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Various – By gum, it’s a compilation

January 14, 2014

Admirable Restraint

No need for any of the usual caveats required of this one. This is a compilation put together by Alastair Wilson, my old radio chum from our audition days, who these days presents a show down in Australia, where he departed to a few years back now. It also includes a number of tracks I have heard before, by a number of friends of mine, and even one out-take from a Cathnor release. The reason that I am not going to be even slightly apologetic about being supportive of this release however is that it is a download, via Bandcamp that raises money for Beyond Blue, an Australian charity working to reduce the impact of depression, a cause close to my, and most people’s hearts for one reason or another. The album can be purchased for a donation of any amount, so no excuses folks, go get it here. Its actually really rather good in places too.

First up is the only one of the nine tracks here by Australian musicians, and something of a curio it is too. Sam Pettigrew  and Andrew Brooks’ The next work you hear is something like a work inspired by the artist Vito Acconci is a simple, but thoroughly unsettling collage of bits of old classical music recordings, strange, creepy voices talking and groaning uncomfortably about never having had a sister amongst other subjects, and soulless, computer generated voices announcing imminent arrivals at different places. There are no instruments played (beyond of course on the archive classical music selections), and just these various parts coming and going in vaguely ordered rotation. Its hard to say why this music feels disturbing. Certainly the moans and unsettling conversations have a lot to do with it, but there is something about the way the computer voices burst across old scratchy recordings of romantic period music in an abrupt, confrontational way that gives the music a very strange, but exceedingly unusual and original air. Anything but beautiful but very interesting indeed.

Then we have eleven minutes of Kostis Kilymis’ Only Presence, which consists of very soft, occasionally pulsing electronic feedback tones that slip almost unnoticeably in and out of field recordings of very little, reminiscent, but not replicated the earlier work of Michael Pisaro. I am not sure how many recordings there are here. We hear the grey rumble of traffic, and the even greyer hiss and hum of the interior of an essentially quiet building, subtle, almost inconsequential sounds that seem to pull more out of the tones than we really should hear. Its possible its all one recording made indoors with the window open. I’m not sure it matters. We have a cute little thing here, perfectly formed but short, quietly soft but with just enough bristle to run your fingers through. Beautiful.

Gil Gil Sansón’s The Schoenberg Motif is a half hour work, I believe constructed on a computer from recordings of separately performed instrumental parts. There are acoustic guitar plucks, sparsely placed, what sounds like eBowed guitar tones and other instrumental parts arranged in a manner that is probably as close to the common perception (albeit a very inaccurate one) of wandelweiser music as you can get, long tones and short notes spread around silences. I’m not certain what the title alludes to, as there certainly doesn’t seem to be any serialist underpinning to the music, and it is obviously very beautiful, but perhaps because I have heard so much music similar to this over recent years, i found myself focussing on a particular part of the work. Where the different sections have all been recorded separately, each has a different feel to the recording, a different room tone captured at the time each instrument was played. As the different elements are dropped in and out of the music construction so these different hisses and atmospheres also come and go, with Sansón clearly very aware of this, and (I think) also adding more of them via formless field recordings here and there as well. I almost zoned out of the instrumental parts entirely and just heard the sliding collage of these different room recordings, and that in itself is a lovely thing to do.

Then we get a six minute crunchy nugget from Daniel Jones. the festively titled  MCAR was recorded a few years ago but was re-edited and shaped for this compilation. Dan Jones has always had the ability to insert just enough surprise into his music to keep it vital and interesting. On the one hand MCAR is a short stream of electroacoustic scribbles and murky tones, the like of which we hear often, but on the either hand, his control of them, his ability to place filigree layers together in the gentlest of manners, but then insert a rudely sharp bleep just when you don’t expect it gives his music a character that is, to me at least, instantly recognisable as Dan’s, and very personal and expressive in form.

The title of Stephen Cornford and Samuel Rodgers’ Another Boring Outtake refers to Boring Embroidery, the duo’s 2013 release on my Cathnor label, so I am in no place to be even faintly objective about the track, which obviously comes from the same recording sessions. All I can say is, if you enjoy that album, this is more of the same, incredibly lovely piano and piano feedback improvisations.

 If you burn all of this compilation to CD, then the second disc naturally opens with Ben Owen’s Paper, which is a piece of music made entirely with the said material. So we hear fluttering, tearing, rustling and the slightest of scrunching here, close to a microphone and so forming some really interesting little nuggets of sound. Its a really nice little work, vaguely aimless in its construction, but all the better for it, just a sensation of intriguingly sounded events folding in and out of each other (pun intended). What is also worth noting, and clearly matters a lot here, is that Ben Owen is one of the greatest letterpress designers we have in the world today, and his relationship to paper, the tools of his trade, is obviously very intimate, and that relationship comes through here very well.

John Butcher’s Live at Ftarri, August 2013 almost then feels out of place beside the other music here, simply because the brief solo sax set is so much closer to the tradition of its chosen instrument than anything else on the compilation, but ultimately its not so far away from Owen’s paper piece, as Butcher again explores the history of the sax in a few minutes, via his own ongoing relationship with it, another intimate study of the tools of one person’s trade. If I learnt anything from my time presenting radio shows with Alastair Wilson it was that he knows how to juxtapose two pieces of music that work together. So Butcher applies all of his mastery and experience to the tenor sax again, and if you stop and submerge yourself in his recording then the rewards are obvious but as special as ever.

Phil Julian then keeps Alastair happy with about five seconds of strange, Delia Derbyshire-esque  synth squiggles before smashing them out of the way with a hard, brittle wall of what sounds to me like digitally created synth, but it could be analogue, who knows. York Supplemental literally burns across your eardrums in as uncompromising a fashion as we know Julian is capable of. I actually quite like it, ,simply because, for all its forcefulness there is a lot happening in the work, and while the music always seems to resolve itself through these sheets of harsh, vicious dissonance it frequently strips itself back to more slightly, individual elements found within. Noise music driven by intelligence and considered structure rather than adrenalin and power.

The compilation ends with A.F. Jones’ X Malfeasant, Appropriating Y, a title I like far more than I understand but is given to a fourteen minute drone work that sounds like it was created with different variations of guitar feedback, but I can’t be sure. Pulses of gritty tone and blurred abrasion seem to coalesce slowly into a series of throbbing plateaus that rise and fall like aircraft passing overhead until around half the way through the piece a recording of some kind of shuffling, scuffling activity rises from under it all, adding a completely new and very welcome element. Then, just when you think everything has dropped back to a grunge coloured sludge a bizarre pounding rhythmic part appears for a minute or so, Faust-esque in its simplicity and roughness. This further shift in proceedings signals the end of the track and leaves you slightly confused, which in my opinion is always a good thing.

The pieces here are culled from a larger number submitted to Alastair for two Christmas episodes of his radio show. While the music is all of a high standard (he asked some good musicians to contribute!) what is notable to me is how well this compilation has been put together given the limited materials to hand. Some tracks sent to the show were not used for the compilation, I imagine because they didn’t fit, and it is this sense of curatorial control here, not only through the track selection but also through their ordering that makes this compilation work well. Buy it because your money goes to a good cause. Enjoy it because it stands up really well regardless.

Get it here

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