December 26th, 2011 | Published in Blog
A few weeks ago we asked various site contributors, people who’ve played at our shows and people we liked to contribute their thoughts on 2011. Today it’s my turn. This year has been amazing for a number of reasons, not least getting this site off the ground… anyone who’s interested in reading more is welcome to click below and see what I’ve been up to.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the combination best of times and worst of times.
Most of my time in 2011 has been taken up with the website you’re reading now. I published my thoughts on glossolalia, an article that has been a good eight years in the making; we ran the 20/20 project, in which twenty of us made a record for each other; I managed to book a couple of my favourite musicians – John Butcher and Mark Sanders – for events in the still relatively under-nourished Southampton; we staged what I consider to be one of the great performances of Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting In A Room; our Zone of Alienation event surpassed my expectations by translating some particularly challenging ideas about nuclear energy into fulfilling music; and to wrap it up I’m in the final stages of preparing a massive 6 cdr compilation due for imminent release to celebrate the site’s first birthday and raise money so that we can buy a PA for our Southampton shows.
Meanwhile the world became weirder and more inhospitable with every passing day. Insurrection, resistance and the renegotiation of power relationships were the overriding themes linking many of the headlines. Buildings were burned, protesters rounded up, space (both private and public) was occupied, regulations tightened or relaxed, institutions scrutinised, governments overthrown, currencies fluctuated, treaties redrafted, crucial information withheld or disseminated. This has been coupled with a widespread widening of the gap between rich and poor. Friends, relatives and colleagues were made redundant, funding has been cut to ribbons, pensions renegotiated, wages frozen, unemployment and inflation risen, houses lost value. It’s difficult to think of a single institution that hasn’t been destabilised in some manner. Throughout the shakedown, many people seem to be grasping a fresh sense of what’s possible. But given the all the uncertainty, struggle, suffering and turmoil you’ve got to fight hard to hold on to that shred of positivity.
Elsewhere I was both relieved and pleased to find a new venue for our Southampton shows at the Hansard Gallery, who have proven to be excellent hosts and collaborators; I was chuffed to bits to be asked to join psychedelia heroes Ashtray Navigations on drums and electronics for several of their shows (and one of their records) (pictured); I spent a couple of hours recording the sound inside a derelict cooling tower at Thorpe Marsh Power Station with Richard Thomas (pictured); I played music for far longer than anyone should as part of Kev Nickells’ Hakarl36 performance at the Supernormal Festival; I selfishly hogged the drum stool for half of the eight acts at the A Band’s Anonymity & Artlessness Festival at the Elevator Gallery in London; I took part in Simon Bradley’s Displacement Activity event for Leeds Light Night, creating a junkyard altar on the waste ground on which the Kays Catalogue building once stood (pictured); I came back from Ghana with a ton of new relatives, some excellent footage from the Dagara Music Centre and a nasty case of Salmonella Agbeni; my experiment in throwing away fifteen years of drumming experience in order to relearn from scratch finally bore fruit (or at least, not embarrassing myself at roughly 50% of gigs); and I finally put together a means of performing halfway decent solo shows that integrate synth, drums and vocals (still not done embarrassing myself there yet, though).
Here are five musical moments I enjoyed in 2011, in no particular order…
Christina Kubisch – Magnetic Flights
Magnetic Flights, Christina Kubisch’s take on the music-for-airports theme, saw her applying her custom wireless headphones – designed to make electromagnetic fields audible to the human ear – to the interiors of planes in flight and airport waiting areas. The results are endlessly engaging; a rich, warm musical experience, overflowing with unexpected rhythms, interference patterns and plush drones, all the more compelling given the artist’s Cagean choice to withhold her own intervention. Presenting the plain mechanics of her process, without context, frees Kubisch’s minimal compositions to allow for a multiplicity of interpretations; you can’t help but contrast the unrestricted freedom of the electromagnetic fields with the intrusively regulated air transport industry or the disparity between the inscrutable sounds and the obsessive examination and cataloguing of items allowed in long-haul transit. Descriptive of journeys yet bereft of any easily assimilable geographic information, Magnetic Flights is everywhere and nowhere. Allowing for being both knackered and absent-minded right now, this is probably my favourite record of the year.
Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire – Last Huzzah
While I’m predisposed to like a pretty diverse cross-section of hip hop, I get a particular hankering for an imaginary ‘sound’ that, in my head, exists between East and West coasts sometime between 1993 and 1997, exemplified by Enter the Wu-Tang, 93 ‘til Infinity and Innercity Griots at one end and Funcrusher Plus, Latyrx’ eponymous debut and the original Soundbombing compilation at the other. In other words, my preferences are for simple, dirty, sample-centric loops and enthusiastic, multi-layered, dextrous rhyming. 2011 was the year in which this era, and this sound, seemed to reassert its influence over a particular cross section of contemporary artists, and Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire’s posse cut Last Huzzah, with its best-in-show roster of MCs (including my current favourite rap group Das Racist) seemed to capture this mood more than any other song. Danny Brown, old faithful El-P and eXquire himself steal the show.
The line that begins this blog post belongs to Das Racist, by the way. My quote of the year, by my band of the year.
Alvin Lucier – I Am Sitting In A Room (performed by Lucy and Stuart Bannister)
Stuart Bannister won the Man of the Match award at our Resonance and Psychogeography concert in Southampton’s medieval Castle Vault. While the rest of us swanned off to munch on superb Indian food at Popadom Express, he wrestled with the two uncooperative Edirol field recorders he’d chosen for this realisation of Lucier’s iconic composition. His performance of the piece, captured here by Simon Reynell (of Another Timbre and Supernanny), is evidence of his work ethic, professionalism and the masterful control he exhibited in ensuring the PA didn’t overload or bring the ancient chamber down around us. Reinforcing resonant frequencies can be a risky business.
In such an evocative environment it was tempting to project mystical readings onto I Am Sitting In A Room’s otherwise appealingly blank process; nonetheless, the overwhelming similarity between this performance and Nigel Kneale and Peter Sasdy’s 1972 BBC sci-fi horror The Stone Tape was noted by several of those present.
Josh T Pearson – Last of the Country Gentlemen
Josh T Pearson’s first solo record is clearly not everyone’s cup of tea. But for me – as detailed in my review of Last of the Country Gentlemen for Freq – it effortlessly evokes a lost period in my life, when I played drums in services almost every Sunday and ran a small youth church from my bedroom in Southampton. From my review: ”It’s in the meandering structures that ebb, flow and repeat … instantly familiar to anyone who has more than a passing acquaintance with the manner in which church worship leaders collapse and extend song forms depending on the demands of the moment, dwelling on certain phrases or trailing off at the end of verses or choruses, leaving the atmosphere hanging rather than stopping it dead. Songs restate lyrical devices, words stretch out or tumble over themselves, akin to the manner in which a modern chorus might move into prayer or spoken or sung improvisation.”
Lift to Experience always felt like the band that I’d wanted to form when I considered myself Christian, listened to A Silver Mount Zion and tried – in vain – to untangle the Gordium Knot of my old man’s prophetic legacy. At one point I thought it was unlikely we’d ever hear any new music from Pearson, that this one vicarious channel for my unlived life had reached a dead end. So I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in this record. It’s good knowing he’s out there, refusing to take it easy for the rest of us sinners.
John Butcher and Mark Sanders in concert at the Turner Sims, Southampton
This is buried at the bottom of my year review post, hidden behind a show/hide button, for a good reason: Emanem will be releasing Simon Reynell’s excellent audio recording of John Butcher and Mark Sanders’ remarkable performance at the Turner Sims in Southampton (28.02.2011.) at some at-present unknowable point in future. Knowing that left me feeling torn. While this remarkable video deserves to be seen, I don’t want to circulate the footage too widely if it’s going to tread on too many people’s toes. This seemed a good compromise. The password is worthtwotoilets, a reference to Mr. Butcher’s market value compared to that of the portaloo we booked for his performance at the medieval Castle Vault under the Old Walls in Southampton (which took place later that same day).
The footage was filmed by yours truly on my cheap crappy video camera, the audio recorded by Mr. Reynell, and the two were re-timed and spliced together using a nifty piece of software called DualEyes, which for some reason left some minor clicking sounds throughout (it doesn’t usually). I hope that doesn’t effect your enjoyment too much. There are a few video clips of Butcher/Sanders duos circulating online, and in my humble this is the best… their performance is captured in its unedited entirety and little has been lost due to poor fidelity. Their playing throughout is extraordinary, two excellent listeners responding to each other at frightening speeds and inventing their singular music on the fly, condensing and abstracting their lifetimes’ worth of influences and decisions into fifty minutes of near infinite nuance. These days I’m increasingly feeling as though too few players have truly earned the right to describe themselves as utilising the free improv methodology. Butcher and Sanders are two of the notable exceptions.
2012 is bound to get off to a flying start. Sara and I are very nearly first-time parents, with mid-to-late January seeing us welcoming our daughter into the world. Wish us well.