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, August 30, 2011

Shards on the turntable: Undecisive God's RPMs 3-4

I think I was about eight years old when the first turntable appeared in my family household. It was at least a couple of years later that I was allowed to operate it myself and then a couple more years after that that I began to discover, left unsupervised and alone in the house, the amazing things you could do with a turntable. You could play records forwards or backwards, and at different speeds; you could stick bits of paper into the grooves and get different sounds. You could even have two bits of paper in two grooves and get two sounds at the one time.

But it wasn’t until another 40 years after that, when I saw my first Clinton Green turntable installation at Melbourne’s Overground Festival in 2011, that I saw what could really be done with half a dozen turntables: the rhythms you could create out of broken or warped records; the spooked hypnotism of tracks looping endlessly; the music of bumps and scratches; and the strange, almost ghostly, chorus of it all coming together.

So it is not particularly surprising that I approached the turntable-driven latest release of Clinton Green’s solo experimental music project, Undecisive God, with a fair bit of anticipation. RPMs 3-4 actually represents the third and fourth instalments in a series of turntable-based releases – but the early bits are on cassette and so I am stuck with Parts 3 and 4 on their own. A most disconcerting thing for an obsessive completist such as myself, as you can imagine.

But there is nothing undecisive about what Clinton Green does on this album. Here bits of broken music are grabbed and hammered back together in a way that brings a strange but remarkable new unity to them. The turntable settings are gradually sped up or slowed down, and what would otherwise have been the ugly noise of needles, and at one point even a nail, scraping across sharded and scratched vinyl, becomes here a mesmerizing rhythm, amongst which snippets of disembodied voices and instruments play themselves over and over, coming together in a mountain of sound that grows and tumbles, grows and tumbles, but never falls apart. It’s as if the innards of damage have become the glue that holds everything together.

Parts 3 and 4 of the RPMs series are the bread of this album’s sandwich, and its filling is made up of two fascinating explorations of noise, first in ‘Turntables Are Wrong’, where some turntable improvisations were mistakenly recorded at the wrong volume and ended up producing some distorted noise that, despite the mistake, sound fantastic, and then in ‘Summer Holiday 2010-11’, which is a bit of fresh air of summer noise in Melbourne, before the full and epic onslaught of the 43 minute ‘RPMs 4’.

The deconstruction and reconstruction of music and noise is not an easy thing to pull off without it becoming – pardon the pun – little more than a very self-indulgent wank. But in the right hands it not only makes you rethink how the bricks and mortar of music  are put together, it not only makes you see things, everyday things, differently because of the way they are placed and organised in non-everyday ways, but, in the right hands, it actually also sounds good. In the right hands, it builds its own tensions, its own harmonies and counterpoints, its own sense and structure, its own music.

And, in Undecisive God’s Clinton Green, it is very, very much in the right hands.

RPMs 3-4 is available from Shame File Music.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

When things no longer go bump in the dark - Tangerine Nightmare's 'Synthicide'

Often it’s not the things you see in nightmares that scare you the most, but rather the things you don’t see. The things that lurk in the shadows; the things that are shapeless, faceless, unconvincingly quiet.

Germany’s electronic, ambient krautrock band, Tangerine Dream, produces in you the sort of psyched out, psychedelic experiences that you just know, after a few years, are going to catch up on you.  And in the one-night only, one-album only, avant-trio of Melbourne based Clinton Green, Andrew McIntosh and Lloyd Barrett, Tangerine Nightmare, all those trippy chemicals finally meet their destiny.

The album is called Synthicide, and it brings you, veiled in its ambient laptop noise, the sounds of things, scary things, that are too crafty, too clever, to go bump in the night. Instead, they slither and rumble along, behind you, around you, just enough to let you know they’re there, but not enough to let you know how to find them or hold them.

The result is unnerving. Your blood drops a few degrees when you hear this music, but you know you can’t escape it because it’s not really slithering and rumbling around you at all – it’s all happening within you: bits of your brain and your life at last seeing the dark side of the things that you had once painted in the colours of fluorescent rainbows.

The five tracks of Synthicide flow into each other with that same kind of coherence you get when you half wake from one nightmare and fall back into another. Things are different, but you know it’s the same dream, exerting the same hold on you.

It’s easy to describe music as ‘dark’ these days, and it is often the word you use when you don’t know what else to say about something that’s vaguely disturbing or sinister. But Synthicide is dark in its much more literal sense: the absence of light, the place where things creep around and wait to pounce. It’s the sort of dark where everything is in camouflage, where demons wear soft-soled shoes, and talk in whispers.

Albums like Synthicide are especially exciting for people who, as I do, live close enough to Melbourne to be able to call Tangerine Nightmare a local musical project - even if it was just a one-off. But it's still a great reminder of what a thriving, vibrant underground music scene we have here. Things like this are popping up all over the place - or, to be more correct, all under the place - if you just know where to look.

Discovered, for me, on 3PBS 106.7 FM's Ear of the Behearer, Synthicide is available from Shame File Music.