a beautiful solution to a difficult problem: records by taming powerJuly 9, 2014 at 8:52 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
Tags: askild haugland, drone, early morning records, electronica, improv, new music, no audience underground, noise, psychedelia, taming power, vinyl
Taming Power – Selected Works 1997 (10″ vinyl, Early Morning Records, EMR 10″ – 006, edition of 202)
Taming Power – For Electric Guitar and Cassette Recorders (10″ vinyl, Early Morning Records, EMR 10″ – 010, edition of 220)
Taming Power – Twenty-One Pieces (2 x vinyl LP, Early Morning Records, EMR 2 x 12″ – 018, edition of 329)
Almost all of my musical appreciation is done via headphones attached to a mp3 player. It may not be what you envisaged – the seasoned critic passing judgement on your delicate masterwork whilst washing up, or queuing in the sorting office, or dozing on the bus to work – but it’s what circumstances dictate. Thus you can imagine when vinyl turns up at Midwich Mansions it is greeted with a mixture of reverence and trepidation:
Ooo, how lovely! Hmmm… I wonder when am I going to hear this? <weary sigh> Is there a download code? <peers into sleeve> No. <grits teeth, wipes tear from corner of eye>
Following our one year old’s attempts to become the Fisher-Price Philip Jeck, the turntable currently resides within a cupboard sealed with child-locks. The irony is that the more traditional the format, the more permanent the object, the more fleeting my experience of it is likely to be. I basically have to make an appointment to listen to a record.
The upside of this situation is that when I do get the chance I pay real heavy attention. Knowing that I may not get the four or five listens I usually insist on before writing anything up I engage with an almost hallucinatory concentration and scribble notes longhand as it spins. Not everything bears up to this level of scrutiny but these releases could have been recorded with this close listening technique in mind. Today’s offerings are two 10″s and a double LP sent to me by Taming Power, that is Askild Haugland, the mysterious Norwegian artist that Neil Campbell put me on to recently. Neil’s entertaining account of his history with Taming Power can be read here.
First of the 10″ records is Selected Works 1997 which comprises two side long pieces composed in December of that year using a Tandberg Model 2041 tape recorder as the sole sound source. This is the most intense and demanding of the batch. Passages have the brute, analog feel of first wave industrial or early power electronics (though without the inane shrieking, thankfully) and wouldn’t be out of place on a Throbbing Gristle bootleg.
Gritty Geiger counter fuzz shifts and pours under the pulse of an alarm, grotesquely distorted by a hugely powerful electro-magnetic field. The air around us crackles and has the disinfectant smell of ozone. The countdown to the self-destruction of the ship has begun and the crew are running down corridors choked with powder from fire extinguishers. Proper noise, this. It’s a tough listen but throughout I marvelled at what Askild managed to extract from his single instrument.
Next is For Electric Guitar and Cassette Recorders, the second 10″ record. Side A is a single track: guitars chime like a peal of church bells, like the cracking of a frozen lake, with a trebly shimmer adding a discordant tension. This is no wedding celebration, no welcome Spring thaw – it is a warning, an alarm: something that should stay sleeping is waking up. The lack of urgency – the chimes are deliberate, measured – only thickens the air of dread inevitability. Or have I been reading too much Lovecraft? Remove all this ‘harbinger of doom’ stuff, likely to be the product of my frayed imagination, and you are left with a hypnotic stretch of guitar improv. Compelling but too jarring to be meditative, it returns you to the world amped up and shining.
Side B contains six short tracks: all sparkling silicate fuzz drone, occasionally clearing to reveal sculptural patterns carved into the rock faces below. I find work of this type – tethered crescendos lifting, pulling, forever reaching skyward – to be almost unbearably poignant and beautiful. These snapshots capture moments of pain and glory with an impressionistic immediacy. They are like answers to the question…
…but it was all worth it, yeah?
I nod tearfully: yes, yes it was. A terrific release.
Finally then, the main event: Twenty-One Pieces. I listened to this double album in a sofa-bound trance and have seven notebook pages filled with a track by track account. Don’t worry I’m not going to transcribe the lot, here are some highlights fished from the gibberish:
A clock-tick, back/forth riff, simple, melancholy in its elegance – a beautiful solution to a difficult problem … emotional restraint breaking once – a tear, a sob – then back to working through the consequences … the Norwegian equivalent of desert music? Music for the frozen shore? … like low flying aircraft, like foul weather unmuffled by the cabin walls … a music box opened for the first time in years, the grimy ballerina juddering through her perpetual pirouette … a ringing wind scours the valley floor, a chorus of hungry ghosts whistle anguish through pinhole mouths … an oily liquid splashed onto the street, creeping downhill, drying out … the pulse pushes against a membrane thin enough to show its shape but tough enough not to split … overwound clockwork machinery is suddenly freed by a stripped gear … a charming plucked fanfare to welcome home a battalion of victorious tin soldiers to their balsa wood castle … a magic carpet ride over lush farmland and into the Himalayan foothills … like wandering through vine choked ruins in a Ballardian post-humanity future – epic, psychedelic – the beauty and sadness captured by the thought ‘all things must pass’ … the sound of the silver spaceships flying that Neil heard in his burnt out basement … cyclopean blocks sliding over one another … a contrasting optimistic, patient delicacy … what a very, very impressive record.
A word on the presentation. Askild’s chosen format – text-free cover picture, handwritten notes on the back – has the feel of outsider art. Take a closer look at, say, the track listing for side C of this album:
These lists of dates read more like the answer to a high-end logic puzzle or the packing manifest for a mysterious cargo crate than standard liner notes. I laughed to see ‘tape recorder’, ‘cassette recorder’ and ‘cassette recorders’ listed as three separate instruments on the meticulous equipment list. The obsessive documentation fascinates me, indicating the strength of Askild’s compulsion to create and the importance of that creation to him.
Askild’s work has the rare quality of seeming completely thought through and controlled whilst remaining visceral, immediate and intense. It is a neat trick. Despite being as meticulous as his liner notes, it is not overly polished and its edges and textures rough up quite an emotional response. This music is heartfelt and true. I found myself mulling over some fairly existential matters whilst listening. At one point I wrote:
How well do we know ourselves? Are our decisions as much ‘acts of God’ as a lightning strike?
Profound, eh? That’s where it takes you. As good as anything I’ve heard in a fair while and very highly recommended.
Email address for Askild Haugland of Taming Power / Early Morning Records:
Early Morning Records (sort of)