To escape the Melbourne chill I’ve been doing some air travel recently. Before leaving I consulted with a seasoned traveller who swears by closed headphones and Max Richter’s Sleep (Deutsceh Grammophon), an eight hour suite designed with the consultation of neuroscientists to lull all listeners into fitful slumber. It’s good advice, given I’ve only ever been able to listen to 20 odd minutes before snoring shamelessly into a strangers armpit. Yet aviation exposes us to all kinds of distended emotions, and in the 20th hour of a long haul flight, with square eyes, itchy feet and a fragmented soul, an epiphany occurred. I reached for Eluivium (aka Portland’s Matthew Cooper). I’d first encountered him via 2007’s Indecipherable Text (Sensory Projects), that I liken to a warm cocoon, except at some point you’d look up and realised your fist is in the air. I closed my eyes and pressed play on his forthcoming False Readings On (Temporary Residence), and within seconds was awash with warm overdriven organ, disembodied chorals and tentative piano. Trapped somewhere between sleep and awake, the dense ambience was a tonic to my unconscious. Curiously the album’s based on cognitive dissonance in modern society, yet somehow my own feverish state converted anxiety into joyous discovery. I have no idea whether I listened to one song or the entire album, but I can tell you that listening again as I write these words, the connection is now permanent, and it’s hard to imagine that music can get any better.
In recent years Syrian wedding singer Omar Souleyman has captured the imagination of the west via incendiary live performances, albums released on Ribbon music, Sublime Frequencies and Monkeytown, production by Four Tet and collaborations with Bjork. His high-energy electronic dabke music is like nothing you’ve heard before, exotic, frantic and infectious, distinctively Arabic flavoured techno music over which Souleyman weaves his tales of love and revs up the crowd. Yet Souleyman has a secret weapon, the man responsible for these incredible sounds, synth player and fellow Syrian Rizan Said. If you’ve ever seen Souleyman live then you’ve marvelled at Said’s remarkable ability to organise chaos, within his synth is an entire Middle Eastern orchestra, and he is a maestro, his electronic percussion in particular is jaw dropping.
Last year Said released a solo album; King of Keyboard on the Beirut based Annihaya records. Annihaya is a fascinating label that specializes in the displacement, deconstruction and ‘recycling’ of popular or folkloric musical cultures. They’ve recently released the near hysterical psychedelic Shaabi of incredible Swiss/ Lebanese duo Praed, as well as albums from Sun City Girls, and Lebanese electronic artist Rabih Beani (Morphosis). Said however is a whole other level, it’s synthetic Arabic music on amphetamines, a hyperactive frenzy of artificial reeds, triple time beats and intricate exotic melody lines. Said ran a studio in Syria before the war and wrote Korg synth patches that he sold across the region. His music meanwhile is centuries old, traditional music gone digital -and it’s remarkable.
You don’t need musical instruments to make music. Possibly the most startling example of this is Alan Lamb, who recorded the sounds of wind on decommissioned power lines in outback WA, capturing the savagery and beauty of a giant Aeolian harp played by mother nature. He put out a couple of albums in the early 90’s, Night Passage and Primal Image/Beauty on the sadly defunct Dorobo label – there’s even a remix album featuring Ryoji Ikeda and Lustmord. More recently Melbourne experimental artist Tim Catlin has been working with aluminium rods. He’s created an instrument he calls the Vibrissa. These (12) rods are vertically mounted and then stroked using gloves and rosin. Sure it’s a little phallic, but it creates curious pitches and a harmonic complexity, as the tones just sustain and hang in the air – singing if you will. In 2012 he formed The Overtone Ensemble with Atticus Bastow, Philip Brophy and David Brown, and this month they’ll release their debut album on Massachusetts’ Important records (Pauline Oliveros/ Acid Mothers Temple/ Morton Feldman). The album is a remarkable suite of electronic sounding acoustica, with massed hand-bells, quarter-tone bells, e-bowed acoustic guitars, re-tuned glockenspiels, wineglasses and long wire instruments. It’s a whole new world and a feast for the ears.
I don’t know anything about Seymour based Tackle, other than him/her/it’s Benzedrine EP is incredible. It’s released on Australian/ Berlin label Another Dark Age, and between motorik percussion, hissing snares, dark rumbles, and forward pushing momentum, it’s bleakness you can dance to.
As a director Dennis Hopper had his flashes of genius, madness and self-indulgent foolishness. People always gush about Easy Rider or its follow up the near mystical cocaine damaged The Last Movie. And whilst I’ll tip my hat to 1988’s Colors, my favourite is the failed 1990 desert noir The Hot Spot. There’s a lot to like, Don Johnson as the smooth drifter looking for a second chance, who falls into bed with his car dealer boss’ wife Virginia Madsen, whilst simultaneously falling for Jennifer Connolly, the innocent ingénue. With bank heists, femme fatales and an amoral every-man searching for his soul, caught between his brain and his balls, it’s noir for the 90’s. And whilst the sun soaked ‘Last Tango in Texas’ failed to ignite the box office, Hopper did one thing right. He hired Jack Nitzchse to score. Nitzchse had worked with Neil Young, James Brown, The Rolling Stones, and everyone in between. His films included One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Performance and Cruising. Yet for the Hot Spot Nitzchse did something special. He hired Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker, Taj Mahl, slide guitarist Roy Rogers and put them all in a room together. The results really defy categorization, lazy stripped back instrumental blues, with Hooker moaning periodically, Mahl strumming absently on his dobro and Rogers offering shimmering desert slide as Davis steps over the top and drops plaintive trumpet lines that sound like harmonica shimmering in the distance. It’s the soul of the movie, and it’s remarkable.
I’m listening to something and it’s bleak, brutal, lofi, and made in Thornbury. It’s the Von Einem Tapes, a double cd set of experimental madness, a dark kind of brutal industrial sound art that gathers together material released between 2011 and 2014 on a bunch of small run cassette labels. It makes for uneasy listening, difficult but immersive, where drones, slabs of static and shrill elongated pitches collide under periodic disengaged spoken word. This is the sound of nightmares, of metal against concrete, cold dark hallways and an unrelenting wind howling.
Bevan Spencer Von Einem is a convicted child murderer, rapist and suspected serial killer from South Australia, and it’s his case and crimes that local artist Mark Groves (Dead Boomers/True Radical Miracle) embodies with his sound. Much of the lyrics seem to come from Von Einem’s Wikipedia page, and though in the main they’re unintelligible, you can pick out the odd word like ‘psychiatrist’, “vice squad” or “filthy” from amongst the deep monotone, and it only exacerbates the feeling of dread. Groves’ electro acoustic throbs of difficult sound though are inspired, at times its industrial, sounding like field recordings of manufacturing, at others its almost dark ambient – yet even during the most difficult moments there’s a curious cohesion, and you can’t help but admire his ability to cloak the project via its sound, source, lyrics and packaging with a veritable sense of foreboding. Spooky and difficult, it’s one of the most distinctive and difficult concept albums you will ever hear.
Right now it is ridiculous how much great music is out there. Locally we’ve got Melbourne avant hip hop outfit Curse Ov Dialect’s first album in 6 years, a frenetic culturally harmonious word splatter called Twisted Strangers, and Necks pianist Chris Abrahams’ remarkable solo album that veers between, synth and piano, textural chaos and sublime beauty, it’s called Fluid to the Influence (Room40). There’s Stina Tester and Cinta Masters with their catchy electro synth post punk debut Awake and Dreaming (Listen). Further afield UK weirdo Dean Blunt debuts his electronic project Babyfather, which destroyed minds at Unsound Adelaide earlier this year. Babyfather hosted by DJ Escrow (Hyperdub) is equal parts annoying and genius – possibly the album of the year. Adrian Sherwood is the master at the controls for cult Japanese trio Nisennenmondai’s NA (On U Sound) who provide hypnotic repetitive motorik rhythms that are almost anti music, bordering on rhythmic sound art or raw techno – a genuinely odd yet beguiling release. Canadian Tim Hecker has dropped Love Streams (4AD/Remote Control), where he has reprocessed, distended and manipulated the Icelandic Choral Ensemble, telling them to imagine they were Chewbacca with a saxophone who just drank 8,000 litres of codeine. Konono No1 meets Batida (Crammed) electronically treats, splices and dices the likembe (thumb piano) masters, with the Angolan/ Portuguese producer taking proceedings to the dancefloor, whilst kingpin of Lisbon’s underground electronic scene, DJ Marfox offers a raw banging new EP Chapa Quente (Principe). Overwhelmed yet? That’s not half of it.
I first discovered Paul Bowles via his associations with the Beats in Morocco. He was the dapper guy in the suit posing in pictures with Ginsberg and Burroughs in Tangier in the mid 50’s. It turns out he was a writer and composer himself, most famously his novel Sheltering Sky became a 1990 Bernardo Bertolucci film, though this American in exile spent the last 50 years of his life in Tangiers, writing novels like The Spider’s House and Let it Come Down that provide an amazing insight into Moroccan culture. In 1959, armed with a grant from the Library of Congress and some tape machines he embarked on 4 trips throughout Morocco in order to capture the folkloric music of the country. In less than 6 months he gathered hundreds of recordings of the tribal Berber music of the mountains and Arabic music of various incarnations from the Sahara to the coast. On April 1st Dust to Digital are releasing 30 tracks over 4 cd’s with a 120 page book featuring Bowles field notes and an introduction from Lee Ranaldo. Music of Morocco: Recorded by Paul Bowles is an incredible document of a moment in time, highlighting the diversity of this remarkable country. Bowles was no ethnomusicologist, so would record only what and how he liked, though he was determined to capture as much as possible before it disappeared forever. This is joyous life affirming, often ceremonial music, featuring horns, hand percussion, chants, flutes, handclaps, and it will blow your mind.