A sense of personal yet universal nostalgia runs through Ernest Hood’s Neighborhoods: you overhear the playfulness of children’s voices; the natural birdsong, distant dog barking and cicada rhythms of endless summers; ragtime music playing on someone’s radio through a window; the opening and closing of porch doors that evoke a time when you’d spend all day out of the house, returning only to reload on snacks, grab a water pistol or let your parents know you were gong to be over at so-and-so’s house until it was time to reluctantly go to bed.
These are the sounds of youth, of innocence, of freedom, recorded from the purview of a Portland, OR jazz musician confined to a wheelchair thanks to contracting polio in his late twenties. Released in 1975 as a private LP pressing, Hood’s opus developed a long-standing interest in field recordings by augmenting those captured sounds with synthesizer and zither, instruments that he was drawn to when his physical limitations prevented him from playing the guitar with the same intensity that he had previously played.
The combination of the two elements – the captured and the created – is curious. On the one hand, his playing is filled with a vibrancy and clarity of texture and movement, occasionally slipping into the melodic dexterity begat from cutting his teeth in jazz, but mostly offering a sort of wistful, evocative accompaniment to his taped conversations and environmental sound. ‘The Secret Place’ has a gentle, rolling mournfulness, a languid tone full of both promise and regret; ‘The Store’ has a jaunty irreverence, the embodiment of the local, family-run Main Street store that predated the out of town mall and the emptying of traditional town life; the episodic synth interventions of ‘After School’ have a wonky, optimistic energy, full of retro-futuristic hope, redolent of pent-up kids being let out the school gate, homework-free and only the limits of their imagination to stop them.
The oddness of the juxtaposition comes in the sepia-tinted field recordings. These taped elements don’t necessarily lack fidelity, but they sound dated and quintessentially of their time. We are used to life being much noisier, filled with clamour, omnipresent traffic noise, the unholy chatter of incessant FaceTime / Skype / phone conversations and a sort of modern vernacular that seems like the most distant of cousins to that which Ernest Hood was recording in the mid-1970s. In celebrating a certain well-meaning voyeuristic and celebratory now-ness with Neighborhoods, Hood had knowingly created documentary evidence of an age that’s now slipping rapidly out of collective recollection.
Neighborhoods by Ernest Hood was originally released by Thistlefield / Rexius Records in 1975 and was reissued by Freedom To Spend on October 11 2019.
The ever-inventive Graham Dunning’s Music By The Metre process involves the deployment of automated machines to create chance-inflected art that sits somewhere between an installation and performance. The method was inspired by Italian Situationist Giuseppe Pinot-Gallazio (1902 – 1964) whose Industrial Painting method employed machines to create large-scale paintings.
Dunning used his Music By The Metre technique on 1947, a new album released as a recycled cassette edition of just ten copies. This is something Dunning has done several times over – he acquires a batch of old pre-recorded cassettes and records over the existing sounds with new music, leaving the title of the original cassette intact. For 1947 the overdubbed cassette was a soundtrack to an Indian film of (more or less) the same name, the new album featuring two distinct sides of Dunning’s music, each lasting twenty-one minutes.
The A-side found Dunning using an automated mixing desk, analogue synth, effects, modified records and flicked springs. The result is a murky soundworld of dubby bass tones and skittish rhythms, held together by a metallic non-melody and echoing sounds. It is at once both entrancing and unnerving, carrying a playfulness that’s offset by a darker, semi-industrial impulse, like an extract from a soundtrack to a movie about corrupted home appliances turned into savage death machines.
On the B-side, Dunning took the game Half-Life and replaced all of the sounds with samples of 90s rave music. A character was then manoeuvred into a specific location to allow the maximum layering of the replaced sounds to dominate the piece. The rapidly-cycling sounds creates an effect that alternates between the disorienting and the mesmerising, your ear trying to identify any recognisable element but ultimately failing – if it wasn’t for Dunning meticulously explaining the provenance of his sounds, we would really be none the wiser.
The recycled cassette edition sold out more or less immediately but you can listen to both sides at Dunning’s Bandcamp page. 1947 by Graham Dunning was released October 4 2019 by Fractal Meat Cuts.
“It’s not about the sound and image resolving. It’s about the ambiguity between them and suddenly this feeling of coalescence, then also disparity and dissonance.” – Paul Clipson (1965 – 2018)
For the best part of nine years until his untimely death at the start of 2018, filmmaker Paul Clipson and experimental audio artist Aki Onda were friends and like-minded collaborators, both sharing similar and complementary sensibilities and interests despite working in arguably distinct disciplines.
Make Visible The Ghosts was originally conceived for a date at Brooklyn’s ISSUE Project Room. The premise that the pair came up with was a collaboration without collaboration: each would prepare a seventy-minute piece in isolation without revealing to the other what they were doing, which the pair would then perform simultaneously in February 2013.
In Onda’s case, his intended accompaniment to Clipson’s film left ample room for improvisatory, in-the-moment responses. He talks about hearing the whirring motion of the reels as something that needed to be brought into the sound-field he had crafted, quickly amplifying the sound during the performance with a microphone and giving that prominence in his audio collage; similarly, the progress and switches of Clipson’s images inspired him to add intra-channel radio static – that unpredictable, ghostly, between-frequency, unplaceable sound somewhere between the capture of spirit voices and out-of-control analogue synth spurts – across the length of his piece.
The version of Make Visible The Ghosts released by audioMER consists of four ten-minute tracks developed out of the material delivered at ISSUE and subsequently reworked over a period of three years, with stills from Clipson’s visuals presented as a regimented collage to form the LP sleeve. Perhaps out of reverence, or perhaps because it felt like it had become an integral part of the piece, Onda’s amplified reel recordings provide an occasional rhythm of sorts, and the freeform radio manipulations run throughout the four tracks like an improvised solo by a bandleader. Beneath those two chance-derived elements you hear the staples of Onda’s approach to field-recorded sound: traffic, conversation, atmospheres, all glued together by electronic tones, drones and processing that, while meticulously prepared, nevertheless feel spontaneous and brimming with energy. Though often contemplative, there are also moments of tension, such as the growling electronic interjections that dominate large sections of ‘Palm Held Out For Us To Read’.
Make Visible The Ghosts could not have existed, in this form, without Clipson. His death has left an indelible mark on Onda, and this album represents both a tribute to a friend and mentor, while also acting as a necessarily unique celebration of what is possible in the field of multi-disciplinary collaboration.
Make Visible The Ghosts by Aki Onda and Paul Clipson is released September 20 2019 by audioMER.
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.
The Slowest Lift pairs together singer / guitarist Sophie Cooper with Vibracathedral Orchestral’s likeminded sonic experimentalist Julian Bradley. Third album Plutonic Shine finds their respective inputs – mournful, questing vocals, freeform electric guitar, murky synth passages – draped in a cloying, impenetrable distortion haze.
The effect on a track like ‘The Birds Float The Slowest’ is to leave you feeling gloriously disoriented. Starting with a looped electronic pulse, layers of guitar textures and clanging, overlapping riffs are allowed to growl and feed back freely while, at the centre of everything, Cooper offers a processed vocal line that is simultaneously both mesmerising and terrifying. The effect is akin to being willingly imprisoned inside some cavern of irrepressible, joyous noise.
Elsewhere, ‘Take Off Your Badge’ proceeds on whiny low-end synth melodies and washes of grimy fuzz with a vocal that is both sensual and cryptic, while ‘Sage Reach’ offers up a gently undulating fabric of interwoven drones to reach an absorbing, intricately-developed transcendence. ‘I’m Born’ is perhaps the chilling highlight of the brilliant nine tracks, its chilling, murky tonality, stentorian vocal refrains, splinters of unpredictable sound and an insistent, submerged rhythm sounding not unlike a new and harrowing take on Sonic Youth circa ‘Halloween’.
Plutonic Shine by The Slowest Lift was released on August 2 2019. A vinyl edition will be released by Feeding Tube later in 2019.
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 Weaverhere.
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.
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.