issue 11   dec 2001/jan 2002
page 11



This 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.

I 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 it):
      "The Accousers" (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.

       "Remorse" (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, 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.

This 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 suddenly stops.
     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 drone..
       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 on here.
        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:")



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 of fun.
       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/
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.
       The 30-minute last track on Duna is credited as a live performance. It sounds like it could easily be more than one 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 as possible.
       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'
       Future plans? 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