kosmotroniks: new from michael clough and striate cortex

May 10, 2013 at 7:52 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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Ürlich Uhrlich – Kosmotron II (2 x 3″ CD-r in handmade package, Striate Cortex, S.C.58, edition of 50)

Various Artists – SCFREE (CD-r, promotional compilation, Striate Cortex, S.C.FREE 1, edition of 50)

Uhrlich frontUhrlich insideUhrlich insertUhrlich inside insertSCFREESCFREE CD-r

Great to see Andy Robinson’s mighty Striate Cortex back in the conversation.  The multi-zellaby-award-winning label has been quiet of late due to Andy having to concentrate on those tangled processes that exist outside of music (I believe they are referred to collectively as ‘life’) but the wait for his return has been worth it.

Kosmotron II by Ürlich Uhrlich is a double 3″ CD-r (truly the format of champions) housed in an example of the exquisite handmade packaging that Striate Cortex is justly famous for.  The CD-rs are ‘on body’ printed and housed in windowed paper envelopes.  These are held against the cover with sashes, behind one is a pro-printed insert containing (very minimal) release details.  The cover is a gate-fold constructed from handmade card and held shut with its own painted sash.  A remarkable object.

Ürlich Uhrlich is one of several mysterious aliases adopted by Michael Clough.  This guy’s invaluable contribution to the underground scene in Leeds, prior to his treacherous decamping to that London,  has been documented elsewhere (see herehere and here, for example).  Nowadays he will be better known to readers of this blog for recordings under his own name and as one third of synth/psyche supergroup Truant (with Phil Todd and yours truly making up the trio).

However, he also has a long history of creating pastiches, homages and oddities and making them semi-available under assumed identities, often with meticulously plausible back stories for the ‘long lost’ artist now ‘rediscovered’.  Nowt has been said (to me at least) about Ürlich Uhrlich so I’m tempted to have a go myself: I’m imagining a German Jewish refugee who fled the Nazis in the 1930s and went on to become a pioneer of electronic music, a genius sound engineer and a shadowy but influential presence both in the foundation of the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop and in the New York ‘Downtown scene’ of the 1960s…

Andy reckons the music could have soundtracked Tron and, yeah, I can hear that, but I’m tempted to go much further back.  The tightly wound, relentless back-and-forth of these analogue throbs and pulses suggest a kind of teeth-grinding, cheek-chewing, speed-freak non-narrative: ‘and then, and then, and then, and then…’  Perhaps it should accompany Warhol’s Empire?  Or maybe a time-lapse film of a giant copper clad cathedral dome oxidizing and being encrusted with livid green verdigris?

We could even get a little more active.  How about multi-limbed sport-bots thwacking a dozen basketballs at once to each other across an empty floor of an underground car park?  Or, especially during the bibbling sections of the second track, angry artificial intelligences throwing packets of information around in the hope of winning a competition the rules of which our pitiful brains could not begin to grasp?  Yeah, as good as that.

Also worthy of note is the ten track various artist compilation SCFREE.  This artefact is not for sale but will be supplied free of charge alongside paying orders made to Striate Cortex until the edition of 50 is extinguished.  Andy invited submissions stipulating they be about five minutes in length and ambient(ish) in nature.  The idea being to both encourage business and to promote the work of worthy artists with a connection to his label.  Slick.  No midwich track due to, y’know, ‘life’, but there could well be something from me on volume two.

Anyway, even without me it is pretty much all good.  Everything has the chance to engage, nothing has the chance to outstay its welcome, most leaves you wishing it was twice as long.  My favourites are the four tracks that top and tail the album.  The opener, Tim Newman’s ‘Park Page is Empty’, is a lovely, guitar-led see-sawing throb.  The second track, Mark Bradley’s ‘Sacred Musics’ is a Vangelisian curve of precious metal, slightly discordant to keep its edge serrated (a prime example of what an ex-girlfriend of mine used to call ‘wob-wob’ electronica).  At the other end of the compilation, the ninth track, Daniel Thomas’s ‘Heavy Density’, is the kind of refried physics you might hear whilst lying in your garage-constructed time machine, resisting the temptation to crawl out of the box, at peace, trusting the math and waiting for the cycle to conclude.  The final track, ‘Moonship (Phase One)’ is a live piece by Small Things on Sundays which suggests a desert camp fire scene on a sandy planet.  Huge, docile pack animals purr and buzz as they sleep nearby, ornithopters flap overhead, some radio chatter is ignored as the explorers relax.  Beautiful.

Striate Cortex

artifacts of the no-audience underground: the skull mask and claus poulsen on striate cortex

September 25, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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The Skull Mask – Sahomerio

(3″ CD-r in handmade packaging, Striate Cortex, S.C.53, edition of 50)

Claus Poulsen – Terrestial

(2 x 3″ CD-r boxed in handmade packaging, Striate Cortex, S.C.51, edition of 45)

Regular readers will be familiar with my role as UK champion of The Skull Mask – a terrific project from my Mexican cousin Miguel Pérez.  I refer newcomers to the blurb used by Striate Cortex head honcho Andy Robinson in the publicity for this release:

Cuidad Juárez, Mexico, is a city with a murderous reputation. The war between rival drug cartels and the police made it, until recently, the homicide capital of the world. Life is tough for a civilian just trying to raise a family. I’m sure you can imagine that if you found yourself in that situation you would need a means of catharsis, a way of making sense of it all. Well, my friend Miguel Pérez lives there and he escapes through noise.

A background in the metal scene of the 90s taught him musicianship – he is an exceptional guitarist – but it was his discovery of noise and improv that set him free. A Stakhanovite work rate has led to dozens of releases under several pseudonyms, mainly through the netlabel Oracle he co-runs with Pablo Mejia, a noise artist based in the Dominican Republic.

I came to his work via the Culver-esque roars of La Mancha Del Pecado but my favourite of his projects is the solo, acoustic guitar of The Skull Mask. These improvised, psychedelic ragas are influenced by ritual music from around the world, including the shamanistic tradition of his native country, filtered through his own experiences of the Mexican wilderness.

It is beautiful, compelling, raw, ego dissolving stuff. To listen to The Skull Mask is to stand facing the hot, abrasive desert wind.

What a masterpiece of the copywriters’ art, eh?  I wonder who wrote that.  Oh:

Rob H, Leeds, UK, August 2012

*Ahem*, moving swiftly on…  The package is awesome:  printed 3” CD-r in its own wallet with beautiful pro-printed insert featuring evocative smoke photo, all contained in a handmade fold-out cardboard parcel tied up with string.  Acknowledging that the title refers to a type of incense used in purification rituals, Andy has thoughtfully included a little bundle of incense sticks in each box.  Why not make an offering to your favourite pagan spirit whilst this is on in the background?  This release is so cool that it even smells good.

Before getting to the music there is, perhaps, a short discussion to be had about to what extent improvised music can be edited.  Do you need to hear the whole performance, dead ends and mistakes included?  I sometimes think the, say, two minutes of genius at the end of a passage only makes sense in the context of the six minutes of meandering that led to it.  With some improv, especially groups – Spoils & Relics spring to mind – these transitional periods can have an enthralling, alchemical mystery to them as the band looks for and eventually settles on a new groove or texture.  Following an act through this process is one of the rewarding joys of improvised music.

Or should we just cut to the chase?  Are the minutes of genius all we need?  Can we jettison the intermediary passages as just so much rehearsal?  This is how, for example, the great Vibracathedral Orchestra albums were assembled.  Mick et al had a great ear for start and end points and also had the vision to see individual tracks rise out of the whole.  Much as I still love to hear the crescendo-plateau-fade of a full length 45 minute live tape, the discipline exercised over something so unruly and amorphous as VCO performance is one of the things that makes these records essential.

Andy has decided to take this second path.  Over half the source material provided by Miguel has been excised leaving five extracts totalling 19 minutes.  Some of the edits are severe, brutal even, but all are fully authorised by Miguel and, after a few listens, I have to say Andy’s decisions cannot be faulted.

This is heroic stuff, recorded simply and cheaply with a red-raw honesty (occasionally a ‘chk-chk-chk’ noise can be heard high in the right channel, no doubt an artefact of the recording, but it stands in for the cicadas of Miguel’s beloved Mexican wilderness and inadvertently adds to the heat-haze atmosphere). Miguel was amused to see this described as ‘bluesy’ in Vital Weekly but during Part Three, the epic nine minute centrepiece, it isn’t hard to imagine him standing at the crossroads, his loose-fingered raga whipping the desert dust into strange, dancing anthropomorphic shapes.

The pieces either side illustrate the expressive power of Miguel’s technique: sore-eyed from the campfire or crackling and mysterious or solemn and contemplative.  In isolating these moods Andy has given us a new way of appreciating the rolling whole.  He has somehow managed to carve smoke.  An essential purchase, obviously.

Also new and noteworthy and issued in a painfully tiny edition is Terrestial by Claus Poulsen, probably best known around these parts for Star Turbine, his collaboration with Sindre Bjerga.  Packaged in a thickly painted jewellery box, the like of which housed the aforementioned Star Turbine release, this is a double 3” CD-r set, each tucked into its own windowed envelope accompanied by a pro-printed insert and, a shocking first for SC as far as I know, a Bandcamp download code!  Well did you evah?!  The shape of things to come?  Who knows…

The music is unashamedly spacey electronica: epic synth washes, chattering and bibbling, languid shifts in texture.  Apart from some late bursts of noise, perhaps, this could have been released in the mid-90s on Pete Namlook’s FAX label.  High praise from me.

The entire of the first disc is given over to the 19 minute title track (no, I don’t know where the third ‘r’ has gone either) which is a sweeping account of a generation starship‘s cruise through unimaginable spans of nothingness.  The production is careful, balanced, detailed – exquisite.  The second disc contains four shorter tracks, noisier but just as disciplined in their construction, which mark the arrival of the craft at its destination planet and the exploration of the seas and caverns found there.  There is even a party of sorts to celebrate touchdown: second track ‘Heat’ has a beat (very rare on SC releases!) but its dubby clatter only serves to accentuate the eeriness of the new surroundings.  Accomplished and involving stuff.

Buy both releases here.

artifacts of the no-audience underground: daniel thomas on striate cortex

May 23, 2012 at 8:32 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Daniel Thomas – Delighted in Isolation (CD-r, Striate Cortex, S.C.48)

So here’s the debut album by my friend Daniel Thomas on Striate Cortex, blog-fave label and home to the massive sell-out success that was running repairs – the midwich album on which Daniel and I collaborated.  Hmmm… the smell of ‘conflict of interest’ is a bit ripe, no? Admittedly, the prospect of me writing a stinging review of this is unlikely, but I can assure loyal readers that I remain coolly dispassionate and wholly trustworthy when I say that Delighted in Isolation is outstanding.  I’m hoping that heartfelt sincerity will do in lieu of journalistic integrity.

The specification is as follows: 9 track CD-r, totalling a few minutes shy of an hour, seamlessly segued into one shape-shifting whole, with indivual tracks named only with their running times. The title of the album is apparently taken from a quote by Aristotle (translated in an essay by Francis Bacon – this one, not that one) which reads:

Whosoever is delighted in isolation is either a wild beast or a god.

…and is either wonderfully intriguing or preposterously pretentious depending on how much sleep you’ve had the night before.  Also, given that Dan lives on his own in a well-appointed cabin deep in the Sheepscar woods, it makes me slightly concerned as to how he views himself.  What goes on behind that winning smile, eh?

Anyway, the packaging is of the consistently jaw-dropping quality you are safe to expect from Striate Cortex.  Starting from the inside and working out: the photo on the CD-r is of a water jet outlet from the now-demolished Leeds International Pool.  The griminess of the image is tempered by the lovely, entirely accidental, black and ochre colour scheme.  The CD-r is fixed with a foam dot to a pro-printed fold out insert, classily minimal, and this in turn is housed within a black paper envelope.  The front of this envelope is decorated with hand-made paper and sponge-printed to mirror the colour palate of the photograph.  This clever, satisfying and artfully constructed sleeve is housed in a heavy gauge Astral-Social-Club-style plastic wallet.  Beautiful.

The content, conveyed via the medium of experimental electronic music, called forth the following images to my fevered mind.  The opening track is a one minute field recording of a forlorn diplodocus stood on a mountain of landfill taking surprisingly dainty bites from bin-liners full of domestic rubbish.  His chewing is interrupted by skwees which are presumably aftershocks of the timequake that left the unfortunate creature stranded there.  The scene is set…

…and then reset.  The following section has a science fictional feel as we travel around engine rooms, deserted corridors and chambers housing humming machinery – obviously working, but to no apparent purpose.  Perhaps a probe bursting with nanotechnology crashed into the wrong planet, terraformed it, built bases and has been waiting ever since for the human colonists – colonists who died years before, having arrived on the correct planet only to find their destination still a barren rock.

In the third section, the ruling A.I. of the deserted planet, driven a little crazy by entropy and silence – obviously neither a wild beast nor a god, decides to build a time travelling device in order to find out what happened.  Every machine still working is bent to this task and we have a series of tracks documenting their progress.  This sequence has the alien precision of Julian Bradley’s recordings as The Piss Superstition and is just as unfathomably irresistible.

In the final section, comprising the last three tracks, the time machine is turned on.  There is no ceremony, no fanfare, just the gathering fury of an insistent fuzzed-out drone which begins in track seven and really shakes itself loose in track eight as the laws of physics are pulled in uncomfortable directions.  This winds down and is partially resolved in the ninth and final track.  Has anything happened?  Well, there is a dinosaur eating landfill so: yes.  Did it work out exactly as planned?  I don’t know – does anything?

Reading the above, perhaps it won’t surprise you to learn that I first heard this whilst I was off work sick. Dan kindly provided a sneak preview but the effort of downloading it proved too much for me and I had to retire with it to bed. Thus I was horizontal, in a room dimly lit solely by spill from the curtain edges and in a state of feverish, over-medicated near-delirium. As I slipped in and out of consciousness I found myself enjoying it immensely. However, since returning to health I have stress-tested it in the usual environments and am happy to report that it swats away tricky listening conditions and robustly enforces reverie.

Leaving dinosaur-related whimsy aside let me lean across the table, look you in the eye and conclude thus: Delighted in Isolation is an accomplished and deeply satisfying set.  The impressive technical savvy with which it is composed and compiled is never an end in itself but instead always serves the flow.  There are stand-out tracks – I’ve listened to that final section god knows how many times – but more importantly there is a coherence, a unifying aesthetic, throughout which allows for a sophisticated emotional response from the listener.  Dan is a storyteller.

I think you should buy here.  Whilst you are waiting for it to arrive, more stuff by Dan can be heard here and why not check out his other duo, Hagman, here?  He has also recently started a blog and is currently in the advanced planning stages of a label of his own.  It’s all very exciting.  See Sheepscar Light Industrial for details.

new midwich product! ‘running repairs’ on striate cortex

April 11, 2012 at 7:34 am | Posted in midwich, new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
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midwich – running repairs (CD-r, edition of 60, Striate Cortex S.C.46)

Ladies and gentlemen, RFM is delighted to announce the release of a fine new midwich recording.  The music it contains is as follows:

The first 20 minutes is all ‘new territories’.  Working alongside new bandmate Daniel Thomas, and with the beginners’ luck of novice Frankensteins, we have created a multi-limbed monster of ghost tones and gutter fuzz.  An hydraulic, ka-thumping wobble provides motorik momentum.  This track is as serious, resolute and kinky as a master of Kinbaku-bi but with more room to breathe in it than that simile suggests.  Hopefully more to come from the midwich power-duo.

(A word about my collaborator: Daniel Thomas has an infallible ear when it comes to the dynamics of a pedal loop and Shaolin level patch-lead skills.  His compositional pedigree is impressive too, having scored some prestigious modern dance performances.  Luckily, he doesn’t mind getting all-in with my more brute approach to proceedings.  On his SoundCloud site you will find ‘PommesDeRivière‘, his remix of midwich’s ‘river apples‘ in a hypnotic, Basic Channel style.  Daniel is also part of improvising noise troupe Hagman, who have a gig coming soon at an anarchist event in Shipley (details to be confirmed – or perhaps not, given the politics of the occasion) and is currently tending the nascent Sheepscar Light Industrial, which I’m sure will prove to be interest to my faithful readers.)

Linking the first and final tracks is ‘pennine interlude’ which documents the new hyper-fast transpennine bullet train that will take you from the wilds of Lancashire back to the civilisation of Yorkshire in just two minutes and seventeen seconds.  Listen for the pings.

Lastly, we have ‘bosky’ – a thick, viscous drone that grows increasingly more intense and insistent over (much of) its 26 minute length.  I sometimes use the term ‘ego-dissolving’ to describe an effective drone piece but ‘bosky’ demands a more active phrase: ‘ego-disintegrating’ maybe?  I hope so.  This is not a sugary syrup into which your mind can be happily stirred.  This is a vibrating, pulverising machine for reducing psyche to sand then performing cymatic experiments on the result.  Properly invigorating, in my humble opinion.

This album breaks new ground for me: it is the first time midwich has recorded as a duo, it is the first time the midwich sound has not been sourced entirely from my battered MC-303, it contains a level of layering and processing (and thus: work) hitherto alien to me and, at 50 minutes, it is the longest demand I have ever made on your attention.

It is also my first album on Andy Robinson’s label Striate Cortex.  Even the casual reader of this blog should be able to guess what that means to me and I couldn’t be more delighted at the package Andy has put together to house our modest efforts – see scans above, every cover different.  Andy, humble to the point of monkhood, insists that he not be credited at all in the liner notes accompanying his releases but this is my blog, goddammit, and I can praise who I like.  So here goes: I know of no other label producing such consistently high quality releases and the fact that he does this entirely on his own (and at his own expense during difficult times) makes him a candidate for the no-audience underground equivalent of the Légion d’honneur.  He even took a massive detour during an Easter weekend road-trip in order to meet up with me man-to-man (in the Fox & Newt, naturally) and hand over a ludicrously generous pile of freebies.

This is a quality assured release.  I can honestly say that if I was a punter unaffiliated with midwich or Striate Cortex I would gladly hand over the dough for this, so it goes without saying that you should too.  I know I’ve used this line before, but I’m not above a bit of mild guilt-tripping: if you dig this blog then please consider this purchase (the same unit cost as a single pitiful, joyless issue of The Wire magazine) to be the price of a subscription to radiofreemidwich.  And I promise this is the last time I’ll mention Striate Cortex too.  Well, for a little while at least…

Go on, treat yourself and buy here for a mere £4 plus postage.

artifacts of the no-audience underground: ‘masked out’ by petals on striate cortex

April 2, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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PETALS – Masked Out (3″ CD-r, edition of 50, Striate Cortex S.C.40.)

It’s a long scroll down to this text isn’t it?  Well, no apologies for the girth of the illustrations because this is another remarkable release from Andy Robinson’s Striate Cortex.  This time we have a 3″ CD-r and printed insert housed in an elaborate four-way, fold-out card holder, each ‘petal’ individually hand painted.  This is mounted on a hand-painted black background the reverse of which forms the outer cover of the release. This side is wrapped in hand-made paper embedded, appropriately enough, with plant matter – grasses, tiny flowers, stamen.  In a back catalogue rife with gobsmacking packages this is one of the finest.

Petals (or PETALS or petals) is the project of Huddersfield based Kev Sanders and is fast becoming a favourite round these parts.  His drones and noise pieces are constructed with intelligence, wit and with a finely tuned sense of balance.  Simmering anger, contemplative beauty – it can be as languid as a cat having its stomach rubbed, it can draw blood as fast as the same cat should your stomach-rubbing technique prove lacking.  Lovely chap too.

‘Masked Out’ is roar from the off.  Waves crash against a terminal beach.  The surf – thick with brown foam like a perverse expanse of cocoa-powdered cappuccino froth – pulls the pebbles to and fro, slowly pulverising shell fragments with a crackling, rhythmic hiss.  This is a perfect soundtrack to the penultimate section of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.  The hero has flung himself into the unimaginably far future and witnesses what might literally be the end of life on the Earth:

The darkness grew apace; a cold wind began to blow in freshening gusts from the east, and the showering white flakes in the air increased in number. From the edge of the sea came a ripple and whisper … At last, one by one, swiftly, one after the other, the white peaks of the distant hills vanished into blackness. The breeze rose to a moaning wind. I saw the black central shadow of the eclipse sweeping towards me. In another moment the pale stars alone were visible. All else was rayless obscurity. The sky was absolutely black.

A horror of this great darkness came on me. The cold, that smote to my marrow, and the pain I felt in breathing, overcame me. I shivered, and a deadly nausea seized me. Then like a red-hot bow in the sky appeared the edge of the sun … As I stood sick and confused I saw again the moving thing upon the shoal – there was no mistake now that it was a moving thing – against the red water of the sea. It was a round thing, the size of a football perhaps, or, it may be, bigger, and tentacles trailed down from it; it seemed black against the weltering blood-red water, and it was hopping fitfully about. Then I felt I was fainting…

(Extracted from the end of Section XI, full text can be found via Project Gutenberg here.)

…at the fifteen minute mark we even have some ukelele picking which could be the forlorn scrabbling of this final creature.  Am I being pretentious calling on a great classic to illuminate 20 minutes of racket?  Well, maybe – but it is genuinely what it brought to mind.  Why not buy here for a mere £3 plus postage – and find out for yourself.

Also worthy of note from petals are lowest ever low a brief lament on a one of those tiny credit card CD-rs and collaboration by swan-hunter & petals which is two lengthy noise pieces of the balls-out variety on a CD-r in a sort of CD sized DVD case.  This also contains the intriguing insert featuring the mysterious owl creatures pictured below.  Contact Kev via hairdryer excommunication to ascertain availability.

architects of the no-audience underground: andy robinson and more from the striate cortex back catalogue

November 6, 2011 at 11:33 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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  • Plurals – Six Eyes (Striate Cortex, S.C.20), CD-r, 100 copies
  • Pink Desert – Recorded By Friends At Three Speeds (Striate Cortex, S.C.16), CD-r, 100 copies

Down at this end of things, where 20 people is an excellent mid-week turn out, especially on a miserable rainy evening, a gig can be as much about the social as it is about the music.  Especially for a blabbermouth such as your correspondent.  Don’t worry, I’m not one of those fools who talks during the performances (though I am foolish enough to shout a bit during the applause if overexcited) but I will gadfly about in-between turns, ingratiating myself and blagging ‘merch’.

At the gig at the Fox and Newt on October 12th (mentioned already in relation to The Piss Superstition) I had the great pleasure of meeting up with Sindre Bjerga – Norwegian polymath and all-round force-for-the-good, Andrew Perry – tousle-haired noise-tigger (of whom more anon) and Andy Robinson – heroic mastermind of blog-fave CD-r label Striate Cortex.  In the flesh Andy was thoughtfully enthusiastic, quiet without being at all reticent.  I was impressed.  We did all that ‘thank you’, ‘no, thank you‘ business then I asked the obvious questions: “do you make all that lovely packaging yourself?  Don’t you have a squad of elves to help?” and as he answered “yes, no,” I stood there marvelling, once more, at his dedication to the cause.

(Aside: in a later email exchange I insisted on sending him a freebie Truant CD-r after he expressed some daft desire to pay for it.  He said “but I’d like to contribute something.”  “Dude,” I reminded him, “you do nothing but contribute.”)

As is customary on such occasions many CD-rs were swapped (Andrew Perry made a comment along the lines of this trade being ‘our way of shaking hands’ which is almost movingly exact) and I was delighted when Andy fished out a scrumpled up Poundland carrier bag and produced from it… treasure.  This booty took the form of a batch of CD-rs from the Striate Cortex back catalogue, two of which I am now going to talk about and one of which may feature in a future article.

First up, Recorded By Friends At Three Speeds by Pink Desert.  Clocking that I dug their track on the recent Concentric Spaces Vol.2 compilation Andy kindly passed on this full length album.  Commenting on the comp track I praised its ‘subtle force’ and ‘elegant coherence’ and declared it to be ‘a lesson in discipline and structure’ for those working with long form drones.  I’m happy to report that these qualities remain present in abundance and undiluted at a running time of 45 minutes.

Well, I say ‘drones’ but that isn’t entirely accurate.  There is very little fuzz; no comforting harmonic blanket to suck your thumb under.  There is also little in the way of groove.  Aside from one elongated cymbal crash and a few echoing snaps percussive noise is entirely absent.  Leaving these easy ways of engaging our attention to one side, Pink Desert present us with some serious, focussed electronics constructed with the sense-sharpening clarity of a frosty morning in the Dales.

This precision is not academic, however, nor is it politely ‘new age’.  These tracks shimmer with a low-key but efficiently realised emotional resonance and Pink Desert are happy to let it drift into the red if appropriate, as on stand out track ‘For Dorothy’.  Looking for something to put on after having listened to this I have, more than once, shrugged my shoulders and just pressed ‘play’ again – it is an album that both demands and repays your attention.

As you’ve come to expect from Striate Cortex, the packaging is noteworthy.  The pink desert, and the cloudless sky above, is represented by a flap of handmade paper embedded with pink thread and splashed with silver which folds out to reveal a spray paint starscape.  The reverse of the sleeve is wrapped in a shimmering copper brown cloth.  It all fits the music just so.

The packaging is equally impressive for Six Eyes by Plurals (which is such a smart name for a band that I wish I’d thought of it myself – great logo on the insert too).  A CD-r speckled with spray paint and a hand-painted insert are housed in a cardboard sleeve decorated with segments of dried leaves.  The album comprises two tracks, ‘Replica Universe’ and ‘You Are Horses’ – both around the 20 minute mark, and is one of the most striking things I’ve heard this year.

The ‘build’ that is constructed in the first ten minutes of ‘Replica Universe’ is terrific: a mournful wind instrument (clarinet?  I dunno, could be way off) heralds a gathering swarm of drones.  Underneath, a slow marching riff (which I might be partly imagining) drives things forward towards some grisly inevitability and above are curious percussive knocks and some spacey, gruff electronic trilling and squiggling.  The wind instrument returns to honk the riff over a nodding-out-Todd guitar doing the same at half speed, the drones empty out and a swaying groove takes us up out of the clouds into a pink-orange dawn sky.  Magnificent.

‘You Are Horses’ is perhaps a little more straightforward but no less impressive.  The sound palette is similar, the pace is magisterial, the mood mysterious, the atmosphere allowed to coalesce in its own time.  Here you are sitting outside a bar in the souk, again it is very early – or very late depending on how you look at it – and you are drinking sweet, syrupy coffee in an attempt to stave off the worst effects of insomniac exhaustion.  Will the ‘contact’ arrive at the designated time?  Have the code words been changed since your source smuggled out the last set?  The bar owner is on the ‘phone and keeps looking nervously in your direction.  What would they say at Sarratt, eh?

These two albums are both neat illustrations of Andy’s near-impeccable discernment.  That both are of a high quality is obvious from the first encounter but their ambition and depth are only properly revealed by repeat listens.  As they are back catalogue items I’m not sure if they are available, or how much they will cost you, so I recommend that you contact Andy via Striate Cortex and make urgent enquiries.

artifacts of the no-audience underground: more cdrs on striate cortex

April 17, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
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  • Spaces Between – untitled, 13 tracks, 48 minutes, CD-r, S.C.39
  • small things on sundays – mass | flux, 5 tracks, 50 minutes, CD-r, S.C.38
  • posset – the silver conch, 11 tracks, 37 minutes, CD-r, S.C.15

Available from: Striate Cortex.  Audio clips from the SC catalogue can be heard here.  A gallery of cover photos can be seen here.

Back in February, I think it was, I was introduced to the label Striate Cortex by Neil Campbell.  He gave me one of his freebie copies of a double CD-r compilation called ‘The Trees Are All Blocking The Forest’.  My head was turned both by the high quality of the music it contained but also by the hand-made packaging that contained the music.  My mind boggled at the idea that some guy had made a hundred of these boxes, had given away most of them to contributors and was selling the remainder for a comically low seven quid.  I wrote a review which can be read here (an aside: this piece apparently generated sales!  Blimey – my meanderings have financial consequences…).

Intrigued, I had a look at the label’s website, which has a lo-fi, mid-90s, geocities feel to it, and the story appears to be a simple one.  Striate Cortex is Andy Robinson of Grimsby.  A few years ago he discovered experimental music and, with the zealous fervour of the newly converted, decided to start a label.  He was aided in this by Sindre Bjerga, prolific and ubiquitous presence in the no-audience underground, who features heavily in the early catalogue.  Andy’s releases are all on CD-r, in editions of 50 to 100, and are wrapped up in a variety of striking ways.

The three pictured above are a representative sample.  Posset’s the silver conch is parcelled in what appears to be home-made paper with thread decoratively embedded in it.  Spaces Between’s self titled album has a glossily printed cover hidden in a velvet pouch.  mass | flux by small things on sundays is housed in a sleek cardboard envelope with professional looking inserts and a hand-painted cover illustration.

Now, some readers will have heard me huffing about the pointlessness of elaborate packaging in the past and will be wondering why I’ve gone soft on this lot.  Well, none of this feels excessive – it just exhibits the refreshing care of a respectful enthusiast.  It helps that the music is good too.

RFM faves Posset present a spread of gonzo skronking and improvised, Dadaist unmusic.  The odd track is sketchy, even maddening, but the rest is engaging and the best has the playful feel of a Nurse With Wound collage.  One thing I dig about this band is that Joe is obviously bubbling with ideas but doesn’t let any one outstay its welcome.  I dunno if this is discipline on his part or attention deficit disorder, but it makes listening to a Posset album like eating at an adventurous tapas bar: even if one dish is unpalatable, a delicious morsel could be next up…

The Spaces Between album also contains short tracks which, although nicely differentiated, have a more unified feel.  There are tracks featuring shimmering guitar which, inevitably, call to mind Durutti Column or perhaps Frans de Waard’s Shifts project.  There are tracks featuring programmed drums, pushed slightly into the red, and a bit of scrunchy electronics and these call to mind the songwriting of the early 90s electronica boom.  This is a good thing.

My favourite of the trio, however, is the album by small things on sundays.  I realise that to describe a piece of ambient electronics as ‘atmospheric’ is about as informative as saying a plate of food is ‘tasty’ but these tracks do have a certain climate to them.  We hear models of complex systems, elements overlapping and feeding back.  Patterns emerge, but as to why – well, the dataset is intriguing but the findings prove inconclusive.  Only one of the five lengthy tracks proves predictable but even that one – the set closing ‘floating in space’ – is an excellent example of the synth-wash epic an ex-girlfriend of mine christened ‘wob wob music.’

Buy here

artifacts of the no-audience underground: the trees are all blocking the forest (striate cortex)

March 7, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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the trees are all blocking the forest

The spec: an apparently hand-made cardboard box, lined and sealed with a little Velcro button, houses a full colour double-sided insert on which are mounted two cdrs decorated with full colour ‘on body’ (as I believe it is called) printing.  Also included is a separate insert (not pictured) which gives details of the artists and track titles.  The set comprises six lengthy pieces, three per cdr, and will occupy the best part of two and a half hours of your time.  Limited to 100 copies.

The music is mostly high-end drone, contemplative and enveloping, though a couple of tracks border on noise and contain enough changes of tone and pace to cause you to puff agitatedly on your pipe, reverie shaken.  Leaving aside Astral Social Club’s inflation of Katy Perry’s ‘Fireworks’ to twenty minutes of euphoric grind (more on that here), the highlights are tracks by Max Bellancourt and Wereju.  The former is as icy, beautiful and austere as a frozen lake.  The latter has the cool, animal menace of a fox padding across that lake with a still twitching hen clamped firmly in its teeth.

This set is obviously a labour of love, an object to excite those who care about the physical presentation of their music, and a testament to the dedication of Andy Robinson and his (presumably) one-man label.  That it can be had for a mere £7 plus postage is a steal.  Order from Striate Cortex.

sweet electric gravy: joe murray on shredderghost, dominic coppola, amalgamated, homogenized terrestrials

November 11, 2015 at 1:05 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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SHREDDERGHOST – Golden Cell (tape, Power Moves Label, PML 011, edition of 50 or download)

Dominic Coppola – Vogue Meditations (tape, atrium tapes, edition of 20 or download)

Amalgamated – Solve et Coagula (tape and booklet, Aubjects, Aujx – 4, edition of 35)

Homogenized Terrestrials – Shadows Think Twice (CD or download, Aubjects, Aux – 6, edition of 250)

shredderghost - golden cell

Shredderghost – Golden Cell

In a pre-VHS video North East (Miners’ Strike era) it wasn’t uncommon for people to have a massive, twin-keyboard domestic Wurlitzer in their front rooms.  These were big things with fat, smooth plastic keys and came with a hundred ‘voices’ to pump and pummel.  Loads of folk had them.  But of course no one I knew had music lessons so these things pretty much collected dust until a bright spark invented the Breville Sandwich Toaster.

But the combination of boredom and bad summer weather meant every so often we would pull off the obligatory polythene cover, hammer the ‘flute #1’ preset and tape down the keys to produce a marmalade-throbbing drone.

I’m not sure where Shredderghost spent their childhood but ‘A Soi-Meme’ has that same sepia-tinted fuzz I remember back from long summer holidays spent doing nothing in particular.  Of course Shredderghost (a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reference perhaps?) are/is adding some 21st century sophistication to this mix and the itchy glitch of a single guitar note adds the accent of a rhythm to keep the heart beating with regularity.  Some brittle magnesium chimes tinkle like the good cutlery (saved for special occasions) but apart from these interventions things drift like a daydream for nine sleepy minutes until there is the briefest of sound-drumlins, a milk-like boil of dusty Hammond organ swell, to nail things directly into a memory-gong.

The pad gets more Space Age on ‘Among the Flowers’; an evolving pulse flickering like an orange candle flame in a draughty corridor.

It’s the physical juttering of the sound itself rather than individual sonic timbres that become the main listening toe-hold here.  A micro-glitch stutters and pulses.  If I could draw it I would sketch out something similar to a smooth dogtooth check.  The remorseless flutter ranges from ‘angels dance on the head of a pin’ to ‘coal shovel scooping out black-diamond dust’ until the acoustic guitar reveals itself in a lazy riff, all stumbling and drunken.  Devendra Banhart seems to be locking his fingers round that ‘Little Yellow Spider’ song but rather than it annoy me until my teeth rattle it causes a relaxation in the shoulders, a snap in my fingers and…what’s this?  A smile!

vogue

Dominic Coppola – Vogue Meditations

My slow mind wakes up and asks the blindingly obvious:

Meditations on Vogue as in Vogue magazine Dominic?

This certainly has the flesh-like gloss of high fashion mags.  It’s thoughtful, inward-looking music that is so weighty and thick, I can almost feel it between my fingers.

The working method is clear, uncomplicated but effective: simple breathy phrases are repeated like some vanilla-scented vape smoke gushing out a red-lipped pout.  At times I’m picking up a Vangelis sandwich but it could equally be a 90’s dope track or a fridge door sighing as the vacuum is released.

Overlaid, on occasion, is the electric fuss of data files crashing – a tinny fizzing wasp around this glass of sweet lemonade.   Check out the track ‘Eyelash’ for crystalline spun-sugar shatter!

A generation of Shoegazers have dumped them guitars (such a pain the lug about) and mash their soft riffs via laptop magic now. Aphex Twin harmonies are now sliding slickly out of perfume adverts.

In another universe the NME would be all over this, now it’s us at RFM.  That’s progress. [Editor’s note: I love this album.  That is all.  Back to Joe…]

amalgamated

Amalgamated – Solve et Coagula

These heavy bass vibrations (amplified concrete springs?) reek of diesel fumes and hot dripping grease.  Crushed whale-aching is paired with a high-tech synth wash and spluttering electric bubbling. This is not music for birdwatching!

On the lengthy side A the Amalgamated band (there’s four names but no job titles on the accompanying booklet*) tease us with 10 minutes of blocked plumbing – a heavy night-soil jam.  But slowly ‘something’ emerges, a sparky repetition sounding like lunar gravity modelled in crumbling red brick.  It clicks into place well enough but you know you’re going to get filthy.  The last third of this piece gets the deeply desolate sci-fi treatment; splashing breathlessly through damp corridors, pursued by crackling phaser fire and concussion mines.

Side B starts off in an altogether different hemisphere as it fires up the sun-organ with an ecstatic kaleidoscopic fluttering spilling buttery light all over everywhere. The zoetropic repetitions make like a Gysin Dreamachine experiment developing a crunchy cough. At roughly the 10 minute mark we are in Boredom’s Vision Creation territory and I feel the urge to raise my fists aloft towards the distant pulsars and magnetic dust clouds and shout

KUTULU!

It takes me a couple of days to put my finger on what this reminds me of, the round peg it fits in my square head.  Oh, of course… this could nestle comfortably on the Discogs page of the very much missed Striate Cortex label.

Does that paint a clearer picture?

* This comes with a twenty–page booklet of stark black and white photography and drawings that sort of blur the mechanical and organic, Tetsuo style.  Well worth checking out for the artwork alone!

shadows

Homogenized Terrestrials – Shadows Think Twice

Introducing true sizzle-sound.

No one likes to be boxed in, yeah, but for descriptive purposes I sometimes have to find a shortcut… a way to cut right through the airwaves; from my firm pink ear to your grey crenellated brain.  And this time I’m using sausages as a medium.  Personally, I pledged allegiance to the veggie lifestyle 20 years ago but there’s one thing you can’t deny…the dizzyingly rich sound-patina of a crispy banger!

The US-based Homogenized Terrestrials carefully introduce a whole palette of gentle sizzles, tinkles and clunks into their sedative music.

Things happen on two levels.  The high-end crackle splutters away with great greasy energy but beneath, where the ear often falls first, are s-l-o-w clatters and resonant gongs.  ‘Defective Extractor‘ is an excellent example of this double-layering and adds a third runway of mournful grief-strings and field recordings to proceedings.

But fear not travellers… this is no static music, it has real movement.  Using tricks learned from Ska and Reggae things move forward with a regular-lurch; the off-beat upstroke.   These pull rather than push; cajole a dreamy bimble rather than the sharp-elbowed scrum of a city commuter.

Taking this slow, confident approach usually means we’ve got a long-timer on board; a guy or gal who knows their onions.  A brief internet search shows that HT is (at the minute) just one Phillip Klampe, an Illinois native who’s been doing this sizzle for 29 years!

So aim your mouse at the well-stocked Homogenized Terrestrials Bandcamp and soak up some sweet electric gravy.

—ooOoo—

Power Moves Label

atrium tapes

Aubjects

liberation through a lack of interest: jorge boehringer on the no-audience underground

December 8, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Posted in musings, no audience underground | 5 Comments
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Jorge Boehringer, best known ’round these parts for his guise Core of the Coalman, is an indefatigable, shaggy haired polymath knee deep in all that is musically intriguing. When he got in touch recently to ask about writing an article on the idea of the ‘no-audience underground’ it was with great regret that I couldn’t find the time for an email interview. In contrast, I was knee deep in Duplo and nappies full of brightly coloured toddler crap. That wasn’t going to put him off though and, using a few links I desperately chucked his way and adding some original research of his own, he wrote it anyway. Good man. The finished piece appeared in Czech magazine HIS VOICE. Jorge explains:

…it is sort of like The Wire, it’s called VOICE – “his” Voice, which is a stupid name in English but it’s because h.i.s. stands for “hudebni informace spolecnosti” which means “musical information society” which is in fact a really important and great group of people for experimental music over there, a magazine of “other” music is what they call it…

Cool, eh? Ermm… probably. Alas, and to my shame, I can’t read a word of Czech so I had to sheepishly ask for a translation. Jorge obliged and I was flattered and excited to find that not only had he nailed it, but had called on some surprising sources new to me too. A flurry of interest on Twitter led to me asking permission to reprint it here and Jorge obliged again. What a gent. Following the article are the links that Jorge provided at the end of the original, following those are links to the magazine and Jorge’s own site. Please investigate – there is apparently plenty going on in the Czech underground that we should get to know…

Over to Jorge:

Liberation Through a Lack of Interest: The No-Audience Underground

there is no ‘audience’ for the scene because the scene IS the audience

– Rob Hayler, Radio Free Midwich

Rob Hayler is an electronic musician and sound artist working under the name Midwich. Hayler is one-half of Fencing Flatworm Recordings – a micro-label releasing a plethora of musical abstractions by various colourfully named personages – and editor of the blog Radio Free Midwich, which, among other things charts the development of a Northern England DIY experimental music scene that nobody cares about, and one that doesn’t care about anyone else either. In other words, Hayler is a very active example of the type of musician responsible for the local continuity of DIY and experimental music in his region, and by extension the sort of person one finds in the substrate of underground music scenes everywhere. What is different about Hayler, and according to him, many of the musicians whose work he is most involved with, is that they do not care whether I write this or not. They don’t care if you listen either.

When I first coined the phrase at the turn of the century it was because I needed a succinct way of referring to a scene that contained wildly diverse creative endeavours: from blood-and- spittle power-noise to the daintiest bowed singing bowl.

– Rob Hayler

Hayler coined the term ‘No-Audience Underground’ several years ago to describe a scene in which there were no passive listeners, but rather an energetic community of active contributors. It is no secret that the audience for many experimental music gigs consists of other musicians firstly, followed by a layer of artists from other disciplines, and then finally, perhaps a few “standard audience” members, by which I mean people coming to the concert simply to listen, with no personal artistic relationship to what is happening onstage. A friend of the bass player on holiday from Zlin, perhaps a colleague tagging along to the gig after a long shift at the ice cream factory, or someone’s mom account for this small percentage of listeners. Meanwhile the rest of the audience consists of people who might normally be found on a “guest list” for a mainstream band at a larger venue: the friends performing in or promoting next week’s concert, publishing the recordings, or writing criticism. As audience members are seen as active participants, the entire social role of the audience and the function of the music produced there is redefined:

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 … but a friendly and welcoming group who have realised that if they want it to happen then they have to make it happen themselves.

Video of Posset Live, Northumbria Arms, 2010

It is also interesting to note that whilst the idea of N-AU (an abbreviation for No-Audience Underground credited to Joe Posset, an extremely active Northern English noisist) could, in many obvious ways, counter views expressed by Milton Babbitt in his much sited essay “Who Cares if You Listen?” (High Fidelity, February, 1958) there are some important points of contact as well. For example, Babbitt expressed a problem in his essay’s exposition:

This composer expends an enormous amount of time and energy- and, usually, considerable money- on the creation of a commodity which has little, no, or negative commodity value. He is, in essence, a “vanity” composer. The general public is largely unaware of and uninterested in his music. The majority of performers shun it and resent it. Consequently, the music is little performed, and then primarily at poorly attended concerts before an audience consisting in the main of fellow ‘professionals’. At best, the music would appear to be for, of, and by specialists.

The solution to this problem, at least in part, has been to embrace electronic music. A practice in which the performer, composer, and audience could be the same person, in which the process of the creation of the work lay solely with the creator of it, and one for which the aesthetic criteria for the sonic artwork would be determined by the decisions and aspirations of the creative musician alone. These are approaches so common today as to be completely taken for granted as normal in the production of music as an independent artist, even though in context Babbitt worked in very much an ivory-tower studio while today’s experimental musicians materialize their noisy visions in their basements with charity shop cassette recorders and hacked guitar effect pedals.

In a society where artistic merit, or value in general, is conflated with perceived financial worth, it is interesting to note some commonalities in the approach to economic thinking expressed above by Babbitt, a largely “academic” composer working in the 1950’s and the heirs to an ostensibly post-punk/noise scene. For example, to again quote Joe Posset:

The trade thing is a bit ‘our way of shaking hands’. It’s also a great way to keep the filthy lucre out of the equation. I sold one CD-R on that last tour. Just one; and if I ever find out who bought it I’ll give them the next posset slop report just for showing so much faith. But I came back with a stack of CD-Rs, tapes and vinyl the height of medium sized milk jug through trades with other bands, DIY labels and well-prepared punters. They will keep me spinning & smiling until December….Sociologically ‘alternative economy’ is one of the many interesting things about the n-au.

Another perhaps surprising parallel can be seen in Richard Serra’s characterization of the relationships between sculpture, architecture, and late 20th Century Western Culture:

…the ‘viewer’ is fiction. Basically this is my response to sculpture. I know there is absolutely no audience for sculpture, as there is none for poetry and experimental film. There is, however, a big audience for products that give people what they want and supposedly need but not more than they understand. Marketing is based on this premise.

In terms of architecture right now, a lot of people have a need to build and a lot of clients are concerned with what is considered ‘relevant’. This creates a situation in which both client and architect receive criticism and advice on how to serve. Since there is no audience for sculpture or poetry, no one demands that they resist manipulation from the outside. On the contrary, the more one betrays one’s language to commercial interests, the greater the possibility that those in authority will reward one’s efforts. Architects have justifying phrases for this behavior. They call it ‘being appropriate’ or ‘compromising’. When Robert Venturi’s pylons for Federal Triangle in Washington, D.C., were criticized for not being symbolic enough, he returned the next day with the American flag atop each pylon. This is the kind of self-justifying pragmatic compromise I am talking about.

– Richard Serra, in conversation with Peter Eisenman, 1983

So then, the No Audience approach, as characterized by such diverse artists as Hayler, Babbit, and even Richard Serra, can also be seen as an approach of No-Compromise to market pressures, as compromises have been rendered entirely unnecessary, whether in regards to the pursuit of money or fame, the two indicators of value used to characterize mainstream artistic production. Thus, when the celebrated music critic Simon Reynolds characterized Hayler’s approach as “melancholic” at a conference on DIY art and media in 2012 at Tillburg’s Incubate Festival, and suggested that the No Audience approach symbolized a general tendency within DIY culture which threatens to bring about its own “inconsequentiality” by eschewing a dependency on an audience, Hayler responds:

Video of Simon Reynolds on DIY culture

The extent to which you commit yourself is entirely your own concern. You don’t have to sound punk either, or cop a snarling attitude. Simon Reynolds, betraying an old-fashioned punknosity, suggests the underground should define itself in opposition to the mainstream. Quaint, eh? In turn I’d suggest that it is far more radical to ignore it. The machine loves to be raged against – what it can’t bear is to be shrugged off as irrelevant. Which, of course, it is.

Thus, we engage and commit ourselves to the level of our own concern, and determine our own degrees of engagement and interest in our artistic pursuits, which, after all, is what a whole lot of both post-Romantic and DIY post-punk rhetoric suggests that participation in music and art are all about. The No-Audience Underground further suggests a framework for engagement with society as a whole, and a liberating way of being in the world, in which each individual constructively opts-out, and while developed locally, it is interesting to consider that such an approach could have radical and global relevance.

—ooOoo—

Links included with original article:

Rob Hayler

Radio Free Midwich

Joe Posset

Kieron Piercy/Spoils and Relics

Cops and Robbers: DIY Gigs in Leeds

Eddie Nuttall/Aqua Dentata

Milton Babbit “Who Cares if You Listen” High Fidelity, 1958

Daniel Thomas/Sheepscar Light Industrial

Ashtray Navigations

Andy Robinson/Striate Cortex

Sara McWatt

Simon Reynolds on the No Audience Underground and DIY Culture, Incubate Festival, Tillbur, 2012

Some Radio Free Midwich articles of note:

https://radiofreemidwich.wordpress.com/2012/10/07/simon-reynolds-diy-culture-and-the-no-audience-underground/

https://radiofreemidwich.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/documents-of-the-golden-age-new-from-ashtray-navigations-aqua-dentata-and-helicopter-quartet/

https://radiofreemidwich.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/our-way-of-shaking-hands-trades-and-largesse-in-the-no-audience-underground/

—ooOoo—

Further links:

Jorge Boehringer / Core of the Coalman

The original article in Czech

HIS VOICE magazine

 

 

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