garden of forking paths: chrissie caulfield on stuart chalmers and tlön

March 14, 2015 at 2:37 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Stuart Chalmers – Imaginary Musicks Vol.2 (CD-r or download, Blood Diamond Music, BDM 005)

Tlön – Truth in the 13th (tape and download extras, Birkhouse Recordings, BIRK.007)

Imaginary Musicks2

I’m not even going to try and guess what instruments, objects and bent circuits Stuart Chalmers has used in his second volume of Imaginary Musicks. The range of sounds involved is quite remarkable and his grasp of the techniques of bending existing sounds to his will is better heard than analysed. If I describe sounds in this review it’s not necessarily what was used to make the noise, just what it sounds like to me [Editor’s note: no worries, that’s the RFM way].

That said, I think I’m on fairly safe ground (looks down expecting quicksand) in stating that this is substantially a Musique Concrète album, though that doesn’t really begin to describe the breadth of experiences it contains. There are sumptuous drones, beats made from household objects, tape noises and the occasional sax solo. If there is a track on here that you don’t particularly like, then simply skipping to the next one will bring something different for you to try. That’s not to say there is no consistency, there is; perhaps think of it as an aural version of the 1990s TV programme The Crystal Maze: buzzing with wild contraptions, bizarre puzzles and an enigmatic host – Chalmers himself.

Personally, the album had my full attention from the opening track ‘Breaking Chains’. After some gentle scratching and scraping it explodes into a glorious Ben Frost-like festival of noise that assaults the ears, with heavy drums, tortured saxophone squeals, delay feedback and all manner of shrieking and buzzing. If ever an album started with a…

WAKE UP AT THE BACK!

…call, this is it. ‘Breaking Chains’ lasts just three and a half minutes but I wanted it to go on longer. This is typical. Chalmers never outstays his welcome with anything on this album, the tracks are about the length of many popular songs but with far more originality. Like Richard O’Brien at his most frenetic, he opens a door, gives you a three or four minute puzzle and then whisks you onto something new.

There is a love here, that I share, of industrial and mechanical noises [Editor’s note: see Chrissie’s own excellent Mechanisms, as she’s too modest to mention it herself]. Chalmers drops you into a room of ghostly clocks in ‘War on Nature’, there are car horns and squeaky gates in ‘To Be Lost is To Be Found’ and ‘Abandoned Cities’, then you are required to grapple with motors in ‘Wax & Wane’. There are probably all sorts of other things that I’m sure I’ve missed either because they’ve been heavily processed or secreted beneath layers of other interesting sounds but that just adds to the puzzles that repeated listens will, possibly, reveal. Chalmers leaves you few clues – sometimes the titles seem as though they are descriptive, other times they merely add to the confusion.

‘Wax & Wane’ is another favourite of mine, partly because it’s another noisy one, but also because of the way the dense textures here are so careful constructed. The motor sounds provide a basis for cheesy organ and distorted guitars (see disclaimer above) as they fade into swirling synths and gurgling. It’s like you’re locked inside the body of the engine, trying to find a way out.

Each piece on this album is a single idea in its own right and that is both it’s beauty and, possibly, its weakness. There are wonderful tracks, but also several that feel as though they should be developed rather than stopping and moving onto the next idea. That would make it a different experience, of course, and the simplicity of those pieces definitely has appeal – always best to be left wanting more.

Truth in the 13th

I enjoyed this album but I have to say that Chalmer’s other release, a collaboration project with Liam McConaghy [Editor’s note: of the excellent Microdeform] called Tlön was even more to my taste. Truth in the 13th is much more synth-based and is comprised of slightly longer pieces which gives the music more chance to breathe and go through a little more development.

Again, the opener is a blinder. ‘Crepuscular’ begins with dark beats and haunting synths. Listening to this you definitely feel like you’re walking through an overgrown and dangerous forest at night – Crystal Maze’s entrance to the Aztec Zone with the lights switched off and alligators added to the pond. You get buzzed by giant insects early on, and later there are growls from larger animals that become quite terrifying in the manner of Ben Frost’s By The Throat.

Unlike Imaginary Musicks, the titles of the tracks on this album seem to be much more descriptive of what you’re going to get – or maybe I’m just very suggestible. ‘In Accordance With Divine Laws’ sounds to me like some sort of spooky, scratchy church service, complete with indistinct singing – though over what sounds like heavily distorted guitars. ‘Ancient Ruins’ takes you from the undergrowth into the full Aztec Zone in bright light where you can explore the buildings left after centuries of neglect.

As with the solo Chalmers album, this one is packed full of manipulated recorded samples and things that sound like vinyl scratches and radio noises – and here we also have even more powerful guitars and yet more synths added to the mix to give a generally thicker, often quite oppressive, sound. It’s highly risky to second guess the roles of the artists in a collaboration, these relationships are always more complex than you think, but for my money the influence of McConaghy adds something to Chalmers’ quirky puzzles that lifts them to a different level.

For me, the least appealing track on Truth in the 13th is the title track. The simple snare rhythm quickly gets boring and distracts from the otherwise good things happening around it. The two remixes of the track that are included, quite sensibly, play this down.

So, if you fancy a trip round the Aztec Zone, Mechanical Zone, the Futuristic Zone and others, I can recommend these releases to you. Personally, I’d still like to be whisked round them by a young Ed Tudor-Pole, but that’s probably just me.

—ooOoo—

Stuart Chalmers on Bandcamp

Blood Diamond Music (via Blue Spectrum Tapes)

Birkhouse Recordings

 

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.

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