We have a high threshold for sonic extremity
at The Wire. At the time of writing, someone behind me is blasting
out a Puerto Rican noise group from their computer. At times in the
last year or so we have - or at least I have – enjoyed field recordings of
creaking bridges in Thailand, longform
improvisastions for motorised vibraphones , or recordings
of a ventilation propellers. Such strange sonic matter is
warmly rendered through our appealingly battered old NAD amp, wired
up through some arcane scheme to floorstanding speakers scattered
around far-flung corners of our open office. It's rarely less than
a pleasure and a privileged to sample such intense music in this
Sometimes, though, someone will be in middle of a phone call when the latest missive from the Michigan noise scene hits the CD deck, or be distracted from an intricate bit of last minute proofing by a 200 word-a-minute Grime MC. Some discs just refuse to be relegated to the status of background music, demanding instead your full and undivided attention, and just can't be effectively worked to here in the office. Inevitably, then, there are times when discs will get abruptly taken off the stereo here, and it's an honour of sorts. So as the year draws to a close, it's only appropriate that The Mire's contribution to the Rewind 2008 feature of our forthcoming January issue – on sale in all good newsagents in a few days – is a round up of the records which caused such Office Dissonance. This list is, of course, in no way mutually exclusive with The Wire's Top 50 Records of the Year. In no particular order, then...
Ikeda’s eighth solo album was based on work for an installation, using electronic data to generate barcode patterns and audio files of 1s and 0s. This is what data overload sounds like - listening is like plugging yourself into the hidden data traffic of the modern age. It's also incredibly powerful, physically – the fast-flicking pulse provide a physical jolt which is, in many ways, pure bionic funk. All your cognitive resources are needed to get to grips with these data-packets, and you can forget trying to work during it.
Hecker, Höller, Tracks
This record actually made it into my own top 10 of the year. It's an extraordinary piece of sonic atom-splitting, created by Florian Hecker for a Carsten Höller visual exhibition. Each piece is based around flickering pulses, like bursts from a fluorescent tube, which imperceptibly alter and flit around the stereo spectrum. As Nick Cain's feature on Hecker elucidated, such experiments are designed to work at the edge of human perception. However, an experiment this subtle needs your full attention. In the office the repeated 20 minute spells of minutely shifting pulses just can't be focused on.
Much Remains To Be Heard
Al Maslakh CD
A technically extraordinary disc on the excellent Lebanese based Al Maslakh label. Like Seymour Wright, Stéphane Rives's solo saxophone experiments can make John Butcher sound like Lester Young. The high pitched, sustained, one hour track on Much Remains To Be Heard is right at the upper threshold of hearing. With all the hum and bustle of an office, amid the buzz of printers and computers, locating such precise tones is impossible.
The Ancient Balance To Control Death
Only 20 minutes long or so, Akiyama's primitivist blues guitar on The Ancient Balance To Control Death is rough but not especially abrasive. But it’s his singing on this short album, which like Jandek strays in and out of tune with deliberate freedom, which is often too emotionally raw to attune to in the middle of a working day. It's raw, soulful, completely unrefined, the blues rendered as a weeping sore. You either submit to it totally, or you don't listen at all.
In the true spirit of Strange Strings, Sun Ra collector/obesssive Hartmut Geerken's Amanita is a double LP of him attempting to play a bandura/'sun harp' which apparently used to belong to Ra himself. He doesn't explore it melodically so much as endlessly explore a single note in blissed-out reverie. It suggests a kind of ritual, and for the full effect would probably be best tuned into late at night, in the dark, maybe.
Family Vineyard LP
Fearsome/fearless solo sax improvisations. In the lineage of John Coltrane's "Chasing The Train", Flaherty starts with one melodic idea, and chases it at maximum speed, wherever it seem to lead him, channeling body and soul into his lines. It's thunderous, passionate, declamatory. Such commitment from the performer deserves a similar level of engagement from the listener. It's more or less an ethical issue – when listening to this, it feels wrong to be doing anything other than just listening.
4, 5, 6
snd's electronica is always built from a similarly stripped down pallete, with tight percussion and terse, precise melodic touches. It's the beats which caused the ruckus with this triple 12" release, though. Across an hour or so of music, the rhythms are constantly irregular, jumping backwards and forwards with musical jump-cuts. It seems to warp the fabric of time, and it refuses to slip away politely into the background.
No Fun Productions CD
This was perhaps Carlos Giffoni's warmest (most mature?) albums yet, with steady humming synths drifting in and out of chorus to hypnotic effect. Late at night and loud in the office it sounds fantastic, and just moving around the room creates different acoustic effects. All this compelling world of detail is lost if you're stuck at a desk.
Uwe Schmidt’s first major solo release in quite a while, Liedgut took on several hundred years of German-Austrian romantic musical/philosophical heritage and attempted to render it digitally, with elegant music box melodies and graceful, waltzing structures. Given this grand historical sweep, it's strange that a mobile phone interference sample made it in there. It's impossible to work to it without subconsciously wondering if an important phone call is about to arrive.
< STOP PRESS OFFICE DISSONANCE EXTRA>
Just in. Finnish free jazz, featuring Sami Pekkola amongst others, with repeated crashing waves of free blowing. It starts loud and gets louder. Actually terrific to work to, but impossible to have on while you're conducting a telephone conversation.