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
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.
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.
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.
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.