Loop systems and complex overtones

The partnering of Richard Pinhas with Merzbow continues to be fruitful and productive if the Rhizome (CUNEIFORM RECORDS RUNE 328) two-disk pack is anything go by. On the audio disc five long tracks of music from the pair of them recorded in 2010 at the Washington DC Sonic Circuits Festival, plus video footage of the performance on an accompanying DVD disc. The pair do function well together and successfully achieve a solid integration of respective sounds and performance styles which is exceptionally rare, they unfailingly summon up a sense of great volume and soaring power, plus they apparently have the stamina to keep on doing it for long stretches. I often have the feeling that Pinhas tends to dominate this live set and that his long-form, processed and treated guitar sounds are ubiquitous, much like Robert De Niro appearing in every single frame of Taxi Driver. It’s as though once Pinhas plugs in his axe and the pedals start to kick in, he’s an unstoppable force of nature. By contrast Masami Akita is almost performing the role of an eclectic miniaturist, adding details to the grand design where needed, such as the elegant swirl of a theremin-like cascade, or occasional interruptions of his characteristic aggressive wallops of caustic agony. Either that, or he generates a thickened buzz from his Apple Mac and mixing desk setup that may not simply be background wallpaper, but something integral to the structure of each improvisation. Although perhaps “structure” is not quite the bon mot, as this remains some of the most shapeless and meandering music to have reached us in 2012. Although polished, competent, professional, and served up to our ears through the most effective amplification and digital processes currently available to mankind, I wonder if this is fundamentally no different to an endless Jerry Garcia solo from a Grateful Dead concert. Whatever structure in the music we enjoy is provided mostly by Pinhas when he clicks on his echo device to create interesting loop effects and repeated guitar chimes, thus at least providing some form of pattern (however subtle) within the general formless murk and drone. For the most part, I feel myself suspended by my wrists inside a relentless wind-tunnel of sound, with little chance of escape from the airless blasts. Fripp and Eno they ain’t, I’m afraid. Genuinely wished I could enjoy this one more than I do, as I love and respect much of the work of these two towering creators. From March 2012.

Sound Creation (DEEP LISTENING DL 44-2012) by Johannes Welsch is music made almost entirely from gongs of various sizes. He’s a player who loves to immerse himself, and the listeners, in a continuous ringing sound throughout most of the record, and some incredibly lush cloud-like reverberances are summoned as he strikes his enormous metal discs with what I can only assume must be a constant, sustained, hammering action that is extremely punishing to the wrists and spinal column. He works with a considerable variety of sizes of gong, and both he and his mentor Dr Elaine Keillor of Carleton U speak with some authority about musical effects such as fundamentals, overtones and harmonics. While all the music is improvised, Welsch orders his work in accordance with simple conceptual structures – the first four pieces here are named for the four ancient elements. The ‘Earth’ suite in particular here delivers quite an astonishing sensation across its ten minutes, and if you wandered into range of hearing halfway through the piece it’s possible you’d mistake it for a fascinating continuum produced by electronic means. Not that there’s any careless distortion or noise to be found in the clean and accurate playing of this maestro of the tam-tam. One gets a similar impression of near-volcanic rumblings from the first part of his ‘Symphony’, a piece which growls and grumbles like a ferocious metal dinosaur before feeding time. Singing bowls appear on the last track, ‘Air’, of this otherwise all-gong album, producing their familiar high tones in splendid acoustic fulsomeness. Stockhausen, who famously added amplification and ring modulator to his tam-tams [1. See Mikrophonie I, from 1964.], is namechecked as an inspiration for some of this music, although other improvisers who have gonged, such as Eddie Prévost or Mark Wastell, don’t appear to figure prominently in Welsch’s musical schema. As imagery on cover suggests, where photo of gong has been transformed into a glowing meteor, this feels like a very heavy and elemental album. From 10 April 2012.

A splendidly fractured, raucous and impolite bowl of spew is Spiral Mirror (SMERALDINA-RIMA 16), an LP released by Extra Sexes in October 2011 (although we received a promo in April 2012). In fact its creation even pre-dates that release date, as the label have had it lined up for some time. Whence come these feral vocal barks, these twisted shrieks of feedback guitar, and this utterly mangled structure that seems to privilege an intense psychological episode as the raison d’etre for making music? It seems once there was a long-standing noisegrind band called Boy+Girl, a four-piece put together in 2005 by A G Davis of Florida who released some 18 albums before imploding last year (although they may have now reformed again). At some point in this turmoil, the Extra Sexes side project emerged, much like a mutant baby flung from the flanks of a monstrous slimy beast. Extra Sexes managed to make four cassettes and a CDR in 2009 alone. Visual artist and poet Davis is one who has set his teeth to explore the murkier realms of the human psyche, and has developed his own unconventional methods of music production to achieve this. I never heard Boy+Girl, but even so one has the impression their live shows must have been dangerous arenas for performance art, poetry and noise which delved unflinchingly into psycho-sexual dramas. I’m basing most of this assumption on this photograph, but we’re probably in the ballpark. For Extra Sexes, a drum machine was brought in, and a guitar replaced the familiar synths. The plan started out as a sort of cut-and-paste plunderphonic business, but with the malevolent intention of destroying the history of recorded music in a gigantic conflagration; sampling as an act of mangling and mauling, rather than anything to do with enhancing or expanding our musical appreciation. Into this seething cauldron, Extra Sexes would wilfully toss fragments of their own insane and extreme noise exploits. The results as gleaned from this gloriously indigestible vinyl abomination are considerable, and each track is a slice taken from a huge pie full of worms, snakes, and scorpions. Recommended to all fans of strong, dynamic noise such as Wolf Eyes. Extra Sexes have their own very distinctive contribution to make to the genre, and I like the way the music is always dancing on a knife-edge between coherence and sheer gibbering lunacy.

Chunky underground-ish electropop songs & tunes from French band DAT Politics on their Blitz Gazer (SUB ROSA SR342) album, a fun album full of noisy and bouncy synth music, propelled by a drum machine that’s apparently hopped up on eight bowls of chocolate cereal. I think they’re usually a trio nowadays, but it’s possible this release only features two (Collet and Prilliot) of the core members. The band used to be Tone Rec in the late 1990s when they first formed, but have made a number of records in their present shape, including at least four albums for Chicks On Speed Records; they now find themselves reunited with their old home at Sub Rosa. Short, snappy songs, probably to do with futuristic robot love and twisted forms of virtual reality. A lot of this would make pretty good music for a European bunker disco party housed in some concrete structure, and the only time when the music grates on my bark is when the diabolical auto-tune device is applied to the vocals. Not especially avant, despite the “arty” moves of the terrible cover, which is all over the boutique. Also available as an LP pressed in purple vinyl.