london crawling: paul margree on alex ward, onin, yeah you, stephanie merchak, sebastian camens and miya masaoka, zeena parkins and myra melford

October 12, 2017 at 8:37 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Alex Ward Proprioception (Weekertoft)

Onin –Errery (Verz Imprint)

Yeah You – Krutch (Slip)

Stephanie Merchak – Collapsing Structures (Silent Method)

Sebastian Camens – Tan Object (Conditional)

Miya Masaoka, Zeena Parkins and Myra Melford – MZM (Infrequent Seams)

Given that my initial pitch to RFM was to become the site’s London correspondent, few of the bits and bobs I’ve reviewed thus have any link to the capital. These latest grunts of prose aim to address this imbalance, featuring some London-based artists and labels – as well as others from further afield. Read on, fellow voyagers, and enjoy.

AlexWard

Alex Ward – Proprioception (Weekertoft) CD and digital album

Alex Ward is a busy chap. In the past couple of years alone, he’s contributed to Charles Hayward’s This Is Not This Heat revival, reconciled the formal rigour of composition and the spontaneity of improvisation with group releases such as ‘Glass Shelves and Floor’, and given vent to ferocious jazz-rock-punk utterances in Forebrace. He’s also found time to pop up here, there and everywhere as a roving freelance improvisor.

More recently Ward has been rummaging around at both the micro and macro ends of his practice. With Item 10, he dives into the challenges of working with a large ensemble, again trying to square the circle of improvisational flexibility within a composed framework. But in‘Proprioception’, he focuses exclusively on the clarinet, with two acoustic improvisations and a third featuring amplification and feedback as a counterpart to his own dexterous playing.

The unamplified jams are as fluid and delightful as Ward has played.‘Vestibular’ honks and hoots with terrific, hyperactive energy, its maximalist trills tumbling into sharp-edged discordance, the full-on shredding peppered with tongue slaps and pained squeals. Phew. ‘Tiptoes’ is more languid, but grizzled too, with early scraping around the higher register morphing into gravel-pitted breaths and tubercular whoops.

If the third piece, ‘Chasm’, isn’t quite as assured, the sense of a new path being forged more than compensates. There’s plenty of this kind of stuff available for the saxophone – John Butcher still dominates the field, and Joe Wright (see below) is also worth your time – but switching in the clarinet here yields rewards. Ward uses the horn to taunt his amplification, almost, blowing just enough to trigger explosive, fuzzy yowls. Hollow breaths result in gas clouds of white noise. High-pitched squeaks draw out needling screams. At times, grit-laden globules seem to spew out into the air, claggy lumps of waterlogged ash hosed from a chimney by a crew of Victorian urchins, huffing and puffing as they clamber through the soggy darkness.
Onin

Onin – Errery (Verz Imprint) CD and digital album

 If Alex Ward’s experiments with amplification are provocative, reveling in the chaotic sounds they birth to, saxophonist Joe Wright takes a chillier, more considered approach. Onin, his duo with guitarist James Malone, is architectural in its scope, sketching out dry, empty structures pockmarked with occasional fine detailing that is both enigmatic and essential. Sounds don’t so float free from their moorings as are deployed with utmost precision to an unseen plan, working towards an unknowable, unreachable goal.

The five tracks on ‘Errery’ match dissonant feedback jags and atonal blowing from Wright’s horn with Malone’s reductionist approaches and extended techniques that turn his guitar into a sonic totem, his hollow knocking, ringing plucks and rodent squeaks emerging like background chatter from the aether.The grubby tundra of ‘Dark Star’ is a great opening salvo, Malone’s fibrous clangs echoing over the masses of Wright’s sub-zero sonics with unexpectedly emotional heft. And the album’s title track is full to the brim of things that go bump in the night, its poltergeist racket juxtaposed with almost comic stringy whoops and whistles for a big back of unheimlich fun.

But the highlight has got to be machine shop wallop of ‘Shrike’s Dance’, in which layers of oily syncopation and air-tube rattle jazz about in acousmatic fury. The title may well be a reference to ‘Pharaoh’s Dance’, the opening cut on Miles Davis’ ‘Bitches Brew’, and you can just about sniff out some that weaved interplay of instrumentation here – although the gassy thumps and drill-whine of an ancient central heating system in the process of being dismantled may be a better image. The physical pulse never goes away and may inspire spot of calisthenics in all but the most sedentary listeners. Work it.

Krutch

Yeah You – Krutch (Slip) vinyl and digital album

 Attention all parents! However you view the messy, complex business of child-rearing, the business of sharing car journeys with those little bundles of joy must, surely, appeal only to the very hardiest. Put a bunch of humans of varying ages inside a metal box for any length of time and friction is almost guaranteed to ensue.

Yet there is a solution, thanks to father and daughter duo Mykl Jaxn and Elvin Brandhi. Instead of arguing about which playlist or radio station commands the vehicular airwaves, Jaxn and Brandi used their car trips as a creative spur,with journeys to the supermarket and further afield becoming opportunities to dream upabrasive bursts of stream of consciousness noise guaranteed to abuse your earlobes with their sheer broken-glass vitriol.

Such formative experiences led inexorably to the birth of Yeah You. And, although the roadtrip jam sessions aren’t so central the duo’s creative process, the acid-bath ferocity of their instantaneous songcraft has lost none of its filthy lustre. ‘Krutch’ is the pair’s sophomore release for the London-based Slip label, after 2016’s astounding and essential ‘Id Vendor’, and the venom remains in full flow. From the pure headache yowzah of ‘Fall Freed’, through to dying seconds of ‘SOIK CHAT video’s’ burnt-circuit blip, this is aural poison of the most toxic kind.

Despite the anarchy, Brandhi’s majestic flow locks perfectly with Jaxn’s soundtrack. Get a load of ‘No More Metaphors, Hold Life Still’, where Brandhi’s distorted chat is all of a piece with Jaxn’s rough synth splatter. Like all good poets – Mark E Smith, YOL – Brandhi knows that the sonic impact of her syllables is as important as their meaning, just as Jaxn feels no need to prioritise her words, her corrosive utterances fighting for space in the titanium shoebox of his soundscapes.

‘Krutch’ is, if anything, even more virulent than its predecessor, whose crunching, trap-inspired beats provided a vestige of structure on which to hang Brandhi’s bottom-of-the-universe misanthrope poetry. “No affirmation needed, no affirmation needed” spits Brandhi on ‘Hair Moats’, her voice pitchshifted with such abandon that individual syllables warp in and out of focus, as scratchy electronic percussion bites like a nest of grumpy ants and thin splurges of atonal synth cast spraycan trackmarks all around. Set phasers to rinse.

Merchak

Stephanie Merchak – Collapsing Structures (Silent Method Records) digital release

All of the pieces on StephanieMerchak’s Collapsing Structures were built from a single glockenspiel melody, reconfigured by the artists into this set of stark, compelling compositions. The way in which Merchak turns self-imposed limitation to her advantage is, frankly, astounding. From relatively humble sonic material, she fashions an array of glossy twinkles, ominous machine murmurs and deep drones, which then act as source material for her assemblages. The mood is sombre, Merchak’s metallic timbres evoking the chilly expanses of the void – although, according to her liner notes, that vast emptiness may lay correspond to inner, rather than outer space, with tracks like ‘Alone In My Head’ summoning the aimless hermetic drift and low-power neuronic glimmer of psychic breakdown as much as they evoke the freezing wonder of interstellar exploration.

If the subject matter is grim, the product of the ruminations is frequently thrilling (indeed, one could hope that focusing on such debilitating mental states provides some therapeutic as well as aesthetic value). ‘Repeated Patterns of Destruction’has a massive, alien heave, its glacial crescendos awe-inspiring and terrifying in turn. ‘Cold and Silent’, meanwhile, is almost anthemic in its wavelike shimmer and battery of clanging resonance.

There are times, for example in the sweeping oscillations of ‘Rupture’ or the layered reverberations of ‘147 Transformations’, where Merchak seems to be pitting herself against computer music heavy-hitters like Roland Kayn. However, unlike Kayn’s more system-based approach, ‘Collapsing Structures’ is very much the product of Merchak’s compositional intelligence, and the intensity and focus of her tracks is a result of her hands-on sound design and clear editorial sense. Still, listening to pieces like ‘Caught In A Loop’, it is difficult to believe that a tabletop full of Eurorack modules isn’t responsible for the multifaceted pulse and throb. That such sub-zero gorgeousness had its roots in an instrument used to teach young children basic nursery rhymes in primary schools across the land is testament to its composers’ talent. Ice cold.

Tan Object

Sebastian Camens – Tan Object (Conditional) cassette and digital album

Imagine a giant, multicoloured rubber band. Imagine two hands stretching and twisting it. But it never breaks – just gets longer and longer, gnarled into an ever-more impossible geometry. Imagine this as sound, and you’ve got a fair approximation of the nutty squelchfest that is Sebastian Camens’ ‘Tan Object’. Created using a minimal modular synth setup, Camens lays down ten slices of frenetic Dayglo electronica, each one a rabbit punch to the cortex that’ll have you seeing stars as your jacking body crumples to the floor.

Despite there being no drums in these chewy nuggets, ‘Tan Object’ is a stone-cold banger. Each track sees Camens setting up his parameters and letting them fly, the hiccupping, loop-like structures gurning into new shapes as they coil around onto themselves in the perfect combination of repetition and evolution. The upward jerk of ‘Tan Object 2’ has the shroomy hustle of Lee Morgan’s ‘Sidewinder’ after a bout of M25 motorway madness, but it’s the album’s mid-section that hits hardest.  Parts 4 and 5 marshal a motherboard full of Space Invader bleeps and bursts in a hectic, gluey morass. By ‘Tan Object 6’, fuzzy drops of white-hot sound are raining down like planet-wide invasion, ‘War of Worlds’ rescripted by Tomohiro Nishikado.

‘Tan Object’ is the second outing for Camens on London’s Conditional label, after his split release with founder Calum Gunn for the label’s debut, ‘Slant Deviations’. Since then, Conditional has delved deep into the more eccentric ends of experimental electronic music, with rkss’s ‘Brostep In The Style Of Florian Hecker’ – released as a video game and lanyard, format fans – and Ewa Justka’s searing ‘Efhksjerfbeskj’ (created entirely with homemade instruments and effects). But the Conditional release with whom ‘Tan Objects’ shares most of its DNA is Phil Julian’s ‘Clastics’. Like Camens, Julian uses his kit to set up repeating patterns that decompose gradually into bit-scrunched slurry, leaving a bunch of lovely wrecks behind. Take a look. That charred destruction is darned beautiful.

MZM

Miya Masaoka, Zeena Parkins and Myra Melford: MZM (Infrequent Seams) CD and digital album

Artistic freedom can be constricting as well as a liberating. When everything is up for grabs, it takes courage to face down the void. Understandable, then, that many artists don’t, retreating into the niceties of a sonic grammar established back in the day – a problem particularly relevant in contemporary free improvisation.Thankfully, the trio of Miya Masaoka (21 string Koto) Zeena Parkins (electronics, electric harp) and Myra Melford (acoustic and prepared piano)steer a safe passage through these rocky waters. You’d hope they would, of course, given their combined skill levels working in this field. And, although his debut isn’t the first time the trio has worked together, ‘MZM’ retains the sparkiness of an initial meeting of minds, scoring an impressive hit rate despite being rooted in classic improv traditions.

That said, ‘MZM’ takes a little while to get going. The aptly titled ‘Red Spider’ and ‘Bug’, for all their energized swarm, wouldn’t look out of place in a 1980’s Emanem release. But as the radiant hues of ‘Saturn’ beam out, things look to be heading in the right direction. Balletic harp and koto figures execute a courtly dance to subdued piano chords. Hermetic feedback wallpapers the space in glowing hostility, allowing the brittle strings and moody keys to skedaddle nervously across smooth, curvilinear surfaces.

Generally, the cuts named after astronomical features fare better than their entomological counterparts, the chilly spaces offering more opportunities to winkle out refreshing twists and turns. The woody plunks of ‘Spiral’ display an enigmatic loveliness, the crabwalk improved by a piano line nodding just far enough towards Ligeti’s ‘Musica Ricercata II’ to summon some Kubrikian spookiness. Its final third is arrestingly lovely as it morphs into widescreen, creeping dread, with a growling bass drone that casts circling koto and harp motifs into uncompromising relief.

Weekertoft

Verz Imprint

Slip

Silent Method Records

Conditional

Infrequent Seams

-ooOOoo-

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