Caution: Men Working Overhead

Here we are with another Richard Rupenus / New Blockaders / remix-reworking project, this time a triple CD which arrived here in June 2019. Changez Retravaillé (RICERCA SONORA RS7) is released on the Italian label Ricerca Sonora of Apulia, also associated with Backwards and Slow Music, and its owners are dedicated to the release of experimental music; on this sub label, active since 2012, they’ve put out items by Philip Corner (the American gamelan-loving minimalist) and Fabio Orsi (an old friend of the label owner, I think). Changez Retravaillé features 30 tracks, contributions from your favourite avant noise-makers and industrial types, many of them famous names. They’re been charged with reworking – even the title Changez Retravaillé insists on this, using a French term that carries meaning of redesign and refitting, often used in the context of architecture and rebuilding. I personally alight on that specific meaning, as it seems fitting with the sound of The New Blockaders, which I often associate with building materials, e.g. cement mixers, brick walls, falling masonry, and old concrete blocks. The source material they’re reworking is the very first record by The New Blockaders, Changez Les Blockeurs which came out in 1982.

Haven’t we been here before? Well, sort of – there was the vinyl LP which came out in 2018 on United Dirter, but that one was credited partially to Nurse With Wound, whose intensive and imaginative reworking we noted, especially the ingenious way Stapleton added subtle new dimensions to the basic chug and clank of the TNB sound. Neither is it the first time Rupenus has invited his chums to a remix party – I was going to cite the Viva Negativa! four-LP set from 2006, but in fact that’s more of a tribute thing with original contributions by all those invited. For today’s item, I thought I’d better revisit the original LP for a quick spin, since I have it before me as a part of the four-disc Hypngaogia set which spanned the years 1982 to 2002. From one point of view, the original release is regarded as a landmark in the noise genre, probably because of its originality (nothing really quite like it before or since) and its cussed refusal of the conventions of art and listening pleasure, which were embedded in the TNB genetic code from the start. It’s also become a significant collectors item, which may be due to its age and small print run as well as its impact on the culture. Playing it today, I’d nearly forgotten that Changez is quite atypical of the later “roaring” records, and almost counts as “acoustic” sound art in the context of the Rupenus catalogue. There’s a lot of grinding and scraping and bumping about, producing utterly formless and broken sounds; the occasional high-pitched squeals, as of badly-oiled castors, remind us this is the furniture-shifting job from Hell. Your antique cabinet won’t survive this rough handling. The sound of it is not just monotonous and insufferable, it’s also very flat. How will our 30 contributors bring life, dimensions, and passion to this flatness? Or will they choose not to?

I found myself going for capsuled summaries of everything on this international survey, which starts in the UK and then traverses parts of mainland Europe, to the USA, and inevitably finishes in Japan. If you don’t want to hear the final score, look away now.

Disc one

  • NWW – very close to the original source – it seems like he doubles it (or triples it) by overlaying, arriving at a mad excess of content.
  • Philip Sanderson – he puts in a clonky jolly beat (as of early Storm Bugs) which soon admits defeat in the face of nightmarish tremors. About the only humourous moment on the entire 3 discs.
  • Mark Durgan – was expecting harsher textures from old Putrefier, but instead he pays great attention to tiny fragmented details assembled in a confusing, surreal swirl. A good one.
  • Phil Julian – seems like an attempt to restage the furniture move from this English player, rather than rework it, using his own equipment with lots of spring beds and electricity. Brutal, perhaps too forceful.
  • The Prestidigators – I never heard this North-East of England project led by Michael Gillham before, but I like this; what he does with rattling planks and squeals has much juice and vigour, and is worthy of a true Dadaist.
  • Anomali – the English fellow who released the Hypngaogia set, and whose solo records have been quite disturbing; but this is a pedestrian piece of industrial clonk, too much in thrall to the original.
  • Spoils & Relics – another new-to-me UK experimental trio who turn in a radical remake here on their own terms. Bitty and disjointed, but it delivers the bacon with the force of a mortar shell.
  • Jérôme Noetinger – the great French tape manipulator shows his superb command of timbres and, unlike many of the contributors, gives the strong impression of being in full control of his materials (rather than being led where he may by the whirlwind of TNB noise).
  • Giancarlo Toniutti & Massimo Toniutti – old-school 1980s styled brutalists, these two Italians, one of whom has an academic background. Their take is intriguing and intellectually satisfying, but misses the absurdity somehow.
  • Rudolf – one of the emperors of absurdist, nihilistic actions summons a truly menacing atmosphere which grows and grows. Horrifying.

Disc Two

  • QST – this is Frans de Waard and his mate producing one of the more enjoyable moments on this generally bleak set. I suspect Frans couldn’t do “noise terror” even if pressed, as he’s a nice guy and his disposition is too positive. Another one of the few who aren’t afraid to refuse patterns and rhythms, both elements which are absent from the source.
  • Asmus Tietchens – a typically quiet and restrained episode from Asmus; you might be able to interpret these highly-processed signals as somehow connected to the original Rupenus rumpus. I can’t, though. Mystifying.
  • RLW – Germany’s most prolific sonic genius who exceeded everyone’s expectations ten times over. This is six minutes of sheer brilliance – you can find a lot of depth in these tautly-arranged abstract sounds, a depth which you won’t find on the 1982 LP.
  • Das Synthetische Mischgewebe – Guido Huebner’s likewise prolific project turns in a surprisingly listenable slab, considering how elusive DSM can be when committed to wax. We seem to be moving some way away from the source material with the cuts on this disc so far.
  • Alexei Borisov – everyone’s favourite Russian powerhouse, with a segment which emphasises the abrasive and prickly side of TNB. How do people find such bad-tempered devices to make this kind of din?
  • Kommissar Hjuler – a genius loon who dreams of being a king. Everyone who meets him expects this performance artist to be wearing a cardboard crown. He and Rupenus have recently come together on that limited vinyl Bladder Flask tribute thing, which was relatively restrained, but here he just sounds plain bonkers.
  • The New Movement – these two Swedes have only been going a few years, but they seem to be wholly modelling their act after Rupenus; they too have a manifesto and slogans, and preach a strong anti-art line. Their contribution is likewise derivative, and rather dull to boot.
  • GX Jupitter-Larsen – the Californian “Haters” guy with a track he could probably assemble with one hand tied behind his back, yet still flattens you with the force of a juggernaut. The core of this one seems the closest we’ve gotten yet to the source material, and yet counts as a highly imaginative reworking of it. Bonus points for responding so accurately to the remit of the call.
  • John Wiese – another American king of aggressive noise delivers a powerful drubbing to the head with this growler, which made me think of a gigantic cobra made of steel striking its victim. Wiese would be great at doing sound effects for CGI fantasy movies.
  • Thurston Moore – not a name often associated with TNB, though of course Thurston did stage a 2017 concert for them. Here, he tries to play his electric guitar in broken snatches along with the original record, which soon winds up a mistake; he can’t seem to get any traction, and the piece is stuck in neutral, flourish as he may.

Disc Three

  • Jim O’Rourke – continues to represent the American delegates at this party. Sonically, his piece is one of the most diverting and varied so far, but I sense he’s over-intellectualising it by one or two degrees, and trying to prove something about himself.
  • Idea Fire Company – Scott Foust and crew in an uncharacteristically bitter frame of mind with this bleak metal horror. Maybe it’s just Scott solo, manipulating tapes; not a trace of the benign influence of Karla Borecky on this severe episode with flashes of blackness.
  • irr. app. (ext.) – Matt Waldron has sometimes passed within these pages, and when he did it was in the company of Blue Sabbath Black Cheer. I’ve always found his noise to be lacking in personality and weak on ideas.
  • Nobuo Yamada – leads off the Japanese segment of the release. This visual artist has already made two records with Rupenus, most recently the 81/44 LP for Art Into Life. His contribution ingeniously balances chaos with more ordered elements, introducing a strong tension which is welcome at this point. (Yes, I played the whole thing in a day, and the monotony is a killer.)
  • Kazumoto Endo – five minutes of intense metal grind from Mr “Killer Bug”. A standout cut – at last we can savour some dynamics. 90% of Rupenus reworks can’t seem to avoid ending up as a continuous roar, but Endo bucks that trend with his muscular metal-bending antics.
  • Daisuke Suzuki – equally listenable episode from this field-recording guy who runs Siren Records. One of the few here who can transform Rupenus into a species of music. Sweet as a good nut (2.5mm, that is).
  • Veltz – wow. This is one Akira Matsuota who has recently made records with intriguing titles such as Broken TV Audio Report and Hommage to Home Electronics. Here be 5:19 of glorious slaughter which puts a lot of pretenders to shame.
  • Toshiji Mikawa – a big-name Japanese noiseman associated with Hijokaidan and Incapacitants. He executes a superb blend of shrill electronics, harsh noise wall and furniture-moving blockadery. Along with Jupitter-Larsen, he ought to win a prize for best response to the terms of the call.
  • K2 – another important harsh blaster. Kimihide Kusafuka destroys, using hammers and feedback to create many nuclear explosions at once. Climactic, yet this is still not quite the final curtain…
  • Merzbow – is awarded the coveted final spot on this line-up of death and destruction. He pulls out several of the stops from his mighty organ, and makes a return to the way he used to sound before “digital everything” was the watchword. The Japanese contingent sweep the board and pick up all the prizes.

Closing remarks: Rupenus has been revisiting his back catalogue quite a bit lately and encouraging these reworkings of it; for a moment there I thought it was a bit similar to Marcel Duchamp and his Boîte-en-valise, when he reproduced his ready-made “greatest hits” in miniature and packed them all in a limited edition suitcase. Like Duchamp, Rupenus wants to make the memorable anti-art gesture, except the noise-maker has much more virulence and bile lurking behind each act. There’s been a bit of care in the preparation of the insert for this record, which contains the by-now familiar TNB manifesto; a list of comments and quotes from journalists and simpatico people like Ron Lessard; a reprint of an interview which is juicy with references to avant-garde art and music, industrial music, and the need to shock people; and an assessment of the original LP from Notebooks. Content-wise, this is very good; I wish it had been slightly better presented and laid out, for better impact. The year 2017 would have been the 35th anniversary of the 1982 record, but this celebratory comp just missed the deadline by two years. Even so, for those who are fans…an unmissable item, and if you like noise you are guaranteed to find at least one piece on here that satisfies you. From 17 June 2019.