eject the tape: rfm moans about the format, champions the content

October 17, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 4 Comments
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Clive Henry / Joined By Wire – split (tape, Soundholes, #060, edition of 100)

Joined By Wire – ERA END and/or BAJM! (tape and 12 page A6 booklet, self-released as part of Bang the Bore Forum tape exchange, edition of 15)

BBBlood – Untitled (tape, Beartown Records)

Cestine – Other Half / Bright Encounter (tape, Rok Lok Records, #97, edition of 40 or download)

Dear Beloved Henry / Albert Materia – split (recycled tape, Hyster Tapes, HYSTER13)

Leitmotiv Limbo – LIMBO / WIND SWEPT (self-released tape)

Stamina Nudes – Discipline of Exploding Bridges (tape, Stolen Head)

harsh noise wall (of tapes)

Apologies for not writing more reviews over the last couple of months.  I’ve been waiting for two things to wear off: the effects of a nasty virus and the novelty of being on Twitter.  Both have rather dragged on.  Anyway…

As part of this year’s fabulous TUSK Festival Joe Murray agreed to curate a small exhibition of tape label art titled Everyone Loves Tapes These Days.  Looking for someone to write a brief wall text Joe reached out to his editor here at RFM and I replied with the following diatribe:

Interesting, and thanks for thinking of me – I’m flattered.  However, I wonder if I am exactly the right guy for the job.  Dare I say it?  OK, deep breath: I’ve pretty much fallen out of love with tapes.  I appreciate the determined anti-commercialism that they represent nowadays, and they are a good archive medium,  but the format is cumbersome, inconvenient, space consuming and has no sonic advantages over other formats.  Those beardies that talk about its ‘unique low end’ are talking out of their own low ends. I suppose I still do like the clacky sound of taking them in and out of their cases but if everything went download/CD-r tomorrow I wouldn’t care. Tapes = the price you pay for being a Culver fan.  I might even go a bit further: what used to be a democratic, punk (‘home taping is killing music!’ well, GOOD) format has mutated over the years into a symbol of hipster elitism – maybe not in the context of the no-audience underground but that is what anyone vaguely knowledgeable about music looking in from outside would see.  Tape walkmans aren’t as an awful an affectation as manual typewriters but, hey, matter of time…

Heh, heh – ain’t I naughty, eh?  So do I actually believe all that or did Joe just catch me in a mischievous, belligerent mood?  A bit of both, I think.  Some clarifications and addenda are necessary.

Firstly, that bit about being an archive medium is true enuff – they won’t play after the aliens come and destroy civilisation with a massive electro-magnetic pulse but they will last until then which is more than can be said for CD-rs etc.  Dude, my Mum has had that Billy Joel tape, like, for ever.

Secondly, I do really like the clacky sound of removing a tape from it’s box and sliding it into the deck.  I also think the Tabs Out Podcast twitter feed is really funny.  So that’s two tape related things that are good – fair as Solomon, me.

Thirdly, and more contentiously, the determined anti-commercialism/hipster elitism tension.  I haven’t closely followed the rise of tape ‘culture’ but I’m sure arguments must have raged/might still be raging about this subject on corners of the internet that I am blissfully unaware of.  I don’t have the energy or inclination to take a side.  However there is one aspect of the business that I’m tempted to take a hard line on.  Now, I have nothing but love for truly tape only noise labels (the ne plus ultra in the UK being Matching Head, of course – a label with no official internet presence, untouched by fashion, driven purely by the uncompromising vision of Lee ‘Culver’ Stokoe) but raise an eyebrow at self-described ‘tape labels’ that also offer downloads.  Personally I prefer this arrangement for reasons given above – 98% of my musical appreciation is done via mp3 player – but I would argue that by offering downloads you can ditch the word ‘tape’ because yours is just a… label.  Catch me in the same mischievous, belligerent mood that greeted Joe’s innocent request and I might say that you were actually a label providing music in the preferred, most convenient format of the day alongside unnecessary physical versions meant to tempt daft hipster object-fetishists – a demographic always keen to reify counter-cultural heft into something that can be neatly displayed on a shelf.

Heh, heh – more naughtiness – comments genuinely welcome.  I am open to being convinced otherwise.

So, with that all in mind, my eyes wander to the tape section of the RFM review pile and I decide that a round-up is long overdue.  Never mind my misgivings about the format, it’s the content that really matters right?  Let’s see.

jbw and clivejbw - era end

Clive Henry / Joined By Wire – split

Joined By Wire – ERA END and/or BAJM!

Boy, have I slept on these two tapes – Stephen of joinedbywire kindly sent me these months ago.  Mea culpa.

Clive Henry‘s side of the split tape is like waking from a blackout caused by a blow to the head and piecing together the events that led to the assault.  Bursts of vision-blurring pain, repeated verbal tics that refuse to resolve into coherent speech, stumbling.  Or maybe it is Ted Hughes’s The Iron Man reassembling itself the morning after falling off that cliff.  I like it very much.

Stephen’s side is perhaps not as nostrils-flaring, full-on psych as previous JBW releases admired on this blog but is no less terrific for being dialled down a notch.  Instead what we have are a group of multi-limbed clockwork toys of indeterminate form defying the laws of thermodynamics by winding each other up into a clicking, buzzing, writhing mass of mechanical energy.

Available from SoundHoles.

ERA END and/or BAJM! is Stephen’s contribution to a tape-swap project organised via the Bang the Bore forum.  I was not involved in this so am grateful to him for sending me this spare copy – the last of an edition of 15. As ever, I deeply impressed with Stephen’s graphic work and faultless attention to detail – see photo for all the elements that make up this package – especially as this was originally only to be seen by the dozen people signed up to take part.  The racket this time is up in the red.  Thick clouds of noise create an atmosphere of salty feverishness with occasional sinus clearing bursts of stomping distortobeatz.  That said, there are passages of relative calm too – imagine some brute devolved remnant of far-future humanity worshipping the one remaining artefact of our decadent age: a broken tape walkman.

bbblood - untitled - beartown

BBBlood – Untitled

Paul Watson is a current scene leader in what I’ve always thought of as ‘proper’ noise.  That is: a visceral racket created by rough-housing with physical objects, by combining field and domestic recordings and by filtering the lot through a rag-tag tabletop of battered and home-made electronics.  However, that is not to belittle the skill and care with which Paul puts these recordings together.  The sounds are not ends in themselves but chosen, ordered and edited as a means to establishing an atmosphere.  His latest recordings eschew ‘harshness’ almost entirely and the listener is led through a post-industrial landscape of broken glass and burning tyres with, dare I say it, delicacy and finesse.

I can sense the leather-jacket owning section of my readership twitching with unease but don’t worry – I’m not saying Paul has gone all Nick Drake on us.  He still get his balls out on occasion – and so magnificent are his plums that it is no wonder the crowd goes fucking apeshit when they are displayed.  What I’m saying is the flashes of nad are appropriate and proportionate to the larger task at hand.

Essential, of course.  Available from Beartown Records.


Cestine – Other Half / Bright Encounter

This recording by Cestine, the duo of Dominic Coppola and Theodore Schafer, hovers shimmering between the ‘nothing music’ of Karina ESP I described a few posts ago and the ‘extraction music‘ of Dan Thomas et al that I have been banging on about this year.  Two tracks, each lasting fifteen minutes exactly, contain slowly cycling electronics augmented with field recordings – birds, the sea maybe, children – and snatches of whispered conversation, perhaps partially overheard whilst daydreaming, perhaps snatches of radio broadcasts crackling between the stations.  It is constructed with a robust attention to detail that allows for deep, repeat listening but conveys a vulnerability, a brittleness too.  The contemplative reverie it induces is bitter-sweet and emotionally complicated, like turning over the memory of an important friendship, now long lost.  Recommended highly.

Available from Rok Lok Records.

dear beloved henry

Dear Beloved Henry / Albert Materia – split

Hyster Tapes are punk as all fuck – black and white J-card, recycled tapes, photocopied flier advertising their warez (pictured) – and I wholeheartedly approve.  Joe grokked the FOUR LETTER WORLD compilation back in March and as a result Heikki of the label kindly sent this too.  Gotta keep that goodwill circulating – keeps it fresh and vital.

The Dear Beloved Henry side of this split, one 24 minute track titled ‘Advent’, is one of the best things I’ve heard all year.  It is 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.

Sadly the Albert Materia side, several tracks of fractured poetry with piano accompaniment, was not for me.  Can’t win ’em all, eh?

Available from Hyster Tapes – email: plaa@pcuf.fi

leitmotiv limbo

Leitmotiv Limbo – LIMBO / WIND SWEPT

Also sent as result of Joe’s FOUR LETTER WORLD review.  In ‘Limbo’ Elijah Vartto (umlauts over the vowels – apologies for the limitations of the WordPress editor) conjures an alien souk from the echoed honking of an unspecified wind instrument and stick-in-bucket metallic rhythms.  The point of view changes every few minutes and gradually a scene is set, protagonists introduced.  This comes together in a surprising burst of new wave pop before retreating to the abstract – a menacing bassy warble dragging us down to an underground bunker full of robot soldiers.

‘Wind Swept’ uses field recordings phased to sound like the fuelling of spacecaft over which mournful, austere jazz blowing accompanies growling, heavily filtered vocals.  It’s the blues played by a band whose home-world was destroyed as a display of power intended to tame a petulant rebel princess.  Guitar jangles like the rigging of boats.  All eventually peters out to a gargling throb.

Comparisons have been made elsewhere to early Cabaret Voltaire.  This is apt and, of course, a very good thing.

Available from Elijah himself.

stamina nudes

Stamina Nudes – Discipline of Exploding Bridges

Finally then, what might be my pick of the bunch.  Bryan (whose surname I suddenly realise I don’t know) operates in an adjoining laboratory to meta-musical collage-jockeys Spoils & Relics (indeed, I recently saw him play as a duo with that #KieronPiercy).  The shared working method involves isolating sounds, sanding off their contexts and reassembling them into new fragmentary narratives – a perversely delicious anti-archaeology.  Here Bryan invokes a dystopian, science fictional vibe but builds in a wry distance that stops it becoming self-important or parodic. The balance and compelling flow he maintains are both very impressive.  In summary: I dig this.

This album scores maximum ideological purity points too.  It was slipped to me, in person, by the artist, as we sat on a bench, under a tree, in a park, with Dan Thomas, one sunny lunchtime – a clandestine, samizdat-style handover.  Now that is tape only.

I’ve no idea in what sense this this might be ‘available’ but you can email Bryan and ask: dorh@hotmail.co.uk


eye for detail: the midwich remixes album

August 26, 2014 at 3:38 pm | Posted in midwich, no audience underground, not bloody music | Leave a comment
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the archive

The idea of a midwich remix project goes back a fair distance (indeed, the missing-in-action Trademark TM created a version of the second midwich album life underwater – called ‘life underwater in space‘ – back when we were still laughing at bewildered millenarians) but now, finally, its time has come and I am inviting you, dear reader, to be involved.

The story so far is simple: Paul Walsh (foldhead, early hominids) sent me ‘glacier’, a version of ‘stomach lining’ from october in yorkshire that had been knocking about his hard-drive for yonks and discovered in a clear-out.  I liked it very much, mentioned it in passing on Twitter and within minutes had volunteers queuing up to submit their own remixes for an album I had to retroactively call into existence.  That’s what Twitter is like, innit?

So here’s the plan: the album will be called  ‘eye for detail’.  The entire midwich back catalogue is up for grabs, much of which is freely downloadable via the midwich bandcamp page.   Take what you want, do what you want with it and return the results to me ideally in wav format, ideally via WeTransfer (my email address can be found on the ‘about us…’ page).  The deadline for submissions is Tuesday 30th September and it will be released in October as soon as I get it all sorted.  To keep distribution simple and proceeds high the album will be download only via Bandcamp.  The reason for wanting to keep proceeds high is that all money raised will be donated to the Red Cross.

(An aside: this organisation was chosen as it provides immediate medical help to those most in need around this shitty world that we live in.  It has been brought to my attention that some may have issues with the Red Cross.  I’m afraid I’m ignorant of the politics I might be accidentally wading into here, so if you have concerns please email me privately so I can address those concerns or make sure your donation is sent elsewhere)

So far the project has only existed on Twitter and in a few emails but already I couldn’t be more delighted with the response. As well as the foldhead track mentioned above and garnering permission to use existing tracks by Daniel Thomas, ap martlet and Andy Jarvis, brand new work by dsic, Clive Henry, the piss superstition, Yol and Brian Lavelle is jostling in a hard-drive folder.  Others are hard at work.  It’s very exciting and updates are being tweeted on the arrival of each new jewel for the treasure chest.  Of particular note is Joe Murray’s Posset remix of this blog.  Yes, instead of choosing a midwich track to molest he has clipped favourite passages from my more whimsical and/or threatening moments and has created a shadow narrative that sounds like Adam Bohman cutting up H.P. Lovecraft.  Has to be heard to be believed. ‘Cover art’ will be provided by Michael Clough, who may be persuaded to submit some music too.

So: fancy being a part of this?  I flatter myself (as always) but perhaps there seems to be something about the wide open spaces, the jokey bibbling or the simple pulses of my, *ahem*, ‘music’ that invites augmentation or reinterpretation.  You’d be in terrific company and the cause is righteous so why not, eh?  All submissions gratefully received.

artifacts of the no-audience underground: littlecreature and why opera makes me feel sick

March 23, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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littlecreature fukken mowse nekk ov der wuds – archer howls

littlecreature – u.a.

When I was a teenager I would, of course, roll home shitfaced in the middle of the night most Fridays and Saturdays.  It amused my parents, especially if my crashing around had woken them, to play very loud opera or some other large-scale classical music, of which they are both fans, as soon as they got up the following morning.  Thus one moment I would be enjoying a blissful coma, the next plunged into the retching nightmare of a Newcastle Brown hangover by Puccini or, if I’d left the kitchen in a mess, Wagner.  I came to associate classical music with feeling nauseous and fragile.  Cheers folks.

Being a cultured lad, I have tried to correct this Pavlovian response (mmmm… pavlova, I’m salivating just thinking about that cream and meringue…) but to no avail.  I have, however, discovered what aspect of this music causes me the most discomfort: sudden changes in volume.  To put it more formally, I rapidly lose patience with a wide dynamic range, especially if expressed abruptly.

For example, Pauline – a dear friend of me and my beloved wife – takes the bold position that Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6 in A major is one of the crowning achievements of musical endeavour.  Knowing her to be a gal of taste I gave it a go but couldn’t settle to it.  I was forever fiddling with the volume in order to minimise the difference between the quiet and the loud bits.  Ridiculous, I know, but, as with everything else, you can blame my parents.

Preamble over, we come to the object above, received in – very generous – trade for the Midwich/The Skull Mask split CD-r.  These two albums, packaged together in a DVD case with explanatory inserts, are compilations gathering the ashes of the roaring fire that once was littlecreature.  Clive Henry, for it is he, has now ditched the nom de plume in favour of his given name and these archaeological remains – unrealised projects, unreleased tracks, rehearsals etc. – are the last of it.

The track titles are oblique, sometimes humorous, slipping from one language to another.  They could be heavy with allusion that I don’t understand, they could be dada, cut-up nonsense (e.g. ‘littlecreature grynds nach null shuttel – even the mildest heart is the worst bane, part II’).  I dunno.  In that respect they perfectly mirror the music.  Most of the stylistic elements are taught at the No-Audience Academy of Lo-Fi Noise, where Clive holds an honorary professorship.  He is often to be found running around the playground, gleefully disrupting the pupils’ games or, unnervingly, standing stock still staring mournfully at nothing and emitting a kind of low moan.  The other teachers know to cut him some slack.  Tracks start and stop seemingly on a whim and, as each track can be made up of several movements only tangentially related, divisions between tracks could be made elsewhere without losing any sense or momentum.  And there are huge variations in volume, maddening to someone of my sensibilities and upbringing.  Clive apologises in a charmingly unapologetic way:

yeah, sorry about the volume jumps…! sometimes they can work really well – tho they’re hackneyed and “stupid”.

i have a “problem” (well, I don’t..! ha ha) in general with dynamics – i love a REALLY wide dynamic range. i like quiet to be quiet and loud to be loud. this is something thats always irritated a friend of mine – i get the impression that he’s read on a studio mixing/mastering site the “ideal” dynamic range figures, and it drives him mad that i don’t adhere to them..!

it causes problems for me, too; in terms of mixing etc

i’m the same when playing an instrument – its great to make barely audible sounds

littlecreature only played live a few times, but it was nice to pare everything back to a really quiet level and make the room go quiet 🙂

He also adds:


…to which I can only agree.  That this is the first time Clive and I have made contact is shockingly, unbelievably amiss.  He is no-audience underground of the old skool and his professorship is handsomely deserved.  I can’t honestly say that I liked all of this though I was perplexed by own reaction at times: an element identical to one that I disliked in one track might be my favourite part of the track that followed.  Very odd and befuddling, but in the most refreshing manner.

I have no idea whether this is ‘available’ in any straightforward sense so perhaps you should contact Clive via  alittlecreature@gmail.com and find out.

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