Black Vase: 2011 Edition
When Oliver tweeted asking if anyone would like to write about ‘out there’ sounds, I thought, ‘yeah, why not. I like a bit of that.’ But what exactly is ‘that’? By proxy it’s usually a fool’s game to try and categorise, but for the sake of simplicity, lets just say we’re talking about music that pushes boundaries to the extreme.
Now, pop music often pushes boundaries (usually those of taste…) but rarely does it cause you to question your own perception of what music actually is. I remember hearing Whitehouse’s ‘Why You Never Became A Dancer’ for the very first time, and having every preconceived notion in my tiny little mind turn into a fine pink mist. It was both terrifying and revelatory, and very much in-at-the-deep-end.
Pontification aside, 2011 was an excellent year for experimental music. You only have to look at the scores of end of year lists to see musicians who have come straight out of leftfield placed relatively highly. The much maligned micro-scene of witch house/drag has matured away from its drab drones to produce sumptuous chop’d and screw’d works like Oneohtrix Point Never’s Replica, and Patten’s GLAQJO XACCSSO – a gorgeous piece of work where shuddering breaks collide with analogue-y blips.
Also to be found bothering top 50s everywhere was Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath, 1972. My first listen of this album was on a solitary beach walk between Bournemouth and Sandbanks – it was windy and cold, but Hecker’s lush, dusty textures created an ambient warmth – the perfect antidote to the cold, static fog of say, Fennesz (and the south coast in February.)
Heading further through the looking glass, the intimidatingly prolific output of Alva Noto (stage name of Carsten Nikolai, he of Rastor Noton records fame) reached a creative zenith with the release of Univers – a hypnotic set of work that flits between minimal tech one second and the sound of your very own technological nightmare the next. If Kid A is supposed to explore the landscape of an apocalyptic technological age, Univers is the malfunctioning microchip that sets about triggering the singularity.
Elsewhere, drone metal pioneers Earth returned with Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I, which saw their continued distancing from ‘Sunn O))) Amps and Smashed Guitars’ culminate in glorious freeform folk, and the misleadingly-monikered Master Musicians of Bukkake completed their totem trilogy with Totem Three – in which the Pacific Northwestern collective are on particularly fine psychedelic form.
Another turn up for the books was ex-Whitehouse Wasp-botherer William Bennett’s 'Afro-Noise' project, Cut Hands. Bennett has explained in many interviews how the continent of Africa has inspired him since the conception of Whitehouse and continues to this day. ‘Afro Noise I’ succeeded in that it’s combination of tribal rhythms and harsh power electronics toned down the relentless assault of Whitehouse, while still sounding intense and claustrophobic.
Outside of releases, it was great to see Supersonic Festival return for a ninth year – it’s no stretch to say that the contribution the Capsule ladies make to experimental music in the UK is invaluable, and as an event, Supersonic is inimitable. Also worth mentioning are the great nights put on at London’s Café Oto and GV Art gallery.
But now, as I should, I shall re-start as I mean to continue and tell you about some of the awesome-as-shit stuff I’ve heard over 2011’s death knell.
Firstly, I was gifted a copy of Aidan Baker’s new monsterpiece The Spectrum of Distraction. At 97 tracks and just under two hours, listening in one fell swoop is a daunting task. Luckily, the idea behind the project is to listen to it completely at random, thus making each new listening experience pretty much alien to the last. Now, I really enjoyed the album as a piece in itself. The obviously mapped drums playing havoc with Baker’s trademark fuzzed-to-infinity guitars (though admittedly, not so much Nadja wall of noise as singular gut punch). But on shuffle, it sounded a hell of a lot like someone had given Mike Patton a copy of Garageband for the first time. Oh, and Patton’s a toddler. Not my cup of tea. The spectrum of Distraction is out now on Robotic Empire records.
Then I checked out Petrels - the solo project of Bleeding Heart Narrative’s Oliver Barrett, and his debut long player Haeligewielle. A stunning piece of work, Haeligewielle (old Saxon for ‘holy well’) transports the listener over a multitude of textures and terrains, from echo-drenched and urgent string sections, to fathomless wells of glorious noise via layered chants and a scintillatingly rhythmic culmination. Haeligewielle is a true journey of an album that awards the listener with the smother of climax at its end.
Our final mention this time goes to Birds of Passage, otherwise known as New Zulland experimental musician (and tree-climbing enthusiast) Alicia Merz. Camping in a not-dissimilar field to Grouper, Alicia’s second album Winter Lady is the most perfect antithesis to saccharine singer-songwriters. Musically, its field recordings, sparse drones and even sparser piano blanket her spider-web soft vocal delivery in ice, only for her to thaw the sound around her with emotion. Wondrous stuff.
Haeligewielle and Winter Lady are both available on Denovali Records.
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