Graziano Mandozzi/Pauline Anna Strom/Alexandra Atnif/Musique Ambiante Francaise Vol. 1/Roberto Aglieri/Sandro Mussida/Equiknoxx/Sounds Of Sisso/Nihiloxica
As integrated societies fragment, both internal and external forces drive communities and families apart, smashed beneath the perpetual wheels of industry. In this virtual panopticon, the spectacle intensifies, through the pedantic drizzle of symbolic violence, arcing from the mainframe, like sparks falling from an angle grinder. An accumulation of situations ordinarily avoided by previous generations have become unavoidable in the halogen-headlight-glare of the obligatory Audi A4 estate self-preservation culture of 21st century western obsession. Torn asunder, the frayed familial ties that once bound us now flutter like ribbons tied to the branches of sacred trees, rustling in the idiot winds of trade disagreements and infidelity. The dissolution of my marriage was one such statistic in this sorry catalogue of social dysfunction. As always, in these sordid tales of adult betrayal, it’s the children who ultimately suffer.
And, so it came to pass, back in the winter of 2003/2004, driven from my family home, into a caravan, to nurse a liver that had ceased to expel toxins, I began the long walk towards recovery, and, away from the extended family I had grown to love so dearly since 1979. One of the great tragedies of said divorce was the loss of my relationship with my nephew, George. In the first picture I have of me taken with George, I’m 18-years old, wearing my faded blue Fiorucci sweatshirt, emblazoned with an iron-on-stencil that came free with initial copies of the Au Pairs’ ‘Playing With Another Sex’. My hair is blonde, grown-out spikes, crimped and hair-spayed to attention. George is a babe in arms, we were framed by the back doorway of his parent’s house, on the cusp of a shared lifetime of mutual musical wonderment.
Across the next 25-years, we developed a relationship resolutely founded on musical curiosity. I mentored George through wave after wave of musical shenanigans, comings and goings, as genre tides rose and genre tides fell, the eternal sea: through punk; post-punk; reggae; ska; folk; world music; hip-hop; acid house; jungle; alt.country; Americana; Britpop; black metal; doom metal; et al. George had an insatiable appetite for new sounds, and I’d compile cassettes for him endlessly, recommendation after recommendation. During these years, trips to Wiltshire, and later, Devon, would always include jamming sessions and performances for the rest of the family, and, before long, George far-exceeded my meagre talents as a guitarist. In those days, I was known as Uncle Punk, and my fretboard abilities as a humble strummer were rapidly eclipsed by George’s nimble fretwork. I can still recall the glee with which he first played me his take on Davey Graham’s ‘Anji’, a tune I still can’t play to this day.
As is often the case, it took death to reconcile us. The passing of my ex-mother-in-law this November brought the extended family back together once more for her funeral. As I arrived in the church, I spied George at the front, the first time we’d set eyes on each other in nigh-on 14-years. The surge of emotion was overpowering, a hug brought me to tears, a quarter of a century’s mutual love and admiration reconnected instantly. At the wake, we scrambled to fit 14-year’s worth of news into a couple of hours of conversation, the bond between us seemingly intact. I was simply thrilled to be reminded of the countless cassettes I’d compiled, and the resonance they held in George’s memories. This palate of impeccable taste I’d influenced, possibly even shaped, this cultural exchange. The magic of the peer to peer relationship; the exchange of sacral information; the reciprocity of connectivity; this passion for sound. We recalled individual songs, collective themes, scenes and dreams, each one of them powerful enough to change the world forever at the time, or so it seemed back then.
I was flawed when George told me that he’d been reading trakMARX throughout our estrangement. I’d genuinely never considered that angle for a moment. He even suggested it was time to resurrect ‘Cowboy Mouth’, the precursor of tMx, a hard copy zine that lasted one whole issue, indebted to Dave Henderson’s ‘Happenstance’. It was the first time I’d thought of ‘No Depression’-era alt.country in two decades: momentarily, I became disorientated, drowning in the history of my own musical journey, as long-forgotten obsessions flashed before my watery eyes. We’ve been communicating regularly since the funeral, and George has invited me and my daughters down to Exeter in the spring. George has played in many bands over the years of our estrangement, including stints in a major doom metal band that saw him tread the boards to audiences exceeding anything I achieved in my time. He’s got a functional home studio set-up, and we’ve agreed to work together on some material I’ve had lying round for a couple of years, and some stuff George has been working on. In this age of dislocation, stories of reconnection and families overcoming dysfunction are stories of hope: an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes. Both this month’s column and its selections are dedicated to the musical imagination of George Birch:
Graziano Mandozzi – ‘Masada’ (Holywax):
Mandozzi’s epic score to Hans Kresnik’s 1977 ballet, ‘Masada’, operates in similar soundtrack-boundary-annihilation territory to that of Bernard Parmegiani’s ‘Rock’ (Transversales Disques), explored in detail in last month’s column. The experience of ground being broken by the interpretive tools of jazz action, Milesian bad-ass-funk, experimental electronica and the liberal sprinkling of psychedelic shapeshiftery renders this intriguing disc from Geneva-based psych monkeys, Holywax Records, as a grail worthy of the label’s moniker. Remastered and tinkered to the sonic peak of perfection by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios in London, ‘Masada’ is a journey into sound that will leave you exhausted but satiated.
Pauline Anna Strom – ‘Trans-Millenia Music’ (ReRVNG):
ReRVNG, the paramilitary reissue-wing of NYC-based RVNG, has spent the past 6-years establishing a reputation of some repute in the discipline of shedding light into darkened corners. With a catalogue blessed by luminaries such as Harald Grosskopf, Craig Leon, K. Leimer, Ariel Kalma, and Anna Homler, the addition of this carefully curated compilation from San Fransican ambient legend, Pauline Anna Strom, is cause for some celeberation. Blind from birth, following complications relating to the premature nature of her entry into this world, Strom’s acute sensitivity to sound invigorated her with an incredible ability to create her own universe aurally, from her own home, between 1982 and 1988, using a Tascam 4-track recorder and a modest arsenal of analogue synthesizers. Immensely spiritual and deeply zen, immersion within the boundless confines of Strom’s universe is literally akin to the art of being here now. The connectivity of universal atomic bonds link the listener to the epitome of existence itself, providing an experiential reciprocal exchange that emphasises our commonality as sentient beings. Healer, spirit guide, Reiki master and composer, Strom’s belated canonisation is long overdue, and ‘Trans-Millenia Music’ stretches our flimsy concepts of time and space beyond the relative towards the cosmic. Magnificently packaged, pressed onto two sides of shimmering orange sunburst wax, this incredible release is not only one of the highlights of the year, but possibly of the decade thus far as a whole.
Alexandra Atnif – ‘Rhythmic Brutalism Vol. 1/Vol. 2′ (EM Records):
Following a string of limited self-released cassettes stretching back to 2015, Romanian sound artist Alexandra Atnif collates her back catalogue with this two-volume collection on Japanese label, Em Records. Inspired by the brutalist architecture that informs the urban landscape of her native lands, Atnif’s unapologetic approach to sound constructs imposing edifices to the former glories of the Communist experiment. Through the power of relatively accessible analogue technology, she has crafted a monolithic niche within the contemporary electronic music milieu. The sound of rust oxidising in the damp atmosphere of the mist of the tears of the proletariat. The sound of concrete infested with pyrites, silica and mica, constantly mutating in the harsh environment of sub-zero temperatures. The sound of oligarchs screaming digitally as they are torn limb from limb by the righteous masses. The crackles of their subsequent pyres oscillate through the mix in distorted collapse, as failed ideology burns in front of our ears. Informed on the one hand by the school of radical experimentalism of the 1970s: Throbbing Gristle, Nocturnal Emissions, Cabaret Voltaire, and on the other by more recent adherents of the discipline: Autechre, Prurient, Vatican Shadow, Atnif demonstrates the art of progression through both time and space across this brace of indispensable volumes.
V/A – ‘Musique Ambiante Francaise Vol. 1′ (Tigersushi):
Triple-vinyl compilation on Paris-based Tigersushi captures the zeitgeist at the heart of the French beatless community. Purpose built around Apollo Noir’s ‘Inspiring Images & Visual Power. Chosen With Love & Dedication’ and Glass’ ‘Heart’, the original concept of a split-45 eventually evolved into the 18-track, 2-hour-13-minute opus you read about here. In an amazing display of synchronicity, these 18-initially disparate sources coalesce in wondrous amalgamation, both consolidating and affiliating individual contributors in a synthesis far greater than the project’s curators could ever have imagined at the outset. Doffing berets in the general direction of antecedent Pierres, Schaeffer and Henry, volume two is reportedly already in the pipeline, suggesting in some senses a glorious accident turned brilliant mistake.
Roberto Aglieri – ‘Ragapadani’ (Archeo Recordings):
Florence-based Archeo Recordings delivers its second mandatory double-wax-bundle of the year, following sharply on the heels of Paolo Modugno’s ‘Brise D’Automne’. Again, the format is familiar: a double album, one disc on coloured wax (this time silver marble, as opposed to gold for Modugno), a second on black vinyl, in an edition of 100-copies. Forming an orderly queue behind the likes of Franco Battiato, Giusto Pio, Roberto Musci,Telaio Magnetico, Zeit, Lino Capra Vaccina, Claudio Rocchi, N.A.D.M.A., and Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, Aglieri is the latest in the long line of Italian composers to have their work disentombed from the 20th century and resurrected in the collective consciousness of the contemporary imagination. Originally released back in 1987, ‘Ragapadani’ does not come with a biography of its creator over-laden with detail. A flautist with a penchant for musical therapy, Aglieri espoused the healing properties of sound in taking the listener to hitherto undiscovered realms of acceptance through arpeggiation. This is music that demands to be inhabited, not simply heard. I would urge you to move beyond cliched new-age/hippy slights in approaching ‘Ragapadani’. Go in with an open mind and leave with a new perspective.
Sandro Mussida – ‘Ventuno Costellazioni Invisibili’ (Metrica):
Composed for violin, flute, clarinet, electric guitar, piano, percussion, and computers, and staffed by an ensemble consisting of Enrico Gabrielli, Yoko Morimyo, Susanne Satz, Alessandra Novaga, Giulio Patara, Sebastiano De Gennaro, Giovanni Isgrò, ‘Ventuno Costellazioni Invisibili’ sees London-based Italian Mussida expand the lineage of tradition in terms of Italian progressive instrumentalism outlined in the Aglieri review above. Experimenting with pitch, tone, speed and triangulation, Mussida approaches the art of classical deconstruction with elegance and restraint. Beautifully realised and sumptuously packaged, every aspect of this release symbolises Mussida’s unshakeable belief in the resonance of his creative process. Sonorous yet sparse, orotund yet minimalist, Mussida stands shoulder to shoulder with fellow countryman Giulio Aldinucci in keeping the home fires of constant redefinition across the spectrum of experimental Italian composition burning brightly.
Equiknoxx – ‘Cólon Man’ (DDS):
Following their hugely acclaimed compilation of earlier work, ‘Bird Sound Power’ (DDS, 2016), Jamaica’s Equiknoxx Music (Gavin Blair aka Gavsborg and Jordan Chung aka Time Cow) finally drop their long-player-proper in the form of ‘Cólon Man’ (DDS). The record’s title eludes to a Jamaican folk song, ‘Colon Man-A-Come’, celebrating the return to the island from Cólon of one of the 100,000 or so Jamaicans who built the Panama Canal. He left the island as a humble labourer, but returns with a certain swagger, a brass watch chain, and a zoot suit: “One, two, three, four, Colon man a-come (x 3)/Wid him brass chain a-lick him belly pam pam pam/Ask him what the time is him look upon the sun (x 3)/Wid him brass chain a-lick him belly pam pam pam/Zoot suit, eye glass, ‘Merican a come (x 3)/Wid him brass chain a-lick him belly pam pam pam/So fast him leave the island so quickly him come back (x 3)/Wid him brass chain a-lick him belly pam pam pam”. Recorded between December 2016 and June 2017, ‘Colón Man’ is a eminently more focussed and vivid affair than its predecessor. Melody is used sparingly in an abstract manner, reconfiguring original sources, spliced through effect and desk, evolving beyond parameter into something unrecognisable. Addis Pablo’s melodica, synth hooks, acidic grinds, doorbells, birdcalls, tin cans, chorales, bleeps, gongs, pinball machines, all are superimposed over mutated dancehall riddims as progressive as anything to emanate from Jamaica in years.
V/A – ‘Sounds Of Sisso’ (Nyege Nyege Tapes):
“For the past 15-years the Tanzanian megalopolis of Dar Es Salaam has had one of the most exciting underground electronic music scenes in East Africa. A constellation of micro-scenes from Mchiriku, Sebene and Segere all the way to its latest mutation of Singeli that finally after years of lurking in the underground has exploded into the mainstream and taken over Bongo Flava as the music of choice amongst Tanzania’s youth. Born in the sprawling working class neighborhoods of Tandale and Manzese, Singeli’s signature sound consists of fast paced frantic loops interlocking with each other, with influences from Zanzibars Tarab music all the way to South African afro-house coupled with MCs who often spit satirical lyrics about the challenges facing Tanzania’s youth, from police corruption to the complications of dating girls when you are broke. If there is one studio that stands out amongst the hundreds that dot Dar es Salaam’s musical landscape it is Sisso Records. Centered around producers; Bwax, Sisso, Bampa Pana and Yung Keyz Morento and Mc’s Dogo Niga and Makavelli, they were early pioneers of the Singeli sound. Whilst some Singeli artists have begun fusing their music with more traditional Tanzanian hip hop, Sisso have remained uncompromising in their sound: always raw, fast, with a punk DIY aesthetic that can at times verge on Noise and Gabber, to produce a spell binding music that is like no other Sound System culture in the region” – Nyege Nyege Tapes
Man, this shit is raw. I’ve only just unearthed this scene, and hastily snagged myself a copy of Boomkat’s 300-copy double-vinyl-coloured-wax repressing of this original Nyege Nyege Tapes cassette release. Alongside the Equiknoxx jam above, and the Nihiloxica tape below, ‘Sounds Of Sisso’ is a filling of quality in a sandwich of innovation. I won’t even attempt to qualify beyond the quote above from horse’s mouth, I simply do not yet possess either the understanding or the prerequisite vocabulary to do justice to this gargantuan release, beyond express both my total fascination and eternal gratitude to Nyege Nyege Tapes and the artists of Sisso for shining a sun’s worth of illumination onto the repressive darkness of my English winter.
Nihiloxica – ‘S/T’ (Nyege Nyege Tapes):
Again, there are no words presently, the last seven days have been a new voyage of discovery inspired by Nyege Nyege Tapes, and in my current incarnation as total novice, I am loathed to attempt anything other than quotation: “After leaving us reeling with the electrifying Sounds of Sisso compilation, Nyege Nyege Tapes introduce a scintillating and darker take on traditional Bugandan drumming with Nihiloxica’s debut battery of percussion and stark synth work. Revolving around seven percussionists plus one kit drum and a synth, their eponymous debut is a deeply grounded but sparking session recorded in single takes at Boutiq Studios in Kampala, Uganda, between 26-29th August, 2017.”