Posts Tagged ‘covid’

Room40 – RM4163 – 3rd December 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Field recordings are rarely something one would consider ‘contemporary’, although if you think about it, they invariably capture a moment in time in some way or another, be it the morning of the dawn chorus or the grind of machinery which is firmly post-industrialisation; the sounds committed to tape all document history in sound.

Ian Wellman’s latest release is quite specific in its focus on present times. It is almost impossible to avoid the pandemic; it has, after all, affected all of our lives, and in myriad ways. As the accompanying text states, ‘If this past couple of years has taught us anything, it is that to hold someone closely is not something we may take for granted. The bonds of friends and of family are tenuous, as tenuous as the world that we find ourselves in.’ While most attention has understandably been given to the vulnerable, the bereaved, and the sufferers of long covid, there have been long—terms and slow-evolving effects on everyone. And this is what Wellman soundtracks with subtlety and care here.

The parenthetical ‘(Police Helicopter Activity Increased – Jul 2020)’ is brief, but it’s impactful. On the one hand, it’s a simple snippet of the sound of rotors; on the other, it’s the kind of conglomeration of low-flying helicopter buzz that makes you duck and look up and feel paranoid: police helicopters hovering or circling overhead always do, right?

The final moments of ‘It Crept into Our Deepest Thoughts’ bursts into shards on abrasive noise in the final moments. It’s on ‘The Toll on Our Daily Lives’ that Wellman really encapsulates the struggle. The first four minutes are dislocated ambience, which reflects the general sense of detachment and distance, but the last minute is dominated by a rising tide of noise, a surging swell. And it speaks because it really is the sound of swelling tension and anguish. The reality is that living through this is not something that belongs to a ‘model’, there is no fix by means of re-engagement. This resonates because it speaks to and of the building anxiety, and it builds because maintaining that level of alertness, that level of fear, actually has a cumulative effect in real terms, and we’re simply not designed to process life in the now. There is nothing normal about this, old or new, and ‘The Toll on Our Daily Lives’ encapsulates this perfectly, both in its title and the sonic smog that ambulates broodingly, again growing in density and becoming more oppressive and heavy and harsh as it progresses. You feel not only the weight, but the tension. It’s real, it’s palpable, and it’s a direct reflection of life as lived.

The interludes, too, are so very visual and evocative: a cock crows and what sounds like rainfall and passing cars crackle and splash on ‘(Ash Falling on Power Lines – Sept 2020)’ (the ash of wild fires burning), and there’s a post-apocalyptic feel to ‘(Wind Against Decaying Bus – Jan 2021)’, and they all combine to create what the blurb describes as ‘a devolving diary of unsteady moments and the assurance of change as the one constant in our collective times’.

‘As The Beast Swallowed Us Whole’ veers between ominous rumbling and near-ambience and surging, cracking textured distortion that borders on noise, and there is nothing comforting about this album. Even the final track, the optimistically-titled ‘The Light at the End’ is woozy and disorientating, and evaporates into a crackle of static that ends abruptly, and feels more like the light being snuffed out. You want to be wrong… but life… it’s a killer. Swear all you like, but whether or not it’s going to be okay remains to be seen.

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27th August 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Who would have thought in the middle of March 2020, we would be living in such different – and fucked-up – times a full sixteen months later? Many of us who work in offices left thinking we’d be back in a few weeks, and surely no-one predicted the decimation of so much retail and hospitality. While the most unprecedented thing about the pandemic in the UK was the overuse of the word unprecedented, it is true that this is the first time in history that the healthy have been quarantined en masse alongside the sick and the vulnerable.

In many respects, the vulnerable have been the hidden sufferers and forgotten people during this time. As the band write, ‘People with learning disabilities in England are eight times more likely to die from Covid than the general population, according to research that highlights a “hidden calamity” of the coronavirus crisis. At a time where arts centres are critically underfunded, and the disabled community will be the last to come out of lockdown, we want to offer solidarity and support to our artists and friends.’

The communal and collaborative element of Sly’s work is integral to their ethos: anyone who’s seen them live is as likely to have been implicated in the set as simply spectated, with the band among the audience, the audience becoming part of the band and banging drums… and this is no corny, manufactured communal clap, a contrivance to mask government bullshit, this is a real in-the-moment collectivism that’s life-affirming and enriches the soul. Their music may be murky and weird, but Sly and the Family Drone very much do use music for the power of good. And so of all the bands who would perform at the ICA with Jamaica!!, they were always the most likely candidates. Jamaica!! is less a band than a group musical session operating out of The Gate, an arts centre for adults with learning disabilities located in Shepherds Bush, London. The Gate write, ‘out of efforts to make the music sessions we facilitate there as inclusive as possible which we found by necessity entailed abandoning notions of what makes sense musically; an extension of the central ethos at the gate of reshaping the round hole to allow the square peg to fit rather than the unfair expectations of the inverse’. Their sessions are entirely improvised, and the band is whoever turns up on the night.

Jamaica!! Meets Sly and the Family Drone is a document of this particular night, and it’s being released as a special art edition with the aim of raising money for The Gate. It’s clear from the two expended workouts that occupy a side each of this c46 cassette that the two units readily come together as one in their improvisational stylings

Side one of Celebrating The End Together In The Good Time Swamp is an immense exploratory piece: twenty-one minutes of wild, percussion-heavy, industrial jazz noise. What, that’s not a thing? Yes, yes it is: it’s precisely Sly & The Family Drone’s thing, and the joy of their live work is that the only thing you can predict is that will be percussion-heavy industrial jazz noise.

It begins quiet and atmospheric, picked notes ringing out over a misty murk, drones and croaks of horns groan and yawn like a slumbering beast in dream, perhaps on the brink of awakening… You feel you should tread carefully. But clattering percussion swells unevenly, and there’s a building tension as well as a building volume. It sounds ominous.

And then, off-key notes ring from every whichway. Is it free jazz or is it simply chaos? Perhaps it’s both. Rising up momentarily, a big-band swinging beat that dives some kind of shape and spine to the seemingly formless sonic mass that’s swirling all around.

Ten minutes in, there are some indecipherable vocals shouting, while whizzes and whooshes enter the mix and it’s like a space rock rendition of a Throbbing Gristle performance. And then it gets really fucking drummy. It’s a full-on barrage, a solid wall of percussion. The final few minutes are truly cathartic, as the pace picks up and we hear the sound of ALL THE DRUMS. EVER. ALL AT ONCE. It’s beyond thunderous – it’s positively volcanic.

Side two is, in many respects, more of the same, only it’s slower, denser, more undulating, dronier. It’s a swirling, seething mass of sound, a glorious twenty-three minutes of mayhem, a surging hammering on of drums and drums and drums and drums, battering out a loping march while horns, kitchen sink and cement mixer churn out a heavy grind of weighty discord. There’s a lull around the mid-point, where it delves into an almost shuffling beat, and there’s even a brief paise while there’s some kind of bass break. Then the rhythm shifts again, and things are almost funky for a while – but mostly, it’s noisy and drummy. I mean, this lot are drummier than Boredoms, and they actually lock into a mean groove near the end. As the track powers onwards to its climax, the energy radiates from the speakers and it makes you feel good – because music really is always the best therapy.

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