Posts Tagged ‘Surrealism’

6th June 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Mention Surrealism and the chances are Dali will be the first – and perhaps only – name mentioned by many. Breton, Ernst, Magritte may follow, but the chances are few would likely mention Beat luminary Brion Gysin, who was ejected from the Surrealists on the eve of a major exhibition. The fact of the matter is that Surrealism covers a broad territory, and is represented by myriad lesser known – although by no means lesser value – artists in all media. Leonara Carringon may be competitively obscure – as, indeed, are most women in Surrealism – but the English-born Mexican artist was both a painter, and novelist, who not only received an OBE but is also notable as being one of the last surviving members of the 1930s Surrealist movement, living until 2011.

This album (originally released by Wist Rec) is based on Carringon’s works, and the accompanying text quotes lines penned by Carringon: ‘Ice ages pass, and although the world is frozen over we suppose someday grass and flowers will grow again. In the meantime I keep a daily record on three wax tablets. After I die Anubeth’s werecubs will continue the document, till the planet is peopled with cats, werewolves, bees and goats. We all fervently hope that this will be an improvement on humanity, which deliberately renounced the Pneuma of the Goddess.’

Clara Engel, meanwhile, has built quite a body of work, and has also featured on a number of other works, including Aidan Baker’s Already Drowning in 2013. This is album is not overtly Surreal in its sound or delivery, but then again, it does forge an atmospheric depth that reaches into the subconscious and the further reaches of the listener’s psyche.

From the chiming minimal post-rock leanings of ‘Birdheaded Queen’ to the delicate, almost folky ‘Anubeth’s Song (Burn Eternally)’ (although it’s more the arboreal, ancient folk patina of latter-day Earth than anything most would recognise as ‘folk’), the album’s five compositions explore the spaces between the notes and use them to pull the listener in almost imperceptibly.

Soft piano notes and delicately-picked guitar are the primary instruments which provide the backdrop to strong imagery of animal devourment, transformation, and otherworldliness, not to mention infinite intangibles depicted in the most visually engaging of ways. Engel draws together a mesmerising, magical vocal style with compelling yet understated approach to arrangement and lyrical composition. Simple motifs and structures accrue power through repetition.

‘Microgods of the Subatomic Words’ is a splendorous work, brimming with rippling, shimmering electronic atmospherics over a solid but restrained rhythm. ‘The Ancestor’ is slow and sparse and ponderous: echo-laden guitar notes ring out into the thick air and hang, slowly resonating.

Engel’s voice conveys emotional depth, is rich and possesses an ethereal otherness, a kind of disembodied, abstract spirituality that’s haunting and deeply evocative. Exquisitely played and beautifully nuanced, it all combines to make for an album which is subtly strong.

AAA

Clara Engel – Songs for Leonora Carrington

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Unsounds – 54U

Christopher Nosnibor

This is one of many releases I’ve been sitting on – figuratively speaking – for a long time without getting round to playing. I tend to listen to CDs while at work in my day-job, and digital promos at home (because I can’t stream or download on work systems), and while I can stuff a bunch of regular CDs into a jiffy and carry them to and from the office, the packaging of this release made it simply impractical. That, and the fact I had to battle long and hard with myself to resist the urge to burn the thing.

It’s not that I have any kind of objection to any of the artists in this three-way collaboration, or take issue with its premise, namely a series of portraits of radical heretical figures from across history, spanning Caravaggio and the Marquis de Sade, to William Burroughs and Johnny Rotten. In fact, it’s a concept I can get on board with, and for months I’ve looked at the magnificent packaging, a box-type affair which folds out to reveal a CD, a DVD and a book containing all of the words to the tracks – some in French, some in English, some in a combination of the two – forming a rich linguistic tapestry. Published in an edition of just 1,000 copies, including 26 lettered copies, it’s a work of art, not a disposable piece of trash. But the box is a giant flip-front matchbook. The front cover is made of fine sandpaper, and glued inside the flap, on its own, stark and inviting is a match, a full fore inches long. What would be more in keeping with the spirit of the project than burning it without hearing so much as a note, and reviewing the sound of the fire taking hold and the rustle of art burning, the colour of the dancing flames and the texture of the ash? It would hardly be Watch the KLF Burn a Million Quid, but nevertheless… I’m a pussy. I was also too curious to explore the contents of the package. And having heard the album and watched the film, there was no way I could even pretend to burn it. I’m weak. I’m no heretic.

Chaton, Moor and Moore are no heretics, either: they’re artists who appreciate heretics. It’s not always obvious to whom each piece relates, and perhaps a priori knowledge of the individual heretical figures is beneficial, as is an ability to translate French. ‘The Things that belong to William’ does not mention Burroughs by name. However, the bilingual text, in referencing ‘a Paregoric Kid’, ‘Pontopon Rose’, ‘Joselito’, ‘Bradley the Buyer’ and a host of characters and scenes from Naked Lunch and beyond, the connection is clear – to those versed in the author’s work. ‘Poetry Must Me Made By All’ is, then, presumably, a dedication to Comte de Lautreamont, pro-plagiaristic precursor of the Surrealists, Situationists and Neoists, as well as the cut-up technique of Burroughs and Gysin.

Textually – these are texts and not lyrics, delivered in a spoken word / narrative form – it’s an erudite work, researched, intertextual, referential. Sonically, it’s no more immediate. Oblique, obtuse, challenging: these are the first descriptors which volunteer their services in untangling Heretics.

‘Casino Rabelaisien’ is a tense effort, with angular guitar clanging perpendicular to a gritty, awkward bass grind. Chatton remains nonchalant and monotone amidst the chaotic no-wave cacophony. ‘Dull Jack’ begins with Thurston’s voice alone, before churning guitars slither in. There are no regular rhythmic signatures here, no ‘tunes’, no hooks or melodies: instead, this is a set which uses instruments in a more abstract way, conjuring uneasy atmosphere and often simply attacking the senses.

With the guitars of Moor and Moore duelling, playing across one another as much as with one another, the effect is jarring, uncomfortable. Both players employ atonality and discord within their performances, and when discordant passages collide, it’s a brain-bending experience.

Heretics is a work which delivers on its promise and conveys the spirit of the outré, unconventional artists who inspired it. It is, in addition, a true work of art. Don’t burn it.

Heretics