Spread across six volumes, Rental Yields is a typically broadminded concept from Justin Watson’s Front & Follow imprint. In what he describes as a ‘landlord / tenant’ model, the project found each participating artist borrowing sounds created by another, and using those sounds to create their track – creating a home in someone else’s house, if you will, without ever actually owning it. Squatter’s rights, perhaps.
A glance down the track lists of the three volumes released to date acts like a roll call of some of the most exciting artists operating today – Bone Music, Camp Of Wolves, Elizabeth Joan Kelly, Runningonair, The Incidental Crack, Dave Clarkson, Rupert Lally, Letters From Mouse, Graham Dunning, Kemper Norton, Audio Obscura, Robin The Fog and countless others.
As Watson busily readies the fourth eclectic volume in the series, Further. distracted him from his elaborate project planning spreadsheet to ask him a few questions.
Where did the idea for Rental Yields come from?
Rental Yields feels like a natural progression from our You Can Never Leave project, continuing the theme of inequity in Manchester, but also more broadly, and working with artists to explore (directly or indirectly) what this means.
The idea itself came from a desire to do another collaboration project, and a complete lack of acknowledgement (again) of the administration involved. As ever these things are a collaborative effort which emerge through real world and online chats, throwing ideas around (some more sensible than others) and seeking ways to using creativity and musical nonsense to have some fun, and hopefully contribute something positive at the same time
The specifics of the ‘landlord / tenant’ concept came from Stephen Buckley (aka Polypores), so we can all blame him. I think the initial idea was probably quite simple, but over time a series of PowerPoint slide decks and spreadsheets have turned it into what it is today.
Personally, I enjoy the convoluted nature of it (possibly more than the reviewer at The Wire…).
You seem to have a knack of collating these incredible collections – how did you choose the artists for this project? Did you set any rules for contributors?
All artists are self-selecting and it is as inclusive as possible – anyone can join in (as it should be), and we try and remove any barriers to being involved, or to people knowing about it and feeling they can be a part of it.
But yes, there are rules – I refer you to the previously-mentioned slide decks. They are really fun.
If we didn’t have rules where would we be Mat? And then where would we be without a series of annoying and pointless rules, created by someone who should have probably gone for a walk instead?
Were there any tracks that particularly surprised you?
It has been great to have so many submissions from people I didn’t know much about, or who are now doing amazing things. It feels weird to highlight anyone in particular, but Yol was my artist of 2022. Just incredible, and bringing something so refreshing and much needed at the moment.
This series is for charity. Can you tell us a bit more about the charity you’re working with here?
We’ve previously work with Coffee4Craig, another fantastic charity in Manchester, and before that The Brick in Wigan.
For this we chose SPIN. They were recommended to us by one of the artists involved in the project who also worked in the charity sector in Manchester. They are doing vital work, so it is great to be able to support them a little bit – with a bit of money (our target is now £2,000), but also with a bit of promo and maybe some more opportunities in the future. We keep thinking about doing some gigs…
Tarbolton Bachelors Club is the latest album from Edinburgh’s Steven Anderson (Letters From Mouse). The follow-up to 2021’s An gàrradh, which drew its sound architecture from Anderson’s back garden, Tarbolton Bachelors Club again finds Letters From Mouse exploring localities. This time the connection is between the country park of Polkemmet near Whitburn and the village of Tarbolton, the common thread being Scotland’s Bard, Robert ‘Rabbie’ Burns.
The Polkemmet estate was acquired by the Baillie family in 1620, establishing a country house there which eventually became a hospital in the Second World War used by Polish soldiers escaping the Nazi occupation of Poland. The house was demolished in the 1960s but its grounds – including its mausoleum – were re-established as a country park.
Anderson included a track named after Polkemmet on 2020’s Proto Human. “The atmosphere in Polkemmet Country Park is pretty special, the history of the place is palpable and my family spend a fair bit of time there,” says Anderson. “I used to play at Polkemmet as a kid, and I was always mucking about in the river, sailing boats and stuff. I was too young to know or appreciate the history of the place and it’s only recently that I have really started to realise it’s significance. The atmosphere in the park is magical, especially in the woodland and it’s this I have tried to tap into with the music on Tarbolton Bachelors Club. I use a modular synth setup, which I think this can sound very organic, atmospheric and emotional. It’s perfect for a project like this.”
The album is named after the club, founded in a small thatched house in the village of Tarbolton, that appointed Burns as its first chairman when it was formed in 1780. Burns was then an unpublished poet and the bachelors’ club was intended as a place for local single men to come together, talk, dance and debate the issues of the day. The Tarbolton group would go on to inspire many Burns Clubs around the world, its membership observing one founding rule that stated members were not permitted to acknowledge the existence of the club, where masonic virtue was pre-eminent. In keeping with other lodges or clubs, the Tarbolton club issued ‘pennies’ to mark initiations or to celebrate members.
“The Masons are something I don’t know much about to be honest,” admits Anderson. “I can remember being in a hotel bar near Stranraer 20 years ago and the owner mentioned the Tarbolton Penny. At the time I had no idea what he was talking about but for some reason it stuck in my head. I remembered this when researching Burns for the album, and I even ended up buying a Tarbolton Penny on eBay.”
Anderson’s music is well-suited to exploring these sorts of narratives, something that shone through brightly on An gàrradh. “I’m definitely a bit old school here. I dislike the whole streaming culture and one-off songs or singles. I like to listen to an album from start to finish and a good story helps, I think. Telling that can be more challenging with instrumental music as opposed to using singing and lyrics which spell it out for you. Having a theme or concept just feels right to me.”
That being said, diving into the legacy and importance of Burns felt a little risky to Anderson. “I wasn’t sure how cool it would be,” he says. “However, I avoided bagpipes and Dan from Subexotic didn’t use any tartan in the artwork! I really only started to appreciate Rabbie later in life, and when I was putting this album together it has been amplified considerably. I’ve started to see what an impact he has had, not only in Scotland but across the world. Not bad for a cheeky chappie who was fond of the ladies.”
Stephen Anderson’s tour through the Tarbolton Bachelors Club
“Elizabeth Bishop (1785 – 1817) was Robert Burns’ first child, conceived during an affair with Elizabeth Paton. Elizabeth married John Bishop, factor to the Baillie of Polkemmet and I believe they lived in Halfway House which is situated on the edge of the estate grounds.”
“This is the grid reference for where Polkemmet House used to stand. The footsteps you hear at the beginning and end of the track are me and my daughter walking to that exact spot.”
South Church Beastie
“Elizabeth is buried in the grounds of this church in my home town of Whitburn. The first building here was in erected in 1658 and has had repairs and extension. The reference to ‘Beastie’ links to the famous Burns poem, ’To A Mouse’.”
“Burns lived for a while in the Ayrshire town of Tarbolton which is where he founded the bachelors’ club, just before his works started drawing attention. At this club he entered into Freemasonry. In orders such as the Masons, tokens – also known as pennies – were issued for a variety of reasons including signifying a pivotal part of the mason’s initiation, celebrating a particular mason, or as proof of membership to a lodge.”
“Following the war Polkemmet House became Trefoil School and was run by Girl Guides movement. The school was opened by the Queen Elizabeth (then Princess Elizabeth), who later became the school’s patron. The school moved to Gogarburn which is just outside Edinburgh. After its time as a school, the house was used by the Scottish Police College.”
“Contrary to the pictures in your mind that the term bachelors’ club may generate, the one started by Burns was a civil affair where gentlemen debated the latest issues of the day and learned to dance – all without alcohol. It all sounds most cordial.”
“Expressing warm tenderness to his love-begotten daughter and welcoming his child, Burns wrote the following lines:
Welcome! lily bonie, sweet, wee dochter, Tho’ ye come here a wee unsought for, And tho’ your comin’ I hae fought for, Baith kirk and queir; Yet, by my faith, ye’re no unwrought for That I shall swear!… Lord grant that thou may ay inherit Thy mither’s person, grace, an’ merit, An’ thy poor, worthless daddie’s spirit, Without his failins, ‘Twill please me mair to see thee Than stocket mailens…”
“Burns was a known romancer and there is nothing more romantic than candlelight.”
“Carbon has the symbol C and the atomic number 6. Coal contains mostly carbon and it’s with coal that our connection to Polkemmet lies. The National Coal Board, who operated many coal mines in the area, bought Polkemmet House. My father was a miner back in the day. He hated it, and it was dangerous dirty work indeed. There is no getting away from the historical importance of coal in this area.”
A Man’s A Man For A’ That
“This track was added after the album had been completed. I’ve been working on a project with my brother-in-law Martin Gibbons, who happens to be a really talented musician and singer. I asked Martin if he’d like to record a reading and I was thinking that I could sample it and use it somehow. I liked what he did though so set about adding some music as backing and I thought it worked really well. I think it does a great job of rounding off the album. It’s brilliant to have family involved and hopefully it’ll be a nice thing to look back on in years to come.”
Interview: Mat Smith
Tarbolton Bachelors Club by Letters From Mouse was released January 28 2022 by Subexotic.
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.”
Transhuman Harmolodics is the typically deep-thinking new album avant garde electronic musician and Radiophonic Workshop contributor Sam Britton’s Isambard Khroustaliov alter ego. Britton’s conceptual jumping-off point here is the notion of transhumanism, the idea that we can somehow upgrade our corporeal existence and eradicate ageing. If that sounds like heavy and pretty scary subject matter, consider that Britton has decided to amplify the complexity by using Ornette Coleman’s amorphous, ever-changing concept of harmolodics. We spoke to Britton about five of his favourite albums, from Coleman to Zappa.
Ornette Coleman – The Empty Foxhole
I remember seeing Ornette Coleman perform with his son Denardo in the early 2000s and being totally in awe of the connection they had musically. It was just a whole other thing, completely unexplainable, but totally tangible … totally ancient, but completely modern in its freeness. I came back to this album after I featured some recordings of my son singing on my 2019 album This Is My Private Beach, This Is My Jetsam. For me, The Empty Foxhole is just such a beautiful document of father and son revelling in new adventures together.
Kim Gordon – No Home Record
Those no bullshit, take no prisoners records are few and far between, but I reckon this has got to be one of them. I really hope that sometime soon I get the chance to see Kim Gordon up on a stage hurling out these tracks incredibly loud to a massive crowd who are all moshing uncontrollably, me included.
Carlo Gesualdo – Madrigals
I was introduced, almost by accident, to Gesualdo through the brilliantly geeky BBC Radio 3 programme Building A Library, where different recordings of the same piece of music are compared and contrasted. It was one of those moments when you just switch on the radio and find yourself completely caught off guard and totally blown away. Apart from anything else, how utterly different two performances of the same piece of music can be sent me down a wormhole of early vocal music ensembles, all of whose skill and dedication is awesome to behold.
Sun Ra – My Brother the Wind Vol. 1
When I first listened to this record it blew up all of the mystery and nerdiness that surrounds synthesisers for me. Right from the beginning a feeling of revolution is in the air, but once you reach the epic ‘Space Probe’, it’s pretty clear not much is going to be the same again. Apart from anything, the constant shift in sonority and the way Sun Ra uses it as a improvisational tool is mind-bending. The instrument he is using hasn’t even left Moog’s factory and despite everything to come, I think there’s little that touches the sheer breadth and vision documented here.
Frank Zappa – The Yellow Shark
I came back to this more recently after watching Alex Winter’s 2020 biopic on Zappa. Towards the end of the film there’s an incredibly moving portrait of him working with the Ensemble Modern and the concerts they did together before he passed away. I remember seeing the Ensemble Modern perform the same pieces at the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall not long after and the mixture of euphoria tinged with tragedy it evoked. As the film brilliantly portrays, Zappa was nothing if not a walking contradiction, but also ultimately a tireless champion of liberty, independence and free speech. The Yellow Shark is a brilliant tribute to one of music’s great iconoclasts.
Transhuman Harmolodics by Isambard Khroustaliov was released May 28 2021 by Not Applicable. With thanks to Jim.
MICROCORPS is the alias of Grumbling Fur’s Alexander Tucker. Tucker has just issued XMIT, his first album of electronic rhythms under his new alter ego, which features collaborations with Nik Void, Astrud Steehouder, Gazelle Twin and Simon Fisher Turner. We described XMIT as “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.”
Here, Tucker takes us through five of his most treasured albums, from dub to drone to electronics and reveals how Michael Morley from The Dead C provided the impetus for his MICROCORPS project.
Faust – Faust Tapes
My friend lent me this album when I was 17 or 18. I dubbed it to tape straight away and I used to listen to this whilst hoovering the house. My friend was part of a local crew of musicians into experimental music. I grew up in a small town called Southborough in Kent but luckily for me it was populated with a few like-minded souls into the weirder aspects of creativity. I was instantly taken with the collaged cut-up nature of this album – so many warped worlds, moving between psychedelic songs, noise and fried improvisation. Alongside Throbbing Gristle’s Heathen Earth, these two albums made me realise I could use my limited musical abilities to start my own forays into drone, frequency manipulation and tape loop collages.
Santic And Friends – An Even Harder Shade Of Black
This compilation of dub producer Leonard ‘Santic’ Chin’s work from the mid 1970s was my introduction to King Tubby, Augustus Pablo, Horace Andy, I-Roy and Gregory Isaacs. I was sifting through records in the old Rough Trade in Neal’s Yard and they started playing this album in the shop. It was the prime post-rock / hardcore period of the mid-1990s, I was really into Tortoise’s first album and the Discord band Hoover, who both had a strong dub flavour to their bass playing, so my ears were already primed to get into the originators for this sound. Santic’s production is so warm and texturally rich, I love his re-working of The Beatles ‘Norwegian Wood’ melody on ‘Harder Shade Of Black’ and ‘Better Shade Of Dub’ played on the melodica.
Bardo Pond – Bufo Alvarius
There’s something particularly blurry about this early Bardo Pond release. I think Bardo have been misunderstood over the years, often mistakenly filed under stoner rock. Most of the members of this band have a fine art background which I feel feeds into the broad noise brushstrokes of these feedback-rich tracks. Neither MBV or metal tags do them a service, the history of noise improvisation and outsider psychedelic song forms are closer to the mark. The epic 30-minute track ‘Amen’ is a master class in drone maximalism, beatless and anchored around bassist Clint Takeda’s ever circling repetitive bass phrase. Guitar tones phase into pure sound and vocalist Isobel Sollenberger’s processed voice melts into alien language and time is banished forever.
Gate – A Republic Of Sadness
Gate is Michael Morley of The Dead C, Michael gave this LP to me at a Dead C gig in London. I expected this to reflect the looped samples and guitar noise of previous Gate albums but this was predominantly electronic beat music. A Republic of Sadness and the follow up, Saturday Night Fever, are two of my favourite records. Morley is able to meld his love of drone minimalism to his exploded rockist leanings, through to electronic manipulations. Somehow there are aspects of Charlemagne Palestine and The Fall simultaneously shining through these pieces. This album helped me to move towards making music with machine rhythms and electronics. I really liked it that someone from the noise scene was making this type of music, I think that freed me up to pursue the similar mutant forms I’m currently engaged with in MICROCORPS.
Oren Ambarchi – Hubris
I was down at Soho Radio with my friend Simon Fisher Turner whilst he was DJing and he played a good chunk of side one of Oren Ambarchi’s excellent Hubris album, which I hadn’t heard before. First track ‘Hubris 1’ is such a perfect example of something made up of many different layers, that you can view in both a microscopic and macroscopic way. It can be heard as a homogeneous whole or you can dive down in to the individual parts making up the piece. Its rhythmic drive is matched by its pulsing motorised guitar patterns creating these perfectly revolving cycles. This could easily be three hours long and I would never tire of this perfect track.
XMIT by MICROCORPS was released by Alter on April 16 2021. Thanks to Zoe.
Fragments is the debut album from LA’s Body/Negative, the pseudonym of nonbinary multi-instrumentalist and producer Andy Schiaffino, and follows their Epoche EP from 2019. Beginning with an instrumental cover of Elliott Smith’s ‘Figure 8’ that sounds like it’s being heard through the gauzy vestiges of sleep, Schiaffino has produced an ambient album full of unique personality and highly personal, almost diaristic reference points.
Further. spoke to Schiaffino about the thoughts, feelings and inspirations that went into the creation of this beautiful micro-masterpiece of an album.
Listening to classical music as a child definitely influenced the way that I write. I primarily use sitting at my piano as my main source of inspiration – music always seems to come out of me easier on the piano if that makes sense. I grew up listening to a lot of classical composers and opera – things like Yanni and Andre Rieu – and groups like Thievery Corporation thanks to my oldest brother’s exceptionally good taste. I feel like all of those early sources informed the melodies that I create now and maybe even appears in my vocal style and often lack of lyrics.
The making of Fragments began probably in the summer of 2019. I had a lot of demos I was fleshing out with Dylan Gardner of the psych project Communicant, who ended up co-producing half of the record. I didn’t really intend to make an LP at first, I was just working on ideas, but all of those tracks just sort of found their way into being on this album. I put it down around the early spring of this year when I was in a really depressed state which eventually led to a major break up in my life, and I couldn’t bear to listen to any of the songs until maybe June or so when we were deep in quarantine.
I think I took a lot of inspiration not only from the electronic music, IDM and ambient music that I listen to, but also a whole lot of pop music. My co-producer has his roots in pop and produces a lot of pop artists. He showed me a lot of really, really awesome pop artists who have some pretty incredibly experimental production. I really tried to harness those textual elements that I found and put it in my music in a way that felt appropriate. Pop music really was a huge influence throughout the making of the first and second half of the record, in addition to things like shoegaze and dreampop.
Inspiration, productivity and creative impulses are pretty sporadic for me. I can’t really just sit down and force myself to write something. I really envy the people that do have that ability! I can pretty much only write when I want to and when I have an idea; whether a melody pops into my head while I’m driving, or I hear something in a song that I want to replicate. My demos always have to have some kind of clear purpose behind why I’m sitting down to make it, otherwise I just kind of make garbage.
A lot of my music is made while sitting on the floor of my living room surrounded by gear and tangled cables. I don’t know why but that kind of weird chaotic space makes the most sense for me and helps me get all my ideas out. Pretty much all of the album was recorded in my home, aside from ‘Figure 8’, which was recorded in my co-producer Dylan’s studio and engineered entirely by him. The final track ‘The Big Sleep’ was a remote co-write with my friend Nick Ventura. He did about half of the things you hear on that track, and I believe recorded his parts in his own home.
My co-producer Dylan used to always play Elliott Smith’s ‘Figure 8’ for me on his beautiful teachers’ model Wurlitzer piano which I am so envious of and want one of my own. He used to always play me that song before I had ever really dived deep into Elliott‘s catalogue – Dylan was already a massive superfan and eventually showed me all of my now-favourite Elliott tracks. Dylan played it so beautifully that I always just assumed that it was one of Dylan‘s original songs; I never knew it was a cover of something! I found that melody to be so beautiful and so strange, and eventually one day I woke up with such a strong urge to cover it and make it my own, so Dylan and I recorded our version of it in one night.
I absolutely love Elliott Smith. I was kind of a late fan even though I’ve been seeing murals of him everywhere ever since I moved to LA in 2017. I hope I don’t lose too many cool points for admitting that! His music has such a fragile quality to it, and it’s got this just really beautiful element to it which I think isn’t found in a lot of modern singer-songwriters’ catalogues. I think he was a really special person and I relate a lot to his story… In addition to that he’s just an incredible guitarist and undeniable melody magician and I think that he is totally underrated.
The first half of Fragments was recorded in chronological order. I was feeling really down and there were a lot of tough things happening in my life. The second half of the record was kind of just reflecting on the idea of saving yourself, and helping yourself stay afloat.
The very last track ‘The Big Sleep’ is a euphemism for suicide (and also a cheeky reference to David Lynch). My decision to make that the final track on the record was not only because it is sonically lighter than the first half of the record, but it’s also a song that’s about wondering what lies beyond life. I never really felt existential in that sort of way. Rather than fearing the endless unknown of the afterlife, I always welcomed death with open arms, and there’s been a lot of death in my life, so it always felt very normal for me strangely.
That track was me grappling with the idea of, “What actually happens after I die?” for the first time in probably my entire life, so I thought it would be an excellent album closer, to leave things on a light note, right? I think the latter half of Fragments was both intentionally and unintentionally lighter, and definitely draws more from shoegaze and dreampop (mainly bands like Alcest, Slowdive, Hatchie, Tamaryn), much more so than the first half of the record.
Fragments by Body/Negative was released October 23 2020 by Track Number Records.
How did the Isolation & Rejection idea come to you, particularly as you’d shut F&F the year before?
F&F was officially in hibernation in November 2019, following the release of Ekoplekz’s last album. It was a great way to end things, at least for now I thought, and I had no intentions of doing anything with the label for a while at least (perhaps never) – running F&F was great fun and I got to work with some incredible artists, but I needed a break and wanted to forget about it for a while (I wrote a short piece for Electronic Sound which goes into some of the reasons).
Christmas that year was glorious – the kids even got presents instead of more vinyl in the basement.
Then just when I thought I was out… etc.
I&R started with a throwaway comment on Twitter (where all throwaway comments go to die), as lockdown and the challenges being faced (for individuals, families, charities, the NHS but also the creative sector) inspired a flurry of activity from artists and labels, which was wonderful to see – this included a whole bunch of projects and compilations all raising funds for great local and national causes*.
I wondered, in the aftermath of the first batch of new compilations out of lockdown, what happens to all those rejected tracks? The project grew from there, eventually turning into a place where tracks rejected or abandoned in any way could find a home.
The basic idea also touched on something I’ve always found weird about running a label, which is the bit about deciding if something is any good or not, or if it ‘fits’. It might just be me, but that always felt weird and even a little unhealthy (not doing it in isolation helped, like the collaboration with Joe Stannard for The Outer Church). People running record labels don’t know any better than anyone else, obviously – often they are just weird, evil narcissists using the record label business to expand their empires of misery, discarding artistic dreams with abandon and a belly laugh (joke).
Doing something open and inclusive seemed like a good idea, and timely. I then stupidly expanded on the idea online, chatted to Rob Spencer (from Gated Canal Community) about it and we then jointly stumbled into this huge (and joyous) project.
We have 105 artists involved, with more tracks being submitted after the deadline (which were, unfortunately, rejected – the compilation of those tracks will no doubt appear at some point).
Rob and I were pretty surprised by the response – I was thinking a nice little project, maybe 20-25 artists, would be lovely and help me cope with the insanity of lockdown (and shielding for me personally – 6 months in one room is not a good idea).
Nothing I’ve heard thus far sounds like it should have been rejected. Did you get any stories explaining why something had been overlooked?
We got loads of great stories – some weird, some funny, and some quite upsetting.
We’ve put together a few of the stories and shared them on the GCC website here and here – and will be putting up more soon.
There are some consistent themes – it seems rejection is a shared experience of many artists.
How did The Brick come into the equation? Were you aware of their work before?
Rob is from Wigan (go Cherry and Whites) and suggested they would be a good charity to raise money for.
We were keen to make sure that any money raised went locally, and went directly to a charity dealing with not only the impact of COVID-19 but many of the inequality and injustices that have unfortunately become a part of society right now.
The Brick felt like a good home for the project – they do amazing work, and are also lovely people.
Are you sure you can’t be convinced to do a Volume 6? Or a second lockdown series?
As mentioned above, we had some submissions after the closing date, and I really wanted to do a bonus 6th volume, but already it was feeling like a huge undertaking and I wanted to make sure it didn’t all fall apart.
Fingers crossed it hasn’t – I hope that the artists feel like we did it justice.
We have got another project in the works though – another one launched on twitter with very little consideration to any of the implications (and this one comes with some added trickiness…).
Philadelphia-based Alka release their fourth album, the portentously-titled Regarding The Auguries, on October 9th through Vince Clarke’s VeryRecords. Originally a solo IDM project of Bryan Michael, Alka is now reconfigured as a trio with visual artist Erika Tele and likeminded electronic producer Todd Steponick, a line-up familiar from their pre-lockdown live shows.
“I think we’ve always been working towards being a more cohesive unit,” explains Bryan. “We like calling ourselves a unit – I mean, are you really a ‘band’ in the electronic music world? When I started the Alka project it was really just me and a laptop, and while I had fun with that, eventually I got bored with the process. Recording this album was really collaborative – I might start an idea; I’ll send it to Todd; he’ll send it to Erika; they’ll send it back, I’ll hear something else and we do this back and forth until we get a sound we like. It’s spontaneous, but it was done in a kind of slow motion.”
We spoke to Bryan, Erika and Todd about some of their favourite albums and major influences. For more information on Regarding The Auguries, head to veryrecords.com.
Xymox – Twist Of Shadows Wing Records / Polydor, 1989
I can admire a band wanting to do something different. After two solid albums on 4AD, Clan Of Xymox was ready for a change. Perhaps a nod towards making their music more accessible, Twist Of Shadows’ production values are slightly different than their former releases whilst retaining the band’s signature gloomy vibe. Having dropped the ‘Clan Of’ from their moniker, switching from 4AD to Polygram, and partnering with fellow Dutch synthesist Bert Barten for songwriting and production efforts, Xymox went on to create what is quite possibly the best synthpop record of the late 80s. Decidedly less goth and more melancholic synthpop, Twist of Shadows is an underrated classic filled with beautifully dark vibes. The idea that something could be this introspective yet still synthpop is something I carry with me in our music as Alka. – Bryan
Newcleus – Space Is The Place Sunnyview, 1985
Space Is The Place, Newcleus’s second full-length album from 1985, following up from their first album Jam On Revenge in 1984, is soulful, melancholic, contemplative and upbeat at the same time. It brings out so much of the personality of the band, their originality and such a futuristic space narrative from the heydays of hip -hop. It’s so out of this world that it’s really a mystery as to why they are so much lesser known than their flashier hip-hop counterparts. Electro-funk took much more of an underground passage that slid beneath the louder mainstream rap and hip-hop, yet this band was creating imaginative, innovative live electronic funk! The first album Jam On Revenge, has the hit b-boy anthem ‘Jam On It’ (with an amazing video to go along), but this second album really resonates in my soul and inspired me as a person and artist. I have so much respect for this band, and am so humbled to share the airwaves with Cozmo D and his son DJ Dogtrane on Global Funk Radio. The composition, performance, writing and concept makes it a magical masterpiece – definitely one to experience. Come on and take a ride! – Erika
Coil – Horse Rotorvator Force & Form / K.422, 1986
After hearing ‘Ostia’ in the 80s on my local college radio station and future alma mater (WKDU Drexel) I was instantly enchanted with Coil. The cascading and meandering Fairlight guitar sample sounding like it was programmed by some broken medieval robot, punctuated by haunting strings and Jhonn Balance’s melancholic delivery. “There’s honey in the hollows and the contours of the body…” It’s just perfect. I loved how it was this deeply sad song yet somehow upbeat, clocking in at 126 BPM. The entire album is genuinely a masterpiece and an enigma of its time having been recorded on a hired Fairlight and Emulator II in 1986, both extremely expensive bits of gear for English underground musicians. I guess what I pull from Coil’s influence is their diversity in sound – one moment brooding drones, the next acid house, all while never losing the mystery. – Bryan
Julia Kent – Asperities The Leaf Label Ltd, 2015
There is no way to put on happy music in a century like this and not feel like you’re somehow lying to yourself. More vulnerability and confrontation with the uncomfortable than anything like an escape, Julia Kent‘s cello work resonates with nuanced reflection navigating real-world hardships. Similar to the way glaciers once steadily scraped landscapes bare and carved mountains and vales, what remains is that which may have had more integrity than the friction could take. Strengths, and a handle on the centre, but at a cost. Something of this mammoth, austere process feels inherent in the enduring heart of the artist working the cello, and the strewn grey boulders of Asperities is the evidence. In early Autumn 2020, its somber story quietly commiserates, like an intricate monument to hard-earned survival left to be found by others lost and struggling in the bleak grey stretches of time. Mysterious electronics occasionally emerge and remind of only more uncertainties. Anxieties over accelerating existential threats weigh and grind. Powerlessness and atomization frustrate through a pandemic under narcissistic mismanagement. Default anxieties fester in the mix. Asperities feels like it takes in all of these things, scores a harrowing way through, and consoles as we wait to heal. – Todd
Plaid – P-brane EP Warp, 2002
Something about Plaid‘s programming always intrigues and inspires me. It’s so intensely intricate and sonically rich but it’s the creeping melodies and chords changes that make my brain shiver with delight. It’s impossible to choose one album as their best but this particular EP was the sole reason for me to quit traditional guitar-based bands and return to my electronic roots with Alka once and for all. With shimmering almost new-age arps and delicate pads juxtaposed with complex, ever-evolving, and at times quite heavy rhythms, Plaid are at once eminently danceable and yet completely brooding and thoughtful. I challenge you to listen to the ending of ‘Coats’ and not get chills. – Bryan
Regarding The Auguries by Alka is released October 9 2020 by VeryRecords.
Rival Consoles released their seventh album, Articulation, at the end of July. The album continued Ryan Lee West’s deep explorations of electronic music, combining the recognisable rhythms and dramatic gestures of dance music, but filtering them through concepts that owed a debt to the natural world and modern classical music through graphic scores inspired by György Ligeti.
Further. spoke to Ryan about the album and his idiosyncratic approach to composition, the emotional potential of synthesisers and writing for strings.
It seems like you tore up your own compositional rulebook with this album, particularly in the use of something akin to a graphic score. Was that a conscious effort to challenge yourself? How did the visual score influence how you organised the tracks? Was it a freeing experience?
It was mainly a way to problem solve and to daydream possibilities. For example, say I have several pieces of music that are stuck. Perhaps they reach a point where I am bored of what I have tried to move them toward. I would sketch various structures and then try to recreate them. The beauty is that because it isn’t a science, simply drawing anything makes you re-consider things in a refreshed way.
My main issue is that because the computer is so quick and infinite at what it can do, I feel my creative choices are steered a lot – that the ideas don’t come from me, and that I am just randomly stumbling through some forest trying to grab onto things. This can produce great unexpected results of course, but for the most part I guess, I am sceptical about whether it is me or the computer that is making music.
In the process of sketching music structures and then trying to recreate them, it helps remove the influence of the computer and is a way to just be playful in a more simplistic way.
I also feel that electronic music in particular has a deep connection with graphic score like this, because electronic music is generally abstract, it feels perfect that the graphic score is a way to understand it.
The press release for the track ‘Vibrations On A String’ talks about you trying to ‘mimic the physical world with synths’ – placed in context next to the use of a different way of structuring the tracks, it sounds like you’re almost trying to rally against what me might call the traditions of electronic music. Why is that? Where’s that coming from do you think? Do you feel trapped by electronic music convention somehow?
I feel I am always doubting the authenticity of my ideas in electronic music. It’s easy to make something loud, multi-layered, chaotic or complex, but I find it extremely hard to create simple things that mean something to me, and I am kinda drawn to do this thing that is difficult. I think by trying to mimic nature is one way to help do this. As I grew up a guitarist, I’ve noticed that I am often making synths behave like post rock / shoegaze guitar parts at times. It’s not intentional, so I guess it’s more of an unconscious thing.
‘Sudden Awareness Of Now’ begins with birdsong, which is something that I’ve become acutely more aware of since lockdown began. To me, birds sound like tiny synth improvisations. Your notes on that track seem to reflect back this need to escape – from what? Are you a naturally restless creator?
Yeah, I think most makers are though. I mean I do subscribe to that cliché of escapism: I want music to escape into, or a film to escape into. When you are transported somewhere it is magical, so a part of me desires to do that with my own music, but of course it is sickly to force this, so I am trying to find moments of it that appear amongst my constant music making.
I’ve quoted this before for my Persona album, but there is this amazing video on YouTube of Legowelt demoing a synthesiser, and out of nowhere he just casually says “synthesizers are like translators for unknown human emotions”! I really love that, and I think there is some truth to it. So in Sudden Awareness of Now, I think there is a sense of nostalgia – hope, bittersweet regret, escape – but it’s not really fully certain; there is some unknown quality, and this is probably the strength of music, that you can describe feelings without the precision of language but with just as much power.
You’ve performed with the London Contemporary Orchestra – what was it like to fuse together electronic music with classical convention? It feels like that experience might have had an impact on your approach to your music, giving the tracks on Articulation a sort of depth and austerity that feels familiar from the world of classical music. Where do you think you might go next with Rival Consoles?
I think a lot of the parts of my music are influenced by strings, so there is some immediate crossover from synths into strings and strings into synths.
I have explored writing for strings a lot over the last ten years (though with a computer string library) although I did learn to play the violin to a pretty bad standard some years ago also! I do find a natural connection when writing for strings, especially as my main focus in my music is harmony, so it is something I definitely would like to explore more, and perhaps create a release with the LCO.
Further. favourite Matthew Barton, a singer-songwriter originally from Rugby, released his debut EP Queen Of England yesterday.
Containing introspective, tender reflections on masculinity, isolation and a diaristic paean to the passing of his hero Prince, Queen Of England acts like a fully-realised window into Matthew’s vivid songwriting style. Stripped back, for the most part, to his voice and guitar, the tracks here are fragile yet evocative story-like vignettes.
We spoke to Matthew about the seven tracks on the EP and the different ideas and personal inspirations that they individually represent.
In the spring I was thinking about playing live, and I wanted a rhythmic, fun, rocking song to play. That was when ‘Cruising’ began. But then of course we went into lockdown and all live shows were cancelled.
As with many of my songs, it started on acoustic and then I recorded it on electric. It’s got a tiny bit of harmonica in there and a bit of slide and harmonium. I did the vocals in the garage and a plane flew overhead during the take, but I kept it in. I hope I do get to play it live one day.
QUEEN OF ENGLAND
‘Queen of England’ was written before 2020 happened, but it seems like it was a harbinger of things to come. It is a bleak picture, but we are living in these times for real. The harmonium playing ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ as the coda is, in my mind’s eye, a Salvation Army band at the end of the world. It’s like my song version of the This Is Fine meme.
An early version, without the guitar and autoharp, appeared on Z Tapes’ Covid compilation Hope For European Bedrooms in the Spring.
LADY JANE DAYS
During lockdown, Knifepunch Records, who are putting out the cassette version of Queen Of England, assembled a compilation of new songs – Songs To Stay Home To – the challenge being that each song had to be 100% written and recorded in quarantine. I was drawn to the autoharp and ‘Lady Jane Days’ emerged.
I was thinking about Lady Jane Grey in the Tower Of London and the nature of isolation. I recorded the vocals in my car, trying to avoid the sounds of dogs barking leaking into the recording.
The seeds of ‘Barb’ came when I was travelling in Hong Kong. I was walking along and some of the lyrics began to form; these are the moments I’m thankful to have a phone that I can just sing into, or write a note.
I was thinking about self-image, identity, ideals of masculinity… what is with the phrase “man up”” What about “woman up”?
I was in San Francisco on the day Prince died, with my friend Michael. Prince’s music filled the streets that day. ‘Alcatraz’ was the last song to come together for this EP, and the missing piece of the puzzle that I didn’t know was missing.
Another song, ‘Mamie’, was originally in its place, which you can find that on the cassette version, but there was something in ‘Alcatraz’ that demanded it be included. Just like ‘Lady Jane Days’ didn’t need to be longer, it never occurred to me to edit ‘Alcatraz’ from its seven minutes. I just let it be what it is.
Some of my favourite music has that Phil Spector sound – all 60s girl groups, Brill Building pop. I love the simplicity and the directness. ‘Judy Garland’ is my tip of the hat to that; it’s got my version of the Ronettes triple drum beat and a deconstructed surf guitar. It’s also my friend Alice’s favourite, and a fun one to play. The kitchen wall is often my Carnegie Hall, when I’m drying the dishes.
WHEN I WAS YOUNG
‘When I Was Young’ the oldest of these seven songs, and it resurfaced for me in the past year. It felt like there was something about the passing of time and this kind of nostalgic, wistful feeling. It was also the first one I finished.
I had a lot of fun layering the guitars and harmonies. I learned harmonies from listening to Fleetwood Mac records and Laura Nyro. If you haven’t got a harmony group, be your own, I say.
Queen Of England by Matthew Barton was released August 28 2020. A special cassette version is available through Knifepunch Records.
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