distillations: extraction music haiku compiled

August 20, 2014 at 6:57 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Daniel Thomas & Kevin Sanders – “I am a moment illuminating eternity… I am affirmation… I am ecstacy.” (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 25 or download)

TST – Tsim Sha Tsui (3” CD-r, Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.026, edition of 50 or download)

Kevin Sanders – A purification of space (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 20 or download)

Petals – upon receiving the ultraviolet light (CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

Hagman – Number Mask (CD-r, LF Records, LF037)

Petals – I’ve never been very good at retorting narrative tales as I always get lost along the way. So I lie (tape, Beartown Records, edition of 33)

TST – The Spoken Truth (CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

Daniel Thomas – Enemy Territory (CD-r, cherry row recordings, CRR005, edition of 25 or download)

Daniel Thomas – That Which Sometimes Falls Between Us / As Light Fades (2 x CD-r in wooden flower press, edition of 9, 2 x CD-r, edition of 39, or download, Kirkstall Dark Matter)

thomas and sanders - i am a moment

That Twitter is alright, innit? After stalling for years I finally signed up a couple of weeks ago and can be found @radiomidwich should you be inclined to go looking. Knowing that I was entering a lengthy period of hectic work activity, and that my energy levels are low, I was looking for a way of staying current that was effortless to pick up and just as easy to put down. With apologies to my regular email correspondents, Twitter fits the bill real nice. I have the odd gripe with twittery behaviour already but by and large I’ve been enjoying the shouty-pub-with-six-jukeboxes-and-four-televisions-on atmosphere and the opportunity to crack wise and arse smart. It also gave me an idea of how to scythe through a crop of review items.

Some context: the leading exponents of the sub-genre I’ve defined as ‘extraction music‘ are very busy guys indeed – check out the heaving parentheses in the following sentence. Dave Thomas (solo as ap martlet, half of Hagman, one third of TST, label boss of Kirkstall Dark Matter), Daniel Thomas (solo under his own name, the other half of Hagman, a further third of TST, as a duo with Kevin and label boss of Sheepscar Light Industrial and Cherry Row Recordings) and Kevin Sanders (solo under his own name and as petals, as a duo with Dan, the final third of TST, label boss of hairdryer excommunication) are enjoying a hit rate unrivaled since the glory days of Stock, Aitken and Waterman – the 1980s production trio they have modeled their work ethic on.

What’s a conscientious reviewer to do? Given the exacting quality control, staggering over such a fast growing body of work, the music is deserving of serious contemplation. However, who has time to write the usual 1000+ words about items arriving on a near-weekly basis? Not me. Instead I will turn (again) to haiku, a traditional variety of Japanese poetry in which the idea expressed is distilled to 17 syllables arranged in a five-seven-five formation. Thus, mental energy expended is roughly equivalent to normal but writing time is cut to the bone. It is also an eminently tweetable format – something the spirits of long-deceased masters of this most delicate and disciplined art must be thrilled by – so Twitter is where they got their initial airing.

Below is a compilation of the first nine, properly formatted and illustrated. I’m pleased with these, especially the last two, which are, I hope, impressionistic but accurate – like a portrait by Frank Auerbach. Click on the band name/album title to be taken to appropriate blog post or Bandcamp page. Amazingly, all of this can be had dirt cheap or for free. I recommend the lot very highly – there are potential Zellaby Award winners here – and also recommend you explore the catalogues of these gentlemen on either side of this snapshot.

No. 1:

Daniel Thomas & Kevin Sanders – “I am a moment illuminating eternity… I am affirmation… I am ecstacy.”

Terminal thought of

fatally injured robot:

“my blood is on fire”

tst - tsim sha tsui

No. 2:

TST – Tsim Sha Tsui

Ornithopter flaps

above the spice refinery.

Inhale: the future!

kev sanders - a purification of space

No. 3:

Kevin Sanders – A purification of space

Yellowed grass, cut paper

– consolations of order –

cut grass, yellowed paper.

petals - upon receiving

No. 4:

Petals – upon receiving the ultraviolet light

Absenceispresent

griefcollapseswavefunction

bookmarkshakenloose

hagman - number mask

No. 5:

Hagman – Number Mask

Vignettes illustrate

fierce entropic beauty,

pebble becomes sand

petals - so i lie

No. 6:

Petals – I’ve never been very good at retorting narrative tales as I always get lost along the way. So I lie

Fine machinery

in an era of magic:

cogs versus witchcraft

tst - the spoken truth

No. 7:

TST – The Spoken Truth

Arterial pulse,

self lost to alien flow,

hive mind emerges

daniel thomas - enemy territory

No. 8:

Daniel Thomas – Enemy Territory

Adjust tracking for

artefacts of video:

hot snow, concrete blur…

daniel thomas - that which

No. 9:

Daniel Thomas – That Which Sometimes Falls Between Us / As Light Fades

Sharp, bristled morning

through circadian filters

to uterine fug

—ooOoo—

extraction music: dave thomas, daniel thomas, kevin sanders

March 30, 2014 at 9:26 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 4 Comments
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Ap-Martlet – Analog Computer (CD-r, Kirkstall Dark Matter, edition of 16)

Daniel Thomas – Codeine (3” CD-r, Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.023, edition of 50 or download)

Daniel Thomas – Revolution#21 (CD-r, Cherry Row Recordings, CR002, or download)

Kevin Sanders – Clusters, clutter and other ephemera (3” CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 8 or download)

Kevin Sanders – Ascension through apathy (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 9 or download)

petals – magnates agus drochthoradh (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 20 or download)

petals – scamaill le focail (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 20 or download)

ap martlet - analog computerdaniel thomas - revolution#21daniel thomas - codeinekevin sanders - clusterskevin sanders - ascension through apathypetals - magnate

There’s this type of music that I like. In fact, I think I might attempt to invent a new sub-genre to account for it.  Cool, eh?  What music obsessive doesn’t love that game? I’m going to call it extraction and here are some notes towards a definition.

Extraction music contains a large measure of drone spiced with a helping of throbbing, psychedelic noise and other ingredients I am about to list. It can be heavy, urgent and demanding but it is not, as a rule, harsh or aggressive. Instead the sound is enveloping, fluctuating – fully engaged. I’m sure the discerning listener could list influences from dub techno to austere modern composition to The Radiophonic Workshop but I’m painting with a broad brush for now and will leave the detail for future musicological arguments.

This music is created using mainly analogue electronics. The kit typically comprises vintage synths, their modern clones and homemade counterparts, other self assembled objects and daisy chains of effects pedals patched and looped through long suffering mixers. At any one time it is unlikely that all of it will be working properly.

The buzz and pulse is often accented with a mixture of ‘field’ and ‘domestic’ recordings. Birdsong adds flutter to the high end, rain a percussive patter, traffic a satisfying rumble and so on. The hum of big ticket appliances like fridges proves irresistible as does the fuzz and clatter of mechanical fixtures such as air conditioning units. Smaller one off noises, agreeable and/or attention grabbing, like the ‘tik-fwup’ of the central heating coming on, or a snatch of conversation, or the battering of a battered cymbal can be dropped in for emphasis or light relief.

It is largely built from ideas figured out during lengthy sessions of experimentation. Editorial tinkering appears minimal, keeping a ‘live’ feel to the recording, but I suspect a lot of hard work is hidden within those transitions. The build up of detail suggests much disciplined hovering over the pots and sliders of some brute electronics, tweaked to within a hair’s breadth of their tipping points. The method of construction and ‘in the room’ recording gives this music a sense of place, a geography, that much free-floating diginoise lacks. It feels grounded, located in a new but oddly familiar place that you visit and cohabit whilst listening. That maps have been used in its packaging and place names in album, label and track titles strikes me as non-coincidental.

So why ‘extraction’? Well, partly it is a tongue in cheek joke referencing the perceived source material – an untreated recording of the extractor fan in the left-hand toilet cubicle at my place of work would make a pretty solid extraction album – but it is more to do with the feeling that this music is pulled out of the kit, that it is mined from the available resources and then refined: like minerals extracted from ore or a life-saving pharmaceutical compound extracted from a rare Amazonian orchid. If this was a film it would be Upstream Color, a deliberately under-determined story of the biological, psychological and criminal processes used to extract a mysterious drug from the multi-stepped, symbiotic life-cycle of the organisms involved in its production. That this remarkable film also features sequences in which some very extractionist sound is recorded (albeit by a shady villain) and played back at enormous volume could not be more perfect.

Finally then, before we get onto some examples, I suppose you are wondering what it smells like. I’m glad you asked: hot solder, grass wet with dew, ozone and chana dall.

The leading proponents of this hot new sound that all the kids are now furiously hyping are Dave Thomas (solo as ap martlet, half of Hagman, label boss of Kirkstall Dark Matter), Daniel Thomas (solo under his own name, the other half of Hagman, as a duo with Kevin and label boss of Sheepscar Light Industrial and Cherry Row Recordings) and Kevin Sanders (solo under his own name and as petals, as a duo with Dan, label boss of hairdryer excommunication). The Thomas boys are not blood relations but there is a musketeer level of all-for-oneness in their interconnected projects. I suppose the three of them can argue as to who gets to be, err…, Dogtanian(?!).

My praise for their previous work is strewn across this blog, much of which can be used as retroactive confirmation of this sub-genre definition. Click on the tags above to investigate (go on – just to amuse me – no one ever clicks on tags). Today we are going to focus on some recent(ish) releases, all of which are freely downloadable from that Bandcamp.

Firstly, Analog Computer by Ap-Martlet. Dave handmade a tiny initial run of this which was given away to interested parties. For a while he refrained from granting it a digital afterlife but I’m delighted to announce it is now up on Bandcamp (alongside a second printing of the CD-r).  The title is perfect – it calls to mind a room-sized, valve-run difference engine humming with contented menace.  These three tracks seem less compositions than iterations of an algorithm set in motion by a wonky punchcard being slotted into the machine upside-down.  ‘Comdyna’ and ‘Thurlby’ are both rhythmic in an abstract sense – the latter being a low impact step aerobics class for retired ABC Warriors, the former an exercise in patience and discipline as a series of low-slung tones are held until they start to feedback, then released, then repeated.  The final track, ‘Heathkit’, is a coruscating, brain-scouring, fuzz-drone.  It is the kind of sound that in a workshop you would wear ear protectors to dampen but here it is presented for our contemplation and admiration.  It’s like being walked down a production line by a proud factory designer.  There is a little false ending too – a stuttering flourish following a conveyor belt jam – which made me laff.  I recommend also checking out the wonders he has hidden on Soundcloud.

There is a fun little guessing game to be played when listening to work by Daniel Thomas.  Is this a) the sound of the kit playing itself, everything plugged into everything else, as Dan sits back and enjoys a chilli buzz from his takeaway curry or b) the sound of the kit being micromanaged through a carefully orchestrated composition as Dan obsesses over every tiny transition and barely perceptible variation in nuance?  There are several terrific examples of the former on his Bandcamp and Soundcloud pages (check out this exercise in super-distilled minimalism) but the two items up for review here are firmly in the latter camp.

Codeine is stepped using a similar mechanical arpeggio to Dave’s ‘Thurlby’.  The impression is of a wind powered kinetic sculpture abandoned by its maker years ago and now almost rusted to a standstill.  There is a tragic beauty to this process, a merciful release, and, as such, the fade out – which seems preposterously long on first listen – feels more appropriate with each repeat.  Oddly moving too.

Revolution#21 is a quintessential example of extraction music and possibly my favourite of Dan’s releases, despite a back catalogue already studded with jewels.  As for what it sounds like you need only re-read my opening paragraphs adding a layer of throb to account for a young man in receipt of some new goodies from Korg.  Imagine a battalion of semi-sentient, clockwork samurai buried as grave goods in the immense tomb of a world-conquering general.  There, in the pitch black, they use their remaining energy keeping each other wound up in a final, unwinnable battle against entropy.  The nobility of it is in equal parts inspiring and heartbreaking.

Next are four pieces by Kevin Sanders but first a word about his exhausting release schedule.  He tells me that he intends to birth two new products a month for the whole of 2014.  Indeed, whilst writing this review I have heard from another label with new warez by petals for sale and had an email from Kev asking if I fancy a sneaky preview of the next batch.  The chap is unstoppable.  In order to keep up I’ve decided to treat the flow of his work as if it were a paper publication that I have subscribed to (“The Psychogeographical Journal of Musicological Interpretive Cartography- a fortnightly digest” perhaps).  I’ll devour each issue, cover to cover, as it arrives then shelve or discard it when the next number flops onto the digi-doormat.  Thus I won’t be writing thousands of words on individual releases.  As with Culver, each piece is a section of an atlas, beautiful on its own terms but part of a larger whole.  Some summaries:

The two discs by petals are dark, angry, claustrophobic affairs.  scamaill le focail (Irish for ‘clouds with words’) and magnates agus drochthoradh (‘magnates and responsibilities’) both feature scything fuzz drone akin to that found in ‘Heathkit’ but in both cases it is considerably less self-assured.  It’s as if the proud factory designer is now having second thoughts about selling his production line to those guys in the sharp leather uniforms.  Y’know – the guy in glasses with the expensive suit and the IMF logo clipboard seemed very reassuring but…  Ah, too late now!  An unsettling, dystopian vibe permeates both tracks.  There is no let up (well, there is a brief break halfway through magnates… for the ominous rumbling of distant explosions), no release – just a gradual paring away.  Moments of despair, fury are allowed to bubble to the surface only to be fished out like impurities from an otherwise pure distillate.  The heaviness is serious and brilliantly sustained.

Clusters, clutter and other ephemera by Kev under his own name is a remarkable twenty minutes leaning, as it appears to, on the human voice as its major sound source.  It starts all garage punk Ligeti – like the professorial neighbour of a rockabilly band attempting to school ’em in modernism by by playing the tough bits from the 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack through the band’s own slashed practice amps.  The groans and clatters eventually take a more haunting turn suggesting the limbo inhabited by Marley’s ghost before his yuletide turn clanking chains to shit up his former business partner.  Uniquely odd.

Ascension through apathy, also as Kev, is perhaps the pick of this bunch and a beautiful example of the more organic, psychedelic side of extraction music.  The opening movement of this half hour long travelogue is bleak: starting at the rim of a still smugly smoking volcano we walk down the cooled, charcoal grey lava flows.  Nothing grows here yet, the undulations speak of unimaginable force and heat.  Yet as we approach the fertile valleys that begin in the lower slopes the music pushes its shoulders back and becomes uplifting, quietly joyous.  The latter two thirds are a serene walk through the dappled sunlight reaching the forest floor as we return to the cove where our yacht is moored.  No one in our party feels the need to speak, all are at one with each other and the surroundings.  An understanding passes amongst us: life has changed.  This caught me in a funny mood the other day and effortlessly moved me to tears.

—ooOoo—

…and that is a fine place to end for now.  Comments most welcome as are suggestions as to other recordings or artists that might fit within this ragged template.  My own The Swift is one, I think – it was certainly influenced by these fellas.  Anything else that I might dig?

Sheepscar Light Industrial

Cherry Row Recordings

hairdryer excommunication

Kirkstall Dark Matter

clicking down the delta: paul margree on mikroton recordings

September 10, 2017 at 6:05 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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MKM – Instants//Paris (Mikroton Recordings)

Burkhard Beins / Lucio Capece / Martin Küchen / Paul Vogel -Fracture Mechanics (Mikroton Recordings)

Ease – No No No, No (Mikroton Recordings)

Alfredo Costa Monteiro / Miguel A. Garcia – Aq’Ab’Al (Mikroton Recordings)

Kurt Liedwart / Andrey Popovskiy / Martin Taxt – Hjem (Mikroton Recordings)

The Holy Quintet – Borough (Mikroton Recordings)

 Kurt Liedwart’s Mikroton Recordings has been broadcasting dispatches from the outer realms of aural voyaging since 2008. Its discography takes in luminaries of abstract improvised sounds such as Keith Rowe, Jason Kahn and Burkhard Beins, as well as newer voices such as Lucio Capece or Miguel A. Garcia.

Mapping the label’s aesthetic would probably encompass the slow ruptures of Crypt-era AMM, the bruising subtleties of Berlin Echtzeitmusik and the glacial intensity of reductionism and its adherents. Electroacoustic improvisation is the phrase you’d reach for, I guess. But take a few steps into this Moscow label’s back catalogue and it becomes clear that this term is about as useful as mapping the ever-widening delta of these musicks as a paper cup is for boiling an egg.

Keeping up with Liedwart’s release schedule can be exhausting. But it’s rewarding, too. Time spent with a Mikroton release opens your brain and ears to the wonders of unconventional sound. Everyday objects are reconfigured into talismanic sonic generators and the orthodoxies of conventional instrumentation are subverted. Hurricanes in the bathtub. Prickles on the skin of a bubble. Scuffles in the grey dawn.

Most of the releases under review here came out earlier in the year. There have been several more since. But as entry points into Mikroton’s fascinating discography, they can’t be beat.

mkm

MKM – Instants//Paris (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

Back in 2012,the Swiss trio of Jason Kahn, Günter Müller and Norbert Möslang assembled in Paris for a lively session of hustle and grind. It wasn’t the first time they’d played together – their debut release was back in 2008 – but sufficient vitality remains here to counter any familiarity.

Kahn has since put his analogue synth and radio setup to one side in preference for longform vocal extemporizations, but this performance never feels like a museum piece. His contributions lock together with Müller and Möslang’s cracked consumer electronics to produce bursts of junkshop argy-bargy in which individual contributions are subsumed into the overarching grey drizzle.

Early sections are a bustling farrago, the collection of gritty burps and high, needling tones not dissimilar to ‘Valentine’, Kahn’s head-to-head with Phil Julian from a year or so back.

It’s chewy, tangible stuff, the irregular bursts of noise like some slo-mo Super 8 footage of a trio of dune buggies carving up the terminal beach. The crew swerve away from any kind of crescendo or manipulative sonic topography, instead allowing the vicissitudes of their kit and caboodle to create natural peaks and lulls. They can’t help building up a head of steam towards the end, though, with a full-spectrum chunter that would give a factory full of boiling kettles a run for its money, before cutting out for an appropriately deadpan finale.

Fracture-Mechanics

Burkhard Beins / Lucio Capece / Martin Küchen / Paul Vogel – Fracture Mechanics (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

An allusive take on multidimensional improvisation from this collection of veterans, most of whom exist as points on the Echtzeitmusik/reductionist/electroacoustic axis.

Where ‘Instants//Paris’ was rough-edged and impolite, ‘Fracture Mechanics’ is enigmatic and considered. Long, breathy saxophone hoots waft across a jittery bed of interference. Glottal clicks rattle between glassy tones like a spittle flecked metronome in a temple. In ‘Pebble Snatch’, two saxophones – Capece on soprano and Küchen on tenor – moan in prehistoric lament. ‘Pendentive’ sets a cavern of ritualistic percussion against lattices of frowning gurgles and hand-bell tinkles.

There’s a lot going on under these unruffled surfaces. A wide-ranging array of equipment – the usual speakers, iPod, radios and objects you’d expect from this milieu, plus saxophones, hand oscillators, e-bowed zithers, monotron, snare drum and, best of all, ‘air from another planet contained in terrestrial glassware’ – yields a rich matrix of effects, but the space is never crowded. Restraint is as important as variety, the cumulative experience of the four players giving them an intuitive sense of when to hold back and when to push out.

Recorded in Ljubljana in 2014, ‘Fracture Mechanics’ is a prime example of the Mikroton aesthetic, with the slow-burn epic of ‘Transmogrification’ a highlight. An ear-rinsing squeal is a low-decibel, high-frequency endurance test, its groan as insistent as a fridge left open in the middle of the night. Godzilla rumbles drag themselves across a vast plain. Its 30-minute runtime resembles an aerial flythrough of a sleeping hive mind, occasional neuron flashes lighting up the dreaming nerve-centre. When it ends, you awake, refreshed.

Ease

Ease – No No No, No (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

I have a soft spot for handmade or custom-built instruments. They force innovation through defamiliarisation. Lacking history, tradition, convention, players have to bend their usual techniques into new shapes, or adopt new ones.

In electronic music, where easy-to-use interfaces combined with infinite variety results in comfort zone-produced cliché, self-made or hand-coded systems are an essential part of keeping things fresh.

And so it goes with ‘Ease’, a Viennese duo of Klaus Filip and Arnold Haberl, aka Noid. The pair uses ppooll, an open-source software tool, to create eerie and minimal computer soundscapes. Both musicians are programmers and are deeply involved in ppooll’s development community (indeed, Filip was one of the founders of the system) and so both are adept in manipulating their system to achieve astounding results – the compositions here are elegant, dense and compelling, moving with the unpredictable implacability of a weather system across a mountain range. There’s an occasional resemblance to fellow countrymen Farmer’s Manual’s live-coded suppleness in the constant, gradual shifts of these two long tracks. There’s also a gritty edge, recalling Kevin Sanders’ briefcase synth cosmologies.

In fact, of all Mikoton’s recent releases, ‘No No No, No’ is the one that fits best into the No-Audience Underground or Extraction Music taxonomies. It’s thanks mainly to the way in which Filip and Haberls’ individual contributions come together – the former moulding sine waves and high tones into beautiful forms, like a glassblower creating a set of skeletal, numinous sculptures, while the latter processes field recordings and natural sounds into rough, low-end rumbles and soft beachy huffs. An addictive, immersive recording.

aq-ab-al

Alfredo Costa Monteiro / Miguel A. Garcia – Aq’Ab’Al (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

If that all sounds a tad refined, Aq’Ab’Al might just be aggressive enough to whet your whistles.

These four chunks of intense cyborg aggression from this Iberian duo balance driller-killer vibrations with a seismically-potent low-end, all rendered in terrifying hi-definition clarity. Skynet tone-clouds meet earthmover grumbles in abrupt, dystopic visions of posthumanity. It’s thrilling, visceral stuff, brutal enough to shatter the gallery politesse of much art-music, yet retaining sufficient detail and ideas to keep you interested through repeated exposure to its tungsten surfaces.

The title comes from Mayan astrology and refers to opposites, change and renewal. While it is strange that something so unnervingly futuristic should take an ancient religion as its touchstone, Monteiro and Garcia are only the latest in a line of experimental artists reaching back through the past for inspiration. Think of Eliane Radigue’s ‘Song of Milarepa’, (inspired by the teachings of the ancient Tibetan Buddhist scholar), Morton Subotnik’s ‘The Wild Bull’(the title comes from the Epic of Gilgamesh) or Milton Babbit’s ‘Philomel’ (based on a myth from Ovid’s). In any case, listeners familiar with Mayan ideas about the end of the world – remember 2012? And Mel Gibson? – won’t have to try too hard to find the duo’s high-velocity screeches and catastrophic thunderclaps appropriately apocalyptic. These guys have seen the future. And it is murder.

Hjem

Kurt Liedwart / Andrey Popovskiy / Martin Taxt – Hjem (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

The ppooll system makes another appearance here, this time in the hands of label boss Kurt Liedwart, in a trio with Norwegian tuba player Martin Taxt and St Petersburg violinist Andrey Popovskiy.

This is quiet noise of a superior kind, Taxt and Liedwart ganging up to create laminal extended horizons through which Popovskiy scratches rough and ready paths. Taxt’s tuba is great, its long brassy parps calling out like the mating calls of mysterious sea monsters, the affectless playing unable to banish the final traces of the instrument’s characteristic pathos. Liedwart’s electronics fizzle and splutter in parallel, muddy splatters morphing into frothy sploshes before emptying into micromanaged arpeggios.

If this were a duo, this would all be rather too symmetrical for me. Fortunately, Popovskiyis a wild card, his viola, electronics and objects adding welcome wayward notes to the meditative jam. At one point, a sound like a rusty gate cuts through the cool drones, soon followed by a load of bashing and banging, as if the janitor of the Dom Cultural Centre in Moscow (where this was recorded) has chosen the worst possible time to repair the central heating system. It’s a cue for things to get scrappier, with various rustles and clonks prodding Taxt into exhausted, erratic honks, while by nervy gusts of electronics chatter their support.

borough

The Holy Quintet – Borough (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

 Recorded in the Welsh Congregational Chapel in Borough, southeast London, this quintet of Johnny Chang (Viola), Jamie Drouin (suitcase modular and radio), Dominic Lash (double bass), Lazaridou-Chatzigoga (zither) and David Ryan (bass clarinet) takes on an appropriately spectral quality as their manifold creaks, strikes and crunches fade in and out of hearing.

Like a lot of Mikroton releases, the link between the players, their instruments and the sounds that we hear on the record are mysterious. Here the disconnect is even more pronounced. Sure, those stringy bumps could be Dominic Lash’s bow bouncing across his cello strings and that hollow, silvery tone could David Ryan’s bass clarinet. But, on the whole, sounds float free from their moorings, sonic manifestations divorced from their physical aspects. As a result, these two sets exist somewhere between possession and haunting, the personnel mimicking a Victorian spiritualist meeting, the attendees channeling the ghostly music of the aether even as they’re taunted by cheeky, restless spirits.

The uncredited sixth player in this quintet is silence. There’s a talk a lot about silence in the experimental music world – how much of it to allow in a performance or a recording, whether we can ever achieve true silence, how to banish it, even.  Yet we rarely acknowledge that silence is not a fixed, immutable entity. It can be blissful, mysterious, meditative, depending on the context. Here it is oppressive, claustrophobic, bearing down on these ghostly voices like a force field. Absence becomes presence, and sound becomes a last barrier against oblivion.

 Mikroton Recordings (news etc)

Mikroton Recordings (stuff to buy)

-ooOOoo-

don’t trust those pillows: sky high diamonds on ian j cole, stuart chalmers and the committee for sonic research

May 14, 2017 at 9:06 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ian J Cole – The Clifton Hotel, Bristol 1 & Bristol 2 (for Cello and Moog) (Self Release/Pocklington Music)

Stuart Chalmers – Poetry of Decay (Self Release/Strange Rules)

Various Artists – The Committee for Sonic Research 33 1/3 (TCFSR)

 Ian J Cole

Ian J Cole – The Clifton Hotel, Bristol 1 & Bristol 2 (for Cello and Moog) (Self Release/Pocklington Music) CD digital album

 

Bristol in the rain

Torrential storm above me

Drown in surround sound

stuart chalmers

Stuart Chalmers – Poetry of Decay (Self Release/Strange Rules) Sold out cassette and CDr and digital album

 

Trapped in a film reel

A trophy for your time here

Poems warp and die

TCFSR 1

Various Artists – The Committee for Sonic Research 33 1/3 (TCSR) Double Vinyl Extravaganza and digital album

The first vinyl release on TCFSR is a double album of tracks by TCFSR artists British Experimental Rocket Group, Dental Drill Slips, Lone Cosmonaut, Occult Science Foundation, Schmaidl, Trixie Delight and WarpCensor.

This is the type of vinyl that I dreamed of owning as a young teenager first buying records in the 80s.

Caressing the big shiny square and admiring it’s dimensions I just know that this will be placed delicately onto my turntable only when the time is right. I can’t even imaging peeling off the shiny seal enveloping the sleeve at this stage.

It’s a breathless moment; I am sure some readers understand this intimately. It’s not just the physical smoothness of the outside packaging, like a really large brightly coloured sweet, but once unpeeled I know that the insides will contain that rich black and smooth shiny vinyl.  And when the needle hits that first groove for the very first time and the sounds seep through the static fuzziness…anything can happen.

“This is for you!” Trixie smiles warmly at me as my eyes quietly take in the montage of images, the squeaky shiny feel and the list of artists and tracks on this wonderful gift. Some names are immediately recognisable to me so I elicit a squeal (slightly muffled as we are in a public place) of delight…. a squeal of Trixie Delight.

Not that this compilation features an abundance of Trixie’s input and work, however, her presence is not superficial. Two of her most prominent tracks, ‘No Surprise’ and ‘Submarine’ are featured on sides one and two and she unites with both tourmaline hum and WarpCensor for two tracks on side four: ‘Frozen’ (a Trixie Delight remix) and ‘Camden Doughnuts.’

With Schmaidl’s track ‘Love’, Trixie can be heard counting melodically in several different languages. Finally, The Occult Science Foundation features a subtle and brief sample of Trixie’s vocal from ‘Submarine.’

Already, it can be seen that I am a strong supporter of Trixie’s varied musical output. Her vocals are warm and delicious at all times and her choice of instruments and avant-garde styling of sounds have grabbed me from the outset.  Hearing that ‘No Surprise’ has been featured on the BBC’s Late Junction recently, came, as well, no surprise whatsoever.

Overall, the collection oozes an intricate mechanical feel, from the subtle music box twists, turns and twangs in ‘No Surprise’, through to the static yet repetitive mechanical elevator sounds from Dental Drill Slips in ‘Elysium Extraction’.

Blending in however, are several tracks with an uplifting, spiraling and hugely melodic presence from Lone Cosmonaut’s ‘Code’ and the British Experimental Rocket Group’s ‘Catching Raindrops’; driving, powerful, and spirited, these artists bring a strong sense of robust posture to the compilation.

Simon Lewry, the albums producer explains the sequence development,

“The aim was to get about 16 minutes of audio on each side, and not more than 18 minutes, so that maximum fidelity could be obtained from the grooves. We tried to create four self-contained sides, rather than range across the entire double album.  You should feel a rounded musical experience if you listen to one side only.”

So, who are these artists and what do they bring to TCFSR?

Schmaidl’s music is “driven by moods, experimentation, and by time spent in nature” and this context pervasively emanates through his upbeat and distinctively developmental tracks. ‘River 1997’ transports the listener into a climate of intertwined beats, twists and turns, pushing forward, pulling back, harsher sounds undercurrent the surface textures but that beat keeps hammering away very decisively.

‘Love’, develops slowly but becomes a powerful discursive insight on love.  The Peace Prayer of St. Francis, that bleeds interestingly in to “please flip to side B”, reminding the listener of the multiple intertextual contexts available that are currently seeping through contemporary electronic experimental music and sound art.

A US based German citizen, Schmaidl’s  latest, and first physical release, ‘Hangouts’, is due to be released at the end of May in a limited CD run.

tourmaline hum is Lewry and Steve Tree, original members of Except Buses whose current focused interest is in purely electronic processing. Their opening track ‘Cranes’ on side one is an interesting mix of dark introductory tones, which settle quickly into a melodic formation whilst still carrying the heavy precise beats that developed the track from the outset.

The lightly spirited and spiraling track, ‘Fioritura’, is a short, concise instrumental piece but pre-empts the more experimental vibe of Bletchley Park Lurker, which is much edgier and has a deeper sub-bass selection of intermittent wind sounds in a call and response style, like sea creatures calling out to each other.

It is interesting to experience these two tracks from the same artist, one after the other, however; one is distinctly more experimental which brings me quickly to an interesting tangent in this selection.  ‘Rain Song’, on side two, offers a tribal approach with rich tender wooden xylophone sounds, a choir, and sensual beats, throwing forth an upbeat vibe of positivity and perseverance and is the ideal follow-on track from WarpCensor’s ‘Past Started’, which is distinctly positive and a catchy upwards swirl of melody and beats, gorgeously warm and precise. ‘Past Started’ is a visually and aurally uplifting track from Richard Zarywacs who is the last member of tourmaline hum (Lone Cosmonaut/Dental Drill/WarpCensor) to release solo work, but according to Lewry,

“he’s well in to his stride now.”

On side four I find ‘Frozen’, also a tourmaline hum track and an elegant remix of Trixie Delight’s track ‘Sleep’. The introduction is absolutely stunning and engages me immediately with its lusty and muscular beats. Trixie’s understated yet powerful vocal delivers a melody that accompanies the listener into a drifty, dreamlike state, an invitation to dream and relax intensely through harmony, melody and rhythm, but “don’t trust those pillows, pillows” and the accompanying harmonious backdrop suggests an ominous undercurrent may sweep the listener away if sleep is experienced too deeply.

I am aroused from Trixie’s slumber-induced state with alertness and a jolt-jarring thud as I am thrown into the next track from Dental Drill Slips. The industrial world is also wide awake and clanging mechanically, repetitively, overwhelmingly, so there is no sleep to be had here, regardless of Trixie’s previous dreamy siren call.  ‘Elysium Extraction’ shatters any ideas of a peaceful rest. Dental Drill Slips explains more about his approaches on his website.

”My audio work has always been about boundaries, using sound differently, devising compositions from a sparse palette (for example, a trio of compositions using only a sample of a single wave that was 0.0094 second long), molding audio from novel, often unmusical sources.”

The mechanical vibe threatens to continue with the British Experimental Rocket Group’s track ‘Catching Raindrops’ but draws with it a poetic and melodic interlude, which breaks away suddenly and then returns to regain a presence, like a battle between internal sounds and the external worldly currents that drag and pulse the listener through time and space.

‘Winnerton Flats’ on side three is an eerie landscape laid out for the listener, like a film score it sets the scene for a misty rural atmosphere, purely instrumental, perhaps creeping towards a horror themed film or psychological thriller. The British Experimental Rocket Group transcends conventional instrumental offerings by presenting “sonic experiments and synthetic compositions” as explained by Lewry, “selected tracks and recovered excerpts are being heard for the first time.”

TCFSR 2

Occult Science Foundation describe themselves as,

“Artists Provocateurs. Witnesses. Investigating the present through the capricious cracked lens of the past.”

‘Morality Cycle’ on side three is from their album Urban Witchcraft and consists of warped tones and jagged beats that seem to hold the waning and warped tones together. The interesting background melodic sample from Trixie’s ‘Submarine’ lists delicately under the surface, threatening to emerge but holds itself intriguingly back.

Lone Cosmonaut is Tree, half of tourmaline hum, archivist of British Experimental Rock Group and is also in partnership with Dental Drill as Bizarre Love Children. Lone Cosmonaut is a solo project of indeterminate duration, consisting of electronic, experimental and ambient music. Tree explains,

“Lone Cosmonaut is my solo project, where electronics, field recordings and found sounds come together with software and hardware in perfect disharmony.”

‘Code’, on side three is an expansive, spacey soundscape that sweeps in and out again but stays just long enough to entrance the listener with its presence. More of Tree’s work can be found here.

Trixie Delight’s ‘Submarine’ is both delightful and curiously hard to listen to because of its strange juxtapositions. She takes the words of the artist Frida Khalo and enmeshes them into an immersive watery soundscape where the listener feels like they are drowning…

“I want to be inside your darkest everything”

… is repeated in Trixie’s luscious velvety tones, a multi layered, looped, delicate simplicity arises out of the murky foreboding. This track is all about hope, and love, and sincerity between two lovers that know that they love in a watery darkness. ‘No Surprise’ has a wondrous deep double bass vibe contrasting with the trinket sounds of miniature mechanics and music boxes. Trixie’s vocal here is strong and almost touching on a recognisable blues – jazz style of Nina Simone with these gorgeously strong melodic tones. I can hear Trixie’s breathing between the words and I like that rawness of breath as the melody appears and disappears, rising and falling, circling backwards and forwards through the ticking and whirring delicate thimble sounds. Utterly exquisite.

I love the versatility of Trixie’s work on this compilation as well as on her SoundCloud and Bandcamp pages, as she explains,

“ I sing, I play street signs with a cello bow, I play the guitar, and I love hardware hacking & circuit bending.”

She has recently been involved in raising awareness and money for refugees through her music and combined with The Sporz (Baltimore) to raise money for the ‘Phone Credit For Refugees And Displaced People’ charity.

“It allows them to keep in touch with loved ones and support services. It also provides a safeguard for the most vulnerable, unaccompanied minors, to protect them from child trafficking, sexual assault and violence.”

So, sadly, I reach the end of this four-sided vinyl album and choose to leave the vinyl spinning so that the static fuzziness continues through my battered old speakers. This, for me this highlights the context for the album, and demonstrates how vinyl adds another layer to the production and the presentation of these artist’s hard work.

Also, the how and why of each artist bringing with them their own sense of nostalgic history and experiences through music into a present context is highlighted for me here. A context, however, that is fascinatingly warped and ruffled through sound experimentalism and postmodern blurs, dysfunctional dissolving, breaking itself consistently down into beats, sounds, jolts, solo words, hums, ticks, clacks and clicks, so I let the record spin through its grooves on its fuzzy static ecstatic and ever cyclic journey.

There’s nothing like a decent piece of vinyl to remind me of the everlasting spirals of life.

 

Ian J Cole Bandcamp

Stuart Chalmers Bandcamp

TCFSR Website / TCFSR Bandcamp

-ooOOoo-

pick-up truck vocabulary: joe murray on crow versus crow, faniel dord, stefan jaworzyn/dylan nyoukis/seymour glass, the tenses & bren’t lewiis ensemble and the viper

March 17, 2017 at 8:37 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Crow Versus Crow – States (Crow Versus Crow Editions)

Faniel Dord – Faniel Dord (Dante’s Ashtray)

Stefan Jaworzyn, Dylan Nyoukis, Seymour Glass – My Disgusting Heart (Chocolate Monk)

The Tenses & Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble – Daughter of the Boot (Chocolate Monk)

The Viper – Art for Pain’s Sake (BUFMS)

 states 3

Crow Versus Crow – States (Crow Versus Crow Editions) 3 inch CD and 20 page art-zine photo booklet

This beautiful package comes sandwiched between plain grey heavystock card; the sombre plainness a reaction to the vibrant colour inside perhaps?

I’ll start with the sound.  The disc contains 17 minutes of the real Americana collected by Andy Crow on his 2016 road trip to southern states of the USA (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia – fact fans).  As you’d imagine there is a rejection of any field recording cliché – this is pure extraction music with no toothless fiddle or Grand Ole Opry in sight.

State/states/state…

It’s a subtle and slow movement for sure: the opening static crackles makes way for a woven pattern of cicada’s rhythmic rustle and the liquid whoosh of passing cars. An occasional maraca-shake could be a deadly rattlesnake.  The  ‘tich-th’ of the owl a hi-hat sizzle that reeks of baked desert heat and sonic shimmer.  But rather then present this slack-jawed and unexamined the mix builds a hidden momentum through increasing the thread count and rippling the fabric with a deft thumb.

The final movement drags lazy ears into unapologetic high-performance mode.  A lonely buzzard calls out across the valley – the sound of the air around the recorder fizzes with unknowable purpose.  An excitable preacher (my guess is via battered radio rather than a gaudy TV) adds the sort of paranoid verbals African Head Charge favoured era Songs of Praise.

It is of course a suggestion piece – with no literals to hang your baseball cap on the imagination picks up tiny clues and builds a personal narrative from the crumbs.  My reality is not Mr Crow’s but what we now share is a gas station dream, a pick-up truck vocabulary.

States/state/states…

CVC states

But as well as his ears he’s brought his eyes.  Eyes that spy detail in the trash and the unloved, beauty in the unused and plain old decrepit.

It’s almost impossible to look at the booklet without adding today’s awful political charge and context but a deep breath helps to remember a time before this extra ladle of madness soup soured what was the American dream.

People are absent, but the hands of the hardworking and decent, the just making do, are all over these gorgeous images.

As Crow’s lens is drawn to the weather-beaten and well used the inference is communal – we are joined by the codes of work and play.  And even when the work has gone and the players drifted home the traces we leave are still good.  Not necessarily grand or initially impressive but honest and modest and well-intentioned.

cvc states 2

Railway tracks vanish to a point, exposed brickwork bakes in the sun and corrugated metal rusts like soft brown blooms.  A single word ‘sorry’ is inked onto a door frame.

States shows a land waiting for interpretation, a mythology waiting to be written.

 

faniel dord

Faniel Dord – Faniel Dord (Dante’s Ashtray) CD-R

The Scouser Sun City Girl deals us a full-deck of deranged approaches on this tasty self-titled release.

Micro-songs are played on dodgy keyboard, beer-stained piano and battered guitar then dripped though a lo-fi studio set up that adds a delightful scruffy edge to these enigmatic pieces.

Some arrive fully-formed; dripping with sarcasm and uncomfortable political questions like a Mersybeat Porest.

Others riff –out a tune that has always seemed to exist somewhere behind my ear until the mighty Faniel has just shucked it out with a blunt knife (for evidence see My Bowl of Skulls).

The shadow of Edward Lear inhabits Dord’s world in both word and deed.  A lover of scatological shock and the innocently odd –  both ends of the stick are jammed in the jellyfish mouth until the protoplasm pops.

But of course it’s not all yuks, ‘Zaidida’ concludes in deep Rembetika sorrow after a frantic three minutes and ‘Medusa’s gone Digital’ warns the Gorgons and their ilk the dangers of modern life – something I don’t think we do quite enough of.

Fans of Derek and Clive take note and click.

nyoukis etc (1)

Stefan Jaworzyn, Dylan Nyoukis, Seymour Glass – My Disgusting Heart (Chocolate Monk) CD-R

Shock!

I never expected Jaworzyn, that long-haired, six-string Ascension/Skullflower wire-wrangler on this kinda gob-jaxx (see Nyoukis) / tape-huss (see Glass) melange.  But more fool me eh? The iron banjo adds some rich, metallic DNA to this most lovable of three-ways.

Stunning!!

Opener ‘Frozen Tombs of Siberia’ is a medium-sized panic attack; part elephant seal growl, part rattling coffin nails, but all Skippy the Kangaroo incidental music.  As you’d expect from these experienced heads the pace is stately, elements of bubbling vowel or chopped-to-john-o-groats guitar placed in a sonic Battenberg with a similar marzipan roughness.  The closing seconds of this jam re-imagine a Tardis’ asthmatic ‘whump-whump’. Calling all BBC commissioning editors – get these lads in – you’ve been warned!

Astonishment!!!

Song title of the week is well and truly won by ‘Dirty Owl Teat’ and works like one of them Scandinavian open sandwiches.

  • (rye cracker base) slow-mould guitar wrench, harmonic pimples and drumlins, a yeast of amp hum…
  • (smoked herring topping) an expression of joy hissed through side-mouth bibbles, coughs and spaniel-like panting.  Occasional v-words are the glace cherry.

And the Smorgasbord analogy still holds for ‘Slowest Emergency Team’ with oodles more tape-frot.

But it’s the closer ‘Gang-related Sneezing’ that really quivers my liver.  This modest track is a stop-start-stop-start wrecking ball of un-sense tape-slivers.  Neatly delivered in finely measured bursts that defy any conventional rhythm; pretty soon my arms and legs are tied up in Twister-esque contortions.

A test-card for the mind or an essential document of new solutions?

Whisper your answer in my hot pink shell.

the tenses

The Tenses & Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble – Daughter of the Boot (Chocolate Monk) CD-R

Two long, long, long pieces of near psychic jam make up this extra-value 60 min disc.

A whole platform of players (note ‘em: Oblivia, Ju Suk Reet Meate, Lucian Tielens, Sylvia Kastel, Leroy Tick & Gnarlos) strike bowls, press buttons, crank up turntables and rattle cutlery in an infinite variety of ways.  The label says…

 ‘spontaneous sound collage, bent improv, non-musical weirdness’

…and who am I to argue?

Of course it’s the group-think that makes this disc hover in an unnatural manner.  The linkage of brown ideas and soupy ingredients interweave in an effortless stew.

And where ‘Authentication of Ancient Chinese Bronzes’ is a pointillist pin-prick on tightly ruled graph paper ‘Heroic Armor of the Italian renaissance’ is more of a flexible lake or a fake puddle.  The difference is startling yet understated, like putting sugar in the salt cellar.

As I lay back and let ‘the music take me’ I picture several conflicting images: emoji torture, dry goods being bagged, the gritty feel of a military mess kit.  But that’s just me!  You may picture the red stone of Bologna or the broad green leaves of Portland but that’s the point innit?  From a base of gentle tinkles and sound-scurf we make our own reality.

And at this point I start to doubt the sanity of reviewing such a subjective sound environment and ask you to point your finger here to listen to an extract and write your own damn review.

But, dear reader that wouldn’t be the RFM way eh?

Another couple of spins in different environments (making dinner, jogging through the park) reveal the onion layers.  The surface complexity is really a carefully constructed chicken-wire framework to hang the softer, more feather-light sounds.

So…the clear-edged ‘clonks’ and ‘smaks’ punctuate the more ghostly ‘heshhh’ and ‘vumpf’ until, before you realise it a thousand bicycle bells are ringing you through The Arc De Triomphe.

Sacred Blood!

the viper

The Viper – Art for Pain’s Sake (BUFMS) CD

Vintage tape experiments from one Mr Richard Sterling Streeter and his long-suffering family and friends.

What strikes me first is the application of the universal language of mucking about.  You know what I’m talking about; that finger heavy on the play/pause button, that snotty ‘la la’, the classic chopstick-on-margarine-tub click.

Are these early tape experiments (made between the years 1978 to 1982 according to my terrible maths) any less worthy for that?  Well of course not.  As a listener I’m humbled to be let in to this world and nostalgerise my own (now thankfully lost) juvenilia.

But before I get too comfortable and misty-eyed our old friend progress rears its head and the later tracks (for all are arranged chronologically) dig deeper into the heart of echo, reverse reel-to-reel wonk and real-live violin scraping.

Music Concrete is an old maid on ‘Ollidarma’ an infectious riot of bright stereo blossoms. Raw sound becomes the source itself as it whips though the tape heads smeared by speed or plummets down a wormhole of creepy reverb.  I’m treated to a whole dossier of tape wonk with added ‘accidentals’ that seem to come from the 1940’s via a haunted dancehall and a coffee-jinxed auctioneer until the white-coated engineers start pulling chunks out the Revox machine creating whirring thrums and empty pings while George Harrison wheedles away his yolk-less omelette in the main studio.

The almost traditional instrumentation of ‘In a Garden’ makes be bark like a dog.  Piano, bass, shuffling snare and lonely violin tug on those melancholic heartstrings like a Midnight Doctors jam.  Pure longing and loss gets bowed out across the cat-gut until hot tears snake down my cheek.  Crikey!

‘Dreams of Glipnorf’ the energetic closer starts rough-hewn like a callous but ends up boogieing like that Canned Heat out-take where Blind Owl really starts to lose his mustard.

Don’t fear the Viper!

 

Crow Versus Crow Editions

Dante’s Ashtray

Chocolate Monk

BUFMS

-ooOOoo-

 

the 2016 zellaby awards

January 27, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Posted in blog info, musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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zellaby award envelope

Ugh, those canapés must be really stale by now…

…I murmur, lying spread-eagled on the floor of the ballroom in Midwich Mansions.  I look up at the tragically withered balloons, still held by the net hung from the chandeliers.  I idly pick at the broken glass within reach and wonder if dry-cleaning can remove blood stains.  The banging and rattling of the locked double doors has stopped, mercifully, as the neglected guests have given up and gone home (although I suspect a few recorded the racket and I’ll be invited to download versions from Bandcamp soon enough).  When my beautiful Turkish servant boy climbed in a window left ajar and tried to rouse me I ordered him to flog himself for his insolence – I was too full of ennui and despair to raise the rod myself.  A wave of nausea washes over me again as I think back to the utterly foolish reason for this gathering:

Who on Earth would want to celebrate 2016?

Last year was a time when everything from the largest of world situations (American Election, Syria, Brexit, Climate Change) to the tiniest, most personal events (a red spot on the tip of my nose became a cancer scare) seemed unrelentingly hostile.  People important to me died including my Nan, my last remaining grandparent, aged 94.  People important to all of us died.  An anonymous tweet drifted past:

We cry when famous people die not because we knew them but because they helped us know ourselves.

…which I dismissed as trite, then was forced to concede the truth of it when I found myself reduced to a heaving, tear-drenched wretch by a pop song on the radio.  There is more, a lot more – life has been tiring and complicated – but it’s stuff that even a hopelessly indiscreet blabbermouth like me recognises would be unwise to talk about in public.

What about music and this blog?  In many ways it was a gala, firecracking year for the ideas behind this endeavour.  Some examples: the notion of the ‘no-audience underground’ was the subject of a paper by Susan Fitzpatrick and Stuart Arnot (cultural heavyweights best known round these parts as Acrid Lactations) at a conference at Goldsmiths and was mentioned by conference organiser Stephen Graham in his book about underground music, my writing provided some context and inspiration for the Extraction Music all-dayer in Cardiff, organised by Ian Watson, which raised a grand for refugee charities, I was name-checked in the TUSK festival programme (more on that later) and interviewed at that event by Paul Margree for his We Need No Swords podcast.  I could go on.  All very flattering and inspiring, but much of my own writing from 2016 begins with an apology or contains a paragraph admitting I’ve been having trouble keeping up, maintaining enthusiasm.

I’ve been in denial about how burnt out I’ve been feeling and unrealistic about how much time I could commit due to work and, more importantly, family having to come first.  Things need to change, at least temporarily.  I’ll come back to this at the end of the post…

…because now, my reverie has been interrupted by a rustling noise!  I turn to see Joe ‘Posset’ Murray, chief staff writer here at RFM, crawling towards me.  I’m amazed that he still looks so sharp in his borrowed tuxedo despite his injuries.  He slumps nearby clutching a handful of papers.

End of year pieces from everyone, boss…

…he whispers and passes them over before collapsing.  Ah, excellent, I think – just the tonic!  Let’s see what my RFM comrades have to say about it.

[Editor’s note: due to the weirdness of 2016, and a desire to shake things up a bit, I’ve abandoned the usual categories of the Zellaby Awards and allowed my contributors free reign.  I’ve also cut down the number of links, tags and illustrations included to streamline matters – just keep your preferred search engine open in a nearby window.  There will still be an album of the year though, so don’t fret.]

—ooOoo—

Firstly, RFM’s new recruit Joe Henderson takes the opportunity to introduce herself:

capsules

Hi, I’m new here and quite discerning with music and also a bit stingy with writing about music. Nevertheless, I’m writing this sat next to a set of homing pigeons who have just given birth to a pair of tiny weirdo’s on New Year’s Eve. The father, Moriarty, has taken over parental duties now. This set of birds were ‘rescued’ from Birling Gap having failed their mission. Homing birds are supposed to fly somewhere. These birds ain’t going no-where and correct me if I’m wrong, but are we not also foreseeing the long-term preparations for the death of The Queen? It’s been a strange year…

In the blurred Hyperreality of 2017, where Halloween is celebrated three days before the fact – in this post-truth-information-environment, people have been watching David Attenborough’s final rainforest. Well, seems like here’s some of the creatures and microcosms that were found, discovered and captured…

The Balustrade Ensemble – Capsules (Ominous Recordings, 2007)

Jessy Lanza – Pull my hair back (Hyperdub, 2013)

Dangerous Visions radio series (BBC Radio4, 2016)

Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh (Sacred Bones Records, 2015)

Pimsleur’s audio language lessons (German, Polish & Norwegian)

Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Rhymesayers Entertainment, 2016)

The Chris Morris Music Show (BBC Radio One, 1994)

6Music & Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service (NOW) 

Time just doesn’t count anymore. It doesn’t. I doubt any of this could be pigeonholed as ‘no audience underground’. But none of this matters anymore, and you all know it. You see, it’s fallen, it’s all tilted. It’s 2017, and it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s gonna be a long come down, like George Michael’s ‘Faster Love’ playing whilst more than a hundred divers scour the sea. Crews of immunity-freaks lumbering thru the Waste-Waters of Brighton. Across the ocean an assassin throws down his hand of cards as the world is watching. That Christmas trucker sounds like sleigh-bells. Or an Air-raid siren. Pulsing. It’s missing airman hums ‘The Missing Persons Boogie’ in a cul-de-sac. In the Upside-Down land. Miles away from Brian Eno’s caste system, attached to the moon. With a Selfie-stick. Low down and shifty. Only those with energy begin to reclaim The Playground. And cordon it off. And pave over it. Eno still stumbling flamboyantly thru the withered fronds of his iEgo. Framed by the Sistine Chapel recreated in an Old Woman’s second bathroom.

“In this post-truth-information-environment” – do you know what we look like? From a distance, it looks like we have lost control, and are swaying almost like dancing to it all…

Blimey, eh?  “You see, it’s fallen, it’s all tilted.”  Brilliant.  Quite some calling card.  I shall look forward to her future contributions with great interest. 

—ooOoo—

Next up, marlo de lara reminds us that the more personal it is, the more political it is:

as previously noted by my rfm family, 2016 was a doozy, a head spin, and a heartache.  so without further ado, my 2016 moments of note:

1. death of heroes

there has already been a ton of writing about this and a lot of needless controversy over the mourning of musicians.  to me, role models and inspiration are hard to come by and even harder to preserve as we watch these humans be human.  prince and pauline olivieros were both highly influential in my life.  prince’s ongoing, groundbreaking lived fusion of musical genres and his highly charged expression of androgyny and sexual desire was always intoxicating, all while self-identifying as a black musician.  totally inspiring for me as a marginalized musician growing up in racialized america.  pauline olivieros pushed me to reassess what I defined as sound, sound making, and intention.  my spirituality and the ability to breathe through the making of music is completely attributed to this amazing woman.  thank you for the inspiration.

2. ghost ship tragedy

despite living across an ocean from the noise family that helped me develop my sounds, i am constantly aware of the ongoing community struggles of those artists/musicians/promoters/supporters whose events and festivals create solidarity.  on december 2nd, the oakland diy live/art space ghost ship went ablaze, killing 36 people. well-loved individuals who made, created, and supported the scene.  as the noise community wept at the loss of our kin, america attacked warehouse/diy venues with a crackdown based on ‘safety’ whilst never addressing the underlying issue that those artists/musicians tolerate living spaces/venues like these because as a society we do not prioritize living wages and conditions for musicians to thrive.  so we endure, infiltrate society and emotionally thrive despite the lack of funds.

on a personal note I want to mention joey casio and jsun adrian mccarty, both of whom were deeply loved in my community for their music and their spirit.  joey casio was a mainstay of the pacific northwest electronic/weird music scene and i have always had a fondness for jsun’s art/music, particularly the live performance noise project styrofoam sanchez.  i wish i had gotten to know joey since he was so well spoken of and jsun’s kind smile at noise festivals is deeply missed.  love and respect always.

for-marlo

3. #pizzagate

the absurdity of politics reached an all-time high with the nonsense my dear friend arrington de dionyso (of malaikat dan singa and old time relijun) had to endure due to a mural he painted in a dc pizza parlour.  his aesthetic and artistic style were misconstrued while he and his family were targeted by clinton conspiracy theorists and trump supporting nobheads.  arrington survived by painting and creating sounds.  but let’s all have a think about the ramifications of art and the volatile, inflammatory, conservative hot mess that we could all be victim too.  arrington, you are a champion for dealing with it and blessings to you always.

stay awake. stay aware. make noise. xo, marlo

—ooOoo—

Luke Vollar now joins us via the open window to bellow about the stuff he likes:

junk-seance

Here is my end of year list, sticking only to what was released this year – mostly ‘no audience’ with a couple of ‘some audience’ releases thrown in and in no particular order.  The low lights of 2016 were fairly obvious: the rise of the idiots and global face palm moments reaching new levels of guuh?!  On a personal note I’ve been through some ghastly work related gubbins so I’m hoping 2017 picks up considerably.  Music, as always, has offered a soothing balm and kept me (nearly) sane so here we go peeps I’ve probably forgotten some glaringly obvious choices as I often do. Such is the life of the discaholik.

Wormrot – Voices

Dead In The Dirt – The Blind Hole

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

Lovely Honkey – Completely Wastes Your Time

Dylan Nyoukis & Friends – Mind Yon Time?

Shurayuki-Hime – In the Beginning, Woman Was the Sun

Pudern & Vomir – Split

Error Massage – Rooby

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Tupperwave

Moon – Diseasing Rock Who

F. Ampism – The Resolution Phase

Posset – Cooperation Makes Us Wise

Posset – The Gratitude Vest

Stuart Chalmers and yol – Junk Seance

Stuart Chalmers – Imaginary Musicks vol. 5

Stuart Chalmers – In the Heart of the Wilderness

Usurper – The Big Five

Culver / Fordell Research Unit – Culver: Prisoner of F.R.U.

Clive Henry – Hymns

The Skull Mask – Walls of Convenience

Triple Heater – Aurochs

The Custodians – Moribund Mules and Musket Fire

Yume Hayashi – What The Summer Rain Knows

My highlight of the year was watching Ashtray Navigations support Dinosaur Jr.

xx

—ooOoo—

Next, Chrissie Caulfield with the trademark thoughtful enthusiasm that always has me clicking through:

furchick

I’m quite glad that Rob decided to let us do a general review of the year rather than try and nominate several releases for awards. Looking back, I seem to have reviewed only three albums this year which would have made it merely a rehash of what I have already done. Sorry Rob. In my defence, I’ve had a busy year with gigs and filmmaking and several other things. Some of the gigs even had audiences, though they were usually the ones organised by other people, naturally. More on that later.

Of the three albums I reviewed it’s hard to pick a favourite because they were all quite different, and excellent in their own ways. But if pushed (and I was pushed, if only by myself, just now) I’d have to nominate Furchick’s “Trouble With a Capital T”. Its sheer joy and inventiveness, and joy of inventiveness is infectious and inspiring. If ever anyone wanted a masterclass on making music with found and/or mutilated objects, this was it.

My most memorable event of this year was a gig I played at, though that part is incidental, in Oxford. It was one of those authentic ‘no-audience underground’ gigs where the artists and their entourage outnumbered the paying audience by quite a large ratio. In fact the only paying audience was a relative of one of the artists and someone who rolled in off the streets half way through (He probably didn’t literally ‘roll in’ you understand, the street was cobbled, so that would be very uncomfortable). This lack of attendance was a huge shame because the gig itself featured two awesome acts – as well as ourselves, obviously. The great Lawrence Casserley was always expected to put on a fabulous show (in this instance with Martin Hackett) and certainly did so, but the act I got via the female:pressure mailing list exceeded expectations in a big way and I felt awful for not having delivered them an audience. TEARS|OV, led by Lori.E. Allen put on a great show of samples, synths and live played and sampled instruments that was just glorious, and I’m happy that at least I got to film it, even though I only had one decent camera and zero decent tripods with me. As almost nobody got to that gig I feel almost duty-bound to try and get as many people as possible to watch the video. You won’t regret it, it’s here.

Another special gig for me was also one I played at – and the fact that I did so was crucial to my understanding of what happened. This was “A Working Day of Drone”, put on by Dave Procter,  eight hours of overlapping drone performances. I’ve never regarded myself as much of a drone fan to be honest but this event was a real eye opener. I think a lot (though not all, of course) of the drone acts I had seen in the past were of the ‘I’ve got some gear and it makes some noise’ type which, as a musician with years of practice and training, I find uninspiring and lacking in effort. Put like that it was odd, I suppose, for me to accept an offer to play at a long drone gig … but I did because I like to try new things and to challenge my own preconceptions.

And those preconceptions were not just challenged. They had a calfskin leather glove slapped in their face and a large sword whisked terrifyingly close to their ear by Cyrano de Bergerac himself. Those preconceptions are now lying sliced, diced and blood-soaked over a, slightly grubby, drain in LS2, just down the road from Shawarma. What I experienced that day was, for the most part, a lot of very high quality artistry and discipline and, yes, musicianship. There were guitarists, multi-instrumentalists, vocalists and laptop players with expertise, patience and discipline. And discipline is the word I really took away from that gig which is why I have already used it three times in this paragraph and will say it again it now in an attempt to make sure that Rob doesn’t sub-edit it out [Editor’s note: Why would I?  Couldn’t agree more!]. Discipline, discipline, discipline. Playing for a whole hour while keeping the sense of a ‘drone’ requires intense concentration and a lot of improvisational forward planning that, to be honest, I felt inadequately prepared for when playing my set. For drone music as good as I heard that day, I am a convert.

And finally, my favourite thing of the year – which is something I invented though I take no credit for it – is Feminatronic Friday. On a Friday afternoon when I’m winding down from a busy week at work and want some new music to surprise, tickle and sometimes assault my ears, I point my browser at the feminatronic Soundcloud feed and just listen. Of course, not everything is to my taste, but there is a lot of high quality work being produced by talented women around the world that seems to be ignored by the most of the outlets for even alternative music. It’s also an excellent source of material that I should be reviewing and, as it’s Friday as I write this, that’s where I’m going now. Happy New Year.

—ooOoo—

Joe Murray himself takes a bullet-pointed turn:

five-mile

Politically, economically and culturally 2016 has been a year of shocks, knocks and sickening lows.  It’s hard to look forward and see anything resembling a ray of hope.  Greater minds than mine will neatly package all this misery up into a bitter pill but me… I’m warming some delicate seeds in my palm.

Records and tapes of the year

  • Hardworking Families – BA/LS/BN (Beartown Records) Like tin-cans learned to talk: a sharp knife splices individual ‘instants’ to wrap new listenings head-ward.

  • Acrid Lactations & Gwilly Edmondez – You Have Not Learned To Play & Mock In The Psychic System (Chocolate Monk) Complex patterns and shifting sonic-sands from stalwarts and greats – a brave and ambitious concoction of Dixieland and pure munged goof. Instant calmer!

  • Oliver Di Placido & Fritz Welch – Untitled (Human Sacrifice) The most crash-bang-whalloping record of the year by far. Knockout energy like TroubleFunk playing in a ruined skip.

  • Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Tupperwave (Chocolate Monk) Effortless creative juice drips all over these dirty, dirty ditties from the Cardboard Prince… his Black Album?

  • Lea Bertucci – Light Silence, Dark Speech (I Dischi Del Barone) Perfect like fresh frosty ferns, each sporangia a moment of potential beauty and enlightenment – one for all DJs.

  • Lieutenant Caramel – Uberschallknall (Spam) For me the Lieutenant was an unknown. Now? A well-thumbed friend.  Euro-collage/concrete that’s super classy and head-strainingly intense.

  • Faniel Dord –Valentino (Cardboard Club) Another dirty boy with song-y songs played with hearty gusto and a wide-eyed innocence not seen since McCartney II.

  • East of the Valley Blues – eotvb (Power Moves/No Label) Sun-bright double finger-picking that warmed up my cockles and fed miso soup to my rotten soul. Life affirming, beautiful and generous. No wonder it’s got a vinyl re-release for tomorrows people.

  • Acrid Lactations & Jointhee – Chest (Tutore Burlato) You ask me about the future of ‘the song’ and I point you to this little tape of huge invention and heart. Not afraid to mix yuks with the high-brow, dream-logic and academic rigour. Never been so charmed ‘ave I?

  • Tear Fet – Blabber (Chocolate Monk) Every single vocal-mung technique picked up and shaken like a snow-globe. One for all serious students of throat-guff.

  • Yol – This Item Has Little Or No Scrap Value (Beartown Records) The mighty Yol’s most swingingest record of the year (and they have been legion and they have been good) that almost broke my rib with its accurately focused violence. A symphony of cuts and bruises.

  • Shareholder – Five Mile Throwdowns (Know This) One of the few bands I get excited about. Blending the listless and freezing loch with espresso intensity; a pond-skipper balanced on the tricky meniscus – he’s not waving!

  • Tom White – Automated Evangelism (Vitrine) and Commemoratives (Tutore Burlato) Double-entry for Tom White’s peerless technique and wonderfully intelligent ears. This very physical tape manipulation is strong enough to move giant boulders yet freaky enough to warp space.  Without a doubt Tom wears the blue jersey in Star Trek.

  • Grey Guides – Beast Mask Supremacists (Crow Versus Crow Editions) Taking skuzzy guitar and skunk-potent tape to some place indistinct; this ghost-memory of a record made me dream of Wuthering Heights oddly. The AR Kane of the NAU?

—ooOoo—

sofs-video

…and penultimately Sophie Cooper.  Sof resigned her post on the RFM staff this year [Editor gnaws fist to hold back hot tears] but gamely agreed to contribute to the end of year jamboree anyway.  Much to my delight she has submitted a 14 minute video of her chatting over some gubbins she reckons is cool.  Watch it here.  I think it is well charming and, if you agree, please contact her to say so – I’d like to butter her up to the point where this kind of video piece becomes a semi-regular feature.  Hah!  There is no escaping RFM!  Gabba, gabba, we accept you! ONE OF US!

Oh, did I just type my evil plan out loud?

—ooOoo—

So that just leaves me.  I’m going to mention one prolificist, give a top three albums of the year, lay some news on you, then end on a high.  How’s that for showbiz?  I may even haul myself to my feet and brush off the marie rose sauce that seems to have dried on the side of my face.

vol-5

In previous years one of the Zellaby Award categories has been the Stokoe Cup, given for maintaining quality control over a huge body of work making it impossible to pick individual releases in an end of year round up.  I know I said I’d ditched these honours but this year there is such a clear winner that I cannot help but unlock the trophy cabinet.

The music of collagist, tape scaffolder and atmosphere technician Stuart Chalmers has been admired by everyone with a trustworthy opinion.  His recent catalogue – solo or in collaboration – is an avalanche of stylistically divergent, technically perfect, emotionally resonant work.  I highly recommend that you settle gently onto his Bandcamp site, like a probe landing on an exotic comet, and start drilling.  The dude recently moved to Leeds too, how cool is that?  He wins.

—ooOoo—

OK, now onto the main event: low numbers in reverse order.  This year, in a classy piece of statesmanship, I’m leaving the listing to my colleagues above and am going to focus on just my top three.

[Editor’s note: If I’m honest I love these three more or less equally but, y’know, drama innit?]

jbnc

Bronze: Julian Bradley and Neil Campbell – FOR LILA O

Flat out glorious from beginning to end.  This album has the texture of pistachio flavoured Turkish delight.  It is sweet, gelatinous, opaque, yielding to the bite but containing a satisfying savoury grit.  If I were a betting man I’d wager Neil provided the caffeinated hyper-psych which was then slowed, burnished and blurred by Julian’s patented murkatronik obfuscator.  Best to keep it mysterious though, eh?  I’ve listened to this so frequently that I think now I’d have trouble remaining friends with anyone who didn’t groove on, say, the disco-for-writhing-foot-long-woodlice vibe of ‘giants in the electric nativity’.

Two non-musical reasons to be entertained too.  Firstly, the Bandcamp photo is a nod to the cover illustration for an LP they recorded for American Tapes exactly one million years ago.  The no-audience underground remembers.  Secondly, it was released on 20th December, thus too late to be included on any of the ‘best of year’ lists published before the end of the year.  Seeing as the premature way these lists are ejaculated has long annoyed me I was delighted to see JB & NC stitching ’em right up.

hqef

Silver: Helicopter Quartet – Electric Fence

Yeah, yeah, one half of Helicopter Quartet is RFM staffer Chrissie Caulfield but, as I’ve said many times, there is no such thing as conflict of interest down here.  If we didn’t blow our own trumpets sometimes there would be no fanfare at all and, whoo boy, Mike and Chrissie deserve it.

Continuing a seemingly impossible run of each release topping the last, this album takes their austere, mournful aesthetic in an explicitly dystopian direction.  The bleakness described by previous releases has called to mind slate grey stone walls on ageless moor land but Electric Fence has a more Ballardian edge.

I listen to the thrilling, Tubeway Army-ish title track and imagine the strings of Chrissie’s violin animated by Ralph Steadman – whipping away from us to form the boundary fence of a desert Army base, or a mud-choked refugee camp, realities that we’d rather not contemplate.  Or maybe the fence is personal, invisible, internalised – a tragic defence mechanism that provides the illusion of safety at the cost of constant loneliness?

Powerful and important music, as ever.  That work of this quality is freely downloadable remains remarkable.

eotvb

Gold: East of the Valley Blues – EOVTB

The Zellaby Award for best album of 2016, presented in conjunction with radiofreemidwich, goes to East of the Valley Blues for EOVTB.  Joe Murray wrote about this one back in April:

Wonderful!  Wonderful, wonderful!

This tape was playing when the first rays of Spring sunshine shot like misty timbers through my window and the jazzy daffodils belched out warm yellow hugs.  And no, I don’t think that’s any coincidence brothers & sisters.

This tape is a truly innocent joy.  Why?  Firstly, it’s the simplicity.  We’ve got two guys, two Power Moves brothers, sitting on that metaphorical back porch finger-picking like the late great Jack Rose, improvising with a sibling’s sensibility at that slightly ragged speed we all associate with the beating heart in love.

Secondly, we’ve got notes that shimmer in a cascade; I’m getting nylon waterfalls as things tumble and tremble, roil and buckle as ten calloused fingertips gentle rustle the strings.  This is all about the movement, the restlessness of a leaf caught in an eddy, the churn of water spilling from a red hand pump.

Finally there’s that slight sense of anticipation, a yearning that’s probably something technical to do with the key it’s all played in.  But for a goof like me it just tweaks my memory zone; this music looks backwards at endless summers and looks towards bouncing grandchildren on the knee.  This is music of time, its passage and its baggage; the highs and lows, the dusty wrinkles and the fumble in the sheets.

And am I noticing a slight change in the way time is behaving around me?  Not so much time stopping but stretching, those strict minutes becoming supple like a cat’s arching back.  Maybe reader maybe.

Lovers of this plaintive guitar-pick often yell out a challenge:

So… can I play this next to Ry Cooder & Vishwa Mohan Bhatt’s sublime A Meeting by the River?  Does it hold its own beans compared to Phil Tyler’s exquisite banjo snaffle?

Me?  I’m lost in the buttery light right now, light-headed with Beat road dreams,

If you heard it you wouldn’t have to ask… click the god-damn link and get heavy in the valley.

…and he is right, of course.

The brothers Joe refers to are twins Kevin and Patrick Cahill (the former best known ’round here for running Power Moves Label/Library) and the album’s genesis is covered in an excellent interview with Tristan Bath for Bandcamp Daily which can be read here.

All I need to add is that given the divisive and miserable nature of the year just gone, an album so beautiful, so spacious, so forgiving, so grounded in love and family could not be less ‘2016’ and thus could not be a more worthy winner.  Congratulations, fellas.

—ooOoo—

A discographical note: this album has now been reissued by the excellent UK label Death Is Not The End and can be had as a download, tape or – get this – vinyl album via their Bandcamp site.  For those wanting to take a punt without risking any dough, free downloads of some live shows can also be had here.

The prize for winning remains the, *ahem*, ‘great honour’ of being the only release on the otherwise dormant fencing flatworm recordings in 2017, should the brothers be interested in taking me up on it.  Nowt fancy – CD-r plus download would usually suffice given the absence of any budget.  Negotiations can commence anytime.

—ooOoo—

Right, let me just drag Joe Murray up into a chair as he needs to wave and smile during this bit.  OK: some news.  As of whenever we can sort out the logistics, Joe is going to take over from me as editor/publisher of RFM whilst I take an indefinite sabbatical.  No need to worry – I am not ill again – I just need a break to attend to the real life stuff away from music I’ve been alluding to throughout the year.  I have to apologise to those people who have sent emails, invitations to download, physical objects and whatnot and are still waiting for substantial responses.  I’ll slowly catch up with personal stuff, forward all the blog stuff and my colleagues will soldier on in my absence.  I’ll still be wandering around twitter and attending shows (Leeds people – see you at the Fractal Meat showcase on Feb 3rd, eh?) just won’t be at the helm here.  Feels weird to be saying this after seven years but I’m sure this will prove a healthy decision and I’ll be back before ya know it.

—ooOoo—

Finally then, my musical highlight of the year: Miguel Perez playing as Skull Mask at the TUSK festival.  Here’s an extract from my account of the weekend.  In particular, I want to finish with the word ‘fuck’ so I’ll say goodbye now – those who know me won’t be surprised to see me slope off before the end of the last set.

Best wishes for 2017, folks, keep yourselves and each other safe.

All is love, Rob H x

100_4233

Next up it was Miguel Perez, playing as Skull Mask … This was what I was here to see and his set – just man and guitar – was astounding. Flamenco flourishes, desert folk, improv spikiness and metal hammering flowed, pressed and burst like a time-lapse film of jungle flowers opening, like lava flow, like clouds of starlings at dusk, like liquid mercury. Miguel is one of the most technically adept guitarists I have ever seen but all that virtuosity is in service of one thing: the truth. To say the music of Skull Mask is heartfelt or sincere is to understate the raw beauty of what it reveals: a soul. Miguel’s soul.

Stood at the front I found myself having an out of body experience. Part of me was enjoying it on an absolutely visceral level, unwaveringly engaged, but another part of me was floating above thinking about what the experience meant.

Watching the performance unfold, I started thinking about how beautiful life can be despite, sometimes because of, how hard it can be.  I thought about the miraculous combination of factors – hard work, friendship, sheer bloody luck – that led to us all being in this room at this time.  A strange, accepting calm enveloped me whilst at the same time the more present, grounded part of me was yelling (internally – I do have some control):

HOLY FUCKING CHRIST!! MIGUEL IS SAT RIGHT IN FUCKING FRONT OF ME PLAYING THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF THAT FUCKING GUITAR!!  FUCK!!!

—ooOoo—

my grapes are in the freezer, i’m not sure why

July 29, 2016 at 2:37 pm | Posted in blog info, musings, no audience underground, not bloody music | 3 Comments

grapes of sloth

Oof.  Tired.

Y’know those rare days when it is so hot that the only possible topic of conversation is ‘how hot it is’?  Well like that but replace ‘hot’ with ‘tired’.

So tired that I mix up different presenters on the CBeebies channel and alarm my three year old son by exclaiming:

Blimey! That lass has grown a new arm!

So tired that I can only marvel, a hapless spectator, as a single flight of stairs proves a challenge to my trembling knees.

So tired that I put the grapes in the freezer and am bewildered to find them, rock-fucking-solid, the following morning.

So tired that all music becomes a grey and undifferentiated mass, the prospect of which just makes me want to… sleep.

Yeah: oof.

Readers may have noticed a slow down in posts of late.  This is due to your humble editor enduring a bad attack of the one-damn-thing-after-anothers.  Long term followers may worry that my depression is returning but, mentally at least, I seem as impervious as a concrete rhinoceros.  It’s ‘just’ ‘real’ ‘life’, the demands of which have brought on a mild, music-related existential crisis and have, until now, not afforded the time to think about it.

On the face of it, all is barrelling along very nicely indeed.  I’ve been massively impressed with Clan RFM this year and the terrific projects my comrades have been involved with: Chrissie’s album with Helicopter Quartet, Joe’s unhygienic but effective finger-in-every-pie creative strategy, marlo’s participation in and championing of the Extraction Music event/comp, Luke’s mad tape on ultimate outsider-art label Cardboard Club, the awe-inspiring line-up gathering for Sof’s Tor Fest (alas, I won’t be there – I’m cashing in all the husband-points I’ve collected to go to TUSK and hang with Miguel later in October) – to name but a FEW.  That any of them has managed to write anything for l’il ol’ RFM boggles the mind.

And me? Yeah, my dinky CD-r on Bells Hill has been well received, my ideas have been discussed in the ivory towers of academia and I am now the owner of two T-shirts commemorating events at least partly inspired by my writing.  No biggee.

The only problem is that I can’t seem to listen to music.

It’s odd – throughout my life as a serial obsessive I’ve spent three or four years each on various nerdish pursuits (go on, ask me about textual variations in the numerous editions of Philip K. Dick’s The Unteleported Man a.k.a. Lies Inc.  Err, no, on second thoughts, don’t) before losing interest and moving on, but music has always been exempt from this pattern before.

What’s happening?  Despite the ridiculous tiredness, my concentration span hasn’t entirely left me – for example, I got through over twenty hours of podcasts about the horrors of the World War I recently (yes, that was what I was doing instead of listening to your tape).  My sense of humour may have darkened but I’m maintaining a jaunty-ish Twitter presence (even if the rest of my correspondence is for shit).  I’ve even tried dropping the noise and looking elsewhere.  A few weeks ago I was told off for declaring 6 Music ‘unbearably smug’ so I turned it on, listened to three minutes of a string quartet covering ‘Kashmir’ by Led Zeppelin, and turned it off again.  The prosecution rests.  1Xtra is a lot more exciting but the playlist system makes it impossible to listen to for any length of time (or at the same time each day – ‘Skwod‘ soundtracked the washing up for a week, it’s great but…).  Experiments with YouTube, downloading mixes, internet radio and the like have had inconclusive results.

So what now?  My apologies to those who have sent music or are expecting emails – I’ll do what I can.  I have posts lined up from Chrissie, Luke and, inevitably, Joe so RFM won’t be entirely silent whilst I figure this out but, with the pile of stuff for review at record levels and visitor stats stalling, I wonder if you lot have any advice.

Any ideas as to why my grapes are in the freezer?

unteleported

—ooOoo—

hubcap castanets: joe murray on yol

August 30, 2015 at 3:10 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
Tags: , ,

yol – everyday rituals (self-released download)

yol - er

In the week I’m listening to this new yol release I’ve also been trying to learn about the art of Flamenco through a series of YouTube videos, records and documentaries.  Two very separate worlds perhaps?  But something about the rawness of yol’s music keeps snapping the grey matter and I’m seeing similarities, seeing patterns and tight-locked truths.  Forgive my occasional lapse into Spanish, but this language is perhaps the only one that does yol justice. Vamonos!

—ooOoo—

Inside the familiar brown paper another yol explosion awaits ignition.

This dirty bomb starts with the gentle rhubarb-rhubarb of a gathered arts crowd; tailing off pretty darn quickly as yol delivers extreme gara (1) – another punch in gut to the chattering classes.

‘fun and games’ packs a huge amount into a 9 minute work-out but still feels prison-lean.  Metal on metal squeal (painful to my delicate shells) rubs up against a pasting table full of kerosene-filled jam jars.  Meanwhile busy hands polish concrete with a wire brush; plastic coffee cups get bowed and a dog toy is gripped tight in a skinny fist.  Many dropped spanners jitter on the deck.  I’ve never been one for virtuosity but there’s a ‘Jaco Pastorious at the food bank’ at work here. yol’s unique vocal technique, honed over each underground detonation, reaches a point of mastery…

Argos catalogue slightly damp, the sound of tears

…  sure you get the arranque (2), a hurgle-hock of Hull’s spluttering, the throaty roar, the snippets of gloomy everyday poetry (the thoughts we dare not voice); but there’s a high-pitched jipio (3) I’ve never heard before – a wetter mouth spitting.

A crowbar dragged on the concrete floor makes gorgeous patterns during ‘fire, this way’.  A partial drone relax takes root like Basinski’s loops? It’s all gritty but comforting like musk scented toe-jam.  That is until an amplified bucket is rattled and the rivets shake loose like aluminium pop-corn.  AAHHHHHHH!

The ‘poundshop gamelan’ takes Balti-bowls and sparkling test tubes full of orange cough medicine and adds the skim from the warped copy of Selected Ambient Works Volume II you left in your ex-partner’s car during the summer.  But you want to know don’t you…does it sound like gamelan?  We’ll it’s certainly got the “Downg. Downg. Downg-downg-downg-downg!” of massive bronze headaches perfectly balanced.

A plastic punk, but not Bertrand fumbles with the Tupperware on ‘faded beach scene’.  A mysterious saga unfolds.  With a nod to last year’s extraction this feedback is sculpted around rounded shapes.  But the sympathetic growls are even more pained; it’s not just the volume or intensity that makes me blink uncomfortably… it’s the unfettered babeo (4) and bloody desperation in how some of these lines are delivered.

Things draw to a zinc-coated climax on the 10 minute tarantas (5) ‘bucket ritual’ Like Chadbourne’s rake the neglected orchestra of the caretaker is rummaged to give us a weather report delivered a golpe (6) like an end of the world address; ecological disaster being a likely extinction lever.

yol is in full-on breakdown mode here.  He shreds and jibbers, snivels the guasa (7) and rails.

It’s just a bit of banter

… becomes a most sinister line, thrown out among the “shiny things” delivered in a slimy moan.  As you’ve probably guessed the ‘accompaniment’ to this hellish screaming kinetic-poetry is a smashed and battered bucket (and occasional tinkly bell) being thoroughly GBH’d.  You don’t need blood when you’re internalising all these bruises and knocks!

yol is mining some pretty dark corners here.  His Jondo (8) might be buried in Hull’s industrial estates but that black seam is as rich and deep as any foul Andalucían deposit.

—ooOoo—

yol

—ooOoo—

(1) Gara – literally “claws”; guts, force

(2) Arranque – spontaneous outbursts of uncontrolled emotion that a performer may emit

(3) Jipio – a cry (such asay) used by the singer to find his pitch or simply put into the middle of a song

(4) Babeo – repeated meaningless sounds such as ‘bababa’ in the middle of words

(5) Tarantas – a mining song of free rhythm and by far the hardest to sing, demanding tragic intensity as well as unusual control, both vocal and artistic, in the melisma (5a)

(5a) Melisma – series of notes sung on a single syllable of the coplas. To the ear unaccustomed to it, the sound may seem like unmusical wailing.

(6) A golpe – sung to the rhythm of only a stick hitting the floor, or knuckles on the table

(7) Guasa – joking in bad taste, rustic trickiness

(8) Jondo – describes the emotional depth you have to mine to really get the feeling for Flamenco. You can’t just sing nice, or fake it.  You have to dig deep and feel it, breathe it and ‘be’ it.

what i mean by the term ‘no-audience underground’, 2015 remix

June 14, 2015 at 11:20 am | Posted in musings, no audience underground | 6 Comments
Tags: , , , ,

Bomberg,_David_-_Sappers_at_Work_-_Canadian_Tunnelling_Company

I haven’t written anything substantial about the term ‘no-audience underground’ for a while.  When asked about it I’m still referring people to the response I wrote to Simon Reynolds which was posted in October 2012 (and sometimes this post too from July 2013).  Plenty has changed since then, not least my own mind with regard to certain details, so here I’m going to rub the notion to a shine on the crotch of my cricket whites.  Let’s see if it still bounces in a usefully wonky manner.

[Note: this article is about 4000 words long so get comfy before proceeding.]

An appeal to authority

Firstly, I’m going to lay out a brief CV.  I wouldn’t normally bother – appeals to authority are both fallacious and a wanker’s move – but hopefully this piece will be read by people new to the blog and I’d like to summarise where I’m coming from.  OK, three paragraphs of cold, hard fact:

Hello.  My name is Rob Hayler and I am the editor of radiofreemidwich.  I am 43 years old and live in Leeds, UK with my wife and two year old son.  I work a moderately responsible, poorly paid clerical job in the public sector.  My politics are a confused mixture of hard left, anarchist and libertarian sentiments that can be summed up as ‘hypocritical ageing punk’.  For what it is worth, I have a masters degree in philosophy and a dilettante’s interest in economics and various aspects of culture away from music.  Despite being ‘high-functioning’ most of the time, I suffer with ever-present depression/anxiety which is occasionally debilitating (I’m off work with it now, for example.  This article was put together in lucid moments over a three week period).

Always a music fan, I became aware of noise, sound-art, experimental and free music (etc.) in the late 1980s and became seriously involved in the late 1990s.  I spent three or four years around the turn of the century helping run Termite Club, the legendary Leeds based gig promoter.  Around the same time I co-ran the influential CD-r micro-label fencing flatworm recordings and its tape-label offshoot oTo (a time documented by Bang the Bore here and here).  I have been recording and performing electronic music, mostly under the name midwich, on and off for fifteen years, have collaborated with the likes of Paul Harrison, Neil Campbell, Lee Stokoe, Daniel Thomas and Miguel Perez, have been part of the band Truant with Phil Todd and Michael Clough, and so on.  I have had a hand in well over 100 releases on, I dunno, 20 to 30 different labels.

After what was meant to be a brief break from music due to health reasons (that stretched on for nearly five years) I returned in 2009 with this blog.  RFM now garners between 2500 and 4000 visits a month and I have a team of five comrades contributing as well as writing myself.  The number of posts approaches 500, the number of releases reviewed is comfortably in four figures and the total number of words so far published is somewhere between 350,000 and 400,000.  Sometimes people say:

You should write a book!

…and I reply:

I already have, a fucking long one too.

There are other things I could mention – the eye for detail compilation, The Barrel Nut microzine, etc. – but you get the picture.  All these numbers, all this vigorous trumpet blowing, is presented as anecdotal evidence for the claim that I have some idea what I am talking about.

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What it means

In the year 2000 I coined the term ‘no-audience underground’ as a shorthand, catch-all description for the music scene I found myself in, specifically the type of gigs I was attending and the network of micro-labels, invigorated by the availability of cheap CD-rs, that fencing flatworm recordings was part of.

The music I was hearing ranged from the most delicate bowing of singing bowls to hour-long, incense-choked psychedelic happenings to three-minute PA-busting squalls of hideous feedback.  Nothing seemed to link these disparate sounds and performance styles other than they could be loosely banded together as ‘noise’ and that very few people seemed to be interested.  Thus, at first, the term was merely descriptive in a tongue-in-cheek manner.  I hoped the implied self-deprecation would counter its smart-arsed irreverence.  It was of a piece with other slogans that I entertained myself with at the time: fencing flatworm’s tagline was ‘loss leaders of the neo-radiophonics’, for example.  Sigh.  I look back with a weird mixture of pride and embarrassment, both as profound as each other.

Anyway, over the years, especially when revisiting the notion for this blog, the term has taken on, I hope, further depth and explanatory usefulness. Here there’s no reason not to quote myself from the Simon Reynolds piece:

…first I need to say more about another important meaning of ‘no audience’.  [Simon Reynolds] is worried that that a ‘transmitter requires a receiver’ and that there are too few of the latter around.  I’d reassure him that his concern is misplaced – it doesn’t work like that down here.  There is no ‘audience’ as such, in the sense of ‘passive receivers’, because almost everyone with an interest in the scene is involved somehow in the scene.  The roles one might have – musician, promoter, label ‘boss’, distributor, writer, ‘critic’, paying punter and so on – are fluid, non-hierarchical and can be exchanged or adopted as needed.  I must stress that this is not a snobbish clique of insiders obsessively tending to every aspect of their hobby (not a dirty word, by the way, who makes a living from experimental music nowadays?) but a friendly and welcoming group who have realised that if they want it to happen then they have to make it happen themselves…

…or, in a nutshell:

Thus, there is no ‘audience’ for the scene because the scene is the audience.

Catchy, eh?  I’ll spell out a couple of aspects of this in greater depth before going on to tackle some of the criticisms made and problems arising.

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Self-sufficiency, goodwill and relation to the mainstream

It goes without saying that there is next to no money available to prop up these endeavours.  Some may have principled objections to funding and sponsorship, all will agree that securing funding or sponsorship is no guarantee the final product will be any good (whilst shuddering at the memory of one Arts Council supported fiasco or another).  Most would probably dig a little help but can’t be bothered playing the game and find ways of getting it done regardless.  Thus saying the no-audience underground is self-sufficient is not to say that it is financially balanced.  If only.

There is a currency in circulation amongst us, however: goodwill.  From a piece called “our way of shaking hands”: trades and largesse in the no-audience underground I wrote in 2011:

…A certain amount of goodwill capital can be amassed but it can’t be hoarded in Scrooge McDuck-style coffers.  It needs to be fed and nurtured otherwise it will shrivel and wither.  Maintaining goodwill is more like tending a garden…

So why is goodwill so important?  Because money isn’t.  And here we need to consider the idea of trading off the standard indicators of success against others which may be more philosophically interesting.  Fame and wealth, as commonly understood, are not available to those pursuing fringe interests.  There is no screaming mob of fans to be milked dry of their pocket money with Astral Social Club 2012 calendars, there are no oligarchs wishing to be our patrons and, annoying as it may be when the rent is due, I suspect we sort of like it that way.  It means our ‘art’ and our ‘scene’, for the want of better words, can groove their own way uncompromised by non-artistic concerns…

Hence the prevalence of barter and other types of reciprocity that help keep the blood of the scene oxygenated.  This is a mechanism that nurtures self-sufficiency in the absence of money.

The term ‘self-sufficient’ can also be used to describe the drive with which many of these artists produce the work they do.  Some – most of the best – are compelled to create.  The absence of standard recognition might grate occasionally but is largely irrelevant.  These people do it because they have to or they love to or both.  That someone other than themselves might appreciate their art is great, of course – none of us are without vanity, but not necessary.  I know several people who, if shipwrecked on a desert island would be distracted from the business of survival by finding a shell that made an interesting noise when blown into…

Which brings me to the final point of this section.  If you asked our marooned friend what they thought was the relationship between their art and the mainstream I doubt they would even look up from the strange instrument they were fashioning from driftwood and seaweed.  There is a quaint, folk belief that a true underground should have some connection to the mainstream, ideally antagonistic – that underground culture should wish to change the mainstream, or at least to be a nuisance to it.  However, even allowing that such a nebulous, subjective thing as ‘mainstream’ could be usefully defined, I disagree.  There’s nowt noble about being a flea in the ear of an elephant.  Why waste time with the inevitable compromises that engaging with it, even negatively, necessitate?  I’d suggest that it is far more radical to ignore it and that is what many practitioners in the no-audience underground do – either as a matter of policy or, largely, by just shrugging it off as irrelevant.  What the fuck does the ‘mainstream’ matter?  We’ve got things to be getting on with.

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In summary, plus last toots on the self-congratulatory trumpet

So, the term ‘no-audience underground’ denotes a sub-section of the noise and experimental music scene which is largely self-sufficient due to its members being prepared to take on the roles necessary to get things done in a fluid manner, being receptive to the exchange of goodwill in the absence of money, being driven to create for reasons other than the standard measures of success and being largely indifferent to the mainstream, however you wish to define it.  Oh, and the number of people interested is enough to sustain it, more or less, but very small.

Exciting, eh?  I’m delighted to say that this notion has caught the imagination of some who have found it useful and/or, dare I say it, inspiring.  It has wormed its way into at least one PhD thesis and one MA dissertation that I know about and has been adopted for the title (and as one of the informing principles) of an ongoing research project that I have been interviewed for.  The idea has featured in sympathetic magazine articles and blog posts several times and, as has been previously noted, was mentioned in passing by the writer Simon Reynolds in his keynote speech on DIY culture at the Incubate festival in Tilburg.  My pride at the term being used by the Washington DC Sonic Circuits festival burst into unseemly joy when a parcel from musician and Twitter comrade Phong Tran arrived containing this item of clothing:

n-au t-shirt

What greater approbation could I desire, eh?  My contribution to cultural discourse immortalised on a T-shirt.  Nowt more affirming than that.

Criticisms and problems arising

That said, it hasn’t all gone my way.  When I first presented a fully fleshed out version of this idea I was, somewhat naively, unprepared for challenges.  I thought what I was doing was merely describing something I was involved with and found interesting and was expecting, if anything, wry smiles of recognition.  Pats on the back – that kind of thing.

Apparently what I was advancing, though, was actually a theory and one that some considered not to make sense, or to contain controversial normative aspects (translation: I was being a punker-than-thou prick) or, well, you know what that internet is like…

I have to admit I took it badly, personally – especially when my mental health wasn’t great – and my reactions have varied wildly from the highfalutin’ to way aggro.  It was, as it were, a picture painted from life and I didn’t relish people standing behind me going ‘nah, mate, your perspective is off‘.  I’ve calmed down now though, so in what follows I’ll attempt to be fair and measured as I think there has been plenty for me to learn.

i. Genre labels are unnecessary

I’ve had this a couple of times.  ‘I hate labels like this’ runs the criticism, ‘you just like something or you don’t’.  I admit I have some sympathy with the view that there are only two types of music: music that rocks and music that sucks.  Defining genres is a game played by critics (myself included) to provide the comforting delusion that they are guiding musical development and thus relevant and useful.  If the point had been ‘I hate labels like ‘extraction music” I’d have had to take that on the chin (yes, that is one of mine).  However, the term ‘no-audience underground’ does not refer to a genre of music – quite explicitly.  It refers instead to the assumptions and working methods of a group of practitioners thus this criticism doesn’t apply.  It would be like saying: ‘I hate labels like ‘stamp collecting’ or ‘racquet sports’ or ‘diagnostic radiography’, you either like it or you don’t’ – a mild type of what philosophy calls a ‘category mistake’.

ii. My characterisation of the scene is defeatist, negative and insular

Because I focus on self-sufficiency, indifference to the mainstream and so on I have been accused of being negative and defeatist.  ‘Surely,’ the argument goes, ‘there could be a wider audience for this work and turning your back to it is wilfully perverse.’  Whilst I wish anyone showing evangelical zeal the best of luck, I’m afraid I can’t agree for two reasons.

Firstly, many years’ experience as a promoter, artist, writer and whatnot have shown that it isn’t true.  There are peaks and troughs, of course, and special events such as festivals do attract more punters now that at any time I can remember, but a wet Wednesday night at the Fenton, say, has attracted a remarkably consistent number of paying punters for at least 20 years.  From an article I wrote called the rewards of no rewards: musings on no-audience economics:

OK, leaving London to one side as it has its own rules, experience has shown me that most UK conurbations of city-ish size can rustle up 20 people interested enough in the type of experimental music RFM covers to turn up to gigs.  10 or less if you are unfortunate, 30 plus if your scene is thriving.  Should you wish to perform in this ‘arena’ then these people are your audience: the subset of this crowd who can turn up on that evening.

Marketing and promotion do little to alter these numbers.  This is because music of this type will always be a fringe interest but that fringe is well-informed and inquisitive.  As long as the gig is plugged in whatever the usual places are then the cognoscenti will find out about it and do their best to roll up.

Secondly, I see being realistic about this situation not as defeatist or negative but as liberating.  From the same piece:

…because no one is interested in what we do.  There seem to be two possible reactions to this undeniably true conclusion: a) shake your fist at the gods and complain about the unfairness of your genius going unrecognised and unrewarded or b) take strength from its gloriously liberating implications.  I say go with the latter.

…if you are driven to create by an urge independent of possible rewards then you can do whatever you want purely for the love of it and only subject to the constraints that we have to accommodate in every other aspect of our lives (money, family, employment etc.).  This simple, eye-opening fact is truly heartening and this blog is testament to the many terrifically talented artists who are grasping this opportunity and wringing as much joy as they can out of it, sometimes in difficult circumstances.

The charge of insularity comes from those who worry that what I am describing looks like a clique or club, forbidding to the newbie.  I can understand that concern and attending a gig with a single figure audience comprised of people who all seem to know each other can be uncomfortable.  However, again, experience shows that the crowd, whilst undeniably odd, are a friendly and welcoming bunch.  People have their own way of doing things but offers of help are met with gratitude.  In fact, I have a little theory about why there are so few arseholes knocking around.  From ‘our way of shaking hands…’:

My guess is that there isn’t that much in the scene that an arsehole would be attracted to, or get off on.  There is no fame to abuse, no hierarchy to enforce, no money to waste, no club full of beautiful young things to enthral with shallow glamour.  Not much room for an arsehole to really flex its sphincter.  Now, it would be wrong to say the scene is without vanity but prestige and respect are earned from a down-to-earth crowd of hard-working and dedicated artists and punters and any attempt to assign it prematurely, or hype it up to unwarranted levels, will be met with a scoff … In short: our standards of success are unfathomable to the average fuck-knuckle and instead attract the fine, upstanding citizens who see the value in sharing their book-smarts and fancy-pants ideas with other fine, upstanding citizens.

*Sniff* I’m welling up…

iii. Who wants to go to a show where the audience are all musicians?

Ermm… yeah, this is a weird one.  Last December RFM started getting hits from the Italian language version of Vice’s music off-shoot Noisey.  Investigation revealed a link in an interview with David Keenan about his piece on the death of the underground published in the Christmas edition of The Wire magazine.  Noisey ask Keenan about the ‘no-audience underground’ and he replies something like:

…But that definition – No Audience Underground – note basically it means that the public going to the concerts is composed of people who are themselves involved in musical projects. And this is shit, let me say. If you want to go to a rock concert, I not necessarily have to be a musician, too, in the same way if I go to a movie, do not necessarily have to be a screenwriter. This is just another of the current issues of the underground: go to the concerts, and the public are all musicians … Fuck! When I go to a concert I want to turn off the neurons, listen and let me take the music, I’m not there to “study” because I am a worker of the sector.

(I say ‘something like’ because my Italian is fairly hopeless so I am relying on translation by web browser…)

First things first: props to Noisey for knowing about the notion and thinking to ask – very thorough – and to David Keenan who is a writer I have always found very inspiring even when I disagree with what he says.  However: this is bonkers.  Look back at my definition and you’ll see I am careful not to say ‘all’ but to qualify it with ‘almost’.  I also include ‘paying punter’ as one of the roles.  It is perfectly possible to be involved and/or show your support just by paying in and digging the show.  It is also, of course, possible to turn off your mind even if you are a musician.  Part of what I enjoy about drone, for example, is its capacity to dissolve ego and that I ‘know how it’s done’ doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it on the most visceral level.  I can lose myself even when performing.  Isn’t that the point?  Also, wanting to study doesn’t mean the experience can’t be freeing and joyful.  I remember Termite Club putting on Sunny Murray and half the drummers in Leeds literally sitting at his feet at the front – many were treating it as a lesson from an old master, all were ecstatic.  I’m afraid Keenan’s characterisation of my position is just wrong, as are the conclusions he draws – he doesn’t even knock over his own straw man.  I’m hoping that there was some sense in the original that has been lost in the translation.

iv. My definition is tautologous and thus has no content

…in other words: all I’m saying is that the people who make up the scene are the people who make up the scene and that isn’t very helpful is it?  The ol’ philosophy graduate in me was momentarily troubled by this one as it has the look-and-feel of a ‘proper’ objection from a dissertation supervisor.  However, I think there is enough information contained in the extended definition – implications about attitudes, working practices and the like – such that I can be confident I am saying something.  Whether it is of use to you is a different question of course.  A more philosophically interesting criticism is…

v. My definition could be applied to other endeavours and only relates specifically to this noise scene because I specify that it does

This is my favourite objection, in fact I consider it less an objection than an invitation for further anthropological study.  The idea is that the definition of ‘no-audience underground’ contains nothing that intrinsically links it to the noise scene I am using it to describe apart from my say so.  It could just as well be used to describe groups engaged in other endeavours with a similar spirit.

My response to this is to wave my hand dismissively, say ‘yes, yes, whatevs’ and demand to be shown these other no-audience undergrounds.  What an exciting idea.  Sure, I can see broadly comparable groups in, say, mail art, fanzine culture and other musical sub genres I come into contact with but what of, say, trainspotting?  Is there a group of self-supporting trainspotters, driven by a dedication to their hobby, indifferent to the false dichotomy of mainstream versus alternative trainspotting, just grooving their own way?  Wouldn’t it be intriguing if there was?  Well, it would be to me anyway.  I’m happy to concede this one and just ask that in return you send me a link to your research.

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The well-connected outsider

OK, so what now?  I suppose the biggest developments unaccounted for above are Bandcamp and social media.

There has been some grumbling that there is no true underground any more because everyone is busy with the social media circle jerk – being friendly, connecting with each other around the world, sharing things unmediated by the former gatekeepers and so on, but I think this is a red herring.  I consider myself to be fairly well connected with an email address, this blog and a Twitter account followed by around 300 people.  Given that Twitter has half-a-billion users this fraction is statistically indistinguishable from zero.  Seriously, with my social media presence if I really did want to antagonise the mainstream I’d annoy more people by coughing at a Laura Marling gig.  And yet here I am: punk as all fuck.  So, yes, it is possible to use social media without tarnishing your underground credentials.

Bandcamp is more interesting.  In the ‘documents of a golden age…‘ post I poke the notion of punk as ‘year zero’ with a stick then go on to say:

In contrast, the freedoms offered by the internet are greater by orders of magnitude.  Via services like Bandcamp any sound at all can be made available to anyone on the planet with an internet connection, at no unit cost to either the artist or the listener, within minutes of it being completed.  Punk couldn’t compete with that: it’s as transparently democratic, anarchic even, as it is possible to be in a ‘music-related’ context.  Sure, engage with traditional elements if you like (running a label, for example, is a fun thing to do and still one of the best ways of organising a cluster of artists who share similar objectives) but you don’t have to.  The extent to which you commit yourself is entirely your own concern.

Emphasis added.  The consequences of that freedom are still being worked through now, two years after I wrote that, in a scene that has never been healthier (couple of examples here – not without precedent, I admit, but you get what I’m getting at).

Exciting times, eh?

In conclusion

Y’know, I was going to end with a stirring, poetical, rhetorical flourish but the more I think about it the more humbled I feel to be part of the scene I have been describing and the more simple I’d like to keep it.

So: should the term I have been defining and defending be of use to you then feel free to make use of it.  More important is to acknowledge the amazing work that I am attempting to crowbar into this pigeon-hole and the amazing people creating it.  What a fucking great crowd this no-audience is.

—ooOoo—

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