the sky a mirror: karina esp and nothing music

September 28, 2014 at 8:01 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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Karina ESP – A Single Moment, Repeated (3” CD-r, Hibernate Recordings, Postcard Series No 21, edition of 100 or download)

karina esp - a single moment, repeated

Manifestos, slogans, attempts at snappy self-definition – it can be tough to resist the lure of such indulgences. The opportunity to be a smart arse whilst parading punker-than-thou credentials is one of the perks of being involved with a fringe art form. Chest-puffing does seem a bit unfashionable now in these post-everything end times but back at the turn of the century, when I was co-running fencing flatworm recordings, there was no-one keener than me.

‘Loss leaders of the neo-radiophonics’ was the tagline for the label – not bad, eh? A little self-deprecating humour to mask the smugness. I described the music of midwich as ‘contemporary urban improvised acid’ which was a piece of satirical nonsense poking fun at some pomposity I can’t even remember now. I also used the phrase ‘Yorkshire nothing music’ which was more genuine. The term ‘no-audience underground’ was coined by me around this time too so at least something stuck…

I was reminded of the term ‘nothing music’ the other day when contemplating a handful of otherwise unrelated releases waiting patiently on the review pile. Some explanation: I do not mean ‘music during which nothing happens’, though it might seem that way sometimes to the untrained ear. It’s more like ‘music extrapolated from the smallest details’, or ‘music unafraid of stillness’ or ‘music for dissolving the self.’ I guess the stuff I have in mind is usually long-form augmented electronics and its precursors include those Eno albums, obviously, the no-input, accidental genius of Nurse With Wound’s Soliloquy for Lilith, the synth washes of early 90s ambient etc. Contemporary purveyors include, say, Brian Lavelle and Eddie Nuttall’s Aqua Dentata.  It is rarely ‘harsh’, nor need it be an endurance test, so noise wall stuff and monolithic, minimalist composition can step aside for now.

It is not without movement – it may crackle at a micro-level under the surface sheen and/or it may contain macro-level tectonic slides that are revealed by close, consciousness-slowing repeat listens. It is not without content – it can be elegiac, poignant, blissful. The purpose is to sustain a mood, an emotional atmosphere. It is music as object of reflection, or as a meditative tool to help remove that reflection. The method and purpose I am trying to explain is brilliantly captured in the title of a recent(ish) piece by Karina ESP: A Single Moment, Repeated. Perfect.

Karina ESP is Chris Gowers, a comrade from the turn of the century CD-r underground.  We shared a lovely split album on the (long lost) Trademarked Industries label (my half re-released here) and Chris released natural wastage by midwich on his own imprint evelyn records.  Thus we have a bit of previous.  The aesthetic overlap is fairly hefty too.

Recently I was delighted to discover (via Twitter, natch) that Chris is still active: with Karina ESP, with his label The Remains Of My Estate (hereafter TROME Recordings) and with albums released by fellow travellers such as morc tapes.  Well, I say ‘active’ – the guy’s output is carefully considered and, shall we say, ‘unhurried’:

Sorry I’ve been missing

…he deadpans on the TROME Recordings website, thereby accounting for an absence measurable in years.  Being of a similar vintage to me, Chris doesn’t mind a bit of manifestoish self-definition either.  Here’s a fascinating clip from the demo submissions section of the same site:

…generally we like slow, introverted, understated quiet music and art that examines the intricacies of being human.  Above all, we are interested only in artwork that is authentic.

The key word is ‘authentic’, of course, but gotta love that ‘only’ – what an iron fist in a velvet glove, eh?  This list of requirements successfully and succinctly fleshes out what I was trying to get at with the notion of ‘nothing music’ above.  The mixture of Zen and punk ideals also calls to mind projects like John Porcellino’s King Cat Comix and Stories in which lessons from the minutiae of everyday existence are drawn with a clean, heartfelt, almost hypnotic simplicity.  I know that Brian Lavelle and I are fans, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Chris dug it too.  Suffice to say this is a condition of art that I connect with profoundly and have aspired too, with greater or lesser levels of success, many times in the past.

So what to say about this particular iteration, the 21 minutes in question today?  Metaphors do come to mind – it is like plunging your hand into the warm, loose sand of dune face and your fingertips brushing against the carved surface of a mysterious buried object – but maybe best to say as little as possible.  It is what it is: a koan, a mirror, the sky.  Nothing happens – a lot – exquisitely.


Karina ESP on Bandcamp

Karina ESP on Tumblr

TROME Recordings

morc tapes


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  1. Cor Blimey. Karina ESP a scented-breeze from the past. Loved that Evelyn series…off to dig through the stack to find ’em for a glorious airing.

    • yep, I was proud to be part of that one, f’sure. R x

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