artifacts of the no-audience underground: hobo sonn and michael clough

December 22, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Hobo Sonn – Synthetic Preserves (C60 cassette, Sick Head, #31)

Hobo Sonn – Swarm (CD-r, self-released)

Pulse Field I & II (CD-r, self-released)

hobo sonn - synthetic preserveshobo sonn - swarmpulse field

…and so we come to the final reviews of 2012. I’ve taken an editorial decision to leave anything received here at Midwich Mansions on or after 1st December until the New Year. Thus you have some excellent tapes from Mantile, a Petals CD-r on WGGFDTB and the new Panelak tape on Crater Lake Sound to look forward to, amongst other quality items. I’ll also be posting my own end of year round-up and announcing the winners of the second annual Zellaby awards in due course – I can sense you shivering with anticipation already.  OK, take a deep breath as it is time for the business of today…

The releases pictured were acquired at the Truant gig in November and thus just slipped under the wire.  Due to pre-performance nerves I didn’t really register the Hobo Sonn set performed by Ian Murphy (joined, for one night only, by that Kieron Piercy of Spoils & Relics) but I dug the fact that they wanted to play in darkness, illuminated only by the LEDs on their kit, and requested that no photos be taken.  Their seriousness of intent led to a wholly immersive set, much enjoyed by an audience lulled into a state of appreciative concentration.  Or so I’ve been told – I was pacing about, worrying.  Why not listen to the recording and judge for yourself?  Off stage Ian is a charming, easy-going gentleman and we had fun beforehand chatting about a mutual acquaintance from my days of misspent youth in Brighton.  During the inevitable post-gig merch swap he generously gifted me the tape and CD-r above.

Synthetic Preserves, released by Sick Head, comes with a great black and white cover and is housed in one of those oversize, squishy plastic cases that computer game tapes used to be packaged in.  I love the squeak as you open it.  The track is an hour of variations on a guttering throb (split into two equal halves by the fact of tapeness) and is deeply, penetratingly satisfying throughout.  There is a chewy graininess to the fuzz and a compelling stickiness to the pulse.  It will make you as happy as poking a bead of tree sap with a twig.  The rolling layers move at different speeds and flop, tangle and fall over themselves in a very gratifying manner.  Imagine an old, battered and malfunctioning machine extruding a substance with the consistency of tarmac, grinding and stuttering because the ingredients are not pure enough to guarantee a smooth flow.  Terrific.

Swarm, self-released by Ian via his website Rotten Slushy, is an 18 minute CD-r packaged in a length of what might be player-piano roll.  I don’t know – it’s mysterious.  The track kicks off with spiralling, billowing string shimmer, like the angry insistence of a disturbed wasps’ nest, or sometimes like the whine of ultra-high performance engines – the rise and fall feels like drifting in and out of consciousness at a F1 Grand Prix.  Around the 11 minute mark the drone is locked down with spikey plucks, some bibbling electronics then usher in the second movement and this in turn builds to a remarkable final few minutes.  This section could be the soundtrack to the denouement and aftermath of a 1980s tech-noir thriller, whilst the instrumentation calls to mind 1960s Hollywood.  Imagine Blade Runner directed by Alfred Hitchcock and scored by Bernard Herrmann.  Surprising, ambitious, intense – very highly recommended.

So finally, for today and for 2012, I come to Pulse Field I: Summer Meadow, Pulse Field II: Chthonotron Wakes by Michael Clough.  What we have here are two lengthy, throbbing analogue synth workouts on one CD-r.  The colour inserts feature simple patterns blurred in a way that exactly represents the working of the music within.

‘Pulse Field II: Chthonotron Wakes’ could be the alpha waves of a sentient machine, constructed by the Old Ones, as it is roused by foolhardy occult scientists who have made the mistake of plugging it in.  Or I fancy a less Lovecraftian picture: imagine the contented purring of an adorable kitten.  Now imagine the same noise but made by a kitten 40 feet high and carved from granite.  There you go.  ‘Pulse Field I: Summer Meadow’ is, despite the title, barely any more pastoral.  This is a rustic scene on the micro level: where ants toil ceaselessly and mechanically, or lower: where nematodes devour and be devoured, or smaller still: is this what photosynthesis in the innumerable blades of grass sounds like?  Unlikely I know, but cool to think so.

Both tracks are minimal and rhythmic enough to accompany the most ferocious cardiovascular workout yet the tweaking is subtle and involving enough to make them oddly soothing in an armchair context (well – spoiler alert – the last few minutes of PFII do get teeth-looseningly sharp so you may find yourself putting down the wine glass and fiddling with the volume at that point).  Like the best minimal music, I suspect the reaction it provokes in the listener will depend on the listener’s mood and situation – even the angle of your head in relation to the speakers makes a difference.  I love it.

Both Hobo Sonn releases can be purchased via Ian’s website, I’m not sure Clough’s release is ‘available’ in any commonly understood sense of the word but you could try dropping him a line at mriclough@aol.com and blagging.

Have a lovely Christmas, dear readers, and I’ll see you in the New Year!

wired for sound part 25: three tapes by spoils & relics

April 15, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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  • Spoils & Relics – Dependent Arising (Mantile, #015, cassette, edition of 50, 2010)
  • Spoils & Relics – A.O.N. (Mantile, #016, cassette, edition of 50, 2010)
  • Spoils and Relics – Ammonium Bulb (Sick Head Tapes, #32, cassette, 2011) 

Back in the day, I was sat upstairs at what is now The Library pub here in Leeds listening to an improvising trio who were first on at a noise gig.  Three lads, guitar laid on the floor, shortwave radio, toy instruments etc.  Their set (in fact the whole night – I’ve no clue who headlined) was only memorable due to a very short exchange I had with the guy sat next to me as they finished.  He was obviously impressed, and I knew him to be affiliated with the band, so when he asked what I thought of their set I was polite: “not for me,” I ventured, “a bit too unstructured.”  “Well,” he said with obvious disdain, “it’s not for everyone I suppose” and he literally turned his back on me.  At the time I was amused by this attempt at a snub and let it ride.  However, thinking it over on the walk home (always a mistake) left me infuriated.  At the time I was neck-deep in fencing flatworm recordings and Termite Club and could well have replied as follows:

Now look here, my good man, I’m not having that.  Barely a week goes by without two or three CD-rs of this type of amusical improv/semi-improv landing on my doormat.  I have spent hundreds of hours over several years listening to it both recorded and performed live and have formed a finely-tuned and rigorous set of opinions as to what makes one piece better than another.  I have accidentally become an aficionado of such things and if I say your band is no good then I speak from a position of expertise etc. etc.

Oh well, probably best that I didn’t say anything like that on the night because I would have come across as a pompous oaf.  Still, it was all true and now, years later, I have an opportunity to present a perfect example of how it really should be done.  Ladies and gentlemen: Spoils & Relics.

This three piece (not, I hasten to add, the band mentioned in the story above) of Johnny Scarr, Gary Myles and Kieron Piercy produce improv collage constructed from found noise, field recordings, occasional voices, various sounds of a more or less musical nature and thoughtfully selected electronics.  Here’s how they tick my boxes.

Firstly, they maintain a compelling balance between tension and abandon.  Brooding atmospherics set the scene for bursts of craziness which in turn relieve the pressure.  These twists give the tracks a persuasive momentum.  Secondly, this momentum provides a sense of drama.  By ‘drama’ I don’t necessarily mean narrative, just a sense that the work is carrying me somewhere.  Like a great train journey can have drama without having to have a story.  This aspect makes me think a fair amount of planning and rehearsal, work in other words, has gone into the production.

Thirdly, it has coherence, identity.  The same informing ideas can be heard throughout as can the same wry, dark sense of humour.  Fourthly, finally and tying all the above together is its technical proficiency.  All has been recorded with an eye on the levels and, if you’ll forgive me getting all ‘What Hi-Fi?’ for a second, the sounds have clarity, depth and immediacy.

In summary then: this stuff is fucking great.

I realise that these three tapes are from 2010-11 but radiofreemidwich is not obsessed with novelty – only quality matters here.  Ammonium Bulb is apparently still available direct from Sick Head and comes in a nostalgia-inducing squishy case the like of which early computer game tapes were packaged in.  A.O.N. and Dependent Arising are both now sold out in a physical form.  However, all three releases can be had as downloads on a ‘pay what you like’ basis from the Spoils & Relics Bandcamp page.  Be generous and do check out the other stuff available from Mantile Records too.

A sheepish P.S.:  I now have reason to believe that the underwhelming set mentioned in the opening paragraph was an early performance by the subsequently lovely Lanterns.  This is amusingly apposite as A.O.N. is dedicated to Rhid Williams, a member of that very band.  What a small pond we swim about in, eh?  My apologies…

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