Friday, 27 July 2018

Acrobatic Champions - Inbuilt Psychedelia (1986) C60

Here's the last I have of Mr. Mercer, another one of those I would have released on my Do Easy label but for being skint and having lost all enthusiasm for underground tapes at the time. I didn't actually even ask for this one. He just gave it to me as a compilation of previously unreleased material, even though I hadn't got around to doing anything about releasing Strange Days, his previous tape. All I can remember is that he'd been recording a tape called On the Beach in the college sound studio - all on TEAC using Eno's old EMS suitcase synth and with a bit of a Gira influence on his vocals, fucking excellent and maybe the best thing he'd ever done, I thought - and that was going to be a Do Easy tape, and then suddenly it wasn't and he gave me this instead, and I disliked the title due to my hatred of Pink Floyd; and then nothing happened until last week when I digitised it, and here we are.

With hindsight, this may be the best thing I've heard done by the man - given that I never had a copy of On the Beach: moody soundtrack or ambient work which pisses all over Lustmord, quite frankly, and does a lot of those things which would allow Nine Inch Nails to buy Charles Manson's old house some years later.

World of Alun seems to have been some sort of dig at the late Alun Jones, the former Apricot Brigade drummer who went on to play with the Dentists for a while. Whatever our boy's beef was, I expect it was most likely unjustified and I actually happened to think quite highly of Alun, so I was going to abbreviate the title to just TWOA or something, but ultimately couldnae be bothered. You can't really make out the words anyway, so I don't suppose it matters.

For more information on any of the artists mentioned above, except for the Dentists, please refer to the index, as linked below.

1 - Music for the End of It All
2 - Fish Head
3 - Pointless Song
4 - Another Pirhana After the Tape
5 - World of Alun
6 - Be Myself Again
7 - Marriage in a Western Town
8 - So Excited

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Friday, 20 July 2018

Cassette Music 2 (1993) C60

Here's the second volume of the excellent Personal Soundtracks series, the first of which can still be found here. There's probably not a whole lot I can say which I didn't already say, although there's some information about the artists on the cover of this volume, so if you'd all kindly promise to give it a look, it will save me some time offering useless statements along the lines of I remember seeing Cabbage Head flyers but I never heard nuffink by them. Mindscan was of course Robert Maycock who ran the label of the same name, published Lockjaw zine, and always seemed like a decent guy in his letters, which is why he gets a special mention here. Close inspection of Fungus & Tongue - of whom I had no prior knowledge or recall - reveals them to have included Nathan Coles - guitarist of Academy 23 and UNIT at the same time as me, so that's interesting. At least it's interesting to me because I didn't know that.

That's all I've got (apart from reminding everyone that Patternclear is Phil Clarke of Stress for the millionth time), but thankfully the quality of this one seems to speak for itself.

1 - factor X - URDD
2 - Fungus & Tongue - Night, the Moon
3 - Secret Archive of the Vatican - Fish Drum
4 - Cabbage Head - The Hive Manager  
5 - The Conspiracy - Dave Hammerton  
6 - Mindscan - Crash
7 - Jim Jean - It Was a Dark, Foggy Night
8 - UPL - BFH (edit)
9 - TAC / Eye / fX - Casper
10 - Nux Vomica - Passing a Stone
11 - factor X - Armed w/ a Handgun
12 - Cabbage Head - My God - It's Full of Stars
13 - Patternclear - Inertic (6-7)
14 - Secret Archive of the Vatican - I Often Wonder, Am I Mad?
15 - Technoprimitives - I Desire

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Monday, 16 July 2018

Sin - First Movement: Disease (1985) C90

Confusion or possibly Alzheimer's dominates this week with both myself and the author of the work having variant memories of the tape I released on my own Do Easy label back in 1985, and also that the one thing we seem to agree on was that it featured the excellent Baseball Bat Song, except the version I digitised somehow didn't. So far as my useful, or at least coherent memories go, I recall that Tom came to stay a couple of days at my cave in Maidstone around the time of this work. I was a student at the art college, and Tom's visit coincided with an events week, with students from all across the universe converging on our little Kentish town to show avant-garde films of themselves dropping pens into a bucket, and so on. Tom, also being a film student had produced an hour long video, of which Disease was the soundtrack, and frankly it was about the best thing shown that week by some margin.

I've digitised the tape as I had believed it was intended to be heard for most of the past three decades - two long tracks divided into sections, one a side; but it transpires that this was wrong and a couple of these pieces shouldn't even have been on the tape. Anyway, over to himself...

Following The Complete Trilogy and the little C-15 which Lawrence had put out, I was itching to create something special for my third Do Easy tape. I had always been interested in film and video. In fact you could say I came out of film, did music for a while, then went back to film – which is what I do now.

In 1984 these influences, film and sound, were really vying for attention in my imagination. I was also interested in subliminals, in the way a viewer or a listener might be subconsciously affected by particular words and images – carefully hidden in the mix. I had experiments along these lines on a few previous tracks – Batora is loaded with muttered phrases and threats – although at this point I wanted to take all of this several steps further. I was, of course, heavily under the influence of TG at this time (even though they were ancient history by ’84) and I'd just seen Derek Jarman’s In the Shadow of the Sun at the ICA. So I wanted my next project to be a full audio-visual experience.

Another reason I decided to push in this direction was that I was about to start a Film & Drama course at Bulmershe College in Reading. I already knew they had excellent video production facilities and had already befriended the technician in that department, a guy named Simon, before I even started. Oddly enough, the course I was attending did not include any access or use of the video studio – which seems incredible in retrospect, but was very simply because the course I was on was about film theory,  not practice. I soon realized that the only way I could use the studio was to cut out of my film & drama classes whenever possible. So it evolved that for the first 6 months of my Film & Drama Degree I put very little energy into my studies and was totally focused on creating what you’re about to hear… and see.

Of course, thirty-four years on it looks and sounds incredibly primitive, but I still feel it was better to neglect my studies in favour of this project - it’s about the only worthwhile thing I gained from my two years at Bulmershe.


Side one starts with the longest recording I ever made.

Track 1 – (19:45) Of Predators and Prey
Recorded October 1984.

Arriving at Bulmershe Halls of Residence I brought my whole recording set-up, for what it was: my Sharp tape to tape ghetto blaster, my Boss echo machine, A reel to reel tape recorder, an equalizer, my dad’s old music centre, a Casio VL-Tone and the Beast - a Roland SH-1000 of unpredictable temperament.

I thought I’d find all sorts of like-minded weirdos among my fellow students but I soon found I had very little in common with anyone, and neither did they with me. So while I would go drinking a bit with my dorm neighbours Simon and Andrew (who once took me to a great Test Department gig in Sheffield) and a year later formed a one gig band with Steve Middleton, in the year above me, I had little meaningful interaction with my fellow students. I often just buried myself in working on tapes and sound ideas – much as I had at home.

This opening track starts with a series of radio frequencies – more of which will be heard in a moment - and a manipulated field recording, which I’d made on holiday with my parents. We were travelling by coach, when I noticed a great interference sound whenever I positioned my Sharp over the engine of the bus. Experimenting with this and the dubbing function I was able to create a powerful series of rhythmic engine stabs – which when put through the echo machine sounded mighty and strange. This runs for several minutes before the next part of the track, – a grinding series of descending notes, another engine sound I believe, leading us to the main part of the track – a prolonged experiment with a borrowed electric guitar and my electric razor. I liked how switching the razor on and off created these very sharp, clean electrical sounds, and then bringing it into contact with the strings made for a powerful ambient soundscape. I was also exploring some of the remoter frequences on the radio that night and stumbled across a pre-Glasnost USSR radio station, broadcasting anti-British and American propaganda alleging that scores of Greenham Common protestors were being shot at and killed by the military based there. I mixed that with another broadcast, which I was able to weave in and out of the guitar sound and then added another layer of me reading a personal piece of text I'd written that summer.
So what was the visual component of this?  Before I started at Bulmershe I was shooting a lot of Super 8mm, trying to create mysterious sequences that would blend in and out during the music. One piece was of me on the stage at the ICA Cinema, filmed by Colin, the friendly projectionist. Another scene is of a man descending into Charing Cross station on the escalator and then waiting for a train. Basically I was stalking him with the camera. There are some single frame shots of a TV program about Harrier jets, then there's news footage of a train crash, all mixed with a close up of me, a passenger on a train, looking bleakly out at the passing landscape. My expression isn't acting. The night before I'd taken a trip and watched Eraserhead for the first time – so I was feeling seriously fucked up.

I ran all this material at various speeds – forward and back – some of it on loops and on three projectors running simultaneously with a video camera filming each. Then I did a live mix between the images in time with the soundtrack. Additionally I added very mixed down visuals from a porno video that I got hold of – in the final visual mix it's almost imperceptible – though you can see that something suspect is going on whenever the screen fades to black.

The best moment of all was what I found to synchronize with that opening series of noise stabs – a scene from a nature doc where we see a large fish eating a smaller fish.

See and hear for yourself:

Note: the video version is somewhat abbreviated – I edited the track down to 14:50

Audio: Various electromagnetic noise / interference, electric guitar (borrowed), electric razor (and that's why), unknowing members of public, English language Russian radio (pre-Glasnost), shortwave radio frequencies. All recorded and assembled on a Sharp tape to tape ghetto blaster
Track 2 – (6:39) No Escape
Recorded September 1984.

If the first track was something of an improvisation this in contrast was structured and carefully paced. That summer I had been reading a lot of about the Theatre of the Absurd, and one piece in particular which stayed in my memory was Boris Vian's The Empire Builders, a play depicting the plight of a suburban family, pursued through their home and into the attic by a terrifying sound and the disquieting presence of a figure in their midst called the schmurz. I wanted to try to encapsulate this figure and the terror it created in a piece of music that would have a claustrophobic, ghostly ambience – something that would be both intense, yet quiet. I had a melody going through my head which I sang into my reel to reel recorder running the tape very fast. Then I took the piece of tape, which was perhaps six feet long and created a loop which I then played at a slow speed through my echo machine.  I found the effect was mesmerizing and I built this up with multiple layers of Roland SH-1000 and then whispered phrases – inspired by the text. The schmurz itself was again from the Roland and reared its head at key moments.

Visuals: For the video I wanted to experiment with the image of not being able to escape, so I had one of my fellow students, Gemma, filmed trying to escape from a window and being captured by  two guards. This was combined with other footage filmed while I was walking along towards Earley while running the camera. I had an idea to create a similar video effect to the one I often used in audio, where two versions of the same recording run together slightly out of synch. That along with some primitive chromakey created an interesting effect.

With this video there are actually two versions – one has been on YouTube for some time and is considerably different to the original (when I originally digitized it in 2010 I felt it needed sprucing up) and then the original somewhat battered video from 1985, which has some moments of sound drop out.

Recorded on the Sharp tape to tape.
Sounds Roland SH-1000, TF voice and background tape loops.
Track 3 – (8:13) untitled
This spaced-out, sweetly melodic track almost didn't make it to the final cut. I had planned it to be a jaunty pop song, with vocals – something that would come as a complete change of pace from the previous tracks. But my initial attempts at this were dire and I abandoned the song. It was only some weeks later when I was fooling around with my reel to reel and slowed the track down to about a quarter of the original speed, that I thought there might be something in it after all. Adding a tape loop of me making clicking sounds with my tongue through the echo machine and possibly another layer of keyboard, it arrived in it's present form. Initially I had video images for this, but I decided it wasn’t a strong enough track for the video and dropped it.

Track 4 – (10:00) field recording
This is a field recording made while boarding a tube train in Hampstead with some friends. I was quite surprised to find this on the tape digitised by Lawrence.

Track 5 - (17:06) Pagan Orchestral
Recorded October 1984.

Side two opens with my second Martin Denny inspired track and probably the most sophisticated recording I'd made to this time. After the dark and doom laden tracks on side one I was keen to do something with more air in it. So this is my attempt at pure music without the subliminal underlay of the rest of the tape.

When I was on the induction tour of Bulmershe College in September '84, aside from the aforementioned video studio, I was also very intrigued by the well equipped music practice wing, with orchestral instruments, recording facilities and great rehearsal spaces. I immediately decided that I should record something using this facility – even though I wasn't a music student. Among other instruments they had there were a grand piano, tubular bells, xylophone & tam tams – and whilst I had never played any of these – aside from childhood picking out of tunes on the piano, I thought these would be great for the piece I had in mind. So I booked a two-hour slot and took my Sharp tape to tape ghetto blaster in one morning, and this was the result.

Recording with the
tape to tape involves recording a first track, then playing back that first track on deck A while re-recording that along with new live input on deck B. You then repeat the process building up your track layer by layer. Unlike a four or eight track recording where one could re-record an earlier piece if it was unsuccessful, once you had layered the second track over the first, you were stuck with what was underneath – unless you wanted to start again. This was both a limitation and a boon since I was forced to work with what I had already created.

On this occasion the first layer was the tam-tams, since I felt they would drive the rest of my playing and give the piece energy. However I didn't want the track to actually start with the tam-tams playing. So I started the recording and stood in complete silence for about a minute before beginning. I then added layers in order of the piano, xylophone and tubular bells. With each instrument, I knew I had this minute or so before the drums kicked in where I could noodle around – essentially establishing a key for the piece. It then grew organically from that point on. During the recording, I remember some music students peering through the glass of the door to the rehearsal space – wondering what this lone student was up to - but they never bothered me. At the end, when the drums finish – and as the instrumentation becomes more stripped down – I began intoning various long notes on each layer – which I harmonized with on subsequent layers and it is this that you hear as the piece drifts into a dreamy and rather pensive conclusion.

Considering I had no real idea of what I was going to do when I walked into the rehearsal space that morning, it's remarkable how quickly and easily this came together. But sometimes it's just a fluke of luck and when I tried to repeat the experiment a few weeks later in the same place it didn’t work at all. I remember the evening after this recording I went to visit my friend (and occasional collaborator on this tape) Jon Lawford and played him this. His wife, Gwen, happened to walk in, just at the point where it all momentarily sounds tight, and said, 'Wow - Tom, that's actually listenable.' High praise indeed.

The only addition to the original recording was the opening feedback – which was an excerpt from an unreleased (at that time) recording from May 1984 in a busy Waltham Abbey underpass.

Here is the video (shortened to 12.19) - visuals include footage shot in early 1986, including on-set footage from my friend Kaprice Kea's film Virtues of Knature.


Track 6 - (6:47) Words Cannot Describe
Recorded in July 1984, before I began attending Bulmershe College, this is the earliest track recorded for Disease, and the only one which Jon Lawford had any direct involvement with, although it was more in the line of ideas and suggestions than the actual recording. Using the Sharp tape to tape ghetto blaster to gather industrial sounds and radio snippets at various sites, I aimed to create an industrial soundscape with the intention of causing maximum physical discomfort. During this time my dad worked with Tarmac Construction, building the Hatfield by-pass. Part of the project involved the construction of a huge tunnel, which I was working alongside for some weeks. The sounds emanating from this vast chasm were incredibly powerful, drills, diggers and various electric hand tool sounds, would combine and resonate through several miles of smooth concrete surfaces to create an astonishing aural barrage – which of course I recorded. Credited collaborator Jon provided the sample of the Dalai Lama which opens and closes the piece and also suggested having one sound gradually blend into the other, so in that sense it was a joint effort.

The Video is comprised of a montage of shots of a student friend at Bulmershe. It was something of an experiment to blend a loop of zooming-in shots with a rapid montage of single frame close-ups of the same guy's face from different angles. The effect complements the audio quite nicely.


Track 7 – (6:34) untitled
This mysterious track – which I had no memory of until I heard it again when Lawrence digitised his version of the tape - was the original last track of Disease, and would have brought the recording full circle, by returning the listener to radio static and electronic drones.

Track 7 (bonus track) – Baseball Bat Song
As mentioned before, I had hoped to incorporate one song in Disease, but the one attempt didn't work as planned. A month or two passed and I had already sent the audio master to Lawrence and was spending Christmas with my folks when I recorded this track. With its persistent bell riff and graphic lyrics about street violence (though it's fuzzy as to who's doing what to whom) it's a completely different beast to what had gone before. Although the original final track was an appropriate way to end the tape, I was keen to include something that might point to the next stage in whatever evolution I was making. At the time, and for a good thirty years since, I thought this was the track everyone who played this tape heard – ironically, so did Lawrence. So it was quite mysterious to discover it wasn't here. Anyway, here it is – in a somewhat degraded audio from a video master.

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Monday, 9 July 2018

Man's Hate - Suffer in Silence (1984) C60

Man's Hate was a one-man band comprising Andi Xport, also of the APF Brigade whom you may recall as appearing on this compilation, and also this one; and he was also behind the International Sound Communication compilations, of which you'll find one here.

This was the first of two tapes he recorded as Man's Hate, according to Discogs. There's a blog entry about it here, or there was, but I'm reposting the material just in case it disappears, as I suspect the download may have done due to Mr. Xport no longer being with us. Anyway, here's what he said:

Suffer in Silence was my first solo cassette album. I used the sound on sound method using the new-fangled tape decks that had just come out with two tapes being able to be placed in one machine at the same time, recording onto one tape deck then playing that back through speakers and recording onto the next tape deck whilst playing live over the top. The only problem with this method was that if you made a mistake then the whole song had to be redone and the tape quality soon deteriorated.

This was a review of Suffer in Silence from Cause and Effect, a US zine done by Hal McGee and Debbie Jaffe.

Man's Hate is Andi, an Englishman with strong convictions who plays guitar and sings songs with a directness and energy that incites the listener to get up off her/his ass and act. Andi was a member of the seminal early eighties punk-folk protest group APF Brigade. The ten tracks here are highly charged dramatic rock anthems decrying man's cruelty and stupidity towards other beings, human and animal alike. The lyrics are of a political nature (personal politics with a conscientious bent)... The main thing here is the sound. You will hear a voice, a voice of conviction and desperation. This is the music of a man who will not shut up and passively accept what he hates.

Okay - last time I nosed around on the internet, I'd swear I read that Andi Xport is no longer with us, but now, although he seems to have remained conspicuously silent for a while, I can no longer find any reference to his supposed passing, so if you're reading this, Andi - or anyone who knows him - and I've got it wrong, please excuse my succumbing to fake news.

Anyway, as you'll hear, Suffer in Silence is somewhat didactic, but helpfully tuneful, and enough so as to negate any whining about Mr. Xport's failure to have recorded it at Abbey Road. Actually, I sort of miss things being this didactic, as opposed to just - well... you know... The thing which has surprised me most about this after all this time is that this guy was a genuinely inventive songwriter, slipping all sorts of weird jazzy chords and changes in there. Would have loved to have heard this stuff played by a full, well-rehearsed band, but never mind.

...and that nice Mr. Zchivago seems to have the second tape, if anyone's interested.

1 - Overdose
2 - Burn the Flag
3 - No Money, No Rights
4 - Work Experience
5 - A Gun! For a Toy?
6 - Animal Farming
7 - Meat Means Money
8 - Workers Playtime
9 - Not a Minority Anymore
10 - Suffer in Silence

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