unplayed, unheard, unfinished: michael clough, joseph curwen, namke communications

March 25, 2015 at 8:35 pm | Posted in art, musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Michael Clough – unplayable 7” vinyl art object in cardboard sleeve (plus various miniMA publications)

Joseph Curwen – Lurking Fear (self-released download)

namke communications – 365/2015 (ongoing self-released download)

clough - unplayable 2clough - unplayable 1

Up in my well-appointed office I sink into a white leather sofa and swirl the ice in my whisky glass in time to the racket emanating from downstairs. My underlings are joyously singing along to the latest Stuart Chalmers tape whilst chipping away at the cultural coalface. I want to join them but you know how it is when the boss sits in… Hmmm… maybe I’ll do some work on the long-promised aetheric/Invisible City round-up, I say to myself, then jump as a polite cough from my beautiful Turkish manservant (how long has he been standing there?!) directs my attention to several releases from both labels that have joined the pile since I last picked up the pen. Ah, next week perhaps… How about some editing then? Strewn across the marble desktop is the latest submission from Joe – a series of potato prints in primary colours apparently inspired by Jazzfinger – accompanied by an expenses claim for 40 litres of latex glue. I asked him about this earlier and he just looked up from his Spirograph, beamed that irresistible grin, shouted:

IT WAS NEEDED!

…and bounced into the grounds on his space hopper, high-fiving a startled Chrissie on his way. Perhaps I should look at this later…

It is a sadly inevitable trajectory: lone genius embarks on a project of enormous worth and significance, is overwhelmed by the love and success it attracts, hires staff happy to be paid in karma to help with the workload then is shunted, slowly but inexorably, into an administrative role. What should I do when I want to write but have little time to adequately listen to the object of that writing? The answer, of course, is to review three releases that are (almost) literally unlistenable.

Objects by Michael Clough

Pictured above is an intriguing object received from old friend and extraordinary artist Michael Clough. My love for this man and his work does not need repeating – I simply urge you visit his Soundcloud page, his tumblr account and to track down his every release. Your life will be enriched as a result. OK, what we have here is an anonymized and repackaged vinyl 7″ single onto which Clough has inked a narrative with silver pen, thus rendering it unplayable. Both sides have been decorated in this manner, two different stories. Clough offered his own explanation in some accompanying notes:

The first in a series I’m planning of altered records.  The ‘concept’ is alluding to rare records (remember way back, when some items attained legendary status, and second-hand shops were scoured in the hope of spotting one?).  Also reviews in mags raving about things, only to lead to disappointment when actually hearing said item.  Sometimes what one imagined the record to be like outshone the article itself – the power of words to evoke a sense of what music may sound like.  Object fetishism: this is a record you can have, imagine, but never hear – produced in such limited runs that the chance of obtaining one is almost zero.

It’s a wry take on the obsessions of the collector, an ironic (and nostalgic) nod to pre-internet scarcity and a subtle, entertaining and personal take on the odd relationship between music and the reams of text written about it.  Like much of Clough’s art, macro-simplicity masks micro-complexity (try saying that after a few) meaning that under a cool, minimal surface the attentive will find an undulating mesh of smart, rigorous thinking and absorbing detail.

As further illustration, a handful of beautifully produced ‘zines’ containing Clough’s art came in the same package, self-published by his miniMA imprint. These document his ‘totems’ series for scanner and photocopier in which jiggling the source material as these technologies do their thing creates strange alien symmetries and haunting instances of pareidolia (yes, I was so impressed I went and looked up the proper word). Further examples can be seen reproduced in recent issues of The Barrel Nut here and here.  Essential stuff.

joseph curwen - lurking fear

Joseph Curwen – Lurking Fear

Next we have an album that is perfectly listenable in principle but practically unlistenable in my current circumstances due to it being twelve fucking hours long.

Back when I could often be found standing on an allotment, leaning on a spade and staring contemplatively at redcurrant bushes I reviewed an album a mere nine hours long, having listened to every second of it over a few days. Now: forget it. I have not the time, energy or attention span to make such a commitment. This is a shame as what I’ve heard of Joseph Curwen’s previous output is cosmic (see, for example, Scott’s review of a tape on Cruel Nature Records here). Their H.P. Lovecraft obsession is more than window dressing – these cats (of ulthar?) can really lay down a cyclopean drone, twelve hours of which would be more than sufficient to soundtrack, say, the raising of a sunken nightmare corpse-city from the depths of the Pacific.

I wondered whether ‘dipping in’ would suffice for purposes of review but decided that would be shamefully half-arsed. This had to be all or nothing, I decided, thus: nothing. I offer a wholehearted recommendation of this album whilst admitting to not hearing a moment of its 720 minutes. Perverse, I know, but then…

What language can describe the spectacle of a man lost in infinitely abysmal earth; pawing, twisting, wheezing; scrambling madly through sunken convolutions of immemorial blackness without an idea of time, safety, direction, or definite object?

Indeed.

There is perhaps a discussion to be had about how the internet and, in particular, gateway services like that of Bandcamp have refashioned what can be considered an ‘album’.  What seemed like the ‘natural’ length for a piece of recorded music whilst I was growing up has been shown to be nothing but an artifact of the media used to contain it.  I wonder what pioneers of the hypnotic groove like Morton Feldman and La Monte Young would have done with the opportunity.

namke - 365-2015

namke communications – 365/2015

Finally we have another album which exploits Bandcamp’s fluidity.   365/2015, by old-friend-of-RFM John Tuffen in his namke communications guise, is unlistenable in the sense that it cannot be heard in its entirety as it is still being recorded and won’t be finished for another nine months. However – get this – it is already available for download. What John is doing, in a project which recalls the conceptual bloodymindedness of Bill Drummond (who has raised ‘seeing it through’ to the level of art form), is recording a track every day throughout the whole of 2015 and adding them to the album as the calendar marches on.

This isn’t an Aphex Twin style dumping of offcuts, each track is freshly produced on the day in question and, as might be expected, vary enormously in style, execution and instrumentation – there is guitar improv, electronica in various hues and field recording amongst other genres welcome ’round here. I suspect by the end of the year John will have had to reinvent music just to keep himself sane. He has taken to tweeting a brief description of the day’s work and one of the pleasures of this project is the opportunity that affords for the curious bystander to poke it with a stick. For example, in response to John copying me into a tweet about a guitar drone track he thought might appeal to me, I replied:

@namke_ heard this now, good and chewy. Thinking of writing up yr project alongside an unplayable 7″ single I’ve been sent. Two extremes…

…and added, with regards to the project as a whole:

@namke_ it’s insane but I wish you luck. Looking forward to months where each track is a version of 4’33” with you sobbing in background…

…which tickled John and led to all of February’s tracks being field recordings with the duration 4 minutes and 33 seconds. In an era of desperate, endless hi-fi reissues of any album revered as a sacred text it is ice-bath-refreshing to be able to alter the course of a recording with a joke.

This one I have no qualms about dipping into, in fact I would recommend constructing your own dipping strategies. As the year progresses you could build an album from the birthdays of your family, or never forget an anniversary again with a self-constructed namke communications love-bundle. Won a tenner on the lottery? Create your own three track EP with the numbers and paypal John a couple of quid. Or perhaps a five CD boxset called ‘Thursday Afternoon’, in homage to Brian Eno, containing everything released on that day of the week? Or condense the occult magic with a set comprising every 23rd track? Ah, the fun to be had. Or you could just listen to it on a daily basis until it becomes a welcome part of your routine – more fun than The Archers, guaranteed.

—ooOoo—

Michael Clough

Joseph Curwen

namke communications

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