Posts Tagged ‘Throbbing Gristle’

Cold Spring Records – 23rd January 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Never mind the cat, listen to the whale! There’s a rather trippy, dubby crossover feel to the trilling new-age rhythmic bass-led groove of ‘Thee Whale’, one of the three tracks on the second disc of this two CD plus DVD extravaganza of a release, which includes the film Dead Cat, which was released in 1989, and shown only at a handful of cinemas that year, including once at the infamous Scala Cinema in London. According to the accompanying blurb, ‘it was never issued on general release and has only recently been uncovered by David Lewis (writer & director).’ This release finally presents the full film, re-authored from the original source. The film itself features unique starring roles from cult film director Derek Jarman (who also worked with TG on In the Shadow of the Sun back in 1980), Andrew Tiernan (The Pianist, 300, The Bunker, and Derek Jarman’s Edward II) and Genesis P-Orridge. The film features the music of Psychic TV, included here on CD1, in its complete form.

On the one hand, it’s classic Psychic TV. On the other, I’m reminded why I parted ways with Psychic TV and much of the industrial movement, when, post-TG, everyone seemed to disappear up their own arses, otherwise ceased making music that felt either challenging or essential. It’s not that none of the members of Throbbing Gristle made any decent music after the initial split, because they clearly did, and early PTV and Chris and Cosey releases are proof of this. But at what point is enough enough? At what point does it all become so much indulgence?

That the material here is lifted from the archive provides only so much justification or defence. There’s very much a sense that all of the early groundbreakers have been surpassed, and that the myriad artists they’ve influenced have advanced far beyond the parameters their forebears pushed to new places. And they were already pushing on in 1989. Listening now, in 2017… ‘Dead Cat’ is a gnarly mess of humping and pumping, grind and drone, a seemingly formless throb of grating dissonance, and it sits well enough as a soundtrack. As a musical piece, the short (23-minute) version which closes CD2 is preferable: the plaintive mewlings stretched across the shuddering scrapes, punctuated by obliterative detonations, are challenging to the ears, but in some respects it feels all rather predictable. Whereas Throbbing Gristle still sound dangerous and deranged, ‘Dead Cat’ sounds like a safe assimilation of the template.

‘Thee Whale’, recorded on 23rd January 1988, is the soundtrack to the film Kondole, which was never made, although if it had been, it would have been 23 minutes long. ‘Thee Shadow Creatures’, the track which sits between ‘Thee Whale’ and the short ‘Dead Cat’ is also 23 minutes in duration. It’s dank and ominous, muffled rumblings and disembodied voices buried amidst swampy echoes. And way off in the distance, low in the mix and submerged by the distorted tribal rhythms, tortured jazz horns honk their anguish into the subterranean depths. While recorded some years later than the other tracks – in 1993 – it’s arguably the most successful, not least of all by virtue of being the most menacing, sustaining its atmosphere to the end.

As a whole, it is a nice set. As unsettling and noisy dark ambient works go, it delivers precisely what you would expect. And, regardless of my opinions as to whether or not it’s essential on any level, it is, unquestionably, a valuable and intriguing archive document. And on that basis, it’s very much worthwhile as an addition to the PTV catalogue.

AAA

PTV - Kondole

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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

Gargarin Records – gr2035 – 1st November 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Something is very wrong. Ok, so there are lots of things that are very wrong, but in particular, there’s something wrong with A K Klosowski, and by the sounds of things, his audio archive. And his tape deck  – or decks, to be more accurate. Listening in 2016, one might think that whatever combo of kit constitutes a ‘kassetteninstrument’, something is awry, that the heads are worn and the tapes are chewed, with loops and samples continually playing at random, all at once.

But context is important here and the mic on this album creates digital technology by a mile. As the blurbage explains, ‘Long before digital sampling was affordable for everyone, A.K.Klosowski invented his Kassetteninstrument, a custom-made music apparatus consisting of eight SONY-Walkmen combined with a mute/demute mechanism. The outputs of the instrument could be controlled both by hand and by an automatic trigger module. In addition, a drum computer and some effect machines were fed into the circuit. This technique allowed for very intuitive and simultaneous control over the analogue tape sources.’

Eight Walkmen? That would have required some wedge back in ‘82 to ‘84 when these recordings were produced. …plays the Kassetteninstrument is perhaps an album of its time, but still holds up on every level in 2016. It’s chaos from the offset, and the whole album is a riot of snippets and sounds, bits and pieces, crushed together to create something… different.

Elsewhere, grating, mangled synth sounds and extraneous noise skrawks and clanks hither and thither, and processed beats slither and jitter beneath vocal snippets, robotix voices, whipcracks and car crashes. It’s all going on: synapse-popping, electrode-melting disco and stuttering 80s inspired electronica interfuse in an audio wilderness.

At times it’s an awful cacophony; at others, the mood is playful, while at others still, it’s darkly sinister. Bendy organs and warped tape loops, stretched and scratchy, make weird, woozy wigouts. With motorik rhythms twisted out of time, it’s like Krautrock on acid, with nods to Throbbing Gristle and Suicide, William Burroughs and Cabaret Voltaire. It’s pretty fucking cool.

 

A.K. Klosowski - …plays the Kassetteninstrument

Black Sun Productions – Toilet Chant / Dies Juvenalis

Christopher Nosnibor

Self-styled ‘artivists’ Black Sun Productions had already established a reputation for themselves in Switzerland and Italy, but found a much wider audience after they were discovered by Coil in the early noughties. Touring their performance piece ‘Plastic Spider Thing’ on tour with Coil, they also engaged in collaboration with the seminal industrialists and were signed to their label, Ekstaton.

These two releases – reissues of albums dating back to the mid-2000s and previously released on CD-R on their own Anarcocks label, are interesting for a number of reasons, with the fact that they are Black Sun Productions albums being an obvious starting point. That they’re receiving their first vinyl and digital releases means this rather clandestine work may begin to filter through to a wider audience and be accessible to fans who’ve simply been unable to track down the originals. The choice of these two albums is a shade curious, in that they represent the first and last of the Anarcocks releases, with four other releases separating them.

Given the range of media they’ve worked in and pushed the parameters of, it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock to learn that they’re fairly challenging. That said, these are not brutal or ugly albums. Musically, they’re certainly interesting, and will hold inevitable appeal for fans of dark ambient, avant-garde and music from the more experimental end of the industrial spectrum. I’d argue that true industrial is experimental by its very nature, in the tradition of Throbbing Gristle, and, continuing that trajectory through Peter Christopherson, Coil. And fans of coil will be keen to note that ‘E2 = Tree3’ on the Toilet Chant album features the vocals of ‘Jhonn Balance’ which will make the first of these two albums of particular interest.

Toilet Chant (2004) may sound as though it should have humorous connotations, but the title track which opens the album, but its haunting whale song echoes are far from ribald. Distant, rumbling percussion lumbers in the murky background. ‘Anarcocks Rising’ works on the interplay between unstructured rhythmic pulsations, heaving groans and rolling, bass-orientated, notes. Synths flicker and scrawl, their sparking electronics bringing a starkly manufactured aspect to the more natural sounding sonic body over which they expand. It’s alien and other-wordly, as is the aforementioned ‘E2 = Tree 3’, as thunderous roaring solar winds blast over exotic, eastern-influenced instrumentation and shards of pulsing analogue fizz. The album builds tension across the six tracks, via the Curesque ‘Yesterday’s Dream’ and the spaced-out wibblesome tones of ‘Glüewürmilitanz, culminating in the thirteen-minute ‘Spermatic Cord’. An extended exercise in creating dark, weighty atmospherics, it’s an uncomfortable, queasy listen. Grating bass drones croak and funnel. It’s a dark, insular experience.

 

 

Black Sun Productions - Toilet Chant

2007’s Dies Juvenalis contains just three tacks, and immediately a different tone is apparent. A swelling organ sound screeds and undulates against pulsating beats on ‘Percettive Riflessioni’. The experimental leanings of Toilet Chant are still in evidence, but the focus here is on dynamics, with dramatic changes in volume and the tonal contrasts adding depth and texture. The presence of definite, regular rhythms also marks a significant change, with elements of Krautrock and psychedelia informing the sound. This was 2007, remember: no-one was digging Krautrock or doing synth-based psychedelia in 2007. Busy xylophones weave the fabric of the title track, while a deliberate, slow, dubby bass beat leads ‘Veneration XXX’ into glitchy, stuttering drum ‘n’ bass territory, while disembodied voices bend and melt over the stammering fills.

Black Sun Prooductions - Dies Juvenalis

 

 

I would lean towards Toilet Chant as being my preferred album for listening purposes, Dies Juvenalis offers a greater push on innovation and musical progression. In tandem, they provide an intriguing documentation of the workings of a unique act.