This is a blog devoted to music on the edge - experimental, underground, alternative, subversive, or just plain weird - new music that tries new things, or old music that broke old rules. It's a place to discuss ideas, share discoveries, to think about what makes music interesting and challenging but still good to listen to. Join in and have your say!!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The art of dissection - Nurse With Wound's debut album

You could be excused for thinking, from reading this blog, that all experimental noise music is dark and creepy. But sometimes noise and sounds are interesting and good to listen to just because they're interesting and good to listen to. The question is, however, just what makes sounds interesting, and just what makes them good to listen to.

That question seems to be somehow crystalised, and maybe even to some degree answered, on what must surely be one of the most fascinating and daring debut albums ever: Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella, released in 1979 by British avant garde-industrial-ambient-drone-noisests, Nurse With Wound.

Everything Nurse With Wound does and did is interesting,  but probably nowhere have they been more prepared to take risks, and to take them confidently and convincingly, than here on Chance Meeting. The title itself conjures up some sort of strange union between Salvidor Dali and Oliver Sacks.

The story behind the album's creation rivals that of the drug-infused Eddie Hazel, being told his mother had just died, playing the guitar on Funkadelic's Maggot Brain, or Mozart writing his Requiem because he thought Death had personally asked him to do it. Nurse With Wound came together because a relatively unknown songwriter, Steven Stapleton, bragged to his recording company that he had his own experimental band, which he didn't, but they thought he did, and so they booked him some recording time. He cornered a couple of friends, told them to grab whatever instruments they could get their hands on and, less than a day later, Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella was committed to tape.

Eddie Hazel's mother hadn't died, nor had Death knocked on Mozart's door, nor did Steven Stapleton have anything vaguely like a band ready to make a record - but sometimes some of the best things are born from lies, and this album is testimony to that.

Dissection really does seem to be much of what this music is about - pulling apart and pulling out sounds from the places where you usually find them, and allowing you to examine them bit by bit. So you hear guitars and pianos and electronic bleeps and blips, and bits of metal scraping against each other, and harmony pitted against discord, and notes against noise, and all of it thrown into some sort of food processor, where the blades are set at the point where all the bits are chopped up, but not beyond recognition - so what you end up with is not an amorphous stew, but a startling, fascinating, if utterly bewildering, degustation.

If you can listen to Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella without expecting it to sound like anything else you've listened to before; if you can let yourself wallow in its strange, strained sounds and without expecting them to make you feel this or that, or to see that or this, but rather to just let yourself listen to them, then you might just find that this album gives you a perspective on music that you hadn't had before - that, while much music is great because it is bigger than the sum of its parts, sometimes the parts themselves are what make it great.

This abum is a great tribute to the deconstruction of traditional music and  each of its three tracks, each more than doubling the duration of the one before it, creates its own sound-world, utterly disrespectful of every convention that has gone before it. So the freaked-out guitar riffs of 'Two Mock Projections' twist and turn, struggling and strangled, amidst weird electronic noise; and the wild spurts of distorted beats lash their way through 'The Six Buttons of Sex Appeal' without any regard for rhythm or order, interspersed with dismebodied, disembowelled vocals; and noises that grate like fingernails on a blackboard grind themselves into noises that haunt you with their emptiness in 'Blank Capsules of Embroidered Cellophane'.

This is surely the most confronting piece of work the Nurse With Wound have produced, even though nothing of their later work could exactly be described as easy either. But Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella goes beyond just being difficult or challenging - it pulls apart everything that once seemed neatly knit and, try as you might, you just know you'll never be able to get it back together again.

So what makes the sounds interesting and good to listen to? Ultimately, Nurse With Wound leave that question hanging in the air but, even so, this music leaves you feeling that it has much more to do with the bits and pieces than with the different ways convention has put them together.

Had it not been for Steven Stapleton's brash brag about his non-existant experimental band, we would never have had Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella.

But sometimes, to get what you need, you just have to bend things a bit.

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