Simon Fisher Turner – De Dentro Hacia Afuera (The Tapeworm album, 2009)

Translated, literally, as From The Inside Out, Simon Fisher Turner‘s De Dentro Hacia Afuera was issued as a white cassette on the consistently interesting Tapeworm label in an edition of just 250 copies in 2009.

The pieces on the cassette date back to 2002 / 2003 and the pieces fill a side apiece of the cassette. Side A (‘Outside’) consists of a field recording made by Fisher Turner of the procession of the Virgen del Carmen at Carboneras in 2002. The B-side (‘Inside’) consists of piano improvisations for the soundtrack to I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, which Mute released as a download in 2003. Both pieces were edited, with Fisher Turner’s full blessing, from the original recordings by Tapeworm’s founder Philip Marshall.

The procession of the Virgen del Carmen takes place on 16 July each year in many Spanish towns, and also in other Spanish-speaking countries, marking the day of the appearance of the Virgin Mary to St. Simon Stock in Cambridge. Stock was the head of an order of the Catholic church which had fled from persecution where they were quartered in Monte Carmelo, now Israel, to Europe. The appearance of Mary to Stock in 1251 was not the first time the Virgin had appeared in the history if the order; in fact, the order was established because of Mary’s likeness in a cloud to some men investigating two prophets. Though some have subsequently cast doubt on Stock’s claims, the reassurance that Mary purportedly gave him, namely that those who wore the traditional scarpel – a cloth garment more or less in the shape of the Cross – would be freed from the fires of Hell has stuck and developed into the festival of divine celebration it has today.

Not that you’d necessarily deduce any of that in the recording Fisher Turner made on 16 July 2002. Here there are segments of chattering crowds milling and thronging around; a rousing brass marching band fades in and delivers a particularly uplifting song that feels like the soundtrack to some sort of Andalusian black and white movie (‘It would be great to play this tune to mum,’ someone is heard saying) before slowly moving out of focus; children chatter; babies cry; birds whistle, so does a man; a lone trumpet lets out a solitary blast before another rousing processional starts up, this one containing a funereal, maudlin middle section and a slightly wonky, out of tune tone; someone speaks above the crowd, prompting others to join in rapturously; what could be a piano pings out a brief high-pitched note; fireworks thunder in the sky; street sellers proffer their wares with repeated and insistent cries; a Latin pop song drifts in and out of focus with a singer sounding suspiciously like Andy Bell from Erasure; a cycle of strange industrial clanking rhythms and atmospheric drones and echoes is unfathomable as a source; someone’s shoes squeak playfully on a pavement.

Divorced from any obvious religious essence, the processions recorded here could have been captured anywhere in the Spanish-speaking world. The only real connection to divinity is the uplifting music, but none of those songs are exactly hymnal, and the church bells that toll at the very end of the piece. From the outside listening in, it feels like a public holiday that’s more or less forgotten why it was established, a bit like May Day, an excuse to kick back and unwind without knowing what you’re celebrating exactly. It all sounds pleasant, fun, the general buzz of people having a good time.

In 2003 Fisher Turner recorded the soundtrack to British director Mike Hodges’ I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, starring Clive Owen. When I interviewed Simon just after the release of that album he advised that his process of creating the soundtrack involved getting on set, hitting props, talking to the actors, recording stuff and generally making a nuisance of himself to try and capture the essence of a scene.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead was pretty much improvised from my end,’ Fisher Turner explained to me back in 2004. ‘As they shot the film I worked at home on material that the editor was able to put in as a rough guide for the scenes. I had a good budget so I could test things out in the studio, bring them home, and rework them on the laptop, and then send them to the editor. I think finally I’d made up 9 CDs’ worth of music for the film. A lot of it is very atmospheric and distant, more ‘sound design’.’

The final soundtrack would contain familiar Fisher Turner elements in the form of tapes and contributions from the likes of former Blockhead Gilad Atzmon, but at its core were segments of noirish piano playing, the improvisations for which are documented on the second side of De Dentro Hacia Afuera. In recent times we’ve become used to Simon Fisher Turner almost dispensing with melody completely, but gathered here are a variety of modes and themes that evidence a unique skill at creating filmic moods with a minimal, discreet set of notes. Styles here range from tentative jazz to experiments that appear to involve sliding objects along the strings, clusters of evocative notes and ominous chords.

‘Solo Piano Improvisation #54’ is remarkable in two senses – first, as a piece of music (as opposed to considering it an assembly of sketches), it works just as dramatically as the fully realised soundtrack even without its additions and processing; second, it gives a rare insight into the early workings of a Simon Fisher Turner piece. Fisher Turner has himself said that his pieces are never really ever finished, often continuing to evolve further beyond the point where they’ve been submitted to a director and used in the finished film. The distance between early ideas and finished piece is thus immeasurable, making this document all the more intriguing. Though edited sensitively into a sequence and narrative by Philip Marshall, the result is still a recording of a work at its earliest stages, yet still capable of standing up as a complete work in its own right.

Thanks to Philip at The Tapeworm and Simon Fisher Turner.

Originally posted 2013; re-posted 2018.

(c) 2013 MJA Smith / Documentary Evidence

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Kumo – Day / Night (The Tapeworm album, 2018)

The Tapeworm imprint has always had an unerring capacity to release interesting sounds from interesting artists, and Day / Night by Kumo is yet another fine cassette among many. Kumo is the alias of Jono Podmore, a multi-disciplinary talent known on this blog for his work with Spoon on the Can back catalogue, the book he is assembling on sorely-missed Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit, the very fine Metamono albums and the Kumo and Cyclopean releases issued by Mute over the years.

For Day / Night, Podmore began with two field recordings taken from the balcony of his flat in South East London, adding synths and theremin later to the sounds he’d captured by chance – cars starting, dogs barking, planes droning overheard, snippets of conversation and so on. One recording was made during the day, one during the night. The effect is like listening to a microcosm of urban London life, never quiet for sure, but perhaps more peaceful than one might imagine.

Podmore’s electronic responses to the field recordings vary from sinewy synth arpeggios that wobble and flutter around the ambience to spooky, dead-of-night bursts of drones, tones and bleeps that feel like the soundtrack to existential dread. There is a certain muted quality to the sounds he added to his balcony recordings, as if he wanted the two components – the organic and natural and the composed and artificial – to live in harmony with one another, and neither has the capacity to overburden the other.

Day / Night is the embodiment, for me, of what Brian Eno conceived of for ambient music when he was laid up in bed listening to classical music and environmental sounds together. Podmore’s approach has a delicateness of touch, a sensitivity to his natural surroundings and a powerfully imaginative way of electronically responding to the sounds he hears.

Tapeworm releases are always issued in limited runs – get it now from the Touch shop before it’s gone for good.

Postscript: this review was finalised somewhere over the Atlantic as my overnight return flight home from New York approached the Cornish coast. It was started on the flight to JFK earlier in the week, probably in roughly the same place but during the day. Philip from Tapeworm asked me whether ‘Day’ or ‘Night’ worked best for the night flight. My response was thus: ‘Night’ made me more edgy as we came into land. ‘Day’ made me yearn for home after the best part of a week away from my own familiar daily environmental soundtrack.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence