Tuesday, December 31, 2013

SPON 38, 2013 and 2014

SPON 38, 2013 and 2014.   

The last time we saw Dr. Steg was in Blackpool at the Sleaford Mods gig. He handed me SPON 38 which is [was] several sheets of A4 sized card and paper with the Idwal Fisher blog url writ large upon it. There were some stickers too most of which Steg stuck to his head, furniture, wall, passers by, some in the shape of swastikas others just randomly dabbed. I awaited the angry email from the venues operators but none came. He also sent me the work of art you see above which has now replaced the ‘O level’ clock which never worked but which looked pretty good in a yellow plastic Bauhaus kind of way. Its a multimedia piece which means he’s glued lots of things to the canvas and painted over them; a pair of scissors, the top of a tube of toothpaste, half a plastic head revealing brain and skull, various bits of small machinery - I’m assuming the teeth are of the type you buy in sweet shops for kids. He also sent me a Xmas card with Jimmy Savile on the front. I’d tell you the message it carries but I fear being dragged into Operation Yew Tree’s ever widening grasp.

I emailed Steg to thank him for all of the above and to tell him of my run in with a bored truck driver on the M62 whilst returning from Blackpool. Steg’s email went something like this; left the venue, pissed up someones door and got chased off, fell over a display in a garage shop, found a polish taxi driver who’d only take a fiver, lost and won money in a casino, got home god knows when.

Apart from Dr. Steg’s emergence around these parts, 2013 will also be remembered for the rise of the Sleaford Mods and the second side of the Ceramic Hobs LP ‘Spirit World Circle Jerk’ [for which Dr. Steg did the cover]. The latter a drug trip taken with Burt Bacharach and Keith Richards on Blackpool front, the former the most exciting band to appear in the UK since the Country Teasers. The review pile continues to pique my interest. My liking for field recordings and modern composition continues apace thanks to two fine labels that are Gruenrekorder and Sargasso. Combining the two came Slavek Kwi with some of the most remarkable sounds I’ve ever heard. Filthy emissions from Stoke-on-Trent provide continued mental stimulus.

In 2013 I bought less music than ever before. It was whilst looking at the masses of merchandise on display at the Con-Dom show in Birmingham that I may have inadvertently said, in a too loud a voice, something along the lines of ‘what the fuck do I need to buy anymore noise shit for when I have masses at home that I’ll never listen to ever again?’ Which in the cold sober light of day is a little over the top because I do still like to listen to noise but only the stuff I get sent. Buying it seems pointless.

2013 was the year my patience with advertising and the advertising industry itself finally ran out. In an age where you can watch and listen to pretty much anything and everything you want via numerous devices without the nuisance of advertising, why anyone would choose to subject themselves to it without complaint not only bemuses me but annoys me too. I can just about suffer the few seconds of an advert if it’ll leave me in peace to watch the rest of my YouTube clip but if I see Paul McCartney pick up his guitar for that smug beardy twat on the Bang & Olufsen advert one more time I may just consider starting some kind of campaign. Or suicide. Or both. Commercial radio I abandoned donkeys years ago for this reason [that and the gormless, blathering DJ’s too of course], ditto the tabloid press [but not just for that reason obvs]. With the internet now becoming a plague field of advertising I’m careful where I tread there as well. Little pop up boxes that want me to spare just a few moments of my time drive me to distraction. And Radio 2 is off limits for fear of hearing Elton John blaring out his latest caterwauling pile of shite. I’m of the opinion that if Sir Elt ever recorded the sound of himself farting into a bottle Radio 2 would make it the single of the week and play it three time an hour for a month solid. The increase in music on Radio 4 is something that also needs keeping in check. There needs to be something you can switch on without instantly finding it annoying.

In 2013 I saw gigs by Con-Dom, The Bongoleeros, Midwich and the Sleaford Mods that will live long in my memory. Cut Hands and Onehotrix Point Never I’ll remember for a long time also but for entirely the wrong reasons. Too many emperors wearing far too little clothing.  

After reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest in 2013 I found others books mundane by comparison and for the first time in my life haven’t picked a book up in months. I found myself returning to Private Eye and the odd issue of the Wire whose end of year ‘Critics’ Reflections’ never fails to amuse, containing, as they do, enough material to keep Private Eye’s Pseuds Corner going for months. [Take Dan Barro’s reflections on 2013, Pros: The intricate constellations, foreshadowing an age of precarity and semiotic material oversaturation, of the London Tate Britain’s Schwitter’s show, the icy shadowplay of Beatrice Gibson’s The Tiger’s Mind ...’ ] rock on. In 2014 I may tackle Ben Marcus’s ‘The Flame Alphabet’ or Richard House’s 'The Kills’ or the new Pynchon with which the latter has been compared but for now I’m dipping and diving, enjoying life, drinking too much Manzanilla, thinking up things to say about noises and wishing everybody the best for the year to come.  


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Alice Kemp + Schimpfluch Gruppe

Alice Kemp - Decay and Persistence
Fragment Factory. FRAG28. CDr. 100 copies.

Schimpfluch Gruppe - Nigredo
Fragment Factory. FRAG29. C46

The last time we saw Alice Kemp was in Bristol for the Extreme Ritual Schimpfluch Love In. Kemp performed her ongoing work ‘Untitled With Scissors’ where she sits with head covered, skirt pulled up over here knees, a pair of open shearing scissors laid out in front of her. As she sits motionless a slowly building Hertz hum can be faintly heard. And then it ends. People are baffled, amused, entertained, lost in thought. No explanations were given or are are ever likely to be.

On Decay and Persistence she reworks two tracks by the performance artists Rebecca Weeks and Ian Whitford who judging by the image of Weeks cradling a pile of offal on the inner sleeve and the sounds herein have all already become honorary members of the Schimpfluch Gruppe. Its one hour long track creates tension and unease through the ticking of clocks [singular and multi-tracked], thunder like rumbles, trees being torn up by the roots and balsa wood being squeezed. Augmented by a series of pops, crackles, silences, laboratory bubbles, underwater burbles, traffic in tunnel drones and heavy furniture being moved around in the flat upstairs it bears comparison to Eb.er’s equally disturbing hour long work ‘Kotschleuder’, right down to the offal but with a trapped fly replacing the clocks. At times it becomes meditative, whether there are loops in there I know not but its repetitive nature sucks you in, the clocks become metronomes [perhaps they are metronomes, metronomes mixed with clocks] bombs go off in distant streets. A tense, haunting work.

Nigredo continues where Decay and Persistence leaves off. Schimpfluch Gruppe here are Dave Phillips and Rudolph Eb.er with Live Aktion 28.04.2012 Tokyo. Phillips and Eb.er perform with sounds created separately that you can hear in split channels on the flip. In the right channel [Rudolph] we find a pig snorting for truffles, a lunatic asylum going batshit and a ghost ship adrift full of the lost souls of drowned sailors. Knots in wood explode in fire hearths and a pet shop goes up in flames. What Phillips does in the other channel is layer on masses of ever increasing, destabilizing chaos. By its end a controlled barrage of noise torment is Hoovering up deaf screams. Its a long slow build to a suitably shuddering climax. And then you listen to it live in mixed stereo and the thing become even more intense.

Two releases linked by feelings of claustrophobia and dark menace then. Tense affairs. Like someone pointing scissors at you.




Monday, December 16, 2013

Sleaford Mods - Blackpool

Sleaford Mods
Father Stone

Scrooges, Blackpool, December 15th 2013

Dr. Steg was saying that it is only during the ‘off season’ that Blackpool’s surreal side becomes fully apparent. In the middle of December with the rain lashing down and the wind blowing a gale I couldn’t have timed it better then. The lousy weather appeared as soon as I turned on to the M55. Then I realised that I hadn’t been to Blackpool with my tourist cum day tripper hat on for many, many years. Would the pubs still be as shit? Would the pubs still be manned by psychotic drug fueled bouncers looking for any excuse to test out their knuckles on drunk punters? Would the bogs be running with piss? Would I still see nightclubs with names like Hush, Rumours, Sinatra’s, Ma Kellys [‘7 acts a day + Karaoke!’], Would the beer still be as undrinkable. Would there be gangs of sparkly clad transvestites with feather boas and pink Stetsons wobbling up and down Talbot Street in their size eleven court shoes? I saw some of the above but I think I’ll have to come back in August to see the rest.

Scrooges didn’t disappoint in the surreal stakes. A Dickens themed first floor drinking den full of tiny rooms at the top of some steep wet steps that lies off a street full of massage parlors and saunas with names like Thai Paradise. Two inglenook like rooms lay off the bigger room with the words like Hum-Bugs [sic] painted in swirly script above them. Football plays out on numerous screens which nobody watches. This turns to darts which I hope is still going to be playing when the Sleaford Mods take the stage, I mean pub floor.

Dr. Steg is busy applying stickers to the walls, furniture, himself and anybody passing. After a few beers he seems to be wildly inebriated. There’s a drunk in a Crombie. He could be a drunk Scot. In every pub in Blackpool there is a drunk Scot. There must be some arcane local bylaw that says you have to have a drunk Scot in your pub. On the north side seafront huge cavernous pubs are thinly populated. Others are shut and loom ominously. Karaoke leaks out of the few back street pubs that ares still trying to catch the last of the out of season holiday makers. The fish and chip shop does haggis and chips. Asian shopkeepers sit quietly in all night newsagents wrapped up against the wind. A drunk with a 2 liter bottle of cider in one hand carries a wire shoe rack with his other, looking at it like he hasn't got a clue what its for or what he’s going to do with it. 

The gig has been moved from the Cedar Tavern because someones turning it into flats. So its Dickensian Scrooge’s which has a ‘no drums’ policy. Not because they’re too loud for the venue but because there’s no room for them. So there’s no Ceramic Hobs. In their place lies a Hobs offshoot called Father Stone. A three piece with synth drums who play a kind of music I know not what to call. Heavy bass riffs and squally guitar with one song being about Solomon Grundy. Riff-age and twang-age with platted goatee beards and top hats with playing cards in them.

By now there’s about 25 people in the place. The Sleaford Mods soundcheck is so short that if you went to get your feet wet in the bogs you missed it. They kick off with Mr Jolly Fucker before snorting their way through all the best bits of Austerity Dogs. The drunk could-be-Scot comes back from the bar and hands the band two bottles of beer. Then he takes lots of photos of them on his smart phone which he drops and struggles to pick up. Dr Steg has become enlivened and starts dancing with the drunken could-be-Scot to his left and Phil ‘He Sometimes Has A Beard’ Smith on the right. He’s doing some kind of hop on one foot and pat the head of one person and then hop on to the other foot and pat the head of the other person. Beer is getting spilt as the songs come thick and fast, Williamson’s face a series of gurns, Fearny all smiles as the beers keep coming. Williamson’s knees bend as he delivers his lines like he’s trying to project them to the local lags in the tiny room at the back, hand on mic stand for balance, its an impressive sight.

They play a new song which I haven’t heard before then rip in to the new single Job Seeker which gets the nodding heads nodding even more. When its finished the drunk could-be-Scot slurs ‘Best fucking song since Anarchy in the U.K.’ People smile. Everybody smiles.

I wave goodbye to Dr. Steg but he doesn't see me, even though I’m waving my hand in front of his face. He’s got his Dictaphone out and is shouting ‘CUNTS’ into it at the top of his voice encouraging others to do the same. His face is a gleeful, idiotic rictus grin. The Sleaford Mods have a strange effect on people. Or maybe its Blackpool.

When I find the M55 it stops raining.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

SPON 36 - The Dead Issue.

SPON 36 - The Dead Issue

DVD [10 mins approx]

With this DVD came a small button badge which Dr. Steg casually stated had the ashes of the dead artist John Bailey glued upon them. Ha ha, oh yes, of course, he said condescendingly as if talking to someone who is slightly mad. Someone’s ashes on a button badge. What a wonderful idea. Turns out it was true. So I put it on my gig bag along with my Sheepscar Light Industrial sew on patch and my Go! Go! Go! Kagawa Udon Man badge that I got in Japan. It’s just a gig bag, don’t go shaking your head like that.

I took said bag with me to Birmingham for the Con-Dom gig and whilst trying to negotiate the hideously busy pre xmas crowds on New Street Steg’s badge became entangled with a young girls headphones wire. I think it was John trying to reach out. We untangled amidst the throng and exchanged embarrassed smiles, then I wondered if the badge had a life of its own. Perhaps I had the makings of some kind of M.R. James ghost story in me? Perhaps not.

The badge story was confirmed to me by Simon Morris [and later Dr. Steg] who pointed me in his internet direction where I discovered that John Bailey was head of art at what is now the Central University of Lancaster. Divorcing his wife he moved to France and became involved with a group of painters who became know as the FUSION artists. His paintings are abstract, brightly coloured, full of energy and life.

On inserting the DVD I must have left the room because when I returned it was already playing. A series of Bailey’s paintings appear in slideshow fashion. Over them you can hear Simon Morris and Dr. Steg having a very drunken conversation in a pub. Its the kind of conversation that arises at the very end of a long drinking session where reasonable discourse has given way to mundane observations and Jimmy Savile impersonations. Morris doesn’t seem to realise that the conversation is being recorded and appears genuinely surprised that Steg would wish to keep such nonsense. After a brief silence Morris says ‘Are you actually recording this? Is this a good conversation?’ Steg says, ‘I don’t know is it a good conversation?’

From nowhere Steg announces that ‘everything is fucked’. To which Morris replies ‘Black Sabbath have reformed’. After a brief discussion regarding whether to have another drink or not Steg goes to the bar to get Morris a ‘short’ [a straight gin in this case]. Whilst he’s away Morris talks into the device telling us of the time he played pool with Kim Deal out of the Pixies and when he met Ian Brown out of the Stone Roses, Gary Clail gets a mention as does Cornwall and a list of people that Morris knows.

Its’ around this time that the slideshow images change. There’s one image of a portrait that Steg did of Bailey and then we see Bailey in his home with a cat on his lap, clearly very old and very frail. We then see Bailey in the passenger seat of an open top red sports car and then it begins to sink in. The last few shots are of the hospital room where John Bailey is lying, close to death. There are mundane shots of the sparse nature of his room, the walls, the ceiling, a tied up plastic bag on the floor and then shots of John Bailey mouth wide open, eyes clamped shut dead in his hospital bed.

Its the juxtaposition of such ridiculous drunken talk acting as a soundtrack cum homage to Bailey’s life that makes this piece of work so moving. You’re marveling at someones life work while two drunks decide what drink to buy next. Welcome to the world.    

Blackpool artist Dr. Steg has sent me a considerable amount of material over the last year or so but this slim disc captures his aesthetic far more subtly than the comics and the art and the multifarious bits of detritus crammed into various receptacles. 



Monday, December 02, 2013

Vehikel & Gefäss / Debt of Nature / Spoils & Relics

‘Don’t call for help advises Säure flashing his phony acid bottle, ‘or that pretty face goes flowing off its bones like vanilla pudding.’ But Minne calls his bluff, starts hollering for help to all the ladies of the same age in her building who feel that same motherly help-help-but-make-sure-there’s-time-for-him-to-rape-me ambivalence about nubile cat burglars. What she means to scream is ‘Hübsch Räuber! Hübsch Räuber!’ Which means Cute-looking robber! Cute-looking robber! But she can’t pronounce those umlauts. So instead it comes out ‘Hubschrauber! Hubschrauber!’ Which means ‘Helicopter! Helicopter!’ well it’s 1920 something and nobody in earshot even knows what the word means, liftscrewer, what’s that?

Thomas Pynchon - Gravity’s Rainbow

Vehikel & Gefäss - Hirrnkopter Hellikrank
Harbinger Sound. Harbinger 118. LP

Debt of Nature - Order: Spoil the Entire State
Harbinger Sound. Harbinger 111. LP

Spoils & Relics - Sins of Omission
Harbinger Sound. Harbinger 113. LP

And whilst the Sleaford Mods ‘Austerity Dogs’ leaves Steve Underwood’s Harbinger Sound label fighting off the music press with knotty sticks, its back to the coal face with this lot.

Three releases that swing thru Swiss Dada-ist cut and paste art action, mid 80’s Yank noise improv and bang up to date electro-acoustic sprawl. None of which are likely to be vying for the top spot in Norman Records 50 best of the year but all of which are at the very heart of Harbinger Sound do best. 

‘Hirrnkopter Hellikrank’ was originally released by Schimpfluch back in the 80’s on a 50 run cassette edition that came in a plastic bag full of various cut lengths of cassette tape. Therein lies a clue. For this is two sides of sharply edited sounds upon which Vehikel & Gefäss [thats Joke Lanz and Rudolph eb.er in a side project that lasted for, I think, two releases] layering sounds of their own making with rapidly passing tape edits. It mirrors in some ways the work of Mixed Band Philanthropist, The Broken Penis Orchestra and perhaps Evil Moisture where hundreds of quick edits are painstakingly spliced together to form new wholes. The difference here is that over these edits and during spaces in the edits Lanz and eb.er layer their own sounds be it burps, the honking of rubber bulbed car horns, retching sounds, stuck records … the overall effect is one of disorientation and ultimately nervousness as the listener [this one at least] awaits the next jump from the speakers elbow raised in ready guard. The edits contain everything from old musical hall tunes, Astrud Gilberto, donkey brays, speeded up spoken word records, police sirens, dogs barking, door knocks, manic laughter … some edits are so sharp that its impossible to work out the original source thus making for a series of blurs that merge. ‘Hirrnkopter [Streetactions]’ sounds as if the edit sources came from a trip down a Zurich back street with pneumatic drills, door bells, bike bells, steam organs, singing drunks all entering the mix. Hellikrank [Radio Actions] is the ‘cleaner’ of the two, if you like, and sounds as if it was made in the studio for one of their radio broadcast [obvs]. Two things remain; have the Schimpfluch Gruppe made the belch a more repulsive sound than the fart and is that a ‘Crisis’ seven incher in the midst of all that debris on the back cover? A broken sledgehammer too. Impressive.

Spoils & Relics and Debt of Nature are untied by improv but also separated by about a good thirty years and the Atlantic Ocean. Debt of Nature is the band 15 year old Brad Laner formed in 1985. Along with Jim Goodall and Spencer Savage they quickly pulled into their free floating orbit members of the Los Angeles Free Music Society with Rick Potts, Joseph Hammer, Tom Recchion and legions of others joining in the sprawl. 'Order: Spoil the Entire State's' eight live tracks are culled from performances in ’85 and ’86 and all run to exactly five minutes suggesting that what we’re hearing are edits. Most tracks seem to move at the same pace with only brief blasts of spazzed guitar, wailing and electronic abuse lifting things from, what has to be said, are fairly rudimentary, exploratory affairs. These are primitive recordings in every sense. Coming from the mid 80’s they're impossible to ignore though. Primitive excursions but still important ones.

Given two sides of untitled vinyl to stretch out on the enigmatic Spoils &amp Relics; lay out their wares for all to see. These include all manner of hard to identify sounds that could have been made inside a deep sea divers helmet at 20,000 fathoms. Here we have shortwave trawls picking up single, impossible to translate words, slight squeaks, wheezes and heaves, sounds of budgie cages being shaken in empty houses, lo-fi electronic squawk, bottles being kicked around a stone floor, parps culled from small boxes with switches on them, electro-acoustic dub, dried peas rattling around a Quality Street tin, a mass beetle exodus ... or none of the above. The mood in places is austere, in others noisy in some contemplative.

This is their third release on Harbinger Sound - after sharing one side of a split LP with BRB/Voicemail and having a single all to themselves they’ve finally got the LP they deserve. Working in ever more darker and harder to define corners means Spoils & Relics are refining their craft making their outings a greater pleasure each time. Hübsch Räubers of sound if you like.


Thursday, November 28, 2013



Hyster Tapes [Hyster 16]/Ikuisuus IKU-039]. Split LP

I first listened to this LP back in September after returning from the Cleckheaton Beer Festival. It was one of those perfect late summer days when the sun shone brilliantly and the sky was a brilliant azure, not a single cloud in sight. Arriving home I put my feet up and put Varropas on the turntable [it had arrived that morning], within minutes I was instantly adrift, the beer swirling around my head, the sun beaming through the window, it was one of those unforgettable moments in life when everything seems just about perfect. And then I fell asleep.

Such is the languorous pace that Varropas proceeds at I decided that the only way to experience it and report back was by being in a fully awake, fully alert state. I had a bit of a wait but when I found the prime conditions I played it again. And then again. And again. And I’ve been playing it about once a week ever since. I may end up playing it over and over again for the rest of my life.

Varropas are a Finnish duo who create loop like sounds from [lets look at the cover and guess] cassette tapes. The results aren’t that dissimilar from what Stuart Chalmers is doing in Bristol and in his quieter moments Neil Campbell - multi layered loops of tape tone and synth and electric guitar all mixed to form a new whole with, I dare say, the odd electronic gadget being poked at during the right moments and perhaps a toy piano, I could of course be totally wrong. Add in some dubby sound effects and the result is one of those extremely rare releases that begs to be played continuously.

There are two side long tracks with ‘Clipperty’ setting the pace with a Sci-fi like soundtrack where an alien nation sends down greetings to earth via the medium of some carefully played reverbed synth keys. The Clangers exchange greetings afore a stoned out of his head John Fahey remembers he can only remember five notes and plays them in a loop until the needle lifts. Its a spaced out stoner classic with traces of an electric guitar bleeding through like Fripp trying to turn Eno on with some languid rolls down the fretboard, the gentle rocking of a wooden ball in a hollow log. And thats the way its stays for the best part of a quarter of an hour.

‘Bogdanovin Tektologiya’ picks up the baton on side two and its here that the dub effects really take effect - a wheezy accordion lets go a repeated solitary note, a teleprinter churns out the football results, a banjo string is plucked from twenty miles away. The pace is funeral in the extreme, like wading through syrup after ingesting to much Largactil. Its a weed burners dream where the pace is reduced to bare life presence, a blip on the monitor, still breathing but only just.

Varropas have appeared before via Hyster, a label who release plenty of good music of a similar vein, most of it on recycled cassettes that cost but one single euro to purchase. Its one of those labels that you envisage as being your own in a ‘no promo bar photocopies flyers and only a very basic website’ way. Its a split with fellow Finnish troupers Ikuisuus  and one of my favourite LP’s of the year.





Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Paul Fretwell & Ambrose Field - Northern Loop

Paul Fretwell/Ambrose Field - Northern Loop
Sargasso. SCD 28072

‘Loop based structures are commonplace in music created with technology. Our collaborative aim was to challenge the loop by using it as the minimum structural unit, and design new interactions between the materials that result from constant repetition. Instead of relying on techniques derived from 1960s minimal musics, such as phasing and displaced overlapping, we set out to investigate alternative means for achieving textural diversity and development. In each movement of Northern Loop, the loop is treated as a time block, where the boundaries of the block provoke additional spectral processing of the contents. Large parameter changes are avoided and small scale changes are deployed across long time scales. This processing was carried out entirely aurally, and algorithmic or automated procedures for long term development are not employed here. In selecting and developing sounds for this piece, we placed a focus on intricate internal workings and in finding textures that would provide a sense of detail remaining to be uncovered on subsequent listenings’.

I first listened to this release, as I do a lot of music that comes this way, from another room. I play review material in no given order putting on what suits my mood, soaking up as much as I can whilst wandering from room to room in a distracted manner. The attention bit comes later. These peripheral listens lay the ground work if you like. They become the footers that are the foundations for later, much closer listens. It was during one of these preliminary listens that something quite unusual happened. Whilst listening from another room I felt the air pressure of the room I was in actually change. A distinct shift in the air pressure around me caused by one of the tracks emerging from Northern Loops. I made a mental note and went about my business.

Listening back later, on headphones, I sat through the entire dreamy 80 minutes worth waiting for it to happen again, but it didn’t. The headphones couldn’t reproduce it. Now I’m not saying I have a high end hi-fi [stereo, call it what you will] but I did pay a pricey sum for it when I bought it all those many years ago. So I sat and listened from the comfort of the Poang, sans headphones, letting those looping drones roll over me and there it was, on track four, at about eleven minutes in, a sound so low in frequency that the cones on my woofers began reflexing so alarmingly that I feared they’d pop out leaving me with an awkward conversation with the insurance people as to how it was that my thirty year old Pioneer speakers were now useless thanks to Fretwell and Field.

As a rule I find 80 minute CD’s a bit of a drag. Its the double LP of the CD world and for the most part a long slog. Not so here. What these two composers have achieved grips and engages to such an extent that total immersion pushes everything but the music from your mind. Its the perfect transcendental experience in the comfort of your own home. Exposure to this kind of work in a concert hall through a high end PA system must boarder on the staggering.

Such transcendence is writ throughout but its on the final 20 minute track ‘Glass Machine’ that the thing finally splits the top of your head open. Its the way in which each of these myriad loops reveal whats within them and under them and all around them that appeals. Numerous listens reveal further detail. Its 80 minutes become a deeper and deeper resource from which its possible to further enrich your drone addled brain.

Opener ‘Dark Water’, if appearing on some austere Swedish label with a picture of a darkened forest for company, could pass as eerie industrial ambience. There’s the clunk of deep sea chains, a constant churn of deep low-end rumble, a bowl ring that morphs into a squeaky bike chain, night time jungle insects, barely audible rapid CD skips tamed into a loop of satisfying proportions.

‘Renaissance Pulse’ vies with Charlamagne Palastine’s wine glass drones with clear as a bell tone cycles and yes, there they are again, but for the briefest moment, those wonderful woofer flutters returning to test my speakers and change the very air around me.

Lasting impressions are the details, the sonics and the sheer depth of compositional technique required to create something that only truly comes to life when given your very fullest attention. And lets not forget the mastering [also by Field] without which those magical moments would be lost. Not to be listened to on MP3 players, tin cans or dubbed to death Boots C90’s.

Ambrose Field I have reviewed before. He’s head of music at York University bits of which are in Heslington which is the posh bit of Yorkshire.  Paul Fretwell is also head of music, this time at Kent University which is in the posh bit of England. They’re both doctors [of music I presume] and the recipients of many international music awards.

Apologies for borrowing from the sleeve notes, but I think that the above description of what these two composers set out to achieve could be explained far more eloquently by them rather than me.




Monday, November 25, 2013

Gamelan, John Cage and Terry Riley


Sanggar Ceraken of Bali - Gamelan Cage [John Cage’s Prepared Piano Pieces on Balinese Gamelan]
Sargasso. SCD 28075

Gamelan Semara Raith of Bali - Returning Minimalism
Sargasso. SCD 28074

The man behind the concept that links these two releases is the magnificently named John Noise Manis [no doubt a nom de guerre but still a good one]. It was his idea to see what contemporary American compositions sounded like when performed by gamelan orchestras. Thanks to the highly detailed and studious sleevenotes on both these releases I now know that the biggest obstacle facing  anyone trying to teach a gamelan orchestra how to play works of a western nature is that gamelan players follow no musical notation, let alone a western one. There does exist a notation system for gamelan but this is used mainly to archive works and isn't used for performances, tradition dictates that gamelan orchestras rely on an oral tradition and the skill and memory of the player to continue the tradition [I include this information to keep pedants from my door]. The artistic director of Gamelan Cage, Andrew Clay McGraw, overcomes this problem by teaching the players himself but then leaves them to develop each piece only to find that they have, to the horror of Cage purists, improvised. I’m no Cage purist though and although I’m familiar with some of the pieces here I found that the spontaneously added shouts towards the end of ‘Primitive’ only heightened my overall, zoned out enjoyment.

McGraw interprets Cage’s prepared piano notes by [in some instance anyway] laying coins and bells on top of keys and gongs going so far as to cover upright drums in cloth bags whilst nailing tiny cymbals to wooden mallets. Cage’s notes for his prepared piano compositions were, in some instances, less than exact thus giving McGraw more freedom to work in. He also wonders as to whether Cage’s approach to prepared piano was influenced by gamelan itself while studying under Cowell - a posit that still remains unresolved. As it is, Cage himself composed only one piece for gamelan, the haunting Haikai, and that late in his career. Its not included here and I suspect its because a direct translation, gamelan to gamelan, would’ve sounded more like a cover version or a tribute adding little or nothing to project itself.  

What you do get is nine of Cage’s prepare piano compositions all given the gamelan treatment. To compliment the languid ‘Prelude for Meditation’  there’s an austere version of ‘Music For Duchamp’ and a take on ‘Mysterious Adventure’ that lifts the original from its stark depths revealing it as the jiving, driving, floor filler that it really is. This alone makes the project worthwhile but there are other highlights too including the rampant opener Bacchanale in which Cage’s first foray into prepared piano composition is given some rousing and energetic treatment  [see video above for confirmation].
‘Returning Minimalism’ sees Terry Riley’s ‘In C’ used as a working model for  further exploration and improvisation. Using 23 musicians [au natural] these two 25 minute tracks evolve through many states of tempo and mood closing a circle that began with Riley’s own influence through gamelan. Its a neat circle to square.

Billed as ‘Artistic Coordinator’, Ken Worthy, again with many detailed booklet notes, describes the process and the build up to the recording process, involving as it does reliance on the weather and the blessings of priests. Then there’s his realization that these recordings may be even more radical than Riley’s 60’s composition seeing as how these musicians are having to grapple with a structure that, even though it may create a sound similar to ‘In C’, is in fact far removed from it.

Its the interplay of overlapping instruments and the freedom of expression that bring these two works to life. ‘In Deung’ is the more contemplative of the two pieces, ‘In Dang’ a more explosive piece thanks to the use of heavy wooden mallets and vocal shouts [designed to scare away malevolent spirits] but both contain passages of tranquil beauty, quiet moments of flute and gently struck keys which reveal insect chatter and through it the true nature of these outdoor recordings.

What interested me most during my time here was the sheer depth of instrumentation available to a gamelan orchestra and the myriad ways in which their instruments can be tuned and set up. No two gamelan orchestras sound alike either. Its no surprise they drew the attention of people like Debussy, Cage, Riley, Reich, Glass, La Monte Young and lets not forget the Sun City Girls. Its a list that will continue to grow and so it should.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tom Carter benefit album

Many thanks to the bearded wonder over at RFM for highlighting this 99 track compilation download benefit album put together to raise funds for Tom Carter. Carter fell ill during a recent European tour and despite having medical insurance incurred costs that he couldn’t meet. Having spent 40 days in a medically induced coma designed to keep him alive I dare say that the last thing he wanted to see upon reentering planet fuck up was an expensive bill starring starring him in the face. But thats what he got.

For those of you unawares Carter and his wife founded the band Charalambides in early 90’s Texas creating [according to Wiki]  a psychedelic music much in the same vein as Jandek , 13th Floor Elevators and The Red Krayola. I used to have one of their early albums [Historic 6th Ward] and never got the psychedelic link but maybe thats just me? I never got on with it to be honest and sold it on for a sum I cant remember but which no doubt was a pittance compared to what it now commands on Discdogs [sic].

Having listened to pretty much all of these 99 tracks over the last week or so I now find myself looking at the download album through completely new eyes. These 99 tracks run to just over 10 hours - as a CD release it would take time and a not inconsiderable amount of money to assemble, cost more money to post whilst those unsold copies would continue to take up valuable shelf space [lets hope there wouldn’t be any unsold copies but … y’know]. As a download you have this in the palm of your MP3 player within minutes thus cutting out all that unnecessary expense with the money raised going straight to Carter’s medical expenses bill leaving you happily shuffling from one track to the next never spoiling a continuity that doesn’t exist to start with.

The compilation itself contains a multitude of stars with many emerging from the same constellation as Charalambides themselves. Hence plenty of six strings, be it lonesome pluck [Richard Youngs, Ignatz], Neil Young-esque electrified twang [MV & EE] or spaced out blues [Tom Greenwood]. Theres plenty of drone of course and some industrial noise hum from Donald Miller to keep the noise freaks happy. Vibracathedral Orchestra get their hat out as do fellow Leeds blasters The Piss Superstition. Some tracks throb on for half an hour [Ceramic Blade, Iron Insect] and if some of these names mean nothing to you then that makes two of us which leads me to another very important point; this comp makes for a perfect launch pad into further musical territories. Not only are you helping Carter get his medical bill down you’re exploring new musical probabilities. 

A complete review of all ten hours worth isn’t going to happen here. Instead I’m going to play the Richard Youngs track a few more times before going to Norman Records and putting some his albums in my basket. You see, its working already.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Confessions of Faith : 30 Years of Purgatory / Live Review

Sudden Infant
The Grey Wolves

The Wagon and Horses, Birmingham, November 16th, 2013

I have to admit it came as a bit of a shock to discover that this gig was taking place OUTSIDE the Wagon and Horses. In a walled beer garden to the rear of the premises lay all the accouterments of an outdoor gig: a stage, some awning, a little hut where the PA guy sits and some outdoor gas heaters. But this is November and November in England isn’t noted for its alfresco gigs. It also needs noting that the Wagon and Horses is what is now known as a ‘proper pub’ i.e. one that has remained untouched by modernity and contains real people, sells cheap and decent beer, has a coal fire and a friendly cat that likes to sit on anybody who’ll let it. Its warm inside.

I was here four years ago for a similar line up and left wishing that the Wagon and Horses was my local. Situated a short walk out of town, down a side street and under a railway arch where the graffiti adorned red brick walls and grimy tarmac provides an ideal setting for anybody wanting to make a film set in the 70’s. The pub has the added advantage of being an oasis of warmth and friendliness too. Unless you’re outside of course. Which for the most part everybody is.

The venue is double booked but rather than move venue its been decided to make use of the outdoor facilities. The temperature may be what some would call chilly and others fucking freezing but at least its not raining and the cloud cover keeps the frost from forming on the audience and the scaffolding.

And its running late. A 7.30pm start becomes 8.30pm which means headliners Slogun wont get to play until 1.30am in the morning by which time most people have gone and those that are down the front are the blind drunk shovers and pushers who’ll shove and push each other to the sound of anything even remotely resembling noisy. 

The Grey Wolves draw the biggest elbows out, shoulder barging, back shoving crowd of the night. They announce that this is going to be their last live show before ramming the phrase ‘Victory Through Violence’ down our throats. I’ve seen them play a couple of times but when they’re getting a response from a crowd like this they’re at their riotous best. I guess thats the end of that then? There’s a decent crowd here too but they seem to thin appreciably after The Grey Wolves draw to a close.

Whats making the night even more surreal is the bleed-in sound from the band playing upstairs. When CON-DOM end their set with the words ‘I’d kill you all myself’ [I could be paraphrasing here] the bass line from Grease’s Summer Nights can plainly be heard wafting down from the cold reaches of the upstairs venue. It happens to Sudden Infant too whose personal take on his fathers suicide is met with beery cheers and some Richie Valens hit.

After watching local openers W.I.P. PE set I nip inside to get warm to find 80’s Swiss pop act Double’s one off hit ‘The Captain of Your Heart’ emanating from the jukebox. I find that rather than the spoil the evening it just adds to the surreal nature of it. There’s a man dressed as a Victorian detective, replete with cape, Homburg, spats and well clipped moustache, there’s Teddy Boys with wing tip collars and bootlace ties, stick thin females that look like extras from Hellraiser, shaven heads and Wermacht uniforms, knee length boots with miles of laces, steel heeled boots and full length black coats with mission statements writ on the back, doom metal patches and platted beards and bar staff doing their best to keep a packed pub happy. There’s the guy who’s flown in from Bulgaria and someone from Barcelona, the Germans and the Americans are here of course, the Swiss too and plenty of pissed up Brits.

Its a varied line up with local band Ihora providing a sound that veers between stoner metal and the Cocteau Twins. A three guitar attack backed by a drum machine and when it all goes quiet in the middle its all quite dreamy and I forget I’m cold. Another local act are openers W.I.P. one part Iron Fist Of The Sun one part organiser Phil Taylor who’s a hulking presence stage left when not screaming indecipherable vocals.

A Power Electronics/noise show wouldn’t be complete without a bit of grainy atrocity footage and so it is that we’re treated to a bit of female genital mutilation. But this is coming from Brut, a female solo project, thus taking this out of the hands of some lame shock jock with a table full of gadgets and a rapist mask and into those of an angry feminist voice. Barring the projection I can’t see whats happening for the crowd of people stood around her but when she stands up she’s wearing an approximation of the niqab, that thoughtful all covering piece of Islamic female apparel designed to prevent males with lustful thoughts thinking even more lustful thoughts. The noise is as you’d expect piercing and relentless but its what she does next that truly grips - removing the veil she stands naked before us before smearing blood over her body and face. A screamed phrase emerges aided by a collar of contact mics that is genuinely terrifying. As a noise performances go its shocking and totally unexpected which made this punters journey even more worthwhile. Whether the blood was real or theatrical I care not. This performance took place outside in November and stunned everybody who saw it. She deserves a medal.

Sudden Infant never fail to entertain be it in front of an art crowd or a group of drunks in the back yard of a pub. Its the juxtaposition of juddering industrial rhythms and enthusiastic spoken word stories that hold us all in thrall, plus the fact that Joke Lanz has stripped to his bare feet. The little boy on the fifth floor and the cranes and the click click click of the gun on the roof of the building. Never dull. 

The reason this is all happening is down to Mike Dando keeping CON-DOM alive and kicking for thirty years. A never less than exhilarating set from CON-DOM is made all the more memorable for the fact that the figure in front of me is, as usual, stripped to the waist and has some dark matter smeared across his face. The instantly recognisable screeching high end roar that is CON-DOM emerges as an unfolding feedback squall that beetles into your brain until it’s scraped off the inner the lining of your skull and dumped you on your arse with your senses in a bag. Just like that. CON-DOM performances are part ritual, part sermon, tonights’s is fairly short no doubt due to the late running but maybe because the temperature is plummeting.

At around 1.00 am Sickness begin to assemble their gear. By now only the hardy, drunk and homeless are hanging about. One of the drunks gives Sickness’s Goudreau some hassle and gets berated for his troubles. Having flown across the Atlantic ocean to play in Birmingham for ten minutes he delivers a blistering noise set thats interspersed with a few lulls just to keep the drunks guessing. Its possibly the perfect noise set. The conditions are entirely against him; jet leg, the cold, a PA stack thats OK but is never going to enter the annals of noise history and then a resigned ‘fuck it’ and a plug is ripped and silence descends.

Which leaves us with Slogun whose reputation for upset is encapsulated in the presence of its 6’4” protagonists John Balistreri. As with Sickness the odds are against him too and he looks a beaten man. Having waited the long cold night for his chance he’s left to perform in front of whats left of the drunks and the bitter end of the hangers on. It looks and sounds like a farewell performance. At its end he’s stood stage front looking the crowd in the eyes, arms out wide, palms up with a ‘what the fuck am I doing this for’ look on his face. He could be intoning those exacts words.

The talk is of audience apathy and audience expectations and audience respect and audience intelligence and of how this looks like the end of the road for some and the beginning for others. Its been one of the strangest gigs I’ve ever been to. Up there with the gig that sank, the gig where the fuses kept blowing and the gig that never was.

My shoulders are aching and I’m dog tired. The pub has stopped serving beer [2.00am last orders] and the coals in the grate are long cold. The cat is still there though and there’s a fleet of taxi’s outside picking up trade.

[Apologies of a lack of photos to accompany this piece. Being a timid soul I didn’t fancy getting shoved about for most of the evening or reducing the feeling in my fingers to nothing thanks to the dropping temperature. If any appear on line I’ll post them here]

Those gigs were:

No Trend Festival, Ryans Bar, London. PA Melted, venue flooded.

The New Blockaders, Red Rose, London. Still the loudest gig I’ve ever attended. [Forget the date - late 90’s?]

Deaf Forever, Royal Park Cellars, Leeds. 2007. Smell & Quim go on first in an all day noise fest and get the whole thing called off after some pigs head abuse.

[Apologies of a lack of photos to accompany this piece. Being a timid soul I didn’t fancy getting shoved about for most of the evening or reducing the feeling in my fingers to nothing thanks to the dropping temperature. If any appear on line I’ll post them here]

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Curfew Recordings

The Curfew Recordings
Harbinger Sound. Harbinger 110 CD

In 1984 two people under a police curfew entered a bitumen storage tank measuring 26 meters wide and 10 meters tall with various musical instruments. These instruments included whistles, a human thigh bone trumpet, chimes, gongs, flutes, bowls, bits of wood, metal, bone and glass. The entire event took place by candlelight and was captured for posterity on a battery operated cassette recorder.  Four months later the original trespassers plus one other person re-entered the same bitumen tank and recorded another near 30 minute long piece.

The bitumen tank lay on an industrial site in the North East of England and the people in question were John Smith [then publisher of Interchange Magazine], Sean Dower [ex Death Magazine 52, Bow Gamelan Ensemble] and John Mylotte [Metgumbnerbone].

Having worked on a similar site for a number of years and having entered vessels of a similar size I feel a great deal of empathy for these courageous artists not only for the personal risks involved but for the sheer madness in carting all that instrumentation about under cover of darkness and ruining forever their footwear thanks to the still sticky bitumen that lay underfoot.

The star if the show is the bitumen tank itself. The very first note you hear is that of the walls of the tank being struck, just the once, producing a resonant ‘bong’ that through headphones, at loud volumes, creates a wave of sound that mimics that of a bomb being dropped in the dead of night on a flat plain in the middle of nowhere. But before that and as prelude, there’s the sound of those sticky footsteps making their way into the middle of this massive and daunting structure.

Its a haunting listen, a sad one too. ‘Cruor Recens’ is a lonesome, mournful dirge with the thigh bone trumpet looming large. A sparse and bleak outing where Dower and Smith move from the walls of the tank to thigh bone trumpet to finger cymbals to pieces of wood being struck together in a spasmodic arhythmic style. When John Mylotte joins the fray [‘Ensnared Spirit’] bull roarers are introduced as are moaning vocals, you’d be forgiven for thinking that an elephant lay dying amid the clanging of bits of metal. The echo, as you would imagine, is nothing short of magnificent and unlike anything I've heard before.

According to the sleeve notes the recordings were cut short due to ‘external factors’. I imagine their exist was a slow sticky one but with an all important cassette recorder tucked under one arm.

What remains unclear is why this should remain hidden for 30 years. No matter, this hour long release finally leaves behind a series of dodgy cassette bootlegs to fill in another important piece in the English industrial culture jigsaw.



Thursday, November 14, 2013

Confessions of Faith : 30 Years of Purgatory

I'm glad that my badge containing the ashes of the artist John Bailey has turned up. If indeed that's what they are, for there appears to be no end of John Bailey the artist via an internet search most of whom appear to be very much alive. I'll have to ask the giver of said badge Dr. Steg when next we meet. 

I shall be wearing it in Birmingham on Saturday when I steer myself towards the Wagon and Horses in Digbeth for the above gig. The last time I was there was for Mike Dando's 50th birthday party and a similar looking line up -  a good time was had by all. I half remember getting a lift back to Phil 'Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee' Taylor's house at about three in the morning and trying not to be violently sick at a cafe in Birmingham New Street station seven hours later as I waited for my train to take me back to Leeds. The joys of overdoing it on real ale.

The venue stands alone in an area populated by garages that cater for taxi firms and storage units that used to be warehouses. Its only about a 15 minute walk from the city centre but it feels as if its marooned in some kind of Ballardian cum Eraserhead landscape populated only by shady figures trying to find their way to a power electronics gig. But once inside I found an array of quality hand pumped ales, familiar faces and a glowing coal fire. 

Here's some pictures from that gig four years ago.:


A ridiculous amount of equipment

Mikko & Underwood

Mark Durgan

Ashtray Navigations

Gaya Donado


Monday, November 11, 2013


Panelak - Panelak
Angurosakuson CDR
Anguro 004

During many a drunken three day noise festival two artists names usually crop up, one is Whitehouse and the other is Nurse With Wound. Whitehouse because everybody wants to know what Bennett’s up to these days and how it’ll probably be totally shit compared to what he’s done in the past and Nurse With Wound because you cant leave the table without first telling all those around you what your favourite Nurse With Wound album is. Everybody has a favourite Nurse With Wound album but I’ve never heard anybody say that their first is their best. In fact when questioned by our panel of experts Chance Meeting On A Dissecting Table Of A Sewing Machine And An Umbrella was found to be something of a bit of mess and in some quarters not even worth a second listen.

But it did the trick. I dare say there are more artists of similar import whose first efforts are now seen as nothing more than a dark stain on a bright and shiny past but there they are for all to see and for future generations to go to and listen to just the once before going on to the really good stuff that came a few years later.

I’m not saying that Panelak is Pascal Ansell’s ‘Chance Meeting’ [I think this is actually his second release thus making this comparable with ‘To The Quiet Men From A Tiny Girl - still dodgy NWW territory if truth be told] but it is a release that on first listen appears to have little going for it. It doesn’t help that it arrives on a home made totally ubiquitous CDR with a not too interesting cover either but these slights have to be overcome to reveal the true worth lying within.

I saw Pascal play last week at the Wharf Chambers. He’s a highly enthusiastic 18 year old with a bright future ahead of him who likes to spend his Sunday afternoons rubbing two guitars together aided by two drummers and a bank of electronics. Its an enthusiasm thats infectious and lead this weary listen back to Panelak and a deeper listen than I had given it the first time around. And there it was for all too see; Dada, Faust, Derek Bailey, pure experimentation and some guitar thrash for good measure. I rubbed my eyes, turned up the volume and wished I was doing this myself thirty year ago.

Its not perfect by any means, there’s far too much abstract guitar noise on here for one thing and Ansell seems to be trying out everything in the shop, lets put it down to youthful exuberance, but when it clicks it does so with great flair. The last track ‘Apostol Zapros in May’ is pure Dada with plucked and rubbed piano strings, snatches of conversations, songs sung in French [and no doubt plundered from some art house film], bombs whistling toward their target, guitar fidgeting, pots and pans abuse, cymbal clatter, shortwave trawls… The opener ‘No Thumbs’ appears like a cross between one of Joe Jones clunking Fluxus machines and the Incapacitants Toshiji Mikawa. Somewhere in the middle of all this Faust appear a-tumbling and a-rolling just like they did on that farm in Germany about 40 years ago.

Its noisy, parping, scratchy and deeply flawed but within its core lies a great future.

My favourites ‘A Sucked Orange’ by the way. Nurse With Wound album that is.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

SPON 34 + 35


Issues 34 and 35 of Dr Steg’s ongoing SPON mission to make misanthropy a household word came with all manner of effluvia including a homemade postcard [reproduced above], an instant suicide kit [see blades attached to back of 34] and a button badge bearing the ashes of the late artist John Bailey [which I can’t find and which may have been sucked up by the Hoover - ashes to ashes dust to dust and all that].

Issue 36 comes on a DVD but before I insert That little morsel of delight here’s the dirt on what we have above: Issue 34 is the ‘found at the back of the wardrobe’ issue containing, as it does, sketches for a project that never came to fruition. Here the character sketches see Dr. Steg as he was ten years ago. A more up to date Dr. Steg appears in issue 35 where, if you look carefully, you’ll see a post it note from Rob Hayler, a tribute to Hiroshima Yeah! zine and its still incarcerated contributor Gary Simmons, a pile of dog shit, the word ‘scleroderma’ in the middle of transparent paper spread titled ‘Chicester Rubber Glove Factory’ and numerous peans to Dr. Steg’s likes and dislikes. In this issue the likes include the Ceramic Hobs [with whom Steg has collaborated and has further work in the pipeline], Gilbert & George and ‘Good Grief’ a shop in Manchester’s Affleck Palace. The dislikes would no doubt fill the British Library but are no doubt a big a spur to creativity as the ‘likes’. Its what makes Steg what he is. Whatever that is.

I’ve reproduced only a few of the images purely because I want you to experience the joy of holding SPON in your own dear hand, be it a zine, a DVD, a plastic bag full of rubbish or a ‘survival kit’ that arrived here in one of those handy plastic compartment containers [read, more detritus].

If only there were more Steg’s in the world.