Rum Music For August Reviewed By Jennifer Lucy Allan

Jennifer Lucy Allan looks at acoustic instruments exploring machine-like qualities, from hurdy gurdy to gamelan, plus porcelain percussion, a cello, and a question over a drum machine, in this month's Rum Music

Theresa Wong

As I write and listen this month, I’m packing excitedly for the first post-pandemic edition of Supernormal, which will be over and done with by the time you read this. By next week I’m expecting to have a list of new discoveries to cover in here when deadline rolls around. This month though, roll up roll up, for a bag of my favourites, including a new Bill Orcutt album and a tape of hurdy gurdy.

Since Bill Orcutt’s at the top, I’d also like to point out that there’s a 2LP version of Harry Pussy’s You’ll Never Play This Town Again (formerly just a CD I think?) just out on Palilalia. Other notable represses and reissues this month include Gro Mig En Blomst on Badabing – an album of weathered lo-fi songs by Discreet affiliate Astrid Øster Mortensen that was released in tiny numbers in 2021, as well as two Louis Moholo Blue Notes reissues, out through Cafe Oto. One swings in that gorgeously lush way that oozes from Spirits Rejoice, the other is really taut and febrile. Finally, there’s also a repress of Emahoy Tsegue Maryam Guebrou’s Spielt Eigene Kompositionen. She’s pretty much canon by now, but this Mississippi LP has been going for big-ish dollar of late so it’s good to see it in stock again.

Essential reading this month is a special issue of the music journal Tempo, which marks Joan La Barbara’s 75th year on earth. There are essays on her Sesame Street contributions and a really detailed article on her time in West Berlin, among other pieces. Unmissable, and crucially, open access!

Anyway, must be off to finish Supernormal packing. I am not bathing before I go, because from the roofless timber shower blocks you can see sunshine and smell the woodsmoke curling through the treetops as you rinse in cool water. It is dreamy. I will arrive dirty on purpose so I have an excuse to wash.

Bill Orcutt – Music For Four Guitars

I cannot get enough of this man’s playing. Such power twang! He’s really knocking it out the park the last few years. Odds Against Tomorrow from 2019 was incredible – the first track was one of my top Orcutts ever. This new one is also knocking me for six and is a killer synthesis of different Orcutts – you’ve got the Fake Estates Bill Orcutt who does things like A Mechanical Joey and Slow Troll (in a lineage that goes back to Harry Pussy’s Let’s Build A Pussy) and classic/ American Bluesman Bill Orcutt, epitomised by his gnarled and triumphant ‘Star Spangled Banner’ or stinging covers of other songbook classics. The third strand is collaborations, and while the recent Corsano one was great I like him best solo, on guitar. Music For Four Guitars delivers some of the formalism of some of the Fake Estates releases in that it has an architecture ruling it, but the palette and blistering intensity is total gnarled Americana. Whether it’s one guitar or four, I reckon he’s my favourite living guitarist, no joke. 

Dorothy Carlos – Circuit Spectre
(American Dreams)

The track titles on this short release by Chicago sound artist Dorothy Carlos (collaborating with New York artist and synth builder Brian Oakes, who is only listed in the write up) almost go to form a sentence with alluring blanks. "I started… With command… And found… A new… In the air". An appealing question: A new what in the air? Find your answer in the EP, which is 15 minutes of geological tones rubbed in heavy grit sandpaper, or like asphalt being laid in a blizzard. It’s made on Oakes’s Untitled Sound System synth, which – if I understand this Instagram post correctly – is a framed and wall-mounted array of circuit boards, knobs and wires (absolutely no Eurorack). It’s a relatively diminutive scale for the sound it pumps out, which is beefy and guttural, massive and troglodytic. Carlos is a cellist and sound artist who mainly works in installation and performance (she’s just completing an MFA in sound in Chicago), while Oakes is a sculptor and makes all kinds of mad electronics. His website is quite the wormhole. More please!

Valentina Magaletti & Yves Chaudouët – Batterie Fragile
(Un je-ne-sais-quoi)

The sound porcelain makes – a clear ringing – is tied up in its centuries-old definition. And so it makes sense to make an instrument out of it, conceptually speaking. The Batterie Fragile is a drum kit made of porcelain by French artist Yves Chaudouët, and it has neither the clear ring of true porcelain, nor does it sound dull and thudding like the solid cheese drumkit Han Bennink once played and which it very much resembles. It is hollow. Magaletti opens as if showcasing the kit – here’s the whooping sound of a dragged mallet; here’s a glassy tinkling, a tinny clatter, a resonant thunk of rubber on hard white ceramic. I like Magaletti best when she leans in to the Liebezeit, which she does here once she’s done a recce. The rhythms flex and roll, shifting through various driving grooves that would be pretty kosmische if they weren’t being played on a porcelain kit. Some parts of this remind me a lot of the Cyclopean EP by Burnt Friedman, Jono Podmore, Liebezeit and Irmin Schmidt, and while I tend to look askance at the ‘musician plays an art piece’ schtick, this is fantastic.

Jem Finer – Hrdy-Grdy
(Thanet Tape Centre)

Neither ancient nor modern, artist Jem Finer’s brilliant Hrdy-Grdy album shadow boxes with its references and inanimate collaborators. There’s a duet with a gate, with a freight train, and with some drone-producing electronics and stuff that layers it all up. Gurdys can sound ragged with toothy jaws, or be used to lay down thickets of elongated drones for as long as an arm can crank a handle, but this is something beautifully in-between. Tones shift like mists on rolling hills in strange light but refrain from romance: there are no bucolic or pastoral scenes here, but neither is there gothic dread. Instead, the shriek and wail of heavy machines and the subtle electronic (and cast iron) augmentations illuminate the gurdy’s ability to forge a link between the rural and the industrial in its intrinsic fusion of fiddle and engineering. It strikes me it is perhaps about imagining machines making their own traditional music. I love a hurdy gurdy album, but I really love this hurdy gurdy album.

Bachir Attar With Elliott Sharp – In New York
(Fortuna Records)

Master Musician of Jajouka Bachir Attar here in 1990 playing mostly with slow-BPM clap-heavy drum machines by American composer and musician Elliott Sharp (who has released on Tzadik and collaborated with everyone from Debbie Harry to Merzbow and Christian Marclay). Now, usually I stick to stuff I’ve been loving in this column, but I’m experiencing wild emotional swings with this one. Sticking a drum machine under well-developed acoustic musical tradition is often a deeply cursed thing to do, and I’m actually not 100% confident it was a good idea here. It highlights something I’m becoming suspicious of in my own ears more generally – is this actually something fairly flawed that I’m looking at through my rose-tinted history glasses? Has the passage of time made something so-so seem remarkable? I am in They Live, but when the sunglasses are on you can see that the reissues shelf just says BUY BUY BUY instead of "legendary" "unearthed" etc? (I feel certain someone has made this gag before.) Anyway, jury’s out, I can’t get a clean read, except to say that for the most part, I am enjoying the moments of high friction in the lo-fi production and the clashes of these two forms.

Dewa Alit & Gamelan Salukat – Chasing the Phantom
(Black Truffle)

Also exploring some machine-like poetic rhythms on an acoustic instrument is another new gamelan album from Dewa Alit on Black Truffle, following on from Genetic in 2020. This one arrived just a minute too late for my last Rum Music and has been unfurling in my ears for a month. All machines might be thought of as orchestras of moving parts, and here Alit leans into the way gamelan can reproduce patterns and timbres redolent of electronics, the concept driving it being the way Balinese memedi (traditional phantoms or spirits) are now passed around on social media. Its tight patterns flash like the lights on a wall of analogue synths, its clipped polyrhythms in tones that are glassy not gong-y and apparently include some unorthodox playing techniques, as well as Alit’s tuning (which combines two traditional Balinese gamelan scales). Repeated listens snag the ear, drawing out particular sequences like a wordsearch – I’ve got my ear in on a repeated melody in the middle pitches of the driving punctuations and rolling polyrhythms of ‘Likad’.

Various – Two New Lips
(Regional Bears)

The second volume of a compilation on Stockport’s Regional Bears exploring various spoken word games, abstracted storytelling and sound poetry. The focus is on the pleasure of words placed next to one another; hesitations and non-verbal utterances; manipulations of tape and hardware scuffling. The line-up is fairly star-studded as underground tape compilations go, with contributions from crys cole, Sean McCann (who runs US sound poetry/chamber music label Recital as well as making his own work), Zhu Wenbo (of Chinese non-music label Zoomin’ Night), among others. There are atmospheres and soundscapes in the supporting cast: gulls in cole’s piece; ambient room sounds; tape hiss in almost everything. Highlights are the idle crooning of Zhu Wenbo singing to himself on ‘Walking Cha-Cha’ and this line from odd opener Russell Walker & Henry Holmes’ ‘Holy Gale’: "I don’t like the Stone Roses’ music, as it’s too weird".

Theresa Wong – Practicing Sands

A suite of tracks made with (small m) minimal means, with a lightness of line and figure in strings plucked and pitches bent by Chinese-American musician Theresa Wong. Few long bowed notes or moments of heaviness feature, and are saved for the deep undulations of closer ‘Opening Sea’. There are alternate tunings and various extended techniques being used here, and some experiments to do with mic placement, but you really don’t need to know or understand any of that to enjoy it. In the staccato ‘Sedimental’ the voice and strings shadow one another; the song ‘Quiet Clearing’ is like slow water. Elsewhere there are trillings and sketched motifs; gentle skips and stumbling down the strings on fairy-light feet. It’s a quiet album, interested in the possibilities of listening to an instrument in a room. Because of this, it feels interested in itself (in a good way) and tuning into it is like being granted permission to listen in, too. It is enveloping but not soothing, a creator of a private space between music and listener.


A chunk of a chuffing amazing show by the super group (supergroup) of Dali de Saint Paul, Agathe Max, Yoshino Shigihara (of Zun Zun Egui), Valentina Magaletti and Laura Phillips is on Youtube, the penultimate show in 
Dali de Saint Paul’s EP/64 series . Essential.

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