“I find lists like this extremely difficult,” says prolific Brighton-born, Switzerland-based electronic musician Rupert Lally. “Somehow the first couple of choices are always simple but then the last one or two, inevitably, end up being a compromise as to which albums make the cut and which don’t.”
A year in the release schedule of Lally is an intense one. 2021 has been no different, his output culminating in the career high of Beyond The Night (SubExotic), a thrilling, noir journey into the shadows and fears of the night. Never one to rest on his laurels, Lally has no less than two albums scheduled for release on October 1, both imaginary soundtracks for Ray Bradbury novels – Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles – continuing an approach that has seen him produce scores for Frank Herbert’s Dune, J.G. Ballard’s High Rise and Lally’s own novella, Solid State Memories.
I spent three years learning classical guitar making almost no progress whatsoever, with a teacher who refused to teach us chords. A friend encouraged me to switch to playing bass guitar around the same time as my musical interest began to shift from hard rock towards jazz and funk. More by accident than design I ended up playing bass in my school’s newly formed jazz band. One of the tunes we would regularly play was ‘Chameleon’ by Herbie Hancock and I became so synonymous with playing the (synth) bassline at school concerts that when I began playing the bass again after many years absence, a lot of school friends asked if I could still play the piece – I can!
At the time the album was hard to obtain on any other format than CD, so it became the first ever CD that I bought, before I even owned a CD player, so I made a tape copy at my step sister’s house, which I played over and over.
It’s difficult to overstate the effect that hearing this had on me. Not just the music itself but also the arrangements, the analogue synth sounds, Harvey Mason’s drum grooves, the cornucopia of percussion sounds and instruments used by Bill Summers on the album – many of which I needed to look up to find out what they were, thereby igniting my interest in percussion at the same time.
A friend that I played the album to described it as sounding like the soundtrack to the 70s animations in episodes of Sesame Street. He didn’t mean as a compliment, but it’s actually a very apt comparison. Many years later, I realised how much those wonderful psychedelic cartoons affected me as a small child and it’s another reason why I felt immediately at home with this album.
Peter Gabriel – Passion
Peter Gabriel’s music from his early work with Genesis to his early solo albums, with their pioneering use of the Fairlight CMI, had already had a huge impact on me as a teenager, and I’ve already mentioned my burgeoning interest in percussion from around that time, so in retrospect it’s surprising that I didn’t listen to this, Gabriel’s soundtrack to Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation Of Christ, until I was in my first year at university.
When I did, it blew my mind – the fusion of traditional rhythms and instrumentation from the Middle East with synths, samplers and David Rhodes’ understated guitar work was incredibly influential. For a while, I would listen to a cassette of this whilst I drifted off to sleep, with the music seeping into my dreams.
DJ Shadow – Endtroducing…..
My introduction to DJ Shadow’s music was the inclusion of the track ‘Changeling’ on Bleeping With The NME, a free tape compilation given away with the NME in 1996. As fate would have it, another student in my university halls of residence was a massive Mo’ Wax fan and he kindly made me a tape of this album, plus Shadow’s early singles. I was completely hooked. Not just with the music itself but how it had been made using already outdated Akai samplers like the MPC-60 and S612
A year or so later I would get hold of an old E-mu Emax sampler and discover first hand just how difficult it must have been to make tracks like these on old equipment with limited sampling time. Shadow’s drum programming continues to influence me today, not only how I program my own beats but also how I play drums live.
Boards Of Canada – Music Has The Right To Children
When I went to drama school after university, I had a lot friends, who were heavily into Warp Records stuff, so I’d already heard a lot of (and subsequently bought) quite a few Aphex Twin and Autechre records. Somehow, while I’d definitely heard both Boards Of Canada and Squarepusher’s music during that time, I didn’t start to listen to them properly until the publication of Rob Young’s book on the label in 2005.
Boards Of Canada’s debut album, in particular, with its deliberate lo-fi sound quality that harked back to the public information films of my youth, struck a particular chord with me and would provide a massive amount of inspiration for my own solo work which I was then taking my first tentative steps towards. In many ways this album seemed to articulate a feeling that I had been groping towards for some time without really understanding what it was. I’d been using YouTube to research old TV shows and adverts that I remembered from childhood, to try to gain musical inspiration.
A few months after I heard this album, The Wire magazine published an article about hauntology, mentioning Boards Of Canada. It was the first time I’d ever heard the term used.
Imogen Heap – Speak For Yourself
I first heard Imogen Heap’s music in the film, The Holiday and immediately bought both this and the album she did with Guy Sigsworth as Frou Frou. There’s so much I love about this album: her voice, the lyrics which often remind me more of poems put to music and, of course, her amazing arrangements, programming and sound design. While she’s done lots of interesting stuff since, somehow nothing else has come close to this record for me. It’s the perfect example of intelligent pop electronica and she doesn’t get nearly enough credit for it.
Formed with the goal of improving the quality of life in New York’s Financial District, The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council was formed in 1973. The idea was that there should to be more to the area than the trading and leverage upon which the southernmost tip of Manhattan rested; that a cultural exchange was as important to the area’s vitality as the stock exchange.
Between 1997 and 2001, the LMCC invited a group of artists to take up residency in unused office space on the 91st floor of Tower One in New York’s World Trade Center, the construction of which was completed the year before the LMCC began its activities. The LMCC’s programme was, appropriately, called World Views, and over 150 artists would participate in the residency until the destruction of the towers curtailed the project. The artists would occupy a coveted piece of lucrative, unused office space on the 91st floor of Tower One for half a year in order to produce a specific piece of art, while also having relatively free reign of the 110-storey tower and its inner workings – basements, car parks, stairwells, abandoned Subway tunnels deep beneath street level – and a discrete space in which to create art, high above the streets of New York.
The result was a series of site-specific creations, very often inspired by the imposing, divisive form of Minoru Yamasaki’s twin towers, structures described by Olu Oguibe (a World Views resident in 2000) as having an “unmistakable authority”. These pieces reflected the towers’ physical properties as often as their metaphysical, cultural and psychological impact. Distinctive New Formalist architectural features – the narrow windows; the clean, infinitely repeated mullions stretching to the heavens; the resolute, boxy post-modernist silhouette – feature heavily in the works of many artists; still more were inspired by the views across New York and the pinch-yourself unreality of having dedicated studio space in a section of expensive real estate usually reserved for the late capitalist elite.
One artist whose residency in the World Views programme was directly linked to the physicality and environments of the World Trade Center was New York-born Sound artist Stephen Vitiello, who occupied areas of the 91st floor from the summer of 1999 through to the early winter, making use of office space abandoned following the collapse of a Japanese bank. His residency resulted in three published works – Bright And Dusty Things (New Albion CD, 2001), Winds After Hurricane Floyd (installation of a sound recording and photograph, 1999/2002) and Sounds Building In The Fading Light (Creamgardens 10-inch, 2001).
For Bright And Dusty Things (featuring collaborations with Pauline Oliveros), Vitiello used an amplified photocell device placed in the lens of a telescope to translate frequencies from the light streaming through the 91st floor windows into audible sound. The process had first been used for a piece, ‘World Trade Center Recordings’, that would appear five years after his residency, on Nicolas Collins’ A Call For Silence.
Winds After Hurricane Floyd and Sounds Building In The Fading Light both arose out of recordings of the building and the sounds that could be heard from immediately outside the widows of the 91st floor, using two cheap contact microphones to feed atmospheric sounds into a mixer and DAT recorder. The anarchic Viennese group Gelitin (then known as Gelatin), residents on the 91st for the period after Vitiello was there, wrote of the World Trade Center towers: “Very amazing building outside; very depressing building inside.” Vitiello’s works broke down the barrier between the exterior – the powerful building itself; the world visible through the windows; life beyond the building – and its derivative interior; he literally brought the outside inside.
Like any field recording, there is an element of chance and unpredictability in the sounds that Vitiello captured. What emerges are documents of the towers and their symbiotic-symbolic place in New York’s ever-mutable skyline and the memories of the city’s residents and its visitors; of sounds heard from a unique position high above the ground; of sounds frozen in sonic aspic at the very end of the century, two years before the world changed forever.
“After the first bombing attempt on the World Trade Center in 1993, there was suddenly a lot of real estate available in the towers. The thinking behind World Views was, I guess, something that happens often with artists: they put artists where there’s vacant space until that vacant space becomes valuable, and sometimes it becomes valuable because the artists have made it cool.
“It was a really important programme for a lot of people. People used it differently, but the idea was that you should at least partially be doing something unique to that space. It certainly wasn’t just, ‘I am an artist, I need studio space and I can’t afford it.’ It’s more, ‘Here is a space that holds an opportunity for me to do something that I could imagine doing, but that I wouldn’t or couldn’t do anywhere else.’
“At that time, I thought of myself mostly as experimental musician who created soundtracks for other artists, for video and dance. My introduction to spatialisation was through a festival in Cologne 1998 called Per/Son, a festival organised by Anthony Moore, who set up this idea of playing with the space itself. It was four people – me, Scanner, Pauline Oliveros, and Frances-Marie Uitti. All of us were playing with a 64-channel sound system, designed by Andres Bosshard. That opened a door to the world of installations for me, and from installations I ended up getting invited to do the residency in the World Trade Center. At that point, I had an interest in field recording, but I had done very, very little, except for a little bit of sound work for a film soundtrack with Jem Cohen.
“When you were applying for the World Views residency, you had to make a note of something that you might do for the open studio, which would happen at the very end of the residency. I had just read an article in The Wire about Maryanne Amacher, and a piece that she had made where she had microphones pointing out of her studio window to the New England fisheries. Those sounds were constantly streaming into her studio and into her mixing board. I basically copied that idea, and I even said that at a public talk a few years later when Maryanne was in the audience. I said to myself, ‘Well, I’ll be up at the top of the World Trade Center, if I’m given a place on the residency. I’ll open the windows, put microphones outside, and I’ll always have the sound streaming into my mixing board.’
“There were about 15 artists there on the 91st floor at a time, in these six-month cycles. Most of the artists were in one big open office with wooden barriers. It looked like grade school to me: a lot of artists, with cheap barriers giving them some sort of privacy. I was part of the same residency as the artists Kevin and Jennifer McCoy. Between us we had a lot of technology, so we were granted a separate suite of offices where we could each lock our doors.
“So I had this idea which I copied from Maryanne, but when I got up to the studio I realised that you couldn’t actually open the windows. They actually did everything they could to block the outside sound, and to protect the person using this very expensive real estate from the sound outside. I started asking friends for advice. At some point, an engineer suggested contact mics, which I hadn’t used before, and told me to go to a drum shop. You could get store-bought contact mics to put on drums as MIDI triggers for about $20. I put those on the window and ran those through the mixing board. Lo and behold, the first sound I ever heard was church bells. I’ve had a couple of my career major works related to bells, as many sound artists do. But that moment was chilling, especially as I never heard them again after that.
“I suddenly heard the world outside. I could hear traffic. I could hear ships on the Hudson River. At one point I heard a car crash, but it all started with with church bells. And as the six months went on, I went from thinking about trying to add the sound to other things to realising that the sound was way more interesting than anything I could add to it. Every day was different. There were days that I could hear the building moving in the wind. I could hear the steel creaking and cracking. I could hear airplanes. I could hear helicopters.
“Those contact mics became like a stethoscope: I was listening to the body of the building. In the end, it wasn’t exactly like Maryanne’s work. It wasn’t like having a microphone outside: it was a mic that listened through the glass and steel of the building. A contact mic is very focused, but it’s very limited. You don’t get a lot of high frequency. You don’t get a lot of low frequency. But things like airplanes would cut right through, so I would work with that, or with the wind. I had 24-hour access to the studio, and if I heard something interesting, I would turn on the DAT recorder and record what was happening.
“Through the mixing board and pre-amplification certain kinds of strong sounds carry. Bells are a perfect example of a sound that cuts through city din, but I’m sure there’s a lot that I didn’t hear. It was the right technology for what I needed, and, miraculously, it was the only technology that would work.
“One thing I regret is that there were days where I’d go up and think, ‘Oh, I’ve already got this kind of sound, so I’m going to tape over that’. In the end, I didn’t end up with a lot. But the recordings that I ended up with that are the most critical were made the day after Hurricane Floyd hit New York in September 1999, and the 10-inch record, Sounds Building In The Fading Light. The B-side of that – the Dense Mix – ends with an airplane passing. All the sound cuts out and I filtered everything out but the plane. That was done before 9/11, and it wasn’t meant to scare anybody. It was just meant to focus in on a specific detail.”
“The night before 9/11, I was giving a talk at Brooklyn College, in a in a class taught by Jennifer McCoy.
“I think most of us took the World Trade Center for granted. They were these big, ugly buildings, but there was something quite unique about being above the world, and there was something very distinctive about their architecture. I read an interview with Robert Ashley where he said that one original design of the World Trade Center was to make the buildings parallel, which would have turned them into a giant tuning fork. That’s why they were offset a little bit. Even these things that we take for granted, if you just stop, look, and listen, you can appreciate things in a different way. Everything has an opportunity. Whether you want it or not, or whether you can make something whether it’s true to your own interests, is to be determined.
“At the class Jennifer invited me to, I remember talking about having gone from thinking of myself as a musician to now being a sound artist, and how much being up in the World Trade Center made me aware of listening in a new way. And even the vulnerability. You didn’t really feel like you were up on the 91st floor. When you were looking out the window it felt flat, and kind of artificial. But once the sound came up, you felt the presence of the building. And once you could hear it moving in there, or you heard the winds, your whole perception of space and a sense of self or the architecture – everything – everything changed.
“But then the next morning happened, and the buildings were destroyed. And I felt almost embarrassed, almost foolish when people started to reach out to me about those recordings. I lived very close to the World Trade Center when it fell. I saw the smoke. An artist’s perception of vulnerability is one thing: thousands of people dying is something totally different. My initial reaction was to shelve the project, and not ever talk about it again.
“A month or so later, there was a gathering at The Kitchen, the performing arts centre in New York where I later worked. It was a gathering of artists who had gone through the residency and who were talking about their projects after 9/11. I played a little bit of the sound. I mentioned that I felt truly conflicted and the feedback that I got from the audience and the other artists was, ‘You can’t shelve this. You can’t hide it. But you also shouldn’t exploit it.’ None of us wanted to exploit the situation.
“I didn’t want to see it as a 9/11 piece, because it wasn’t a 9/11 piece. But it was also something that was now changed, because I couldn’t deny that 9/11 changed how people would read it. It was the sound of a building that no longer existed, and that could never exist in the same way. It was a sound that people who worked in the World Trade Center were attuned to. You couldn’t always hear that sound without microphones, but there were times when you could. And so I decided that it should remain a thing, but something that should be treated with sensitivity.
“I called the 10-inch of those sound recordings,Sounds Building In The Fading Light. I loved – and still love – mystery books by James Lee Burke. Burke’s main book set of books are set in Louisiana. He writes about the landscape with this really rich sense of light and smell. With the title of the 10-inch, I think I was probably trying to emulate the kind of poetry that Burke uses when he speaks. Lou Reed once stopped me in an elevator because I had a James Lee Burke book sticking out my pocket, and I was totally embarrassed. He’s like, ‘Oh, that’s one of my favourite writers,’ and I sort of blushed and spoke to him for the rest of the ride down about the best of them (he recommended Black Cherry Blues, which I bought the next day).
“Winds After Hurricane Floyd was a sound installation, which was presented around the world and went into a few museum collections. When the Whitney Museum purchased it, they acquired a six-channel sound piece and a large photo. When I went down to the archive, they said, ‘The photo is the artwork, and the sound is the document, right?’ It’s not – I seethe sound work as the artwork, and the photo is a document. A lot of my work toes that line, especially where documentation has been part of it, and especially the works that relate to field recording.”
“I guess what I did became one of the signature World Views projects that people remember, and it also established me in a different way as an artist, as well as leading me to become established with site-specific projects. It completely changed my whole career path and my whole creative approach to listening.
“In some ways, I think the fact that it was audio, or primarily audio, allowed it to be evocative in a different way to photographs or video or sculpture. Each thing has its own power, and I’m not pretending that sound is better. But, at least to me, just listening with your eyes closed allows you to picture something and place yourself differently than the more intellectual process that happens when you look at a photograph.”
Enjoying Nature is the third album in Strategic Tape Reserve’s Learning By Listening series, “an educational, instructive cassette series designed to bring the information of the world into your home, and your brain.” Previous volumes have focussed on obscure, un-Googleable, audaciously false topics: Orca, Attack! delivered an album about Course Management System Optimization and Simon Proffitt’s Instituto Bangara-Rossa Internacional offered up a sonic handbook for a purportedly widely-played card game.
If Learning By Listening has generally operated with its tongue placed firmly in its cheek, the pairing of Goodparley (Cardiff’s Oli Richards) and Poppy Jennings seems to avoid this, at least musically anyway. The album’s narrative describes it playfully as a “mystical guide to the art of experiencing nature… for both those comfortable with outdoor environments as well as beginners,” and Richards readily admits it was started in jest before eventually becoming more sincere.
Taking the form of a series of delicate and quietly uplifting pieces, Enjoying Nature operates authentically in resonance with the spiritual music oeuvre. Both Richards and Jennings offer ruminative spoken word passages that float on top of the music like guided meditation texts or naturalistic poetic reflections, while Richards’ choice of textures carry a questing, transcendent fluidity. On ‘Walking Each Other Home’, cascading zither melodies wrap themselves around the listener with tenderness, evoking spiritual music landmarks like Laraaji’s Day Of Radiance. The opening track acts as a tribute to the work of Ernest Hood, whose obscure 1975 album Neighborhoods evoked a pastoral quietude that has now been all but drowned-out by the clamour of the modern world.
Learning By Listening albums are puzzling affairs. They are meant to be enjoyed primarily through a suspension of belief; once you acknowledge the joke, they can be approached as intelligent, artistic collections. Enjoying Nature is, I think, different.
Heard with an open mind, its pieces can be soothing, helpful and restorative. I’ll readily admit that my mind has all too often been closed to spiritual music, and if you’d handed me this tape two years ago I would have found it a difficult listen. Things changed as the pandemic settled in. With the benefit of hindsight, I now see that I experienced a breakdown that I never would have expected. In the hollow void that it left, I found myself urgently in need of something to help me get myself back on track.
The books that I’d tried to read but couldn’t find a way into (Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind being the most obvious) and the meditation practice I’d always been too closed-minded and uptight to surrender to – these things suddenly became essential, necessary aspects of my recovery. I found myself in a message exchange with Richards where he recommended Be Here Now by Ram Dass, which I quickly bought and digested far quicker than any other book that I’ve bought in the last ten years. I found myself working with my good friends Gareth Jones and Christopher Bono, first on their Nous Alpha album A Walk In The Woods and then with Christopher on his monumental Circle Of Celebration album with Arji OceAnanda and Laraaji. I found myself open-minded for the first time in my life; more accepting; more understanding of my mind’s wants and needs; more prepared to find ways to heal myself outside of the coping strategies I’d used before.
I see Enjoying Nature as part of my toolkit of recovery. A greater personal compliment to what Richards and Jennings have created with this release I’m not sure I could find.
Enjoying Nature by Goodparley and Poppy Jennings was released by Strategic Tape Reserve on September 24 2021.
California Dreaming: The Underlying, by sound artist Bethan Kellough and light breaker, by the anonymous venoztks, offer two very different sonic impressions of California.
For Kellough’s contribution to Touch’s Displacing subscription service, that impression was informed by field recordings made at the edge of Salton Sea, not far from the Joshua Tree National Park and the Mexico border. We hear birds, insects and a gently unfolding natural ambience, but we also hear an undercurrent of something darker – the drones and white noise from a nearby geothermal power station. The power source, heralded as one of several sustainable alternatives to traditional oil and gas, is nevertheless obtrusive and impactful on the environment that surrounds the power plant.
Kellough’s sleight of hand is to take those two sets of sounds – the delicate vibrancy of nature and the omnipresent hum of the power station as she approaches it – and augment them with a sensitive arrangement of sounds that somehow resonate much closer to the choruses of birds and insects than the mechanical interjections of the power stations.
light breaker is the latest missive from venoztks, an artist who doesn’t so much operate at the margins but within the interstitial frequencies of shortwave radio. The fifty-minute piece that light breaker consists of (‘Indent’) is structured from captured radio recordings – voices overheard as fragmentary mid-conversation non sequiturs, howling white noise, brittle static and resonant bass sounds that ebb and flow as menacing slow-motion pulses. The effect is like listening to an intense analogue synthesiser improvisation, but everything you hear came from the radio and the manipulation of its dials.
As well as being an intriguing, absorbing listen from the outer edges of found sound, the album also acts as a highly effective sonic screen. I found myself listening to this while undertaking an array of tedious domestic chores, where the barrage of abrasive, sculpted sounds and found drones also provided a useful means of drowning out the tedious mumbly hip-hop music that my wife was playing far too loudly elsewhere in the house.
The Underlying by Bethan Kellough was released August 27 2021 by Touch. light breaker by venoztks was released August 26 2021.
On Sunday August 22 2021 I flew for the first time since before the pandemic. A short flight to Edinburgh was something that I’d have done, before, fairly often, usually accompanied by things to review. It occurred to me a few days before that I’d need to plan what to listen to in the air, an active decision over what to listen offline after spending most of the pandemic period constantly online, with access to anything. It felt a lot like travelling as a teenager, where I’d pack my Walkman and choose a bunch of tapes to haul around with me.
I decided to trawl through recent Bandcamp additions – purchases I’d made or promos I’d been sent – and that formed the basis of my in-flight entertainment. While in Edinburgh I visited Nigerian sound artist Emeka Ogboh’s Song Of The Union at the Robert Burns Memorial near Calton Hill.
Take-off: CARL STONE – NAMIDABASHI
Carl Stone’s contribution to Touch’s brilliant Displacing subscription series translates roughly as Bridge Of Tears and was recorded for Radio Free Nakano in his Tokyo base. The 15-minute piece is one of fragile momentum, seeming to rush forth and build into a sort of suppressed motorik groove while retaining an effortless, dreamy levity. Released May 28 2021 by Touch.
In-flight: LISTENING LANDSCAPES – LL#1 (MUSIC FROM RIVER DERWENT) / RIVER DERWENT SOUNDSCAPES
Two 2021 releases from Dan Davies, both recorded using the sounds of the river Derwent in Derbyshire. Both illustrate Davies’ approach to taking field recordings and responding to them with additional composition for a diverse array of instruments, or leaving them poignantly unadorned. As such, these releases straddle the tranquility of listening to water and wind sounds (River Derwent Soundscapes) with delicately composed accompaniments (on LL#1) that are both mournful, vibrant and often noisy. Released March 28 2021 / May 6 2021.
Simon Proffitt’s work under the Carnedd Aur alias differs from his usual solo output as Cahn Ingold Prelog and The Master Musicians Of Dyffryn Moor by opting for more of an intentionally accessible output. Originally intended to be a body of work that his parents might recognise as something vaguely adjacent to electronic pop, the project instead became an engaging leftfield project whose titles were all inspired by different sub-species of beetles, with a sound that’s pure insectoid minimal acid-inflected techno. Released August 6 2021 by superpolar Taïps.
Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh’s contribution to Edinburgh’s Art Festival is a thought-provoking seven-channel sound art work installed in the Robert Burns Monument near Calton Hill. For the piece, Ogboh recorded versions of Burns’ poignant ‘Auld Lang Syne’ sung by twenty-seven Europeans living in Scotland, one from each of the member states of the European Union that the UK left in January 2021. His work has a subtle power as you sit in the Burns Monument and listen to the interwoven voices singing atop one another; being of Scottish descent, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ has always had subtle, stirring poignancy for me; heard in the context of a political work swirling and echoing around the circular space, its maudlin outlook is deeply unsettling. The day after I visited, I found myself walking past the building again. I could hear the plaintive voices wafting sadly into the aether, like ephemeral vapours of what once was. Song Of The Union runs to August 29 2021.
Take-off / in-flight: JAMES MAINWARING – MYCORRHIZA
Saxophonist James Mainwaring occupies a sort of indeterminate zone between improvisation and composition. His latest album for Discus is titled after the symbiotic relationship between plants and fungi and its 13 pieces carry a similar sense of integration between the instrumentation. The signature piece is ‘Komorebi’, which features Mainwaring’s sax alongside mournful strings and field recordings of birds made near the house where he grew up, an extra level of significance when you learn that the house is scheduled to be demolished as part of the HS2 construction project. On ‘Statues’, which begins as an understated ballad and ends as a free and urgent piece, Mainwaring’s playing nods reverentially in the direction of Paul Desmond; ‘Globe’, on the other hand, makes an unexpected left-turn into synthesiser minimalism and insistent post-rock, angular musings. Released Juy 13 2021 by Discus Music.
In-flight / landing: ANNA MEREDITH – BUMPS PER MINUTE: 18 STUDIES FOR DODGEMS
Bumps Per Minute was Somerset House resident composer Anna Meredith’s contribution to the London venue’s entertaining DODGE experience, which closed on August 22 2021. Though most people just went for the nostalgia of riding an old fairground ride after a few cocktails, every hour, Meredith and sound artist Nick Ryan would subvert the traditional dodgem ride so that every bump or collision would trigger a different one of her specially-written compositions. The companion album includes those 18 compositions played all the way through; it might lack the chaotic randomness of the ride experience, but it nevertheless carries a decent approximation of what it was like to laugh uproariously, half-cut on over-priced cocktails, as you careered around the track accompanied by a skipping soundtrack that felt like a malfunctioning player piano tackling Don Dorsey’s Main Street Electrical Parade music through an 8-bit computer. Released July 15 2021.
Brighton-born, Switzerland-based electronic musician Rupert Lally originally issued his debut novella, Solid State Memories, in 2018. The story was initially packaged up as a PDF with the download of the soundtrack he’d created to accompany the text, but Lally always felt that it needed its own oxygen away from the music; to coincide with a planned vinyl reissue of the album, Solid State Memories now exists as a stand-alone paperback, giving it the focus that it perhaps always deserved.
The creative impulse for Solid State Memories was the cover illustration, gifted by Italian graphic designer Hannes Pasqualini to Lally on his fortieth birthday. The image shows a woman standing on a rooftop overlooking a futuristic landscape, surrounded by broken technology, her identity card being cast to the floor. The most striking quality is not the mournful, pensive way the character is looking out toward the city and the monorail slicing its way through the landscape, but the way her hair appears to be a figurative device for the ephemerality of memories, here uncoiling out of her brain to join the dust and rubble of her rooftop perch, along with her discarded identity.
With that image as his inspiration along with a documentary about memory, Lally’s story emerges as science fiction grounded in worrying plausibility; namely, being able to implant chips inside the brain to suppress, change and create new memories and behaviours. The novella’s protagonist and pioneer of the new technology, Dr. Alex Wells, awakes into the fog of displaced recollections: initially focussed solely on trying to explain the absence of her lover, who we learned died in a car crash several years before, the story unfolds to reveal that Wells herself has one of her own chips implanted in her brain and that the whole project was bankrolled by shadier quarters of the government for use by the military.
Overtones of J.G. Ballard abound here: Dr. Wells’ girlfriend was called Rachel Ballard, the orchestrated means of her fatal collision recalls Crash, and a lengthy section where Wells is pursued by government agents through a forest but blurred with inexplicable phenomena echoes his short story The Crystal World. The story is laced with as much scientific detail as it is emotional revelations from Wells’ personal life, the same enmeshed narrative between the two facets being allegorical for what’s symbiotically happening inside her brain with the chip.
Ultimately, Solid State Memories reveals itself as a thriller, where, true to the form, the odds seem perpetually stacked against Wells. It is only through encounters with benevolent characters that the gaps in her memory and her awareness begin to close themselves, in so doing revealing her motives and plans. Lally’s sleight of hand here is to pace his ambitious novella to reflect those memories returning, while also maintaining a level of acute tension through the endless chase, leading to a conclusion that is both harrowing and worryingly prescient.
Solid State Memories by Rupert Lally is available through Amazon.
NOVA MATERIA – XPUJIL (Crammed Discs / Made To Measure)
Released through Crammed Discs’ rebooted Made To Measure series, Xpujil is the work of Paris-based Chilean duo Nova Materia (Caroline Chaspoul and Eduardo Henriquez). The album takes the form of a journey through the Mexican jungle to the ruined Mayan metropolis of Xpujil. Along the way, they made a series of field recordings, which were then processed back in Paris into a single 40-minute soundscape. Deeply ambient and full of inexplicable, ephemeral mystery, the overall impression left by Xpujil is one of absence – of people, of nature itself, of context, of explanation. Few recordings have managed to exhibit such an engaging sonic quality through layers of percussion, haunting wooden flutes and delicate electronic textures, while also remaining purposefully silent. The piece was rounded out by contributions from DNA’s venerable Ikue Mori and cellist Gaspar Claus. Released June 25 2021.
Truth, Beauty And Goodness consists of 15 pieces created by sound and visual artist Dan Davies, each one a specific response to a space or piece of art in and around Milton Keynes’ Campbell Park. Taking the form of a soundwalk commissioned for the 2021 IF: Milton Keynes International Festival, Davies used a combination of field recordings, sounds produced by ‘playing’ the various sculptures, electromagnetic recordings and delicate composition to accompany each piece. The results range from thought-provoking explorations of memory to angry pulses of raw energy. Read more about Truth, Beauty And Goodness in my interview with Davies for Pooleyvile, available here. Released July 10 2021.
Friends Of The Oval is a New York trio of vocalist JuliaFarhat, electronic musician David Mason (aka Listening Center) and film director Michael Idov, and the evocative, orchestral ‘Adventurer’ is taken from the soundtrack to Idov’s JETLAG. ‘Adventurer’ is an exercise in delicate subtlety, Farhat’s sensitive voice barely rising above an ephemeral whisper yet yielding an intense, surging emotional poignancy. The strings recall The Balanescu Quartet at their most stirring, while Mason’s production style restrains a haunting synth sequence to the role of a mere gesture, never once distracting from Ivan Abramov’s string arrangements. After a decadeof sporadic film music projects together, a Friends Of The Oval album is being worked on; on the strength of ‘Adventurer’, expect it to leave an indelible mark on your soul. Released July 28 2021.
This Is The Hour Of Lead – is Liverpool sound artist Philip Jeck’s contribution to Touch’s second subscription service of the last two years. Inspired by Emily Dickinson’s pike ‘After Great Pain, A Formal Feeling Comes –‘. His piece is a thoughtful, reflective moment, using orchestral sounds and blocks of mournful texture to convey a sense of the weight of the world that we’ve felt bearing down in us. A noisy moment of clattering found sound at the midpoint jerks you forcibly out of your maudlin thoughts before plunging you straight back in. Released July 29 2021.
Fading Tapes is a Polish duo of Krzysztof Siwkowski (guitars, effects) and Marcin Lasek (percussion, radios). For the four long tracks that comprise latest album Cartographer, they are joined by vocalist Aleksandra, whose occasional vocals and chanting float, wraith-like above the symbiotic dynamic offered by Siwkowski and Lasek. Across the four pieces – ‘East Valley’, ‘Bones’, ‘Boats’, ‘Dry Red Land’ – there is an emphasis on dense layers of intense subtlety. Barrages of percussion dominate, but they are (until the second half of ‘Dry Red Land’) quietly restrained, occasionally heading in the direction of interlocking motorik grooves or wild gestures, but Lasek’s playing remains acutely delicate. Around his kit, Siwkowski floats ominous basslines and wiry, chiming guitars, but he again eschews histrionics in favour of something much more contemplative. And yet, in spite of their collective restraint, these four tracks each resolve themselves into a firm, transcendent, psychedelic euphoria. Truly immersive and ever-so-slightly mind-altering. Released August 4 2021.
Conceived as an infrequent series of “borderland excursions into assorted strangeness”, Perception Report 3 continues The Night Monitor’s exploration of encounters and inexplicable events, presented as a sonic periodical of unfathomable Fortean mystery. The Night Monitor, one of several aliases employed by Blackpool electronic music Neil Scrivin, is here occupying territory that he has made entirely his own, featuring four tracks of spooky electronica that act as distressing anti-ambient music for unsettling phenomena.
Previous issues of the Perception Report series have concerned themselves with tiny winged Martians and the idea of bent spoons being allegorical for twisted realities. The main feature of Perception Report 3 concerns itself with an alien encounter that took place on Ilkley Moor in Yorkshire in 1987, in which a photographer had a run-in with an archetypal green creature that later disappeared in a flying saucer.
Scrivin has a way of presenting his pieces without hackneyed sci-fi or horror tropes. While it would be tempting to sculpt ‘An Alien On Ilkley Moor’ with brooding tones or wonky theremins, he instead imbues the track with something that falls between delicate edginess and wide-eyed curiosity. The piece opens with the sound of wind whistling across the moor, before pulses and shimmering, mystique-heavy tones take over, finally opening out into a stately, contemplative melody that feels like it belongs on Depeche Mode’s A Broken Frame.
‘Raven In Tomb Land’ has a tidy jazzy swagger that slots in somewhere between fusion and wonky, while ‘The UFO And The Séance’ has a ethereal sparseness so gently terrifying that I found myself checking behind doors and generally getting freaked out by my several cats, who in turn were generally freaked out by me. ‘Pyramids Of The Year 3000’ delivers more of Scrivin’s slowly-building melodic sensibilities, affixing those to a stop-start rhythm that bristles with 1981-vintage electronic pop smarts.
Whether you find Scrivin’s subject matter credible or think it complete bunkum is irrelevant: his music tangibly exists in its own unique dimension, one that’s well worth believing in.
Perception Report 3 by The Night Monitor is released August 6 2021 by Fonolith.
At A Moment’s Notice collects together three pieces by Berlin-based Stefan Goldmann, a peripatetic sonic auteur for whom the loose, oft-used handles of ‘producer’ and ‘DJ’ somehow no longer adequately fit his work. Goldmann may have come to prominence through techno, and its devices may still inform his creative methods, but At A Moment’s Notice bears no resemblance to music fixed to a grid.
This new collection for The Wormhole, the always surprising, never predictable offshoot of The Tapeworm, finds Goldmann on location at Café Oto for a solo electronic performance in those heady, pre-pandemic days of 2019, a performance from some seven years before with .es (Takayuki Hashimoto on alto sax, shakuhachi, harmonica and guitar and Sara Dotes on piano and percussion), in between which is a solo Goldmann piece for electric guitar – the latter as clear a signifier as any that Goldmann won’t even be pigeonholed into the electronica genre.
That central guitar piece, ‘Echoes Of An Era’, takes the form of a desert-washed blues loop. The guitar loop is layered and subjected to effects that lift it out of arid predictability into sonic vibrancy, while still sounding like the perfect soundtrack to standing beside your car on the side of an empty road waiting for a mechanic to arrive from the closest one-horse town with a can of gas.
A semblance of that bluesy tonality appears with Hashimoto’s harmonica about twelve minutes in to the Goldmann & .es performance recorded at Osaka’s Nomart Gallery in July 2012. Hashimoto is omnipresent on the performance, but it’s when he puts down the sax and picks up the harmonica that things really start to fly; inchoate piano musing and quiet electronics are suddenly replaced by industrial-strength blocks of sound and rhythm, after which the re-emergence of howling sax feels more logical. By its denouement, ‘12.07.2012’ feels like a guided tour of an illegal Osakan sweat shop, its final bass pulse and wobbly piano suggestive of a getaway car speeding away from the heat and terror of a few minutes before.
The Oto performance (‘29.09.2019’) is more assuredly electronic, but still refreshingly unpredictable. Here Goldmann runs through a cascading array of pulses, tones, sinewaves, drones and varispeed rhythms, skipping from idea to idea without ever languishing anywhere for long enough to get comfortable. At its most structured, ‘29.09.2019’ sounds like early Pan Sonic jamming with an 8-bit video game soundtrack to a game that no one remembers; at its most free, it’s like surfing on the aura of a self-generating fractal.
At A Moment’s Notice by Stefan Goldmann is released August 6 2021 by The Wormhole / The Tapeworm. With thanks to Philip. (This is not a Mortality Tables Product, but we probably could make it one if we thought about it.)
Right Here, Right Now collects together pieces by trumpet / flugelhorn player Charlotte Keeffe in various different formations – solo with electronics; in a duo with Diego Sampieri (guitar); in the Charlotte Keeffe quartet with Moss Freed (guitar), Ben Handysides (drums) and Ashley John Long (double bass). We also hear Keeffe’s work composing for the London Improvisers Orchestra on three adventurous and frequently unpredictable, playful pieces.
The result is a collection that draws out an immediacy of playing and an adaptable, varied tone. The pieces she conducted for the London Improvisers Orchestra veer from intricate, scratchy electronics, howling bells and ominous voices (‘Mysterious Breath / This One’s For The Bees…’) to the joyfully chaotic, cataclysmically euphoric nod to Orchestra stalwart and Flying Lizard par excellence Steve Beresford (‘To Steve Beresford’).
Quartet pieces like ‘Sweet, Corn’ are full of enticing energy, the interplay of the rhythm section and Keeffe’s wild, urgent playing reaching several crescendos before pivoting toward hook-y melodies and finally into squalling, beautiful noise. A more contemplative tone can be heard on the pretty ‘A Horse Named Melody’, even as Handysides’ drumming seems hellbent on upending the piece toward messier territory. Whether in her quartet or in a duo with Sampieri, you can hear a perfect unity between Keeffe and guitarists, leading to some genuinely breathtaking, intertwined melodic runs on the gentle, captivating ‘OM’ in particular.
Another dimension to Keeffe’s all-encompassing approach can be heard on the two solo pieces. Here we find Keefe subjecting her trumpet and flugelhorn to a series of electronic processes, showcasing yet another side to her playing completely. ‘The Melody’s In The Post’ (inspired by a melody by Alicia Gardener-Trejo) finds her horns fading in and out over a bed of restless, itchy static that sounds like an after-hours Radiophonic Workshop for an astral jazz documentary that sadly never was. Something similar occurs on ‘Noizemaschin!!’, taken from Keeffe’s first live improvised solo set in 2017. Somewhat more restrained in its processing than ‘The Melody’s In The Post’, ‘Noizemaschin!!’ instead relies on washes of reverb and stuttering, chattering, inchoate passages interspersed with rapid note clusters, leading to a ghostly, atmospheric otherworldliness.
Right Here, Right Now by Charlotte Keeffe was released June 11 2021 by Discus Music.