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Rum Music

Rum Music For February Reviewed By Jennifer Lucy Allan
Jennifer Lucy Allan , February 19th, 2020 08:58

Jennifer Lucy Allan is back with polyglot adventures in the future overground, the current underground and the emotional edgelands, tracking Finnish blues, Fluxus crying spaces, neural networks and long string instruments

Jennifer Walshe portrait by Blackie Bouffant

I'm writing this from a hotel room in Medellin, Colombia, where I've been teaching and talking on a British Council project about what music journalism is like in the UK versus Colombia, running a workshop about writing which I myself always benefit from despite delivering it. Instead of talking about what makes writing good, it's easier (and funnier) to talk about what's bad – clichés, boring adjectives, vagueness, hedges, and other writerly crimes I like to indulge in here - apparently imagining that this column is located in the publishing equivalent of international waters.

I picked up as much Spanish as possible in a short space of time so I don't sausage-egg-and-chips it through the week. My host taught me to say the equivalent of "how's it going, mate?", which is going down very well until everyone learns immediately after that I am not fluent, and can only understand basic directions, choices between meat or cheese, or order drinks. However, I love jobs like this, because nothing beats a meatspace confab about music with new people. Add food and booze and it's about the best way to learn stuff, understand how things work somewhere else, and hear a different perspective than your own narrow purview.

Thanks to Maria del Rosario having a much better grasp of my mother tongue than I do of hers, I have some music to check out that I would not have found otherwise – the collective she's a part of, Todopoderosa, something unclassifiable from Bogota that may or may not be post punk, and a Colombian sub genre called neo-perreo. I suppose I could have found all this on my own, but the point I'm laboriously making is that I wouldn't have, as the hurdles are too many, with infinite distractions in the way. Because whatever is otherwise in front of me is just a tiny piece of the pie; a sliver of knowledge. Even if I venture beyond the English-speaking internet and into the realm of that which is Google-translated, it's still a mere scattering of all the forms and styles and sounds that exist right now on edgelands and undergrounds.

It is perhaps because of these uncooked thoughts about the communication, understanding, and sharing of music, that so much of this month's Rum Music is about language, whether it's multi-lingual, in a second language, or constructed from algorithmically-generated utterances.

Urs Graf Consort – Uva Ursi
(Bison)


When Abby (aka Bison records) got in touch about this record she sent a PDF of some OU Revue-worthy sleevenotes that contains stories of horse-dissection, of white whales learning to speak, quotes from Montaigne, still life of drapery and the bum of a statue. To give you an idea of where they're coming from, the list of influences includes Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Sue Tompkins, the Marx Brothers, and Bach.

There are songs on here, but only in so far as Trout Mask Replica is a record of songs. It is odd and compelling and brilliant, a record that opens a rabbit hole and I have barely scratched the surface of what it is about. So far it seems to be about the past, but without putting any of that material in a historical or imitative encounter, working in opposition to conceptions of traditional repertoire in performance and concept. There is harpsichord and grouped voices, often singing in untrained chanted songs – in Italian, French, Spanish and Danish.

While listening I took my headphones off for a moment, leaving a harpsichord and female voices. When I returned a minute later it had become something that sounded like a ping-pong game with a bullfrog for an umpire.

Ellen Fullman – In The Sea
(Superior Viaduct)

There has never been an awful lot in the way of available recordings of Ellen Fullman's long string instrument, and so this 2LP of long form pieces is welcome. They were made in 1987 at an unfinished office tower in Austin, Texas, with one from a performance in Holland in 1988. I love the photo of Fullman on the front, if she wasn't playing a one-of-a-kind instrument she had invented she could be sanding down a high school woodwork project.

I'm not sure how I feel about it being recorded in the first place because there is something so inherently spatial about the instrument's sound (which is exactly what it sounds like – an instrument Fullman designed and built with very long strings). However, I can put aside my doubts and audiophile snobbery for this record because it is lush. There's four long pieces on here, two for more than one player, which means the strings can accumulate into affecting densities of the sort Sunn O))) would be proud – almost riffs, but drawn out riffs over drawn out strings over drawn out moments. Maximum expansion.

Sun Araw – Rock Sutra
(Sun Ark)

I once went to see Sun Araw in this current incarnation in Bristol, and got the giggles so badly I worried I was going to ruin the show. I didn't want it to come off like I was being an asshole, but the neon "Keys Cut" sign that constituted stage design, and the slightly out of time MIDI jams set me vibrating with laughter. There was something in the timing of it all that had an inherent humour I could not unhear – it felt so Vic and Bob. It was one of my favourite shows and my laughter was a sign of approval higher than any applause.

Carrying on in that vein, I think Rock Sutra sounds something like an 8-bit version of the soundtrack to Steely Dan's Making Of Aja documentary. I don't think that's a wholly accurate way to describe this live-to-MIDI album, particularly not technically, but it's the best I can do with something that sounds like nothing else.

The swing in the jams combined with the boingy and bendy MIDI comes off like a shreds that accidentally went too well and they invented a new sub-genre by accident. 'Roomboe' sounds most wonky, and 'Arrambe' is more zoney – I can hear echoes of Stallones' older material in its hollow vox. All this sounds sarcastic, or like I think it's a joke, but it's not stupid at all, it's completely brilliant.

Jennifer Walshe – A Late Anthology of Early Music Vol. 1: Ancient to Renaissance
(Tetbind)

I think if I had a coat of arms made the Latin inscription would translate to "Fuck The Canon". This latest from Jennifer Walshe is a foray into what it means to have a canon, both in the realm of AI and in the history of Western music, and speaking as a massive fan of the 12th century polymath nun Hildegard von Bingen, it's my favourite of Walshe's recent projects, sonically speaking.

Walshe writes: "In A Late Anthology, I map the development of the network's understanding of my voice onto the history of early Western music. Machine learning is used as a filter to listen to the history of early Western music; Western music history is used as a filter to listen to machine learning. In combination, they produce a new alternative tradition, a proposal for a different way of thinking about, listening to, and making, a history of Western music."

It's interesting to hear what the network has done with different elements of the music – the voice is often really breathy and uncannily bodily, at others there are percussive blasts and low-bitrate ambient. There is a light scrambling, and patterns emerge. If we're talking about early Western culture, it seems appropriate to say there's something very Oracle at Delphi about how the whole thing has come out.

Eric Andersen – The Crying Space
(Recital)

This 2CD release by Fluxus artist Eric Andersen is about his Crying Spaces – circles drawn on the floor, first in Holland and then in England and Scandinavia, in which people could step inside and have a cry. Later, he designed Crying Stones, after an art collector gave him an open brief and a blank cheque. He took the offer seriously and asked to make six billion crying stones, one each for every human on the planet.

The collector replied: “Eric, six billion is a little bit too much for me, but I’ll make 19”. These ones Eric described as being travel versions, 12kg of carved red marble intended to be held in your arms, with two small cavities to cry into, and which your tears gradually erode. “So, like you have your computer and you have your credit cards," he explained, "also you have the Crying Stone".

Andersen's idea was that crying could not be instantly read – we cry with happiness, grief, confusion, fatigue – it is not the inverse of laughter, but something more complex. This album includes two sound pieces, one of which is a collage made for French radio broadcast in 1990, the other an installation soundtrack. Includes French and English narration, classical music and the song-like grieving of a professional Karelian mourner.

Oumou Diabate et Kara Show Koumba Frifri – Music from Saharan WhatsApp 02
(Sahel Sounds)

Sahel Sounds is running a project this year where it will release one album per month, sent to the label over Whatsapp and uploaded to Bandcamp. It's then made available for that month, and that month only, as a name your price download. 100% of sales go direct to the artist, and you won't be able to get it again once its gone, so be quick, and be generous. This month's edition, by Kara Show Koumba Frifri and Oumou Diabate recorded in Bamako in Mali, has got a homely vibe, rather than being a self-conscious performance.

Standout track is "Kara Show Tamani" for the pace that gets up during a parallel sprint between Kara Show and Diabate, where the drum sounds like water and the voice enunciates in simultaneous articulation.

Keijo & Jarmo – Along The Sun & Rain
(Ikuisuus)

Sounds like listening to a pair of goblins covering The Stooges and/or Canned Heat Live under cover of night. Keijo (not to be confused with Keiji of the Haino variety) is a legend in the Finnish underground, the Finnish "master of psychfolkdroneblues". On this duo with another Finnish musician, Jarmo, there is the appealing twang of imperfectly tuned guitar blues-ing it around a vocal, and sometimes loose drums and harmonica come in.

Keijo's vocal is half spoken, an interpretation of the blues that has lost its fire from frostbite. His accented non sequiturs and disjointed platitudes can come off emotionally flat and creepy, standard blues lyrics somewhat lost in translation. At other times they are oddly charming in their vagueness, which becomes exaggerated in repetition: "Sometimes when I cannot see you around anywhere for some time... I go out of town, find me a place to sit down for a while." For fans of Jandek, probably.

Villaelvin – Headroof
(Hakuna Kulala)

This is a record by Elvin Brandhi from Yeah You (a father-daughter nasty-noisy electronics duo from Newcastle), here operating under alter ego Villaelvin on Uganda's Hakuna Kulala – the sister label to Nyege Nyege Tapes. A mean record, constructed from blasted and shredded sounds, steel-soled stomping, fried field recordings and jittering percussion. Half-bars and cut-up utterances from Ugandan rappers Hakim and Swordman Kitala lift the iron-electronics, as do cut up recordings by Kampala based percussionist Omutaba, with extra production bits from Don Zilla and Congolese producer Oise. A grower.

White Heaven – Out
(Black Editions)

White Heaven's Out is next on the Black Editions reissue roster. It's completely essential, a still smoking burned out car of a record, scorched and smoky. But there's also something deeply melancholy about it for me, particularly 'Fallin Stars End'. Damon Krukowski has done a full breakdown of the record here so I won't go on about it, apart from to say that hopefully this reissue comes with a lyric sheet that confirms the line is, in fact: "Your face just like a closet".

Various Artists – The Sun Is Setting On The World
(Death Is Not The End)

Finally, a late entry that I am still getting my teeth into. I haven't located the standout track yet, but what's not to like about a compilation of "apocalyptic rebetika recordings from the 1930s through to late '50s"? Track names are translated, and include 'Badworld', 'Untrue World', 'What Is My Blame World', and 'Bleed Bleed'.

Some fragmentary notes on other occurrences

More Bourbonese Qualk came out just before Christmas, this time Hope, from 1984. It's a banger and pacing is magnificent, goes from shouty bum dungeon to post-punk soundscapes. Mille Plateaux is back, apparently. Couple of previously unavailable pieces posted on the New Braxton House Bandcamp, including this string quartet.

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