Meditations Vol. 1 is the new album from Goodparley, the alias of Cardiff-based sound artist Oli Richards. Bathed in a calm but powerful quietude, Meditations Vol. 1 collects together five single-take improvised guitar pieces, each one recorded in the very first waking moments of Richards’ day. These are pieces of great lightness and subtlety, each one unfolding with a gentle, euphoric awareness.
The origins of the Meditations project can be traced back to 2020 with the release of Green Into Blue (Recordiau Prin). The album consisted of three long guitar improvisations selected from around seventy recordings that Richards made in the wake of a relationship breakdown, but which he never intended to release. They were personal moments in Richards’ life, designed more as a practice or discipline than a recording session. Using loop pedals and effects, the recordings that eventually appeared on Green Into Blue were live, unedited and freighted with deep contemplation.
Last year saw four releases from Goodparley – Canvas (Submarine Broadcasting) and Mist, Rain, Dust: Dissected Frequencies (TQN-aut), followed by two collaborations, Enjoying Nature with Poppy Jennings (Strategic Tape Reserve) and Surroundings with Ioan Morris (Subexotic). The upshot of that release schedule, as well as beginning the recording of a second album with his band Silent Forum, was that he barely touched his guitar for most of 2021, something that started to trouble Richards as the year progressed.
“Playing guitar is one of the most meditative things that I have in my life,” he says. “It’s literally a practice of meditation. I do meditate as well, and I also started doing yoga in the pandemic, which came about from struggling with my mental health. However, I enter a flow state the most when I’m messing around with pedals and playing the guitar.” The need to release new albums wasn’t something Richards felt he needed to do, so after a period of reflection late last year, he decided to find time in his day to start experimenting with his guitar again.
Like many people, the pandemic forced Richards to manage his day job from home. “I’ve never been a morning person,” he admits, “but when working remotely, I soon found out that I needed some time before switching the laptop on and starting work.” To deal with that, Richards constructed a morning routine of meditation, yoga and journaling before starting work. Even then, he realised that he was dozing for ten or twenty minutes after his alarm went off, and contemplated using that time – when most people are still fast asleep – to play.
“I set up my guitar and amp in front of the window that I tend to look out of when I’m meditating, and I just left it there,” he explains. “It means I’m good to play within 30 seconds of getting out of bed, even though I’m still half-asleep. I switch on the amp, plug in the pedals, plug in the guitar and play. Instead of either dozing or looking at The Guardian website and depressing myself, I’m already in a better mind state. It’s become my favourite part of the morning routine.” The results are imbued with a sort of inquisitive serenity, developing with a natural, unhurried tone; minor imperfections become important components of the way that the pieces unfold; melodies emerge, evolve then dissipate beneath new clusters of notes.
Richards began uploading these private recordings of his early morning practice to Bandcamp in November 2021, five of which are collected on the Meditations Vol. 1 CD. When it came to deciding on an image to upload with each piece, he turned to a batch of secondhand postcards picked up from outside a house in Cardiff. Richards had originally intended to use these as part of an elaborate project involving manipulating recordings of old pipe organs through a Moog Grandmother synthesiser. Instead, the postcards – faded, decades-old images of churches and bucolic landscapes – seemed the perfect accompaniment for Richards’ delicate, overlapping guitar loops. “Doing the improvisation and then taking the picture of the postcard just became an important part of the process,” he says. “I’ve been looking at these postcards for two years since I found them. I intuitively know what they feel like; I know what they look like. In a way, I think they’ve subtly influenced the way I approach the pieces.”
Postcards act as a useful analogue for what Richards is doing with the ongoing Meditations series. A postcard is a private method of communication between two people, yet anyone can turn a postcard over and read whatever has been written there. Similarly, the Meditations pieces began as private moments in Oli Richards’ life which are now available to anyone. Nevertheless, the pieces collected on this CD and those Richards continues to release remain uniquely personal documents of his own meditation, which is why the series is simply titled Meditations rather than a more directive Music For Meditation.
“I would be terrified of setting myself that grand intention of making these tracks so that other people can find solace in them,” he says. “A lot of ego can get into there and that’s not what I was going for. For want of a better phrase, I’m just jamming with myself on these pieces. If someone else wants to use them in some sort of meditative practice, that’s really great.”
SULLOW / THE SILVER FIELD – BETWIXT & BETWEEN 8 (Between & Betwixt)
A split cassette release from Sullow (Jacken Elswyth, Daniel S. Evans and Joshua Barfoot) and The Silver Field (Coral Rose and friends), each side dealing with the darker characteristics of folk music. Sullow’s seven banjo-led pieces are short and punchy improvisations full of fragile dissonance and stirring half-melodies, in thrall to a more complete form of traditional music that isn’t simply about pretty maidens running through fields clutching posies of wild flowers. The four Silver Field tracks continue Rose’s exploration of a unique sound world, fusing tapes, vocals and diverse instrumentation. ‘Godless/Doglegs’ begins with a squall of electronic noise before evolving into a rapturous, ritualistic piece full of euphoric vocals and bluesy cello melodies, while ’Chase’ is like a musique concrète interpretation of folk music for jaw’s harp and murky tape rhythms, alternating freely between the real and the ephemeral. Released January 28 2022.
JOHAN LINDVALL TRIO – THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU (Jazzland)
Jazz curiosities from Oslo courtesy of Johan Lindvall (piano), Adrian Myhr (bass) and Andreas Skår Winther (drums). The group are more than able to offer a classic presentation of the trio form on pieces like ‘Getting Out’, but it’s moments like opener ‘Imagine Something Different’ – with its unusual rhythmic time signature – suggest an interest in pushing the form from the polite background of the café to somewhere more radical. ‘Give Up’ has a pretty, memorable melody which will happily lodge itself in your brain for weeks, and a cover of Karen O’s ‘Rapt’ manages to stay recognisable while also highlighting Lindvall’s interpretative nous. The album concludes with a brilliant live recording of ‘Break’ from Stockholm’s Glenn Miller Café which finds the group at their most persuasive, the tight, measured playing hinting at early rock ‘n’ more than the group’s normal jazz furrow. Released February 18 2022.
The new album from Jazzland Recordings founder Bugge Wesseltoft is probably what we should all be listening to at this time of geopolitical anxiety. A profound serenity and hopefulness can be found in Wesseltoft’s pretty musings, which force you into a deeply soothed and contemplative state. Eschewing his usual eclectic array of keyboards, it is the venerable piano that prevails here, only occasionally accompanied by a wider set of instrumentation. ‘Life’ is a duet for piano and kalimba, the interaction between which leads to one of the more uncertain moments on the whole album, while ‘Emerging’ and ‘Roads’ benefit from the gentle saxophone interjections of Håkon Kornstad. To me, pieces like ‘Sunbeams Through Leaves Softly Rustling’ and ‘Resonate’ are the sound of the horrors of the pandemic coming to an end, being both reflectively subdued by the toll it took on all of us, but optimistically placing their attention on the future. A listen to this might also quell your existential fears, even if for a moment. Released February 25 2022.
Between Two Worlds is the second album from Norway’s Eberson, the pairing of guitarist Jon Eberson and his daughter Marte on keyboards. For their new album together, they are joined by Jo Berger Myhre (bass), Rune Arnesen (percussion) and Axel Skalstad (drums). ‘Strange Highway’ is the album’s dynamic highlight, a fast-paced rush through incisive guitar riffs that weave in and out of insistent keyboard motifs. ‘Dancing With The Big Fish’ swims forth on soft keys, melodic sprinkles and a churning, rich bassline, over which Eberson Sr. offers a warm and evocative guitar riff that belongs in an episode of Miami Vice before fragmenting into a series of dextrous solos. The album’s title track is principally a vehicle for Marte Eberson’s playing, opening with a flute-style riff offset by ripples and soothing pads over an irrepressibly smooth rhythm section that sounds like The Funk Brothers chilling in Norway. Released March 4 2022.
THE NIGHT MONITOR – THEIR DARK DOMINION (Fonolith)
Continuing his adventures through the world of the unexplained and paranormal, Their Dark Domininion finds Blackpool’s Neil Scrivin exploring the mystery of Clapham Wood in Sussex. The story goes that the area was home to a cult purportedly including elite members of society called The Dark Hectate, and the skies above the wood were known for their UFO sightings and other strange phenomena. As ever, the back story provides the ideal inspiration for Scrivin’s unique brand of electronic composition. Pads float up from the ground like fog, melodies present themselves with unresolved open-endedness, leaving more questions than answers, and the whole thing feels like its drenched with sinister inquisitiveness. ‘The Pit And The Pentagon’ stands out for its creepy hook and choir textures, while the title track hitches a chilling synth riff to a strident drum pattern bespeaking ominous foreboding. No one does brooding electronic music quite like Scrivin, and this is undoubtedly one of his best releases to date. Released March 4 2022.
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.
Visiting Places is the fifth release in Strategic Tape Reserve’s Learning By Listening series, which has so far brought us volumes by Orca, Attack!, Goodparley & Poppy Jennings and bleed Air. The premise, as stated boldly by the label, is a “educational, instructive cassette series designed to bring the information of the world into your home, and your brain”.
No risk warning is attached, but it’s best to approach the series with a degree of casual circumspection. That includes, in this case, whether the artists themselves – Ulrich ‘Uli’ Federwisch (Secretary-General of the Prüm-Eupen Partnership For Success, previously CEO of an Euskirchen producer of parts used in industrial heat exchangers) and Chip Perkins (voice actor) – are even real. Googling their names yields nothing but nondescript corporate types and a litany of previous Strategic Tape Reserve releases, the cover for one of which (One Dazzling Moment) really needs to be seen to be believed.
Caution aside, with the Nordrhein-Westfalen duo at the helm, we find ourselves journeying across Central Europe courtesy of Federwisch’s synths and Perkins’ narration. Well, sort of. The topography may be representative of Central Europe, but what we encounter isn’t. Thanks to Perkins’ engaging, genial but slightly detached and occasionally trippy observations, we find ourselves on a fantastical voyage through strange and weird places, customs and events. A tricycle with one back wheel bigger than the other so that it can only move in a circle and the generous, congenial offer of pea soup by villagers (“They are just being polite; there is no pea soup.”) are just two of the oddest stories told. There is something vaguely reminiscent of the Welcome To Night Vale podcast here, of unfathomable practices, events and people that seem to exist sequestered away from the mundanity of homogenised real life and monoculture.
Federwisch’s synth accompaniments are full of Moog-y melodic wonder and immersive, intricate detail, evolving episodically depending on where we find ourselves on the journey. A section to accompany a section about a dangerous model railway museum exhibit might have been taken from a Radiophonic Workshop soundtrack for a radio play, all tiny sounds and details that eddy and spin around your ears. Other sections rely on crisp, unswerving but minimalist rhythms and brittle high-end tones, occasionally slipping into psychedelic ephemerality. A section at the start of ‘Part 2’ has the casual motorik pulse of vintage electronic pop, while the accompaniment to the aforementioned tricycle story has a breezy, lolloping, wonky circularity.
Five volumes in, it would appear that the key lesson emerging from the tongue-in-cheek Learning By Listening series and its skewed, surrealist sounds is that we should collectively challenge the excruciating seriousness normally attached to most electronic music.
Words: Mat Smith
Visiting Places by Uli Federwisch and Chip Perkins was released January 7 2022 by Strategic Tape Reserve.
A batch of winter missives from the forever-wriggling Tapeworm label begins with Evan Lindorff-Ellery’s No Water Recordings 2011, taken from an extensive collection of field recordings for hydrophone and contact mics made in Ravenswood, Chicago. On ‘Fringes And Singing’, with a hydrophone placed under a bridge rather than in open water, the sounds are relentlessly squalling, tearing, violent and oppressively over-amped, as if made during a storm. In contrast, on the B-side (‘Meditation’), made with a contact mic, ceramic insulator and brick, we hear a comparative serenity, with undulating currents and the distant, calming sound of estuarine birds atop the water, but to this pessimistic listener it seems to embody the constant threat that unsettled waters could return at any moment.
Bill Thompson’s Black Earth Tongue originates from recordings made for dance unit In The Making Collective’s Edinburgh Fringe performance, Mushroom! (2016), created using laptop, field recordings, found objects and live electronics. With titles named after Japanese misspellings of fungi, Black Earth Tongue is an immediately absorbing listen, with ringing drones, gently oscillating tones, clangs, sepulchral non-rhythms, controlled distortion and earthy bass seeming to evoke the notion of persistent growth and spread. How you’d choreograph for this work of mycological genius I really don’t know.
Recorded in the summer of 2001 at Brighton’s Festival Radio Studios, Destroy All Monsters finds author and The Wire music journalist Ken Hollings reading from his book of the same name. His engaging, if dystopian, vision of a alternative / futuristic Los Angeles ravaged by actual monsters and abused technology is accompanied by sound design and production from Brighton-based Further. favourite Simon James, an electronic musician and Buchla enthusiast. James’s accompaniment to Hollings’ bleak, detached narration of principal protagonist Sprite’s movements emerges as a low, grubby rumble full of sparse sparks of electronic noise, delicately brushed cymbals and subtly wafting, bubbling tones that remain unswervingly tense and pensive, regardless of what horrors Hollings is detailing in intricate and vivid detail. A section involving a leatherette-seated car suddenly being brutally crushed reverentially evokes Ballard’s Crash, while a simultaneously spiralling arc of M&Ms around a stray puppy carries a sinister, psychedelic effusiveness.
“Goth ASMR Hardcore” is the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin description of Twister by London’s anonymous Opal X, consisting of sixteen tracks of extreme incongruity – quiet spoken instructions about moving toward the light reminiscent of a thousand guided meditation podcasts, only where you might expect soft pads and ethereal new age-y textural accompaniment what you get instead are dark, brooding synths, insistent detuned Autechre-y rhythms, arrays of sci-fi bleeps and bloops, faded rave beats, euphoric vocal stabs, fragments of suspenseful horror film noise and occasional moments of serene clarity. The muddled outlook should be distressing – panic-inducing, almost – and yet somehow its quintessentially delicate character is ultimately what stays with you.
JAY GLASS DUBS x LAURA AGNUSDEI – JUNGLE SHUFFLE (The Wormhole)
Released across three highly limited coloured white label 12-inch singles, each one emblazoned with a different slogan, here we find Jay Glass Dubs tackling ‘Jungle Shuffle’ from Laura Agnusdei’s 2019 album Laurisilva. Two versions are presented – one with beats and one without. The original track was one of the many highlights on Laurisilva, finding Agnusdei taking traditional jazz reference points set to razor-sharp found rhythms. In Jay Glass Dubs’ hands, the assembled horns swirl and cascade like spiralling wraiths, a thick, omniscient drone occupying an earthy lower layer though which the horns are threaded like organic, unpredictable sonic foliage. Released November 19 2021.
Mücha is the alias of producer / DJ Amanda Butterworth. The seven tracks on latest album Fall unfold upon spindly, fragile electronics, over which Butterworth’s voice textures, occupying a territory somewhere between melancholy reflection and languid warmth. On the title track, Butterworth reprises Photek’s scissor-sharp approach to deconstructed drum ‘n’ bass, with splintered high-octane rhythms held in check by a slow-motion jazz keyboard riff. The album was inspired by a certain British monochromatic stereotype; in my head I think Burton grey suits, grey Autumn days, greying British Rail seat fabric, but I can also imagine this being how Martin Hannett might have embraced skeletal electronics if he’d still been alive today. Released November 5 2021.
Eyeline is the debut EP from Kidderminster’s Jess Brett. Possessing a voice of rare and arresting, earthy power, the lyrics here address everything from outdated perceptions of women, to cynicism about police power, to sexual dominance, while always retaining a healthy, impenetrable ambiguity. Brett’s five track release is carried forward on musical frameworks that nod to post-punk, with jangly guitars, inchoate synth structures and tentative melodies. The title track imagines The Smiths with keyboards, while the mournful ‘Ceiling And Freezer’ is a grim story of love and admiration for what appears to be a serial killer, its fixations glued in place by a mesmerising suite of slowly-evolving keyboard layers. Closing track ‘Xenomorph’ is like a personal, confidence-boosting mantra delivered over a turgid bed of prowling synths and whistling melodies that remains unresolved as the track winds down toward a tentative silence. Undoubtedly one to watch. Released October 14 2021.
Dialogues is an unashamedly classic jazz album, centred on a trio of Dan Berkson (piano), Andrea di Biase (bass) and Jon Scott (drums). Now based in California, Berkson is an emigré from London’s house music scene, and it’s rare to find someone so adept at switching freely between the regimentation of dance music’s grid and the complete freedom of jazz. For the most part, this is an energetic, effervescent collection, with ‘Unity’ carrying a firm expressiveness thanks to the addition of Magnus Pickering (trumpet, flugelhorn), Alan Nathoo (tenor sax) and Daniel Sadownick (percussion). ‘Sketches’ is the album’s contemplative, questing number, Berkson’s emotive piano lines resting atop a languid, casual rhythm from di Biase and Scott. With these impressive Dialogues, Berkson shows his detailed knowledge of jazz from 1950s cool tropes through to 1970s fusion. Released September 17 2021.
Carbon Fields is the alias of multi-instrumentalist Arran Poole. Petrichor, named after the smell that occurs after rainfall, finds Poole layering his post-rock guitar, bass, drums and an instrument called the bow chime over field recordings made in Saffron Walden, Falmouth and North Norfolk. The instrumentation is blurred and smudged while the background recordings, tape static and all manner of sounds rarely reveal their provenance. This is music of a quiet and considered power, perfectly evoking the complexities of nature and an inquisitive optimism reflecting back the rainfall so essential for renewal. Understated and outstanding. Released September 10 2021.
frostlake is the project of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Jan Todd. For her third album The Weight Of Clouds, Todd constructed sixteen pieces using percussion, guitars and electronics, each one freighted with a sheen of ice-covered mystery and a folky naturalism. The key to tracks like ‘Always There’ and ‘Blue Into Gold’ is Todd’s vocal, operating with a stirring capacity to move you without ever rising above quiet and reflective ruminations, seamlessly augmented by tightly-packed sonic layers drenched in obfuscating, mist-like reverb. ‘Moth People’ is the album’s oblique highlight, finding Todd reflecting on human mistakes and failures over a fragile backdrop of wobbly synths and string sounds. Music for cold mornings and contemplation. Released August 22 2021.
SOFIA KIRWAN-BAEZ – TAKE ONE AND A HALF (Autana Art)
Sofia Kirwan-Baez is a London-based opera student and talented lounge singer, often to be found hosting evenings at Barnes’s OSO Arts Centre. Her debut album was released in February and finds Kirwan-Baez at the piano, delivering eight original songs showcasing a singular approach to lyric writing that is refreshingly complex, reflecting back modern concerns and the fallibility of people and relationships. Jazz and blues influences colour songs like ‘Guess Who’, dealing with an inscrutable man who refuses to betray his true thoughts and feelings, and ‘Only If I Want To’ takes a deft and necessary swipe at male dominance. ‘Old Song’ has the feel of an unearthed standard, simultaneously heart-wrenching, humour-inflected and self-deprecating, while ‘Wasting Time’ describes a parting of ways with a sense of realism and hope. Music for low lights, late nights and a healthy pour of vintage single malt. Released February 7 2021.
One positive thing to arise out of two years of myriad uncertainties was the music of Yova, the duo of vocalist Jova Radevska and multi-instrumentalist / producer Mark Vernon. The singles they delivered since arriving in November 2019 with ‘Moondog’ have highlighted a pairing that thrives on a certain mutability, showcasing a writing style and sound that isn’t so much restless as fully unprepared to settle in one place.
At the heart of these songs is Radevska. Hers is a voice of quiet and persistent gravity, outwardly carrying an innocence and lightness but able to move from subtle anguish to delicate euphoria. Whether matched to strings (‘Togetherness’) or electronics-inflected funk (‘You’re The Mirror’) or emphatic low-slung blues rock (‘Would I Change It? (If I Could)’ Radevska writes emotional, gently soulful pop music full of worldly observation, relationship trauma and oblique, diaristic gestures. In Vernon she has found a well-connected collaborator with an ability to augment her words with rich sonic layers, drawing in collaborators as diverse as Daniel O’Sullivan (Grumbling Fur), BJ Cole, David Rhodes (Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush) and PJ Harvey multi-instrumentalist Rob Ellis to frame these songs.
Nine Lives, then, brings together all the disparate strands of Yova’s music into one whole. The effect is not an album that feels incoherent as Radevska and Vernon view the structure of each song through its own distinct lens. Instead, what emerges is a solid, refreshingly diverse collection of songs focussed on Radevska’s appealing storytelling. ‘Make It Better’ is one of the highlights of the new songs, a plaintive, sawing violin allowing Radevska’s insistent vocal to fluctuate sweetly between desperation and hope.
Closing track ‘Haunted’ perhaps sums up the character of Nine Lives. The songs carries a beatific optimism, Radevska’s voice framed by evocative strings and delicate piano as it soars gracefully skyward – its ultimate destination wherever Radevska and Vernon feel compelled to journey to next.
Nine Lives by Yova was released November 12 2021 by Quartertone Recordings.
“I find lists like this extremely difficult,” says prolific Brighton-born, Switzerland-based electronic musician Rupert Lally. “Somehow the first couple of choices are always simple but then the last one or two, inevitably, end up being a compromise as to which albums make the cut and which don’t.”
A year in the release schedule of Lally is an intense one. 2021 has been no different, his output culminating in the career high of Beyond The Night (SubExotic), a thrilling, noir journey into the shadows and fears of the night. Never one to rest on his laurels, Lally has no less than two albums scheduled for release on October 1, both imaginary soundtracks for Ray Bradbury novels – Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles – continuing an approach that has seen him produce scores for Frank Herbert’s Dune, J.G. Ballard’s High Rise and Lally’s own novella, Solid State Memories.
I spent three years learning classical guitar making almost no progress whatsoever, with a teacher who refused to teach us chords. A friend encouraged me to switch to playing bass guitar around the same time as my musical interest began to shift from hard rock towards jazz and funk. More by accident than design I ended up playing bass in my school’s newly formed jazz band. One of the tunes we would regularly play was ‘Chameleon’ by Herbie Hancock and I became so synonymous with playing the (synth) bassline at school concerts that when I began playing the bass again after many years absence, a lot of school friends asked if I could still play the piece – I can!
At the time the album was hard to obtain on any other format than CD, so it became the first ever CD that I bought, before I even owned a CD player, so I made a tape copy at my step sister’s house, which I played over and over.
It’s difficult to overstate the effect that hearing this had on me. Not just the music itself but also the arrangements, the analogue synth sounds, Harvey Mason’s drum grooves, the cornucopia of percussion sounds and instruments used by Bill Summers on the album – many of which I needed to look up to find out what they were, thereby igniting my interest in percussion at the same time.
A friend that I played the album to described it as sounding like the soundtrack to the 70s animations in episodes of Sesame Street. He didn’t mean as a compliment, but it’s actually a very apt comparison. Many years later, I realised how much those wonderful psychedelic cartoons affected me as a small child and it’s another reason why I felt immediately at home with this album.
Peter Gabriel – Passion
Peter Gabriel’s music from his early work with Genesis to his early solo albums, with their pioneering use of the Fairlight CMI, had already had a huge impact on me as a teenager, and I’ve already mentioned my burgeoning interest in percussion from around that time, so in retrospect it’s surprising that I didn’t listen to this, Gabriel’s soundtrack to Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation Of Christ, until I was in my first year at university.
When I did, it blew my mind – the fusion of traditional rhythms and instrumentation from the Middle East with synths, samplers and David Rhodes’ understated guitar work was incredibly influential. For a while, I would listen to a cassette of this whilst I drifted off to sleep, with the music seeping into my dreams.
DJ Shadow – Endtroducing…..
My introduction to DJ Shadow’s music was the inclusion of the track ‘Changeling’ on Bleeping With The NME, a free tape compilation given away with the NME in 1996. As fate would have it, another student in my university halls of residence was a massive Mo’ Wax fan and he kindly made me a tape of this album, plus Shadow’s early singles. I was completely hooked. Not just with the music itself but how it had been made using already outdated Akai samplers like the MPC-60 and S612
A year or so later I would get hold of an old E-mu Emax sampler and discover first hand just how difficult it must have been to make tracks like these on old equipment with limited sampling time. Shadow’s drum programming continues to influence me today, not only how I program my own beats but also how I play drums live.
Boards Of Canada – Music Has The Right To Children
When I went to drama school after university, I had a lot friends, who were heavily into Warp Records stuff, so I’d already heard a lot of (and subsequently bought) quite a few Aphex Twin and Autechre records. Somehow, while I’d definitely heard both Boards Of Canada and Squarepusher’s music during that time, I didn’t start to listen to them properly until the publication of Rob Young’s book on the label in 2005.
Boards Of Canada’s debut album, in particular, with its deliberate lo-fi sound quality that harked back to the public information films of my youth, struck a particular chord with me and would provide a massive amount of inspiration for my own solo work which I was then taking my first tentative steps towards. In many ways this album seemed to articulate a feeling that I had been groping towards for some time without really understanding what it was. I’d been using YouTube to research old TV shows and adverts that I remembered from childhood, to try to gain musical inspiration.
A few months after I heard this album, The Wire magazine published an article about hauntology, mentioning Boards Of Canada. It was the first time I’d ever heard the term used.
Imogen Heap – Speak For Yourself
I first heard Imogen Heap’s music in the film, The Holiday and immediately bought both this and the album she did with Guy Sigsworth as Frou Frou. There’s so much I love about this album: her voice, the lyrics which often remind me more of poems put to music and, of course, her amazing arrangements, programming and sound design. While she’s done lots of interesting stuff since, somehow nothing else has come close to this record for me. It’s the perfect example of intelligent pop electronica and she doesn’t get nearly enough credit for it.
Formed with the goal of improving the quality of life in New York’s Financial District, The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council was formed in 1973. The idea was that there should to be more to the area than the trading and leverage upon which the southernmost tip of Manhattan rested; that a cultural exchange was as important to the area’s vitality as the stock exchange.
Between 1997 and 2001, the LMCC invited a group of artists to take up residency in unused office space on the 91st floor of Tower One in New York’s World Trade Center, the construction of which was completed the year before the LMCC began its activities. The LMCC’s programme was, appropriately, called World Views, and over 150 artists would participate in the residency until the destruction of the towers curtailed the project. The artists would occupy a coveted piece of lucrative, unused office space on the 91st floor of Tower One for half a year in order to produce a specific piece of art, while also having relatively free reign of the 110-storey tower and its inner workings – basements, car parks, stairwells, abandoned Subway tunnels deep beneath street level – and a discrete space in which to create art, high above the streets of New York.
The result was a series of site-specific creations, very often inspired by the imposing, divisive form of Minoru Yamasaki’s twin towers, structures described by Olu Oguibe (a World Views resident in 2000) as having an “unmistakable authority”. These pieces reflected the towers’ physical properties as often as their metaphysical, cultural and psychological impact. Distinctive New Formalist architectural features – the narrow windows; the clean, infinitely repeated mullions stretching to the heavens; the resolute, boxy post-modernist silhouette – feature heavily in the works of many artists; still more were inspired by the views across New York and the pinch-yourself unreality of having dedicated studio space in a section of expensive real estate usually reserved for the late capitalist elite.
One artist whose residency in the World Views programme was directly linked to the physicality and environments of the World Trade Center was New York-born Sound artist Stephen Vitiello, who occupied areas of the 91st floor from the summer of 1999 through to the early winter, making use of office space abandoned following the collapse of a Japanese bank. His residency resulted in three published works – Bright And Dusty Things (New Albion CD, 2001), Winds After Hurricane Floyd (installation of a sound recording and photograph, 1999/2002) and Sounds Building In The Fading Light (Creamgardens 10-inch, 2001).
For Bright And Dusty Things (featuring collaborations with Pauline Oliveros), Vitiello used an amplified photocell device placed in the lens of a telescope to translate frequencies from the light streaming through the 91st floor windows into audible sound. The process had first been used for a piece, ‘World Trade Center Recordings’, that would appear five years after his residency, on Nicolas Collins’ A Call For Silence.
Winds After Hurricane Floyd and Sounds Building In The Fading Light both arose out of recordings of the building and the sounds that could be heard from immediately outside the widows of the 91st floor, using two cheap contact microphones to feed atmospheric sounds into a mixer and DAT recorder. The anarchic Viennese group Gelitin (then known as Gelatin), residents on the 91st for the period after Vitiello was there, wrote of the World Trade Center towers: “Very amazing building outside; very depressing building inside.” Vitiello’s works broke down the barrier between the exterior – the powerful building itself; the world visible through the windows; life beyond the building – and its derivative interior; he literally brought the outside inside.
Like any field recording, there is an element of chance and unpredictability in the sounds that Vitiello captured. What emerges are documents of the towers and their symbiotic-symbolic place in New York’s ever-mutable skyline and the memories of the city’s residents and its visitors; of sounds heard from a unique position high above the ground; of sounds frozen in sonic aspic at the very end of the century, two years before the world changed forever.
“After the first bombing attempt on the World Trade Center in 1993, there was suddenly a lot of real estate available in the towers. The thinking behind World Views was, I guess, something that happens often with artists: they put artists where there’s vacant space until that vacant space becomes valuable, and sometimes it becomes valuable because the artists have made it cool.
“It was a really important programme for a lot of people. People used it differently, but the idea was that you should at least partially be doing something unique to that space. It certainly wasn’t just, ‘I am an artist, I need studio space and I can’t afford it.’ It’s more, ‘Here is a space that holds an opportunity for me to do something that I could imagine doing, but that I wouldn’t or couldn’t do anywhere else.’
“At that time, I thought of myself mostly as experimental musician who created soundtracks for other artists, for video and dance. My introduction to spatialisation was through a festival in Cologne 1998 called Per/Son, a festival organised by Anthony Moore, who set up this idea of playing with the space itself. It was four people – me, Scanner, Pauline Oliveros, and Frances-Marie Uitti. All of us were playing with a 64-channel sound system, designed by Andres Bosshard. That opened a door to the world of installations for me, and from installations I ended up getting invited to do the residency in the World Trade Center. At that point, I had an interest in field recording, but I had done very, very little, except for a little bit of sound work for a film soundtrack with Jem Cohen.
“When you were applying for the World Views residency, you had to make a note of something that you might do for the open studio, which would happen at the very end of the residency. I had just read an article in The Wire about Maryanne Amacher, and a piece that she had made where she had microphones pointing out of her studio window to the New England fisheries. Those sounds were constantly streaming into her studio and into her mixing board. I basically copied that idea, and I even said that at a public talk a few years later when Maryanne was in the audience. I said to myself, ‘Well, I’ll be up at the top of the World Trade Center, if I’m given a place on the residency. I’ll open the windows, put microphones outside, and I’ll always have the sound streaming into my mixing board.’
“There were about 15 artists there on the 91st floor at a time, in these six-month cycles. Most of the artists were in one big open office with wooden barriers. It looked like grade school to me: a lot of artists, with cheap barriers giving them some sort of privacy. I was part of the same residency as the artists Kevin and Jennifer McCoy. Between us we had a lot of technology, so we were granted a separate suite of offices where we could each lock our doors.
“So I had this idea which I copied from Maryanne, but when I got up to the studio I realised that you couldn’t actually open the windows. They actually did everything they could to block the outside sound, and to protect the person using this very expensive real estate from the sound outside. I started asking friends for advice. At some point, an engineer suggested contact mics, which I hadn’t used before, and told me to go to a drum shop. You could get store-bought contact mics to put on drums as MIDI triggers for about $20. I put those on the window and ran those through the mixing board. Lo and behold, the first sound I ever heard was church bells. I’ve had a couple of my career major works related to bells, as many sound artists do. But that moment was chilling, especially as I never heard them again after that.
“I suddenly heard the world outside. I could hear traffic. I could hear ships on the Hudson River. At one point I heard a car crash, but it all started with with church bells. And as the six months went on, I went from thinking about trying to add the sound to other things to realising that the sound was way more interesting than anything I could add to it. Every day was different. There were days that I could hear the building moving in the wind. I could hear the steel creaking and cracking. I could hear airplanes. I could hear helicopters.
“Those contact mics became like a stethoscope: I was listening to the body of the building. In the end, it wasn’t exactly like Maryanne’s work. It wasn’t like having a microphone outside: it was a mic that listened through the glass and steel of the building. A contact mic is very focused, but it’s very limited. You don’t get a lot of high frequency. You don’t get a lot of low frequency. But things like airplanes would cut right through, so I would work with that, or with the wind. I had 24-hour access to the studio, and if I heard something interesting, I would turn on the DAT recorder and record what was happening.
“Through the mixing board and pre-amplification certain kinds of strong sounds carry. Bells are a perfect example of a sound that cuts through city din, but I’m sure there’s a lot that I didn’t hear. It was the right technology for what I needed, and, miraculously, it was the only technology that would work.
“One thing I regret is that there were days where I’d go up and think, ‘Oh, I’ve already got this kind of sound, so I’m going to tape over that’. In the end, I didn’t end up with a lot. But the recordings that I ended up with that are the most critical were made the day after Hurricane Floyd hit New York in September 1999, and the 10-inch record, Sounds Building In The Fading Light. The B-side of that – the Dense Mix – ends with an airplane passing. All the sound cuts out and I filtered everything out but the plane. That was done before 9/11, and it wasn’t meant to scare anybody. It was just meant to focus in on a specific detail.”
“The night before 9/11, I was giving a talk at Brooklyn College, in a in a class taught by Jennifer McCoy.
“I think most of us took the World Trade Center for granted. They were these big, ugly buildings, but there was something quite unique about being above the world, and there was something very distinctive about their architecture. I read an interview with Robert Ashley where he said that one original design of the World Trade Center was to make the buildings parallel, which would have turned them into a giant tuning fork. That’s why they were offset a little bit. Even these things that we take for granted, if you just stop, look, and listen, you can appreciate things in a different way. Everything has an opportunity. Whether you want it or not, or whether you can make something whether it’s true to your own interests, is to be determined.
“At the class Jennifer invited me to, I remember talking about having gone from thinking of myself as a musician to now being a sound artist, and how much being up in the World Trade Center made me aware of listening in a new way. And even the vulnerability. You didn’t really feel like you were up on the 91st floor. When you were looking out the window it felt flat, and kind of artificial. But once the sound came up, you felt the presence of the building. And once you could hear it moving in there, or you heard the winds, your whole perception of space and a sense of self or the architecture – everything – everything changed.
“But then the next morning happened, and the buildings were destroyed. And I felt almost embarrassed, almost foolish when people started to reach out to me about those recordings. I lived very close to the World Trade Center when it fell. I saw the smoke. An artist’s perception of vulnerability is one thing: thousands of people dying is something totally different. My initial reaction was to shelve the project, and not ever talk about it again.
“A month or so later, there was a gathering at The Kitchen, the performing arts centre in New York where I later worked. It was a gathering of artists who had gone through the residency and who were talking about their projects after 9/11. I played a little bit of the sound. I mentioned that I felt truly conflicted and the feedback that I got from the audience and the other artists was, ‘You can’t shelve this. You can’t hide it. But you also shouldn’t exploit it.’ None of us wanted to exploit the situation.
“I didn’t want to see it as a 9/11 piece, because it wasn’t a 9/11 piece. But it was also something that was now changed, because I couldn’t deny that 9/11 changed how people would read it. It was the sound of a building that no longer existed, and that could never exist in the same way. It was a sound that people who worked in the World Trade Center were attuned to. You couldn’t always hear that sound without microphones, but there were times when you could. And so I decided that it should remain a thing, but something that should be treated with sensitivity.
“I called the 10-inch of those sound recordings,Sounds Building In The Fading Light. I loved – and still love – mystery books by James Lee Burke. Burke’s main book set of books are set in Louisiana. He writes about the landscape with this really rich sense of light and smell. With the title of the 10-inch, I think I was probably trying to emulate the kind of poetry that Burke uses when he speaks. Lou Reed once stopped me in an elevator because I had a James Lee Burke book sticking out my pocket, and I was totally embarrassed. He’s like, ‘Oh, that’s one of my favourite writers,’ and I sort of blushed and spoke to him for the rest of the ride down about the best of them (he recommended Black Cherry Blues, which I bought the next day).
“Winds After Hurricane Floyd was a sound installation, which was presented around the world and went into a few museum collections. When the Whitney Museum purchased it, they acquired a six-channel sound piece and a large photo. When I went down to the archive, they said, ‘The photo is the artwork, and the sound is the document, right?’ It’s not – I seethe sound work as the artwork, and the photo is a document. A lot of my work toes that line, especially where documentation has been part of it, and especially the works that relate to field recording.”
“I guess what I did became one of the signature World Views projects that people remember, and it also established me in a different way as an artist, as well as leading me to become established with site-specific projects. It completely changed my whole career path and my whole creative approach to listening.
“In some ways, I think the fact that it was audio, or primarily audio, allowed it to be evocative in a different way to photographs or video or sculpture. Each thing has its own power, and I’m not pretending that sound is better. But, at least to me, just listening with your eyes closed allows you to picture something and place yourself differently than the more intellectual process that happens when you look at a photograph.”
Enjoying Nature is the third album in Strategic Tape Reserve’s Learning By Listening series, “an educational, instructive cassette series designed to bring the information of the world into your home, and your brain.” Previous volumes have focussed on obscure, un-Googleable, audaciously false topics: Orca, Attack! delivered an album about Course Management System Optimization and Simon Proffitt’s Instituto Bangara-Rossa Internacional offered up a sonic handbook for a purportedly widely-played card game.
If Learning By Listening has generally operated with its tongue placed firmly in its cheek, the pairing of Goodparley (Cardiff’s Oli Richards) and Poppy Jennings seems to avoid this, at least musically anyway. The album’s narrative describes it playfully as a “mystical guide to the art of experiencing nature… for both those comfortable with outdoor environments as well as beginners,” and Richards readily admits it was started in jest before eventually becoming more sincere.
Taking the form of a series of delicate and quietly uplifting pieces, Enjoying Nature operates authentically in resonance with the spiritual music oeuvre. Both Richards and Jennings offer ruminative spoken word passages that float on top of the music like guided meditation texts or naturalistic poetic reflections, while Richards’ choice of textures carry a questing, transcendent fluidity. On ‘Walking Each Other Home’, cascading zither melodies wrap themselves around the listener with tenderness, evoking spiritual music landmarks like Laraaji’s Day Of Radiance. The opening track acts as a tribute to the work of Ernest Hood, whose obscure 1975 album Neighborhoods evoked a pastoral quietude that has now been all but drowned-out by the clamour of the modern world.
Learning By Listening albums are puzzling affairs. They are meant to be enjoyed primarily through a suspension of belief; once you acknowledge the joke, they can be approached as intelligent, artistic collections. Enjoying Nature is, I think, different.
Heard with an open mind, its pieces can be soothing, helpful and restorative. I’ll readily admit that my mind has all too often been closed to spiritual music, and if you’d handed me this tape two years ago I would have found it a difficult listen. Things changed as the pandemic settled in. With the benefit of hindsight, I now see that I experienced a breakdown that I never would have expected. In the hollow void that it left, I found myself urgently in need of something to help me get myself back on track.
The books that I’d tried to read but couldn’t find a way into (Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind being the most obvious) and the meditation practice I’d always been too closed-minded and uptight to surrender to – these things suddenly became essential, necessary aspects of my recovery. I found myself in a message exchange with Richards where he recommended Be Here Now by Ram Dass, which I quickly bought and digested far quicker than any other book that I’ve bought in the last ten years. I found myself working with my good friends Gareth Jones and Christopher Bono, first on their Nous Alpha album A Walk In The Woods and then with Christopher on his monumental Circle Of Celebration album with Arji OceAnanda and Laraaji. I found myself open-minded for the first time in my life; more accepting; more understanding of my mind’s wants and needs; more prepared to find ways to heal myself outside of the coping strategies I’d used before.
I see Enjoying Nature as part of my toolkit of recovery. A greater personal compliment to what Richards and Jennings have created with this release I’m not sure I could find.
Enjoying Nature by Goodparley and Poppy Jennings was released by Strategic Tape Reserve on September 24 2021.