The Ghost: The Hole
Tombed Visions (2016)
I know next to nothing about The Ghost. I stumbled across a review in Tristian Bath’s consistently top-notch Spool’s Out column in The Quietus, which opened with a quote from Tombed Visions, the label that released this cassette: “This is the new Queer improv and it is unreal how fucking good it is.”
New Queer improv? I’m in!
This 40 minute avant-jazz freak out ain’t for the faint hearted. It’s restless and abrasive, and even its quietest moments are angry as hell, which is perfectly justified against an opening monologue warning that homosexuals will destroy the fabric of society. The Hole was released pre-Trump, but listening to it now this piece of 1950s propaganda supporting a white, Christian, heterosexual patriarchy strikes home harder than ever. Its fear mongering message could be applied to any group bearing the label of ‘Other’ – black, muslim, female, the list goes on….
Perhaps my favourite thing about The Hole is that you rarely hear such abrasive, experimental music being made by Queer artists. The scrunching sax, collapsing drum kit and junkyard rubble are a far cry from the spandex and mirrorball cheese of most ‘gay’ music. There is absolutely nothing Camp about The Ghost, nothing sexual either. Even Harsh Wall Noise artist Richard Ramirez, perhaps The Ghost’s closest sonic relative, cultivates a Tom of Finland aesthetic drenched in cheap thrills.
I realise I’ve done little to describe the actual sound of this tape, and to be honest I’m not sure sound is the main point of this release, but as a sonic reference point The Hole calls to mind Sun Ra’s wildest freak outs minus the funk. I’m reminded of the Art Ensemble of Chicago as well, but way, way heavier. The muscular Saxophone work of Mats Gustafsson is also present, without his sense of groove. The Ghost combine all of these references into violent cauldron of political revolt. And their protest is absolutely thrilling to listen to.
Phirnis & Trium Circulorum: Solitary Shards Split
Trium Circulorum (2016)
While Trium Circulorum is a new name to me, I picked up this split cassette based on the involvement of Phirnis. Dave and I have chatted about this Austrian based artist on The Antidote a couple of times now. Previous releases have deftly combined musicality with abstraction and electronica, but his contribution to Solitary Shards is a glorious collage of noise eras past. A series of vignettes that can only be listened to as a whole. Trium Circulorum’s side is awesome too.
Phirnis opens up side A with some Merzbow crunch that exhales into a rhythmic pulse, and then blooms into a flock of birds settling into the trees at sunset. Further on we get the cavernous sound of delay drenched feedback echoing into nothingness. And, at the 19 minute mark an unencumbered head bursting wall of harsh noise that switches into a cracked and decayed transmission from somewhere beyond. He finishes with what sounds like a washing machine or dishwasher, something mechanical but watery, all distorted and frayed and fading out into tape hiss.
Phirnis mentioned to me on Twitter that he really wanted to explore some old school Noise on this release. That vibe definitely shines through. But he manages to do this without smashing your face in, as many records did in the hey days of Noise. His series of sound explorations are a playful homage to the scene as well as shitloads of fun for your ears.
On the flipside, Germany’s Trium Circulorum conjures up a serious dark ambient drone. He traps the listener deep in the bowels of some cave-like abandoned subway where air vibrates through rust riddled ducts, and unexplained things rattle and scatter in the shadows. Occasionally a pipe loses steam, a metallic clank skitters out of the gloom, a low vibration lurks around the corner. This is 30 minutes of blackened unease akin to Abruptum’s quieter moments, or even Burial Hex’s Initiations.
I think the rumours are true. There’s a ‘new’ noise scene burgeoning. It’s been 10 years since Wolf Eyes jumped the shark releasing two albums on Sub Pop and scoring a slot on Lollapalooza. It felt like things simmered down after that. Pete Swanson went mutant techno. Dominick Fernow poured acid over new wave. William Bennett began exploring African rhythms.
10 years isn’t a long time, but lately it feels like artists are revisiting the tropes of noise and exploring the sound with less emphasis on volume and abrasion. Solitary Shards is a fantastic example of this.
Gerritt Wittmer: Unknowns
No Rent Records (2016)
I attended the Sound as Consequence symposium at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art over the weekend. Listening to individuals like Joel Stern, Eric Demetriou and Julian Day wax lyrical about non-cochlear sound, and auditory experiences in the institution confirmed that for me abstract sound is a powerfully emotive experience. And this experience is often overlooked.
Take this stunning tape by a veteran of both the Sound Art and experimental music scenes. Gerritt Wittmer sculpts an intricate trellis of field recordings, drones and ephemeral misamsa. Abstract in the extreme but firmly rooted in its own logic and narrative. Vague ticking builds into monolithic drones and jackhammers riding on subway cars through dusty tunnels and then expiring in a whir of malfunctioning machinery. Chimes ring-in demonic voices that talk themselves into near silence, a subtle hum. Suddenly feedback. A scream. Heavy breathing. Lonely footsteps.
Side B polevaults into bass driven walls of noise, grating metal and contact mic’d surfaces. The hollow hum of air conditioning units, scrapes and rattling builds into a full blown symphony of scree. Cut to air hissing out of tyres, or possibly the sound of some desolate landscape at 3 in the morning, no moon, no stars. Just a scratch that becomes a rhythmic itch that becomes a noisy pulse that dissolves into a soprano drone. One final ‘note’ that leads you home.
Confused? That’s where the excitement lies; teasing out the relationships between so many disparate sounds, allowing the waves to take you where they, and you please. You can’t have this sort of experience within an institutional context. You aren’t allowed to lose yourself when the white cube demands that you assess the social, political, racial, and gender contexts that each individual brings to the experience. I believe there is more to this than the cerebral.
Music as beautiful and mysterious as this deserves the undivided attention that comes with your own private experience. Headphones or loud speakers, darkened rooms and comfort. Dare I say that if you are willing to give in to recordings like this one by Gerritt Wittmer, there is potential for something akin to a spiritual experience. Discourse in a gallery context hasn’t focused on topics like that since everything became ‘post’ something else.