Tuesday, 15 December 2009

One Nation Under A Gristleism

Throbbing Gristle have issued their version of FM3’s now infamous ambient loop player – the Buddha Machine called the Gristleism. Described by Throbbing Gristle as “part Industrial sound machine, part noise instrument featuring thirteen original and uncompromising loops…powered by two AA batteries and is the world's first and only portable TG aural exciter!”

If you don’t know, a Buddha Machine is a loop player inside a little plastic box, built like a 70s AM radio that plays music; nine constructed drones created by FM3 and varying from two seconds to 42 seconds, which repeat endlessly until the "track" is switched to the next drone or the batteries run out.

If you’re old enough to remember the cheap sound and crackle of those mid-70s pocket transistor radios well, it looks and feels like one of them…only much, much cheaper looking.

The Gristleism follows that formula only instead of the beautiful lurid and cheap packaging of the original Buddha Machine (There are now two versions) the Gristleism is housed in an exquisite 'chinese paper-cut' wrapping, featuring a repeating TG logo pattern, foil embossing and UV ink.

The Gristleism was born from a collaboration between Industrial Records, Throbbing Gristle and Christiaan Virant, the creator of the original FM3 Buddha Machine but the specs are very different and quite revealing of FM3’s ethic compared to Throbbing Gristle’s

From the beginning, the Buddha Machine outstripped its original use as a loop player, as musicians around the world started to use it interactively as a musical instrument. Monolake (aka Robert Henke) released an album called Layering Buddha which featured tracks created by "filtering, pitching and layering either the original loops, or new loops which were re-assembled out of parts of the originals."

A compilation album, Jukebox Buddha, featured the nine loops remixed by various artists including Sun City Girls, Sunn 0))), Fehlmann, Einstürzende Neubauten's Blixa Bargeld, and Mapstation. With regards to using the Buddha Machine for creating music, FM3 stated on their official website “FM3 won’t mind. In fact, they encourage people to use the Buddha Machine as inspiration.”

Such interaction was possible with the Buddha Machine because the machine came equipped with an audio output socket and a DC power input socket. Sadly Throbbing Gristle have opted to ensure that no easy interaction is possible with their device. Like the Buddha Machine II, there is a pitch control wheel but sadly the Gristleism does not feature an audio output socket or a DC power input socket. Perhaps it’s Throbbing Gristle’s control-freakery kicking in, or perhaps it’s copyright because the 13 loops on the Gristleism are from works that Throbbing Gristle have released previously;

01 - Persuasion

02 - Hamburger Lady

03 - Twenty Jazz Funk Greats

04 - Thank You Brian

05 - Maggot Death

06 - Rabbit Snare

07 - Lyre Liar

08 - Wimpy bar

09 - Sex String Theory

10 - Heathen Earth

11 - Industrial Intro

12 - R & D13 - After After Cease To Exist

There is a circuit modification pdf available (http://www.gristleism.com/files/circuitmods/Gristleism-Output-Mod1.2.pdf) but such action could ensure the destruction of the device itself and is only for those with some experience of modifying electronic devices.
To be fair to Throbbing Gristle, they clearly realise the limited interaction available, posting the following on their website;

“To Clarify...The only controls on the Gristleism unit are the ones listed, namely:a Volume Control, a Pitch Control and a Loop-Selector switch. Gristleism does not feature an audio output socket or a DC power input socket. The reasons for this specific combination of controls are primarily to do with demand, aesthetics and fabrication costs.

However, now Gristleism is available this page includes instructions on howto modify a Gristleism unit to include an audio output jack and (in the future)possibly how to add an external DC input socket.

In 2010 this section will also allow Gristleism users to share their own mods and circuit-bending ideas with the wider Gristleism community.”

Chris Carter on behalf of Throbbing Gristle & Industrial Records Ltd. Dec 2009

It’s a shame that spec and legality (there’s no information on the copyright issues) may step in and not allow the Gristleism to develop as an interactive device such as the Buddha Machine became – there was a real chance for experimentalists all over the world to truly interact with Throbbing Gristle that’s been curtailed by design and, quite probably - control.

Clearly Throbbing Gristle are looking at the long-term use of the Gristleism and perhaps there will be Gristleism II, and if so, I hope the audio output socket and DC power input socket will be included along with copyright free loops.

But this gripe aside, this should not detract from the fact that the Gristleism is a great little device and as with most of Throbbing Gristle’s output it’s beautifully designed and packaged and a lot of fun. I’ve seen them in shops for around £24 but I found mine in a little independent record shop for just £15.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

“He awoke and focussed…” The Quiet Man

1. The Quiet Man
2. A Man Made Of Shadows
3. Cathedral Oceans
4. The Grey Suit
5. Shifting City

About 20 years ago, the 1960s electronic music pioneer Pauline Oliveros devised a philosophy called Deep Listening, through her Deep Listening Band;“Deep Listening specializes in performing and recording in resonant or reverberant spaces such as cathedrals and huge underground cisterns" said Oliveros. After wading through much philosophastery, you’ll find that, cruicially, Deep Listening is a sort of ‘anti-ambient Ambient’ if you like. Unlike Eno – it asks that you treat these quiet forms, not as background, but as you would say - works by Beethoven or Wagner. It demands that you listen.

The Quiet Man is a spoken word recording (the voice being Justin Barton, not Foxx) reciting a handful of short stories about The Quiet Man (You can find the original texts here; http://blog.thequietman.co.uk/category/quietman/). Beneath Barton’s recitation, Foxx has scored the narrative with some very haunting Harold Budd-like piano as well as sounds of birdsong filtered through the sparse ambient structures that swell up in his Cathedral Oceans music.

Foxx has been working on the novel of The Quiet Man since the late 70s – early texts being issued as far back as 1981. In recent years, the text was given a new lease of life by Mark Fisher – aka K-Punk as part of his Londonunderlondon project for Resonance FM. It was Fisher who fused the text with texts from J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World among others – creating an audio document of a liquid city narrated by Barton. It’s probably thanks to Londonunderlondon that The Quiet Man has taken this new form.

'The origins of the novel are firmly cinematic,' states Foxx of his ongoing Quiet Man project. 'I found an old grey suit in a charity shop in the 1970s. Over the years, I got some friends to wear the suit in various locations in London. I filmed them just walking or sitting in cafes or apartments. As I did this, The Quiet Man story began to emerge. It's about London becoming overgrown, about the suit being alive somehow, and the way cities can alter us – and our memories.' 'It's also about film', he adds. 'In the novel, The Quiet Man walks into the screen at one point. I think we all do this when we view a film, We enter into it. Participate. Travelling without moving. If that isn't magic, I don't know what is.'

“His hand fell through the crumbling book. Fragments of it spun in slow motion away into the distances around him. Fascinated, he felt himself drawn through the page into the vast shifting sea. There was a slow swirl of blue-gold pierced by dappled sunlight. Then he was swimming effortlessly though it, whirling in delight. Of course he could breathe the water. It was a warm, supportive medium. He felt the boundaries of his body dissolve until he ceased to differentiate between himself and the huge blue ocean. Any sense of time and distance was lost in the endless glimmering depths.”

Excerpt from the short story Cathedral Oceans by John Foxx

I think The Quiet Man album is somewhere between both philosophies, uniquely developing its own ideal. The piano work on here is much more fragile, much more subtle than on previous Quiet Man recordings – which are practically Motörhead in comparison – so light is the touch here, like the Quiet Man sat alone with his crumbling book, I feel that to listen too hard may cause the sound to turn to mist. The piano work, in its own quiet way, screams ‘ambient’. But the text isn’t. The text is (and still is) a life’s work and demands to be heard, and should be heard.

So, (and maybe I’m thinking about it too much, but here’s the point) how do you listen to The Quiet Man?

I’ve tried the Deep Listening approach – late at night, headphones on and all is dark. But my mind wanders, occasionally The Quiet Man comes out of mist and then he’s off again – Hyde Park probably. I lose the thread but catch the flow. And then I fall asleep.

Another night, The Quiet Man as radio play – I’m reading a book, treating it as ambience now, but there’s too much interference - The Quiet Man may be anonymous but the prose isn’t and the striking imagery cuts through the room, the book and demands to be heard.

Foxx once said a long time ago when he stepped back into the light again that;

“It’s music for cities and people who live in cities. And that’s always been confirmed because if we play in the West Country nobody comes! But if we play in Manchester, and everywhere we go – the industrial places are the places that recognise the music straight away. You take it into the countryside – it doesn’t work….it’s a new form of urban blues…”

Yes he was talking about Shifting City - his album with Louis Gordon - but I thought about this recently and decided to take The Quiet Man out and about on my journeys to work; on the District Line, through St. James’ Park, Victoria Station etc. And although those places are particular to London I got the sense that any city would work, but essentially, it has to be a city. As I wandered through rush-hour traffic and people, through all the noise of a city The Quiet Man filtered in and out with the cars, the trains, the noise – and for me it worked.

God help you if you’re listening to this in the Peak District.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

2009…in no particular order

2009…in no particular order

Burial & Four Tet Moth
So scarce as a 12” single it’s only really available illegally. You’ll not hear a more gorgeous slice of dark electronica like this for a long, long time. Beg, borrow, steal, download, score crack and sell it on to get a copy. Then, only listen to it on headphones, at night, whilst walking city streets in rain or taking a night bus. Don’t ask me I don’t make the rules.

John Foxx My Lost City
I’m a sucker for found sounds, analogue tape, hiss, noise and stories of east London. Here’s an album of found sounds, analogue tape, hiss, noise and stories of east London. If I was a mental patient or Charles Manson, I’d probably believe Foxx was talking directly to me through this album…and The Beatles…or summat.

Living in east London, I regularly find myself wandering the same streets and places that are submerged in the text of
My Lost City – Shoreditch, Spitalfields, Fournier Street, Holywell Lane, Commercial Road, The Barbican, Brick Lane, Christ Church, Brushfield Street, Brune Street etc…the ghost town that Foxx recognised straight away; ‘Post industrial, empty . . . blackened buildings patterned on versions of architecture from ancient Rome’ are still almost there despite future Olympic and Square Mile utopias trying to erase its existence.

My Lost City is the hiss and spit of tape noise, the voice of Foxx splintered through long delays, tape loops and echoes into urban (imperfect) hymns to a city of disappearances …London.

Album of the year and time for my meds…this album has spoke to me so much, I’m off to start a large, incongruous family in the middle of Calif…Hackney.

David Sylvian Manafon
Dave hires the Wire magazine Fantasy Football Improv Dream Team and strikes gold. Wry and darkly humourous observations are told over the sound of electronics, guitar, double bass, no-input mixer (?), piano, saxophone and turntables among other things.
Small Metal Gods is quietly and discreetly, his very own Anarchy In The UKmanifesto. He’s burning bridges (again) and building new ones too;

Small metal gods
Cheap souvenirs
You’ve abandoned me for sure
I’m dumping you, my childish things
I’m evening up the score

Like the preparations for a journey that started with
Brilliant Trees, Manafon feels like the start of something new;

It’s the farthest place I’ve ever been
It’s a new frontier for me

Us too Dave, us too. The adventure continues.

Atomic Orchestra of Radioactive Europe – Nuclear Chocolate
It opens with a menacing hum and the worries of a 1950s suburban American housewife on the effect of nuclear power-plants on her home. She’s reassured, possibly by hubby that nuclear power-plants are as harmless “as a chocolate factory”. Yeah, right – that sounds familiar. It sounds so retro, so 1950s and so – now. Whilst all this placating of housewife is going on, an unnerving sound of analogue insect noise or foreign radio chatter is sneaking up behind the menacing hum….and then it all goes a bit
Dark Star.

Terra In Fission – hard to say – imagine a Tim Burton stop/start animation film of a 1950s toy robot, menacingly (there’s a lot of menace on this album), clockworking and clanking its way deeper and deeper through sub-basement after sub-basement of a nuclear plant whilst all the corridors are filled with the red flashing lights of sirens….that’s what it sounds like. No, really. On the other hand, Atomic Flowerwould accompany one of those 1950s (despite the 70s analogue feel – this album is real 1950s Cold War atomic feel, and the beautiful artwork enforces this) USSR films, that probably had titles like “NUCLEAR POWER TO THE PEOPLE!” or something like that – we see happy comrades doing ‘synchronised plutonium’ moves with nothing more than a test-tube and a happy smile for the camera – ah! The good old days!

The Burn has no such naivety about it – it’s the sound of a ticking bomb in a 20 Jazz Funk Greats scored by Giorgio Moroder kinda way. If I was in a field in the late 80s off the M25 again, chances are I’d probably dance to it. But that’s just me. Toxic Clock is more ticking menace – think of furnaces and dangerous chemicals (there’s so many love songs, perhaps a hymn to furnaces and dangerous chemicals is a bit more honest in these enlightened times of devolution) . Can’t say it helps – but it worked for me.

The finale is
Mushroom Air, and with a title like that, it can only mean ‘THE END’. It’s the soundtrack to restored footage of Christmas Island tests – it’s the build-up and the cutting to the aftermath of ash falling into the sea, views through goggles from a Navy battle cruiser that doesn’t have the education to be far enough away from the fallout, a little too close to the main event. That’s what Nuclear Chocolate tastes like – try some today!

Robin Guthrie & John Foxx Mirrorball
Apparently this album has caused much heated debate, the like of which has not been seen since Princip decided between Sachertorte or Cheese and Onion at Schiller's café. Why? Yes it sounds a bit like the Cocteau Twins – experts are currently gathering in Geneva to fathom this out, but, between you and me – I think it might have summat to do with the fact that Robin Guthrie’s on it – shhh! Keep Mum! Remember – “Loose Lips Sink Ships” and all that.

Asking Robin Guthrie to not sound like Robin Guthrie is a bit like asking Clint Eastwoood to become a character actor – it can’t be done. You get Clint Eastwood in because he’s Clint Eastwood. Everyone knew exactly what this album was going to sound like before it was even recorded – and that’s no bad thing is it? It’s art for arts sake – don’t listen too deeply, just listen – it’s gorgeous.

School of Seven Bells Alpinisims
Technically 2008, but it wasn’t released in the UK until 2009. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. It’s prog/ it’s not, it’s folk / no it isn’t, it’s pop / no it’s experimental – it’s…blimey – I’ve no idea. It’s the sound of summer, that’s what it is.
Half Asleep should have been a number 1 single.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs It’s Blitz!
Former NY indie darlings swap geetars for synths and the results are astounding. Pure electro pop with a really nice hard, warm edge to it. Hard to believe that its praises haven’t been sung round here – give it a listen if you can.

Múm Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know
The loss of their lead singer a few albums ago and a shift away from the heavily electronic and darker territory on albums such as
Summer Make Good, Yesterday Was Dramatic–Today Is OK and Finally We Are No One – has meant that this newer, brighter, and dare I say it – ‘poppier’ Múm has been critically ignored.

Which is sad really, as this is a real gem of an album – it’s much warmer, ‘quiet camp fire on a summer evening with a few friends and lots of alcohol’ warmer – the lyrics are even more insane than usual which just adds to the whole event and the music has shifted 90 degrees towards a fusion of organic electronic somewhere between
Unhalfbricking and Cobra and Phases… – you almost get a sense of where they’re taking you through the last album Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy , and this one, but you know that there’s still more surprises in store. And if they’re like this – more please!

Pete Doherty Grace/Wastelands
Pete Doherty's debut;
Grace/Wastelands - superb. Bound to bring new followers, very upbeat and much more adventurous than the last Babyshambles recordingShotters Nation. Some strong songs throughout but he’s still very much a slave to his influences. Last of the English Roses starts off like Straight to Hell-era Clash with slow dub drums and melodica, but then the chorus comes in and its Village Green...-era Kinks - but it all holds together so well.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

John Foxx - My Lost City

1. Imperfect Hymn
2. Holywell Lane
3. Magnetic Fields
4. Just Passing Through
5. Barbican Brakhage
6. Hidden Assembly
7. Hawksmoor Oribital
8. Piranesi Motorcade
9. City Of Disappearances
10. Umbra Sumus
11. Scene 27 - Intro To The Voice Behind The Wallpaper, Trellick Tower 3am

' . . . discarded songs from a lost city . . . psychic electricity reaching between buried streets and particles of magnetised iron . . . on tape made from the solidified remains of prehistoric forests . . . carried on electromagnetic impulses, crackling through time and space, into the air again.'

An extract from the sleevenotes for My Lost City by John Foxx.

My Lost City is a compilation of recordings made at The Garden studios on Holywell Lane in east London around (I'm guessing) '81-'86. It flitters between the Cathedral Oceans material and The Quiet Man piano pieces with a few minimal synth works in between.

The Cathedral Oceans material sits between religious overtones and ambient mood. However the Cathedral Oceans material on My Lost City (Barbican Brakhage, Hawksmoor Orbital) are really heavy on the religious overtones compared to what we know. It's almost as if you can hear him thinking, trying to work out exactly what he wants Cathedral Oceans to do. It's when you hear tracks such as Barbican Brakhage and Hawksmoor Orbital that you realise how much he has stripped away for Cathedral Oceans;

‘I hadn’t listened to the recordings that have just been released as the My Lost City album since they were made, over twenty years ago. When I played them I was struck by the way they evoke a time and a place - and how I’d been unaware of this when they were made.

Then they seemed like fragments, unfinished and unsatisfying. A stop on the way to somewhere else.
Now they seem like a time capsule discovered from under the streets. Made by someone else. Like an old radio tuned into a long gone station. Curious psychic electricals, crackling distantly from the speakers.’

An extract from the essay Electricity and Ghosts by John Foxx.

Living in east London, I regularly find myself wandering the same streets and places that are submerged in the text of My Lost City – Shoreditch, Spitalfields, Fournier Street, Holywell Lane, Commercial Road, The Barbican, Brick Lane, Christ Church, Fournier Street, Brushfield Street, Brune Street etc…the ghost town that Foxx recognised straight away; ‘Post industrial, empty . . . blackened buildings patterned on versions of architecture from ancient Rome’ are still almost there despite future Olympic and Square Mile utopia’s trying to erase its existence.

I'm enjoying it more than the Cathedral Oceans trilogy at the moment - I think it's because it's shiny and new and also because Cathedral Oceans is meant to wash over you to some degree, whereas My Lost City is varied enough to require further, deeper listening if you want it to. My Lost City is the hiss and spit of tape noise, the voice of Foxx splintered through long delays, tape loops and echoes into urban (imperfect) hymns to a city of disappearances …London.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Black Sea, Fennesz

1. Black Sea
2. Colour Of Three
3. Perfume For Winter
4. Grey Scale
5. Glide
6. Glass Ceiling
7. Saffron Revolution

Perhaps it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I can’t remember another album that so sums up the almost endless dark of day and nights in winter months. If Endless Summer did indeed reflect the 70s childhood feel of endless summers, then Black Sea reflects the long, cold marble of winter.

But this music isn’t cold, its warm hazy feedback of guitars and electronics clothe you in a sound that’ll keep you warm on the darkest of days. Opening with the title track and then going straight into Colour of Three we get nearly 20 minutes of epic drone, fuzz, hum, static and feedback – the sound merging for me with the noise of the District and Circle lines (you should really only listen to this album through headphones – it’s a very private thing).

Glide, recorded with artist Rosy Parlane, is the albums track par excellence – an absolutely beautiful, emotional cloudburst of noise. Sculpted from the mass of clouds that create the dense layers of Black Sea, it should be the national anthem for winter gods. Yes I really did just write that last sentence – well you try and write about Fennesz – it’s like trying to explain a Rothko on the radio.

The album closes with Saffron Revolution – an immense, almost choral drone of noise and shredded guitar, leaving the sense of beautiful chaos lingering in your head long after it goes.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008


Another contender for Album of the Month is the Phonorama CD that was given away free to subscribers of The Wire magazine (issue #296 Oct 08).

Phonorama is a live electronics ensemble featuring some of Italy's most advanced improvising musicians, including members of Sinistri, 3/4HadBeenEliminated, Invernomuto and OLYVETTY.

Produced by the Bologna based Xing organisation (find them online at xing.it), the Phonorama CD contains an exclusive mixdown by Valerio Tricoli and Riccardo Benassi of material recorded by the ensemble live at Raum, Bologna 9/11/07 (2nd edition), 16/12/06 (1st edition) from two collective performances, conceived by Riccardo Benassi for Xing.

The two recordings have been mixed down to become one long untitled piece lasting under half an hour. The piece reminds me of works by MIMEO, Robert Lippock and in places it breaks out into Christian Fennesz territory.

Phonorama are continuing the MEV (Musica Elettronica Viva) live acoustic/electronic improvisational ideal that raged through Italy in the 1960s. Unlike the aggression their musical ancestors encountered (MEV performances could on occasion end up turning into riots due to their use of ‘found sounds’ and primitive analogue synthesizers), Phonorama’s untitled piece opens up into small landscapes of glitch and warm filtered harmonics – welcoming you in. This is probably the best CD Wire magazine have given away, I’m looking forward to hearing more.

Phonorama is:

Riccardo Benassi, Roberto Bertacchini, Alessandro Bocci, Dafne Boggeri, Vittoria Burattini, Massimo Carozzi, Francesco Cavaliere, Fantasmagramma, Manuele Giannini, Invernomuto, Marco Lampis, Luciano Maggiore, Ootchio, Stefano Pilia, Claudio Rocchetti, Valerio Tricoli and Domenique Vaccaro.

Friday, 14 November 2008

John Foxx & Louis - Impossible

I think I'm gonna use this blog to write about new music, new releases. Electronic music (for me at least) should always have at least one of its feet in the future, which is a great ideal - sadly most of my electronic music has both it's feet firmly in the past.

So this is the perfect release to yak about because Foxx covers all ground; past and future. On Impossible we have the brutal proto-New Wave of The Man Who Dies Every Day, which originally appeared on Ha!-Ha!Ha! way back in 1977 and then we fast-forward to the Ballardian future that is A Million Cars.

First the cover-art, which is some exceptional collage work from the 70s. But what the hell is it? What is the head? Is it a stadium? The back of a cruise-liner? Either way, I can see thousands of people heading into a fire – a very Burroughs-style of imagery there in the cut-up figure on the front.

Which is appropriate really for this cut-up of an album. On initial listens, it was hard at first to hear much difference between the originals and these re-workings, but slowly I found Impossible’s dark, stripped-back and sprawled out minimalist architecture quietly connected (the From Trash material benefitting greatly from this). Adult Concerns is a great introduction – the whole Burning Car feel sets up the dark edges that follow. Love the beat on it too – it feels like Foxx has remembered when he and Chris Cross sat in on Lee Perry’s Bob Marley sessions back in the 70s and that can only be good thing.

It’s just my opinion but the stretched out haze of X-Ray Vision is far superior to the original version, and then there’s a fantastic version of The Man Who Dies Every Day and the new version of Crash and Burn is a fantastic closer.

I really like this new, almost shredded direction; the shredded vocals, the rusting metallic synths, the filtered drums on Walk This Way. More Please.