Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Taming Power

Taming Power - 16 Movements For Electric Guitar
Early Morning Records. EMR LP - 008.
200 copies.

Taming Power - Selected Works 1992-98
Early Morning Records. EMR 10” - 005.
200 copies.

Taming Power - Selected Works 1997
Early Morning Records. EMR 10” - 006.
202 copies.

Taming Power - Fragments of the Name of God
Early Morning Records. EMR 7” - 013.
220 copies.

My short ten minute car journey to work takes me past two important reminders. The first is whats known locally as the ‘Chartists Fields’. The Chartists were the first working class political movement in England to petition for a voice in politics, which until then had been denied the ordinary working man. In 1839 what is thought to be a crowd of 250,000 Chartist supporters gathered to hear people talk in field that I now drive past every morning; 20,000 people marched the twenty odd miles from Todmorden with a brass band leading them the way all to hear incendiary speeches from people like Feargus O’ Connor who told them that change must come. This place reminds me of my working class roots and the fact that I live in what was once a hotbed of radical political thought and deed.

On the far edge of one of these fields I can see the back boundary wall of Liversedge Cemetery. Built in Victorian times it contains many an imposing headstone some of which I can just about make out as I tootle along with John Humphries reading me the early morning news. This reminds me that one day I will be dead so I better get my sodding finger out and write some reviews.

Which brings me to Taming Power and the third batch of records that have arrived from this most mysterious of Norwegian projects. Mysterious because Askild Haugland, the man behind Taming Power, decries all manner of promotion, mysterious because all his records have fairly mundane photos glued to them, mysterious because all his track titles are the dates he recorded them, mysterious because his work sounds so damn … mysterious.

Using sound sources such as an electric guitar, a pair of 70’s Tandberg reel to reels, radios, Tibetan bowls and the odd ethnic horn he wrings from them works that wallow in vast oceans of crenelated feedback, works that are primitive in their construct but somehow create the power to grip like little else I know. Some of his work pushes the boundaries of what you can physically endure, not because they’re poorly constructed compositions or painfully uncomfortable but because they’re so damned haunting, so uncomfortably sad and distressing, so … mysterious.

Selected Works 1997 is a case in point. Two side long tracks of two reel to reel tape recorders continually feeding back in a torrent of squealing lo-fi discomfort, a release that had it appeared on an early Broken Flag release would be seen as a classic of its kind. A seemingly never ending cascade of whistles and screaming contacts constantly jarring each other into submission.

And then there’s the deeply austere and melancholic ‘16 Movements For Electric Guitar’ which is easily the pick of this Taming Power delivery. Here Haugland plays electric guitar like he’s sat in the rain besides his best friends grave wringing out the saddest most deeply unsettling compositions - all of it swathed in rusty Taming Power analogue murk. Four tracks of spatial intertwining guitar notes, each one left to ring into an empty black hole where the sounds disappear forever. What makes this an even more unsettling listen is the minutes silence that breaks each side leaving this listener feeling like he’d attended a religious service where a minutes silence was deemed compulsory so as to let the enormity of what you’d just been told sink in. After listening to this LP for months now I doubt I could ever tire of it. If you thought Nick Drake was your favourite fireside autumnal listen then more fool you. On ‘16 Movements For Electric Guitar’ Haugland makes Nick Drake sound like Ken Dodd. This is the power of Taming Power. Arguably his best release and the one to start with should you feel like expanding your horizons.

‘Selected Works 1992-98’ sees Haugland augment his twin Tandbergs with amongst other things a Casiotone, a radio and a circular saw. As you’d expect with early recordings the results are patchy but never less than curiously listenable with Clanger like whistles and industrial sparks flying, especially with the aid of the circular saw. Throbbing Gristle throb comes courtesy of the Tandbergs feeding back, an out of tune electric guitar plucks a sad melody to a shortwave radio backing. What you cant help admire here is Haugland’s desire to document what he did and eventually feel confident enough to release these works on to vinyl.

Which leaves the single ‘Fragments of the Name of God’ and four short tracks as recorded in 2003. Here a glockenspiel augments the ever present Tandbergs creating ice cream van music on LSD. One track gives us the soundtrack to a floating in space 1950’s science fiction B movie. Unusually for Haugland he names one track ‘Rain’ [and then the date] which is but a sliver of what appears to be a pure field recording. Even this sounds ... mysterious.

I’ve been the fortunate recipient of three packages from Askild Haugland now and with  each one my admiration for what he’s achieved increases a hundredfold. This is a man who has worked in utter obscurity for decades releasing his work to total silence, to the applause of no one but still he’s continued composing and releasing. Long may he do so.



Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Stuart Chalmers - Imaginary Musicks Vol 2,3 & 4.

Stuart Chalmers - Imaginary Musicks Vol 2

Stuart Chalmers - Imaginary Musicks Vol 3 & 4
Hairdryer Excommunication. CDR/DL

I was in London at the weekend. Me and Mrs Fisher lounging around in the Princess Louise on a Sunday afternoon making the most of a quiet room and letting Sam Smiths wheat beer work its magic whilst admiring the enamel tiles and the etched glass thinking ‘wouldn’t it be great if all pubs were like this’? An afternoon eddy, a rare chance to leave feeling slightly fresh before sloping off down Kingsway for a curry in the India Club.

Its the same kind of feeling I get when listening to Stuart Chalmers work. It was his releases I immediately went to after ditching the dirty underwear and washing the Smokes grime from my pits. With the lights down low and headphones in place I return to Imaginary Musicks 2, 3 & 4 and pretend I'm half cut.

Chalmers has created what I like to think of as a Museum of Sound in which he displays all manner of aural oddities that he chooses to transform and alter via tape abuse and the addition of field recordings and acoustic sounds into a music that can veer from the achingly tender to the all out industrial. His earlier work was more visceral with the pull of capstans and the click clack of fast forward buttons to be found among the melancholic bowl rings and relaxation records while his later work, as found here, appears to have a purer fluid running through it.

When I saw him at the Wharf Chambers at this years Crater Lake Fest he played a zither, various bits of wood, an array of cassette players and pedals all while knelt on the floor with a waist length wig shielding just about everything and it was nothing less than captivating. Mixing everything from chant to drone to bird song to office chatter to speeded up Terry Riley records [maybe?] to slowed down jazz to old time music hall to you just about name it he creates these spaces, these areas where sounds congeal and coalesce and morph into something that is much better than the sum of their parts.

The artist I’ve most compared him to is William Basinski and there are moments in his work where a decayed tape loop brings to mind Basinski’s Disintegration Loops. It appears here also with the track ‘Requiem’ on 3 & 4 but instead of letting us all drown in a pit of misery Chalmers cleverly corrupts the thing by layering over it the audio taken from an 80’s BBC sports quiz, the results being similar to having your frame set afloat on a sea of morphine while discovering who finished second in the County Cricket Championship in 1981 [Sussex in case you were wondering]. The track that follows it is Henri Pousseur meets Tricky, the one after that contains some harshly plucked oriental strings, mutterings and the swooshing sound you make when you rub finger cymbals over a stone tiled floor. The track after that is pure tape abuse with a swirl of what was once a smooth jazz tune obliterated into a quick fire squish of wobbly saxophones and eerie space sounds. And then there’s the rapid edits that recall the kind of madcap lunacy of Nurse With Wound's Sylvie & Babs. Such is my admiration for what Chalmers creates I found myself not only listening to these two releases but going back to his previous works and luxuriating away entire evenings filling myself with feelings of warmth and melancholy and delight.

I can only imagine that Chalmers has an ear for sound and that he is capable of seeing the  potential transformation inherent in say the field recording of a firework display which is what he utilises on the last track of 3 &4. A simple field recording of rapid bangs and the delighted oohs and ahhs of the crowd is held up against a background drone of such deep beauty it left me feeling emotionally drained. And it isn’t often that happens. 

To show off his breadth of tastes Imaginary Musicks Vol 2 kicks off with some serious Industrial barrage this being the stuttering bombast of pummeling drums, computer chatter and spacey noises. Before he then goes on to create the kind of mouth chewing effects more normally associated with Phil Minton expect that this is definitely not of mouth origin and has a church organ for backing. He’s creating whole new worlds here.

What I find continually mystifying is that Chalmers work remains in relative obscurity. He’s been championed in a few corners but deserves a wider audience. His time will surely come. 





Monday, August 03, 2015

The PowerString Game

The PowerString Game
Henk Van Mierlo Kreative Kommunikatie BV. LP

Have you noticed how the charity shop record bins are changing? Admittedly you wont have to dig far before you come across a Jim Reeves record or something by Bert Kaempfert but all those records that were bought in the 60’s by people who were dying in the 90’s are slowly drying up to be replaced by people ditching their bland 80’s and 90’s pop 12 inchers. Now I’m starting to see a smattering of battered pop tunes and Donna Summer LP’s. Not that bad in itself and perhaps worth a ten bob punt should you be in the mood but those Jim Reeves records wont be around forever and while Sid Vicious may have been a fan I can’t see myself ever buying one.

I used to buy lots of chazza vinyl and some of it I bought just because I liked the gaudy cover or reckoned that what lay within would be much better than the sleeve showing three beardy blokes stood in a field with banjoes and fiddles. I cut right back when I realised I had nowhere to put them and took about a hundred of them back to where they came from vowing to be more stringent in my chazza choices in future.

And to a larger extent I have been a good boy and left behind what I would have normally taken but that's not to say I’ve stopped looking. How could I? The lure of a charity shop record bin is as strong as ever. The thought that behind that Shirley Bassey album may lie something by Asmus Tietchens [something that did once happen to me in the Red Cross in Heckmondiwke] and its not as if I’m just digging around for rare Hamster Record releases. My love of the absurd and weird is something that goes hand in hand with charity shop record bins. You could trawl eBay and Discogs but the real buzz is to be had in finding something like The PowerString Game, which is essentially a promotional tool for the PS Hy-O-Sheep oil filled tennis racket string with added cheesy music.

Rescued from Mind in Brighouse on Saturday morning [along with three Greek Rebetika records and a lap steel LP by Rod King, perhaps of which more later] The PowerString Game contains one 14 minute track of promotional guff for the strings and 11 tracks of music to inspire the tennis player. These being, amongst others, easy listening versions of The Old Fashioned Way, Mack The Knife, You Are The Sunshine of My Life, Magic Fly [?] and two lounge-core instrumentals; one called ‘PowerString’ the other ‘Another Ace’ both of which were written by someone called P. Elsterre who nobody has heard of but some sad completeist on Discogs where six entries are to be found against his name.

So far so odd but its the 14 minute PowerString opener that features the Brass Band of the Royal Guards, Chris Evert Lloyd, Jimmy Connors, a Wimbledon speaker, an umpire and a commentator that separates this one from the rest. Part of that 14 minute track contains a set of tennis being played with no commentary, the announcement of the scores by the umpire and applause being your only guide. Another section goes into the technical detail of the PS Hy-O-Sheep oil filled tennis racket string, repeating the words PS Hy-O-Sheep oil filled tennis racket string every ten seconds like they were trying to brain wash you into buying the PS Hy-O-Sheep oil filled tennis racket string in a not so subtle way before reminding you that point of sale material will be place in every sports shop in the land while the tennis match between Evert and Connors continues in the background. And now on to those inspirational instrumentals.

Even the back cover is weird. A tennis player holding a racket like he’s got the left side of a marching banner in his hand, hands far apart, racket in front of face, grimaced as if it was nuclear device he was trying to fend off and not a fluffy tennis ball.

Sadly my order form is missing from the record. I know it should be there because the man who’s doing his best to sell me PS Hy-O-Sheep oil filled tennis racket strings tells me so. My life is incomplete. There’s one for sale on Discogs for 67p but it doesn't state whether the insert is there. Perhaps I could get in touch. Perhaps I could get a life.