artifacts of the no-audience underground: yol – pushtoshove, or why i’m scared of vocal improv

March 16, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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YOL – PUSHTOSHOVE pushtoshove (self-released CD-r)

If you asked me what had changed in the five years I had away from the no-audience underground (2005-2010 approx) I would be tempted to put ‘the use of vocals’ near the top of the list.  I’m not talking about heartbreaking harmonies, of course, or verse-chorus-verse-chorus.  Down here it is more likely to be stream-of-consciousness improv, Dada tone poem nonsense or completely non-verbal ‘gurglecore’.

In response to this development I was tempted to document my experience of non-standard uses of the human voice in a (more or less) musical context.  This would take us from ‘I Zimbra’ by Talking Heads and Treasure by Cocteau Twins to the brown-straining of the Posset tape below and the spittle-flecked fury of the release above via some half-arsed ahistorical research into scat singing, Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty and the Fluxus artists (I saw Ludo Mich at the Fox & Newt recently – that guy has been gibbering since before I was born).  However, all that wouldn’t account for my unease with the genre(s) so I’m going to take a different tack.  For context, let me first introduce you to two characters I used to see around Leeds.

In the mid-90s a young woman (late 20s?  hard to tell) with mental health issues would badger passersby on Wood Lane in Headingley with an endless stream of questions about their personal hygiene.  She would also request advice on dealing with her bestiary of imaginary pets, all of which seemed to be perpetually ill or injured.  For a while I saw her four or five times a week.

On one of those days, whilst nursing a hangover, I passed her and she fell into step with me.  “My dog, my little dog, I think he has a piece of glass, a little piece of glass, stuck in his tail,” she insisted.  I stopped and looked her in the eye, my well of patience suddenly as dry as my morning-after mouth, and said “You. Do. Not. Have. A. Dog.”  The keening, retching wail which I got in response has often come to mind when listening to this stuff.  I’m not proud of myself for causing pain, by the way, I was an obnoxious dick and karma repaid me with my first diagnosis of depression a year or two later.

Secondly, last year I often saw an archetypal crazy-guy-on-the-bus – unkempt mop of hair, razor sharp ‘Mr Punch’ nose, complexion of a windswept lobster – riding the top deck of circular routes here in the garden city of Leeds.  I looked over his shoulder at the tatty wordsearch puzzle book that he carried with him and was amused and intrigued to see the random selection of letters – never an actual word of the Queen’s English – that were sometimes emphatically struck through, sometimes tentatively circled.  Occasionally he hesitated, as if unsure that the arbitrary snake of letters he was outlining actually represented what he thought it did.  His puzzle sheets became a schematic diagram of glossolalia.  He also argued – with himself, with memories, with invisible antagonists, who knows? – and repeated variations of simple phrases, altering volume and emphasis as fury overtook him: “I said I’d do it, I said, Isaidi’ddoit, I’ll do it I sa…I TOLD HIM! I said I’D DO IT…” etc., etc.

And here we almost get to the point because this is what the vocal part of Yol’s performances sound like: like the auto-echolalia (I’ve just made that term up – please comment if you know what the actual word for this behaviour is) of someone ‘touched by madness’.  He picks a word, or a short phrase and constructs a tight, violent improvisation around it.  He barks and growls, he bellows.  There is one track of ‘gurglecore’ – ‘disconnect’ – which is bookended with the sound of keys and leaves the listener feeling like a startled Victorian gentleman who mistakenly thought it might be fun to visit the madhouse.  Otherwise, Yol works through repetition and variations on a theme as if he was on the top deck of my bus.

All the while he accompanies himself with a furious racket – like a school hall full of sullen kids scraping their chairs as they reluctantly get up for the headmaster, like a post sack full of glass bottles being stamped on, like a slavering alsatian guard dog causing an avalanche of metallic rubbish in a junkyard.  Yol has joked that this is ‘power electronics without the power’ but I suspect that it would be more accurate to describe it as ‘…without the electronics’ as this has Darth Vader levels of power – just no amplification.  At the end of ‘limb’ there is a smattering of applause and the first time I heard this I laughed out loud: holy shit! The guy did that in front of an audience!  The destruction seems absolutely real, the physicality of it is exhilarating.

So what is the problem?  Well, it is similar to the issue I had/have with Ceramic Hobs.  I suffer with depression, currently under control but debilitating for a few months every year or two, and my illness has no redeeming features at all.  No manic periods of glorious creativity.  Nothing.  As I have said many times before, if I could get rid of it by pressing a button then you would have to pry my thumb off it.  As such, the invocation of madness in art makes me very uneasy and the voluntary ceding of control that full blown vocal improv like this entails is truly frightening to me, even when someone else is doing it.

In an extraordinary article on glossolalia, Seth Cooke, Bang the Bore curator and all-round force for the good, describes his upbringing in a Christian church where this phenomenon was common and encouraged.  Despite having left the religious aspect behind, Seth considers this state of mind potentially useful in a creative context and provides instructions for the novice, including a come-down debriefing to help restore your ego after the experience.  This is fascinating stuff – gripping even – and I highly recommend settling down to read his whole piece once you are finished here.  But terrifying.  Choosing to surrender yourself to the spirit/the unconscious (delete as applicable) is beyond my comprehension.  Yes, I admit to favourably describing many drone pieces – including my own – as ego dissolving but this strikes me as importantly different.  When I speak of ego dissolution I am usually referring to a welcome break from the exhausting rigours of being myself, not replacing myself with something else, not giving voice to god knows what abyssal monster may lurk beneath.

In conclusion then, the CD-r above is entirely worthy of your attention and you should contact Yol at to secure a copy.  It’s intriguing, darkly funny, properly unsettling (to me at least, for the reasons given above) and, at about 20 minutes total running time, gets in and out with a refreshing brevity and focus.  Yol’s commitment to the brute physicality of the performance is jaw-dropping.  You’ll have to excuse me if I stand at the back though, and don’t worry if I leave early, head down and breathing heavy, as the walk home will do me good…

EDIT: see Yol performing ‘hand to mouth’ (titled here as ‘scrape mess’) via YouTube.

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