The Shape of Sound – Vol.3 Melbourne Australia (Iceage Productions)

shape of sound

This third and final survey of the sounds of underground Melbourne highlights and celebrates the diversity of styles and approaches currently occurring in our midst.  It feels broader than previous outings, and that’s a good thing, acknowledging some of the progressive work occurring in more electronic and beat based territories.

The eccentric electronics of Worng are a prime example, they sound like zombie acid house music crossed with a John Carpenter score and are probably the highlight of what is a truly eclectic collection of music. It feels like this time around it’s less abrasive than previous outings, with unexpected additions like the gentle repetitive guitar noodling from the appropriately named Sleep Ensemble.

Em Vecue Aquieu also offer gentle meditative atmospheric ambience that’s lush and cinematic yet it’s aggressively ruptured by some piercing electrics of the following track, courtesy of scene mainstay Ollie Olsen, acting like a high priest of noise, corralling all the negative pitches and coalescing them into a cumulative muscular drone piece.

Parts feel like they were originally recorded onto cassette, and there’s a definite low fi wooziness to a lot of the material here, like the organ and drum machine haze of Rites Wild, which with its reverb and delay drenched washes of sound is simultaneously lethargic and strangely compelling.

Robin Fox offers electrics as a field recording, there’s highly textural music concrete from Mitchell Brennan, and Sean Baxter offers some brittle uncomfortable chaos. Matthew Brown’s low-key synthetic experiments are typically amazing, whilst Wife rounds out the collection, sounding like no input mixer feedback loops utilising the most difficult sine tone pitches on the album.

It’s strange and beautiful music, startling and even scary at times. Yet this is the sound of 2013 Melbourne in all it’s weird joyful diversity.

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Interview with Peter James (Iceage Productions)

Iceage Productions is a Melbourne label that has been releasing commercially challenging difficult and strange music since about 2005. It was established by Peter James, originally to provide an outlet for his work in Wolf 359 a noisy experimental outfit, though has since expanded to include other unique local avant garde performers. For James the ethos of the label is nice and simple. “I don’t have any constraints on what I release,” he explains. “If I think its good I just approach someone and put it out really.” It’s about giving a platform to Melbourne’s fertile experimental music scene, and also attempting to reach listeners who may not traditionally view themselves as experimental music connoisseurs.

“It’s difficult music to get people interested in,” James confirms. “I’ve played something like Zac Keiller to a lot of different people who aren’t into experimental music and they love it. That’s one of the big things of the label is to push that out there to people who might not actually be aware of what’s happening in Melbourne.”

The album that he speaks of is Keiller’s Start Burning, a work that skirts experimental drone music and musicality with increasing flair. “I’d seen him perform live and thought he was an original guitarist,” offers James. “I didn’t think there were too many people who approached his style or skills with drone music lets say. His style of guitar playing really caught my attention. He’s released and recorded a lot of material thats really worthy of being heard.”

It’s this dedication to highlighting the work of his favorite musicians that has seen James put together a compilation of his favorite local musicians. Titled The Shape of Sound volume 1 it boasts new material from the likes of improv duo Infinite Decimals, Zac Keiller, Wolf 359, psychedelic noise merchants The Paul Kidney Experience and even legendary experimental pioneers The Primitive Calculators.

“As far as Primitive Calculators go I was just very lucky to have snagged the only track they’ve recorded in 20 years I think. I went and saw them at one of their first shows after the festival that Nick Cave curated and said I’d been a fan since I was a teenager and paid x amount of dollars for their records and I actually grew up in the town that they originated. In fact that was one of the original reasons I looked them up, because I thought it was interesting that an electronic punk band was coming out of Spingvale. And they said ‘definitely, we’ll be on it.’ And plus its a brilliant track too, Supposedly its something Stuart wrote back in the day that they never recorded.”

James views the compilation as a snapshot of a moment in time, in much the same way the “NMA tape series from the 80s that gave light to the Australian experimental scene, EC Productions and particularly Harry Butler as well as Clinton Greens Shame File compilation releases and Ulex Xanes Zero Cabal tape label.”

With small runs, Iceage Productions has a split album with Keiller and Infinite Decimals on the way as well as minimal UK synth punk duo from the 80’s Dada Computer as well as Adelaide ensemble White Tiger AA who he describes as having a ‘nasty and relentless thing going.”

Again it’s a highly personal process, putting out music that appeals to him, that he believes deserves wider appreciation.

“I’m always searching the net for those lost gems,” he laughs. “I suppose that what got me into that was listening to Nuggets, Songs That The Cramps Taught Us, and The Born Bad Series. There’s a lot of hidden gems out there where if you dig a little bit you’ll find some great music. I’m always doing that chasing one persons influences.”

Fragmented Frequencies Dec 10

Oh man the music is terrible. It’s the kind of bland countrified power ballad that makes you want to stab your mp3 device. But that’s not enough, then you feel the need to burn it and drive a truck over it just to make sure it’s definitely dead and you’ll never have to hear those horrible sounds again. But all the same there’s something familiar about it, something that taps into your painfully naive past, a history that you’ve tried to block out while pursuing your newfound love of Dubstep or Turkish psych rock from the 70’s. Suddenly it hits you. You know these words! They’re dead set 80’s Aussie classics. It was the American accent that had you fooled.

You see Dual Plover, a label with one of the sickest senses of humour in Australia (if you don’t believe me check out their catalogue – I recommend Suicidal Rap Orgy as a good place to start) have outdone themselves this time. They’ve tapped into the Nashville song/poem companies, cynical businesses that prey on the dreams of aspiring songwriters. The deal is that you send over your heartfelt words along with a wad of cash, and they’ll put your creativity to music. There’s something quietly devastating about the process, it’s like two souls with one stone. Firstly there’s the sap who pens the words thinking these insipid cliched tunes could launch them into stardom, then there’s the musicians themselves who’s own dreams of conquering the industry on their own terms have been shattered long ago, leaving them with the cold hard economic reality of a paying gig.

While the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s were the heyday for these companies, the ever curious Dual Plover not only discovered that they still exist, but decided to send over some lyrics from some of Australia’s most iconic tunes that failed to chart in the US, pretending of course that they were their own lyrics. The tunes are Chisel’s Cheap Wine, The Boys Light Up from Australian Crawl, Rose Tattoo’s We can’t be Beaten and the Divinyls Boys In Town. What’s so incredible is how these companies are able to expertly, almost clinically remove any power, emotion or spirit of the originals, and replace it with this kind of cliched countrified swagger that simultaneously sounds like nothing and everything else. You can imagine bedroom songwriters getting excited by their package in the mail, thinking they’ve finally arrived in the business, now they sound like the rest of the spittle on the country music charts. You can download the results for free if you’re curious from http://dualplover.com/ozrock.php. Since it cost them a bit to do this if you appreciate the irony and artistic despair at the heart of the project there’s also a tab where you can donate to Dual Plover.

There’s a dark misshapen underbelly to Melbourne experimental music, where guitars, noise, field recordings and brooding atmospheres collide and there’s a feeling that anything can happen. It’s a place that new label Iceage Productions has positioned itself, displaying a commitment to the progressive, loud, strange and difficult. Their most recent offering is The Shape of Sound Vol.1, a collection of weird and wonderful tunes from experimental Melbourne. Guitarist Zac Keiller offers a really gorgeous near ambient piece, whilst Mystic Eyes work with density of tone, texture, repetition and a feeling of stasis on their piece La Cicatrice Interieure and Constant Light buzz and whir over a huge sludge beat, the kind that can cause avalanches. There’s tunes from legendary post punk outfit Primitive Calculators, hypnotic improv duo Infinite Decimals, a bit of bluster and squeal from the Paul Kidney Experience, and Wolf 359 whose LP Primitive Assembly has also been released by the label. They’re launching this disc with performances from many of the artists at Bar Open on the 22nd of December at Bar Open and best of all it’s free.

Though if you’re after the really strange stuff you need to look backwards. The Artefacts Of Australian Experimental Music Vol.2 1974 – 1983 (Shamefile Music) is the step before, where tape machine and early synths provided the catalyst for all kinds of sonic manipulations. It’s a 2 cd set of some truly bizarre sounds that trace the development of experimental movements and collectives in this country, some of whom are still active today. Primitive Calculators who appear on the previous compilation offer up their debut single from 1979 whilst there’s also tunes from Essendon Airport, Arthur Cantrill, Severed Heads, the Loop Orchestra alongside all manner of forward thinking musical iconoclasts and some great liner notes.