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May/June 2019 – upcoming pop/rock gigs – VLMV and Thomas Stone (30th May); Daniel O’Sullivan and Tega Mendes (4th June); The Cesarians and The Silver Field (6th June), Thumpermonkey, Lost Crowns and Kavus Torabi (31st May)

27 May

VLMV + Thomas Stone, 30th May 2019

Purveyors of a limpid and extroverted dream pop, Pete Lambrou and Ciaran Morahan previously operated as ALMA. Now, since the advent of a certain “BBC-Sound-of-2018-nominated green-haired Finnish pop star, they’re known as VLMV. Apparently it’s pronounced much the same way, but murmured through hushed lips, presumably to sneak it past the lawyers (just because your lips are compressed, it doesn’t mean that you can’t thumb your nose at the same time).

At the tail-end of a European tour, VLMV are playing a London show at the Rosemary Branch Theatre. A former music hall (currently slanted towards hosting comedy and improv), within its recent history it’s frequently been the home of passionate gay drama, or of chansons – so, loosely speaking, there’s some kindred resonance with VLMV’s epicene falsetto romances; the kind of resonance you might not get at the Water Rats or the Underworld.

To be fair, you need theatres for this kind of music. No matter how many slo-mo/light-show pianos, loops and strings they pile under Pete’s voice, this is blushing drama-pop at root. If you’re taking in one of the Tim Bowness gigs this coming fortnight but suspect it still might not entirely slake your appetite for stricken empathetic romance, maybe you should give these guys a try too.



 

In support, Thomas Stone also serves as a signifier and reminder of VLMV’s experimentalist sympathies. An increasing presence on the London avant-instrumental scene (in which he won NonClassical Records’ Battle Of The Bands in 2015), he creates strong but delicate slow-reveal improvisations for contrabassoon, loop pedals, backup samples and (occasionally) bass guitar; tapping into the grace of classical chamber music and threnodic jazz, and stirring in noise, incidental distortion and other dysfidelities.



 
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Westking Music & Performing Arts, who are putting on next Wednesday’s ‘Overlaps‘ concert, are bookending it with a couple of other gigs as part of their Summer Series (which also includes performance showcases for various graduates).

On 4th June, it’s Daniel O’Sullivan supported by Westking alumna Tega Mendes.

Daniel O'Sullivan + Tega Mendes, 4th June 2019

It’s easy enough to own a varied music collection; to shuffle quickly and smoothly between folk music, noise, synthtronica, experimental psychedelia, arthouse sound design, prog, proto-punk, pseudo-Zeuhl and the rest. It’s quite another to work, as a creative musician, across all of these: inevitably some purist will call you out as a fraud or a daytripper. Daniel, however, has made a name for himself as one of the few people who can apparently flit and slide between the scenes without being stalled by suspicion or rejection. Formidable multi-instrumental skills help, as does his apparent willingness to be a utility man as often as a leader. Over two decades, he’s piled up a pyramid of projects – his own Mothlife and Miasma & the Carousel of Headless Horses; duo work with Miracle or Grumbling Fur; a stint effectively directing Guapo; contributions to live and studio work with Ulver, Sunn O))) and This Is Not This Heat; plus sound installations and soundtracks in the fine art and cinema worlds. During the course of this, no-one’s fingered him as an interloper; no-one seems to have frozen him out. It’s a rare talent to be so ubiquitous, so flexible – or so insidious.



 
Daniel’s most recent album, ‘Folly’, is the second one he’s released under his own name, pursuing something more intimate and personal. Written around the death of a friend and the birth of a son, it sees him continuing to tack away from the experimental rock he made his reputation with in favour of hushed, rich-textured chamber folk, burnished like a picture window by the warm depth of Thighpaulsandra’s production. Still ,a psychedelic perspective follows in its wake, like a contrail of blossom; easily found in the swirl of instrumentation and in the way that Daniel dips in and (more often) out of straightforwardness like a flying fish, offering transient reveals and kaleidoscopic digressions. Live, he’ll be performing solo and won’t be able to dodge behind the arrangements, but will be inviting up a couple of special guests to play along.

There’s some tie-in between Daniel’s work and Tega’s; they currently share a taste for a dreamy sheathing of instrumentation, but rather than chamber folk Tega follows on from the quiet storm soul-pop currently exemplified (in Britain, at least) by Lianne La Havas and Laura Mvula, and previously in the States by Roberta Flack and Minnie Riperton. On record, she displays a knack for deepening re-harmonisations of established songs; live, she works on a nourishing and playful full-band exploration of the assorted moods and genres that she touches on. It’s still early days for her, with not much more than a handful of Soundcloud songs to show yet, but even with her musicality still on a slow stir there’s a lot of promise here.

 
On 6th of June, The Cesarians are supported by The Silver Field.

The Cesarians + The Silver Field, 6th June 2019The musical love-child of onetime trash-rocker Charlie Finke (who sang sleaze with Penthouse in the mid-90s) and Justine Armatage (formerly pianist, composer and violinist with ill-fated ’90s theatrical indie types Gretchen Hofner), The Cesarians are virtually ambassadors for the hope of “older, wiser, sexier and funnier”. A loose troupe centred around houseboat life on the River Lea, they encompass showband horns, cabaret, puckish and sometimes self-deprecating wit, via enormous pop hooks which sweep glam, art-punk, chanson and singalong onto the table. They somehow manage to be down-to-earth while still being splendidly glamorous, by dint of turning their lives into theatre: following their songwriting inquisitiveness wherever it leads them and inviting you along.

For today’s crop of twentysomething band players, The Cesarians could (and should) be like anarchically cool uncles and aunts – the kind that zoom in and out of the family on their own orbits, winking as they swing past; cheerfully using inappropriate language and carrying handfuls of intrigue. They’re people whom you feel you could learn from: learn how to be naughty and to be wise; how to smoke and to make mistakes, but also how to become yourself. For us older dogs closer to their age, they’re more about an irrepressible spark persistently pushing up; there’s something luminous about them, as if they’d thrived on misspent youths and come through it all broader and happier as people. For what it’s worth, I get bored by musicians who embrace or act out too much debauchery, but occasionally I meet some whose mental vividness transcends the partying, and when I do I can’t stop talking to them; and generally, they turn out to be a lot like The Cesarians.

The songs? Well, the songs sound a bit like this…



 
The rural post-folk compositions for The Silver Field start off in Coral Rose’s bedroom. A digital delay inherited from her musician father serves as the cauldron for her own multi-instrumental inventiveness on a cupboardful of instruments, within which guitar, harmonica, mandolin, small drums and harmonium make room for cello, double bass, bagpipe chanter and electronics, plus loops captured on a rackety antique reel-to-reel tape recorder bought for a quid at a car boot sale. Assisted on occasion by Vanishing Twin’s Cathy Lucas and by Kiran Bhatt of Red River Dialect, It’s a kind of rough-edged chamber-folk shunting yard, in which plangent instrumental melodies are nudged by noise interference and spatial effects woven in from smartphone field recordings.

Live, Coral calls in more instrumentalist friends (Kiran again, plus Rachel Horwood from Bamboo and Trash Kit, Rachel Margetts from Yr Lovely Dead Moon) to help her recreate and reconsider her work: not absolute reproductions of what’s on record, but pickings-up and hand-ons, the instrumentation and looping shuffled under the requirements of necessity and community and of keeping the music as a living thing. Her debut album ‘Rooms’, meanwhile, comes complete with its own sonic metaphor of growing up, moving on and moving out; of both dispensing of childhood homes and coming to terms with departing from them.



 
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Closing off May, there’s a triple-threat art-rock show from Thumpermonkeyc, Lost Crowns and Kavus Torabi – all of whom I’ve already written about so frequently in here that I’m constantly, increasingly in danger of repeating myself. So I’m going to pre-empt myself by collaging some of the things I’ve already said into a new mashup, for the benefit of any of you who might be new readers or just new to any of these people…

Thumpermonkey + Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi, 31st May 2019Thumpermonkey – “mordant, tricksy brilliance… the missing link between Mastodon and China Miéville (or perhaps between Peter Hammill and Neal Stephenson)… One of Britain’s most ambitious rock bands, deftly striding and shifting between different musical kernels from prog, dark pop or experimental metal to a kind of science-fiction cabaret, languidly licking up and stirring in any intriguing nugget or story fragment they birth or encounter… A latterday Thumpermonkey song’s more like a contemporary classical song: protracted, a lyric-driven musical wandering from thought to thought, but always with that solid rock foundation, that return to purpose… Michael Woodman’s voice (is) pure theatrical cordon bleu hambone, from the bottom of its ominous deep-tenor declamations to the top of its horror-struck falsetto…

“The music, meanwhile, is an ever-flexing full-spectrum crunch and hush, full of stalking shapes and hovering convoluted melodies… Unpacking their decade-plus back catalogue of recordings is like getting trapped in one of those clever-dick contemporary polymath novels written about everything and anything, stitched together with a little magic and mystique – they’ve sung about computer games, Nigerian fraudsters, Mexican acid westerns and strange diseases and made it sound as if it were all part of the same complex semi-submerged story… Game-playing geeks for sure, and clearly ones who are proud of their astonishingly broad armoury of sly references, veiled jokes and fantastical imagery; but also geeks who revel in their absolute mastery of those most un-geeky of rock qualities – muscle and poise… The particular genius of Thumpermonkey is that they can unroll these kind of parodic slipstream plots without ever toppling into cute whimsy.”


 
Lost Crowns – “a barrage of word-dense songs overflowing with full-on prismatic structures and outright rock drive, as if Lewis Carroll and Flann O’Brien had called on the massed forces of Henry Cow to help them hijack Battles… A vortex of influences funnel around (Lost Crowns leader) Richard Larcombe, including Chicago math, witty Daevid Allen psych rampage, contemporary classical music and skipping, tuneful folk singalongs. Shaped by his particular persona and thought processes – as well as his innate Englishness – it all emerges as a kind of prog, but one in which the fat and the posturing has all been burned off by the nerves and the detail, and in which his dry, melodious wit winds around the work playing mirror-tricks, theatrical feints, and the conspiratorial winks of a master boulevardier…

“If he is icing his work with gags, it’s partially because something so musically demanding needs a little judicious sugaring… Imagine a cocktail which didn’t dilute as you built it up, but instead made all of its ingredients stronger, brighter and brasher… A rich, unfolding master-craftsman’s confection… complex, artfully-meandering songs built from delightfully byzantine chords and arpeggios that cycle through ever-evolving patterns like palace clockwork; accompanied by rich, lazy clouds of hilarious, hyper-literate, wonderfully arcane lyrics; all sealed by an arch, out-of-time English manner which (in tone and timbre) falls into a never-was neverworld between Richard Sinclair, Stephen Fry, Noel Coward and a posh, Devonian Frank Zappa.”


 
Kavus Torabi – ” (His) dusky psych-folk EP ‘Solar Divination’…. perhaps draw(s) some influence from (his) other lives in Gong, Cardiacs, Guapo and others, but not nearly as much as it draws from ominous imagined dusk rituals and mysterious old ghosts on the darker hippy trails… A darker, more agrarian take on his psychedelic homeground, this time it’s drumless, bassless, hornless – rinsed clear of the capering squirrel energy he’s shown for twenty-odd years, in order to reveal muted, angsty bones… (It’s) a holiday from the jewelled and roaring intricacies of his main gig with Knifeworld, but it’s certainly not an escape from the psychedelic shadows which nightwing their way through the band’s apparently celebratory rainbow arcs.

“For this isolated, darker, more grinding work, Kavus strips the flash-bangs away and leaves us with the droning echoes: the meditative bruises, fears and queries, many of which nonetheless contain their own seeds of determination and a kind of celebratory acceptance…. Mostly based around slow, smoky-lunged harmonium stretches and sparse flotsam drags of guitar chording, this is a more foreboding turn of song, haunted by deaths, loss and disintegrations… (It’s a) sullen, trepidatious, post-nova ember-glow… trawling through shimmering webs of harmonium, effected drones and knell-clangs of acoustic guitar, exploring a forbidding hinterland of vulnerability and permeable spirit-space… the gravel-grain in Kavus’ voice welling up from deeper, ghostlier territories than before.”


 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

VLMV & Nice Weather For Airstrikes present:
VLMV + Thomas Stone
The Rosemary Branch Theatre, 2 Shepperton Road, De Beauvoir Town, London, N1 3DT, England
Thursday 30th May 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Thumpermonkey + Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi
The Victoria, 186 Hoe Street, Walthamstow, London, E17 4QH, England
Friday 31st May 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Daniel O’Sullivan (& special guests) + Tega Mendes
Westminster Kingsway College, 211 Gray’s Inn Road, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8RA, England
Tuesday 4th June 2019, 6.30pm
– information here

The Cesarians + The Silver Field
Westminster Kingsway College, 211 Gray’s Inn Road, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8RA, England
Thursday 6th June 2019, 6.30pm
– information 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.




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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

 

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

2 Apr

Kammer Klang, 6th & 7th April 2019

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

Dates:

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

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

April 2019 – upcoming London experimental gigs – Sonic Imperfections at Telegraph Hill Festival with Darkroom, Handäoline, Jo Thomas and Minus Pilots (5th) and your chance to jump into some more of their Festival work yourself (13th)

1 Apr

Having inveigled their way into a second home in a hilltop church a stone’s throw from New Cross (and half a klick away from their usual home at the Montague Arms), south London experimental evening Sonic Imperfections are presenting an early April sound’n’space gig at the end of the coming week, continuing their ongoing work with the Telegraph Hill festival. It features various contributions from Darkroom, Handäoline, Jo Thomas and Minus Pilots, all endeavouring to fill up the nave and the arch with reverberance of one kind or another.

Sonic Imperfections, 5th April 2019

Despite now being geographically split between Hertfordshire (where guitarist Michael Bearpark lives) and Edinburgh (where synthesist and reedsman Andrew Ostler is making solo inroads into the Scottish improvisation scene), the Darkroom duo remain tightly loyal to each other even as they stay conceptually loose, artistically inscrutable and absolutely in command of their vivid, grand scale abstractions after twenty years of making them. The boiling, heavy-ambience starstuff of the early years (with its post-prog wails, stepped pyramids of piled-up textures and the pulses which snaked alongside club music while never being shackled to it) has long since given way to something different: Darkroom now sound woody, or deep-carved and ancient, even as their music takes place behind winking lights and modular plug-ins.

Still underrated as one of Britain’s top guitarists in that rarified field where commanding emotion meets marvellous texturology, Michael’s playing exudes both confidence and a broadminded framework; sometimes stirring up a broody hauntological fog, sometimes exuding a cobweb of ominous data, sometimes licking at the music with the fiery tongue of a melodic soloist on a tight leash. Os (increasingly drawn to his bass clarinet booms and voicings) brings the wind through the bracings and the horns to the shoreline even as he runs Darkroom’s complex instinctive sonic architecture through his custom preamps and plugins. Any Darkroom performance is an ear-opener, and this should be no exception.



 
Handäoline is a new-ish familial teaming of Death In Vegas founder-turned-experimental sonics journeyman Steve Hellier, ‘Late Junction’-eer Freya Hellier and (in a sense) Steve’s late great-uncle Wally, a soldier killed in action during the World War II offensive in Italy. The inspiration is Wally’s old melodeon (rescued from his possessions after his death and kept in the family) and his handwritten notes for a piece of 1940s pop called ‘The Chocolate Soldier’s Daughter’. On accordion, Freya recreates and acknowledges some of this history while Steve passes her playing through sound processors and adds his own contributions via laptop and mixing: laced with further sound samples from the Hellier family archives, it’s a different kind of album project, surrealizing and loosening familial memory and once-or-twice-removed community history.

It’s all new enough to stop me from being able to bring you a soundclip or two, so you’ll just have to imagine your own way into this one. As compensation, here’s the original version of Wally’s old favourite…


 
Freeforming with “raw and sensitive sonic matter” (and working mostly from her own processed voice, tabletop electronics, found sounds and a Chapman Stick), electronic instrumentalist Jo Thomas explores the world around herself in a matter-of-fact manner which emerges as suggestive, obliquely sensual abstractions. By this I don’t mean erotic-sensual (although that shouldn’t be entirely ruled out). I mean that she records her impressions of atmospherics, situational weight and association, weighs them and returns them to us transformed or blanketed in evocative, unearthly, sometimes confrontational noise.

By some distance the most experimental act on the bill, Jo’s an abstract expressionist of sound. Her music takes varied shapes – the slow-evolve fluting-organ drones of 2017’s ‘Random Feathers’ (electrophonically realising her reflections on Emily Dickinson); the conglomerations of large-scale equipment hiss and rumble from a particle accelerator, as recorded and reworked on 2011’s Crystal Sounds Synchrotron; the recent Radiophonic inspirations of Natures Numbers (in which Jo follows in the blip-and-ghost-ridden footsteps of Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram, and adds a few of her own, a fellow traveller). At the input stage, her inspirations are clues: by the output stage, they’ve become mysteries.


 
Minus Pilots are bassist Adam Barringer and percussionist Matt Pittori: post-rockers who’ve drifted far from rock. Their sounds are gentle, post-industrial, even a little reverent. They’re the kind of holy minimalism you might get from an allegedly reformed psych-rocker sitting quietly and shaggily among the congregation towards the back of the church, secretly tonguing a decal of blotter acid as he eyes the rose window and daydreams of the ruins of an old chocolate factory. Expect hum and crackle, expect frayed fences and distant boom; expect the sound of a parched-out spiritual rinse; expect, too, the shatter of free jazz as Matt cuts a little loose.



 

* * * * * * * *

Sonic Imperfections, 13th April 2019

Continuing their Telegraph Hill Festival work this month, Sonic Imperfections are also running a sign-up and turn-up immersive event for improvisers in Telegraph Hill Park on 13th April, as part of the Festival’s 25th Anniversary Spectacular. This involves a shifting, spontaneous play-along to a silent film or two as well as providing the sonic backdrop to an audience being led around the park. If you’re interested in playing, you can put your name down here on the Facebook page.

* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Sonic Imperfections presents:
Darkroom + Handäoline + Jo Thomas + Minus Pilots
St Catherine’s Church, 102a Pepys Road, Telegraph Hill, London, SE14 5SG, England
Friday 5th April 2019, 8.00pm
– information here

Sonic Imperfections presents:
Sonic Imperfections @ Telegraph Hill Festival 2019 – 25th Anniversary Spectacular
Telegraph Hill Park (Lower Park), Pepys Road, Telegraph Hill, London, SE14 5TJ, England
Saturday 13th April 2019, 8.30pm
– information 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
 

September 2018 – upcoming London experimental gigs – eight for WITCiH’s ‘The State of Gender?’ festival (26th to 28th September) – Bishi, Chagall, Miri Kat, Di Mainstone, Lia Mice, Vicky O’Neon, Rebekah Ubuntu and Gazelle Twin

17 Sep


 
Music tech initiative WITCiH (positive, feminist, genderfluid, multicultural) returns to its regular canalside home at the end of the month, for its first work as a full commissioning platform. ‘The State of Gender?’ is a full festival following several standalone WITCiH concerts over the past few years. While open to all genders, skin tones and persuasions, the three nights of the festival present, foreground and celebrate WITCiH’s central preoccupations – women, technology and creativity. In additional, they continue to promote WITCiH’s extended interest in teasing out and broadening (and, where necessary, seizing) opportunities generally only offered to the male, the straight and the white, and sharing them out across a wider community.

If this sounds like a revolution, it’s a charming and positive one. The people in and around WITCiH are unafraid to critique and push against orthodoxy, and are equally unafraid of their own strength and potential; but this is primarily a celebration rather than a catharsis. Enthusiastic about its geekery, revelling in dressing up and performance, it seems to call into being a place and time in which the worst of patriarchal glowering and rigidity has been dispelled or dissolved; where the culture wars have been won from dance and crafting studios, and from workshops and sheds where electronic components are used to reel in the future. A place and time in which people are just free to get on with open-ended, humanitarian tech-play.

As regards how to get there, there’s a good interview here, at ‘Wyldemag’, in which WITCiH co-founder (and living, walking, proactive “giant culture clash”) Bishi points out her cultural-creative ethos, and that of WITCiH. “People are deciding – especially women and people of colour – that the simple answer is that you have to invest. I mean, it’s great that there’s more awareness and blah blah blah, but it’s really simple, with the minority groups in society, it’s not just about building awareness; it’s the sustained investment that comes with that. And, of course, all the social media and stuff is helpful, but living in a city is so expensive, and politically, everything is so rough and uneven and uncertain, and there’s something powerful about a collective of people coming together physically.”

On this occasion, it’s eight women (or, to be more precise, seven women plus a non-binary person with a female name) coming together. In amongst the music, three of them are going to be providing lectures – physical-pop explorer Chagall, “movician” Di Mainstone and conceptual wildcard Gazelle Twin.

Amsterdam-born but London-based, Chagall is an electronic music singer-songwriter, producer, and performer inspired by a wide-ranging collective-culture range of influences including “nature, Greek poetry, Bjork, James Blake, Beethoven, Nina Simone, Erykah Badu, Joni Mitchell & Miriam Makeba.”. Her particular musical approach embraces gestural and reactive technology: she was an early adopter of a key gestural synth controller, the Mi.Mu Gloves, and her performances involve choreography and triggered interactive visuals.



 
Chagall’s interest in body-gestural sound sourcing is shared – and then some – by “movician” Di Mainstone: artist-in-residence for Queen Mary College at the University of London, and one of the “new generation visionaries” of the international digital arts scene (according to the ‘New York Times’). Working with researchers from QMC’s Centre for Digital Music and Media Arts & Technology, Di creates musical instruments as wearable technology for dancers: electronic extensions of the human body, triggered by movement. These include the Human Harp (which she uses to play suspension bridges), the spring-based Whimsichord, the squeeze’n’jig Hydrochordion, the limb-like “choreophonic prosthetic” Serendipitichord and – outside of music – the Scorpions (a set of kinetic garments with a life of their own). Di also coined the “movician” term – a name for a player of her devices, “a hybrid artist who explores and composes sound through movement.”


 
Earlier on, I suggested that WITCiH was predominantly utopian. The work of Gazelle Twin provides a hellish counterpoint indicating that there’s still plenty of struggles to go through, whether it’s from sinister social forces or our own unacknowledged darknesses.

Beneath her alarming/exciting dual skins of latex costumery and processed sound, Gazelle Twin is Elizabeth Bernholz – composer, producer, incantationeer, framework-overturner and time-traveller. Via loops, sampling and processing, her work jams and transforms acoustic and Early Music sources (recorder, harpsichord, female chorus) against found sounds and electronic “shades of ‘90s house and the once-thriving rural rave scene, albeit recalled as a watery, second-hand memory.” The results buck and bray, ripple and snarl; delivering disturbing, liberating dreamscapes and warning fables with a violently physical component. In her videos, we see hissing ferocious folk devils battling it out; or blank-masked hooded figures capering and proliferating, barking and twitching like dysfunctional maenads. Much of it comes across as mingled summoning, exorcism and terrible warning. There’s rather a lot of teeth, and an underlying exploration of specific modern sicknesses via primeval mythology (redressed in manmade synthetics).

Elizabeth’s lecture promises to unpack and reveal the complex vision of one of Britain’s most unsettling and unexpectedly timely artists: it will cover the creation of the latest Gazelle Twin audio-visual project ‘Pastoral‘, including the influences and ideas behind this year’s Hobby Horse single and video (the aforementioned devilfest). En route, it will branch out into related fields exploring “fascism and horror in the English landscape past and present, (Elizabeth’s) own creative process from writing to recording/production, and her identity as a working artist and mother.”



 
Other musicians will be performing newly commissioned audio-visual music pieces. Bishi herself is performing in the middle of the bill on all three nights. There’s no specific clues as to what she’s doing, but on past form expect a melange of some or all of the following:

  • interlocking pop forms (from classic English to Eurosynth to Hindi filmi songs).
  • a headlong, full-on involvement with the intersection of grand costume and high fashion.
  • sitars, ukeleles, extended voice and Ableton synth controllers.
  • traditional folk material from the Balkans to Bengal; classical ideas from Hindustani tradition to contemporary opera.
  • vocal inspirations from Meredith Monk and Yoko Ono.
  • fervent and earnest positive politics (including song cycles about immigration, and a long-standing loyalty to queer club culture).
  • and finally, Bishi’s own strong and self-willed musical identity, which never rules out a willingness to interact or integrate with anyone from Sean Lennon to the London Symphony Orchestra (and with anything from interactive wind-harps to Christina Rosetti poems and giant floating holograms of Tony Benn).



 
By day, Miri Kat works as a Novation Music engineer, designing and finessing electronic musical instruments. She’s also a combined audio-visual artist and music producer, interested in algorithmic music, webtech and generative visuals, with further interests in hacking, live coding and immersive multimedia in general. Mainly composed with Max/MSP Supercollider (and with found sounds live-coded from open ecosystems with open-source tools), her productions provide “hyperactive textures (and) ephemeral collages, in turns frenetic and and lyrical, in a unique brand of glitchy grindcore for a post-Internet age.”

 
Lia Mice‘s work covers multiple bases: live electronic artist, producer, DJ and instrument designer. Sometimes she’s to be found applying her live analog sampling skills across “high energy vinyl-hybrid” DJ sets of electro, Italo, tech noir, acid and “weird-pop”. At other times she applies them to live sets of original music alongside “self-hacked” instruments and Max/MSP, while her recordings can stir in eight-track tape mangling alongside influences from Laurie Anderson, BBC Radiophonics and electronica across forty years from German pioneers to American outliers. Live sets also feature both live voice sampling and Lia’s own custom-designed tactile-interface instruments – such as the Delia Derbyshire-inspired Reeltime sound manipulator (based on a broken reel-to-reel tape recorder) and the suspended tap’n’tilt/swing/spin ChandeLIA (designed to blend the organic bell-like sound of tapping on a metal chandelier with the sound of the electricity powering its lights).

A major WITCiH supporter, Lia also designs sonic sculptures, is a contributor to the Augmented Instruments Lab in the Centre for Digital Music and is “forever taking refuge in the mysteries of the sonic universe.” Her third solo album, ‘The Sampler As A Time Machine’, is a selection of “experimental dance x wave-y industrial x parallel-dimension pop tracks”. For the festival, she’ll be presenting a lecture based on the album and its studio experiments (themselves inspired by time travel writings by philosophers, physicists, neurologists and psychologists from Mark Fisher to Oliver Sacks to Stephen Hawking).



 
An explosively enthusiastic character (and WITCHiH regular), Vicky O’Neon performs in a dazzle of beats plus shocking day-glo costumery and makeup. Born Vicky Österberg in Finland, she was originally a class-topping, award-winning drummer and percussionist at the British Institute of Modern Music. She went on to work around the world as sessioneer and tour-band member for the likes of Pharell Williams, Johnny Marr, Hans Zimmer and assorted live-set DJs. Since summer 2017, she’s gone solo, buoyed up by the success and positivity of her parallel work in tech/instrumental teaching and in co-founding girl-promoting music initiatives Girls Rock London, Rock Donna and Racuma.

Vicky characterises herself as a “relentlessly optimistic Riot Grrrl multi-instrumentalist, with fluoro-glowing intentions to inspire the masses with harmony, laughter and love … on a mission from a higher plane of consciousness, devoted to the elevation of human vibration.” Her one-woman show involves her making a delightful proactive racket via drum pads, loopstations, acoustic percussion, body-worn percussion triggers and MicroKorg synth, plus her own “tongue-in-cheek lyrics and visuals”. As the founder of the Electric Vegetable Orchestra she also mixes tech with vegetable husbandry, carving new instruments from fruit, tubers and other root vegetables, then playing them through loops and effects to create “catchy tunes and singalongs with the audience.” However she chooses to entertain you at WITCiH, she’s certainly got plenty of options to choose from.



 
Vicky’s fellow BIMM graduate Rebekah Ubuntu is a multimedia performance artist, musician and culture scholar experimenting with “ideas of futurism, rebellion, and paradoxes” filtered through queer, non-binary, black and feminist perspectives. Their work spans synthwave, glitch music, techno and various forms of Afro-futurism (including reference to black poets and writers such as Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler, black rock and punk statement, and Afro-orientated pop/house/trap/beat forms) as well as electronic soundscapes and vocal manipulations.

As with most of the other participants, Rebecca’s got a strong allegiance to (and grounding in) club culture, and they’ve recently played sets at black pride, queer and general futurist events from Berlin to Norwich and Birmingham’s FLUID festival. Outside of clubwork, previous work has included last year’s ‘trans.mission.Q’ sonic installation project for Tate Britain (in which Rebecca posed as an extra-terrestrial DJ encouraging gallery visitors to “add your voice(s) to the live soundscape as we broadcast our earthly messages to the remotest regions of outer space”. They also recently guest-edited new music webzine ‘The Sampler’, interviewing five queer, trans & non-binary sound-and-music artists about the intersection of their identities with their music.

 
* * * * * * * *

Full dates:

  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 1: Chagall (lecture) + Bishi + Miri Kat – Wednesday 26th September 2018
  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 2: Di Mainstone (lecture) + Bishi + Lia Mice + Vicky O’Neon – Thursday 27th September 2018
  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 3: Gazelle Twin (lecture) + Bishi + Rebekah Ubuntu – Friday 28th September 2018

All events are at The Barge House, 46a De Beauvoir Crescent, De Beauvoir Town, London, N1 5RY, England at 7.00pm. Further information is here, here and here.

Note that on the evening of the 27th – the day before her appearance at the festival – Gazelle Twin will also be making a live in-store appearance at Rough Trade East off Brick Lane, performing tracks from ‘Pastoral’.
 

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