Posts Tagged ‘Kemper Norton’

Front & Follow

Christopher Nosnibor

The demise of the label Front & Follow was a sad one, for many reasons. I mean, it was understandable: a one-man enterprise, the degree of effort required to curate, release, and promote music – especially obscure, niche music – is astounding. It’s always going to be a labour of love, but all the love in the world doesn’t pay the bills.

This does mean that the return of F&F, however brief, with a view to issuing a series of lockdown / isolation compilations is extremely welcome, simply in principle. Not only because it’s a reminder of a time before what’s rapidly looking like a collapse of civilisation, not only because it’s a reminder of what a great label it was, but also because despite the tidal wave of lockdown releases that are flooding the virtual world right now, we still need more music like this: music from the fringes, music that coveys the intense cognitive dissonance of the current situation in non-lyrical terms.

To unpack this: the title summarises the situation as it stands for many in the most succinct form. Whether or not you’re officially ‘isolating’, we’re all still isolated for the most part, either alone or with the rest of out household. But it seems that however ‘together’ we are, however connected, however well we communicate, everyone’s individual experience is different, and in many was incommunicable: we’re all islands, isolating inside our own heads. Words get in the way, and impose the experience of others on our own private thoughts, so the fact that this collection is largely instrumental is welcome, and where there are vocals, they tend to be absorbed into the fabric of the sonic experience.

With twenty contributions from a host of artists. Many of whom I’m unfamiliar with, there’s a theoretical pot-luck element to this compilation, but F&F have always been strong on curatorial skills, and while the contribution from Kemper Norton (arguably one of the bigger ‘names’ on the release) is surprisingly brief, it’s positioned in a prominent position opening proceedings, and sets the tone with its tonally-balanced ambience.

Grey Frequency’s ‘Dissolve’ which follows is more what you might expect: almost seven minutes of mellifluous mellowness, but with crackling snippets of static and shadowy undercurrents that run dark and deep.

Picking standout tracks is difficult and also rather to undermine the project, although

‘Basic Design’s ‘Dream Archipelago’ does stand out by virtue of having vocals first and foremost, but also for it’s woozy, fugue-like qualities, something echoed by the ethereal ‘Dining with Phineus’ by Carya Amara.

AZAK BROMIDE bring a more power electronics / industrial slant to the dark ambient party, but it’s the seventeen-minute behemoth that is Boobs of Doom’s ‘Scumbellina’ that really is the ineffable centrepiece here: a towering monolith of a track it’s all the experimental electronica distilled into a single movement of analogue oddness.

Elsewhere, Ekoplex capture the essence of early cabaret Voltaire on the dubby ‘Rejected Replekz’, Thomas Ragsdale delivers some signature ambience with beats with ‘The Light Between’, and Elizabeth Joan Kelly’s ‘Waking Up With a Cat on My Face’ perfectly encapsulates that moment or panic, that abject spasm through a minute and three quarters of swampy discord and sonic confusion. Hibernation’s nine-minute ‘Fragile Times’ is a perfect summary of everything: so fragile and soft as to be barely-present, it’s a mist-like ambient piece that’s impossible to place your hands on it, much less pin it down, and that wisp-like intangibility, that vague ephemerality is the essence of the collective mind right now. However you may think about think about it, whatever your beliefs, pinning down the mood of the moment is nigh on impossible on the tumultuous psychological rollercoaster we find ourselves on.

Thankfully, soothing, spacious sonic wanderings like the album’s final contribution, TVO’s ‘A Wave as the Coast Disappears from View’ offer id to calm, even if the title reminds us we’re only barely afloat and only so far from drowning in an instant.

Isolation & Rejection Vol 1 is a magnificent collection at any time, but also serves as a contemplative soundtrack to strange and troubling times. It’s also classic F&F.

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24th February 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Kemper Norton’s kept a steady trickle of releases coming for some time now, and while the last couple – Hungan (2017) and Brunton Calciner (2019) – had bypassed me until now, the consistency of previous works, from Cam (2013), Loor (2014), and Toll (2016) was more than enough to ensure my immediate interest on the arrival of Oxland Cylinder. His music always has an intrinsic sense of place, however elliptical, and if on the face of it Oxland Cylinder appears to break this trend, the accompanying text is informative:

‘In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century the majority of the world’s arsenic was created in Cornwall and Devon. The “Oxland Cylinder” was one of the methods used and was a revolving iron tube used to process and vapourise arsenic pyrites. None of these devices remain intact.’

Immediately, we’re transported to England’s south coast over a century ago, and not only to a bygone era but a practise essentially lost to history. And in this context, Oxland Cylinder takes on layers of meaning and caries a certain historical weight.

If the first piece, ‘halan 5’, which introduces the album with discontiguous electronic scrapes and buzzes, and a swell of bleeps and bloops, an analogue bubblebath that slowly eddies and swells, feels like so many other post-Tangerine Dream ambient electronic drifts, it’s also an evocation of a process akin to alchemy, only instead of turning lead into gold, it turns minerals into alloys, including lead.

Oxland Cylinder forges temporal spaces through the medium of sound, slow-spun ambience that conjures a certain mental blankness into which the listener is free to project their own sense of alternating coastal countryside and industrial production. Some will likely visualise Poldark, although the ruins that remain today tell little of the intense labour, heavy mining and vast engines involved in the extraction of ores and pyrites and their conversion to various alloys as lined the south coast at this time.

‘Dark as a Dungeon’ finds the first occurrence of vocals: it’s a sparse shanty with ringing electronics building a glistening, metallic backdrop to the lilting vocal melody. Singing about mining against funeral echo-laden rings feels like a sad thing.

Oxland Cylinder is as rich in evocative depth and subtlety as the south coast is in social and industrial history, and an absorbing album irrespective of context or intent.

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Kemper Norton – Oxland Cylinder

Front and Follow – 2nd August 2019

Ever-evolving and always finding new angles Front and Follow’s latest release is the second in a new series celebrating the present and past of some of their favourite artists. The premise is simple, and in some respects, it’s remarkable it hasn’t been done before: ‘For each volume in the series we ask artists to create a new project of their own choosing and present it alongside a retrospective of their past output.’ Unusually for F&F, this release is available as a CD as well as cassette and download.

What this means is an album of new material, which comes with a bonus album (to download with all physical copies, and available separately to download) which for this release features tracks from Michael’s previous releases plus new remixes by Pye Corner Audio, Polypores, Kemper Norton, Psychological Strategy Board, Basic House and Elite Barbarian.

Longstanding Rothko member Donnelly has quite a career span and output to his credit, with myriad projects simmering simultaneously, and this latest offering promises ‘new worlds of beats and rhythm, sound collage, ambience and noise using random borrowed equipment, broken gear and household appliances’ – which it delivers, with gloopy synths and scratchy, insectoid microbeats paving the way for chunky disco grooves and funk-tinged minimalism.

Across the span of seven instrumental tracks, Donnelly explores a range of sonic territories, from semi-industrial gloom to stealthily-creeping dark ambient, with swathes of static and extraneous noise that shimmers, shudders, grates, grinds and crashes and bucks like tectonic plates in collision, occasionally propelled by hypnotic and unconventional rhythms.

‘Thick Skull’ closes off with a heartbeat drum and quivering, quavering stun drone with serrated edges and overloading frequencies played in 360˚ stereo.

The bonus album, Pardon Error contains eleven tracks, leading with seven remixes. The first four are various interpretations of ‘Mole Man’, which appeared on 2013’s I’ve Come to Love You Forever and also resurfaces later as both a remix and in its original form, but rather than reduce Donnelly’s extensive body of work to essentially one track, it serves to demonstrate the adaptability of his compositions. It’s hard to tell they’re the same track, and the spooky ambience of the ‘Basic House Mix’ couldn’t be further from the wheezing swirl of the Polypores interpretation, let alone the drilling drone assault of the Psychological Strategy Board Exercise of Impalement mix’, while the Elite Barbarian remix of ‘Laburnum’ goes full techno dance. ‘Behind the Laburnum’ sounds like a dub mix of Soft Cell on LSD crossed with ‘Carnage Visors’ by The Cure. It really is al going on here.

The gurgling ‘Root about the Carcass’ and minimal wooze of ‘Urge to Swarm’ again mark further departures as they bring the curtain down on the compilation. And once again, Front and Follow have given us something different – and of exceptional quality. Everything’s ‘curated’ now and 99% of it’s wank and cobbled together or otherwise simply misnamed, but F&F have developed a distinct style and now what works, and as such, they’ve established themselves as being dependable in the quality stakes. Why So Mute, Fond Lover? is no exception, and while Pardon Error may not be the expansive career summary one may have hoped for, it has a twist of innovation that makes for a listen that’s engaging and enlightening, offering a new insight into Donnelly’s work instead of cobbling together an easy best of.

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Michael Donnelly - Why So Mute, Fond Lover

Front & Follow – F&F043 – 26th August 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Kemper Norton’s previous releases, Carn and Loor were respectively located in specific rural locations and the city. In contrast, Toll heads off-shore, and it begins with a swell of sound as grand as the ocean, but very far from an attempt to recreate the sound of the tide, a vast, grating, rolling buzz. It soon becomes clear that this is neither an ambient album which strives to recreate and convey the kindness and cruelty of the sea, and nor is it an ocean-inspired drama (I would contend that The Christmas Tree Ship EP by I Like Trains is pretty much the ultimate in this field).

Toll is a complex work, which is inspired by – and interrogates – two very different pieces of history – specifically the lost Cornish kingdom of Lyonesse, and the 1967 sinking of the Torrey Canyon oil tanker. Both are stories set in the same geographical space, a stretch of ocean off the west coast of Cornwall. To bring together what could be considered a mythological disaster – and thus in the literary, classical sense, a tragedy – with a modern-day disaster, is a bold and ambitious project, and it’s the duality of ancient and modern which finds Toll pulling in different directions. And yet this is not an album built on conflict, but an attempt to reconcile very different histories, united by location.

Although a broadly ambient album for large segments, Toll deviates from this or any genre category frequently, and widely. Toll’s preoccupation is more with narrative and themes than with atmosphere alone, although this is not to say it isn’t a deeply atmospheric work. To this end, the album does not restrict its form to any one musical mode, and ‘The Town’ takes the form of a lyric folk song, but performed as a sonic wash that’s a cross between folktronica and ambientgaze. Meanwhile, the echo-blasted vocal of ‘Black Silk’, accompanied by a drone and distant percussion owes more to Suicide and Massive Attack than anything from the worlds of either ambient or folk. The instrumental passages hover and hum, sometimes intimating trepidation and others tranquillity, but oftentimes with darker undercurrent eddying beneath the surface.

Two-thirds of the way though the album, ‘Agnes and Louisa’ forges a deep, rumbling, rolling rhythm, a swell of sound which grates and wheezes, with electronic interventions, while the sparse, lilting electronic folk of ‘Coming Home’ is quietly menacing. The final track, ‘The Tide’ brings the album to a perfect conclusion: a magnificently balanced synergy of folk and electronica, traditional and contemporary, it builds a haunting surge of sound and emotion.

What Toll ultimately conveys, by oblique means, is a sense of the intrinsic nature the relationship between human geography and physical geography, community and place. History is every inch as integral to the shaping of a location and those who reside there as geography: past events etch themselves into the landscape and the collective conscious, however discreetly, and similarly legends are imprinted in the backdrop of local life. Toll is not an easy or immediate work, but it is one which is deeply evocative and highly thought-provoking.

 

Kemper Norton - Toll