Tags: ali robertson, malcy duff, singing knives, usurper
Usurper – Monthly Series: Jan – Dec 2016 (Giant Tank) 11 x CD-R and a card
Usurper – The Big Five (Singing Knives) C45 Tape
You’d have to look, gosh, I don’t know where, to find a group more universally loved than Edinburgh’s Usurper.
Is it their high-concept but easily accessible approach; the media mix of what is strictly speaking, non-idiomatic improv, with goonish humour and fuzzy human warmth? Could it be that their self-depreciation makes the razor-sharp, radical politics more comfortable to hug?
My theory? It’s got something to do with their most excellent hair.
I know of no other N-AU group so popular with children and that, in itself, speaks volumes to me.
They label themselves as slackers but to my rheumy eyes they push harder than most, kicking across visual goofs and sonic adventures. It is no surprise they started 2016 with a promise, to release a disc a month, and have delivered on this promise (fairly) reliably and with minimal drama. That’s so Usurper!
So, into this swamp of ‘unreleased recordings, archival live jams and brand new bumf’; these twelve apostles of skronk, I dive into the dream…
January – Surprising noisy live jam breaks the fourth wall! Treated to a conversation about taping the damn show Usurper (with Grant ‘Muscle’ Smith) bollix an ironing board, drop tin cans and chuck a lapsteel into a free-form space. It’s tingly sweet, it pops and clicks. But there’s nae feart a NOISE with gutsy, rootsy string-wrangling whipping up an itchy hailstorm in an ice cream cone.
February – ALL GOB AND NAE TROUSERS it says and I get excited. Not what you’re thinking man? It’s a mouth jam alright. This vocal jizz is all about maintained pressure so it keeps things tight and vibrating. Fleshy lips and cheeks are pulled taut and greasy air passed through with force setting up unnatural hissing. Things ping, things pong. One ‘surper is a red-necked rooster, the other a mollusc with stiff bristles; at the 8.30 mark the duck call sound and I collapse…completed
March – Classic bric-a-brac approach on vintage Usurper jam. 19 minutes captured (live) at The Chameleon unravel like a good detective novel. Gentle shingle and rummaging, purposeful rattle and shake. Some n.i.c.e. close-miked wriggles remove this from the no-input category but place neatly in the matchbox marked ‘interlocking sonics / gristle rubbers’.
April – The primary-coloured clown car implodes with loud brassy honks. Twin verbal routines decay as massive shoes stand on little necks. But the drivel drones on as a young lady twangs a buttered 12 inch ruler off the edge of a desk, secretly she makes goo-goo eyes at the sloppy Oppenheimer. Kapow!
May – Fantastic Voyage! Ali & Malcy get shrunk to about 1cm tall and slide into a Euphonium’s sexy brass curves spraffing off their word-junk all the while. Through the bright tubes and metallic hollows you get to follow a narrative of indistinct chunder. A rare computer-glitch approach causes the kind of mille plateaux-shudder to make the beard-o’s sweat. An exceptional month!
June – Like Radio 4 got took over by a case of mumps. An inflammation of the glands live in London. Sleeve notes say the boys were unsure, then sure, then unsure about this one. I’m here to tell you it’s classic Usurper in the theatre-style. Pure gibbering and insta-poems. Pictures in sound and word become a menagerie (note: just noticed my copy gets to the 26th minute and then skips back to the 24th in a loop of dry clicks and sparse chair squeaks – it’s glorious!).
July – 11 minutes of fresh air. This ultra-minimal instalment mixes feedback peals with slow steel rubbing and rickety clicking. You could almost mistake this for one of those Improvised Music From Japan affairs such is the pure and innocent clunking. A checkers game of improvised sound structures? GO with added electricity; a puttering moped farts into dramatic fade…
August – Gadzooks! This isn’t a record at all! It’s a damn anniversary card. Previously known as the month of Sextilis, golden August marks the melancholic end of summer…but for our bonny boys it’s all positive memory vibes, this card marking the start of their twenty (yes twenty) years together. Bonding over the closing seconds of Twin Infinitives the like-minds hatch a plan: to throw over the traces of Britpop and Yankrock with sweet Scotjams. Perfectly non-input, non-linear and non-sensical. (Art by is by one M Duff ya Mr Saatchi)
September – These autumn leaves take The Ex’s ‘Scrabbling at the Lock’ to its ultimate conclusion with a symphony of jittering and creaking. All things bow to the metallic shamanic. So, at the 9 minute mark, it all clicks together like a Transformer reverting to its natural Gamelan status, stroking the bronze gong yet moaning like a Wookie. (featuring Grant Smith on Turkish Bong)
October – (Track 1) An altogether more darker rumbling taking us to Henri Chopin territory. Not so much in the gob-tronics but revealing a hidden world; pencil sharpeners phase in and out of reality, one set of keys tolls like a death clock. At one point an egg whisk shreds as hard as Slayer (\m/ \m/). Usurper’s South of Heaven? (Track 2) A general heaviness dissolves into rubber, faint electronics and a floppy Alice Coltrane. (featuring Grant Smith on ostrich feather)
November – A Usurper thought-piece in two rigid parts. Firstly: gloves off, cocks out! Honk & palaver. Duck calls trump free jizz all over the shop comparing notes like Dixie (80’s TV moustache – Magnum). Secondly: Adris Hoyos jams with an old school bell via the Tuvan Steppes. A mellow, yellow, fellow spins plastic pipes and drinking straws making an otherworldly ‘khhhaaaaa’ scrape. Usurper…never a jug band, more a fug brand from a chug land.
December – The true meaning of Christmas eh? Runny shite due to unusual food/zoned out on tinsel/greedy children/jingle bells ad nauseum/clattering crockery/overloaded sentiment/real cash poverty/anxiousness inflated by cabin fever/trapped wind/disappointment in general/creepy uncles/your favourite quiet pub is now full/kids gnashing, full of fudge. But when else would you contemplate eating a whole chocolate orange?
AND while we’re at it…another Usurper release parts the veil of mist between strict discipline and Steiner-school freedom. Room for one more readers?
Usurper – The Big Five (Singing Knives Records) C45 Cassette
Believe this – the Usurper deal only in bravery and truth.
While other dingbat-bands try looking cool with their loud and unpleasant noises and dark glasses these two wee brothers rummage the depths of a Scottish collective-consciousness to bring you a crucial entertainment.
These wrinkled sonic-pages make no mention of the modern distractions (internet memes, flat white coffee) that foul up too many young brains. And that’s important yeah as Usurper keep their focus exact on what makes us human-beans. It’s a real exploration of language; its meaning and our ability to understand.
So that pesky language eh? That mixture of invisible air and sore lips is dropped by Ali & Malcy like a Lancaster Bomber crammed with ‘meaning grenades’. Jerry-rigged for sure and improvised (of course) they explode slowly, freeing colourful shrapnel with the spark and fizz of a regular logophile. No bones are broken, no arteries severed. The aftermath smells of vague lavender and leaves a glowing smile on babe and parent alike.
You a toucher sir? A stroker madam? If you’re into the feel of things it all get fairly knotty with the soft buttermilk voices wrapping four cheeks around single syllables; twisting cadence and meaning without no interfering electronics. It’s just wonderful flesh and gas (and the occasional traffic shwish). A greasy mink has never been so slick.
Then Robertson and Duff employ outrageous simile-tennis that degenerates, quickly, into a game of (insert current culturally accepted good guys) versus (insert current culturally accepted bad guys). And even though I class myself as an athletic listener my neck needs a good old rub down with liniment after this routine.
Hear that rattle and pop of unamplified junk? It’s a classic Usurper tactic making a listener strap on an extra ounce of grey matter, all the better to get inside, move around this truthful music that rejects all the fripperies and fancy.
This essential tape comes pure from the inside of a twin soul. Usurper – insider art!
Tags: ali robertson, chocolate monk, collette robertson, dylan nyoukis, giant tank, luke vollar, sacha kahir, usurper
Ali Robertson – Ali Robertson & His Conversations (self-released CD-r in card booklet, edition of 100)
Dylan Nyoukis & Ali Roberston – Every Man Deserves A Juice (CD-r, Giant Tank/Chocolate Monk, choc.312, edition of 50)
Can you help me out of bed? I need a pee…
…is how we get started on this disc. Robertson is addressing his wife Collette who willingly obliges, we even get to hear the sound of domestic bliss: a morning kiss. Aww. After this though it just gets stranger…
Ali Robertson is one half of long serving Edinburgh odd balls Usurper. I’ve been listening to Usurper for about three of my son’s life spans now and I remain as confused, amused and baffled as when I first encountered them. Imagine a wobbly screen moment as I take you back to the heady days of 2006, a time of floor-core-loop-pedalling-eye-rolling-sun-worshipping-ecstatoprovisation and… Usurper. Two scruffy Herberts rolling marbles, bowing polystyrene and making a very quiet, pointillistic improvisation with gaping mawz of silence. Brave, absurd, funny and frequently beautiful they seemed to defy categorization. The good news is that they’re still going strong and haven’t gone shit.
Solo adventures from Ali Robertson have been a rewarding side step from Usurper with Ali delighting in the sound of his own voice, simple overdubbing and the hidden sound of junk brought to life.
Ali Robertson & His Conversations is awesomely packaged in a kinda booklet thing with a poem inside that hints at the dissatisfaction and turmoil under the surface, or even on the surface for much of it. A post Tory election win meditation on austerity Britain or a ‘What’s Going On’ for the no-audience underground. The first track sees Ali and Collette repeating mantra like hymns to working life and the cyclical nature of it all, there is the soft patter of feet walking to work and occasional noises: slurping, crunching.
On to track two and we have Sacha Kahir joining Ali for conversations about Karl Marx, employment, the media, the economy, the class system and more. There’s also swearing. The discussion fades out and Ali is making like an overworked auctioneer who’s had his vowels removed as he couldn’t pay his vowel tax. As we return to the discussion the recording quality has deteriorated and the speech is taking on a harsh buzz. We are sitting in a room with two Scottish men, talking.
Track three features more Sacha and more lippy furbles from Robertson. Allowing speech to clash, overlap and intermingle. It’s a headtangle for sure as the discussions are pretty interesting with a fine streak of misanthropy running through them, but by this point it becomes nearly impossible to follow the threads. Odd words, sounds, chortles poke out from the wordage creating a lulling effect that, while not exactly soothing, is pretty hypnotic.
Every Man Deserves A Juice is Ali Robertson in collaboration with long term buddy Dylan Nyoukis and was put together for a short European tour. Text recital, object tinkering, tape scuttle and the like have been recorded and edited separately then somehow stitched together. Shit, I don’t know how but it’s certainly less ‘weighty’ than …Conversations and more of a family knees up for the weirdies with a game of trivial pursuits included amongst the flotsam, a tape recorder left to document lovely moments or maybe a submerged aside on all no-audience endeavours (‘trivial pursuits’?).
A drop into a discussion between our heroes about power stations, holidays (?!) is cut off by a gumbone solo (I’m guessing Robertson – I can hear the cut of his jib you dig?)
They didn’t get it cause they’re Americans and they’re fucking stupid
…in a slowed voice amongst a plethora of objects rattling, untuned strings and other ephemera dragged into a corner by Dylan and Ali to be mauled and slathered in noxious yellow goo, quite a potent aroma as you can imagine. Ain’t no sense in trying to make sense of these recordings. I picture Ali and Dylan grinning like demented educators as they pour the wine of confusion from a great height just to see what patterns will emerge. You can be damn sure that I will continue to lap up that sweet berry juice cause it tastes so fine.
Tags: ali robertson, alien passengers, battery humans, claus poulsen, collage, dictaphonics, drone, electronica, ezio piermattei, field recording, fuckin' amateurs, giant tank, guy warnes, improv, joe murray, jon marshall, new music, no audience underground, no thumbs, noise, pascal ansell, psychic mule records, punk, scurge, skrat records, tapes, tom white, tutore burlato, uk hardcore, Waz Hoola, winter family
[Editor’s note: Joe Murray, our resident beat prophet, has convinced his skeptical editor to temporarily abandon the usual formatting for reasons that will soon be apparent. Thus there are no release details up front, pictures will follow reviews and links will be found where they lay.]
Like all my RFM comrades I have a teetering bunch of tapes to review. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. It’s a privilege and an honour to hear so many dispatches from the No-Audience Underground.
But sometimes I feel I’m doing you a disservice my friends. It’s the same old, same old format: slot tape in, listen thrice, make notes, look at any other internet gubbins, write up final copy, post to Rob and await his judgement a’ tremble.
But today I want to spice things up baby. I’m going 50 shades on this shit.
So, in order to make things (hopefully) more entertaining and experimental in spirit for you, my dear reader, I chucked all my review tapes into a drawstring bag and will pull them out, randomly, sight-unseen ready to slap into the cheap-o hi-fi. No prior knowledge, no prejudice etc.
Mystery Tape One. The first thing I notice is an ambient hiss, growing and forming, covering all the other electronic ‘chunk-ka-kuh’ like Spanish moss. Things get less rhythmic and more drawn out (elongated gong strikes / trapdoor creak) creating a soundtrack feel with some floating voices chattering. There’s a synth or something humming giving this a very European feel… a dark Froese perhaps? Now there’s electricity in the air as the test tubes fizz and pop; a scientist twitches and mugs singing snatches of opera in a cracked voice. Somehow the radio picks up their brain waves: forgotten memories of the seaside and music hall? An Anthony Caro sculpture comes to life with deep space moans. Blimey. Who’s this? I pop out the tape and check it. Bless my soul. It’s the ever lovely Claus Poulsen with Collected Dreams on Skrat Records.
Mystery Tape Two. OK…so far so good. I fumble in my bag and pluck out the next offering. It drops neatly into the wide-mouth slot and kicks off some dark rubbery knockings, slurm residue and spurks-thumb. Oh yeah man…this is tremendous stuff! There’s a treacle-like bubbling and whomping, like some living salt-water lake throbbing dangerously, searching out new tributaries with its briny fingers. This is pure sound abstraction that builds layers of thick, dark sound-paint until a giant glove smears the oily pickle. The noxious mixture spreads thin, lightening the hue and spreading the sticky mixture over frame, wall, floor and ceiling until we are all covered with the stuff – a burnt Rothko orange. Side two opens up with a fling of ducks all ecstatically hawking and honking. These sounds are passed though some electronic doo-hickery that seems to split and repeat certain quacking frequencies so sections of the greasy reverberations get plucked for presentation with a sheen and glimmer. The water fowl retreat to roost as we dip our ears below the slick surface of water to luxuriate in music for rowing boat hulls; wooden creak and swollen pop. Gosh, this tape is really hitting the spot. Who do I have to thank? I should have known…it’s ‘The Ambassador’ Tom White with his Reconstruction on Alien Passengers.
Mystery Tape Three. This tape starts off with some nice tape gunk that moves unhurriedly between half-tunes played on fuzzed-out organ. A female voice with the smoky cadence of William Burroughs tells a tale about some sci-fi travel (or something) while Working Men’s Club beats (tiss-be-be-bon-tiss…) flit in and out of the organ tunes. And then found sound and field recordings get thrown into the mix. Not in a haphazard manner, no sir, this is finely tuned and tweaked like the exact halfway point between a Radiophonic performance scored by the late great Broadcast and waking up from a particularly vivid dream. I have to be honest with you readers… I’m stumped here; I have no idea what or who or when this is. It’s certainly more lyrical than the usual shimmy but the narrative and structure are all over the shop giving this a delightfully Victorian psychedelic edge. I can’t wait any longer; I crack under the pressure of not knowing and check the cover. Ahhhhh….it’s that beautiful and wonderfully eccentric duo Winter Family who are playing here with their How Does Time tape on Psychic Mule Records. It is indeed a play, a play designed to be listened to on a very particular train journey between Besançon in France and La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland for very particular watch makers. The ultimate commuter listen.
Mystery Tape Four. Your typical Northern pub chatter sets the scene with clattering bottles and knowing laughter. An on-stage introduction welcomes you and says, ‘This is for d boon’ before a proper guitar riff chugga-chuggas. OK…that’s a reference to the wonderful Minutemen – I get that; are we jamming econo? Is this gonna be some tour spiel dude? But, at the same time I’m expecting some tape collage work to start up, a wonk-move or gurgled gob etc. Some music concrete shit and all that doings. But no…this is pure UK hardcore, recorded very, very live, possibly from some archive with guitar/bass/drums and an angry attitude. Think Heresy or something but with a bit more of ‘baseball bat to the face and neck’ feel. The songs come in short, sharp blasts. Three or four in a row – chunka – chunka – cheer – crowd babble – chunka- chunka. It’s invigorating stuff and seems to get looser and more chaotic as the tape goes on (always a bonus for me). I’m totally lost here. No idea who it is or even how it crept into my review pile. Shall we look readers? OK…it all comes flooding back. This is Battery Humans on Fuckin’ Amateurs with their For D Boon tape. It is recorded live and recently: 6th September 2014 to be precise and features one Guy Warnes AKA Waz Hoola, the unsung hero of the northern drone scene, on drums. The usual F#A! standards of presentation apply with anarchy inserts, random gaffer tape sculpture and art fliched from Viz Comic. Side B is another live recording but this time from Scurge in 1991. You want rage? You got it.
Mystery Tape Five. I press ‘play’ and an undulating, chemically insistent, flute trills with the sort of chaotic abandon that pins Old God MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI into a restful slumber. A thousand chaffed lips puff noxious gas through human thighbone pipes while the jester dances merrily on (like he’s posing for a Marillion album or something). Gosh…this is pretty intense. The next track saunters by sounding like that crap ‘pre-computer’ computer game Simon hooking up to Terminator’s Skynet and crashing civilisation as we know it into a frosty digital sludge. Blimey…there’s a hard stop as I turn the tape over but as soon as I click things into life the holy racket starts again. This time I’m getting something like a rouge Funkadelic jam; real cosmic slop rejected by Mr Clinton for being too out-there as layers of keyboard fuzz and squealing huff pile up and up and up. A brief moment of calm (the keys ape Vangelis in blade runner tights) lets me breathe again before I’m pushed out a 30 storey window (metaphorically, dude – don’t panic, man) and, as I tumble, I catch snippets of Mexican TV, Concrete Noise, psychic experiments and terrible quiz shows as I hurtle past the apartments spinning dangerously out of control. An uneven gravity pocket spares me a sticky end and I land, gracefully and precisely, into a pair of oxblood Doctor Martins – the world’s kindest bootboy. Crows cackle around me, applauding with electric beaks. I check the details, no wiser of this tapes provenance but washed clean by its synesthetic high, to find out it’s my old Papal Bull buddy Jon Marshall and noise-nudist Pascal Ansell cavorting under the No Thumbs banner. This beauty’s called Slug Birth and is available from the brand-spanking-new Tutore Burlato label. If TB is a new name on your radar the quality hallmark of its founder, one Ezio Piermattei, should seal the deal.
Mystery Tape Six. A hawking ceilidh – all X-ray gingham and a skilful cheek-slapping solo. Reet…now there’s some ‘brum-t-t-tuh’ ursonating richly, fupping my sonics. Gosh…this is a tasty oyster to be gulped down whole. A general Scottishness takes hold with gristle and blum; stiff wire wool scraping and beautifully played Dictaphone garble. I almost trip over my big feet in my rush to turn it over as I’m aching for side two. And that’s where my experiment has to end. No system is perfect. It’s darn near impossible to ignore the fact a voice immediately states…
I’m Ali Robertson
…in Ali Robertson’s voice, soon to be joined by a variety of other familiar burrs. This side is one long ‘game’ of read personal biographies all overlapping (stop-starting) set to strict rules that our cuddly despot is keen to enforce. Waves of casual voice and chatter settle into strange rhythms – probably some mathematical fractal shit, interlocking as neat as a Rubik’s satisfying ‘click’. So yeah…durrrr…it’s Ali Robertson and his handily titled Ali Robertson & Friends tape on the always brilliant Giant Tank label.
So my excellent friends, I hope that worked for you? Me? I’m refreshed and re-born! My ears are prickling with cleansing static and expectation.
But tell me: how are you doing?
Tags: acrid lactations, ali robertson, andie brown, anja dornieden, bridget hayden, brighton, cm von hausswolff, colour out of space, dictaphonics, dieter schnebel, dylan nyoukis, electronic voice phenomena, enzo minarelli, evp, f. ampism, fordell research unit, free radicals, gen ken montgomery, gonzalez monroy, greg kelly, gwilly edmondez, ilan volkov, improv, joe murray, jooklo duo, juan david, karen constance, lovers ritual, m. stactor, malcy duff, maya dunietz, michael esposito, new music, no audience underground, noise, occult hand, pascal ansell, patrick goddard, posset, roman nose, sharon gal, sindre bjerga, spoils & relics, the handeye (bone ghosts), the y bend, thf drenching, usurper, virginia genta, vocal improvisation
COLOUR OUT OF SPACE / 6
INTERNATIONAL EXPERIMENTAL SOUND FESTIVAL
Performance Weekend: 8th – 10th November, 2013, Brighton, UK
Editor’s note: RFM had two roving reporters present at this year’s Colour Out Of Space festival down in that Brighton. Regular contributor Joe Murray, who also performed, enjoyed himself enormously. Pascal Ansell, whippersnapper and occasional guest of RFM, ahh… not so much. Copious enthusiasm from Joe first, a more exacting response from Pascal to follow. Over to Joe:
Ahhhh Brighton…the sun, the sea, the squalor! I’ve had a soft spot for Brighton ever since I was a wee kiddie with a vivid imagination, trying to piece together the violent Mods & Rockers legend with the twin-set & pearls crowd that strolled slowly down the pier huffing camphor-scented liniments.
These days of course it’s all about the hipsters and Bubble Tea but I’m not complaining; I’ve got my freak on as I meet my gracious host Bod for a pint or two before we lurch expectantly to the main venue, The Old Market. Immediately adopting ‘Brighton time’ I missed the mysterious Occult Hand and outrageous Acrid Lactations who I both really wanted to see – please accept my apologies Occult Lactations, I was with you in spirit.
It was sometime around pint four I met up with my co-reporter Pascal Ansell and we immediately set ourselves up in a Hunter S Thompson style press-pack; silver-eyed Tuna darting purposefully through the flitting shoal. We rejected the usual journalistic conventions to move straight from gentle ‘forming’ to chaotic ‘storming’ within minutes, swapping war-zone anecdotes, snippets of esoteric record knowledge and the loudly proclaiming the relevance of Sammy Davis Jr. The result of such firm-calved bonding and reckless drinking resulted in a beery bonhomie for sure but also meant I pretty much missed every act to play on Friday. Oops…I did it again! The one that got away was the Enzo Minarelli. Dressed in dark jeans and tight black T shirt, his hair scraped back, there was an air of the ninja in his vocal guffings. Assisted with backing tracks of further mouth-chaff the precise and deadly Enzo sliced the air with steel-edged hissing and lippy smacks. This was no po-faced sound poetry lark but a right old hootenanny with his piece ‘Poem’ being turned into ‘PoemMacaroni’ in the curdled air. The rest of the bill was crammed with exceptional acts of legendary avant-gardary but to my shame dear reader I spent the remnants of Friday propping up the bar catching up with old friends and making new ones. I’ve never been a good mixer Midwichers but I made up for 43 years of insecurity and introversion with full-strength good cheer and love for my fellow travellers. You’re (hic) my best pal (hic)!
Saturday morning was an exercise in sickness, pain and remorse as I sheepishly ate brunch with family Bod and took the drizzly bus in disgrace to witness Gen Ken Montgomery in a Hove Oxfam shop. The steamy windows of the Oxfam obscured the ‘standing room only’ crowd as I inched in and stood, stomach lurching, for this exploration of the 8-track tomfoolery. Gen Ken, dapper in vintage Op Art shirt and tie manipulated old portable 8-tracks filling the damp air with warped 70’s AM rock all mashed and rotting. The warbles and trembles on the tape gave the Bee Gees et al a sepia fuzzed-out logic as loops were found and layered up into the consistency of dusty blancmange. He was a right card too, playing it up for the steaming crowd, making asides and throwing out hula-hoops of pulsating ‘waaahhhhoooosssshhhhh-voooshhhhhh’. After Gen Ken’s performance I wandered round Brighton for a bit, drank some peppermint tea (swearing off the demon drink for the rest of the weekend) and soundchecked with the great Gwilly Edmondez & THF Drenching.
At about teatime I found myself outside the very proper St Andrew’s church for some right high culture. Old-guy Produktionsprozesse composer-guy Dieter Schnebel was interviewed by Ilan Volkov about his approach to music and personal history. Dieter seems a game old bird, humble and gracious but with a sharp sense of humour…he somehow manages to call the audience stupid and make them love him for it…dude! A bunch of doofs play some Schnebel pieces: Maya Dunietz world premieres the ass off a beautiful and catchy piece for piano, voice and tambourine. Ilan and Maya throw some shapes in a gestural piece where composer and pianist struggle for supremacy like Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Then Maya and Dylan Nyoukis get all serious and tackle a vocal piece for restricted mouthshapes and we end up with the most spellbinding piece of the afternoon. Like air hissing through naked ribs, dry and crackly. The pair, dressed in formal black, embrace at the end of the show, cracking hearts at CooS and letting pure love flow. The only way to follow such an intense and refined performance is of course with some chips so I headed to Bankers (Brighton’s best Fish & Chip shop) for sustenance.
Energised by hot potato and grease I walk into the Old Market to see the friendly and familiar face of Sindre Bjerga coaxing gentle tape loops out of his mess of wires and objects, polishing them up and floating them on the breeze like water-filled balloons pulling gruff-clouds out the air. Stepping round his desk he carefully wraps up a few people in abandoned cassette tape, hurls a miniature cymbal onto the deck and politely waves marking the end of a neat little set. Next up were a bunch of A-Band/Ceramic Hobs/Zero Map/Smell & Quim refugees calling themselves The Y Bend. The programme describes ‘no-mind sounds’ which pretty much sums up the Hawkwind out-takes vibe. Personally I’m transported back to the days of Anti-Poll Tax benefits as this jam band takes a note and jiggles it proper between guitar, keyboard, violin and eccentric hand percussion making incidental music for the revolution.
Roman Nose take the stage behind them and win the rosette for ‘best band of Saturday’. These days Roman Nose are very much a ‘band’ bridging the gap between rock’s looseness and tape/noise/jam’s love of overload. It’s almost funky with a pushing and pulling, a wrapping and un-wrapping of tape-fuff mittens across fluttering drums and breathy intrusions via flute and black-bamboo sheng. Throw some horns for the Nose!
Huge wineglasses are set up amid electronic doo-hickery for Sharon Gal and Andie Brown. These glasses are Jeroboam massive, pregnantly full; delicate but comprising a thousand potential shivs. Like an inverse Justice Yeldham the glass is thumbed to produce deep rasping drones. It’s great to watch the deft hand movement turn into such singing and bassy mulch. Gal uses her voice like some terror-choir re-enacting a trauma. Electronic squash makes a Black Metal grunt adding to the dungeon gloom. Wow…a Carpathian Forest sprouts from the floor as the thin rays of a dismal sun rise slowly in the East. The bald guy with all the pedals is M. Stactor; his mask is a composite of Her Majesty Betty II and Saddam Hussein. Slowed down speech goes ‘burrrrrrr’ and get shoved through a variety of whizz-bangs to come out ‘BURRRRRR’ anointed with contact-mic crackle and hand-palming crunch. Brand new CooS trio Edmondez/Posset/THF Drenching adopt the dual Dictaphone position like a crouching Judas Priest. Gwilly bangs his head like Halford. And seeing as I’m involved modesty prevents me for saying too much about this fine-legged beast.
I caught about 20 seconds of Bridget Hayden’s set but within that 20 seconds I heard the entire history of overblown fuzz-guitar from the Sonics to the Velvet Underground to the Dead C. Rusty chainmail began clanking out the walls; rolling thunder crashed from the ceiling. The very gods showed their pleasure in ancient, animalistic ways. Oh boy! I was still kicking myself when Greg Kelley & Dylan Nyoukis sat erect and purposeful on a pitch black stage. Side by side they were, with Greg’s tubes augmented with cold brass and Dylan’s with moist flesh. Snide hiss and scything tones crept almost guiltily from trumpet and gob, playing merrily between wet-mouth slappings and full jowl squelch. This was no dramatic, overwrought, performance piece nor academically apologetic. The “my voice, your voice” mantra summed up a lot of the days sessions in a simple repetitive phrase. Some jokers joined in on coughing and started a response group reflex (koff-KOFF-koff). The optimist in me thought the spontaneous outpouring would lead to a scratch feral choir but no…it was a piss take…yet troupers Kelley & Nyoukis toughed it out cackling and blowing the third eye till it blinked all yeasty. Lovers Ritual (Maya Dunietz & Ilan Volkov) used voice and violin to beguile, encouraging minimal and thin tones out the cracks in the light fittings. Not content with sticking to the stage both Maya & Ilan ended up on the floor, among the punters, stroking and keening their flexible bones in a tangled tableaux.
It’s Sunday. The Lords day. And me & Bod celebrate with a visit to a typical Brightonian Car Boot sale; he picks up some Colombian tapes, I nab a Fantasy Island fridge magnet and we both head happily to the Sallis Benney Theatre for the famous CooS film screenings. I really loved what I saw but I soon discovered it’s hard to take notes in the dark so am relying on musty recall only. Standouts…the bonkers The Handeye (Bone Ghosts) by Anja Dornieden & Juan David Gonzalez Monroy which coupled 19th Century taxidermy with digitized commands and the bumbling chunter from Patrick Goddard’s charming Free Radicals. As the films ended, us gaggle of cinema-goers milled around, checking maps and GPS systems to find the next venue, giggling over being able to genuinely say, ‘See you in church later man.’ A walk along the cold, crisp sea-front takes us back to St Andrew’s Church for a session of spooky Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) from CM von Hausswolff & Michael Esposito. I’m really excited about this one. Since I was a kid I’ve been in love with that flexi disc that came with the first edition of ‘The Unexplained’. Of course I never knew these supposed ghost voices were EVP but I totally dug the hissy weirdness. The two gents open with about 15 minutes of static tape hiss with the occasionally clunky ‘chump’ like ghosts dropping wooden marbles in a bucket. The fuff was pretty damn immersive and had some of the flagging hordes crashed out on the pews. CM and Michael then took us through some of their EVP recordings (cue demonic chuckle) made in this very church. What could have been (possibly should have been) spectral and creepy turned into a bit of a laugh as the particularly chirpy Michael introduced second-long sound-clips of the dead calling us ‘assholes’, urging us to ‘get out’, that they ‘are in love with married men’ and…to much hilarity…‘it’s all shite’. Wow the ghosts sound like angry jakeys!
Back in the Old Market I strained limbs to find my comrade Pascal. It was Jooklo Duo next and I was pretty sure he’d be right up the front for this. Some lazy sleuthing revealed Pascal had packed up and gone. He’d had enough and trekked back to Leeds earlier in the day. Oh Pascal…you would have loved what came next! Jooklo Duo were absolutely amazing. Now I know that’s trite, lazy journalism but I was too busy picking my eyeballs up off the floor to concentrate on clever words. This was a 100% lung-bursting blowout with drumming as agile as a crack-fuelled squirrel. I’m no jazz buff but I like my brassy honks and squeals. Jooklo one, Virginia Genta, plays like Pharaoh Sanders with some nifty Arabic scales quickly releasing that cheeky kundalini from the base of my spine. Woah boy, I said Woah! Not one or two but three casual acquaintances said this was ‘better than Brotzmann’. Heard that? Promoters…book ‘em now.
Brighton local f.Ampism loops and loops and loops domestic clunk, mbira tones and gentle sighing all engaging and releasing softly like the briny blue sea just 100 meters down the street. A film is projected behind his hat and beard; cut-up collage sourced from what seems to be the family Nyoukis archive and Martha Colburn’s paint splattered horror-core. I have to admit I’m a total fan-boy of Amp’s choogle-leech-warp but this was a whole new saltine! Fordell Research Unit sat like a couple of chess masters and manipulated a pretty damn heavy drone with micro-movements. So far, so good. In tiny, tiny increments the drone gets grunty and somehow slower and fuller until we’re faced with a monolith – a black slab, playing the theme tune for the world’s most evil super villain. There’s a growing feeling of excitement for the next set from noise-monkeys Spoils & Relics with Karen Constance. Faced with a table full of gizmos and wires the quartet sat in quiet contemplation building a Jenga house of quivering tones and darkly-twinkling steam. Like some giant engineering puzzle, pieces are interlocked; a spark starts a fire and is extinguished ruthlessly by the hobo fire brigade. After a time the factory klaxon calls and the workers down tools and melt into grease.
It’s no secret; I’m a little in love with Usurper. Ali Robertson and Malcy Duff have been making the most singular no-input music for half a decade at least. Writing about Usurper is always a tough gig; their total lack of any of the regular handholds makes the amateur pamphleteer work hard, busting chops to describe their occasional cutlery pings and tales of Auld Reekie. Tonight they are joined by Dora Doll, one half of the legendary Prick Decay, on scissors as a circular story unfolds on twin tape recorders. Narratives intertwine as a regular haircut turns into a meditation on the seaside and seaside ritual. A grumpy Ali gets wrapped in ribbon like a maypole, Malcy crawling on the floor streaming the red and white tapes behind him. Hairy objects are presented to Ali & Dora for snipping. A guitar FX pedal, a pair of glasses, a descant recorder are shorn of hair and (in some cases) indecently rubbed beneath the barber’s shawl. Apart from the taped stories, folding in and out of phase there is a rare skronk-interruption on contact-miked yard brush ‘Shussssh, shusssh, shussssh’ as Malcy coughs up hairballs. Any traditional ideas of what performance is are dashed. Any preconceptions of what underground art should be are delightfully roasted. Usurper are right out on a limb, doing their very own thing and making up a whole new set of parameters. What on the page seems like random vignettes has a strong sense of direction and pace…and most importantly fun. I’m laughing like a drain and looking round to see a crescent of bemused yet joyful faces. No one is really sure what they have witnessed but pretty much everyone agrees it was damn fine.
The tapes spool to an end, Usurper and Dora bow and grin, and my CooS adventure comes to an end. It’s been a trip and a half Midwichers. Brighton itself is a beautiful backdrop to this very psychedelic weekend, the bands/acts/performers have all brought their own slice of oddness with a spice and professionalism the naysayers often miss. But for me it’s all been about the people…the floating and transient chats, the laughs and the in-depth conversations. There’s that quote about the Velvet Underground isn’t there? They didn’t sell loads of records but everyone who bought one formed their own band. Well this weekend might have been an intimate affair but I wonder how many projects and plans were hatched, how many ideas were sparked and alliances formed. CooS brings the no-audience underground together like a giant think-tank…but what’s gonna occur? I can’t wait to find out.
Editors note: a comprehensive selection of band bios and links can be found on the COOS website here. Photos by Joe or Marc Teare.
Tags: accidental music, ali robertson, duff and robertson, giant tank, improv, joe murray, kazoo, kitchen sink improv, new music, no audience underground, noise, richard youngs, tapes, the a band, union pole, usurper
Richard Youngs & Friends – Kazoo Action (Union Pole, download)
The charming Union Pole label have been tweeting about this release for a few weeks and to be honest I’ve been thinking of luddite reasons not to buy it. Both pieces of the equation sound dandy: a long lost recording of Richard Youngs with A Band associates helping out; a single sound source, in this case kazoos, blasted, blown and banjaxed in a Rhys Chatham style mass orchestra. Yeah…all pretty spicy. Originally planned as a 7 inch this is now only available on download. I may be an old greybeard and I’m not adverse to the odd download, especially if it’s out-of-print whack off or a companion piece to the more present and physical record, tape or CD-R. But a download only! Man, this is clear blue waters for yours truly.
So, early one Sunday morning, the rest of the house swaddled in slumber I cough up the $1 (effectively 67p), hit the button and wait an anxious 20 seconds for the internet magic to happen. The download settles itself into a comfortable position on my hard drive in two dainty parts (a nod to the 7 inchness of the intended release I guess). There. I’ve done it.
I had enough faith in Richard Youngs to know that this was never going to stray into Temple City Kazoo Orchestra kitsch. And for once – I’m right. The blasts of kazoo are raw and rude for sure, with waves of spittle crashing over each other, ramping up the volume and intensity all over ‘side’ one. The brash, multiple tones, hum and fizz and shimmer until some synchronised changes in pitch break the cacophony and lend a primitive orchestral air. In fact it’s the primitive that seems to be celebrated here. Like some pre-history ritual, all tucked up in the tumulus, slack vibrations of pig skin shudder moist loam into nostrils and ears. I’ve had a long standing affection for the drawn-out huff of the sheng and its global relations and with this kazoo piece (yes learned reader – I know kazoos are membraphones and more closely related to the drum than it’s free reed cousins but shit man…this honks like a goddamn goose parliament!) Richard & co have captured the sweaty blast of tropical bamboo and then munged it out like Tamazepam shivers in the cold Edinburgh morning. ‘Side’ two has a Borebetomagus-esque structure of noise on/noise off with scarlet arses bent over and farted in brassy unison. There’s less structure, more freedom and instead of waves the honking cyclones up, up, up into the hard blue sky. It all ends with a chummy ‘Bravo…encore…’ that seems to come more from performers than audience, but you know what? I pressed that button and played the file again as instructed and it tasted gooood.
But now I’ve played and enjoyed the little fella I had to think what I wanted to do with him. Leave it all binary on the computer or allow him a better life, wild and free. So I stuck him on a CD-R with some other waifs & strays from that UbuWeb etc. May I suggest the gorgeous sounds of Dariush Dolat-Shahi and a selection from the superb Excavated Shellac site for company?
Ali Robertson – The Other Week (self-released, tape)
There’s no discernible title on the cover of this handwritten tape but a bit of detective work reveals this missive from Ali Robertson is called ‘the other week’. I guess the stream-of-consciousness diary entries, describing the recording process could have given me a clue ‘the other week:bought:afour-track recorder:in a pawn shop:on Leith Walk’. Sharp eyed readers will see Ali’s name and immediately link him with no-input/no-music interlopers Usurper. Yep. That’s right: it’s Ali going it solo.
Side one opens with multi-tracked plunking, rather like mice crawling over taut violin strings. Then we get some trouser-pocket-drop with coins pushed around the sort of glass-topped coffee table last seen in Miami Vice. Toffee is chewed with saliva squirting out a dribbling mouth as a biscuit tin (with tartan design) shuffles lonely squeaks and dull rattles. I imagine a midnight trip through the house, heavy feet trying not to wake folk with the occasional explosive stair ‘crack’ and cupboard ‘bong’ in the gloom. Muted percussion gives way to a milky cornflake munch and twanged ruler solo so careful and measured it becomes instant basic channel dub. Oh…to hear this through a 2k soundsystem!
Side two commences with the unwanted pissheid salutation. ‘erhm…mate…hear me…mate…erhm’ all chopped and munged to form a beautiful choir of purple tin. This is worth the price of admission alone. More quiet rumbles suggest the midnight kitchen again with a nudged spoon gradually coming to rest on a worktop. Coins add brilliant metallic flares like a mini John Bonham while Robert Plant mumbles off mic, ‘aye, aye’. The roadies continue the kerfuffle backstage, grumpily comparing string gauges and pyro etiquette simultaneously ripping up polystyrene packaging from the never released boxed set, ‘Zepplin…awkward murmurs and empty breaths’.
This is accidental music. By that I don’t mean it’s haphazard or thrown together. It’s like the sort of sound that lives between other musics….a milkman’s improvised whistle or the lavender humming of an old lady darning socks. This is the unconscious intent and dreaming rattle that unites all humans.
(Editor’s note: the web address for Ali’s label Giant Tank now appears to be squatted by some odd Japanese clickbait. According to a post on the Giant Tank facebook page the label is being wound down. Thus I’d suggest contacting the guy via the Duff & Robertson tumblr or facebook pages. If your life could do with more kazoo – is there ever enuff? – then Union Pole can be found at Union Pole. Easy.)