C-drík — Multiples des uns (2015, Syrphe)
Here at Marginal HQ, we’ve recently tapped into the vein of non-musicality and been spinning releases from Britons Chris Watson and Jez riley French. Add 2015’s Multiples des uns, a self-described “cinema for the ears” by Congolese-German artist C-drík. Consisting of one, hour long track, Multiple features interwoven sonic phenomena from many broad, often disparate sources. Captured by the artist during travels throughout the Asian continent, the listener is treated to footsteps that intermingle with indigenous music(s), the vibrant and mysterious sounds of the jungle melding with austere heavy machinery, the sounds of children playing which overrun passing automobiles, and many other sonically rich, varied noises. C-drík demonstrates not only an ear for fascinating aural objects, but also an acute sense of cinema-like rhythm and adroitness in their editing abilities. While the continent itself possess a multitude of varying experiences, languages, cultures, topographies, histories, etc. this release fascinatingly documents a few of the sounds found throughout a diverse continent and celebrates the fundamental nature of sound itself, ever present, everywhere. One could also argue that for those with the privilege of audition, listening enables the subject to find common ground in their connection to others and to the natural world. Trains screech, insects buzz, people chatter, and children laugh all the same, regardless of whether your in Taipei, Tokyo, Toronto, or Timbuktu. In all, this is a transcendental release guaranteed to lift you out of your seat and take you on a fascinating sonic journey.
Jez Riley French — instamatic | aarhus (2017, self-released)
For fans of field and nature recordings and “found sounds,” Jez Riley French is a name that resides in the upper echelon of this arcane aural milieu. This latest release was captured by French whilst visiting the coastal Danish city of Aarhus. The opener “parking” features the sounds of a parking garage undergoing renovations. The sounds captured feature a heavy, cold reverberation that concrete so brilliantly produces. One hears what sounds to be the sound of a groundskeeper spraying down the garage. The sounds that the listener encounters are reminiscent of the recorded works of Harry Bertoia. The album’s second track “dLg” features a mix of creaking metal (nearby train tracks, perhaps?) and crickets in the dead of night. For close listeners and fans of this type of recording, the Englishman provides a “window” into one facet of a distant land. Unlike photography, however, the ability of audio recordings to transcend the moorings of temporality provide a level of nuance, continuity, and change not afforded by visual mediums of reproduction. As the artist is well established and respected, it likely goes without saying, but French excels in his ability to capture and effectively transformer the banal into something sublime and compelling. JrF has long celebrated how rewarding a sensory experience listening can be. Moreover, French has consistently impressed with his abilities to both identify spaces and objects where interesting sounds “happen” and does brilliantly to accurately capture these aural phenomena.
S.B.S.M. — Joy/Rage
(2015, Remote Outposts)
Most of the time the mere utterance of the words “punk rock” function as something of an emetic — a verbal/aural/linguistic ipecac, if you will. Hyperbole, no doubt, but the point is, following punk rock’s (very early) “recuperation” (to use Dick Hebdige’s term), the prevailing social order took whatever sting rock n roll offered, out of the tail. Enter: S.B.S.M. This band will fuck you up. Queercore from Oakland featuring three people of color—a fact that, as a person of color, I appreciate immensely. They’re as fun as kittens and cake on your day off, but they’re not messing around and they’re not to be taken lightly. If you could take Throbbing Gristle’s density and mix it with the anguish and ferocity of Damaged’s B-side, you might be in the ballpark. “Teeth” will have you singing “and they will decay” in your head ’til the cows come home. “Godzilla” opens with sci-fi soundscapes and barbed whirlwinds of sound before the twister gets sucked back into the heavens at around the 2:30 mark and the band lurch into a Slits meets Cocteau Twins meets the (early) Locust thing before the tune falls apart, like Tokyo in the monster’s wake. While the tempest thrashes the surface, ‘neath the waves lurks the darkness of post-punk and some salient melodic cunning. The four songs featured on Joy/Rage feature all the introspection, honesty, and intensity that any great work of art possess. This one will be in heavy rotation at Marginal HQ for the foreseeable future.
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.
Jeph Jerman – For Henry F. Farny 1904 34° 48′ N / 111° 54′ W 3308/4708 (2011, After Music Recordings)
When I was in my early twenties, I picked up a copy of Blowhole’s Killing Noise from an “experimental records” bargain bin. At the time, I had scarcely ventured beyond my modest collection of punk and jazz records and had no idea what I was getting into, but I liked the gritty black and white album art and the track listing indicated a medley of Jimi Hendrix covers. Suffice to say, the record deviated significantly from my expectations. On a personal level, however, I was ready to be sonically challenged in ways that defied the dogmatic parochialism of punk. As I had never before heard anyone mention Blowhole and I could find little about the project, Jeph Jerman, the solitary figure behind the ruckus entered my consciousness. Over the next few years I became acquainted with later work, most of which was released well after he moved away from musical idioms altogether. His 2011 recording For Henry F. Farny 1904 34° 48′ N / 111° 54′ W 3308/4708 is one such release which documents the sounds of an abandoned telephone wire as heard and captured by the artist. The sonic richness of the high desert mixes well with the eerily captivating sounds of steel wire roused by the elements and other manipulating forces. The first half of album’s title, For Henry F. Farny 1904, no doubt alludes to the western painter’s piece The Song of the Talking Wire (1904), which depicts an indigenous person breaking the fourth wall with a resolute gaze, ear pressed to a telephone pole. Farny’s motivation is alleged to have come from his witnessing of an indigenous man leaning closely to a newly erected telephone pole listening in inspection and introspection. While the representation strikes me as somewhat problematic, Jerman in part channels the sentiments of the figure represented in Farny’s painting. Though operating in a totally separate realm from visual arts, Jerman’s work is living proof that sonic art is every bit as affective.
Gabie Strong — Sacred Datura (2016, Crystalline Morphologies)
“What on earth is that sound and where is that coming from?” At least that’s what it appeared my cat may well have been thinking, ears shifting in every direction, body tensed as she drolly surveyed the unforgiving plains of my suburban living room. She decided that this party wasn’t where she needed to be and trotted out of sight, down the hall. I’m sure glad I didn’t follow suit. Gabie Strong’s Sacred Datura, offensive though it may’ve been to my feline friend, my humble anthropoid ears found to be rather enjoyable. “Sacred Datura” is tides of droning feedback, harmonic bliss, and clandestine sonic fury whipped into shape and sent grandiosely marching to the moon. Occasional vibrato dives pull the whole affair back down to earth and demand the listener’s attention, shaking you from the aurally induced daze, before buzzing out. Maybe kitty should’ve stuck around, as the reverse of the LP, “Peaked Experience” begins (and ends) with birdsong and guitar submersed in summer nostalgia, all of which is swallowed whole by some sort of phase or other modulation-effect. I have often seen it written that artists such as Strong are simply screwing around —making noise. No doubt less enthusiastic listeners (none of the Marginal Brevity faithful, I am certain) will be quick to classify this work as such. Such listeners, however, do little to lose themselves in the work and instead find making this type of totalizing statement as an easy alternative to truly and deeply listening (as opposed to listening through an ideological
lens [earpiece?]). The reasons for doing so are far too numerous and complex to get into here, but the important bit is that such flagrant reductions cheat the aforementioned listener, bridled by their blind criticism, out of a whole host of experiences related to both immeasurable phenomena (emotions, feelings, textures) as well as the quantifiable aspects which make films and music(s) singular (time, volume, etc.) and spectacular aesthetic experiences. Strong’s work is every bit as rich and emotive as a painting or a work by Beethoven— just with more volume. Highly recommended.
Jeph Jerman and Time Barnes — Karst (2017, Astral Spirits)
Akin to Chris Watson’s superlative work on Touch, Karst is a study in one the most complicated modern confluences: (where) urban(ism) meets natural(ism). Even the image of grass on the album cover reinforces the theme. Is Karst a study in contradiction? Or anything at all for that matter? Hard to say for certain, but Jeph Jerman and Tim Barnes team up again to prompt some serious questions and deliver some most excellent sonic musings. “Scumbling” features the sound of distant cars, water (or weather) and sounds like the field mic has been placed in a concrete drainage tube under a roadway somewhere. As an avid sound listener and lover, one latches onto the subtlety and even mystery of what sounds are being reproduced. Where Versatile Ambience possessed a degree of engagement and aural intensity, Karst feels considerably more passive—but this is by no means, pejorative. The titular second track, is by far the most relaxed. A proverbial slow walk through empty streets which is features found objects dropped and shuffled about, distant birds, and restrained ambience. There sounds to be some modulation or delay treatments applied at parts. “Occluded” dares to venture into territory explored on Versatile Ambience. Tape hiss and layers of humming sine waves (or maybe glass vibrations) underpin crescendoing metallic rattling. Think field recordings meet This Heat’s “Graphic/Varispeed.” Maybe the perceived passivity reflects the sense of resignation one gets one trying to mentally reconcile artistic, personal, philosophical, and even sonic contradictions. Regardless, Barnes and Jerman are a winning duo and Karst ranks among their most interesting works together yet.