Demdike Stare/Exael/Eli Keszler/Mary Jane Leach/Maarja Nuut & Ruum/Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement
“The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up”
It is said that it is easier to imagine the end of civilisation than to imagine the end of capitalist surrealism. As a boy from 1962, I have a genetic predisposition that dictates that I find it easier to imagine the end of civilisation than imagine my own demise. Whether the thief finally arrives dressed in a post-ironic ‘armageddon’ t-shirt in the dead of night, or holding a BBC microphone in broad daylight, only my faith in the quantum indestructibility of eternal energy can save me now.
As the sinister pantomime otherwise known as 2018 limps into panto season, only one man can truly define where we are at. And we may find ourselves creating our own freedom, with the weight of Raoul Martinez‘s accidental birth restrictions draped around our auras. As techno-scientific progress and pseudo-intellectual critical thinking slug it out in the ring according to Byung-Chul Han‘s psychopolitical rules of combat, the propensity of a nominal elite to believe in their own omnipresence matches the arrogance of their puppeteers on the seafront of effrontery.
We live in times where we are told repeatedly by the MSM that anything is possible: populating Mars; automation and the end of surplus labour value; AI ascendency; continued economic growth and prosperity. Yet, as Slavoj Zizek expounds in his latest masterwork, ‘Like A Thief In Broad Daylight’ (Penguin), it is no longer possible for the fiscal elite to fund hospitals, schools, social care or end homelessness. In 2019, the real revolutionary act will be to redefine what is possible. We are drowning in empty freedoms. We are overdosing on unfreedom.
Zizek spoke recently to The Economist in promotion of ‘Like A Thief In Broad Daylight’. In line with trakMARX editor Guy Debord‘s position on plagiarism, we though it fitting to partially reproduce that interview here without express permission:
The Economist: What do you mean by “the era of post-humanity”? What characterises it?
Slavoj Zizek: It is not primarily the automatisation and robotisation of the production process but much more the expanding role of science, machines and digital media in social control and regulation. The detailed registration of all our acts and habits enables the digital machine to know ourselves, even our psyche, better than we know ourselves. In this way, social control no longer needs to be exerted in the old “totalitarian” mode, through open domination—we are already manipulated and regulated when we act freely, just following our needs and desires.
But there is another feature which justifies the term “post-humanity”: the prospect of the direct link between our brain and the digital network. When this happens, we lose the basic distance which makes us human, the distance between external reality and our inner life where we can “think what we want.” With my thoughts, I can directly intervene in reality—but the machine also directly knows what I think. In the last years of his life, Stephen Hawking experimented with a technology to communicate with the world—his brain was connected to a computer, so that his thoughts could choose words and form sentences, which were then relayed to a voice synthesizer to be spoken aloud. Fredric Jameson noted that, today, it is much more easy to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. This sarcastic insight is today becoming reality: it looks that, in some new form, capitalism will effectively survive the end, not of the world, but of humanity.
The Economist: Brexit and the rise of populist politicians seem to show that voters want to be protected from the harder edges of globalisation. So, back to Jameson’s thought, is it still easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of the free-market consensus associated with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan?
Mr Zizek: As with fascism, I think that populism is simply a new way to imagine capitalism without its harder edges; a capitalism without its socially disruptive effects. Populism is one of today’s two opiums of the people: one is the people, and the other is opium itself. Chemistry (in its scientific version) is becoming part of us: large aspects of our lives are characterised by the management of our emotions by drugs, from everyday use of sleeping pills and antidepressants to hard narcotics. We are not just controlled by impenetrable social powers, our very emotions are “outsourced” to chemical stimulation. What remains of the passionate public engagement in the West is mostly the populist hatred, and this brings us to the other second opium of the people, the people itself, the fuzzy populist dream destined to obfuscate our own antagonisms.
The Economist: In 1968, Jacques Lacan told student protesters in Paris that “what you aspire to as revolutionaries is a new master. You will get one.” Does the appeal of populists and so-called strong-men reflect a desire for authority that liberal democracy can’t provide?
Mr Zizek: Yes, but in a way different from the one that Lacan had in mind in his pessimist reading of the 1968 turmoil. For Lacan, the consequence of 1968 was the decline of the old (directly authoritarian) figure of the master and the rise of a new master figure, than of the expert—what Lacan baptised the “university discourse.” Just think about how today economic measures are justified—not as an expression of political will and positive social vision but as a consequence of neutral knowledge: it has to be done, this is how markets work.
Just recall how the experts in Brussels acted in negotiations with Greece’s Syriza government during the euro crisis in 2014: no debate, this has to be done. I think that today’s populism reacts to the fact that experts are not really masters, that their expertise doesn’t work—again, just remember how the 2008 financial meltdown caught the experts unprepared. Against the background of this fiasco, the traditional authoritarian master is making a comeback, even if it is a clown. Whatever Trump is, he is not an expert.
The Economist: Do you want a new master?
Mr Zizek: Surprisingly, YES, I do want it. But what kind of master? We usually see a master as someone who exerts domination, but there is another, more authentic, sense of a master. A true master is not an agent of discipline and prohibition, his message is not “You cannot!”, nor “You have to…!”, but a releasing “You can!”—what? Do the impossible, ie, what appears impossible within the coordinates of the existing constellation. And today, this means something very precise: you can think beyond capitalism and liberal democracy as the ultimate framework of our lives.
A master is a vanishing mediator who gives you back to yourself, who delivers you to the abyss of your freedom. When we listen to a true leader, we discover what we want (or, rather, what we “always-already” wanted without knowing it). A master is needed because we cannot accede to our freedom directly—for to gain this access, we have to be pushed from outside, since our “natural state” is one of inert hedonism; of what Alain Badiou called the “human animal.”
The underlying paradox here is that the more we live as “free individuals with no master,” the more we are effectively non-free, caught within the existing frame of possibilities. We have to be pushed or disturbed into freedom by a master.
The Economist: You have argued for the “occupation” of the digital grid, but how can ordinary people hold big tech firms to account if only a tiny fraction of us are capable of comprehending an algorithm?
Mr Zizek: True, we—the majority—don’t understand the details of algorithms, but we can easily understand how we are controlled by the digital grid. Moreover, I don’t think the experts themselves fully understand how the digital grid really works, plus those who exploit their knowledge also do not know the technical details.
Do you think that when Steve Bannon mobilised Cambridge Analytica, he understood the algorithmic details of its work? Or take ecology: to grasp global warming and the ozone hole, you need science which most of us don’t understand, but we nonetheless can fight against the prospect of ecological catastrophe.
There are risks of manipulation here, of course, but we have to accept them. We have to abandon the naïve faith in the spontaneous wisdom of everyday people as a guideline of our acts. That’s the paradox of our era: our most ordinary daily lives are regulated by scientific knowledge, and the dangers of this (often invisible) regulation can be fought only by a different knowledge, not by New Age wisdoms and common sense.
I first encountered Demdike Stare back in 2012, with ‘Elemental’ (Modern Love), but my head was awash with punk fury back then, and the experience passed me by. They sat there stubbornly on my hard drive during the ensuing years, however, and with each further tentative exposure, I became more intrigued. It wasn’t until the arrival of Testpressing #7’s ‘Rathe’ (Modern Love) in 2015, that I truly fell head-over-heels. With the release of ‘Wonderland’ (Modern Love) in 2016, that mild infatuation became full-blown obsession. Informed by the work of recent signings to their own DDS label, Equiknoxx, ‘Wonderland’ got down and dirty with digital dancehall: ragged ragga-jungle, dubbed-out synthesis, 808-patterned overload, spiral loops, bouncing breakbeats, and snapping grooves. ‘Wonderland’ hiccuped, stumbled, and flipped. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before. ‘Wonderland’ had arrived: music for haunted dancehalls. Over the course of the last two years, Demdike Stare, Modern Love and DDS Records have become central to my ever-expanding vinyl collection: broadening my horizons, expanding my parameters. Alongside the aforementioned Equiknoxx, DDS have since gifted me Shinichi Atobe, Conjoint, Orior and Robert Akai Aubery Lowe. Whilst Modern Love has brought me Lucy Railton, Turinn, G.H. and Andy Stott. Without the Demdikes, I’d not have found Move D‘s ‘Kunststoff’ (Ava). The Demdike era has been influential, to say the least.
It was with a mixture of surprise and acute expectation, then, that I approached ‘Passion’ (Modern Love), Demdike Stare’s out-of-the-blue 9-track double album, as it landed last week. With no preliminary fanfare, no pre-release hype, the arrival of this floor-filling pedigree filly caught me on the hop. It’s not been far from the turntable since, though, and first impressions are that it’s more strident than ‘Wonderland': pedal pressed closer to the metal; windows of abandon wide open; all caution thrown wildly to the wind. In a year crammed full of essentials, it’s most definitely a contender. From the stuttering oscillation of the opening ‘New Fakes’, to the atmospheric divisional joy of the closing ‘Dilation’, DS explore the nooks and crannies of sound system culture with a frenetic wantonness. ‘At It Again’ sets the pace, a furious maelstrom of radiotelegraphy. ‘Spitting Brass’ fills those dancehall bassbins with solid aural gold. ‘You People Are Fucked’, a mashed up killer, the record’s most memorable bass line, in and out in under three minutes. Fucked up pop music, in a dancehall style.
A copper-bottomed absolute belter flew in this month, in the shape of another double album, this time Eli Keszler‘s ‘Stadium’ (Shelter Press). Having spotted this one coming a mile off, thanks to Shelter Press bunging the clear wax edition up for preorder on their Bandcamp page, my internal hype machine had been working overtime, deep within my psyche. I was hopped up on ambition for these sides, long before they landed. I’d heard a couple of tracks, watched Keszler’s career blossom (oPN/Daniel Lopatin, Lauren Halo) with interest, and I’d decided I was going to dive into this one from the top board, weeks before the postman finally knocked. Sitting somewhere between Conjoint‘s ‘Earprints’ (DDS) and Jan Jelinek‘s ‘Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records’ (Faitiche), ‘Stadium’ looks set to trouble the scorers as we head into list season. Recorded in response to Keszler’s moving of his home from South Brooklyn to Manhattan, ‘Stadium’ could be seen as a reflection on the psychogeographical, environmental and sociological aspects of change. Relaxed yet urgent, complexed yet schematic, this is avant-jazz outsiderdom striving for inclusivity.
Hot on the metaphorical heels of the recent ‘blisss’ compilation and Pontiac Streator & Ulla Straus’ stupendous ‘Chat’ 12″, West Mineral hit pay dirt, once again, with this essential debut long player for the label from Exael. ‘Collex’ (West Mineral) builds on the promise of 2016’s ‘Miche’ (Lillerne Tape Club) cassette, mutating somewhere between the Berlin-infused dub of Chain Reaction Records and the constantly deconstructing fallout from ground-zero Chicago techno. ‘Collex’ sounds like it could have been both written and recorded by AI, it feels that ahead of the game. Metal machine music for a compromised human world.
Meanwhile, back at planet Modern Love, four pieces for flute and voice composed between 1985-2018 comprise Mary Jane Leach‘s ‘(f)lute songs’ (Modern Love). A contributing member of NYC’s avant-garde community since the 1970s; an active member of DownTown Ensemble, MJL has worked in her time with luminaries such as Arthur Russell, Ellen Fullman, Peter Zummo, Philip Corner and Arnold Dreyblatt. Following the release of ‘Pipe Dreams’ (Blume Editions) in 2017, MJL’s star has risen accordingly here in the UK, and Modern Love have duly embarked on their second avant-classical outing of the year with ‘(f)lute songs’. Featuring Italian flutist Manuel Zurria (Alter Ego), alongside treated vocals, it’s genuinely impossible throughout to discern which is which. The four pieces here combine in a 37-minute suite that takes the listener on a journey of somnambulistic reverie, equally stunning in emotional depth to that of Sarah Davachi‘s ‘Gave In Rest’ (Ba Da Bing): “Whereas the beautiful is limited, the sublime is limitless, so that the mind in the presence of the sublime, attempting to imagine what it cannot, has pain in the failure but pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt” – Kant
“The presiding spirit of ‘Muunduja’ (shifter) is a state of being between states, the warping of time’s arrow using sound”. Estonian duo Maarja Nuut & Ruum’s debut is a spectacular triumph, forging the gaping chasm between traditional folk music and electroacoustic expression. ‘Muunduja’ (130701) takes its time to establish its plateau within the psyche, but once there it resolutely refuses to relinquish its position. A record to be heard without and felt within, ‘Muunduja’ is a riot of competing textures and timbres. Affluent in its resources, expectant with promise, Maarja Nuut & Ruum conjure the spirits of their ancestors to forge future soundscapes of glitchy reverence.
Recorded back in the winter of 2017, this new vinyl edition of ‘Red Ants Genesis’ (Hospital Productions) sees Low Jack & Equiknoxx join Dominick Fernow’s Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement on this remixed riot of collaboration frenzy. With Phillippe Hallais, Gavsborg and Time Cow joining him at the controls, Fernow joins that loop of dread artists connected to me by their association with Demdike Stare, and, having previously been largely unmoved by much of Fernow’s work as RSE, ‘Red Ants Genesis’ has been somewhat of a revelation. Dark ambience in a dancehall style, the deeply dubbed sonic tar of these recordings coats the lungs, challenging one’s tympanic membranes to rupture.
Alter Echo & E3/The Caretaker/Sarah Davachi/Tim Hecker/Lonnie Holley/Manonmars/Teresa Winter
“Push a button/Activate/You gotta work/You’re late” – Joe Strummer
When Francis Fukuyama coined the phrase ‘The End Of History?’, he had no idea what a tough gig it was going to be to come back from that prophetic statement. With history stubbornly refusing to die, just about every statement he has issued since has subsequently been little more than a futile attempt to dig himself out of the perpetually self-refilling trench he dug himself (and us?) back in the early 1990s. This should act as a warning for those who skate the thin ice that divides prophet from profit. Back once again, with a new tome entitled ‘Identity: Contemporary Identity Politics and the Struggle for Recognition’ (Profile Books), Fukuyama this time liberates Plato’s concept of ‘Thymos’ (a contemporary rival of Aristotle’s eudaimonic principle of flourishing) to suggest that all we really need is recognition and dignity. An overriding need for compromise connects thymos and eudaemonia, the concept of a third way that is central to any solution-focussed collectives planning on saving us all from impending doom. In the land of the blind capitalist, the one-eyed plagiarist is king.
“Ideas improve. The Meaning of words participates in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It embraces an author’s phrase, makes use of his expressions, erases a false idea, and replaces it with the right idea” – Guy Debord
When Nick Griffin appeared on BBC 1’s ‘Question Time’ back in 2009, Mark Thompson, then-Director-General of the BBC, defended the BBC’s decision to invite Griffin on to the program, stating: “The BNP has demonstrated a level of support that would normally lead to an occasional invitation to join the panel on Question Time. It is for that reason, not for some misguided desire to be controversial, but for that reason alone, that the invitation has been extended.” Considering for a moment the credibility of the BBC in 2018, that statement surely needs dragging out into the light and thrashing to within an inch of its life with an extendable pr-24x side handle baton. It could be argued that the Rise And Fall Of UKIP Perrin began in earnest with Griffin’s root-for-the-underdog mentality, brazenly flaunted that night, launching a race-to-the-bottom class-over-conscious submarine lifeboat weighed down by the ballast of nationalism versus localism. Questions asked on the night by the audience included: ‘Why is Islam a wicked and vicious faith?’ and ‘Can the recent success of the BNP be explained by the misguided immigration policy of the government?’ Sound familiar? Hidden in plain sight, the Hegelian dialectic: problem, reaction, solution.
Only when we see these manoeuvres as part of a bigger picture can we begin to comprehend the extent of the collusion. As George Monbiot sets out in his recent piece for The Guardian, ‘A Despot In Disguise: One Man’s Mission To Rip Up Democracy': “any clash between ‘freedom’ (allowing the rich to do as they wish) and democracy should be resolved in favour of freedom”. The constitutional revolution of the last forty-odd years has been painstakingly executed with extreme stealth by a cabal of elite capitalists funded by the likes of Charles Koch, shadowy figures who make odious individuals such as Alan Greenspan and Milton Friedman seem like Morecambe and Wise. This bonfire of regulations has everything to do with vanity, executed with the kind of impunity that only money can buy. The destruction of state architecture: austerity; dismantling of public services; tuition fees; the neutering of our education system; the debt-saddling of our young.
To see, or to not see, is that the question? Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous theatre, or to take arms against the eternal sea of dicotomy, and by opposing, end this duality? By Thymos or by eudaemonia, whether we demand recognition or dignity, moral absolutism or consequentialism, instead of the simplification of polar extremity, we embrace instead the space of spectrum advocated by Bill Hicks in ‘It’s Just A Ride: “Take all that money that we spend on weapons and defence each year, and instead, spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would, many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace”.
To take back control, the concept requires control to have been theoretically relinquished at some stage or another. This has patently never happened, not once. The opposite of John C Calhoun’s definition of freedom is enslavement, the spectrum of collectivism in-between those extremes embraces possibility, potential, purpose and passion. To paraphrase the words of chairman Strummer: They’ve got you down on the killing floor, and they want to keep you there. Their bank accounts are all that matter, you don’t count. We can’t make any significant progress, we can’t get ahead. We can’t stop the regress, until we’re dead. Look out for rules and regulations: Repression, gonna start on Tuesday. Repression, gonna be a Dalek. Repression, I am a robot. Repression, I obey.
Forward thinking future dub made present; the oppositional possibility of duality. Be here now in this spectrum of sound, with Scrub A Dub Records. US tag team Alter Echo & E3 unite with Bristol’s Ishan Sound in a display of dub wise internationalism to fashion anthemic styles in two complementary flavours. Zam Zam Sounds meets Young Echo sounds. ‘Ah Mi Guide’ (Scrub A Dub Records) builds on the damage caused earlier this year by Dubkasm‘s ‘Enter The Gates’ (Dubkasm Records). A prophetic sample from Rider Shafique; a gargantuan basic channel; a brace of vershuns: equal in stature to the pillars of Jachin and Boaz. Chant down the walls of Babylon.
As The Caretaker‘s ‘Everywhere At The End of Time’ series enters ‘Stage 5’ (History Always Favours The Winners), parallels emerge from the gloom of confusion. Is the entire series a metaphor for the collapse of democracy? The connectivity of ‘Everywhere At The End Of Time’ to the totalitarian suicide note of Brexit cannot be ignored. They both began their inexorable destruction of relative reality back in 2016, and both are primed to climax in spring 2019. Nostalgia; collective amnesia; progressive dementia: all stations on Hick’s ride to oblivion. Considering labelling theory momentarily, isn’t it about time history was rewritten by the losers?
Renaissance is inevitable post-flux. As Zizek states: “What happens the day after the revolution?” With ‘Gave In Rest’ (Ba Da Bing Records), her second long player of 2018, Sarah Davachi poses theistic questions that challenge our perception of faith in an age of no universal truth. The sanctity we feel at the heart of the religious experience is the connection we lack at the heart of our commercial existence. The crisis of disconnection in an age of loneliness, the cancerous cells in the blood of an unholy communion. Davachi converts spiritual import to secular export alchemically in her most deeply affecting statement yet. There is a beauty here that arches back centuries to a time we all felt connected to ourselves. A time before the drought.
Duality abounds on Tim Hecker‘s masterful ‘Konoyo’ (Kranky): lone v collective; organic v synthesised; consonant v dissonant; Western v Eastern; abstract v concrete; past v present. The here and now for Tim Hecker is a riot of possibility, and in all probability if you’ve never dived into a Hecker ocean before then ‘Konoyo’ is the catalyst you need to get utterly drenched in potential. Both sonically, and visually (live at The Barbican, with Kara-Lis Coverdale), ‘Konoyo’ shatters every reconnection and trumps every expectation. A recent discussion I was involved in bemoaning the live performance music medium circa 2018 could learn a great deal from experiences like this. No matter where we’re from, where we’ve been, or, incidentally, where’re we’re at, there is always something new to learn. No one has seen it all.
I don’t buy many records with vocals on them these days. My patience at the demise of lyrical craftsmanship; the banality of verse/chorus tedium; the vacuous nature of the social commentariat; the total irrelevance of much of it. It is indeed a joy, therefore, to discover someone who can both sing and craft lyrics with the kind of assured presence one immediately relates to as authentic. Lonnie Holley is the closest thing fucked-up America has to a prophet right now. A 68-year-old artist and found-object curator whose third long player, ‘MITH’ (Jagjaguwar), is set to trouble the scorers on an endemic level come close of play, 2018. Compared elsewhere to Gil Scott Heron, James Blood Ulmer, Wesley Willis, Tom Waits, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Eugene McDaniels, Al Jarreau and Louis Armstrong, to name but a few, with an additional twist of lemon from the cosmic brotherhood of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Sun Ra and George Clinton. I’d add a smattering of Van Morrison, circa ‘Astral Weeks’ (for the improvisational aspects), and ‘In The Garden’ (for the meandering stream on consciousness sentimentalism). Wrap it all up with a gold bow as a future classic set to stride a universe of connectivity, with both those who’ve heard it all before, and those who haven’t.
One of a host of shining stars that lit up Young Echo‘s self-titled sophomore album back at the beginning of the year, Manonmars returns here to drop his s/t debut on Young Echo Records for our delight and delectation. Intelligent poetry, laconic delivery, exceptional musical content, courtesy of Amos Childs and Sam Barrett, Manonmars builds effortlessly on his contribution to the aforementioned ‘Young Echo’, and references to that record abound. One of the things I admire about Manonmars approach is his brevity. On first listen, I came away wishing some of it hard gone on longer, but now I’m settled into the record, like a comfy stained armchair, I realise that 30-minutes is the perfect length for a post-everything hip hop record. As we approach the season of lists, scoring, oneupmanship and holier-than-thou recommendation, Manonmars has already booked his place.
Teresa Winter returns, unexpectedly, with the follow-up to 2017’s uniformly excellent ‘Untitled Death’. ‘What The Night Is For’ (The Death Of Rave) again reflects the uncertainty in which we collectively find ourselves in 2018. Thematically, duality features heavily: freedom/repression; legal/criminal; theistic/occult; brutal/sensitive; insider/outsider. Mining the vast chasm of avant-classical tropes that have opened up around the likes of Kara-Lis Coverdale, Sarah Davachi, Felicia Atkinson, et al., Winter brings shards of chimeric popular intention and disturbing tabs of psychedelic discombobulation to the party. A dream made real, or a waking nightmare? I’ll leave that one to you.
Ólafur Arnalds/Shinichi Atobe/Daniel Bachman/Nicolas Jaar/Roland Kayn/Bamba Pana/Various Artists – bblisss
The very act of change is a natural state. In the twelve years since I last held a valid British passport, pretty much everything has changed for me: I am no longer a drunk; I am no longer HCV+; I am no longer a single parent. Children grow up, children leave home. Shorn of the responsibility of family holidays, and with a newly issued passport in pocket, I duly set sail for France, and the promise of two idyllic weeks with la nouvelle Madame Encoule.
We sailed from Dover, on the early afternoon tide, bound for Calais, and the beckoning tolls of the French motorway system. By the time we’d hit out first service station, somewhere near the Somme, I’d readapted to driving on the wrong side of the road, and reacquainted myself with the kind of rudimentary French involved in ordering ham baguettes, coffee and muffins. In summary, French motorway service stations are ostensibly the same as here in the UK, except they serve decent coffee, don’t smell of weed, or feature coach-loads of drunken office staff returning from team-building exercises in the Forest Of Dean.
With a couple of hundred miles worth of UK motorway already under our belts that day, we sallied forth only as far as Rouen on the first night, some three hundred miles short of our ultimate destination: Concarneau. Armed with the wonders of smart phones and roaming data agreements, we were able to make a reservation in Rouen in plain sight of the actual room we would be staying in that night, whilst still a hundred miles or so away, travelling at 80mph, in a large metal tin, on wheels. Technology has come a long way in the last twelve years, changing the art of travelling on possibly every level imaginable. Directed to the hotel with the pinpoint accuracy of a MGM-51 Shillelagh missile by our on-board sat-nav system, we were duly installed and loose on the streets of Rouen, refreshed and pizza’d, in time for the stunning light projection of scenes from Rouen’s history, beamed onto the outside walls of the city’s cathedral. We stood in awe, agog at the spectacle, filming furiously on our mobile devices, whilst simultaneously broadcasting to various social media platforms at will. With hundreds of years of history literally crumbling in front of our eyes, this was surely the finest acid trip I had ever experienced without the use of hallucinogenic substances. With flashbacks indelibly stamped on our retinas, we strolled the balmy streets of Rouen in search of the river, and the ten thousand steps each we required to keep our blood pressures in line with European Standard Blood Pressure regulation #12826-2. In summary, Rouen is ostensibly the same as any historical city here in the UK, except it serves decent coffee, doesn’t smell of weed, or feature coach-loads of drunken Celtic supporters returning from a Champion’s League qualifier in Moldova.
Arising bright and breezy at around 7am the following matin, we breakfasted like children amok in a croissant factory, slurping delicious coffee, cramming in mini-pastries and multiple yoghurts, buttering pain traditionale without recourse for confiture. On the road for 8am, we began eating miles like Pac-Man eats Pac-Dots, Madame Encoule co-piloting and DJing ambidextrously, whilst carrying out her own research on the type of cars preferred by French drivers. She soon felt confident enough to publish her findings, concluding that French drivers typically preferred to drive French cars. 7-out-of-the-next-10 cars to overtake us all turned out to be German, and the research method was returned to the drawing board of reflection, for reconsideration and refinement. The soundtrack to the journey featured Nubya Garcia, Burial, Sons Of Kemet, Nathan Salsburg, François Tusques, Daniel Bachman, Mikey Dread, Black Lodge, Topdown Dialectic and Iceage. As the toll roads turned to dual carriageways, and the terrain altered accordingly, we crossed the regional line into Brittany, mid-afternoon, eventually picking up the N165, the thoroughfare that would become our Route 66 for the ensuing fortnight. We rolled into downtown Concarneau at around 4.30pm, collecting the maison keys from the letting agency, before venturing back up over the bridge that spans the gorge at the head of the town, to reach La Passage on the east side of the dock. Our maison, located dockside, directly opposite the citadel of Concarneau, could best be described as halcyon: the Otis Reading of holiday homes. As we entered the 3-storey building, filming furiously, amazed at the luxury our money had secured us, we were filled with the kind of child-like joy that only wonderful surprises can bring. We had our own citadel, our own fleet of French naval frigates guarding our docks, and our very own ferryman, who for 1-Euro a pop would ferry us from our local jetty to the sea gate of the citadel, daily, from 8am till 11pm. We’d hit town in the midst of festival season. Over a hundred years old, the Filets Bleus festival takes place every August, when it gives the town and its inhabitants an opportunity to go back to their roots: a typically Breton-flavoured costumed parade, dancing, games and the 24-hour drone of massed bagpipes, percussed by the constant click of le clog. As we swam around town through the sea of brasseries in search of bière sans alcohol, we were soon ensconced quayside at Les Grand Voyageurs, Desigauled-up, sipping ice-cold Jupiler, munching moules, omelettes and frites. Wandering the citadel later that evening, cafe ice-creams in hand (deux scoops), we found what would become the ice-cream bench, where we sat, licked, and watched le monde drift by into the night. In summary, Concarneau’s citadel is much like any English citadel, except they serve decent coffee, don’t smell of weed, and aren’t rammed with hordes of sunburnt infidels who overdid it on the first day, singing: “Torremolinos, Torremolinos”.
In the course of the next seven days, week one saw us traverse the N165 in search of the standing stones of Carnac, one of Brittany’s greatest attractions. Three fields, Ménec, Kermario and Kerlescan, contain around 3,000-aligned megaliths, dating from 4000BC. These granite stones were erected on the spot where they were dug, hence the differing sizes, and although it is not known why they were put up, it is thought they had a religious or cultural significance. Some of the latest theories suggest that they formed a barrier between incomers from the coast and the heartlands of the interior, but I prefer to think they were erected to channel energy towards the Tumulus Saint Michel, the enormous burial mound at the centre of the modern town of Carnac, originally built to house a single grave. The concept that the entire complex was constructed in honour of a single human being is as mind-bending as the tangible sense of flowing energy we felt wandering illegally in and out of the stones. Nearby, the megalithic site in Locmariaquer contains three of most emblematic monuments of Breton megalithic architecture: the ‘Er Grah de Locmariaquer’ tumulus, the broken standing stone (menhir), and the ‘Table des Marchands’, or Merchants’ Table, dolmen. These enigmatic stones were erected between 4500 and 3700 BC, and bear testament to a period of prehistory that saw the sedentarisation of man, and the beginnings of primitive farming. The rest of week one was balanced out with local pottering: costal reconnoitres, plage testing, lighthouse spotting, hyper-market evaluation, cycling, and a whole bunch of walking. We even found a record shop, in Brest, Bad Seeds Records, but sadly it had an extensive Death In June section, so we made our excuses, and left. By the end of week one we’d become accustomed to our environment; could speak fluent parodic French; could hear bagpipes in our sleep; and had found the beach beneath the pavement. In summary, French archaeological sites are much like English archaeological sites, except they serve decent coffee, don’t smell of weed, and aren’t troubled by phalanxes of Time Team t-shirted Phil Hardings shouting: “come and have a look in this here trench, Tony”.
Week one’s holiday reading matter: ‘The Gallows Pole’ (Bluemoose Books), Ben Myers: “An England divided. From his remote moorland home, David Hartley assembles a gang of weavers and land-workers to embark upon a criminal enterprise that will capsize the economy and become the biggest fraud in British history. They are the Cragg Vale Coiners and their business is ‘clipping’ – the forging of coins, a treasonous offence punishable by death. A charismatic leader, Hartley cares for the poor and uses violence and intimidation against his opponents. He is also prone to self-delusion and strange visions of mythical creatures. When excise officer William Deighton vows to bring down the Coiners and one of their own becomes turncoat, Hartley’s empire begins to crumble. With the industrial age set to change the face of England forever, the fate of his empire is under threat. Forensically assembled from historical accounts and legal documents, ‘The Gallows Pole’ is a true story of resistance that combines poetry, landscape, crime and historical fiction, whose themes continue to resonate.”
Week two felt more relaxed from the get-go. Orienteered and settled, we began to push the envelope to explore the full potential of N165. We hit the north and Pontivy, a quiet market town where the River Blavet meets the Nantes-Brest canal, once the seat of one of Brittany’s most powerful families before becoming one of Napoléon’s ‘new towns’. We ventured west to Quimper, the administrative capital of the Finistère department, also generally regarded as the cultural heart of Brittany. The town is known for its cathedral, atmospheric old quarter and museums, and we spent hours wandering its impressive streets, furiously photographing, irresponsibly consuming coffee. Midweek saw us head east, back along the old N165, for a booked excursion to Gavrinis, home to what is arguably Brittany’s most impressive Neolithic site: a pyramid-shaped stone burial chamber, whose interior walls are covered with artwork. The island is accessible via a guided tour by boat, from Larmor-Baden. The structure is a tumulus (earth mound) covering a cairn (stone mound) covering a dolmen (stone burial chamber), and was built around 3500BC. To reach the burial chamber, visitors must walk down a low, narrow 46ft-long passage whose walls are decorated with intricate carved patterns and symbols, such as axe heads, horned animals and swirls. At Winter Solstice, the sun shines down the passage and hits the back wall, a la Newgrange (Eire). It is strictly forbidden to take any photographs inside the chamber, and following advice and guidance gleaned from social media stone-worshiping pages, we planned an approach of guile and cunning involving the strategic positioning of Madame Encoule in the guide’s eyeline. Our plan was helped enormously by a smaller-than average party containing a few small children, one of whom was frankly far too young to be interested in neolithic burial practices, and a combination of stealth, a healthy disregard for authoritarianism and sheer bloody-mindedness resulted in a simply stunning set of shots that only served to improve my kudos on social media pages with a stone worshiping bias. The day was further capped by a (slight) return to Carnac, where the late afternoon sun and thinning tourist crowds meant a sweltering three-hour illegal wander through the stones of Kermario and Kerlescan, taking in the Géant du Manio, an enormous menhir, and the Tumulus de Kercado (4500BC). Next on the hit list was the Cairn de Barnenez, the largest megalithic mausoleum in Europe, and also one of the world’s oldest, older than the pyramids of Egypt. Inside, there are 11-passage tombs. The cairn was restored between 1954 and 1968, and finds from this restoration including Neolithic pottery, axes, arrowheads and Bronze Age artefacts can be seen in the visitor centre. The remainder of the week was spent re-walking the streets of Concarneau and its environs, sadly without the aid of our own personal ferry into the citadel, which had been suspended from service unexpectedly due to a technical issue. This meant driving in and out of town for the last 48-hours, somewhat breaking the spell of the previous couple of weeks, but only slightly. Inevitably, we saw it as a precursor of change, an omen that two week’s of bblisss was soon to come to an end. On our last day in Concarneau, we took to the western coast we’d been reluctant to explore on our bikes due to the incline of the only climb onto that peninsula, and were amazed to find a plethora of incredible trimarans, catamarans and racing vessels nestled in the port of Fouesnant. In summary, French sailing communities are much the same as English sailing communities, except they serve decent coffee, don’t smell of weed, and aren’t overrun by people called Hugo dressed in sulphur spring coloured Musto BR2 Offshore Jackets.
Week two’s holiday reading matter: ‘Perfidious Albion’, Sam Byers (Faber & Faber): “Brexit has happened and is real. Fear and loathing are on the rise. Grass-roots right-wing political party England Always are fomenting hatred. The residents of a failing housing estate are being cleared from their homes. A multinational tech company is making inroads into the infrastructure. Just as the climate seems at its most pressured, masked men begin a series of ‘disruptions’, threatening to make internet histories public, asking the townspeople what don’t you want to share? As tensions mount, lives begin to unravel. Jess Ellis’s research into internet misogyny pushes her relationship with her over-exposed opinion columnist boyfriend Robert Townsend to breaking point. Robert’s championing of the inhabitants of the threatened estate begins to erode the edges of his fragile idealism. Local England Always politician Hugo Bennington finds his twisted loyalties catching up with him. At the nearby tech park, behind the utopian rhetoric, Trina James finds that something is dangerously amiss. A controversial tweet; a series of ill-judged thinkpieces; a riot of opinions. Suddenly Edmundsbury is no longer the peaceful town it has always imagined itself to be. Things are changing. No-one is quite who they appear. The future has arrived, and it is not what anyone imagined.”
Bidding au revoir to Conarneau, we hit the N165 bound for an overnight stop in Caen, en route to Calais, and the return ferry home. It was with much sadness that we departed our amazing maison, we’d become accustomed to the drone of the bagpipes, the constant hum of the fishing boat engines, the daily walk to the artisan boulangerie to collect our delicious pain tradtionale, the Heineken 0.0., the unbelievable range of produce available at E.Leclerc, the consistently incredible coffee and our constantly staggering citadel view. By mid-afternoon, we’d reached the medieval town of Fougères, situated on the Brittany-Normandy border. The town originally sprung up to the south of Fougères Castle, one of the finest fortresses in the whole of France, on the banks of the River Nançon, whose waters were used by cloth-makers, dyers and tanners. The prettiest and most atmospheric part of the old town is the Place du Marchix, lined with half-timbered houses. There has been a castle in Fougères for more than 1,000 years. The site, on a promontory sheltered by hills and surrounded by marshes, was first identified by the Duchy of Brittany as the perfect spot to defend its lands from the French. The current castle dates from the 12th century, consisting of three enclosures whose walls are dotted with towers, the most impressive of which is the Mélusine Tower. Approaching the castle from the car park to the north, it was impossible not to be daunted by the sheer size of the defences. I’ve been visiting castles for much of my life, but with the possible exception of Carcassonne (admittedly, more of a cité than a Château), Fougères was somewhat of a game changer. With the dying embers of our holiday sunshine topping up our already mildly impressive tans, we photographed and posted, drank coffee and munched frites, draining the last of our Frenching and touristing from the opportunity. We eventually hit Caen as the sun was falling, on both the day, and our great French adventure. Caen is a port city, capital of the Calvados department in northern France’s Normandy region. Its centre features the Château de Caen, a circa-1060 castle built by William the Conqueror. Madame Encoule had waited patiently all holiday to realise her ambition of an authentic French Château, and like a number 10 bus you’ve been waiting for for some considerable time, two come along at once! In the space of a couple of hours, we were wandering yet more ramparts, climbing towers, peering from battlements and marvelling at gatehouses. In the town’s restaurant district, later that night, I was reminded of distant memories of St Tropez and PGL holidays in 1978, the art of al fresco dining, and how the UK will never perfect the concept of continental approaches to alcohol consumption. The following morning, as we inched ever-closer to Calais, there was a significant increase in the number of UK number-plated vehicles overtaking us at speed in excess of 100mph. It was sudden manifestation of the depressing reality that we were once again amongst The Twitterati, a nation who seemingly relate their social status to the cubic capacity of their car’s engine in less than 280-characters. These fears were only heightened further whilst queuing for the toilets, dockside at Calais, piss-poor coffee in hand, nostrils offended by the stink of weed, conversations littered with gratuitous swearing and the threat of impeding violence. In the words of Jason Williamson: “Fuck England. Fuck my country”.
This month’s new releases are featured here as recommendations, rather than reviews, in the interests of brevity:
Ólafur Arnalds – ‘re:member’ (Mercury): Icelandic composer’s 11th full length in a career spanning 11-years is a lush and rewarding change-focussed journey of oceanic depth and tidal pull. All kinds of gorgeousness in liberal excess. Speaking of the album, Ólafur says: “This is my breaking out-of-a-shell album. It’s me taking the raw influences that I have from all these different musical genres and not filtering them. It explores the creative process and how one can manipulate that to get out of the circle of expectations and habit.”
Shinichi Atobe – ‘Heat’ (DDS): Japanese electronic music producer’s totally unexpected yet droolingly anticipated follow-up to 2017’s ‘From The Heart, It’s A Start, A Work Of Art’. Somewhat of a family favourite here in the Encoule household, undoubtedly his finest creation thus far, and a fairly obvious contender come close of play and list season. Genuinely, there is not a sub-par moment on this record, one that will keep spinning long into the future chez Encoule.
Daniel Bachman – ‘The Morning Star’ (Three Lobed Recordings): When word came down the wire from our American Primitive correspondent, embedded deep within the oft-forgotten land of Dark Folk, of the imminence of a new double album opus from Virginian wunderkind, Daniel Bachman, it was smuggled in almost undercover, in a cache containing recommendations for the likes of Gwenifer Raymond, Nathan Salsburg and Roslyn Steer. Accustomed, as I have been in recent years, to the work of William Tyler, Bill MacKay & Ryley Walker, the world of the solo acoustic guitar slinger can be both satisfying and frustrating, in equal measure. After all, it’s a thin line between the reinterpretation of traditional mores and parody, and in some senses, it could be argued, that records I own by all of the above straddle said divide on a tightrope, spinning through 360-degrees perilously, in the course of a single siting. To not only avoid such a trap, then, but to vault dextrously across it whilst performing triple somersaults, is surely a feat of some magnitude.
Nicolas Jaar – ‘Pomegranates’ (Mana): Palestinian and Chilean composer’s enigmatic alternate soundtrack to Sergei Parajanov‘s 1969 avant-garde film ‘The Colour of Pomegranates’, newly mastered, re-dressed and issued on vinyl for the first time by the impeccable Mana. An intimate hour and a quarter vision presented as cinematic epic that veers across genre boundaries with a gleeful nonchalance to stand alone in all its uncategorised glory.
Roland Kayn – ‘Simultan’ (Die Schachtel): Box-set re-issue of this truly groundbreaking set from ?founder member of legendary ensemble Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza and regular singular genius, Roland Kayn. Superlatives run rich on this incredible package everywhere you dig, issued as an edition of 100-numbered white wax copies, complete with 6-translucent paper score-sheets, extensive booklet, and printed inner sleeves. Remastered from the original analog master-tapes.
Bamba Pana – ‘Poaa’ (Nyege Nyege Tapes): Tanzanian grime-merchant Bamba Pana keeps the needle firmly in the red for the latest exemplary release from Nyege Nyege Tapes. Following last month’s praise for griot Ekuka Morris Sirikiti, Pana capitalises on the groundwork set out by the label’s ‘Sounds Of Cisso’ compilation to radically redraw the contours of BPM abuse. Highly recommended for anyone remotely interested in where repetitive beats are heading next. Exhilarating.
Various Artists – ‘bblisss’ (bliss): Originally released on cassette a couple of years ago, and now changing hands on Discogs for vast sums, Ryan Fall (uon) compiles a selection of West Mineral artists and associates to fashion possibly one of the finest ambient collections of this, or any other age. Featuring Pendant, Ulla Straus, Naemi, DJ Paradise and Billington & Tramposh, amongst others, this essential collection is worth sticking your neck out for and holding onto for grim death. Outstanding artefact, artfully pressed up onto doubt white wax in painfully limited numbers.
Black Lodge/Eiko Ishibashi & Darin Gray/Khalab/Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch/Nozomu Matsumoto/Francis Plange & Crys Cole/Pontiac Streator & Ulla Straus/Resina/Ekuka Morris Sirikiti/Topdown Dialectic
“For humans, time has an ambiguous and perhaps paradoxical quality to it. In some ways, it is something that we seem to push to the back of our thoughts in the same way a timepiece sits unthreateningly on the walls; it is ‘simply what the mechanical clock and Gregorian calendar display, a neutral and enumerated dimension in which life unfolds’ (Hom, A. R. – 2013 – ‘Reckoning Ruin: International Relations Theorising and the Problem of Time’). Yet, it is also a mysterious concept that has always slipped into the human mind’s ideas about change, impermanence, and mortality” – A. McKay
Temporality, the politics of time: a perpetual state of tragi-comedic duality. It’s all about the timing. This flowing river, hyperaware of becoming the sea. Neither heads nor tails, merely a coin spinning in the air, perpetually. Stuck somewhere on the dial between zero and one. An undefined figure, neither a plus nor a minus. Emitting dots and dashes: dot-dot-dot; dash-dash-dash; dot-dot-dot; S.O.S. All hands on deck, this bird is sinking.
As Tommy comes marching home again, hurrahs fill the cyber streets. The FLA throw Nazi salutes, along with traffic cones, bottles, coins, fake memes, photoshopped j-pegs and anything else that comes to hand. They’re coming by bus or underground, armed with clubs and fists and spurious facts, dressed in brown. Your face, lit blue by the light of the screen, as you watch the You Tube clips of this animal scream. The NEU-SA Party army, marching in over your head. You may live to regret hiding that radio under the stairs. Regret the fact that you got caught out unawares. The NEU-SA Party army, marching up your stairs. You failed to recognise that it’s happening again. You took your eye off the football lads alliance. Your frantically polished BMW may have pride of place on your drive. The sun may be shining. Your kids may well be outside in the garden, shouting loud. Except the sun is shining through a crack in the cloud, and only shadows will be falling when Tommy comes marching home.
Change, impermanence, mortality, all generational signifiers for a boy from 1962. In the month since my last missive, everything has changed for me. The temporal reality of time itself, stretched to incredulity. There’s a battle outside and it’s raging. It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls. For the times they are a-changing:
HELEN: “Is that the time?”
MIKE: “No, time is an abstract concept. This is a wristwatch.”
Sadly, we are no longer the young ones, time has caught up with us. It’s pissing on our parade. Bury me in my motorcycle jacket, jeans and motorcycle boots. Bury my heart at wounded knee. Everything is temporary. My assumed identity: recoverist, single-parent, communist, literally, speech-bubbled on a sea of floaters, blood pressure rising. Creating freedom in a hypernormalised construct requires a new context; a new language; a new identity. How do we stop this propagandist osmosis when the mind has no firewall?
Dystopian nightmares demand dystopian soundtracks, and thus we commence this month’s trawl through the record box that time forgot with an esoteric phalanx of detritus expunged from the annals of Mancunian legend: Black Lodge – ‘Bitter Blood (A Collection of Archival Recordings)’ (Disciples), released in tandem with a hitherto unreleased set of jams originally recorded for Mo’ Wax, out now on Arcola, sees former Badly Drawn Boy remixer Dan Dwayre‘s Black Lodge moniker exhume twelve corpses from the graveyard and the ballroom. Surprisingly fresh, uncannily contemporary, this enigmatic collection will appeal to both lovers of Demdike Stare and aficionados of library music in general. Intrinsically psychedelic, in both colour and hue, ‘Bitter Blood’ exists on a spectrum of improved accessibility that is enhanced greatly through repeated exposure. A quirky nonchalance, a resolutely lo-fi sensibility, denote this release as far superior to the Arcola sides, clearly identifying ‘Bitter Blood’ as a watershed moment, unlikely to be repeated. It is this very sense of uniqueness that recommends itself for inclusion in your record collection.
Previously collaborators largely confined to the virtual shadows of collective works, Eiko Ishibashi and Darin Gray emerge from the shade with ‘Ichida’ (Black Truffle) to capture our hearts with their progressive future-free-jazz, eloquently expressed on this pair of long-form exercises. Originally recorded live at Tokyo’s Super Deluxe, back in March of 2013, these recordings have been buffed and polished by Jim O’Rourke, furnishing a 40-minute set that strides purposefully through a mannerist canvas rich with Ishibashi’s flute, underpinned by Gray’s strident yet inventive bass. Augmented by doom electronics and delicate piano flourishes, ‘Ichida’ flows through time and space effortlessly, effusing a combination of emotional maturity, venturesome audacity and cinematic intelligibility.
Created with unprecedented access to field recordings from the archives of the Royal Museum for Central Africa of Bruxelles, ‘Black Noise 2084′ (On The Corner) sees Italian DJ Khalab harness these ethnographic/historical insights into the cultures of the region over the last 500-years to fashion arguably the logical successor to Barney Wilen‘s 1970 classic, ‘Moshi’ (Souffle Continu). Assembling an impressive cohort of collaborators, including Shabaka Hutchings, Moses Boyd, Tamar ‘The Collocutor’ Osborn, The Master Gabin Dabir, Tenesha The Wordsmith, Tommaso Cappellato and Prince Buju, Khalab diligently summons the spirit of Wilen’s intervention in a seance of creativity to carve out a contemporary niche alongside the output of Kampala, Uganda’s Nyege Nyege Tapes (see below). Over ten songs, in the space of just 35-minutes, Khalab orchestrates a sonic revolution to establish a new order of Afro-futurist expressionism. This is a journey, a journey into sound. One that Geoffrey Sumner himself would doubtless have approved of.
An object of seraphic beauty, on every conceivable level, Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch‘s ‘Époques’ (130701) sees the London-based French pianist and composer return with her second long player for Fat Cat‘s post-classical imprint. Hot on the heels of 2017’s much-heralded Dmitry Evgrafov release, ‘Comprehension Of Light’, ‘Epoques’ confirms somewhat of a purple patch for the label. Alongside Resina‘s ‘Traces’ (see below) and the forthcoming masterpiece from Maarja Nuut and Ruum, this fascinating collection of compositions for piano, viola, cello and electronics veers between fragile passages of shimmering delicacy and more coruscating sections of analogue discourse. Intimate yet agitated, ‘Époques’ manages both to entrance and to threaten. Ominous clouds descend to envelope the implied lightness in a sonic miasma, adding the gravitas seemingly required to tether the record to the ground, to stop it floating away. Draped in reverb, Levienaise-Farrouch’s beatific keys radiate from these recordings with sonorous grace, none more so than on the record’s titular centrepiece. Warmth, honesty and despair combine to construct a linear narrative that allows the album’s purpose and potential to expand exponentially into the future.
Continuing a lineage firmly established with Sam Kidel‘s ‘Disruptive Muzak’, Nozomu Matsumoto‘s incredible ‘Climatotherapy’ (The Death of Rave) presents an imaginary soundtrack to a fantasy movie in the form of a personal health assessment narrated by Amazon’s Text-to-Speech interface, Polly. Part hauntological concerto composed of Universal Studio-esque strings, intermittent R&B-tinged female vocals and operatic deviances hovering above low-end disturbances, part exploration on the morality of Artificial Intelligence, ‘Climatotherapy’ is a staggeringly original work of art in every sense of the phrase: edition of 300, one-sided whitelabel with holographic sticker, plus a 12×12” insert, transcript designed by Mark Fell.
Worth the entry price for the cover art alone, by Australian painter Anne Wallace, Crys Cole & Francis Plagne‘s ‘Two Words’ (Black Truffle) has been gaining relentless hype from most every quarter these past few weeks. Canadian sound artist Crys Cole (partner of Oren Ambarchi) and Australian songwriter Francis Plagne combine to blend their wilfully differing approaches to music making. The record begins on a tide of abrasive texture, as colliding surfaces bring to mind a sea of sand waves crashing onto a shore of paper. Plagne’s electric organ floats in downcast chords on a pool of Soft Machine, whilst Cole punctuates the mix with eccentricity. The second half of the record features Plagne singing monotone two-word texts by Berlin-based poet Marty Haitt, as the organ padding grows ever more functional. There’s something strangely disconcerting about this release, from the cover art to the final note. A fascinating attraction that begins as greater than the sum of its parts, ending in unison with a sense of enormous satisfaction. The vocal melody reminds me of something I just can’t put my finger on, and that probably contributes to the sense of unease.
Recorded in a bedroom in Chicago on a post-clubbing comedown, Pontiac Streator & Ulla Straus‘ ‘Chat’ (West Mineral Ltd) presents a meditative quartet of similar tribal tropes inspired by absorbing too much late night communication and insipid right wing propaganda. Vaguely reminiscent of Dominic Fernow‘s Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement, the vibe is strictly humid tropicana. As with a number of this month’s releases, there is a vague sense of unease in the undertow, just below the surface. Following on from uon‘s recent killer 12″ for the label, West Mineral Ltd are also on a roll right now. Edition of 200-copies on clear wax.
The second indispensable artefact this month from Fat Cat‘s post-classical imprint comes in the form of Resina‘s ‘Traces’ (130701). Polish cellist Karolina Rec returns with her second long player in as many years, and it’s a truly breathtaking body of work. Cello, electronics, percussion (courtesy of Maciej Cieslak) and Rec’s own wordless vocals shape this 47-minute epic, weaving from spectral elegance to pounding rhythmic insistence amidst the omnipresent dark energy of resistance. The album’s title alludes to the power of memory in shaping our lives, reflecting the unstable times we are currently experiencing. Recorded in 2017 at drummer Cieslak’s studio in the Wola district of Warsaw, the record bears the aforementioned spirit of defiance associated with Jewish resistance and the Warsaw Uprising that centred around Wola in 1943.
Recorded direct to tape from Ugandan radio, circa 1978-2003, ‘Ekuka’ (Nyege Nyege Tapes) collates the recordings of Lukeme maestro Ekuka Morris Sirikiti. Only the label’s third vinyl offering, the collection features twelve tracks pressed onto a double gold wax set. Hailing from the Langi tribe of Lira, Northern Uganda, griot Ekuka Morris Sirikiti was a regular on the local festival and market scene, busking his intricate music with just the use of vocals, a kick drum and a Mbira. The twelve songs here move backwards and forwards in time, between 1978 and 2003, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. The inconsistencies in fidelity and the constant hiss of ferric particles only serve to render these recordings as fresh as the day they were first broadcast. Subject matter varies between authority-sponsored messages of the dangers of tax evasion, alcohol consumption and unprotected casual sex, to everyman observations on the importance of being a gentleman, a good husband, father and citizen. Sirikiti was loved by his people, as both an artist and a role model, and now he can be loved again by us, as a temporal traveller.
Finally this month, we round off our selections with the debut self-titled long player from Topdown Dialectic (Peak Oil). The eight tracks here began life as a set of software strategies, manipulated and stretched to create the finished articles we hear here. In reality, the results are far more compelling than such a creation process would suggest. Encapsulating elements of the classic Basic Channel sound, alongside elements of Shinichi Atobe, ex-Aught stablemates Topdown Dialectic join De Leon, Xth Réflexion and Agnes in their transition from tape-based artists to vinyl avatars. This set has been looping away on repeat for the best part of the last month, and despite the alphabetical realities, we really have saved the best till last. Absolutely stunning!
Abul Mogard/Acolytes/Bad Tracking/Kali Malone/Mark Fell/Steven Legget/Tribe Of Colin
‘The harms being caused by the war on drugs can no longer be ignored. It is time to leave behind harmful politics, ideology and prejudice. It is time to prioritise the health and welfare of the affected populations, their families and communities” – Support Don’t Punish
Much like the War On Terror, or any war, for that matter, the War On Drugs is essentially class war. In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a revolutionary act. Shaped by conditioning, wounded by trauma, marginalised by anxiety, defined by deviancy, the need to escape consequentiality hampered by the external stigma that informs internal stigma. The political implications of operation escape-from-self have ramifications that tear families and communities asunder. With drug deaths rising and drug treatment budgets falling, the implicit correlation between capitalist surrealism and the death of self-love has never been more explicit.
“Global society is drowning in addiction to drug use and a thousand other habits. This is because people around the world, rich and poor alike, are being torn from the close ties to family, culture, and traditional spirituality that constituted the normal fabric of life in pre-modern times. This kind of global society subjects people to unrelenting pressures towards individualism and competition, dislocating them from social life” – Bruce K Alexander
In terms of solution-focussed approaches, the twin pillars of Maté (Boaz) and Alexander (Jachin) guide us towards the salvation of shalom. This duality is at the beating heart of the Recoverist dichotomy. Only when we frame our collective demise as the consequence of unenlightened thoughts can we embark on the pathway of education, agitation and organisation necessary to reclaim the self through emancipation. Our antecedents here are hidden in plain sight, amongst the rubble of neoliberal capitalist surrealism: the ghosts of the Chartists, the Suffragettes, the Fabians, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the spirits of emancipatory freedom from the symbolic violence of abstract systems.
The concept of Nietzsche versus nurture can thus be seen as a truly holistic exploration of the nihilistic drivers informing the deviant behaviour perspective of the ruling elite; a philosophical deconstruction of the Kantian right versus the Benthamite left. In the common ground between the ABCDWP-driven Recovery Agenda of government policy and the traditional liberalism of the Harm Reductionist left, lie the fertile pastures of possibility through purpose: an Aristotlian flourishing, Eudaimonia, achieved through re-identity, a process of shared learning shaped to redefine self as a revolutionary act of emancipation.
The process of pain management through self-medication suppresses our dreams, as well as our sense of self. Addictive substances affect our ability to achieve REM sleep. By losing consciousness instead of sleeping soundly, we wilfully aid and abet the forces of oppression by building our own prisons, acting as our own jailor. The crime of allowing our pain to steal our dreams is intrinsically self-harm.
“To be, or not to be? That is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and, by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep – no more – and by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to – ’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished! To die, to sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause. There’s the respect that makes calamity of so long life” – William Shakespeare, ‘Hamlet’ (Act 3, Scene 1)
As Nietzsche himself observed, life without music would be a mistake, and this month’s selection have been instrumental in shaping my personal response to those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. We begin, then, with ‘Above All Dreams’ (Ecstatic), Abul Mogard’s expansive follow-up to 2015’s ‘Circular Forms’ (Ecstatic). To this day, Mogard’s true identity remains shrouded in mystery. The party line of sexagenarian Serbian sheet metal worker recreating the sounds of the factory through modular synthesis may be prosaic, but according to my Serbian contacts, the name itself is distinctly un-Serbian. Theories abound as to exactly who is moonlighting here, but it doesn’t really matter that much. Whatever the absolute truth, the relative truth is that ‘Above All Dreams’ evolves in front of our ears, seamlessly, from where ‘Circular Forms’ closed, three years earlier.
For those of us who joined the party late with ‘Works’ (Ecstatic), 2016’s collation of Mogard’s VCO output from 2012-2013, ‘Above All Dreams’ may appear somewhat slight when disconnected from ‘Circular Forms’. It is imperative that Mogard’s development be heard as the progression that it undoubtedly is, instead of some kind of gradual osmosis into the ambient wallpaper of magnolia world. Those of you yearning for the harsher elements of ‘Works’ need to overcome those expectations before embracing the hauntological mindfulness of ‘Above All Dreams’. This is a domain of spiritual sanctity, achieved through artful composition, an emotional ephemera of love and light in six movements. Between the drones we discover salvation in oscillation. On ‘Where Not Even’ and ‘The Roof Falls’ in particular, we hear nods to Sarah Davachi‘s ‘Let Night Come On Bells End The Day’ (Recital) and the ghosts of panoramic ’70s progression. Abul Mogard has staked his claim to greatness, and with both ‘Circular Forms’ and ‘Works’ already hailed as classics, it can be confidently assumed that ‘Above All Dreams’ will ascend its forebears to assume hierarchical precedence in the Mogard cannon.
Described elsewhere as the ‘best record Alter have ever put out’, Acolytes consciousness-altering ‘Rupture’ (Alter) is computer music with a lo-fi aesthetic. Moody, visceral and relentless in its approach, ‘Rupture’ pixilates the angst of symbolic violence in byte-sized chunks. Dysfunctional rhythms contradict the topography of their sound-beds in a jarring juxtaposition that struggles to impose much sense of form on first listen. Repeated exposure gradually pulls shape from the miasma to reveal the man called D. Shan’s modus operandi. Slimmed down from the group-based set-up that delivered Acolytes s/t debut back in 2015, ‘Rupture’ is an altogether more enduring work. Echoes of Gábor Lázár‘s acidic tekno shade the palette. Dub sensibilities elongate the space between tones. Tribal beats and samples litter the terrain. ‘MXE666′ squelches from the speakers, dancing above the melee like a sprite atop the flames of a ritual campfire. This autocannibalistic approach to sound-craft is utterly mesmeric. The esoteric vibe of ‘Rupture’ is something we will be returning to below with Tribe Of Colin. ‘Night Air’ draws proceedings to a close in enigmatic fashion: a swirl of backwards scratches herald what sounds like a bastardised melodica refrain, introducing a vaguely ‘East Of Of The River Nile’ vibe that somehow retro-informs all that has come before it to leave us with a real sense of culmination. ‘Rupture’ is a masterful accomplishment, a dark art from a dark heart in a dark world. Is this the best record Alter have ever put out? Find out for yourself here:
Following their 2017 vinyl debut on Bristol’s Mechanical Reproductions, West Country pioneers Bad Tracking (Max Pearce/Gordon Apps) return with this 4-track monster on FuckPunk. In a hail of recrimination and hissing arpeggiation, the duo roll the overdosed spectre of industrial electronics into the recovery position and pump in the Naloxone. With the ambulance on its way, the patient is not overtly pleased to have regained conciseness. This escape from self-imposed oblivion results in the weaponised, beat-driven, animalistic squalls that we hear as ‘Mayday’ and ‘Clanger’, and their accompanying dubs. This is the raw sound of the city’s revenge. City, baby, attacked by rats. This edition of 88-copies comes complete with an additional pink rubber-banded C35 bonus-tape, containing unheard material and Bad Tracking live jams.
The ability of harmony to affect psychological change is a concept explored by Kali Malone on her follow-up to 2017’s ‘Velocity Of Sleep’ (XKatedral/Bleak Environment) ‘Cast of Mind’ (Hallow Ground) explores this concept through the exclusive use of the Buchla 200 synthesiser, in combination with acoustic woodwind and brass instruments. Born in Colorado in 1994, Malone has been living and working in Sweden since 2012. As well as her solo work, she is also an active member of Sorrowing Christ, Swap Babies and Upper Glossa. Working in a similar genre pool to the aforementioned Sarah Davachi, alongside other notable contemporary composers such as Kara-Lis Coverdale, Teresa Winter and Christina Vantzou, Malone utilises unique tuning systems in minimalist form for analog and digital synthesis. ‘Cast Of Mind’ delivers over four-pieces, moving from the woodwind hunting calls of the titular opener, eerily reminiscent of an ambient black metal vignette, through three variations, ending with the drone-dominated roulade of finale, ‘Empty The Belief’. The sum of these parts is a rich aural tapestry, sonically sewn in intricate detail. At 37-minutes, ‘Cast Of Mind’ never outstays its welcome. This is an incredible record I find myself returning to time after time, every listen subtly altering the way I feel about it as a work of art. In that sense, the overarching concept is proven.
June must be the month of rhythmelodic cadence. This time last year, I was obsessed with Robert Aiki Aubery Lowe‘s ‘Levitation Praxis Pt. 4′ (DDS), a pair of incredible recordings made with Harry Bertoia’s sound sculptures. This year, it’s the turn of Mark Fell‘s ‘Intra’ (Boomkat Editions), a suite of soundscapes performed with Drumming Grupo De Percussão on the Sixxen metallophone system: a set of six microtonally tuned instruments, originally conceived by Iannis Xenakis, back in 1976. ‘Intra’ comprises eight complex polyrhythms, delivering a 37-minute meditative Carnatic therapy session, connecting us to the future primitivism of John Zerzan. ‘Intra’ is a work of art that resolutely rejects the thesis that time and technology are neutral scientific realities, positing instead that they are carefully constructed means of enslaving people. ‘Intra’ connects to the justified and ancient inside of us all. This is so much more than a slight return.
Originally recorded in the Turkish Baths of Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s City Pool, and subsequently augmented with field recordings gathered on the islands of Paxos and Loutro, South Crete, Steven Legget‘s serene ‘Bathhouse’ (Firecracker Recordings) is one of the most stunning electroacoustic amalgamations I have discovered thus far, an innovative blend of environmental drone and illustrated neo-classical. Aquatic sounds, ambient samples, electronic interfaces and immensely expressive cello combine to create spectral beauty of unfathomable import. Ten widescreen compositions lead us on an hour-long journey through water, submerged in the warmth of a rarified atmosphere heavy with condensation. All profits from the record are being donated to clean water charity, Waves for Water.
“It’s a signal, and it’s a signal that’s saying wake up. It’s a signal that’s saying take a look. Take a look at yourself. So, two things basically drive change in human beings. One of them is suffering, and the other is, you meet somebody, and in the presence of that person you realise, here is a human that’s found something, and is listening to something, has become connected to something, and I want to know what that is for myself, so, it’s inspirational, and its conveyed by quality of conciseness in someone else that makes you say: ‘I want to take a journey’, and usually what that person says is: ‘you’re a really beautiful human being and you’re struggling with the kind of things you’re meant to be struggling with, and lets take a look at how you can struggle in a constructive way’ ”
So begins Tribe Of Colin‘s ‘Lions Print Complete In Ten Thousand Practices Thus Come One’ (Chant). The synchronicity of these words within the narrative of this month’s column cannot be understated. That’s the second time this week something vaguely prophetic has occurred out of the blue. This record arrived in this morning’s post, but after only two spins it’s safe to say it’s already up there with my treasured copy of ‘Wide Berth’ (Label Unknown) and the recent Docile 12″ on Trilogy Tapes with John T. Gast. Gnostic, esoteric, ritualistic and compelling, Tribe Of Collin throw skanking tekno shapes into a vat of acid in a vivid display of end-of-times provocation. My favourite record of the year so far, six months down, this one’s a keeper!