Dave Clarkson – A Pocket Guide To Wilderness / Stuart Chalmers – Suikinkutsu

A couple of years ago I interviewed Josh Hager from Devo for another of my projects, focussed on the Mute label’s STUMM433 boxset. Conversations for that project typically veer quickly into discussions of meditation practice; or, if they don’t directly end up there, we usually find ourselves talking about efforts the artist makes to find peace or a sort of inner silence. 

In Hager’s case, he told me about his early experiences after first moving to LA, where he rented himself a loft with no furniture. He may have had no furniture, but Hager had a turntable and an album, The Magic Of Psychoacoustic Sound, containing two sides of countryside noises – an English meadow and a forest night-scape filled with crickets – made by influential field recordist and early digital sound processor Irv Teibel.

Teibel had spent some of his army years in Stuttgart, where his imagination had been fired up by musique concrète, tape experiments, and spells studying under Karlheinz Stockhausen and Tony Conrad. The Magic Of Psychoacoustic Sound was the tenth disc in his influential series Environments, which he began in 1969 with a Brighton Beach, NY recording of the shoreline that was then processed through an early IBM computer.  

I ended up buying a beaten-up copy of The Magic Of Psychoacoustic Sound and put it on one Saturday afternoon while the house was occupied by just me and the cats. A couple of minutes in and I was somewhere else, walking the fields and woods of my youth and trying to suppress the notion that, if I hauled myself off the sofa and walked five minutes from my house, I could listen to actual English countryside sounds rather than Teibel’s processed ones. And then something strange happened – the record got stuck. I moved the needle and it got stuck again. And again. And again. I sighed, realising I’d bought one of the most scratched LPs I’ve ever seen but then, as I went to turn the turntable off and put the record away, I became aware that the skipping sounds of pretty meadows had formed an inchoate little rhythmic loop that you could just about dance along to. 

I imagine Teibel would have liked Dave Clarkson’s new album for Linear Obsessional, A Pocket Guide To Wilderness – Deep Forests And Dark Woods Of The British Isles. The latest instalment in a series that has included explorations of caves, the shores around Britain and quicksands (who know we had those in this country? In fact, who knew they existed outside perilous scenes in 1980s shows like The A-Team?), Clarkson’s Pocket Guide… series feels like it was directly descended from the Environments releases. His technique is one of processed field recordings, much like Teibel did forty years before, but whereas his approach was to create textural backdrops, Clarkson prefers more extreme alterations. 

Take the opening track, ‘Twig Dance’. Here we find Clarkson in the venerable Sherwood Forest using the sampled sounds of twigs snapping and logs being tapped, which he then reworked into a 7/4 rhythm that’s so knowingly reminiscent of ‘Unsquare Dance’ that you expect Dave Brubeck’s distinctive piano to start up at any moment. It’s less psychoacoustic and more psychedelic, like a weird pagan ritual best appreciated through the lysergic fog of foraged ‘shrooms. In contrast, an eight-hour recording session in Delamere Forest from August 2019 ‘Delamere Night Flight’) is largely untouched, until you consider that Clarkson has taken the highlights from that all-nighter and turned it into a comparatively minuscule two-minute edit. (The owl that features prominently on this piece definitely approves.) 

Elsewhere, ‘No Easy Way Out’ augments a loop of crunching, trampled undergrowth with ominous sub-bass and a delicate passing cloud of elegiac synth pads to create an uneasy, unsettling feeling, which Clarkson’s accompanying narrative likens to the perilous way out of our shared 2020 experiences. The pastoral, soothing birdsong with which ‘Lifeblood’ commences could have been taken straight from the ‘English Meadow’ side of The Magic Of Psychoacoustic Sound until it is overtaken by a swelling, fluctuating drone full of wonder and gauzy warmth. The effect is to centre your attention on the natural mystery of the world around us, something that we are all too guilty of ignoring. 

‘Mausoleum In The Woods’ uses the pyramid at Norfolk’s Blickling Park as its sonic playground, featuring percussive sounds that Clarkson recorded by striking the railings and stone of the Egyptian revival structure. We also hear the voices of fellow tourists and the omnipresent sound of rushing water, all of which lock together with the percussive samples to form a regimented, clockwork-like rhythm interspersed with intricate, unplaceable detail, befitting an engaging, thought-provoking album (I am chiefly reminded of the devastation of ancient woodland for the sake of HS2) that is as much informed by Clarkson’s fervent imagination as it is his curatorial approach to collecting sounds. 

Stuart Chalmers’ Suikinkutsu album for Graham Dunning’s Fractal Meat Cuts label opens with a field recording made as Chalmers arrived at the Dowkabottom Cave in the Yorkshire Dales. We hear a car edging noisily over gravel and a fleeting section of The Beautiful South heard from a car stereo. Thereafter we leave the human world far behind, finding ourselves in the subterranean chamber for eight recordings made in the cave on different days between February and May 2020 – which, lest we forget, coincided with the pervasive spread of a virus and the pausing of our freedoms. 

Caves aren’t troubled by viruses, but they are deeply impacted by the weather. The sound of water is a major influence on these recordings, both in its natural state within the cave, but also for how Chalmers placed objects – cans, saucepans, gongs, singing bowls – underneath water drips to create percussive sounds and fragile, tentative metallic melodies. The flow of water in the cave was entirely linked to weather patterns above ground – ranging from the wettest month since records began (February 2020) to the driest (May 2020). The recording from February 2 2020 is intense and frantic to the point of Neubaten-esque violence, while those from May are sparse and contemplative, drawing our attention to the dangerous fluctuations in climate that are the hallmarks of the anthropocene.  

The album’s title is a reference to a Japanese garden ornament, translating as ‘water harp cave’, which uses dripping water to producing a soothing sound, much like wind chimes. The natural ambience of the subterranean chamber drenches these recordings with rich, gentle reverb, while the unpredictable percussive timbres have a searching, inquisitive restlessness: outlines of melodies form, seem to edge toward completeness, and then go someplace else entirely. The result is strangely moving, the eight cave recordings reflecting – in an embodiment of zen duality – both stillness but also a constant motion, each drip imperceptibly adding to the perpetual wear and shaping of the cave itself. That this process will continue long after humankind has made itself extinct is a perhaps Suikinkutsu’s most impactful, if unintended, observation. 

A Pocket Guide To Wilderness – Deep Forests And Dark Woods Of The British Isles by Dave Clarkson was released April 21 2021 by Linear Obsessional. Suikinkutsu by Stuart Chalmers was released April 20 2021 by Fractal Meat Cuts. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2021 Further.  

Simon Klee – Mandragora

If there’s one thing that lockdown has taught us, it’s to appreciate the near-to. Whether it’s a wander through a local wooded copse, the discovery of a shortcut through your local estate, or perhaps a new-found love of ornithology, the last year has revealed hitherto unappreciated details of our close environment. It is the much-needed small bursts of joy that these can bring that Simon Klee celebrates in his latest album, Mandagora.

Like much of Klee’s previous output, this release on the Woodford Halse label showcases his love of nature. Inspired by walks along tributaries and nights spend under the stars in his native Thames Valley, the ten tracks all have their roots in the natural world. 

So how does Klee introduce the listener to his paean to nature? Not for him the folksy nurdlings you might expect given the accompanying floral artwork. Instead we get space synths! 

Album opener ‘Constant Velocity’ creates bows and arcs that eventually form delicious melodies from which the first squawks of bird chatter emerge, and we’re on our way.  

After the first couple of tracks a more organic feel does start to come through. The woodwind sounds of ‘Sky Raider’ are backed by some lovely spacey melodies, evoking early Kraftwerk. And from there things become a bit more unsettling.  

Across several of these tracks, we experience the slightly disquieting feeling of being alone in a forest –watched by unseen eyes. Echoey, haunting guitars give way to the chatter of birds and perhaps other, unknown creatures.   

We then emerge from the woodland to the sound of wind chimes on ‘Phantom Energy’ and the album picks up pace.  Klee likes to skirt the edges of the dance floor and this is also the case on parts of this album. The uptick in pace is enjoyable and is continued through some of the album’s final tracks.   

‘Anticrepuscular Rays’ brings a proggy, trancey vibe, before things unexpectedly turn bouncy, fun and electro on ‘Endosymbiosis’. The album closes with its eponymous title track, taking the tempo down a notch or two as the tired traveler unlaces their walking boots and takes a well-earned sip from their flask of herbal tea.  

So strap on that Walkman (this is a cassette and digital release) and head off for one more stroll though the countryside, this time with the sounds of Mandragora to accompany and inspire you.  

Mandragora by Simon Klee is released May 7 2021 by Woodford Halse

Words: Chris Hill

(c) 2021 Further.

Shots: Audiomaze, The Green Kingdom, Sweeney, Geneva Skeen, Sad Man, Saturnin Sektor, William S. Burroughs & Brion Gysin

AUDIOMAZE – ERRATIC GESTURES & STATIC INSTABILITY (Downstream Records) 

A new album from Downstream Records founder and fan of aliases Damon Vallero, who we last covered when he released last year’s Damaged Textures album under the name Local Sound DeveloperErratic Gestures & Static Instability finds Vallero deploying the quirky Cocoquantus and Plumbutter units from Baltimore synth house Ciat-Lonbarde, whose unique sound-creating interfaces give the album a playful suite of timbres but also more than an affectionate nod in the direction of some of the earliest electronic music experiments. The buzzing topline of ‘Wasp Having A Spa Day’ and its seesawing, wobbly foundation layer wins the prize for the most evocative track of the collection, while ‘Levitation’ has a soothing, contemplative quality ideally suited to a brief moment of calm in the maelstrom of our diurnal existences. Wonderful sounds from St. Albans and another release from Vallero worth spending some quality time with. Released February 5 2021. 

https://downstreamrecords.bandcamp.com/album/erratic-gestures-static-instability

THE GREEN KINGDOM – SOLARIA / SWEENEY – MISERY PEAKS (Sound In Silence) 

Two new releases from the Athens-based Sound In Silence imprint. The first, from Michigan-based Michael Cottone’s long-running The Green Kingdom project, is a collection of warm, almost folksy ambient soundscapes for electronics and guitar that – to this listener anyway – evokes the subtle optimism that comes with the shift from winter to spring. The details here are what’s important: the eight-minute ‘Arc’ offers a melody that nods in the direction of The Isley Brothers’ version of ‘Summer Breeze’ and ‘Sol 1’ sounds like what happened when Depeche Mode opened the gate to A Broken Frame’s secret garden. The second, Misery Peaks by Australian Jason Sweeney, finds the singer and sound artist offering a ruminative suite of songs over an intricate backdrop of turbulent gestures, modern classical tonalities, harsh industrial noise and sparse, fractured rhythms. ‘Sun’ is the album’s towering highlight, a plaintive love song placed in the context of a constantly-shifting tapestry of sonic events underpinned by a shrouded, submerged pulse. Both released March 27 2021. 

https://soundinsilencerecords.bandcamp.com/

GENEVA SKEEN – THE CLAP OF THE FADING-OUT SOUND OF YOUR SHOES (Touch) 

Geneva Skeen’s contribution to Touch’s Displacing subscription series finds her using the recorded sounds of Los Angeles from earlier this year and augmenting those with electronic manipulations to form a single piece of episodic, adventurous sound art. Like Chris Watson’s Displacing contribution (Station Chapelle), Skeen’s sounds have a strange, slightly unplaceable otherness. We are told that these sounds originate from LA, but how can we really be sure? What are the critical signifiers of their provenance? What is so distinctive about the hum of a helicopter, a person humming quietly to themselves, what could be the sound of cars driving over joints in a concrete bridge or the rain that makes these sounds sound like LA? This is perhaps the beauty of any field recording taken out of context – they are sounds that need explaining, that need justifying, as if we could not expect to comprehend them otherwise. Put that irreverent psychobabble to one side and what you have is an exciting, vibrant suite of noisy-beautiful sounds that carry a brooding purpose and a dark energy… which I guess is a fairly accurate depiction of LA, actually, now I come to think of it. The Clap Of The Fading-Out Sound Of Your Shoes is another brilliantly evocative chapter in the Displacing story. Released April 2 2021. 

https://touchdisplacing.bandcamp.com/community

SAD MAN – THE MAN FROM S.A.D 

A new album arriving through your letterbox from peripatetic Bourneville sonic magician Andrew ‘Sad Man’ Spackman is always a treat. Sidestepping the surprising directional shifts of his last three projects – the oblique radio play Stories From An Island with Francis Lowe for Cue Dot, the claustrophobic Music Of Dreams And Panic for Wormhole World and his soundtrack for silent movie Menilmontant – The Man From S.A.D finds Spackman riffing off the electronic wonkiness that characterised 2020’s genius Daddy Biscuits. More melodic than some of his other releases, for the most part The Man From S.A.D has a cheerful swagger and spring in its step, exemplified by the churning electric forward motion of the standout ‘Finny Feet’ and ‘The Green Opal’. We also find Spackman experimenting with vocal textures and samples across this album, always in typically skewed and playful way (see his brilliantly obtuse soul-inflected block party jam ‘The Shark’). What’s refreshingly omnipresent, though, is his dexterous, restless ability to endlessly hop from one idea to the next without catching breath, an effect that’s a lot like watching Charlie Chaplin in the mesmerising, chaotic but meticulously arranged conveyor belt scene from Modern TimesReleased April 23 2021. 

https://sadmanband.bandcamp.com/album/the-man-from-s-a-d

SATURNIN SEKTOR – NIGHT ENCOUNTERS (Cruel Nature Records) 

Kinda hard to write about this new Cruel Nature album by Genovese electronic music duo Saturnin Sektor without using the expression ‘imaginary soundtrack’ or the superlative ‘John Carpenter-esque’ – mostly because Night Encounters is an imaginary soundtrack and its familiar tonality was inspired by the long shadow that Carpenter’s approach to scoring cast over a pivotal segment of the 1980s movie landscape. So you know the drill: stalking basslines, expressive melodies, resolute drum patterns and a heightened sense of psychological drama, which these ten tracks all have in an abundance. MS and TC (the anonymous minds behind the project) break with the format slightly on ‘Among The Ruins’, which manages to adopt a proggy stance courtesy of some soaring ‘Whiter Shade Of Pale’ organ chords; at just shy of five minutes, the preceding action in our imaginary movie suggests a heck of a lot of stuff got ruined. Released April 30 2021. 

https://cruelnaturerecordings.bandcamp.com/album/night-encounters

WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS & BRION GYSIN – WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS & BRION GYSIN 

This vinyl-only release from Cold Spring collects together rare recordings of Beat authors William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, drawing together pieces made while they were both staying in Paris in 1970, an October 1982 Burroughs performance from Liverpool’s Centre Hotel, and a series of poetry readings by Gysin from the mix-1960s. Listening to Burroughs’ familiar drawl from the Centre Hotel recordings, there’s a certain deft humour to his newsreader-like delivery which has the audience in uproarious laughter. Some of Burroughs’ racial language is enormously offensive when heard today, but it’s the home recording of his asserting a nihilistic surrender to junk on an extract from ‘The Beginning Is Also The End’ that’s arguably the collection’s most shocking moment. 

Gysin’s recordings focus on the development of the cut-up technique, including the instructive tape piece ‘Cut Ups Self-Explained’ which sounds like a lecture on the process until its practical demonstration reveals the splices, leading to words placed out of context, suddenly making no sense, making new shapes and inferences instead. Alongside pieces like ‘Pistol Poem’, wherein the dry sound of a gunshot is looped into a nascent rhythm, Gysin initially appears the more experimental of the two word-innovators, but largely only because the Burroughs performance making up most of this album is relatively linear. The inclusion of three versions of the Burroughs piece ‘Invisible Art’, supported by inchoate found sounds and words, does much to even up the balance. Released May 10 2021. 

https://coldspring.bandcamp.com/album/william-s-burroughs-brion-gysin-csr293lp

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2021 Further. 

Audio Obscura – Adventures In The Anthropocene

News stories about climate change are generally coupled with their own distinct imagery. We are now well used to seeing images of, variously, the terrifying silhouettes of forest fires, of cliff faces or ice shelves crumbling into the ocean, of factory chimneys billowing fumes into the atmosphere, of aerial shots of vast, sprawling megacities or images of mute animals acting as a short-hand for extinction. In this context, there is something both depressing and terrifying about the image that Neil Stringfellow selected for the sleeve image of his follow up to last year’s Audio Obscura album, Love In The Time Of The Anthropocene

Not for Stringfellow these stock images; instead he has chosen something somehow more relatable, more impactful, and more shameful than images that we have become, if not inured to, then certainly used to – a municipal dump, the vast industrialised means of disposing of mankind’s waste en masse, and a row of washing machines, ovens and televisions. The circumstance of their disposal is, of course, not clear, but it is a thought-provoking image nonetheless. Were they replaced because they didn’t fit the household’s aesthetic and changing tastes? Were they replaced because they were no longer working? Could they have been repaired? What will happen to these appliances next? Will they be dismantled, their parts stripped, salvaged and recycled into new appliances? (Unlikely.) Or will they be shipped on vast diesel-powered vessels to distant shores where they will become some other community’s problem? As I said: depressing and terrifying. 

Adventures In The Anthropocene is, itself, partly recycled. It includes remixes of tracks by Scanner, Belly Full Of Stars and Rupert Lally; it includes an alternative version of ‘The Clattering Train’ from Love In The Time Of The Anthropocene; it includes a thirty-minute live performance of the original album reworked into a single tapestry. The album also includes five new pieces, including the stunning opening track ‘Komorebi 木漏れ日’, named for the untranslatable Japanese expression for sunlight passing through leaves. 

The impact of Love In The Time Of The Anthropocene was perhaps most felt in its afterglow. Stringfellow’s message was both direct, but also subtle. It inspired you to think differently, but its bleak, detached tonality also offered little hope to cling on to. It arrived smack in the middle of the pandemic, where the world felt unexpectedly united, for once. There was a common enemy, a common problem, a need to collaborate across borders to tackle a common threat; a new President was shortly afterwards installed into the White House, and one of his first gestures was to reverse his predecessor’s dismissal of climate change and his conjoined, hateful nationalistic rhetoric. There was a sense of hope: what if this effort to mitigate a virus could be applied to climate change (something, lest we forget, that has the potential to cause many, many more deaths than COVID19)? Fast forward to the release of its (sort of) sequel and things feel like they’ve shifted. Rather than celebrating the speed and efficacy of cross-border vaccine development, it has instead become a geo-political warzone and the embodiment of vaccine-led colonialism (a new book by Peter Hotez, Preventing The Next Pandemic, adroitly deals with this subject). And spend any time in your local English shopping centre or high street the weekend after non-essential retail opened and you will see just how far we haven’t come, being the embodiment of greed and self-centred individualism, not the ‘we’re all in this together’ spirit that existed for a lot of 2020. 

Adventures In The Anthropocene’s release is, thus, timely. The central live piece, using extensive segments of narrated commentary about what humankind has wrought on this world – including creating the perfect conditions for global pandemics such as COVID-19 – is a useful wake-up call for anyone whose sole focus has been booking a flight to some far-flung destination or queuing for hours outside Primark just to buy some cheap, disposable, unsustainable fashion frippery. There is a significantly larger issue at hand; we may have survived the pandemic, but it is merely a symptom of the bigger war we’re in danger of forgetting about if we don’t act now. 

Scanner’s remix of ‘Goodbye Helocene’ at least sounds optimistic. For his mix, Robin Rimbaud has developed a sort of woozy, shimmering, journeying exotica from the bones of the original track, which has the effect of distracting you from its less-than-cheery subject starting point. In contrast, Further. favourite Rupert Lally takes ‘Radio Anthropocene’ off in an appropriately darkened, brooding direction, its plaintive piano and droning backdrop sounding like the final broadcast of a damaged transmitter before the end of the world, while Belly Full Of Stars re-imagine ‘Love Is…’ as a modern classical duet for swirling saxophone and mournful cello set to clipped, inchoate beats. 

The album ends with one of Stringfellow’s new pieces, ‘The Last Full Day Of Civilisation’. There is a fragility here, and a sense of pretty, stirring wistfulness. Its delicate, overlapping, chiming music box melodies might sound celebratory, but only in the sense that music played at a funeral is celebratory. To this listener, it wordlessly says, ‘Here lived homo sapiens, who consciously squandered the gift they were given, and in so doing made themselves extinct.’ If that doesn’t make you sit up and take action, then really nothing will, and we’re all doomed to the fate foretold in Stringfellow’s ruminative closing arguments. 

Adventures In The Anthropocene by Audio Obscura was released March 4 2021. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2021 Further. 

Mariel Roberts – Armament

Mariel Roberts is a Brooklyn-based cellist, known for her many collaborations and her free-spirited approach to blending classical formalism with improvised gestures. Armament is the follow-up to her 2017 solo album Cartography and her involvement with the amorphous, ever-changing Numinous ensemble, who released the album The Grey Land last year. 

Armament consists of four pieces – two relatively short, and two longer – that find Roberts using pedals and other interventions to disrupt the ordinarily bucolic sound of the cello. While there are undoubtedly moments here where light seems to shine through, the overarching feeling is one of unsettling disquiet. In this way, it feels like an album perfectly suited to today’s disrupted world, even though it was recorded before our lives were restricted. 

Running through these four pieces is an intense and ominous rumble. That bassy foundation layer ebbs and flows, but it is the element that stays with long after the concluding moments of ‘Arrow’ have dissipated into silence. The cello is known for a certain maudlin, mournful disposition, but in Roberts’ hands it takes on a amplified, darkened, brooding quality, its recognisable qualities displaced and refracted through the effects pedals she uses. 

During the seventeen-minute ‘Hoard’ we hear that technique at perhaps its most complete, featuring moments of swirling, squalling dissonance where you can hear the physical pressure she is placing on the strings; passages are looped and processed into ruminative, unswerving drones that feel like long, undulating echoes, in time phasing into themselves to create nauseating microtonal skew; outlines of plaintive, uncertain melodies float overhead, becoming layered into a semblance of a string quartet yet with only one player; playful pizzicato sections create a levity, only to be crushed beneath aggressive swipes at the strings; heavily distorted sections buzz with a juddering, irrepressible, impenetrable death metal dirge. At one point, the cello ceases to be recognisable at all, become a warped, fluctuating electronic arpeggio full of brusque edges and violent energy. For this all to happen in one single episodic piece is an indication of Roberts’ creative mind in overdrive. 

This is not a comfortable listen. It possesses very little that we might come to expect from an album created using the cello. So unrecognisable is the venerable instrument at times that if she had explained it was made entirely using tape loops or processed electronics, its foundation instrument would never have been known. Roberts describes the origins of the title as reflecting back the combative times we live in, where seemingly innocuous, innocent things are swept up alongside more purposefully hateful gestures as part of an antagonistic, aggressive cultural shift. In this sense, Roberts’ techniques and interventions are both her shields and her weapons, making Armament a powerfully incisive statement delivered in the form of a beautiful, unpredictable, mesmerising noise. 

Armament by Mariel Roberts was released February 5 2021 by figureight. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2021 Further. 

Orca, Attack! – C.M.S.O.

Orca, Attack! is a long-running, on-off, whale-admiring pairing of Elizabeth Joan Kelly and David Rodriguez. Both New Orleans musicians have parallel solo careers, and both find themselves dealing with a combination of technology, abject panic and general electronic music subversiveness. Together, their self-proclaimed “swamp-rock-meets-space-opera-and-folk” leanings as Orca, Attack!, in practice, sound nothing like that; it helps to approach their new release knowing that they have a penchant for tongue-in-cheek wryness. 

C.M.S.O. is a compact, six-track album released by the venerable Strategic Tape Reserve. The release is the label’s inaugural cassette in a series called Learning By Listening, purporting to be an educational initiative that builds up almost like a periodical subscription, or the separately-purchased volumes of an encyclopaedia “designed to bring the information of the world into your home, and your brain”. This first release covers something called ‘Course Management System Organization’. 

Fun, right? Try Googling it. 

The thing is, it all sounds plausible. These days you can whack any four vaguely corporate-sounding words together, create an acronym and let it live. In years to come, there may well arise a concept called Course Management System Organization, and Kelly and Rodriguez will be hailed as its lauded originators, but for now you have to accept that this is an educational tape about something that doesn’t exist. We live in a world of misinformation and mistruths; what’s real and what’s fake have become indistinguishable, giving rise to a weird sense of being in both a Kafka novel and an Escher picture at the same time. Once you accept that, see the joke and listen to this for what it is, you can have a blast with the pieces here. Life is way too short to be so serious all the time, after all. 

With academically-infused titles (‘Abstract’, ‘Introduction’, ‘Literature Review’, ‘Conclusion’, ‘Limitations’, ‘Ethical Approval’), these pieces acknowledge the influence of Raymond Scott, beloved inventor of electronic instruments, unlikely jazz band leader and a composer whose distinctive approach leant itself to use in madcap cartoons – in short, the kind of avant garde personality we’re sorely missing in these uptight 2020s. You hear the overhang of Scott’s approach in a sort of playful bounce in these pieces, each of which find itself on an odd frontier between wide-eyed synth experiments and science documentary soundtrack. Both Kelly and Rodriguez contribute vocals, either as spoken-word, instructive lecture-esque monologues, or as angelic harmonies sweeping high above the accompanying electronic backdrops, or as processed, gradually slowed-down, indecipherable non sequiturs. 

C.M.S.O. might lack any sort of educational substance, and its twenty-minute, CliffsNotes brevity might well be a generally pessimistic statement on our ability to concentrate for long periods of time; look beyond what it might or might not be trying to tell you, and its masqueraded seriousness is a huge amount of much-needed, liberating fun.  

C.M.S.O. by Orca, Attack! is released April 16 2021 by Strategic Tape Reserve 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2021 Further. 

MICROCORPS – XMIT

XMIT is the debut album from MICROCORPS, a new alias of Grumbling Fur’s Alexander Tucker. The emphasis here is placed squarely on electronic rhythms, eschewing the pointillism of glitch and the recognisable dancefloor beats of minimal techno in favour of a liminal zone occupied by intense arrays of pulses and submergent bass tones. 

The effect is both arresting and beautifully discomforting. Overlaid by nausea-inducing, seesawing drones and hissing sweeps, opening track ‘JFET’ sets the scene for XMIT‘s eight tracks. There is rarely a moment on ‘JFET’ where the rhythm falters or pauses, creating a sense of claustrophobia but also a sort of epiphanic transcendency and euphoria thanks to that same relentlessness. A similar approach emerges on the sparse ‘XEM’ with Gazelle Twin, whose monologue was inspired by Alien but which sounds mostly like unsettling layered ghost voices to my easily-spooked ears. ‘ILN’, recorded with Nik Void, features a juddering beat reminiscent of Autechre while they still had regard for rhythmic convention, over which the pair overlay seemingly random sonic events, each of which are promptly splintered and ensnared by the track’s swampy low-end. 

‘UVU’ is perhaps the album’s greatest departure from itself. Consisting of a slower rhythm, an unswerving violin-like drone and choppy synths that sound like scanning searchlights, ‘UVU’ charts a dangerous course. There is a roughness and menace here that claws away at you insistently, evoking a firmness and sense of determined purpose, but also an air of troubling anxiety. ‘OCT’ (with Simon Fisher Turner) is a metallic, unpredictable noisescape that acts almost like the inverse of the other tracks here, its rhythms audible but by no means the focal point. 

XMIT is a challenging listen, but maybe it’s not so challenging if your reference points are the likes of Throbbing Gristle or Cabaret Voltaire, both of whom took a similarly broadminded view of the elemental properties (and physical impacts) of rhythms. What Tucker has harnessed best of all with XMIT is the thrilling, vibrant sound and energy of pure electrical current, here wrestled and tamed into a regimented form, but one that always feels like it’s on the frontier of suddenly becoming wildly out of control. Embracing that central tension is what makes this brilliant debut such a compelling listen. 

XMIT by MICROCORPS is released April 16 2021 by Alter. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2021 Further. 

A Clew Of (Tape)worms: venoztks / Nigel Wrench / Patrick Shiroishi & Zachary Paul

Three new releases from The Tapeworm reflect the idiosyncratic, democratic approach to presenting material that has been the mainstay of the label since it was established in 2009.

venoztks is the alias of one of the three founders of The Tapeworm, though we don’t precisely know which one. How It’s Not Meant To Be is an exploration of electronic improvisation, full of prowling frequency fluctuations, gravelly static, sibilant hissing, clicks, unpredictable tone formations and rapid oscillations between noisy rumbles and quiet, occasionally flute-like intricacy. Scratchy noises appear, flutter violently at your ears and then recede, once more becoming inchoate and elusive.

While a lot of this tape is reminiscent of the earliest recorded electronic experiments, somewhat randomly, the spiralling, endless ebb and flow of sounds and the way they constantly wriggle (worm-like?) out of your grasp makes me think of those poor contestants on The Crystal Maze trying to snag as many gold foil tokens as they can before time runs out. Unlike that torturous final stage of the gameshow, however, there is plenty of time on How It’s Not Meant To Be to try and clutch at these sounds – an hour to be precise.

The venoztks website helpfully lists all the frequencies used in his works should you wish to attempt a cover version. Read more about The Tapeworm in our interview here.

Investigative journalist Nigel Wrench’s ZA87 is the sequel, of sorts, to another Tapeworm release (ZA86) from 2015. Wrench’s career took him to the brutally segregated streets of Soweto in the mid-1980s, finding him at the epicentre of tensions rarely without a microphone in his hand.

ZA87 acts as a powerful document of events that took place on a single day – July 27 1987. The subject of Wrench’s recording is the funeral of teenage activist Peter Sello Motau, assassinated by South African police. We hear Motau’s father’s outpouring of grief and disbelief at both his son’s death and the efforts of the police to halt the funeral. We hear poignant, rousing traditional singing. We hear Wrench interviewing Winnie Mandela, and Mandela provoking the police with a firm and frank riposte at their actions to restrict the funeral.

We hear sirens tearing past, creating a divisive moment of fear and panic. As an unadulterated, raw field recording, ZA87 is an unswerving audio document of one person’s sacrifice and a nation’s turbulent journey toward the ending of apartheid. More details can be found at www.za87.org

Of The Shapes Of Hearts And Humans is less a collaboration between saxophonist Patrick Shiroishi and violinist Zachary Paul as it is a journal entry.

Recorded on an early September day at Garfield Park in Pasadena, the duo improvisation was made at a time when the worst wildfires in the state’s history were raging across California, but there is little untameable heat to be found in this pairing. Instead, there is a delicate poignancy to their intertwining melodies, and a rueful, introspective levity, even amid moments of scratchy dissonance. It is a subtly uplifting experience to hear these two players gently weaving around one another in the open-air surroundings of the park.

A few days later, Paul upped sticks out of LA and began moving across the breadth of the United States. As he made his way eastward, one imagines that it was possible to still hear the echoes of his interplay with Shirioshi carried softly and sweetly on the September breezes that fuelled the devastating fires.

Tapeworm releases: How It’s Not Meant To Be by venoztks was released December 11 2020; ZA87 by Nigel Wrench was released March 5 2021; Of The Shapes Of Hearts And Humans by Patrick Shiroishi and Zachary Paul was released March 11 2021. Visit the Bandwurm minimart here.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2021 Further.

Kjetil Mulelid – Piano

Piano is Norwegian jazz musician Kjetil André Mulelid’s first solo album. Ordinarily to be found leading a trio with drummer Andreas Skår Winther and bassist Bjørn Marius Hegge, the pianist had been encouraged to make a solo piano album nearly two years before recording the two locked-down sessions in June and September of last year that yielded Piano.

The eleven pieces here were each performed on the 1919 Bösendorfer grand piano located at Halden’s Athletic Sound studio. Mulelid talks about the instrument’s imperfect sound being a direct contributor to the tone of the album, but unless you are a pianist of his calibre, it’s hard to detect. Instead, what you hear are pieces like the fragile, introspective ‘Le Petit’ or the pretty ‘Skjong’ that straddle the gulf between classical music and jazz.

The majority of the album was recorded during a heatwave. Strange, then, that in these pieces I can hear rain. Specifically, I find myself imagining being sat in an empty café – probably in Paris; when my heart aches I usually find myself transported to the Paris of my mind – staring out onto puddles forming in the road. Perhaps it’s because I hear a sort of muted, haunting lightness of touch in Mulelid’s playing, or maybe it’s just the frame of mind I’ve found myself in every time I’ve put this album on. There is undoubtedly euphoria and beauty here in the languid note formations of a piece like the tender ‘For You I’ll Do Anything’ or closing track ‘The Sun’, but I also hear a sadness, a contemplative dimension that feels oddly anguished.

Lockdown may have limited Mulelid’s options to get his band together, but in Piano he has produced a striking, transcendent album that I expect to return to endlessly.

https://open.spotify.com/album/7yRzVFzD4b5aTWlXsFIm6k?si=ac_tzZeJQjWZs_h3K0h3bQ

Piano by Kjetil Mulelid was released March 19 2021 by Rune Grammofon. Thanks to Jim.

(c) 2021 Further.

Tortusa – Bre

Tortusa is the project of electronic musician John Derek Bishop, who hails from Stavanger in Norway. On his second album, Bishop has assembled perhaps one of the strongest Norwegian jazz groups ever committed to record – drummer Erland Dahlen, guitarists Eivind Aarset and Svein Rikard Mathisen, trumpeters Arve Henriksen and Simen Kiil Halvorsen, and saxophonist Inge Weatherhead Breistein, Bishop’s collaborator on 2017’s ghostly Mind Vessel

Except, a group – at least in the traditional sense – it most definitely is not: Bishop’s sleight of hand is to take samples of live performances by each of the musicians before adding analogue synthesisers, field recordings and computer processing to create imaginative, powerfully ruminative soundscapes. By his own acknowledgment, many of the musicians feeding into the twelve pieces on Bre are some of his heroes; yet his approach on a piece like ‘Bristen Ingen Kjente’, featuring Erland Dahlen, is to suppress the drummer’s rhythms into mere whispers, so vague that finding his playing is a little like trying to locate an imperceptible pulse in a hibernating woodland creature. Rather than using Dahlen’s dextrous playing to create the foundation of his track, Bishop instead uses a field recording of endlessly running water, through which appear tiny moments of treated percussion. 

Sometimes the contributions are more pronounced. Breistein’s sax melody on the album’s title track carries a delicate, questioning quality that’s presented more or less as the musician would have played it; on ‘Lyset Likevel’, Aarset’s guitar ripples and shimmers over a dubby pulse. You can undoubtedly tell that Bishop has a weakness for Henriksen’s trumpet playing. His contributions to ‘Ubevegelige’ and ‘Preget Uten Minne’ might be treated with echo and surrounded by all manner of unpredictable sonic interventions, but Bishop leaves the trumpeter’s melody more or less intact, creating a haunting, stirring, inquisitive Souk-like atmosphere in the process. 

The closest that Bre gets to the Norwegian supergroup suggested by gathering these luminaries together is on ‘Ikke Tale’, featuring Dahlen, Aarset and Breistein. On ‘Ikke Tale’ you can hear Dahlen’s gently polyrhythmic drumming, even if it’s placed far off in the distance; Breistein peels off some contemplative after-hours melodies; Aarset offers some pretty, blues-y guitar licks. On one level, this is a traditional jazz trio, but it’s one that’s strangely detached, deconstructed and reassembled, presented with a sparseness and reverb-drenched ambient aesthetic that is entirely Bishop’s own. 

Bre by Tortusa was released March 5 2021 by Jazzland. Thanks to Jim. 

(c) 2021 Further.