private ritual: luke vollar on fells, kevin sanders and skull mask

February 24, 2017 at 11:46 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Fells – Waking (Invisible City Records)

Kevin Sanders – Numb for Somethings (Hairdryer Excommunication)

Skull Mask – La Muerte Es Sabia (Invisible City Records)

No filthy typewriter, or flimsy keyboard for our Luke Vollar.  He presents his vision scrawled in ink, direct to page.  With the filters removed, the truth bleeds through…

fells-waking

Fells – Waking (Invisible City Records) C120 Cassette and Digital Album

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sanders-numb

Kevin Sanders – Numb for Somethings (Hairdryer Excommunication) Digital Album

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skull-mask

Skull Mask – La Muerte Es Sabia (Invisible City Records) C40 Cassette and Digital Album

 

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Invisible City Records

Hairdryer Excommunication

-ooOOoo-

 

Memories reworked and remembered again: Sophie Cooper on Anla Courtis and Vollar/Murray Tag Team on Culver versus Fordell Research Unit

February 6, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
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anla_courtis__antofagasta_cdAnla Courtis – Antofagasta (Beartown Records) CD

I’ve wanted to listen to the music of Anla Courtis for ages after reading that big article about him in The Wire, so I was thrilled to see this new CD by him on the Midwich review pile released by Beartown Records.

And a bloody good job of it they’ve done too!

I know Beartown for their distinctively packaged tapes mostly; high contrast photography, photocopied in black and white sleeves and this packaging carries on this artistic precedent but takes it to a very pro looking level. The artwork features Courtis’ own blurry shots of scenic views, which I assume, are of the area of Argentina that the music is concerned with.

The CD comes with a sweet ‘cut out and keep’ style individual photograph and a nice reworking of one of Courtis’ images treated with the Beartown technique. Really great work, I’m surprised they only printed 50 of these but anyway…

The music contained within this lovely packaging has been created using Courtis’ cassette-made field recordings dating back to 1998. According to the sleevenotes these were then sat on for almost 10 years, made into something else, and then were left for almost another 10 years until Beartown released them.  Lucky for us that they did.

Recorded in an area of Argentina called Antofagasta these 4 long tracks depict intricate and meditative recollections of place. I was thinking it must be really interesting to come back to recordings made of a place so long after the event and then try to rework them into something totally different.  For me, sound evokes memory.  If anything is going to transport you back it’ll be a sound (or a smell, I’ve experienced this once or twice) and I wondered how much of the original trip Courtis would have actually remembered aside from what he heard on these tapes.

After such a long time does memory have anything to do with it anymore?   Can the sound just be treated as what it is, a sound, or would the memories come rushing back and be important enough again to inform the piece? The track titles are named after the area, 1, 2, 3 and 4 .  Are we to imagine Antofagasta based on this music?

Don’t get me wrong though, these are not postcards, nor are they straight-up field recordings. Interesting elements of the recordings have been weeded out, changed and manipulated into retellings of events. On the 4th track Courtis has utilised every field recordist’s nightmare, wind, and transformed it into a whirling sound tornado, a windy nightmare!

It’s not all nightmarish however, scraps and pulls of objects layered up and played back repeatedly form lush sonic dreams, track 3, in particular, is beautiful.  From an outsider’s perspective, the 1st track is the one most likely recognised as an original event. You can make out man made noises: vehicle sounds, revs of engines and distant voices.

As the CD progresses it feels as through you slowly lose a sense of reality as those first recordings become more fragmented and obscure.

Memories reworked and remembered again.

culver-fru

Culver: Prisoner of F.R.U (Know Your Enemy) Limited edition cassette and Bandcamp Download

My Word!  This collaboration tape from Edinburgh’s Fordell Research Unit messing freely with and augmenting Gateshead’s Culver was always going to be a heavy example of neat sarcophagus music – but I wasn’t expecting 4AD-levels of such beautiful fullness.

It is not the first time that Culver and Fordell Research Unit have joined forces; indeed Fraser Burnett (FRU) has made no secret of his admiration of the deep influence that Culver has played in his own music. As someone who has followed both acts for some time now I would propose that this is (if it ever was) not an unequal balance, Lee is no longer sensei to Frasers clumsy roundhouses, more of an equal partner who can stand back, solemnly running his fingers through his beard as Fraser executes an impeccable routine of high kicks, deadly punches and overall karate Zen whilst illuminated in the copper glow of a setting sun.

Fraser is joined on this project by sometime member Grant Smith, another Edinburgh gonk serving times in Muscletusk (Yeah!) and Shareholder (Hell Yeah!). It has been told that the two pored over the encrypted texts from the North East whilst enshrouded in intoxicating vapours, being sure to keep their chalices full at all times.

And so as the mission was passed onto Fraser so must it now be passed onto Grant if he is ever to grasp the weight of this devotional music. Whether in collaboration with Fraser or by himself; what we hear is Fraser standing back in admiration as the young Jedi levitates a series of metal bowls and discs in a room of deep red velvet amidst shrouds of sandalwood incense.

Sowatchyahearin’  ‘Torch Needles’ is a ripe fig glistening with fragrant, sticky juice // OR // It’s the silvery snakes in Donny Darko plunging through an eggy Turner painting.  With a slow rudeness they show off their blubbery muscles.  What we left with?  A very flexible riot!

‘Weak Will’ and ‘What Does She Watch?’ are touched by a delicate vapour trail petrified then doused in dark glitter. Light is reflected back for sure but at eccentric, unnatural angles illuminating the dusty corners and forgotten stairwells of a cross channel ferry: a periphery of sound construction as dangerous and inviting as the below deck engineering.

The grim maritime theme continues in ‘Telepathic Torture’.  A creaking nameless ship cuts through a freezing fog, as vile oily water laps mockingly at the crumbled veneer of the battered vessel. What remains of the crew stare with haunted and stricken eyes. They are little more than walking carcasses starved and half mad from many sea-bound days of cold misery. As the yellow acrid fog starts to part they see land in the distance, strange and unfamiliar but land none the less, perhaps it is here that the crew will find salvation though they know not where they are and how they came to be there…

Yikes!  My first ever drone raga is revealed in the backwards-metallic-skullfuck of ‘Shark’.  Those bass-clouds are looming, heavy and pregnant and once again the epithet ‘devotional’ stands out clearly.  A submission to the one true god of drone!

But the enveloping hiss of ‘Head Serpent’ is a gentle closer.  Soft tape micro-scribbles pepper and voosh about the place; presently an aching tone is gingerly inserted like a steel cannula until, in the dying seconds, it’s rudely wrenched out and the claret starts to drip, drip, drip.

A wise man once said,

“To understand the sounds that nourish the mind is to study the true path, to know truly what it is that you need, and what you don’t need, and to shed off the layers that weigh you down.”

Nuff said.

 

Beartown Records

Know Your Enemy

-ooOOoo-

screaming party above invisible city: the swift by midwich reissued

May 13, 2015 at 9:34 am | Posted in midwich, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Midwich – The Swift (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR11, edition of 40 or download)

swift coverswift tape

RFM is delighted to announce that The Swift by Midwich has been reissued by the essential Invisible City Records and is available as a beautifully packaged tape or convenient download.

The album was originally released as one 65 minute track on CD-r, presented in another beautifully designed cover in a tiny edition of 15, by highly-regarded American noise label Altar of Waste.  Here is the very flattering blurb written by AoW head-honcho Cory Strand:

Gorgeous and tidal cascade of gentle droning sounds that become something akin to a crushing roar from the between the cracks in the sky and the broken limbs of trees, Midwich’s epic construction “The Swift” is a piece that flirts with both natural ambience and HNW severity without fulling giving over to either.  Created from field recordings of swarms of swifts procured by the artist, the sounds here recall both the bleak pastoral harmony of the English landscape and the encroaching rumbles of black clouds swarming the sky.  Similar in tone to the work of Richard Skelton with a goodly dose of Daniel Menche’s and Clive Henry’s approaches to manipulated field recordings, “The Swift” is an amazing composition that demonstrates both the awesome power of the natural world around us and the possibilities inherent within electronic manipulation.  An incredibly creative work that blurs whatever genre lines you’d care to draw.

Altar Of Waste is very pleased to release this latest missive from one of the UK’s finest practitioners of underground drone.  Succumb to the swarm and feel the tense beating of thousands of wings buzzing around you.  Breathe in the awe.

My colleagues here at RFM dug it too.  Joe said:

The Swift is a single hour long piece in three distinct movements.

Movement one: It starts like the soundtrack to ‘Evolution…The Movie’ as grey gloop is replaced by lazy cellular dividing and static, internal egg-memories. Things settle on Mothra’s mating ritual – long drawn-out breaths gradually moving out of synch as feathery lungs push huge volumes of air through Sperm Whale baleen.

Movement two: A rhythmic ticking and the clatter of ghostly forklift trucks start to creep in.  The Swifts chirrup, skittering in the air warmed by the horny Mothra.  Listeners note: this section accompanies the flock of stately wind turbines near Chesterfield spectacularly.

Movement three: The final five minutes heave like the tides, slowly encroaching on an abandoned city; washing through the deserted streets, clearing the human junk for a stronger, fitter civilisation floating slowly through the brine.

No question this is Rob’s most immersive and ambitious piece of Midwichery yet.  You gotta have it!

..and Luke made it his album of the year:

Utterly sublime floating tones, get your cranky toddler off to sleep in minutes, limited to 15 copies only?!  Madness.

Teacher’s pet, eh?  The lad will go far.  Positive comment written by those outside the RFM ‘office’ can also be found but, you may be surprised to learn, there are limits even to my vanity.  You get the picture: it was well received and I am proud of it.

Despite the eye-watering cost of shipping copies from the USA, the edition sold out sharpish.  I might have been happy to leave it there but I had one or two enquiries about reissuing it and, after falling in love with North East noise label Invisible City Records, I just couldn’t resist reaching out to label boss Craig Johnson and planting a seed.  Given the catalogue already amassed it seemed like the perfect home for The Swift and, to my delight and relief, Craig agreed.  The track has been carefully halved to accommodate the change in format and the new artwork captures the atmosphere of the piece exactly.  It is a high quality item and, in my entirely trustworthy, un-conflicted, un-self-interested opinion, an essential purchase.

—ooOoo—

Finally, a word to those trusting souls who swapped hard cash for a copy of the original edition.  If you are among that elite please forgive me for diluting the experience with a reissue and remind me of the fact when the Aqua Dentata CD-r on fencing flatworm drops later in the year.  I’ll sort you out proper.  If you are mad enough to buy both editions then as well as the Aqua Dentata CD-r I’ll see if I can secure you a freebie of the next midwich project which, in stark contrast, is likely to run 18 minutes and contain 12 tracks.  Punk rock, eh?  More news as it breaks, but for now…

—ooOoo—

Invisible City Records

internalising the experience: sophie cooper on recent releases from fort evil fruit

May 3, 2015 at 3:48 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Bridget Hayden & Claire Potter – Mother To No Swimming Laughing Child (tape, Fort Evil Fruit, FEF036, edition of 100)

The Restless Dead and Bird People …Meet the Dervishes of Khartoum in the Confluence-of-the-Nile (tape, Fort Evil Fruit, FEF034, edition of 75)

Extnddntwrk – By (tape, Fort Evil Fruit, FEF035, edition of 100 plus download only extra tracks, second edition of 100 in preparation)

Rastrejo – Fractura de Miramientos (tape, Fort Evil Fruit, FEF033, edition of 75)

potter and hayden

Bridget Hayden & Claire Potter – Mother To No Swimming Laughing Child

Mother To No Swimming Laughing Child is a new collaboration between author Claire Potter and musician Bridget Hayden that gives a voice to text from Potter’s 2014 publication Mental Furniture. On this tape, extracts from the text are read by Potter, combined with sounds from Hayden and the results are fascinating. This deeply considered union works to produce a very whole sound and together they inform the narrative rather than it being a straight forward ‘words read over the top of music’ approach. On ‘Still Woman Cold’ Potter reads the text in hushed tones and creaking floorboards are heard in the background giving the impression that she is hiding from whoever is making those sounds happen. It’s a difficult and unsettling listen but uniquely compelling.

Potter and Hayden address trauma and deflection during Mother To No Swimming Laughing Child. It’s hard to discuss trauma, both your own experiences and those of others. It’s difficult because in some cases people are so quick to hide what they are actually feeling rather than address things that are not OK, choosing to internalise the experience and protect others from hearing it, which is an easy way to hide from judgement. The track, ‘Brendan Brady’ is named after a tragic character from the soap opera Hollyoaks. Brady is a murderer, a drug dealer, an abusive partner, a typical bad guy who the writers of the show later revealed was the victim of incestual abuse. The album takes this, and other examples from the show, as source material through which to deliver the topic of trauma and projection of unknown events. In addition to the words, static, aggressive guitar and incidental sound are included maybe to mask the story and stuff it down the back of the sofa.

Given the topic, it’s not an easy listen. Someone described this tape as “distasteful” on Rate Your Music (my most hated music website) and although I disagree I can understand why they might have written that because bringing up subjects like abuse are considered distasteful by some. This is an uncomfortable subject but this tape doesn’t worry about that. I congratulate Potter and Hayden for broaching this issue and for creating one of the most intriguing and thought provoking recordings I’ve ever heard.

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The Restless Dead and Bird People …Meet the Dervishes of Khartoum in the Confluence-of-the-Nile

The concept behind the creation of this release is really interesting. The story is that UK folk musician, C. Joynes, during one of his many travels round the world spent some time in Sudan where he recorded a weekly Sufi Dervish conference. These recordings provided the basis for this release which were dubbed over by two groups – Side A by a curious sounding improvising collective that operates as part of a commune in East Anglia called The Restless Dead and Side B by ever evolving Austrian free folk and drone collective Bird People. Bird People, for those who don’t know, are ‘fronted’ (I’m sure he wouldn’t like that word but for want of a better phrase…) by founder of Feathered Coyote Records, Ulrich Rois. Feathered Coyote and Fort Evil Fruit share a lot of common interests in the artists they work with (and the managers even look alike!) so the partnership makes sense.

Side A is probably the more successful in achieving a seamless collaboration between the Sufi recordings and the UK artist’s contributions. Listening carefully you can pick out additional out of tune guitars (I suspect homemade versions), drums, repeatedly bowed strings and percussive elements jamming along to the original recordings. The recording is respected and the ebb and flow of the piece is considered well within these jams resulting in a great, but not ragged, clatter.

Side B sees Bird People take the recordings and make something quite different with them, which I’m into. We hear gorgeous Indian instruments produce drones that accompany the Sufi singers but also come into their own throughout the 23 minute piece. At one point the drones perfectly match the volume of the original recording rising and falling then eventually leading to a point of silence before coming back to the vocalists, this time with even more drones and an audible banjo solo. This is brilliant and thoughtful music.

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Extnddntwrk – By

Extnddntwrk, aka Andrew Fearn, is now best known as the guy who makes the music for Sleaford Mods but he has been making music since well before he joined Jason Williamson.  I’m really pleased that he has started to release his own solo music again including this new one on FEF.

This huge collection of songs spans about an hour and a half (if you include the bonus tracks from the digital download) and a lot of ground is covered in that time. My first thought on hearing it was that it would make an excellent soundtrack to a futuristic horror film and in the way that some great horror soundtracks, like Marc Wilkinson’s Blood on Satan’s Claw for example, have an overarching theme running throughout so does By. This is seen not least in the track titles, which all have the word ‘by’ contained in them, but also in the grim, downbeat, and sometimes outwardly scary atmosphere these pieces conjure. I want to be the first to be told when the film to accompany this tape comes out.

On By Fearn employs a range of acoustic instrumentation and high quality production to evoke dark imagery. His computer generated beats are of a subtle brilliance that provide a base for a variety of other components including piano, harp, bells and worked-in field recordings to name just a few. Some of the tracks such as ‘By Myself’ sound like they could have been generated by lo-fi software. This track has a weird and unsettling melody line that wouldn’t be out of place if found in an early version of the video game Doom (wow, the memory of that game just made me shiver!). In another moody track, ‘Death by’, Fearn plays subtle guitar lines that complement light keys. I can’t get over how delicate this release is and what a stark contrast is it to the music Fearn makes in his other band! This is very intense work and shows Fearn to be an accomplished musician and producer.

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Rastrejo – Fractura de Miramientos

Rastrejo is a new artist to me but a quick look at Jose Guerreo’s back catalogue reveals he has been involved in several projects in Valencia, Spain for a long time. Rastrejo serves as his experimental dance project and this release is really toe tapping. It’s a short but sweet affair, totalling only 19 minutes.

Guerreo uses stark drum machine patterns and sings in a dramatic way on ‘Malgastando’ before launching into a wild, droney, synth solo that all works really well. The fully-fledged songs that involve singing are definitely this album’s strongest point and these are sandwiched between other musical ideas. I kind of wish the release was a bit longer because the last track ‘Mercader de Sencillos + Ballesta sin Fisuras’, which seems be influenced heavily by Talking Heads particularly in the vocal delivery, is a real banger and it feels like the album really takes off at this point. Oh well. I’ll be checking out other music by Rastrejo for sure.

—ooOoo—

Fort Evil Fruit

blistered, glistening: releases by ian watson and kevin sanders

April 29, 2015 at 3:53 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Ian Watson – Caermaen (CD-r, Dust, Unsettled, DU09, edition of 50 or download)

Messrs. Sanders & Watson – Cumulative Undulations (2 x CD-r in gatefold sleeve, self-released, edition of 50 or download)

ian watson - caermaenwatson and sanders

Ian Watson – Caermaen

Dunno why I’ve slept so long on this one.  An intriguing album of heavy electrics by the second most charming guy in noise released by the most charming guy in noise – you’d think I’d be all over it, wouldn’t you?  My apologies for the inexplicable tardiness.  Allow me to make amends.

What we have here is a four track CD-r (long gone – sorry) or free download (still available – woo!) by Ian Watson – artist, polymath – released on Dust, Unsettled, the label run by definitive good egg Brian Lavelle.  It was composed using ‘cymbals and feedback’ manipulated through bosky layers of electrics and is apparently inspired by the writing of Welsh mystic and Lovecraft influence Arthur Machen.  So far, so perfect.

A satisfyingly viscous low end and a refreshingly untamed crackling at the top act as river banks containing the current’s flow.  Could that be a torrent of fluorescent ectoplasm combed clean by the bones of skeletal fish?  Sure, if you like.  I can certainly imagine Ian’s kit producing a cool, flickering, ghostly green light:

Brian: err… is that supposed to be happening?

Ian: mate, it isn’t even plugged in!  Perhaps we should leave the room…

Brian: press ‘record’ first though.

Ian: oh yeah, of course, NOW RUN!

…but what this called to mind for me were happy times I’d spent as a teenager staring at a lump of dirty metal.

One of my first jobs was operating a solder bath in a factory that manufactured printed circuit boards.  Boards were loaded onto a conveyor belt, subjected to a terrifying liquid that cleaned the copper (so corrosive that I dropped two pence coins into it to see the queen’s face dissolve), covered in slime to help the solder stick, hung on a hook by me, dunked into a bath of liquid metal about three feet deep, blasted with air blades on the way back up, then placed on another conveyor belt.  Repeat for eight or nine hours with frequent breaks to sit on chemical drums outside and smoke cigarettes.

On Fridays we would be paid in cash in little brown envelopes around 11am.  At lunchtime I’d race to the nearest pub, drink as much as possible, smoke a spliff on the way back and spend the afternoon cleaning this machine – heated to 250 degrees centigrade – in my shirtsleeves because, y’know, it was too fucking hot for overalls and a certain amount of scar tissue looks manly and suggests character doesn’t it?  The spray and overflow of hot solder dripped down into the guts of the machine and coagulated there into something magical.

This mass of waste solder – the size and shape of a child’s torso, almost too heavy to carry – was a mesmerising landscape of clustered globules, of organic micro-castles blistered with irregular crenellations, of needle sharp, filigree wire work.  All glistening a muddied silver, hopelessly polluted with the scorched scum that boiled from the boards as they were dunked.  These random accumulations of melted metal remain some of the most beautiful objects I have ever seen, even accounting for how stoned I was at the time.  Something about this album took me back to that sight and that made me very happy.

Messrs. Sanders & Watson – Cumulative Undulations

Also available from a neighbouring stable is this two hour long, two track, two CD-r set, by two collaborators: Mr. Ian Watson (as above) and Mr. Kevin Sanders (see below).

Imagine a large ruined house in a forest, swamped in ivy – each luscious leaf as deep green as cooked spinach, as shiny as patent leather.  Now imagine the root severed and the gradual death of the above ground plant, its draining vitality and increasing brittleness.  A high quality digital camera is making a time lapse film of this process.  Once complete the memory card is removed and Kev and Ian bath it in a a cool, flickering, ghostly green light.  This ‘develops the film’ with an occult power that reveals the usually invisible creatures of woodland folklore that live around the ruin: dryads, fairies, elves, horrifying, robotic horseshoe crabs, their scrabbling legs the stuff of nightmares, their carapaces as black as a dominatrix’s whip, and so on.  Now play the film in reverse and compose a soundtrack to it using just rust and magnets.

This: that.

—ooOoo—

Ian Watson

Dust, Unsettled

hairdryer excommunication

steel gaze: joe murray on recent releases by kevin sanders

April 26, 2015 at 8:52 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Kevin Sanders – Aladdin, al-Bireh (CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

kevin sanders – a study in pink (3” CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

kevin sanders – live in berlin, 2015 (3” CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 9 or download)

ks - aladdin

Kevin Sanders – Aladdin, al-Bireh

High-in-the-mix scraping, like I’m scooping the last remaining smears of thick yogurt from an earthenware bowl, beckon me into Kevin Sanders’ felt yurt.  I remove my shoes and adopt a cross-legged pose to match my host whose steely gaze has not left mine.

His intensity is replayed in the heavy fugging drone that sweeps gently over the initial scrape.  Two notes are lazily fingered, ‘AHHHhhhhhhhhhhh OHHHhhhhhhhhhhh’ – a cosmic call and response to a distant god.

All the while a ball of tangled steel wool is unravelled at a snail’s pace.  Watching the slim pale hands move with purpose, but without fussy haste, manipulating the thin wire, unwinding, untwisting and smoothing it out is…making me….s…l…..e…….e………p………….y.

Dreams, so often a blessedly heavy velvet vacuum, are now full of distant howls of creatures yet-imagined.  The fear of the fear jams my mouth open and eyes wide.  Roaring voices pour from my throat as I am the vessel of the lost souls.  Each life left in limbo protests limply at being held like a fly in amber.  But the numbers!  The countless number of them leave my throat sore as the last snivelling heckle dribbles down my damp chin.

But all things must pass and I awaken beneath the poplar trees, glittering with marvellous frost.

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kevin sanders – a study in pink

This is no-nonsense stuff.  Some electro cardiogram briefly splutters and we’re catapulted into a see-sawing sinewave swoon.  It’s dogtooth check rough up close but smooth as alabaster from a distance.

And that’s the stand-out thing about this 3 incher.  There really is so much going on in here you can, in the right state of mind, project yourself into the landscape, stand among the slowly peaking waves of static or ride the rolling ocean of thundering grumble like a tiny Norrin Rad.

The space analogy gets stronger as about half way through this 19 minute piece planets and stars begin to hurl themselves about, bending gravity and swooping perilously close to each other.  The solar whoosh of the near miss is felt as gentle pressure on the balls of the feet.  The last two minutes slowly unfold like some docking sequence; two rusty old Soyuz modules that got pimped-out by Grateful Dead fans to better honk the Dark Star-brand kif pipe, kiss silently with a sigh of compressed air.  Two become one.

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Kevin Sanders – live in berlin, 2015

OK readers.  So far we’ve had two different approaches, two different moods showing two different sides to Mr Kevin Sanders.

But this micro-diskette, recorded in a flat on Sonnenallee is my personal pick of the bunch. The notes say:

A broken organ in the flat was used to create two tape loops which were processed.

This all seems simple enough eh?  But the super-exciting thing about this 21 minute set is that the process is left clear and unadorned.  The tape loops are cut with confidence and make an extremely satisfying gristly crunch each time they turn back on themselves.  This becomes both rhythm and off-kilter melody as the singing-bowl-ring builds in intensity in the background.

Overtones become undertones become slumber-tones.  Each successive loop, as bright as copper, slides down a shapely neck to rest on lightly furred shoulders.  They collect in metallic piles on top of each other, shifting with faint tinkles.

By the 14 minute mark everything gains a superheavyweight quality.  What once was sunny and bright becomes black like lead with a similarly dark purpose.  What seems like the dawning of a dark inevitability eventually plateaus out into a shimmering crystal desert.  Geysers spew their hot dust, the polished sand flickers with heat haze.  The organ spits its last dirty electric cough and sadly clicks off.

—ooOoo—

hairdryer excommunication

sideways to places: chrissie caulfield on wanda group and field recording

April 24, 2015 at 9:52 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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WANDA GROUP – HER MOUTH WAS OPEN AND THEN HE OPENED HIS (download, UMBRO GROUP)

WANDA GROUP - HER MOUTH WAS OPEN AND THEN HE OPENED HISWANDA GROUP - HER MOUTH WAS OPEN AND THEN HE OPENED HIS - 1WANDA GROUP - HER MOUTH WAS OPEN AND THEN HE OPENED HIS - 2WANDA GROUP - HER MOUTH WAS OPEN AND THEN HE OPENED HIS - 3WANDA GROUP - HER MOUTH WAS OPEN AND THEN HE OPENED HIS - 12

I do love a good field recording. I’ve heard people say that smells take you back to places better than photographs, but I don’t subscribe to that. It’s sounds that do it for me. I can still hear in my mind’s ear the noises of my first bike and, most poignantly and possibly revealingly, the sound of my baby sister saying

Do your radio go?

into a cheap microphone when I first recorded her on a portable cassette/radio in days when my own age can’t have been in double figures for very long.

And sounds can not only take you back to places in your past but sideways to places you’ve never been before. The thing that really sealed this for me was when a friend played some binaural recordings of him just walking through New York, a place I have never visited. It was captivating. Familiar and very foreign at the same time, there are noises you recognise but sound vaguely different to what you’re used to or in different contexts than you might expect. Of course those sort of recordings don’t actually take you to New York, they illustrate a place you’ve never been in light pastels and enable you to create the missing parts for yourself. Reading a book has a similar effect – we all have our own interpretations of the action and characters and none, or perhaps all of them, are ‘right’.

These sorts of recording also make you listen to the world around you more closely. Who but the field-recordist listens intently to the sound of the traffic as they head into work of a morning? We all know these sounds of our daily life but taken out of the context of the actual activity itself they can become special, enlightening or surprising. Putting on a CD of a field recording takes it out of its context and into your living room, it asks to be listened to and experienced.

HER MOUTH WAS OPEN AND THEN HE OPENED HIS by WANDA GROUP is a two-part set of field recordings done in Vietnam and Cambodia and locally in the artiste’s home town of Rainham. On first listen my thought was that the opening is as perfect as you’re likely to get in a composed piece of music: absolute silence, followed by someone running towards you while a prop aircraft flies over. And then as you listen on you realise that this is a composed piece of music. While the source material is the field recordings, they have been expertly mixed into a narrative whole … and I do love a sound narrative.

I really like that this is not the sort of field recording piece where the recordist has simply pointed a microphone at something and then published the outcome. As expert field-recordist Jez Riley-French says, there is little art in that, we should ask more of field recording and recordists. And more is definitely what we get in this release. So here we have the juxtaposition of someone in a bath with traffic noises close by, cuts in and out of a train journey and chatter in mysterious (to me, anyway) languages. There are natural drones from trains, household machinery and insects intersected with electric cracking so close I went to check my own wiring; there are cupboards opening and closing and children playing. There are also snatches of actual music, though these are always kept in the background so as not to intrude, they are just part of the overall landscape. As if to echo my “Do your radio go?” memory referred to above, there is also some chatter about the recording process itself in the middle of ‘DECOR 2′:

It’s all being picked up from there
Can you hear me chewing?
Yeah
Wow!

Very meta!

I would be lying if I said this recording transported me to Vietnam or Cambodia, or even Rainham. Of course it didn’t. What it did give me was an extended sonic experience that is different from either going to those places, reading about them in a catalogue, or listening to their music. The way the recordings are arranged and mixed present a narrative journey, mainly by train in ‘GA 6’, to various places in the area, and visiting various people, some of whom also seem to be tourists.

There’s a sensitivity to the extraordinariness of ordinary sounds here that you get in all good field recorded pieces. Where there is an especially good door creak, metallic clang or rain on a tin roof, the mix is pulled back to let you properly hear the nuances of the sound with little distraction, maybe just a small amount of ambient sound to keep the sense of place. The mix never gets truly busy, you can always hear the individual sounds even when one is more obviously in focus, there’s a good sense of foreground and background nearly all of the time.

As I’m the sort of person that gets bored easily I’m not too fond of extended drones [Editor’s note: you’re fired!] and these are nicely avoided here. Even at the end of ‘GA 6’ where there is some mechanical whirring going on for nearly five minutes, there’s a little clanking of human activity going on too, though you’re left with the drone by itself for the last two minutes of the piece – just the right amount of time to hear its subtleties unspoiled without tiring of it.

I don’t know if it is deliberate or not, but at the end of side 2 ‘DECOR 2’ cuts abruptly at 21 minutes. That’s not the end of the downloaded file though – there is a further three and a half minutes of sound that is very, very quiet. I had to turn the volume up to full to be able to discern it which is a shame as, in an echo of ‘GA 6’, it ends with three minutes of a buzzing drone overlaid with footsteps and makes a rather nice closing section.

When I first idly scanned through these pieces on the Bandcamp page I thought they were just another long-form field recording which would be quite nice because of being made in a land foreign to me. Further listening revealed the compositional ideas present in them that makes them so much more engaging, and … well ‘art’ I suppose.

–ooOoo—

UMBRO GROUP

[Editor’s note: this album is free to download but donations are invited and will be sent to charities in Vietnam and Cambodia.  £200 has already been raised and anything further you can spare will be much appreciated.  There is talk of taking this piece off Bandcamp soon so we would recommend not sleeping on it.  Your future self will thank your current self for a solid decision.]

invisible city records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

death register

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

curwen - shunned house

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

caisson - high rise

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

death register

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

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

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

Black Thread - Autumn Flowers - cover

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

only thing left to fear tape

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

culver - abductress

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

stratospheric

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

roadside picnic

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

…and finally:

drawings

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

So that’s it.  Well, not quite.

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

More news as it breaks!

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

—ooOoo—

Invisible City Records

the radiofreemidwich random tape grab-bag experiment, or: joe murray empties his bulging sack

March 30, 2015 at 12:06 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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joe's bulging sack

[Editor’s note: Joe Murray, our resident beat prophet, has convinced his skeptical editor to temporarily abandon the usual formatting for reasons that will soon be apparent.  Thus there are no release details up front, pictures will follow reviews and links will be found where they lay.]

Like all my RFM comrades I have a teetering bunch of tapes to review.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.  It’s a privilege and an honour to hear so many dispatches from the No-Audience Underground.

But sometimes I feel I’m doing you a disservice my friends.  It’s the same old, same old format: slot tape in, listen thrice, make notes, look at any other internet gubbins, write up final copy, post to Rob and await his judgement a’ tremble.

But today I want to spice things up baby.   I’m going 50 shades on this shit.

So, in  order to make things (hopefully) more entertaining and experimental in spirit for you, my dear reader, I chucked all my review tapes into a drawstring bag and will pull them out, randomly, sight-unseen ready to slap into the cheap-o hi-fi.  No prior knowledge, no prejudice etc.

Mystery Tape One.  The first thing I notice is an ambient hiss, growing and forming, covering all the other electronic ‘chunk-ka-kuh’ like Spanish moss.  Things get less rhythmic and more drawn out (elongated gong strikes / trapdoor creak) creating a soundtrack feel with some floating voices chattering.  There’s a synth or something humming giving this a very European feel… a dark Froese perhaps?  Now there’s electricity in the air as the test tubes fizz and pop; a scientist twitches and mugs singing snatches of opera in a cracked voice.  Somehow the radio picks up their brain waves: forgotten memories of the seaside and music hall?  An Anthony Caro sculpture comes to life with deep space moans.  Blimey.  Who’s this?  I pop out the tape and check it.   Bless my soul.  It’s the ever lovely Claus Poulsen with Collected Dreams on Skrat Records.

claus poulsen - collected dreams

Mystery Tape Two.  OK…so far so good.   I fumble in my bag and pluck out the next offering.  It drops neatly into the wide-mouth slot and kicks off some dark rubbery knockings, slurm residue and spurks-thumb.  Oh yeah man…this is tremendous stuff!  There’s a treacle-like bubbling and whomping, like some living salt-water lake throbbing dangerously, searching out new tributaries with its briny fingers.  This is pure sound abstraction that builds layers of thick, dark sound-paint until a giant glove smears the oily pickle.   The noxious mixture spreads thin, lightening the hue and spreading the sticky mixture over frame, wall, floor and ceiling until we are all covered with the stuff – a burnt Rothko orange.  Side two opens up with a fling of ducks all ecstatically hawking and honking.  These sounds are passed though some electronic doo-hickery that seems to split and repeat certain quacking frequencies so sections of the greasy reverberations get plucked for presentation with a sheen and glimmer.  The water fowl retreat to roost as we dip our ears below the slick surface of water to luxuriate in music for rowing boat hulls; wooden creak and swollen pop.  Gosh, this tape is really hitting the spot.  Who do I have to thank?  I should have known…it’s ‘The Ambassador’ Tom White with his Reconstruction on Alien Passengers.

tom white - reconstruction

Mystery Tape Three.  This tape starts off with some nice tape gunk that moves unhurriedly between half-tunes played on fuzzed-out organ.  A female voice with the smoky cadence of William Burroughs tells a tale about some sci-fi travel (or something) while Working Men’s Club beats (tiss-be-be-bon-tiss…) flit in and out of the organ tunes.  And then found sound and field recordings get thrown into the mix.  Not in a haphazard manner, no sir, this is finely tuned and tweaked like the exact halfway point between a Radiophonic performance scored by the late great Broadcast and waking up from a particularly vivid dream.  I have to be honest with you readers… I’m stumped here; I have no idea what or who or when this is.  It’s certainly more lyrical than the usual shimmy but the narrative and structure are all over the shop giving this a delightfully Victorian psychedelic edge.  I can’t wait any longer; I crack under the pressure of not knowing and check the cover.  Ahhhhh….it’s that beautiful and wonderfully eccentric duo Winter Family who are playing here with their How Does Time tape on Psychic Mule Records.  It is indeed a play, a play designed to be listened to on a very particular train journey between Besançon in France and  La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland for very particular watch makers.  The ultimate commuter listen.

winter family - how does time

Mystery Tape Four.  Your typical Northern pub chatter sets the scene with clattering bottles and knowing laughter.  An on-stage introduction welcomes you and says, ‘This is for d boon’ before a proper guitar riff chugga-chuggas.   OK…that’s a reference to the wonderful Minutemen  – I get that; are we jamming econo?  Is this gonna be some tour spiel dude? But, at the same time I’m expecting some tape collage work to start up, a wonk-move or gurgled gob etc.  Some music concrete shit and all that doings.  But no…this is pure UK hardcore, recorded very, very  live, possibly from some archive with guitar/bass/drums and an angry attitude.  Think Heresy or something but with a bit more of ‘baseball bat to the face and neck’ feel.  The songs come in short, sharp blasts.  Three or four in a row – chunka – chunka – cheer – crowd babble – chunka- chunka.  It’s invigorating stuff and seems to get looser and more chaotic as the tape goes on (always a bonus for me).  I’m totally lost here.  No idea who it is or even how it crept into my review pile. Shall we look readers?  OK…it all comes flooding back.  This is Battery Humans on Fuckin’ Amateurs with their For D Boon tape.  It is recorded live and recently: 6th September 2014 to be precise and features one Guy Warnes AKA Waz Hoola, the unsung hero of the northern drone scene, on drums.  The usual F#A! standards of presentation apply with anarchy inserts, random gaffer tape sculpture and art fliched from Viz Comic.  Side B is another live recording but this time from Scurge in 1991.  You want rage?   You got it.

battery humans

Mystery Tape Five.  I press ‘play’ and an undulating, chemically insistent, flute trills with the sort of chaotic abandon that pins Old God MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI into a restful slumber.  A thousand chaffed lips puff noxious gas through human thighbone pipes while the jester dances merrily on (like he’s posing for a Marillion album or something).  Gosh…this is pretty intense.  The next track saunters by sounding like that crap ‘pre-computer’ computer game Simon hooking up to Terminator’s Skynet and crashing civilisation as we know it into a frosty digital sludge. Blimey…there’s a hard stop as I turn the tape over but as soon as I click things into life the holy racket starts again.  This time I’m getting something like a rouge Funkadelic jam; real cosmic slop rejected by Mr Clinton for being too out-there as layers of keyboard fuzz and squealing huff pile up and up and up.  A brief moment of calm (the keys ape Vangelis in blade runner tights) lets me breathe again before I’m pushed out a 30 storey window (metaphorically, dude – don’t panic, man) and, as I tumble, I catch snippets of Mexican TV, Concrete Noise, psychic experiments and terrible quiz shows as I hurtle past the apartments spinning dangerously out of control.  An uneven gravity pocket spares me a sticky end and I land, gracefully and precisely, into a pair of oxblood Doctor Martins – the world’s kindest bootboy.  Crows cackle around me, applauding with electric beaks.  I check the details, no wiser of this tapes provenance but washed clean by its synesthetic high, to find out it’s my old Papal Bull buddy Jon Marshall and noise-nudist Pascal Ansell cavorting under the No Thumbs banner.  This beauty’s called Slug Birth and is available from the brand-spanking-new Tutore Burlato label.  If TB is a new name on your radar the quality hallmark of its founder, one Ezio Piermattei, should seal the deal.

no thumbs - slug birth

Mystery Tape Six.  A hawking ceilidh – all X-ray gingham and a skilful cheek-slapping solo.  Reet…now there’s some ‘brum-t-t-tuh’ ursonating richly, fupping my sonics.  Gosh…this is a tasty oyster to be gulped down whole.  A general Scottishness takes hold with gristle and blum; stiff wire wool scraping and beautifully played Dictaphone garble.  I almost trip over my big feet in my rush to turn it over as I’m aching for side two.  And that’s where my experiment has to end.  No system is perfect.  It’s darn near impossible to ignore the fact a voice immediately states…

I’m Ali Robertson

…in Ali Robertson’s voice, soon to be joined by a variety of other familiar burrs. This side is one long ‘game’ of read personal biographies all overlapping (stop-starting) set to strict rules that our cuddly despot is keen to enforce.  Waves of casual voice and chatter settle into strange rhythms – probably some mathematical fractal shit, interlocking as neat as a Rubik’s satisfying ‘click’.  So yeah…durrrr…it’s Ali Robertson and his handily titled Ali Robertson & Friends tape on the always brilliant Giant Tank label.

ali and friends

So my excellent friends, I hope that worked for you?  Me?  I’m refreshed and re-born!  My ears are prickling with cleansing static and expectation.

But tell me: how are you doing?

—ooOoo—

the machine slowly unfolds: joe murray on star turbine, poulsen & klapper, rogaland hot club, forest of eyes

March 26, 2015 at 8:36 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Martin Klapper & Claus Poulsen, Rogaland Hot Club – Og Senere Pa Eftermiddagen / Rogaland Styrende Organer (tape, Gold Soundz, GS#125, edition of 25)

Star Turbine – Alterations (CD-r, SKRAT Records, skr-017)

Forest of Eyes – Leaf Litter (CD-r or download, self-released)

RFM Poulsen_Klapper 2

Martin Klapper & Claus Poulsen, Rogaland Hot Club – Og Senere Pa Eftermiddagen / Rogaland Styrende Organer

I picked this beauty up from the Goldsoundz gaucho himself Sindre Bjerga during his recent half-term jaunt to the UK with Claus Poulsen.  I’m always up for a trade but was doubly delighted to see the name Martin Klapper splashed across the carefully folded collage cover.  For me Martin’s sounds were an important entry point into an underground alternate reality where toys take a seat in the orchestra and accident holds an unreliable baton to conduct.

I asked Claus with my eyes ashine:

How did you hook up with the Klapper man?

and

Martin?  He lives round the corner from me,

…came the nonchalant reply from Claus.

Good golly!  I almost ran home to jam this silvery prize right there and then but resisted like a good human and took my time.

The seven short tracks from Klapper/Poulsen are total knockabout junk-core of the highest order. No moment is left un-squirmed.  The pace is busy like a chicken-pox itch with layers of ‘huzzzzz’, ‘hok-ko-kok’ and ‘charrrr’ expertly mixed so it’s almost tumbling into chaos but pulls itself back from the brink every time.

The attendant floppings are not in any way naive or frivolous.  Using toys, doo-dahs and soft furnishings in your music is no easy option.  You’ve got to search the possibilities as lovingly as any extended technique merchant.

The stop-start, juddering of micro-musical moments ticks my Tom & Jerry box in thick black marker.  It’s delightful to surrender to the ‘quacks’ and belches letting my brain process this particular Technicolor moment, and another, and another, and another until the grey stuff is left panting and fagged out.

I will never tire of this approach.  It’s the very sound of spontaneous invention for heaven’s sake!  It gives me the same warm glow as discovering that the sonorous snoring behind me is actually the start of a vintage Usurper or Drenching jam randomly selected for my rusty earbuds.  Turn on, Tune in, Flop out.

Rogaland Hot Club are another name I’ve wanted to catch up with for a long while now.  A Norwegian super-group (Sindre Bjerga, Anders Gjerde and Pål Asle Pettersen) made up of only Ginger Bakers this 21 minute collage of live/non-live jams all smeared together is a master class in group improvisation.  Most of us agree that music is a social activity and, as a result, the interactions between individuals in groups are one rich area of both business and pleasure.

The Hot Club play on the skronk, the sound of overloaded equipment peaking redly and knead it into unselfish group moaning and caterwauls; a King Midas of agonies hawked out by specially trained sea lions, so close you can almost smell their fishy rewards.

At the 9 mins 30 mark exactly the scene changes to a surviving audience recording of Suicide’s only Scandinavian date.  Those tricky voltage differences pitched all their Casio beats too low for a US crowd but it was perfect for the winter walkers who break out the hjemmebrent to dance like their sensible shoes are covered in foul-smelling glue.   A paddle-puddle-battle takes the place of an interval until the show gets closed by the cops, hauling in their own sound system playing Barrington Levy at ear splitting volume – backwards – as they take turns to ‘singjay’ the pages and pages of overtime claims in a newly discovered Atlantian dialect, incomprehensible to us land dwellers.

One lone voice remains, spoiling the ballots in a confused tone.

Gosh…this is one heady rush.  Available in tiny quantities; there’s only 25 copies in the whole wide world.  Move swiftly my dear reader, move with sureness and speed or let this opportunity pass you by forever.

RFM Star Turbine

Star Turbine – Alterations

This upstanding duo of Sindre Bjerga and Claus Poulsen have come a long way in the last few years. Their collective name Star Turbine is well chosen as their first set of recordings were very much the sound of the ion drive, the Dylithium raga and ‘Set the controls for the heart of the sun’ omni-chord workouts.  But all things change, even in the field of deep space research, and in 2015 we hear a very different sound-world pumping from Claus and Sindre’s sci-fi drone pipes.

The two live pieces that make up this ‘tour only’ disc are real heavy journeys into the unknown.  The lengthier ‘Leiden’ starts in the foothills of some imagined country and hikes carefully up a frozen mountain.  Electrick brooks, bubbling happily down below, become ferocious and dangerously sly underfoot the further you climb.  The pretty, crisp frost gets deeper and sloppier until each boot crunch sends up explosive plumes of fine white dust, peppering the air with paranoia and panic spores.  The trees, naturally, become spare and sparse.  The odd rough limb points skywards, blackened against the snow pointing an accusing finger to some jealous deity in the clear night sky.

And then… it’s all calm.  The occasional goat bell chimes mournfully and echoes across the valley.  Your shortwave radio picks up astronaut interference; they could be reciting poetry or sending a panic-flaming SOS, but you’re too worn out from the day’s exertions to really care.  The ‘clicks’ and ‘burrs’ of speech just manage to fight through the static, lulling you to sleep to dream of Spanish guitars played with lobster claws and melting butter.

‘Dawn Voyage’ seems to pick up the journey mid-dream with that familiar ‘same but different’ trick my subconscious loves to play on me.

Skip loads of the river bed silt are brushed and combed by some gently purring machine.  For hours it labours, occasionally letting out a gasp of steam or erotic sigh of pleasure.  By morning the silt has all gone, processed away and the machine slowly unfolds, like a lotus flower, to reveal a small statue of Niels Bohr shimmering like some solid state disco ball.  Steve Lacy asks to borrow my headphones then complains loudly they are not the Beats he expected.  I wake up with a question on my lips…

forest of eyes - leaf litter

Forest of Eyes – Leaf Litter

If you check out the link to this beguiling new record from Forest of Eyes you’ll notice Mark Wardlaw’s mission statement for his FoE project:

Rescuing folktronica from the blahs

After a good old listen to this collection of songs and environments, at home and on the move, I can conclude that ‘yes’ Mark has accomplished this mission.  Folktronica consider yourself rescued!

But Leaf Litter does so much more than that.  Forest of Eyes has re-engaged the underground ‘folk’ debate to such a new level he demands a fresh chapter in Electric Eden.

Sure enough you have the sound of wide skies, painful loneliness and horizontal grey sleet recorded direct to mobile phone.  Yup…you’ve got medieval instrumentation: your dulcimers, your fiddles your concertinas and of course your good old bowed psaltery.

But this very ordinary looking disc takes the sonic disturbance of folk (the jarring frequencies in voice and subject matter, the stubby finger in the ear) and overlays them with a carefully attuned appreciation of the everyday noise of life.  It does this in two distinct ways.  Firstly there are the songy-songs tinkered with gently, ribbed for your pleasure.

But a new world is opened with the longer pieces.  They tip their hat to the traditional song form of course but quickly kick its shins with a steel-toed clog.  But it’s not leg pain that keeps you awake at night; it’s the mead-based Mickey that you can’t quite forget.  The deft shift of brain waves that calls you back for more over the freezing hills.

So first the songs: the scene is set with an apocalyptic instrumental ‘Regeneration Scheme Cancelled’ – a choir of thin keening tones played on a tortured dulcimer and pipe contraction (the atomically powerful bombard perhaps) making medievalists weep with its delicious modern primitive style.

You want a murder ballad?  Well all you Nick Cave types take note to check out ‘Edward’, a cyclical tale that sets a new low for misery with its plaintive verse over a deep breathing drone.  Both beautiful and disturbing.

And the father’s lament ‘Weary Cutters’ is sung a capella with a forlornness that’s magnified by its cliff hanging ending.  There’s no happy ever after feeling… it just tails off into an agonising emptiness.

So what’s left?  These are the meaty chunks…

Riot batons crash against police shields in a direct act of provocation to open ‘Strike Breaking Bastards’ a stunning, but very grimy, very cellular song-within-a-song that seamlessly incorporates the traditional Blackleg Miner with the sort of clank you’d expect on a Prick Decay record and the aforementioned politically-tinged faux field recording.  This is brave work!

A brief noise interlude that begins ‘Poachers Killing Police’ clears the head with a sharp and creaking concertina and explosive machine-breaking, then words courtesy of North Yorkshire Police add a social commentary that’s far more powerful and thought-provoking than any Dog-on-a-string nonsense. (Baton down the hatches Ed – that’s bound to upset the punk primadonnas [Editor’s note: not fussed]).

I’m pretty sure this is turning out to be a god-damn IMPORTANT record before I even sip on the final, black psychedelic slush of ‘Mouldering Vine’.  This is an hypnotic and nauseously overlapping tune that’s as truly twisted as a Sun City Gurls ram-jam spliced with Richard Youngs’ innocent weirdness (Lake era).  The killer fade-out, like a pale sun disappearing over a damp horizon, is the perfect melancholic masterstroke.

—ooOoo—

Gold Soundz

Skrat Records (yes, the disc was ‘tour only’ but no harm in asking…)

Forest of Eyes

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