artifacts of the no-audience underground: thossian process and joined by wire

November 13, 2012 at 7:01 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Thossian Process – Impurities (CD-r in handmade packaging, Striate Cortex, S.C.54, edition of 60)

joinedbywire – lost weekends (CD-r, self-released, edition of 17)

Patience is a virtue, eh readers?  Without it how could I ever come to appreciate the oblique, the abrasive or a not-immediately-welcome change of direction?  It took me a while to get with these releases (one even had to be snuck into Midwich Mansions ignoring my polite but firm indifference) but the rewards have far outweighed the effort.  When life outside music proves difficult and I eye the teetering review pile with, shall we say, ‘mixed feelings’ these CD-rs remind me that remaining open-minded is a virtue too.

Impurities by Thossian Process – a chap called Tim Mitchell – is new on Striate Cortex.  Reason for celebratory fireworks usually but in his plugging email to the Striate faithful Andy described it as follows:

Impurities has a more industrial feel to it, very dark and edgy and for me has massive reflections of early TG

Oh, I thought, maybe I’ll give it a miss.  Heresy, I know, but I don’t really like much of that first wave industrial nowadays.  The claustrophobic seediness of Throbbing Gristle just makes me feel sad.  Thus I maintained a dignified silence.  Andy contacted me again, I explained my misgivings and suggested hardier blogs that might be more receptive …and a few days later a copy turned up in the post anyway.  The cheeky bugger had guessed correctly that once it was in the house I’d feel compelled to give it a chance.  Well, I’m glad I did.

The packaging is first class.  Inside a robust plastic wallet there is a length of black gauze.  This veils a fold out cardboard case painted in ‘oriental’ colours of red, gold and black.  Inside is a title card, a booklet of creepy black and white photography and a colour printed CD-r in its own black window envelope.  The attention to detail is… well, you can only shake your head in amazement.

The music unfolds to reveal a similar seriousness of intent.  I see where Andy is coming from with his description.  With so much noise these days being so, er…, noisy it is easy to forget how empty and eerie some of that early industrial stuff could be.  Thossian Process captures that vibe perfectly with rhythmic ticks, pulses and pitter-patter in lieu of anything too drum-like and a carefully chosen palette of electronics used sparingly and with purpose.  A couple of tracks even have that vaguely ethnographic Middle Eastern/North African influence that bands like Cabaret Voltaire tapped into.

Part of what makes the album so compelling is the space within the music.  I don’t mean it is ‘dubby’ – this is not a stoner-friendly warm bath – rather it is ‘spacious’ like a harshly lit, unfurnished room, or a view across a frozen lake, or the inside of your head when you wake sweating in the pitch black at 3.30am.

The seven tracks that make up this release total a fat-free 28 minutes.  This efficiency shows a respect both for the material and for the listener and ensures that the quick-witted inventiveness throughout is left undiluted and espresso strong.  Its discipline is admirable.  Given its very high tolerance to repeat listening, and the art-object level of the packaging, this release is incredible value for money.

Buy here.

The issue that delayed my appreciation of Lost Weekends, the latest CD-r by Joined  By Wire was a bit different.  I’m a big fan of the work of Stephen Woolley (and associates) and was delighted to be offered one of this super-limited edition.  Imagine the shiver of anticipation as I slid it into the CD player, pumped the volume and… was bludgeoned.  Oof.

Now, JBW is a noisy project and doesn’t mind loosening teeth/bowels if necessary but this is something else.  Stephen’s turn to brute electronics is closely akin to that taken by Neil Campbell with his recent Astral Social Club stuff.  However, being the dimwit that I am, my first thought wasn’t ‘oh yeah, Neil did something like this and I eventually understood it and learned to love it.’ It was: ‘oh shit, how am I going to break it to Stephen that I don’t like his record?’  Luckily, good ol’ fashioned English fear of an embarrassing situation kept me from pressing ‘send’ for a few days and in that time I realised that I was wrong.  Once I’d got used to the chilli heat I could taste the nicely balanced blend of spices underneath.  It turns out that, after your eyes stop watering, the new JBW disc is delicious.

It’s another cracking package.  A brown card gatefold sleeve, screen printed with a cartoon forest on the front, opens to reveal a CD-r, itself printed red and decorated with a wood grain pattern, and an eight page card booklet.  The booklet contains no information about the release just more of Stephen’s lovely graphic work.  The CD-r contains seven untitled tracks and runs to approximately 44 minutes.

The first three tracks are full of joy and energy but are unrepentantly brain-scouring.  It is like an audio time-lapse account of geological processes: formless masses are melted, boiled, set hard, torn into reflective shards, melted again.  Exhilarating stuff but you’ll need to fiddle with the volume to minimise ear-bleed.  Track 4 is relatively mild so affords us a deep breath and a brief, refreshing interlude to wiggle our toes in the grass before cracking on.  Track 5 is exactly one minute of sanity-baiting anarcho-squiggle so breathtakingly looney that if it continued any longer it may well cause irreversible brain-tilt.  Luckily it cuts when it does and we are back with the longer form, shimmering, rolling, scarifying tectonics until the end.  Blimey.

Now, in my reviews I generally try and avoid the internet cop-out of ‘if you like that, you’ll like this’ but fans of recent Astral Social Club material that don’t already know Joined By Wire should really check this out.  I’m sure neither Neil nor Stephen would grumble at the comparison as they are clearly both attacking the void with similar weaponry.  This particular edition runs to a mere 17 copies but fear not as Stephen has previous for bootlegging his own stuff.  I’m sure some arrangement could be made should it have ‘sold out’.

Buy via the JBW Big Cartel shop or drop Stephen a line at joinedbywire@hotmail.com.

artifacts of the no-audience underground: a brief history of joined by wire 2002-2008

August 21, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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A Brief History Of Joined By Wire 2002-2008 (CD-r, Omcore Recordings, OCD 19)

Ysteryulator (A5 zine)

So is it possible to bootleg yourself?  Well, of course we all copy our own work for others all the time – this blog features mp3 rips of most of my back catalogue – but my question is more, y’know, philosophical: can a copy be unauthorized if it is made by the author?  Insert well worn arguments about consent, ownership, copyright, remuneration etc. here, should you be so inclined.

I suppose my main concern would be a practical one: I wouldn’t want to risk annoying the label that created the lovely, hand-made original edition.  But what if that label’s ‘business model’ is entirely based in the gift economy and the original edition was just handed out to whoever showed an interest?  From the Omcore homepage:

FREE AS YOU AND ME – all OMCORE gear costs no money, not because it’s wrong to pay for things but more because GIFT is an important part of keeping culture wild and healthy.

Way cool.  And what if your copy came in a glittery facsimile of the original packaging accompanied by a smart art zine?  Tough times for the ‘official release’ nowadays, eh?

Anyway, enough musing.  What I’m referring to specifically is a copy of A Brief History Of Joined By Wire made for me by Stephen Woolley of the band after the run on Omcore, err…, ran out.  With 14 tracks over 75 minutes this is far longer than my cruelly eroded attention span will usually allow but the chunks are manageable and the quality control is impressively maintained throughout.  As this retrospective covers six or seven years, squeezing it onto one CD-r is admirably disciplined (there is even a 20 minute long live set that acts as a précis for those in a hurry).

Whilst there is plenty of variation from track to track and over the years – check out the big guns of ‘M’ followed by the glockenspiel cupcake of ‘Intermission’ – there is an informing intelligence behind it all that guarantees a satisfying cohesion.  JBW are, to put it simply, fascinated with the possibilities inherent in crackling fuzz.  This takes a melancholy, entropic, almost shoegazey quality on, say, ‘We Are Believers’ – an elegy for a once great city, now ruined and buried in sand.  Or it can swagger with balls-out machismo, as on the aforementioned ‘M’ which sounds like a gathering swarm of sentient war machines.  They’re pissed off too.  Or, best of all, it can billow into an electrical storm of psychedelic noise, as it does on the terrific Exif Endless.  This rolling crescendo of ecstatic fizz is a joyous, mentholated sinus clearer and has me clapping with delight: ‘again, again!’

In the same package as this treat was Ysteryulator, an A5 zine printed on red paper (with an A6 yellow insert) featuring collage, artwork and cut-ups.  I’ve praised the JBW visual aesthetic before and this object is equally worthy of your attention.  Bleakly humorous (‘enter with caution’ it says on the back cover, too late), yearning for meaningful connection underneath its surface of cool detachment.  The centre spread is reproduced above.

How to get these things?  Ask, I suppose.  Email Stephen via joinedbywire@hotmail.com and I’m sure some kind of transaction could be arranged.  More visuals can be seen at StephensVolume.  Check out Omcore Recordings too.

artifacts of the no-audience underground: more from joinedbywire

October 3, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Joinedbywire – Terminal and Unimaginable

Following my favourable review of 48 Space Platform below, JBW’s people met RFM’s people for a power breakfast and a mutually beneficial commodities trade was negotiated.  In the briefcase couriered to my office were the two releases above.

Terminal is a single 22 minute track on an 8cm CD-r housed in a tiny DVD-style plastic case and accompanied by a booklet of collages all kept safe in an oversized zip-loc bag.  Considerable thought and effort have been put into this excellent packaging.  The collages – one of which is reproduced below – are terrific.  A series of images starkly illustrate the, well, terminal state of society: a place choked with waste where words such as ‘value’ and ‘free’ are now devoid of meaning.

The music is a very effective elegiac, melancholy drone intermittently swamped in distortion.  In combination with the artwork it calls to mind missed opportunities and uses the metaphor of travel to suggest we have hurtled past the point of no return without even glimpsing it from the window.  However, after this piece comes to an end the carefully constructed atmosphere is marred somewhat by several minutes of mish-mash tacked on as a coda.  It’s not all bad, I suppose, but y’know boys: less would certainly have been more in this case.  Five sixths brilliant.

I’m happy to recommend Unimaginable with no hesitation or ‘howevers…’  This is a similar package also comprised of an 8cm CD-r and an art booklet in a zip-loc bag.  The CD-r is mounted on the front of the booklet and thus cleverly becomes part of its own packaging.  This time the collages are just as good but are of a more abstract, less political nature.

The music is separated into seven parts over a total running time of 21 and half minutes.  Nearly half of this is made up of ‘part two’, a dizzying epic of fuzz and hiss augmented with warbling, chittering, squawking pulses and throbs.  This could be a field recording of the dawn chorus on Metalzoic.  The main sound source appears to be short-wave radio – a racket of which I never tire.  This is an instrument on which you can ‘play’ with atmospheric conditions.  How cool is that?  Anyhow, the shorter tracks could each be documenting another ecological niche on this post-human Earth.  It all adds up to a convincing and satisfying whole.

I’d say you probably need both of these so get on and contact JBW via joinedbywire at hotmail dot com, or visit their myspace page, to sort out purchase or trade.

artifacts of the no-audience underground: joinedbywire

September 19, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Joinedbywire – 48 Space Platform (Striate Cortex, S.C. 43)

Earlier in the year I wrote at length about how I was giving up downloading music and was instead only going to listen to things I was given or actually paid for.  I was unconcerned with the legal or moral arguments.  Instead, I was dismayed by my addiction to amassing hour upon hour of music that I barely even had time to hear, let alone get to know.  My organs of musical appreciation were atrophying at the same time my access to music was near-infinite.  I thought that maybe squeezing the latter might help the former grow back.

There have been some tough times.  When friends in the pub talk of ‘forwarding this great blog address’ or of ‘flacs’ or of ‘printable hi-res sleeve scans’ I grit my teeth and stare hard into my ginger beer.  For the most part though, as my powers of concentration and overall sense of wonder return, I feel completely vindicated.  Stepping on the ‘content’ firehose has allowed me the luxury of repeat listening, and repeat listening has led to revelation.

This release is an illustrative example.  If, in the bad old days, I had ‘acquired’ mp3s of it then it would have received a half-listen before being dismissed as disjointed and discarded for a newer new new thing.  However, regime change has allowed me to dig it over a couple of weeks and, once I decided to write about it, I’ve looked forward to it accompanying my commute.

What we have here is a 50 minute(ish), 6 track, CD-r housed in a digipack covered with what looks like hand-made yellow paper and spattered with red and green ink.  It looks like a section of the floor of Mos Eisley Cantina following a violent argument between two species of clientele.  It is the sort of high class package I’ve come to expect from the infallible Striate Cortex.  Label boss Andy Robinson is a man of taste and vision who works hard on his releases and deserves your unswerving support.

The set comprises several long tracks of drone and noise interspersed with short tracks of hiss and fizz.  The opener is formed of several movements, each of which mutates from the previous.  Some of these mutations are sudden and alarming – new limbs sprout fully formed and immediately lean their elbows on the keyboard – but this isn’t just a bunch of sketches cobbled together.  Patience reveals a satisfying and surprising whole.  The short tracks are little shards of broken mirror, reflecting a cloudless sky.  The final track is the best as it builds to a glorious, cathartic roar, like dragons mourning the death of one of their number with the fire-breathing equivalent of a 21 gun salute.

Elsewhere on the internet I see that Joinedbywire has been described as a ‘feral Ashtray Navigations’.  Now this is amusing, and I see where they are coming from, but I’m not sure it is accurate for two reasons.  The first is that Ashtray Navigations are themselves the feral Ashtray Navigations: Phil and Mel live in a hedge in Burley Park and only come out at night to knock over bins in search of food and broken Korg Electribes.  Secondly, whilst some of this would be quite at home on an Ashtray CD-r, none of these tracks contain a lengthy guitar or keyboard ‘solo’ which I’d argue is the least you need to be correctly described as Ashnavian.  S’all about the licks, man.

Anyway, should you wish for musical comparisons, some of Astral Social Club might be nearer the mark and the first track isn’t a million miles away from the Eyeballs stuff I raved about a while ago.  The final two tracks call to mind the ‘lost generation’ post rock of bands like Seefeel, and there is an achingly melancholic synth line that, dare I say it, evokes the Aphex Twin of Selected Ambient Works Volume II, albeit cruelly eroded and awash with static and distortion.  In case you were still wondering: this is high praise.

So, setting aside the fact that I am an idiot, why else would the downloading-me have dismissed this as disjointed, especially given that repeat listens reveal it to make perfect sense?  Perhaps I would have been thrown by the varied movements of the first track, or the fact that several of the longer tracks have tacked-on codas that bear scant relation to what preceded them.  I suppose this might grate with the casual listener.  I guess the only conclusion is this: bollocks to the casual listener.

Buy here for a scandalously meagre £5 plus postage.  That link directs you to the Striate Cortex wordpress blog where the action is happening nowadays, details of Andy’s older releases can also be found on the original Striate Cortex website.

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