3 April

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Bruce Russell and Luke Wood – Visceral Realists (2019, VHF)

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Easy there, pistolero! We’ve a salve for yr sorry soul: a slab from Marginal Brevity mainstay Bruce Russell and in this case Dr. Bruce Russell with compatriot Luke Wood (any relation to fellow-fellow compatriot Chris Wood? No matter, me thinks Sean Dyche’ll want this on his platter). ‘Tis a tip toe through gritty analogue tulips! One part commentary on the 45 as a conveyor of messages (the linear notes muse that ‘there’s more information encoded in an old record than in a new one’), one part commentary on the 45 as a medium of delivery. Visceral Realists is eight cuts, each clocking in at just over 3 minute. The preferred medium of delivery for the pop music of yesteryear is discarded (or is it subverted? Or as the linear notes — that phantasm of authorial voice, transcending the limitations of space and time, exerting influence on the possessor/listener/reader — claim, inverted*) and replaced with pallid (in the best way) tape-sick bursts. The sound of the desert on LSD. Oh no, you misread. Not the subject under the influence of blotter, meandering aimlessly through the dessert. This is the very landscape itself being born and reborn under the star of molten lysergic soup.

Just when all is coming into focus again, that voice from nowhere and everywhere speaks again: the linear notes tell this listener that I’m doing it wrong. The LP is, much like what it purports to be commenting on, a 45 RPM disc. And it isn’t until the umpteenth time I’ve listened through that I realize I’ve missed the plot. Once I get my head on straight on the RPMs are clocking in as intended, the record is less murky, but still sputtering out of the speaker cones. ‘Large Diaphragm’, the third cut from the A-Side (or ‘V Side’, so says the label) is rock ’n’ roll swagger dissipating in the sun (funny enough, to these ears, the track is reminiscent of early 1990s Dischord and could easily be an interlude on Red Medicine or part of the Nation of Ulysses sonic agit-collages) before colliding with the rhythmic jouissance of a school yard clapping game. Pattycake in the age of capitalist realism.

On the B-side (‘R Side’), enter ‘Etonian’: an abandonment of the self-aggrandizing and dour lack of playfulness so rife within experimental music(s). Scratchy, skronky,  flatulent – something we could all use more of. Aye, this some sonico invocation of Bakhtin’s love affair with the carnivalesque. Double yr money: the listener is treated to a farty segue into the closer, ‘Mobile Index’, an exit tune pockmarked with seasick melodies played on the wholly grotesque Casio (or at least some Casio-esque keyboard). And with that, the bedraggled circus actors squelch their malt liquor and kick rocks out of town. All in all a decent long playing record and the usual suspects (antipodes, spacey-thumbsuckers, Wally Ben-ya-meen-fiends, and anyone whose ever written for Marginal Brevity) are sure to dig it, regardless of yr chosen playback speed.

-JSES

 

*Having read a sizeable chunk of B.R.’s writings on art and sound, I am acutely aware of his interest in Walter Benjamin and recognize this piece of wax’s ‘concept’ is about praxis. And indeed, pop music may’ve opted for the iTunes™ single by way of the compact disc, now superseded by the drab 10101010101010s of streaming services, so why not excavate the outmoded for its revolutionary potential…

See: Walter Benajmin, ‘Surrealism the Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia’ in One Way Street in Other Writing (London: NLB, 1979), 225- 239; Bruce Russell, ‘Left-Handed Blows: Towards a technique of incognito’ in Left-Handed Blows Writings on Sounds 1993-2009 (Auckland: Clouds, 2009), 1-17; Bruce Russell, ‘Exploding the atmosphere: realizing the revolutionary potential of “the last street song”’ in Reverberations the Philosophy, Aesthetics, and Politics of Noise edited by Michael Goddard, Benjamin Halligan, and Paul Hegarty (London: Continuum, 2012) 244 – 259.

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.

 

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…

22 October

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Charlie Ulyatt —  Shifting (2017, self-released)

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English guitarist Charlie Ulyatt’s Dead Birds was largely characterized by a languid, yet focused series of solo guitar anti-études. In place of demonstrating earth-shattering virtuosity, the Nottingham-based guitarist more interestingly showcased a meditative awareness which honed in on the precise meeting point of timbre and temporality. In listening to Dead Birds, one quickly comes to recognize Ulyatt’s tone—lightly treated with reverberation and tremolo—as his own distinct voice. One also quickly picks up on the tranquil patience the artist possesses, made evident by the simple and soporific nature of the pieces. Impressively, the Ulyatt’s forthcoming cassette, appropriately titled, Shifting, opts to change direction. In place of the breezy, repetitive style found on Birds, the listener encounters tensile, sometimes percussive, almost always inquisitive pieces, whilst not jarring per se, do ask something more of the listener than Ulyatt’s preceding album. “A Taste of Ore” invokes the hypno-drones of “Venus In Furs” with Ulyatt effectively standing in for both Lou Reed’s “ostrich guitar” and John Cale’s imperious and jagged viola, all the while, leaving the Warhol Factory pretense at the door. Fleeting moments of slide guitar on “Ah Moses” harken back (even if unwittingly) to the blues of the Mississippi Delta, creating a fascinating lineage from Robert Johnson’s crossroads covenant with Old Scratch to the post-industrial experimentalism of the East Midlands. Elsewhere, tracks such as “Dry Lake Piss Flow” and “Daisy Chain Burns” recall the grit of Skullflower, but manage to replace the dark and dirgy overtones with something that, despite its abstract qualities, is surprisingly joyful. In all, Shifting is a fascinating series of tunes, that whilst lacking the accessibility of Dead Birds, remains an artistic testament to the importance and inevitability of change.

9 October

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Keith Rowe and Christian Fennesz  — Live at the LU (2004, Erstwhile)

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Recorded live in Nantes in 2002, this release features two of the 20th century guitar’s most distinct voices, Keith Rowe and Christian Fennesz. This recording feels remote and austere, but never meandering. Worlds away from the likes of Venice or Endless Summer and in some ways, more discreet (or even tenuous) than Rowe’s work within AMM or with other collaborators. Indeed, the listener feels as if they are stumbling amidst the ruins of a modern city, which is lifeless save for the odd, fragmentary sounds which unexpectedly resound, only to sink back into the depths of silence moments later. The assorted radio parings underscore this feeling, providing an unsettling sense of abandonment, as if one hopes the airwaves will provide some glimmer of hope, yet do little to assuage the misplaced subject who stumbles amidst and through the decay. Readers should not be dismayed or put off by the bleak picture painted, however. Instead, this collaboration has a distinct sense of curiousness (and even playfulness), which is quite often present in improvised music(s), yet goes overlooked or is displaced by some imagined gravity. Perhaps such readings are informed by large swathes of silence or non-music(s), which demand more from the listener, thus evoking solemnity. Whatever the case, Rowe and Fennesz riff well off of one another and this release, like much of Erstwhile’s catalogue, is well worth exploring.


 

3 October

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Andrea Neumann & Bonnie Jones — Green Just as I could See (2012, Erstwhile)

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Signal glitches, white noise, blips, squeaks, snippets of tape recordings, and granules of radio broadcasts all combine to create a challenging, yet wholly enthralling engagement on this 2012 release by two giants of improvised music(s)/sound art, Bonnie Jones and Andrea Neumann. Continuing in the tradition of Annea Lockwood, the tape music icon whose ability to interweave aural fragments never ceases to amaze, this duo truly emit their work as a collective, cohesive whole. This collaborative album treats the listener to an experience that is one-part sonic kaleidoscope, one part dialogue.With the former, one experiences a host of varying sonic phenomena: scraping sounds that demand attention, stringed instruments, placating bits of old folk songs, digital chirps, white noise, and disorienting manipulations of stereo panning.  With the latter, as always, it’s up to the listener to contextual and “read” what the phenomena mean (and so too, where they originate from — in both an aesthetic and literal sense). In both instances, as aforementioned, the collectiveness of the release is palpable and engrossing in a way many music(s) are not. One is unable to both de- and re-construct the works (“Ah yes, there is Joe Strummer voice, oh and yes, there is Paul Simonon’s bass, etc.) and in doing so, subjectivity is decentered. The individuals are omnipresent and ever-active, but the resulting work is something that is neither Jones nor Neumann (nor the listener in a vacuum). In all, a fantastic listen.