Tagged: voice

Robert Filliou Sings Marquis de Sade: oddball spoken voice recording whose rationale is unclear and deliberately ambiguous

Robert Filliou, Sings Marquis de Sade, Goaty Tapes, cassette #73 (2016?)

Here comes one of those obscure oddball recordings that’ll have most of us worrying for the state of mind of their creators, wondering whether they really are as serious as they appear to be on the recordings themselves, are performing with their tongues rooted firmly in their cheeks, or have some ulterior sinister, possibly dangerous motive behind their choices of subject matter to inform their art. Sole performer Robert Filliou’s background is as intriguing as this recording, found in someone’s old basement and until now never considered part of his corpus of works: born in France in 1926, he fought for the French Resistance during World War II and later emigrated to the US where he worked at a series of low-paid jobs while studying for a master’s degree in economics at UCLA. He worked at the UN and embarked on his artistic career in 1960 as a member of the Fluxus movement, creating theatrical and film performances, sculptures and happenings. He later moved to Canada with his wife in 1977 and spent the last three to four years of his life living in Les Eyzies in southern France where he died in 1987.

Singing completely a cappella, Filliou performs excerpts in English translation from the various writings of that notorious late 18th-century libertine novelist / theatre critic the Marquis de Sade. Filliou takes us on a tour through time and space of the divers excruciating tortures and punishments that humans have inflicted upon one another, often under the pretence of carrying out justice. The artist isn’t a bad singer at all and with some training could have led his local church choir if the rector had been prepared to overlook his former French Communist Party membership or any fascination with the more lurid apocalyptic visions of the Book of Revelations. Starting with the Irish, the Norwegians and the ancient Celts, Filliou ticks off the bucket list of nations past and present and their particular associated brutal torture specialties: be it crushing people’s skulls with thick staves, disembowelling victims and filling up the cavities with salt, or feeding prisoners to horses crazed from starvation, Filliou dutifully covers most modes of punishment (thankfully, not in much detail) in a moderately high-pitched chanting voice that’s as deadpan grim and matter-of-fact as can be for this material. (Strangely he misses out on the infamous Chinese punishment known as the Death By A Thousand Cuts or the various imaginative Japanese tortures – but then Sade died a long time before he could have heard any of Merzbow’s music.)

Hear enough of this solemn monologue and you can’t help but giggle at the ambition and determination behind it. The most remarkable aspect of the recording is that Filliou manages to plough through Sade’s exposition of the most astonishingly devious and callous punishments ever to spring out of the human imagination without collapsing in fits himself. His voice becomes ever more trance-like and somnolent as if he were reading through the daily grocery shopping list for the hundredth time.

The cassette’s packaging limits itself to Filliou’s name, the title of the work and a swirling background of pale colours such as might be seen when blowing soap bubbles, so the rationale behind performing these texts (most of which is not attributed to any particular work or works by Sade) remains unknown. Listeners must decide for themselves what to make of this recording and what to take away from it. I personally chalk it down to Filliou being mischievous, taking the mickey out of himself and confounding people’s expectations of him and his opinions. On another level, Filliou’s performance and his impassioned summary at the end about what he has just done leave listeners uncertain about his view of Sade and human nature: does he support Sade’s pessimistic view of humanity, that humans are incapable of moral or spiritual improvement, or is his performance a critique of Sade’s philosophy and outlook? One also has to admit that Sade in his own way was brutally open and honest about the extent of human depravity, above all how much it is a natural part of the human expression, however much we fear it and try to deny or justify it.

Will Not Split

Two more cassettes from Kassettkultur are by Maja Ratkje and Bjørn Hatterud, both made at the same time and only ever sold together as a pair; “will not split” is the familiar rallying cry of antique dealers who hold a fine pair of ancient jugs. With the jury’s permission, we will mention them here together.

The first of these, Focus Foucault Foccaci (KULT 014), is not much more than a cassingle, and contains two tunes at five mins apiece. On one side the duo – appearing here as Solveig Kjelstrup & Maskinanlegg – appear to be adopting a quasi-ethnic stance with a performance based on percussion and a shenai-like reed instrument, to produce something Sun City Girls might have belched up as an interlude on one of their earlier ethnic forgery LPs. Or maybe it’s intended to remind us of Don Cherry and his bamboo flutes when he played with Ed Blackwell in 1969. At any rate it’s recognisable as music, which is more than you can say for the puzzling flip side. A nightmarish take on a patriotic song from the 1930s that was never written, or a national anthem for the smallest non-existent country in Europe, is put through the tape-processing treatment until it acquires a nasty and vaguely disturbing patina. The singing voice especially is something that creeps up your spine like a jellyfish. Not that the singer sounds especially menacing, but you don’t want him hanging around your house for long. Limited edition of 30 copies for this surreal slice of pie. Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje, to use her full name, is a genius composer, improviser and noise maker who never ceases to surprise me with the ease, expertise, and commitment with which she takes on each new and wholly unexpected project. Bjørn Hatterud should be notorious to all as a member of the Norwegian collective Origami Republika, a sprawling project of weirdness whose aim was to overthrow the known world through subversive, absurdist antics; it’s impossible to tell how many records they made, as they kept changing their name, and so evaded the confining boundaries of officialdom, keeping everything fuzzy around the edges. It’s a strategy that always pays off.

The second tape, featuring the same personnel, is called Malleus Maleficarum Maximum, and with its monochrome cover, gothic styled lettering, and supernatural title, it may fool some Black Metal fans into buying it. Boy, will they be in for a surprise! One side is a short fragment of ingeniously compacted music, perhaps using tape loops, that feels like a distillation of all 19th century classical music and opera that ever dared to flirt with a “heroic” theme (and thus drove its composers mad or deaf, or both). It becomes a nostalgic view of an imaginary past that never existed, now somehow transplanted into our ironic modern times for hipsters to wonder at. That’s the power of time-travel with which I credit these two deadly magicians. Part 2 is even more alarming. Voice elements are detectable here and it feels like human beings made this noise at some point, but it also feels like monsters and wild beasts were involved at some point. The ingenuity lies in the simple layering together of elements that don’t fit, and relentlessly bringing the thing in for landing against all the laws of sanity. I’m feeling unhinged just thinking about it…maybe there really is a “black magic” thing going on after all. As you all know, Malleus Maleficarum refers to “The Hammer of the Witches”, a 15th century guidebook for how to expose witches and then put them on trial, supposedly issued by the Catholic church. God alone knows what your basic witch-hunter would have made of these two musicians, if he’d been forced to endure this mind-melt of a cassette.

The Smile You Send

Another segment from the Stille Post (BÔŁT RECORDS BR R010 / MONOTYPE RECORDS mono100) box set by Alessandro Bosetti. CD03 is called A Collection Of Smiles. This is another piece for WDR, dating from 2011. Listening to this one “blind”, it seems at first like a stream of rather banal chatter from the mouths of a pan-international set of middle-class people (Australian, Europeans), not saying very much of substance to each other. In fact, the reality of the event wasn’t far from that. Bosetti set up a “situation” where a group of people would meet in the studio and told to speak to each other for one hour, without any directions as to what they should talk about. Some of these people knew each other, some of them were total strangers. Since the artist was recording every speaking voice on a separate input, at the end of this social experiment he now had in his hands a collection of voice elements which he could splice and rearrange as he saw fit. This is what ends up on A Collection Of Smiles. What may start out as something resembling a document of idle restaurant chatter soon turns into a form of vocal music (the repetitions of certain phrases become evident very quickly, creating a song-like effect with verses and choruses), or a form of abstract sound poetry as the voices pile up in rapid-fire collision edits, resulting in pleasing effects of near-gibberish. Meanings are altered subtly, as unrelated sentences are glued together. Although we might stress that there’s no processing of the sounds; Bosetti isn’t out to transform these voices into monstrous groans, for instance, which could be done by time-stretching. The rapid-fire effect, I’m slowly coming to realise, may be one of Bosetti’s trademarks; he likes a rush of information delivered in a dense parcel, and he expects us to keep up with these changes.

The other major dimension to A Collection Of Smiles is the musical score. Bosetti has noted down certain cadences and changes in timbre in the way his subjects speak, and annotated them, transforming them into a musical score. This score is then played back at certain junctures by a small chamber ensemble, in which I can hear piano, guitar, and I think some woodwinds. The precision and ingenuity with which these musical passages are matched against their spoken-word sources is uncanny, yet Bosetti doesn’t even call attention to it; he does it effortlessly, and weaves the passages into the fabric of the work without us even noticing at first that it’s even happening. The first time I heard an instance of a musician doing this was Harry Partch and his Bitter Music, where he was able to document speech patterns of people he met during his hobo years in America, and recast them as musical phrases. (See the third disc of Enclosure 2, INNOVA 401, 1995)

This leaves us with the possible task of “decoding” the content or meaning of A Collection Of Smiles. But I’m not sure if there is any. On the surface, the work feels like a 50-minute musical approximation of a Twitter stream. There’s something relentlessly upbeat about the self-satisfied tone of these individuals and their jabbering that prompts this observation, and the shallowness of their observations is only increased the more it’s repeated under Bosetti’s editing knife. As directed conversations go, this is clearly of quite a different order to the stoned freaks sitting under a tarpaulin with a piano set up by Zappa for his Lumpy Gravy album. However, the record does once again display Bosetti’s remarkable talent for fashioning dense and complex statements from his source materials, and the “different and ever-changing constellations” he is able to build in mosaic fashion clearly delights him.

The Non-Existent Knight

The cassette Sharp Intake Of Breadth (TUTORE BURLATO #07) by Lovely Honkey is the next item I’ve pulled from the big July bag sent here by Tutore Burlato. This surreal and queasy mess is another recording which seems very much like something Ezio Piermattei would favour, and seems to occupy similar areas of strange humour and indigestible noise, arrived at by means of tape manipulation, layering, and juxtaposition of unrelated elements. Plus there’s the grotesque voice, which on more than one occasion resembles someone being seriously ill – groaning, howling, and clearly on the point of vomiting out their intestines. Lo-fi noise, broken electronics, damaged cassette tapes, and heaven knows what else – the detritus of modern consumerism is meat and drink to Lovely Honkey in his quest to reduce all around him to absurdity. What always impresses me about this sort of thing is the deliberation and poise with which the lunatic in question goes about their task, proceeding slowly and carefully through the rituals of their inexplicable antics. Thick, acoustic porridge noise-spew results, a potage which lays heavily on the belly of the listener. One other aspect of the Lovely Honkey plan is to ridicule pop music history to an extreme degree, and the singer’s nightmarish deconstruction of Black Lace’s ‘Superman’ (an easy target if ever there was) on side A here is not something you will forget in a hurry. The cover artworks also contain insights into the warped, visceral humour of this creator – look closely at the front cover to examine the background to this knight in armour, and you may do a small double take. Can’t find out much factual information about Lovely Honkey, although he has performed and recorded with Neil Campbell and may in fact be half of Acrid Lactations; other releases have surfaced since 2008 on Poot Records, Total Vermin, and Chocolate Monk.

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

Put Me On The Pan

On Human Of Stow (TUTORE BURLATO #05), the irrepressible eccentric Dan Melchior turns in a perplexing two-parter of far-out proportions, using electronic music and voice elements. A lost Creel Pone masterpiece emerges from his gifted hands, and mouth. And the additional contributions of Emily Bobb and Glen-Rodman-Melchoir play a part too. These unsettling analogue synth puffs, combined with wayward drones and errant popping squeals of noise, create a miasma of swamp-like dimensions in short order, causing the innocent wayfarer to lose their way in among the swirls of green fog and seemingly endless roadway, unwinding against an uncertain tilted horizon. We’ve enjoyed this English performer’s highly quirky approach to songwriting, on such albums as Catbirds and Cardinals, but Human Of Stow reveals his talent for abstract art music of a highly labyrinthine nature. I’d almost forgotten he teamed up with Ezio Piermattei, who sent me all these cassettes and probably runs the label too. The results of their collaboration were released as My Dance The Skull MDTS10, noted here in 2015. Great cover painting to this cassette is also by Dan; kind of Paul Klee meets The Beano.

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

Setting Stones

Finding much to enjoy while listening to the new David Toop, which carries the title of Entities Inertias Faint Beings (ROOM40 RM475). A strange and mysterious mix of music, percussion and voice, fragmented and suspended in a soup of crackly white noise. One might take it as a kind of personal journey through a fog of sound and music, where recognisable shapes or figures sometimes appear through the windscreen ahead of us. The sleeve notes probably explain how this record came to be, but I remain in ignorance, because I refuse to read them. I should point out that David Toop can be a brilliant writer and thinker. I’m dimly aware that he’s gone through at least one personal crisis with music, not being able to listen to it any more and preferring instead to simply listen to silence, and this record – the first thing he’s released in about ten years – may or may not be connected to this state of affairs. My plan in this instance is simply to listen to the record and leave aside the verbal contextualising for another day. From 15 June 2016.

Horrible Gas Emissions

Italian composer SEC_ (i.e. Mimmo Napolitano) has landed here a few times, notably with his exciting and severe Outflow record where we admired the “measured control, economy, tautness, and selection” in the compactness and editing; and the old-school tape-recorder approach delighted Paul Morgan on 2013’s Moscaio album, even though he complained “there’s no doubt [SEC_] has successfully created an alien, unnatural soundscape, but I found that it takes a few listens to be able to comfortably inhabit it.” Here today is Mefite (TOXO RECORDS tx07), a highly alarming and disorienting composition, which like Outflow also contains a near-overload of information, and which like Moscaio successfully induces strange sensations of loathing and dread.

Mefite has a classical theme, inspired by the Roman fertility goddess (called Mephitis in English) who was often associated with water, swamps, and volcanoes; some scholars think she’s the personification of the sulphurous gases which were naturally emitted by these geographic features. Our man Mimmo is 100% sold on the myth; he describes the Ansanto Valley with some relish as a secret cult location where “horrible gas emissions…kill those who go too close”. These themes are bolstered by the murky cover images, portraying inhospitable rocky areas, perhaps riddled with lava streams and poisonous gases.

To articulate the voice of Mephitis, Mimmo has enlisted the talents of M. DellaMorte, who intones her vengeful words through a distorting filter as if speaking to us mere mortals using the broken telephone receiver of The Gods. She may have got the job based solely on her surname, which translates as “Of Death”; hopefully she’s a gothic beauty with stunning black hair, a wan expression, and prominent cheekbones. The texts she’s speaking were derived from a film about insects by Peter Liechti, which in turn was inspired by a book bearing the chilling title Diary Of A Mummy by Shimada Masahiko. Apparently it’s a macabre story about death by starvation, told in diary form. Brrr…but I do like this multi-layered approach to culture, allowing one subject to illuminate another; juggling the nested ideas seems like just the sort of complex exercise that SEC_ would enjoy, given his elaborate music.

This barrage of information reaches a head near the middle of Part 2 of the composition, creating an overload of unnerving sounds in which the relentless voice continues to chatter implacably. Matter of fact there are multiple speaking voices, generating nightmarish sensations. I should count myself lucky I only have a CD; the original performance in Naples was a multi-channel operation, involving radios and speakers with a live vocal performance. Small wonder the inhabitants dreamt of death by volcano that night, some of them reliving the last days of Pompeii.

I had an idea that European electro-acoustic composers of the 20th century also liked to do occasional updates on Greek and Roman myths, but I can’t find any examples now to support this claim. Even so, one senses that SEC_ is following in a good tradition, giving free vent to his tortured imagination through these strong themes, and creating powerful music thereby. Very good! From 28 June 2016.

Widt Of A Circle

widt

The record WIDT (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 124-2) by WIDT is largely the work of Antonina Nowacka, a Polish creator who is a visual artist, painter, film-maker and photographer. But she also sings, and has been using her voice and synthesizer for some years to create atmospheric, abstract music which we can only describe as “haunting” – often to the point of being overtaken by a spirit or inhabited by a ghost. She is capable of that slightly solemn and deeply ceremonial dark music which we often associate with recent Polish musical acts to have come our way, including Hati, 23 Threads, and Tundra. Antonina is also one half of A.N.R.S., a duo with Robert Skrzyński, who released their self-titled record for Requiem Records this year. Plus she has performed with trumpeter Algirdas Dokalskiego in 2014, in an improvising context.

On WIDT, get ready to hear seven examples of her craft, where her voice is treated with some reverb and looping effects to create endless patterns and repetitions, and the whirlpools of sound suck you in as expected, down into a gently spinning slow-motion maelstrom of ancient mystery. All the songs are done without words, and it’s all about Nowacka shaping sounds and vocalising into interesting textures. She’s trying to say something about particular mental states and moods. But she also seeks a connection with the “old songs” (whatever that may mean in Poland; perhaps a reference to folk music of the Carpathians), religious music, and opera; traces of all of these can be found embedded in the fabric of her works. More than once during today’s spin, I fancied I was hearing the dark, evil twin of Yma Sumac descending from a cold mountainside, armed with a sword.

The other half of the WIDT act is Bogumiła Piotrowska, a video artist; WIDT’s complete package of son et lumière has been represented before on a CD-DVD package from Circon Int. capturing their performance at Edinburgh; and Pointless Geometry in Poland even issued a VHS cassette of their work, in 2013. The DVD here will allow you to hear all seven songs again, this time accompanied by the video art of Piotrowska. It looks like it’s exploiting video feedback effects in real time to create visuals that move in time to the voice and music; something of a familiar trope, but it’s good stuff; I like the restrained colours, the limited abstract shapes, and the highly grainy quality to the surface, which at times borders on old-school television interference. The visuals have a grittiness which some modern A/V creators have forgotten about, or deliberately try to avoid. I particularly like the black and grey blocks for ‘Joleusa’, which remind me of a test card pattern, going slightly bonkers. From June 2016.

Broken and Incoherent Society

Three items from the LF Records label in Bristol landed 6th May 2016.

nov16317

Norwegian Sindre Bjerga wows crowds everywhere through his manipulation of cassette tapes. We heard him doing it for this label in 2014 with Black Paper Wings, a highly effective combination of warped speaking voices with twisted electronic spew. We also heard him as one half of Star Turbine, on the fabbo record Inner Space / Outer Space for Attenuation Circuit, and on Invisible Paths for Zoharum. Here on For The Automatic People (LF057), we’ve got 28 minutes of him mangling tapes and machines at a live set in Nijmegen. No doubt it offers a sensationally chilling experience, pushing the listener through the other side of a distorting mirror where the once-familiar world is transformed into ugly, threatening shapes. But for most of the time Bjerga is treading water, letting the tapes unspool in suitably ambiguous droney and crackly scapes but not doing much to exert himself as a performer; I prefer the brief moments when he gets his hands stuck right in, and does something to manually retard the rotation of his own capstans, to devastating effect. Even so, this growly beast fully lives up to label claim of “magnetic tape abuse, bleak drone and dungeon crawler electronics”.

nov16318

When it comes to “hands-on” performances, you could do worse than turning your spotlight on major loon Yol, the English performer whose ugly and slightly confrontational work has crossed our path on two unforgettable CDRs. Is It Acceptable (LF056) contains four instances of his voice-centric noise, and will likely sear its way into your life in just 30 mins with as much assurance as a truckload of spoiled food or garden debris tipped onto your front lawn. Yol spits and vomits out primitive poetry right there on the stage, mauling and mangling his own larynx into hideous forms while doing so; unpleasant imagery abounds in his texts, many of them vivid descriptions of life on a bleak on a housing estate, and it’s like meeting an urbanised Stig of the Dump crossed with a heroin addict clutching a can of Special Brew in his hairy paw. To accompany these caustic, abrasive voice attacks, Yol uses broken debris as percussion – could be chains, metal tins, broken glass…as if using the remains of industrial society to make his point. Can’t help but concur with label assessment: “Yol infests speech and sound with a plague-like bubonic mass that explodes spores into the atmosphere”.

nov16319

Both the above releases tend to confirm label owner Greg Godwin’s view of contemporary British society as broken and incoherent. The next record is slightly more “musical”, though that’s probably stretching the envelope a bit more than we should. It’s a split album (LF050) between Robin Foster and Henry Collins, with both cuts mysteriously timed at exactly 18:02. Foster turns in ‘Spill Lynch Corrosiveness’, a long and brooding episode of nasty guitar noise, which he executes with a coldness of purpose that borders on malevolence. He makes that feedback hum creep along the studio floor as though it’s a slowly-seeping pool of acid, soon to be lapping around our ankles. There’s also evidence of his skill with pedal manipulation; not a second goes by but a potentially “normal” sounding guitar lick is mutated into a hideous blob of ugliness by means of distortion or delay, pushed to wild extremes. If there’s a coherent statement to be extracted from this lengthy bout of waywardness, you’d be hard pressed to find it; Robin Foster is determined to short-circuit logic and common sense at all times, pushing back and forth between the modes of twangy free-form plucking and pure noise generation.

Henry Collins’ exploits are even more insufferable. His ‘Frostlike, Neighbourly Aversion’ makes it plain, in both title and sound, that he wishes to explore his own personal sensations of alienation. His assault on the guitar, if that is indeed the instrument in question, is violent and crude; for the first seven minutes the listener is repelled rather than engaged, forced aside by an ugly chattering of coarse metal-electric filth. Things progress from that point, into insane explorations of wayward feedback apparently taking place inside an industrial metal cannister, some 30 feet high with no possibility of escape. It’s genuinely alarming to hear; this noise perfectly evokes the maddened frustration and claustrophobia of the mentally ill, clawing helplessly at the walls of their self-made cage. One of the more impressive scabs to have been torn from the gangrenous knee of the LF Records label; for those with a thirst for more Foster and Collins, they also perform as a duo under the name of Tippex.

Long Overdue Part 15

sep2016103

Here’s a 2013 item from Fritz Welch. Crumbs On A Dumpster was released by the infamous Chocolate Monk label. It’s Volume 5 in a series of releases called The Well Spliced Breath, of which seven volumes surfaced in all; other contributors included Gen Ken, Mat Krefting, Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble, and Spoils & Relics. The plan was to showcase “sound-tape collage, text-sound, radiophonic horspiel-type muck”. Fritz Welch used to drum with American underground band Pee-Ess-Eye, now resides in Glasgow and sometimes surfaces as one half of With Lumps; recent releases he has inflicted on us have been impressive examples of difficult, ugly, mis-shapen noise.

What he does on Crumbs On A Dumpster may involve some serious tape mangling and malarkey with hardware that doesn’t bear thinking about…the sounds that emerge from the CDR are like nasty brown sludge pouring out of a culvert, or dead skin sloughing off the back of an unpleasant reptile. Human voices, through cut-ups, wrong speeds and backwards playback, become grotesque goblins muttering curses against the world. This chorus performs its dark murmurings in a lo-fi soup of non-musical, broken shards of nonsense, creating vague drones and percussion effects. The combined effect of all this is a surreal, indigestible nightmare of absurdity, affirmed by the ridiculous titles ‘The Triangulated Stumps’ and ‘Open The Door Doctor West!’. 30 minutes of unsettling creeping madness…60 copies were made.