Vacation Playlist: Edinburgh, August 2021

On Sunday August 22 2021 I flew for the first time since before the pandemic. A short flight to Edinburgh was something that I’d have done, before, fairly often, usually accompanied by things to review. It occurred to me a few days before that I’d need to plan what to listen to in the air, an active decision over what to listen offline after spending most of the pandemic period constantly online, with access to anything. It felt a lot like travelling as a teenager, where I’d pack my Walkman and choose a bunch of tapes to haul around with me.

I decided to trawl through recent Bandcamp additions – purchases I’d made or promos I’d been sent – and that formed the basis of my in-flight entertainment. While in Edinburgh I visited Nigerian sound artist Emeka Ogboh’s Song Of The Union at the Robert Burns Memorial near Calton Hill. 

Take-off: CARL STONE – NAMIDABASHI

Carl Stone’s contribution to Touch’s brilliant Displacing subscription series translates roughly as Bridge Of Tears and was recorded for Radio Free Nakano in his Tokyo base. The 15-minute piece is one of fragile momentum, seeming to rush forth and build into a sort of suppressed motorik groove while retaining an effortless, dreamy levity. Released May 28 2021 by Touch.

https://touchdisplacing.bandcamp.com/track/namidabashi

In-flight: LISTENING LANDSCAPES – LL#1 (MUSIC FROM RIVER DERWENT) / RIVER DERWENT SOUNDSCAPES 

Two 2021 releases from Dan Davies, both recorded using the sounds of the river Derwent in Derbyshire. Both illustrate Davies’ approach to taking field recordings and responding to them with additional composition for a diverse array of instruments, or leaving them poignantly unadorned. As such, these releases straddle the tranquility of listening to water and wind sounds (River Derwent Soundscapes) with delicately composed accompaniments (on LL#1) that are both mournful, vibrant and often noisy. Released March 28 2021 / May 6 2021.

https://listeninglandscapes.bandcamp.com/album/ll-1-music-from-river-derwent

https://listeninglandscapes.bandcamp.com/album/river-derwent-soundscapes

In-flight / landing: CARNEDD AUR – BEETLES 

Simon Proffitt’s work under the Carnedd Aur alias differs from his usual solo output as Cahn Ingold Prelog and The Master Musicians Of Dyffryn Moor by opting for more of an intentionally accessible output. Originally intended to be a body of work that his parents might recognise as something vaguely adjacent to electronic pop, the project instead became an engaging leftfield project whose titles were all inspired by different sub-species of beetles, with a sound that’s pure insectoid minimal acid-inflected techno. Released August 6 2021 by superpolar Taïps.

https://superpolar.bandcamp.com/album/beetles

On location: EMEKA OGBOH – SONG OF THE UNION

Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh’s contribution to Edinburgh’s Art Festival is a thought-provoking seven-channel sound art work installed in the Robert Burns Monument near Calton Hill. For the piece, Ogboh recorded versions of Burns’ poignant ‘Auld Lang Syne’ sung by twenty-seven Europeans living in Scotland, one from each of the member states of the European Union that the UK left in January 2021. His work has a subtle power as you sit in the Burns Monument and listen to the interwoven voices singing atop one another; being of Scottish descent, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ has always had subtle, stirring poignancy for me; heard in the context of a political work swirling and echoing around the circular space, its maudlin outlook is deeply unsettling. The day after I visited, I found myself walking past the building again. I could hear the plaintive voices wafting sadly into the aether, like ephemeral vapours of what once was. Song Of The Union runs to August 29 2021.

https://www.trg.ed.ac.uk/exhibition/emeka-ogboh-song-union

Take-off / in-flight: JAMES MAINWARING – MYCORRHIZA 

Saxophonist James Mainwaring occupies a sort of indeterminate zone between improvisation and composition. His latest album for Discus is titled after the symbiotic relationship between plants and fungi and its 13 pieces carry a similar sense of integration between the instrumentation. The signature piece is ‘Komorebi’, which features Mainwaring’s sax alongside mournful strings and field recordings of birds made near the house where he grew up, an extra level of significance when you learn that the house is scheduled to be demolished as part of the HS2 construction project. On ‘Statues’, which begins as an understated ballad and ends as a free and urgent piece, Mainwaring’s playing nods reverentially in the direction of Paul Desmond; ‘Globe’, on the other hand, makes an unexpected left-turn into synthesiser minimalism and insistent post-rock, angular musings. Released Juy 13 2021 by Discus Music.

https://discusmusic.bandcamp.com/album/mycorrhiza-111cd-2021

In-flight / landing: ANNA MEREDITH – BUMPS PER MINUTE: 18 STUDIES FOR DODGEMS 

Bumps Per Minute was Somerset House resident composer Anna Meredith’s contribution to the London venue’s entertaining DODGE experience, which closed on August 22 2021. Though most people just went for the nostalgia of riding an old fairground ride after a few cocktails, every hour, Meredith and sound artist Nick Ryan would subvert the traditional dodgem ride so that every bump or collision would trigger a different one of her specially-written compositions. The companion album includes those 18 compositions played all the way through; it might lack the chaotic randomness of the ride experience, but it nevertheless carries a decent approximation of what it was like to laugh uproariously, half-cut on over-priced cocktails, as you careered around the track accompanied by a skipping soundtrack that felt like a malfunctioning player piano tackling Don Dorsey’s Main Street Electrical Parade music through an 8-bit computer. Released July 15 2021.

https://annahmeredith.bandcamp.com/album/bumps-per-minute-18-studies-for-dodgems

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2021 Further. 

The Incidental Crack – Municipal Music

The Incidental Crack is a distance collaboration between Justin Watson (Front & Follow, Gated Canal Community), Rob Spencer (also Gated Canal Community) and Simon Proffitt (Cahn Ingold Prelog, The Master Musicians Of Dyffryn Moor). Avoiding the typical pitfalls of social electrics (a phrase coined by Bovine Life back in ye olde dial-up days of 2000), The Incidental Crack’s approach instead is to juxtapose heavily-disguised quotidian sounds with questioning electronics. 

A case in point is ‘The Second Cup Of Tea Of The Day’, the first of the three lengthy tracks on Municipal Music, their second album together (or is that apart?). If that sounds like a strange and perhaps mundane name for a track – even in the context of the not-going-out-not-seeing-anyone-staring-at-these-four-walls tedium of lockdown – consider that I’m pretty sure that its source field recording is less a field recording and more a kitchen recording of the steps required to make the aforementioned second cup of the tea of the day. Those sounds are then harshly processed and skewed to create ominous textures and brooding drones that, were the British Tea Manufacturers Union (possibly made up) to hear this, they might well think that The Incidental Crack are in cahoots with the British Coffee Manufacturers Union (see above) to scare people off drinking tea. Fortunately, while the track brews its way through what I think is running water, a kettle reaching a climactic boiling point and a teaspoon clattering inside a tea cup, it makes a sharp evolution toward searching, entrancing electronics, ending up in a serene territory set to what feels like a twitchy waltz pulse. 

Two of the three tracks here follow a similar technique of processing field recordings into obscurity and then layering in outlines of rhythm, sinewy synth sequences, siren-like drones and effects. The result is strangely discomfiting, while the familiarity – howsoever processed – is also weirdly soothing. Take the album’s final piece, ‘Ice-Cream At The Pavilion’. On first inspection, the captured material here – the typical beach-side sounds of waves, a carousel, children playing, fun being had, the sound of skin reddening to a crisp under British sun – should be pleasing to the ear; these are the sounds of childhood, of carefree living, of life before mortgages, anxiety, zoonotic illnesses, social fucking media, existential dread and lockdown. In the six hands of The Incidental Crack, those sounds are twisted, inverted, made nightmarish and sinister, reminding me instead of all the stuff I hated about days spent on the beach in Essex and Kent as a kid – getting dressed beneath a towel, sand, other people, being rubbish at skimming stones into the water – and leaving me precariously unsettled. 

Fortunately, the second track – ‘Just Passing Through’ – is somewhat more positive. This is a track relying on volume and fluctuating restlessness to imply a sense of forward motion. Long tones build and fade; drones rise up, get phased and panned across the stereo field; harsh, rapidly-shifting sounds grab your attention and then dissipate; you feel yourself being either pushed or pulled along through some sort of winding, turbulent tunnel toward an unknowable destination (though, according to the sequencing of the tracks, that destination is our nausea-inducing warped beach scene; shudders). Occasionally a tiny little broken melody – a xylophone maybe – reveals itself, adopts a casual exotica breeziness and then just as quickly disappears. It’s a trip full of unbridled energy, like listening to electricity co-operating under duress; that it does this without ever relying on anything so pedestrian as a rhythm to create its suggestion of speed and rapid flight is a testament to this trio’s gleeful sonic adventuring. 

Municipal Music by The Incidental Crack is released May 21 2021 by Herhalen. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2021 Further.