Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Butte County Free Music Society Meets Chocolate Monk on a Dissecting Table.
Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble - Casino Sordide
Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble - Occupy Infantry
Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble - Cavoli Riscaldati
Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble - The Armless Marvel
Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble - Harvester of Eyes
Lawrence Crane - Craniostomy 1981-1987 Vol One.
The Viper - Art For Pain’s Sake
The Tenses + Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble - Daughter of the Boot
Chocolate Monk. CHOC352. CD 80 copies.
Stefan Jaworzyn, Dylan Nyoukis & S. Glass - My Disgusting Heart
Chocolate Monk. CHOC353. CD 80 copies.
Receiving a well stuffed jiffy bag containing these head lifting potions makes me feel like I’ve signed up to one of those funky new subscription services whereby every so often a package appears on your doorstep containing a brand spanking new LP except that instead of a reissue of David Bowie’s Hunky Dory I’m getting eight and a half hours worth of total mind melt. Forget Life on Mars and Changes how about we put everything in a felt bag and smash it to pieces with the round end of a ball pein hammer until there’s nothing left but a million bits which we mix with glue and slather all over a Boots own brand ferric C120 blindfolded until we’ve got something that’s halfway between the five minute period after the big bang and the day John Lee Hooker bust his strings on the Oprah show.
The Butte County Free Music Society stands shoulder to lopsided shoulder with The Los Angeles Free Music Society as the standard bearers for all that is odd, wonky and ill fitting in the United States of America. Put a pen on a map and draw a line between the two and you’ll find it crosses boundaries that include primitive noise, junk yard improv, toy shop clatter, surf twang, tape abuse, music concrẻte, found sounds, pure experimentation … its an endless list. Don’t even bother trying. There’s plenty of gloop this side of the pond too but the port of entry is Chocolate Monk through whom, every so often, these jiffy bags appear.
The last gathering of BUFMS and Chocolate Monk saw me through a particularly miserable and wet Christmas period. Long term immersion in to such worlds is blessed relief from whatever is going on outdoors and its an approach I can wholeheartedly recommend. I did the same with this particular bunch, jotting down the occasional note but in the main being blissfully unaware that another hour had passed in the company of people making music like no others.
The BUFMS approach is, as ever, a meticulous one; each CD arrives in a wrap around sleeves, there’s usually some kind of ‘present’ inside; a bandage, a photograph, the unused centers from an LP pressing. The artwork is top drawer too [Karen Constance if you're lucky] all looking like its had hours rather than minutes spent on it. And then you put one in to a CD player. Which is where your head starts to go all funny.
According to the press release, the three Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble releases that are Casino Sordide, Occupy Infantry and Cavoli Riscaldati are all part of an interconnected trilogy, which means there must be some kind of link between self help cassettes and a squeaky kettle lid. When they say that the 26 minute long ‘Erika’s Last Day’ [the central track from Occupy Infantry] was recorded in a closet with the help of a credit card machine with newest member ‘Count Darkula raking a window to nowhere’ you have to believe them. That Bren’t Lewiis aren’t afraid to stretch their work out to and past the half hour mark is to their credit too. Each of these and The Armless Marvel contain works that do that effortlessly. Cavoli Riscaldati contains two tracks each a heady half hours worth of tape wobble, the sounds of revving motorbikes, plastic squeak, hum, murk and boiling fizz. The 56 tracks that make up Harvester Eyes [cannibalism a seemingly favourite BUFMS trope] are collection of spoof TV ads [Monoxidown - ‘I was enjoying my life but that had to stop’], a group of kids playing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy very badly, TV show samples, multiple voices, furniture moving and approximately eight million quick edits that make this the aural equivalent of channel hopping in America while playing multiple records and cassettes. I think I even detected a snippet of Michael Aspel who must have been on holiday at the time. The half hour improv track on The Armless Marvel is ‘Panicked Alligator Gagging on a Canoe Paddle’. The last track is a collection of symbols from the character map and [Subcutaneous Mix] all recorded by The City Councilman, Lucian Tielens, The Viper, Lindy Lettuce, Tim Smyth and Gnarlos at the Residence Inn, Room 114 on the 15th of December. BLE are of course, a loose collective. Harvester Eyes sees all of the aforementioned joined by Tom Simpson, Joan of Art, Asskicker Bob, Silvia Kastel, Limphoma, Leroy Tick, Lily, Emmy Sofa, Sarah Doctor, Rob E, Babuna Virus, Lenore, Rocco, Emiko, Scott Williams and plain old Bryce.
Lawrence Crane and The Viper are trips into the archives that are shoeboxes under beds containing cassettes that nobody has heard in a very long time. Crane is particularly interesting; discovering the delights of overdubbing while amassing an array of instrumentation such as a keyboard-less analog synth, oscillator, delay, mixer, shortwave radio, toy piano, cop scanner and the audio input of his Commodore computer [and a shed load of other stuff judging from the inner sleeve] he created a kind of unclassifiable series of melodies that by 1983 had morphed in to the sort of synth tunes as found on early Kraftwerk albums. The man became a one man cassette factory, trading and shipping his work to like minded souls until one day he decided that was enough and junked everything into a skip. A decision he still regrets to this day.
The Viper [aka Richard Sterling Streeter] goes back even further, to 1978 and an untitled track where he hits things while growling and squeaking. Sort of like busking gone wrong but in a good way. ‘Ollidamra’ is indeed armadillo spelt backward and intoned by Streeter as some kind of invocation between snippets of Bach’s organ works, reversed tapes and records spun with index fingers to ridiculous speeds. ‘Dream of Glipnorf’ is an improvised duo effort featuring violin and electric guitar that develops into a 12 bar blues because they ran out of ideas.
So far, so far out. Its a feeling that never leaves you with BUFMS. Those Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble releases have such depth to them, such a life of their own, that you feel as if you could live in them. Play them again in a weeks time and a sort of recognition comes over you and a kind of familiarity but its as if they’ve grown new limbs, morphed in to something else whilst you’ve been away. Maybe the sleeves are tainted with spores that change the zeros and ones under the CD’s plastic layers. Maybe there’s invisible ink on the sleeves that only becomes apparent when you spit gut rot whisky on to them? Maybe they do have lives of their own. And what’s with the four slightly out of shape black squares? I guess we’ll never know.
On this side of the pond we find Chocolate Monk in the mid 300’s and two releases, one of which is a ‘it had to happen’ pairing of the Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble and The Tenses. That means you get the delightful Oblivia and Ju Suk Reet Meate sitting down and standing up and moving about with Tielens, Kastel, Leroy Tick, Gnarlos and The City Councilman. Two thirty minute-ish tracks of very low key improv with trademark Oblivia vocal samples from records, wind up toys, shakers and someone pissing in to a galvanized bucket from ten paces. Bugle parps from Meate meet tinkles from tiny bells, lonesome horns, creaking furniture, tiny sounds that come here and go there all of it creating an atmosphere that fits in somewhere between a field recording made on the Congo Delta and the lost property department of Amtrak. The second track ‘Heroic Armor of the Italian Renaissance’ is if anything even lower key, gentle mutterings, someone hitting a xylophone with balls of cotton wool, snatches of theremin, air escaping from the bottom of a demijohn, bicycle chains going through the gears, cymbals stroked with pieces of wire and under most of it the gentle wheeze of the lower keys of a fairground organ. All very muted and inits own strange way utterly compelling.
Seymour Glass’s hands waver over all of this like Uri Geller trying to finds the film canister with the marble in but its not until the last release here that we find his name. On paper it all sounds rather incongruous, guitar thraper/raper Jaworzyn, gob botherer Nyoukis and the ethereal Glass but rather than the mush I was expecting this is yet another fine low key slice of improv. The familiar Nyoukis brogue appears on On Dirty Owl Teat and with it some sliding about Jaworzyn twangs, we shall assume that Glass is the one mixing the pot like a witch stood at a cauldron chucking in the bats eyes and the newts tails. Last track ‘Gang Related Sneezing’ is silence/noise ying/yang the noise being snippets of reversed vocals and fuzz blurts the silence making for an odd juxtaposition. Its leaving makes for sadness. Opener ‘Frozen Tombs of Siberia’, the longest track by far of the four is Jaworzyn recorded in the room next door making a racket while fire bombs go off outside. When the Jaworzyn guitar does emerge its like Godzilla clearing his throat. When voices appear its through the haze of a UFO landing, strangled cries, muffled shouts, cows that need milking, the very faintest hint of rhythm as Jaworzyn hits a few strings that echo into the ether. These guys know what they’re doing. We should pay attention.
My time spent in Butte County has been a most profitable one. As has my time in Chocolate Monk land. Which I now see has sold out of both these items. I’m pretty sure they don’t do Bandcamp either. Adding to the mystery is the BUFMS Bandcamp page that offers its wares for stream and download but not all on yee physical format. They’re usually in 100 runs so maybe they’ve all sold out too. What price some kind of subscription service?