stuart chalmers and robert ridley-shackleton soothe a savage breast

June 19, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Posted in art, musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Stuart Chalmers – Dreaming Butterfly (download, Open Sound Group)

Stuart Chalmers – imaginary musicks vol 1 (tape, Beartown Records, edition of 45 or CD, edition of 50, self-released)

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Melting All My Years In2 tears (C46 tape, hissing frames, edition of 100)

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Rebirth (A5 zine, 18 pages, edition of 100)

stuart chalmers - dreaming butterflystuart chalmers - imaginary musiks vol 1robert ridley-shackleton - meltingrobert ridley-shackleton - rebirth cover

On the walk home from work on Friday evening I got into an altercation with the driver of a car who had nearly run me over. I was in the right, of course, and this bloke was an odious knobber. There was plenty of shouting and swearing (mainly on my part) as my foe chose to goad me from the safety of his vehicle. He ignored my repeated requests to step out so the argument could be settled in a physical manner. It ended with me delivering this devastating put down:

You’re like something out of a sit-com, mate, you’re embarrassing. Why don’t you go fuck yourself, you dumb fucking cunt?

…worthy of Oscar Wilde, I’m sure you’ll agree, and him chucking water from an Evian bottle over me before putting his foot down and speeding away. What a shining example of manliness at its most impressive, eh? It’s like Froch versus Groves or something.

I spent the weekend mulling it over. The question wasn’t why it happened – I am mentally ill, highly strung, and haven’t slept properly in a fortnight: go figure. The big question is why did I enjoy the experience so much? Sure, I had that tight, sick, post-confrontation feeling afterwards for a short while but not much remorse. Perhaps doing something so undeniably stupid was an enormous, cathartic release of pressure because usually I am such an upstanding, responsible citizen. Hmmm… evidence of mid-life crisis? Better speak to my counsellor. Or buy a motorbike.

(Aside: I did write up the whole incident with a view to using it as a preamble but thought better of it. Any fans of two-fisted action out there for whom the edited version above is not enough can email me for the unexpurgated story.)

Anyway, as I always do when in need of succour or a contemplative aid, I asked music a few questions and listened carefully to what it had to say. It turns out that my calm, rational side had been sitting in the backyard eating an ice-cream and listening to the albums above. The steaming, bellicose me joined him, cooled off, and soon started nodding in appreciation. These guys are boss.

Each release I’ve heard by Stuart has been better than the last. Interestingly, however, I’ve heard his work well out of chronological sequence. Thus, barring the unlikely possibility that I just lucked out and accidentally heard these recordings in order of quality, my reaction does not run parallel to an artistic progression on his part. Rather, I think, I’ve come to appreciate his music more as I’ve become more familiar with the world it describes, with the vision that produced it. The same happened with Robert – I picked through a vast collection of his releases more or less at random and my enjoyment increased exponentially as I used them to map out the bizarre contours of Shackleton Island.

My reaction to Daydream Empire, a CD-r on LF Records and the first of Stuart’s albums I heard, was puzzling but, in the light of the above, now explainable. I didn’t like it. Weirdly though, especially as I’m a stubborn ol’ bastard utterly confident in the infallibility of my own taste, it felt like it was my fault that I didn’t like it, that I was mistaken. I could hear the quality – the time, effort and care that had been used in its construction – but I didn’t get it. I ended up in the nonsensical situation of apologising to Stuart for this lapse. I don’t do that very often.

Dreaming Butterfly is from the archives, imaginary musicks vol 1 is new, both are beautiful. Stuart’s trade is in collage, mainly warm and fluid but with mysterious currents running under the rippling surface. Any readers as old and snaggletoothed as me will remember the electronica boom of the early 1990s and once or twice I was reminded of experiments in sample-based ambient music from that time. However, close attention reveals that Stuart’s work is not so easily slotted into pre-existing categories.

The world his music describes is fully formed and the listener’s experience of it is immersive and ego-dissolving (relaxing into it I felt a thousand miles away from my road rage incident) but carefully placed ticks – a filter echo, a moment of dictaphonic skwee – bring you back to the surface by foregrounding its artificiality. It’s like a South Sea Islands version of Philip K. Dick’s Time out of Joint. Imagine walking on the golden beach, admiring the dancing palms, looking out over the glassy ocean to the setting sun only for it all to suddenly disappear and be replaced with a featureless white room and a scrap of paper at your feet with the words ‘tropical paradise’ typed on it. As with all the very best stuff: the more I listen to it, the more I want to listen to it.  One or both of these releases will make the end-of-year awards shortlist, f’sure.

I note in passing that Stuart shows an admirable faith is his own work. Rightly proud of imaginary musicks vol 1 he had it mastered by Denis Blackham, who has previously worked with Touch and Nurse With Wound, at Skye Mastering. Fancy, eh?

Regular readers may recall the hefty overview I wrote of Robert Ridley-Shackleton’s back catalogue last year. A super-sized parcel from the guy was emptied onto the kitchen table here at Midwich Mansions and I picked through the contents, fascinated. All together it formed a psychological jigsaw depicting a map of his mental landscape.

The interior of Shackletonia is as exaggerated and brightly coloured as the Arizona-ish rockscapes of a Road Runner cartoon. Coastal areas are more rugged and brooding as beaches of jet black sand fall away into an ice blue sea under sky the colour of spoiled milk. In-between the two you will find strange crystalline formations of uncertain origin and giant sculptures made of compacted landfill – think Wall-E does Easter Island. Offshore, an intrepid scuba diver can visit a submerged cathedral choked with seaweed, where ghosts of drowned sailors perform rites worshipping the Deep Ones. On the surface, the radio of the support ship picks up decades old news reports informing the world of tragic maritime disasters.

To be more specific: Robert’s music contains elements of snarling garage punk, of rinky-dink Suicide throb, of harsh noise wall, of clattering kitchen sink improv, of unfathomable oddness. It is all recorded rough and tinny – as if bellowed down a cardboard cone and etched to wax cylinder with a knitting needle. Best to readjust your acceptable sonic range a full knob twist into the treble.

So, the purpose of this particular tape is to be an answer to the age old question: ‘where do I start?’ Our man has woven together a seamlessly coherent and highly enjoyable best-of compilation from numerous previous releases. It is presented both as a culmination and an introduction and I think it is fucking great.

A few words about the zine/pamphlet, Rebirth, that Robert kindly sent accompanying this tape. I like Robert’s graphic work as much as his music. I think I have mentioned the possible influence of Art Informel before and these photocopies of mixed media pieces call to mind a Catalan womble living in the sewers beneath the Fundació Tàpies in Barcelona. In his lair he creates art from the detritus left by tourists whilst chewing up a copy of the massive Tàpies catalogue raisonné, stolen from the gift shop, to fashion a nest of glossy spitballs.

—ooOoo—

The one-stop shop for all things Robert Ridley-Shackleton is Hissing Frames, his blog/label/publishing empire. Dreaming Butterfly can be downloaded for free from Open Sound Group here or found on Stuart’s Bandcamp site here. imaginary musicks vol 1 is available as a tape from Beartown Records or as a self-released CD via the Bandcamp site where much of his previous catalogue is also to be found.  The picture above (second one down) is the Bandcamp illustration and is neither the CD nor tape cover.

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