i’m all for baubles: joe, luke and rob on robert ridley-shackleton’s cardboard club

February 20, 2015 at 1:14 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Picking Speeds G.O.L – Shirty Shorts (tape, Cardboard Club, CC01, edition of 10)

Duplo Chat – Just Chattin’ (tape, Cardboard Club, CC02, edition of 7)

Bob Tale – Toxic Shock Demo (tape, Cardboard Club, CC03, edition of 5)

Smithers – Is Ure Carpet Right? (tape, Cardboard Club, CC04, edition of 12)

Picking Speeds – Afternoon Vans (7” lathe cut vinyl, Cardboard Club, CC05, edition of 10)

faniel dord / Picking Speeds G.O.L – Who can I help? / Back is Block? (tape, self-released)

cardboard club

  [Editor’s note: a parcel from blog fave outsider artist Robert Ridley-Shackleton is always a treat.  Tipping its contents onto the kitchen table affords a view into another world, existing orthogonal to our own, in which Robbie has become a giant star by mimicking, satirizing, collaging or obliterating the cultural detritus he finds slung out by, well, everyone else.  He is a noise-womble. Shortly before Christmas he decided his label Hissing Frames was no longer a large enough pouch to hold his prodigious output and the sub-label Cardboard Club was born.  Being a generous guy, he sent copies of the half-dozen initial releases to me, Joe and Luke (this was just before the new era of gender equality at RFM) and so we decided to write a joint review in which we’d each begin at a corner and chew our way in until we met in a perverse Lady-and-the-Tramp-eating-bolognese-style three way.  Here goes.  Joe first:] Picking Speeds G.O.L – Shirty Shorts This slinky tape is a single-sided wormhole, a backwards trip through the looking glass.

Drink me!

…he says.  And as a veteran loop/noise/collage/mungtape operator, who are we to argue with Mr Picking Speed G.O.L.? As a whole this tape serves as a map of several territories.  Across 45 minutes or so we visit a number of kingdoms and principalities.  As you’d expect it’s a Babel of languages and customs, but the seasoned underground traveller is quick to pick up the meaning behind the semi-industrial clatter and howl. As tasty as a bowl of salty olives we find ourselves listening to a squid inexpertly fitting the lid on a Tupperware box, the sinister whisper of a faraway ghost, spoken word fribulation and the all-to-human cut/jaxx organ hiss-pokery that makes the heart sing. But of course these groovy individual parts build up into a more complete picture.  The very fractured nature of the edit leaves clues regardless – a lo-fi gentleness, a light touch with the FX, a funny-bone caress [exhibit A: a jalopy take on the lone toker’s ‘Wake me up before you Go-Go!’]. The last 10 minutes or are a gentle comedown with the warm, soft rattling of one of my favourite Dictaphone techniques – smooth pocket jazz.  Being a trainspotter type I like to have a flutter on the hardware involved.  My guess?  It’s the Olympus PearlCorder S701 in the left hand pocket of a Navy blue Duffle Coat.  As Picking Speeds G.O.L goes about his daily business play and record are surreptitiously engaged allowing said Dictaphone to pick up all the tweedy scratching but nothing  more.  It’s a sonic buffering of which I never tire. Now me:

Duplo Chat – Just Chattin’

Bob Tale – Toxic Shock Demo

Smithers – Is Ure Carpet Right?

faniel dord / Picking Speeds G.O.L – Who can I help? / Back is Block?

[Editor’s note: as my much loved/horribly abused walkman is finally broken beyond repair, my ability to listen to tapes is currently very limited.  In order to get through the above I had to listen to them in a row one afternoon whilst off work with a heavy cold.  I think this was a pretty good way of experiencing them but, on re-reading, my notes are brief and don’t make much sense.  Mea culpa.]

So, both Luke and I got copies of Just Chattin’ and both of us were left scratching our heads.  It appears to be a full tape of what Luke described as ‘quiet HNW’ – like a tabletop of clockwork noise makers, overwound and recorded with the levels in the red and then mastered so as not to wake the neighbours.  Towards the very end I think I started to understand the itchy scrabbling of it all but this one wasn’t for me.

Toxic Shock Demo by Bob Tale is a short performance by Robbie’s lip-curling, Elvis-channelling, bequiffed, Alan Vega impersonator.  His breathy squawks slide over a trilling, pitter-patter (more treble than) bass line.  I’d be disappointed if he didn’t record this wearing a leather cat suit.  Duped onto tapes recycled from The Children’s Talking Bible which means that as Robbie cut out a mellifluous voice said

…who should he see walking towards him but Elijah!

…which in my fragile state made me laugh pretty hard.  Then cough.

Is Ure Carpet Right? by Smithers (‘Jon & Rob’) begins with some brute radiophonics – all wabwabs and squiggly pot-flipping with poorly earthed pylon fuzz and 8-bit cheat mode flicker – then a storm of harsh noise gathers over which protestations are groaned.  In amongst the gurgle loops I think I heard:

In your dreams!


We’re not dead, we just look it!

…but who knows?  Outdated methods of communication – Morse code, fax machines – struggle to be understood over noise whipping like tent fabric in a blizzard.  And then it’s done.  More Children’s bible:

…before the cock crows, Peter…

Heh, spooky.

Lastly from me: the split tape Who can I help? / Back is Block?  by faniel dord (which I’ll go out on a limb and suggest is a pseudonym of Daniel Ford) and Picking Speeds G.O.L (no, I don’t know what the acronym stands for either).

The faniel dord side is something completely unexpected: actual, y’know, music played on actual, y’know, instruments.  Over the course of five songs guitar and ukulele are picked and twanged with aplomb, lyrics are sung in a clear and decipherable manner and a dog joins in for added down home, back porch authenticity.  It is funny and charming and an absolute pleasure.

…which is also how the Picking Speeds G.O.L. side could be described, though for very different reasons.  Reminding me of 2013’s Piano Sonatas for Prepared Oven Mitt, this is a similar stream of consciousness recording seemingly allowing unmediated access to core Robbieness.  Is this what it’s like being him?  Could be.  We hear pocket scrabbling dictaphonics, details of surreal errands (returning socks to the butcher), bursts of mutant electro pop and in-character-with-husky-voice musings on traditional Christmas decorations (from which this article takes its title).  Whilst acknowledging that to some this must sound like inane self-indulgence, I can’t get enough.  If there was such a thing as Robbiecam I’d have it on constantly in a little box at the top right hand corner of my laptop screen.  What is he playing at?

…and finally Luke on:

Picking Speeds – Afternoon Vans

I will get right to the grit of it and declare that this is a straight up shazzy slice of drizzly English weirdness: we get the junk foraging, we get the two note laments on knackered keyboards, we get looped synth squelch with sleazy crooning and we get untamed scree blurts all slapped across the platter with much gusto and flared nostril.

I can almost picture Robert finding a £5 keyboard in his local charity shop, selecting the preset ‘sex grind’ and frightening the old dears with pelvic thrusts before getting booted out for making cyber growls and dog bothering feedback. I guess this mental image is fed by the knowledge that the guy can carry off a purple leather jacket – not something you can say for most people. [Editor’s note: heh, heh – bang on.  This criminally limited lathe cut is boss cracked and a high point on which to end our tour of Shack’s Cardboard Club.]


Cardboard Club Hissing Frames

stuart chalmers and robert ridley-shackleton soothe a savage breast

June 19, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Posted in art, musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Stuart Chalmers – Dreaming Butterfly (download, Open Sound Group)

Stuart Chalmers – imaginary musicks vol 1 (tape, Beartown Records, edition of 45 or CD, edition of 50, self-released)

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Melting All My Years In2 tears (C46 tape, hissing frames, edition of 100)

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Rebirth (A5 zine, 18 pages, edition of 100)

stuart chalmers - dreaming butterflystuart chalmers - imaginary musiks vol 1robert ridley-shackleton - meltingrobert ridley-shackleton - rebirth cover

On the walk home from work on Friday evening I got into an altercation with the driver of a car who had nearly run me over. I was in the right, of course, and this bloke was an odious knobber. There was plenty of shouting and swearing (mainly on my part) as my foe chose to goad me from the safety of his vehicle. He ignored my repeated requests to step out so the argument could be settled in a physical manner. It ended with me delivering this devastating put down:

You’re like something out of a sit-com, mate, you’re embarrassing. Why don’t you go fuck yourself, you dumb fucking cunt?

…worthy of Oscar Wilde, I’m sure you’ll agree, and him chucking water from an Evian bottle over me before putting his foot down and speeding away. What a shining example of manliness at its most impressive, eh? It’s like Froch versus Groves or something.

I spent the weekend mulling it over. The question wasn’t why it happened – I am mentally ill, highly strung, and haven’t slept properly in a fortnight: go figure. The big question is why did I enjoy the experience so much? Sure, I had that tight, sick, post-confrontation feeling afterwards for a short while but not much remorse. Perhaps doing something so undeniably stupid was an enormous, cathartic release of pressure because usually I am such an upstanding, responsible citizen. Hmmm… evidence of mid-life crisis? Better speak to my counsellor. Or buy a motorbike.

(Aside: I did write up the whole incident with a view to using it as a preamble but thought better of it. Any fans of two-fisted action out there for whom the edited version above is not enough can email me for the unexpurgated story.)

Anyway, as I always do when in need of succour or a contemplative aid, I asked music a few questions and listened carefully to what it had to say. It turns out that my calm, rational side had been sitting in the backyard eating an ice-cream and listening to the albums above. The steaming, bellicose me joined him, cooled off, and soon started nodding in appreciation. These guys are boss.

Each release I’ve heard by Stuart has been better than the last. Interestingly, however, I’ve heard his work well out of chronological sequence. Thus, barring the unlikely possibility that I just lucked out and accidentally heard these recordings in order of quality, my reaction does not run parallel to an artistic progression on his part. Rather, I think, I’ve come to appreciate his music more as I’ve become more familiar with the world it describes, with the vision that produced it. The same happened with Robert – I picked through a vast collection of his releases more or less at random and my enjoyment increased exponentially as I used them to map out the bizarre contours of Shackleton Island.

My reaction to Daydream Empire, a CD-r on LF Records and the first of Stuart’s albums I heard, was puzzling but, in the light of the above, now explainable. I didn’t like it. Weirdly though, especially as I’m a stubborn ol’ bastard utterly confident in the infallibility of my own taste, it felt like it was my fault that I didn’t like it, that I was mistaken. I could hear the quality – the time, effort and care that had been used in its construction – but I didn’t get it. I ended up in the nonsensical situation of apologising to Stuart for this lapse. I don’t do that very often.

Dreaming Butterfly is from the archives, imaginary musicks vol 1 is new, both are beautiful. Stuart’s trade is in collage, mainly warm and fluid but with mysterious currents running under the rippling surface. Any readers as old and snaggletoothed as me will remember the electronica boom of the early 1990s and once or twice I was reminded of experiments in sample-based ambient music from that time. However, close attention reveals that Stuart’s work is not so easily slotted into pre-existing categories.

The world his music describes is fully formed and the listener’s experience of it is immersive and ego-dissolving (relaxing into it I felt a thousand miles away from my road rage incident) 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.  One or both of these releases will make the end-of-year awards shortlist, f’sure.

I note in passing that Stuart shows an admirable faith is his own work. Rightly proud of imaginary musicks vol 1 he had it mastered by Denis Blackham, who has previously worked with Touch and Nurse With Wound, at Skye Mastering. Fancy, eh?

Regular readers may recall the hefty overview I wrote of Robert Ridley-Shackleton’s back catalogue last year. A super-sized parcel from the guy was emptied onto the kitchen table here at Midwich Mansions and I picked through the contents, fascinated. All together it formed a psychological jigsaw depicting a map of his mental landscape.

The interior of Shackletonia is as exaggerated and brightly coloured as the Arizona-ish rockscapes of a Road Runner cartoon. Coastal areas are more rugged and brooding as beaches of jet black sand fall away into an ice blue sea under sky the colour of spoiled milk. In-between the two you will find strange crystalline formations of uncertain origin and giant sculptures made of compacted landfill – think Wall-E does Easter Island. Offshore, an intrepid scuba diver can visit a submerged cathedral choked with seaweed, where ghosts of drowned sailors perform rites worshipping the Deep Ones. On the surface, the radio of the support ship picks up decades old news reports informing the world of tragic maritime disasters.

To be more specific: Robert’s music contains elements of snarling garage punk, of rinky-dink Suicide throb, of harsh noise wall, of clattering kitchen sink improv, of unfathomable oddness. It is all recorded rough and tinny – as if bellowed down a cardboard cone and etched to wax cylinder with a knitting needle. Best to readjust your acceptable sonic range a full knob twist into the treble.

So, the purpose of this particular tape is to be an answer to the age old question: ‘where do I start?’ Our man has woven together a seamlessly coherent and highly enjoyable best-of compilation from numerous previous releases. It is presented both as a culmination and an introduction and I think it is fucking great.

A few words about the zine/pamphlet, Rebirth, that Robert kindly sent accompanying this tape. I like Robert’s graphic work as much as his music. I think I have mentioned the possible influence of Art Informel before and these photocopies of mixed media pieces call to mind a Catalan womble living in the sewers beneath the Fundació Tàpies in Barcelona. In his lair he creates art from the detritus left by tourists whilst chewing up a copy of the massive Tàpies catalogue raisonné, stolen from the gift shop, to fashion a nest of glossy spitballs.


The one-stop shop for all things Robert Ridley-Shackleton is Hissing Frames, his blog/label/publishing empire. Dreaming Butterfly can be downloaded for free from Open Sound Group here or found on Stuart’s Bandcamp site here. imaginary musicks vol 1 is available as a tape from Beartown Records or as a self-released CD via the Bandcamp site where much of his previous catalogue is also to be found.  The picture above (second one down) is the Bandcamp illustration and is neither the CD nor tape cover.

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