“Anything can happen in life, especially nothing” – Michel Houellebecq
In this state of capitalist surrealism, nothing is the norm. Something is but nothing. Something it is not. Nothing is worth anything. Nil plus nil is nothing. Notes change hands at an alarming rate. It’s impossible to prosecute the elite. Even when they would appear to be breaking every law in the land. If they are challenged, they simply lie. It’s nothing to do with them.
A month or so down the line from the Peasant’s Revolt, billions out of pocket to the DUP, the Northern Irish Peace process in jeopardy, the Magic Money Tree shaking like Stevens, the illegal May administration propped up by a bung-ho interpretation of the concept of ‘mandate’ has issued the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (formerly the Great Repeal Bill). This Bill gives government ministers the right to change the law without a vote in parliament. Sections 7, 8 and 9 of the Bill outline how delegated powers and ‘Henry VIII’ powers can be used by ministers to change the law. Ministers will, for instance, have the power to either replace oversight bodies of the EU (e.g. EURATOM), or to simply abolish them entirely.
The Bill states that ministerial powers can be used to address ‘deficiencies’ in EU law, and gives a list of circumstances (in Section 7 (2)), but crucially says that the legitimate uses of the powers are ‘not limited’ to the list given. So, it’s entirely unclear what the ultimate limits are. If the government wants to do anything that creates a criminal offence or establishes a public authority, it will (in theory) have to seek a vote in parliament, although there will not be the usual scrutiny of the full parliamentary process. If it wants to do anything else, it will have the power to do it, with minimal opportunity for MPs to intervene. If a government minister deems the matter to be ‘urgent’, they will be able to opt out of the vote in parliament. Frighteningly, there are no standards beyond a minister’s competence to define what ‘urgent’ actually means, suggesting that it will be ‘interpretive’, thus very difficult to challenge this use of power in the courts. Section 8 of the Bill gives ministers powers to change the law in order to comply with Britain’s international obligations, but gives no direct definition of which obligations. Without a clarification, it is theoretically possible that this will give ministers the power to change British law without a vote in parliament in order to bring us into line with newly negotiated trade deals, for example, the selling off of what’s left of the NHS to Donald Trump.
In a month that’s witnessed bribery, corruption, corporate manslaughter, acid attacks, hate-preacher inspired white van terrorists, and a cartoon May clinging to power like a refugee clinging to an upturned hull in a freezing North Sea, my soundtrack has reflected the powerlessness I have felt in the midst of all this insanity. As communities crumble at the first apparition of fear, division and resultant mistrust breeds paranoia and angst. The ultimate realisation that there is nothing we can do in the face of this onslaught plays on the mind. We find ourselves turning in on ourselves in recrimination and doubt. Sleep patterns collapse, and we begin to question the things we enjoy. We find ourselves treading water, killing time:
“Who has never killed an hour? Not casually or without thought, but carefully: a premeditated murder of minutes. The violence comes from a combination of giving up, not caring, and a resignation that getting past it is all you can hope to accomplish. So you kill the hour. You do not work, you do not read, you do not daydream. If you sleep it is not because you need to sleep. And when at last it is over, there is no evidence: no weapon, no blood, and no body. The only clue might be the shadows beneath your eyes or a terribly thin line near the corner of your mouth indicating something has been suffered, that in the privacy of your life you have lost something and the loss is too empty to share” – Mark Z. Danielewski, ‘
Typically, my flagship record at the heart of this poisonous summer of discontent is as dark as the heart of British society itself. Black Editions‘ reissue of Keiji Haino’s solo debut from 1981, ‘Watashi Dake?’, has opened up a portal to the Japanese avant garde that will doubtless shape the coming month: you have been warned! Originally released in a minuscule edition by the Pinakotheca label, the album has become the stuff of legend over the last forty years, and we’re suckers for legends and myths here at tMx. My previous exposure to Haino’s work had been minimal, but I find myself being drawn into his vast art like an innocent child compelled to enter a maze in a gothic horror movie.
‘Watashi Dake?’ is a zen experience, a profound and challenging listen that betrays its age to remain as young as the day it was born, urging us to be here now. Haino’s vocals are whispered, then screamed, they rasp as they soar, they crack as they emote, they punctuate the atmospheric silences, almost at random. Silence is the uncredited instrument at the epicentre of ‘Watashi Take?’. Ethereal guitar figures entwine, this music is ancient, yet newborn, connected to the energy that flows through us all, flitting like shadows across the windmills of the mind. Haino states in a supporting interview (available through the Black Editions link below) that the album was composed in the moment. He is clear that his intention was to confound, his ambition to see his uncategorizable music filed under Country and Western. Invoking rustic blues, medieval chant, shamanic incantation and wilful awkwardness, ‘Watashi Dake?’ repeats and stretches Haino’s theme in trance-like-proto-post-evertything fashion, this record stands resolutely alone in a cannon of one. Black Editions’ issue is beautifully presented in a gold and silver cover featuring the photography of Gin Satoh that recaptures Haino’s original wish for the album’s initial release that proved too expensive to fulfil back in 1981. ‘Watashi Dake?’ is a piece of living art, a masterpiece created in the dead of night. A lesson in spiritual naivety for an impoverished West, a gift from the wisdom of the East.
Our second escapee from the past emerges from the dessert mist like a mirage of hope in a dust storm of depleted uranium. Morteza Hannaneh was a co-founder of the Tehran Symphony Orchestra, and ‘Tschashm-e-Del’ (Collapsing Markets) was originally recorded in the 1960’s for Tehran Radio. The recording had remained lost for decades, until being rediscovered by Hannaneh’s grandson, and is duly presented here in stunning artwork by Thomas Jeppe, issued by Parisian label, Collapsing Markets. ‘Tschashm-e-Del’ is basically a musical set to a Ghazal, an ancient Arabic ode, a poetic expression of the pain and beauty of love, loss or separation, written by Hatef Esfehani, a famous Iranian poet of the 18th century. The narrative focusses on the principles of Sufism and monotheism in the form of a love story between Hatef and a Christian girl. Hannaneh’s arrangement echoes the rhyming structure of this ancient classical form, maintaining traditions reaching back to at least the 10th century. ‘Tschashm-e-Del’ is a widescreen cinematic glimpse of a culture that has been all but obliterated post-revolution in most Western preconceptions of Iranian culture. Issued in a limited edition with d/l code and an accompanying booklet complimenting Jeppe’s artwork, ‘Tschashm-e-Del’ is an essential operatic reminder to adventurous listeners that we’ve not heard it all before.
The titular subject of this month’s column arrives in the form of Benedict Drew‘s ‘Crawling Through Tory Slime’ (Mana Records). Artist and composer Drew is a regular collaborator with the likes of Rhodri Davies and Chris Watson. His latest exhibition, ‘The Trickle-Down Syndrome’, is in residence at the Whitechapel Gallery from 7 June – 10 September 2017. ‘Crawling Through Tory Slime’ is Drew’s first vinyl release on the newly established Mana label (Andrea Zarza, curator at the British Library Sound Archive, and Blowing Up The Workshop founder, Matthew Kent), following a string of cassette releases expressing his visual realisations in audio format through his Bandcamp page. The record features two extended workouts that simmer and bubble like a saucepan of John Collis Browne cough mixture being reduced to passable opium oil. Chiefly embracing the art of dub, Drew has absorbed shapes thrown by recent Helm releases and, arguably, Pan‘s ‘Mono No Aware’ collection, and redefines them here in marginally accessible soundscapes. Rhythms clatter like Tube trains, electrically propelled at high voltage, the crackle of static, as psueodo-bass lines splutter temporarily, then fade from the terrain. Ghostly figures of alleged structure haunt the mixing desk like the half-formed memories of a particularly bad dream. Whereas Mana label-mate Mariétan (see below) used the sound of barge engines back in 1981, Drew engages similar oscillations, recalling the original washing machine gurgles of traditional acid house. Elsewhere, analogue tones gurgle and mutate beneath the slime. Its a short-attention-span sufferers field day. A concentration-obsessive’s nightmare on Redchurch Street. Designed rather than composed, ‘Crawling Through Tory Slime’ neatly documents the interpassivity at the heart of passive collusion, circa 2017.
Electro-acoustic sound interpretation is nothing new, we find, as Drew’s Mana label-mate Pierre Mariétan confirms with his expansive ‘Rose Des Vents’ suite. Commissioned by the French government back in 1981, as Keiji Haino was pushing the envelope thousands of miles away to the East, Mariétan was blowing minds here in the West. A Swiss composer, Mariétan studied under Stockhausen, Boulez and Gottfried Michael Koenig. Charged with documenting the urban landscape of early 80’s France in a musical format, Mariétan explores the contradictions between music and found sound. Presented as a collage of ‘field recordings, interviews, vegetable market catcalls, braying animals and urban hubbub’, ‘Rose Des Vents’ reflects a psycho-geographical map of Parisian locales, such as Bezons, Herblay, Montmagny and l’Isle Adam. For nigh on two-hours we glide through the past, imaginary passengers on a barge of transmission, soaking up the cultural resonance on a fascinating journey into sound. Make no mistake, this is a trip: a collection of scenes that form an aural play as cohesive as the narrative we encountered above in ‘Tschashm-e-Del’. ‘Rose Des Vent’ is a joy to behold, an interaction that inspires and excites, a cultural Tardis that shares the theme of discovery that acts as the kernel of this month’s column.
The /\\Aught label captured the imaginations of the abstract techno milieu briefly a couple of years ago in a strictly cassette-related medium. Revisited here in vinyl stages by Chained Library, the label duly announces itself with a brace of limited wax excursions. Agnes commence proceedings with the two-track 12″, ‘012016002001’, a razor-sharp acid bath of abstraction, rattling with attitude and intent. Both tracks fluctuate and vacillate in rhythmic abandon, like a metallic butterfly flapping its wings, aware of the hurricane that will surely follow. Xth Réflexion’s ‘/\\05-06′, meanwhile, combines both their previous tapes for /\\Aught over two slabs of clear wax, neatly housed in an over-sized semi-rigid perspex sleeve that will drive shelf-obsessives to distraction with it’s refusal to comply to standard specifications. Grubbing about in the same dubbed-out margins as Benedict Drew, Xth Réflexion gray-out with the best of them in a market-leader sense of relative originality. There’s very little out there that sounds like this, and nothing as competitive has emerged from the primordial slime in similar regard since the dawn of the decade. These 10-tracks are genuinely that essential.
The last brace of musical considerations this month come from Smagghe and Cross, and the essential Often Music. I have been living with ‘MA’ for a couple of month’s now, and every listen continues to surprise and engage me on a hitherto unexpected level. It’s hard to argue with fellow old person Andrew Weatherall’s summation of this remarkable record from an altogether remarkable label:
“At times the way the voice skipped intermittently, the recording sounded like an exercise in Uncle Bill’s scissors technique but in my defence the mic I was using was hidden. I knew Jean was recording me, he’d asked for an interview after finding my name in one of his black notebooks, but Jean didn’t know I was recording him. He was tuning into fading echoes and when he thought the tape machine was off he left an echo of his own. I caused such scenes on the way to and at kindergarten that first day my mother never bothered risking damage to my nascent psyche by making me return. Consequently come first grade my petulance had precluded me from the nursery school forged friendships of my new classmates. It’s why I’ve always been an observer. But I’ve never been an archivist. I never wrote the intimate details down. If you fix them on paper there’s a danger of shared ownership. The black notebooks contain coded references, the meaning once obvious now somewhat cryptic. Names, some possibly anagrammatical and numbers, presumably long dead phone lines. There are a few sketches but no photographic evidence of any kind. This to most of the population, with its need for minute by minute high def validation, sounds like a curse. I however feel blessed. Evidence is the enemy. Magick for me is the carp in Herman’s monastery pond. Brief flashes of gold as I disturb the murky silt of memory. It’s there that one of the only two recordings of Jean’s voice comes to an end. Jean has his copy obviously but if I know Jean, it’s long been lost or destroyed”.
An addendum to ‘MA’ has since emerged in the form of ‘Untitled’ (Often Music), a two-track 10″ carrying the rapturous candour of ‘Jazz’ and the ‘cubist electro-acoustic dimensions’ of ‘Assassin De La Popcorn’. Smagghe and Cross are an unlikely duo, self-styled blind observers and one-eyed cats: a perfect fit in the audio-soup assembled for this month’s soundtrack of abstraction.
In conclusion this month, the Tories intention to push the country to the absolute brink is exemplified by the new UK Drug Strategy 2017. The government’s latest policy relaunch claims to be upping the ante in its war on illegal drugs in the midst of rising death rates, but with the ring fence removed from local authority health spending, and up to 50% cuts in funding in some areas, the policy has been roundly criticised by those in the field as more of the same: nothing. Seemingly, this is just another day at the class war class for the Bullingdon’s class of 1987. The latest available figures reveal that deaths are soaring: 3,674 drug poisoning deaths involving legal and illegal substances were recorded in 2015, up from 3,346 in 2014, the highest since comparable records began in 1993. Cocaine deaths reached an all-time high in 2015, and deaths involving opiates doubled over three years to reach record levels. In Portugal, where they decriminalised the use of all drugs in 2001, there are 3 drug overdose deaths per million citizens. Here in the UK, that figure is 44.6 deaths per million. Meanwhile, Uruguay is the first country in the world to legally regulate marijuana, and retail sales commence in late July. We are repeatedly told by ministers and lecturers that we line in an evidence-based world, and in Scandinavia, Canada, South America and Australia, that evidence is being used diligently in combatting the inequality and social injustice that informs mass self-medication and dependence. Here in the UK, we’ve somehow conspired to turn a relatively liberating concept such as asset based community development (ABCD) in to ABCDWP.
As the residents of high rise buildings all over the land have begun to realise, the lives of ordinary people are worth nothing. The society of the spectacle is stumbling towards the end game of decline, where civil unrest will eventually turn class war to civil war. Nothing changes if nothing changes.