Take Five: MICROCORPS

MICROCORPS is the alias of Grumbling Fur’s Alexander Tucker. Tucker has just issued XMIT, his first album of electronic rhythms under his new alter ego, which features collaborations with Nik Void, Astrud Steehouder, Gazelle Twin and Simon Fisher Turner. We described XMIT as “the thrilling, vibrant sound and energy of pure electrical current, here wrestled and tamed into a regimented form, but one that always feels like it’s on the frontier of suddenly becoming wildly out of control.” 

Here, Tucker takes us through five of his most treasured albums, from dub to drone to electronics and reveals how Michael Morley from The Dead C provided the impetus for his MICROCORPS project.

Faust – Faust Tapes 

My friend lent me this album when I was 17 or 18. I dubbed it to tape straight away and I used to listen to this whilst hoovering the house. My friend was part of a local crew of musicians into experimental music. I grew up in a small town called Southborough in Kent but luckily for me it was populated with a few like-minded souls into the weirder aspects of creativity. I was instantly taken with the collaged cut-up nature of this album – so many warped worlds, moving between psychedelic songs, noise and fried improvisation. Alongside Throbbing Gristle’s Heathen Earth, these two albums made me realise I could use my limited musical abilities to start my own forays into drone, frequency manipulation and tape loop collages.  

Santic And Friends – An Even Harder Shade Of Black  

This compilation of dub producer Leonard ‘Santic’ Chin’s work from the mid 1970s was my introduction to King Tubby, Augustus Pablo, Horace Andy, I-Roy and Gregory Isaacs. I was sifting through records in the old Rough Trade in Neal’s Yard and they started playing this album in the shop. It was the prime post-rock / hardcore period of the mid-1990s, I was really into Tortoise’s first album and the Discord band Hoover, who both had a strong dub flavour to their bass playing, so my ears were already primed to get into the originators for this sound. Santic’s production is so warm and texturally rich, I love his re-working of The Beatles ‘Norwegian Wood’ melody on ‘Harder Shade Of Black’ and ‘Better Shade Of Dub’ played on the melodica.  

Bardo Pond – Bufo Alvarius  

There’s something particularly blurry about this early Bardo Pond release. I think Bardo have been misunderstood over the years, often mistakenly filed under stoner rock. Most of the members of this band have a fine art background which I feel feeds into the broad noise brushstrokes of these feedback-rich tracks. Neither MBV or metal tags do them a service, the history of noise improvisation and outsider psychedelic song forms are closer to the mark. The epic 30-minute track ‘Amen’ is a master class in drone maximalism, beatless and anchored around bassist Clint Takeda’s ever circling repetitive bass phrase. Guitar tones phase into pure sound and vocalist Isobel Sollenberger’s processed voice melts into alien language and time is banished forever.  

Gate – A Republic Of Sadness  

Gate is Michael Morley of The Dead C, Michael gave this LP to me at a Dead C gig in London. I expected this to reflect the looped samples and guitar noise of previous Gate albums but this was predominantly electronic beat music. A Republic of Sadness and the follow up, Saturday Night Fever, are two of my favourite records. Morley is able to meld his love of drone minimalism to his exploded rockist leanings, through to electronic manipulations. Somehow there are aspects of Charlemagne Palestine and The Fall simultaneously shining through these pieces. This album helped me to move towards making music with machine rhythms and electronics. I really liked it that someone from the noise scene was making this type of music, I think that freed me up to pursue the similar mutant forms I’m currently engaged with in MICROCORPS.  

Oren Ambarchi – Hubris  

I was down at Soho Radio with my friend Simon Fisher Turner whilst he was DJing and he played a good chunk of side one of Oren Ambarchi’s excellent Hubris album, which I hadn’t heard before. First track ‘Hubris 1’ is such a perfect example of something made up of many different layers, that you can view in both a microscopic and macroscopic way. It can be heard as a homogeneous whole or you can dive down in to the individual parts making up the piece. Its rhythmic drive is matched by its pulsing motorised guitar patterns creating these perfectly revolving cycles. This could easily be three hours long and I would never tire of this perfect track.  

XMIT by MICROCORPS was released by Alter on April 16 2021. Thanks to Zoe. 

Interview: Mat Smith 

(c) 2021 Further. 

MICROCORPS – XMIT

XMIT is the debut album from MICROCORPS, a new alias of Grumbling Fur’s Alexander Tucker. The emphasis here is placed squarely on electronic rhythms, eschewing the pointillism of glitch and the recognisable dancefloor beats of minimal techno in favour of a liminal zone occupied by intense arrays of pulses and submergent bass tones. 

The effect is both arresting and beautifully discomforting. Overlaid by nausea-inducing, seesawing drones and hissing sweeps, opening track ‘JFET’ sets the scene for XMIT‘s eight tracks. There is rarely a moment on ‘JFET’ where the rhythm falters or pauses, creating a sense of claustrophobia but also a sort of epiphanic transcendency and euphoria thanks to that same relentlessness. A similar approach emerges on the sparse ‘XEM’ with Gazelle Twin, whose monologue was inspired by Alien but which sounds mostly like unsettling layered ghost voices to my easily-spooked ears. ‘ILN’, recorded with Nik Void, features a juddering beat reminiscent of Autechre while they still had regard for rhythmic convention, over which the pair overlay seemingly random sonic events, each of which are promptly splintered and ensnared by the track’s swampy low-end. 

‘UVU’ is perhaps the album’s greatest departure from itself. Consisting of a slower rhythm, an unswerving violin-like drone and choppy synths that sound like scanning searchlights, ‘UVU’ charts a dangerous course. There is a roughness and menace here that claws away at you insistently, evoking a firmness and sense of determined purpose, but also an air of troubling anxiety. ‘OCT’ (with Simon Fisher Turner) is a metallic, unpredictable noisescape that acts almost like the inverse of the other tracks here, its rhythms audible but by no means the focal point. 

XMIT is a challenging listen, but maybe it’s not so challenging if your reference points are the likes of Throbbing Gristle or Cabaret Voltaire, both of whom took a similarly broadminded view of the elemental properties (and physical impacts) of rhythms. What Tucker has harnessed best of all with XMIT is the thrilling, vibrant sound and energy of pure electrical current, here wrestled and tamed into a regimented form, but one that always feels like it’s on the frontier of suddenly becoming wildly out of control. Embracing that central tension is what makes this brilliant debut such a compelling listen. 

XMIT by MICROCORPS is released April 16 2021 by Alter. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2021 Further. 

In Conversation: Alexander Tucker

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Photo: Dom Garwood

Alexander Tucker is one half of Grumbling Fur and Grumbling Fur Time Machine Orchestra with Daniel O’Sullivan. 2019 has already seen the release of Plasma Splice Truffle by the duo and fellow sonic traveller Neil Campbell from Astral Social Club, as well as Daniel O’Sullivan’s mesmerising solo LP, Folly. Tucker releases his latest solo album, the magically-titled Guild Of The Asbestos Weaver, on August 23 through Chicago’s Thrill Jockey imprint.

Further. spoke to Tucker about his multiple interests, how the five songs on his new album came together and how it feels to be compared to Brian Eno. Read the Further. review of Guild Of The Asbestos Weaver here.

You talk about this new album as connecting up your various interests in music, science fiction and comic art. How do these different disciplines fit together, for you? What is it about this record in particular (compared to other projects) that links these things together?

I think my interest in art, literature and comics has always fed into my work, although I started to place these things – albeit in my own abstract way – directly into the lyrics since I recorded Dorwytch in 2011. At around that time I re-read Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing series and placed imagery from the comic into the songs. It felt quite freeing to use imagery that was more akin to science-fiction, surrealism and cosmic-horror. I didn’t want the words to relate to real life, although there are always coded references to things going on around me.

I want music and music-making to transport me away from the everyday, not to reinforce the mundane. Film is also something that continues to bleed into my work both lyrically and through the music itself. I’ve been obsessed again with the first two Alien / Aliens films, in particular the atmosphere, design, sounds and craftsmanship that went into them. I like to keep my influences in my peripheral vision – not to stare directly at them and copy aspects from them, but to keep the essence in my mind and shape things from there.

The title of your new album feels like it requires some explanation. Where did that come from?

Guild Of The Asbestos Weaver comes from Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451. The term appears in the last chapter where the protagonist, Guy Montag, escapes his pursuers and bumps into a group of people resisting the totalitarian regime, who have mentally stored the banned and destroyed books.

At first I thought the term referred to the regime choking society with the poisonous fibres of asbestos but at the time Bradbury was writing the book, asbestos’ toxicity was little-known. He actually meant that the Guild are the resistance fighters stamping out the flames of intolerance. I didn’t mean for the title to have such political significance and the content of the lyrics are definitely rooted outside of human reality, but in this day and age you can’t help but be drawn into what’s happening around you and we need the Guild now, more than ever.

The tone of the album is quite different to 2018’s ‘Don’t Look Away’. You’ve been performing live with a modular system recently and this LP does seem to have a more pronounced electronic tone to it, yet it’s also distinctively an Alexander Tucker album. There also these very dramatic, intimidating cello sounds on ‘Montag’ as well as lots of drones and quite ominous psychedelic percussion. What prompted that change of emphasis?

I finished the album before getting some modular bits, but I used samplers to loop and process a lot of the sounds. I’ve deliberately moved away from using acoustic guitar – which I haven’t been playing for a few years now – and its been a long time since I’ve played live with acoustic guitar and loop pedals. I think people still have this outdated image of me with a beard and long hair, looping to infinity.

Since playing in Grumbling Fur I’ve moved closer to using electronics and playing live bass processed through effects. In the past I did all my sampling live, adding each layer as I went along, but now I do some of that work in studio. I recorded percussive rhythms with cello and simple phrases on synth, and I then resampled these into long loops as the base for the songs to rotate around.

I wanted to keep things quite minimal, but for the tracks to have a maximalist effect. I’d been listening to Earth’s Pentastar: In the Style of Demons and Oren Ambarchi’s Hubris LPs, and both of these records use a sparse palette but pile up layers of sound to create these deep kaleidoscopic effects.

Your vocal style, as well as maybe the way it floats above (and through) the sonic fabric of your music often gets compared to Brian Eno back when he still did vocal music. What do you make of that?

I either get Brian Eno, Dave Gahan, Robert Wyatt or Tears for Fears – all of which are very flattering but I’ve owned very few records by these artists.

I’ve always sang in my own voice, and I think the connection with a lot of these British vocalists is that you can really hear where they’re from. They don’t try to Americanise themselves or hide their accent. I did grow up in the 80s so maybe some of that sound filtered into me from just listening to the radio and watching TV, but I don’t know any other way to sing.

In between Don’t Look Away and Guild Of The Asbestos Weaver you completed the Grumbling Fur Time Machine Orchestra album with Neil Campbell of Astral Social Club. Neil explained that that record was built up over a long period as you grabbed time to focus on it here and there. Was Guild Of The Asbestos Weaver the same in terms of having a long gestation period?

Guild came together relatively quickly for me. Most of my albums have had reasonably long gestation periods, but with this record it was the first time that I wrote the material, played it out live and then went straight into the studio and made a document of the process.

Firstly I wrote and recorded at my home studio, but then after touring took the material over to Holy Mountain studios in Hackney and completed the album there. I wanted a get a big epic sound so Holy Mountain was perfect for this. I could play at very loud volumes and use the many synths they have in the studio.

How do you approach working on a solo record compared to collaborating with people like Daniel O’Sullivan in Grumbling Fur, or Neil from Astral Social Club, or Charlemagne Palestine?

When I’m collaborating, the process is always a response to the other players and the situation: it’s about reacting in the moment, pulling out your strengths, and trying to be bold.

When I work with Daniel O’Sullivan, it’s very automatic – we limit the conversation to any concrete ideas, while bringing in our individual ways of working to the project. When Grumbling Fur work as Time Machine Orchestra, improvisation is at the centre of what we do, so anything goes really. We have referred to this as automatic-composition.

I’m intrigued as to how you bring together tracks like the ones on the new album. As well as these tightly-packed, very detailed layers running through the songs there’s also the lyrical content, which seems to be filled with very fluid, vivid, almost impressionistic ideas. What comes first – music or lyrics?

The music always comes first. I used to write a lot and then fit the lyrics to the music but now the words are always a response to the sound.

I like to create strong imagery but keep it vague, I’ll probably have a multitude of scenes running alongside each other, like a dream logic where themes meld with each other to create partial narratives that don’t necessarily conclude.

Your cover art reminds me of both Roger Hagreaves’ illustrations to his original Mr. Men books – a kind of playful, innocent quality – but also the imposing gravity of stained glass windows. How does this image link to the music?

I really love 60s and 70s comics and illustration, where you see those bold black lines and flat expanses of colour.

The cover art came from a drawing in my sketch book. I liked the idea of the figure being the ‘Weaver’, some sort of multi-dimensional being appearing from behind a veil or a tear in reality.

The cover art to my records is never fixed by meaning, it’s supposed to be another piece of the narrative. One of the biggest influences in my work is David Lynch. Lynch is the master of non-linear story telling, leaving pieces of the puzzle tantalisingly out of reach. I want the viewer or listener to join their own dots and create their own interpretation of the overall picture.

Guild Of The Asbestos Weaver by Alexander Tucker is released by Thrill Jockey on August 23 2019.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Alexander Tucker – Guild Of The Asbestos Weaver

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The follow-up to last year’s Don’t Look Away, Alexander Tucker’s Guild Of The Asbestos Weaver was named after a resistance group appearing in Ray Bradbury’s seminal Fahrenheit 451; the reference to their intolerance-combating actions was an unintentional act on the part of Tucker, but one that feels highly relevant in the context of the rightward shift in political ideologies around the world.

Consisting of five long songs loaded with bold, dense sonic adventure, Guild Of The Asbestos Weaver takes its place alongside the sonic dexterity of the Grumbling Fur project he shares with Daniel O’Sullivan, and marks a significant departure from Don’t Look Away. Constructed from loops of synths, cello and highly-processed bass guitar, these pieces contain restless, ever-shifting, intricately-detailed beds of sound over which Tucker’s clarion, understated vocal is allowed to quietly and majestically soar.

Opener ‘Energy Alphas’ might have dirty, distorted guitar as its principal melodic signal, but it’s Tucker’s mysterious, impenetrable, impressionistic singing that gives this track a distinctive – but wonderfully unfathomable – optimism, gliding gently upward over tiny beats and swells of electronics. ‘Montag’ opens with a defiant, crisp marching glitch rhythm before opening out into affecting cello textures, gradually proceeding with a tension-filled dread, its elliptical lyrics reading like a particularly vivid and harrowing dream.

‘Precog’ is perhaps the album’s signature moment. Opening with clanking, machine-like loops that gradually increase in speed to an insistent prowl, the track rapidly transforms into brooding piece dominated by a rich, ominous and utterly absorbing stridency that one cannot help but be completely ensnared by.

Guild Of The Asbestos Weaver by Alexander Tucker is released on August 23 2019 by Thrill Jockey.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.