Memories reworked and remembered again: Sophie Cooper on Anla Courtis and Vollar/Murray Tag Team on Culver versus Fordell Research UnitFebruary 6, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
Tags: alan courtis, anla courtis, argentina, culver, drone, field recording, fordell research unit, heavyness, joe murray, luke vollar, noise, sophie cooper
Anla Courtis – Antofagasta (Beartown Records) CD
I’ve wanted to listen to the music of Anla Courtis for ages after reading that big article about him in The Wire, so I was thrilled to see this new CD by him on the Midwich review pile released by Beartown Records.
And a bloody good job of it they’ve done too!
I know Beartown for their distinctively packaged tapes mostly; high contrast photography, photocopied in black and white sleeves and this packaging carries on this artistic precedent but takes it to a very pro looking level. The artwork features Courtis’ own blurry shots of scenic views, which I assume, are of the area of Argentina that the music is concerned with.
The CD comes with a sweet ‘cut out and keep’ style individual photograph and a nice reworking of one of Courtis’ images treated with the Beartown technique. Really great work, I’m surprised they only printed 50 of these but anyway…
The music contained within this lovely packaging has been created using Courtis’ cassette-made field recordings dating back to 1998. According to the sleevenotes these were then sat on for almost 10 years, made into something else, and then were left for almost another 10 years until Beartown released them. Lucky for us that they did.
Recorded in an area of Argentina called Antofagasta these 4 long tracks depict intricate and meditative recollections of place. I was thinking it must be really interesting to come back to recordings made of a place so long after the event and then try to rework them into something totally different. For me, sound evokes memory. If anything is going to transport you back it’ll be a sound (or a smell, I’ve experienced this once or twice) and I wondered how much of the original trip Courtis would have actually remembered aside from what he heard on these tapes.
After such a long time does memory have anything to do with it anymore? Can the sound just be treated as what it is, a sound, or would the memories come rushing back and be important enough again to inform the piece? The track titles are named after the area, 1, 2, 3 and 4 . Are we to imagine Antofagasta based on this music?
Don’t get me wrong though, these are not postcards, nor are they straight-up field recordings. Interesting elements of the recordings have been weeded out, changed and manipulated into retellings of events. On the 4th track Courtis has utilised every field recordist’s nightmare, wind, and transformed it into a whirling sound tornado, a windy nightmare!
It’s not all nightmarish however, scraps and pulls of objects layered up and played back repeatedly form lush sonic dreams, track 3, in particular, is beautiful. From an outsider’s perspective, the 1st track is the one most likely recognised as an original event. You can make out man made noises: vehicle sounds, revs of engines and distant voices.
As the CD progresses it feels as through you slowly lose a sense of reality as those first recordings become more fragmented and obscure.
Memories reworked and remembered again.
Culver: Prisoner of F.R.U (Know Your Enemy) Limited edition cassette and Bandcamp Download
My Word! This collaboration tape from Edinburgh’s Fordell Research Unit messing freely with and augmenting Gateshead’s Culver was always going to be a heavy example of neat sarcophagus music – but I wasn’t expecting 4AD-levels of such beautiful fullness.
It is not the first time that Culver and Fordell Research Unit have joined forces; indeed Fraser Burnett (FRU) has made no secret of his admiration of the deep influence that Culver has played in his own music. As someone who has followed both acts for some time now I would propose that this is (if it ever was) not an unequal balance, Lee is no longer sensei to Frasers clumsy roundhouses, more of an equal partner who can stand back, solemnly running his fingers through his beard as Fraser executes an impeccable routine of high kicks, deadly punches and overall karate Zen whilst illuminated in the copper glow of a setting sun.
Fraser is joined on this project by sometime member Grant Smith, another Edinburgh gonk serving times in Muscletusk (Yeah!) and Shareholder (Hell Yeah!). It has been told that the two pored over the encrypted texts from the North East whilst enshrouded in intoxicating vapours, being sure to keep their chalices full at all times.
And so as the mission was passed onto Fraser so must it now be passed onto Grant if he is ever to grasp the weight of this devotional music. Whether in collaboration with Fraser or by himself; what we hear is Fraser standing back in admiration as the young Jedi levitates a series of metal bowls and discs in a room of deep red velvet amidst shrouds of sandalwood incense.
Sowatchyahearin’ ‘Torch Needles’ is a ripe fig glistening with fragrant, sticky juice // OR // It’s the silvery snakes in Donny Darko plunging through an eggy Turner painting. With a slow rudeness they show off their blubbery muscles. What we left with? A very flexible riot!
‘Weak Will’ and ‘What Does She Watch?’ are touched by a delicate vapour trail petrified then doused in dark glitter. Light is reflected back for sure but at eccentric, unnatural angles illuminating the dusty corners and forgotten stairwells of a cross channel ferry: a periphery of sound construction as dangerous and inviting as the below deck engineering.
The grim maritime theme continues in ‘Telepathic Torture’. A creaking nameless ship cuts through a freezing fog, as vile oily water laps mockingly at the crumbled veneer of the battered vessel. What remains of the crew stare with haunted and stricken eyes. They are little more than walking carcasses starved and half mad from many sea-bound days of cold misery. As the yellow acrid fog starts to part they see land in the distance, strange and unfamiliar but land none the less, perhaps it is here that the crew will find salvation though they know not where they are and how they came to be there…
Yikes! My first ever drone raga is revealed in the backwards-metallic-skullfuck of ‘Shark’. Those bass-clouds are looming, heavy and pregnant and once again the epithet ‘devotional’ stands out clearly. A submission to the one true god of drone!
But the enveloping hiss of ‘Head Serpent’ is a gentle closer. Soft tape micro-scribbles pepper and voosh about the place; presently an aching tone is gingerly inserted like a steel cannula until, in the dying seconds, it’s rudely wrenched out and the claret starts to drip, drip, drip.
A wise man once said,
“To understand the sounds that nourish the mind is to study the true path, to know truly what it is that you need, and what you don’t need, and to shed off the layers that weigh you down.”
Tags: chrissie caulfield, death is not the end, east of the valley blues, helicopter quartet, joe henderson, joe murray, julian bradley, kevin cahill, luke vollar, marlo de lara, miguel perez, neil campbell, patrick cahill, power moves label, power moves library, skull mask, sophie cooper, tusk festival, zellaby awards
Ugh, those canapés must be really stale by now…
…I murmur, lying spread-eagled on the floor of the ballroom in Midwich Mansions. I look up at the tragically withered balloons, still held by the net hung from the chandeliers. I idly pick at the broken glass within reach and wonder if dry-cleaning can remove blood stains. The banging and rattling of the locked double doors has stopped, mercifully, as the neglected guests have given up and gone home (although I suspect a few recorded the racket and I’ll be invited to download versions from Bandcamp soon enough). When my beautiful Turkish servant boy climbed in a window left ajar and tried to rouse me I ordered him to flog himself for his insolence – I was too full of ennui and despair to raise the rod myself. A wave of nausea washes over me again as I think back to the utterly foolish reason for this gathering:
Who on Earth would want to celebrate 2016?
Last year was a time when everything from the largest of world situations (American Election, Syria, Brexit, Climate Change) to the tiniest, most personal events (a red spot on the tip of my nose became a cancer scare) seemed unrelentingly hostile. People important to me died including my Nan, my last remaining grandparent, aged 94. People important to all of us died. An anonymous tweet drifted past:
We cry when famous people die not because we knew them but because they helped us know ourselves.
…which I dismissed as trite, then was forced to concede the truth of it when I found myself reduced to a heaving, tear-drenched wretch by a pop song on the radio. There is more, a lot more – life has been tiring and complicated – but it’s stuff that even a hopelessly indiscreet blabbermouth like me recognises would be unwise to talk about in public.
What about music and this blog? In many ways it was a gala, firecracking year for the ideas behind this endeavour. Some examples: the notion of the ‘no-audience underground’ was the subject of a paper by Susan Fitzpatrick and Stuart Arnot (cultural heavyweights best known round these parts as Acrid Lactations) at a conference at Goldsmiths and was mentioned by conference organiser Stephen Graham in his book about underground music, my writing provided some context and inspiration for the Extraction Music all-dayer in Cardiff, organised by Ian Watson, which raised a grand for refugee charities, I was name-checked in the TUSK festival programme (more on that later) and interviewed at that event by Paul Margree for his We Need No Swords podcast. I could go on. All very flattering and inspiring, but much of my own writing from 2016 begins with an apology or contains a paragraph admitting I’ve been having trouble keeping up, maintaining enthusiasm.
I’ve been in denial about how burnt out I’ve been feeling and unrealistic about how much time I could commit due to work and, more importantly, family having to come first. Things need to change, at least temporarily. I’ll come back to this at the end of the post…
…because now, my reverie has been interrupted by a rustling noise! I turn to see Joe ‘Posset’ Murray, chief staff writer here at RFM, crawling towards me. I’m amazed that he still looks so sharp in his borrowed tuxedo despite his injuries. He slumps nearby clutching a handful of papers.
End of year pieces from everyone, boss…
…he whispers and passes them over before collapsing. Ah, excellent, I think – just the tonic! Let’s see what my RFM comrades have to say about it.
[Editor’s note: due to the weirdness of 2016, and a desire to shake things up a bit, I’ve abandoned the usual categories of the Zellaby Awards and allowed my contributors free reign. I’ve also cut down the number of links, tags and illustrations included to streamline matters – just keep your preferred search engine open in a nearby window. There will still be an album of the year though, so don’t fret.]
Firstly, RFM’s new recruit Joe Henderson takes the opportunity to introduce herself:
Hi, I’m new here and quite discerning with music and also a bit stingy with writing about music. Nevertheless, I’m writing this sat next to a set of homing pigeons who have just given birth to a pair of tiny weirdo’s on New Year’s Eve. The father, Moriarty, has taken over parental duties now. This set of birds were ‘rescued’ from Birling Gap having failed their mission. Homing birds are supposed to fly somewhere. These birds ain’t going no-where and correct me if I’m wrong, but are we not also foreseeing the long-term preparations for the death of The Queen? It’s been a strange year…
In the blurred Hyperreality of 2017, where Halloween is celebrated three days before the fact – in this post-truth-information-environment, people have been watching David Attenborough’s final rainforest. Well, seems like here’s some of the creatures and microcosms that were found, discovered and captured…
The Balustrade Ensemble – Capsules (Ominous Recordings, 2007)
Jessy Lanza – Pull my hair back (Hyperdub, 2013)
Dangerous Visions radio series (BBC Radio4, 2016)
Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh (Sacred Bones Records, 2015)
Pimsleur’s audio language lessons (German, Polish & Norwegian)
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Rhymesayers Entertainment, 2016)
The Chris Morris Music Show (BBC Radio One, 1994)
6Music & Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service (NOW)
Time just doesn’t count anymore. It doesn’t. I doubt any of this could be pigeonholed as ‘no audience underground’. But none of this matters anymore, and you all know it. You see, it’s fallen, it’s all tilted. It’s 2017, and it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s gonna be a long come down, like George Michael’s ‘Faster Love’ playing whilst more than a hundred divers scour the sea. Crews of immunity-freaks lumbering thru the Waste-Waters of Brighton. Across the ocean an assassin throws down his hand of cards as the world is watching. That Christmas trucker sounds like sleigh-bells. Or an Air-raid siren. Pulsing. It’s missing airman hums ‘The Missing Persons Boogie’ in a cul-de-sac. In the Upside-Down land. Miles away from Brian Eno’s caste system, attached to the moon. With a Selfie-stick. Low down and shifty. Only those with energy begin to reclaim The Playground. And cordon it off. And pave over it. Eno still stumbling flamboyantly thru the withered fronds of his iEgo. Framed by the Sistine Chapel recreated in an Old Woman’s second bathroom.
“In this post-truth-information-environment” – do you know what we look like? From a distance, it looks like we have lost control, and are swaying almost like dancing to it all…
Blimey, eh? “You see, it’s fallen, it’s all tilted.” Brilliant. Quite some calling card. I shall look forward to her future contributions with great interest.
Next up, marlo de lara reminds us that the more personal it is, the more political it is:
as previously noted by my rfm family, 2016 was a doozy, a head spin, and a heartache. so without further ado, my 2016 moments of note:
1. death of heroes
there has already been a ton of writing about this and a lot of needless controversy over the mourning of musicians. to me, role models and inspiration are hard to come by and even harder to preserve as we watch these humans be human. prince and pauline olivieros were both highly influential in my life. prince’s ongoing, groundbreaking lived fusion of musical genres and his highly charged expression of androgyny and sexual desire was always intoxicating, all while self-identifying as a black musician. totally inspiring for me as a marginalized musician growing up in racialized america. pauline olivieros pushed me to reassess what I defined as sound, sound making, and intention. my spirituality and the ability to breathe through the making of music is completely attributed to this amazing woman. thank you for the inspiration.
2. ghost ship tragedy
despite living across an ocean from the noise family that helped me develop my sounds, i am constantly aware of the ongoing community struggles of those artists/musicians/promoters/supporters whose events and festivals create solidarity. on december 2nd, the oakland diy live/art space ghost ship went ablaze, killing 36 people. well-loved individuals who made, created, and supported the scene. as the noise community wept at the loss of our kin, america attacked warehouse/diy venues with a crackdown based on ‘safety’ whilst never addressing the underlying issue that those artists/musicians tolerate living spaces/venues like these because as a society we do not prioritize living wages and conditions for musicians to thrive. so we endure, infiltrate society and emotionally thrive despite the lack of funds.
on a personal note I want to mention joey casio and jsun adrian mccarty, both of whom were deeply loved in my community for their music and their spirit. joey casio was a mainstay of the pacific northwest electronic/weird music scene and i have always had a fondness for jsun’s art/music, particularly the live performance noise project styrofoam sanchez. i wish i had gotten to know joey since he was so well spoken of and jsun’s kind smile at noise festivals is deeply missed. love and respect always.
the absurdity of politics reached an all-time high with the nonsense my dear friend arrington de dionyso (of malaikat dan singa and old time relijun) had to endure due to a mural he painted in a dc pizza parlour. his aesthetic and artistic style were misconstrued while he and his family were targeted by clinton conspiracy theorists and trump supporting nobheads. arrington survived by painting and creating sounds. but let’s all have a think about the ramifications of art and the volatile, inflammatory, conservative hot mess that we could all be victim too. arrington, you are a champion for dealing with it and blessings to you always.
stay awake. stay aware. make noise. xo, marlo
Luke Vollar now joins us via the open window to bellow about the stuff he likes:
Here is my end of year list, sticking only to what was released this year – mostly ‘no audience’ with a couple of ‘some audience’ releases thrown in and in no particular order. The low lights of 2016 were fairly obvious: the rise of the idiots and global face palm moments reaching new levels of guuh?! On a personal note I’ve been through some ghastly work related gubbins so I’m hoping 2017 picks up considerably. Music, as always, has offered a soothing balm and kept me (nearly) sane so here we go peeps I’ve probably forgotten some glaringly obvious choices as I often do. Such is the life of the discaholik.
Wormrot – Voices
Dead In The Dirt – The Blind Hole
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Lovely Honkey – Completely Wastes Your Time
Dylan Nyoukis & Friends – Mind Yon Time?
Shurayuki-Hime – In the Beginning, Woman Was the Sun
Pudern & Vomir – Split
Error Massage – Rooby
Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Tupperwave
Moon – Diseasing Rock Who
F. Ampism – The Resolution Phase
Posset – Cooperation Makes Us Wise
Posset – The Gratitude Vest
Stuart Chalmers and yol – Junk Seance
Stuart Chalmers – Imaginary Musicks vol. 5
Stuart Chalmers – In the Heart of the Wilderness
Usurper – The Big Five
Culver / Fordell Research Unit – Culver: Prisoner of F.R.U.
Clive Henry – Hymns
The Skull Mask – Walls of Convenience
Triple Heater – Aurochs
The Custodians – Moribund Mules and Musket Fire
Yume Hayashi – What The Summer Rain Knows
My highlight of the year was watching Ashtray Navigations support Dinosaur Jr.
Next, Chrissie Caulfield with the trademark thoughtful enthusiasm that always has me clicking through:
I’m quite glad that Rob decided to let us do a general review of the year rather than try and nominate several releases for awards. Looking back, I seem to have reviewed only three albums this year which would have made it merely a rehash of what I have already done. Sorry Rob. In my defence, I’ve had a busy year with gigs and filmmaking and several other things. Some of the gigs even had audiences, though they were usually the ones organised by other people, naturally. More on that later.
Of the three albums I reviewed it’s hard to pick a favourite because they were all quite different, and excellent in their own ways. But if pushed (and I was pushed, if only by myself, just now) I’d have to nominate Furchick’s “Trouble With a Capital T”. Its sheer joy and inventiveness, and joy of inventiveness is infectious and inspiring. If ever anyone wanted a masterclass on making music with found and/or mutilated objects, this was it.
My most memorable event of this year was a gig I played at, though that part is incidental, in Oxford. It was one of those authentic ‘no-audience underground’ gigs where the artists and their entourage outnumbered the paying audience by quite a large ratio. In fact the only paying audience was a relative of one of the artists and someone who rolled in off the streets half way through (He probably didn’t literally ‘roll in’ you understand, the street was cobbled, so that would be very uncomfortable). This lack of attendance was a huge shame because the gig itself featured two awesome acts – as well as ourselves, obviously. The great Lawrence Casserley was always expected to put on a fabulous show (in this instance with Martin Hackett) and certainly did so, but the act I got via the female:pressure mailing list exceeded expectations in a big way and I felt awful for not having delivered them an audience. TEARS|OV, led by Lori.E. Allen put on a great show of samples, synths and live played and sampled instruments that was just glorious, and I’m happy that at least I got to film it, even though I only had one decent camera and zero decent tripods with me. As almost nobody got to that gig I feel almost duty-bound to try and get as many people as possible to watch the video. You won’t regret it, it’s here.
Another special gig for me was also one I played at – and the fact that I did so was crucial to my understanding of what happened. This was “A Working Day of Drone”, put on by Dave Procter, eight hours of overlapping drone performances. I’ve never regarded myself as much of a drone fan to be honest but this event was a real eye opener. I think a lot (though not all, of course) of the drone acts I had seen in the past were of the ‘I’ve got some gear and it makes some noise’ type which, as a musician with years of practice and training, I find uninspiring and lacking in effort. Put like that it was odd, I suppose, for me to accept an offer to play at a long drone gig … but I did because I like to try new things and to challenge my own preconceptions.
And those preconceptions were not just challenged. They had a calfskin leather glove slapped in their face and a large sword whisked terrifyingly close to their ear by Cyrano de Bergerac himself. Those preconceptions are now lying sliced, diced and blood-soaked over a, slightly grubby, drain in LS2, just down the road from Shawarma. What I experienced that day was, for the most part, a lot of very high quality artistry and discipline and, yes, musicianship. There were guitarists, multi-instrumentalists, vocalists and laptop players with expertise, patience and discipline. And discipline is the word I really took away from that gig which is why I have already used it three times in this paragraph and will say it again it now in an attempt to make sure that Rob doesn’t sub-edit it out [Editor’s note: Why would I? Couldn’t agree more!]. Discipline, discipline, discipline. Playing for a whole hour while keeping the sense of a ‘drone’ requires intense concentration and a lot of improvisational forward planning that, to be honest, I felt inadequately prepared for when playing my set. For drone music as good as I heard that day, I am a convert.
And finally, my favourite thing of the year – which is something I invented though I take no credit for it – is Feminatronic Friday. On a Friday afternoon when I’m winding down from a busy week at work and want some new music to surprise, tickle and sometimes assault my ears, I point my browser at the feminatronic Soundcloud feed and just listen. Of course, not everything is to my taste, but there is a lot of high quality work being produced by talented women around the world that seems to be ignored by the most of the outlets for even alternative music. It’s also an excellent source of material that I should be reviewing and, as it’s Friday as I write this, that’s where I’m going now. Happy New Year.
Joe Murray himself takes a bullet-pointed turn:
Politically, economically and culturally 2016 has been a year of shocks, knocks and sickening lows. It’s hard to look forward and see anything resembling a ray of hope. Greater minds than mine will neatly package all this misery up into a bitter pill but me… I’m warming some delicate seeds in my palm.
Records and tapes of the year
Hardworking Families – BA/LS/BN (Beartown Records) Like tin-cans learned to talk: a sharp knife splices individual ‘instants’ to wrap new listenings head-ward.
Acrid Lactations & Gwilly Edmondez – You Have Not Learned To Play & Mock In The Psychic System (Chocolate Monk) Complex patterns and shifting sonic-sands from stalwarts and greats – a brave and ambitious concoction of Dixieland and pure munged goof. Instant calmer!
Oliver Di Placido & Fritz Welch – Untitled (Human Sacrifice) The most crash-bang-whalloping record of the year by far. Knockout energy like TroubleFunk playing in a ruined skip.
Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Tupperwave (Chocolate Monk) Effortless creative juice drips all over these dirty, dirty ditties from the Cardboard Prince… his Black Album?
Lea Bertucci – Light Silence, Dark Speech (I Dischi Del Barone) Perfect like fresh frosty ferns, each sporangia a moment of potential beauty and enlightenment – one for all DJs.
Lieutenant Caramel – Uberschallknall (Spam) For me the Lieutenant was an unknown. Now? A well-thumbed friend. Euro-collage/concrete that’s super classy and head-strainingly intense.
Faniel Dord –Valentino (Cardboard Club) Another dirty boy with song-y songs played with hearty gusto and a wide-eyed innocence not seen since McCartney II.
East of the Valley Blues – eotvb (Power Moves/No Label) Sun-bright double finger-picking that warmed up my cockles and fed miso soup to my rotten soul. Life affirming, beautiful and generous. No wonder it’s got a vinyl re-release for tomorrows people.
Acrid Lactations & Jointhee – Chest (Tutore Burlato) You ask me about the future of ‘the song’ and I point you to this little tape of huge invention and heart. Not afraid to mix yuks with the high-brow, dream-logic and academic rigour. Never been so charmed ‘ave I?
Tear Fet – Blabber (Chocolate Monk) Every single vocal-mung technique picked up and shaken like a snow-globe. One for all serious students of throat-guff.
Yol – This Item Has Little Or No Scrap Value (Beartown Records) The mighty Yol’s most swingingest record of the year (and they have been legion and they have been good) that almost broke my rib with its accurately focused violence. A symphony of cuts and bruises.
Shareholder – Five Mile Throwdowns (Know This) One of the few bands I get excited about. Blending the listless and freezing loch with espresso intensity; a pond-skipper balanced on the tricky meniscus – he’s not waving!
Tom White – Automated Evangelism (Vitrine) and Commemoratives (Tutore Burlato) Double-entry for Tom White’s peerless technique and wonderfully intelligent ears. This very physical tape manipulation is strong enough to move giant boulders yet freaky enough to warp space. Without a doubt Tom wears the blue jersey in Star Trek.
Grey Guides – Beast Mask Supremacists (Crow Versus Crow Editions) Taking skuzzy guitar and skunk-potent tape to some place indistinct; this ghost-memory of a record made me dream of Wuthering Heights oddly. The AR Kane of the NAU?
…and penultimately Sophie Cooper. Sof resigned her post on the RFM staff this year [Editor gnaws fist to hold back hot tears] but gamely agreed to contribute to the end of year jamboree anyway. Much to my delight she has submitted a 14 minute video of her chatting over some gubbins she reckons is cool. Watch it here. I think it is well charming and, if you agree, please contact her to say so – I’d like to butter her up to the point where this kind of video piece becomes a semi-regular feature. Hah! There is no escaping RFM! Gabba, gabba, we accept you! ONE OF US!
Oh, did I just type my evil plan out loud?
So that just leaves me. I’m going to mention one prolificist, give a top three albums of the year, lay some news on you, then end on a high. How’s that for showbiz? I may even haul myself to my feet and brush off the marie rose sauce that seems to have dried on the side of my face.
In previous years one of the Zellaby Award categories has been the Stokoe Cup, given for maintaining quality control over a huge body of work making it impossible to pick individual releases in an end of year round up. I know I said I’d ditched these honours but this year there is such a clear winner that I cannot help but unlock the trophy cabinet.
The music of collagist, tape scaffolder and atmosphere technician Stuart Chalmers has been admired by everyone with a trustworthy opinion. His recent catalogue – solo or in collaboration – is an avalanche of stylistically divergent, technically perfect, emotionally resonant work. I highly recommend that you settle gently onto his Bandcamp site, like a probe landing on an exotic comet, and start drilling. The dude recently moved to Leeds too, how cool is that? He wins.
OK, now onto the main event: low numbers in reverse order. This year, in a classy piece of statesmanship, I’m leaving the listing to my colleagues above and am going to focus on just my top three.
[Editor’s note: If I’m honest I love these three more or less equally but, y’know, drama innit?]
Flat out glorious from beginning to end. This album has the texture of pistachio flavoured Turkish delight. It is sweet, gelatinous, opaque, yielding to the bite but containing a satisfying savoury grit. If I were a betting man I’d wager Neil provided the caffeinated hyper-psych which was then slowed, burnished and blurred by Julian’s patented murkatronik obfuscator. Best to keep it mysterious though, eh? I’ve listened to this so frequently that I think now I’d have trouble remaining friends with anyone who didn’t groove on, say, the disco-for-writhing-foot-long-woodlice vibe of ‘giants in the electric nativity’.
Two non-musical reasons to be entertained too. Firstly, the Bandcamp photo is a nod to the cover illustration for an LP they recorded for American Tapes exactly one million years ago. The no-audience underground remembers. Secondly, it was released on 20th December, thus too late to be included on any of the ‘best of year’ lists published before the end of the year. Seeing as the premature way these lists are ejaculated has long annoyed me I was delighted to see JB & NC stitching ’em right up.
Yeah, yeah, one half of Helicopter Quartet is RFM staffer Chrissie Caulfield but, as I’ve said many times, there is no such thing as conflict of interest down here. If we didn’t blow our own trumpets sometimes there would be no fanfare at all and, whoo boy, Mike and Chrissie deserve it.
Continuing a seemingly impossible run of each release topping the last, this album takes their austere, mournful aesthetic in an explicitly dystopian direction. The bleakness described by previous releases has called to mind slate grey stone walls on ageless moor land but Electric Fence has a more Ballardian edge.
I listen to the thrilling, Tubeway Army-ish title track and imagine the strings of Chrissie’s violin animated by Ralph Steadman – whipping away from us to form the boundary fence of a desert Army base, or a mud-choked refugee camp, realities that we’d rather not contemplate. Or maybe the fence is personal, invisible, internalised – a tragic defence mechanism that provides the illusion of safety at the cost of constant loneliness?
Powerful and important music, as ever. That work of this quality is freely downloadable remains remarkable.
The Zellaby Award for best album of 2016, presented in conjunction with radiofreemidwich, goes to East of the Valley Blues for EOVTB. Joe Murray wrote about this one back in April:
Wonderful! Wonderful, wonderful!
This tape was playing when the first rays of Spring sunshine shot like misty timbers through my window and the jazzy daffodils belched out warm yellow hugs. And no, I don’t think that’s any coincidence brothers & sisters.
This tape is a truly innocent joy. Why? Firstly, it’s the simplicity. We’ve got two guys, two Power Moves brothers, sitting on that metaphorical back porch finger-picking like the late great Jack Rose, improvising with a sibling’s sensibility at that slightly ragged speed we all associate with the beating heart in love.
Secondly, we’ve got notes that shimmer in a cascade; I’m getting nylon waterfalls as things tumble and tremble, roil and buckle as ten calloused fingertips gentle rustle the strings. This is all about the movement, the restlessness of a leaf caught in an eddy, the churn of water spilling from a red hand pump.
Finally there’s that slight sense of anticipation, a yearning that’s probably something technical to do with the key it’s all played in. But for a goof like me it just tweaks my memory zone; this music looks backwards at endless summers and looks towards bouncing grandchildren on the knee. This is music of time, its passage and its baggage; the highs and lows, the dusty wrinkles and the fumble in the sheets.
And am I noticing a slight change in the way time is behaving around me? Not so much time stopping but stretching, those strict minutes becoming supple like a cat’s arching back. Maybe reader maybe.
Lovers of this plaintive guitar-pick often yell out a challenge:
Me? I’m lost in the buttery light right now, light-headed with Beat road dreams,
If you heard it you wouldn’t have to ask… click the god-damn link and get heavy in the valley.
…and he is right, of course.
The brothers Joe refers to are twins Kevin and Patrick Cahill (the former best known ’round here for running Power Moves Label/Library) and the album’s genesis is covered in an excellent interview with Tristan Bath for Bandcamp Daily which can be read here.
All I need to add is that given the divisive and miserable nature of the year just gone, an album so beautiful, so spacious, so forgiving, so grounded in love and family could not be less ‘2016’ and thus could not be a more worthy winner. Congratulations, fellas.
A discographical note: this album has now been reissued by the excellent UK label Death Is Not The End and can be had as a download, tape or – get this – vinyl album via their Bandcamp site. For those wanting to take a punt without risking any dough, free downloads of some live shows can also be had here.
The prize for winning remains the, *ahem*, ‘great honour’ of being the only release on the otherwise dormant fencing flatworm recordings in 2017, should the brothers be interested in taking me up on it. Nowt fancy – CD-r plus download would usually suffice given the absence of any budget. Negotiations can commence anytime.
Right, let me just drag Joe Murray up into a chair as he needs to wave and smile during this bit. OK: some news. As of whenever we can sort out the logistics, Joe is going to take over from me as editor/publisher of RFM whilst I take an indefinite sabbatical. No need to worry – I am not ill again – I just need a break to attend to the real life stuff away from music I’ve been alluding to throughout the year. I have to apologise to those people who have sent emails, invitations to download, physical objects and whatnot and are still waiting for substantial responses. I’ll slowly catch up with personal stuff, forward all the blog stuff and my colleagues will soldier on in my absence. I’ll still be wandering around twitter and attending shows (Leeds people – see you at the Fractal Meat showcase on Feb 3rd, eh?) just won’t be at the helm here. Feels weird to be saying this after seven years but I’m sure this will prove a healthy decision and I’ll be back before ya know it.
Finally then, my musical highlight of the year: Miguel Perez playing as Skull Mask at the TUSK festival. Here’s an extract from my account of the weekend. In particular, I want to finish with the word ‘fuck’ so I’ll say goodbye now – those who know me won’t be surprised to see me slope off before the end of the last set.
Best wishes for 2017, folks, keep yourselves and each other safe.
All is love, Rob H x
Next up it was Miguel Perez, playing as Skull Mask … This was what I was here to see and his set – just man and guitar – was astounding. Flamenco flourishes, desert folk, improv spikiness and metal hammering flowed, pressed and burst like a time-lapse film of jungle flowers opening, like lava flow, like clouds of starlings at dusk, like liquid mercury. Miguel is one of the most technically adept guitarists I have ever seen but all that virtuosity is in service of one thing: the truth. To say the music of Skull Mask is heartfelt or sincere is to understate the raw beauty of what it reveals: a soul. Miguel’s soul.
Stood at the front I found myself having an out of body experience. Part of me was enjoying it on an absolutely visceral level, unwaveringly engaged, but another part of me was floating above thinking about what the experience meant.
Watching the performance unfold, I started thinking about how beautiful life can be despite, sometimes because of, how hard it can be. I thought about the miraculous combination of factors – hard work, friendship, sheer bloody luck – that led to us all being in this room at this time. A strange, accepting calm enveloped me whilst at the same time the more present, grounded part of me was yelling (internally – I do have some control):
HOLY FUCKING CHRIST!! MIGUEL IS SAT RIGHT IN FUCKING FRONT OF ME PLAYING THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF THAT FUCKING GUITAR!! FUCK!!!
Tags: david chatton barker, folklore tapes, hood faire, rosemary krust, sam mcloughlin, sophie cooper, washy tapes
Rosemary Krust – Rosemary Krust (tape, Washy Tapes, WSH007)
Sam Mcloughlin and David Chatton Barker – Show Your Sketches (tape, forthcoming on Hood Faire)
Rosemary Krust – Rosemary Krust
I’d never heard of this band before buying this tape but I trust the taste of Washy, a tape label operating out of the kitchen of a beautiful and intensely creative family living in the countryside outside of Newcastle. The overall aesthetic of the label is really nice: usually plain cardboard cassette covers with ace minimalist design. The cover of this album just shows two faces, one decorating each side. Rosemary Krust are a duo so at a guess these could be the band member’s faces. They look a bit freaked out – like they’ve been watching a creepy old movie, safely terrified.
Side A opens with ‘Age 13’ – an absolute banger of a tune. This is the one that I heard featured on the Washy Tapes soundcloud page and what encouraged me to purchase. It starts with a fairly straightforward drum and guitar line but quickly this awesome fuzzed out vocal line kicks in following the minor key melodies of the guitar and that’s what got me. It’s really moving hearing how the singer pelts out the song and it has a great MBV hazy thing going on. I want to say “post rock” but I’m not sure I can properly explain what that means, is this music post post rock? Something like that.
Neil Campbell once told me that when it comes to making music it’s a good idea to…
look obvious in the eye and go for it
…and it seems like this band understand the sentiment. As a side of tape, it’s not surprising at all – you can kind of guess where it’s going but this only works to its advantage: really familiar and lovely. This music has really hooked me in, especially the first track, I just love it.
Side B is a lot weirder. I think the opener was recorded live and again the singer seriously bangs out the vocal. It’s far from perfect but I think that’s the point here. She sings in this over the top operatic style, a bit like Heather Leigh does, but loads of the notes just miss being perfectly in tune. Purposefully or not, I’m honestly not sure and it did bug me a little on first hearing, but second time round it made a lot of sense especially within the lo-fi production context. The performance throughout this tape is so real and emotional that being note perfect really doesn’t matter
The rest of side B lost me a little when it moves into a more noise jam like area and gets a bit more unfocused [Editor’s note: sounds fine to me.] but it doesn’t spoil the overall experience of this cassette, which is really great. I’d love to see this band sometime, I imagine they’re really affecting.
Sam Mcloughlin and David Chatton Barker – Show Your Sketches
One thing I’ve been keeping an eye on throughout 2015 is the YouTube channel of Sam Mcloughlin. Sam, from Rochdale, is fairly well known for his musical work as Sam and the Plants and his horror soundtracking as N.Racker. The videos he produces and uploads to YouTube on a fairly frequent basis don’t seem to be getting the attention they deserve, probably because Sam doesn’t ‘announce’ them every time he puts one up (despite referring to these videos as his “promos”). He’s just getting on and making them and honestly, the stuff he is just getting on with is so out there creatively I just had to mention them before talking more about this tape.
The videos document his studio experiments as well as capturing visual elements from his day to day life which he fuses together in a montage style. You may see, for example, strange percussive machinery with branches reaching out to create odd melodies using objects placed nearby and then shots from a rotating funfair ride. There are close up of hands as they drum microphones onto various surfaces, short portraits of people who take part in Sam’s life, beautifully edited shots of West Yorkshire landscapes, I’m completely addicted. Check them out. [Editor’s note: agree wholeheartedly – this stuff is great.]
This tape seems to me to follow on from the videos. Sam and long time collaborator David Chatton Barker (who runs Folklore Tapes) go through old cassettes they have recorded over the years on Dictaphones and montage interesting selections from them into 45 minute collages, one on each side. I’m told they worked on a side each but it’s so hard to differentiate between them as the content sounds quite similar (also the tape isn’t marked – I’m forced to guess who’s side belongs to who). The pair have been friends and making music together for a long time so it makes sense that their work would inform each other, a natural evolution of collective sounds. You can hear both Sam and David on both sides of the tape talking and singing which shows that they must have spent a lot of time in each other’s company while these tape diaries were being created.
Anyway, it doesn’t really matter who is responsible for which side because the context is all really fascinating. Like the videos that Sam makes, on this tape Sam and David both share elements of their lives. What’s quite interesting is there’s a really strong sense of geography going on through the sounds. On one side the sound of the tape being played forward and backwards between voices and short pieces of unfinished music becomes a crucial element creating this great texture that reminds me of bad weather. The ‘tape weather’ sets the scene and the sound of chatting northern voices cut through. I’ve never heard field recordings worked like this before, it’s quite ingenious. It sort of reminds me of those Sublime Frequencies releases – Radio Java etc. – but this tape is a lot more personal than them. Listening to it we are living in the pockets of the creators, getting to know their half formed thoughts and songs. Philosophies are interspersed throughout the tape; a gorgeous northern accent sings and advises us (or himself?) to go this way and that. The music contained in the daily experiences of these two just bleeds from the tape, it’s incredibly thoughtful and wonderful.
Tags: isnaj dui, katie english, quisling meet, richard chamberlain, rural colours, sophie cooper, the declining winter
Quisling Meet – The Beginnings of an Discordian Audio Tarot sides A and B (abridged) (CD-r or download, self-released)
Richard Chamberlain – Songs (CD-r, self-released)
Isnaj Dui – Stone’s Throw (12″ vinyl, split with The Declining Winter, Rural Colours, RC071 & RC072, edition of 200 or download)
Isnaj Dui – Dioptrics (CD-r, self-released, FBOXCD009, edition of 200 or download)
The music reviewed in this article was listened to on a long flight over to the U.S. Traveling is my preferred state in which to listen to new music. My frame of mind becomes much better attuned to listening when in-between places with the added bonus of a soundtrack to the memories.
I’ve met a guy called Richard Chamberlain this year, a person who is no stranger to traveling himself. Both times I’ve met him he’s presented me with a self-released CD-r which ended up being two soundtracks for my trip.
Quisling Meet – The Beginnings of an Discordian Audio Tarot sides A and B (abridged)
Anything with tarot in the title will have me instantly intrigued and I suspect this is why we got talking. I’m assuming this is a solo project: thoughtful jams from an underground room in Lancaster. Each track is named after a tarot card so this and the title makes me think that the cards inform the music which is a neat idea.
The music is largely guitar based with the odd addition of vocals deep in the mix. The songs are made up of murky loops and, to me, the treble seems to be almost removed which gives them a sort of sub-aquatic vibe. This and the heavy phase usage makes me feel as though these tunes are being dragged along, not in a negative way, they just have this underwater weight to them. Music chucked off the boat and weighed down by an anchor.
I know I was told about the tarot-reading theme before but I wouldn’t need that to know there’s a strong musical narrative going on throughout this. There’s quite a lot of emphasis on notable melodies that point away from the overall sound and that works well. If asked, I’d struggle to pick out the best track to play individually because these songs definitely come as a whole package. It’s got a really honest, homemade feel (you can hear clicks of pedals and breathing at times) and there’s just something about this that makes it all so appealing and totally unpretentious.
Richard Chamberlain – Songs
This CD-r came in a white case with no titles or information at all. A sign of modesty? If so, there’s no need: these tunes are great. I actually prefer this one to the one I’ve just discussed largely because the songs seem to have a better sense of direction to them. I’m a big fan of Arthur Russell who I’m instantly reminded of on hearing Chamberlain’s vocals.
Occasionally the tunes go into a sort of ‘indie’ territory [Editor’s note: you’re fired] which I’m not that into but the weirder stuff works a treat [Editor’s note: you’re hired again]. Mostly electric guitar played through cleverly incorporated effects, more phase, reversed stuff, all nicely done. My favourite song is instrumentally different and simpler to the rest. Chamberlain moves to an acoustic guitar and a bit of piano playing, which reminds me of the homemade, honest quality I liked so much in the other disc. Very interested to hear more of this project.
Isnaj Dui – Stone’s Throw
Also on my sky high review pile is a new EP by Halifax based Katie English, aka Isnaj Dui, released by Rural Colours [Editor’s note: a 12″ vinyl split shared with The Declining Winter]. Just before I listened to this I put on a track by her I happened to have about my person from one of those free CDs you get with The Wire and it made me wonder if English has spent any time in Indonesia because I thought the melody had a Javanese feel to it. Particularly the traditional sound that all tourists to the island hear in certain parts there and become used to during their visit. This EP is really different to that track though – here the tracks have a lot going on in them and the production is just fantastic.
English’s great ability to move seamlessly through ideas is perfectly illustrated by the first of these two pieces. Over the course of 7 minutes three kinds of musical figures are explored, essentially through a method of repetition and progression. This is a very subtle kind of music because of the slow, progressive pace in-between concepts being considered. However the musical figures themselves are really high impacting and anything but subtle. It’s so smart and the excellent production really makes this recording.
I’ve taken an interest recently in musicians who incorporate use of classical instruments into their electronic compositions and here English is using a cello as her main instrument. The second track makes this more obvious than the first. A beautiful layering of gently bowed and plucked strings, again: subtle is the word. Fantastic stuff! After these two tracks I’m left wanting more. Thankfully I downloaded another record by her only last week…
Isnaj Dui – Dioptrics
This one immediately strikes me as not so subtle in approach. The opening track is short and to the point and then that track I mentioned at the start from The Wire CD pops up. I must find out if there is an Indonesian connection sometime because the scales played on a flute really remind me of Java.
The rest of the album exists in a minimalist, ambient place that had this listener quite relaxed after hearing it for the first time. Elements of musique concrete such as finger tapping, that sound your tongue can make when you’re trying to be a clock (I think that’s what these are!) etc are used to form lovely, natural rhythmic patterns that create meditative spaces. I could imagine falling asleep to this album.
My favourite track is one called ‘Previous Thoughts’ which starts up with breathy, low end flute patterns morphing to incorporate some spiky string plucking and that’s pretty much it for the track. What works about this is the energy of the piece that moves at a calming pace. I’ll definitely be revisiting this album in the future.
Tags: cindytalk, dolly dolly, exotic pylon, farmer glitch, gloria gloucestershire, golau glau, howlround with abandoned playground, iamavowel, ix tab, jonny mugwump, kemper norton, mind, misty roses, portia winters, shape worship, sophie cooper, the british space group, the volk han, time attendant, trunchbulls, xpylon
Various Artists – [xpylon] (download)
It is a rather self-indulgent thing to write a post about a project that I’m personally involved in but hey, it’s for an excellent cause. Regular readers will know that mental health is a relevant topic here at radiofreemidwich so it seems fitting to mention a music project that supports a charity working in this area. All the proceeds from this release will go to MIND.
The back-story to this release begins when the London based, weird and wild label Exotic Pylon, run by the wonderful jonny mugwump, shut for business at the end of last year. As a reaction to this people who had releases on his label put their heads together and came up with an idea to create a compilation that celebrated the collective experience, the mutual comradeship, felt by them all. jonny is a gem of a human being and his approach to the label came from his clearly intense love of music rather than being motivated by any outside trend or aesthetic. It was incredibly special to be invited to release music on Exotic Pylon because it felt like, more than anything, it was due to a pure appreciation of that music. I respect this attitude a lot [Editor’s note: it’s the only attitude to releasing music I do respect]. I can’t speak for everyone on the label but from conversations that have been had, I get the impression that this is a shared opinion.
The release is a download available via Bandcamp and has a bunch of talented people on there. There’s melancholy spoken word from Cindytalk, a 15 minute long epic from IX Tab, electronic chimes and vocals from Portia Winters and loads more. The release is impressive and despite there being a large variety of music types represented there is a definite feel of unity that pulls these tracks together.
All the tracks are available to stream online and I encourage you to contribute to MIND by downloading the release.
Tags: amanda feery, awkward formats, michael tanner, sophie cooper, south london, steven ball, storm bugs
Steven Ball – Collected Local Songs (self-released download)
Amanda Feery and Michael Tanner – To Run the Easting Down (forthcoming, Awkward Formats)
Steven Ball – Collected Local Songs
Last time I saw Steven Ball was when he came to a gig I was playing in London and he told me then that he was working on a collection of songs. Being a fan of Ball’s music and ‘songs’ [Editor’s note: you’re fired!] I was instantly intrigued and now, six months or so later, Collected Local Songs has become my favourite release of 2015 so far.
Ball is best known as half of Storm Bugs who were one of my favourite acts performing at Nottingham’s Rammel Festival in 2012. We met then and after this I’d quite often bump into him around the New Cross/ Camberwell / Deptford areas of South London so hearing an album from him that retells sounds and experiences specifically from around that area makes a lot of sense to me.
The mood of this record is really laid back. Minimalist loops of echoing guitars and bowed strings set the pace over which Ball’s impressive vocals sing miniatures describing the smallest observations – a neighbour taking time to smoke a cigarette out of the window, how the smell of weed casually wafts through the air of a street he has walked down a hundred times before, the high rises that have appeared next to the river… It’s emotive music and on listening I was transported back to London imagining myself on a night bus crossing the Thames back to the South. Ball’s vocal delivery is just gorgeous, there’s a similarly to Scott Walker about them, and lines from each song are layered together in lush harmonies.
There’s a literalism about this album that really sucked me in. The songs are like perfect postcards picturing small details of everyday life seen through an appreciative eye. There’s a brilliant inclusion of a field recording taken at Deptford Flea Market and, rather than it being ambiguous, anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting will recognise it as the exact sound of that place. Two market stallholders blasting out some kind of music with beats (forgive me, not my area of expertise!) – it’s just what you’re likely to walk pass on a Sunday before stopping for a rummage through a box of broken Hoover parts and swing music LP box sets (true story). The title, Collected Local Songs, is perfectly apt and the sincerity felt on listening to these songs is quite special.
Amanda Feery and Michael Tanner – To Run the Easting Down
Due to a problem at the plant (the curse of Record Store Day – a side note: this clever marketing idea has screwed up so many of my friends’ album releases. I love the idea of supporting independent record shops but folks should just go nip into the shop and buy an album on payday, that’ll help independent music far more) I’m not sure if this album has a release date yet but I do know that it’s coming out on a label called Awkward Formats as soon as it’s possible.
Three long tracks composed over three years, Feery and Tanner stitched a lot of this release together using transatlantic delivery methods (boats?) but you really can’t tell. The production on this release is so slick – at times you are tricked into thinking Feery’s beautiful voice must have been split into several pieces or that the duo hired in voice doubles. The layered vocals on the first piece, ‘Squarepushers’, come across as a wonderful choral effect with enough reverb to make the listener feel as though they have come to church to hear this. Which church would that be? The Church of Drone, of course! Following on from the choral vocals are massive, dark, murky drones offset with light bell sounds and an emotional solo violin. I felt weirdly sentimental on hearing this first piece but not sure what for.
A similar feel carries on throughout the other two pieces, a combination of light and dark contrasts between drones and additional instruments. There’s a lovely piano part played on the second track with buckets of reverb added creating a serene aural landscape, a muted pallet of sounds. Lie back and relax, let your thoughts go where they want to go, listen to this album if you need to escape into the drone zone for a while.
Tags: andrew fearn, bird people, bridget hayden, c. joynes, claire potter, dervishes of khartoum, drone, electronica, extnddntwrk, fort evil fruit, free folk, improv, jose guerreo, new music, no audience underground, noise, rastrejo, sleaford mods, sophie cooper, tapes, the restless dead, ulrich rois
Bridget Hayden & Claire Potter – Mother To No Swimming Laughing Child (tape, Fort Evil Fruit, FEF036, edition of 100)
The Restless Dead and Bird People …Meet the Dervishes of Khartoum in the Confluence-of-the-Nile (tape, Fort Evil Fruit, FEF034, edition of 75)
Extnddntwrk – By (tape, Fort Evil Fruit, FEF035, edition of 100 plus download only extra tracks, second edition of 100 in preparation)
Rastrejo – Fractura de Miramientos (tape, Fort Evil Fruit, FEF033, edition of 75)
Bridget Hayden & Claire Potter – Mother To No Swimming Laughing Child
Mother To No Swimming Laughing Child is a new collaboration between author Claire Potter and musician Bridget Hayden that gives a voice to text from Potter’s 2014 publication Mental Furniture. On this tape, extracts from the text are read by Potter, combined with sounds from Hayden and the results are fascinating. This deeply considered union works to produce a very whole sound and together they inform the narrative rather than it being a straight forward ‘words read over the top of music’ approach. On ‘Still Woman Cold’ Potter reads the text in hushed tones and creaking floorboards are heard in the background giving the impression that she is hiding from whoever is making those sounds happen. It’s a difficult and unsettling listen but uniquely compelling.
Potter and Hayden address trauma and deflection during Mother To No Swimming Laughing Child. It’s hard to discuss trauma, both your own experiences and those of others. It’s difficult because in some cases people are so quick to hide what they are actually feeling rather than address things that are not OK, choosing to internalise the experience and protect others from hearing it, which is an easy way to hide from judgement. The track, ‘Brendan Brady’ is named after a tragic character from the soap opera Hollyoaks. Brady is a murderer, a drug dealer, an abusive partner, a typical bad guy who the writers of the show later revealed was the victim of incestual abuse. The album takes this, and other examples from the show, as source material through which to deliver the topic of trauma and projection of unknown events. In addition to the words, static, aggressive guitar and incidental sound are included maybe to mask the story and stuff it down the back of the sofa.
Given the topic, it’s not an easy listen. Someone described this tape as “distasteful” on Rate Your Music (my most hated music website) and although I disagree I can understand why they might have written that because bringing up subjects like abuse are considered distasteful by some. This is an uncomfortable subject but this tape doesn’t worry about that. I congratulate Potter and Hayden for broaching this issue and for creating one of the most intriguing and thought provoking recordings I’ve ever heard.
The Restless Dead and Bird People …Meet the Dervishes of Khartoum in the Confluence-of-the-Nile
The concept behind the creation of this release is really interesting. The story is that UK folk musician, C. Joynes, during one of his many travels round the world spent some time in Sudan where he recorded a weekly Sufi Dervish conference. These recordings provided the basis for this release which were dubbed over by two groups – Side A by a curious sounding improvising collective that operates as part of a commune in East Anglia called The Restless Dead and Side B by ever evolving Austrian free folk and drone collective Bird People. Bird People, for those who don’t know, are ‘fronted’ (I’m sure he wouldn’t like that word but for want of a better phrase…) by founder of Feathered Coyote Records, Ulrich Rois. Feathered Coyote and Fort Evil Fruit share a lot of common interests in the artists they work with (and the managers even look alike!) so the partnership makes sense.
Side A is probably the more successful in achieving a seamless collaboration between the Sufi recordings and the UK artist’s contributions. Listening carefully you can pick out additional out of tune guitars (I suspect homemade versions), drums, repeatedly bowed strings and percussive elements jamming along to the original recordings. The recording is respected and the ebb and flow of the piece is considered well within these jams resulting in a great, but not ragged, clatter.
Side B sees Bird People take the recordings and make something quite different with them, which I’m into. We hear gorgeous Indian instruments produce drones that accompany the Sufi singers but also come into their own throughout the 23 minute piece. At one point the drones perfectly match the volume of the original recording rising and falling then eventually leading to a point of silence before coming back to the vocalists, this time with even more drones and an audible banjo solo. This is brilliant and thoughtful music.
Extnddntwrk – By
Extnddntwrk, aka Andrew Fearn, is now best known as the guy who makes the music for Sleaford Mods but he has been making music since well before he joined Jason Williamson. I’m really pleased that he has started to release his own solo music again including this new one on FEF.
This huge collection of songs spans about an hour and a half (if you include the bonus tracks from the digital download) and a lot of ground is covered in that time. My first thought on hearing it was that it would make an excellent soundtrack to a futuristic horror film and in the way that some great horror soundtracks, like Marc Wilkinson’s Blood on Satan’s Claw for example, have an overarching theme running throughout so does By. This is seen not least in the track titles, which all have the word ‘by’ contained in them, but also in the grim, downbeat, and sometimes outwardly scary atmosphere these pieces conjure. I want to be the first to be told when the film to accompany this tape comes out.
On By Fearn employs a range of acoustic instrumentation and high quality production to evoke dark imagery. His computer generated beats are of a subtle brilliance that provide a base for a variety of other components including piano, harp, bells and worked-in field recordings to name just a few. Some of the tracks such as ‘By Myself’ sound like they could have been generated by lo-fi software. This track has a weird and unsettling melody line that wouldn’t be out of place if found in an early version of the video game Doom (wow, the memory of that game just made me shiver!). In another moody track, ‘Death by’, Fearn plays subtle guitar lines that complement light keys. I can’t get over how delicate this release is and what a stark contrast is it to the music Fearn makes in his other band! This is very intense work and shows Fearn to be an accomplished musician and producer.
Rastrejo – Fractura de Miramientos
Rastrejo is a new artist to me but a quick look at Jose Guerreo’s back catalogue reveals he has been involved in several projects in Valencia, Spain for a long time. Rastrejo serves as his experimental dance project and this release is really toe tapping. It’s a short but sweet affair, totalling only 19 minutes.
Guerreo uses stark drum machine patterns and sings in a dramatic way on ‘Malgastando’ before launching into a wild, droney, synth solo that all works really well. The fully-fledged songs that involve singing are definitely this album’s strongest point and these are sandwiched between other musical ideas. I kind of wish the release was a bit longer because the last track ‘Mercader de Sencillos + Ballesta sin Fisuras’, which seems be influenced heavily by Talking Heads particularly in the vocal delivery, is a real banger and it feels like the album really takes off at this point. Oh well. I’ll be checking out other music by Rastrejo for sure.
Tags: benjamin hallatt, charles dexter ward, crater lake festival, culver, dale cornish, dictaphonics, drone, dylan nyoukis, electronica, evil moisture, improv, jerome smith, joe murray, kay hill, kieron piercy, lee stokoe, live music, luke vollar, marlo eggplant, matching head, mel o'dubhslaine, new music, no audience underground, noise, pete cann, phil todd, posset, psychedelia, rudolf eb.er, shameless self-congratulation, sof, sophie cooper, stephen cornford, stuart chalmers, tapes, vocal improvisation, yol
Whoo, boy – where to start with Crater Lake? Maybe with the simple and declarative: Crater Lake Festival is a day-long celebration of experimental music held annually in March at Wharf Chambers in Leeds and is organised by Pete Cann. Them’s the facts. However, over the four years of its existence it has grown into something over and above a display of the curator’s unimpeachable taste and ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’ approach to time keeping: it has become a gathering of the clan. As well as being an unrivalled opportunity to see the risen cream of ‘noise’ (some in combos suggested by Pete himself) perform to a large and appreciative crowd, you also get the equally important social side. Names are put to smiling faces, hand are shaken, warez exchanged, plots hatched – all taking place in a general air of slightly delirious enthusiasm fuelled by the constant flow of decent, fairly-priced alcohol.
This blog is known for a phrase coined as shorthand description of the scene it documents but I am steering clear of that for now. I don’t want to co-opt something that is clearly greater than the sum of its parts and can’t be pigeonholed. I will say this though: when I noticed that Pete had hooked some relatively big fish for the bill, and saw the Arts Council logo had snuck onto the corner of his poster, I asked him how he’d managed to successfully tap ’em for funding. He replied, to my delight, that he’d used my write up of last year’s festival as the blurb for his application and they couldn’t wait to shower him with cash. Despite knowing that the Arts Council has recently taken an almighty bollocking for being Londoncentric and that any application from Winterfell was going to be seriously considered, it was still a very proud moment. There you go, people: this stuff matters. Hang on a second, I seem to have something in my eye…
<sniffs, turns to window, regains composure, harumphs manfully>
OK, a word about the below. Due to family commitments – a visit from my parents to celebrate the second birthday of my son Thomas – I could only attend for the three hours from 8pm to 11pm. To be honest, given the stinking cold I had, that is probably all I could manage anyway. So, having spent the afternoon chasing the kid around Home Farm at Temple Newsam (and marveling at turkeys that looked like monsters from Doctor Who, or an illustration by Ian Watson) I arrived flustered and discombobulated into an already pretty drunken milieu. Suspecting this would be the case I had already tasked the other four RFM staffers attending (alas, Chrissie had to be elsewhere recording an orchestra) with documenting the day so all I had to organize was a group photo.
In the piece that follows the author of the paragraph is indicated in bold like this – Luke: – and interjections about non-musical aspects of the day are (bracketed and in italics). Photographs of the workshop were taken by Sof (using the ‘nice’ camera) and the awesome pictures of the performers were taken by Agata Urbaniak and kindly donated to RFM for use in this piece. I am hugely grateful to her – and to marlo for having the presence of mind to ask – and recommend that you all visit her flickr site too.
Right then, let’s go!
(Joe: Too early! We – one half of the Newcastle delegation – arrive too early at Wharf Chambers. We spot an Evil Moisture prepare for his evil workshop through the crack in the door but take the old army maxim on board – eat when you can – and scoff a scrumptious Persian meal at the place round the corner. A brief sojourn to Leeds market is broken by a call from YOL. We can sound check so I make my way back to base camp. Pete’s relaxed event management skills pay dividends. Everyone knows/does their job. Things tick like Swiss time. The super-patient sound guy balances our 10 second sound check, we nod satisfied with the racket and slope off to meet ace faces Ben Hallatt & Dale Cornish cackling in the Wharf Chambers sun trap.)
Sof: I fought my way through Saturday afternoon Leeds crowds to make it to Wharf Chambers just in time for the Evil Moisture / Andy Bolus Ghost Hunting Detector workshop. We had been instructed to bring along a non-metallic cylindrical object, basic soldering skills and undead ancestors. I’m sure I had the first two with me at least.
We all gathered round a table in the middle of the bar on which we found various items I came to know as ‘cells’, wires and other dangerous looking bits. I’m generally quite scared of electronics (old residual fear of metal work at school no doubt) and so always sign up for activities like this to try and get over this issue. Andy’s approach to the workshop was really relaxed with his main instruction being a hand drawn diagram that he placed in front of 4 of us before letting us get on with it. He was available to answer questions and sort out our various mistakes – great teaching style. This helped to kerb my concerns, I mean, if he could be so chilled holding a wand that can melt metal then why shouldn’t I be too?
There were a lot of confused and frustrated faces around the table during the process but these all turned into massive grins when the detectors finally worked out. It took me nearly 2 hours to attach the cells to a battery and a long wire wrapped around a giant pencil but you know what, it bloody worked. I mean, I’m not sure if the loud squealing noises that were produced from this thing were communications from the other side but when I stuck it into an amp through a bit of reverb at home some use was envisaged. In retrospect I shouldn’t have drank a really strong black coffee during the process because the shaky hands did become a bit of an issue but I got there in the end!
(Joe: While the laboratory is an evil hive of evil activity the wonderful folk of the N-AU turn up, firstly in ones and twos, then huddles, then mobs. I meet Sophie for the first time and gasp in awe at the purple camera she’s sporting so rakishly. The N-AU are prompt, alert and full of relaxed bonhomie. Crater Lake has started!)
Joe: fractured electronics garbled and yarbled straight outta Mel’s mini-mouth – possibly reading out what she was doing (I’m lowering the volume on this tape, I’m adding more reverb on this channel) – via a Dutch translation aid and robot clarinet. The vocal musings were calmly paced, relaxed and with an electronic softening that tickled the tiled floor all nice. Phil Navigations joined in on cyber-Taiko drum to muss things proper towards the end. Ke-tung!
Luke: droll Yorkshire instructions fed through robot vocoder. About five minutes in it dawned on me that I could listen to this quite happily for hours. My mate thought I’d left because Phil turned up and it was in danger of going ‘all musical’ not so: my chalice had run dry.
Joe: (view from the floor) dunno about this, lots of knees and boots, getting awful hot awful quick, Yol clatters…HIT IT!
Boof/~~~scree/HAWKS////zingzingzing/~~II~~:~~BAU~~~~/CLANK. The end.
Cor. That felt good.
Luke: yowser this was fun like visceral high energy free gumph played with the contents of a skip, lots of gurning growling and testifying.
Marlo: the interesting element of this performance is that opposed to some electronic noise acts that seem distanced or detached from actual live performing, these two were very alive, very awake and fully present in a visceral and physical way. Yol, as usual, used his body as his instrument to full capacity. Apparent in his performance were both his sensitivity to environment and his physiological response to Mr. Posset’s intuitive electronic gestures. Both, not shy to show some presence, expressed a reciprocal appreciation of live art.
(Joe: Later… the food comes out full to bursting with Pascal’s grapes… I’m too keyed up to eat but notice it gets a thumbs up from Lee Culver who, no shit readers, is a proper gourmet/baking behemoth. Top Marks.)
Joe: top drawer Dictaphone thumb-nastics from Stuart. The whirr and ‘scree’ of fast forwarding tape was a joy to hear as it bounced from one hand to another; Stuart flinging his luscious black locks like a metalhead and shaking like a nervous cicada. Even my tin ear picked up the subtle tape preparations and timings as skronk melted effortlessly into ethnic-plink with industrial overtones. Of course no one knows what Stuart really looks like…he threw his Kim Thayil wig into the crowd and disappeared into the balmy Leeds afternoon.
Luke: about three beers in this was lush green elephant tea. I dig the candles, the wig, the ritual maaan. Led to an interesting conversation outside. Seems in the N-AU you got your tapes lovers and your tapes haters (known as ‘taters’)
I’d rather watch him play the sounds than play a tape of it
…one geezer remarked.
He was playing a zither thing!
I retorted in his defense. I myself am pro tapes: the wow, the flutter, the plastic encased mystery.
Joe: Ben Hallatt set up an impressive reel-to-reel machine and facilitated the sound of a monkey opening a recalcitrant jar of peanut butter through the fragile, disintegrating brown tape. A play in two parts, this simian housekeeping was taken over by a more keening, knock-kneed hubble-style. All glorious drippings to clear out me waxy tabs.
Luke: my highlight of the day. Tape music with lots of pop and hiss but with, if not a tune, then a beguiling pattern. I struggled to verbalize how impressed I was to the man himself and was astounded that he had no merchandise to pass on (you haven’t heard the last of Kay Hill, readers).
Marlo: Ben Hallatt performed a nuanced, textured and atmospheric tape art set. Despite the surging, celebratory atmosphere of Crater Lake, he held a patient and meditative space. Starting from a minimal structure, he added an elaborate architecture that was sturdy and mindful. The performance was a sound journey that led the audience through this construction and left them in a different place.
Joe: Canary Yellow computer splutter. Spitting and frothing like a thousand tiny tummy kicks from the blue shrimps inside. Marie said to me,
It sounded like the 90’s.
What. All of it?
Sure, in Belgium.
I’m no flat pancake!
Marlo: I had previously seen Dale the week before in Nottingham. His mood was quite different this time. With alert attention, he proceeded to command his laptop to amuse, irritate, and tickle the audience. If I were to have a party, I would invite Dale. Always enjoyable, instead of baking him a birthday cake to compliment last week’s set, based on this performance I would make him profiteroles. Thus instead of a treat that is made for pure enjoyment, celebration, and taste, a pastry as work of art which takes many steps prior to presentation (and I like profiteroles a lot).
Joe: Soundtrack to Night of the Living Squelch that somehow managed to dissect Dylan & Kieron so one duo played breathing noises: hisses, coughs and sighs and the other ‘ghost’ duo played the sound of the first duo running their outputs through resinous pinecones. By gently slapping their foreheads bubbles of gas birthed from parted lips adding a metallic sheen. Please stop me if I’m getting too technical.
(Joe: Later…. booze is consumed, hands shook and booty exchanged. Among the hugs plans are hatched and reputations blackened! Later… we meet the boss. In what must look like a comical gesture to onlookers we both reach out one hand to shake and another to pass cdr/tapes/notes to each other.)
Joe: Erotic Jerome is the most focused man in the N-AU. Every twitch and tremor of his hands opened another subtle filter, let out a deceptive synth note or texturised the canvas with his painterly guitar thribbings. Guess what? Watching CDW reminded me of that Keef.
What do you think about when you’re playing?
Asked the handsome young Vee-jay.
I don’t think on stage. I feel,
came the raspy reply. Nuff Said.
Marlo: I had the immense pleasure of being acquainted with Jerome after his stellar set at Tusk Festival. This time, the layers and processing felt more dense. Every time I felt as though I had embraced a new element of his guitar mosaic, I was being introduced to yet another level of intensity that abandoned yet built upon the previous input. It was a rich and powerful piece.
Rob: I got my non-euclidean groove on and shimmied like a tentacle. It was cyclopean. Who would have thought such a nice guy could be an Old One in human form?
(Joe: Later…a fart in front of Elkka Reign Nyoukis makes her laugh so hard it drowns out the nearby trains. Later…it’s a Warhol of confusion. The heat and the noise and the crowd means conversations start, stop, merge and scatter. I’m bending ears all over. Later…The RFM photo op. I never realised our erstwhile photographer was the legendary Idwal himself! Our handsome group is propped up by my screamingly odd face.)
Rob: The evidence! Five sixths of RFM: me, Sof, Luke, Joe, Marlo – Chrissie sadly couldn’t make it as she was recording an orchestra. Cheers to Uncle Mark for taking the picture.
Marlo: As they said in Videodrome (1983),
Long live the New Flesh!
I say this because I felt like Cornford was battling with the mind melting controlling of vertical and horizontal holds, in a telekinetic struggle with amplitude and frequency, he went head-to-head with his multiple television screens. He was absorbed. I was absorbed. I think the visuals that seemed to translate his audio concoctions were pretty. I would love to see more of his work.
Rob: I felt like the little girl in Poltergeist (1982) but I wasn’t communing with the dead, rather a race of electric creatures attempting to re-programme my bonce with strobing logic. They may have succeeded. I await the trigger word from Mr. Cornford.
(Rob: Sof, Sof! Where are you? I think Sof and Jake’s last train beckoned around this point)
Joe: Rich sarcophagus music. Prostrated like a monk with a Casio, Culver played the sound of the tides spiced with deep orange paprika. Ebb and flow washes over you easily for sure but remember Culver’s dark gravity pins you to the planet like a moth in a cabinet.
Luke: whilst Charles Dexter Ward embraced the crowd with his pink love drone in a highly pleasing manner, Culver extended the black tentacles of Cthulu and left us powerless facing the ghastly pit of torment. I am inebriated at this point and only roused from my Culver trance by my pal clinking glasses, it’s a fine moment: we are ridiculously close to the high priest himself. There can be only one.
Marlo: Culver is remarkable in that he uses similar gear and techniques to others whilst adding something completely signature and unique. I would say that Culver is one of the best drone artists in the UK. His monastic and constant involvement with his gear makes for a compelling performance. Despite the darkness that he chooses to invoke with sound, there is a clear joy interspersed amongst the high frequencies.
Rob: I make a mental note of all in the crowd who talk during Lee’s set. There will be a reckoning. A RECKONING!
(Luke: sad to say I had to miss Evil Moisture and Rudolf Eb.Er but I was successful in navigating my way home. Cheers Pete, see you next year!)
Joe: A Very Wonderful Fucking Sloppy Mess (AVWFSM). Long, long loops of disgruntled squirm get run through the Bolus-zone to come out triple-strength odd. With nothing to hold on to the free fall becomes increasing delicious.
Marlo: When watching Andy Bolus, one wishes that they had superpowers like photographic memory or the ability to time travel. The issue is that normal human capacities do not allow for full visual comprehension of the devices across his two tables and to simultaneously be absorbed by the sounds. There is just so much going on! From the crazy inventor’s lab of his set up to the enveloping waves of sound, my body was compelled to move. Pushed up close to the stage with several other victims of unintentional movement, I held onto a monitor to make sure I didn’t collapse from my undulations. These movements are, by far, my favourite response to good noise. His detailed dynamics had a light touch. Well paced yet not predictable in his shifts, Andy seemed to be using his whole body, even his feet to make the monster chewing sounds. But there were purposeful and understated details placed delicately through sound blasts and running engines. Not sonic saturated and definitely not shy, Evil Moisture’s intuitive performance was well worth the wait.
(Rob: at this point I bow out myself and trot off for the second-to-last bus home very happy with how the day has gone. I’m in such a good mood that when I discover the New Blockaders tape Joe gave me earlier is leaking oil onto the other merch in my bag all I do is chuckle. Ahh, occupational hazard.)
Marlo: One of the best things about seeing noise and improvisational music played live is the feeling that what one witnessed is unique and unrepeatable. Experience a performance by a sound artist like Ruldolph Eb.Er, for example, and you know immediately that what you saw and heard will never occur again the same way. In this case, it might be the fact that several Crater Lakers had lost their marbles on booze and kept hollering throughout the set. That was a bit unfortunate but his professionalism didn’t allow one moment of lack of concentration. I use the word ‘dynamic’ a lot when I talk about noise and sound art, often using it to describe movement. However, in this case, Rudolf’s use of tension and silence is signature to his style. Silences punctuated the set and left the audience irritable and anticipating each aural stimulation. Personally, I was enthralled by the spectacle – I felt prone to his ‘psychoaccoustic’ gestures and was dizzy with confusion. My favorite part of his set was when he placed some nodes covered with a black, inky sound conductive substance on his face and head whilst appearing startled and trembling. I like to think he was slightly losing his mind with the audience but by the end he was fully composed and I felt freaking grateful I had stayed cognizant enough to appreciate all the different acts contained within the piece.
Joe: It had been a very long day. Whist I don’t approve of public drunkenness I am charmed by the tipsy. All my notes say is:
good oaky noise but possible Harkonnen spy.
I think it’s about this point that my brain packed up…
…which is an appropriately wonky note on which to end. Alas, that is that for another year. Many thanks to all involved – performers, venue and attendees – with special back-slapping to Pete Cann for making it happen. It was a terrific day. See y’all next time.
Agata Urbaniak: performers
Sophie Cooper: workshop
Mark Wharton: Team RFM
Tags: broken shoulder, core of the coalman, drone, field recording, jorge boehringer, kirigirisu recordings, lo-fi, neil debnam, new music, no audience underground, noise, small music, sof, sonotanotanprez, sophie cooper
Core of the Coalman – Amphibious Radost (CD-r, Kirigirisu Recordings, kgr004, edition of 50 or download)
Broken Shoulder – 300 Bicycle Seats (CD-r, Kirigirisu Recordings, kgr003, edition of 50 or download)
Sonotanotanpenz – 3 (CD-r, Kirigirisu Recordings, kgr002, edition of 50 or download)
[Editor’s note: who’s that banging on the door with a bottle in each hand!? Yes, party people – say hello to Sophie Cooper, the third and final new member of the RFM crew. As well as being an artist and musician of quiet brilliance, Sof has a proven track record of making rad things happen in her home town of Todmorden under the name Tor Bookings. I couldn’t be happier to have her here and am delighted that she is already making intercontinental friends as a result of the music slid her way. Over to Sof…]
I should start by saying a big ‘TA DUCK!’ to Rob for getting me involved in this blog of his. I’ve been a fan of RFM for a long time now and I guess what draws me to it is the fact that the writing is honest and positive. Simple things but they float my boat. [Editor’s note: *blushes again*]
There is no label sound, the thing that ties the releases together is the enthusiasm of the label founders to present the music to a larger audience and the independent spirit of the musicians.
…meaning the guy puts out music that he likes, right on. I had a natter with him about the label and found out that it’s been going for about a year now and that Kirigirisu means ‘Cricket (or grasshopper)’.
Core of the Coalman – Amphibious Radost
First up is music from Jorge Boehringer and his release Amphibious Radost. What struck me on first listen was how very visual this recording is. I imagined myself sitting next to a pond, mid-summer, listening to the rhythmic dripping of a water feature. If I’m honest, the cover featuring a few amphibians in a pool did help conjure this vision somewhat but still… the music is very evocative of the scene. I asked Jorge if the music was what happened if you licked one of the frogs on the cover and his response was that he wouldn’t recommend anyone actually tried it because:
…that stuff isn’t tested.
The release is one track, almost 50 minutes long, consisting of ongoing repetition of short phrases working together in layers. These aren’t looped though. The simple viola lines are labouriously played over and over, dropping in and out, and you do notice subtle differences as the work unfolds. The phrases of viola are at different paces and lengths resulting in varying combinations of the same sound flowing in an incredibly relaxing, mantra like, way.
This piece is successful particularly because the layers don’t build up to a massive audible climax, instead remaining subtle throughout. However, perhaps because of the length of time you remain involved in the music, it does become something quite large and tangible. In Jorge’s words the sound patterns end up looking like a wave, kind of like a Bridget Riley painting. A beautiful piece of music.
Broken Shoulder – 300 Bicycle Seats
Broken Shoulder is the solo project of label owner Neil Debnam and listening to this made me realise why he would choose to put out Amphibious Radost because the two albums have very similar feels to them, both warm and upbeat. The record is interesting because it incorporates a lot of different instrumentation on each track, with the focus on which is ‘lead’ instrument shifting, yet the welcoming mood stays the same throughout.
On ‘Aqualine’, we hear a song with minimalist leanings, there’s an overt synth pulse over far away organ sounds and field recordings. Then in the next track ‘Rotary Planes / Thirteen More’, Neil plays major key fuzzy guitar over a repetitive synth bass drone line and it’s the sort of song I could listen to on repeat, it’s just so joyous and uplifting.
Sonotanotanprez – 3
I’m instantly sold after hearing just a few seconds of this record, this is pretty much my favourite kind of music! It’s made by two women from Japan singing and talking over super simple keyboard accompaniment, pre-made beats, hand bells and quiet guitars. Wish I knew what they were singing about but that doesn’t matter too much because it sounds like it was recorded in a cupboard well after bedtime was suppose to happen and one track is barely audible. These are things I like a lot.
The album is a mixture of crazy jams and well composed songs all delivered in a lo-fi style. I imagine the recording sessions were a case of stick the recorder in the corner and go for it, you can even hear the occasional cough from one of the performers. To me this is the best type of music, it feels incredibly genuine and away from influence or worry about what’s fashionable.
I often refer to this type of music as “small music” meaning I could imagine being myself becoming really small, and then crawling into it for a nice lie down.
In conclusion: Kirigirisu Recordings, seek out and enjoy! I’m going to be keeping a tab on how the label develops for sure.