Tagged: voice

Velocity Dislocation

Volume Eleven of Text-Sound Compositions (FYLKINGEN RECORDS FYLP 1042) is dated 1974. If you want much variety and short pieces for your dollar, plus a fairly wide range of international artists, this might be the one to pick from the whole set, although I did find it very variable in quality.

Christer Grewin’s ‘Words That…’ is a strong opener. The text materials for this come from an unknown Latin American writer, suspended in a minimal soup of electronic sounds and whispering. Meaning and context are subverted or twisted by Christer’s subtle interventions.

Lars Hallnäs’s piece is called ‘Mit einer Rede Von…’, a quite good text and computer-sound piece with a rather stilted halting delivery that is somehow endearing. I had to wince when I read it came out of a period of “defiance and rebellion” for Lars. The recording is a very Swedish middle-class notion of what defiance and rebellion sounds like, a very genteel affair based on the ideas of intellectual film-makers and philosophers of the 1970s. He cites Jean-Luc Godard, but lacks the Frenchman’s bite. Still, punk rock hadn’t quite been invented in 1974.

Roberta Settels ‘P4’ is a hot item. A very effective blast from this American ex-pat who was in Sweden at the time. There is some text, but it’s mostly a radio waves experiment, and solar flare activity comes into it somewhere. For these reasons, perhaps we can draw a line from here to Disinformation’s Stargate and Per Svennson’s Intergalactic Transmission. What I like here is the sense of imminent danger, as though we’re hearing things we shouldn’t, broadcast from a part of the universe we ought to leave alone. I’d love to hear more from Ms. Settels, but she only made one LP in 1985, which was suppressed by an established label due to its controversial subject matter (expressing apparent sympathy for a terrorist), and she ended up self-releasing it on her own Music In Crisis label.

Jon Appleton is another American, well loved in this house due to his Appleton Syntonic Menagerie 2 CD compilation. He also made a record with Don Cherry on Flying Dutchman. ‘Rödluvan’ is his take on Little Red Riding Hood, which doesn’t work quite as well as it ought. The strongest element is the young Axel Bodin doing the reading. Appleton’s Buchla synths aren’t as exciting as they could be. Something of a throwback to an old popular classical record format (e.g. Peter and The Wolf) but slightly undermined in some way.

I’d like to pass over Eugeniusz Rudnik’s ‘Wokale’. You may have noticed that Bolt Records in Poland is doing everything they can to restore Rudnik (and the Experimental Studio at Polish Radio) to his rightful place in the history of electroacoustic music. In case you haven’t got enough material from their extensive reissue programme, here is a five minute unreleased item. And it’s a massive embarrassment to hear Rudnik vocalising a “boogie” rhythm over a clunky electronic track. Maybe it could end up being passed off by some hoaxer as a Paul McCartney out-take from his 1980 LP.

Rune Lindblad, another king of Swedish electro-acoustic music, ends this LP with an uncharacteristically “direct” piece. 1 ‘I Want To Go Home’ attempts to address the problems of old people in society and ends up levelling an accusation at the Institution of old peoples’ homes, and the uncaring authorities who run them on behalf of the state. This is achieved with a documentary interview that reveals the total lack of compassion and comprehension displayed by a professional “carer” as he listens to the plaints of an unhappy, yet still dignified, old lady. Even to non-Swedish speakers, this much is completely clear. The piece is punctuated and decorated with restrained and fascinating electronic sounds. Remarkable work.

  1. I use the word “uncharacteristically” because so much of what I have heard from Lindblad is oblique, allusive, opaque and probably packed with poetic symbols expressed in musical form.

Cybernetic Parapsychology

Volume Ten of Text-Sound Compositions (FYLKINGEN RECORDS FYLP 1041) is dated 1973. The A side is strongly recommended to those who are intrigued by “cybernetic music” and both the pieces on this side offer us a period view of what artists imagined that computers meant to us in the early 1970s…they are speculative fiction in sound form, musing on contemporary society and what the place of mankind might be in a world dominated by technology.

First, there’s ‘Announcement’ by the Hungarian composer Tamas Ungvary, who more or less settled in Sweden in 1969, gradually being seduced away from his career in conventional classical music (he was a conductor and contrabass player) towards the possibilities afforded by electronic music. His work here is early computer music, synthesising speech recordings through a program at EMS. He was directly inspired by a news cutting, a printed announcement seeking “ideas” (a reproduction of it appears at the end of this post). He was incensed that the culture had brought us to this low point, that we needed to “advertise” in order to fulfil a basic human capacity for thought. This made him speculate strangely about how, when computers had taken over the world, the machines would start to look to human beings as a source of new ideas. This theme of computer-intelligence is familiar to all readers of science fiction, but Ungvary has a twist on the tale, and is trying to say something larger about the entire culture and its insatiable need for ideas to keep progressing. A bleak prospect. The technology he used may be early and seem clunky now, but computer-generated speech has rarely sounded so disconcerting.

Dutch artist Herman Damen surfaces again (he was also on Volume 8), with ‘Psychocybernetic Performance’, another piece which is also “cybernetic” in flavour. The piece is an odd mix of aimless electronic poops and whines interrupted by distorted speaking voices, and if you feel like you’re only hearing one part of a conversation it’s probably because this is the soundtrack component of an elaborate performance piece. The notes for its performance are reproduced here, and one of the requirements is “some nudes are texted and impregnated with a cosmetic liquid”, a grotesquerie illustrated here by the black woman with the word “FEEDBACK” written on her torso. Overall this feels very dated in its theme, a sarcastic and rather laboured attack on fairly obvious targets, but the treatment is still strong and it has a nice radio play vibe.

Lars-Gunnar Bodin is without doubt one of the big Kahunas in Swedish 20th century art music. I see from the notes here that he’s credited, along with Bengt Emil Johnson, with inventing the term “Text-Sound Composition” in the first place, which isn’t to say they were trying to create a restrictive elite, but rather define a very precise description for a practice they considered to be unique. Among Bodin’s accomplishments in his homeland, he was chairman of Fylkingen and studio director of EMS; internationally, a student of Stockhausen, Ligeti, and disciple and fellow-traveller with Cage and David Tudor. No surprise that his ‘Semicolon; Seance IV’ is showcased by being given the entirety of side B, allowing its 18 minute length to unfurl like a grand flag. This full version makes up for its previously truncated release on CD in 1994.

‘Semicolon; Seance IV’ is an electro-acoustic composition really, although voices and spoken word play a major part. Percussion and piano are to the fore, plus some clattering racket I can only allude to as “unseen banging about in a room”, but rendered in a very deliberate and composed way. The voice parts are delivered by the Svisch group, an ad-hoc ensemble featuring many notable Swedes, yapping out their avant-blather in stern manner. For instance the great Åke Hodell, whose 3-CD Verbal Brainwash is an unforgettable diatribe of harshly political text-sound attacks, is part of this team.

I wish I could get under the carapace of this difficult piece, and I suspect that even if I understood the Swedish language I would still be baffled by the utterances and sayings of the Svisch group. The text portions were apparently inspired by parapsychology, an abstruse enough field in the first place which leaves me stranded from the get-go, and the fundamental themes have probably been further mutated by passing through the complex brain filters of the great Bodin and his large cranium. An awareness of Öyvind Fahlström’s “happenings” of the early 1960s also fed into the piece, which may account for the tremendous sense of “moment” going on here. A mysterious, yet compelling series of episodes for us to process.

We’re also witnessing the rise of the EMS Studio in Stockholm as an important cultural force. ‘Semicolon’ was executed in the early 1960s at a time before EMS was as sophisticated as it now is; Bodin is at some pains to express what an achievement it was to realise the piece at all, and is effusive in his praise of Christer Grewin’s technical assistance. No wonder.

The Difficult Journey

Volume Nine of Text-Sound Compositions (FYLKINGEN RECORDS FYLP 1040) showcases recordings and performances from 1972.

Christer Grewin opens the set with ‘Dialogi’. It happens to have been recorded at the Polish Radio Experimental Studio, which is unusual considering that Grewin was an important technician at EMS when it was part of Swedish radio, and he built up a considerable set of skills in the studio and the field since 1962. I say important, because he helped a lot of composers to realise their ideas, which was crucial during a relatively naïve period when the technology barriers and practical difficulties were far more challenging than they are now. The liner notes point out how without Christer’s skills, a large number of compositions would simply not have been realised at all. 1 He made his own works too, and ‘Dialogi’ is an understated jewel, an ambient mood piece with spoken-word interpolations. To put it another way, he uses interventions and hard edits to scramble meaning, and thereby undercut the continuity and meaning of a recorded conversation. Some phrases are detourned into near-musical singing. As befits this unique craftsman, the realisation here is technically very accomplished, making use of studio echo, editing, and loops to create strong and distinctive textures.

English titan Bob Cobbing again distinguishes himself with 12 minutes of ‘Sha Ma Na’, a live performance vocal piece he realised with Lillemor Lind and Ewa Svensson. A roaring, half-sung piece of lovely gibberish tumbles out like an organic force of nature, a cross between a tidal wave and an old tree stump. The trio chant, they bark, they whisper with passion and feeling. The notes here describe this lumpy monster as “directly performed, partly improvised”, which did set me thinking. The interaction on offer here is enough to put many traditional improvisers in the doghouse, yet Cobbing’s place in the history of UK free improvisation has not been researched or written about at length, as far as I know. Was he ever invited to Company Week, and if not then why not? Maybe Cobbing was too much of an ornery loner to subscribe to Bailey’s unspoken strictures and shibboleths. The title of this piece can be read as a reference to shamanism, an area of primitive religion where many dabblers dip their toe, but few come out of the pool with any credibility intact.

Maud Reuterswärd & Bengt Nyquist have concocted a highly effective nightmare piece about Vietnam, ever a popular topic for radical artists of the 1960s. ‘16.3.68’ uses quite deliberately shocking vocals effects to convey horror, outrage, and futility, contrasted with moments of serenity and calm to lull the listener into a sense of security. This short piece is a match made in Heaven between an author (Reuterswärd) and a technician (Nyquist), and the very mics of Swedish Radio bowed down before them. The specific incident that triggered this piece was the Son My massacre (more popularly known as My Lai), understandably a frequently chosen theme for creators making radical protest works about Vietnam. Few such works are as heart-stoppingly direct as this one, though. Maud Reuterswärd goes for the jugular, reminding the listener of our own humanity in a way we can’t ignore.

Öyvind Fahlström was a well-known visual artist and perhaps one of Sweden’s more famous exports…he was associated for a time with American Pop Art, and indeed the first time I saw his name in print was a caption for one of his Krazy Kat mobile-painting pieces, derived from George Herriman’s comic strip. But before that he was a pioneer of concrete poetry and electronic music in Sweden in the 1950s, and regarded by many as a major influence on the sound-poetry genre. Here on the LP we have his piece ‘The Difficult Journey’, originally written in 1954 and first published in a book in 1966. This “piece for mixed speaking-choir” delivers an unusual combination of free-form vocalising and singing, although it comes over a tad too “arty” for me. This might be because it’s a “proper” choir doing the performance (Camerata Holmiæ), trained singers who have a tutored approach to dynamics.

The American Charles Amirkhanian closes out this LP with a couple of three-minute gems. I’ve got a copy of his Lexical Music LP, containing numerous early 1970s compositions, which I don’t play often enough. Not just because of his speaking voice and his confident grin in the photo here, his American presence asserts itself almost at once in this company, especially where many of the other creators on this LP has a very ambiguous and exploratory feel to their work. Amirkhanian’s pieces are evidently structured in a way that most of what we heard so far is not. ‘as erson’s onal tte’ makes clever use of overdubs to create simultaneous read-through of three separate poems, to produce a rush of complex information. The poems themselves also used a composed, near-Cagean method in their construction, deleting selected letters from found texts and compressing words into nonsensical strings (though this method also feels a bit Lettrist in its approach). On ‘Sound Nutrition’, the work is again quite structured, this time made by cutting up some rather unlikely found sources (promotional announcements from the Dairy Council of California) and arranging the edits very thoughtfully. In both cases the deliberation is reflected in Amirkhanian’s very assured speaking voice and confident delivery.

  1. Maybe we can consider him to be what Kurt Graupner was to Faust.

Making Out in Windy Stockholm

From 17 November 2016, we received these four volumes of a vinyl LP series called Text-Sound Compositions kindly sent to us by Daniel Rozenhall, current incumbent and custodian at the Fylkingen Records HQ. On them we can hear some fascinating examples of sound art dating from 1971 to 1974, works which were originally presented at the annual festival of Text-Sound Composition held at Stockholm. Right away I wondered why the series starts at Number 8. It seems the label are continuing a series of seven LPs originally released in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which ran out of steam at #7 for “economic reasons”. These new LPs continue the series, and coincide with a happy discovery of the original materials. The project must have been a labour of love for Rozenhall, who compiled and produced the set, did the mastering for the vinyl, did the research and wrote the annotations. There’s a generous amount of unreleased material seeing exposure for the very first time on these sides.

Given the creators involved on these records, and the nature of the work which often focuses on the human voice, one is tempted to characterise the material as “sound poetry”…but even that is quite a nebulous term. I recall listening to the Revue OU boxed set which reissued most of Henri Chopin’s audio magazine and which naturally tended to favour the French school of this most marginal of 20th century art forms, showcasing important works by Bernard Heidsieck, François Dufrêne, Raoul Hausmann and Chopin himself. However, it’s always been an international movement, and the American, English, and Swedish wings were represented in the box too. When writing about it, I struggled as I tried to edge towards a definition of what “sound poetry” might be, and to this day it remains elusive. To me the “purest” form would be the human voice dramatically transformed through use of tape and amplification, but based on what I hear on these four Text-Sound Compositions LPs, the activity could legitimately include electro-acoustic composition, performance art, free improvisation, radio plays, electronic music, noise, and more. Swedish Radio and EMS Stockholm had a big part to contribute. But it’s not all Swedish; these four LPs are also very inclusive in terms of nationalities, as we shall see.

On Volume 8 (1971) (FYLP 1039), poet and composer Bengt Emil Johnson kicks off your day of strange listening with ‘Under the rejoicing of the audience’. Crowd noises are fed through filters, including what sounds like the phase effect, and edited into perplexing snippets. Odd and slightly unsettling. Johnson regards these emotional expressions of the crowd as a “collective language”, which he might be trying to decode as he studies and works with the grain of what finds on his tapes. Tape manipulation has rarely sounded so subtle and understated.

Gust Gils turns in ‘Making Out in Windy Stockholm’. I never heard anything by this Belgian-Dutch poet, and on this evidence he seems to have been a pretty far-out loon. He drew inspiration from experimental literature, science fiction, and surrealism. Some or all of these influences might show up in this weird clutch of symbolist free-form poems, which amount to a sprawling, free-form narrative of some sort. On the surface, he’s rewriting classical history and legends on his own terms – there are snippets of the Prometheus myth, glimpses of Christians fed to lions, a political prisoner being tortured. If there’s a linking theme, it might be something to do oppression of minorities by the authorities. Gils had a spare style, not overdoing the use of tape loops, overlapping voices and electronic processing. The only off-putting aspect is the slightly smug “hippy” tone to his reciting voice; he’s not working very hard to convince us of his thesis, and kind of assumes we’re already on his side.

Herman Damen made four minutes of ‘Magic’ – in some ways sound poetry in purest form, if you agree with my generalisation above. Language pared down to the basics; just syllables, breath, coughing, snorting, and mouth sounds, bordering on absurdist Dada grunts. Real nice work. It was improvised, but improvised onto multi-track tape, and Damen worked to a careful structure with a deliberately limited range of syllables available to him. This Dutch visual artist has a rich history of unusual ideas, including intriguing areas like “kinetic language”, semiotic theatre, the use of a three-dimensional alphabet…all in the name of expanding our idea of what language might be, pushing the envelope in wild ways. Both he and Gils are described by Rozenhall as creating “verbosonies”, which is a wonderful word.

The last quarter of Volume Eight is given over to the great Bob Cobbing, a man who it’s fair to say was the first name in English sound-poets, and was also a pivotal figure in avant-garde 1960s London in terms of publications, happenings, performances, and poetry readings. In my fantasy life, I often dream of travelling back in time and visiting Better Books, a hub for the UK underground in London. Cobbing was also represented on Revue OU; Trunk Records collectors who purchased the Jeff Keen Noise Art LP in 2012 may be interested in Cobbing’s contributions to Keen’s Marvo Movies. Here, on ‘Trilogy Three’, Cobbing was joined by John Darling to produce the most near-musical piece on the LP. Eerie overlaid and simultaneous voices using much primitive tape echo, creating a sort of monstrous chorus. No words, just mouth sounds and wailing, amounting to an almost song-like effect, both dreamy and grotesque.

On Safari

The cassette by Usurper is on Singing Knives Records, the Sheffield label who are doing their part to keep the lunatic fringe alive…the Scots duo Usurper occupy the first half of this 45-minute tape with an interminable piece of absurdist poetry / performance art, on which they recite words such as “snake, monkey, mosquito, giraffe, elephant” with bizarre vocal inflections, and create their own brand of broken, formless acoustic noise using whatever non-musical objects they can clasp in their paws. We are invited to read this escapade as a warped 19th century jungle expedition, along the lines of a lost Joseph Conrad novel…to me it feels more like they’re glancing at pictures in a children’s story-book, which is not meant to be a disrespectful remark, but there is a sense of infantile fun at work here, a possibility which is not dispelled when you see pictures of them performing with hand-drawn paper masks attached to their heads with masking tape. This “jungle” side appears to have begun life as an experiment using the Google search engine, subverting its “normal” use and instead using it as a random word generator of some sort. As they near the end, and the cries of “snakes! snakes!” become increasingly more demented and alarming, we might almost be hearing an episode of The Goon Show…it conjures up comic-strip images of hapless explorers in pith helmets and khaki shorts, flapping about as they face their doom.

Usurper are Malcy Duff and Ali Robertson from Edinburgh, and have released a fair number of CDRs and cassettes since 2005 for labels such as Giant Tank, Sick Head, Harbinger Sound, Unverified Records, Bug Incision Records, and Chocolate Monk. I’m unsurprised to find that Malcy Duff has worked once or twice with fellow loons Anla Courtis and Dylan Nyoukis; Usurper’s inchoate noise is not far apart from the churning porridge mass that Nyoukis specialises in. While I enjoy the absurdity of Usurper, their noise disappoints me as sound art; it seems thin and under-nourished. They seem to have no interest in using the microphone as anything other than an inert instrument to document their flat and uninteresting voices, which would be fine if there were a bit more energy and variation to the vocal performances. Consequently much of the tape is a dreary listen.

Usurper continue on the B-side which, judging by other online accounts of the tape, involves a dialogue around a kitchen table with more non-musical objects and simplistic repetitions of “rat-a-tat” and “blam”, while a young child occasionally intervenes with their own vocal contributions. Again, the rather flat delivery of the monosyllabic nonsense words is disappointing; in the hands of a Dadaist like Tristan Tzara or Hugo Ball, this vocal salvo would have created an explosive situation and every “blam” would have struck terror into the hearts of the bourgeoisie. By contrast, Usurper just seem bored and unengaged; this may be a deliberate post-everything beyond-ironic stance, but it also makes for a tiresome listen. However things liven up somewhat when events take them outside, and against the roar of traffic Duff and Robertson suddenly erupt into an impromptu improvised dialogue that blends clichéd dialogue from cowboy movies and pulp novels with surreal, florid, stream-of-consciousness gibberish. Overlapping voices give the listener too much to digest, and the sheer lunacy of their performance is enough to short-circuit common sense in 50 seconds. From 30th December 2016.

Yaschichek, Little Box

Herewith four more cassettes from the Russian Spina!Rec label. Arrived here 20th December 2016.

Andrey Popovskiy is the St Petersburg composer whose work has been arriving here since 2014. If there’s any connection between his releases Rotonda and Kryukov, it might have something to do with the way sound behaves in an enclosed space, and the exigencies of recording devices in attempting to capture the elusive reality of acoustical behaviours. While Rotonda seemed to misfire for Jack Tatty, we liked the mysterious properties of Kryukov (his split tape with Dubcore) and the way it somehow summoned an aesthetically pleasing effect from such everyday banality. Even to call Popovskiy a “kitchen sink” composer would be to make it far too exotic; he’d be happy to occupy the cupboard under the sink, along with the cartons of bleach. Works For Voice Recorders 2011 (SR029) takes this pared-down approach to an even further extreme. On the A side, there are five short pieces documenting his experiments with voice recording devices (dictaphones, perhaps? If those things even exist any more), placed inside a room and capturing whatever external bumps and groans may come their way. There’s also something about the devices being used to record themselves – contact mics placed in their own innards, or something. All manner of recorded artefacts are generated in a refreshingly non-digital manner. I can’t account for why this unprepossessing, near-blank grind effect is so compelling, but I can’t stop listening to it.

On the flip is a long piece called Zvukovanie, and is a far more ambitious composition lasting some 34 mins. He’s created layers of sound from field recordings out in the streets, musical performances, and rehearsals, superimposing them into what is described as a “three-dimensional” piece. Percussionist Mikhail Kuleshin and improvising trumpeter Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky join him in this task. While this might seem a recipe for chaos, in Popovskiy’s hands it results in a very pleasing jumble of balmy strangeness, drifting and shifting in unexpected ways. The listener is not being “directed” to pay attention to any one element, and instead is free to wander in an open landscape of sound events, much like an exotic street bazaar, and picking up what trinkets they may. Delightful.

SR027 is a split. The side by Andrey Svibovitch did little for me; very ordinary sounds emerge from his synths (probably due to use of over-familiar filters or pre-set sounds) and he has a simplistic approach to playing chords, both of which point to under-developed techniques. He produces a stream of undemanding electronica with little structure or originality. The four parts of “What Hides The Voice” were originally presented as part of a multi-media installation with the work of visual artist Maxim Svishev. Svibovitch creates his music using voice samples, yet what ends up on the tape is so synthetic and processed it seems to have zero connection to anything as natural and human as a voice.

The side by Sergey Vandyshev is more engaging. The electronic music of this fellow is described as an experiment in “pure data”, and there are references to “digital generators” and “granular synthesis algorithms”…most of this is beyond my ken, but it seems to point to a process-based approach where machines do most of the work, but also indicates that Vandyshev is a skilled manipulator of digital data, perhaps doing it “at source” in some way. What I mean by that is he may bypass the conventional routes of feeding information through pre-sets and filters. Anyone who can run an algorithm at granular synthesis level is capable of anything. The sound of his untitled tracks is certainly quite clean, and feels uncluttered by unnecessary elaborations. I also like the loops, repetitions and insistent pulsations, which are set forth in a very porous, open-ended manner, as if he’s found a way to avoid the trap of the strict grid-systems imposed by digital sequencers. This reminds me very much of a more low-key version of Pimmon.

SR028 is a split. For this release we have a rare (for this label) instance of acoustic music played on musical instruments – as opposed to their standard electronic fare. Blank Disc Trio are a Serbian group of improvisers who have been at it since the late 1990s. It used by a duo of the core members Srdjan Muc and Robert Roža (guitar and electronics, respectively), but have since been joined by Georg Wissel, who puffs a “prepared” alto saxophone. For this tape, they were joined by the pianist Dušica Cajlan-Wissel and the electric guitarist Julien Baillod. What they play is a rather tentative version of the “electro-acoustic improv” thing, a form which in their hands takes a long time to get started and is littered with many half-baked stabs and much guesswork along the way. I like the abrasive textures they manage to summon up, and it’s good that they know when to shut up and leave gaps for each other, but overall there isn’t enough coherence or continuity in these wispy musical ideas to sustain my interest.

On the flipside we have Ex You, another three-piece of Serbian experimenters. Milan Milojković, László Lenkes and Filip Đurović blend electronics, guitar, and drums into a pleasing scrabbly mess of non-music, keeping it fairly low-key and resisting the temptation to create a hideous energy-noise blaroon-out. The addition of guest cello player Erno Zsadányi only increases our pleasure in this grumbly, meandering groan-fest. Like their Blank Disc brothers, this group sometimes finds it hard to crank up the old motor, but once they get it turning over we’re guaranteed a much more exciting drive through the old Serbian mountain tracks. I wish more drummers could act with the restraint and decency of Đurović; he doesn’t call attention to himself with fills and ornament, but his steady gentle pulsations give a surprisingly sturdy backbone to this music. Two members of the trio also play in Lenhart Tapes Orchestra, should you feel curious to investigate the Serbian “scene” further; their 2014 album Uživo Sa Karnevala Glavobolje looks like the one to go for.

The tape Povstrechal Gaute Granli (SR030) is a team-up between Mars-69 and Gaute Granli, another one of the Russian-Norway “hands across the water” affairs which this label does so well. Mars-69 are I assume Mars-96 with a slight change to the name – at any rate the core members of this Palmira trio appear to be intact. They’re about the most prolific bunch on the Spina!Rec label and we’ve enjoyed most of their disaffected noisy work. I always thought they were a guitar-bass-drums trio but here they’re spinning their craft with synths, syn-drums, and vocals. As for Gaute Granli, we’ve been enjoying the solo work and group work (in Freddy The Dyke) of this Norwegian loon for many years now, and can recommend anything he’s done for the Drid Machine and Skussmaal labels. He brought his electric guitar and voice to these Povstrechal sessions. With a line-up like that, I feel I have a right to expect some serious fireworks, which is why I felt gypped by this damp squib. With the possible exception of ‘Osa’, the opening track, the tape is a lacklustre set of pointless studio noodling, half-formed ideas trailing away, and occasional absurdist vocal dribble. One waits in vain for a single idea to catch fire or take off into the stratosphere. The band had a lot of sociable fun on the day (hint: that’s code for they all got drunk) – the press write-up seems to indicate as much – but that doesn’t justify the release of this self-indulgent nonsense.

Simulacra of Songs

Highly unusual release is Spam Me (CUCHABATA RECORDS CUCH-095), sent to us by the Quebec composer CE François Couture, and first spin reveals a dazzling, dense and engaging array of lyrics, sounds, complex arrangements, weird noises, and hyper-intelligent art rock settings. He’s doing all this in the service of the concept, which is to call attention to the “spam” problem – those irritating emails we all get, and in some cases (mine at any rate) coded messages invading our very websites, through exploiting weaknesses in WordPress and other blogging platforms. One of these is the common CSS hack, which finds a way to use the cascading stylesheet as a mule to smuggle in its verbal contraband. Couture is clearly exasperated by this modern phenomenon, calling the spam messages “pests” and “flagrant failures at communicating”, but also observing that spam is so commonplace it has become almost invisible to us now. His plan is to set the spam texts to music on this album, almost in spite of his own frustration, or perhaps to exorcise himself of certain demons…he admits the texts, which are often scrambled and meaningless and badly written, “hold a poetic charge” for him. All of this feeds into what he calls “Simulacra of Songs”, the sub-title for Spam Me.

Apparently this is Couture’s 1 first solo record as a composer, a fact which I mention because it’s such an impressive and convincing set of songs, but he’s been active in music since 2010 working in free improvisation, and performing with groups La Forêt Rouge and RBC. There’s no musical style he won’t parody or plunder for this Spam Me project, a strategy which feels somewhat in keeping with the subject matter (getting revenge by poking fun at your enemy), and you can hear him try out everything from hip-hop (‘Magie Rouge’) to art-prog (the title track); some of his post-modern ballads, with their imaginative intervals and dissonances, reminded me of Slapp Happy and Peter Blegvad, with all the awkwardness and mannered style that implies. He’s also prone to high drama, such as on ‘Parajumper Kodiak’, where he delivers the nonsensical spam text in an actorly, declamatory style over a klunky musical backdrop worthy of Magazine or A Sudden Sway. What I appreciate about the vocal delivery is there’s nothing tongue-in-cheek, no matter how ludicrous and absurd the text may be (and they get pretty cracked, lemme tell ya); he takes it all seriously, and lets the spam subvert itself.

An enclosed leaflet tells us a little more about the process of creation and composition – all the spam texts were left on his own music blog – and reproduces the texts in full, so you can double your twisted pleasure by reading as you listen. Just watch your face in a mirror as you do so…your eyebrows will soon reach the top of your head. Parts of this record reminded me of recent work by Alessandro Bosetti, particularly the Stille Post record set; but where Bosetti has some residual faith in our ability to communicate effectively using technology, CE François Couture evidently thinks the human race has completely lost the plot, and all we can do is propagate incoherent gibberish on a global scale. Hard to argue with that…one of the more unusual items we have received lately, and a real winner. From 1st December 2016.

  1. His name is spelled this way to denote THIS François Couture, which would be the French translation of CE. This is because the name is apparently quite common in Quebec.

Blank Cassette

The latest enigma in the form of a cassette tape arrived from Rinus Van Alebeek on 13th October 2016. As usual the first task facing me – or anyone who purchases these hand-made works of art – is to unwrap the package and try and get to the tape. In this instance, you also have to remove strips of masking tape if you actually want to play the tape, since they’re placed so as to cover up openings that allow the machine to engage with the tape reels. Whenever I do this with one of Rinus’ releases (which are extremely limited), I always feel like I’m damaging the artwork in some way. I don’t see a way around this, however, since I do want to hear the sounds. How many owners of the first Velvet Underground LP actually have an unpeeled banana in their possession, and if they do, does it make the record any better?

Two sides…two suites which may or may not be related. With “Side White”, which is called “Done Before”, we’ve got a very episodic stream of consciousness, segments of long spoken-word affairs mixed up with the strange sound art which layers music, noise, field recordings and voices into tasty collage-pieces. There is an enclosed typewritten note inside the release, advising us “This tape has spoken word parts on it,” followed by allusions to details of the content, friends, fading memories, which leads into a slightly melancholic contemplation or reminisce of some kind. I sense that the artist is going through the attic and finding old letters, diaries, photos and other fragments of the past, and wondering what it all means. The only difference is that Rinus does his diary work using cassette tapes, rather than the notebook or the camera. “The other me that I heard on the recordings was at a long distance of the actual me”, is his puzzling conclusion. “The other me is almost a stranger”. I think we’ve all felt like this at some point in our lives…when I periodically clear out my desk at work, I look at notes I scribbled down months ago and don’t have the slightest idea what they refer to, or what I was thinking about.

“I could have faked the found tape idea,” the artist tells us. That triggered a reference in my own mental library…it’s possible that with “Done Before”, Rinus Van Alebeek has come close to realising his own take on Krapp’s Last Tape, that bleak vision of futility as penned by Samuel Beckett and featuring an old man playing back his old tape recordings, laughing at the folly and delusions of his younger self. But Beckett saw the universe as absurd and meaningless, and the whole play might be a metaphor for how we can end up alienated from our own past lives. “Done Before”, I would like to think, is far less pessimistic about the value and the meaning of memory; the creator is genuinely puzzled by it all, and would like to find out more. Perhaps the process of assembling this work is his way of addressing the issue.

Incidentally this side also includes contributions from the excellent Zan Hoffman who made Zanstones Fur Berlin on this label, and Tim Ruth, and portions of it may date back to 2001 and a visit to Louisville in Kentucky. Already the shifting time-travel aspects of this work present many interesting opaque layers for the ear and mind to traverse.

The “Side not so white” of the cassette is called “Historie d’un Pomme de Terre” (HPT). Voices on here too, I think…I’m not sure because things are somewhat more distorted here. At least on “Done Before” we can make out some snatches of spoken word (in English) which are intelligible, and indeed make us feel like we’re eavesdropping on a private conversation or a solitary reminisce, and create the effect which Van Alebeek anticipates when he speaks of “a…listener who will try to deduce a story”. On HPT however, the emphasis is more on the recording process itself, especially machines like Walkmans and their “inbuilt speakers”, and what ends up on the tape is a captured moment that’s as much a record of its own creation as it is a document of some slice of reality. The creator is evidently more interested in artefacts and faults, surface noise, tape hiss and distortion, relishing their unpredictable sonic textures, than he is interested in presenting an accurate record of the spoken word. We’ve heard this approach to the materiality of tape many times with Rinus, but what always impresses me is how nuanced and subtle the results are, the delicacy and care with which he preserves these fragile, fleeting moments of sonic beauty.

This material is great to listen to on its own terms, if you enjoy this strange decontextualised and rather abstract sound. But it also has the effect of making us try and decode the voices, and understand what is being said…we turn from being eavesdroppers and start to become more like spies, listening with our CIA headphones from the other side of the hotel wall, hoping for a clue that will break the case. It’s the aural equivalent of straining your neck to see what’s going on through an obscure window, and perhaps an even more extreme version of the “try to deduce a story” effect noted above.

HPT also features “unidentifiable French songs and Bollywood songs” apparently, reminding us that for all his apparent conceptual severity Rinus still enjoys good popular songs. Yet when these elements appear in HPT, they’re like fading memories of music, washed-out photographs, wispy and dreamy.

Sound Pipers Of Garlic

Indescribable double CD of improvised vocal noises along with non-musical sounds and eruptions…this is the combined talents of four international mavericks, i.e. Adam Bohman, the UK sound poet, performer, bricoleur and cassette diarist; Oliver Mayne, English musician living in Budapest; Jean-Michel van Schouwburg, described here as “the inimitable voice maestro”; and Zsolt Sőrés, the Hungarian musician. Budapest is the connecting zone, the area where these four met and climbed into a musical melting pot. Bohman and Jean-Michel were invited there in 2010 by the film-maker Peter Strickland, and once Zsolt S?rés got wind of this he quickly set up an improvising situation and asked Oliver Mayne to join in. What has supposed to be a fortuitous one-off occasion soon developed into a regular event, and in the years since the four have performed together many times, now working under the strange and awkward name of I Belong To The Band. The double CD we have before us documents four such occasions from 2010 and 2013, all of them happening in Budapest, and shows the foursome captured either live or in the studio. On one occasion, a live event at Fuga, they were joined by the vocalist Katalin Ladik. Ladik’s impressive vocal work may be known to some for her contributions to recordings of Ernő Király, the Yugoslavian modern composer.

This package, titled Bakers Of The Lost Future (INEXHAUSTIBLE EDITIONS ie-004-2), shows how the combo require a lot of space and time to spread out – some might unkindly call it a sprawl – to realise their need for self-expression. Musical instruments are involved, including vibes, synths, and stringed instruments, but I get the impression that amplified objects are much more the weapon of choice in the IBTTB stable. Bohman’s a past master of selecting and hitting strange objects in the service of sound production; Zsolt Sőrés has his own personal selections, and also brings circuit-bending and dictaphone tapes to the table in his quest for the ultimate in lo-fi distortion and mangled groink. Mayne too is no stranger to clipping a contact mic onto anything that stands still long enough. Together, these three weave a cluttered but intense din of rubbly and unfamiliar textures, producing a dense soup that makes no concessions whatsoever to “art music” or jazz-inflected improvisation, nor is it as opaque and mystifying as the inert over-processed murk that Das Synthetische Mischgewebe often creates using similar methods. I haven’t heard such a compelling layered and over-crowded racket since my last DDAA listen. Over this scrambly foundation, van Schouwburg yawps out his nightmarish vocalising, a bad dream of opera singing caused by a night of indigestion at the Magyar Állami Operaház. All the pieces have been assigned nonsensical titles, word-salad arrangements such as ‘Intergalactic Gulash vs Sneezawee Gaspacho’ and ‘Gastric Samba Honkers’, as if attempting to realise the same sense of mental indigestion through the channel of literary expression. The references to food and the stomach in these titles are most fitting.

I would also single out the uncanny escapades of Katalin Ladik on the track where she features, ‘Poets of the Absurd on Chalk’. She’s pretty much carrying on an unintelligible argument with van Schouwburg as if the two were actors / opera singers playing husband and wife in a grotesque marriage, or perhaps simply play-acting a garbled version of Punch and Judy. It’s by turns comedic and ugly, yet still infused with moments of mysterious and terrifying beauty. Both the vocalists here sound certifiably insane, but they deliver their loopy barks with great assurance and confidence. We could say the same about the music, which is pretty much fragmented and bonkers in the extreme, but played with gravitas and conviction. There is no doubt in my mind that this is down to the personalities involved (very strong personalities); you could never train a classical musician to play this way in a million years, even if they had been raised on John Cage since birth. It’s an instinctive thing, and a very personal thing. The effect here is intensified because these are four like-minded souls, who have nothing to prove to the world…the music is as much a product of that bond as anything else, the sound of an amazing conversation, on which we are lucky enough to eavesdrop.

Peter Strickland, though he doesn’t play a note, is also pivotal to the record. He also happens to have been part of the Sonic Catering Band in a former life, and the strange formless non-musical performances he was responsible for are could be seen as one of the many tributaries that have flowed into Bakers Of The Lost Future. He also directed the movie Berberian Sound Studio, which used the talents of Katalin Ladik for its soundtrack, and which briefly featured the Bohman Brothers making a cameo appearance. Another gem from the Slovenian label Inexhaustible Editions, arrived 28th October 2016.

Raw Vision

Very impressed by Modus Of Raw (EVIL RABBIT RECORDS ERR 24), the first solo record by the violinist Biliana Voutchkova. She has surfaced before in small group collaborations, for instance with Michael Thieke in 2013, and with viola player Ernesto Rodrigues and the woodwinds player Micha Rabuske in 2015. She’s played with an impressive number of international musicians, including free improvisers, but this solo approach is clearly an area where she thrives. The press call it a “highly individual musical language”, which is true, but there’s also a strong sense of emotional strength, of independence; she doesn’t need others, and might be happy speaking into the void. The void in this case was a studio in Switzerland; she recorded the set herself, and proceeds with utter conviction, nothing distracting her from her pursuit of her elusive quarry.

In terms of technique, a musician like Voutchkova has nothing to prove to the world; a gifted child prodigy who’s been playing since age four, she’s already been through the classical repertoire thing during a distinguished career, involving awards, scholarships, residencies, and international travel. A long time in the USA; she now resides in Berlin. I’d like to think she’s moved to a higher plane already, by the time we tune into the sounds on Modus Of Raw; transcending classical, composition, improvisation and other modes, to arrive at a completely unique way of playing. It seems to my superficial ears to be a rich combination of things – classical / improvised techniques and methods, a mixture of musical and non-musical sounds (drones, noise, melodies), and above all the development and articulation of her private language. Sometimes she works away at a repeated phrase in a deliciously nagging manner, determined to reach some core of meaning, that might be hidden like a nut in a shell, prising it loose. She vocalises, too, by the way; her wordless and whispered extemporisations add a great deal to the performances, though this remains principally an uncategorisable violin record.

As to content and ideas, Biliana Voutchkova strikes me as one of those profound and insightful artists who deals in silence, precision of thought, and a taut compacted mode of expression; only these taut-lipped approaches are suitable for the complex content she’s attempting to delineate, where there are clearly a lot of unknowns, and you need a degree of courage to get to the heart of the matter in these dark truths. Titles like ‘Songs of Anxiety’, ‘Memory Imprints’ and ‘Chaos & Beauty’ may give use a glimpse into what she’s driving at, but listen to the powerful, abstract elusiveness of the music and be guided where she leads us, if you can follow. Take a long hard look at some unknown corners of the world, and savour the fragile beauty of Biliana Voutchkova’s strange music. From 11th October 2016.