Fragmented Frequencies Jan 2013

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Dr George Merryweather was born in 1794 in Yorkshire England. Whilst he was a family doctor who later became a surgeon, it was his thirst for invention that has him remembered today. In 1832 he invented the Platina Lamp, which could apparently keep burning for a fortnight on a mixture of alcohol and whiskey. Couldn’t we all?

His Leech barometer, or Tempest Prognosticator caused a sensation in 1851. Putting 12 pint bottles in a circle beneath a large bell, each with a connecting metal tube, Merryweather then poured an inch and a half of rainwater into each bottle and deposited one leech. Influenced by the electromagnetic state of the atmosphere the leech would climb into the tube setting off the bell, warning of impending bad weather. And why 12 leeches? The more bell rings the greater the likelihood of a storm. Also he didn’t want the leaches to get lonely. The resultant machine looks like a strange miniature merry go round, and Merryweather was of the belief that it was highly accurate and envisaged a wide network of leech forecasters across the United Kingdom. Unfortunately cheaper alternatives not involving the use of blood sucking slugs became popular, effectively freezing Merryweather out of the weather prediction business and resigning the Tempest Prognosticator to a bizarre curio of history.

In 2010 Andrew Day (aka Nightswimmer) visited the home of the Tempest Prognosticator in Whitby Yorkshire. Fascinated by the instrument, Day felt inspired to make some field recordings of the site, including some underwater recordings nearby using a homemade hydrophone. He combined these sounds, heartbeat, trombone, zither, mandolin, guitar, bass, electronics and vocals to produce an epic 35-minute piece of sound. Interestingly it’s probably the noisiest work he’s recorded under his Nightswimmer guise, a project that you could previously describe as being lush, even ambient electronics. Despite the agitation, the piece, which moves through numerous moods eventually finds itself in an almost shoegaze electronic noise space, engaging with static and barnacles, yet find deeply melodic moments hidden beneath the chaos. It’s a fascinating work and it’s really great to hear him work not only long form, but with some more difficult sounds and textures, and ultimately still create a work of majestic beauty. He may have set out to make an aggressive noise piece, something a world away from his back catalogue, yet ultimately it appears he can’t help himself. You can listen for free or name your price here: http://nightswimmer.bandcamp.com/album/the-tempest-prognosticator-2.

Speaking of field recordings and speaking of free, Brisbane based composer and head honcho at the incredible Room40 label Lawrence English has just posted a double album on his website. Titled Songs of The Living And The Lived In (Room40), it comprises of recordings gathered over the last 10 years on his travels around the world. Songs of the Living is of course the animal world, monkeys, bats, frogs, Antarctic fur seals, even an incredible sounding Rhinoceros beetle. The lived in are environmental spaces such as a toy store, a subway, a cemetery gate, VLF During a solar storm, blizzard battering walls, you get the picture. There are strange buzzes, clicks and shuddering, these pieces aren’t edited, they’re just the raw recordings that English then uses to create his compositions. Not only is it interesting to get an insight into the raw material he uses, the sounds themselves are pretty incredible. Check http://emporium.room40.org/categories/room40 and download for free.

Finally tomorrow night an intimate concert will be occurring in Adam Simmon’s home studio in Northcote. With only 20 spaces available it’s first booked first served, and an amazing way to experience improvised music. The evening will focus on two duo performances. The first will feature Simmons and amazing improviser and cult of personality Jeff Henderson (NZ) on saxophones and the second will feature Hermione Johnson (NZ) on prepared piano and David Brown (Candlesnuffer) on prepared guitar. To book email Simmons: fatrain@adamsimmons.com.

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Fragmented Frequencies Dec 11

The problem with MP3’s is that they are so amorphous and disposable. Traditionally when we’ve purchased or stolen music we’ve had something to put on the shelf and ogle while we listen to the sounds, an object to give value to the music. With the rise of digital music this object has been done away with, and thus the value of the music is similarly reduced or erased.

Which is probably why most people feel little to no guilt about downloading an artist’s entire discography off a torrent site for free. Yet deep down there’s some degree of conflict as most people believe that good music, the staple your face to your driveway and ask your neighbour to back his car over it a few times good music shouldn’t be free. The problem is that people just wont pay for computer files…yet.

Music used to be special, even mysterious, and the packaging said as much about the artist as the sounds. Which might explain the increasing popularity of vinyl. Then there’s a newly resurrected cassette culture, offering a long extinct crappy format that no one can play. But that’s not the point. It’s there to bolster the music. A useless object with a download link is much more palatable than just a download link.

But what if the object wasn’t so tokenistic? What if it was, (and I quote from their press release) “something useful like a mining product or a foodstuff?”

The foodstuff is an Anzac biscuit, and together with a download link it’s the latest release from Melbourne art ensemble The Hi God People. The biscuit is tasty, apparently gluten free, though a touch dry, perhaps overcooked. It tastes fresher though than the packeted biscuits you buy in supermarkets and it’s nice to know that you’re supporting local biscuit makers/musicians. The three tracks are experimental electronic digital psychedelia with two of the pieces featuring spoken word, saying things like ‘Some of the things close to us seem unexpectedly large.”

Of course once you eat the biscuit you’re left with computer files, yet if you think about it the HGP have provided so much more. Not only will there undoubtedly be a few crumbs left on you on your lap, but once they’re swept away, there’s still a nice taste in your mouth. If you ate the biscuit while you listened to the music then that’s where Pavlovian conditioning comes in and you’ll always associate HGP music with a full belly and a rush of sugar. It’s genius, a kind of internal cross promotion.

The HGP aren’t the only folks grappling with the object in a rapidly shrinking marketplace.

Sabbatical have gone all out with Knife Culture: Buried Melbourne, a classy double cd box set compiling artists they view as being under represented and under appreciated in Melbourne – even within the underground music and experimental music scene. With 29 artists over two cds, this is a bold, totally uncompromising collection. They refuse to shy away from the sonically challenging, featuring everything from extended cello techniques, a noise piece created solely from recordings of carpet, tracks recorded direct to Dictaphone, a live performance of a drum stool, spliced strands of tape forced through a walkman, and well, you get the picture. Artists include The Bleachboys, Justin Fuller (Zond), Sean Baxter, Rod Cooper, Ebola Disco and all manner of weird and wonderful characters. The fact that it’s in this simultaneously stately and sleazy black box makes the music seem more evil, more underground and the collection more definitive.

Lawrence English’s Room40 are another label offering experimental music in distinctive fetish object packaging. To be fair they’ve been doing this for years, creating distinctive cardboard cases for everything on their label. Their recent releases from Pimmon, and Minamo are both works of art, however Scott Morrison’s Ballad(s) For Quiet Horizons takes it another step entirely as an audio visual experience. The cd/dvd case itself features cardboard inserts of stills of his work, yet it’s the intertwining of the video footage and the sound that is nothing short of incredible. Images often begin abstracted, and slowly come into focus, and the sound tends to operate in a similar manner, glimpses of field recordings, of nearly discernable sounds gradually revealing themselves, often in concert with the images. It’s the kind of work that deserves the loving treatment it’s received, as it’s something quite special, his ability to dance around and alter your perception is really quite unique in Australian video/sound art. Yet the power is the full package. To download it or convert it just to mp3’ would only serve to dilute its power.

Fragmented Frequencies – 5th Feb 09

 

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Gail Priest is a sound artist and associate editor of Real Time. She’s edited a book Experimental Music: Audio Explorations in Australia (UNSW Press) that attempts to chart some kind of course through Australian experimental music from the 1970’s onwards. It’s a slippery slope, with issues arising simply at the definition and Priest readily acknowledges that this is not a definitive account, it is just one account, no doubt coloured by the contributors actual involvement in the scenes they’re describing. And that’s probably a good thing. At least we know they were there. The book gains direction via these contributors, a mixture of practitioners and academics, who take a subjective journey through their area of expertise. We’ve got performer and academic Julian Knowles who has the unenviable task of taking in the mid 90’s onwards, yet taps into Percy Granger’s 1950’s experiments as well as taking us through the evolution of the What Is Music Festival, Now Now, Liquid Architecture, Totally Huge, and nights like The Make It Up Club, Impermanent and Audio, Small Black Box amongst others, emphasising the importance these institutions had and have in developing the scene. Ian Andrews (Disco Stu) tackles the diverse range of experimental electronic music that developed in the post punk period between around 1978 and 84, tapping into DIY cassette culture, the Clifton Hill Community Music Centre, Severed Heads and Industrial Music. Cat Hope explores noise music, again struggling with definitional issues. After all isn’t all music noise? SPK, Bucketrider, Lucas Abela, Toy Death, Philip Samartzis’ Gum and Darrin Verhagen’s EPA project all get a nod. Artist and academic Shannon O’Neil (Alias Frequencies)takes us through the history of sampling, appropriation and sound collage, again via Severed Heads and Gum, Dave Thrussell and Antediluvian Rocking Horse, yet also via the strange workings of ‘outsider’ label Dual Plover. Gail Priest and Seb Chan (Cyclic Defrost) unpack the rise of dance music with If, Psy Harmonics and the dissecting of various dance parties. Bo Daley gives an insiders account of the development of Clan Analogue, beginning with the fascinating quote that ‘being an electronic musician in Sydney in the 90’s was like being gay in the 80’s’ (Dan Bugagiar). Virginia Madsen explores experimental radio where Radio National comes off looking pretty good in a very bleak landscape, instrument maker Sean Bridgeman explores his area of expertise via Ernie Althoff, Rod Copper and Jon Rose amongst others, and improvising musician Jim Denley takes us through the history of improvised music in Australia, from possibly one of the most qualified exponents. The names above are those that have featured regularly in this very column over the years, yet the book attempts to provide some kind of sequential context to their work. It’s admirable that finally someone has finally deemed this broad, cross pollinating and ill defined scene worthy of some kind of investigation. It is the first book to document this scene, and whilst there are some attempts at critical discourse, the need to simply document the vast array of important practitioners leaves little space for any kind of meaningful dissection. The accompanying cd features some rare live material from Teletopa in 1971, The Loop Orchestra in 1982, Lucas Abela’s glass blowing shenanigans, Severed Heads, Biftek, Rod Cooper. Thembi Soddell and Anthea Caddy, Kaye Mortley and an audio visual excerpt from Robin Fox’s mesmerising Backscatter. Again, this could have been a 7 disc set such is the range of material that you’d wish to include. 

 

Japan’s The Tenniscoats are touring again on the 19th of February at the Toff in Town. They’re a curious ensemble, with very loose pop structures, shimmery folk and avant garde tendencies. They’ve got a mini album due on Room40 and it’s incredible.  Strange plucked haphazard reverberating instrumentation exist alongside these (at times) quite dominating field recordings, where Lawrence English recorded the band with in various Japanese locales, the sounds of birds, passing traffic, rocks thrown into the river, and reverb recorded in tunnels all interacting with the music. Temporacha (Room40) is glorious low key and utterly beguiling. Lets hope they be able to recreate this kind of energy indoors. Also out on Room40 is DJ Olive’s third sleeping pill,Triage, music to put you to sleep. If you needed any further encouragement Austrian maestro Fennsez contributes some production.