Perpetual Motion Machines

People Like Us and Ergo Phizmiz arrive with a new collaborative CD, called Perpetuum Mobile (SOL156CD) and released by Soleilmoon Records in the US. This label has been home to many a PLU masterpiece, some as vinyl epics with garish, acidic sleeves. Matter of fact, Perpetuum may just be the cake of the week in the TSP box, on account of its sumptuous silk-screened cover, whose images of 19th-century engravings are printed in a tasteful deep crimson on cream paper and wrapped around a ‘six-panel folderpack’. This handmade artefact is presumably quite limited, and I know both of these distinctive talents have their collector fanbase, so it might be wise to place your orders now. Both artistes, as if you didn’t know, are accomplished composers in the collage mode, sourcing private libraries packed with unbelievable records and other sonic oddities, to create humourous, witty, and ambiguous tapestries of wonderment. I’ve been a fan of Vicki’s work for about 8 years, Phizmiz for slightly less; both have generously made portions of their back catalogues available online, and are also firm favourites at the avant-radio houses WFMU and Resonance FM.

Ben Reynolds continues his relentless ascent up from the UK underground, appearing here as one half of a new project called Motor Ghost with drummer Alex Neilson. Reynolds is only known to me as a constructor of dense solo drone overdub miniatures, but on A Gold Chain Round Her Breast (DANCING WAYANG RECORDS) we can count on him to belt out some angular and feedback-enriched freenoise guitar shapes. Early signs are looking pretty good for this one, particularly with regard to the hand-made silkscreened cover to this limited-press vinyl LP. The striking painterly artwork and lettering (the latter influenced by the Book of Kells) was created by Anna Tjan, who also recorded the sessions and released the LP on her own label. A strong package that restores your faith in home-made records.

Anechoic is another guitar and drums duo, comprising Peter Scartabello and John Lima, although (in distinction to the above) I sense that their Leng Jin CD (YUGGOTH RECORDS 009) may veer more towards windy and spacey avant-rock with a vaguely dark vibe, as suggested by titles like ‘Deathstar Gamma Burst’. However, they’re from the ultra-hip Rhode Island (home of Lightning Bolt) and their record label name is something H P Lovecraft would savour as he mouthed it with his thin, pale lips.

More vinyl, but with somewhat more restrained packaging, is sliding in from the Danish BSBTA Label. It’s a split seven-inch by Elektronavn and Exquisite Russian Brides; the very talented Marc Kellaway is the latter, and the former is electro-acoustic genius Magnus Olsen Majmon. Both have impressed me in recent years with their CDR efforts, and this endeavour promises further satisfaction in the shape of deep, mysterious drone-works. The plain white cover is embellished with a hand stamped lino-cut. The artistes also advise playing the sides at either 45 or 33 rpm, an open-ended approach of which I heartily approve. At least it’s slightly less annoying than omitting this important information altogether.

The Slovenian label L’Innomable emerged recently to pretty much corner the market in ‘quiet improv’ music, and some of their excellent releases were reviewed in TSP 15. Here are four more in similar vein: Axel Dörner, the German trumpeter, playing with Lucio Capece on sax and clarinet; Matthieu Saladin, another woodwind hombre, with his Intervalles; Sabine Ercklentz, with Steinschlag, on which he manipulates trumpet sounds (he calls them ‘signals’) on his computer; and the duo of Tao G. Vrhovec Sambolec with Tomaz Grom, whose Tilt was made with live electronics and double bass. Each of these arrive in utterly cryptic and low-key packaging and the distinctive flapped-envelope card covers which this label deploys; each CD looks like a packet of strange and exotic cigars, for you to smoke. Who knows what visions you’ll enjoy as you inhale one of these gaspers, although if you’re a regular listener in this area of music you’ll know not to expect much in the way of wild, noisy thrills – just quiet, studied, and careful musical improvisations.

Nice surprise here from Ex Ovo, the ‘new label for drone music and dulcet atmospheres’ as they style themselves. Although an epithet like that comes close to a description you might find printed on a pack of Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Jersey double cream with a hint of brandy, I was very taken with one of these on initial spin. The Icicle Lectures Vol 1 by Feu Follet and Miina Virtanen contains a 34:00 title track which carries some overtones of Popol Vuh – quiet, simple piano figures and delicate, spectral dronework. Most absorbing. Also in Ex Ovo’s package was I, Mute Hummings, a compilation of nine drone pieces from contributors Keith Berry, Fear Falls Burning, Troum, Jeffrey Roden, Paul Bradley, Richard Lainhart, Column One, and others – Berry’s is the only name familiar to me. As the world knows I love a good drone, and it’s interesting for me after ten years of swimming in drone music to perceive the range of different approaches that people find to this apparently ‘simple’ way of working. Ex Ovo seem to favour the wispy and ethereal mode, with slightly mystical overtones; I suppose for the full effect you need to reach for your Herman Hesse novel with one hand and a glass of chilled Chardonnay with the other.

San Franciscan Loren Chasse, half man half goat, is at it again – this time as one half of Ov, a duo formed with his recent bride Christine Boepple, dressed in a twin-set made of rabbit fur. On Noctilucent Valleys (SAB 018 CD), they rub their antlers together to produce what Minneapolis-based label Soft Abuse term ‘Abstract Folk-Drone / Womb-Pop’. The letter neologism is not one often applied in the realm of music, whereas the sense arising from Chasse and Boepple’s song titles is one rooted in more familiar pastoral imagery – swans, bones, clouds, moons, mountains and canals, and the occasional hint of supernatural / mythological overtones, such as centaurs, ghosts, and souls. Bound to be a rewarding aural treat or two in store from this gentle acoustic duo of free folksters.

Handful of goodies winged in from that arty-folky label Bo’Weavil Recordings, which for years I assumed was American when in fact they’re based in North London. Their vinyl issues of records by Henry Flynt and Shirley Collins have been astounding the crowned heads of Soho for many a moon. Rob Mullender‘s album Human Resources (WEAVIL 21) is a set of 12 no-frills recordings of him on acoustic guitar, improvising and melodising for all he’s worth. Wooden Spoon has an album called The Folk Blues Guitar of Wooden Spoon (WEAVIL 18), again mostly acoustic guitar but with additional instruments and tape loops. He performs in ‘the now widely known Takoma guitar tradition’, apparently. I’d better not get started on this, but I would like to point out that Takoma was a record label like Vertigo, Neon or Chess, and not a musical tradition like Flamenco, Blues or Country. Regardless of my rising gorge, have to admit these are sturdy artefacts described as ‘hard card mini LP gatefold sleeve’ packages; they imitate, quite successfully, the look and feel of an early 1960s LP on Folkways or Origin Jazz Library, with their monochrome artworks pasted over a canvas textured sleeve. Tactile!

One comment

  1. Have to agree with your annoyance re. namechecking of the “Takoma Tradition.” It seems any post-adolescent who can just about grow a beard these days fancies himself as a new finger-picking John Fahey or Robbie Basho. I don’t deny that some good contemporary music might possibly come out of these references / genre borrowing but I have the suspicion that such lazy alignment bypasses actual hard-won understanding of musical tradition and technical “chops”!

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