Tagged: vocals

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 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.

Headless Men and Yeti Attacks

simon-wickham-smith

Simon Wickham-Smith
A Hidden Life And Other Works
BELGIUM TANUKI RECORDS #13 CD (2016)

Back in the late eighties, my discovery of Simon Wickham-Smith was certainly a weirdly circuitous one. The trail began with a rave review of the Lake double set by the mysterioso R!!! and S!!! found in the still sorely missed Forced Exposure zine/kulcha bible. When I homed in on contact details, I did a double take as it showed a Rowlands Castle address, a village which lies three or so miles north of yours truly (!!!). So it took a Boston, U.S.A.-based publication to alert me to something that was freely available for the princely sum of seven quid (!!!), a mere stone’s throw away.

Since then, multiple exclamation marks have lost their novelty value somewhat, but Simon has hit the review sections with the occasional collaboration (mostly with Richard (R!!!) Youngs and comp track appearances on labels such as Pogus and Electroshock. A Hidden Life, initially released in early 2015 as a limited run cassette/download, has now been given a second bite of the apple through the auspices of the Brussels-based Tanuki label. It’s an avant opera, concerning the life and times of the Tibetan Dalai Lama, Number Six: Tshangyang Gyatso. A major interest to Simon, religious themes being a recurring thread throughout his compositions.

It features the strange sprechsang of Joan Stango, readings/narration by French composer Laetitia Sonami, and ‘tapdancer in the sand’/principal wolfman Robert Ashley (no stranger to theatrical and operatic works himself). And it’s his presence as the lama that really lodges in the memory long after the disc has come to its conclusion. Bizarro recollections/visions of six-tusked elephants, zombies, headless men and yeti attacks abound. Backed by steadily percolating/bubbling analogue manipulations, his silkily-voiced ‘ancient of days’ tones could effortlessly sell icecubes to the Innuits or, at the very least, open up the third eye, making this a tantalising visit to a still(?) forbidden zone.

Sisterhood Of Breath

midaircondo_iv

Midaircondo is an unusual duo of players, Lisa Nordström and Lisen Rylander Löve, who seem to have called it a day after 12 years of playing; this record, IV (TWIN SEED RECORDINGS TWINS004), may be one of their final releases. They play a variety of non-standard instruments, including the zither and kalimba, along with their saxophone, bass flute, percussion, and live electronics, both of them pitching their mannered and brittle vocal utterances into the midst of these rather contemplative pieces, which are generally sedate and slow, occupying a vaguely pastoral stretch of turf in a very poised fashion. Some of their works do introduce a more energetic rhythm, such as ‘Higher’ and ‘Veins’, and while the latter might be mistaken for a lost tributary of psychedelic rock, the latter is most certainly a work-a-day poppy-techno piece that’s not quite in my line. ‘Panther’, featuring guest drummer Mika Takehara, may be closer to what they intended when they had the idea of adding beats to their fragile work. For the most part, we have the impression of two orphaned girls who escaped from a cold 1950s nunnery, dressed in stiffly-starched white dresses with collars to hold their necks in a rigid position; under these cramped conditions, they attempt to recite forlorn poems or diary entries from their wretched lives. It’s to the credit of Midaircondo that all of this stuff was completely improvised, and what’s more they did it in front of a live audience (in Gothenburg, in 2013). The duo didn’t make that many records when they were around, but they toured a lot, and did music for TV, theatre, dance and radio. Their stage show used to include video elements, and you can tell from the palpable atmosphere of this album they had a strong dramatic element. Released in 2015.

Long Overdue Part 14

sep2016102

Yol is a great performer of ugly English noise. His Cordless Drill Faces Separation Anxiety CDR (NO LABEL) was released in 2013. We noted him before with the cassette Neck Vs. Throat Volume 2 released on Fencing Flatworm, where he teamed up with the guitarist Miguel Perez. On Cordless Drill, we have seven short tracks of manic energy where Yol grunts and howls like a half-human pig, aiming to make contact with his feral self. There is also much banging about of tea-tray percussion and makeshift drums, creating an unpleasant rattling which brings the old cliché about “bull in a china shop” to mind.

You want music? Well, on ‘Eco’ he does play a toy chord organ (probably an old 1970s Rosedale) and forms mangled chords to accompany his incoherent spoutings. Plus there’s use of lo-fi and distorted backing tapes on ‘Rain Gutter’ which are strangely evocative. You may even make out some audible English words on ‘Short Horses’ in between the attempts at forced vomiting and strangled gasping, and he yells out these broken phrases in a desperate manner as though his life depended on it. It’s like he was a political prisoner undergoing torture, and trying to save his hide by reciting absurd blank verse to his captors.

For all his efforts at primitivism, there’s evidently a deal of rough-hewn sophistication at work behind the scenes, like a Neanderthal man wandering into a recording studio and gradually teaching himself how to generate musique concrète using a stone axe and leather hides. This Hull fellow has made a couple of records with Filthy Turd, our favourite Yorkshire genius of disgusting and stinky supernatural racket, and the two may share some common ground. Great work Yol.