sunny murray’s right foot: rfm on brb>voicecoil, artwhore, no audience underground tapes, teatowels

October 7, 2017 at 8:12 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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brb>voicecoil – Reconfigure Moments (Muza Muza)

brb>voicecoil – Containment (Muza Muza)

Artwhore – Pasty Posture (Muza Muza)

Various Artists – No Audience Underground Tapes

Teatowels- We are the Deadness (Beartown Records & Tapes)

 reconfigure moments

brb>voicecoil – Reconfigure Moments (Muza Muza) Cassette and digital album

“Heavy manipulation of source material and resetting of audio time frames” says the ever informative Muza Muza website.

But even that clear warning couldn’t prepare me for the massiveness of these sonic-boulders or the grittiness of the resulting rumbling on Reconfigure Moments.

Totally elemental with that whole earth, fire, water and air gang being represented at the top of their game.  A full bandwidth vista is peeling open my reluctant eyes and saying:

FEEL YOUR BONES CRUSHED,

YOUR SKIN CRACKLES WITH PHOSPHOR,

YOU ARE BRIGHT WITH FIRE…

…until I feel myself lurching for the ‘stop’ button on the booming stereo (and in an instant thinking – the old thing has never sounded quite so vicious as this before).

Phew!

brb’s Kev Wilkinson has collected years worth of field recordings from across the UK and subjected them to the most punishing treatment turning minute taps into ocean-going groans and gossamer strokes into the poisoned lash of a stingray’s tail.   This really is ‘sound as weapon’ territory but at no moment does it ever succumb to ‘noise’ cliché.  Each sound-mugging is clear as a shiv in the moonlight and twice as sharp.  The crackles, rattles and pops are HUGE but placed with delicacy and a dark poetic logic.

The canvas is vast and as much attention is paid to the silences, the absences, as the abrasive implosions and gigantic reversed echoes like someone turned a borehole inside out.

Phew!!

FOOTNOTE: I took this down to Richer Sounds to test out a new tape deck and the smarty pants clerk looked fucking horrified when I cranked this up.  The assembled glut of customers looked round, gulped and left as one.  What more recommendation do you need comrades?

containment

brb>voicecoil – Containment (Muza Muza) Cassette and digital album

A sister piece to the fearsome ‘Reconfigure Moments’, ‘Containment’ is made up of nine unprocessed field recordings with ears precisely trained on the resonant interior of huge concrete and steel structures (I’m guessing).

This being brb>voicecoil the locations are selected with great insider knowledge of the very mechanics of these materials and years of scientific precision.

What we hear are dislocated ‘clunks’ and ‘squeals’.  Sheered of their original context the howling winds whip up these thick steel cables to really sing an unnatural overture.  There is a cold ‘thwack’ of metal against cement that reverberates in these man-made canyons, decaying gradually into another whooping collapse.

These recordings being at the mercy of the weather/ambience make strange things happen to the timings.  A dry ‘crack’ or gravely ‘crunch’ pop at the most eccentric moments.  Like the earth became Sonny Murray’s right foot, this tape swings with an internal metronome that us mere mortals can barely comprehend.  Like the freest of all jazz soaring buttresses honk deeper than Ayler and become more ‘out’ than Sun Ra.

Use this tape as an essential stepping stone readers – plug into the industrial Gaia-beat outside your door that’s as syncopated as chrome Dixieland.

artwhore

Artwhore – Pasty Posture (Muza Muza) Cassette and digital album

There was a time when you couldn’t pass a lamp post in Newcastle that wasn’t tagged with an Artwhore sticker.  They seemed to be everywhere at once: playing a thousand shows and dumping flyers to soak up spilled beer in the Barley Mow, Egypt Cottage and Broken Doll.

But while this mysterious crew had their street-art and promotion in the bag unfortunately I never caught them live.  Thankfully Muza Muza have released these lost 1996-97 recordings on a kicking and screaming public.

The issue with vintage recordings is pretty obvious – does it stand up today, right here, right now?  I’m delighted to say a firm yes to these curious electronic hummers.

The darkness is turned on for the majority of these pieces – dull thumps underscore sleet-coloured drone but an optimistic twinkle, a very Geordie characteristic if I may suggest, peppers these recordings.  What I think is ‘Vallis’ is a truly gorgeous rainbow and unicorns number, all pink sunsets and warm hugs.  By contrast ‘Hooverdub’ and ‘Electricity’ spit nails and rubber bullets.

The influence of rave culture is another signifier of the time.  It hit the toon hard and it wasn’t unusually to find dreads and skins swap their para-boots for flip flops on a Saturday night.  This strangely sounds fresh as daisies on ‘Shamm’ and ‘Horseloverfat’.

For younger readers…just think of it as the original vapour wave or something yeah?

louie and luciano

Various Artists – Live Series (No Audience Underground Tapes) Cassette with occasional inserts and detritus

And so it came to pass.

As I mentioned before on RFM  the much-loved NAU stalwarts Fucking Amateurs called it a day with their 100th release (give or take a few) earlier this year.  I’d hinted that the baton had been passed and I’m delighted to say their grubby, semi-legal but thoroughly heartfelt, true and D.I.Y corpse is being reanimated by David Howcroft (ex-Helter Skelter Records) and the impeccably named No Audience Underground Tapes.

A straight-outta-Gateshead thing NAU tapes are attending those shows that you can’t get to, jamming performances direct to tape and bundling them up in outrageous packaging.  Then dear reader they are being offered to the global underground FOR FREE!

Yup.  Keeping this real is important to Dave so he is just asking for postage right now.  But I know you are a generous bunch so an extra quid for tapes and stickers might be an idea eh?

So…what are NAU Tapes offering?  It’s an eccentric and ever-growing catalogue.

  • NAUT 01# brb>voicecoil / Vampyres / Spoils and Relics / Ali Robertson & Joyce Whitfield. Live at Soundroom Gateshead 23/07/17

  • NAUT 02# SMUT. Live at Soundroom Gateshead 13/05/17

  • NAUT 03# Watts / Fells / Church Burner. Live at Soundroom Gateshead 30/06/17

  • NAUT 04 # (Limited Edition Band Members Only) Church Burner.  30/06/17

  • NAUT 05# Trevor Wren / Proboscis / Eigengrau. Live at the Little Buildings, Byker 15/07/17 (Ed – Dave notes – quality of recordings compromised by tape recorder malfunctions)

  • NAUT 06# Sippy Cup / Ant Macari & Posset / Acrid Lactations. Live at The Old Police House 30/07/17

  • NAUT 07# Damo Suzuki’s Network. Live at Cluny2 04/08/17

  • NAUT 08# Louie Rice & Luciano Maggiore / Pinnel / Rust Ruus. Live at Workplace Gallery, Gateshead. 12/08/17

 

OK…that’s the infomercial.  What do the damn tapes sound like?

NAUT 01. Captures the dark shudder of brb>voicecoil and Vampyres in grim fidelity.  The boiling leaves a grey scum shot through with diamond streaks.  On the other side of the equation Ali Robertson & Joyce Whitfield gabber like geese in an old-timey hairdressers (the ones with huge machines you put your delicate head in).  Spoils and Relics fashioned their gruff-pumps through wires to hiss like an old factory of dreams. They are the equals sign, the fulcrum that balances a perfect evening.

life hacks

NAUT 06. Acrid Lactations swirl a hand round the gene pool and pick out several chromosome-jamz. Both skitter-dry and tape deep –the  first recording of the tiny AL with powerful lung!  Dullard Posset and real-live artist Ant Macari continue their world domination thru corporate hypnosis and evil vibes (spoken word).  The wonderful Sippy Cup (Drenching/Armitage) are as jazz as they come; each hand grabs an implement and drains it of sound-juice with expert timing.  Total clutter core!

NAUT 08. Rust Ruus presents his piece for solo snare drum, tapes and steel butter dish – KLAKA, KLACKA, KLACKA energy!  Pinnel loops soft voice and mouth pops on her Black & Decker Workmate. The crowd went wild after their vacation in these gentle hisses and slips.  The most Eno!  Rice & Maggiore are dressed in black and vibe out the audience with their regal focus and concentration.  Performance for modular synth, puckered lips, red hands and two sets of big stamping boots.  An outstanding show of control and timing.  Don’t believe me?  Order the damn tape yeah!

There’s no website comrades so please send questions, requests, stamps and good karma to : howcroft.d58@gmail.com

 teatowels

Teatowels- We are the Deadness (Beartown Records & Tapes) Cassette

As the gardener must prune their prize roses with regular surgical snips the musician must occasionally take a hatchet to their craft.  Slicing out overused approaches, chopping back any excesses and burning the lazy ideas to truly grow.

The Teatowels have cut and cut and cut until all is left is one guitar/one drum/one voice. Even the idea of a song is sliced and diced in a semi-improvised blur. Sure, some pieces on this extraordinary tape are recognisable ‘songs’ (track 6) but others are fumbles, sketches and essences that make this like a long-lost practice tape found in the bottom of a shoebox.

The rehearsal room ambience is thick with amp fug and ideas blooming in the moment. It’s a secret shared in hot breathy gasps.  The shamanic use of repetition and lowest of all known ‘fi’s’ becomes a grey carnation shuddering in an autumn storm.

If you’re looking for less botanical references the mumbled vocal, spindly guitar and boxy drums take me back to the woollen-scratchy and indistinct world when the Dead C and The Fall and Sonic Youth had a lot more in common and seemed to answer a three-way conversation back and forth across the international freak-rock underground.

And like all three examples above the process of recording became part of the signature sound: cheap studios, busted amps and exhausting schedules gave this music a patina of sleep-deprived itchiness, a splitter van’s claustrophobia.

Teatowels have built this up into an impressive whirl where things abruptly jump-cut between half-remembered jams, free-rock (track 2), drum-led moaning (track 3 ) and more realised explorations.  A deft finger on the pause button (track 7) makes some of the more hectic jamz blur with distinctive tape smear and is the perfect hot sauce on this tasty wiener.

The closer (track 8) is a lengthy nine minutes and boils all these approaches into a thin gruel applied in erratic brush strokes over the bones of the type of speaking –song-dramatic-build that Slint favour.

But instead of the Louisville drama we get an unrelenting British chug – all tension and no release; drizzle sizzling forever on the vinyl roof of a Ford Cortina.

brb>voicecoil,  Teatowels are playing TUSK festival 13th – 15th October. 

 

Muza Muza Bandcamp

Beartown Records

–ooOOoo-

languidly hedonistic: keir neuringer and matthew wright, dale cornish, spoils & relics

April 14, 2017 at 1:13 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Keir Neuringer and Matthew Wright – Speak Cities (Extra Normal Records)

Dale Cornish – Cut Sleeve (Halcyon Veil)

Spoils & Relics – Threadbare Adult Life (Second Sleep)

keir neuringer matt wright Keir Neuringer and Matthew Wright – Speak Cities (Extra Normal Records) CD-R

Saxophone and turntable duo reaching into the soul of improvisation.

I’ve been wary of electro acoustic pairings for a little while now – as ever my beef is with technology – so the acoustic seemed to get swamped with the electro and it all became noodling with knobs on.

Not so here on this project from Keir Neuringer (saxes) and Matthew Wright (turntable, computer) that gets the balance perfectly right: Keir’s saxophone is both warm, edgy sighs and full-on honk, joyous and bulbous – with a touch of Ayler’s gospel roots.  Matthew’s turntables imaginatively compliment, re-work and suggest rather than smother in cloying digital sauce.  There’s a light touch and time travelling element as sounds run backwards and repeat on the decks.

Based on improvisations recorded as a duo in Brooklyn then re-sampled and worked on in Canterbury by Matthew the opener ‘Above the Clouds’ is a proud statement of intent – a slowly mutating virus of brassy air and electricity.

The long pieces (three are around quarter of an hour in length) are stuttering slick birdsongs with thin gassy overtones.  They mutate slowly and gracefully, folding in clicks and snitches; iron breath hissed through Talos’ immobile pursed lips.

As ever the devil is in the detail.  Moments of clarity when the busy-fidget swooshes the curtain to one side and presents with an open palm.

“Here.  Look at this…”

…it seems to say, as a new vista is revealed, a fresh clean perspective peering out of the mist teeming with life and insect-scurrying detail.  These brief calm moments create a map of these ornate tessellating sound-pieces.

The sense of movement is palpable.  Like watching leaves jerk in a strong wind, sounds are whipped back and forth with the flexibility afforded by young sap and evolution’s unarguable wisdom.

Bridging the gap between beatnik buzz and technician’s overcoat – perfect dinner party music pre-lift off!

dale cornish

Dale Cornish – Cut Sleeve (Halcyon Veil) sold-out tape and digital download

Sound-placement king and baron of the almost-there; Dale Cornish’s Cut Sleeve sold-out-at-source in a blink of an eye to a switched-on audience.

Both politically angry and languidly hedonistic this ultra minimal slice could have been designed to soundtrack some glistening sci-fi thriller if not foreshadowed by the opener ‘Status 2016’ where a wrecked-electric voice tells us, “In 2016 it is illegal to be gay in approximately 75 nations and regions around the world.”

From then on each sound wobbles with history and heavy intention.

This is a brief record.  No track clears the 3 minute 30 mark but this brevity comes with a deepness and sturdy attention to detail.  ‘LW’ spirals down a wormhole with its one-note bass and endlessly brassy high-hat shimmer.  As if to compete ‘Infix’ introduces a one/two/one/two rhythm-collapse highlighting tiny details in the metallic decay built, or rather knitted, like scabs around the central theme.

Almost a third of ‘Vauxhall’ is a single thin whistle through minty teeth.  Then the milkman is interrupted with haunted snare pops; some electronic damper making each bong hit dank and sticky.

This EP ends with one of Dale’s most impressively warped vocal pieces.  The slo-mo slurp of some repeated phrase slops about between my ears poked through with bright handclaps, occasionally arranged in duos, triplets and quartets.  The ‘Emperor Ai’ of the title is described – perhaps in a cautionary fable but so cunningly and comprehensively mashed I’m left rewinding again and again.

Does this track really end suggesting “rather than buy blubber awake” or are sarcastic laffs that echo in my headphones meant for me?

Breathless am I.

THREADBAREADULTLIFESpoils & Relics – Threadbare Adult Life (Second Sleep) 4 x cassette tape

Damn inscrutable non-music from that most considered of trios – Spoils and Relics.

But before I disappear into a black hole in trying to describe music that denies narrative (see RFM 19th Feb 2014 for Rob Hayler’s excellent thoughts on S&R) a few words on what we actually have here.

If you buy one limited edition, multi-tape boxset this year surely this is the one to grab.  The four lengthy cassettes are groaning with eight full sides of sonic spoils dating back to 2005 (possibly).  The handsome box holds these tapes snug as possums, the insert is cryptically poetic and the weirdly unfathomable artwork is just super-dandy on my rheumy eyes.

Tape one, ‘Rose Tinted (Works 2005 – 2008)’ is a wander by the canal.  Old lock machinery is rusted shut, bright green moss grows up the walls of an underpass; the court buildings are surrounded with smokers and lone men shouting into mobiles. I suppose what I am trying to say here is this is an urban sound, a human sound teeming with busy life in all its forms – from the wild ecstasy of teenage girl-gangs to the yellow finger-nailed grimness of the loner outsider.  A concentrated listen is rewarded as the disparate action-painting (in sound) comes together in peaks – an 8 mm film projector’s delicate and patient click, a voice interrupted or a rush of organ swell.

The spooks of tape are revealed on ‘Packhorse Re-view’, the second cassette that is altogether more spectral than its feisty companion.  Things are left to grow slowly, virus like, as taped interjections (fast forward scree, gritty capstan rattling, earphone socket crackle) are smeared liberally between my sensitive lugs.  The sound of the sound comes to the fore creating layers of sweet hiss and miniature thunder-rumble.  There’s a genius hand on the edit button here by the way – with some movements ending in an abrupt click and others mashed together building a complexity of huss until it all fades to the sound of sweeping leaves.

The power of the indistinct is celebrated on ‘Forgotten Four Way ’ as a thin quavering tone struggles to keep itself from breaking up.  Almost-sounds flitter in and out of focus, partial and half-formed, nothing is allowed to settle for too long.  A constant churn of soft and gentle, an avalanche of chinchilla fur, envelopes an unsuspecting listener warming the cockles like a fine brandy.  But that’s not to say this third cassette is without jeopardy.  Side B starts out with some expert tape-juggle and pretty goofy vocal jaxx that fades into a bloody accordion!  Decorum is quickly restored as super-fast-but-smooth edits reference grandfather clocks, swirling drains, old-style Hollywood and descending keyboard shifts.

Typically there is no conclusive judder to ‘Assembly of Mansfield’ the fourth and final tape in this quartet.  To my ears it seems more voice-based mimicking the sigh of soft breath and pink-squelch of an oesophagus without recourse to amateur endoscope violation.  The timing is sharp as Harold Lloyd’s with each ‘click’ and shuffle exactly in the right place.  Side B reveals some curious slapstick with a dry panting being commented on, “is that a dog?” a deadpan voice declares as we become buried in a malfunctioning toy sending out  sporadic hisses and electronic spurts.

The final few minutes of this tape are almost a montage of everything you’ve heard already but cut shorter and in decreasing level of volume so electronic ‘pips’ and tones melt into milkshake slurp then peter out like the tiniest vinyl crackle.

After listening to such a lengthy and intense set of recordings I’m not sure I can think of any colourful or witty general theme – this is music that simply ‘is’, or if you choose not to, ‘isn’t’.  It doesn’t use fancy equipment or rely on difficult technique – it’s about ears and fingers and the interplay between confident players who trust each other.

And then it dawned on me! What could have been dry, bloodless academic music – something that aspired to musique concrete aspirations is refreshingly removed.  This is No Audience Punk to the New Wave of the pre-packed, non-threatening experimental gravy train.

Neat Neat Neat.

Extra Normal Records

Halcyon Veil

Second Sleep

-ooOOOoo-

unique gleaming surface: fumio kosakai and spoils & relics on vinyl

February 19, 2014 at 8:49 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Fumio Kosakai – Earth Calling (vinyl LP, Memoirs of a Crater Lake, MCL LP 1, edition of 250)

Spoils & Relics – Sins of Omission (vinyl LP, Harbinger Sound, HARBINGER113)

fumio kosakaispoils and relics - sins of omission

I have moved house too many times to be sentimental about vinyl.  Anyone who has lugged boxes of records (inevitably labelled ‘HEAVY!!’ in jaunty marker pen) on and off a van will see the appeal of download culture.  That said, it is hard not to appreciate the mystique of the format when presented with releases like the two above.  One has white on black packaging with extensive annotations regarding its provenance, one has black on white packaging providing us with the bare minimum.  Intriguing.  Time to make an appointment with my sorely neglected turntable, slip the discs out, admire the unique gleam that grooved vinyl produces when held at an angle to the light, blow the miniature grey sheep from the needle, then let it drop…

Firstly, we have Earth Calling by Fumio Kosakai.  I know it’s lazy of me to quote blurb but, for the sake of efficiency, I hope you’ll forgive me doing so in this instance.  From the album’s Bandcamp page:

Fumio Kosakai is best known as one half of Japanese Noise legends INCAPACITANTS and latterly HIJOKAIDAN. However, he has a long history in the Japanese psychedelic/electronic underground and we must also evoke lesser known projects such as TANGERINE DREAM SYNDICATE, GU-N, C.C.C.C., CLUB SKULL, BUSTMONSTERS etc etc.

And then there’s his elusive solo work. In 1987 and 1993, he self-released two very limited cassettes of sublime solo electronic minimalism, inspired by Terry Riley, Hawkwind and Taj Mahal Travellers. There were no more than 30 copies of each cassette sent out into the world.

MEMOIRS OF AN AESTHETE have teamed up with CRATER LAKE RECORDS to reissue these cassettes as limited edition LPs. Here’s the first one, from 1987, entitled “Earth Calling”, straight from Mr. Kosakai’s original masters and sounding far better than the mp3 version which was doing the rounds a few years ago. A limited edition of 250 copies in a beautiful screenprint approximation of the original cover art expertly printed by Sir Michael Flower.

And theres an official digital download version available for the turntaburly-deprived.

Very helpful.  On the same page you will also find some enlightening notes in which Fumio Kosakai explains the context of the recordings himself.

I’m happy to say that the three tracks presented fully justify this lavish reissue treatment. ‘Absent Water’ and ‘Drive To Universe’ (side one) are beautiful, melancholy, airy constructions made from strung-out electronics, held together lightly by a web of echo.  Imagine a pod of immense Zeppelin-shaped creatures swimming/flying through the soupy mid-level atmosphere of a gas giant planet.  Even the papery youngsters are skyscraper sized leviathans, the leathery elders are life on an unimaginable scale.  As they travel they sing a lament, passing the calls and responses amongst them.  This song is picked up and relayed to us by satellite, compressed and distorted by the electro-magnetic field of the world below.

‘Look To The Light’ (side two) is a minimal synth pulse allowed, with great patience and discipline, to figure itself out over the course of a whole side of the record.  It sounds like a room full of audio-seismographs documenting the vibrations caused by an enormous tunnel drilling machine operating far beneath the surface of the Earth.  The pulse eases briefly half way through to reveal that the sound of the machine idling is surprisingly melodic then, as it revs up again, we are caught once more in an unlikely lullaby that could, in my humble, opinion be twice as long and just as good.  A wonderful record.

Next we have Sins of Omission (great title) by Spoils & Relics released by Steve Underwood’s borderline uncontactable Harbinger Sound label.  Steve’s disinterest in promoting his releases is admirably, hilariously perverse (‘be resourceful’ was the advice given to hopefuls wishing to buy the last Spoils & Relics 7″ single) and, of course, by holding the prize just out of reach he only makes it more desirable.  Thus, and with the greatest respect to the other labels carrying their work, I consider Harbinger Sound to be the perfect home for this band.

The album comprises two untitled side long tracks of semi-improvised sound collage.  Which is A and which is B can be determined by examining the scratchings in the run out grooves of the vinyl but it doesn’t really matter.  Their music denies narrative.  Allow me a slightly academic moment to explain what I mean.  This is not post-modern pop art – there is nothing glib or kitsch about it, nor does it ‘refer out’ for easy laffs or nods of recognition.  The palette used is a largely abstract selection of found, domestic and field recordings as well as sound produced by the various electronic implements that make up their ‘kit’.  The source of any given element is usually (and presumably deliberately) unclear.  They are examining the innards of everything, poking around where noise happens and taking notes.  It is more akin to the meta-musical experiments of AMM and their progeny.

Don’t be scared off by this – you may by now be imagining the sort of woeful, earnest, Arts Council funded, improv key-rattlers we used to see at Termite Club but not a bit of it.  This music is not dry and scratchy, it is layered with humour (ranging from the wry raised eyebrow to banana skin slapstick), tension and a whip-smart self-awareness that speaks of the telepathic relationship between the band members when performing.  A piece by Spoils & Relics is about sound in the same way a piece by Jackson Pollock is about paint.  In summary: mightily impressive.

Buy Earth Calling.

Buy Sins of Omission.

alien currency: valuing stuart chalmers, robert ridley-shackleton, spoils & relics and the piss superstition

May 15, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 3 Comments
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Stuart Chalmers/Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Blunders (tape, Hissing Frames)

Spoils & Relics – Angels Trumpet Over Moonbeams (CD-r, Chocolate Monk, choc.252)

The Piss Superstition – Vocal Learning (CD-r or download, Kirkstall Dark Matter)

vocal learning frontvocal learning backspoils and relics - angelsblunders

Recently my heavyweight cultural commentator status was leaned upon by that talented noise scamp Duncan Harrison.  He wished to pick my brains in an email interview and then use my powerful insights to inform his MA dissertation, thinking, correctly, that my involvement would guarantee him top marks.  His subject, a fascinating one, is the construction of value in noise.  I won’t rehearse too much of what I said to him as a) much of it was culled from previous interviews and blog posts that can be found here or nearby and b) I don’t know what stage he is at in the project or if he intends to publish it himself.  Suffice to say it was a pleasurable business which got me thinking about a difficult subject that I’ve long been nervous about.

To put the question as simply as possible: when faced with two noise performances or recordings what, if anything, makes one better than the other and what allows the listener to make that judgement?  I have been mulling over the implications of this thought whilst enjoying these three releases.  I’ll use the excuse of the reviews to chuck in a bit of light philosophizing too.

A month (or so – sorry: taking care of a baby seems to shrink the calendar) ago, Stuart Chalmers generously sent me a copy of the split tape pictured above and his CD-r Daydream Empire on rock-solid noise label LF Records.  I was especially keen to hear the latter as Uncle Mark over at RFM’s sister blog Idwal Fisher had already lavished praise upon it.  Stuart’s blistering collages are constructed with care, dedication to detail, a dry wit and sense of rhythm.  There is an admirable fluidity to the craziness which suggests hidden narratives beneath the surface froth.  It is delicate and nuanced in places, gibbering bonkers in others.  The recording is immaculate, the package very smart.  In fact, I can’t think of an ‘objective’ measure of quality on which this release doesn’t score highly and yet…  I’m sad to say that I didn’t like it.  Over the course of several benefit-of-the-doubt re-spins I found my attention wandering, unable to latch on.  It is clear to me why others like it and why I ‘should’ like it myself, but knowing that doesn’t help.  Most perplexing – it feels like my fault somehow.

The split tape Blunders, however, despite being ‘less accomplished’ (and I realise that using phrases like that is not helpful when the nature of ‘accomplishment’ is the point being discussed but, hey, I’m not the one writing a dissertation) is great.  Stuart’s side begins with a groaning cassette player, low on battery power or suffering from finger-on-the-capstan syndrome which accompanies Stuart sorting out his recycling, clearly in a bad mood.  There is an appealing physicality to this section – I like to hear things chucked about.  The following sequence is simplicity itself: a short loop is augmented with various clatters and allowed to rise and fall as rhythms emerge and are subsumed in the growing crescendo.  This cuts abruptly and is replaced with some ghostly, chittering squiggletronics layered in overalpping spirals sat atop an uneasy moan.  Effective and gratifying.  Robert’s side begins with a tooth-loosening trebly whine.  This isn’t something I would usually warm to, but it is subject to occasional and semi-rhythmic disruption which proves hypnotic.  Like watching the cool, even flow of a melt water stream disrupted by a child bringing odd shaped muddy objects to wash in it.  The dreamlike atmosphere is continued with a strangely breathy middle section and compounded by a final sequence that feels like lying on a beach listening to light aircraft pass overhead, well, until a smearing of the sound suggests this may be something slightly more sinister – an imposed memory perhaps.  So what of ‘quality’?  Are there such things as objective measures?  If the attributes I list in the previous paragraph are examples then in a ‘tick list’ exercise the CD-r wins out over the tape.  However, as I far prefer the latter to the former, it seems that exhibiting all these virtues does not necessarily lead to a release being ‘good’.

Which brings us to the next point: is saying something is ‘good’ anything over and above saying ‘I enjoyed it’?  Is saying ‘this is better than that’ just a way of saying ‘I liked this more than that’ couched in pseudo-objectivity?  Can I get away with saying, for example, Angels Trumpet Over Moonbeams by Spoils & Relics, volume 4 in Chocolate Monk’s ‘The Well Spliced Breath’ series of releases, is better than all-but-one of the other items on the review pile?  Well, I’m going to…

Spoils & Relics are much loved here.  Their collages of found sounds, unfathomable scrapings, radio twittering and cultural detritus are superficially similar to many other releases that come my way but they seem to add an extra layer in-between their sources and results that others don’t.  Before being recontextualized, the causes they have collected get abstracted and uncoupled from their usual effects.  Elements are recognizable, of course, and some of the filters used are obvious (tapes sped up for humorous effect etc.) but everything is coated with an oily film of, for want of a better word, magic.  Perhaps because the group is a trio the sense that some kind of rite is taking place is more pronounced than it would be with a solo artist.  I dunno.  Never mind: this is 24 minutes well spent.  I was entranced, amused, fascinated.  It weathers repeat listens – the twinkling cragginess becoming more characterful each time around.

Whilst stopping short of claiming my judgement has an objective grounding, I might have a go at a kind of appeal to authority: my own.  I recognize this gambit has no logical force behind it but I have spent thousands of hours over more than two decades listening to and thinking about certain types of experimental music, and many of those hours/years have been spent engaging with this type of noise.  I’d like to think that I’ve developed a certain connoisseurship during that period.  I have a historian’s feel for context, and a fellow practitioner’s (I hesitate to call myself a ‘musician’) appreciation of the methods of construction.  Thus if some ne’er-do-well challenged me to justify my assertion that this CD-r is excellent I would put a friendly arm around their shoulder and calmly explain that I have put the hours in.  Experience allows me to appreciate depth, nuance, texture and/or take joy from immediacy and the unexpected.  Basically: if I know about anything, I know about this.

Which brings me neatly to the pay off.  For the reasons given above, I am well placed to appreciate and savour anything genuinely remarkable and unique that happens along.  Hang on a minute, the sceptic might say, didn’t you just assert that your trustworthy aesthetic judgement was based on a bedrock of accumulated precedent?  If so, how do you account for something unprecedented?  It’s a fair point.  I think I’d try and wriggle out from under it by saying that my experience has taught me that novelty has a value in and of itself and that finding something unclassifiable is usually a good reason for close further attention.  I love those ‘what the fuck am I hearing?!’ moments.  As I said to Duncan: in a scene where anything goes you have to be prepared for anything going.

The Piss Superstition, that is Julian Bradley and Paul Steere, is just such a proposition.  My bromance with JB is over-documented elsewhere on this blog so I won’t go into that again.  Suffice to say I cry uncontrollably whenever I remember that he has deserted Leeds for that Manchester.  Still, we’ll always have the music…

Vocal Learning comprises three tracks totalling approximately 26 minutes and comes on a sleek, black playstation-style CD-r in the nicely designed, minimal packaging pictured above.  It is the second release on Dave Thomas’s microlabel Kirkstall Dark Matter and effortlessly betters the inaugural release by yours truly.  I’m honoured to be in such company.  The music suggests systems gone wrong, like some guy pushed in a punch card upside down and then went to lunch leaving everything running.  Yet heavy, juddering electrics describe arcane symbols as they spiral through the iterations of this garbled instruction set.  Something truly wierd is being revealed.  The serrated buzzing suggests saw mill equipment escaping its moorings and consuming itself as one bladed machine vibrates into the path of another.  But again, there is nothing random about this movement.  All is being conducted by an unfamiliar intelligence for some unknowable purpose.  In the end though, all metaphors, similes, superlatives and whimsy just slide off this band or, at best, get caught in the gears and mashed – such is the beauty, mystery and power of their output.  They do not sound like anyone else and yet, somehow, it turns out that this sound is exactly what I wanted to hear.  Its value can only be calculated by fumbling with an alien currency, glinting strangely in my palm.

Thus: Vocal Learning is the best album of the year so far.  Why?  Because it is – I said so.

LF Records

Hissing Frames

Stuart Chalmers

Chocolate Monk

Spoils & Relics

Kirkstall Dark Matter

The Piss Superstition

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