framing devices: packaged by michael clough, crow versus crow and every contact leaves a trace

March 21, 2014 at 9:44 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Michael Clough – Untitled (CD-r, self-released, edition of 5)

Michael Clough – SKRBL (16 page, A6 booklet, self-published, edition of 10, all unique)

Michael Clough – miniMA (Tumblr account and A7 booklet, self-published) 

Caught In The Wake Forever and Crow Versus Crow – Excommunicado (3” CD-r and booklet, Crow Versus Crow, initial edition of 50, second run of 25) 

Dominic Lash / Will Montgomery – Real As Any Place You’ve Been / Thames Water Live (CD-r, Every Contact Leaves a Trace, edition of 100 or download)

Henry Collins – Music of Sound (CD-r, Every Contact Leaves a Trace, edition of 100 or download)

Ignacio Agrimbau – Anatomy of the Self Vol. 2 – Decay, Corrosion and Dust (CD-r, Every Contact Leaves a Trace, edition of 100 or download)

Seth Cooke – Four No-Input Field Recordings (CD-r, Every Contact Leaves a Trace, edition of 100 or download)

clough - untitled cd-rminiMA inner pagesskrbl coverskrbl inner pagesexcommunicado booklet coverexcommunicado booklet inner pagesevery contact leaves a trace outersevery contact leaves a trace picsevery contact leaves a trace inners

Listen hard, dear readers, can you hear it?  A faint, beguiling, rhythmic patter.  It is the sound of the no-audience underground, in particular those that have submitted material for review, drumming their fingers on the collective kitchen table waiting as patiently as possible for comment on their endeavours.  I jest of course, I can’t imagine anyone really giving a monkey’s about delays and deadlines around here, but occasionally I do feel bad about the length of time it takes me to get around to everything.  In my defence I have been totally bewilderated by the demands of returning to work following a long period of illness.  Also, whilst unable to write much, I have instead made the fifty tapes of the oTo back catalogue available as a (massively successful, I’m happy to say) distraction.  Never mind that CD-r you sent me in January – look over there! – rare Phil Todd stuff!!

Anyway, the muse has poked her head around the door to see how I’m doing and is now helping me uncork the whimsy spout.  Inspired by Joe’s account of a tape that comes packaged in a gnome I have been thinking a bit about the stuff we wrap stuff in and am bundling together some exquisitely presented releases that have recently come my way.

Firstly three objects by the incomparable Michael Clough.  I know the guy is amused and flattered when I start bandying terms around like ‘aesthetic’ but, having been delighted by his work for fifteen years, I can think of few artists more consistent.  His achievements are all the more remarkable for being produced in tiny editions, or hidden on Soundcloud, created in moments snatched from family life.  His erudite and self-deprecating humour disguises a homespun but hardcore conceptual rigour and a Savile Row tailor’s eye for quality of finish.

Take SKRBL for example – sixteen pages of exactly that, photocopied, layered, recopied, stapled into a neat card cover.  The presentation gives these scribbles the air of architectural drawings by a madman, the blueprints of an impossible, nine-dimensional suspension bridge.  The enlargements provoke a ludicrous desire to attend to detail that just isn’t there.  Or is it?  How serious is this nonsense?

miniMA, a very neat A7 booklet with card cover containing 8 photographic plates, is the first physical manifestation of the Miniature Museum of Art, curated by M. Clough.  Presented as a tiny exhibition catalogue with knowing puns and allusions for artist names and picture titles, this is, of course, all his own work.  His Tumblr account contains many more fascinating examples of ‘found art’ framed by his discerning eye and documented with his camera phone.  I’d be happy transferring dozens of these pieces to RFM but they are best viewed in situ and the effect of scrolling through them is cumulative.  Makes me want to get recording purely so I can nab his best for album covers.

The third of these objects is a CD-r packaged in a card, handmade, fold-out sleeve held together by the type of paper sash patented by Andy Robinson for his much-missed label Striate Cortex.  No identifying information is included, no text of any kind, just photographs of light refracted through, I’m not sure, maybe some kind of corrugated plastic then cut into a waveform shape of the sort you might see via some sound-editing software.  It is a genius piece of design – an almost completely abstracted city scape portrayed as nothing but pulse and it fits the music perfectly.  The CD-r contains one untitled track lasting 33 minutes built entirely from layers of electronic throb.  It is as sinuous, mindless and viscerally sensual as an interspecies orgy on a cold, tiled floor following a mass breakout at the reptile house.  Indeed, in reviews I often use the term ‘meditative’ in the appreciative but not wholly accurate sense of ‘thought provoking’.  This piece is ‘meditative’ in the Buddhist sense of aiding in the dissolution of ego.  It is, to put it bluntly, fucking obliterating – marvellously so.

This stuff can be had direct from Clough himself.  Email him at mriclough@aol.com for availability and prices.

Next we have Excommunicado by Caught In The Wake Forever (an alias of Fraser McGowan) and Crow Versus Crow.  The package feels simple, coherent and appropriate but a list of its elements is overwhelming.  I’ll let Andy Crow explain:

‘Excommunicado’ comprises a 10.5 x 10.5 cm 16 page mini art book, containing black and white inkjet prints of Crow Versus Crow’s minimal ink and pencil drawings printed on matte white paper within a 170gsm recycled card cover; four instrumental tracks from Caught In The Wake Forever, on a white-faced 3″ CDr housed within an 8.5 x 8.5 cm 100 gsm recycled paper envelope; an insert sheet containing recording and production information; a 35 mm photographic negative; and a dried rose petal, all housed within a 12.5 x 12.5 cm 100 gsm recycled paper envelope, sealed with a full colour ‘Excommunicado’ sticker.

OK, perhaps that level of description is bordering on the fetishistic but you get the idea: this is a package.  In a letter to me Andy was coy about the informing idea behind the project as he wanted me to come to it fresh.  Unfortunately, however, he clearly forgot that I was on his mailing list and had received a plug for the first edition of this release in which he told the world that it deals with…

…loss.  Or, more specifically, it deals with the process of coming to terms with loss. I’m sure most people reading this will have got to a point in your life, post-trauma, where you’re confronted with the question, ‘What now?’. Sadness, bitterness, alienation, isolation, loss, nostalgia, hope, glimmers of happiness… all of these come together in a non-linear mess, as you attempt to ‘pull yourself together’, ‘get yourself back on track’ etc etc.

…which is a tough idea to jettison once you know it is there.  I like to think I would have guessed anyhow.  The project as a whole seems defined by absence: the blown pigment outlining a hand shape on a cave wall.  Fraser’s music is a delicately balanced mix of electronics – dragging a cumbersome weight from the past behind it, unsettled in its present, grasping for the future.  It’s like not quite remembering something.  Andy’s drawings are perfectly complementary.  Again, here is art reaching for something no longer there.  The booklet ‘reads’ like the marginalia surrounding an entirely redacted text.

The initial run of 50 copies for this release sold out in a day.  A second edition of 25 is planned.  Please visit the Crow Versus Crow blog for updates and/or to sign up for the newsletter.

Finally then, I am delighted to offer a warm RFM welcome to new label Every Contact Leaves a Trace.  My admiration for the luxuriantly bearded polymath Seth Cooke is well documented to the point of being borderline creepy.  Suffice to say the news that he was starting his own label was gladdening and that these objects were hotly anticipated.

I’d like to get the less positive stuff out of the way first: I’m afraid the split album shared by Dominic Lash and Will Montgomery was not for me, despite some very satisfying passages of subterranean electro-gurgle in ‘Thames Water Live’ by the latter.  Moving swiftly on…

Music of Sound by Henry Collins is an edit of family favourite film The Sound of Music removing all dialogue and music from the soundtrack.  We are left with half an hour (that much!) of footsteps, weather, birdsong, doors slamming, whistles and the like – a celebration of the work of the foley artist.  The worry with this kind of high concept stuff is that the cleverness will come at the expense of engagement, or to put it another way: that the technical accomplishment can be admired without being much, y’know, enjoyed.  However, no need to fret here because Henry has created a surprisingly powerful and emotionally resonant piece.  Subtracting the ‘content’ has also drained away the Technicolor of the original and we are left with a tense black-and-white atmosphere in which the dread of the approaching Nazis is fore-grounded.  If you’d told me it was a version of say, The Third Man, I’d have no trouble believing you.  Also, the insert picturing the alpine meadow from the film’s iconic poster image sans Julie Andrews is genius.

You might, given the amusing title, expect Seth’s own Four No-Input Field Recordings to be very, very quiet indeed.  Instead what we have is twenty minutes of electrostatic roar uplit with digi-squiggles.  I imagine Seth shrunk, with his boom mic and recording equipment, Fantastic Voyage style, and squirted into his kit in order to become the Chris Watson of the sub-atomic.  Listen as herds of crackling electrons stampede along the canyon floor of his mixer’s circuitry.  Marvel at the call-and-response of a quantum-level dawn chorus before us clumsy humans start collapsing the wave function all over the place with our observations.  Very sharp and very entertaining.

Lastly, we have the ominously titled Anatomy of the Self Vol. 2 – Decay, Corrosion and Dust by Ignacio Agrimbau.  It has taken me a while to appreciate just how good this one is.  The first couple of listens left me skating on the meniscus feeling weightless and foiled by the music’s surface tension.  As with After the Rain, the terrific but musicologically intimidating band of which he is one third, I am largely ignorant of the instrumentation used or the traditions and influences from whence it sprung.  This is, apparently, broken music constructed with broken instruments but without Seth telling me this I’d be none the wiser.  Imagine Ignacio as an expert marine biologist explaining his novel theories about the life of a coral reef over video taken during  a scuba dive.  I’m the guy at the back not really taking it in because I’m distracted by the strobing colours and alien patterns.

So, with that in mind, here’s an attempt at a description.  A breathy, muted sound palette suggests the struggles of a pupa within its chrysalis – fluid life reforming into something new.  This is underscored with a near constant percussive urgency that occasionally topples over into a Dada, clattering slapstick – like hieroglyphs sprung to life and leaping from the tomb walls in order to hit each other over the head with grave goods.  Highly compelling stuff which rewards close attention.

The packaging for these four releases is as diverting as the contents.  Before getting to the CD-r the listener needs to remove a bulldog clip, put the embossed card outer sleeve to one side, unfold a paper inner sleeve and note the details handily contained on a separate insert.  Following their appearance on a blog hosted by The Wire magazine (pics above stolen from that source – I don’t like the publication but credit where it’s due: nice work) Seth offered the following explanation on the Bang the Bore Forum:

The idea is that the listener has to reassemble each release every time it’s played. There are lots of possible configurations, each outer cover is a square tile that can be positioned in any direction, or reversed. Each is embossed with a found object rather than embossing plate.

Which brings me neatly to the final point I’d like to make.  Seth also said this:

You can figure most of the ideas behind the packaging out for yourselves, but Ignacio’s might take a little explaining. Iggy’s Anatomy of the Self Volume II is about breakdown – of instruments, of working methods, of relationships, of family, of organisations, of society. He wanted an image of a broken machine, and I initially got hold of some cogs to emboss, but it felt far too mechanistic for the sound of the record. So I got the chance to collect up some 3d printer misprints… the hexagonal hive-style pattern is the exposed inner structure, made that way to save plastic. As it went through the embossing press the piece started deteriorating in fibrous strands or splintering altogether, and some of the relief was so deep that it ruptured the greyboard. So in essence, you’re looking at the product of one broken machine creating another broken machine, a product that’s breaking as it’s repeatedly run through another machine two hundred times, a process that’s also rupturing the medium itself.

…and Andy Crow said this:

‘Excommunicado’ is a collaborative project from Caught In The Wake Forever and Crow Versus Crow that brings together work in the respective medium of both artists revolving around each artist’s interpretation of a single conceptual theme. The works within were produced as a continuous dialogue over a number of months, with various stages of development and articulation being sent back and forth between the artists, until both felt that their contribution was complete.

…making explicit, as if it were needed, that there is another level on which all these objects need unpacking.  At the risk of sounding pretentious, the packaging also involves a metaphysical or conceptual element which acts as a further framing device for the content.  This can be more or less obvious or implicit, more or less important to the listener or viewer’s experience but it is there and it is there because these artists wanted it there.

I am, as ever, in awe of the graft, the seriousness of intent, the lightness of touch, the quality of finish, the expert use of meagre resources, the intellectual rigour and the coherent and fascinating aesthetics that our scene is capable of exhibiting.  You’d think I’d have lost the ability to be amazed, wouldn’t you?  Not a bit of it.

Michael Clough on Soundcloud

Michael Clough on Tumblr

(contact him via the email address in the article above)

Crow Versus Crow Blogspot

Crow Versus Crow Bandcamp

Seth Cooke

Every Contact Leaves A Trace

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