Age Of Dislocation

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A Column

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;; 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 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.”

Jean Encoule - December 10th, 2017


Virosa Ebriosa (album)


Fragments: The end of a set at one venue, a near miss at another, a sense that something missed was significant as condensation and sweat hangs heavy in the post performance air. A shimmering chimera rendered accessible through the recorded medium. The antiseptic digital format does not undermine the visceral energies contained within its virtual folds; Virosa Ebriosa is suitably strong and addictive even when consumed within the most ascetic environment.

‘You’re One’ bursts in, coruscates, accelerating through a notional set of friction heavy gears that cause it to skitter and bounce, plain sailing rendered kinetic through its reflexive serrations. Literate lyrics hint at the outsider perspective and juxtaposed belonging, a syncopated scratch that balms the savage itch. A torpedo descent to the bottom of Davy Jones locker switches perspective, driven by bass dexterity ‘Pyrate Bad’ cracks open a barrel of fun.

Waters run deep. The greenback river of Jordan is polluted by the pure light of actuality. ‘Ghostwriter’ coalesces into a venomous scarification of artificiality before fading into the tar melting two lane blacktop burn of ‘Bombshell’, a standout track that supports malefic vocals upon a sleek, portentous superstructure. The themes are heavy but the delivery is made with accomplished light hands.

After ‘The Ballad Of Lucifer’ rattles through like a night train carrying forbidden pets, ‘Hate Parades’ dares to skank. Strafing and evocative by degree, the number scours its groove, adorned by sumptuous lead and rich harmony. A sensual travelogue is unfolding; epitomised by ‘Hate Parade’, a spinning madrigal of bittersweet umami that traces the journey from conflagration to dying ember. ‘Lipstick Graffiti’ emerges as a broadcast from the last wasteland, twitching and convulsing in the crepuscular half light to recount pulp fictions with magnificent malevolence.

‘Russell (The Soundcheck Song)’ and ‘Sounds Like A Douche’ return fun to the top of the high octane agenda, paint blistering lead combining with the latter’s entrancing melodic savagery to frame an exultant release. Intent and execution rule here, with ‘My Lady Castlemaine’ writhing like an uroboros impaled upon its own fangs. With vocal prowess unrestrained, ‘Rage’ brings in the home straight; a furious casting built upon a rock solid gallows, before the episodic ‘Valkyrie Eyes’ delivers its Ouija board lexicon, immolating the heretical spellings within a house of flames. Kinesis and allure are juxtaposed.

Finally, the ramalama punkarama of ‘Train Of Stars’ loops around the outer rim of the non-stop pogo-a-gogo, a demented Sputnik that arcs toward the killing floor. Soaking its entry point with the same sweet condensation and sweat that hung in the air weeks ago now. This is mischief with ideas – experience it.



Dick Porter - November 13th, 2017

Are ‘Friends’ Eclectic?


A Column

Haram/Belus/Sanguine Relic/Hell/N.A.D.M.A./Laura Cannell/Bill Mackay and Ryley Walker/Bernard Parmegiani/Dmitry Evgrafov/Invenciones: La Otra Vanguardia Musical En Latinoamerica 1976-1988

“Orthodox Marxism, therefore, does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx’s investigations. It is not the ‘belief’ in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a ‘sacred’ book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to method. It is the scientific conviction that dialectical materialism is the road to truth and that its methods can be developed, expanded and deepened only along the lines laid down by its founders. It is the conviction, moreover, that all attempts to surpass or ‘improve’ it have led and must lead to over-simplification, triviality and eclecticism” – György Lukács

Eclecticism is defined as a conceptual approach that does not hold rigidly to a single paradigm or set of assumptions, but instead draws upon multiple theories, styles, or concepts. When I founded trakMARX, back in 2001, I was a practicing exhibition electrician. These days, I’m more of an eclectic exhibitionist. In 2001, we still bought records in shops; had a functional hard-copy music press; believed punk rock was a generational signifier worthy of continued relevance; and used mobile phones that required the wearing of a holster. Things change. Life is fluid. As some of you are doubtless aware, back in 2001, life for me was especially fluid, to the tune of around 280-units of alcohol a week. As I said, things change.

If you signed up to this zine sometime back in a distant decade when things almost mattered, you may well have been appalled at the outrageously not-really-punk-rock theories, styles or concepts we have foisted upon you in the ensuing years. You possibly ceased reading some time ago, when we stopped posting so many pictures of Debbie Harry, or parades of dusty old record sleeves. This is my truth: forty years after the fact, I’m still energised by music as an art form, and I find that irrascible punk rock (nee: counterculture) attitude in just about anything. Come with me then, as we dig through the virtual crates, to sample the giddy delights of an eclectic Marxist approach to consuming music in the twenty first century.

Haram – ‘When You Have Won, You Have Lost’ (LVEUM): One of a handful of punk rock combos to effectively engage with me in the past 12-months, NYC’s Haram follow their well-received demo and essential seven inch on Toxic State with a virulent 10-track LP on La Vida Es Un Mus in the UK/Europe (Toxic State is the US). Band-leader and front-man, Nadar, is of Lebanese origin, and his coruscating vocals are delivered entirely in Arabic, over tub-thumping drums and splenetic guitars, reminiscent (to these ears) of the work of East Bay Ray. It’s by no means all 1-2-3-4-rammalama, either: ‘The Voice Of The Hari’meen’, ‘What Is This Life?’ and ‘Road To Liberation’ quell the pace and stem the fury with intelligent use of spoken word, effective sampling, and a variable rhythmic approach that nods in the general direction of UK comrades, Bad Breeding. It’s all over in 21-radical-minutes, but it seems way longer than that in-situ, and that’s a mark of the quality of Haram’s art. In a year when dad’s, grandads and uncle punks all over what passes for mass media in 2017 remind you incessantly that its 40-years ago today since Malcolm taught the band to play, if I read one more essay claiming ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ was the only punk rock album ever made, I will hunt the authors down, and force them to listen to ‘When You Have Won, You Have Lost’, over and over again, until their ears bleed.

Belus – ‘Apophenia’ (Vendetta): Five years after their debut self-released cassette, Belus finally drop their debut long player. This New York horde have been keeping their powder dry, and ‘Apophenia’ is one hell of an opening statement. The band have grown further in stature since my entry point, their split with Anicon (2014), and this record finds them fully defining their sound betwixt the twin pillars of blackened doom and black metal. Drummer Jacques Johnson varies the attack with some decidedly unmetallic approaches, particularly on the angular standout, ‘Monolith’. Elsewhere Matt Newton (vocals/gtr) and Lesley Wolf (vocals/bass) trade gnarly licks, shifting shapes in the gloom, refusniks on the run from the genre police. Carefully constructed over the course of the last three years with assistance from the band’s engineer, Nolan Voss, ‘Apophenia’ kicks over the statues in its bid to establish a unique identity, an objective it achieves with room to spare.

Sanguine Relic – ‘Bitter Reflection In Luminous Shadows’ (Skjold): Originally released in stunningly limited numbers on Perverse Homage, this vinyl pressing on Skjold follows the label’s earlier vinyl pressing of the band’s ‘Vampiric Will’ (Defiled Light) cassette, back in 2015. Sanguine Relic are conspiratorially regarded as one of the most authentic US raw BM hordes in existence presently. Their tapes and vinyl pressings change hands on Discogs for frankly ridiculous amounts. Peruse the band’s below-the-line comments on their individual release listings on Discogs for a flavour of the discourse revolving around inclusivity/exclusivity in underground black metal. Kvltists karmically deride ‘flippers’ for their questionable ethics; Perverse Homage appear almost totalitarian in their approach to fulfilment (one copy per person; working in conjunction with the FBI counter-flipper team; trained team of handwriting experts; postcode recognition software). This begs the question: is it ok if I like your band? Obviously, as a relative fossil, I find all this parochialism faintly amusing, but remembering the protective instincts I once had as a younger man for bands I considered to be my personal property, I do appreciate the conundrum. The fine art of selling out is seemingly played out to the Nth degree in the 21st century. I’d imagine in certain dark circles the act of playing a gig could be viewed as heresy. Sonically, I’ve been developing an appreciative ear for the art of Sanguine Relic over the course of the last few months, but it has been fairly arduous work, I’m not going to lie to you. In terms of fidelity, they make Black Cilice sound like Black Veil Brides. One imagines the recording process to involve the careful etching of the songs onto a rusting chrome C60 with a 2B pencil, before some kind of primitive overdubbing, involving the use of condenser mics and broken boomboxes, allows the band to build their cacophony of dread by candlelight. Beneath the murk of the kind production values normally associated with underground noise bands (i.e. – makes ‘Raw Power’ sound over-produced), Sanguine Relic are actually way more melodic than my words may imply. The songwriting is impeccable throughout, punkish in its delivery, crammed with menacing riffs, decorated sparsely with fluid tremolo’d melody, punctuated by harrowing high-pitched screaming. Sanguine Relic are engaged in a relative spiritual war; struggling to cleanse their minds, their hearts and their spirits, striving to break the chains that shackle them to their futile existences.

Hell – ‘Full Length’ (Lower Your Head/Sentient Ruin): Salem, Oregon’s Hell have been quietly ruling the extreme doom underground since 2009. Over the course of a trilogy of long players and a host of splits, they’ve established a reputation as vile purveyors of blackened woe. Multiple issues across both cassette and vinyl formats have built a fertile catalogue, culminating in this cassette release, on the band’s own Lower Your Head, in conjunction with Sentient Ruin. M.S.W. and guest vocalist A.L.N. return to the fore once again with ‘Full Length’, collating various pieces assembled over the past three years. The album includes 2015’s ‘Sub Odin’/’Inscriptus’ seven inch; ‘Victus’ (previously released as a bonus track in 2014); alongside four brand new songs. Opener ‘Helmzmen’ sets the tone, with its blend of ultra-distorted/clean guitar interplay, interspersed with sickening rasps and spoken word samples. This is despotic doom, carved in heavy oak with a bloodied dagger. Precision music that crushes the breath from your lily livered lungs in spasms of humble consecration. Hell are equal opportunity oppressors, and you enter their subterranean world at your own peril. Their back catalogue has always been intriguing, if not a tad uneven, veering from ultra-doom to experimental doom opera, but ‘Full Length’ establishes a new paradigm of refined heaviness.

N.A.D.M.A. – ‘Uno Zingaro Di Atlante Con Un Fiore A New York’ (Die Schachtel): Originally released back in 1973 on RCA Records, ‘Uno Zingaro Di Atlante Con Un Fiore A New York’ is one of those records: one where the reality of the repress actually surpasses the myth of constructed memory. Long regarded as one of the most sought-after artefacts of the Italian avant-garde, ‘Uno Zingaro Di Atlante Con Un Fiore A New York’ expands your mind, your spirit and your consciousness. As ecstatic as it is eclectic, it swerves joyously from free jazz liberation to modal folk traditionalism, and back again. Considering the staggering brilliance of the Die Schachtel roster, to suggest that this is one of the finest records in the label’s catalogue will give you some idea of the importance of this release. Steeped in mystery, the finer details of this recording are as scarce as the accolades draped across the original release back in 1973. We have the connoisseurs and historians of the Italian avant-garde to thank for any awareness in this regard. ‘Uno Zingaro Di Atlante Con Un Fiore A New York’ cuts through time like an insect crawling up the walls, to plug us into the zeitgeist of a truly egalitarian movement, one that defined the possibility of radical sound so effectively that it still sounds like nothing else to this day. Such is the mark of innovation.

Laura Cannell – ‘Hunter Huntress Hawker’ (Brawl Records): Violinist Laura Cannell’s fourth solo release follows her acclaimed albums: ‘Quick Sparrows Over the Black Earth’ (2014); ‘Beneath Swooping Talons’ (2015); ‘Simultaneous Flight Movement’ (2016). ‘Hunter Huntress Hawker’ captures the East Anglian fiddler over 11-improvisations recorded live in the semi-ruined church of Covehithe, perched atop the fast-eroding cliffs of the Suffolk coast. The material here was inspired by an art installation involving sound, light and a live stallion. Cannell explores daydreams, memories and perspectives, of both the horse, and the humans seeking to harness its power and strength for their own needs. Cannell’s fiddle and overbow fiddle conjure age-old visions of half-light and torch light; flitting shadows; the rhythmic cadence of hooves on sodden turf. There’s always been a medieval bent to Cannell’s work, and ‘Hunter Huntress Hawker’ duly echoes with the natural reverb of sanctity, befitting of the space in which it was recorded. I have cherished every one of Cannell’s albums thus far, but until now I have had nothing tangible to hold in my hands. ‘Hunter Huntress Hawker’ rectifies this with a limited cassette pressing, available through her Bandcamp page below. For the uninitiated, it’s a good place to begin your investigations. Highly recommended.

Bill Mackay and Ryley Walker – ‘SpiderBeetleBee’ (Drag City Records): I met Ryley Walker earlier this year, at a show in Wolverhampton, within spitting distance of the Molineux. He was charming, effusive and engaging, full of the veritable joys of being a respected travelling musician, abroad in a foreign land, posing for photographs with my companion and I. He talked briefly about the follow-up to ‘Golden Sings That Have Been Sung’ (Dead Oceans), set for release early next year, but conspicously failed to mention this second full-length outing with compadre-in-strings, Bill Mackay. The show that night was a revelation, bringing Walker’s songs to life off of the vinyl, breathing connectivity into my listening experiences moving forwards. It may have only been a slight meeting, but it brought his music alive to me, a shared moment that will forever connect me to the man and his songs. ‘SpiderBeetleBee’, then, is the successor to ‘Land Of Plenty’ (Whistler Records, 2015), a second rambling dual acoustic conversation in dialects as varied as you’d expect from such well-travelled men. Together, the duo swerve from Nick Drake-ist whimsey to Jim O’Rourke-ian gravitas with wit and verve, making their own path as they walk it. More than just ‘Land Of Plenty’ (revisited), ‘SpiderBeetleBee’ is a companion piece that compliments its predecessor perfectly. Ideal for long winter nights huddled round a one-bar fire in a tenement slum, wishing for all the world that it didn’t have to be this way, that you could be somewhere else, anywhere but here.

Bernard Parmegiani – ‘Rock (Original Soundtrack)’ (Transversales Disques): Recorded in 1982 as the soundtrack to Michel Treguero’s film, ‘Rock’ was created using a TR-808 drum-machine, a Synthi AKS, a Farfisa organ, and a Clavinet. Recorded entirely in Parmegiani’s home studio, ‘Rock’ uncannily laid the foundations for future records, such as Robert Aiki Aubery Lowe‘s ‘Two Orb Reel’ (More Than Human), reviewed in these pages a mere couple of columns ago. Splice ‘Rock’ with Jean Hoyoux‘s ‘Planètes’ (Cortizona), et voila! A member of the Groupe De Recherches Musicales, an electroacoustic composer in his own right, and a contemporary of Pierre Schaeffer, Luc Ferrari, François Bayle et al., Parmegiani’s reputation spent years languishing in the shadows cast by the success of his fellow musicians; decades of grubbing about in the margins. Paris-based label, Transversales Disques, are now set to challenge such isolationist narratives with their inaugural release of ‘Rock’. Ironically, Parmegiani began his creative life as a mime artist, before forging a career defined by the potential of recorded sound, largely in the arena of film and television. Bearing little resemblance to the bulk of Parmegiani’s work as a composer, ‘Rock’ instead owes more to the likes of Carpenter, de Roubaix and the Berlin School of 80s electronica. I originally stumbled across ‘Rock’ as a spiritual companion record to Pierre Mariétan‘s ‘Rose Des Vents’ (Mana Records), a vaguely contemporaneous Parisienne experimental sound artefact from 1981: the fine defined lines of the artwork, the similar yellow hue of the record’s sleeve, connectivity at play in an obsessive mind. ‘Rock’ unfolds over 19-short vignettes of effervescence: radical, modular, droning, pulsating, analogue dysfunction. Tonally captivating, nothing hangs around long enough to outstay its welcome. There’s something utterly fascinating about this record, it possesses that certain je ne sais quoi that’s also present in spades on ‘Rose De Vents’. An utterly essential purchase.

Dmitry Evgrafov – ‘Comprehension Of Light’ (130701): In a teeming genre pool as fertile as that of neo-classical electronica, it takes something extraordinary to overshadow relative veterans such as Max Richter or Jóhann Jóhannsson, but with ‘Comprehension Of Light’, that’s precisely what this inexplicably talented neophyte Moskvich pianist has achieved, in one fell swoop. If Richter is imagined as an electronic composer flirting with classicism, and Jóhannsson as a classical composer flirting with electronica, then Evgrafov must then be framed as a true hybrid, on a journey of expansion, undertaken within, not without. ‘Comprehension Of Light’ is thus defined as an inventory of self by the artist; a stock take of ethical and moral concerns; an internal audit, if you will. A vast swathe of emotional intelligence that serves as a juxtaposition to his previous piano-dominated lyricism: for an album composed by a pianist, the piano only makes four notable appearances throughout. Instead we are enveloped by a cosmos of resonating drones, punctuated by ecstatic string-led chamber interludes that rise from their sombre killing floor to soar like eagles atop the heady mix. I’ve been spinning this head-to-head with Godspeed You! Black Emperor‘s ‘Luciferian Towers’ for the past few weeks, and despite my eternal love for GY!BE, I have to say Dmitry is edging ahead. When I was younger, adults used to tell me that I’d know when I’d finally grown up, because I’d start listening to classical music. ‘Comprehension Of Light’ turns that maxim on its head, inside out, and upside down.

V/A – ‘Invenciones: La Otra Vanguardia Musical En Latinoamerica 1976-1988′ (Munster): Featuring Manongo Mujica, Banda Dispersa De La Madre Selva, Miguel Flores, Amauta, Autoperro, Malalche, Decibel, Jorge Reyes, Grupo Um, Carlos Da Silveira, Musikautomatika, Quum, Vía Láctea, and Miguel Noya.

Thoroughly enticing compilation on the ever-reliable Munster Records, collating Latin America’s embracing of the DIY ethic. The sound of South America exploding through punk rock, and out the other side. History has applied cult status to many of the artists featured here, and as with the febrile movements in similar timeframes I’ve recently been exploring in both Italy and France, there is much here that connects intuitively to the bulk of the extraordinary exploration that’s filled these pages in 2017. The counterculture of the 60s, like the atom, has continued to expand ever since its detonation, and it could be argued that punk temporarily became an inadvertent straightjacket; that instead of liberating a staid and lumbering aristocracy of dinosaurs, as the myth insists, it instead merely halted the tide of progression temporarily, before misappropriating all its best ideas in the name of post-punk.

To conclude, those who cite ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ as the only punk rock LP ever made, will doubtless bore you senseless with their justification of ‘Metal Box’ as the epitome of experimentalism. It’s a bitter P/i/L to swallow, but some people just seem to revel in being cheated.

Jean Encoule - November 10th, 2017

What Is Anything Anymore, Anyway?


A Column

Black Cilice, Candelabrum, Aine O’Dwyer, Yellow Eyes, Sanguine Eagle, Giulio Aldinucci (interview), Godspeed You! Black Emperor

“Happiness was never important. The problem is that we don’t know what we really want. What makes us happy is not to get what we want. But to dream about it. Happiness is for opportunists. So I think that the only life of deep satisfaction is a life of eternal struggle, especially struggle with oneself. If you want to remain happy, just remain stupid. Authentic masters are never happy; happiness is a category of slaves” – Slavoj Žižek

According to Austrian-born existentialist and humanist Jean Améry (1912-1978), cultural alienation comes fitted as standard, in terms of the ageing process. As we age, he argues, we are unavoidably faced with numerous physical, social and psychological changes in our day-to-day lives. In addition, we are inundated by a youth-oriented culture, one that promotes novelty ideas, one that continually challenges our perceptions of what we define as society itself. As we grow older, so the argument progresses, we move relentlessly toward becoming nothing: uncoordinated, unfit, unfruitful, un-young, and unwelcome. For those of us who have lived underground for much of our cultural existences, any given Saturday night in the comfort of our own homes in the company of mainstream television can be a traumatic experience. Seemingly, the battle to remain even vaguely culturally relevant has become a war. The alleged curtailing of our ability to understand new developments in the arts, or in a changing society’s values, can instil feelings of inadequacy. If we are not careful, we can lose touch with the wider world, increasingly inhabiting a world of our own, confined to our pasts, strangers to the new epoch. As Žižek rightly attests: la lucha continúa!

Picking up that Iberian baton, Portuguese one-man, uber-undergrowth, lo-fi, raw Black Metal army, Black Cilice, has been emitting transcendental transmissions from a secret cave location situated somewhere on said peninsula for the best part of the last decade. Dozens of demos, tapes, sevens, splits, compilations and four full-length outings later, ‘Banished From Time’ (Iron Bonehead) stands as his most cohesive statement to date. Breaking with established behaviour patterns subtly, in terms of both artwork and sonic palate, the album builds on what has come before, to win new friends and influence the kind of people who wouldn’t normally pay attention to undergrowth black metal. The album’s immediate predecessor, ‘Mysteries’ (Iron Bonehead), was lauded by some on its initial release as Black Cilice’s breakout record, whilst being simultaneously dismissed by trve kvltists as his sellout record. Whatever your position on that score, the production values of ‘Mysteries’ were so dense that it was almost impossible, even for the seasoned ear, to differentiate betwixt guitars and vocals, with any vaguely discernible riffs being interred firmly in the subterranean quagmire of the mix.

This time out, however, those issues have been addressed accordingly, thus ‘Banished From Time’ benefits greatly from a newfound clarity. Don’t get me wrong, this is still resolutely un-engineered material cloaked as hex induction that will doubtless continue to trouble fans of high-fidelity production values, undergrowth or overgrowth, but on ‘Banished From Time’ Black Cilice has somehow reimagined the quintessential beating blackened heart at the core of the genre in compelling fashion. This triumphant release succeeds in straddling the gaping divide between traditional and contemporary Black Metal effortlessly, retaining that singular European connectivity to the Norwegian elders in a way that much contemporary global black metal fails to realise, capturing that air of mystery missing on ‘Mysteries’. Instrumentation and vocals remain submerged beneath a black sea of reverb, but the presence of an audible bass drum brings a bottom end to proceedings that has been lacking on earlier Black Cilice recordings. The songwriting continues to develop, the aforementioned vocal howls and shrieks are largely recognisable, whilst there are few more visceral guitar tones operating elsewhere in the entire genre pool. In attempting to banish himself from time, Black Cilice has instead created a timeless artefact of shamanic Black Metal artistry that will do his burgeoning reputation no harm whatsoever. You’ve got to admire a man who conforms incrementally on his own terms by refusing to conform.

Originally released back in 2016 in stunningly limited numbers, this two-track-twelve-inch re-release from Black Cilice alter-ego (citation needed!), Candelabrum, is strikingly different to the artist’s previous recordings, belatedly collated elsewhere on ‘The Gathering’ (Altare): “Candelabrum music deals with the world of the dead, a dimension out of most people’s eyes, but present in the life of many. The vastness and the utter darkness of such a dimension is so incredibly violent that any kind of representation through my music is just a pale dream in comparison” – Candelabrum

Where previously Candelabrum forged atmospheric instrumental pieces at funerary pace, ‘Necrotelepathy’ features a brace of compositions shaped by high pitched vocals, resonant guitars, shimmering keyboards and insistent drumming. Part I, ‘Distant Voices In The Darkest Night’, had me from the get-go, there’s something instantly engaging about this song that will pierce the dark heart of lovers of mournful melancholia the world over. Within one listen, I was genuinely considering purchasing a copy on Discogs there and then, exorbitantly priced at the time at sixty of our English Pounds. Thankfully, I resisted that temptation, to be eventually rewarded for my parsimony by Altare several months later with this timely reissue. Part II, ‘Prayers For The Damnation Of Man’, meanwhile, is somewhat heavier than Part I, but retains the spectral qualities of all true devotional music. As a companion record to Black Cilice’s ‘Banished From Time’, ‘Necrotelepathy’ offers relative contemplative relief. Alongside the equally mediative material collected on the aforementioned ‘The Gathering’, Candelabrum shine a light in the abyss that becomes ever-brighter the more your eyes become accustomed to the dark.

Originally scheduled for a March 2017 release, subsequently issued six-months-later due to paternity leave on the part of MIE head-honcho, Henry, Irish polymath, multi-instrumentalist and former United Bible Studies member Aine O’Dwyer’s eighth release is of an altogether more beguiling darkness than the black metal visitations examined above. Recorded between 2013-2015 in the shaft of the Brunel Tunnel, ‘Gallarais’ (MIE) could lay literal claim to being authentically more underground than Black Cilice or Candelabrum. The shaft itself is apparently 50ft deep, with an acoustic delay of around 3/4-seconds, and the record exploits this natural ambience to haunting effect. Further to this inbuilt echo, a square window in the ceiling of the shaft allowed the seepage of incidental noise: from tube trains 14ft-below; planes hundreds-of-feet above; and the mechanical noise of water pumps situated in the vicinity. O’Dwyer herself described this manmade cavern of industrialisation as her “mystic cave of transmigrational sound”. O’Dwyer had previously launched an earlier release, ‘Anything Bright Or Startling’, in the tunnel back in 2013, to mark its 150th-anniversary, simultaneously commemorating the deaths of six Victorian construction workers killed during the original installation. Following reflection on said launch led her to approach the tunnel’s director, Robert Hulse, and she was duly granted permission to carry out her ‘investigations’ over the next two-years.

‘Gallarais’ (the record’s title translates from the Gaelic as ‘church of the foreigner’, a funerary chapel in the shape of an upturned boat cited on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry) sets out to recreate the ‘abstract heritage’ of the fine art of ‘keening’, Irish professional mourners employed by families of the recently deceased for their incredible improvisational vocalisation. O’Dwyer sees the record as an imagined reenactment of a keening ceremony, using site-specific found-sounds, drones, feedback and additional instrumentation as dirge. Opening with the gorgeously delicate harp work of ‘Underlight’, and gradually hardening towards the extended choral keening of the closing ‘Hounds Of Hades’, ‘Gallarais’ stakes its claim to uniqueness through 8-accompanying pieces that experiment with, and extrapolate, individual aspects of O’Dwyer’s approach. Following the organ-based density of ‘Music For Church Cleaners’ (MIE), ‘Locusts’ and ‘Gegenschein’ (Penultimate Press), ‘Gallarais’ offers up sparse esoteric ambience that connects the shadows of the departed to the mourning energy of their families, playing the role of audio Kubler Ross model. After living with these recordings intimately for the past six-months, I can attest that their stature only grows with the passage of time. Tagann rudaí maithe dóibh siúd atá ag fanacht.

‘Immersion Trench Reverie’ (Gilead Media) is the seventh release (forth long-player) from Brooklyn’s psychedelic black metal horde, Yellow Eyes, one that further refines and expands their intricate art. When I began trakMARX, back in 2001, I was resolutely of the opinion that a band’s debut LP was invariably its finest hour, and that trajectories mostly continued on a downward spiral after that fact. Sixteen years later, much has changed, if not everything, and its thanks to bands such as Yellow Eyes that that perspective has been reversed, allowing me to fully appreciate the concept of progression, and the reality that the exact opposite of this maxim is true outside of the confines of punk rock orthodoxy.

Yellow Eyes’s previous record, ‘Sick With Bloom’, was equally revered here in these pages back in 2015, and has continued to resonate wildly in my collection throughout the ensuing two-years. I’m not going to mince my words here, I’m somewhat of a Yellow Eyes devotee. For me, they take me back to my pre-punk teens, to the sense of wonderment that gargantuan dinosaurs Led Zeppelin used to instil in my then-impressionistic mind. The emotional involvement of listening to Yellow Eyes, for me, has become ritualistic over the years I have been following the group’s development. If this suggests that I am heading for my second childishness and mere oblivion, then turn up the treble, pipes and whistles, I’m coming home.

Sam Skarstad, guitar, Will Skarstad, guitar and vocals (Ustalost, Sanguine Eagle, Vilkacis), M. Rekevics, drums (Fell Voices, Vanum, Vilkacis, Vorde) and Alex DeMaria, bass (Anicon, Obaku), returned to the their Connecticut recording cabin earlier this year to record ‘Immersion Trench Reverie’, directly to tape, as is their wont. Having recently returned from a trip to Siberia, the brothers Skarstad came loaded with field recordings capturing the sonic essence of Russian winter, and it’s these field recordings that shape the record’s animating principles. Teeming with melancholic melodiousness, the twin guitars of Sam and Will duel freely in a manner that would doubtless cause a nation of banjos to hang their fretboards in shame. With M.Rekevics drums higher in the mix, a new sense of space emanates from the speakers. Yellow Eyes core elements may have once been forged in the smithies of Asgard, but they are now resolutely adapted for use here in Midgard.

The record flows like the Yenisei across the Siberian plains. The journey is one blessed by a highly defined sense of melodic continuity. Contrasts between refrain and dissonance, tempo and temperance, and luminescence and shadow, create both tension and relief. ‘Blue As Blue’ and ‘Shrillness In The Heated Grass’ feature the close harmonies of a Siberian women’s choir, bringing a sacral component to an already atmospheric ambience. Elsewhere, bells chime, gravel is trampled underfoot, doors creak, locks engage, dogs bark, and Eastern winds howl around the edges of the finest set of songs Yellow Eyes have created thus far. With an ever-growing roster of side-projects orbiting around the Sibir Records/House Of First Light milieu, there’s every chance that the purity of ‘Immersion Trench Reverie’ will be further enhanced again in 2019. In the meantime, hold this one close to your chest, and play it extensively, with the lights out: ‘Immersion Trench Reverie’ is released on October 20th on CD, digital and LP, via Gilead Media, and on cassette, via Sibir Records.

One of those aforementioned satellite-hordes is Sanguine Eagle, who also count Yellow Eye’s Will Skarstad amongst their ranks. Sanguine Eagle regard their particular brand of dark art as devotional music, exalting an unfolding magickal current they describe as ‘storm mysticism': “The practitioner becomes a personification of the storm itself as he experiences the long and painful process of becoming severed from the dream or banal realities. Embodying its rapturous ability to devastate as well as bring remarkable resurgences of life, the storm is a perfect exemplification of the mercurial power that can be harnessed from knowledge of nature’s mysteries, wielded of course by one who knows, wills, dares and keeps silent. Knowledge of this frightening totality is so volatile it presents as much risk and danger as it does progress. While led through these vestigial mysteries, existence will persist as a subservient entity and all of perception becomes his temple. As the spirit goes through this harrowing castigation, one finally gazes upon the fruits of strength contained at the zenith-heart of the storm”.

With two cassette releases available digitally through the band’s Bandcamp page, ‘Individuation’ (House Of First Light/Psychic Violence) and a split release with Oppression (House Of First Light/Productions Haineuses), Sanguine Eagle are establishing a reputation for pushing black metal in an ever-further down the left hand path. The stand out track from ‘Individuation’, ‘The First Storm’, is a psalm of epic proportions, and the ideal place to experience ‘storm mysticism’

Giulio Aldinucci‘s ‘Borders And Ruins’ (Karlrecords) is a record born of it’s time. A symphony of subliminal beauty forged as sacred sound. A collection of hymns to the dispossessed, the dispersed and the divided, the lost and the wandering, playing out in a gothic cathedral of union already falling into disrepair. Descriptors ultimately fail to do justice to the complexities of Aldinucci’s art, but I hear it as dark ambient, acting as the juxtapositional foil to much of the black metal espoused above. ‘Borders And Ruins’ towers as a stain glass reflection of the instability of borders; borders as weapons of discrimination; leaking chaos and cultural ruin on both sides; impacting detrimentally on the relationship between people and territory.

trakMARX – How would you describe your music to someone who had never heard it before?

GA – It is very difficult for me to try to describe verbally something that I try to push beyond words. When someone asks me, I usually just give a few basic cardinal points to orient (like ‘electroacoustic’, ‘soundscape’, ‘experimental music . . .), and a link to my Bandcamp page:

trakMARX – Considering your involvement in making music for theatre, film, and as creative art itself, which discipline do you consider to be your main passion?

GA – My greatest passion is definitely music, and I consider myself both a composer and a curious researcher/listener. I have loved visual art since I was a teenager; I fell in love with art-house cinema and contemporary art very early; my passion for Italian Mannerism came a bit later, during the university years when I also started to appreciate theater and ballet. Sometimes I think that if I had not become a composer, I would have tried to become a film director. A few years ago, I also started to learn the basics of photography (in which I find many analogies with the work and the research on the soundscape) and I am getting more and more directly involved with this art.

trakMARX – ‘Borders And Ruins’ is your first LP for Karlrecords, and seemingly your first vinyl release. How did you get involved with the label, and is vinyl important to you as a medium?

GA – The LP’s story began with a demo submission to Karlercords: the label really enjoyed the album from the first listen, and we soon started talking about a vinyl release. I do not have a univocal preference about a specific format: I buy a lot of vinyl and CDs, sometimes cassettes, and I recently added to my music listening equipment a hi-quality music file player. In my opinion, the ‘best’ format always depends on the type of music, and I think the perfect medium for ‘Borders and Ruins’ is undoubtedly vinyl.

trakMARX – The vinyl edition of the album is a joy to behold, the silk screen print is truly beautiful, whilst the red vinyl adds that extra something – how important to you is it to present a complete package as an artefact, and what’s the significance of the points of the compass on each of the record’s labels?

GA – Thank you! It was a real pleasure to work with a label that curates every single detail of a release like Karlrecords perfectly does: the whole process, from discussing with Joe Gilmore about the artwork, to the choice about the sticker color, was very interesting and constructive. Everybody nowadays can buy or stream digital and, in my opinion, the physical format should be a piece of art by itself that shows how much care and love was put into the music, not only a ‘music container’. The inverted points of the compass on each of the record’s labels remind us how relative the description of geography can be, and consequently that no country or continent is the centre.

trakMARX – Italy is blessed with a stunning lineage of precedents in the field of experimental music, how important to you is the work of the likes of Giusto Pio, Lino Capra Vaccina and Claudio Rocchi?

GA – As a musician based in Italy, I really feel that my country has a strong tradition of experimental music: there is a constant worthwhile exchange between contemporary musicians, and it is not so uncommon to meet someone who worked together with important composers of the past. I think the strong point of Italian experimental music is its variety, its pluralism . . . that it is also one of the most positive aspect of my country.

trakMARX – In these times of mass migration, xenophobia and fear are being employed by neoliberal administrations all over Europe to lock down opposition to austerity and challenges to elite minorities, what does ‘Borders And Ruins’ offer in terms of political commentary in this regard?

GA – ‘Borders And Ruins’ was born while traveling around Europe: I’m always fascinated by (natural and political) border areas, where the boundary between different cultures becomes ‘porous’. When I think about this, I’m mindful of a statement by George Siemens that defines learning and knowledge as grounded on difference of opinion. The album was also born from a reflection on the instability of borders, seen as an extreme attempt to discriminate and rationalize that turns into a source of chaos and cultural ruins on both side, and their impact on the relationship between people and territory. The more I was working on the music and field recordings material, the more I was feeling the need of underlining the human presence element. I see this album as an opportunity to observe the nature and to ponder if the human being is at the centre of our society or not: everything seems to revolve around profit and statistics to prove how profitable something or someone is (from Facebook likes to the stock market), but emotions are not easy to convert into money or numbers. Very briefly, my album is an invitation to the knowledge, to go beyond our physical and psychological borders; the alternative will produce just ruins.

trakMARX – Could you tell us a little about what you mean by the term ‘sonic diary’?

GA – Since I started making field recordings, I named the files with a brief description of the soundscape, name of the place, and date. When travelling I use mostly a small recorder, in order not to be noticed, often my only travel diary is made by those files alone. I can easily say that my whole field recordings archive, with hundreds of hours of sounds, is my diary . . . a sonic diary of which every second can be modified and re-invented in endless different ways.

trakMARX – ‘Borders And Ruins’ is, we believe, the second episode in the PERIKLAS series – how many further instalments have you planned?

GA – At the moment, I’m fully concentrating on new compositions that are a direct evolution of ‘Borders and Ruins’, nobody has listened to them yet!

trakMARX – And, finally, how does it feel to have your music described as ‘an ambient masterpiece of sublime beauty and sacral majesty’?

GA – I feel extremely honored, it is the highest praise for my music, a kind of ‘reward’ for all the energy I spent working everyday on this album.

Returning to our keynote theme this month by way of conclusion, the ageing process not only informs individuals, it also informs groups, and consequently, the art they make collectively. In the case of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, this leads less to the kind of distortion and confusion cited above, but conversely to an ever-expanding clarity that in some quarters has been mistakenly labelled ‘conformist’. This concept itself is somewhat perplexing, given that GY!BE have made an anti-career out of resolutely refusing to conform for nigh on twenty years now. Ironic then, that in the same issue that Britt Brown mourned the death of the negative review in an article entitled ‘Collateral Damage’, another Wire scribe alluded to ‘Luciferian Towers’ (Constellation Records) as having all the artistic merit of a late-period Beatles pastiche. Granted, this was not a deconstruction worthy of the lauded Robert Christagu, but it was illustrative of the “dialectic between artist and appraiser” that seemingly “functions very differently in the 21st century”. It could be suggested, therefore, that ‘Luciferian Towers’ is illustrative of the dialectic between the radical left and the commentariat right, one that functions very differently in the 21st century.

To this writer, GY!BE represent a rainbow bridge to the (admittedly) naive idealism of the radical punk rock left of the late-70s/early-80s, which has (nevertheless) served as the core economy on which I have built a (fairly) robust ideological perspective, and in that respect they are peerless. With ‘Luciferian Towers’, GY!BE have set aside their sixth long player to exhibit their most rounded, composed and considered music to date. Gone are the apocalyptic samples of yore, the middle-eastern motifs of ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!’, the guttural drones of ‘Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress’, and the at-times over-bearingly metallic nature of the group’s post-hiatus guitar arsenal, revealing instead a consistent pastoral sensitivity not normally associated with the collective. The addition of free jazz sensibilities, spaghetti western melody, mariachi horns, orchestral dissonance and reflective glances back over the collective shoulder to the lonesome twang at the core of the group’s 1997 debut LP further enhances the sense of absolute maturation at the heart of this record. Whilst it could be argued on some levels that GY!BE have spent the best part of two decades perfecting the crescendo they achieved with aplomb on ‘Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven’ (Constellation Records), over eight movements here they universally reignite every touch paper they’ve ever lit in a firework display of emotion that triumphantly signifies change, growth and, ultimately, love, in its purest form. Admittedly, the filth and the fury are notably absent on ‘Luciferian Towers’, but in step with the world-over, circa now, the left are reconfiguring narratives. As George Monboit suggests at the outset of his indispensable new tome, ‘Out Of The Wreckage’ (Verso), “you cannot take away someone’s story without giving them a new one”. Whilst GY!BE may well be evolving away from the modus operandi of their radical past, they are developing a new story, and learning how to tell it. As Monboit asserts, “a new era has begun, loaded with hazard if we fail to respond, charged with promise if we seize the moment”. We need artists with vision at the vanguard of such a future, not lying on the sidewalk outside the Dakota building, shot full of holes.

Jean Encoule - October 1st, 2017

Unknown Genre


A Column

Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Robert Aiki Aubery Lowe, Panos Charalambous, Davy Keyhoe, Yoko Yoshimura, Claudio Rocchi, Sonja LaBianca and Culture.

“To be at peace with a troubled world is not a reasonable aim. It can be achieved only through a disavowal of what surrounds you. To be at peace with yourself within a troubled world: that, by contrast, is an honourable aspiration”George Monboit

A year on from my Orcadian Odyssey, this summer’s recess promised an altogether more modest road trip. Weighed down with the kind of existential angst associated with this time of year, fear of change and the malady of love plaguing my countenance, it was time to return to the homelands of Wales, for a week of reflective revisionism. As is traditional, I shaved my head to within an inch with the clippers, packed my trusty Peugeot with essentials, grabbed my copies of George Monboit‘s ‘How Did We Ge Into This Mess’ and Philip Hoare‘s ‘The Sea Inside’, and loaded up with music. With both daughters scheduled to be in tow, the controls were set for the heart of Cardigan Bay, Aberystwyth, and our caravan destination: Borth.

As my daughters now come fitted with headphones as standard, I had planned an outbound journey soundtrack focussing on unknown genre specialists, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, following the recent announcement by Constellation Records that September 22, 2017, will mark the release of the ensemble’s third post-hiatus record, ‘Luciferian Towers’. Informed by such grand demands as an “end to foreign invasions; an end to borders; the total dismantling of the prison-industrial complex; healthcare, housing, food and water to be acknowledged as an inalienable human right; and that the expert fuckers who broke this world never get to speak again”: ‘Luciferian Towers’ is a single album comprising four pieces, recorded in the “midst of communal mess, raising dogs and children, eyes up and filled with dreadful joy”.

Following an early morning Hep C clinic at Warwick hospital (I’m now one year clear of the virus!), daughter one and I headed for SuponA to collect daughter two. As soon as my youngest clambered aboard the Skylark and shotgunned the aux cable, my soundtrack plans lay like digital confetti, strewn across the desktop of abandoned hope. She’d prepared a playlist especially for the journey, so for the first hour or so we sang along to Busted, Eminem, The Killers, before eventually descending into the murky world of grime as we inched through Worcester, yard by yard.

The outward journey was in itself a trip down memory lane for me, as many a Morgan family holiday had begun this way, back in the 70s. We’d owned a static caravan back then, on a farm near Dolau, a small village in Powys, Mid Wales, in the community of Llanfihangel Rhydithon, on the edge of Radnor Forest. Worcester, Bromyard, Leominster, Kington, Knighton, Presteigne, all place names that hold particular significance in my addled memory banks. Despite the oft-constant white noise, I can still vividly remember getting my first pair of cherry red Docs in Ross-on-Wye; walking across the Radnorshire hillsides, testing them out to the sounds of Led Zeppelin‘s ‘Physical Graffiti’, rattling the cans of my state-of-the-art Sony Walkman; reading about the oncoming punk rock explosion in the pages of Sounds; on the verge of teenage rebellion and an incoming unknown genre. Impressed with Sid Vicious, Malcolm Owen and Johnny Thunders‘ nihilistic take on recreational drug use, I eventually shot up heroin in the very same caravan, with my then drug buddy, Eddie Cornett (sadly no longer with us), en route to a court appearance concerning the liberation of a DDA cabinet from an undisclosed apothecary, at Barmouth Magistrate’s Court, in the early 80s.

By the time we approached Rhayader, a compromise had been reached over the soundtrack, and my requests were forthcoming from daughter two’s Spotify platform: a selection of Public Enemy jams, some Beastie Boys, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, followed by New Order‘s ‘Blue Monday’, until she lost connectivity near the Red Kite Feeding Centre, and the sound of drum and bass leaking from the headphones of daughter one in the back was all that broke the silence. We pit-stopped in Rhayader to take on vitals, fuel and seek comfort, where every other establishment is seemingly owned by a Morgan: we had come home. With Aberystwyth just a short haul away up the Wye, and GY!BE‘s ‘Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven’ (Constellation) now emanating from the speakers, we hit town mid-afternoon, just as the sun was breaking through the dull blanket of cloud that had smothered us like a damp sleeping bag for most of the journey.

Aberystwyth lies at the heart of Cardigan Bay, originally established in response to a fortress built in 1109 by Gilbert Fitz Richard, on the south bank of the Ystwyth River. A university town, owner of a second (now ruined) castle, built in 1277, and controlled by Owain Glyndwr between 1404 and 1408, Aber is also home to ‘Hinterland’ (Y Gwyll), the BBC Wales crime noire TV show that has aired in 3-series (25-episodes) on BBC4 over the past few years, starring Richard Harrington as DCI Tom Mathias. The sun finally melted the clouds late afternoon, as we strolled through the town getting our bearings. I’d soon located the building used as the police station in ‘Hinterland’, and although the facade was draped in scaffolding, the front doors gave inwards as I tentatively pushed, and I found myself in the iconic hallway, expecting DCI Mathias to appear at any moment. The place felt abandoned and ever-so-slightly creepy, and although sorely tempted to walk deeper into the building in search of more familiar settings, I lost my nerve, and scarpered back out into the late afternoon sun. By early evening, we’d settled into our caravan at Brynowen Holiday Park in Borth, and were shooting pool in the arcade when my mate Charlie and his family caught up with us. Charlie lives in Borth, he’s a film maker and fellow recoverist, and the holiday promised time for us to catch up, plan future capers, and witness the local premier of his new film, ‘A Thin Place’, at Borth cinema, scheduled as the finale of our stay.

The holiday also provided ample chance for me to catch up with the virtual pile of new releases that life had gotten in the way of. With the girls off sampling on-site entertainments, I took the opportunity to delve into some Robert Aiki Aubery Lowe. Brooklyn-based RAAL is somewhat of a polymath, an artist and multi instrumentalist who works in the realm of spontaneous music, often under the moniker of Lichens. Raised on a diet of Gustav Holst‘s ‘Planets’ and hardcore punk, since arriving in the public eye in 1997, RAAL has played out with 90 Day Men, Dreamweapon and Om, launching his solo career as Lichens with ‘Gyromancy’ (Thrill Jockey), in 2008. ‘Two Orb Reel’ (More Than Human) is one of two RAAL releases this summer, a modular synth record with precedents set in both Holst’s ‘Planets’ and Jean Hoyoux‘s recently reissued ‘Planètes’ (Cortizona). Described by RAAL himself as a sci-fi music from an African perspective, ‘Two Orb Reel’ comprises 14-parts of visceral synthesis, many no longer than a couple of minutes, strewn amongst four more lengthy pieces. With impressive dexterity, RAAL ushers shimmering soul and simmering dread from his hardware, a magi time-traveller invoking spirits from the expanse of deep space: lighting the pitch black with modular tones, shooting melodies, and a wealth of fascinating textures. 21st century electronic chamber music, transcending its polarities: droning electronica and crystalline ambience. A listening experience suspended in isolation, demanding connectivity, filed under: unknown genre.

‘Levitation Praxis Pt 4′ (DDS) is a beguiling treasure to behold. The second RAAL release this summer comes courtesy of Demdike Stare‘s imprint, on translucent pink vinyl, housed in the most exquisite of sleeves. Commissioned by New York’s Museum Of Arts And Design to contribute to a Harry Bertoia exhibition in 2016, RAAL and video director Johann Rashid descended on Bertoia’s eighteenth-century stone barn in Barto, Pennsylvania, to film and record RAAL bringing a decidedly more composed approach than traditionally employed to Bertoia’s collection of Sonambient sculptures: metal rods and gongs that produce highly distinct, resonant sounds when struck, brushed or touched. Interweaving his own incantations and chants, RAAL pushes genre boundaries into the unknown, with the ethereal meter firmly in the red, over two sides of stunning wax, conjuring sprints from the air, casting spells like a zen master, at one with the universe.

The following morning began the way of many a British family holiday: torrential rain, kids refusing to get up. I set out early with Charlie to visit his office unit at Aberystwyth University, ostensibly to check out local bike hire options. Despite the inclement weather, my mood was buoyant. The short journey into Aber involved the kind of hills that would tax a fit car, and by the time we arrived, I was already contemplating taking the entire week off two wheels! Summit Cycles subsequently reneged on their advertised hire packages, and the decision was duly taken for me: cycling canceled. After a morning discussing recovery futures and the feasibility of launching a new rehab in Aber, Charlie dropped me back to Borth, and I dug up the girls for a trip out to Devil’s Bridge. Apart from the infamy associated with the psilocybin festival of 1979, Devil’s Bridge also features heavily in the expanding narrative of ‘Hinterland’. According to folklore, the bridge itself was built in one night by the Devil, as part of a thwarted plan to possess and old woman, her cows and her dog. The Devil was eventually outsmarted, and hasn’t rebooked a holiday in Mid Wales since.

As the rain lashed down on this humdrum town, we clambered up and down the ravine steps, marvelled at the sheer force of flowing water, and re-enacted the scenes from Iwan Thomas’s death. We ate lunch in the The Hafod Hotel, scene of the children’s home at the centre of the unfolding ‘Hinterland’ narrative. As we ate, a fairly impressive DCI Mathias clone sat a few tables away with his family. The irony was wasted on the girls, however, who had no idea what I was talking about. Driving back into Aber, the sun began to emerge, lighting the stunning vistas of the Cambrian Mountains. The streams of the valleys glinted in the sunlight, finer details slowly emerging from the mannerist canvas. As the coastline unfolded on the horizon, the clear division between cloud and clear sky beckoned us. We arrived on the sea front in Aber late afternoon, the mid-August sun filling the sky. We parked up, and dropped down onto the rock pools along the sea wall. Daughter two, her left foot plastered following her recent operation to remove bunions, inched her way deftly on one crutch, whilst daughter one forged ahead in search of crustaceans and interesting stones to throw at her sister. As I sat at the foot of the seawall, basking in the by-now radiant sunshine, I watched the girls make their way, chuckled at their incessant banter, and pondered the velocity of time.

With stomachs rumbling and daughter one itching to access the 2p-machines on the pier, we climbed back up to the seafront in search of decaf coffee, cake, iced-drinks and gaming tokens. While the girls mooched about in town, I wandered up to check out Andy’s Records, infuriatingly displaying a sign saying: ‘back in five minutes’. I waited for about seven. Andy didn’t return. I wandered back past Summit Cycles, who had loads of impressive bikes for sale, but none for hire, and we eventually settled in Coffee #1 for late afternoon refreshment. A poster on the wall advertised a record fair that had taken place the Saturday before we’d hit town. All bad things come in threes! With evening beckoning, we returned to Borth to meet up with Charlie, his partner Becky, and her son Tom, for fish, chips and an impressive sunset on Borth beach.

Following an evening of pool in the entertainment complex, I retired to my chamber with Panos Charalambous‘ ‘Fullness of Harmony’ (Rekem). From the very moment I unearthed this 1-sided 12″ vinyl wonderment via Soundcloud, I had the instinctive feeling it was going to become a record to treasure, and, sure enough, its the presently the pride of my collection. Record collector and artist Charalambous, a 59-year old out of Aetolia-Acarnania, Greece, is a DJ with a difference, swimming in an undisclosed genre pool all of his own. Using unorthodox styli, ranging from an eagle’s talon, to rose thorns, to agave leaves, Charalambous reconfigures his enormous collection of indigenous Balkan folk vinyl and shellac to reveal the sound of esoteric vibration as cacophonous perfection. Along with Stratos Bichakis indispensable cassette release, ‘Greek Etho Music Location Recordings’ (V-I-S), this slender collection further evidences the ‘Out-Of-Africa’ theory that would appear to pump at the heart of traditional Balkan folk.

We awoke to clear skies, electing to spend the day around the campsite, digging further into Borth itself. After a lazy start, we wandered up the beach, venturing as far as the expansive sand dunes of the Ynyslas Nature Reserve. Ynyslas demonstrates all stages of dune formation and growth, from sandy shore, through vegetated shingle, fore dunes, mobile dunes and fixed dunes, to scrub. They are home to a rich population of orchids, mosses, liverworts, fungi, insects and spiders. Many of these species are rare, and some are unknown elsewhere in Britain. Sadly, the girls seemed somewhat disinterested in exploring the dunes, so I decided to return later in the day. Next stop was Borth railway station, another ‘Hinterland’ set piece. The backdrop of the Cambrian Mountains across the scrub plain from the station platform is a truly enduring image. We wended our way along Borth High Street, snapping furiously. Brightly painted houses shone in the sunlight: yellows, pinks, blues. Giant purple dinosaur prints from Borth Carnival painted onto the pavements. We stopped for coffee and lunch in a beachside cafe, before returning to the camp site. The girls spent the afternoon in the arcade, while I took a brief swim in the campsite swimming pool. With the daughters engrossed in 2p-machines, happy to loll about the site, I took the opportunity for a few hours alone, making my way back to Ynyslas.

The late-afternoon sun had strengthened in its intensity, the dunes looked idyllic bathed in light, bright blue skies merging with the sea on the horizon. Reflecting as I walked, I was flooded with a sense of joy that quickly melted much of the frustration that has built up this past year. It had begun to feel like I’d been fighting a war for the past five years, but at the death it had felt like defeat, not victory. As the sand parted beneath my bare feet, I was acutely aware of the futility of such thinking. This world is a beautiful place, and positivity is at the heart of possibility. Change is challenging, but it is also inevitable. Life is fluid, and although the song appears to remain the same on the surface, hidden tides alter the verses and choruses below. With changes afoot professionally, and children growing up fast, I’m on the cusp of something new and potentially exciting. Time to grab it with both hands. Tomorrow never knows: be here now.

We spent the evening with Charlie and family. Becky prepared a giant pasta feast. We sat out-back in the sun, gassing away. At sunset, we drove up to the headland to snap away at the drowning orange orb, as it sank into the sea. Borth is famous for its sunsets, and this one didn’t disappoint. Back at the caravan, the girls went in search of entertainment, and I retired to my chamber to assess Davy Kehoe’s debut mini-album, ‘Short Passing Game’ (Wah Wah Wino). Fashioned by a palate laden with the taut motorik rhythms of Krautrock, the cross-faded sensibilities of dub, the vast ambiguity of post-rock, and the improvisational bloody-mindedness of folk-jazz-peculiarity, ‘Short Passing Game’ boasts shades of Neu!, Suicide, Tortoise and Andy Weatherall, at his Boy’s Own best. Dublin’s Wah Wah Wino could be the most exciting label to come out of Ireland since Good Vibrations. The label’s ‘Absolutely Wino’ double vinyl compilation is already going for silly money on Discogs, whilst Keyhoe’s debut is already in its second pressing. ‘Short Passing Game’ is a strange fruit from beginning to end, impossible to pigeonhole. Indispensable, frankly.

I awoke early the next morning, the telltale sore throat of impeding man-flu rasping my oesophagus. It’s always the way: stress and fatigue build up; holidays bring relaxation; defences down, the bugs kick in. A common occurrence, though probably just a common cold, truth be told. Typical. Soldiering on, I dug the girls up, and we headed south down the A487 out of Aber bound for Aberaeron, a charming Georgian port town established in 1805 by the Rev. Alban Thomas Jones Gwynne, crammed full of brightly painted buildings around a bustling harbour front. Families busy crabbing off the quay, fishing lines draped out into the harbour. The sun fought valiantly to burn off the clouds, the temperature simmered in the early twenties. It may of been patchy, but summer was trying its damnedest. We holed up in a family restaurant at the corner of the harbour and took lunch. Plodding round the town after eating, we began consulting estate agent’s windows, impressed with the relative paucity of price. A relocation is bubbling under, the call of the lands of my ancestors grows in volume daily.

Back in Borth, we met up with Charlie, Becky and Tom, for a visit to Borth’s submerged forest, a host of gnarled tree stumps spread along the beach, about halfway between high and low water. Radio carbon dating suggests that the trees died between 4,500 and 6,000 years ago. The forest is often hidden under a layers of sand, so we were pretty lucky that conditions allowed us to stroll through these haunting ancient woodlands. As the sun died on the horizon, we dug in for the evening at Charlie’s. Becky again fed us proud, this time with platefuls of chicken curry and rice, supported by bowls laden with Penguin biscuits and chocolate chip cookies. It emerged that I’d caught Charlie’s man-flu, and with him already beginning to wilt, Becky offered up her ‘potion’, and I struggled to down as many spoonfuls as I could. By now shivering, tired from the exertions of the day, feeling a tad sorry for myself, we returned to the caravan, and the girls duly wandered off towards the cabaret-infused atmosphere of the Brynowen entertainment complex. I retired to my chamber with the suitable ambience of Hiroshi Yoshimura‘s ‘Music For Nine Post Cards’ (Empire Of Signs). The abject serenity of this essential re-issue was just what my aching throat and running nose required. If a doctor had been involved, I’m pretty sure it would have been prescribed. Largely unknown outside his native land, Yoshimura’s singular art first began making waves on the post-Fluxus scene of late-70s Tokyo. Recorded at home on keyboard and Fender Rhodes, ‘Music for Nine Post Cards’ deftly delivers tunes of stunning simplicity, smothered in the resonance of ample reverb. The keyboard tones throughout are sumptuous, their bass notes swell as they slumber, undercurrents of substance, countering the sweetness and light of the top-lines. Within the space of the first three tracks I was smitten. No wonder this record is held in such high regard by those who know, it is everything they say it is, and more.

Friday began bunged up, my nose running as if to mimic the fresh rain cascading down the hills flanking our caravan. Summer was under intense atmospheric pressure to morph into autumn, and spirits floundered accordingly. Following breakfast, we democratically decided to head out in the car towards Machynlleth, the seat of Owain Glyndwr’s Welsh Parliament in 1404. We’d been advised not to expect much of the town, and in that respect, we weren’t disappointed. By the time we arrived the rain was torrential, and the girls simply refused to leave the car. As we passed through the town, we noticed a signpost designated ‘scenic route’, heading up into the Cambrian mountains. Daughter two seemed momentarily energised by the sign’s footnote: ‘single-track road’. The prospect of danger coupled with the reality that we may actually be able to rise above the dank clouds spurred us onwards and upwards. With GY!BE‘s ‘Yanqui U.X.O.’ blasting from the speakers, we began to climb.

The road narrowed accordingly, bends increased in regularity, and the portentous nature of ‘Yanqui U.X.O.’  began to unnerve the girls. Daughter one, by now unplugged and paying attention, suddenly, complained that the music made her feel like we were going to “fall off the edge of the mountain”. In silence, we pressed on. As we rounded the umpteenth bend and began a long straight to a summit of sorts, we passed a lone cyclist, massively impressed at his exertions. Daughter two wound down the window and shouted encouragement, rabidly. The cyclist seemed elated by the gesture, and waved frantically as he disappeared in the rearview mirror. Despite not clearing the clouds, the views in every direction were massively impressive. Off-piste, in for the long haul, we hithered and thithered, to and fro, through majestic forests, around expansive lakes, over cattle grid after cattle grid, marvelling at the temporary waterfalls lashing down of the mountains, and the kamikaze sheep, cows and horses hurling themselves at the car. The landscape reminded me of Norway, and for a while I began to fear that we’d gotten lost. Wandered off-grid into a forgotten world of single-track isolation. As usual in these situations, the petrol gauge light came on, and the girls began to moan that they were hungry. Unperturbed, I pressed on through the trees. Eventually, we emerged in the relative conurbation of Llanidloes, just in time for three full Welsh breakfasts and a full tank of gas. Llanidloes takes its name from the early 7th century Celtic Saint Idloes, and is popular with hikers who walk on the scenic footpaths surrounding the town, including Glyndwr’s Way, which in conjunction with Offa’s Dyke path, forms a 160-mile circuit around Mid Wales, and local passage over the spine of the Cambrian Mountains.

We ate that night at the Victoria Inn, with Charlie’s family and friends. Folk were in town ahead of the next night’s screening of ‘A Thin Place’, and nerves were suitably jangling. A raw-blues crooner was rattling away on the ground floor: “I woke up this morning, my throat was sore”. By now I was feeling absolutely lousy, head throbbing, nose streaming, so we made for the caravan after eating, and the girls headed for Entertainment World, while I retired to my chamber of woe with Claudio Rocchi‘s ‘Suoni De Frontera’ (Die Schachtel). A legend in his native land, Rocchi had form in the late-60s with Italian psych-prog troupe Stormy Six by the time ‘Suoni De Frontera’ was originally released, back in 1975. It has since become a somewhat of a cult relic, capturing the dawn of Italian electronic experimentalism as the genre was formed. Recorded at home with a VCS3 synthesizer and guitars, Rocchi treated his recordings heavily with tape delays and echo effects, utilising post-production techniques as a creative tool in an innovative manner largely unheard of back then,  Rocchi reflected the influence of Harmonia and the German contemporary underground. Infused with oscillating loops, astral synth excursions, sharp collages of vocal snippets and electronica, the 16-sketeches of ‘Suoni Di Frontiera’ sound as alien today as they must have back in the mid-70s. Described by Rocchi himself as “diving deeper into psychoacoustics, a practical theory on healing music, mind resonances, inner flows“, ‘Suoni Di Frontiera’ sits somewhere between Kluster and Cluster. Go on, you know you want to!

I was feeling no better by dawn, awaking altogether too early, I wandered down to the beach-front Nisa alone, for Vicks Sinex nasal spray and painkillers. I spent the rest of the day in bed, leaving the girls to do their own thing around the complex. As a concession for my miserablism, I ran them into Aber late-afternoon for junk food, ahead of the night’s big screening of ‘A Thin Place’. At 7pm we made our way into downtown Borth, to the Libanus 1877, the venue for the screening, an amazing cinema and restaurant, transformed from a 19th century rustic chapel, fitted with the most comfortable red leather cinema seats and a 4K projector. Reminiscent of the Electric Cinema in Birmingham, Charlie couldn’t have chosen a more perfect venue to share his work with his community. A red carpet had been laid, and photographers were snapping all around.

‘A Thin Place’ tells the tale of Grace, a young heroin addict, and her her alcoholic doctor, Jamie. Imprisoned by the horror of addiction and sexual co-dependency, the pair experiment with a powerful natural hallucinogenic in a bid to travel the spiritual road to recovery. Since the dawn of humankind, psychotropic substances have been used as a portal to altered states of consciousness, leading to enlightenment. In more recent times, the use of psychotropic substances to treat addiction to substances such as heroin has become a ground breaking approach echoing the wisdom of our ancient forbearers. Poor attachment at birth; questionable norms and values; repeated traumas in childhood, and consequential low self esteem, create the template for potential addictions in later life. Many addicts will tell you that they are not scared of death, that instead they are more scared of being alone with themselves and their memories: the emotional injuries that have scarred them. However successful this approach has been for many, sometimes these attempts to escape from pain only create more pain. Sometimes, as they say in Tibet: “The surest way to go to hell is to try and run away from hell”. Whilst seeking the truth to their present and past behaviour, driven by self-obsession and malevolent denial, far from leading to salvation, the road Grace and Jamie actually travel leads them to a place from which they may never return. A thin place where the truth is more horrific than the lies they tell themselves.

With our entourage set for a night of post-screening celebration in the Friendship Inn, daughter two and I retired to the caravan, leaving daughter one to party the night away in the custody of Charlie and Becky. Back in my chamber, the perfect counterpoint to the noire of ‘A Thin Place’ was waiting for me, in the form of Sonja LaBianca‘s delectable ‘About Room, Room to Be, Rooms’ (Eget Værelse), the debut album from Selventer‘s saxophonist and composer. An album grounded in the warmth of natural reverb, the pieces aired here are all field recordings captured in rooms LaBianca considered blessed with the prerequisite acoustic properties, including the bell tower of the Simeon Church and the Burn in Albertslund. Recorded in collaboration with Aske Zidore and Andreas Pallisgaard, including cameos from Asger Hartvig (tenor saxophone), Jaleh Negari (percussion) and Cæcilie Trier (cello),  ‘About Room, Room to Be, Rooms’ is a poetic collection of sublime melody, one that captured my heart indefinitely on first listen.

I awoke on our final day in town feeling relatively better than at any time during the previous 48-hours. The sore throat had retreated, and my breathing had returned to something approaching normal. I’d booked a table for a blow-out Sunday lunch at Libanus 1877 the night before, and after a relaxing morning in bed with The Observer, we made our way downtown on foot to eat. The restaurant itself was as equally impressive as the cinema, and the food was delicious. Daughter one and I plumped for roast pork, whilst daughter two settled on chicken, all with oodles of veg, roast and new potatoes, and lashings of gravy. We treated ourselves to a pudding each, and I ended proceedings with a decaf coffee. For anyone else looking to give up caffeine, choosing to detox during a period of illness is a pretty effective way to dismiss any withdrawal symptoms. Stuffed full of hearty Welsh faire, we returned to the caravan to change into beach friendly attire. The sun had got its hat on, and daughter one was determined to hit the sea before our departure.

We walked back down to the beach to meet up with Charlie, Becky and Tom. Charlie was shattered from the exertions of the screening, and promptly fell asleep on a towel. With Tom and daughter one away to to the sea, I left daughter two with Becky, and climbed the costal path to Borth Monument for a reflective resume of the week. The view from the headland back along the town and the seafront, looking north to Ynyslas, held my eye for a good while. It felt like home, and I knew I’d made the decision to work my way out of the Midlands, to relocate here, to the heart of Mid Wales. Holidaying with my girls over the last seven years of my sobriety has created a bond of solidarity between us that could never have developed with the old, selfish, drunken me. Memories of Cornwall, Devon, Lincoln, North Yorkshire, Norfolk, and the Isle of Wight came flooding back, quality time as a single dad, building adult relationships with two young women, no longer girls, no longer little. They swear like troopers, they swear so inventively, they make me laugh like a drain, and I love holidaying with them. Charlie and Becky both commented that they were a credit to me, which seven years ago, is something I could never have imagined.

We all climbed back to Becky’s at dusk, Charlie all apologies for his beach snoring. We said our goodbyes, gave grateful thanks for their generous hospitality throughout the week, and made our way back to the caravan for our final night. The girls couldn’t resist one last dose of cabaret, otherwise known as wifi connectivity, apparently, and I retired once more to my chamber, with the 4oth anniversary edition of Culture’s immense ‘Two Sevens Clash’ (VPR Records). It’s a record I have owned many times, and in many versions, over the years since its release in 1977, and now its been expanded to include a host of 12″ disco mixes, DJ cuts and dubs. A masterpiece of biblical proportions, ‘Two Sevens Clash’ sits atop the pantheon of seventies roots reggae, a colossus. With newly added dubs mixed by Errol T and chatter from the likes of I-Roy and Shorty The President, the only downside is the relatively questionable fidelity of a couple of the bonus cuts. That aside, its the perfect companion to VPR’s recent mandatory reissue of The Congos’ ‘Heart Of The Congos’. 

Jean Encoule - September 1st, 2017