Kumo – Euclidean Patterns

Kumo - Euclidean Patterns

I’m going to be completely honest here – I don’t get the maths and science behind this new EP from Jono Podmore’s longstanding Kumo alias. Here’s what Podmore has to say:

One of the many things that Euclid, the 4th century BC Greek mathematician and the Father of Geometry, left us is the first algorithm: a method to compute the greatest common divisor between 2 given integers. The algorithm is used in particle physics and computer science, but in 2005 Canadian mathematician Godfried Toussaint noticed something extraordinary when he applied it to musical rhythm. Using the algorithm to distribute beats and silences as evenly as possible in a bar generates almost all of the most important world music rhythms, from Sub-Saharan African music in particular. For example, if you have a bar with 8 pulses and you want to have 5 beats in that bar, the way the algorithm places the beats gives us the Cuban “Cinquillo” rhythm, which has its roots in West African music. 

The examples are endless: 13 into 24 gives us a whole series of rhythms used by the Aka Pygmies of the upper Sangha. Euclid lived his entire life in Alexandria in Egypt, and Herodotus said that the basis of Greek culture was African. Maybe there’s another strand to that relationship we’ve only just uncovered. 

The 3 tracks on this EP use all the Euclidean rhythms in bars of 9, 12, and 13, but going further, as the algorithm is used to generate the harmony too. Chords and modes can all be derived by spacing the notes across the octave, for example, 6 distributed evenly across 12 generates a whole tone scale. 

– Jono Podmore, notes to accompany Euclidean Patterns – https://sound-space.bandcamp.com/album/euclidean-patterns

See, it’s like I understand the words – individually – but when you put them all together into three paragraphs, that GCSE A in Maths from 1993 suddenly seems pretty useless. So I’ll do what I usually do and focus on what I can hear instead. 

‘South African Euclid’ begins with a wiry tendril of electrical current which provides the constantly-evolving thread weaving throughout the track, sometimes keeping itself quietly amused in the background and at others rising noisily to the surface; there it vies with a squelchy, acidic pattern, breathy vocal samples and a juddering African rhythm developed with the Euclidean method. The EP’s second track, the wittily-named ‘Euclid On The Block’, carries a latent urgency that could be a restrained form of drill and bass, all frantic percussion and murmuring synth sounds that threaten to coalesce into a club-friendly synchronicity but which instead prowl edgily around a menacing, omnipresent bass tone. 

The EP’s final track, ‘Thirteenth Euclid’, sits somewhere in between its two Euclidean siblings. Opening with overlapping organ tones, the piece opens out into what feels like a delicious electronic bossa nova, only with unpredictable synth interjections like alien transmissions issued from a distant galaxy where you might ordinarily expect to hear a Stan Getz solo. 

It should come as no surprise that Podmore has chosen to infuse this EP with this type of intellectual exploration of the science underpinning rhythms. He currently holds down a job as the Professor of Popular Music at Cologne’s Hochschule für Muzik, whose professorial alumni include Karlheinz Stockhausen; one imagines that Stockhausen would have approved of the deconstructivist approach to applying these mathematical concepts to musical theory and the exacting precision with which Podmore has developed the three tracks included on the EP, while also leaving room for sounds to float free of their grid-like shackles. 

Euclidean Patterns by Kumo was released August 14 2020 by Sound-Sense. 

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence  

Kumo – Day / Night (The Tapeworm album, 2018)

The Tapeworm imprint has always had an unerring capacity to release interesting sounds from interesting artists, and Day / Night by Kumo is yet another fine cassette among many. Kumo is the alias of Jono Podmore, a multi-disciplinary talent known on this blog for his work with Spoon on the Can back catalogue, the book he is assembling on sorely-missed Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit, the very fine Metamono albums and the Kumo and Cyclopean releases issued by Mute over the years.

For Day / Night, Podmore began with two field recordings taken from the balcony of his flat in South East London, adding synths and theremin later to the sounds he’d captured by chance – cars starting, dogs barking, planes droning overheard, snippets of conversation and so on. One recording was made during the day, one during the night. The effect is like listening to a microcosm of urban London life, never quiet for sure, but perhaps more peaceful than one might imagine.

Podmore’s electronic responses to the field recordings vary from sinewy synth arpeggios that wobble and flutter around the ambience to spooky, dead-of-night bursts of drones, tones and bleeps that feel like the soundtrack to existential dread. There is a certain muted quality to the sounds he added to his balcony recordings, as if he wanted the two components – the organic and natural and the composed and artificial – to live in harmony with one another, and neither has the capacity to overburden the other.

Day / Night is the embodiment, for me, of what Brian Eno conceived of for ambient music when he was laid up in bed listening to classical music and environmental sounds together. Podmore’s approach has a delicateness of touch, a sensitivity to his natural surroundings and a powerfully imaginative way of electronically responding to the sounds he hears.

Tapeworm releases are always issued in limited runs – get it now from the Touch shop before it’s gone for good.

Postscript: this review was finalised somewhere over the Atlantic as my overnight return flight home from New York approached the Cornish coast. It was started on the flight to JFK earlier in the week, probably in roughly the same place but during the day. Philip from Tapeworm asked me whether ‘Day’ or ‘Night’ worked best for the night flight. My response was thus: ‘Night’ made me more edgy as we came into land. ‘Day’ made me yearn for home after the best part of a week away from my own familiar daily environmental soundtrack.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Jono Podmore – Jaki Liebezeit: Life, Theory And Practice Of A Master Drummer (book, 2017)

Jaki Liebezeit, photo courtesy of Jono Podmore

Metamono‘s Jono Podmore (aka Kumo) has arguably done more than anyone else in recent years to keep the legacy of Can alive, whether in groups like Cyclopean with Can members Jaki Liebezeit and Irmin Schmidt, or remastering the Can back catalogue and sundry unreleased cuts with Holger Czukay and long-standing Can supporter Daniel Miller.

To those initiatives can be added a new book that Podmore has assembled with US music journalist John Payne, Jaki Liebezeit: Life, Theory & Practice Of A Master Drummer, which seeks to document the unique approach practiced by Can’s late drummer, who passed away in January of this year. The book is currently subject to a crowdfunding campaign via Unbound which can be found here.

I wrote a news piece for Clash which explains more about the book and which can be found here.

In the process of putting my news piece together I asked Podmore for his recollections of working with Liebezeit, and that insight can be found in the Clash piece. “While we were having dinner one night, I was putting on some music,” Podmore also recalled. “At one point I put on some Charles Mingus. Without looking up, Jaki said, with a mixture of confusion and disgust, ‘Jazz? Been there. Done that.’ With that in mind I asked him if there were any other drummers that interested him. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘808 and 909.'”

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

MuteResponse 3 Update – New Track From Jono Podmore & Georgina Brett

MuteResponse

In 2013 Documentary Evidence compiled and released MuteResponse, a two volume collection of artists and tracks inspired – on some level – by the legacy of Mute Records.

Planning is currently underway for a very special third volume in the series, and Jono Podmore and Georgina Brett‘s ‘Toroidal Celeste’ is the first track to be taken from the album. The track is available for streaming at Soundcloud.

Podmore and Brett will be performing live on Saturday 13 September 2014 at the Oxo Tower on London’s South Bank as part of the London Analogue Festival. For more details go to: London Analogue Festival – Saturday

Georgina Brett (vocals) creates music using nothing more than loops of her own voice, while Podmore (Theremin) has previously recorded with all-analogue group Metamono, Cyclopean (with members of Can) and as Kumo.

MuteResponse 3 will be released in late 2014 / early 2015.

The first two volumes can be found at nominalmusics.bandcamp.com

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence
‘Toroidal Celeste’ (c) 2014 Jono Podmore and Georgina Brett