Memories reworked and remembered again: Sophie Cooper on Anla Courtis and Vollar/Murray Tag Team on Culver versus Fordell Research UnitFebruary 6, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
Tags: alan courtis, anla courtis, argentina, culver, drone, field recording, fordell research unit, heavyness, joe murray, luke vollar, noise, sophie cooper
Anla 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.”
Tags: claus poulsen, drone, fordell research unit, fraser burnett, free doom, george proctor, gold soundz, i torquemada, improv, inseminoid, joe murray, lee stokoe, matching head, mike simpson, molotov, new music, no audience underground, noise, noise punk, nundungeon, oppenheimer, oracle netlabel, posset, sindre bjerga, singing knives, star turbine, tapes, vocal improvisation, xazzaz
posset – friction rivers (tape, Singing Knives Records)
sindre bjerga / posset – split (CD-r, gold soundz, gs#123, edition of 25)
star turbine / inseminoid / fordell research unit / xazzaz – nundungeon (CD-r, gold soundz, gs#122, edition of 25)
I, Torquemada – The Book, The Eye, The Scourge (download, Oracle Netlabel, ORE106)
Oppenheimer – Oppenheimer (CD-r, molotov, 26)
oppenheimer – js/ls/ms, js/ls/ms/mks (tape, Matching Head, mh202)
Inseminoid – Vanessa Howard’s Night Light (3” CD-r, Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.022, edition of 50 or download)
Surprisingly perhaps, given my status as long-term noise aficionado, I suffered my first ever migraine last week. Silver worms squirmed into the top right of my peripheral vision, wriggling downwards until their glistening made it impossible to read the newspaper I was holding. Then the left hand side of my face, upper jaw to receding hairline, seized up completely – as if a phantom of the opera mask was held clamped in place over the affected area. The pain made me feel nauseous but, in denial about what might be occurring, I decided that a few painkillers and a lie down would be sufficient treatment. The worst of it lasted about three hours.
During the following week my face and scalp remained ‘tight’ – the muscle under my left eye twitching like an oyster dripped with lemon juice. Worse though was a near constant state of seasickness which had me imagining I was swaying from side to side and made it difficult to sleep, to stomach food or to concentrate on everyday tasks. I took some time off work and visited my GP who was sufficiently concerned to prescribe some medication and insist that I saw her again if anything changed. My Dad suffered a minor stroke when he was about my age so we all wanted to make sure my brain wasn’t exploding.
Unfortunately, things deteriorated over the weekend and I reported even more, even stranger symptoms – a sunburnt feeling on my arms and hands being the weirdest – to my GP yesterday morning and she referred me immediately to Accident and Emergency at Leeds General Infirmary for a neurological assessment. I was at the hospital for six hours, four of which were spent waiting in A&E. I’ve been before in the evening and seen the bloody, alcohol-soaked horrorshow but the daytime parade of elderly patients rubbing numb limbs whilst spouses laughed nervously, each trying not to let on how frightened they were, was even more upsetting. Anyway, I eventually saw a bunch of doctors, had my noggin sliced with X-rays and got the all clear. Nowt wrong with me that a few painkillers and a lie down won’t see to.
Why am I telling you this? Well, it explains why I’m sat here typing instead of being out gallivanting. Given that all has not been well between my ears, medical opinion (and common sense) suggests that I should probably not press ’em up against the speakers at Wharf Chambers. The timing is heartbreaking as this week sees sets in Leeds from Neil Campbell, Popular Radiation, Spoils & Relics, BBBlood and RFM comrade Joe Murray as Posset. It would, of course, be a glorious way to go out – to have my head literally explode at the peak of a Paul Watson racket-crescendo, say – but my worried wife would much rather I was around to, y’know, help with the baby n’ all that. Thus here I am in Midwich Mansions, self-medicating my sulk with doses of noise from Tyneside, Edinburgh and Norway.
First then to my man Joe and his nom-de-gurgle Posset: a cassette monograph on the ever lovely Singing Knives and shared credit for a split with the ubiquitous Sindre Bjerga on the latter’s Gold Soundz imprint. Between the pair of them we are treated to a symphony for spittle and poorly-lubricated door hinge, a Punch and Judy show as performed by the inmates of Charenton Asylum directed by the Marquis de Sade, a fleet of aquatic budgerigars trilling, gargling and discussing the price of kelp, trainers squeaking on a basketball court during a game played by the anthropomorphic animal croquet teams from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, a wheelie bin full of post-midnight, soggy gremlins plotting mischief and a chipped vinyl Oliver Postgate storybook LP playing forlornly on a faulty wind-up gramophone. Occasionally in Sindre’s tracks some drone bleeds in as if his million other projects are leaking through a badly aligned tape head. Tremendous stuff, full of verve, exuberance and humour as well as a surprising and touching emotional range.
Speaking of Sindre’s million other projects: Star Turbine, his excellent duo with Claus Poulsen, leads off a compilation that could well have been curated with me in mind as the ideal listener. Four bands: Star Turbine, Inseminoid, Fordell Research Unit and Xazzaz – all favourites of mine – each donate a single 10(plus) minute track to a CD-r celebrating that line up playing the exquisitely named Nundungeon in Edinburgh earlier this year. The Turbs are in a playful mood, bringing Sindre’s current solo style to stamp gleefully around in the space afforded by their usual spacey drone. Inseminoid I will be coming onto shortly thus my later comments can be slotted in here: ‘______’. Fraser Burnett of Fordell Research Unit simply cannot put a foot wrong and his confident, expressive drone work is as satisfying as remembering there is an uneaten Easter egg still in the cellar head. Mike Simpson of Xazzaz is capable of exactly the same level of customer service but does it with added pedal-stomped, bristling loudness. Sindre had this one for sale on his recent jaunt ’round the UK – you better drop him a line to see if it is still available.
Mike Simpson also plays a part, I think, in both I, Torquemada and Oppenheimer – the former being a duo of Frater J (Jamie of Wrest? Jerome of Charles Dexter Ward?) and Frater M (Mike, probs), the latter being mainly a quartet of Jamie, Jerome, Mike and RFM heartthrob Lee Stokoe of Culver and Matching Head. I’m sure the omniscient Scott McKeating will set me straight if I have the details wrong. Both acts perform an industrial strength improv noise rock, or free punk, or doom skronk or harsh guitar wall or whatever – subgenre post-it notes won’t stick to this surface caked with filth. There is a perverse relish in referencing the Spanish Inquisition or the Manhattan Project with your band name and a dark, hopeless abandonment is certainly celebrated with the music too. It’s as morbidly beautiful as the glistening wings of a sea bird caught in an oil slick, as terrifyingly faceless as a coin eaten smooth by a corrosive fluid. I am reminded, quite purposefully I suppose, of the famous quote from J. Robert Oppenheimer following the Trinity test:
We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.
These Tyneside nihilists would have been amongst those laughing. They see the big – the biggest – picture.
Inseminoid, the duo of Lee Stokoe and George Proctor (of Mutant Ape and Turgid Animal), are connoisseurs of horror cinema, vintage porn and exploitative art in general but their heavy drone pieces are importantly different to the gore-splattered gusto of their colleagues above. They curate a carefully sustained atmosphere of unease, understanding that true terror is often found not in the act but in its consequences, not in the situation but in its implications. Repeat listens brought to mind haunting, half-remembered, dream-troubling passages from my own limited experience with horror fiction. For example, I always found the reveal in Ringu 2 that Sadako was actually alive and sealed in the well for thirty years before dying to be as viscerally nauseating as any of the deaths portrayed. Or how about a scene from one of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood stories where a guy foolishly pokes a seemingly dead monster and has his hand bitten off? In a moment of genius, Barker steps back from the gore for a couple of sentences to let us in on the shock and dismay this moment of idiotic bravado has caused. We see the awful, disproportionate consequences and are appalled. This is what Inseminoid are up to: cool, considered, implacably hostile – absolutely compelling.
(Editor’s note: there are various Gold Soundz resources revealed by a quick Google/Discogs search but none seem current. As such, I’ve linked to Sindre’s own page and you can ask him about these releases directly.)
Tags: acrid lactations, ali robertson, andie brown, anja dornieden, bridget hayden, brighton, cm von hausswolff, colour out of space, dictaphonics, dieter schnebel, dylan nyoukis, electronic voice phenomena, enzo minarelli, evp, f. ampism, fordell research unit, free radicals, gen ken montgomery, gonzalez monroy, greg kelly, gwilly edmondez, ilan volkov, improv, joe murray, jooklo duo, juan david, karen constance, lovers ritual, m. stactor, malcy duff, maya dunietz, michael esposito, new music, no audience underground, noise, occult hand, pascal ansell, patrick goddard, posset, roman nose, sharon gal, sindre bjerga, spoils & relics, the handeye (bone ghosts), the y bend, thf drenching, usurper, virginia genta, vocal improvisation
COLOUR OUT OF SPACE / 6
INTERNATIONAL EXPERIMENTAL SOUND FESTIVAL
Performance Weekend: 8th – 10th November, 2013, Brighton, UK
Editor’s note: RFM had two roving reporters present at this year’s Colour Out Of Space festival down in that Brighton. Regular contributor Joe Murray, who also performed, enjoyed himself enormously. Pascal Ansell, whippersnapper and occasional guest of RFM, ahh… not so much. Copious enthusiasm from Joe first, a more exacting response from Pascal to follow. Over to Joe:
Ahhhh Brighton…the sun, the sea, the squalor! I’ve had a soft spot for Brighton ever since I was a wee kiddie with a vivid imagination, trying to piece together the violent Mods & Rockers legend with the twin-set & pearls crowd that strolled slowly down the pier huffing camphor-scented liniments.
These days of course it’s all about the hipsters and Bubble Tea but I’m not complaining; I’ve got my freak on as I meet my gracious host Bod for a pint or two before we lurch expectantly to the main venue, The Old Market. Immediately adopting ‘Brighton time’ I missed the mysterious Occult Hand and outrageous Acrid Lactations who I both really wanted to see – please accept my apologies Occult Lactations, I was with you in spirit.
It was sometime around pint four I met up with my co-reporter Pascal Ansell and we immediately set ourselves up in a Hunter S Thompson style press-pack; silver-eyed Tuna darting purposefully through the flitting shoal. We rejected the usual journalistic conventions to move straight from gentle ‘forming’ to chaotic ‘storming’ within minutes, swapping war-zone anecdotes, snippets of esoteric record knowledge and the loudly proclaiming the relevance of Sammy Davis Jr. The result of such firm-calved bonding and reckless drinking resulted in a beery bonhomie for sure but also meant I pretty much missed every act to play on Friday. Oops…I did it again! The one that got away was the Enzo Minarelli. Dressed in dark jeans and tight black T shirt, his hair scraped back, there was an air of the ninja in his vocal guffings. Assisted with backing tracks of further mouth-chaff the precise and deadly Enzo sliced the air with steel-edged hissing and lippy smacks. This was no po-faced sound poetry lark but a right old hootenanny with his piece ‘Poem’ being turned into ‘PoemMacaroni’ in the curdled air. The rest of the bill was crammed with exceptional acts of legendary avant-gardary but to my shame dear reader I spent the remnants of Friday propping up the bar catching up with old friends and making new ones. I’ve never been a good mixer Midwichers but I made up for 43 years of insecurity and introversion with full-strength good cheer and love for my fellow travellers. You’re (hic) my best pal (hic)!
Saturday morning was an exercise in sickness, pain and remorse as I sheepishly ate brunch with family Bod and took the drizzly bus in disgrace to witness Gen Ken Montgomery in a Hove Oxfam shop. The steamy windows of the Oxfam obscured the ‘standing room only’ crowd as I inched in and stood, stomach lurching, for this exploration of the 8-track tomfoolery. Gen Ken, dapper in vintage Op Art shirt and tie manipulated old portable 8-tracks filling the damp air with warped 70’s AM rock all mashed and rotting. The warbles and trembles on the tape gave the Bee Gees et al a sepia fuzzed-out logic as loops were found and layered up into the consistency of dusty blancmange. He was a right card too, playing it up for the steaming crowd, making asides and throwing out hula-hoops of pulsating ‘waaahhhhoooosssshhhhh-voooshhhhhh’. After Gen Ken’s performance I wandered round Brighton for a bit, drank some peppermint tea (swearing off the demon drink for the rest of the weekend) and soundchecked with the great Gwilly Edmondez & THF Drenching.
At about teatime I found myself outside the very proper St Andrew’s church for some right high culture. Old-guy Produktionsprozesse composer-guy Dieter Schnebel was interviewed by Ilan Volkov about his approach to music and personal history. Dieter seems a game old bird, humble and gracious but with a sharp sense of humour…he somehow manages to call the audience stupid and make them love him for it…dude! A bunch of doofs play some Schnebel pieces: Maya Dunietz world premieres the ass off a beautiful and catchy piece for piano, voice and tambourine. Ilan and Maya throw some shapes in a gestural piece where composer and pianist struggle for supremacy like Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Then Maya and Dylan Nyoukis get all serious and tackle a vocal piece for restricted mouthshapes and we end up with the most spellbinding piece of the afternoon. Like air hissing through naked ribs, dry and crackly. The pair, dressed in formal black, embrace at the end of the show, cracking hearts at CooS and letting pure love flow. The only way to follow such an intense and refined performance is of course with some chips so I headed to Bankers (Brighton’s best Fish & Chip shop) for sustenance.
Energised by hot potato and grease I walk into the Old Market to see the friendly and familiar face of Sindre Bjerga coaxing gentle tape loops out of his mess of wires and objects, polishing them up and floating them on the breeze like water-filled balloons pulling gruff-clouds out the air. Stepping round his desk he carefully wraps up a few people in abandoned cassette tape, hurls a miniature cymbal onto the deck and politely waves marking the end of a neat little set. Next up were a bunch of A-Band/Ceramic Hobs/Zero Map/Smell & Quim refugees calling themselves The Y Bend. The programme describes ‘no-mind sounds’ which pretty much sums up the Hawkwind out-takes vibe. Personally I’m transported back to the days of Anti-Poll Tax benefits as this jam band takes a note and jiggles it proper between guitar, keyboard, violin and eccentric hand percussion making incidental music for the revolution.
Roman Nose take the stage behind them and win the rosette for ‘best band of Saturday’. These days Roman Nose are very much a ‘band’ bridging the gap between rock’s looseness and tape/noise/jam’s love of overload. It’s almost funky with a pushing and pulling, a wrapping and un-wrapping of tape-fuff mittens across fluttering drums and breathy intrusions via flute and black-bamboo sheng. Throw some horns for the Nose!
Huge wineglasses are set up amid electronic doo-hickery for Sharon Gal and Andie Brown. These glasses are Jeroboam massive, pregnantly full; delicate but comprising a thousand potential shivs. Like an inverse Justice Yeldham the glass is thumbed to produce deep rasping drones. It’s great to watch the deft hand movement turn into such singing and bassy mulch. Gal uses her voice like some terror-choir re-enacting a trauma. Electronic squash makes a Black Metal grunt adding to the dungeon gloom. Wow…a Carpathian Forest sprouts from the floor as the thin rays of a dismal sun rise slowly in the East. The bald guy with all the pedals is M. Stactor; his mask is a composite of Her Majesty Betty II and Saddam Hussein. Slowed down speech goes ‘burrrrrrr’ and get shoved through a variety of whizz-bangs to come out ‘BURRRRRR’ anointed with contact-mic crackle and hand-palming crunch. Brand new CooS trio Edmondez/Posset/THF Drenching adopt the dual Dictaphone position like a crouching Judas Priest. Gwilly bangs his head like Halford. And seeing as I’m involved modesty prevents me for saying too much about this fine-legged beast.
I caught about 20 seconds of Bridget Hayden’s set but within that 20 seconds I heard the entire history of overblown fuzz-guitar from the Sonics to the Velvet Underground to the Dead C. Rusty chainmail began clanking out the walls; rolling thunder crashed from the ceiling. The very gods showed their pleasure in ancient, animalistic ways. Oh boy! I was still kicking myself when Greg Kelley & Dylan Nyoukis sat erect and purposeful on a pitch black stage. Side by side they were, with Greg’s tubes augmented with cold brass and Dylan’s with moist flesh. Snide hiss and scything tones crept almost guiltily from trumpet and gob, playing merrily between wet-mouth slappings and full jowl squelch. This was no dramatic, overwrought, performance piece nor academically apologetic. The “my voice, your voice” mantra summed up a lot of the days sessions in a simple repetitive phrase. Some jokers joined in on coughing and started a response group reflex (koff-KOFF-koff). The optimist in me thought the spontaneous outpouring would lead to a scratch feral choir but no…it was a piss take…yet troupers Kelley & Nyoukis toughed it out cackling and blowing the third eye till it blinked all yeasty. Lovers Ritual (Maya Dunietz & Ilan Volkov) used voice and violin to beguile, encouraging minimal and thin tones out the cracks in the light fittings. Not content with sticking to the stage both Maya & Ilan ended up on the floor, among the punters, stroking and keening their flexible bones in a tangled tableaux.
It’s Sunday. The Lords day. And me & Bod celebrate with a visit to a typical Brightonian Car Boot sale; he picks up some Colombian tapes, I nab a Fantasy Island fridge magnet and we both head happily to the Sallis Benney Theatre for the famous CooS film screenings. I really loved what I saw but I soon discovered it’s hard to take notes in the dark so am relying on musty recall only. Standouts…the bonkers The Handeye (Bone Ghosts) by Anja Dornieden & Juan David Gonzalez Monroy which coupled 19th Century taxidermy with digitized commands and the bumbling chunter from Patrick Goddard’s charming Free Radicals. As the films ended, us gaggle of cinema-goers milled around, checking maps and GPS systems to find the next venue, giggling over being able to genuinely say, ‘See you in church later man.’ A walk along the cold, crisp sea-front takes us back to St Andrew’s Church for a session of spooky Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) from CM von Hausswolff & Michael Esposito. I’m really excited about this one. Since I was a kid I’ve been in love with that flexi disc that came with the first edition of ‘The Unexplained’. Of course I never knew these supposed ghost voices were EVP but I totally dug the hissy weirdness. The two gents open with about 15 minutes of static tape hiss with the occasionally clunky ‘chump’ like ghosts dropping wooden marbles in a bucket. The fuff was pretty damn immersive and had some of the flagging hordes crashed out on the pews. CM and Michael then took us through some of their EVP recordings (cue demonic chuckle) made in this very church. What could have been (possibly should have been) spectral and creepy turned into a bit of a laugh as the particularly chirpy Michael introduced second-long sound-clips of the dead calling us ‘assholes’, urging us to ‘get out’, that they ‘are in love with married men’ and…to much hilarity…‘it’s all shite’. Wow the ghosts sound like angry jakeys!
Back in the Old Market I strained limbs to find my comrade Pascal. It was Jooklo Duo next and I was pretty sure he’d be right up the front for this. Some lazy sleuthing revealed Pascal had packed up and gone. He’d had enough and trekked back to Leeds earlier in the day. Oh Pascal…you would have loved what came next! Jooklo Duo were absolutely amazing. Now I know that’s trite, lazy journalism but I was too busy picking my eyeballs up off the floor to concentrate on clever words. This was a 100% lung-bursting blowout with drumming as agile as a crack-fuelled squirrel. I’m no jazz buff but I like my brassy honks and squeals. Jooklo one, Virginia Genta, plays like Pharaoh Sanders with some nifty Arabic scales quickly releasing that cheeky kundalini from the base of my spine. Woah boy, I said Woah! Not one or two but three casual acquaintances said this was ‘better than Brotzmann’. Heard that? Promoters…book ‘em now.
Brighton local f.Ampism loops and loops and loops domestic clunk, mbira tones and gentle sighing all engaging and releasing softly like the briny blue sea just 100 meters down the street. A film is projected behind his hat and beard; cut-up collage sourced from what seems to be the family Nyoukis archive and Martha Colburn’s paint splattered horror-core. I have to admit I’m a total fan-boy of Amp’s choogle-leech-warp but this was a whole new saltine! Fordell Research Unit sat like a couple of chess masters and manipulated a pretty damn heavy drone with micro-movements. So far, so good. In tiny, tiny increments the drone gets grunty and somehow slower and fuller until we’re faced with a monolith – a black slab, playing the theme tune for the world’s most evil super villain. There’s a growing feeling of excitement for the next set from noise-monkeys Spoils & Relics with Karen Constance. Faced with a table full of gizmos and wires the quartet sat in quiet contemplation building a Jenga house of quivering tones and darkly-twinkling steam. Like some giant engineering puzzle, pieces are interlocked; a spark starts a fire and is extinguished ruthlessly by the hobo fire brigade. After a time the factory klaxon calls and the workers down tools and melt into grease.
It’s no secret; I’m a little in love with Usurper. Ali Robertson and Malcy Duff have been making the most singular no-input music for half a decade at least. Writing about Usurper is always a tough gig; their total lack of any of the regular handholds makes the amateur pamphleteer work hard, busting chops to describe their occasional cutlery pings and tales of Auld Reekie. Tonight they are joined by Dora Doll, one half of the legendary Prick Decay, on scissors as a circular story unfolds on twin tape recorders. Narratives intertwine as a regular haircut turns into a meditation on the seaside and seaside ritual. A grumpy Ali gets wrapped in ribbon like a maypole, Malcy crawling on the floor streaming the red and white tapes behind him. Hairy objects are presented to Ali & Dora for snipping. A guitar FX pedal, a pair of glasses, a descant recorder are shorn of hair and (in some cases) indecently rubbed beneath the barber’s shawl. Apart from the taped stories, folding in and out of phase there is a rare skronk-interruption on contact-miked yard brush ‘Shussssh, shusssh, shussssh’ as Malcy coughs up hairballs. Any traditional ideas of what performance is are dashed. Any preconceptions of what underground art should be are delightfully roasted. Usurper are right out on a limb, doing their very own thing and making up a whole new set of parameters. What on the page seems like random vignettes has a strong sense of direction and pace…and most importantly fun. I’m laughing like a drain and looking round to see a crescent of bemused yet joyful faces. No one is really sure what they have witnessed but pretty much everyone agrees it was damn fine.
The tapes spool to an end, Usurper and Dora bow and grin, and my CooS adventure comes to an end. It’s been a trip and a half Midwichers. Brighton itself is a beautiful backdrop to this very psychedelic weekend, the bands/acts/performers have all brought their own slice of oddness with a spice and professionalism the naysayers often miss. But for me it’s all been about the people…the floating and transient chats, the laughs and the in-depth conversations. There’s that quote about the Velvet Underground isn’t there? They didn’t sell loads of records but everyone who bought one formed their own band. Well this weekend might have been an intimate affair but I wonder how many projects and plans were hatched, how many ideas were sparked and alliances formed. CooS brings the no-audience underground together like a giant think-tank…but what’s gonna occur? I can’t wait to find out.
Editors note: a comprehensive selection of band bios and links can be found on the COOS website here. Photos by Joe or Marc Teare.
Tags: acrid lactations, core of the coalman, drone, fordell research unit, hard pan, hobo sonn, Ian Murphy, improv, new music, no audience underground, noise, smear campaign, stuart arnot, tapes, total vermin
Core of the Coalman – Stain (Total Vermin, #65, C59)
Fordell Research Unit – The True Meaning of Red (Total Vermin, #66, C32)
Acrid Lactations – Crude Paintings on Porcelain (Total Vermin, #67, C37)
Hard Pan and Hobo Sonn – Soup Electric and Roll (Total Vermin, #71, C26)
Smear Campaign – Love in an Heroic Vernacular (Total Vermin, #72, C36)
Stuart Arnot, boss of prolific tape and CD-r label Total Vermin, likes to put on a spread. Rather than drip feed us his releases one at a time he prefers to prepare a banquet, a smorgasbord long-promised then presented triumphantly in full on the Total Vermin blog.
I can see the sense in this approach: one big promo push covers a raft of releases, simultaneous availability encourages multiple purchases which are, in turn, easier to post in batches. Economies of scale and all that. The only problem is getting excitable punters such as me to sit still, chew their food and digest each course properly before gorging on the next. Over the last month or so I’ve been savouring the five tapes above from the latest menu. I’m finally at the picking-my-teeth, calling-for-the-bill, sending-my-compliments-to-the-chef stage of the meal.
First up is Stain by Core of the Coalman. Jorge keeps it simple: a full hour (in two halves) of slowly evolving variations on a fuzzed-up viola loop. What at first seems like a Tony Conrad-ish endurance test took a few minutes to pop my bubble of mental resistance (soap-film thin at the best of times) then mind freed, my arse did follow. I was soon dancing naked on the driveway of Midwich Mansions. This tape is hard, lovely.
Fordell Research Unit is flavour of the month round here and The True Meaning of Red is a late contender for tape of the year in the hotly contested ‘droning fuzz roar’ section. Five short to mid-length tracks, all beautifully balanced, all sharing the delicious alchemy of a poached egg coagulating in fiercely boiling water. The whole thing invokes a feeling that we are rarely treated to: total, magisterial, soul-cleansing satisfaction. A must buy.
Now we come a series of tapes illustrating what might be called the Total Vermin house sound. Whilst the girth of Stuart’s impeccable taste is impressively meaty, listen to a bunch of TV tapes – especially those involving Stuart himself – and you’ll start to recognize variations on a similar groove. It isn’t coolly academic meta-music, nor is it balls-out fire music, rather a kind of all-in, kitchen sink improv. Recordings are lo-fi, but components are not mashed together, detail is maintained and no sharpness is dulled. It exists in its own world where ‘real’ instrumentation muscles in on everyday activity and makes the commonplace enigmatic and musical. The approach is perfectly at home on tape and housed in the vibrant paint and crayon colours of the packaging.
Examples? Take your pick. Soup Electric and Roll is by Hard Pann and Hobo Sonn which unpacks as Stuart, Pascal Nichols and Luke Poot who are joined for this recording by Ian Murphy. Side A is all stomping, knocking electronics with subtleties bobbing to the surface, side B is a sublime, too-wide-eyed choir of Nurse With Wound-ish unvocalizations. Compelling late night listening or discombobulating walkman contents for the commute.
Love in an Heroic Vernacular is Stuart solo in his Smear Campaign guise. A band name like that might lead you to expect power electronics or harsh noise but not a bit of it. Instead you get in-between-train-carriages whistling wind, queasily arrhythmic percussion, clouds of robot starlings, skittering electronics and mournful trumpet. At one point the entire mix is dropped down a well. It’s like the alien funk of 1970s Miles filtered through ectoplasmic gel and played at half-speed. Terrific.
Finally, we have Crude Paintings on Porcelain by the wonderfully named Acrid Lactations, a duo of Stuart and Susan Fitzpatrick. Possibly the most lo-fi of these productions, it was apparently recorded in a shower room and, as the occasional sound of running water proves, the fixtures and fittings were pressed into service. Side A is rumbling, popping improv percussion using whatever implements and instruments they could drag in whilst still being able to close the door. It sounds like Paul Hession trapped in a cupboard and trying to alert the search party. This is augmented with some unplaceable trilling and circuit-bent stylophone stylings and finishes with Susan and Stuart hallucinating the trumping horns and jangling cowbells of a procession of tiny Swiss goat-herds as they march across the linoleum. Side B starts in a contemplative fashion before the goat-herds return in buoyant mood having eaten some mouldy bread and interesting looking mushrooms in the meantime. The second half has a more ominous feel as a foot-long giant bee starts banging its head against the shower room window. I dig it.
To buy this stuff visit the Total Vermin blog, make your selections – tapes at £2.50 a throw plus postage – and email Stuart at email@example.com for an all-in quote.
Tags: andy jarvis, culver, drone, fordell research unit, fraser burnett, jazzfinger, krapp tapes, new music, no audience underground, noise, pjorn 72, tapes
Fordell Research Unit – Heavy Petting (C30 cassette, Krapp Tapes, Krapp2)
Various Artists – Songs About Dying (CD-r, Pjorn72, pjorncd0023)
Now, that Fraser Burnett – who records as Fordell Research Unit and runs the micro-label Pjorn 72 – is a guy who grooves his own way. In the past he has said some very kind things about the influence of midwich and fencing flatworm recordings on his endeavours, but I suspect an independent spirit such as his didn’t need to be set an example. His wit is dry, self-deprecating, mordant. His attitude is somehow uncompromisingly cynical and open-eyed with loving enthusiasm at one and the same time. I’m envious of this neat trick. Scene-savvy, culturally literate and joyously foul-mouthed he obviously cares deeply about the things that are important and couldn’t give a shit about the rest.
Here’s his contribution to a recent facebook thread about the ‘Simon Reynolds mentions no-audience underground’ thing:
Fraser Burnett really enjoyed reading these threads without reading either reynolds’ pish or hayler’s probably astute and erudite riposte. the wire magazine is happy to suckle at mammon, fuck ’em and their scunty kin.
Heh, heh. His vote of confidence, blithely made in ignorance, was most heart-warming.
So, as you might expect, hearing from the guy is always a pleasure but it is also a sadly rare experience. The guy works slow and runs deep. Pjorn 72 awakes like a dormant volcano every now and again to belch forth nutrient rich noise-lava over the immediate vicinity then returns to smoky silence. Reports from the Fordell Research Unit appear irregularly on labels such as Matching Head and Total Vermin causing much excitement amongst the handful of laymen who depend on their findings. The last package I received from the man himself contained a couple of important gap-plugging additions to my FRU library.
First is the cassette Heavy Petting on the wonderfully named Krapp Tapes (which is, of course, a well funny hi-culture/lo-culture Samuel Beckett joke – s’postmodern innit?). Side one is filled by a single track titled ‘Under The Black Church (fucking blatant Lee Stokoe rip off)’. Well, yeah, man, but it’s not like I consider that a bad thing. I’m picturing a small wooden church atop some Nordic fjord, black because it is made of tar-stained timber washed ashore and salvaged from shipwrecks. Underneath this building is a jumble of tunnels originally used by smugglers but now occupied by Dagon worshipping townsfolk with staring, lidless eyes. The same wood has been used to build a roaring, crackling beacon fire nearby and sitting next to it is a lone sailor picking out a mournful lament on a battered guitar for his drowned comrades. The light of the fire glints off the bloodied anklet and chain attaching him to a substantial nearby rock.
Side two presents three variations on the throb. ‘Schmeisser’ is insistent, jagged and underscored with an audible but unintelligible recording of some kind of human endeavour. This clever tactic draws in the listener’s attention until the pulse is all encompassing. ‘Hot Chocolate Eucharist’ uses loops of machinery, clanking and snorting to set up a rolling, lurching motion. It’s like a broken down armoured car being dragged through the market by a team of camels. In between these two tracks is a short collage of clips from film and TV of people discussing their aspirations, passions and employment. Some of it is banal, formulaic (‘I’m ready for the question, Noel!’) but some seems heartfelt, touching. Tonally it is quite tricky to get a handle on and thus remains interesting on repeat listens. The final track ‘(Aw)kward’ is a spacey fuzz that lets us down gently and returns us to the world massaged. This tape is great.
Also worthy of note is the full length CD-r compilation Songs About Dying curated by Fraser for Pjorn 72. Housed in the hypnotically unsettling cover painting reproduced above you will find fifteen tracks totalling a whopping 80 minutes. As with most noise comps some bits are sketchy, some bits are fully realised, some bits are maddening, some bits are compelling and the tracks that fall into each of these categories can change depending on your mood during repeat listens.
The comically distorted grotesque-o-metal ‘dead burning black empire’ by the charmingly named Incest Whore is the first track and acts as a gatekeeper to scare off all but the true believers. Muscle past this brute though and there is much distraction to be found within. Check out the hermetically sealed, ominous rumbling of Culver’s ‘sepia sirens’ or the heat haze drone/fuzz of Nackt Insecten or FRU or a beautiful variant from Andy Jarvis featuring some very Phil Toddish slow picked guitar. Maybe Blood Stereo getting squeaky will do it for you or Sindre Bjerga and Meredith Hunter’s field recording of an asteroid mining operation? Jazzfinger’s ‘hateful empire vs. the blazing sun’ is a remarkable 14 minutes documenting the low-end throb of a giant vibrating ball of black rubber which is being clawed, hacked at and subject to bursts of dentist drill squeee. And so on. It’s a good set.
The tape may be a tricky to get because it was released a couple of years ago but the compilation should be findable. Why not drop Fraser a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and see what he can do for you?
EDIT: See comments for link to Krapp Tapes Bandcamp site!
Tags: bells hill, culver, drone, fordell research unit, matching head, new music, no audience underground, noise, pjorn 72
Culver and Fordell Research Unit – “Everyone For Themselves, And God Against All” (Bells Hill, BH005)
Now, stop pouting – there’s no need to be jealous. I know that I took a million years to review whatever you sent me and that this package from Scott of Bells Hill only arrived this morning, but I have been thinking about this release since I blagged a copy from Lee Stokoe at the gig a fortnight ago. Scott is not getting special treatment – I love you all just the same (and before you ask: my spare copy has already been parcelled up ready to be sent to another good home).
The specifications: a 42 minute, 10 track CD-r (well, 47 minute, 11 track CD-r but the tenth track is five minutes of silence separating the odd, spiky coda from the main body of the album) packaged (t)artfully in the vintage smut that Lee cannibalises to serve his aesthetic nowadays. I’m unsure as to how much of this is contributed by Fraser of FRU (hey Fraser! hope all is well) and how much by Lee, or what their working method of collaboration was, but it is safe to say that this is not a new Dubstep/UK Funky hybrid.
The main deviation away from Lee’s usual product (apologies to Fraser but I haven’t been keeping up with FRU stuff – shame on me) is the number of tracks. Whilst Culver/Inseminoid releases tend to feature one or two lengthy sessions of abyssal staring, this has 10 distinct segments. A handful feature rhythmic or percussive elements – the forlorn sonar pulse of ‘Remember Me?’, the dismal pistons of ‘Truth Will Out’ for example – but most consist of carefully layered, hypnotic, droning roars of a type cherished by aficionados of Lee’s back catalogue.
It is interesting to move between so many Culveresque tones and textures in such a short length of time. It feels like a greatest hits compilation, or a sampler album or, whilst not sounding like them of course, a Vibracathedral Orchestra LP. I mention the latter because their albums featured tracks that sometimes felt like self-contained vignettes and sometimes were obviously excerpts from an epic, the rest of which lay tantalising on the cutting room floor. During repeat listens – as the tracks ripened, flowered and became more distinguishable – sometimes a gestalt switch would be thrown and the vignettes would become excerpts and vice versa. That disorientating flip definitely happens here as, like all Lee’s stuff, close attention is repaid with revelation.
Very highly recommended, of course, and limited to 50 copies so get a move on. Contact Scott of Bells Hill via email@example.com, more from Bells Hill can be inspected via their Discogs Page, and a pdf scan of Lee’s latest Matching Head Catalogue can be seen here – apologies for the hefty size of the file but it is illegible otherwise.