Monday, February 25, 2013

Striate Cortex 49/54/55

Sapir Whorf - Phase 1: Preliminary Investigation
Striate Cortex SC49. 3” CDR 

Thossian Process - Impurities
Striate Cortex SC54. 5” CDR
Crimson Rainbow Facility - Unknown Strains
Striate Cortex SC55. 3” CDR

It was at a recent WC gig that I availed myself of a number of items from the merchandise stall. Somebody was having a sale and being in the market for a bargain I scooped up a handful of CD’s and paid the princely sum of one pound each for the lot of them. Then, one rainy Saturday afternoon having positioned myself in the Poang, I listened to all of them one after the other, all this whilst sipping numerous cups of tea and having my customary post prandial nod. It then occurred to me that on the night in question, when said items were purchased, I may have had the odd snifter and that my judgement in purchasing said items may have been clouded somewhat by this fact. I may also have been overcome with some sense of bonhomie and dived into said sale items with a oh-what-the-fuck-I’ll-buy-it-anyway attitude. And then I realised it was dark whilst this transaction took place and that I didn’t really know what it was at all I was buying and that I may have even been egged on to fill my pockets with such wares by certain members of the audience, and maybe there was a police raid, or the stripper distracted me, or Filthy Turd was waggling his gut in my general direction, I may have been perfectly sober and dreamt all this. Details are sketchy.

Soon after I hid those releases away from myself. I know that they reside in a cupboard or a box somewhere and that I should really take them to the charity shop so that they can reside cheek by jowl with Robson and Jerome’s Greatest Hits and Five Stars Single Collection and be bought by someone with a flair for adventure in sound who will forever wonder how it was that such a weird and ethereal item ever ended up in Cleck Oxfam.

I have to admit that some of those releases came from Striate Cortex. My memory has wiped the miscreants from my brain so I am unable to bring you exact details but the burning mental image of someone attempting the impossible by channeling Cocteau Twins through Throbbing Gristle via All About Eve has left scars on my cerebellum that will take decades to heal

I’m not about to criticise Striate Cortex though, doing so would be like slicing lumps off a cow in India, but there is now, within me, a sneaky suspicion that Striate Cortex are capable of turning out the odd clunker.

With a back catalogue now running to over 50 I dare say that amongst them there’s the odd release that SC head cheese Andy would rather have stayed in the in pile. But who amongst us isn’t tainted by some passage of our past that we’d rather forget? Maybe I’m wrong and he loves them all? Having listened to only a handful of SC releases though I have to say that my overwhelming feeling is one of absolute positivism. When you take into account the sheer amount of time and effort that goes in to each and every Striate Cortex release you have to tip your hat to the man and say that the effort is well and truly worth it. Take the 50th SC release Victorian Electronics which became an immediate collectors item not just because it highlighted the current resurgence in all things Leeds experimental but for the fact that it came with four 3” CDR’s in a box so cute you wanted to put it next to the cat and take pictures of it and put it on Facebook.

As with all SC releases its the handiwork that greets you first. The above array of imagery is about par for your average SC release in that theres a fold out booklet or some hand painted card or a piece of fibre glass cut into shape or a fold out sleeve, or multi-imaged insert. Its what lifts SC from the norm and makes it instantly recognisable. SC also forgoes the current trend for synching the labels website with downloads and for the most part you have to have the actual disc to hear the music [though in the case of this crop of releases Crimson Rainbow Facility have a Soundcloud page to peruse].

So what to make of this bunch? For the most part we’re in TG tribute territory. With Sapir Whorf its all early TG synth terror, with Crimson Rainbow Facility its their tribute to TG’s track E-Coli whilst Thossian Process do their bit to resurrect early English Industrial-ism by mixing shamanic bone rattling with deep sea diver breaths and sonar soundings.

Of them all I came back to Thossian Process the more often, mainly because there was more for me to get involved with. Coming in at just under the half hour mark these seven tracks capture the ritualistic elements of 23 Skidoo and Cabaret Voltaire whilst bringing in the more sparse elements of Mika Vaino and the Finnish Sähkö team. Bleak offerings with shortwave emissions that wash over you like the flapping last reel of Lynch’s Ersaerhead. Impressive stuff. Crimson Rainbow Facility’s work here is so near to TG’s E-Coli that I can’t believe that CRF made this work without hearing it. During several tracks of a themed pathological nature you can pick out the sampled voice of someone relating the dangers of various germs against a background of lo-fi noise. OK for one track but stretching it over several seems to be overdoing it. Which leaves us with Sapir Whorf whose synth noise blurts perhaps embodies the earliest works of Throbbing Gristle the best. The inner sleeve states ‘speculative electronic elements originating from archival ferric oxide media’ which probably means they made this from old Throbbing Gristle cassettes. If this was some uncovered archival relic from 1976 I know certain bald heads of noise who’d be beating each other senseless to get a listen but in 2013 I found it rather less enlightening.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Small Things On Sunday / ASC+Robert Horton

Small Things on Sundays - Searching For
Skrat Records. SKR011. LP

Neil Campbell/Robert Horton - Trojandropper
Zum. ZUM033. LP

It has to be said that a certain form of listening lassitude has made itself more than unwelcome here at Idwal Towers these last few weeks. In what would normally be a flurry of cassette and CD insertion there has instead been a sloth like scrape of knuckles upon floor in its place - a death like noise akin to the sound of a clubbed foot being dragged along behind a perfectly formed one. A stasis that has laid me low for three weeks now, mainly due to various ailments and moments of manufacture which when combined produce one great big stinking shit pot of unhappiness.

What has kept me going though is vinyl. Its the format I turn to when the chips are down, when the spunk has been sapped, when the limbs are weary and the head needs rest. For some unknown reason there’s been a flurry of TV activity in connection with vinyl in recent weeks with various talking heads extolling the virtue of the gorgeous groove. I’ve missed most of it and only half watched the rest but the gist is still as clear as polished glass; vinyl beats all other formats of music carriage into a bloody pulp. Its a total no brainer, for whilst whatever other format you prefer to praise may have its plus sides it will never replace the vinyl record as thee archival musical format of choice. Anyone who disagrees is wrong and deserves to be hit square in the teeth with a knotty stick.

So whilst there has been an almighty slow down in the listening stakes of late it hasn’t ground to a complete halt for somewhere amongst all the shit thats been flying I’ve taken succor from these two joyous platters.

Small Things on Sunday are new to me, despite several releases on various labels including the venerable Striate Cortex. A Danish duo in the shape of Henrik Bagner and Claus Poulsen they create some achingly beautiful atmospheres - with the aid of guitars, radios, violas, tapes, gadgets of an unknown source, the odd laptop but most importantly vinyl and its potential for ‘accidental and unexpected sounds’, they produce some wonderful and at times splendid gushing moments of experimental delight.

It would appear that both Bagner and Poulsen have got the noisier side of things out of their system and have now set sail for the far shores of ambient atmospheric calm so what we have here are six tracks of various melancholia that capture the radiant charm of Harold Budd, the Arctic wastelands of Biosphere and the guitar led misery of American post rock down in the dump-sters La Bradford. There’s drone too as witnessed in the last track ‘Two Instruments’ in which the chatter of Amazonian insects give way to a see-saw tussle between Charlemagne Palestine and Terry Riley in which our protagonists try to better each other in getting the most use out of a wheezing organ before everything crystallizes into the shimmering distance.

I found that ‘Searching For’s’ charm took a while to reveal itself which is mainly down to the opening track ‘Enceladus’ doing its best to resurrect the ghost of La Bradford [even if the guitars are detuned], an outfit with whom I had but the briefest of dalliance’s at a time when I must have been at my most vulnerable. But the slowly shifting beauty of the thing eventually appears, especially on second track ‘Liquid Mirror’ where the sound of crackling vinyl shifts under the weight of Sonny Sharrock going down the frets of his guitar with a horse hair bow. There’s a deep unsettling ambiguity to a lot of what happens on here which for the most part leaves the listener in a deep state of lost wonderment. Its a dense listen too, a many layered beast with which you’ll have to devote a lot of time and effort to should you require any goodness from it. With a lot going on beneath the surface there’s scope for this record to be played dozens of times with the chance that each listen will sound as fresh as the first. Its a hard trick to pull off but one that Bagner and Poulsen deserve credit for. The press release states that some of these tracks are culled from various improvisational live outings whilst others are ‘the product of hours of re-imagining and re-arranging’. Either way it did its bit in helping me lift myself from my cups.

As did Trojandropper. Which is a virus, which seems fitting considering recent ailments. Horton and Campbell wanted to create a disco album and failed miserably. Its no bad thing for what they did create is something much better, a dance album of sorts but the kind that necessitates the ingestion of the kind of drugs you can only get at the vets. You can certainly move your body to it but only in a ‘oh I think I’ve been tasered’ kind of way. Like on the ‘Panharmonicon Particle Radio’ which sounds like a Ukranian folk record speeded up or an off his tits George Formby thraping the neck of his ukelele until his fingers bleed. All the tracks have some kind of Casio beat underpinning them whilst some have samples lifted from [I’m guessing] 80’s pop songs. Head and out-of-body, euphoric moment of total joy comes on the last track ‘Utterly Free World Without God’s Curse - Multi-Sky Wave’ where our collaborators mash up [I think thats the term thats in use these days] a truly gorgeous soul beat whilst slathering on some Neneh Cherry violin which mutates into a hydra of bleeps beats and frantic bobbings.

Apparently Horton and Campbell have never met, this being a collaboration via the etherwaves. I have no idea what Horton has been up to before but having listened to plenty of Campbell I feel its safe to say that both of these artists like working with beats and the layering of different sounds upon them, be it a snake charmers reed, some glitchy electronics, spacey effluvia, spazzy guitar, fiddles, trumpets, tapes, piano, percussion … you get the idea.

Onward ever onward.