Various Artists – Latibula

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Latibula is Marionette’s first label compilation, offering a window into the eclectic artists who call the label home as well as providing a sneak preview of where the Toronto-based imprint might go next. All proceeds from the digital compilation will go to Médicins Sans Frontières.

Sans frontières is also an apt way of describing Marionette’s approach. The label was founded in 2013 and swiftly made a mark through releasing complex electronic music that was unafraid of borders, genre limitations or jaded notions of purism, with most releases given their own visual identity by label stalwart Benjamin Kilchhofer. The Basel-based electronic adventurer has released four distinctive solo and duo releases for the label over the past few years, each one characterised by his approach to fusing modular sound design with acoustic instruments. Kilchhofer’s ‘Kloen’ is one of the natural highlights of this collection, led by a synth sequence that feels more like a soprano saxophone line than something that might have emerged from a nest of writhing patch cables.

Elsewhere, musician and instrument builder Pierre Bastien follows up last year’s playful Tinkle, Twang ‘n Tootle with ‘4hands 1breath’. A collaboration with jazz drummer Steve Argüelles and pianist Benoît Delbecq, the piece includes Bastien’s pocket trumpet played through running water against a backdrop of abstract percussion and wandering piano. Another brilliant Marionette release from last year was Giraffe’s Desert Haze, which found the Hamburg trio tapping into German rock reference points from Can to Manuel Göttsching; the trio follow that up with the brilliant ‘Lines Across The Still’, a mellow exploration of wavering melodies, stuttering guitar and polyrhythmic percussion.

One of the most interesting pieces here is ‘Serpentina’ by another Basel-based musician, Marco Papiro. Papiro is a fan of vintage kit, as evidenced across the many albums he’s released to date, but he’s also a DJ, and that tends to mean his tracks are infused with a sense of motion and finely-controlled tension. The brief ‘Serpentina’ is perhaps the most outwardly electronic track here, rolling forth on springy sounds and simple chiming, expressive melodies that feel like they belong in a pivotal scene in an 80s teen movie.

Papiro’s piece slots in alongside other hidden gems from Twinkle3 (Richard Scott, David Ross and Clive Bell), MinaeMinae, Julian Sartorius, Soundwalk Collective and others, pointing to a vibrant future release schedule for Marionette.

Latibula is released by Marionette on May 1 2020 through Bandcamp. Find Marionette at Bandcamp here.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Rupert Lally – Visions

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I need to learn how to relax.

I know this because when I listened to the title track from Swiss-based electronic artist Rupert Lally’s Visions EP, I began to get very stressed and unsettled, and not remotely meditative. There is an irony to this – the track floats forth on beatific pads and dreamy harmonies while a soothing, reassuring voice talks you through the process of entering a hypnotic state. By rights, with the way that track is set up, you should – by the time the narrator has concluded his lesson – be feeling completely at peace, just in time for Lally to swoop in with a sequence of crushing beats that completely disrupt the peace and jerk you out of that transient state. Or not, if you’re me, but I’m working on that.

“My week beats your year,” lamented Lou Reed; in Lally’s case, his year undoubtedly beats your decade, since calling his output prolific sells him significantly short. Since I covered the Day Of The Triffids and Dune soundtracks for Bibliotapes here back in 2019, he has released albums on Spun Out Of Control and Third Kind, contributed to Wormhole World’s excellent Retrophonica – Aetheric Transmissions project, Patch Bae’s Help Musicians compilation, has an album prepped for Neil Stringfellow / Audio Obscura’s 20×20 imprint and another for Modern Aviation, as well as other albums completed and ready for release later in the year. Maybe the inclusion of the hypnotic voice on the first track of Visions is intended for Lally himself…

Visions consists of five tracks blended into one, each spinning on its own unique sonic axis. ‘Induced’ is among the more robust of Lally’s tracks, juddering forth on a grid of beats that seem to follow a restless, jerky, randomised pattern that isn’t dissimilar to how my mind was racing on the first track. ‘Veils’ occupies a similar space, only the brilliant chaos comes through electronic sequences, pulses and passages that feel like they’ve been sliced and spliced with a razor, creating a frantic sense of disquiet.

‘Mirage’ has the widescreen, cinematic grandeur that charcterised Lally’s fantasy scores for Day Of The Triffids and Dune, full of danger, mystique and unfolding drama, while closing track ‘Exit’ is less an exit and more an entry point into a glistening landscape of ethereal textures and somnambulant drifting.

Visions by Rupert Lally is released on May 1 2020 through Bandcamp, who will be waiving artist fees again on May 1 2020 to support their musician community worldwide. Access Rupert Lally’s Bandcamp back catalogue here.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Ross Downes – Stacked Up At Zero

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London-based electronic musician Ross Downes’s latest album for Trestle Records, Stacked Up At Zero, is a deeply personal journey through a difficult year, containing twelve short tracks freighted with a fragility, sparseness, and heavily emotional gestures.

Here, rhythms are clipped, pared back to the barest impulses; sounds emerge into a void, where their slowly-decaying textures and ensuing silences are as powerful as the sounds themselves; occasional bursts of carefully-sculpted noise or a deeply resonant drone slice through the tension creating an unanticipated tension and uncertainty, like unwelcome negative thoughts arriving in the forefront of your consciousness.

Tracks like ‘Recovery’ feel like dream-like trips on a stretcher through the clinical whiteness of a hospital, as seen through eyes that are barely open, while ‘An Island Hijacked’ has a gauzy, maudlin outlook framed by murky pads and randomised sounds that could be sonic approximations of gunfire; here we find threat and danger, sidestepping some of the questing, unresolved qualities to be found in haunting pieces like ‘Face To Face To Face’ or opening track ‘The Kind Animal’.

One of the most rhythmically complex pieces here is ‘Extincting’, which commences with what sounds like shamisen melodies offset by gently swaying synth passages. There is an overwhelming, latent grandeur to this piece, like trying to contemplate the horrifying vastness of the universe on a clear night.

This is just one of the sonic parlour tricks that Downes deploys across Stacked Up At Zero, all of which have the effect of sending your mind racing into fantastically visceral spaces: on ‘A Day Without’ we hear pretty, delicate tones crested with an icy sensitivity that then open out onto a murky, barren landscape of throbbing bass and harrowing noises that sound like robotic creatures burrowing for food in a circuit board desert; on ‘Waking Pareidolia’ we hear a buried pulse and bassy motifs, together creating a platform for cycles of plaintive pads and a heavy mood redolent of eighties movie soundtracks and all their associated fear, mystery and purpose.

What Ross Downes was working through while making this album is necessarily personal; his catharsis, however, has produced a fantastically complex record, full of arresting detail and evocative atmospherics that are utterly universal.

Stacked Up At Zero by Ross Downes is released May 1 2020 by Trestle Records.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Audio Obscura – Self Isolation Tapes

Early on in the COVID-19 outbreak, Etsy took down a t-shirt design emblazoned with the words ‘I Survived Coronavirus’ on the grounds that it was poor taste amid the progress of the disease. We are only four months into this – whatever this will eventually become – and despite government plans to try and progress toward a return to normality, when I think of that t-shirt I’m reminded chiefly of Captain Darling’s line at the end of Blackadder Goes Forth: ‘We lived through it! The Great War, 1914 – 1917!’

So it may also be that releasing music made at this point in isolation, when we could well just be at the start of something that, unlike Blackadder, runs and runs and runs (I’m thinking The Archers, perhaps), may also prove to be similarly premature. Fortunately, amid the slew of self-indulgent self-isolation releases are some genuine gems, and of these is Norfolk-based Neil Stringfellow’s Audio Obscura release, Self Isolation Tapes.

Electronic musicians, as a rule, have never had a problem with self-isolation of course. Theirs is a life of relative solitude, and so it is often hard to see what’s different between music made before isolation, during, and how it might sound when things return to whatever normal we’ll face after this. In Stringfellow’s case, a precedent for the sounds here could be found on his June 2019 Bibliotapes-released imaginary score for George Orwell’s 1984. I’m not prone to self-quoting, but this is how I concluded that piece: ‘Something about the way that Stringfellow has crafted these pieces seems to simultaneously remind us of the unflinching horror of daily life … while also presenting a sense of resignation and dismay that this is the world we currently occupy.’ I’m not saying that this is prescience on my part; more that Stringfellow’s music already seemed to be perfectly suited to dystopia, and so it goes that these seventeen pieces (plus three remixes) are perfectly suited to the current bleak outlook.

Talking of bleakness, not for nothing does Stringfellow include a track nodding in the direction of another savage work of fiction (or is it, now, biographical?) – Albert Camus’s The Plague, a depiction of a highly infectious disease wreaking devastation on an Algerian port. ‘Life In Oran’ is an unsettling listen amid unsettling pieces, beginning with the sounds of Stringfellow’s children playing innocently, which he then frames with murky pulses, dread-ridden haunted tones and a general sense of urgency and insistence. Stringfellow’s children appear again on ‘Each Day The Radio…’, calling for his attention against a backdrop of the daily news stories charting the progress of COVID-19 on the radio. (As an aside, I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels like the daily governmental proclamations feel a bit like something from 1984.)

Fortunately, Self Isolation Tapes isn’t a wholly bleak listen – it just mostly is. For example, buried deep in the track ‘Ghosts, Dusk, Decay’ is a solitary, tentative, almost hopeful synth note which appears fleetingly, only for the track to return to more discordant territory by the end; elsewhere, ‘Quiet World’, one of the shorter tracks here, is a piece floating forth on a delicate, soothing ambience. The pair of tracks ‘The 33rd Of April’ and ‘The 44th Of May’ may be titled with sardonic humour, but are presented with brooding textures and muted beats that become sonic approximations of industrial, noxious soundscapes or the fading broadcasts of horror soundtracks heard across post-apocalyptic wastelands.

‘One Day I’ll Grow Nostalgic For These Days’ is one of the most memorable pieces here, containing wistful piano and scratchy little sounds, a little like static coming from an old radio transmission. Here you find little melodic lines that seem to belong elsewhere, stuttering vocal segments and pretty bird song, a sparse rhythm outlining the weird sense of nostalgia embedded in the piece’s title.

It is a collection that is necessarily dark, even in the context of Stringfellow’s work. But perhaps it’s worth returning to ‘Life In Oran’ to put this all in context. Alongside the more negative moments are the interjections of real life – washing up, maybe, along with other quotidian tasks. Initially these throw you off and confuse you, but between those sounds and Stringfellow’s kids playing, they serve to remind you that life does indeed go on, even in the strangest of circumstances. Long after this is over, these sounds will be our reminder of how we felt while COVID-19 took its toll on us, with Self Isolation Tapes a diaristic time capsule into collective self-isolation.

Self Isolation Tapes by Audio Obscura was released Friday April 24 2020.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

First View: Precious – Monsters

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London fourpiece band Precious released their debut single ‘Monsters’ earlier this week. Consisting of intense, Rowland S. Howard-esque guitar shapes and a heavyweight rhythm section, the group embrace the dynamic atmospheres of post-rock, with frontman George Latinio-Butler delivering a vocal edged with a threatening urgency, framing lyrics concerned with innocence, mental health and addiction.

Today Further. presents the video for ‘Monsters’, reflecting the themes of the song using manipulated scans of guitarist Will Coath’s own brain.

“Using the brain is extremely poignant in relation to the song’s key theme,” says George Latinio-Butler. “It helps represent this in the best possible way – the monsters are inside each and every person, whether manipulating or torturing you, guiding you or biting you. It’s ironic that people are scared of fictional characters or animals when the scariest thing out there surely is the development of a person’s character over time.

“The music itself is presented as a journey,” continues Latinio-Butler. “It’s like a persistent voice to the painful choruses finally culminating in a crescendo, perhaps signifying a violent ending. The dream-like bridge represents the idea of Groove Child, almost like the inner child: cling onto the Groove Child, be wild, or be forever envious of that free spirit.”

Precious are George Latinio-Butler (vocals), Will Coath (guitar), Dan Preston (drums) and Dan Treacher (bass). Listen to ‘Monsters’ on Spotify.

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‘Monsters’ by Precious was released April 23 2020. ‘Monsters’ artwork by Maggie Fraser.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Project Symbiosis

Various Artists - Project Symbiosis

One of electronic music history’s dependable certainties is its seemingly limitless capacity to reveal a treasure trove of enthusiasts, marginal figures and experimenters whose endeavours casually disrupt our carefully-curated notions of what happened when and by whom; these figures occupy a weird, amorphous hinterland bordered on the one side by the early works of John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Groupe de Recherches Musicales or the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and on the other side by the later ‘standardisation’ of electronic music through synthesizer technology.

Malcolm Pointon (1940 – 2007) was one such individual. Pointon was a Cambridge lecturer and classically-trained pianist, whose importance and legacy were actually hiding in plain sight, albeit not his early, pioneering electronic experiments in the 1970s: Pointon was the subject of two moving documentaries in 1999 and 2007 that told of his suffering with Alzheimer’s, which would claim his life just after the second film aired, sixteen years after his diagnosis at the unthinkable age of just 51. Those films, in many ways, did much to raise the profile of a still incurable disease and the impact it has on families and its sufferers, as seen through the lens of Pointon, his wife, Barbara and his two sons.

Writer, researcher and electronic music historian Ian Helliwell has arguably done for Pointon’s musical influence what Paul Watson’s films did for his stolen final years. Through his Tone Generation broadcasts, documentary film Practical Electronica and Tape Leaders book, Helliwell has highlighted, with exceptional detail, the work of frequently overlooked hobbyists and enthusiasts, amateur instrument builders and electronics fanatics like Pointon; a group of unsung heroes whose dexterity with a soldering iron contributed to the tangle of patch cables, valves and transistors that is electronic music’s less-than-linear history. Helliwell curated some of Pointon’s recordings for Electromuse, released in 2016 by the Public Information label, with all proceeds going to the Alzheimer’s Society. These were thrilling recordings built from tapeloops and home-built bits of equipment, for the most part realised in Pointon’s shed.

Ian Helliwell

Electromuse was the title of Pointon’s column for Practical Electronics (PE), one of a number of hobbyist magazines that Helliwell began collecting in earnest as part of his research. “Malcolm penned his Electromuse columns for PE in the early to mid-70s,” explains Helliwell. “These tied in with two electronic construction projects – the PE Sound Synthesiser and the Minisonic – both of which were designed by Doug Shaw with input from Pointon.”

“The composition of ‘Symbiosis’ was an interesting venture. For once I had to think in terms of musical material which could be bent to accommodate anyone who wishes to recreate it, from the skilled musician to the enthusiastic amateur. The form of the piece is quite straightforward: it begins quietly, gets louder and quicker, settles in the middle, gets quicker again and returns again to nothingness; beginning, middle and end.”

– Malcolm Pointon ‘Symbiosis Intro’ from Electromuse (Public Information, 2016)

One of the pieces on the Electromuse LP was ‘Symbiosis’, a piece presented with a graphic score to accompany the Minisonic project that had been published in June 1975 in Practical Electronics. “To me, it seemed a fascinating proposition in a mainstream hobbyist magazine,” enthuses Helliwell. He’s correct: the idea of something so bold and artistically adventurous in a magazine you could pick up in any WH Smith on any suburban British high street does seem remarkable, but it was also surprisingly practical. The Minisonic itself was a stylus-operated device and hardly the easiest thing to play; it was intended to be built by enthusiasts whose focus was more on its construction and not necessarily for people like Pointon who could confidently follow a conventional score. Thus a graphic score – in this instance a relatively straightforward musical diagram as opposed to a highly conceptual set of instructions in the style of Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise – would enable non-musicians to conjure some sort of passable musical output from their jury-rigged Minisonic construction, specifically droning textures, oscillating sequences, heavy blocks of sound and wandering, unstructured melodies.

That universality caught Ian Helliwell’s attention. “On the one hand it all tied in so well with my research and interest in electronic music,” he says. “But being unable to read conventional music notation myself, it had an even greater resonance. It meant that properly scored piece of music was now feasible for me to follow and interpret – at least in theory.”

Using the carefully-preserved reel-to-reel recording of ‘Symbiosis’ that Barbara Pointon had kept within her late husband’s archive, Helliwell was able to compare the score against Pointon’s version, and he was drawn to how readily it matched the visual appeal of Pointon’s instructions. “Several years after first hearing Pointon’s original, I was contacted by electronics constructor and musician, Paul Williams,” recalls Helliwell. “He shared with me a recording of ‘Symbiosis’ he’d made in 1978, and it was most intriguing to compare the two interpretations. This was the catalyst I needed to inspire me to record my own version in 2017.”

Helliwell’s version of the score saw him deploying his own, self-built electronic instruments. “The Minisonic was intended to be played with a Stylophone-type pen making contact with a conductive strip,” he explains. “I’d previously built two Hellitron Stylus machines that operate along those lines. Although a rhythm is not in Pointon’s score, as such, I also used my Percussimate rhythm machine, initially to keep time. In the end I decided it sounded very effective in one section and it had to stay in the recording.”

After that, the germ of an idea formed in Helliwell’s mind: he would reach out to friends, likeminded soldering enthusiasts and other electronic musicians. “I simply approached people I was friends with, or I knew a little bit, and who I felt would be a good match for this kind of challenge,” recalls Halliwell. “I wanted musicians with an affinity with experimental sound, and who had an interest in older equipment and something of the history of electronic music. It was entirely up to them how they approached the graphic score and what gear they used.”

The results have been compiled on CD released by Helliwell earlier this year called Project Symbiosis, placing Malcolm Pointon’s original, Paul Williams’ piece and Helliwell’s own alongside new versions by the likes of Resonance FM’s Daniel Wilson, Apollo 440 co-founder James Gardner and Steve Duckworth, who used to build the types of projects documented in Practical Electronics back in the 1970s. Paris-based Peter Keene approached his version with such purity that he went so far as to build his own Minisonic using circuit diagrams sent to him by Helliwell.

Another contributor was 808 State’s Graham Massey. “I haven’t really used graphic scores before,” he says. “My first attempt at ‘Symbiosis’ was a bit loose and Ian had me redo it, which I was grateful for. The second attempt I was much more focussed, as I delved deeper into the score.”

If using a graphic score was a new thing for Massey, the culture of home-built electronics wasn’t. “I was in an electronics club at high school,” he recalls. “Also, my dad worked in electronic engineering, so he would build stuff like radiograms in the shed. He built me a fuzzbox with an audio oscillator in it and my first guitar amp was a repurposed PA system from the McVities biscuit factory with a long-wave radio built in, with a massive tannoy horn attached. Then there was a telephone rotary dialler gate device that we used on my electric violin, and he built The Astroban, an electric mono string guitar with telephone pickups at either end. That’s been on a lot of my records over the past thirty years.”

Massey was keen to approach his version of ‘Symbiosis’ with a reverential nod toward the equipment it was originally designed for. “I wanted to use a synth I have called the E&MM Spectrum,” he says. “Electronics & Music Maker was an electronic music magazine from the 70s, and this synth was a kit that you built monthly. I didn’t build it – someone gave it to me – but this seemed in keeping with the project, and it has some really nice modulation possibilities linked in stereo. I also used a little bit of the ARP 2600.”

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Performing ‘Symbiosis’ at Graham Massey’s studio. EM&M Spectrum (lower left) and ARP 2600 (centre), with Pointon’s score for ‘Symbiosis’. (c) Graham Massey

Brighton sonic adventurer and one of Ian Helliwell’s Tone Generation collaborators Simon James opted not to use his trademark Buchla system for his version of ‘Symbiosis’. “I used a Roland System 100 on loan from my friend Pablo at Toy Drum studio, and I also used a Roland Space Echo RE-201. The combination worked really well. The System 100 is such a rich synthesizer.”

James had also never really worked extensively with graphic scores before. “I did a live Theremin performance with Ian and Sarah Angliss a long time ago where we had the graphic score running on a screen in front of us and we all played along,” he recalls. “I remember the combination of that screen and a mirror ball making me so dizzy that I nearly fell off the stage. I joke that I have a mirror ball ban on my rider since then. But while I haven’t done many graphic scores, I’ve done music inspired by architecture, which often means using the shape of a structure or building and representing that with sound elements. In The Shadow Of The Skylon or pieces from my Shenzhen / Shanghai – China release are good examples of this.”

Roland System 100 (c) Simon James
Roland System 100 (c) Simon James

The idea of sitting through ten versions of the same piece might seem a little daunting. The reality is that each of these interpretations are, in their own way, improvisations based on visual cues rather than the generally faithful playing you’d hear with multiple versions of a classical piece. Pointon’s score even includes an instruction to improvise – slowly – around a specific cluster of notes, a process that would be familiar to him from being an accomplished jazz pianist, itself a relatively playful concept within a genre of music that has a tendency to lean toward rigid, grid-like forward motion. “It’s fascinating to hear all the versions,” reflects Graham Massey. “To me it feels like a road map seen through different lenses.”

“Overall, I wanted to reflect something of the analogue DIY sensibility of yesteryear, but mixed with a contemporary approach,” concludes Ian Helliwell. “Even though ‘Symbiosis’ is 45 years old, I felt that it still has a modern relevance, and could even be used in schools nowadays to introduce pupils to electronic sounds and ways of putting them together.”

Project Symbiosis was released 6 January by Helliwell Industries in a limited edition of 100 CD copies, incuding comprehensive liner notes and a reproduction of Malcolm Pointon’s score. Buy Project Symbiosis through Bandcamp.

Ian Helliwell’s website, containing comprehensive details of his various projects and Analogue Sound Workshops in Brighton can be found here.

Donate to the Alzheimer’s Society here.

Words: Mat Smith.

With sincere thanks to Dave Clarkson and also to Simon James for suggesting this feature.

(c) 2020 Further.

The Doomed Bird Of Providence – Rumbling Clouds Of War Hover Over Us

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I fondly remember a time when war was the only existential threat I used to worry about. When I first saw the title of the new Doomed Bird Of Providence EP, I initially thought that it was a slightly dated depiction of the parlous state of things around us; a pre-COVID view of the world, if you will, of knife-edge crises concerning dictatorships, WMDs, terrorism and displomatic emergencies caused by seized oil tankers.

This isn’t the subject matter of this four-track EP, however, and anyone with a passing knowledge of Australian-born, London-based Mark Kluzek’s band would appreciate that their evocative instrumental music is principally concerned with the past.

Where the band’s earlier releases directed their unflinching lenses at Australia’s colonial legacy, this release is focussed on Kluzek’s grandfather and his journey from his invaded homeland of Poland in the Second World War, through Europe, to Scotland and thence to Australia. Using hand-me-down recollections from relatives and a book detailing his grandfather’s military troop’s journey during the war, Kluzek’s piano compositions were designed to evoke each pivotal stage of an escape that he owes his existence to.

With Kluzek’s mesmerising playing dominating the foreground, accompanied by fiddle and militaristic drumming, the EP’s title track begins with a languid, almost wistful air, somewhere between resignation at the oncoming invasion and a regretful look back at the home that was soon to be abandoned. As the tracks progress, a firmness, a determination and yet also a tension beings to set in, with the final track – ‘But Something To Aim For’ exhibiting a hopeful, yet desperate sense of urgency amid a wall of rising, cacophonous layered instrumentation. These pieces are framed by a folk music palette, itself a nod in the direction of Eastern European traditions, lacing their tonalities with echoes of the past and a profound sense of loss.

The Doomed Bird Of Providence have always excelled at producing such historically-informed narratives, whether about tuberculosis diaries or natural disasters, loading each of their pieces with a semi-imagined first-person perspective that is all the more remarkable considering they operate squarely in the field of instrumental music. Rumbling Clouds Of War Hover Over Us cements that yet again, yielding four breathtaking soundtracks to a deeply personal subject matter that convey so much – without saying a single word.

Rumbling Clouds Of War Hover Over Us by Doomed Bird Of Providence is released April 17 2020 by 10 To 1 Records.

Words: Mat Smith

Touch: Isolation

Touch: Isolation. Photograph by Jon Wozencroft.

As things like self-isolation and social distancing became phrases and concepts the majority of the world has quickly become accustomed to, it’s been the art of the hasty pivot that has characterised lockdown: businesses that relied on face-to-face interactions suddenly thrust themselves into the hitherto unknown territory of digital engagement, restaurants suddenly offered take-out where they previously relied on seated diners, wholesale retailers suddenly became direct-to-customer operations; we have moved from the need to see, touch and meet people to drinking espresso and gin over video conference, walking in the middle of the road to bypass another pedestrian walking toward you, and following authoritarian one-way systems around supermarkets. None of this we could have conceived of a few months ago, yet we are now all – mostly – suddenly expert.

The way we consume and enjoy music was almost immediately disrupted by the measures governments put in place. Gigs and festivals were cancelled; release dates got put back; pressing plants shut down; critical calendar entries like Record Store Day were postponed; venues were almost immediately shuttered. These are existential events for artists, bands, labels, designers and the countless individuals and businesses that support the music industry.

In response, all manner of COVID-19 projects quickly sprang up: compilation releases to support frontline essential workers; isolation playlists were hastily assembled, often comprising lots of soothing ambient music; live-streamed solo bedroom gigs delivered your favourite artist into your front room; noodling Soundcloud tracks appeared with high velocity, the product of idle fingers, a need for expression, boredom and the advantage of a broadband connection.

One very special and highly distinctive project to emerge from this is Touch: Isolation, announced last week by Touch. “The pack of COVID-19 cards came down quite quickly, and we wanted to respond to some immediate problems many of our artists were experiencing,” says Jon Wozencroft, who founded the label 38 years ago, later bringing in Mike Harding to work with him.

Available through Bandcamp for a minimum £20 subscription, all of which is divided up among its contributors, Touch: Isolation consists of at least twenty tracks from Touch artists, each one mastered by Denis Blackham – that, in itself, an example of the label’s dependable obsession with quality presentation despite the speed with which the project was conceived and realised. At the time of writing, releases have already come through from Jana Winderen, Chris Watson, Bana Haffar, Mark Van Hoen and Richard Chartier with tracks incoming from Howlround, Claire M Singer, Fennesz, Oren Ambarchi, Philip Jeck, Carl Michael von Hausswolff and others who have issued released material through Touch.

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Touch: Isolation – Chris Watson ‘Gobabeb’. Photograph by Jon Wozencroft.

“By the nature of what we do, it’s quite hand-to-mouth,” Wozencroft continues. “For Mike and I, the project is also a declaration of intent in a personal sense because we’ve both been experiencing some highs and lows in recent months.” Those lows are self-evident and are common to most of us, yet uniquely personalised to our own lives; the Touch highs include recent releases like Eleh’s brilliant Living Space, nurturing new artists on the label and Hildur Gudnadottir‘s success at the Oscars. Wozencroft justifiably calls it the “culmination of years of collaboration and shared ambition”. The idea of Touch going on hiatus just because normal life has been paused would thus have been a terrible, terrible notion.

“Between Mike and I it was kind of a Eureka decision to step ahead and do this,” he continues. “In effect, we pressed the switch in the third week of March and in no time we had a strong response from almost everyone we asked.”

A critical signifier of Touch has always been Wozencroft’s photographic accompaniment to the imprint’s releases, which presented a challenge for Touch: Isolation. “I had to think hard about how the Isolation series could be given a visual counterpoint, given the lockdown restriction,” he says. The result is a series of photographs of trees, leaves, pools, each one of something strangely quotidian yet now, thanks to the lockdown, mostly off limits; each one was taken on March 25 on Hampstead Heath’s West Heath and Golder’s Hill areas, just as the lockdown began.

“I’d been going to Hampstead Heath since being a teenager growing up in North London,” Wozencroft continues. “It was always a special trip, and so it was a challenge to make this familiar space reflect a certain unreality; the suspended state of beauty in the full gleam of the recent sunshine. But also its rarity and rawness as an urban environment in the current conditions. I was also remembering the damage of the Great Storm of 1987 – seeing the evidence of regeneration and a landscape transformed, and that sense of faith in the future.

“For me,” he concludes, “it’s about hope and detail, the hidden and its brilliance.”

Support Touch: Isolation at touchisolation.bandcamp.com

Thanks to Jon, Mike and Philip.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Listening Center – Diaphanous Structures

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Listening Center is the project of Beacon, NY electronic musician David Mason, and Diaphanous Structures is the follow-up to last year’s Retrieving.

Where Retrieving was an album that managed to straddle the elastic explorations of 1970s Moog excursions and the fragile architecture of 1981-vintage synthpop, Diaphanous Structures is a much more meditative exercise. Built, for the most part, on delicate, almost wistful layers of gentle, swaying electronics, these eleven pieces nevertheless proceed with a sense of purpose, sidestepping any notion of directionless musing on the part of Mason.

Devoid of beats and obvious rhythms, pieces like ‘Sapling Three’ rely on a languid form of forward motion, buzzing with latent energy and overlapping, effervescent arpeggios. With the addition of soft reverb and subtle modulations and a coda filled with urgent bass sequences, these pieces take on a melodic intricacy without ever sounding anything other than minimalistic.

Elsewhere, ‘Concentric Circles’ carries a gauzy, melancholic edge, the sparsest of patterns creating a stirring, heart-wrenching micro-masterpiece, while ‘A Torn Hedge’ ripples with a brooding mystique and sense of compelling danger; what can Mason see through that hedge? What lies just behind its frontier? Was that tear placed there precisely to permit a voyeuristic glimpse of something elusive?

The album is punctured by three short, sub-one minute vignettes, wrapping complete and intense emotion in the briefest of statements. While ‘Sad Center’ has a profoundly moving quality, the wonderful ‘Interior Hue’ is a classically-leaning piece nodding contentedly in the direction of early electronic albums and the long shadow cast by their innovative sound palettes.

Diaphanous Structures by Listening Center was released April 9 2020 by Temporary Tapes.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

First Play: Matthew Barton – Christie Christie

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Today, Further. presents the first play of Matthew Barton’s new single ‘Christie Christie’, due for release tomorrow. Barton first hit our radar with the mesmerising ‘Orchid’, a sensitive slice of avant pop released earlier this year.

‘Christie Christie’ finds Barton in rockier territory while still showcasing a personal lyrical and compositional style that defies categorisation. “It’s a song about escape,” he explains, “whether that’s fleeing from a situation, another person – or yourself. Is the lyric an internal monologue, or an address from a lover? What has Christie done that means they must flee so rapidly? Or what has been done to them? Caught doing what? I wanted to explore in the song the meaning of loyalty (“the ties won’t sever but the will just might“), identity (“a misfit no more in a foreign land“), and memory (“inside I store the silhouette of your head in the light“) in the face of a seemingly urgent situation.”

Reflecting the inner anguish in the song, Barton’s evolving arrangement of keyboard, banjo and layered process is designed to augment the song’s themes of confusion, tension, conflict and paranoia while never letting his singular vocal style be subsumed. “I guess at its heart the song is about the ‘fight or flight’ impulse,” he says.

With dream-like artwork by the Dutch Expressionist artist Tinus van Doorn, ‘Christie Christie’ is another strange trip into Barton’s subconscious. Listen to ‘Christie Christie’ below.

Matthew Barton is currently working on his debut EP, which will be released by Knife Punch Records later this year. Barton has also contributed songs to some benefit compilations – Z-Tapes’ Hope For European Bedrooms to benefit DIY artists hit by COVID-19, and two compilations benefiting healthcare and community services in the wake of COVID-19: Brace Cove Records’ Quarantine Comp and Under The Counter Tapes’ Banders.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.