Posts Tagged ‘Cut-Up’

Discrepant – CREP53

Christopher Nosnibor

This double album gathers two previous CD-only releases, both of which focus on Laurent Jeanneau’s love/hate relationship with China.

Soundscape China comprises two side-length sound-collages, with long samples of songs and TV shows, including what sounds like an exercise routine, and street bustle and radio, children’s voices, are overlayed with sounds of the sea and myriad extranea. Jeanneau’s work under the Kink Gong guise is often described as ‘surreal’, as collage works so often are, on account of their tendency to collide incongruence. The effect of displacing objects or text (with sound and moving images included in this category… one could argue that anything and everything is text in some form or another) and relocating it to an unfamiliar setting or alien context has the capacity to instil a sense of the uncanny. ‘Soundscape China Part 1’ doesn’t produce this effect, and feels more like reportage, a work which captures something of the flavour of the county without making any inference or comment, and without affecting any discernible change to the material or what it represents.

The Kink Gong website carries the notice that ‘Under the name KINK GONG you find 2 activities, the 1st one is to record ethnic minority music mostly in south-east Asia, the 2nd is to transform, collage, recompose the original recordings into experimental soundscapes’.

The second piece fulfils these both: it is far more intense, with jarring juxtapositions, crashing percussion. The material is more overtly spliced, the collaging nature of the work more apparent, and the overlaid noise louder, more abrasive. Yet there is still no sense of location in either time nor space. Not that this is a criticism, or something that could be considered a failing of the work: it’s simply its nature, and, more likely than not, my personal reception – Jeanneau’s experience of, and relationship with, China is considerably more deeply engaged than my own virtually non-existent experience beyond television.

Destruction of Chinese Pop Songs, on the other hand, is indeed, surreal. In fact, it’s fucking weird. Recorded (?) between 2000 and 2002, made mostly from skipping CDs of Chinese pop songs and further recomposed in Kunming (China), Vientiane (Laos) and Paris.

Why would anyone do this? And then, why would anyone listen to it? I could defend my choice to stick the album’s full duration – and in a single sitting – as research in the line of duty as a critic, but the truth is, these skipping, jitter, scratched-up, fucked up defacements hold a perverse pleasure, and I listen with bemusement.

‘Car crash’ is a phrase that’s been overused to the point of cliché obsolescence, but it’s appropriate here: not only does it convey the awkward compulsion to continue listening despite the discomfort and the knowledge that it will be impossible to unhear this, but it also reflects the mangled musical wreckage that’s wrapping itself around your ears. That said, having driven past two accidents within a short distance of one another on the A1 on Good Friday, noting my wife’s irritation and snappy frustration at all of the cars slowing as they passed, I made a point of not looking to prove that it is possible to resist. I felt a little cheated at denying myself from observing the Ballardian spectacles, but have no such need for restraint in the face of this exercise in avant-garde appropriation and defacement.

And the collisions keep on coming. ‘Hit Qin Qin’ sounds like R2D2 in the middle of a circuitry meltdown in a sea of distortion and static, while plinky-plonky piano lift music rolls on, despite the notes warping and melting. It’s simultaneously comedic and horrific. Elsewhere, ‘Pingtan’ sounds like a string instrument being slowly pulled apart while a radio plays random stations in the background, and ‘Bai Street Dance’ sounds like it was recorded on a condenser mic and played back through a Walkman speaker with a torn cone.

Everything about these songs is difficult and obtuse. Even when the ‘songs’ aren’t devoured by stutters, glitches, sticks and all other kinds of sonic wobble that’s a variant on the digital stutter, or by distortion and static and fast-forwards – yes, even when the form and sound of the song beneath the fiddling is fundamentally intact and discernible – there’s other shit thrown in to interfere and interrupt it. So yes, it is surreal, and continues the lineage of William Burroughs’ audio cut-ups, while revisiting the questions of context, ownership and defacement raised by Duchamp and the Dadaists before.

It’s obscure, awkward, bizarre, messy. It’s disorientating, destructive and really rather silly, both in terms of concept and execution. But these are all the reasons to appreciate Kink Gong’s commitment to forging his own path.

Dian Long: Soundscape China / Destruction of Chinese Pop Songs present two very different – if closely connected in thematic terms – aspects of the artist’s work, and releasing them together as a single document makes perfect sense, so long as you’re amenable to experiencing a total mindfuck.

AA

Kink Gong - Soundscape

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Consouling Sounds – 25th November 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

The title of Barst’s first full-length album is a reference to William Burroughs’ novel of the same title. Of course it is. Burroughs’ influence on music is immense, and where the is no direct absorption of his ideas or methodologies, musicians since the 1960s have been citing him as an influence. He remains, arguably, one of the ultimate countercultural icons of the twentieth century.

While Barst acknowledges ‘the fragmented, the transcendental and the viscerally unsettling imagery of his work’ as an inspiration point for this richly detailed sonic journey of an album, there’s also a nod to the cut-up technique devised and formalised by Burroughs and Brion Gysin in 1959. There’s logic to this. The cut-ups, both on paper and when subsequently applied to audiotape suggested immediate practical applications in the production of music, and if there was a link between the concept of the cut-ups and the work of Throbbing Gristle, it was acts like Cabaret Voltaire and Foetus who really rendered the connection a direct one.

The cut-up intrinsically connotes a hybridity, a drawing together of eclectic sources, a combining and collaging of fragments to forge a multi-layered intertext, while simultaneously providing a creative liberation, in which the creator is subservient to the material.

While Burroughs claimed to have abandoned the cut-up by the time of his final trilogy, which consisted of Cities of the Red Night, The Western Lands and The Place of Dead Roads, there was a certain disingenuousness about this: the cut-ups continued to inform his writing, albeit in a more subtle form, and with the editorial input of James Grauerholz who reshaped the works with an eye to a more commercial text. The result was a more accessible mode of writing, but one which evoked something of a fugue-like state, in contrast to the annihilative cerebral barrage of his works of the 1960s. This is perhaps the point at which Barst most readily intersects with Burroughs, in offering a work which, as the press blurb explains, sees ‘layer upon layer…fitted to build up a work of art… Cutting up sounds, and layering them from very subtle to incredibly huge.’

The album effectively has five tracks, but they’re mastered as two, corresponding with the sides of the vinyl: as such, track one consists not so much of three tracks or chapters (‘The Threshold / The Rite / The Passage’) but three movements segued together to form a longform piece. Likewise side / track two features ‘The Western Lands / The Fields’

Screeding noise fills the spaces in the rich shoegaze swirl of the first movement. The drums are muddy, partly submerged, distant amidst the maelstrom. The whole thing drifts… ‘The Rite’ is built around an insistent beat and pulsating, looped synth motif. It’s perhaps the most overtly structured, and the most overtly electronic track on the album, laying down an expansive desert groove that transports the listener to another space altogether. An immense sonic swell bursts into a multi-layered, infinitely-faceted cathedral of sound, which gives way to engine-like drones. What is this? Where are we? In the afterburn, tectonic thuds shake. A deep, murky bass warps and grinds against a decayed industrial rhythm to create a sinister, post-apocalyptic soundscape.

The moody, dark ambience of the title track melds an almost ritualistic, ceremonial spiritualism to a thumping electronic beat. Low in the mix, the vocals howl out in a barely intelligible expulsion of soul-burning anguish. Part black metal, part Prurient, devastatingly barren, it’s perhaps one of the most innovatively genre-breaking tracks I’ve heard all year. The vastness of ‘The Fields’ is an experience beyond words. The percussion hammers out hard, but low, grinding explosively but largely buried in the immense swathe of layered sound which is totally immersive. But then, the storm is over. The grace and elegance of the piano-led play-out is contrasting in the extreme. But this is beautiful music, and provides welcome respite.

The Western Lands is an accomplished work, and an incredible achievement, both conceptually and sonically. A different kind of epic.

 

 

Barst - The Western Lands

Out of context, it could be any extreme noise / power electronics / experimental / industrial crossover. Whistling high-end feedback, tortured, wailing drones, nagging, drilling analogue synth buzzes, pulsations, distortion and distant low-end rumbling provide the tonal span over which sounds of detonating shells, gunfire, panicked voices, and snippets of newscasts and other media are assembled. The piping sounds of Oriental flutes from India and Morocco are interwoven with stuttering electronica and wandering synths which cast dark, ominous shadows of unease.

In context – and ultimately, it’s all about the context – Gaza takes on a truly horrific dimension, a painful and harrowing documentary work. Gaza is in many respects a soundtrack: recorded during operation Protective Edge in July and August 2014, it is the soundtrack to violent and brutal war.

To read the statistics – the estimates of the numbers killed and wounded, the number of homes destroyed and the estimated costs of rebuilding in the wake of this intense period of battle is bewildering, numbing. Over 2,000 Gazans were killed and well over 10,000 wounded during the seven-week spell. More context: the Gaza Strip is 25 miles long, and between 3.7 to 7.5 miles wide, with a total area of 141 square miles. The city of Gaza is home to around 1.85 million Palestinians on some 362 square kilometres: by way of a comparison, Greater Manchester has a population of 2.7 million, in an area spanning493 square miles. The point is, really, that it becomes hard to compute, and ultimately impossible to imagine the reality of the situation, and what it must be like to live with such decimation. The Sky News images of ruins and rubble amidst clouds of dust and drifting sand may be horrific, but just as pictures of houses bombed in the blitz cannot convey the experience, so this type of footage feels distant, unreal, like a film set.

Pharoah Chromium (aka German-Palestinian musician and performer Ghazi Barakat, who took the name from a song of the band Chrome), I read, draws inspiration from diverse sources spanning free jazz, rituals from ancient past and near future, the dream syndicate, science fiction novels and neo-brutalistic architecture. But most importantly, this is an intensely personal work for Barakat, who writes that ‘having close family ties to the region, I felt it was necessary to politicize my work in order to avoid total disillusionment and estrangement from circumstances that, I feel, are a dead end for humanity. My focus on this one subject is not meant to diminish other conflicts and human-made catastrophes in the world. Although this one just happens to take place in the birthplace of monotheistic Judéo-Christianity, the cultural background of all western societies.’

As such, as intensely personal as it is, Gaza is also intensely political. But perhaps even more importantly, it’s an intensely human work. As Barakat explains, ‘Gaza is built around voices and field recordings that are used to express my subjective, emotional and personal involvement with this subject. The found source material is used to construct a chronology of the events… The sounds of the Korg MS 20 noise filter helped intensify the feeling of hysteria ensuing from violent confrontation during a state of war. An electric wind instrument provides the melodic components and the low frequencies that underline the narration on the second part of the piece.’

And this brings into sharp relief the reality of the experience. Listening to the album, you will jump and cower as gunfire and shells rain down. The sheer volume of the explosions and the shots is astounding, a hail of bullets becoming a blanket of eardrum-shattering noise. You find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat, nerves jangling, wondering if your house will still be standing in a moments’ time. There’s no way you can settle or so anything else: this isn’t background or entertainment. There’s no way in the world you could nod off or otherwise sleep through this. And then you realise, this is the reality of life in a war-zone. The idea of actually living in this environment, to an outsider, is beyond comprehension. It’s a sobering thought, to say the least.

Barakat’s commentary is again informative, and chilling: ‘The two sides of this record are about a place like no other on this planet, a city and its surrounding environs living under extraordinary conditions, hermetically sealed from all sides, only accessible through complex procedures and permits, making it is almost as difficult to get in as it is to get out. Like a cross between the Warsaw ghetto and Manhattan as a giant maximum security prison in John Carpenter’s Escape From New York. Every couple of years the Gaza Strip gets its share of bombardments, and since the summer of 2014, its infrastructure has been pulverized almost to the point of no return. The disproportionate use of force and the asymmetric use of military technology on those already living under siege has created a field laboratory for the military industrial complex with the civilian population as its guinea pig. […]’

The locked groove at the end of each side is the engine noise of an Israeli drone in operation, intended to give listeners the experience of the sound of day-to-day life in the Gaza Strip.

It’s a phenomenally powerful work, which brings home the devastating realities of war in a way that’s truly unique. And while I’ve referred to this as a document, effectively a work of sonic reportage, it is, of course, a work of art. On a technical level, its execution is superb. To all intents and purposes, it’s a cut-up, a collage, and the pieces as assembled seamlessly, and achieve maximum impact. And what impact. Gaza is perhaps the most harrowing album I’ve ever heard. This is art on the front lines and behind the lines. All of the doom and crushing metal releases pale to nothing beside this: Gaza really is the sound of hell on earth.

Gaza

 

http://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=72821540/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Pharoah Chromium – Gaza on Bandcamp