[ESTWeb Home Page] [Music Reviews Index]

Key to reviewers: AB Andy Bullock; KB Kevin Busby; BD Brian Duguid; MG Marc Gascoigne; DH Dave Howarth; RML Rupert Loydell; BN Baz Nicholls; SP Stephen Pope; SR Shaun Robert; PT Phil Taylor; MX MX.

Naked City
(Disk Union AVAN 004) CD 47 minutes

Just when you thought they had run out of ideas ... still a quintet of John Zorn, Bill Frisell, Wayne Horvitz, Fred Frith, Joey Baron, with Zorn still writing all the music, this is miles away from earlier efforts like the eponymous Naked City album, which lived in a short attention span world of incessant stylistic jumpcuts and crazed uptempo frenzy. Absinthe is bitter, stained, painful, atonal stuff; a complete change of pace from previous material and prove that Zorn's group has life in it yet. If anything, this morbid music has more in common with post-industrial musicians, or artists like Zoviet France or Asmus Tietchens. Its depressive mood means that it's difficult to get into, however. BD

(Seeland 009CD) CD 59 minutes

Negativland Presents Over The Edge
Vol.5: Crosley Bendix - The Radio Reviews
(Seeland 010CD) 71 minutes

Is your view of American culture a little jaundiced? Do you think the letter "r" in "land of the free" is a typo? Do you think the American obsession with guns, Christ and the flag is a little strange? Negativland do. Free is the long-awaited follow-up to Escape From Noise, their last full-length album that didn't just exploit the group's media notoriety; the first release since Noise to treat plagiarism as a means rather than an end. Free isn't quite so approachable as Noise; there's noticeably less variety and less of the short, sweet soundbites. But tracks like The Gun and The Bible, The Bottom Line and especially the vicious Our National Anthem dissect American culture more incisively than ever before, throwing countless gleeful sonic tomatoes at Uncle Sam's oh-so-smug face. If like me, you've watched the group disappear up their own asses over the last two years, you'll see this as a brilliant return to form; if you've yet to be exposed to these celebrated collageurs, dive in!

Crosley Bendix is a different kettle of finned, cold-blooded water-living vertebrates. In ten pieces, cultural reviewer and Director of Stylistic Premonitions Mr Bendix expounds his "original and imaginative" thoughts on cultural topics like style, dance, numbers and technology. Over mostly banal background music this nerdy-voiced irritant deconstructs, makes nonsense of and reverses conventional ideas about these topics, as well as conventional presentations of them. Frequently the aim appears to be to deal with areas that initally seem unrelated to the ostensible topics, such as the concept of ownership and the concept of art. That's it, really; this one basic idea reoccurs in each of the ten pieces, and you'll either find it repeatedly hilarious or repeatedly annoying. BD

Nocturnal Emissions
Drowning in a Sea of Bliss
(Touch TO:4CD) CD 42 minutes &
Songs of Love and Revolution
(Dark Vinyl DV #19) CD 50 minutes &
Blasphemous Rumours
(Staalplaat) CD 73 minutes

Drowning is a reissue on CD of a "classic" Nocturnal Emissions album from 1983, which helps place their legacy in proper perspective. And my viewpoint is quite simple: it's bollocks. Cut-up rhythms and noise with little or no finesse or talent; it's hard to tell if the static and noise is deliberate deconstruction or just piss-poor recording. For hardcore industrial fans only. 1985's Songs will have a wider appeal, simply because it's more musical. NE's most (only?) political statement, it mixes early-eighties synthetic rhythms (a la Cabs, Portion Control etc) with found voices and rabble-rousing lyrics. It's definitely more listenable, but a lot of the political ranting is best viewed with ironic detachment, and a lot of the music is, to say the least, rather cheesy. Overall, you're much better off spending your money on one of their new albums, or if it's political industrial music from the 80s you want, give Test Dept a try. One new album is Blasphemous Rumours, sadly not the album composed entirely of looped samples of Depeche Mode that the title had me hoping for. All three tracks employ looped samples to create spiritually-oriented, ambient textures and moods. It differs little from recent attempts in the same direction like Cathedral, but the rhythmic buzzings are every bit as good in this case. It's very relaxing to listen to, and very enjoyable too. [Touch / Soleilmoon; Dark Vinyl / Soleilmoon; Staalplaat / Soleilmoon] BD

No Safety
(Knitting Factory KFWCD 127 / RecRec ReCDec 45) CD 51 minutes

(Sound & Language SLCD0001) CD 68 minutes

Otomo Yoshihide
We Insist?
(Sound Factory Records SFCD:003) CD 51 minutes

No Safety are another New York art-rock band, this time featuring Zeena Parkins on keyboards as well as her more usual electric harp and accordion. The rest of the band are unknown to me, and are a line-up of two guitars (one of whom also shares vocal duties with Parkins and uses a sampler), bass, and drums; plus a 'special guest' on turntables and more samples. The music is jerky, syncopated rock - nervous, no-wave type stuff, with bright intricate gamelan-type guitars bouncing and striding over the top of rolling rhythms. I'm reminded not only of the likes of Arto Lindsay and The Ambitious Lovers but also the third incarnation of King Crimson (without the art-rock solos!) It's good, lively stuff, but only within its genre: it seems there's a lot of this stuff around at the moment, and nothing here makes it at all special.

I prefer Slant, who - from the recording details - I take to be an English equivalent of No Safety, although their trio line-up features turntables, voice/ clarinet/ jaws harp, and voice/ violin/ keyboards. The turntables are cleverly used with textures, loops and strange disembodied vocals paving the way for the band to create a vast range of sounds, mood and inter-instrumental contrast and exploration over the top. Moments of absolute beauty (distant bells ringing, softly spoken voices) contrast with hell-for-leather pounding workouts. New to me, this is a band I shall look out for in the future: a band who use everything they play to the full.

Otomo Yoshihide also uses turntables, along with a sampler, tapes and a guitar - but he is also backed up by various combinations of ten other musicians, including John Zorn, whose work has obviously been a major source for Yoshihide. 24 brief tracks squawk, splutter, thrash, or breeze their way along, each contrasting with the track before and after, each a short foray along one avenue of improvisation. It's a heady, anarchic brew, with ideas mostly thrown at the listener rather than actually worked through and resolved. An exciting noisy listen, but Yoshihide needs to take the next album a little more slowly: I'd like some reasons and answers, not just a hotch potch. [Knitting Factory / RéR; Sound & Language, 85 London Road South, Lowestoft, Suffolk; Sound Factory Records, GPO Box 13500, Hong Kong; all also from These] RML

K.K. Null and Jim O'Rourke
New Kind of Water
(Charnel House CHCD-6) CD 67 minutes

K.K. Null and James Plotkin
(Sentrax STC 43 CD) CD 70 minutes

The inlay card notes to New Kind of Water say "All tracks are guitar duets", probably a good idea as some people are bound to be suspicious of these live and studio sessions. The names need little introduction; Kazuyuki K. Null is best known for his work in bands like Zeni Geva, ANP and YBO2, Japanese guitar-noise at its noisiest; O'Rourke has a more varied background in improv and avant-garde composition. There are times when big names don't guarantee a good recording; this is one hell of an exception. The way they counterpoint each other is superb - O'Rourke's surreptitious strings-of-beads hung carefully around Null's roaring, crashing chords; shopping trolleys being shredded into pieces; electric hoover drones talking sombrely to febrile, jumpy insect clouds þ and the sheer range of textures is astonishing, especially how they get a guitar to sound like a flute on Operation DNA. Believe the hype!

Aurora is every bit as extraordinary. Null's contribution was recorded in Japan and then processed and added to in America by Plotkin, and the result at times flows better than a simple live improvisation might. The opening Drowning in Air adopts the modus operandi of looping and muddying its own waters to create an immense, yawning sonic cavern. Others, like Dead Moon Ritual are more furtive, diffident forays into a nocturnal forest of sound. Like New Kind of Water, you won't find much of Null's trademark all-out pandemonium here, but nor will you miss it. This is another excellent album. [Charnel House and Dark Vinyl; Sentrax via D.O.R.] BD

Optimum Wound Profile
Silver or Lead
(Roadrunner RR9040-1) LP 45 minutes

Just how many more useless bands do I have to come across spouting the "Oh, we hate all that death metal; we're only influenced by early Swans and Slab!" line? If that's the case, why do they sound just like a death metal band from a backwater like, say, Plymouth, plus a fifty quid sampler replaying clips taped from a particularly racy murder report from South West Tonight? What a bunch of no-mark losers. If only the major labels were signing up "industrial" bands wholesale here (as they do in the US) so these pillocks could find themselves back on the street in two years without a recording contract and half a million in debt; such a revenge would be mighty sweet. MG

Oral Constitution
(Artware 08) CD 21 minutes &
Piss Preik
(Artware 13) CD 67 minutes

Two bizarre collections of songs by this Norwegian neo-folk group. Acoustic guitar and ethereal female vocals are heavily evident. I was reminded of Current 93, Kevin Coyne and Dagmar Krause. Strange love songs and laments, charming and oddball. The theme constantly explored is old world sexuality. One song has a Red Indian chant, strings, drum machine, a foghorn sound, female and a child's voices, the end result of which is impossible to describe. I was perplexed by the music's off-the-wall quality, and consequently intrigued. An original, schizophrenic display of spiritual and mystical angst. [Artware] PT

(Matchless Recordings Aeroplane AR 14) LP 36 minutes

David Jackman is joined by Dinah Jane Rowe, Jim O'Rourke, Christoph Heemann and Eddie Prévost for three fairly short tracks here. It's tempting to describe Aurora and particularly Sphyx itself as Organum-goes-New-Age; the latter blends a flute into the usual whirlpool of drones and metallic reverberation. The addition of some rippling, nervous drumming by Prévost helps make this one of Organum's more approachable, less noisy albums, but fans will recognise all Jackman's usual loves here. The emphasis is on timbre and on drones; in Aurora they even at times sound quite uplifting, ecstatic in the same sense as a Branca symphony, which is not something I could say about any of my other Organum records. Third track Mutla treads water, but the other two easily make this a must-have release. [Matchless / These / ReR] BD

Jim O'Rourke
(Staalplaat / Korm Plastics STCD 048 / KP 4292) double CD total 97 minutes &
Rules of Reduction
(Metamkine MKCD 009) 3" CD 17 minutes &
(Extreme XCD 009) CD 53 minutes

Jim O'Rourke & Syllyk
(La Legende des Voix LDV 007) CD 76 minutes

Disengage represents the side of O'Rourke's work that deals in abstract sound, as opposed to his guitar improv work or conventional composition. Each disc contains a single long piece. The first, Mere, demonstrates O'Rourke's attention to detail: where others in the post-industrial scene might just layer drones, he adds intricate filgree melodies to enhance and contrast; where you might expect an insistent pulsation, there are several, each with a different rhythm. It also displays a fine understanding of dynamics: the very gradual development, careful use of widely differing volume levels, and variation in the density of the sound textures, these are all carefully employed to produce fascinating music, which particularly in its more intense moments, will have a lasting effect on the listener. It's a pity that the combined length put it beyond a single CD, but it's still cheaper than buying two separate albums. Very highly recommended!

Rules of Reduction also fits into the musique concrète category, although it's a much noisier, more pungent work; it has the same taste for juxtaposing noise and near-silence, and blends found sounds (traffic, water flowing etc) with instrumental stretches. It's short but sweet, and for a full exposition of its aesthetic, you should read the interview. Tamper is neither; it collects three works, about which O'Rourke comments: "It's okay ... but it has tons of problems". He may think so; you'll probably disagree. All three tracks show O'Rourke's love of atonal drones, reminding me alternately of Organum, Penderecki and Ligeti, particularly with the vocal contributions to He Felt the Patient Memory of a Reluctant Sea. It's a lot more obvious than the other recordings reviewed here, and simpler, and it's also my favourite.

His contribution to Frontieres is called Scan, and it again combines conventional instruments (clarinets) with abstract sound. For much of the time, it's hardly there, occasional tinklings and very soft background noise being all there is. At others it sounds like being in the middle of a construction site. John Cage's love of quiet environmental sounds would seem to be the most obvious influence. Syllyk have two contributions to the album, L'Ange d'Or and Terre - Ciel / Soleil - Feu. These are much more approachable than Scan, with a wider variety of sounds (including processed vocals and obvious electronics) and less material recorded at the threshold of audibility. The CD is well worth hearing for the Syllyk pieces, but the O'Rourke contribution will test most people's patience considerably. [Staalplaat / Soleilmoon; Metamkine; La Legende des Voix] BD

Bob Ostertag
Say No More
(RecRec ReCDec 59) CD 38 minutes

Known for taking samples of other people's playing and reconstructing them into an abstract musical work, this CD represents a fascinating departure for Ostertag. Four musicians (Joey Baron & Gerry Hemingway on percussion, Phil Minton singing, Mark Dresser bass) recorded free, separate improvisations for Ostertag, who has then taken these recordings and sampled them, replaying stretches as long as a minute or looping and manipulating shorter phrases to create rhythms and melodies totally unlike those actually performed. What results is intense and very satisfying, with hyperactive drumming and crackpot absurdism maintaining a great flow of ideas over the two tracks. The next planned stage will be even more interesting: for the participants to learn the resulting compositions and play them live, which should hopefully result in something that retains all the intricasy and intensity, with even more vigour and life to it. [These; ReR] BD

Kuhe in 1/2 Trauer
(Odd Size OS09) CD &
(Odd Size OS10) CD

The first two P16D4 LPs re-issued. For those not familiar with their work, they have one foot in "rock" (either by using rock instruments or by reprocessing recordings of their previous incarantion, PD), one foot in noise and concrete music, one foot in a similar squonking branch of avant-garde music to Smegma, and one foot in the school of free improvisation. 4 legs, no less. The first album is preoccupied with the generation of new structural skins around disparate materials, mainly by electronic processing and tape collage. A car can't just go from 0 mph to 60; it has to accelerate. Tape cut-ups overcome this problem: your "car" can be stationary one minute and suddenly be travelling 8,000,000 mph in reverse the next, by editing out the acceleration and gear-changes. The condition of the terrain can also change without warning: the bellowing of hair-lipped mountain yodellers might give way to falling shards of glass, "coming down in total blackout, without one glint of light, only great invisible crashing", for example.

The 2nd LP, consists of 10 tracks using materials submitted by 14 groups / artists, including Merzbow, Nurse With Wound, Onnyx and Bladder Flask. P16D4 stuck to the intended approach, leaving the submitted materials fairly untouched, adding to them with improvisations. Highlight for me is Luxus and Mehrwert, a fast-paced series of colliding facets: scratchy 78rpm records, ice-skating oil drums and a funfair with swill instead of oxygen. [Odd Size] AB

(Les Disques du Soleil et de L'Acier DSA54021) CD 34 minutes

From the label that brought you Phew's 1981-vintage, Can-collaborating debut lp comes another small but imperfectly-formed example of her idiosyncratic music, from 1987. This time she is backed by local musicians, who provide a woefully inept take on late 80s indie music that is totally at odds with Phew's fragile voice. As a result, she sounds like she's straining to be heard over the chopping guitars and flurrying keyboards, and all too often her songs get submerged under the seriously unsympathetic backing. Not a good record in any sense. [Les Disques ..., BP236, 54004 Nancy Cedex, France] MG

Premature Ejaculation
(Dark Vinyl DV18) CD 51 minutes

I haven't followed Rozz Williams's career too closely since that incredible debut on Christian Death's classic Only Theatre of Pain, but judging by this he's spent all his time recently listening to nothing but TG's Second Annual Report. The second cut, 'Death Works As You Drift' is a dead ringer for 'Slug Bait', right down to the wobbly synths and frozen voice. Elsewhere, there are more cohesive variations on the theme, but this still all sounds like the answer to the first test in the `Industrial 101' course textbook. MG

Eddie Prévost Band
Live 1977 Vols 1 + 2
(Matchless Recordings MRCD 01/02) 78 minutes

A well chosen reissue from Matchless of recordings from sometime AMM drummer Mr Prévost. I understand one short track from the original vinyl releases had to be omitted for timing reasons - a pity. Accompanying the drummer we have Geoff Hawkins, tenor sax; Gerry Gold, trumpet and flugelhorn; and Marcio Mattos, double bass. In the new (1993) liner notes, Prévost rails against some of the original issue's reviews and attempts to put the music in the context of his politics of the time, which he sums up with: "This music is dedicated to the liberation fighters of the world".

Certainly the free-form compositions are alive with a strength of vitality, a righteous anger born out of the strength of conviction of the musicians involved. I can find no fault with the improv / free jazz that results from this stimulus, but looking back in hindsight (yes, fool's wisdom) such direct political stimulus seems quaint in 1994. In these days of greater communication and less understanding it is more difficult to draw lines, to recognise who the heroes and villains are and where you should stand. Which leaves us with the music. It really is excellent, tight and yet free. If these guys were part of the 'new traditionalist' school they'd be wearing sharp suits and snorting coke at a major record company's expense. Thankfully they are 'on' Matchless, care about what they are doing and are part of your cultural heritage. There's nothing 'difficult' about this music - jazz is not dead, it may smell funny but it cares and it deserves your attention. DH

Michael Prime
(RRRecords RRR-CD-09) CD 55 minutes

Michael Prime's approach to music is original and unusual, involving a respect for his sound sources that you rarely come across. This is as true of his improvised collages of environmental sounds (usually using sounds being recorded as the piece progresses, rather than pre-recorded music), or his work with biofeedback or an amplified water machine. This is a tiny little home-made device, using an aquarium pump to produce water movement; when amplified and carefully controlled, as on this album's Rotifers, it can sound either like a huge river or bear little resemblance to water at all. Timeslips is just as enjoyable; field recordings of water, people and animals put together with patience. The other two tracks help make this a particularly worthwhile purchase, and a definite surprise coming from RRR. [RRRecords] BD

Project Pitchfork
(Hypnobeat Semaphore 21036) CD 63 minutes &
Souls Island
(Hypnobeat Semaphore 210519) CD 37 minutes

There's only one thing that lets these two electronic body music albums down, but it lets them both down completely. The music is great, melodic yet as sturdy as any other hardbeat, and the short instrumental interludes between each track prevent monotony. Souls Island is a companion and continuation of Entities, remixing three of its tracks, and adding new material. But the vocals ... maybe you can put up with these cliched growling grumbles more than I can, but they drive me clean away from what are otherwise enjoyable albums. [via Plastic Head/Cargo] BD

Rancho Diablo
Plan B
(Mute/13th Hour 12HOUR1) 12"

Mute's new spin-off label debuts with this splendid slab of ultraviolent industrial metal that sounds like Ministry could do if they weren't, well, rubbish. Harder than hard, but with bass-lines that could make the dead dance, these four tracks are just crying out for a massive PA and a packed dancefloor expecting a pleasant little mosh to the latest RevCo. Massive. MG

Jorge Reyes
El Costumbre
(Extreme XCD021) CD 43 minutes

Reyes is a Mexican ethno/ambient musician whose previous, privately-released domestic lps are the sort of thing that set the collectors at Audion/Ultima Thule a-quivering in their straightjackets. Using several layers of improvised and traditional percussion, ocarinas and flutes, a few synth drones and a sprinkling of distant chanting, Reyes manages to somehow conjure up an entire textbook of distant Aztec emotion. Sure, it's mostly fake, but he does seem to fake it so well. Both very odd and remarkably approachable; hear it. [via Cargo] MG

The Rorschach Garden
(Mindscan Cassettes) C60 cassette

Above average synth-based electronics album offering music that varies from the whimsical to the head-crunching, taking in danceable and melancholy en route. Transitions from one to the other aren't jarring on the whole: German-accented vocals are used sparingly in between instrumental tracks; the New-Ageish wispiness of The Silver Waters of Nimrodel surrenders to the iron-skulled clank and screech of Survival, which is succeeded by a short stretch of electro-harpsichord in the shape of Prisoners Dilemma. A nice range of sounds and styles is used, some of the heavier rhythms are managed very competently, and there's even some humour on display: this tape deserves wider exposure than I would imagine it's going to get. [Mindscan] SP

Jon Rose
Brain Weather
(RéR BJRCD2) CD 70 minutes

Fred Frith / Francoise-Michel Pesenti
Helter Skelter
(RecRec ReCDec 40) CD 55 minutes

Chris Cutler / Lutz Glandien
Domestic Stories
(RéR RERLSMCD) CD 49 minutes

Three albums of song cycles, or operas, although I suspect in years gone by 'concept album' would have been the tag applied!

Jon Rose's CD comprises two long works. The title piece Brain Weather takes up the first 50 minutes, and is followed by a 20 minute solo violin track, which also uses 'interactive ultrasound' linked to a computer synthesiser system. I imagine much the same electrickery is used in the main set, but the work also features the sung vocals of Rose himself and three others including Phil Minton, and spoken contributions from two others and over 100 tapes of Rosenberg family members. These weave a kind of non-linear narrative throughout the work, contrasted with bizarre violin excursions and vocal gymnastics. It's not an easy listen, but is an intriguing mix of improvisation and collage. The Weather Man is a much more beautiful and accessible piece, with the slow beat of the ultrasound pacing the melancholic violin arias and synthesiser offerings. The CD booklet contains full texts of the Rosenberg piece, and Rose is clearly interested in the subliminal and subtextual links afforded by the tape excerpts as he suggests using the random play facility after an initial listen. A dense, rewarding work.

As is Helter Skelter, a musical work by Fred Frith which uses texts by Pesenti seemingly based on references to Hieronymous Bosch paintings. The confusion is added to as this is a work recorded by Frith and 16 schoolchildren - described in the liner notes as 'crazy rock fans fed on everyday banalities'! Whatever the conclusion, the music is in the school of European art-rock music that came to prominence around the time of Rock In Opposition a decade or so ago: slightly mannered and jerky, often with choral / group vocals and tunes reminiscent of folk musics - jigs and dances always creeping in at the edges. Much of the work is dark and nerve-wracking, with only occasional moments of light and melodic resolution. The large band, conducted by Frith, means there is much room for interweaving of instruments, of sudden shifts, brief solos, ensemble passages, flurries of noise. Quite simply, it's magnificent!

Frith pops up again to play guitar and bass on Domestic stories, along with old friends Dagmar Krause (singing), and Alfred 23 Harth and his saxophones and clarinet. This is really Glandien's CD - he gets the credit for the music (Cutler is the author of the brief and elusive texts), but it has to be said this CD is exactly what you'd epxect from this group of people - Art Bears meet Cassiber. Jagged, artistic, progressive (free) jazz-tinged rock (in the Henry Cow or Soft Machine tradition), carefully played and arranged, with Dagmar's slightly breathy or nasal singing over the top. Harth blows wild and free, and at other times seduces with some gorgeous clarinet, newcomer Glandien juxtaposes his keyboards and samples into the mix - perhaps altering the spectrum of sound away from previous outings, but at heart it's the same Cutler-Frith chemistry at work. Which is to say it's excellent stuff, well worth spending your dole cheque on. [All available from RéR] RML

Digital Lifeforms
(Touch TO:21) CD 79 minutes

So just what is this "intelligent techno" lark all about then? Richard Kirk is one of the few who can claim to have been making "intelligent techno" since long before most of the current mob graduated from listening to Gary Numan on Top of the Pops, thanks to being half of Cabaret Voltaire. What Touch are doing releasing his music is a mystery to me, as Kirk has more recently had an album out on the more mainstream Warp, and the Cabs themselves are still plodding along. So what's it all about? Well, if you ditch the vocals, any stray pianos or whistles, and perhaps if you programme in a few new noises beyond the usual keyboard presets, then you're halfway there. Perhaps, like Kirk, you can strip the music down to its cold skeleton, emphasise the machined precision instead of the groove. What sets Digital Lifeforms apart from other genre colleagues is a total absence of anything resembling Tangerine Dream (cf Amorphous Androgynous, Pete Namlook) and there's also none of the powerful solidity that the likes of LFO or Aphex Twin have often achieved. This is clinical, brittle music, lacking in much in the way of user-friendly warmth and an interestingly impersonal counterpoint to Kirk's early 80s solo work, which was more acidic and paranoid. Cool calibration for cerebral cybernauts, I guess. (Sorry!) [Touch] BD

SAT Stoicizmo
Jacati Tijelo Sportom
(Kvadratura Juga 004) LP 20 minutes

This limited edition single-sided LP was pressed shortly before this Croatian band split in 1987, and as been picked up by Artware for distribution. I can do no better than quite from the press release: "In contrast to most other 'industrial' artists SAT Stoicizmo did not just exploit futuristic power to illustrate vague cultural pessimism. They really were futurists, which gave them the possibility to make powerful music without any need to 'apologize' for it by decorating it with nazi-terror, squashed foetuses, the futility of the world in general or whatever other childish dabbling". Too bloody right: this record may be short, but its excellent savage aestheticised rhythm and noise needs no further explanation. [Artware] BD

(Ash International 1.1) CD 55 minutes
(Ash International 1.2) CD 71 minutes

Some of the reviews I've seen of these two CDs rather miss the point. They dwell on the way the intercepted telephone calls are backed by a sophisticated ambient-industrial soundtrack, creating an edgy, disturbing, paranoid sonic world where the phone wires come alive and invisible digital transmissions are given audible form. This is all relevant, particularly on the second disc, but of more interest is the role these recordings play in the debate about the effects of new technology on the privacy issue. The people who blindly entrusted their secrets to the airwaves didn't expect to appear on these CDs, and undoubtedly wouldn't want to either, given the sexual, criminal and other private content of their phonecalls. Are the un-named figures behind Ash right to treat transmissions made on publicly accessible radio frequencies as being in the public domain? Is voyeurism sufficient justification for these intrusions? And most importantly, if Ash or Touch or the people recorded were more culturally visible, if they were better known, would they still be in a position to get away with presenting these issues so provocatively? [Touch] BD

Schedel, Merz and Frohmader
Attenti al Treno
(Nekropolis NCD 05) CD 75 minutes

A split but not collaborative CD, between Gerhard Schedel, Andreas Merz and Peter Frohmader, each musician realising his music in his own Munich studio. Schedel contributes eight works of various types; Merz one long piece, Ballet Music for Mechanical Dancers in 12 Acts; and Frohmader eight short pieces for cinema and TV. Of the three artists, I preferred the pieces by Schedel, who utilises not just electronics but also environmental sounds. Some of the music is harsh, some prog-rocky, some techno and some ethnic. The Merz composition, although ever-changing (atmospheric electronics, Japanese-style court music, woodwind) did not involve me. Finally, Frohmader's short pieces are more excerpts than fully accomplished soundtrack material. There was no sense of creating tension and transmitting images. I did not dislike them but wasn't affected either. [Nekropolis, Kriegstraße 7, W-8000 München 90, Germany] PT

Schloss Tegal
The Grand Guignol
(Artware 10) CD 53 minutes

We appear to be in the typical harsh electronics arena with this CD, with its catalogue of perversions listed on the outer sleeve and photographs of Jack the Ripper victims and Henry Lee Lucas on the inner sleeve. Amongst the subjects explored on this compact disc are ... religious and erotic fetishisms ... paralysis of the rectal tissue ... sexual perversion in seniles ... cultivated pederasty ... cacophilia. Shock tactics indeed, a Psychopathia Sexualis reminiscent of Whitehouse. However the rippling, soaring and pulsing electronics are not derivative. It is a very impressionistic soundtrack of pathological deviation, Hunting for Humans and Certificate of the Wound summarising this vision perfectly - the agony of life and death. [Artware] PT

Paul Schütze
The Rapture of Metals
(SDV 028 CD) CD 63 minutes

Intended as a companion volume to New Maps of Hell, this is my favourite album from an always fine musician. The six Raptures contained on this release all explore a variety of Fourth World textures, existing on the same frontier between ambient music and ethnic music as Jon Hassell or Jeff Greinke. It's not always obvious just how much is electronic and how much isn't, but in the case of this excellent album it hardly seems to matter. The metallic tones and timbres often evoke the sound of the gamelan; Schütze's music effortlessly provides an otherworldly serenity without falling prey to clichés. [SDV-Tonträger, Zimmerstraße 5, D-4000 Düsseldorf, Germany] BD

Colossus (Earache MOSH91CD) CD 69 minutes

Take two ounces of space-rock, add a half pint of dub bass, and a pinch of Techno-Animal-style looped samples, stir well and spoon into eleven careful portions. Scorn's main aim in life seems to be heavy, heavy, HEAVY, with the weight that comes of an inexorably slow beat held on the floor by a one-ton bass ball-and-chain. It would be unfair to mention influences because nobody else quite matches Scorn's ponderousness, their blue-whale groove that pounds on and on and on. It's super-heavy, it'll smother. BD

Elliott Sharp
Abstract Repressionisms
(Victo CD019) CD 52 minutes

This recent album for "Orchestra Carbon" combines a string ensemble with percussion and Sharp's own double-necked bass guitar, and stretches from extended drum solos to Penderecki-like string harmonies, via chaotic, fractured noisescapes that are difficult to follow but powerfully affecting. Frenetic rhythms are followed by taut, stretched lengths of violin drone; whirlpools of atonal confusion lead into Wagner-on-speed stridency. It's not an approachable album, by any standards, but ultimately it's powerful and rewarding. [Victo via ReR and These] BD

Shinjuku Thief
The Scribbler
(Dorobo 002) CD 58 minutes

Limited edition own-label release of the Australian band's soundtrack for a play about Kafka. With its subtle collage of quiet instrumentals and rain noises, most of this sounds like late-period Tuxedomoon jamming with Harold Budd during a particularly nasty bout of bad weather, which is more than fine with me. A valuable partner to their wonderful, though far more ethno/ambient, Bloody Tourist on Extreme. [Dorobo, P.O. Box 22, Glen Waverley, Victoria 3150, Australia] MG

Sigillum S
Bedscanner Philosophy - An Updated Boudoir Mode
(Minus Habens MHCD005) CD 58 minutes

The most cringingly embarrassing would be an "o" with a line through it; a little further down the list we have "ov" and "thee"; the jokes' punchline is "butter" (© Genesis P.Orridge). Replacing a "c" with a "k" komes klose in the korny old krap kontest, and to see how you'd like it I've krammed this review full of as many example of it as I kould (besides, it's an effective psychik weapon of linguistik terrorism yuk yuk). Sleeve notes aside (what in hell's name is "bottom digging" anyhow?) this CD displays marginally less unintentional hilarity than, say, Sleep Chamber, and goes further than most of its ilk in the "is it existential angst or oh-so-painful infected eyebrow-piercings" department. Lots of reverb and delay, electroniks, some drum machine and guitar, and vokals which veer towards Gregorian chant (yeah, what a surprise). They should have skrapped the De Sade / surgery / fetishism angle, and koncentrated on the 'magick' of Paul Daniels (yuk again). [via Køntempø] AB

Skin Chamber
(Roadrunner 9075-2) CD 70 minutes

I still can't decide if this noisy shit is actually enjoyable or just annoying. Of course, Zeni Geva rule the multiverse, but SC (aka Controlled Bleeding-go-metal, if you recall) still can't get away from the Godflesh grunge-grind style which turns too much of their music into a dull grey metal mulch. Mind you, the 25-minute addition of Swallowing Scrap Metal (part 5) is pretty damn impressive. I might get back to you on this one. MG

Obsidian Shaking Codex
(RRRecords RRRCD11) CD

I wasn't a great fan of Skullflower; I found their endless guitar-noise sludge-pools to be rather tedious in fact. But this ... this new album ... this is something else. There are only five lengthy tracks, mostly just the duo of Matthew Bower and Stuart Dennison, but alongside the drums, bass and guitar are violin, tapes, bells, cymbal and banjo (yes, banjo!) It sounds like they've been listening to Organum, at least that's what this album most reminds me of. It's stretched out, droning rock, the Velvet Underground without Lou Reed, David Jackman with an electric guitar, Main dropping acid; an endless sea of molten lava, St Elmo's fire spitting ions in the ether. It's superb in every possible way, and if like me, you've previously tended to dismiss Skullflower, think again. [RRR] BD

Sleep Chamber
Symphony Sexualis
(Fünfundvierzig 59) CD 48 minutes

Ignore John Zewizz's hideous inlay-card artwork, ignore the drivel about this being intended as a soundtrack to bondage, leather-sex and S&M. Ignore Zewizz's reputation as a producer of unlistenable dance music using tinny early-eighties drum machines. Then think "Lustmørd", keep that thought firmly in mind. The drones are suitably unhappy; strange metallic creakings occur in the distance; looped noises and fragments of voices all combine to help create a menacing atmosphere. Get this CD, but throw away the box. [Funfundvierzig, Schmiedetwiete 6, W-2411 Labenz, Germany] BD

Sleeping Dogs Wake
Sugar Kisses
(Hyperium 39100832) CD 61 minutes

Their first two albums, for top British indie One Little Indian, were exemplary records of SDW's obsessional post-goth weirdness, but last year's Up! was a misjudged venture into dance music. I'm sorry to have to report, then, that although they have pulled back from that disastrous precipice, they have still not regained their individually psychotic edge, which is now buried under sugary melodies and bland programming, like The Cranberries with a sampler but no charisma. Disappointing. [via Plastic Head] MG

Some More Crime
Another Domestic Drama in a Suburban Hell
(Zzo/Hyperium ZZO09) CD 74 minutes

Drome's Anachronisms was possibly the best hardbeat record of last year, and here are Freidmann and Hernandez again, under another guise and with another superb release. Less techno-orientated than before, here they mix crunching hip-hop breakbeats, stolen metal guitar riffs and doom-laden samples into a stunningly powerful but danceable whole. The music conveys massive hints of Public Enemy, Ministry and recent Front Line Assembly, but mostly stands on its own two heavily-booted feet to create a simply wonderful record. (Incidentally, there should be a new Drome album due on the Coldcut-run NinjaTone label by the time you read this.) MG

Space Streakings
(Nux D5) CD 39 minutes

The Japanese sure know how to do 'barmy' better than anyone else, and this is a prime example: eleven tracks of hardcore thrashing, scratching, screaming, funking, sampling and wholesale kitchen sink employing. Imagine Big Black jamming with Pop Will Eat Itself while under the influence of PCP. Monster bass and drum machine riffs grind on underneath the chaos, but you'd be hard pressed to hear them for all the interference. Samples and scratches spray like fireworks; choruses of screams batter from channel to channel; mutant trumpets and saxophones burp somewhere in the distance. It's a massive rush, hugely enjoyable but thoroughly exhausting. If they can do this insanity live I'm getting up a collection for their plane fares forthwith. [via Dark Vinyl / Charnel House] MG

Auto Da Fe
(Mute / Grey Area SPK 4CD) CD 55 minutes

Ljubljana - Zagreb - Beograd
(Mute / Grey Area NSK 1CD) CD 70 minutes

Zoviet France
(Mute / Grey Area SION 1) CD 65 minutes

The fourth in Mute's S.P.K. reissue series brings together music from three different releases representing three different phases of the group's existence. The five tracks off the first two singles, Surgical Penis Klinik and Meat Processing Sektion, are your genuine authentic industrial noise: scabby white fuzz, distorted shouting, savage guitar abrasion. Confrontational, pissed off, and apart from the intensity of Slogun, of historical interest only. There are three early eighties tracks prefiguring Machine Age Voodoo's dreadful venture into electronic dance, but it's the three tracks from the Dekompositiones 12" that impress most, combining bludgeoning industrial noise with a mock-tribal approach.

The reissue craze certainly digs up as much of the crap as it does of the classics. The Laibach release is no better. Fans will no doubt rush out and get it: the album features recordings from Laibach's 1982 debut concerts in Yugoslavia, at a time when the group were regularly banned and censored. It's perhaps more oppressive in tone than any other Laibach recording. Try the lyrics: "Their bound hands Thread through their open wounds All criminal families killed Some specialist For executing guilty women And children With pocket knives". Musically, industrial noise is combined with found tapes and dulled recitation. It's amateur in execution and only occasionally potent in effect, and unless you're a diehard Laibach enthusiast, you really ought to avoid this.

Zoviet France's Collusion is a different matter. It brings together seven tracks recorded between 1983 and 1990, and originally available on compilations only. Paradoxically, it's an excellent album, the diversity of the tracks proving more approachable than the homogeneity that is a normal Zoviet France album. All the tracks highlight different aspects of the group's abstract sound-work, which employs improvisation and repetition, home-made instruments and tape processing, to create drones, rhythms and noise elements that exist in a space of their own, outside normal musical reference points (with the exception of the found voice on Ram). Treat Ram's or Sprey's rippling, echoing guitar-waves as a point of departure, and via environmental sounds, random improvised percussion, and vocal fragments, you'll end up with the sublime Something This Beautiful. This ranges from washes of classical music through to stretches of pounding, insistent, rhythmic noise, blending it all carefully together. Similarly, Fugitive uses a looped rainshower of operatic voice as its centrepiece. It's a fine album, worthwhile both for the cognoscenti and novice alike. BD

Stock Hausen and Walkman
Giving Up With ...
(QRM CD1) CD 47 minutes

More musos with enormous collections of novelty records, mixing sound effects, voices, music of various sorts, applause, silence, scratching, sampling, looping and shredding. Not as interested in the political point as Negativland, nor as interested in the pure sound as John Oswald, nor as inclined towards simple musicality as The Tape-beatles, Stock, Hausen and Walkman still manage to shake a few surprises out of the box, smily raisins staring out from the sonic semolina, but personally, I like this less than the comparisons I namedropped. [These] BD

Les Tambours du Bronx
Monostress 225L
(FNAC / Uniembal 592048) CD 26 minutes

These French cousins of Test Dept haven't had as much press outside France as they might deserve; but it's not entirely fair to put this down just to cultural and linguistic barriers. They sometimes comprise over twenty drummers, all using empty steel barrels, which they assault with all the rhythmic fury you could hope for. Unfortunately, the number of people involved means that interplay between drummers is generally sacrificed in favour of one overwhelming, unified rhythmic drive. Nonetheless, it's brutal, simplistic, exhilarating stuff and if it's power rather than subtlety that you're after, this is a very good place to come! BD

The Tape-beatles
The Grand Delusion
(Staalplaat STCD065) CD 41 minutes

Here's some new product from the Tape-beatles, Negativland's less annoying mid-western pals, with a soundtrack to their film of the same name. Like Negativland, they construct their music from disconcerting samples and stolen fragments, and like that band's last record, Free, the overall subject is the current state of the American psyche. The Tape-beatles, however, have a more serious tone and goof around less, and are far more adept at manipulating sound into genuinely new shapes than their San Franciscan compatriots. The building blocks for their music are snatches of classical strings and exotic percussion riffs rather than synths and drum machines. You'll recognise some samples (Also Sprach Zarathustra gets a good kicking on Thus) but many more will be totally new, totally different, and totally brilliant. [Staalplaat] MG

Tekton Motor Corp
Spiral Emotions
(Dreamtime KTB015) 10" 14 minutes

A sampler for the forthcoming album Human Race Ignition from the car-obsessed technoheads that shows off their pounding, sequencer-driven music to good advantage. As usual with the Tektons, the most important aspect is the particular vehicle sound effect layered thickly over each track, and there's an innovation on the flipside: a helicopter noise replaces their more usual racing car revs. Now that's progress, boys. MX

Theremin Tao
(SPH/Extasis SPHCD001) CD 77 minutes

Here is a ten-year career retrospective, seventeen unreleased tracks from the prominent Portuguese synthesists, Telectu. None of the tracks have any names, merely dates, stretching from the present back to their formation, and soundwise they are similarly abstract. Some are little more than electronic doodles, sketches for longer pieces perhaps; others sound like soundtrack fragments, setting the atmosphere over a few bars then disappearing. Annoyingly, the only really lengthy piece, the 26-minute opening track, is little more than a succession of half-baked clanks and drones. That it is the most recent piece here is somewhat worrying; can they really have been getting steadily worse for the last ten years? [SPH] MG

Temps Perdu?
(Discordia / Timebase BestNr. 1301) CD 57 minutes

(Silent Records) CD 57 minutes

Temps Perdu? come from Dusseldorf, although you might not guess it from their music, which seems to express a desire to be as far from there as possible. It's a form of world music, mingling electronic and acoustic instruments, and pseudo-ethnic rhythms that hint at the music of several places without tying themselves down to anywhere specific. The flutes and percussion blend effortlessly with the synthetic sound effects and melodies, and the result mostly manages to escape from the threat of New Age tweeness. It's too developed and involved to fall firmly into either a soundtrack or ritualistic genre: if you give it a try you'll get the best of both. Thessalonians operate in a similar realm. If you can struggle past the over-designed typesetting, you'll notice another electronic / acoustic mixture of instruments, tabla listed next to sampler. It's extremely pleasant, occasionally too nice, but at least one track reminds me of Eno and Byrne's uneasy My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. There's enough diversity to satisfy þ hup-beat rhythms and li-lo atmosphere mingling amiably. It's easy listening for ethno-ambient zen-heads: I enjoyed it. [Discordia, Burgerstraße 27, 4000 Dusseldorf 1, Germany; Silent] BD

Dragon Blue
(Sound Factory SFCD 004) CD 42 minutes

This is a 1992 live recording, containing material ranging from the originally mid-80s Shi-Ru-Si to pieces from her recent collaboration with Ikue Mori, Death Praxis. As John Zorn's enthusiastic sleeve notes are keen to point out the other members of the band on this recording are every bit as proficient and prolific (eg Tatsuya Yoshida and Otomo Yoshihide). Comparisons for this music might include Dagmar Krause and the Sex Pistols; it's that variable in its many approaches to what is at heart, basically rock music. Improv and art-rock fans should take note, especially those who want somehing a bit more energetic than the Tenko they may be used to. [These] BD

Throbbing Gristle
Journey Through a Body
(Mute / Grey Area TGCD 8) CD 39 minutes &
In The Shadow Of The Sun
(Mute / Grey Area TGCD 9) CD 57 minutes &
Live Volumes 1-4
(Mute / Grey Area TGCD 10-13) CD 73, 69, 74, 68 minutes

Hopefully this represents the end of Mute's saunter through TG's past; with 13 "official" CDs available it should take all but the die-hard obsessives a while to work their way through this lot. An improv group who never received recognition from the official plink-plonk arbiters of improv; a quartet of musical incompetents who had more releases than the Beatles; sex-and-death fetishists with an uncanny ability to create squalid, grey, alienated music; which were they? The two "instrumental" CDs, Journey Through a Body and the Derek Jarman soundtrack In the Shadow of the Sun, are pretty much what you'd expect. The former uses hugely processed cornet, distortion, cheap keyboards and noise, although the cheery piano finale is a fittingly inappropriate end to their studio career. Shadow is a more restrained "ambient" venture, and although it's certainly not on a par with that other famed non-musician Brian Eno, there are a couple of very enjoyable moments to provide respite from the grey tedium.

The Live CDs (selected and compiled by Brian Lustmørd) illustrate very clearly TG's main achievement: the legitimisation of music designed to depress, horrify and repel. A mixture of new improvisations and studio faves, these range from 1976 to 1980 and despite at times poor recording, they make TG's legacy seem more alive than many of the studio albums do. The choice they offered, between the complacency of late 70s rock and the enjoyment of your own alienation, seems less valid in a decade where noise has lost its power to shock and is just as at home on a TV ad soundtrack as it is in the grooves of Merzbow's latest offering; but these four CDs show a brutality and intensity that mostly bypasses this criticism. Oh sure, there are moments where Pink Floyd's less rocky music doesn't seem so far away, but for the most part these recordings retain their original emotional power. BD

Towering Inferno
(TI CD1) CD 75 minutes

In these days of 80-minute CDs and double vinyl albums, it's not often that I don't want a record to end. Here is a delightful exception, an album so damn good I want to scream about it from the rooftops. I don't know anything about Andy Saunders and Richard Wolfson, but judging by the Derek Jarman film stills on the sleeve they are plainly involved in soundtrack work. Here they have collaborated with masses of half-known musicians, most especially Chris Cutler and Hungarian folk goddess Marta Sebestyen, to produce the aural soundtrack for the chaos in Eastern Europe now and throughout history. Imagine one of Simon Fisher Turner's sound collages combined with the Art Bears' rock labyrinths. Better still, imagine a new This Heat, using '90s sampling technology. Folk laments insinuate themselves between processed electronics; metal guitar riffs slowly submerge under funeral bells; desperate voices fight to make themselves heard against barrages of sheer sound. The depth of detail in the layers of sounds will have you returning to this record again and again, probing ever deeper into its scintillating depths. No apologies whatsoever for the hyperbole: this is an unqualified masterpiece. [via ReR] MG

Trance Mission
Trance Mission
(City of Tribes COTCD-002) CD 58 minutes

There was a time once when digeridoo albums were rarities that connoisseurs spent a lot of time and effort seeking out. Not any more, now you can't run your fingers through the ambient CD racks without hitting an easy dozen of the buggers. Lights in a Fat City are one of the better known groups to use the instrument, and Trance Mission are basically Newby and Kent of that band, plus Beth Custer's clarinets and John Loose's percussion. More than anything else, this release reminds me of Phil Thornton, one of the better British new age synthesists, but a New-Ager nonetheless; it's like Fat City with none of the rough edges, very slick and with the clarinet providing a very lyrical edge. For my tastes I could do with more powerful drumming, and a much dirtier sound, but it's a well-played attempt at an ever-more crowded area of music. [dist. These / Silent] BD

Treponem Pal
Excess and Overdrive
(Roadrunner RR90761) LP 59 minutes

It does not take a genius to spot the musical influence at work here, and a quick glance at the credits confirms one's suspicions: 'Produced by Franz Treichler'. The shadow of the Young God looms large over Treponem Pal, who have attempted to reproduce the sound of their mentor's band wholesale, only using real guitar and bass. Surprisingly, to a large a extent they have succeeded, creating an impressive wall of noise. Where they do fall down is in dynamics and tempo; too many tracks stick rigidly to a middling pace that has a tendency to plod by the end, and there are no classic floor-shakers to stand alongside L'Amourir or Longue Route here. If you can't wait for the next Young Gods record, though, give this a listen. MG

Jo Truman
(Staalplaat) CD 58 minutes

Imagine, if you can, a cross between Meredith Monk (abstract vocals, harmonising) and Birgitte Grimstad (the experimental approach to the same idea). Yes, that's Jo Truman. Pinprick bursts of female voice, sudden odd harmonies, high-pitched bubbles percolating through the ether, it's a cat's cradle of vocal sound. It's certainly more experimental than Ms Monk, and Truman's use of electronic processing and effects is very different, but they both share an interest in using the voice to make non-verbal sounds, to express a wider range of possibilities than words can alone. If you enjoy experimental vocal music then I think you'll agree that Sdreamings is an excellent contribution to the genre. If it's all uncharted territory to you, then why not start exploring here? [Staalplaat / Soleilmoon] BD

One Thousand Years
(Soundimage / SDV) CD/cassette 47 minutes

Fans of Stephan Micus, O Yuki Conjugate, Popol Vuh or Jeff Greinke might all find this album extremely appealing. The instrumentation includes Buddhist bowl gongs, pot drums, flutes, pan pipes, samplers and synthesisers, and the music draw heavily on Eastern traditions. It's very relaxing, very meditative, varying from ambient to quite rhythmic sequences; if you do enjoy these sorts of ethnic musics, you'll surely love this excellent album. [SDV-Tonträger, Zimmerstraße 5, D-4000 Düsseldorf, Germany; or Soundimage] BD

Page maintained by Brian Duguid. Copyright(c) (c) 1996. Created: 05/03/96 Updated: 16/02/03