Electronic Sound Issue 47

Electronic Sound issue 47 is now available, featuring a very special in-depth look at Wendy Carlos’s work for Stanley Kubrick’s still-disturbing film of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. This month’s musical accompaniment is a CD featuring exclusive ‘responses’ to Carlos’s soundtrack from a whole bunch of electronic music luminaries, including Chris Carter (who worked on the movie as sound assistant), Factory Floor‘s Gabe Gurnsey, Sink Ya Teeth and Jack Dangers. There’s also a nice chat with Barry Adamson, who Sink Ya Teeth recently supported for his October shows in Manchester and London.

This month I contributed an Introducing piece on violinist Jessica Moss, whose new electronically-augmented work Entanglement is both modishly minimalist and refreshingly maximalist. I also reviewed new albums by SAD MAN, whose ROM-COM is his eleventh release in the past year full of eclectic gestures; Demolition by Brooklynite Robert Toher under his Public Memory alias which has all the murkiness of classic Depeche Mode filtered through trip-hop nous; Defiance + Entropy by FORM, a collaboration between Rob Dust, Shelter‘s Mark Bebb and Depeche tribute act Speak & Spell‘s Keith Trigwell; and Where Moth And Rust Consume by Sone Institute on the consistently excellent Front & Follow.

My favourite album this month was the wonderful sax and synths of Frank Paul Schubert and Isambard Khroustaliov with their hypothetical muzak for “the restaurant at the end of the universe”, a hastily-recorded improvised record full of noise and compelling coarseness. Listen to the stellar ‘Maconte, The Cross-Eyed Agony Aunt’ from That Would Have Been Decent at Bandcamp below.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

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Throbbing Gristle – Very Friendly / The First Annual Report (recorded 1975)

  
The material on what has been variously described as Very Friendly and The First Annual Report represent the first recordings that Throbbing Gristle made under that name in 1975, in the midst of their transition from the COUM Transmissions moniker in a concerted effort toward making music rather than more eclectic arty initiatives.

These so-called “wreckers of civilisation” – Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Chris Carter and the late Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson – were no strangers to controversy when they decided to focus on what became Throbbing Gristle. COUM, while including an element of sonic exploration, was fundamentally a multi-disciplinary project, with imagery and ideologies that were often challenging, even for the liberal approach often taken toward the arts during the Seventies. Throbbing Gristle extracted the confrontational artsy angle but focussed that around sound, developing an aesthetic that was contemporary with the genesis of punk but which split itself off in a uniquely devastating counterweight to the Transatlantic feedback loop between The Ramones and The Sex Pistols.

This so-called first annual report begins with an almost twenty minute dirge of sound that recounts, in blunt, detached detail, the Moors Murders of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. Gen’s narrative on ‘Very Friendly’ spares no detail, taking on the dispassionate delivery that Patrick Bateman would deploy over a decade later in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho; no detail is spared, whether that be the detailing of various proclivities on the part of the victims or the brutal violence that Brady / Hindley wrought upon those individuals. Gen’s voice takes on a manic, almost excitable and aroused quality as the sonic backdrop begins to pick up the pace to reflect the executions, with jarring synths and fuzzed-up guitars delivering the requisite nightmarish atmosphere for the story.

By the conclusion of TG’s opening gambit, the group are dealing in mere atmospheres, Gen’s voice stuttering the words ‘there’s been a m-m-m-m-murder’ with layers of echo that almost suggests a dreamy, sedated otherworldliness, as if what just played out couldn’t possibly be true. For a lot of people the serial killer antics of Brady and Hindley were something that couldn’t be rationalised, while for others they were a numbing tragedy that cast a pall over the North of England.

The rest of the album takes the same sonic foundations – the same grainy texture and noisy, clamorous atmospheres – and skews them, sometimes finding Gen vocalising some weird lament (’10 Pence’), adding TV news reportage while guitars and freeform noise structures push the TG sound closer to The Velvet Underground’s ‘Black Angel Death Song’ (‘Whorls Of Sound’), or into intriguing synth shapes (‘Dead Bait’) that belong on a Clive Barker soundtrack.

Though nowhere near as devastatingly confrontational as the opener, the most interesting piece here is ‘Final Muzak’, which propels itself forth on a dense, churning, sub-motorik metallic groove that’s part rhythm and part bass sequence. Noises whine and drone continually over that jarring rhythm, cycling round in queasy loops that suggest this early attempt toward the disciplinarian approach that would become one of Throbbing Gristle’s signature motifs could have run on far longer than the mere five and a half minutes presented here.

Very Friendly / The First Annual Report has never officially been released, but it has been bootlegged plenty of times over the years, with the name varying according to the release. I bought a CD copy of this released by the Genetic Terrorists label, with the above sleeve image and the name Very Friendly from an HMV on Oxford Street in 1997, which lead me to believe it was perhaps more official than it actually was. The most recent release was in 2001 on the Yeaah! label. Quite why the band never saw fit to release the record officially via their own Industrial imprint is something of a mystery, but just another strange decision in the history of this most uncompromising of British groups.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Various Artists – The Tyranny Of The Beat (The Grey Area Of Mute album, 1991)

Various Artists 'The Tyranny Of The Beat - Original Soundtracks From The Grey Area' CD artwork

the grey area of mute | cd agrey1 | 1991

The Tyranny Of The Beat – Original Soundtracks From The Grey Area was a 1991 compilation issued by Mute to showcase releases from its Grey Area sub-label. The Grey Area specialised in reissuing the back catalogues of Cabaret Voltaire (their Rough Trade releases), Can, Throbbing Gristle (plus various Industrial Records acolytes), Graeme Revell‘s SPK and many others. The label also became home to early albums by artists that had been signed to Mute, such as Nick Cave‘s pre-Birthday Party band The Boys Next Door, D.A.F., Wire and Einstürzende Neubauten.

The reissue programme conducted by Mute through The Grey Area inevitably produced a varied counterpoint to the releases issued through the main Mute imprint, through Paul Smith‘s hugely diverse Blast First (which itself, at times, also reissued plenty of older material) and NovaMute. Alongside The Fine Line, specialising predominantly in soundtracks for TV, film and theatre, The Grey Area represented a hugely interesting opportunity to hear some out-of-print releases on CD for the first time.

There days, at least nominally, The Grey Area no longer exists. Can reissues have never officially carried the logo, and whilst Mute remains the custodian of the seminal Cologne unit’s back catalogue, it is done in partnership with Can’s own Spoon imprint; Cabaret Voltaire’s latest reissue programme through Mute is done through the main label and consequently all releases now carry stumm catalogue codes, and Throbbing Gristle effectively bought back their work to reopen the doors of Industrial Records. The opportunity to reinvigorate The Grey Area upon securing the opportunity to reissue the Swans back catalogue in 2014, alongside the Cabs programme, feels like something of a missed opportunity.

The Tyranny Of The Beat then serves as a useful overview of what The Grey Area were up to at this point in the early Nineties. A small four-page flyer inside the sleeve highlighted just how comprehensive the reissue programme undertaken by Mute was through the sub-label – after all, they were effectively re-releasing whole or sizeable elements of back catalogues, not sporadic releases. The flyer also included some items that were planned for releases but which have never materialised – chief among these was the Robert Rental / The Normal live album recorded at West Runton, which Rough Trade had released in 1980 as a one-sided LP.

The sleeve also features liner notes from Biba Kopf, famed NME journalist and currently (under his real name Chris Bohn) the editor of The Wire. Kopf also wrote the copy for the Documentary Evidence brochure which inspired this site.

The breadth of music included in sampler form on The Tyranny Of The Beat is impressive, taking in the grubby pulse of TG’s live track ‘See You Are’, their Industrial signees Monte Cazazza with the truly horrible ‘Candyman’, a bit of early electro from the Cabs, the detached punk of Swell Maps‘ brilliant ‘Midget Submarines’, the similarly aquatic ‘Our Swimmer’ by Wire (still one of their best Seventies pieces), a truly ethereal piece by Wire’s Bruce Gilbert / Graham Lewis as Dome with A.C. Marias and the still-devastating Rowland S. Howard-penned ‘Shivers’ by The Boys Next Door. Can’s ‘Oh Yeah’ – one of Daniel Miller‘s personal favourite tracks – provides a rhythmic counterweight to the urgent mechanical production-line beats of Neubauten’s ‘Tanz Debil’ and Die Krupps‘s ‘Wahre Arbeit, Whare Lohn’. Dark relief comes in the form of SPK’s ‘In Flagrante Delicto’, a track which suggests Graeme Revell was always destined to compose the scores for spooky, suspense-filled films like The Craft.

Like a lot of sampler albums, The Tyranny Of The Beat can sound a little uneven, and whilst a lot of these bands were part of common scenes – industrial, punk, the terribly-named Krautrock – it would have been a pretty weird festival if this was the line-up.

Kopf’s liner notes deserve a mention, if only for the way that he positions the concept of a grey area as a place that people run to for escape or as a means of consciously assaulting musical norms, a place that both acted as a reaction against the regimentation of beats and simultaneously gave birth to the repetitive rhythms of techno. ‘In The Grey Area you get the sense of limits being pushed up against and breached,’ he says, and even now, listening to Genesis P. Orridge deliver a maniacal vocal over corruscating waves of sinister noise from a distance of thirty-five years, or Monte Cazazza’s detached multi-channel reportage of a serial killer’s victims and the nauseatingly vivid listing of the savagery he put those victims through, you can see exactly where Kopf was coming from.

Track listing:

cd:
1. SPK ‘In Flagrante Delicto’
2. Throbbing Gristle ‘See You Are (Live, The Factory July 1979)’
3. Cabaret Voltaire ‘Automotivation’
4. Chris Carter ‘Solidit (Edit)’
5. Die Krupps ‘Wahre Arbeit, Wahre Lohn’
6. D.A.F. ‘Co Co Pina’
7. Einstürzende Neubauten ‘Tanz Debil’
8. NON ‘Cruenta Voluptas’
9. Can ‘Oh Yeah’
10. Wire ‘Our Swimmer (Live, Notre Dame Hall July 1979)’
11. Swell Maps ‘Midget Submarines’
12. The Boys Next Door ‘Shivers’
13. Dome ‘Cruel When Complete’
14. Monte Cazazza ‘Candyman’
15. The Hafler Trio ‘A Thirsty Fish / The Dirty Fire’

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Throbbing Gristle, Village Underground 23/10/2010

Throbbing Gristle, Village Underground 23/10/2014 - photo source unknown

‘If you’re going to come to a Throbbing Gristle gig,’ said my friend Ian, ‘you have to expect it to be loud.’ He was gesturing in the direction of the couple next to us at their gig at the Village Underground on the Shoreditch / Hackney borders, both of whom had their fingers in their ears throughout the final song of their set.

It was a common sight. There were lots of earphones and earplugs, which we felt rather defeated the purpose. The point is that this was supposed to be confrontationally loud, because that’s what TG were always all about – confrontation. It was one of many observations made through the course of almost two hours of relentless and – mostly – structured noise. Other observations included Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson (in a kimono) looking a little like Harold Bishop, and Genesis Breyer P’Orridge looking like… well, we aren’t really sure what he looks like, but he’s certainly a lot shorter than I thought he’d be.

I’m writing this on a Jubilee Line Tube the day after; my ears are still ringing. But there is something about the noise of Tube trains on this particular line which provides a useful analogy for the majority of ‘songs’ last night – leaving the stations along the line the trains depart quietly until some sections of the tunnels where the noise levels rise quickly, swiftly becoming almost distressingly loud in their dense screeching and howling; like a gong softly hammered and then hit more forcefully, only put through a massive bank of distortion. Lots of the songs were like that last night – quiet, almost dark ambient at first then rising through waves of added ferocity to create a huge bed of noise that occasionally made the tendons in my neck vibrate. Beats were not eschewed, sometimes emerging as deep bassy throbs, sometimes rattling around like an old Cabaret Voltaire vintage drum machine.

New instruments were apparently being roadtested tonight. Chris Carter chimed what looked like small bells, while P’Orridge waved an iPhone about, coaxing feedback and tones from a white electric violin, at one point standing in front of it while it was resting on its stand and bowing it with two bows at the same time. Cosey Fanni Tutti played an electronic guitar, producing sparks of feedback, and switched to cornet for one track. At times the four of them were sat at their devices like online gamers. During the cacophonous final track of the main set, Christopherson put his fingers in his ears. It tells you it must have been loud if one of the band members had to block out the sound. By the end his eyes were closed and his head swaying from side to side, much as you’d expect to see someone absorbed rapturously in a piece of classical music.

The sound came to a juddering halt and they left the stage to applause marginally louder than the racket they’d just made. A few moments later Christopherson took the mic and advised that the band were ‘all feeling a little jetlagged so there’ll be no encore tonight’. This prompted boos from some quarters and half the audience departed, but, though it was delivered in an apologetic voice which hardly encapsulated rebellion, I almost saw in it the contrarian-ness, the punk spirit, of their earliest days. When they came back on, Christopherson muttering ‘Oh, go on then,’ like he was taking a proffered chocolate that he knew he probably shouldn’t take, it almost felt like baying to the pressure of the crowd, something they’d have never done back in the day. Luckily, the unashamed confrontation and aggression of ‘Discipline’ more than made up for the doubts, P’Orridge by this stage swigging from a glass of red wine and fending off a naked stagediver, taking the evening to a powerful close.

First published 2010; edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence
Note – the source of the accompanying photo is now unknown. I am happy to attribute the credit if the photographer can be identified.