Producer Gareth Jones to release debut album ELECTROGENETIC

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GARETH JONES – ELECTROGENETIC

Album released 18th September via Calm + Collect

 

ELECTROGENETIC is the debut album by producer and noise maker Gareth Jones.

Gareth is perhaps best known for adding his distinctive studio technique to albums from Yann Tiersen, Interpol, John Foxx, Erasure, Grizzly Bear, Nick Cave, Depeche Mode and countless others. More recently he has collaborated with Nick Hook in the duo Spiritual Friendship and with Christopher Bono as Nous Alpha. After many years spent in legendary studios in Europe and the US realising other people’s projects, Gareth decided now was the time to record his first solo album.

ELECTROGENETIC is immediately and necessarily personal. Recorded over a year-long period following the passing of his mother and mother-in-law, reflections on life and death hang heavy over the album’s nine pieces. The emotive and stirring ‘Farewell’ and ‘Safe Travels’ were recorded in his mother-in-law’s home in Michigan during a house-clearing visit following her passing; his photograph on the sleeve shows a view from the desk in London where many of the album’s pieces started, containing his late father’s wedding ring and an ankh, a symbol of fortitude that Gareth has been drawn to from his teenage years right through to his recovery from cancer over a decade ago.

Across the record you hear delicate, simple melodies, each one fashioned from lovingly-tuned samples of his mother’s piano that he played as a boy. Here you will also find motifs played on the recorder, an instrument that the infant Gareth learned to play, evoking a sense of youthful innocence, and complementing sections of spoken word.

These naturalistic elements – piano, recorder, voice – sit on top of intense, writhing nests of searching electronics that unfold with an understated forward motion. Those pulsing, criss-crossing patterns acted as the starting point for ELECTROGENETIC’s tracks, which in turn inspired the album’s title. “The name embodies my creative interaction with the machines,” explains Gareth. “These pieces each started with me building a patch with my modular synth. Building a patch is a creative act, but in a way you’re not really in control of what it does. Each time I started a piece the modular gave me back something that I would never have done consciously, or deliberately.”

The process gave Gareth hours of material to work with, which was then edited down into the seamless sequence of far shorter pieces presented on the album, with the other elements added on top. Tellingly, the album’s logical opener, ‘The Beginning’, finds Gareth reading from the Book of Genesis in Wesley’s Chapel in Islington, its familiar creationist text acting less as a statement of religious belief but as an allegory for the creative process that he went through while developing these pieces – namely taking a modular patch that was without form, and transforming it into something exuding brilliant light.

‘Mercury’, the album’s dramatic, yet meditative, centrepiece finds Gareth ruminating on the dualities of life that he is continually drawn to. Here he toys with the idea of Mercury as the Winged Messenger of the ancient Roman religion, while also reminiscing about the thermometers of his youth, the mercury’s rise and fall representing our perpetual ups and downs, of our continually fluctuating emotional states. The piece ends with a poignant ode to Mother Earth, an offering of thanks to the planet we call home, but also an appreciation of the mother figures whose passing fed into the creation of ELECTROGENETIC.

“The record is about death, commemoration, celebration, separation and transition,” reflects Gareth. “I’ve always been conscious of mortality, and of course I’m more and more conscious of that as I get older. I turned 65 last year, and the symbolism of that, plus an appreciation of the ongoing cycle of life, is what informed this album. I wanted to make something that was authentically me, something that was utterly personal yet whose themes would be relatable to everyone. I like to think that’s what I’ve achieved with this album.”

ELECTROGENETIC will be released as a download, stream and limited-edition cassette through Calm + Collect on 18th September 2020.

For more information on ELECTROGENETIC, including Gareth’s notes on each track, visit the album website – electrogenetic.com

Visit Calm + Collect at Bandcamp

Track list:

1. The Beginning
2. Trinity
3. Mercury
4. Michigan
5. Farewell
6. Goonhilly
7. Safe Travels
8. I Believe
9. Alone Together

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(c) 2020 Mat Smith for Calm + Collect

Residential Homesick Blues: The Residents – Metal, Meat & Bone

The Residents - Metal, Meat & Bone

It’s a bright, early Bay Area morning and Homer Flynn, the official spokesperson of The Residents, is sat in front of what looks like a monochrome vortex, a swirling pattern full of motion like a Bridget Riley painting infused with psychedelic properties. It has the effect of disorienting you, distracting you, and you feel yourself being drawn into its invisible centre. At its centre is Flynn and The Residents, a world of secrets, obfuscation, obscurity, myths and experimentation, and, like the gravitational pull of a black hole – or the arcana of The Residents – it’s impossible to resist.

The vortex is not designed to confuse or prompt speculation, or even evoke the colour scheme of The Residents’ infamous black tux / white shirt eyeball head era. It is mostly for practical purposes: Flynn, like the rest of the world, has been forced to spend lockdown communicating by video calls, and he’d gotten fed up of the boring backdrop of his office wall that he could see behind him whenever he connected to a call. “You know, I’m a visual guy,” he says in an accent rich with his Louisiana origins. Flynn is not only the spokesperson for the band, but also their principal designer, usually attributing his work as Pornographics, though it is rarely spelled the same way twice. He is both laconic and earnest, carrying a business-like efficiency but exuding a friendly warmth that might be best described as Southern hospitality, a trait that cuts through the impersonality of a Skype call.

“I thought I should have something more interesting behind me,” he continues, gesturing at the mesmerising spiral. “The Residents recently did a performance of their God In Three Persons album at the Museum Of Modern Art in New York. I did a lot of artwork for that, and I used various iterations of these weird spirals a lot in the artwork, so it seemed like it would be nice. It’s actually a piece of cloth. It’s a big piece of cloth that’s tacked up on the wall.”

Though it’s off-camera, Flynn is surrounded by The Residents’ rich archive. He indicates that there are filing cabinets in his office containing letters, documents and other artefacts, while his attic contains yet more. One day these will each be pored over and scrutinised in an attempt to make sense of this enduring group of artistic conceptualists, a unit whose anonymity has somehow – mostly, intentionally – been preserved, from their initial experiments in the 1960s to today.

It is the time of those early, tentative breaths of The Residents’ existence that is the focus of Metal, Meat & Bone – The Songs Of Dyin’ Dog. A collection of blues songs originally recorded in the early 1970s by a singer that only The Residents appear to have heard of, this is an album that returns them, metaphorically, to Louisiana from whence they made their journey to California in 1965.

The Residents, St. George's Church, Kemp Town, Brighton February 7 2019. Photo (c) Brightlightspix

The Residents, St. George’s Church, Kemp Town, Brighton February 7 2019. Photo (c) Brightlightspix

The Residents formed in Shreveport, Louisiana, so the story goes, in the early 1960s. Shreveport was founded the century before as a strategic trading town on the passage between the important Red River commercial waterway and Texas, a territory hewn forcibly from Mexico. The later discovery of rich stores of oil made Shreveport the centre of a modern-day goldrush as the big oil producing firms moved in, creating one of Louisiana’s mostly economically valuable and socially thriving locations.

The group of high school friends and musical auteurs that became known, serendipitously, as The Residents opted to follow the route of the original goldrush, initially decamping to San Mateo thanks to their truck breaking down, and then finally completing the extra twenty miles to San Francisco itself (which had been their destination all along) about seven years later. Where their ancestors might have been drawn to the Bay Area to pan for gold and make (and often squander) their fortunes, The Residents were drawn there for its free and easy lifestyle. This was the time of Beats, hippies, Kerouac, Ginsberg, the City Lights Bookstore, free love and the counter-culture; a city that was On The Road, yet squarely, and wilfully, off the grid.

One of the first people The Residents worked with, back in Shreveport, was fellow musician Roland Sheehan. “He was friends with The Residents, and was involved with them in the beginning when they first started experimenting,” explains Flynn. “He actually spent a summer with The Residents – I think it was maybe the summer of 1970 or something like that. When he drove from Louisiana to the Bay Area, he brought a lot of musical instruments with him. It was these instruments that The Residents started recording and experimenting with, and so he claims this territory of being there at the very beginning of the band.” The band reconnected with Sheehan after decades of not being in touch while making The Theory Of Obscurity, a 2015 documentary about The Residents.

Sheehan had performed in a local Dubach, Louisiana group called The Alliance, managed by departed Resident Hardy Fox. In fact, The Alliance’s garage rock cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Somewhere They Can’t Find Me’ features four individuals on its sleeve who, if you were minded to squint, could be the future Residents sans eyeballs. Or just four guys. Or maybe Sheehan didn’t just make a roadtrip to meet up with his old buddies in 1970 but stayed on in San Mateo. Or maybe these are just the sorts of thoughts that go through your mind with The Residents where everything feels like it might be part of a grand artistic conspiracy. Either way, Sheehan was part of The Residents’ early story.

“After he’d spent that summer with The Residents, Roland went back to Louisiana,” continues Flynn. “He got involved with a local albino blues musician called Alvin Snow who performed under the name Dyin’ Dog, and Roland put a band together for him.” The nascent band cut some demos, which sat, unreleased and mostly forgotten about in Louisiana.

The story of Alvin Snow is the stuff that blues legends are made from. Abandoned by his parents, Snow was left for dead on the steps of a Mississipi orphanage, mercifully receiving the benefaction of a kindly group of nuns. From the off, the young Snow was an outsider, and in adolescence fell into drugs, crime – and music. He wound up in a Louisiana town where a kindly old lady, a certain Ms Lillian Underwood, took him under her wing and nurtured his nascent talent as a blues singer; later, a chance encounter on the street with the youthful Roland Sheehan led the talented, yet challenged, Snow to a local recording studio whereupon Sheehan and the studio’s owner gave him the Dyin’ Dog moniker. A showcase gig was booked at a local Dubach theatre, the Gem, for Snow’s 37th birthday in 1976 but by the date of the concert he’d mysteriously vanished, never to be heard from again.

The Residents themselves were drawn to the blues, despite their early experiments sounding nothing like that, being fashioned from tapeloops and a borderless approach to sonic technique. “The Residents grew up in blues territory, and always had a great affinity for it,” asserts Flynn on behalf of the band. “They were big fans of Bo Diddley, you know, even though he was more crossover, really, but he came from a blues tradition – he was one of the ones who took blues into rock ‘n’ roll. The Residents were also big Howlin’ Wolf fans. They just really appreciated the form, especially as it evolved from blues to R&B. It was music that they always wanted to explore, but just never got around to.” Anecdotally, Flynn says that there are many, many ideas that The Residents come up with, but that only a tiny fraction of those actually ever materialise. Given that they have released somewhere in the region of 75 albums, we think, the idea of all those notions that didn’t get recorded is staggering.

Despite a mutual connection in the form of Sheehan, none of The Residents came across Alvin Snow while they were in Louisiana. All attempts to Google him seem to return you to The Residents, making this a sort of meta-mystery in the story of the band, and leading you to pore over the pictures of Snow in the booklet for Metal, Meat & Bone to see if they’re faked. And then, just like with The Residents’ own story, you shrug, accept that it’s best to just accept that you’ll never know the complete truth about anything to do with the band, and enjoy the story, even though it does mean – in my case – that you might be asking questions that simply add to the story’s dubious legitimacy, almost like you’re the one creating the trail on The Residents’ behalf.

“Alvin was kind of the mysterious type,” says Flynn. “He eventually just disappeared, but Roland still had these demos. Roland had a conversation with one of The Residents, who still had this interest in doing a blues project, and Roland thought, ‘Well, you know, maybe I have something that might be interesting to them.’ When he mentioned it to them, he dismissed it. You know, it was a bunch of demos from the 1970s – who cares? But, at the same time, he ended up bringing them in, and playing them for The Residents, and they loved them. The whole project took off from that point.”

The Residents Presents Alvin Snow aka Dyin' Dog... or is it James Dean?

The Residents Present Alvin Snow aka Dyin’ Dog (2019). Any likeness to a famous James Dean photograph is purely coincidental.

Before recording Metal, Meat & Bone, the band issued the demos as a highly limited five 7-inch single box set on Germany’s Psychofon imprint in 2019. It looked and felt like a time capsule, the discs presented as large-centre singles with scrappy labels, the only concession to modernity being the coloured vinyl some editions of the demos were pressed on. Those raw Alvin Snow demos now form the second disc of Metal, Meat & Bone, rounded out by other demos that Sheehan discovered while rooting though the Gem Theatre in Dubach.

The first disc finds The Residents interpreting those original Alvin Snow demos, as well as adding extra tracks inspired by Dyin’ Dog’s music. The result is uniquely recognisable as the band, with churning electronics and an angry, almost confrontational edge. Guitars splinter and crack with commanding, stentorian energy and the songs are thrust into a sort of sinewy industrial post-modernism. You hear the distinctive sound of the blues but it is recast as a distinctly modern artform, mostly fronted with feisty, blistering power by The Singing Resident. (The Singing Resident has been known as Tyrone since 2017; prior to that he was known as Randy Rose, Roger ‘Bunny’ Hartley, Mr. Skull, Seymore Hodges, Mr. Red Eye, and The Enigmatic Foe; some have noted the similarities between The Singing Resident’s voice and that of Homer Flynn’s.) Elsewhere on the album are quieter, more reflective moments, sung in a harrowing, affecting style by an uncredited female vocalist, full of bleak drama and visceral narrative.

“The Residents have always enjoyed reinterpreting other music,” explains Flynn. “They’ve always enjoyed exploring other forms, but somehow they always come out Residential. They don’t come out like they started.” I comment on how well the electronic elements seem to suit blues songs, even though they maybe shouldn’t fit together so easily. “Well that’s good,” says Flynn in response. “That’s certainly what we like to hear. They wanted to see if they could make that work.” This is the business-like, third-person voice of Flynn, spokesperson for the band and de facto head of the Cryptic Corporation, the organisation that oversees The Residents’ various activities.

Typical of The Residents, Metal, Meat & Bone finds the group working with some of their coterie of collaborators, easily identifiable by having, for the most part, actual identities: Nolan Cook, Carla Fabrizio, Sivan Lioncub, Peter Whitehead and Rob Laufer. Added to the list of likeminded friends and relations for the album is Pixies’ Frank Black, himself a user of an identity-disguising pseudonym in the form of Black Francis. Black adds his distinctive, angry preacher voice to one of the album’s many highlights, the emphatic ‘Die! Die! Die!’.

I ask Flynn how it’s possible that The Residents manage to attract so many collaborators considering their reputation for being somehow inaccessible. Is it the case that people who share their weltanschauung just seem to gravitate toward them? “Well, actually I think that’s more the case,” he says. “Most of The Residents’ collaborations come about kind of organically, one way or another.

“The connection to Frank Black came through Eric Drew Feldman,” he continues. “Eric is the prime producer with The Residents at this point – he’s really the architect of their sound. He has a longstanding relationship with Frank and he played with The Pixies on tour. It was right at the very beginning of the recording of the album, and they were looking for one or more guest people to come and do things, and as fate would have it, The Pixies played in San Francisco. They just happened to be in town. And so Eric got in touch with Frank and said, ‘Hey, do you want to do a vocal on The Residents’ album?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, sure, that sounds like fun.’ So, it really came about through Eric’s relationship with Frank. Frank did a fantastic job – he did a great job with that song.”

It is easy to break apart The Residents’ back catalogue into two convenient halves – the wildly experimental side wherein technology plays a huge role, and then the more song-based, story-telling side. In a way, Metal, Meat & Bone follows on from George & James (1984) and Stars & Hank Forever! (1986). On those albums, The Residents were recreating – in their own, inscrutable way – the music of George Gershwin, James Brown, the American folk music of Hank Williams and the marching band music of John Philip Sousa. These records were intended to form a series that would explore the American music tradition. Those two albums turned out to be the only albums in that series, suggesting that this became one of the ideas Flynn talked about that never got completed properly, or they enjoyed the idea of raising (and then thwarting) expectations. While they could have maybe gone about their interest in the blues through a straight reinterpretation of one of the artists whose music they admired, like they did on The American Composer’s Series, instead they opted for a different route, telling the story of an essentially unknown – or possibly unknowable – musician. And after all, who would want The Residents to do what you expect of them?

The Residents - Stars & Hank Forever!

The Residents – Stars & Hank Forever! – The American Composer’s Series Volume II (1986)

Years ago, Flynn was interviewed as one of the talking heads (talking eyes?) in The Eyes Scream, a 1991 pseudo-documentary and promo video best-of. He was featured alongside the departed Hardy Fox, later unmasked as Chuck Bobuck from The Residents’ Randy, Chuck and Bob phase upon his passing in 2018. In his interview, Flynn talks about the band’s constant efforts at “creating their own reality”.

Flynn returns to that notion as we finish our conversation about Metal, Meat & Bone. “At their core, in a way, I think The Residents are storytellers,” he says. “They love having a narrative to spin something around. Sometimes the narrative is more inherent, in the content, and sometimes the narrative is the container that the content goes into.

“Sometimes it’s a bit of both. And, with Metal, Meat & Bone, I think that’s definitely the case,” he concludes, leaning back in his office chair with a smile.

My eye is once again drawn to that swirling vortex behind him; it is a place of tall stories, semi-mythical characters, wonky, filtered versions of the truth and the weird, wonderfully indefinable – and continually fluctuating – centre of this enduring band’s idiosyncratic universe.

The Residents, St. George's Church, Kemp Town, Brighton February 7 2019. Photo (c) Brightlightspix

The Residents, St. George’s Church, Kemp Town, Brighton February 7 2019. Photo (c) Brightlightspix

Metal, Meat & Bone – The Songs Of Dyin’ Dog by The Residents is released July 10 2020 by MVD / Cherry Red.

With thanks to Matt and Andy.

Interview: Mat Smith.
Photos: Andy Sturmey (Brightlightspix)

Text (c) 2020 Documentary Evidence // Photos (c) 2019 Andy Sturmey

The Birdman Of Islington: Stubbleman – The Blackbird Tapes

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Saturday March 14 2020: Pascal Gabriel is performing pieces from his Stubbleman album Mountains And Plains at the Union Chapel in Islington, as part of the Daylight Music concert series. He is accompanied by the various automata he built for live performance; they are an essential factor in realising the many complex layers present on Mountains And Plains, a diaristic album that recorded Pascal and his wife Pippa’s journeys across the USA.

It is a few days before London went into full lockdown. The audience is about half what it should have been in ordinary circumstances, but these are far from ordinary circumstances. That Mountains And Plains concerned itself with travel and the freedom of movement is perhaps ironic in the face of the travel bans and flight cancellations that characterised the coming days. From the stage of the Chapel, Pascal could see a smattering of audience members wearing masks, then still a rarity, but something that would become ubiquitous over the next three months.

Friday May 1 2020: Pascal Gabriel is at home, as we all are by then. He is livestreaming the debut performance of The Blackbird Tapes, a new Stubbleman EP from his London home studio. “It was weird,” he reflects. “From my point of view, I was really just playing to my wife and three iPhones. There was no way of knowing whether people liked it until afterwards. At the time you have no idea what the feedback is.”

By May, with gigs and concerts cancelled and venues shuttered indefinitely, the livestream has moved from the novel rarity to the only way that musicians can perform their concerts to fans. Seeing inside the homes of musicians has become a new normal, in an extended period of such new normals.

Another thing we have become used to is quiet. Noise levels in cities across the world have been reduced to a slight murmur. It’s as if nature is reinforcing its power on the world of sound that we have inhabited in urban environments for hundreds of years; if you pay attention, one sound you will hear more prominently than ever before is birdsong. It has become the unexpected soundtrack to life in lockdown, and it became the inspiration for The Blackbird Tapes.

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Pascal Gabriel (c) Pippa Ungar

April temperatures in London were unseasonably warm. It was a small consolation for the removal of our freedoms, but it was a consolation, nonetheless. One morning, with the windows of their bedroom open, Pascal was suddenly roused out of his sleep. “At about 4 o’clock I heard this blackbird talking to a friend,” he remembers. “I think the nearest blackbird was on our roof, and the other one was probably about 200 metres away. They were obviously having some sort of conversation.” Pascal sprang out of bed and grabbed one of the Hairy Guys – the portable digital recorders that captured the atmospheric field sounds that inspired Mountains And Plains – and he recorded the two birds chatting to one another.

“The blackbird has a beautiful song,” he says, “but I really didn’t think much of it; I just thought I’d record it.” Encouraged by Pippa, Pascal was convinced that he could use the recording as the starting point for a new track, which became the opening piece on The Blackbird Tapes, ‘4am – Conversation’.

Pascal took the recording and then began to manipulate it. “I recorded it straight, as a straight conversation between him and his friend, and then I copied the audio and slowed it down to half-speed. I then copied it again and slowed it down to quarter speed, and then slowed it down again,” he explains. “By doing that, you always have the octave lower each time, and obviously it’s really slowed down. Listening to the four recordings, at those different speeds, it suggested melodies to me.”

Sitting down at his upright piano, Pascal began to lightly compose accompaniments to the layered birdsong, gently augmenting the sounds he’d recorded but never overwhelming them. “I did it very quickly,” he says. “It probably was no more than a couple of days and then I was done.”

When I spoke with Pascal about the genesis of Mountains And Plains, he explained about his ‘Ten Commandments’, the rules that he sets himself at the start of a project which then guide its development. “I don’t think I had ten on this one,” he laughs. “I had only a few, and one of them was ’Don’t distract the birds,’ – basically, don‘t detract from the sound of the birds. I wanted to keep it really simple, to not distract too much from the conversation that was going on, and the magic and unpredictability of what the bird is going to do next. And so I kept everything very delicate and very simple.

“Another of the commandments was that I would only use one piano riff of five or six notes, which are then repeated,“ he continues. “The timings can change, and where the notes go can change, but that’s it – five or six notes, and they repeat, and that’s it.”

When Pascal sent the EP over, he counselled me that I needed to listen to the three tracks with decent headphones, and most definitely not laptop speakers. That was because of the bass sounds that make up the third element of each of the three pieces, made using an Oberheim Two Voice Pro. The synth provides a rich, resonant low end perfectly matched to the topline provided by the blackbirds and the piano melodies crafted in response. “On the bass sound, I just wanted two or three notes and nothing more,“ he adds. “There’s a real jollity between the bass synth, and the piano, and the birds. It really works.”

Having completed the first piece, Pascal then used the same approach for the EP’s two other tracks, ‘6am – Chorus’ and ‘8am – Soliloquy’, each time using the layered birdsong recordings, but leaving them largely unaltered. “It just created something that I couldn’t create myself,” he says. “When you listen to birdsong, you realise how precise it is. It’s random, but it’s also really controlled. I found it fascinating to hear it slowly. I’d just sit on my chair here in the studio, and listen to it over and over again and think, ‘What am I going to do on this? It’s amazing.’ And so, when I did the synths, for instance, I didn’t want them to change very much. There’s a bit of filtering, but it’s very delicate and very minimal.” The only other element that Pascal subtly weaves in from time to time is a sequence created using a GRP Synthesizer A4, its fluttering quality evoking birdflight.

Pascal is here tapping into a tradition in classical music of using birdsong as a motif within composition, something that extends back to the 14th Century, and which can be heard in works by Beethoven, Mahler, Handel and countless others. More recently, Olivier Messaien turned to birdsong many times during his career, basing whole pieces such as Réveil des Oiseaux on the specific calls of certain birds. Perhaps closest to The Blackbird Tapes is Ottorino Respighi’s I Pini di Roma from 1924. The third movement of Respighi’s suite, The Pines of the Janiculum, includes a recording of birds made on the Janiculum hill above Rome, with instructions that the recording be played specifically on a Brunswick Panatrope phonograph.

The EP takes us from the fragile unreality of early morning and concludes with the chiming of bells near to Pascal’s house, indicating that the day must begin. “There’s something sad about it,“ admits Pascal. “It’s like the magic is slowly ebbing away from that twilight morning moment. Early morning is a very special time, even more so because of the lockdown. We’re not going out for work. We’re not so keen to catch the Tube, or bus, or whatever, and we are much more aware of our surroundings.

“And there’s definitely a lot more birds around, and they can hear each other,” he continues. “I mean, this guy, on the 4am piece, was definitely having a conversation with another bird. You probably wouldn’t be able to hear it, or you just wouldn’t notice it at all, if it was as busy as it normally is.”

The Blackbird Tapes wasn’t supposed to be Pascal Gabriel’s next release. Instead, it was intended to be 1:46:43, a three-movement piece inspired by his best time ascending Provence’s Mont Vontoux, the punishing mountain leg of the Tour de France.

Those attending the Stubbleman show at the Purcell Room last year heard the premiere of the third movement, concerned with the final climb to the summit of the mountain; the Union Chapel audience was treated to the first performance of ‘The Green Cathedral’, the second movement, which focusses on the tree-covered middle section of the route.

We have lockdown to thank for giving us The Blackbird Tapes. Just as with the source material that led to Mountains And Plains, this EP would not exist without the confluence of a specific location, caught at a specific time, that would go on to provide the inspiration for a musical response. It provides us with a lasting, poignant memory of the stillness and quietude of the strangest moment in our collective personal histories, giving The Blackbird Tapes a profound, moving and universal significance.

The Blackbird Tapes by Stubbleman is released June 5 2020 by Crammed Discs.

Interview: Mat Smith. With thanks to Sally.

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

Barnaby Ashton-Bullock – Café Kaput!

Café Kaput Banner

“Viva l’assemblage of husked soul eggshells
Smulched to fag ashen grain
A jackbooted silty compresse in the pavement cracks of les grandes boulevards,
A slur of arid sediment waiting for rain…”
– Barnaby Ashton-Bullock, Odd Oeufs (de Saint-Denis)

Anyone fortunate enough to see any of three parts of the Torsten series will be familiar with the work of poet and playwright Barnaby Ashton-Bullock. As well as featuring an exceptional, career-defining performance from Andy Bell as the doomed, semi-immortal, polysexual lead character, Torsten’s writer Ashton-Bullock imbues each and every line, every lyric and every scene with an unrivalled wealth of language, from the most unadulterated erotic encounter to the most wistful, heartwrenching and nostalgic look back at Torsten’s past.

That same skill can be found in Café Kaput!, a poetry pamphlet published by Broken Sleep Books. Containing 24 poems running from first time sexual experiences to mournful trips to Cotswold country homes, Café Kaput! is a vibrant, colourful, unflinching trip through linguistic possibility, brutally updating the poetic discipline for the modern era. In these verses, nothing is hidden: everything is visible, little is off-limits.

“My influences from a very early age were Harold Pinter, Derek Jarman, Steven Berkoff, and the ability that they had in their writing to pattern the world and to be viscerally honest about things,” Ashton-Bullock explained to me last year, during the rehearsals for Torsten In Queereteria. “I could never read novels. I had to, for A-level, but the language just wasn’t concise enough for me. It was like I’m reading all of this to get this kind of hit, but I’m not getting it. From early on I thought that poetry was the most immediate and violent expression of language.”

“Wotcha m’putrid popsicle!
Sorry the sherbet pips got wet.
Was those lolloping licks at the ‘Welcome Desk’
Like the motel staff’s tongues all had palsy Slurping a rippling slurry of saliva into my knapsack”
– Barnaby Ashton-Bullock, Motel Strange

“Read it if you dare!” cautions Andy Bell in his opening endorsement, and these verses are truly not for the easily embarrassed. Whereas poetry may have a long tradition of obfuscating meanings under layers of calculated, deliberately impenetrable wordplay, with Ashton-Bullock’s pen you have the equivalent of voyeuristically pulling back the duvet covers on the most vivid liaisons.

Café Kaput! Can be ordered directly from Broken Sleep Books here. On Sunday May 17 2020 at 7pm, Ashton-Bullock will be hosting a live online launch party for Café Kaput! – book your virtual seat here.

Ashton-Bullock, his musical partner Chris Frost and Andy Bell recently uploaded a video compilation of songs from the Torsten series which can be viewed below.

Related:

Andy Bell – Torsten In Queereteria : Redux – Documentary Evidence feature, 2019

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

Klara Lewis – Ingrid

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A couple of years ago, a cellist friend said to me, of his principal instrument, that “you have to be careful not to get too sad with it.” The inference was that it’s all too easy to make the cello sound mournful. Ever since he told me that I’ve become much more aware of that quality whenever a cello is involved; it may just be my general curmudgeonly outlook, but I often find it hard to identify something other than a nostalgic, wistful or maudlin dimension to music made with the instrument. It’s with that in mind that I approached the latest piece of music by Klara Lewis.

Ingrid is a single twenty-minute piece that uses a brief yet characteristically expressive cello segment as its foundation sound source. My cellist friend reliably informs me that it is “from the Sarabande movement of Bach’s fourth suite for unaccompanied cello”. Who plays the cello, whether this is a passage played specifically for Lewis or sampled from an existing performance are undisclosed details; neither is it apparent why the piece is so titled. Is Ingrid the person playing the cello? Is Ingrid the person this piece is dedicated to? Does it even matter?

These are the kind of questions you ask yourself as you listen to this piece. So focussed do you become on those questions that it isn’t immediately obvious that the cello loop is being subjected to – and placed under significant duress by – increasingly violent levels of distortion. It’s only after about ten minutes that the distinctive qualities of the cello get mangled fully out of shape, becoming growling, snarling, aggressive blocks of over-amplified noise: up to that point, it just sounds like the cello’s plaintive stylings augmented by hollow, distant electronic interventions.

By its denouement, the piece has morphed into loud, almost unbearably brutal sound, the original source passage unrecognisable; stretched, skewed and misshapen; reduced to elemental, metallic impulses on the most beautifully harrowing fringes of sonic entropy.

Ingrid by Klara Lewis is released May 1 2020 by Editions Mego – available here.

Words: Mat Smith. With thanks to Reed Hays.

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

Easy – Radical Innocence

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“Their debut album sold more than Sonic Youth’s ‘Sister’. Nobody noticed.” – MuteBank Statement #1, June 1996

I wonder to myself: how many times did I play 1990’s debut Easy album, Magic Seed, after I found it in a second-hand shop in Colchester in 1997? Between that LP, singles by Foil and Technique by New Order, I don’t recall listening to much else for the duration of that long, endless summer at the conclusion of my second year at university; it was a summer of warm days at the beach, cycling to work across town and youthful abandon, and Easy’s Magic Seed became the de facto soundtrack.

At that point, MuteBank’s Statement #1 was my Bible. I had no idea, in those early internet days, that by then the Swedish band had released a second album (1994’s Sun Years) after things didn’t quite work out for them at Blast First. I had wrongly assumed until about two weeks ago that they’d essentially called it quits after Magic Seed didn’t set the world of punky, jangly guitars on fire as it should have done in 1990.

Easy 2 - photo by Eyleen Kotyra

Radical Innocence  finds the six-piece band – Johan Holmlund (vocals), Tommy Ericson (guitar), Anders Petersson (guitar), Rikard Jormin (bass), Tommy Dannefjord (drums) and newbie Ingvar Larsson (keyboards) – showing that the world may have changed immeasurably, we may well be living through extraordinary days, but Easy’s music is dependably unchanged. Matured they may well be like the rest of us, giving songs like the string-laden ‘Golden Birds’ and lead single ‘Crystal Waves’ a wistful, mournful and subtly uplifting dimension, but aside from Holmlund’s voice becoming stronger and less tentative, more confident and more strident, this is still the band that I fell in love with far too late far too many years ago.

These eight songs are poised with a delicate precision, full of their trademark guitar sound but also a vibrancy and energy, best exemplified by the blisteringly good track ‘Memory Loss Revisionism And A Bright Future’. Elsewhere, we encounter the beautiful sensitivity of ‘Day For Night’ led by Dannefjord’s thunderous drumming and atmospheric textures, a savagely open tale of loss and regret bordered by a stirring quality that is utterly heartbreaking. Meanwhile, the title track shuffles along upon fuzzy guitars, grubby bass and vamping organ tones, its lyrics foretelling the one-way street that is the loss of youthful innocence.

Radical Innocence by Easy is released April 24 2020 by A Turntable Friend Records.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

Fad Gadget – The Best Of Fad Gadget

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The Best Of Fad Gadget was originally released in 2001 to accompany Frank Tovey bringing his Fad Gadget alias out of retirement for a support slot with Depeche Mode. It was a moment of electronic music history repeating itself, albeit in reverse and on a massive, stadium-friendly scale: Depeche had supported Gadget in 1980, back when they were all a bunch of callow, synth-loving young chaps, Frank Tovey being the first artist to join Daniel Miller’s nascent Mute Records.

Twelve months after the compilation was issued, Tovey was dead from a heart attack. It’s hard not to listen to these tracks, hand-picked as they were by Fad himself, without mourning the fact that he left behind such a brief legacy – a clutch of singles, four Gadget albums and a challenging performance art repertoire that was already honed back when he was fighting over Leeds Polytechnic’s studio space with fellow students Dave Ball and Marc Almond.

Mute’s pressing of the album on vinyl for the first time coincides with the fortieth anniversary of ‘Back To Nature’, Fad Gadget’s first single. Recorded with Daniel Miller, ‘Back To Nature’ nodded to the Ballardian tropes of Miller’s own ‘Warm Leatherette’ statement, but also highlighted Tovey’s wry humour: while its gloomy industrial electronics sounded like a post-apocalyptic world of extreme temperatures, it was in fact Tovey ruminating on sun-loving folk enjoying the beach at Canvey Island.

Its B-side, ‘The Box’, was yet more subversive, its desperate lyrics reading like the stage directions for a macabre one-man show with a performer stuck in a box. After the dry ‘Ricky’s Hand’ single – the sinister counterpart to Depeche Mode’s similar-sounding ‘Photographic’ – Tovey gently moved Miller’s producer’s hand to one side and forged his own path, his 1980 debut album Fireside Favourites dealing with everything from cosy nights around the hearth during a nuclear meltdown on its memorable title track to bedroom frustration, each track a symbiosis of Tovey’s synths and whatever potential sound-making objects were lying around the studio at the time.

Through his ensuing albums – Incontinent (1981), Under The Flag (1982) and Gag (1984) – Tovey developed his songwriting craft, initially through getting to grips with kit like an MC-4 sequencer and then developing a full-band aesthetic at precisely the same time as pop music was dispensing with traditional instruments in favour of keyboards and drum machines. But even as his music matured, anticipating the series of folk and rock-inflected albums released under his own name with the band The Pyros, Tovey was still covering himself in tar and feathers on stage, or stripping off his clothes and spraying shaving foam all over his body, memorable images of which Anton Corbijn captured for Gag and the harrowing cover of this compilation.

His songs never once lost that slightly disturbing potency that had made his earliest singles so insistent. ‘Lady Shave’ made a song about the quotidian act of removing hair a seedy, voyeuristic, perverted show; ‘Saturday Night Special’ dealt with guns and the right to bear arms; ‘Love Parasite’s sleek electronic shapes detailed a sexual predator; ‘Life On The Line’ and ‘For Whom The Bells Toll’ were dour pop songs that betrayed Tovey’s paranoia at having become a father for the first time; ‘Collapsing New People’ took industrial percussion and the looped mechanical sound of a printing press to offer a vivid anthropological assessment of the dispossessed, wasted, vampiric youths he observed while recording the track in Berlin. The compilation ends with the leftfield proto-electro and howling baby sounds of ‘4M’, sounding somewhere between clinical fascination and the soundtrack to the end of the world, but was in fact a tender piece of sound art using the sampled voice of his baby daughter.

It would, perhaps, be too easy to look back on Frank’s wild Fad Gadget years as a kind of grim novelty cabaret sideshow schtick, a product of an anything-goes, disaffected, post-punk British society, his effect on the development of electronic music in the early 1980s easily dismissible in favour of dark-hued works by Cabaret Voltaire, Human League, Soft Cell and others. Observed in hindsight, no other musician managed to fuse art school theatrics and dystopian social commentary so fluidly within the emerging constructs of electronic technology as Frank Tovey did, and the likelihood of another artist like Fad Gadget emerging in these supposedly super-liberal times is unimaginable; we’re all trapped inside the metaphorical cage of ‘The Box’, and no one dares try – like he did – to break out.

Frank Tovey: 8 September 1956 – 3 April 2002

The Best Of Fad Gadget by Fad Gadget was originally released in 2001 by Mute, and reissued as a double vinyl LP in 2019.

Words: Mat Smith.

Note: this review originally appeared in Electronic Sound issue 57 and is used with the kind permission of the editors. Thanks to Neil, Zoe and Paul.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith for Electronic Sound

 

Leo Abrahams / Sølyst / Simon Fisher Turner – From Isolation 1

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This trio project represents the first in Trestle RecordsFrom Isolation series, wherein musicians are invited to collaborate with one another in the form of an exchange of sound files. The project is effectively a variation on their One Day Band programme, only with artists unable to meet and spontaneously develop a piece together for the foreseeable future, this is a virtual way of achieving similar results, quickly, efficiently and responsively. Arguably it’s way more productive than using the internet for Disney + and Netflix.

The first edition pitches together producer and ambient journeyman Leo Abrahams (guitar, FX, electronics), Kreidler co-founder Thomas Klein’s Sølyst alias (synths, sequencer) and Mute stalwart Simon Fisher Turner (field recordings, electronics). The three pieces here are built from sinewy synth sequences that pulse and shift with a purpose somewhere on the continuum between meditative and sinister, alternated with murky drones, impenetrable modular soundfields and vague ryhthmic passages.

Over each foundation pattern we hear Abraham’s processed guitar, occasionally formed as a meditative blues but more often presented as juddering, angular, discordant shapes that give the pieces an uncertainty and suggestion of imminent danger. Those highly textural guitar motifs are joined by Fisher Turner’s guerrilla field recordings, auditory ghosts of unknown provenance – traffic noise, maybe? Water washing onto a Cornish beach? Wind blowing through a bamboo screen? The hubbub of a station platform?

Perhaps unintentionally, those life sounds of real life give these atmospheric pieces a nostalgic quality, a sense of yearning for a time when we all had the freedom to experience all of life’s noisy treasures without restriction or fear.

From Isolation 1 by Leo Abrahams, Sølyst and Simon Fisher Turner can be streamed from the Trestle Records website from Friday April 3 2020trestlerec.com

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

Daniel Avery / Alessandro Cortini – Illusion Of Time

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The first evidence of Daniel Avery and Alessandro Cortini’s collaboration emerged last year with a white label 7-inch single credited to DA-AC called ‘Sun Draw Water’. Only available at the FYF Festival, Mount Analog in LA, the two tracks showcased a perfect, symbiotic pairing between the two.

With ‘Sun’, you could discern Cortini’s trademark, bold synth strokes edged with a dirty, fuzzy industrial quality. Haunting vocal textures and submerged melodies created a brooding, dark ambience, like an alternative soundtrack to Terminator and every bit as dystopian. ‘Water’ was the inverse, offering a richness and depth of colour, an elastic sound occupying the foreground carrying an unpredictability while the background stayed resolutely focussed on clusters of pads and spiralling tones. The effect was not dissimilar to some of Robert Fripp’s experiments with triggered sounds and textures, poised somewhere between a meditative, reflective mood and a restless hopefulness.

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Illusion Of Time was completed in 2018, and cements the vision that ‘Sun’ and ‘Water’ hinted at. Like many electronic projects, Illusion Of Time began as a distance collaboration, the pair shaping and sculpting tracks over the digital aether before finalising the pieces together while touring with Nine Inch Nails.

The album’s title track opens with delicate, mesmerising synth cycles overlaid on top of resonant blocks of sound and white noise panned across the stereo field. The track has a poignancy and sweetness, a sense of optimism in troubled times, whether illusory or not. That approach runs throughout the record, sometimes with a glimmer of uncertainty; ‘At First Sight’ is probably the best example of this, delivering gentle melodies sounding not unlike uilleann pipes drifting across a turbulent, pulsing, bass-heavy sequence of tones.

Elsewhere, we come across moments of intense beauty. ‘CC Pad’ contains sparse, haunting, overlapping pads, creating an effect like gazing across a beatific, frosty Spring morning landscape. In the background you hear a feint clicking sound, creating a suggestion of rhythm or the scratchy rotations of an ancient gramophone. Two brief interludes in ‘Space Channel’ and ‘Interrupted By the Cloud Of Light’ have an evocative, ethereal quality, nodding to an ambient tradition but laced with crackling white noise sounding like the release of intense radiation from a distant star.

Among all of these poignant, brilliant vignettes is the standout ‘Inside The Ruins’, advancing forward on growling synth sounds moving from ear to ear, wrapped in cavernous echo and a sense of imminent, unresolved threat. On this piece it’s hard not to imagine the environment suggested by its title. In my mind I see myself standing in a destroyed ancient temple in Syria while drones buzz and criss-cross overheard, emotionlessly surveying the devastation.

Illusion Of Time by Daniel Avery and Alessandro Cortini is released March 27 2020 by Phantasy Sound. Thanks to Ellie, Naomi and AC.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

Burnt Friedman & João Pais / Burnt Friedman & Jaki Liebezeit – Eurydike

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Germany’s enigmatic Burnt Friedman is a serial collaborator, hitching his distinctive electronic palette to numerous other musicians over the course of his career, while also delivering with such a prolific level of output that it’s often hard to keep track of his movements.

One of his longest-running collaborations was with Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit, with whom he recorded several albums up to Liebezeit’s untimely death in 2017. Their Secret Rhythms concept gave prominence to the drummer’s signature, dizzying polyrhythmic kitwork, attaching that to Friedman’s delicate, unobtrusive electronics. Critical to Liebezeit’s playing was a sense of reductivism, paring his kit back to the most elemental of equipment and yet producing dexterous overlapping, highly detailed rhythms that were usually hard to follow; Friedman’s electronics were thus a sympathetic response, never once overwhelming the master drummer’s sound and weaving their way lightly through and around his playing.

Two unreleased collaborations between the two friends can be found on the B-side of a new EP on Friedman’s Nonplace label. Dating from 2016, ‘Eurydike’ and ‘Star Wars’ are immediately recognisable, bearing those Secret Rhythms trademarks – clusters of sounds, unswerving drum cycles, dubby bass, springy analogue sounds and discrete non-melodies. It would be glib and somewhat obvious to say that these pieces, like so many of Liebezeit’s, could induce a trance-like state, but they undoubtedly code. In these rhythms, and in their framing with washes of sound that drift in like they’re being carried across a field by a breeze, there is a resolution and purpose, a mesmerising momentum constantly bordering on the chaotic but never once going there.

On the A-side you find Friedman interacting with another drummer and occasional collaborator, Porto’s João Pais Filipe, and their two pieces (‘Out Of Ape’ and ‘Fibres Of P’) act like a sonic handshake between the two drummers. Pais’s work is comparatively more full, his rhythms more dense and varied yet carrying the same tension and energy as Liebezeit. On these pieces, in response to Filipe’s wall of sound, Friedman’s electronics are more obvious, less imperceptible, more there perhaps. In Filipe, Friedman may well have found the natural successor to Liebezeit’s legacy, the start of a new Secret Rhythm concept that nods reverently in the direction of what came before.

The split Eurydike EP by Burnt Friedman with João Pais and Jaki Liebezeit is released May 15 2020 by Nonplace. Pre-order link: here

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence