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May 2020 – EP reviews – Mikrokosmos/Babyskullz/Cola Ray vs. MUMMY’s ‘CONFINEMENT-release3’ (“mysteries which slip into shadowed corners”)

7 May

Mikrokosmos/Babyskullz/Cola Ray vs. MUMMY: 'CONFINEMENT-release3' EP

Mikrokosmos/Babyskullz/Cola Ray vs. MUMMY: ‘CONFINEMENT-release3’ EP

Following their pair of releases last month, Brighton’s Confinement Tapes project is back for a second round – this time with Confinementeers Jo Spratley and Bic Hayes joined by honorary family member Chris Anderson (of Worthing’s Crayola Lectern), who’s also worked with Bic in Brighton kosmische juggernaut ZOFFF alongside what seems like a good half of Brighton’s psychedelic contingent (and, occasionally, The House of Love’s Terry Bickers).

(The third original Confinementeer, Jesse Cutts, has his own follow-up single too, but more on that later…)

Unlike the archived cover versions refurbished for the previous EP, ‘Bright Fivers’ is an all-new, all-original April recording in which Chris contributes as the anagrammatic Cola Ray, collaborating with Bic and Jo’s MUMMY. Initially, it’s his arpeggiating pianos (distanced and tinny, as if pulled from a dusty old 78) which dominates ‘Bright Fivers’; a solemn setting for Jo’s singing, which is loaded with both trepidity and authority. That’s only the prelude, though, and it’s severed from the rest of the piece by a jump-cut edit as loud and merciless as a sucker punch or an axe blow. You even hear the clunk as the mood shifts; Jo switching abruptly into deadpan recitation against a Bic backdrop of guitar static and wind texture, as impassive as the prophetess taken over by the voice of the prophecy.

Whether sung or spoken, the sentences are broken off; dark, punching surrealist gobbets of foreseeing and ruin. “Silence in the air. / Things endure, things evolve. / Between the slopes fivers fly up onto the dream floor. / Fire spreads her text of flame as serious as food / Our towers of graph paper fold up into the silence, / delicate as the girl who leaves the stone and the water – / and the bright moan of the green, / the collapse of a black age. / In the end we never know what we know.” It sounds like something buried deep in peat in order to time-travel; transmitting a warning, or possibly a testament.


 
‘The United Kingdom’ is (mostly) another eleven-year-old recovering from Jo Spratley’s Babyskullz solo project: one which just happens to fit in with ‘Bright Fivers’. It’s another recitation, delivered by Jo to pattering drumbox and orchestrated in minimal, thrifty make-do fashion. Two-finger melodica. Guttural just-picked-it up guitar lines and milk-bottle vibraphone. Cobwebby analogue synth gurgles, dub distancings and dirty blats of fireworks.

Something about the rhythm and chant suggests the cheesy old white-rap anti-classic ‘Ice Ice Baby’. Everything about the words doesn’t, as Jo narrates (in newsprint monotone) a set of disappearances. “A man who hears bells who loves cars” misses his train only to drop out of routine and out of existence; a corporate lawyer vanishes during her solo boat trip; fifty years ago, a cancer specialist who “wraps her dolls in graph-paper by the light of the moon” is last seen in car headlights by the edge of a cliff. All three are obliquely connected by hearts: their rhythms or their interruption, their presence as eviscerated occult trophies or as enigmatic markers; presumably also by the locked-up desires, secrets and clues they contain. All cases are left open; mysteries which slip into shadowed corners of modern folklore or Lynchian dreams. There’s a stress on the regular and on the irregular, but no conclusion on either.


 
As haunting as this can be (and it does build on regular repetition, an inconclusion which nags to be solved), it’s still Bic’s dark-psychedelia project Mikrokosmos which dominates this particular set, providing three tracks out of the five. Two are brief snapshot instrumentals, deliberately left incomplete or brought to dismissive halts. Recorded in 1993 during Mikrokosmos’ cramped early sessions in west London, ‘In the Machine Room’ is an jarring but strangely satisfying hybrid of claustrophobic paranoia and sweet naivety. An uncomfortable electronic hum and weirdly organic rattling (like mice beginning to panic inside a generator housing) passes into a bright nursery march played on assorted guitars, drums and bombastic little synths. For forty-eight seconds, post-industrial grot tussles with twinkly daydream.


 
I assume that Bic escaped from whatever it was that was polluting him: ‘Frag. Familiar’, from 2014, was completed nearly two decades later (long after Bic had quit London), but it missed the boat for Mikrocosmos’ ‘Terra Familiar’ abum. It’s as confusing as its predecessor. A sustained cosmic slam: a huge guitar downchord which is allowed to trail away, while delicate waltzing keyboards come forward to shine over the top. They dance with another brutally distorted guitar line – butterflies courting Bigfoot – before everything hits the wall, topples over and cuts off. There’s a farcical humour to this music. It shows you the stars but then suddenly pulls away the rug, or drops the time-clock on the telescope viewing: almost deliberately crass in the way it brings you back down to earth with a bump. I suspect that there’s a touch of reverse psychology here. To move forward properly, you have to overcome the bumps, denials and trip-ups.


 
Another ‘Terra Familiar’ outtake, ‘Cell by Cell’, is more substantial and developed: a six-and-a-half minute song rather than a peculiar fragment. It’s also a dubbier return to Bic’s Dark Star days: almost a Massive Attack take on that band’s life-scarred fin-de-siècle urban psychedelia, taking in similar elements of Hawkwind space rock and Killing Joke post-punk grimness to offset Bic’s sighing, waify sweetness. There’s a Dark Star-ish sense of resignation too, a voice-of-the-casualty effect as Bic reflects on exhaustion and disassociation, on being swallowed by routine and self-absorption. ‘Just swim, / float to the surface – / as if it’s so easy, you show me again. / But time weighs me down so gently / and all our ideas just drift away, / sinking, / lost in the moment. / Ennui is so easy / and to the end we divide. / Cell by cell to solitary worlds – / undesigned, undesired. / Islands in an ocean of thought / turning inwards defied / to meet with the gaze of impermanence eyes…’


 
The formal Confinement message for this EP is one of “a constellation of songs brought together by this rarefied time. Pulled through the thickness of life and her knowing machine. Mixed and mastered in April 2020 and flung into the dark of these ends of days. Here we are. All alone, together, as one.” As a message of solidarity, it’s an ambiguous comfort: but, as they say, here we are. Questions unanswered. Brutal breaks in expectations. People disappearing, grips gradually lost. Name it, share the names, and perhaps fight it.

Mikrokosmos/Babyskullz/Cola Ray vs. MUMMY: ‘CONFINEMENT-release3’
The Confinement Tapes, CONFINEMENT-release3
Download/streaming EP
Released: 7th May 2020
Get it from:
free or pay-what-you-like download from Bandcamp (As with all Confinement Tapes releases, any money earned goes support care funds for Tim Smith, Tim Quy or Jon Poole of Cardiacs – see previous posts.)

Mikrokosmos online:
Bandcamp Last FM

Babyskullz (Jo Spratley) online:
Facebook Twitter

Crayola Lectern (Cola Ray) online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Vimeo Spotify Amazon Music

MUMMY online:
Facebook Bandcamp
 

November 2019 – three Tuesdays of (mostly) femmetronica in London – Alice Hubble, Blick Trio and Merlin Nova (5th November), Carla dal Forno and Cucina Povera (12th November), Rachel K. Collier (19th November)

2 Nov

Following (and overlapping) the recent/current set of female poptronic gigs in London (with Caroline Polachek, Imogen Heap, Yeule and others), here are some more.

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Alice Hubble + Blick Trio + Merlin Nova, 5th November 2019

Alice Hubble (best known as half of tweetronic duo Arthur & Martha) has been striking out on her own this year and is playing at Servant Jazz Quarters on the 5th. Her debut album ‘Polarlichter’, driven by iPad workings on long journeys and transformed at home via Mellotrons and analogue synths, apparently stems from wistful envisionings of faraway places (including Ruby Falls in Chatanooga, USA, Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies and Dubai’s Atlantis Palm hotel) plus “a desire to work on a project without constraints, to move away from the traditional song writing process and to experiment with the form. Inspired by the ’70s recordings by Tangerine Dream, Ashra and even Mike Oldfield, Alice wanted to take a more delicate approach; a distinctly feminine take on (an) often pompous ’70s progressive synth sound. Other inspirations include Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram, Lee Hazlewood’s Swedish recordings and 80’s American synth pop band The Book of Love.”

A good set of reference points, although if you are going to snark about the pomposity of your male predecessors it’s best if you’ve built something startlingly different. Much of Alice’s work still cleaves rather closely to those familiar silvery Germanic/kosmische synth tropes, the cautiousness of several generations of post-Tangerine Dream acolytes, albeit with twists of post-punk melancholy and Stereolab-ilk avant-pop.

As for the femininity, it’s present mostly in the preoccupations of Alice’s lyrics, such as the stern reflections on male gaze and pedestal-placing on ‘Goddess’ (“a man idolising a woman to the point that he doesn’t see her as a person. His ‘love’ is all consuming and the focus of his affection is seen merely as an object. As a result he consumes her and takes from her until she has little left, but thankfully she finds the inner strength to walk away.”). All well and good to state; but, given that the song’s mostly concerned with climbing inside its misguided protagonist in order to critique him from within, leaving the woman in question almost as enigmatic, idealised and unexamined as he did, I’m not altogether convinced. But perhaps I’m snarking now – either way, I can’t help but feel that there’s better to come. Alice has a quiet, determined voice: maybe, at the gig, we’ll find out what else it has to say.


 
Support comes in two parts, one being from jazztronic array Blick Trio, made up of veteran polymathic brass-and-wind-player Robin Blick (from the sprawling Blick/Blake musical dynasty that also includes Mediaeval Baebes’ Katherine Blake), drummer Andrew Moran (who’s put in time in groups including The Violets and Not Cool) and bass player/synth programmer James Weaver (who already plays with Robin in Gyratory System). Prior to Gyratory System, Robin was also in Blowpipe; with both these and the Trio, he’s been building jazz/clubtronic/kosmiche meldings for a good couple of decades. The Trio, however, lean more towards “post-punk rhythms and straight jazz melodies” than the club beats and electrofuzz racket of the previous acts; with Robin’s musicality and wide genre-savviness in particular calling up aural and harmonic/melodic imagery from riffling snake-charmer music to pithead brass band melancholia.


 
The other support act is Merlin Nova, who vigorously straddles the space between musician and sound artist. Too tuneful to work consistently in the latter mode, and too flat-out sonically ambitious and diverse to be restrained by the former, she instead works both of them to the bone. She creates, records and broadcasts whatever comes to her mind, whether it’s surreal foley-bolstered persona narratives, soundscaped poetry or unorthodox fragmented songs across a vocal range from femme-baritone to skyscraping whistle register.

Merlin’s most recent pair of Soundcloud offerings illustrate her restlessness. Just Calling is one of her most straightforward works (a vocal and reverbscape’d love-song of faith, degrees of separation, faith and independence), while To The Sun is a drone-strings-and-vocalise solar prayer half an hour long, equal parts Alquimia and Sofia Gubaidulina. There’s plenty more to find there, evidence of an ambitious sound creator who’s tapping at the heels of multiple precursors… Ursula Dudziak, Cathy Berberian, outer-limits Björk, Maja Ratkje…

 
* * * * * * * *

Carla Dal Forno + Cucina Povera, 12th November 2019On the 12th, left-field synthpop writer Carla Dal Forno comes to Electrowerks trailing her newest album ‘Look Sharp’, in which “the small-town dreams and inertia that preoccupied (her) first album have dissolved into the chaotic city, its shifting identities, far-flung surroundings and blank faces”, thanks to her wanderings from her Melbourne origins to London via Berlin, telling “the story of this life in flux, longing for intimacy, falling short and embracing the unfamiliar.”

Sonically it’s frowning post-punk basslines and pearly sheens around subtle hollows; occasional touches of plainsong; arrangements stroked into shape by psychedelic-via-radiophonic synthesizer bends, swoops and flutters – a big step up from the queasy lo-fi wobble of her debut. As with Alice Hubble, Carla rarely changes tone vocally, etching momentary stories of subtle revenges, covert assignations and bleak reflectiveness with the same abbreviated unruffled whispercroon; delivering songs with the crisp, faux-reticent undertones and hardnosed observation of a finishing-school ace who’s opted to spend the rest of her life speaking softly but carrying a sharp hatpin. Simultaneously minimalist and expansive, sensual and austere, revealing and forbidding, the songs of ‘Look Sharp’ are measured diary entries enclosed in dove-grey leather, giving away little but hinting at much more. It’s as if one of the early versions of the Cure had agreed to back Jean Rhys during a venture into confessional songcraft, with Delia Derbyshire adding sonic filigrees.


 
The whole record sounds attractively antiquated. Not in terms of its harking back to early ‘80s proto-Goth, but in the way it feels as if it’s been written for (and in) a monochrome London of the 1930s: sparser crowds, the hiss of steam trains and the rattle of heels in empty housing courts. In fact, ‘Look Sharp’ functions best when Carla relinquishes the more obvious darkwave thrumbles, loses the bass and trusts to her electrophonic textures and spaces. This lends the instrumentals a touch of 5am light, an air of sneaking out into an unfamiliar town while it’s still slumbering unguarded, with a dream-frown shadowing its features. For songs such as Don’t Follow Me (with its deepening undertone of sexual threat), it allows a more sophisticated atmosphere to build, sound becoming character in the way that scenery and lighting do in film.


 
In support, there’s electronicist, live-looper and spatial explorer Maria Rossi – a.k.a Cucina Povera. As anyone who’s covered Maria before will tell you, “cucina povera” translates as “poor kitchen” – like “poor theatre”, a way of making the most of minimal ingredients and lean times: indeed, of making a virtue of the enforced simplicity, to the point of deliberately choosing it. Maria’s most recent project – ‘Zoom’, released back in January – had her strip back her already-minimal gear choices to just voice and loop pedal plus the digital recorder which gave the record its name: bar the very occasional bit of huffed or clinked bottlework, or synth bloop, that was it.

Last year’s ‘Hilja’ album applied the Cucina Povera methodology to a gaseous, beatless, haunting form of ambient art pop. It was full of folk-ghosts in the machine, bringing along hints of the ecclesiastic, of children’s songs and of traditional song fragments, much of it pillowed on vaporous keyboard textures and meticulous arrangements. In contrast, the Zoom pieces were recorded in “intimate spaces full of acoustic or ideological intrigue” and were a set of impromptu, improvised rituals-for-their-own-sake. Sometimes gabbled, frequently hymnal and monastic, blurring between established language and glossolalia, they build on the mysteriousness of ‘Hilja’ while venturing into more musically naked areas, taking from the previous album’s most cut-down moments without falling back on its cloudy synth-padded comforts or its pleasing banks of harmony.

Whether these pieces can be transported, translated and performed afresh in other locations is not so clear. Perhaps, for Electrowerks, Maria will improvise a new set in honour of the Slimelight’s fallen ghosts.



 
Also stirred into the evening’s menu will be a DJ set from darker techno/DIY/industrial specialist Kenny White of the Low Company record store.

 
* * * * * * * *

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s a splash of raucous female colour. Riding the momentum from the release of her debut album last month (if you’re a budding remixer or mash-upper, Bandcamp has it complete with sample and stem packs), Rachel K. Collier plays the Grand in Highbury in mid-November, with live percussion and interactive visuals augmenting her storm of sequencers, keyboards and Abletoning. Her house-inspired, undulating electronic club pop has been evolving over six years or so now, including bold intrusions into the world of adverts, collaborations with garage/house stars Wookie, Mat Zo and Ray Foxx, and more recently her current fearless-sounding solo work.

Rachel K. Collier - 19th November 2019

It’s a powerfully assured and complete pop sound, fusing full dancefloor momentum with righteous girl-power; although one that’s been achieved in the face of considerable bullying, scorn and condescension along the way from male musicians. (If the fuck-you beat and withering dismissal in her Dinosaur single is anything to go by. You can’t say that she didn’t get her own back. Success is the best revenge.)




 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Parallel Lines presents:
Alice Hubble + Blick Trio & Merlin Nova
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Tuesday 5th November 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Upset The Rhythm presents:
Carla dal Forno + Cucina Povera
Electrowerkz @ The Islington Metal Works, 1st Floor, 7 Torrens Street, Islington, London, EC1V 1NQ, England
Tuesday 12th November 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Rachel K Collier
The Grace, 20-22 Highbury Corner, Highbury, London, N5 1RD, England
Tuesday 19th November 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

October 2019 – sundry classical and postclassical events – Carla Rees’ ‘Solo Flute Quartet: Music for Flute and Electronics’ tour of England and Northern Ireland (9th, 12th, 16th, 18th, 24th October); Xenia Pestova Bennett plays Luc Ferrari and Annea Lockwood in London (29th October)

3 Oct

Carla Rees: 'Solo Flute Quartet: Music for Flute and Electronics' tour, October 2019

Rarescale‘s Carla Rees is performing an October solo tour of England and Northern Ireland, playing music for various flutes (standard and Kingma Systems, alto and bass, baroque flute d’amour and piccolo) augmented by Kyma electronics.

Several compositions are being performed. The first, giving the evening its title, is Simon Emmerson’s ‘Solo Flute Quartet’ which employs extra-keyed Kingma System flutes (optimised for multi-phonics and quarter tone pitches) alongside live sampling and surround sound. Simon: “Following a recording session in the summer of 2017 the idea of using multiphonics as the generator of both harmony and melodic mode evolved rapidly and the piece was completed in January 2018 and performed a month later at City University. The four flutes (piccolo, concert flute, alto, bass) are played in varying rotations for the 16 short sections of the work. The live electronics freezes, spatialises, echoes and projects the live sound into labyrinths of colour on a surround sound system.”

The second piece (being performed at Coventry, London and Bristol) is ‘Islands’, by Carla’s regular Rarescale collaborator Scott Miller. According to Scott: “‘Islands’ is more about the river than the islands. The river is dynamic, in constant motion, many layered. It responds to the presence of objects – fish, birds, people, islands–and moves, transforms, and shapes these same objects. We can observe its passage and potential, and we can enter and navigate it. As a metaphor for the composition, the performer enters the river of processing and navigates it sonically, from island to island. The islands emerge from the river, made of the stuff that lies beneath the surface, providing unique environments that are a part of and separate from the river. The performer’s interactions with the river and the islands influence the environment immediately and downriver, which is really just a function of time, like in music. Islands can be understood as the confluence of many independent environments which unfold in generally predictable ways over the course of the composition.”

To represent this musically, Carla will be feeding her flute through ecosystemic programming within her Kyma system to create “a sonic environment modelled on a stretch of the Mississippi River.”


 
A third piece (being played at the Leicester, London and Belfast dates) is ‘tree flute’ by Karen Power, who has written a number of works in which specific recordings of environmental sounds inform and are played against live solo instruments. For ‘tree flute’, field recordings of wind moving through trees are paired with the baroque flute d’amour, an instrument which Karen finds “more vulnerable than its modern equivalent, which for me makes it more interesting. Each and every note has a unique character that is brought out when performer and instrument meet. The wooden and simple frame of the flute is the starting point and why I have paired it with the wind.”

Commenting further on the piece, Karen explains that “the field recordings are all sounds of wind moving through trees and the ground. They are not audible, but do surround us in every forest or park. They may not be audible, but they do adhere to their own time and pacing, which is governed not by man but by the weather. This pacing forms the basic structure of this piece. In the live performance the flautist is partially cut off from the aural score and only hears an individual private aural part, which guides her. The audience only hear the first ‘wind’ sound at 0’40’’ therefore the performer must prepare us for this. She will hear such sounds in her aural part ahead of us and so tries to add the missing context for us. This pull back and forth between the private aural part and the public aural score is a core component of this and other works, which I believe provides the perfect platform for true interpretation and active listening and responding to happen.”

The Belfast date also features Sungji Hong’s 2015 piece ‘Shine’, originally written for Carla and featuring a double performance by her (the live in-concert performance and an electronically treated recording of the same part for her to play against).


 
* * * * * * * *

Back in London, at the end of the month, inquisitive experimental pianist Xenia Pestova Bennett pops up at City University to play Luc Ferrari’s ‘36 Enfilades for piano and tape’ to celebrate the ninetieth anniversary of his birth.

Xenia Pestova Bennett: Luc Ferrari and Annea Lockwood, 29th October 2019

One of the pioneers of musique concrète (alongside his Groupe de Recherches Musicales colleagues Pierre Schaeffer and François-Bernard Mâche), Ferrari was known for his tape pieces observing and reproducing daily life and the flow of ideas. The ‘Enfilades’ (a rarely-performed duet between piano and reel-to-reel tape) are an example of this technique crossing over to link with more traditional performance, scored piano material played in time with assorted taped sonorities which alternate rapidly between the industrial and the musical, the eerie and the whimsical.

Some of the pieces last for no more than a handful of seconds. Xenia describes them as “witty, virtuosic miniatures… a whirlwind exploration of style, riven with quotations from other composers including Schumann and Brahms.” Ferrari himself noted “they start and they are already finished. Sometimes, they do not even start, do not have a beginning. Then, is it a suite? It is perhaps a theatre. Is this the old dream never to finish or that always to start again? And then, the ideas which pass so quickly and then the desire to take up the ideas already given and then the pleasure of transforming them as themes which come to give a rhythm to the travel. Then, finally, these small pieces, they make large one…”

French pianist and frequent Ferrari interpreter Michel Maurer has reinforced the idea that the entire piece is like a self-contained episode of musical theatre in which “the solo protagonist (is) a pianist playing the role of a musicologist who had discovered an anonymous manuscript”; also, that it is something like “a treasure hunt” in which both the score and the tape recording themselves contain written or spoken texts and clues from the “unknown” composer, and in which the performer (has) to question himself about the music he (is) playing.” Here’s Michel presenting his own performance of ‘Enfilades’ plus discussion.

 

Xenia will also be performing several small compositions from her repertoire of John Cage pieces, as well as two compositions by Annea Lockwood, who’s celebrating her own eightieth birthday at around the same time as the Ferrari ninetieth. While she’s gained the most attention for her conceptual “piano transplant” events (in which defunct pianos are removed from concert halls and music rooms and taken far away to meet various ritualistic but natural ends, such as immolation, immersion, or being planted into the ground like seeds), Annea is also the creator of a varied chamber music catalogue including piano compositions and tonescapes with multiple extended-technique string moves.

In this particular concert, Xenia will be playing Annea’s ‘Red Mesa’ (in which a minimal/apprehensive mood of tolling midrange notes, abrupt fanning chords, interior piano mutings and zither strums develops into a shifting and sketchy open-ended study, a stormy interlude of high drama and a fade into unresolved nothingness) and her pouncing, highly dynamic ‘RCSC’ (in which skeletal notes and silences play against strum-scurries, scratched harmonics, choked hammer mutes, slow dive-bombs and so forth).

To illustrate, before the event, here’s a Ricardo Descalzo performance of ‘RCSC’ and an Andrea Lodge performance of ‘Red Mesa’ as well as Xenia’s own performance of some Cage music on toy pianos (accompanied by her duo colleague Pascal Meyer).




 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Carla Rees: ‘Solo Flute Quartet: Music for Flute and Electronics’ tour dates:

  • Ellen Terry Building @ Coventry University, Jordan Well, Coventry, West Midlands, CV1 5RW, England – Wednesday 9th October 2019, 1.00pm – information here
  • IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England – Saturday 12th October 2019, 8.30pm – information here and here
  • PACE1 @ De Montfort University, Mill Lane, Leicester, LE2 7DR, England – Wednesday 16th October 2019, 7.00pm – information t.b.c.
  • Victoria Rooms, Queens Road, Bristol, BS8 1SA, England – Friday 18th October 2019, 1.15pm – information here
  • Sonic Lab @ Sonic Arts Research Centre, 4 Cloreen Park, Belfast, BT9 5HN, Northern Ireland – Thursday 24th October 2019, 1.00pm – free event – information here

City University Concerts presents:
Xenia Pestova Bennett: Luc Ferrari and Annea Lockwood
City University Performance Space @ City University Social Sciences Building, 32-38 Whiskin Street, Finsbury, London, EC1R 0JD, England
Tuesday 29th October 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

October/November 2019 – Moor Mother’s ‘The Great Bailout’ with the London Contemporary Orchestra in Kraków, Gateshead, Ghent and London (6th, 12th, 16th, 23rd October), with Galya Bisengalieva and Klein joining in London. Plus further Moor Mother dates in Utrecht, Helsinki and Madrid with Zonal, Eartheater and Cruhda (7th, 11th, 15th November)

1 Oct

The unnerving, brilliant Afrofuturist beat-poet and sonic manipulator Camae Ayewa – a.k.a. Moor Mother – swings back to Europe for a brace of concerts during October and November, during which she’ll showcase her latest project, ‘The Great Bailout’. This is a collaboration with the London Contemporary Orchestra (arguably the capital’s most committed ensemble to both new classical concert music and its intersection with other musical forms and disciplines). It follows Moor Mother’s earlier work this year as part of liberation-jazz group Irreversible Entanglements and her recent contributions to the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s fiftieth anniversary album ‘We Are All On The Edge’ (in which she layered her poetry over the exuberant live improvisations of the surviving members of the original resistance jazz band.) For a more in-depth summary of her explosive protest-griot work, click here.

Moor Mother v London Contemporary Orchestra: 'The Great Bailout' tour, October 2019

There’s not much advance publicity regarding ‘The Great Bailout’. What there is lays the ground for performances of “a free-verse poem that acts as a non-linear word map about colonialism, slavery and commerce in Great Britain and the Commonwealth.” Given that Moor Mother’s previous work has consistently exploded conceptual/emotional bombs underneath the economic, social and psychic legacy of slavery and racism in America, you can expect her to have come up with something ferociously critical of the cherished white-British myths and veilings around the history and repercussions of Empire. As the organisers put it, “we can’t help but expect the first few rows… to leave this performance with singed eyebrows and melted glasses at the very least.”

I’m guessing that the project title refers to one of the most miserable semi-secrets of the eventual abolition of British slavery – this being the handsome payoffs eventually delivered (post-emancipation) not to the freed slaves themselves as backpay, apology or recompense, but to their indignant and haughtily entitled British former owners as property compensation. This kind of withering, righteous black interrogation invading white concert halls (in fact, being invited in) is in keeping with the necessary re-examinations of the roots of modern Western culture. I’m reminded of Doris Salcedo’s colossal ‘Shibboleth’ installation at the Tate Modern, in which she slashed the gallery floor with an ever-widening crack standing for the original Tate sugar money, its dirty roots in plantation slavery, and the consequent ethical undermining of the gallery and its history – a microcosm of white Western culture and wealth and the exploitation underneath.

It’s also in keeping with the ongoing rumblings and debate regarding the slave-trading roots of Bristol, the strategic heartland of the Middle Passage’s triangular trade – with the slave trader imprints on the names of its great buildings and statuary (some of which were recently and pointedly encircled with diagrammatics of slave ships and their suffering human cargo). You can’t help thinking that the organisers of ‘The Great Bailout’ really missed a trick by not scheduling a Bristol date, and perhaps a Liverpool one, alongside the London one. Gateshead – which does get a ‘Bailout’ date – has less of a stained history in this matter, along with its sister city Newcastle: distanced from the heart of the trade, and with the Tyneside anti-slavery movement being an early starter. London, though, grew fat on the profits, with its own triangular trade bigger than anywhere else in Britain.

There may be different resonances associated with the two continental European venues on the tour. Kraków is a little detached from diasporan agony, its own kind of historic slavery having been in the form of homegrown serfdom (Poland’s class savagery was traditionally applied to its own peasants, and its colonialist oppressions visited on the nearby Ukraine rather than on Africa). Ghent, on the other hand, hosted and shaped the 1814 treaty in which, in part, Britain and Belgium applied themselves to ending African slavery and the Middle Passage trade (albeit on their own terms, part of the strategic power-plays of the age as much as it was through any humane impulses).

It’ll be interesting to see if Moor Mother will have taken note of these things, dredged up these uncomfortable stains and compromised atonements and woven them in too. Whether each city on the tour route is given its own case to answer – hidden bones coming to light after two-and-a-half centuries of obscuring and snowjobbing.


 
There will be extras at the London show. Experimental violinist and London Contemporary Orchestra member Galya Bisengalieva will be performing an opening set of her own electroacoustic chamber music, duetting live violin with cunningly sculpted electronic sound-shaping. What I’ve heard so far is elegant and highly dramatic: sonic booms, string drones, eerie hard-eyed processional melodies against harshly majestic electronic architecture and steppe-scapes reflecting Galya’s own Kazakh background.

 
A second opening set is being provided by British-Nigerian south London glitch artiste Klein. An abstractioneer for three years, she started out being hailed as a kind of reinventor of gospel. Certainly her early recordings dipped into the form and she’s admitted that for many years it was her only reference point. It didn’t take her long, however, to move far beyond it. Other early tracks came across as a collagist log of the sounds of her community: not straightforward field recordings, but crafted patchworks of impressions and implicit meaning, finding vocal and musical fragments as important, in themselves, as actual complete sentences and phrases. Her ‘Tommy’ album, in 2017, was a kind of vaporously dissolved Afro-London laptop opera.

These days, memories of black church music continue to drift and prowl through Klein’s increasingly adventurous recordings, but they’re only part of her palette. While she keeps a toehold on more mainstream black musical ideas (a track like Changes sidles up to drill music, a shuffling slide of plate over plate, of violent masculine monologue recounted), most latterday Kleinwork is miasmic re-sortings of black vocal fragments over dark ambient dreamquakes and feathertwig beats: sometimes sobs or dramatic breaths, or slivers of story (somehow bigger than they appear, the way that individual black stories so often seem to trail implication entire cultural histories). Either that or they’re ribbons of dirty noise, swirls of demonstration with strange vocal glitches playing across them – gasps, lip noises, inchoate expressiveness.





 
* * * * * * * *

Moor Mother’s own roots are in gospel too, although she’s previously qualified that “my family used to listen to scary gospel—Mahalia Jackson, people who were not just waiting for Jesus to come, but being like, “This is what we’re living with, we’re going to push through. I’m climbing up the rough side of the mountain, and we’re going to get into this chariot and go to a better place”…” There’ll be more evidence of “negro spirituals flipped, remixed, and recaptured” on the second full Moor Mother album, ‘Analog Fluids Of Sonic Black Holes’, which is emerging on 8th November. In keeping with her work so far, the record will cover the themes of “myth, black mothers, vodun, quantum futurism and post-colonial street narratives.”


 
I’m guessing that this material, or spins on it, will be in strong evidence in the three further European dates Moor Mother will be playing in November following the ‘Great Bailout’ events. The first of these will be in Utrecht, as part of the Le Guess Who? Festival. Here, she’ll be rejoining Kevin Martin and Justin Broadrick‘s “smacked-out hip hop” project Zonal (as one of two featured vocalists, alongside “fire-and-brimstone dub poet” Nazamba).



 
The second event is her headlining show in Helsinki. There, she’ll be supported by Alex Drewchin – a.k.a. non-binary multi-media art’n’music hopper Eartheater: who, over a five-year span in New York, has graduated from straightforward, deliquescing dreampop covers of Kate Bush songs to flittering unorthodox trance pop and sprawling, deconstructed anti-manifestos of collaged noise and brain-jumps. Beyond the electronics, current Eartheater work reflects the idea of body as instrument, psyche as testbed, ears and memory as record-and-playback devices.

The most recent Eartheater album, ‘IRISIRI‘, is a simultaneous explosion and dismantling of sonic and conceptual ideas across the spectrum. Plunderphonic chamber music samples, scraping noise effects, dance beats and thoroughly masticated chunks of ruined pop spat out and left on New York lamp posts, in apartment stairwells and practise spaces, leaving a scattering of recombinable fragments for other people to get stuck on and to mull over; flitting word associations and deconstructions of gender, of memories, of momentary definitions. There’s even the occasional joke (“I have no metaphor for you today – I’m off work…”). It’s both impersonal and entirely personal in its blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em running of personal insights and questions through a mill of big city information overload. Yes, it raises more questions than it provides coherent answers, but at least it’s intent on chopping out a space of possibilities in the first place.




 
Moor Mother’s other headliner is in Madrid, where she’ll be supported by emerging Spanish eclectician Cruhda. The latter’s work is softer and in some ways more accessible than that of most of the other people covered in this post, but that’s selling it short. It’s disruptive, just in a subtler way.

Crudha’s debut EP ‘Íbera Morte‘ is founded on selections and deliberate echoes of Spanish folk music, refracted through any number of home-studio cut-up-and-stick-in methods and stylings – musical box clinkings, Dead Can Dance Gothicity; Autotune and didgeridoo buzzes; structural interruptions and glitchtronics. Sylvan organ-drone folk gets carved into by straying intrusive beats like a prowling beast on a campside sortie; by warping bass synth growls; and by vocal cut-ups and lead lines from raw railing roars to dovelike sighs and monastic harmonies. It’d be crass simply to call Crudha a Spanish Björk, but there’s a similar breadth of imagination and reconstructive willpower here, as well as a similar reluctance to abandon melody.



 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Moor Mother v London Contemporary Orchestra: ‘The Great Bailout’

Zonal feat. Moor Mother & Nazamba;
Le Guess Who? 2019 @ TivoliVredenburg, Vredenburgkade 11, 3511 WC, Utrecht, Netherlands – Thursday 7th November 2019, time t.b.c.
– information here, here and here

Moor Mother + Eartheater
Tavastia Klubi, Urho Kekkosen katu, 6 Helsinki, Finland – Monday 11th November 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Moor Mother + Cruhda
Siroco, Calle de San Dimas 3, 28015 Madrid, Spain – Friday 15th November 2019, 9.30pm
– information here and here
 

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’.”


 
* * * * * * * *

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.




 
* * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * *

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
 

April 2019 – upcoming English experimental/pop gigs – Joe Snape on tour in Birmingham, Brighton, London, Bristol and Newcastle with Laurie & Suze, plus guest spots from Maya Verlaak, Blood Stereo, O Yama O, Orxid, Competition and Gwilly Edmondez (11th, 13th, 17th, 18th and 19th April)

9 Apr

Usually busy in New York or Berlin, multimedia musician and performer Joe Snape drops back into England this week and next week for a five-date tour of his ‘Joyrobix’ project – “a suite of nimble, polychrome post-pop songs” which “(pay) weird homage to a musical America that doesn’t quite exist. Part soft-rock guitars, part gospel grooves, part Broadway aria, this is music that’s resolutely strange and oddly familiar at once.”

 
Amen to that. I might not hear much Hall & Oates or Mahalia Jackson in what he does, but ‘Joyrobix’ is an enchanting experience – pitch-bent fragmentary experimental pop arranged in a jaunty shatter. Joe sings wordlessly in a gentle, sensual welter of jazzy, Autotuned melisma amidst a cavalcade of perky noises and thumbed guitar, echoes of doo-wop and looming noise clouds, kinked brass and woodwind and broken-beat invention. Stemming from “a danceable refix of pieces for chamber ensemble”, its final form is apparently inspired by how his move to America went wrong: a crisped-up experience of “dislocation and burnout… dejection and displacement” which resulted in a sheaf of pieces which are as uplifting as their inspirations were sad.

Consequently, ‘Joyrobix’ is part musical diary, part therapeutic bounceback and part meander: too elusive to pin down easily, but a kaleidoscopic tapestry of complicated feelings expressed through pop tunes which wink and beckon at you around extra-dimensional twists. You’ll find yourself humming along even as you get lost. Live, the music’s being performed by a trio of Joe plus Jethro Cooke (electric guitar, electronics) and Louise Snape (trumpet and vocals), and Joe has collaborated with witty Swiss video absurdist Leonie Brandner to provide a set of ten short films as backdrops.


 
On all five dates Joe is headlining an evening of mingled multi-media music and performance art. At each gig, he’s joined by Laurie Tompkins and Suze Whaites – a.k.a. simply Laurie & Suze, two of the three co-directors of Newcastle’s hybrid electronic/improvised music label Slip (which is both promoting the tour and releasing much of the music involved in it). As a performing duo, they’re presenting their ‘Coop’ project, a first substantial step into collaboration (though I’m not sure whether that should be ‘Coop’ as in “co-operative” or as in “chicken”). Laurie deals with the music, Suze the visuals, with ‘Coop’ offing “a meshing of Tompkins’ sonic negotiations of pop cultural trauma, ritual self-abasement, and gunky funk, with Whaites’ illusive video renderings of the alien, microscopic, and fleshy.”.

The third act on the bill varies from city to city. In Birmingham, it’s Belgian experimental composer and former Acid Police Noise Ensemble member Maya Verlaak. I’ve heard nothing about what (or how) she’s going to perform, but previous live outings have had her picking and choosing from an arsenal of voice, melodica, keyboards, recorder, light sources, self-built electronics, cow horns, nail violin and bicycle. This – plus her preference for creating contextual compositions around factors of “place, musician, instrument, etiquette, conventions, history” – suggest that she’ll have scoped out the venue (Digbeth’s Vivid Projects space) and created something enigmatically appropriate.

In Brighton, battle is joined by local dark-space “electro-acoustic muck” noiseniks Blood Stereo, who base their disturbing atmospherics around “feral hissing and rumbling tape loops” including field recordings and home conjurings, plus electronics and objects. The object is to voice – or suggest – deep disturbances and anxieties seeping to the surface of the psyche and from there out into the broader world. Should rattle and chip a few teacups over in Hove.



 
In London it’s performance duo O Yama O, within which a “micro-orchestra” of small domestic objects, toys and mechanisms manipulated by Rie Nakajima ally with the body and voice performance of Keiko Yamamoto. They probe and map a (very) Japanese landscape of everyday life and noises, underlaid and informed by myth, tradition and national folk music, attempting a philosophical marriage of “the non-spectacular and the sublime”; a soundtrack for friendly or indifferent spirits floating across the tatami in a danchi apartment.

On album, O Yama O tend to incorporate more instrumentation and melody in a kind of skittering avant-garde Noh-dub. Live, it’s a strangely matter-of-fact immersive affair, domestic, dramatic and keyed to the performance space, with Keiki alternately tiptoeing, romping and stamping around using a full range of vocalisations (“chanting, incanting, thundering, whispering”).

 
In Bristol, it’s Orxid, a spinoff of visually-triggered, immediate-response Glaswegian rhythmic randomists Still House Plants, who finesse garage rock and Fine Art influences into something which sounds like neither (and who were once cheeky enough to release a live album consisting solely of them being introduced onstage before a cut to the aftershow chatter: check here for a long breakdown of their complex ethos).

Orxid is a solo project for SHP singer Jessica Hickie-Kallenbach, who adds the tattered fragments of song expression to their clangs, hisses and staggers. What she does on her own is less clear, but you could glean some clues from her general art-mission statement of “being concerned with value in the immaterial and everyday… the translation of experience” and by her summary of the project as “Orxid is, Jessica Hickie-Kallenbach is, triumphant when barking, flirting with misdirection, with weak knees, malfunctioning. All brushed up when just-heard through bedroom doors.”

Update, 11th April – I’ve just noticed that there’s a fifth date, in Newcastle, so am adding it in a hurry while I’m supposed to be doing something else… and it looks as if I missed two earlier Bradford and Manchester dates as well… Nuts.. oh well, here’s what’s left. Ripping the Newcastle support acts’ blurbs here…

Competition (a.k.a. Craig Pollard) makes (mild) pop music and performs live with a sampler and voice. The songs think about smallness and vulnerability, and build hooks from within their own limited means. Most recent tape ‘You Turned Into A Painting’ was released by Slip in November 2018.”

 
Gwilly Edmondez is a person-project forced into a pop packaging that inevitably gets mangled up by person-to-person cataclysmics. Because Gwilly is influenced by anybody you can possible think of (Billy Joel, Coil, Lucinda Williams, Laurie Anderson, AIDS Wolf…) there’s no point trying to categorise… Abstract Exhibitionism? Troubled Intimacy? Wild Pop… Gwilly Edmondez represents a coagulation of multiple character strands derived out of one private/public individual whose corporeal manifestation carries it through live shows, albums, videos and numerous collaborations in improvised music. Born in Lake Fear, Pen-Y-Bont, Gwilly has returned. Other incarnations include Radioactive Sparrow co-founder Bill Bargefoot, JRMY PAXMN out of YEAH YOU and the writer/composer/artist Gustav Thomas which is probably his real name. In all guises he is a purveyor of reaLFake Wild Pop, tearing open the terrified quotidian regimes of colonized consciousness (through, and in, his own brain) in order to plunge intensities between the cracks exposed. This doesn’t actually, necessarily, work – per se – but it’s the in engagement of attempts where the drama takes place.”

 
Finally, Mariam Rezaei is a turntablist and vocalist with a yen for making electronic theatre soundtracks: she’s part of Gateshead DJ-haunt turned mixed-arts incubator TOPH (or The Old Police House). Below is a taste of her esoteric clubtronica, although on this occasion I think she’s just playing other people’s music…


 
And while I’m making additions, here’s a Snape video from ‘Joyrobix’…


 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Joe Snape’s Joyrobix + Laurie & Suze’s ‘Coop’:

  • Vivid Projects, 16 Minerva Works, Eastside, Birmingham, B5 5RS, England – Thursday 11th April 2019, 7.30pm (with Maya Verlaak) – information here and here
  • The Rose Hill, 70-71 Rosehill Terrace, Brighton, BN1 4JL, England – Saturday 13th April 2019, 7.30pm (with Blood Stereo) – information here and here
  • Stour Space, 7 Roach Road, Fish Island, Bow, London, E3 2PA, England – Wednesday 17th April 2019, 7.30pm (with O Yama O) – information here, here and here
  • Café Kino, 108 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3RU – Thursday 18th April 2019, 7.30pm (with Orxid) – information here and here
  • Star & Shadow Cinema, Warwick Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE2 1BB, England – Friday 19th April 2019, 7.30pm (with Competition + Gwilly Edmondez + DJ Mariam Rezaei) – information here, 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 – Armed With Bow & Portia van de Braam, Devon Loch and DJ Francesco Fusaro (30th January); UnicaZürn and Howlround (1st February)

27 Jan

Armed With Bow & Portia van de Braam + Devon Loch + Francesco Fusaro, 30th January 2019

As Armed With Bow, cellist and synth operator Will Langstone creates layered post-classical loop music with a psychedelic Moog-prog twist, exercising his fascination with cosmic planetarium visions, space voyaging and the like. The show he’s headlining at 93 Feet East this Wednesday will present his ‘First Encounter’ piece: a “four-part space odyssey conjured through cello, synthesizer, and four analog tape emulators” and a collaboration with dancer-choreographer Portia van de Braam.

 
Under his Devon Loch alias, Richard Greenan (founder of exotic miscellania label Kit Records) will play a set of his own. It’s touted as a “hybrid live/DJ performance, combining manipulated classical, field recordings and live electronics.” Presumably, it also draws on the sweetly warped ambience of his recorded work, with its protracted porcelain-tinkling post-Cluster synths, its Satie-citing frosted parlour-piano knots, its unexpected moments of gentle folk guitar and its subtle, surrealist-radio-inspired electronic disruptions.

 
On formal DJ duties, there’s Francesco Fusaro – journalist, broadcaster and co-curator of smart/knowingly bizarre Anglo-Italian mutant dance/post-classical label MFZ and the 19’40” “anti-classical” recording series and, as “Froz”, occasional trap techno-musician (something which he approaches with the same thoughtful dedication and whimsical wit as his other work).

* * * * * * * *

UnicaZürn + Howlround, 1st February 2019A couple of days later at IKLECTIK, UnicaZürn (the longstanding team-up between Arkkon/Shock Headed Peters guitarist David Knight and Coil/Cyclobe’s keyboards-and-reeds player Stephen Thrower) resurface to play music from their new album accompanied by one of their regular friends, Guapo percussionist Dave Smith.

There aren’t too many details, but I’m guessing that it continues the scenic but chilly slow-evolving boil of waterside atmospherics and psychedelic sound-painting which they’ve displayed on their previous albums ‘Transpandorem’, ‘Temporal Bends’ and ‘Dark Earth Distillery’: a lapping tidal cascade of heavily treated guitars and saxophones, stratified synth textures and ringing light patterns. It’s the sound that emerges when you’re charmed and transfixed by the water-and-light textures and presences of the sea and river scapes you live beside, but keep having them disrupted and transformed by feed-in from the third eye perspective you’ve also maintained.


 
Fellow Touch label artists Howlround (named after splurging patterns of electronic audio-visual feedback and centred on itinerant sound designers Robin “The Fog” Warren and Chris Weaver) are also performing. They’re happy to retrofit not just from old BBC Radiophonic Workshop concepts, but from a fair amount of the original technology. I can’t vouch for where all of their gear comes from (though they reject artificial reverb and computer processing), but they’re usually to be found manipulating a quartet of old reel-to-reel tape machines, to the extent that it’s a creative and performance trademark. Frequently, they produce site-specific sounds, on-the-spot film soundtracks and made-to-measure musique concrete.


 
Much of Howlround’s output sounds like studio offcuts – bleedthroughs and bloopings, bits of strange reverb, amplifier grumbles, signal chain malfunctions swept up from the floor. What’s surprising is how these elements are cleverly recombined into new pieces – not novelty cut-ups, as you might expect, but a pleasingly spooky chamber music which also sometimes shows off their ability to twine surprisingly sweet melodies into the noise. Both Simon Reynolds and ‘The Quietus’ reckon that they’re hauntological. If so, the haunts in question are beloved rooms where the ghosts of technicians and visionary tinkerers linger, prolonging the memories of three decades of sonic experimentation and the summoning of peculiar, arresting, inspiring aural landscapes.

(Re that last little flight of fancy – I think it’s worth mentioning that Robin actually did do something like this back in 2011 – prowling the corridors of onetime BBC World Service home Bush House, and first capturing and then reworking the ambience before the Beeb moved out for good.)


 
* * * * * * * *
Dates:

Distroed presents:
Armed With Bow & Portia van de Braam + Devon Loch + Francesco Fusaro
93 Feet East, 150 Brick Lane, Shoreditch, London, E1 6QL, England
Wednesday 30th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here

Touch presents…
UnicaZürn + Howlround
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Friday 1st February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

September 2018 – upcoming experimental electronica gigs in London – Pita plus Finlay Shakespeare and Nik Colk Void at Sutton House (7th & 8th September); Andrew Heath and Toby Marks at the Old Church (21st September)

31 Aug

A couple of interesting electronic music shows in historic buildings, coming up in various parts of Hackney during September…

* * * * * * * *

Pita (plus guests), 7th & 8th September 2018

Second-wave industrial/noise music star and extreme computer music pioneer Peter Rehberg (a.k.a. Pita) will be filling up the old Tudor space of the Great Chamber of Hackney’s Sutton House with sounds from his current modular analogue electronics work, on a double date postponed from May.

“Born in London, Rehberg has resided in Vienna for his adult life. It was here, in the early ’90s, that Rehberg harnessed aspects of noise, industrial, electro-acoustic and techno to develop a new approach to music. Whether constructing an album entirely from the recordings of a fridge, or harnessing the live electronic potential of laptops soon after they hit the market, Pita has always been at the forefront of contemporary radical music practice.

“Birthing the extreme computer music genre, scoring the works of controversial French theatre director Gisele Vienne, ongoing collaborations with Jim O’Rourke, Fennesz, Marcus Schmickler and Stephen O’Malley… all define Rehberg’s open ended approach to the creative act. As head of the influential Editions Mego family of labels, he has released albums by renowned artists like Fennesz, Heather Leigh, Klara Lewis, Kevin Drumm, Thomas Brinkmann, Florian Hecker, Bernard Parmegiani, Russell Haswell, KTL, Iannis Xenakis, Oren Ambarchi, Bill Orcutt, Mark Fell and many more.

“As Pita, Rehberg has produced over a dozen albums, covering an astonishing variety of experimental electronic styles. The ‘Get Out’/’Get Down’/’Get Off’ trilogy received broad international critical acclaim and helped define the radical underground experimental electronic scene of the 90’s. Pita has played numerous concerts all over the world including SONAR, ATP, CTM Berlin, MUTEK, Donaufestival, Le Guess Who?, Atonal etc. In 1999 he won the Prix Ars Electronica for Digital Musics & Sound Art.”

Pita’s most recent recorded offering is his 2016 album ‘Get In’, his first in twelve years and his first following a 2015 return to live work with a new modular setup. It’s a tremendously assured work, sometimes bullish, with none of the noncommittal airiness that often blights the EM and ambient genres.

Part of this is to do with scale – it’s a varied, huge-sounding record which sidesteps simple vulgar loudness for an impressive architectural dominance. Wherever Pita offers gently scintillating greenhouse meditations, they also happen to be the size of the Eden Project; his Galaxian blip-brainstorms, meanwhile, crack the game cabinet and head for great-hall pronouncements. With barely an obvious beat in sight, this is an urgently physical music which also puts the mind on sharp alert. There’s glitch and squelch; but there’s also grand romanticism which sternly punishes itself, and challenges the listener with passages of synthesized orchestral meditation penetrated by shrieks of solo noise and a frowning, compelled patina of distortion vandalism. This is exceptional stuff.


 
On each of his two Sutton House concerts, Pita will be joined by a guest musician.

On Friday 7th, it will be Finlay Shakespeare: analogue synth minder to the stars (via his work at the Moog Sound Lab) and also chief engineer and founder of Future Sound Systems, where he builds worryingly-named modular components including the Convulsion Generator, the Spectral Devastator and an updated version of Chris Carter’s Throbbing Gristle sound-processing unit, the Gristleizer (as used to unsettling effect throughout the original Gristle’s career).

Since last year, via his prolific series of ‘Housediet’ releases, Finlay has been creating his own passionate and evocative take on old-school experimental European synthpop, filled with flattened analogue blatters, skirling fanfares, cybernetic dance pulses and borderline-hysterical incantatory pop vocals.


 
On Saturday 8th, the guest will be Nik Colk Void. Twenty years ago (as Nikki Colk) she was running songblasts of pop-punk through dense effects-pedal work as frontwoman for Norwich experimental rockers KaitO. These days, she’s to be found as one-half of Factory Floor and one-third of post-Throbbing Gristle trio Carter Tutti Void.

Nik’s solo work leaves songcraft far behind in favour of wonderfully suggestive post-industrial sonic abstractions. Haunted factories, steam hisses and wheel-rim scrapes; neurotically-looped ventilation-duct eavesdroppings on unseen devices; or even something as simple as single-scratch passes (like bored, rolling marbles) paired with intermittent grain bag-rattles, like blank shamanic rituals played out on abandoned machine-shop benches.

 
I-D.A Projects & care in the community recordings present:
The New Arts & Music Programme at Sutton House: PITA
Sutton House, 2-4 Homerton High Street, Homerton, London, E9 6JQ, England
– Friday 7th September 2018, 7.30pm
(with Finlay Shakespeare) – information here and here
Saturday 8th September 2018, 7.30pm (with Nik Colk Void) – information here and here

* * * * * * * *

A fortnight later, and a mile or so northwest, Toby Marks and Andrew Heath are bringing a softer, spacier double bill of solo electronic music to London within the preserved Saxon confines of Stoke Newington’s Old Church. Full details below.


 
Andrew Heath + Toby Marks, 21st September 2018“A soundscape artist and composer, Andrew Heath creates quiet, ambient, lower-case music based around piano, electronics and field recordings, drawing inspiration from a simple piano motif, an electronic shimmer or a processed found sound. The work he produces blends piano, electronics and found sounds into a mix that on the surface sounds quite minimal and open, but on closer listening, contains detailed fragments, constantly shifting and changing place.

“Early collaborations using Fender Rhodes, piano and electronics with fellow musician, Felix Jay under the name Aqueous led to a partnership with the legendary Hans-Joachim Roedelius. Andrew went on to produce a number of video and site-specific, sound installations which re-introduced him to the technique of working with field recordings, often leaving in the sonic detritus that most would seek to eliminate as being “non-musical”.

“In performance, Andrew re-interprets his studio work weaving multiple layers of textural field recordings balanced with etherial whispers of electronic sound and half-glimpsed piano melodies. Recent performances have seen him add acoustic instruments to his palette – often bowed or e-bowed, but certainly not played conventionally. This is immersive, ambient music. It drifts. It constantly shifts as it charts new topographies, creating and following maps that are full of change.




 
Banco de Gaia’s Toby Marks will be exploring the gentler end of his catalogue, presenting ambient works old and new accompanied by live improvisation and manipulation. Ranging from cinematic grandeur through tender minimalism to otherworldly fantasies, this performance will take you to places of beauty rarely visited.



 
“Visuals will be provided by Patrick Dunn (currently touring with Tangerine Dream) who blends real world imagery and computer generated graphics to create a mesmerising, immersive world.”

Disco Gecko presents:
Andrew Heath + Toby Marks
The Old Church, Stoke Newington Church Street, Stoke Newington, London, N16 9ES, England
Friday 21st September 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

February 2018 – upcoming London experimental gigs – Kammer Klang featuring Jennifer Walshe and Distractfold Ensemble (6th February)

30 Jan

February’s Kammer Klang sees the Dalston performance evening marching ever further away from contemporary chamber music and embracing an ethos of outright sonic performance theatre. The works presented by Jennifer Walshe and Distractfold Ensemble next week use musicality as merely one available limb of expression – even if many of the tools used are musical.

Kammer Klang presents:
Kammer Klang: Jennifer Walshe + Distractfold Ensemble (playing Steven Kazuo Takasugi, Hanna Hartman and Barblina Meierhans)
Cafe Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, London E8 3DL
Tuesday 6th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Kammer Klang, 6th February 2018Witty, shapeshifting Irish composer-performer Jennifer Walshe was once described as “the wild girl of Darmstadt” (by ‘Frankfurter Rundschau’) Often hiding, Residents-like, behind the mask of the fictional ‘Milker Corporation’, she’s delivered nearly two decades worth of intriguing, award-winning work, from near-conventional instrumental composition to way-out self-performed video theatre more reminiscent of a larkier, less traumatic version of Karen Finley.

Examinations and implementations of pop culture have been a persistent creative motif for her. While this can be an embarrassing stumbling block for many a composer hamfistedly trying to ginger up high culture or elevate street culture (most of whom bellyflop soundly into the discomfort zone) Jennifer displays a thorough grounding and innate understanding of how this things can tick. This is clearly displayed in her lightning-switch pop-song collage ‘G.L.O.R.I.’, while her Snapchat-based interactive ‘Thmotes’ project (with its now-you-see-them now-you-don’t exchange of text scores) was but one example of her keen understanding of both how new forms of media operate and how they develop their own operational cultures. Inspired in part by televisual opera experimenter Robert Ashley, she’s also written miniature operas ranging from relatively serious chamber pieces about women in boxing or 2010’s focus-shifting ‘The Geometry’ to trashy X-rated soap scenarios played out by whispering, shrieking, hissing Barbie dolls.

As an intercontinental voice improviser, Jennifer’s co-run witty stunts such as the United Telepathic Improvisation Front; and for the last eleven years she’s exercised and presented a dozen different and distinct alter egos as part of the ongoing Grúpat project (a Dublin art collective of fictional “Guinness Dadaists” in which Jennifer herself creates, becomes and enacts every single artist whether exploring music, films, photography, fashion, sculpture or any overlaps between the forms – personae include grotto-builder Violetta Mahon, filmmaker Freya Birre, sculptor-of-instruments Turf Boon, psychogeographic drag queen multidisciplinarian The Dowager Marchylove and partially-fingerless concert pianist Flor Hartigan). Running through all of this (alongside of the exceptional media savvy) is a riotous stream of Irish absurdism – it’s unsurprising to discover that Jennifer cites Flann O’Brien and the “Irish openness to subterfuge” as spurs to what she does.

Her Kammer Klang performance this time involves her 2016 composition ‘There Was A Visitor’ – of which the title may be a nod to Ashley’s ‘She Was A Visitor’, and which is mostly a compression/selection from another ongoing project of spoofing/serious fictionizing, ‘Historical Documents of the Irish Avant-Garde‘. In some ways a more historically-inclined cousin of Grúpat, ‘Historical Documents…’ is a made-up history of the Irish avant-garde, complete with its own foundation and voluminous archive of compositions, documents, academic articles and sundry ephemera. Jennifer apparently performs it within the context of “a Dadaist Halloween séance”, which she also describes as “a sort of mangled faith healer experience with optional audience engagement.”

(UPDATE, 5th February – for some reason, it seems that Jennifer’s now dropped her scheduled performance of ‘There Was A Visitor’ and replaced it with ‘Is It Cool To Try Hard Now?’, a 2016 composition “for voice, video, electronics and Artificial Intelligence”. There’s not much more information available on this one, other than that it was first premiered at the Jamjar Music Weekend in Belfast – it’s not even listed on the Milker site. If you can find out anything more about it, you’re a better, quicker browser than I am… what the hell, go along and be surprised…)

Manchester’s Distractfold Ensemble (curators of their hometown’s Cut & Splice Festival) will be presenting three pieces, including the evening’s Fresh Klang opener – a performance of Barblina Meierhans’ ‘May I Ask You Something?’. The latter is, in effect a semi-dysfunctional conversation for orchestra: an arrangement of inter-band mutters culminating in an eerie array of distracted frictional instrumental squeaks and a number of uncomfortable silences.


 
Of the other two Distractfold presentations, ‘Circling Blue’ is a 2010 tape piece by Swedish sound artist Hanna Hartman (for which Manifold members will be handling the sonic diffusion). Originally commissioned by Swedish radio for a themed programme on Nordic forests, it’s an electroacoustic work for the captured sounds of swirling winds and beating rain plus the recorded and stretched notes of soprano Ida Falk Winland.

The last presentation, ‘The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Laughing’ is a piece of music theatre for amplified quartet and tape playback: a segment of Japanese-American electro-acoustic composer Steven Kazuo Takasugi’s five-movement ‘Sideshow’ sequence. Inspired by the crueller, more exploitative aspects of Coney Island entertainment parks (and drawing its section titles from a set of bleak aphorisms by Karl Kraus, the mordant cultural gadfly and satirist of early 20th century Vienna), the piece is “a meditation on virtuosity, freak shows, entertainment, spectacle, business, and the sacrifices one makes to survive in the world”, in which the instrumentalist perform as if they were “characters in a sideshow. The saxophonist is the Sideshow Giant, having bellow-like lungs. The violist is a sword swallower, expert with a bow sword. The pianist is the Human Spider, having been born with eight hands. The percussionist is the Stuttering Midget and Sideshow Proprietor/Announcer. Each character of this quartet has his or her uncanny double, twin, imposter, accomplice, copycat, deformed clone.”

Strange taped sounds (worked up from Takasugi’s algorithmic processing from his extensive library of recontextualized sonics) plus intense individual performer silences and motions add to the uneasy, surreal and grotesque atmosphere. Reviewing a previous performance in 2017, Stephanie Jones of ‘Sounds Like Now’ observed that it “suggested that the audience (was) masterminding a highly uncomfortable human puppet show… (which) captivated and cradled the audience on thematic pivots such as humour/cruelty and freedom/torturous restraint, while the playback ensured that the performance itself blurred the lines between illusion and fact.”
 

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