Fragmented Frequencies June 2012

Chris Watson is a founding member of the early 70’s Sheffield synth pop outfit Cabaret Voltaire, though to be fair during his involvement they were a little less synth poppy and a lot more experimental weirdo. In 1983 Watson left to form the Hafler Trio, an art project of steadily revolving members anchored by Andrew M McKenzie, that used techniques like music concrete, montage and cut ups to create their unique sound. Yet it’s the next step in his evolution that is perhaps the most interesting. In the early 90’s a growing fascination with field recordings led him to work with the Royal society For the Protection of Birds and into television sound production. These days he is a freelance sound recordist for film TV and Radio, working regularly for the BBC, with a particular interest in wildlife and nature recordings. In parallel with this activity he has been releasing his material in varying forms for the Touch label in the UK for the last 16 odd years. Perhaps the best evidence of his love of the natural world is 1998’s Outside the Circle of Fire (Touch), which contains 22 intimate recordings of everything from the purring of an adult cheetah to the rattle of Deathwatch Beetles. He used techniques like tying two omnidirectional microphones to the carcass of a zebra to record the sounds of vultures tearing at the flesh. He speaks of 24 hours later hopping on a plane to the UK, wiping the blood off the mic, and attaching it to the lapel of an English MP for a BBC interview.

Watson’s fascination is about putting the mic where the ear can’t reach to uncover sounds that could never otherwise be heard. He speaks of dropping mics in lakes, digging them into sand, embedding them in bees’ nests, you name it, he’s tried it.

More recently he has begun to edit his sounds. Perhaps the most successful is 2003’s Weather Report (Touch), which collapses recordings of Kenya, Iceland and Scotland, blending and editing time to create new narratives. The Guardian listed it in its top 1000 albums you need to hear before you die. He won a BAFTA in 1998 for his work on The Life of Birds and regularly works with David Attenborough, most recently on The Frozen Planet. His latest album is El Tren Phantasm (Touch), a nostalgic soundtrack to a train journey through the heart of Mexico from the Pacific to the Atlantic on a railway that no longer exists.

Watson is coming to Australia as part of Liquid Architecture, Melbourne’s longstanding festival of sound art and culture. Liquid Architecture 13: Antarctic Convergence is their first themed program, designed as a means of “investigating the philosophical, social and environmental ramifications of the growing human presence in Antarctica.”

Alongside Watson, the festival will host works from numerous artists from disparate disciplines whose practice has taken them to the frozen continent. People like Scott Morrison, whose AV release Ballad(s) For Quiet Horizons (Room40) from last year was nothing short of extraordinary. There’s Argentinean video and installation artist Andrea Juan, Douglas Quin a US sound designer who recently worked on Werner Herzog’s Encounters at The End of the World, French artist Anne Colomes, and New Zealand sound and video artist Phil Dadson. Everyone’s favourite laser (or giant Theremin) dude Robin Fox will be there along with Melbourne sound artist Phil Samartzis who recently visited Davis Station in Eastern Antarctica to document the effects of extreme climate and weather events on the human condition. Room40 honcho Lawrence English, no stranger to Antarctica will also perform. Liquid Architecture is a different kind of festival, placing as much importance installations and sonic experiences as live performances. It begins on the 28th of June. Check http://www.liquidarchitecture.org.au.

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Fragmented Frequencies June 2010

In Fragmented Frequencies early years he indulged in a fantasy that all the punk rock super heroes were great mates. That Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra would bake cakes together, snort some crack with Gibby Haynes, then go to the pinball arcade with the Ramones and just before bed sacrafice some virgins with Glen Danzig.

Of course it’s teenage fantasy hokem, and this punk rock Brady Bunch fever dream had all but vanished until recently, when it became clear that not only did someone else share this vision, but they took it one step further. Henry & Glen Forever supposes Rollins and Danzig as sensitive caring lovers who live next door to the polite yet devil worshipping Hall & Oates. It’s a 64 page comic book from Igloo Tornado, a collective of artists that dare to delve into the intimate thoughts of the soft loving, hard living duo, the sensitive and vulnerable emo feelings that they share only in their respective diary entries and with each other. It’s not altogether narrative based, with multiple drawing styles, it’s more like a collection of significant movements from their lives that when patched together really provide a unique insight into our ink obsessed musclebound heroes, reveling in their insecurities and self doubt. We see them singing karaoke together, Danzig repeately asks Rollins how his butt looks in pants, and they bicker about toilet paper and who does all the housework. They even have a TV Party. It’s sensational. You can find it at www.microcosmpublishing.com.

Zac Keiller is a local guitarist very active on the experimental music scene. Whilst his releases and collaborations are too numerous to mention here, the one constant is his fascination with discovering new and unique sonic textures from one of the most overused and unimaginatively approached instruments in western music: The guitar. The majority of his previous releases saw him working with ambient textures or electroacoustic improvisation (which you can now download for free at www.zackeiller.polydistortion.net). His new album Start Burning (Iceage Productions) sees him limiting the use of pedals, attempting to find a kind of transcendence through stark purity of tone. Whilst there’s some gorgeous ambience with drones and fragmented runs of notes, there’s also a raw kind of riff based instrumental rock with drums, which emphasises that these days it takes different strokes to move Zac’s world.

The Sentimental Engine Slayer is the debut feature film release for Mars Volta guitarist Omar Rodriguez Lopez. Not only did he write, direct and produce the film he also stars as the confused 20 something struggling with some serious mental health issues in his transition to adulthood. He also contributes the really whacked out score which is pretty consistent with his previous solo offerings. His sounds are a mixture of guitar noise and gentle ambience and it provides the film with a confused, hazy, perhaps drug addled feel, perfect for the disjointed narrative and surreal suburbia Lopez is going for. Populated by friends and family, it’s super low budget, in Spanish (sometimes without subtitles) and English, reflecting the multicultural multilingual reality of modern day America like few films have. This very bold and unique debut feature is playing at ACMI from the 10th to the 13th of June.

And don’t be afraid of the annual Liquid Architecture Festival, a celebration of sound art and progressive experimental music. It’s on from the 1st to the 17th of July and features exhibitions, artists talks and concerts. As usual there’s a few overseas acts, including musique concrete composer Lionel Marchetti (Fra) and noise dude KK Null (Jap) who was here about 10 years ago playing a 15 minute set on a noisy acoustic guitar before saying, “sorry it’s out of tune,” and proceeding to play it again sounding exactly the same. Hilarious. Check www.liquidarchitecture.org.au.

Fragmented Frequencies 25th June 09

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So it’s that time again, where the hyper music nerds stroke their collective chins, close their eyes and celebrate with their ears, tuning into the world of sound art and experimental sonic practices. It’s Liquid Architecture‘s 10th anniversary, a festival that has collected some of the most interesting, obscure and risk taking sound artists together over the last decade. This year they’ve managed to land Asmus Tietchens, a German composer who began with tape manipulation in the 60’s though took on an industrial electronic bent thereafter. Fragmented Frequencies first and only contact with him came courtesy of the very peculiar ∂ – Menge album in the mid 90’s on Ritornell (Mille Plateaux). It was a sweet electronic concreté work with no real sense of structure, sound that felt like it was already sitting there, electronically bubbling and spluttering away and Tietchens just happened along and recorded it. Obscurely knowing one of the artists is kind’ve like a badge of honour for Liquid Architecture, though often it’s the freaks you’ve never heard of who tear your face off and explode your mind. They’ve also got Swiss based electronic improvising artist Jason Khan, US mash up pioneers The Evolution Control Committee, German soundtrack artist Thomas Koner and a bunch of Australia’s best, brightest and weirdest intense sound dudes. It’s on from the 9th to the 12th of July and includes exhibitions, performances and workshops at various venues around Melbourne. Check http://www.liquidarchitecture.org.au for more details.

The Purple Duck is one of those evil wrong dudes from Suicidal Rap Orgy, so he’s quite at home on Australia’s wrongest record label Dual Plover. His debut solo album Duckside of the Moon (geddit?) is fucking stupid and amazingly great for exactly the same reasons. It feels like a comedy album, with skits such as Cunt Dracula, who is a nasty insensitive piece of work (even for a vampire) and Sex Falcon which is about a falcon that terrifies townsfolk by penetrating them and then dropping them off a mountain two hours away. Yes we know it’s juvenile but it doesn’t stop it being funny. And it’s part of the charm of Purple Duck who uses hip hop, funk, house, indie folk, blues and electro pop, torturing them within an inch of their life and then relieving them of urine. He’s launching his opus of wrongness with fellow eccentric hip hop dudes Curse Ov Dialect, The Professional Savage, Pig+Machine, and Aoi at Bar 303 in Northcote on Saturday the 11th of July.

Fragmented Frequencies desperately misses Leeds quintet Hood like Tracey Grimshaw misses credibility. A couple of years back the Adams brothers splintered off into two solo projects, Chris formed Bracken and his brother Richard developed Declining Winter, which not surprisingly if you play together at the same time sound exactly like Hood. Declining Winter’s Goodbye Minnesota (Sensory Projects) was an understated gem, a subtle and nuanced work that tapped directly into the emotions. A download only remix album has just been released featuring the likes of The Remote Viewer and Bracken tinkering at its bones. These remixes add elements of restrained electronica to the beguiling stillness, a kind of stripped surreal lilt to the work, with El Fog’s and Part Timer’s mix taking the tunes to a whole new level. Check http://sensoryprojects.com.au/

Finally many people will tell you that Miles Davis and the 80’s are a bad mix, that he had descended into a sad kitsch parody of the forward thinking greatness that he once effortlessly exuded. That said his last album, which he never lived to hear, the jazz fusion hip hop of 1992’s Doo Bop (Warner) is a firm favourite of Fragmented Frequencies. The DVD of a German concert in 1997 however is another matter. On Miles Davis: That’s what happened (Eagle Vision), his trumpet is a dull strained whisper and the tunes are hijacked by an awful polished jazz fusion band with bullshit guitar solos. Davis barely plays, his back to the camera, wandering around preoccupied, perhaps futilely looking for his sound. You know you’re in trouble when the highlight is his version of Cindy Lauper’s Time After Time. There’s also a short featurette on Miles’ art. “I love women with carriage,” he offers to a confused German journalist. It’s the best moment on this disc.

Bob Baker Fish