Tags: ali robertson, malcy duff, singing knives, usurper
Usurper – Monthly Series: Jan – Dec 2016 (Giant Tank) 11 x CD-R and a card
Usurper – The Big Five (Singing Knives) C45 Tape
You’d have to look, gosh, I don’t know where, to find a group more universally loved than Edinburgh’s Usurper.
Is it their high-concept but easily accessible approach; the media mix of what is strictly speaking, non-idiomatic improv, with goonish humour and fuzzy human warmth? Could it be that their self-depreciation makes the razor-sharp, radical politics more comfortable to hug?
My theory? It’s got something to do with their most excellent hair.
I know of no other N-AU group so popular with children and that, in itself, speaks volumes to me.
They label themselves as slackers but to my rheumy eyes they push harder than most, kicking across visual goofs and sonic adventures. It is no surprise they started 2016 with a promise, to release a disc a month, and have delivered on this promise (fairly) reliably and with minimal drama. That’s so Usurper!
So, into this swamp of ‘unreleased recordings, archival live jams and brand new bumf’; these twelve apostles of skronk, I dive into the dream…
January – Surprising noisy live jam breaks the fourth wall! Treated to a conversation about taping the damn show Usurper (with Grant ‘Muscle’ Smith) bollix an ironing board, drop tin cans and chuck a lapsteel into a free-form space. It’s tingly sweet, it pops and clicks. But there’s nae feart a NOISE with gutsy, rootsy string-wrangling whipping up an itchy hailstorm in an ice cream cone.
February – ALL GOB AND NAE TROUSERS it says and I get excited. Not what you’re thinking man? It’s a mouth jam alright. This vocal jizz is all about maintained pressure so it keeps things tight and vibrating. Fleshy lips and cheeks are pulled taut and greasy air passed through with force setting up unnatural hissing. Things ping, things pong. One ‘surper is a red-necked rooster, the other a mollusc with stiff bristles; at the 8.30 mark the duck call sound and I collapse…completed
March – Classic bric-a-brac approach on vintage Usurper jam. 19 minutes captured (live) at The Chameleon unravel like a good detective novel. Gentle shingle and rummaging, purposeful rattle and shake. Some n.i.c.e. close-miked wriggles remove this from the no-input category but place neatly in the matchbox marked ‘interlocking sonics / gristle rubbers’.
April – The primary-coloured clown car implodes with loud brassy honks. Twin verbal routines decay as massive shoes stand on little necks. But the drivel drones on as a young lady twangs a buttered 12 inch ruler off the edge of a desk, secretly she makes goo-goo eyes at the sloppy Oppenheimer. Kapow!
May – Fantastic Voyage! Ali & Malcy get shrunk to about 1cm tall and slide into a Euphonium’s sexy brass curves spraffing off their word-junk all the while. Through the bright tubes and metallic hollows you get to follow a narrative of indistinct chunder. A rare computer-glitch approach causes the kind of mille plateaux-shudder to make the beard-o’s sweat. An exceptional month!
June – Like Radio 4 got took over by a case of mumps. An inflammation of the glands live in London. Sleeve notes say the boys were unsure, then sure, then unsure about this one. I’m here to tell you it’s classic Usurper in the theatre-style. Pure gibbering and insta-poems. Pictures in sound and word become a menagerie (note: just noticed my copy gets to the 26th minute and then skips back to the 24th in a loop of dry clicks and sparse chair squeaks – it’s glorious!).
July – 11 minutes of fresh air. This ultra-minimal instalment mixes feedback peals with slow steel rubbing and rickety clicking. You could almost mistake this for one of those Improvised Music From Japan affairs such is the pure and innocent clunking. A checkers game of improvised sound structures? GO with added electricity; a puttering moped farts into dramatic fade…
August – Gadzooks! This isn’t a record at all! It’s a damn anniversary card. Previously known as the month of Sextilis, golden August marks the melancholic end of summer…but for our bonny boys it’s all positive memory vibes, this card marking the start of their twenty (yes twenty) years together. Bonding over the closing seconds of Twin Infinitives the like-minds hatch a plan: to throw over the traces of Britpop and Yankrock with sweet Scotjams. Perfectly non-input, non-linear and non-sensical. (Art by is by one M Duff ya Mr Saatchi)
September – These autumn leaves take The Ex’s ‘Scrabbling at the Lock’ to its ultimate conclusion with a symphony of jittering and creaking. All things bow to the metallic shamanic. So, at the 9 minute mark, it all clicks together like a Transformer reverting to its natural Gamelan status, stroking the bronze gong yet moaning like a Wookie. (featuring Grant Smith on Turkish Bong)
October – (Track 1) An altogether more darker rumbling taking us to Henri Chopin territory. Not so much in the gob-tronics but revealing a hidden world; pencil sharpeners phase in and out of reality, one set of keys tolls like a death clock. At one point an egg whisk shreds as hard as Slayer (\m/ \m/). Usurper’s South of Heaven? (Track 2) A general heaviness dissolves into rubber, faint electronics and a floppy Alice Coltrane. (featuring Grant Smith on ostrich feather)
November – A Usurper thought-piece in two rigid parts. Firstly: gloves off, cocks out! Honk & palaver. Duck calls trump free jizz all over the shop comparing notes like Dixie (80’s TV moustache – Magnum). Secondly: Adris Hoyos jams with an old school bell via the Tuvan Steppes. A mellow, yellow, fellow spins plastic pipes and drinking straws making an otherworldly ‘khhhaaaaa’ scrape. Usurper…never a jug band, more a fug brand from a chug land.
December – The true meaning of Christmas eh? Runny shite due to unusual food/zoned out on tinsel/greedy children/jingle bells ad nauseum/clattering crockery/overloaded sentiment/real cash poverty/anxiousness inflated by cabin fever/trapped wind/disappointment in general/creepy uncles/your favourite quiet pub is now full/kids gnashing, full of fudge. But when else would you contemplate eating a whole chocolate orange?
AND while we’re at it…another Usurper release parts the veil of mist between strict discipline and Steiner-school freedom. Room for one more readers?
Usurper – The Big Five (Singing Knives Records) C45 Cassette
Believe this – the Usurper deal only in bravery and truth.
While other dingbat-bands try looking cool with their loud and unpleasant noises and dark glasses these two wee brothers rummage the depths of a Scottish collective-consciousness to bring you a crucial entertainment.
These wrinkled sonic-pages make no mention of the modern distractions (internet memes, flat white coffee) that foul up too many young brains. And that’s important yeah as Usurper keep their focus exact on what makes us human-beans. It’s a real exploration of language; its meaning and our ability to understand.
So that pesky language eh? That mixture of invisible air and sore lips is dropped by Ali & Malcy like a Lancaster Bomber crammed with ‘meaning grenades’. Jerry-rigged for sure and improvised (of course) they explode slowly, freeing colourful shrapnel with the spark and fizz of a regular logophile. No bones are broken, no arteries severed. The aftermath smells of vague lavender and leaves a glowing smile on babe and parent alike.
You a toucher sir? A stroker madam? If you’re into the feel of things it all get fairly knotty with the soft buttermilk voices wrapping four cheeks around single syllables; twisting cadence and meaning without no interfering electronics. It’s just wonderful flesh and gas (and the occasional traffic shwish). A greasy mink has never been so slick.
Then Robertson and Duff employ outrageous simile-tennis that degenerates, quickly, into a game of (insert current culturally accepted good guys) versus (insert current culturally accepted bad guys). And even though I class myself as an athletic listener my neck needs a good old rub down with liniment after this routine.
Hear that rattle and pop of unamplified junk? It’s a classic Usurper tactic making a listener strap on an extra ounce of grey matter, all the better to get inside, move around this truthful music that rejects all the fripperies and fancy.
This essential tape comes pure from the inside of a twin soul. Usurper – insider art!
Tags: fritz welch, joe murray, jon marshall, luke vollar, singing knives
Fritz Welch – Nothing to offer (tape, Singing Knives, SK024)
[Editor’s note: both Joe and Luke got hold of pre-release copies of this tape and decided, independently of each other, that this glorious racket needed documenting. As each account is brief and rigorous (fast and bulbous?) I decided to publish the pair. Any investigative journalists suspicious that this positivity may be enhanced by Joe and Jon Marshall of Singing Knives being in cahoots can cool it. ‘Conflict of interest’ means fuck all ‘down’ here in the no-audience underground. If we don’t blow our own trumpets, who will?]
In our end of Newcastle there’s a special dance we do to welcome a drummer’s solo album up the hill, past the motorcycle shops and down Westgate Road; sort of a step-slide-shuffle (with a Richard III lurch) to pay homage to one of our favourite sub-genres.
Fritz Welch, noted drummer, vocal jaxx-man, pen-artist and collaborator beds down in an Italian Synagogue to deliver a super-tight drum performance par excellence. While many a stick man takes the blank canvas as a licence to bada-boom-bada-bing all over the shop (and there’s nothing wrong with that) Fritz is playing a longer game by introducing metallic scrape, sarcastic hooting, chain rattle and bomb-like membranous explosions to the un-named affair. Taken as a whole 20 minute piece this percussive interference has as much in common with the movie soundtrack than non-idiomatic improv.
Tension builds as the creature rattles the rusty shackles pinning him to the dungeon wall. Overpowering the guard with a single blow to his unguarded temple he unhitches the ornate key and ancient locks squeal open. Slowly, menacingly he lopes up the stairs, each heavy foot plodding with violent purpose on the worn stone steps. Finding the master aslumber he wraps stubby fingers round the exposed pale throat and grins through a ruined mouth as the life hisses out of his pampered tormentor.
The soft-lob of the drum warms my cockles and melts my shoulder-knots like cheap butter in the sun. Black Yoga?
Side two is recorded in a cleansing sauna and as sharp as a hit of authentic kimchi. Fritz is a huffing and puffing (even pulling off a Rat Pack croon) as slaps are administered to assembled red arse-cheeks.
The soft mechanics (neurons firing, brain fizzing like sherbet) that take place between manicured fingers and groomed gob-hole make the percussive clatter fit oh-so neatly into spluttering mouth-jaxx splatter.
We take it for granted that kidneys, liver and spleen go about their business unnoticed, just efficiently chugging away 24/7. But here the improvisation gland has been tweaked with spice until it fucking glows; spurting out hot routines, classic scrape n’ pop and the close-ear hiss that make this a gloriously inclusive listen.
Fritz speaks deeply.
we all cry doing the Richard, dragging our legs so feet twist into miniature snow shovels. Damn!
Percussion side: Our man does some brain boom bap interface of the more subtle and measured variety, using the space to illuminate his initially hesitant probing of the kit. A sudden ‘kaboom!!’ jumps out of the silence and has me worrying about giving the kids nightmares. No need for sweat bands or constipated gurning – let’s see which bit does what, yes? There are brief flurries of rapitty rap which soon get discarded for epiglottal pivotal fumbles in the back seat. Brave for a first date? Undoubtedly.
Vocal side: Close up recording with none of the cavernous reverb from the previous side. There is percussion of some sort, pretty hep dragging and cranking noises that Fritz drools over with slobbering fub stumps, creaking a rainbow in the damn sediment. Soft murmers like a love sick vessel calling for me (swims out to sea in moonlight).
Tags: bridget hayden, joe murray, new music, no audience underground, noise, singing knives, tapes, vibracathedral orchestra
Bridget Hayden – Just Ideas/The Night’s Veins (tape, Singing Knives Records)
Due to my doofus drunken behaviour I’ve never seen Bridget Hayden play live. Even when we were in the same building I managed to miss all but 45 glorious seconds of her set at Colour Out of Space due to booze related yapping. She’s been top of my ‘must check out’ list since then so I’m delighted to announce the great Singing Knives record label have telepathically picked up on my selfish wish and re-released these two tiny CD-rs from 2002 and 2007 on one handy prison standard tape.*
Side one is modestly entitled ‘Just Ideas’ and taking the title at face value I expected sketches, half thought-out doodles – a sonic sketchbook – but there’s not a jot of sloppiness or self absorption here dear reader. These four short, untitled jams evoke an encyclopaedia of images:
- The weather-beaten Sioux whispering into buffalo horn against the shimmer of summer rain and nerdy clip-clop of goats in felt boots.
- The sunblinded ecstasy of scorching summer holidays with boredom reaching almost sexual levels until an octave-change-thing on harmonium makes it sound like sad news is coming…
- Hawks circling high above the canyons: multiple recordings of gritty descant recorders like the world’s most psychedelic primary school orchestra conducted by Rhys Chatham.
- Slide guitar played like Elmore James never ever existed and the blues sprung fully-formed from a JG Ballard short story.
…but it’s the details that make these pieces stand out so. It’s the short intake of breath, the close miked gasp, the quivering tremble of distortion that make these four pieces so god damn moreish. Phew!
Side two offers another insight into rarity with the ripping macadam of ‘They’ve sent me to a trust asylum’. Heavy chisels gouge out spirals of soft metal in ever more intricate patterns leaving pliant filigree on the workshop floor. The feedback/skronk is heavy for sure (VU Sister Ray style) but strangely floating in the middle of the room like fag smoke rather than sneaking to the four corners. This allows greater listening in an almost 3D space. I move up, around and behind the thin blue waves to better see the edges.
‘Your Heart is your Thumb’s Usher’ and ‘Cracked Open’ starts with the sort of thin keening vocal tape work I dream of over cave-like ratiug sdrawkcab making melody into a purely rhythmic piece. Hwhab, hwhab, hwhab. What would once be ‘ringing pings’ become humming bees, feedback squeals evolved into erotic morse code. It’s an amazing grace.
*But what’s all this prison standard stuff? Well, the body of this tape is totally clear. That way the screws can tell if you’re trying to smuggle something (loot, booty, snout) inside. But of course what the Guv’ner would never figure on is the music itself. This is a perfect high. Dose me!
Tags: claus poulsen, drone, fordell research unit, fraser burnett, free doom, george proctor, gold soundz, i torquemada, improv, inseminoid, joe murray, lee stokoe, matching head, mike simpson, molotov, new music, no audience underground, noise, noise punk, nundungeon, oppenheimer, oracle netlabel, posset, sindre bjerga, singing knives, star turbine, tapes, vocal improvisation, xazzaz
posset – friction rivers (tape, Singing Knives Records)
sindre bjerga / posset – split (CD-r, gold soundz, gs#123, edition of 25)
star turbine / inseminoid / fordell research unit / xazzaz – nundungeon (CD-r, gold soundz, gs#122, edition of 25)
I, Torquemada – The Book, The Eye, The Scourge (download, Oracle Netlabel, ORE106)
Oppenheimer – Oppenheimer (CD-r, molotov, 26)
oppenheimer – js/ls/ms, js/ls/ms/mks (tape, Matching Head, mh202)
Inseminoid – Vanessa Howard’s Night Light (3” CD-r, Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.022, edition of 50 or download)
Surprisingly perhaps, given my status as long-term noise aficionado, I suffered my first ever migraine last week. Silver worms squirmed into the top right of my peripheral vision, wriggling downwards until their glistening made it impossible to read the newspaper I was holding. Then the left hand side of my face, upper jaw to receding hairline, seized up completely – as if a phantom of the opera mask was held clamped in place over the affected area. The pain made me feel nauseous but, in denial about what might be occurring, I decided that a few painkillers and a lie down would be sufficient treatment. The worst of it lasted about three hours.
During the following week my face and scalp remained ‘tight’ – the muscle under my left eye twitching like an oyster dripped with lemon juice. Worse though was a near constant state of seasickness which had me imagining I was swaying from side to side and made it difficult to sleep, to stomach food or to concentrate on everyday tasks. I took some time off work and visited my GP who was sufficiently concerned to prescribe some medication and insist that I saw her again if anything changed. My Dad suffered a minor stroke when he was about my age so we all wanted to make sure my brain wasn’t exploding.
Unfortunately, things deteriorated over the weekend and I reported even more, even stranger symptoms – a sunburnt feeling on my arms and hands being the weirdest – to my GP yesterday morning and she referred me immediately to Accident and Emergency at Leeds General Infirmary for a neurological assessment. I was at the hospital for six hours, four of which were spent waiting in A&E. I’ve been before in the evening and seen the bloody, alcohol-soaked horrorshow but the daytime parade of elderly patients rubbing numb limbs whilst spouses laughed nervously, each trying not to let on how frightened they were, was even more upsetting. Anyway, I eventually saw a bunch of doctors, had my noggin sliced with X-rays and got the all clear. Nowt wrong with me that a few painkillers and a lie down won’t see to.
Why am I telling you this? Well, it explains why I’m sat here typing instead of being out gallivanting. Given that all has not been well between my ears, medical opinion (and common sense) suggests that I should probably not press ’em up against the speakers at Wharf Chambers. The timing is heartbreaking as this week sees sets in Leeds from Neil Campbell, Popular Radiation, Spoils & Relics, BBBlood and RFM comrade Joe Murray as Posset. It would, of course, be a glorious way to go out – to have my head literally explode at the peak of a Paul Watson racket-crescendo, say – but my worried wife would much rather I was around to, y’know, help with the baby n’ all that. Thus here I am in Midwich Mansions, self-medicating my sulk with doses of noise from Tyneside, Edinburgh and Norway.
First then to my man Joe and his nom-de-gurgle Posset: a cassette monograph on the ever lovely Singing Knives and shared credit for a split with the ubiquitous Sindre Bjerga on the latter’s Gold Soundz imprint. Between the pair of them we are treated to a symphony for spittle and poorly-lubricated door hinge, a Punch and Judy show as performed by the inmates of Charenton Asylum directed by the Marquis de Sade, a fleet of aquatic budgerigars trilling, gargling and discussing the price of kelp, trainers squeaking on a basketball court during a game played by the anthropomorphic animal croquet teams from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, a wheelie bin full of post-midnight, soggy gremlins plotting mischief and a chipped vinyl Oliver Postgate storybook LP playing forlornly on a faulty wind-up gramophone. Occasionally in Sindre’s tracks some drone bleeds in as if his million other projects are leaking through a badly aligned tape head. Tremendous stuff, full of verve, exuberance and humour as well as a surprising and touching emotional range.
Speaking of Sindre’s million other projects: Star Turbine, his excellent duo with Claus Poulsen, leads off a compilation that could well have been curated with me in mind as the ideal listener. Four bands: Star Turbine, Inseminoid, Fordell Research Unit and Xazzaz – all favourites of mine – each donate a single 10(plus) minute track to a CD-r celebrating that line up playing the exquisitely named Nundungeon in Edinburgh earlier this year. The Turbs are in a playful mood, bringing Sindre’s current solo style to stamp gleefully around in the space afforded by their usual spacey drone. Inseminoid I will be coming onto shortly thus my later comments can be slotted in here: ‘______’. Fraser Burnett of Fordell Research Unit simply cannot put a foot wrong and his confident, expressive drone work is as satisfying as remembering there is an uneaten Easter egg still in the cellar head. Mike Simpson of Xazzaz is capable of exactly the same level of customer service but does it with added pedal-stomped, bristling loudness. Sindre had this one for sale on his recent jaunt ’round the UK – you better drop him a line to see if it is still available.
Mike Simpson also plays a part, I think, in both I, Torquemada and Oppenheimer – the former being a duo of Frater J (Jamie of Wrest? Jerome of Charles Dexter Ward?) and Frater M (Mike, probs), the latter being mainly a quartet of Jamie, Jerome, Mike and RFM heartthrob Lee Stokoe of Culver and Matching Head. I’m sure the omniscient Scott McKeating will set me straight if I have the details wrong. Both acts perform an industrial strength improv noise rock, or free punk, or doom skronk or harsh guitar wall or whatever – subgenre post-it notes won’t stick to this surface caked with filth. There is a perverse relish in referencing the Spanish Inquisition or the Manhattan Project with your band name and a dark, hopeless abandonment is certainly celebrated with the music too. It’s as morbidly beautiful as the glistening wings of a sea bird caught in an oil slick, as terrifyingly faceless as a coin eaten smooth by a corrosive fluid. I am reminded, quite purposefully I suppose, of the famous quote from J. Robert Oppenheimer following the Trinity test:
We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.
These Tyneside nihilists would have been amongst those laughing. They see the big – the biggest – picture.
Inseminoid, the duo of Lee Stokoe and George Proctor (of Mutant Ape and Turgid Animal), are connoisseurs of horror cinema, vintage porn and exploitative art in general but their heavy drone pieces are importantly different to the gore-splattered gusto of their colleagues above. They curate a carefully sustained atmosphere of unease, understanding that true terror is often found not in the act but in its consequences, not in the situation but in its implications. Repeat listens brought to mind haunting, half-remembered, dream-troubling passages from my own limited experience with horror fiction. For example, I always found the reveal in Ringu 2 that Sadako was actually alive and sealed in the well for thirty years before dying to be as viscerally nauseating as any of the deaths portrayed. Or how about a scene from one of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood stories where a guy foolishly pokes a seemingly dead monster and has his hand bitten off? In a moment of genius, Barker steps back from the gore for a couple of sentences to let us in on the shock and dismay this moment of idiotic bravado has caused. We see the awful, disproportionate consequences and are appalled. This is what Inseminoid are up to: cool, considered, implacably hostile – absolutely compelling.
(Editor’s note: there are various Gold Soundz resources revealed by a quick Google/Discogs search but none seem current. As such, I’ve linked to Sindre’s own page and you can ask him about these releases directly.)
Tags: blue yodel, fiona kennedy, improv, jennifer iker, joe murray, jon marshall, ludo mich, new music, no audience underground, no basement is deep enough, noise, roman nose, ross parfitt, singing knives, tapes, vocal improvisation
Ludo Mich/Roman Nose/Blue Yodel/Ross Parfitt /Jennifer Iker – The Clurichaun’s Naked Cheat with Sour Wine & The Leprechaun’s Coins Numismatist (C40 cassette in gargoyle shaped holder, No Basement is Deep Enough).
Deep explorations of rancid mind-space beyond the outer limits from the truly radical No Basement is Deep Enough cassette library.
I have to admit it, I’d never come across this label before until gently nudged by the Roman Nose. A quick Google search transported me to a day-glo negative zone that refreshed like a hot lemon-scented towel.
This Belgian/Serbian label is strapping on high-level, raw weirdness and pumping out load after load of creamy oddballs: Preggy Peggy and the Lazy Baby Makers, Hjuler & Frau and Cactus Truck (to name but a few). It’s not all teenage slop and skronk though…they scratch both ass-cheeks by releasing some proper ‘old-gent sound art legends’ like, Valeri Scherstjanoi and Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson. Sheesh….that’s one hell of a demographic basement-heads.
So far you can see I’m impressed yeah? But get a load of the packaging on display here. I know there’s always that risk of making excuses for the mundane if it scrubs up all shiny but this is another level of presentation. We’ve all got used to boxes, bags and inserts. But this innocent little cassette comes in a hand-crafted gargoyle effigy. A what you say? I said gargoyle dear reader; or an imp or a gnome or something horrible, small and creepy that defies classification.
It’s evil little face is peering at me now. Gulp.
And now a few words about Ludo Mich. Ludo is one of them ‘old-gent sound art legends’ I was on about before. His bristling roar and gummy leer has been mixing it up since Fluxus was a boy. But no lichen grows on his cheesy soles…the Blood Stereos, Ultra Eczemas and Singing Knives of this world are queuing up to down a bottle of cheap red vino with him and enter the steamy gorgon zone to play.
For me Ludo is more in touch with his ‘inner shaman’ than any of any of his grey-beard peers. His rites are funny for sure but seem to delve the deepest, and uncover the most uncomfortable truths with the pacing and rhythm of a natural born story teller in that classic Northern European tradition. Basically…Ludo’s got the chops man. All groovy…but what does this spectacularly packaged tape sound like?
Side one: THE CLURICHAUN’S NAKED CHEAT WITH SOUR WINE
Lord Bacchus brushes his beard thoughtfully and wipes his grape-stained mouth with the back of a gnarled hand. Mumps overlay mumps with a ‘bath-too-hotness’ of fevered screams (reflected back into your ears via beautifully inlaid Moroccan tiles). Low-throated groans are a bed of healthy spinach on which Ludo relaxes, slowly disrobing, cup overflowing.
As an accompaniment a wooden pinball machine plays on, flippers blurring with speed. Dull thuds ‘ping’ as the machine lights up ‘TILT’ with cracked bells; cats fight under the floorboards in this dream-like vocabulary of interruption.
The mist clears to reveal a boy. Rum-sodden, ruined and collapsed in Marseille. The grim hoteliers and bird-like pimps look on, beaks as sharp as whips. I rise. The wind is scented with the harsh tang of opium and degenerate accordion music wafts from the brothel window. A face appears from behind a filthy rag of curtain and speaks with two, four, six voices. I can’t understand a word but follow the voice into the nearest bar. “Absinthe?” the moustachioed waiter asks. I nod, corrupted.
For fans of the Welshman Johnny Morris and his disturbing anthropomorphism.
(Production note – side one was born in postal pieces were sent from Ludo Mich to the antique dub-controller, Roman Nose, for full manipulation and foley-frottage then whipped creamy by squalls from ensemble Yodel, Parfitt and Iker. Like Joe Meek right?)
Side Two: THE LEPRECHAUN’S COINS NUMISMATIST
More loam from the crypt recorded in a Hermit Crab shell (or Antwerp). A coven of drunks (Ludo Mich, Jon Marshall, Fiona Kennedy, Ross Parfitt) leap willingly down the well of possessed souls.
There’s a powerful vocal shunting that forces them further down the moss-lined brickwork with increasing speed. But the impact never arrives. Descent becomes all and molasses heavy. Sparks fly as friction makes the air bristle with violent electricity.
Floating in space the resulting bellowing becomes bronze, buffed to golden shine. A Greek breastplate and helmet smash together producing clouds of hideous clashing and bilious fume.
The smell of hot metal wraps itself around your tongue, teeth and tonsils; coiling through the ear, nose and throat superhighway. And then you know you are in trouble. Your senses become confused; you see the sound of the foreign holler, you hear the circular rose-tint above your head. Snakes plunge down your throat and cling to your feebly beating heart.
You might be choking but you’ve never felt so alive!
How do you find this Halfling? I can’t see a ‘proper’ website so I suggest you search for this filthy beast on that discogs site or direct from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: culver, drone, improv, joe murray, jon collin, jon marshall, lee stokoe, matching head, new music, new weird moscow, no audience underground, noise, roman nose, singing knives, somália, tapes, vampire blues, winebox press, yavgnu
Vampire Blues – Recorded Live at Les Voûtes, Paris, France, 24th November 2012 (C36 tape, Winebox Press, winebox22)
Culver/Somália – Untitled (tape, Matching Head, 197)
yavgnu/Roman Nose – Split (tape, исподволь)
Vampire Blues – Recorded Live at Les Voûtes, Paris, France, 24th November 2012
Vampire Blues is the natural-organic duo of Jon Marshall (Harmonium) and Jon Collin (Electric Guitar) feverishly stroking and a’ huffing live in the City of Light.
Side one is super-heavy on the harmonium, wheezy like an asthmatic pony as the guitar gently rests, calmly ‘pinging’ every so often. This is a boozy sedative with absolutely no intention of rushing. Waves of heavy vibration are pushed and pulled through the battered reeds and amplified with the slightest hint of over-distortion making everything quiver like it’s heard through a heat haze. As ever, with Winebox releases, the sound of the tape itself becomes a third player with its woollen arms cradling the sounds making it all fuzzy-eared and alive. After a while guitar rouses itself with prepared plucks performed with gnarled, wooden fingers, new leaves sprouting in place of nails.
Side two rips pretty much from the click of the play button. The gravy-brown harmonium picks up pace (huff-huff-huff) as a Sonny Sharrock style guitar solo falls heavy like electric sleet. Nifty playing makes the guitar sound backwards/forwards, background/foreground all at the same time with a thin keening edge…the sound of loss and yearning. The harmonium pumps on and on reaching some candle-lit nirvana; reaching the peaks of ecstasy like some Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sculpted from geranium-scented air. After the dizzying heights are reached there’s the slow trek down into the foothills to drink deeply in the crystal-clear brook that runs swiftly across the valley floor.
Bavardage assez, voici le boeuf. Edition limitée de 70 ans. 7 £ pour acheter de thewholevoyald.blogspot Pour votre argent, non seulement en êtes-vous présent document extatique mais cette petite bande vient cloué sur un morceau de peinture de table éclaboussé!
Culver/Somália – Untitled
Culver is a master of the dark art of static movement. In the same way smoke will fill a room to the corners, too thick to see thorough but fragile enough to part with the wave of a hand, Culver plays that hard/soft, full/empty, maximal/minimal dichotomy like Erich Von Daniken’s ancient astronauts. Always working on the edge of being there and not being there this piece, this relatively brief drone called ‘seven human hairs’ is like watching ink boil. The darkness is mesmerising and minutes lurch past, my fingers poised claw-like over the keyboard, when I sort of forget what I’m doing, so drawn into the loamy and fertile sound rolling out the speakers. I’m lucky enough to get to see Culver play a couple of times a year so I have a window into his working methods. I reckon this is a keyboard derived drone made with simple pieces of kit (Casio, Dictaphone, Sticky Tape) but that doesn’t stop the coiling tentacles probing out all soft tissues; leaching the essence of me out my living skin, as Nyarlathotep looks on delighting in the exquisite cruelty.
Somália is some mysterious Portuguese music maker who, on ‘das cordas’ takes a melancholic Satie riff (Gnossienne No. 1 I think) and loops it over and over again with a grimy patina of tape murk. That’s it. No speeding up or slowing down. No descent into beats or basslines. Just a gradual fade into the muck collected round the capstans. Super simple and super effective. It works at times (and I have to point out here I have played this tape a lot!) like dark canvas, swallowing the light but freeing up the subconscious. This is dreaming music. With my amateur musicologists hat on this whole idea of macro-samples could be traced back to hip hop I guess and people seemed to get their knickers in a twist when that hipster Oneohtrix Point Never did the same with a Chris De Burgh sample (‘Nobody Here‘). This is twice as cool and double the fun. It also became Mrs Posset’s favourite tape of the year which I think says a lot. Keen to learn more a quick Google search reveals little about Somália apart from an up-and-coming split tape with the with bonkers Portuguese duo Yong Yong. Wow…sounds like another essential release.
Sparse info here.
yavgnu/Roman Nose – Split
Direct from Jon Marshall’s duffel coat pocket this tape has travelled back from Russia on friendly sleeper trains following his visit deep behind the Iron Curtain (editors note: Scott chips in to tell us the tape is on a Russian label called ‘ispodvol’. According to Jon it’s a Russian word ‘исподволь’, meaning something like ‘gradually’.)
yavgnu are a ‘New Weird Moscow’ collective of bowed strings, flute, effects, vocal, guitar and percussion yet they speak the universal language of folk-group improvisation like any Chora or Hunter Gracchus would back in Blighty. Whacked out violin and percussion jangles crack the frozen earth as river-smooth pebbles of ‘echo’ are lobbed down any grike. Rusty bows are rubbed up against guitar and cymbal until the horsehair splinters and rips while previously recorded experiments jump through time-holes making the very ‘then’ now. Whilst the methods and vernacular are common to improvisers the world over (and this is no place for my extraordinary pamphlet linking the desolate Tuvan plains to Hull’s abandoned factories) the overall feel is very different. The balances we grow accustomed to in western improv are skewed and jammed. The weight of instrumentation feels different in the hand and demands careful consideration. There’s no desire to fill each space with sound; the restraint in the playing and decision making is apparent and welcome. There’s a calm confidence to this work that many an improv collective could learn from.
On this tape Jon’s Roman Nose is a collage of solo jams on ‘bicycle breaks, effects pedals, junk, metal food bowls, harmonica reeds, harmonium, sheng, tabla, tharqua, xaphoon & vocals’ and is as ecstatic and mixed up as that all sounds. Notes, tones and breaths tumble over each other in a frantic rush with tightly coiled punk energy. Metal bowls are bashed rhythmically until the tinny echoes fold in and the reverberations become diamond sharp. A sheng is blown with such lung-bursting power bamboo splinters and rips, tabla’s are amped up and twonked until skin can resound no more. This is a pretty violent melange and a world away from the more composed (but no less frantic) three-piece Roman Nose I saw live recently. This is all about the forward motion, propulsion, riding the peaks and soaring the ionosphere. Bliss. You might be able to get this from singing knives but I’d move fast if I was you. A birdy tells me there are fewer than 10 in the whole world!
Tags: blue yodel, chocolate monk, human heads, improv, joe murray, lovely honkey, luke poot, marvo men, new music, no audience underground, noise, singing knives, tapes, usurper, vocal improvisation
Usurper – Fishing for Tripe (CD-r, Chocolate Monk, choc.261)
Blue Yodel & Lovely Honkey – Poppies & Cocks (CD-r, Chocolate Monk, choc.249)
Marvo Men – Give Some Idea of the Boys at Work (CD-r, Chocolate Monk, choc.251)
Human Heads – The Beauticinist (C38 tape, Singing Knives, SK020)
Usurper – Fishing for Tripe
The Hinge & Bracket of the no-instrument underground break the fourth wall in the opening seconds of this tasty McNugget. A noisy enamel-mug clash ends with a giggle and the beardy-burr ‘Shall I stop it and start it again?’
We are in Usurper territory instantly where tables, cutlery, marbles, cardboard boxes, billiard balls all become an orchestra for this pair of Ritalin Simon Rattles. The skringle is close and dense but with enough room to breathe and flex with layers of fuss and bother laid over Tourette’s tick and shiver.
Things are neatly compartmentalised with track one (there is no song titles baby! Malcy’s drawings depict a series of numbered stomach aches in lieu of numerals), the aforementioned symphonic scratter, setting a firm and reliable base layer. Track two is pure vocal radge with mouth farts snuggling up brownly with warm guffs and moany choams. This dark throaty gurgle is kept, pretty much, behind the teeth balancing control against the promise of chaos. Track three…a play in three acts (1) if rats were made of polythene they would recognise their brothers squeezing through the plumbing and answer in kind, (2) dry twigs evolve sap-like fingers and stretch blindly down narrow ginnels, (3) the idea of hard electric weather. Track four is Usurper’s Take Five, like Joe Morello traded in his traps for a ‘pencil rattling in jam jar’ solo but ends up in a space previously occupied by Zaire’s cacophony of electrified mbiras and full moon moaning. Track five is a proper sound poetry blow-out exactly halfway between Alvin Lucier’s ‘I am sitting in a room’ and a round of ‘London’s Burning ‘sung by year 4 of the Ivor Cutler Primary School. Not only does this sound delicious and minty on the ear it delivers a brief history of the group leaving us with a shy but heartfelt ‘cheers man.’ Fishing for Tripe – music to stack a dishwasher to.
Postscript…I’m writing this in the cafe of a snooty Health Club (just don’t ask) and next on my crap laptop playlist, after Usurper, is Venom and their legendary between-song banter from their first US tour (1986). I almost leap out my chair as Cronos dribbles his bullshit about Newcastle Brown Ale, ‘kicking your balls off’ and mixing up the names of his own songs, ‘Blood lust? Blood what?’ We don’t have a song called that.’ I don’t know how but this somehow strangely fits into Usurper’s world: making magic out of nothing, rejoicing in the vernacular, pointing at windmills and laughing at their ridiculousness.
Blue Yodel & Lovely Honkey – Poppies & Cocks
This is going to be a weird one to write about as Yodel & Honkey make up the Sheffield arm of my underground family and have housed me, watered me and popped falafel into my weary gob-hole on many an occasion. What if I don’t like their offering? Will I be able to face them again? I’ve always been a worrier, and as usual, it’s a groundless concern. Poppies & Cocks is a piquant little caperberry overflowing with sour juice!
A true pairing. This is no trad jazz duo, out-honking each other, desperate for the solo – the group mind has taken over. Practiced over endless cups of herbal tea Poot/Honkey is less snotty than usual suggesting a new linctus approach. Yodel’s joyful humming is downtuned, dark and graveyardy.
A quick note on the recording quality. Some people have unfairly tarred the sub-underground with the ‘lo-fi’ brush. While I’m a fan of lo-fi’s qualities this little disc is by no means low in fidelity or intent. It fairly roars out the speakers and fills the room with clotted curses.
There are several approaches here. The open-mouthed mung-out that seems to be chuffed direct to tape and then played back at volume (although your ears may pick put more than my cloth cabbages) revelling in the spittle-flecked abandon of hurling your head back and letting the pre-language gasps and hucks spring fresh from the subconscious. On occasion there is a more feather-light feel with barren electronics needling horse-faced snorts with toothpick-thin shards of feedback gilding the outer reaches of the spectrum. The clever use of hiss and near silence makes these humps almost painterly. And then, and this could be totally off beam, there seems to be a secret recording thread; like some pieces were recorded in the dark, alone, trying not to wake the sleepers camped out next door. In this case frantic gasps and exhalations seem to stretch and mutate, expanding to fill the scant space between gob and condenser mic. Fingers search blindly for buttons to nudge and pause, smudging the grain further leaving a burred snapshot. Those dicks on The Apprentice might say – ‘Yodel & Honkey – multiple mouths make morbid murmurs!’ Fuckin’ saps…this is an essential disc for all students of the wild northern weird.
Marvo Men – Give Some Idea of the Boys at Work
More mouth-based lunacy. But don’t automatically think glottal coughs or lippy trimphones! The untitled opener is pure cut-up tape abstraction. Beautiful and brilliant the ‘aughs and absenthh, wah’ sing chicken noodle soup into my ear, nourishing my jaded soul and filling me with pearl barley goodness. I’m beaming like the golden shimmer on saffron infused rice. Track two is a more physical attack with two mouths jamming up against each other, like roof tiles they interlock but it’s not fragile. This sound bends and forms new rude shapes in expanded foam. The cloisters are never far away as monk-like groans hiss like hot drizzle on a freshly shaven tonsure. Half the fun of this kinda goof is the theatre of it, the gurn and posture, the sinews standing proud on effort-rouged neck. But the Marvo Men have marked their territory well with a strongly scented musk leading you like a pissy Bisto kid, round the saplings and into the glade they have prepared with dusky boughs and cracking grass. The closer takes us back into a multi-tracked tape nightmare that sounds like…and I’m not kidding here…some nugget from that Beatles Anthology cash in. You can hear the Fab Four, directed by the ever-correct Yoko, to lose their inhibitions and ‘make like the universe’. Ringo gets it first (of course) neighing like a Bootle donkey then letting Mr Martin rewind and play the noise backwards. George gets in on the transatlantic ‘Ohm’ leaving bloody John and bloody Paul to throw their caps into the ring; reluctant at first but with rising confidence whispering harmonious nonsense with one hand on the Abbey Road Ampex (then state of the art, now retro/vintage). The voices and chortles are corralled together to create one neon stream of liquid sound, rising in density, a dark-eyed sister to that orchestral bit in ‘A Day in the Life’. Hey man…this is what Revolution Number Nine should have sounded like.
Human Heads – The Beauticinist
Classic and domestic fung-poetry! Like a pie chart: stream of consciousness verb & strum (37%), interrupted field recordings (45%) and aching vowels (18%) this pretty pink tape clearly displays the everyday psychedelic for all to see. The faint whiff of petrol (aphrodisiac to some, emetic to others) clings to The Beauticinist with its see-sawing collection of spoken word rambles and delicately knitted tones and recordings. Tarnished beauty seems to be a central theme; from the hard gloss of grotty nail bars to the washboard stomach of a tabloid personality we are asked, as beholders, what do you see?
Among the stuttering speech patterns lays a rotating burr (slo-mo dentist drill?) and wheezy brackets (harmonium?) as dice are casually thrown and a ghost leaves by the squeaky door. Sometimes words are picked apart phonetically; each snatch of un-sound rolled round the gob like a fine brandy then spat unceremoniously into the festering slop-bucket beneath the table. Although these sounds are presented simply, sometimes with the gentlest of echoes, there is a steely confidence here. Human Heads brush a demure fringe to one side and look you straight in the face…worship me like you worship the distant buttery sunlight of youth, it seems to say!
If you are looking for easy references and comparisons the closest cousin would be sub-underground giants The Shadow Ring whose slack halfarsedness rattled brain boxes before I started shaving. But, make no mistake – this is no backwards-looking retro shit…I’d put a dollar on Human Heads lasting the full 12 rounds with a Hype Williams style outfit any day of the week. In other words – it’s tasty.
In this post-noise world it’s the tiny things matter most and Human Heads put an expert eye to the microscope. Like boffins they examine the brittle grain of speech patterns, greasy tape huss and the clatter of finger bones, presenting them, ‘OU style’ to you dear listener.
Note: Human Heads…contain two Helhesten Heads/Psykick Dancehall bods too.
Tags: dada, fluxus, improv, live music, ludo mich, new music, no audience underground, pascal nichols, singing knives, syed kamran ali, vocal improvisation
Ludo Mich with Syed Kamran Ali & Pascal Nichols – The Wet Black Poodle Transforms (CD, Singing Knives, SK019)
I dunno about you, but I find vocal improv pretty hard going. Given its growing prevalence in the no-audience underground, however, I realise that I may be in the minority. I see the appeal: it has an earthy immediacy, it requires little kit (none, at its purist) and it necessarily injects some theatre into a ‘noise’ performance. Anyone who isn’t awed by seeing human-Tom-and-Jerry-cartoon Skot Spear work his magic live as Id M Theft Able should probably just give up and stay at home. My RFM co-conspirator Joe Murray’s experiments with constipated gurning (‘the brown sound’) have made me laugh out loud on the bus. The canine, gutter-angst of Yol is as compelling, dramatic and darkly humorous as footage of a polar bear circling a shed full of terrified wildlife photographers. But, but, but… the whooping, clicking, lip-smacking and yelling of common or garden ‘gurglecore’ (this terrifically dismissive tag coined by Phil Todd) generally leaves me cold.
This is for two reasons. Listening to my baby son cooing, snuffling and gargling with his own spittle is, of course, charming and fascinating but listening to an adult performer doing the same is usually just boring. As a matter of personal preference, these sounds don’t hold my attention. The second reason has to do with the state of my health. I’ve suffered with depression for pretty much my whole adult life, I’ve been on various medications for over 15 years and am periodically disabled by it for noteworthy lengths of time. There is no ‘up side’ – the whole business is a massive fucking drag. I see no reason to celebrate it, nor can my illness be ‘mined’ for insight. Thus I see art that plays with madness, which gurglecore does with its affected tics and mimicking of craziness, as suspect. Sometimes I’m tempted to take a pretty hard line: the crappest gurglecore is to mental health as blacking up is to race.
So when is it OK? I guess when it is the properly thought through consequence of a lifetime of uncompromising creative endeavour, when it is part of a wider artistic context challenging the norms of communication and representation – say the neo-Dada tradition of Fluxus – and when it is performed with gusto and total commitment, ideally in the company of two other skilful, multi-instrumentalist, improvising musicians. Then it might be exhilarating… Hang on a minute the post has just arrived – Oh! Package from Singing Knives – what do we have here? Over to label head honcho Jon:
In November 2011 legendary Flemish Fluxus artist, performer and filmmaker Ludo Mich performed a series of concerts in the UK with Syed Kamran Ali (Harappian Night Recordings) and Pascal Nichols (Part Wild Horses Mane on Both Sides). This glass-mastered art-edition CD presents the recordings from the Manchester and Sheffield performances which were even more incendiary than the London show (see here: video at cafe oto).
Ideal. I saw these guys in the flesh at the Fox & Newt on the Leeds leg of this tour. It was a short, blistering set augmented with film projections that gave it the feel of a ‘happening’. Flanked by his two young band mates, within three minutes this distinguished looking European pensioner was doing the ‘dying fly’: on his back on the stage kicking his legs in the air. I dug it, it felt like the real deal. I can’t pretend I knew anything about Mr. Mich’s lengthy career beforehand but I recommend you set aside some time to root through the results of a Google search. Those interested in performance art, holography, the fluxus movement and naked people from the 1970s will find much to enjoy.
This CD, packaged in the attractive fold-out cover pictured above, documents two other sets from the same trip, totalling about 34 minutes. The music is muscular but leavened with humour and nuanced enough to keep its flavour over repeat listens. Each piece begins with a passage of relatively quiet feet-finding as Ludo barks and gasps and Pascal and Syed answer with pattering percussion and discrete squeaking. Recognizable words begin to form in the swirl and dada incantations follow, interspersed with rasping yelps, menacing snuffling and theatrical chortles. The accompanying percussion is impressively elastic, whipping time around Ludo’s flailing limbs. The rest is an almost unplaceable concoction of strings – plucked, bowed, rattled, scraped – rinsed and squeezed through some occult electronics. It resists analysis – gaze into it and it gazes back at you, unblinking, then leers and darts out of reach. I don’t know how much rehearsal time the trio had prior to playing but it seems like a tight unit with everyone listening to each other. Pascal and Syed support Ludo’s raving like cool-headed parents administering a dose of Calpol to a wriggling and uncooperative infant (yes, fatherhood is providing me with a whole new batch of similes). In summary: excellent stuff that I highly recommend you check out.
Given the quality of the package, the £6 all-in (for UK orders, more for overseas) that Singing Knives are asking seems very reasonable indeed. Buy here.