artifacts of the no-audience underground: hobo sonn and michael clough

December 22, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Hobo Sonn – Synthetic Preserves (C60 cassette, Sick Head, #31)

Hobo Sonn – Swarm (CD-r, self-released)

Pulse Field I & II (CD-r, self-released)

hobo sonn - synthetic preserveshobo sonn - swarmpulse field

…and so we come to the final reviews of 2012. I’ve taken an editorial decision to leave anything received here at Midwich Mansions on or after 1st December until the New Year. Thus you have some excellent tapes from Mantile, a Petals CD-r on WGGFDTB and the new Panelak tape on Crater Lake Sound to look forward to, amongst other quality items. I’ll also be posting my own end of year round-up and announcing the winners of the second annual Zellaby awards in due course – I can sense you shivering with anticipation already.  OK, take a deep breath as it is time for the business of today…

The releases pictured were acquired at the Truant gig in November and thus just slipped under the wire.  Due to pre-performance nerves I didn’t really register the Hobo Sonn set performed by Ian Murphy (joined, for one night only, by that Kieron Piercy of Spoils & Relics) but I dug the fact that they wanted to play in darkness, illuminated only by the LEDs on their kit, and requested that no photos be taken.  Their seriousness of intent led to a wholly immersive set, much enjoyed by an audience lulled into a state of appreciative concentration.  Or so I’ve been told – I was pacing about, worrying.  Why not listen to the recording and judge for yourself?  Off stage Ian is a charming, easy-going gentleman and we had fun beforehand chatting about a mutual acquaintance from my days of misspent youth in Brighton.  During the inevitable post-gig merch swap he generously gifted me the tape and CD-r above.

Synthetic Preserves, released by Sick Head, comes with a great black and white cover and is housed in one of those oversize, squishy plastic cases that computer game tapes used to be packaged in.  I love the squeak as you open it.  The track is an hour of variations on a guttering throb (split into two equal halves by the fact of tapeness) and is deeply, penetratingly satisfying throughout.  There is a chewy graininess to the fuzz and a compelling stickiness to the pulse.  It will make you as happy as poking a bead of tree sap with a twig.  The rolling layers move at different speeds and flop, tangle and fall over themselves in a very gratifying manner.  Imagine an old, battered and malfunctioning machine extruding a substance with the consistency of tarmac, grinding and stuttering because the ingredients are not pure enough to guarantee a smooth flow.  Terrific.

Swarm, self-released by Ian via his website Rotten Slushy, is an 18 minute CD-r packaged in a length of what might be player-piano roll.  I don’t know – it’s mysterious.  The track kicks off with spiralling, billowing string shimmer, like the angry insistence of a disturbed wasps’ nest, or sometimes like the whine of ultra-high performance engines – the rise and fall feels like drifting in and out of consciousness at a F1 Grand Prix.  Around the 11 minute mark the drone is locked down with spikey plucks, some bibbling electronics then usher in the second movement and this in turn builds to a remarkable final few minutes.  This section could be the soundtrack to the denouement and aftermath of a 1980s tech-noir thriller, whilst the instrumentation calls to mind 1960s Hollywood.  Imagine Blade Runner directed by Alfred Hitchcock and scored by Bernard Herrmann.  Surprising, ambitious, intense – very highly recommended.

So finally, for today and for 2012, I come to Pulse Field I: Summer Meadow, Pulse Field II: Chthonotron Wakes by Michael Clough.  What we have here are two lengthy, throbbing analogue synth workouts on one CD-r.  The colour inserts feature simple patterns blurred in a way that exactly represents the working of the music within.

‘Pulse Field II: Chthonotron Wakes’ could be the alpha waves of a sentient machine, constructed by the Old Ones, as it is roused by foolhardy occult scientists who have made the mistake of plugging it in.  Or I fancy a less Lovecraftian picture: imagine the contented purring of an adorable kitten.  Now imagine the same noise but made by a kitten 40 feet high and carved from granite.  There you go.  ‘Pulse Field I: Summer Meadow’ is, despite the title, barely any more pastoral.  This is a rustic scene on the micro level: where ants toil ceaselessly and mechanically, or lower: where nematodes devour and be devoured, or smaller still: is this what photosynthesis in the innumerable blades of grass sounds like?  Unlikely I know, but cool to think so.

Both tracks are minimal and rhythmic enough to accompany the most ferocious cardiovascular workout yet the tweaking is subtle and involving enough to make them oddly soothing in an armchair context (well – spoiler alert – the last few minutes of PFII do get teeth-looseningly sharp so you may find yourself putting down the wine glass and fiddling with the volume at that point).  Like the best minimal music, I suspect the reaction it provokes in the listener will depend on the listener’s mood and situation – even the angle of your head in relation to the speakers makes a difference.  I love it.

Both Hobo Sonn releases can be purchased via Ian’s website, I’m not sure Clough’s release is ‘available’ in any commonly understood sense of the word but you could try dropping him a line at and blagging.

Have a lovely Christmas, dear readers, and I’ll see you in the New Year!

artifacts of the no-audience underground: objects by michael clough

August 7, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
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Michael Clough – Atem Tanz (Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.003, 3″CD-r, edition of 50 and download)

Walpurgisnacht 71 (self-released CD-r and booklet)

KleeKlonk (self-released CD-r)

Right then, my love for this guy, and our illustrious history together, has been well documented here, here and here so I’m going to crack on and you can go clicking later should your appetite be whetted.  My intention in this piece is to draw your attention to Clough’s return to the physical object.  His aesthetic has always contained a highly developed visual aspect so I knew SoundCloud wouldn’t be enough…

Speaking of which, first up is Atem Tanz a track lifted from Clough’s SoundCloud page (‘SoundClough’?) by the ever-resourceful Daniel Thomas.  Dan considered it, rightly, worthy of ‘proper’ release.  Thus, courtesy of hitting-the-ground-running-label-of-the-moment Sheepscar Light Industrial, this can be had on a limited edition 3″ CD-r for mere pence or downloaded via Bandcamp for a whatever-you-like donation.  It is described further down this page as:

a gloriously super-minimal analogue throb.  When listened to at the appropriate volume, that is: so loud as to be consciousness threatening, it sounds like the sewing machine that God used when she was stitching up creation.  Fucking amazing.

…and since writing that blurb it has only lodged itself more determinedly in my lugholes.

More surprising was a package I received a little while ago from the man himself.  It contained two CD-rs and a booklet and was so obviously and delightfully his work that I started writing a ‘thank you’ email before I realised that there was no covering note in the parcel.  I took a chance and sent the email anyway.  I wasn’t wrong.

After bemoaning a lull in the flow of zines and zine-type objects the tide has now definitely turned. I’ve had to sweep my wife’s ornaments and family photos into the bin to make shelf room for all the arty pamphlets that have been arriving.  Clough’s is one of the most intriguing.  No details of its authorship or production are provided, just an anonymous cover and contents made up entirely of smeary fingertip photocopies (example above).  These are humorous and vaguely unsettling, like a lo-fi version of the squashed meat (and, ahem, ‘two veg’) photographed for Chris Cunningham’s Rubber Johnny.

The booklet appears to accompany the Walpurgisnacht 71 CD-r, sister recording to the fondly remembered Mittelwinternacht 71 (sorry to give the game away…).  The new album, comprising one half-hour long track, is a monster.  Its sprung, metallic bounce suggests giant trolls bashing out a gamelan-style pulse on high tension electricity cables strung between pylons.  Presumably using torn up street-lighting poles as beaters.  The crunching rhythm that this devolves into is like a slowly melting fire alarm in the frazzled bowels of the underground Krell complex.  Almost panic inducing at times.  Magnificently so.

KleeKlonk is a relatively sedate affair.  Relatively.  It is named in part for Clough’s favourite artist Paul Klee (and may even be a reference to a cheeky riff on Klee’s famous quote about ‘taking a line for a walk’ that started my previous review of Clough’s stuff) and contains a bit more space than the other two releases.  It has a kind of milky, pale blue, early morning feel. The blopping sounds like water in the pipes under the bath here at Midwich Mansions.  It is just as relentless as the others but somehow… lovely.

I don’t know how many of these objects Clough has made but he did give me permission to write this so I’m now giving you lot permission to bug him about ’em.  Send a polite email to and see what happens.

clough, truant, termite club, phil todd and the lost second album

May 21, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Posted in fencing flatworm, musings, no audience underground | 4 Comments
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ff010 truant – zellaby’s beautiful sacrifice

Michael Clough, known universally as Clough, or Cloughy to his closest confidants, bestrode the Leeds experimental music scene like a loose-limbed, roll-up-smoking colossus.  A scholar of improvised music, a dry wit and as Yorkshire as a pontefract cake, he played bass in the legendary kraut/prog outfit Rancid Poultry and their successors PRP Group.  The latter were so rigourously mysterious that, despite a weekly rehearsal commitment, the trio’s compulsive perfectionism meant recordings were rare and gigs vanishingly uncommon.  He also manipulated squiggle-boxes for microsound troupe Klunk and helped run the Leeds free-music institution Termite Club.  It is through the latter that we came to be friends.

Cloughy, like Julian who I was bromancing at a similar time, was one of those chaps I was always glad to see at gigs because I knew that, in his company, the night would be fun no matter the quality of the music.  We met for lunch, along with Neil Campbell, once a week to talk nonsense about music and when I picture him he is always wearing a shirt (sleeves rolled up) and tie as he had always ‘come straight from work’.  I left his wedding reception early in order to see Whitehouse.  It was perhaps inevitable, given our shared interest in long-form electronic music, that we would hatch a band together.

The name ‘Truant’ came about, I think, as a kind of joke: Cloughy was busy with PRP Group, I was busy with midwich/fencing flatworm – Truant was what we did when we were bunking off.  The idea was simple: we would create semi-improvised, fairly lengthy tracks constructed from loops and throbs ‘playing themselves’ over which Clough would add a moody bassline.  Our very first attempt was recorded for posterity, prosaically titled ‘rehearsal’ and skillfully mixed by Cloughy into something we both thought promising.  You can hear it by clicking on…

In fact, so proud was I of this swing-and-hit that I clipped two bits out to be the A and B sides of a 7″ single.  Money stopped this from being realised, unfortunately, so why not imagine sliding a black disc onto a turntable as you click on the below:

  1. church and state part 1
  2. church and state part 2

There were three gigs I can remember (by which I mean document – I keep my memories in box files as my head is not entirely reliable), all of which took place in the space-age year 2000.

The gig above was on a blisteringly hot summer Sunday.  We throbbed and shimmered as people rolled up then joined in with the slack-jawed-but-delighted response to outsider magician June Powers.  He entertained us with a set of untricks that had us worrying about his mental health.  This was so odd that if its reality wasn’t confirmed by the poster I’d have thought that I dreamt it.  Vibracathedral were in their prime and finally put to bed all those Velvet Underground comparisons by playing with their backs to the audience behind a curtain of silver tinsel – you see?  Nothing like ’em!  Note comical entrance fee – those were’t days, eh?

Secondly came one of my favourite experiences of playing live.  Again at the Royal Park, again sweltering – though this time due to being rammed with people.  As Jackie-O Motherfucker had about 27 members and the stage was full of gear, we set up at the mixing desk.  The vibrations from our bass-heavy set started the drum skins hissing and strings vibrating until the instruments on stage were playing themselves.  When Jackie-O came on they jammed along with us before, as we faded out, beginning their meandering proper.  It was a magical moment for me.

The third and final gig of 2000 was at the terrific Termite Club Festival in November.  In between this and the last gig Truant had become a power trio with the addition of Phil Todd on guitar.  Phil had recently moved to Leeds from Stoke and needed to be distracted from his oatcake withdrawal.  He did this by getting involved with every musical project within a five mile radius of the Adelphi Hotel (now cruelly gentrified, alas).

I remember this weekend very fondly despite many of the reasons for doing so being ignoble or infamous.  Cloughy and I were on the door on Friday and the headliners V/VM gave us a bunch of CDs to sell on their behalf.  After their gruelling set of mangled pop covers we gave this unwanted product back to a guy we thought was a member of the band.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t and the bewildered punter scarpered with his unexpected haul.  In our defense V/VM were playing wearing masks, but they were unimpressed with our gaffe and later made caustic remarks about Arts Council funded gigs which I suspect were aimed at us.  Oops.

The headliner booked for Saturday was legendary improv guitarist Derek Bailey (who sadly died in 2005 – rest in peace, Derek).  A few days before the show, I was sat staring at the peeling wallpaper in my slug-infested hovel when the ‘phone rang: it was him!  At first I was so star-struck that I didn’t really cotton on to what he was saying.  “Holy fuck!  Derek Bailey is speaking to me!” I thought, “He’s telling me that he has the shits so bad he has to cancel!  Amazing!  Hang on, wait a minute – what was that?!”  Luckily, Paul Hession (officially the best percussionist in the UK) who had been booked as Bailey’s foil roped in fellow free-jazz wildmen Mick Beck (wind) and Pat Thomas (keys) to play instead.  They delighted the crowd by channelling the spirit of Sun Ra and tearing the place up.  Sometime later Mick offered me the recording of this set to release on fencing flatworm and I bit his hand off.

But I get ahead of myself – earlier it was our turn.  I was already jittery having been shouted at by Mick Flower of Vibracathedral for standing on a snake’s nest of cables that was apparently a vital component of his set-up (though now I suspect he was joking with me – not always easy to tell).  I attempted to gloss over my nerves with beer and volume.  I was ‘playing’ a loop of vinyl out-groove crackle that was layered and amplified into a wall of white noise, Cloughy’s vintage synth gave out a bowel-churning wobble, Phil took the role of the absent Bailey and crashed out some improv guitar.  We had people pressed against the back wall of the venue, including some hapless work colleagues who had turned up out of politeness and had no idea what was happening.  I enjoyed it but Phil was grumpy that I had drowned out his solos.  I thought we were ‘sparring’ but was apparently mistaken.  Heh, heh – I’ll never understand how improv is supposed to ‘work’.  Maybe we should have rehearsed.

Anyway, I’m unsure of the chronology but the first album must have been recorded around this time, as a three piece, in Cloughy’s attic, mixed by him and released as ‘zellaby’s beautiful sacrifice’ by me on ffr.  One track, titled that fight you lost, clocking in at well over half an hour, built from relentless throbbing (Clough), loops and swooshes (me) and guitar maltreated in various interesting ways (Phil).  Phil is dismissive of his playing on this piece but I dig it.  All hipster fans of Emeralds please note: this is how it should be done.

At some later date the three of us returned to the attic to record the follow up and here began the end of Truant.  The recording was, I think,  more ambitious and more accomplished than our first attempt and I was impressed with the first mix.  However, as I remember it (and note: I am an unreliable narrator) Clough wanted less guitar and Phil, unsurprisingly, wanted more.  The issue was never resolved, the album, ironically titled ‘The Truant Accord’, was quietly shelved, and Truant ceased to be.  I was pleased to have done something so rock ‘n’ roll as to split up over musical differences but other than that the situation sucked.  Years past.

I realise that throughout I have been referring to Cloughy in the past tense.  This is not a eulogy, the guy hasn’t died.  It’s worse: he moved to London.  Ha!  I jest.  He and his better half Marie are enjoying life in the seething metropolis and getting on with the business of raising a kid.  We had drifted apart but, in an amusing piece of synchronicity, he got in touch via this blog at almost exactly the same time Phil and I dug out and re-listened to the long lost second Truant album.  We did this independently of each other – the time is obviously ripe.  All disagreements have been forgotten and when a CD-r was suggested there was a vigorous nodding of heads.

So watch this space.  Coming soon on Memoirs of an Aesthete/fencing flatworm recordings…

EDIT: Phil offers a correction: 

If I remember rightly, the 2nd CD didn’t get released cos I wanted to hold out to find a label who would do it as a proper CD –  never happened needless to say…

Heh, heh – told you I wasn’t to be trusted!  Hah – I’m gonna front it out: I’m a storyteller, not a historian…

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