29 August

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Yoshihide Namasu – 姦淫と死 Adultery&Execution (Engram Recordings, 2019)

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If you want to make lots of friends and get everyone dancin’ the night away at your next soirée, be sure to patch Yoshihide Namasu’s latest digital release, 姦淫と死 Adultery&Execution, into yr bluetooth sound system and laissez les bons temps rouler! Comprised of six tracks — or fragments, like? — Namasu’s release feels more akin to a dive headlong into pipping hot schizophrenic catatonia than putting on your favourite sweater and spinning through a wobblin’ warblin’ stack of extended plays.

Sonically, 姦淫と死 Adultery&Execution, features a rollicking, machine-cum-electronic blend of Jaap Blonk’s nervous neo-dadaism (see also, the album’s surreal hyperreal artwork), with a humorous ferocity, suggestive of everything from compatriot Merzbow’s late 1990s work ( the album’s pulsing closer “音響詩13王墓|囚徒 king grave|Prisoner” wouldn’t be out of place on Aqua Necromancer) to Red Mecca-era Cabaret Voltaire (Sheffield be damned!). The only question that remains is how to keep ye olde party pals nice ‘n smug when the good vibes have zipped by in a flash of 10 or so minutes…Enter the era of industro-dada? You betcha.

 

22 July

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Chlorine — Gallooner (2019, Crow Versus Crow)

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Does music(s) ever fully embody the historical contingencies present at its creation? Or perhaps asked another way, can the artist/musician (or the listener [or the critic]) ever sidestep genre conventions or recycled descriptors and simply (!) attribute an artistic work to being a product of its time? Well, sure. Maybe that’s all musics (and art) have ever been: the result of artistic labor framed and formed by the artist’s interaction with material reality in their lifetime (or perhaps that’s a load of historical materialist hogwash). Whatever sound art and musics are (or do), Gallooner, the latest cut from Gateshead’s Graeme Hopper aka Chlorine on Crow Versus Crow certainly embodies the zeitgeist of late capitalism better than many ‘a cultural object to emerge in the last 50 years.

As one might expect, Gallooner contains many of the signifiers, signs, trademarks, tools, etc. of late capitalist musicking; yet, the listener has the distinct feeling that the works are imbued with the artist’s deep introspection, while also possessing their own, autonomous negativity. In Basinski-esque fashion, if the tunes were played enough, they’d eventual dissolve* and any conception, execution, urtext, etc. etc. would be irretrievably lost, akin to planned obsolesce of both technology and goods as mandated in the lifeworld of homo consumericus. Over the course of six tracks, one encounters the symphony of insubordinate office machines (‘Song For A Silhouette’ or the first half of ‘Hindered By Humility’), yipping dogs that fade into Ambarchi-esque sonic voyages (‘Confessions Of A Broken Temperament’, last half of the aforementioned ‘Hindered…’), transitory piano loops flanked by sparse live drums (‘Protect, Lust’), and generally, the sounds of a tumultuous world where the portents of ruin have begun to show, yet the cracks continue to be glossed over in an act of desperate solipsism and penance to the omnipotent market.

In all, whilst not a total negation (i.e. silence), the works contained on Gallooner are something of an inversion: the mundane and incidental are focused (or blurred), manipulated, and reflected back in on themselves. From this,  the artist manages to create theatrical soundscapes from the fragmented ephemera of the postindustrial 21st Century wasteland.

***

In the final scene in Akira Kurosawa’s late work Ran (A.K.’s retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear), the character Tsurumaru [Gloucester] stumbles blindly on the precipice of cliff, dropping a sacred object, before timidly backing away from the edge. I am confident in asserting that the same sense of forsakenness or existential dread present in Kurosawa’s final scene — so grave that it borders on the sublime— can also be encountered on this release.

Fans of Oren Ambarchi’s early work, industrial knobheads, and bleak Warp-devotees would be wise to tune in sharpish.

* I recognize that quite literally, like Basinski, it would be possible to play physical versions of this release to death; this is not what is referred to here. Instead, I am stating objectively postulating that the record’s aesthetic is one which deeply suggests a negation of an even more metaphysical nature.

 

3 July

 

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Posset / Ulyatt — A Jar Full (2019, Crow Versus Crow)

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Dear reader, they say that brevity is the soul of wit, which must mean that Marginal Brevity HQ is an indisputable bastion of enlightenment, sagacity, and wisdom, given the preponderance of brevity in this neck of the cyber-woods. Well, it’s back to the dark ages (or out of the dark ages?) as we’re back with a philosophical-cum-auricular treatise which examines the very bases of the Hegelian dialectic – or something like that. What better representation of the thesis/antithesis poles than cello and dictaphone! And what better synthesis than the improvising of Marginal alumnus, Charlie Ulyatt and wow and flutter whiz kid Joe Murray aka Joe Posset on their tape release A Jar Full, courtesy of West Yorkshire’s Crow Versus Crow. 

The A side treats the listener to three improvised pieces (and lovely printing on the cassette shell), all of which are the result of first-take improvisations recorded in isolation and shared between one another. The product is a sonic kaleidoscope in which Ulyatt’s woody, sometimes probing, sometimes whimsical, always fascinating cello serves as an earthy, steadfast counterpoint to the schizophrenic and turbulent tape warbles that arrest (or disorient) the listener, courtesy of Posset. At times, the line between speeding tape and whistling strings are blurred and sickeningly indiscernible. Throughout, one encounters a continuous, jagged dialogue where the pair create something that oscillates between erratic restraint and bursts of reserved psychosis. The final track on the side, ‘High Head’ features some of the best interplay on the side: nauseating and gurgling tape manipulations converge with Ulyatt’s slowly and subtly excruciating string work, which on audition sounds to be the baglama credited on the release’s bandcamp page. 

On the reverse side, the listener encounters the duo improvising live in Ulyatt’s native Nottingham. The live performance remains aesthetically consistent with the approach established on side A, but the dynamic shifts are more equitable and the exchange between the two is audibly more cohesive. Just the same, these two varying improvisation techniques are wonderfully captivating and highly complementary of each other — unsurprisingly, the same can be said for the two artists themselves. Fans of Rik Rue, Bruce Russell, and Judith Hamann (and also a slew of improvisers who aren’t from the South Pacific) would be wise to check out this release sharpish. 

4 November

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Will Guthrie — Dream Spink (2018, Teen Dreams)

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Marginalites! The summer of discontent has ended! Things at Marginal HQ have been topsy turvy and after some months of no new brevity (marginal or otherwise), we’re back with a treat. The latest cassette release by Australian drummer Will Guthrie on Minneapolis’ Teen Dreams label. Whilst Guthrie’s CV speaks for itself, the artist lets the playing do the talking on Dream Spink. The work consists primarily of a solo drum piece recorded at Cafe Oto earlier this year (2018). The live performance is augmented by additional percussion, keyboards, and sparse vocals recorded ex post facto by the artist. The result is an evocative experience, where the listener is left to hypnotically glide through a lifeworld of surreal paranoia.

The A-side of the piece recalls the Dead C’s magisterial mid-90s Siltbreeze output (most notably, Tusk): jingling cymbal paradiddles are interwoven with stray, churning kicks on a bass drum, which crescendo into vast forests of nothingness. Whilst the A-side is a barbed descent where the listener is brought under the artist’s thrall, the B-Side ascends from the netherworld, the listener is transported out of the forest and into the clear. But this is neither reprieve nor a place of solace. An overarching sense of trepidation lingers, leaving one with a lingering sense of some remnant hypnosis, fueled by Guthrie’s diligence on the drums. The B-side of the tape proves to be fertile ground: startling vocals accost those daring to trespass, whilst keyboard treatments further the listener’s sense of dread and propel an eerie captivation. As the piece progresses, Guthrie increases the tempo, the drums start to boil, and the listener is hastened forward. Yet, just as the listener is preparing to run, the drumming pulls back curiously, like a sudden gust of wind on a day otherwise characterized by its phlegmatic stillness. And much the way that life’s complexities seem to prompt an stream of endlessly imbricating questions, Will Guthrie guides the listener somewhere, only to vanish, leaving the listener mystified.

The engrossing nature of this piece ranks it highly amongst other works that feature a single artist engaging with percussive techniques/instruments, however a major detraction is the abrupt ending of the cassette’s opening side. So jolting is the end of Side-A, this listener would recommend you stick with the digital format, so you can sink in and savor all 30 minutes of Dream Spink without distraction.

14 May

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Joe Talia – Tint (2018, Black Truffle)

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Having first become acquainted with Joe Talia by way of his drum work on Hubris, the 2016 release from compatriot Oren Ambarchi, I was excited to hear this solo release from the Tokyo-based Australian multi-instrumentalist. Rather than being an exercise in neue kosmische a là Ambarchi’s Hubris, Tint is a brooding, cinematic affair which would not be out of place as a film score in Andrei Tarkovsky’s work. Comprised of two electroacoustic pieces (two parts of the same suite), Talia, one part mystic sage, one part sonic observer, crafts hypnotic and somnolent soundscapes which are masterfully composed from/using an array of analogue tools. Futuristic electro-chirps, wooly synthesizer textures, and heavily manipulated cymbal strokes swirl together to engulf the listener in a work that sounds ahead of its time, whilst remaining unburdened by the implied artistic fatalism or teleology of such a (clichéd) statement. Similarly, Tint escapes feeling anachronistic; while the earlier suggestion of serving as a score for some weathered Soviet science fiction film certainly fits, the work still feels spry, malleable, and fresh despite its density. Innumerable sonic points of experimentation are visited and Talia presents rich, dynamic junctures, which despite the variegated form, remains coherent as a whole. The results are sufficiently interesting and keep the listener (this one, at least) engaged for the duration (40 minutes) of the release.

13 April

 

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Lao Dan — Functioning Anomie (2018, WV Sorcerer Productions)

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For many a listener hailing from Western Europe or North America, China is not the first nation to spring to mind as a hotbed of improvised and experimental music(s) (this fact is astutely gibed in the title of New Zealand label End of the Alphabet’s superlative compilation containing Chinese artists, There is No Music from China). Enter Lao Dan, alto saxophonist from Nanjing.

Lao’s forthcoming solo debut cassette on Chinese/French label WV Sorcerer Productions, Functioning Anomie, is a work that showcases the many sides of a skilled altoist. Lao’s timbre, though at times unrepentantly caustic – recalling the coarseness of Mats Gustafsson or Peter Brötzmann – also manages to reflect inward: a musical ellipsis that resignedly undulates into an evanescent question mark, that starts to disappear as soon as it is penned. Whilst capable of all the freewheeling charivari of both the aforementioned Gustafsson and Brötzmann, Lao possess a flowing, seductive side that eludes the former players, even in their most restrained moments.

One of the most fascinating elements of Lao’s debut is that the listener can hear the artist’s curiosity and fascination with the sound of his instrument in space. On both sides of the tape, one audibly discerns Lao’s acute understanding of the environment’s effect on the produced work. The result is an interesting exploration of timbre, tone, and dynamics, all of which are captured far from the sterile environment of the studio (and so often the theatre or club). Recorded in Hangzhou’s Qinglongdong Tunnel, the extraneous sounds and cavernous reverberation do not merely serve as a layer of “field-recordings” or texture in the mix, but rather help the space assume the role of actant-cum-phantom instrument.

“Riou,” the opening track on side-B, is perhaps most illustrative of Lao’s range and prowess. The first third of the tune spectrally glides from dusty blues into melancholy ballad, before Lao hums into his mouthpiece, signaling a brisk departure into new territory. For the remaining ten minutes, Lao blasts rollicking sonic sidewinders that at numerous points threaten to blast holes in the listener’s headphones from the sheer intensity (a feeling underscored by the artist’s subdued screams in the closing minute). The closer, “Doppelganger & Immateriality,” features prominent use of sultry flute lines, which makes for a heady, meditative closer on a fantastic solo debut.

Fans of darker, more abrasive strains of free jazz would be wise to check out this release, out April 30, 2018.

2 April

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Gabie Strong – Incantations Vol. 1 (2018, Crystalline Morphologies)

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Having been greatly enamored with Gabie Strong’s supreme 2016 releases, Marginal HQ was abuzz upon discovering the artist’s latest cassette release, Incantations Vol. 1. Comprised of two trademark pieces of guitar driven aural mysticism, the latest release on the artist’s own Crystalline Morphologies label does not disappoint. Upon popping the tape into the deck and engaging the heads, the A-Side starts to uncoil into ‘Overhead, A Raven’, a 31 minute work consisting of field recordings, tinkling bells, immersive feedback, and a singing bowl used to great effect. Opening with a wind whipped recording of an assortment of bells and what upon first audition sounds like a large body of water, the listener unwittingly finds themselves immersed in an aesthetic experience that is one part ritual and one part audio vérité. Akin to sinking into a dream, the initial sounds are fluidly displaced by cascading feedback which ultimately brings the listener under it spell. Around 17′, the track begins to shift queasily; whilst lacking any obvious meter, the listener has the sudden sensation that the tempo has increased and the dense layers of sound assume a darkness not present in the composition’s opening half. After six minutes of immersion in a hellish tempest, the mighty, resonant ping of a singing bowl jolts one back into the present, not dissimilar to the electrifying surge one experiences when waking oneself from a nightmare. The pulsing drones of the singing bowl hold the listener with their sure embrace. Despite the simplicity of its construction and its duration, ‘Overhead, A Raven’ neither feels haphazard nor tedious. The B-side, ‘Incantation for Revolt Against Brutality’ is equally captivating in its simplicity. The opening 12 minutes revolve around spellbinding oscillations of feedback, punctuated by the warbling clang of bells. The track ultimately descends into meditative psychosis: a looped assemblage of monologues crescendo into inarticulate sound, melding with Strong’s amplifier. By the 20′ mark, the track assumes a gritty harshness, contrasting anything up to that point. Coupled with the recording’s fidelity, Incantations conjures the spectre of Keiji Haino’s early works; but make no mistake, Gabie Strong retains a unique voice and style all her own.

One can only hope (as the title implies) this is the first volume in a successive string of imminent releases…