Memories reworked and remembered again: Sophie Cooper on Anla Courtis and Vollar/Murray Tag Team on Culver versus Fordell Research UnitFebruary 6, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
Tags: alan courtis, anla courtis, argentina, culver, drone, field recording, fordell research unit, heavyness, joe murray, luke vollar, noise, sophie cooper
Anla Courtis – Antofagasta (Beartown Records) CD
I’ve wanted to listen to the music of Anla Courtis for ages after reading that big article about him in The Wire, so I was thrilled to see this new CD by him on the Midwich review pile released by Beartown Records.
And a bloody good job of it they’ve done too!
I know Beartown for their distinctively packaged tapes mostly; high contrast photography, photocopied in black and white sleeves and this packaging carries on this artistic precedent but takes it to a very pro looking level. The artwork features Courtis’ own blurry shots of scenic views, which I assume, are of the area of Argentina that the music is concerned with.
The CD comes with a sweet ‘cut out and keep’ style individual photograph and a nice reworking of one of Courtis’ images treated with the Beartown technique. Really great work, I’m surprised they only printed 50 of these but anyway…
The music contained within this lovely packaging has been created using Courtis’ cassette-made field recordings dating back to 1998. According to the sleevenotes these were then sat on for almost 10 years, made into something else, and then were left for almost another 10 years until Beartown released them. Lucky for us that they did.
Recorded in an area of Argentina called Antofagasta these 4 long tracks depict intricate and meditative recollections of place. I was thinking it must be really interesting to come back to recordings made of a place so long after the event and then try to rework them into something totally different. For me, sound evokes memory. If anything is going to transport you back it’ll be a sound (or a smell, I’ve experienced this once or twice) and I wondered how much of the original trip Courtis would have actually remembered aside from what he heard on these tapes.
After such a long time does memory have anything to do with it anymore? Can the sound just be treated as what it is, a sound, or would the memories come rushing back and be important enough again to inform the piece? The track titles are named after the area, 1, 2, 3 and 4 . Are we to imagine Antofagasta based on this music?
Don’t get me wrong though, these are not postcards, nor are they straight-up field recordings. Interesting elements of the recordings have been weeded out, changed and manipulated into retellings of events. On the 4th track Courtis has utilised every field recordist’s nightmare, wind, and transformed it into a whirling sound tornado, a windy nightmare!
It’s not all nightmarish however, scraps and pulls of objects layered up and played back repeatedly form lush sonic dreams, track 3, in particular, is beautiful. From an outsider’s perspective, the 1st track is the one most likely recognised as an original event. You can make out man made noises: vehicle sounds, revs of engines and distant voices.
As the CD progresses it feels as through you slowly lose a sense of reality as those first recordings become more fragmented and obscure.
Memories reworked and remembered again.
Culver: Prisoner of F.R.U (Know Your Enemy) Limited edition cassette and Bandcamp Download
My Word! This collaboration tape from Edinburgh’s Fordell Research Unit messing freely with and augmenting Gateshead’s Culver was always going to be a heavy example of neat sarcophagus music – but I wasn’t expecting 4AD-levels of such beautiful fullness.
It is not the first time that Culver and Fordell Research Unit have joined forces; indeed Fraser Burnett (FRU) has made no secret of his admiration of the deep influence that Culver has played in his own music. As someone who has followed both acts for some time now I would propose that this is (if it ever was) not an unequal balance, Lee is no longer sensei to Frasers clumsy roundhouses, more of an equal partner who can stand back, solemnly running his fingers through his beard as Fraser executes an impeccable routine of high kicks, deadly punches and overall karate Zen whilst illuminated in the copper glow of a setting sun.
Fraser is joined on this project by sometime member Grant Smith, another Edinburgh gonk serving times in Muscletusk (Yeah!) and Shareholder (Hell Yeah!). It has been told that the two pored over the encrypted texts from the North East whilst enshrouded in intoxicating vapours, being sure to keep their chalices full at all times.
And so as the mission was passed onto Fraser so must it now be passed onto Grant if he is ever to grasp the weight of this devotional music. Whether in collaboration with Fraser or by himself; what we hear is Fraser standing back in admiration as the young Jedi levitates a series of metal bowls and discs in a room of deep red velvet amidst shrouds of sandalwood incense.
Sowatchyahearin’ ‘Torch Needles’ is a ripe fig glistening with fragrant, sticky juice // OR // It’s the silvery snakes in Donny Darko plunging through an eggy Turner painting. With a slow rudeness they show off their blubbery muscles. What we left with? A very flexible riot!
‘Weak Will’ and ‘What Does She Watch?’ are touched by a delicate vapour trail petrified then doused in dark glitter. Light is reflected back for sure but at eccentric, unnatural angles illuminating the dusty corners and forgotten stairwells of a cross channel ferry: a periphery of sound construction as dangerous and inviting as the below deck engineering.
The grim maritime theme continues in ‘Telepathic Torture’. A creaking nameless ship cuts through a freezing fog, as vile oily water laps mockingly at the crumbled veneer of the battered vessel. What remains of the crew stare with haunted and stricken eyes. They are little more than walking carcasses starved and half mad from many sea-bound days of cold misery. As the yellow acrid fog starts to part they see land in the distance, strange and unfamiliar but land none the less, perhaps it is here that the crew will find salvation though they know not where they are and how they came to be there…
Yikes! My first ever drone raga is revealed in the backwards-metallic-skullfuck of ‘Shark’. Those bass-clouds are looming, heavy and pregnant and once again the epithet ‘devotional’ stands out clearly. A submission to the one true god of drone!
But the enveloping hiss of ‘Head Serpent’ is a gentle closer. Soft tape micro-scribbles pepper and voosh about the place; presently an aching tone is gingerly inserted like a steel cannula until, in the dying seconds, it’s rudely wrenched out and the claret starts to drip, drip, drip.
A wise man once said,
“To understand the sounds that nourish the mind is to study the true path, to know truly what it is that you need, and what you don’t need, and to shed off the layers that weigh you down.”
Tags: anla courtis, g.j de rook, id m theft able, invisible city records, joe murray, no basement is deep enough, the pink chunk
Anla Courtis – Microtonal Drifts (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR18, edition of 50 or download)
The Pink Chunk – Unearthed (“C20 Tape in a pink and green bulbous swelling”, No Basement Is Deep Enough)
g.j. de rook – a and bla (“C25 Tape in a chunky letterist bundle”, No Basement Is Deep Enough)
ID M THEFT ABLE – Jowls Without a Face (“C25 Tape in a felt-lipped plush purse”, No Basement Is Deep Enough)
Anla Courtis – Microtonal Drifts
I’m such a brain-doofus I wouldn’t know a microtone if it bit my pooter but I can fairly say this tape is some splendidly jiggering fux.
On side one a skittering hand limply flaps nylon guitar strings whispering new vibrating words in my ear like…
Chid-duh-duh-duh; kunnnn-unnng. Douw. Douw. Douw.
I’m guessing the ex-Reynols professor is nudging a wooden guitar with layer upon layer of rubbery notes. A mixture of electronic effects and intelligent fingering makes each single tone wobble brightly and then gradually build up into an incredibly satisfying jelly. It neatly swerves the dreaded grey-goo approach by revelling in the human touch. The occasional stray string-buzz or delicately lacquered slap adds an artisanal edge, like stone worked smooth.
If that all sounds a little light and pretty for you side two uses the exact same methods (canny fingering, electric magic and fretboard slide-rules) but roars out the speakers like an acid-etched excursion by Xazzaz.
Picture a freezing sleet storm dashing horizontally across a bleak valley.
The stings howl in some Quatermass dialect, harsh and pissy, among never-ending metallic squeals. Thin abrasive sounds slowly peak like waves of shale, reaching a precarious tipping point then shatter noisily among cracked debris.
Imagine the world’s largest blackboard and the world’s longest finger nail.
The shush/slush/shush is polished with a finer grain and, just when you think you have the measure of this misty beast, the tape snaps off with a rude ‘click’.
Crickey! After a pause and pat down I feel like my ears have fallen down the stairs, hubbity-bubbing down each soft step but my body is still paused, taught and alert on the landing. I’m breathing hard and black-coffee wired. Thank you Invisible City for a darn-near perfect tape experience!
The Pink Chunk – Unearthed
It’s a NBIDE joint so that means you’ve plugged into some pure outsider trash right from the start yeah? The sleeve notes hint this is some forgotten classic, pressed originally to 45 way back in the day. I’ve learned to trust pretty much nothing Ignace says but the heft of the beardy voices and sunny collapse of the recording switch my dial to 1979 pronto.
As ever the NBIDE design budget is pushed hard with this Pink Chunk being delivered to me in a blinking Pink Chunk! 35/83?
The ‘Louie Side’ unwraps rock’s dumbest moment and gives the Kingsmen a right royal rodgering.
But it’s the cheeky dub effects that took me by surprise; at times I can hear Lee Perry plotting revenge on Chris Blackwell among the sloppy verbal poncing, smashed tunes (including a vamp on Ellington’s classic ‘Caravan’) and edge-of-the-mind juxtaposition.
Like a couple of Zappas with the smart-arse kicked outta them these partial-tunes/melodies and approaches collide in an unschooled mix. The Guru Gwilly Edmondez seems to be a retro-influence on some of the outpourings and that makes this a darn peachy effort in my book.
The ‘Kitchen Side’ starts with a Kitchen Cantata (natch) and dissolves into multi-speed stoopidity as quick as a wink. Playing purely for yuks can make a listener grudgeful, but no fear – dramatic crystalline metro-gnomes polish my pleasure node good!
Fake Inuit vocals hinge back and forth and have that cabin fever feel. In fact it’s all a bit infected with chipmunk squeals, frontiersmen accordion and, on occasion a ‘residents-plays-the-beatles-plays-the-residents’ hum than feels like I’m looking into an infinite mirror, reflecting, reflecting, reflecting…
What can you rely on? The unreliability, man.
g.j. de rook – a and bla
The phenomenal pulsating brain that is Gerrit Jan de Rook [poet, curator and artist] comes wrapped up in a unashamedly descriptive package of giant A,B,L & A again.
In the early 70s Gerrit Jan concentrated on sound poetry but has been active in publishing, mail art and all manner of edgy performance across the decades. Recently, all old and grey, he’s been roping in them Bloody Stereos for Rotter-fun. He’s a groovy uncle for sure; and as my kids would say…
Gerrrit… he’s legend.
I’m almost trembling as I slide this modest grey tape into the player and soon get jaxxed by some quiet yet fiercely determined vocalese jibber- jabber.
Side one is surely as pure as snowy white towels. There’s no electronics, no hawking-throat phlegm, no burst-sinus koff, no birdcall whittering or flutter but real text/sound meshes that sit as calm as a rose-scented balm.
The gentle undulations of language get gradually unpicked and unravel in a glorious slow-plosion. It flits and stutters but never breaks character or pauses for breath. At over ten minutes the sweet unconscious babble (yet fully scored and annotated I’m guessing) becomes a marathon of vowel sounds, repeated to reduce meaning, necessitating an automatic, animal response.
Those simple base syllables are stretched and re-modelled like putty to create unnatural tensions and networks. Yet, if I listen at a distance this yammer blends with the domestic hum of our house so perfectly they cancel each other out and space becomes transparent.
I have to sit back a little to ponder on what I’ve heard. Such wondrous play makes the ache in my knees vanish and an amber glow of energy snake up my spine. I’m transported to a more innocent time of long walks and toxic Tip Top drinks. This is music as time-travel provider!
Side two starts with super-gentle rounded phonics (all ‘ohs’, ‘ehs’ and ‘ahs’) but soon turns a corner into whispered ‘shiffing’ with a faint whiff of studio reverb.
The volume increases and pace quickens like a gushing tap until we’re in the midst of some demented horse racing commentary. Lips are slapping speedily as neurotic whimpers whistle through the fatty gob tissue. The occasional deft pause is dropped like a Gene Krupa rim shot. The sudden, off-beat, smack drawing you back into the moist melange as the thunder rumbles on.
I’m struck by the stamina and chutzpah that keep such a human mouth swinging with such fruity aplomb.
I surrender completely. Join me in slack-jawed praise.
ID M THEFT ABLE – Jowls Without a Face
MORE PURE KLUNK from the frizz-hair mountain that is THEFT ABLE.
Shit… props are most definitely due to SKOT as the absolute master of this kind of super-fast cut up jaxx and lippy bluster. This couldn’t be more different from the cool natter of de Rook. You can’t measure ID M’s punk-a-delic Truman’s Water to de Rook’s stately P Glass; his gilded Rococo mouldings to Rooky’s cool IKB 79. Apples and oranges man.
But before I go off like a jizz-rocket I must report its sheer chance that interrupts reason on the super-classy opener ‘don’t keep your feelings a secret’ as THEFT ABLE sings Hallmark platitudes in an uncomfortably high soprano. Like in his classic tape Babb’s Bridge found words become the jam in his porridge to gloop down tasty
Girdles rip as ABLE ‘poings’ energetic springs and screws up tape FFW scree to salt lake flats speeds on ‘TRY IT IF IT’S ELECTRIC’. Never a throaty singer, this is all front-of-house style vocal-jaxx with spittle being squirted between flat white teeth and rubbery uvula.
Mid-review note: The lips and cheeks play a fundamental part in ID M’s sound, as key to him as what those jazz-beards will riff over Dizzy’s groovy bullfrog impressions. Like Diz, ID M builds up such an impressive air pocket that other vocal improvisers lay gasping on all fours, all blacked out and nauseous. Yeah…these chops are deeply impressive and singular.
It’s delicious to get lost as side one continues to bluster and poke. Electronics fight it out with radio-thumbing and DJ mumble. The whole construction is whipped up, ever changing and jagged with energy; like a fidgets dream yeah!
But just when you’ve busted your last move and need a little breather ABLE brings out his Beatle-bones to jagg about playfully on xylophone and piano until it sounds like George Martin’s thrown down his headphones screaming
You fucking Scousers drive me batty.
Side Two introduces a multi-choir of massed nonsense. Partial songs jostle with instant composition, the brain-pauses keeping it cute.
Then things devolve into electronic stew // marimba destruction in a matter of minutes. With the clunk-a-bout wooden ‘dong’ being one of the most pleasant sounds this blender of soniks is cosy and comfy. Voices are pitched fairly high so that ‘meoooo’ thing doubled on twin tapes becomes a thick-grey wash, the odd words bubbles through are ‘vain’ or ‘fame’ or maybe both.
I could go on about the disembodied carping, the tuneful scratch, the dub-like ‘boof’ of dropped soup mix. But it would just be more words. If I’ve not convinced you to click on a link or check out this hipster’s profile [Editor’s note: woah, Joe is reclaiming the word ‘hipster’! Ballsy move!], I can do no more.
It’s over to you my most luscious reader.
Tags: anla courtis, hairdryer excommunication, luke vollar, stuart chalmers, yogoh record
Stuart Chalmers – Imaginary Musicks 3/4 (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 30 or download)
Anla Courtis – B-Rain Folklore (CD, Yogoh Record, YGH004)
Stuart Chalmers – Imaginary Musicks 3/4
First off big apologies to Stuart for the delay in getting this review done: house move, kids, work – aghh – but enough of my lame excuses. It’s not that I haven’t listened to it, on the contrary it’s been an exemplary soundtrack to work a number of times and by God it’s made the trees greener and the sky a darker, more cosmic hue, as if the heavens are about to part to reveal the belly of a gargantuan space craft.
Previous instalments of Stuart’s music have left me slack jawed and this is no different.
So what, like, instruments does he use?
…you ask innocently enough…
The freaking world, man!!
I respond. Like a fine gourmet chef, Stuart selects sound morsels (via mouse click, or from his collection of strange instruments and whatnot) and cooks up an exquisite gumbo. We have string pluck, ghost breath, buried voices of the dead, machinery learning its language, gamelan on silver bubbles, whale bone pipes, gongs from undersea temples and the recorded rituals of the aquatic humanoid beings who use them. What’s remarkable is how uncluttered the disc sounds considering the amount of ingredients thrown into the pot. Take ‘Moonlight through trees’ a meditation for piano and tape scree as eerie as it is gorgeous. In ‘Requiem’ we get to hear Deckard from Blade Runner listening to a banal English sports quiz while making his way across the skyline, the slooowed synth gloop highlighting the inherent sadness of existence once the earth is on its final orbit.
On the final track, ‘Memory’, there is a muted recording of what sounds like an intimate gathering with fireworks popping and lots of oohs and aahs . The muffled organ tones that accompany this make it almost unbearably affecting.
While I normally wince at the phrase ‘experimental music’ it strikes me that this may be the best description for Stuart’s work. There is a restless drive to cover new ground or to go deeper into sound, never dry or academic but lush, wide-eyed and full of joy, pathos and awe. Just incredible.
Anla Courtis – B-Rain Folklore
A new disc by ultra-prolific, pint-sized Argentine Anla Courtis [Editor’s note: recorded 2005-2008, mixed 2009, mastered 2013, released 2014, brought to our attention 2015. Blimey]. This guy has left a vast trail of work in his wake, his travels encompassing numerous solo and collaborative projects. Whether gonzo rock, conceptual wonk or many tentacled improv his only consistency is a restless urge for new sounds, approaches, instruments, people, places, ideas. The true experimental spirit is within him, as with Stuart Chalmers.
The notes accompanying B-rain Folklore list a dizzying array of instruments that were used to create it, many of which I’ve never heard of, which adds to the usual uncertainty as to what to expect from a Courtis record. Happily, this one sees Anla constructing organic tapestries of percussion, string horns and more that seem to rise from the forest floor, offering a herbaceous paw and beckoning you to follow them into the verdant realm. Kinda reminds me of the excellent Finnish group Pavinsade as it has the same earthy smell about it.
Towards the end ‘Isla de Qomo’ sees the deep thrum of an acoustic guitar pattern offset by vibrant smears of light trying to land on its mossy body. Further onto ‘Wuqueltehue’ and we’ve licked the belly of the bright orange frog and are watching the canopy of the forest swirling in concentric loops. The final track is a lovely guitar and violin lullaby played over the humming bustle of a field recording from Anla’s time in Japan. It is a fitting end to an album that seems to rest on your skin like a morning dew and wash all the grime away.
Yogoh Record [Editor’s note: Discogs listing because yogoh.com isn’t working at time of writing]