Every year, Ian Hodgson of the magnificent Moon Wiriing Club tells me about the six strange records he loved the most in 2012. Here we go:
Biosphere ~ L’incoronazione di Poppea
Biosphere’s Bandcamp page presented a number of delightful archive releases during 2012, and while every home should own a copy of the flawless Kill By Inches Theme, the most puzzling artefact to emerge was L’incoronazione di Poppea, comissioned for a theatrical performance inspired by Monteverdi’s opera of the same name. Samples of the original opera (presumambly taken from vinyl) are isolated and looped into increasingly fragmented states. While this might recall the work of Philip Jeck, William Baskinski, The Caretaker and Biosphere’s own (deeply splendid) Shenzhou album of 2002, the application of a peculiar ossilation effect coats everything with an audio zoetrope of flickering disorientation. At first, learning to love Poppea is a little like learning to love motion sickness, and the suspicon arrises that something hasn’t downloaded properly or of rum equipment happenings at the Biophon studio. But after repeated listenings the beauty and simplicity shine through, and you’re left with an album of deeply rewarding post-queasy bliss that unquestionably puts you in mind of cold sunlight eternally filtering through the fingertips of a rotating marble statue.
Suzanne Ciani ~ Lixiviation
Retrospectives of seldom-mentioned, slightly unknown electronic musicians can occasionally be formidable or strictly academic in their sequencing. Nothing wrong with that, there’s never going to be 10 CD GRM collection that isn’t emotionally welcomed or worthy of time investment. But Lixiviation is an immediately interesting proposal; an archive release that spans 1969-1985 with music ranging from experimental ballet commissions to PBS tv spots. Suzanne Ciani is well known as a New Age composer, and there is a unique, dreamy deeply splendid calmness filtering through many of these pieces. You can loop ‘Second Breath’ all day and never tire of where it takes you. But it’s the cohesive consecution of shorter, corporate logotones between these wistful reveries ~ Princess With Orange Feet is a joy of experimental tape-delay drift charmingly sandwiched alongside ultra-polished Atari & Coca-Cola idents ~ that gives the feeling of being absorbed by a 1979 sentient Sears catalogue. What a treat!
Peter Cusack ~ Sounds From Dangerous Places
(Note from Warren: not crashing that guy’s site by linking his self-hosted audio from here! But listen to “Cuckoo and radiometer, Pripyat” over there for a moment. Eerie.)
Albums of environmental/sound recordings are often all about context. Curious noises that suggest ghostly harmonics or distant constellations can be swiftly altered when you read about the expert use of contact microphones and a faulty hairdryer, or the idiosyncratic malfunctions of the air conditioning. While this is part of the appeal, Sounds from Dangerous Places quietly opens and captivates with what could only be some form of radiation detection equipment, whilst wind whispers through trees and a man reads out an increasing series of numbers in an ominous voice. This potent album presents a thoughtful guide to Chernobyl and how the nuclear disaster of 1986 has effected the surrounding area in a way uniquely suited to the medium. While the expected sounds of empty, echoing spaces are represented, folk songs and wildlife make this a recording rich in varied atmosphere and also highly informative. Questions are also posed. Do bird sounds recall the crackle of power lines and faulty radiometers only because of what has been played before? Does the recording of a skipping cd player in a Chernobyl bar slowly suggest an altering of the entire environment? Repeated listenings provide further details and connections. A supremely rewarding and often unsettling listen, this album also contains a second disc of recordings from Caspian Oilfields and UK Nuclear sites both deactivated and active.
Laurel Halo ~ Quarantine
A year ago, I pondered where Laurel Halo would go next after the Hour Logic EP. The answer was into deep space, and to discover a new genre of music ~ Space Dementia. A lonely astronaught wanders a starship with only her memories for company. Vocals seem to be unconsciously sung in an upfront, direct and often off-key manner, giving the impression of being recorded unaware, seemingly uninterested that anyone else could be listening. Someone accompanying the sound of their environment whilst plugged into headphones. Quarantine organically lurches around and fizzles, hardly ever forming into a solid song structure, often suggesting a pulsating sci-fi atmosphere of data-capture rooms or the holodeck drumming it’s fingers. Wow sounds like a sympathetic lifeform floating in the blackness, singing along whilst folding in on itself. To my ears this was a splendidly confusing record, and doesn’t really sound like anything else currently orbiting. Of course it could all be taking place in a launderette or be a dysfunctional break-up/down record rather than a thought experiment in spacial relativity, but if inventive music allows you to conjure up your own narrative then this could well be the new Silent Running or Time for the Stars and a most delightful/disturbing perplexment.
(Note from Warren: Laurel, I still owe you that book list, I know!)
Max Richter ~ Recomposed: Vivaldi the Four Seasons
Re-togging your old relatives can result in the unwelcome lucidity of touched-up Laurel & Hardy, or a chorus of affronted griping so loud it makes the whole potentially worthwhile endeavour nowt but a tedious chore. So it was with some surprise that Max Richter caused extreme and delightful temporal displacement with Recomposed: Vivaldi the Four Seasons. Rather than serving up the expected polite remix and coaxing, this album masterfully plays with expectation and familiarity. In many ways The Four Seasons are as recognisable and unremarkable as your shadow. Here they are lolling around an advertisement. They’re waiting at the dentist. Yes, I will hold, and what a touch of class they provide. No, I don’t really want to specifically listen to them. The conversation has dried-up. However, by re-splicing the DNA an audio hall of mirrors appears, allowing you new rooms to stroll around in the most familiar of places. Overfamiliar apathy is extinguished ~ by the time you’ve realised where you are the funfair has rolled smoothly along, and you happily jog on to catch up. I can’t honestly recall experiencing this sensation before in music. It’s very nearly a remix, very nearly the extended version, but slyly skips through the gaps in the fence to build a classy new pad of its own.
Hacker Farm ~ UHF
How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm / after they’ve seen Paree? sang Nora Bayes in 1919, precisely pre-empting the media interest that now deservedly envelopes this curious-murky, rich hooch-broth mutating hot pot of an album. Trapped in the countryside, getting off the wrong bus at the wrong stop, menaced by scraggy bullocks, vaulting a fence into a bathtub of dung, impaling wellingtons on submerged antique-rusty thresher components and staggering to an abandoned out-house festooned with arcane insignia whilst reclaimed VHS surveillance equipment skipped by Rumbelows in 1992 tracks your every move. All of these things happened to me as I listened to UHF. A quagmire delirium of a record and the finest proper industrial album in many a moontime, EU farm subsidy regulations calmly dictate that every home requires a copy by 2014. Send your complaints to http://exoticpylonrecords.greedbag.com/buy/uhf-4/
It would be amiss not to mention essential work from Mark Van Hoen, Time Attendant, Laurie Spiegel, Pye Corner Audio, Nina Kravitz, Georges Vert, Datassette, Motion Sickness of Time Travel, Belbury Poly, Terrence Dixon, the primal wallop of Carter Tutti Void, exceptional archive releases from Death Waltz Records, and most certainly The Wyrding Module, whose Mellifluous Ichor From Sunless Regions is well worth a free DL from http://www.upitup.com/catalogue/release.php?cat_id=62
Whether consciously or subconsciously, during the past year the influence of the much-missed Coil seeped into music (and the language of music) more than ever before, and It’ll be interesting to see how that continues to manifest. England’s Hidden Reverse (David Keenan’s influential and long OOP guide to Coil, Nurse With Wound & Current 93) is happily due for a re-print by Strange Attractor sometime soon, and remains a favourite book about music(k). Other points of 2012 interest include the myriad proliferation of broken reverby techno (not a bad thing) and it’s possible forthcoming mutation into a new strain of Electronic Listening Music, last spotted in the early 90s. (1990s).
Things to deliriously anticipate in 2013 include the first vinyl releases from the always exquisite Clay Pipe Music ~ both Shapwick by Jon Brooks and Plinths Small Lighthouse should be snapped up as soon as they emerge from the harbour. The Elektrik Karousel, the new album by The Focus Group (and friends) should be a whirligig of confusing fun, while absentee music-box tinkerer Colleen returns from an extended holiday with The Weighing of the Heart.