Will Guthrie — Dream Spink (2018, Teen Dreams)
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.
Keith Rowe and Toshimaru Nakamura — Weather Sky (2001, Erstwhile)
Buy [sorry, no available audio stream]
Sure, this release is several years old, but here at Marginal HQ, we’ve been exuberantly waiting for the right moment to review this collaboration between free noise legends Keith Rowe (on guitar) and Toshimaru Nakamura (on the “no-input” mixing board). “Weather Sky #1” opens with a high-pitched sine wave fading in; around the :45 second mark, in fades electronic noise on the left channel. This makes way to alligator clips rattling strings at around the 2:40 mark and the duo really start to jive. Sci-fi soundscapes weave with sine waves, fizzing electronics, scrambled 8-bit gurgles, and the myriad other sonic oddities Rowe lures from his guitar. Nakamura provides continuity and a sense of (anti-?)rhythm with droning sine (or triangle) waves. There are large segments of the opening piece where little happens. When one of the artists diverges, it is often only a soupçon of sound. In the final third, things hasten. Mechanical humming (most likely emanating from Rowe) supplants nearly all else. When Rowe cuts out, Nakamura remains steadfast and enveloped in electronic bliss until the piece fades out. “Weather Sky #2” is much more accessible. Not only owing to the fact that it is only five minutes in duration, but many of themes and motifs lack the esotericism of the other pieces. Despite it’s short length, the piece does not feel forced or haphazard. The final piece on Weather Sky (“Weather Sky #3”) feels both tenuous and private. At times, the piece feels like a straight-ahead dark ambient piece; yet Nakamura and Rowe’s reinforcing of one another, creates a collective sea of sound, whose opaque and reticent surface conceals untold mysterious and captivates the listener. Whilst we prefer the din Rowe knocks out as one part of the AMM, Weather Sky is an excellent deconstructionist work by two heavyweights of experimental sound. Coupled with Rowe’s painting of an éclair on the cover, fans of either artist, Chondritic Sound, or the otherworldly racket of either the AMM or Dead C are sure to enjoy this release.
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.
Konono N˚1/ the Dead C. — Split Series #18 (2005, Fat Cat Records)
One of the most uncanny split records encountered by Marginal Brevity. Thank you Fat Cat Records! Congotronics progenitors, Konono N˚1, play some of the most exciting and inspired contemporary music around. Making use of three homemade electric likembés (a close cousin to the thumb piano), Konono have a full-on, good time, shake your ass, and bob your head thing going on. Recordings are gritty and no-nonsense (naturally goes well with Dead C.) and fully compliment the music. The melody for “Lufuala Ndonga” is Ohrwurm material for days. The Dead C. have the unenviable task of being on the reverse side. The Kiwis do their thing, which seldom disappoints anybody at Marginal HQ. Yet these recordings are a bit underwhelming for the C. The trio, for better or worse, sound far more rockin’ than usual. Bits of “0.19166666666666665” veer into 1990s rock territory. What’s next a rendition of stairway to go with the T-Rex cover on Eusa Kills? Jokes aside, it’s not a bad set of jams from Bruce, Michael, and Robbie, but without the room to let it breathe afforded by the space of a full-length LP, it feels a bit strange and stiff. The big take away for this record is that it has to been viewed as a single document. By providing a space for seemingly disparate artists, the foundations of an artistic solidarity are formed, you broaden your horizons, and we get an armchair dialogue on. A split release which straddles being novel and stellar, but is worthy of several spins on the table, regardless.
Veikur – A Growing Sickness (2017, self-released)
In J.G. Ballard’s 1974 novel, Concrete Island, the author writes of an architect marooned on traffic island beneath the M4 following a tire blowout. Describing the crash which leaves the protagonist stranded, Ballard writes, “the sequence of violent events only micro-seconds in duration had opened and closed behind him like a vent of hell.” A Growing Sickness, the latest extended play from Brooklyn NYC’s Veikur, unquestionably served as the soundtrack to that fleeting moment of stupor. Though comprised of three distinct tracks of contemporary musique concréte, the work is best approached in toto. From the disinterested guitar strums, metallic scrapes, and deeply buried keyboard passages of “Suspicions,” to the urban sounds and stolid metronome-like clicks of “The Greatest Horrors Hide in the Light,” the EP forms a sonic tableau of modernity’s underbelly. The groggy 8 minute closer, “The Age of Infection,” brimming with subliminal dispatches, recalls a sulking Aaron Dilloway trying to play the Dead C’s Tusk, sans instruments. As the global political situation grows increasingly bleak, one begins to suspect that the human race’s own impending blowout is just around the bend. It would do well to keep Veikur cued up for the crash and fall that follows. Topical, unsettling, mesmerizing, and not near long enough.