holding our treasure aloft: thoughts on facebook, rfm and the d.i.y. underground compiled by rob hayler

March 21, 2017 at 7:42 am | Posted in musings, not bloody music | 3 Comments
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facebook satire 2

On Friday 3rd March, as I was enjoying the opening of the Crow Versus Crow/Malorymaki art exhibition in Bradford, Joe Murray (who had been invited down to play at the event) mentioned to me that new RFM staffer Sarah Gatter (known ‘round these parts as Sky High Diamonds) had offered to create a Facebook page for RFM.

Without thinking too hard about it I gave my blessing.  By lunchtime on Monday 6th March the thing existed.  Blimey.  As the dust settled there began a lengthy and involved discussion amongst RFM colleagues about the merits, or otherwise, of Facebook and other social media.  This has proved so interesting that I have returned briefly from my sabbatical to compile these thoughts (edited to remove repetition, small talk and logistical stuff) and add some of my own.

Let’s start with Sarah and the rationale:

A brief online chat with Rob and Joe over the weekend suggested that an RFM Facebook page would be a good idea as it would exist as a ‘go to’ site for interested parties to get a rundown on RFM and the latest blog reviews. I am happy to manage this page but if any of you are Facebook users and would like to be added as admin (meaning you can then also upload the RFM blogs, add photos, monitor, add and remove posts, including posts or comments from other people etc.) then find me on FB and I can add you as admin.

As agreed with Rob & Joe this page will be a ‘copy’ of the RFM WordPress blog in its use of words and images, both of which will simply be an echo of the already published blog info. No new material or personal posting to exist here as it then gets confusing.

All business, right?  Nowt to worry about, eh?  Well… Marlo kicks it off:

Woah, really?! I think Luke, Chrissie, and I use it.  Both Joes, Rob, and Sophie don’t.

I was thinking RFM was purposely avoiding that platform…. Times are a-changing…

Rob and Joe, can I ask why? I mean, it isn’t really harmonious with what I though RFM mission statement? Or is it?

Chrissie is pragmatic:

I’m very much a semi-detached user of Facebook these days but I think the idea of a page is OK provided it doesn’t distract from the blog.

Is the plan just to post links to the RFM reviews when they appear on the Facebook page? This seems like the best way of doing it to me and allows for people to possibly discuss the reviews and share them easily on FB.

Sof then voices unease:

Know what you mean Marlo. I came off FB because I got so sick of everyone relying on such a massively corporate website to find out about underground DIY gigs etc (including Tor Fest – winds me up so much).  Don’t see why everything needs to have a FB presence to exist these days.

…which allows Marlo to expand her point:

Thanks Sophie for understanding. I feel torn myself constantly cause I cornered myself into the FB for Ladyz in Noyz back in the day and am stuck now or take the risk of losing the international audience. I should have just done a proper page in the past. Myspace to FB…sheesh…

I know it isn’t a collective and whatever Rob and Joe feel is right, I go with [Editor’s note – heh, heh].  Just wanted to see why the shift?

I will be here either way!

Time for me to weigh in:

I wasn’t involved in any discussion as such but Joe M did mention at the show on Friday that Sarah had offered to mirror RFM on Facebook and I said sure, if she’s willing to do the work then let’s try it.

I have never had any personal desire to be on FB, nor have I ever had an account, but since the blog’s inception the majority of referrals have been from FB links (twitter is catching up but FB still in front) so, like it or not, a lot of our traffic has come from that direction.  Thinking about the ubiquity and omniscience of FB makes my stomach flip but it is only one aspect of the corporate global evil that we are using for our purposes.  PayPal, Google, Apple, Twitter – bleurgh – even Bandcamp takes a hefty rake and WordPress charges me more for keeping the site ad-free than it does for hosting our actual content!  We wade waist-deep through the shit holding our little box of treasure aloft so that it doesn’t get caked in crap too.  ‘Twas ever thus.

Also, should you be concerned about such things, the numbers are down.  Mostly, I think, due to the breaks in regular posting last year caused by my burn-out/’real life’ issues, 2016 was the first year since RFM’s birth that number of visits didn’t increase.  I’m not fussed about a plateau – this is a niche concern after all – but this was quite a dramatic drop (2015 = 32k, 2016 = 23k) and I’m not above a bit of rattling the stick in the bucket.  Calling attention to your fine work is noble, and can be even if the format is grisly.

That said – some suggestions/requests.  Firstly, I’m not sure I want that photo of (some of) us from Crater Lake to be so prominent.  Makes me a little uncomfortable.  Secondly, I don’t want the text of posts just reproduced on the FB page – pictures, lists of artists featured, little summaries like those we tweet are fine but I want people to visit RFM to do their reading (or subscribe to the blog and get each post emailed to them directly – currently over a 100 people do this).  I don’t want the FB page to replace the blog.  I see that posts are being made as I type [Editor’s note: Sarah was cracking on]!  The format is fine like that I think.

facebook satire

Over two emails Sarah doubles down for practical reasons and stresses it can be a collaborative effort:

The page is easy to delete if having second thoughts. I personally think it is a good idea as FB really is the ‘go to’ site for getting information. Also, those of us on FB can like and repost the blogs (as we do on Twitter) giving each blog a bit more of a following and a bit more oomph and clout. Also, when blogs are just in a newsfeed (as on both Twitter & FB) they are easily lost and many people (myself included) don’t have the time to fully read a review, or even scan through it, when leisurely (or frantically) scrolling through a news feed.

However, if people are aware that there is a permanent page storing these blogs with a link to a whole heap of other blogs, then that instantly makes all of the blog posts more accessible.

I’m happy that everyone gets a say about layout and content and happier that there are many admin involved, also to make sure that everyone’s happy!

At this point Joe Henderson offers a forthright, brain-stirring intervention:

Will briefly say my piece. I think that, for me, the magic is instantly lost when Facebook gets involved in anything – to be honest. Given my own experience of it and the flow of research surrounding well being & social media I make a concerted effort to stay away.

I don’t mind using the word ‘poisonous’ to describe my attitude towards Facebook, however, I’ve seemed to deal a little better with Twitter, although I still have yet to use it myself (I went on there to get another News source other than the BBC, turns out I can’t get the app anyways on my old iPhone, so I haven’t ended up using it anyway).

Can I make a request that none of my articles are re-posted to Facebook?  And on a far stronger note – I do not want any of my writing to be subject to Facebooks content codes and control.

Part of the charm of things like Radio Free Midwich is their unwavering principles in the face of peer pressure.

Sophie, I know what you mean about lazy promotion. I came to think of Facebook promotion as really exclusionary – like, that you could miss out on so much by not being in a link or social loop. I have no solutions, but I think in general… good old hand-made posters and nerdy art stuff like that appeals to my DIY, punk sensibilities more. Things shouldn’t be eazy..

I’m happy to hang back for a bit and maybe see how things pan out.  Very sceptical right now, but open minded for y’all.  My first article should be out this week (given a little tweaking in the mean-time).  Am happy for it to go out on the website but please don’t put it on FB – I hate that place and it’s toxic, damaging glare.  But, of course am happy for you guys to go ahead and frollick (in the dust & mirrors)

foghorn

Oh, is that Sarah wavering a little? <winking emoji>

 

I also think that hitting the delete button on the FB page would be weirdly very satisfying, and quite anarchic, at this early stage of gaining a few ‘likes’ and ‘followers.’

“Now you see us, now you don’t.”

Not sure what else to say!

Joe Murray shouts encouragement from the window of a moving train:

For me this is all about spreading the word. No more.  I think we are a valuable piece in the no audience crossword so a few more clues (like FB) help folk connect.

But still…we all have to be comfortable with it. I guess we can self-destruct this channel whenever we feel the need.

It’s always good to debate and have different views.  Let’s keep an eye on things and review in a month or so.

All our viewpoints matter.

Speak soon, and if I may gush for a second…we goddamn rule!

Respect as always…

Sarah, like all good academics recognizes grist for the mill when she sees it:

I’m loving this debate, currently attempting to put a PhD proposal together on this very stuff- the relevance of social media to DIY, so the varying perspectives on how we use and control/are used and controlled by social media platforms is intriguing. Many of the artists I know go through long/short periods of deactivating profiles and deleting entire pages of personal data and then coming back to social media on their own terms and for their own agenda when it suits them, I like that.

Sof, bit now firmly between teeth, questions the stated purpose:

Slightly related / aside – I saw this band in London last week and at the end of their show they made a massive statement that “clicks get gigs” find us on Facebook! If we have loads of likes then we’ll get more shows!  What a load of bollocks. Talent gets gigs not some website. People who work hard at what they are doing get gigs. It doesn’t make any personal difference to me if RFM has a FB page or not I’m just saddened that this is the way people think you have to be nowadays. I know it is the go-to for loads of people, the company I work for get loads of work via it but what a lazy state of affairs.  As if the Internet doesn’t make it easy enough for people already why not condense the info in to one accessible website ? Twitter is just as bad – argh! Please meet me down the pub or the library / send me a letter for further ranting opportunity!

I’m actually in talks with a web developer to create a sort of Cops n’ Robbers website [Editor’s note: for non-UK readers Cops n’ Robbers is a legendary Yorkshire-based listings zine with oodles of DIY and N-AU swagger]that would cover West Yorkshire (and maybe nationally) gigs as an alternative ‘go-to’ site instead of FB. For this gig I did on Sunday just gone I really wanted to just advertise without FB but actually got a complaint! Forced Jake to make a page – made it more legit I guess. Fairly confident that most people who showed up were at Pelt a couple of weeks before and picked up a flyer but perhaps that’s wishful thinking.

Clearly a Luddite technophobe over here, where are my DDDD copies?

P.S.  I really like Twitter btw. Not as personal.

evil twitter

In her typically quiet but laser-sharp fashion Chrissie makes the point that…

Contacts get gigs mainly – in my experience at least. It doesn’t matter how talented or brilliant you are, if no-one has heard of you then you don’t get gigs*. Facebook is just one of many places that can possibly be a help there. Ignoring it is a choice, of course, but you are cutting off a potential source of people. The platform on its own may, or may not, be evil. But the people on it mostly aren’t (with some exceptions).

* I’m not saying my band Helicopter Quartet are either talented or brilliant [Editor’s note: they are, both, in spades], but we don’t get any gigs because we don’t have any contacts and both of us are so painfully shy we never make any.

At this point Marlo and I both start thinking ‘there’s an article in this’ and ask if anyone wants to make a more formal contribution.  Marlo suggests:

Perhaps we could all string something together around the question:

How do different social media platforms feed or weaken the ‘underground’? What associations do different social websites bring to the table? What is lost or gained in ‘opening the floodgates’?

Chrissie responds first:

One of the nice things about social media is that it can bring together people of niche interests together – it’s largely what I do on twitter – in a way that’s almost impossible or very difficult to do in other ways.

Yes –  you can start your own website but how do you get people to use it in the first place: twitter/Facebook etc. are the funnel through which you can get access to people who might want to go there. Of course, there are all the arguments about centralisation and monopolies and I’m not happy about those things either. But principally I’m a pragmatist and that’s how these things are structured at the moment. To some extent they always have been, it’s just that the ownerships change over time.

As to ‘opening the floodgates’ – it doesn’t happen. Despite what I just said above, adding RFM to Facebook isn’t going to triple or even double viewing figures (if it does, please buy me a hat to eat).  It’ll bring in some new readers, yes. But it’s not a magic potion and it doesn’t make you popular overnight or even ever – it’s a small help.  I have Facebook pages for my two main bands, nothing has ever happened because of them.  That’s partly down (as I said in a previous email) to the need to be ‘present’ to chat with people on there and make contacts, and partly down to having contacts on the IN THE FIRST PLACE to bring in others.

For my personal opinion, I hate Facebook (for non-political reasons), and I only use it to publicise (unsuccessfully) band things and chat in some obscure synth groups where it feels more cosy and safe. I don’t post personal things on my timeline any more, but plenty of people still do and I have chatted with lots of interesting people there.

Luke puts his head around the door to add:

Hey folks – well for what it’s worth I use Facebook every day.  It has its drawbacks and I’ve sworn off it a few times.  Having said that it does allow you to keep in contact with groovy people chat about music, films, books, gigs etc. I guess it’s about making it work for you and keeping it real. I can’t be doing with Twitter.  So I guess I’m saying if RFM hits face-ache. I’m cool with it.

zucker 2

…then Sarah offers a more fleshed out statement of her position

My continued interest in the electronic DIY underground/no audience culture stems from the DIY rave movement of the mid 80s and early 90s.

I see the current No Audience Underground, as an extension of this movement and I am still fascinated by how it was documented through film footage, photography, music, art and printed/published writings by those who protested for the right to squat empty buildings, resist fox hunting, gather for music events etc. etc.  I did attend some events back then however, it was always pot luck to get to those events due to no social networking and reduced publicity (for obvious reasons) except for well organised word of mouth-those guys were good!

Those DIY activists made thorough use of the tools that were available to them at that time to promote their beliefs, ideas, celebrations and defeats into a wider consciousness and I believe that without those wonderfully documented processes (e.g. the wibbly-wobbly film footage of squats being raided, dancers in the street protesting the CJA etc.) this representation, and therefore a current understanding and contextualisation of that scene, would not be available to us today.  I see this as a cultural mapping of those times and I see social media as a contemporary tool available to us now to continue that cultural mapping.

Social Media is a site of production and reproduction but in many ways it responds to the DIY ethos in that it is free (most of the time), accessible (to the majority) and can be used to promote the individual, it is not entirely corporate like other sites of production and reproduction. However,  I like to think that at some point DIY will turn away from social media and re- ground itself into a less available scene, but I would be happier with this only once much documenting has been achieved and exists in some kind of accessible form.

Things that nag me are: Does the DIY underground movement become less ‘exclusive’ and therefore less underground when its documentary style footage is available to all to access online? How do the ideas of audience/participation/spectacle/active and passive viewing fit in with this? We are all passive audiences when viewing footage/sound/writing of the underground through social media. I also ponder how an attraction to a much larger and wider audience may well undo the emblematic DIY underground counter culture status, such as witnessed in the growth of the Glastonbury Festival, as well as contribute to a more general and overwhelming saturation of the arts.

In summary: For me, social media is currently a way of culturally mapping the continued growth of the DIY movement and is a tool available for us to use (and abuse) right now, but I am not entirely sure that it should or will have a monopoly on documenting the DIY movements for the long term.

I propose that we find a way to occupy the dark web!

…and that was that until over the weekend of the 11th and 12th when Joe and I received the following volte-face from Sarah:

Hi, I was in two minds about RFM on Facebook.

  • It seemed like a good idea to make use of it as a tool and to support the artists, whom I think want reviews about their work publicised.
  • It might be free, it might be accessible but it is a limiting platform and I am beginning to agree with Joe H, it makes us lazy and passive.

This has been echoed within another group that I am involved with [Editor’s note: The Unexplained Sounds Network] who have today proposed ‘silence’ in order to find new ways to communicate and collaborate other than Facebook.  I am in agreement with them.  DIY must mean DIY and Facebook takes that away through its controlled use of data, amongst other things. I did say in my last email that we need to find new ways and jokingly suggested the dark web but I am starting to feel that more needs to be done with searching for new and less lazy & passive ways. Sorry for the complete 100% U turn!!!

zucker

Heh, heh – the irony that this doubt as to the appropriateness of one form of social media was sent via a twitter DM was not lost on me.

So, where are we now?  Firstly, let me just comment on the loveliness of my colleagues – a multiway discussion carried out over the internet that remained civil and useful for an entire week.  Have you ever heard the like?  Secondly, it strikes me that there are three questions to consider with answers to the first two informing the answer to the third.  I’ll begin with a stab at the moral/political question: is Facebook evil?  Next, the pragmatic question: does it actually work as promotional tool?  And finally, the overarching question of whether it is ‘appropriate’ for our slice of the DIY underground to use it.

Despite not holding an account I have, of course, spent plenty of time dodging the demands to sign up in order to see gig info or otherwise lurk.  If RFM is being discussed then the hits coming from FB feel like a partially heard conversation happening in a room with the door ajar.  I’ve never been tempted to walk in, however, because what I hear about Facebook outside of Facebook is predominately negative.  I don’t doubt that there are lovely people using it (like those members of Chrissie’s synth discussion groups) but friends talk about it with exasperation, torn as to whether to cut ties as you might with a needy and bullying family member.  The final straw for a mate of mine was when he was disinvited from a stag do following a row caused by him daring to confirm his attendance with, y’know, his actual voice and not via Facebook.  It’s become like shopping in a supermarket, or reading The Wire – something none of us actually enjoy but which we grudgingly accept as part of modern life.  Imagine spending the evening in a gigantic, soulless, city-centre chain pub, one which has an unsmiling bouncer on the door demanding ID before letting you in.  The beer is crap, the décor unpleasant, neighbouring tables are full of braying idiots but, hey, it’s here that we have agreed to meet.  Evil – on a personal, individual level?  Probably not.  Fuck that shit? On balance, yes.

That’s not to say that the information you provide to Facebook can’t be used for straight-up evil though.  As these thoughts were congealing in my head I read this article, published on The Guardian website on February 26th.  I’m genuinely concerned that if I name names bots will be released, like flying monkeys, to come and destroy us but the gist is that an off-the-radar software company is busy analysing hundreds of millions of FB accounts and using that data to target propaganda furthering the hard-right agenda of their billionaire backer:

These Facebook profiles – especially people’s “likes” – could be correlated across millions of others to produce uncannily accurate results. […], the centre’s lead scientist, found that with knowledge of 150 likes, their model could predict someone’s personality better than their spouse. With 300, it understood you better than yourself. “Computers see us in a more robust way than we see ourselves,” says […].

This team worked both with the Leave campaign and with Trump.  Was it enough to swing both elections?  Maybe us complacent liberals wouldn’t have laughed so hard at those ‘dumpster fire’ campaigns if we’d known this Black Mirror style PSY ops was occurring in the background.  Evil – on a worldwide, political level?  Yeah, I’d say so.  Fuck that shit?  Absolutely.

But, the pragmatist asks, does it work?  Leaving aside the moral qualms and given that everyone is in the crap pub, what happens if we put our poster up on the noticeboard?  I think I’m with Chrissie on this one – the answer is: nowt much.  The reason is, I think, to do with the size and structure of the scene and not where the noticeboard is located.  In an article I wrote five years ago about the, *ahem* ‘economics’ of the no-audience underground I said:

OK, leaving London to one side as it has its own rules, experience has shown me that most UK conurbations of city-ish size can rustle up 20 people interested enough in the type of experimental music RFM covers to turn up to gigs.  10 or less if you are unfortunate, 30 plus if your scene is thriving.  Should you wish to perform in this ‘arena’ then these people are your audience: the subset of this crowd who can turn up on that evening.

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Marketing and promotion do little to alter these numbers.  This is because music of this type will always be a fringe interest (ignoring little blooms of hipster popularity every now and again) but that fringe is well-informed and inquisitive.  As long as the gig is plugged in whatever the usual places are (for example in Leeds we have the essential Cops and Robbers) then the cognoscenti will find out about it and do their best to roll up.

…and, despite the Facebook gig listing becoming ubiquitous in the meantime, I still think this is about right.  Had I been stood next to Sof when that band made their ‘clicks mean gigs’ announcement I would have groaned but at some level I guess it might make a difference nowadays – just not at our level.  Chrissie is right about contacts to a certain extent too – those who hustle for shows do generally get more shows – but within the no-audience underground any attempt at hype or unwarranted self-promotion is usually met with at least a raised eyebrow if not all-out hilarity.  Given the absence of money, the unit of currency ‘down’ here is goodwill and it is earned, exchanged and repaid through being active in the scene.  Perhaps this is our equivalent of <dry boke> ‘networking’ <coughing retch> and it strikes me that this can make more of a difference than any particular means of spreading the word – look, for example, at the love showered on Crater Lake or Tor Fest (“Call something a festival,” says Jake Blanchard, mystified, “and people just turn up.”).

For us, Facebook is now one of the ‘usual places’ where we find stuff out but its prominence has not noticeably affected attendance numbers either way.  When not specifically concerned with discussing Facebook itself I think most people consider the format transparent and ‘see through it’ to the information itself in the same way you don’t consciously think ‘this is a poster’ but instead just register the date, venue etc.  To be honest, I’d have been grateful to have it back in the Termite Club days when I was stuffing envelopes with flyers (<Noel Fielding voice> Imagine that!) to send to a postal mailing list or badgering magazines knowing full well that their attention was far less important than whether or not it rained on the night of the show.

To the last question then: given that we are at least justified in having misgivings about using Facebook and that as a promotional tool it is little better than other means (necessarily so given the nature of the scene we are part of) how appropriate is it to use it at all?

vomit

Firstly I’m going to dismiss a couple of related concerns more or less out of hand – that it is inappropriate because it is ubiquitous or ‘mainstream’ and that it is inappropriate because it ‘makes things easy’ – then I’m going to end the whole thing really abruptly.

If something so nebulous and subjective as ‘mainstream’ culture can be usefully defined (I’m not sure it can, but that is for another day) then Facebook is unarguably part of it.  Your mum is on Facebook right now, discussing her favourite tracks from the Stormzy album.  I don’t care.  One of the great strengths of the no-audience underground is that is does not define itself in opposition to ‘mainstream’ culture but largely just turns its back to it and cracks on with the work.  The belief that DIY culture needs to be antagonistic to popular culture is a quaint stained-glass window surviving in the Church of Punk – very pretty, but I can’t help thinking it is orders of magnitude more radical to not engage with popular culture at all.  I’ve rehearsed these arguments several times over several years (starting here) so I needn’t say any more right now.

evil facebook

I also have absolutely no time for the argument that Facebook, or any other form of social media, ‘makes it easy’ or ‘lumps it all together’ as if that were a bad thing.  I’d be delighted if access to everything we do was made as easy as possible so that anyone who is interested could find it at their fingertips.  When I think of the golden age we live in now and compare it to the time and resources I had to spend as a teenager getting even part-way sound-literate I could cry at the waste.

For example: I grew up in a small seaside town called Littlehampton on the South Coast of England, near enough to Brighton for me to misspend much of my youth there.  As a teenage fan of Spacemen 3 and Loop, Can loomed large in legend.  My fellow heads and I did what we could to track down stuff from libraries, second hand shops and borrowed stuff from the rich kid whose dad bought him the first batch of CD reissues.  In that way we built up a patchy knowledge of the band and their context.  Contrast this to the situation in January of this year when Jaki Liebezeit sadly passed away.  In celebration of the man and his unique achievements links to YouTube clips went flying around twitter and anyone could listen to hours of the band’s music for free whilst reading exhaustive accounts of its history and influence via Wikipedia and innumerable blogs.  May I respectfully suggest that anyone who thinks the former situation is preferable to the latter (not with regard to Jaki’s passing, of course, I’m talking about access to the material) is, at best, misguided.  There is a tendency, especially amongst middle aged beardies, to cry-wank over their box-sets and pristine collection of Melody Makers from the late 1980s whilst whimpering nostalgically about finding a copy of Fun House under a hedge and ‘discovering’ The Stooges.  Jesus wept.  I could go on but I presume my feelings about anything that could be perceived as ‘gatekeeping’, or the raising of artificial barriers, are perfectly clear.

But what about RFM?  Reading through the above I see much of what I’ve written is fairly abstract or from the perspective of gig promotion.  Does it help answer the question as to whether a blog dedicated to documenting weird music produced by a fiercely independent d.i.y. scene should have a presence on Facebook?  Well, much as I understand Sof’s frustrations, Joe H’s reticence and the personally negative feelings shared by me, Chrissie and others I’d hesitate to say, as Joe H does, that Facebook drains the magic from everything it touches.  I don’t find it fun, for sure, but I’d like to think that the magic of the art we cover (and, let’s not be too modest, our descriptions of it – we are part of all this) shines through the murkiness of the medium.  If we proceed with caution then …nnnnggghhh… OK.

We are camped way uphill from the floodgates, a few signposts can’t hurt.

 

—ooOoo—

 

moderate hiss and wobble included at no extra charge: sky high diamonds on dunning, webster, underwood, rutger hauser and ian stonehouse

February 28, 2017 at 7:14 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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Dunning, Webster, Underwood / Rutger Hauser  – Viol of Acetate (The Lumen Lake)

Ian Stonehouse – Voyage en Kaléidescope (The Lumen Lake)

 

voile-of-acetate

Dunning, Webster, Underwood / Rutger Hauser  – Viol of Acetate (The Lumen Lake) limited edition split cassette

The recording of ‘Viol of Acetate’ took place on May 2016 at Café Oto, which was a night hosted by the independent London label Adaadat and is a documented journey of six live improvisations. The Lumen Lake is an artist-run label for new and adventurous music from South-East London.

On the A side, the artists Graham Dunning, Colin Webster and Sam Underwood are “drawing on free improvisation, drone metal, jazz and noise.” On the flip, Rutger Hauser is blending the digital with the acoustic to perform improvised and experimental rock music.

Dunning, Webster and Underwood deliver the sounds of a baritone sax (Webster) and a tuba (Underwood) woven into a tapestry of human voices generated through a digital backdrop (Dunning).

[Editors note:  Graham explained the digital backdrop is “actually all produced with analogue things: a turntable, some dubplates of field recordings, some spring reverbs.”]

A call and response relationship develops between the two instruments, which are not offering traditional musical interludes, but are wrestling to find their place within the backdrop of industrial and urban living. The first track, ‘Stabharvesttreasure’ emanates a tribal feel, suggestive of a procession or a dance, and a key change resonates with the call and response effect, lifting the breathy sounds up and out, whilst pausing and searching for a reply, which is always returned.

The second track, ‘Gutsplankslime’ brings more narrative meanderings of a conversational nature between the two instruments. Again, the dialogue is non harmonious and it is interesting to appreciate how these instruments have been repurposed for these explorations. Peaks, dips and tail offs appear to mimic human vocal interactions and create sounds that could incite feelings of disturbance and discomfort. At times the breaths, as released through the instruments, are delivered like beats, shorter and ‘poppier,’ and their bitty presence emphasises the longer drawn out sounds, which come close to shrieking at times.

The third track, ‘Crustlocuskopf’ is also conversational, it enters into its own diatribe of vituperation, fighting to be heard, one sequence of sounds overlaying the other, emanating squeaky balloon noises that could be uncomfortable and producing a static sound, with an intriguing ‘nails down a chalkboard’ effect. A blend of long drawn out intonations with shorter tip-tapping interactions provides a dialogue of events. Natural sounds are also incorporated as a storm breaking is indicated in the digital backdrop whilst at times the instruments mimic low vibrations akin to bees, wasps and flies buzzing gently around in a borborygmus rhythm.

A formulaic development utilising the leitmotif is mirrored throughout Side A, and the applause of a live audience clapping appreciatively over the silence at the end of each track reminds the listener of the context of a performative ‘liveness,’ which provides an atmospheric quality. Tracks A1 through to A3 entice deep listening as the attention shifts throughout each track from background to predominant foreground sounds then back again with a continuous pendulum motion between the two.

Over to Side B and I find Rutger Hauser performing ‘Ladders Over Ladders’ where birdsong and drums interact, evolving into a spacey vibe, that is reverb intense, emanating echoes and providing a rhythmical sense of distance. This is a strangely melancholic track that becomes more and more cosmic as it disintegrates bit by bit. Haunting tuba sounds penetrate, and human voices indicate their presence, with the occasional digital suggestion of ‘foggy’ non-distinct words.  The smothered human voice is enveloped in sound and now transcends the natural landscape that was initially indicated at the opening of the track. Chaos is implied but never truly takes over as sounds diminish into a breakdown of harmonious musical communications. Scratchy noise and generic hip-hop sounds suggest a further patternation under the drum rhythms and instrumental developments. This is a captivating live improvisation that peaks at numerous times and encourages all of the varying sounds to audibly break through before being plunged back into the sound pool.

‘The Hundred And Fifty Or So Dogs’ re launches the listener straight back into a cosmic and spacey atmosphere although the opening notes inspire the tuba-baritone communications again. For me, the most noticeable sounds are reminiscent of a childhood TV animation in that they are definitively Clangeresque. The drums are the threads of this piece and interact with the barely audible astronautically laced voices. Melancholic melodies are indicated, never become fully formed, but left hanging, stunted. The track dissolves into silence very slowly and delicately, occasionally challenging to re emerge.

A different change of mood kicks in with ‘-n-n-n-n-n’ where a psychedelic and potentially Krautrock environment imbued with depth and volume dismantles itself alongside a punk rock vocal. This is a high energy, cathartic and self-evaluative track that the Café Oto audience clearly appreciates.

This 6 track album is a tacit reminder of the enchanting context of live improvisation and is an exquisite blend of sonic alliterations that spin from static spitting sounds that crackle like fire and offer a primitive relapse into an ancestral past, whilst merging synchronously with a modern day industrial landscape, where new interpretations of instruments murmur and collide with an alchemic force.

ian-stonehouse

Ian Stonehouse – Voyage en Kaléidescope  (The Lumen Lake) limited edition cassette

 

For Stonehouse the world is fundamentally sonic and this premise is absorbed into his album, which takes the listener on a variety of sound walks through an urban landscape. He addresses the idea of re-sampling sonic ready-mades and incorporating them, one after another into a steady stream of visual identities for the listener to experience. ‘Vitriol’ opens the album into a looping system of decontextualised sound segments derived from a combination of natural and manmade environments. This track very much predicts the audio trail that lies ahead.

“If you would like to be the next sample in my life leave me a message after the tone.”

‘Annihilation of the Ogres’ entices with a musical introduction, corrupting into disparate sounds, both musical and non musical, then merging again with a sonic landscape of static fizz, distortion and decomposing structures for at least 5 minutes, and until the listener is left immersed in a puddle of white noise.

‘Dog Morrow’ begins with a definitive sense of walking and physical motion. Pavements, walls, footsteps, dogs and passersby are all present through sonic suggestion.

‘The Three’ offers a discourse on the state of being entirely out of control within noise, like someone obtrusively and loudly messing with incoherent radio stations in a confined space. Static fuzz plays an important role in anticipating a sense of disintegration, as does the abrupt denouement of the voice sample.

Track 5, ‘Solve et Coagula’ is an ironic invitation into a world of the mechanical techno beat. Initially it feels familiar, structured and coherent, paced at a faster bpm than any of the preceding tracks, but it gathers an enormous intensity, and serves as a reminder of the impossibility of this kind of musical composition from ordinary instruments. This track can throw the listener into a divergent thinking tangent about its place in this collection.

‘Sunday 12.27 in Soho,’ unravels itself in a documentary style. Stonehouse invites public voices to be recorded and then sampled. How participants interact with his proposition is delightfully captured, their confusion and their mockery is among the diverse samples. Eventually, the dissolution of voices fragments into natural sounds leading to a resolution for the track and culminating in the loss of the voice entirely. The sounds of rain, a potential storm breaking, which emerges and then later re emerges, highlights a powerful juxtaposition between nature and man, which is present throughout. This track appears to sum up what Stonehouse seems to be mapping, a disparate place for the human voice and a decaying sense of self within the natural and urban soundscape.

Track 7, ‘Allegory of the Fountain,’ offers a nostalgic dancehall vibe of looped swing samples that eloquently build. Yes, this is music, traditional music even, but it has little sense of place or time in this album context, revealing a clever play on words on how music can be used to transcend the urban sounds of everyday life.

‘Moribund Deck Five Moon’ offers a blend of both industrial and musical sounds, mainly harmonious and rhythmically concordant (initially), but the potential for breaking down, sound by sound, to disrupt and corrupt any sense of place is always present. Zig-zagging and bubbling effervesce with little sound hierarchy or sequencing, and this track begins to lose all sense of personal space. It feels somehow socially inappropriate, so has therefore located and claimed its very own disparate place and spontaneous sense of belonging right here.

‘Muted in the Broken Unresponsive Garden’ opens with an already decomposing narrative sample, a story mildly threatens to unfold but Stonehouse won’t allow that. The disintegration is rapid; there is little opportunity to feel comfortable with this track as it reels backwards and forwards into various contexts that hint at a sense of musical and historical documentary.

‘Erasure of Birds’ presents a sonic idea of a record playing, alongside a distant flurry of singing birds. A beat kicks in through the ‘stuckness’ of the record, offering a sense of rhythm through its repetitive pacing and opens very gradually into a stronger more recognisable beat. Yes, there is a context here, albeit momentary. Each beat becomes gently more mechanical and it is hard not to relax into this sense of rhythm and time. This is music, of sorts, that flows, almost, for 8 minutes. But, the listener is caught in a wheel, the spokes of circular motion that keep brushing past at many rpm and demonstrating how this track has complete control of its own evolution. Urban sounds are experienced aesthetically, as continuous yet dislocated, in an identifiable musical rhythm.

This album offers a sonically collaged journey through a discordant and un/familiar world of non hierarchical sounds, implying that there will always be a hint of musical foundation to reach for, but that it’s definitely best not to get too comfortable with that idea. The album was released on 12th December 2016 and limited cassette and digital versions are available.  Ian Stonehouse is also a member of the improvising experimental rock band Rutger Hauser.

The Lumen Lake

-ooOOOoo-

dissolving into a sound: sky high diamonds on georgina brett

February 10, 2017 at 12:16 pm | Posted in no audience underground | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , ,

(Editor’s note: before we dive into this review I’d like to take a moment to introduce you to our latest RFM writer – Sky High Diamonds.  We’re super-pleased-delighted to have her on board. Take it away SHD…)

georgina-brett-eclipse

 

Georgina Brett – The Eclipse Collaborations (Self Release) Hand-painted Gold USB Flash Drive / Bandcamp Download

I am already familiar with some of this artist’s creative sound works, so as I hit play I sit back, breathe and wait.

It drifts into my ears, delicately at first. These are succinct pockets of sound, ‘beeps’ and vocal alliterations that build in strength and velocity into layers, enveloping me, layers upon layers of sound, all from one source – the voice of Georgina Brett.

This artist works with sound and space in such a way that a 4D sound is totally imaginable through my headphones and monitors.

Georgina is based in London and makes music that involves using her voice and effects pedals, creating,

“instant choirs of sound often in an hypnotic style,”

…which can further be described as an avant- garde approach in that it can take on both a minimalist and modernist style.  She has presented and performed her work nationally and internationally and at many live –looping festivals.

I am tuning-in intently to the second track, ‘Wonderful Them’ a collaboration with Lucid Brain Integrative Project running at 36 minutes and 22 seconds. There are folk-ish undertones to this piece, with a little distortion and atmospheric development as the piano sounds tinkle away. Then the vocal develops, a nonsensical, rhythmical diatribe in poetic conversation with the air. There are no audible words but sounds, hums, phonetic moaning, pulsing and breathing, so smoothly swathed in velvety textures and vocal sprinkles, they fall from the sky like multi-coloured Hundreds and Thousands. Georgina’s sighs lift and drop, like waves along the coastline, and still I feel a subtle folk vibe to this track, like she and the other musicians will break into a familiar folk song at any moment. The track is a soupy blend of electronic beeps and loops, whispering melodic guitar and piano with hints of jazz, folk and blues undertones, submersed within Georgina’s powerful vocal expressions.

At 21 minutes in I can really hear how the effect of her textured whispering mimics the delicate, almost natural sounds of bees, flies and birds in undergrowth on a summer evening. The piano sounds morph into deeper sounds and begin to lift again, taking over, ever so subtly whilst the echoes and delays carry a multitude of vocal sounds far into the distance and all around me.

I would expect to get bored with all of this vocal for this length of time, but I don’t. Instead, I am intrigued by every new sound that is introduced and becomes part of the addictive loop, and every sound that is lost, dropping away to be replaced. At 22 minutes in I find myself wondering what it is that she is trying to communicate to me through these voluminous curtains of vocal sounds.

A few gentle drum beats here and there help to remind me of the context for this track. It does have an ambient feel, it is an immense and immersive soundscape but it has structure too and I totally trust Georgina to sculpt this structure for me, she is one step ahead of this unfolding soundscape at all times, unfurling it for her listeners bit by bit.

g-brett-2

 

 

Georgina described this process to me,

“I love the challenge of merging past, present and future into one thought process. The past being the palette of sound I have just played, the present being the sounds I am singing (or the listening I am doing in order to select the perfect next contribution to the composition) and the future being what I imagine I want to hear next.”

Returning to ‘Wonderful Them’ I find at 25 minutes the jazz-like synth sounds return; they contrast but compliment the already very present and textured layers. The soundscape then breaks down into some kind of verse structure and I am waiting, again, for that folk song to emerge, whilst reflecting upon how unexpected this structure change is, then it lifts away again into a cascade of scattered soprano showers.

No folk song emerges.  By now I am too immersed in this ever-layering landscape to worry about looking for a message or a meaning. A natural conclusion to this track begins to come into view through the panning vocal and the return of the synth organ style sounds. Is that a helicopter coming into land? Vibratory, rumbling, a distant engine turning over and over and then dissolving into a sound I can only akin to omnipresent tribal chanting or dogs barking. I know, and I can hear precisely how, all of these vocal sounds somehow belong to Georgina.

Track 4 is a collaboration with Seagram Murals and ‘Flirting at the Dole Office,’ has for me, an intriguing title. I haven’t heard of the Job Centre being called a “dole office” for years and the idea of flirting in one, well, those were the days. I find this track incredibly upbeat and very enchanting with its looped vocal rhythms and drum machines. It has such a presence of liveliness, positivity and lightness within a spectrum of rainbowed frequencies that I find that my original dole office image, as pictured in my memory, has now been entirely transcended by the music and vocal sounds that express a flurry of flirtatious activity.

Track 11 is composed of a wide range of mouth sounds, such as hissing, clicking and tutting, all very precise and followed by long hissing sounds. An electronic synth organ invades; it is slightly off key at times and then breaks down completely to reveal the spontaneous variety of long drawn out, medium and short bursts of punctilious sounds, all from Georgina’s mouth. This is a collaborative piece between Georgina and Idiot St. Crazy called ‘Copy That.’ This is also a playful track where each segment spirals off outwards, morphing into another form, before it reaches the listener’s ears. These sounds from Georgina are constantly changing and towards the end of this track they become very pinched and hissy, almost like a gathering of little birds, but slightly sinister and whispering little birds.

 

g-brett-1

I asked Georgina to explain a little of her process and how she can produce what seems to be both wonderfully simple yet deeply complex tracks in both live and recorded formats.  She explains,

“With my more improvised pieces I like to make performance spaces where I don’t have to think logically, I know my pedal-board set up so well that it is like playing an acoustic instrument. Often I choose very simple settings, allowing me to stay in a state of concentration on the sound, inhabiting the right-brain inspiration as much as possible.”

As well as improvised and collaborative works, future plans for multiple recording and live works, Georgina runs Tuesday’s Post, which she describes as a London-based Progressive Ambient Club,

“one where the chat in between and after the performances is valued and encouraged and many of the audience members have performed with us at some point.”

Dissolve some more here…

 

Georgina Brett Bandcamp

Tuesday’s Post

Georgina Brett Live

 

 

—-ooOOOoo—-

 

put the lid back on the jar: chrissie caulfield on sky high diamonds

October 11, 2016 at 7:25 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
Tags: , ,

Sky High Diamonds  – Helioglobe (download, digitalDIZZY, dD103)

Sky High Diamonds –  Ghosting The Edge (download, digitalDIZZY, dD94)

helioglobe

Well, this is embarrassing.

I was going to review an EP called Ghosting The Edge from Sky High Diamonds (Sarah Gatter). I’ve been listening to it on and off now since shortly after it was released in June. Now I finally get round to actually doing the writing and I find out that she’s released a full length album in the meantime!

This is actually a win-win situation. Both you and Sarah get a full length review of a whole album rather than a cursory overview of a three track EP, and I only have to write it up once.

—ooOoo—

Put the lid back on the jar

…isn’t the most obviously haunting sentence you’re ever likely to hear, but it’s been bugging me since I downloaded and listened to the EP. The track ‘Black Honey Jar’ has this line repeated over and over again until it becomes like a sinister chant – or possibly an order to a recalcitrant child. Every time I came back to the EP this was the line I had remembered, drilled into my brain by its rhythmic effect and sounds that accompanied it. ‘Black Honey Jar’ has been worked on since then and appears on the album as ‘Jar.Honey.Black’.  The repetition of the unlikely mantra has been reduced but, while I miss that strange refrain, the track is the better for it. And there are plenty more sinister repetitious chantings on the album to keep you in nightmares.

The two things that hit you most about this album are it’s sense of rhythm, and it’s sense of space. Even on the more (for want of a better word) ambient tracks there is a definite feel of a pulse and movement that seems central to the way the music progresses. Each track has it’s own space that it occupies too – informed by the rhythms that have been used to construct it and built upon with related textures and vocals. Take ‘Hunt Poet’ which happens over a background of sounds that are a bit like a film projector, giving the effect of a black & white cinema film happening behind the music or, at the other extreme end, we have ‘Sparking Limbs’ which sounds like it’s being performed in a war zone. The vocal styling at the end of that track make it sound like Kate Adie meets Björk. Yeah, NOW you want to hear it don’t you?

The title track ‘Helioglobe’ is one of the most beautiful examples of enhanced drone (a genre I just invented) as you’re likely to hear. The drone backing is a simple pulsating G that varies gently as the track progresses and the main vocal is a simple refrain fed through a delay with lots of feedback. Over this is layered more vocals each in their own time frame and the effect is a quite gorgeous counterpoint disturbed only by the house alarm going off 2 around minutes in – I always look round when I hear that! This is an example of the ‘space’ that exists in each piece and the way that those normally annoying ‘superfluous’ sounds you get when recording at home are here incorporated into the music. Rather than edit out that alarm, she’s left it in and integrated it into the texture such that it sounds like it was always intended to be there. The rhythmic element is mainly taken from the drone pulse, but the delay time takes over in the middle when it becomes the dominant texture for a while.

More obviously rhythmic is ‘Your Parasites’ with its industrial/mechanical beat that’s just slightly louder than the vocals such that it feels like she’s almost straining to be heard over the top. Here the rhythms get creepier and creepier as they gradually take over and grind to a halt at the end – has she been eaten by a giant cockroach? I’m too scared to look, and Kafka isn’t around to ask! Maybe that’s what the next track ‘Unseen Death Scene’ is about? ARGH! This has flies in it so maybe the insects really have taken over! I’ll wager that dark low drone is a giant wasp… Do wasps eat honey? Has anyone consulted the bees?

Speaking of bees (I don’t just throw this stuff together you know), the revised ‘Jar.Honey.Black’ is particular favourite of mine as I mentioned. The rhythms here seem derived from the vocal line that opens it, with incidental clinks from (I presume) a (I hope, honey) jar. There are a lot of seemingly incidental noises incorporated into this track and they really add to the feeling of it being recorded in an actual space – even if they weren’t necessarily recorded at the same time. There are breath sounds, and what sounds like the noise of something rubbing the microphone while recording. In my house that would almost certainly be a cat, but I’d be too much of a cleanist (another word I made up) to leave it in. Here again, the otherwise extraneous sounds are edited into the recording and made part of the rhythms of the piece. It’s all just wonderful to hear.

‘Sea Shanty Prayer’ is another drone-based track, with creaks and pops that give the feeling of being at sea on a rickey wooden ship. The large amount of reverb on the vocals means we’re either low down on deck in a large space, or we’ve been shrunk and we’re actually on top of a ship in a bottle… on the sea. I particularly love the idea of the latter so I’m sticking with it.

As for the final track ‘Sparkling Limbs’ – well. It’s hard to do justice to this in words really, you just have to hear it. Ideally 15 or more times, each louder than the last. I stand by the ‘Kate Adie meets Björk’ quip I made earlier and that’s maybe the best I can come up with. The only thing I have against this track is that it’s not half an hour longer.

ghosting-the-edge

I do recommend you also get the Ghosting The Edge EP to go with this album – it’s a free download, so hey, why not? Although ‘Jar.Honey.Black’ in its final form is a great track, hearing the earlier ‘Black Honey Jar’ is a different, if related, experience. Both affect each other. And it will make sure you always put the lid back on the jar.

My one concern about this album is it’s left-leaning propensities. No, that’s not a political point; a lot of the tracks sit very heavily on the left side of the stereo image. Listening on speakers, the effect isn’t too bad, it’s a little bit like she’s whispering to you in one ear. But on headphones it can get quite wearing and you can feel the palpable relief when you get to a track like ‘Ozio’ that has more conventional stereo panning. I’ve been told by Sarah that the album will be remastered and re-released next year, so I hope this small issue will be ironed out by then.

If you want to know how this album was really made (as opposed to my fevered ramblings) then Sarah has a blog post about it all on her website. I deliberately didn’t read it until I had written this review as I didn’t want it to influence what I was hearing. If you do read it then you can see just how different the production and the hearing (well, my hearing) of an album can be. That in itself is quite enlightening.

… and I still remember to put the lid back on the jar. Public service music at its best.

—ooOoo—

digitalDIZZY

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