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: 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


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.


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…


Invisible City Records

psychedelic domestic: joe murray on karl m v waugh, duncan harrison, lost wax

April 28, 2015 at 3:08 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Karl M V Waugh – unnamed murk (coagulated detritus may 2014 – january 2015) (download,

Karl M V Waugh – Varnish Crease EP (download,

Duncan Harrison – Others Delete God (tape or download, Reckno)

Lost Wax – The Poacher (CD-r, Chocolate Monk, choc.304, edition of 60)

kmvw - murkkmvw - crease

Karl M V Waugh – unnamed murk (coagulated detritus may 2014 – january 2015) and Varnish Crease

A lazy, taking a line for a walk, kind of listen.  That’s no criticism readers.  I’m loving this particular ramble with Karl; round the town, out past the betting shop and onto the Downs, chatting and shooting the shit as we wander.

These unnamed murk pieces are poor orphans (coagulated detritus indeed) with no home to go to.  And for me that makes things all the more interesting.  Are you telling me these pieces don’t fit into your soundworld Karl?  Man…I gotta check out these oddballs – they are going to be the nuts.

The modus operandi remains classic K M V Waugh – an object or technique is picked up and fiddled with for a while and each possible combination of rubbing, striking, bowing and blowing rained down until all options are exhausted.

‘Bread Failure’ dances with some close mic rustle, jazz-gob, fake sine wave feedback loops and acoustic guitar fumble as crispy as an early 2000’s Usurper jam.  ‘Close Net’ starts with a slo-mo rave synth trapped in a bathysphere; the two Navy SEALS having it large while contact with the surface is registered in day-glo Morse and trippy emoticons.  Outside the Angler Fish get anxious with stress-harps.  Blimey, Jacques Cousteau couldn’t get this low.  ‘Nada Test’, the most lovely one of the lot, is an untutored, unconscious guitar/balalaika/mandolin (?) improvisation heavy on the Korean and Rembetika influences.  There’s pure innocence in this playing, a passionate exploration and experimentation that’s scrabbling but at all times searching for a melody to grasp out of the clear blue sky.  The last 2 minutes of this 21 minute piece add a slight distortion giving you a soft landing destination.

This mini-album, the wonderfully titled Varnish Crease, is an 18 minute smeared collage, a bold painting in Bovril hues.

Industrial grot (a malfunctioning PEZ dispenser perhaps?) and novelty dice dropped into a chunky whiskey tumbler form the base coat to KMVW’s meta-poetry. Like several porridge-slugged mouths reading their dreams simultaneously this has a head-fudge quality.  Ever been lost in a crowd?  This mimics that slight panic and claustrophobic feel exactly.

Wonk-hop snatches of sound are introduced like RZA’s all blunted on Funeral Dance Party; a South Coast One Wobbly Egg.  In fact this whole crease has a real Cidershed feel with that slight tint of threat added to the vulnerability.

Essential listening for any young dream-voyager.

duncan - delete

Duncan Harrison – Others Delete God

Pearls dipped in butter swirling round the palm of a brown giant.  The slick tones fill the smooth handful; fingers wiggle to spread the flutter.

This is a disarmingly charming and hypnotically beautiful opener from his holiness Duncan Harrison.

Gurble-gobs, slop and slobber the lazy consonants and sighs that very skitter with finger-manipulated tape skank.  It soon turns into pigs grunting quick enough (oink oink oink) and a sonic Richard Scarry cartoon of crash-bang-wallop.

A water butt slowly fills with rancid treacle as tiny black imps dance around the bloated barrel, slapping their bulbous bellies and blowing crimson smoke rings.  A watchful Duncan scoops up the imps and ingests them all a-wriggle, recording their hapless plummet down his gullet.

But please don’t take my sub-Stan Lee dribbling as evidence of sonic goofiness, cynically used to leap-frog to the desired ends (freedom, bliss, ecstasy etc).  Repeated listens to this humble tape reveal this to be a mature work, a self-assured work, a personally resonant work floating slowly into my consciousness.  There’s no reliance on underground clichés here.  The psychedelic-domestic of bus number recital, buffeting wind noise, slow chip-pan ‘pop’ and throaty Gatwick roar have filled my heart with honey and my head with sleepy nutmeg.

Side one ends with another real-life vignette, this time trad-jazz busker (think bowler hat and pinstripe waistcoat) overlaid flinty guitar pluckage (think sloppy Arran jumper and orthopaedic shoes) bringing two worlds together – the beach front and the bedsit – into a tangy-sharp fragment.

Side two opens with a wanking mumble, a half remembered dream of the time John Noakes applied Chopin’s poesie sonore methods in the Blue Peter garden (don’t bother to ‘YouTube’ it.  This nugget was never televised and then destroyed on direct instructions from Biddy Baxter.) as the tape edits flutter around his West Riding glottal stops.

Valhalla opens its gates to welcome another fallen hero.  For a time the drunken revelry quietens and the bard’s horn plays mournfully through the mist.  Shields become bronze gongs beaten with a soft as the captured skald drones on.

Back in the studio Duncan dons his silk gown and adopts the Crane stance blowing on flesh bassoon until a feeder tape of allotment gristle joins the sound mix like it was the most natural thing in the world.  Birds aimlessly chirrurp and flapper and cast iron tools are tinkled like collectible glass bells.  I can feel the late afternoon sun in this recording baking my neck and making me sleepy.  This. Is. Delicious.

A game-changing tape from D Harrison.  It looks innocent enough for sure; but this tape’s got a confident swagger that’s unmatched right about now.

lost wax - poacher

Lost Wax – The Poacher

Super-classy Musique Concrete from Ben Morris that takes full advantage of the far-flung places he’s laid his loveable mop-top over the last couple of years (China, Vietnam and even Derbyshire).

The Poacher is split into three parts, each third revealing a different side to Lost Wax, that unlock and fold out on hidden brass hinges.  Let’s look inside…

The first third, ‘The Sun is a Hammer’, takes clear recordings of tin parakeets, smoke-train rumble and happy-clapping ritual and slices them up nice with a razor like some heavy radiophonicia dripping secretly out of 1970s Bulgaria.

The pace is stately, like a nurse on a bike, as Ben adds layers of hiss and schloop weaving them into a tapestry fit for a medium-sized town hall.  But before we can even jiggle a heavy chain of office beautiful voices creak out of the floorboards.  They soar and float like rainbows.  Flutes trill.  I swoon.

Next we visit the watch menders convention for ‘Time Travel Corrodes the Mind’.  A hired drummer fiddles with his high-hat (fairly obsessively tiss-tiss-tiss) as the cummerbunded MC beckons in a phalanx of beach balls full of gaseous hippy crack.  The massed horologicalists look up from their chaotically ticking handfuls but relax as Ben, safely at the controls, squeezes out a rhythmic pulse for the cast-iron disco crowd.  Tapes of paranoid mumbling (source: CIA bugs, Cuban Missile Crisis?) bookend the track as several men bend aluminium picture frames in your left ear.

This tasty trio is completed by ‘Home, Exhuming a Shed.  Imagine F.M. Einheit getting ready for a date (checklist – red rose, lump hammer, rusty chain, trumpet, gas canister) dressing in his best dungarees with bear-grease controlling his wanton quiff.

Gnarled hands rip up steel casings and pummel a brass boiler with oranges.  The bright zest fills the air and this sudden change in atmosphere calms our man…his fingers caress the splintered keyboard moving from black to white.  Digit-shapes transfer from 3D geometry into calm sound-pools that sit gently rippling in the citrus breeze.



Chocolate Monk

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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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?

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.



[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.]

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?


amphibious, joyous, recorded in a cupboard: sophie cooper gets inside kirigirisu recordings

February 17, 2015 at 4:02 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 4 Comments
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Core of the Coalman – Amphibious Radost (CD-r, Kirigirisu Recordings, kgr004, edition of 50 or download)

Broken Shoulder – 300 Bicycle Seats (CD-r, Kirigirisu Recordings, kgr003, edition of 50 or download)

Sonotanotanpenz – 3 (CD-r, Kirigirisu Recordings, kgr002, edition of 50 or download)

kirigirisu recordings logo

[Editor’s note: who’s that banging on the door with a bottle in each hand!?  Yes, party people – say hello to Sophie Cooper, the third and final new member of the RFM crew.  As well as being an artist and musician of quiet brilliance, Sof has a proven track record of making rad things happen in her home town of Todmorden under the name Tor Bookings.  I couldn’t be happier to have her here and am delighted that she is already making intercontinental friends as a result of the music slid her way.  Over to Sof…]


I should start by saying a big ‘TA DUCK!’ to Rob for getting me involved in this blog of his. I’ve been a fan of RFM for a long time now and I guess what draws me to it is the fact that the writing is honest and positive. Simple things but they float my boat. [Editor’s note: *blushes again*]

For my first assignment I have been tasked with reviewing a handful of albums from Tokyo based label Kirigirisu Recordings run by Londoner, Neil Debnam. According to their Facebook page:

There is no label sound, the thing that ties the releases together is the enthusiasm of the label founders to present the music to a larger audience and the independent spirit of the musicians.

…meaning the guy puts out music that he likes, right on. I had a natter with him about the label and found out that it’s been going for about a year now and that Kirigirisu means ‘Cricket (or grasshopper)’.

coalman - radost

Core of the Coalman – Amphibious Radost

First up is music from Jorge Boehringer and his release Amphibious Radost. What struck me on first listen was how very visual this recording is.  I imagined myself sitting next to a pond, mid-summer, listening to the rhythmic dripping of a water feature. If I’m honest, the cover featuring a few amphibians in a pool did help conjure this vision somewhat but still… the music is very evocative of the scene. I asked Jorge if the music was what happened if you licked one of the frogs on the cover and his response was that he wouldn’t recommend anyone actually tried it because:

…that stuff isn’t tested.

The release is one track, almost 50 minutes long, consisting of ongoing repetition of short phrases working together in layers. These aren’t looped though. The simple viola lines are labouriously played over and over, dropping in and out, and you do notice subtle differences as the work unfolds. The phrases of viola are at different paces and lengths resulting in varying combinations of the same sound flowing in an incredibly relaxing, mantra like, way.

This piece is successful particularly because the layers don’t build up to a massive audible climax, instead remaining subtle throughout.  However, perhaps because of the length of time you remain involved in the music, it does become something quite large and tangible. In Jorge’s words the sound patterns end up looking like a wave, kind of like a Bridget Riley painting.  A beautiful piece of music.

broken shoulder - 300

Broken Shoulder – 300 Bicycle Seats

Broken Shoulder is the solo project of label owner Neil Debnam and listening to this made me realise why he would choose to put out Amphibious Radost because the two albums have very similar feels to them, both warm and upbeat. The record is interesting because it incorporates a lot of different instrumentation on each track, with the focus on which is ‘lead’ instrument shifting, yet the welcoming mood stays the same throughout.

On ‘Aqualine’, we hear a song with minimalist leanings, there’s an overt synth pulse over far away organ sounds and field recordings. Then in the next track ‘Rotary Planes / Thirteen More’, Neil plays major key fuzzy guitar over a repetitive synth bass drone line and it’s the sort of song I could listen to on repeat, it’s just so joyous and uplifting.

sonotanotanpenz - 3

Sonotanotanprez – 3

I’m instantly sold after hearing just a few seconds of this record, this is pretty much my favourite kind of music! It’s made by two women from Japan singing and talking over super simple keyboard accompaniment, pre-made beats, hand bells and quiet guitars. Wish I knew what they were singing about but that doesn’t matter too much because it sounds like it was recorded in a cupboard well after bedtime was suppose to happen and one track is barely audible.  These are things I like a lot.

The album is a mixture of crazy jams and well composed songs all delivered in a lo-fi style. I imagine the recording sessions were a case of stick the recorder in the corner and go for it, you can even hear the occasional cough from one of the performers. To me this is the best type of music, it feels incredibly genuine and away from influence or worry about what’s fashionable.

I often refer to this type of music as “small music” meaning I could imagine being myself becoming really small, and then crawling into it for a nice lie down.

In conclusion: Kirigirisu Recordings, seek out and enjoy! I’m going to be keeping a tab on how the label develops for sure.


Kirigirisu Recordings

sea, souvenirs, spice: luke vollar on grisha shakhnes, seth cooke and early hominids

January 8, 2015 at 11:28 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Grisha Shakhnes – Distance and Decay (CD, organized music from thessaloniki, t24, edition of 200)

Seth Cooke – Sightseer (3” CD-r, organized music from thessaloniki, t25, edition of 100)

early hominids – palpate (CD-r, zanntone, 000)

grisha shakhnes - distance and decayseth cooke - sightseer

Grisha Shakhnes is a Moscow born, Tel Aviv based individual. I’ve heard of him before as he has a record released on Glistening Examples, the label run by American tape fiddler and conceptualist Jason Lescalleet. There are some obvious similarities between the two as both use obsolete recording devices to blur and confuse what is recorded and what is an artefact of the recording – are we hearing the inner workings of a tape machine or is this a field recording made ghostly with ferric oxide?

There are no details provided with Grisha’s disc just the enigmatic, lovely artwork and title. There are sounds that hang in space as if suspended in water, their movements as slow and methodical as a giant sea creature. Indeed, when I try to put into words the sounds of this disc I invariably end up with an aquatic theme. At one point I imagined a mini-sub coming across a metropolis on the ocean floor, its occupants staring slack jawed at the enormous structures of neon lights and chrome towers churning out geysers of bubbling water. Later I hear a game of snooker played under a waterfall before the sad lament of a female voice in an alien tongue is buried beneath the gloop of machine malfunction. A somnambulant feeling is maintained throughout the 75 minute duration making it an unwise choice for your car stereo but a great soundtrack for full time dreamers.

Seth Cooke presents us with an entirely different beast on his little disc. He lists his tools as:

no recording, recording and no input field recording

No, me neither. Whilst ‘Cape Coast Seashell Bowed On Minster-on-Sea Shore’ informs us of its method of execution, the other titles reveal very little other than a rye [Editor’s note: sic, but what a great typo! I’m keeping that one in] sense of humour: ‘If You Only Listen To One FLAC This Year’ being a prime example. The mood is lonely, with voyeuristic overtones. At one point I could hear Seth releasing a caged pigeon to fly around a dimly lit multi-story car park. In other moments a faceless individual impassively views a seaside location, now devoid of human life. A sense of disquiet is achieved as a recording of, essentially, nothing is gradually enhanced with surgical precision only to be abruptly cut off just as it starts to become uncomfortable then switched for grizzled distortion swiftly followed by ghostly tones receding dimly. I have to say the more I listen to this, the more impressed I am with the craft and thought that has gone into it. Seth has used the format of a 3″ disc to fit in a lot of ideas though it never feels overcrowded.

Both artists make ample use of field recordings and both presumably use some form of processing for further confusion. Where Grisha’s sounds are in no hurry to get anywhere and are blurred by the use of cassette tapes, Seth’s sounds are clear and shrapnel sharp with abrupt editing and unexpected changes in colour and tone. Seth’s espresso to Grisha’s grande latte, if you will.

early hominids - palpate

I’ve seen early hominids, the duo of Paul Walsh and Neil Campbell, play a few times and part of the pleasure is marveling at the collection of noise kit spread before them: a couple of light activated boxes that fizz and crackle in response to strobes, like an angry serpent disturbed from its slumber, and all manner of odd looking stuff, presumably soldered together in a shady basement with the fiendish duo shouting ‘it’s alive, ALIVE!’ as it bleeps itself awake. One show in particular sticks in my mind from a few years ago at the Fox and Newt in Leeds. Paul and Neil created a Technicolor psych noise juggernaut that vibrated the tiny room while threatening to levitate the whole darned boozer into another dimension. It was what I’d always hoped Incapacitants would sound like: noise as the ultimate euphoric wig flipper.

The boys are in a more restrained mood here but their electronic gadgets still stutter and belch as if barely controlled by their probing fingers. Rather than batter us with a relentless sonic barrage the sounds are allowed to rise and fall into pleasingly awkward shapes. As I am hypnotized and my head begins to nod I visualize the two of them face to face over a table of wires and boxes creating a slurry of rich and spicy noise blarts while occasionally reaching for the ever present ale that fuels them. ‘Tis good stuff I tell thee.


organized music from thessaloniki

not sure if the homs CD-r remains available – try contacting Paul via the zanntone bandcamp page or via that Twitter.

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

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

thomas family completethomas family under constructionthomas family insert

First, the specifications:

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

Second, the music:

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

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

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

In summary: this is fucking great.

Third, the package:

Quoting Andy, these CDs are

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

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

Fourth, the conclusion:

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

A truly essential purchase.


Crow Versus Crow

fever dreams of a plush boob: joe murray on no basement is deep enough

November 5, 2014 at 9:39 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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Alvaro: The Chilean with the Singing Nose – 1978 (tape, No Basement is Deep Enough, NBIDE#27, edition of 60 packaged in ‘breast-shaped construction’)

Fleshtone Aura – Wet Cocomo (tape, No Basement is Deep Enough, NBIDE#29, edition of 55 packaged in ‘triffid-shaped construction’)

Lieven Martens Moana – The Volcano, The Night that precedes all, and a hymn for Paul Gauguin (tape, No Basement is Deep Enough, ‘purple tape in leather-look wallet painted and bubbling faecal mess’)

Horaflora – No Roof is High Enough (tape, No Basement is Deep Enough, NBIDE#26, edition of 49, ‘blue tape wrapped up in multi-coloured plastic rope’)


Alvaro: The Chilean with the Singing Nose – 1978

A true original.   Grey-beard Alvaro was born in Chile in the 1940’s then moved to London as Punk gobbed and pogo-ed its way into the Bill Grundy Show.  For a time he was a 101’er, some cockney pre-punk pub-boys, with a bloke called Strummer but luckily he had the sense to move on before things got stale and boring.

Rejecting Punk’s uniform but rejoicing in easy-listening, avant-garde composition and wonderful daftness in three equal parts Alvaro sits down at his piano to come up with…err… I’m not quite sure.

To my tender ears I can pick out something that sounds like the Goon’s Bluebottle (possibly a quality of the nose) with the magic-realist lyrics of an Ivor Cutler.  Songs concern themselves with a number of domestic situations: a love of honey, mothers milk and in one case being made of wood.  But this never comes across a faux-naive or affected, it’s all utterly convincing.

For me the piano sound is a big part of the draw.  It does that wonderful swooping thing, a slightly warped thing, making it all sound wide-eyed like Charlie Brown cartoons.  An instant memory-bomb that detonates in less complicated times.

These lovely piano-led songs are punctuated by the occasional spoken word spiel, sax bleat or drums to keep it spicy.  But it’s all kept simple and pretty uncluttered with the kind of frail gossamer-touch that Robert Wyatt musters up.

Side one ends with an augmented domestic field recordings (dentist chatter/water running/tuneless singing/plastic pipe whistle) that is as bang up-to-date as anything in the no-audience underground today.

You could waggle that ‘outsider artist’ card if you like but I think that’s a bit of a red herring.  I think Alvaro (recording here in 1978) is exactly where he wants to be, doing exactly what he wants to do with confidence and, with a quality you don’t get every day, charm.

Fleshtone Aura

Fleshtone Aura – Wet Cocomo

OK.  You wrestle with the Triffid/Venus Fly Trap package and stick the tape in.  You ponder, is this jizz any good or what?

Thankfully the oval sounds within match the green construction without.

Fleshtone Aura is the one and very Andrew Zuckerman, half of mung-faves Gastric Female Reflex and involved in the very collectable Beniffer Editions label.

Found sound, loops and accidental damage are the kings here all netted up and laid out like noxious butterflies.  Fleshtone Aura provides the base material and it’s the listener that has to join the dots into <><><><><><> patterns.  Are you ready readers?

The different approaches work well.  Found tapes of ‘X Factor-style’ auditions are charming and cheeky, the Wii sounding electronics frothy like bubble tea.  Recorded cat squeals and deep throated bilge nestle up against brightly-blurring vash.  But the scratched electronics stop anything becoming over-twee.  The velocity is generally quick…the edit pieces are less music concrete and more attention deficit disorder channel-hopping but there’s plenty of space to stretch out and enjoy the fuzz if you are patient.

The teenage rampage card is played several times but FAura can’t help being god-damn classy on the tape’s closer, ‘Gomer’s Frontispiece’, in which wet digital clicking pitches against brass horn (downtuned) like the kinda thing Scott Walker should be thinking of next.

Listen or buy here or see NBIDE links below.

Lieven Martens Moana

Lieven Martens Moana – The Volcano, The Night that precedes all, and a hymn for Paul Gauguin

Real name realness from Dolphins into the Future main-mung.  DITF were the red-hot tip a year or two ago, name checked in Pitchfork and The Guardian.  We dig a little deeper here at Radio Free Midwich so here’s an early pitch of the solo, real name project.  Always an interesting prospect that when a moniker-beard goes back to the birth name.  Must mean something; a glimpse under the rug?  A trueness of intention?

The jams on this handsome purple tape are superb right from the off.  Deep gaseous whales moan and croon churning the briny and vibrating atom to atom with greater efficiency than through air.  Therefore the ‘gungs’ and ‘tungs’ meet my ear and melt into the fibrous bristle within.  Like wallpaper paste its thick and gloopy but strong with purpose, an aid to mesmerism perhaps?  The final snatch of close-vocal harmony (recorded in a Paris side-street) snaps me from my stunned state and prepares me to get up and turn this fella over.

Side two is an extended vocal piece for voices and recorded tape titled ‘Lava (The Bells from Above)’.  It’s beautifully tropical with a Howler Monkey vibe that moves to greedily rising tones surging onwards and onwards, higher and higher like pure sine waves until my merely human ears become useless.  The final section blends the sounds of the Maldives (noisy birds and insects) with a sonorous gong adding its own bronze gravity.

There’s a beautiful laziness to these recordings.  I don’t mean things are careless or idle.  They take their own time to do what they need to do and, as a result of that, force you to too.  Prepare these for the cocktail hour!  Meet me on the veranda with a Mint Julep at six o’clock.


Horaflora – No Roof is High Enough

Horaflora  is just one guy going by the name of Raub Roy.  He seems to be a busy fella up to his eyes in sonic experiments with a whole flotilla of names, dudes and radgies.

On this little tape he’s pretty much on his own, crouched on a rooftop, recording Cambodian Singing Kite Bows.  Singing bows give off a harsh buzzing as the wind rushes by; loud enough to scare away squirrels and deep enough to summon the spirits.  It’s not a gazillion miles away from the vibrations of a throat-singing guy but with the added twinkle of bells and very subtle sound manipulation it’s an altogether prettier listen.  Perfect if you are after something light, yet still with experimental credentials, at the end of a busy day.


No Basement Is Deep Enough – Discogs

No Basement Is Deep Enough – Soundcloud

No Basement Is Deep Enough – Flickr

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