invisible city records

April 21, 2015 at 2:43 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Death Register – Phonaesthesia (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR03, edition of 40 or download)

The Will of Nin Girima – Two Cycles of Incantation (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR04, edition of 30 or download)

Black Thread – Autumn Flowers (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR05, edition of 30 or download)

Culver – The Abductress (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR07, edition of 60)

Saturn Form Essence – Stratospheric Tower (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR08, edition of 40 or download)

Roadside Picnic – Watership Drowned (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR09, edition of 24 or download)

Philipp Bückle – Drawings (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR10, edition of 50 or download)

death register

I may have asked this question before but, fuck it, it’s worth asking again: if given a choice between listening to a release new to you or to one that you are familiar with and know is good which do you choose?  Apart from when I’m repeat listening prior to writing a review, for me it is the former nearly 100% of the time.

I’ll go further: by ‘new’ in this context I don’t just mean ‘previously unheard’ but also mean ‘recently produced’.  I’ve been a music fan for over three decades now, including many years patrolling the fringes and an overlong stint as a variation on the type of insufferable asshole I am soon to describe.  Sure, there remain gaps in my knowledge – some vast – but I’m past caring.  I’ve heard enough of the classic, the important, the ephemeral, the popular, the unduly overlooked etc., etc. to justify an opinion, an opinion backed by thousands of hours of ‘study’.  I still spend every moment allowable listening to music but, y’know – for now at least, I think I’m done with the past.

Box sets and reissues nauseate me (apart from the two I’m personally involved with at the moment, of course, which are rad) as does collector/completist culture.  With a couple of noble exceptions – I recommend the transcendental journey documented by Phong Tran via the @boxwalla twitter account, for example – every ‘have you heard <old recording X>?’ conversation or twitter thread just reminds me of a certain curly-haired obsessive that became the bane of Termite Club nights around the turn of the century.  This nut – I’m not naming him, slowly incant the Nurse With Wound list and he shall appear – would limpet onto an unfortunate attendee and engage in the most tedious yes-but-have-you-heardism only stopping at 3am when him yelling ‘yes, but what do you think of Lemmingmania?’ through their letterbox was the final straw and the police were called.  I exaggerate for comic effect of course, but not by much – ask Michael Clough about it.

Whilst I’m being fussy, newness in the two senses above isn’t enough on its own.  For example, I recently purchased one of them proper CDs they have now by an actual band on the recommendation of a friend whose tastes do not map onto mine but whose judgement is trustworthy.  The album is brand new and by a respected metal act with an unimpeachable DIY ethos but, with each episode of crushing riffage telegraphed bars in advance, I found myself struggling to get through it twice.  It’s newness was more than offset by it being structurally boring.

That said, innovation on its own isn’t enough either.  Safe to say that I’ve never heard anything quite like current darling act <name redacted because I can’t be arsed arguing with disciples wounded by my blasphemy>, for example, but my opinion as to the worth of that work is, shall we say, in the minority.  Whilst I cherish moments when a gleeful smile cracks my grumpy visog and I wonder out loud ‘what the fuck is this?’ I have nothing in principle against tropes, conventional sound-palettes, standard instrumentation and so on.

So what do I want?  I want something previously unheard by me and recently produced, ideally in an uncompromised DIY manner.  Surprises and innovation are always welcome but not necessary, genre conventions can be absolutely fine as long as they don’t lead to a formal dullness that drags me away from the experience.  In short, I want something that transports me to a different place.  It does happen – surprisingly frequently – and over the last few months the place I’ve been taken to has often been the Invisible City.

Following the sad demise of Tyneside’s Basic FM last year, Craig Johnson – host of RFM-on-the-radio-type show Unknown Surroundings – started Invisible City Records partly as a way of plugging that hole.  The guy has an irresistible, and wholly laudable, urge to plug the music that he/we love and chose to continue doing so using the now almost standard ‘business model’ of limited edition tapes for the remaining object fetishists and pay-what-you-like downloads for the sane.  Yes, yes, I know I got the hump with this approach a few months ago but hypocrisy is the least of my crimes and, hey, quality content conquers all.

ICR specialises in long(ish) form drone/noise with a penchant for fuzzed out entropic decay and dystopian synth soundtracks.  Releases are not without moments of wry humour and the odd jump scare but all have an attention to detail and seriousness of intent that makes for an immersive and transporting experience.  It is a tough label to use as background music for chores and many’s the time I have found myself sprawled out, staring at nothing, task forgotten as one of these visions unfolds.  The catalogue already features several RFM regulars: Culver, of course, people-eaters, Miguel Perez (alongside J.C. Meraz as The Will of Nin Girima) and releases reference literary house favourites like Lovecraft, Ballard and (to my delight) the Strugatsky brothers.  Tailor made for me, eh?  It is even based in Gateshead.  Perfect.

OK, given the exemplary quality control already exhibited by Craig I could just say: ‘go buy the lot’, give the link and await your expressions of gratitude.  But that would be a dereliction of duty.  Instead here’s a summary of the ICR story so far:

curwen - shunned house

ICR01 Joseph Curwen – Shunned House was due to be reviewed by ex-staffer Scott McKeating but unfortunately he fell into a non-Euclidean angle between walls whilst exploring an Antarctic archaeological site.  Alas.

caisson - high rise

ICR02 Caisson – High Rise inspired me to put together a review-as-photo-essay featuring pictures of celebrated concrete brutalism taken on the campus where I work.

death register

ICR03 Death Register – Phonaesthesia comprises three tracks of drawn out ragged synth lines propelled by loops of machine hum.  The final track, ‘R’, is seventeen minutes of augmented dream state which calls to mind Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II and is more or less perfect.

The Will of Nin Girima - Two Cycles of Incantation - cover

ICR04 The Will of Nin Girima – Two Cycles of Incantation is a duo of Miguel Perez and J.C. Meraz and is quite possibly the finest recording that Miguel, my good friend and inspiration, has been involved with.  A series of six ‘dark ambient’ rituals, it has scope, ambition and imagination and its lengthy running time just flashes past.  Unlike most noise of this type it also contains passages that are genuinely unnerving too.  Terrific.

Black Thread - Autumn Flowers - cover

ICR05 Black Thread – Autumn Flowers is a short, beautiful album of loops eroded into noise.  Yes, I understand this process will be familiar to many readers but this is a fine instantiation, full of emotional content.  Like a time-lapse film of a cherished wind-up toy thrown into the ocean, destroyed by salt and the motion of the tide.

only thing left to fear tape

ICR06 people-eaters – The Only Thing Left To Fear got the treatment by me not long ago in a piece about the terrifying, nihilistic idea that there are no such things as monsters.  It can be found here.

culver - abductress

ICR07 Culver – The Abductress is another schooling from the master Lee Stokoe.  Following a pattern familiar from several recent releases, melancholy guitar is swamped by a gathering electrical storm of fuzz drone noise.  However, this descent is more distressed/distressing than usual.  This is less Ballard – ultimately accepting of the entropic drowned world, more Wyndham – a fight against the alien forces causing the rising waters.  ‘ruby ford’, the last of the three tracks is such an epic, all you can do is admire its teeth from a safe distance.

stratospheric

ICR08 Saturn Form Essence – Stratospheric Tower is a work of special power.  Via a series of sculptures crafted from brooding analogue electronics it conveys the gargantuan, unclouded patience of a planet-wide AI that just knows it has this fucking right.  If we could hear the ‘music of the spheres’ it would sound like this: implacably hostile, utterly indifferent to your existence.

roadside picnic

ICR09 Roadside Picnic – Watership Drowned provides a whole bunch of those ‘what the fuck is going on?’ moments.  Comprising two tracks totalling about an hour and a half, we have movements (too leisurely to be called ‘collage’ I think) incorporating, amongst other things: heavily filtered scrabbling, pastoral tropicalia and electronics that range from the soothing wail of a slowed down, pitched up alarm to the chirrup and whirr of robotic insects.  It would be a great soundtrack to an adaptation of that famous children’s story about rabbits.  You know the one where prehistoric rabbits find a monolith and fight each other, then find another one on the moon thousands of years later, then go on a space mission with a mad computer that deliberately gives the astro-rabbits myxomatosis.  Yeah, that one.

…and finally:

drawings

ICR10 Philipp Bückle – Drawings which was released today as I wrote this!  Haven’t heard it yet but you gotta admit the streak is hot.  Here’s your quote Craig: ‘This album is great!’ – Radio Free Midwich.  Fuck it, why not?

So that’s it.  Well, not quite.

Whilst not wanting to steal Craig’s thunder I think I might know what ICR11 will turn out to be.  Y’see early last year the American noise label Altar of Waste released ‘the swift’ by midwich in a criminally limited (and quite expensive due to shipping costs) edition of 15 with no digital version available.  It was well received, I was proud of it and I was very grateful to those trusting souls who swapped hard cash for a copy.  I might have been happy to leave it there but I had one or two enquiries about reissuing it and just couldn’t resist reaching out to Craig and planting a seed.  What a recommendation, eh?  This label is so good that I found a way to be on it.

More news as it breaks!

(…and if you are one of those kind purchasers of the original edition please forgive me.  Remind me of the fact when the Aqua Dentata CD-r on fencing flatworm drops later in the year – I’ll sort you out proper.)

—ooOoo—

Invisible City Records

crater lake festival 2015

March 18, 2015 at 12:24 pm | Posted in live music, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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crater lake poster

Whoo, boy – where to start with Crater Lake? Maybe with the simple and declarative: Crater Lake Festival is a day-long celebration of experimental music held annually in March at Wharf Chambers in Leeds and is organised by Pete Cann. Them’s the facts. However, over the four years of its existence it has grown into something over and above a display of the curator’s unimpeachable taste and ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’ approach to time keeping: it has become a gathering of the clan. As well as being an unrivalled opportunity to see the risen cream of ‘noise’ (some in combos suggested by Pete himself) perform to a large and appreciative crowd, you also get the equally important social side. Names are put to smiling faces, hand are shaken, warez exchanged, plots hatched – all taking place in a general air of slightly delirious enthusiasm fuelled by the constant flow of decent, fairly-priced alcohol.

This blog is known for a phrase coined as shorthand description of the scene it documents but I am steering clear of that for now.  I don’t want to co-opt something that is clearly greater than the sum of its parts and can’t be pigeonholed. I will say this though: when I noticed that Pete had hooked some relatively big fish for the bill, and saw the Arts Council logo had snuck onto the corner of his poster, I asked him how he’d managed to successfully tap ’em for funding. He replied, to my delight, that he’d used my write up of last year’s festival as the blurb for his application and they couldn’t wait to shower him with cash. Despite knowing that the Arts Council has recently taken an almighty bollocking for being Londoncentric and that any application from Winterfell was going to be seriously considered, it was still a very proud moment. There you go, people: this stuff matters. Hang on a second, I seem to have something in my eye…

<sniffs, turns to window, regains composure, harumphs manfully>

OK, a word about the below. Due to family commitments – a visit from my parents to celebrate the second birthday of my son Thomas – I could only attend for the three hours from 8pm to 11pm. To be honest, given the stinking cold I had, that is probably all I could manage anyway. So, having spent the afternoon chasing the kid around Home Farm at Temple Newsam (and marveling at turkeys that looked like monsters from Doctor Who, or an illustration by Ian Watson) I arrived flustered and discombobulated into an already pretty drunken milieu. Suspecting this would be the case I had already tasked the other four RFM staffers attending (alas, Chrissie had to be elsewhere recording an orchestra) with documenting the day so all I had to organize was a group photo.

In the piece that follows the author of the paragraph is indicated in bold like this – Luke: – and interjections about non-musical aspects of the day are (bracketed and in italics). Photographs of the workshop were taken by Sof (using the ‘nice’ camera) and the awesome pictures of the performers were taken by Agata Urbaniak and kindly donated to RFM for use in this piece. I am hugely grateful to her – and to marlo for having the presence of mind to ask – and recommend that you all visit her flickr site too.

Right then, let’s go!

—ooOoo—

(Joe: Too early! We – one half of the Newcastle delegation – arrive too early at Wharf Chambers. We spot an Evil Moisture prepare for his evil workshop through the crack in the door but take the old army maxim on board – eat when you can – and scoff a scrumptious Persian meal at the place round the corner. A brief sojourn to Leeds market is broken by a call from YOL. We can sound check so I make my way back to base camp. Pete’s relaxed event management skills pay dividends. Everyone knows/does their job. Things tick like Swiss time. The super-patient sound guy balances our 10 second sound check, we nod satisfied with the racket and slope off to meet ace faces Ben Hallatt & Dale Cornish cackling in the Wharf Chambers sun trap.)

workshop 1 workshop 2 workshop 3 workshop 4 workshop 5

The workshop

Sof: I fought my way through Saturday afternoon Leeds crowds to make it to Wharf Chambers just in time for the Evil Moisture / Andy Bolus Ghost Hunting Detector workshop. We had been instructed to bring along a non-metallic cylindrical object, basic soldering skills and undead ancestors.  I’m sure I had the first two with me at least.

We all gathered round a table in the middle of the bar on which we found various items I came to know as ‘cells’, wires and other dangerous looking bits. I’m generally quite scared of electronics (old residual fear of metal work at school no doubt) and so always sign up for activities like this to try and get over this issue. Andy’s approach to the workshop was really relaxed with his main instruction being a hand drawn diagram that he placed in front of 4 of us before letting us get on with it. He was available to answer questions and sort out our various mistakes – great teaching style. This helped to kerb my concerns, I mean, if he could be so chilled holding a wand that can melt metal then why shouldn’t I be too?

There were a lot of confused and frustrated faces around the table during the process but these all turned into massive grins when the detectors finally worked out. It took me nearly 2 hours to attach the cells to a battery and a long wire wrapped around a giant pencil but you know what, it bloody worked. I mean, I’m not sure if the loud squealing noises that were produced from this thing were communications from the other side but when I stuck it into an amp through a bit of reverb at home some use was envisaged. In retrospect I shouldn’t have drank a really strong black coffee during the process because the shaky hands did become a bit of an issue but I got there in the end!

Tom and Jerry, I mean Dale

(Joe: While the laboratory is an evil hive of evil activity the wonderful folk of the N-AU turn up, firstly in ones and twos, then huddles, then mobs. I meet Sophie for the first time and gasp in awe at the purple camera she’s sporting so rakishly. The N-AU are prompt, alert and full of relaxed bonhomie. Crater Lake has started!)

Mel 1  Mel 3 Mel 4  Mel 6 Mel 7

Mel O’Dubshlaine

Joe: fractured electronics garbled and yarbled straight outta Mel’s mini-mouth – possibly reading out what she was doing (I’m lowering the volume on this tape, I’m adding more reverb on this channel) – via a Dutch translation aid and robot clarinet.  The vocal musings were calmly paced, relaxed and with an electronic softening that tickled the tiled floor all nice.  Phil Navigations joined in on cyber-Taiko drum to muss things proper towards the end.  Ke-tung!

Luke: droll Yorkshire instructions fed through robot vocoder.  About five minutes in it dawned on me that I could listen to this quite happily for hours.  My mate thought I’d left because Phil turned up and it was in danger of going ‘all musical’ not so: my chalice had run dry.

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Yol & Posset

Joe: (view from the floor) dunno about this, lots of knees and boots, getting awful hot awful quick, Yol clatters…HIT IT!

Boof/~~~scree/HAWKS////zingzingzing/~~II~~:~~BAU~~~~/CLANK.  The end.

Cor.  That felt good.

Luke: yowser this was fun like visceral high energy free gumph played with the contents of a skip, lots of gurning growling and testifying.

Marlo: the interesting element of this performance is that opposed to some electronic noise acts that seem distanced or detached from actual live performing, these two were very alive, very awake and fully present in a visceral and physical way.  Yol, as usual, used his body as his instrument to full capacity.  Apparent in his performance were both his sensitivity to environment and his physiological response to Mr. Posset’s intuitive electronic gestures. Both, not shy to show some presence, expressed a reciprocal appreciation of live art.

(Joe: Later… the food comes out full to bursting with Pascal’s grapes… I’m too keyed up to eat but notice it gets a thumbs up from Lee Culver who, no shit readers, is a proper gourmet/baking behemoth. Top Marks.)

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Stuart Chalmers

Joe: top drawer Dictaphone thumb-nastics from Stuart.  The whirr and ‘scree’ of fast forwarding tape was a joy to hear as it bounced from one hand to another; Stuart flinging his luscious black locks like a metalhead and shaking like a nervous cicada.  Even my tin ear picked up the subtle tape preparations and timings as skronk melted effortlessly into ethnic-plink with industrial overtones.  Of course no one knows what Stuart really looks like…he threw his Kim Thayil wig into the crowd and disappeared into the balmy Leeds afternoon.

Luke: about three beers in this was lush green elephant tea. I dig the candles, the wig, the ritual maaan. Led to an interesting conversation outside.  Seems in the N-AU you got your tapes lovers and your tapes haters (known as ‘taters’)

I’d rather watch him play the sounds than play a tape of it

…one geezer remarked.

He was playing a zither thing!

I retorted in his defense. I myself am pro tapes: the wow, the flutter, the plastic encased mystery.

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Kay Hill

Joe: Ben Hallatt set up an impressive reel-to-reel machine and facilitated the sound of a monkey opening a recalcitrant jar of peanut butter through the fragile, disintegrating brown tape.  A play in two parts, this simian housekeeping was taken over by a more keening, knock-kneed hubble-style.  All glorious drippings to clear out me waxy tabs.

Luke: my highlight of the day. Tape music with lots of pop and hiss but with, if not a tune, then a beguiling pattern. I struggled to verbalize how impressed I was to the man himself and was astounded that he had no merchandise to pass on (you haven’t heard the last of Kay Hill, readers).

Marlo: Ben Hallatt performed a nuanced, textured and atmospheric tape art set. Despite the surging, celebratory atmosphere of Crater Lake, he held a patient and meditative space. Starting from a minimal structure, he added an elaborate architecture that was sturdy and mindful. The performance was a sound journey that led the audience through this construction and left them in a different place.

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Dale Cornish

Joe: Canary Yellow computer splutter. Spitting and frothing like a thousand tiny tummy kicks from the blue shrimps inside.  Marie said to me,

It sounded like the 90’s.

I said,

What.  All of it?

She said,

Sure, in Belgium.

I’m no flat pancake!

Marlo: I had previously seen Dale the week before in Nottingham. His mood was quite different this time. With alert attention, he proceeded to command his laptop to amuse, irritate, and tickle the audience. If I were to have a party, I would invite Dale. Always enjoyable, instead of baking him a birthday cake to compliment last week’s set, based on this performance I would make him profiteroles.  Thus instead of a treat that is made for pure enjoyment, celebration, and taste, a pastry as work of art which takes many steps prior to presentation (and I like profiteroles a lot).

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Dylan Nyoukis & Kieron Piercy

Joe: Soundtrack to Night of the Living Squelch that somehow managed to dissect Dylan & Kieron so one duo played breathing noises: hisses, coughs and sighs and the other ‘ghost’ duo played the sound of the first duo running their outputs through resinous pinecones.  By gently slapping their foreheads bubbles of gas birthed from parted lips adding a metallic sheen. Please stop me if I’m getting too technical.

(Joe: Later…. booze is consumed, hands shook and booty exchanged. Among the hugs plans are hatched and reputations blackened! Later… we meet the boss. In what must look like a comical gesture to onlookers we both reach out one hand to shake and another to pass cdr/tapes/notes to each other.)

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Charles Dexter Ward

Joe: Erotic Jerome is the most focused man in the N-AU.  Every twitch and tremor of his hands opened another subtle filter, let out a deceptive synth note or texturised the canvas with his painterly guitar thribbings.  Guess what?  Watching CDW reminded me of that Keef.

What do you think about when you’re playing?

Asked the handsome young Vee-jay.

I don’t think on stage.  I feel,

came the raspy reply.  Nuff Said.

Marlo: I had the immense pleasure of being acquainted with Jerome after his stellar set at Tusk Festival. This time, the layers and processing felt more dense. Every time I felt as though I had embraced a new element of his guitar mosaic, I was being introduced to yet another level of intensity that abandoned yet built upon the previous input. It was a rich and powerful piece.

Rob: I got my non-euclidean groove on and shimmied like a tentacle.  It was cyclopean.  Who would have thought such a nice guy could be an Old One in human form?

(Joe: Later…a fart in front of Elkka Reign Nyoukis makes her laugh so hard it drowns out the nearby trains.  Later…it’s a Warhol of confusion. The heat and the noise and the crowd means conversations start, stop, merge and scatter. I’m bending ears all over.  Later…The RFM photo op. I never realised our erstwhile photographer was the legendary Idwal himself! Our handsome group is propped up by my screamingly odd face.)

5-6ths of RFM take 1

Rob: The evidence!  Five sixths of RFM: me, Sof, Luke, Joe, Marlo – Chrissie sadly couldn’t make it as she was recording an orchestra.  Cheers to Uncle Mark for taking the picture.

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Stephen Cornford

Marlo: As they said in Videodrome (1983),

Long live the New Flesh!

I say this because I felt like Cornford was battling with the mind melting controlling of vertical and horizontal holds, in a telekinetic struggle with amplitude and frequency, he went head-to-head with his multiple television screens. He was absorbed. I was absorbed. I think the visuals that seemed to translate his audio concoctions were pretty. I would love to see more of his work.

Rob: I felt like the little girl in Poltergeist (1982) but I wasn’t communing with the dead, rather a race of electric creatures attempting to re-programme my bonce with strobing logic.  They may have succeeded.  I await the trigger word from Mr. Cornford.

(Rob: Sof, Sof!  Where are you?  I think Sof and Jake’s last train beckoned around this point)

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Culver

Joe: Rich sarcophagus music.  Prostrated like a monk with a Casio, Culver played the sound of the tides spiced with deep orange paprika.  Ebb and flow washes over you easily for sure but remember Culver’s dark gravity pins you to the planet like a moth in a cabinet.

Luke: whilst Charles Dexter Ward embraced the crowd with his pink love drone in a highly pleasing manner, Culver extended the black tentacles of Cthulu and left us powerless facing the ghastly pit of torment. I am inebriated at this point and only roused from my Culver trance by my pal clinking glasses, it’s a fine moment: we are ridiculously close to the high priest himself. There can be only one.

Marlo: Culver is remarkable in that he uses similar gear and techniques to others whilst adding something completely signature and unique. I would say that Culver is one of the best drone artists in the UK. His monastic and constant involvement with his gear makes for a compelling performance. Despite the darkness that he chooses to invoke with sound, there is a clear joy interspersed amongst the high frequencies.

Rob: I make a mental note of all in the crowd who talk during Lee’s set.  There will be a reckoning.  A RECKONING!

(Luke: sad to say I had to miss Evil Moisture and Rudolf Eb.Er but I was successful in navigating my way home. Cheers Pete, see you next year!)

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Evil Moisture

Joe: A Very Wonderful Fucking Sloppy Mess (AVWFSM).   Long, long loops of disgruntled squirm get run through the Bolus-zone to come out triple-strength odd.  With nothing to hold on to the free fall becomes increasing delicious.

Marlo: When watching Andy Bolus, one wishes that they had superpowers like photographic memory or the ability to time travel. The issue is that normal human capacities do not allow for full visual comprehension of the devices across his two tables and to simultaneously be absorbed by the sounds. There is just so much going on! From the crazy inventor’s lab of his set up to the enveloping waves of sound, my body was compelled to move. Pushed up close to the stage with several other victims of unintentional movement, I held onto a monitor to make sure I didn’t collapse from my undulations. These movements are, by far, my favourite response to good noise. His detailed dynamics had a light touch. Well paced yet not predictable in his shifts, Andy seemed to be using his whole body, even his feet to make the monster chewing sounds. But there were purposeful and understated details placed delicately through sound blasts and running engines. Not sonic saturated and definitely not shy, Evil Moisture’s intuitive performance was well worth the wait.

(Rob: at this point I bow out myself and trot off for the second-to-last bus home very happy with how the day has gone.  I’m in such a good mood that when I discover the New Blockaders tape Joe gave me earlier is leaking oil onto the other merch in my bag all I do is chuckle.  Ahh, occupational hazard.)

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Rudolf Eb.Er

Marlo: One of the best things about seeing noise and improvisational music played live is the feeling that what one witnessed is unique and unrepeatable.  Experience a performance by a sound artist like Ruldolph Eb.Er, for example, and you know immediately that what you saw and heard will never occur again the same way.  In this case, it might be the fact that several Crater Lakers had lost their marbles on booze and kept hollering throughout the set. That was a bit unfortunate but his professionalism didn’t allow one moment of lack of concentration. I use the word ‘dynamic’ a lot when I talk about noise and sound art, often using it to describe movement.  However, in this case, Rudolf’s use of tension and silence is signature to his style. Silences punctuated the set and left the audience irritable and anticipating each aural stimulation. Personally, I was enthralled by the spectacle – I felt prone to his ‘psychoaccoustic’ gestures and was dizzy with confusion.  My favorite part of his set was when he placed some nodes covered with a black, inky sound conductive substance on his face and head whilst appearing startled and trembling. I like to think he was slightly losing his mind with the audience but by the end he was fully composed and I felt freaking grateful I had stayed cognizant enough to appreciate all the different acts contained within the piece.

Joe: It had been a very long day.  Whist I don’t approve of public drunkenness I am charmed by the tipsy.  All my notes say is:

good oaky noise but possible Harkonnen spy.

I think it’s about this point that my brain packed up…

—ooOoo—

…which is an appropriately wonky note on which to end.  Alas, that is that for another year.  Many thanks to all involved – performers, venue and attendees – with special back-slapping to Pete Cann for making it happen.  It was a terrific day.  See y’all next time.

—ooOoo—

Photo credits:

Agata Urbaniak: performers

Sophie Cooper: workshop

Mark Wharton: Team RFM

turkey

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.

 

knotty scabs, fresh burns: joe murray picks at smut, witchblood

November 30, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Smut – Incomplete Chaos (CD-r, Turgid Animal)

Popular Radiation/Witchblood – Live at the Mining Institute (tape, Boiled Brains Bootlegs, BBB #003)

Smut - Incomplete ChaosSmut - Incomplete Chaos 2

Smut – Incomplete Chaos

Lucy passed this one to me merely minutes before she clambered up on stage at Newcastle’s OctoberTUSKfest and fairly flattened the attentive crowd with the extreme heaviness found inside an old violin and some dodgy FX pedals.

This time Smut plays it spookier and looser with a bunch of long/short/long pieces moving from candle wax smooth to hessian rough over 50 delightful minutes.

‘Mother Shipton’ is, as you’d expect, cave music; throbbing reverberation and haunted echoes.  Squashed foghorns moan in a deep drizzle, a children’s pipeband is lost in a nearby chamber but play to keep their spirits up.  You can hear terror in their reedy voices as eyes skit round the dampness looking for any pinpricks of light.

A rush of thick flaming oil is captured in the brief but aptly titled ‘A grandeur in the beating of the heart’.  It’s warm and rough like knotty scabs over fresh burns; you can’t stopping picking at it despite the crimson pearls of blood collecting under your fingernails.

Free-guitar overload lurches while the runes rattle as the pivotal piece ‘G&G’ unfolds…chunky riffing collapsing and re-building solid shapes, sucking all the light out the room.  A ragged apocalypse, dark alkali fires and barren earth all spring into my mind-cinema as I’m buffeted by this howling voodoo.

Long nights bring the unknowable with the three cackling demons: isolation, paranoia and fear.  The super-spooky track ‘Tramadol 4am’ is a séance of terrible magnitude.  Like slow suffocation, or waves closing over your head, the scruttered voices are just beyond the level of intelligibility… their dark chatter is unclear making this all the more haunting.

Phew… this brings us to the melancholic closer ‘Blood Moon.’  A giant ribcage from some monstrous beast is bowed (deeply) whilst thunderous exclamations get chucked from on high by a grumpy Zeus.  Truly restrained and ponderous, like the sound of glaciers calving, this is now standard kit for all Antarctic explorers.

Being in the right place at the right time snaffled me up this boxed copy but Incomplete Chaos will be released on Turgid Animal soon.  Keep watching… as the nights draw in you’ll need this grim disc, as autumnal as acrid bonfire smoke and spent fireworks found in the damp street.

poprad-witchblood frontpoprad-witchblood back

Popular Radiation/Witchblood – Live at the Mining Institute

Like Cheap Trick and the Budokan or Motorhead and the Hammersmith Odeon some bands and venues seem inextricably linked.  Is it the acoustics, the pre-gig ‘refreshment’ or the vibe (man)?  I’m not sure about all that lot but one thing I know is some places accept a performance and some don’t.  I’m delighted to report Newcastle’s Mining Institute is fast turning into a little Carnegie Hall for the No-Audience Underground with excellent performances this year from Fritz Welch & Crank Sturgeon, the Minton & Poot duo and Roger Turner & Urs Leimgruber to name but a few.  So while you might not be able to scream, “I was there man!” you can sup from the excitement goblet by jamming this pink little tape.*

First up, Hasan Gaylani’s Popular Radiation.  A full-throated and rich-coffee roar fills the air as soon as I press play.  Blimey… this is heavy.  Derived from something Sarod/Tanpura-esque this is a single point in time, stretched across 20 mins or so, but it would be disingenuous to call it a drone work.  Poplar [sic.  Editor’s note: nice typo though – imagine the luminescent forest!] Radiation has more in common with the dark art of the DJ, in particular Millsian techno. Deep sounds are mixed and blended and it’s in this mixing and blending that the magic takes place.  Tiny incremental changes are edging between different states until it dawns on you that you’ve moved from one listening position to another without even knowing.  As the Killer Bees state:

The slow blade cuts deepest.

Flipping the tape introduces us to Witchblood (Smut & Culver) who employ gas piano and shadow violin in a devastatingly effective duo.  For me the name Witchblood conjures up Hammer Horror but this music is no campy bombast; it’s pure dustbowl depression.  Like a tornado full of sepia-tinted pianola and slack cat-gut, sound whirls slowly.  Things keep at a menacing pace but become more dense and complex as notes topple over each other, edging themselves out the twister to collapse to the ragged rocks below.  It’s elemental, with that sense of gathering power, like when clouds bruise and blacken and you feel the delicious tension before the first fat drops of rain fall.  Most precious of all is the beautiful, respectful silence that follows the thin grey fade out, a precedent to the howling cheers and applause.

All this for £4 only from the mighty Turgid Animal site.

—ooOoo—

*the other option of course is to just lie about it like the thousands of Manc half-wits who ‘saw’ the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall and still haven’t stopped going on about it…

haunted oxide: luke vollar on culver / posset

November 18, 2014 at 8:49 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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culver & posset – black gash (tape, matching head, mh 207)

culver and posset j cardculver and posset tape and insert

[Editor’s note: ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm radiofreemidwich welcome to our latest guest writer and potential new team member: Luke Vollar.  Mr. V – family man, Jazzfinger obsessive, member of Lanterns and Castrato Attack Group – has apparently been itching to get involved for some time and when the tape above materialised he couldn’t help but lick his nib and get scrawling.  As this release involves RFM staffer Joe Murray it seemed appropriate that it should be accounted for by someone ‘outside the fold’ so I’m delighted for this piece to be Luke’s calling card.  He speaks thus…]

When I first heard of this collaboration between culver and posset I was naturally as curious as any self respecting no audience head would be.

Could go either way…

…I thought, smirking to myself as I imagined culver’s stern drones going up against posset’s ADHD dictaphone frottage.  Well, I’m happy to report that it’s a resounding success, neither artist dominates proceedings and the end result is something wholly other: it ain’t culver and it ain’t posset, dig?

The first side (that I put on): wave interference, crunch of static, distress calls from haunted oxide.  A water damaged micro tape of the final words of the captain from a long submerged ship describing something ghastly coming into view through the freezing fog. In my mind culver and posset think it would be seriously hep to jam in that creepy abandoned house that is rumoured to be built on an ancient Indian burial ground and has been empty and decaying since anyone can remember.  Thing is they both get seriously spooked and make a bolt for the door, too terrified even to pack up their gear.  What is left behind begins to slowly unspool into a heaving mass of black goop – pulsing, sparking, spreading.  From this ectoplasm rises a figure, at first indistinguishable, slowly becoming human shaped – head bowed, arms outstretched, eyes begin to glow fiendishly.  Its lips slowly draw to a grin revealing incisors that snap and crackle with electric menace.  As the gelatinous figure takes its first steps forward the hiss, BUZZ and clank rises to a fevered pitch but the panic then ebbs away and I remind myself to cut back on the horror movies. The side fades out with a young girls voice, distorted and foggy.  The mutant has come out from under the bed, the people are scared but really it’s nice.

The flip starts with what sounds like buried piano loops under undulating hiss, the slightly off-kilter-ness maintaining the disquiet of the previous side.  I see a lighthouse, its light flashing rhythmically onto an indifferent ocean in the darkest night.  This is followed by glassy, luminous heroin drone that morphs into a more complex rising and falling pattern: all musical, like.  The pulse slows to a steady thump and all the unease seems to dissipate like smoke in the air. We’re now in drone nirvana heavenly nod out music that is over too quickly. Quite an exit gentlemen and quite a journey.

More please.

—ooOoo—

Matching Head

slurred morse: nameless city haiku compiled

September 9, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Culver – Prophecy Of The Black Spider (tape, Mantile Records, #027, edition of 50)

Culver – “Kitty” (tape, Agorafobia Tapes, #31)

ZN – Carniceria (CD-r or download, self-released)

The Dead End Street Band – Bombs Rain Down on Innsmouth (tape, Agorafobia Tapes, #29)

La Mancha Del Pecado – Witchskinner (tape, Agorafobia Tapes, #28)

Inseminoid – Gemma’s Sacred Waters (tape, Matching Head, MH204)

Xtul – Black Holes of Stellar Mass (CD-r, self-released, edition of 30)

Female Borstal / NIHL – Split (tape, matching head, mh206)

culver - prophecy

…and so for the second anthology of my recent haiku reviews. This time I’m addressing the Tyneside noise/drone scene and its transatlantic outpost in Juárez, Mexico. Picture Lee Stokoe (of Culver and Matching Head tapes) sitting in a dark grey throne room that giddies the senses with its non-Euclidean geometry. On the other side of the Atlantic Miguel Perez (of La Mancha Del Pecado and Agorafobia Tapes) sits cross-legged on the floor of his desert cave whistling along to the howling wind. Eschewing the internet, they commune via crystal balls each containing a burning eye…

I needn’t go into the sound or aesthetic of this music at any length here as thousands of words I’ve written previously are available at the click of a tag (see above). Suffice to say the gist can be garnered from the following exchange. Imagine Lee casting a withering look over two brightly coloured art-school types setting up their gear prior to a gig.

C’mon, Lee!

I say,

…it doesn’t have to be all doomy blackness does it?

The withering look is transferred to me, with a slight twinkle added to his eye:

Yes Rob, it does.

…he replies. Tongue in cheek, perhaps, but there you have it: the final word.  True story.

Initially the following poems were tossed into the overcrowded public swimming pool that is Twitter (@radiomidwich) but, knowing all that shouting and splashing is not conducive to contemplation, I’ve fished ’em out, dried ’em off and present this leather-bound blog post for your leisurely perusal.

It might seem disrespectful to reduce these releases to seventeen syllables apiece – the Xtul album is a whole hour of glorious psych noise, the La Mancha tape is one of Miguel’s best, the NIHL side of that split is possibly the best thing I’ve heard all year and so on – but I put a lot of thought into these compositions and I hope the impressions expressed are, in their own way, accurate and useful. The title I used for the series, ‘Nameless City’, is, of course, a nod to the Geordie scene’s obsession with Lovecraft but is also apt for Miguel due to the desert setting of the story.

Click on the band name/album title to be taken to an appropriate webpage.  Matching Head has no official internet presence as such but contact details can be found via the Discogs listings for the label – maintained (largely) by Scott McKeating of this parish.

—ooOoo—

No. 1:

Culver – Prophecy Of The Black Spider

Polished steel mirror

examined by microscope:

metallic tundra.

culver - kitty

No. 2:

Culver – “Kitty”

Gremlin on plane wing

observes sleeping passengers

leans into the roar…

zn - carniceria

No. 3:

ZN – Carniceria

Grisly truth unpicked:

Cannibal horror movie?

Documentary.

the dead end street band - bombs rain down

No. 4:

The Dead End Street Band – Bombs Rain Down On Innsmouth

Smothered radio,

ragged semaphore, slurred morse

lost to riot seas

la mancha - witchskinner

No. 5:

La Mancha Del Pecado – Witchskinner

Flesh machinery

processes blind consumption:

cattle eat cattle…

inseminoid - gemma's sacred waters

No. 6:

Inseminoid – Gemma’s Sacred Waters

Dunes bombed into glass.

Tank tracks shatter windowed earth.

Sand returned to sand.

xtul - black holes of stella mass

No. 7:

Xtul – Black Holes Of Stellar Mass

Existence confirmed:

selfhood undeniable

…when thrown from a ‘plane

female borstal nihl split

Female Borstal / NIHL – split

No. 8a: Female Borstal side

Dredging a channel

up silt fouled estuary mouth

takes brute, swinging force

No. 8b: NIHL side

Seduced by darkness

beyond guttering arc-light –

like moths, like dead souls.

—ooOoo—

EDIT: Matching Head Catalogue September 2014 as a pdf document.

the 2013 zellaby awards

January 4, 2014 at 8:52 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 4 Comments
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zellaby award envelope

Ladies and gentlemen, dear readers all, welcome to the hotly anticipated Zellaby Awards for 2013.  The show, in its third annual outing, is presented in association with Radio Free Midwich and hosted by the editor from his comfortably-appointed padded cell in the basement of Midwich Mansions.

In previous years the awards have formed part one of a two part round-up of cultural highlights.  However this year I can easily roll what would usually be part two into this preamble.  Why?  Three words: Thomas James Hayler.  The birth of our son in March was an epoch-defining, paradigm-shattering, life-forever-altering event for all of us – I’m sure you’ll remember the moon turning a fire red that evening – but looking after the kid (y’know: issuing orders to the nannies, sorting through the mountains of flowers, cards and teddy-bears left at the gate of the estate, that kind of thing) has rather cut into the time and energy afforded to culture in general.

It was interesting to experience how looking after a baby pares life down to the essentials.  I now do my bit to help with Thomas, I look after my wife Anne as best I can too, I keep up with my friends and family (more or less), I go to work (when healthy) and I think about music.  That’s all I have but, crucially, it is all I want.  Sure, we could do with more money and better health – who couldn’t? – but establishing this balance has been refreshing and revelatory.  I can sincerely state, all joking and archness to one side, that Thomas joining us has made 2013 the best year of my life so far.  By some distance.

Thomas at Xmas 2013

<stares wistfully into middle distance, wipes tear from stubbled cheek, returns to business at hand>

I did get to read a handful of books, of which HHhH by Laurent Binet, about a 1942 mission to assassinate Richard Heydrich, chief of the Gestapo, was the most compelling, original and intriguing.  I even stole a line from it to use in a review.  I think I read the entire of Museum Without Walls, a collection of essays and television scripts by polemicist, architecture critic and commentator Jonathan Meades.  I say ‘I think’ because it was mainly done in sleepy five page chunks in the middle of the night.  Otherwise I kept my membership of the bourgeoisie fresh by reading the London Review of Books and took my news mainly from Private Eye which, despite its many faults, holds power to account at least some of the time thus making it unique in the mainstream.  I pretty much gave up on film and television aside from using the boy as an excuse to watch Regular Show and Adventure Time on Cartoon Network.  Oh, and Game of Thrones series 3 was fun too if you like that sort of thing.

Down here in the no-audience underground I devoured, as ever, anything posted by Uncle Mark over at the essential Idwal Fisher blog and cover-to-covered the no-less essential Hiroshima Yeah! the moment it arrived in the mail.  Congratulations to the latter on reaching its 100th issue this year, no mean feat with one of its two editors in prison…  Also in the realm of the self-published, a pamphlet of poetry by my good friend and comrade Nick Allen has been on my bedside table since he surprised me with it at work one morning and has been well-thumbed and repeatedly enjoyed.

It has been another golden year for music, both live and recorded.  A couple of my all-time favourite gigs occurred in the last 12 months and my ‘long list’ for best album contained 34 contenders!  Never mind those bullshit ‘end of year’ polls you see in print magazines that you know were proofread over ice-creams in August, never mind those ‘best albums of the last fifteen minutes’ you see on internet based blogzine snore-fests.  This is the real deal: compiled whilst the New Year is still bellowing after being slapped into life.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – we need to trot through a few methodological points, then the ceremony can commence.

Firstly, the music mentioned below may not have been released in 2013, although most of it was.  To qualify it had to be heard by RFM for the first time in the calendar year 2013.  Secondly, releases featuring the staff of RFM (me, Scott McKeating, Joe Murray) are excluded.  Modesty is not a virtue I can be accused of but awarding ourselves prizes is a bit much even for me.  Thirdly there are the same five award categories as last time (although one has had to be renamed…).  Should an artist win big in one of them they may appear overlooked in others.  This is deliberately done in the interests of plugging as much excellence as possible and thus no-one should get the hump.  Finally, I did invite the aforementioned Scott and Joe to contribute nominations but the final decisions are mine.  Think of me as a benign dictator listening carefully to his advisers before passing judgement.

OK, shush now – the house lights are dimming…  Time for the first category!

—ooOoo—

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

Lucy Johnson

smut - piano one

(with honourable mentions for Joe’s choice: WANDA GROUP, “the absolute master of steamy hiss and non-linear edit”)

Here’s a extract from the lengthy overview of Lucy’s back catalogue that I posted back in July:

One of the refreshing things about what I playfully refer to as the ‘no-audience underground’ is that it is not full of self-aggrandising blabbermouths.  There are a few – me, for example – and an acceptable level of self-absorption is common, but many artists quietly get on with producing excellent work mainly, it seems, for their own gratification and the pleasure of their circle.

This situation allows for the gradual discovery of that most mysterious of creatures: the unsung hero.  Names are pencilled in – an aside from the omniscient Scott McKeating, a credit on a Matching Head insert, say – then repeated until they become underlined in bold and further investigation becomes inevitable.  Such has been the case with Lucy Johnson.

I had, of course, already praised Space Victim, her duo with Mike Vest, to the hilt (they featured in RFM’s best of 2012 list) and more recently did the same for the Witchblood tape, her duo with Lee Stokoe, on Matching Head.  A comment from Miguel Perez led to me picking up her tapes as Smut and hearing those led to me finally paying some proper attention. Over the last few weeks I have been putting two and two together via Discogs, the Turgid Animal site and various other rune-casting activities and have been gathering up examples of her work.  She records solo as Smut and Esk, is half of the aforementioned duos, is the vocalist for black metal band Rife, and is also in the bands Obey and Dark Bargain (as reviewed by Scott below).  Her artwork adorns covers and T-shirts and has recently been made available to buy as prints.  Most of this stuff is available from the label and distributor Turgid Animal which (according to that same review by Scott) she co-runs.  Blimey, eh?

Can’t wait to hear what comes next.  There is at least one more Smut tape to pick up and the Obey album to look forward to as well…

Next is…

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 goes to…

Robert Ridley-Shackleton

r r-s - butterfly farm

(with honourable mentions for Kevin Sanders whose consistency proves awe-inspiring, Bjerga/Iversen’s album-per-month Bandcamp project, Joe’s choice Hapsburg Braganza and, of course, Lee Stokoe, who was also Scott’s choice)

Given that I went from not knowing who he is to hearing/seeing around 50 objects produced by him during the course of a few months Robbie was odds-on favourite in this category.  That said, I realise that it is a controversial choice as ‘quality control’ may not be an entirely appropriate concept to apply to this gushing, unstoppable flow.  I suppose one man’s drivel fountain is another man’s exuberant exploration of an outsider vision.  As I wrote in my first overview piece about his stuff:

Call it an ‘aesthetic’, a ‘vision’ if you like, but it becomes clear during the perusal of these artefacts that this is Robert’s world – a dimensionless jiffy bag containing a wonky, distorted universe – and that the rest of us are tourists within it.

For what it is worth, The Butterfly Farm, the tape pictured above released by Beartown Records, is as good a place to start as any.

On to…

3.  The Special Contribution to Radio Free Midwich Award goes to…

Joe Murray and Scott McKeating

posset - my hungry holesscott

(with honourable mentions for Dan Thomas and Miguel Perez who both understand what friendship is really about.  Cheers fellas.)

Obviously.  In May Scott offered to help out, I bit his hand off.  This gave me the idea of asking Joe, who bit my hand off.  Once these appendages had been sewn back on we shook them vigorously and got down to the typing.  I like to think that the house style at RFM sits somewhere between the jazzed exuberance of Joe and the more meticulous, journalistic work of Scott.  Thus between us we offer a comprehensive ‘three bears’ account of this remarkable scene.  Being able to lean on these guys has kept the porridge at a perfect temperature during some pretty distracted times, especially baby- and illness-related, and I am beyond grateful for their contributions.

Now we have…

2.  The Label of the Year Award which goes to…

Memoirs of an Aesthete

Half an Abortion - Drowsy Seepage

(with honourable mentions for, well, see below…)

This was a very, very hotly disputed category.  I was tempted to be perverse and, in the style of Time magazine’s mirror cover, proclaim label of the year to be ‘self-released’.  Certainly, in this Bandcamp enabled age the idea has to be considered seriously.  But that ain’t much fun is it?  Let’s have an argument instead!  Joe stepped up for Winebox Press:

Jon Collin’s labour of love has presented some amazing music this year (Vampire Blues, Lost Wax, and his own gorgeous schizzle)  all nailed to hand-sanded wooden chunks.  This extra detail might make things difficult to file but the soft hand-feel makes me return again and again to these loose spools of joy.

Scott proclaimed Matching Head, natch:

Same as every other year. Lee Stokoe keeps it prolific, adding new regulars to a strong cast of returning cassette-friendly noise/drone/wtf artists.

Both excellent choices, of course, but what of the Sheepscar Light Industrial, last year’s runner up, or Kirkstall Dark Matter – a blood feud between Leeds postcodes?  Or is the glorious return of Sanity Muffin gong-worthy?  Speaking of returns, was any more welcome or surprising than that of Union Pole which made a long-gone 76 item back catalogue available to download for the total of one dollar?  Or what about Hissing Frames or hairdryer excommunication, the content-pumps of Robbie and Kev respectively?

The choice seemed impossible so I left the scribbled lists and did a couple of those things that you only see people do in the movies: splashed my face with water then stared into the bathroom mirror, took a cold can out of the fridge and held it against my cheek etc.  Soon clarity was restored.  For not putting a foot wrong, for never having even a single hair our of place, it had to be Memoirs of an Aesthete.  Phil Todd’s label has released one belter after another this year and has probably clocked up more minutes playing time in Midwich Mansions than any rival.  If it has Phil’s seal of approval on it then you should buy it.  Simple really.

…and finally…

1.  The Album of the Year Award

Risking accusations of hyperbole, I have claimed once or twice over the course of 2013 that we were living in a golden age.  Revisiting the releases I heard during the year I feel absolutely vindicated.  Add my long list to the short lists provided by Scott and Joe and you have a total of over 40 titles without even counting much not-really-released-as-such-but-still-magnificent work such as the soundcloud presence of, say, ap martlet.  Scott mentioned…

Black Sun Roof4 Black Suns & A Sinister Rainbow (Handmade Birds) – Davies and Bower make noise ritual a rhythm thing.

Skullflower / MasterySplit (Cold Spring) – Black metal soundtracks.

Joe added:

Duff/Nyoukis/Robertson/ShawAcetate Robots (Giant Tank) – Soft Scottish mumble, sweet as tablet.

Poor MouthS/T (Total Vermin) – Stream of consciousness wonk-out in proud Estuary English.

Lost Wax – My Sore Daad Heap’d (Winebox Press) – Environmental sounds lashed into a bivouac as the sun rises.

ID M Theft AbleBabb’s Bridge (Veglia, King Fondue, Zeikzak, Taped Sounds) – Like Manson’s internal monologue as knives get knotty.

Blue Yodel & Lovely HonkeyPoppies & Cocks (Chocolate Monk) – Mooooggg, hummm…voosh. Boo-fffff.

Both lists pleasantly indicative of the interests of my comrades, I think.  Take note.  Right then, as I did last year I have whittled my choices down to twenty with the first half presented in no particular order, linked to the original RFM reviews.  Here we go:

Witchbloodspoils and relics - angelsplurals sli 018Ceramic Hobs - Spirit World Circle Jerkaqua dentata - ten thousand wooden faceshalf an abortion - quandarystarlite coffins - medicine eagleGalena - Buried Finchpeople-eaters - imprecate

Every one a winner.  Click on the above for further thoughts and for contact/purchasing info.  Now on with the top ten, in reverse order…

10. Xazzaz – Untitled (Molotov 20)

xazzaz - 'untitled' molotov 20

This was reviewed twice on RFM this year.  Firstly Joe said:

…a melodic pitch-shifting that recalls those tremolo-heavy vibes from MBV…except this time the jazz electricity comes via belt sanders, floor polishers and hammer-action drills rather than sappy guitars.  The crashing continues, churning up plankton and hurling it on the zinc-coated rocks until, at around the 11 minute mark a large rusty anchor is thrown overboard and is dragged nosily (sic – it was more fun to keep the typo than correct it – RH) across a rocky sea bed.  Grrrgrgggrgggrgghhhhhh!   After a while your ear hairs can bristle no more and I had to settle back to accept this Black Metal take on Frippertronics as an astringent lullaby…

…then I pitched in with:

Mike’s music causes my edges to crumble, then crevaces to open, then huge thoughtbergs to calve from my mental glaciers.  He isn’t averse to roar, of course, and can stamp on pedals if need be, but it is the subtleties and nuance that make it so compelling.  He listens patiently, he understands what is going on.  He knows what to do.

Check out the Molotov catalogue now distributed by Turgid Animal.

9. Shareholder – The Backwards Glance volumes 1, 2 and 3

shareholder 1

Joe turned me on to this one.  He wrote:

The Backwards Glance is ten god-damn years of recordings all wrapped up in beguiling drawings, elastic bands and creepy collage work.  Sandy has taken the Faust approach and jams are cut-up hard against each other so you lurch between approaches, styles, themes and moods … My advice is to block out a few hours in your schedule, settle yourself in your preferred listening area and drink this special brew in deep.  As in the dog-eat-dog world of high finance the Shareholder is always looking for a unique selling point.  This USP for these clever little tapes is their god-damn addictiveness!

8. Culver/Somália ‎– Split

culver-somalia

Joe also beat me to this one too and came up with the best simile of the year, damn him:

Culver is a master of the dark art of static movement.  In the same way smoke will fill a room to the corners, too thick to see thorough but fragile enough to part with the wave of a hand, Culver plays that hard/soft, full/empty, maximal/minimal dichotomy like Erich Von Daniken’s  ancient astronauts. Always working on the edge of being there and not being there this piece, this relatively brief drone called ‘seven human hairs’ is like watching ink boil … Somália is some mysterious Portuguese music maker who, on ‘das cordas’ takes a melancholic Satie riff (Gnossienne No. 1 I think) and loops it over and over again with a grimy patina of tape murk.  That’s it.  No speeding up or slowing down. No descent into beats or basslines.  Just a gradual fade into the muck collected round the capstans.  Super simple and super effective.  It works at times (and I have to point out here I have played this tape a lot!) like dark canvas, swallowing the light but freeing up the subconscious.  This is dreaming music.

7. Seth Cooke – Run For Cover

seth cooke - run for cover

The spec is simple enough, a single track of about fifteen minutes in length, but its ingredients are tricky to separate out.  I suspect the noise that sounds like a swarm of angry wasps flying into a juddering extractor fan may be a vibrating implement set upon a drum skin.  The buzz is malevolent – like tapping the glass of a giant tank full of insects only to have them all turn in unison, give you a hard stare and then start working together to get the tank’s lid off…  Some abrasive electronics are then set loose in order to scour and gouge the source noise whilst a bucket of low end catches the swarf.  The concluding crescendo is visceral, tough and as sparkling as your peripheral vision after a sharp smack to the back of the head.  Yeah: awesome.

6. Yol – Four Live Pieces

yol - four live pieces

Joe is a true believer:

I think it was the mighty Stan Lee/Jack Kirby axis that came up with the Incredible Hulk to explore the untamed, brutish side to mankind.  The trick Yol has turned is to take this Yahoo Hulk and transplant it into the damp and bland world of Northern Britain – 2013.  This is no Marvel Universe magic realism but the dark perverted land of a bent cop, conflicted priest or overworked teacher.  It’s a post-Saville world where celebrity corrupts and no one can really trust each other.  Yol gives a voice to the bitter and bleak, the misplaced righteousness and revenge that most of us keep buttoned up tight.  The inner struggle is played out in vivid crimson, choked out, spat into the gutter and stamped on with spite.

5. Shoganai –  ショウガナイ

shoganai

The fella behind this project, remaining semi-anonymous for his own reasons, has produced a piece of work so ambitious and accomplished that the fact that it is available to download on a pay-what-you-like basis from that Bandcamp left me stupefied … Some details: your download will contain nine tracks spanning 41 minutes.  These episodes are clearly the product of a single aesthetic but vary in construction.  There is computerborne surrealism, the programme code distorted by a horseshoe magnet ordered from the Acme catalogue, there is deep-fried tropical psychedelia the like of which wouldn’t be out of place on a Space Victim or AshNav album, and there is the cooing and squawking of an alien menagerie, recorded rooting and strutting about the forest floor on a distant, poisonous world.

4. Helicopter Quartet – Where have all the aliens gone?

helicopter quartet - where have all the aliens gone

Their sound (‘drone rock’? ‘dark ambient’? I don’t know) is dense and rich, each element absorbing in its own right, all contributing to a mysterious but coherent whole.  It is like finding an ornately inlaid wooden casket containing a collection of exquisitely handcrafted objects: what might be a bear, carved from obsidian, a female form cast in an unplaceable grey/green metal, an abstract pattern, possibly even unreadable script, scrimshawed onto yellowing bone.  All irresistibly tactile, all fascinating, all revealing aspects of the character of the unknown and long dead collector who gathered them together.

It is cliché to describe simplicity as ‘deceptive’ and efficiency as ‘ruthless’ but both phrases are perfectly apt in this case.  There is no waste, no let up, the emotional demands of this music are unmistakeable.  Despite the jokes about torturing aliens on its Bandcamp page, this is a deeply serious music but it is epic on a human scale.

3. Various – Knurr & Spell

knurr and spell

Four tracks, each about twenty minutes long, by four different solo artists.  First is veteran Leeds scenester Shem Sharples, recording as his robotic alter ego Shemboid, who kicks things off with ‘myths of the prehistoric future’ – a Ballardian pun well suited to this blistering, splintering track.  Shem is an aficionado of the garage psych sound and his skyscraping fuzz/wah guitar illuminates the rubble like harsh Californian sunshine.

Next is ‘bontempi bastet’ by Ocelocelot, Mel O’Dubhslaine’s noise/drone endeavour.  The track is remarkable: an ectoplasmic gumbo, a thick electronic soup spiced and seasoned to make the corners of your eyes twitch.  Or is it an evocation of heaven?  Mel is a serious artist quietly and brilliantly re-purposing music to serve her own mysterious ends.  She does this with good humour and modesty and I think she might be my hero.

Third is ‘no forks’ by Moral Holiday, Phil Todd’s affectionate homage to first wave industrial music. The backing is brittle, unforgiving, stark.  Phil has taken the bucolic feel of the most utopian electronic Krautrock, frogmarched it to a grimly urban setting and then recorded it amongst the glass and concrete, mutating to fit its new surroundings.

Finally, we have ‘taser delerium’ (sic) from Paul Walsh’s foldhead.  Perhaps you could imagine spiking the punch at a convention of shortwave radio enthusiasts then getting the fried participants to improvise a jam using nothing but the guttering warbles of atmospheric interference.  Life affirming stuff – joyful noise wall.  Like an intruder appearing at the foot of your bed, paralysing you with a swift injection to the sole of your foot, then draping his cock across your forehead as you lie prone and immobile, it is a perversely calming experience.

In summary: this album is damn near perfect.

2. Ashtray Navigations – Cloud Come Cadaver

cloud come cadaver

Previous winners come oh-so-close once more.  I wrote a lengthy psychedelic ramble accounting for each track in turn which you can read by clicking on the title above.  For now I need only quote the final remarks:

It’s like a ‘Comfortably Numb’ for the psych/noise underground but defiant, without a trace of self pity.  It could accompany the ‘ages of man’ sequence at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Did I mention that Ashtray Navigations are my favourite band?  This is why.

Absolutely magnificent.

…and finally, the RFM Zellaby Award for Album of the Year 2013 goes to…

1. The Piss Superstition – Vocal Learning

vocal learning front

Back in May I had a moment of prophetic clarity:

The music suggests systems gone wrong, like some guy pushed in a punch card upside down and then went to lunch leaving everything running.  Yet heavy, juddering electrics describe arcane symbols as they spiral through the iterations of this garbled instruction set.  Something truly wierd is being revealed.  The serrated buzzing suggests saw mill equipment escaping its moorings and consuming itself as one bladed machine vibrates into the path of another.  But again, there is nothing random about this movement.  All is being conducted by an unfamiliar intelligence for some unknowable purpose.  In the end though, all metaphors, similes, superlatives and whimsy just slide off this band or, at best, get caught in the gears and mashed – such is the beauty, mystery and power of their output.  They do not sound like anyone else and yet, somehow, it turns out that this sound is exactly what I wanted to hear.  Its value can only be calculated by fumbling with an alien currency, glinting strangely in my palm.

Thus: Vocal Learning is the best album of the year so far.  Why?  Because it is – I said so.

…and there we have it.  The End.  Well, not quite.  There is a prize should the winners wish to claim it: a release on the fabled fencing flatworm recordings.  Yes, in a tradition stretching all the way back to one year ago I decided to reanimate my legendary label to issue one release a year which could only be by the winner of the Best Album Zellaby Award.  So, JB & Paul, how about it?  Drop me a line if the idea tickles you both and we’ll talk turkey.

RFM’s ongoing account of the no-audience underground’s creative endeavour will continue shortly.  We wish you all a very happy New Year!

sorting the lego part four: soundtracks for decorating the tree

December 19, 2013 at 9:46 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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The Ceramic Hobs – Spirit World Circle Jerk (vinyl LP in silk-screened sleeve, Must Die Records, MDR 032, edition of 250)

CASTRATO ATTACK GROUP – blood porridge from the islets of langerhans (CD-r, Memoirs of an Aesthete, MOA 666-13, edition of 100 or download)

La Mancha del Pecado & Culver – collaboration six (tape, Matching Head/Agorafobia, mh 199/27)

Ceramic Hobs - Spirit World Circle Jerkcastrato attack group - blood porridge backcastrato attack group - blood porridge front

I think I’ve written enuff about depression for now, don’t you?  See the preambles to parts one, two and three of this series for an account of the development of my current illness and what I am doing to combat it.  Suffice to say the struggle continues but I am very well supported and am looking forward to the break in routine that Christmas will provide.  I’m trying hard not to make a ‘mulled whine’ pun.  Damn, just did it…

Thanks again for the music and messages of encouragement – it all means a great deal to me.

These will be my last reviews of 2013 – if you have stuff on the review pile then it will be dealt with in the New Year.  Continued apologies for any delay but we have caught up considerably during December.  Articles by Joe and Scott on Colectivo N, Smut and Caroline Mackenzie are in the works and will probably appear sometime during the holiday period to tide us over until the Zellaby Awards are announced in January.  Exciting!

Have a lovely Christmas, dear readers, and I wish you peace, health and love from all at RFM HQ and Midwich Mansions.

—ooOoo—

It isn’t often that I agree to review something without having heard it first.  I’m not concerned about accusations of insider trading, or conflict of interest, nor are there brown envelopes stuffed with payola for me to collect in motorway service station car parks.  It’s more to do with not wanting to feel obliged, nor wanting to accept freebies under false pretences – I know resources are scarce so I don’t want to trouble someone for their warez only to say ‘no thanks’ once it is too late.  However, I thought I was on safe ground when Simon Morris of Ceramic Hobs pulled out a copy of their latest album and handed it to me at that Skullflower show with the words: “You MUST review it!”  I agreed, of course.

Here’s the spec: The Spirit World Circle Jerk is a vinyl LP in an edition of 250 from the ever-impressive Must Die Records, the covers were created and screen-printed by Dr. Adolf Steg of Spon fame and a handy lyric sheet and download code are included for maximum convenience and enjoyment.  One side features six of the seven tracks, the other side contains just the epic ‘Voodoo Party’.

Initally, it seems a bit more straightforward than the psychonautical adventure that was the last ‘proper’ Hobs LP I heard – Oz Oz Alice – but flip it over and over during the course of several afternoons and its depth, complexity and sense of humour are revealed.  Ideas, characters, lines of lyrics, references to popular culture, mass murder etc. that are largely lost on me (a great track-by-track description of the album on the Must Die Records site helps decipher all this) are repeated from song to song which gives the album coherence.  Don’t worry – this isn’t a tedious ‘concept’ piece, more a series of linked short stories (‘Simon Morris as the Robert Altman of the psychiatric underground’?  Discuss).

Simon’s voice remains remarkable: utterly different from his speaking voice, it ranges from bassy growl, as if gargling with multi-coloured gravel and slimey algae from the bottom of a tropical fish tank, to overdriven power electronic screech, like William Bennett flicking through the Ikea catalogue in bed and getting a paper cut on his bell-end.  The band are totally up to it too and the music works an accompanying range, from oi punk and pub rock to psychedelic collage.  There are plenty of laughs.  For example, the opening line of ‘Glasgow Housewife’: “I… BELONG… TO… GLASGOOOOOOOOOOWWWWW” cracks me up every time I hear it.  It’s as funny as Wile E. Coyote stamping on the trap that Road Runner just failed to activate.  There is head-down boogie – try and resist singing along to the ‘Hong Kong Goolagong’ with your thumbs in your belt-loops.  And then there is ‘Voodoo Party’…

The side-long seventh track is a companion piece to the 35 minute long title track of Oz Oz Alice.  It’s a category-defying collage, a psychedelic ritual, or maybe a cut-up screed by the author of a conspiracy website where everything is grist to the mill and the more you deny it the more sure he is that you are hiding something.  For example, the ‘true’ story of Rhonda’s journey through a stargate, lifted from an American talk radio programme complete with dumbfounded hosts, is totally fascinating in itself and calls to mind ’22 going on 23′ from the masterpiece Locust Abortion Technician by Butthole Surfers.  Surely, there can surely be no higher praise and yet this is just one of the many elements to be found sliding over each other, slotting into an order of things dictated by the track’s own gurning and fluid internal logic.

I’m happy to conclude that this album is perfect music to accompany tucking into a lovely Christmas dinner of roast turkey and all the trimmings – well, you might have to reheat it after making sure that the family whose house you have just broken into are securely tied up in the basement first…

blood porridge from the islets of langerhans is perfect music to accompany chestnuts roasting on an open fire – that is if the fire was caused by a gas explosion and is roaring in the rubble of what used to be your house.  The album comprises two twenty minute plus tracks of crackling free rock.  Despite the band’s name, this is clearly the result of the nine balls belonging to the four band members (which member has three is a closely guarded secret) swinging back and forth like a hairy Newton’s cradle.  Nothing clever-clever here.  ‘triceratops badmouth’ starts in a paint-huffing, head-banging mood and remains that way throughout – a tethered crescendo of thrashing and bucking.  ‘temple of glue’ is even less structured, if that is possible.  At first it’s like a squadron of dragonflies attempting to free themselves after having accidentally landed in a puddle of beery piss then, rescued at last by a beat at around the nine minute mark, they spend the rest of the track shaking themselves dry and drunkenly vowing revenge on the fool who dared urinate under their flightpath.  Terrific.

collaboration six is perfect music to accompany dashing through the snow – that is if you have been thrown from a helicopter onto the tundra because your colleagues think you may have been infected by an alien shape shifter and now night is falling.  The latest in a series of all-star team-ups featuring friends-of-RFM Lee Stokoe and Miguel Perez, this won’t hold any surprises for those already familiar with their work but it is perhaps a little more delicate than you might expect.  The album comprises a single track on a single sided tape in a black and white cover not reproducible on a family blog like this due to, well, tits.  In the spirit of seasonal goodwill I won’t make my usual prudish complaint about this ‘aesthetic’.  The music, a deceptively simple, multi-layered drone is magnificent, a high water mark in the recent catalogues of both artists.  How you take it could go in two opposite directions depending on your mood: is it evocative of a warm, enveloping, womb-like environment in which you shift about, satisfyingly comfortable, in a cocoon of amniotic jelly or is it a windswept mountainside, treacherous with snow-covered ice and bottomless crevasses below?  Essential either way.

Buy the Ceramic Hobs LP direct from Must Die Records, where you’ll also find the track-by-track description I mention above.  Buy the Castrato Attack Group CD-r (or download) via the Memoirs of an Aesthete Bandcamp site.  The La Mancha del Pecado & Culver tape can be had from Matching Head, contact details on the Matching Head Discogs page.

woollen arms cradling: joe murray on vampire blues, culver, somália, yavgnu and roman nose

November 7, 2013 at 9:07 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Vampire Blues – Recorded Live at Les Voûtes, Paris, France, 24th November 2012 (C36 tape, Winebox Press, winebox22)

Culver/Somália ‎– Untitled (tape, Matching Head, 197)

yavgnu/Roman Nose – Split (tape, исподволь)

RFM Vampire BluesRFM Vampire Blues 2 culver-somaliaRFM Roman Nose Split

Vampire Blues – Recorded Live at Les Voûtes, Paris, France, 24th November 2012

Vampire Blues is the natural-organic duo of Jon Marshall (Harmonium) and Jon Collin (Electric Guitar) feverishly stroking and a’ huffing live in the City of Light.

Side one is super-heavy on the harmonium, wheezy like an asthmatic pony as the guitar gently rests, calmly ‘pinging’ every so often.  This is a boozy sedative with absolutely no intention of rushing.  Waves of heavy vibration are pushed and pulled through the battered reeds and amplified with the slightest hint of over-distortion making everything quiver like it’s heard through a heat haze.  As ever, with Winebox releases, the sound of the tape itself becomes a third player with its woollen arms cradling the sounds making it all fuzzy-eared and alive.  After a while guitar rouses itself with prepared plucks performed with gnarled, wooden fingers, new leaves sprouting in place of nails.

Side two rips pretty much from the click of the play button.  The gravy-brown harmonium picks up pace (huff-huff-huff) as a Sonny Sharrock style guitar solo falls heavy like electric sleet.  Nifty playing makes the guitar sound backwards/forwards, background/foreground all at the same time with a thin keening edge…the sound of loss and yearning.  The harmonium pumps on and on reaching some candle-lit nirvana; reaching the peaks of ecstasy like some Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sculpted from geranium-scented air.  After the dizzying heights are reached there’s the slow trek down into the foothills to drink deeply in the crystal-clear brook that runs swiftly across the valley floor.

Bavardage assez, voici le boeuf. Edition limitée de 70 ans. 7 £ pour acheter de  thewholevoyald.blogspot Pour votre argent, non seulement en êtes-vous présent document extatique mais cette petite bande vient cloué sur un morceau de peinture de table éclaboussé!

Culver/Somália ‎– Untitled

Culver is a master of the dark art of static movement.  In the same way smoke will fill a room to the corners, too thick to see thorough but fragile enough to part with the wave of a hand, Culver plays that hard/soft, full/empty, maximal/minimal dichotomy like Erich Von Daniken’s  ancient astronauts. Always working on the edge of being there and not being there this piece, this relatively brief drone called ‘seven human hairs’ is like watching ink boil.  The darkness is mesmerising and minutes lurch past, my fingers poised claw-like over the keyboard, when I sort of forget what I’m doing, so drawn into the loamy and fertile sound rolling out the speakers.  I’m lucky enough to get to see Culver play a couple of times a year so I have a window into his working methods.  I reckon this is a keyboard derived drone made with simple pieces of kit (Casio, Dictaphone, Sticky Tape) but that doesn’t stop the coiling tentacles probing out all soft tissues; leaching the essence of me out my living skin, as Nyarlathotep looks on delighting in the exquisite cruelty.

Somália is some mysterious Portuguese music maker who, on ‘das cordas’ takes a melancholic Satie riff (Gnossienne No. 1 I think) and loops it over and over again with a grimy patina of tape murk.  That’s it.  No speeding up or slowing down. No descent into beats or basslines.  Just a gradual fade into the muck collected round the capstans.  Super simple and super effective.  It works at times (and I have to point out here I have played this tape a lot!) like dark canvas, swallowing the light but freeing up the subconscious.  This is dreaming music. With my amateur musicologists hat on this whole idea of macro-samples could be traced back to hip hop I guess and people seemed to get their knickers in a twist when that hipster Oneohtrix Point Never did the same with a Chris De Burgh sample (‘Nobody Here‘).  This is twice as cool and double the fun.  It also became Mrs Posset’s favourite tape of the year which I think says a lot.  Keen to learn more a quick Google search reveals little about Somália apart from an up-and-coming split tape with the with bonkers Portuguese duo Yong Yong.  Wow…sounds like another essential release.

Sparse info here.

yavgnu/Roman Nose – Split

Direct from Jon Marshall’s duffel coat pocket this tape has travelled back from Russia on friendly sleeper trains following his visit deep behind the Iron Curtain (editors note: Scott chips in to tell us the tape is on a Russian label called ‘ispodvol’. According to Jon it’s a Russian word ‘исподволь’, meaning something like ‘gradually’.)

yavgnu are a ‘New Weird Moscow’ collective of bowed strings, flute, effects, vocal, guitar and percussion yet they speak the universal language of folk-group improvisation like any Chora or Hunter Gracchus would back in Blighty.  Whacked out violin and percussion jangles crack the frozen earth as river-smooth pebbles of ‘echo’ are lobbed down any grike.  Rusty bows are rubbed up against guitar and cymbal until the horsehair splinters and rips while previously recorded experiments jump through time-holes making the very ‘then’ now.  Whilst the methods and vernacular are common to improvisers the world over (and this is no place for my extraordinary pamphlet linking the desolate Tuvan plains to Hull’s abandoned factories) the overall feel is very different.  The balances we grow accustomed to in western improv are skewed and jammed.  The weight of instrumentation feels different in the hand and demands careful consideration. There’s no desire to fill each space with sound; the restraint in the playing and decision making is apparent and welcome.  There’s a calm confidence to this work that many an improv collective could learn from.

On this tape Jon’s Roman Nose is a collage of solo jams on ‘bicycle breaks, effects pedals, junk, metal food bowls, harmonica reeds, harmonium, sheng, tabla, tharqua, xaphoon & vocals’ and is as ecstatic and mixed up as that all sounds.  Notes, tones and breaths tumble over each other in a frantic rush with tightly coiled punk energy.  Metal bowls are bashed rhythmically until the tinny echoes fold in and the reverberations become diamond sharp.  A sheng is blown with such lung-bursting power bamboo splinters and rips, tabla’s are amped up and twonked until skin can resound no more.  This is a pretty violent melange and a world away from the more composed (but no less frantic) three-piece Roman Nose I saw live recently.  This is all about the forward motion, propulsion, riding the peaks and soaring the ionosphere.  Bliss.  You might be able to get this from singing knives but I’d move fast if I was you.  A birdy tells me there are fewer than 10 in the whole world!

gags, girls, impenetrable oddness: life’s a riot with the barrel nut #3

September 10, 2013 at 12:04 am | Posted in art, no audience underground, not bloody music | Leave a comment
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The Barrel Nut issue 3 covertjh and tbn3 a

tjh and tbn3 c tjh and tbn3 d tjh and tbn3 e tjh and tbn3 f

Friends, it gives me great pleasure to announce the publication of the third issue of The Barrel Nut.

Just to recap for those at the back, TBN is a microzine – that is: a single sided sheet of A4 paper cleverly folded into an eight panel A7 pamphlet – featuring artwork submitted by comrades affiliated to what this blog cheekily calls the ‘no-audience underground’.  It exists purely because it is fun for it to do so.

Issue #3 is wrapped in cover collages by yours truly and contains a gag strip by Mark Wharton of Idwal Fisher, heroines of vintage porn as sketched by Lee Stokoe of Culver, Skullflower etc., another of Joe Murray’s improv typography pieces – the dictaphonic bonkerness of Posset transcribed – and a creepy line drawing by blog fave shoutmonger Yol.  Entertaining stuff from a strong line up.

Some paper copies will be distributed via arcane means, some can be had from me direct.  Following the Hiroshima Yeah! model, enquiring about how to subscribe appears to be more or less the same thing as subscribing.  Alternatively, you can go all ‘salt-and-shake’ and do it yourself.  Copies in either jpg or pdf formats can be downloaded by clicking…

The Barrel Nut issue 3 as pdf

The Barrel Nut issue 3 as jpg

…and printed out at your convenience.

For pictorial instructions on how to self-assemble please see The Barrel Nut page tabbed above.  There you will also find details on how to contribute artwork (submissions very welcome), some background on the project and links to files containing the previous issues.  If this dinky artefact tickles you then please spread the word.

Today’s guest critic is Thomas James Hayler who can be seen above gleefully deconstructing his preview copy.  The result of his analysis is presented below:

tjh and tbn3 g - the aftermath

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