scaffolding, harshly lit: more from taming power

September 23, 2014 at 10:02 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Taming Power – 16 Movements For Electric Guitar (12” vinyl, Early Morning Records, EMR 12”-008, edition of 200)

Taming Power – Selected Works 2000 (10” vinyl, Early Morning Records, EMR 10”-007, edition of 200)

Taming Power – For Electric Guitar, Cassette Recorders and Tape Recorders (10” vinyl, Early Morning Records, EMR 10”-011, edition of 220)

Taming Power – Meditations For Radio (10” vinyl, Early Morning Records, EMR 10”-012, edition of 220)

Taming Power - 16 Movements for Electric Guitar frontTaming Power - 16 Movements for Electric Guitar back

No need for a lengthy preamble today.  For those new to the work of Norwegian artist Askild Haugland, recording as Taming Power, may I suggest you read Neil Campbell’s account of discovering his unique vision.  You may also find my reviews of other items from the Taming Power back catalogue of interest.  Suffice to say celebratory bells were sounded here at Midwich Mansions when a parcel containing four more examples of his work arrived – the guy’s generosity is matched only by his talent.

(A quick word on the scans illustrating this article: typically Taming Power releases come in either plain black or white sleeves with small to medium-sized pictures affixed to the front and back, the latter also featuring the release details.  I have cropped down to the actual pictures here thus giving a false impression of what the sleeves look like but sparing you my grubby fingerprints which were surprisingly evident on the scans.)

OK, onwards…

Taming Power – 16 Movements For Electric Guitar

First then is this 12″ LP. We’ll have to take Askild’s word for it on the number ’16’ as there are no perceptible gaps between the individual movements collected in the four tracks, two per side, that comprise the album. The guitar sound is consistent throughout: crisp, almost unadorned, tightened slightly with citric fuzz. Notes are allowed to decay free of echo and moments of silence add a measured deliberateness to the tone, despite the music clearly being (in part at least) improvised. It’s as exposed as a snow covered hillside and as immediate as breath plumes in the cold but Askild is clearly wrapped up and prepared for the task.

I have to admit my knowledge of improv guitar is limited but, for what it is worth, this is unique in my experience: a garage/psych sound employed in a desert music structure but with almost no filtering to smooth the edges. The corners here are grey concrete photographed against a cloudless blue sky or, as in the apposite photograph on the back cover, scaffolding harshly lit by a single light source.

After this austere beginning, each of the three remaining collections employs a slightly looser set of parameters. The tempo remains slow but more overlapping of notes is allowed, sustain lengthens, complexity increases. This step back from the initial austerity adds an almost unbearable poignancy but there is nothing sentimental about it, no gloss of tortured romance, just an unflinching acknowledgement of difficult circumstances. For comfort it offers respect: this music will not lie to you to make you feel better.

The lengthy period of silence between tracks indicates Askild’s seriousness of intent. I had to take a contemplative break between sides A and B too as the attention this music commands (and deserves) is intense and emotionally draining. This is praise of the highest order.

Taming Power - Selected Works 2000 frontTaming Power - Selected Works 2000 back

Taming Power – Selected Works 2000

Now onto the first of three 10″ EPs – format of champions – this one aptly subtitled ‘Excursions for Tape Recorders’. The record begins and ends with a splattering of ticks, squeaks, honks and whistles – like a VHS video of fax machines fucking each other on latex sheets. The line walked between hilarious and patience-testing will be familiar to fans of Nurse With Wound.

In-between these recognisable landmarks is some very strange territory indeed. Rhythmically shifting pitches spiral off, ejected by centrifugal forces, burrowing into the soil where they land. Later iterations stumble over these potholes, attempting to slap away entropy as the distortion increases. The best of it is the final section of Side A which is an extraordinary sub-aqua soundscape of alien sonar communication. Is this how the creatures in the black oceans under the ice of Europa speak to each other? You’d hope so.

Did any of that make any sense? Probably not. This record is the sound emitted by monitoring equipment stress testing my metaphor generator – it’s shaking my grasp of the figural with its brilliant oddness.

Taming Power - For Electric Guitar, Cassette Recorders and Tape Recorders frontTaming Power - For Electric Guitar, Cassette Recorders and Tape Recorders back

Taming Power – For Electric Guitar, Cassette Recorders and Tape Recorders

Second of the three 10″ EPs, two halves serving very different purposes.  Side A features a ringing, chiming guitar sound (which those of us of a certain age will inevitably and lazily describe as ‘gothy’) layered until crushed black – like photographic negatives of a tundra scene stacked until no light can pass through the pile.  The working method is reminiscent of several recent(ish) Culver releases and is very effective in instilling a churning, punishing roar with anguished emotional depth.  The noise does clear towards the end and we return to the starting point resolved and chastened.

Side B feels like a reward.  It begins with hope and light and, delightfully, becomes a magic carpet ride along a verdant green valley as boats chug along a wide, slow moving river below.  The final section takes place on a beautiful late Summer afternoon, birds are in flight chasing down their evening meal.  Children play.  A lyrical description of an extended, heavenly, peaceful moment.

Taming Power - Meditations for Radio frontTaming Power - Meditations for Radio back

Taming Power – Meditations For Radio

Finally, the last of the three 10″ EPs and possibly my favourite, though I did listen to this through the delirious fug of a heavy cold so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of what follows.  Let’s just say it is impressionistic.

Side A sees sand dunes buffeted and shifted by harsh, horizontal winds.  The storm reveals a sleeping giant, her breath – long, languid modulations – audible above the weather.  News of this discovery spreads across the world, light aircraft buzz overhead with cameras and directional microphones, chopped chatter bounces around the atmosphere as stepping electronics and machineries of voice throw the word around.  A sound from before the acid rain of digital broadcasting made the airwaves a barren lake.

Side B fills with indecipherable speech almost obscured by canine howls, swanee whistles, grasshopper chittering and blood-in-the-ears handstand roar.  Like a Foley artist’s attempt to soundtrack the teeming microscopic life within a drop of pond water – membranes twitch, cilia and flagella ripple and pulse, nothing is conscious of how beautiful it is.



Email address for Askild Haugland of Taming Power / Early Morning Records:

Taming Power on Discogs

Early Morning Records (sort of)

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