WRIGHT: Duna CDR (LAST VISIBLE DOG)
is your basic high-drone ambient face-warmer. Sorry for the
laziness, but Byron Coley described this kind of action very
well in The Wire, even if he was describing a different
Peter Wright record (the "Clavius/Kepler" 7-inch on
20 City): "a great, kneaded mass of guitar sounds...gentle
arrows of feedback arc themselves into rainbow quivers of drone
and bowed string corntrails." There is nothing startling
about this music, nothing "new" -- even people who
think experimental music ends with Brian Eno won't be especially
alarmed. I just like it cuz it's chill. Whether it's the soundtrack
for an imaginary psych-era sci-fi movie, or the long-lost soundtrack
music for the waiting room of heaven, I think almost anyone
would enjoy being the judge. Now if we can just get it on jukeboxes
to play in between U2 songs. The smug Eno experts may not act
impressed, but the heartfelt Fricke experts will, and that's
what should really matter in this day and age.
ACOUSTIC ENSEMBLE: Last Refuge of the Insane CD-R (APOPLEXY)
first heard this album a year or two ago when it turned up in
the mailbox of this one Lincoln, Nebraska noise-underground
networker who I would occasionally watch play Sega. He already
had a stack of stuff to listen to that was "this"
high, so he sent Last Refuge of the Insane home with
me because I was ignoring my own stack in order to add to it.
Being geeks, we were already vaguely familiar the CM Ensemble,
and perhaps even had some idea that they were actually sort
of a "jazz" group, more so than a "freenoise"
group. Their being dubbed the CM "Acoustic" Ensemble
on this disc seemed to bear that out. None of which exactly
prepared me for the music herein, which I consider to be one
of the few actual advancements in jazz conception I've
heard in awhile. I'm not saying they're better than the
whole Aum Fidelity or Eremite scenes, I'm just saying that they're
markedly different, which seems to be pretty hard to
do these days. With four tracks in almost 53 minutes, this epic
disc actually deserves a play-by-play (although if you haven't
heard it, instead of reading it you should just order
(6:28) For one minute and ten seconds, a very quiet improv by
a very shrill sax (or two or three?). Then a dope tape edit
into someone on piano doing your basic Cecil Taylor imitation.
The credits credit three of the five band members with piano,
and this could be a duo or even trio performance. Using the
word "imitation" isn't fair either -- the CM play
it more 'cloud style' than Taylor, whose fleeter fingers make
a spikier music. This is more like Cowell's "The Banshee,"
or some of Sun Ra's looser work....Morton Feldman? Of course!
Only after a few listens did I realize that at least one other
instrument is also involved, chirping minimally in the background.
Saxophone or string bass, I guess. A confounding opener. Sounds
like 'free jazz', but no obvious group identity emerges.
(13:27) Completely different again. Sounds more like a group,
but not any group I expected. No piano at all this time, no
drums either, just saxophones and bowed bass, playing an extremely
composed and subdued piece in which a mournful melody line is
repeated over and over and over and over and over and over and
over and over and over and over and over for all thirteen minutes.
Variations do occur, but they're so miniscule I doubt that they
were intentional. The atmosphere is thick and heavy. Morton
Feldman? Well, it is soft like that, but it's also an
ostinato, and Feldman never did ostinatos. Much quieter than
the previous tune -- if you're in the other room you'll think
the CD player stopped altogether. If you're in the same room,
you'll hear it, and it might just might put you into the same
welcome stupor it did me.
After this rather torrid lull,
and twenty minutes in, "The Ghosts of the Innocents"
(30:01) opens with the album's first actual concession to 'classic'
free jazz: a big spastic ensemble clarion call, like the intro
to any number of classic AACM compositions. "Ornette"
by Roscoe Mitchell comes to mind, though this is a little looser,
wilder, definitely less schooled. And, it only lasts for about
60 seconds, at which point it's back to confoundment: another
25 or so minutes of almost complete silence, 'jazz music' reduced
to the archest and most intermittent rustling gestures possible
in a post-Incus world. It finally starts building again, but
it never gets as loud again as the intro, and any sort of payoff/climax
is intentionally withheld.
Track four of four, "Descent,"
(2:31) The epilogue, the climax, the cool-down. Just some dry
husk bone-rattle percussion, just one guy, off to the side,
for the first thirty seconds...but then sax and piano come in,
but it's like they're in another room, and they stay there for
the rest of the cut, playing some of the most melodic and 'inside'
music on the whole album. But group identity is still subverted,
cuz they're in another room.
Even though it's all instrumental,
it's segued like a concept album. What the concept is, I'm not
sure...I guess all we have to go on is the titles...so, we've
got "the insane," and people accuse (accouse?) them....of
things....which makes their dream-distorted world more turbulent
(the cloud style piano action of "The Accousers"),
and leads to a culture of "Remorse" because their
lot is sorry, and innocent people die, which causes more remorse,
and haunts your imagination ("The Ghosts of the Innocents")
until the inevitable "Descent", either of their spirits
or of yours, into "the last refuge of the insane":
death. Or maybe it's something else. Either way, just by listening
to it, I feel like I've read a book. One I plan to reread a
few more times.
TA/W CD-R (KRKRKRK RECORDINGS)
is a live CD-R that, instead of documenting one band's set on
one night, documents sets by six different bands on one night.
(March 10, 2001, or as these Kiwi-types put it, 10 March 2001,
recorded "live at the kRkRkRk headquarters in central Christchurch.")
The first performer is NOTV, which is James Robinson, "formerly
of TMA-1 and co-founder of [kRkRkRk]." He does a naked-sounding
set where he makes an obnoxious quasi-vocal electronic noise,
which he then starts to loop and play tinkling toy-electro keyboard
over the top. I like the toy-electro keyboard quite a bit. He
starts to loop that too in a pretty nervoid 'John Carpenter's
theme from Halloween' kinda way...and then the track
Next is Ed Wilson, the "man
behind Sedative and Fragmentation as well as axe grinder for
kRk supergroup MiG21" and "also responsible for organizing
this performance & recording." Well, to again get all
Kiwi: good on ya, Ed! He does some drony solo guitar...certainly
a common approach by this point but that doesn't mean it can't
still be good...and Ed does it good. Very crunchy fuzz and dismantlement,
with a compresso/distorto tone that makes the music sound like
it's coming through a cheese grater. Ed has two tracks on here
-- the second features more traditional guitar playing, i.e.
notes and chords and things, albeit dissonant notes and chords
and things, in a quasi-Incus style.
Next is Drawing Room, which
is "David Khan, former Leonard Nimoy member and current
MiG21 driver and kRk curator...helped out here by Lynton Denovan
on cymbals." Khan lays out more drone, this one of a more
intangible and apparently controllable nature than Wilson's
guitar, as it bores away in one frequency without any crunchiness
or dismantlement. It's a pretty numbing and hazy frequency...the
type of thing I could listen to for a lot longer than I might
initially think. And, about six minutes in, slow change does
start to occur...Denovan's cymbals contribution seems a little
superfluous, and, appropriately, it ends after just a minute
or two. Thing is, it allows Khan's thing a 'live' context in
which to be heard. The liner notes describe how he made this
thing: with "field recordings of rain & hail digitally
processed through various effects & detuned in pitch, digitally
processed samples of [something "balls"--it's
a weird font], balinese rainmaker & electric heater
grille," AND "analogue synth." All for that little
Richard Neave is in
the CM Ensemble, here documented as he "puts his $10 guitar
where his mouth is." More Incus-y solo guitar performance.
He makes tinkly pinkly sounds with the high strings while chugging
on extremely detuned lower strings. The music reminds me of
David Fair's essay How To Play Guitar: "I taught
myself to play guitar. Itís incredibly easy when you understand
the science of it. The skinny strings play the high sounds,
and the fat strings play the low sounds. If you put your finger
on the string father out by the tuning end it makes a lower
sound. If you want to play fast move your hand fast and if you
want to play slower move your hand slower. Thatís all there
is to it." For the record, the liner notes say "richard
does not endorse these tracks."
Next is Polio,
a/k/a Peter Wright himself, "another kRk co-founder, ex
TMA-1 and current CM Ensemble member." He's credited with
"digital electronic trickery" and "cheap bourbon."
The first couple minutes of the track feature the chattering
of the audience. It's hard to tell when the set starts exactly,
but when the audience starts to quiet a bit you know Mr. Wright
is up and running, with very high-pitched, keening electronic
tones. They start talking again, but Wright actually gets them
to quiet down again by changing from keening tones to
blipping tones. The track, even as it gets up into dog-friendly
frequencies, has a nicely sleepy and dazed feel to it -- maybe
something to do with that cheap bourbon. Some heartfelt applause
is heard at the end, though it's edited out of the other tracks
The last performer
is KYN, which is "Charles Horn, also sometime CM Ensemble
conspirator, in his solo homemade electronics mode." A
good sounding track, like far-off prepared guitar chiming, except
that it's homemade electronics. Mysterious and somewhat cavernous,
especially when the chiming becames thunderous scraping (sculpture
shaking?) towards the end.
For a CD-R package
it's pretty nice -- a standard "7-inch style" slip-bag,
but each performer has his own full-color insert with artwork
and liner notes and whatnot. More than one of the artists present
dense cut-up writing, and all the inserts are nice to look at,
with colorful images. When the label says "Ta/W contains
pretty much everything that today's context-free traveller could
hope for in a live cd," they are surprisingly close to
being accurate. [Note: all quotes from the one-sheet. "For
further information contact David Khan: firstname.lastname@example.org.")
now....AN INTERVIEW WITH PETER WRIGHT himself!
Can you give an overview of your various projects, like Polio,
Atonal Death, CM Ensemble...are there more? How do they differ?
What, if anything, makes certain recordings "Peter Wright" rather
than "Polio" or anything else? The main difference between
"polio" & "Peter Wright" is the method used to construct the
music. Polio is strictly digital music, the 'solo' project is
based around electro-acoustic instruments, particularly the
guitar. There's certainly a similar purpose to both projects,
which is that of exploratory drone soundscapes & polio uses
the same source material as PW, so I suppose it's all in the
processing! A couple of my earlier CDs were constructed on the
computer (Syncopate & Radioplay) & this led me
to separate the two methods of recording into different specific
projects. I usually concentrate on the PW stuff first & then
digitally manipulate the 'outtakes' to construct polio music.
Call it recycled composition I guess. With polio I also intend
to have guests perform with me, so it won't strictly always
be the solo effort it has been so far.
The Atonal Death project was
meant to be a one off tongue-in-cheek noise outfit which eventually
evolved into what I do now as Peter Wright. Tongue-in-cheek
because I'm not actually that much of a fan of noise music (by
noise I mean pure relentless electronic noise like Merzbow on
a bad day, not noise-improv like Keiji Haino). I appreciate
the concept, and when exercised well it is quite effective,
especially live, but most of what I've heard doesn't excite
me a great deal. In any case the point was lost because I never
issued the noise recordings of AD, with the exception of a couple
of tracks on the Plasma cassette.
I was pretty knocked
out by Last Refuge of the Insane. Are you a full-time
member of the CM Ensemble? How did you evolve into what you
do now? The CM Ensemble is a very transient, constantly
evolving group led by Nick Hodgson, who plays almost any instrument
you can throw at him. He's a bandleader of sorts, vaguely in
the tradition of a Sun Ra or a Duke Ellington. He generally
comes up with the concepts and builds a group around whatever
his requirements may be. He's played with many talented musicians
and non-musicians over the last 10 or more years, so he's got
quite a range of choices for any given project. I've had a hand
in about half of the actual recorded output of the group but
there's a lot more that hasn't been heard yet.
To say that the music has
evolved in any way is probably not the best way to state it.
I suppose we really can't be pinned down into any category as
most of the group have no idea where the next project is going
to take us. It's not always jazz-based music. We've worked with
electric improv and contemporary compositional forms. It's always
interesting, and for me it's been kind of an education in various
music stylisations. Seeing experienced musicians improvise together,
and then getting to play alongside these guys has been a great
experience and has introduced me to musical forms that have
always eluded me in the past. The best thing is even though
I have no real musical training I can still find a niche to
fit into within the ensemble. Everyone has a role. It's a lot
The group has a
surprisingly original concept of what acoustic free jazz can
sound like...can the band also play the 'changes'? The 'blues'?
Tunes by Monk/Ayler/Coleman/
anyone? I suppose the originality stems from the mixture
of virtuoso talent spread amongst a bunch of amateurs like me.
In other words, if anybody did play the changes I'd probably
miss the cue, unless it was written down in a language I could
understand. In some cases Nick actually does compose a piece
for the group to play, which consists of a score for those who
read music, and a series of symbols representing certain styles
of playing for those of us who are musically illiterate. 'The
Ghosts of the Innocents' off the Last Refuge... disc
is one example of such a composition, although there was no
actual music written down, just a structured plan of action
with parts for each musician. For some unexplained reason the
compromise of having skilled & unskilled musicians improvising
together actually comes off, and it's a great feeling to be
part of that.
last track on Duna is credited as a live performance.
It sounds like it could easily be more than one person...is
it just you? What is your set-up for shows like this? Yes,
that was all my doing, at Jeff Henderson's art gallery in Wellington.
There's photos to prove it! For that particular show I used
a guitar, a loop/delay pedal, a nanoverb reverb unit and a violin
bow near the end. Very straightforward stuff out of necessity
as I had to travel a reasonable distance from my home town to
play. If I'm playing in Christchurch I might use a second guitar
and different effects, but generally that's about as extravagant
as I get for a live performance. I'm not a big fan of spending
hours setting up for a show. I like to keep things as uncomplicated
What is the Christchurch
scene like for live 'avant' performances? Do you play out of
town? New Zealand is a pretty small place, and Christchurch
is a small city, so the scope for performing this kind of music
regularly is equally narrow. There's a couple of bars in town
that serve as reasonably regular spaces for performances, and
recently our main art gallery has started showcasing some avant
music events (which have included appearances by luminaries
such as Otomo Yoshihide & Phil Niblock), but in general we just
don't get out much, and when we do not many punters show up.
Even a band like the Dead C with the following that they have
in the US just doesn't get a great deal of coverage in their
homeland, the 3 minute live TV appearance notwithstanding.
The kRkRkRk label
was founded 10 years ago...what kind of music did it originally
document? kRkRkRk started out as a cassette label which
issued home recordings by a band I was in at the time (1991-94)
called TMA-1. Most early releases revolved around our group
& solo projects, as is common with underground labels, then
we started to release similar stuff from friends & acquaintances
in Christchurch. The kind of music? Well, TMA-1 was influenced
by early 80's industrial & pop music (Cabaret Votaire, Laibach,
early Flying Nun...), we had a drum machine etc so that kind
of dictated where we were coming from. Most of the early tapes
continued in that vein before eventually branching out to include
more free noise styles, influenced in my case by a Sonic Youth
show supported by the Dead C & Peter Jefferies in 1993. Today
kRkRkRk covers all bases within those broad parameters. It no
longer releases cassettes, only CDRs, but has remained faithful
to the home recording underground ethic.
What led you to
start Apoplexy? I wanted to release a lathe cut record and
kRkRkRk was leaping into CDR only territory so I came up with
a new label, initially to be lathe only, but eventually choosing
not to restrict formats because of the financial costs involved,
CDRs rapidly becoming cheaper to make. It also served as a regeneration
for me as I'd become a little disenchanted with the lack of
coverage & recognition that kRkRkRk had received & I felt there
wasn't good enough quality control; we were releasing heaps
of cassettes without doing much promotion because no one could
really be bothered, certainly not me! I wanted to start something
that I had complete control over direction-wise and could selfishly
promote as my own thing and hopefully generate enough interest
so that eventually someone else would come along and release
my music for me, leaving me free to just be the creative element
in the process. At the end of the day the label will hopefully
serve as an interim stage to that next level, which is why all
my releases up till now are in very limited editions.
Last five records
listened to: Neil Young 'After The Goldrush', Rafael Toral
'Violence of Discovery and Calm of Exceptance', John Cale 'Sun
Blindness Music', The Supremes 'Ultimate Collection', Nick Drake
'Five Leaves Left'
Last movies seen: 'Stranger
Than Paradise', 'The Killing', 'The Lord Of The Rings' (no,
I didn't like it much...), 'Monsters Inc' (much better...)
Last books read:
Charles Bukowski 'Tales of a Dirty Old Man', Christopher Brookmyer
'A Big Boy Did It & Ran Away'
Planning to head to the UK at the end of the year for an indefinate
period. My aim is to perform a little more this year before
I go, and ultimately I want to get my newly completed CD released
somewhere by somebody that I don't have to pay!
Christopher Dean Heine on Sports