3 Questions: Charlotte Spiral

Charlotte Spiral is a duo of Amy Spencer and Avi Barath, two former Goldsmiths students now writing complicated songs laced with lyrics loaded with emotional uncertainty; those words are only matched in their complexity by the many-layered musical architecture that supports Spencer’s distinctive voice.

“I kind of like it that people think my name’s Charlotte,” laughs Amy. “The name Charlotte Spiral came from a pose in figure skating. We started putting the music on top of old figure skating videos and then Avi and I decided that our band name should have something to with it because it’s so elegant. We wanted that to be reflected in the music.”

Upon the release of their debut EP, the gorgeous, mesmerising and haunting Ideal Life, Charlotte Spiral spoke to Further. about fake medicine and ‘A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts’ – very probably the one and only time that song’s going to get a mention here, and highly unlikely to feature on their debut album, I imagine.

What’s your earliest memory?

Amy: When my brother and I were kids my grandparents would look after my brother and I, mostly after school and also in the summer when our parents were at work.

I have a strong memory of them sitting together on a bench under the apple tree in the garden. My granddad loved music and he could sing beautifully – he could play the harmonica and even the spoons! My grandma would sing that song ‘I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts’. I’m sure she sang many other songs too but for some reason that one sticks!

Avi: There is a place in Rhodes that is meant to be very beautiful called Butterfly Valley. Sadly, my earliest memory is of being very sick there. My dad tricked me and gave me a Mentos sweet, which he told me was medicine. I think it actually worked…

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Amy: Stop worrying!

Avi: Trust your instincts.

Where are you most productive or inspired?

Amy: I often get ideas for lyrics when I’m travelling or walking somewhere. It’s usually just a line or two that I will finish once I have a chord progression and melody.

Avi: It changes all the time to be honest, but recently it’s been wherever there is a piano.

Ideal Life by Charlotte Spiral is released February 7 2020.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Avi Pfeffer – A Lasting Impression

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Classical music and electronics are currently locked in a comfortable embrace. This has arisen largely as a consequence of modern compositional methods which rely heavily on the ambience and atmospherics that a careful-deployed analogue synth or some after-hours digital manipulation can add to the music.

It wasn’t ever thus. From more or less the beginning of synthesizer technology becoming more accessible, the game in town was to produce electronic arrangements of classical pieces, and that’s the jumping-off point for Boston composer Avi Pfeffer’s A Lasting Impression.

The four-part suite uses classical structures and figures but is delivered entirely electronically. Beats drift in then ebb away, melodic gestures re-emerge continually and Pfeffer deploys a dizzying array of sounds, textures and rhythms throughout the almost hour-long album. The tonality of these collected sounds is especially important – this isn’t gauzy, drifting ambience or modern glitch-heavy soundtrack noir, but bold, grandiose sounds arranged into longform movements. I’ve never quite grasped the vernacular to articulate why this is, but there’s something about hearing electronics used in this way – a particular challenge when your diet consists primarily of people twiddling modular synth knobs or making electronic pop – that makes me think of Don Dorsey’s distinctive retrofuturism.

Dorsey made a series of electronic albums in the mid-1980s that essentially took Bach’s music and recreated their austere presentation with an enviable kitlist of cutting-edge electronic equipment, much as Wendy Carlos had done twenty years before. He also went on to be the in-house sound designer for Walt Disney World, composing the fresh, euphoric, scientific-sounding music that’s still memorably piped into places like Epcot and Tomorrowland.

I get the same feeling of hearing something exceptionally forward-looking yet locked in a particular era when listening to A Lasting Impression. If the press release had said Pfeffer had written these pieces thirty-five years ago and they’d languished, unreleased, I’d have not been surprised. To do this type of thing today is brave. We’re not used to hearing electronics like this in 2020, and so to enjoy it requires a little adjustment. Once you do, it’s a perfectly enjoyable record, full of interesting details and moments.

My personal favourite sequence arrives with the gleeful, squelchy opening minutes of the third part, largely because it transports me to the deck of Narcoossee’s on a balmy Florida evening several years ago watching The Electrical Water Pageant (originally scored by Dorsey) burble and fizz its inimitable way past with my daughters; just for giving me the the opportunity to reminisce about that makes this album entirely worth it.

A Lasting Impression by Avi Pfeffer is released February 7 2020 by Pumpedita.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Take Five: Sad Man

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Sad Man is the alias of Bournville-based Andrew Spackman. The last few years have seen Spackman deliver an incredibly prolific series of electronic albums that straddle the gulf between odd rhythmic gestures and jazz, the result being a suggestion that those two worlds aren’t necessarily so dissimilar or incompatible as they might first appear.

His latest album, The King Of Beasts, is due to be released on February 10 2020, and finds Spackman proffering a highly accessible, many-layered journey through the musical themes that have coloured his recent output, while placing a greater emphasis on traditional jazz reference points.

Further. spoke to Spackman about his formative musical influences, in the process no doubt distracting him from his work on what is probably another Sad Man album expected to land later this year. “It’s definitely not an exercise in being, or looking, cool!” he warns.

Geoff Love & His Orchestra – Big Western Movie Themes

My parents didn’t seem to have any particular interest in music. They were teenagers before the teenage revolution really got going, and so they still had quite an old-fashioned view of entertainment. My mum, however, was a big fan of musicals and westerns, and we had an old 1960s Radiogram that sat in the living room. It didn’t seem to get used much, but I was particularly fond of how you could stack the 7-inch records in such a way that once one finished the next would drop down on top of the previous record. That probably horrifies the purist vinyl collectors out there.

My parent owned a few records. Mostly they were compilation albums of movie music from the Music For Pleasure series on EMI. I particularly remember listening to this record, Big Western Movie Themes by Geoff Love & His Orchestra. Although the orchestration was probably very heavy-handed, it suited the bombastic scale of these western themes. When I listened I could see the barren landscapes of Spaghetti Westerns, the beating heat of rocky canyons, and sound of cowboy boots on the front step of the O.K. Corral. Beguiling stuff.

Mike Oldfield – Incantations

Up until the age of nine I shared a bedroom with my brother. He was much older than me and his taste in music would today be described as ‘Yacht Rock’, which is now rather cool, but back then, it was not. His stereo played host to a blur of Billy Joel, Christopher Cross, and Hall & Oates. In amongst this smothering smooth-fest sat a collection of Mike Oldfield albums: Incantations, Platinum, QE2

Even at the age of nine I preferred instrumental music. I liked listening and trying to understand how all the instruments wove together. Also, the idea that Mike Oldfield played all these instruments too fascinated me. I remembered watching him on Blue Peter and he had this extraordinary technique when playing the guitar and very long fingernails. The track that I particularly liked was the live version of a track called ‘Punkadiddle’, which has the most amazing guitar solo on it. I later learned that Mike Oldfield got that sound by playing his guitar through the tape heads of an old tape recorder to give that fantastic fuzz / distortion sound with seemingly endless sustain.

Incantations features the vocals of Maddy Prior on ‘Part 2 – Song of Hiawatha’ and strings arranged by David Bedford. Like many of his albums, it is a cocktail of styles and instrumentation, with no fixed genre reference point. I’m not sure if it completely lasts the rest of time, but putting it context, he pretty much did everything before any one else had even got out of bed.

The Albion Band – Lark Rise To Candleford

When I was about 15 years old my school staged the National Theatre’s adaption of Lark Rise To Candleford. The play featured music by the Albion Band, made up of Fairport Convention’s Ashley Hutchings, Shirley Collins, Martin Carthy and others. I had a very minor role in it, but it brought me into contact with folk rock music, played on this occasion by an excellent line up of local musicians. A few years later I went on the play for several folk rock bands too.

My love of folk music has continued, despite it seeming incongruous with my electronic music output as Sad Man. I love The Unthanks, This Is The Kit, Kate Rusby and Lau.

The The – Soul Mining

My first introduction to The The came when I was 19 and I had just bought a Triumph Spitfire. It was a beautiful green colour, and despite the constant smell of petrol, the ill-fitting doors and the extortionate insurance cost, I loved that car. It also had a very nice Pioneer stereo with speakers fitted into the doors, which, when you were in the driving seat, weren’t far off ear height.

I would often drive around the country roads with the top down late at night, to and from a pub where I worked in the evenings. On the stereo was The The. First was the Infected album (my first introduction to Neneh Cherry) but then later I discovered Soul Mining with its use of the Roland TR 606, pounding drums and chanting by Zeke Manyika. I think The The are the only band that I’ve ever had a fan thing for. I saw them play at the Albert Hall with Jonny Marr on Guitar. They were perfection.

David Toop – Ocean Of Sound Volume 3 – Booming On Pluto: Electro For Droids

When I moved to Bristol in 1997 my musical tastes had already travelled through rock music, folk rock, progressive rock, shoegaze, funk rock, grunge and indie music. Apart from the odd album from The Art of Noise, Tangerine Dream and some others, very little of what I listened to was electronic.

The Gloucester Road in Bristol had several second-hand record shops, and when I moved there and started making experimental and electronic music I also started buying CDs and records and expanding my repertoire: records by Scanner, Black Dog, Jack Dangers, anything on Warp records, Mu-Ziq , DJ Shadow, Jimi Tenor, Black Dog, Red Snapper, Labradford, Plaid…

I bought Booming On Pluto from the bargain bucket and loved its electro sound. Afrika Bambaataa, To Rococo Rot and A Guy Called Gerald all feature on this album and it’s a real classic. I guess once I’d heard this, the future of music for me was no longer guitars and distortion pedals, although I’m still very partial to a good distortion pedal (ProCo Rat, ZVE Fuzz Factory, Fuzz Face).

The King Of Beasts by Sad Man is released on February 10 2020.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Charlotte Spiral – Ideal Life

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Charlotte Spiral is a duo of vocalist Amy Spencer and multi-instrumentalist accomplice Avi Barath, two former Goldsmiths students now making stirring, yet endlessly fragile, music together.

Their debut EP, Ideal Life, contains three songs poised perilously on the tightrope between mournfulness and hope, each track a discrete soundworld of emotive layers over which Spencer’s tender, engaging vocal is allowed ample room to manoeuvre. ‘End Of Summer’ carries a tragic quality, its altered piano and gently shuffling jazz rhythm a perfect foil for Spencer’s quiet and understated anguish. There is a resigned tonality here, amplified by plaintive harmonies and a brutal, haunting dead stop following the line ‘Maybe this is the way it’s supposed to be.

‘Wide Eyed’, with its unwavering Casio preset rhythm and languid, amorphous backdrop, is perhaps – by a whisker – the EP’s towering moment. We find ourselves being moved through Spencer’s innermost thoughts, comprising everything from a delicate defiance to a fear of being unloved, its diaristic outpourings laced with such pathos and longing that it would surely soften the heart of even the hardest and most curmudgeonly of souls, and whose arrangement stays with you long after it concludes.

Ideal Life by Charlotte Spiral is released February 7 2020. Charlotte Spiral play Servant Jazz Quarters on February 4 2020 – tickets can be purchased here.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Sunda Arc – Tides

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My first introduction to Sunda Arc came with a December 2018 show supporting Go Go Penguin at the Royal Albert Hall in London. I was left speechless as brothers Nick and Jordan Smart presented a thrilling, loud, bass-rich techno-inflected set that fused intricate electronics with Jordan Smart’s clarinet; it contained such velocity and intensity that I honestly figured the roof of the 1867 concert venue was going to collapse.

The duo quickly released their debut EP Flicker in the days that followed and it didn’t disappoint, capturing the precise essence of that live set that felt so compatible with Go Go Penguin’s own – in spite of Go Go Penguin’s flavour of jazz being written with electronics but played acoustically, whereas Sunda Arc keep the electronics in. It was, perhaps inevitably, more restrained than the live show had been, but only in volume.

Their debut album, Tides, is, in comparison, strangely muted. Aside from the juddering Warp-inflected ‘Dawn’, the slowly growing shimmer of ‘Everything At Once’, the utterly gorgeous ‘Cluster’, and the ominous kick drums of ‘Hymn’, it’s not that the album lacks energy, it just feels like that energy might have taken on a more rueful, less recognisably euphoric tone. A sparseness, or even a brittleness, permeates through these pieces, spliced in with a cautious fragility maybe. Listen to all the components of the aforementioned ‘Hymn’ and it’s hard to know precisely where that comes from – its juddering electro rhythm has plenty of forward motion, and its central melody is not immediately plaintive, questioning or uncertain.

‘Secret Window’ takes that maudlin disposition and attaches it to delicate piano loops and mournful reeds, while ‘Vespers’ does the same only with sheets of ice-bright Bob Fripp-style atmospherics. These are pieces that feel like they could erupt into something edgy and dangerous at any moment, but instead they stay firmly bedded down in an achingly beautiful, yet ultimately sorrowful place.

Once you realise that this is just where Tides wants to stay, it makes for an incredibly well-crafted, detailed and wonderfully minimalist record, full of meticulous gestures and an ever-shifting palette of complex sounds. In spite of the Smart brothers’ role in hip Norwich modern jazz unit Mammal Hands, any overtones from that group lurking around on Tides are discrete, tentative and sporadic. The mysterious ‘Collapse’ is the exception, Jordan’s bass clarinet leading this album centrepiece through an atmospheric, electronically-structured ride through a vibrant, edgy, futuristic souk.

Tides by Sunda Arc is released February 7 2020 by Gondwana.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Thomas Köner – Motus

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“I dream of a dance floor where Motus would be enjoyed,” says Thomas Köner. “What kind of society would allow that?”

His ambition isn’t necessarily wilfully controversial or provocative, but it nevertheless underpins a desire to unshackle music from the notion of grids, beats, BPMs and electronic music formalism. Motus is the latest instalment in Köner’s gently subversive approach to analogue synthesis, something I first experienced way back in June 1996 with ‘Untitled’, a track included on a CD given away with The Wire (Miaow! (…Cats What I Call Music)). That track was, on face value, a recording containing virtually nothing, a distant, ephemeral rumble easily overtaken by real life; to experience it, one had to tune everything out, turn it up loud and concentrate very hard. Only then could you hear the rich, undulating turbulence that the piece was actually constructed from. It was loud music, just presented very quietly.

Motus, comparatively, is bold, noisy and restless. Freed from the tyranny of the beat, tracks like ‘SUBSTRATE (Binaural)’ take their forward motion not from an obvious rhythm, but the ebbing waves of a modular sequence, whose pace only alters materially when the waveform is tweaked. The effect is, for those used to hearing music anchored to a pattern of kick drums, hi-hats and snare sounds, mildly unnerving. You want to attach these sequences to a rhythm, even though it’s not there, your inner clock suddenly thrown off track by a subtle modulation here or there.

Strangely, the effect of this – despite being made from nothing more than artificial waveforms and electrical current – is to remind you that nature does not cling rigidly to perfection. Gusts of wind don’t readily adhere to a quantised location on a screen; a bird’s flapping wings are not operating at a consistent BPM; your heart is more than likely not beating at precisely the same pace as it was when you started reading this (it will either have slowed down through disengagement or sped up through the panic of a beat-less musical world). It takes pieces like ‘SUBSTANCE (Suicide)’, and the other six tracks on Motus to make you realise that.

Motus by Thomas Köner is released February 6 2020 by Mille Plateaux.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Infinite Scale – The Value of Accessibility

Following on from their excellent BUNKR and Echaskech releases, VLSI Records continue to cultivate that rare ability in a label of creating a cohesive identity while simultaneously showcasing acts who have their own personalities.

Such is the case with Harmi Paldi, who has been creating music under the alias of Infinite Scale since 2005. Opening track ‘Caught On Tape’ gives the feeling of leaning forward without falling over, like a glitchy, fragmented Jack Dawson holding Rose Dewitt Bukater at a 45-degree angle on the bow of the Titanic.

‘The Chauffeur’ is fuelled by a laconic bass-line that tethers all the other moving parts to its roots. ‘Ordinary Familiar’ splutters wonderfully to a halt like ‘French Kiss’ deprived of its morning caffeine. Album closer ‘Steppa Side’s wooziness suggests a more playful side which strikes a nice balance with the more muted tones of the track that precedes it, ‘Pay For This’.

The album concerns itself with the ease we have of accessing information and the sheer volume of data available to us. It also suggests a longing for the pre-internet days of anticipation and manual discovery. The use of the word ‘tape’ in one of the titles reveals a fondness for the tactile joy of physical objects. In a digital world items such as audio and video cassettes look and feel antiquated, and it’s easy to see why they might become fetishised by generations who were deprived of the pleasure of possessing them first time around.

Does accessibility trump first-hand experience? Can second-hand experiences ever match seeing and feeling things unfold in the flesh? Does it matter? Are we guilty of setting our personal filters too far to the point where we only interact with our own doppelgängers?

Perhaps the reality is if we solely embrace this constant source of never-ending information we will end up isolated and our opinions homogenised.

The Value Of Accessibility‘s strength lies in its ability to process and present ideas without losing its humanity or identity. To have information at one’s fingertips suits those of us who can no longer can be free in their movements, whether due to geographical responsibilities, mobility issues, or the end of free movement in Europe post-Brexit. Luckily, records such as these transcend physical borders.

The Value Of Accessibility by Infinite Scale is released January 31 2020 by VLSI Records.

Words: David Best. David is a founding member of Fujiya & Miyagi and Ex-Display Model.

(c) 2020 David Best for Further.