Memories reworked and remembered again: Sophie Cooper on Anla Courtis and Vollar/Murray Tag Team on Culver versus Fordell Research Unit

February 6, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
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anla_courtis__antofagasta_cdAnla Courtis – Antofagasta (Beartown Records) CD

I’ve wanted to listen to the music of Anla Courtis for ages after reading that big article about him in The Wire, so I was thrilled to see this new CD by him on the Midwich review pile released by Beartown Records.

And a bloody good job of it they’ve done too!

I know Beartown for their distinctively packaged tapes mostly; high contrast photography, photocopied in black and white sleeves and this packaging carries on this artistic precedent but takes it to a very pro looking level. The artwork features Courtis’ own blurry shots of scenic views, which I assume, are of the area of Argentina that the music is concerned with.

The CD comes with a sweet ‘cut out and keep’ style individual photograph and a nice reworking of one of Courtis’ images treated with the Beartown technique. Really great work, I’m surprised they only printed 50 of these but anyway…

The music contained within this lovely packaging has been created using Courtis’ cassette-made field recordings dating back to 1998. According to the sleevenotes these were then sat on for almost 10 years, made into something else, and then were left for almost another 10 years until Beartown released them.  Lucky for us that they did.

Recorded in an area of Argentina called Antofagasta these 4 long tracks depict intricate and meditative recollections of place. I was thinking it must be really interesting to come back to recordings made of a place so long after the event and then try to rework them into something totally different.  For me, sound evokes memory.  If anything is going to transport you back it’ll be a sound (or a smell, I’ve experienced this once or twice) and I wondered how much of the original trip Courtis would have actually remembered aside from what he heard on these tapes.

After such a long time does memory have anything to do with it anymore?   Can the sound just be treated as what it is, a sound, or would the memories come rushing back and be important enough again to inform the piece? The track titles are named after the area, 1, 2, 3 and 4 .  Are we to imagine Antofagasta based on this music?

Don’t get me wrong though, these are not postcards, nor are they straight-up field recordings. Interesting elements of the recordings have been weeded out, changed and manipulated into retellings of events. On the 4th track Courtis has utilised every field recordist’s nightmare, wind, and transformed it into a whirling sound tornado, a windy nightmare!

It’s not all nightmarish however, scraps and pulls of objects layered up and played back repeatedly form lush sonic dreams, track 3, in particular, is beautiful.  From an outsider’s perspective, the 1st track is the one most likely recognised as an original event. You can make out man made noises: vehicle sounds, revs of engines and distant voices.

As the CD progresses it feels as through you slowly lose a sense of reality as those first recordings become more fragmented and obscure.

Memories reworked and remembered again.

culver-fru

Culver: Prisoner of F.R.U (Know Your Enemy) Limited edition cassette and Bandcamp Download

My Word!  This collaboration tape from Edinburgh’s Fordell Research Unit messing freely with and augmenting Gateshead’s Culver was always going to be a heavy example of neat sarcophagus music – but I wasn’t expecting 4AD-levels of such beautiful fullness.

It is not the first time that Culver and Fordell Research Unit have joined forces; indeed Fraser Burnett (FRU) has made no secret of his admiration of the deep influence that Culver has played in his own music. As someone who has followed both acts for some time now I would propose that this is (if it ever was) not an unequal balance, Lee is no longer sensei to Frasers clumsy roundhouses, more of an equal partner who can stand back, solemnly running his fingers through his beard as Fraser executes an impeccable routine of high kicks, deadly punches and overall karate Zen whilst illuminated in the copper glow of a setting sun.

Fraser is joined on this project by sometime member Grant Smith, another Edinburgh gonk serving times in Muscletusk (Yeah!) and Shareholder (Hell Yeah!). It has been told that the two pored over the encrypted texts from the North East whilst enshrouded in intoxicating vapours, being sure to keep their chalices full at all times.

And so as the mission was passed onto Fraser so must it now be passed onto Grant if he is ever to grasp the weight of this devotional music. Whether in collaboration with Fraser or by himself; what we hear is Fraser standing back in admiration as the young Jedi levitates a series of metal bowls and discs in a room of deep red velvet amidst shrouds of sandalwood incense.

Sowatchyahearin’  ‘Torch Needles’ is a ripe fig glistening with fragrant, sticky juice // OR // It’s the silvery snakes in Donny Darko plunging through an eggy Turner painting.  With a slow rudeness they show off their blubbery muscles.  What we left with?  A very flexible riot!

‘Weak Will’ and ‘What Does She Watch?’ are touched by a delicate vapour trail petrified then doused in dark glitter. Light is reflected back for sure but at eccentric, unnatural angles illuminating the dusty corners and forgotten stairwells of a cross channel ferry: a periphery of sound construction as dangerous and inviting as the below deck engineering.

The grim maritime theme continues in ‘Telepathic Torture’.  A creaking nameless ship cuts through a freezing fog, as vile oily water laps mockingly at the crumbled veneer of the battered vessel. What remains of the crew stare with haunted and stricken eyes. They are little more than walking carcasses starved and half mad from many sea-bound days of cold misery. As the yellow acrid fog starts to part they see land in the distance, strange and unfamiliar but land none the less, perhaps it is here that the crew will find salvation though they know not where they are and how they came to be there…

Yikes!  My first ever drone raga is revealed in the backwards-metallic-skullfuck of ‘Shark’.  Those bass-clouds are looming, heavy and pregnant and once again the epithet ‘devotional’ stands out clearly.  A submission to the one true god of drone!

But the enveloping hiss of ‘Head Serpent’ is a gentle closer.  Soft tape micro-scribbles pepper and voosh about the place; presently an aching tone is gingerly inserted like a steel cannula until, in the dying seconds, it’s rudely wrenched out and the claret starts to drip, drip, drip.

A wise man once said,

“To understand the sounds that nourish the mind is to study the true path, to know truly what it is that you need, and what you don’t need, and to shed off the layers that weigh you down.”

Nuff said.

 

Beartown Records

Know Your Enemy

-ooOOoo-

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