the radiofreemidwich random tape grab-bag experiment, or: joe murray empties his bulging sack

March 30, 2015 at 12:06 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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joe's bulging sack

[Editor’s note: Joe Murray, our resident beat prophet, has convinced his skeptical editor to temporarily abandon the usual formatting for reasons that will soon be apparent.  Thus there are no release details up front, pictures will follow reviews and links will be found where they lay.]

Like all my RFM comrades I have a teetering bunch of tapes to review.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.  It’s a privilege and an honour to hear so many dispatches from the No-Audience Underground.

But sometimes I feel I’m doing you a disservice my friends.  It’s the same old, same old format: slot tape in, listen thrice, make notes, look at any other internet gubbins, write up final copy, post to Rob and await his judgement a’ tremble.

But today I want to spice things up baby.   I’m going 50 shades on this shit.

So, in  order to make things (hopefully) more entertaining and experimental in spirit for you, my dear reader, I chucked all my review tapes into a drawstring bag and will pull them out, randomly, sight-unseen ready to slap into the cheap-o hi-fi.  No prior knowledge, no prejudice etc.

Mystery Tape One.  The first thing I notice is an ambient hiss, growing and forming, covering all the other electronic ‘chunk-ka-kuh’ like Spanish moss.  Things get less rhythmic and more drawn out (elongated gong strikes / trapdoor creak) creating a soundtrack feel with some floating voices chattering.  There’s a synth or something humming giving this a very European feel… a dark Froese perhaps?  Now there’s electricity in the air as the test tubes fizz and pop; a scientist twitches and mugs singing snatches of opera in a cracked voice.  Somehow the radio picks up their brain waves: forgotten memories of the seaside and music hall?  An Anthony Caro sculpture comes to life with deep space moans.  Blimey.  Who’s this?  I pop out the tape and check it.   Bless my soul.  It’s the ever lovely Claus Poulsen with Collected Dreams on Skrat Records.

claus poulsen - collected dreams

Mystery Tape Two.  OK…so far so good.   I fumble in my bag and pluck out the next offering.  It drops neatly into the wide-mouth slot and kicks off some dark rubbery knockings, slurm residue and spurks-thumb.  Oh yeah man…this is tremendous stuff!  There’s a treacle-like bubbling and whomping, like some living salt-water lake throbbing dangerously, searching out new tributaries with its briny fingers.  This is pure sound abstraction that builds layers of thick, dark sound-paint until a giant glove smears the oily pickle.   The noxious mixture spreads thin, lightening the hue and spreading the sticky mixture over frame, wall, floor and ceiling until we are all covered with the stuff – a burnt Rothko orange.  Side two opens up with a fling of ducks all ecstatically hawking and honking.  These sounds are passed though some electronic doo-hickery that seems to split and repeat certain quacking frequencies so sections of the greasy reverberations get plucked for presentation with a sheen and glimmer.  The water fowl retreat to roost as we dip our ears below the slick surface of water to luxuriate in music for rowing boat hulls; wooden creak and swollen pop.  Gosh, this tape is really hitting the spot.  Who do I have to thank?  I should have known…it’s ‘The Ambassador’ Tom White with his Reconstruction on Alien Passengers.

tom white - reconstruction

Mystery Tape Three.  This tape starts off with some nice tape gunk that moves unhurriedly between half-tunes played on fuzzed-out organ.  A female voice with the smoky cadence of William Burroughs tells a tale about some sci-fi travel (or something) while Working Men’s Club beats (tiss-be-be-bon-tiss…) flit in and out of the organ tunes.  And then found sound and field recordings get thrown into the mix.  Not in a haphazard manner, no sir, this is finely tuned and tweaked like the exact halfway point between a Radiophonic performance scored by the late great Broadcast and waking up from a particularly vivid dream.  I have to be honest with you readers… I’m stumped here; I have no idea what or who or when this is.  It’s certainly more lyrical than the usual shimmy but the narrative and structure are all over the shop giving this a delightfully Victorian psychedelic edge.  I can’t wait any longer; I crack under the pressure of not knowing and check the cover.  Ahhhhh….it’s that beautiful and wonderfully eccentric duo Winter Family who are playing here with their How Does Time tape on Psychic Mule Records.  It is indeed a play, a play designed to be listened to on a very particular train journey between Besançon in France and  La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland for very particular watch makers.  The ultimate commuter listen.

winter family - how does time

Mystery Tape Four.  Your typical Northern pub chatter sets the scene with clattering bottles and knowing laughter.  An on-stage introduction welcomes you and says, ‘This is for d boon’ before a proper guitar riff chugga-chuggas.   OK…that’s a reference to the wonderful Minutemen  – I get that; are we jamming econo?  Is this gonna be some tour spiel dude? But, at the same time I’m expecting some tape collage work to start up, a wonk-move or gurgled gob etc.  Some music concrete shit and all that doings.  But no…this is pure UK hardcore, recorded very, very  live, possibly from some archive with guitar/bass/drums and an angry attitude.  Think Heresy or something but with a bit more of ‘baseball bat to the face and neck’ feel.  The songs come in short, sharp blasts.  Three or four in a row – chunka – chunka – cheer – crowd babble – chunka- chunka.  It’s invigorating stuff and seems to get looser and more chaotic as the tape goes on (always a bonus for me).  I’m totally lost here.  No idea who it is or even how it crept into my review pile. Shall we look readers?  OK…it all comes flooding back.  This is Battery Humans on Fuckin’ Amateurs with their For D Boon tape.  It is recorded live and recently: 6th September 2014 to be precise and features one Guy Warnes AKA Waz Hoola, the unsung hero of the northern drone scene, on drums.  The usual F#A! standards of presentation apply with anarchy inserts, random gaffer tape sculpture and art fliched from Viz Comic.  Side B is another live recording but this time from Scurge in 1991.  You want rage?   You got it.

battery humans

Mystery Tape Five.  I press ‘play’ and an undulating, chemically insistent, flute trills with the sort of chaotic abandon that pins Old God MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI into a restful slumber.  A thousand chaffed lips puff noxious gas through human thighbone pipes while the jester dances merrily on (like he’s posing for a Marillion album or something).  Gosh…this is pretty intense.  The next track saunters by sounding like that crap ‘pre-computer’ computer game Simon hooking up to Terminator’s Skynet and crashing civilisation as we know it into a frosty digital sludge. Blimey…there’s a hard stop as I turn the tape over but as soon as I click things into life the holy racket starts again.  This time I’m getting something like a rouge Funkadelic jam; real cosmic slop rejected by Mr Clinton for being too out-there as layers of keyboard fuzz and squealing huff pile up and up and up.  A brief moment of calm (the keys ape Vangelis in blade runner tights) lets me breathe again before I’m pushed out a 30 storey window (metaphorically, dude – don’t panic, man) and, as I tumble, I catch snippets of Mexican TV, Concrete Noise, psychic experiments and terrible quiz shows as I hurtle past the apartments spinning dangerously out of control.  An uneven gravity pocket spares me a sticky end and I land, gracefully and precisely, into a pair of oxblood Doctor Martins – the world’s kindest bootboy.  Crows cackle around me, applauding with electric beaks.  I check the details, no wiser of this tapes provenance but washed clean by its synesthetic high, to find out it’s my old Papal Bull buddy Jon Marshall and noise-nudist Pascal Ansell cavorting under the No Thumbs banner.  This beauty’s called Slug Birth and is available from the brand-spanking-new Tutore Burlato label.  If TB is a new name on your radar the quality hallmark of its founder, one Ezio Piermattei, should seal the deal.

no thumbs - slug birth

Mystery Tape Six.  A hawking ceilidh – all X-ray gingham and a skilful cheek-slapping solo.  Reet…now there’s some ‘brum-t-t-tuh’ ursonating richly, fupping my sonics.  Gosh…this is a tasty oyster to be gulped down whole.  A general Scottishness takes hold with gristle and blum; stiff wire wool scraping and beautifully played Dictaphone garble.  I almost trip over my big feet in my rush to turn it over as I’m aching for side two.  And that’s where my experiment has to end.  No system is perfect.  It’s darn near impossible to ignore the fact a voice immediately states…

I’m Ali Robertson

…in Ali Robertson’s voice, soon to be joined by a variety of other familiar burrs. This side is one long ‘game’ of read personal biographies all overlapping (stop-starting) set to strict rules that our cuddly despot is keen to enforce.  Waves of casual voice and chatter settle into strange rhythms – probably some mathematical fractal shit, interlocking as neat as a Rubik’s satisfying ‘click’.  So yeah…durrrr…it’s Ali Robertson and his handily titled Ali Robertson & Friends tape on the always brilliant Giant Tank label.

ali and friends

So my excellent friends, I hope that worked for you?  Me?  I’m refreshed and re-born!  My ears are prickling with cleansing static and expectation.

But tell me: how are you doing?


wired for sound part 16: culverised

August 10, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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culver & waz hoola – maps of war (matching head 153)

Culver & La Mancha del Pecado – Trans-Atlantic Harsh Terror Drones (matching head 174)

culver/seppuku – Dedicated To Soledad Miranda (At War With False Noise, atwar043)

Inseminoid – Old Blue Lass (Finite Change)

Two things: firstly, I know the purists will be upset that I’m including mentions of a CD and a CD-r in the previously tape-only ‘wired for sound’ series of articles.  Well, the reason is that Lee Stokoe is so tape that all his releases should come on cassette even if they don’t.  You’ll see what I mean.  Secondly, the Inseminoid cover is even less SFW than those above, so I’m keeping it under the counter.  OK, on with the show…

I sometimes approach a parcel from Lee Stokoe with trepidation.  I don’t pick it up gingerly, expecting it to explode, of course.  What I mean is that, after recognizing the handwriting, I may pause and think ‘whoo boy, am I ready for this?’  This may surprise readers familiar with RFM’s usual fawning reverence when it comes to Lee’s projects, especially Culver.  Is not the arrival of such a package reason for unbridled joy?  Well, not entirely.  Lee’s releases demand concentration, repeat listens, high volume – in a word: commitment.  Taking them seriously is hard work. And I am, dear reader, nothing if not a lazyboned procrastinator.

However, a week or two after plunging into this cold, dark sea I find myself familiar with the tides and currents at work and am able to safely tread water over these murky depths.  Last week I caught myself thinking: ‘great, that Inseminoid album is just the right length for the commute to work.’  I had achieved a familiar state of mind: a sort of meditative conviction (temporary, but sincere when held) that Lee’s work makes everything else seem like irrelevant frippery, decadent and unnecessary.  I had been culverised.

So how does he do this?  There is a working method common to most of these releases and, indeed, to many other Culver albums.  Lee starts with some kind of triggering sound – an anxious whine, a slow throb, a surprisingly delicate tape-loop – then erodes it to nothing, dissolving it in corrosive waves of entropic noise.  This noise is almost exclusively bass-heavy rumble, a slow-motion fire.  Usually the only treble is the ubiquitous tape hiss accounted for, quite deliberately, in the composition and as much an instrument as the guitars and keyboards that, presumably, supply the rest.  So there is a beginning, but no middle, and not even an end as such – you get 30-45 minutes then it stops.  No crescendo, no satisfyingly complete thematic variations, no cathartic release.  Nothing straightforwardly ‘musical’ at all.

That is not to say it is featureless.  On first or second listen, especially if you aren’t prepared to be disciplined, it sounds like being on a double-decker bus idling at a junction.  Your patience and concentration are rewarded, however, as changes in tone and texture reveal themselves.  Like a giant sturgeon moving slowly, and apparently without effort, at the bottom of a lake.  Like waking in a seemingly pitch-black room and gradually distinguishing objects as your eyes adjust to the dark.

And it is dark.  When Nietzsche said: “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” (from Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146, 1886 – God bless Wikipedia) he forgot to mention that as well as gazing back this is the noise the abyss will be making.  This is the soundtrack to a horrifying, Lovecraftian existentialism: the universe is unimaginably hostile, not in intention – it has none, but in its utter indifference.  The affectlessness is what is so frightening.

Interestingly, and in my humble opinion, this poses a problem for Lee’s visual style.  His aesthetic is derived from his interest in the transgressive.  He is, for example, a student of exploitation cinema and the packaging of his releases is informed by his love of horror film and, increasingly, the pre-internet history of pornography.  This leads to covers that are, at best, unnerving abstract collages or, at worst, the kind of morally dubious filth that a family blog such as this forces you to click on surreptitiously.  My contention is that associating this music with this imagery is simply unnecessary.  Five minutes in its company will convince you of its seriousness and all the porn does is cheapen the impact; it actually distracts you from the blankness which is its ultimate strength.  I dunno what Lee can do about this, of course, and how he wants to wrap his stuff is entirely up to him.  For what it’s worth, I like his graphics anyway.

There is a similar problem for Lee’s collaborators.  He features on many split releases – two of the four above, for example – and the question for the non-Culver half is always: how do we compete with the abyss?  Take Seppuku, featured on the excellent At War With False Noise CD (trainspotter note: the title given above comes from the AWWFN website and is nowhere mentioned on the release itself).  Their sound is monstrously heavy – a grisly hybrid of doom metal and power electronics – and terrific stuff on its own terms.  However, compared to the preceding half-hour of Culver it appears childishly theatrical.  Camp, even.  ‘Hush with all the screaming,’ I found myself thinking, ‘don’t they know I’ve just stumbled out of the Total Perspective Vortex?’  La Mancha del Pecado fares better as the B-side of the amusingly titled ‘Trans-Atlantic Harsh Terror Drones’ (nice bit of self-parody there) by, well, sounding more like Culver.

The two collaborative recordings are just as arresting.  Maps of War is by Lee and Waz Hoola, head honcho of Infinite Exchange records and the evil genius responsible for my favourite drone piece of recent times.  Both parts are built around a sly, slow throbbing which adds an interesting rhythmic element to the ominous rumbling.  Wholly involving.

Inseminoid is a duo of Lee and George Proctor of Mutant Ape and Turgid Animal.  Track one follows the Culver blueprint outlined above: triggering loop, buried in noise, 34 minutes.  However the tonal range is a little wider than usual so you get more of a ‘wall noise’ experience (a term everybody seems to have learnt from As Loud As Possible magazine).  I love the helicopter-blade thwapping, like the soundtrack of a badly loaded film strip punctured by the projector sprockets.  You also get a proper ‘end’ as the last few minutes quiet down and fade out.  Track two appears to have been recorded live, is half the length and slightly more agitated.  The audience is denied a cathartic conclusion by the performance cutting abruptly to a girl-group pop song.  Apologies for not recognising it but I’d guess it was The Sugarbabes as Lee is their most unlikely fan.  I’ll end on that incongruous note…

Matching Head has no website, likewise the mysterious Finite Change.  Try Lee direct: barely legible contact details can be read here.  The Culver/Seppuku split can be had for a mere £5 from At War With False Noise.

artifacts of the no-audience underground: preslav literary school, orphax, waz hoola

June 6, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Preslav Literary School – Veer (Interdisco ID027)

One lunchtime last week I took a stroll to a small park that forms part of the campus on which I work.  St George’s Field, formerly a cemetery, is now an arboretum of sorts and is intended to be a place of quiet contemplation.  In it are three magnificent rhododendron shrubs (trees?) each 12-15 feet high which are currently in bloom.  From a distance: three billowing clouds of purple somehow tethered to the grass.  Up close: a wall of flowers, each a variation on perfection, alive with bees drunkenly stumbling from one bloom to the next.  Glorious.

Throughout lunch I was wearing my mp3 player and the soundtrack was this release by Preslav Literary School.  It fit very nicely indeed.  I may already have dozens of albums full of satisfying, well constructed drones, but there is always room for another particularly satisfying and well constructed instance of the type.  Available as a free download in mp3 or flac format from Interdisco.

Download here.

Orphax – A Room With A View (Striate Cortex S.C.41.)

Another excellent release on Andy Robinson’s impeccable label Striate Cortex.  The package is of the usual high standard: a full size plastic CD wallet contains a liner of apparently hand-made paper, a window in which reveals a glossy photo of a handsome moth.  The music, a single track of about 20 minutes duration, is contained on a 3″ CD-r which comes nestled in its own wallet within.

So what of the music?  The room in question appears to be the cockpit of a spacecraft shaped, for reasons too complicated to get into here, exactly like the moth on the cover.  The view, at first, is the hanger where we hear it fuelled, prepared and launched at which point the view becomes the frigid nothingness of space.  Once safely away, the pilot settles down to watch a video of a man leaving his family house and trudging up a hillside path.  The pilot cracks its equivalent of a grin then busies itself with the process of landing.  The view is now of sparks and the growing orb below.  The sound is of the moth-ship manoeuvring in the heat of the thickening atmosphere.  We land on the hillside that we saw on the video.  The sound of crickets from outside can now be heard, slightly filtered, in the cockpit.  The pilot issues a command which sounds unnervingly like the mewling of a domestic cat and a hatch opens.  Some distance ahead the man from the video looks nervously over his shoulder…

Great stuff.  Buy here.  Visit Orphax here.

Waz Hoola – Multiply Reality by Infinity (Red Guard RG002)

OK, no stories this time: just the facts.  This is a proper CD containing two tracks totalling about 55 minutes.  It is a solo recording by Waz Hoola, the head honcho of Infinite Exchange Records.  It comes housed in a cardboard sleeve sealed with a blob of red wax.  The monolithic heaviness of the music is underscored by the accompanying booklet: a collection of photographs of cracked slabs of rock (paving?).  But I get ahead of myself…

‘Infinity’, the first track, builds into a deep, resonantly textured drone – its components like lava liquefying the motorway tarmac it rolls over.  Occasionally the cooling surface cracks to reveal the white-orange heat inside.  It is no joke recording this stuff – distortion or clipping can really harsh the buzz or pop the enveloping bubble – but this is immaculate.  I was agog when, at around the 21 minute mark, something remarkable happens: there is a drum roll, no – it’s a rhythm track, then a guitar riff, then someone stamps on the pedals and the whole piece insta-evolves into a stoner metal groove.  This is, to put it bluntly, fucking genius.  Both this type of rock and drone music involve a pursuit of ego-dissolving noise and to layer the latter with the former is so perfect that it made me laugh out loud when I realised what was happening.  When I first heard this I was walking to work and arrived at my desk with a few minutes still to run – I shoed my colleagues away and sat it out, marvelling.

The last of the riff fades out as the second track, ‘Reality’ takes over.  The final cymbal crash stretched out into the start of a shimmering, metallic drone.  This ebb and flow carries us through a twenty minute comedown, reality indeed, before leaving the listener beached.  Possibly my favourite thing that I’ve heard all year.

Buy here.

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