i will have influences on your brains: a year in the work of robert ridley-shackleton’s hissing frames

August 5, 2013 at 11:14 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Piano Sonatas for Prepared Oven Mitt (3” CD-r, March 2013)

The Sad Lake Land (3″ CD-r, June 2013)

Stud (CD-r, June 2013)

The Good Castle (3″ CD-r, July 2012)

 Melting all My Videos into Toxic Waste (C15 tape, June 2013)

The Peaking Hills (C15 tape, May 2013)

Judy Garland (C15 tape)

Mr. Demo (C15 tape)

Sex U Up (C30 tape, May 2012)

Positivity (C15 tape, July 2012)

Light years of Sodom, God and Splat (C20, May 2012)

Split w/Non Ferric Memories – Horefans (CD-r, October 2012)

Split w/Lee Riley – Split (CD-r, March 2013)

Split w/Kommissar Hjuler Und Frau – Big Sass (C58 split tape, September 2012)

 Holes (A5, 2012)

Space Between the Slits (A5, 2013)

The First Man (A5, April 2013)

No More Twilight (A5, June 2013)

Fingers On His Hands (A5)

Two further untitled booklets (A5)

A Quest for Rest (folded A4 sheet)

Large printed postcard (A5)

Dad’s Diary No. 1 (A6 comic)

Robert Palmers Beautiful But Sometimes Cocky Plug Socket (A6 Comic)

3 x A7 photo-collage booklets

robert r-s on paperrobert r-s cardrobert r-s cdrsrobert r-s tapesrobert r-s mini cdrs

There are three questions I routinely ask the moment I step through the cabin door and set down my axe after a hard day’s work: “how is he?”, meaning my baby son Thomas, “how are you?”, meaning my beautiful wife Anne, and finally: “any post?”

My love of the post is unconditional: opening regular correspondence or a fulfilled order is a fundamental pleasure.  However, the finest post-related experience is a little more mysterious, rare and sophisticated.  Once in a while I tip the contents of a package onto the kitchen table and am stunned into a moment’s silence as I examine each artefact in turn, gradually realising that what I have received is documentary evidence of an another world.  It happened with those first parcels from Gary of Hiroshima Yeah! and Dr. Steg of Spon, for example.  It happened recently with Sandy Milroy’s Shareholder tapes and it happened – in spades – when Robert Ridley-Shackleton sent me the gubbins above.  “The bulging jiffy bag as portal to an alternate universe” – discuss.

The story so far is a simple one: having heard a couple of things by him, I found myself intrigued by all his other lo-fi, scratchy looking releases and publications.  I dropped him a line and offered to paypal a token amount of dough his way in return for a representative sample of his work.  He responded enthusiastically – perhaps sensing that a positive write-up on RFM is a winning short-cut to fame and riches – and spent nearly every penny I sent him on extravagant recorded delivery postage for a ludicrously generous parcel.  The contents are listed (and partially pictured) above.  All these items were created within the last year and pushed out in tiny editions via his blog/label/publishing house Hissing Frames.  ‘Prolific’ hardly seems to cover it.

So what have we got?  More than two dozen objects mapping the contours of a ramshackle(ton) realm.    They range in content from the daft, full of improvised whimsy and dada silliness, to the deadly serious, which are as accomplished as anything you might read about here.  All are clearly regions of the same land, ruled over by a Lear grown indistinguishable from his fool.   Regarding the music, two reference points that might be of use are (early) Cabaret Voltaire and Suicide: trebly electronic organ, pitter-patter percussion, breathy and/or distorted vocals.  Thus industro-futurism but filtered through a grumpy bedsit fug.  Another may be the lo-fi tape scene of the late 1990s – Rob Galpin’s sunny days out label, DDDD zine and all that – for the kitchen sink clatter and dictaphonic recording quality.  The vibe is replicated exactly in the graphic work which runs from dense, brooding photo-collage through to scrawled nonsense and playground jokes.

Let’s start with the stuff on paper, which I am going to deal with en masse.  We are presented with a collection of self-produced booklets containing photocopied reproductions of artwork in various media, collages and neatly typed, crudely illustrated stream-of-consciousness writing.

The art includes some exciting, palette scraping action painting and some bold, immediate, head-bypassing, two-fisted mark making.  Should you wish to get all art-historical about it then I could mention the inexplicably praised scribbles of Cy Twombly, the far more impressive grim abstractions of Antoni Tàpies and, obviously, the Art Brut of Jean Dubuffet.  The less charitable might dismiss the lot as the efforts of a 12 year old with ADHD who, having flicked through  a couple of books, can’t believe how easy this ‘modernism’ lark is.  Not me though, this stuff puts me in a good mood – I think there are some quality images to be found within.

The collages come in two main varieties: junk and photo.  The former is constructed from scraps of envelopes, masking tape, receipts and other rubbish.  Kurt Schwitters via the daycare centre.  The latter are dense with images, generally dark, with plenty of forced connections to consider and layers to chisel apart.

The doodles are not the type of outsider art championed by Raw Vision.  This is more like the marginalia purposefully scribbled by that scraggy looking bloke who rides the #2 bus, muttering to himself whilst circling letters in his tatty wordsearch puzzle magazine, picking out phrases in his own private language.  They feel like psychic circuit diagrams.  A recurring claw/fork/connector motif suggests relations between the elements but nothing actually touches, no socket is plugged.  A scattershot, disjointed world is partially mapped – grandiose notions of alternative universes graze banal everyday reality.  Oddly compelling.  If you are wondering where to start then Holes, the first of those listed, is nicely representative.  Or do what I did: offer money and say “surprise me.”

OK, now some audio.  I’m not going to go into immense detail about fourteen different releases – for the sake of everyone’s sanity – so here are some comments about a sample drawn more or less at random after having heard the whole shebang.

Melting all My Videos into Toxic Waste begins with a slow chugging that becomes a gooey mess of noise and smeared vocals, spread to and fro like tile adhesive being applied with one of those wide-toothed plastic comb things.  Side two is made of a simple sky-scraping organ riff, a brutalist one-two rhythm and indecipherably echoed lyrics.  It has a terrific, corroded garage punk vibe.  Each side ends with a burst of ‘real’ music – something classical badly received over the radio, something poppy played backwards.

The Sad Lake Land feels like an audio document of a maritime disaster: distress signals, funnels being dragged underwater, somehow broadcast over its own memorial service and picked up by a crystal set radio on the other side of the world.  Bursts of solemn music struggle to be free of the swaddling static.  The Peaking Hills is a personal favourite.  An agreeably bristling throb is immersed in an expansive guitar crescendo, the spirit of Elvis then yodels incomprehensibly as the cloud on which he is sat adds electrical discharges to the howl.

Stud and Sex U Up find Robbie in an amorous mood and at his most Suicideish.  He groans, pleads and exhorts over rinkydink rhythms and cheap, blue, burbling synth riffs.  Urgent, dank, entertainingly creepy.  Positivity is all harsh, gargling electrics and detuned radio garble.  A stringed instrument is tortured and its worthless confession is celebrated inappropriately with a burst of beatboxing.

Piano Sonatas for Prepared Oven Mitt seems to be a key release, straddling as it does the daft ones and the noisy ones.  In-between bursts of engaging scratchiness Robert moans about his kit not behaving, being bored and the closure of the post office in Witney (his home town) meaning there will be nothing left to do there (the mind boggles).  Now, I appreciate that some of you reading this would rather chew through your own tongue than listen to something like this but the fact that others might find it annoying just drew me closer to it.  I listened rapt and gawping, wallowing in the delicious thought: “what the fuck is he playing at?”

I have to mention the anti-packaging.  This release is the last of those pictured above – a 3″ CD-r in a plastic wallet adorned with masking tape, torn fragments of envelope and handwritten scrawl.  However, on the Hissing Frames blog we see a different but similarly clothed copy and are told this was released in an edition of twelve.  Thus what initially looks like thrown together detritus salvaged from the bin turns out to be a repeated ‘design’ of sorts with consciously chosen elements.  What is going on here?  Outsider art?  A Dubuffet-style appropriation of outsider art by a ‘real’ artist?  A cheeky dismissal of the pomposity of ‘limited edition packaging’?  Lazy fraud by a charlatan?  Junkyard genius?  I dunno, though as you can probably tell by now, I’m veering towards the latter.

A word too about the well chosen collaborations.  All are interesting and act in pleasing counterpoint to the accompanying shackleness.  Lee Riley’s patient, brooding, low end electronics are a perfect foil to the mania of Robert’s Valentine’s Day performance (“What’s that noise?” <synth burble> “My Mum playing tennis!”).  ‘Horefans’ by Non Ferric Memories is an exceptional noise collage filled with interest, rhythms, beautifully timed changes of pace and clever uses of an unusual sound palette.  If I wasn’t glossing over it in a piece focussed on Robert’s work it could easily warrant an article to itself – do get hold of this one.  Thus Robert’s taste appears pretty sharp too.

Call it an ‘aesthetic’, a ‘vision’ if you like, but it becomes clear during the perusal of these artefacts that this is Robert’s world – a dimensionless jiffy bag containing a wonky, distorted universe – and that the rest of us are tourists within it.  On a whim, I looked up Witney on Wikipedia and discovered that it is the constituency of the balloon-headed moron David Cameron, our current Prime Minister and abject moral failure.  Who can blame Robert for overlaying these appalling circumstances with his own reality instead?  That he has done so under the breathing slits of this vile, reptilian establishment is, I think, profoundly satisfying.  His work is beautiful illustration of the kind of no-audience underground process I was talking about in my last piece: done because he is driven to do it, self-distributed in the weirdly contradictory totally public/utterly samizdat style that the internet allows.  I recommend that you pay him a visit.

Hissing Frames

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