Electronic Sound 53 – including my Mute STUMM433 feature

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The latest issue of Electronic Sound is now available in the usual high street retailers and as a bundle with an exclusive 7″ from their website. This issue has a primary focus on Berlin, featuring conversations with Alexander Hacke from Einstürzende Neubaten, Mick Harvey, Simon Bonney and others who recall the vibrant creative melting pot that the divided city represented in the late 70s and early 80s. The accompany 7″ features Berlin legends Malaria! while Gudrun Gut from band offers her take on sometime Berlin resident David Bowie’s ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ on the B-side.

My major contribution to issue 53 was a feature on John Cage’s seminal composition 4’33” and the incoming Mute STUMM433 project. For this feature I interviewed K Á R Y Y N, Daniel Miller, Simon Fisher Turner, Irmin Schmidt, Laibach, Pink Grease and Maps, each of whom explained how they approached their performance of Cage’s distinctive piece – where they recorded it, and what instrument they didn’t play. Each of the 58 versions on STUMM433 is wildly different from the next, each one includes its own individual story and accompanying visual, and only one of the inclusions is actually silent – just as Cage would have wanted.

This feature involved me diving back into Cage’s Silence book – something I’d first tackled in my late teens when I found a copy in my local library and studying the score. One took much longer than the other. It also awoke in me an interest in Zen after reading about Cage’s following of these ascetic Buddhist principles.

Elsewhere in this issue I reviewed Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss. by Maps; the score to Marnie by Bernard Herrmann; David Tibbet and Andrew Lisle’s debut Nodding God album; the latest Blow collaboration on Front & Follow by Polypores and Field Lines Cartographer; and a fantastic new Buchla-based concept album by Simon James.

(c) Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

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The Ministry Of Wolves – Music From Republik Der Wölfe (Mute Records album, 2014)

The Ministry Of Wolves 'Music From Republik Der Wölfe' LP artwork

mute artists | lp/cd/i stumm360 | 10/03/2014

Republik der Wölfe is a theatre production commissioned by Theatre Dortmund’s artistic director Kay Voges and directed by Claudia Bauer which premiered on 15 February 2014. The music for the production comprised collaborations between Mick Harvey, Alexander Hacke, his girlfriend Danielle di Picciotto and Paul Wallfisch. Harvey is a veritable Mute stalwart given his tenure with bands like The Bad Seeds, and as a multi-instrumentalist and producer he has a reputation as being a highly skilled and versatile addition to any line-up. Hacke is a veritable Goliath – in both stature and reputation – who formed a crucial component of the noise onslaught of Einstürzende Neubauten and found himself offering a more nuanced role in Simon Bonney‘s Crime & The City Solution. Di Picciotto is an accomplished artist who formed part of the new Crime lineup that released American Twilight in 2012, and whose live visuals accompanied that album’s tour. Keyboard player and singer Wallfisch is founder of the New York group Botanica, a group whose music is variously described as ‘gypsy and punk-cabaret infused chamber rock’ and who have collaborated with Kid Congo Powers, another Bad Seeds alumnus.

The music takes its principal inspiration from the fairytales of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, the stories of whom will be familiar to more or less any child albeit viewed through a distinctly Disneyfied lens. The original stories by Grimm were a mix of the ethereal and macabre, drawing inspiration as much from folklore as the frighteningly original imagination of the two brothers. (By way of a recent anecdotal footnote, I was in a shop in the Germany pavilion at Disney’s EPCOT last month where they had copies of the collected Grimm tales for sale. Two Americans next to me were dumbfounded as to why these fairytales were in the Germany pavilion, so co-opted have they been by Hollywood over the past century that they are regarded as quintessentially American in origin.) Just like the original fairytales on which they are based, the music written by this group has an authentic air of dark mystery, sorcery and otherworldliness, making for an original body of work that exists happily – if strangely – without the visuals for which they were intended.

First, let us deal with the songwriting. My only real awareness of the original Grimm fairytales come from a combination of the sanitised Ladybird books and Disney movies of my youth, and my two daughters’ enduring fascination with fantastical princesses and mythical creatures. Consequently I have no real understanding of what the band are going on about here, though it’s clear from titles and some of the subject matter as to which particular story they are dealing with. Whether in the ethereal spoken word tracks from di Picciotto, the fragile double-tracked musings of Mick Harvey or Alex Hacke’s ominous intonation on ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ the guts of the story are evident, even to an ignorant like me. Only, the tone here is fundamentally dark, linking the songs to the original stories albeit through a thoroughly contemporary lens – the mischievous dwarf Rumpelstiltskin wasn’t, as far as I can tell, ever exhibited at a Coney Island funfair, for example. The whole thing is shrouded in a sinister, almost violent mysteriousness, knocking for six most versions of these tales.

Next, consider the music. Neither Harvey nor Hacke are strangers to composing music for theatre, and both Neubauten and Harvey (with Nick Cave) have albums in the Mute back catalogue that were commissioned for plays. Between the two of them their sense of space and detail is second to none, and when combined with Wallfisch’s piano – somewhere between bar-room blues and jazz – the whole thing swings with a depth and inventiveness that is in many ways more interesting than making sense of the vocals. An obvious reference point would be The Bad Seeds between Tender Prey and Let Love In (‘The Little Peasant’ even has ‘Red Right Hand’-esque organ vamps), but there’s also a relaxed, jazz-inflected dimension here too, cutting gently through the gloom. The start of ‘Cinderella’, with di Picciotto on vocals even sounds a lot like ‘The Carny’ from Cave’s The Firstborn Is Dead. For this reviewer the highlight is ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, a edgy stew of droning guitars, grungy vibes and a storyline delivered in German and English by Wallfisch that seems to relocate Little Red to a New York gangland scene.

Above all, this is an inventive album based on an interesting concept, produced by four individuals who, in their own right, are incredibly talented but who together can create something very special indeed. My only gripe is that it feels like this music really needs its visual dimension to completely make complete sense of this theatrical offering.

Listen to ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ and watch di Picciotto’s making-of documentary below.

Track listing:

lp/cd/i:
1. The Gold Key
A1. / 2. Rumpelstiltskin
A2. / 3. The Frog Prince
A3. / 4. Cinderella
A4. / 5. Rapunzel… (As Isdora Duncan)
B1. / 6. Hansel And Gretel
B2. / 7. Snow White (Heptagon)
B4. / 8. The Little Peasant
B3. / 9. Sleeping Beauty
A5. / 10. Iron Hans
11. Little Red Riding Hood
B5. / 12. White Snake Waltz

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Anita Lane – Dirty Pearl (Mute Records album, 1993)

Anita Lane 'Dirty Pearl' LP artwork

mute records | lp/cd stumm81 | 10/1993

Dirty Pearl is a rag-bag collection of newly-recorded Anita Lane tracks produced by Mick Harvey as well as older material, the entire Dirty Sings EP and collaborations with Die Haut, Einstürzende Neubauten, Barry Adamson and The Birthday Party. The album is as much a collection of Lane’s work as it is a showcase for the seemingly unlikely cross-pollination of scenes that emerged when The Birthday Party moved from Australia to the UK, followed by a brief and fortuitous sojourn in Berlin; that productive Kreuzberg stop-over was responsible for Nick Cave‘s Bad Seeds being swelled by the likes of Neubauten’s Blixa Bargeld and Die Haut’s Thomas Wydler, as well as some of Cave’s most inventive and inspired early musical work.

The collection covers the period 1982 to 1993 and presents the tracks in reverse chronological order. Overall, the compilation shows just how integral Lane was to the whole scene that formed between London and Berlin in the mid-Eighties, with characters such as Chrislo Haas and Adamson appearing on various tracks. As Nick Cave’s girlfriend and muse, Lane co-wrote a number of The Birthday Party’s songs, including the likes of ‘Dead Joe’, and was credited as a founding member of Cave’s subsequent Bad Seeds though her participation in the group was never exactly clear. What’s also immediately apparent from this collection is just how little music Lane has herself released – over half of Dirty Pearl was already released by the time this compilation was released, and Lane would only come to release her first (and to date only) ‘proper’ LP in 2002 with Sex O’Clock. Whilst Dirty Pearl provides a comprehensive overview of Lane’s music, one notable omission is 1991’s collaboration with Adamson on the excellent cover of Lee Hazlewood’s ‘These Boots Were Made For Walking’ which Adamson crafted for his Delusion soundtrack.

Opening track (and therefore most recent) ‘Jesus Almost Got Me’ is a countrified, Triffids-esque song of drunkenness, cruel love and regret, beautifully carried forward on Harvey’s sensitive drumming and ‘Evil’ Graham Lee’s genteel slide guitar. Immersed in the background are spirals of grainy feedback and some lovely vocal harmonies from Harvey. ‘Jesus Almost Got Me’ has a tired, resigned quality to it. In contrast, ‘The Groovy Guru’ is a funky, psychedelic trip, filled with wild face-melting guitar and wayward organ creating a vibe that felt about twenty-five years old too late, the lyrics describing a sort of pervy Cassanova character with a number of Satanic traits.

The cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’ was produced by Mick Harvey with artist Johannes Beck and Sven Röhrig, finding Lane cooing girlishly over a sick, phasing breakbeat, shimmering vibes from Barry Adamson and some leaden (and less-than-romantic) backing vocals from Beck and Moritz Wolpert. At times Lane sings with a strained needfulness that can feel quite uncomfortable at times, but it’s quite hard to think of this as being too serious. Both ‘Blume’ (from Neubauten’s Tabula Rasa LP) and ‘Subterranean World (How Long…?)’ (from Die Haut’s Head On) highlight how well Lane’s voice matches Blixa Bargeld’s distinctive own. Bargeld’s transition from the howling, shredded vocal style displayed on Neubaten’s earliest material to the sensitive, half-spoken, almost Scott Walker-esque voice of their later material is continually surprising, and that softer side shines through on these two songs. ‘Subterranean World’, with its duet chorus of ‘How long have we known each other now?‘ brings to mind those clips in romantic films where couples explain to camera how long they have been together, except that by the end of this darkly humorous song Lane and Bargeld decide that they’ve never actually met before.

‘Picture Of Mary’ is an atmospheric piece written with Bargeld, dominated by Lane’s ghostly singing and a backdrop of dramatic piano, mournful violin and jangly Latin guitars (from Blixa) which threaten to swell up in the mix but never quite do. The only thing that lets this track down is Lane’s vaguely tuneless musings which bring to mind some of Nico’s material, but that is more than made up for by the intricate backdrop. Latin guitars and strings also colour the maudlin ‘Stories Of Your Dreams’, which possesses a strong narrative and theatrical mood. The song was co-written with Neubuaten’s Alexander Hacke, who also plays guitars on the song, while Crime And The City Solution founding member Bronwyn Adams plays violin.

The CD release of Dirty Pearl also includes ‘A Prison In The Desert’ by Nick Cave, Mick Harvey and Bargeld, taken from their soundtrack to Ghosts… Of The Civil Dead. The piece sees Lane mostly wordlessly singing over a backdrop of droning strings, industrial sounds and high-pitched noises, her voice providing a gentle counterpoint to what is otherwise a reasonably harrowing piece of music, a bit like a Graeme Revell soundtrack.

Eschewing all the released tracks from The Birthday Party canon that Lane contributed to, Dirty Pearl instead offers ‘The Fullness Of His Coming’, an unreleased track which features Lane on lead vocals, serving as strong reminder of why The Birthday Party were a musical force to be reckoned with at the start of the Eighties. The song is dominated by grinding guitar riffs from Rowland S. Howard that sounds like they might have been fed through an organ, Tracy Pew‘s ludicrously prominent bass and insistent and quickening drums from Mick Harvey. Lane murmurs and squirms provocatively through the track, particularly as the pace begins to quicken, the assembled Party members providing a nasty mantra of the track’s title while Lane writhes rapturously in the foreground.

Track listing:

lp/cd:
A1. / 1. Jesus Almost Got Me
A2. / 2. The Groovy Guru
A3. / 3. Sexual Healing
A4. / 4. Blume (Einstürzende Neubauten feat. Anita Lane)
B1. / 5. Subterranean World (How Long…?) (Die Haut feat. Anita Lane)
B2 / 6. Picture Of Mary
B3. / 7. The World’s A Girl
B4. / 8. Stories Of Your Dreams
9. A Prison In The Desert (Nick Cave / Mick Harvey / Blixa Bargeld feat. Anita Lane) – CD bonus track
10. If I Should Die – CD bonus track
11. I’m A Believer – CD bonus track
12. Lost In Music – CD bonus track
13. Sugar In A Hurricane – CD bonus track
B5. / 14. The Fullness Of His Coming (The Birthday Party feat. Anita Lane)

First published 2012; edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence