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.


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