…but the days grow short when you reach september

September 15, 2015 at 3:45 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Luminous Monsters – The Sun Tree (self-released download)

joined by wire – universe allstars (CD-r, LF Records, LF048)

Lost Trail – That Which Melts And Becomes Ash (3” CD-r, aetheric records)

Shredderghost – Weaved Regolith (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR13, edition of 50 or download)

Taming Power – Fragments of the Name of God (7” vinyl, Early Morning Records, EMR 7”-013, edition of 220)

Brian Lavelle – A Diagram and Pattern of Subtle Air (self-released download)

LM

As I mentioned in the 500th RFM post below, I’ve had some trouble writing about, or even engaging with, music during my recent period of illness. It became like an old friend I’d not seen in a while. You know how it goes: if you see someone all the time you talk at length about each other’s lives, the issues of the day or just bullshit about nothing but once circumstances split you up it’s hand written letters and calls, then emails, then the length of the news dump needed becomes daunting, then it becomes something you ‘should be getting around to’ then months pass and… ah…, hey – an opportunity to be a smart arse on Twitter, I can do that in two minutes whilst lying on the sofa! Don’t look at me like that – you’ve done it too. We are terrible people.

Actually, I can’t feel too guilty. Sure, it is crap that stuff sent our way months ago is languishing unreviewed but it is a coiled-liquorice-turd-in-a-hubcap-full-of-boiled-tramp’s-piss that I lost the use of my, shall we say, ‘higher functions’ for months of this finite and irreplaceable life. Anyway, justified resentment to one side, I am happy that my critical faculties are slowly returning and I find myself listening to racket again and making up nonsense in response. I’ll be revving up with short pieces, anthology posts and other ways of deteetering the review pile. First up: this lot, chosen at near-random.

Luminous Monsters – The Sun Tree

An epic of lone wolf psych rock. Reminds me of teenage afternoons spent lying on my bedroom floor, fried, watching the carpet undulate in time with my heartbeat. The crescendo here is expertly handled – in the second track, ‘Sapling’, before the chugging even properly begins you can feel the reverb being allowed to hang in the air – like plumes of incense in the barracks of some stoned soldier ants, preparing to watch footage – again – of that one time they kicked those fucking termites’ arses. Sweet.

LTjbw -ua

joined by wire – universe allstars

Lost Trail – That Which Melts And Becomes Ash

Imagine if the invitation to migrate to the off-world colonies was not a trope of dystopian SF, a cynical attempt to empty an increasingly choked and infertile Earth, but that all the marketing material was literally true. The experience of faster than light travel is an ecstatic oneness with the universe, the colonies themselves are bountiful paradises where the grim hierarchies of our current existence are abolished, the strange physical properties of the planets where they are located give us superpowers and so on. joined by wire and Lost Trail would be the soundtrack to it all. The former accompanying the day’s effort sculpting our new wild architecture. The latter for evenings by the campfire telling wistful tales about the old country whilst our newly tamed alien pets eye each other with suspiciously knowing expressions and idly test the strength of the ropes they are tethered with.

SG

Shredderghost – Weaved Regolith

The first of two tracks begins with a satisfyingly rough-hewn tone/drone which is still but not motionless, like a fishing boat anchored in an otherwise deserted and isolated bay. When some curl, fizz and spit is applied to the sound later in the track it’s as if a bucket of chum has been thrown overboard to enliven an otherwise serene session of dozy, half-cut night fishing.

The first half of the second track documents the awakening of a holidaying Old One who squelches out of its semi-submerged tidal cave and swims under the boat. Sensing there is fun to be had, it belches a warning signal and whilst the mariners panic it eats them and, for good measure, the boat too. This crunching finale is represented by about five minutes of brute guitar skronk. I see where he’s coming from.

TP - fragments

Taming Power – Fragments of the Name of God

Back in February, Askild Haugland of Taming Power kindly sent me another four of his records. With his typical, understated generosity he did this unsolicited and free of charge just to ‘fill the gaps’ and as a way of thanking me for enthusing about his work (click the tag above for more of my writing on this subject). I was, as you can imagine, profoundly grateful.

His music has been a welcome tonic whilst I was sick. Presenting a variety of dramatic, ego dissolving views – across the frozen lake, scree slopes in the foothills, the emerald green grass of the flood plain – Askild’s work has the same perfect bite as opening your front door onto a December snow scene. I have not written about these releases partly for the reasons given above but partly because the more I think about it, the more perfect it appears. It has the same emotional intensity and efficiency of expression as the best poetry and, frankly, no-one needs my clumsy marginalia.

If I may make one suggestion: this 7″ single is a useful distillation and can be used as a map key to make sense of the atlas that is the Taming Power back catalogue. It is not an exaggeration to say I have listened to this dozens of times.

[Note: picture stolen from the Idwal Fisher blog where you will find a much more enlightening write-up here.]

BL - diagram

Brian Lavelle – A Diagram and Pattern of Subtle Air

Finally, then, we have this requiem for a much missed feline companion.  Brian explains:

This piece was recorded in tribute to our beautiful cat Bob who passed away before his time on Friday 13 March 2015. He deserves more than this, but I’ve struggled with how to express in music just how much he meant to me and how big a void exists in my heart now that he’s gone.

It’s a beautiful ten minute track, constructed with the care and skill anyone familiar with Brian’s work might expect.  It has the taut elegance of a cat trotting along the top of a fence, the magisterial poise of a paw on the neck of mouse and the soulfulness of a moggy sparked out in a sunbeam.  It is (and I mean this as high praise and not a flippant joke) ‘Adagio for Whiskers’ – a glimpse into that edge-world that only cats can see.

Available for free download but donations gratefully received and passed on to the UK charity Cats Protection.

—ooOoo—

Luminous Monsters

LF Records

aetheric records

Invisible City Records

Taming Power (link to previous article with contact and price details)

Brian Lavelle

the 2014 zellaby awards

January 4, 2015 at 8:23 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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zellaby award envelope

The deliberations are over, the ballots are burning.  White smoke billows from the chimney here at Midwich Mansions.  Ignore the salty wave of ‘best of 2014’ lists you saw prematurely ejaculated over an appalled December – here is the real thing. ‘Never finalised prior to January 1st’ – that’s the Zellaby pledge.

And what a conclave it has been!  Scott turned up early and presented his nominations as a hyperlinked series of Discogs listings – he spoke using a vocoder throughout and would only answer our questions if we assigned them catalogue numbers.  Joe’s effervescent enthusiasm remained undimmed despite a trip to Accident and Emergency following a foolhardy attempt to gargle Christmas tree baubles.  New kid Luke seemed happy to fetch and carry despite our hazing pranks – oh, how we laughed sending him to Wilko’s for a tub of left handed CD-rs!  All I had to do was sit in my wing-backed leather chair, fingers steepled, and pass Solomon-style judgement.  My beautiful Turkish manservant took copious notes during procedures, of course, and whilst those are being transcribed I’m afraid I must begin with some sombre news: the underground is dead.

An article making this claim by David Keenan was published in the December issue of The Wire magazine and caused adverse weather in the crockery.  Having finally read it I can confirm that it is, by and large, laughable.  The friend who sent me a copy included this note:

Here it is.  I will look forward to reading your response as it would be great to see his flimsy, self-obsessed nonsense getting torn apart.

Hmm, yeah, tempting as it is to to embark on a comprehensive rebuttal what does it really matter?  I hate to disappoint but engaging with the wilful fucknuttery to be found in publications like The Wire is like arguing about the properties of phlogiston – it might be of vague historical or semantic interest to those with too much time on their hands but is ultimately pointless.  My favourite response has been Tom Bench‘s (@TJDizzle) satirical summary of Keenan’s disdain, tweeted in reply to some genuine outrage from Duncan Harrison (@Young_Arms):

yr not tru underground because u have friends and sometimes talk to them about music

Lolz.

Some of the fallout has been quite interesting though.  Just before Christmas, RFM started getting hits from an Italian language music site that was, on investigation, carrying an interview with Keenan in which he is asked specifically about the idea of the ‘no-audience underground’ as popularised by this blog.  In his short response he manages to invent a barely recognizable straw man version of the notion, take a swing at it, miss, then step back as if he’d actually landed a punch.  Admittedly, Google Translate may have knocked some nuance out of his answer but, as I was able to read it, it was good for a hearty chuckle and fuck all else.

Phil Smith, currently researching the history of Termite Club for a book chapter, wrote a thoughtful piece largely agreeing with Keenan that contained the following tragicomic scene:

One of the saddest moments of the year for me (on a lovely day) was Neil Campbell & John Tree talking about whether there was ever in our lifetime likely to be a music revolution like (say) punk again (one which Keenan seems to want), & shaking their heads in total ‘of course not’ resignation, the required kidz soaked in computer games & all manner of other entertainment drips & (I suppose) music, whatever it signifies to people, only ever welling up in such a way as part of a business move anyway.

I laughed out loud reading this.  Not only have these rueful old geezers forgotten at least one revolution we’ve already had since punk (rave culture – musically game changing, actual laws passed to disrupt it) but the internet enabled golden age is orders of magnitude more significant than punk.  Here’s a piece from yonks ago which begins to explain why and, for good measure, here’s another from double-yonks ago about why The Wire is hopeless too.

Neil Campbell, emboldened by Keenan’s piece and nostalgic memories of poorly received gigs unearthed in response to Phil’s Termite research, ramped up his usual silliness.  On Twitter he lamented the lack of confrontation nowadays and took the piss with his #realnoaudienceunderground hashtag.  I was interested to find out if there was any substance behind his bravado so devised an experiment.  After waiting for Twitter to move on, I called Neil out on some random nonsense in a deliberately antagonistic manner.  As expected, fight came there none.  Indeed, after explaining what I was up to both publicly and via direct message (the latter, I admit, did contain the phrases ‘full of shit’ and ‘you ol’ fraud!’) I found myself unfollowed.  Ah well, so much for confrontation.

(Aside: Neil has form for practice/preach discrepancy.  After hearing him proclaim several times that he’d rather read a bad review than a good one I took him at his word and minced three Astral Social Club releases including the album Electric Yep.  I did this with heavy heart and even ran it past Neil before posting.  He replied with a jaunty ‘hey you know me, go ahead’ but after I did he deleted the RFM link from the list of friends on his Astral Social Club blog and has not submitted anything at all since.  I was amused to find myself excommunicated for heresy.  Ah well, so much for bad reviews.)

I get the impression that Neil might be a bit uneasy with his current status as universally loved sacred cow.  Or maybe he digs it and is frustrated not to be a Wire mag cover star?  Who knows?  I love the guy, have done for about fifteen years, and hate to jeopardise a friendship with a shameless ad hominem attack over something so inconsequential but… dude has clearly forgotten how to take a kick to the udders.

So, in summary: those that say they want confrontation don’t, or rather only want it on their own terms or at a safe distance, those that lament the lack of revolution need only to open their eyes to what is happening around them and those that proclaim the underground dead are talking pish.

Before moving on a word about terms of engagement.  Whilst I’ve enjoyed a few physical fights in the past (yeah, I may be short and out of shape but I’m fucking mental), I find this kind of swaggering jaw-jaw to be boring, childish and unproductive.  Comment if you like but unless what is posted is novel, substantial and engaging I am unlikely to respond.  I won’t be tweeting about it under any circumstances.  I have washed my hands and will need an irresistible reason to get ’em dirty again.

—ooOoo—

BOY!  WHERE ARE THOSE NOTES?  Oh, thank you.  Have a shortbread biscuit.  Right then, shall we crack on with the fun bit?

—ooOoo—

Radio Free Midwich presents The Zellaby Awards 2014

Thank you for bearing with us.  Firstly, an apology: due to, y’know, austerity n’ that, this year’s ceremony will be taking place on the swings in the playground at the muddy end of the estate.  Nominations will be scratched into the paint of the railings and refreshments will be whatever cider Luke can prise from the grip of local vagrants.

Secondly, the rules: to be eligible in one of the following five categories this music needs to have been heard by one of us for the first time in 2014.  It does not need to have been released in 2014.  As the purpose of these awards is to spread the good news about as many quality releases as possible, should an artist win in one category they will not be placed in any of the others.  I do not vote for any of my own releases, nor any releases that I had a hand in, er…, releasing (with one notable exception this year).  My three comrades are free to ignore these rules and write about what they like.  The price paid for this freedom is that I, as editor, have final say.  Thus the awards are the product of the idiosyncratic taste of yours truly with input from my co-writers along the way.

A couple of omissions explained.  Long term readers may be shocked to find no mention of previous winners Ashtray Navigations or the piss superstition.  Phil and Mel have been preoccupied this year with moving house, full time unenjoyment and various celebrations of the AshNav 20th anniversary and have not been as prolific as nutcase fans such as myself would like.  There has been one cassette of new material, Aero Infinite, which, to my shame, I only became aware of recently and do not yet own.  Believe me, the pain is fierce.  Bookies have already stopped taking bets on their planned four-disc retrospective winning everything next time out.

Julian and Paul have shared a split live tape with Broken Arm and had a CD-r, The Dialled Number, The Bone-Breaker, The Heavenly Sword, out on Sheepscar Light Industrial but, in my humble opinion, their defining release of 2014 was getting nothing to appear on the developed film, a mighty album which is sadly ineligible for this year’s awards because it was released by me on fencing flatworm recordings as their ‘prize’ for winning album of the year last time.  See, complicated isn’t it?

There are also many releases on the guilt-inducing review pile that I suspect could have been contenders had I found time to digest them properly: apologies to Ian Watson, Prolonged Version, Troy Schafer, Seth Cooke etc. and thanks for your continued patience.  For the first time, two entries in this year’s poptastic final chart are previously unreviewed on RFM.  Mysterious, eh?

OK, enuff with the preamble.  The first category is…

5. The “I’d never heard of you 10 minutes ago but now desperately need your whole back catalogue” New-to-RFM Award

Joe votes for Yoni Silver:

I heard Yoni Silver play a solo bass clarinet set on November 1st this year. Over the course of 20 minutes I blinked repeatedly and snapped my fingers; my mouth hung open like a codfish and eventually my eyes filled with hot tears. I’d emerged from a jazz-hole that ranged from barely-there, reductionist ‘hummmm’, to wet-chop dribble/spittle outta the brassy pipes, to full-bore Ayler-esque gospel skronk. It was so good I didn’t just clap and holla…I vowed to start a record label to immediately box this shit up. Yoni’s discs are thin on the ground but live shows with proper jazz cats and beards like PWHMOBS are gathering pace. Watch out!

Luke goes for Botanist:

Ever fantasized about a forest dwelling black metal troll singing songs about plant life on drums and hammered dulcimer only?  Me too.  Well, fantasize no longer: he exists. Just when your jaded ears smugly tell you they’ve heard it all along comes the Botanist.

taming power - twenty-one pieces - cover

…but anyone paying attention will have already guessed that the winner this year is Taming Power.

I might have indulged in some ill advised Campbell-baiting above but I am profoundly grateful to Neil for taking the time to introduce me to the world of Askild Haugland.  This quiet Norwegian has amassed a sizeable back catalogue of tape and vinyl releases on his own Early Morning Records, most of which were recorded, edited and annotated around the turn of the century and have remained largely unheralded since.  His work – created using tape recorders, cassette players, shortwave radios, electric guitars and the like – is perfection viewed from shifting angles, filtered through prisms.  His patience and dedication to uncovering every nuance of his processes are truly inspiring.  It has been an enormous pleasure to promote his music to a (slightly) wider audience – exactly what this blog is all about.  The chap himself seems lovely too.  Read more: Neil’s accidental guest post, reviews, more reviews, Early Morning Records catalogue.

…and when you return we can move on to…

4. The “Stokoe Cup”, given for maintaining quality control over a huge body of work making it impossible to pick individual releases in an end of year round up

Joe makes a compelling case for the Peak Signal 2 Noise broadcasts:

If Cathy Soreny and her Sheffield-based gladiators had released ten 25 minute compilation tapes in a year featuring the creamy froth of the N-AU we’d stand to attention and sing a rousing song. To create ‘visual cassettes’ for your telly and computer screen and navigate the machinations of the community TV industry and come up with such a thoroughly curated, imaginatively shot and god-damn funny series is just the bee’s knees. PS2N has opened another glossy window into the N-AU.

Luke keeps it pithy:

The Stokoe Cup should clearly go to Lee Stokoe.  ‘The underground is dead ‘ announces David Keenan in The Wire this month ‘shut up you prat’ is the reply from Radio Free Midwich.

Scott agrees:

Predictable enough, I HAVE to say Lee Stokoe. Browsing my discogs list for 2014 acquisitions it’s virtually all Matching Head tapes – either the new ones or tapes from the 90s that I didn’t already have. Its consistent to the point of sheer ridiculousness.

daniel thomas - that which

However, the editor has other ideas.  This year’s winner is Daniel Thomas.

Dan’s output in 2014 has been prodigious.  He even wins in two categories that don’t exist: ‘1016’ the opener on Enemy Territory is my track of the year (go on, play it whilst reading the rest of this article) and the ‘flower press’ edition of That Which Sometimes Falls Between Us / As Light Fades put together by Dave Thomas (no relation) for its release on Kirkstall Dark Matter wins packaging of the year too.  The latter album is perhaps the definitive expression of ‘extraction music‘ – the sub-genre I defined as a way of herding the work of Dan, Dave, Kev Sanders and other fellow travellers into a manageable fold of headspace – and one of at least three projects involving Dan that could have been album of the year.  For the record, the other two are Hagman’s Number Mask on LF Records and the remarkable Dub Variations by The Thomas Family in another beautiful package hand crafted by Crow Versus Crow:

It is the bead of sweat on the brow of the tightrope walker. It is a time-lapse film of dew condensing onto a cobweb.

Dan shows no signs of slowing, nor of relinquishing his choke-tight quality control.  I cannot wait to hear what he has for us in 2015.

…and now a favourite moment for the editor:

3. The Special Contribution to Radio Free Midwich Award

Scott goes for a far-flung ambassador:

It has to be Miguel Pérez.  For making RFM a global concern, and being full of passion, he’s the man.

Joe, as ever, finds this a tough one to pin down.  He suggests…

…we should say a thank you to all the readers and contributors … to everyone who has waited patiently for a review/carried on reading without sending us hate mail…

…which is a sentiment I share, of course, but this year I think one particular set of contributors has to be recognized in this category.  God knows how 27 different acts are going to share the gong though because the winners are…

Michael Clough - eye for detail cover

The artists who submitted tracks to eye for detail – the midwich remixes album:

Andy Jarvis, ap martlet, Aqua Dentata, Breather, Brian Lavelle, Chrissie Caulfield (of RFM faves Helicopter Quartet), Clive Henry, Dale Cornish, Daniel Thomas, devotionalhallucinatic, DR:WR (Karl of The Zero Map), dsic, foldhead (Paul Walsh – who accidentally started it all), Hardworking Families (Tom Bench), In Fog (Scott McKeating of this parish), John Tuffen (of Orlando Ferguson), Michael Clough (who also provided cover art), Michael Gillham, Neil Campbell (Astral Social Club), Panelak, Paul Watson (BBBlood), posset (Joe Murray also of RFM), Simon Aulman (pyongyang plastics), the piss superstition, Van Appears, Yol, and ZN.

This year I finally joined Twitter which, as a wise-cracking, smart-arse, mentally unstable narcissist with self-esteem issues, turned out to be a perfect platform for me (though for those exact same reasons I think I’ll have to exercise a bit more caution with it in future).  One of the first things that happened was a throwaway comment about a midwich remix project ballooning into an actual album that had to be retroactively called into existence.  The final release six weeks later contained 27 re-workings of tracks from my back catalogue and lasted a total of 3 hours 40 minutes.  The process was humbling, exhilarating, joyful and unprecedented in my personal experience.

The album remains available here (along with more detail as to its construction).  If you don’t already have it, I recommend you treat yourself with that Christmas money from Gran.  I’m charging a fiver for the download and all dough raised is being given to The Red Cross.  The total donated so far, after PayPal and Bandcamp fees, is something like £180.  When I reached a ton I had a giant-cheque-handing-over-ceremony, again following whims blurted out on Twitter.

Many, many thanks to all involved – you are elite members of the pantheon of the righteous.

—ooOoo—

BOY!!  DIM THE LIGHTS.  What?  Oh yes, we’re outside aren’t we.  Fetch me a shortbread biscuit then.  What do you mean there are none left?  Well, just give me the one you are holding.  Gah!  The impertinence!  Anyway, finally we come to the two main categories…

—ooOoo—

2. The Label of the Year Award

Joe goes for No Basement is Deep Enough:

You could easily mistake No Basement is Deep Enough’s tape goof for a zany Zappa-esque prank. But peel away the layers; brush the fringe to one side, open that single plush tit and you are rewarded with some amazing music. Almost like a wonky Finders Keepers NBIDE have unveiled some new ghouls and re-released some remarkable old gizzards (Alvaro – The Chilean with the Singing Nose, Ludo Mich and Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson) in frankly outrageous packaging. Old or new, experimental classicists or gutter-dwelling hobo these gonks are pure trippin’ for ears.

Yeah, I’ve been involved as a one of these gonks this year but I think that means I can give you an extra bit of insight into how curator Ignace De Bruyn and designer Milja Radovanović are such wonderful human beings. I told them about getting some mentions in The Wire (Ed – you’ll love this) and they didn’t give a shit. “Ha, we always get mentioned in The Wire without any clue how, what, where, when” said Ignace, “and let’s keep it like that” he chortled into his waffle.

Luke narrows it down to two:

Beartown Records.  A consistent champion of no audience sounds and nice and cheap, they sent me a parcel addressed to Luke ‘ the sick’ Vollar which contained a postcard with ‘sorry just sorry’ written on it.  For this reason they are my label of the year.

Also a mention for Altar of Waste.  I find it comforting to know that somewhere in North America there is a guy called Cory Strand transforming his favourite films / TV programmes / music into insanely limited and lovingly presented sets. Twenty disc drone interpretation of Harry Potter limited to five copies!? He also releases loads of drone/HNW discs that are lovely items to look at and listen to including my album of the year [SPOILER REMOVED – Ed]

Scott apologises:

Sorry, Matching Head again.

Luminous worthies, for sure, but I reckon my choice has been phosphorescent:

kevin sanders - ascension through apathy

The winner is hairdryer excommunication.

The solo venture of Kevin Sanders has released, I believe, 26 items in the calendar year 2014.  Unbelievably, during the same time, he has also had his creations released by other labels, has played live, has moved house and job along a lengthy diagonal line from North to South and has let fly with a gazillion opaque tweets.  This guy’s heart must beat like a fucking sparrow’s.

But never mind the girth, feel the quality.  Kev’s hairdryer excommunication sits alongside Lee Stokoe’s Matching Head as an absolute exemplar of the no-audience underground micro-label as expression of personal vision.  Each release is a new page in the atlas mapping the world he is presenting to us; each trembling drone, each nihilistic/ecstatic scything fuzz is a contour line.  Like all great labels, hXe is greater than the sum of its parts and only gets more compelling as those parts collect and combine.  I appreciate that this might appear daunting for the newbie so here’s five to be starting with – you’ll thank me for it.

Now you see why I have to strictly enforce my ‘win allowable in only one category’ rule.  I could have created a top 40 (!) that just contained releases by, or involving, Askild, Dan and Kev.  Astonishing.  So, leaving those guys sat chatting under the climbing frame, we finally come to the blue riband, best in show, gold medal event:

1. The Album of the Year Award

Woo!  Lists!  Click on the album title and you will be taken to the original RFM review (if such a thing exists) or another applicable page (if not) where you will find details of the release (label, whatnot) and, most importantly, how to go about hearing/purchasing these marvels.

First to the lectern is Mighty Joe Murray:

It’s taken a real effort to whittle this down but here’s my top 5 in order:

faint people

1. The New Band of the Faint People – The Man Who Looked at the Moon

Keep yr Wounded Nurse. These micro-pieces are stitched together with a domestic hand juggling fly agaric.

2. Rotten Tables, Golden Meat – My Nose is Broken

This cheeky release opened a new stomach pouch and gassed itself in…yeasty and fruity. Biggest smiles of the year.

3. Pascal – Nihilist Chakai House

It goes, “tk tk tk tk tk …. po/po/po – ping.” Blistering like hot metal pipes; fragile like seaweed.

4. Spoils & Relics – Embed and then Forget

Stream-of-consciousness becomes conscious itself…a living, breathing music as fresh as green parsley.

5. CKDH – Yr Putrid Eyeballs/Fungal Air Creeping Adders

The most violently restrained listen of the year by a long shot. Needle sharp. Music to break radios.

Scott briefly interjects:

skullflower - draconis

Skullflower – Draconis

As sylph-like a heavyweight as you’re ever likely to hear.

Now over to the office junior Luke:

Album of the year…

midwich - the swift cover

Midwich – The Swift

Utterly sublime floating tones, get your cranky toddler off to sleep in minutes, limited to 15 copies only?!  Madness. [Editor’s note: ha! What is more shameful? Luke sucking up to his editor or me for publishing it?  Yes, I know its me – shut up.]

The rest:

Spoils & Relics – Embed and then Forget
culver & posset – black gash
Skullflower – Draconis
Aqua Dentata – The Cygnet Procambarus
Robert Ridley Shackleton / Werewolf Jerusalem / She Walks Crooked – April Fools
Ashtray Navigations  – Aero Infinite
Yol – Headless Chicken Shits out Skull Shaped Egg
Dylan Nyoukis – Yellow Belly
Ezio Piermattei – Turismodentale

..and last of all, to your faithful editor.  I have chosen twenty items (well, twenty three including cheats).  The first half are presented in no particular order, the second set in the traditional ‘top ten run down’ ending with the actual, objectively verified best album of the year.  In my opinion.

10. NIHL / Female Borstal / Dear Beloved Henry / Albert Materia

female borstal nihl splitdear beloved henry

The perils of the split tape, eh?  I dug the Female Borstal side of the former, sadly didn’t get on with Albert Materia on the latter.  However the sides by NIHL and Dear Beloved Henry were bloody marvellous and, if they’d appeared on the same object would have rocketed up these rankings.  So I’m imagining an ideal world in which they did.  NIHL got a haiku:

Seduced by darkness

beyond guttering arc-light –

like moths, like dead souls.

Praise for Dear Beloved Henry – equally heartfelt, less formatting:

…deceptively simple in execution: a flowing electronic drone groove with a vaguely East Asian feel – like 1970s Krautrock that has been listening to a bunch of gamelan LPs – works through the variations.  However, every so often a magnetic pull distorts it off course and adds an intriguing, complicating layer of discordance.  It’s like it was mastered to VHS and someone is now messing with the tracking.  Is this an artefact of duping it to an old recycled tape or is this woosiness wholly intended?  The result is magical either way.

9. Helicopter Quartet – Leading Edges

helicopter quartet - leading edges

 …the album expresses a profound vision with an austere but soulful beauty.  Imagine a slate-blue version of Ashtray Navigations psychedelics or a restrained take on the intensity of, say, Swans without the self-loathing bombast. The band may jokingly self-describe as ‘semi-melodic mournfulness’ but this is a deeply serious music with, I think, plenty to say about the difficult, forlorn, wonderful, awe-inspiring condition we find ourselves in.

…Helicopter Quartet are, to my tired ears, a near-perfect example of how musicianship can be harnessed in a noise context.  Chrissie and Mike balance their considerable skills with an understanding of how to use noise to pluck the soul of the listener and have it vibrate with a slightly discordant, emotionally complicated, seriously intended, profoundly satisfying resonance.

8. Sophie Cooper – Our Aquarius

sophie cooper - our aquarius

 

When I wrote in the RFM Christmas message to the nation…

To be transported by a work of art – to be lifted from yourself, your surroundings and placed elsewhere for the duration – is a profound experience and, as someone who has trouble with self-sabotaging mental illness, one that I greatly appreciate. Catch me right and the bus to work is swapped for a magic carpet skimming the treetops. Find me in a susceptible mood and waiting at a pedestrian crossing becomes standing at the bedside of an elderly relative, brimful with a mixture of love and trepidation. Listening to music pans the muddy water sloshing inside my head, nuggets of gold and squirming, glistening creatures are uncovered. It – thus: you – is a constant source of revelation, of insight and of inspiration.

…it was no coincidence that I had been listening to this album a lot.  My apologies to Sof for not getting around to reviewing it but, hey, Uncle Mark did over at Idwal Fishers.  The cad suggests that it is ‘by no means a flawless release’ but if he dare repeat that in my vicinity I shall strike his cheek with my glove.

7. Stuart Chalmers – imaginary musicks vol. 1

stuart chalmers - imaginary musiks vol 1

The world his music describes is fully formed and the listener’s experience of it is immersive and ego-dissolving but carefully placed ticks – a filter echo, a moment of dictaphonic skwee – bring you back to the surface by foregrounding its artificiality. It’s like a South Sea Islands version of Philip K. Dick’s Time out of Joint. Imagine walking on the golden beach, admiring the dancing palms, looking out over the glassy ocean to the setting sun only for it all to suddenly disappear and be replaced with a featureless white room and a scrap of paper at your feet with the words ‘tropical paradise’ typed on it. As with all the very best stuff: the more I listen to it, the more I want to listen to it.

6. The Skull Mask – Nocturno Mar / Sunburn

skull mask - nocturno marskull mask - sunburn

Another terrific year for the prolific Miguel Pérez, RFM’s Mexican cousin.  From the bloody-minded free noise of his improv duo ZN to the incense-and-bitumen ritual drone of The Will of Nin Girima (released on new label-to-watch Invisible City Records), I doubt a week has passed without me spending some time in his company.

My favourite of his projects is The Skull Mask and these two recordings were released either side of Miguel’s return to acoustic guitar.  The former is made of enveloping, tidal drones containing half-submerged reversed vocals.  It can prove oppressively menacing or hypnotically soothing depending on your mood as you encounter it.  Just like the night sea it is named for.  The latter is ravaged, desert psychedelia improvised with raw acoustic guitar.  There is no shade under which Miguel, or the listener, can hide – this is completely exposed music and is riveting.

5. Yol – Headless Chicken Shits out Skull Shaped Egg

yol - headless chicken

From the preamble to a review by Joe:

For the uninitiated Yol has carefully and modestly created his own footnote in the frantic world of kinetic poetry.  Imagine tiny fragile words battered with broken bottles.  Innocent syllables and posh sibilance swashes getting clotted and clumped together.  Those classy phonics all chopped up and smashed; ground out like spent fags and stuttered wetly in a barely controlled rage…

Musical accompaniment is of the most primitive and brutal kind.  Forget the chest-beating Harsh Noise dullards, this is frighteningly naked and exposed.  Short blasts of destruction come from broken machinery, sheared plastic shards, bits of old hoover and burnt cutlery.  A more dicky commentator would say recordings are made in carefully selected site specific locations.  The truth?  Yol’s breaking into empty factory units and shouting his rusty head off.

4. Spoils & Relics – Sins of OmissionEmbed and then Forget

spoils and relics - sins of omissionembedandthenforget

The closest the RFM staff come to ‘critical consensus’.  I can’t decide which of these releases I prefer so you are getting ’em both.  From my review of the former:

Their music denies narrative … The palette used is a largely abstract selection of found, domestic and field recordings as well as sound produced by the various electronic implements that make up their ‘kit’.  The source of any given element is usually (and presumably deliberately) unclear.  They are examining the innards of everything, poking around where noise happens and taking notes.  It is more akin to the meta-musical experiments of AMM and their progeny.

Don’t be scared off – this music is not dry and scratchy, it is layered with humour (ranging from the wry raised eyebrow to banana skin slapstick), tension and a whip-smart self-awareness that speaks of the telepathic relationship between the band members when performing.  A piece by Spoils & Relics is about sound in the same way a piece by Jackson Pollock is about paint.

From Joe’s review of the latter:

There is a constant flow of ideas all itchy with life; reminding me of a similar feeling – running your finger over a gravestone, nails gouging the names.  I’m caught up in a multi-sensory melting of meaning into a constant ‘now’ … Listeners who favour that hi-fidelity will be delighted.  Beards who dwell in the no-fi world of clanking tape jizz are going to be entranced.  Skronk fans will be be-calmed.  Zen droners will wake up refreshed and sharp.

3. Ap Martlet – Analog Computer

ap martlet - analog computer

The title is perfect – it calls to mind a room-sized, valve-run difference engine humming with contented menace.  These three tracks seem less compositions than iterations of an algorithm set in motion by a wonky punchcard being slotted into the machine upside-down.  ‘Comdyna’ and ‘Thurlby’ are both rhythmic in an abstract sense – the latter being a low impact step aerobics class for retired ABC Warriors, the former an exercise in patience and discipline as a series of low-slung tones are held until they start to feedback, then released, then repeated.  The final track, ‘Heathkit’, is a coruscating, brain-scouring, fuzz-drone.  It is the kind of sound that in a workshop you would wear ear protectors to dampen but here it is presented for our contemplation and admiration.

2. culver – plague hand

culver - plague hand tapes

[Editor’s note: a sudden attack of prudishness has stopped me from reproducing the covers of this release.  Scans can be found accompanying the original review.]

I need to account for Matching Head catalogue number 200: plague hand by culver, a twin tape set containing four side-long tracks totalling, you guessed it, 200 minutes.  Each of these four untitled pieces (the sides are labelled a,b,c, and d and that’s all you get) is a sombre Culvanian documentary: a long, wordless panoramic camera sweep taking in the scenery with an unblinking 360 degree turn.  Each is different from the last, all are wholly involving and will have the attentive listener crowing ‘aww… man, I was digging that!’ and reaching to flip or rewind as soon as the track ends.  I say ‘attentive listener’ but really there is no other kind because you have no choice in the matter.  This isn’t background music – allow yourself to get caught and your ego will be dissolved like a fly in a pitcher plant.  It is a masterwork and a fitting celebration of the numerically notable point it represents.

[Editor’s second note: Lee later told me that this is in fact all one track with various movements.  Just so as you know.]

…and the winner of the Zellaby Award for Album of the Year 2014 is:

1. Aqua Dentata – The Cygnet Procambarus

aqua dentata - cygnet procambarus

My review took the form of a science fiction (very) short story.  Eddie’s music does that kind of thing to your head.  Here it is:

In some future hospital you are recovering from a horrible accident. Within a giant glass vitrine, you are suspended in a thick, healing gel – an amniotic fluid rich in bioengineered enzymes and nanotech bots all busy patching you up. From the waist down you are enmeshed in metal, a scaffold of stainless steel pins keeping your shape whilst the work continues. The first twenty minutes of Eddie’s half hour describes your semi-conscious state of prelapsarian bliss, played out over dark undertones of bitter irony: every moment spent healing is, of course, a moment closer to confronting the terrible event that put you there.

During the final ten minutes the tank empties, bizarrely, from the bottom up. Pins are pushed from healing wounds and tinkle and clatter as they collect below you. Attending staff shuffle nervously but maintain a respectful distance and near silence. As the gel clears your head, your eyes slowly peel open, the corners of your mouth twitch. You look out through the glass at the fishbowled figures in the room. You weakly test the restraints you suddenly feel holding you in place, and with a sickening flash it all comes back and you rememb———

No-one in what this blog lovingly refers to as the ‘no-audience underground’ is producing work as consistently brilliant as Eddie Nuttall. The back catalogue of his project Aqua Dentata – growing with the alien beauty and frustrating slowness of a coral reef – contains not a wasted moment. His work – quiet, long-form dronetronics with metallic punctuation – is executed with the patience and discipline of a zen monk watching a spider construct a cobweb.  Best dressed man to feature on this blog too.

—ooOoo—

So, that is that.  Eddie’s prize, should he wish to take me up on it, is for Aqua Dentata to have the one and only release on the otherwise dormant fencing flatworm recordings some time in 2015.  I’ll keep you posted on negotiations.

Oh, and should any of you be interested in how this blog does – y’know, number of hits and all that – I’ve made the annual report provided by WordPress public and you can see it here.

Heartfelt best wishes for the New Year, comrades.  All is love.

Rob Hayler, January 2015.

 

electric meditations: the taming power back catalogue

October 28, 2014 at 4:47 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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Taming Power - Meditations for Radio front

Regular readers will know that I have recently championed the work of Norwegian artist Askild Haugland who records as Taming Power and releases music via his own Early Morning Records label, mainly on vinyl. I was put onto him by the effervescent and musically omniscient Neil Campbell and our opinions as to the genius of this largely unsung outsider can be read here, here and here.

I asked Askild what of his back catalogue was available and how an interested party might get hold of it. He replied to my email with the ordering information and list of releases below. As I read through it I found myself intrigued and a little hypnotized by the uncluttered, succinct style with which he describes his ideas, his music and the process of its creation. I defy anyone to read, say, the one line description of Fragments Of The Name Of God and not want to hear it. Fuck it, I thought, let’s make this a guest post and spread the word amongst the ‘elite’ readership that this blog attracts.

So, I’ve formatted the list, illustrated it with cover scans where I had them and linked the titles to posts containing my reviews where possible. I have neither sought nor received permission to do this but he seems an affable chap who enjoys making contact so I hope he won’t mind.

…and before you lot start getting ideas, this is a one-off. I will not be posting your back catalogue and ordering information. Aside from bits and pieces on Discogs etc. information about the availability of Taming Power releases is absent from the internet – a situation I consider a shame and wish to rectify.

Over to Askild…

—ooOoo—

I do not have a website, but enclose a list of the releases here.

The vinyl releases are still available. Prices are £5 for 7″, £8 for 10″, £10 for LP and £15 for the 2LP. Postage is extra and will depend on weight and size. Payment can be made via Paypal, but contact me first for a total with postage. Trade deals can also be OK.

Askild Haugland: earlymrecords@yahoo.no

Early Morning Records – Vinyl releases:

EMR 7″-001: Taming Power – Selected Works 1996-97.

2 pieces of musique concrète. Recordings of concrete sounds edited and manipulated through the use of reel-to-reel tape recorders. Each piece has a duration of approx. 10 minutes. 100 copies.

These three LPs are intended as a series documenting the work with Taming Power during the first ten years. The sound quality is sometimes rather rough, as the recordings were made with very modest means.

EMR 12″-002: Taming Power – Selected Works 1995-97.

First experiments with tape recorder feedback as only sound source – no other instruments or effects were used. Some of the tracks are recorded in real time, while others are collages. This record also contains a radio ready-made from 1995. 150 copies.

EMR 12″-003: Taming Power – Selected Works 1989-98.

Experiments with electric guitar and tape recorders. Recordings of el.guitar improvisations have been treated and manipulated through the use of tape recorder systems. In some cases this meant altering and reconstructing the original recording completely, in other cases it meant just adding some tape delay. 150 copies.

EMR 12″-004: Taming Power – Selected Works & Fragments 1987-97.

First recordings. It started in 1987 as an attempt to make improvised freeform psychedelic music – using mainly keyboard, but also acoustic guitar, harmonica and other musical objects. Simple tape recorder experiments were attempted, like playing recordings backwards or obstructing the tape during recording. 100 copies.

These three 10″ records are intended to form an electronic triptych – a series of works which use tape recorder technology to generate and manipulate sound.

EMR 10″-005: Taming Power – Selected Works 1992-98.

Contains short pieces based on tape recorder technology. Most of the tracks use only tape recorder feedback as sound source. Some of the tracks also use recordings of ordinary instruments, like el.guitar, keyboard, radio or circular saw. 200 copies.

taming power - selected works 1997 - cover

EMR 10″-006: Taming Power – Selected Works 1997.

2 long pieces which use only the tape recorder as sound source. Recordings of tape recorder feedback have been superimposed, transformed and partly re-recorded before reaching finished music. 200 copies.

Taming Power - Selected Works 2000 front

EMR 10″-007: Taming Power – Selected Works 2000: Excursions for tape recorders.

All 4 pieces on this release were recorded in real time and use only feedback generated on two connected reel-to-reel tape recorders – the machines working simultaneously as both recording devices and musical instruments. No other instruments, sound sources or pre-recorded sounds were used in these recordings. 200 copies.

Taming Power - 16 Movements for Electric Guitar front

EMR 12″-008: Taming Power – 16 Movements For Electric Guitar.

Composition in four sections with a total duration of one hour. No tape recorder experiments – only electric guitar to 4-track. 200 copies.

These three 10″ records are intended to form a triptych with works where el.guitar recordings are manipulated through the use of magnetic tape (tape recorders and/or cassette recorders).

EMR 10″-009: Taming Power – For Electric Guitar And Tape Recorders.

2 long pieces where pre-recorded el.guitar improvisations are being manipulated and edited while travelling around in a system of two connected tape recorders. 200 copies.

taming power - for electric guitar and tape recorders - cover

EMR 10″-010: Taming Power – For Electric Guitar And Cassette Recorders.

Electric guitar recorded and manipulated through the use of ordinary domestic cassette recorders – no reel-to-reels have been used this time. Side A contains one long piece based on series of flageolet chords recorded in stop motion technique, running through a full cycle until the sequence starts repeating itself. Side B contains 6 small pieces for el.guitar and cassette distortion/degeneration. 220 copies.

Taming Power - For Electric Guitar, Cassette Recorders and Tape Recorders front

EMR 10″-011: Taming Power – For Electric Guitar, Cassette Recorders And Tape Recorders.

Side A contains one long piece of accumulation and subtraction where a pre-recorded el.guitar track is edited and distorted through different tape systems. Side B uses an el.guitar composition as basis for three different treatments. 220 copies.

Taming Power - Meditations for Radio back

EMR 10″-012: Taming Power – Meditations For Radio.

2 collages based on recordings of radio noise and distorted  transmissions. Recorded from an old radio to ordinary cassettes and then edited from cassette to 4-track – reel-to-reels were not involved this time. The radio recordings were not manipulated, filtered or altered, no other instruments or effects were used – the sounds have been used as they were received by the radio. 220 copies.

EMR 7″-013: Taming Power – Fragments Of The Name Of God.

2 pieces for glockenspiel and tape recorders/cassette recorders, with an interlude of rain. 220 copies.

EMR 12″-014: Taming Power – Autumn Works 2002.

Contains a selection of el.guitar quartets recorded in 2002. The first piece 23-3-02III uses one reversed guitar line and some stop motion recording – the other pieces are just linear el.guitar playing through distortion/delay to 4-track recording. 220 copies.

EMR 10″-015: Taming Power – Three Pieces.

Contains three pieces realized 2004-05, partly based on older recordings. Made with keys, drilbu, singing bowls,voice, metallophone, el.guitar, field recording, tape recorder and cassette recorders. 111 copies.

EMR 10″-016: Taming Power – Six Pieces.

Contains developments of some ideas from the ‘Three Pieces’ 10″. On ‘Six Pieces’ most of the tracks are shorter, and harmonica and dingsha have been added to the instruments. 110 copies.

EMR 10″-017: Taming Power – Twelve Pieces.

Half of the tracks are short pieces based only on el.guitar, zither or keyboards, while the other half are more or less in a similar style as the two previous releases. 525 copies.

taming power - twenty-one pieces - cover

EMR 2×12″-018: Taming Power – Twenty-one Pieces.

2LP containing a selection of tracks created during the years 1998-2009. There are some pieces recorded in stop-motion, some small pieces for el.guitar, pieces based on field recording or tape recorder treatments, some casio tunes and some layered pieces. All tracks are previously unissued. 329 copies.

The EP compilation series started in 2001. The records are released according to this concept: 4 artists are given approx. 4 minutes each, and can use these minutes for whatever purpose they want as long as the result has something to do with experimental music. Each artist is given 1/4 of the pressing to create covers for and to make a personal edition – which means that all releases in this series exist in 4 different editions which are distributed by the individual artists.

EMR COMP-7″ #1: Sonorités De La Vie De Bohème – a compilation of experimental music.

With contributions from byart, Taming Power, Obscure Tapestries, Empty-Ass Noise…WHAT?!. 300 copies – 4 editions of 75 copies each.

EMR COMP-7″ #2: The Golden Road (To Limited Edition) – a compilation of experimental music.

With contributions from Bruce Russell, Antonym, Sindre Bjerga/Anders Gjerde, Taming Power. 320 copies – 4 editions of 80 copies each.

Releases on other formats:

taming power - selected works 2001

EMR Promo-CD #2: Taming Power – Selected Works 2001.

CDR intended mainly as promo, but the music is so far only released here. 30 minutes duration – contains 10 pieces where recordings of tape recorder feedback are edited to 4-track. Unlimited edition.

(EMR Promo-CD #1 and #3 contain previously releasedmaterial by Taming Power and are deleted – they exist only in 2 and 3 copies respectively).

There also exist 40 cassette releases with recordings by Taming Power. They were released during the years 1997-2002 in limited editions of 7-20 copies each – mainly on 30-minutes Chrome Type II cassettes. There are still copies left of some of these releases, but only a few due to the small editions. Some of the cassettes have been re-released on vinyl.

—ooOoo—

scaffolding, harshly lit: more from taming power

September 23, 2014 at 10:02 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Taming Power – 16 Movements For Electric Guitar (12” vinyl, Early Morning Records, EMR 12”-008, edition of 200)

Taming Power – Selected Works 2000 (10” vinyl, Early Morning Records, EMR 10”-007, edition of 200)

Taming Power – For Electric Guitar, Cassette Recorders and Tape Recorders (10” vinyl, Early Morning Records, EMR 10”-011, edition of 220)

Taming Power – Meditations For Radio (10” vinyl, Early Morning Records, EMR 10”-012, edition of 220)

Taming Power - 16 Movements for Electric Guitar frontTaming Power - 16 Movements for Electric Guitar back

No need for a lengthy preamble today.  For those new to the work of Norwegian artist Askild Haugland, recording as Taming Power, may I suggest you read Neil Campbell’s account of discovering his unique vision.  You may also find my reviews of other items from the Taming Power back catalogue of interest.  Suffice to say celebratory bells were sounded here at Midwich Mansions when a parcel containing four more examples of his work arrived – the guy’s generosity is matched only by his talent.

(A quick word on the scans illustrating this article: typically Taming Power releases come in either plain black or white sleeves with small to medium-sized pictures affixed to the front and back, the latter also featuring the release details.  I have cropped down to the actual pictures here thus giving a false impression of what the sleeves look like but sparing you my grubby fingerprints which were surprisingly evident on the scans.)

OK, onwards…

Taming Power – 16 Movements For Electric Guitar

First then is this 12″ LP. We’ll have to take Askild’s word for it on the number ’16’ as there are no perceptible gaps between the individual movements collected in the four tracks, two per side, that comprise the album. The guitar sound is consistent throughout: crisp, almost unadorned, tightened slightly with citric fuzz. Notes are allowed to decay free of echo and moments of silence add a measured deliberateness to the tone, despite the music clearly being (in part at least) improvised. It’s as exposed as a snow covered hillside and as immediate as breath plumes in the cold but Askild is clearly wrapped up and prepared for the task.

I have to admit my knowledge of improv guitar is limited but, for what it is worth, this is unique in my experience: a garage/psych sound employed in a desert music structure but with almost no filtering to smooth the edges. The corners here are grey concrete photographed against a cloudless blue sky or, as in the apposite photograph on the back cover, scaffolding harshly lit by a single light source.

After this austere beginning, each of the three remaining collections employs a slightly looser set of parameters. The tempo remains slow but more overlapping of notes is allowed, sustain lengthens, complexity increases. This step back from the initial austerity adds an almost unbearable poignancy but there is nothing sentimental about it, no gloss of tortured romance, just an unflinching acknowledgement of difficult circumstances. For comfort it offers respect: this music will not lie to you to make you feel better.

The lengthy period of silence between tracks indicates Askild’s seriousness of intent. I had to take a contemplative break between sides A and B too as the attention this music commands (and deserves) is intense and emotionally draining. This is praise of the highest order.

Taming Power - Selected Works 2000 frontTaming Power - Selected Works 2000 back

Taming Power – Selected Works 2000

Now onto the first of three 10″ EPs – format of champions – this one aptly subtitled ‘Excursions for Tape Recorders’. The record begins and ends with a splattering of ticks, squeaks, honks and whistles – like a VHS video of fax machines fucking each other on latex sheets. The line walked between hilarious and patience-testing will be familiar to fans of Nurse With Wound.

In-between these recognisable landmarks is some very strange territory indeed. Rhythmically shifting pitches spiral off, ejected by centrifugal forces, burrowing into the soil where they land. Later iterations stumble over these potholes, attempting to slap away entropy as the distortion increases. The best of it is the final section of Side A which is an extraordinary sub-aqua soundscape of alien sonar communication. Is this how the creatures in the black oceans under the ice of Europa speak to each other? You’d hope so.

Did any of that make any sense? Probably not. This record is the sound emitted by monitoring equipment stress testing my metaphor generator – it’s shaking my grasp of the figural with its brilliant oddness.

Taming Power - For Electric Guitar, Cassette Recorders and Tape Recorders frontTaming Power - For Electric Guitar, Cassette Recorders and Tape Recorders back

Taming Power – For Electric Guitar, Cassette Recorders and Tape Recorders

Second of the three 10″ EPs, two halves serving very different purposes.  Side A features a ringing, chiming guitar sound (which those of us of a certain age will inevitably and lazily describe as ‘gothy’) layered until crushed black – like photographic negatives of a tundra scene stacked until no light can pass through the pile.  The working method is reminiscent of several recent(ish) Culver releases and is very effective in instilling a churning, punishing roar with anguished emotional depth.  The noise does clear towards the end and we return to the starting point resolved and chastened.

Side B feels like a reward.  It begins with hope and light and, delightfully, becomes a magic carpet ride along a verdant green valley as boats chug along a wide, slow moving river below.  The final section takes place on a beautiful late Summer afternoon, birds are in flight chasing down their evening meal.  Children play.  A lyrical description of an extended, heavenly, peaceful moment.

Taming Power - Meditations for Radio frontTaming Power - Meditations for Radio back

Taming Power – Meditations For Radio

Finally, the last of the three 10″ EPs and possibly my favourite, though I did listen to this through the delirious fug of a heavy cold so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of what follows.  Let’s just say it is impressionistic.

Side A sees sand dunes buffeted and shifted by harsh, horizontal winds.  The storm reveals a sleeping giant, her breath – long, languid modulations – audible above the weather.  News of this discovery spreads across the world, light aircraft buzz overhead with cameras and directional microphones, chopped chatter bounces around the atmosphere as stepping electronics and machineries of voice throw the word around.  A sound from before the acid rain of digital broadcasting made the airwaves a barren lake.

Side B fills with indecipherable speech almost obscured by canine howls, swanee whistles, grasshopper chittering and blood-in-the-ears handstand roar.  Like a Foley artist’s attempt to soundtrack the teeming microscopic life within a drop of pond water – membranes twitch, cilia and flagella ripple and pulse, nothing is conscious of how beautiful it is.

Remarkable.

—ooOoo—

Email address for Askild Haugland of Taming Power / Early Morning Records:

earlymrecords@yahoo.no

Taming Power on Discogs

Early Morning Records (sort of)

a beautiful solution to a difficult problem: records by taming power

July 9, 2014 at 8:52 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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Taming Power – Selected Works 1997 (10″ vinyl, Early Morning Records, EMR 10″ – 006, edition of 202)

Taming Power – For Electric Guitar and Cassette Recorders (10″ vinyl, Early Morning Records, EMR 10″ – 010, edition of 220)

Taming Power – Twenty-One Pieces (2 x vinyl LP, Early Morning Records, EMR 2 x 12″ – 018, edition of 329)

taming power - twenty-one pieces - covertaming power - selected works 1997 - covertaming power - for electric guitar and tape recorders - cover

Almost all of my musical appreciation is done via headphones attached to a mp3 player. It may not be what you envisaged – the seasoned critic passing judgement on your delicate masterwork whilst washing up, or queuing in the sorting office, or dozing on the bus to work – but it’s what circumstances dictate. Thus you can imagine when vinyl turns up at Midwich Mansions it is greeted with a mixture of reverence and trepidation:

Ooo, how lovely! Hmmm… I wonder when am I going to hear this? <weary sigh> Is there a download code? <peers into sleeve> No. <grits teeth, wipes tear from corner of eye>

Following our one year old’s attempts to become the Fisher-Price Philip Jeck, the turntable currently resides within a cupboard sealed with child-locks. The irony is that the more traditional the format, the more permanent the object, the more fleeting my experience of it is likely to be. I basically have to make an appointment to listen to a record.

The upside of this situation is that when I do get the chance I pay real heavy attention. Knowing that I may not get the four or five listens I usually insist on before writing anything up I engage with an almost hallucinatory concentration and scribble notes longhand as it spins. Not everything bears up to this level of scrutiny but these releases could have been recorded with this close listening technique in mind. Today’s offerings are two 10″s and a double LP sent to me by Taming Power, that is Askild Haugland, the mysterious Norwegian artist that Neil Campbell put me on to recently. Neil’s entertaining account of his history with Taming Power can be read here.

taming power - selected works 1997 - back cover

First of the 10″ records is Selected Works 1997 which comprises two side long pieces composed in December of that year using a Tandberg Model 2041 tape recorder as the sole sound source. This is the most intense and demanding of the batch. Passages have the brute, analog feel of first wave industrial or early power electronics (though without the inane shrieking, thankfully) and wouldn’t be out of place on a Throbbing Gristle bootleg.

Gritty Geiger counter fuzz shifts and pours under the pulse of an alarm, grotesquely distorted by a hugely powerful electro-magnetic field. The air around us crackles and has the disinfectant smell of ozone. The countdown to the self-destruction of the ship has begun and the crew are running down corridors choked with powder from fire extinguishers. Proper noise, this. It’s a tough listen but throughout I marvelled at what Askild managed to extract from his single instrument.

taming power - for electric guitar and tape recorders - back cover

Next is For Electric Guitar and Cassette Recorders, the second 10″ record. Side A is a single track: guitars chime like a peal of church bells, like the cracking of a frozen lake, with a trebly shimmer adding a discordant tension. This is no wedding celebration, no welcome Spring thaw – it is a warning, an alarm: something that should stay sleeping is waking up. The lack of urgency – the chimes are deliberate, measured – only thickens the air of dread inevitability. Or have I been reading too much Lovecraft? Remove all this ‘harbinger of doom’ stuff, likely to be the product of my frayed imagination, and you are left with a hypnotic stretch of guitar improv. Compelling but too jarring to be meditative, it returns you to the world amped up and shining.

Side B contains six short tracks: all sparkling silicate fuzz drone, occasionally clearing to reveal sculptural patterns carved into the rock faces below. I find work of this type – tethered crescendos lifting, pulling, forever reaching skyward – to be almost unbearably poignant and beautiful. These snapshots capture moments of pain and glory with an impressionistic immediacy. They are like answers to the question…

…but it was all worth it, yeah?

I nod tearfully: yes, yes it was. A terrific release.

taming power - twenty-one pieces - back cover

Finally then, the main event: Twenty-One Pieces. I listened to this double album in a sofa-bound trance and have seven notebook pages filled with a track by track account. Don’t worry I’m not going to transcribe the lot, here are some highlights fished from the gibberish:

A clock-tick, back/forth riff, simple, melancholy in its elegance – a beautiful solution to a difficult problem … emotional restraint breaking once – a tear, a sob – then back to working through the consequences … the Norwegian equivalent of desert music? Music for the frozen shore? … like low flying aircraft, like foul weather unmuffled by the cabin walls … a music box opened for the first time in years, the grimy ballerina juddering through her perpetual pirouette … a ringing wind scours the valley floor, a chorus of hungry ghosts whistle anguish through pinhole mouths … an oily liquid splashed onto the street, creeping downhill, drying out … the pulse pushes against a membrane thin enough to show its shape but tough enough not to split … overwound clockwork machinery is suddenly freed by a stripped gear … a charming plucked fanfare to welcome home a battalion of victorious tin soldiers to their balsa wood castle … a magic carpet ride over lush farmland and into the Himalayan foothills … like wandering through vine choked ruins in a Ballardian post-humanity future – epic, psychedelic – the beauty and sadness captured by the thought ‘all things must pass’ … the sound of the silver spaceships flying that Neil heard in his burnt out basement … cyclopean blocks sliding over one another … a contrasting optimistic, patient delicacy … what a very, very impressive record.

A word on the presentation. Askild’s chosen format – text-free cover picture, handwritten notes on the back – has the feel of outsider art. Take a closer look at, say, the track listing for side C of this album:

taming power - twenty-one pieces - side c

These lists of dates read more like the answer to a high-end logic puzzle or the packing manifest for a mysterious cargo crate than standard liner notes. I laughed to see ‘tape recorder’, ‘cassette recorder’ and ‘cassette recorders’ listed as three separate instruments on the meticulous equipment list. The obsessive documentation fascinates me, indicating the strength of Askild’s compulsion to create and the importance of that creation to him.

Askild’s work has the rare quality of seeming completely thought through and controlled whilst remaining visceral, immediate and intense. It is a neat trick. Despite being as meticulous as his liner notes, it is not overly polished and its edges and textures rough up quite an emotional response. This music is heartfelt and true. I found myself mulling over some fairly existential matters whilst listening. At one point I wrote:

How well do we know ourselves? Are our decisions as much ‘acts of God’ as a lightning strike?

Profound, eh? That’s where it takes you. As good as anything I’ve heard in a fair while and very highly recommended.

—ooOoo—

Email address for Askild Haugland of Taming Power / Early Morning Records:

earlymrecords@yahoo.no

Taming Power on Discogs

Early Morning Records (sort of)

 

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