artifacts of the no-audience underground: hobo sonn and michael clough

December 22, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Hobo Sonn – Synthetic Preserves (C60 cassette, Sick Head, #31)

Hobo Sonn – Swarm (CD-r, self-released)

Pulse Field I & II (CD-r, self-released)

hobo sonn - synthetic preserveshobo sonn - swarmpulse field

…and so we come to the final reviews of 2012. I’ve taken an editorial decision to leave anything received here at Midwich Mansions on or after 1st December until the New Year. Thus you have some excellent tapes from Mantile, a Petals CD-r on WGGFDTB and the new Panelak tape on Crater Lake Sound to look forward to, amongst other quality items. I’ll also be posting my own end of year round-up and announcing the winners of the second annual Zellaby awards in due course – I can sense you shivering with anticipation already.  OK, take a deep breath as it is time for the business of today…

The releases pictured were acquired at the Truant gig in November and thus just slipped under the wire.  Due to pre-performance nerves I didn’t really register the Hobo Sonn set performed by Ian Murphy (joined, for one night only, by that Kieron Piercy of Spoils & Relics) but I dug the fact that they wanted to play in darkness, illuminated only by the LEDs on their kit, and requested that no photos be taken.  Their seriousness of intent led to a wholly immersive set, much enjoyed by an audience lulled into a state of appreciative concentration.  Or so I’ve been told – I was pacing about, worrying.  Why not listen to the recording and judge for yourself?  Off stage Ian is a charming, easy-going gentleman and we had fun beforehand chatting about a mutual acquaintance from my days of misspent youth in Brighton.  During the inevitable post-gig merch swap he generously gifted me the tape and CD-r above.

Synthetic Preserves, released by Sick Head, comes with a great black and white cover and is housed in one of those oversize, squishy plastic cases that computer game tapes used to be packaged in.  I love the squeak as you open it.  The track is an hour of variations on a guttering throb (split into two equal halves by the fact of tapeness) and is deeply, penetratingly satisfying throughout.  There is a chewy graininess to the fuzz and a compelling stickiness to the pulse.  It will make you as happy as poking a bead of tree sap with a twig.  The rolling layers move at different speeds and flop, tangle and fall over themselves in a very gratifying manner.  Imagine an old, battered and malfunctioning machine extruding a substance with the consistency of tarmac, grinding and stuttering because the ingredients are not pure enough to guarantee a smooth flow.  Terrific.

Swarm, self-released by Ian via his website Rotten Slushy, is an 18 minute CD-r packaged in a length of what might be player-piano roll.  I don’t know – it’s mysterious.  The track kicks off with spiralling, billowing string shimmer, like the angry insistence of a disturbed wasps’ nest, or sometimes like the whine of ultra-high performance engines – the rise and fall feels like drifting in and out of consciousness at a F1 Grand Prix.  Around the 11 minute mark the drone is locked down with spikey plucks, some bibbling electronics then usher in the second movement and this in turn builds to a remarkable final few minutes.  This section could be the soundtrack to the denouement and aftermath of a 1980s tech-noir thriller, whilst the instrumentation calls to mind 1960s Hollywood.  Imagine Blade Runner directed by Alfred Hitchcock and scored by Bernard Herrmann.  Surprising, ambitious, intense – very highly recommended.

So finally, for today and for 2012, I come to Pulse Field I: Summer Meadow, Pulse Field II: Chthonotron Wakes by Michael Clough.  What we have here are two lengthy, throbbing analogue synth workouts on one CD-r.  The colour inserts feature simple patterns blurred in a way that exactly represents the working of the music within.

‘Pulse Field II: Chthonotron Wakes’ could be the alpha waves of a sentient machine, constructed by the Old Ones, as it is roused by foolhardy occult scientists who have made the mistake of plugging it in.  Or I fancy a less Lovecraftian picture: imagine the contented purring of an adorable kitten.  Now imagine the same noise but made by a kitten 40 feet high and carved from granite.  There you go.  ‘Pulse Field I: Summer Meadow’ is, despite the title, barely any more pastoral.  This is a rustic scene on the micro level: where ants toil ceaselessly and mechanically, or lower: where nematodes devour and be devoured, or smaller still: is this what photosynthesis in the innumerable blades of grass sounds like?  Unlikely I know, but cool to think so.

Both tracks are minimal and rhythmic enough to accompany the most ferocious cardiovascular workout yet the tweaking is subtle and involving enough to make them oddly soothing in an armchair context (well – spoiler alert – the last few minutes of PFII do get teeth-looseningly sharp so you may find yourself putting down the wine glass and fiddling with the volume at that point).  Like the best minimal music, I suspect the reaction it provokes in the listener will depend on the listener’s mood and situation – even the angle of your head in relation to the speakers makes a difference.  I love it.

Both Hobo Sonn releases can be purchased via Ian’s website, I’m not sure Clough’s release is ‘available’ in any commonly understood sense of the word but you could try dropping him a line at mriclough@aol.com and blagging.

Have a lovely Christmas, dear readers, and I’ll see you in the New Year!

wired for sound part 34: new from total vermin

December 1, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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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)

fordell research unit - the true meaning of redcore of the coalmanhard pan and hobo sonnacrid lactations - crude paintingssmear campaign - love in an heroic vernacular

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 smearcampaign@hotmail.com for an all-in quote.

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