Posts Tagged ‘JG Ballard’

Front & Follow – 15th November 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Front and Follow is a label that’s carved a special niche in the cassette release corner of the industry, and has, for those in the know, become a trademark of quality. But sustaining such consistency – or even anything – as a one-man operation is hard work, and often with little reward. As such, while I was sad to learn they’re taking a break, they’re signing off with an incredibly strong release, courtesy of Ekoplekz, who is also embarking on an indefinite break.

The album’s pitched as ‘drawing parallels between present day Britain and that of the turn of the 80s, Ekoplekz looks back to that era’s industrial and post-punk soundtrack for inspiration,’ and the press release continues: ‘In a land increasingly brutalized by austerity and divided by nationalism, the tensions that informed some of the post-punk era’s most important works (Red Mecca, Unknown Pleasures, Metal Box) haunt this collection of bleak postcards from the present’. The present is indeed bleak, unless, of course, you perhaps run a hedge fund with billions backing a no-deal Brexit or you’re a major corporation invested in climate change denial or pharmaceuticals. But then, if you’re in that bracket, you’re probably on your private jet grabbing bitches by the pussy and going gammon about these smelly hippy protestors or somesuch. For the rest of us these ae dark times that require a dark soundtrack, and as I’ve said elsewhere, it’s no surprise that we’re experiencing a different kind of 80s revival at the moment. Brutal and divided pretty much sum up both UK and US politics and cultures , as well as further afield. Who actually feels safe on the street? Who actually feels safe as a career artist? Who isn’t remotely concerned, doesn’t feel concerned, panicked, anxietised? We don’t need Duran Duran replicas like The Bravery, and even Editors and Interpol’s take on post-punk feels lightweight in the face of the crises that define the current – and so Ekoplekz plunge deep back to the late 70s source to dredge real darkness and despondency here, and in doing so, In Search of the Third Mantra soundtracks the present – bleak as it is.

With In Search of the Third Mantra, Ekoplekz sets his spheres of reference out early, with ‘High Rise Dub’ carrying Ballardian connotations and ‘K-Punk’ taking its title from the seminal blog of the early noughties by the late Mark Fisher, to whom the album is dedicated. This, then, without wanting to sound elitist, is no mindless replication of an array of retro tropes, but a considered assimilation of myriad sources, distilled into something wilfully challenging. We would expect nothing less of K Craig, filmmaker and front man of currently-resting Last Harbour. This is quite a departure, but works in context: while we don’t get brooding vocals and arch-gothic sonic structures, there’s a brooding nihilism that rumbles at the core of In Search of the Third Mantra in the same way it lurks so many albums of the period, and a lot has to be credited to the production.

It’s got grooves and danceable beats, but it’s also possessed of a dehumanised detachment, a sense of distancing and dislocation: you’re in the zone and in the space where you’re feeling the distance, the disfunction. The fact that this doesn’t fit, the fact that you don’t fit.

The spartan electronica of the former, with its dubby bass and rhythm that shuffles and clatters conjures a sense of alienation and otherness, while the latter brings things down a notch darker, laser bleeps and eerie vaporous notes hover ominously. ‘Do the Meinhof’ goes full motoric, channelling the insistent industrial grooves of DAF and Cabaret Voltaire into a tense death disco pounder laced with icy synths.

The sonic touchstones are all very much in evidence as the listener is led through a haunting desert of sound, dark, murky, menacing. ‘Accept Nothing’ has hints of The Cure’s Carnage Visors soundtrack, and the atmosphere which permeates all ten compositions is unforgiving and inhospitable.

There’s a degree of linearity to the album’s sequencing, and each track feels sparser, less defined, and with this progression there comes an increasing sense of collapse, of emptiness, and while sonically, the pieces are spacious, the atmosphere is evermore paranoid. One feels as though familiar structures are falling away, disintegrating. By the time we arrive at ‘Heart Addict (In Make Up)’, there’s little left beyond an almost subliminal, stunted dub bass that twitches anxiously alongside a barely perceptible beat, and we’re left, alone, disorientated, and teetering on the precipice just inches from the void.

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Ekoplekz_cover

Nonclassical – cnclss024

Christopher Nosnibor

Langham Research Centre originated through late-night experimental gatherings at the BBC studios, and have evolved to produce long-form radiophonic works, of which 2014’s Muffled Ciphers was inspiredby JG Ballard’s seminal novel -which challenged the very notion of the form – The Atrocity Exhibition. Created with an accumulation of rare and obsolete instruments and devices, and inspired by early electronic composers spanning John Cage, Alvin Lucier, and Delia Derbyshire, Tape Works Vol. 1 is pitched as ‘a collection of modern musique concrète.’

The first thing I noticed was that my copy is number 11 of an edition of 30 promos. This knowledge spurs me to get my finger out and provide some coverage. The second thing I notice, on scanning the track listing, before reading the biography containing the above, is that it features tracks with the titles ‘The Voices of Time’ and ‘The Terminal Beach’ – the former of which is a collection of short stories by Ballard, and the latter of which is the title of one of the stories in that collection, which first appeared in 1963 under the title The Four-Dimensional Nightmare.

On Tape Works Vol. 1, the Langham Research Centre (and doesn’t that sound so Ballardian in itself… I’ve spent hours scanning my collection to see if there’s a character named Langham in Ballard’s oeuvre and have drawn blanks before ultimately deciding it’s better to actually get the work done than disappear down another rabbit-hole of research) explore all the dimensions. And while at times it confirms to the template of so much experimental analogue work, at times it ventures in the truly weird.

‘LOL, Pt 1’ mixes monkey chatters and R2D2 bleeps with eerie abstractions, bibbling bloops, fractured vocal snippets and small samples of laughter enter the mix alongside the kitchen sink to from an uncomfortable, disorientating sound collage.

There’s a lot of stopping and starting, whistling and droning, woe and flutter and infinite disruption. This is the sound of dislocation, a soundtrack designed to induce maximum disorientation.

Bleeps and squiggles, trilling squeals rising to a high-pitched hum collide with woozy, groaning bass frequencies. Notes bend as if on a stretched tape, and tape whips back and forth through heads. There are moments which recall the head-spinning cut-up and drop-in tape experiments conducted by William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, and Iain Sommerville in the late 50s and early 60s.

Birdsong. New snippets. A plane roars overhead. A conglomeration of voices. Static. Interference. A howling wind. Sparse, arrhythmic beats clatter and clang. Yes, this is life: fractured discordant, difficult. Simultaneous. Overwhelming. This is essentially how I feel about it. I cannot compute. I feel dislocated, alienated. I feel tense. Nothing new there. But Just as reading Ballard makes me feel uncomfortable in my own skin, so Langham Research Centre’s fucked-up sampling of old adverts and blending them with minimalist dark ambient twists me into a state of discomfort.

At time gentle, at others abrasive and bordering on the attacking treble whistles and white/pink noise crackle of early Whitehouse and Merzbow, Tape Works Vol. 1 is at no point accessible, easy, cuddly. But it does push the senses and question linearity and accessibility and even the boundaries of musicality. And as such, it fulfils its objective.

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Langham

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.

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Kink Gong - Soundscape