private ritual: luke vollar on fells, kevin sanders and skull mask

February 24, 2017 at 11:46 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Fells – Waking (Invisible City Records)

Kevin Sanders – Numb for Somethings (Hairdryer Excommunication)

Skull Mask – La Muerte Es Sabia (Invisible City Records)

No filthy typewriter, or flimsy keyboard for our Luke Vollar.  He presents his vision scrawled in ink, direct to page.  With the filters removed, the truth bleeds through…

fells-waking

Fells – Waking (Invisible City Records) C120 Cassette and Digital Album

fells-1

fells-2

sanders-numb

Kevin Sanders – Numb for Somethings (Hairdryer Excommunication) Digital Album

sanders-1

sanders-2

skull-mask

Skull Mask – La Muerte Es Sabia (Invisible City Records) C40 Cassette and Digital Album

 

skull-1

skull-2

 

Invisible City Records

Hairdryer Excommunication

-ooOOoo-

 

the rfm lunchtime recital programme #1: black_ops, grant evans, dag rosenqvist, kevin sanders, club sound witches

January 15, 2016 at 1:34 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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black_ops – perdition (self-released download)

Grant Evans – Silent Refusal (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR16, edition of 50 or download)

Dag Rosenqvist – Vowels (12″ clear vinyl, Awkward Formats, AF08)

Kevin Sanders – Doors do shut themselves, but like graves astride birth, the open window is there to catch us (3” CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 10 or download)

Club Sound Witches – Uprok (tape or download, Junk Mnemonic, JM#4)

black_ops

Introduction

A new tactic.  The lunchtime recital programme will be a series of short reviews published in batches approximately once a fortnight.  This is me laying down some spontaneous thoughts following one or two listens as I commute or enjoy a midday stroll.  Hopefully, this will fill gaps between my less frequent, lengthier reviews and op-ed pieces and act as a kind of regular jet-wash for my brain. Right then, off we go…

black_opsperdition

The ominous pulse-breath of RED war machines idling on the Culverian tundra is naturally reverbed by a nearby crevasse.  An injured BLUE soldier finds himself trapped there listening, delirious.  The distorted synth washes of the final, title track have the tragic/grandiose feel of the conclusion to a SF dystopia movie of the 1970s – maybe the suicide scene of the disgraced BLUE general.  The claustrophobic scrabbling added right at the end being his feeble attempt to clutch at his meaningless medals.

This release is: short, bleak, good.

evans

Grant Evans – Silent Refusal

Evans, a new name to me, presents the sort of high quality, richly textured, characterful drone that sets my metaphor engine spinning.  It is balanced with the gravity defying tension of a snail sliding along the jagged edge of piece of broken glass.  It has the inexorable, hubris exposing/destroying momentum of a lava flow rolling over a car park full of military vehicles.  It’s as compellingly unnerving as a slow-motion film of a giant octopus escaping into open water via an impossibly small hole in a glass tank.  Another belter from Invisible City Records.

dag

Dag Rosenqvist – Vowels

Make sure your ear buds are in snug as these exquisite crescendos of hiss are carried on a tidal wash of bass.  Like fellow blog-fave Joined By Wire, Dag Rosenqvist appears to sculpt from slabs of raw emotion.  Thus, despite clearly being the product of great craft, patience and ambition, the experience of listening to these pieces bypasses the cerebral and vibrates heart strings directly.

I admit the Vangelisian sheen of the final of these four tracks lost me a little but I appreciated the relatively positive vibe it ended on.  Difficult to find fault with the prior three tracks though – not only did they press my buttons, they leant an elbow on them and used their free hand to clutch my shoulder reassuringly.  I would, of course, love to see the dance performance that this music was composed for – the mind boggles.

doors

Kevin Sanders – Doors do shut themselves, but like graves astride birth, the open window is there to catch us

18 minutes of utter nihilism in three movements.  The first section is a six minute panic attack – a decision has been taken, the consequences are hurtling towards us but all attempts to change gear or direction are useless.  Keys spin in locks, nothing has any grip.  The second, shortest, section is the moment of violence itself.  A hive is kicked over, split – the swarm inside gathering fury.  The frayed tether of a snarling dog finally snaps.  Raskolnikov looks down at the axe in his hand.  The final section, maybe half the total running length, settles into an existential resignation – the slowing heartbeat of an injured and freezing mountaineer, the blood’s retreat.

Christ, Kev – what the hell do we do with this, eh?

uprok

Club Sound Witches – Uprok

When this began I had my doubts but after a few minutes I began to tune in to its wonky charm.  The scrunching loops, pulses of grating hiss, synthy pops and noodles, nee-naw rhythms of battery-bled toy instruments combine into a playdoh monster greater than the sum of its neon coloured parts.  Listening is a surprisingly intimate experience, not entirely comfortable, but there is something…  I dunno… naughty about it.  It’s like being the recipient of a clumsy, affectionate massage – complete with accidental inappropriate touching – from a friend trying to hide just how drunk they are…

—ooOoo—

black_ops

Invisible City Records

Awkward Formats

hairdryer excommunication

Junk Mnemonic

the edge of the tar pit: haiku on selections from the hairdryer excommunication catalogue

September 17, 2015 at 1:02 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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kevin sanders – reducing ideas to words (CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

kevin sanders – the physical resonance of attraction (a.m.) (3” CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

Marlo Eggplant – Jutted (3” CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

kevin sanders – Sounds of separation (3” CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 11 or download)

Kay Hill & Kevin Sanders (tape or download, hairdryer excommunication)

Seth Cooke – Christ of the Abyss (business card CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 100 or download)

Hardworking Families – Happy Days (CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

Kevin Sanders – hyperhypercritical (3” CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

reducing

1. reducing ideas to words

Scratching the paper,

we trade precision smears

for hard company.

physical

2. the physical resonance of attraction (a.m.)

Albino lizards

lick the air – cavers approach!

A feast of tanned flesh…

jutted

3. Jutted

Brine, creosote, blood –

stir with rusting screwdriver.

Cut tethers, start work.

sounds

4. Sounds of separation

Waking innocent,

like it had never been said.

Then we remember.

kay kev

5. Kay Hill & Kevin Sanders

From edge of tar pit

to aeon-bled exhibit –

petrified moment.

christ

6. Christ of the Abyss

Petri dish culture

of tainted agar reveals

face of the prophet.

happy

7. Happy Days

‘Sit on it, Winnie!’

says Fonz, buried to his neck.

Sammy feeds the shark.

hyper

8. hyperhypercritical

Each tide’s rasping breath

a fraction of Moon’s release,

or: “saying goodbye.”

—ooOoo—

In summary…

Prodigious output:

teeth, gears grinding

– reflected in silver bullets.

—ooOoo—

hairdryer excommunication

aniseed and turpentine: joe murray on woven skull, petals, köhn

August 4, 2015 at 2:12 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Woven Skull – Fat Baby Blues (tape or download, Deserted Village, DV51)

petals – enactment & advocacy (CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

Köhn – The Long & Unwinding Road (CD-r, Kirigirisu Recordings, edition of 50 or download)

woven skull

Woven Skull – Fat Baby Blues

Two seventeen-minute pieces that sound jammed on the fly… but deeper inspection reveals some careful meshing with historical recordings.

‘Fat Baby Blues Part 1’: Dawn chorus guitar strums along with a misty moor drum pattern (locked like Liebezeit) summoning up some Summer Isle ensemble.  The rural ritual is played out as simple structures emerge; green shoots springing from black loam.  They unfurl like ferns revealing the mathematical complexity of fronds, the solemn beauty of autumn leaves.

But this is no sepia-tinted back-look to Fairport, String Band etc. The wooden ‘clunk’ of the gamelan folded into the end of ‘Fat… Part 1’ adds a whole-world-weirdness that wouldn’t be out of place in a Sun City Gurls joint.

‘Fat Baby Blues Part 2’: A deeper vibe.  Free reeds huff and drones are musty like cumin.  It reminds me of the great Jazzfinger; weaving sumptuous washes of sound from broken amps.  This fades into a damp techno where field recordings spar with shrimp synth tones.

The Woven Skull and their folding-in method becomes an exciting, bubbling tributary to the overcrowded field recordings debate.  Book an appointment with the Skull Doctors, pull up a chair and listen.

petals - enactment

petals – enactment & advocacy

I’ve never knowingly listened to Kevin Sanders’ Petals project but it’s a name I’ve seen about loads.  Or is that Plurals? Or Petrels? Jeepers N-AU it’s hard to keep up at times!  Alls I know is that I plugged this baby in zooming through York and didn’t pick my head up until Peterborough.  Proper heeds-down drone action as they say in Newcastle.

This disc (or ‘load’ is probably more accurate) consists of two lengthy tracks: ‘enactment’ and ‘advocacy’.

Super-heavyweight organic machines thrum deeply on ‘enactment’, pumping dark waste-gas through a grotesque puckered orifice.  There’s a real sense of musicality and movement to this track although it’s glacially slow.  You could certainly pick out the notes on a piano (slowly) as they descend through a scale with the flutter of an enormous damselfly – if you were that way inclined.  Being as tasty and uniformly stratified as a top notch lasagne your sonic nourishment is then deconstructed!  Eventually the layers are gradually faded out one-by-one to reveal the truth; the individual parts of this symphonic insect hum are simple electronic tones slathered with varnish and endlessly tweaked.

A war of attrition becomes the image-totem for my listening during ‘advocacy’.  Two forces: one weak but constantly modulating with plucky underdog energy, the other one stronger but erratic, bloated and unfocused.  Pitted together they are evenly matched creating a neutral stalemate position.

Plucky underdog seems to weaken further and play dead lulling bloated and unfocused into a sense of superiority.  Bloated and unfocused advances with speed, tactically over-stretching itself; snapping out at an enemy that doesn’t exist, chasing shadows until it changes shape entirely becoming dangerously shallow and all-encompassing.

Slowly, gradually, plucky underdog whispers an echo that’s almost impossible to pick up.  At first mimicking bloated but taking its time, gradually overpowering the once bloated and now almost transparent signal.

And so this listen ends, as it began, with two opposing forces pitting themselves endlessly against each other.  The balance of power has changed, that is true.  But at what cost?

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which.

– George Orwell, Animal Farm (1944)

kohn

Köhn – The Long & Unwinding Road

A three-track synth/organ/keyboard meditation from one of Gent’s finest, Jurgen De Blonde.

Track one, ‘Alwatis is Alwateris’, is a static, stately almost regal drone that seems to look backwards (Logan’s Run jumpsuits) and forwards (thought transference and soul download) in time simultaneously across its eighteen minute span.

Where Petals were carbon-dense this is hydrogen-light, fixing to float away until moored by the occasional luscious Rhodes Piano-type tones making this as swooningly lovely as that Cocteau Twins and Harold Budd album I remember from incense-fuelled bedsit fumbles.  But it’s not all anxious eiderdown arranging; the fake-locked groove ending made me cough up a cola cube with a genuine LOL.

‘Nu-uN’ wears it’s Flemish heart on its sleeve with that slightly wonky 1980’s animation feel.  Monster organs float in the upper atmosphere, pipes the diameter of small cars pumping out sky-music to the primitive creatures below.  At least that is what I’m hearing.

But it’s the final track ‘Albeit’ where I lose my shit [Editor’s note: I love this track too].  There are pin-prick tone clusters to start; all bright dazzle but with a peculiar flavour – I’m getting aniseed, I’m getting turpentine.

Then my slow mind thinks,

this is not the sort of stuff you normally listen to…

and I start feeling the excitement of a new vista opening up between my ears.  My slow mind says

…this is Autechre repainted in primary colours, all textures softened with practical linoleum.

This is no Drake-style diss-track.  The optimism and hope that flows through ‘Albeit’ is a joy.  Music moves me every day.  It makes me twist and shout, throw the horns, stroke a chin…even fall in love, but very rarely do I feel so goddamn charmed by a piece of music that’s simply going about its business without any fuss or expectations.

—ooOoo—

Deserted Village

hairdryer excommunication

Kirigirisu Recordings

blistered, glistening: releases by ian watson and kevin sanders

April 29, 2015 at 3:53 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Ian Watson – Caermaen (CD-r, Dust, Unsettled, DU09, edition of 50 or download)

Messrs. Sanders & Watson – Cumulative Undulations (2 x CD-r in gatefold sleeve, self-released, edition of 50 or download)

ian watson - caermaenwatson and sanders

Ian Watson – Caermaen

Dunno why I’ve slept so long on this one.  An intriguing album of heavy electrics by the second most charming guy in noise released by the most charming guy in noise – you’d think I’d be all over it, wouldn’t you?  My apologies for the inexplicable tardiness.  Allow me to make amends.

What we have here is a four track CD-r (long gone – sorry) or free download (still available – woo!) by Ian Watson – artist, polymath – released on Dust, Unsettled, the label run by definitive good egg Brian Lavelle.  It was composed using ‘cymbals and feedback’ manipulated through bosky layers of electrics and is apparently inspired by the writing of Welsh mystic and Lovecraft influence Arthur Machen.  So far, so perfect.

A satisfyingly viscous low end and a refreshingly untamed crackling at the top act as river banks containing the current’s flow.  Could that be a torrent of fluorescent ectoplasm combed clean by the bones of skeletal fish?  Sure, if you like.  I can certainly imagine Ian’s kit producing a cool, flickering, ghostly green light:

Brian: err… is that supposed to be happening?

Ian: mate, it isn’t even plugged in!  Perhaps we should leave the room…

Brian: press ‘record’ first though.

Ian: oh yeah, of course, NOW RUN!

…but what this called to mind for me were happy times I’d spent as a teenager staring at a lump of dirty metal.

One of my first jobs was operating a solder bath in a factory that manufactured printed circuit boards.  Boards were loaded onto a conveyor belt, subjected to a terrifying liquid that cleaned the copper (so corrosive that I dropped two pence coins into it to see the queen’s face dissolve), covered in slime to help the solder stick, hung on a hook by me, dunked into a bath of liquid metal about three feet deep, blasted with air blades on the way back up, then placed on another conveyor belt.  Repeat for eight or nine hours with frequent breaks to sit on chemical drums outside and smoke cigarettes.

On Fridays we would be paid in cash in little brown envelopes around 11am.  At lunchtime I’d race to the nearest pub, drink as much as possible, smoke a spliff on the way back and spend the afternoon cleaning this machine – heated to 250 degrees centigrade – in my shirtsleeves because, y’know, it was too fucking hot for overalls and a certain amount of scar tissue looks manly and suggests character doesn’t it?  The spray and overflow of hot solder dripped down into the guts of the machine and coagulated there into something magical.

This mass of waste solder – the size and shape of a child’s torso, almost too heavy to carry – was a mesmerising landscape of clustered globules, of organic micro-castles blistered with irregular crenellations, of needle sharp, filigree wire work.  All glistening a muddied silver, hopelessly polluted with the scorched scum that boiled from the boards as they were dunked.  These random accumulations of melted metal remain some of the most beautiful objects I have ever seen, even accounting for how stoned I was at the time.  Something about this album took me back to that sight and that made me very happy.

Messrs. Sanders & Watson – Cumulative Undulations

Also available from a neighbouring stable is this two hour long, two track, two CD-r set, by two collaborators: Mr. Ian Watson (as above) and Mr. Kevin Sanders (see below).

Imagine a large ruined house in a forest, swamped in ivy – each luscious leaf as deep green as cooked spinach, as shiny as patent leather.  Now imagine the root severed and the gradual death of the above ground plant, its draining vitality and increasing brittleness.  A high quality digital camera is making a time lapse film of this process.  Once complete the memory card is removed and Kev and Ian bath it in a a cool, flickering, ghostly green light.  This ‘develops the film’ with an occult power that reveals the usually invisible creatures of woodland folklore that live around the ruin: dryads, fairies, elves, horrifying, robotic horseshoe crabs, their scrabbling legs the stuff of nightmares, their carapaces as black as a dominatrix’s whip, and so on.  Now play the film in reverse and compose a soundtrack to it using just rust and magnets.

This: that.

—ooOoo—

Ian Watson

Dust, Unsettled

hairdryer excommunication

steel gaze: joe murray on recent releases by kevin sanders

April 26, 2015 at 8:52 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Kevin Sanders – Aladdin, al-Bireh (CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

kevin sanders – a study in pink (3” CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

kevin sanders – live in berlin, 2015 (3” CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 9 or download)

ks - aladdin

Kevin Sanders – Aladdin, al-Bireh

High-in-the-mix scraping, like I’m scooping the last remaining smears of thick yogurt from an earthenware bowl, beckon me into Kevin Sanders’ felt yurt.  I remove my shoes and adopt a cross-legged pose to match my host whose steely gaze has not left mine.

His intensity is replayed in the heavy fugging drone that sweeps gently over the initial scrape.  Two notes are lazily fingered, ‘AHHHhhhhhhhhhhh OHHHhhhhhhhhhhh’ – a cosmic call and response to a distant god.

All the while a ball of tangled steel wool is unravelled at a snail’s pace.  Watching the slim pale hands move with purpose, but without fussy haste, manipulating the thin wire, unwinding, untwisting and smoothing it out is…making me….s…l…..e…….e………p………….y.

Dreams, so often a blessedly heavy velvet vacuum, are now full of distant howls of creatures yet-imagined.  The fear of the fear jams my mouth open and eyes wide.  Roaring voices pour from my throat as I am the vessel of the lost souls.  Each life left in limbo protests limply at being held like a fly in amber.  But the numbers!  The countless number of them leave my throat sore as the last snivelling heckle dribbles down my damp chin.

But all things must pass and I awaken beneath the poplar trees, glittering with marvellous frost.

ks - pink

kevin sanders – a study in pink

This is no-nonsense stuff.  Some electro cardiogram briefly splutters and we’re catapulted into a see-sawing sinewave swoon.  It’s dogtooth check rough up close but smooth as alabaster from a distance.

And that’s the stand-out thing about this 3 incher.  There really is so much going on in here you can, in the right state of mind, project yourself into the landscape, stand among the slowly peaking waves of static or ride the rolling ocean of thundering grumble like a tiny Norrin Rad.

The space analogy gets stronger as about half way through this 19 minute piece planets and stars begin to hurl themselves about, bending gravity and swooping perilously close to each other.  The solar whoosh of the near miss is felt as gentle pressure on the balls of the feet.  The last two minutes slowly unfold like some docking sequence; two rusty old Soyuz modules that got pimped-out by Grateful Dead fans to better honk the Dark Star-brand kif pipe, kiss silently with a sigh of compressed air.  Two become one.

ks - berlin

Kevin Sanders – live in berlin, 2015

OK readers.  So far we’ve had two different approaches, two different moods showing two different sides to Mr Kevin Sanders.

But this micro-diskette, recorded in a flat on Sonnenallee is my personal pick of the bunch. The notes say:

A broken organ in the flat was used to create two tape loops which were processed.

This all seems simple enough eh?  But the super-exciting thing about this 21 minute set is that the process is left clear and unadorned.  The tape loops are cut with confidence and make an extremely satisfying gristly crunch each time they turn back on themselves.  This becomes both rhythm and off-kilter melody as the singing-bowl-ring builds in intensity in the background.

Overtones become undertones become slumber-tones.  Each successive loop, as bright as copper, slides down a shapely neck to rest on lightly furred shoulders.  They collect in metallic piles on top of each other, shifting with faint tinkles.

By the 14 minute mark everything gains a superheavyweight quality.  What once was sunny and bright becomes black like lead with a similarly dark purpose.  What seems like the dawning of a dark inevitability eventually plateaus out into a shimmering crystal desert.  Geysers spew their hot dust, the polished sand flickers with heat haze.  The organ spits its last dirty electric cough and sadly clicks off.

—ooOoo—

hairdryer excommunication

the 2014 zellaby awards

January 4, 2015 at 8:23 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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zellaby award envelope

The deliberations are over, the ballots are burning.  White smoke billows from the chimney here at Midwich Mansions.  Ignore the salty wave of ‘best of 2014’ lists you saw prematurely ejaculated over an appalled December – here is the real thing. ‘Never finalised prior to January 1st’ – that’s the Zellaby pledge.

And what a conclave it has been!  Scott turned up early and presented his nominations as a hyperlinked series of Discogs listings – he spoke using a vocoder throughout and would only answer our questions if we assigned them catalogue numbers.  Joe’s effervescent enthusiasm remained undimmed despite a trip to Accident and Emergency following a foolhardy attempt to gargle Christmas tree baubles.  New kid Luke seemed happy to fetch and carry despite our hazing pranks – oh, how we laughed sending him to Wilko’s for a tub of left handed CD-rs!  All I had to do was sit in my wing-backed leather chair, fingers steepled, and pass Solomon-style judgement.  My beautiful Turkish manservant took copious notes during procedures, of course, and whilst those are being transcribed I’m afraid I must begin with some sombre news: the underground is dead.

An article making this claim by David Keenan was published in the December issue of The Wire magazine and caused adverse weather in the crockery.  Having finally read it I can confirm that it is, by and large, laughable.  The friend who sent me a copy included this note:

Here it is.  I will look forward to reading your response as it would be great to see his flimsy, self-obsessed nonsense getting torn apart.

Hmm, yeah, tempting as it is to to embark on a comprehensive rebuttal what does it really matter?  I hate to disappoint but engaging with the wilful fucknuttery to be found in publications like The Wire is like arguing about the properties of phlogiston – it might be of vague historical or semantic interest to those with too much time on their hands but is ultimately pointless.  My favourite response has been Tom Bench‘s (@TJDizzle) satirical summary of Keenan’s disdain, tweeted in reply to some genuine outrage from Duncan Harrison (@Young_Arms):

yr not tru underground because u have friends and sometimes talk to them about music

Lolz.

Some of the fallout has been quite interesting though.  Just before Christmas, RFM started getting hits from an Italian language music site that was, on investigation, carrying an interview with Keenan in which he is asked specifically about the idea of the ‘no-audience underground’ as popularised by this blog.  In his short response he manages to invent a barely recognizable straw man version of the notion, take a swing at it, miss, then step back as if he’d actually landed a punch.  Admittedly, Google Translate may have knocked some nuance out of his answer but, as I was able to read it, it was good for a hearty chuckle and fuck all else.

Phil Smith, currently researching the history of Termite Club for a book chapter, wrote a thoughtful piece largely agreeing with Keenan that contained the following tragicomic scene:

One of the saddest moments of the year for me (on a lovely day) was Neil Campbell & John Tree talking about whether there was ever in our lifetime likely to be a music revolution like (say) punk again (one which Keenan seems to want), & shaking their heads in total ‘of course not’ resignation, the required kidz soaked in computer games & all manner of other entertainment drips & (I suppose) music, whatever it signifies to people, only ever welling up in such a way as part of a business move anyway.

I laughed out loud reading this.  Not only have these rueful old geezers forgotten at least one revolution we’ve already had since punk (rave culture – musically game changing, actual laws passed to disrupt it) but the internet enabled golden age is orders of magnitude more significant than punk.  Here’s a piece from yonks ago which begins to explain why and, for good measure, here’s another from double-yonks ago about why The Wire is hopeless too.

Neil Campbell, emboldened by Keenan’s piece and nostalgic memories of poorly received gigs unearthed in response to Phil’s Termite research, ramped up his usual silliness.  On Twitter he lamented the lack of confrontation nowadays and took the piss with his #realnoaudienceunderground hashtag.  I was interested to find out if there was any substance behind his bravado so devised an experiment.  After waiting for Twitter to move on, I called Neil out on some random nonsense in a deliberately antagonistic manner.  As expected, fight came there none.  Indeed, after explaining what I was up to both publicly and via direct message (the latter, I admit, did contain the phrases ‘full of shit’ and ‘you ol’ fraud!’) I found myself unfollowed.  Ah well, so much for confrontation.

(Aside: Neil has form for practice/preach discrepancy.  After hearing him proclaim several times that he’d rather read a bad review than a good one I took him at his word and minced three Astral Social Club releases including the album Electric Yep.  I did this with heavy heart and even ran it past Neil before posting.  He replied with a jaunty ‘hey you know me, go ahead’ but after I did he deleted the RFM link from the list of friends on his Astral Social Club blog and has not submitted anything at all since.  I was amused to find myself excommunicated for heresy.  Ah well, so much for bad reviews.)

I get the impression that Neil might be a bit uneasy with his current status as universally loved sacred cow.  Or maybe he digs it and is frustrated not to be a Wire mag cover star?  Who knows?  I love the guy, have done for about fifteen years, and hate to jeopardise a friendship with a shameless ad hominem attack over something so inconsequential but… dude has clearly forgotten how to take a kick to the udders.

So, in summary: those that say they want confrontation don’t, or rather only want it on their own terms or at a safe distance, those that lament the lack of revolution need only to open their eyes to what is happening around them and those that proclaim the underground dead are talking pish.

Before moving on a word about terms of engagement.  Whilst I’ve enjoyed a few physical fights in the past (yeah, I may be short and out of shape but I’m fucking mental), I find this kind of swaggering jaw-jaw to be boring, childish and unproductive.  Comment if you like but unless what is posted is novel, substantial and engaging I am unlikely to respond.  I won’t be tweeting about it under any circumstances.  I have washed my hands and will need an irresistible reason to get ’em dirty again.

—ooOoo—

BOY!  WHERE ARE THOSE NOTES?  Oh, thank you.  Have a shortbread biscuit.  Right then, shall we crack on with the fun bit?

—ooOoo—

Radio Free Midwich presents The Zellaby Awards 2014

Thank you for bearing with us.  Firstly, an apology: due to, y’know, austerity n’ that, this year’s ceremony will be taking place on the swings in the playground at the muddy end of the estate.  Nominations will be scratched into the paint of the railings and refreshments will be whatever cider Luke can prise from the grip of local vagrants.

Secondly, the rules: to be eligible in one of the following five categories this music needs to have been heard by one of us for the first time in 2014.  It does not need to have been released in 2014.  As the purpose of these awards is to spread the good news about as many quality releases as possible, should an artist win in one category they will not be placed in any of the others.  I do not vote for any of my own releases, nor any releases that I had a hand in, er…, releasing (with one notable exception this year).  My three comrades are free to ignore these rules and write about what they like.  The price paid for this freedom is that I, as editor, have final say.  Thus the awards are the product of the idiosyncratic taste of yours truly with input from my co-writers along the way.

A couple of omissions explained.  Long term readers may be shocked to find no mention of previous winners Ashtray Navigations or the piss superstition.  Phil and Mel have been preoccupied this year with moving house, full time unenjoyment and various celebrations of the AshNav 20th anniversary and have not been as prolific as nutcase fans such as myself would like.  There has been one cassette of new material, Aero Infinite, which, to my shame, I only became aware of recently and do not yet own.  Believe me, the pain is fierce.  Bookies have already stopped taking bets on their planned four-disc retrospective winning everything next time out.

Julian and Paul have shared a split live tape with Broken Arm and had a CD-r, The Dialled Number, The Bone-Breaker, The Heavenly Sword, out on Sheepscar Light Industrial but, in my humble opinion, their defining release of 2014 was getting nothing to appear on the developed film, a mighty album which is sadly ineligible for this year’s awards because it was released by me on fencing flatworm recordings as their ‘prize’ for winning album of the year last time.  See, complicated isn’t it?

There are also many releases on the guilt-inducing review pile that I suspect could have been contenders had I found time to digest them properly: apologies to Ian Watson, Prolonged Version, Troy Schafer, Seth Cooke etc. and thanks for your continued patience.  For the first time, two entries in this year’s poptastic final chart are previously unreviewed on RFM.  Mysterious, eh?

OK, enuff with the preamble.  The first category is…

5. The “I’d never heard of you 10 minutes ago but now desperately need your whole back catalogue” New-to-RFM Award

Joe votes for Yoni Silver:

I heard Yoni Silver play a solo bass clarinet set on November 1st this year. Over the course of 20 minutes I blinked repeatedly and snapped my fingers; my mouth hung open like a codfish and eventually my eyes filled with hot tears. I’d emerged from a jazz-hole that ranged from barely-there, reductionist ‘hummmm’, to wet-chop dribble/spittle outta the brassy pipes, to full-bore Ayler-esque gospel skronk. It was so good I didn’t just clap and holla…I vowed to start a record label to immediately box this shit up. Yoni’s discs are thin on the ground but live shows with proper jazz cats and beards like PWHMOBS are gathering pace. Watch out!

Luke goes for Botanist:

Ever fantasized about a forest dwelling black metal troll singing songs about plant life on drums and hammered dulcimer only?  Me too.  Well, fantasize no longer: he exists. Just when your jaded ears smugly tell you they’ve heard it all along comes the Botanist.

taming power - twenty-one pieces - cover

…but anyone paying attention will have already guessed that the winner this year is Taming Power.

I might have indulged in some ill advised Campbell-baiting above but I am profoundly grateful to Neil for taking the time to introduce me to the world of Askild Haugland.  This quiet Norwegian has amassed a sizeable back catalogue of tape and vinyl releases on his own Early Morning Records, most of which were recorded, edited and annotated around the turn of the century and have remained largely unheralded since.  His work – created using tape recorders, cassette players, shortwave radios, electric guitars and the like – is perfection viewed from shifting angles, filtered through prisms.  His patience and dedication to uncovering every nuance of his processes are truly inspiring.  It has been an enormous pleasure to promote his music to a (slightly) wider audience – exactly what this blog is all about.  The chap himself seems lovely too.  Read more: Neil’s accidental guest post, reviews, more reviews, Early Morning Records catalogue.

…and when you return we can move on to…

4. The “Stokoe Cup”, given for maintaining quality control over a huge body of work making it impossible to pick individual releases in an end of year round up

Joe makes a compelling case for the Peak Signal 2 Noise broadcasts:

If Cathy Soreny and her Sheffield-based gladiators had released ten 25 minute compilation tapes in a year featuring the creamy froth of the N-AU we’d stand to attention and sing a rousing song. To create ‘visual cassettes’ for your telly and computer screen and navigate the machinations of the community TV industry and come up with such a thoroughly curated, imaginatively shot and god-damn funny series is just the bee’s knees. PS2N has opened another glossy window into the N-AU.

Luke keeps it pithy:

The Stokoe Cup should clearly go to Lee Stokoe.  ‘The underground is dead ‘ announces David Keenan in The Wire this month ‘shut up you prat’ is the reply from Radio Free Midwich.

Scott agrees:

Predictable enough, I HAVE to say Lee Stokoe. Browsing my discogs list for 2014 acquisitions it’s virtually all Matching Head tapes – either the new ones or tapes from the 90s that I didn’t already have. Its consistent to the point of sheer ridiculousness.

daniel thomas - that which

However, the editor has other ideas.  This year’s winner is Daniel Thomas.

Dan’s output in 2014 has been prodigious.  He even wins in two categories that don’t exist: ‘1016’ the opener on Enemy Territory is my track of the year (go on, play it whilst reading the rest of this article) and the ‘flower press’ edition of That Which Sometimes Falls Between Us / As Light Fades put together by Dave Thomas (no relation) for its release on Kirkstall Dark Matter wins packaging of the year too.  The latter album is perhaps the definitive expression of ‘extraction music‘ – the sub-genre I defined as a way of herding the work of Dan, Dave, Kev Sanders and other fellow travellers into a manageable fold of headspace – and one of at least three projects involving Dan that could have been album of the year.  For the record, the other two are Hagman’s Number Mask on LF Records and the remarkable Dub Variations by The Thomas Family in another beautiful package hand crafted by Crow Versus Crow:

It is the bead of sweat on the brow of the tightrope walker. It is a time-lapse film of dew condensing onto a cobweb.

Dan shows no signs of slowing, nor of relinquishing his choke-tight quality control.  I cannot wait to hear what he has for us in 2015.

…and now a favourite moment for the editor:

3. The Special Contribution to Radio Free Midwich Award

Scott goes for a far-flung ambassador:

It has to be Miguel Pérez.  For making RFM a global concern, and being full of passion, he’s the man.

Joe, as ever, finds this a tough one to pin down.  He suggests…

…we should say a thank you to all the readers and contributors … to everyone who has waited patiently for a review/carried on reading without sending us hate mail…

…which is a sentiment I share, of course, but this year I think one particular set of contributors has to be recognized in this category.  God knows how 27 different acts are going to share the gong though because the winners are…

Michael Clough - eye for detail cover

The artists who submitted tracks to eye for detail – the midwich remixes album:

Andy Jarvis (Vile Plumage, NIHL), ap martlet, Aqua Dentata, Breather, Brian Lavelle, Chrissie Caulfield (of RFM faves Helicopter Quartet), Clive Henry, Dale Cornish, Daniel Thomas, devotionalhallucinatic, DR:WR (Karl of The Zero Map), dsic, foldhead (Paul Walsh – who accidentally started it all), Hardworking Families (Tom Bench), In Fog (Scott McKeating of this parish), John Tuffen (of Orlando Ferguson), Michael Clough (who also provided cover art), Michael Gillham, Neil Campbell (Astral Social Club), Panelak, Paul Watson (BBBlood), posset (Joe Murray also of RFM), Simon Aulman (pyongyang plastics), the piss superstition, Van Appears, Yol, and ZN.

This year I finally joined Twitter which, as a wise-cracking, smart-arse, mentally unstable narcissist with self-esteem issues, turned out to be a perfect platform for me (though for those exact same reasons I think I’ll have to exercise a bit more caution with it in future).  One of the first things that happened was a throwaway comment about a midwich remix project ballooning into an actual album that had to be retroactively called into existence.  The final release six weeks later contained 27 re-workings of tracks from my back catalogue and lasted a total of 3 hours 40 minutes.  The process was humbling, exhilarating, joyful and unprecedented in my personal experience.

The album remains available here (along with more detail as to its construction).  If you don’t already have it, I recommend you treat yourself with that Christmas money from Gran.  I’m charging a fiver for the download and all dough raised is being given to The Red Cross.  The total donated so far, after PayPal and Bandcamp fees, is something like £180.  When I reached a ton I had a giant-cheque-handing-over-ceremony, again following whims blurted out on Twitter.

Many, many thanks to all involved – you are elite members of the pantheon of the righteous.

—ooOoo—

BOY!!  DIM THE LIGHTS.  What?  Oh yes, we’re outside aren’t we.  Fetch me a shortbread biscuit then.  What do you mean there are none left?  Well, just give me the one you are holding.  Gah!  The impertinence!  Anyway, finally we come to the two main categories…

—ooOoo—

2. The Label of the Year Award

Joe goes for No Basement is Deep Enough:

You could easily mistake No Basement is Deep Enough’s tape goof for a zany Zappa-esque prank. But peel away the layers; brush the fringe to one side, open that single plush tit and you are rewarded with some amazing music. Almost like a wonky Finders Keepers NBIDE have unveiled some new ghouls and re-released some remarkable old gizzards (Alvaro – The Chilean with the Singing Nose, Ludo Mich and Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson) in frankly outrageous packaging. Old or new, experimental classicists or gutter-dwelling hobo these gonks are pure trippin’ for ears.

Yeah, I’ve been involved as a one of these gonks this year but I think that means I can give you an extra bit of insight into how curator Ignace De Bruyn and designer Milja Radovanović are such wonderful human beings. I told them about getting some mentions in The Wire (Ed – you’ll love this) and they didn’t give a shit. “Ha, we always get mentioned in The Wire without any clue how, what, where, when” said Ignace, “and let’s keep it like that” he chortled into his waffle.

Luke narrows it down to two:

Beartown Records.  A consistent champion of no audience sounds and nice and cheap, they sent me a parcel addressed to Luke ‘ the sick’ Vollar which contained a postcard with ‘sorry just sorry’ written on it.  For this reason they are my label of the year.

Also a mention for Altar of Waste.  I find it comforting to know that somewhere in North America there is a guy called Cory Strand transforming his favourite films / TV programmes / music into insanely limited and lovingly presented sets. Twenty disc drone interpretation of Harry Potter limited to five copies!? He also releases loads of drone/HNW discs that are lovely items to look at and listen to including my album of the year [SPOILER REMOVED – Ed]

Scott apologises:

Sorry, Matching Head again.

Luminous worthies, for sure, but I reckon my choice has been phosphorescent:

kevin sanders - ascension through apathy

The winner is hairdryer excommunication.

The solo venture of Kevin Sanders has released, I believe, 26 items in the calendar year 2014.  Unbelievably, during the same time, he has also had his creations released by other labels, has played live, has moved house and job along a lengthy diagonal line from North to South and has let fly with a gazillion opaque tweets.  This guy’s heart must beat like a fucking sparrow’s.

But never mind the girth, feel the quality.  Kev’s hairdryer excommunication sits alongside Lee Stokoe’s Matching Head as an absolute exemplar of the no-audience underground micro-label as expression of personal vision.  Each release is a new page in the atlas mapping the world he is presenting to us; each trembling drone, each nihilistic/ecstatic scything fuzz is a contour line.  Like all great labels, hXe is greater than the sum of its parts and only gets more compelling as those parts collect and combine.  I appreciate that this might appear daunting for the newbie so here’s five to be starting with – you’ll thank me for it.

Now you see why I have to strictly enforce my ‘win allowable in only one category’ rule.  I could have created a top 40 (!) that just contained releases by, or involving, Askild, Dan and Kev.  Astonishing.  So, leaving those guys sat chatting under the climbing frame, we finally come to the blue riband, best in show, gold medal event:

1. The Album of the Year Award

Woo!  Lists!  Click on the album title and you will be taken to the original RFM review (if such a thing exists) or another applicable page (if not) where you will find details of the release (label, whatnot) and, most importantly, how to go about hearing/purchasing these marvels.

First to the lectern is Mighty Joe Murray:

It’s taken a real effort to whittle this down but here’s my top 5 in order:

faint people

1. The New Band of the Faint People – The Man Who Looked at the Moon

Keep yr Wounded Nurse. These micro-pieces are stitched together with a domestic hand juggling fly agaric.

2. Rotten Tables, Golden Meat – My Nose is Broken

This cheeky release opened a new stomach pouch and gassed itself in…yeasty and fruity. Biggest smiles of the year.

3. Pascal – Nihilist Chakai House

It goes, “tk tk tk tk tk …. po/po/po – ping.” Blistering like hot metal pipes; fragile like seaweed.

4. Spoils & Relics – Embed and then Forget

Stream-of-consciousness becomes conscious itself…a living, breathing music as fresh as green parsley.

5. CKDH – Yr Putrid Eyeballs/Fungal Air Creeping Adders

The most violently restrained listen of the year by a long shot. Needle sharp. Music to break radios.

Scott briefly interjects:

skullflower - draconis

Skullflower – Draconis

As sylph-like a heavyweight as you’re ever likely to hear.

Now over to the office junior Luke:

Album of the year…

midwich - the swift cover

Midwich – The Swift

Utterly sublime floating tones, get your cranky toddler off to sleep in minutes, limited to 15 copies only?!  Madness. [Editor’s note: ha! What is more shameful? Luke sucking up to his editor or me for publishing it?  Yes, I know its me – shut up.]

The rest:

Spoils & Relics – Embed and then Forget
culver & posset – black gash
Skullflower – Draconis
Aqua Dentata – The Cygnet Procambarus
Robert Ridley Shackleton / Werewolf Jerusalem / She Walks Crooked – April Fools
Ashtray Navigations  – Aero Infinite
Yol – Headless Chicken Shits out Skull Shaped Egg
Dylan Nyoukis – Yellow Belly
Ezio Piermattei – Turismodentale

..and last of all, to your faithful editor.  I have chosen twenty items (well, twenty three including cheats).  The first half are presented in no particular order, the second set in the traditional ‘top ten run down’ ending with the actual, objectively verified best album of the year.  In my opinion.

10. NIHL / Female Borstal / Dear Beloved Henry / Albert Materia

female borstal nihl splitdear beloved henry

The perils of the split tape, eh?  I dug the Female Borstal side of the former, sadly didn’t get on with Albert Materia on the latter.  However the sides by NIHL and Dear Beloved Henry were bloody marvellous and, if they’d appeared on the same object would have rocketed up these rankings.  So I’m imagining an ideal world in which they did.  NIHL got a haiku:

Seduced by darkness

beyond guttering arc-light –

like moths, like dead souls.

Praise for Dear Beloved Henry – equally heartfelt, less formatting:

…deceptively simple in execution: a flowing electronic drone groove with a vaguely East Asian feel – like 1970s Krautrock that has been listening to a bunch of gamelan LPs – works through the variations.  However, every so often a magnetic pull distorts it off course and adds an intriguing, complicating layer of discordance.  It’s like it was mastered to VHS and someone is now messing with the tracking.  Is this an artefact of duping it to an old recycled tape or is this woosiness wholly intended?  The result is magical either way.

9. Helicopter Quartet – Leading Edges

helicopter quartet - leading edges

 …the album expresses a profound vision with an austere but soulful beauty.  Imagine a slate-blue version of Ashtray Navigations psychedelics or a restrained take on the intensity of, say, Swans without the self-loathing bombast. The band may jokingly self-describe as ‘semi-melodic mournfulness’ but this is a deeply serious music with, I think, plenty to say about the difficult, forlorn, wonderful, awe-inspiring condition we find ourselves in.

…Helicopter Quartet are, to my tired ears, a near-perfect example of how musicianship can be harnessed in a noise context.  Chrissie and Mike balance their considerable skills with an understanding of how to use noise to pluck the soul of the listener and have it vibrate with a slightly discordant, emotionally complicated, seriously intended, profoundly satisfying resonance.

8. Sophie Cooper – Our Aquarius

sophie cooper - our aquarius

 

When I wrote in the RFM Christmas message to the nation…

To be transported by a work of art – to be lifted from yourself, your surroundings and placed elsewhere for the duration – is a profound experience and, as someone who has trouble with self-sabotaging mental illness, one that I greatly appreciate. Catch me right and the bus to work is swapped for a magic carpet skimming the treetops. Find me in a susceptible mood and waiting at a pedestrian crossing becomes standing at the bedside of an elderly relative, brimful with a mixture of love and trepidation. Listening to music pans the muddy water sloshing inside my head, nuggets of gold and squirming, glistening creatures are uncovered. It – thus: you – is a constant source of revelation, of insight and of inspiration.

…it was no coincidence that I had been listening to this album a lot.  My apologies to Sof for not getting around to reviewing it but, hey, Uncle Mark did over at Idwal Fishers.  The cad suggests that it is ‘by no means a flawless release’ but if he dare repeat that in my vicinity I shall strike his cheek with my glove.

7. Stuart Chalmers – imaginary musicks vol. 1

stuart chalmers - imaginary musiks vol 1

The world his music describes is fully formed and the listener’s experience of it is immersive and ego-dissolving but carefully placed ticks – a filter echo, a moment of dictaphonic skwee – bring you back to the surface by foregrounding its artificiality. It’s like a South Sea Islands version of Philip K. Dick’s Time out of Joint. Imagine walking on the golden beach, admiring the dancing palms, looking out over the glassy ocean to the setting sun only for it all to suddenly disappear and be replaced with a featureless white room and a scrap of paper at your feet with the words ‘tropical paradise’ typed on it. As with all the very best stuff: the more I listen to it, the more I want to listen to it.

6. The Skull Mask – Nocturno Mar / Sunburn

skull mask - nocturno marskull mask - sunburn

Another terrific year for the prolific Miguel Pérez, RFM’s Mexican cousin.  From the bloody-minded free noise of his improv duo ZN to the incense-and-bitumen ritual drone of The Will of Nin Girima (released on new label-to-watch Invisible City Records), I doubt a week has passed without me spending some time in his company.

My favourite of his projects is The Skull Mask and these two recordings were released either side of Miguel’s return to acoustic guitar.  The former is made of enveloping, tidal drones containing half-submerged reversed vocals.  It can prove oppressively menacing or hypnotically soothing depending on your mood as you encounter it.  Just like the night sea it is named for.  The latter is ravaged, desert psychedelia improvised with raw acoustic guitar.  There is no shade under which Miguel, or the listener, can hide – this is completely exposed music and is riveting.

5. Yol – Headless Chicken Shits out Skull Shaped Egg

yol - headless chicken

From the preamble to a review by Joe:

For the uninitiated Yol has carefully and modestly created his own footnote in the frantic world of kinetic poetry.  Imagine tiny fragile words battered with broken bottles.  Innocent syllables and posh sibilance swashes getting clotted and clumped together.  Those classy phonics all chopped up and smashed; ground out like spent fags and stuttered wetly in a barely controlled rage…

Musical accompaniment is of the most primitive and brutal kind.  Forget the chest-beating Harsh Noise dullards, this is frighteningly naked and exposed.  Short blasts of destruction come from broken machinery, sheared plastic shards, bits of old hoover and burnt cutlery.  A more dicky commentator would say recordings are made in carefully selected site specific locations.  The truth?  Yol’s breaking into empty factory units and shouting his rusty head off.

4. Spoils & Relics – Sins of OmissionEmbed and then Forget

spoils and relics - sins of omissionembedandthenforget

The closest the RFM staff come to ‘critical consensus’.  I can’t decide which of these releases I prefer so you are getting ’em both.  From my review of the former:

Their music denies narrative … The palette used is a largely abstract selection of found, domestic and field recordings as well as sound produced by the various electronic implements that make up their ‘kit’.  The source of any given element is usually (and presumably deliberately) unclear.  They are examining the innards of everything, poking around where noise happens and taking notes.  It is more akin to the meta-musical experiments of AMM and their progeny.

Don’t be scared off – this music is not dry and scratchy, it is layered with humour (ranging from the wry raised eyebrow to banana skin slapstick), tension and a whip-smart self-awareness that speaks of the telepathic relationship between the band members when performing.  A piece by Spoils & Relics is about sound in the same way a piece by Jackson Pollock is about paint.

From Joe’s review of the latter:

There is a constant flow of ideas all itchy with life; reminding me of a similar feeling – running your finger over a gravestone, nails gouging the names.  I’m caught up in a multi-sensory melting of meaning into a constant ‘now’ … Listeners who favour that hi-fidelity will be delighted.  Beards who dwell in the no-fi world of clanking tape jizz are going to be entranced.  Skronk fans will be be-calmed.  Zen droners will wake up refreshed and sharp.

3. Ap Martlet – Analog Computer

ap martlet - analog computer

The title is perfect – it calls to mind a room-sized, valve-run difference engine humming with contented menace.  These three tracks seem less compositions than iterations of an algorithm set in motion by a wonky punchcard being slotted into the machine upside-down.  ‘Comdyna’ and ‘Thurlby’ are both rhythmic in an abstract sense – the latter being a low impact step aerobics class for retired ABC Warriors, the former an exercise in patience and discipline as a series of low-slung tones are held until they start to feedback, then released, then repeated.  The final track, ‘Heathkit’, is a coruscating, brain-scouring, fuzz-drone.  It is the kind of sound that in a workshop you would wear ear protectors to dampen but here it is presented for our contemplation and admiration.

2. culver – plague hand

culver - plague hand tapes

[Editor’s note: a sudden attack of prudishness has stopped me from reproducing the covers of this release.  Scans can be found accompanying the original review.]

I need to account for Matching Head catalogue number 200: plague hand by culver, a twin tape set containing four side-long tracks totalling, you guessed it, 200 minutes.  Each of these four untitled pieces (the sides are labelled a,b,c, and d and that’s all you get) is a sombre Culvanian documentary: a long, wordless panoramic camera sweep taking in the scenery with an unblinking 360 degree turn.  Each is different from the last, all are wholly involving and will have the attentive listener crowing ‘aww… man, I was digging that!’ and reaching to flip or rewind as soon as the track ends.  I say ‘attentive listener’ but really there is no other kind because you have no choice in the matter.  This isn’t background music – allow yourself to get caught and your ego will be dissolved like a fly in a pitcher plant.  It is a masterwork and a fitting celebration of the numerically notable point it represents.

[Editor’s second note: Lee later told me that this is in fact all one track with various movements.  Just so as you know.]

…and the winner of the Zellaby Award for Album of the Year 2014 is:

1. Aqua Dentata – The Cygnet Procambarus

aqua dentata - cygnet procambarus

My review took the form of a science fiction (very) short story.  Eddie’s music does that kind of thing to your head.  Here it is:

In some future hospital you are recovering from a horrible accident. Within a giant glass vitrine, you are suspended in a thick, healing gel – an amniotic fluid rich in bioengineered enzymes and nanotech bots all busy patching you up. From the waist down you are enmeshed in metal, a scaffold of stainless steel pins keeping your shape whilst the work continues. The first twenty minutes of Eddie’s half hour describes your semi-conscious state of prelapsarian bliss, played out over dark undertones of bitter irony: every moment spent healing is, of course, a moment closer to confronting the terrible event that put you there.

During the final ten minutes the tank empties, bizarrely, from the bottom up. Pins are pushed from healing wounds and tinkle and clatter as they collect below you. Attending staff shuffle nervously but maintain a respectful distance and near silence. As the gel clears your head, your eyes slowly peel open, the corners of your mouth twitch. You look out through the glass at the fishbowled figures in the room. You weakly test the restraints you suddenly feel holding you in place, and with a sickening flash it all comes back and you rememb———

No-one in what this blog lovingly refers to as the ‘no-audience underground’ is producing work as consistently brilliant as Eddie Nuttall. The back catalogue of his project Aqua Dentata – growing with the alien beauty and frustrating slowness of a coral reef – contains not a wasted moment. His work – quiet, long-form dronetronics with metallic punctuation – is executed with the patience and discipline of a zen monk watching a spider construct a cobweb.  Best dressed man to feature on this blog too.

—ooOoo—

So, that is that.  Eddie’s prize, should he wish to take me up on it, is for Aqua Dentata to have the one and only release on the otherwise dormant fencing flatworm recordings some time in 2015.  I’ll keep you posted on negotiations.

Oh, and should any of you be interested in how this blog does – y’know, number of hits and all that – I’ve made the annual report provided by WordPress public and you can see it here.

Heartfelt best wishes for the New Year, comrades.  All is love.

Rob Hayler, January 2015.

 

hostile terrain: kevin sanders adds new pages to the atlas

November 25, 2014 at 8:42 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Kevin Sanders – Evenings & Weekends (limited edition CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

Kevin Sanders – The Weekday (limited edition CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

Kevin Sanders – A decline in aspiration (3” CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 20 or download)

Kevin Sanders – Circadian escapades (3” CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

Kevin Sanders – Consonants and ambiguity (3″ CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 15 or download)

ks - evenings weekendsks - weekdayks - declineks - circadianks - consonants

…and is there anyone in the no-audience underground as prolific as Kevin Sanders who can also match him for his flawless quality control? >hmph< – *makes dismissive hand gesture* – I doubt it.   At the time of writing Kev has produced 23 releases on his own label hairdryer excommunication in 2014, 20 of which involve him as sole artist or in collaboration with others. Unbelievably, during this same year, he has also had his creations released by other labels, has played live, has moved house and job along a lengthy diagonal line from North to South and has let fly with a gazillion opaque tweets which may be about the politics of radical librarianship (or perhaps his cat – I don’t really understand them all). Anyway, if Kev was a track relay runner he’d hand over the baton, take a short cut across the field dodging the shot puts and javelins of outrageous fortune, grab it back again and run the next leg himself. Then he’d do six extra laps despite the fact that no one is watching. Now, I’m far too sensitive to use the word ‘mad’ so let’s say the guy is ‘driven’…

…moving swiftly on to the sound I’ll leave the athletics metaphor in the sand pit and reach for the cartographical notion I’ve used before to describe both Kev’s work and that of fellow no-audience Stakhanovite Lee Stokoe. Given the number of these releases it isn’t possible to write (my usual) reams of whimsical nonsense about each one. Instead it seems appropriate to see them as pages of an atlas, adding to the map of the world Kev’s music is describing. The latest batch covers some pretty tough terrain…

Evenings & Weekends is a frozen beach of black volcanic sand, a tragically unheralded distress signal, still audible, is emitted from a shipwreck long submerged in the bay. Nobody here to respond. A decline in aspiration is a deserted street of steel shuttered buildings, a physical manifestation of the paranoid mantra: ‘if no-one gets in, no-one gets hurt’ – the heart-breaking logic of the emotionally scarred. The Weekday is an aerial photograph of heavy industry. The scything fuzz opening building into an opera for malfunctioning saw mill equipment. Circadian escapades is an overgrown battlefield where hollow, rusted armaments stand sentry in the brambles, chimed by the wind-whipped thorns…

…but for me, Consonants and ambiguity seems to be the key to it all. This is what the background electro-magnetic roar of the universe sounds like when reduced to the pitiful range of frequencies we can hear. It is the sound of the implacably hostile, utterly indifferent ocean of nothing that our tiny island bobs on top of. Our planet orbits at a point where, like Goldilock’s porridge, it is exactly the right temperature – a fluke. The radiation from an unimaginably vast rolling nuclear explosion we call the Sun can travel 93 million miles and then be deflected by your mirrorshades – a sick joke. There are no kitsch affectations, no tentacled Old Ones to worship: this is noise as pure cosmic horror. Its nihilism is, on its own perverted terms, immensely satisfying.  All the more so for knowing that Kev personally is a man of principle and deeply held conviction.  We all doubt though, we all weaken, and if you don’t have moments of wanting everything to JUST FUCKING BURN sometimes then I suggest you aren’t paying enough attention…

…I recommend you pick up these releases. You need them. Kev has also recently been donating the proceeds of his empire to the legal fund of Team Harpy, two women who have been threatened with ruin for the crime of calling out a man on his appalling behaviour. The full, grim story can be had via the links below. It is a worthy cause and the questions the situation raises are all too important and depressingly current…

—ooOoo—

hairdryer excommunication on Bandcamp

Kev on Team Harpy

Team Harpy

distillations: extraction music haiku compiled

August 20, 2014 at 6:57 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Daniel Thomas & Kevin Sanders – “I am a moment illuminating eternity… I am affirmation… I am ecstacy.” (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 25 or download)

TST – Tsim Sha Tsui (3” CD-r, Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.026, edition of 50 or download)

Kevin Sanders – A purification of space (CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 20 or download)

Petals – upon receiving the ultraviolet light (CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

Hagman – Number Mask (CD-r, LF Records, LF037)

Petals – I’ve never been very good at retorting narrative tales as I always get lost along the way. So I lie (tape, Beartown Records, edition of 33)

TST – The Spoken Truth (CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)

Daniel Thomas – Enemy Territory (CD-r, cherry row recordings, CRR005, edition of 25 or download)

Daniel Thomas – That Which Sometimes Falls Between Us / As Light Fades (2 x CD-r in wooden flower press, edition of 9, 2 x CD-r, edition of 39, or download, Kirkstall Dark Matter)

thomas and sanders - i am a moment

That Twitter is alright, innit? After stalling for years I finally signed up a couple of weeks ago and can be found @radiomidwich should you be inclined to go looking. Knowing that I was entering a lengthy period of hectic work activity, and that my energy levels are low, I was looking for a way of staying current that was effortless to pick up and just as easy to put down. With apologies to my regular email correspondents, Twitter fits the bill real nice. I have the odd gripe with twittery behaviour already but by and large I’ve been enjoying the shouty-pub-with-six-jukeboxes-and-four-televisions-on atmosphere and the opportunity to crack wise and arse smart. It also gave me an idea of how to scythe through a crop of review items.

Some context: the leading exponents of the sub-genre I’ve defined as ‘extraction music‘ are very busy guys indeed – check out the heaving parentheses in the following sentence. Dave Thomas (solo as ap martlet, half of Hagman, one third of TST, label boss of Kirkstall Dark Matter), Daniel Thomas (solo under his own name, the other half of Hagman, a further third of TST, as a duo with Kevin and label boss of Sheepscar Light Industrial and Cherry Row Recordings) and Kevin Sanders (solo under his own name and as petals, as a duo with Dan, the final third of TST, label boss of hairdryer excommunication) are enjoying a hit rate unrivaled since the glory days of Stock, Aitken and Waterman – the 1980s production trio they have modeled their work ethic on.

What’s a conscientious reviewer to do? Given the exacting quality control, staggering over such a fast growing body of work, the music is deserving of serious contemplation. However, who has time to write the usual 1000+ words about items arriving on a near-weekly basis? Not me. Instead I will turn (again) to haiku, a traditional variety of Japanese poetry in which the idea expressed is distilled to 17 syllables arranged in a five-seven-five formation. Thus, mental energy expended is roughly equivalent to normal but writing time is cut to the bone. It is also an eminently tweetable format – something the spirits of long-deceased masters of this most delicate and disciplined art must be thrilled by – so Twitter is where they got their initial airing.

Below is a compilation of the first nine, properly formatted and illustrated. I’m pleased with these, especially the last two, which are, I hope, impressionistic but accurate – like a portrait by Frank Auerbach. Click on the band name/album title to be taken to appropriate blog post or Bandcamp page. Amazingly, all of this can be had dirt cheap or for free. I recommend the lot very highly – there are potential Zellaby Award winners here – and also recommend you explore the catalogues of these gentlemen on either side of this snapshot.

No. 1:

Daniel Thomas & Kevin Sanders – “I am a moment illuminating eternity… I am affirmation… I am ecstacy.”

Terminal thought of

fatally injured robot:

“my blood is on fire”

tst - tsim sha tsui

No. 2:

TST – Tsim Sha Tsui

Ornithopter flaps

above the spice refinery.

Inhale: the future!

kev sanders - a purification of space

No. 3:

Kevin Sanders – A purification of space

Yellowed grass, cut paper

– consolations of order –

cut grass, yellowed paper.

petals - upon receiving

No. 4:

Petals – upon receiving the ultraviolet light

Absenceispresent

griefcollapseswavefunction

bookmarkshakenloose

hagman - number mask

No. 5:

Hagman – Number Mask

Vignettes illustrate

fierce entropic beauty,

pebble becomes sand

petals - so i lie

No. 6:

Petals – I’ve never been very good at retorting narrative tales as I always get lost along the way. So I lie

Fine machinery

in an era of magic:

cogs versus witchcraft

tst - the spoken truth

No. 7:

TST – The Spoken Truth

Arterial pulse,

self lost to alien flow,

hive mind emerges

daniel thomas - enemy territory

No. 8:

Daniel Thomas – Enemy Territory

Adjust tracking for

artefacts of video:

hot snow, concrete blur…

daniel thomas - that which

No. 9:

Daniel Thomas – That Which Sometimes Falls Between Us / As Light Fades

Sharp, bristled morning

through circadian filters

to uterine fug

—ooOoo—

silvered dreams: airwaves and nostalgia for the future

July 19, 2014 at 6:08 am | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
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Airwaves – Ambient Tracks (download, Oracle Netlabel, ORE108)

airwaves

In 2006 I gave up on science fiction. I had been a voracious reader (yeah, we’re talking about books here – I have some interest in SF cinema, none in SF television) for the previous 25 years and had taken it all in from the golden age of starships and robots, through the pyschonautical adventures of the new wave, skating over the gleaming surfaces of cyberpunk to the post-post-modern present. Ironically perhaps, my interest waned because of an increasing concern for the future. SF’s wave function collapsed for me when I finally measured it against reality.

At the time I was experiencing a kind of long-form political awakening. The build up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 had pulled concepts like ‘resource war’ out of dystopia and into the reality I appeared to be living in. I read up on peak oil, on permaculture, on climate change, on the whole coming storm and, at the same time, novels about terraforming and interstellar travel which just ignored the difficult questions or glossed over them with macguffins. After an illustrious history of satire, prophecy and back-lighting the present by extrapolating into the future, SF seemed to be increasingly irrelevant and anachronistic. Like a know-it-all mate who might be entertaining in conversation, or good on a pub quiz team, but bloody useless at a time of actual crisis. I turned my back on it and used the time I saved to learn how to grow vegetables.

However, in the intervening years I have, on occasion, found myself nostalgic for the future. It is an odd, unmoored emotion that can range from a wistful yearning for a bucolic, post-scarcity utopia to a spitting rage at wasted opportunity. Those could have been the days, eh? I’ve had cause to re-examine the feeling twice in recent weeks.

Firstly, following a conversation with Dan Thomas and Kev Sanders in which Dan was lamenting the ballooning tendency for fans of popular culture to pick it to bits before even experiencing it. Thus: the dissection of movie clips released in advance to create ‘buzz’, the speculation that runs rampant between the broadcast of one episode of a television series and the next etc. Kev made the interesting point that traditionally backward looking attitudes and activities: appreciation, analysis, nostalgia and so on had been spun around and were now facing forward. It was a brilliantly useful notion and, like shoe shops when I need a new pair of boots, suddenly I’m seeing it instantiated everywhere. In fact, some forum posters seem to exist solely in this queasy, unwholesome fug made up of part thwarted expectation, part whiny entitlement. This is nostalgia for the future distilled down to an airless and wholly unsatisfactory mode of being. Ugh.

And then, in counterpoint, I heard this: Ambient Tracks by Airwaves released as a free download on Miguel Perez’s Oracle Netlabel.  Airwaves is the alias of Mexican musician Oscar Menzel, who sadly passed away in 2012, and these recordings date from 1994.  Before proceeding let’s take a second to applaud Miguel’s breadth of imagination in making this available.  Oracle is known as a borstal for punishing noise, flu-symptom drone and lizard-brain improv so to find this epic of retro-futurist synthtronica sharing a cell with these repeat offenders is, well, surprising to say the least.  It’s like the album asked for directions to Sanity Muffin tapes then got into trouble at the border…

The IDM/electronica boom was well under way here in the UK when this was recorded on the other side of the Atlantic and some of these tracks sound very much of the time.  I know I always mention 76:14 by Global Communication when I’m talking about this kind of music but it remains a favourite album of mine, a classic of the genre and was originally released in the same year.  Some of Ambient Tracks could be found brooding in the same car park.

The rest of the album harks backwards – to the electronic edge of Krautrock, to the high gloss of Vangelis, to the claustrophobic pulse of John Carpenter.  If I’d heard this in 1994 I might have thought it old fashioned but the ambition, sweep and sincerity of this music has aged considerably better than the more hip, knowing froth on Warp and RePhlex that I was obsessing over back then: all agitated surface and in-jokes.  Do I listen to any of it nowadays?  No.

Menzel’s music reinvigorates the notion of nostalgia for the future.  There is nothing kitsch or naive about the vision expressed here.  Its scope and scale are impressive, its emotional content earned and genuine.  The task of documenting the never-has-been is necessarily Quixotic but if done, as here, with heartfelt conviction the task has nobility and conveys – dare I say it? – hope.  These are silvered dreams in which we might just see ourselves reflected.  Think about that for a second, comrades – these could have been the days!

—ooOoo—

Airwaves on Oracle – also for write up by Miguel and further links to Menzel’s work.

P.S.  Yes, I was supposed to be keeping things to the point due to being frazzled but, hey, I found myself with something to say.  Pithiness to come next.

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