A batch of winter missives from the forever-wriggling Tapeworm label begins with Evan Lindorff-Ellery’s No Water Recordings 2011, taken from an extensive collection of field recordings for hydrophone and contact mics made in Ravenswood, Chicago. On ‘Fringes And Singing’, with a hydrophone placed under a bridge rather than in open water, the sounds are relentlessly squalling, tearing, violent and oppressively over-amped, as if made during a storm. In contrast, on the B-side (‘Meditation’), made with a contact mic, ceramic insulator and brick, we hear a comparative serenity, with undulating currents and the distant, calming sound of estuarine birds atop the water, but to this pessimistic listener it seems to embody the constant threat that unsettled waters could return at any moment.
Bill Thompson’s Black Earth Tongue originates from recordings made for dance unit In The Making Collective’s Edinburgh Fringe performance, Mushroom! (2016), created using laptop, field recordings, found objects and live electronics. With titles named after Japanese misspellings of fungi, Black Earth Tongue is an immediately absorbing listen, with ringing drones, gently oscillating tones, clangs, sepulchral non-rhythms, controlled distortion and earthy bass seeming to evoke the notion of persistent growth and spread. How you’d choreograph for this work of mycological genius I really don’t know.
Recorded in the summer of 2001 at Brighton’s Festival Radio Studios, Destroy All Monsters finds author and The Wire music journalist Ken Hollings reading from his book of the same name. His engaging, if dystopian, vision of a alternative / futuristic Los Angeles ravaged by actual monsters and abused technology is accompanied by sound design and production from Brighton-based Further. favourite Simon James, an electronic musician and Buchla enthusiast. James’s accompaniment to Hollings’ bleak, detached narration of principal protagonist Sprite’s movements emerges as a low, grubby rumble full of sparse sparks of electronic noise, delicately brushed cymbals and subtly wafting, bubbling tones that remain unswervingly tense and pensive, regardless of what horrors Hollings is detailing in intricate and vivid detail. A section involving a leatherette-seated car suddenly being brutally crushed reverentially evokes Ballard’s Crash, while a simultaneously spiralling arc of M&Ms around a stray puppy carries a sinister, psychedelic effusiveness.
“Goth ASMR Hardcore” is the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin description of Twister by London’s anonymous Opal X, consisting of sixteen tracks of extreme incongruity – quiet spoken instructions about moving toward the light reminiscent of a thousand guided meditation podcasts, only where you might expect soft pads and ethereal new age-y textural accompaniment what you get instead are dark, brooding synths, insistent detuned Autechre-y rhythms, arrays of sci-fi bleeps and bloops, faded rave beats, euphoric vocal stabs, fragments of suspenseful horror film noise and occasional moments of serene clarity. The muddled outlook should be distressing – panic-inducing, almost – and yet somehow its quintessentially delicate character is ultimately what stays with you.
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.
In 2019, The Tapeworm cassette label celebrated ten years of issuing contrarian works of sound art. Starting out as a resolutely tape-only label with no accompanying downloads, The Tapeworm has since expanded to encompass music on other formats through The Wormhole and exquisitely-typeset books through The Bookworm. The label was formed in London by Philip Marshall, Touch co-founder Mike Harding and illustrator / writer / musician Edwin Pouncey (Savage Pencil).
In a rare interview, Further. spoke to Philip about the early years of The Tapeworm, how it feels to be celebrating a decade of operations, the occasion of releasing over 100 cassettes and the label’s ongoing ethos. “The Tapeworm was always structured to be a way of freeing ourselves from having to do any promotions or interviews,” he says. “You bastard! Look what you’ve done to me. I’m sitting here doing a fucking interview. I agreed to it in a moment of weakness. Damn you Smith.”
From a very young age I was obsessed by music, but I was never ever any good at it.
In my early twenties I figured out a way to be around musicians and get into clubs and gigs for free, while at the same time thinking about how I could support these people: I could do flyers. I could design things, like record sleeves. I realised that I could be involved in music through design.
I’d always been a fan of Touch, Mike Harding and Jon Wozencroft’s label. By about 2000 I’d gotten to know them through a mutual friend. They had a terrible website, and I was doing a lot of digital design at the time, so I decided that I would say to them, ‘Your website’s shit and I could do you a better website. I don’t want paying for it. I’ll just do it as a favour for the label – just give me a bunch of records for free.’ And that friendship then developed. Mike, Jon and I got on very well, and as that friendship deepened, a working relationship evolved out of it.
Fast forward eight years. I’m living in Paris, and I’m just ending a relationship. I’m a bit sore about that. I’m feeling a bit fed up and looking for something to do. Mike Harding said said, ‘Pull yourself together and get on with something. Let’s do a new project.’
Just before that an artist friend of mine in Berlin, D-L Alvarez, had invited me to take part in a group exhibition called Psychometry (The Space Between Seeing And Knowing Is Haunted). D-L asked me to do some sound work, so I did this installation called Three Questions And An Answer. It was a looped piece of tape playing in a corner of the gallery based around the theme of the exhibition. I said to Mike, ‘Why don’t we do a cassette? Why don’t we put it out?’ So we did a cassette on Mike’s label Ash International, and it sold out. I had no name as a musician, people only knew me as a graphic designer, but the thing sold out.
I thought to myself, ‘Oh, that’s a curious thing.’ Mike and I were steeped in tape culture. After all, Touch obviously came out of being a cassette magazine in the early Eighties. We both had a great love of that culture, but even so, we were amazed that people would buy, for no reason at all, a tape by an unknown name. Around the same time, we were getting frustrated by spending a vast amount of time and energy for next to no dividend in putting together releases that would be sent out to press or sent out to stockists, yet which would get no traction at all. Those releases were very much reliant on a good review in The Wire, or someone’s blog, but then for an arbitrary reason could be ignored. So we asked ourselves, ‘How can we make a structure of a business that doesn’t need promotion, that feeds itself.’ Almost like a tapeworm, you might say.
So we came up with this idea of having this thing where we could say to an artist, ‘Well, there’s no money here, but do you have something in your archive, or do you have a piece of work that is not part of your core body of work, but which something that you’ve always wanted to do?’ Choosing tape as the format created certain practicalities and gave a certain physicality to it. It dictated the duration and restricted the programming because you can’t easily shuffle through it. We were also interested in the more philosophical qualities of tape: it’s about memory, it’s about recording a memory, it’s an imprint, and then there’s the whole magnetism of it all.
I remember that we were sitting in a garden in Balham, where Touch are based. Vicki Bennett from People Like Us was there that day, and we just said, ‘Hey, do you want to do a tape?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve got my gran, and her best mate, and they do readings of texts – why don’t we do that? What shall we read?’ And then we gave her a copy of Le Xerox Et L’Infini by Baudrillard and two weeks later she came back with a recording of these two ladies doing this blind reading of this book of French philosophy. It was one of the most standout hilarious things we’d ever heard.
At the same time we’d emailed the turntable artist Philip Jeck and he said, ‘I’ve got these recordings where I’m doing the same live set-up with a bass guitar, which I can’t really play.’ So then we had our first two releases. Savage Pencil – Edwin Pouncey – met with us the day after and we said, ‘Oh you must be involved – we’d love you to do the artwork.’ And he said, ‘What’s it called?’ And we said, ‘We don’t know.’ We came up with some really bad names – terrible, horrendous names. And Edwin said, in a very gruff, very blunt way, ‘Look, it’s called The Tapeworm.’ And there was no arguing with Edwin, so that was the name of the label. He drew the worm and said, ‘There’s your logo.’
For perhaps the first five years, we made a decision to not fess up to who was behind The Tapeworm. We wanted to be like Basic Channel: we liked the idea of being as anonymous as possible. Because if you suddenly go, ‘It’s Philip, who works with this bunch of people, and Mike Harding with his history of Touch, and Edwin Pouncey, Savage Pencil, who’s got this other history,’ it becomes a bit too fucking obvious about where it’s coming from. So we liked the idea of being a slightly weird, connected, underground thing that never revealed itself. In that way, the label became a personality rather than the people behind it. It started off with the intention of being a collective, and then I pushed my way to the front, because I was the person with the energy.
When we started The Tapeworm in 2009, cassettes were still quite an underground thing. Things have changed now. I don’t blame myself for the fact that you can buy Kylie’s Greatest Hits on cassette today – that’s probably a fucking brilliant release, but you don’t need it on cassette, do you? There’s no need for that. It’s kitsch. We always wanted to be a label that was investigating a format and being honest about the format, and its limitations, and its strengths, and its beauty. The initial call-out we gave to artists was all about making people consider the format. Nowadays cassettes have become a kind of thoughtless marketing tool
We’ve never allowed the releases to be released digitally at the same time. We’ve just done this Jay Glass Dubs tape, Two Devotional Songs For Spacemen 3 In The Style Of Love Inc., and I’ve literally had eighteen emails in the last two days from people who bought the tape asking ‘Where’s the download?’ We’ve always made it clear to the artists that they will retain the copyright of the audio, and if they want to release the audio digitally, afterwards, that’s brilliant: that’s their choice, but we’d prefer them not to because this is about an investigation of the format and the sound of the format and what the format means. We’ve always wanted people to be more precious. We wanted to create this idea of an intimate art object that sells for a fiver, and which is only available for a short run. But it’s also affordable and accessible to anyone, as long as you’ve got a tape player. And if you haven’t got a tape player, why the fuck are you buying a tape? It fucking annoys me. The only reason to buy things in a certain format is because you want to interact with the format. Maybe I’m old fashioned in that regard. I think people just expect to offer a download with your tapes these days. Fuck that shit. I can’t be bothered with that.
It’s strange to be celebrating ten years of The Tapeworm. It’s funny – we thought, collectively, that it wouldn’t work as an idea at the very beginning. And then, to make that worse, I had the idea that I wanted to release a stupid amount of things constantly, and so I think in the first year we put out something like twenty releases. That’s stupid, but then they all sold out and they all did quite well. We started off being really awkward about insisting on the cassette format, I think. After the first ten or fifteen releases, it seemed a bit silly to be less awkward. The series was working, so I think we just decided to just keep on being awkward.
Despite having a very distinct manifesto at the beginning, but we never had any forward-looking plans. Over the decade, things have shifted a bit. Opportunities would arise where we’d go, ‘Oh, you know, this doesn’t quite fit into this tight remit, but now we’ve got this history and body of work we can go different places with it.’
But that brings us to an interesting juncture, because we now release things on other formats through The Wormhole. We were doing The Tapeworm, and so we had to release everything on tape. Mike Harding had done a recording as Souls On Board for our seventh cassette and that featured Bruce Gilbert and Daniel Menche. Mike’s tape was brilliant. At our first live London gig at Café Oto in November 2009, Mike performed as Souls On Board, and Edwin and Sharon Gal performed as Melatot – Melatot was our eighth tape. We got the recordings back from the gig, and they were brilliant. Mike said, ‘We’ve got to release these.’ And I said, ‘It’s a tape!’ And he said, ‘No.’ At the time we had this principle that we would only ever release artists once. So we had this principle that we’d never return to an artist, like, ‘Okay you’ve done your tape, fuck off and never come back.’
So Café Oto had recorded our debut gig. We had these two brilliant recordings, and Mike said, ‘Well, we need to release this.’ And I said, ‘Tape.’ And he said, ‘No, we can’t do this on tape, I’m going to do a vinyl.’ So he released a vinyl on Ash International. At that time, I’d said, we could do a sub-label, for Tapeworm things that doesn’t fit onto tape, and we could call it The Wormhole. And he said, ‘No, we can’t do that – it’s far too complicated.’
Then a few months later we’d done this tape with Leslie Winer, & That Dead Horse, and Leslie turned to us and said, ‘Would you like to release this record of mine?’ It was her and Christophe Van Huffel under the name Purity Supreme. And I said to Mike, ‘Wormhole!’ And he said, ‘No. We can’t do that, there’s not enough time, I’m going to put it out on Ash.’ So those two records – the Souls On Board / Melatot performance from 2009 and the Purity Supreme 12-inch from 2011 – should have been the first records released on Wormhole, in my opinion. They were literally down the wormhole. In maybe every sense, every Wormhole release shouldn’t exist.
Then we decided to put out books. The Bookworm happened because a very dear friend of ours, Leif Elggren – one of the Kings of Elgaland-Vargaland – sent us a copy of one of the books he’d done, and I was like, ‘Oh we should do a book.’ ‘What shall we call it?’ ‘Let’s call it The Bookworm’. ‘What shall we do?’ And so then another mutual acquaintance of ours, Ken Hollings, formerly of Biting Tongues and a broadcaster on BBCs Three and Four, had written an essay, and so we brought out a book of the first 25 illustrations of The Tapeworm releases and Ken’s essay, Parasitic Infestation.
Again, it was quite a nice object and we really liked what it was, so we thought we’d do some more of those. It’s like, once you’ve done one you can’t just have one, can you? I mean, that’s just crap. You need to do a couple more, so we did a couple more, and they’ve sold as well. The third book was by Stefan Goldmann, Presets – Digital Shortcuts To Sound. It’s an epic book on presets. Right now we have this book out by Savage Pencil and Barbara Frost, which is amazing, a real bodice-ripping page-turner.
Once you’ve done one thing, you can just go, ‘Oh, that’s it.’ So once you’ve done one record, one Wormhole, you’ve got to do more, once you’ve done a hundred tapes you’ve got to do a hundred more. And then you’ve got to move on to other things. At the moment, I’m almost breaking the original idea of The Tapeworm, but it’s almost like we have to contradict ourselves eternally. I’m considering doing a label called Digital Archives Of Tapeworm, or DAT, which is going to be an archive of Tapeworms digitally, just to shut people up more than anything else. Once you’ve done one thing you might as well do them all. I gave myself rules and now I’m going to break them. I don’t like rules.
Having reached 100 releases on The Tapeworm this year, Mike, Edwin and I talked about starting again in exactly the same order, but we didn’t do that because it seemed too much like hard work. In any case, we realised that we couldn’t, because some people had died, and it would have got quite a bit complicated. But conceptually, it was a very interesting idea, and that’s what matters: having the idea was good, doing it didn’t matter so much.
Interview: Mat Smith at Fork, Bloomsbury, November 12 2019.
My desk at home is a mess, as Mrs S continually points out to me.
It is a place for incoming mail to accumulate, a home for broken bits of things that need to be repaired, seven-inch singles that were taken out of their alphabetised boxes and which never quite found their way back, research materials for projects I may or may not ever finish, an in-tray containing goodness-knows-what and somewhere, somewhere, somewhere, a miniature Zen garden; I imagine that if the bird statue could come to life it would be shaking its head in dismay at the very un-Zen chaos that surrounds it.
On the left hand side of the desk is a pile of CD promos graciously sent to me over the course of the year which never quite got reviewed. This troubles me endlessly. And so, in an effort to repay that generosity and goodwill, and so I can show Mrs S that I’ve cleared at least some of the detritus off my desk, here’s a clutch of short reviews of some of the albums I never quite got around to in 2019.
“A good many back payments are included,” said Ebenezer Scrooge as he whispered his donation to the same charity collectors he had dismissed several pages before in A Christmas Carol, and so this is for all the labels and PRs and artists who graciously shared their music with me this year but which I then seemed to uncharitably ignore.
I’ll keep the desk – both physical and digital – clearer in 2020; I promise.
Jazzrausch Bigband – Dancing Wittgenstein (ACT)
In which the Roman Sladek and Leonhard Kuhn-led forty-piece big band’s 2018 self-released album gets a shiny reissue by the ACT imprint. The album found the band showcasing their distinctive flavour of acoustic jazz augmented by techno beats and authentic synth flourishes, with lyrics derived directly from the work of Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. It’s bonkers, but it works – honest.
The album’s finest moments arrive on the eponymous opening ten-minute piece – replete with cycles of Terry Riley motifs – and the hypnotic house pianos of ‘Continuous Dirichlet’, the latter forcing headache-inducing Googling of incomprehensible statistical theory.
Lumen Drones – Umbra (Hubro)
Umbra is the second album from Norway’s Lumen Drones, a trio of esteemed fiddle maestro Nils Økland, guitarist Per Steinar Lie, and drummer Ørjan Haaland. Lie and Haaland’s day jobs in the post-rockers The Low Frequency In Stereo provides the weighty folk-blues bedrock of the standout ‘Droneslag’, whereupon Økland’s Hardanger fiddle provides a noisy, discordant tension.
In complete contrast, the trio’s seamless interplay on ‘Etnir’ produces the album’s most serene and dreamlike piece, full of beguiling wonder and ethereal, mystical texture. Umbra was released on the inestimable Hubro label, the first of three releases in this list that I failed to review this year.
Elephant9 – Psychedelic Backfire I & II (Rune Grammofon)
Norway jazz-rock supergroup Elephant9’s double live collection was recorded at Oslo’s Kampen Bistro in January 2019 and finds the trio of Ståle Storløkken (Hammond, Rhodes, Minimoog, Mellotron), Nicolai Hængsle (bass) and Torstein Lofthus (drums) ripping through white-hot takes of tracks from their five studio albums.
The first set features energetic re-treads of their debut album’s title track ‘Dodovoodoo’, which here seems to traverse the paper-thin frontier between Can at their most freeform Chick Corea’s Return To Forever at their most lysergic. Two versions of the evolving groove of ‘Habanera Rocket’ – one on the first set as a trio performance and one on the second augmented by Reine Fiske’s additional guitar – riff on the track’s central rhythmic shuffle, the latter featuring Fiske’s guitar prowling feistily around Storløkken’s dexterous keyboard work in a truly breathtaking duel.
Afenginn – Klingra (Tutl Records)
The work of Danish composer Kim Rafael Nyberg, Afenginn offers a distinctive take on modern classical composition that draws parallels with the work of Yann Tiersen. Tiersen’s vocal collaborator Ólavur Jákupsson can be heard across the eight pieces included here, as can The Danish String Quartet, percussionist Knut Finsrud, bassist Mikael Blak, drummer Ulrik Brohuus, the twin pianos of Teitur and Dánjal á Neystab and the mournful violin of Niels Skovmand.
To call this body of work haunting would be an understatement, with the gentle melodic washes, electronic textures and layered jazz percussion of ‘Ivin’ and the growling analogue synth-heavy coda on the towering ‘Skapanin’ having a particular resonance.
Jo Berger Myhre / Ólafur Björn Ólafsson – Lanzarote (Hubro)
Lanzarote is the second outing on Hubro for Norwegian bassist Jo Merger Myhre and keyboard / percussion guru and Jóhann Jóhannsson collaborator Ólafur Björn Ólafsson, and follows 2017’s The Third Script.
Their new album finds their simpatico approach to texture and sound augmented by resonant brass contributions from Ingi Garðar Garðarsson and Eiríkur Orri Ólafsson. The slow-build and ultimately noisy layered crescendo of ‘Atomised – All We’ve Got’, features buzzing electronics, urgent drumming and anguished horns, the whole thing sounding a lot like the end of days before collapsing into a passage of muted reflection. The tuned drums of the quiet ‘Current’ evokes comparisons with Manu Delago, its percussive core offset by Myhre’s searing double bass melodies and gentle spirals of delicate, inchoate Moog.
Armin Lorenz Gerold – Scaffold Eyes (The Wormhole)
Armin Lorenz Gerold is a an Austrian multimedia artist who also performs under the name wirefoxterrier. Currently based in Berlin, Gerold’s primary focus of late has been on altering perceptions of the radio play, with Scaffold Eyes taking the form of a live performance for Gerold’s voice augmented by pre-recorded sounds delivered through a binaural speaker installation.
Originally performed at Berlin’s KW Institute in November 2017, the CD release on The Wormhole presents Gerold’s rich narrative as a noir soundworld, featuring occasional forays into café jazz, harpsichord classicism and delicate sections of pianissimo texture. Gerold’s soft diaristic delivery is accompanied by additional segments performed by Doireann O’Malley and Miriam Stoney, each word imbued with a strange, haunting resonance, even when describing quotidian events and observations. The effect is not dissimilar to the strange, unresolved ambience of Patrick Modiano’s Missing Person, and it’s hard not to imagine Gerold’s work resplendent in murky monochrome, lit by the diffuseness of ineffective street lighting.
Frode Haltli – Border Woods (Hubro)
Frode Haltli is an accordionist and no stranger to the Hubro imprint. For Border Woods, he is joined by the esoteric percussion of Håkon Stene and Eirik Raude, and his distinctive accordion playing is interwoven with Emilia Amper’s nyckelharpa (a Swedish keyed fiddle).
On tracks like the concluding ‘Quietly The Language Dies’, the quartet’s unified sound centres on a seamless interplay between the accordion and nyckelharp, veering from stirring (if mournful) melodic alignment to powerfully discordant drones. Beneath them, Stene and Raude’s percussion is ephemeral and textural, a gentle foundation of tuned drums providing an unexpected counterweight. At the other extreme, the fifteen minute ‘Mostamägg Polska’ channels a particularly vivid flavour of traditional Nordic folk music, interspersed with moments of beatific ambience.
With thanks (and apologies) to Ian, Jim and Philip.
Laura Agnusdei is an Italian saxophonist, electronic musician and all-round deep thinker, whose musical endeavours range from studying electronic music in The Hague to playing sax in psych groups to producing complex melodic music fusing together all of her seemingly incompatible disparate interests. Laurisilva, her debut full-length album takes its name from ancient subtropical forests, the first part of its name providing a link to the Latin etymological root word that begat her first name.
Recorded in The Hague where she completed her Masters in electronic music and her Bologna bedroom, Laurisilva is an absorbing suite of six pieces that seek to evoke the natural environments of the forests that inspired its creation. Here, on tracks like the mesmerising title track or ‘Epiphyte Blues’, you find Agnusdei’s sax playing providing effortlessly evocative motifs, augmented by gurgling analogue electronics, intricate sound design flourishes and delicate processing, occasionally seeing a range of collaborators dropping in jazzy reeds, flutes and trumpet. The result is a sort of wonky electroacoustic big band music somewhere on the continuum between jazz, exotica, Warp electronica and modern classical (whatever that is).
The departure from woodland concerns arrives in the form of ‘Shaky Situation’, a skittish, randomised composition that finds Agnusdei layering in insistent spoken word instructions from what sounds like a particularly curmudgeonly jazz band leader about the need to practice playing daily. Here the sound palette moves from hooky electronic passages that nod to both Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works and Terry Riley’s In C, blurry sax lines and dissonant clashes of instrumentation, the result being something unpredictable, intentionally messy and gleefully disjointed.
The standout moment ‘Jungle Shuffle’ is the closest Agnusdei gets to a form of traditional jazz, her playing running the gamut from early 1920s swing to wild free jazz, underpinned by a fractured rhythm belonging on a long out-of-print Disney album of Polynesian sounds subjected to a precision-sharp digital scalpel. By the track’s conclusion, all traces of reverential jazz reference points have become buried, mere distant aural memories beneath a forest floor carpeted with broken beats and splintered percussion.
Note to listener: to unintentionally evoke the legacy of Mr John Peel, this album also sounds superb at 45rpm.
Laurisilva by Laura Agnusdei was released November 29 2019 by The Wormhole. With thanks to Don Wyrm for coffee, comversation and cassettes.
When I was a small child my parents bought a copy of a children’s music LP called All Aboard. It had a whiff of a K-Tel compilation about it, containing songs like ‘Right Said Fred’ by Bernard Cribbins, ‘Ernie’ by Benny Hill and ‘Grandad’ by Clive Dunn. Side one of the album opened with a version of ‘The Laughing Policeman’ by Charles Penrose. I suspect because of mishandling on the part of my mischievous toddler fingers, that track was irreparably scratched, right at the point where the jocular copper of the song started laughing. That looped chuckling left an indelible mark on my childhood, running through the fear I felt as I watched the original version of IT, through TV shows with canner laughter and pretty much right up to the point I heard ‘I Stand On The Cable’ and ‘Dancing Without’ by Tears|Ov.
Tears|Ov is a trio of Lori E. Allen (vocals, samples, sequenced percussion, piano, synth, noise), Deborah Wale (vocals, percussion, tube, synth, noise, scratching, spoken word) and Katie Spafford (cello). Although the three performed together as part of Allen’s 2016 album for The Tapeworm, Tears Of The Material Vulture, the catalyst for this LP was a performance commission by artist Wolfgang Tillmans as part of the South Tanks series that ran alongside his 2017 Tate Modern retrospective. These are not the pieces that Allen / Wale / Spafford performed, exactly, as these are tracks formed of a collective after-hours improvisation process wherein each is a discrete moment unto itself. Triggered initially by Allen’s foundation loops, Wale and Spafford are then free to respond as they see fit, creating a feedback loop that allows Allen to alter and answer in return.
The eight pieces here are powerful, driven moments that sound perfectly composed rather than carrying the scratchy, inchoate gestures that one normally associates with freeform music. The tracks mentioned earlier – ‘I Stand On The Cable’ and ‘Dancing Without’ – possess a rich, interwoven tapestry of sonic events, glued together as tight layers (pulsing electronics, clipped instructions reminiscent of ‘Revolution #9’, and that incessant, troubling laughter – which collapses into distress on the latter track). If these found sound layers appear skittish and randomised, Spafford’s cello and Wade’s spoken word, when placed next to Allen’s finely-wrought electronics on moments like ‘Trapdoor Ant’ provide a stentorian focal point to proceedings, even if they are almost immediately sliced through with brief snatches of noisy intervention.
On the whole, this is a dark and brooding album befitting of both its title and the two tracks with the same name that bookend the LP. Surprising, then, to find two tracks that are, at least in part, completely at odds with the prevailing tone of A Hopeless Place. ‘Overstimulated Arcade Rat’ carries a sci-fi edge reminiscent of Don Dorsey’s soundtracks for Disney attractions at Epcot, full of fizzing futuristic electronic energy and perverse optimism, while ‘Family Feudal’ begins with genuinely laugh-out-loud faux pas culled from shows like Family Fortunes, before being taken into a mournful conclusion by Spafford’s cello, angry loops and an oddly unsettling segue into Satie.
Taken as a whole, A Hopeless Place leaves an uncertain, unresolved impression on the listener. There are difficult themes at work here, if you search them out, hiding beneath the splotches of sonic colour that dominate the trio’s music. How you elect to interpret those, just as with any work of art, in whatever discipline, is entirely up to you. You can be horrified, despondent, amused, ignorant or – if you perhaps hear the echo of a terror that dominated your early years – deeply terrified all over again.
A Hopeless Place by Tears|Ov is released November 1 2019 by The Wormhole.