extraction music: dave thomas, daniel thomas, kevin sandersMarch 30, 2014 at 9:26 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 4 Comments
Tags: ap martlet, cherry row recordings, daniel thomas, dave thomas, drone, electronica, extraction music, hagman, hairdryer excommunication, kevin sanders, kirkstall dark matter, new music, no audience underground, noise, petals, psychedelia, sheepscar light industrial
Ap-Martlet – Analog Computer (CD-r, Kirkstall Dark Matter, edition of 16)
Daniel Thomas – Codeine (3” CD-r, Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.023, edition of 50 or download)
Daniel Thomas – Revolution#21 (CD-r, Cherry Row Recordings, CR002, or download)
Kevin Sanders – Clusters, clutter and other ephemera (3” CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 8 or download)
Kevin Sanders – Ascension through apathy (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 9 or download)
petals – magnates agus drochthoradh (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 20 or download)
petals – scamaill le focail (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 20 or download)
There’s this type of music that I like. In fact, I think I might attempt to invent a new sub-genre to account for it. Cool, eh? What music obsessive doesn’t love that game? I’m going to call it extraction and here are some notes towards a definition.
Extraction music contains a large measure of drone spiced with a helping of throbbing, psychedelic noise and other ingredients I am about to list. It can be heavy, urgent and demanding but it is not, as a rule, harsh or aggressive. Instead the sound is enveloping, fluctuating – fully engaged. I’m sure the discerning listener could list influences from dub techno to austere modern composition to The Radiophonic Workshop but I’m painting with a broad brush for now and will leave the detail for future musicological arguments.
This music is created using mainly analogue electronics. The kit typically comprises vintage synths, their modern clones and homemade counterparts, other self assembled objects and daisy chains of effects pedals patched and looped through long suffering mixers. At any one time it is unlikely that all of it will be working properly.
The buzz and pulse is often accented with a mixture of ‘field’ and ‘domestic’ recordings. Birdsong adds flutter to the high end, rain a percussive patter, traffic a satisfying rumble and so on. The hum of big ticket appliances like fridges proves irresistible as does the fuzz and clatter of mechanical fixtures such as air conditioning units. Smaller one off noises, agreeable and/or attention grabbing, like the ‘tik-fwup’ of the central heating coming on, or a snatch of conversation, or the battering of a battered cymbal can be dropped in for emphasis or light relief.
It is largely built from ideas figured out during lengthy sessions of experimentation. Editorial tinkering appears minimal, keeping a ‘live’ feel to the recording, but I suspect a lot of hard work is hidden within those transitions. The build up of detail suggests much disciplined hovering over the pots and sliders of some brute electronics, tweaked to within a hair’s breadth of their tipping points. The method of construction and ‘in the room’ recording gives this music a sense of place, a geography, that much free-floating diginoise lacks. It feels grounded, located in a new but oddly familiar place that you visit and cohabit whilst listening. That maps have been used in its packaging and place names in album, label and track titles strikes me as non-coincidental.
So why ‘extraction’? Well, partly it is a tongue in cheek joke referencing the perceived source material – an untreated recording of the extractor fan in the left-hand toilet cubicle at my place of work would make a pretty solid extraction album – but it is more to do with the feeling that this music is pulled out of the kit, that it is mined from the available resources and then refined: like minerals extracted from ore or a life-saving pharmaceutical compound extracted from a rare Amazonian orchid. If this was a film it would be Upstream Color, a deliberately under-determined story of the biological, psychological and criminal processes used to extract a mysterious drug from the multi-stepped, symbiotic life-cycle of the organisms involved in its production. That this remarkable film also features sequences in which some very extractionist sound is recorded (albeit by a shady villain) and played back at enormous volume could not be more perfect.
Finally then, before we get onto some examples, I suppose you are wondering what it smells like. I’m glad you asked: hot solder, grass wet with dew, ozone and chana dall.
The leading proponents of this hot new sound that all the kids are now furiously hyping are Dave Thomas (solo as ap martlet, half of Hagman, label boss of Kirkstall Dark Matter), Daniel Thomas (solo under his own name, the other half of Hagman, as a duo with Kevin and label boss of Sheepscar Light Industrial and Cherry Row Recordings) and Kevin Sanders (solo under his own name and as petals, as a duo with Dan, label boss of hairdryer excommunication). The Thomas boys are not blood relations but there is a musketeer level of all-for-oneness in their interconnected projects. I suppose the three of them can argue as to who gets to be, err…, Dogtanian(?!).
My praise for their previous work is strewn across this blog, much of which can be used as retroactive confirmation of this sub-genre definition. Click on the tags above to investigate (go on – just to amuse me – no one ever clicks on tags). Today we are going to focus on some recent(ish) releases, all of which are freely downloadable from that Bandcamp.
Firstly, Analog Computer by Ap-Martlet. Dave handmade a tiny initial run of this which was given away to interested parties. For a while he refrained from granting it a digital afterlife but I’m delighted to announce it is now up on Bandcamp (alongside a second printing of the CD-r). The title is perfect – it calls to mind a room-sized, valve-run difference engine humming with contented menace. These three tracks seem less compositions than iterations of an algorithm set in motion by a wonky punchcard being slotted into the machine upside-down. ‘Comdyna’ and ‘Thurlby’ are both rhythmic in an abstract sense – the latter being a low impact step aerobics class for retired ABC Warriors, the former an exercise in patience and discipline as a series of low-slung tones are held until they start to feedback, then released, then repeated. The final track, ‘Heathkit’, is a coruscating, brain-scouring, fuzz-drone. It is the kind of sound that in a workshop you would wear ear protectors to dampen but here it is presented for our contemplation and admiration. It’s like being walked down a production line by a proud factory designer. There is a little false ending too – a stuttering flourish following a conveyor belt jam – which made me laff. I recommend also checking out the wonders he has hidden on Soundcloud.
There is a fun little guessing game to be played when listening to work by Daniel Thomas. Is this a) the sound of the kit playing itself, everything plugged into everything else, as Dan sits back and enjoys a chilli buzz from his takeaway curry or b) the sound of the kit being micromanaged through a carefully orchestrated composition as Dan obsesses over every tiny transition and barely perceptible variation in nuance? There are several terrific examples of the former on his Bandcamp and Soundcloud pages (check out this exercise in super-distilled minimalism) but the two items up for review here are firmly in the latter camp.
Codeine is stepped using a similar mechanical arpeggio to Dave’s ‘Thurlby’. The impression is of a wind powered kinetic sculpture abandoned by its maker years ago and now almost rusted to a standstill. There is a tragic beauty to this process, a merciful release, and, as such, the fade out – which seems preposterously long on first listen – feels more appropriate with each repeat. Oddly moving too.
Revolution#21 is a quintessential example of extraction music and possibly my favourite of Dan’s releases, despite a back catalogue already studded with jewels. As for what it sounds like you need only re-read my opening paragraphs adding a layer of throb to account for a young man in receipt of some new goodies from Korg. Imagine a battalion of semi-sentient, clockwork samurai buried as grave goods in the immense tomb of a world-conquering general. There, in the pitch black, they use their remaining energy keeping each other wound up in a final, unwinnable battle against entropy. The nobility of it is in equal parts inspiring and heartbreaking.
Next are four pieces by Kevin Sanders but first a word about his exhausting release schedule. He tells me that he intends to birth two new products a month for the whole of 2014. Indeed, whilst writing this review I have heard from another label with new warez by petals for sale and had an email from Kev asking if I fancy a sneaky preview of the next batch. The chap is unstoppable. In order to keep up I’ve decided to treat the flow of his work as if it were a paper publication that I have subscribed to (“The Psychogeographical Journal of Musicological Interpretive Cartography- a fortnightly digest” perhaps). I’ll devour each issue, cover to cover, as it arrives then shelve or discard it when the next number flops onto the digi-doormat. Thus I won’t be writing thousands of words on individual releases. As with Culver, each piece is a section of an atlas, beautiful on its own terms but part of a larger whole. Some summaries:
The two discs by petals are dark, angry, claustrophobic affairs. scamaill le focail (Irish for ‘clouds with words’) and magnates agus drochthoradh (‘magnates and responsibilities’) both feature scything fuzz drone akin to that found in ‘Heathkit’ but in both cases it is considerably less self-assured. It’s as if the proud factory designer is now having second thoughts about selling his production line to those guys in the sharp leather uniforms. Y’know – the guy in glasses with the expensive suit and the IMF logo clipboard seemed very reassuring but… Ah, too late now! An unsettling, dystopian vibe permeates both tracks. There is no let up (well, there is a brief break halfway through magnates… for the ominous rumbling of distant explosions), no release – just a gradual paring away. Moments of despair, fury are allowed to bubble to the surface only to be fished out like impurities from an otherwise pure distillate. The heaviness is serious and brilliantly sustained.
Clusters, clutter and other ephemera by Kev under his own name is a remarkable twenty minutes leaning, as it appears to, on the human voice as its major sound source. It starts all garage punk Ligeti – like the professorial neighbour of a rockabilly band attempting to school ’em in modernism by by playing the tough bits from the 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack through the band’s own slashed practice amps. The groans and clatters eventually take a more haunting turn suggesting the limbo inhabited by Marley’s ghost before his yuletide turn clanking chains to shit up his former business partner. Uniquely odd.
Ascension through apathy, also as Kev, is perhaps the pick of this bunch and a beautiful example of the more organic, psychedelic side of extraction music. The opening movement of this half hour long travelogue is bleak: starting at the rim of a still smugly smoking volcano we walk down the cooled, charcoal grey lava flows. Nothing grows here yet, the undulations speak of unimaginable force and heat. Yet as we approach the fertile valleys that begin in the lower slopes the music pushes its shoulders back and becomes uplifting, quietly joyous. The latter two thirds are a serene walk through the dappled sunlight reaching the forest floor as we return to the cove where our yacht is moored. No one in our party feels the need to speak, all are at one with each other and the surroundings. An understanding passes amongst us: life has changed. This caught me in a funny mood the other day and effortlessly moved me to tears.
…and that is a fine place to end for now. Comments most welcome as are suggestions as to other recordings or artists that might fit within this ragged template. My own The Swift is one, I think – it was certainly influenced by these fellas. Anything else that I might dig?