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

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

Easy – Radical Innocence

Easy - Radical Innocence (cover)

“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

hackedepicciotto – The Current

TheCurrent_front.jpg

I have three experiences of Blackpool, the town in which the ever-wandering duo of Danielle de Picciotto and Alexander Hacke recorded The Current.

The first is, I am told, a brief trip there as a child in the way home from Scotland, of which I remember absolutely nothing. My mother advises me that I was eighteen months old. The only memento I have of this is a small black and white photo-booth strip.

Then, almost thirty years later I watched an episode of a show called The Hotel Inspector, one of several programmes scheduled in the wake of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares in which some egotistical know-it-all pokes around in an establishment, shows just how utterly disgusting it is, and then comprises a strategy for how they will radically improve it. The thing that stuck with me about this show was not a very dubious establishment managed by a very colourful character, but the statistic that the average room rate for one of the 1800 hotels in Blackpool was £20 – and lest we forget that an average suggests there were many rooms available for substantially less. Hotel room rates act as a barometer for the economic prospects of a location, and on that measure alone, Blackpool was woeful. I mean, I’ve paid more than that for an hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska and that place didn’t have a ballroom, tower or a beach to improve its appeal.

Finally, maybe around the same time as that, I hauled myself up to Blackpool at some ungodly hour in the morning to support a colleague who was presenting at one of the significantly more expensive hotels in the town. As he came off the stage and legged it to the exit, he whipped off his microphone and whispered to me, ‘Get me the fuck out of here – this town makes me want to kill myself.’

But some of this is precisely why de Picciotto and Hacke chose to move to Blackpool for The Current. It is a town, as they put it, left behind by gentrification, a forgotten relic of Victorian-era tourism, a place dominated by sickly, E-number-heavy boiled sweets, faded seaside grandeur and an unlikely landmark – the Tower – forever destined to be unfairly seen as a poor architectural cousin to M. Eiffel’s more famous example, despite being arguably almost as impressive.

All of this, plus the presence of the Irish Sea the couple could see from their window, gives tracks like ‘Petty Silver’ – replete with its creepy melodic tones reminiscent of ‘The Carny’ by The Bad Seeds, grubby, fuzzy electronic rhythm and sub-bass slowed down to a unnerving prowl – an unexpected, if turbulent and utterly skewed, symphonic edge. It would be glib to say that such a track carries a sense of mystery as Danielle de Picciotto intones an especially bleak poetry, but there is nevertheless a sinister, Old Testament good vs evil thing going on here.

Elsewhere, opening track ‘Defiance’ is nudged onward by a gloomy bluesy guitar, bass and violin formation that might as well have blown in from the sand of a sun-bleached Nevadan desert rather than the brown sand of Blackpool. Here we find overheard voices, strangely celebratory and yet weirdly affecting when taken outside of their context, bells, snarling electronics and a vocal from de Picciotto that emphasises we are all made equal despite Blackpool’s economic fortunes suggesting that this is anything but the case.

It is an effect that plays out across The Current, in a fashion not wholly dissimilar to the sound of the Detroit-centred Crime & The City Solution album American Twilight (2013) that both contributed to. On the standout ‘Onwards’, that manifests itself as a violin section that is enough to cause claustrophobia and panic, the beautiful harmonies between Hacke and de Picciotto never quite offsetting the churning urgency of the strings, sounding not unlike the end of the world as we know it. The album’s title track begins with a soundfield of unplaceable, hissing, droning sounds evoking comparisons with Hacke’s role in Einstürzende Neubauten, though even that band never quite managed to sound this bleak; ‘The Banishing’ carries a strained, muted edge courtesy of a rich, undulating, thunderous rhythm, chanted vocals and vaguely optimistic strings; ‘Third From The Sun’ begins with rich otherworldly sounds intended to remind us that our very existence owes itself to accidents and astral coincidence, before descending into a ominous wall of beautiful, ugly sound laced with psychedelic motifs.

This is not an album for the faint-hearted. By the time you reach the mournful ‘Upon Departure’, with its proggy, thick Violinksi tonalities, insistent strings and impenetrably savage drums, or the damning social commentary of ‘The Black Pool’, you might be forgiven for wanting to say, like my former colleague, ‘Get me the fuck out of here.’ Break through the gloom and a strangely human, hopeful, elegiac dimension appears. It is the sound of an unexpected optimism and a spirit of unity and of being in this together in spite of the state we’re in.

That de Picciotto and Hacke were able to freely up sticks and pitch up in Blackpool, with an album released on the very day where the UK is expected to sever its ties from Europe, and where such freedom of movement will be once again restricted, is perhaps the most overtly political statement of all those enshrined in The Current.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

Electronic Sound 53 – including my Mute STUMM433 feature

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The latest issue of Electronic Sound is now available in the usual high street retailers and as a bundle with an exclusive 7″ from their website. This issue has a primary focus on Berlin, featuring conversations with Alexander Hacke from Einstürzende Neubaten, Mick Harvey, Simon Bonney and others who recall the vibrant creative melting pot that the divided city represented in the late 70s and early 80s. The accompany 7″ features Berlin legends Malaria! while Gudrun Gut from band offers her take on sometime Berlin resident David Bowie’s ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ on the B-side.

My major contribution to issue 53 was a feature on John Cage’s seminal composition 4’33” and the incoming Mute STUMM433 project. For this feature I interviewed K Á R Y Y N, Daniel Miller, Simon Fisher Turner, Irmin Schmidt, Laibach, Pink Grease and Maps, each of whom explained how they approached their performance of Cage’s distinctive piece – where they recorded it, and what instrument they didn’t play. Each of the 58 versions on STUMM433 is wildly different from the next, each one includes its own individual story and accompanying visual, and only one of the inclusions is actually silent – just as Cage would have wanted.

This feature involved me diving back into Cage’s Silence book – something I’d first tackled in my late teens when I found a copy in my local library and studying the score. One took much longer than the other. It also awoke in me an interest in Zen after reading about Cage’s following of these ascetic Buddhist principles.

Elsewhere in this issue I reviewed Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss. by Maps; the score to Marnie by Bernard Herrmann; David Tibbet and Andrew Lisle’s debut Nodding God album; the latest Blow collaboration on Front & Follow by Polypores and Field Lines Cartographer; and a fantastic new Buchla-based concept album by Simon James.

(c) Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

Cosey Fanni Tutti (Clash interview, 2019)

Cosey Fanni Tutti – photograph by Chris Carter

I was privileged to talk to Cosey Fanni Tutti about her new solo album, Tutti, which is released this Friday by Conspiracy International.

Realised at the home / studio she shares with partner and collaborator Chris Carter, Tutti was originally created as a live soundtrack to a video Cosey developed for a retrospective at Hull’s International City of Culture in 2017. Reworked as standalone album, Tutti is intensely personal, though its impulses are intentionally shrouded, drawing on the same vivid recollections that Cosey gave to the world in her unflinchingly honest memoir, Art Sex Music (2017).

My interview with Cosey can be found at the Clash website here.

(c) Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

Plastikman – Sheet One (NovaMute album, 1993)

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Plastikman ‘Sheet One’ 2xLP NovaMute sleeve.

Released in October 1993 on NovaMute, Sheet One brought Windsor, Ontario’s Richie Hawtin‘s Plastikman onto the label’s roster, Daniel Miller‘s imprint effectively licencing the album for the UK and Europe from Hawtin’s own Plus 8 label.

While Sheet One became notorious for all the wrong (or right) reasons by the CD sleeve’s recreation of a perforated sheet of LSD tabs, with the requisite and implausible rumours that the sleeve really did have acid on it, what’s most surprising is that electronic music designed to be listened to at home or in a club, as opposed to merely in a club, was still a relatively unusual thing twenty years ago. Warp’s Artificial Intelligence compilations (the first volume of which had included Hawtin in his UP! guise) and the series of clever electronica releases clustered around them – such as Polygon Window’s Surfing On Sinewaves and Black Dog Productions’ Bytes, as well as early releases from sometime NovaMute signee Speedy J and Autechre – had paved the way for a new strain of dance music that didn’t require any form of dancing at all.

If Sheet One found itself dropped neatly into that whole Artificial Intelligence genre, it set itself apart by eschewing the notion that these tracks couldn’t be played in clubs. Throughout the album’s eleven tracks, Hawtin maintained a focus on pared-back rhythms more usually found on acid house tracks, perhaps slowed down a fraction compared to the then-popular number of BPMs but not inconsistent with the original tracks by the likes of Phuture from the decade before. Added to that was Hawtin’s love of the key ingredient of acid house tracks – the Roland TB303 – which gave these tracks an energy and vibrancy that most armchair techno seemed to forget to include. Okay, so the 303s weren’t tweaked as hard as Hawtin would do on, say, his astonishing remix of System 7’s ‘Alpha Wave’, but they nevertheless contained enough of a squelchy urgency to get most acid heads excited and if would only take a modicum of pitch-shifting to get these tracks into a more adventurous DJ set.

The other distinctive element on Sheet One, and the element that meant it was able to align itself with the Artificial Intelligence crowd, was the use of reverb. Everything on Sheet One is swathed in rich levels of treacly echo, giving the textures here a languid, atmospheric and vaguely chilling quality. That echoing aspect always reminded me of the eerie static hum that wrapped itself around Kraftwerk‘s Radio-Activity album, and for some reason also made me think of some of the haunting passages on the soundtrack to Teen Wolf. I used to study and revise to Sheet One and its equally-enthralling follow-up Musik, which perhaps credentialises the atmospheric quotient.

In many ways the central track on Sheet One is ‘Plasticine’, an eleven minute epic consisting of a minimal pulse, nervous bass tones and a 303 line that rises up seemingly out of nowhere, bringing with it a more rigid beat and a degree of dark energy. Hearing a 303 like this, where it is presented more or less nakedly, shows just how weirdly versatile Roland’s instrument was – even if it’s being deployed in a way that the manufacturer never intended. A breathy voice that seems to be saying ‘it’s you’ adds to the overall vibe of a haunted, alien dancefloor. ‘Plasticine’ has all the requisite rises and falls associated with most dance music, only here it’s elongated, extended and somehow much more emotionally affecting. The track’s final moments are comprised of deep bass resonances and a thudding remnant of what used to be the beat.

The similarly-timed ‘Plasticity’ is the other stand-out track here, with the sounds of aircraft rumble ushering in a echo-soaked rhythm and ruminative 303 melody. There’s a floating, shapeless quality to some of the other sounds deployed on ‘Plasticity’ – brief melodic pads, clicking, noisy interventions, what might be a euphoric yelp or an anguished scream – giving this a psychotic vibe that would have suited a desperate chase scene in a movie. ‘Smak’ goes even further – a dense web of heavy beats and brooding synths underpinned by strings that evoke comparisons with Laibach and samples of screaming angst.

Any uplifting quality is there offset by a far darker energy, ebbing away into ‘Ovokx’, which reveals the stark message to the world’s population sampled from The Day The Earth Stood Still.

‘Gak’ departs from the regimentation of the 4/4 rhythm and instead opts for a clattering, bass-heavy electro beat draped in layers of cavernous reverb, and double-time percussion that leans close to the skeletal bone-rattling that would come on ‘Spastik’, an effect which is also deployed on the urgent ‘Helikopter’. ‘Helikopter’ really does sound like the rapidly rotating blades of a chopper, layers of hard-spun sound rotating around your ears with an infinite swirl. In complete contrast, ‘Vokx’ is a quiet, stirring cinematic symphony for the scene that surveys the scarred landscape, the second half dominated by sirens, screams and panicked sections of dialogue.

Sheet One is an unsettlingly unique album, and one that knocked its peers out of the park, retaining enough of techno’s key energy rather than disposing with it altogether. Twenty-five years on, it sounds as sharply arresting as it did at the time, while other albums from the time sound positively dull. The follow-up album, 1994’s Musik, was just as attention-grabbing but leaned harder into a more scientifically-assembled experimentalism, highlighting Hawtin’s restless dexterity.

Sheet One was released as a CD and vinyl edition in the UK. There were two versions of the vinyl album, the 2000 copy limited edition picturedisc version of which is now something of a collectors’ item. In 2012 Mute released a remastered Sheet One in the wake of Hawtin’s expansive Arkives 1993 – 2010 boxset, ditching the original NovaMute catalogue reference (nomu22) and replacing it with a Mute one (stumm347).

First published 2013; edited 2019.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

News: Akiko Yano feat. Reed & Caroline – When We’re In Space (Speedstar Records, 2018)

Continuing the themes of their Hello Science album from earlier this year, VeryRecords artists Reed & Caroline have collaborated with Japanese pop singer Akiko Yano on a new track, ‘When We’re In Space’. The track is taken from Akiko’s latest album Futari Bocchi De Ikou, which was released by Speedstar Records in Japan today.

“Akiko and I are neighbours,” says Reed about the origins of the song. “Whenever we ride the elevator together we talk about music, space and Kraftwerk. She came to the very first Reed & Caroline show at a little club in NYC – our first fan!

“Earlier this year she asked if we could collaborate on this project. She played a beautiful melody and I asked what the song should be about. She said, ‘The International Space Station!’ All of the music – except for Akiko’s piano – was created using the Buchla synthesizer.”

Piano and vocals: Akiko Yano
Additional vocals: Caroline Schutz
Buchla: Reed Hays
Music composed by Akiko Yano. Lyrics written by Reed Hays.

Futari Bocchi De Ikou is available to buy from amazon.jp here.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Reed & Caroline and VeryRecords

Electronic Sound Issue 43

Issue 43 of Electronic Sound is now available, and this month’s magazine & 7″ bundle includes exclusive tracks from the Radiophonic Workshop, the beneficiaries of a major in-depth feature this month.

For this issue I wrote a short introduction to the music of Ratgrave, whose jazz / hip-hop / electro / funk debut I mentioned in The Electricity Club interview, and who I expect I’m going to be banging on about for several months to come. Their self-titled album is released at the end of this month and it is a wild, untameable beast of a fusion record. I also interviewed Norwich’s Let’s Eat Grandma for this issue about their second album, which sees childhood friends Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton taking their curiously idiosyncratic music in a squarely electronic pop direction, complete with analogue synths and production nous from Faris Badwan and SOPHIE. We also had a god natter about the merits of rich tea biscuits.

In the review section I covered Yeah Yeah Yeahs drummer Brian Chase‘s mesmerising Drums & Drones collection, three discs of processed percussion inspired by time spent at La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela’s Dream House; a hard-hitting gem of an album by 1i2c which I described as ‘therapeutic music for anxious robots’; the new album from 4AD’s Gang Gang Dance; another brilliant collaboration tape on the Front & Follow label by Jodie Lowther and ARC Soundtracks; the brilliant second album by Geniuser, one half of which is Mick Allen from The Models, Rema-Rema, MASS and The Wolfgang Press.

Finally, I reviewed albums by two projects by current members of WireColin Newman and Malka Spigel‘s second Immersion album since they reactivated the band in the last couple of years, and the third album from Wire guitarist Matthew Simms as Slows. Simms is a highly inventive musical polymath, as comfortable with a guitar in his hand as he is using analogue synths, found sound or pretty much anything he can lay his hands on. A Great Big Smile From Venus consists of two long tracks covering an incredible breadth of ideas, continually moving out in directions that are both unexpected and yet entirely expected when you’re familiar with Simms’s vision.

The review section also features Ben Murphy’s fantastically detailed review of the new Reed & Caroline album, Hello Science, released earlier this month on Vince Clarke‘s VeryRecords.

The magazine and 7″ bundle is available exclusively from the Electronic Sound website here.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

Voodoo Child – The End Of Everything (Trophy Records album, 1996)

The first album from Moby‘s Voodoo Child alias comes with a title that, like other things released by Richard Melville Hall around this time, is hardly filled with optimism. His first Moby album for Mute was titled Everything Is Wrong, he released a single under the alias Lopez around this time with the title ‘Why Can’t It Stop?’ and Animal Rights, whilst not necessarily negatively-titled, was filled with a real sense of bitterness, anger, disbelief and unbridled rage. I may very possibly have dreamed this, but I seem to remember reading that around this time Moby split up with his long-term girlfriend and so who knows whether these titles reflect a slightly embittered state of mind – lots of the titles on this album are suffixed by the word ‘love’, so it could be true. Equally, we know Moby is a huge fan of Joy Division, a band that made being miserable a career option.

In any case, for all the pessimism of that title, the sleeve images – aside from the gust of wind blowing at the palm tree on the front cover – are actually pretty tranquil. True, there’s no-one in the pictures, and sure, the unpredictability of the ocean can inspire fear in lots of people, but it looks like a nice enough beach. The sense of peacefulness I take from the images are a decent enough clue to the music on The End Of Everything. It doesn’t look like the worst sort of end to me.

Moby has done ambient before – a whole album of the stuff back in the Instinct days, the remix of ‘Hymn’, the bonus Underwater album that accompanied Everything Is Wrong, soundtrack stuff and plenty of other things since – but he’s never done anything like The End Of Everything. This is fragile, emotive electronica dominated by crisp beats, noodling layers of liquid synth modulation and those trademark string lines that really started to sound like a proper orchestra here rather than the occasionally bad looping evident on other Moby records.

‘Patient Love’ is what happens when the intro to Kraftwerk‘s ‘Neon Lights’ doesn’t suddenly open out into a shimmering cinematic pop soirée; instead this is gentle, lilting synth pop with all the analogue wobbliness an electronic music fan could ever need in their lives, and a patient, slowly-developing progress that seems several worlds away from the freneticism of earlier Voodoo Child tracks. It’s also rather jolly, in a wonky sort of way, though a sequence of unexpected chord changes around the halfway mark muck around with your senses cruelly. ‘Great Lake’ is ‘Go’ all over again, just with chiming synth notes and jazzy piano sprinkles struggling to know where they’re supposed to be heading, and that classic Moby moment deconstructed into the territory of textured nuance.

Elsewhere it’s all serene washes of colour, those heart-wrenching strings, gentle phasing, meditative bass lines, clusters of devastatingly accomplished piano sprinkles and beats that chug along wearily like they’ve been burned out from too many nights of intensive partying. Yes, there are moments of darkness that befit the mood evoked in the title of the album (‘Slow Motion Suicide’, somewhat predictably, is pretty bleak), but generally this is a slick, absorbing collection of listening electronica with enough quiet flair and looseness to separate it comfortably from the bland direction that some ambient music opted to take.

All taken together, The End Of Everything feels a lot like watching a big screen blockbuster on a mobile phone – it somehow seems far too bold and expansive a body of work to have been delivered as a low-key side project; it needs, almost demands, a larger presence than it rather anonymously has. Consequently, it stands as one of the most discreetly accomplished, enduring and satisfying releases in the entire Moby back catalogue. The End Of Everything was released on Moby’s Trophy Records sub-label of Mute and the US version of the album featured a different tracklist. In a typical Moby act of self-depreciation, the catalogue number for the Trophy release was idiot1. The inside of the sleeve includes a brief and heartfelt mini-essay from Moby on animal welfare.

First published 2013; re-posted 2018

(c) Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence