first published in Arthur No. 25 (November/Winter, 2006)
Exploring the Voids of All Known Undergrounds
by Byron Coley and Thurston Moore
Kommissar Hjuler and Mama Bar are a married couple from Flensburg, Germany. Hjular is an artist into collecting art-music and outsider weirdo records. He met Mama when she was 17 and the two of them live out in some mysterious house of cosmic wonder, where they record all kinds of bizarre jams and release them on their own Schöne-Hjuler-Memorial-Fond label in editions of 5 to 50. If you look on their site you can see their discography which is massive and, for the most part, sold out. We were finally able to grip a copy of their 100th release, fortuitously in an edition of 100. Wiederaufnahmeverfahren II/06 (SHMF) is a split LP by the two and if it’s any indicator of the Fluxus pleasure found on the previous 99 releases, then someone please start eBaying those discs cuz we need to hear more. Mama’s side starts with a series of similar sounding high pitched noise junk jolts, then develops into a Rita Ackermann-esque investigation of nursery rhyme sensuality, becoming alluringly repetitive and ultimately crazed as Mama’s lovely sing-song voice is transformed into deep-pit screams of anguish. Wicked. Kommissar’s side is more typically dada, running some very damaged no-fidelity frequencies against Germanic babble. The record comes in three different editions. One has a box with the LP, art, plus other sundries, and it’s cool to see the pair’s ephemeral clutter, particularly the art they make—hers, abstract paint; his, twisted eros collage. But the recordings are what’s key here for sure. A fucked earfull.
Ah, Belgium…perhaps not a comment we utter as often as we might, but it has a nice feel as it flutters over the tongue. And that’s just what it does when Satanische Vrede, the debut LP by Belgium’s Silvester Anfang (K-RAA-K) is playing. So rural, psych and folky they almost sound Finnish, Silvester Anfang is a Maldegem-based outfit whose membership changes with weather and circumstance. They use a barrage of standard rock instruments, but also lotsa odd-sounding string and percussion bits, to create a loopily chiming instrumental sound, more explicitly “out’ (in improvisational terms) than most similarly styled units. There’s nothing precious about this, and it teeters very close to the vibe produced by ostensible post-jazzbos, such as the Sea & Sun Ensemble. Which means there’s good gobbling for the whole trough. R.O.T.’s L’ecurie LP (K-RAA-K) is another explorational Belgian dive into some kinda forest primeval, but their journey is more about electro-acoustic tents propped up by crackling electronic fires in the middle of dark glens. Improvised in a kitchen, this is the sort of music horses hear right before they go to sleep. For good.
Most mind-felching graphics comp to come along lately is definitely the sixth edition of Sammy Harham’s Kramers Ergot (Buenaventura Press). This large paperback is a headrush from beginning to end. It checks in on most of the interesting styles of art currently residing in the graphics underground, from semi-realist to primitive to ratty to psychedelic to computer-generated. It’s one of those books you’ll look at ‘til your eyes get tired, then return to as soon as they’re well rested. Contributors include Gary Panter, Paper Rad, Jeff LaDouceur, Suiho Tagawa and more; the visuals range from single panel gags to long, complex sagas. Amazing. Buenavista has a couple more solid new titles out also. There’s Private Stash, a sleeved, accordion-style portfolio of glamor and nude drawings by Crumb, Clowes, Bagge, Burns, Panter, the Hernandez Bros. and others. There’s also issue 8 of Comic Art, which is a more serious journal devoted to the history of comics. This issue has a great piece on S. Clay Wilson’s newly discovered juvenilia (more on him later), a long Drew Friedman profile, stuff on the pulp art of Edd Cartier, and much more to tickle the brain of the form’s devotees. John Yee’s Arf Museum (Fantagraphics) has a second issue out as well, also taking a somewhat scholarly in-depth approach. Yee’s passion, however, is the juncture between “high art” and comics, so this issue explores that crease. Our fave things this issue are a great Mort Walker piece about meeting Roy Lichtensetin and a survey of gorilla ‘n girl art, but you’ll undoubtedly have your own picks.
The young and dapper Alex Neilson of Glasgow, Scotland is a polite and altogether engaging fellow. He is also one of the most exciting free-spirit percussionists shaking shit up in these halcyon days. His fusion of traditional and avant-garde folk inspirations with free jazz exploration is young and tender and, like a fine clotted cream, superbly succulent. He records with Taupis Tula, a trio consisting also of David Keenan and Heather Leigh Murray (propietors of the Glaswegian record store, Volcanic Tongue) and was a live collaborator on Jandek’s initial sightings. What we have here is his latest solo splooge, An Old Soul At The Helm (Chocolate Monk), recorded under the Directing Hand monniker. Drawing from the percussive history/mind of such stalwart beat babes as Milford Graves, Chris Corsano and Tsuchitori Toshiyuki, then snuggling it with a heartfelt hug for Scottish countryside balladeering is a right-on move to our ears. This CDR, featuring through-the-haze vocal accompaniment by Christina Carter on one track, is the goddamn cheese. Get it and track down his previous sides on Secret Sound, Memoirs Of An Aesthete and—definitely—the new LP, Belsayer Time (Time-Lag) by the trio of Neilson, Alastair Galbraith and Richard Youngs. This is music for the ages and a fantastic visit from New Zealand’s Galbraith. Side one is all wheatgrass and psilocybin while side two is electric jagged crystal strikes. A total must. Power trio of the year.
Oren Ambarchi has long been one of the more interesting figurines on the Australian event horizon. His work with the Menstruation Sisters and Sunn O))) is perhaps his best-known stuff, but he released a deadly series of LPs in the late ‘90s exploring explicit experimental techniques for electric guitar. He has now returned to this concept with the Stacte Motors LP (Western Vinyl) and it’s something worth uncorking immediately. Like the legendary Remko Scha, Ambarchi employs machines to play his guitar strings here. Rotating motors with strings attached slap the guitar in a hypnotically rhythmic fashion while the hum of electricity and various overlays raise the shimmer-potential to extreme heights. Comprised of two long pieces, the album is trance inducing in the best possible way. Ambarchi also works with Australian sound artist, Scott Horscroft, on a split LP shared with the late Japanese experimentalist, Takahito Nakazato (Textile). More guitars are machined on his side, although the results emphasize clutter over calm. Recording as Hado Ho, Takahito’s offering is a suprisingly laidback series of sounds produced by amp noise, mircrophones and bad connections. For all that, it has enough open space inside it for the listener to breath, which isn’t always the case when Japanese noise is on the box.
S.F. guitar improvisor Henry Kaiser has released Domo Arigato Derek-sensei! (Balance Point Acoustics), a wonderful tribute CD to his mentor the late, great Derek Bailey. It delivers a fantastic display of Kaiser’s brain-finger-string-amp process/result with a choice selection of collaborators including Charles K. Noyes, Henry Kuntz, Toshinori Kondo, Andrea Centazzo, Davey Williams, Mototeru Takagi, John Oswald, Derek himself and more. The whole thing runs with spontaneous spoken word memorials interspersed throughout by Kaiser. It’s a sweet and funny fireside chat of a concert, very attuned to Derek’s perpetual spirit. All profits from the CD sales go to Incus Records, Derek (and his partner, Karen Brookman)’s long running chronicle of the improvised music world. And all material is live and free. Natch.
Norwegian Kjetil Brandsdal, used to be an experimental guitarist as well, but he dropped that hat in the gutter. The split LP by two of his current bands, Noxagt and Ultralyd (Textile) features two very raucous sides of proletarian urk. The Noxagt material comes from early rehearsals (or radio shows or something) and consists of short slabbed chunks of goofy noise, including a cover of Toni Basil’s “Mickey.” Ultralyd’s stuff is more feedback-scrambled in its orientation, but still pleasant as getting very soft fur stuck in your eye. Same could be said of Noxagt’s eponymous third LP (Load), which is a brilliant, lunk-headed lurch through instrumental forests of progressive criminality.
Most brilliant, sickest art book to power down the drain in ages is The Art of S. Clay Wilson (Ten Speed Press). Wilson is the Nebraska-born artist who freed Robert Crumb to follow the siren call of his id, and this collection is a horribly thorough dive into his ouevre. From early sketches through comic pages, book covers and more recent color bloodfests, this book is stunner. Wilson’s characters—bikes, pirates, cowboys, beatniks, demons, et al.—wage sense-war on the masses with an obscene strength that is unmatched in documented history. Approach with extreme caution and all your holes open.
Crown Now produce exactly what To Live And Shave in L.A.’s croon king, Tom Smith, must have sounded like as a kid in the backwoods with his Boones Farm-addled pals. With pimple-powered early Suckdog energy, this duo of delirious nerdniks howl along with broken records and messed up tapes, using their shitty microphones’ on/off switches to great effect. Love it! Ain’t nothing like the future, baby. This is one of four debut releases on Jessica Rylan’s new cassette label, Friendship Bracelet. The others are Bone Rattle, two freaks who also perform as Dreamhouse (whose Shake cassette is bunghole sludge dynamism) (which equals: awesome!). Then there’s Cough It Up by the Halflings, another teen combo taking on power electronic goodness. If Jessica is gonna be the den mom of noise, then the kids are definitely alright.
UK shit-noise label Turgid Animal have been releasing all kindsa brit-slime mostly revolving around the Mutant Ape/Filthy Turd axis (which we touched on last column). A particularly interesting split cassette by M.O.A.C. and Coco & Fiend Friend Mononoke (ta043) nearly had us driving the Volvo off into Route 9’s guard rails. M.O.A.C. (Mystic Occult Aid Ceremony) is a Japanese woman now living in Boston who really delivers classic Japanoise aktion (lately overshadowed by the new bleat of the West). Not only is it exciting and refreshing to hear someone really re-investigate this sound-world once again, but she gives it an enticing contempo edge. If you’re an old fan of Vanilla cassette wildness, this momma is yours. Coco And Fiend Friend is two mates really digging chaos, spliced depravity and all the farting mantraz thereof. Extra cruddy. But what is here is ass buhlasting.
Another coupla new installments of the great Hello Trudi have arrived. First is Busyness for the Self, which seems more overtly smutty than some previous issues (although maybe it’s just our mood). The second is You Want to Hear a Simple Story of a Swimsuit Model, another un-linear grapple with words and drawings created in the post-Pettibonian universe, containing one of the best Crass references seen inside the art world in many a moon. New issue of The Chuckwagon is Midnight by Dave Newman. It’s one of the best in the series thus far, a funny, black verse novelette about what it’s like to mop floors in the company of drug-philospher. The latest Shuffleboil has a fine topless Cecil Taylor photo on the cover and Clark Coolidge’s ruminations on that 10-CD Taylor box Codanza put out. There’s plenty of other stuff, too. The standard, brilliant collage of poetry and prose about improvised music and jazz we’ve come to expect from editors, David Meltzer and Stve Dickinson. Ong Ong #3 arrived in a glassine enevlope packed with various random goodies, all of which were nice to examine. As was the mag’s actual contents, which featured interviews with the Grey Daturas, Slim Moon (now outdated, since he’s moving to NYC) a portfolio of show fliers, a CD with Ghost Family (among others) and plenty more.
Among all the sensational exploits of mind cremation at No Fun Festival 2006, the one that had all in attendance either laughing or crying or both, was the hyper-vicious goofbomb noise circus of Macronympha. Along with the group’s stalwarts, two sexually weirded females (one a frozen ice queen friend, the other a saucy asskicker) were loose among the stage melee of oil drums, drunken groping meat claws and an upended card table (which subsequently chopped an audience member’s dick off). Pretty fucking cool gig and one that still has noise bloggers discussing its merits and ramifications. We’re not here to defend or analyze Macronympha’s aesthetics of pain and pleasure. We really just wanna lean back and exclaim “holy shit” Continue reading →