Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Left Hand Cuts Off Right - Goma
Must Die Records. MDR 023. CD
I appear to be getting more good than bad from MDR of late. Having fed me the A Band, Ceramic Hobs, Bad Suburban Nightmare and introducing me to the wonderful, twisted, sick and warped world of Dr. Steg they now lay Left Hand Cuts Off Right at my feet whilst walking slowly away backwards, head bowed, hands behind back, a gentle tug of the forelock upon shutting the door.
And what an offering it is. It isn’t not often that I mount the pulpit and urge my congregation to dip into their pockets but for once I insist. Smash the piggy bank, raid the milkman money, steal a fiver from your mums purse, take back all the empty pop bottles you can find to the chippy and when you have the requisite coffers send them to MDR and await your prize.
In the meantime you could do worse than to check out Brian Eno and Robert Fripp’s 1973 release No Pussyfooting. Now I’m not saying for one minute that what we have here fights at the same weight as No Pussyfooting but there is within Goma that same languorous, heavy limbed, head wavy, adrift on a lilo feel that Fripp and Eno captured so perfectly and which John Peel played at the wrong speed so characteristically.
Robbie Judkins is the man responsible. A sonic adventurer if ever there was one, dabbling in overtones, circuit bending, random radio transmissions and whose work seems to be split between his more noisier live outings and his more studious studio work.
The three tracks on Goma all radiate drone of course but its the way in which Judkins layers, edits and composes these tracks that really makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. And yes I did say compose for while I dare say that what we have here is experimentation of a sort I feel that there is a definite structure here, a sense of going from here to there via this to achieve that.
It appears most prominently on the first [title] track where what sounds like a heavily processed electric guitar is transformed into a Sunday morning bell ringing session. Whether Judkins is masquerading as Robert Fripp I know not but the way this track unfolds, with its gentle underscore of tintinnabulation and slowly building ominous drone is the stuff of a drone fans wet dreams. There’s always the chance that I’ve got my sound sources completely wrong [not the first time, wont be the last] but either way you can’t but sit back and admire the way this has been put together. Goma eventually fades away like a dying coal leaving you with some cyclical overtones of the deepest and purest hue. Sheer joy.
Track two [Untitled] is maybe piano based. A couple of lower white keys trammelled and looped before the appearance of the real thing and a three chord motif that Diamanda Galas wouldn’t turn her pointy painted nose up at. And then those lovely rolling church organ rolls that feel as if half the keys are going forwards whilst the rest are going backwards.
So what is the final track [Piotrkowska] made up of? Who knows. Like all good experimenters Judkins disguises his sound sources well. A throbbing, a swelling, a pulsing thing, tiny cymbals all a-crackle, drum rim rubbed drone, at least half a dozen things layered over one another with new sounds coming and old ones going, the whole thing rolling along like it has a life of its own until we get to the halfway mark where we’re left with just one huge bass bomb resonating into its own collapsing self. Judkins then spends the rest of the track overlaying electro-acoustic effects like looped rolled milk bottles sounds until its all too soon and untimely end.
Things of such beauty rarely come this way and its with a sad heart that I put it to one side to continue with the rest of the review pile. The urge is to play it just one more time, to soak it up, to take it with me on my travels, to push it on to people in pubs, in restaurants, stood at bus stops, here look at this, the new Pussyfooting.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Burd - Wild Saloone
Mantile 019. Cassette.
Fossils - What A Drag
Mantile 020. Cassette.
Kayaka - Operation Deep Freeze
Mantile 021. Cassette.
Brood Ma - Fission
Mantile 022. Cassette.
Spoils & Relics - Stammer Challis
Mantile 023. Cassette.
I’m beginning to think that it may be easier for me to begin each post by inserting cut and paste sections of the British Medical Journal into the first paragraph, especially those relating to common colds and how the fuck it is that yours truly appears to be a magnet for every mutation doing the rounds. Having spent most of January with a sludgy marshmallow head I now appear to be spending the beginning of March with something similar. This time around there’s a chest rattling cough to contend with along with the obligatory expectorations that I look at with amazement before flushing down the bog. Nothing too devastating to keep me off work of course, this one appeared late Thursday, just in time for me to flatline through the entire weekend ensuring I got to miss the months in planning, highly anticipated Consumer Electronics/Sleaford Mods /Cremation Lily show at the Rammel Club. Of all the weekends, in all the world you had to ruin this one dintcha?
As ever during these recurring bouts of malaise I find myself taking to the Poang with the review pile. Its amazing how much crud you can soak up when your energy levels are on a par with that of an overworked Chinese donkey. I sat listless for hours on end with Gruenrekorder, LF, SLI the new Kirkstall Dark Matter, Fragment Factory and Spon 27 which by the looks of it will keep me in panel pins for years to come. Some I listened to on repeat because it was easier to press the repeat button on the remote than it was to actually get up and change the item in question. So, two whole days spent doing not much else but listen to the review pile whilst coughing up green bits of lung juice.
Johnny Scarr warned me in advance that some of these tapes contained dance music and that they may not be to my liking. I do like a challenge though and whilst Lemsip may not be every weekend party animals drug of choice I found that it numbed the nerves sufficiently enough to allow me to sit through Brood Ma without once twitching anything like a toe or a foot. As you may have gathered, I’m not the biggest fan of dance music in the world finding that my ability to move in a syncopated manner manifests itself only at weddings and birthdays and then only after excessive amounts of alcohol have been consumed. To be fair to Brood Ma and Johnny Scarr this isn’t exactly dance music but music that has been constructed from dance music, more like an electronic dub reggae. I have no idea what you call this genre of music, I once heard someone in the pub say Intelligent Dance Music and thats the coverall term I use for anything with beats in it that I don’t understand. Don’t hang me for it, I know that there’ll be three million sub genres doing the rounds and that the kids down Afflecks Palace will laugh at me for being an out of touch old twat but what you gonna do, spend two weeks researching the outer limits of the Berlin techno scene just so I get the terminology right?
I have heard music like Burd before though and its made by people with portable Yamaha organs which have lots of preset beats on them that get endlessly morphed creating an all night shoulder rolling, head waggling dope dance fest. Like Heatsick, who I like to think of as the John Shuttleworth of dance, not because he punches the air but because of his sweaters, who I’ve seen live and appears to be capable of keeping a packed house shuffling about all night by doing nothing more strenuous than drink lager from a can whilst hitting the odd strategic key with a well timed index finger. Wild Saloone is quite trippy in a lo-fi, head full of snot fashion which seems apt considering my current state of health. I did find myself warming to its lethargic, fizzy beats in a nostalgic 80’s crap pop 12” b-side instrumental kind of way though. Lets call it Heatsickism.
There’s some beats on Kayaka too. Unfortunately for Kayaka there’s also lots of kak as evinced by the ‘all over the place I think I’m experimenting with sounds’ stance that results in some tracks sounding like a faulty synth drum and others Sonic Youth tuning up [not a good thing by the way]. An aimless bunch of noisy tracks that have noise at their heart but no heart in their noise.
Which leaves Fossils and Spoils & Relics who for me are the true heart of Mantile, the bit where for me anyway, it starts to get interesting. This is where The Clangers show Edgar Varèse what lo-fi TNB scrape is all about, the place where tiny taught egg slicer wires are plucked one at a time by someone whose just about to tip over into slumberland. You know the kind of thing. Fossils I know nothing about, a duo certainly but apart from that nada. Here there are live outings of slowed down taped, reversed tape, tiny sounds all muffled and suitably cassette harmonious, teeny tiny bubbles and squeaks, capstan fiddling, spring boings, an underwater composition for Kagel’s toys played by crabs with toffee hammers in their claws. The live stuff is a tad rawer but the studio [maybe, perhaps] is the real joy.
I played Spoils & Relics back to back with Fossils and the similarities are there for all to hear; the electro-acoustic love-in, the breathing gaps, maybe more space in S&R’s work, less clutter but as ever an aural delight for those wishing to take a rest from the common annoyances of the world outside. There’s a moment near the beginning of one of these sides where it appears that someone is rubbing a piece of wood up and down a wobbly wooden table thats covered with sensitive electronic equipment that judders as it emits various roosting chicken noises. The joy comes from listening to a recording put together by people with a true love of sound. For these are indeed just that, collections of sounds that when combined with deft hands produce transports of delight. From gently moving hum to Patrick Stewart sample to gentle coaxed tape pull. I’ve yet to hear anything from Spoils & Relics that even beings to approach mundane. A delight. Long may they continue.
So Johnny was right, there were some tapes in here that I didn’t particularly like but those last two more than made up for them. Hand pressed card inserts, five quid each, about thirty minutes of sounds on each one, perfect for that Lemsip Poang trip.
Saturday, March 02, 2013
Sindre Berga - Songs of Failure
Dead Wood - Forest
King Rib/Andrew Perry - Split
Flimsy bits of plastic and paper, flimsy bits of plastic and paper … but isn’t that what you get when you buy an album? Yes, but the paper’s a bit stiffer, lets call it card, and a bit bigger and heavier and the plastic, lets call it vinyl, is pressed by a stamper that carries a groove that allows you to trail a stylus through it thereby generating a signal that you can amplify into a glorious sound [if you’ve put the right record on that is].
The last time I got sent CDR’s as shoddy as this was when the Australian label Smell The Stench used to send me recycled beer cartons full of them. I must have listened to dozens of them and do you know where they are now? No, and neither do I. But before I go down the shoddy packaging route again let us console ourselves with the fact that for a some time now CDR has been the undisputed king of cheap formats. You can find CDR’s on just about any street corner these days, huge spindles full of them as churned out by some poor bugger in a sterile factory in China just so that you can take them home to burn something on to them so that one day someone like me can chuck them in the bin or, as in this case, pass them on to Mark Ritchie at Hiroshima Yeah! so that he can see what I have to put up with, I mean enjoy.
As is my way with plain CDR’s I scribble on them with green marker so as not to mix them up. Thereby the Sindre Berge release has ‘Sindre Berger’ written on it and the Deadwood release has ‘hideous guitar scraping noise’ on it. The King Rib/ Andrew Perry release I let loose on the hi-fi and from a distance it sounded great, until I got to the Andrew Perry track. The King Rib portion reminded me of Aphex Twin’s ‘Selected Ambient Work’s Volume II’ and I played it several times to much slowed down head nodding accompaniment. Andrew Perry’s half of the effort consists of a single track containing various oddments which I took to be the soundtrack to the life of someone who has trouble concentrating on one thing for more than thirty seconds [straight lifts from a Talk Sport phone in anyone], there were some ominous deep bass sounds emanating from within at certain times but to say I was less than enthused may be understating things here. At least Sindre Berge’s lifted me from my cups. His two tracks of crepuscular drone with added tinkling passed the time of day quite nicely thank you very much even if the two tracks did sound a tad similar. And you know already what I think of Deadwood.
WGGFDTB actually stands for We’re Gonna Get Fucking Delerium Tremens Bollocks and its as daft a name for a label as I’ve ever come across [this is actually a lie and the acronym translates as We’re Gonna Get Fuckin’ Drunk Tonights Boys but my point is made]. I’m assuming that the person who runs this label [take a bow Andrew Perry] is either a very busy person or prefers the bare bones approach to label production, for these three pieces of paper and plain CDR’s come with the ‘get em done and out there’ stamp of authenticity that only a no audience label could aspire to.
Talking of which, Rob Hayler at over RFM does this thing much better than me.
Friday, March 01, 2013
SPON 25 - The Late Christmas Issue
SPON 26 - The It Came From Across The Pond Issue
Once upon a time, before somebody invented email, there was a thing called the Post Office where you queued up to send things to people. These queues were usually long ones and you stood in them next to old people who wanted a second class stamp and young lasses with herds of unruly children who picked up everything they could lay their hands on whilst mum sent back the top she’d got from Grattans that didn’t fit her. It was always raining and these queues had steam coming off them. It was always too warm in there so that by the time you eventually reached the front of the queue, forty five minutes later, you were as limp as a wet lettuce and ready to drop, the packages you held in your hands were already becoming soggy and you were hoping that you wouldn’t get the dopey one behind the counter who last week took the album you were posting to America and threw it over his shoulder hoping that it would land somewhere in the region of the airmail bag.
The upside to all this was that you got lots of lovely things through your door in return. Like this huge wad of zines and art work from Dr Steg. I don’t know if everybody who received issue 25 of Spon got around thirty odd pieces of artwork in them but if they did they can count themselves very lucky indeed. I know I do. As you can see there’s quite an array of styles here, some done in pen, some in watercolour, collage, some with fine detail and some that appear to have been knocked off in the time it takes call a rather famous cartoonist a not very nice word [long story].
Issue 26 is a direct reprint of an American zine called Media Junky around which has been wrapped a hand drawn cover the inside of which contains a postcard sent to Dr Steg from someone in an American Correctional Institute and a signed photo of Gracie Fields.
What all this does of course is continue the long tradition of Mail Art. I have to admit that despite being an avid correspondent in my time I was never drawn into the global Mail Art circle. Whilst others scribbled and cut and pasted away I seemed to spend most of my time writing long letters to mail order companies detailing my lousy day at work and how glad I was to receive their last package, something that must have caused a great deal of puzzlement to more than one distro/label outfit.
I wish Dr Steg all the very best in his continuing mission to fill the world with his artwork. I feel inspired. I have the pens, I have the paper. I have an idea.
‘A screaming comes across the sky’.
Thomas Pynchon’s books aren’t exactly what you’d call easy reading. Even his most ardent fans will readily admit it. Its probably why his first novel ‘V’ sat on my bookcase for the best part of 15 years before I actually got through it all in one go. I used to pick up ‘V’ and say to myself ‘there must be something I’m missing here’ and dutifully read about a hundred pages before throwing it to the floor in a huff. Then I came across a copy of his third book Gravity’s Rainbow and thought to myself ‘this is it, this must be the one’. So I bought it, took it home, sat and read the first 100 pages and threw it down in a huff. I was becoming exasperated, frustrated and totally non-plussed as to why it was Thomas Pynchon was earning so much praise. What was all the fuss about? He’s damned near unreadable. Emperors New Clothes. Bah.
Then something strange happened. About five years ago I picked up ‘V’ again. Determined this time to make sense of it I slowly, very slowly read it all the way through. After I’d finished it I wasn’t exactly sure that I’d understood everything that had gone on in there but somehow, somewhere, during the course of that book I felt I’d passed some kind of unspoken test, broken through some unseen barrier and joined some unique club. The skin had somehow been peeled from my eyes. I’d read a Pynchon novel and I’d actually enjoyed it.
Feeling much happier with myself I thought that I’d have another crack at Gravity’s Rainbow. Armed with my ‘V’ knowledge I thought I’d got the map, thought I knew my way around, thought I knew how Pynchon’s mind worked. Gravity’s Rainbow was going to be a walk in the park. Of course I couldn’t have been more wrong. Gravity’s Rainbow makes ‘V’ look like the TV Times. ‘V’ is but a mere warm up, the amouse bouche, a stretch of the legs before getting out of bed. ‘V’ is GR for beginners. GR’s 750 pages took hold of my brain cells and bashed them around the inside of my skull until it got to the stage where I was nervous about picking the book up. Some of it was dazzling, some of it was baffling, some of it was prurient, disgusting, weird, shocking even. Whatever plot lay between its covers remained hidden to me. I looked Pynchon up on the internet and found some kind of sense. He’s a recluse, never gives interviews, doesn’t do publicity [not that he needs it]. Book signings? HA! GR opened up a little bit but with more information came more disorientation. Pynchon fans can’t even agree on who the central character in GR is, there could be up to three. The one character that most people agree on is last seen a hundred pages from the end sitting on a kerb. But I got through it and although I still wasn’t absolutely 100% certain that I’d understood even a tenth of it, it didn’t seem to matter. I’d read Gravity’s Rainbow and I was hooked. I was now a dead cert Pynchon fan.
And then a couple of years back I decided re-read Gravity’s Rainbow. In the meantime I’d read a few other Pynchon books [The Crying of Lot 49, Vineland] but GR sat there looking at me, it felt like it wanted me to read it again. I kept being reminded of a strap line that appears on one of the earlier editions ‘no other book haunts the waking mind like Gravity’s Rainbow’. Exactly right. So once again I dug in. With my first reading under my belt I knew what to expect. I could luxuriate in Pynchon’s writing, soak up the characters, become more familiar with Pynchon’s quirks [kazoo’s, bizarre acronyms, daft songs] dig myself deeper in.
Pynchon wrote GR longhand on graph paper during the American war in Vietnam. It was published in 1973. It begins at the fag end of the Second World War and winds up somewhere near the beginning of the Cold War. The plot involves the search by several characters for a prototype V2 rocket named the Schwarzgerät - you only get to discover this fact after 250 pages of scene setting but don’t let this put you off - I’m not going to even try and expand on this so I’m cheating here by letting Wikipedia explain:
‘The plot of the novel is complex, containing over 400 characters and involving many different threads of narrative which intersect and weave around one another. The recurring themes throughout the plot are the V-2 rocket, interplay between free will and Calvinistic predestination, breaking the cycle of nature, behavioral psychology, sexuality, paranoia and conspiracy theories such as the Phoebus cartel and the Illuminati. Gravity's Rainbow also draws heavily on themes that Pynchon had probably encountered at his work as a technical writer for Boeing, where he edited a support newsletter for the Bomarc Missile Program support unit. The Boeing archives are known to house a vast library of historical V-2 rocket documents, which were probably accessible to Pynchon. The novel is narrated by many distinct voices, a technique further developed in Pynchon's much later novel Against the Day. The style and tone of the voices vary widely: Some narrate the plot in a highly informal tone, some are more self-referential, and some at times may possibly even break the fourth wall. Some voices even narrate in drastically different formats, ranging from movie-script format to stream of consciousness prose.
The narrative contains numerous descriptions of illicit sexual encounters and drug use by the main characters and supporting cast, sandwiched between dense dialogues or reveries on historic, artistic, scientific, or philosophical subjects, interspersed with whimsical nonsense-poems and allusions to obscure facets of 1940s pop culture. Many of the recurring themes will be familiar to experienced Pynchon readers, including the singing of silly songs, recurring appearances of kazoos, and extensive discussion of paranoia. According to Richard Locke, megalomaniac paranoia is the "operative emotion" behind the novel, and an increasingly central motivator for the many main characters. In many cases, this paranoia proves to be vindicated, as the many plots of the novel become increasingly interconnected, revolving around the identity and purpose of the elusive 00000 Rocket and Schwarzgerät. The novel becomes increasingly preoccupied with themes of Tarot, Paranoia, and Sacrifice. All three themes culminate in the novel's ending, and the epilogue of the many characters.’
GR won a single award [a Sci-Fi one at that] that Pynchon didn’t even bother to accept, instead sending someone on his behalf who introduced himself as Richard Python. He retains his cult status by never posing for publicity photos of ever having been interviewed. He’s only written seven novels and one book of short stories in almost fifty years.
Now I’m reading ‘V’ for the second time. I think I have it: lots of people, at various times in history are in search of something beginning with ‘V’ be it a woman, a rat, or a city. I think thats it but as ever with Pynchon nothing is ever certain.
I’ve read all his books now but still feel that GR and V are his strongest works. I shall come back to them again and again feeling within myself an absolute certainty that I shall draw more and more inspiration, pleasure and benefit from them with each turn of the page.
[Gravitys Rainbow has just been republished by Vintage. Being a fan of their books and seeing as how I’ve given away all my previous copies of GR to friends, and how my American Penguin classic version is dropping to bits, I’m about to invest. I urge you to do the same].