wired for sound part 32: dispatches from culver

November 18, 2012 at 11:46 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Inseminoid – A Nun and a Mk 1 Escort Van/A Nude and a Mk 1 Escort Saloon (Cassette, Matching Head, MH 186)

culver & felss (Cassette, Matching Head, MH 187)

fordell research unit – Taste the Blood of Culver (Cassette, Matching Head 190)

Pact Of Ash – Demo (Cassette, Legion Blotan, BLOTTAPE022)

culver – hand of ice (CD-r, basses frequences)


Close your eyes, stick your hand into my music collection and pull out an item at random.  The object you are now holding is more likely to be by Culver than by any other artist, such is the number of Lee Stokoe’s releases that I have amassed.  I’ll repeat the general reasons why I love Lee’s projects in future posts (or interested readers can adjourn here or here) but for now let’s keep it specific to the releases in hand.

The tape by Inseminoid – a duo of Lee and George Proctor – features two side long tracks, each of about twenty minutes duration.  I’ve no idea which one is ‘A Nude…’ and which is ‘A Nun…’ as the tape itself is not labelled (and was wound half way through when it arrived) so I’ll just describe each in the order encountered.

The first track I heard starts with a collage of snippets from films and TV soundtracks held together with a folksy, ‘from the old country’ violin tune.  Like Hasan Gaylani’s Popular Radiation, this seems to be a scrapbook constructed from cultural detritus snatched from the air as it blows about around us. These excerpts and loops, filtered and distorted, gradually become the noise.  As the layers slide over each other they are worn smooth until what remains is a ballooning, bassy feedback throb and the white noise of tape hiss amplified into the foreground.  The build-up is surprisingly gentle – like the apocryphal frog in the pan of water, you may not realise you are being boiled until it is too late.

The other side starts with a gravelly burbling, sploshing and happy voices buried in the mix.  A holiday recording of a trip across a bay in a knackered old ferry perhaps?  This pleasant scene is overlaid with some sunset guitar and is allowed to linger for the best part of ten minutes.  Rumble then takes over with some hard, rhythmic, electric scraping threatening to tear through.  The second half – a troll stomping on a woodland cabin, an eerie, hypnotic ringing loop, an ever-increasing blood-in-the-ears roar, a female choir singing just one note – starts with an almost fairytale feel, digs deep into the primal horrors that fairytales express and then pulls us back into the technological present at the end.  Very, very good.

The single track that comprises culver & felss has been constructed by the former from sounds supplied by the latter and is approximately 43 minutes long – it fills one side of a black C90 cassette.  After reviewing a terrific split cassingle that felss shared with Culver I listened to a bunch of stuff freely downloadable from their Bandcamp site and grooved on it extensively.  Some veers towards ambient electronics (apologies for the lazy phrase but there is a lot to get through today – forgive me), some has a shoegazey/flying saucer attack-ish splintering fuzz to it.  It’s accessible stuff, the release on Matching Head being from the noisier end of their work.

Regarding this tape, the culverisation of the source material begins almost immediately.  If felss is a giant, glistening, metallic blue dragonfly then Culver is the even larger carnivorous pitcher plant that it unwittingly flies into.  Less a collaboration than a slow, corrosive digestion.  The second movement lifts off as a bright shaft of sunlight illuminates the plant and the outline of the doomed creature can be seen silhouetted through the translucent red/green pitfall trap.  This change in texture is oddly moving.  At the end of the piece is a final twitch of the silvery wings and… that is that.

Taste The Blood Of Culver is absolutely brand spanking new from Fordell Research Unit, still warm from the Matching Head duplicators. These three tracks have been constructed by Fraser entirely from excerpts plucked from the Culver back catalogue, thus making it a sort of sister release to the culver & felss album.

‘Hmmm,’ you may be thinking, ‘one lo-fi dronester plays off another lo-fi dronester.  I can see where this is going’ and I have to admit you probably aren’t far off.  However, business as usual for Fraser and Lee is still a highly profitable enterprise.  Dividends include: three very different tracks (well, to an obsessive drone/noise fan) despite clearly being the product of the same aesthetic(s), Fraser’s choice of loops foregrounding the rhythmic element of Culver (an underappreciated aspect of Lee’s work) and it’s tidy 20ish minute length making it eminently rewindable.  I hope Fraser draws another pint from this rich vein soon.

The tape is housed in a wraparound pen-and-ink scene of Hammer-style gothic horror – see scan above. Pictures of this carefully rendered ilk have been turning up uncredited on Culver packaging recently. Who draws ’em? Lee? The world (that is: me) wants to know.

Pact Of Ash, a new solo project from Lee, is something of a departure.  What we have here are five tracks totalling about half an hour that could, at a push, be described as (whisper it) rock.  Well, a lyric-less, fuzzed out, distorted, garage punk version of rock but still some distance from his usual culvations.  This isn’t bass-heavy doom-sludge either but is relatively light on its feet.  Perhaps showing the influence of his new pals felss?  Maybe.

As the title Demo suggests, some of this is sketchy and has a ‘work in progress’ feel.  The simple riffing can smell a bit of teen bedroom metal.  Judge ye not though: nowt wrong with primitivism and when it gels, as it does on the magnificent third track, the ever-ascending guitar has an immediacy that is irresistible.  Hardcore Culver fans need not fret that this signals a permanent change in direction, however, as it doesn’t even last until the end of the album.  Track five – spoiler alert – ends swamped in noise and thoroughly smeared out.  The guy can’t help himself.

The hand of ice CD-r follows a pattern familiar from other recent Culver releases: a quiet beginning of melancholy guitar is swamped by waves of entropic noise only to rise again, albeit in a cruelly eroded form, towards the end.  Again, the process lasts three quarters of an hour.  Imagine an old man in a wooden shack filling an upturned hubcap with handfuls of silver jewellery.  He picks up a particular necklace, examines it, runs it through his fingers for a few minutes, unable to remember why he should remember.  Eventually he gives up, returns it to the pile, takes a large tin of tar that has been warming on the stove and slowly empties it into the hubcap, gradually drowning the valuables in sticky, oily blackness.

The Tomb of Alucarda is a split CD-r on Miguel Perez’s label Agorafobia containing two untitled tracks each lasting about half an hour.  It’s title is nicked from a Mexican horror film of the 1970s – Lee and Miguel are fans.  The Culver track is remarkable for its patience and control.  A low rumble exists in stasis for about 20 minutes then is joined by a half-buried metallic ringing.  This pulls the roar into a slow crescendo and at 30 minutes it cuts dead.  That’s it – truly minimal music.  Even to describe it as ‘music’ seems unnecessarily ornate.  What is it?  A process?  I’m not sure how to answer that question but I can say that it lulled me to sleep on several nights last week.  A lost memory of the womb?

The track by La Mancha Del Pecado, Miguel himself, has more fire underneath it.  This is a hot, earthy roar – a desert wind in the face that dries the lips but is strangely invigorating.  The last few minutes are transformed by a loud, rhythmic whomping announcing the arrival of a massive, misshapen, monolithic… what?  We don’t find out – it cuts dead on the half hour.  I dig this track too.  In the first couple of minutes there is a dog barking (and maybe the sound of a bird call but I think I am imagining that) which grounds the noise in a real location and helps give it a sense of place and scale.  A small detail, but important and I’m glad Miguel left it in.

Contact details for Lee can be found on the Matching Head Discogs page (though don’t hold your breath as he doesn’t have internet access at home and is away from work for a fortnight – a letter might be better than an email), Legion Blotan is here, basses frequences is here and Agorafobia can be contacted via Oracle Netlabel or Miguel can be emailed directly at lamancha@rocketmail.com.

black and white noise, part two: new from matching head

May 11, 2012 at 6:14 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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  • culver/felss – blood above the breath/familiar territories (split C15 tape, Matching Head 180)
  • Culver/Mutant Ape – They Walk Alone/Secret in Hiding (split C15 tape, edition of 32, Matching Head 181)
  • Gammal Sed – s/t (single-sided tape, Matching Head 183)

Lee Stokoe is a shaolin master of the photocopy aesthetic.  My love for the man, his music – especially his solo project Culver – and his label Matching Head has been comprehensively documented on these pages (click on tags above for more).  The Matching Head ‘look and feel’ is an instantly recognizable brand (a word you don’t see often here on RFM).  Its components are deceptively simple.  Text is created with a manual typewriter and literally cut and pasted onto the artwork.  The artwork is usually a photographic collage: sometimes abstract, sometimes surreal, often unsettling (see hand-in-the-foliage above).  Images are culled from the fringes of pop culture, of which Lee has an unrivalled archive.  Vintage porn (which I got prudish about here), transgressive cinema, pictures ripped from fashion magazines – all grist to the mill.  That these grim satires on pop culture are copied in brutal monochrome only adds to the darkly humorous nihilism.  The photocopy is the perfect medium in which to package this message.

The two split tapes, both packaged in Ziploc bags with wraparound covers, are home-made examples of that long forgotten genre: the cassingle.  Each is recorded on a C15 ‘Computape’ (you can imagine the 80s futurist font, I wonder where Lee found those?) thus each piece can be no more than a refreshing seven and a half minutes long.  Only one of the four tracks plays to the whistle, the rest – admirably, comfortably – fit within the confines of the format and even find time for fade outs.  Ahh… freedom through discipline.

Culver’s ‘blood above the breath’ is the only track cut by the end of the side, but it doesn’t feel truncated or excerpted.  A juddering two-note refrain is as creepily melancholy as a broken music box, yet feels drowsily resigned and peacefully hypnotic.  ‘familiar territories’ by Felss, a name new to me, is a polished little mechanism.  A disciplined few minutes of noise/drone, sophisticated and robust, which puts to shame others who say less at four times the length.

‘They Walk Alone’ see Culver hooded and traipsing across the tundra.  Tension is maintained with such efficiency that the one alteration to the dynamics, a simple change in tone, has the force of a blow to the back of the head.  Mutant Ape embraces the short running time by chucking as much shit around the cage as seven minutes will allow.  Bellowing power electronics is followed by milk-bottle skittles and tape skweee amped up to apocalyptic levels.  Yeah, fun.

The Gammal Sed tape is in some ways a more typical Matching Head release: single sided tape, one track which can be divided roughly into two parts, total running time of about 20 minutes.  However, in other ways it is completely mysterious.  The inlay carries no information at all, just the carefully crosshatched gothic illustration.  The cassette features the name of the band and/or album written, unhelpfully, in what I presume are runes and nothing else.  Now, I’m guessing you’ve already taken a stab at what this might sound like: some sort of doom metal, right?  Well, not entirely.  Metal, sure, but there is nothing sludgy or funereal about the pace nor is it bowel-churningly low-end.

The first movement hovers about two feet off the ground and is propelled effortlessly by jangling riffs.  The whole sound is drenched in distortion but it is the kind of fizzing, sparkling, echoing, recorded-in-a-spacecraft-hangar vibe beloved of disciples of garage-psych.  The second movement features a slower riff which is swiftly overtaken and swamped by a tidal wave of vibra-throb.  This is what I imagine metal as recorded by Flying Saucer Attack might sound like.  I’ve been backwards and forwards over this a bunch of times and I really dig it.

I’m delighted to repeat that, as far as I know, Matching Head still has no official internet presence.  However, should you wish to pursue this further, information about much of the back catalogue plus contact details for Lee can be found on the label’s surprisingly comprehensive Discogs page.  Go buy some tapes – a noise collection looks kinda funny without a Matching Head section.

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