Posset / Ulyatt — A Jar Full (2019, Crow Versus Crow)
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.
Various Artists — Time to Go — The Southern Psychedelic Movement: 1981-1986 (Flying Nun, 2012)
The subtitle of Time to Go purports the album to be a document of “the Southern Psychedelic Movement” —this seems to be a marketing maneuver hoping to tap into the recently reignited interest in psych and neo-psychedelia. In a decade that produced some of popular music’s/popular musics most banal, forgettable, and ultimately soppy developments, this brilliantly curated compilation (curated by Marginal favorite and Kiwi Kingpin, Bruce Russell) is neither stylistically homogenous nor does it reek of the decades’ excesses. Some tracks are raw and cutting, whilst others are more subdued. Sure, some of the cuts are unabashed in their Syd Barret idol worship; yet many of these tunes harken back to the preceding decade and demonstrate continued flirtations with punk rock’s visceral intensity, whilst also unafraid to embrace post-punk arty-iconoclasm. From the psych-weirdness of Alec Bathgate and Chris Knox’s Tall Dwarfs and the Velvet Underground-inspired Builders, to the jangly-pop experimentalism of Michael Morley’s Wreck Small Speakers on Expensive Stereos, the listener encounters artistic pluralism that runs the gamut. If you’re looking for Haight-Ashbury a-go-go from Auckland or Christchurch, look elsewhere, as Time to Go has much more to offer.
Nate Wooley — Trumpet/Amplifier (2010, Smeraldina-Rima)
The opening sorties of “Trumpet A” sound more electronic fragments or analogue tape manipulations than noises emitting from a brass horn. The American balances contorted sputters of air with sharp bursts of silence, demonstrating both superb control over the instrument and also creating a wildly cyclical sound, not dissimilar to the sounds of shuffling through the FM band in the middle of nowhere. The second tune (“Trumpet B”) is thematically similar and again highlights the rich sonic palette Wooley has come to craft with the trumpet. At times, one could reliably swear that electronics, broken or otherwise, are being broadcast through the speakers. In fairness, electronics do appear; as the title of the work suggests, amplifier(s) play a part. At the mid-way point in the second number, though low in the mix, harmonic overtones coated in reverb begin to crescendo in underneath the wheezing of the trumpet. As the tune reaches its apex, it becomes impossible to tell if, in fact, one is hearing heavily manipulated or looped sounds. Wooley blurs the distinction between man and the machine. While the latter render representations of the former by design, these pieces showcase the inverse. At times it is impossible to tell who (or what) is responsible for the sounds the listener is hearing. The final piece, the 20 minute “Amplifier,” is the most visceral of the three. Theremin-like quivers, percussive waves of feedback, and unintelligible vocals mingle with distorted vortices that open sharply and close without a trace. The results fall somewhere between Stockhausen and Bruce Russell. Wooley’s abilities as a horn player are beyond dispute; this release demonstrates the versatility and range that make him one of the most exciting improvisers in North America today.
Chris Watson – Weather Report (2003, Touch)
Nope, this isn’t an album called Chris Watson by jazz fusion icons Weather Report, nor is it a jazz fusion album courtesy of this former Cabaret Voltaire member. Instead, Weather Report is an assembly of sounds recorded by a true master of nature and field recordings (and as alluded to, one time Cab Voltaire member), Chris Watson. Consisting of three 18 minute tracks, Watson boasts not only a plethora of heterogeneous source material, but a keen ear for mixing and splicing this material into rich sonic collages. Animal and human, flora and fauna, weather and oceans flow continuously into one another to create a listening experience that is simultaneously terrestrial and ethereal. No, it isn’t the high art of the old world (Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky, et al.) nor does it have the commercial viability demanded by late-capitalism in its attempts to legitimize (or at least justify) artistic endeavor. Instead, Weather Report taps into something much deeper than commerciality or artistic prestige. It taps in to something which Bruce Russell (Dead C) managed to articulate succinctly and pithily: sound is fundamental, songs are not. Whilst recorded and manipulating for human consumption, Watson achieves a rare feat: he produces a cultural object which both reproduces fundamental sound(s), decentering the anthropocentric conceit that every cultural object must ultimately be “about” or at least reflective of human social imaginaries or aesthetic schemata (even implicitly), while also crafting something that can be enjoyed by human listeners. Undoubtedly, Watson’s selection of material and his decision to capture sounds in the first place raises questions about whether or not this release truly challenges the primacy of the human experience (a legitimate concern which cannot be fully addressed due to space restrictions of this medium); regardless, this release celebrates a great number of aural pluralisms and possesses the ability to remind the listener both how mysterious the planet we inhabit is and how wonderful it is to be alive. At a critical juncture in human history, one cannot help but think, it would be manifestly appropriate to send this album into space in the faint hopes that some distant alien civilization may one day discover what earth sounded like, long after the ship has been negligently run aground.
Alastair Galbraith — Seely Girn (1993, Feel Good All Over)
Few artists can so confidently oscillate between different genres as New Zealand’s Alastair Galbraith. Even more impressive, this 1990s retrospective, Seely Grin, featuring some of Galbraith’s early work manages to dip toes in an assortment of ponds, yet still retains a sense of continuity, coherence, and a singularness that reassures the listener that it’s the same person — and that they’ve done a hell of a job to craft the proverbial signature sound. Toying with Syd Barrett-esque psychedelia, lo-fi folk rock, garage punk, and a host of other stylistic undertakings, Galbraith sounds like a joyous traversal through a wistful dream where the aforementioned Barrett, Magical Mystery era-Beatles, the Velvets, Wire, and the Who, at their most pastoral, warp into and over one another to provide the soundtrack. Drastically different from Galbraith’s work with Bruce Russell in A Handful of Dust and an easier entry point for those who gravitate more towards conventional music(s) than some of his more recent work, this is sure to satisfy listeners from either camp. Dynamically broad, sonically rich, and well worth every cent, fans of early K records stuff, New Zealand garage and pop, or anyone who remembers when ‘indie’ wasn’t a genre, but statement, will dig this. As such, I urge all ye Marginal readers— familiar with the man or otherwise— a prompt and thorough listen of Alastair Glabraith’s early output.
A Handful of Dust — For Patti Smith (2002, Freewaysound)
[Apologies, but out of print and no stream.]
A rather droll affair, this. The always magnificent A Handful of Dust, featuring Kiwi luminaries Bruce Russell and Alastair Galbraith, who have in some fashion or other been kicking around in the South Island experimental scenes since the mid-1980s. The duo team up for this live homage to Patti Smith recorded in Australia in 2002. “I am god’s finger” features the monotonous squeaking violin of Galbraith while Russell remains uncharacteristically restrained. At around the 2:30 mark, one tempestuous swell of oscillating feedback protrudes from Russell, but otherwise, the Dead C noisenik-cum-doctor of fine arts keeps the pot on a slow simmer, stirring occasionally. Around the 9-10 minute mark Russell turns up the heat and begins to complement Galbraith’s hypnotic playing with jagged, buzzing coughs of sound, before allowing the guitar to feedback circa Woodstock 1969. With a change of the wind however, Russell is nowhere to be found. Cat and mouse continues, and at minute lucky number thirteen, the feedback howls and Galbraith pedal tones and drones the hell out of the violin. An excellent half-hour of sonic cat and mouse. “(From a soundtrack to) Babelfield” opens with reed-like feedback from Russell; Galbraith enters with his own tensile contribution which sounds like the bow scraping over taught wires at just over the 2:00 minute mark. Between tremolo-laden feedback and scraping wires and strings, the duo knock out a tune which feels twitchy and almost nauseating, but is by no means unlistenable. The closing four minutes of the 17 minute tune features Bruce Russell performing a dulcimer-like hammering/strumming of the strings, which though sparse and nearly incoherent, remain surprisingly melodic and poignant. Simultaneously, Galbraith plucks loose strings (or slack wires), adding bassy depth and oddly humorous texture to Russell’s contribution. In sum, For Patti Smith hits the mark and will certainly enter into the rotation of any fan of Russell or Galbraith (or any of their respective projects).
The Fuck Chairs — Ascension (2016, self-released)
As a huge fan of the Dead C, any project featuring Bruce Russell, Michael Morley, or Robbie Yeats is certain to make these marginal ears perk up. I was recently made privy to Morley’s collaborative project with fellow Kiwi Morgan Oliver, The Fuck Chairs. Safe to say, I quickly begun exploring their already robust (25 releases since 2014) and rapidly proliferating body of work. My initial foray into TFC territory led me to throw the proverbial dart toward Ascension and safe to say, here at Marginal Brevity, we’re all happy with where that piercing projectile landed. Consisting of a singular 24 minute track, Ascension sees Morley and Oliver electing to forgo the traditional rock band approach entirely. Harsh 70s Reality it is not; the ambient work Morley has done under the Gate moniker is perhaps a bit closer. That said, The Fuck Chairs deviate from the sparser side of sound art on this release, opting to explore textures and motifs that would fit well alongside a good many Warp releases from the 1990s. Ascension is a wonderfully lo-fi electronic work, with the duo sounding something akin to a somber antipodean Autechre, who have chosen to ditch the superfluous embellishments. All in all a very listenable, deeply introspective, and wholly entrancing record from the globe’s southern hemisphere.