new music reviews authored by paul khimasia morgan

Friday, 26 August 2016

The Three Things You Can Hear

Seamus Cater
The Three Things You Can Hear
NETHERLANDS  Nearly Not There Records / Annihaya Records NNTR01  LP/CD  (2016)

On this, his first solo album, Seamus Cater aims to combine “new song-writing and contemporary acoustic music drawing on revivalist folk music and 60s minimalism as source material”.  What sets him apart from practitioners working in similar ways like Richard Dawson or Richard Youngs or Alasdair Roberts?  There’s the minimalism of course, and the production is high quality but very spare.
As well as Fender Rhodes, the familiar junk-shop-find 1941-vintage duet concertina accompaniment abides for those who enjoyed Cater’s last studio outing; The Anecdotes with Viljam Nybacka.  Although positioned as a solo record, Cater is not always alone on The Three Things You Can Hear; there are also rather understated contributions from Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke of The International Nothing, Koen Nutters and Morten J. Olsen of The Pitch and Konzert Minimal and Johnny Chang, also of Konzert Minimal.  Han Jacobs contributes saw.  Incidentally, this album was mastered by Jeff Carey; the man who contributed “reverb” to a piece on The Anecdotes.  There’s a crossover here for those interested in quiet music: Berlin-based Johnny Chang is part of the Wandelweiser collective, in fact alongside Koen Nutters, he co-curates the Wandelweiser group-based concert series Konzert Minimal.
Despite working with what could be termed “traditional instrumentation”, Cater is not afraid to deviate from traditional songform.  His unhurried approach to his material tends to focus the listener’s attention.  His is more than simply a considered approach; he has a deep and sympathetic relationship with his material and the history and tradition within.  His family’s musical background can be seen as a way of determining Cater’s interests for sure.  His own experiences as a young man deep within the anti-authoritarian, transient, atmospheric, acid house culture of the late 1980s may possibly be important; possibly not.  Interestingly, he seems to have been a recognisable figure at the time in the acid house scene – Cater has recently survived being name-checked by The Prodigy's Keith Flint.
I have the lp version here which is housed in a great die-cut sleeve – nice, rounded corners; very unusual –a three colour silkscreened etelage card sleeve adorned with an image of a human head, deep in thought?  There is also a full-colour printed card bookmark inscribed by hand with a download code, plus a gigantic A1 fold-out silkscreened/digital print lyric sheet.  The vinyl is an edition of 300, although Annihaya Records have also released the cd version in an edition of 500.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

entropy is what the state makes of it

Entropy Is What The State Makes Of It
CANADA  Caduc  CA11  CD  (2015)

Entropy can be defined as a “lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder”.  What does any State make of it?  Barry Chabala and A F Jones; aka Steerage set an interesting question for the times we live in.  This carefully chosen title may refer to the impending changes fast approaching North America, but could equally be a warning for our own near-future here in the UK?  Entropy… is a work about decay – figuratively and literally.  Caduc proprietor Mathieu Ruhlmann’s ghost ship design on the front cover and overlaid abstract mapping on the rear raise a signpost which points in all and no direction.
Like the inconvenient iceberg that did for the Titanic, electronics crash into acoustic guitar violently.  A strong hand on the tiller is essential.  The first piece, “The Predominance of Fading Decorum” features interesting split tones, wavering.  Barry Chabala’s approach to his guitar is reminiscent of Robert Fripp’s late 70’s /early 80s “frippertronics” experiments briefly.  With Jones’ input, the piece takes on the giddying scale of a tanker or modern cruiseship.
Next, “Entropy” combines drones and abstraction with glacial development and purposeful augmentation – music as if in opposition, but to what?  The soundfield becomes a siren at 8 minutes and later on colossal motors power down.  At 9:20 a tape delay caught my ear.  At least it sounded like tape delay to me.  I love the sound characteristics of analogue tape delay.  One of the players managed to hold a good long section of controlled delay feedback there.  Tricky.  I noticed a small bit more at 15:35.
“Upon Maelstroms of Unbearable Reality” predict the future for north America with its agitated, paranoid chirruping, while final track “A Faculty of Encounter” presents gutteral noises courtesy of Jones perhaps?  It’s hard to imagine even the most experimental guitar set-up sounding like that.  “Upon Maelstroms…” has a cicada-like crust with a dry joint pulse underneath.  Overdriven synth growl.  Guitar is heard in a room with passing traffic and workmen in the background.  The piece ends with some beautifully restrained minimal guitar phrasing.
Another sumptuous package like I’ve come to expect from Caduc – a bookmark, track listing insert, folded sleeve; all full colour printed on art card/paper stuffed into a heavy transparent poly sleeve.  Photography by Jennifer Atchley and design by Ruhlmann and “ship concept” by Sean Jewell.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016


Alice Hui-Sheng Chang / Jason Kahn
USA  Pan y Rosas Discos  pyr172  download  (2016)

Four pieces on offer here; numbered simply 1 to 4 recorded in Melbourne, Australia in January of 2015.  A departure of sorts for Jason Kahn, who has previously been heard improvising at the controls of shortwave radios and analogue synthesisers, [see his recent cassette Thirty Seconds Over on Aural Detritus], or on percussion.  Alice Hui-Sheng Chang is a new name to me.  Alice has this to say about her work:  “…(she) challenges the boundary of a presentation site physically and imaginatively, viewing each performance as a site-specific response…”.  Her music has been released on Antifrost, Trente Oiseaux, Homophoni, New Weird Australia, Kwan Yin and Sub Rosa among others.
In terms of its basic construction, Voices runs the gamut of vocalese.  The material here reminds me somehow of the way birds communicate.  The internet tells me: "Songbirds learn their songs and perform them using a specialized voice box called a syrinx”.  For a bird, singing can be draining. It is both energetically expensive and alerts predators. So then why do birds sing? Evidence suggests that in part, it is to proclaim and defend their territories.  The chances are when you hear a bird singing it’s a male. The majority of female songbirds in temperate zones use shorter, simpler calls while the males produce the longer and more complex vocalizations we think of as song.  The story is different in the tropics where females commonly sing, and many species engage in duetting."  In Chang and Kahn’s case, their duetting is strangely comforting and their voices respective timbres complement each other well.
On 1 both Kahn and Chang creak and hum; wheeze and whisper.  Initially, Kahn seems to use an intimate close microphone technique at times, whereas it sounds as if Alice Hui-Sheng Chang’s approach is more full bodied and interacts with the recording space.  However my perception of this changes as the piece progresses.  There is a granular quality to both voices and it is impossible for me to tell who’s doing what.  By the last couple of minutes Kahn is clearly making noises which remind me of Dylan Nyoukis’ saliva-filled mouth/throat-noise explorations but without the tape manipulation typical of Nyoukis’ live vocal performances.
The second piece is more structured (academic) to my ears, although due to the brevity of information I have been given with this album, this assumption may be erroneous, or even irrelevant.  I suspect that there are incidents of double-tracking of Kahn’s vocals on this piece but again don’t take my word for it.  The duo employ space as more of a feature in 2, which results in the feeling of slower pace overall.
The third piece begins with whistling and very electronic-sounding close-up mouth noises before developing the first full-throated display of what you might traditionally recognise as “singing” on the album.  This is the shortest piece on Voices and something of a lull before the maelstrom of 4.
Track four is possibly the most confrontational featuring as it does Alice’s joyless cackle and Jason’s wet ululations from the very start.  Weird high pitched whistling like the noises coaxed from a slowly deflating balloon follow; pops, multitimbral exhalations, the distant overheard mumblings of a confused great-uncle, osculations, wavering, lip-smacking and so forth, but now with a restraint and sense of calm that you just don’t get from practitioners like Phil Minton.  Until Alice starts screaming like a hungry goat, that is.

Jason Kahn appears to be working exclusively with his voice at the time of writing, so it will be interesting to hear his development of this way of working over future recordings.  Interest in an older generation of vocalising artists like Bob Cobbing and Henri Chopin is on the increase and the aforementioned, (and previously seriously underground artist), Dylan Nyoukis was recently subjected to a sympathetic piece in The Guardian, [] so perhaps Kahn’s timing of this album is spot on.

Sunday, 20 March 2016


Yiorgis Sakellariou
COLOMBIA  Éter Editions  eter 10  3” CD-R  (2014)

A composer operating exclusively, as far as I am aware, with his own field recordings, Yiorgis Sakellariou presents us with this neat little one track 3” cd-r titled after the gallery in London where the piece was premiered as part of the Sonicueb Festival.  For the sake of transparency, I should divulge the fact that I was handed this disc personally by Sakellariou at a concert I was involved with at Kentish Town’s excellent record shop Electric Knife last December.
Cueb was mostly recorded on the 11th of March 2014 at Canary Wharf in London and its environs; Sakellariou augmenting the raw material with additional sounds from his archive to create a single twenty -one minute piece.
Certainly there’s a rhythmic, mechanical quality; sounds that could be produced by heavy machinery and/or large engines.  It seems to me that dynamics are important to Sakellariou in his work and here is no exception.  To balance the noise of the machines at the beginning is a quiet passage; perhaps those same machines but from a much more distant vantage point.  This section increases slowly in amplitude until a hard cut throws the listener down an ill-lit shaft into a section of disused London Underground.  As with all of Sakellariou’s work, the production values are high – the sounds are all crisp and clean and designed to be played at high volume in order to immerse the listener in his sound-world.  What I find particularly satisfying about his approach is his success in finding ways of juxtaposing commonplace noises in very musical ways.
A great, although all too brief, release – but I wonder how many people actually own cd players that have the ability to play 3” discs these days.  I was in a commercial recording studio recently, and the engineer only had the drive of his Mac to play cds on and it refused to play a 3” disc; in fact he spent fifteen minutes coaxing the disc back out of the machine with a pen lid.  Could this, like MiniDisc, DAT and DCC before it, be another digital format to soon become obsolete?

Éter look like an interesting label; they also have in this download/3” cd series releases by David Vélez, Jose Gallardo, Yann Novak, Tony Whitehead & Fransisco Meirino and Miguel Isaza among others.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015


CANADA  Caduc  CA09  CD  (2015)

Meridian are Tim Feeney, Sarah Hennies and Greg Stuart.  A tuyere is a tube or pipe which enables air to be blown into a furnace or hearth, sometimes under pressure.  Indeed, it seems plausible that some of these sort of devices were obtained by Feeney, Hennies and Stuart and used as the source of the noises contained within this imposing disc.  Or are they slyly using the term to refer to themselves as devices to get the fires of this music burning?
Tuyeres contains three beautifully crisp recordings, let's assume documenting a series of actions against and within these curious objects and other things.  Possibly involving water, sand, leaves, or possibly not, because I’m guessing – there’s no information regarding the means of production on the sleeve.  Feedback is generated somehow, and in different ways, doors bang shut, matter grinds itself into other, different, kinds of matter.  I think I can hear stuff activating the head of a drum, and bowed metal.  All the while, deliberate activities are mixed with accidental soundings and even people just dropping stuff occasionally.  Of course, this is not sheer carelessness, it is the product of a very highly developed strategy.  Activities start and stop, seemingly at random.  These brief passages of silence are, indeed, just as important as the sound.  They bring the sounds more into focus, as if you were looking through a magnifying glass at an insect colony, or through a telescope at morning clouds on the horizon.
The three tracks don’t appear to be named, unless we are to assume they are named after the protagonists.  They diminish in duration thus; the first piece is 20 minutes long, the second 15 minutes and the third just seven.  It seems to me as if this is one performance divided into three parts - the ID points for the beginning of each track may have been selected arbitrarily: track three starts halfway through a burst of feedback at the end of track two.  Which is unconventional, for sure, but also a quite charming.
As with all Caduc releases, the packaging is as beautiful, and inscrutable, as the sounds contained within.  The beautiful drawing by Mathieu Ruhlmann on the front of the full colour sleeve depicts what looks to me like a pair of cocoons of some description; exotic or domestic I’m not sure.  No matter - this disc comes highly recommended from me.

COVE - The Thing

The Thing
UK  Extreme Ultimate   Cassette  (2015)

Sharing its title with name of the Swedish/Norwegian jazz-rock group could almost be no accident.  This, Cove's posthumous fourth album cuts a swathe through post-rock, doom, dirge, space-rock and free improv with the verve and brutality of the group The Thing, only without any of that fancy brass getting in the way.  In terms of free playing, there’s a precedent in Cove’s history; the improvisation on The Thing is reminiscent of drummer Mark Davidson’s improvised project Exit Strategy.  Bassist Tony Mountford doubles up on synthesisers which lends a spacey, proggy feel to what could otherwise be mostly straight-ahead post-rock material.  This is a big departure, in terms of production alone, from their first album proper; 2004’s HiWatt, where guitarist DCW Briggs led with a grinding, metronomic swing.  Cove cite the opening scenes of John Boorman’s film Zardos, which explains the apocalyptic qualities of their music, and Grateful Dead’s Anthem of The Sun as inspiration, although there is equally an undercurrent louche Duophonic-like feel probably courtesy of the influence of Stereolab’s Andy Ramsay, who was responsible for recording the album.
The Thing is varied yet focussed; Globules features an acoustic guitar riff which results in a kind of Acid Mothers Temple unplugged vibe, Ambient Circuits and Ghosts Of Orbits mine musical themes common to a lot of Cove’s previous output, and the title track is of an epic drone/industrial persuasion - it heaves under the weight of experimentation and improvisation; ropes and notes taut and at the point of snapping; an analogy appropriate to the album as a whole, perhaps...
On a personal note, it is not without some sadness that I note Cove’s demise.  I organised a couple of shows for them in Brighton around 2004/5 with Projections and the WOW, as part of a scene that also included Lords, Charlottefield, Jason & The Astronauts, Joeyfat, Planquez and Hey Colossus, most of whom are also now defunct, (with the exception of Hey Colossus who these days are going from strength to strength).  In terms of Cove’s sound, they may have sounded cleaner than most doom bands, more dynamic than most drone bands, more precise than most post-hardcore bands, more powerful than most post-rock bands, and with their arrangements peppered with more “free” intervals than anyone else dared, and all that just made them all the more unique.  Later tracks like Marsh Of Decay from Projected pointed out their Slint and other American post-whatever influences, but there remained something truly original in their exploration of the form.
From their emergence in the early 2000’s from Tunbridge Well’s Forum-based scene, through their output of three albums on Unlabel and their miscellaneous product on labels like jonsonfamily, Noisestar, Dead Art Collective, Convoy and Fat Sandwich, (all in regrettably small editions), and their involvement in London’s Silver Rocket scene, Cove live became one of the most dependably high quality propositions in the UK in my opinion, despite their relative, and undeserved, obscurity.  Certainly, 2013’s Projected cassette featured probably the most well-rounded song-based material, while my personal favourites are For Absent Companions; the split 7” with Charlottefield from 2003, and the Untitled 7” from 2001.  It is with a mixture of joy and sadness that I listen to the music on The Thing as it seems it may be the last we’ll hear of one of the greatest uk power trios of the last decade. Choose the download version or a limited run cassette, or packages with cassette and t-shirt or cassette, t-shirt and poster.

Friday, 23 October 2015

it's a BLAAST

from one coordinate to uncoordination
CANADA  Caduc  CA08  CD  (2015)

Here, we have another fine release from Mathieu Ruhlmann’s Caduc label, this time a duo of Lali Barrière and Alfredo Costa Monteiro.  I previously enjoyed Ruhlmann’s Concert For Charles Cros with Lance Austin Olsen and Daniel Jones on Caduc.  Monteiro I know from his project Atolón with Ruth Barberán and Ferran Fages, whose excellent 2013 album Concret I reviewed here:  He also works with Fages under the name Cremaster, with Barberán under the name i treni inerti, (literally translated; Inert Trains), and in duos with Pascal Battus and Tim Olive as well as solo.  Lali Barrière is a Barcelona-based musician who has also worked with Ruth Barberán and Ferran Fages, along with many other notable improvisers such as Tom Chant, Xavier Lopez, Tom Soloveitzik, Dafne Vicente-Sandoval and Artur Vidal and sound artist Nuno Rebelo.  She teaches mathematics as a Professor at Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya and also creative music.  The scene in Barcelona seems to be particularly close-knit; Ferran Fages mastered from one coordinate to uncoordination.  Monteiro produced the sleeve artwork himself.
The work itself is one piece of deep, expansive music based around unhurried movement and tonal interplay, performed on two synthesisers over a good, long duration of 73 minutes.  Actually, as an admirer of long-duration improvisation, I could happily listen to much more than that; this is great stuff – immersive, subtle and enigmatic.  In fact, when on the first listen, as the music finished, I immediately pressed play again and listened to the whole thing straight through for a second time.  Demonstrating considerable restraint and purity of intention, from one coordinate to uncoordination keeps a fairly uniform dynamic until about halfway where Barrière and Costa Monteiro break it down into gossamer components.  All the way they maintain a linearity in their interplay.  Later, at 50 minutes, both synthesisers take on the timbre of church organs as if heard from outside; filtered by the stone walls of a church.
I am aware that there has been a recent resurgence of interest in all things analogue in the world of synthesis, and it is not stated on the sleeve whether the equipment being used here is digital or analogue, (however there is a video of BLAAST in performance and it looks like they are using modern desktop synthesisers, but it’s too dark to make out much more than that).  Purists may (and probably will) argue over this until the cows come home, but I don’t really think about it either way – the music speaks for itself and, could feasibly be adapted for different instrumentation.  Furthermore, those familiar with either of the musician’s previous output may be surprised to hear synthesisers used at all.  Both Monteiro and Barrière are normally firmly ensconced in the EAI area of music making with acoustic instruments, unconventional strategies, extended technique and so forth.  Displaying steady development, from one coordinate to uncoordination avoids stagnation or unnecessary busyness.  I had an emotional response to it at once, hence my urge to listen through it again straightaway.
Again with Caduc, the production values on the disc are high – full colour professional printing on a heavy card stock fold-over sleeve, with the thoughtful addition of a bookmark included.