Posts Tagged ‘Simon Whetham’

Kohlhaas Records – 22nd April 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Simon Whetham’s notes which accompany (II)ntolerance – the sequel to his 2017 collection, InTolerance – are informative, albeit perhaps more so when reading between the lines: ‘InTolerance consisted of a selection of combined scenes and activities in various global locations. Through the process of constructing the piece, it became clear that it was as much about my ability and fortune to be able to travel and cross borders with relative ease as it was about the situations I was able to document. (II)nTolerance is a sequel and a response to InTolerance. It is a personal reaction to the global pandemic and its wide-reaching effects through suffering, fear, misinformation as much as confinement and curfews. It is a personal response to the (somewhat incorrectly named) United Kingdom leaving the European Union and all the resulting events that are continually unravelling.’ He continues: ‘Travel has been limited when not impossible. Cultural exchange is only possible through mobile, online, remote communication. Tactile contact is feared. Families and friends have been divided physically, mentally, politically.’

The pandemic but a block on everyone’s lives, but everyone was affected differently, and while I struggle to find sympathy for those bemoaning their inability to take their 204 kids on their half-term skiing holidays and the like, touring artists who depends on mobility for their livelihood, it’s a different matter, especially as that transit and a shifting geography is integral to the creative process. Reading Whetham’s notes, it’s clear that his obstacles have not been purely pandemic-related: The ‘United’ Kingdom has degenerated into a cesspit of division where not only ‘tactile contact’ is feared, but so is anything from ‘outside’. Never has this felt like a smaller, more isolated, island, and not just geographically.

Tolerance is something many of us – mostly those of us who wanted to remain – can now only dream of, as we hide our faces behind our hands as we peep at Twitter and Facebook, where it’s bordering on a virtual civil war.

Whetham describes (II)ntolerance as a personal response to all of this, and ultimately, that’s the only real response any artist can make. The idea that we’re all in the same boat has been proven untrue, for while we all endured the pandemic, everyone experienced it so very differently: home schooling while working from home was, for example, in no way comparable to living alone or in a shared house while on furlough. Similarly, the effect of Brexit for a container driver, versus that of, say, a hedge fund manager is simply not comparable. But this in itself is an issue: increasingly, it seems people have become unable to relate to experiences and situations which differ from their own.

As an artist, of course, one can really only represent oneself, and hope that through the personal there is an element of universal therein, and on this level, (II)ntolerance succeeds, containing as it does fourteen abstract compositions that state nothing explicitly, and yet convey so much implicitly.

There are a number of pieces that form sequences, namely the ‘Angry Earth’ pieces and the three ‘Kinetic Readymade’ pieces, which give the album a sense of cohesion and thematic unity (while making a small nod to avant-garde greats like Marcel Duchamp). And (II)ntolerance is an album of movement, of turbulence: the first piece, ‘Angry Earth Seething 1’ sounds like a harsh deluge of rain, and the lashing precipitation sets the tone for a stormy sonic journey, riven with growls and gulps and crashes of static and ominous drones and clicks and stammers.

(II)ntolerance marks a shift from field recordings and a focus on geography to shift the focus inward in a response to a shrinking environment, and the result is claustrophobic and uncomfortable. ‘Moving Sentry 2 – Angry Earth Seething 3’ is a gurgling mess of abrasion, while ‘Reception – Windpipes’ whips and gurgles in a fog of phase. Oftentimes, such as on ‘Angry Earth Seething 4’, Whetham conjures a dark, gravel-shunting grind of uncomfortable noise, while ‘Kinetic Readymade (Turbine)’ embraces all shades of difficult, dominated by churning, scraping noise – and as a whole, (II)ntolerance is not an ‘easy’ album. It’s noisy, with serrated edges and low-end growlings that unsettle the intestines. A difficult album for difficult times.

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Misanthropic Agenda – MAR056 – 4th December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s been a few years since I last engaged with Simon Whetham’s work, which at least up to a certain point had a certain preoccupation with geography, or least location. In a sense – albeit somewhat tenuous, that relationship to place remains as a backdrop of sorts to Forced to Repeat Myself, which documents a tour (remember those?) in 2018.

Perhaps the absence of touring has driven many artists to review their archival recordings, and on Forced to Repeat Myself, Whetham contemplates the way in which touring drives a tendency toward homogeneity in terms of the way each night’s performance is assembled. For rock bands and acts performing compositions of a fixed nature, this is part and parcel; the repetition of set lists and even, over time, between-piece patter and introductions. But for artists whose work is based on improvisation, repetition is undesirable – after all, at what point does repetition become something rehearsed and preplanned?

As the accompanying text observes, ‘One characteristic aspect of the touring experience that is not discussed often enough is the dilemma of repetition. Not repetition as a mechanism of the work itself, but as a tedious consequence of being obligated to perform night after night in quick succession. Generating a completely unique performance for each stop, even with the assistance of improvisation, is a laborious undertaking that consumes too much time and sanity, while adhering to a rigid set of rules leaves one open to both burnout and diminishing returns. Is there a way to split the difference so that both performer and audience are always engaged to the highest standard?’

And so this is the context for Forced to Repeat Myself. As a document, it’s a curious one, and it may or may not be ironic that the cover art for Whetham’s ‘live’ album is a photograph of a venue with rows of empty seats. If it was indeed shot at one of the shows where Whetham performed on said tour or any other (and the presence of a flipchart suggests otherwise), it was surely during soundcheck. But then, history can be subject to so many manipulations, and the time and space begins to flake over the passage of the latter… the relevance of the track titles is unclear: they’re not dates, and this is not some kind of aural tour diary. Nor are the tracks really the same. Yes, Whetham does revert to certain tones and textures as one would expect from the same equipment operated within a more or less predetermined set length.

Random is only so random, and external factors invariably influence and direct the shape of things. That said, the same performance is never the same performance: different venues of different shapes and sizes, the kit run through a different PA, different audience responses… Life in lockdown may feel like perpetual groundhog day, but the reality is that we never live the same moment twice. No-one is more acutely aware of this than Whetham himself when he comments, “In each situation objects and materials unique to the space were incorporated into the performance setup and structure, generating sounds or resonating with them. And yet I could hear similar scenes, movements, even spaces. This repetition determined the dynamic of the composition, working with it and against it.”

And so we return to geography, location, in the most immediate of contexts. And over the course of the album’s eight pieces, the identifiable repetitions are few, as the same sounds are reworked, remixed, reimagined, and with each manipulation, however subtle, they’re a step or phase away from their previous version.

But over the course of the album we’re reminded just how strong Whetham’s ear is for texture and tone, and there is a spectacular abundance of crackling overdoing distortion, groaning drones humming clicking, bangs and scrapes and minimal electronic sounds colliding and vibrating against one another – hard and violently. The absence of audience sound and the up-close fixing of circuits mean that this doesn’t feel or sound like a live album, but it is, every inch, a hard sonic challenge.

mar056 digipak

Crónica – Crónica 103 – February 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Simon Whetham has a considerable history of taking sound recordings – often environmental sounds – and working them into something unrecognisable, by means of various sonic and software mutations. Against Nature emerged from an exploration of what Whetham describes as ‘errors and failures’, using ‘badly built microphones, over-burdened amplifiers, motors driven by sound impulses, misbehaving software and objects toppling’ as part of an organic process. The album is in many ways accidental in nature, the end product determined more by the material than the artist. It could be seen, in some respects, as a project of artistic self-erasure. This album may bear Simon Whetham’s name, but his function here is as a conduit, more of an editor than an author of the work.

Against Nature may only contain five tracks, but the tracks are both lengthy and intense. Screeding noise sustains interminably, piercing tones that aren’t drones but something altogether more serrated. Pink noise switches to white noise. Hums crackle, fizz and whizz and gradually build to immense, barrelling walls of noise that suck the listener into an immersion tank of sound. The quieter passages lull the listener’s senses, a gentle breeze and the occasional clanking of what sounds like a yak’s bell evoke almost pastoral images, before once again building sonorous, scraping tension that creeps and swells. Metallic clattering grinds like a cement mixer. Blasts of static and white noise tear through silence.

The five movements of Against Nature are not rhythmic in their formation, and are free of anything one might refer to strictly as percussion. Primarily, it’s a work of tonal exploration, as sounds bend and bow against one another, straining and generating sonic frictions, but beneath it all, there are natural – or unnatural – resonances, pulsations, which form their own subtle rhythms. And these resonate biologically, psychologically, rubbing with and against the brain-waves and gnawing away, prodding the nerve-endings and ultimately working their way under the skin.

 

Simon Whetham - Against

 

Simon Whetham Online

Baskaru – karu:38

Christopher Nosnibor

Whereas Whetham’s previous work has been preoccupied with geography, the specifics of location, his latest offering uses found sound and field recordings in a very different way. Rather than evoke particular places and experiences, What Matters is that it Matters conjures much vaguer, more abstract notions of place – or perhaps more accurately space, both external and internal.

In a world in which global digital networks render time, place and space subjective matters in many respects – geography is increasingly a state of mind – What Matters is that it Matters offers as much an exploration of a type of psychological topography and a physical one, and forges a sonic labyrinth which the listener’s mental processes amplify, consciously and otherwise.

The album sees Whetham explore forms and textures with haunting, atmospheric compositions. Waves of grainy sound gauze over trailing whistles and drones. And the crackle…. Once you’ve tuned into the surface noise, there’s no escaping it. Of course, this being a CD release, the crackle of interference that rises and falls and disrupts the smooth swell of gently turning drones isn’t real surface noise. It’s the evocation of surface noise. But this in itself is sufficient to trigger a sequence of association. The nostalgia for the vinyl age… as likely now to prompt reminiscences of listening to trip-hop releases which in turn evoke a bygone era, or otherwise provoking recollections of listening to your parent’s scratchy old vinyl and falling in love with the music of a previous generation. Equally, the crackle may call to mind a youth now long gone, and with it, a swell of disparate emotions, nostalgic and conflicting. You don’t hear these things: you feel them, in the pit of your stomach, trickling through your nervous system, twitching in the back of your mind.

I digress… but this is all about the digression, the fleeting idea that life past will forever hang in the air, occasionally needling the present time of the listener, whether welcome or not, whether invited or not. What matters is not the album per se, but the experience, the way in which it resonates: what matters is that it exists, and does resonate – almost subliminally – on a number of levels. What matters is that it’s personal, intimate, interior. It matters, and it matters a great deal.

Whetham

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simon Whetham Online