Sunday, June 4, 2017

Vague Secrets - Vague Secrets (1985)


Sole album from Christchurch's Vague Secrets, and the first album to feature filmmaker John Chrisstoffels of The Terminals, The Renderers, et al. The same line-up backed Bill Direen as The Builders on 'Lovers' from C0NCH3.

Taut and rangy, with a tight rhythm section and a number of hip influences, they're sharp and smart but just faintly unfledged. Album opener 'Don't Come To Me' is post-punk-via-the-pub-circuit, but from the second track onward it's mostly earnest, slightly astringent, fairly elaborate pop along the lines of Blam Blam Blam, Thin Red Line, The World and The Orange. Perhaps it's piqued by the 'Vague' from the name, but amidst otherwise self-assurance there's a seeming hesitancy, a non-commital to form: wavering between Talking Heads-ish Caribbesque rhythms of 'Africa', straight-up drawling folk-pop with 'An Ending', and various other McGlashanisms before closing with a charming instrumental acoustic psych-pop miniature, chiming and peppy, the appropriately appointed 'Dunedin'.  All up, it's like a rich, evocative -- but somewhat frustrating -- early chapter from an unfinished story.

The pressing is on the edge of lo-fi. My copy is near pristine, but it's sometimes weedy, distorts easily, and some tracks sound practically mono.


Here come the vultures


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Don't Make Noise (1988-89)


Seemingly forgotten South Island free improv, ex three staunch avant-gardists in late 80s Christchurch.


Don't Make Noise - Don't Make Noise (1988)
The trio's debut s/t cassette, with Greg Malcolm on guitar and cello, Paul Sutherland on electronics, radio, tapes, shenai etc., and John Kennedy on drums and percussion. Side A opens with an Eastern European impression -- Malcolm on cello and Sutherland on shenai -- before moving into timeless non-jazz/non-jamband Western free improv: feedback, drones, toy piano, radio and electronics, alternating with playful, artful, instrumental flourishes. By the B side, there's no dismissing their seriousness -- reductionist, lockstepped, insistent, clamorous clangour -- before revisiting Radical-Yiddish strings and rusty-hinges, shimmering cymbals and wheezing seabirds on the last piece.


pŇętangitangi



Don't Make Noise - This Is The Place (1989)
Second (final?) cassette from DMN, featuring Malcolm's future Breathing Cage bandmate Michael Kime on double bass on the A-sides. Fragile and considered gauzy bits alternate with trashy rockist shuffles, Sandoz Lab-esque & Art Ensemblish 'little instruments', samples, wailing amps and hissy-crackling Moondog minimalism. Thirty minute B-side live at the Robert McDougall is astonishingly accomplished, complex and riveting -- the type of improvisation which gets audiences asking if it's a composed piece.

Aside from their short lifespan and limited small-run releases, I can only guess at why Don't Make Noise never made it into the NZ Free Noise canon. Kennedy and Malcolm both have avant-pop backgrounds or foregrounds (Thin Red Line and Breathing Cage, respectively), and there are moments which are aesthetically perhaps too Downtown jazz-ish for the Le Jazz Non compilation (let alone a few years too early). Regardless of their obscurity, the strength of material on these two tapes -- off-centre, exciting, droll and elegant, and both more serious and farther out than contemporaneous recordings by The Dead C -- merits their re-listening and reappraisal.


They called it, 'The Sound Barrier'


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Paul Sutherland - Sea and Sun (1985)





A mid-solo-period C30 EP release by Christchurch-based Paul Sutherland of Into The Void, Don't Make Noise, and Les Baxters

Two sidelong improvisations of radio noise, electronic toys, tapes and layered tape loops and tape hiss and turntables and tape speed tricks, mechanical squeaks and percussive blasts -- all hard-panned, delayed and ping-ponging. At times a one-man-AMM felicitously iterating Reich's 'Piano Phase' and Riley's 'Music for the Gift'.

Slow and low-key, connoting robo-throat singing, ambient garage rock with an 808, hydrophone gamelan wind chimes, martial marches with cowboy bass lines and chirruping rewinds; with chance guest vocals from white noise-modulated Mockers and a chopped-up Maxwell H Brock from A Bucket of Blood. Gorgeously singular and highly recommended.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A David Watson Decade (1986 - 1996)


Co-founder of the Braille Label in 1984 and curator of the first altmusic festival in 2001, ex-Wellington improvisor David Watson has lived and worked in New York since the late 80s.


David Watson - Reference (1986)

An album of low-key beauty recorded the year before he left for NYC, Reference is what it says on the tin: a catalogue raisoneé laying out Watson's pluralistic thing. 'A Code' starts off with a lo-bit From Scratch-style sampled bamboo rhythm and a squall of squealing riffage multi-tracked with back-masked guitar drones. 'To Read A Cipher' follows, skipping between snippets of Fahey-like and Donald McPherson-esque acoustic noodling, while its counterpart 'To Write...' bellows Bailey-ish and bell-like with clockwork zithers. Side Two's ten minute epic 'The Arithmetic Symbol 0' opens with amp feedback and drastically stereo separated signal/delay, sidesteps into acoustic improv then on to microphone-on-strings, atmospheric slide and distant rhythms with rusty hinges. The urgent 'To Unravel' plays ping pong with bowed drones and volume swells, with hypnopompic bass and insistent muted-string-strumming snowballing into the reverb and squeaks of a background basketball gym. Pensive but never po-faced, there is a playfulness inherent in its experimentalism, much in the manner of Greg Malcolm





David Watson - Ribbons of Euphoria (1996)

This CD was produced by the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in 1996 for inclusion in its short-lived Midwest magazine. It includes four tracks for 3x bagpipe ensembles, for which Watson was commissioned by the DPAG to celebrate their relocation to a new building in the Octagon. Having worked in the centre of Dunedin for more than a decade I've gritted my teeth through entire weekends of competing pipe bands, but there's definitely dramatic power in what Watson describes as the 'real savagery in the sound of the pipes'. Ten years on from the earnest and retrospectively tentative charms of Reference, Watson's potent multi-tracked solo electric guitar works are more fully developed and realised, all serious and exciting, academic and musical. Tracks 'Delicious' and 'Candy' pit Tony Conrad vs Robert Fripp, while the expansive 'Steak Knife' is all that's great in his earlier works advanced with all that he's learned from his Downtown collaborators like album contributors Ikue Mori and Otomo Yoshihide. Includes scans of his interview with Midwest