Posts Tagged ‘Throbbing Gristle’

Opa Loka Records OL1904 – 14th September 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Seeking a vehicle by means of which to explore the more ambient and experimental aspects of industrial music, Fire in the Head’s Michael Page began recording as Sky Burial in 2006. Thirteen years on, The Forcing Season: Further Acts of Severance is his sixteenth album under this guise. Owing more to the gnarly noise of Throbbing Gristle than the mellow sonic swathes of Royksopp, The Forcing Season isn’t what many fans of more populist contemporary ambient would consider ambient. The subgenre classification of dark ambient, with its industrial connotations is perhaps a closer demarcation, but it’s still not entirely accurate, as there are extensive passages of levity and tranquillity within the album’s ten tracks, simply titled I through X.

Progenitor of the ambient music, Brian Eno said that ‘Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting,’ and The Forcing Season certainly meets this criteria: its strength lies very much in the exploration of contrasts. There are stretches where it is extremely easy to zone out, and the lack of clear structure accentuate the drifting, amorphous nature of the compositions. ‘VII’ and ‘VII’ are exemplary, as slow-turning crystalline drones eddy in a rarefied air form smooth, soothing sonic expanses that somewhere along the way build levels of turbulence or otherwise jolt the listener out of that fugue-like state with jarring tonal incongruities. In short, it’s also interesting, imbued with a sort of suspense over when the next unexpected turn will come, when next there will be a sudden switch from background to foreground, from comfortable to uncomfortable and challenging.

‘I’ opens the album gently with soft waves of sound, but soon takes a turn for the more attacking, with smooth, chilly synths layering down over abstract washes and muted beats consumed by juddering bass undulations and wailing mid-tone pulsations that rub against one another at differing frequencies and echo in different times to disorientating effect.

‘II’ moves into more murky atmospherics, with a low, throb providing the backdrop of incidentals that scrape and scatter like breaking glass. There are flickers of discernible melody in the conventional sense for a brief moment on ‘IV’, as tinkling keys ripple tunefully and offer a certain relief. But this isn’t about relief, at least not sustained relief: The Forcing Season is an album built on turmoil.

The final track is the definition of ‘sprawling epic’: twenty-seven minutes of dissonance, as flickers and whistles of bat-pitch feedback and twitters flutter around dank low-end drones, clunks and a mid-range hum that hovers like mist in a graveyard. Over time, a grating, grinding swell of sound grows in volume and density and immense thunderous crashes punctuate the sustained surge… before it too tapers away to be replaced by an ominous hum rent with thumps and crashes. And from hereon it gets darker, denser, more unsettling as difficult drones with serrated edges eddy around beneath dungeon door thuds and whip-crack explosions of noise. And gradually the tempest abates, simmering down gradually to spacey waves of cinematic spaciousness that ebb and flow.

Because it’s truly ever-shifting, The Forcing Season: Further Acts of Severance is difficult to place and difficult to digest – which ultimately renders it an artistic success.

AA

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Christopher Nosnibor

I love getting weird shit in the post. Not literal shit, of course, not the kind of shit one might have received for panning The Levellers in a review in the early 90s, but the kind of sonic faeces people I associate with might send me when they have a new release or project in the offing.

I clocked the sender’s name on the envelope: one P.A. Morbid of Middlesbrough. Having been moving in the same circles for a while, the arrival of a package in itself was no major shock, but I hadn’t been aware of anything musical in the offing from this North-Eastern master of bleak lines who, having recently published a collection of poetry split with local luminary Harry Gallagher, has also been working on some flash fiction pieces. It’s not entirely clear where this fits in: on-line sources suggest it was released back in 2017, but the infrequently gigging band also look set to make a rare hometown appearance in July.

Morbs is credited as providing ‘vocals, rhythms, noises’ on this three-tracker, produced in collaboration with Peter Heselton, who’s responsible for guitars, electronics, keyboards, and also rhythms.

Most of those rhythms are sequenced pulsations, with the vintage feel of analogue or at least early, primitive digital drum machines, and overall, the production on this experimental electro effort is primitive to the point of condenser mic in the middle of the room standard. But this kind of straight-to-tape DIY approach is integral to both the ethos and the appeal.

Dingy pulsations drive ‘Das Jenseits’, the first cut on here, and it’s pure Throbbing Gristle. Murky drones and extraneous noise that all sits in the mid-range form a drifting sonic fog. There are vocals lurking in the smog, but they’re distorted and low in the mix: the result is that they’re an abstract disorientating addition to a difficult mess of abstract disorientation.

‘Standing by the Grave’ is more direct: a whipcrack snare cuts though the infinite murk of the guitars while Morbid moans and grunts impenetrably. There are hints of neofolk, but equally goth-tinged post-punk in evidence. The atmosphere is oppressive, dense. You don’t really know what it’s about or what’s going on, but it’s like wading through treacle and a suffocating airless smog that lies thick and heavy.

The closer, ‘what light remains’ is a mercifully short four minutes in duration. Rippling shards and quivering synths shimmer through the atmospheric fog. It’s dislocated, difficult, dark ambient; percussionless desert rock, reverby chords echoing out across space and time rippling in a heat haze.

I’m left dazed, feeling strangely alone and wondering what it was all about.

KDB

Cold Spring – CD 3rd August 2018 / LP 10th September 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

There are so many moments lost in the annals of history. This particular one has been languishing, unheard and unreleased for some 35 years. As collaborations go, this one is particularly special, and captures the spirit of the underground scene in the early 80s, with the original Coil lineup of John Balance and Peter Christopherson joined by John Gosling and Marc Almond. Although renowned as a pop singer, both solo and with Soft Cell, Almond has a raft of interesting collaborations to his credit: his work with JG Thirlwell as Flesh Volcano is a persona favourite, the pair amping up the sleaze and grime to deliver something quite dank and slimy. Better still, their live rendition of ‘Ghostrider’ for the BBC. And, lest we forget, undocumented save for some (painfully) ropey bootlegs, The Immaculate Consumptive, a short-lived live project (just three shows in three days in October / November ‘83) which featured Almond, Thirlwell, Nick Cave, and Lydia Lunch.

‘How to Destroy Angels’ was recorded shortly before The Immaculate Consumptive broke Brian Eno’s piano, on 24th August 1983, at the Air Gallery in London. And the recording has languished ever since, until now, emerging cleaned up and consumable. Although it’s still pretty raw, and if truth be told, sounds little better than some of the recordings of my own spoken word performances recorded on my phone. Of course, this has rather more cultural significance and wider interest.

As the liner notes observe, ‘the music bears only scant resemblance to the ‘How To Destroy Angels’ 12” that Coil would release as their debut vinyl the following year.’ And so the performance which would preface Coil’s studio debut was very much an experimental effort, a collaborative piece born of happenstance and a coalescence of creative fermentation that was bubbling around the time.

It’s Lunch’s influence that seems strongest on Almond’s contribution here: his narrative – a bitter tirade against an ex-lover – is full of bile and expletives as he spits the words quickly and abrasively against an eerie, unsettling dark ambient backdrop. Challenging is the word – but then, that’s entirely the point.

The Kos Kia remix of ‘How To Destroy Angels’, which whittles 23 minutes of audio to just over eight, feels a little redundant here. It’s not bad by any stretch: in fact, as weirdy ambient remixes go, it’s pretty good. It’s just a question of fit.

‘Baptism of Fire’ is an unreleased recording of Zos Kia and Coil at Recession Studios, London: dating from 12th October 1983, it’s contemporaneous with ‘How to Destroy Angels’. It’s the shortest piece here, and concludes the set with four and a half minutes of battering percussion, howling ululations and clanking, clattering noise that’s very Throbbing Gristle and very uncomfortable indeed.

While so many archival recordings and onus cuts on anniversary reissues – often of bands who were only of limited merit in the first place – feel like sloppy cash-ins, digging out second-rate demons , acoustic versions, remixes outtakes and live recordings of well-known studio tracks, this is a real rarity, which sheds new light on the origins of band whose effect has been significant and enduring. Moreover, it’s not only vastly illuminating in context of the nascent Coil sound, but a document which joints a number of dots in the wider context: and for that, this is an essential release.

AA

COIL ZOS KIA MARC ALMOND - Lo res album cover for web

Front & Follow – 6th April 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

As a child in the late 70s and early 80s, I used to play with three fox stoles that belonged to my mother. I was fascinated by their glass eyes and the clips that made ‘mouths’, and didn’t really consider any of it to be strange at the time. As an adult who’s been vegetarian for over twenty years, the very idea of a real fox stole – not to mention the sheepskin rugs that adorned each of the bedrooms in my parents’ house – horrifies me beyond words. Perhaps it was this sense of horror that pushed these recollections out of my mind for quite literally decades. But in the opening scenes of Penny Slinger, the film directed by Richard Kovitch, we see Penny walking down a stately driveway (Lilford Hall), draped in fur coat, accessorised by a fox stole, its beady artificial eyes looking fixedly over her shoulder toward the camera. This is our introduction to both Slinger and An Exorcism, the work which defined her career before her swift disappearance from the public eye for a very long time.

There’s another personal preface I feel a certain obligation to include here: I first encountered Richard Kovitch in around, maybe, 2008, in the days of MySpace. Although now known as an award-wining director, Kovitch is something of a polyartist, and was writing – both fiction and essays – back then, and I had the privilege of including one of his stories, ‘For Reasons Unknown’ in the first Clinical, Brutal anthology in 2009. The story showcased Kovitch’s keen eye for both narrative and visual, something that’s common to much of his work, and the feature-length documentary Penny Slinger – Out Of The Shadows is no exception.

The film is pitched as ‘the incredible, untold story of the British artist Penny Slinger and the traumatic events that led to the creation of her masterpiece, the 1977 photo-romance, An Exorcism’. Much of the story is told by Slinger herself, who proves to be a remarkably cogent and articulate speaker. The documentary notably features contributions from Peter Whitehead (who collaborated with Slinger on the shooting of An Exorcism at Lilford Hall in 1969, and it’s footage from this which opens the film) and Michael Bracewell, amongst others, and the ‘talking heads’ segments are comfortably paced and helpfully cut with pieces of Penny’s work in a way that satisfies both the well-versed and uninitiated. Ultimately, it’s most notable for its well-structured narrative. And its soundtrack.

The soundtrack in question is the debut album for Psychological Strategy Board. Taking their name from the committee responsible for overseeing strategies of psychological warfare in the US in the 1950s, it’s perhaps appropriate that biographical details about them is scant, beyond the fact Maybury and Paul Snowdon are perhaps better known as johnny mugwump and Time Attendant respectively, and that their only previous release is an EP, also released on Front & Follow, back in 2012. That. And the fact that the creation of this soundtrack, which began in 2011, was a challenging experience, both musically and personally. In context, it isn’t entirely surprising.

As it transpires, their near-invisibility proves to be something of an asset, as well as an indication of their modus operandi: while the soundtrack – released on vinyl and download split into thirteen tracks – is a continuous presence throughout the film’s one hour and thirty-three-minute duration – and very much steers the mood and accentuates the atmosphere, particularly when accompanying the more dramatic shots or narrative moments, it’s subtle in its delivery. Within the context of the film, it works well.

The measure of a soundtrack’s quality is whether or not it succeeds on its own merit, as a musical work, when separated from the film it was designed to accompany. This does, not least of all because it’s a largely ambient work which conjures image and feelings – often of disquiet -that any ambient work of a darker persuasion might. Dank rumblings and slow churns reminiscent of Throbbing Gristle nudge against hovering dissonance and creeping fear chords.

Spurts of electronic dislocation bubble and fizz over thick ripples of amorphous, atonal synth sound, hissing static and whispering winds. Sonorous low-end notes resonate, hanging in the air before they slowly decay, submerged by tense undulations. The atmosphere is dark, ominous, unsettling, but not oppressive. And while the narrative of the documentary and the creative process which yielded the supremely surreal and highly sexual An Exorcism is not – and never could be – conveyed in musical form, the otherness of the work itself very much is.

AA

Psychological Strategy Board – Penny Slinger Out of the Shadows

Jahmoni Music – JMM209 – 23rd February 2018

James Wells

Straight into weird shit territory here. Wordless, atonal vocals layer up, ululating and droning and whatever, the tape stretched and slowed and generally fucked about with, while a monotonous bass throb and thumping industrial beat holds an insistent four/four. Think The Fall crossed with Throbbing Gristle. It’s not the full picture, but is a flavour of ‘To Evacuate is Difficult and Infrequent’. It may or may not be a song about bowels. But probably is.

DJ Marcelle is certainly not a DJ in either the conventional or contemporary sense: nor does she present the image of the club DJ throwing down bangin’ tunes for the euphoric masses. Her website uses a kind of Scooby Doo Mystery Machine typeface, and her tour photos all document the soups she’s consumed. This explicit lack of coolness is a cause to celebrate her as an artist. This is not about trends or commercial endeavours: this is about making art with sound.

‘To Reveal the Secret’ is a lo-fi mess of sample loops and clattering drums, and calls to mind the jittery experimentalism of the early 80s avant-garde scene: again, the shadow of TG looms, but equally, the playful oddness of early Foetus and lesser-known acts like Meat Beat Manifesto offshoot Perennial Divide. It pretty much bleeds into ‘Walking Around Aimlessly’, another mash-up of looped samples and old-school tape effects, mining that seem of William Burroughs cut-up inspired audio experimentalism that marked Cabaret Voltaire’s first few albums. Firecracking percussion and wild analogue bleeps provide the fabric of the frenetic finale, which lands in the form of ‘To Sing Along’. The irony is as heavy as the bass, and it rounds of a set that’s noteworthy primarily for its weirdness and apparent celebration of the random.

And random’s where it’s at. Psalm Tree is weird but groovy.

AA

DJ Marcelle

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

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