Tags: chrissie caulfield, death is not the end, east of the valley blues, helicopter quartet, joe henderson, joe murray, julian bradley, kevin cahill, luke vollar, marlo de lara, miguel perez, neil campbell, patrick cahill, power moves label, power moves library, skull mask, sophie cooper, tusk festival, zellaby awards
Ugh, those canapés must be really stale by now…
…I murmur, lying spread-eagled on the floor of the ballroom in Midwich Mansions. I look up at the tragically withered balloons, still held by the net hung from the chandeliers. I idly pick at the broken glass within reach and wonder if dry-cleaning can remove blood stains. The banging and rattling of the locked double doors has stopped, mercifully, as the neglected guests have given up and gone home (although I suspect a few recorded the racket and I’ll be invited to download versions from Bandcamp soon enough). When my beautiful Turkish servant boy climbed in a window left ajar and tried to rouse me I ordered him to flog himself for his insolence – I was too full of ennui and despair to raise the rod myself. A wave of nausea washes over me again as I think back to the utterly foolish reason for this gathering:
Who on Earth would want to celebrate 2016?
Last year was a time when everything from the largest of world situations (American Election, Syria, Brexit, Climate Change) to the tiniest, most personal events (a red spot on the tip of my nose became a cancer scare) seemed unrelentingly hostile. People important to me died including my Nan, my last remaining grandparent, aged 94. People important to all of us died. An anonymous tweet drifted past:
We cry when famous people die not because we knew them but because they helped us know ourselves.
…which I dismissed as trite, then was forced to concede the truth of it when I found myself reduced to a heaving, tear-drenched wretch by a pop song on the radio. There is more, a lot more – life has been tiring and complicated – but it’s stuff that even a hopelessly indiscreet blabbermouth like me recognises would be unwise to talk about in public.
What about music and this blog? In many ways it was a gala, firecracking year for the ideas behind this endeavour. Some examples: the notion of the ‘no-audience underground’ was the subject of a paper by Susan Fitzpatrick and Stuart Arnot (cultural heavyweights best known round these parts as Acrid Lactations) at a conference at Goldsmiths and was mentioned by conference organiser Stephen Graham in his book about underground music, my writing provided some context and inspiration for the Extraction Music all-dayer in Cardiff, organised by Ian Watson, which raised a grand for refugee charities, I was name-checked in the TUSK festival programme (more on that later) and interviewed at that event by Paul Margree for his We Need No Swords podcast. I could go on. All very flattering and inspiring, but much of my own writing from 2016 begins with an apology or contains a paragraph admitting I’ve been having trouble keeping up, maintaining enthusiasm.
I’ve been in denial about how burnt out I’ve been feeling and unrealistic about how much time I could commit due to work and, more importantly, family having to come first. Things need to change, at least temporarily. I’ll come back to this at the end of the post…
…because now, my reverie has been interrupted by a rustling noise! I turn to see Joe ‘Posset’ Murray, chief staff writer here at RFM, crawling towards me. I’m amazed that he still looks so sharp in his borrowed tuxedo despite his injuries. He slumps nearby clutching a handful of papers.
End of year pieces from everyone, boss…
…he whispers and passes them over before collapsing. Ah, excellent, I think – just the tonic! Let’s see what my RFM comrades have to say about it.
[Editor’s note: due to the weirdness of 2016, and a desire to shake things up a bit, I’ve abandoned the usual categories of the Zellaby Awards and allowed my contributors free reign. I’ve also cut down the number of links, tags and illustrations included to streamline matters – just keep your preferred search engine open in a nearby window. There will still be an album of the year though, so don’t fret.]
Firstly, RFM’s new recruit Joe Henderson takes the opportunity to introduce herself:
Hi, I’m new here and quite discerning with music and also a bit stingy with writing about music. Nevertheless, I’m writing this sat next to a set of homing pigeons who have just given birth to a pair of tiny weirdo’s on New Year’s Eve. The father, Moriarty, has taken over parental duties now. This set of birds were ‘rescued’ from Birling Gap having failed their mission. Homing birds are supposed to fly somewhere. These birds ain’t going no-where and correct me if I’m wrong, but are we not also foreseeing the long-term preparations for the death of The Queen? It’s been a strange year…
In the blurred Hyperreality of 2017, where Halloween is celebrated three days before the fact – in this post-truth-information-environment, people have been watching David Attenborough’s final rainforest. Well, seems like here’s some of the creatures and microcosms that were found, discovered and captured…
The Balustrade Ensemble – Capsules (Ominous Recordings, 2007)
Jessy Lanza – Pull my hair back (Hyperdub, 2013)
Dangerous Visions radio series (BBC Radio4, 2016)
Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh (Sacred Bones Records, 2015)
Pimsleur’s audio language lessons (German, Polish & Norwegian)
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Rhymesayers Entertainment, 2016)
The Chris Morris Music Show (BBC Radio One, 1994)
6Music & Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service (NOW)
Time just doesn’t count anymore. It doesn’t. I doubt any of this could be pigeonholed as ‘no audience underground’. But none of this matters anymore, and you all know it. You see, it’s fallen, it’s all tilted. It’s 2017, and it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s gonna be a long come down, like George Michael’s ‘Faster Love’ playing whilst more than a hundred divers scour the sea. Crews of immunity-freaks lumbering thru the Waste-Waters of Brighton. Across the ocean an assassin throws down his hand of cards as the world is watching. That Christmas trucker sounds like sleigh-bells. Or an Air-raid siren. Pulsing. It’s missing airman hums ‘The Missing Persons Boogie’ in a cul-de-sac. In the Upside-Down land. Miles away from Brian Eno’s caste system, attached to the moon. With a Selfie-stick. Low down and shifty. Only those with energy begin to reclaim The Playground. And cordon it off. And pave over it. Eno still stumbling flamboyantly thru the withered fronds of his iEgo. Framed by the Sistine Chapel recreated in an Old Woman’s second bathroom.
“In this post-truth-information-environment” – do you know what we look like? From a distance, it looks like we have lost control, and are swaying almost like dancing to it all…
Blimey, eh? “You see, it’s fallen, it’s all tilted.” Brilliant. Quite some calling card. I shall look forward to her future contributions with great interest.
Next up, marlo de lara reminds us that the more personal it is, the more political it is:
as previously noted by my rfm family, 2016 was a doozy, a head spin, and a heartache. so without further ado, my 2016 moments of note:
1. death of heroes
there has already been a ton of writing about this and a lot of needless controversy over the mourning of musicians. to me, role models and inspiration are hard to come by and even harder to preserve as we watch these humans be human. prince and pauline olivieros were both highly influential in my life. prince’s ongoing, groundbreaking lived fusion of musical genres and his highly charged expression of androgyny and sexual desire was always intoxicating, all while self-identifying as a black musician. totally inspiring for me as a marginalized musician growing up in racialized america. pauline olivieros pushed me to reassess what I defined as sound, sound making, and intention. my spirituality and the ability to breathe through the making of music is completely attributed to this amazing woman. thank you for the inspiration.
2. ghost ship tragedy
despite living across an ocean from the noise family that helped me develop my sounds, i am constantly aware of the ongoing community struggles of those artists/musicians/promoters/supporters whose events and festivals create solidarity. on december 2nd, the oakland diy live/art space ghost ship went ablaze, killing 36 people. well-loved individuals who made, created, and supported the scene. as the noise community wept at the loss of our kin, america attacked warehouse/diy venues with a crackdown based on ‘safety’ whilst never addressing the underlying issue that those artists/musicians tolerate living spaces/venues like these because as a society we do not prioritize living wages and conditions for musicians to thrive. so we endure, infiltrate society and emotionally thrive despite the lack of funds.
on a personal note I want to mention joey casio and jsun adrian mccarty, both of whom were deeply loved in my community for their music and their spirit. joey casio was a mainstay of the pacific northwest electronic/weird music scene and i have always had a fondness for jsun’s art/music, particularly the live performance noise project styrofoam sanchez. i wish i had gotten to know joey since he was so well spoken of and jsun’s kind smile at noise festivals is deeply missed. love and respect always.
the absurdity of politics reached an all-time high with the nonsense my dear friend arrington de dionyso (of malaikat dan singa and old time relijun) had to endure due to a mural he painted in a dc pizza parlour. his aesthetic and artistic style were misconstrued while he and his family were targeted by clinton conspiracy theorists and trump supporting nobheads. arrington survived by painting and creating sounds. but let’s all have a think about the ramifications of art and the volatile, inflammatory, conservative hot mess that we could all be victim too. arrington, you are a champion for dealing with it and blessings to you always.
stay awake. stay aware. make noise. xo, marlo
Luke Vollar now joins us via the open window to bellow about the stuff he likes:
Here is my end of year list, sticking only to what was released this year – mostly ‘no audience’ with a couple of ‘some audience’ releases thrown in and in no particular order. The low lights of 2016 were fairly obvious: the rise of the idiots and global face palm moments reaching new levels of guuh?! On a personal note I’ve been through some ghastly work related gubbins so I’m hoping 2017 picks up considerably. Music, as always, has offered a soothing balm and kept me (nearly) sane so here we go peeps I’ve probably forgotten some glaringly obvious choices as I often do. Such is the life of the discaholik.
Wormrot – Voices
Dead In The Dirt – The Blind Hole
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Lovely Honkey – Completely Wastes Your Time
Dylan Nyoukis & Friends – Mind Yon Time?
Shurayuki-Hime – In the Beginning, Woman Was the Sun
Pudern & Vomir – Split
Error Massage – Rooby
Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Tupperwave
Moon – Diseasing Rock Who
F. Ampism – The Resolution Phase
Posset – Cooperation Makes Us Wise
Posset – The Gratitude Vest
Stuart Chalmers and yol – Junk Seance
Stuart Chalmers – Imaginary Musicks vol. 5
Stuart Chalmers – In the Heart of the Wilderness
Usurper – The Big Five
Culver / Fordell Research Unit – Culver: Prisoner of F.R.U.
Clive Henry – Hymns
The Skull Mask – Walls of Convenience
Triple Heater – Aurochs
The Custodians – Moribund Mules and Musket Fire
Yume Hayashi – What The Summer Rain Knows
My highlight of the year was watching Ashtray Navigations support Dinosaur Jr.
Next, Chrissie Caulfield with the trademark thoughtful enthusiasm that always has me clicking through:
I’m quite glad that Rob decided to let us do a general review of the year rather than try and nominate several releases for awards. Looking back, I seem to have reviewed only three albums this year which would have made it merely a rehash of what I have already done. Sorry Rob. In my defence, I’ve had a busy year with gigs and filmmaking and several other things. Some of the gigs even had audiences, though they were usually the ones organised by other people, naturally. More on that later.
Of the three albums I reviewed it’s hard to pick a favourite because they were all quite different, and excellent in their own ways. But if pushed (and I was pushed, if only by myself, just now) I’d have to nominate Furchick’s “Trouble With a Capital T”. Its sheer joy and inventiveness, and joy of inventiveness is infectious and inspiring. If ever anyone wanted a masterclass on making music with found and/or mutilated objects, this was it.
My most memorable event of this year was a gig I played at, though that part is incidental, in Oxford. It was one of those authentic ‘no-audience underground’ gigs where the artists and their entourage outnumbered the paying audience by quite a large ratio. In fact the only paying audience was a relative of one of the artists and someone who rolled in off the streets half way through (He probably didn’t literally ‘roll in’ you understand, the street was cobbled, so that would be very uncomfortable). This lack of attendance was a huge shame because the gig itself featured two awesome acts – as well as ourselves, obviously. The great Lawrence Casserley was always expected to put on a fabulous show (in this instance with Martin Hackett) and certainly did so, but the act I got via the female:pressure mailing list exceeded expectations in a big way and I felt awful for not having delivered them an audience. TEARS|OV, led by Lori.E. Allen put on a great show of samples, synths and live played and sampled instruments that was just glorious, and I’m happy that at least I got to film it, even though I only had one decent camera and zero decent tripods with me. As almost nobody got to that gig I feel almost duty-bound to try and get as many people as possible to watch the video. You won’t regret it, it’s here.
Another special gig for me was also one I played at – and the fact that I did so was crucial to my understanding of what happened. This was “A Working Day of Drone”, put on by Dave Procter, eight hours of overlapping drone performances. I’ve never regarded myself as much of a drone fan to be honest but this event was a real eye opener. I think a lot (though not all, of course) of the drone acts I had seen in the past were of the ‘I’ve got some gear and it makes some noise’ type which, as a musician with years of practice and training, I find uninspiring and lacking in effort. Put like that it was odd, I suppose, for me to accept an offer to play at a long drone gig … but I did because I like to try new things and to challenge my own preconceptions.
And those preconceptions were not just challenged. They had a calfskin leather glove slapped in their face and a large sword whisked terrifyingly close to their ear by Cyrano de Bergerac himself. Those preconceptions are now lying sliced, diced and blood-soaked over a, slightly grubby, drain in LS2, just down the road from Shawarma. What I experienced that day was, for the most part, a lot of very high quality artistry and discipline and, yes, musicianship. There were guitarists, multi-instrumentalists, vocalists and laptop players with expertise, patience and discipline. And discipline is the word I really took away from that gig which is why I have already used it three times in this paragraph and will say it again it now in an attempt to make sure that Rob doesn’t sub-edit it out [Editor’s note: Why would I? Couldn’t agree more!]. Discipline, discipline, discipline. Playing for a whole hour while keeping the sense of a ‘drone’ requires intense concentration and a lot of improvisational forward planning that, to be honest, I felt inadequately prepared for when playing my set. For drone music as good as I heard that day, I am a convert.
And finally, my favourite thing of the year – which is something I invented though I take no credit for it – is Feminatronic Friday. On a Friday afternoon when I’m winding down from a busy week at work and want some new music to surprise, tickle and sometimes assault my ears, I point my browser at the feminatronic Soundcloud feed and just listen. Of course, not everything is to my taste, but there is a lot of high quality work being produced by talented women around the world that seems to be ignored by the most of the outlets for even alternative music. It’s also an excellent source of material that I should be reviewing and, as it’s Friday as I write this, that’s where I’m going now. Happy New Year.
Joe Murray himself takes a bullet-pointed turn:
Politically, economically and culturally 2016 has been a year of shocks, knocks and sickening lows. It’s hard to look forward and see anything resembling a ray of hope. Greater minds than mine will neatly package all this misery up into a bitter pill but me… I’m warming some delicate seeds in my palm.
Records and tapes of the year
Hardworking Families – BA/LS/BN (Beartown Records) Like tin-cans learned to talk: a sharp knife splices individual ‘instants’ to wrap new listenings head-ward.
Acrid Lactations & Gwilly Edmondez – You Have Not Learned To Play & Mock In The Psychic System (Chocolate Monk) Complex patterns and shifting sonic-sands from stalwarts and greats – a brave and ambitious concoction of Dixieland and pure munged goof. Instant calmer!
Oliver Di Placido & Fritz Welch – Untitled (Human Sacrifice) The most crash-bang-whalloping record of the year by far. Knockout energy like TroubleFunk playing in a ruined skip.
Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Tupperwave (Chocolate Monk) Effortless creative juice drips all over these dirty, dirty ditties from the Cardboard Prince… his Black Album?
Lea Bertucci – Light Silence, Dark Speech (I Dischi Del Barone) Perfect like fresh frosty ferns, each sporangia a moment of potential beauty and enlightenment – one for all DJs.
Lieutenant Caramel – Uberschallknall (Spam) For me the Lieutenant was an unknown. Now? A well-thumbed friend. Euro-collage/concrete that’s super classy and head-strainingly intense.
Faniel Dord –Valentino (Cardboard Club) Another dirty boy with song-y songs played with hearty gusto and a wide-eyed innocence not seen since McCartney II.
East of the Valley Blues – eotvb (Power Moves/No Label) Sun-bright double finger-picking that warmed up my cockles and fed miso soup to my rotten soul. Life affirming, beautiful and generous. No wonder it’s got a vinyl re-release for tomorrows people.
Acrid Lactations & Jointhee – Chest (Tutore Burlato) You ask me about the future of ‘the song’ and I point you to this little tape of huge invention and heart. Not afraid to mix yuks with the high-brow, dream-logic and academic rigour. Never been so charmed ‘ave I?
Tear Fet – Blabber (Chocolate Monk) Every single vocal-mung technique picked up and shaken like a snow-globe. One for all serious students of throat-guff.
Yol – This Item Has Little Or No Scrap Value (Beartown Records) The mighty Yol’s most swingingest record of the year (and they have been legion and they have been good) that almost broke my rib with its accurately focused violence. A symphony of cuts and bruises.
Shareholder – Five Mile Throwdowns (Know This) One of the few bands I get excited about. Blending the listless and freezing loch with espresso intensity; a pond-skipper balanced on the tricky meniscus – he’s not waving!
Tom White – Automated Evangelism (Vitrine) and Commemoratives (Tutore Burlato) Double-entry for Tom White’s peerless technique and wonderfully intelligent ears. This very physical tape manipulation is strong enough to move giant boulders yet freaky enough to warp space. Without a doubt Tom wears the blue jersey in Star Trek.
Grey Guides – Beast Mask Supremacists (Crow Versus Crow Editions) Taking skuzzy guitar and skunk-potent tape to some place indistinct; this ghost-memory of a record made me dream of Wuthering Heights oddly. The AR Kane of the NAU?
…and penultimately Sophie Cooper. Sof resigned her post on the RFM staff this year [Editor gnaws fist to hold back hot tears] but gamely agreed to contribute to the end of year jamboree anyway. Much to my delight she has submitted a 14 minute video of her chatting over some gubbins she reckons is cool. Watch it here. I think it is well charming and, if you agree, please contact her to say so – I’d like to butter her up to the point where this kind of video piece becomes a semi-regular feature. Hah! There is no escaping RFM! Gabba, gabba, we accept you! ONE OF US!
Oh, did I just type my evil plan out loud?
So that just leaves me. I’m going to mention one prolificist, give a top three albums of the year, lay some news on you, then end on a high. How’s that for showbiz? I may even haul myself to my feet and brush off the marie rose sauce that seems to have dried on the side of my face.
In previous years one of the Zellaby Award categories has been 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. I know I said I’d ditched these honours but this year there is such a clear winner that I cannot help but unlock the trophy cabinet.
The music of collagist, tape scaffolder and atmosphere technician Stuart Chalmers has been admired by everyone with a trustworthy opinion. His recent catalogue – solo or in collaboration – is an avalanche of stylistically divergent, technically perfect, emotionally resonant work. I highly recommend that you settle gently onto his Bandcamp site, like a probe landing on an exotic comet, and start drilling. The dude recently moved to Leeds too, how cool is that? He wins.
OK, now onto the main event: low numbers in reverse order. This year, in a classy piece of statesmanship, I’m leaving the listing to my colleagues above and am going to focus on just my top three.
[Editor’s note: If I’m honest I love these three more or less equally but, y’know, drama innit?]
Flat out glorious from beginning to end. This album has the texture of pistachio flavoured Turkish delight. It is sweet, gelatinous, opaque, yielding to the bite but containing a satisfying savoury grit. If I were a betting man I’d wager Neil provided the caffeinated hyper-psych which was then slowed, burnished and blurred by Julian’s patented murkatronik obfuscator. Best to keep it mysterious though, eh? I’ve listened to this so frequently that I think now I’d have trouble remaining friends with anyone who didn’t groove on, say, the disco-for-writhing-foot-long-woodlice vibe of ‘giants in the electric nativity’.
Two non-musical reasons to be entertained too. Firstly, the Bandcamp photo is a nod to the cover illustration for an LP they recorded for American Tapes exactly one million years ago. The no-audience underground remembers. Secondly, it was released on 20th December, thus too late to be included on any of the ‘best of year’ lists published before the end of the year. Seeing as the premature way these lists are ejaculated has long annoyed me I was delighted to see JB & NC stitching ’em right up.
Yeah, yeah, one half of Helicopter Quartet is RFM staffer Chrissie Caulfield but, as I’ve said many times, there is no such thing as conflict of interest down here. If we didn’t blow our own trumpets sometimes there would be no fanfare at all and, whoo boy, Mike and Chrissie deserve it.
Continuing a seemingly impossible run of each release topping the last, this album takes their austere, mournful aesthetic in an explicitly dystopian direction. The bleakness described by previous releases has called to mind slate grey stone walls on ageless moor land but Electric Fence has a more Ballardian edge.
I listen to the thrilling, Tubeway Army-ish title track and imagine the strings of Chrissie’s violin animated by Ralph Steadman – whipping away from us to form the boundary fence of a desert Army base, or a mud-choked refugee camp, realities that we’d rather not contemplate. Or maybe the fence is personal, invisible, internalised – a tragic defence mechanism that provides the illusion of safety at the cost of constant loneliness?
Powerful and important music, as ever. That work of this quality is freely downloadable remains remarkable.
The Zellaby Award for best album of 2016, presented in conjunction with radiofreemidwich, goes to East of the Valley Blues for EOVTB. Joe Murray wrote about this one back in April:
Wonderful! Wonderful, wonderful!
This tape was playing when the first rays of Spring sunshine shot like misty timbers through my window and the jazzy daffodils belched out warm yellow hugs. And no, I don’t think that’s any coincidence brothers & sisters.
This tape is a truly innocent joy. Why? Firstly, it’s the simplicity. We’ve got two guys, two Power Moves brothers, sitting on that metaphorical back porch finger-picking like the late great Jack Rose, improvising with a sibling’s sensibility at that slightly ragged speed we all associate with the beating heart in love.
Secondly, we’ve got notes that shimmer in a cascade; I’m getting nylon waterfalls as things tumble and tremble, roil and buckle as ten calloused fingertips gentle rustle the strings. This is all about the movement, the restlessness of a leaf caught in an eddy, the churn of water spilling from a red hand pump.
Finally there’s that slight sense of anticipation, a yearning that’s probably something technical to do with the key it’s all played in. But for a goof like me it just tweaks my memory zone; this music looks backwards at endless summers and looks towards bouncing grandchildren on the knee. This is music of time, its passage and its baggage; the highs and lows, the dusty wrinkles and the fumble in the sheets.
And am I noticing a slight change in the way time is behaving around me? Not so much time stopping but stretching, those strict minutes becoming supple like a cat’s arching back. Maybe reader maybe.
Lovers of this plaintive guitar-pick often yell out a challenge:
Me? I’m lost in the buttery light right now, light-headed with Beat road dreams,
If you heard it you wouldn’t have to ask… click the god-damn link and get heavy in the valley.
…and he is right, of course.
The brothers Joe refers to are twins Kevin and Patrick Cahill (the former best known ’round here for running Power Moves Label/Library) and the album’s genesis is covered in an excellent interview with Tristan Bath for Bandcamp Daily which can be read here.
All I need to add is that given the divisive and miserable nature of the year just gone, an album so beautiful, so spacious, so forgiving, so grounded in love and family could not be less ‘2016’ and thus could not be a more worthy winner. Congratulations, fellas.
A discographical note: this album has now been reissued by the excellent UK label Death Is Not The End and can be had as a download, tape or – get this – vinyl album via their Bandcamp site. For those wanting to take a punt without risking any dough, free downloads of some live shows can also be had here.
The prize for winning remains the, *ahem*, ‘great honour’ of being the only release on the otherwise dormant fencing flatworm recordings in 2017, should the brothers be interested in taking me up on it. Nowt fancy – CD-r plus download would usually suffice given the absence of any budget. Negotiations can commence anytime.
Right, let me just drag Joe Murray up into a chair as he needs to wave and smile during this bit. OK: some news. As of whenever we can sort out the logistics, Joe is going to take over from me as editor/publisher of RFM whilst I take an indefinite sabbatical. No need to worry – I am not ill again – I just need a break to attend to the real life stuff away from music I’ve been alluding to throughout the year. I have to apologise to those people who have sent emails, invitations to download, physical objects and whatnot and are still waiting for substantial responses. I’ll slowly catch up with personal stuff, forward all the blog stuff and my colleagues will soldier on in my absence. I’ll still be wandering around twitter and attending shows (Leeds people – see you at the Fractal Meat showcase on Feb 3rd, eh?) just won’t be at the helm here. Feels weird to be saying this after seven years but I’m sure this will prove a healthy decision and I’ll be back before ya know it.
Finally then, my musical highlight of the year: Miguel Perez playing as Skull Mask at the TUSK festival. Here’s an extract from my account of the weekend. In particular, I want to finish with the word ‘fuck’ so I’ll say goodbye now – those who know me won’t be surprised to see me slope off before the end of the last set.
Best wishes for 2017, folks, keep yourselves and each other safe.
All is love, Rob H x
Next up it was Miguel Perez, playing as Skull Mask … This was what I was here to see and his set – just man and guitar – was astounding. Flamenco flourishes, desert folk, improv spikiness and metal hammering flowed, pressed and burst like a time-lapse film of jungle flowers opening, like lava flow, like clouds of starlings at dusk, like liquid mercury. Miguel is one of the most technically adept guitarists I have ever seen but all that virtuosity is in service of one thing: the truth. To say the music of Skull Mask is heartfelt or sincere is to understate the raw beauty of what it reveals: a soul. Miguel’s soul.
Stood at the front I found myself having an out of body experience. Part of me was enjoying it on an absolutely visceral level, unwaveringly engaged, but another part of me was floating above thinking about what the experience meant.
Watching the performance unfold, I started thinking about how beautiful life can be despite, sometimes because of, how hard it can be. I thought about the miraculous combination of factors – hard work, friendship, sheer bloody luck – that led to us all being in this room at this time. A strange, accepting calm enveloped me whilst at the same time the more present, grounded part of me was yelling (internally – I do have some control):
HOLY FUCKING CHRIST!! MIGUEL IS SAT RIGHT IN FUCKING FRONT OF ME PLAYING THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF THAT FUCKING GUITAR!! FUCK!!!
buttery panes: joe murray on neil campbell, steve gregoropoulos, no artist, mel bentley, 010001111000January 25, 2016 at 1:54 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
Tags: 010001111000, finnegan's wake, james joyce, joe campbell, mel bentley, neil campbell, no artist, steve gregoropoulos, vitrine, waywords and meansigns
Neil Campbell, Steve Gregoropoulos – chapters from WAYWORDS AND MEANSIGNS: Finnegans Wake set to music, unabridged (forthcoming download)
No Artist – Masochism (tape, Vitrine, VT18)
Mel Bentley – Red Green Blue (tape, Vitrine, VT17)
010001111000 – lmof (tape, Vitrine, VT16)
Neil Campbell, Steve Gregoropoulos – chapters from WAYWORDS AND MEANSIGNS: Finnegans Wake set to music, unabridged
Have you ever listened to an audio book readers?
I mean like, really listened. All the way though – from start to finish – taking a break from time to time to paint your nails or drink some tea? Have you listened in your best chair, on the bus, in the bath, in bed?
I tried to listen to Dawkins’ The God Delusion while I was decorating a house once and it kind of got super tedious, like a very lengthy monologue from a bad radio play. So much so I turned it off to listen to a real bad play on Radio 4 just to get the damn wallpaper off.
I’m no Luddite readers but I’ve found it hard to get my head round such modern fripperies like the Kindle and the Audio Book. It’s not like I’m a snob or nothing, I just can’t like… get with them. Know what I mean?
So it was with trepidation I accepted Rob Hayler’s Mission Impossible to take on two chapters from this mega-ambitious project to audio-ize the whole of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake… with words and music!
The tempter was seeing the name Neil (ASTRAL) Campbell among the contributors so I cleared some space in my diary, de-cored my headphones of earcheese and leapt right in.
The first thing about having a Campbell breathing into me lugs is… it feels super normal. Like we’re having an (admittedly one-sided) conversation or something. His reading is nicely paced, warmly English and with a fat daub of greasepaint that keeps me tuned into Joyce’s tumbling and rambunctious prose. The Astral accompaniment creeps slowly beneath the soft-linked words (I’m picturing sausages of language), a slight electric fizzle, birds singing next to a well, a tin-Casio going ‘tish, tish, tish’ matching the quiet intensity of the language… for over an hour!
After a while my mind starts to blur the boundaries between the steady cascade of words and the stream of endless sound until it all becomes a glorious oneness. I pick out the odd phrase or choice word but as a whole I’m goofing on the lo-fi rhythm of speech being another thread in this dense and colourful tapestry. At the end of the session my ears are going ‘shoop – shoop’ as Mr Campbell’s molars gash the endless!
Next up is a new name in my noggin, Steve Gregoropoulos who delivers a more theatrical performance from another chapter of oyster-fresh Joycean speech. Opening this hi-tech file (with a satisfying ping) brings forth a proper old flea-pit orchestra full of rank piano, goosey honks and creening bows and my oh my are they not whipping up a storm of lappit voices?
Is this like…Vaudeville?
I ask the ever vigilant Dook. She’s not sure (we never watched The Muppets) but things feel so real I fear a rash from the grotty flip-back seats and rub the armrest shiny with my corndog.
The prose of old man Joyce is a psychic conundrum laying ever-so-lightly over the Gregoropoulos burlesque. Again I’m finding the words stretch like sticky pizza dough, forming interesting new shapes between thick-fingered hands.
The further we venture the deeper we roll into Shimmy Disc territory. Guitars start to replace the flea-pit until an unhinged Dogbowl-style solo finally flips a switch in my head so Steve’s voice becomes John S. Hall’s reciting a teenage dream diary.
Another hour has passed and I realise I’ve been enjoying myself enormously, soaking up his black gravy. Gosh… I must be really getting into this audio-lark.
Checking the Waywords and Meansigns website I can see this is soon to be released in its entirety, the whole damn book and with the mighty Mike Watt adding his spiel to boot.
Three Quarks for Muster Mark!
No Artist – Masochism
010001111000 – lmof
Mel Bentley – Red Green Blue
While most gonks steer their ship far from the indistinct, the blurred, the unfinished and should-a-been, Vitrine stoke their hot engines and set a course at ‘ramming speed’ for the fog-shrouded islands of WTF!
They cannily know where the nuggets lie and have made a virtue of the smeared and miss-heard with a funky mission statement comprised of off-stage and occult sound.
These three tapes floated around my furnished rooms for about a month with the faintest whiff of camphor before I could dive in. But once I lit the incense a noxious cloud stole all the light from within the brocade drapes. Read on…
No Artist (AKA A long-time listening bell // a casket for one)
It’s them psychology experiments, the ones they tried to ban. A Manchurian candidate plays the hollow rasp of whirring tech, tape rushing through spools, the concentric fizzle of cheap condenser microphones – the very air feeding back into the plastic-coated mesh jammed with a decade of pocket crumbs.
A recording of a recording? A Xerox gradually being erased? The splendid hiss and fuss that made the oxygen in the room go [~~~*~~~~~~**~~~~]. Ung!
010001111000 (AKA The medical model // smudged with opium prints)
More dung honey for your money. A ripe and pregnant landscape yet delicate as rice paper. When be-bop was reborn it traded complexity for layering as fine as filo pastry; and that’s part of the story here. A circular fag end becomes the orange sun when viewed through these buttery panes – burning with a treacherous light and cruel heat.
No need to lean on ASMR for scalp tingles! Simply jam this tape on and insert a thumb in your ass.
Mel Bentley (AKA Moist vowels // the bravest of all approaches)
My first thoughts are of Phillips Records – circa 1963 when my Granddad worked in their Croydon factory. The bold cover design strikes the memory gong, delivering that Red/Blue/Green magic making my pale eyes work. Wrong-footed I swoon at the serene loveliness of a natural voice, well-paced and commanding. The pen proves its might (once again) as ink scratches summon new worlds and prickly sensation.
Mel talks to us. She gives Lana Del Rey a pasting and cuts-up office clippings like Burroughs until they “acquire patina and decay”. She reels calm, without enunciated drama, from a coffee bar so real you can hear this steamy ‘hishhh’ of the barista. Grunt-heads can get off on the augmented pieces that turn this from poetry to no-fi experimental sound gonk but I’m far too young to get hung up on bloody labels. I’m fucking melting here man with the sweet word-power…
your dog dies in an onion ring
Tags: early hominids, field recording, glistening examples, grisha shakhnes, jason lescalleet, luke vollar, neil campbell, new music, no audience underground, noise, organized music from thessaloniki, paul walsh, psychedelia, seth cooke, zanntone
Grisha Shakhnes – Distance and Decay (CD, organized music from thessaloniki, t24, edition of 200)
Seth Cooke – Sightseer (3” CD-r, organized music from thessaloniki, t25, edition of 100)
early hominids – palpate (CD-r, zanntone, 000)
Grisha Shakhnes is a Moscow born, Tel Aviv based individual. I’ve heard of him before as he has a record released on Glistening Examples, the label run by American tape fiddler and conceptualist Jason Lescalleet. There are some obvious similarities between the two as both use obsolete recording devices to blur and confuse what is recorded and what is an artefact of the recording – are we hearing the inner workings of a tape machine or is this a field recording made ghostly with ferric oxide?
There are no details provided with Grisha’s disc just the enigmatic, lovely artwork and title. There are sounds that hang in space as if suspended in water, their movements as slow and methodical as a giant sea creature. Indeed, when I try to put into words the sounds of this disc I invariably end up with an aquatic theme. At one point I imagined a mini-sub coming across a metropolis on the ocean floor, its occupants staring slack jawed at the enormous structures of neon lights and chrome towers churning out geysers of bubbling water. Later I hear a game of snooker played under a waterfall before the sad lament of a female voice in an alien tongue is buried beneath the gloop of machine malfunction. A somnambulant feeling is maintained throughout the 75 minute duration making it an unwise choice for your car stereo but a great soundtrack for full time dreamers.
Seth Cooke presents us with an entirely different beast on his little disc. He lists his tools as:
no recording, recording and no input field recording
No, me neither. Whilst ‘Cape Coast Seashell Bowed On Minster-on-Sea Shore’ informs us of its method of execution, the other titles reveal very little other than a rye [Editor’s note: sic, but what a great typo! I’m keeping that one in] sense of humour: ‘If You Only Listen To One FLAC This Year’ being a prime example. The mood is lonely, with voyeuristic overtones. At one point I could hear Seth releasing a caged pigeon to fly around a dimly lit multi-story car park. In other moments a faceless individual impassively views a seaside location, now devoid of human life. A sense of disquiet is achieved as a recording of, essentially, nothing is gradually enhanced with surgical precision only to be abruptly cut off just as it starts to become uncomfortable then switched for grizzled distortion swiftly followed by ghostly tones receding dimly. I have to say the more I listen to this, the more impressed I am with the craft and thought that has gone into it. Seth has used the format of a 3″ disc to fit in a lot of ideas though it never feels overcrowded.
Both artists make ample use of field recordings and both presumably use some form of processing for further confusion. Where Grisha’s sounds are in no hurry to get anywhere and are blurred by the use of cassette tapes, Seth’s sounds are clear and shrapnel sharp with abrupt editing and unexpected changes in colour and tone. Seth’s espresso to Grisha’s grande latte, if you will.
I’ve seen early hominids, the duo of Paul Walsh and Neil Campbell, play a few times and part of the pleasure is marveling at the collection of noise kit spread before them: a couple of light activated boxes that fizz and crackle in response to strobes, like an angry serpent disturbed from its slumber, and all manner of odd looking stuff, presumably soldered together in a shady basement with the fiendish duo shouting ‘it’s alive, ALIVE!’ as it bleeps itself awake. One show in particular sticks in my mind from a few years ago at the Fox and Newt in Leeds. Paul and Neil created a Technicolor psych noise juggernaut that vibrated the tiny room while threatening to levitate the whole darned boozer into another dimension. It was what I’d always hoped Incapacitants would sound like: noise as the ultimate euphoric wig flipper.
The boys are in a more restrained mood here but their electronic gadgets still stutter and belch as if barely controlled by their probing fingers. Rather than batter us with a relentless sonic barrage the sounds are allowed to rise and fall into pleasingly awkward shapes. As I am hypnotized and my head begins to nod I visualize the two of them face to face over a table of wires and boxes creating a slurry of rich and spicy noise blarts while occasionally reaching for the ever present ale that fuels them. ‘Tis good stuff I tell thee.
Tags: aqua dentata, daniel thomas, dave thomas, drone, eddie nuttall, electronica, forgets, hagman, human combustion engine, improv, john clyde-evans, kroyd, live music, mel o'dubhslaine, midwich, mitch, neil campbell, new music, no audience underground, noise, phil todd, psychedelia, shameless self-congratulation, uk muzzlers, wharf chambers
The Radio Free Midwich 5th Birthday Shindig: Hagman, Human Combustion Engine, midwich, UK Muzzlers, forgets live at Wharf Chambers, Leeds, 29th November 2014
So, yeah, it was a blast. Thanks to all who came and special, glowing thanks to Mitch of forgets who put it together then allowed me to hijack his efforts for my self-congratulation. All the sets were terrific and, despite the usual pre-gig nerves and some (fully justified) technical worries about crackling pots, I couldn’t be happier with how mine turned out. Good crowd too, despite ‘rival’ gigs nearby (PAH! <spits on floor> I HAVE NO RIVALS! <short pause, sheepishly looks around, cleans up spit>). Some of my typically half-arsed and incompetent photo-journalism follows below. Let’s face it, I was only really concerned that my t-shirt and balloon were documented…
Oh, and in reply to the two comrades who wondered if this was now going to be an annual event the answer is: no, not unless each year another benefactor wants to come along and organize it for me. That said, my vanity did bubble to the surface on receipt of this riff from Eddie Nuttall of Aqua Dentata:
I propose Midwichmas as a name for this. Midnight mass on Midwichmas Eve can adopt a tradition of no carol singing, but perhaps a 4-hour recital of sine waves, bowed baking trays, and warpy cassette hiss. This can be followed by the traditional exchange of photocopied collages, also known as Midwichmas cards.
On Midwichmas morning all the children will excitedly gather round the Midwichmas Tree (a petrified oak) to exchange CDRs in edition of 7 or something, usually recorded an hour or so prior. These are presented in the traditional Midwichmas wrapping paper substitute, heavily weathered Poundland Jiffy bags that have been recycled across England half a dozen times or more.
A traditional afternoon Midwichmas film would perhaps be like a Christmas film, but probably substituting Bing Crosby for Duncan Harrison.
Heh, wouldn’t that be glorious, eh?
OK, on with the showbusiness…
Trowser Carrier had to cancel (trapped in a giant laundry basket, apparently) so Hagman kicked off by recreating the pose from every other photo I’ve ever taken of Dave and Dan Thomas (no relation) ever. Their set was a gruff, bassy, throb – like the hot breath of a big cat as it licks you with its sandpaper tongue. I swayed purposefully.
Human Combustion Engine (Mel and Phil of Ashtray Navigations) teased out some tangerine psyche-synth with semi-improvised power moves. I slapped my thighs in time with the pulse. Occult science.
…it was SHOWTIME folks!
I thanked everyone for their support and played a 20 minute set comprising two new ‘songs’. These have been recorded and will be released alongside their live versions on my Bandcamp site soon. You will be kept informed. About three minutes in I remembered the helium balloon I had stashed under my table and releasing it (see pic above) got a ripple of amused applause. This moment was such a coup de théâtre that my friend Alice later said it was…
…better than the Olympics Opening Ceremony.
Surely, no rational observer could disagree.
A word about my rad t-shirt. The logo reads ‘Sonic Circuits’ and the tagline runs thus: ‘Avant Garde Music For The No Audience Underground’. Yes! My philosophy vindicated with leisurewear! These garments were produced in celebration of the Sonic Circuits Festival 2014, organised by the genre-busting promoters of the same name based in Washington, DC. My twitter bro’ and extraordinary digi-crate-digger Phong Tran (@boxwalla) appears to have convinced ’em that the slogan was bang on and, in return for lifting the idea, a shirt winged its way across the Atlantic. So cool. Fits real nice too.
Next were ‘headliners’ UK Muzzlers. Neil Campbell and John Clyde-Evans played caveman Oi! over a hilarious tape collage. There was much whooping, thumping and brute racket. It was as if Happy Flowers had grown up but were still refusing to take their medication. The future of rock and roll, possibly.
Finally, Mitch, who organised the night, and Kroyd, who’d been on the door, dropped their admin roles, took to the stage and brought the evening to a close as forgets.
The noise purists don’t like this…
…Kroyd began, and, looking at the half dozen people who remained in the room, he clearly had a point. The throng appreciating UK Muzzlers had melted away into the ‘beer garden’, the bar or had sprinted for last trains and buses leaving just this attentive elite. Ah bollocks to the lot a’ya – I fucking love this band. This is what they do: Kroyd tells stories and recites semi-improvised prose poetry whilst Mitch soundtracks it with improv noise guitar. A comrade who shall remain nameless worried that Kroyd’s observations were ‘hit and miss’, which I concede, but it all adds to the cumulative effect of the performance. People who put their heads around the door and think ‘hmmm don’t fancy this’ are missing out on sharp, funny, sometimes very moving stories and, quite often, a fantastic crescendo of flailing, bewildered despair that tops out the set. I recommend sitting the fuck down and listening.
…and that was that so we packed up, said our goodbyes and tumbled out onto the street. Dan Thomas, taking pity on a tired old man who’d been up since 4.30am caring for his boy, made sure I got home safely. In the morning Thomas had a shiny helium balloon to play with…
UK Muzzlers (dunno – try via Astral Social Club)