artifacts of the no-audience underground: preslav literary school, orphax, waz hoola

June 6, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Preslav Literary School – Veer (Interdisco ID027)

One lunchtime last week I took a stroll to a small park that forms part of the campus on which I work.  St George’s Field, formerly a cemetery, is now an arboretum of sorts and is intended to be a place of quiet contemplation.  In it are three magnificent rhododendron shrubs (trees?) each 12-15 feet high which are currently in bloom.  From a distance: three billowing clouds of purple somehow tethered to the grass.  Up close: a wall of flowers, each a variation on perfection, alive with bees drunkenly stumbling from one bloom to the next.  Glorious.

Throughout lunch I was wearing my mp3 player and the soundtrack was this release by Preslav Literary School.  It fit very nicely indeed.  I may already have dozens of albums full of satisfying, well constructed drones, but there is always room for another particularly satisfying and well constructed instance of the type.  Available as a free download in mp3 or flac format from Interdisco.

Download here.

Orphax – A Room With A View (Striate Cortex S.C.41.)

Another excellent release on Andy Robinson’s impeccable label Striate Cortex.  The package is of the usual high standard: a full size plastic CD wallet contains a liner of apparently hand-made paper, a window in which reveals a glossy photo of a handsome moth.  The music, a single track of about 20 minutes duration, is contained on a 3″ CD-r which comes nestled in its own wallet within.

So what of the music?  The room in question appears to be the cockpit of a spacecraft shaped, for reasons too complicated to get into here, exactly like the moth on the cover.  The view, at first, is the hanger where we hear it fuelled, prepared and launched at which point the view becomes the frigid nothingness of space.  Once safely away, the pilot settles down to watch a video of a man leaving his family house and trudging up a hillside path.  The pilot cracks its equivalent of a grin then busies itself with the process of landing.  The view is now of sparks and the growing orb below.  The sound is of the moth-ship manoeuvring in the heat of the thickening atmosphere.  We land on the hillside that we saw on the video.  The sound of crickets from outside can now be heard, slightly filtered, in the cockpit.  The pilot issues a command which sounds unnervingly like the mewling of a domestic cat and a hatch opens.  Some distance ahead the man from the video looks nervously over his shoulder…

Great stuff.  Buy here.  Visit Orphax here.

Waz Hoola – Multiply Reality by Infinity (Red Guard RG002)

OK, no stories this time: just the facts.  This is a proper CD containing two tracks totalling about 55 minutes.  It is a solo recording by Waz Hoola, the head honcho of Infinite Exchange Records.  It comes housed in a cardboard sleeve sealed with a blob of red wax.  The monolithic heaviness of the music is underscored by the accompanying booklet: a collection of photographs of cracked slabs of rock (paving?).  But I get ahead of myself…

‘Infinity’, the first track, builds into a deep, resonantly textured drone – its components like lava liquefying the motorway tarmac it rolls over.  Occasionally the cooling surface cracks to reveal the white-orange heat inside.  It is no joke recording this stuff – distortion or clipping can really harsh the buzz or pop the enveloping bubble – but this is immaculate.  I was agog when, at around the 21 minute mark, something remarkable happens: there is a drum roll, no – it’s a rhythm track, then a guitar riff, then someone stamps on the pedals and the whole piece insta-evolves into a stoner metal groove.  This is, to put it bluntly, fucking genius.  Both this type of rock and drone music involve a pursuit of ego-dissolving noise and to layer the latter with the former is so perfect that it made me laugh out loud when I realised what was happening.  When I first heard this I was walking to work and arrived at my desk with a few minutes still to run – I shoed my colleagues away and sat it out, marvelling.

The last of the riff fades out as the second track, ‘Reality’ takes over.  The final cymbal crash stretched out into the start of a shimmering, metallic drone.  This ebb and flow carries us through a twenty minute comedown, reality indeed, before leaving the listener beached.  Possibly my favourite thing that I’ve heard all year.

Buy here.

artifacts of the no-audience underground: infinite exchange label review part two

May 30, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Three more reviews of releases on Waz Hoola’s Infinite Exchange Records.  No reservations this time, instead radiofreemidwich somehow holds three thumbs aloft.  Neat trick, eh?  As before, if you want to get hold of this stuff then please email Waz at theinfiniteexchange@hotmail.co.uk for details.

Eyeballs – Thief of Men (IECDR019)

This starts with rain.  Cold, unforgiving, battering the moss covered stones of an ancient castle.  As we drift through the impossibly thick walls, the pounding of the rain is subsumed into the noise of fires, machinery.  Possibly we are now in some hellish corner of a gargantuan kitchen.  Far above, in the opulent living quarters, a rite, a wake perhaps, is in progress.  Snatches of the sombre processional music can occasionally be heard over the roar.

I wasn’t sure about this release at first but it has grown in stature with repeat listens.  I am now quietly impressed.  The music, a single track of 32 minutes, has coherence, a narrative drive and the commitment to work through its ideas at an appropriate pace.  I like it.

Posset – Mump Grumpy (IECDR017)

Another half-hour of dictaphone-improv and brown ale fueled musique concrète from blog fave Joe Posset, RFM’s North East correspondent.  Compared to other Posset releases I’ve reviewed, these seven tracks present a slightly edgier, more ambitious take on Joe’s the-world-is-my-fisher-price-activity-centre modus operandi.

There are, inevitably, laugh out loud moments – for example the priceless elastic band solo in ‘coleslaw surfeit’ – but, dare I say it, some of this comes close to expressing a Posset philosophy.  In the 13 minute epic ‘verunk bluaghh’ a tape of mournful strings gets increasingly nobbled until it gives out and is replaced by a field recording of birds singing.  How’s that for a critique of ‘proper’ music?  Like the beatnik outsider hep-cat that he is, Joe champions spontaneity, possibility, humour and enthusiasm.  That the cover features a mess of destroyed magnetic tape, a gleeful surrender to chaos, could not be more perfect.  I bloody love Posset, me.

The Zero Map – Felis Cattus Domesticus (IECDR021)

And something special for dessert.  You may have noticed that several of IE’s releases induced a narrative reverie in me and that I’ve been tempted to call on various wierd tales in order to explain the effect.  Well, now it is time to reference the master…

Immediately prior to listening to this disc for the first time I had been enjoying a reading of At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft.  The fit with ‘Sentience’, the first track, could not be more snug.  This feels like a field recording of the relentless Arctic wind whistling and groaning as it whips around the non-euclidean angles of a long-abandoned alien city.  Or is it deserted?  There are strange vibrations emanating from far beneath the snow…

The second track, ‘Giving Birth’, is a cool drone piece suggesting the experience is far more placid and meditative than I had been led to believe.

The third and final track, ‘The Voices In My Head’, is a remarkable 20 minutes of layered, shifting textures that is as beguiling and unnerving as, well, having voices in your head.

Last night I woke from a nightmare and found myself trapped in that panic-inducing moment between sleep and consciousness.  The universe was inexplicable and malevolent.  Reduced, in fact, to Lovecraftian cosmic horror.  As this is a regular occurence, I keep my mp3 player handy in order that I may distract myself back to sleep by listening to some music.  Last night this track happened to be cued up and I found it strangely soothing.  Not because it is at all soporific, it isn’t, but because it acknowledged the truth of my fears.  Yes, it said to me, we get it

What the music has to do with the title of the release, or the sweet snapshots of cats on the cover, is beyond me – perhaps they are The Cats of Ulthar? – but who cares?  This is one of the best releases I’ve heard this year so far – the equal of the Jazzfinger disc reviewed in part one.

Buy from Waz (email address above) and/or visit The Zero Map’s WordPress blog.

artifacts of the no-audience underground: infinite exchange label review part one

May 27, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Infinite Exchange Records, run by the improbably named Waz Hoola out of sunny Blyth, has spent the last five years or so handcrafting an intriguing catalogue of drones, improv and stoner rock.  All releases come on black playstation style discs, which is a clever unifying touch, and are housed in nicely designed sleeves.  The overall impression is of an enterprise with class and purpose.  In an attempt to assuage my shame at not having heard of ’em before I hereby present a short label overview in two parts, three reviews in each.  My punishment for not being more attentive is that I have missed out on all the early releases, an impressive number of which have sold out.

To buy this stuff drop Waz a line at theinfiniteexchange@hotmail.co.uk and he will cut you a deal.

Jazzfinger – The Metal Eggs (IECDR016)

Let’s start with a something a bit special.  Imagine a decaying, apparently abandoned, 18th Century tall ship, becalmed and lolling drunkenly in the lagoon of a rocky atoll.  Lying sun-scorched and spread-eagled on the deck is the last remaining sailor.  Now we are in his head, staring sightlessly upwards and listening to a hypnotic drone, roaring then lulling.  It has no external source – it is a dehydration-induced figment of his delirium.  The drone is augmented by flutes, by cymbals – an imaginative reconstruction from the sound of torn rigging and broken equipment slowly moving around the deck.  This release is an audio diary of the ship’s last few days afloat.  If you like, it is the precursor to the final hour documented by Nurse With Wound’s Salt Marie Celeste.  Or perhaps it’s a soundtrack to the creepy wierd tale Voice in the Night by William Hope Hodgson (try it out: here’s an excellent reading courtesy of Librivox).

OK, so the sample from Lost Highway in the final track bursts my nautical bubble but the effect remains unnervingly sublime…

Mechanical Children – Convictual Tongue (IECDR020)

…to the ridiculous.  More from Ben Jones and Sarah Sullivan of Jazzfinger.  I know I said in the submission guidelines post that I wasn’t going to write about stuff I didn’t like but this release angried up the blood.

However, I will first praise the lovely package.  This is a double disc set, housed in a mini-gatefold sleeve, with each disc snug within its own matt black inner sleeve.  The artwork, by Kevin E Anderson, features exquisite drawings of trilobites or rather, I suspect, portmanteau creatures constructed from segments of several species.  Intriguing and beautiful, it sets the expectation level to ‘very high indeed’.

Unfortunately, the content doesn’t do it justice.  First a technical point: several of these tracks are considerably louder in one stereo channel than the other.  I did a bit of troubleshooting and the problem is definitely with the recording.  Fah, you might think, who cares?  Well, if, like me, you do most of your noise appreciation via headphones it makes the music unlistenable.  To have the business end screaming in one ear whilst a distant kitten farts gently in the other is discombobulating.  What’s infuriating is that it is so easily rectified: a track can be dropped into Audacity and the channels balanced in less time than it takes to boil a kettle.  Humph…

And what of the music?  Mainly lumpy, undifferentiated, unedifying noise.  What changes of pace we are treated to appear at random whenever someone finds a new preset to play with.  This has the feel of a demo tape of someone tinkering with unfamiliar kit.  It isn’t all bad though: the Children finally hit their stride in the final twenty minutes of the final track, ‘Joined by Shine’.  If the whole release had been trimmed down to a 3″ CD-r containing just this bit then I would be urging you to buy.  As it is: nah.

Bong – Bethmoora (IECDR015)

…and a quick one to finish.  Check out the band name, the cover, the inverted cross that forms part of the logo.  What do you think this is going to sound like?  How about if I tell you the album comprises two twenty minute long tracks and a bonus disc includes an even longer cover of ‘set the controls for the heart of the sun’?  C’mon man!  The title is taken from a Lord Dunsany story!  Yes, without hearing a note you know this is gonna be doom/sludge/stoner metal – basically very slow and very heavy.  Being a single-minded exercise in replicating the genre tropes, it doesn’t disappoint on either count.  If you dig this sort of thing, which luckily I do very much, then you are going to dig this.  Not brimming with crossover appeal though.

Posset, The Zero Map and Eyeballs to come in part two…

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