artifacts of the no-audience underground: recent human combustibles

August 10, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Ashtray Navigations – Three Spots Two Circles (Medusa, 014, 2 x 3″ CD-r with poster, edition of 50)

Human Combustion Engine V – Bible Whistle (Total Vermin, #76, cassette)

Part Wild Horses Mane On Both Sides + Human Combustion Engine = Human Horses (Memoirs Of An Aesthete, CD in digipak, edition of 250)

So, Phil and Mel hand me some new stuff, right, and it is well smart so I decide to write about it, yeah, so I look back through the blog to find my last piece on the AshNav axis to make sure that I repeat any running jokes or overworked metaphors that I’ve annoyed them with before and, to my horror, I discover that I’ve said nothing about Three Spots Two Circles!  Nowt!

I’m not sure how/why this dodged the review pile but I suspect it was because I thought it had sold out at source – Medusa – almost instantly.  I might have been wrong (please check) but I don’t like to risk upsetting my sensitive readers by singing the praises of an unavailable item.  Still, as a terrific release by my favourite band I have to at least note it in passing.  From the eye-opening, Pendereckish scraped strings of ‘Forced Orchestra One’, through the more recognizably Ashnavian tropical psych of, well, the rest of it, the level of humour, invention and groove is maintained at a knock-out pitch.  The package is exquisite too – a lovely foldout poster in Renaissance gold, black and white hides two individually wrapped 3″ CD-rs.  Double mini-CD-r = format of champions.  Let’s move swiftly on to two items that are (almost) definitely available…

Human Combustion Engine V – Bible Whistle, is a one-lengthy-track-per-side cassette on the surprisingly-lovely-given-the-name Total Vermin.  The cover features the enormously be-conked, perma-grinning plaster face of Mr. Noseybonk – a nightmare-inducing mime from 80s children’s television series JigsawPerhaps the less said about him the better.

Anyway, this be the fifth outing of Phil and Mel’s synth duo incarnation (hence the ‘V’).  As you might expect given the instrumentation, there are tangerine passages but it isn’t overly krautish nor does it feel at all like pastiche, or even homage for that matter.  If you want layers of low-end robo-dystopian rumble or epic synth washes then you can find ‘em – especially on side two’s ‘The Importance of Whistle Boards’ – but there is also plenty of agile tweakery going on which pushes things forward in an angular and involving fashion.  Let’s examine, for example, the opening to side one’s ‘Holiday Bible Week’ which begins in a spacey manner but this isn’t 2001: A Space Odyssey spacey, more knitted-out-of-pink-wool Oliver Postgate spacey.  As the atmosphere surrounding the trilling and warbling darkens the new genre of electro-doom-clanger is birthed before our very ears.

An excellent companion piece to the stuff by Cloughy recently reviewed below.  At the time of writing this isn’t up on the Total Vermin blog yet but you could always drop Stuart a line at and enquire as to what is up.

Finally, we have a proper pressed CD in a larily coloured digipak released by Phil’s own label Memoirs of an Aesthete.  Usefully, the project is explained by its own title: Part Wild Horses Mane On Both Sides + Human Combustion Engine = Human Horses so there you go.  Pascal Nichols (percussion) and Kelly Jayne Jones (flute, electronics and piano) join the HCE synthers for an improvised 40 minute performance recorded by RFM-chap-of-the-year-contender Andy Jarvis, Heathen Earth style, in front of a select audience.

I was very interested to hear how this was going to fit together.  Would the synths of HCE be mobile, reactive and spacious enough to accommodate, say, the delicacy and emotional potency of KJJ’s flute?  Would the remarkable, rolling, free drumming of PN really get its claws in or would it just skitter over the surface?  Silly me for even asking.  All the elements augment and amplify each other, creating a multi-faceted whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Imagine you are about to embark on a giant jigsaw (I’m talking about the tabletop time-killing activity now, not Mr. Noseybonk) of a tropical jungle scene.  The picture is always there, in prospect, from the moment you tip the pieces out of the box, before you even start to solve the puzzle.  However, it won’t resolve itself until you make some progress in assembling it, then it gradually becomes clearer and clearer until it is fully revealed by the satisfying placement of the last piece.

OK, now picture yourself as retired and therefore a fiend for jigsaws.  This is some distance in the future, of course, and now jigsaws are high tech things with shape-shifting pieces that change each time you waggle your iBrain implants.  Also, not only does the picture gradually take shape as you put it together but an immersive scene of lush plant life, strange insects, heat haze and exotic bird calls – stuff you can hear and see – is created at the same time.  Repeat listens to Human Horses is like that.  Buy here.

just what is the piss superstition?

October 13, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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The Piss Superstition – Dallas’ Amp (Medusa 062)

Sometimes this ‘writing about music’ lark is easy.  Present me with a piece that I can get a handle on and I will happily tug that handle and catch the words that tumble out.  Stick in a few tortured metaphors, add a little self-referential narcissism, clip into paragraphs and I’m done: 50 hits, a tweet and three mentions on facebook in the bag.  Alas, the standard procedure is no good when it comes to the work of Julian Bradley, forever to be known as ex-Vibracathedral Orchestra, now groovin’ his own way under the puzzling moniker of The Piss Superstition.  Any attempt by me to describe his unique aesthetic involves a lot of pen-chewing, window-staring and laptop ignoring.

OK, let’s try this:

Imagine being shaken awake at 3am to discover two huge alien creatures looming over your bed.  You roll over onto your front thinking “Christ, it has only been a fortnight since the last probe,” but tonight they aren’t interested in your fundamental aperture.  Instead they want information: “WHAT IS MUSIC?” barks Alien One, “QUICKLY!!”  “Err… sometimes it has guitars in it,” you mumble blearily.  “GOOD.  WHAT ELSE?” says Alien One.  “Uh… keyboards too?  Percussion – you know rhythmic pulses,” you say, warming to the topic as you wake up, “music is sound organised as to…”  “OK, OK, ENOUGH OF THE PHILOSOPHICAL SHIT,” snaps Alien One then turns to Alien Two and asks: “YOU GET ALL THAT?”  Alien Two motions with his space pen at the space writing on his space notepad and they disappear.

Back on Planet X, for reasons known only to them, they treat your sketchy responses as a sacred text and build a whole tradition of composition upon them.  Eventually SETI picks up a performance of the results and it is examined by the world’s leading xenomusicologists.  “Well…,” they say, “all the elements are there but it is scorched with wrongness.  It isn’t that we don’t get it – more like we can’t.”

Or, if you are short of time, how about this:

Julian has found a way of cutting and pasting music into Google Translate and has amused himself by pinging it back and forth between languages.  Once the entropy of the process has removed meaning and context altogether, once all that is left is an incommensurably strange residue, he then offers it to us.

Still no?  OK, how about an anecdote with a punchline?  On the evening of Wednesday 12th October 2011 in the Fox & Newt here in the beautiful garden city of Leeds I saw The Piss Superstition (beefed up to a power duo by the addition of the charming Paul Steere) play live.  Over the course of about 20 minutes of performance they blew my mind.  As I swept up the splinters I made the mistake of prematurely trying to talk about it.  First to Paul Walsh, who didn’t notice me not making any sense as he’d had a few, then to Phil Todd who listened patiently to my incoherent monologue and occasionally tried to chip in.  He was rescued by Julian himself who appeared at my elbow, took our praise with his usual grace, and summed up his philosophy in one crisp seven word sentence:

I just want it to sound fucked.

There you have it.  Anyone into the kind of stuff I write about here should be checking out Julian’s work.  I consider it essential.  This tape, for example, is nicely representative of his recent vibe and is available to buy from the wonderful Canadian outfit Medusa.  Julian also has copies to sell so approach him direct and, whilst you are at it, ask him about the CD-rs he probably has knocking around too – aggressive self-promotion is not his strong suit.

wired for sound part 18: ashtray navigations – human wrecktronics / too few notes

September 22, 2011 at 8:16 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Ashtray Navigations – Human Wrecktronics/Too Few Notes (Medusa #102)

Occasionally, dear reader, I find myself struck by the certain knowledge that a particular release, as yet unheard by me, is bound to be truly wonderful.  I then quiver with anticipation until said object is in my possession.  The reliability of this knack is uncanny.

And so it proves here.  I started to covet this tape when I saw a photo of a box full of them on the Ashtray Navigations blog and I was mighty delighted when Phil slid me a copy under the pub table a couple of weeks later.  In-between those two events the usual object of my covetous desires – my neighbour’s ox Flossy – stood glumly at the garden fence not getting a look in.  Ahhh… lovely Flossy – forgive my infidelity, one day you will be mine!

Anyway, the spec is as follows: double sided tape in fold-out cardboard sleeve fastened with a Velcro button.  The Medusa website lists this as a C22 but that is not correct: the red side lasts 20 minutes and the green side only a couple of minutes less.  Each side features one track and each track is an authentically inauthentic jam created by Phil Todd from various mysterious sources and swaddled in overdubs.  Side one guest stars Neil Campbell and side two features Ashtray regular Mel and the irregular Phil Legard.

The music returns us to the company of the Interstellar Buddha mentioned in the Cinderella Stamps review.  This time our intrepid hero finds himself in the court of a decadent androgynous God-King – I’m picturing a cross between Mick Jagger in Performance and that green chick in her underwear in the Star Trek reboot.  The God-King listens amused as Interstellar Buddha preaches the noble truth that all existence is suffering and then, rather missing the point, orders a three day bacchanalian orgy to prove him wrong.  Interstellar Buddha tries to protest but someone/thing spikes his drink and he ends up joining in.  The proceedings are sound-tracked here, sometimes in high definition, sometimes in slow motion.  It is glorious – I’ve been flipping it from side to side in my walkman non-freakin’-stop.

Treat yourself to a copy via AshNav here or why not go direct to Medusa here.

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