28 April 2009
This will be first of the, hopefully, regular highlights on prominent or promising record labels out there which are still making a difference in today's musical landscape. Trumn, a new label which was set up recently by Hideho Takemasa in Tokyo, just released two CDs: Tamaru's "Figure" and Yui Onodera's "Entropy". When I received the package from Hideho a few days ago I was pleased to see two beautiful long cardboard sized fold-in sleeves housing two CDs. "Entropy" shows an aerial photo view of a wintry vegetated panorama receding into the misty horizon, possibly signifying the natural cycle of decay and regeneration of the seasons as well as a form of aesthetic-synchronicity to the album title. On the other hand, "Figure" has on its cover a carcoal sketched inner-scape of a room with its reflection merging together confusing and confounding the viewer of where the room actually begins or ends. This is a clear sign of thought and effort being put into the overall aesthetic design and packaging of the music and artistic vision of the label and the artistes involved, it was immediately impressive and heart-warming: music still matters seriously to some people today.
Tamaru, a meta-bassist transmutated the bottom end tones into something out of this world: on first listening, not unlike moments of Yoshi Wada minimalist masterpieces like Lament For The Rise and Fall of Elephantine Crocodile and Off The Wall even though Tamaru is more of an improviser than sound composer. But it should be seen as great news that categories and genre-fication is broken down and blurred in this sense as at the end of the day, great music is but just great music.
Yui Onodera, on the other hand, plays the guitar and running it through elctronics and effects which, on this CD, produce pieces akin to post-industrial decay music similar to that of Andrew Chalk. Deeply resonating, this album is immersive and brooding.
To sum up, Trumn has successfully captured and released two albums which are of high quality and anyone who are interested to explore the current wave of Japanese improvised based music should give them a try.
By the way, the art work on "Figure" is done by one of the our very own: April Lee from Kitchen/a s p i d i s t r a f l y from Singapore
The passing of one of the most important novelists, meta-theorists, socio-politico-cultural observers and as well as one of the few most influential figures in alternative thinking on musicians and cultural workers for the past few decades, meant another nail in the coffin of the Modernist age. Go read "Crash" and "The Atrocity Exhibition" instead of his popular titles like "Empire Of The Sun" to have your mind altered. May his ideas and words live on...
27 April 2009
The interview below was conducted in the beginning of 2008 but was not published till now.
His Top 20 Noise list
PAIN JERK: Gallon Gravy CD
MACRONYMPHA: Pittsburgh LP
INCAPACITANTS: As Loud As Possible CD
INCAPACITANTS: Pariah Tapes CD-Box
THE NEW BLOCKADERS: History of Nothing CD
THE NEW BLOCKADERS: Gesamtnichtwerk CD-Box
KEVIN DRUMM: Sheer Hellish Miasma CD
ENTRE VIFS: A Scent Of Strength CD
HARRY PUSSY: Ride a Dove LP
HIJOKAIDAN: The Last Recording Album CD
HIJOKAIDAN: Modern CD
MASONNA: Spectrum Ripper CD
HANATARASH: 3 CD
GEROGERIGEGEGE: Tokyo Anal Dynamite CD
Various Artistes: DEDICATION VOLUME 1 LP
MERZBOW: Noisembyro CD
GOVERNMENT ALPHA: Alphaville LP
JUNKO: Sleeping Beauty LP
C.C.C.C.: Loud Sounds Dopa CD
MONDE BRUITS: Selected Noise Works 93-94 CD
An underground Noise legend in Norway, Lasse has been a overcasting presence over the underground terrain in the land of the Vikings and Black Metal. His most renown project has been Jazzkammer (or sometimes Jazkamer)and it has gone through several phases from pointilistic improv noise calligraphy to Black as ashen metal bulldozing music in recent years. A well respected musician, Lasse has actually came to Singapore a few times and performed with his fellow Norwegians from the years 2002 to 2006. His record label, Pica Disk is right now one of the most irreverent noise imprints of all time: with his own archival 4 CD box set to Japanese noise gods, Incapacitants' 10 CD box set being released since 2007.
Questions & Answers:
1. What is Noise music to you?
Absolute sound, absolute music, absolute pleasure.
2. How did you kickstart your career as a Noise artiste?
I don't concider what I've done a career. And even if it is now (being that I make a living off my music), it certainly wasn't kickstarted. As a young teenager I was simply fighting boredom by making noise cassettes. I continued making cassettes, then later vinyl, then CDs, then I started playing shows - still I had no ambitions to make any kind of money doing noise. I didn't seek recognition either; I just wanted to make intense music and interact with other people who had similar ideas and interests. Then one day I found myself in the situation of doing it full-time.
3. What are your main musical/non-musical influences?
Probably too many to mention. I'm a rabid record collector and music
listener so pretty much everything I hear influences me in some way. My
early influences were underground extreme metal and noisecore. I'd love to say Merzbow, Whitehouse or LAFMS, but I heard bands like 7 Minutes of Nausea, Autopsy and Fear of God way before that. Cinema and books also was and continues to be a big influence on me.
4. In recent years, Noise music has gained more coverage and hype in the media around the world. What is your take on that and what is your opinion about the current international Noise scene?
When I started out I certainly didn't expect noise music to grow into the monster it is today. But in a way I think "of course noise would be big one day", because it's such a natural way of making music, why wouldn't it be big? Why didn't it happen sooner? I'm curious to see where it goes in the future. It probably will go into a number of sub-genres and styles, like punk and metal did.
5. How and where do you think Norway and other Norwegian artistes fit into the music scene in the 21st century?
Like we fit in the 20th century; some good, some bad. Geography means less and less in todays music scene - being located near the north pole isn't as much a hinder now as it was before.
6. Let us move on to your recently established record label, Pica Disk. What is the main motivation behind the setting up of the label and what you hope to achieve with this label of yours?
I have no big goals with Pica Disk. If I'm able to break-even on a release then I concider it a fincial success. If I'm able to give some people an inspiring listening experience then I concider a release an artistic success. Starting Pica Disk boils down to the basis of my enjoyment of putting together quality releases of good music and presenting it to an audience. Then it doesn't matter so much if it's my own or other people's music I'm presenting. Releasing the Hild Sofie Tafjord CD was more exciting than my own albums of this year, it was incredible music I really wanted people to hear.
7. Who are your current favourite artistes and why?
I just came off a nordic tour with the japanese artist Pain Jerk. Although he has been around for over 15 years this was his first tour ever, so witnessing the excitment of finally touring mixed with the incredible skill built after years of noise-making was completely awe-inspiring. Pain Jerk is probably the best noise performer currently active. Incapacitants would be a very close second. Of the 'new' artists there hasn't been that many that have blown me away.
But I feel that they need time to grow as artists. A lot has been done in the field of noise, and to bring something new or fresh to the game takes a lot more than it did 15 or 20 years ago. But at the same time there is a bigger scene to interact with so I don't feel too sorry for the kids.
8. What are your future plans?
9. Last but not least, since it is the end of 2007 very soon, what are your favourite records of the year?
The Dead C: Future Artists CD
Incapacitants: 73 CD
Pain Jerk/Incapacitants: Live at No Fun CD
John Wiese/Pain Jerk: both CDs and the 7"
Anthony Patera: Chasms CD
Death Breath: Let It Stink 10" LP
Repugnant: Epitome of Darkness LP
Oren Ambarchi: In The Pendulums Embrace CD
Lobomyr Melnyk: LMH CD
Damion Romero: Twins 2LP
Kevin Drumm: Purge cassette
Hild Sofie Tafjord: Kama CD
Whitehouse: Racket CD
Birchville Cat Motel: Birds Call Home Their Dead CD
...if I spent a day this list would be four times as long, these are just the ones that came to my mind.
The pin-up poster boy of avant-garde/noise/underground for the 21st century?
C. Spencer Yeh, who operates under his own name and his more well-known alias Burning Star Core (BxC) is that and more. The recent winner of the Cincinnati Entertainment Award for Experimental/Electronic category, Yeh has been seen by many as one of the crucial nodal points in the American/International underground noise scene.
Yeh was a serious music fan since his childhood years and his well-honed aesthetic has been informed by certain pivotal musical epiphanies: Seeing the surrealistic non-group, the Residents, hearing Sonic Youth classic first album, Confusion Is Sex and chancing upon one of the key artistes of late 20th century musical/visual surrealist genius, Nurse With Wound’s fifth album, Homotopy To Marie. Ever since then Yeh has been chasing for the different sounds, noise and textures which he hears in his head, determine to put them on tapes, vinyl and CDs for over one decade.
What put Yeh apart from most other noise artistes is his main choice of instrument: the violin, which he uses to engage and expand his unique musical vision. However he also made use of electronic gadgets and his voice to craft some of the most exhilarating noise in recent years.
Yeh’s studio works betray certain compositional approaches more akin to the blistering sonic spaces of early power electronic pioneers like Matthew Bower’s Pure and Skullflower and also releases on the legendary Broken Flag Records, with dashes of the ecstatic free jazz of the 1960s and the atonal stochastic musical lines of Iannis Xenakis. For his recent releases, “The Very Heart Of The World” and “Blood Lightning 2007”, Yeh brought in the pulse-disrupting power rhythm section of another brilliant noise act, Hair Police to further boost and alchemise his sounds further out to space.
Burning Star Core/C. Spencer Yeh will continue to produce great music for many years to come, even after the recent media hype of Noise music has subsided. Together with Wolf Eyes, Matthew Bower’s Skullflower/Hototogisu/Sunroof! and Yellow Swans, C. Spencer Yeh has shaped the paradigm of 21st century noise.
1. Why did you choose the name "Burning Star Core"?
At the time I wanted to pick a name that I thought looked decent written down. However recently I have been thinking that it is a bit awkward to say. Even though at the time I thought a lot about what makes a project name good, etc., it is always difficult when it's your turn to come up with something. I picked it quickly, not wanting a common phrase but also evoking a certain imagery I was hoping for at the time.
2. What did you originally want to achieve with this project when you first started it?
I had this idea of personal mythology and creating works around that, in a variety of modes. Certainly certain modes I would lean towards more than others -- it was never a plan to be like "oh this will be a _this_ band or a _that_ band" but rather just use whatever languages and elements that would combine into something that I thought would fulfill the project. Of course my ability to articulate and focus with this project has grown over time, but I don't like to think about mis-steps or anything. Maybe it just took some time to hit its stride, like anything else which develops. Though of course in the beginning it was a lot more carefree, whereas now in its "young adult" life, the project has a clearer discipline. Towards the end I'd like to look back and see a continuous line from the very first tape all the way to the last work.
3. What are your musical influences?
One general scene I have been thinking about on and off for along time now, is the "industrial" underground in the U.K. primarily in the 80s I find very influential, as to me, a lot of the groups seemed superficially disconnected, but there was cross-collaboration and exchange of ideas. There was a wealth of personal mythology being articulated and developed. I'm talking about Nurse With Wound, Organum, Whitehouse, Coil, Current 93, etc. -- the way those groups were connected, yet unconcerned about overtly categorizing themselves... And the way they had developed over the years. Nowadays you have people within the underground quick to make assumptions about where artists are coming from and what their aims are. It's like, "don't stray from the line"... I think it's fantastic that people I know with such diverse projects can just enjoy that, and not have to worry about whether it falls into a category or not. I don't feel like I'm resisting or breaking any ground -- I definitely appreciate what people call "noise" -- but I don't want to be told what BxC is and isn't by others who don't know the full story. Context is important for perception, but it's not something to be forced. Maybe you could call BxC "industrial" if you had to pick a tag. I am also a big fan of the first few solo Brian Eno records after he split with Roxy Music -- just the vision to drive these weird pop records, playing with those forms, and then a transition into what he developed as "ambient music" that became the overriding focus. Even though he obviously had a lot of help, there was just something very personal and "bedroom creation" vibe about those early pop records (pre-Before and After Science). And of course there is plenty that I have been an appreciator of that I can't deny feeds into BxC (Takehisa Kosugi/Taj Mahal Travellers, Tony Conrad, Sonic Youth, etc.)
4. How did you and the Hair Police guys end up playing together as Burning Star Core in recent years?
I had met the Hair Police guys quite a few years ago, on their first tour. Of course they were still developing their band and approach, but we had a mutual appreciation for each others' directions (at the time I had been playing with my "rock" band Death Beam). So friendship and correspondence was struck up and the collaborations continue even to now. And then the previous "lineup" of BxC prior to this one, I had fired/let die, so I wanted to get some new collaborators, so I approached Robert and Trevor, and they've been able to stick around for a while.
5. There is a rumour going around that you might be terminating the Burning Star Core project soon. Is it true? If yes, why?
I don't know where this rumor started but I've heard/read it in a few different places. I currently have no plans to end the project -- there are too many records I owe to people right now! Plus, also I think it's best to, if I have to, let the project lay dormant for periods of time, vs. terminating the project only to revive it later on. There's something about that that's just not the same. It's either all or nothing!!
6. We are from Asia and thus we are quite amazed that you have been able to be recognised as an artiste and received accolades in the mainly European/American dominated underground/noise/psych scene now. How do you view this situation that you are in now?
I have been asked questions similar to this before and it always puts me in a difficult situation. While I can't deny that there are some fundamental differences, at the same time I'm not sure I'm as accurate a representation as anyone else I know who is Asian-by-association and active. See, that is interesting to me because so many revered acts within this "scene" are from Asia (well, especially Japan), and I see growing activity in many areas, as well as interest, in a variety of regions (not just Asia). Especially in contemporary art, there is interest in mainland China right now and their growing "creative class." Maybe there is finally curiosity in what other areas have to say, though I don't know if in some of these musical forms that region offers anything beyond just exotic aspects to them. Maybe there are just finally people who are "good enough" in the new wave and are getting their work out there!
7. What is your current favourite groups/artistes?
Though this might sound biased since we are friends/associates, I'd say definitely Prurient. In being able to have extended interactions and discussions with Dominick Fernow (who does Prurient), it just deepens my appreciation of the work. Of course I enjoy it on a visceral, musical and emotional/intellectual level on my own very much as well. Now I think about other friends/associates, and it doesn't hurt that I am actually a fan of a lot of my friends' works also (I hope the implication isn't that I am less likely to want to spend time with them if their work sucks, but...)
8. What is your future musical direction going to be like?
For BxC right now I can currently only articulate it in terms of records I am developing. I hope to record more with "the group" in some fashion -- I don't want it to seem like I am constantly trying to be "new" or "different" with every new record, because that is a bad trap to fall into, and I certainly also feel like I have a lot I want to explore within the records which have come out already. There might be some 'new' feels coming but I usually know what is and isn't BxC.
Outside of that, I feel more and more the need to start other projects just to explore other ideas (with their own names etc.). I've been continuing under my own name as an "improvisor" for a while, and that activity will continue under its own terms and contexts. I hope to also continue being a guest member in ensembles along these lines. I'm planning a couple of "solo" projects more exploring sound free from the restrictions in BxC, as well as also continuing other projects which are collaborations with others that I am not necessarily the sole director. This includes The Organs, which is with my friend Ron who does this project IOVAE, and a duo with John Wiese.
That's all, thanks!
The first few posts are actually write-ups and interviews conducted with a few top-notch underground acts from 2007 to 2008 which were published on the Flux Us website which closed down last year. These are crucial nodes in the current alternative music/cultural landscape in this increasing meaningless world of ours. Hopefully they continue to produce quality works and as well as being the beacons of resistance to most of the bland/re-hash/facsimile bands/acts out there. I am starting with Hototogisu, a band, if you are familiar with burns with so much fervour in their music which fuse the free-wheeling vibes of psychedelia, the power riffing of the experimental end of Black Metal with the mystical aura of pagan Albion. Read on.
The name of this great, great act is actually taken from a type of Japanese flower (or is it the Japanese name for a type of flower?). Trying to lure all those compulsive record collectors of anything Japanese Psych/Underground into thinking that the band was some long lost treasure recently unearthed and re-issued on vinyl and CD, Matthew Bower and Marcia Bassett quickly discarded this ‘concept’ and get it down heavily with some of the best musical moments captured on plastic in recent years.
Matthew Bower who is also the mastermind behind the equally great Skullflower and Sunroof! has been around since the early 1980s when he started Pure, a “power electronics” project with a cassette release, “Fetor”, for a while before transforming into Total in 1982 and Skullflower in the second half of the decade. Both projects were on-going concurrently for most part of the 1990s until 2000 when Total released its last album, “Solid Objects Cast As Goblins”.
As Skullflower, Matthew Bower has produced some of the most ear-bending guitar based noise on earlier albums like “Xaman” and “Lost Shot At Heaven” in the early 1990s but it went dormant after 1996. Matthew started Sunroof! in 1999 to re-channel his creative vibes into something more “blessed out” but still as powerful sonically. The latest album by Sunroof! is “Silver Bear Mist”, a double CD set of glorious guitar noise pile-up released in 2006.
Matthew re-activated Skullflower again in 2003 with the CD “Exquisite Fucking Boredom” and since then it is just one great album after another: “Orange Canyon Mind” and “Tribulation”. With his laptop, guitars and effects, Matthew as Skullflower is a one-man army of devastating juggernaut of ten thousand riffs crashing down on you wave after wave relentlessly.
Hototogisu, on the other hand, is the collaboration of Matthew Bower and Marcia Bassett, another great artiste who has been very prolific with her involvement as a key member in Double Leopards, GHQ and Zaimph. She was in the semi-legendary band, Un, a 1990s group specialized in proto-free folk/psych, paving the way for the current explosion of the free/freak folk scene in the USA. Together with other prominent female noise/psych/free folk artistes like Heather Leigh(formerly from the Charalambides now solo/Taurpis Tula), Christina Carter (Charalambides), Elisa Ambrogio (Magik Markers) and Carly Ptak (Nautical Almanac), Marcia Bassett is setting the flame blazing in the international underground scene with her own distinctive sonic vision.
Hototogisu’s three recent CD albums, “Green”, “Prayer Rug Exorcism” and “Chimarendammerung” are just some of the crème of pysch/noise genre. Harsh but beautiful, Hototogisu is not to be missed by anyone seriously into music.
Q 1. How did the re-issue of your Pure project's Fetor CD come about
after so many years existing as a cassette only release?
A: Mat: a UK label suggested doing a career overview comp and sent me loads of old cassette releases, this one greatly pleased me, the others much less so...so i went w/ a reissue of just that one.
Q 2. You have been creating harsh but beautiful music in the guise of
Pure, Total, Skullflower, Sunroof! and Hototogisu. How would you
describe your personal musical development since the early 1980s in all these
amazing projects of yours?
A: Mat: just keepin’ it harsh and beautiful, going in circles but nothings the same again....
Q 3. Do you think the world has finally caught up with you with the
recent increased interest in Hototogisu, Skullflower and Sunroof!?
A: Mat: Gah, yes and no, what’s the world? What’s keepin’ up? Everything’s always wrong about the context and history, I don't mean factually, I mean the spirit, the important thing that happened/happens disappears, and is in the music, maybe slightly in the object/package/ perception of its authors, but that’s the side gets blown out of proportion, because of languages inability to discuss the core, rather than just being little labels for everything.
For both Matthew & Marcia:
Q 1. What are your main musical influences?
A: Marcia: right now, I've been listening to a lot of Turkish and Indian music. historically Velvet underground & minimal music --La Monte Young, Tony Conrad. AMM was big influence on me, so was Xenakis, and I was really into early Royal Trux, the Dead C, Throbbing Gristle...ummm the list just sorta grows out from there.
Mat: right now: satanic black metal, old Floridian death metal.
historically: English prog. lou reed. Wagner/Mahler
Q 2. How did the Hototogisu collaboration between the two of you
A: Marcia: Matthew asked if wanted to collaborate and i sent him a recording of
E-bow guitar. That became our CD--'Befriending Demons/Nepenthe'
Mat: id thought we might end up with something tinkly, more pleasant,
so I suggested Hototogisu which had, up till then, been a sunroof! offshoot, more pastoral if anything. so our original path was pretty unplanned, the noise just blossomed...
Marcia: yeah, Matthew did ask for something 'tinkling' and i did set
out to do that but I ended up with a looming guitar piece.
Q 3. Do you view Hototogisu as part of the so-called international
"Noise/Underground/Psych" scene championed by Volcanic Tongue and Tony
Herrington at the Wire? What do you think of this "scene" in question?
A: Marcia: No we're not really associated with any scene. we've been on bills curated by David K. at the CCA and also Barry Esson has curated a some stuff over there. Those bills are usually really electic in their focus. actually, most of the festivals we've been involved with are a smattering of this or that. No Fun is the most focused on a 'noise scene'. I think Carlos really goes for his influences in his own music plus a lot of American underground noise, so you get record labels or individuals curating a downstairs stage on a particular night and upstairs on the main stage is what Carlos has handpicked. I don't know, it is like you said, Noise/Psych/Underground; it's all out there and some of it is really great and some is really terrible. It's just a matter of tastes when you get down to it and judgment, there is always seems to be an audience for both.
Mat: no i don't view us as part of a scene, i see it come and go,
English 80's noise scene, us and Japanoise mid 90's, laptops....blah the scene in question is probably worse than previous times because history’s ended, we're in a loop, and i'm kinda bored too... this could just be a personal response, and I'm not a good barometer.
Q 4. What are some of your favourite bands/musicians at the moment
besides the Skaters?
A: Marcia: I don't pick favorites, plus with the volume that people are able capable of releasing today, I'd say I'm more selective to narrowing down to recordings/releases that come out. I may be really amazed by one release by a person/ band and really not interested in subsequent one.
Mat: Katharsis, Funeral Mist
Q 5. What are the essential qualities the 2 of you are looking for
when you are creating music for Hototogisu?
A: Marcia: a melding unifying force.
Mat: a rending destroying force.
Q 6. How did your collaboration with Prurient & Burning Star Core on
CD come about?
A: Marcia: uh, we're friends with those guys, saw similarities, liked what we heard and their approach towards music....
Mat: yup some strong similarities of form/approach. i was blown away
firstly by Spencer on record, and also when we first played live with Dominick.
Q 7: Anymore upcoming releases like this which we can look forward to in the future?
A: We just released the tour CD-R 'Spooked Summer' and about to have a
vinyl release on the Nashazphone label titled, 'Robed in Verdigris'
Q 1. I have been very intrigued by Marcia's musical output in Double
Leopards, Hototogisu, GHQ, etc for the past few years. How different
are all these projects to you?
A: Well some are more active than others, right now, it is GHQ, Hototogisu and my solo project Zaimph, which occupy most of my time. Sonically the bands are different but there is actually a lot of the same influences going on.
Q 2. Do you see yourself in the same vein as Kim Gordon of Sonic
Youth in the current "scene"?
A: I don't know, I found a 'Mother's Against Noise' mug in her cupboard so I don't really know what's up her sleeve.