a stressful night in the bathysphere: joe murray on sindre bjerga, bruce russell, gnarlos, no intention, yol

September 15, 2016 at 12:04 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Sindre Bjerga – For The Automatic People (CD-r, LF Records, LF057)

Bruce Russell / Gnarlos – Ruined Again (12″ vinyl, L’Esprit De L’Escalier, LELE04)

No Intention – Representative Work (tape and zine, spam, spam 17)

Yol – Is it Acceptable? (CD-r, LF Records, LF056)

lf057

Sindre Bjerga – For The Automatic People

I’ve been listening to a lot of Sindre lately.  A damn lake of Bjerga-tronics have I been imbibing.  Morning (Sindre), noon (Bjerga) and night (Sindre again).  Those tape-jaxx interventions and kitchen-sink drones have been both bread and beer to me.

So much Bjerga has been supped I’m starting to look like the Norwegian ambassador himself. See my ‘Sindre-selfie’ for evidence:

self-portrait-as-sindre-bjerga

Diversion innit!  To get you in the mood and all receptive to my reviewing like.

Here comes the rot.

FTAP starts with some seriously munged vocal slurp.  Slow and low it hoists its freak flag and blows goonish raspberries to keep it flapping.

As ever, the pinch is never far from your ears, this time with an extra element of ‘double-singing’ that would make I DM THEFT ABLE widen his eyes and say ‘goop, goop, goop’ from his bristly gob.

From this point in it all gets a bit Philip José Farmer; a dune buggy idles on the sands, erotic-robots squeal with pleasure leaking greasy r/jizz.  Are those tentacles caressing the brushed-steel bodies?  Eek… time to make my excuses and leave.

I spy the spring-loaded ‘Bjerga-ma-phone’ dumbly boinging underneath this radio interference from Mars and can feel the slow creep of bacteria munching through the red sands.  It’s all fizzing crackle (cruck) and blistering sparks (hwunk).

Like a tennis match played with tinfoil equipment there’s a thin swoop and crisp backhand smashing lettuce through a sieve before the tape mush (source: Culver plays The Sweet?) takes over again burying me up to the neck in chatty sound ants.

I’ve never felt so tired I…

…as I awake the sun is starting to set.  I can’t move my head to see but I can bloody feel those robots dragging themselves towards me.

gnarlos

Bruce Russell / Gnarlos – Ruined Again

As warped a slice of wax as you’re going to find this side of tomorrow.

Seymour ‘Gnarlos’ Glass performs a magical work of tape-wonk blending musty sound-ingredients into a fetid whole: marbled like inexpensive brisket. Sections of this side entertain a gentle wobble and circular riffling that’s lifting the side flaps of my cap and inflating my valve. How exhilarating!

Brief mind-pictures?

  • Small mechanical birds mutter brief algorithms.
  • Slow goons argue about magnetics in a variety of future languages.
  • A visit to the All Moscow Dog Show (тяв-тяв)
  • A stressful night in the Bathysphere

Again I’m floored by the rattling squawk of the finch and whirr. It parrots a flywheel that, in turn, scores concentric patterns into the sole of my foot. I can trace them with a sharpened pinkie, mirroring the record rotating nearby in my darkening room.

Confused by the repetitive motion the Gnarlos-sounds sprays from my heel just as clear as from the knocked-off speakers causing a Quadraphonic effect not heard since Tommy pulled back the chromed plunger and let his blind fingers do the talking.

But don’t go to bed thinking this is just an exercise in the knockabout and playful.  ‘The Organ Courier and the Chinese Billionaire’ simmers with such a heavy beauty it’s almost too delicate to bear at times… that’s value for fucking money, eh?

Bruce ‘Dead C’ Russell quotes those fancy-pants French philosophers on ‘No Mean Dub/No Mean Cry’ as he rustles digestive biscuits in an old tin bath… the grimy miner.

Imagine the re-scoring of an Italian horror movie in which they all decide not to go back to the cabin but check out the swamp instead.  Ankle deep in solid water the perfectly represented group watch the fireworks damply explode overhead with a slub, a grobe and a wimpy gnash.

After a while sounds roll backwards, I pick out the Vuvuzela listed in the sleeve notes but also hear something darker…perhaps it’s Chango resplendent in his red and white beads, oiled moustache atop a wet red mouth.  Where’ve you been hiding fella?

In and around my increasingly religious visions the electronics swarm like a high pressure front and dry room recordings, half lecture, half apology, leap from varying fidelity-boards blowing kisses into my crispy ears.

Praise Him!

no-intention

No Intention – Representative Work

Totally beguiling and innocent tape work from Vitrine boss Allen Mozek.

For the pragmatic it’s a tape of domestic psychedelics; poems read by a variety of groovy cats, piano, occasional percussion and glorious tape gunk.

You know the kind of thing.  Lo-fi?  For sure.  But with no actual intention?  Here’s where we have to draw a line in the sand.

For dreamers and lovers this is blissful stuff.  A stream-of-unconsciousness it nudges at the same sleep-centres that pitch the wheel on my nocturnes.  Repetition and repeated themes allow both brain-drift and moments of sharp clarity.  I find myself zeroing in on details… a piano run, a particular condenser mic tone, a twist of unexpected studio panning.

There’s a bustle and busyness to the proceedings.  Short, quick steps clipperty-clop with a deft ‘pocket jazz’ feel.  It’s almost impossible not to get lost in the rattle and hiss, to picture yourself, collar up to keep out the drizzle, dashing between antique shops to keep out of the sudden downpour.

But what works so well is the sense of time travel.  This is undoubtedly made up of recordings made at different times for many purposes and then carefully stitched together, in yet another place and time.  But with an educated editor’s ear goofing on the similarities and differences, the sonic jigsaw soon fits snug and any ragged edges get snipped to fit.

An honorable mention to ‘Tape Op Ex (Four Cartridges)’ that has a European finesse, grand architecture and ruinous fountains, sweeping into a feedback breakdown that could be culled from a retro-BLOWHOLE session.  Damn!

And of course, things end with a sigh, a gasp.  The mechanical click accompanies a ditch-dry Allen,

these are my representative works.

And these works do you so very proud man.

acceptable

Yol – Is it Acceptable?

Yes, always.

Tempting thought it is to submit a two word review to THE BIG HIMSELF [Editor’s note: I would have published it too.] there is so much in these wonderfully rich recordings it would be a crime to short-change you (my dearest of all possible readers) of the fullness my ears have gratefully received from his majestic and most furious Yol-ness.  You feel me?

This collection of recordings sounds very, very live with a clear and achingly honest ambience. Traffic noise, hard brick-reflection and the occasional snippet of audience voice place these as performances or site-specific experiments.

And these urban performance spaces reveal an instantly recognisable landscape.  For me it’s the loading bay behind Cowgate Morrisons; fenced off with razor wire, concrete-grim with 24 hour dust and punctuated with rusty piles of unwanted something.  For you it will be a similarly bleak and underappreciated space.

But in Yol’s hands the sonics kick-off like a glorious one-man Neubauten nursing a Pernod-fulled hangover.

Trucks back-up beeping rudely, the diesel blows gritty chuff making a reet big KOFF, KOFF, KOFF.  Rubble is dragged across a factory floor and metallics cry out, bruised by sharp knuckles.

These are the bass rumbles.

But there’s a balance, a lightness to counteract this darkness – enter the domestic floor percussion.  Your yogurt pots and balti bowls make a brittle clatter that dances brightly and sparkles in the stereo field.

For me it’s the deformation of language that’s absolutely, totally riveting here.  It all starts with what I guess proper-critics would call a vignette. A super-lit and hyper-real world is conjured up in a few brief sentences or words, bold as Japanese calligraphy.  But these words are squashed and stretched in strange and terrifying directions.  Yol circles individual syllables like a vulture, swooping in to tear at a fricative or rip a vowel sound clean out of its meaning-carcass.

Words are shorn of a regular purpose when they are hoarsely barked with a Gobi-dry mouth.  But they land more powerful than ever; stark and isolated.

To my tin ears this plastic language and clatter is seen through a lens of what it means to live in Britain today; a country pulling away from culture and kindness. A country hurling itself into a greedy grab bag for the few and saving the rain-water kebab meat for the rest of us.

And what sound sums up this futility, the almost desolate hopelessness?  Perhaps it’s the lonely squeal of a castor that ends ‘Soz Hard’.

A symphony of petrochemical by-products and constant spiralling pressure.

—ooOoo—

LF Records

L’Esprit De L’Escalier (just a Discogs page – you may have to dig)

Spam (excerpt on Soundcloud, release coming soon)

close to the pylons: joe murray on robin foster, henry collins, leda, arv & miljö, tear fet, troy schafer

August 5, 2016 at 3:41 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Henry Collins / Robin Foster – Spill Lynch Corrosiveness / Frostlike Neighbourly Aversion (CD-r, LF Records, LF050)

Leda – City/Clear (7″ vinyl, I Dischi Del Barone, IDDB010, edition of 200)

Arv & Miljö – untitled (7″ vinyl, I Dischi Del Barone, IDDB008, edition of 200)

Tear Fet – Blabber (CD-r, Chocolate Monk, choc.333, edition of 40)

Troy Schafer – Amplified Double Fiddle (3″ CD-r and pin badge or download, aetheric records)

hcrf

Henry Collins / Robin Foster – Spill Lynch Corrosiveness / Frostlike Neighbourly Aversion  

These two ‘non-guitarists’ play something approaching Kaiser-mash with some extremely damaged fingers.

Two tracks.  One mind/ten fingers a-piece.  You dig?

Spill Lynch yeah!  Guitar-as-you-trucking-lump-it. Totally wrecked non-playing as strings are hammered on and hammered off.  Steel is plucked and pulled and shredded hard with foam mallets.  Rubbery metal is found bounced in the reverse making this a righteous dental dam for pearly whites.

Tiny fists, like Joe Pesci’s ‘pow…ping…pow’, jab into your soft temple raising a bruise and yet… this would be a wonderfully zesty cocktail!  But you add the mangled FX-BOX and goof-timing and you are looking at a particularly sexy beach.  Memory gong ripples out a Daxophone reference but it’s slung as low as a Kev Hopper bassline so figure that captain!

Frostlike yeah! One man spitting canned peas out a tight, puckered gob-hole dribbles cold green bile.  OR has Eddie Van taken the vapours so his ERUPTION is all STAR SPANGLED out a tiny HIWATT about to burst into flames.  It’s like a pissy Morse; a constant chatter of on/off/on/off rattling up through my ribcage and whispering into my fontanel.  It’s machine code on the jibber-jabber somehow rocking a ska rhythm.  It’s barium voodoo and it’s aiming for any hole going.

We Roll tonight to the guitar bite

leda

Leda – City/Clear

Crispy bouncing beats sound like they crept out of Sheffield circa 1979.  A wheexing synth plays a one note melody and twists the pitch up, out of waxy remains, until the thing squeals like a pinched nut.  One dimensional in the best possible way; focused and determined Leda sings a line that blends soft as Egyptian eye shadow.  It does its thing at a totally brisk pace: skip, skip, skipping like a hockey puck over dull scuffed ice.

The flipside proper songs it; imagine shoving a Woodbine into that Vape pen and huffing hard.  Misty organ vamps float like a kite flapping drastically close to the pylons.  Leda sighs as if bad news is arriving soon in a manila envelope.  I’m thinking of Barbara Manning in her total waif days if you’re looking for a mind-crutch.

Wonderfully brief, totally Nu Wave.  Where’s my piano tie dude?

arv

Arv & Miljö – Untitled

The mysterious Arv & Miljö are quite possibly the equally mysterious Matthias Andersson who has jammed a high-quality mic out his neat apartment window to record the big wide world going about its business.

Side A picks up those pesky seabirds all going

CAW CAW SQUEEEEEE CAW

in fine white clarity.  If this was Whitby they’d be fighting over chips but Matthias’ location is totally smorgasbord, all gherkin fresh and sauna-clean toes.

Side B revels in a Swedish downpour. The trebly ‘hiss’ of the rain fills my ears almost whole but gradually subsides into more bassy individual drips (off your peaked cap perhaps) and ends on a fragile bowl ringing making this a super-fucking-classy ride on the vinyl.

blabber

Tear Fet – Blabber

As serious as your life.

This meditation on disease and ultimate loss is pure honest gibber that surfs straight from tragedy.  It’s a pretty unsettling raw disc of vocal jaxx, jammed to tape direct with no discernable dubs or edits.  The 20 minute piece was scored by Fet himself (a Matt Dalby apparently) and then, as the moorings loosen, it breaks free of all reason.

My first few listens marvel at the sheer range of guff coming outta two lips, two lungs and one tongue.

Me?  I’ll carry this like Wisdens… a goddamn almanac of honk.  A how-to guide!

Over the course of the spinning shiney I count the following techniques: slack mouth farts, gulps, wheezing roars, tactile yawns, owl squeaks, slibby gibbers, lip-smacks, jaw creaks, warble and weft, dry huff/wet huff, moans, scones and drones, deep sighs, ribbet-lite, mucus croak, deft saliva manipulation, pinched inhalations, seal barks, wet sucking, coughs (phlegm and tickle), rude burps, careless whispers, dirty slurps, humms, ululation, snivel and whimpers, throat rasp, snivels (without whimpers), throat shred, large cheek inflation, nasal gargles, proper singing, mithering, call and response (solo), repetition and imitation, vibration of fleshy jowls, cavity popping, fake Russian bantz, sinus snort, irregular mucus work, jakey muttering, horse blowing and common or garden slobber. [Editor’s note: Bravo Joe! *claps meatily in approval*]

For students of vocal jizz in all its glorious forms; consider this one essential.

fiddle

Troy Schafer – Amplified Double Fiddle

A tremendous hot spurting event of a record that moves from God-rattling fists to microscopic blossoms bursting.

Mr Troy here has built his own double fiddle, inspired by Aussie out-violinist Jon Rose, and rammed it through all manner of cheap distortion sawing away raising merrie hell.

The horsehair rips up a storm (x 2), the dragging and pushing astringent as a spilled gin ‘n tonic but still fatly full and all encompassing.  Occasionally things fall apart into an elegant digital-ditch or rusty tape hole; all the better to keep things human and sprightly I say!

Oh my sweet Lord!  There’s something wonderfully elemental about the frenzied bowing, the constant car-crash of sound that’s as bright as a spotlight; a pure unfettered stream of energy and information.

The overtones really play nice with my pink ears, especially on the less noisy moments.  The double movement is shaped like slow geography, a gradual denudation of the bristling sonics turning the abrasive into smooth gold teeth.

Hey!  Conventional wisdom loves a crescendo eh?  A simple narrative that leads to the big pay off, the money shot.  But Troy baffles by moving from Piss Superstition-levels of fuckedness to a no-more-than slightly water-damaged scrape over the course of this beautifully direct record.  The arc in reverse.

I’m so keen you hear this I checked with aetheric and blimey… it’s sold out at source.  Click the download my beauties!

—ooOoo—

LF Records

I Dischi Del Barone

Chocolate Monk

aetheric records

…but the days grow short when you reach september

September 15, 2015 at 3:45 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Luminous Monsters – The Sun Tree (self-released download)

joined by wire – universe allstars (CD-r, LF Records, LF048)

Lost Trail – That Which Melts And Becomes Ash (3” CD-r, aetheric records)

Shredderghost – Weaved Regolith (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR13, edition of 50 or download)

Taming Power – Fragments of the Name of God (7” vinyl, Early Morning Records, EMR 7”-013, edition of 220)

Brian Lavelle – A Diagram and Pattern of Subtle Air (self-released download)

LM

As I mentioned in the 500th RFM post below, I’ve had some trouble writing about, or even engaging with, music during my recent period of illness. It became like an old friend I’d not seen in a while. You know how it goes: if you see someone all the time you talk at length about each other’s lives, the issues of the day or just bullshit about nothing but once circumstances split you up it’s hand written letters and calls, then emails, then the length of the news dump needed becomes daunting, then it becomes something you ‘should be getting around to’ then months pass and… ah…, hey – an opportunity to be a smart arse on Twitter, I can do that in two minutes whilst lying on the sofa! Don’t look at me like that – you’ve done it too. We are terrible people.

Actually, I can’t feel too guilty. Sure, it is crap that stuff sent our way months ago is languishing unreviewed but it is a coiled-liquorice-turd-in-a-hubcap-full-of-boiled-tramp’s-piss that I lost the use of my, shall we say, ‘higher functions’ for months of this finite and irreplaceable life. Anyway, justified resentment to one side, I am happy that my critical faculties are slowly returning and I find myself listening to racket again and making up nonsense in response. I’ll be revving up with short pieces, anthology posts and other ways of deteetering the review pile. First up: this lot, chosen at near-random.

Luminous Monsters – The Sun Tree

An epic of lone wolf psych rock. Reminds me of teenage afternoons spent lying on my bedroom floor, fried, watching the carpet undulate in time with my heartbeat. The crescendo here is expertly handled – in the second track, ‘Sapling’, before the chugging even properly begins you can feel the reverb being allowed to hang in the air – like plumes of incense in the barracks of some stoned soldier ants, preparing to watch footage – again – of that one time they kicked those fucking termites’ arses. Sweet.

LTjbw -ua

joined by wire – universe allstars

Lost Trail – That Which Melts And Becomes Ash

Imagine if the invitation to migrate to the off-world colonies was not a trope of dystopian SF, a cynical attempt to empty an increasingly choked and infertile Earth, but that all the marketing material was literally true. The experience of faster than light travel is an ecstatic oneness with the universe, the colonies themselves are bountiful paradises where the grim hierarchies of our current existence are abolished, the strange physical properties of the planets where they are located give us superpowers and so on. joined by wire and Lost Trail would be the soundtrack to it all. The former accompanying the day’s effort sculpting our new wild architecture. The latter for evenings by the campfire telling wistful tales about the old country whilst our newly tamed alien pets eye each other with suspiciously knowing expressions and idly test the strength of the ropes they are tethered with.

SG

Shredderghost – Weaved Regolith

The first of two tracks begins with a satisfyingly rough-hewn tone/drone which is still but not motionless, like a fishing boat anchored in an otherwise deserted and isolated bay. When some curl, fizz and spit is applied to the sound later in the track it’s as if a bucket of chum has been thrown overboard to enliven an otherwise serene session of dozy, half-cut night fishing.

The first half of the second track documents the awakening of a holidaying Old One who squelches out of its semi-submerged tidal cave and swims under the boat. Sensing there is fun to be had, it belches a warning signal and whilst the mariners panic it eats them and, for good measure, the boat too. This crunching finale is represented by about five minutes of brute guitar skronk. I see where he’s coming from.

TP - fragments

Taming Power – Fragments of the Name of God

Back in February, Askild Haugland of Taming Power kindly sent me another four of his records. With his typical, understated generosity he did this unsolicited and free of charge just to ‘fill the gaps’ and as a way of thanking me for enthusing about his work (click the tag above for more of my writing on this subject). I was, as you can imagine, profoundly grateful.

His music has been a welcome tonic whilst I was sick. Presenting a variety of dramatic, ego dissolving views – across the frozen lake, scree slopes in the foothills, the emerald green grass of the flood plain – Askild’s work has the same perfect bite as opening your front door onto a December snow scene. I have not written about these releases partly for the reasons given above but partly because the more I think about it, the more perfect it appears. It has the same emotional intensity and efficiency of expression as the best poetry and, frankly, no-one needs my clumsy marginalia.

If I may make one suggestion: this 7″ single is a useful distillation and can be used as a map key to make sense of the atlas that is the Taming Power back catalogue. It is not an exaggeration to say I have listened to this dozens of times.

[Note: picture stolen from the Idwal Fisher blog where you will find a much more enlightening write-up here.]

BL - diagram

Brian Lavelle – A Diagram and Pattern of Subtle Air

Finally, then, we have this requiem for a much missed feline companion.  Brian explains:

This piece was recorded in tribute to our beautiful cat Bob who passed away before his time on Friday 13 March 2015. He deserves more than this, but I’ve struggled with how to express in music just how much he meant to me and how big a void exists in my heart now that he’s gone.

It’s a beautiful ten minute track, constructed with the care and skill anyone familiar with Brian’s work might expect.  It has the taut elegance of a cat trotting along the top of a fence, the magisterial poise of a paw on the neck of mouse and the soulfulness of a moggy sparked out in a sunbeam.  It is (and I mean this as high praise and not a flippant joke) ‘Adagio for Whiskers’ – a glimpse into that edge-world that only cats can see.

Available for free download but donations gratefully received and passed on to the UK charity Cats Protection.

—ooOoo—

Luminous Monsters

LF Records

aetheric records

Invisible City Records

Taming Power (link to previous article with contact and price details)

Brian Lavelle

bouncing off the tuning pegs: joe murray on david somló, panelak and gold soundz all-stars

June 30, 2015 at 9:40 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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stuart chalmers/henry collins/sindre bjerga/claus poulsen – split (tape, gold soundz, gs#127, edition of 25)

David Somló – Movement (CD mounted on plate with hanger and booklet or download with pdf, self-released)

Panelak – The Om Tragichord (CD-r, LF Records, LF046)

gold soundz split

Stuart Chalmers/Henry Collins/Sindre Bjerga/Claus Poulsen

Side one of this groovy wrapped-up tape hosts tape goons and sonic adventurers Stuart Chalmers and Henry Collins.  This fine duo give excellent value for money by combining the riotous pop and snap of speed-of-thought tape manipulation with more considered glassy processing.  The seven poke-in-the-eye interjections are short (all under 3 mins except the slightly longer ‘tskimdo’) and as fresh and wriggly as a landed rainbow trout.

Things work as a wonderful whole, individual elements constantly forming and deconstructing, but with an overall purpose and flavour.  There’s a damp frittering to some of these sounds as they rush like a fleshy thumb over a plastic comb… frrriiiiiiipppppppp!  The energetic glitching is fancy like boiling mud; all thick clay-like plops and flubbers.  Stuart handles his Dictaphone with aplomb; FFW skipping some guitar improv, the Bailey-esque lurches in volume diving dramatically down a brown worm-hole.  A drum loosely appears between the squark and squelch.  This reminds me to mail David Sylvian with a pithy comment about his Manafon.  The whirling capstans get almost too much to bear until a singular tone calms the magnetic beast.  Friends of more relaxed pastimes will tune in to the especially jaxxed ending to this side – clockwork chimes and distorted reverberations making it all nice and irie.  Praise Jah!

Side two starts off with a live Sindre joint ‘choking on splinters’ and is a right messed-up tape culture statement.  Various soft rock/power ballad tunes are mangled with generous amounts of ironic sauce.  The sound then gradually coalesces (like sonic grease pudding) for a road-menders drone section, soon to be replaced by wet slapping and vocal jaxx, stiff hessian ripping, number station melodies and dry-twig crackle.

And things start to get serious.  The last few minutes of this set are dramatically violent with poor old tapes getting seriously duffed-up, warped, stretched and fondled so the base-sound becomes thickened and rubbery.  Blimey – with no applause to contextualise the sound this naked aggression sounds directed to me personally.  Eek!

Claus Poulsen ends the tape with a short Sindremix.  With thousands of hours of prime material to choose from Claus must have had quite a job settling down to this.  To my mind he’s chosen wisely, concentrating on Sindre’s drone works to come up with a curiously melancholic three minutes of tear-stained swoons and rusty croaks.   Beautiful like bruised fruit.

somlo

David Somló – Movement

Hungarian guitarist David Somló’s incredible debut album.  Strong in concept – it comes with a plate you can hang on the wall and strong in execution – David is a fucking KILLER guitarist, movement is a dusty 27 minute recording that’s positively crackling with tense, nervous energy.

Recorded in the open air things start off with the sloppy-slops of lazy footsteps on leaf litter then launches into an outrageous guitar solo.  Very much experimental but encased in desperate, haunting harmonies this takes on board the clear spaciousness of Jon Collins, the rusty twang of Bill Orcutt and the pitted grime of Manuel Mota.  Yeah I know comparisons are bullshit but painting an accurate picture of this flapping into my lugs is a tricky one. It’s all over the place.  Styles are spun on a penny.  My scrawled notes say,

soars and swoops like a swallow skimming over a pond/pensive like Tom Verlaine, edging towards an unknown something/smooth but brittle texture – Hapsburgian in its decay and posture/clouds of notes knot like bees or Loren Connors.

And this pattern is repeated:

·         Excellent, beautiful, twisted and shaken guitar solo

·         Sudden pause (a shift in the way David is sitting perhaps?) or the crackle of a bonfire, or the twitter of Hungarian birds

·         Another excellent, beautiful, twisted and shaken guitar solo.

These solos erupt out of the shimmer of nature only to fall back once all the trills and runs have been had… and they seem so natural and right.  Not precise and worked until all the blood is leached but as improvised as a stolen kiss, the late afternoon light bouncing off the tuning pegs as another slick idea is fingered out on the rosewood frets.

Finally – if you are thinking this sounds just a little too guitar hero remember the field recording feel, the cloudy ripple of background voices and feet crunching on gravel that make this feel even more homespun and relaxed.  I urge you readers to toast the official guitarist of the Psychedelic Domestic!  Hail Somló!

A ‘must have’ for all Hank Marvins.

omtragi frontcover final

Panelak – The Om Tragichord

ROAAOOOOORRRR!  This is a blisteringly intense record from Pascal Ansell’s Panelak.  Back in the old days they called this kind of rich, crunchy noise Computer Music.  And while I have no doubt Pascal is using a computer at some point in the process of making his music it would be doing this a disservice to label something so vibrant; so effusive and physical with a non-human tag.

‘Hikikomori’ grinds like Tony Hawk or something; all gritty granular shredding until a daytime TV voice adds a sobering touch.  ‘Sarcomere’ is a more thoughtful cousin, standing at the sidelines of the bowl watching the boys show off.  She’s thinking up minimal melodies beamed into the ether that charm their way into your skull.  Was that a brief snatch of strings there?  I’m not sure as the relentless alien squawk has started to recalibrate my hairy ear ‘oles.

The tooth-loosening ‘Quisqualate’ shimmers as separate lines of electric drone, fizzing glitch,  squashed cowbell and high-tension guitar string plait themselves together only to unwind slowly leaving you with no handhold or ledge.

It seems unusual to have a title track these days.  Are they supposed to be a potted-meat representation of the whole? I dunno man.  But, as it happens, ‘The Om Tragichord’ does sum up the approach and aesthetic let loose tonight.  Imagine some late 70’s video game (Tennis, Tank Commander, Pong etc) re-routed through a daisy chain of spluttering effects pedals.  A giant foot stomps down repeatedly and sets things off in an eccentric order, closing off and opening up signals in a juddering and aggressive manner.  Then mirror plate this and listen backwards.  You get the picture eh?

Closer ‘BactoGrail’ takes some of that sweet guitar and jams it through my speakers in varying degrees of fuckedness.  A Hammond does it shimmy, voices chatter like a mystery radio gone feral.  After a time of simple twittering the acoustic keeps things steady while an electric calliope blusters like a wound-up drunk preparing for a fight.

Like the old Queen says:

Thunderbolts and lightning, very, very frightening!

That’s for sure…plugging Panelak into your ears is like waiting for the dark cloud to hurl a killer stroke.  Guaranteed to blow your mind – anytime!

—ooOoo—

Gold Soundz

David Somló

LF Records

the heady scent of courage: joe murray on greta buitkute, alan wilkinson, thf drenching, seth cooke, nick hoffman, va aa lr

February 12, 2015 at 12:29 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Greta Buitkute & THF Drenching – Contribution to a Discussion on Tic (download, Plush Wattle)

Alan Wilkinson & THF Drenching – Night of the Flaming Meatus (download, Council of Drent)

Seth Cooke – Eternal World Engines Of The Demiurge (3” CD-r, LF Records, LF044)

Seth Cooke / Dominic Lash – PACT (3” CD-r, 1000füssler, 025, edition of 60)

Nick Hoffman – Necropolis (CD, organized music from Thessaloniki, t26, edition of 200)

VA AA LR – Newhaven (3” CD-r, organized music from Thessaloniki, t27, edition of 100)

greta - tic

Greta Buitkute & THF Drenching – Contribution to a Discussion on Tic

An under-the-radar, sneaked-out recording from two of the out-est heads around.

I came across this one by accident via that You Tube.  This led to a series of embedded links, a journey through the dark web to the home of the Plush Wattle Corporation, where this very generous free download sits.

Taking callused thumbs, fingers and twin gob-holes to act as our orchestra these two have charmed their way into my very bones.  This is an intimate listen, full of clicks, creaking and rustling; it’s an interior sound world that’s perfect for headphones and tedious train journeys.

So (drum roll please)…introducing Greta Buitkute! Greta might be a new name to Radio Free Midwich but she has been wowing Northern audiences with her fresh take on vocal jaxx/nu-scat for the last couple of years.  A recent move to Manchester, a light ale quaffed and connections made via The Human Heads means Greta and the great THF Drenching have teamed up – their individual super powers amplified by the presence of similar corduroy mutants.

You already know THF Drenching and you’re thinking Dictaphones yeah?  Sure, the Dictas make an appearance but over half of this collection is vocal-based doof, hurling two well-lubricated throats together to dance merrily like bacteria in a Petri dish.

Yet keen Drenching watchers will note the Dictaphone tone is drier – less squelch; more rattle and hink/rustle and clatter.  The bombs are deftly dropped and the feedback ‘heek’ soars like a rectangular alto.

‘Bach Bathed in Bathos, Full Illustration’ is an important cornerstone.  An Hawaiian motel room is wrapped up in garish litmus paper, reacts pinkly and then is noisily unwrapped.  You can’t beat them apples!

But it’s the twin-vocal pieces that froth me over like excited milk.  The twin ‘Portrait of Baize Wattle’ pieces (large and small) make me recall those European Public Information films that would show up on That’s Life!  The humorous animation would be followed by a vaguely chucklesome punchline…’Winner’s drink piss’ or something like that.  The pace is furious but uncluttered; live with no overdubs (I think).  This almost puritan and old oaty approach really pays off.  The clean living certainly lends itself to Amish-style efforts.

This is in and out, reflexive and agile music.  It slips happily between hi-brow and goose-honk, pearly notes and granddad mumble.  As the closing seconds of the recording state:

Greta Buitkute:

Oh my God, it’s exhausting

THF Drenching (sniffs with a chuckle):

I know.

alan thf - night

Alan Wilkinson & THF Drenching – Night of the Flaming Meatus

This is an altogether more Jazz recording.  Two pieces; live, live, live at Sconny Rotts (2014) or something.

Welcome, reader a fine pair of foils: thin breath pushed through brass and the quivering whine of sculptured feedback.  Damn, that’s good!

Soundz?

(i)                  Like snakes making out in the back of an old Audi until they make a mess of the upholstery; their coppery tones get all twisted and spoony.

(ii)                Old doods reminiscing about the days in their wartime dance band – sounds leak all gummy from their ears.

(iii)               The alarm on our oven telling me the bread’s ready…oh wait.  That is the oven.  Give me a minute…

…but it’s not all top-end tomfoolery.  A real satisfying base layer of hissing creak (Dictas) and watery saliva- garbles (Saxes) give this a weighty gravity that pulls on the rocketing undulations (a flight of a condor).

And if you’re still asking questions about what free music is doing right now jam your ear up against these two beauties and huff up the heady scent of courage.

This is music for heroes!

PUBLIC APOLOGY:  This review also functions as an apology to Mr A Wilkinson for my cheeky and childish ripping of his sound check sounds on my Correct Come tape.  Sorry mate – can I buy you a pint or something?

seth cooke - eternal

Seth Cooke – Eternal World Engines of the Demiurge

These two pieces of electronic gumbo take what we might call process recordings and apply the extraction method adding calm and deliberate shadings to a real-world sound scenario.

In the first of two offerings Seth ransacks an insurance office circa 1978 whilst the office party averts prying eyes.  The unmistakable sound of a dot matrix printer (duh…I was mistaken.  Research shows it’s one of them stupid 3D doo-hickies) going all akka over a slowly emerging picture (in this case a 3D  bust) of Benjamin Disraeli – or some similarly bearded goof – as it appears line by dotty line.

Said printer is jammed with cocktail sticks and discarded business cards – in reality electronic shadows – as he hits the print button and lets nature take its course.  The frantic slide, shuffle and whirr is hypnotic and lulled me like a fat wren zonked by bright red berries until it snaps off into disturbing silence.

The calm is suddenly fractured by track number two, a gliding, sliding and silvery cascade; a perfect sound track to ice skating that would make Torvill & Dean throw greasy shapes ending up as sooty smears on the ice.

Gear heads will be pleased to note that the machinery on this disc was pioneered by Paul Lomere for his Infinite Jukebox that “endlessly extends and reconfigures MP3s by calculating probabilistic routes through the sound file based on pitch, timbre and metric position.”

Seth says he’s channelling Jack Kirby but for the romantics out there this is Bolero 2015 and a perfect 10 for artistic interpretation.

cooke - lash - pact

Seth Cooke/Dominic Lash – PACT

The quicksilver tones versus Pront-a-Print kerfuffle that starts this disc (‘PA’) are a waterslide into a world of grimy groan.

Massive and ungainly ‘things’ are rubbed with tweed gloves.  Moist and sweating ‘objects’ are painfully squeezed to release sticky ichors.  Soft and flexible ‘parts’ are cruelly bent into unholy shapes resembling the Goat of Mendes.

A close-up inspection reveals canyons of scrape and gummy friction.  And while the pace remains stately for a time layers of rub and tug bring forth some slippery excitements.  Oh Matron!

Track two (‘CT’) is a darker affair.  The double bass bowing (Lash) and kitchen sink manipulation (Cooke) as uncooperative as a sullen teenager.  Black storm clouds gather over my cheap-o high-fi and I feel my brows knit.

Gosh.  This is brooding stuff.

The simple bass riff is not happy with me or you and doesn’t care who knows about it; electronics twinkle but with the black light of sea coal from Redcar beach.  I love this sombre and funereal pace and can feel my mood merge into full-on sulk.

So, what you looking at eh?  Clear off and leave me with Lash & Cooke.  You don’t understand me anyway.

I hate everything!

More details here if you can be bothered.

nick hoffman - necropolis

Nick Hoffman – Necropolis

Microscopic attention to microscopic detail turns my hammer, anvil and stirrup into marshmallow fluff.

This is a record of extreme extremes: from hosepipe-full-on-gush to tiny cooling-metal-tik.  These five pieces of sieved electronics lurch from Black Metal through the Gristleizer (The Rotten Core) to the ivory click of miniature pool balls intensifying until my speakers are fizzing and flipping-out like a model railway going straight to hell (Eros).

But what I like most about this disc are the abrupt edits, the inter-track halts and about turns that keep this grizzled noise monkey twisting to check that a fuse hasn’t blown.  While I enjoy a heads-down, no-nonsense, continuous blast of fetid sludge as much as the next pair of ears being wrong-footed and fooled is a joy.  What’s next?  Is this build up going to explode or whimper out?  It’s as slippery as Be-Bop from Minton’s Playhouse.

Nick pulls out all the stops for the lengthy closer, ‘The Scent of Ground Teeth’, a 16 minute monster of glitching signal, spluttering like a coffee percolator spiked with cobra venom.

va aa lr - newhaven

If this blog was a radio show I would segue seamlessly from this blustery fizzing into the white-hot spitting of VA AA LR’s Newhaven.  Recorded at last year’s fascinating Fort Process festival VA AA LR drop their usual prepared electronics and objects and carve out a landscape from the sound of distress flares alone.  Taking away the literally explosive visual element you are left with a wonderfully peculiar 20 minutes of sparkling hiss and frazzle.  Every permutation of splutter and crackle is worked through like Coltrane on Giant Steps, probing and searching; pushing forward and wringing all possible combinations from this electric spitball.

After a time the busy and frantic schizzle seems to fine-tune my old ear ‘ole letting me pick out tone and textural changes.  There is a whole world in here as the planes of fuzzing gimble regroup like a forgotten language.  Be sure to make a beeline for this vibrant crackle readers; a worthy bookend to that other splutter classic, Lee Patterson’s Egg Fry #2.

—ooOoo—

Plush Wattle

THF Drenching

LF Records

1000füssler

organized music from thessaloniki

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.

 

distillations: extraction music haiku compiled

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

occult technologies: microdeform, ian watson, mother spit

January 29, 2014 at 3:16 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Microdeform – APHELION (C65 tape, zamzamrec, 024, edition of 33 or download)

Ian Watson – Terrestrials gone Tropic With Some Pretty Fancy Animals (CD-r, LF Records, LF032, plus two freely downloadable extra tracks)

mother spit – carve (3” CD-r, aetheric records, edition of 25 or download)

microdeform - aphelionian watson - terrestrials gone tropicmother spit - carve

Older readers will recall that it was once possible to own a tape deck which could sense the gaps between songs when fast-forwarding a cassette.  The stereo I had would find the next track, rewind a second back into the silence then start playing from there.  This took the tedious to-ing and fro-ing out of looking for an elusive moment on, say, a homemade compilation of Peel sessions but was clearly an occult technology indistinguishable from black magic.  Thus, sadly, the machine had to be burnt as a witch, the melted remains rubbed with garlic and the whole sorry lot buried on hallowed ground.  Shame.

Anyway, all true music fans of my era know that any given tape can only contain two tracks: ‘Side A’ and ‘Side B’.  Even single-sided tapes have that long, quiet track on the reverse of the noisy side.  Feel free to include a tracklisting if you like but, especially if your music is at all abstract, I’m unlikely to pay it any heed.

This format-invoked, nostalgic whimsy occurred to me as I ‘researched’ the excellent tape Aphelion by Microdeform, that is Liam McConaghy, released in a tiny edition by zamzamrec and also available for download.  Buy it from the artist’s Bandcamp site (where you can find the few remaining physical copies too) and you get an eleven track album, download from the label’s Bandcamp site and you get two half-hour chunks titled ‘side 1’ and ‘side 2’.  I chuckled approvingly, plumping for the latter option.

A persuasive sense of purpose pulls the listener through both sides as various sub-genres of dark electronics run together into a united current.  There are Tangerine, Vangelisian synth-wobs riding over the fuzzed out murk – part science fiction dystopia, part mass for the drowned in a submerged cathedral.  There is thumping industro-grind as machine rhythms emerge from the loops and echoes.  A growing crescendo of tension across ‘side 2’ suggests it isn’t going to end well for the protagonist of this supernatural cyber-thriller.  I picture her looking over weapons she knows to be inadequate with a wry resignation then, coincidentally at the exact moment the Earth is at the furthest distance its orbit takes us from the Sun, the door is kicked in…

Terrestrials gone Tropic With Some Pretty Fancy Animals is the second of Ian Watson’s projects to come my way (see my review of the SWEFN album on hairdryer excommunication here) and is my favourite of the latest batch of releases from the ever-impressive LF Records.  It is a one hour long CD-r comprising twelve untitled tracks and, should that not be enough for you, LF have kindly made two further tracks freely available via Bandcamp to boost it to feature length.  Ian is an illustrator as well as a musician and the cover shows off his considerable chops – take a good, hard look at the chicken thing above, though I’d wait until after lunch if I were you.

The music is mainly electrical, yet there is something squishily organic about it too.  It’s as if Ian were recording impulses in the newly formed nervous system of a giant lump of sentient tofu (its mood = forlorn, as you might expect).  Hmmm… too flip – the situation portrayed is more grave.  Some of this sounds like the trilling and bobbling background noises to be heard on the bridge of the USS Enterprise but smeared-out, slowed down.  Perhaps what we are getting are the tragic attempts of a red-shirted crew member to recombine himself following a devastating transporter accident.  Doomed to haunt the corridors and quarters of the spacecraft, he is not corporeal enough to make an impression on the physical world yet is still ‘real’ enough to avoid dissipating completely.  These tracks are how he hears what we hear.

I found this album to be distractingly compelling.  An attempt to use it as background soundtrack to an afternoon of pottering ended with me sprawled on the bed in the spare room, chores forgotten, staring at the ceiling, as I followed its twists and pulses

carve by mother spit is a single, eighteen minute track housed on a 3” CD-r with the striking cover photograph above, released in a tiny edition by aetheric records (home of RFM faves people-eaters) and also available for download.  Interestingly, the band hails from Sofia in Bulgaria.  Now, I am perfectly aware that this is the modern capital city of a modern European country but, to an unseasoned non-traveller like me, it is the sort of location that will always feel like ‘the old country’, as alluded to in fables and 1940s horror films like Jacques Tourneur’s sublime Cat People (yes, I know the main character was from Serbia, not Bulgaria, but you see what I’m getting at I hope.).

Using a carefully selected palette of eerie, droning electronics the track quite deliberately, and very successfully, creates a cosmically chilling Lovecraftian vibe.  There are three scenes depicted: the warm winds whistling through the deserted, subterranean corridors of the nameless city, the aftermath of a woodland ritual in deepest New England – the celebrants have departed but the ground is littered with still warm torches and a sticky, rust-coloured liquid is drying on the large, smooth rock used as an alter and, finally, the dark, grey interior of a Mi-Go spacecraft on a journey home to Yuggoth (yes, I know they were supposed to fly through the aether using their membranous wings but, having attended the dissection of a captured specimen, I now consider that theory to be unlikely.).  These scenes overlap one another and drift in and out of focus, as if in the crazed mind of an unfortunate soul who witnessed all three.  I can’t stop playing it.

Microdeform’s own Bandcamp site.

Microdeform on zamzamrec’s Bandcamp site.

Ian Watson on LF Records.

Ian Watson’s own site.

mother spit on aetheric record’s Bandcamp site.

alien currency: valuing stuart chalmers, robert ridley-shackleton, spoils & relics and the piss superstition

May 15, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 3 Comments
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Stuart Chalmers/Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Blunders (tape, Hissing Frames)

Spoils & Relics – Angels Trumpet Over Moonbeams (CD-r, Chocolate Monk, choc.252)

The Piss Superstition – Vocal Learning (CD-r or download, Kirkstall Dark Matter)

vocal learning frontvocal learning backspoils and relics - angelsblunders

Recently my heavyweight cultural commentator status was leaned upon by that talented noise scamp Duncan Harrison.  He wished to pick my brains in an email interview and then use my powerful insights to inform his MA dissertation, thinking, correctly, that my involvement would guarantee him top marks.  His subject, a fascinating one, is the construction of value in noise.  I won’t rehearse too much of what I said to him as a) much of it was culled from previous interviews and blog posts that can be found here or nearby and b) I don’t know what stage he is at in the project or if he intends to publish it himself.  Suffice to say it was a pleasurable business which got me thinking about a difficult subject that I’ve long been nervous about.

To put the question as simply as possible: when faced with two noise performances or recordings what, if anything, makes one better than the other and what allows the listener to make that judgement?  I have been mulling over the implications of this thought whilst enjoying these three releases.  I’ll use the excuse of the reviews to chuck in a bit of light philosophizing too.

A month (or so – sorry: taking care of a baby seems to shrink the calendar) ago, Stuart Chalmers generously sent me a copy of the split tape pictured above and his CD-r Daydream Empire on rock-solid noise label LF Records.  I was especially keen to hear the latter as Uncle Mark over at RFM’s sister blog Idwal Fisher had already lavished praise upon it.  Stuart’s blistering collages are constructed with care, dedication to detail, a dry wit and sense of rhythm.  There is an admirable fluidity to the craziness which suggests hidden narratives beneath the surface froth.  It is delicate and nuanced in places, gibbering bonkers in others.  The recording is immaculate, the package very smart.  In fact, I can’t think of an ‘objective’ measure of quality on which this release doesn’t score highly and yet…  I’m sad to say that I didn’t like it.  Over the course of several benefit-of-the-doubt re-spins I found my attention wandering, unable to latch on.  It is clear to me why others like it and why I ‘should’ like it myself, but knowing that doesn’t help.  Most perplexing – it feels like my fault somehow.

The split tape Blunders, however, despite being ‘less accomplished’ (and I realise that using phrases like that is not helpful when the nature of ‘accomplishment’ is the point being discussed but, hey, I’m not the one writing a dissertation) is great.  Stuart’s side begins with a groaning cassette player, low on battery power or suffering from finger-on-the-capstan syndrome which accompanies Stuart sorting out his recycling, clearly in a bad mood.  There is an appealing physicality to this section – I like to hear things chucked about.  The following sequence is simplicity itself: a short loop is augmented with various clatters and allowed to rise and fall as rhythms emerge and are subsumed in the growing crescendo.  This cuts abruptly and is replaced with some ghostly, chittering squiggletronics layered in overalpping spirals sat atop an uneasy moan.  Effective and gratifying.  Robert’s side begins with a tooth-loosening trebly whine.  This isn’t something I would usually warm to, but it is subject to occasional and semi-rhythmic disruption which proves hypnotic.  Like watching the cool, even flow of a melt water stream disrupted by a child bringing odd shaped muddy objects to wash in it.  The dreamlike atmosphere is continued with a strangely breathy middle section and compounded by a final sequence that feels like lying on a beach listening to light aircraft pass overhead, well, until a smearing of the sound suggests this may be something slightly more sinister – an imposed memory perhaps.  So what of ‘quality’?  Are there such things as objective measures?  If the attributes I list in the previous paragraph are examples then in a ‘tick list’ exercise the CD-r wins out over the tape.  However, as I far prefer the latter to the former, it seems that exhibiting all these virtues does not necessarily lead to a release being ‘good’.

Which brings us to the next point: is saying something is ‘good’ anything over and above saying ‘I enjoyed it’?  Is saying ‘this is better than that’ just a way of saying ‘I liked this more than that’ couched in pseudo-objectivity?  Can I get away with saying, for example, Angels Trumpet Over Moonbeams by Spoils & Relics, volume 4 in Chocolate Monk’s ‘The Well Spliced Breath’ series of releases, is better than all-but-one of the other items on the review pile?  Well, I’m going to…

Spoils & Relics are much loved here.  Their collages of found sounds, unfathomable scrapings, radio twittering and cultural detritus are superficially similar to many other releases that come my way but they seem to add an extra layer in-between their sources and results that others don’t.  Before being recontextualized, the causes they have collected get abstracted and uncoupled from their usual effects.  Elements are recognizable, of course, and some of the filters used are obvious (tapes sped up for humorous effect etc.) but everything is coated with an oily film of, for want of a better word, magic.  Perhaps because the group is a trio the sense that some kind of rite is taking place is more pronounced than it would be with a solo artist.  I dunno.  Never mind: this is 24 minutes well spent.  I was entranced, amused, fascinated.  It weathers repeat listens – the twinkling cragginess becoming more characterful each time around.

Whilst stopping short of claiming my judgement has an objective grounding, I might have a go at a kind of appeal to authority: my own.  I recognize this gambit has no logical force behind it but I have spent thousands of hours over more than two decades listening to and thinking about certain types of experimental music, and many of those hours/years have been spent engaging with this type of noise.  I’d like to think that I’ve developed a certain connoisseurship during that period.  I have a historian’s feel for context, and a fellow practitioner’s (I hesitate to call myself a ‘musician’) appreciation of the methods of construction.  Thus if some ne’er-do-well challenged me to justify my assertion that this CD-r is excellent I would put a friendly arm around their shoulder and calmly explain that I have put the hours in.  Experience allows me to appreciate depth, nuance, texture and/or take joy from immediacy and the unexpected.  Basically: if I know about anything, I know about this.

Which brings me neatly to the pay off.  For the reasons given above, I am well placed to appreciate and savour anything genuinely remarkable and unique that happens along.  Hang on a minute, the sceptic might say, didn’t you just assert that your trustworthy aesthetic judgement was based on a bedrock of accumulated precedent?  If so, how do you account for something unprecedented?  It’s a fair point.  I think I’d try and wriggle out from under it by saying that my experience has taught me that novelty has a value in and of itself and that finding something unclassifiable is usually a good reason for close further attention.  I love those ‘what the fuck am I hearing?!’ moments.  As I said to Duncan: in a scene where anything goes you have to be prepared for anything going.

The Piss Superstition, that is Julian Bradley and Paul Steere, is just such a proposition.  My bromance with JB is over-documented elsewhere on this blog so I won’t go into that again.  Suffice to say I cry uncontrollably whenever I remember that he has deserted Leeds for that Manchester.  Still, we’ll always have the music…

Vocal Learning comprises three tracks totalling approximately 26 minutes and comes on a sleek, black playstation-style CD-r in the nicely designed, minimal packaging pictured above.  It is the second release on Dave Thomas’s microlabel Kirkstall Dark Matter and effortlessly betters the inaugural release by yours truly.  I’m honoured to be in such company.  The music suggests systems gone wrong, like some guy pushed in a punch card upside down and then went to lunch leaving everything running.  Yet heavy, juddering electrics describe arcane symbols as they spiral through the iterations of this garbled instruction set.  Something truly wierd is being revealed.  The serrated buzzing suggests saw mill equipment escaping its moorings and consuming itself as one bladed machine vibrates into the path of another.  But again, there is nothing random about this movement.  All is being conducted by an unfamiliar intelligence for some unknowable purpose.  In the end though, all metaphors, similes, superlatives and whimsy just slide off this band or, at best, get caught in the gears and mashed – such is the beauty, mystery and power of their output.  They do not sound like anyone else and yet, somehow, it turns out that this sound is exactly what I wanted to hear.  Its value can only be calculated by fumbling with an alien currency, glinting strangely in my palm.

Thus: Vocal Learning is the best album of the year so far.  Why?  Because it is – I said so.

LF Records

Hissing Frames

Stuart Chalmers

Chocolate Monk

Spoils & Relics

Kirkstall Dark Matter

The Piss Superstition

jackhammer meditation: seth cooke’s pneumatic logic

January 25, 2013 at 8:51 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Seth Cooke – Pneuma (CD-r, LF Records, LF028)

seth cooke - pneuma

Ahh…Seth Cooke: polymath, renaissance man, musician of note, inventive collaborator, co-caretaker of Bang the Bore and owner of the most luxuriously strokable beard in improv (which is a hotly contested honour, as you can imagine).  When he moved from Leeds to Bristol howls of anguish were heard around the noise community here.  ‘How could we have let this one slip through our fingers?’ we moaned.  An emergency committee was convened to make sure it never happened again.  Manacles were mentioned.  Clearly the issue needs more thought.  Anyway: he escaped and Leeds’ loss has been Bristol’s gain.  Not only has he networked his way onto every art-noise bill promoted in that fair city but the area’s microlabels are clamouring for his product.  See, for example, the release pictured above on the flavour-of-the-month LF Records.

There is an entertaining back story to the genesis of Pneuma that can be read at LF or on Seth’s own new website (well worth clicking around).  Suffice to say here that a major element of the composition is the sound of pneumatic drills at work.  It is a noise that has a long pedigree in experimental music (especially industrial music, for obvious reasons).  I remember my old mate Kev (still kickin’ it down in that Brighton as Mouthful of Worms) once telling me that he’d learnt two things about life.  The first was:

I prefer the sound of a pneumatic drill to all music

…and the second was so unspeakably filthy that it cannot be repeated on a family blog.  Moving swiftly on…

This source material is not hidden behind walls of processing, it couldn’t be clearer what we are being treated to (especially on the second track), however Seth has very cleverly realised what the key component of this sound is.  A lesser musician may have amped the pummelling racket of the giant steel needle unstitching the tarmac, but not him.  Instead he focuses our attention on the ringing of the loose metal parts of the machine caused by its juddering movement.  This is foregrounded in the mix by augmenting it with crotales and complimentary feedback tones.  The overall feel is therefore shifted from the brute physicality of hairy-arsed, horny-handed-sons-of-toil tearing up concrete with machine tools to a more spiritual realm where a monastery of Buddhist monks collaborate with a visiting gamelan orchestra by getting busy with hundreds of singing bowls.  It is surprisingly refreshing and, as the two tracks total about three quarters of an hour, makes for excellent early morning walking to work music (as I think Kev Petals may have already observed elsewhere).

Speaking of walking to work: it may pain some of you to find out, especially after the paragraph praising tape in the Mantile review below, that almost all of the music I listen to is in mp3 format and heard via earbuds on my commute.  They’re high bit rate mp3s and good-quality ear-buds, for what it is worth, but I can sense the purer purists out there sadly shaking their heads.  BUT I know that Seth is a fan of close, high-end, transparent recording in the music he listens to for fun (as he has a telephone based job where all day is spent listening to ultra-compressed, lo-fi shouting) and so did him the courtesy of listening in WAV format too and on my actual stereo – y’know, sat down in a room like a civilised adult and all that – and it is crystal clear.  His faultless attention to detail does him credit and serves the recording admirably.

This is a top-spec item, packaged in a lovely colour sleeve, and comes highly recommended by me.  What more do you need?

Buy here.

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