Parallax – Push For The Love Of Life (Mute Records single, 1993)

According to something I read back in 1993, Mute had not signed any new artists to the label for some time, the last new artist being Moby who joined the label the year before. Parallax, whose first single ‘Push For The Love Of Life’ was released by Mute that summer, were supposed to be Mute’s hot new talent. The project of Jason Young, Parallax were a bratty outfit grappling with the vernacular of hardcore rave, mixing those sounds with harsh industrial noise blasts and the type of rapping favoured by the likes of Pop Will Eat Itself. ‘Push For The Love Of Life’ would prove to be one of just two singles released by the band before promptly disbanding. ‘Push For The Love Of Life’ was written and produced by Jason Young and engineered by Julian Briottet, brother of Renegade Soundwave‘s Danny Briottet.

Though at times it feels barely a fraction above demo quality, ‘Push For The Love Of Life’ remains a personal favourite. The song is characterised by a frantic (if far too quiet) 4/4 drum rhythm and urgent bass line. Over that Young drops in a concise array of droning sounds, rave whistles, sampled snarling metal guitar, sirens and so on, topped off by impassioned and defiant rap. Whilst this brand of agit-rap hasn’t aged terribly well, there is a desperate quality to it, the track ending with a frustrated ‘never let go‘ from the frontman. In addition to the main single-length Savage Mix, the 12” and CD also features two further versions – the Valentine Mix and an instrumental version (credited on the promo 12” as an extended instrumental mix). The Valentine Mix ditches the vocal and adds acid-style synths which would give this mix a dancefloor appeal were it not for the simplicity and lack of club-friendly punch that characterises the track’s beat. Some ‘Join In The Chant’-style insistent howling is a nice touch and there’s still nothing quite so thrilling to me as a 303 sound operating on the edge of being out of control.

The release is rounded off by a demo version of the track ‘No Concept’ which was mixed by Paul ‘PK’ Kendall. Someone has said that the track samples Faith No More’s ‘Crack Hitler’ but I wouldn’t be able to verify that. ‘No Concept’ has a nice breakbeat, droning washes of nagging feedback and a distorted rap that feels like it would have suited Nitzer Ebb‘s Douglas McCarthy. There’s a sense of dystopian helplessness on this track, signalling the rise in quality that would characterise Parallax’s second (and final) release, the Bullet-Proof Zero EP.

First published 2012; re-posted 2018.

(c) 2012 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Advertisements

Frank Tovey & The Pyros – Grand Union (Mute Records album, 1991)

1991’s Grand Union should by rights be lauded as a masterpiece of alternative rock, however Frank Tovey’s reclusive persona ensured that this overlooked gem has slipped through the net. Produced with PK (Paul Kendall), the album is both musically and lyrically enveloping. Something of a ‘concept’ album, Grand Union is ostensibly a collection of skiffly, folksy and vaguely country tracks accompanied by Tovey’s East End stories of the old, the new and the salient. There are many themes here, but one gets the impression that Tovey’s vision of a re-developing East End, with Canary Wharf’s landscape-altering construction in full swing, and the docks that made Britain what it once was turned into luxury restaurants and appartments invoked in him some sort of passion to head back in time and preserve the dirty Docklands spleandour of old in song.

At times melancholy (the WW2-recounting tale on ‘Bethnal Green Tube Disaster’), at others joyful in a ramshackle fashion (the opener ‘Bad Day In Bow Creek’), the album is largely subtle and blissfully easy on the ear. Semi-acoustic guitars, banjos and clever percussion evoke all manner of moods, and when they head into indie-rock territory, as on the Morrissey-esque ‘Cities Of The Vain’, The PyrosPaul Rodden (banjos and guitars), John Cutliffe (bass and acoustic guitars, plus strings on the closing track ‘The Great Attractor’) and Charlie Llewellyn (drums, percussion) – more than prove their adaptability around Tovey’s poetic lyrics. Additional contributions come from Steve Smith on various keyboards, Tracey Booth (bodhran on ‘IKB (RIP)’) and Elliot Carnegie, who plays Jew’s harp on the opener, ‘Bad Day In Bow Creek’. Somewhat more unusual, Tozie Lynch is credited with ‘bones’ on the same track. One imagines those bones may be among the detritus dredged up by the great Thames on a daily basis.

It is actually quite fantastic to hear just how well some primitive music forms lend themselves so well to Tovey’s Cockney vocals. His vocal is somewhere between Wreckless Eric and James’ Tim Booth, both folk and punk at the same time. His hero-worship of the great pioneering British engineer Isembard Kingdom Brunel on ‘IKB (RIP)’ is one of this album’s many high points, a time-travelling trip that leaves the grey towerblock-dominated modern London skylines far behind to witness at first hand the master engineer’s many achievements. And while we’re on the subject of masterful achievements, Paul Kendall’s excellent productions deserve a special mention. Best known for his electronic production for many Mute artists, PK brings a depth and precision to these tracks, using occasional effects with considerable restraint, but pushing the rhythm high up in the mix in an echo of his work with Nitzer Ebb.

With Grand Union, I continue to be impressed by the quality of songwriting, playing and production on display here. Intensely captivating and wonderfully unique, it is difficult to hear it without feeling some great sadness over the fact that the erstwhile Fad Gadget is no longer with us. A truly emotive gem, filled with grief, joy and a yearning for simpler times. Ironically, I wrote this while heading glumly toward my own shiny modern City offices on a train wildly rushing through some of the tunnels that Brunel’s colleagues were famed for.

First published 2003; re-posted 2018

(c) 2003 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Pepys Show: An Interview With Benjamin Till

Shortly after midnight, 350 years ago to this very day, in the City of London bakery of Thomas Farriner on Pudding Lane, a fire began. London was no stranger to fires, but this particular one would proceed largely unchecked, destroying an area of the City that far exceeded the damage wrought by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz.

We owe much of our understanding of what took place over the two and a half days of fierce burning that became known as the Great Fire to one man, an upper middle class Cambridge graduate and member of parliament called Samuel Pepys. Pepys is synonymous with the diary that he kept for some nine and a half years, beginning on 1st January 1660 until he ceased writing nearly a decade later after fearing – unfoundedly – that his eyesight was failing him. His writings represented a concise, unadorned form of reportage that gives us powerful insight into a period of massive upheaval in Britain’s capital – the Restoration of the monarchy, the Great Fire, the Great Plague, the Second Dutch War – all of which had a major bearing on the topography and conceptual fabric of London as we know it today.

Pepys’s obsessive documenting of his own affairs (more on that later) and the events unfolding around him in London is paralleled by the work of composer Benjamin Till, whose extreme meticulousness can be heard on his new album, The Pepys Motet. A choral work for twenty singers, Till’s work is an intense, immersive aural soundscape where the listener is literally surrounded by sung passages taken from Pepys’s diaries, executed in collaboration with Paul ‘PK’ Kendall, a producer and engineer for whom soundscaping of this nature is just as fastidious as either Pepys’s writing or Till’s approach to composing.

Till will be familiar to Erasure fans for his Channel 4 work Our Gay Wedding, which featured a stand-out performance from Andy Bell, and which featured Till as one the grooms. His Pepys project began in 2009, when he was asked to conceive a Pepys tribute to commemorate the anniversary of Pepys putting pen to paper by St Olave’s Church in the City, where Pepys and his wife Elizabeth are buried.

“I’d never really thought about Pepys before,” admits Till. “Obviously everyone knows Pepys and the Great Fire and the Plague, but for me that was about all I could think of.” His obsessive approach to pretty much everything he does forced him to invest himself fully in the Diaries, reading short and long versions fervently, in the process consuming around a million of Pepys’s words.

The work he began on 1st January 2010 was inspired by both Pepys and the massive choral work Spem in alium by Thomas Tallis, which Tallis had written as a forty-part motet, a polyphonic choral work typically sung in churches. “I wrote for eight choirs of five individuals, each of whom represented a different aspect of Pepys’s life, and each of them also represented a different choral tradition,” explains Till of his approach to composing The Pepys Motet. “I had a choir of five gospel singers who represented Pepys’s home life; I had a choir of five opera singers to represent his social climbing, five folk singers representing anything he wrote about what was going on in London itself; there was a choir of musical theatre singers who represented his debauchery and his love of theatre. There was a choir of early music singers who represented anything to do with religion or royalty, and then there was a choir of five children to represent the children he never had, a choir of five men from the Royal Navy to represent Pepys’s job as Chief Secretary to the Admiralty. Finally there were five singers from Magdalene College Cambridge, where Pepys studied.”

Till wrote solidly for eight months on the original version of The Pepys Motet. “It was a proper labour of love,” he recalls. “I really enjoyed the process of trying to write forty unique lines with no repetition whatsoever, with no-one doubling anyone. Obviously they don’t all sing at once, but sometimes forty singers sing forty different lines, and that was quite exciting. I made sure it happened once in every movement.”

Till scribed a daily blog from the day he started – the 350th anniversary of when Pepys put pen to paper for the first entry in his Diaries – and which continues to this day. The blog, the modern form of a diary in many ways, captured Till’s fundraising efforts to finance the Motet, progress on the forty-part work, the genesis of other projects, and, for the first two years, a précis of what Pepys had been doing on that very day some three and a half centuries prior.

Three movements from the forty-part motet were performed at St Olave’s at the end of 2010. “It was quite an extraordinary experience,” says Till. “The choir sang in a circle around the audience and moved around a lot.”Till had five of the six movements he had composed recorded at that time, but felt that the scramble to complete the work had left him with recordings that weren’t up to the exacting standards that he’d set himself. He then began a painstaking process of scaling back The Pepys Motet into the form displayed on the new album.

“There was an unfinished business aspect about it all,” sighs Till. “Since the original recordings, I’d set up a choir called The Rebel Chorus, and we recorded another of my compositions called The London Requiem, which was created from gravestone inscriptions from across London, and which PK also produced. There were twenty singers in The Rebel Chorus for that album, which made me realise that it made sense to downscale the Pepys project.”

Taking the piece down from a forty-part work to a twenty-part composition required Till to spend around six months of 2012 hacking it down to size. “I was looking at what didn’t work quite so well with the forty part version, and tried to thin it out,” he explains. “Fortunately, with The Rebel Chorus, a lot of the members of that choir came from that original group used for the forty-part motet, so I kept that sense of there being gospel singers, opera singers, musical theatre singers, folk singers, soul singers and so on. I was writing for the specific individual known voices, for their strengths and their ranges.”

The Rebel Chorus

Recording sessions for the album began in 2013, and Till consciously decided to record the choir in groups of five, with each of the singers in a different booth, something that’s relatively unprecedented in classical music. “I wanted the flexibility of being able to do whatever I wanted to the vocal stems,” he explains, earnestly. “Also, when you’re writing for twenty voices it can be a cacophony of sound if you can’t control or differentiate the individuals. One of the things I love about The Pepys Motet is that suddenly you’ll get this gospel singer or a soul singer or an opera singer will kind of come out of the mix. Recording the singers individually allowed us to separate the sound and then PK could put reverb on one singer if he chose to, or completely take the reverb out, or give an effect of everyone going around in a circle around the ears.”

Till’s approach might sound like overdriven controlfreakery, but the album benefits from that exacting approach to using the voices as a sonic tapestry. Words whirl around the stereo field, whispers have complete clarity and the whole thing has a controlled denseness more akin to a soundscape or musique concrète composition.

“It starts with the first words Pepys wrote in his diary with each singer in turn singing a syllable each –’Ble-ssed be God‘ – and it sort of zooms in on itself, and then the next group start, and it becomes like a spiral,” he continues. “I recorded everything with very close mics, so it meant that we could ask the singers to whisper, or sing really, really quietly. The whole piece was written for a lot of vocal gymnastics, and extended vocal techniques. There are a lot of growls and snarls and harmonics and things like that, which, if you’re close mic’ing somebody singing overtones, you get the whistles and the really interesting things that you’d otherwise lose.”

The approach that Till and PK took of allowing voices to interact, counteract, spin and overlap was inspired by the jump-cut style of Pepys’s writing. “He changes tack so often in his diary,” Till laughs. “He’ll be talking about the Great Plague and then he’ll say that ‘I’m really pleased to say that I’m now worth a thousand pounds!‘ You were literally just talking about death and now you’re talking about this! And then you’re talking about wanting to shag some woman and then you’re talking about how you hate yourself for going to the the theatre! It just keeps moving. It’s because he wasn’t writing for anyone’s consumption, he was just writing his thoughts. It’s very mercurial. Because he was writing his inner thoughts, he writes them in a very direct language. There’s none of the florid stuff that you find in his letters and his official documents. The letters were almost unreadable because he was so florid, as was the style in those days, but the stuff in his Diaries is just unbelievably direct.”

The most direct writing was reserved for writing about his sexual conquests and extra-marital affairs which, to prevent his long-suffering wife Elizabeth from detecting his illicit activities, would tend to be written in Latin, French or Spanish. “My favourite line in the whole thing is ‘And endeed I was with my hand in her cunny.’ Even after 350 years that’s still shocking and quite amazing. And that’s why the fifth movement in The Pepys Motet, about his affair with his maid Deb Willett, is jazzy and sleazy, because that felt like the right style to be writing in.”

Till reflects for a moment, gathering his thoughts and sipping from a mug bearing the legend ‘Big Fella’. “There’s this weird thing where there’s so much freedom” he muses. “When you decide you’re going to go up to the bell and ring it, I think you might as well just go for it. That’s why there’s gospel bits in it, and all sorts of other things. This is what London is today, a collection of all of these different groups of people, and that’s also what London was back then. That’s why it was such a pleasure to feature all those different voices.”

Getting that diversity of voices, and the detailed approach to isolating and mixing each voice individually, as well as part of a broader piece, wasn’t without its challenges. For a start, the process would see Till and PK rack up something like 300 hours of mixing – a critical step that was required to execute Till’s vision for the pieces, but one that was unprecedented and exhausting for the pair.

“We also made a decision to use Melodyne on every single voice,” Till continues. “That way we could have the absolute precision of tuning but we didn’t smooth anything. That took an extraordinary amount of time but I almost wanted to treat the voices like a synthesizer, and I wanted the voices to have that extraordinary precision. If hadn’t have done that, we wouldn’t have been able to have the control, and it would have been a less sonically precise experience. I’m really quite anti any sort of tuning software, because I think they can ruin the inherent beauty of a voice. I had massive issues with it to begin with and I started to wonder if it wasn’t real music because of what we were doing to it, but it was only being done so that we could get that precision.”

PK, who has worked on numerous pieces with Till over the last few years, represents the perfect collaborator for someone looking for so much control over the sound. Across his production career, Kendall has consistently looked to fully involve himself in the fabric of sound waves, operating from an immersive position that’s more elemental than compositional.

“Sometimes he would kick me out of the studio,” laughs Till. “He’d turn to me and say ‘Ben, I’m going in, can you go home?’ and he’d put his headphones on and just enter the music. Those were the most amazing times because he’d send me something the next day that he’d done and there’d be these clouds of sound, or he’d have chosen one voice which just cut through the rest. You can trust PK to go away and just do his thing, and if you trust PK you get the best results. I don’t care what he does; whatever he does is going to be better than I could imagine it.”

Investing himself in a project, to the kind of levels that seem almost fanatically purist, is just what Till does. For London Requiem, he would break into Highgate Cemetery at midnight to capture environmental sounds that could then be used within his composition. For Oranges & Lemons, which rounds out the Pepys Motet album, Till once again took a hugely detailed approach to tackling a song familiar to many generations of school children. For this project, Till and a soundman trawled the churches of the City to capture the sound of every single bell referenced in the song, as well as uncovering lost verses that amplified some of the darker sections of the lyrics.

“There’s something exciting about place and an aspect of documentary,” he explains, “but with Oranges & Lemons, there was an almost autistic fanaticism about making sure that every single bell in every single church wasn’t just recorded but was featured in the recording, including little handbells. For the bells of St Helen’s Bishopsgate for example, the church there doesn’t use bells as part of the worship, so those bells are still hanging but without any clapper mechanisms. We climbed up into the belfry and we hit them with a rubber mallet, just to make sure we got them.”

If recording the bells presented logistical challenges – including putting feet through floorboards, getting covered in decades’ worth of black dust and generally getting spooked by weird, spectral noises being picked up on the recordings – it was just as bad trying to process and analyse the recordings. “A bell is so complex in terms of the different harmonics,” Till groans. “What the bell is meant to be ringing is often not what it is actually ringing.”

Ringing the bell at St Catherine Cree, before it was melted down

Stitching together all of the bell recordings in order took five agonising days in total. “For the first day I was thinking it sounded like shit because it was so freakishly out of tune,” Till laughs. “Sometimes you’d have a minor chord where you wanted a major chord, so it would all just sound horrid. And then at a certain point I just went ‘Fuck it – I really like this’. That was the epiphany of Oranges & Lemons, but it nearly killed us. I worked with Julian Simmonds who works at DIN Studios and he used to get these migraines on a daily basis about 4pm because I’d be saying ‘First hemidemisemiquaver, St Helens E. Second hemidemisemiquaver, St Botolph G’, and so we’d be putting them into this file one by one, place by place. I think that almost drove him mad.”

True to his intense reading of Pepys, Till avidly researched the forgotten elements of Oranges & Lemons that throw a much darker hue on the playground song. “We found this extra bit of text, which is the middle section where it goes ‘All ye that in the condemned hole do lie, prepare ye, for tomorrow ye shall die,‘ and it was a poem from the bellman from St Sepulchre, next to Newgate Prison. He would walk around the jail on the night before an execution reading this poem and ringing a bell. They were executed at the strike of nine from the bells, and the bell that you can hear ringing all the way through that sequence is the actual bell that they were listening to. That was literally the last thing they heard, that very bell. And then going into the Tower Of London, which is considered to be the location of the Bells of St John’s. The line ‘Pokers and tongs say the bells of St John’s‘ was about torture in the Tower of London.”

There is a bell whose ringing connects directly back to Pepys’s Diary, which also hangs at the Tower of London. The Curfew Bell would have been rung during the Great Plague to ensure that citizens of the City headed indoors, so as to allow the sick to take to the streets, ghoul-like, in order to get what little fresh air might have availed itself upon them. “It’s got this pulley mechanism which makes a really strange squeak,” recalls Till with what could be a pained wince. “There’s one moment in my Oranges & Lemons where you hear that spiralling right round the ears in that middle section, which is pretty creepy.”

Ringing the Curfew Bell

When combined with The London Requiem, The Pepys Motet and Oranges & Lemons represent Till’s London trilogy. And yet Till isn’t from London at all, despite his deep understanding of place and history suggesting that the capital runs deep through his veins: he was born and raised in Northampton in the Midlands. “It comes from not having a sense of belonging,” he confesses of his deep affection for London. “That comes from being a Midlander. Nobody talks about the Midlands like its a real place.”

“I think what I’ve done all my life is found myself looking to attach myself to some kind of sense of belonging,” he continues. “I studied in Yorkshire, and I feel a great sense of affinity with Yorkshire, but because I’m a Londoner now I feel a great sense of pride in that. My friend Philippa, who was born in London, says I’m the only person she knows who has become a Londoner. I’ve embraced London in quite a fanatical way. I am an obsessive, and I’ve always been obsessive, and everything I’ve ever done I’ve done with huge obsession.”

That obsession that Till returns to has produced one of the most enriched, enthralling and intricately complex albums you will ever hear, an album where Pepys’s voice is brought to life with vivid colour. It is an album whose significance will only grow, like Pepys’s Diaries has, in its capacity to document London life in all its many guises

The Pepys Motet and Oranges & Lemons album is available from Benjamin’s website. The album will be released on 2nd September to coincide with the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Paul Kendall – From The Penman Press (Cat Werk Imprint album, 2016)

from the penman press: cat werk imprint | box+cd cw010 | 07/2016
angleterror original digital release: cat werk imprint | dl cw002 | 01/11/2011

From The Penman Press by Paul Kendall is nothing short of beautiful. Housed in a minimalist brown cardboard box with simple lettering, this is a work of art – a statement – even before you’ve prised off the lid.

Inside, you’ll find unique hand printed A5 images, all monochrome and appealingly spartan, each representing a painstaking letterpress experiment by Kendall. It’s like looking at what Bridget Riley might have delivered had she focussed on designs for abstract architecture instead of headache-inducing artistic mindfuckery.

What’s all the more appealing about the starkly minimal prints is how at odds they are with Angleterror, the Paul Kendall album included within the box in a newly sparkling remastered form by AGF (Antye Greie / Antye Greie-Fuchs / Antye Greie-Ripatti). Angleterror was originally released in 2011 as a Bandcamp download, and has never been issued in a physical form. It would be somewhat disingenuous to describe Angleterror as a sprawl, but in its dense layers and skipping tendency to veer with jump-cut precision from one idea to the next – inventively, never restlessly – it is the maximalist antithesis of the artwork; the yin to its yang, even.

From The Penman Press was issued in a run of just 100 copies, most of which should have now been sold given how captivating it is. Check here to see if you can still get one.

Promotional videos for ‘Glass Eye’ and ‘Aspirateur’ can be found below. Below those you’ll find my own, newly remastered, review of Angleterror from 2011.

Thanks to Felix.

‘Glass Eye’ Paul Kendall from Cat Werk Imprint on Vimeo.

‘Aspirateur’ Paul Kendall from Cat Werk Imprint on Vimeo.

Angleterror review (Originally published 2011)


Paul Kendall will be a familiar name to any Mute fan thanks to his credit as an engineer, producer and mixer on many releases over a thirteen year period that stretched from 1984 to 1997. PK, as he was known, seemed to work with most artists on the label in one capacity or another across Mute’s electronic and non-electronic roster, and those initials on a release always seemed to mark it out as very special indeed.

Kendall as a musician, rather than studio guy, was something that wasn’t really heard in earnest until he started the Parallel Series label as an off-shoot of Mute, releasing four compelling collaborations with Andrei Samsonov, Simon Fisher Turner, Bruce Gilbert / Robert Hampson and also The Faulty Caress (under the alias Piquet), before splitting the sub-label off for one post-Mute release (a collaboration between Kendall and Olivia Louvel, Capture, as The Digital Intervention in 2003). Kendall then headed off to work with ex-Depeche Mode man Alan Wilder‘s long-running Recoil project.

Angleterror was originally released as a digital download in 2011 on the Cat Werk Imprint run by Olivia Louvel. The seven tracks presented here were mostly recorded between 2002 and 2007 when Kendall was living in Paris and find him exploring some pretty harrowing soundscape and contemporary concrète works that are every bit as un-nerving as the picture of the indeterminate creature on the sleeve.

Central to the album are four pieces – ‘Glass Eye’, ‘Betricht’, ‘Wheel’ and ‘Call Of Wild – that feature David Husser’s guitar. Husser completed the Shotgun mix of Recoil’s ‘Prey’ which was released as a download in 2008, and also recorded a version of Depeche’s ‘Enjoy The Silence’ with the band Y Front. For these pieces, Kendall provided Husser with a series of pre-existing soundscapes and drone templates, over which the guitarist improvised; Kendall then treated the contributions as source inputs, re-editing and re-processing the outputs into the forms presented here. What’s interesting about this approach is the fact that Kendall’s final versions exist only because they were responses to Husser’s work, which in turn only arose as a response to Kendall’s original frameworks. It’s presumably the case that the pair could keep referring the responses back to one another indefinitely, creating works that would presumably be a huge distance from the original composed source.

‘Glass Eye’ has an almost Manuel Göttsching sense of melodic repetitiveness; raw electricity bursts pass over bass clusters and almost bluesy chord changes; tense, strangled guitar sounds leap upwards and are sucked back into the noise bed that’s developed. There’s a rough beauty about ‘Glass Eye’ particularly when it coalesces into a kind of mesmerising, beatless motorik rock just after the halfway mark. In complete contrast, ‘Wheel’ starts with pockets of whining sound before veering unexpectedly into a dirty blues with a nagging, simple beat and layers of low-slung axe wrangling punctured by randomised sonic events and abrasive noise interludes. It sounds like nothing else here, and as it fades back into the drone cycles that opened the piece, you can’t help but wonder if that extended blues section wasn’t just a slightly unsettling dream.

A different approach was taken on ‘Starvation’ and ‘Aspirateur’, which Kendall describes as being built from ‘first principles with guitar gestures as their source’. The guitar on ‘Starvation’ was provided by Guy Parker, while the identity of the guitarist on ‘Aspirateur’ isn’t identified, but its scratchy cut and thrust was inspired by sorely missed improv titan Derek Bailey. ‘Starvation’ is a stately waltz-paced piece built up from clattering IDM glitch-beats that develops rapidly into a punishing bass-heavy industrial electronica with lots of distorted bass noises and fast-paced switches between channels. Even though it probably never existed outside a computer there’s a sense of patches being forced into complicity, the segments where mere tracery is left and Guy Parker’s dark, cinematic guitar shines through suggesting the software couldn’t quite cope. The final dark ambient segment is how I expect Trent Reznor might attempt a soundtrack for a new noir version of Blade Runner directed by David Lynch. Sticking with cinematic imagery, ‘Aspirateur’ opens with what feels like a transmission from an abandoned spaceship drifting aimlessly through the galaxy, possibly harbouring some sort of terrifying alien lifeform – certainly the chilling processed breathing sounds and general sense of chaos in the intrusion of various sounds do much to enforce that sonic vision. It’s very dark, in a spine-chilling sense. You know what’s about to happen; it’s more a case of when.

The final track on the album, ‘Route 1 + 2’, was produced using a piece of software called Thonk which appears to have been a program that could process source inputs using complex algorithmic functions, often taking very long periods to deliver its outputs. Kendall believes that the source material for this may also have been a guitar, allowing us to contrast a parameterised software-based improvisor’s response to source material alongside that of David Husser on the four tracks he worked on here, at least in theory – if ‘Route 1+2’ began life with a guitar, there’s little evidence of that apart from a feint hint way off in the distance. The track is a series of scrapes, juddering noises and fractured sounds that skip and squiggle evasively around your ears, a maddening inner-body soundscape laced with a dose of lurking dread.

Kendall has engineered both of Olivia Louvel’s releases on Cat Werk Imprint – 2011’s award-winning Doll Divider and 2012’s o, music for haiku – both of which are highly collectible physical releases. With Angleterror PK proves once again that his inquisitive ear for sonic exploration remains undiminished. An almost-Burroughsian sliced-up video of Kendall talking about the album can be viewed below, complete with sagely spectacles, roll-ups and swanky coffee machines.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Barry Adamson – What It Means (Mute Records single, 1998)

Barry Adamson 'What It Means' artwork

mute records | mute219 | 10/08/1998

‘What It Means’ is a perfect Barry Adamson track, and certainly one of the most complete of his tracks to have been released in the single format. It’s quite a thrilling ride, a suite of electronically-enhanced high-speed verses over which Adamson delivers a harsh and harmonious vocal, backed by springy synth noises and a bold, stalking bassline. The vibe is cast in a jazz mould, and on the chorus the track opens out into a horn and organ groove blessed by a great drum section from Andrew Crisp, with some ebulliant, Andy Williams crooning by Barry.

Skylab exploit the jazzy vibe and create a loose arrangement across their two mixes. They break the track apart to create what could pass as a live improv jam, introducing Adamson’s vocal on their second, amusingly-titled ‘Skylab A Smokin’ Japanese We’re Chicken in Moss Side’ mix. Renegade Soundwave survivor Danny Briottet returns to the fold to team up with stalwart Mute producer Paul ‘PK’ Kendall on his ‘Subsonic Legacy Master’ mix. A jazzy two-step variant, Briottet adds some dub echoes and a killer sub-bassline to create a superb electro-dub counterweight to the bebop sounds elsewhere on the disc.

First published 2004; re-edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Paul Kendall – Family Value Pack (Ant-Zen album, 2014)

Paul Kendall 'Family Value Pack' CD artwork

ant-zen | cd/dl act315 | 12/09/2014

Family Value Pack is the follow-up to 2011’s Angleterror (CatWerk Imprint) and finds Paul ‘PK’ Kendall on typically inventive form. Kendall has always been capable of manipulating technology, whether that be as an engineer, on his own recordings or through his countless remixes for the Mute roster and other artists, and Family Value Pack is no different: this is a super-sized audio trip filled with complex twists and turns and strange juxtapositions.

At the heart of this album is a thoroughly plunderphonic vibe, a series of controlled explosions of sound sources set off against one another and the results carefully documented and presented across the seven tracks presented here. Some may argue that the result is a sprawl, a messy stew of grating rhythms, uncomfortable phrases and harsh dissonance, and that isn’t a million miles from what it really sounds like. But what makes Family Value Pack an album worth persevering with is the depth of vision.

Tracks like the buzzing, hyperactive opener ‘Scuba Dis Dat’ take a familiar rhythm notion – on that track the beloved 4/4 beat-grid of techno – and thoroughly twist it into new shapes, creating a sonic gumbo of seemingly incompatible elements, in ‘Scuba Dis Dat’ those being fuzzy guitar riffs, skronking sax solos, dubby happenings and snatches of Kendall reading what sounds like some sort of heavy, expressive poetry. It is restless, certainly, but that’s no bad thing. Elsewhere the vibe is one of muted ambience or beds of glitchy electronica, all tied together by Kendall’s evocative and imaginative word pictures and his accomplished sense of space and texture. Every sound feels like it was created or delicately positioned within a mix so as to maximise its emotional and sonic impact, feeling more like a soundtrack composer’s work in intricate sound design than an electronic music album. ‘Family Value’ is a clautrosphobic piece of electronic musique concrete, all hissing and clanking noises, underpinned by a harrowing sound that sounds like breathing – if that sounds like an Eraserhead-esque exercise in industrial terror, a segue into a small child singing is a careful gesture that heightens the dark mood perfectly.

The amount of detail here requires repeated listens and patience to fully appreciate. ‘It’s OK’ is a lot like watching a time-stretched film of a high rise tower ascending upwards; in the first few minutes it’s all about deep excavations or putting in foundations, all of which is necessary for the building to take its final shape but not as attention-grabbing as the building rising up vertically floor by floor. In the case of ‘It’s OK’ the first half is all about individual sounds and tentative structures, those foundations finally leading to the rhythm and atmosphere that takes the track through to its final ascendant form. Without patience you’d miss the conceit completely, and it’s a trick that Kendall pulls off repeatedly on this album.

Thanks to PK.

Track listing:

cd/dl:
1. Scuba Dis Dat
2. Water. It Must Be
3. It’s OK
4. Family Value
5. Ex.Posed
6. There Min Major
7. Uninterrupted Monday

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Olivia Louvel – Bats (If You Cross The Line SFT Remix) (CatWerk single, 2014)

IMG_0027.JPG

Beauty Sleep is the new album from Olivia Louvel, representing a beguiling set of song-based tracks that showcase the distinctive soundworld she resides in.

One of the most fragile tracks on the album is ‘Bats’ which is here given a very different reading by Simon Fisher Turner. Listen to SFT’s remix at Soundcloud.

‘Beauty asleep’ is available from Olivia’s Bandcamp page and is released in a special DVD-sized case. The album also features ‘In My Shed’ which takes a sample from Recoil’s ‘Stone’ as its source. The album was mixed by Paul ‘PK’ Kendall.

My review of Beauty Sleep will appear in the next issue of Electronic Sound.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence