Monday, November 23, 2015

Merzbow - Ecobondage

Merzbow - Ecobondage
Menstrual Recordings. DLP+CD. 250 copies.

I got a phone call from my uncle. It was the early 80’s, October and I was out of work and had been so for the last six months. I was as skint as a skint thing, borrowing money against my dole cheque so as I could go out drinking, something which I took great pleasure in those days, that's the drinking not the borrowing. My uncle told me that there was a job going for me if I wanted it at the local coal tar enamel plant and that if I went and asked for his bridge playing mate Ernest he’d promise me enough work to last until Christmas. The thought of having enough money to see me through a solid week of drinking at Christmas and new year without having to borrow or get in debt drove from my mind whatever disapproving thoughts I had of the job being totally shit and instead went to see Ernest.

So I did and one cold and dark Sunday night at the back end of October I arrived at 6.30pm and reported to the foreman and five of us sat in a rotted Portakabin drinking tea until it was time to start work. Work involved the re-sleeving of coal tar enamel kegs whose wrappers and had become sodden through years of outdoor storage. Someone made the new wrappers, someone brought in pallets of old wet, soggy wrapped kegs and we all replaced them with new ones before putting a bag over them, strapping them to a new, less soggy, less rotted pallet before storing them outside again for shipping to Iraq where they were going to cover their lovely new pipeline with it.

It was tedious work made worse by the rotten sleeves springing cold dank water on to you when you split them and the people I was working with, which barring one, were worn down middle aged married men no doubt wondering how they’d managed to end up in a freezing cold shed doing a shit boring job for 72 hours a week. I was about 18 years old and was happy to be bringing home a tax free £300 [having been out of work for so long I didn’t have to pay tax until I reached my earnings threshold] a princely sum and after two months of it I soon had more money than I knew what to do with. When it came around to Christmas I knew that even after a weeks drinking I would still have plenty of cash left for what I wanted more than anything, a decent Hi-Fi system.

So I went to a shop in Bradford called Amriks and paid about a weeks wages for a Pioneer separates system that came in its own black MDF, glass fronted cabinet which had space underneath it for about 50 LP’s.

As of 2015 I still have the speakers, the turntable and the amp. A testimony to Pioneer’s build quality seeing has how these units have been used almost daily ever since. The sad fact is though that my trusty Pioneer separates as bought in Amrik’s 30-odd years ago now sound about as high fidelity as two bean tins with a bit of string running through them. It’ll still push relatively quiet music through its system but get anywhere near the noisier end of the spectrum and it all starts to sound mushy and horrible. Which in this job is about as much use as an ashtray on a bike.

The only thing to be done of course is to invest in some new equipment. So I spent three weeks trawling the websites of various Hi-Fi retailers and equipment manufacturers and pretty soon I realised that the world of Hi-Fi had moved on somewhat since I’d last bought a CD player to augment my Pioneer-ing bits. I now know that there is such a thing as a phono amp, a dedicated amp for your turntable because, obviously, the signal from your cartridge is a very weak one and you need something to increase it before its gets to your amp proper. So I bought one of those and a Pro-Ject turntable and a Marantz amp and some oak racking on which to sit it all and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ll replace the speakers too after some sound testing but for now I’m trying not to hyperventilate at the thought of all this coming together and filling my days forever more with the most wondrous sound reproduction.

And here it all sits bar the oak racking which is probably still on a joiners desk in Rutland or getting lost by Fed Ex or the Big Green Parcel Machine so instead I sit and play the CD that came with Ecobondage because it appears that you can’t buy an LP these days without it coming with a CD or a download link.

The thought of hearing vinyl through, what will be probably known for the next thirty years as ‘the new system’ gets me so giddy I find myself buying a Merzbow record, something I haven’t done for a very long time. Its a reissue of a late 80’s release through the charmingly named Menstrual Recordings label. Because all the best Merzbow material has already been made. If only he’d have packed in a round ’96/’97 chipping out with Pulse Demon and Venerology, Merzbow at his screaming, crunching best before lap tops and the ubiquity of the internet and the resultant queue of labels intent on seeing Masami deliver on his promise of a thousand releases. 

The last Merzbow release I reviewed was Kamadhenu four years ago, a review in which I kind of said goodbye to Merzbow. But that was before everybody went reissue mad and I got a new Hi-Fi, still without a rack, probably on a Big Green Parcel Machine and found myself with money burning a hole in my pocket and me wanting to hear some late 80’s Merzbow again. It’s a good time to be listening to early Merzbow thanks to the reissue market and labels like Vinyl-on-Demand putting 10LP’s of Masami’s very earliest work into a silk screened wooden box that'll cost you a £150. Truth be told I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Merzbow of late, mainly as an aid to blocking out unwanted work conversations at break times. My favourite find has been the ten minute track Peaches Red Indian which originally appeared on the 1983 release Mechanization Takes Command and sounds a lot like Vice Versa only with the vocals replaced by a boinging machine.

But back to Ecobondage which on the accompanying CD is to be found in its original two sided C60 form. Two tracks that show just how inventive and wide ranging a sound Masami was capable of creating before he set about trying to bore us all to death. Here we have everything from TNB like junk scrape to needle abuse to balloon squeak noise to didgeridoo honk to mournful soundscapes containing hidden conversations to dustbin shuffle and just the merest nod towards all out noise. The last ten minutes proved so popular that Autechre sought to remix it for the their contribution to the Russell Haswell collated release Scumtron, although I prefer what we have here which sits in Aphex Twin/Einst├╝rzende Neubauten territory, a muffled rhythm played out on felted pipework with a layer sound disappearing and appearing again by use of a volume control.   

Ecobondage and the randomness of an iPod shuffle have resulted in something I thought might never happen, the reawakening of my interest in all things noisy. After a while out in the noiseless wastelands its good to be back. I’ll let you know what it sounds like on the ‘new system’.

Sunday, November 08, 2015


Troum - Mare Morphosis
Transgredient Records. TR-09. CD

Troum & Yen Pox - Mnemonic Induction
Transgredient Records. TR-11. CD

Once upon a time there was a cassette only label called Direction Music run by a man called Peter Harrison. Direction Music released music by the likes of Vidna Obmana and Morphogenesis, Nurse With Wound appeared on an early compilation tape and Colin Potter seemed to be heavily involved as producer, contributor and tape duplicator. I used to write to Peter and send him money and in return I’d receive some of his tapes and more often than not a long hand written letter detailing all the music he’d bought recently, usually expensive Miles Davies and John Coltrane box sets. The man was a true music fan and like all good label owners and music fans he only ever released music that he truly loved.

I bought Maeror Tri releases from Peter because I liked their ambience and used to carry their cassettes around with me in an Eno-esqu bid to create my own ambiences and then one day in 2000 Peter Harrison sadly died leaving behind a back catalogue of 28 releases and that was that.

Maeror Tri morphed in to Troum who I sort of kept tabs on for a while but eventually, as is my directionless way, I found myself wandering down different avenues of musical exploration. So it was with some sense of glee that I opened a package containing two Troum releases and wondered how they were getting on.

What happened next can only be described as a moment of earth shattering devastation. It was as if the foundations of my very being had been rent asunder. For some reason Troum had recorded something so utterly awful, so ear displeasingly bad that I had to remind myself that this was in fact Troum and not some Black Metal Symphonic Rock hybrid the result of a very drunken conversation between a Norwegian Death Metal band and someone who had a trumpet who one night, after far too many Jagerbombs decided to make a record together.   

I am talking of Mare Morphosis [itself a clunky linking of the shortening of ‘nightmare’ and ‘Morphosis, unless this has something to do with horses and I’ve got hold of the wrong end of the stick completely] an almost hour long battle between pounding drums, climaxing bass runs and heavy synth breathing. It has, in all honesty, to be one of the most disfiguring hours I’ve ever spent in my entire life, a thing so lumpy and ungainly and so horrible to listen to that I want to be not to be able to recall it ever again as long as I live.

What Troum have created with Mare Morphosis [the third and final installment in the Power Romantic series I’ve just discovered] is a kind of hideous New Age Ambient Symphonic Rock, as if ever such an ungodly thing could ever exist. A thirteen minute intro of those drums followed by some noodley atmospheric snyth and some deep breathing before the sodding drums come back to pound my senses into submission once more. My jaw doth drop open.

As you can imagine, inserting the Yen Pox collaboration into the player shortly afterwards was nothing less than traumatic but thankfully the results less than harmful.

Mnemonic Induction is of the throbbing bass rumble undertow school of ambient and the kind of droning ambience that benefits from having a decent hi-fi up so as to capture the power of low end drone. The kind of drone as heard in the cargo hold of propeller planes as you make your way across vast expanses of ocean, the kind of drone upon which you can layer all manner of atmospheres [some like to say ‘textures but I find that word difficult to use seeing as how it conjures up images of things you can touch not hear] that go towards creating the kind of ethereal rumble I so used to enjoy on La Bradford records, the way they used to give the bass guitar five minutes to play ten notes. Empty spaces filled with roaring drones. Not bad and after what had gone before, nothing short of a miracle.

What we have here is a reworking by Yen Pox of a fifteen year old Troum work. Perhaps we have Yen Pox to thank for this not being the self indulgent twaddle that Mare Morphosis is. Either way this had me digging around for those old Maeror Tri cassettes until I remembered that I sold them to a Russian collector a few years back. Life goes on.

Transgredient Records



Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Bridget Hayden - Just Ideas/The Night’s Veins

Bridget Hayden - Just Ideas/The Night’s Veins
Singing Knives Records.
100 copies.

Did I tell you about the time I got blind drunk at one of Campbell’s parties? Apparently I was dancing around the living room to Sun Ra flapping my arms about like a loon before eventually staggering to a taxi rank and from there my mind is a blank. I do have vague memories of talking to Bridget Hayden, drunken, incoherent ramblings on my part. I’m a terrible blathering idiot drunk which is one of the reasons I tend stay clear of overindulgence these days but after way too many vodkas, or whatever it was I was shoveling down my neck that night, I was no doubt in full throng, extolling the virtues of The Incapacitants or the night flights to New Delhi on Virgins new Airbuses or some other nonsense. I have no clear recollection of the chosen topic of conversation but I do remember talking to her, or as is probably more accurate annoying her. So I’m now taking this opportunity to apologise to Bridget for any offense I caused on the occasion of one of Campbell’s parties many, many years ago. I'm a good boy now honest. Just ask Neil.

So here comes the glowing review of a cassette that features seven tracks of Hayden’s solo material as recorded between the years 2002 and 2007.

Work that veers from all out guitar noise to Yoko Ono type moaning as accompaniment to, not surprisingly, Vibracathedral Orchestra type improv work outs with drones created from out of breath harmoniums and fluttering flutes. The latter are from the ‘Just Ideas’ side, a title which gives you some indication of whats going on here. Its the best side with wheedling, squealing violin creating short overtone bursts that have an almost ethnic feel to them and then overdubbed slide guitar and moans and that almost Astral Social Club rapid beat feel as from a Casio keyboard drum machine preset set to max. ‘The Night’s Veins’ two tracks begins with some full on guitar racket with Hayden shredding strings amidst a cacophony of feedback. What follows are ethereal voices, radio transmissions, tapes in reverse, Chinese State Radio broadcasts at three a.m. Just ideas and pretty good ones at that.

Hayden is perhaps better know for her involvement with Leeds droners Vibracathedral Orchestra and she also takes part in the rare collaboration, I’ve dug out the Delaney/Todd/Hayden release ‘Freeway Alabama’ so as to re-familiarise myself with its luxurious expanses. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen her live on more than one occasion too, hunched over a guitar wreaking havoc from it but I may have been drunk and can only half remember. Those days have gone. Did I mention this before?

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Ice Yacht - Pole of Cold

Ice Yacht - Pole of Cold
Fragment Factory. FRAG34. C40

The recent resurgence in all things analogue synth has led to a small flood of Klaus Schultze wannabes. Which is good news to ears like mine brought up on Jean Michel Jarre and Tomita but not all of its good news. Because for every Emeralds there will be a Onehotrix Point Never and no matter how much audio mulch electronic labels churn out I'll still be far happier getting my hands dirty in the obscure back catalogs of DIY labels from the late 70’s early 80's.
Like Ice Yacht. Originally appearing in 1981 on the Storm Bugs own Snatch Tapes label it has since languished in obscurity only for it to be given a new lease via Fragment Factory and for that we can all be grateful.

This is the story; a release inspired by the 19th century Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen and that a copy of this very tape was discovered and brought back from the frozen north before being defrosted, baked and sprinkled with wuffle dust which thus restored it to its now playable status. Which is complete bollocks of course. Phillip Sanderson is the producer here and since he’s one half of Storm Bugs, that late 70’s early 80’s, since reformed in the 2000’s DIY experimental outfit of some renown, then I would hazard a guess that this is indeed the man himself. But this is mere sideshow.

My knowledge of Storm Bugs is hazy. I have a couple of releases here, reissues of their early stuff which was for the most part was lost in that stampede of creative late 70’s post punk experimentalism years. I once saw them play The Rammel club in Nottingham a couple of years back, synths and gadgets and things and all good and Ice Yacht isn’t too much of a departure from that vein. Not that I’m an expert or anything.

Its touted on the Fragment Factory website as an ‘austere piece of drum loop and drone music’ which isn’t far from the mark but I’d add that some tracks remind me of early Schultze and Froese with those forever driving pulsing overlapping synth rhythms that kept Tangerine Dream fans nodding away for hours on end ['Pole of Cold' and 'Racing in the Arctic Shadow'] except that with this being England [or the North Pole] in the early 80’s this has a far more urban feel to it.  Not exactly Chris Carter but definitely more Deptford than Berlin, while ‘Summer With Snow and Bees’ moves in distinctly Aphex Twin ‘Selected Ambient’ territory. ‘Vostock Station Hallucinations’ is Martin Denny meets the shimmering, going in reverse piano plonk of Keith Jarrett and if you think that sounds weird thats because it is.

When I originally played this all those months ago [apologies to all involved] I found a couple of tracks veered into Industrial plod territory, something which I felt gave this release a lopsided feel. I can forgive this explorer these minor indiscretions tho, this was after all 1981 and whats good for synth lovers then is good for synth lovers now.


Fragment Factory