Take Five: Isambard Khroustaliov

Transhuman Harmolodics is the typically deep-thinking new album avant garde electronic musician and Radiophonic Workshop contributor Sam Britton’s Isambard Khroustaliov alter ego. Britton’s conceptual jumping-off point here is the notion of transhumanism, the idea that we can somehow upgrade our corporeal existence and eradicate ageing. If that sounds like heavy and pretty scary subject matter, consider that Britton has decided to amplify the complexity by using Ornette Coleman’s amorphous, ever-changing concept of harmolodics. We spoke to Britton about five of his favourite albums, from Coleman to Zappa.

Ornette Coleman – The Empty Foxhole

I remember seeing Ornette Coleman perform with his son Denardo in the early 2000s and being totally in awe of the connection they had musically. It was just a whole other thing, completely unexplainable, but totally tangible … totally ancient, but completely modern in its freeness. I came back to this album after I featured some recordings of my son singing on my 2019 album This Is My Private Beach, This Is My Jetsam. For me, The Empty Foxhole is just such a beautiful document of father and son revelling in new adventures together.

Kim Gordon – No Home Record

Those no bullshit, take no prisoners records are few and far between, but I reckon this has got to be one of them. I really hope that sometime soon I get the chance to see Kim Gordon up on a stage hurling out these tracks incredibly loud to a massive crowd who are all moshing uncontrollably, me included.

Carlo Gesualdo – Madrigals

I was introduced, almost by accident, to Gesualdo through the brilliantly geeky BBC Radio 3 programme Building A Library, where different recordings of the same piece of music are compared and contrasted. It was one of those moments when you just switch on the radio and find yourself completely caught off guard and totally blown away. Apart from anything else, how utterly different two performances of the same piece of music can be sent me down a wormhole of early vocal music ensembles, all of whose skill and dedication is awesome to behold.

Sun Ra – My Brother the Wind Vol. 1

When I first listened to this record it blew up all of the mystery and nerdiness that surrounds synthesisers for me. Right from the beginning a feeling of revolution is in the air, but once you reach the epic ‘Space Probe’, it’s pretty clear not much is going to be the same again. Apart from anything, the constant shift in sonority and the way Sun Ra uses it as a improvisational tool is mind-bending. The instrument he is using hasn’t even left Moog’s factory and despite everything to come, I think there’s little that touches the sheer breadth and vision documented here.

Frank Zappa – The Yellow Shark

I came back to this more recently after watching Alex Winter’s 2020 biopic on Zappa. Towards the end of the film there’s an incredibly moving portrait of him working with the Ensemble Modern and the concerts they did together before he passed away. I remember seeing the Ensemble Modern perform the same pieces at the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall not long after and the mixture of euphoria tinged with tragedy it evoked. As the film brilliantly portrays, Zappa was nothing if not a walking contradiction, but also ultimately a tireless champion of liberty, independence and free speech. The Yellow Shark is a brilliant tribute to one of music’s great iconoclasts.

Transhuman Harmolodics by Isambard Khroustaliov was released May 28 2021 by Not Applicable. With thanks to Jim.

 

(c) 2021 Further.

Faith Coloccia & Philip Jeck – Stardust

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2021 Further.

Simon Klee – Mandragora

If there’s one thing that lockdown has taught us, it’s to appreciate the near-to. Whether it’s a wander through a local wooded copse, the discovery of a shortcut through your local estate, or perhaps a new-found love of ornithology, the last year has revealed hitherto unappreciated details of our close environment. It is the much-needed small bursts of joy that these can bring that Simon Klee celebrates in his latest album, Mandagora.

Like much of Klee’s previous output, this release on the Woodford Halse label showcases his love of nature. Inspired by walks along tributaries and nights spend under the stars in his native Thames Valley, the ten tracks all have their roots in the natural world. 

So how does Klee introduce the listener to his paean to nature? Not for him the folksy nurdlings you might expect given the accompanying floral artwork. Instead we get space synths! 

Album opener ‘Constant Velocity’ creates bows and arcs that eventually form delicious melodies from which the first squawks of bird chatter emerge, and we’re on our way.  

After the first couple of tracks a more organic feel does start to come through. The woodwind sounds of ‘Sky Raider’ are backed by some lovely spacey melodies, evoking early Kraftwerk. And from there things become a bit more unsettling.  

Across several of these tracks, we experience the slightly disquieting feeling of being alone in a forest –watched by unseen eyes. Echoey, haunting guitars give way to the chatter of birds and perhaps other, unknown creatures.   

We then emerge from the woodland to the sound of wind chimes on ‘Phantom Energy’ and the album picks up pace.  Klee likes to skirt the edges of the dance floor and this is also the case on parts of this album. The uptick in pace is enjoyable and is continued through some of the album’s final tracks.   

‘Anticrepuscular Rays’ brings a proggy, trancey vibe, before things unexpectedly turn bouncy, fun and electro on ‘Endosymbiosis’. The album closes with its eponymous title track, taking the tempo down a notch or two as the tired traveler unlaces their walking boots and takes a well-earned sip from their flask of herbal tea.  

So strap on that Walkman (this is a cassette and digital release) and head off for one more stroll though the countryside, this time with the sounds of Mandragora to accompany and inspire you.  

Mandragora by Simon Klee is released May 7 2021 by Woodford Halse

Words: Chris Hill

(c) 2021 Further.

Sisters With Transistors (dir. Lisa Rovner)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2021 Further.

Audio Obscura – Adventures In The Anthropocene

News stories about climate change are generally coupled with their own distinct imagery. We are now well used to seeing images of, variously, the terrifying silhouettes of forest fires, of cliff faces or ice shelves crumbling into the ocean, of factory chimneys billowing fumes into the atmosphere, of aerial shots of vast, sprawling megacities or images of mute animals acting as a short-hand for extinction. In this context, there is something both depressing and terrifying about the image that Neil Stringfellow selected for the sleeve image of his follow up to last year’s Audio Obscura album, Love In The Time Of The Anthropocene

Not for Stringfellow these stock images; instead he has chosen something somehow more relatable, more impactful, and more shameful than images that we have become, if not inured to, then certainly used to – a municipal dump, the vast industrialised means of disposing of mankind’s waste en masse, and a row of washing machines, ovens and televisions. The circumstance of their disposal is, of course, not clear, but it is a thought-provoking image nonetheless. Were they replaced because they didn’t fit the household’s aesthetic and changing tastes? Were they replaced because they were no longer working? Could they have been repaired? What will happen to these appliances next? Will they be dismantled, their parts stripped, salvaged and recycled into new appliances? (Unlikely.) Or will they be shipped on vast diesel-powered vessels to distant shores where they will become some other community’s problem? As I said: depressing and terrifying. 

Adventures In The Anthropocene is, itself, partly recycled. It includes remixes of tracks by Scanner, Belly Full Of Stars and Rupert Lally; it includes an alternative version of ‘The Clattering Train’ from Love In The Time Of The Anthropocene; it includes a thirty-minute live performance of the original album reworked into a single tapestry. The album also includes five new pieces, including the stunning opening track ‘Komorebi 木漏れ日’, named for the untranslatable Japanese expression for sunlight passing through leaves. 

The impact of Love In The Time Of The Anthropocene was perhaps most felt in its afterglow. Stringfellow’s message was both direct, but also subtle. It inspired you to think differently, but its bleak, detached tonality also offered little hope to cling on to. It arrived smack in the middle of the pandemic, where the world felt unexpectedly united, for once. There was a common enemy, a common problem, a need to collaborate across borders to tackle a common threat; a new President was shortly afterwards installed into the White House, and one of his first gestures was to reverse his predecessor’s dismissal of climate change and his conjoined, hateful nationalistic rhetoric. There was a sense of hope: what if this effort to mitigate a virus could be applied to climate change (something, lest we forget, that has the potential to cause many, many more deaths than COVID19)? Fast forward to the release of its (sort of) sequel and things feel like they’ve shifted. Rather than celebrating the speed and efficacy of cross-border vaccine development, it has instead become a geo-political warzone and the embodiment of vaccine-led colonialism (a new book by Peter Hotez, Preventing The Next Pandemic, adroitly deals with this subject). And spend any time in your local English shopping centre or high street the weekend after non-essential retail opened and you will see just how far we haven’t come, being the embodiment of greed and self-centred individualism, not the ‘we’re all in this together’ spirit that existed for a lot of 2020. 

Adventures In The Anthropocene’s release is, thus, timely. The central live piece, using extensive segments of narrated commentary about what humankind has wrought on this world – including creating the perfect conditions for global pandemics such as COVID-19 – is a useful wake-up call for anyone whose sole focus has been booking a flight to some far-flung destination or queuing for hours outside Primark just to buy some cheap, disposable, unsustainable fashion frippery. There is a significantly larger issue at hand; we may have survived the pandemic, but it is merely a symptom of the bigger war we’re in danger of forgetting about if we don’t act now. 

Scanner’s remix of ‘Goodbye Helocene’ at least sounds optimistic. For his mix, Robin Rimbaud has developed a sort of woozy, shimmering, journeying exotica from the bones of the original track, which has the effect of distracting you from its less-than-cheery subject starting point. In contrast, Further. favourite Rupert Lally takes ‘Radio Anthropocene’ off in an appropriately darkened, brooding direction, its plaintive piano and droning backdrop sounding like the final broadcast of a damaged transmitter before the end of the world, while Belly Full Of Stars re-imagine ‘Love Is…’ as a modern classical duet for swirling saxophone and mournful cello set to clipped, inchoate beats. 

The album ends with one of Stringfellow’s new pieces, ‘The Last Full Day Of Civilisation’. There is a fragility here, and a sense of pretty, stirring wistfulness. Its delicate, overlapping, chiming music box melodies might sound celebratory, but only in the sense that music played at a funeral is celebratory. To this listener, it wordlessly says, ‘Here lived homo sapiens, who consciously squandered the gift they were given, and in so doing made themselves extinct.’ If that doesn’t make you sit up and take action, then really nothing will, and we’re all doomed to the fate foretold in Stringfellow’s ruminative closing arguments. 

Adventures In The Anthropocene by Audio Obscura was released March 4 2021. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2021 Further. 

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. 

A Clew Of (Tape)worms: venoztks / Nigel Wrench / Patrick Shiroishi & Zachary Paul

Three new releases from The Tapeworm reflect the idiosyncratic, democratic approach to presenting material that has been the mainstay of the label since it was established in 2009.

venoztks is the alias of one of the three founders of The Tapeworm, though we don’t precisely know which one. How It’s Not Meant To Be is an exploration of electronic improvisation, full of prowling frequency fluctuations, gravelly static, sibilant hissing, clicks, unpredictable tone formations and rapid oscillations between noisy rumbles and quiet, occasionally flute-like intricacy. Scratchy noises appear, flutter violently at your ears and then recede, once more becoming inchoate and elusive.

While a lot of this tape is reminiscent of the earliest recorded electronic experiments, somewhat randomly, the spiralling, endless ebb and flow of sounds and the way they constantly wriggle (worm-like?) out of your grasp makes me think of those poor contestants on The Crystal Maze trying to snag as many gold foil tokens as they can before time runs out. Unlike that torturous final stage of the gameshow, however, there is plenty of time on How It’s Not Meant To Be to try and clutch at these sounds – an hour to be precise.

The venoztks website helpfully lists all the frequencies used in his works should you wish to attempt a cover version. Read more about The Tapeworm in our interview here.

Investigative journalist Nigel Wrench’s ZA87 is the sequel, of sorts, to another Tapeworm release (ZA86) from 2015. Wrench’s career took him to the brutally segregated streets of Soweto in the mid-1980s, finding him at the epicentre of tensions rarely without a microphone in his hand.

ZA87 acts as a powerful document of events that took place on a single day – July 27 1987. The subject of Wrench’s recording is the funeral of teenage activist Peter Sello Motau, assassinated by South African police. We hear Motau’s father’s outpouring of grief and disbelief at both his son’s death and the efforts of the police to halt the funeral. We hear poignant, rousing traditional singing. We hear Wrench interviewing Winnie Mandela, and Mandela provoking the police with a firm and frank riposte at their actions to restrict the funeral.

We hear sirens tearing past, creating a divisive moment of fear and panic. As an unadulterated, raw field recording, ZA87 is an unswerving audio document of one person’s sacrifice and a nation’s turbulent journey toward the ending of apartheid. More details can be found at www.za87.org

Of The Shapes Of Hearts And Humans is less a collaboration between saxophonist Patrick Shiroishi and violinist Zachary Paul as it is a journal entry.

Recorded on an early September day at Garfield Park in Pasadena, the duo improvisation was made at a time when the worst wildfires in the state’s history were raging across California, but there is little untameable heat to be found in this pairing. Instead, there is a delicate poignancy to their intertwining melodies, and a rueful, introspective levity, even amid moments of scratchy dissonance. It is a subtly uplifting experience to hear these two players gently weaving around one another in the open-air surroundings of the park.

A few days later, Paul upped sticks out of LA and began moving across the breadth of the United States. As he made his way eastward, one imagines that it was possible to still hear the echoes of his interplay with Shirioshi carried softly and sweetly on the September breezes that fuelled the devastating fires.

Tapeworm releases: How It’s Not Meant To Be by venoztks was released December 11 2020; ZA87 by Nigel Wrench was released March 5 2021; Of The Shapes Of Hearts And Humans by Patrick Shiroishi and Zachary Paul was released March 11 2021. Visit the Bandwurm minimart here.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2021 Further.

Kemper Norton – Troillia

The Cornish roots of the mysterious Kemper Norton run deep in his music. Though outwardly electronic, his compositions have a naturalistic edge inspired by the local folklore, mythology and topography of his home county. In the last few years he has released albums inspired by everything from the Torrey Canyon oil spill (Toll, 2016) to the abandoned arsenic production facilities that litter the Cornish landscape (Brunton Calciner, 2019 and Oxland Cylinder, 2020), in so doing isolating a sort of ghostly fascination with vestigial relics that have left an indelible mark on England’s otherwise unspoilt western frontier.

‘Troillia’ is an old Cornish verb meaning to spin round. Over time, the word became ‘troyl’, the Cornish equivalent of the ceilidh dance. With Troillia, we find Kemper Norton turning his distinctive gaze to the Cornish culture, through references to these traditional dances, exploring regional Celtic links to Scottish songs and the fairs, parades and civic events that can be found in many Cornish communities.

These are things that are somehow disconnected from time and place, passed down by generations ceaselessly without their true origins being understood. The effect is to give a piece like ‘Crowshensa’ and ‘Cantol’ a blurry, imperceptible, unplaceable dimension, their genteel, undulating accordion drones rapidly subsumed beneath layers of murky reverb and synthetic hum before once more returning to their original states or cacophonous chatter by the end. ‘Three Craws’ finds our Cornish spirit guide singing in a plaintive voice against a backdrop of subtle turbulence, while the angular, amorphous shapes of ‘Corwedhen’ offer glimpses of other things – cyclical passages, inchoate rhythms – that seems to encapsulate this notion of appreciating tradition while not appreciating whence they originate.

Kemper Norton’s enduring conceit is to give seemingly innocuous things a sense of creepy displacement. Though he is at pains to point out that this album was made in sunlight instead of in the darkness of Victorian Industrial Age relics, on Troillia you feel this sense of modernity clashing uncomfortably with tradition, without ever knowing precisely why it makes us feel this way. Its ten pieces occupy their own post-hauntological, interstitial time zone, a queasy, discomforting interzone where our electroacoustic hero is the sonic archivist of long forgotten cultural reference points.

Troillia by Kemper Norton is released March 29 2021.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2021 Further.

Code – Ghost Ship

Twenty-five years after their debut, Code – a Kent quartet of Andrew PhillipsDarren TillDavid Mitchell and Graham Cupples – have released the follow-up to 1995’s The Architect

The Architect was a deservedly celebrated album, dropping in at a time when crossover techno and dance music was perhaps at its most interesting, gaining significant audiences tired of Brit-pop. Code’s music had the sampleadelic diversity of The Chemical Brothers, the progressive house rhythms of Leftfield and Spooky and the rabbit punch to the temples embodied by the likes of Empirion. 

And then… nothing. Eschewing the Code name in 1996, the quartet released the album Deco under the name Mortal (pseudonyms were a big thing in the genre-precious mid-1990s), but nothing followed. The title Ghost Ship is thus appropriately named: inspired by the real-life ghost ship, the MV Alta, that ran aground on the coast of Ireland in February of this year after disappearing out in the Atlantic near Bermuda and floating crewlessly for 18 months, the title is an allegory for a group that also just seemed to vanish

The material on Ghost Ship was largely pieced together from hard drives containing material recorded just after the release of The Architect. Consequently, some of the tracks here have a certain period nostalgia to them – squelchy synths that burble and rise to the surface with ambient panache, glitch-free rhythms, Gregorian chants and the sort of blunt energy that existed before minimalism discarded all of the unnecessary accoutrements of dance music and instead channelled its essential, nagging pulse. 

‘Breathe Slow’ has a sort of trippy fog, featuring samples of wobbly French dialogue, a sort of sub-aquatic dub-techno dynamism, and a reassuring vocal that is echoed in the hypnotherapy samples in the slow-motion, jazzy funk of ‘Listen To Me’ that follows. These tropes are familiar if, like me, you spent your time absorbing yourself in so many of the dance acts that emerged in the 1990s. Listening to Ghost Ship is like being aboard a boat back through your own history; listening to this lost gem is like being transported in time to how I felt as my ears were being opened up to dance music most fully, the decisions I made while flicking through racks and racks of otherwise faceless white labels and the friends I formed around the music I decided was mine. 

One of the highlights here is ‘The Building’, a bristling, urgent vocal techno banger nodding in the direction of Underworld at their most commercial. ‘The Building’ broods with both a lysergic energy and a detached, almost quotidian trawl through daily movements inside a structure whose plans were sketched by ‘The Architect’. The other standout track is ‘Midnight’, whose wiry synths and plaintive vocals prompt a sort of trepidatious euphoria. 

Ghost Ship is the album that never was, and the album that now is; a record from a band that vanished without a trace for two and a half decades but who have now run aground on our sonic foreshore with a cargo full of ideas fully intact. 

Ghost Ship by Code was released November 6 2020 by Lo-Tek Audio Ltd. 

Words: Mat Smith. With thanks to Gary at Red Sand. 

(c) 2020 Further. 

Local Sound Developer – Damaged Textures

Local Sound Developer is an alias of St. Albans-based electronic musician Damon Vallero, and the evocative title of this twelve-track album – Damaged Textures – could well sum up this intricately-presented album far better than any review I could write. 

The sleight of hand that Vallero uses here is to blend together droning loops, enveloping ambience, clipped microscopically-detailed sounds and traces of rhythmic pulses with more organic sounds – what could be a reed sound from a Mellotron, snatches of overheard chatter and held tones reminiscent of an organ. The result, on tracks like the tense ‘Safe House’ or the wonky ‘A Town Stood Still’, is disconcerting, like Vallero is soundtracking some sort of weird, nonsensical but unsettling fever dream, encapsulating that disorienting notion that things simply don’t feel right. 

There is also a fragility here that’s often easy to miss. The countermelodies of ‘Behind The Façade’ are mournful and searching, floating to the surface delicately like a desperate cry for help. ‘Hidden Places’ is among the more intriguing pieces here, skipping along gently like a broken music box, its melodic quotient feeling beautifully uneven, almost as if Vallero is deliberately trying to thwart a sense of familiarity from ever setting in. Opener ‘Never Found’ feels like Vallero has taken the coruscating peels of a jubilant bell and processed it with watery synth tones to leave you stranded somewhere in the tricky interzone between euphoria and abject pessimism, while ‘Under A Sun Shade’ is built from bucolic guitar lines that could, if you squint, sound like they belong on an exotica compilation. 

Damaged Textures is a restless album, sitting in its individual no person’s land, and one whose complex, detailed design lightly commands your attention. One gets the impression that Vallero could quite easily suppress the instincts that give this album its distinctive, skewed centre of gravity and just produce music that drifts forth aimlessly; to his credit, he has made an album that prompts deep and frequently haunting reflection, that evolves and progresses with cautious deliberation. 

Damaged Textures by Local Sound Developer was released November 6 2020 by Downstream Records. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2020 Further.