black and white noise, part one: new from agorafobia

May 8, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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  • Miguel Pérez – Vouyerismo/Fetichismo (Agorafobia 011, tape)
  • La Mancha Del Pecado – Espectros Del Despeńadero (Agorafobia 012, CD-r in DVD case with artwork by Matthew Bower)
  • La Mancha Del Pecado – The Nylon Stains (Agorafobia 013, tape)
  • The Skull Mask – Macabra (Agorafobia 014, CD-r)

Quick question for you: historically, what item of technology has done the most to help in the production of the artifacts (as I insist on spelling it) of the no-audience underground?  I’m not talking about the internet now, I mean physical things: tapes, CD-rs, zines, flyers, gig posters and so on.  With nods towards the home computer and the CD burner, I am tempted to answer: the photocopier.

Exploiting the strengths and weaknesses of this chugging machine with its intoxicating smell (mmm… ziney!) has led to a recognizable d.i.y./punk/noise aesthetic.  It’s one I like very much.  Not only that, but this marvel put the means of quick, cheap, ‘mass’ production into the hands of the worker.  Literally in some cases: I imagine the office machine has been used many times to slyly run off a few (or not so few) copies when the manager is out at a meeting.  I’ve never done it, of course, and I’m sure you are all blameless too.  I’m just saying that some consider stealing from work to be a legitimate form of political protest.  I’m just saying, that’s all…

Those lucky enough to work somewhere with, say, a Konica contract will have noticed that photocopier technology has kept pace with our aspirations.  Most new machines will cough out photo quality colour copies or scan into any number of formats and proudly email you the results.  Some will even generate a withering 1000 word critique of any improv CD that is pushed into the slot under the little tray for paper clips.  So why do a few labels still insist on rockin’ it old-skool monochrome?  I’m guessing a combo of three main reasons: a) they are punk as fuck and/or b) they have built a ‘look’ around it and/or c) having no money means having to make the most of necessity.

I think the packaging of Miguel Pérez’s Agorafobia label falls largely into category c) with heaped tablespoons of a) and b).  Firstly, this guy has had no luck with digital equipment recently and a series of misfortunes has only exacerbated a lack of resources.  From what he’s told me about broken computers etc. the dude appears to be a walking electro-magnetic pulse weapon.

In one sense this is heartbreaking.  For example, the artwork for Espectros Del Despeńadero is by Matthew Bower of Skullflower, a hero of Miguel’s, and was secured with an international barter.  Yet due to circumstances beyond Miguel’s control he has no choice but to present it in black and white via the photocopier (though a colour scan can be seen on the La Mancha Del Pecado blog).  I’m sure dozens of oligarch patrons of the arts must read this blog – could one of you send this guy some money?  Cheers.

In another sense it is kind of invigorating.  The ragged, black and white artwork, inexpertly compiled, exactly mirrors the raw, emotionally charged music and the driven, impulsive, unmediated way it was created.  Too much gloss would be dishonest.

Listening to this music I was green with envy, once again, at how Miguel is able to tackle his themes from so many different angles using solo guitar and almost nothing else.  I was also struck by the thought that a grounding in metal – Miguel grew up musically in that milieu – is a terrifically useful tool.  Metal is sometimes derided for its daft content or teenage sensibilities but once you can hold your own in that crowd you can use the skills to do anything.  Think I exaggerate?  Another example: a well known no-audience underground acquaintance of mine, rightly famed for his psychedelic style, sheepishly admitted that without the influence of Motörhead he would probably not be a guitarist today.  So there you go: established scientific fact.

Fittingly, I suppose, given the artwork, Espectros Del Despeńadero does sound a bit like Lee Stokoe era Skullflower.  Three long tracks of Culveresque roar with the aforementioned metal guitar submerged and abstracted in the mix.  It sounds like the howling of animals, tethered at some distance from the camp.  Imagine the furious, terrified, soon-to-be-gutted, dog pack in Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness (or, if you like, the similarly doomed dogs in John Carpenter’s The Thing) struggling to make themselves heard over the Antarctic wind.  Best of the three tracks is the last one, ‘Vale Menos Que El Polvo’, which over its seventeen minute duration reaches an intensity that wouldn’t be out of place on a release by Enoc Dissonance, Miguel’s balls-out total noise incarnation.

The second La Mancha Del Pecado release, The Nylon Stains, is very different.  Totalling a tight twenty minutes it starts, to my great surprise, with a beat.  Steam-powered mechanical sailors on shore leave jerk arhythmically as laughing, plastic geisha automata dance around them.  We then sink through the floor and this scene is replaced with a field recording of the workshop below where the geisha bodies are injection-moulded, repaired and the nylon stains of the title are hosed off.  We sink further still and end up in the cyclopean furnace room that fuels the whole port.  A hypnotic recording that invites repeat listening.

The psychedelic thrash of The Skull Mask is always welcome around these parts and has been a big influence on the fuzzed out direction I’ve been taking with midwich recently.  However, Macabra is something a bit different.  Taking inspiration from the Day of the Dead celebrations (the cover features a woman in a magnificent Catrina costume) and from revolutionary Mexican folk music, Miguel has reined in the ragas and dampened the delays.  The energy is still crackling, of course, but now it is focussed rather than deliriously expansive.  It feels like Miguel taking conscious control of a lucid dream.  The second of the three tracks, ‘Con Respeto a la Señora’, even features a riff so catchy that it has been an earworm burrowed into my head for days…

To conclude we have Vouyerismo/Fetichismo, a double sided tape of harshly-lit carnality.  It is appropriate that this release carries Miguel’s own name as these recordings contain nothing to hide behind.  This is solo improv guitar at its most exposed – no effects, no overdubs, clinically recorded.  There’s just you and the hard fact of the matter.  Vouyerismo is one long track in several movements and evokes a surreal, lanquid eroticism not unlike that of Shinya Tsukamoto’s A Snake of June.  However, in Miguel’s recording the participants have been driven crazy by the Mexican winds rather than the Japanese humidity.  Fetichismo is more pornographic: fifteen short tracks of completely naked plucking, fingering and scrabbling.  Even sustain is ruthlessly muted.  A series of Polaroid photos it is impossible to tear your eyes away from.

Agorafobia releases are, initially at least, only available as physical objects for trade so contact Miguel via lamancha@rocketmail.com, get some stuff into a jiffy bag and wait – the Mexican postal system seems more or less reliable but they take their own sweet time about delivery.

More black and white noise to come from Matching Head and Fuckin’ Amateurs…

midwich & the skull mask update: all uk copies gone!

March 14, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Posted in midwich, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Midwich & The Skull Mask (self-released split 3″ CD-r, edition of 50)

OK, phase one of this project – give away my copies here in the UK – has now been completed.  The last few floating around Midwich HQ have all been promised.  For those of you who stumbled onto this late and would like a physical object then the parcel I sent to Mexico containing Miguel’s share is still ‘in the air’ and I’m sure he’d be delighted to organise an international trade once his copies arrive.  Drop him a line at: lamancha@rocketmail.com – and many thanks to those who have already done their bit for Anglo-Mexican relations.  We will eventually make this available for download but are going to wait a while so that those in possession of their unique object can enjoy a little exclusivity…

Much obliged also for the offers of trade and the kind words too.  All very appreciated – great to give something back to the no-audience underground gift economy.  Chief amongst the kind-word-providers was Joe Posset, RFM’s North East correspondent, who felt moved to pen the following in review:

Wow.  This little tease popped onto the doormat of a Saturday.  I wasn’t expecting anything…it was from Rob Hayler…what could it contain?  Expectations were high.  Amid the postcards, bookmarks and other considered & loving ephemera of the hardcore tape trader out drops a cute little disc in brightly wrapped sleeve: Midwich & The Skull Mask.  Direct from Mexico The Skull Mask, Miguel Perez to his mother, plays a tinny, trebly acoustic guitar with tight steel strings wound up like a Spirograph drawing.   This is how I like my guitar: gritty, tangled and free-flowing.  Apart from a bit of some slight reverb this sounds like a pretty straight recording, no fancy effects or editing (Yes Fennesz I’m looking at you) that makes this as refreshing as a chilled glass of Chardonnay.  Mind you what do I know…it could be mashed through a galaxy of software.  It just sounds like a guitar and right now, right here that’s what I want.  The suddenly prolific Midwich drops another drone bomb on my noggin with ‘That which I believe, I wish to behold’ which sounds like something from a Sunday School sermon.  The mood is pretty dark on this lesson.  Throbbing tones bob up and down in the grey drone ocean until they are overturned by a doped up Narwhal.  Stoned, the beast roughs up the tone and like a virus it mutates dragging fishy mammal down to drown in heavy, heavy slush.  There’s a dubby quality to the latest tranche of Midwich releases which this one continues the trend, making space in the air, singling out single notes to emphasise, dragging themes back to ghost you.  Expectations were indeed high.  And I can report expectations were satisfied.

Cool, eh?  More musings from Joe can be found on the Posset blog here.  Further comments welcome.

Should you be a lucky recipient wishing to hear more, or an unfortunate wanting to know what you might have missed, then the majority of the midwich back catalogue can be had for free via the discography tab above.  New midwich releases on Zanntone and Memoirs of an Aesthete will surface at some point and other projects are forming in the primordial ooze…

There is also new stuff by The Skull Mask currently in preparation, which I will mention come the time, but for now the last four albums of Miguel’s shamanistic rites can be had for free via archive.org: Ritual of Purity, Casette 2007, The Old Spirit Of Maria Sabina and Casette Dic. 2010.

Go on, treat yourself.

new product! midwich & the skull mask split cd-r

February 27, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Posted in midwich, new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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Midwich & The Skull Mask (self-released split 3″ CD-r, edition of 50)

  • The Skull Mask – Lloviendo Sangre (mp3 excerpt here.)
  • Midwich – That Which I Believe, I Wish to Behold (mp3 excerpt here.)

Miguel Perez, RFM’s South American correspondent, is probably best known for the Culveresque drones of La Mancha Del Pecado but my favourite of his projects is The Skull Mask.  These improvised thrashes and ragas, performed solo on treated acoustic guitar, are mesmerizingly primal.  The Skull Mask takes the listener from contemplation, through ego-dissolution to, at its best, a kind of brute psychedelic delirium.  As with all improvised music, the journey is risky but, like trusting the shaman when he offers you a bowl of foul-smelling liquid and orders you to ‘Drink!’, the rewards can be cosmic.  I’ve quoted his explanation before but it is worth repeating:

The Skull Mask – is my acoustic improvisation project with no one else. This is influenced by Hindustani music, Arab, Jew and free improv. I am taking more and more a minimalistic approach and doing it solo guitar…. is something that I love doing…..will see more releases in the future to come.  This is mostly inspired on my trips to the Sierra de Chihuahua, to the mountains and valleys south Mexico, my visit is to mystic Indians in the desert, etc….is a sort of tribute to the wilderness in Mexico….

When he emailed me a brand new nine minute TSM track, suggested an affinity with midwich which seems obvious now but at the time struck me like a clanger in a church bell, and tentatively asked if I’d like to do a split release – well, I couldn’t resist.

‘Lloviendo Sangre’, Miguel’s track, fits the template described above and is terrific.  It could be five times as long as far as I’m concerned.  Check out the minute-long excerpt above for a tiny taster.  ‘That Which I Believe, I Wish to Behold’, my track, is a droning pulse in three movements and will be familiar to those who saw me perform it at the gig (or who received the ersatz set I recorded the following day for the snowbound).  However, this is a new version which is more focussed, slightly more compact (at ten minutes long) and harder-edged.  In order to compete with Miguel I turned the ‘psychedelic delirium’ knob up to ‘relentless’ and left it there until the dying seconds.  I am very proud of how this one turned out.  Again, there is a minute-long taster above for the curious.

Each of the 50 copies of this release has the same insert, obviously, but a unique cover allocated at random (see photo).  These covers have been cannibalized from the pages of a hipster illustration and graphic design magazine that I paid hipster money for years ago and am now recycling.  As such – little bonus – most of these covers are double reversible too, that is: the front can be the back and the inside can be the outside.  Cool, eh?

So how do you get your hands on such a covetable object?  Well, these are not ‘for sale’ as such.  In the spirit of the no audience underground gift economy we are making them available for trade, for review or in exchange for a sincere expression  of interest: just promise to drop us a line, and/or copy it for someone else if you dig it, and it is yours.

The point is to get the music heard by a decent selection of interesting people.  We are likely to post this as a free download – possibly as an Oracle/RFM co-release – when all the physical objects are gone but don’t let that put you off acquiring one.  They look (and sound, if I may be so bold) wicked awesome.

OK, contact me at r.w.hayler@leeds.ac.uk, contact Miguel at lamancha@rocketmail.com, more from midwich can be downloaded for free via the discography page (tab above), more from The Skull Mask can also be downloaded for free via Oracle Netlabel or by searching for The Skull Mask at archive.org.

architects of the no-audience underground: a working week with miguel pérez

January 13, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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  • La Mancha Del Pecado – Desde Lo Putrido (ORE 65)
  • La Mancha Del Pecado – Viernes 13 (ORE 67)
  • La Mancha Del Pecado – En el Festival de la Desgracia (Agorafobia 10)
  • La Mancha Del Pecado/Whermacht Lombardo – Devastacion/Debutante (Agorafobia 07)
  • Whermacht Lombardo – Departamento de Despoblacion (ORE 68)
  • The Skull Mask – Casette Dic. 2010 (ORE 73)
  • Enoc Dissonance – Love in Black Shit (ORE 74)

(…plus some untitled La Mancha demos and collaborations and various other examples of metal, jazz, composition and noise from the Mexican underground provided for the education of gringo Rob.)

Ciudad Juárez, which sits opposite El Paso on the US/Mexican border, is a city of some notoriety.  I’m sure its politicians would like the world to focus on its rich history, or the lightly regulated opportunities for lucrative business, but the headlines, alas, have little to do with civic pride.

Instead, as recently as a couple of years ago, this city was the homicide capital of the world due to murderous competition between drug cartels and the enforcement agencies charged with stopping them.  Sometimes this violence had a grisly, Grand Guignol theatricality: severed heads were found in fridges with notes attached warning rivals that they were next (notes!  As if a severed head doesn’t make the point on its own!).  Kidnapping is rife, the threat to the civilian population, especially women, is grave, corruption is endemic.

…and yet life has to go on.  In a city of over one million people not everyone can be a drug baron.  The overwhelming majority of the population are, like everywhere else, just good people trying to earn a living, look after their families and keep out of harm’s way.  As you would expect in a place of that size, a few have turned to artistic endeavour in an attempt to make sense of it all.  For example, it is the kind of town where a noise tape label might choose the name ‘Agorafobia’ not just because the connotations of confinement and paranoia might suit the music but also because, straightforwardly, people are afraid to leave their houses.

The patron of that label is Miguel Pérez.  Miguel has already featured on radiofreemidwich, mainly in connection with releases on Oracle Netlabel which he co-runs with its creator Pablo Mejia of the Dominican Republic.  Over the course of a few months we have struck up a lively and entertaining correspondence.  He has become a cult hero in my office as my work colleagues are amused by the idea that I have a Mexican doppelganger who, like me, slaves at a desk all day only to spend his spare time presenting noise to a tiny audience of followers.

Miguel’s enthusiasm is certainly infectious.  Conversing with him shames me for being lazy and inspires me to get on with my own projects.  However, his boundless enthusiasm and Stakhanovite work rate has caused a hefty pile-up of new releases teetering atop an already daunting back catalogue selection here at RFM Towers.  What is the casual listener to do?  Well, to paraphrase David Simon: “fuck the casual listener”.  I decided to catch up by listening to Miguel’s music on each commute and every lunchtime stroll for a whole week.

So on Monday I kicked-off with the charmingly named ‘Love in Black Shit’ by the exuberantly noisy Enoc Dissonance.  This is a duo of Miguel and his Oracle collaborator Pablo.  Their working method seems to be to pick a theme or idea from the existing cannon of noise music – the last one was about The Haters, this one Power Electronics – and let that loosely inform an hour of destruction.  The first of two lengthy tracks features billowing clouds of distortion pierced with scrapings and hammerings, the second track is a pummelling guitar thrash.  I have an odd connection to this piece as Miguel tells me that…

…while working on a new Enoc Dissonance release doing a big racket with the prepared (with metals, coins, bla, bla) electric guitar at 9:00 at morning … the post man arrives looking at me kind of strangled since it seems he was hearing my noises from the outside for a while since when I got to the door to receive the package he was holding for me he could not stare at my eyes and almost throw it to my hands and took his bicycle and ran away!!!

To my amusement, it turns out that the parcel in question was from me and the track he was working on at the time is the one described above.  This is not an easy listen, obviously, but the nostrils-flaring verve with which it is executed induces a state of hypnosis.  It carried me to and from work effortlessly.

Tuesday was Whermacht Lombardo day.  The Oracle release listed above is, basically, balls-out noise.  The aesthetic is bleak, nihilistic: the title means ‘Department of Depopulation’ and you don’t need Google Translate to figure out a track title like ‘Vasectomia Obligatoria’.  The music is that roaring push with no apparent source.  Is it guitar distortion?  FM radio static?  A heavily over-amped field recording of wind in the trees?  It doesn’t matter.  There are occasional minor changes in texture but mainly this is a warm bath: dip in for a few cleansing minutes or wallow in it for hours depending on your mood.

Interestingly, the Whermacht Lombardo side of the split tape with La Mancha Del Pecado is a moveable feast.  Miguel says:

By the way the split of Whermacht Lombardo can be anything.  Sometimes I use that side and fill it with static, a field recording and yours is filled with odd electronics, vocals and other metallic percussions.

…and strange and compelling it is too.

Wednesday and Thursday were a two day celebration of Miguel’s main solo project: La Mancha del Pecado.  An interesting tape of demos and collaborations charts its development as Miguel’s (heavy) metal drones and thrashed out ragas gradually smear and blur into a Culver-esque growl.  Miguel is a great admirer of Lee Stokoe’s work and it shows in his use of volcanic rumbling and overloaded guitar.  La Mancha, however, is not a mere copy of the monolithic stasis and tunnel vision of Lee’s recent output.  It contains more variation in atmosphere: sometimes the music is meditative, echoing around cyclopean ruins, sometimes it is as sharp and sparkling as shards of broken mirror.  Miguel’s natural enthusiasm grates up against his attempts to be disciplined and this molten magma under the cool, dark surface gives the music a fascinating tension.

And why not end the week with a treat?  Friday was the day for my favourite of Miguel’s projects: The Skull Mask.  I’ll let Miguel explain this one:

The Skull Mask – is my acoustic improvisation project with no one else. This is influenced by Hindustani music, Arab, Jew and free improv. I am taking more and more a minimalistic approach and doing it solo guitar…. is something that I love doing…..will see more releases in the future to come.  This is mostly inspired on my trips to the Sierra de Chihuahua, to the mountains and valleys south Mexico, my visit is to mystic Indians in the desert, etc….is a sort of tribute to the wilderness in Mexico…… good to read that you cared about it!!! No one does!!!!

Well, I care about it a great deal as this is where Miguel’s verve and brio is at its most ego-dissolvingly hypnotic.  These pieces spin and mutate from thrashed riffs through contemplative passages to droning ragas.  For two minutes you think ‘whoo boy, do I really want to listen to 46 minutes of solo guitar?’ then 44 minutes later you come out of your reverie thinking ‘Aww… man, that isn’t long enough!  Again, again!”  This is not slick – Miguel is not trying to be Ry Cooder or Jack Rose – he is just letting fly and the raw energy with which he does so is irresistible.

And that was the week that was.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and will no doubt do it again sometime.  All of this stuff is available for free or for trade so why not check some of it out?  Agorafobia tapes has no web presence and is trade/gift only – contact Miguel directly at lamancha@rocketmail.com for details.  For brand new releases by all these projects your one-stop shop is the Oracle Netlabel site where they are free to download.  For older releases the files are stored at archive.org so click on these links to investigate: La Mancha del Pecado, Enoc Dissonance, Whermacht Lombardo, The Skull Mask.

the infinite ‘betley welcomes careful drivers’ catalogue, part one

October 8, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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La Mancha Del Pecado – Gélido Horror Obscuro (Oracle ORE 69)

In the comprehensive interview with yours truly that forms part two of the Bang the Bore ‘investigation’ into my activities (coming soon) Seth and Pete ask me various questions about how the internet has changed no-audience related endeavour.  To summarise, my answer is: not as much as you might think.  At one point I say (and please forgive me the narcissism of quoting myself):

This music is produced and appreciated by a tiny number of people who are driven to make it, driven to distribute it and driven to seek it out.  They’d be doing this with or without myspace or the like.  The internet has occasionally made their lives a little easier but the difference is purely practical, not a difference in kind.

This week I’ve had cause to reflect on that thought and, whilst I stand by the comment which I still think is correct, I realise that I may have underplayed just how large this ‘purely practical’ difference can be.

To illustrate what I mean let us examine the case of Miguel Pérez who records as La Mancha Del Pecado (“The Stain of Sin”) and runs the ‘non profit net label’ Oracle based in Mexico.  La Mancha Del Pecado featured in the last piece I wrote lauding the music of Lee Stokoe, famous throughout the land for his long running solo noise project Culver and his inspirational tape label Matching Head.  In an article which ran to over 1000 words Miguel’s music got just one sentence in which all I say is that, well, it sounds like Culver.

This lack of attention has proved embarrassing to me as the chap both found this blog and left a charming comment thanking me for the mention (see ‘about me and this blog’ page – tab above).  He provided a blog address for his label and out of a mixture of curiosity and politeness I downloaded one of the many releases available there.  I’ll talk about this in a minute but first I must address your growing impatience.  “yes, yes,” I’m sure you are thinking “Rob clicked on a link.  Big deal: we all know how the internet works – get on with it man!”

Well, to this I have two responses.  The first is that reporting on finding something interesting is all I ever do so I’m not apologising for that – go find a blog where someone posts cynical reports about stuff they think is boring and read that instead.  And secondly: well, you say you know how the internet works but the younger reader may not realise that, in this context, the internet is working exactly like a flyer that fell out of a jiffy bag in the 1990s.

Imagine this thought experiment: a scene in pre-millennial Leeds.  Lee sends me a parcel of tapes, included in which are a selection of flyers from other no-audience underground types.  The one from Miguel looks interesting so I send some of my stuff, maybe with a few dollar bills hidden inside, to his postal address and a few weeks later parcel number two arrives covered in exciting looking stamps and customs labels.  The result is absolutely the same: I get to hear Miguel’s music after being alerted to it by another node in the network.  In that sense the internet has changed nothing at all – that’s what I mean when I say it is not a difference in kind.

The practical difference, however, couldn’t be more pronounced.  A process which would have taken weeks before and involved the shifting of physical objects from continent to continent is now more or less instantaneous and involves no more effort than typing this sentence.  This is wonderful, of course, as we can all be instant connoisseurs of whatever whim presents to us.  It’s not even a problem for me that the Oracle website is in Spanish now that we have Google Translate to help.  However, it is also dangerously seductive.  So awed are we by the process that we forget the purpose and are tempted into amassing vast unlovable archives just because we can.  In my humble opinion it is healthier for your glands of musical appreciation to treat each download as if it were the contents of a hand-addressed jiffy bag and show it some love.

This is why I have only downloaded one of Miguel’s releases so far – Gélido Horror Obscuro (“Dark Frozen Horror”) – and why I have listened to it several times through before pressing a key.  ‘De Noche’ (“Night”) starts by following the Culver blueprint: a melancholy, echoing riff is slowly swallowed whole by distortion and noise.  At this point Miguel departs from the monomania of Lee’s recent releases and instead takes us through several movements using a carefully controlled palette of harsh sound.  Over a total running time of nearly 37 minutes it remains intriguing, refreshingly ambitious and almost wholly successful.  I’m not sure about the twanging guitar coda or the final burst of lounge pop though, as the lyrics are presumably in Spanish, I may be missing some contextual irony.  At least Miguel dodges one charge often levelled at ‘dark ambient’ or noise: that it is humourless.  He is not guilty – there is obviously a wry wit at work here.

A moment’s research informs me that ‘Rita Guerrero’, the second track, is named for a fellow Mexican musician who died tragically young earlier this year.  There is no sentimentality to this tribute, however.  Instead we get nine minutes of roaring combustion occasionally augmented with an unforgiving, scything screech.  This is a document of grief at its most angry and painful.  Before returning us to the world, the third and final track provides five minutes of palate-cleansing, nostrils-flaring, balls-out noise.  The whole release is effective, engaging and available for free download.  I’ve enjoyed it very much.

Scrolling through the other (70!) releases available through Oracle reveals themes familiar to those into noise: death, misanthropy, apocalypse, altered states of consciousness and so on, but this isn’t just dyed-black teenage nihilism.  The quotes on the front page from Pessoa and Lyotard suggest a philosophical and literary underpinning.  They propose salvation may be possible through creation, especially single-minded art-for-arts-sake undiluted by concerns of accessibility.  The notion appeals to me.  You too, I hope.

wired for sound part 16: culverised

August 10, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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culver & waz hoola – maps of war (matching head 153)

Culver & La Mancha del Pecado – Trans-Atlantic Harsh Terror Drones (matching head 174)

culver/seppuku – Dedicated To Soledad Miranda (At War With False Noise, atwar043)

Inseminoid – Old Blue Lass (Finite Change)

Two things: firstly, I know the purists will be upset that I’m including mentions of a CD and a CD-r in the previously tape-only ‘wired for sound’ series of articles.  Well, the reason is that Lee Stokoe is so tape that all his releases should come on cassette even if they don’t.  You’ll see what I mean.  Secondly, the Inseminoid cover is even less SFW than those above, so I’m keeping it under the counter.  OK, on with the show…

I sometimes approach a parcel from Lee Stokoe with trepidation.  I don’t pick it up gingerly, expecting it to explode, of course.  What I mean is that, after recognizing the handwriting, I may pause and think ‘whoo boy, am I ready for this?’  This may surprise readers familiar with RFM’s usual fawning reverence when it comes to Lee’s projects, especially Culver.  Is not the arrival of such a package reason for unbridled joy?  Well, not entirely.  Lee’s releases demand concentration, repeat listens, high volume – in a word: commitment.  Taking them seriously is hard work. And I am, dear reader, nothing if not a lazyboned procrastinator.

However, a week or two after plunging into this cold, dark sea I find myself familiar with the tides and currents at work and am able to safely tread water over these murky depths.  Last week I caught myself thinking: ‘great, that Inseminoid album is just the right length for the commute to work.’  I had achieved a familiar state of mind: a sort of meditative conviction (temporary, but sincere when held) that Lee’s work makes everything else seem like irrelevant frippery, decadent and unnecessary.  I had been culverised.

So how does he do this?  There is a working method common to most of these releases and, indeed, to many other Culver albums.  Lee starts with some kind of triggering sound – an anxious whine, a slow throb, a surprisingly delicate tape-loop – then erodes it to nothing, dissolving it in corrosive waves of entropic noise.  This noise is almost exclusively bass-heavy rumble, a slow-motion fire.  Usually the only treble is the ubiquitous tape hiss accounted for, quite deliberately, in the composition and as much an instrument as the guitars and keyboards that, presumably, supply the rest.  So there is a beginning, but no middle, and not even an end as such – you get 30-45 minutes then it stops.  No crescendo, no satisfyingly complete thematic variations, no cathartic release.  Nothing straightforwardly ‘musical’ at all.

That is not to say it is featureless.  On first or second listen, especially if you aren’t prepared to be disciplined, it sounds like being on a double-decker bus idling at a junction.  Your patience and concentration are rewarded, however, as changes in tone and texture reveal themselves.  Like a giant sturgeon moving slowly, and apparently without effort, at the bottom of a lake.  Like waking in a seemingly pitch-black room and gradually distinguishing objects as your eyes adjust to the dark.

And it is dark.  When Nietzsche said: “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” (from Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146, 1886 – God bless Wikipedia) he forgot to mention that as well as gazing back this is the noise the abyss will be making.  This is the soundtrack to a horrifying, Lovecraftian existentialism: the universe is unimaginably hostile, not in intention – it has none, but in its utter indifference.  The affectlessness is what is so frightening.

Interestingly, and in my humble opinion, this poses a problem for Lee’s visual style.  His aesthetic is derived from his interest in the transgressive.  He is, for example, a student of exploitation cinema and the packaging of his releases is informed by his love of horror film and, increasingly, the pre-internet history of pornography.  This leads to covers that are, at best, unnerving abstract collages or, at worst, the kind of morally dubious filth that a family blog such as this forces you to click on surreptitiously.  My contention is that associating this music with this imagery is simply unnecessary.  Five minutes in its company will convince you of its seriousness and all the porn does is cheapen the impact; it actually distracts you from the blankness which is its ultimate strength.  I dunno what Lee can do about this, of course, and how he wants to wrap his stuff is entirely up to him.  For what it’s worth, I like his graphics anyway.

There is a similar problem for Lee’s collaborators.  He features on many split releases – two of the four above, for example – and the question for the non-Culver half is always: how do we compete with the abyss?  Take Seppuku, featured on the excellent At War With False Noise CD (trainspotter note: the title given above comes from the AWWFN website and is nowhere mentioned on the release itself).  Their sound is monstrously heavy – a grisly hybrid of doom metal and power electronics – and terrific stuff on its own terms.  However, compared to the preceding half-hour of Culver it appears childishly theatrical.  Camp, even.  ‘Hush with all the screaming,’ I found myself thinking, ‘don’t they know I’ve just stumbled out of the Total Perspective Vortex?’  La Mancha del Pecado fares better as the B-side of the amusingly titled ‘Trans-Atlantic Harsh Terror Drones’ (nice bit of self-parody there) by, well, sounding more like Culver.

The two collaborative recordings are just as arresting.  Maps of War is by Lee and Waz Hoola, head honcho of Infinite Exchange records and the evil genius responsible for my favourite drone piece of recent times.  Both parts are built around a sly, slow throbbing which adds an interesting rhythmic element to the ominous rumbling.  Wholly involving.

Inseminoid is a duo of Lee and George Proctor of Mutant Ape and Turgid Animal.  Track one follows the Culver blueprint outlined above: triggering loop, buried in noise, 34 minutes.  However the tonal range is a little wider than usual so you get more of a ‘wall noise’ experience (a term everybody seems to have learnt from As Loud As Possible magazine).  I love the helicopter-blade thwapping, like the soundtrack of a badly loaded film strip punctured by the projector sprockets.  You also get a proper ‘end’ as the last few minutes quiet down and fade out.  Track two appears to have been recorded live, is half the length and slightly more agitated.  The audience is denied a cathartic conclusion by the performance cutting abruptly to a girl-group pop song.  Apologies for not recognising it but I’d guess it was The Sugarbabes as Lee is their most unlikely fan.  I’ll end on that incongruous note…

Matching Head has no website, likewise the mysterious Finite Change.  Try Lee direct: barely legible contact details can be read here.  The Culver/Seppuku split can be had for a mere £5 from At War With False Noise.

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