Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Stuart Chalmers / Ian Watson

Stuart Chalmers - Imaginary Musicks Vol 1
No label. CDR/DL

Watson/Chalmers - Good is a Lobster
The Lows and the Highs. HI/LO 035. Cassette/DL

Choosing your holiday music is a serious job. The yearly chance to indulge your earlobes for a whole week without the intrusion of the everyday is one to be cherished and welcomed. The mere thought of me sitting on a veranda gazing out into the azure Ionion sea with those little plastic things dug deep within my earlugs is one to send me into raptures. So after careful consideration I decided that I’d take the entire works of that lovable Austrian Serialist Anton Webern seeing as how you could get the whole lot for £8 on iTunes [not a path I normally tread but the ease with which my iPod was filled with his work was a simplistic joy in itself]. As to whether Webern's stark squawk becomes long afternoons spent gazing out onto the azure blue of the Ionion sea was a question that answered itself once an electrical storm of Biblical proportions arrived one evening, perhaps this was where Xennakis got his inspirations from? But I digress. I also took with me some Hawaiian music courtesy of Alan Lomax [more fitting and an antidote to Webern should he prove to be too much] and Rod Mckuen’s Beatsville LP, a recording that contains the immortal line ‘you don’t really get to know someone until you’ve held their hair back whilst they’re vomiting’. At least I think thats what he said. Maybe it was the Metaxa kicking in?

There was a few other bits and bobs of course including some new environmental stuff that arrived from Gruenrekorder the day before we left but the artist that I enjoyed the most this year was Stuart Chalmers.

Last year I took the opportunity to fill my head with lots of William Basinski so this year it seemed logical to progress with Chalmers. Basinski is the artist I most identify with Chalmers but as ever, its only a rough guide. Basinksi’s Disintegration Loops and his Shortwave Music are amongst the most profound and deeply moving examples of experimental music I know of and its the elements in these two works that I find in Chalmers. Working with guitar pedals, electronics [a catchall term I know but it’ll have to do] synths, possibly shortwave radios and cassettes he creates some incredible states of mind. But its cassettes that are the beating heart of Chalmers work.
Imaginary ‘Musicks Vol 1’ is Chalmers own handmade reworking of a cassette that first appeared on Beartown Records. Going for a more ritualistic vibe was Chalmers intent and in a bid to add some gravitas to the proceedings he had the results mastered by Denis Blackham a man who’s worked on everything from Jean Michelle Jarre to Whitehouse to Nurse With Wound to …  Basinski.

Here you’ll find the taught three stringed Japanese shamisen rubbing shoulders with classical Indian compositions of the flutes and singing variety, negro blues, looping filmic soundtrack like slices and insect chatter. These 35 minutes pass in an absorbing and all encompassing manner as you could possible wish for.

We begin with the wheezing drone of a Shruti box and the high call of a lonesome flute fluttering its notes hither and thither, synth nodes are layered, bird sounds appear, the mood is of contemplation. But this isn’t new age twiddling as found on an American West Coast guru’s prayer mat, this is West Coast England in the year 2014. This makes for an altogether different experience. These pieces of ritualistic and ethnic expression are now being put through the hands of someone who has no doubt listened to lots of Nurse With Wound and Whitehouse and no doubt Mr Basinski himself. This has not been filtered through rose tinted granny glasses and the fumes of bifters rolled up on Grateful Dead double albums. This is a far more grainy, multifaceted and modern affair.

My favourite track is the third [they’re all untitled] and the nearest Chalmers comes to donning the Basinski crown; a disintegration loop all of his own in which the haunting sound of a female Indian singer comes at you like a Lorelei. The fourth track is a walk through a dark room hanging with muted tubular bells, a saxophone flaps its pads unaided. The fifth finds a pair of violins swapping eerie notes as a sunken ship groans under the weight of all thats above it. And so it gloriously goes on.

‘Good is a Lobster’ contains nine haiku’s from Chalmers and a tenth track thats the noisiest thing I’ve heard from him. The haikus are as you’d expect, short excursions, creaking oar straps, an anvil being struck in the distance, Chinese wooden blocks and the odd stark piano note and ominous chord, wind chimes, the swirl of a cassette tape being abused via the slight depression of a fast forward button is never far away thus producing a serene almost uneasy atmosphere. Until we arrive at ‘East is West, West is East’ where Chalmers gets to flex his noise-drone muscle with an epic piece that incorporates what could be several monastic chants, each one degraded to a nub whilst being given the full on roar treatment.

And lets not forget Ian Watson’s contribution here. His four tracks ping about in minimal glitch/drone territory with crackles and the sound of dust as caught in shellac run-off grooves. There’s some atonal squeals courtesy of some circuit board on circuit board action and the odd struck ringing bowl all adding to a feeling of remoteness and space. There’s a definite Sähkö-esque feeling of analogue sparseness and disruption going on here of which I most heartily approve.

From what I’ve heard of Watson’s work over the years [not much I admit and didn’t he begin life as The Death of the Enlightenment Project?] he appears to be maturing nicely. There isn’t much here that bears comparison to the last thing I heard of his [a sample laden outing on LF] from which I assume he’s still experimenting and searching. That's no bad thing. And much better than Webern, when the suns out that is.                             

 Stuart Chalmers

The Lows and the Highs

Beartown Records

No comments: