Isambard Khroustaliov – Shanzhai Acid

Upon initial examination, the latest album from Isambard Khroustaliov (Sam Britton) is a sprawling, incoherent, fundamentally unnavigable mess of wavering sounds, tense discordancy and angry pulses. 

Even after a few listens, Shanzhai Acid is nigh on impenetrable, enveloping you in a sticky latticework of cross-crossing sounds and faltering non-melodies that bounce, spin and agitate uncontrollably from ear to ear. I played this on a walk through London’s rush-hour streets and somehow the chaos of the ten pieces here felt like the perfect accompaniment to the rabid, focused, bloodthirsty commitment of thousands of commuters trying to get home. 

These observations are not criticisms. Shanzhai Acid is intentionally presented thus. Britton’s latest work takes two disparate inputs as the basis for what is essentially a conceptually auditory study: the inventive Chinese manufacture of cheaply-produced electronic devices, and the cultural hyper-legacy left behind by acid house music. 

Not that you will hear any metronomic beats or aggressively-filtered 303s here. What can be detected, on ‘The Hand Of Mutt’ or ‘Quixotic Algorithmic Hubris’, is a freneticism and restlessness, expressed through algorithms, homegrown artificial intelligence and overlapping parameters. If you squint, you can feel the loved-up embrace of late-80s club music atomised into splinters of uncompromising electronics, assembled together like a badly-soldered printed circuit board. Those sounds rapidly cluster like Instagram ‘likes’ on an advert for a piece of hotly-tipped electronic gadgetry from a brand that you’ve never heard of; they then fall away as quickly after said device arrives in the mail, doesn’t work, and is promptly discarded. Like, buy, receive, replace; like, buy, receive, replace. 

This is not an album for those with a nervous disposition. It is an intense listen from the opening gestures of ‘A History Of Cybernetics’ to the sudden stop of ‘Meanwhile Cephalopods’. It reflects back the manic world we live in, our increasing device dependency and the twitchy, restless state of mind that comes with pixelated overstimulation. Another fine release from Britton which casts electronic sound as the only obvious vehicle for his anthropological observations. 

Shanzhai Acid by Isambard Khroustaliov was released March 4 2022 by Not Applicable. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2022 Further. 

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.

Ohlmeier / Fischerlehner / Khroustaliov – Hypertide Over Kiribati

The latest release by Lothar Ohlmeier (bass clarinet), Rudi Fischerlehner (drums) and Isambard Khroustaliov (the alias of Sam Britton on modular synth and computer) takes its inspiration from the Pacific island of Kiribati, an atoll doomed by rising sea levels which will, unless climate change can be arrested, completely disappear beneath the ocean. The trio use the four pieces here to obliquely address one of the causes – our obsession with social media inanity and the digital commodification of modern music, resulting in heat-generating, energy-consuming server farms. Their response is entirely free, buzzing with the hope and promise that the digital age promised and then mournfully reflecting upon its many disappointments and consequences.

This is a trio of musicians each well versed in using their music to express or impressionistically evoke a particular theme. One of my favourite releases of the last year was Khroustaliov’s collaboration with Frank Paul Schubert (That Would Have Been Decent), a concept album of electronic sounds proposed as the in-house astral muzak for a eatery at the outer edges of the galaxy, and Hypertide Over Kiribati shares the same sonic fabric of microtonal bleeps, drones, unpredictable fluttering sounds and all-round synth inventiveness from Sam Britton.

Those electronic interventions knit together perfectly with Ohlmeier’s clarinet and Fischerlehner’s drumming, and are best exemplified by ‘Speed-Rush Cut-Up Shamanic Meat Delerium’. Here you find a formidable interlocking of ideas, resulting in a type of improvised post-jazz bestowed with a futuristic trim. In the moments when all three musicians are playing together, the unity of purpose is frightening, the boundaries between Britton’s synths, Ohlmeier’s resonant clarinet and the especially intense quiet cymbal work almost impossible to discern, not unlike a colourblind person hopelessly trying to identify a specific colour.

These moments are offset by segments of the twenty-minute ‘A Simulation Of God As A Hypermassive Security Construct At The End Of The World’, flicking effortlessly between playful passages of hyperactivity to a closing coda filled with a clarinet-dominated funereality. ‘What have we done to that which we were given?’ the track appears to be asking, only for the trio to continue, unheeded, through an insistent slew of noisy, angular reference points – much as our globally-interconnected, digitally-drowning, gratification-hungry world has turned a blind eye to the sinister perils of this technologically-dependent age.

Hypertide Over Kiribati by Lothar Ohlmeier, Rudi Fischerlehner and Isambard Khroustaliov is released on September 6 2019 by Not Applicable.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.