Tags: fencing flatworm recordings, john tuffen, namke communications, zellaby awards
namke communications – one year; two days. (CD-r, fencing flatworm recordings, edition of 40 or download)
Seems a very, very long time since January 8th, eh readers? A mere two days before the death of Bowie officially kicked off the most mind-boggling year in recent history I posted the 2015 Zellaby Awards – our annual shindig celebrating the finest of the no-audience underground. In the introduction I commented that, aside from the rise of Corbyn, 2015 was largely without hope and that…
I wish you all good luck in navigating the coming End Times.
I meant it as a joke, of course, but I find myself becoming more frantically sincere in that wish as the days go by. Seriously, everything from the most personal and intimate (e.g. a spot on my nose became a cancer scare and has now been removed leaving a tiny crater) to the immense and geopolitical (e.g. President <makes dry boke noises> Trump <groans, mops brow>) seems primed to do us harm.
What can we do? Organize? I guess (my political views are heartfelt and hard left but only semi-coherent – better thinkers than me will need to carry the torch on that one). Love each other? Of course. Try not to forget what’s important? For sure. Carry on getting shit done? Definitely. So, in that spirit please allow me to present a treat, a product of 2016 to actually gladden the heart:
one year; two days. by namke communications, released by fencing flatworm recordings.
By way of context, let me take you back to the innocent, halcyon days of the first week in January and remind you who was staggering down the red carpet clutching the most important golden-eyed statuette. Apologies for quoting myself:
Finally then, the winner of the Zellaby Award for album of the year presented by Radio Free Midwich is, in an unusually literal sense, the album of the year: 365/2015 by namke communications. From a piece I wrote in March:
…old-friend-of-RFM John Tuffen, in a project which recalls the conceptual bloodymindedness of Bill Drummond (who has raised ‘seeing it through’ to the level of art form), is recording a track every day throughout the whole of 2015 and adding them to the album [on Bandcamp] as the calendar marches on … each track is freshly produced on the day in question and, as might be expected, vary enormously in style, execution and instrumentation – there is guitar improv, electronica in various hues and field recording amongst other genres welcome ’round here…
This one I have no qualms about dipping into, in fact I would recommend constructing your own dipping strategies. As the year progresses you could build an album from the birthdays of your family, or never forget an anniversary again with a self-constructed namke communications love-bundle. Won a tenner on the lottery? Create your own three track EP with the numbers and paypal John a couple of quid. Or perhaps a five CD boxset called ‘Thursday Afternoon’, in homage to Brian Eno, containing everything released on that day of the week? Or condense the occult magic with a set comprising every 23rd track? Ah, the fun to be had. Or you could just listen to it on a daily basis until it becomes a welcome part of your routine…
I was at least half-joking at the time but engaging with 365/2015 has proved a unique way of experiencing an album. During the worst of my illness [Editor’s note: I had a lengthy period of depression in 2015], as I spent nights trawling Twitter unable to sleep, it did become a valuable part of my daily routine. Literally a light in the darkness – Bandcamp page shining on the tablet as I lay in bed – John’s project, existing due to nothing but his crazy drive to create (the whole thing, 40+ hours, available as a ‘name your price’ download!), truly helped me through. A clear and worthy winner.
John’s prize, should he wish to take me up on it, is for namke communications to have the one and only release on the otherwise dormant fencing flatworm recordings some time in 2016. A surprise baby sister, perhaps, for his lovely available from namke communications released by me back in the day and now (I think) a teenager itself.
Heh, heh – the very idea still makes me shake my head in delighted disbelief. Well, fortunately, after a suitable period of recuperation, John did wish to take me up on it and here, in mid-November, we have it. Better late than never, eh?
one year; two days. – named, presumably, in homage to its award winning predecessor and the contrasting time it took to record – is a four track, 35 minute album of detailed, emotive and ambitious computer music. Tracks are titled solely with a file protocol based on date of composition – like a digital Taming Power – the rest is for the listener to piece together. Perhaps you are now expecting clicks, pops and tooth-loosening scree but thankfully those genre tropes are largely absent, replaced instead with expansive, meteorological drones and disorientating pulsing. Repeat listens are richly rewarded. The beautiful cover photo, also by John, is bang on – we look up from swiping our black mirrors to find that it is now night and the car park is empty, a scene that is clean, modern and urban but also charged and primal. It’s an image that illustrates the music perfectly. I’ll say no more for now – it’s there for you to discover.
The physical version of this release is presented on artisan, bespoke CD-rs – the true underground format – lovingly hand-bought on the internet then exquisitely hand-burned on the RFM HQ laptop, hand-numbered with an authentically shonky permanent marker and hand-packaged in robust, plastic wallets made from 100% recycled dinosaur. Colour covers were printed illicitly and hand-cut on the RFM HQ kitchen table for maximum punkosity. The edition is of a mere 40 copies – 20 for sale via fencing flatworm, John will have the rest – and prices are so low that I think I’ve just sorted out your Christmas present worries: £2.50 including postage in the UK, £3 for Europe and £3.50 for the rest of the world. This amazing bargain is available to order via the fencing flatworm Bandcamp site where you can also find a glistening, pay-what-you-want download if you’d prefer. We don’t mind how you consume this album just as long as you do. I hope you dig it.
Take care, people.
With love, Rob H x
Tags: ceramic hobs, pete coward
(Mountford Hall, Liverpool, 28th October 2016, photo courtesy of @salfordelectron)
[Editor’s note: Inspired by the announcement of their final tour, Pete Coward asked if I’d be interested in publishing a guest post by him about Ceramic Hobs. I bit his hand off.
Pete has long been a presence in underground music as a bootlegger, scene historian and writer for indispensable zines such as Turbulent Times. He is one of four ‘superfans’ called on by Phil Todd to help compile the forthcoming best of Ashtray Navigations set (the others being me, Neil Campbell and, would you believe, Henry Rollins) and his selections are, as expected, as superb as they are obscure. Recently he has been producing booklets of his own poetry which is poignant, darkly humorous and depicts a park-bench view of the world a lot of us Ceramic Hobs fans will recognise. If I were you I’d email him at email@example.com and get yourself on his list.
Oh, and he also wanted me to mention that he dreamed about Borbetomagus the other night but the band were reduced to a duo, which made him quite sad.]
Writing about Ceramic Hobs is a tricky exercise. The band has just called time on their thirty years of music making so it seemed timely, if foolish, to pose the question to myself,
so what was all that about?
After a few weeks of considering that question and of re-listening I have no clearer answers than before and my thoughts seem scattered ever further. I can only offer attempts to rein in some of those thoughts, to see if tracing my confusion results in any kind of useable map to the terrain explored by Ceramic Hobs.
To start on what solid ground there is, Ceramic Hobs formed in Blackpool in the mid-80s. Their line-up has constantly shifted since, with founder Simon Morris being the one constant. The sound coalesced at a fairly early stage, into a distinctive mix of heavy lo-fi psychedelia and prankster musique concrète, driven by a truculent punk core. In high concept terms, they sound like a band that never really came down from that lysergic rush received on first listen to Locust Abortion Technician in the late ‘80s. They share Butthole Surfers’ love of excess. Their records are a potlatch of cultural and musical detritus. If there is a discernible linear progression in their sound, it is a thickening of that excess, a process of musical and thematic accretion. Tracks get longer over time (up to 35 minutes in the case of the title track to Oz Oz Alice, 2010), the sound becomes more layered and densely compacted, the sprawl of the music more suffocating.
Later albums like Oz Oz Alice and Spirit World Circle Jerk (2013) represent an apex of this Tetsuo-like approach, one that threatens to collapse under its own mass. This development was possibly unsustainable in other respects; Simon said in an interview shortly after Oz Oz Alice,
I can’t do anything as dangerous as that again if I am to physically survive.
This sense of genuine danger and personal threat (to band and listener) comes in large part from the topics explored by Ceramic Hobs. These themes have been part of their music and lyrics from the beginning and could be outlined as a fascination with, a dwelling upon, the marginal, the abject and objectified, and particularly those areas of it shadowed by mental illness.
The foregrounding of the latter subject has been such that Ceramic Hobs have been frequently cast as a Psychiatric Survivor band, or as a Mad Pride band, referring to the international radical mental health campaigning movement (for which Ceramic Hobs have played a number of benefit gigs). The band has described themselves as functioning like a therapeutic community. They have spoken with pride of the numbers of members, current and past, who have been psychiatric in-patients. Those statistics have more recently been superseded by numbers of ex-members who have died; I’m unsure of the correlation, if any, between those two sets of figures.
I am wary of focussing too narrowly on this undeniably significant aspect of the work. To do so runs the risk of reductionism and ghettoization. Ceramic Hobs are about mental illness in the same way Grateful Dead are about acid or drum ‘n bass about E. It’s an influence, part of the culture and politics of the music (and a big part of what makes it political music), but just as one factor among many. Also that influence has been creatively assimilated and refracted in ways that we call art (which is why I’d also counter that talk of the band as a therapeutic community is an unhelpful misrepresentation). You do not have to be tripping to recognise the greatness of Europe ‘72, neither does the listener require a mental health diagnosis to appreciate the music of Ceramic Hobs. Their lyrics may reference terms such as largactyl and dual diagnosis but if you are fortunate enough not to have learned the meaning of those, the context still leaves you in no doubt about the unpleasantness of both. You could make a perfectly good case for Ceramic Hobs being a great band without any reference to mental illness, and you certainly don’t need to “have” mental illness to “get them.”
That clearly said, it is not closing down any possibilities to also state that listening to Europe ‘72 while blasted may be a particularly rewarding experience, just as Ceramic Hobs’ personal experience of mental illness channelled into their music may be hugely empowering for someone who is a psychiatric survivor and listens to them as such. Ceramic Hobs embody both, and other, dialectical positions and it’s this ability to do so and to reflect all of those in the music that I find particularly admirable. The music of Ceramic Hobs provides a rarely heard perspective on experiences and thoughts shared by many, a perspective that is uniquely positive and celebratory. They have earned their place in narratives of mental health resistance and activism. They have also earned their reputation as a shit-kickin’ band from Blackpool, and I think it is useful to see their personal and political fearlessness, the use of illness as a weapon, as a means to carve out the zone of free self-expression which enabled that to develop.
This multiplicity of meanings and possibilities is expressed synecdochally in the title to their 1998 debut album Psychiatric Underground. It could be seen as a statement of marginal reclamation and militancy, after Mad Pride and The Weather Underground; or as a social/political/cultural/economic designation for Ceramic Hobs as musicians and mental health service users. It could equally be seen as an existential stance akin to Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man, existing at the edges so as to pass judgement on the centre; Simon in the self-appointed role of “Last Of The Great Blasphemers.” The psychological effort that must be needed for Ceramic Hobs as artists to inhabit each and all of these positions must be significant. That casts light for me on Simon’s words quoted earlier about the danger of creating this music. He went on to say in that interview,
I do think that artists should be ready to put their work above all else in life and risk health and sanity for it, otherwise it is a fucking half-arsed hobby.
That intense level of commitment also raises thoughts about the role of authenticity in art and music, and how far Ceramic Hobs embody that.
This is not authenticity as lazy sincerity, as in “Ceramic Hobs mean it, man,” as Richey Edwards did. It is authenticity as expression of genuine truth within power structures that deny and invalidate that truth and in a society so culturally oversaturated that any expression appears within quotation marks. Sontag wrote in ‘Notes On Camp’ of a time and culture when
…sincerity is not enough. Sincerity can be simple philistinism, intellectual narrowness.
Sincerity is an infertile harmony of intention and effect, life and art. An alternate praxis she posits is
…overstraining the medium and introducing more and more violent, and unresolvable, subject-matter.
Ceramic Hobs create with the knowledge that irony, satire, transgression, vulgarity, the carnivalesque are the few modes of expression left with genuine potential to turn the world upside down.
This is also the only authenticity that can be possible on the internet. Ceramic Hobs seamlessly entered into a fecund feedback loop with online culture, indeed seemed to have been anticipating it. The female-voiced narratives of despair on tracks such as ‘Remembrance for Nicole Simpson’, ‘My Judas Lover’, and ‘Crash And Burn’ disturbingly capture the tropes of countless ‘My struggle with …’ videos uploaded to YouTube by teenage girls. The vocals to those tracks are credited either to Jane or Kate Fear but the voices seem indistinguishable to me in their numbed, affectless and weightless monotony. Lyrics like
I just want to find some kind of peace / You just want me in pieces
wouldn’t be out of place as the tag-lines to further countless tumblrs. Simon’s most prolific project these days seems to be his blog, a diarrhetic overflow of contextless found images and words, possibly some kind of apophenia bait.
(Wharf Chambers, Leeds, 20th October 2016, photo courtesy of @zanntone)
The underside to online hyperreality in the world of Ceramic Hobs is the very tangible reality of Blackpool, Lancashire, the city that they call home and which features regularly in their lyrics, both as backdrop and central character. It’s a place that can be equally deadening in its excess, as wearying in its touting of ephemeral pleasures. “Socially engineered by Blackpool” reads the credits to Psychiatric Underground. There does seem to be a local civic pride in reckless alcohol-fuelled hedonism, hell-for-leather escapism and constructed unreality which is reflected in the music of Ceramic Hobs. The band’s own local pride seems as ambivalent as that of the eponymous ‘Glasgow Housewife’ from Spirit World Circle Jerk who belts out drunkenly
I belong to Glasgow, dear old Glasgow town, but there’s something the matter with Glasgow…
There is palpable resentment and frustration, such as the self-explanatory ‘This Sore And Broken Blackpool Legacy’, but that must be seen alongside more affectionate tributes such as ‘Blackpool Transport,’ which namechecks and samples a sizeable list of local bands, framed bathetically by a story of pursuing teenage kicks through cheap booze and solvent abuse while sheltering from the rain in a car park. The love/hate relationship with Blackpool is one of Ceramic Hobs’ least surprising and most reconcilable contrary positions.
Those others I’ve reflected on above go some way to explaining the fascination this band holds for me. These contradictions and obfuscations thread through their music as inexhaustibly as words through a stick of rock. Their retirement depletes even further those few bands prepared to challenge listeners and make that challenge worthwhile. An epitaph that they may appreciate, Ceramic Hobs left us more bewildered, paranoid and despairing for their presence these past few decades.
tin apples: joe murray on kiko c. esseiva, sisto rossi, dale cornish, phil julian, murray royston-wardNovember 10, 2016 at 1:29 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
Tags: dale cornish, joe murray, kiko c esseiva, murray royston-ward, phil julian, sisto rossi, spam, the wormhole
Kiko C. Esseiva – Zenith Larsen/Nadir Larsen (tape, SPAM, spam20, edition of 50)
Sisto Rossi – Soundtrack To A Nailed Shut Coffin (tape, SPAM, spam19, edition of 40)
Dale Cornish and Phil Julian – Laughing Out (7″ vinyl, The Wormhole, WHO#07, edition of 123 or download)
Murray Royston-Ward – My Neighbour Who Lives in the City of Mirrors near My House (2 x 32 page booklets and CD-r, edition of 80, privately published)
Murray Royston-Ward – Language is a Virus (16 page booklet and CD-r, edition of 30, privately published)
Murray Royston-Ward – Improvisations 2014 (28 page booklet, edition of 50, privately published)
Cologne’s SPAM tapes introduces me, yet again, to a bunch of whacked-out sound-goats who’ve been chugging on at this lark for ages. I’m blind and I’m humbled!
Kiko C. Esseiva, a Swiss/Spanish electro-acoustic artist is first out of the traps with a mysterious pot of gunk inlaid with grease, buzz and tin apples.
The two sidelong pieces (‘Zenith Larsen’ and ‘Nadir Larsen’) crackle with a fairly dark energy, juggling taped grot with live (or live sounding) interventions on cracked gongs and bicycle wheel.
Like eavesdropping on a light machinery workshop the sounds move to their own logic, cutting out and starting up when the unseen controller sees fit. You’ve just got to keep your fingers clear of the whirling blades eh? But this never sounds grim… almost at the end of side one there’s a glorious smear of ant-noise and cyborg humming that makes me click my fingers like I’ve remembered an old magic trick.
Side two (‘Nadir…’) is a thoughtful huff on brass pipe and fingernail tap until some unholy voice-jugger/vibrating clam starts a magnetic earthquake in my stomach. Gosh! This is warped and holy. Magnificent and almighty! I’m having a bit of an experience here as I dash about looking for my headphones to inject this straight into my hungry holes.
Of course, the unseen hand turns a dial and we are left in a land of shingle, mournful keys and wretched whirring. Hey… there are worse ways to spend an afternoon right?
Harsh Noise thinker and instrument builder Sisto Rossi (AKA Wallkeeper) wins today’s prize for evocative tape title with his Soundtrack To A Nailed Shut Coffin.
What would you expect from a tape like this reader? Claustrophobic screams? Stiff-armed wriggles and cramped-leg stomps? Bloodied fingernail scratch? Yeah… me too. But I have to report this tape, while stunningly intense and full-on, is almost nihilistically detached in its approach.
Sure the buffering roar of noise is filtered into your skull along with the odd broken-crockery rattle but it’s all constructed with a feeling of impotent dread, a slackness, a ‘lost cause’ lassitude that’s strangely affecting.
While occasional electronic squalls add a high-end to the relentless churning and asphalt-grazing thunder the base-note is those personal dark thoughts; those repetitive nightmares made so real you can smell the damp earth.
The closing moments capture the last fleeting thoughts of expiration – part relief and part regret; bright as 1000 fires but burning out to dead ash in micro-seconds.
The sound of lying broken, six feet under and simply giving up.
From grimy analogue hopelessness to bright digital cleanliness with Dale Cornish and Phil Julian on their super snappy li’l seven-incher Laughing Out.
The title side absolutely crackles with the sort of power and energy that winds up in a filthy-dirty joke told in the Vatican.
Shared electronics spit goat fat. It’s dripping wetly on hot coals while Dale sneers it out.
It’s a guffaw in cuisine
he snarls, leading the dear listener on a hectic goose-chase around slack-littered city streets and the hidden canyon of dreams we project onto whatever our reality is right now.
But this is in no way ‘dream-y’ readers. The poise and shimmer is as solid as a beard trim and ultra-sarcastic like the very best Glam Rock. There’s still a pair of hobnail boots beneath all that glitter, eh?
The ‘b’ side offers us two shorter ham-slaps. ‘For Vocal’ mimics the shattering of optic nerves, made of bruised ice, against a brass pitchfork. Yeah! Very brittle, incredibly sharp and super-cold.
The closer, ‘Palazzo’, starts with a dark pulse but soon morphs into a mini mystery play for baritone voice and tight crime-beats.
Can you hear? Can you hear?
The whole thing, sides ‘a’ and ‘b’, clock in at under 6 minutes; the perfect brevity of a paper cut or punk gob.
Taken as a piece of found-sound-art-off-the-pile Murray Royston-Ward’s My Neighbour Who Lives in the City of Mirrors near My House is an impressive enough document.
It shudders and ripples, it pops and whines in all the right places. But add to this the rich Bangladeshi field recordings data in the accompanying booklets, outlining Murray’s journey from leafy Nottingham to the other side of the world, and you’re adding another peppering of intention and understanding.
On ‘A Very Small Guernica Facing a Rather Large Mona Lisa’ these augmented recordings (a rethinking of what silence actually is) feature the constant urban horn section of tuk-tuks and taxi cabs punctuating Murray’s iron-coated dragnet like exploding garlands.
Let’s be clear, Murray’s a master of the clink and rattle: on ‘Topos of Intrusive Sound’ the carefully placed metallic object, dropped shoe or Pringles tube shuffle in and out of your earhole with a customary jolliness. Murray’s top trump has always been his inclusion of careful humour into this sometimes stuffy improv world.
But the mood darkens (unsurprisingly) at the ‘Slaughter Livestock Festival’; excited crowds chatter while suspicious cows gingerly cotton on. Every sound becomes pregnant with meaning. A quite innocent washing makes me think of thick red blood sluuushing down the dusty street, a metallic ‘shing-g-g’ the sharpening of a blade. At twelve minutes this is an unbearably tense listen.
Language is a Virus, a 28 minute spoken word/reportage collage, concerns the myths, prejudices and reality of Ebola; not only the disease itself but its socio-political impact. What makes this hit even harder is the fact source material was gathered by Holly Royston-Ward, Murray’s wife, during her work as a nurse in Sierra Leone. Harrowing, thought-provoking and informative. No smart Alec remarks from me (for once), all I’m going to say is check this out here.
Finally, an honourable mention goes out to Improvisations 2014, an artist book of photographs, locations, timings and instrumentation for imagined improvisations. An interesting experiment, it invites the ‘listener’ to imagine combinations: spring, metal chain, cassette player, prayer cymbal, bait packaging (for example) with no recorded sound to back it up. I’m getting a plink/boing/screee/crackle from this list. What about you?
Take a trip with Murray but be sure to flick through images of a 70’s Alan Whicker to get the dislocation vibe spot on.
chasing the unnatural: joe murray on graham stewart, brendan mcgeever, 21st century band, downer canada, graham dunning, tom whiteNovember 4, 2016 at 1:26 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
Tags: 21st century band, brendan mcgeever, downer canada, fractal meat cuts, graham dunning, graham stewart, joe murray, piped-in in from head office, power moves library, tom white, vitrine
Graham Stewart & Brendan McGeever – Larsson Sessions (tape, Piped-in From Head Office Records, pifho007, edition of 41 or download)
21st Century Band – Dinner Free (tape, no label – or not, see editor’s note below)
Downer Canada – Hieronsong (microcassette, tape, Power Moves Library, PMLibrary 010, edition of 5, edition of 11 or download)
Graham Dunning & Tom White – You Are a New Creature (tape or download, Fractal Meat Cuts, initial edition of 10 with hand-printed lasagne sheet)
Graham Stewart & Brendan McGeever – Larsson Sessions
It’s the tradition for hacks like me to drop them Blade Runner references coz it’s such an N-AU universal [Editor’s note: as a life-long PKD fan and former PKD obsessive, I think Blade Runner is shite, not a patch on the existential masterpiece it is ‘inspired’ by]. Blah, blah, blah – Replicants and Vangelis yeah! But for once I want to tweak the paradigm and re-imagine the rainy streets and heavy manners for a pastel-smeared over-the-rainbow, Studio Ghibli version. In my imagining folk are retired with a big hug, the noodles come with a side order of foam bananas and the massive Greek gets turfed out the studio to allow Stewart and McGeever to tinkle on the slack plastic keys [Editor’s note: that would be better, f’sure].
What we gets here is a set of micro-songs and themes all played lightly on the Roland System 100 Model 101 and Korg Poly 800 exactly in the middle of 2004; predating Oneohtrix and his goons by 8 seasons at least (by my cheesy reckoning).
Soft and delightful. The wobble floats upwards, the digital purring of a cat shifts into a light sprinkle of icing sugar dusting your cheeks. A brave world is glimpsed through the cotton candy fug, orange and pink and red, the colour melts onto your tongue chasing the unnatural. A most gentle voice, tones almost under the threshold of my hearing, instantly turning the instrumental studies into something approaching the Scottish Air!
Zoinks! It’s rare I listen to anything so self-consciously pretty. Sure, there is rough and fragile beauty a-plenty in ‘da scene’ but these deliberate constructions of a blunted, golden sunlight chimes perfectly with me on a cold autumn morning. My word! These warm pools of analogue colour splodge with a tranquillity rare in this day and age; the hopscotch skipping makes my toes jolly ranchers.
While critics goof on that arch Stranger Things parade… the coolest boys in school have been digging out the archive and pulling out the real thing.
21st Century Band – Dinner Free
[Editor’s note: as this tape was chucked directly into the rabbit warren where Family Posset live I have never actually seen it. The discogs listing gives that name and title and says it is without label. However, almost every picture the internet associates with it suggests it could also be called ‘Masochism’ and be released by Vitrine with the catalogue number VT18 in an edition of 100. As we are diligent journos here at RFM I demanded photos from Joe and received the above. Unused J-cards being recycled? In-joke? ‘Art’? Who knows, eh? Those scamps!]
I’m guessing you sound-sorcerers ken THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS yeah? All that booming echo that explodes outta nowhere yet still casts a circular shadow? Ever imagined THE MYSTERONS washing up, fixing a bicycle tyre or rattling around just for the jaxx of it?
21st Century Band (or perhaps it’s Masochism, also mentioned on the tape sleeve) taps right into this Martian telekinetic vibe and sets up a broadcast of damp clanging and the glug-glug-glug of a jug-band decanting their tear-stained blues.
Events are fractured from their reality belt. Without an eye we are left rather loose in our understanding and this, my dearest reader, is what makes Dinner Free so gloriously slack and comfy.
I can project any sordid thoughts onto this soft creamy expanse of recorded fuh. So much so, when the one-note keyboard pads like the soft foot of a toddler I’m so deep, I’m so immersed it all sounds natural and right. The plastic flute – natural and right. The brief Hawaiian TV snappet – natural and right (Side A – ‘New Sensations’).
Side B – ‘Kyoko on Yoko’, makes even less sense. Someone is reading a Dennis Wheatley novel and acting out the opening ritual scene which would be scary if the Satanists weren’t so damn posh. Who’s ever been spooked by a dandy Satanist?
But, I have to admit, the squeal of the wheel has a swing like Jaki Liebezeit – even the tugboat horn solo could be a cowbell. Even the juddering machine soundz could be floor toms slapped with rubber teats.
A real tickler (‘Hidden Tracks’) rigs up the exact sound of an English back-bedroom; cracked pipes (laid out on a wooden chair) and Woolworths guitar with that distinctive watery treble. It fair takes me back to the smell of fanzine ink – Grim Humour and the Kent massive!
Downer Canada – Hieronsong
Hyper-real tape pieces from the multi-limbed Kev Cahill that came out on a damn micro-cassette! It’s sold out now, in this rarest of formats, but there’s no excuse not to point a squeaky mouse at the download option.
We’re talking 30 minutes of delicious hiss and human breath here.
Part one sounds like a lo-fi take on Steve Reich classic ‘Come Out’ recorded on a cross channel ferry. The
speaking, dreaming, lucid, vision
refrain loops incessantly, folding back on itself, building up layers of meaning then squeezing them flat like word toothpaste out from a tube. The listening experience is strangely comforting, your mind wanting a rhythm to settle but edgily excited by each new juxtaposition thrown up the wonderful (dis)symmetry of loop-music.
Part two fuzzes deliciously for a third of its lifespan; there’s nothing much happening apart from the busy fizz of magnetic tape buffering across the simple mechanics of dual tape players and the sound of a real live room. But as I’m getting settled into a Jazzfinger frame-of-mind multiple wooden flutes parp with jittery menace across the landscape. These ‘pipes of pan’ induce a real panic, a loss of control and feeling of unease that’s hard to shake. Not sure if it’s the tone or the collapsing logic that is so unsettling here but I breathe out again only when a firm finger presses ‘stop’ and the ritual clicks off.
File under shipping-forecast-peyote-trip music.
Graham Dunning & Tom White – You Are a New Creature
A magpie-eyed borrower and reel-to-reel druid are joined by saucy neophytes on both ‘crisps’ and ‘rice spill’ for ‘Battle Overall Perspectives’, a lengthy vexation that takes up all of side one.
Rattle-hula and rimple-roll eh?
That’s right! Simple crackle and rippage is run across slack mag-heads while CO2 is bubbled through warm milk (blub,blub,blub) making the edge of it smell suspiciously fruity. There’s a pet lip protruding as the nimble fingers tackle crispy potato snacks and mash sticky rice with gummy mouths.
The sound-scape runs between ‘impossibly busy’ to ‘sparse and spooky’ like an inner city carpark over the course of its stale concrete day. And it’s these movements; the transitions that make me roll over and cry ‘Uncle!’ Such plastic crackles are not uncommon in the N-AU (see Robert Ridley’s latest Tupperwave ) but the damn languor of the knuckle pops is glorious. Glorious ya hear?
Interlaced: stray moments of crowd noise, a piano, more crisps and knotty knocks… then an ill wind blows. We’ve moved to a very different terrain. The ‘fi’ is shoved up high into your face and the dry and brittle becomes sleek and oil-filmed. I’m seabird drowning in black gold.
If there’s not an ecological message I’m damn well chalking one up. My slow-brain ruminates on nasty packaging and unnecessary filling, those string bags for oranges, tin pie dishes and the grot you have to wrench off a jar of Dolmio before you can douse your pasta in that crimson gloop.
The gummy mouths strike back in ‘Raking Leaves on Black Top’ (side B) with a filthy nosh of sloshing, rushing and warped crotchets.
A studio piece, this revels in heavy echo and thick textures creating a sly narcotic effect potent as Scientist’s Space Invaders dunked into a frothing burn, brook or beck.
And while I’m typing away, the increasingly unhinged ‘flup, flupp, puppp… whirrrrrrr, flup,pup, pup’ of mangled tape really starts to fidget at the edges of my vision. I get audio hallucinations; I see a tunnel and my lips tremble. A wheelbarrow of melons trundles by, scarlet ivy grows up my trouser leg. This really is some Live at the Filmore East joint. My gosh!
But this psychedelic vibe is well and truly bummed on closer ‘Reville Bugle Call’ by pitting those ‘Sounds of Death and Horror’ sound effects el-pees against the incidental Foley from an episode of Space 1999 with all their sexy catsuits and leotards. I’m sat up straight and paying strict attention as the vortex of shrieks and damp piano sustains my crystal plumage.
Dunning & White. Jokers maybe, explorers for sure – but watch out for the sharpened key hidden between the fingers. I said watch it!
21st Century Band / Vitrine – Be resourceful.
Tags: beartown records, bells hill, eastville vending, hardworking families, joe murray, mudguts
Various Artists – 23 Minutes – 23 Tracks – 23 Artists (3″ CD-r, Eastville Vending, edition of 60 or download)
Mudguts – Locque Atmir Kodai (3″ CD-r, Bells Hill, BH 013, edition of 30)
Hardworking Families – BA/LS/BN (CD-r, Beartown Records, edition of 50)
Various Artists – 23 Minutes – 23 Tracks – 23 Artists
How I love a micro-compilation. Those labours of love that gather together large numbers of wonky artists and put them in a restrictive jacket. They say,
Do your thing… but keep it quick.
Of course this is excellent advice – the forethought and discipline creating a series of unrelated but often complimentary micro-moments coughing and spluttering outta your earbuds.
As ever there is a bit of personal history here. Homemade Grindcore tape-trades and the RRR-500 locked-groove monster (with its 500 individual artists) first alerted me to this fascinating stubby-nub of the ‘various artists’ family tree. Then I found the slightly more breathy Martin Archer Network series with over 100 people playing short pieces over two discs. More recently Sindre Bjerga took up the mantle with his Gold Soundz compilation of 99 international-gonks on the marvelous and irreverent Pissing in the Wind.
But this time the seed was planted by one Neil Campbell to use up all those old 3 inch CD-Rs out there. He reckons 23 minutes is around the maximum amount of music you can cram on one of these little silver discs so 23 x 1 minute pieces makes perfect sense. The Marketing and Research branch of the Eastville Vending Corporation agreed and ‘ta-dah!’ – a new micro-comp is born.
You can slice these things several ways but my favourite tactic is to dive straight in and dig this as a single piece; an ever-changing narrative of moods and themes. Then I realise that it is actually presented as a single 23 min piece so that does help things somewhat and I settle back and l.i.s.t.e.n.
So, where did my 23 minute journey take me?
Laica – Electric dodgems collapse into magnetic tessellations // Kemper Norton – brass rubbing slowed down via architectural trauma // Concrete_Field – watching a séance from inside a wax piano // Revbjelde – slopped balloons, dry spaghetti cracks // Band of Holy Joy – machine code dirty-talk between distant servers // Farmer Glitch – scary news ident // Howlround – confessions from the bristles of a shoe-shine machine // Neil Campbell – the science of dropping things at various angles // Gusset – answerphone message melancholicx – the stilted delivery making this one of the 21st Century’s saddest sounds // IX Tab – no pussyfooting with high-vis jackets // Noise Research Institute – bumplestiltskin – hands in the air! // Runningonair – public enema dub : surprisingly relaxing // Graham Dunning – radiates as multi-coloured auras // Ekoplekz – “A rare moment of calm. The bombs fall on the Eastern District so all I can see is dust.” // Elisabeth Veldon – loop-tronics raid Esquivel to bring a new clarity to damp cardboard // Decadnids – serious bowed-metal-sax reverberations border on the erotic // Xylitol – a clear autumn morning, alone in Kendal // Robin Foster – selective tones filtered by sympathetic shimmering feedback // Foldhead – mighty & dark theatrics // FM3V – chestnut seller hacks oven to play Bollywood themes // Tim Hill – tanned seabirds rejoice the new birth // Assembled Minds – I dropped my water pistol down an echo chamber (smeared surprise coda) // Sarah Angliss – Twins joint memories? Phantom limb pluck and solemn-compression electronics.
Mudguts – Locque Atmir Kodai
The original Death Eater musik – as banned from the Slytherin Common Room!
Bilious clouds of distemper billow from his holiness Lee Culver and are muddied further by dark mistral Scott McKeating… that’s how Mudguts roll. True believers take note – this cheeky 3 inch is a semi-official offering so even more occluded and forbidden than it’s dark predecessor.*
This disc gets down to business straight away so there is no reason for me not to either.
‘Widowvine’ crashed through a cloud of bad intention and night tremors to become a meditative prescription of bitter herbs and rancid smoke. Parts are reversed Santana, parts are bar room pre-brawl. As a map of psychic disturbances this marks the truly terrifying blank spots with an inky smear.
A one minute masterpiece ‘Split Gorgon’ re-lives the dispiriting experience of tuning into another person’s dream. It’s all falling, falling, falling until the brain juice squirts a different solution and you find yourself becoming Leonard Cohen (or something). Then ‘snap’ it’s over and you are awake.
Then finally, with the most evocative track title of the year, ‘First my Body, Now my Corpse’ sparkles and shudders with an almost glam-rock brightness. But this spotlight is so harsh and revealing it blisters the skin and cooks soft rubbery eyes. At times I’m minded of that Sonic Boom fella if he dug the Darkthrone. But soon enough I shake my head hard enough for them scales to fall from my peepers and I realise I’m on my knees… Mudguts glory has laid waste to my corner of civilisation and rags and half bricks are all that remains.
Phew! You dig it?
*What I’m saying is hit up Scott for a copy at the Bells Hill address!
Hardworking Families – BA/LS/BN
HWF approaches this record in pieces: abstracted sauces, performance as code, gristle, electronic manipulation and tape glitch. Forgive me. I’m gunna gush, but Tom (HWF) Bench is a master of the thought and edit school for sure.
This release solves sound problems like a damn dancer would; the old soft-shoe shuffle provides texture while clean accuracy is rustled from the percussive rudiments of tap. All built on sexy muscles the accents are a silvery jet that slips between ear and frames.
This is what I hear…
- Glutch & fromer! A displaced chord organ melts into black-flecked slush. The distant whooping crane places his beak into the shellac grooves on the Victrola.
- “Buff-uddle.” Microphone shuggle in a hair shirt. Constant motion gaffs like an okra bud over Velcro. The hobo orchestra ‘thwack’ old tins and wrestle an egg-slicer back and forth. The ripple of thin metal dances right in my forehead – things coalesce – merge – re-form into steps cut out of bright paper – Matisse becomes instruction. The code is to be cracked but a fair advantage is favoured on the light of ankle. Un-led rhythms shuffle out of this desert storm, moving against each other like lovers, all slither and explore. Tin & rin & rin & tin & tin pop-out plastic eardrums to faint electro influences? The gradual sigh of a bus coming to rest and opening up the wheelchair ramp. Dry energy – like plunging your hand into a bag of uncooked rice – each grain perfect, each cousin similar but individual. Wheat echoes; a fork balances, it’s twines interlaced with a spoon’s surly lip.
- Buttons of rubber depressed by pudgy fingers. They sing in harmonies un-dreamt by Clive Sinclair – each mercurial tone a slack-arsed fart. The washer vibe snips out via polo mint.
- Wooden planks mumble as heavy hands slap until they find a resonant pitch/probing fingers dislodge the lid and keys (the white teeth of shame) are slackened with a tone-wrench/the taught strings are teased and top and sides rubbed with soft beads/a variety of fidelities, each proper in it’s own dissonance becomes partially embedded so rich echo-parlour switches between hi-fi buff and pre-teen noise goofball. I read Miles’ BIG FUN was cobbled together outta oddments. Tom takes a similar stance but each floor-cutting here is as wonderful as an unexpected smooch.
- The opening salvo of dysentery bombs that smoke over the battlefield! It clogs hair and exposed pores – the Angel of Mons offers scant sanctuary.
- An ice-cream headache from Steve Albini’s brow. THAT THE THINK guitar sound shredded through electric fan in a pissing bad mood. Shaking frozen peas out of a Tupperware box, drilling holes into broken glass. Or, if you’d prefer, the barista’s revenge – hot milk battered through dirty filters.
- Free-text box opened up and all the pixels clump together into vague geometric shapes with impudent languor.
All in all, this disc brings an essential vitality into my soft pampered life. It’s wormed into my lugs now. I’m saved ya’ll.
Can you afford to miss this one dear reader? Can your children?? Can your immortal soul???
Tags: tusk festival
Right then folks, I’ve packed my bindle and I’m off to TUSK. Because my ‘phone is carved out of wood I shall have no access to Twitter, email or this blog for the duration so if you need to contact me you will have to stand in my presence, extend your hand for shaking and make some kind of greeting noise with your actual mouth. Hugs may be acceptable – gauge the mood.
My midwich set for Dark Tusk on Saturday afternoon is in the bag (figuratively and literally) and will, I hope, sound whip-smart at silly volume. The other three acts on are unmissable anyway.
There is much to look forward to! I am light and rubbery with excitement! See you there!
Tags: chocolate monk, claus poulsen, frozen light, gold soundz, joe murray, robert ridley-shackleton, shade barka martins, sindre bjerga, star turbine
Star Turbine – Nothing Should Move Unless You Want It To (CD, Frozen Light, edition of 300 or download)
Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Tupperwave (CD-r, Chocolate Monk, choc.338, edition of 42)
Sindre Bjerga – Japan 2013 Tour Documentary – A Film By Shade Barka Martins (DVD-r, Goldsoundz, GS#130, edition of 26)
Star Turbine – Nothing Should Move Unless You Want It To
This canny duo of Claus Poulsen & Sindre Bjerga have now been together for about 6 years – that’s longer than The Beatles live-performing career. And in that time they’ve moved from loveable moptops (read: hessian cloaked druids) to Abbey Road sophisticates pulling sounds from a cosmic-scurf fortress and mixing them cleverly with improvised crackles and hopped-up speech interventions.
On this disc they reach deep into the hard drive and present, in the main, truncated live performances; the bacon in the bap, hurling you straight into their fully articulate sound cavern.
It starts as you’d imagine – mice invest dollars in sonic-grip technology, aiming their blunderbuss straight at you for the duration of ‘An/Auf’. It feels sort of sticky and thick and on the verge of panic. I feel much more comfortable if I keep my breath even and calm.
Grey-rubber ripping shakes a tail on ‘Hearing Voices’ among some seriously screwed vocals and inter-planet hum. The rushing of tape grot adds a complimentary momentum pulling your ears in different directions; microscopic insects rearrange your nerve endings.
Some sort of My Bloody Ventolin wash creeps through the recording, ‘Looking For the Centre’ a heady rush of airbrakes and panpipes bleeding into a, into a bloated walrus gas pouch?
[worried reviewer checks sleeve notes in panic]
Don’t worry. It’s my bad. No sea mammals were harmed in the creating of this particular jam… it’s just the ‘Fractal Zoom’ piece unpicking my learning centres and scrambling early illustrated encyclopaedia memories. Gosh! The tape work on this is black as tar and twice as difficult to remove.
The cherry on the pie belongs to the wonderfully titled ‘Ape Escape’ that sounds as if IRCAM released its answerphone message recorded after a rather noggy Christmas party. OR… photocopying your arse and sending it to Dick Raaijmakers. You my dear listener will have to work that one out yourselves.
Closer ‘Alef 0’ sees Claus take a sharp mallet to Sindre’s basic recordings and goof them up good and proper. How he’s managed to turn this herring into a Tangerine Dream I’ll never know but it’s heavy as bad news (never BAD NEWS) and rich as freshly ploughed soil.
Despite this recent Euro-nonsense (AKA Brex-shit) the Star Turbine will be back in your town soon. Pull your canoe out the mud and set a course for their cleansing murk.
Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Tupperwave
Fifty minutes of RR-S starts with a respectful tweak on NWA’s collective nips and then gets exponentially odder by the minute. The trademarked pocket jazz sound is still in effect but over a longer duration this is embedded and augmented with child-like interactions, tangent-shearing thoughts and bakerlite ring-tones of the mind.
Question. But just what is Robert Ridley-Shackleton? An effortless creature of spoken wordisms, a stream of consciousness half-thought jester, a purple pretender, a dry-rattler extreme? Or perhaps he is the new plastic messiah?
As an excitable, hyperbolic fanzine-style reviewer it’s almost too much to take in. Do I describe the actual sounds coming out my headphones? Oh… I do, do I? Here goes…
…scratch, hiss, crackle, sniff, sex-rap-brit-funk, casio-donk, sniff, meandering monologues, scratch, clonk, harsh noise sock, house keys, humming & mugging…
…but what a thousand tapes with similar components don’t do is pose a really important question. With a comedian’s nicotine-fingered timing RR-S unravels what it means to entertain and what it means to be entertained?
There’s a long tradition of artists pushing and pressing at the limits of acceptable entertainment. And I don’t mean that violent or sexist bullshit, that wreckers of civilisation cul-de-sac, but the more fundamental – how far can I go unwrapping to find the very essence of my own personal music? Family favourites like Gwilly Edmondez, Hugh Metcalfe and the Shadow Ring have been there and chipped out their own answers in the No Audience Mount Rushmore but our very own RR-S has a bag of chisels too and he is already tappy-yappy-tapping incoherent pictograms at the base of the cliff.
The whiffle and flounce feel like a diary of instant conversation created in the moments between a late tea and bed. The Illuminati and God get equal footing to Mr Poo and Mrs Wee as mistakes, pre-thoughts and apologies are sent direct to you in a monologue of seemingly endless imagination.
Oh yeah… there is much rattling and shaking with the texture of Quaver’s eggs.
One of the ‘traditional’ musical pieces, a 5 minute keyboard funk jam, ends with the sound of brittle punnets being crushed (it’s sound art – listen!). The other (a 3 minute keyboard funk jam) launches into a discogs/format paranoid rant backed with static/analogue card-noise war and a riff on taking apart the post-creative process re: publishing.
I’m happy with myself I think
RR-S concludes. As well you might be – the most singular record of the year.
Sindre Bjerga – Japan 2013 Tour Documentary – A Film By Shade Barka Martins
A what? A DVD-R? That most neglected of formats gets a swift brush up and plane ticket to Japan for this super-charming documentary.
See! Sindre (and brother Jorn) explore downtown Japan and creep through the narrow streets looking for the off-off-map venues played on our Norwegian friend’s first visit to the home of the mighty Budokan.
Marvel! As Sindre sets up his trusty yellow Dictaphones, echo tube and tape mess in cramped bars, tiny arts spaces and a beautiful elephant temple; blowing hot steam through his cobbled-electronics, bristly mouth parts and drone-boxes.
Watch!! Various ex-pat goofs and clean-cut Japanese fellows captured doing their own damn thing: solo keyboard hums, circular clarinet, chromed electronics, theatrical goon impressions and electric- fan-versus-acoustic-guitar living sculptures.
Shade’s camera is a friendly traveling companion; always present with a pack of tissues; clear, bright and attentive but never in-your-face. The downtime of a tour is captured with a practiced eye as attractive, vibrant shows are interspersed with sleepy train rides, airport snoozes and the gentle panic of being lost in an unfamiliar city.
Proving the No-Audience Underground, although sparse, is strategically placed on a global scale the gig-goers lap up Sindre’s approach to tape manipulation in a very physical way; lobbing projectiles at him during an instruction piece and (incredibly politely and gently) scything miniature cymbals across the room to topple Bjerga’s constructions of WalkMan/Dictaphone/steel resonator.
But of course this wouldn’t be a trip to Japan without a session in a silk robe and Sindre rocks his white-patterned shortie like a motherfucker!
Like all Gold Soundz releases this is super-limited so I’d make a bee-line for this quick to feast those peepers.
Tags: chrissie caulfield, digitaldizzy, sky high diamonds
Sky High Diamonds – Helioglobe (download, digitalDIZZY, dD103)
Sky High Diamonds – Ghosting The Edge (download, digitalDIZZY, dD94)
Well, this is embarrassing.
I was going to review an EP called Ghosting The Edge from Sky High Diamonds (Sarah Gatter). I’ve been listening to it on and off now since shortly after it was released in June. Now I finally get round to actually doing the writing and I find out that she’s released a full length album in the meantime!
This is actually a win-win situation. Both you and Sarah get a full length review of a whole album rather than a cursory overview of a three track EP, and I only have to write it up once.
Put the lid back on the jar
…isn’t the most obviously haunting sentence you’re ever likely to hear, but it’s been bugging me since I downloaded and listened to the EP. The track ‘Black Honey Jar’ has this line repeated over and over again until it becomes like a sinister chant – or possibly an order to a recalcitrant child. Every time I came back to the EP this was the line I had remembered, drilled into my brain by its rhythmic effect and sounds that accompanied it. ‘Black Honey Jar’ has been worked on since then and appears on the album as ‘Jar.Honey.Black’. The repetition of the unlikely mantra has been reduced but, while I miss that strange refrain, the track is the better for it. And there are plenty more sinister repetitious chantings on the album to keep you in nightmares.
The two things that hit you most about this album are it’s sense of rhythm, and it’s sense of space. Even on the more (for want of a better word) ambient tracks there is a definite feel of a pulse and movement that seems central to the way the music progresses. Each track has it’s own space that it occupies too – informed by the rhythms that have been used to construct it and built upon with related textures and vocals. Take ‘Hunt Poet’ which happens over a background of sounds that are a bit like a film projector, giving the effect of a black & white cinema film happening behind the music or, at the other extreme end, we have ‘Sparking Limbs’ which sounds like it’s being performed in a war zone. The vocal styling at the end of that track make it sound like Kate Adie meets Björk. Yeah, NOW you want to hear it don’t you?
The title track ‘Helioglobe’ is one of the most beautiful examples of enhanced drone (a genre I just invented) as you’re likely to hear. The drone backing is a simple pulsating G that varies gently as the track progresses and the main vocal is a simple refrain fed through a delay with lots of feedback. Over this is layered more vocals each in their own time frame and the effect is a quite gorgeous counterpoint disturbed only by the house alarm going off 2 around minutes in – I always look round when I hear that! This is an example of the ‘space’ that exists in each piece and the way that those normally annoying ‘superfluous’ sounds you get when recording at home are here incorporated into the music. Rather than edit out that alarm, she’s left it in and integrated it into the texture such that it sounds like it was always intended to be there. The rhythmic element is mainly taken from the drone pulse, but the delay time takes over in the middle when it becomes the dominant texture for a while.
More obviously rhythmic is ‘Your Parasites’ with its industrial/mechanical beat that’s just slightly louder than the vocals such that it feels like she’s almost straining to be heard over the top. Here the rhythms get creepier and creepier as they gradually take over and grind to a halt at the end – has she been eaten by a giant cockroach? I’m too scared to look, and Kafka isn’t around to ask! Maybe that’s what the next track ‘Unseen Death Scene’ is about? ARGH! This has flies in it so maybe the insects really have taken over! I’ll wager that dark low drone is a giant wasp… Do wasps eat honey? Has anyone consulted the bees?
Speaking of bees (I don’t just throw this stuff together you know), the revised ‘Jar.Honey.Black’ is particular favourite of mine as I mentioned. The rhythms here seem derived from the vocal line that opens it, with incidental clinks from (I presume) a (I hope, honey) jar. There are a lot of seemingly incidental noises incorporated into this track and they really add to the feeling of it being recorded in an actual space – even if they weren’t necessarily recorded at the same time. There are breath sounds, and what sounds like the noise of something rubbing the microphone while recording. In my house that would almost certainly be a cat, but I’d be too much of a cleanist (another word I made up) to leave it in. Here again, the otherwise extraneous sounds are edited into the recording and made part of the rhythms of the piece. It’s all just wonderful to hear.
‘Sea Shanty Prayer’ is another drone-based track, with creaks and pops that give the feeling of being at sea on a rickey wooden ship. The large amount of reverb on the vocals means we’re either low down on deck in a large space, or we’ve been shrunk and we’re actually on top of a ship in a bottle… on the sea. I particularly love the idea of the latter so I’m sticking with it.
As for the final track ‘Sparkling Limbs’ – well. It’s hard to do justice to this in words really, you just have to hear it. Ideally 15 or more times, each louder than the last. I stand by the ‘Kate Adie meets Björk’ quip I made earlier and that’s maybe the best I can come up with. The only thing I have against this track is that it’s not half an hour longer.
I do recommend you also get the Ghosting The Edge EP to go with this album – it’s a free download, so hey, why not? Although ‘Jar.Honey.Black’ in its final form is a great track, hearing the earlier ‘Black Honey Jar’ is a different, if related, experience. Both affect each other. And it will make sure you always put the lid back on the jar.
My one concern about this album is it’s left-leaning propensities. No, that’s not a political point; a lot of the tracks sit very heavily on the left side of the stereo image. Listening on speakers, the effect isn’t too bad, it’s a little bit like she’s whispering to you in one ear. But on headphones it can get quite wearing and you can feel the palpable relief when you get to a track like ‘Ozio’ that has more conventional stereo panning. I’ve been told by Sarah that the album will be remastered and re-released next year, so I hope this small issue will be ironed out by then.
If you want to know how this album was really made (as opposed to my fevered ramblings) then Sarah has a blog post about it all on her website. I deliberately didn’t read it until I had written this review as I didn’t want it to influence what I was hearing. If you do read it then you can see just how different the production and the hearing (well, my hearing) of an album can be. That in itself is quite enlightening.
… and I still remember to put the lid back on the jar. Public service music at its best.
Tags: abh, artbreakhotel, church shuffle, joe murray, ross manning, tom white, vitrine
Church Shuffle – Aura Deterrent (tape, Vitrine, VT25, edition of 100)
Ross Manning – Natural Causes (tape, Vitrine, VT27, edition of 100)
ABH – Drag (tape, Vitrine, VT30, edition of 100)
Tom White – Automated Evangelism (tape, Vitrine, VT028, edition of 100)
Church Shuffle – Aura Deterrent
Another set of classic tape-werks from those Vitrine wizards.
The sleeve tells me Aura Deterrent was recorded direct to a ‘Singalodeon Karaoke’ and while I’m not familiar with that exact device I feel I’ve lived the best parts of my life in the warm, comforting fug of this signature cheap tape hiss.
This modest and unassuming tape mixes broken beats (‘Liberty Choice Falafel’) with spoken word, field recordings and instrumentation to create basic structures. But it’s the magic of the medium sprinkled over these foundations that gives everything a Mars-like tint; pinky red and drugged-up warm.
Before I think about napping ‘Phone Ring’ rattles like an extremely polite noise tape, excusing itself for volume but weaving complex patterns from left-over sonics – I’m shot though like milky coffee.
Take ‘Monty Order’, a comforting lentil dhal of a piece, that circularly flirts like a shadowy ring on a shadowy planet – abstract groan-happenings whipped up from carefully manipulated tape hoof with uncomplicated feedback acting as cruton.
The self-depreciation of ‘You could have bought a house’ (if what? If you’d not started a tape label?) adds a splash of vinegar to the warm rumble, the clotted sounds all buffed up and polished by cheap electronics.
So while this is purring like a cat in one way, there’s a sharp claw extended… just in case.
Ross Manning – Natural Causes
Percussion workouts that run the gamut from scrap-metal-dinosaur-bar-brawl to tinkling-glass-rod-foreplay.
Ross Manning is an Australian and therefore adept at the ancient art of sound-mugging; whereby a collection of related tones creep up behind you, pin your arms to your side, and envelops. No need to struggle as the argy-bargy slips a practiced hand into your inside pocket and removes exactly seven dollars.
The whiff of homemade instruments and DIY electronics is ripe and strong. Such gloriously natural and human sounds can only slip out of the lonely ramshackle workshop. Think Moondog’s chops played on Harry Bertoia’s vibrators.
The beard-rockers can goof on ‘Catalogue from a Young Man’ all construction site abstraction but a gentleman may entertain a lady when ‘Dub Date’ speeds up and up and up to a Nancarrow velocity. Each percussive stroke sharp and precise; mapping the exact grey explosion from fat raindrops.
The sidelong; ‘Song for Eugene’ takes glorious time to deliver like a preacher. The smeared window squeaks, a chorus of faulty windscreen wipers, are gently drowned in frosty lake; the crackle of ice all but muffles the gamelan tones slowly booming in the crisp air above.
But what’s that? Baka Pygmies reach for the most sonorous logs and clap them, slap them across a wide stereo field. The rhythms are exotic and eccentric, scoring circular patterns in the air growing more complex and waxy by the minute. I try to follow the connections, marking each change in crystalline tone, percussive intensity with a simple chalk mark. Until it all becomes too much, I’m knee deep in white dust and whacked out as Gorilla Glue bud.
Extras: (1) Cover art shows some rickety pencil drawings of the instruments within. All spindly and ragged this insight helps an old codger like me visualise. (2) Sold out at source so you’re going to have to dig for this victory. (3) The sound quality is beautifully sharp and deep. Audio snobs take note!
ABH – Drag
[Editor’s note: band name on inlay card is ARTBREAKHOTEL but in label listings it is as above. As you will.]
Reader, you have a choice. You can imagine the man-made or the natural; a faulty malfunction or a raw natural process ‘coz both apply to my tin ears.
One-man wrecking crew, Nobuo Yamada, is joined by Newcastle’s New Blockaders in some form (psychic, physical, spiritual, actual) to rattle the edges of reality with a scrap merchant’s calloused hands. Something decidedly metallic is scraped against bone (or shell!) while a field recording of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake is blasted from the top of the historic Morden Tower. I posit ‘Drag’ is either: a badly-oiled machine crashing through its gears or the heavily amplified sound of a lobster shedding its carapace? You decide.
Despite the absence of Geordies, ‘Spin/Off’ is no less hectic and reminds me of the time I was battered with a rubber hose.
I dropped my keys into an enamel kidney dish and took the beating willingly. As the truncheon swished and rudely flexed I used my heat-vision to melt the copper wingnuts holding the Town Hall’s scaffolding together so the poles fell like giant pine needles noisily scattering on the cobbles beneath.
A temporary bliss of forgetting washes over me (hiss, shissshhh (internal tape noise)) but soon enough the deep clang of crab claws tap out an occult rhythm on my exposed throat.
Tom White – Automated Evangelism
London’s Tom White has researched and translated a singular vocabulary from the humble reel-to-reel tape machine. These antiquated pieces of sound propaganda have been used by many mind-roofers but no one makes it gush quite like Tom!
The building-blocks of his tape language recall the rutting of sentient sponges; both deeply wet and intimate. But it’s the brutal punctuation that makes a listener sit up straight and say
Abrupt slops bookend gooey, muddy, pops right from the get-go on ‘Evidence of Tampering’. One sparse sound-matrix is overlaid over another, building up a sonic checkerboard that (and this is where you hear a master’s hand at work) never becomes cluttered or slips out of focus. The landscape is precise and tight yet builds up an urgent sense of motion; for this music moves with an awkward beauty… all elbows and knees.
And this dancing abstraction eventually bows to the unlicensed hiss of surreptitious street recordings – a domestic detail held and turned over in Tom’s hot paw until it clicks together brilliantly, forming a broken tune fragment (yet cleverly framing a clutter of ‘pop and crackle’).
The third and final movement stutters like a shadow flickering over a chain-link fence. Ghostly ‘phafs’ and ‘vumps’ ripple as the scales of a snake do; the constant expansion and contraction – mesmerising as sneaky Kaa singing ‘Trust in Me’ ya hippies!
Shimmering crickets rub their legs in King Tubby’s yard on ‘Lapillo’ as rubber tiles are slapped against wooden boards. The gentle pissing of water lubricates a shifting sound-platter serving a hot human hummus. Things become more rhythmic and I picture a hip-joint popping and locking in its socket: a juddering bone wrench worthy of any Old School Hip Hop crew until meek croaks and phlegm waves soak up the battered piano I left for dead on the shore. This trip is a dreamer, a brocade curtain-raiser for sure.
SOLD OUT AT SOURCE! So if you want hands-on tape manipulation at its very best you must dial 0800 T-W-H-I-T-E and ask for a (wink wink) thumb tweak on the ferric (wink).