Vanishing – Yarls Wood (from Ramifications EP)
Despite the ascriptions given to Gnod as some sprawling distillation of high-flown, mind-melting psych and kraut which could only be made by wide-eyed, shroom-ingesting, quasi-mystic ‘heads’ re-enacting their own acid tests, the reality of their sound and interest incorporates a much more complex variety of ingredients and elements. Not least in the cassette label they operate; Tesla Tapes. Previously, the outlet has released everything from the sumptuous, exploratory fug of Negra Blanca to the vehement, distortion-laced agit-clamour of Michael O’Neill.
With Vanishings new release – a project comprised of Gareth Smith (of Stranger Son), Paddy Shine (of Gnod) and Zak Hane (of Warm Widow) – the mood continues in the vein of O’Neill’s politicised fuming, but the execution in this case is a little less direct, a little more anxious and uncertain but no doubt just as disgusted and critical. Smith adopts a spoken word style throughout the EP’s six tracks, but at the outset there’s more of a sense of performance, with a channelling of Alan Vega menace on ‘I’m Planning for Doomsday’; though his evocation is a little more unerringly stoic in its dead-eyed, lip-curled excoriation. The sound throughout mirrors Smith’s thematic contentions, staying rooted in a minimalist mire of unadorned pummel and vicious frazzle. Especially effective in that regard is ‘Tear Machine’, which spills forth with level but unsettling grand tones (which become more of a monolithic grind in the closing stages) and a constant march of boot-clatter percussion.
The one I really wanted to talk about though is ‘Yarls Wood’, named for the immigration detention centre in Bedfordshire, which in February 2002, went up in flame after an apparent protest. The more you read about the centre and Serco’s (a private company outsourced by the government) operation of it, the more ominous the impression becomes. Accusations of mishandling of sexual abuse, mental health issues and human rights have been frequent. Add to that Serco’s misappropriation of funds for detainees no longer in their ‘care’, and a refusal to grant access to a UN representative (Rashida Manjoo) compiling an investigation into violence towards women in the UK – apparently from some unknown authority at the Home Office – and you have something very dark indeed, going on behind closed doors, in the midst of a political climate growing ever more negligent, moronic and callous where the issue of immigration is concerned.
Smith documents the night of the fire without embellishment, a basic recording in a distinct Mancunian monotone – like a newsreader with poetic license - whilst drums of steely, alien texture continually beat and a rough rattle punctuates his words like a tripped alarm; the sound of something boiling over. Not only does it capture the essence of such an incident with a measured long-haul of nerve-shredding, claustrophobic atmosphere, heightened by cold, unflinching recitation; it also serves as a cutting reminder of the more covert ugliness currently existent in certain spheres of power and control.
Shinichi Atobe – Butterfly Effect (from Butterfly Effect LP)
From a stirring reminder of a bleak situation of abused power, Shinichi Atobe gives slight alleviation. His LP comes rescued from the archive and assembled by Demdike Stare, who’ve given it a full release on their label. Demdike’s interest might lead to assumptions of Atobe’s work as something abstruse, as discomfortingly powerful as Vanishing’s EP, though perhaps with more of an occultist and reduced make-up. Taking into account Demdike’s own work, that’s definitely what I was expecting. Yet it’s surprisingly direct and light, with the chiming warmth of Rhodes-like piano chords ringing out, and pan pipes delicately arising in the backdrop. It should be considered inconsequential, flavourless, it doesn’t go anywhere, and avoids any notable moments of extremity, but there’s something about the persistence and sculpted minutiae of it that raises it above the formulaic mediocrity of similarly artful ‘deep house’, even though the use of that word in relation to this seems like a criminal designation.
The sensitive craft (in frequent insect-like chattering, and other, smaller components) amidst the pellucid, blissful flow of chords and refrains makes for a different ecstasy; micro and refined. It almost recalls William Basinski’s ‘Disintegration Loops’ in its ineffably endless beauty, but without the conceptual frame of gradual tape decay, and even nears Soul Capsule’s ‘Lady Science’ in its airy, deep lustre, though makes for a stranger, less straight-forwardly exultant brew.
Atobe previously made only one record that saw the light of day, for the revered Chain Reaction imprint, run by the Basic Channel staple. Hopefully this re-emergence of archive material isn’t the last we’ll hear of him.
Marble Sky – Dull Hue (from Marble Sky LP)
Jeff Witscher is perhaps best known by his pseudonym, Rene Hell, for which he recorded ‘Vanilla Call Option’ on Bill Kouligas’ PAN label last year. The work was both fluid and almost impenetrably guttural in its unpredictable excretion of schizo computer music. Although the Hell guise is his most recognized, Witscher records under an overwhelming number of other names, to the extent that it proves an impossible task to give them each their due, mainly on account of my laziness.
However Marble Sky is one moniker that demands attention, a project which had a number of cassette releases towards the end of the noughties. Now collected on this 2LP, the work reveals a tension and abrasiveness through subtly brittle textures, especially during ‘A Shining Juniper’, which divulges generator-like rattle and collapse. For the most part though, there’s a tidal sweep to the shimmering soundscapes conjured. On ‘Pulling Up Grass Under A Blanket’, the constancy and execution of drone recalls Charlemagne Palestine or Phill Niblock; a similarly entrancing vacuum with a staggering magnetism to it. Like the breaths of trees in a light wind, there’s a fragile constitution to ‘Dull Hue’, but the sheer density of the combined weight of sound, as well as a molten tinge, gives it an almost tectonic stature. Huge, astronomic sounds.
Wat?Sanitär! – Except Me And My Monkey (from Science Fiction Park Bundesrepublik compilation LP)
The transition from Marble Park to this track - made by Czech artist Tom Dokoupil for a cassette released in 1981 – is about as close to bathos as you can get.
It starts out elegantly enough, a hiss-soaked four track recording of what sounds like piano practise; Debussy-like space and tranquillity gently filtering through, until the drum machine arrives, then it makes a beeline into a comical synth plod, demented and bizarre as a hall of mirrors; a particularly batshit Schnitzler-esque splurge. Such a disruptive passage could be a directly transgressive expression of the sense of an old world splitting with a new one, a rupture manifesting itself in the creative activities of an increasingly experimental German youth; or simply a case of Dokoupil fucking around. Either assumption detracts little from its strange crudity and absurd humour.
Such crudity can probably be attributed to the fact that the use of such hardware was novel at the time, in what was the FDR. It seems fitting that throughout this collection the artists included often incorporated the use of toys and various domestic objects in their recordings. Judged by the basis of the sounds they made, even exclusively on synths and drum machines, there wasn’t a great deal of separation in terms of their approach to each component ‘instrument’. The results suggest they were all considered toys and played with as much abandon as that suggests.
Compiled by Felix Kubin, this set celebrates the rudimentary explorations of a couple of significant voices (Pyrolator, CHBB) alongside more obscure, deep-vault excursions. What’s striking is how funny and playful it all is. It’s refreshing to hear it, especially when reissues uncovering similar early synth and drum machine experiments seem to be centred on the terminal sincerity of coldwave and other kindred forms. This material posits that grappling with modernity, industry, themes of progression, dehumanization and alienation wasn’t always shot through with leaden, black, Ballardian reactions. Anti-rational, playful amusement was just as valid and effective. In that spirit, and I quote:
‘Everybody’s got something to hide/except me and my monkey’
Beau Wanzer – I Don’t Really Want To/Slow Down Sir (from the Beau Wanzer LP)
Prolific collaborator (Streetwalker, Mutant Beat Dance, Civil Duty) and sometime affiliate of LIES, Beau Wanzer creates a breed of defiled techno, with the grim sparks of noise and industrial offsetting any potential for a clean, pounding break. As with the previous selection, there’s a lot of fun being had here, with forms which are in a similar state of revived proliferation, namely; proto-electro, and as mentioned, noise and industrial. But the way Wanzer equally mixes them allows the drawbacks of one (sometimes the formless nihilistic hounding of the latter can get tedious) to be enlivened by the positives of another (the anchoring, danceable beat of the former) Conversely the tedium of such a beat is constantly challenged by the wilier elements. Both chaos and fun imbued.
There’s something about the exaggerated depravity of each of these cuts that particularly encapsulates such a quality, the vocals stretched into a hallucinatory but aroused timbre, whilst a touch of ferocity serrates the more functional parts. All the fidelity and intensity of a basement party, getting progressively and wonderfully out of hand.