The Talking Animals

Fuck 2012 by Spirit Animals is a double disc set in a screenprinted wallet. All nicely home-made and very well-presented for something on a budget. He even has his own logo, a glyph composed from the initials S and A rendered in a Keith Haring manner. The creator is Mr Sean Wars of Liverpool who sent us this 13 April 2012. In pursuit of his “animal” theme, the audio CD and DVD are identified by different beasts rather than titles. The audio portion of the show, designated by the canine image, contains five tracks – starting with a long and highly extended steady drone piece with grows more distorted and grungy, before collapsing into a heap of wild and messy feedback that betokens a mental state of complete exasperation, a driving dissatisfaction where the next logical step would be to burn down the neighbour’s house. But it’s followed by something far more fragile, peaceful and minimal, a strangely moving piece which I would describe as a Zen wind-chime surrounded by fairy flutes from the land of well-a-day. There is also another piece of ferocious growly feedback noise called ‘Bearlesque’ (note the concealed bear in that title – another animal to add to the catalogue), and an uncertain instrumental ‘Buhbye Blood’ which is a sea-shanty played in slow motion on a frozen ocean. Play the DVD, designated by a feline image, and you’ll see Sean Wars playing all the above music, filmed for the occasion in a whitewashed attic of mystery. He does it through a combination of microphones, amplification, instruments and voices, played and replayed through a metal suitcase full of effects pedals. Concentration is evident in his body posture. He twists his dials with a strong degree of conviction, and it’s also exciting to see him perform the angry vocal parts of his harsh-noise sections, where the video tape includes jump-edits which hop about in sympathy with the musician’s jerky body movements. On the other hand it’s also revealing to see the devices he actually used; what I thought what was a wind chime based on the blindfold test turns out to be a thumb piano. I was more or less right about the sea-shanty though (it’s played on a small concertina). Gratuitous title aside, this music shows promise; a mixed collection of electro-acoustic music performance, with real-time processing and occasional Masonna-esque touches.

A recent example of the minimal-improvised mode of music from Marrichville in New South Wales is Incisions (IT’LL BE AWESOME 001) by Black Cracker. This is the duo of the trombonist Rishin Singh and Joe Watts. Watts operates a mixing desk to generate imperceptible patterings of non-musical sputterings, with a very insistent electronic putt-putt-putting. Meanwhile the trombonist breathes silent copper death into the air for long minutes, and then starts to produce squelches and squeaks with his mouth until you can almost see the flecks of bubbling saliva dribbling down his chin. There are brief moments near the end when it sounds like a mad elephant complaining about the short-wave radio that’s unexpectedly materialised in the savanna. The creators make an anti-copyright statement on the back cover, while each copy in this limited run edition has a hand-drawn cover by Rosita Holmes. The first release on Sam Pettigrew’s label. From 10 April 2012.

La Verna is a lovely place in Tuscany where I have visited some years ago as part of a tour to see the paintings of Piero della Francesca. It’s famous as the area where St Francis received the stigmata and there’s a shrine built where the incident took place. Sound artist Pietro Riparbelli has surpassed my one-day tourist trip with a three-day sojourn at the Sanctuary in La Verna. It looks like he really got “into” the place and its sounds in a big way and turned the experience into the art statement that is Three Days of Silence (GRUENREKORDER GRUEN 102). He collected field recordings from around the mountain area and also recorded the ceremonies of the monks, assembling the results into this carefully-structured work; he intends it to be a document of the complete experience, and through his compression he presents an authentic rendition of the three days in the space of less than one hour. He succeeds admirably in conveying the stillness and peace of the place, and provides another chapter in his ongoing mission to present the aural truth about certain sacred locales around the globe which he has selected. Given that previous instalments in the Riparbelli scheme have been quite alarming, psychologically disturbing, or even supernatural in nature, this beautiful release is welcome for its abiding sense of spiritual warmth and inner stillness, and it has a clarity and lightness that is refreshing. For those who seek more information about his time in the mountain, Pietro has made available online all his original source materials, and relevant pages from his diary. Arrived 5th April 2012.

Another example of compression technique is to be found on I Am Sitting in Phill Niblock’s Kitchen (MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO042). This is a collaboration between If, Bwana and Dan Warburton. The multi-layered (and how!) work is mostly the result of Warburton’s efforts, and he tells the story behind the realisation of it in his equally compressed and witty liner notes. It has involved the layering of a very large amount of time-stretched pre-recorded material, working to very strict rules of duration and timing, and resulting in an impossible multi-decker sandwich of recorded history from the past releases of Al Margolis. The playback of said material then took place in an acoustic space with added live clarinet, electronics and violin performances from the players, and recordings were made to include the ambient space along with any interference from passing traffic or other sounds. Besides referencing the famous Alvin Lucier piece, it harks back to another Warburton episode which he made with Reynols, broadly on the same theme. Enough conceptual and aural layers for you so far? I feel like we’re getting a crash course in post-Cagean composition in less than 45 minutes. Actually what comes over in playing back this little beastie is that, far from being the indigestible slab of overloaded musical sludge one might feasibly expect, it’s a very listenable and open-ended thing – the listener feels they could dive into any of the numerous sound-windows presented in this big glass cathedral, yet the building also retains a perfect sense of contiguity, without ever descending into a boring drone of competing frequencies. Like Pietro’s above, there is much light. It shows that subtlety in realisation is often an artist’s strongest weapon; by all means think big, but then use your craft to conceal the scale of your ambitions. When unveiled, the towering iron structure will appear to be floating in the air. The sheer quantity of aural information hereon has the same dizzying effect on me as when I first heard If, Bwana’s music on his 1999 release Clara Nostra, reeling from the idea and the sound of over 100,000 overdubbed clarinets. Excellent. I think this one arrived in February 2012.