The Outsider #1 | Select Music from Australia -- Part One

In a review of Variable Resistance: Ten Hours of Sound From Australia, The Wire's David Toop wrote that "[f]rankly, it's hard to think of anywhere that doesn't have some sort of vibrant sonic underground." I agree with the statement, and I'd say it probably rings even more true now, many years after the fact. With DIY projects / labels and underground music "communities" popping up all over the place it seems that every small town is renowned for its active sonic sub-culture. Toop goes on to question Philip Samartzis in his opinion that it would be hard to imagine the music herein coming from anywhere but Australia. Personally, I have no real opinion in the matter, but I will state that beside the matter of whether or not the music coming out of Australia is unique to the continent, it is without a doubt extremely engaging. So, for the first Outsider I've decided to highlight some of my favourite music from the region.

Variable Resistance: Ten Hours of Sound from Australia
(23five, 2002)

Co-presented by 23five and The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Variable Resistance: Ten Hours of Sound from Australia is a compendium of tracks culminated from a 'listening room' and live performance exhibition at the SFMOMA. Curated by Philip Samartzis (1/2 of GUM) the listening portion of the exhibit featured ten one-hour sonic programs that were played on a rotating basis in the Museum's Phyllis Wattis Theater; and it was the strongest tracks from these 10 hours that were selected for the cd.

Nearly all the artist's featured on this post contributed to the SFMOMA exhibit making this disc an excellent introduction to Australia's experimental music scene. As for the compilation itself, it is quite an impressive arrangement of tracks, especially in terms of its structure as a musical document. The arrangements flow quite seamlessly into one another starting off with Oren Ambarchi's 'Stacteedit', a contender for the best thing I've ever heard from the guy. Philip Samartzis's contribution is another highlight, displaying a skillful assembly of distorted musical fragments, grainy mechanics and abrupt silences. Boiling down ten hours of music into an eleven track disc was probably not an easy task. The end result, however, is a refreshing mix of musical styles–all very experimental mind you–that to Samartzis's credit, captures many sides of Australia's diverse underground musical culture.

Alan Lamb
Night Passage & Night Passage Demixed (Dorobo, 1998)

As the story goes (though most fans of this kind of stuff probably know this already) Alan Lamb's Night Passage is indeed the recording of a purely natural sonic phenomenon. Way out in the Australian Outback there once were a string of abandoned telegraph wires, that when agitated by whipping winds would resonate soothing metallic drones equal to those found on the albums of Lamb's better known contemporaries. Although in Lamb's case, these night passage's were impressively captured by way of contact mics and were left untreated. These wires were termed The Faraway Wind Organ until the better known natural phenomena of lightning and termites destroyed the Organ forever leaving only two albums (the other Primal Image/Beauty) and for Lamb, I'm sure, a lasting memory. A very rare and absolutely seminal document of minimal dronescaping.

The second edition of Night Passage came as a double disc featuring the original and a second disc of 'demixes' from Lustmord, Ryoji Ikeda, Thomas Köner, and Bernhard Günter, each artist transforming the original material into their own unique track. Also of note, Jim Haynes' Telegraphy By the Sea captures a similar phenomena from telegraph wires off the coastline north of San Francisco.

Oren Ambarchi
Stacte Motors + A Final Kiss on Poisoned Cheeks
(Western Vinyl, 2006 + Table of the Elements, 2008)

I first became interested in Ambarchi's work when I missed his performance at the Guitars! festival that took place here in Vancouver a couple years back. That's right, missed. Later on in the week by some fluke chance my roommate happened to be listening to the CBC late at night. I remember her shrieking at me from her room into the kitchen, "Oren Ambarchi is on the radio!" As it turns out, not only were they playing Ambarchi on the radio, but they were playing the very set I had missed a week prior. The experience absolutely floored me and even though I didn't have any money I went out the next day and bought Stacte Motors for like $11 or something and haven't looked back since. And if you haven't already heard this guy's work, get on it.

Stacte Motors resonates with an imperturbable sense of endless time. Two side long tracks, both utilizing a specially designed soft head motor; the A side for cymbal and the B for guitar. Ambarchi's A Final Kiss on Poisoned Cheeks, his contribution to the single-sided 12" guitar series brought to you by the always impressive Table of the Elements imprint, unfolds a little differently interlacing thin strands of feedback and interference eventually yielding the slow strike of a bell; and like most of Ambarchi's work, an impeccably executed conclusion.

Lawrence English
Kiri No Oto (Touch, 2008)

'Sound of Mist;' so the title of Lawrence English's 2008 release on Touch loosely translates. An apt title for the sometimes ethereal, and often dense and dark movements found within. The album succeeds in blurring any perceivable auditory lines into a sort of out-of-focus exploration of sound. That's not to say that the album is sloppily executed. In fact, the tracks here are masterfully realised. But, by incorporating both found sound and specific instrumentation and by framing the listener's ear as "another layer of auditory fog," English has succeeded in crafting a truly impressive album with strong conceptual merit.

Thus concludes part one of two in The Outsider #1 | Select Music from Australia. Part two coming soon.


M. Holterbach & Julia Eckhardt 'Do-Undo' [In G Maze] (The Helen Scarsdale Agency, 2010)

A new publication from The Helen Scarsdale Agency will most likely never penetrate the arms-length comfort bubbles of most people's everyday listening. But here at the Scrapyard Forecast it is most certainly always a time for celebration.

The opening seconds of Do-Undo trickle into the listener's perception, commencing with small tactile flourishes of pops and crackles,–that could easily be mistaken for one of Chris Watson's exotic animal recordings–it would appear, establishing the album's trajectory not far from the atrophied drone work of Coelacanth or Seth Nehil. Gradually, however, Julia Eckhardt's viola–recorded exclusively in the key of G–creeps into the mix, which would sound proper had it been emitted from Ellen Fullman's Long String Instrument. And thus, the opener continues along a gently sloped arc, evolving as the recorded chirps of crickets and gusts of wind are introduced in the form of lopping sonic waves. Very stunning.

It was during a residency in Brussels that Mr. Holterbach was presented with a fragment of a large archive of Julia Eckhardt's stringed material. Instilled with the understanding that these recordings would act as a foundation to this collaborative effort, Hotlerbach set out to inhabit the space in and around these recordings with a tactful rigor. Over the course of the second track, "Two Stasis Made Out of Electricity" We are presented with recordings of electric power plants, arc lamps, and amplifier buzz, all slightly pitch shifted into a G proper. Compared to the opener, "two Stasis..." relies more on sustained tones similar to the oscillator work of Charlemagne Palestine, utilizing a simple yet effective technique of gradually layering each individual sound until the desired saturation is met. Finally, over the closing seconds, all is striped away except Julia's unprocessed strings and the dusty thud of the gong that started things off in the first place, as if beckoning a repeat listen. And it is the opinion of this humble critic that Do-Undo may have even more to offer the second or third time around.


5 Questions: Jonathan Borges + Scrapyard Forecast's 100th Post.

Hailing from the illustrious Californian musical underground, Jon Borges has made his name known. Whether he's streamlining tones as Emaciator or redefining noise as one half of Pedestrian Deposit, Borges rarely falters while treading his path. In 1999 he established the Monorail Trespassing imprint and to date continues to perform both solo and collaboratively. Our interview took place via email.

SF: You describe Emaciator's early intentions as "anonymity and early industrial / power electronics", as opposed to present intentions of "progression; evolution; hybrids; drone / meditation, etc..." What has influenced you into thinking differently about your art in this time of transition?

JB: After a while I realized it was dumb, immature, and regressive for me to be playing any sort of variation on the dead horse of 'power electronics.' I wanted to do something with lasting depth, while also suggesting progress; it just began to happen naturally.

About four years ago you released a cassette on Josh Rose's rundownsun label and you've also collaborated with Sam Mckinlay in the supergroup Black Air. How were these Vancouver connections spawned and how boundless is your relationship with the city?

Unfortunately I haven't had any contact with Sam or Josh for a while now; they're both good guys, though, and Sam is one of few people left incorporating great ideas into 'the harsh noise object.' I think I met both of them through the usual channels of mutual appreciation, trading, etc. I've been to Vancouver a few times and have always had a good experience within the city. I definitely need to go back sometime.

You've performed live extensively through the east and west coasts of the US. What has been your experience with the live setting? Any interesting stories while on tour?

I go back and forth with this -- sometimes I like it, sometimes I don't; there are a lot of factors that vary from one show to another. It took me a long time to embrace the uncertainty and accept the fact that the live set is never perfect. However, I will always be most comfortable in the studio.

As for tour stories: getting verbally berated as 'performance art' in front of a crowd in Minneapolis just for doing something that someone else didn't agree with is the experience that best stands out. Too bad I didn't get to join the fight that erupted.

Of the growing number of Emaciator satelli
te projects, your collaboration with Shannon Kennedy is no doubt perennial. What has made Pedestrian Deposit a lasting musical force?

Stubbornness, possibly. I don't think I can accurately answer this question. With that said, though, P.D. is the only project I'm interested in doing at this point; both of us are very interested in combining hybrids from several genres of music that influence us. I view my other projects as examinations into specific interests; very streamlined, more temporary for one reason or another.

Almost all of your releases, including those you release on your own label, are cassettes. What draws you to the analog format? Do you feel as though tapes make as much of a lasting impact as other formats?

When I started, it was a matter of financial convenience to do tapes. I also wanted to push the format into uncharted territory distribution-wise, but that was unsuccessful. Now, it is obsession -- I probably listen to cassettes more often than any other format, and have for years.

I certainly hope that tapes have some sort of a lasting impact, as they do for me. But some people cannot be changed. It frustrates me when more traditionally-minded people view tape releases as 'temporary.' CD-r's strike me as temporary, and downloads even more so. This is part of my goal with Monorail, to change this mindset -- and I will continue to strive for it.


Easy Listening-April

April has been a bit of a roller coaster ride.
Last weekend I caught the bug that's been going around and I still haven't totally shaken it of. At one point three-quarters of my house had it, turning our home into somewhat of a viral cesspool. I did, however, manage to haul myself out of bed–if not barely–to trot around my neighbourhood, capturing some sounds in the field. This–miraculously and much to my surprise–ended up being very successful and has inspired me to pick up where I left off on much delayed plans to finish a composition that has been in the works for ... a while. Anyways, I am proud to announce that the work is in its final stages and what I can give away is, shall it ever be released, the album would take the shape of a single track, roughly an hour long, composed almost entirely of the sounds of stoic mechanics and tape grit. More on that to come.

Fake Jazz Fest was a huge success and I really enjoyed playing it (to warm responses may I add). However, apparently one of the interns forgot to hit record until about the 7 minute mark of my set. So, I'm left with a less than stellar fifteen minute version and feelings of regret towards my decision to not record it myself. It's just less to worry about you know? No hard feelings though Western Front. You are still probably the best Vancouver venue a guy like me could ever play at.

During my days of physical ineptitude I had plenty of time to catch up on some overdue listening. Here is some of the music I've been into lately-

Infinite Body
Carve Out the Face of My God (Post Present Medium, 2010)

This is the second piece of wax I've been able to get my hands on from LA native Kyle Parker. The first being the Monorail split with Emaciator. Truth be told, Parker's side of that split ran out of steam a minute or two before the grooves did, but Carve Out the Face of My God is a drastic improvement. Simple rhythms act as an effective skeletal foundation to these micro-movements of sound, the tracks here utilizing a technique of interlacing small sonic eruptions with a 60's style ambience, though think guitars instead of synthesizers. Although the path of my musical progression has meandered towards long form compositions, Carve's eleven tracks act as a refreshing breather. Definitely a record I'll keep coming back to.

Untitled (Self Released, 2010)

Not to be confused with San Fran post-rockers Glaciers. This trio, composed of Rob and Jeff of Rough Noble fame (electronics/tape/oscillators and minimal percussion) and Leaf (experimental vocals) is one of the most exciting local acts these ears have heard in a while. Nice guys, great tape.

In Teufel's Kuche (Absurd / Ignivomous, 2009)

A challenging yet rewarding neo-avant garde release from Daniel Lowenbruck. A turbulent 10" that takes the cut-up fashions of experimental turntablism and infuses it with the early industrial sensibilities of Maurizio Bianchi and Ramleh. Really awesome.

The Towering Sky (Faraway Press, 2010)

What can I say? Andrew Chalk doesn't really disappoint. As Marsfield we find Chalk in collab with Vicky Jackman, Rob Barnes and Brendan Wells. It's nice to see this finally coming to light after much delay. The music, more like the old-school Chalk. Meaning. Basically. Perfect.

Illusion of Safety
Probe (Predition Plastics, 2010 Reissue)

A recent reissue from the legendary Illusion of Safety. I've got to say that outside of a few 7"s and some live material I haven't really heard all that much IOS. And Probe has acted as a good album to break the ice with. Some great use of silences. I've now made it a goal to hear way more of Dan Burke's stuff.

John Duncan and Giuliani Stefani
Palace of Mind (All Questions, 2001)

Speaking of legends, John Duncan is a name that will be uttered in experimental sound circles for years to come. Here, Duncan and Stefani explore the regions of shortwave radio, voice and more to create an hour long slab of menacing mechanized drone. Totally captivating.


In Collaboration | Maurizio Bianchi, Nobu Kasahara and Hitoshi Kojo 'The Epidemic Symphony No.9' (Octpia, 2006)

Do you hear that?
It is the sound of the impending storm rolling in from the distance. Slowly the sky fills with dark clouds and droplets of rain speckle the concrete. With it comes feelings of dread but also rejuvenation, because water replenishes the landscape and almost always afterward the sun bursts through the clouds. The storm's symphony instills an array of fixed emotions on the inhabitants of the land below, effortlessly transitioning from one to the next. Melancholia to Fear to more Melancholia to Satisfaction, and any and all the things we feel in between.

Maurizio Bianchi, Nobu Kasahara and Hitoshi Kojo
The Epidemic Symphony No.9 (Octpia, 2006)

A three day symphony.
The first day harkens the intransigent efforts brought forth by Organum, with Bianchi's usual clamour ironed out into a delicate fluctuation of muted noise. A stunning opener. Day two caters more towards the old school Bianchi, beginning with a mash up of groaning electronics, sputtery synth swells, and schizophrenic activity, though the languid execution suppresses any chance at a deafening cacophony. Instead the track sort of putters forward eventually being submerged in a slow pulsating drone. A slightly unusual approach maybe, but it works. Day three makes its intentions clear from the opening seconds, a simmering blissed-out drone piece peppered with small flurries of electroacoustic detritus.

By the noise Bianchi is capable of, and Kasahara–who has apparently collaborated with The New Blockaders–The Epidemic Symphony No.9, aside from a few jarring moments, is a surprisingly tame effort. An attribute that, if anything, is the album's strong point. Thanks to the hand of Hitoshi Kojo–who's solo efforts are always impressive yet unfortunately largely overlooked–The Epidemic Symphony No.9 stands as an exceptional release.