Tags: dale cornish, extra normal records, halcyon veil, Keir Neuringer, matthew wright, second sleep, spoils & relics, spoils and relics
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 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 – 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.
Spoils & 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.
Tags: feral tapes, joe murray, miguel perez, skull mask, spoils & relics
Skull Mask – Artificio y Fetiche (self-released download)
Skull Mask – Musa (self-released download)
Spoils & Relics – Private Garage Collection (tape, Feral Tapes, 010, edition of 40 or download)
Skull Mask – Artificio y Fetiche / Musa
If you asked me, and I’m taking your continued reading as a straight affirmative, I would say the guitar is a desert instrument. Think Jon Collin, Cian Nugent and Loren Mazzacane Connors – they’ve all explored the lonely sound of the desert scorch.
And you can certainly see why. Those spare six strings can mimic the warped shimmer and the emptiness of a desert landscape in slow simple plucks. The baking heat lends a laziness and fractured timing to the dusty fretboard.
Miguel Perez, another amazingly important guitarist to the N-AU, packs his atlas and strolls the deserts of this world (and the next) on the sun-damaged Artificio y Fetiche.
The taught and springy acoustic steel-string has a slight reverb warble as Miguel conjures up the skitter of a green lizard’s quick limbs, the poisonous spines of a cactus and the glassy psychedelics found in handfuls of sand.
This is a desert that’s teeming with life, studded with microscopic activity, scuttling and slithering between the bone-dry gullies.
The Flamenco influenced ‘Cortometrajes’ explodes with energy fingers rippling like a buttery dawn.
So clear and precise is Miguel’s vision and playing it takes the majestic ‘Piezas’ to remind me of what I’d forgotten- this is an improvised guitar album – as it shuffles between bliss-out sun worship and knotty string bending.
But it’s the closer, the soon-to-be-classic ‘Sangre,’ that makes you come back again and again for a rusty fix. The imagined opening credits to a lost Western it rolls like a Django with an extra thumb; it’s acid-blasted and 70’s-day-glo jaunty in equal measure.
At around 15 minutes Artificio y Fetiche is a trip too brief and yet the much longer Musa still leaves me with an empty craving.
The two lengthy tracks on Musa stretch things like perished rubber. The surface of these recordings is littered with stress-lines and furrows, clicks and bumps that show a real human bent over double, hands blurring with speed.
On the title track notes are spat-out rather than neatly placed. A disorder and chaos reigns. But to judge this expression random would be foolish. Ever so slowly, ever so gently a sense of order is constructed in small sections, each folding into each other. A Moorish pattern, all azure-blue and cream emerges in egg-shell tones. As you stand back you pick out familiar patterns and lines. A map? But to where? But before your brain can muster a reply you find your feet shuffling forward, unable to resist.
Somehow Miguel has broadcast ‘Nada es Perfecto’ from a distant Ballardian future. Course red sands have crept into the cities leaving only the minaret’s thin towers, poking through the desert-creep, looking for all the world like giant abandoned onions.
The wind blows his haunting raga through the arrow slits; a rosewood moan, a restless questing. A sound so dry that it goes on forever.
Spoils & Relics – Private Garage Collection
Knowing the Spoils & Relics I wasn’t expecting any pebbles or nuggets but, make no mistake, the garage is in full effect. It’s chock-a-block with tin trays of screws, half-empty paint cans and a broken TV…
o///oo////o////At first it’s a jumble of unusable parts, scraps and ephemera\\\\\\0\0\\0\0\ooooo\o\o\o\\////ooo//o/oBut that of course all melts away when you add the human, the flesh ~~~~~and blood machine that takes the tightly-sealed jar of turpentine, beer towels and an XXXXXXXX old projector and turns that into a compelling narrative_____))()()The ghost >><<<<of memory haunts these dark ruffles and smeared hisses)(((((ooo>>A hum becomes a glass of fizzing alka-seltzer))))))A shifting ‘shish’ is folded into a matrix of voices)><><>Machinery hums and whirrs – a busy crackle industry but incredibly delicate+++Aural flytipping?+++The dynamics are kept XXxxXXX low and introverted, almost shy, with only the occasional brassy honk>>><<<…
The side B is ever-so-slightly busier>>><<>><>> with sounds overlapping and ()()( (())meshing messily rather than lining up ‘straight like a soldier’o00o)Oo0)Oo This added dimension takes away none of the quiet menace; in fact it OOOO adds layers of subway/\underpass paranoia like a sudden face at the window)()(***()))(((((((((()))ooooiiiiiiiooooOOOOOO>><><><<Snatches of art-core jams involving mahogany and ivory pieces slapped down in unknowable rhythms()(()””””!><><0000)0IT LIVES IT’S OWN LIFE, BREATHS IT’S OWN BREATH 000<<>><><)()()) )(())0o0o0o))
…This private garage is truly abstract and at times could be a ‘lost’ futurist recording from 1913 with all it’s sepia clanking and rattling. At around 10 mins per side this is a perfect power-listen for the busy radical. Get busy people.
Tags: 777 was 666, aaron dilloway, altar of flies, chocolate monk, dylan nyoukis, hair stylistics, joe murray, john wiese, karen constance, luke poot, marc hurtado, phil minton, rick potts, skatgobs, smegma, spoils & relics, t mikawa, the custodians of the realm, the new blockaders, yeast culture, yellowhouse
Skatgobs – Pointless (CD-r, Chocolate Monk, choc.314, edition of 40)
Various Artists – Found Secret (CD, 777 was 666, 777-022, edition of 300)
Skatgobs – Pointless
The cockney fug of Café Oto gives way to a relaxed domestic burr and the sharp acoustic slap-back you get between Victorian terraces.
Please welcome Skatgobs
…says some showbiz dude and the performance starts with Luke Poot in your left ear, Dylan Nyoukis in your right and Phil Minton all over your face. These three have been pulling gunk outta their necks for about 1000 years or so but tonight they are concentrating on collective mouth-music and similar damp jaxx.
For those expecting duck-like explosions, brace yourself. The sound here is mainly gentle; hissed swoops and whispered threats are the vocabulary. Each individual – Poot, Nyoukis or Minton creates fresh cockles and whelks from that tonsil and mind conglomerate but it’s the collective that makes this one a speciality bean. Ideas may launch individually but work in tandem then triplicate. Things lock pleasingly together for a while then peel away… reflective soap bubbles.
The ‘hssss-furrr-chow, chow, chow’ is lightning fast with pico-routines and micro-dramas played out and passed from cake hole to shell-like to shrimp joke like a juggler’s hot nut. The collected minds carefully splice each presented ‘bluurr’ or ‘tssshhhh-ch’ with an infinite number of other potential ‘blaaaahs’ to become a 50’s Radiophonic but without the sellotape and white coats.
The pace is brisk enough to satisfy any Minor Threat fan but the deepness of this game means we’re looking at things along the vertical rather than horizontal. I’m not saying this is a hippy-band meditative piece (this is way more large-colon than third-eye) but a certain gravity and space is required to sup properly .
It’s been asked before but I’ll ask it again. Does this work without the red-faced gurn and fat-cheeked pop; the sweaty visual to eyeball wide and contextualise? Well of course it does, listening to this in your own dungeon, it becomes an abstract electronic, they (P/N/M) become the human synths with a Mentat’s purple lips.
So dearest librarians… do you file this under Sound Poetry, free-release throat metal or tooth-jazz?
Categories become problematic and stifling with juice this fresh so park that thought buddy and slip these randomly between Editions Mego and Naxos joints, let the punters sort it out.
Essential? You betchya.
Various Artists – Found Secret
The N-AU loves a compilation: short odd-ends and snippets, bedfellows a-strange and lumpy. This compilation finds loving arms for all its wonk-eyed children.
But what’s the general feel? Is it a ready reckoner, a ‘now’ check against your wish list or a wide open window to glistening new green fields? That all depends on you, my dearest of all possible readers.
Does this tickle you?
- Rick Potts – Calliope collapse/loop-ography. Ninja Tune scratched and scratched but never got this blunted.
- Spoils & Relics – Gandalf’s pocket fluff rubbed on a shiny pate. Squeals become veals. Never an accident ignored.
- Yeast Culture – Dot Matrix Disco! Micro-events drench you like drizzle to awake refreshed but inky.
- Dylan Nyoukis – Close-miked MB Games (Frustration? Perfection?? ) summons up a slobbering beast muttering oaths to pond-scum reverb. Munch the kelp!
- Smegma – Travel expenses claim recorded in the medium of squeaks and gingerly sliding tones. “How much for an egg sandwich?”
- Aaron Dilloway – Congolese Ping-Pong. The heat effects the balls so they become heavy as sand. To be inhaled violently, with paddles proudly flapping.
- Hair Stylistics – Reptiles let loose in the studio. You’ve heard of Lounge Lizards right? Go-Go revolution with £15,000 worth of percussion.
- T Mikawa – a cleansing pixelated conundrum. The sphinx rendered in exclamation marks. Singular as a Morse Code fist.
- New Blockaders – Mystery men rattle a waterfall. A ghost of Lisa ‘Lefteye’ Lopez does backing vocals in the style of a ticking car bonnet. Malfunction never tasted better.
- Yellowhouse – From the brain canal of every blues guitarist ever. When half-formed is overdone we all win!
- The Custodians of the Realm – The urban jungle beautified with sheets of sound (Coltrane on tapes). Tiny Indian head massage works my skull as beds vibrate in the emptiness within.
- Altar of Flies – Any Moomin re-boot needs to leak this into the mix. Other worlds but with a distinct Northern flavour – like Dill sauce I guess.
- Karen Constance – 25 years of Eurovision distilled into a pipette and dripped slowly into the corner of your eye. A slight sting then blissful, herb-scented numbness.
- John Wiese – Bristles like my chin. See-sawing horns rasp like they are ribbed with foul rubber. The unease suggests significant REDRUM music.
- Marc Hurtado – Motley Crue’s Mick Mars gave off this vibe in black waves, up to, but not including 1985’s Theater of Pain. The residual mung is collected in jars and left to ferment.
Take a chance sir? Feel like a flutter madam? Catch this one while it’s piping hot.
[Editor’s note: Found Secret cover pic nicked from the Mantile Records site, where this CD is also available.]
Tags: blood stereo, chocolate monk, collage, dictaphonics, dylan nyoukis, f. ampism, fritz welch, humansacrifice, ikuisuus, improv, joe murray, kieron piercy, no audience underground, noise, spoils & relics, tapes
Kieron Piercy & Dylan Nyoukis – An Unripe Preoccupation with Nonagenarian Moroseness (CD-r, Chocolate Monk, choc.305, edition of 50)
F.Ampism – Pattern Interrupt (CD-r, Chocolate Monk, choc.286)
F.Ampism – The Ancient Wing (tape, IKUISUUS, ikasus-046)
f.ampism & f.welch – shouting a hymn down the cosmogonic dream hole (CD-r, humansacrifice, HS009)
Kieron Piercy & Dylan Nyoukis – An Unripe Preoccupation with Nonagenarian Moroseness
Mr Kieron and Mr Dylan present a 27 minute odyssey – a minute for every year of Kurt Cobain’s life on this coppery beast.
Just in case you’ve stumbled on RFM from Cuba or something here’s the back story. KP hails from inland Megalopolis Leeds and plays tapes and devices in the hypnotic-power trio Spoils & Relics. DN plays similar tapes and devices but this time from the damp coast of Brighton with memory-scrub duo Blood Stereo. Together these gently glowing men methodically flip the switches in my head marked ‘fump’, ‘whirr’ and, most importantly ‘squelch’. Right on!
Kurt’s early years are depicted as a gentle hissing – a rising of the sap through hollow young legs no doubt! Cheeky. But by Junior High the AM Radio starts to fill his blonde little head with snatches of ‘The Mac’ stripped of everything apart from Stevie Nick’s breathy acrobatics (she sighs like a pro), each expulsion of C02 piped through an intricate system of fur-lined loops.
Our man comes of age. And while much ink is spilled over his punk rock credentials (the Flipper jean jacket patches, the Scratch Acid mixtapes) little time is spent studying his Linguaphone experiments, playing Greek Progressive Rock through that new Walkman contraption, gurning along while dropping potatoes into a ceramic bowl. But of course Piercey & Nyoukis nail this moment perfectly. History is rewritten – check your facts Charles R Cross!
The move from Fecal Matter to Nirvana is a small one, but still important to note. With eyes firmly fixed on the prize of rock explosion, a series of stretched-out faux frog calls batter my poor eardrums… but all rippled and slushed. Some said the decision to open that infamous Reading Festival set with a choir of Pelicans was a career-limiting move (and some still blame the drummer) but those brazen sea-birds honk with a mournful timbre – a cosmic disaffection rather than a cry for raw herring that says more about The Stooges and the taxonomy of ‘alternative rock’ than any limp chord or riff.
The birth of a child and a marriage takes a psychic toll as serious as Geffen contracts so it’s no wonder the mood turns darker with a comfortable helplessness – skittering pops and shuffles leaking out of my tiny earbuds mirroring the sound of grazed knees.
Now it’s near the end; the final moments amplify the torment of ‘the Rome incident’ and track the disembodied voices of the medical staff and the cardio vascular crack of the ribs. It’s not comfortable listening, but then again what is? You want comfortable? Drop some Mantovani. You want real? Plug into this delightful moroseness and let those silent tears well up and spill from your fat eyelids.
F.Ampism – Pattern Interrupt, The Ancient Wing, f.ampism & f.welch – shouting a hymn down the cosmogonic dream hole
All hail F.Ampism, king of the Quiet Village and noisy jungle!
Pattern Interrupt creates a sweaty negative zone where swollen lacewings fripp by at ear level and recycled bicycle bells become a spooked gamelan.
If you peak from under your oversized pith helmet you can watch the noble tribes holding a soft revolt, a velvet coup by waving their iPhones at the gawking tourists, SIM cards full of classic Ubuweb downloads. The cultural incongruence is too much for some holiday makers and they run screaming through the sinister Swiss Cheese plants. Those that remain hawk it up for pregnant yuks.
But it’s not all Hugh Tracey tropical offerings. The frosty steppes get a look in too. Picture a landing site for a burned-out cosmonaut; thousands of miles of desolation stretch out in all directions with only the unthinking wind for company and a boner in your spacesuit.
Mark my words. There’s a yearning quality to these recordings. A longing for a retrofitted future where Margaret Mead pursued foul-electronics rather than Anthropology and Blind Lemon Jefferson composed for the frost Calliope. This alternate future/past is best played out on ‘The Infinite Inward’ a wormhole through NYC docks (circa 1946) via Moondog’s fully open third eye.
No-Audience Exorcists take note: ‘Did you mean Wasabi’ features some of the most evil wonk-muttering, like the wolves that live in the wall of our haunted house. ‘X’ marks the spot me hearties!
The Ancient Wing tape has found a home on the awesome Ikiuisuus label* and folds the incidental music from Ulysses 31 into World in Action Technicolor. The separate tracks, peppered with ‘bloops’ and ‘bleeps’, work as a perfect whole and sound like a beautiful analogue lava-lamp slowly melting in a head shop.
And, overall the mood is funky; damn funky. I don’t get the opportunity to use the ‘F-word’ much on these here pages, but as any funkateer knows, it’s all about an appreciation of space, of slipping your timing and mining the absence. What you leave out determines what the listener has to put in whether it’s on the god-damn one or not. You gotta work for your funk and F.Ampism makes my pulse rate flitter.
But, apart from getting me a hot foot this collection is giving my memory centre a good old going over. The partial, ever mutating tunes and rippling, bubbling synths that lick like a sauce kick off a series of half-remembered sensory dreams: the toilet smell of Whitby, this hiss of an opening vacuum flask, the feel of vinyl car seats in July. I feel like a dormant part of my brain is flickering into life, the lights are starting to glow. An aid to meditation and psychic recovery!
On the quite beautifully packaged Shouting a Hymn Down the Cosmogonic Dream Hole our very own F.Ampism is joined by my favourite transplanted Texan – Fritz Welch. The theme is jazz-tinged industry with a busy, busy earful of tinkering taps, bells, squawks and diddles moving across eight untitled micro-moments. I’m delighted to hear Fritz is back behind the drum kit again with super-sharp scattering as dry as twigs vibrating the piggy membranes. F.Ampism is majoring on Dictaphones and I have to say, one Dicta fan to another, this playing is nothing short of astonishing: witty, quick of thumb and lyrical.
Although the energy level is cracked up to Jolt Cola levels that doesn’t mean any detail is lost in the delightful kerfuffle. ‘Recorded in Brighton & Glasgow’ proudly proclaims the label and I’m guessing this is no clinical studio jam but a warm-up, pre-audience knock-about that captures all the spontaneity of a show without the beer-fug and crowd noise.
The first couple of tracks hit that pretty classic drum/Dicta duo bullseye, and after a while voices, and longer snatches of tape get fed into the audio-mincer. My bristly ear picks up some of Fritz’s Crumbs on the Dumpster tales of youthful indulgence amid the clatter and flummox. But nothing stands still. The subtle sound of coughs and whistles slide into the brain-pan and add an intimacy sadly lacking in your Incus-wannabe releases. Wibbley-wobbly mbira tones get plucked and tea cups jitter on bone china saucers; it’s all grist to the collective sound-mill but never feels slapped on with a trowel. That old balancing act – being free in spirit but precise in intent is easily soft-shoed across Niagara. The double-headed Fritz-ism wants you to listen and ENJOY listening.
So Enjoy. Do it!
*Hey cheap skates! Ikiuisuus not only brought us F.Ampism on this very day but you have to check out these free downloads from a whole bunch of beards and forest folk on their colourful website. The label that keeps on giving eh?
Tags: collage, extraction music, gary myles, improv, joe murray, johnny scarr, kieron piercy, music concrete, new music, no audience underground, noise, porta, spoils & relics
Spoils & Relics – Embed and then forget (CD, Porta, Porta #9 CD, edition of 150 in screenprinted sleeve)
This 31 minute, one track piece is the perfect ego-less recording. The sounds themselves are the smeared oils, the deft placement, the golden frame.
Keeping things uncluttered in a music concrete/collage/extraction approach is a challenge to even the lone piper yet this three-lobed beast (The Spoils & Relics band) pull it all off with no sweat or aches at all.
They easily turn the trick of making Embed and then forget totally immersive. With so few familiar sounds each click, burr and pop takes extra meaning from what I see around me. This all adds a pleasant fuzzy edge to my tedious morning commute: the Blue House Roundabout summons the erotic push and pull of heavy traffic, the sky lightens over the Town Moor churning the slate gray palette of the sky to austere duck egg blue. And, after a time, the fat patter of rain merges with the hiss of stereo-balanced electronics making crackles (although I can’t be quite sure) inside my very skull.
Crikey. I arrive at work (usually heavy with bureaucracy) as light as goose down.
But what if the visual stimulus is cut off? What if I just concentrate on the ear-hum? Will I think any less of this coquettish listen?
I plug in with darkness and think…
…there can be no better flag-bearers of the psychedelic domestic.
Kettles, or it could be electronics, weave chaotic patterns. This is the sound of being in the house all alone. Beams creak…distant Astro Wars get jammed in the scullery with that wonderful amusement-arcades-through-cotton-wool thing going on. Pennies drop and a lady gasps.
There is a constant flow of ideas all itchy with life; reminding me of a similar feeling – running your finger over a gravestone, nails gouging the names. I’m caught up in a multi-sensory melting of meaning into a constant ‘now’. A narrative presents some radio play: a potting shed séance, some misunderstanding over an old diary entry resulting in a bonfire of photos and trinkets. All the while a refreshing pessimism is overlaid across the fragile mung like soft wounds knitting new skin.
With a sharp, flinty ‘Kaakk’ the record whizzes to a close. Man. I gotta jam this disc again and again.
Listeners who favour that hi-fidelity will be delighted. Beards who dwell in the no-fi world of clanking tape jizz are going to be entranced. Skronk fans will be be-calmed. Zen droners will wake up refreshed and sharp.
Embed and then forget, a disc for all seasons. A lesson for all
Tags: crater lake sound, drone, electronica, fumio kosakai, harbinger sound, hijokaidan, improv, incapacitants, japanese noise, memoirs of an aesthete, new music, no audience underground, noise, pete cann, phil todd, spoils & relics, spoils and relics
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)
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.
Tags: acrid lactations, ali robertson, andie brown, anja dornieden, bridget hayden, brighton, cm von hausswolff, colour out of space, dictaphonics, dieter schnebel, dylan nyoukis, electronic voice phenomena, enzo minarelli, evp, f. ampism, fordell research unit, free radicals, gen ken montgomery, gonzalez monroy, greg kelly, gwilly edmondez, ilan volkov, improv, joe murray, jooklo duo, juan david, karen constance, lovers ritual, m. stactor, malcy duff, maya dunietz, michael esposito, new music, no audience underground, noise, occult hand, pascal ansell, patrick goddard, posset, roman nose, sharon gal, sindre bjerga, spoils & relics, the handeye (bone ghosts), the y bend, thf drenching, usurper, virginia genta, vocal improvisation
COLOUR OUT OF SPACE / 6
INTERNATIONAL EXPERIMENTAL SOUND FESTIVAL
Performance Weekend: 8th – 10th November, 2013, Brighton, UK
Editor’s note: RFM had two roving reporters present at this year’s Colour Out Of Space festival down in that Brighton. Regular contributor Joe Murray, who also performed, enjoyed himself enormously. Pascal Ansell, whippersnapper and occasional guest of RFM, ahh… not so much. Copious enthusiasm from Joe first, a more exacting response from Pascal to follow. Over to Joe:
Ahhhh Brighton…the sun, the sea, the squalor! I’ve had a soft spot for Brighton ever since I was a wee kiddie with a vivid imagination, trying to piece together the violent Mods & Rockers legend with the twin-set & pearls crowd that strolled slowly down the pier huffing camphor-scented liniments.
These days of course it’s all about the hipsters and Bubble Tea but I’m not complaining; I’ve got my freak on as I meet my gracious host Bod for a pint or two before we lurch expectantly to the main venue, The Old Market. Immediately adopting ‘Brighton time’ I missed the mysterious Occult Hand and outrageous Acrid Lactations who I both really wanted to see – please accept my apologies Occult Lactations, I was with you in spirit.
It was sometime around pint four I met up with my co-reporter Pascal Ansell and we immediately set ourselves up in a Hunter S Thompson style press-pack; silver-eyed Tuna darting purposefully through the flitting shoal. We rejected the usual journalistic conventions to move straight from gentle ‘forming’ to chaotic ‘storming’ within minutes, swapping war-zone anecdotes, snippets of esoteric record knowledge and the loudly proclaiming the relevance of Sammy Davis Jr. The result of such firm-calved bonding and reckless drinking resulted in a beery bonhomie for sure but also meant I pretty much missed every act to play on Friday. Oops…I did it again! The one that got away was the Enzo Minarelli. Dressed in dark jeans and tight black T shirt, his hair scraped back, there was an air of the ninja in his vocal guffings. Assisted with backing tracks of further mouth-chaff the precise and deadly Enzo sliced the air with steel-edged hissing and lippy smacks. This was no po-faced sound poetry lark but a right old hootenanny with his piece ‘Poem’ being turned into ‘PoemMacaroni’ in the curdled air. The rest of the bill was crammed with exceptional acts of legendary avant-gardary but to my shame dear reader I spent the remnants of Friday propping up the bar catching up with old friends and making new ones. I’ve never been a good mixer Midwichers but I made up for 43 years of insecurity and introversion with full-strength good cheer and love for my fellow travellers. You’re (hic) my best pal (hic)!
Saturday morning was an exercise in sickness, pain and remorse as I sheepishly ate brunch with family Bod and took the drizzly bus in disgrace to witness Gen Ken Montgomery in a Hove Oxfam shop. The steamy windows of the Oxfam obscured the ‘standing room only’ crowd as I inched in and stood, stomach lurching, for this exploration of the 8-track tomfoolery. Gen Ken, dapper in vintage Op Art shirt and tie manipulated old portable 8-tracks filling the damp air with warped 70’s AM rock all mashed and rotting. The warbles and trembles on the tape gave the Bee Gees et al a sepia fuzzed-out logic as loops were found and layered up into the consistency of dusty blancmange. He was a right card too, playing it up for the steaming crowd, making asides and throwing out hula-hoops of pulsating ‘waaahhhhoooosssshhhhh-voooshhhhhh’. After Gen Ken’s performance I wandered round Brighton for a bit, drank some peppermint tea (swearing off the demon drink for the rest of the weekend) and soundchecked with the great Gwilly Edmondez & THF Drenching.
At about teatime I found myself outside the very proper St Andrew’s church for some right high culture. Old-guy Produktionsprozesse composer-guy Dieter Schnebel was interviewed by Ilan Volkov about his approach to music and personal history. Dieter seems a game old bird, humble and gracious but with a sharp sense of humour…he somehow manages to call the audience stupid and make them love him for it…dude! A bunch of doofs play some Schnebel pieces: Maya Dunietz world premieres the ass off a beautiful and catchy piece for piano, voice and tambourine. Ilan and Maya throw some shapes in a gestural piece where composer and pianist struggle for supremacy like Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Then Maya and Dylan Nyoukis get all serious and tackle a vocal piece for restricted mouthshapes and we end up with the most spellbinding piece of the afternoon. Like air hissing through naked ribs, dry and crackly. The pair, dressed in formal black, embrace at the end of the show, cracking hearts at CooS and letting pure love flow. The only way to follow such an intense and refined performance is of course with some chips so I headed to Bankers (Brighton’s best Fish & Chip shop) for sustenance.
Energised by hot potato and grease I walk into the Old Market to see the friendly and familiar face of Sindre Bjerga coaxing gentle tape loops out of his mess of wires and objects, polishing them up and floating them on the breeze like water-filled balloons pulling gruff-clouds out the air. Stepping round his desk he carefully wraps up a few people in abandoned cassette tape, hurls a miniature cymbal onto the deck and politely waves marking the end of a neat little set. Next up were a bunch of A-Band/Ceramic Hobs/Zero Map/Smell & Quim refugees calling themselves The Y Bend. The programme describes ‘no-mind sounds’ which pretty much sums up the Hawkwind out-takes vibe. Personally I’m transported back to the days of Anti-Poll Tax benefits as this jam band takes a note and jiggles it proper between guitar, keyboard, violin and eccentric hand percussion making incidental music for the revolution.
Roman Nose take the stage behind them and win the rosette for ‘best band of Saturday’. These days Roman Nose are very much a ‘band’ bridging the gap between rock’s looseness and tape/noise/jam’s love of overload. It’s almost funky with a pushing and pulling, a wrapping and un-wrapping of tape-fuff mittens across fluttering drums and breathy intrusions via flute and black-bamboo sheng. Throw some horns for the Nose!
Huge wineglasses are set up amid electronic doo-hickery for Sharon Gal and Andie Brown. These glasses are Jeroboam massive, pregnantly full; delicate but comprising a thousand potential shivs. Like an inverse Justice Yeldham the glass is thumbed to produce deep rasping drones. It’s great to watch the deft hand movement turn into such singing and bassy mulch. Gal uses her voice like some terror-choir re-enacting a trauma. Electronic squash makes a Black Metal grunt adding to the dungeon gloom. Wow…a Carpathian Forest sprouts from the floor as the thin rays of a dismal sun rise slowly in the East. The bald guy with all the pedals is M. Stactor; his mask is a composite of Her Majesty Betty II and Saddam Hussein. Slowed down speech goes ‘burrrrrrr’ and get shoved through a variety of whizz-bangs to come out ‘BURRRRRR’ anointed with contact-mic crackle and hand-palming crunch. Brand new CooS trio Edmondez/Posset/THF Drenching adopt the dual Dictaphone position like a crouching Judas Priest. Gwilly bangs his head like Halford. And seeing as I’m involved modesty prevents me for saying too much about this fine-legged beast.
I caught about 20 seconds of Bridget Hayden’s set but within that 20 seconds I heard the entire history of overblown fuzz-guitar from the Sonics to the Velvet Underground to the Dead C. Rusty chainmail began clanking out the walls; rolling thunder crashed from the ceiling. The very gods showed their pleasure in ancient, animalistic ways. Oh boy! I was still kicking myself when Greg Kelley & Dylan Nyoukis sat erect and purposeful on a pitch black stage. Side by side they were, with Greg’s tubes augmented with cold brass and Dylan’s with moist flesh. Snide hiss and scything tones crept almost guiltily from trumpet and gob, playing merrily between wet-mouth slappings and full jowl squelch. This was no dramatic, overwrought, performance piece nor academically apologetic. The “my voice, your voice” mantra summed up a lot of the days sessions in a simple repetitive phrase. Some jokers joined in on coughing and started a response group reflex (koff-KOFF-koff). The optimist in me thought the spontaneous outpouring would lead to a scratch feral choir but no…it was a piss take…yet troupers Kelley & Nyoukis toughed it out cackling and blowing the third eye till it blinked all yeasty. Lovers Ritual (Maya Dunietz & Ilan Volkov) used voice and violin to beguile, encouraging minimal and thin tones out the cracks in the light fittings. Not content with sticking to the stage both Maya & Ilan ended up on the floor, among the punters, stroking and keening their flexible bones in a tangled tableaux.
It’s Sunday. The Lords day. And me & Bod celebrate with a visit to a typical Brightonian Car Boot sale; he picks up some Colombian tapes, I nab a Fantasy Island fridge magnet and we both head happily to the Sallis Benney Theatre for the famous CooS film screenings. I really loved what I saw but I soon discovered it’s hard to take notes in the dark so am relying on musty recall only. Standouts…the bonkers The Handeye (Bone Ghosts) by Anja Dornieden & Juan David Gonzalez Monroy which coupled 19th Century taxidermy with digitized commands and the bumbling chunter from Patrick Goddard’s charming Free Radicals. As the films ended, us gaggle of cinema-goers milled around, checking maps and GPS systems to find the next venue, giggling over being able to genuinely say, ‘See you in church later man.’ A walk along the cold, crisp sea-front takes us back to St Andrew’s Church for a session of spooky Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) from CM von Hausswolff & Michael Esposito. I’m really excited about this one. Since I was a kid I’ve been in love with that flexi disc that came with the first edition of ‘The Unexplained’. Of course I never knew these supposed ghost voices were EVP but I totally dug the hissy weirdness. The two gents open with about 15 minutes of static tape hiss with the occasionally clunky ‘chump’ like ghosts dropping wooden marbles in a bucket. The fuff was pretty damn immersive and had some of the flagging hordes crashed out on the pews. CM and Michael then took us through some of their EVP recordings (cue demonic chuckle) made in this very church. What could have been (possibly should have been) spectral and creepy turned into a bit of a laugh as the particularly chirpy Michael introduced second-long sound-clips of the dead calling us ‘assholes’, urging us to ‘get out’, that they ‘are in love with married men’ and…to much hilarity…‘it’s all shite’. Wow the ghosts sound like angry jakeys!
Back in the Old Market I strained limbs to find my comrade Pascal. It was Jooklo Duo next and I was pretty sure he’d be right up the front for this. Some lazy sleuthing revealed Pascal had packed up and gone. He’d had enough and trekked back to Leeds earlier in the day. Oh Pascal…you would have loved what came next! Jooklo Duo were absolutely amazing. Now I know that’s trite, lazy journalism but I was too busy picking my eyeballs up off the floor to concentrate on clever words. This was a 100% lung-bursting blowout with drumming as agile as a crack-fuelled squirrel. I’m no jazz buff but I like my brassy honks and squeals. Jooklo one, Virginia Genta, plays like Pharaoh Sanders with some nifty Arabic scales quickly releasing that cheeky kundalini from the base of my spine. Woah boy, I said Woah! Not one or two but three casual acquaintances said this was ‘better than Brotzmann’. Heard that? Promoters…book ‘em now.
Brighton local f.Ampism loops and loops and loops domestic clunk, mbira tones and gentle sighing all engaging and releasing softly like the briny blue sea just 100 meters down the street. A film is projected behind his hat and beard; cut-up collage sourced from what seems to be the family Nyoukis archive and Martha Colburn’s paint splattered horror-core. I have to admit I’m a total fan-boy of Amp’s choogle-leech-warp but this was a whole new saltine! Fordell Research Unit sat like a couple of chess masters and manipulated a pretty damn heavy drone with micro-movements. So far, so good. In tiny, tiny increments the drone gets grunty and somehow slower and fuller until we’re faced with a monolith – a black slab, playing the theme tune for the world’s most evil super villain. There’s a growing feeling of excitement for the next set from noise-monkeys Spoils & Relics with Karen Constance. Faced with a table full of gizmos and wires the quartet sat in quiet contemplation building a Jenga house of quivering tones and darkly-twinkling steam. Like some giant engineering puzzle, pieces are interlocked; a spark starts a fire and is extinguished ruthlessly by the hobo fire brigade. After a time the factory klaxon calls and the workers down tools and melt into grease.
It’s no secret; I’m a little in love with Usurper. Ali Robertson and Malcy Duff have been making the most singular no-input music for half a decade at least. Writing about Usurper is always a tough gig; their total lack of any of the regular handholds makes the amateur pamphleteer work hard, busting chops to describe their occasional cutlery pings and tales of Auld Reekie. Tonight they are joined by Dora Doll, one half of the legendary Prick Decay, on scissors as a circular story unfolds on twin tape recorders. Narratives intertwine as a regular haircut turns into a meditation on the seaside and seaside ritual. A grumpy Ali gets wrapped in ribbon like a maypole, Malcy crawling on the floor streaming the red and white tapes behind him. Hairy objects are presented to Ali & Dora for snipping. A guitar FX pedal, a pair of glasses, a descant recorder are shorn of hair and (in some cases) indecently rubbed beneath the barber’s shawl. Apart from the taped stories, folding in and out of phase there is a rare skronk-interruption on contact-miked yard brush ‘Shussssh, shusssh, shussssh’ as Malcy coughs up hairballs. Any traditional ideas of what performance is are dashed. Any preconceptions of what underground art should be are delightfully roasted. Usurper are right out on a limb, doing their very own thing and making up a whole new set of parameters. What on the page seems like random vignettes has a strong sense of direction and pace…and most importantly fun. I’m laughing like a drain and looking round to see a crescent of bemused yet joyful faces. No one is really sure what they have witnessed but pretty much everyone agrees it was damn fine.
The tapes spool to an end, Usurper and Dora bow and grin, and my CooS adventure comes to an end. It’s been a trip and a half Midwichers. Brighton itself is a beautiful backdrop to this very psychedelic weekend, the bands/acts/performers have all brought their own slice of oddness with a spice and professionalism the naysayers often miss. But for me it’s all been about the people…the floating and transient chats, the laughs and the in-depth conversations. There’s that quote about the Velvet Underground isn’t there? They didn’t sell loads of records but everyone who bought one formed their own band. Well this weekend might have been an intimate affair but I wonder how many projects and plans were hatched, how many ideas were sparked and alliances formed. CooS brings the no-audience underground together like a giant think-tank…but what’s gonna occur? I can’t wait to find out.
Editors note: a comprehensive selection of band bios and links can be found on the COOS website here. Photos by Joe or Marc Teare.
alien currency: valuing stuart chalmers, robert ridley-shackleton, spoils & relics and the piss superstitionMay 15, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 3 Comments
Tags: chocolate monk, drone, hissing frames, improv, julian bradley, kirkstall dark matter, lf records, new music, no audience underground, noise, robert ridley-shackleton, spoils & relics, spoils and relics, stuart chalmers, tapes, the piss superstition
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)
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.