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 (Vile Plumage, NIHL), 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.

 

midwichmas: live at the radiofreemidwich 5th birthday shindig

December 2, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Posted in live music, midwich, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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The Radio Free Midwich 5th Birthday Shindig: Hagman, Human Combustion Engine, midwich, UK Muzzlers, forgets live at Wharf Chambers, Leeds, 29th November 2014

nov 29th gig poster

So, yeah, it was a blast. Thanks to all who came and special, glowing thanks to Mitch of forgets who put it together then allowed me to hijack his efforts for my self-congratulation. All the sets were terrific and, despite the usual pre-gig nerves and some (fully justified) technical worries about crackling pots, I couldn’t be happier with how mine turned out.  Good crowd too, despite ‘rival’ gigs nearby (PAH! <spits on floor> I HAVE NO RIVALS! <short pause, sheepishly looks around, cleans up spit>). Some of my typically half-arsed and incompetent photo-journalism follows below. Let’s face it, I was only really concerned that my t-shirt and balloon were documented…

Oh, and in reply to the two comrades who wondered if this was now going to be an annual event the answer is: no, not unless each year another benefactor wants to come along and organize it for me. That said, my vanity did bubble to the surface on receipt of this riff from Eddie Nuttall of Aqua Dentata:

I propose Midwichmas as a name for this. Midnight mass on Midwichmas Eve can adopt a tradition of no carol singing, but perhaps a 4-hour recital of sine waves, bowed baking trays, and warpy cassette hiss. This can be followed by the traditional exchange of photocopied collages, also known as Midwichmas cards.

On Midwichmas morning all the children will excitedly gather round the Midwichmas Tree (a petrified oak) to exchange CDRs in edition of 7 or something, usually recorded an hour or so prior. These are presented in the traditional Midwichmas wrapping paper substitute, heavily weathered Poundland Jiffy bags that have been recycled across England half a dozen times or more.

A traditional afternoon Midwichmas film would perhaps be like a Christmas film, but probably substituting Bing Crosby for Duncan Harrison.

Heh, wouldn’t that be glorious, eh?

OK, on with the showbusiness…

hagman 29-11-14

Trowser Carrier had to cancel (trapped in a giant laundry basket, apparently) so Hagman kicked off by recreating the pose from every other photo I’ve ever taken of Dave and Dan Thomas (no relation) ever.  Their set was a gruff, bassy, throb – like the hot breath of a big cat as it licks you with its sandpaper tongue.  I swayed purposefully.

human combustion engine 1 29-11-14human combustion engine 2 29-11-14

Human Combustion Engine (Mel and Phil of Ashtray Navigations) teased out some tangerine psyche-synth with semi-improvised power moves.  I slapped my thighs in time with the pulse.  Occult science.

…and then:

it's showtime folks

…it was SHOWTIME folks!

midwich 29-11-14

I thanked everyone for their support and played a 20 minute set comprising two new ‘songs’.  These have been recorded and will be released alongside their live versions on my Bandcamp site soon.  You will be kept informed.  About three minutes in I remembered the helium balloon I had stashed under my table and releasing it (see pic above) got a ripple of amused applause.  This moment was such a coup de théâtre that my friend Alice later said it was…

…better than the Olympics Opening Ceremony.

Surely, no rational observer could disagree.

A word about my rad t-shirt.  The logo reads ‘Sonic Circuits’ and the tagline runs thus: ‘Avant Garde Music For The No Audience Underground’.  Yes!  My philosophy vindicated with leisurewear!  These garments were produced in celebration of the Sonic Circuits Festival 2014, organised by the genre-busting promoters of the same name based in Washington, DC.  My twitter bro’ and extraordinary digi-crate-digger Phong Tran (@boxwalla) appears to have convinced ’em that the slogan was bang on and, in return for lifting the idea, a shirt winged its way across the Atlantic.  So cool.  Fits real nice too.

uk muzzlers 29-11-14

Next were ‘headliners’ UK Muzzlers.  Neil Campbell and John Clyde-Evans played caveman Oi! over a hilarious tape collage.  There was much whooping, thumping and brute racket.  It was as if Happy Flowers had grown up but were still refusing to take their medication.  The future of rock and roll, possibly.

forgets 3forgets 2 - mitchforgets 1 - kroyd's notes

Finally, Mitch, who organised the night, and Kroyd, who’d been on the door, dropped their admin roles, took to the stage and brought the evening to a close as forgets.

The noise purists don’t like this…

…Kroyd began, and, looking at the half dozen people who remained in the room, he clearly had a point. The throng appreciating UK Muzzlers had melted away into the ‘beer garden’, the bar or had sprinted for last trains and buses leaving just this attentive elite. Ah bollocks to the lot a’ya – I fucking love this band. This is what they do: Kroyd tells stories and recites semi-improvised prose poetry whilst Mitch soundtracks it with improv noise guitar. A comrade who shall remain nameless worried that Kroyd’s observations were ‘hit and miss’, which I concede, but it all adds to the cumulative effect of the performance. People who put their heads around the door and think ‘hmmm don’t fancy this’ are missing out on sharp, funny, sometimes very moving stories and, quite often, a fantastic crescendo of flailing, bewildered despair that tops out the set. I recommend sitting the fuck down and listening.

…and that was that so we packed up, said our goodbyes and tumbled out onto the street. Dan Thomas, taking pity on a tired old man who’d been up since 4.30am caring for his boy, made sure I got home safely.  In the morning Thomas had a shiny helium balloon to play with…

—ooOoo—

Hagman

Human Combustion Engine

midwich

UK Muzzlers (dunno – try via Astral Social Club)

forgets

Wharf Chambers

Sonic Circuits

 

tension, balance, possibility: the thomas family’s dub variations

November 11, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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The Thomas Family – Dub Variations (CD, Crow Versus Crow, CVC001, edition of 100 or download)

thomas family completethomas family under constructionthomas family insert

First, the specifications:

Three seamlessly segued tracks, all around quarter of an hour long (two over, one under), released on a properly pressed CD, in an edition of 100, by Andrew Wild’s Crow Versus Crow imprint. The packaging is impressive and will be accounted for below. The brothers responsible for the content are Daniel Thomas and Dave Thomas (no relation) better known ’round these parts for their duo Hagman, for their solo recordings and for their efforts with the labels Sheepscar Light Industrial, Cherry Row and Kirkstall Dark Matter. Eyes right for links.

Second, the music:

This piece is the tension between delicate epicycles of electronic noise and the ruinous discipline needed to control the technology that produces them. 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. Existing as it does at the point where the needle touches red, it is saved from straying into a squall of feedback by, seemingly, sheer willpower alone. The chaps are only human though and despite (because of?) this effort artefacts still bubble to the surface. For example, around the ten minute mark a silvered ping leapt out of the dark and made me jump, like a face at the window. It is repeated, quieter, and thus possibly becomes music…

Punctuating the rumble are squeaks and trills that I assume are field recordings of avian chatter, though the context suggests poorly lubricated machinery lifting cages full of nervous workers back up a seemingly endless mineshaft. Later these squeaks become the sound of sneakers on a basketball court as two multi-limbed robots square off under gigantic air conditioning units. Each seat of the stadium is occupied by a silent mannequin, head bowed – those on the right, dressed as Dave, those on the left dressed as Dan…

…and then, sometime into the final track, there is the beat. Now, being one of the core members of the ‘extraction music’ elite (the ‘distillate’?) I was privy to an interesting peek behind the curtain. Apparently the Thomas boys had a difference of opinion about this aspect of the album: Dave thought it was unnecessary, Dan was all for it. I shall account for it thus: imagine the mannequins slowly looking up towards the end of the match. Dan’s robot is winning! The Dannequins nod in unison to express their approval whilst the disconsolate Daves shake their heads mournfully from side to side: no, no, no. In doing so the ‘crowd’ adds a percussive pattern to the remainder of the album.

In summary: this is fucking great.

Third, the package:

Quoting Andy, these CDs are

…housed in hand-stamped recycled card ‘no glue’ sleeves, with full colour 24x12cm artwork by Crow Versus Crow…

…which is a humble description of a satisfyingly tactile, beautiful object. It looks like its own future deluxe reissue – fallen to us through a space/time wormhole from an alternate reality where Dan and Dave garner mainstream worship and Pink fucking Floyd have to shoplift CD-rs to put out their shit. The guy has clearly invested a great deal of time, effort and, presumably, money into this project but, admirably, has not let his own highly developed aesthetic sensibilities overwhelm the music. Thus medium and the message are balanced and mutually enhancing.

Fourth, the conclusion:

What we have here is a foundation document, an ur text, for this year’s most talked about sub-genre ‘extraction music‘. The album was recorded way before the term became common parlance on every street corner and was released way after. Hearing it is as mysterious and exciting as finding a previously missing explanatory introduction to the Voynich Manuscript.

A truly essential purchase.

—ooOoo—

Crow Versus Crow

distillations: extraction music haiku compiled

August 20, 2014 at 6:57 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Daniel Thomas & Kevin Sanders – “I am a moment illuminating eternity… I am affirmation… I am ecstacy.” (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 25 or download)

TST – Tsim Sha Tsui (3” CD-r, Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.026, edition of 50 or download)

Kevin Sanders – A purification of space (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 20 or download)

Petals – upon receiving the ultraviolet light (CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

Hagman – Number Mask (CD-r, LF Records, LF037)

Petals – I’ve never been very good at retorting narrative tales as I always get lost along the way. So I lie (tape, Beartown Records, edition of 33)

TST – The Spoken Truth (CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

Daniel Thomas – Enemy Territory (CD-r, cherry row recordings, CRR005, edition of 25 or download)

Daniel Thomas – That Which Sometimes Falls Between Us / As Light Fades (2 x CD-r in wooden flower press, edition of 9, 2 x CD-r, edition of 39, or download, Kirkstall Dark Matter)

thomas and sanders - i am a moment

That Twitter is alright, innit? After stalling for years I finally signed up a couple of weeks ago and can be found @radiomidwich should you be inclined to go looking. Knowing that I was entering a lengthy period of hectic work activity, and that my energy levels are low, I was looking for a way of staying current that was effortless to pick up and just as easy to put down. With apologies to my regular email correspondents, Twitter fits the bill real nice. I have the odd gripe with twittery behaviour already but by and large I’ve been enjoying the shouty-pub-with-six-jukeboxes-and-four-televisions-on atmosphere and the opportunity to crack wise and arse smart. It also gave me an idea of how to scythe through a crop of review items.

Some context: the leading exponents of the sub-genre I’ve defined as ‘extraction music‘ are very busy guys indeed – check out the heaving parentheses in the following sentence. Dave Thomas (solo as ap martlet, half of Hagman, one third of TST, label boss of Kirkstall Dark Matter), Daniel Thomas (solo under his own name, the other half of Hagman, a further third of TST, as a duo with Kevin and label boss of Sheepscar Light Industrial and Cherry Row Recordings) and Kevin Sanders (solo under his own name and as petals, as a duo with Dan, the final third of TST, label boss of hairdryer excommunication) are enjoying a hit rate unrivaled since the glory days of Stock, Aitken and Waterman – the 1980s production trio they have modeled their work ethic on.

What’s a conscientious reviewer to do? Given the exacting quality control, staggering over such a fast growing body of work, the music is deserving of serious contemplation. However, who has time to write the usual 1000+ words about items arriving on a near-weekly basis? Not me. Instead I will turn (again) to haiku, a traditional variety of Japanese poetry in which the idea expressed is distilled to 17 syllables arranged in a five-seven-five formation. Thus, mental energy expended is roughly equivalent to normal but writing time is cut to the bone. It is also an eminently tweetable format – something the spirits of long-deceased masters of this most delicate and disciplined art must be thrilled by – so Twitter is where they got their initial airing.

Below is a compilation of the first nine, properly formatted and illustrated. I’m pleased with these, especially the last two, which are, I hope, impressionistic but accurate – like a portrait by Frank Auerbach. Click on the band name/album title to be taken to appropriate blog post or Bandcamp page. Amazingly, all of this can be had dirt cheap or for free. I recommend the lot very highly – there are potential Zellaby Award winners here – and also recommend you explore the catalogues of these gentlemen on either side of this snapshot.

No. 1:

Daniel Thomas & Kevin Sanders – “I am a moment illuminating eternity… I am affirmation… I am ecstacy.”

Terminal thought of

fatally injured robot:

“my blood is on fire”

tst - tsim sha tsui

No. 2:

TST – Tsim Sha Tsui

Ornithopter flaps

above the spice refinery.

Inhale: the future!

kev sanders - a purification of space

No. 3:

Kevin Sanders – A purification of space

Yellowed grass, cut paper

– consolations of order –

cut grass, yellowed paper.

petals - upon receiving

No. 4:

Petals – upon receiving the ultraviolet light

Absenceispresent

griefcollapseswavefunction

bookmarkshakenloose

hagman - number mask

No. 5:

Hagman – Number Mask

Vignettes illustrate

fierce entropic beauty,

pebble becomes sand

petals - so i lie

No. 6:

Petals – I’ve never been very good at retorting narrative tales as I always get lost along the way. So I lie

Fine machinery

in an era of magic:

cogs versus witchcraft

tst - the spoken truth

No. 7:

TST – The Spoken Truth

Arterial pulse,

self lost to alien flow,

hive mind emerges

daniel thomas - enemy territory

No. 8:

Daniel Thomas – Enemy Territory

Adjust tracking for

artefacts of video:

hot snow, concrete blur…

daniel thomas - that which

No. 9:

Daniel Thomas – That Which Sometimes Falls Between Us / As Light Fades

Sharp, bristled morning

through circadian filters

to uterine fug

—ooOoo—

extraction music: dave thomas, daniel thomas, kevin sanders

March 30, 2014 at 9:26 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 4 Comments
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Ap-Martlet – Analog Computer (CD-r, Kirkstall Dark Matter, edition of 16)

Daniel Thomas – Codeine (3” CD-r, Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.023, edition of 50 or download)

Daniel Thomas – Revolution#21 (CD-r, Cherry Row Recordings, CR002, or download)

Kevin Sanders – Clusters, clutter and other ephemera (3” CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 8 or download)

Kevin Sanders – Ascension through apathy (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 9 or download)

petals – magnates agus drochthoradh (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 20 or download)

petals – scamaill le focail (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 20 or download)

ap martlet - analog computerdaniel thomas - revolution#21daniel thomas - codeinekevin sanders - clusterskevin sanders - ascension through apathypetals - magnate

There’s this type of music that I like. In fact, I think I might attempt to invent a new sub-genre to account for it.  Cool, eh?  What music obsessive doesn’t love that game? I’m going to call it extraction and here are some notes towards a definition.

Extraction music contains a large measure of drone spiced with a helping of throbbing, psychedelic noise and other ingredients I am about to list. It can be heavy, urgent and demanding but it is not, as a rule, harsh or aggressive. Instead the sound is enveloping, fluctuating – fully engaged. I’m sure the discerning listener could list influences from dub techno to austere modern composition to The Radiophonic Workshop but I’m painting with a broad brush for now and will leave the detail for future musicological arguments.

This music is created using mainly analogue electronics. The kit typically comprises vintage synths, their modern clones and homemade counterparts, other self assembled objects and daisy chains of effects pedals patched and looped through long suffering mixers. At any one time it is unlikely that all of it will be working properly.

The buzz and pulse is often accented with a mixture of ‘field’ and ‘domestic’ recordings. Birdsong adds flutter to the high end, rain a percussive patter, traffic a satisfying rumble and so on. The hum of big ticket appliances like fridges proves irresistible as does the fuzz and clatter of mechanical fixtures such as air conditioning units. Smaller one off noises, agreeable and/or attention grabbing, like the ‘tik-fwup’ of the central heating coming on, or a snatch of conversation, or the battering of a battered cymbal can be dropped in for emphasis or light relief.

It is largely built from ideas figured out during lengthy sessions of experimentation. Editorial tinkering appears minimal, keeping a ‘live’ feel to the recording, but I suspect a lot of hard work is hidden within those transitions. The build up of detail suggests much disciplined hovering over the pots and sliders of some brute electronics, tweaked to within a hair’s breadth of their tipping points. The method of construction and ‘in the room’ recording gives this music a sense of place, a geography, that much free-floating diginoise lacks. It feels grounded, located in a new but oddly familiar place that you visit and cohabit whilst listening. That maps have been used in its packaging and place names in album, label and track titles strikes me as non-coincidental.

So why ‘extraction’? Well, partly it is a tongue in cheek joke referencing the perceived source material – an untreated recording of the extractor fan in the left-hand toilet cubicle at my place of work would make a pretty solid extraction album – but it is more to do with the feeling that this music is pulled out of the kit, that it is mined from the available resources and then refined: like minerals extracted from ore or a life-saving pharmaceutical compound extracted from a rare Amazonian orchid. If this was a film it would be Upstream Color, a deliberately under-determined story of the biological, psychological and criminal processes used to extract a mysterious drug from the multi-stepped, symbiotic life-cycle of the organisms involved in its production. That this remarkable film also features sequences in which some very extractionist sound is recorded (albeit by a shady villain) and played back at enormous volume could not be more perfect.

Finally then, before we get onto some examples, I suppose you are wondering what it smells like. I’m glad you asked: hot solder, grass wet with dew, ozone and chana dall.

The leading proponents of this hot new sound that all the kids are now furiously hyping are Dave Thomas (solo as ap martlet, half of Hagman, label boss of Kirkstall Dark Matter), Daniel Thomas (solo under his own name, the other half of Hagman, as a duo with Kevin and label boss of Sheepscar Light Industrial and Cherry Row Recordings) and Kevin Sanders (solo under his own name and as petals, as a duo with Dan, label boss of hairdryer excommunication). The Thomas boys are not blood relations but there is a musketeer level of all-for-oneness in their interconnected projects. I suppose the three of them can argue as to who gets to be, err…, Dogtanian(?!).

My praise for their previous work is strewn across this blog, much of which can be used as retroactive confirmation of this sub-genre definition. Click on the tags above to investigate (go on – just to amuse me – no one ever clicks on tags). Today we are going to focus on some recent(ish) releases, all of which are freely downloadable from that Bandcamp.

Firstly, Analog Computer by Ap-Martlet. Dave handmade a tiny initial run of this which was given away to interested parties. For a while he refrained from granting it a digital afterlife but I’m delighted to announce it is now up on Bandcamp (alongside a second printing of the CD-r).  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.  It’s like being walked down a production line by a proud factory designer.  There is a little false ending too – a stuttering flourish following a conveyor belt jam – which made me laff.  I recommend also checking out the wonders he has hidden on Soundcloud.

There is a fun little guessing game to be played when listening to work by Daniel Thomas.  Is this a) the sound of the kit playing itself, everything plugged into everything else, as Dan sits back and enjoys a chilli buzz from his takeaway curry or b) the sound of the kit being micromanaged through a carefully orchestrated composition as Dan obsesses over every tiny transition and barely perceptible variation in nuance?  There are several terrific examples of the former on his Bandcamp and Soundcloud pages (check out this exercise in super-distilled minimalism) but the two items up for review here are firmly in the latter camp.

Codeine is stepped using a similar mechanical arpeggio to Dave’s ‘Thurlby’.  The impression is of a wind powered kinetic sculpture abandoned by its maker years ago and now almost rusted to a standstill.  There is a tragic beauty to this process, a merciful release, and, as such, the fade out – which seems preposterously long on first listen – feels more appropriate with each repeat.  Oddly moving too.

Revolution#21 is a quintessential example of extraction music and possibly my favourite of Dan’s releases, despite a back catalogue already studded with jewels.  As for what it sounds like you need only re-read my opening paragraphs adding a layer of throb to account for a young man in receipt of some new goodies from Korg.  Imagine a battalion of semi-sentient, clockwork samurai buried as grave goods in the immense tomb of a world-conquering general.  There, in the pitch black, they use their remaining energy keeping each other wound up in a final, unwinnable battle against entropy.  The nobility of it is in equal parts inspiring and heartbreaking.

Next are four pieces by Kevin Sanders but first a word about his exhausting release schedule.  He tells me that he intends to birth two new products a month for the whole of 2014.  Indeed, whilst writing this review I have heard from another label with new warez by petals for sale and had an email from Kev asking if I fancy a sneaky preview of the next batch.  The chap is unstoppable.  In order to keep up I’ve decided to treat the flow of his work as if it were a paper publication that I have subscribed to (“The Psychogeographical Journal of Musicological Interpretive Cartography- a fortnightly digest” perhaps).  I’ll devour each issue, cover to cover, as it arrives then shelve or discard it when the next number flops onto the digi-doormat.  Thus I won’t be writing thousands of words on individual releases.  As with Culver, each piece is a section of an atlas, beautiful on its own terms but part of a larger whole.  Some summaries:

The two discs by petals are dark, angry, claustrophobic affairs.  scamaill le focail (Irish for ‘clouds with words’) and magnates agus drochthoradh (‘magnates and responsibilities’) both feature scything fuzz drone akin to that found in ‘Heathkit’ but in both cases it is considerably less self-assured.  It’s as if the proud factory designer is now having second thoughts about selling his production line to those guys in the sharp leather uniforms.  Y’know – the guy in glasses with the expensive suit and the IMF logo clipboard seemed very reassuring but…  Ah, too late now!  An unsettling, dystopian vibe permeates both tracks.  There is no let up (well, there is a brief break halfway through magnates… for the ominous rumbling of distant explosions), no release – just a gradual paring away.  Moments of despair, fury are allowed to bubble to the surface only to be fished out like impurities from an otherwise pure distillate.  The heaviness is serious and brilliantly sustained.

Clusters, clutter and other ephemera by Kev under his own name is a remarkable twenty minutes leaning, as it appears to, on the human voice as its major sound source.  It starts all garage punk Ligeti – like the professorial neighbour of a rockabilly band attempting to school ’em in modernism by by playing the tough bits from the 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack through the band’s own slashed practice amps.  The groans and clatters eventually take a more haunting turn suggesting the limbo inhabited by Marley’s ghost before his yuletide turn clanking chains to shit up his former business partner.  Uniquely odd.

Ascension through apathy, also as Kev, is perhaps the pick of this bunch and a beautiful example of the more organic, psychedelic side of extraction music.  The opening movement of this half hour long travelogue is bleak: starting at the rim of a still smugly smoking volcano we walk down the cooled, charcoal grey lava flows.  Nothing grows here yet, the undulations speak of unimaginable force and heat.  Yet as we approach the fertile valleys that begin in the lower slopes the music pushes its shoulders back and becomes uplifting, quietly joyous.  The latter two thirds are a serene walk through the dappled sunlight reaching the forest floor as we return to the cove where our yacht is moored.  No one in our party feels the need to speak, all are at one with each other and the surroundings.  An understanding passes amongst us: life has changed.  This caught me in a funny mood the other day and effortlessly moved me to tears.

—ooOoo—

…and that is a fine place to end for now.  Comments most welcome as are suggestions as to other recordings or artists that might fit within this ragged template.  My own The Swift is one, I think – it was certainly influenced by these fellas.  Anything else that I might dig?

Sheepscar Light Industrial

Cherry Row Recordings

hairdryer excommunication

Kirkstall Dark Matter

sorting the lego part two: more soundtracks for graded tasks

December 4, 2013 at 10:43 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

people-eaters – imprecate (3” CD-r, aetheric records, edition of 20 or download)

ap martlet – A Dream Of The Arrow (self-released download)

SWEFN – Varieties of Anomalous Experience (CD-r and download, hairdryer excommunication)

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Changing A Prayer A Little (CD-r, Unverified Records, UN041, edition of 50)

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Ovencleaner (3” CD-r, LF Records, LF033)

people-eaters - imprecate

Each time depression rolls around I appear to be allocated one key task that helps occupy my time above all others.  In part one of this series I explained what a ‘graded task’ is and gave a few examples.  What I didn’t mention is that, for some reason I do not understand, any of these ‘jobs’ can become my main depression-fighting occupation during an episode but that the same job will not have the same effect more than once.  Each escape route is backfilled by the disease once it discovers that it has been tricked.  It is perpetually furious and profoundly spiteful.  Thus digging over an allotment helped defeat it one year but when I returned the next I was left sitting on the ground, crying, as I realised that I couldn’t put the blade of my beautiful spade, once my most treasured possession, in the earth even once.  It was denied me.  Likewise this time I can’t see myself stepping on and off the wii-fit board – something I did for endless hours staving off a previous attack – so what now?

I set myself the task(s) of cleaning the house, augmented with some exercise mainly in the form of walking around the neighbourhood (it is an attractive area with parks and woods within easy distance).  To make sure my brain’s capacity was fully engaged I would also listen to, and think about, music from the enormous review pile whilst doing so.  The plan was to write up these musings when and if I had the energy thus linking all these disease-bashing activities – useful work, exercise, creative endeavour, thought to some purpose – into a kind of ‘virtuous circle’.  It hasn’t always worked – I needn’t trouble our sensitive readers with the coolly insane deliberations that left me utterly hollowed out yesterday – but I feel that in general it is a good plan.

Interestingly, what I thought would be the key tasks have flipped roles with the supplementary.  Thus, the listening to, thinking about and commenting on music has become the central tactic and I appear to be using the chores, walking and whatnot in its service.  I’m delighted at this development, as you can probably imagine.  Very convenient for the blog, at least.  So here we go with part two…

—ooOoo—

Until very recently all midwich tracks were produced by being figured out, rehearsed then recorded ‘as live’.  If anything went wrong during the take I had to start all over again.  I was once laughed at in the pub for moaning that completing one nine minute track composed entirely of a single pure tone (hey – it warbled slightly, OK?) took twelve attempts.  “But nothing happens!” my incredulous companions exclaimed.  “That’s the point,” I countered, “things kept happening.”  I suspect that people-eaters understand this urge to perfection exactly.

Well, I say ‘perfection’ but they also understand that the trick is to cut it with a pinch of exotic impurity thereby creating the friction necessary to grip the listener’s attention.  Thus during the two tracks that make up imprecate nothing happens for seven and a half minutes then nothing happens again for nine and a half minutes.  However, this nothing happens in a way which is eerie, involving and wholly satisfying.  Rumbles are augmented with some mildly abrasive ringing filter hiss, presumably as the curse is intoned inaudibly beneath, and that is it.  Like a giant ball bearing forged then left to sing and crackle as it cools, like coins dropped into a speaker cone dancing against one another to a super-low frequency.

ap martlet - a dream of the arrow

I am somewhat in awe of the tracks constructed by David Thomas as ap martlet.  These humble masterworks of electrical engineering often have an enveloping, sensurround vibe and ‘A Dream Of The Arrow’ is especially womb-like.  Listening to it feels like being attended to by the robots in Chris Cunnigham’s video for Björk’s ‘All is Full of Love’.  Or perhaps like I’ve been placed into a medically induced fugue state and lowered into a vat of gelatinous slime that will heal whatever ails me.  Or maybe the goo will tweak my DNA a little so that I can grow the tail I have always wanted (Editor’s note: I have always wanted a tail.  Tails are cool.).  Whatever – another marvel of creatively sullied perfection from our Dave.

swefn

Ian Watson, recording as SWEFN for Kevin Sanders’s peerless hairdryer excommunication, takes us a few steps further.  Imagine you are standing in front of a perfect man-made object – a Renaissance altar piece, say, or an antique Persian carpet or an unwrapped but still pristine ream of A4 paper.  You take a photo, compress it and email it to me.  I print out a faded copy on a printer containing an already twice shaken toner cartridge and fax the result back to you.  You take this, fold it in half and leave it tucked under a wiper blade on the windscreen of Ian’s car.  It rains.  He discovers it the following morning, leaves it to dry on a radiator and feeds the crinkly remainder into his machines of musical generation which treat it as a score.  Varieties of anomalous experience is the result.  The album gets angrier, noisier as it progresses.  Perhaps the perfect object is a stolen painting, wrapped in newspapers and inexpertly hidden in a dank cellar.  The bucolic scene it depicts is gradually ruined by smeared, inky images of war and disaster as newsprint is transferred to its surface by the damp.  In case you are in any doubt: I liked this very much.  The packaging is of Kev’s usual high standard: an alien greetings card wishing you an inexplicable emotion on a day from an unknown calendar or the best of luck with an incomprehensible task.  Download from hairdryer excommunication, a few physical copies still available from Ian.

RFM would also like to take this opportunity to wish Kev well with his recent move to the South West (to live in Bristol, work in Bath – la-di-da, eh?).  We were delighted to be namechecked in his ‘farewell to the North’ blog post as one of the institutions thanked for making his time in these parts such a pleasure.  Best of luck with your future endeavours, comrade – I’m sure the cidertronic and Georgian improv scenes down there will benefit enormously from your mercurial presence.

r r-s - changing a prayer a littler r-s - ovencleaner

Finally for today, another couple of selections from the Robert Ridley-Shackleton songbook.  Changing a Prayer a Little, to be released on Unverified Records, sees some syrupy, romantic film music brutally dissolved in an acidic hailstorm of electro noise fuckery.  Most entertaining.  Ovencleaner, a 3” CD-r on LF Records, comprises two tracks the first of which (the title track) is made up of whistling, groaning, stretching noises with stylophone parps.  Like a determined but confused homunculus struggling to rip through a series of taught rubber membranes and negotiate a series of sticky tunnels in order to get itself born.  The second track (‘Transformers’) is just as perplexing.  Imagine the situation described by a nonsensical objection to the theory of evolution – that, given the time span, evolution is as likely as a hurricane hitting a junkyard and constructing a working jumbo jet from the detritus – actually coming to pass.  This track is the sound of the tentative, uncomprehending switch-flicking of the junkyard owner as he explores the cockpit of his newly ‘evolved’ possession and accidentally turns on the electrics…

Robbie’s world sure be odd.

eat local part one: rfm gorges on new produce from sheepscar light industrial

September 16, 2013 at 11:07 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hagman – TKT and TMS (3” CD-r, Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.019, edition of 50 and download)

Seth Cooke – Run For Cover (3” CD-r, Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.020, edition of 50 and download)

These Feathers Have Plumes – Untitled (3” CD-r, Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.021, edition of 50 and download)

seth cooke - run for coverhagman - tkt and tmsthese feathers have plumes - untitled

The 22nd anniversary of my move to Leeds is fast approaching.  Numbers such as these mean less and less as I get older – my nipple piercings reached the age of majority in 2011, for example – but occasionally the change in the seasons, the ripening of the blackberries or the pressing of releases like the above into my sweaty palm make me look with renewed appreciation at my adopted home city.

I don’t need to sing its praises at length – it ain’t that type of place.  Leeds supports a dedicated, self-sufficient noise scene brimming with talent, good-humoured respect and a thoroughly punk-rock suspicion of hype.  Unlike our hipper big brother over on the wrong side of the Pennines the Leeds scene does not need the approbation of the wider world (though it is nice when we get it occasionally).  No-one has any money; the only motivation is satisfaction in the work.  Knuckle down – put the hours in – keep the quality control tight – have fun.

Leeds based microlabel Sheepscar Light Industrial is run very much in this spirit.  In fact, despite its roster being drawn from all over the place, it could be said to represent this spirit distilled to its essence, as it were.  Whilst I can’t agree with Uncle Mark over at Idwal Fisher that SLI has never dropped a stinker, I have nothing but respect for the refined and definite taste of label boss Daniel Thomas.  His ears are golden.  So what of the latest trio of releases?

First up is Untitled by These Feather Have Plumes.  These two tracks by Andie Brown (of that London), totalling about 16 minutes, have already garnered plenty of super-superlatives from my peers who write about these things.  Allow me to add my own: this work is clearly informed by a profound respect for and connection to the human condition.  Andie uses an organically sourced sound palette – bells, gongs, singing glass, (possibly) field recordings (I hear the sea at one point, I may be imaging it) – discretely looped and treated.  The whole created manages to be both earthy and ethereal at once.  She has harnessed the kami of these objects to draw forth a music with the homespun grace and human-scale emotional pull of a roadside hokura.  Amazingly though, I’m afraid this release only wins the bronze medal today.

In second place is TKT and TMS by Hagman, the duo of Dave Thomas (ap martlet) and Daniel Thomas (no relation).  When Dan handed this over he proudly claimed it to be the best Hagman recording yet.  I humoured him much as I might a toddler displaying a crayon scribble and added it to the playlist that accompanies my daily chores.  During the first couple of listens I didn’t grok this at all – 20 minutes of industro-drone, change of scene halfway through, some nice crescendo management – but choosing it as a lullaby one night and listening to it closely in a state of otherwise sensory deprivation revealed what a dolt I’d been.  There is a lot going on.  Their daisy chain of pedals, synths and homemade tuppertronics emits a satisfyingly grainy low end throb.  Into this field recordings are sunk and suspended.  These augmentations give the vibe a sense of location, albeit intriguingly unanchored and vaporous.  This factor – place – really lifts work of this kind to the next level (see, for example, the cartographic back catalogues of Petals and Culver) and with this recording Hagman join the ranks of those explorers who have figured out that ‘X’ marks the spot.

Finally then, we have Run For Cover by Seth Cooke (lately of that Bristol) which ‘bolts’ (Ha! ‘Bolt’!  Like that guy who is good at running!) past the competition so comprehensively that he is already being photographed cheekily biting his gold medal whilst the rest of us are taking off our tracksuits.  I have, like, totally, a crush on Seth.  Not only is he the owner of the most strokable beard in improv (a hotly fought category, as you can imagine) but he is a family man, musician and improviser of rare talent, writer, thinker and co-curator of essential web-resource Bang the Bore.  I know: swoon, right?

An example: Seth realises that the BtB forum has been a bit quiet recently and wants to chivvy up a little activity.  However, instead of kicking off a bunch of obviously crowd-pleasing threads he starts this – a fascinating account of his upbringing in the charismatic Christian community, neuro-linguistic programming, the missing person report process that forms part of his employment, the television series Neon Genesis Evangelion and how he may try and link it all that together in a piece of creative endeavour.  I’d have just been rude about The Wire magazine or something.  He thinks differently.

The real cool thing though is that, unlike most theorists, his music rocks too.  Whilst it is wrong to call Run For Cover unprecedented (I know a bit about Seth’s influences and working methods) it is certainly, and gloriously, refreshing.  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.

Sheepscar Light Industrial

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