Out With The Old Withholds The New: Rum Music By Russell Cuzner
, October 3rd, 2016 08:41
Russell Cuzner surrenders to the vast repository of all sound, where he finds artists using old doors to arrive in new worlds. Follow him on a journey that takes in Thomas Brinkmann’s genetically-modified piano, Æthenor’s automatic odyssey, Delphine Dora’s avant-occultism, Lustmord’s deep space devotion and diverse other encounters in Rum sounds from outwith
There has been talk recently of strike action by the Rum Music Library's Acquisitions team. And it is not the first time - ever since the Library started admitting digital releases in addition to the ongoing flood of compact discs, polyvinyl records and magnetic tapes, there has been unrest afoot. No one disagrees that opening the doors to soft soundware exponentially increases an already intimidating quantity of physical releases awaiting consideration, but it has provoked the under-resourced Acquisitions team to question the existing protocols for admissions.
Last year they argued for the abolition of the Library's longstanding practice of listening to each new release, in full, a minimum of three times. Although relaxing the rule would clearly cut their workload in an instant, the board were unswayed and the tradition holds firm, dating back as it does to the Library's distant origins and drilled into every inductee ever since with the dodgy dictum:
"Once is to meet, twice is to greet, but thrice is to sit down in a neighbouring seat."
The poorly conveyed, yet important, observation being: not until a third spin does one begin to listen with the insightfulness only familiarity can bring.
So, despondently, Acquisitions continue to explore other ways they might reduce the ceaseless tsunami of tones terminally headed their way. The latest being the introduction of a ‘new-ness’ filter. They propose that any work resembling something that had gone before should be instantly rejected on grounds of re-treading areas already explored. Currently, they feel this would greatly help them in their plight by allowing many works based on drones, field recordings, static noise or modular synthesis to be culled.
The immediate difficulty here is in concluding what constitutes new anyway? An initial listen to the recent, superlative re-release on Karlrecords of Xenakis' La Légende d’Eer yields an instant impression that contemporary soundscapes of electronic noise and ancient instruments had been mapped decades ago. Created to mark the opening of Paris’ Centres George Pompidou in 1978, the work combines stochastic synthesis with exotic acoustic instruments to immerse its listeners in a constantly moving sea of abstract sounds that still feels ‘new’ today.
And what if your 'new' is not someone else's? The universe of sound is so spectacularly vast that many artists could be following similar routes without being in sight of each other. Listening being so subjective anyway - one person's new can be another's retro revival, and tomorrow the contextual positions can change again as what you listen to now affects what you listen to next.
While the problem of choice in an over-abundant orchard remains, the question of new-ness increasingly feels old and tired. Instead of discriminating, categorising and commodifying music into successive genres, perhaps it should be regarded as a singularity - a continuum of sound - into which many paths may lead. Here, as well as aspiring to place signposts to newly discovered openings, we should not ignore the rarefied diversions accessed through well-trodden doorways.
Thomas Brinkmann – A 1000 Keys
On A 1000 Keys Thomas Brinkmann enters the sound continuum through what is arguably one of the most used entrances in the history of music - the piano. But he then swiftly takes a side route to arrive in genuinely unchartered territory. Even though the Cologne-resident is sat at a four-hundred-year old instrument, steeped in histories both classical and experimental, the results remarkably remain wholly consistent with his own unique outputs. Previously these have more often been born of a stubborn minimalism; be it hyper-repetitive techno 12"s, diffusing ambiguous noises or a straight recording of a Honda V1000 engine, all ultimately rewards the earnest listener by laying the fascinating qualities of his chosen sounds bare. And A 1000 Keys is no different in this respect.
This latest release finds a dry piano, as if recorded in an anechoic chamber, frenetically mutating in a series of 18 movements. The accompanying press release convincingly, yet loosely, reveals their recording process as a consequence of digitised notes subjected to various algorithms. The results are more often restlessly twitching patterns, their stuttering and chattering often menacingly focussed on the lower notes with the occasional, acidic squelch. Together they promote unsettling, unique rhythms sometimes analogous to the voodoo of Cut Hands, hypnotic yet hard. But the album also presents the piano as a metabiological entity, dramatically accelerating its already long evolution, like a rampant, uncontained genetic modification, to arrive at a new species.
Mark Fell / Laura Cannell / Peter J Evans / Rhodri Davies – Broken Telephone (Broken Telephone)
Exploring the subjectivities involved in listening and rupturing the idea of authorship on the way is the name of the game here. These recordings originally formed part of Newcastle-based multimedia artist Peter J Evans' exhibition Across Islands, Divides from 2015 when he invited electronic auteur Mark Fell, free improvising harpist Rhodri Davies, and experimental folk violinist Laura Cannell to play what in less politically-correct times may well have been called ‘Chinese Whispers’.
Each artist was tasked to contribute one new solo composition and pass it on to the next on their list. The recipient was then allowed to hear it only once before creating a 'cover version' for another to respond to in the same way. The results are presented across four EPs, each bearing second, third and fourth generation interpretations of their opening tracks.
The musicians bravely reveal what they've managed to grasp with such limited exposure, their lack of familiarity or map leaving memory (and maybe a quick bit of note-taking) as their only means of navigation. While as listeners we get to play an inverted version of the game, identifying what carried through and what got lost in the process.
The sheer fascination that this nifty experiment exudes is testament to the four talents whose modes of expression stand in contrast to each other. Operating within a limited process outside their normal, authorial strategies, does nothing to diminish their shared and infectious delight in a full spectrum of sonic possibilities, while providing the listener with an insight into their working minds.
Æthenor – Hazel
In 2009 when Æthenor transposed their studio-based approach into live performances of free improvisations they recruited percussionist and improv master Steve Noble. The change suggested the band were pushing for an absolute freedom that went beyond their already liberated methods practiced elsewhere - from Daniel O'Sullivan’s multi-instrumental contributions to post-proggers Guapo, through the metal minimalism of Sunn O)))'s Stephen O'Malley to the blackened soundtracks of Kristoffer Rygg's Ulver. The refined line-up and approach was witnessed in various venues across the globe in 2010, including a residency recorded in Blå, Oslo's alt music venue (which now faces closure), whose unrehearsed results were released the following year. En Form For Blå remained the only evidence of this quest to channel the world of sound uninfluenced by cerebral, composerly concerns - until now, that is.
Hazel presents "extensively edited and supplemented" live recordings from later that same year to offer an enthralling adventure. Pulsating bass tones from O'Malley's otherwise understated guitar heavily punctuate O'Sullivan's noir themes on Rhodes keyboard and Rygg's modular synth surges, the combination risking instability were it not for Noble's persistent, percussive weave. Perhaps the most rewarding part of the Æthenor experience, however, is when the disparate voices coalesce, like on ‘Ermanna’ (named after the dancer depicted on Hazel's cover); the brain, no longer identifying the individual players, basks in the exhilaration of the combined force - an abstract expressionism in constant flux. The performance, and perhaps the editing, plays with this to dramatic effect, sending its listeners on a trip that steers in and out of consciousness.
Saint Francis Duo – Los Bordes De Las Respuestas
Since performing the material captured across Hazel the members of Æthenor have collaborated here and there in different configurations but sadly not as an ongoing unit. However, O'Malley and Noble continue to play together semi-regularly as Saint Francis Duo and Los Bordes De Las Respuestas is now the third document of their live improvisations. Whereas Æthenor travelled an inner universe of sound, Saint Francis Duo's stripped back set up instead forms earthlier, more organic panoramas.
The combination of O'Malley's low-end, electrical suspensions and Noble's short bursts of skin and metal, the former requiring minimal gestures to trigger and sustain, the latter relying on constant muscle movement, presents a union of the macro and micro. Here, Noble feels like he is defining the intricate details of a surface, while O'Malley imparts a sense of the underlying weight, to arrive at a three-dimensional sculptural form.
Perhaps encouraged by the exquisite coastal illustration on the LP's cover by Ken Reaume, the form comes across as the sea, the percussion painting the dance of the waves, from ripples to roars, while the guitar is the depths shifting far more slowly beneath. Together they build up to a huge whirlpool that is unfortunately cut off in its prime by the end of the first side before resuming on the second, briefly breaking Saint Francis Duo's potent spell. But from thereon this awesome tempest is performed uninterrupted, the peaks and troughs seeming so natural as to be the result of telepathy.
The Stargazer’s Assistant – Remoteness of Light
(House of Mythology)
The Stargazer's Assistant maps a similar cosmos to Æthenor and Saint Francis Duo in that it uses free improvisation with percussion at its core to transport its listeners. Indeed, it started out as the solo project of David J Smith, who worked extensively with Æthenor's Daniel O'Sullivan in Guapo, later inviting him to appear on the first Stargazer’s LP in 2007. But for this third outing he has recruited a new crew, this time from his colleagues in the constellation of Cyclobe for whom Smith has provided percussion. Here he is joined by David J Knight, who forms half of Unicazürn with Cyclobe's Stephen Thrower, and Michael J York whose esoteric pipes have blown through both Cyclobe and Coil recordings.
With such auspicious assistance the ride is unsurprisingly illuminating and ethereal. Its mix of modern and ancient instrumentation gives rise to a sense of alien space technology made from organic materials, as 'Agents Of Altitude', the first of three twenty-minute pieces, describes a launch from an enchanted forest. The percussion is played as much on chimes, bells and other objects as it is on drums, while the outsider folk vibe of the wyrd woodwinds treads through the rising synth trails. The second track, 'World Of Amphibia' even settles into a smooth, jazzy groove as if encountering a celebration on another world, made all the more gratifying by the thick, reedy tones of York's duduk. The final track follows suit by building into a plucked theme reminiscent of Hassell's Fourth World explorations before the rare, intoxicating sounds steadily deconstruct and dissipate, and are set adrift in the unknown.
Delphine Dora – Les Fruits De Mes Songes
On Les Fruits De Mes Songes Delphine Dora delivers a different, perhaps darker, shade of the unknown. Sixties psyche folk, Christian hymns and nursery songs - styles regularly deployed in horror films to deepen the mystery - seem syncretically blended here. Such is the uniqueness of her possessed, child-like song, the brain immediately grasps for such reference points lending these eight new pieces a haunted air.
Alternating between piano, harpsichord and what sounds like a church organ, the traditional accompaniment reinforces the eerieness. 'Harp-psi-chord' has Dora playing daintily on baroque keys to form a stately, old courtyard over which her wordless, tentative plainsong evokes a ghostly dance. On the following track, 'Oraculum', her calling voice becomes layered, the untranscribable lyrics translate as a channeling over which a church organ seeps in like ground fog. Elsewhere, small bells, a harp and whispers suitably gild the sung séance.
The compositions remain remarkably in flux between harmony and atonality yet somehow retain a classical elegance throughout. This leads to suspicions that their intent was not to spook, but to transgressively experiment to forge new forms from ancient modes, forms so new they unwittingly inspire misdirected associations. But, come the end of the album, when dogs are howling into the wind and Dora accompanies them so effectively as to believe both woman and beast are singing the same language, the occult theories seem undeniable.
Korea Undok Group/ Sargasso Sea/ Purple Circles – Korea Undok Group
The elusive collective and label known as Korea Undok Group is based in Winnipeg and releases cassettes of mysterious music by themselves and other, equally opaque, artists such as Sargasso Sea and Purple Circles. But the anonymity of its members and motives doesn't shroud their shared, tightly-focussed aesthetic demonstrated throughout Penultimate Press' superb round-up of tracks from the label’s first five releases.
The three pieces taken from Sargasso Sea's RBC Royal Bank tape, released in an edition of just 31 last year, epitomise the Group's stark, almost brutalist, look and feel. 'Patria' sounds like a slow march through the labyrinth of an industrial air conditioner, 'Winnipeg Downtown Skywalk' has the splash of cars and scattered voices underscored by a feint but insistent thrumming, while 'Richardson Reading Terrace' floats an oddly serene drone along a dusty pavement.
The pieces attributed to the Group themselves follow a similar path, but tend to add tentative, solemn piano vignettes to their built environment. Theirs is an unsettling juxtaposition of urban field recordings smudged by tonal and percussive elements where neither is foregrounded.
Indeed, the lead 'instrument' is clearly the recording medium itself - the tape - whose possessed hiss breathes heavily over all recordings on the album. It consistently situates the listener in an otherwise dry street scene, but subtly transforms it with loops and saturation, as though burrowing into the fabric of reality, invoking the dormant soul of the city.
Grischa Lichtenberger – Spielraum/ Allgegenwart/ Strahlung
Whereas the original industrial music expanded minds with hidden knowledge on authority, occult and psychopathy, Lichtenberger's touches on equivalent contemporary currents in his bewildering, and at times impenetrable, post-modern notes for this trilogy of EPs. Each acknowledges pros and cons of the new – how it is enabled through freedom before asserting a new authority over us. The examples he gives aren't always easy to decipher, but have a unifying theory of invisibility: Spielraum explores the "invisible freedom" of having "room to play" in which there is a choice to create or conform; Allgegenwart talks of the "excessive demands" of our, now omnipresent, technology; and Strahlung is concerned with "invisible force" using radiation to illustrate a technology both healing and decimating.
Lichtenberger's precision-engineered kicks and snaps suggest an automated technology, often by way of a mean electro-funk, that draws a series of temporal grids. Therein, synthetic pulses and suspensions busily react to form kaleidoscopic compounds, wholly suiting raster-noton's singular house style of a bio-techno with clean room production values. But the most intriguing and affecting passages are when Lichtenberger's audio assays compromise the integrity of the grid or do away with it entirely like on Allgegenwart's closing track. It has ominous tones spreading beneath a keynote speech about a miracle weight-loss formula to turn the sales pitch into a Cronenberg-style body horror.
Taken as a whole the three EPs suggest a technological cycle of adoption, propagation, dominance and extinction. With these themes in mind Lichtenberger's fascinating sonic mutations escape the lab and suitably score our present-day post-industrial landscape.
Lustmord – Dark Matter
Heard on lightweight headphones Dark Matter could be musicians working with recordings of the wind. They admirably foreground the dance of air - wisps slowly whipping up a foreboding gale – their instruments remain restrained, providing background colour but never taking the lead, as their gentle tones get swept then smothered by the elements. On this level, it reminded me of the soundtrack to The Revenant, but not so much the superb music composed for the film by Ryuichi Sakamoto and alva.noto, but the rich environmental sound design of the wind in the trees that played equal part in imparting the strong sense of a bleak but magical wilderness.
But upscale the playback to an amp and decent speakers and, while the bleak, magical wilderness still rings true, it is no longer of this earth. Dark Matter, the latest in a long line of epic scale soundworks from Brian Williams AKA Lustmord, uses 'electromagnetic vibrations' captured from various cosmological phenomena such as interstellar plasma, pulsars and flares. These recordings, sometimes not within our perceptible audio range, were then sculpted by Lustmord's highly experienced hands to arrive at a suite of three twenty-minute parts. Given the right playback equipment they impart a terrifying sense of scale that belittle the listener regardless of having prior knowledge of the sound sources.
But as well as this novel, if terrifying, feeling of insignificance and awe, Dark Matter has a strong and moody musical undertow throughout. Ghostly choral residues and long, sluggish streaks of low end, like the exhaust trails of the deep space freighters of the Terran Trade Authority, emerge from the nebulous drift. This positions it far from a documentary on the sounds of space and instead artfully arrives at a sonic ritual or devotional hymn to the universe.
Tracklist for Rum Music mix
00:00-00:20 Intro (includes an excerpt from Music of the Spheres - Johanna Beyer / 1938)
00:19-03:40 TLV - Thomas Brinkmann (from A 1000 Keys / Editions Mego 2016)
03:36-09:01 1.2 - Laura Cannell (from Broken Telephone / Broken Telephone 2016)
08:49-15:48 Anaïs - Æthenor (from Hazel / VHF Records 2016)
15:45-20:53 Untitled (excerpt) - Saint Francis Duo (from los border de las respuestas / Dropa Disc 2016)
20:32-25:44 World of Amphibia (excerpt) - The Stargazer’s Assistant (from Remoteness of Light / House of Mythology 2016)
25:41-33:40 demain les chiens - Delphine Dora (from le fruit de mes songes / Bezirk 2016)
31:26-36:31 There Is Always Somewhere Else - Korea Undok Group (from Korea Undok Group / Penultimate Press 2016)
36:05-45:31 noin_rev+111510d2 - Grischa Lichtenberger (from Allgegenwart / raster-noton 2016)
44:57-51:56 Black Static (excerpt) - Lustmord (from Dark Matter / Touch 2016)
51:52-52:12 Outro ((includes an excerpt from Music of the Spheres - Johanna Beyer / 1938)