On The Chopping Block: Transmissions From The Outer Reaches
, June 28th, 2012 06:29
Feel that rumbling underfoot? That's the sound of Rum Music emanating from the Quietus office, as Luke Turner and Rory Gibb take a tour through some of this month's outer reaches, via Emptyset, Man Forever, Thomas Koner, Human Greed, Richard Skelton & more
As we reach the middle of the year, a recent embarrassment of riches is seeping forth from the darkened corners of the musical underground, providing a nice, cooling alternative to the heat and humidity oozing through the windows and walls into the Quietus office. So Rory Gibb and Luke Turner take the opportunity to draw together a selection of some of this season's finest Rum Music, taking you on a tour from Olympic construction sites, sewers and old filing cabinets to the bloody chopping blocks of the French Revolution. Mon Dieu! L'horreur!
Man Forever – Pansophical Cataract [Thrill Jockey]
Paris, Winter 1793. You’re a pomaded, be-wigged aristo of the ancien regieme, trying to show no fear as you stand upon the wooden steps of the guillotine. Weeks in the Bastille have rendered you thin and unkempt, your knees weak. Nevertheless, you try to remain your fortitude against the braying mob that surrounds this wooden instrument of cruel death, their fetid, proletarian breath offending your prim nose. Mon Dieu! For a perfumed hankey! The leering executioner, a psychopathic creature all greasy, wiry hair, sweat and yellowed flesh, bids you kneel, and places your head into the socket, still warm with the blood of your previously despatched brethren. The blade creaks up in its groove, the vile peasantry’s cries of "Meurs, cochon d'aristo!" grow louder... praying to the Saints, you await oblivion as the drum roll that has been the last sound to fill the ears of so many begins its terrifying rumble... and rumbles... and on... and on... and on... sacre bleu! Will this torment never end?!
Such is the experience of listening to Pansophical Cataract, the batshit crazy new album from Man Forever – AKA Kid Millions, drummer from Oneida. Anyone who has witnessed the magnificent spectacle that is Oneida live will know full well just how fearsome and potent a drummer Millions is. He plays with a momentum and velocity that few can match and, despite the fact that this project was conceived of as a “punk-infused Metal Machine Music for drums”, a huge amount of soul. The two tracks featured here, ‘Surface Patterns’ and ‘Ur Eternity’ are condensed from their full lengths into 18 minute pieces. ‘Surface Patterns’ sees Millions’ tattoo eventually submerged in a violent, unpleasant eddy of abstract noise before the toms eventually return. ‘Ur Eternity’, meawhile, features a nastier scratch of electronic noise hovering above the endless roll, like a Biblical plague where stampeding buffalo accompany a swarm of locusts toward your apocalypse. This is not listening for the faint eared: when, at 18:45 it ends with a click of stick on drum rim, the silence of The Void comes as blessed relief. LT
Emptyset - Demiurge Variations [Subtext]
Subtext is currently carving out a niche for harsher concerns within Bristol's reaches, with Emptyset and Roly Porter providing a pleasantly stern sideline alongside the reams of great dance tracks trickling from the city's musical community. Not content with having delivered the coup de grace to the notion of 'knackered house' by recording this year's brilliant Medium EP inside an actual knackered house (an old mansion near Stroud in Gloucestershire, in fact), the Emptyset duo have now commissioned a remixes 12" of material from last year's Demiurge full-length, which features contributions from Porter and Paul Jebansam. Similarly to Emptyset's originals, both Porter and Jebansam use quiet-quiet-quiet-APOCALYPTICALLY-FUCKING-LOUD dynamics to carve out the topography of these remixes, like a sculptor chipping away excess marble to reveal the detail of a statue beneath. Jebansam's 'Of Blackest Grain To Missive Ruin' mostly consists of emptiness: all pressure, little release, with sub-bass rumbling like thunderclouds across your field of hearing, occasionally erupting suddenly in lightning crack and splutter (thanks to lurching walls of guitar from Gravenhurst's Nick Talbot).
The scorched-earth side of dubstep started and ended with Porter's work with Vex'd, but where that project whipped up a firestorm - made explicit by titles like Cloud Seed and sprinklings of dialogue from Blade Runner and suchlike - solo album Aftertime described the bitter reality for those left clinging to life after the event (see the BBC's chilling 1980s nuclear drama Threads for suitable visual accompaniment). His take on Emptyset's 'Function' - titled, with a clear nod to Pantera, 'A Vulgar Display Of Power' - returns to the furnace, its ruined cityscape repeatedly shaken by incendiaries. Somewhere, right now, Skrillex is glumly praying that one day he manages to be this crushingly, symphonically heavy. RG
Production Unit - ICU Tracks [Broken20]
From widespread destruction to individual discomfort: Glasgow's Production Unit's brittle, unsettling and rather brilliant ICU Tracks lances right into your personal space like an IV cannula hanging, alien, out of your arm. Like its name suggests, it's constructed entirely from the piercing frequencies emitted by various life support machines on an intensive care ward, and was inspired by spending several weeks in hospital while someone close to him was severely ill. As a means of processing the experience, he's turned to the conflicting nature of these machines - invasive and unrelenting, but both necessary and ultimately life-saving - to express the ambivalence, monotony and anxiety of spending time on the ward. As someone who's spent a reasonable number of hours in a hospital bed this year, these tracks cut right to the quick, and their rooting in a four-to-the-floor pulse is a reminder of how much the incessant chorus of medical machine bleeps can resemble the dry, interlocking blips of minimal techno.
It would take a brave DJ indeed to drop these on all but the most twisted and masochistic of dancefloors, though, as they're frequently uncomfortable listens, directly forcing you to confront the relationship between your body and the world surrounding you: 'Broken20.1' presses itself into the curve of the cochlea and refuses to budge, setting up a residency somewhere at the high-frequency end of the basilar membrane and whining there for long after the track has ended. RG
Thomas Köner - Novaya Zemlya [Touch]
Like the remote Russian archipelago from which it takes its name, from a safe distance Thomas Köner's Novaya Zemlya is beautiful and barren, its frozen wastes and jagged terrain seemingly populated by little other than snow, whipping wind and the rhythmic breaking of waves. Focus intently enough, though - like much of Köner's other work, this is a teasingly quiet album, demanding high volume and a distraction free environment - and faint stirrings of life begin to emerge, the sonic traces of an ecosystem largely imperceptible to the naked eye. They're dwarfed, though, by the main presence on this exquisitely detailed and contemplative record: the scars left by a particularly turbulent last century's worth of human activity in the region, which saw a sequence of Soviet underground and airborne nuclear weapons tests scatter the area with fallout, culminating in the detonation of the largest nuclear device ever detonated, the 50 megaton Tsar Bomba. That explosion's colossal reverberations pockmark the opening track, and the toxic residue of the event is hinted at across the album's length, with a snatch of military radio dialogue at one point screaming out of nowhere in a caustic rip of static.
Where Köner really excels here is in his imbuing of an ostensibly detached sound palette - consisting of field recordings, electronic interference and soft drones heard as if over great distance - with great emotional resonance, without resorting to tired cliche or obvious melodic manipulation. In this case, given the violence wreaked upon it, it's enough for him to simply describe the landscape and its inhabitants in the meticulous manner of a geographer or surveyor. There's nothing paranormal or psychogeographical about the sensations Novaya Zemlya stirs up: simply by placing the listener in the landscape it offers a searing critique of our species' casual disregard for the wellbeing of ourselves and our planet, and a reminder that when the damage is already this extensive, melodrama and hyperbole pale in comparison to harsh reality. RG
Richard Skelton - Verse Of Birds [Æolian Editions]
Richard Skelton is yet more proof that a cottage industry approach to music-making can yield a living for an artist, and that DIY doesn’t have to mean poor quality. I purchased Skelton’s latest release from his beautifully designed Wordpress site. It arrived, a few weeks later, in a cardboard box lined with tissue paper, the actual CD itself coming in a cardboard sleeve. I hope Skelton will forgive me, but being an inveterate snooper I entered his postcode into Google maps and had a street view, revealing that his is a cottage industry both in spirit and architecture. Previously, the wild Northern hills surrounding Skelton’s place of operation have shaped his recordings both in inspiration and sound, producing deeply transportative, evocative music that brings to mind the glint of water on granite, sheep against a grey, scudding sky, isolated buildings falling to rack and ruin.
For this release, the West coast of Ireland has supplied inspiration. Yet aside from a spray wash of cymbal in ‘Vearsa Ean’, he chooses to lead the mind and imagination rather than proscribe. Although Skelton explores the natural world with his music, he never falls into twee, pastoral evocation. Instead, this is a grapple with the sublime. So the high treble of ‘Promontory’ brings to mind slopes of scree and sharp rocks, around which a wild sea thrashes itself into foam. ‘Grey-Back (For Ceapaigh An Bhaile)’ meanwhile, uses strings to create a similar primeval eddy to what Tim Hecker achieves with organ and electronics. ‘A Kill’ has the feel of a swell rolling in from the Atlantic, still powerful days after the storm. LT
HELM - Impossible Symmetry [PAN]
At time of writing, I'm sat next to a window overlooking the backside of the Olympic village, with the only barrier between here and its perimeter fence a duckweed-covered canal. Around this time last year, the view from here was dominated by the main stadium, which squatted on bare wasteland like an enormous metal crab. Over the past nine months, the noise of workers to-ing and fro-ing has been an ever present thrum in the background. Listening to HELM's Impossible Symmetry, I'm reminded of the way this construction site ambience pours into your field of hearing and incorporates itself into the rhythms of your daily life, to the point where it's difficult to distinguish - in this case, while spinning the album in the office - whether its disembodied voices and metallic shrieks are originating from the speakers or outside the window.
For all the steely-fixed-grin optimism of the official Olympics, from this angle Luke Younger's latest album hints at its darker underbelly: areas with vast tracts of money poured into them for redevelopment pressed up against areas left dilapidated; the event's exploitation by unseemly landlords and property developers; vast corporate logos emblazoned across the capital and tenuously associated with healthy living; how any benefits to be had from the pouring of money into a short-term event are vastly outweighed by a government's continued insistence on paying its own way by delving into vulnerable peoples' pockets.
So opener 'Miniatures' delves into the sewers beneath the capital to track the flow of shit and negativity that runs beneath its surface; 'Arcane Matters', in title and tone, would likely appeal to fans of Demdike Stare, though it's grounded in urban concerns where the latter trade in rural mythologies. But for all that Impossible Symmetry is a dark and frayed listen, there's a warm glow to proceedings that prevents it from being an alienating experience. Younger - also one half of Birds of Delay, alongside Steven 'Heatsick' Warwick - engages with his source material in a very tactile way, and this album's genesis in the live arena lends it a spontaneity that suggests there's light just around the corner, just out of visual range. You might just have to climb up through that manhole to get to it. RG
Human Greed - Dirt on Earth: A Pocket Of Resistance [Omnempathy]
"The glacial symphonies of Dirt On Earth could coat the Earth in frost," reads a snippet from a review (via Was Ist Das) on the website accompanying the release of Michael Begg & Human Greed's new album. "There is no music on Earth that sounds as haunted as Human Greed." Strong words, but in this case our narrator might have a point. It's hard not to think of Coil's pronouncement on the first volume of Musick To Play In The Dark that "This is moon music": Dirt On Earth is a creature of the night, its synthetic string drones and whistling overtones pressing up against the listener and tugging at hair and clothing. Like the dead of night, too, what initially appears peaceful and idyllic can swiftly switch to menacing: 'Your Little Hand As Warm As Milk' starts comforting before its rising melodies turn sour for a brief period, introducing a note of anxiety before resolving again. The following 'Pomegranate's Endurance Medal' is far creepier, describing a barren world plagued by the hollow screech of banshees and scathed by icy winds. During its final minute, the weather clears to allow a lone piano figure space to play, the entire landscape suddenly bathed in the gently luminous glow of moonlight.
Since Russell Cuzner interviewed Begg for the Quietus a few months ago (full disclosure: Begg has since started writing the occasional feature for us), his music has gradually crept onto my radar, thanks to his involvement with Clodagh Simonds' Fovea Hex project as well as musical relationships with the likes of Andrew Liles and David Tibet. Those names give some notion of what to expect from his music thematically, too: like the above artists and others, the Human Greed aesthetic is all darkness and humour, death and magick. It touches on landscape, legend and occult practices (his last album was themed around the raising of a museum mummy from the dead, and returning its spirit to its original resting place), but presented from a personal perspective. So the geographies of Dirt On Earth - in particular majestic closer 'Scenes From The Carefree Life' - feel like secret routes through highland terrain that's already vaguely, naggingly familiar, with certain landmarks along the way reminding you briefly of your location before ushering you swiftly towards hollows and hills you've not yet explored. RG
Powell - Body Music [Diagonal]
Powell has been explicit about his music's interests via his titles: his debut was named The Ongoing Significance Of Steel & Flesh (and featured a neat little remix from King Stern himself, Karl O'Connor, aka Regis), and its follow up now arrives as Body Music. It's a little less obviously techno-leaning than its predecessor, but otherwise continues in the same vein: where contemporaries like Raime prefer their sounds as cast iron, Powell's materials are fleshier - corroded copper, rotting wood and hunks of human body. They're bolted together into ramshackle, Frankenstein's monster post-punk tracks - the caustically funky bass guitar of the title track sounds as though it was picked up by a mic accidentally left running in the corridor outside a practice session, and the tapes lobbed into a filing cabinet and untouched for the following 30 years or so. These mummified recordings have the dust blown out of their bones by punishing sub-bass muck that could have been dredged straight from the nearest canal, studded with shopping trolleys, body-part-containing bin bags and all manner of seedy detritus. The whole thing's a weirdly meditative listen, despite its rocky edges, and by the end you feel outwardly filthy but strangely purged on the inside. RG
Klara Lewis - Klara Lewis EP [self-released via Bandcamp]
Little information on this one, save a Bandcamp with a few sketchy details about recording process and three tracks of delightfully unsettling music. The three tracks on Klara Lewis' debut EP are based on field recordings made in Sweden, Turkey, Germany and Russia, and a great deal of their appeal lies in the way signifiers from these very different places rub up against one another, only occasionally embellished with blushes of static or whining voices. 'Muezzin', for example, is equal parts blistering warmth and chapping cold, with chanted voices drifting from an Istanbul place of worship abruptly taken out of setting and transported to the wastes of Siberia. '49th Hour' suggests a train chugging across tundra-esque landscape, but the listener's perspective is constantly changing: one moment you're stood on an isolated, wind-whipped station platform hearing it approach; next you're inside the carriage several hours later and someone's left the window ajar, allowing the frost outside to send its insidious tendrils snaking towards you. Listen and buy at Lewis' Bandcamp. RG
Akatombo – False Positives [Hand-Held Recordings]
False Positives comes in a sleeve featuring artwork of circuit boards on one side and a curious pink flying creature perched atop a dead plant on the other. Out with the CD drop newspaper cuttings – a teach-yourself-Japanese series cut from newspapers... a family peer nervously into a “dokutsu” (cave), monkeys climb the neck and swing from a “keibu” (giraffe). We’re informed that if it is time to be “putting that subject aside”, the correct phrase is “sore wa so to”.
Akatombo (or Paul T Kirk as his English passport has it) has created a similarly colourful and diverse, talkative record. A filmmaker and musician who released his first album in 2003 via the SWIM label, Akatombo deals in cinematic instrumental pieces that lurk with quiet horror and urgent dread, a colourful and vivid drama. ‘The Right Mistake’ sees a pacey, uncomfortable beat that comes in and out of deep electronic thrums, a cutaway shot before it all comes back. It is, oddly and perhaps appropriately enough, an Ealing Studios thriller take on something fantastical and colourful from the world of Anime. Similar duality is heard on ‘Masked’, where the swoop of piece of traditional soundtrack orchestration is crushed underfoot by the kind of electronics deployed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
The conclusion of False Positives is all drones-as-screams atmospheres (‘Necessary Fiction’) and the cross fuzz of ‘Hikiko Mori’. Before that, Akatombo’s music is akin to feelers going out across the digital ether, picking up fragments of electronic music and film soundtracks: ‘Dominion’ combines four/four techno with weird Spaghetti spangles of guitar, ‘Torsk’ takes on the dub, and the squeals and mumbles in the mechanical ‘Precariat’ suggest the night shift in an abattoir. LT