wired for sound part 17: new luddism’s luddite deficit tapes – high speeddddd tapists!

September 11, 2011 at 11:15 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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I have written at length, and on several occasions, about my love for the fanzine DDDD and its founders Simon and Pippa.  Click on the ‘dddd’ tag above for evidence.  Years ago I mourned its death in hard copy.  As a papery entity it appeared through the letterbox rolled and taped into a tube, ready to be used to swat away the irrelevancies of everyday existence.  When I started this blog I was overjoyed to find its unlikely web presence: vast scans of resolutely unsearchable cut-and-paste collage, the most unwieldy blog on the internet.  Simon’s writing is/was a constant source of thought-provoking inspiration for me and has, on occasion, been genuinely life changing.  For example, my current stance on downloading, music appreciation and the ill effects of the former on the latter was worked out in a series of blog posts ‘in conversation’ with him.

Recently, however, DDDD imploded again.  In a breathtaking act of self-immolation, the entire online archive was pulled overnight.  All of it – gone, apparently forever.  Not one for half measures, our Simon.  This time though I was prepared.  I didn’t start wailing and gnashing my teeth, I just stood in front of the cave with my arms folded, a wry smile on my face, and waited for the boulder to roll back.

In due course it did, but I have to say the form of the resurrection caught me somewhat by surprise.  I returned home one day after a gruelling session of hardcore clerking to the welcome sight of a hand-addressed jiffy bag on the right side of the letterbox (avoid giving me the hump by checking its dimensions before sending me anything – see ‘about me and this blog’ page).  In it were the first two luddite surfeit tapes and a letter informing me that Simon had forsaken writing in order to produce music instead.

The working method remains consistent from tape to tape: a) clip section(s) from piece(s) of music, b) loop and layer, c) repeat until enough generated to fill one side of a C90, d) subject to a little light editing/mashing using Audacity.  And that is it: the basic compositional tool is repetition.

Simon’s choice of source material is eclectic.  Pick three tapes at random and a crystalline shard of Wolfgang Voigt could follow some austere chamber music which in turn jars with some digital splatterpunk from Bomb 20.  This makes for an interestingly varied listening experience.  Depending on your mood you could be in for 45 minutes of blissful reverie, or nostrils-flaring catharsis, or you could be scrabbling to ‘review’ the tape in question with a claw hammer after 90 seconds…

Still, no matter, as another one will be along in a minute.  I have received, I think, 19 releases in this series in a period of less than two months.  I note half of them are deleted already.  “High speeddddd tapists!!” indeed.  In a letter accompanying the latest package Simon claims:

As you might be starting to twig, the N.L. ambition is to make music faster than it is humanly possible for one person to hear it – 30 hours of music per day is the target.”

Mad lolz, of course, but the work rate reveals this is only a half-joke.  Simon’s approach to his creative endeavours is always all or nothing.  He also isn’t afraid of showing his working out as I get the impression that the process of creating is probably more important for him than actually presenting the finished product.  After receiving about 8 or 9 tapes, I asked him how many of each he was sending out.  Simon replied sheepishly that I was the only recipient. This might sound insane – I briefly felt like I was in the no-audience underground equivalent of a Charlie Kaufman film – but on reflection it makes perfect sense according to the logic of the project.  What do you do after you’ve made some music?  Package it up.  What do you do after you’ve packaged it up?  Release it.  What does it mean to release it?  Give it to someone who isn’t you.  Boxes ticked with the minimal amount of fuss, now on to the next one…

I now know that at least one other person (hi Lee!) is getting this stuff, and I have permission from Simon to mention it here on RFM, so I am free to recommend you give NLT a try.  Amusingly, some of these ‘tapes’ have been made available as downloads via the New Luddism website so there is no excuse not to go visit and dip your toe into the torrent.  Should you desire the physical objects – tapes packaged in magazine illustrations and eerie old photos with hand-typed inlay info or scribbled-on CD-rs – then you will need to contact Simon at newludditetapes@gmail.com with an address, a note and the dimensions of your letterbox.  No money changes hands, no trades accepted, no promises made – you just have to wait and see.

dddd is dead, long live dddd!

July 28, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Posted in musings, no audience underground, not bloody music | Leave a comment
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Those of you that use this page as a one-stop portal for all things fringe and no-audience may have noticed that the link to DDDD fanzine has disappeared.  Well, that is because the thing it linked to has disappeared too: it is with great sadness that I announce the passing of the DDDD website.  I was gobsmacked to find it online in the first-place – in all its luddite, cut-and-paste glory – and am now gobsmacked to find it gone.  No half measures or scaling back with Simon: he decided that he’d had enough of the internet and, in a gargantuan attack of ‘burn the diaries!’ scorched-earthism, deleted the lot.  I’ve no idea if he has kept the original hand-assembled text and collages, but I can’t help imagining him and Pippa whistling merrily as they stoke a bonfire in the back garden…

As a brief eulogy, allow me the indulgence of quoting from an email I sent to Simon a while back.  In response to kind comments he made about this blog, I said:

…Would it sound too fake if I said the feeling is reciprocated?  The aspects of DDDD that you so often bemoan: the indecision, the incoherence, the repetition, the self-loathing are essential parts of what makes it, well, essential and are as crucial as the enthusiasm, the wit, the bloodyminded tenacity.  Yours is a voice that screams “I AM HUMAN AND I NEED TO BE LOVED, JUST LIKE ANYBODY ELSE DOES” with all the heartbreaking contradictions that entails.  It is a cool stream in an otherwise arid desert of the boring and the witless and the cocksure.

I’ll miss it.  At the risk of ludicrously inflating my own part in this, I can’t shake un uneasy feeling that I’m partly to blame.  Simon’s downloading addiction had reached such a hysterical pitch that it appeared to be affecting his mental health – the evidence was in the writing – and I staged an intervention (which, thinly veiled, can be read about in a previous post below).  I wonder if that planted the seed?  Hmmm… nah, just my monstrous ego playing up: Simon did say that he felt it would peter out eventually so I suppose that’s just what happened.

But, but – hang on a minute – what’s that?!?  Dry your eyes!  There is news!  Perhaps sometime in the future DDDD will be returning in paper form to a letterbox near you, or, even better, that letterbox could open to reveal Simon’s eyes as he shouts “I know you’re in there!”.  See the mysterious New Luddism Wikispace for details…

skimming the agitated surface, or: ‘physician, heal thyself’

April 28, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Posted in art, musings, new music | Comments Off on skimming the agitated surface, or: ‘physician, heal thyself’
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Before a break spent eating melting chocolate in the unseasonal Easter heat, I read a worrying missive by a long time associate of RFM.  I needn’t spell out the details, suffice to say it was a howl of barely coherent anguish and the cause was obvious: my friend was sick.  I put on my white coat and penned the following:

…the diagnosis is clear: you are suffering from download poisoning and may even have given yourself download diabetes due to over consumption.  Dr. Robert insists on the following course of treatment: download NOTHING for two weeks.  Listen to things you already have or, if you must listen to something brand new then listen to it ALL THE WAY THROUGH and MORE THAN ONCE.  Watch only what the TV presents you with or, if all that is crap, read. Or you could just sit in the garden and enjoy the birdsong…  Don’t take offence – this is just a TOUGH LOVE intervention.

Patient X replied:

YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY SPOT ON.  I have no problem admitting that I’m a DL-junkie, I KNOW my addiction is not making me happy(happier), that I’d feel no less undeprived in the long run if I took yr course of abstinence/treatment.  I have no excuses, except that these things just have to work their natural course till the patient decides for themself that s/he’s had it … don’t forget, I’ve come much later to all this internet malarky than you , i’m about ten years behind you.  Only been on the net 3 years, and the first year we didn’t DL anything (?).  It’s all still christmas morning in the sweet shop to me.

I’m also an arrogant so=and=so who believes (in spite of fairly frequent times when I’m proven wrong) that one listen is all I ever need, even if I was paying top wack for some one-thing-per-fortnight piece of music I’m loath to give things a second chance …  If I stopped DLing now I’d always be hankering after all the possibilities.  Worrying about getting left behind by all the herd who DL 38 things per day while I only manage 37…”

This gave me pause for thought as I remembered the similar situation I had found myself in just a short while ago.  I started to feel less like a doctor and more like an evangelical ex-addict now preaching abstinence.  I replied in turn:

Yeah, I get it – and I realise now that an intervention may not be as productive as I’d hoped.  To be honest, I think you are probably right about just having to wait for things to run their course.  To use an analogy with smoking: if you tell someone that unless they quit right now they are going to DIE SCREAMING then the first thing they do is reach for a fag.  Likewise if you tell them the money they’ve set fire to could, over their lifetime, have BOUGHT THEIR HOUSE then again: pass the Marlboro Lights.  However, if you set a date to give up then do nothing but smoke, smoke, smoke every second until that date arrives you get so sick of it that when you put out your last fag it is blessed relief to be a non-smoker and you don’t feel like you are ‘missing’ anything.  It has taken me over a decade to get to this point with mp3s so I appreciate you may be a way off yet.

Also, the second I was tempted to take a ‘drag’ again by that emusic offer (see ‘more recent electronics’ below) all the cravings came back with a vengeance.  I started devouring info, checking out ‘best of’ lists (including a comically premature ‘best of 2011 so far’ you’ll find at FACT magazine) and listening to mixes and podcasts looking for the good shit.  I came this close to buying a copy of The Wire – makes me shudder to think of that narrow escape.  The splurge did lead to me hearing some good new stuff, and it was fun skimming the agitated surface for a bit, but ultimately it left me nauseous and unable to give the music the attention it deserved.  I even hid the fact that I’d signed up a third time from my wife as I was so embarrassed.  Shameful, eh?  I am now running after the wagon that I fell off frantically waving and shouting for it to wait for me.

I’m interested in the point about repeat listening too as one reason for me swearing off downloading was to try and rediscover the joy of getting to know what I was hearing.  I’d come to treat a new piece of music like a book or a film: watch/read once, slide onto a shelf, reach for the next one.  Worse, sometimes music would get the same flick-through-and-discard treatment I might dish out to a magazine bought for a train journey.  That ain’t right.

Now I’m approaching music more like the way I tackle visual art.  A race around a gallery can be an exhilarating experience and can be helpful in, say, setting context or deciding your taste.  However, if this was the only way that you experienced visual art then I think it would be hard to develop any depth of understanding.  It is analogous to reading reviews that ignore the qualities of the thing under consideration and just list comparable things that it is ‘like’ – superficially helpful but not very interesting.  However, buying a painting or print for your house, or even a postcard for your office desk, involves a commitment to living with it and seeing how your appreciation of it changes.

Here is an example.  The picture at the top of this blog post is of a painting called The Shore made by Paul Nash in 1923.  The original hangs in Leeds City Art Gallery and I have stood in front of it many times.  I used a photo of it as the ‘wallpaper’ on my office computer for many weeks.  During that time I came to think of it as a masterpiece: it has an austere and melancholy beauty that is both hypnotic and heart-breaking.  What I have learnt about the circumstances of its production (a little can be read here) has only augmented its power.  A glance would not have done.

It is obvious, of course, that not all art or music is worthy of this attention.  Some is simply froth and skimming it is an appropriate response, much of it is just crap and ignoring it is perfectly sensible.  However some stuff does have a soulfulness that needs to be teased out (or, to put it less contentiously, content that is not immediately evident).  This is what those frantic downloaders can’t see as it is obscured by their splashing about in newness.

the cost of free things part five: to stream or not to stream

February 2, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 4 Comments
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The final part of this series addresses a point on which Simon shows a greater fortitude than I can muster.  He writes:

‘Fortune favours the bold’, eh?  Whilst acknowledging that streaming cuts down the likelihood of being stung (bleurgh – I hate the sickly feeling that I’ve handed over good money for crap) it also nullifies the thrill of that first play.  I have to concede the point – he’s right – but I’m afraid I will continue to use Grooveshark, the previews available at Boomkat etc. to inform my choice of purchases.  This may appear hypocritical given my previous tirades against snippet culture but, in these straightened times, I’m simply afraid to waste money.

Also, I don’t just drift from one mechanically-generated recommendation to the next but use streaming as a way of checking out stuff I’ve been talking about, or have read about or is related in some way to what I have been grooving on recently.  For example: sharing a mutual fondness for hardcore punk, my mate Tim brings OFF! to my attention, I play a bit of this to Phil & Neil who both suggest I should check out Discharge, I wander off to Grooveshark and within minutes I am gobbing, pogoing and shaving a Mohican into my hair.  Serendipity in action.  Thus, I would be tempted to argue that this is an extension of the old digging in the crates behaviour.

Which brings me to my final point: I also have trouble with trusting reviews and can get behind Simon’s misgivings above.  Now, I love both reading and writing about music.  This may just be the rosy glow of nostalgia, but I think I was privileged to grow up during a golden age for the British music press.  Melody Maker versus NME, eh?  Sigh, anyway: the written word has moved me to seek out and listen to something god knows how many times – hundreds at least.  But here’s the rub.  Leaving aside Simon’s legitimate grumble that reviews can be exhausting verbiage, there is a wider philosophical point: words are not the music they describe.

Imagine two people who have never heard The Rolling Stones.  Poor lambs, eh?  Give one a pile of books and articles written about the band plus every photo ever taken of them and allow them a month of silence to bone up.  Sit the other one down and spend twenty minutes playing them your half-dozen favourites from Hot Rocks.  Which of them knows more about what the band sound like?  Yep, it’s lamb two.  Even the most accurate and helpful reviews become irrelevant the second you put the needle on the record.  A million words can be definitively trumped by a few minutes of sound.  This is where the internet comes into its own and why the situation today is infinitely better when we had to rely on the weeklies and John Peel.  If I want to hear something – not own it, not collect it, not archive it, not slide it into the bespoke shelving – just hear it then, rather wonderfully, I can.  All else follows.

The End – no more blogging for a few days as all this thinking has made my brain go tight and shiny.

the cost of free things part four: putting the hours in

February 1, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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I’ll tackle a few related aspects of the word ‘investment’ but let’s kick off with the obvious one: financial.  This is less of an issue now than it used to be back in the day.  Music has, as far as I can recall, never been so cheap – even allowing for inflation.  I remember my first ever CD, ‘i’ by AR Kane, being about 12 quid which is only a fraction less than a full price new release today.  A CD reissue of the Discharge album I mention in the post below can be had for £4.49 post paid from Amazon.  This can hardly be much more than an original issue back in ’82 would have cost.  I am reminded of when punk/thrash albums wore defiant stickers proclaiming ‘pay no more than £3.99′ (or thereabouts).  I imagine this gesture would flummox today’s hipster, leaving ’em thinking: “er, yeah… why would I?”

Now, on the face of it, this is a straight-up, no reservations, good thing, right?  More stuff available to more people for a much smaller slice of our ever-dwindling disposable income.  Well, yes, maybe, and to claim that music should be more expensive seems wilfully perverse but, but, but…  When I see new albums for sale at £3 post paid I can’t help thinking something has been lost or devalued.  Who can make any money out of that?  No wonder theft is so prevalent: act like your product is worthless and people will have no qualms about nicking it.

Next up is your time – one way of investing in something is to put the hours in.  I touched on this in the previous post when mentioning digging in the crates.  That kind of getting-on-the-bus, traipsing-around-the-shops, haggling-with-stall-holders stuff, once a pleasurable way of spending the afternoon and an invitation to Lady Serendipity to smile on your efforts, is now no longer necessary.  Just stick Nurse With Wound list into Google and get downloading!  Again, this should be liberating – who wants to pay £200 to some collector scum for a scratchy album of euro-twats pushing shopping trolleys down concrete stairs in a car park (actually that sounds quite good but you know what I mean)?  As someone who doesn’t really care about packaging, formats, ‘original’ issues,  etc. this should be a huge boon for me shouldn’t it?  But, but, but… that way lies the huge, unloved archive I want to avoid. 

This is also closely linked to the final aspect of investment I want to mention: commitment.  In the age of ‘preview all tracks’ the temptation is to make snap decisions.  Another way of investing time is to repeat-listen, to ‘play something in’.  Many is the time I have declared ‘what is this shit?’ (notably with Acid House) only to eat my words when it becomes a lifelong favourite, or vice versa, to proclaim ‘this is the shit!’ only to be bored rigid with it two weeks later.  I have excitedly downloaded 90minute mixes only to groan in annoyance when the DJ dares to spend the first 5 minutes scene setting.  So childish (me, not the DJ).  Especially so in my beloved no-audience underground where music may be opaque the first time around and only reveal its charms on repeat listens.  Anything worthwhile takes time but this is so easy to forget in a world of infinite choice. As Otto’s parent’s say in Repo Man: “put it on a plate son, you’ll enjoy it more.”

“OK then, you miserable old fart,” says today’s hipster, “what if there is something I want but can’t have unless I spend more money than I can afford on some ‘collector’s item’ or unless I download it from a blog?”  Here’s my answer: if that really is the case then you can’t have it.  How’s that for a breathtakingly revolutionary notion?

You.  Can’t.  Have.  It.

This has nothing to do with legality, as I’ve said before I couldn’t care less about copyright, what I’m basing this notion on is the ephemeral and ever-progressing nature of pop culture.  When something is gone, maybe it is best to just accept that it is gone.  Why not spend the time and money saved investigating something newly produced, or getting to know something you already have a little better, or thinning out some of the unloved elements of your current collection or, best of all, creating something yourself?  Why clog up the hard drive/spare room at all?  Spend some time discovering artists you like, maybe take a punt on an artist new to you, then spend a few quid supporting them.  No need to bankrupt yourself, but invest enough time, money and commitment to show some respect and to give yourself pause for thought.  As for that impossible rarity, remember: you can’t have it – unless, that is, you happen upon it at the bottom of a cardboard box at the back of a charity shop.  And how delicious and life-affirming would that moment be?

OK, I was going to write something about reviews but this seems a good place to finish for now.

the cost of free things part three: serenDDDDipity

January 31, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Posted in musings | Leave a comment
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(quick addendum to part two: just pre-ordered the Galena CD thereby not only paying for something but paying for it weeks before it is released.  Feeling super-smug up here on the moral high ground.  OK, on with the show…)

As mentioned in part two, the finest consequence of my initial post in this series has been the response it provoked in the mighty DDDD.  Simon’s piece was not entirely in agreement with mine but chimed absolutely with what I was getting at and expanded eloquently on a couple of things I’d merely touched on or left unsaid.  I asked if he fancied providing a precis as a guest post for RFM.  He respectfully declined, saying:

…believe it or not, but experience has taught me that these hyper-fast-speed-written ddd rants are things of fragile beauty and if they’re meddled about with afterwards they collapse…

This is, of course, perfectly reasonable so I find myself feeling a bit sheepish for making the request.  Like showing my enthusiasm for a large action painting by asking the artist to point out the ‘best bits’.  How gauche.  Simon has indicated that he may comment further in future so, in the meantime, I will groove on three ideas he introduced: serendipity, investment and the nature and use of reviews.  Yes, I have shamelessly ripped out some quotes but don’t you dare use that as an excuse for not going to read his whole bit in situ.  


Defined as “a propensity for making fortunate discoveries while looking for something unrelated” and is a joy that has been flattened by infinite accessibility.  Simon says:

The pleasure to be had from digging in the crates is one that I had entirely forgotten, as is the discipline of selecting from a limited choice.  I realise that I had completely fallen for the ersatz serendipity of ‘inspired by your browsing history’ or ‘customers that bought this item also bought this’.  Why this apparently harmless and helpful service is actually hateful is that it is a mechanically generated marketing tool.  Worse, it is endless – the crate is bottomless and always full.  Click on any of the ‘recommendations’ and get six more.  A few clicks deep and you’ll find that buying more or less anything will lead to you being punted almost anything else.  Perhaps there is a new variation of six degrees of Kevin Bacon to be played via Amazon with a prize for whoever links Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing to The Circus in the fewest steps.

But is not the contemporary equivalent of digging in the crates searching the blogs for rare and otherwise unavailable goodies?  Well, yes, I feel the temptation but this is what leads to the amassing of ridiculously girthsome archives.  Leaving legality to one side, downloading involves no investment.  That will be the subject of the next bit.

Gotta do my homework now – school tomorrow.

no such thing as a perfect pop album?

May 15, 2010 at 9:02 pm | Posted in musings, new music | Leave a comment
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Interesting stuff over at DDDD zine (issue 58 I think) about how 2010 has been a duff year for music so far as it hasn’t yet produced a perfect pop (hereafter: PP) album.  At least not one that DDDD has heard, anyway.  Showing their usual patron-saint-of-lost-causes attitude, they have dedicated themselves to finding it.  Whilst I applaud the dedication, and am broadly in agreement with their definition of PP, I have to take issue, politely of course, with their unit of measurement.  They are looking for a PP album but surely the unit of PP is the song?  Mischievous Rob might even assert the following:

There is no such thing as a PP album – it is a contradiction in terms.  A perfect album has a coherence and identity perfectly served and expressed by the songs on it.  More than that, the songs all have to be necessary (‘all killer, no filler’) and in the exact order presented.  Anything less is not a perfect album.  However, a PP song stands gloriously alone and self-sufficient – that, I would argue, is part of the definition of PP – thus any attempt to plug it into the context of an album can only be partially successful.  It sticks out like a teenager’s boner and tents the otherwise faultless cut of the otherwise perfect album.  Thus any album containing one or more PP songs cannot be a perfect album by definition.  I thank you.

I’m not sure I totally buy Mischievous Rob’s argument (please note: views expressed by radiofreemidwich may not be the views held by radiofreemidwich) but I see where he is coming from, the little tinker.  Think about it: how many PP songs can you name?  Loads, isn’t it?  I bet your internal iPod is skipping through dozens right now.  And how many PP albums can you name?  Hmmm: not so easy.

A final paragraph on ‘best of’ anthologies and mix albums.  Maybe one or two (or three) anthologies may be chocka with PP, and almost perfect albums as defined above, but such quality is vanishingly rare.  My heart sinks, for example, when approaching the final third of any anthology by one of the great soul voices of the 70s as this bit invariably features the lame crap recorded after they found god in rehab.  Mixes may seem like a safer bet: they have flow, are the product of a single vision and/or aesthetic, and can, in theory at least, seamlessly weave in the stompers.  The problem is, of course, that while a mix may be perfect on its own terms, how many feature what we normally understand as perfect pop?

Comments welcome.

epic interview with yours truly at dddd

April 16, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Posted in blog info, midwich, musings, no audience underground | 1 Comment
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As my pre-wedding radio silence continues, why not visit the remarkable DDDD ‘blog’ instead?  There you will find an only slightly edited transcript of a two hour telephone conversation that I had with Simon a few weeks ago.  He asks about midwich, flatworm and the no-audience underground.  We then go on to talk about, amongst other things: music, films, how I cry at everything, and the growing of vegetables.  It is truly a Texan-sized portion of meaty goodness.

Be patient while this loads and be patient with the anti-format – you just have to make the window full screen and pretend it is one of those magazine things we all used to read.  Amazingly, the interview has been typed on a manual typewriter, chopped up, glued to a collage in a true punk fanzine stylee, scanned and slapped up on internet with a refreshingly luddite lack of concern for the medium.  All links are handwritten.

Check it out here

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