Monday, January 24, 2011

Qui êtes vous, Polly Maggoo?

This little gem of a soundtrack has eluded me for years and it was a joy to finally hear it. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Strange Attractor - Celebrating Unpopular Culture

Just a little post to say that my favourite source of neglected and esoteric culture has recently updated their website.  There seems to be a myriad of projects unfolding, including a much needed Strange Attractor Journal Four. Details here.  Image by Richard Brown.

Fabulous Notes & Beats Of The Indian Carnatic Jazz / Hey Klong Yao!

Without a doubt, EM Records of Japan is fast becoming my favoured purveyor of oddball, eccentric and out there records. Each release by this label, playfully twists expectation and lovingly documents a wealth of distinctive, genre defying musical wonders, the latest releases being no exception.

First up, is the wonderfully entitled “Fabulous Notes & Beats Of The Indian Carnatic-Jazz” by T. K. Ramamoorthy which is a masterpiece of cultural collision and improvisational verve. Recorded in Madras in 1969, it's a strange and perplexing hybrid mix of Western jazz instrumentation and traditional Southern Indian Carnatic music. The results are musically joyous. It’s the kind of record I hoped existed, with each track combining and interweaving two distinct musical traditions into a new and intoxicating sound of wonder. Each arrangement is astonishing in it’s breath and diversity. “Ranjani” has a late night strip joint swing Basil Kirchin would be proud of but the melodic use of tabla tharang drums elevates the track to another level with disarming effect. “Natta” starts with a simple call to prayer on a trumpet then builds to an ever increasing fervent and raucous percussive workout of fierce proportions. The quality of the musicianship is unparalleled. Listen here for a sneak preview of some particularly breathtaking single note Senku conch playing. Jazz never sounded this good. T. K. Ramamoorthy cut his musical teeth in the demanding and often labour intensive Indian film studios of Southern India. He provided a diverse and spectacular array of soundtracks to over seven hundred films but this record is one of the few he made as a leader. This recording is both startlingly original in form and content and stands as a testament to a both a visionary musician and skilled arranger. Wonderful stuff.

The second disc by The Son Of P.M. entitled “Hey Klong Yao” is also worthy of your attention. This is ‘Thai Modernized Music' of a different style to the music discussed here recently. The groove is very much rooted in frenetic and rhythmic rock ‘n’ roll with discernible elements of pop, surf and exotica. It’s hard to pin down tracks like “The Horse Step Dance [Guaracha]” which has moments of Velvets like organ drone coupled with hypnotic latin bass and Ventures twang. “Sad Chatree [Talung]” is both intangible and otherworldly, coupling a relentless trance-inducing rhythm with an archaic Thai melody, which hovers and shimmers like an insect caught in hazy and perfumed smoke. There is much to be intoxicated here as this is music which defies rigid categorisation and easy interpretation. At times, the results are downright weird, “King Of Drums” sounds like the ghost of Lux Interior throwing primitive goo goo muck in a Thai temple. Odd and exotic indeed. Both recordings are released by EM Records this month.  

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Twitch & Radioolio

Those wishing to forget their troubles will find much to enjoy with these two rather finely crafted examples of audio collage. Twitch Mix. Radioolio Mix. Image by Reiner Ruthenbeck. Tracklists in comments.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bye Trish

I've just returned from a weekend trip across Europe which took me to Barcelona, a well loved city which evokes a great many memories from over the years. One which I remember particularly fondly, was a B-Music event where I DJ'ed alongside Dom Thomas, a younger Gaslamp Killer and Trish and Jam from our mutually favourite band Broadcast. The event was a great success and remains one of my favourite memories of spending quality time with some really exciting musical minds. A right old knees up! Sadly, in contrast, this weekends trip to the same city was interrupted early on Friday with the unfathomable news that Trish had lost her life to pneumonia a few hours earlier. My reactionary call home was met with floods of tears from my distressed wife and from this point the only place I really wanted to be was at home with Jane and the kids... and my Broadcast records.

In simple terms, I could not believe my ears when I heard the first Trish Keenan record. Today, I find it equally unbelievable that I probably won't hear the next one. There's never a correct time for birth or death, which is why the news this Friday came as such a shock for so many people and the potential personal loss of something as abstract as art and music is also, for some people, somehow hard to emotionally quantify. I've taken Broadcast for granted for most of my adult life and now I'm confused and genuinely devastated.

The release of the first Broadcast record marked an unannounced significance in my life as a quasi professional spectator. Broadcast marked my coming of age like the meeting of a special new friend. Which is exactly what it was for many people.

The faceless voice I met on record came to represent a ghostly sister or brother that I never had, sharing lonely and intimate talks about realistic car parks, believable libraries and totally plausible classrooms. At times, the voice came in the form of a lost primary school supply teacher or your seldom seen youngest auntie who then disappeared. This might explain why when I was first introduced to Trish Keenan in person by Rob Mitchell at Bowlie weekender I was utterly terrified, then, within a matter of friendly uttered syllables, was sweetly normalised. She was, of course, human, and probably more human than most of my music making friends.

I'll never forget the moment I heard Friday's inconceivable news. Amongst many other brilliant memories of the woman who I still consider to be the most important voice in modern British pop music, it's the private mementos that are the most profound. When I first heard 'Echoes Answer' I felt like somebody was telling me a deep secret. When I first heard 'Distant Call' I felt like I was finally being forgiven after some lengthy family dispute. I honestly never knew that this was possible via pop music.

Trish was far from the jamming front man, as popularised by the macho music UNdustry, who would simply throw rhyming buzzwords at a dry wall of guitars until something stuck... for Trish, not one syllable went unpondered and her wordplay was expertly interwoven using Letterist influences and hard earned poetic license.

It's becoming hard to talk about Trish in the past tense because to me she has always represented the possibilities of the future and a heightened creative process that people within pop music rarely achieve. The common limitations of human perception, patience and perseverance means it could take a life time for some people reach the Keenan degree. I won't call her superhuman, but unlike Trish, I’m not poetic enough to find a better description.

While donning the unconvincing A&R man disguise over the years I would regularly piss-off my own artists, on a label primarily influenced by Wurlitzer Jukebox, constantly and casually referring to the Broadcast benchmark like John Peels Fall tick box system.

Even with long gaps between records Broadcast's albums would never outstay their welcome, evoking unwaning poignancy until the next rewarding chapter, more like good films than pop records. Broadcast were entitled to be perfectionists because in this rare case perfection was achievable. And I adored and admired the fact that it didn't come easy.

From where I stood and waited, the rewarding painstaking process of Broadcast songs were like the work of an eastern European animator with the most assiduous of working methods, that would, for lesser pop stars prove unsustainable and out-of-synch with the whinging industry. But Broadcast were a rare example of genuine hard working fine artists who made sacrifices to communicate craft with everyday people. I've never seen eye to eye with perfectionists...but Trish has never made an imperfect record...not one blot on a 15 year old copybook.

While transcending pop whims Trish's growing passions had recently found her moving into creative writing, fiction and sound poetry. Any single piece of Broadcast's 15 year legacy is omni-relevant and as a constantly evolving and challenging voice. It's devastating to think that she had barely even begun her creative journey. She was one of the only people to persuade me to release a financially doomed spoken word record, she emailed me her own personal review of the record when it came out which made it totally worthwhile.

Without delving too deeply I feel it's important to make a small reference to Trish's own very physical song writing process which unconsciously resembled an Ester Krumbachová backdrop or something from an alternative Canadian school room. Without knowing it she was also a conceptual visual expert working and arranging her words in Sister Corita Kent's doppelganger print workshop.

A few times over the years, Trish sent me demos of new album tracks asking for a critical opinion. Naturally they ticked all the right boxes but also put all sorts of new boxes on the matrix. Personally I was flattered that she valued my taste in records although I felt totally unworthy to judge the mighty Broadcast (I felt the same way when I remixed The Booklovers in 1999 - mission impossible) I suppose I'm trying to illustrate her humble nature towards their own music. The fact that they were probably the ONLY band I've ever known to sound even better than their vintage influences is maybe something I should have told her, but she was never digging for compliments.

While trying not to gush-a-lot the music of Broadcast means the world to me. After absorbing the expanding songbook of Trish Keenan the disposable language of pop music soon reached such a high benchmark that I accidentally stopped listening to English language music out of frustration. It's a big world out there so why accept anything less than the best. Trish Keenan, for example, wouldn't.

This is why Broadcast in many ways act as a clearly annotated instruction manual to my own otherwise nonsensical record collection. Losing Trish Keenan is potentially like losing the bag of Swedish screws. But her legacy represents the glue in my misinformed musical penchants. Her varied sonic mood board of Czech cinema, random Indian and Malaysian charity shop finds, Italian library music and French sound poetry - when added to her inimitable kitchen sink optimism - proved how an open mind goes hand-in-hand with super-creative communication. Again Trish, unknowingly, wrote the rule book. For selfish reasons alone I'm absolutely heartbroken to have lost her.

The fact that she also looked like a stunning Godard extra in plimsoles and parker coat became a small immaculate detail in her beguiling and utterly enigmatic personality. I don't know if I’m quite ready to hear her voice just yet. 

Jam Cargill, is of course, and always will be, the other zen master, and my eternal respect for him is, at this moment, accompanied by all my love and strength. I hope a sense of eternal family pride will go some way to confounding your heartbreak. Whether you know it or not Broadcast are indestructible and occupy a genuinely special and private place in the hearts of a generation. A place where you are warmly welcomed. To Tim and Julian, as well as the other past members of Broadcast who I never met, my heart goes out to you - as well as the zillions of global Broadcast torch carriers who feel a huge loss of which we'll sadly never learn the true depth. It's a huge privilege for us all to have shared such a precious legacy. The wall of words will never tumble. Bye Trish.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Very Sad News

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Micro-Insect Cinema

The lovely music posted here made me think of this. An experimental visual menagerie of insects, arachnids and minute arthropod life, seen through image and sound.

Objection 1974

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

David Noonan

An Interview With David Noonan

A Sound Awareness is delighted to present an interview with internationally renowned visual artist David Noonan.

David Noonan is first and foremost a maker of images. His work brings together an eclectic array of found imagery derived from film stills, books, magazines, and archival photographs into powerfully strange and haunting mise-en-scènes. His strange and beguiling images encompass a wide range of cultural associations and reference and it was an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to discuss his work with him personally.

Where do we start? Can we discuss some basics, maybe the sculptural quality of the materials you like to use? I’m thinking of your use of plywood, jute and linen. These are materials which I associate with the functional public design and architecture of say twenty or thirty years ago. These materials evoke strong childhood memories for me. Both my parents were teachers and my childhood seemed surrounded by hessian carpets and display boards. Personally, the materials which you use evoke dormant childhood memories and associations of local authority buildings, libraries and churches.

My mother was a teacher as well and my father owned and ran a men's clothing store for a long time. This was from the late 60’s through to the late 80’s. Imagine a kind of b-grade House Of Dunhill in a small Australian City. I think both of their vocations affected my aesthetic to some extent, I guess the sisal carpets of friends beach houses and as you say the local authority buildings such as libraries and churches have found their way into my work. My parents divorced when I was very young and they had very divergent personal aesthetics. Mum took us to an alternative hippy church that was later shut down due to the priest being quite radical. This starkly contrasted with my father and his more bachelor pad lifestyle. I remember his shop, "Le Manz Young Squire", it was entirely wood panelled with duelling pistols, spring boks and deer heads mounted on the walls. It was kind of weirdly out there for Ballarat, a small city in Victoria, Australia which was mostly famous for its gold miner rebellion of 1854. I think both of my parents work and domestic environments influenced my aesthetic, and the town of Ballarat itself, it was a gold boom town, with quite grand architecture. It was famous for its terrible weather, so it had a kind of brooding quality not usually associated with Australia.

I really liked Ivor William's graphic design for your “Scenes” catalogue. Was it a conscious decision to create a book design which referenced late 60's, early 70's ‘how to do’ books, educational textbooks and experimental living manuals? It would definitely make me do a double take if I found a worn copy in a charity shop or village jumble sale.

I started the book with Marcus Wener Hed and then Ivor became involved and he finished the design, we worked very closely together on it. The design was based on a number of books that I have in my collection, many of which are educational textbooks, so yes, it was a conscious design to reference that kind of stuff. This reminds me, I made a book in Primary School "Cive The Ghost", it had the same colour of linen on the cover. It was pretty much the same size and square format.

So you were making ‘hauntological’ work, even as a kid?

I have never really thought about it, I only just remembered that I made it, it was definitely the most inspiring thing that we did at primary school.

I like the the physical craft skills in your work. The cutting, sewing and layering seem to remove your images from the age of digital production. Can you describe the technical and physical processes involved in the making your silkscreen collages? How laborious and intuitive is the assembly process? 

It’s hard to explain the process as it changes from work to work, with the fabric collage pieces I overlay one image over another and then films are made for screen printing. The pieces can be made of up to four screens, depending on the size of the piece. There is a limitation to the screen size as the larger you go the less control you have. It takes five people to make the print, i.e. pull the squeegee over the screen. As each print is made by hand, the results can vary greatly from print to print. I usually print on two different types of linen or jute, so that when I take the material back to the studio I can compose the picture almost as you would make a painting i.e. using a warm and a cool palette to create advancing or receding effects on the picture plane. The studio part is as important as the printing or probably more so. Both aspects have to come together for a piece to work. The sculptures are what I call “cut outs” and are just that. The shape is made by hand in birch ply and then a print is made and glued onto the shape. I work with an assistant and we have to move the pieces around quite a bit, putting them on the wall to look at and work on and then we lay them down on trestles to glue the printed pieces together. The pictures are often heavily layered, the surfaces can be a little  like reliefs. Unfortunately, this quality is often lost when the pieces are photographed or reproduced. The whole process is quite intuitive, from the initial creation of an image to constructing the piece in the studio. I never really know how a piece is going to be put together until I work with it in the studio. I usually only work on one piece at a time. 

I’m particularly interested in the way in which you use found images? As a musician, who collects sounds to later reuse and appropriate, I’m constantly on the look out for ‘unusual’ and ‘emotive’ source material to collage, layer and transform. The notional act of ‘digging’ cultural detritus in order to unearth ‘hidden treasure’ seems relevant to your work. Do you see parallels with this method of working? Are there particular visual ‘sections’ or ‘bins’ you like to dig in?

Very much. I am constantly looking for material and I never quite know what I am looking for until I find it. Often, I just file it away and it might not be used until years later or not at all. My collecting began in charity stores in Australia and then later in NY in the Strand Book shop before it was renovated. More recently, it’s been basement sales on Charing Cross Road but my best finds were in antiquarian book shops in Berlin. I look under theatre, religion, carpets, DIY etc.

Many of the images you use seem to reference the experimental 'workshop' environments of the late sixties and early seventies, a time when educational establishments embraced and looked to the avant-garde for inspiration and direction. Have you listened to the David Cain recording I posted? He was an early electronic sound composer who created music to be used in school drama workshops. There's an odd photograph of kids dancing to these intense, sinister and otherworldly sounds printed on the back of the sleeve.

That photo is amazing. I have yet to listen to David Cain's recording. I have collected a lot of books from the Swiss German publishing house Zytglogge. They published maybe fifty books from the late 70's through to the late 80's that were all about experimental teaching methods, ranging from theatre and creative dance [Kreativer Tanz] to books about making instruments and even environmental issues such as the book "Warum UIst Der Himmel Blau?" These books are more like teacher guides or work books, they convey an amazing liberal approach to teaching that really appeals to me, alarming images and design, it seemed so progressive but now I think a lot of these methods are no longer around. 

In a way, these kinds of images, suggest a world of failed Utopian dreams, to paraphrase David Shrigley, of ambitious projects collapsing. Is this a fair point?

Yes absolutely, that’s how I feel about it. I made some work about this kind of subject for a show at the David Kordansky Gallery in 2006. They were collages that had an ambiguous feeling which alternated between a kind of Steiner style educational scenario and a slightly cultish situation. I spent quite a bit of time in an Ashram in Melbourne and its head quarters in India in my mid to late teens. I experienced a kind of indoctrination, but it didn’t seem sinister at the time and nor should it really be thought of that way, but in my twenties I dropped it all. I became a lot more critical about the increasing monetary aspect and celebrity involvement. I also found a lot of the people in the Ashram to be quite damaged, there were so many politics in what was supposedly an evolved environment. I hoped these pieces reflected the ambiguity of these kinds of life styles.

In an old interview you did for Mousse Magazine you were asked about your musical and literary influences. ”Against Nature” by Huysmans is also one of my favourite books. Did you know it was Richard Hells’ favourite book? What are your current literary and listening trends? There are some brilliantly odd psychedelic folk records out there. Quite a few of your images would complement the Peter Howell and John Fernando "Alice Through The Looking Glass" lp perfectly. Do you listen to particular music in the studio?

No, I didn’t know it was Richard Hells favourite book, it was also Serge Gainsbourgs. I went through a phase of English psychedelia when I discovered records by The Incredible String Band such as “The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter” and “5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion” and my interest in this kind of music went from there. I like music associated with the Cambridge folk scene like Spyrogia and fresh maggots etc, but I have broad tastes. I think music influences me much less now than it did in the past. I listen to a lot of stuff in the studio, when I am here alone I tend to listen to pod casts like “Late Night Live”, but music today was Neil Young's new record (which is great!), Pearls Before Swine, Judi Stills, Karen Dalton, Garry Higgins, The Gun Club, I’m listening to White Magic for the first time as I type. Yesterday it was, Television, early Bowie, Roy Harper and Robert Wyatt. What am I reading? I just finished Elizabeth Jolly's "The Well" and now I’m reading Helen Garner’s "Monkey Grip" about a group of bohemians in Melbourne in the late 70s dealing with smack addiction and relationships. It was made into a film that I like a lot by Ken Cameron in 1982. 

Films and theatre seem to obvious reference points in your work. Lately, I've been blown way by the dreamlike surrealism of Wojciech Has' ”Hourglass Sanatorium” and “Fruit Of Paradise” by Vera Chytilova. A few of your older works reminded me of poetic spiritualism of Sergei Parajanov's “Colour of Pomegranates”. Am I talking nonsense?

No not nonsense. I am only familiar with “Colour of Pomegranates”, I’ve only seen small parts of it but I plan to watch it properly soon. It reminded me of aspects of Alejandro Jodorowsk’s “Holy Mountain”. People make a lot of connections between my work and film and also to particular types of literature such as W.G Sebald.....but I feel my influences come largely from still images.....but I can’t argue that when these are made into pictures they sometimes possess a filmic quality. This week, I came across a stunning image from the Polish director Zulawski’s film “The Silver Globe. It was in the Stephen Throwers book “Eyeball. I’m looking forward to seeing it. A film that has really stayed with me of late is Fassbinder’s “World On A Wire” which was made for German television in 1973. Among many of the amazing aspects to the film is the cinematography by Michael Ballhaus.

Lastly, I recently, watched the Australian biker movie Stone and it got me thinking about Australia and how culturally significant being Australian is to your work. I think there is still a common European misconception that Australia was historically a cultural backwater but with the advent of the internet we’re beginning to find glimpses of art, music and films of the sixties and seventies which can be considered unique to the Australian underground. Do you think growing up in Australia has shaped your work?

Stone is a classic. The Australian film industry in the 1970’s was astonishing. There’s a recent good and quite funny documentary on Ozsploitation films called “Not Quite Hollywood. There are other classic films from that era that I’m fond of like, “Picnic At Hanging Rock”, “Walkabout”, “Wake In Fright” "The Cars That Ate Paris", “The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith.” There are so many really. The psychology of the Australian landscape is a central theme in all of these films, its perceived and actual hostility. Music was also important to me, the post punk scene that was happening in Melbourne in the late 70’s and 80’s. I was too young to really experience it fully, I kind of caught the tail end with the help of a fake ID. I’m not sure how Australia has shaped my work specifically but it has, the atmosphere of the town where I grew up and the surrounding landscape was really present in my work when I was studying painting in the late 80s and I think it has seeped back into the work over the years.

I would personally like to thank David for his generosity of time and spirit in making this interview possible.

David Noonan: Artists Studio

Tuesday, January 04, 2011