Faith Coloccia & Philip Jeck – Stardust

Sometimes in life you find yourself constructing walls around yourself, often subconsciously. Those structures form through the need for emotional self-preservation, retreat, a desire for safety or just through a need to fend off something that you feel bearing down on you. Some of those walls are temporary and as fragile as an ego; others are like a bunker, as permanent as a concrete cap on an atomic bomb-ravaged atoll.

As 2020 dragged itself without fanfare into 2021, I found myself building a few of those walls. I built those walls using sound – drones, soundscapes, textural ambience, deep listening – played loudly through earphones that allowed me to shut out the rest of the world. These listening sessions were like sonic screens, enclosed spaces that allowed me to breathe freely when life and relationships seemed to want to starve me of oxygen. They were both fleeting (the length of an album, the duration of a single piece, cut-off halfway through to attend to chores, teenagers, kittens) and enduring, often staying with me long after whatever I was listening to had finished; though these pieces typically lacked discernible rhythms, they allowed my mind and imagination to dance wildly in a cathartic nightclub, while also blocking out the incessant, relentless, repetitive sound of gloomy, compression-heavy YouTube hip-hop videos played at excruciating volume from our lounge.

Such was the case with Stardust, the sonic screen that seems to have provided the hardest exterior of all the things that I’ve listened to of late. Consisting of eleven pieces derived from dubplates of sounds recorded made by Faith Coloccia on Washington state’s Vashon Island between 2015 and 2018, these sounds were then processed and augmented by avant garde turntablist Philip Jeck in Liverpool last year as lockdown rolled its way toward the bleakest of winters. It falls somewhere between a collaboration characterised by an absence of direct collaboration, and a sound art call-and-response.

Not that Stardust is some sort of pastoral, easy-listening ambient fluff. Its architecture is characterised by a fretful, fidgety, wandering core, flitting between passages of wordless vocal murmuring and churning, antsy noise loops. And yet, for all its challenging adornments, as a whole this album is curiously soothing. Sounds and loops begin to slip out of reach, typically just as you’ve become comforted by their presence, and there is this continual sense of elusiveness, of sounds too fleeting to endure. It would be easy to be stressed by a piece like ‘Creosote’, which embodies all of these facets – and which moves seamlessly between the pretty and the pretty ugly – but instead it becomes weirdly peaceful; so much so that you drop this as a dirty sound bomb over a warzone and weapons would be laid down and ceasefires signalled.

Pieces like the title track have a gently swirling, endarkened motion, like listening to the sound of debris funnelled rapidly skywards after an explosion, yet a certain muted, choral stateliness seems to reveal itself as the piece progresses. ‘Archaea’ has some of the same qualities, its reverb-drenched fabric sounding like the dense throb of rush-hour traffic in a tunnel and a Latin hymn heard from outside a cathedral. ‘Mycorrhizae’ is the most wonderfully noisy and challenging piece of the collection, its distorted sonic core prowling into view like an incessant machine and staying richly grubby and enveloping throughout.

There are also moments of delicate levity – ‘Acquire The Air’ inches forward on held tones and brooding, looped spirals which give a sense of contemplation, while ‘Usnea’ has a ringing processed piano refrain that sounds like joyously peeling bells. Perhaps the most surprising moment here is also where Jeck’s presence is least felt – on ‘Speaking Stone’, which is essentially a vehicle for Coloccia’s beguiling, haunting vocal, here pitched somewhere between folk whimsy and dark nursery rhyme (Coloccia recorded while her newborn son was sleeping, so a nursery rhyme isn’t far off the mark). Jeck’s contribution is treacly rich reverb, giving Coloccia’s voice a displaced, otherworldly outlook. The same vocal appears again on the album’s concluding track, ‘Sun’, augmented by febrile sounds heard from an obliterated, broken point off in the distance, or from within the walls that surround me every time I play this captivating album.


Stardust by Faith Coloccia & Philip Jeck was released May 21 2021 by Touch. With thanks to the Minister of Names.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2021 Further.

The Incidental Crack – Municipal Music

The Incidental Crack is a distance collaboration between Justin Watson (Front & Follow, Gated Canal Community), Rob Spencer (also Gated Canal Community) and Simon Proffitt (Cahn Ingold Prelog, The Master Musicians Of Dyffryn Moor). Avoiding the typical pitfalls of social electrics (a phrase coined by Bovine Life back in ye olde dial-up days of 2000), The Incidental Crack’s approach instead is to juxtapose heavily-disguised quotidian sounds with questioning electronics. 

A case in point is ‘The Second Cup Of Tea Of The Day’, the first of the three lengthy tracks on Municipal Music, their second album together (or is that apart?). If that sounds like a strange and perhaps mundane name for a track – even in the context of the not-going-out-not-seeing-anyone-staring-at-these-four-walls tedium of lockdown – consider that I’m pretty sure that its source field recording is less a field recording and more a kitchen recording of the steps required to make the aforementioned second cup of the tea of the day. Those sounds are then harshly processed and skewed to create ominous textures and brooding drones that, were the British Tea Manufacturers Union (possibly made up) to hear this, they might well think that The Incidental Crack are in cahoots with the British Coffee Manufacturers Union (see above) to scare people off drinking tea. Fortunately, while the track brews its way through what I think is running water, a kettle reaching a climactic boiling point and a teaspoon clattering inside a tea cup, it makes a sharp evolution toward searching, entrancing electronics, ending up in a serene territory set to what feels like a twitchy waltz pulse. 

Two of the three tracks here follow a similar technique of processing field recordings into obscurity and then layering in outlines of rhythm, sinewy synth sequences, siren-like drones and effects. The result is strangely discomfiting, while the familiarity – howsoever processed – is also weirdly soothing. Take the album’s final piece, ‘Ice-Cream At The Pavilion’. On first inspection, the captured material here – the typical beach-side sounds of waves, a carousel, children playing, fun being had, the sound of skin reddening to a crisp under British sun – should be pleasing to the ear; these are the sounds of childhood, of carefree living, of life before mortgages, anxiety, zoonotic illnesses, social fucking media, existential dread and lockdown. In the six hands of The Incidental Crack, those sounds are twisted, inverted, made nightmarish and sinister, reminding me instead of all the stuff I hated about days spent on the beach in Essex and Kent as a kid – getting dressed beneath a towel, sand, other people, being rubbish at skimming stones into the water – and leaving me precariously unsettled. 

Fortunately, the second track – ‘Just Passing Through’ – is somewhat more positive. This is a track relying on volume and fluctuating restlessness to imply a sense of forward motion. Long tones build and fade; drones rise up, get phased and panned across the stereo field; harsh, rapidly-shifting sounds grab your attention and then dissipate; you feel yourself being either pushed or pulled along through some sort of winding, turbulent tunnel toward an unknowable destination (though, according to the sequencing of the tracks, that destination is our nausea-inducing warped beach scene; shudders). Occasionally a tiny little broken melody – a xylophone maybe – reveals itself, adopts a casual exotica breeziness and then just as quickly disappears. It’s a trip full of unbridled energy, like listening to electricity co-operating under duress; that it does this without ever relying on anything so pedestrian as a rhythm to create its suggestion of speed and rapid flight is a testament to this trio’s gleeful sonic adventuring. 

Municipal Music by The Incidental Crack is released May 21 2021 by Herhalen. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2021 Further. 

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.

Fennesz – Szampler

Where is the best place to listen to Szampler, a collection of samples that Christian Fennesz put together between 1990 and 2000? 

I chose three settings.

The first was while I was making curry for dinner. After the first, chiming sound had dropped away into silence I thought my WiFi was playing up or I’d turned the volume down by mistake; a mistake I had indeed made when I was eventually confronted by a barrage of angry, metallic noise that near enough turned my remaining hair pure white.

The second was while I was in the supermarket early one Saturday morning, where it felt strangely anarchic to be listening to this while picking out vegetables and tomato purée.

The third time was while I was walking in the morning sunshine to our local high street, dodging joggers, dogwalkers and gleeful kids on bikes with stabilisers. 

In each setting, Szampler turned out to be a strangely fitting listen. All three places and actions had a certain familiarity – a recipe I’ve followed countless times before; a supermarket whose aisles I know like the back of my hand, with a shopping list that looks more or less the same as it did the week before; a walk that I’ve done so many times that I’m fairly certain you can see the residue of my slowly-dying Converse imprinted on the pavement if you look closely enough. 

In contrast, Fennesz’s hour-long sound library is wholly unfamiliar and unpredictable. It’s nigh-on impossible to guess what might come next. His sounds veer from angular noise, to amp static, to quiet not-quite-nothingness, to fierce distortion, to dub rhythms and 90s R&B beats, to preset patterns, to found sounds, to post-rock guitar passages, to plaintive piano, to snatches of overheard conversation, to outlines of melodies, to drones, to squealing electronic tones to… well, you get the gist.

There is no pattern here, yet it is not wholly random. The sounds are united by a sense of purpose – the planned use in compositions or live performance – and they’re not just sounds accumulated with a covetous desire to store and retain, yet hearing them back-to-back without context gives the collection a certain playfulness. You find yourself on the edge of your proverbial seat wondering what joys your ears might be subjected to next. In the wrong frame of mind, perhaps this would irritate; in the right frame of mind, it has a strangely soothing effect akin to equanimity – you can’t anticipate where he might go next, so why even try? 

Szampler was originally released as a limited edition (and much sought-after) cassette by The Tapeworm in 2010. The reissue as a digital file forms part of an initiative called The Digital Archive Of Tapeworm (or DAT), which label co-founder Philip Marshall hinted at when Further. interviewed him in 2019. Fennesz’s release joins a growing number of archive gems from The Pathfinders, Daniel Menche, Philip Jeck, Oren Ambarchi and others, operating in parallel to the label’s ongoing pursuit of cassette nirvana. 

Szampler by Fennesz was reissued by The Tapeworm / DAT on April 9 2021. 

Words: Mat Smith. 

(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. 

Sisters With Transistors (dir. Lisa Rovner)

“If you don’t listen attentively, openly, then you risk missing it completely.” – Eliane Radigue

Sisters With Transistors is a powerful exercise in redressing history. Subtitled “Electronic music’s unsung heroines”, the film does for the history of electronic music what Hidden Figures did for the space race, namely drawing out the role of women in a development that is seen, all too often, as exclusively male-dominated.

The film offers vivid character portraits of ten musicians, composers, deep listeners and instrument builders – Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram, Suzanne Ciani, Eliane Radigue, Clara Rockmore, Maryanne Amacher, Wendy Carlos, Bebe Barron, Pauline Oliveros and Laurie Spiegel. Ten more different individuals you could not find, yet they are united by a common interest in going beyond the traditional sounds and timbres that they had grown up with, and pushing the potentialities of diverse electronic sounds. We see Derbyshire demonstrating the practical use of oscillators and tape splicing; we see Rockmore’s claw-like hand coaxing beatific, classical melodies from a theremin; we see Oram feeding painted slides into her Oramics machine to create fluid, sweeping sounds; we see Carlos painstakingly re-creating Bach’s intricate melodies, arpeggios and harmonies on a massive Moog system; we see Ciani mesmerising and confusing a gallery audience with her Buchla demonstration, and, later, prompting laughter from a bemused David Letterman with a howling, droning electronic tone during his prime time show; we see Spiegel demonstrating her innovative Music Mouse interface and feeding pigeons near her home in TriBeCa.

We hear the catalysts for each of these sonic revolutionaries entering the electronic music field. For Oram and Derbyshire it was the engineering opportunities arising in the wake of World War Two, where the absence of men during wartime suddenly permitted women to enter what had been a hitherto male profession. For Berkeley’s Ciani it was the anything-goes spirit of adventure that followed the Summer Of Love, her instrument of choice – the Buchla system – having previously found a use in Ken Kesey’s acid experiments. From each of the musicians we hear the same idea of being liberated from traditional music’s strictures and rules and sounds, about being switched on by alien sounds and seeing how their different colour palettes could take music in utterly new directions.

We find ourselves somewhere between the art establishment and popular culture throughout Sisters With Transistors. Ciani’s pivotal, but very often overlooked, commercial work for advertising is given prominence, while a narrator of a clip from a New York Sam Goody store drops the breathtaking fact that Carlos’s first Switched On Bach album was selling more copies than The Beatles. Patch cables abound, there are enough Arps and Moogs to satiate the most ardent synth enthusiast and the sonic backdrop is a treasure trove of discovery – from Oliveros’s meditative Deep Listening and Radigue’s Adnos II to Amacher blasting Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore with an unholy barrage of noise that has him putting his fingers in his ears at one point. Leon Theremin and Bob Moog put in cameo appearances, but their role is very much as supporting cast members – both may have created pioneering instruments, sounds and systems, but it’s what you did with them that really counted. We hear something similar about Louis Barron – he may have been in charge of the soldering iron in his partnership with his wife, but it was Bebe that gave his creations emotion.

Narrated by Laurie Anderson, herself stranded somewhere between the arts and the charts, Sisters With Transistors is a revealing, important, overdue and engaging film that offers a timely dismantling of the myth of the synthesiser boys club. Beautifully compiled and researched, Rovner’s film is also among the most accessible of the growing number of films attempting to chart electronic music’s storied history.

Sisters With Transistors is available for screening now. Go to sisterswithtransistors.com for details.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2021 Further.

Take Five: MICROCORPS

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. 

Interview: 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.