Thursday, 28 October 2010

Preslav Literary School - Echolalia [2010]

Artist: Preslav Literary School
Album: Echolalia
Label: NO-FI

Echolalia is a collaboration between Berlin-based cassette collagist Adam Thomas and a host of musicians and artists from around Europe. The idea was formulated by Thomas (who records under the Preslav Literary School moniker) and visual artist Cara-Bell Jones, who also designed the cover art for Preslav's Beautiful Was the Time (2009). The record revolves around ideas of repetition and circularity; the word 'echolalia' itself being the name given to a condition in which children repeat what they hear when they are spoken to by others. As in almost all of Preslav Literary School's music, the sole sound source is pre-recorded cassettes.

Almost a year before its release, the live performance of the record took place in Newcastle upon-Tyne in a cinema-space in the middle of a particularly harsh winter. Thomas sent out a request for applications from anyone interested in participating in the project, and from these selected a handful of musicians and artists, who, alongside Machinefabriek, Poldr and Posset would make up a tape-loop orchestra for this one-off performance and eventual release. Participants were from a range of ages, disciplines, backgrounds and locations and met one another for the first time on the day before the performance. Together, they spent one day dissecting cassettes and creating loops from the reels of tape. The tapes, made up of sounds as disparate as Chinese folk songs and answer-machine recordings, were then blended together in all their decaying beauty at The Star and Shadow Cinema. The performance was improvised, with each performer deciding where and when to play their own loops by intently listening, and communicating with one another only through the sound of the tapes.

I was myself involved in this performance and release, but this isn't intended as shameless self-promotion. The actual release sounds great and was truly a collaborative effort, in which I was fortunate enough to meet some incredibly interesting and talented artists. Here is the official press release:


NO-FI will release 'Echolalia' on October 18th 2010 as 12” vinyl with a booklet containing an essay by Tom Recchion of Los Angeles Free Music Society. The album is a live recording of a tape-loop orchestra led by Berlin-based artist Preslav Literary School and features contributions from Machinefabriek, Posset, Poldr and many others.

Preslav Literary School held two days of workshops on making tape-loops from compact cassettes in December 2009 at Star & Shadow Cinema, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Participants then worked with the new archive of loops in front of a live audience in a performance involving multiple playback machines, mixers, real tape delays and live cassette manipulation.

Recalling the sounds of Faust, Popol Vuh, Throbbing Gristle, The Skaters and Broadcast the album draws on the energy of other decades and scenes as diverse as US underground noise, German krautrock and French musique concrète. At times melodic and blissful, at others dark and cut-up, the album seems to move beyond its constituent parts and methodology to reach something haunting and engaging. The album was mixed and mastered as it was played live, with no extra overdubs, by the cult Berlin dubstep producer Lord Cry Cry (Blunt Force Trauma).

The vinyl, whose packaging is based on vintage cassette design features commissioned artwork from Supanaught and photography from Marion Auburtin with a free digital download of all material, plus a bonus, exclusive Machinefabriek solo tape set from the same performance. Echolalia was supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

As Preslav Literary School, Adam Thomas makes live tape collages using sounds drawn from an ever- growing archive of self-generated or discovered outsider noise, found sound and spoken word cassettes. A process of transference, overdubbing and live manipulation reworks these source materials into compelling, ambient broadcasts. Adam has released several albums and live CDrs, and played alongside Machinefabriek, Leif Elggren, Sudden Infant, Antoine Chessex, Matt Elliott, Shitty Listener & many others. He has toured the UK, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium and Poland and will play at 2010's flux/s and Shift festivals.

Artist Biographies: Introducing the players...

1. Machinefabriek (Rutger Zuydervelt) is one of the most exciting, diverse and prolific artists working in experimental music today. With over 100 multi-format releases in the last five years for labels such as Type Records, Lampse, Digitalis, Staalplaat (Mort Aux Vaches) and 12K, his resonant work has amassed a dedicated audience all over the world. []

"His work nestles tantalising between genres, counterbalancing immersive swathes of ambient sound with astringent textural challenges and offsetting a predominantly electronic mode of production with an emotionally-charged smattering of found sounds and naked instrumentation." (The Wire)

2. Preslav Literary School (Adam Thomas) makes live tape collages using sounds drawn from an ever- growing archive of self-generated or discovered outsider noise, found sound and spoken word cassettes. A process of transference, overdubbing and live manipulation reworks these source materials into compelling, ambient broadcasts. Adam has released three albums, numerous live CDrs and played at venues and festivals throughout Europe.[]

"Like William Basinski's Disintegration Loops, Preslav Literary School focuses on creating something new and personal out of found sounds and dull, everyday happenings... wonder and amazement is conveyed through the sounds and a sense of otherworldly significance is given to the simplest of actions." (Sputnik Music)

3. Since visual artist and experimental musician Poldr (Benjamin Laurent Aman) relocated from France to Berlin, he has become one of the rising stars of the capital's established underground scene, marking himself out as a performer who deals with texture, frequency and field recordings with a distinct and unafraid ear. Founder of the cult Razzle Dazzle label, Benjamin is also one half of the French/US improv-duo Crystal Plumage. []

"Drawing equally from a contemporary droned madness and a hypnotizing minimalism.... A dense and harrowing musical experience." (Tomentosa Records)

4. Newcastle-upon-Tyne's Posset redefines cassette-based music for a new century. Freely releasing CD-Rs and tapes of sonic experiments, magnetic interruption and dislocated environmental recordings, Posset filters everything through a C60 haze that transforms the listening experience into something fragile and compelling. []

"An impressive combination of hands-on tape manipulation and outsider guitar self struggle, leaden chime, bursts of tape movement and strung-out muzzled feedback." (Rock-A-Rolla)

5. Jamie Charlton is interested in all areas of sound manipulation but has a particular interest in analogue sound. His experiments with four-track tape recorders and cassette manipulation attempt to remove sounds from their original contexts and turn them into something different. Recently, he has been collecting field- recordings of everyday things and juxtaposing these sounds with instrumentation.


6. Benjamin Freeth's artistic practice explores the themes of movement, desire, the infinite and the finite, intimacy, emotions, ritual, delay, drone and significant memory. He performs with Helictite and has played alongside Faust, La Foxe, Aki Onda and Sunn O))). Ben is currently studying an MRes. Digital Media at Culture Lab, Newcastle University. []

7. WAMA is a multi-media collaboration between artists Bethan Maddocks and Steven Walker. Working together they share a desire to embrace concept and ethos over discipline. WAMA explore multiple artforms, creating new relationships between text, psychology and contemporary art production, with the aim to produce audience interventionist artworks. []

8. Nick Williams completed a BA in Music and the Creative Arts with Performance Technology in 2001 and is currently researching electronic music in cross-disciplinary performance for his PhD at Newcastle University.

Nick has been co-director of the interdisciplinary performance group theybreakinpieces since its formation in 2004. []



Wednesday, 20 October 2010

ファイナルファンタジー [1999]

Title: Final Fantasy VIII
Director: Yoshinori Kitase
Studio: Square

This is the first post that I've made so far about a video game, but I feel that this game deserves its place on my blog. I've been a big fan of video games for as long as I can remember; getting a Playstation in Christmas, 1999 was where it began for me, playing Spyro II: Gateway to Glimmer. Final Fantasy VIII was bought that same Christmas by my aunt for my mother so that she could play a video game for the first time. I wasn't allowed to play on it, even though it went more or less un-played in the house, it was seen as too "advanced" for my age. In any case, I began playing on it secretly when I was out of eye and earshot of my parents. With this in mind, there are a few things that I must say: For one, I have a huge sentimental attachment to the game, because it was like a window onto a different world. I learnt so much through the game, from profanity (some of the translations are hilarious) through to aspects of social interaction. As a story focussed heavily on romance, it also indoctrinated me with the idea of Platonic love, but I'll get into all that later. For another thing, my imagination as a child was so vivid that I feel almost like the game is a real part of my life experience. When I play the game, it feels like going home. All of the characters and beautifully designed towns, cities and landscapes have stained my memory and become a part of my being. For these reasons, my view is completely biased. Although I have almost no analytical mind when it comes to Final Fantasy VIII, I hope that I can share some insight into what it means to me and explore some of the ideas therein which have affected and continue to affect my life.

Final Fantasy VIII is centred around main character Squall, an orphaned teenager studying at Balamb Garden, a military academy that trains youths to become SeeDs, the equivalent of an elite special forces team that fights for international peace and political stability. Squall is pensive and introverted. He is a good student, but tends to be rather passive and ambivalent towards most of the situations in his life, preferring to either ignore issues, or dismiss them as unimportant. This said, at the beginning of the game, Squall wakes up in the hospital wing of the Garden, wounded after a fight with Seifer, another precocious teen between whom there is a strong rivalry. Much has been said critically of Squall as a character, the general feeling amongst fans of the franchise being that he is too emotionally detached for the player to empathise with him. While this can be one interpretation of the character, I feel that the way in which Squall's emotions are shown is more subtle than in many other games in the series, which is more complex and compelling than dull or simplistic. Given Squall's nature, moments that may otherwise have seemed like brief glimpses of emotion, become huge opportunities to see the underlying tenderness and sensitivity housed in his hardened exterior. I feel that it is appropriate to draw comparisons between Squall and other protagonists like Shakespeare's Hamlet; both seem to be heroes on the surface, but also raise questions about what heroism truly entails. Both are emblematic of the image of the Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, the classic romantic painting by Caspar David Friedrich depicting a man standing (seemingly confidently) upon a precipice, below which lies a sea of fog and rocks jutting out from beneath it. Just as the Wanderer's face is concealed, removing any chance that an onlooker may have of glimpsing an emotional response to this vast expanse, so is Squall's face, his hidden heart remaining clasped to the world. Just as these pieces of art have shown to people the existential angst that consumes and captivates all of us, so does Squall, and while the Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog remains anonymous, and Hamlet remains words on a page, so Squall also beckons for the player of the game to project his/herself onto him and experience the world within him and through this, the world within themselves. I certainly had no experience of neither Hamlet nor the work of Friedrich when I was younger, so I suppose that for me, Squall was an introduction to themes of existentialism and angst that would come into play a little later in my life. It is impossible for me to say whether playing Final Fantasy VIII drove me to confront and question these things, whether I was drawn to the game because of the themes inherent there, or whether it is simply coincidental that I should have grasped and absorbed these themes at such a young age.

Art has enormous power. One is confronted by art throughout one's life; from birth to the grave we are bombarded with information of an artistic nature, whether it be through films, books, music or video-games. At a young age, it is impossible to distinguish between where art begins and reality ends. Because of this, one tends to accept most things as possible realities, rather than idealised concepts from the minds of artists. Art is, for the most part, fantastical in nature; it transcends daily experience and tries to remove itself from the everyday. If a piece of art was an accurate and unromanticised depiction of life, it would most likely not be considered art at all; after all, who would want to experience the mundanity of day-to-day life in their spare time? It makes sense for people to have a desire to live that which lies outside of their general experience. Unfortunately, the consequences of this can often be negative, especially for those who are unaware that what they are experiencing is outside of the sphere of normal existence, as is often the case with young people. This leads me nicely onto the romantic story in Final Fantasy VIII.

The love story of the game is centred around Squall and Rinoa. As aforementioned, Squall is a reclusive character who tends to keep himself to himself. He stands in stark contrast to Rinoa, who unabashedly charges headfirst into most situations without a second thought. Squall seems to generally be in a bit of a slump in his life; he still feels an aftershock of dejection brought on by his childhood abandonment and subsequent time spent in an orphanage. Rinoa is a person with the power to pull him from this emotional dead-zone and to teach him a different way of living, a way in which he can direct his own future and be rid of any emotional baggage that may be acting as a deadweight on his existence. Obviously, her attempts to bring Squall out of his shell fail initially as he remains too deeply embedded in his own habitual life, but as the story goes on, he begins to warm to her and find in her pieces of himself that are missing. The love that they share is largely a Platonic love, and by this I mean a pure love in which sex is not a factor. Although the west is considerably more liberal now than it has been for the past few hundred (or even thousand) years, many of the taboos of the Victorian era still remain deeply engrained in western culture, particularly taboos of sex. I think that from a young age we are subconsciously brought to view sex as a taboo; something that belongs behind closed doors and is not to be spoken about. Even down to seemingly insignificant things like wearing clothes, and not appearing naked in public, it seems that anything to do with sex or human sexuality is kept under lock and key. The reason that I speak of this is that I feel that placing sex in the same realm as a traditional love story can often seem awkward or crude and it is certainly censored from the eyes of the young. Interestingly though, people are surrounded by romance and romantic images from an early age. Children's films like Beauty & The Beast, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, etc. are all focussed around romances and yet sex is never even touched upon. This may seem like an obvious observation to make, but I think that in the long term it can have psychologically detrimental effects. By the time of one's teenage years it is easy to feel like Holden Caulfield, the protagonist in J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. In the novel, Holden has a dream that he is in a rye-field situated on the edge of a cliff and that there are children running around and playing in the field, unaware of the cliff that they might fall off at any moment. Holden feels a natural duty to be a 'catcher' in the rye, someone who catches the children and stops them from falling to their deaths. But in spite of how hard he tries to save them, many children inevitably end up falling off the cliff anyway; in fact all of them do eventually. This is widely thought to be Holden's desire (which is in my opinion almost universal) to cling onto the innocence of youth, and to keep young people from becoming absorbed in the tarnished morality of adulthood. During my early teens, I frequently felt that through exploring their sexuality, people were losing something vital in themselves and becoming corrupted, and I changed my mind only after I analysed what information I had been given as a child and how this had influenced my thoughts. Final Fantasy VIII was undoubtedly one of many pieces of information that I was given as a child which influenced the way I viewed relationships and life, amongst a whole host of other films, books and video-games that I experienced as a child.

Returning to the game now is a very strange thing for me. Playing Final Fantasy VIII feels like transporting my mind back to the state that it was in when I was still very young and innocent. Doing this has allowed me to compare the way that I think now to the way I thought back then and has offered me some really interesting perspectives on my life in philosophical and psychological terms. This post got way deeper than I initially intended it to, but in a way, it has served as an exorcism for a lot of the ideas that have been floating around in my head for years and it feels good to get them down in writing. The past few weeks spent dipping in to writing and editing this have definitely done me well, and I hope that the points I've discussed are of interest to some people. Ultimately, perhaps what I'm recommending more than the video-game, is to revisit the experiences of youth and to question what they meant back then, and what they continue to mean to you now. I feel that Final Fantasy VIII, amongst a host of other things has really had a very strong influence on my character. I hope that anyone who has read this feels compelled to do the same as I have; to revisit something significant from your formative years, and explore your current self in the process.

Unfortunately, Final Fantasy VIII is long out of print. However, it is still possible to obtain the game via eBay, where I got a copy and now also through the PlayStation Store, who have reissued a digital version of the game to play on the emulators of the PS3.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Savvas Ysatis & Taylor Deupree - Hourglass [2009]

Artist: Savvas Ysatis & Taylor Deupree
Album: Hourglass
Label: 12k

Hourglass is the second collaborative ambient release from Savvas Ysatis and Taylor Deupree. The pair have been recording for over ten years under a range of different names, many of their other projects covering ground more in the vein of minimal techno than ambient soundscapes. It certainly came as a surprise to me that Deupree was initially involved in techno before moving over to the ambient music that he is best known for today. I found it hard to connect what he's doing at the moment with releases like Shoals that focus on creating an incredibly dense, detailed and lush sound experience with the stark minimalism of his music with Ysatis under the Arc name. However, tracing a line from his early collaborations with Ysatis and his early solo albums like comma, (1998) through to more recent albums like Northern (2006) and the aforementioned Shoals (2010), it becomes easier to see a logical progression in his style and approach to music.

Hourglass is again a step in an entirely different direction for Deupree, being possibly his most 'song-orientated' release to date. Here, the intensity and detail of the sound remain the same, but exist within different premises. According to Deupree himself, one of the key ideas of the recording process was to use the computer like a tape recorder, not as a programming device. Deupree and Ysatis gave themselves one week in Deupree's studio out in the country to see what they could produce using only instruments and objects already in the space. This four track release is the result of that process; fingerpicked guitar notes, prepared piano, analogue synthesisers and the familiarly breathy husk of Ysatis voice all stitched together to form a cohesive whole.

Much of the sound explored on The Sleeping Morning (2007) is revisited on Hourglass, but there is still a striking difference between the two releases. Where The Sleeping Morning was more focussed on abstract ambience, using Ysatis' voice as a way of grounding the sound to something more recognisably human, the reverse seems to be true of Hourglass; Ysatis' voice seems to want to push the music into a higher plane, somewhere transcendental and vague, while the earthy sounds of Deupree's guitar seem to pull it back down to the ground. This strange struggle is what gives the music its unmistakably beautiful ethereality; it is neither on the ground, nor above the clouds, it instead floats through the air on a wave of reverberating sighs and breathy moans.


1) Clouds
2) Hourglass
3) Like Ice on a Summer's Day
4) Somewhere on Earth

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Spacegazer (WttSW Compilation) [2010]

I thought it'd be nice to do some genre-specific compilations to show readers a few of my favourite tracks and bands from various genres, so this is my first one.

I've been a fan of shoegaze ever since I bought Loveless when I was 13. I remember hearing it at first and finding it really awful. It was just so alien to me; layers of noisy guitars that were so dense that they didn't even sound like guitars anymore, interspersed with some weak vocals that were mixed way too low to decipher any lyrics. I couldn't really see the point, but there was still something irresistible about it, and I listened to it for a week and gradually began to really appreciate and enjoy it. In hindsight, that was more or less the start of my journey into music. From then on, whenever I encountered a piece of music that I disliked, I would try to understand it by repeated listening rather than just giving up on it straight away like I used to.

Today I still listen to a lot of similar stuff. This compilation admittedly probably isn't the best entry-point for someone new to the genre (I've decided to eschew many of the more obvious bands in favour of lesser known ones), but for those who already know their stuff and still have a healthy appetite for more, this is for you. The readership of my blog will probably already be familiar with a few of the bands that I'm including, but hopefully there'll be some new stuff that you haven't heard in there too. Obviously there's some things here which may not be strictly classified as shoegaze (dream pop, indie rock, etc.), but that I feel nevertheless captures the same atmosphere associated with the genre.


1) 嘎调 - Sea Birds
2) Mahogany - Optimism
3) Moscow Olympics - What Is Left Unsaid
4) Asobi Seksu - Walk on the Moon
5) Kevin Shields - City Girl
6) Luminous Orange - Drop You Vivid Colours
7) Pinkshinyultrablast - Blaster
8) Coaltar of the Deepers - C/O/T/D
9) The Radio Dept. - Keen on Boys
10) Astrobrite - Bottle Rocket
11) Lovesliescrushing - Blooded and Blossom-Blown
12) Alcest - Sur l'Océan Couleur de Fer

I did a bit of mastering to make the tracks flow into each other a little bit better, so these aren't strictly speaking the CD versions of the tracks. The bitrate is 320kbps (CBR MP3).

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Small Color - Hikari No Hana [2009]

Artist: Small Color
Single: Hikari No Hana
Label: 12k

Small Color is a musical duo consisting of Rie Yoshihara (who also records under the name Trico! and is a published chef) and Yusuke Onishi. Yoshihara plays accordion, melodica and sings, while Onishi handles all of the strings, which includes banjo and guitar. The music of Small Color is primarily acoustic in nature, but digital electronics also feature prominently in their work.

Hikari No Hana is a single by the band released for free through Taylor Deupree's 12k, a label with a reputation for releasing some of the most beautiful and captivating digital ambient music of this century. Small Color's music is very much in the vein of Deupree's now defunct Happy label, which focussed solely on documenting obscure and unconventional Japanese pop. Small Color released their first album, Outflow (2005) with Japanese label Samurai Records before releasing In Light (2009), of which Hikari No Hana is a single.

There exists two versions of 'Hikari No Hana': the album version and the single version, both of which differ significantly. The track on In Light is a very stripped down version of this single, removing all glitch beats and ambient textures, focussing instead on an almost purely acoustic vibe between guitar and voice. The version featured on this single really reigns supreme for me though; the track starts out with a beautiful, reverb-drenched ambient swell before introducing the insistent, driving rhythm of Onishi's guitar. The synthetic ambient textures soon give way to a subtle beat, constructed by what appears to be the sounds of broken CDs and minor laptop malfunctions. The piece is a testimony to how effective a well conceived song with a simple, yet effective structure can really stand head-and-shoulders above messy mixes with too little space.

I highly recommend this single to anyone looking for a fairly accessible dip into 12k's catalogue, or indeed to anyone who may have heard their other material and has overlooked this little gem of a single.