Posts Tagged ‘William S. Burroughs’

Industrial Coast – 20th March 2020

Please Call Me Fuck In Front Of My Friends, the latest dispatch from the prodigiously prolific Theo Gowans, aka Territorial Gobbing, finds oodles of discombobulating discord and dissonance thrown together in a set of skewed sound collages. As such, it’s business as usual. TG’s wildly experimental approach to rendering and processing sound by means not just of founds found and myriad effects, but the (mis)appropriation of random objects means you never know what the hell you’re actually listening to: loud crackles and scratches are probably the sound of sweet wrappers and paper towels being scrunched up close to the mic. It’s supposedly Theo’s most ‘organised’ work to date, and maybe it is, but of course, it’s all relative and one man’s organised is another man’s chaos – as anyone who’s seen my office will probably appreciate.

Amp hum and scrambled tape loops twist and entwine into a massive twisty knot of noise, a clashing conglomeration of aural chaos, a crazed cataclysm of random elements thrown together in the most haphazard of fashions. This shit’s impossible to pin down.

Garbled groans and wheezes, bleeps and blasts of noise collide with static and radios being tuned detuned, and retuned; there are prolonged periods where not a lot happens, which are annihilated by brain-bending bursts wee everything happens all at once.

‘Pyrex Chalice’ is representative, with something that sounds like bottles and cutlery being used as an improvised xylophone while dustbins clatter in a city alleyway and someone close to the mic stifles the breaths of a crafty wank.

Metallic scrapes and clatters coagulate into messy improvised chimes, and there’s some kind of whispered, gallic-sounding sleaze that descends into sobbing and is backed by clattering pots and pans on ‘Massage the Scar, Five Minutes, Five Times’. If none of it makes any sense, then that’s entirely the point.

Playful but bleak and as twisted as fuck, Please Call Me Fuck In Front Of My Friends again suggest that Territorial Gobbing is one of the acts closest to the spirit of the other TG, and Genesis P-Orridge’s absorption of the influence of William Burroughs’ cut-ups. The Industrial Records release of a collection culled from Burroughs’ archives of tape cut-ups on Nothing Here Now But the Recordings marked a direct link: Territorial Gobbing very much continues the trajectory in creating music that discards linearity in favour of simultaneity.

Weird times call for weird music, and Please Call Me Fuck In Front Of My Friends is the perfect brain-bending soundtrack and exactly the distraction you need.

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Unsounds – 60U – 1st June 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Tout ce que je sais is the second part of Chaton and Moor’s ‘Heretics’ series, which, according to the blurb, sees the duo ‘revive the most obscure, violent, erotic passions, summoning the great gures of their personal mythologies. In the company of Caravaggio, Marquis de Sade, William Burroughs and gures such as Jose Mujica, the duo immerses the listener in another world history peopled by radical thinkers’. ‘Heretics’ pays homage to those heroes who have used transgression and excess as a necessary means for creation. In this new album, recorded live at the Carreau du Temple in Paris on the occasion of Périphérie du 35e Marché de la Poésie (2017), Anne-James Chaton and Andy Moor deliver a radical work at the confines of literary and musical creation.’ The first release came in a giant matchbox, complete with textured side and a huge matchstick. No, I haven’t burned my copy. Yet.

The fact it is a live recording creates a certain degree of difficulty in terms of how to weigh its realisation. Granted, there’s an immediacy to the stuttering, fractured ruptures of dissonance what scratch through at forty-five degree angles to the rhythms and overall shapes of the compositions. But to doesn’t feel like a definitive document: something is missing.

‘Casino rabelaisien’ is a stark, minimalist grind, throbbing and churning away at a short, repetitious sonic loop of bass and extraneous discord reminiscent of Suicide and with cluttering, scratchy guitars that call to mind The Fall pre-1980. The murky sound accentuates the claustrophobic atmosphere, and Moor’s monotone delivery. The words being spoken in French mean I’m excluded from their meaning and from their sense. Oftentimes, the language of sound is enough to transcend linguistic barriers. But with the musical aspect so minimal and the vocal aspect so much to the fore on this work, I fear that much of the significance – and quite simply much of the content – is lost. Burroughs et al – this is my field, so to speak. But I simply don’t recognise it, let alone connect on a level where I can engage critically in terms of its conceptual content. Nothing about Tout ce que je sais conveys the brutal perversion of de Sade on a sonic level, for example, and there’s nothing that brings the bewildering explosion of ideas or the narrative fragmentation of Burroughs’ writing here.

‘Conquins coquettes at cocus’ jolts and jars, the crunching guitars choppy over a haltering, stuttering rhythm worthy of Shellac. It’s sparse in instrumentation, but it’s intense, and Moor’s dry, almost inflection-free delivery provides a counterpoint and contrast.

There’s something deep and haunting in the very notes of ‘Clair Obscur’, but the limited instrumentation means it feels somehow incomplete, unfinished. And then here’s the applause and the shouting from the audience immediately after; while being there would have almost doubtless have been a quite remarkable experience, the material would equally doubtless benefit from a proper studio realisation in order to capture the nuance and the detail of the compositions and their arrangements.

‘The Things That Belong to William’ closes the set; a slowed-down, opium-slurred Burroughs drawl creaks through the jolting, jarring spasmic guitar chords. It’s interesting and uncomfortable, but doesn’t go any real distance to create the same kind of temporal dislocation of Naked Lunch or any of Burroughs’ cut-up works. Is this a failing? Probably not in real terms. We land, then, at a place where we’re faced with the disunion between expectation and actuality.

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Anne-James Chaton & Andy Moor – Tout ce que je sais

Discrepant – CREP53

Christopher Nosnibor

This double album gathers two previous CD-only releases, both of which focus on Laurent Jeanneau’s love/hate relationship with China.

Soundscape China comprises two side-length sound-collages, with long samples of songs and TV shows, including what sounds like an exercise routine, and street bustle and radio, children’s voices, are overlayed with sounds of the sea and myriad extranea. Jeanneau’s work under the Kink Gong guise is often described as ‘surreal’, as collage works so often are, on account of their tendency to collide incongruence. The effect of displacing objects or text (with sound and moving images included in this category… one could argue that anything and everything is text in some form or another) and relocating it to an unfamiliar setting or alien context has the capacity to instil a sense of the uncanny. ‘Soundscape China Part 1’ doesn’t produce this effect, and feels more like reportage, a work which captures something of the flavour of the county without making any inference or comment, and without affecting any discernible change to the material or what it represents.

The Kink Gong website carries the notice that ‘Under the name KINK GONG you find 2 activities, the 1st one is to record ethnic minority music mostly in south-east Asia, the 2nd is to transform, collage, recompose the original recordings into experimental soundscapes’.

The second piece fulfils these both: it is far more intense, with jarring juxtapositions, crashing percussion. The material is more overtly spliced, the collaging nature of the work more apparent, and the overlaid noise louder, more abrasive. Yet there is still no sense of location in either time nor space. Not that this is a criticism, or something that could be considered a failing of the work: it’s simply its nature, and, more likely than not, my personal reception – Jeanneau’s experience of, and relationship with, China is considerably more deeply engaged than my own virtually non-existent experience beyond television.

Destruction of Chinese Pop Songs, on the other hand, is indeed, surreal. In fact, it’s fucking weird. Recorded (?) between 2000 and 2002, made mostly from skipping CDs of Chinese pop songs and further recomposed in Kunming (China), Vientiane (Laos) and Paris.

Why would anyone do this? And then, why would anyone listen to it? I could defend my choice to stick the album’s full duration – and in a single sitting – as research in the line of duty as a critic, but the truth is, these skipping, jitter, scratched-up, fucked up defacements hold a perverse pleasure, and I listen with bemusement.

‘Car crash’ is a phrase that’s been overused to the point of cliché obsolescence, but it’s appropriate here: not only does it convey the awkward compulsion to continue listening despite the discomfort and the knowledge that it will be impossible to unhear this, but it also reflects the mangled musical wreckage that’s wrapping itself around your ears. That said, having driven past two accidents within a short distance of one another on the A1 on Good Friday, noting my wife’s irritation and snappy frustration at all of the cars slowing as they passed, I made a point of not looking to prove that it is possible to resist. I felt a little cheated at denying myself from observing the Ballardian spectacles, but have no such need for restraint in the face of this exercise in avant-garde appropriation and defacement.

And the collisions keep on coming. ‘Hit Qin Qin’ sounds like R2D2 in the middle of a circuitry meltdown in a sea of distortion and static, while plinky-plonky piano lift music rolls on, despite the notes warping and melting. It’s simultaneously comedic and horrific. Elsewhere, ‘Pingtan’ sounds like a string instrument being slowly pulled apart while a radio plays random stations in the background, and ‘Bai Street Dance’ sounds like it was recorded on a condenser mic and played back through a Walkman speaker with a torn cone.

Everything about these songs is difficult and obtuse. Even when the ‘songs’ aren’t devoured by stutters, glitches, sticks and all other kinds of sonic wobble that’s a variant on the digital stutter, or by distortion and static and fast-forwards – yes, even when the form and sound of the song beneath the fiddling is fundamentally intact and discernible – there’s other shit thrown in to interfere and interrupt it. So yes, it is surreal, and continues the lineage of William Burroughs’ audio cut-ups, while revisiting the questions of context, ownership and defacement raised by Duchamp and the Dadaists before.

It’s obscure, awkward, bizarre, messy. It’s disorientating, destructive and really rather silly, both in terms of concept and execution. But these are all the reasons to appreciate Kink Gong’s commitment to forging his own path.

Dian Long: Soundscape China / Destruction of Chinese Pop Songs present two very different – if closely connected in thematic terms – aspects of the artist’s work, and releasing them together as a single document makes perfect sense, so long as you’re amenable to experiencing a total mindfuck.

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Kink Gong - Soundscape

Kranky – 6th April 2018

It was Alexander Trocchi, often referred to as the ‘Scottish Beat’ with whom the phrase ‘cosmonaut of inner space’ who seemingly has the strongest connection, largely on account of the fact that this was how he often referred to himself. However, it was in fact coined by William Burroughs, who said, “in my writing I am acting as a map maker, an explorer of psychic areas, a cosmonaut of inner space, and I see no point in exploring areas that have already been thoroughly surveyed”.

This is pertinent, as the press release which accompanies the functionally-titled No. 4 – Belgium-based composer Christina Vantzou’s fourth full-length for Kranky – explains how her latest work ‘ventures further into the uniquely elusive and evocative mode of ambient classical minimalism which has become her signature: a fragile synthesis of contemplative drift, heady silences, and muted dissonance. In regards to the new album she speaks of focusing particular attention on the effects of the recordings on the body, and of “directing sound perception into an inner space.”’

More often than not, I will dismiss the contents of any accompanying verbiage in order to engage with the music unswayed by sales pitch or theoretical position. However, there was something about the context of this album which resonated, and – not wholly intentionally, I should stress – informed my listening and analysis. One may assume that ambient music is ambient music. But no: there are those vast, swirling, cinematic ambient works which explore immense spatiality; there are those works which gather and collage sounds specific to a given time or place, or both, and which are concerned in some way with location, be it geographical or temporal; and then there are those inward-looking explorations which filer through the libraries of the mind and memory. This very much sits in the latter category, with Vantzou’s sparse, minimal compositions possessing deeply haunting qualities, with the notes echoing into the deeper recesses of recollection.

The titles ascribed to the eleven compositions which comprise No.4 are all vague yet strangely evocative. ‘Doorway’; ‘Staircases’; ‘Some Limited and Waning Memory’… so non-specific, and precisely for this reason, so resonant. Within the personal lies the universal and between the spaces between the softly echoed piano notes, the subtle, drifting strings, the soft washes of sound that drift like vapour and gradually dissipate into the air.

Tranquillity descends. Under Vantzou’s aural guidance, I find myself reflecting on my own inner space and conjure images and recollections of experiences linked – however tangentially – to those spaces named in the titles. A bulbous bass pulsates on ‘Garden of Forking |Paths’ and I’m transported back to my father’s long, sprawling garden – and because the bass sound is reminiscent of The Cure circa Faith – specifically Carnage Visors – I’m back to when I discovered this music, age fourteen or fifteen. I visualise dappled orchard sunlight and smell grass clipping. This will mean nothing to you, but by allowing myself to drift inside, I’m feeling that interiority that Vantzou’s work intimates.

In times past, I may have felt embarrassment as taking such a tangential approach to a review. But music – and the response it elicits – is not scientific. To analyse this objectively would be futile, and worse still to strip the soul from its very heart. No.4 isn’t an album to listen to, so much as to feel.

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Christina Vantzou – No.4

Editions Mego – EMEGO226 – 24th February 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

The latest work from Florian Hecker, A Script for Machine Synthesis is described as ‘an experimental auditory drama and a model of abstraction’. The press release continues, explaining that ‘A Script for Machine Synthesis presents a complex simplicity that spirals in an unending manner as an audio image of the uncanny valley. It is the third chapter in the trilogy of text-sound pieces Hecker has collaborated with the philosopher Reza Negarestani. A resynthesized voice outlines procedure as procedure itself unfolds… The suggestive encounter with a pink ice cube is a conceptual point of departure for a scene in which linguistic chimeras of descriptors are materialized through synthetic trophies, mental props and auditory objects. Exeunt all human actors, A Script for Machine Synthesis is an experiment in putting synthetic emptiness back into synthetic thought.’

I’m reminded of a number of theory-based text works centred around automation and abstraction, ranging from William Burroughs’ cut-ups and Brion Gysin’s permutations, to Philippe Vasset’s 2005 novella, ScriptGenerator©®™, via Stewart Home’s experimental audio piece, ‘Divvy’, which used computer-generated voices to read the two simultaneous narratives. The concept of the removal of the author from the creative process is nothing new, and while a robotic takeover may have been more greatly feared in science fiction works of the 1970s and 1980s, the fact of the matter is that the threat is greater now than ever before – but people are generally too wrapped up in reality TV or killing themselves just to make ends meet and to pay the bills that the technological developments of the last decade or so have gone largely unnoticed: instead of a seismic shift, the takeover has been gradual and insidious.

A Script for Machine Synthesis exists in a strange territory between territories, or, more specifically, times. While drawing heavily on the paranoias – and, by its sound, technologies – of preceding decades, it’s very much a contemporary work in terms of its concept if not so much its rather retro-sounding execution.

A Script For Machine Synthesis is not an album one listens to for its textual content: it is a drab, monotonous work which centres – aside from the introduction and credits – around a single track some fifty-seven and a half minutes in duration. Slightly fuzzy monotone voices narrate the process of the process in the style of technical manuals, and lecturing a highly complex theory in the driest, dullest of styles, while bubbling synths and electronic scratches and bleeps provide distracting incidentals which aren’t quite distracting enough to break the monotony. It’s hardly riveting from a sonic perspective, either. At points, the words become practically inaudible as digital distortion and file corruption disrupt the audio. Skittering, warping interference do more than interfere with the audio flow, but create a certain cognitive dissonance which engenders a sort of subliminal tension: I find myself growing twitchy and jittery, manifesting in increasingly awkward head-scratching, and a difficulty in sitting still. It could just be a unique individual response, ad of course, any experiment will produce different results with different subjects, but sitting by candlelight with a relaxing pint, I can’t readily identify any other factor which may explain my growing discomfort.

This is, of course, the ultimate synthesis of theory and practice, and more than anything, the experience of listening to A Script For Machine Synthesis bears strong parallels to the digitally-generated screeds of text published by Kenji Siratori in the late 90s and early years of the new millennium. That is to say, it’s a concept work which, while far from enjoyable, is undeniably admirable in its audacity and its absolute commitment to explore the concept at its core to its absolute end. This is art.

 

Hecker - Script

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