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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’.”


 
* * * * * * * *

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
 

February 2019 – upcoming experimental gigs – Kammer Klang: Taylor Le Melle’s Afrodiasporic spectrum with Venus Ex Machina, Morgan Craft and Shenece Oretha (5th February)

31 Jan

Bah. I’ve got a swelling head cold and am consequently as thick as a cement omelette. Not the best time to try to preview a complicated experimental evening. Sorry for the vagueness in this post… even more than usual, this is hidden music to be sought out and learned from.

Kammer Klang: Venus Ex Machina + Morgan Craft + Shenece Oretha, 5th February 2019

The first Kammer Klang of the year unites various sonic experimentalists from the African diaspora under the curatorship of Taylor Le Melle. That’s probably the best way of putting it: the lack of a portentous event title means it’s not pinned down to any more specific narrative. Though predominantly a writer, Taylor spends a lot of time as a creative enabler (co-running independent publisher PSS and artist/workers’ audio-visual cooperative not/nowhere, and facilitating debate), and this isn’t her first Oto event. I’m assuming that it’s going to throw up ideas from across a broad spectrum of ideas and identities, some of which are outlined here.

Venus Ex Machina (a.k.a. Zimbabwean emigre Nontokozo F. Sihwa) is one of an ever-more visible number of interdisciplinary artists and computer coders eliding non-binary gender ideas into the worlds of music, games and visuals. Interested in “mythical and borderless” radio communication, she’ll be performing her own ‘Anno Lucis’ piece from 2018.

I’ve no idea whether this other Venus piece, ‘Paraquat’, is any reflection of what’s to be performed on the night; but here it is for illumination (with its mixture of Geiger counter industrial twists, ringing friction noise apparently siphoned from the bearings holding up the music of the spheres, and arrestingly vocal synth parts summoning up both heavenly European chapel choirs and complex African alarm whoops).

 
Attempting to place solo electric guitarist and sonic mystic/realist Morgan Craft involves multiple questions about geography, roots and discovery. A Minnesota-born African-American, he’s an escapee from the New York experimental scene of twenty years ago; but rather than questing directly into Africa he sought refreshment and new paths in the Tuscan mountains of Italy for over a decade (before settling in Amsterdam, where he works with Giulia “Mutamassik” Loli on the Circle of Light label and the Rough Americana project. Now he’s an “Afro-American Viking futurist”, whatever that means. Drawing on the classical legends and contemporary politics of African, European and American cultures alike, his essays sift and fold his multi-positional overview: an expatriate American black man querying his background, a critiquer of capitalist and street culture, a person with one eye on a new dawn due to rise over the muck.

Morgan’s textural guitar pieces are expansive and questioning personal monologues, abstracting manifold concerns into detailed shades. He will be performing his 2018 piece ‘Godel’: here are several earlier pieces from a big releasing burst in 2016.




 
Montserrat-born Shenece Oretha mostly concerns herself with polyvocality and immediate listening – as she puts it, “choreograph(ing) layers of music, voice, recordings and noise to shape moments of communion and ceremony.” Land-tilling metaphors of potential and nurturing pervade her definition of herself – “hypothetical gardener, future farmer, speculative horticulturalist.” Her sound work, or at least, that of it which I’ve heard so far, is much less pastoral; simultaneously dicing up and unifying strands of black experience from the wounded and fierce to the ecstatic and congregational, from the lone voice ululating to the whumphing in-your-face assertions of co-opted technology.

 
In addition to Oretha’s Fresh Klang performance – a piece called ‘to plot together, to breathe together’ – Testing Grounds (her “installation with multiple openings”) makes a temporary home at Oto for three days in advance of the show. With spaces for invited guests available (to “accompany the sound and participate in the sounding out”), it’s a live-performed sonic stew “present(ing) and incorporate(ing) her ongoing research project, black whole…, orchestrat(ing) a series of interruptions/interventions ‘in the breaks’.”

 
Kammer Klang presents:
Kammer Klang: Venus Ex Machina + Morgan Craft + Shenece Oretha
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Tuesday 5th February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
(‘Testing Grounds’ – Saturday 2nd to Monday 4th February 2019, 5-9pm)
 

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 London experimental gigs – Merlin Nova, Bell Lungs and Inchindown at the Horse Hospital (21st September)

15 Sep

There’s an interesting show coming up at the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury next week. A wilder, more countercultural echo of the ICA, and clinging onto the fringes of the university district and the gentrification around the Brunswick Centre, the place mostly features transgressive films, performance art and sundry esoterica, but it’s always worth keeping an eye on their music schedule. This particular gig is musical fringework: weird and beautiful urban and rural atmospherics, vocal hauntings, transformations of places and times, acoustic folk and electronic noise.

Am hurrying off to do something else right now, but I’ll just give you the press release before I go…

* * * * * * * *

Merlin Nova + Bell Lungs + Inchindown, 21st September 2018

“The Horse Hospital presents a night of expanded musical performance spanning adventures in sound, pop theatrics and psychedelia with Merlin Nova, Bell Lungs and Inchindown.

Merlin Nova is sound, song and movement. Ecstatic energy blast. Clear-cut. Quick fix. Immediate. Set scene sound. Landscape, temperature and feeling. Here with you, together.

“Her debut EP, ‘Protect Your Flame’, celebrates determination and life, a vast and colourful human emotional landscape that explores sounds ability to excite visualisation. Each track is a scene to exist within. Vocal delivery, stripped back instrumentation and use of sound effects convey a state of being as efficient as possible. This way of making music evolved out of her weekly radio show Nova Waves, which broadcasted from Subcity Radio: on the show Merlin would create music, soundscapes and use sound effects to build imagined worlds. It was not until she was asked to DJ at Subcity’s 20th Birthday Exhibition, ‘pure radio sex’, that she chose to combine her own soundscapes, poetry and song – thus beginning the assemblage of this music.

 
Bell Lungs is a one-woman band from Scotland, where she’s been building an excellent live reputation and carving out her unique post-folk sound using layered vocals, electric violin, guitar, tuned percussion, field recordings and effects pedals since 2016. Her music is atmospheric; a shifting soundscape incorporating snippets of songs with field recordings to create inherently transcendental experiences, musing upon rural idylls, post-industrial heartlands and online culture infused with psychedelic, drone, improvisational, jazz, dream pop and folk elements.



 
Inchindown is a collaboration between Tim Garratt (Moon Zero) & Matthew Heywood (Bruised Skies), whose self-titled debut album Inchindown is released by Blank Editions. Their self-titled debut album portrays a powerfully mournful, but beautifully stark work. The soundtrack to walking through a storm of ash, only to realise that the city is on fire and viewing this incredible spectacle from afar. It is a dark, yet somehow hopeful record and a focussed collaboration that expands upon their ambient solo work. Although named after a small industrial town in Scotland, the record grounds itself to their hometown of Hackney. The three-part ‘Ridley Road’, with its waves of distorted bass, metallic synths and detuned vocals could be heard as a tone poem for the rapid gentrification that threatens to engulf the historic market street, before authentic field recordings remind us of what we stand to lose.”



 
Merlin Nova + Bell Lungs + Inchindown
The Horse Hospital, Colonnade, WC1N1 London, United Kingdom
Friday 21st September 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

August 2018 – husk, rime and lanterns – a double dose of Jack Hayter in a Gravesend lightship (18th August)

14 Aug

I like the idea of a mobile arts venue. A seabound one is even better. LV21, a forty-metre decommissioned former lightship, once kept other ships from foundering on the rocks along the Kentish coast. Now it’s a floating art space and performance facility, moving intermittently between Thames estuary towns. Although it’s been resting at a long-term Gravesend mooring since summer 2016, LV21 still fits the measure for art-on-the-move (while its sister vessel, LV18, performs a similar function at a similar mooring up the coast at Harwich).

International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend @ LV21, 18th August 2018

Wherever it happens to be at the time, LV21 opens up in full each summer for the overlapping International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend and International Lighthouse Heritage Weekend, allowing visitors to explore the vessel and immerse themselves in lightship and lighthouse history from around the world. Also on offer at the event this year – this weekend – are lessons in tying sailor’s knots, a soldering and radio workshop (build your own pocket amplifier and speaker) and Nicola Pollard of stripped-down drama company Up The Road Theatre inviting discussion for the next UTR production, ‘Peril At Sea’ (set to explore “stories, memories, myths and songs of smuggling, shipwrecks and survival” and to tour around English coastal towns including Lowestoft, Portsmouth and Wells-next-the-Sea).

Jack Hayter @ ILLW 2018, Gravesend, 18th August 2018Of course, it’s music rather than knots that’s attracting my interest. Also on hand is Jack Hayter – wandering multi-instrumentalist, onetime Hefner member, ex-Dollboy-er, Ralegh Long and Papernut Cambridge collaborator; the writer and performer of memorable contemporary folk songs and a relatively recent new Gravesend resident. He has two interesting – and very different – nautical music productions going on in the bowels of the ship.

The first of these is ‘Flashes & Occultations’, a sonic installation in the generator room comprising “a seventy-seven-minute-long sonic improvisation on lighthouse life.” It was originally released by London indie label Where It’s At Is Where You Are in 2017 as part of their ‘Seven@77‘ compilation, on which it loomed massively over the thirteen other pieces (each of them clocking in at a measly seventy-seven seconds). In typically dry and witty fashion, Jack describes it as a salvage job on a foolhardy, ambitious effort to sidestep the requested seventy-seven-minute pedal steel improvisation in favour of an attempt to make “a transient sound sculpture from the identification patterns of distant lighthouses, buoys and light vessels; to convert their flashes and occultations into small voltages using telescopes, light-sensitive resistors and photodiodes, then to use those derived signals to trigger samples and control analogue synths. I was overambitious and my experiments were largely a technical failure. I also got cold and muddy while recording foghorns. Worse still, those supposedly unique and exciting light patterns often turned out to be “one flash every twenty seconds” or “red occulting thrice every minute on a Tuesday. Then I ran out of time.”

Salvaging the project wreckage, Jack returned to the original brief – improvising on pedal steel around field recordings, stirring in documentary dialogue, eight-bit synth pads and calling in a few friends and favours to obtain further ingredients: poetry, wordless harmony singing, harmonium drones and electronic oscillator. Despite his disclaimers, he came up with an effective, charming piece – at different points lulling, humorous and lyrically haunting – which absolutely deserves its second life amongst the Gravesend solenoids and gauges, where Jack claims he might play along with it “from time to time” on live fiddle. Here’s a short excerpt with accompanying video (filmed up at the Firth of Forth) – also, if you’re curious but can’t make it down to LV21 this Saturday, here’s the whole piece in audio.



 
Jack’s second musical contribution of the day is the one-off free live gig he’s performing in the ship (on deck? in the hold?) during the evening, in which he’s going to be performing “a set of my songs and stories which will loosely follow the river from Deptford down to Gravesend finishing up at Margate, with diversions.” Here’s where you get to see Jack in the raw – a rangy, weatherbeaten feller with a voice as chewed-up and resilient as an ancient poster still clinging onto a seafront fence. His recent album, ‘Abbey Wood‘, is one of 2018’s under-the-radar triumphs, a compelling song collection recorded in defiantly threadbare folk fashion but with infusions of avant-garde turn-up-and-play instrumentation. Its ace in the hole, however, is Jack’s songwriter vision. As ever, he writes with a documentarian’s timing and eye for sparse, telling detail; with a poet’s knack for sifting detritus and forgotten trash to find significance; and with a determination to tell stories from those broad, deliberately ignored margins of society which actually make up its overlooked majority.

Jack’s songbook includes tales of post-war slump and of the rural working class swept into conflict; the hopes and dreams of sewage workers; the luckless POWs sunk with the SS Andora Star; the fumblings of early love under the shadow of the Cold War. Crucially – and despite his sharp, assured literacy – he always writes these from the inside and on the level, rather than as booky preachings from above. These are stories about people on lean means, living within strung-together moments: a compassionate, sometimes subtly angry cinema of life’s grain outside the slick and aspirational. They vouch and voice for the itinerate, the sidelined; the workers who just get on with it; the kids with foggy futures stirred and impelled by vast indifferent forces.

Jack’s delivery of these tales, meanwhile, is battered, warm, inclusive, strangely dignified, and mesmeric. Check out an earlier review I did of one of Jack’s previous live performances; or have a dip into the selection of tracks below.





 
Jack Hayter @ International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend 2018
Light Vessel 21, (currently moored at) St Andrews Quay, Royal Pier Road, Gravesend, Kent DA12 2BD, England
Saturday 18 August 2018
• ILLW full event duration: 12.00pm-11.00pm
• Flashes & Occultations installation: 12.00pm-4.00pm
• Jack Hayter free live set: 7.00pm-11.00pm

– free event – information here, here, here and here
 

August 2018 – upcoming London gigs – flexi-clectica at Apple Tree: The Live Lounge Vol II with Rudi Douglas, J. Aria, Awkward Ndure, DJ Sonikku, Martell O’Neill, Daryl Fox-Huxley and DJ Kevin Morosky (2nd August)

31 Jul

Apple Tree: The Live Loung Vol. II, 2nd August 2018Since its launch earlier this year, broad-based London music-and-performance event Apple Tree has set itself a bold framework. Curated by tireless promoter and club personality Mark-Ashley Dupé and by cross-disciplinary designer/film-maker Samuel Douek, its Live Lounge event is dedicated to celebrating LGBTQIA musicians and artists from across the city (that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex and asexual/allies, for those having trouble keeping up with those ever-burgeoning inclusive acronyms). It’s also happily intersectional in both intent and in entertainment. The convergence of queerness and blackness already seems to be a specialty, offsetting the compressive grinding of racism and the bristling aggression of homophobes by providing a stage for some fiery and assertive performers.

If this is starting to sound too specialised, too academic, or too much like a sexual/political cul-de-sac, I should reign things in a bit. In fact, the backbone of the debut Apple Tree evening back in June (which I only caught up and heard about recently, several months after the event) seems to have been electric/eclectic soul, provided by singer-songwriters Miggy Dela Rosa, Albert Gold and Awkward Ndure. Gay electro-acoustic composer Daniel McBride was also on hand, his work bridging that gap between the capital’s young classical scene, its queer-arts scene and the electronic music continuum which unites (in both work and play) pop, dance culture and high-art experimentalism. Bringing the words was topical poet and fervent discursor Black Ops Poetry; bringing the costumes and personae was queer cabaret sensation Rhys Holis (performer of Rhys’ Pieces and founder of Dalston cabaret night Queefy); and bringing damn near everything was operatic/discursive costumed electro-acoustic performance artist Oberon White (who considers himself “part of an eclectic tradition incorporating shamans, clowns, automata, cyborgs and drag artists”).

In other words, Apple Tree’s shaping up to be an event that’s equally comfortable with party pop and far-out high art concepts, unifying them through a flexible, diverse queer lens. There aren’t that many places where you can see a happy, possibly camp singalong immediately followed by a text-spouting man dressed as a mythical Greek bird-god.

The upcoming second Apple Tree Live Lounge show at the beginning of August is perhaps a tad less adventurous than the debut was, but it’s all part of the ebb and flow, and comes packaged with dinner care of Shoreditch’s Hoi Polloi brasserie and a DJ set from photographer/film director Kevin Morosky. As for the performers, Awkward makes a return from the launch event with her Latin-tinged folk-soul – at least I think it’s her, since some of the publicity suggests that it might be Evan Williams from MTV teen comedy ‘Awkward’ (which in turn makes me feel as if I’m slipping down some rabbit hole of an involved in-joke). Assuming that I do have the right Awkward, here’s a clip of her performing with guitarist Sim Chappelle a couple of years ago. I’m on more solid ground with the billing for accomplished soul’n’stage singer Martell O’Neil (whose past and current work includes the travelling Motown revue ‘How Sweet It Is’); and for Daryl Fox-Huxley, the current/former guitarist for house-tinged indie pop act The Hook, now concentrating on solo work with a folk-pop base, “his own East London twist and lyrics to match” and probably at least a few other hints and approaches brought in from his abiding love for reggae, techno and techhouse.



 
Headliner Rudi Douglas is a onetime ‘X Factor’ contestant (he was in the 2006 series when he was nineteen) but don’t hold that against him, or allow it to constrain him. Instead, take a look at and have a listen to this – ‘He Won’t Swim In My Ocean’, a four-year-old but evergreen song which proves that Rudi doesn’t need the Cowell circus to help him make grand heartbursting pop, with a gay theme but a universal touch.


 
For this session, the more experimental kudos is provided by DJ Sonikku (who mashes ‘80s house into chiptune with the aid of the purloined and repurposed guts of Sega Mega Drive consoles) and even more so by Jacob Aria – a.k.a non-binary soundscaper J. Aria. Interested in “tension, desolation, morbidity and eroticism”, J. creates intricate, absorbing musical washes, beats and tapestries via sampler, turntable and voice in which hauntology, psychedelic ambience and hints of house engage in a spectral, full-bodied mysterious dance: a ghostly neighbourhood of percolating histories for “a world of heterotopic ‘otherness’, pushing senses of horror and psychosis within queerdom and the incidental beauty of the fractured”.

 
Apple Tree Live presents:
Apple Tree – The Live Lounge – Vol. 2: Rudi Douglas + Jacob Aria + Awkward Ndure + DJ Sonikku + Martell O’Neill + Daryl Fox-Huxley + DJ Kevin Morosky
Miranda @ Ace Hotel London Shoreditch, 100 Shoreditch High Street, Shoreditch, London, E1 6JQ, England
Thursday 2nd August 2018, 6.00pm
– information here and here
 

July 2018 – upcoming avant-pop gigs – Liam Singer in New York and Catskill with Sontag Shogun, Alexander Turnquist and Tim Mislock (12th, 13th July)

6 Jul

Liam Singer, 2018Bar his efforts in assembling a performance of Terry Riley’s ‘In C’ under the Brooklyn Bridge last year, not enough has been heard from Liam Singer since he released his gorgeously limpid ‘Arc Iris’ album in 2013. In fact, he’s quit New York City and moved upstate to Catskill, where he’s now co-running HiLo – a combined cafe, bar, art gallery, and performance space. New responsibilities, however, haven’t stemmed his musical flow. Two imminent shows (one at HiLo and one in his old Brooklyn stomping grounds) mark this month’s release of his fifth album, ‘Finish Him‘, on Birdwatcher Records.

Centred on his piano and the sweet murmur of his voice, Liam’s previous records brought in strings, glass harmonicas and spectral studio reverb; the clink and clatter of gamelan and prepared instruments, Morton Feldman namedrops, and women’s voices shading into birdsong. They sketched out a sharply etched dreamworld which seemed to take place in and on the towns, roads and headlands of a permeable New England coastline – one in which ancient mythology and personal headspace interpenetrated, and danced their way up and down from the seabed to the constellations. Either that, or they evoked loft life in an idealised, slightly antiquated boho New York or upscale university town – Art Deco bannisters, rumpled stockings discarded by elusive free-spirited lovers; mannered speech, books on the Harlem Renaissance.

It was pop, but pop over which Steve Reich and the aforementioned Feldman presided as occasional guardian angels (as did Henry Cowell and Shaker music), amidst a papery flutter of old books and wallpaper witnessings, and of dust being blown off enthralling junk-shop discoveries. Longtime co-producer Scott Solter likes to link it to “Edward Gorey and the Brothers Quay“. The descriptions may sound precious, but the songs aren’t. No showboater, Liam is nonetheless one of those singers whose tones gently, subtly shift and refract between wonder, melancholy, wry self-deprecation and ecstacy: a caster of light upon things, rather than a hoarder or showcaser. The folding of literary and mythical references into his songs – and their subtly eclectic instrumentation – may bring him comparisons to Elliott Smith (especially in terms of the intimate delivery) and to Sufjan Stevens; but to me he’s a far more gentler character, bringing a human fragility and self-awareness to his steps in and out of a numinous music realm. A bit like an American William D. Drake, perhaps; though minus the occasional overt music-hall flourishes.


 
That said, ‘Finish Him’ (described as “a coming-out party”) sees Liam changing tack. Now he’s fully, publically embracing influences he’s previously only hinted at – predominantly colourful 1980s art pop “from a time when traces of the Baroque and avant-garde began to seep into the margins of the mainstream alongside the iconic synths, gated reverbs and big hair.” The science-fiction bacofoil-meets-CGI video, drum machine and layered synths of pilot single Test Tone determinedly sets out this new stall – like Wes Anderson simultaneously taking on ‘Tron’ or one of those Saturday afternoon space operas – and while new tracks like The Devil and I Want To See Sparks are less immediately brash, they’ve set aside some of the diaphanous sound of previously-on-Liam in favour of grander, brighter colourings, scrim-sweeps of noise, and bolder narratives about the struggle between selfishness and connection, the booting over of applecarts.



 
If there’s a new parallel, it’s the latterday work of Paddy McAloon – the revealing of extra bite and sharp points behind the musical meringue, the emergence of perspective and bone-deep feeling that comes with age and gravity taking more of a hold. The magic and mists are still there, just with a little more lightning.

Main support at both shows comes from Liam’s friends in the “lullanoise” project Sontag Shogun, who travel the world and bring back armfuls of noise and aural capturings of different places and times, only to re-knit them into ambiguous/meaningful post-minimalist mood pieces of piano and soundscape. Evoking or manufacturing memories filled with beauty and displacement, they produce music which is part hypnagogic tape, part four-dimensional postcard or souvenir.

For the Brooklyn show, the core Shogun trio (pianist Ian Temple, laptop/field recordings manipulator Jesse Perlstein and tapesman/oscillator operator/microphonist Jeremy Young) are “reformatting and outfitting” the band with a string quartet (thus forming the Sontag String Ensemble) and are playing “all new music, marrying improvisational and experimental sound with composed string arrangements by Ian.” For the Catskill show, they’re reverting to the trio format.



 
Each of the two shows will be bolstered by another instrumental set, each by a different guitarist/composer. In Brooklyn, it’s Alexander Turnquist, whose instrumental reflections on nature and philosophy blend virtuosic twelve-string acoustic fingerstyle with studio-based electronic noise aesthetics, producing a melodious state-shifting thunder of folk baroque/New Acoustic stringwork and reverberant processing which perhaps makes him the heart of an imaginary triangle between Michael Hedges, John Fahey and Jim O’Rourke.

Alexander’s counterpart at the Catskill show is Tim Mislock, whose use of simple electric figures and slow, ebbing ambient-country pulses… renders him more similar to Britain’s Rob Jackson or to a Nashville-saturated Robert Fripp, while also dipping into the lonesome romantic post-rock minimalism of Explosions In The Sky. His current album ‘Now Is The Last Best Time’ is “a heartfelt ode to (his) mother, who over the course of the past decade, has been the primary caregiver to her husband and Mislock’s stepfather; as he slowly fades into the ever-present silence of Alzheimer’s disease.” It’s a project encompassing love, regret, compassion and drift, and you can feel all of them in every note.


Dates:

  • Liam Singer + Sontag String Ensemble + Alexander Turnquist – Wonders Of Nature, 131 Grand Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City, New York 11249, USA, Thursday 12th July 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Liam Singer + Sontag Shogun + Tim Mislock – HiLo Catskill, 365 Main Street, Catskill, New York 12414, USA, Friday 13th July 2018, 8.00pm – information here

 

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