About 429harrowroad

Music journalist for Electronic Sound and occasional press release writer for VeryRecords. Father, husband, vegan.

Mortality Tables: Vince Clarke, venoztks and Marco Porsia Collaboration

Earlier this year I issued the first Products by Mortality Tables, the collaborative project that I’ve been working on since lockdown.

The ethos of Mortality Tables is simple – I come up with an idea and invite infinitely more creative people to respond to those ideas. You can read more about the genesis of the project in an interview I did recently for Pooleyville.city here.

For the second sound-based Mortality Tables Product, I wrote what can loosely be describe as a manifesto for the project. I was recorded reading the manifesto at the artLab by Gareth Jones, after which sound responses to the text were recorded. One version of ‘On Mortality, Immortality & Charles Ives’ was by the anonymous sound artist venoztks, and the other was by Erasure‘s Vince Clarke. The digital single can be found at the Mortality Tables Bandcamp page or on Apple Music, Spotify etc.

To accompany Vince’s version of the track, film-maker Marco Porsia made a short film. Marco will be familiar to Mute fans as the director of the acclaimed Swans documentary Where Does A Body End?. His excellent Rema Rema film What You Could Not Visualise arrives in 2023. You can watch Marco’s brilliant film for ‘On Mortality, Immortality & Charles Ives (Vince Clarke Version)’ below.

More Mortality Tables Products will arrive in 2023, including a collaboration with Simon Fisher Turner. To get announcements about new Products, click on the ‘follow’ button on the Bandcamp page or our Instagram.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2022 Mortality Tables

Erasure: Behind The Sleevenotes

Being invited to write the notes for the reissue of Erasure was, as it was for I Say, I Say, I Say and Chorus, a humbling experience. A pinch-yourself moment. An honour. A privilege. All of these things. Whenever I’ve worked with Andy and Vince like this, I try to imagine what my younger self would think if he knew that one day he’d cross the rubicon between fan and employee of Erasure. I doubt he would believe it. I still can’t believe it.

I found myself reflecting on my younger self as I began the Erasure project. I very often mark out the significant events in my life through Erasure albums, and this was no exception, though perhaps the memories were a little more prominent and poignant than they had been with the previous two albums.

Between the first single, ‘Stay With Me’, and the album’s release, I’d left home and moved to university in Colchester. ‘Stay With Me’ seemed to capture a specific and strange feeling that descended on me as I made my final preparations for leaving, a feeling that was somewhere between optimism and fear. My first year campus university accommodation was in a tower block, and I imagined the observational viewpoint of Andy’s lyrics as if they were looking in on me as I started a new chapter of my life.

By the time ‘Erasure’ was released, I was already at university. I now forget where I purchased the album from but I suspect it was Our Price and I seemed to remember that it was the first week I was there. I still had some wages left from my summer job and I remember I also bought a pair of Levi’s. A shop worker in Birmingham, where I’d bought a pair of Levi’s before, told me to buy them with a larger waist size to avoid them being too tight, and that’s what I did with this pair. Within a month I’d lost so much weight at university that they became way too big and I couldn’t wear them anymore. I wasn’t ill and it wasn’t that my diet was poor: I’d just decided to become vegetarian to save more money so I could afford to maintain my record buying habit.

I first listened to Erasure in my tiny room in my tower block the afternoon of its release. I played it while ironing my new jeans.

“You had a pair of white jeans!” said Vince, when I told him this story. The connection of our Zoom call had either broken; or, more likely, he had deliberately misheard me.

“No, not white jeans,” I protested. (They were blue.)

“Oh man, I can’t believe you wore white jeans,” he laughed, ignoring me, his face displaying the huge grin I’ve become accustomed to seeing over the years. “I don’t think I can talk to you any longer.”

If BMG don’t invite me to write the liner notes for any future reissues, you now know why.

Whenever I’ve approached Erasure liner notes, I’ve always followed two guiding principles. The first is to never rely on either my own personal recollections or the massive amount of magazine and newspaper clippings that I collected voraciously at the time. The other is to try and include as many voices as possible in the piece.

The first principle is important. I want these notes to tell the story of the album, and I can think of no better way of doing this than speaking to the people who made it. In many cases, a detailed account of the process of making an Erasure album has never really been written, which gives these notes – I hope – a certain freshness, rather than something familiar. I also go back to what I was saying at the beginning. I am, first and foremost, a fan. These albums are important parts of my life and I’m completely biased. I figure that the best way to avoid these pieces being nauseatingly gushing fanboy pieces is to focus on telling the story. I’m also naturally inquisitive. I like to get inside a story. I like the details.

The ‘many voices’ principle is one that I really, really enjoy following. This isn’t a reaction, by the way, to not getting much information out of Andy and Vince. Far from it. Both have always been incredibly forthcoming with their recollections, and I could easily write these pieces without relying on any other input. But there are always more than two characters in these stories, and those other characters always play an important role, not least because they give us the opportunity to see what it’s like to watch Andy and Vince at work. Those players give a totally different, external perspective on the Erasure creative process, as well as life beyond the studio.

Vince would, for example, never talk about his cumbersome coffee machine and the elaborate process of making cappuccinos before recording sessions at his 37B studio could begin; engineer George Holt did, because they were the best cappuccinos he’d ever drunk, and it was an important part of the daily routine in the studio. Andy wouldn’t necessarily talk about the different ways that his voice would be recorded; Gareth Jones, who produced Andy’s vocal, could explain how he suggested things like sitting on the sofa in his room at Strongroom, or lying on the studio floor to get the specific vocal texture he thought worked best.

For Erasure, I spoke to Andy first. Andy was at his house in Mallorca, where he has some of the original Ashley Potter paintings that were used across the album and single sleeves. He spoke to me from the room containing the piano that became the focal point of Herbie Knott’s celebrated press photograph for the album. I next spoke with Gareth Jones. Gareth and I sat in the artLab, his studio at Strongroom in Shoreditch, and listened back to the album. This is the third time he and I have done a playback like this, and it’s always a fascinating and illuminating experience to hear anecdotes and memories prompted by listening to the music. We spent an inordinate amount of time trying to identify Paul Hickey’s vocal contribution on the track ‘Love The Way You Do So’ and a long time debating whether I should try and speak to Diamanda Galás (in the end, I tried, but didn’t manage to secure time with her).

With Vince, apart from talking about my white jeans, we spent a lot of the time talking about Dark Side Of The Moon and how it influenced the sound of ‘Erasure’. Vince and I have spent a lot of time talking about this album over the years, and at his insistence he made me buy a vinyl copy because, in his emphatic view, Dark Side Of The Moon should only be heard on vinyl. When Vince is serious about something, I find its best to follow his advice, and he’s never wrong. The whole time I was compiling the liner notes, a copy of Dark Side Of The Moon sleeve was behind me in the room I do my writing in. I read up about the Pink Floyd classic voraciously, watched a documentary about it to understand its technical appeal to Vince, and listened to it almost as many times while writing the piece as I did Erasure.

Perhaps because he knows I am a bit of a technical Luddite, Vince and I rarely talk in detail about the process of making sounds. He once showed me how his studio works and how everything connects up, but I think he noticed quite quickly that I was confused and so anyone looking for my notes to explain precisely how he made that bass sound three minutes into ‘Rock Me Gently’ will always be disappointed. To me it’s basically just magic, and I’m happy for my understanding of what Vince does to stay that way.

Most of the technical detail for the liner notes came from Thomas Fehlmann and George Holt. Similar to when I spoke to Martyn Ware for I Say, I Say, I Say, what I got from Fehlmann and Holt was their awe at how Vince worked. They clearly both work on a technical level that most of us would only ever aspire to, yet they thought what Vince did was basically magic as well. Vince insisted that I should meet George and ask him to cook me Italian food, as he thought he was the best chef he’d ever met; alas, that didn’t happen, but George did offer. Food came up a lot in conversations with the Clarke / Fehlmann / Holt trio, as did lots of tales of larking about in the downtime around the sessions.

Vince encouraged me to speak to Lloyd Puckitt, the mix engineer who worked at Strongroom with François Kevorkian on the album. I tracked him down and was so pleased that Vince had suggested it. I couldn’t secure time with François (“He’s always so busy,” said Daniel Miller) but, in many ways, speaking to Lloyd was better. This was a man who, by his own admission, got to witness two geniuses at work – he would watch the meticulous way that François set up and managed a mix, and he gushingly recalled a moment when Vince brought his Arp 2600 into the mixing room at Strongroom to add additional percussion sounds to a track at the near-final stage. Few people have seen Vince making sounds up close like that, and for Puckitt it was a hugely memorable day on the job.

My final interview was Daniel Miller. Daniel’s involvement with any Erasure album is often understated and imperceptible, but it’s always important. His guiding presence – never controlling, always supportive, always honest – is all over Erasure. It didn’t trouble him at all that this album wasn’t going to yield lots of pop hits for Mute. He thought it made make sense for Andy and Vince to stretch out their sound expansively, though he quickly challenged my assertion that this was the duo at their most experimental. “I generally find the word ‘experimental’ a little bit tricky,” he said to me. “Whenever anybody goes into the studio there’s an element of experimentation.” Daniel was responsible for the art direction of the album, incidentally.

I find myself obsessed with the routines involved when making Erasure albums, especially when Andy and Vince were working apart. For me, that’s what allows me to move from being a mere listener to being a fly on the wall of the creative process. I loved George’s stories about hauling himself in his car (“A 1957 Land Rover with no roof.”) from his girlfriend’s house in Dalston, to Soho to collect Thomas, and on to Vince’s place in Chertsey. I loved knowing that Andy and Gareth were night owls, recording beyond the small hours and running up against the mixing deadline, their tight bond yielding hours and hours of vocal recordings, much of which is sitting, unused, on the master tapes.

I recently met up with Janet Gordon, who managed the Erasure Information Service when Erasure was released. We got to talking about the ‘Private Ear’ booklets she produced for fans, and the annual charts she would ask us to complete for our favourite songs, B-sides, remixes etc.

There was also a section for ‘worst remix’, and for as long as I can remember, the top slot was taken by The Orb’s Orbital Southsea Isles Of Holy Beats remix of ‘Ship Of Fools’. That always baffled and frustrated me, and I generally voted it my favourite remix because of that. I loved The Orb. I’d been to see them at Warwick Arts Centre in 1994 and it was a decidedly transformative experience. At university I often said it was more important than my first sexual experience. I loved what Alex Paterson and Thrash did with ‘Ship Of Fools’ – stretching it out, exposing its fragile beauty and taking it off along a course that only someone with Paterson’s imagination could. When I heard that Thomas Fehlmann was going to produce the album, I smiled to myself.

By then, Fehlmann was a member of The Orb, though he hadn’t been at the time the ‘Ship Of Fools’ mix had been completed. When I spoke to him, he was aware that Alex and Trash’s mix had been universally derided, and I think we both shared the view that encouraging Vince to work with a producer attached to a group that was wholly un-Erasure was a brave, bold and typically Daniel suggestion by Mute’s boss.

It’s not right to call it a gamble. It was far too calculated for that. But however you might describe it, it paid off. Fehlmann readily admitted that his role could never be to suggest how Vince should make sounds. That would be like me trying to convince Vince that I didn’t have a pair of white jeans. Fehlmann’s value to ‘Erasure’ was in the arrangement, and how a track was permitted to evolve freely along its own path and hugely exceed the accepted length of a typical pop song.

There are so many things going on in these tracks that I don’t think it will ever be possible to hear them fully, or ever fully know them, and that’s undoubtedly part of its charm. Andy said that these are among the songs he is proudest of. Vince said that it was an album he played repeatedly to friends on his very expensive home stereo, excitedly pointing out details and sounds that may have gone unnoticed.

I held back tears when I first played Erasure. I wasn’t remotely sad: these were happy, joyous tears that I wanted to cry. I remember that was the first time that had happened, but it’s happened every time they’ve released an album ever since. I was a fairly emotionally closed person back then, and I’m happier to let the tears of joy flow freely now. There’s always something poignant and reassuring about the band you love the most coming back into your life with something new.

Erasure was a transitionary album for Vince and Andy, released at a transitionary moment in my life. Listening back to the album, and listening to its creators reminiscing about its creation, allowed me to revisit my younger self all over again. A lot has happened in 27 years. We’ve all lived, and are living, through a messy cocktail of joy and sadness; we’re all significantly older than we were then; we’ve all experienced tragedy and hope countless times since Erasure was released. But for the briefest time, I was able to transport myself back to being a callow youth at the start of my adult life, with all of that ahead of me, and for that I’ll be eternally grateful.

Thanks to Shaun, Richard and Janet.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2022 Documentary Evidence

Miss Grit – Amazing Grace, London 01.11.2022

New Mute signing Miss Grit, New York’s Margaret Sohn, performed a small showcase set of tracks at Amazing Grace last night. The tracks were taken from her forthcoming debut album Follow The Cyborg, a concept record about the life of a cyborg, which will be released in February 2023. Fusing angular guitars, pitch-perfect vocals and inventive electronics, their sound effortlessly straddles the worlds of pop and leftfield experimentation.

The performance came on the same day as Miss Grit released their latest single, the title track from the album. In a break from steadfast and serious playing, Sohn gleefully announced the release of the track with a wonderful display of unbridled excitement and enthusiasm. Definitely one to watch, and an excellent addition to the Mute roster.

Setlist:

Perfect Blue / Your Eyes Are Mine / Nothing’s Wrong / Lain / Buffering / Follow The Cyborg / Syncing / Like You

Words: Mat Smith

Thanks to Zoe

(c) 2022 Documentary Evidence

What You Could Not Visualise (dir. Marco Porsia, 2022)

On 1 March 2019, I hosted a Rough Trade in-store discussion with Gary Asquith, Dorothy ‘Max’ Prior and Mick Allen from Rema-Rema.

The occasion was the release of Fond Reflections by 4AD, an overdue collection of demos, live recordings and Wheel In The Roses, the band’s solitary 1980 12-inch. That EP has taken on an almost mythical significance in the margins of accepted post-punk histories, and not just because it would ultimately prove to be the launching pad for the careers of musicians that would leave a mark on the ensuing post-post-punk music – guitarist Marco Pirroni with Adam & The Ants, Allen and the band’s Mark Cox with The Wolfgang Press, Max with Psychic TV and Asquith with celebrated future Mute group Renegade Soundwave. That was important, but just as important was that it gave the nascent 4AD, according to its founder, Ivo Watts-Russell, the label’s identity and the high musical watermark to which they would constantly aspire to.

It felt like that event and release in 2019 were both part of a concerted effort to usher in a better appreciation of the importance of Rema-Rema, seeing them move from music’s fringes to somewhere more central, alongside contemporary bands that seem to dominate the post-punk narrative. It was a chaotic, awkward and frankly nerve-wracking evening, made significantly worse by Asquith and Allen arriving late, but it was also touching. Asquith, in particular, has been active in both preserving and promoting the fleeting legacy of Rema-Rema, frequently describing it as his favourite project he’s ever been involved with, and those fond affections for the band that started his career was abundantly clear that night at Rough Trade.

Toronto film-maker Marco Porsia has now made a decisive move that will assuredly imprint the significance of Rema-Rema on a whole new audience. His documentary film, What You Could Not Visualise, follows his celebrated 2019 film about Michael Gira’s Swans (Where Does A Body End?), and features his signature forensic approach to exploration. Porsia’s film is currently crowdfunding, and is expected to be released in 2023.

For the film, Porsia interviewed the band and Ivo Watts-Russell, as well as those personally influenced by the band’s brief legacy – Steve Albini (whose Big Black covered Rema-Rema), Foetus’s JG Thirlwell and Cabaret Voltaire co-founder Stephen Mallinder.

Porsia also interviewed me for the film, which saw a return to Rough Trade West to once again stand behind the counter and reflect on that important band and what they represented.

Watch the trailer below and visit the crowdfunding campaign here.

(c) 2022 Documentary Evidence

Sunroof / Simon Fisher Turner / MICROCORPS / Nik Colk Void – IKLECTIC Art Lab, London 20.05.2022

MICROCORPS / Alexander Tucker

Mute and Mute Song artists took over the IKLECTIK Art Lab near London’s Waterloo on Friday 20 May 2022 for a night of electronic music adventures.

Alexander Tucker’s MICROCORPS project offered faltering, industrial beats that usually formed out of a noisy, joyous sprawl of rapidly switched patch cables, over which he was prone to howl processed, wordless missives. An element of surprise dominated Tucker’s set, with sounds and rhythms cutting out suddenly just as you’d figured out how to shuffle along. A final segment found Tucker accelerating a beat so harshly that it rapidly left gabba territory and more than likely broke Moby’s ‘Thousand’ record with its pacing before abruptly stopping.

Simon Fisher Turner

Simon Fisher Turner presented nowhereyet, his sounds – inchoate melodies, processed cello, clamorous beats – set to a slideshow of London photographs by Sebastian Sharples. There was something eerie about Sharples’ photos, appearing to show a mostly empty, lockdown-era vision of the capital. We cross-cross from Spitalfields to the bombed-out sanctuary of St. Dunstan in the-East; from monolithic skyscrapers to snow-covered residential streets; from Canary Wharf construction to a deserted Bond Street. Fisher Turner’s music seemed to carry the same sort of alien, mournful sparseness; it’s as if the sounds and images, to paraphrase the enquiry ‘if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’, pondered the question as to whether a place devoid of its people can still be considered a place at all.

Sunroof / Daniel Miller & Gareth Jones

Daniel Miller and Gareth Jones resurrected their occasional Sunroof collaboration for a celebrated collection of modular synth improvisations, released last year as Electronic Music Improvisations Vol. 1. For their Iklectik set, they were seated opposite one another in a manner reminiscent of Marcel Duchamp and John Cage’s 1968 chess game, the board and its pieces replaced by innumerable boxes of flashing lights and tangles of coloured cables. In contrast to the pieces on their album, the set was intensely rhythmic, with grids of spare, almost skeletal beats instead of carefully-wrought, sinewy sequences. Miller and Jones have been friends and sonic adventurers together since 1982 and the symbiosis between them as they teased rhythms and patterns from their kit without ever seeming to communicate with one another was a testament to that enduring partnership.

The evening was interspersed with DJ sets from Nik Colk Void, ranging from juddering techno through to a memorable after-hours moment where she dropped Mudhoney’s socially-undistanced anthem, ‘Touch Me I’m Sick’.

Nik Colk Void / Mat Smith – photo by Leanne Mison

See Sebastian Sharples’ photos of the night at Instagram.

Words and bad photos: Mat Smith

(c) 2022 Documentary Evidence

Kumo – Three Tigers

Prescience weighs heavily on Jono Podmore’s latest Kumo release. The three track EP was inspired by the Chinese year of the tiger, which began in February, and a conversation that Podmore had with his students at a tai chi class he was teaching the same day. When asked what the new year would bring, he believed it would be characterised by conflict; how sadly true it was.

In a typically calculated manner, the three tracks on his new release were composed using ancient Chinese harmonies. Being no musicologist, I’ll take Podmore’s word for it, just like I had to with the mathematical theories that begat his 2020 Euclidean Patterns release. What is immediately evident, even if you don’t know Chinese musical theory, is his intention to highlight that the tiger does not immediately need to refer to conflict.

Each of the tracks here is named for a different tai chi form, but are highly evocative in their own right. ‘Tiger Lies Down’ shimmers with heat haze and gauzy optimism, a recurring two-note melody having a calming, soothing, centring quality while a delicate outline of a rhythm provides a sense of firmness and purpose. Here the tiger is our inner spirit, full of latent potential and awakening into the world with sharp focus.

‘(Retreat To) Ride Tiger’ is that store of energy suddenly released, a crisp and clattering beat relentlessly moving forward beneath clusters of twisted tones, springy sequences and euphoric bursts of almost orchestral grandeur. There is defiance here – not anger, not an adversarial quality, but a determination and resolution.

‘Carry Tiger To The Mountain’ is about transcendence. Riding a tiger is easier than carrying one. Metaphorically, this is about overcoming obstacles and limitations. This is delivered by sinewy sine tones, clouds of white noise and a metallic arpeggio that slices through any sense of calm that may have existed at the start of ‘Tiger Lies Down’. If ‘(Retreat To) Ride Tiger’ was a call to action, ‘Carry Tiger To The Mountain’ does something similar, despite being free of rhythmic guidance, through a constantly fluctuating structure of unsettling sonic flourishes.

With Three Tigers, Podmore has once again shown himself to be a masterful arranger of conceptual, deep-thinking electronic music.

Three Tigers by Kumo was released March 21 2022.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2022 Documentary Evidence

Nous Alpha – A Walk In The Woods

Nous Alpha is a duo of Christopher Bono and Gareth Jones. A Walk In The Woods is their second album together and was released on May 7 2021, just ahead of Gareth’s third album in less than a year, his collaboration with Daniel Miller as Sunroof. I was asked to write liner notes for the release, which have been re-produced below with the kind permission of Our Silent Canvas.

A Walk In The Woods is the second album by Nous Alpha, a collaboration between multiinstrumentalist Christopher Bono (Ghost Against Ghost, Bardo, Nous) and noisemaker Gareth Jones (Spiritual Friendship, Grizzly Bear, Depeche Mode). Like the immersive Without Falsehood, their 2019 debut album, A Walk In The Woods was created at Our Silent Canvas’ converted barn studio in the Catskill mountains during Fall 2019.

Nous Alpha is a partnership almost five years in the making, beginning when Christopher asked Gareth to help mix two tracks for his project Ghost Against Ghost, which appeared on the 2017 album still love. “It was a huge task,” recalls Gareth, “but out of that intense experience Chris and I forged a spiritual bond and a musical relationship.”

Nous Alpha emerged through Christopher and Gareth’s desire to work together on a project that would exist as a parallel to NOUS, Christopher’s loose collective of diverse players with improvisation as its cornerstone. From the beginning, it was agreed that they would always work together in person, eschewing the obvious convenience of distance collaboration between New York and London. Without Falsehood was formed from a series of ‘duet improvisations’, governed by a constraint that any further contribution needed to be a second duet improvisation, resulting in a suite of layered, and yet uncluttered, tracks.

For A Walk In The Woods, they set themselves different constraints. “We had some specific ideas about this second album,” says Christopher. “We decided we’d work on a tempo grid this time around, rather than being so very freeform in our approach, and that we’d limit the length of the songs.” Working this way made the sessions for ‘A Walk In The Woods’ more electronic than its predecessor. Where Without Falsehood used acoustic textures and familiar instrumentation, A Walk In The Woods abandons those elements and adds synth passages, evolving melodies and skeletal, hypnotic rhythms.

Naturalistic elements, used as the basis of what could be called organic improvisation, were created by performing with found objects in the dense woods of the nearby Catskill Mountains, and the outbuildings around the studio. These foraged fragments form the seeds from which each track grew: stones and rocks are the foundation of beats across the whole record; a tranquil pond provides the sonic jumping-off point for the noisy ‘Blackwater’; ‘Bike Wheels’ uses the distinctive mechanical sounds of a bicycle as its base layer.

If their walks in the nearby woods provided the impetus for the tracks, the trees surrounding the studio also supplied the duo with a means of escape from cabin fever. “We developed a ritual,” remembers Gareth. “We had a gong hanging up in the studio, and when either of us felt it was necessary we would go and bang the gong. That meant we’d either sit and meditate or go on a circular walking meditation through the trees around the studio building. We would walk, stop, contemplate and breathe. It was the most positive and creative way to reconnect.”

This sense of spirituality is another critical ingredient in how A Walk In The Woods evolved. “I see it as our own version of shamanism,” says Christopher. “There was a definite trance state that happened within the studio space while we were creating, and this offered an opportunity for transformation. Channeling that energy became critical to what happened on this album.”

The result of their constraints, discipline and ritualistic approach to the creative process is a body of work steeped in harmony and balance – of beauty and melancholy, of technology and nature, and of two like-minded spiritual beings in creative lockstep with each other. It is an album that is utterly unpredictable, where a track like ‘Fox Hollow’ can be graceful, yet also showcase a dizzying back-and-forth exchange of ideas.

A Walk In The Woods feels like a contemporary Walden-esque rumination, evoking a sense of selfdiscovery and unity with one’s surroundings, but one where modern technology is added to Thoreau’s concept of simple living. On ‘Fibonacci Failure’ we hear rippling sequences and turbulent, constantlyevolving rhythmic passages that sound like a sudden rainstorm heard from inside a cabin. The watery tones and chanting we hear on ‘Golden Lemon’ has the euphoric, hopeful quality of a Fall sunrise. And on ‘Virtues’, we hear Christopher and Gareth calling out a list of affirmations set to stirring melodies and washes of gathering electronic clouds.

From the sampled field recordings that it began with, to its many, often turbulent, sonic juxtapositions, the nine electronic tracks on A Walk In The Woods delicately reflect back the stillness and drama of the natural world.

– Mat Smith, Electronic Sound

Listen to A Walk In The Woods here. Watch the videos for tracks from the album at YouTube below.

A Walk In The Woods by Nous Alpha was released May 7 2021 by Our Silent Canvas

(c) 2021 Our Silent Canvas

Si Begg – miscellaneous

Lamb ‘Gabriel (Si Begg’s 5.1 Futures Remix)’ (from ‘Gabriel’ single, Mercury (2001))

Sometime NovaMute artist Simon Begg remixed this single from Lamb’s third album, What Sound (2001). The mix finds Begg in wild trip-hop style, delivering a relentlessly chunky break positioned just fast enough to straddle the frontier with drum ‘n’ bass. Over that beat, Begg drops in abruptly obscured vocals from the original, randomised sounds and whooshing filtered synths to create a sense of urgent euphoria. The mix was available on limited 12-inch and CD formats of the single, and can also be found on the 2CD collection Lamb Remixed from 2005. The mix was titled 5.1 Futures, which was presumably an error given Begg’s use of the name S.I. Futures for a slew of memorable NovaMute releases. 

Words: Mat Smith

A work in progress (c) 2021 Documentary Evidence

FM Einheit – Exhibition Of A Dream

Exhibition Of A Dream by former Einstürzende Neubauten noisemaker FM Einheit was originally released as a triple vinyl set under its French title L’exposition D’un Rêve in 2018. The release was made through Lisbon’s esteemed Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian and coincided with Einheit’s exhibition at the gallery. 

Try as I might, though, I can’t fathom what the exhibition actually was. It may be the final record, and it may also have been the act of the record’s creation, its live performances in Lisbon and separate recordings at Einheit’s own Steinschlag studio. The exhibition may also have involved drawings of mandalas in the gallery’s empty spaces, but how these are connected to the playing of the music is somewhat beyond my two-dimensional artistic brain. You can read more about it at the website of Studio Bruyant, who facilitated the exhibition alongside Einheit, and if you can figure out what the mandalas have to do with anything, or you were there, please contact me. 

Instead, in an effort to stay on more certain ground, let us focus on the music. Except that here too, nothing is especially certain. The packaging of a new 2xCD remaster by Cold Spring says as much as it doesn’t. We know that the twelve tracks are Einheit’s interpretation of dreams offered by musicians Band Of Susans founder Susan StengerSonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo and Throbbing Gristle’s Genesis Breyer P-Orridge; it includes dreams transcribed by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul and by artists Susie Green and David Link. Others were involved, but their dreams are strangely anonymised, creating a sort of amorphous impenetrability and mystery that leaves more questions than answers. 

In some cases, the ‘dreamer’ reads out their dream; in others, Einheit, another vocalist or the Gulbenkian’s choir does; in still others like the filmic, industrial western theme that is ‘FFW’ or the Can-esque ‘The Dungeon’, no one does. Like dreams themselves, the effect is disorientating and otherworldly: it reminds us that there are good reasons that dreams live in our subconscious. To expose them to the outside world places them into a sort of naked vulnerability, and what made sense in your deepest sleep makes zero sense during waking hours; disconnected from reality yet informed and made strange by it so as to become unreal. 

So here you can expect lewd imagery, strange interactions, odd stories that have no ending; vivid, emphatic stories as disturbing as ‘The Gift’ by The Velvet Underground or as filled with nonsensical non sequiturs as a Kafka novel cut up and reassembled by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin during a heavy night in their Parisian flophouse. In some cases – as with Lee Ranaldo’s ‘Alpine Traum’ or Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s ‘Creation Re/Created’ – their dream-stories are entirely in keeping with their usual aesthetic, and could have appeared on any of their various albums. For Ranaldo, this reunites him with the Beat-y spoken word style that dominated his contributions to early Sonic Youth albums, pre-dating finding his singing voice comparatively recently. In Gen’s case, his delivery is somewhere between lysergic work-out and a career in Open University lecturing that sadly never existed in the version of the omniverse we knew him in. 

The album’s musical accompaniment is, like all dreams, varied and unpredictable, fond of wandering off down oblique pathways. Performed by Einheit (stones, springs), Volker Kamp (bass, brass), Saskia von Klitzing (drums), Susan Stenger (flute, bass) and her Band Of Susan bandmate Robert Poss (guitar), each of the twelve tracks here is as different as the next, ranging from mutant jazz and funk to militaristic parade ground pomp to noisily contemplative post-rock to inchoate noisescapes. The players are adept at the masterful pivot, comfortable going off in whatever direction Einheit and the dreamers suggest they should go in. 

Cold Spring’s reissue of Exhibition Of A Dream arrives at a point where all of us perhaps feel like we’ve been living inside someone’s most impenetrable dream; where we find ourselves mutely looking back on the events of 2020 with the same weird feeling that you get when you wake up into that vague interzone between sleepy fantasy and the menacing horrors of the day. Truth be told, as strange and unsettling as some of these moments are, their intriguing mystique remains less terrifying than the world that we’ve endured over the past year. Lest us forget that dreams are the only places we have been able to dependably travel to, wrapped in the virus-free safety of our sleep. 

Exhibition Of A Dream by FM Einheit was released by Cold Spring on February 26 2021. Thanks to Gary. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2021 Documentary Evidence 

Spiritual Friendship – Drones

Seven chakra-inspired drones released weekly from February 1 by Calllm, a new ambient label from Calm + Collect

‘Root’ released today – listen here.

Drones appear throughout the early history of music, across many cultures. They reflect nature’s most elemental hum, the chord that threads its way through creation, said to be the sound of the universe as it stretches out into the infinite unknown. Channelled in Indian spiritual music, through the battlefields of Scotland and on through the minimalism of pioneers like La Monte Young and Phil Niblock, the drone is a universal constant in music, one that instils a sense of vibrating in perfect synchronicity with the energy that surrounds us.

For Spiritual Friendship – the pairing of hip-hop beatmaker and producer Nick Hook (Run The Jewels, 50 Backwoods, Gangsta Boo) and fellow producer and noise maker Gareth Jones (Depeche Mode, Nick Cave, John Foxx) – the idea of creating a suite of drones was not informed by their own shared spiritualities or an awareness of the transcendent properties these sonic devices possess; instead, it was the electrical hum of a hot tub the pair were sharing one balmy night in Asheville, North Carolina that coincided with a eureka moment from Gareth.

The pair were in Asheville in the summer of 2017 for a week-long residency at the Moog Sound Space. Previous collaborations between the pair had taken place either at Nick’s studio in Brooklyn or Gareth’s studio in London, whereas for what became DRONES they were sharing an apartment together in Asheville, and the experience of being away from each other’s normal equipment proved to be inspiring. They decided to build a fort out of vintage synthesisers in the upstairs performance space at Moog Sound Space and create a number of individual drones, each one representing one of four chakras – the root chakra, the sacral chakra, the heart chakra and the crown chakra.

The project referenced their debut album together (SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP, 2016) which comprised base elements of drums, drones, field recordings and sequences. In Asheville they decided they would make a series of albums isolating each of those individual elements. DRONES would be the first to be created, but to date only one of the pieces Nick and Gareth recorded during that week has been officially released (‘Root’, issued on Alternative Medicine as a limited edition cassette in 2018).

Spiritual Friendship (Gareth Jones & Nick Hook) recording Drones, Asheville 2017

“I was pretty scared at first,” admits Nick as he recalls their Asheville sessions. “I’m a wild ADD, hyperactive kid. I didn’t really understand how to do this. Gareth was like, ‘We’ll just set it up and let it breathe,’ and that’s what we did. When I heard all the harmonic interactions that could happen in a single drone, it felt like I was listening to free jazz.” 

“Each of the drones is simple,” adds Gareth. “We chose to honour each of the chakras with a drone note. We didn’t do any deep mystical research into the actual tuning – we just used the conventional scale for the drones. We set up a whole bunch of oscillators from Moog, and we borrowed a rig from Make Noise, who are also based in Asheville. It was important to us that we could fuse equipment from two companies who have been so inspirational to both of us. Just as Nick says, it all interacts with itself, almost as if there’s this gentle swaying between each of the frequencies, and these unexpected rhythms and melodies begin to emerge.” 

The process for each of the new pieces would be the same: they would set up the drone around a particular note, meditate together for fifteen minutes, stand up and then hit record, allowing the ground tone they’d created to evolve and develop. The pieces, typically lasting around 45 minutes, were executed with no conversation between Nick and Gareth. They relied entirely on instinct, and the kind of shared deep listening and non-verbal cues normally the preserve of improvising players as they altered the sound they’d constructed using volume controls and filters. Each piece was created completely live, with no overdubs, each one displaying a commanding resonance and a restless, ever-changing hypnotic energy.

Recording drones, Asheville 2017

“We turned it up as loud as it would go,” recalls Nick. “The guys at Moog were excited to hear their gear being used at very high volumes. They got to hear our drones rumbling and howling for eighty hours that week, while they were downstairs building the modern versions of what we were using upstairs, by hand. It was literally like a farm-to-table ecosystem.” At the end of the week’s residency, after sequestering themselves away in the synthesiser fort they’d built with very little contact with the outside world, the pair invited friends from the Moog and Make Noise workshops into the space for a special final live performance. They would go on to perform further live drone events for friends in Manhattan and a immersive two-and-a-half-hour drone, based around the solar plexus chakra, at 2018’s MoogFest.

To launch the new Calllm ambient label, Nick and Gareth felt it was time to complete the DRONES project with two pieces referencing the remaining chakras – the throat and the third eye. “Pushed by the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, the end of 2020 and a realisation that we hadn’t seen each other physically this year, we decided to create these last two drones remotely,” explains Gareth. Nick created the basis for the third eye chakra and Gareth created the basis for the throat chakra. They then each added to the other’s creation remotely, thus finalising the suite of drone recordings they envisaged in Asheville.

Beginning on February 1 2021, all seven DRONES will be made available as a weekly series of digital releases through Calllm. Each release will be accompanied by a Spiritual Friendship drone performance on YouTube and Twitch accompanied by live watercolour painting by Calm + Collect illustrator Hydriaillustrations and guided meditations from Quazzy.

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2017 drone suite
Root (46:40, C)
Sacral (57:24, D)
Heart (37:00, F#)
Crown (41:49, B)

2018 MoogFest performance
Solar Plexus (2:21:43, E)

2021 drones
Throat (43:39, G)
Third Eye (44:16, A)

DRONES release schedule
All live performances are scheduled for 1100 EST / 1600 GMT

Root – digital release February 1 / live performance February 4
Sacral – digital release February 8 / live performance February 9
Solar Plexus – digital release February 15 / live performance February 16
Heart – digital release February 21 / live performance February 23
Throat – digital release March 1 / live performance March 2
Third Eye – digital release March 8 / live performance March 9
Crown – digital release March 15 / live performance March 16

Spiritual Friendship discography:
Spiritual Friendship (Calm + Collect, 2016)
Drums (Calm + Collect, 2018)

Press release text (c) 2021 Mat Smith for Calm + Collect