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Online journal devoted to (un)popular culture's murkier regions. Began as Grim Humour magazine in 1983 and lasted eighteen editions until 1993. Took a break until 2000 when it was relaunched as Adverse Effect magazine (which continued with the old numbering system). Four editions published until 2005, then compromised into being available via the internet, where a barely maintained website exists. Grim Humour itself is presently slowly evolving into a book dedicated to various highlights and low points from the magazine, whilst two record labels, Fourth Dimension and Lumberton Trading Company, hover very closely like needy cousins. Send review material to: ul. Krolowej Jadwigi 133/5 30-212 Krakow Poland

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Conversation With William Bennett








Interview by Richo

Photo by Melissa Musser


NOTE: This interview took place with William Bennett during October and November 2008. In hindsight, I feel several points raised could have been pushed further, plus more questions to a few of his responses could have been drawn. But it's at least good to leave something for another time, though. Outside of this, the interview will be posted on the main Adverse Effect website in due course, but since this may take another month or more its being posted here in the interim makes perfect sense.


William Bennett, of course, needs little introduction, really. Since 1980, he has courted controversy via his group, Whitehouse, who themselves have sometimes been responsible for the most aggressive and hostile electronic music imaginable and have thrown all manner of different ideas together to create something way beyond the realms explored by the vast majority of their peers. Perhaps meaning different things over the years to their many listeners as to William himself, Whitehouse have primarily concerned themselves with the very basic premise of engaging with their audience and in turn evoking a response, whether necessarily willed into view or otherwise. A response that can be every bit as much about itself in its purest, most natural and raw form as much as being about it leading to an equally interesting array of interpretations open to discourse, debate and even different ways of thinking. At least, this is how I have always seen the group, anyway. To dismiss them as merely clever bastards fucking about with electronics to create a din with obscenities glueing sometimes fantastic wordplay together would, to me, undermine precisely how much the group have succeeded with getting the listener to think, although it’s absolutely clear William would deny this as being part of the group’s agenda and would doubtlessly be just as content, or carefree, if you did just dismiss Whitehouse so or, indeed, not think about anything whatsoever. What I have personally always enjoyed about Whitehouse is not only how their sound and ideas have progressed, especially in more recent years (Phase Two of the group, as it has become known by many) and documented perfectly on 2007’s Racket CD, but how wide-ranging people’s opinions about them are and how this equally matches an audience’s reaction to any one of their live performances.

The very fact that I’ve heard strangers and good friends alike suggest Whitehouse as being everything from intellectual noise-mongers or post-modern purveyors of the avant-garde at its angriest to a one-trick act whose supposed ‘joke’ had worn thin by their second album certainly hints at the spectrum of responses I speak of. And, again, it is something galvanised by a live audience; performances being a medium where Whitehouse have always especially thrived and where, indeed, one can witness any number of people screaming (joining in?), thrashing about, attempting to rip ex-member Philip Best’s clothes off (or even the almost skeletal William’s, come to that), laughing uncontrollably or simply looking nonchalant as though waiting for a big event beyond a live music concert to somehow consume them. Without doubt, it’s a great display and I’m sure I’m not alone in gleaning so much pleasure from a band and audience alike. Rarely do groups with a captive audience transcend the usual trappings of simple adulation from them.

However, there is far more to William Bennett than simply Whitehouse. Whilst the group are presently in limbo following Best’s departure in early summer 2008, he has been busy overseeing a vinyl reissue campaign on Very Friendly Records which commenced the previous year, has taken his interest in what he calls ‘Afro Noise’ to new heights via his Cut Hands DJ performances, still has plans for his long-running Susan Lawly imprint, and can be found occasionally indulging in other activities widely documented on his frequent posts on his page at Blogspot or at least via the links there. For a man now steadily creeping towards the valley of his middle years, he appears to possess as much energy as somebody around half his age.

On top of this, and having been afforded opportunities to get to know him a little (with the emphasis on little, as I strongly feel William will forever remain rather guarded and never fully reveal himself) better during the last two or three years, he’s proved to be a deeply fascinating individual who is every bit as charming, personable, generous, caring and witty as one could hope for from anybody. Not bad going for somebody who’ll readily declare himself a misanthrope and whose perhaps not completely unfounded mistrust of other people never belies his abject friendliness and warmth.

Whitehouse are possibly only part of the story behind William, but the worlds they inhabit, expose or even dash back against the walls they came from certainly shine a torch towards one of the most genuinely interesting people presently operating in music still. Let’s hope it remains that way for a considerable while yet…



AE: Firstly, since Philip left Whitehouse, you have gone from abandoning the group altogether to a short while later announcing that it will continue. What prompted this decision?

WB:
Less a case of abandoning it altogether than a case of being in a quandary as to what, if anything, to do next – after much soul-searching and messages of encouragement decided to carry on (even though it’s still not clear in what form that’s going to take).

AE: Are you going to work with anybody else in Whitehouse, following Philip’s departure? Since Philip is clearly a close friend who has likewise worked alongside you and contributed much to Whitehouse, won’t he prove a tough act to follow?

WB:
A very tough act to follow indeed – and that’s why it’ll require a different approach, a major rethink. Not necessarily a bad thing of course to be shaken up a bit – it’s always easy to get comfortable and stuck.

AE: Do you think Whitehouse were becoming comfortable before his departure, though? I would say that, certainly live, you’d had everything down perfectly for a considerable while…

WB:
That’s true and is ironically part of the problem, which is why circumstances (whether or not by design) that force a shake-up can generally be embraced; another related factor was the role played by the stupid accident that I had in Belfast which meant that Philip found himself having to do several solo shows in our stead which had unwelcome effects upon his performance dynamic, and therefore ours, upon later resumption.

AE: Clearly, Whitehouse is at a point of change once again. Do you think you will utilise this to your advantage and try exploring something new? Of course, your sound was changing anyway, as especially proven on Racket, but I’m not specifically referring to the sound. Rather, besides perhaps pushing your interest in African percussion even further, I mean new strategies, concepts, or even ways of performing live…

WB:
Yes, exactly – of course that’s way easier said than done, I think there needs to be a period of reflection or contemplation on how things could evolve. There are a couple of half-baked ideas I have but nothing too electrifying yet.

AE: Can you elaborate?

WB:
Let me bake them a bit more, then I’ll get back to you on that...

AE: When do you think Whitehouse will be ready to emerge again, either live or on record?

WB:
Hard to say because a lot will depend on the outcomes of the aforementioned period of reflection - I’m confident that something will come of it however, but it’s just too early to be too specific. There’s also the unreleased track ‘Pains Part Of The Dilemma’ which is like the third part to ‘Cut Hands Has The Solution’ and ‘Killing Hurts Give You The Secrets’, it also has that rather stripped down bare sound – so one would imagine that will form a part of the next releases.

AE: How is the reissue campaign of the Whitehouse back catalogue going in the meantime?

WB:
The first 3 releases came out very well, and then things stalled a bit before the summer with the Bird Seed 2LP – issues with the test pressing and side 3 which were then followed by issues with the manufacturer themselves. Now we’ve changed manufacturer and by the time you’re probably reading this, Asceticists 2006 and Erector will both be out which will hopefully lead to a resumption in the series’ momentum.

AE: You’re also in the throes of making the back catalogue available for download. I can appreciate the advantages of this in respect of it possibly making your work available to a market otherwise not interested in buying CDs or vinyl, but I know you wanted to avoid it, ideally. Where did the change of heart arrive from?

WB:
It’s not really a change of heart, I still have serious misgivings about it, but was persuaded by the distributor to at least try it out through iTunes with the understanding that I could change my mind about it at any time. In one sense, it seems churlish to deny anyone who might be interested access to the songs in this format, and in another it certainly goes against my strong belief that music is to be experienced and not merely listened to.

AE: Where do you personally stand on the debate between vinyl/CDs and downloads?

WB:
Personally? Vinyl is by far the best in terms of the music experience – the visual (the large format artwork; the grooves; the turntable), the kinaesthetic (through the ritual of purchasing, examining of the grooves, the turning over, the anticipation of dropping the needle down), even the smell – and then the sheer warmth of the sound, and the format’s increased longevity over the alternatives. To go back to your previous question, the point is really one of whether it’s any of my business to impose that bias upon anyone. Almost certainly it isn’t.

AE: So, can we expect to see the more recent albums reissued on vinyl in due course, then?

WB:
For sure, everything’s getting reissued on vinyl – Asceticists 2006 (and Erector) are already now here.

AE: Forgetting the last album, which must surely represent the one you’re most proud of, what are your personal favourites?

WB:
I don’t know, which is your favourite son or daughter? All the albums mean a lot for differing reasons, they represent moments in life as much as the music itself, and all the fond and not so fond associations and memories that come with them.

AE: Do you believe the Whitehouse audience has changed much during more recent years? I’ve personally witnessed much less in the way of abuse hurling, spitting, beer bottle throwing and suchlike at your shows. Do you think this is due to your shift towards playing the ‘art’ card more heavily?

WB:
Yes, I’m sure we still have a lot of the same fans, along with many new ones and the dynamic in the live context has shifted considerably, just as you point out. Around about the time of the Batofar show in Paris, we decided to make several subtle alterations in order to challenge previously held expectations, and it paid off and things changed pretty quickly for the better. I’m not sure we’ve ever really consciously played the ‘art’ card, though I do much like that turn of phrase!

AE: I have aways suggested that Whitehouse are somewhat ‘misunderstood’. An opinion you’ve steadfastly denied. However, do you feel that, in a sense, misinterpretation has been integral to Whitehouse?

WB:
This is always going to be a danger whenever you challenge or provoke – people are pretty fixed in their ideas and if something comes along that questions that, you’re going to see a wide range of responses. Really, I think the problem I have is with the term ‘misunderstand’ which implies some kind of message that requires specific interpretation – my preference is for the term ‘get it’ – and it’s one of the expressions that can’t be deconstructed but can be felt. My artistic definition with regards to the music is that if you hear it then you get it, if you don't understand it then you get it, if you understand it then you get it, if you misinterpret it then you get it, but if you want not to understand or interpret or hear then you don't get it. But you can't have the arrogance to experience it as if there wasn't something not to know, the knowing of which would make a difference, absolutely.

AE: Okay. I would then contend that many of your listeners/’fans’ (I hate this term, but…) do not ‘get it’. Agree?

WB:
It depends what exactly you mean by ‘many’ or ‘listeners’ but, to put it another way, I’d tend to think that, based on my own particular artistic definition, that most do in fact get it.

AE: Fair enough. Would I be correct in stating that, given how much Whitehouse seem to be concerned with eliciting or provoking a response of any kind, the biggest insult would be to fail in this?

WB:
Failure to ‘respond’ isn’t seen as being an insult. Then again, exposure to anything will elicit some kind of response, even a perceived lack of a response is a type of response. So to go back to the original point, it’s not really what I’m saying - I know it’s rather tortuously worded but I refer you to ‘but if you want not to understand or interpret or hear then you don't get it’ from my original definition... (which isn’t the same as failure to respond).

AE: How do you feel about most of the electronic noise groups who cite Whitehouse as an inspiration? Have any of them made you sit up? Do you pay attention to any of them?

WB:
Not really, to be perfectly honest. One of the difficulties with that is that all the new ideas I get are coming from a domain far removed from that genre – and beyond that, I see such little desire in most music to take much of a risk. Depressingly, it either seems to come down to a safe way of paying the bills, or in the case of so many new acts, scratching around looking for some kind of gateway into the scene, to live the life, to buy into the fantasy.

AE: It has been contended that your Extreme Music from Africa compilation CD on Susan Lawly is purely your own creation and, as such, isn’t an authentic document. What would you say to this accusation?

WB:
Of course, I would say the accusation is incorrect.

AE: But it is only this particular entry in the series which garners this immense wagging of the accusatory finger. Any idea why?

WB:
Because the names of the artists are less known perhaps?

AE: Can you tell us which of the artists have other releases out, then, and give us some pointers as to what they are and where they can be found?

WB:
The album came out over 10 years ago and sadly little in Africa is widely available and easily googled and packaged; I can tell you the original contact for coordinating the project has not been in touch for a long time...

AE: Considering how wide your own music tastes are and that, indeed, you can play a handful of instruments outside the electronic realm, don’t you ever feel compelled to use any of them (again) in a non-electronic noise-orientated context?

WB:
Hey, maybe I already do!? In all seriousness, I’m not really too into specific technology or instruments – for me, it’s much more about having great ideas and notions and how they can be best realised. That’s why calling oneself a guitarist, or a djembe player, or even a laptop musician or whatever, wouldn’t be useful because it limits you to such a very narrow range of outcomes.

AE: I guess, more specifically, I mean do you ever harbour the desire to pick up a guitar, or whatever, again in a live context?

WB:
It would only be an exercise in lazy indulgent self-gratification. Most guitar playing has the same intent as karaoke - it’s what a game like Rock Band is for.

AE: Using laptops can be considered lazy as well, though, can’t it?

WB:
I certainly don’t wish to defend the laptop or anything else as a superior type of instrument, can be lazy, yes, by all means (as with everything) - but not as a means of performance self-indulgence in the way that guitars are typically utilised. It’s why they’re such a popular instrument with guys.

AE: Have you been involved in any non-Whitehouse collaborations? If so, what? And please explain why you would choose one such offer over another (presuming, of course, you receive offers?!).

WB:
I recently did a mix for Colt on their recently released EP, and there’s probably other stuff over the years that I can’t think of right now. There have been some nice offers which I mostly turn down either because I might not have the time, or else more often, I can’t bear not having things my own way...

AE: What does ‘extreme music’ actually mean to you?

WB:
To be frank, absolutely nothing!

AE: So why use the term on the compilation series? For me, it’s such a broad term, anyway, and certainly has nothing to do with, once more, these stupid and infantile little bedroom-‘noise’ outfits playing around with same tired ideas first explored around 28 years ago…

WB:
Extreme is merely a quantifier but is not intended to be genre specific – that’s why I believe it’s a good term for the compilation series. It opens up possibilities, rather than to limit them. As with all language, words end up getting co-opted just as ‘noise’ has in the way you point out.

AE: But there’s no escaping how language is reduced to its most convenient level, no matter how our own subjectivity may interpret it in certain contexts, don’t you think?

WB:
Yes, absolutely - and it’s an inexorable process, and part of the way languages, any language, evolves – from the moment a word or an utterance is originally created as an abstract noise it has to go through stages of greater common understanding and dilution to replicate itself. So when expressions such as noise began to be used in a music context, in order for them to be ever more widely understood, it adopts rules and boundaries which get increasingly narrow – this is then, ironically to us as early adopters, seen to be manifested in how greater numbers of people then make this music abiding by these adopted limitations because the linguistic value has become a part of their very identity and worldview. I saw a performance by ‘noise’ musician John Wiese in Cologne a year or so back and wrote at my blog about how generic an example of music it was, and although it will be to him an invisible compromise (in other words, not something he would notice), it was this - the phenomenon - that I was referring to rather than any personal criticism.

AE: Every band or artist makes mistakes. What are Whitehouse’s?

WB:
If you’re referring specifically to the music, I’ll be coy and say I don’t accept the metaphor of making mistakes within the domain of music, or art for that matter. Of course, beyond that, there’s stuff outside that aesthetic domain: routine stuff like at live shows for example where you’re in a scenario sometimes where all bets are off and you just have to do your best with a good intent – and that sometimes isn’t enough with so many variables and factors at play. You take the risk and hope it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t.

AE: You started the group during what I would personally deem an extremely vibrant period in music, having arrived from the post-punk landscape. Are you interested in the work of any of your peers? I mean, do you even keep a wry eye open towards a handful of them?

WB:
A wry eye open for sure; I know I probably come across as pretty disparaging a lot of the time, but I do love the whole field of popular music (good, bad and indifferent) and try and stay pretty well read.

AE: Wouldn’t you like to work alongside some actual African musicians? Or is that too close to concepts explored by Peter Gabriel, Jah Wobble and the especially ghastly Sting…?!

WB:
Now there’s a horrible thought! It’d be a great learning experience to have, yes, but ultimately not especially meaningful, simply because the use of the African instruments isn’t in order to try and make African music – while it can be inspiring to listen to, the super-objective is to create something different and new.

AE: Any stories concerning Whitehouse you’d like to impart that may either shock, illuminate or even be amusing for us? (And, no, not the rib-breaking incident, please!)

WB:
If we’d accepted the extraordinary offer we had a couple of years ago to play in Angola then I’d be undoubtedly be able to deliver on all three of your criteria – and certainly all three as far as my dear cousin was concerned as he foresaw our inevitable return home in 2 white caskets.

AE: Along with a mere handful of groups, Sex Pistols, TG and Crass being the most pronounced (and I must confess I think the early Punk/Industrial generation groups achieved much more than those before them in the western world), I have always seen Whitehouse as being far more than purely about music. It has been a whirlwind of ideas caught up in something that, similar to these other groups, could only be too readily dismissed for all manner of stupid reasons, plus has simultaneously always served as some kind of portal to them. To look at Whitehouse at face value and deem you a mere ‘noise’ group has always cheapened your worth, in my opinion. Rather, I have always considered you amongst those few who can truly help stimulate thinking (which of course can likewise lead to inspiring myriad copyists…). Do you agree? Has this ever been part of your own agenda?

WB:
I like to think what you’re saying is true, yes – and if so, it’s heartening to know though I couldn’t claim it be a part of any specific agenda. Going back to your point of the legions of copyists, for me the really curious thing is that they seem only fond of that very early sound of ours from the early 80s, and I can’t think of a single example of anyone even attempting to imitate any of our stuff from after that era.

AE: Is modern culture presently nose-diving towards a dead-end? Or is there still some hope?

WB:
An interesting question that would probably merit book treatment. In a word, I don’t know.

AE: Who do you respect (in culture or otherwise)?

WB:
What I respect more than anything is a person who has a sincerity of intent and whose fire is still burning. (You can see some of my lists for examples.)

AE: Your interest in merging African music/instrumentation with electronic ‘noise’ (I personally think the best noise music falls nearer psychedelia, but…) has recently culminated in some DJ slots under the Cut Hands moniker. What does this entail exactly?

WB:
Cut Hands is a bit unusual in the sense that it’s being used as a loose umbrella term for a number of activities and notions (a bit like its origin...). So it’s the clubnight, it’ll be the name for the afro noise LPs, for the DJing, for the live visuals (done by Nick Herd) – and anything else related for that matter. Likewise the format for the club nights is an unusual one comprising just one live band that we consider very special (such as Skullflower, who played at Cut Hands II in November), a DJ set, a short demonstration/talk by my good self to get everyone in the mood, and of course the live visuals. It certainly makes a change from the usual diet of one band after another, or else some band stopping off on some horrendously long tour.

AE: Certainly sounds interesting. What are the talks about, though?

WB:
It’s a secret part of the Cut Hands experience. I can’t say more.

AE: That sounds like a good way to cultivate interest or a selling point, to me!

WB:
Maybe indirectly, yes - better to say it’d be like telling you what presents you’re getting for your next Christmas, you might want to know but it’d ruin the experience!

AE: Do you prefer performing on stage or Djing? What’s more important for you?

WB:
It’s kind of similar, both fun to do, though you’d have to say the former has more resonance and I’ll find more memorable.

AE: How do you see Cut Hands progressing?

WB:
Difficult to say, I really have an abundance of preposterous ideas to try out that’ll probably destroy any of my remaining street cred, not sure how good they’ll all be but it’s fun to be operating within this new territory. It’s genuine experimental music in that sense.

AE: You’re a huge film fan, but you seem to spend a lot of this time watching complete and utter rubbish or releases you know will ultimately only lead to disappointment. Why?! Do you have too much spare time on your hands?!

WB:
Oh yes, way too much time on my hands – and clearly you do too for reading all those ‘reviews’. Some of the obvious rubbish I watch is also because I think it’s a good thing to keep up with all sorts of culture even the mainstream, and occasionally you can be surprised – receptive absorption is an integral part of inspiration.

AE: Fair enough. Leaving your lists aside, what has struck you as being particularly memorable or surprising lately, though?

WB:
I’ve been on a bad run lately, much has been memorable and surprising for negative reasons only. I did very much enjoy Tarsem Singh’s The Fall – Catinca Untaru’s performance is truly magical, it’s so very rare to have a child role that doesn’t depend upon stereotyping of children by adults.

AE: Any more plans for Susan Lawly? If so, what?

WB:
Well, we’ll continue with all the vinyl reissues – plus the afro noise vinyl, and any other Whitehouse stuff that gets released, so the label will pretty much continue as before.

AE: Why do you continue to make every Whitehouse live recording available?

WB:
Actually, there are several recent shows without recordings – but I think it’s nice for anyone to know where they can get an archive recording of any show should they want it. I’m not one for doing live albums, but the archiving seems worthwhile.

AE: What are the most important things for you in life?

WB:
Wow. How about appreciating the moment on my own terms?

AE: Is that always possible?

WB:
Not at all, it’s a good super-objective to have.

AE: Do you have a generally positive or negative worldview? Why?

WB:
It’s the internal conflict of being an unreformed misanthrope that has got to know a few people that I really like a lot.

AE: Don’t you think the notion of being an, in your words, ‘unreformed misanthrope’ goes against your engaging with people through the highly communicative medium of music? I’d contend that true misanthropes would want to avoid people as best as possible rather than attempt to engage with them. And they certainly wouldn’t join ‘social networking’ sites…!

WB:
Therein lies the conflict – especially when you consider the difference between being misanthropic and antisocial.

AE: I would still suggest that the idea of a true misanthrope wouldn’t want to socialise or engage with those he finds abhorrent on any level whatsover. And, again, that involvement with music is completely paradoxical. Should a real misanthrope even be able to look at himself or herself in the metaphorical mirror…?

WB:
What you’re suggesting there is different from being antisocial by nature – misanthropy suggests a universal aversion to mankind, not a targeted one. And social interaction, indeed forms of narcissism, will confer all sorts of benefits to a person, even a misanthropic person... no, I see the two as belonging to separate domains.

AE: Would you feel lonely without the world you have created for yourself?

WB:
Can we really take the credit for that creation?

AE: Are you saying that you’re not wholly responsible for that creation? Surely, this goes against your idea of placing so much importance on being in control of your own life?

WB:
Again, there’s a critical difference. I’ll take responsibility for things but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I am responsible for them, or indeed am in control of them. And I offer these notions as questions of personal philosophy, not about what’s true and false, or right and wrong.

AE: Are there answers to all questions?

WB:
OK, we’re getting really philosophical now... I would challenge whether questions are indeed questions in the way we commonly understand them. So what is a question, and, more interestingly, isn’t? There’s something to make your head spin.

AE: Okay, we’re going towards the realms of asking whether grass is truly green now…!

WB:
Not at all! We can both have a shared perception of the colour of grass, but the abstract notion of what a question is and isn’t is extremely difficult to define. The more you try and think about it, the more elusive it becomes.

AE: I see this as corresponding perfectly with Whitehouse. For me, a group that has raised as many questions as (possible) answers without a fixed agenda or any dogma attached, whilst allowing for interpretation and, again, subjectivity. Agree?

WB:
I certainly wouldn’t disagree with that.

AE: Is change important, both to yourself and in the more general sense?

WB:
Well, change is inevitable whether you like it or not, we’re changing (dying?) from the day we’re born – and our environment is also constantly shifting and evolving around us. To word this in a slightly different way, what’s important (to me), is not being stuck – and that’s all too easy for all of us. We get stuck in our beliefs and our behaviour patterns even when they’re clearly unuseful.

AE: I think it’s incredibly difficult to avoid the comfort zone furnished by being stuck, however. Some of us try hard to break away, even momentarily, but it’s always there, ready to lull us back and mostly succeeds, don’t you think?

WB:
Yes, very much so.

AE: And how successful do you consider yourself to be in evading its clutches?

WB:
If - and it’s a big if because most people wouldn’t even see it as a threat - you’re aware of the process, then you can establish circumstances which will allow the possibility of subverting its clutches. So for example, in the artistic context – after every album or recording has been released I typically destroy all the notes, settings, templates, and sometimes the equipment that have been used - that creates an artificial obstruction for any subsequent recording of course which could potentially be subverted by reversion to how things were done before. In other words, the comfort zone. Originally I did that in order to experience the music as if it was done by someone else but then I learnt how effective it was for these reasons too.

AE: Finally, you have lots of different and contrasting interests outside of what you do with Whitehouse, Susan Lawly and Cut Hands. And, despite the many different accusations I’ve seen thrown at what I’d call your main concerns, I’d argue everything you do is borne of an incredible passion for life and the many things it throws our way. What do you think about that?

WB:
I’d like to think so, yes – the underlying intent I’ve tried to adopt is one of taking personal responsibility for what you get. That’s not to say bad stuff doesn’t happen but it really helps you play with what’s thrown your way.

For more information on William Bennett’s activities, visit: www.susanlawly.com And, indeed, either follow the links there or find him at Blogspot or on MySpace

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Reviews: Number One

What follows is a collection of reviews spanning 2006 to 2008. Most of these are likewise on the website, but I am anxious to get things moving into some kind of shape here as well. Please also note that, unless we are not aware of the country of origin, all labels are UK based beyond those stated. Reviews by Richard Johnson, Kate MacDonald and Sacha Colgate.



ACOLYTES ACTION SQUAD Winkle Time CD (Early Winter Recordings, 2007)
Sheffield based duo A.A.S.’s debut album, Bust Of, surfaced 7 years before this follow-up, but it would appear absolutely nothing has compromised their often erratic and jagged swerves into the kinda terrain where idiosyncratic souls as disparate as NWW, Richard Youngs, Omit and The Gerogerigegege can also be caught stalking around. Throughout the eleven songs here a certain DIY aesthetic remains in check, but stealthily avoids the no/lo-fi trappings so often found attached, remora-like, to it. Instead, the production allows for the sounds and ideas to breathe. Which is a good thing, because there’s quite a lot going on here that commands it and would otherwise be reduced to sonic mulch. Mashed-up interludes greet spacious guitar passages, amp hum and electronic chattering gives way to solo female vocals, an Amon Duul-type ur-jam makes itself known, junk shop madness bubbles away, songs dissolve just as they’re beginning to form, languid flotsam coils around vague structures, and fragmentary noodling ripens the gaps. Fine stuff, skimming those places where the avant-garde is fucked around with even more and cast alongside different approaches to music without once either puffing on the air of pretension or falling into futile bedroom terrorism. Mysterious and quirky, yet never annoying, Winkle Time reveals much to hold onto without ever being obvious. A good thing in my increasingly battered book, f'sure. (RJ)
www.earlywinterrecordings.co.uk


ANT Footprints Through the Snow CD (Homesleep Music, Italy, 2006)
Thirteen unassuming stabs at the kind of fragile songwriting guaranteed to either send you towards homicidal tendencies or reeling into a pit of introspection so deep nobody but the most meek will feel compelled to cast a rescue ladder into. Either way, it’s a lost cause. As such music goes, this bobs along gently enough, but it lacks the magic or cynicism that can salvage it and unfortunately strays a little too close to the domain of the bedwetter for comfort too much. Ant may well possess a talent for exposing his heart with the aid of his keen songwriting abilities, but he seriously needs to grow some balls. (RJ)
www.homesleep.it


AUTOMATED ACOUSTICS Love to the Dedicated Listener CD (Alternative Blueprint, 2007)
A label which says that it celebrates artists who are unique and hard to categorise is a good thing. And, despite some initial misgivings, this disc grew on me as it went along. I started off not too sure about it, but got swept up in the sheer unpredictability of the sounds.
It ranges from some clever, almost AFX-like songs to a grooviness that reminds me a little of Bad Seeds’ offshoot Crime & the City Solution, or a safer take on the sound of Xiu Xiu. At its strongest moments, it’s a breath of fresh air, something that really does defy comparison. At its weaker moments, it sounds a little too much like it’s trying to be music for art college students, striving for a strangeness that doesn’t come naturally.
The chief drawback of the album is that there is just too much of it. The whole project could have done with more whittling, to emphasise the potential of its high points.
A sort of wunderkind multi-instrumentalist, the character behind Automated Acoustics doesn’t seem to want for ideas, he just needs to refine a little more going forward. That said, he’s a young’un, this is only his first full-length album, and it seems that the future could be bright. (KM)


THE JOHN BAKER TAPES Volume One/Volume Two CD (Trunk Records, 2008)
Two fantastic insights to the (rightly) long revered and influential BBC Radiophonics Workshop via one of its three mainstays, the late John Baker, who, alongside Delia Derbyshire and David Cain, was responsible for creating some of the most amazing and visionary compositions to have arrived from true experiments in sound beyond those more self-conscious realms generally associated with them. Discovered by his brother, Richard, a large number of these pieces were considered lost until recently and an equally significant amount have never been released before. As such, both collections are invaluable on several counts.
On the first volume, collecting 49 rare and unreleased works recorded from 1963 to 1974, John Baker reveals some of his production techniques in between themes, jingles, public information broadcasts and soundscapes, etc. originally used for BBC radio and television shows and commissions elsewhere. Nestled amongst an array of melodic signature pieces, stabs of strangeness and humourous oddities titled and indeed used for ‘Newstime BBC’, ‘Building the Bomb’, ‘Sling Your Hook’, ‘Man Alive: UFO’, ‘Barnacle Bill’ and so on you’ll find an electronic opening for the film classic ‘Dial M for Murder’, some non-broadcast cues, an interview for ‘Woman’s Hour’, and far more besides.
The second volume collects a further 39 pieces not used by the BBC and is no less captivating than the first. Homespun jazz, library music, feedback loops, electronic jingles from adverts, more demented electro-acoustic passages, test tones, etc. recorded between 1954 and 1985 converge to embellish John Baker’s evident genius further. A soundtrack for Ridley Scott’s debut feature, Boy on a Bicycle, also makes an appearance, once again illustrating a love of jazz but also somehow magically fusing elements drawn, seemingly, from classical music and a colliery’s brass band. Otherwise, titles such as ‘Electro-Suspense’, ‘Electro-Weird’, ‘Get Happy’, ‘Pots ‘n’ Pans’, ‘Piano Concrete’ and so on probably point to everything you may think you know.
At times, both volumes fold together like Joe Meek’s more quirky forays rubbing shoulders with Nurse With Wound and, elsewhere, they prove themselves way outside such lazy confines on my part. Mostly, and somewhat more paradoxically, the albums add up to something which exist outside easy frames of reference. And, whether amusing or created for more serious purposes, the sheer scope of the inventiveness and energy behind it, can only be admired,
Complete with rare photos and liner notes, these two collections come wholeheartedly recommended to everybody interested in truly innovative music. As archives go, this one can only command repeat visits that will never once disappoint. The lines between insanity and genius in sound have once more been drawn. (RJ)


BEEHATCH eponymous CD (Lens, USA, 2008)
Beehatch is the result of a collaboration between Mark Spybey (ex-Zoviet France, Dead Voices On Air, etc.) and Phil Western (Download and platEAU), following ten years since they last worked together in Download and its being realised via the increasingly popular (and more convenient) method of file sharing via the internet; something that, given their respectively residing in England and Los Angeles, they could only do anyway.
Over fourteen cuts, they straddle those filmic areas they’re already known to explore, cut-ups, mashed passages of psycho-mulch, gentle looped voyages through light and dark, waking dreams in sound, electro-pop, and songs that could comfortably sway alongside the likes of Holger Czukay, Jah Wobble, Michel Banabila and some of Mark Stewart’s work. Lots of different elements are pulled together and there’s no doubting Spybey and Western’s knack for at least keeping them pumped full of blood, but the whole album suffers for being a little too disparate or blurred around the edges at times. The attention to detail, and even those warts that reside amongst it, is impeccable, but it feels as they’ve lost sight of the whole they’ve created in the process. (RJ)
www.lensrecords.com


FRANK BRETSCHEIDER & PETER DUIMELINKS flux CD (Korm Plastics, NL, 2006)
Although both of these artists have a pedigree in experimental music, I hadn’t been familiar with either of them until listening to this CD. Consequently, if you are familiar with them, I’m not going to be able to tell you whether this release is a logical continuation of either or their work. What I can tell you is that this is a collaboration (as opposed to a split release) and that it was recorded as part of the Brombron series put together by Frans De Waard, where artists such as Main, Tore Honore Boe and Jaap Blonk are brought together to work on a project for a fixed period of time. This is the tenth CD that the larger project has generated (there have been three more released since).
The music is an extremely minimal but likeable techno, with an irresistible pulse lurking beneath its sparse surface. It helps that the production is particularly sharp, so that the resulting sound mix has every whir and click perfectly placed. A flatter style would have rendered the work bland.
It could be argued that this sort of music is a more stripped down variant of the kind of thing labels like Sakho were doing in the mid-nineties, but the fact that it is so engaging shows that there are greater depths to be plumbed in that ocean. (KM)


CRESCENT Little Waves CD (FatCat, 2007)
This is the second album I’ve heard out of their total of five by this Bristol-based group. The last one being, well, their last album, from four years earlier, By the Roads and the Fields, which has been something I’ve turned to on many a wintry night since reviewing it. Little Waves sees the group moving from analogue recording to digital but thankfully losing none of the rugged beauty of the previous album. Singer Matt Jones’ soft yet husky vocals once again recall a world-weary and (emotional) battle-scarred soul caught thick in the middle of a search for his lost self, whilst the music that backs it appears to be beamed from a time and space otherwise only to be found in dusty corners of record shops. No surprise then that Jones has cited 1930s gramaphone records, old folk and blues music, and even Indonesian Gamelan and the magnificent Pearls Before Swine’s One Nation Underground LP as being amongst the touchstones for Little Waves. This album possesses precisely the same feel of being from a slightly different place whilst neither compromising Crescent’s obvious songwriting ability or sounding unnatural.
Gentle acoustic melodies bind an array of instruments that include organ, horns, drums and homemade double bass together with a variety of environmental or found sounds which embellish the proceeedings perfectly. Combined with a very subtle nod towards contemporary electronica’s more adventurous plains, minute mistakes and a roughly-hewn edge likewise add to the setting.
As with the album before it, this is brimming with an earnest warmth, a rawness and bruised beauty impossible to resist. It suggests musty photo albums, walks along leafy paths after the rain has just cleared, staring out of a window of a derelict house, broken toys from one’s own childhood, buried dreams and well-thumbed pages. Such an air of sentimentality could so easily become trite in the wrong hands, but Crescent pull it off fantastically.
How it all compares to their lo-fi punk-inspired beginnings 14 years ago, I don’t yet know. Maybe it’s actually better I keep it that way? (RJ)
www.fat-cat.co.uk


THE DEATH RAYS Twelve Gauge Blues CD (DTK Records, Canada, 2007)
Balls-out, punked-up ‘n’ tremor-inducin’ destructo-rock of the type first stoked by the likes of Black Flag or even Flipper, (un)healthily peppered with riffin’ Stooges cruncherama, vocals that sound mercilessly torn from their lungs, psychotic sax blasts and all the trappings of a band doubtlessly aware of their cliched trappings but’re intent on having a fucken good time regardless of what I, or anybody else, thinks. Actually makes a change to have something like this around here, too. A massive flip-off to all the chin-scratchers amongst us. (RJ)
www.myspace.com/thedeathrays


KEVIN DRUMM Sheer Hellish Miasma CD (Mego, Germany, 2007)
If you’re going to call an album Sheer Hellish Miasma, as far as I’m concerned, you’d better be prepared to back it up. When you consider further that this release is actually a reissue of a much-lauded 2002 album (with extra material added), there was already a lot for Mr. Drumm to live up to by the time I had broken the seal on its tastefully minimalist packaging.
Perhaps if my expectations hadn’t been raised, this would have been a more enjoyable experience for me. Certainly, there are sections of the album that captured my interest, but nothing that truly won me over. The buzzy, layered drones of the first track oscillate and shimmer in a nice chorus effect, in a manner not dissimilar to some American power electronics, but without the PE spite. The second track is more rhythmic, with stuttering percussion hammering out an almost African cadence.
Unfortunately, after track two, which comes to an abrupt end, the album starts to drift. It meanders from tone to tone without much sense of dynamics and never builds on the energy of the opening tracks. This loss of direction is something I find Drumm shares with Jim O’Rourke, an artist with whom he has collaborated and to whom he has often compared.
Not bad, but not a sheer hellish miasma in either a bad or a good way. (KM)


FELLAHEAN Insignificant Scrap CD (Fellacoustic Records, USA, 2008)
Not the same Fellaheen whose records I chanced upon years ago who also hailed from the US but with a different vowel. Rather, what we have here are thirteen pieces of full-on electronics noise fuckery emanating from the same camp that exploded into the likes of Daniel Menche, The Incapacitants and infinite others whose smacks around the cranium have been long endorsed by RRR, for example. There are some interesting twists, turns and textures hewn from what’s an otherwise immensely abrasive block of sound, lending the proceedings that all-important disorientating or vaguely ‘delic quality very much required in order to make it work, but I’m not so heavily into such music these days (I take time out for Whitehouse and a coupla old Japanoisers, but that’s about it), to be perfectly honest. Third cut, ‘Purchase’, stands out for its slightly more rhythmic tendency leaking violently like burst bruises all over the place. With bedfellows titled ‘Data’, ‘File’, ‘Return’, ‘Amount’, ‘Fees’, and so on, Fellahean appear to be furnishing us with some appropriate enough reflections on the present age, and it’d be unfair they stop there, that’s for sure. (RJ)
www.fellahean.com


FORMICATION Icons for a New Religion CD (Lumberton Trading Company, 2007)
Ah, this is what reviewers dream of and fear. A record that’s hard to describe. It’s a challenge, of course and you start off your review wanting to communicate something of the atmosphere that these two musicians draw from a diverse collection of instruments (guitars and synths on the mainstream side, djembe and “tooting horn” on the obscure side), except that knowing the instruments won’t tell you a thing about what the final product actually sounds like.
So, you start over again and try to think of words that might be evocative of the end result of all these processed guitars and tooting horns and such. Juxtaposed terms like “mellow psychedelia” or “undulating electronics” sort of help to approach the subject, but seem to miss the gracefulness inherent in it.
It’s only after a couple of listens that it strikes you that there’s something a little bit familiar about the sound, something in the back of your mind with which it forms a continuum. Coil. Mid-nineties to early-whatever-you-call-this-decade Coil is the closest link in sound and mood, which is fitting, since Coil themselves were notoriously difficult to describe.
This is not to say that the music is derivative, far from it, but sometimes a comparison is worth far more than a reviewer throwing terms like “burbling” and “mysterious” and “morphing” at you. Well worth keeping a lookout for, now and in the future. (KM)
www.lumbertontrading.com


FORMICATION Agnosia CD (Harmful/Dark Winter, 2007)
Closely following their album for my very own Lumberton imprint, Formication bring us another handful of cuts that, this time, roll along a more pronounced emphasis on rhythms. Sometimes akin to a chattering alien computer or a funeral march past a foundry where a lonely worker sweats away, the rhythms swing nicely between being busy and more subdued whilst forever avoiding those more obvious beat trappings. Alongside ghostly psychedelic textures, distant wails, carefully woven torrents of amber hiss, finely-hewn pulses and equally measured minimal keyboard chord strikes, everything feels befitting of either a haunting film score or perhaps a chemically-soaked recess where nostalgia, lost days and reflection reign. Only the final, fifth track moves away from such anchorage towards the type of electronic interstellar gush they’re usually happy to fall adrift in, but it is still solidly executed and works perfectly. Just a shame the packaging (a black & white slipcase with sombre images on not so far removed from the approach adopted by many a dodgy goth group) betrays the music, unfortunately. (RJ)
www.darkwinter.com


FREIBAND Leise CD (Cronica, Portugal, 2007)
Ten compositions based on recordings his then three-year-old daughter made, using musical and non-musical instruments/sound sources, represent Frans de Waard’s Freiband’s third album. As with other Freiband material, the emphasis is as much on computer processing as the original material used for it, but while the realms explored are of a chiefly electro-acoustic nature they are never rendered sterile as a result of the environment. Rather, all manner of interesting thuds, pops, crackles, scrapes and suchlike weave around each other to form atmospheric textures, mostly gentle patterns, occasional rhythmic snatches and the general digital palette that could only too easily be staid if left in the wrong hands. Once again, Frans proves that he has a firm grasp on his inventiveness, possesses an ability to shade it in many ways, and refrains from allowing it to plummet into the very depths of boredom so much music of this nature is guilty of. (RJ)
www.cronicaelectronica.org


ERIK FRIEDLANDER & TEHO TEARDO Giorni Rubati CD (Bip-Hop, 2008)
Thirteen songs inspired by the poems of murdered Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini feature on this trans-Atlantic collaboration by downtown New York improvisation cellist Friedlander and prolific Italian electronic composer, Teardo, known otherwise for his soundtrack work, involvement with several groups, and remixes for bands or artists as diverse as Placebo, Girls vs. Boys, Rothko and Lydia Lunch. Initially based on 8 multi-tracked or single track responses to the poems recorded by Friedlander, Teardo reworked the recordings while adding piano, electronics and guitar along the way. From the plaintive ‘Ricordi di Miseria’, with its haunting textures and the cello strokes given centre stage, to the alarmingly viable and vaguely electro-punk-gone-minimal cover of ‘Warm Leatherette’ that closes the album, Giorni Rubati both splits its seams with surprises and commands nothing but your full attention. Highly recommended. (RJ)
www.bip-hop.com


FUCK BUTTONS Colours Move promo CDS (ATP Recordings, 2008)
Imagine prime cut Spacemen 3 or even early Spiritualised sliced, diced ‘n’ sprinkled over a slightly more aggressive palette via some colossal mesmer-rhythms hewn like proto-industrial’s dancefloor cousin and ‘Colours Move’ may well hammer itself into focus accordingly. Dunno how this cut compares with the rest of this duo’s debut album, ‘Street Horrrsing’, from earlier this year, but it simultaneously reminds me Terminal Cheesecake and newer cousins in fucken fucked and celebratory fuckedelia, Holy Fuck. A nice and chunky Andrew Weatherall remix, ‘Sweet Love for Planet Earth’, seems as fitting as both the support slot to Mogwai and the fact this release can only otherwise be found on 12” or download. Apparently, the press have been creaming themselves over ‘em, but I rarely keep abreast of such matters. At least it seems vaguely justified for once, anyway. (RJ)


GUY GELEM Works CD (Split Femur Recordings, 2008)
Simple, minimalistic electronic rhythms and sinewy guitar melodies fleshed out by some often suitably atmospheric cello playing form the basis to this debut instrumental album by London’s Guy Gelem. Because it only too often falls near those kingdoms already signposted by the likes of Mum or Fridge, it isn’t the elevatory experience it’d probably like to be, but Works makes for a pleasant enough, if rather perfunctory, halfway house to them. Shame there were no more of the Italian folk touches, as witnessed on fifth cut ‘Village’, peppered throughout, really. (RJ)
Split Femur Recordings Ashleigh, Main Road, Great Haywood, Staffs., ST18 0SU www.splitfemurrecordings.com


GENERIC Torture CD (FracturedSpace Records, 2008)
Generic is the name given to Adam Sykes’ outlet for the type of tempered space mulch you may well actually expect when faced with it and likewise, of course, the title of this debut CD ‘proper’. Adam, formerly known as the guy behind the now defunct Iris Light imprint, here proffers six cuts spun from deep drones, slow machine rhythms, spiralling fragments of hiss and the kind of brooding malevolence that’s designed perfectly for the domain of the horror film or, indeed, those club spaces where the black clad amongst us tend to mooch about in. Whilst the work doesn’t really scale heights beyond so much else I’ve stumbled upon (more by chance than design) on various labels set up to promote post-industrial gloom-mongering, it’s neither unlistenable or disagreeable. Last track, ‘Torture Garden II’, is especially nice for its falling nearer H3o-type haze, but overall I feel Generic still has a way to go if it wishes to be as fully captivating as, say, Band Of Pain or even Biopsphere’s forays into such realms. (RJ)
FracturedSpace Records, 5 Serjeant’s Green, Neath Hill, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. www.myspace.com/fracturedspacerecords


ROBERT HAMPSON + STEVEN HESS eponymous CDEP (Crouton, USA, 2006)
Four collabs all spanning the four-to-six minutes mark from Robert Hampson, otherwise known for his work with Main and Loop outside various collaborations, and US drummer/percussionist Steven Hess, whose own credits include Pan American, Fessenden and others. Half-submerged creaks, skittering shimmers and what sounds like a computer protesting at the bottom of a mineshaft wander into ripples created by mild cymbal sweeps, fragmented pulses, sequences of minute pops ‘n’ poots and vaguely rhythmic whorls. Neither unpleasant or particularly unexpected but, rather, somewhat unremarkable. Sometimes wish Hampson would just squeeze some blood out of his pores again, to be honest. Whatever, limited to 500 and probably long gone, like you actually care… (RJ)
www.croutonmusic.com


HUNTSVILLE For the Middle Class CD (Rune Grammofon, 2006)
Pretty incredible long-player by the Norwegian trio of Ivar Grydeland, Tonny Kluften and Ingar Zach, who’ve long been involved with the free improvisation world already documented by Grydeland’s Sofa label on a number of releases since 2000. Here, however, they utilise all manner of instruments from guitars, double bass, banjo, tabla machine and various others originating from India to explore a more recent interest in drone, country, folk and electronic music. Opening song, ‘The Appearance of a Wise Child’, tethered to around 15 mins worth of driving, hypnotic percussion and snatching some random vocals along the way, largely sets the tone for the remainder of the release. Organic textures snake around each other, rhythms staple everything to that juncture where everything points to an apex of unadulterated ecstasy, and discernible ur-strums combine with frenetic bows and scrapes for that only too important raw effect so hard to find in this day of software-generated sterilisation. Only second track, ‘Serious Like a Pope’ loses its grip slightly as the pace is whittled back to a near Fahey-esque approach rendered better on fourth and final cut, ‘Melon’, which furnishes us with a comparatively stripped and gentle touchdown to the proceedings. Nonetheless, Huntsville sound like their experience within such realms of music is paying off. The product of people who know their game without having let their imagination or yearning to voyage to new places suffer. Fucken dandy in my book, I have to concede. (RJ)
www.runegrammafon.com


ZBIGNIEW KARKOWSKI/ATSUKO NOJIRI Continuity DVD/CD (Asphodel, USA, 2007)
Karkowski is a well-known figure on the international circuit concerning digital-noise, improvised electronics and audio-visual performances. Based in Tokyo for the past few years, he continues to travel the globe and play art and club spaces on a fairly regular basis, somehow successfully blurring the lines between his grounding in power electronics-inspired sonics and a more mannered, ‘academic’ approach en route. On this collaboration with Japanese video artist, Nojiri, he has put together a few tracks using source material originally recorded live by a number of musicians in San Francisco.
Various strings, guitars, wind instruments and percussion were deployed by three collectives who then had their work manipulated by Karkowski. Although it’s evident the sounds are teased and processed, the original forms also appear to have been handled with a modicum of respect, rendering a keen ear with a sense of balance to the proceedings. Or, if you like, an almost perfect melding of the organic with software via corridors padded with a healthy imagination…
The DVD itself features three mid-length pieces where, on ‘Float’, tempered drones, ghostly scrapes and knocks, soaring tones, minimalist percussion and subtle rattling are pushed into a dynamic range Glenn Branca would be proud of whilst accompanied by suitably hallucinatory yet relaxing colourful lines swaying about the screen. Second track, ‘Tritonal Rapture’, presents more of a quasi-industrial offering, with heavier emphasis on percussion and the general feeling that something unpleasant may be going on in the nearest basement, and last piece ‘Membrane’ is akin to an almost full-on attack of multi-layered voices completely unlike the sourced material or, indeed, the comparatively soothing visuals.
Two lengthier pieces go on to form the CD part of the nicely presented package, ‘Mass-Flow-Rate’ and ‘Perceptor’; the former resembling a flying saucer’s perhaps slightly malfunctioning engine during a rendezvous with a black hole and the latter nudging towards Aube territory. Not, therefore, quite as overtly absorbing as the work on the DVD, visuals or no visuals, but at least executed with the precision one would expect of a master within the genre. (RJ)
www.asphodel.com


KEPLERS ODD Strena Seu de Nive Sexangula CD (Fractured Spaces, 2008)
Trio from Sweden’s third album with seven untitled and largely agreeable slices of moody yet sinewy guitar-led instrumental pieces which gently nod towards The Cure’s classic Seventeen Seconds and Faith albums whilst sucking on the same air as comparatively more contemporary artists such as Stars Of The Lid and Labradford. There’s a heavier emphasis on the foggy swirls and post-industrial sounds buried way down, but the overall tone is one of minimalist melancholy and rather subdued despair. Everything mostly hangs together with both a meaning and intent that belies the ‘noise-drone-ambient’ angle heralded by the press sheet, anyway. Only the fourth and fifth cuts’ meandering into Skullflower-esque distortion-anchored landscapes gives the general effect a slight hammering, unfortunately, as they appear to be borne of an idea to prove Keplers Odd worthy of the ‘noise’ school more than anything more focussed or, well, rich in feeling. I’m all for noise, but it has to be harnessed or have direction. In the context presented here, it carries no weight and deflates an otherwise good album. All the same, worth keeping a half-mast peeper on, at the very least. And I certainly wouldn’t mind investigating the previous albums, either. (RJ)
Fractured Spaces Records, 5 Serjeants Green, Neath Hill, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, MK14 6HA.
www.myspace.com/fracturedspacesrecords


DAVID KRISTIAN Ghost Storeys CD/DVD (C0C0S0L1DC1TI, Canada, 2008)
‘Last studio’ album from prolific and highly revered Canadian electronic music composer, David Kristian, collaborating here with Ryosuke Aoike, Japan’s much vaunted Manga animator responsible for creating Catman and Perestroika, on five films based on Japanese ghost stories. The music itself veers through those spaces where appropriately drifting penumbral shimmers wrap themselves around distant knocks, crashes and taps like ectoplasm manifesting into menacing forms. While shades of Lustmord or the moodier textures behind Thomas Koner’s arctic explorations instantly leap out as reference points, we mustn’t lose sight of Kristian’s intentions here or, indeed, the fact that he conducts them perfectly. As a starting point to his newfound direction as a soundtrack composer, these thirteen compositions represent nothing but a mission firmly accomplished.
Aoike’s five silent shorts, working themselves through gloomy hues, never overstated abstractions, neatly hewn graphics and sequences often as haunting or evocative as the music itself are a sheer pleasure to watch despite what generally appear to be rather simple premises. If, like myself, you’ve not seen any Manga films in a long time, these may well just convince you that the time to redress the balance is way overdue. (RJ)
www.cocosolidciti.com


ANDREW LILES & JEAN-HERVE PERON Fini! CD (Dirter Promotions, 2008)
I have to ‘fess that I sometimes now baulk at the idea of reviewing material concerning my friends, and this particular release is a double-barrelled example in that it features Mr. Liles and is on Steve Pittis’ label. Thankfully, however, the former, despite my presently rather featherweight criticism of there simply being too much available by him now being completely at odds with my own endorsement of his work via releases on my own labels, has barely made a duff record yet, whilst Pittis’ Dirter Promotions is very much a kindred spirit to my own labels in that it’s never been hip, is dedicated to purely reflecting Steve’s own interests, and has indeed crossed over with mine at several points. Basically, our labels are in the same (possibly sinking but certainly stinking) boat, and always have been. Returning to the point about Liles’ work, however, I think my problem with there being so much output by him now stems from the belief that he’s going to slip up very badly at any given time now, but my fears are violently cast aside with absolutely every new record I hear by him these days. And this collaboration with one of Faust’s founders is no exception.
Beginning, as it does, with a welcoming Faust-type drum loop and Jean-herve yowling and protesting that, as the title suggests, ‘The Drummer is on Valium’, plus all from metallic clunks and scrapes to what sounds akin to an android gibbon deeply in pain and some rockin’ guitar, the tone is largely set for an album that appears to get better, and perheps more skewed, as the following thirteen cuts unspool their very guts. As the piece begins to plummet into some nicely hewn noise towards the end of its 8 minutes running time, we’re given the usual few seconds pause before ‘I Do Not Like To Get Wet’ assumes a posture dominated by Liles’ presence. Trademark flirtations with the carnivalesque and downright absurd bubble ‘n’ foam away, hinting at those cloud-strewn netherworlds Liles’ ouevre has continually poked its tendrils at since first crawling amongst the moonlit shadows. Only a rusty trumpet really seems s to bag the air trapped by Jean-herve, but rusty brass is welcome into my palace any day. Third track, ‘Shut Up & Sit Down’, sticking to the two-to-three minutes mark dominating most of the pieces and held together by the kinda plaintive enough guitar strums that wouldn’t be outta place on an early post-punk record, pays witness to more of Jean-herve’s vocals and all kinds of indiscernible, mutated noises spiralling from a Lovecraftian rift clearly exploited elsewhere. Whilst its only too apparent that the recent Faust collaborations with Nurse With Wound represent an inevitable meeting of minds, Liles and Jean-herve alone together mould far more fantastic shapes from the subconsciousness than you may’ve heard in quite a time. Not only that, but Fin! Really fucken, uh, ‘rocks’ in places, too.
Indeed. Work your way through the looped breaths, rasps, muted bass drums pounds and complaining horse of ‘Shake Your Hooves’ and there’s so much fantastic guitar fuzz to swathe yourself in you can almost hear early Skullflower battling it out with The Stooges. Which is precisely one of the reasons the instrument itself was invented for, as far as I’m concerned, and I vehemently advise seeing a doctor if you stupidly think otherwise.
Of course, guitars don’t cloak the album entirely, however. Other tracks, such as ‘I Lost Faith in Words’, consist of a haphazard yet playful collection of cut-ups, gadgetry and vocals, and ‘Congo Bongo La La La’ is virtually self-explanatory aside from the additional employment of a flute and gleeful speed-fuckery. Then, penultimate piece, ‘It’s Too Loud’ kicks off with a couple of layers of Jean-herve saying god knows what in German before we’re sent reeling spacewards with more six-stringed lunacy. The signs proclaiming there being two geniuses at work don’t have a solitary chance of remaining mounted…
Friends or not, this is a grand album. My objectivity forever rules regardless and, well, if any of you fuckers trust me, you can sure as hell count on me regarding this release. The only disappointing thing is the shitty, almost throwaway artwork. It looks like the kinda album one would find on RRR or a dodgy US noise label. The music deserved better. (RJ)


GETATCHEW MEKURIA, THE EX & GUESTS Moa Anbessa CD (Terp Records, The Netherlands, 2006)
It had been a considerable amount of years since I last heard The Ex before this album, and I’d never felt particularly won over by their rather Gang Of Four-inspired delves into angular and sometimes noisy rock, but this collaboration both caught my attention and jolted it for six almost immediately on the very first listen. Getatchew Mekuria is a highly respected saxophonist from Ethiopia who, now in his 70s, has been playing in his own, almost free-leaning, style since 1947. Utilising typical Ethiopian signatures, his vibrato blasting takes its main cue from a war-chant that then spirals wonderfully into colourful melodies, blistering attacks and more mournful refrains. Alongside The Ex’s staggered rhythms, mannered anger, punked-up guitar cuts, buoyant (but not cloying) playfulness and the addition of a horn section whose own accompaniments swell everything out perfectly, the eleven songs barely contain a passion I’ve hardly heard outside certain Polish groups originally snagged in the ‘Yass’ circuit of the 1990s. Overtly, the album represents a highly spirited meeting of minds downright impossible to ignore. And, heck, if this illustrates what The Ex have been up to in more recent years, then those early misigivings of mine need to be retracted immediately. Likewise, as quite possibly my first (small) helping of Ethiopian music, it sounds like an entrance paved in gold. Would have loved to have caught this live, and no mistake. (RJ)
Terp Records, PO Box 635, 1000 AP Amsterdam, The Netherlands
www.terprecords.nl


DAVOR MIKAN Tauschung CD (Cronica, Portugal, 2007)
Four years in the making, the 28 miniatures (as, indeed, they generally are; only one piece goes over the four minutes mark, only a few hover around the two-to-three-minutes length, and the remainder range from eleven seconds to being barely much longer than a minute) here by Mikan, a Vienna-based artist given to combining algorithmic music with handmade sounds, resemble the type of scrunched-up electro-acoustic compositions RLW has perfected over the years. Balls of light and dark bounce against jagged and often jarring micro-patterns teased into something then invitingly teased elsewhere. As with other such works, this is not a place to turn to for comfort or to get dragged along by. Instead, Mikan creates a completely absorbing space where sounds are explored and pushed into new realms perfectly reflecting the whole gamut of emotions without the crutches served by convention. It is music designed to climb inside, and it works fantastically. (RJ)
www.cronicaelectronica.org


GEOFF MULLEN thrtysxtrllnmnfstns CD (Entschuldigen Entgeoff, Germany, 2007)
Combination of treated guitar drones, textures, electronics, banjo plucking and suchlike on a debut album which sucks on the already congealed juices of what certain people have been calling ‘Americana’ during recent years. Although it functions on an agreeable enough level, it is hard to imagine this work being capable of fulfilling those with more demanding appetites. Certainly, the multi-layered mininimalist drone pieces are okay, but they’re ultimately similar to only too many other processed mulch works of this nature. Put them next to any other such artist’s work and I’ll give a big bag o’ sweets to the person who can discern Mullen’s own endeavours from them. No lie. On other cuts not so readily anchored, a subtle folk-ish leaning can be occasionally whiffed between the patchwork of glitches, pops and micro-parps, but Leafcutter John’s throne won’t be toppled yet. Again, it’s all okay, but we now live in a world where only too much music is merely ‘okay’ when, let’s face it, more of it should be fucken gobsmackingly blinding. Kudos must be given for the handmade feel of the packaging, however. Each copy of the album arrives with digital prints by artist Sarah Powers glued to the front and back of the digipak, plus a cloth bag inside containing a photo and info sheet by Mullen. More artists/groups could learn from this, at the very least. (RJ)
www.entschuldigen.com


NEUBAU rymdmyr CD (Nonine Recordings, Germany, 2008)
Neubau is Arno Steinacher, who has been composing music since he was 12 and is known in more recent times for his work in the domains of improvisation and electronic music. The nine cuts here paint a remarkably alluring picture, allowing tiny melodic refrains to work alongside fragmentary whispers of sound, occasional pulses, field recordings, little digital poots and sighs, and electro-acoustic platforms to rather startling effect. Without doubt, Neubau’s work owes much to the whole scope of micoscopic sound exploration but, with the aid of more organic devices such as voice and even a cello at certain points, the focus appears to be of a far warmer stock and enriched with ideas usually barely touched on by such artists. If anything, it all swings towards those places Ralf Wehowsky’s explorations sometimes point to, yet with a sense of more obvious structure underpinning proceedings. Ultimately, it’s an album rife with nourishment and a satisfying, yet not smug, air of surprise that’s firmly capable of pulling us into its world and never once letting go till the very last note sounds out. Near perfect. (RJ)
www.nonine.com


NíD Plate Tectonics CD (Aufabwegen, Germany, 2006)
Posthumous release by this Swiss-German trio dedicated to mostly drone-bound sounds, noise manipulation, foggy samples and dialogue snatches. Here, three lengthy pieces encircle some fantastic voyages through muted hum, looped voices, gentle vibrations and the stench of noxious ooze. The last one, ‘35000 Feet Below the Ocean Surface’, clocks in at almost 22 minutes and hints at a leather-clad NWW surveying a desert of black ash. Which works a treat for me. (RJ)
Aufabwegen, P.O. Box 152, 50441 Cologne, Germany
www.aufabwegen.com


PURE SOUND Submarine CD (Euphonium, 2007)
This release advertises itself as "ambient, avant garde, experimental", but I have to say that this release doesn't really match up to these adjectives. The first track, ‘Breathe Deep, My Love’, comes on like an ersatz Can (complete with ‘Mother Sky’ bassline), and what follows is a bunch of acoustic guitar strumming and plunking, samples of World War Two-era monologues and quotes, submarine-like beeps and bloops (do you see?), some sardonic (and to be honest, tiresome) vocals, rumbling loops and drones, various bits of found sound, and so forth. There are some nice touches here and there, such as the atmospheric piano playing of ‘Get My Cutting Head Down’, however, but on the whole there is a lack of focus present, with the impression that Pure Sound are attempting to squeeze in as many sounds and ideas as they can, which don't always work well or hang together. In addition, they are treading a well-worn path in respect to what they are attempting, and I found my attention often drifting whilst listening to Submarine - a case of "heard it all before", perhaps? Mixing songwriting and atmospherics can work sometimes, but it's a tricky thing to pull off, and to be honest, I feel that Pure Sound have somewhat missed the mark. (SC)


RAN SLAVIN The Wayward Regional Transmissions CD (Crónica, Portugal, 2007)
Latest work from this Tel Aviv-based audio-visual artist, anchored to the fundamental premise of marrying sounds from the Oriental Middle East to contemporary glitchworks. It’s an idea bursting with a promise, however, which generally fails to live up to the album’s opening highlight of ‘Village’, which succeeds because it is carried along by Israel’s leading singer-songwriter Ahuva Ozeri’s three-steel-string instrument, the Bulbul Tarang. And, despite her appearing with the very same instrument on a further three songs, only ‘Hagalil’ and ‘Wayward Initial’ from these vaguely sniff near its warmth and immediacy. Between these pieces, we witness at least an edging towards the original idea, if not the fullest realisation of it.
The remainder of the album relies too heavily on the already stated software fuckery methods that now only seem incredibly lazy, easy and, of course, only too often employed by a grey and sickly tide of clueless bastards with absolutely nada to offer.
What could have been a truly enterprising venture turns out to be, unfortunately, yet another album that, certainly during its finer points, hints at a scope far wider than it possibly even originally set out to. Pity it’s swiftly cut short by its predictability.
A truly wasted opportunity. (RJ)


PETER REHBERG Kapotte Muziek by… 3” CD (Korm Plastics, NL, 2007)
Digital-noise artist Rehberg, more commonly known as Pita, here works source material from Kapotte Muziek’s first workshop, recorded in 1997. Approximately 17 minutes of amorphous sonic buggery tweaked into something quite beautiful, with all the cut-ups and junkyard mayhem of Frans de Waard’s KM outlet buried, perhaps, like a corpse in the cellar that’s still making its fragrant presence felt. Such collaborations, I strongly maintain, should always subsist on the fundamental idea of hitching the original material to completely different points. Narratives, sounds and even the most vague of notions need to be both thoroughly explored and then redressed. And Rehberg understands this perfectly. Shame it’s such a stupidly short release, really. (RJ)
www.kormplastics.nl


SHINING Grindstone CD (Rune Grammofon, Germany, 2007)
Persuasive second album by a Norwegian rock outfit whose combined background in jazz, theatre, pop and film music clearly pays dividends if Grindstone is anything to go by. Despite a blistering assault into the crevice where Prog joins forces with what many tend to deem ‘Art-rock’ (as with most such terms, it’s so wide and variable that it cannot be pinpointed to any particular sound; rather, it’s a generic badge to be pinned on the lapels of those whose ‘rock’ dabblings are ‘clever’, ‘intelligent’, ‘sophisticated’ and simply steer clear of the ‘dunt’ trappings so many musicians in the area vy for…I’ve seen ‘Art-rock’ levelled at all from Roxy Music, Magma and Pere Ubu to Peter Hammill, Wire, and Godspeed You Black Emperor!, and none of them bear many similarities. Nonetheless, I’ll run with it for now anyway), there are huge ‘n’ juicy dives into the domain of the film soundtrack via haunting or even bombastic sections, plus healthy dips into other waters altogether. ‘Moonchild Mindgames’ starts out like something you’d expect to hear emanating from a decent jazz bar before then getting itself entangled in some dark strands o’ wisp perhaps left by a recordist for an old B-movie. The bizzarely titled ‘Stalemate Longan Runner’ picks at medieval scabs also found elsewhere, and ‘To Be Proud of Crystal Colours is to Live Again’ is a short instrumental that wouldn’t be out of place on Danny Elfman’s fantastic score for Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands. Meantime, ‘ASA NISI MASA’ actually succeeds in making vocoded vocals seem acceptable.
At certain intervals it brings to mind fellow Scandinavians Circle and at others maybe Goblin if they’d been put together by Ozzy, but such parallels cannot realistically be drawn for too long. Above all, this is just a great, very lively and inventive album so stuffed with sonic protein it’s impossible to leave unattended. Shining make rock music sound like the kind of banquet even unsociable ragamuffins such as myself would only too happily attend. Incredible work. (RJ)
www.runegrammofon.com
www.shining.no



SWARMS The Silver Hour CD (Vendlus, Norway, 2008)
Five compositions recorded between 2002 and 2006 by a group revolving around Kim Solve, Petter Berntsen and several others caught on those icy winds often found nestled amongst the fjords of their native Norway. Somewhere between The Hafler Trio’s blend of plaintive textures and Biosphere’s ventures into frozen gush, Swarms own take on matters, unlike so many others nestled amongst such folds, at least avoids falling into that awful and cloying cod-horror post-industrial fissure so many morose Scandinavians seem to lick their blistered lips into a lather over. Muffled voices, chains dragged slowly along distant floors, broken rhythmic rasps and sighs, ghostly yet enchanting nods amongst the static, and a very carefully measured approach to the matters at hand prevent Swarms from appearing like an unwanted guest at a party. This is a good way to drift into some stray thoughts. And I speak as somebody cloaked in heaps o’ reservations initially. So, yeah, take it as gospel, if you choose… (RJ)
www.vendlus.com


TROUM AIWS CD (Transgredient, Germany, 2007)
AIWS is the first full-length release by this German duo since 2003 and collects recordings from between 2002 and 2005. With a title translating as ‘eternity’ in gothic language or representing an abbreviation of ‘Alice-In-Wonderland-Syndrome’ (I have no ‘net access as I type, so haven’t the faintest idea what this is right now, unfortunately), it collects nine melancholic drone-orientated pieces drafted from guitars, e-bow, accordion, voices, Sufi-songs, flute and the forever enticing surface sounds from old vinyl. Everything is recorded in analogue and, as the cover itself proudly proclaims, no computer, sampler or synths were used, which is no mean statement in itself if you have a rough grasp of recording and production techniques but still gasps a welcome sigh when placed next to today’s Ableton-bound explorers into little sonic kingdoms. Overtly, Troum work with slowly shifting foggy textures where other sounds also get knitted in to add to the mood, though. At times, it draws from similar pools to certain minimalist composers or, say, some of Eno’s ambient works, but the atmospherics share a malignance or sense of gloom more commonly associated with the duo’s own post-industrial peers. Occasionally everything drifts into some beautiful miasmic patterns, such as on the opening ‘Amhateins’, and the following ‘Aggilus’, but elsewhere Troum’s handle is lost and replaced by a more generic and predictable approach. It is clear Troum possess the ability to create droneworks that are majestic and powerful, however. Let’s hope they continue to nurture it. (RJ)
For more information, visit Drone Records: www.dronerecords.de


VARIOUS ARTISTS Audiotoop CD and 28pp book (Korm Plastics, NL, 2007)
A very curious release, this - it appears to be a spin-off from a series of live events (also called ‘Audiotoop’) that took place in early 2005 in the Netherlands. This CD and book package has the feel of being geared towards young children, with the book consisting of artwork and illustrations provided by each of the 10 (mainly Dutch) artists present. This impression continues with the initial track by Jana and Bertin (‘English Spoken’), which has both performers discussing some increasingly daft scenarios, whilst occasionally being interrupted by some seriously irritating bargain basement sounds. Henri-Chopinesque vocal manipulations are essayed on Freek Lomme en Remco van Bladel's ‘OERatiaudio Empir’, and much of the rest of this release features spoken word combined with either washes of electronics, or (more frequently) musique concrete-type juxtapositions. The most engaging moments come from the distinctly non-Dutch Bohman Brothers, whose ‘This Is Rocketscience’ combine their often-humorous whispering and ranting with their unique take on electro-acoustic sound manipulation. The CD as a whole is a pleasurable distraction, and a novel take on an area of music that can often be bogged down by the po-faced and humorless. It's not the sort of release I would find myself returning to regularly, but I do like its lack of pretentiousness and sense of fun. Worth checking out if you're in the mood for some Low Country shenanigans. (SC)


CHRIS WATSON – BJ NILSEN Storm CD (Touch, 2006)
Three lengthy pieces culled from a collection of recordings made over the course of several years of storm fronts on the respective shorelines of these two renowned artists. The first, by Watson alone, catches the lapping waves, gulls and suchlike from Budle Bay, the Forth and Tyne, etc. making for a natural setting that steadily drifts along towards something more enchantingly alien. ‘SIGWX’, the collaborative second entry, snares a cyclonic North East gale and thundery rain along with an air of Viking menace lifted straight from the Baltic sea, and the third and final piece, by Nilsen alone, catches various coastal locations recorded straight to DAT from his native Sweden. It all adds up to something simultaneously comforting and recognisable as well as faintly disconcerting. A fine balance not altogther removed from, say, some of Eric La Casa’s equally engaging work. Turn out the lights. Sit back. Ride those waves… (RJ)
www.touchmusic.org.uk


WoO Mobi Rock CD (rx-tx, Slovenia, 2007)
Debut from an improv guitarist from Belgrade otherwise known for his being a founder of the Belgrade Noise Society and one-time member of noise-rock outfit Off. Over ten cuts, WoO, as he now calls himself, casts his line into that space where gadgets and devices such as remote controllers, mobile phones, a computer mouse, radio receivers and a bow are employed as source material for sonic miniatures to rub alongside guitars and pedals. The results amount to a mostly melodic and atmospheric fabric of loops, drones, inconspicuous random clicks and shuffles, delicate sighs, melodic pings and twangs and suchlike over gently swaying rhythms. It’s all rather pleasant and slots readily alongside so much other material operating within the electronica spectrum but, unfortunately, like the vast majority, has little to actually elevate it beyond the homogenised morass it has trickled from. As with nearly all such music, there’s little to distinguish each of the artists responsible outside their being located in different cities or countries or whatever. Pleasant and very slightly interesting is all very well, but is it really enough? (RJ)
www.rx-tx.org
www.belgradenoise.com


Z’EV/FRANCISCO LOPEZ Buzzin’ Fly/ Dormant Spores CD (Black Rose Recordings, 2007)
Sadly, this is music that some would describe as “ambient”, simply because that seems to be the going term for music that doesn’t have drums or traditional style guitars. The problem with that definition is that it is considered synonymous with “nothing really happens” and there is a world of chthonic wonder to be found in the depths of the sounds herein.
It’s virtually impossible that any fan of experimental or concrete music will not have happened upon the works of either Z’ev or Lopez in their travels. Each is prolific, respected and established within the community. The album is a split, rather than a collaboration (hence the divided title) with the first half, comprised of five shorter linked tracks, belongs to Z’ev, the second, a long single piece, to Lopez. The two halves are a nice match, with the almost blissful organic drift of the former leading nicely into the intense rise and fall of the latter.
This release is all about the texture and progression of sound, so if you are looking for something that truly is ambient- something inoffensive that meekly fades to the background- you might want to look elsewhere. If you’d prefer to throw on headphones for something that will reveal itself more with each subsequent listen, you could do a lot worse. (KM)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Editorial no.1.: The Rise of Because...

There are many reasons why I have succumbed to the idea of launching this Adverse Effect blog but, chiefly, it boils down to the fact it is so much easier to maintain than the website (which has always been dependent on the assistance of others) and, indeed, affords me the opportunity to fully control it and upload material whenever I want. This freedom is something I simply don't get with the website. And, indeed, whilst the website will continue to be updated with various reviews, interviews and suchlike as and when those whose hands I depend upon for such matters can actually tend to them, I have long felt that posting the material here in the interim will at least satiate my overwhelming desire to handle it whilst relatively fresh.

Of course, I want to encourage others to continue assisting me, too. My efforts in the publishing world always relied on the notion of people getting involved, in order to help provide a broader insight towards whatever may or may not be going on in either (un)popular culture's recesses or even occasional bubbles to the surface and not just amount to reflecting my own often conflicting and confounding interests, even if I did always try and maintain a sense of 'quality control' along the way. As such, unlike my personal space here at blogger, Adverse Effect is here to welcome contributions by you, although I would urge you to contact me to discuss ideas beforehand rather than just solicit material in the vain hope I'll go ahead and use it. To this effect, I would like more interviews and reviews, as well as articles or pieces dedicated to those areas of interest which may dovetail with everything else accordingly. Additionally, I can send review material occasionally, too.

Essentially, I want Adverse Effect to maintain its place as a meeting point or juncture where the similarly-minded can interact. In this respect, it does not matter whether it exists as a properly published magazine (still my personal favourite medium for this, but the budget simply isn't there anymore for this) or via a website or here.

If you are unfamiliar with the past ground stalked by Adverse Effect or, indeed, its former guise as Grim Humour, I'd urge you to at least visit the website to help. Although generally music-orientated, plenty of other material dedicated to film directors, writers, artists and so on was always welcome, and included.

Material by myself will be posted here very shortly. In the meantime, however, please feel free to email me directly via the address in my personal blogspot if you want to get involved or have any suggestions. Feedback of all kinds has always been a motivating force...

Richo x