performance) organism, and on their modus operandi, which likens their coordinated ramblings or ‘instant compositions’ to an accelerated form of evolution: one that takes minutes, not millennia to be realised; one whereby ‘genes are (not) the transmitters of information, but our volatile and flexible voices’.
All tracks were ‘recorded without any musical score rehearsed or agreed’, titles added in hindsight. They were improvised with a sensitive ear for and experience of composition, the result being a thick, regurgitated morass of fleshy sighs, simian hoots, ritual chants and squeaky, Mothers of Invention-esque harmonies. Quite theatrical, and frequently funny, they simultaneously stimulate laughter and a longing to melt into the music. Listeners are warned however of the disparity in recording fidelity between tracks, and while this is evident (closer ‘Lasloods’ suffers the most), it really shouldn’t matter, as it serves to remind us that we’re merely witnessing snapshots of the group’s formative stages.
In sum the group dispenses with and exceeds the familiar ‘improvising unit’ format – insofar as it is governed by interpersonal dynamics – by virtue of a simplistic ‘genetic imitation and reproduction’ (i.e. less ‘call and response’ than ‘theme and variation’) of musical elements, which ensures an ever absorbing, spontaneous and increasingly complex situational approach ‘towards a complete sound eco-system’ (i.e. a composition in real time). In terms of antecedents, you can take your pick from legions of improvising vocalists; I’m hearing Meredith Monk, Phil Minton, Dimitri Stratos and even hints of Mike Patton’s Adult Themes For Voice. However, the choir structure is rather novel by my reckoning: a concept strikingly ‘simple’ in principle and cohesive in realisation, especially in the democratic cooperation between divisions, resulting in a highly organic interaction at all times. Stylistic consistency is maintained from performance to performance, in spite of chronological disparity; reaffirming the group’s steady evolution of identity from one performance to the next.
Robert L. Pepper’s PAS have been working on a series of “curated music” releases, by which they mean to showcase albums which represent international musicians that PAS have worked or performed with in their long career. On Kine’s Meditations in April Green (ALREALON ALRN046), it’s the turn of Vietnamese vocalist Dao Anh Khanh to fall under the spotlight. Actually, although we do hear him growling like a tiger and cooing like a baby lamb on this record, it turns out that “vocals” are just one aspect of the work and art of this exceptional creator from Hanoi, who has created numerous sculptures and paintings, installations, and performance events. He turned his back on a career in the police force, where his duty involved seeking out examples of political “incorrectness” among the populace, and perhaps bringing their thought-crimes to a swift and decisive end with his baton. He has since devoted himself to a surrealist-mystical search for the truth, freely breaking taboos and crossing geographic boundaries with his bold artworks, and seeking to “escape to the outer reaches of the universe”. Out in space, is no disgrace.
Under the circumstances, it’s tempting to think he contributed more than his bizarre animalistic roars, grunts and chants to the long track ‘Meditation 1’, and that perhaps his very presence alone inspired the other musicians – guitarist Brett Zweiman, percussionist Amber Brien, and electronicist Pepper – to reach for the sort of twisted, magical, shamanistic post-Terry Riley ethnic drone which they turn in. This 18-minute cosmo-fest alone ought to repay your entry fee with ample hallucinogenic images and trippy vibes, but there are many other great moments: lively flute work from Pepper on ‘Meditation 3’, much cryptical gabbling vocalese from Khanh on ‘Meditation 4’ (he goes completely nuts, if you want the truth), and some indescribably moving moments on the minimally-ambient ‘Meditation 5’, where our Vietnamese friend squeaks and dribbles through pursed lips like an economy-sized version of Damo Suzuki. Strange and unfamiliar emotions are unsparingly evoked on this unusual cross-cultural album.
In places, this release tops the bill this month for sheer uncanniness. I realise the drawings on the cover represent the Brooklyn Bridge, reflecting Pepper’s PAS studio location, but it’s not too far-fetched to imagine that the record itself offers the listener a “bridge” from the physical world into another spiritual dimension, a world of unknowing; the same thing Sun Ra must have been referring to in his poem ‘The Bridge’, when he exhorted: “They must walk the bridge of the cosmic age!!”. 1 From 24 June 2013.
‘The Bridge’ was released as a one-sided single in 1982 and can be heard on The Singles 2 x CD set, Evidence ECD 22164. Mobarak Mahmoud did the memorable recitation. ↩
Highbrow yet accessible, this sumptuous sonic melange melds vintage musique concrète’s rigorous exploration for new realms, scattershot syllable poetry and the propulsion of a studio-savvy avant-rock outfit that’s comfortable in any gear. No Ask Lévrier, Les Hauts de Plafond’s four-wheeled fantasy, chugs through forests of mystery with sat-nav flagging up every musical detour along a 40 minute ‘scenic route’, in which sound upon intriguing sound is layered and woven into the next like a patchwork quilt, stitched together by hands adept at intuitive combination; the music suffering not in the least from absence of climax; joy lying largely in wedding one strange sonic situation with another. As a result, you can leave the room and feel certain that someone’s changed the CD while you were out.
Something of an extended radio piece, this recording also belongs in the tradition of live meets sampled sound collage, and while it never quite attains the ecstatic poles of seminal works such as My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, nor does it stray into the less enthralling zones. Those familiar with the hardcore collagists (and a personal favourite) Milk Cult will also have some idea what to expect, the miniatures of their Project M-13 exuding a similar penchant for playful mystery, wherein vignettes of avant-pop collage engender eclectic and serendipitous psychological spaces; a perpetual scrapbook of adventure as in ‘Dieu Est Une Voiture En Plein Phare’, which immerses a metronomic bass in a web of voices and the motor blasts of a car race.
A press shot shows the pensive pair attempting to record pieces of fruit, suggesting a quirky sense of humour and a ‘concrète’ mandate to distil drama from the quotidian. Further homage to the sound-spelunking forefathers can be found in ‘L’insoutenable Objet’, featuring clattering crockery and a deep, squeaky door that opens the portal to Pierre Henry’s Variations Pour Une Porte Et Un Soupir. Les Hauts de Plafond has also been said to broadcast music from a 2CV used as a mobile amplifier, the myth enhancing their capacity to illuminate the sublimely ridiculous within the ostensibly ordinary.
Sylvain Chauveau’s 10th recording Kogetsudai is the second in a trilogy based on convergence of abstract and natural forms. Where the first part, Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated) drew upon the mysteries of abstract painting, Kogetsudai reflects (and reflects upon) a more eastern phenomenon: Japanese rock gardens, such as Ryoanji in Kyoto, where the piece was conceived. I’m pretty sure Ryoanji was also the site of an incongruous photograph of Rudolf eb.er and Dave Philips, joined by a bevy of Japanese schoolgirls, which I can’t locate right now. Further bemusement notoriously occurs in response to the site itself: 248 square metres’ worth of pebbles raked to resemble… nothing much, leaving many a westerner wondering what they travelled all that way for.
In a similar manner, the Kogetsudai resonates with naturalistic intrigue, oscillating fragile ripples and whorls, from the centre of which issues the odd snatch of haiku-like lyric, delivered so gradually as to force you to pay attention. Emotionally adrift somewhere between Fennesz and Eleh; archetypally minimal; it’s not Francisco Lopez, but it is delicate in construction, every piece just a gossamer layer or so, consisting of location recordings, sine waves or, in ‘Lenta’, soft, suspended piano chords. While I’m not drawn to the laboured vocals – I don’t know – something like a frozen Bill Callahan’s, the tenuous musical gestures are genuinely evocative, suggesting a space outside of time the way Aphex Twin did in his second round of Selected Ambients. Evident is the attention to detail, and a seemingly genuine appreciation of the meditative mentality of Chaveau’s subject matter, which to my ears is a significant accomplishment, given that one cannot simply ‘turn Japanese’.
To realise a long-term ambition, French electronic trio Minizza recruited six collaborators for their third and most considered recording: a radio rendering of J.K. Huysman’s dense novella about a decadent misanthropist named Jean Des Esseintes. In the novel, Des Esseintes retires with his many worldly possessions from Paris – sick of society and its tiresome mores – to a house in the countryside, where he spends day upon day keeping strange hours, reflecting upon and rejecting orthodox literature, criticism, Catholic writings, and rewarding his senses to the gills with the finest substances he can treat them to. He also encrusts the shell of a tortoise with gems, causing its death; an indulgence analogous to the lifestyle that nearly kills Des Esseintes himself. Seemingly sedated by the knots of memories and sensory experiences past and present, the narrative proceeds quite ponderously at times, and is best reserved for times devoid of distraction.
Similar attention may be required here, for though an easier experience than the novel, it’s not a casual one. Realised for French radio, Francophones will certainly fare better than I in appreciating it in its fullness, though I begrudge it not the inaccessibility: rather the French vocals engender a sense of emotional distance analogous to the protagonist’s. Besides, I couldn’t see an English version living up to this standard, to be honest: the obsessive yet languid atmosphere is far more suggestive of a continental decadence than a conceivably more inept, British one. As if to drive the point home, in ‘De La Nature Des Choses’ a Gallic slur slinks sleazily behind a familiar bassline, through the same firelit drawing room as in Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘Melody’, and offering the set one of its more seductive sections. That said, the narrator’s resonant, often breathy delivery I find difficult to correlate with as sickly a figure as Des Esseintes, unless it is a self-dramatising interior monologue, where none can taint his schizoid, scholarly reveries.
Arrangements are on the whole airy, moody and evocative of Des Esseintes’ sensory forays. Instrumentation is spare, implying precariousness and single-mindedness, and further by layers of soft, echoing electronics, seemingly bathing the voice in sickly rays of light. ‘Dominé Par Des Abstractions’ delights especially in the ebb and flow of it. These faint sonic veneers sometimes admit voices: revenants from Des Esseintes’ distant, debauched past; figments of the dimly remembered, lit by faint flickers of Badalamenti-esque jazz. As it approaches the final stages, the atmosphere becomes quite disorienting, culminating in a radio dial blitz in ‘Agonie’, but all in all it’s an enticing listen, as rich in tone and pretension; as ornate and fleeting as the world of Des Esseintes, and perhaps as appropriate to specific points in time as a reading of the novel itself.
Julie Tippetts & Martin Archer Serpentine
UK DISCUS 41CD (2012)
Prior to hearing this album, I knew of Julie Tippetts only via her past association with husband Keith Tippett’s seminal 1970s Centipede project. (Confusingly, she uses what is the original spelling of Tippett’s name.) I hadn’t realised she was also the Julie Driscoll who, under that maiden-name, had hits in the 1960s, notably a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Wheels on Fire”. Indeed, Tippetts’ biography has a certain fascination in its own right, with connections to luminaries Robert Wyatt and Carla Bley, giants of experimental vocal work like Phil Minton and Maggie Nichols, and even to Rod Stewart, Micky Dolenz and comedian Ade Edmondson. Archer‘s own tastes are similarly catholic; drawing from an original involvement in Free Jazz through to later experimentation with synthesisers and electronics, vocal music, and even Punk. His own Discus label links him directly with mainstays of the improv scene, such as Chris Cutler, Mick Beck, Charlie Collins and Paul Hession. Tippetts and Archer
began their formal association in 2001, working with writer Geraldine Monk on the album Angel High Wires. Since then, there has been a steady stream of releases by the two, the latest being this one, 2012′s Serpentine.
With that title strongly to the fore, the aquatic symbolism runs deep here, and most everything about this album coheres to the submarine. There are watery expositions on rivers and rain, on aquatic animals – both actual and imagined – and much oozing, pumping, drowning and such. The prose is weighted in this way towards passages of intricate cinematic description, sometimes ethereal in tone, sometimes more stridently delivered, even frightening so, and on occasion tough-sounding; with the narrative itself characteristically assuming a gothic, lost in the forest wide-eyed Alice feel, once or twice a little purple at the edges. Tippetts has a truly rich, versatile voice, and is able to effortlessly flit between the soulful and the gospel-esque, onto staccato scat and spooky spoken word. The same liking for imagery, theatricality and melodrama is carried through into her scant instrumentation; which includes such a thing as an amplified doll’s house.
Archer and a small band of guest musicians handle the bulk of the music; offering a wide-range of moods and attitudes. I hear shades of Portishead and Broadcast; at times, I was put in mind of things like “Horse Latitudes” by The Doors. There are, too, arresting flashes of squonky sax, perhaps nearest to John Surman, as well as Fusion-esque guitar, a few hints at Rockabilly and Dub, some Indie Rock stylings. Such grooves strategically and intelligently punctuate Tippetts’ introspection, offering sites of tension and release, adding to the drama. Archer’s studio-craft is superb throughout.
The overall effect for this listener is of a kind of drowse in the very best sense. The work as a totality is successfully immersive, dense, contemplative; one is invited into a discrete, private world, both lyrically and in terms of its soundcapes. Tippetts and Archer have, of course, a laudable, hard-won wealth of experience to pull upon between them. This isn’t the Scott Walker of Tilt through to Bish Bosch, nor is it the David Sylvian of Manafon. But it likely comes from something of the same place, in wrestling with the self-same compositional, in fact generational and psychological, challenge of how to make, as it were, grown-up Pop music. The intentioned avant-gardism of Walker is truly out there, of course; and thus in that sense it is effectively delimited. Tippetts and Archer tread a finer line in patronising the song-form more keenly, and this results in something like where Pop could have ended up if the commitment to progress and experimentation hadn’t been abandoned. A follow-up, Vestigium, is to be released later this year.
Yeah…Rock! Rhodri Davies finally discovers the power of heavy metal! For years this Welsh genius (improviser, composer, innovator) was known for producing extremely quiet and minimal music with his harp, often in the company of other minimal improvisers, although admittedly he was recently drawn to use of the ebow as a process whereby he could extend the resonating strings into a powerful, humming, ultra-long drone. As is well known we love his work here and some of his recent records (e.g. 2010′s Carliol with John Butcher) have been exemplary in terms of their stripped-down astringency, their frightening sense of purpose, their deep-frozen “core of ice” affect such that to listen was like being stabbed in the head with an icicle. Now on Wound Response (ALT.VINYL av038) he’s embracing amplification and distortion, and with these groovy cuts he’s turning himself into a Welsh avant-garde version of Jimmy Page or Leslie West, riffing away in gorgeous circular patterns with a strong sense of simple melodic drive, anchoring down his quicksilver inventions with a solid root note, and generally updating the blues / rock mode in his own shimmering image of palpitating atonal holydom. In fine this is the sort of harp record that Keiji Haino probably wishes he could have made, during that creative purple patch when he figured he was tough enough to play any instrument known to man and create a hideous racket on it, including the hurdy-gurdy which he memorably transformed into a shrieking wheezy monster of steel and wood. Now Haino must surrender his laurel wreath to a new victor.
Davies is getting this fab new sound from use of transducers, contact mics, a volume pedal, an overdrive unit and two amplifiers, the sort of setup that produced those side-long versions of ‘Dazed and Confused’ (although in fact a theremin was also used I believe). The volume pedal in particular is one of my personal favourite devices and isn’t used enough in my view, ever since Derek Bailey trod his well-brogued foot on one of them during his brief but memorable “electric” phase 1. Mostly of course the quality of the music here is produced not by means of electronic assistance, but through the sheer dazzling brilliance of Rhodri’s attack. Man, you could use these fingers to mow an entire field of wheat – he’s his own combine harvester! Speed and coruscating energy are the order of the day, at times making music that resembles the hammered dulcimer or autoharp of an acid-fried folk musician, perhaps named Barney Pembleton, on the most gloriously impossible folk-rock record that never existed and was in fact purposely suppressed by Elektra, Island and Transatlantic working in an unholy triumvirate of conspiracy to conceal dangerously good music from the crowd. Now through the gift of channelling the spirit of Barney Pembleton, Rhodri Davies has succeeded in unleashing that monster from the vaults. Lovely screenprinted card presentation on this beast, with drawings by the organist / composer Jean-Luc Guionnet, a Phil Begg recording, and title borrowed from the musician’s personal bookshelf of great literature. And it’s pressed in clear vinyl, which ought to be the clincher. From 26 October 2012, and a total goodie.
The Persian Version
Last heard from Yek Koo with her single Alone Together, now here she is with an entire album recorded for the same label called Love Song For The Dead C (EMERALD COCOON EC009). Yek Koo is Helga Fassonaki from Metal Rouge, working solo with guitar, percussion devices and her voice for this uncanny limited-edition vinyl item, released at the same time as her one-person show at the Human Resources gallery in LA. The order of the day on this highly discursive and ghostified dron-gronathon is a fairly skeletal approach to music-making, selecting bare twigs or bent wire sticks, remnants and rags of material and assembling them with the intuitive flair of a collage artist or maker of bricolage. These tunes unfold in real time, coming to life on the gallery wall rather than enduring a half-life as tracks etched into dead vinyl. There’s a gloriously delirious tone which the press notes describe as “drunkenly stumbling”, to account for the free-swimming odd mismatches of sound-generation here. The very body of each tune appears fragile, so brittle that it might shatter at any second, or so nebulous that you could disperse the entire album by turning on the fan. Yet Yek Koo’s music keeps on going, and the mysterious drug-like logic of her music is as potent as a spell from Circe burning evil incense blocks in her copper bowl.
Everything is suggestive of alienation and distance – distorted, weirdly-echoed effects, beautifully badly-played electric guitar to produce unearthly tones, an out-of-tune waily voice drifting in from a secret chamber – yet in the final analysis, it’s the most honest and intimate music you could hope for. It’s as though Fassonaki has found a completely instinctive way to outwit the subtleties of our own mind games and ego tricks, and bypass normal channels of communication to arrive at a very direct statement delivered from the heart. The label exhibits a certain pride in the “tradition of the great outsider sides of the early 90s”. Although “outsider” is becoming a commonplace term these days, the point is well made, and even the cover art with its simple pastedown wraparound is trying to forge a link with the 1990s “tradition”, if indeed there is one, when great underground music was packaged in master bags with paste-on covers (mainly for economic reasons) and released in near-secrecy. Of course this attentuated, formless wailing sound she makes isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but I personally am completely enchanted with this LP and it’s highly worthy of your attention. Received 22nd May 2012.
Best heard on the classic LP Domestic and Public Pieces. Let me know if you ever find a copy. ↩
Geist & the Sacred Ensemble, Beyond This Vessel, Moon Glyph, cassette MG68 (2013)
It’s time for some dark and demonic ritualistic psychedelic folk from way down in the fetid, humid swamplands of … uh, Seattle, courtesy of a bunch a-callin’ their selves Geist & the Sacred Ensemble. Lazy drawling half-singing / half-declaiming vocals from Geist himself lead the way and what a trail is blazed by these musical gypsy travellers: a lackadaisical rhythm, simple tribal percussion, stark and sometimes massive guitars, and a generally heavy kind of atmosphere.
The guys swagger through “On the Next Full Moon”, simmering up some Southern Gothic rock dirge drudge drone for the monthly sacrificial lynching ritual to appease an angry Old Testament spirit. The music becomes a bit more urgent and apocalyptic on “Seeker”, Geist almost in supplication to the personal demons and angels locked in eternal battle in his heart for his soul. The guitars change from insistently heraldic and emphatic to soft woozy wash. This becomes “Terraformer” and as the title suggests, the music has indeed metamorphosed from structures based on simple beats, repetition and riff loops to soft desultory, dreamy ambience with rippling guitar notes out front and reverbed guitar wash out over the skies above. Geist’s singing sleepwalk barely holds the track together. Black misty shadows rise from the still green waters beneath the tangle of mangrove and tree roots, a giant reptilian shadow glides through the muddy depths, a deep alien machine starts to rumble - perhaps there is a UFO down deep within the marshes?
“Bird Passage” is a peculiar name for the lethargic ritual conducted by Geist in deadened preacher mode, leading an equally enervated congregation in prayer to their unholy chthonic spiritual masters. Woozy wobbly effects and a solemn acoustic guitar accompany Geist on his journey to whatever passes for spiritual enlightenment and union.
It’s a surprisingly short album for its cassette format – the album repeats over on the B-side (this must be the new trend in recording albums to cassette tape) – and with the songs sort of joined up, listeners could be forgiven for wondering what happened to the second half of the album, unaware that it in fact has sailed right past them. The music is brooding and haunted yet not very absorbing; the vocals tend to be exaggeratedly twangy and drawling and need some real sulphurous fire-and-brimstone passion to capture that full-on prophet-in-the-wilderness apocalyptic quality. There probably should be more thumping hypnotic psychedelic music with the guitars soaring at wild and swerving tangents to create an intense rallying mood in which it should be possible for listeners to fall to the floor shaking uncontrollably, foaming at the mouth, perspiring by the bucket-loads and uttering pathetic little cries that appeal to their dark pitiless god for mercy or delivering warnings of global doom in guttural demon tones.
Fuck me. This gave me a headache. On the cdr it sez something akin to ‘Numb Sock Rinse’ which I thought was a great noise name… but the writing style was so aberrant that I couldn’t be sure if that’s what it really said. After spending two whole days analysing the cover I eventually spotted a sticker emblazoned with the name ‘Dave Welsh’ in the tinniest writing imaginable. Well, that got me mad. Dave Welsh, what a shit name. Utter toss. Not my thing at all. If Someone called Welsh Dave’ tried to sell me his noise works I would BUY!BUY!BUY! and if someone called Dave Walsh tried to sell me his noiseworks I would spit in his EYE!EYE!EYE! – at one point I chucked this CD/R in me bin so profoundly upset was I. Me mate Andy visited later that day and fished the thing out. Andy makes a living from bin robbing and coffin bugging. He’s the finest in Burselm. He was intrigued to know why I was binning the works of Fritz Welch! FRITZ WELCH!!!! Here’s a tip Fritz, it’s an ageing population and we have nothing to live for, if you cause me massive eye-strain-again with DELIBERATELY TINY PRINT, ‘pon my turning the age of 70 I’m going to shoot up some PCP (or the future equivalent which will hopefully be much better) strap some home made explosives to me noggin and come a calling for you, YOU SMALL TYPE BASTARD. Anyway, it was nice to see Andy and hear all about what’s happening in the world of bins and coffins. I had a quick browse of Fritz’s web site where he bangs on no end about ‘Human Sacrifice’ which is all right by me, without human sacrifice how will the gods know we love them? Ahhh, now I see. Human Sacrifice = Numb sock Rinse. Everything always makes sense in the end. Somewhere on the website something says something about how Fritz has got an urge for ‘percussion and objects’ – I love percussion. I love objects. I had a little hope a little flower in my little heart that Fritz in his own tiny writing way was going to build the bridge that joined rockabilly and noise in perfect perfection. Also on his website it says he plays gigs in old Hair Dressing salons. I love hair dressers. Lorna’s Salon in Burselm is like a CHURCH. When I quit the noise game I’m going to become a barber. You can go to the worst, deprived hellhole on Earth and I can guarantee the one man doing good business and loved by all is the fucking barber. Honestly. I’ve done me research and it is an irrefutable FACT. I’ve gone all happy now. Apologies to Welsh Dave for the earlier threats. Oh shit. This isn’t rockabiily. You can file this under ‘sound poetry’ . It’s vocal yammer. Where’s the bloody percussion I was promised? If you wants some lazy ass journalism, I can put it thus if you like vocal theatrics ala Bllood Stereo, then you will surely like this. Me? I find a lot of this thing upsetting. When I see some youth gurning and wheezing and spitting out nonsense I get an urge to kick them straight in the face and send them back to the hell from which they came. I like Keith though. On this CDR he does one long 30+ mins thing with lots of silence. Silence to me is a track break. It says this track is over and another one is just around the corner. To me this is a CDR with 40+ tracks. Keith’s gargling and shouting is committed stuff. Clean sound but it’s not ineffectual. I can sit and listen to this and imagine a lost tribe somewhere, living under an all mighty rock (perhaps they live under ground?) and over the years they have heard a rumour of a rumour of a rumour of a rumour of something called ‘thrash metal’ and they are all fired up by it. With little idea of what is and no instruments at all they create a studio out of the skulls of beetles and set about creating and recording some thrash metal and then they get involved with the international tape trading scene. Am I being a twat? Possibly but no one cannot deny how nice it would be if 90′s noisecore fans / bands (7 Minutes of Nausea, GeroGeriGeGeGe and the like) gravitated to this kind of thing and anyway what could be more metal than ‘human sacrifice’ it’s a lot more metal than a numb sock rinse. Pardon me. There is percussion on this. It’s not just mud from the lungs, there is some noise and effected trickery…but not much, it doesn’t overpower. It’s all quite sparse. Sounds like it could be edited together from live recordings (or even one straight take) with either no overdubs or very minimal ones. It’s all very CONCISE. Compact. Well executed and deliberate. There’s nothing out of place here, there is no fat to trim. In short this is an evocative and enjoyable release – definitely one I’ll be coming back to for repeated listens.
Reines D’Angleterre is Ghédalia Tazartès with Jo [Tanz] and Elg. This Globe Et Dynastie thing (BO’WEAVIL RECORDINGS WEAVIL 50) is probably a one-off affair realised in Berlin with help of Daniel Lowenbruck and recorded by Rashad Becker. Tazartès is doing his unearthly singing, vocalising and whispering in the midst of a whirlpool of bizarre electronic music, with some occasional filtered and repeated vocal interpolations, perhaps supplied by the other members of the threesome. I think this shows that wherever he goes and whatever he does, Tazartès helps everyone else realise their potential for exotic, hashish trance visions in sound, sometimes whether they know it or not. I expect anyone who has fallen within the orbit of this unusual character will never forget the experience. This isn’t to denigrate Jo and El-G though; we have come across their splendid work before when they worked as a duo called Opéra Mort, on one side of a single for Spleen Coffin. They have a fierce and uninhibited approach to electronics that allows them to lift up the top of the brain and observe what scurries within. In 30 minutes and five tracks, a surreal and nightmarish avant-Techno trip unfolds, dripping corrosively into your mind like a powerful drug. The deep-bass grunts of Uncle Ghédalia, murmuring away like a benign bullfrog, make it the perfect antidote to a bedtime story. From 13 August 2012.
Ivar The Engine
The Norwegian label Hubro has built up a very fine catalogue of excellent instrumental music, much of it crossing genres in unusual ways. Bathymetric Modes (HUBRO CD2519) is a gorgeous item intended mostly as a solo showcase for musician Ivar Grydeland, an exceptionally able guitarist – and he also plays banjo, zither, ukulele and mandolin. I really enjoy the long track ‘Roll’ which is melodic, lively, spirited and comes with a danceable 4/4 beat courtesy of Jonas Howden Sjøvaag and his snare drum. The layers of string playing, especially the understated pedal steel guitar, are just sumptuous. Supple-fingered Ivar plays like a one-man Grateful Dead, and he’s arguably more technically advanced than eight full-size replicas of Jerry Garcia. ‘Roll’ turns out to be uncharacteristic of the rest of the album though, since the four instrumentals that follow are more about “abstract composition”, and Grydeland creates the basic platforms using his graphic synthesizer called the Terri-on. Wistful and melancholic tunes result, some of them embellished with tasty string work, but it’s getting a bit easy-listening and aimless by this point. Even so, ‘Roll’ flies like a seabird for eight glorious minutes of poignant yearning.
Oren Ambarchi’s Audience Of One on Touch was an exceptional release from 2012, but we mustn’t overlook Sagittarian Domain (EDITIONS MEGO 144CD); at 33 minutes, we might think this piece is almost cut from the same cloth as ‘Knots’ from the Touch album, which as it happens was also a collaboration with string players. But instead of exploring rich fields of tonality like ‘Knots’, Domain is a single-minded night drive along a lonely road, the soundtrack to a spy thriller where the payoff to the story never comes. Oren plays most of it himself – guitar, drums, percussion and using a Moog for the bass, while three string players add cello, violin and viola drones around the halfway mark, although their contributions are heavily treated and at times seemed to have strayed in from a Middle Eastern recording or an Alice Coltrane out-take. Oren opts for a remorseless, minimal, clipped guitar riff (non-riff) that pares away at the soft fruit of your mind like a sharp knife, and he propels it on its deadly path with equally stern and no-frills drumming. The basic framework is like a stripped-down version of La Düsseldorf meeting up with Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit, almost mechanical in the execution, and it’s as though Oren is playing out a connection between krautrock and drum and bass by recreating these genres on his own terms. There isn’t much of a melody here, but the “topline” – for want of any other description – occasionally modulates into phased effects or droney guitar solos, just to break up the monotony. I seem to recall that David Bowie’s band tried all this around the time of the Lodger album, and the musicians found themselves in the same cul-de-sac as Klaus Dinger in short order. The difference is that Bowie played his wild card by overdubbing Adrian Belew guitar solos in a weird manner (Belew wasn’t allowed to hear the backing track), and Tony Visconti made several judicious edits to the sprawl to boil it all down into song form. Ambarchi by contrast seems intent on piling on the content to the max, and stretching our nerves beyond the point of endurance. The lack of any “resolution” to these taut 33 minutes is pretty heavy going on one level, but then Editions Mego have been edging their electronic minimalism into the zones of the cruel and vicious for some years now (e.g. Life – It Eats You Up, Guts, and The Iron Soul Of Nothing). However, I’d have little hesitation in pointing out that Oren is as much a studio whizz as Bowie; he recorded this whole thing in a single studio session, and it’s an utterly watertight, steel-belted production with not a single flaw in sight.
We were sent a box of cassettes from the UK micro-label Mantile Records in January 2013, probably on the strength of their Kayaka release or rather reissue of a CDR called Operation Deep Freeze (see here for review). All of these were released in 2012 and are available in digital form if you don’t like cassettes. The item by Burd called Wild Saloone (MANTILE #019) comprises two long instrumentals, very melodic in nature but not much more than rather tame techno enhanced with some hesitant keyboard playing. The serious lack of “groove” here starts to get a bit wearing for me, although fans of Emeralds may want to investigate. Brood Ma‘s Fission (MANTILE #022) is more interesting, with a slightly darker tone to its electronic jacket and tie. It has a number of shorter tracks, some of them decked out with very surreal titles, and musically it shows that the creator has a range of effects he can wring from his sequencers and beat-boxes, attempting to engage us in many moods – from the upbeat and jolly to the sullen and grim. Like Burd, Brood Ma suffers from a lack of conviction in the playing, even when some of the actual sounds he makes have potential. Probably not quite as grotesque as the cover art would like you to believe. Spoils & Relics have their Stammer Challis (MANTILE #023), which is quite chaotic – lots of creaky and cranky home-made equipment, wobbly tapes and ugly electronic burbles, everything chopped to pieces and served up in an ill-formed and half-baked mess which is barely digestible. A very disjunctive approach to form would seem to characterise the music of this bedroom experimenter. I see there are some other releases which may appeal, on Chocolate Monk and Harbinger. They are (I can’t help thinking of them as a duo, for some reason) comparative veterans compared to Burd and Brood Ma, and have been concocting this kind of broken noise since 2009. Not too bad actually; if you can withstand the utter absurdity of it, this tape can be quite entertaining, in a nauseating sort of way. Lastly we have Fossils with What A Drag (MANTILE #020). At first spin, this derelict oddity may appear to be emerging from the same sort of broken noise outpost as Spoils & Relics, and it exhibits the same attachment to lo-fi recording methods and the production of inchoate, lumpy sounds that are very hard to swallow. Fossils are quite a well-respected improvising / free noise “collective” from Ontario who have been doing it since 2004 and the two key members, David Payne and Daniel Farr (who may or may not be represented on this tape), have been known to pass their tapes over to Graham Lambkin for additional treatment. The Lambkin connection earns them endorsement points from this quarter, and I may even be prepared to validate their parking some day. The tape is still a tough row to hoe for your ploughing ears, however. It’s not a question of harsh, blasting noise, but its determination to remain klonky and non-musical at all costs, as if sawing apart pieces of junk and reassembling them in a degenerate workshop of the mind. If Burd belongs on Spectrum Spools, then this release should also find a home on Public Eyesore.
A couple more items from Nick Hoffman and his Pilgrim Talk label, these from 9th November 2012. Back Magic is his “garage rock” combo in which he performs (I assume) as Hair Exp, the guitarist and singer, with just a drummer named Terror Trans to back him up. Blood Plaza (PT23) is a small lathe-cut three track which barely plays at 45 RPM. If it’s lo-fi you’re after, this particular wan item turns that aesthetic into a new form of trans-dimensional travel – you never heard such a pale and sickly sound, drums changed into soggy cardboard packets and the guitar screeching like a stillborn weasel. True connoisseurs of lame 1960s garage punk (as collected on Pebbles, Nuggets, etc.) tend to cherish the real bottom of the barrel stuff, Midwest bands who couldn’t afford proper recording facilities and yet still somehow got a record made on the cheap, most likely by piling into a phonebooth and using the receiver as an amplifier. Freak-beat lovers who dig that stuff should get their collecting fangs deep into this slice of anaemic coffin-fodder, while there’s still a pulse. The other CDR, Jonestown Death Tape (PT24), seems to be another release for the infamous Jim Jones tape recording, which has been issued in various forms by assorted sickos; at least three other versions can be accounted for since Genesis P. Orridge did it on Temple Records in 1984. While I’m personally slow to see the appeal of this “icon” of death culture, there’s no denying it’s a classic of nihilism and despair, and as such it fits into the Pilgrim Talk aesthetic perfectly.
The LP by Egg, Eggs is called The Cleansing Power Of Fruit (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR073). The secret weapon of this zanoid American combo is the vocals and performing skills of David Russell, a charismatic fellow who is much more than just the singer in a band – just check out any of the numerous Egg, Eggs videos on YouTube to get some idea of the eccentricity and physicality of what transpires when a microphone is slipped into his paw. He looks like he just stepped out of a 1950s Bleecker Street café – he projects this formidable image of a burly jazz-loving beatnik with his wild hair and fearsome hornrims, and even so none of this prepares you for the sheer untrammelled craziness of his vocalese. You might expect free-form poetry of some kind, but what Russell offers us is mostly unintelligible – high-pitched whining, squeaking, barking and wailing, occasionally given added weight by nursery-rhyme styled chanting of nonsensical phrases. The main appeal is just the sound he makes with his voice – the twists and turns of his accent and phrasing, akin to which very little else sounds. Except David Thomas, of course. The press notes here do note the resemblance to Crocus Behemoth, and there’s even a physical likeness to some degree. Russell’s degree in far-out-ology should not distract us from the music on the LP – the collective efforts of Sheldon, Crespo, Robinson, Lee, Brewster, Callahan and St. George are all here, along with the drummer John Moloney (from Sunburned, and recent drummer for Thurston) and special guests including Matt Valentine. Together, these crazed North-Easterners blast out unhinged free rock sludge using guitars, basses, electronics, and lots of drums, also adding their vocal efforts to the general hullabaloo. It’s overblown, over-worked, and exhausting to listen to. This particular LP has been edited together from numerous live performances recorded in a three-year period (2009-2011), and this does add extra fire to the material; the editing knife always kicks in precisely at that moment when David Russell’s performance is at its most manic and emotionally heightened. This strategy is guaranteed to give the listener a high ratio of jolts and shocks per square inch of vinyl. For that reason, it’s a bit more rewarding than sitting through some of the longer YouTube episodes, which don’t seem to vary much over 20-40 minutes. Egg, Eggs is clearly a “live band” experience and I expect you really had to be there in Massachusetts to receive the full charge of 115 volts to your rocking bones, but if you want to collect more physical emanations from their odysseys, there are at least two dozen (very limited) cassettes of their work available from this label.
On their own and with other collaborations, Mika Vainio and Stephen O’Malley are formidable players so one might approach this debut recording, representing three years’ worth of recordings made in Berlin, with some trepidation. This is a very solemn and heavyweight sound experience but with some very delicate and deft touches throughout. The album moves at a sure if slow pace giving listeners plenty of time to savour both SOMA’s deep guitar rumbles and Vainio’s icy crystal electronic tone poems, plus the looming space behind the sounds. You’re thrust into a very stark world in which every bit of audio information carries significant import for you personally.
The two are joined by Alan Dubin, he once of James Plotkin’s OLD and Khanate, whose distinctive screech presses out lyrics adapted from the 20th century Russian modernist poet Anna Akhmatova on “Muse” and “Watch over Stillness / Matters Principle”. Akhmatova’s work offended the Soviet state which censored her writings but she chose to stay in the USSR and experienced the pain of oppression (her first husband was killed by the secret police and her son and second partner spent time in gulags). These tracks can be very intense in delivery and have a raw sound. “Watch over Stillness …” has juddery rhythms and sections of slashing tiger guitar growls and active aggression that keep listeners off-side and uncomfortable while the track lasts.
Much of the album might be confronting the issue of alienation arising from forced isolation, even incarceration; the soundscapes of “Toward All Thresholds” evoke visions of deep cavernous labyrinths stretching far, far into Blackness. Fragments of sound, rhythm passages and steely-toned guitar make periodic appearances, as though coming up for air through the dark murk, only to fall back, lost forever. The sound world becomes quite rich as the track proceeds and its mood changes considerably throughout. In a later part of the track, the darkness almost engulfs the music and wisps of sound barely hold the piece together as it slowly disappears.
“Mirror of Mirror Dreams” features a trio of string players (Eyvind Kang, Moriah Neils, Maria Scherer Wilson) providing a layer of forlorn desolation to SOMA’s impassive drone rumbles. One thinks of the vastness of space and humanity’s relative insignificance in the cosmos while meditating on this piece.
It’s a deeply absorbing experience and after hearing this, you will find your perceptions changed: things you formerly took for granted take on a new seriousness and those issues that occupied all your attention before fade away as the superficial fluff they are.