Things Just Went Sour Gradually All At Once




A Column

If, like me, you’ve been hovering over the mouse pad consistently these past couple of months, considering every social media posting to the Nth degree, fearful of invoking the wrath of the PLP, and subsequent suspension from the Labour Party, then the reelection of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the party on 24/09/16 must surely have come as some kind of epiphany. It was almost time to start randomly running into brightly lit rooms shouting: “Put that bloody light out, don’t you know there’s a war on?” It comes to something when celebrity A-listers like Seaford ModsJason Williamson are suspended from the Labour Party! To the relief of likeminded critical thinkers the breadth of the country, it’s now culturally acceptable, once again, to post pictures of dilapidated ice cream vans, and judgementally label Tory Trolls and Blairite haters ‘silly little men’ (and, amusingly, they are almost always ‘men’). A uneasy calm has returned to the trenches of the Twittersphere, the smell of mustard gas and dry ice just a faint memory in the nostrils.

Now, not for a moment do I doubt the sincerity of Labour’s parliamentary executive in their struggle to ensure that democracy in their party is carried out to the letter, but it has been at times traumatic not to feel liberated enough to post the word ‘c**t’ every time one sees a photo of Owen Smith. Thankfully, that’s all behind us now, and we can concentrate on uniting as a national community behind our leader, as we take on the Tories, the PLP, Rupert Murdoch, right wing hegemony, the BBC, The Guardian, The Independent, The Mirror and the Laura Kuenssberg Army Faction. What could possibly go wrong? With this in mind, I have  designed a graph that predicts the possibilities: The X-axis is labeled ‘Corbyn’s movement towards taking power’. The Y-axis is labelled ‘possible window for Corbyn’s assassination’. A very British coup.

Meanwhile, back at the plot, and strictly in the interests of continuity, you may recall that August’s column left this writer riddled with theoretical torpor on the Isle Of Lewis, re-enlightened, but facing a long drive south. Luckily, for me, more than anyone, I’m still here to bash out September’s instalment: gainfully employed, and therefore able to waste what little disposable income I do have on vinyl, in order to proffer some kind of guidance to those of you out there that still revel in outsider pseudo-culture.

Having returned from Orkney and Lewis repurposed and recalcitrant, to some degree, the month of September was mostly spent exploring new horizons, reflecting on misspent months misguidedly trying to save things that intrinsically didn’t want to be saved. I spent an inordinant amount of time changing profile/cover pictures on my social media platforms, always a dead giveaway that I’m wrestling with existential wardrobe monsters instead of sleeping. My ratio of posts about depression and mental health went through the roof. Those close to me in real life took me to one side and told me they’d been concerned. Cull after cull ripped through my record collection. Acres of vinyl appeared on my Discogs page, seemingly overnight. I’d begun to doubt my own vinyl existence. Was this the vinyl solution? I ruminated on the questionable motivations of anyone who would actually want to read this drivel anymore. Although my handlers insist that ‘traffic isn’t an issue’, and that people still flock to these pages, ostensibly to delve through the archives for rare pictures of Debbie Harry and Cravats 45 sleeves, I often wonder who the actual fuck could possibly share any of my naive eclecticism in these days of Orwellian prophecy.

As is often the case when we flounder, adrift on hostile seas of musical indifference, searching for that elusive portal to lead us back to the Navidson Records, and, ultimately, the expansive rooms of the House Of Leaves, we stumble across that connection blindly, as if led by some ethereal cord. This time, a late night trawl through the Antipodean home of Lawrence English led to the observations of one David Toop, doyen of the golden age of impromental experivisation, on his new record for English’s Room4o Records: ‘Entities Inertias Faint Beings’. Toop therein describes how, during his mid-fifties, he began to tire of music as an exercise in tuneage, and instead began to look beyond mere collections of notes, to the distant void of sound itself. Synchronicity calling. I spent a long night listening and re-listening to the sounds of ‘Entities Inertias Faint Beings’, beguiled and fascinated by the hypnagogic power of Toop’s art. ‘Dry keys echo in the dark and humid early hours’ captured my imagination as I floated on my very own ocean flux. In this solitude, I too contemplated death, decay, and the gush of life: a spark lit the pilot light, and the boiler fired-up to heat my cold heart from within.

As if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared. From 1975 to 1979, Toop, along with a collective of fellow musicians/artists from the London free improv scene, including Steve Beresford, Annabel Nicholson, Evan Parker, David Cunningham, Lindsay Cooper, Eddie Prevost, John Russell, Derek Bailey, Hugh Davies, Peter Riley, et al., published a magazine that was to prove a watershed: Musics. Launched in Spring of 1975, Musics set the template for what would soon become an explosion of punk rock fanzines, covering the then nascent fields of sound art, field recording, free improvisation, live electronics, 20th century composition and audio culture. Published six times a year, and running to twenty-three issues in its 4-year tenure, Musics has now been collated and bound, and published as a single volume by Thurston Moore‘s Ecstatic Peace imprint.

Designed to challenge boundaries, Musics linked the worlds of free-jazz and academia to miscreants such as John CageCornelius Cardew and Stockhausen, breaking even further ground with the inclusion of emerging indigenous and non-European musics. In the grand tradition of an anarchist collective, Musics was a haven for ne’er-do-wells, a hotbed of alternatives. As Toop himself attests: “With rose-tinted affection, I recall mass paste-up sessions with spray mount; a page of reviews of electronic music by women, written by Lily Greenham in 1978; in the same issue are five beautifully written and illustrated pages about listening in Greece; an aural sketchbook by Dave Veres was just one example of pieces about listening practice and field recording; there are also invaluable accounts of groups such as The People Band, Feminist Improvising Group, CCMC, Los Angeles Free Music Society, MEV, and the Dutch musicians associated with Instant Composers Pool”.

One of the artists involved in the creation of Musics was Peter Cusack, whose debut long player from 1977 has found a new lease of life through the impeccable imprint, Editions Blume. ‘After Being In Holland For Two Years’ typifies the rampant eclecticism of Musics’ mandate: wholesome, natural, abstract, a fascinating record, even some 40-years after the fact, it’s still impossible to genre-stereotype. A solo album of guitar noodling and field recordings, it presents as a collage of fuzzily focussed snapshots, hastily mounted into a vinyl scrapbook. Captured for posterity, yet somehow hanging in space and time in the very moment in which it was created. Reissued here for the first time since its first pressing, with extensive new liner notes by Toronto-based composer-performer Martin Arnold complimenting the original notes Cusack himself submitted for the record’s initial release, this limited pressing comes in a bold green jacket, with a fold-up tai-panel inner, on green wax, with an Obi strip.

Any thematic muse loosely associated to free jazz is not worth its salt without the inclusion of Peter Brötzmann, whose latest Full Blast jam with the Swiss rhythm section of Marino Pliakas (e-bass) and Michael Wertmüller (drums) has been glued to my turntable. ‘Risc’ (Trost Records) is the combo’s fifth long player, and finds the trio pushing the envelope further than its ever been pushed before. With sterling assistance from Michael Wertmüller (production), Gerd Riche (electronics) and Gareth Jones (mixing duties), ‘Risc’ stands out from the crowd in a year that has already seen a number of free jazz related future classics hit the decks (Fire!, Fire! Orchestra, Hedvig Mollestad Trio, Bushman’s Revenge). Riddled with contemporary electronic interfaces, the record’s seven cuts challenge continually, without recourse to either dullness or cliche. With an artist as consistently prolific as Brötzmann (a slew of releases already this year, alone), it’s often difficult to know when to jump in and when to pass. Although I’m personally by no means a completist, the man is one of the closest things to a hero its possible for a 53-year old to have in 2016, and ‘Risc’ is a mighty fine piece of work that will no doubt be troubling the scorers come end of term.

Elsewhere, I’ve been impressed with British saxophonist John Butcher‘s latest collaboration with the Portuguese RED trio: ‘Summer Skyshift’ (Clean Feed); embroiled in SomA and Noble’s expansive fifth Aethenor album, ‘Hazel’ (VHF Records); ensconced in modular don John Chantler‘s epic fifth album, ‘Which Way To Leave’ (Room40); totally connected to ‘Broken Telephone’, Mark Fell, Laura Cannell, Rhodri Davies and Peter J. Evans‘ collaborative quadruple 12″ set, originally purposed for Evans’ solo exhibition, ‘Across islands, divides’, at BALTIC B39; and totally mesmerised by Johann Johannsson’s number station-infused ‘Orphee’ (Deutsche Grammophon).

Finally, it is with eternal optimism that I sign off this month. Politically, I have renewed hope that the policies of conscience espoused by Jeremy Corbyn provide the rallying call this dislocated nation needs to rise against the continued oppression of the neoliberal elite. I felt privileged to be amongst the faithful in Birmingham on 17/09/16 to witness the power of the man in person. Amongst a crowd of over 2,000, I cannot recall such a groundswell of passionate support for a politician. It took me back to the MIner’s Strike rallies. It felt like a gig. Corbyn connected with everyone present. Universal connection in an age of dislocation. If you haven’t done so already, join the Labour Party.

Musically, I have learnt, yet again, that there is always something undiscovered and inspirational through the next door. The House Of Leaves has many rooms, there’s always something for everyone somewhere. In the meantime, I trust that the few of you left that still read this column take as much from reading it as I do from writing it. Musics. The food of love. Play on!

Jean Encoule - September 26th, 2016

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