Tagged: vocals

Red Dust

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Bizarre skull-laden item from Romain Perrot, here performing under his Roro Perrot alias. This diminution of the Christian name is for me one of the more endearing traits of French culture; the way Henri becomes Riri, Estragon becomes Gogo, and so on. I think it’s the way a French mother shows affection for her children. As to that, you may think that only Romain Perrot’s mother could love a ramshackle album like Musique Vaurienne (DECIMATION SOCIALE), but you should bend an ear to this far-out item of disjunctive amateurish guitar noise and unearthly caterwauling and decide for yourself. An electric guitar is mangled and shredded, producing awful tuneless noises and formless shapes, with no attempt made by the player to disguise the clumsy, lumbering manner in which his paws clutch and tug at the metal strings and leaving all “mistakes” and duff notes as part of the finished work. Occasionally the guitar-playing is either fed through a clunky antique reverb unit, or else recorded as though Roro were playing in a deserted chicken coop at four AM – there’s that strange feeling of “distance” that recording engineers try their best to eliminate, and in places this is like hearing a live bootleg of The Magic Band recorded through an old sock. Then there’s the hideous singing, which lurches wildly from nauseating groans to primitive animalistic grunts and strange obsessive repetitions of dumb phrases, much like the mutterings of a raving loon. In all, this is an endearing and very human attempt to bring “rock music” right back to its radical beginnings – assuming those beginnings are aligned, not with Elvis Presley, but with the earliest days of Neanderthal Man. I realise that most listeners will lose patience in about five seconds with these broken non-musical outbursts, but Roro doesn’t care – the insouciance is shown not just in his music here, but also in the titles, which taken together in translation amount to “So what…fuck off…who gives a shit…nothing”. How much more Punk Rock do you want? It’s not the first time that Perrot has picked up a guitar, but this is a great example of his unique craft, simultaneously reinventing and parodying rock music on his own terms.

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The album Love Song for Broken Buildings (QUIET WORLD FORTY THREE) in fact contains no songs, nor even any industrial-style noise sounds you might associate with wrecked buildings or demolition sites, but instead a suite of charming electronic instrumentals concocted by Kostoglotov, the alias of Daryl Worthington from London. Label boss Ian Holloway was impressed enough by Kostoglotov’s two previous releases to find a home for this one, and he praises the painterly qualities of the music (light and colour) while also situating it stylistically in a general Kosmische / Cluster / Sky Music milieu. It might be apt to imagine Kostoglotov wheeling his camera down a boulevard of derelict houses, and drinking in the visions of solitude and urban decay. There’s a human side to it also; certain tracks suggest that broken buildings are a sanctuary of sorts for him, a place he can retreat in search of solace or meditation, even inviting like-minded friends into the shared space. Personally I like the muscular qualities of the openers ‘Nervous Things’ and ‘Broken Buildings’, whose brevity (two minutes apiece) I would also commend; and the sub-bass throbs of ‘Cement’ have a brooding minimal inscrutability which I enjoy. But I’m afraid I found the rest of the work drifts off too easily into meandering, ambient drones, whose overall sound is just too familiar and user-friendly for my tastes, tuneful and pleasant though it be. From September 2013.

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Another fine piece of retro-prog played in the 1970s style on The Papermoon Sessions (SULATRON RECORDS st1303-2), where the Copenhagen trio Papir jam it up with Electric Moon, the German duo of Komet Lulu and Sula Bassana. For this 2012 session they produced just three tracks, two of which are lengthy star-struck freakouts worthy of their Hawkind and Grateful Dead antecedents, and Mogens Deenfort (from Mantric Muse, Øresund Space Collective and The Univerzals) with his synthesizers has brought additional electronic freakery to the echo-drenched party. ‘Farewell Mr. Space Echo’ is sixteen minutes’ worth of hard proof that the Pink Floyd album Ummagumma continues to hold more sway than the Book Of Kells across certain strains of unreconstructed European hippiedom. ‘The Circle’ is even longer in duration, but less effective somehow; wallowing around in vaguely jazz-tinged soloing for its first half, then sinking slowly into a miasma of one-chord pounding thereafter. The sound is just a shade too cluttered, but I suppose that’s a danger when you bring two long-hair bangle-wearing bands together in the room. Even so, all of these Sulatron releases are recommended if you already have a huge collection of 1970s prog and krautrock, and want to hear it re-expressed even more emphatically than the original creators of the genre could manage.

Mass. Effect

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

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

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

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

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

She Kept Birds

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We noted Martin Archer’s Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere in November, a large-scale epic release whereon the 25-voice choir Juxtavoices were occasionally spotlighted. Now Juxtavoices have their own album, called Juxtanother Antichoir from Sheffield (DISCUS 44CD), and there’s nine examples of their unique craft to be had. Their work shades from atonal choral singing to spoken word recits by way of Sound Poetry, and back again. The Sheffield poet Alan Halsey (owner of the West House Books imprint, and married to Geraldine Monk, also a Juxtavoices member) has, along with Archer, stamped his identity on the album – he’s co-director of the choir, and has composer credit for about half of the cuts; the rest of the choir are a rough mix of creators, including visual artists, poets, or just enthused amateurs 1 ; only a few of the choir members could be deemed “musicians” as such, some of them from an improvising background. If you were expecting the sort of free-improv babble-speech that Maggie Nicols is known for, perhaps look elsewhere as this record barely resembles much I’ve heard from the world of UK improvised music. Come to that, it’s almost entirely free from genre. The only precedent I can think of might be the music of Tom Philips, the famous UK painter who occasionally performed in free-form semi-directed choirs, sometimes interpreting his own texts from ‘A Humument’ 2. You might want to tune to the 14-minute ‘Ha Nu’ to hear some Ligeti-like microtones, but such moments are but fleeting in the wider arena of collective murmurings that this track comprises. The lovely piece ‘Are Your Children Safe in the Sea?’ also has links to another avant-garde genre, that of concrete poetry / sound poetry, by dint of Bob Cobbing’s original text, which is “freely” interpreted by the hushed and breathy choir so that they sound like caricatures of concerned parents wondering about the whereabouts of their children at the seaside. An eerie spooker, whichever way you cut it.

We’ve also got ‘Nine Entries from the Encyclopedia of Natural Sexual Relations’, based on a text by Christine Kennedy, and one which most resembles a forgotten 20th-century avant-garde opera which Pierre Boulez has never conducted. Plenty of overlapping voices and a delicious mix of sing-speak for your ears, and the structure of the direction – allowing for soloists and duets – has really paid off. Hard to discern any remotely sexual content in the piece, but I expect the point has been to bury the text in its own interpretation. With the numerical chapter structure which is emphasized here, I’m reminded of the films Peter Greenaway used to make, with embedded number or alphabet sequences. Further cross-cultural content to be found in ‘Three Iterations of a Poem by Samuel Beckett’, where Halsey’s somewhat downhearted tones seem most apt for the dismal futility of Beckett’s text. Another highlight for me personally is ‘She Kept Birds’, derived from a text by Geraldine Monk and with music composed by Martin Archer and Bo Meson. Next to ‘Ha Nu’, this mysterious and beautiful piece is about the most conventionally “musical” piece on offer, and is filled with dramatic shifts of tone and mood, high notes and low notes swooping about the canvas with an uninhibited joy. It’s easy for this sort of endeavour to result in very mannered and stiff music; not here.

  1. I use this term to designate “one who loves music”, mindful of the Latin root of the word. My use here is in no way intended to suggest that the singers in Juxtavoices are unprofessional or lack ability.
  2. See for the example the 1975 LP Words And Music, Edition Hansjörg Mayer ?F 65.344; although the LP Irma (Obscure OBS 9) from 1978 might be slightly easier to find.

Altered States

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

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

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

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

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

Crono Croons

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FUWAH
FUWAH
ITALY SETOLA DI MAIALE SM2450 CD (2013)

At the risk of making myself unpopular, I’m going to posit an old chestnut: classically trained musicians trying to “do” experimental music? Do they always have the tools necessary for the job? Are the tools they think they need the right ones? Now that it is suddenly okay to mention John Cage’s name in classical circles, should you? Is raw ability, great technique and a big dollop of ego enough? Discuss.

FUWAH is essentially a competent yet unremarkable double bass and vocal duo, Maddalena Ghezzi & Luca Pissavini. I’m all in favour of new combinations of divergent and contradictory genres and styles. Techno Doom Metal Cocktail Jazz is one I’d certainly love to hear. Embedded styles should be exploded. That is not to say even the cocktail jazz genre can’t be exploded. Here and there, this is what FUWAH appear to be trying to do, which in itself is commendable. Luca Pissavini plays it straight throughout. There’s no real experimentation, extended technique, pyrotechnics or attempt to break new ground. Simply a worrisome looseness and careless reference to established tropes. It made me think back to the UK’s experimental drone music explosion of ten or so years ago. I’m not saying that was all bad but I am saying there was a lot of it. And there’s a lot of improvising musicians about these days. A lot of very good ones. If you happen to be a fan of Dominic Lash or Klaus Janek or Guillaume Viltard’s playing (to name but three top-flight improvising double-bassists), beware – there’s not much to surprise or even entertain you here. For her part, Maddalena Ghezzi makes a lot of babbling vocalese noises seemingly just for the hell of it; I’m sorry, but for me this is not even as cutting edge as Cleo Laine going “boobedy-boodedy-boo” on BBC Pebble Mill At One in 1976. A more successful strategy might be to try to make the human voice sound unlike the human voice, as diverse proponents such as Diamanda Galas, Phil Minton and Jaap Blonk attest.

Track one, “Facets”, features alarming use of the minor pentatonic scale, or “The Blues Scale”, famous from a million hirsute teenagers in every guitar shop near you the world over. Not a great start for me. Hardly cutting edge. The only musicians I’m aware of who have used the “The Blues Scale” in new and interesting ways recently are Bill Orcutt or Tetuzi Akiyama and he has to risk RSI in his strumming arm to do it. This album, or rather Ghezzi in particular, is blessed/cursed with a rich seam of unmodulated vocal with the saccharine timbre of a singer in the afore-mentioned cocktail jazz style. Although she is not afraid of trying out new forms. Bizarrely, the third track, “Crono”, features what sounds like an ill-advised attempt at Tuvan throat singing. On “Sopravvissuto”, Ghezzi sounds more sinister – read also: interesting – briefly, reminding me vaguely of Madame P or PJ Harvey at her most dark and experimental. Disappointingly, “Malachia”, the fifth track, sounds like a nursery full of toddlers let loose in the music room at South London’s Hornimann Museum. My four year-old has made better recordings than this at home by himself. Seriously. But then, I am biased in his favour. Track seven, “Traveller”, attempts some word association in English with limited success.

I hate to be dismissive, but I’m being honest – I struggled with this disc overall. Although this disc may find favour with those with little experience of improvised music or those with cloth ears, or if you like your avant garde jazz with less emphasis on the “avant”, this might be for you. Everyone loves a chocolate digestive but this is more of a stale custard cream from under the sofa if you’re asking me.

Poodle Bites

Curious bundle of curios from Singing Knives Records…they are a Sheffield label doing many exciting things, including organising events and musical happenings…one such is documented on The Wet Black Poodle Transforms (SK019), a deliciously weird thing in a tasty foldout poster printed in green and black. It’s a showcase for Ludo Mich, a performance artist and film-maker from the Netherlands, who turned up in the north of England in 2011 for a few dates. He was accompanied by Syed Kamran Ali from Harrapian Night Recordings, whose album The Glorious Gongs Of Hainuwele still causes night sweats when I listen to it, or even think about it. Completing the trio was Pascal Nichols, from Part Wild Horses Mane on Both Sides. The resultant meeting of minds is an exciting yet chilling episode in dark experimental mayhem…Ludo Mich growls and howls like a wounded woolly mammoth, while around him an explosion of percussion builds into an intricate forest, the entire absurdist mess growing into even more unpredictable thorns and brambles. The palpable feeling is that we’re witnessing entertainment from another world, possibly Saturn or Pluto, an effect which is greatly increased by the dank and grisly echo which drenches both of the sets (Manchester and Sheffield), which may have been produced electronically but I would prefer to hope it’s because the trio of insane wildies were performing in cavernous, underground lairs, performing for the cognoscenti alone, far from the prying eyes of hipsters, thrill seekers, and superficial magazine editors. Great!

Also in the envelope, a cassette by Human Heads called The Beauticinist (SK020). This oddity yields none of its secrets, and it’s only guesswork and an image from the label website that leads me to imagine Human Heads are a duo, when in fact all we know is that someone named Ben Morris did the mastering. It may or may not be tied to English locations, including one in Margate and one in Sheffield. It might be read as a “concept album” about a beautician, what with the fragmented observations about the daily routine of a hair stylist and the secrets of what goes on behind the nail bar. These banal recits acquire some sort of mysterious profundity from the way they are read into the surrounding electronic noise, the words distorted and inhuman, sentences unfinished. The most part of the album however consists of various insufferable and interminable high-pitched mechanical whines, combined with unpleasant bursts of evil static noise. From these unpromising elements, this cassette achieves a remarkable degree of sublimation; everyday life transformed into unsettling art-noise. In a tasteful “pink bouffant” cassette shell…very good.

Speaking of unpleasant art-noise, a CDR by Papal Bull was also in this envelope…the kind of envelope that really makes my day…it’s called In Ceres A Pig With Human Hands And Feet Was Born (CHOCOLATE MONK choc.253), it’s on Dylan Nyoukis’ label, and contains recordings made in Newcastle and Sheffield by Jon Marshall and Joe Murray. Using dictaphones, harmonium, harmonica reeds and their own voices, they set up an uncanny uglified roaring, quite often heavily distorted and proceeding for long stretches with no rhyme or reason in continual energy-bursts. While ‘Bourgeois Blues’ is one of the most insufferable examples of their craft – it’s like two gigantic elephants breathing their last through swollen trunks packed with broken telephone receivers – the track ‘Sniff Out Where the Boar is Hiding’ has a strangely intense beauty that reminds us of The Skaters, a relentless chiming effect that burrows its way into your brain like a malevolent beetle for 11 minutes. There is grotesque Dada poetry grunted out on ‘Esther Mung, The Tenderloin’, while the final track ‘Only the mouth and nose…’ is another lengthy go-for-broke intenso-fest, where the chattering apes are joined by erhu player Stephen Chase. What’s impressive about this glorious music is how human it all sounds; the voices and lungs of the duo are what’s prominent, and there’s not too much reliance on the prop of electronic effects, pedals, echo or distortion, such as you find with table noise types. This is one Papal Bull I’m glad to have received in my diocese! Many thanks to Jon for sending these.

Blue Genes & Phonemes

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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.

Mind Chaos

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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.

  1. ‘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.

Un, Deux, Trois

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Un

Les Hauts De Plafond
No Ask Lévrier
FRANCE SATIE CHAPO SC01 LP (2012)

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

Deux

Sylvain Chauveau
Kogetsudai
FRANCE BROCOLI 013 CD (2013)

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’.

minizza-a-rebours

Trois

Minizza
A Rebours
FRANCE BROCOLI 014 CD (2013)

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.

The Life Aquatic

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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.