growling sharp: ludo mich, syed kamran ali, pascal nichols

June 11, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Ludo Mich with Syed Kamran Ali & Pascal Nichols – The Wet Black Poodle Transforms (CD, Singing Knives, SK019)

ludo mich - wet black poodle

I dunno about you, but I find vocal improv pretty hard going.  Given its growing prevalence in the no-audience underground, however, I realise that I may be in the minority.  I see the appeal: it has an earthy immediacy, it requires little kit (none, at its purist) and it necessarily injects some theatre into a ‘noise’ performance.  Anyone who isn’t awed by seeing human-Tom-and-Jerry-cartoon Skot Spear work his magic live as Id M Theft Able should probably just give up and stay at home.  My RFM co-conspirator Joe Murray’s experiments with constipated gurning (‘the brown sound’) have made me laugh out loud on the bus.  The canine, gutter-angst of Yol is as compelling, dramatic and darkly humorous as footage of a polar bear circling a shed full of terrified wildlife photographers.  But, but, but… the whooping, clicking, lip-smacking and yelling of common or garden ‘gurglecore’ (this terrifically dismissive tag coined by Phil Todd) generally leaves me cold.

This is for two reasons.  Listening to my baby son cooing, snuffling and gargling with his own spittle is, of course, charming and fascinating but listening to an adult performer doing the same is usually just boring.  As a matter of personal preference, these sounds don’t hold my attention.  The second reason has to do with the state of my health.  I’ve suffered with depression for pretty much my whole adult life, I’ve been on various medications for over 15 years and am periodically disabled by it for noteworthy lengths of time.  There is no ‘up side’ – the whole business is a massive fucking drag.  I see no reason to celebrate it, nor can my illness be ‘mined’ for insight.  Thus I see art that plays with madness, which gurglecore does with its affected tics and mimicking of craziness, as suspect.  Sometimes I’m tempted to take a pretty hard line: the crappest gurglecore is to mental health as blacking up is to race.

So when is it OK?  I guess when it is the properly thought through consequence of a lifetime of uncompromising creative endeavour, when it is part of a wider artistic context challenging the norms of communication and representation – say the neo-Dada tradition of Fluxus – and when it is performed with gusto and total commitment, ideally in the company of two other skilful, multi-instrumentalist, improvising musicians.  Then it might be exhilarating…  Hang on a minute the post has just arrived – Oh! Package from Singing Knives – what do we have here?  Over to label head honcho Jon:

In November 2011 legendary Flemish Fluxus artist, performer and filmmaker Ludo Mich performed a series of concerts in the UK with Syed Kamran Ali (Harappian Night Recordings) and Pascal Nichols (Part Wild Horses Mane on Both Sides). This glass-mastered art-edition CD presents the recordings from the Manchester and Sheffield performances which were even more incendiary than the London show (see here: video at cafe oto).

Ideal.  I saw these guys in the flesh at the Fox & Newt on the Leeds leg of this tour.  It was a short, blistering set augmented with film projections that gave it the feel of a ‘happening’.  Flanked by his two young band mates, within three minutes this distinguished looking European pensioner was doing the ‘dying fly’: on his back on the stage kicking his legs in the air.  I dug it, it felt like the real deal.  I can’t pretend I knew anything about Mr. Mich’s lengthy career beforehand but I recommend you set aside some time to root through the results of a Google search.  Those interested in performance art, holography, the fluxus movement and naked people from the 1970s will find much to enjoy.

This CD, packaged in the attractive fold-out cover pictured above, documents two other sets from the same trip, totalling about 34 minutes.  The music is muscular but leavened with humour and nuanced enough to keep its flavour over repeat listens.  Each piece begins with a passage of relatively quiet feet-finding as Ludo barks and gasps and Pascal and Syed answer with pattering percussion and discrete squeaking.  Recognizable words begin to form in the swirl and dada incantations follow, interspersed with rasping yelps, menacing snuffling and theatrical chortles.  The accompanying percussion is impressively elastic, whipping time around Ludo’s flailing limbs.  The rest is an almost unplaceable concoction of strings – plucked, bowed, rattled, scraped – rinsed and squeezed through some occult electronics.  It resists analysis – gaze into it and it gazes back at you, unblinking, then leers and darts out of reach.  I don’t know how much rehearsal time the trio had prior to playing but it seems like a tight unit with everyone listening to each other.  Pascal and Syed support Ludo’s raving like cool-headed parents administering a dose of Calpol to a wriggling and uncooperative infant (yes, fatherhood is providing me with a whole new batch of similes).  In summary: excellent stuff that I highly recommend you check out.

Given the quality of the package, the £6 all-in (for UK orders, more for overseas) that Singing Knives are asking seems very reasonable indeed.  Buy here.

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