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May/June 2019 – upcoming experimental gigs – ‘Towards A Progressive Magic” at the Horse Hospital with Amy Hale and Hawthonn (30th May); ‘Overlaps’ #2 with Kay Grant, Keith Moliné, Jasmine Pender, Tim Hodgkinson, Frank Byng and Chlöe Herington (5th June); the Sonic Electronics Festival at IKLECTIK (30th May to 2nd June)

26 May

At a time when our politics are tangibly darkening with currents of bigotry and nationalism and vicious, exclusionary stories, you might consider that looking at fascism within magic is a frivolous exercise.

Anthropologist Dr. Amy Hale (Atlanta, US) would disagree with you. She’s delivering the spoken-word part of an upcoming “night of magical resistance” at the Horse Hospital (London’s home of esoterica, underground cinema, public magick and wild frocks) for which the musical aspect’s being provided by Leeds-based Hawthonn, made up of “dual star daemons” Layla and Phil Legard, who specialise in “twenty-first century moon musick… underground spectralism meets edgeland herbalism…”

'Towards A Progressive Magic': Amy Hale + Hawthonn, 30th May 2019

This isn’t necessarily a new thing. Plenty of the frowning white-nativist movements in Europe and the States force parasitic roots into ideas about submerged culture, or ideas of a purity predating Christianity, liberalism and rationalism, into which disappointed or indignant people drift in the hope of finding and defining themselves. If you’ve dabbled in Nordic revivalism, for example, you may well have brushed up against it: racism smudging the runes. Similarly, some sonic pagans have always pushed back (having always associated their own musical explorations with a live-and-let-live freedom or a rejection of the controlling homegenisations of fascism), and even more of them are pushing back now.

Amy’s lecture, ‘Is A Progressive Magick Even Possible?’, examines what happens when “as the world takes an awkward lurch towards right wing authoritarianism, underground and fringe cultures, organisations and scenes are becoming increasingly attuned to the attempts by radical right wing groups to infiltrate and coerce their members… Modern occult practice, for many, relies on structures, ideas, values, and aesthetics that are inherently linked to conservative and reactionary thought. Examples of this are the valorisation of tradition, the idea of an initiated spiritual elite and the notion of a highly-ordered Neoplatonic universe, where everything is in its right place – including people and cultures.

“These conservative traits create opportunities for activists to use the social mechanisms of occult subcultures – for example festivals and conferences, book publishing, the music and fashion industries – to promote radical political and cultural agendas without people even noticing that it has happened. Tonight’s presentations discuss how, and why, contemporary magical cultures have become attractive territories for recruitment and expansion by far right organisations… I will discuss how ideas of tradition and “nature” are exploited, and how the discourses of “free speech” are deployed to create and justify platforms for radical, intolerant politics in an occult milieu… We will also learn to recognise such entryism in action, and how to stop it.”

As for Hawthonn, this is their first London appearance; their first live musical ritual within the M25; and their first chance to present their particular stance to the capital. Delving (in the tradition of Coil) into post-industrial esoteric drones and vocalisations, their work has so far embraced edgeland/feminist associations on ‘Red Goddess’ and implied erotic ritualisations on ‘The Well Head’, with more associations and purposes evolving. I don’t know what they’ll be coming up with on this occasion; but I’m assuming that it’s going to pull on their increasing conviction that ritual needs to engage (if not necessarily with materialism) with the fabric of daily practical necessities and practical history.




 
To quote them – “as esotericists we often believe that we have stepped beyond ‘mere politics’ – that our minds are turned to a higher world, which has little relation to the mundane – despite, paradoxically, believing that our magical actions influence the phenomenal world. Yet many contemporary scholars of esotericism and religion analyse the currents of occultism, paganism and the New Age as socially constructed phenomena: elaborate mythic structures enforcing certain norms, beliefs and practices, while justifying themselves through appeals to authority, lineage and experience, even science and rationality. Such historiographic or sociological approaches have been accused by many practitioners of base reductionism, undermining the authority of their particular traditions.

“Yet, what if practitioners of esotericism were to accept – or at least entertain for a moment – a constructivist, rather than transcendentalist, paradigm? We posit that such an acceptance can lead to another form of practice, which acknowledges the way in which esotericism is inseparable from the historical, social and economic fabric of our lives and which – rather than denying the viscerality of ritual and experience – uses them as tools to question the traditions and assumptions of the esoteric worldview, leading to a fluid and reflexive ‘critical magick’.”


 
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Drifting through Kings Cross – away from the cosy confines of the Harrison and back to its spiritual home at Westminster Kingsway College – and still driven by joint organisers Chlöe Herington (V A L V E, Knifeworld, Lindsay Cooper Songbook, Hirvikolari) and Keith Moliné (Pere Ubu, Prescott), the Overlaps “six musicians on the spot” concert series continues to burnish its particular niche. Improvising, but outside of the usual free-jazz grammar; perhaps owing something to art rock, but tearing one end wide open. Assimilating injections of the wilder shaggier side of experimental pop. Tag-teaming, but with a little friendly risk; part-prepared, but mostly of the moment.

'Overlaps 2', 5th June 2019

In addition to Chlöe’s avant-rock reeds and home-made noiseboxes and Keith’s startling bricolage guitarwork, the debut Overlaps evening back in January also featured jazz/art-rock-toned drum-and-bass artist Farz and fringe-pop experimenter/spoken-word persona shifter Merlin Nova; plus another British art rock guitar mainstay in Chloe’s Knifeworld bandmate Kavus Torabi and creative sideslip drumming from Keith’s Prescott bandmate Frank Byng (also of Snorkel and This Is Not This Heat). Chlöe, Keith and Frank are all back for round two, with the remaining three players coming in from other assorted corners of noisework, avant-garde and New Classical – often simultaneously.

While performing her dramatic, noisy electric cello soundscapes, Jasmine Pender usually goes under the alias of Rotten Bliss, sousing her sound in effects and singing along with a terrifying gorgeousness: storm-strings and surreal marine tales. For Overlaps, though, she’s performing under her own name. Perhaps it’s in solidarity with the other, unmasked performers not hiding behind their project names or band tags; or perhaps it means she’s going to be trying something a little different. You’ll need to turn up and see.


 
Originally coming up through the New York downtown arts, in her time Kay Grant has sung pop, jazz, rock, choral classical and opera (and built the ranges for each). She still touches on several of them today – most notably the jazz, with her own vocalise-based Kay Grant All-four and song duo Living Standards, and via guestings with the more standards-slanted Cyril Bass Quartet and Big Swing Big Band. But when she gives herself full improvisatory range her voice is an untethered exploratory device – coasting, feinting and arcing with the full subliminal structural knowledge of her training, but completely free to embrace a scattering palate of noise, tones and intimations.


 
Tim Hodgkinson, of course, is best known for his 1970s work as a founder and consistent member of Henry Cow: foundational art-rock radicalism within which he and his bandmates pursued a continuous course of questioning, dissonance, learning and overturning. Since then (usually armed with reed instruments, tapes, lap steel guitar and keyboards), he’s maintained a core Cow method: exploring, playing and composing via a cerebral and committed musicality which initially challenges and overwhelms his own technical skills but constantly forces him to advance. He’s equally likely to be found at work in art-house shows worldwide or in ferociously experimental British pub gigs, stretching his skills between improvised blowings, committed collaging or the conduction of post-classical chamber music which sounds like the skitterings of unruly ghost feet pursuing an unfinished argument.

Again, I’ve little idea of what he’ll be doing – it could be solo clarinet, it could be something with tapes and counterpoint, it could be something which bridges his interest in shamanic music and cultural anthropology.




 
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Sonic Electronic Festival, 30th May to 2nd June 2019There’s also time to mention (in brief) the concerts and chat around the sprawling Sonic Electronics Festival coming up at IKLECTIK and straddling late May and early June. Fascinated by coding and by digital evolution, the event’s as much academic as it is instinctive and will contain far too many ideas, implications and theory to be easily abridged and listed here. So this is a quick sketch of what’s lined up rather than a definitive description.

On 31st May, the evening concert is a London live AV performance incorporating toys/scrabbles/tapeloops collective Morphogenesis (bolstered by audio sculptor John Wall and electro-acoustic/noise performer Mark Durgan), the electronic-junk-assisted dronescapes of raxil4, woodwinder-turned-synth minimalist Bernhard Living and masked audio-visual circuit-building ritualists Isn’tses (the last of whom will also be running a Fort processor building workshop on the morning of Saturday 1st June). The Saturday evening is a pass-it-on event of international live audiovisual performance with VJ and visual/sonics encoder Chris Speed, videomapping performance artists Blanca Regina, extended vocal/multimedia performer Alessandra Eramo and feminine-industrial explorers Slow Slow Loris

The show on the evening of 2nd June involves the 4.1 Soundsystem. Here you can hear and watch a teaming of sound foleyist Rebecca Glover and the squelchy Fritha Jenkins (who’s inspired by shorelines of sand and mud);
spacial-stereo sound artist Bioni Samp (whose work and subject matter is informed by his own beekeeping and by concerns about bee extinction); the “theogynous” industrial/classical polyphonic vocals of Vera Bremerton; “grainyl”-ist Tony James Morton (who takes the cut’n’plunder techniques of hip hop DJs and feeds them through the alterations of granular synthesis); and the deep-listening drones of Johannes de Silentio (a.k.a. Lucius Works Here, a.k.a. Barcelonan sound art DJ Shak Benavides).

If you want to immerse yourself in theory, debate and other verbals, you’ll be wanting to go along to the event launch on the evening of 30th May. Here, there will be talks from Lucia Farinati, Nina Power and Giles Greenaway (about the intersections, overlaps and interferences of audiovisual technology with philosophy and live culture, and about process patterns taken from living creatures). There’ll also be a live AV performance of experimental electromagnetic power noise from Laura Netz, using hand-built technology.

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Dates:

Strange Attractor presents:
‘Towards a Progressive Magic’ (featuring Dr. Amy Hale + Hawthonn)
The Horse Hospital, The Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 1JD, England
Thursday 30th May 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Sonic Electronics Festival: Digital Arts & Analogue Devices
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Thursday 30th May 2019 to Sunday 2nd June 2019, various times
– information here, here, here, here, here and here

Westking Music and Performing Arts presents:
‘Overlaps’ #2: Kay Grant + Keith Moliné + Jasmine Pender + Tim Hodgkinson + Frank Byng + Chlöe Herington
Westminster Kingsway College, 211 Gray’s Inn Road, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8RA, England
Wednesday 5th June 2019, 6.30pm
– information here
 

May 2019 – upcoming experimental gigs – Maryanne Amacher Focus in London featuring Ensemble Contrechamps, Ensemble Zwischentöne, Bill Dietz and Amy Cimini (30th & 31st)

17 May

The last Kammer Klang concert of the current season is slipping its usual moorings, forsaking its usual London home at Café Oto in favour of the ICA, and staging a reconstruction (and UK premiere) of ‘GLIA’, Maryanne Amacher’s work for seven instruments and electronics.

Maryanne Amacher at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, 30th-31st May 2019

As a fully-formed artist slipping into the realms of avant-garde composition, Amacher was best known for installation work and psychoacoustic ideas… although that’s a little dry and reductive. She was interested in exploring the ways in which humans perceive sound (including ways in which a listener can be subtly deceived by its manipulation and displacement), and in particular the perceptions induced by sounds generated within the ear. She’d use particular high-frequency sounds, volumes and sonic displacements to excite unusual tonal responses within the physical structure of the inner ears of her listeners; in effect, she benevolently transformed them into part of the sonic ensemble (or, perhaps more accurately, into instruments who could perceive themselves being played).

This from the archives at the ZKM (Center for Art and Media) in Karlsruhe:

“The work bearing the title ‘GLIA’ (named after the glial cells in the brain that control the transmission of stimuli between the synapses) was performed once in the Berlin multimedia centre TESLA. This first exhibition was (still) instructed and supervised by Amacher herself in collaboration with the former director of Ensemble Zwischentöne, Peter Ablinger, as well as with current director Bill Dietz.

“In ‘GLIA’, Amacher imagines the audience as a kind of glial cell representing the interface between the electronic and acoustic-instrumental elements of the work. In a narrower sense, she imagined the “otoacoustic emissions” (the sounds within the ear radiating once again from the electronic devices and instruments as if “by magic”) emerging in the audience’s ears as precisely this “neural interface”. This corresponds to the same approach Amacher had previously intended with her piece for the Kronos Quartet in the 1990s which was never performed (and probably never completed). In fact, the material for this string quartet had been partly newly arranged for ‘GLIA’. After the Berlin premier, Amacher returned to Kingston, New York, and took home with her all the material for the performance of this work. In 2009, the Zwischentöne ensemble invited Amacher to return to Berlin to further develop ‘GLIA’. Unexpectedly, Amacher tragically died shortly before this planned reencounter.”

‘GLIA’ has been performed at least twice since then (with Zwischentöne performing it twice in 2012, at ZKM and at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof-Museum für Gegenwart), but this will be the British premiere; with members of Zwischentöne joining another Swiss New Music ensemble, Ensemble Contrechamps and with Bill Dietz returning to direct. The performance will be preceded by ‘Ghost Written Scenarios & Unnamed Sensibilities’, a discussion between Bill and Amy Cimini, the contemporary music performer and academic historian Amy Cimini whose book ‘Listening in the Future Tense’ “examines the use of biological and ecological sound sources in late 20th century experimental music circles.”

It’s no coincidence that this subject overlaps with Amacher’s work: Amy was a friend and collaborator, as well as being part of the ongoing Supreme Connections collective which reengages with Amacher’s legacy and her back catalogue of music and ideas. Amy’s also a defender against over-casual summings-up of her friend’s intentions and achievements: “(Listeners are) like: ‘O.K., I totally get what this music is about — it’s about this crazy inner-ear sensation, she understood that intuitively, end of story. And that’s not the story, actually.” OK… I stand corrected…)

The concert and discussion will be preceded the previous day with a screening of Charles Atlas’ ‘Torse’ documentary from 1977 – a multiple-camera study of the choreography of Merce Cunningham’s ‘Torse’ dance piece, performed to Amacher’s composition Remainder (1976). As with the performance of ‘GLIA’, there’ll be a pre-screening conversation between Bill Dietz and Amy Cimini.

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Kammer Klang/Ensemble Contrechamps/Institute of Contemporary Arts presents:
‘Maryanne Amacher at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, 30th-31st May 2019’

  • Screening of ‘Torse’ (plus pre-screening conversation between Bill Dietz and Amy Cimini) – Thursday 30th May 2019, 6.30pm
  • ‘Ghost Written Scenarios & Unnamed Sensibilities’ (Bill Dietz and Amy Cimini in conversation) – Friday 31st May 2019, 7.00pm
  • Maryanne Amacher Focus (featuring Ensemble Contrechamps, members of Ensemble Zwischentöne and Bill Dietz) – Friday 31st May 2019, 8.00pm

All events at Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Mall, St James’s, London, SW1Y 5AH, England.

More/ongoing information here, here and here
 

April 2019 – upcoming London experimental gigs – Kammer Klang celebrates Annea Lockwood with Xenia Pestova Bennett, Nate Wooley, Jennifer Lucy Allan, Diffusions and the Cafe Oto Experimental Choir, plus Evie Hilyer and Amalia Young performing Chiyoko Szlavnics, Laura Cannell performing Peter Hannan and CRiSAP students performing EVOL and Yoshi Wada (6th & 7th)

2 Apr

Kammer Klang, 6th & 7th April 2019

Another Kammer Klang in Dalston provides a two-day weekend residency for Annea Lockwood; the New Zealand-born composer who started her career in the ferment of 1960s summer-schools at Darmstadt (with their focus on organised electronic composition) but who rapidly went far beyond that. Curated by former ‘Wire’ online editor Jennifer Lucy Allan, the weekend features various Lockwood European premieres alongside work by Chiyoko Szlavnics, EVOL, Yoshi Wada and Peter Hannan.

* * * * * * * *

For the Saturday event, Jennifer will be reading from ‘Annea Lockwood – Sound Streams’, an essay written by The Wire’s Louise Gray (for the Edition Festival for Other Music) which explores Annea’s ethos through from her early Darmstadt days to the present. En route, it touches on her playful Fluxus-influenced piano stunts, such as floating a tiny, tinkling musical box, attached to a bright childlike bunching of helium balloons, out of the body of a grand and into a the space of formal concert hall; or kitting out an old upright with integrated, foregrounded toys which not only made avant-garde noises but also visibly kept their toy nature.

The essay also delves into Annea’s later approach of mapping sound and space as a listener, mapper and translator – having ditched electronic sound-sources as master tone generators (while retaining electronics for processing), she moved to reconfiguring and (crucially) interacting sympathetically with natural environmental sounds. Even while imposing her own will on those sounds as recordings and as material, she’s consistently respected and illuminated their original sources and context, including the functions which they represent and the continuance which they embody.

There will be audio playbacks of two entirely electroacoustic Lockwood pieces. 2012’s ‘Dusk’ presents a mixture of “low frequency sounds generated by seafloor black smoker hydrothermal vents, transposed bat calls, and percussionist William Winant playing a tamtam”. Initially, 2013’s ‘Bouyant’ seems to travel from the pastoral to the sinister to comfortingly aural wit, as dipping, paddling water noises alternate with sinister low-frequency drones, haunting frictional creaks and indistinct faraway howls, which in turn give way to cheerful, pastoral farmyard animals bleating and babbling in the middle distance. It’s as if a canoeing trip (filmed in rapid disassociated jumps between panoramic scene shots and extreme close-ups, and between air and underwater) had started out being stalked by eldritch forest monsters and emerged in the millflow beside Old McDonald’s farm.

 
I’ve just read that last bit back and am laughing at myself again for the splats of fancy that I came up with. Maybe I’m just too trapped in a habit of floridly verbalising what I hear, as I try to shift my impressions from incoming sound to outflowing text. I suspect that in doing so I’m missing the point of what Annea does with her compositional process and what her intentions are when she brings it out of the sound lab and to the listener. Jamming a corny, boyish narrative of external horror-movie threat and cartoon silliness onto what I’m hearing isn’t the right approach. What I should be doing is dropping the whimsy and listening to the sounds as they were made and processed, without my input. It’s probably more accurate to interpret ‘Buoyant’ as a full-range representation of a segmented river journey passing through inscrutable wildernesses and the managed densities of rural agriculture (each of them with their differing environments and functionality) while realising that my listening human ears impose subjective meaning and story onto what they hear; as those of any listener might.

If you’re interested in the purest end of Annea’s interpretations of field-recordings, her four-channel sound installation, ‘A Sound Map of the Housatonic River’ will be open to the public at Cafe Oto Project Space throughout the weekend. It’s another water piece – extracted from a hundred-and-fifty-mile stretch of New England waterway via recordings made at points from river source to river mouth, both underwater and on the surface. Subsequently, it’s been formed into a polyphonic tricklerushflow of noises, crafted to capture the character of a river made up from the sum of its users, denizens, dynamics and fluid functions: a character which available to the ears if you know how to sit back and absorb it. You can listen to a downloadable excerpt here.

Saturday also provides the opportunity to listen to another strand of Annea’s music: two piano pieces performed by Xenia Pestova Bennett which are closer to the concert hall, building on bedrock conceptual carvings more akin the deconstructions of John Cage and the rumbles of James Tenney. In 1993’s ‘Red Mesa’ clustered drips of piano notes, gently sophisticated chordings and zither-strums inside the case result in something (to these misleadable ears, at least) strangely close to a Bill Evans jazz romance. 2001’s ‘RCSC’ takes the same principles and techniques but pursues them somewhere much darker and more reverberant, where the piano body becomes a roiling haunted canyon of clangs, stutters and trapped lashing stiflings, or perhaps just an objective map of unforgiving terrain. There’s an earlier interpretation of ‘RCSC’ below:


 
Supporting the Lockwood work will be a pair of duets played by emerging violinists Evie Hilyer and Amalia Young. ‘This Is Only Here’ and ‘HC91’ are both composed by electroacoustic specialist Chiyoko Szlavnics, who devises her pieces (in part) through drawings, and whose work has a focus on the “beating” phenomenon which occurs when two imperfectly tuned pitches interact with each other in an oscillating throb.

The Fresh Klang contribution for Saturday will be ‘Three hundred grams of latex and steel in one day‘: a 2011 spatial performance piece being restaged by students from the CRiSAP program (Creative Research into Sound Arts Practice, at the University of the Arts London). Using groupings of balloons and hex nuts at varied distances from the observer, it was originally composed/conceived by EVOL (the dual-composing, music-squashing, party-hooligan-cum-research-science team of Roc Jiménez de Cisneros and Stephen Sharp) as a way of exploring a modelled algorithmic process in perverse, potentially frustrating real-world terms. In practise, it’s mostly about EVOL’s fondness for deformatory music, and about the inspiring, embraceable awkwardness and randomness of trying to get an avant-garde composition off the ground by molesting blown-up latex. Squu-u-u-u-u-arr-r-r-r-r-kk-k-k….

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The Sunday event starts with a free afternoon Q&A session with both Annea Lockwood and composer/improviser Nate Wooley. During the evening concert, Nate will be performing the European premiere of his 2018 co-composition with Annea, ‘Becoming Air’, on trumpet and tamtam. It made its debut at Nate’s own FOR/WITH festival, and uses circular breathing, an effects pedal and a constantly-fiddled-with miked-up trumpet to capture overtones: it’s been noted for “using much of his improvising electro-acoustic vocabulary (while being) absolutely an Annea Lockwood composition: performative, shamanic, and with an attention to the naturalness of sound that makes the audience rethink their aural surroundings.” as well as containing sounds which (as ‘The Information Superhighway‘ put it) are “suggestive of a sprinkler system that’s gained consciousness.”

The other Lockwood composition for the evening will be the vocal piece ‘Water & Memory’, again receiving a European premiere. Based around hums and reiteration of water-words in Hindi, Thai and Hebrew and spacing a group of voice performers all around the venue, it’s conceived for amateur musicians and requires audience participation. This is billed as being performed by the “Cafe Oto Experimental Choir”. In practise – and on the night – I guess that that means you as well.

In addition to the evening’s Lockwoodia, there’ll be a visit from iterant Early/avant-music specialist Laura Cannell (see passim), interpreting ‘Rsrch 4/83’ by electro-acoustic orientated composer Peter Hannan; himself a former recorder player who wrote the ‘Rsrch’ series to explore, express and comment on musical and technical problems with the instrument. For this one, the recorder and the performer’s voice go through electronic delay system to pursue and realise “a rich texture of overtones” resulting in an incantatory buzzing reminiscent of throat singing.

More overtone work is provided by the CRiSAP students, returning for another Fresh Klang piece. This time they’re reviving ‘Lament for the Rise and Fall of Handy-Horn’, a (probably) deafening 1990s composition by Japanese Fluxus/drone composer Yoshi Wada. For this one, a set of nautical air horns are triggered and left to blare until all the compressed air has blown out of their tanks.

The impact of ‘Lament’ has relatively little to do with planned pitches, and everything to do with other factors such as the oppressive volume (which helps with the overtones), the sense of situational alarm (springing up even in a prepared audience), and the increased air pressure in the room (which comes with the discharging of the horns). I just hope that the performance of ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ next door at the Arcola Theatre will already be particularly noisy, rowdy and oblivious…

* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Kammer Klang presents:
Jennifer Lucy Allan/Diffusions/Xenia Pestova Bennett perform Annea Lockwood / Evie Hilyer and Amalia Young perform Chiyoko Szlavnics / CRiSAP students perform EVOL
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Saturday 6th April, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Kammer Klang presents:
Annea Lockwood/Nate Wooley/Cafe Oto Experimental Choir perform Annea Lockwood / Laura Cannell performs Peter Hannan / CRiSAP students perform Yoshi Wada
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Sunday 7th April 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

March/April 2019 – upcoming British experimental gigs – Sarah Angliss’ eerie Air Loom on tour in Britain (26th March to 8th April, various) – also featuring Noize Choir, Kate Arnold, Thomas Stone, Embla Quickbeam, Good News From The Future, Ben Gwilliam and Cath & Phil Tyler

23 Mar

The Air Loom project is on tour across England (with appearances in Scotland and Wales) during the end of March and early April.

Headed up by electro-acoustic composer and inventor Sarah Angliss, the project also features soprano vocalist Sarah Gabriel and Ensemble Bash percussionist Stephen Hiscock; but the vision is entirely an Angliss one: one of “phantasmagoria” and “electrical mysticism” which can incorporate“robotic carillons, telephonic counterpoint and a new instrument made from the salvaged parts of a Welsh chapel organ.” A former folk-club performer, Sarah is steeped and classically trained in the music of the baroque and Renaissance eras, and spends much of her time constructing and delivering music for theatre and for live film soundtracks. She’s also part of a generation of composer-performers who re-examine the archaic and antique from both a present-day perspective and a feeling of questing connection.


 
This kind of thing doesn’t always work out (folktronica’s a fine idea but often gets reduced to the cliché of just playing folk music on synths), but Sarah’s approach is a fresh one – folding the process over with technological visions which themselves are deliberately selected for their own innate antiquity in order to explore “resonances between English folklore and early notions of sound and machines.” Possessing traditional Early Music instrumental skills (on recorder and ancestral keyboards), she mates them with contemporary jiggery-pokery: the latter covering the kind of twentieth-century technology now acquiring a museum patina (theremins, analogue telephones, radiophonic devices) and more virtual twenty-first century tech such as current custom MAX patches and apps.


 
Backed up by Stephen and by Sarah G, the Air Loom tour and album features Sarah performing on a mixture of recorders, electronics, theremin and the clavisimbalum (a “sonorous, fourteenth-century Latvian cousin of the harpsichord” – in this case one that’s been connected to custom synth processing). The other things to mention are the eerie, enchanting robotic instruments which she conceives, designs and then brings on tour to operate, building them out of bits of abandoned acoustic instruments and sundry homely/associative objects. Some are more anthropomorphic and animatronic – a drum-playing 1960s shop mannequin; a handbag playing triple duty as a heart and a drumbox; a theremin-playing doll called Clara; a disembodied ventriloquist’s-dummy head operating as a spycam; a robot crow. Others present more clearly as machines, such as the automated, radiation-sensitive, hyperspeed bell carillion built with technologist Dan Stowell which was the centrepiece of her previous ‘Ealing Feeder’ album and the “wheezing, robotic Shruti box” that’s the centrepiece of ‘Air Loom’.



 
The resulting music is enthralling and a little displaced. Rumbles, chimes and airs adding up to hauntology-in-the-machine stuff; all of it in line with Sarah’s desire to create work which captures the “disquieting and uncanny” and “the crackle of the galvanic on the telephone wire.” While there isn’t currently any grabbable Air Loom work online for me to show you, here’s something a little similar – Sarah in the grand baroque Hawksmoor space of St Anne’s Limehouse two years ago, performing her ‘Ealing Feeder’ piece A Wren In The Cathedral along with Stephen Hiscock, Colin Utley and her animatronics. Echoes of the unearthly, the mundane and the dignified run through the performance: summonings, weaving, the patience of listening, the trances of spaces.


 
As you’d expect, a tour like this draws in interesting supports.

In Brighton and in London, Kate Arnold from Fear Of The Forest will open the Air Loom shows with a solo hammer-dulcimer-and-voice set of the kind with which she’s been tremendously busy over the past year (see passim). Looping full-range contrabassoonist and sound-triggerer Thomas Stone supports at Bristol, providing his usual slow-evolve sonic immersion from reed tones, beat and hiss.



 
At the Yorkshire art-nexus of Todmorden, Air Loom are joined by a couple of field-recording and sound collage artists – Embla Quickbeam (who opts for a naturalistic approach, overlaying and engraining recordings of places with homemade sonics) and Ben Gwilliam, who prefers to affect and manipulate similar recordings via open tape reels, magnets and a mingling of technical performance art with a kind of deconstructive electrophonic storytelling which can vary from absolute obliqueness to narrative snagging. This time he’s working with “super 8 projectors, ice and homemade electronics in an attempt to amplify the space between microphone and medium.”

 
At Newcastle, support comes from local avant-garde vocal performance collective Noize Choir, who wield an extended human-voice approach “free of the traditional restraints of typical choral settings, language or musical notation” in which singing, breathing, coughing, wailing, humming or any other vocal excursion has equal merit. They also investigate and reflect on the venues which they perform at via “phenomenological explorations (or) imaginings of our geological past” while pegging themselves firmly to a very North-East England post-industrial perspective in which science, landscape and culture merge. On this particular evening everyone’s performing in an award-winning conversion of a former carpet warehouse, now housing an independent cinema company first based on the quayside and then in a squatted abandoned prop store, and with an eye on delivering a future community spirit in ominous times…. so they’ll have all that to unpack with a click and a whoop. Anyhow, here’s them vocalising Lindisfarne (the holy island and bird sanctuary, not the folk rockers).

 
At the Swansea date (for Welsh art-music initiative NAWR) there’s another double support. The first is Newcastle folk duo Cath & Phil Tyler, latter-day exponents of traditional folk narratives, American mountain banjo and full-voiced Sacred Harp singing, which they strip down to its most minimal and concentrated folk, able to bewitch anything from the most cramped little folk club to the vast arena of the Albert Hall. The second is Welsh music-and-movement project Good News From The Future, a collective of mature performers (in their fifties or older) co-ordinated by Mike Pearson (once of 1980s Cardiff avant-garde site-specific theatre company Brith Gof, now emeritus professor of performance studies at the University of Aberystywth). It’s unclear about exactly what they’re doing this time around: some sources say a spoken-word piece, others a movement piece. By all accounts they’re equally skilled at telling a story either way. Here’s something of what – and how – they performed a few years ago at Cardiff’s Chapter venue.


 
* * * * * * * *

Air Loom dates:

  • The Marlborough Pub & Theatre, 4 Princes Street, Brighton, BN2 1RD, England – Tuesday 26th March 2019, 8.00pm (with Kate Arnold) – information here, here and here
  • Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England – Saturday 30th March 2019, 8.00pm (with Kate Arnold) – information here and here
  • The Glad Café C.I.C, 1006A Pollokshaws Road, Glasgow, G41 2HG, Scotland – Wednesday 3rd April 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Star & Shadow Cinema, Warwick Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE2 1BB, England – Thursday 4th April 2019, 7.30pm (with Noize Choir) – information here and here
  • The International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Engine House, Chorlton Mill, 3 Cambridge Street, Manchester, M1 5BY, England – Friday 5th April 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Golden Lion, Fielden Square, Todmorden, OL14 6LZ, England – Saturday 6th April 2019, 8.00pm (with Embla Quickbeam and Ben Gwilliam) – information here
  • The Cube, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England – Sunday 7th April 2019, 7.30pm (with Thomas Stone) – information here and here
  • NAWR#35 @ BBC Hall at Swansea Studios, 32 Alexandra Road, Swansea, SA1 5DT, Wales – Monday 8th April 2019, 7.00pm (with Good News from The Future and Cath & Phil Tyler) – information here, here, here and here

…and here’s Sarah’s robot carillon again, this time transmitting bird song (to the audible delight of a baby)…

 

February 2019 – upcoming English folk-rock-but-not-just-folk-rock gigs – My Octopus Mind on tour (13th, 16th, 21st, 22nd February) with Jakabol, The Display Team, Lapis Lazuli and Malika Collective; Hexvessel and Arktau Eos in London (22nd February)

10 Feb

Flexible Bristol almost-acoustic trio My Octopus Mind occupy a pleasing position, settled in their own web of connections between a number of different influences but reliant upon none of them. There’s a jazzy rattle, predominantly via the gloriously noisy effected double bass of Izy Ellis (a growling, punchy, conversational art-box; upfront timber and raw electronic treatments). The whole band’s informed by post-Radiohead/Mars Volta art rock and by the mating of contrasts implicit in assorted culture collisions (such the Hindustani-classical meets New-York-loft-music teaming achieved in one particular favourite, Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar’s ‘Passages’). Frontman singer and guitarist Liam O’Connell cites the sonic and psychological crescendos of Jeff Buckley and Josh Homme’s mix of heaviness and irony, but also the restraint of Jose Gonzales. Ex-Lambhorneer Oliver Cocup adds refreshed drum bounce, and racing through the whole thing is a rivulet – or, more accurately, an unstoppable jet – of skittish Balkan folk.


 
With a debut album, ‘Maladyne Cave’, nearing release, My Octopus Mind are out on a brief English tour wriggle this month, taking in Manchester, Canterbury, London and their hometown. In part, it’s to celebrate the recent release of their debut single Elska, with its increasingly disturbing Coppelian dance video (in which a man wheels an impassive doll-woman around in a suitcase, engaging in secret and increasingly frustrated trysts with her).

While Manchester is an evening for the band on their own, various temporary tourmates slot in elsewhere – in London, it’ll be the accomplished Afro-Latin groove band Malika Collective. The Canterbury show sports an eclectic psychedelic edge with local jam band and “maximalist psych-prog heroes” Lapis Lazuli plus the convoluted Zappa-brass meets London-urchin-pop of The Display Team (see passim) and psych/prog/punk funk/soul/dub/afro combination DJ interludes from Professor Appleblossom. The Bristol tour launch show, meanwhile, also features Jakabol, a warm Bristolian instrumental band in which violin, harp, guitar and drums leap and lurch tunefully around a set pitched midway between post-rock gutter and country hoedown (perhaps a further extension of the rural post-rocking I’ve been hearing from Rumour Cubes and Apricot Rail).



 
* * * * * * * *

Linkings between folk music and heavy rock go back pretty much all of the way to the start of the latter, especially in Europe. In plain sight, Led Zeppelin regularly immersed themselves in Welsh border hillsides and Janschian jangle; a little later, Jethro Tull brought in the jigs, liltings and mandolins while allying them to Ian Anderson’s witty, sardonic absolutely-in-the-moment songwriting voice (which swept in the eclectic interests and erudition of a restless, randy, contemporary urban boulevardier who could’ve make the idea of a leprechaun in your sitting room sound like something contemporary, adult and immediate rather than twee). In the ‘90s a swell of Celtic/Nordic folk metal and Gothic paganism via bands such as Skyclad led to a revival of mythic musical drama; in the Noughties, there was the feeling that the likes of Opeth were peering over their successive ramparts of black metal and prog in search of something offering more air and antiquity. Nowadays, you can hardly move for this sort of thing sprouting up from Ireland to Israel: driving a guitar through a hefty amp seems like one of the most effective ways to kick off an interest in your own folk history.

In many respects, latterday Anglo-Irish-Finnish heavy-folk-rockers Hexvessel hanker back to Tull – some of the lilts and jangles are there, as are the banging barn-door blurts of chunky electric guitar work – but they also trade in some of the dramatic minor keys and broody, nonconforming, subculture-meets-antiquity feel of Skyclad. Of course, this is probably incidental: it would be more constructive to reconsidering the swirling body of interests and philosophy surrounding singer and prime mover Mat McNerney. Despite Mat’s former black metal links (as “Kvohst”, he cavorted across stages with bands like Dødheimsgard and Code), Hexvessel avoid certain predictable pitfalls – no ludicrous demonic posturing; no arid hating; no polluted white-is-right old-Europe nationalism. This is primarily because under the corpse paint Kvohst always seems to have been a thoughtful and sensible chap with a well-calibrated bullshit detector, sorting the nourishing myths from the toxic ones.




 
Instead, Hexvessel explore a range of thinking stimuli – post-/pre-Catholic pagan magick; the connecting threads connecting contemporary Finnish woodland psych with the brooding kosmische stews of Amon Duul and the chatty verbal maximalism of early ‘70s British psych folk; comic book legendariums; and respectful pro-feminist reintegrations of women back into musical forms that have often wandered too far down macho paths. Later this month, they’re setting up camp at St Johns Bethnal Green; playing a London show as part of the European tour in support of brand new album ‘All Tree’, in which they’ve endeavoured to blend Mat’s memories of old ghost stories and other transmissions of folk culture with their own dramatic Samhain vibes and symbolic forest-folk musical experiments (including playing tree boughs with violin bows). Mat sees it as a way of connecting to Samhain’s liminal side; a time when ancestors, as spirits and memories, are that much closer.

Hexvessel’s tree-bowing was captured out by the band’s resident field recording/sound conjuring wizard Antti Haapapuro. In another incarnation – as half of sacking-masked ritual ambient/oneiric duo Arktau Eos – he and fellow Eosian Antti Litmanen open the show, rubbing the psychic gateways open with their primeval sounding drones, swells and invocation of significant spaces – simultaneously post-industrial and prehistoric, thrumming out of a green church, resonating nook or ancient gravehole like a stone-tape playback of ancient, dignified rites.

Steeped in hermetic philosophy and Apophatic theology, Arktau Eos come across as thoughtful ceremonial scholars in interviews such as this one in the ‘This Is Darkness’ ezine. Eloquent and courteous if you care to track them down for a respectful conversation, but unswayed by distractions from their business of the mining of the “ur-currents” of religious faith; the pull of site-specific mysteries, apprehending experience without attempting to stare it in the face or pin it down with sentences. In a similar spirit, I think I should just leave the descriptions there, as they stand. Essentially, it’s all in the sound and the placement, and the ceremonial use of the available moment. Understand them that way.


 
* * * * * * * *
Dates:

My Octopus Mind:

  • The Crofters Rights, 117-119 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3RW, England – Wednesday 13th February 2019, 7.30pm (with Jakabol) – information here and here
  • The Old Abbey Taphouse, Guildhall Close, Manchester, M15 6SY, England – Saturday 16th February 2019, 7.30pm – information here
  • UCA Bar Canterbury, New Dover Road, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 3AN, England – Thursday 21st February 2019, 7.30pm (with The Display Team + Lapis Lazuli) – information here
  • The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4LG, England – Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.00pm (with Malika Collective) – information here and here

Old Empire proudly presents:
Hexvessel + Arktau Eos
St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9PA, England
Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

February 2019 – upcoming London experimental gigs – drone evenings – NYX & Iona Fortune plus Flora Yin-Wong (3rd February); Matthew Shaw, Anji Cheung and English Heretic (7th February)

29 Jan

A couple of evenings of drone and weird noise for you, here in the Smoke.

* * * * * * * *

 
Electronic drone choir NYX and Glaswegian electro-acoustic drone instrumentalist Iona Fortune join forces in Bethnal Green during the coming weekend, for what they’re calling “a liminal ceremony” based on an exploration of the I Ching. The latter’s a particular interest of Iona’s – she’s already released the first of a planned octet of releases on the subject. Live, she blends instrumental performance work on the gamelan percussion set and guzheng zither with vintage electronic textures generated by the EMS Synthi AKS (the same early-’70s suitcase synth that’s responsible for early Pink Floyd sequencing, mid-period radiophonics and various Enossifications), via a composition technique which “involves inner cultivation”. For their part, NYX (eight veiled women singing together from behind two tables strewn with vocal sound processors) stress “mindful experiences, psycho-acoustics and sound healing through an immersive exploration of ambient, noise and electronic music”. Expect a mixture of avant-garde eeriness and ancient intimations, then, mixed with a fat emollient smear of New Age healer atmospherics: something silkily psychoactive.

The focus on I Ching divinations might be Iona’s choice, but the sonic method is NYX’s, who are leading a series of similar concerts (this is the third of four, it seems) in which they coax a collaborator to let go of some of their own battery of electronics and/or field recordings and allow NYX to replace it with their own poly-chorused vocal blocks and twinings. A recent ‘If Only’ interview with NYX’s Sian O’Gorman has plenty of talk about mother principles and the like, but it does make them sound genuine: intrigued by the interaction of specific voices with specific bits of electronic kit, and well aware of different vocal practises delved into across hundreds of years and thousands of miles.

They’re also determined – and proud – to promote the female voice, skills and mindset. All performers in the concert series have been women: unsettling folktronica performance artist Gazelle Twin following operatic chanter Hatis Noit, with layering classical/noise minimalist Alicia Jane Turner scheduled for the next event.

Meanwhile here’s a little of Iona working on her own, plus a snippet of NYX working with Gazelle Twin. Chop, edit and remix in your mind’s eye as appropriate.


 
As a kind of counterbalance to the concert’s Orientalist leanings (for all the sincerity, with this amount of New Agery it can feel as if it’s an act of looking in rather than belonging), the support slot goes to an actual Asian diasporan musician: electronicist Flora Yin-Wong, Chinese-Malaysian by roots but London-born. With an outright interest in club culture and dissonance, Flora seems to be more futurist than tourist but touches on the evening’s mystical tone via her use of field recordings from south-East Asian temples, re-brewed and teased within electronic processing and contemporary beat frameworks. Some of what she does twinkles, but other parts form arresting fields of explosive ritual noise right from the first note – see below.

 
* * * * * * * *

The following Thursday, up in Manor House, New River Studios plays host to the London launch event for Matthew Shaw‘s “debut” album ‘Among The Never Setting Stars’.

Calling it a debut is a little disingenous, since Matthew’s been putting out music for two decades now. At the turn of the century he sat somewhere between Bark Psychosis, Mojave 3 and a sedated Mike Oldfield, releasing soft-edged, deeply rural dream pop as Tex La Homa. At the start it was murmured acoustic-indie guitar folk – equal parts Drake and Velvets – expanded by synth rills, echo and field recordings; but gradually the singing diminished and the backing tracks became more interesting, the sounds took over and the local Dorset landscape (both physical and psychic, stone circles and solstices) impressed itself ever more deeply on the music. Though Matthew was also spending time helping to add sonic depth and audio subtext to folktronic pop band Sancho, in his own work the pop structures were dissolving away to allow the other ingredients to billow forwards.

By the middle of the decade Matthew was carrying out duo work: bizarre electrophonic ritual music with Nick Grey as 230 Divisadero and theosophical dronery with Andrew Paine as The Blue Tree. Since 2010, he’s run the limited-edition experimental label Apollolaan Recordings and issued a couple of Cornish/antiquarian-slanted location music releases in collaboration with Brian Lavelle as Fougou. Suggesting that he’s only officially going solo now is also a little disingenous – there have been releases under the Matthew Shaw name since he started Apollolaan, with a host of them still on Bandcamp. They’ve explored the usual territories of the recurring mystic tradition – alchemy and magick, psychogeography, cosmic astrology – but without the pomposity that’s usually bundled into the package.

Generally speaking, Matthew comes across as a listener rather than an imposer; travelling from temporary cottage to temporary cottage and from site to site with his guitars, sampler, KAOSS pad and electronics as an itinerant tinker would carry his tools. His work often sounds like an attempt to fuse an English pastoral tradition with spiritual/kosmische protractions and with occult/avant-garde post-punk aesthetics, blending in a folk-inspired interest in the cycles of seasons and life plus the rituals one makes to mark them. Typically New Weird Britain, then – and ‘Among The Never Setting Stars’, true to form, is apparently based around field recordings of “occult landscapes”. I would have expected the resulting pieces to have been more alarming, or at least more disorientating in the standard dark-ambient style (in which thunderheads mass like war in heaven and nature is overwhelmed by random electricity and ferociously foraging ants). On this occasion, however, Matthew seems to have been brought to a pitch of innocent (if slightly eerie) pastoral serenity – his source material buried to the point of absolute dilution or effective erasure beneath a gentle edgeless electrophonic skirl, like a cloud-organ recital in a roofless, open green church.


 
Also on board for the New River concert are the harsher drone-and-sample-scapes of Anji Cheung. Sometimes these are unnerving, frowning amplifier buzzes rolling over the listener like a gigantic clumsy wheel, with dramatically chopped/distorted/otherwise incomprehensible vocals implying pirate-radio-eavesdropping on a covert ritual. Sometimes they’re car-boot clatter under a lowering sky; sometimes they’re beautiful lost female murmur-melodies stalked by drainage-ditch fuzz. If Matthew’s work remains rural (and white), Anji’s is another aspect of NWB: ambiguously multicultural and urban, mixing and obscuring London and Chinese references, but sounding mostly as if it stems from a place where jerry-built tower blocks break up old fields around the city’s tired periphery and where unknown syncretic practises are carried out (perhaps only half-understood even by the people involved).



 
Playing hosts are English Heretic, the multimedia collective who for fifteen years have been self-appointed English psycho-historical curators, magickal Situationists and NWB forerunners. They’ve always carried their enthusiastic immersion in all things Britannic, eldritch and peculiar with warmth and wit, embracing the absurd without turning it into a cheap laugh; and putting a more inclusive and welcoming face onto the uncanny, sometimes belying the depth of their work. If I ever need an exorcism (or, more likely, some kind of psychic mediator) I’ll probably give them a call.

Plenty of music can be fed into the English Heretic stewpot – they’ve cited “psychedelic folk, ritual ethnographic recordings, electronica” as part of their fuel, and they’re very happy to drop into thrumming cusp-of-the-’70s psych rock at any opportunity, but in many respect the music’s secondary to the tales and the texts, the visual images and the intimations. Head Heritageur Andy Sharp has mentioned, in ‘The Quietus’, his tendency to extrapolate scraps and findings into something bardic and numimous – “reading around, something will catch your attention, and then I treat it in a magical context: taking the view that restless spirits or troubled souls inhabit the environment.” Sparks from hidden resonances (including those which are actually in plain sight and hearing) permeate the work.

For this particular concert, English Heritage is airing part of the ongoing audio-visual project ‘London’s Imagined Dead: Cinematic Deaths in London’. The section they’ve picked takes its cues from the Brit-horror era of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s: the era which spawned ‘The Wicker Man’ and ‘The Blood on Satan’s Claw’, although they’re focussing on a lesser-known Hammer offering, ‘The Asphyx’. A 1972 tale of horribly botched Victorian research into the transmigration of souls, the film’s final sequence features the cadaverous, wandering-Jew meanderings of the story’s main character, still alive in the 1970s and condemned to a hateful, decrepit, guilt-ridden immortality. That last sequence was filmed at Battersea’s Winstanley Estate, later briefly notorious (in UK garage circles and in tabloid-land) as the home turf of So Solid Crew.

The finale of 'The Asphyx'. (Well, it was the early '70s and they'd run out of budget. Just concentrate on the concept...)

The finale of ‘The Asphyx’. (Well, it was the early ’70s and they’d run out of budget. Just concentrate on the concept…)

Visiting the present-day location, EH have taken note of the estate’s mysterious-looking murals (actually reliefs, carved into the Winstanley’s concrete walls) and have drawn from them to create new visual scores. Full of primal symbols and strange abstracted geometries, the carvings have an ancient air to them; but actually they’re early ‘60s commissions from William Mitchell Design Consultants, formally put up as part of the refurbishment during the estate’s post-war rebuild, and not even a decade old when ‘The Asphyx’ was filmed. English Heretic know this, of course, but are well aware that the ideas which places, objects and initial associations trigger off are at least as important as the actual truth. In this case, they’ve intersected film and building fabric to inspire literal musique concrète. Their pun, not mine. Not that I’m sulking about having been beaten to the punch…

* * * * * * * *

Dates:

comm-une presents:
NYX with Iona Fortune
The Pickle Factory, 13-14 The Oval, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9DT, England
Sunday 3rd February 2019, 6.30pm
– information here and here

English Heretic presents:
Matthew Shaw + Anji Cheung + English Heretic
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Thursday 7th February 2019, 8.00pm
– information here
 

January 2019 – upcoming London experimental gigs – Marianne Schuppe’s ‘slow songs, nosongs’ (9th January)

5 Jan

I’ve got to admit, I like a complicated song. Blame all of that prog I grew up listening to; blame my interest in Sondheim and Flanders & Swann; or my time in choirs singing extended classical pieces… but whether it’s a case of stretching the lyrical format with streams of words or internal rhymes or of massing the music with variations, countermelodies or sundry intrusions, I like songs which develop quickly and boldly into something more extensive than a couple of riffs, a chorus and a bit of moon-in-june.

Marianne Schuppe, 2018

Marianne Schuppe, 2018

Encountering the kind of song which works at the other extreme, though, can be a real head-turner… and if it’s done right, it takes my breath away. The Swiss singer-composer Marianne Schuppe has been making a name for herself with this kind of song, this kind of singing, for about two decades now. It’s not the only thing she does (she’s a member of the Wandelweiser group of avant-garde composers, contributing instrumental and noise work, and she improvises with a variety of other musicians including Alfred Zimmerlin), but this particular aspect of her work stands out in its uncluttered boldness, its Zenlike simplicity and focus on only the necessary elements.

If you’re approaching this from a pop or avant-pop context, you could draw some comparisons with the more hovering, trepidatious interludes in modern-day Scott Walker, with Nico’s work on ‘The Marble Index’, or with the song whispers of Anja Garbarek’s ‘Smiling & Waving’. Aficionados of classical music could probably pick closer analogies – I could cite some aspects of Eleanor Armer‘s songcraft, for example – and a significant part of Marianne’s reputation comes from her dips into the indeterminate end of contemporary classical, making interpretations of the elusive, protracted song-murmurs of Morton Feldman and Giacinto Scelsi (with their minimal pitching, silences and opportunity to make every pared phrase count).

Yet for the most part Marianne’s own songs seem to bud out of the air spontaneously, any motivations or influences hidden within the moment. She’s stated that her prime interest as a composer-performer is “the voice’s ability to move between pure sound and words”; and while for many experimental vocalisers this is an excuse for splurging, showy explosions of babbling glossolalia, for her it’s an opportunity to slow liminal skating, shading almost imperceptibly between a lone, literally meaningful word and a lacuna of non-literal meaningful noise-tone, all within a low, minimal enclosure of soprano range like a deliquescing icicle. Marianne accompanies herself by placing an acoustic lute flat on a table top (a la Keith Rowe) and extracting notes from it via “uber-bows” – homemade bastard cousins of EBows, those hand-held electro-magnetic note inducers which add those sustained whooping tones to certain spacier rock songs (from Fade Away And Radiate, The Unforgettable Fire and Don’t Fear The Reaper to… oh, yes, R.E.M.’s Ebow The Letter) or the bookending humming halos to John Cage’s harp work ‘Postcard From Heaven’.

The sparse tonal wellings which result sound nothing like string plucks, and nothing like the accompaniments to a John Dowland lute lay. They’re amorphous bodies of tone, forced up like the first emergence of spring-waters, or the work of sine-tone generators. It’s a peculiar, unexpected use of an instrument with such an extensive body of associated work and history: like a kind of musical exorcism or automatic writing exercise, dipping below the surface of how the instrument functions in order to access a different expectation-disrupting voice. As for the songwords, they’re strange passes at impressions and impulses which might, if looked at too closely, disappear under the weight of logic. As text, they’re almost white-on-white – fragments of stories and encounters involving sunhats and deer, or studies of fingers – minimal anchors to latch onto slivers of ideas which Marianne can follow uninterrupted and undistracted, and let go whenever she sees fit.

 
Marianne’s slot next week at Café Oto showcases – or, more accurately, liberates – songs of these kind from two of her recent albums: 2015’s ‘slow songs’ and its 2018 cousin ‘nosongs’. In terms of vision and artistic platforming it ought to be very much an Oto show, although perhaps the venue’s friendly, expansive, post-industrial intellectual feel isn’t the perfect match. Ideally, these songs belong in the smallest, quietest space possible. A welcoming cellar somewhere, accessed by a winding symbolic stair; and with a silent, attentive, deep-listening audience hand-cupping songs and singer in a cell of absolute attention.

Marianne Schuppe: ‘slow songs, nosongs’
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Wednesday 9 January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here
 

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