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Feb. 20th, 2017

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London Serpent Trio - Le Chant du Départ

The serpent is an obsolete musical instrument. To its fans and admirers that may sound harsh, but it's hard to ignore the fact. It's hard to play and it sounds pretty awful. Anything that requires such a prodigious amount of effort to produce such disappointing results is clearly not long for this world. There's just no space any more for a twisty pipe made out of wood and leather that sounds like a elderly vuvuzela. And that's precisely why we're so affectionate towards the instrument here at Doklands. What could be better than the serpent?

How about three of them?

The London Serpent Trio were founded in 1976, from the glory years of Arts Council funding. Here they are playing the French revolutionary song Le Chant du Départ. It shows the frailties and distinctive character of the serpent particularly well, marching off to war despite a nasty case of emphysema.

London Serpent Trio - Le Chant du Départ
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Feb. 19th, 2017

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Noveller - Deep Shelter

I read a lot of people calling Sarah Lipstate, who records as Noveller, a drone guitarist. Absolutely not the case. Her work is textural: not ambient and certainly not droning. Listen to the magnificent sonic vastness of Deep Shelter from her 2017 release A Pink Sunset For No One. You get super rich and deep, almost liturgical keyboard sounds juxtaposed against an array of guitar shapes. Half of it is majorly relaxed, and half is frenetic trilling right on the edge of hearing. A great bit of melancholy.

Noveller - Deep Shelter
(alt)

Feb. 18th, 2017

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Ô Paon - Fleuve III

Part '80s 4AD indie, part minimalism, part ecclesiastical: Geneviève Castrée ticks a lot of nostalgia boxes here at Doklands. Singing entirely in French, she wouldn't have sounded out of place on one of Ivo Watts-Russell's special projects. She fits some massive drones into Fleuve III but still manages to make them dark and arch and a little bit art school. That would normally be a criticism, but this is just so super intense that it demands reassessment. A terrific sound from her 2015 album Fleuve.

Ô Paon - Fleuve III
(alt)

Feb. 17th, 2017

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Max Ochs - Raga 2

Takoma Records was the indie label started by John Fahey in 1959 to release his own music. As the years went on he added a few other guitarists whose work interested him, most notably Robbie Basho. In 1967 the compilation Contemporary Guitar was released. On it were two pieces by Max Ochs, both simply tited Raga.

Now the interesting thing about these is that they're definitely not ragas, not by any means. The scales are all over the place, for a start. They do have that Indian style of arpeggiation and rhythmic accompaniment, but that's all. But the thing that's deep in this music is the blues picking. Occasionally Ochs hits a note just so and you can hear the Mississippi delta. It's not what you'd call a success, but it is fascinating to hear the experimentation. Lots of surface noise on this vinyl rip, just as a warning.

Max Ochs - Raga 2
(alt)

Feb. 16th, 2017

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Protein - Naturtrüb

Protein are the duo of Tobias Laemmert and Hans Rodrian. They released the album Süss in 2000 and then nothing for another 14 years. Naturtrüb is a little oddity from that record. It's got a simple, naive electronic melody that's joined by some very bendy guitar. The keyboards sound like a bubbling pipe and a pond full of frogs. It's slightly silly but manages to keep a straight face throughout. Quite adorable in addition to being an interesting combination of natural and synthetic sounds.

Protein - Naturtrüb
(alt)

Feb. 15th, 2017

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Clive Fencott - London Building & Home Insurance

One thing I've learned recently is that if you want to listen to sound poetry recordings, you'd better be prepared to put up with some pretty shoddy recording quality. However fascinating many of them are, they do have a tendency to sound like they were recorded on a cassette recorder that was just lying on a table nearby the performance. To be fair, a lot of them probably were.

That's one of the reasons why you've got to cherish pieces like Clive Fencott's London Building & Home Insurance, from the 1983 release Oral Complex at the L.M.C.. Fencott has constantly sought new forms of poetic expression over the years and has never been shy of experimenting with new technologies. His output includes interactive fiction and Android apps, and this early trip to the London Musicians' Collective makes great use of echo and tape effects. Growls, plosives and other unidentifiable bits of vocalese twist back on themselves to produce shifting multilayered sonic edifices, forever building up and falling down. Not for the faint hearted.

Clive Fencott - London Building & Home Insurance
(alt)

Feb. 14th, 2017

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Folke Rabe - What??

Minimalism is the centre point of music, and everyone approaches it from a different direction. Folke Rabe started his musical career playing trombone in Dixieland jazz bands in Sweden, but also studied under Ligeti and Lutosławski. His pioneering drone work What?? dates back to 1967 during a residency at the electronic workshop of Swedish Radio. A lot has been written about how it was constructed, focussing on technical aspects relating to the differing harmonics involved, but rather less about how it feels. A lot of drone pieces feel very centred. They feel physical, part of the body, radiating out in all directions. What?? is very different. It sits above the listener's head like a small glowing cloud, self-contained and unknowable. It is sound poised and ready for action, like a cat quivering and ready to pounce. Yet it never does. It is the ultimate tease.

Folke Rabe - What??

Feb. 13th, 2017

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Sounds of North American Frogs - Warning Croak Accompanied By Warning Vibration Of The Southern Toad

Just a heads up for you: if you ever need to know what North American frogs and toads sound like, you won't do better than the album The Biological Significance Of Voice In Frogs, as narrated by Charles M. Bogert. It was released by Smithsonian Folkways in 1958, and Bogert has the voice to match. Whether you approach it as a primary source of scientific data, kitsch sound art, or a previously untapped source of audio samples1 is entirely up to you. Personally I adore the acid squelchiness of these noises made by the Southern toad (bufo terrestris).

1. Hello Matmos.

Sounds of North American Frogs - Warning Croak Accompanied By Warning Vibration Of The Southern Toad
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Feb. 12th, 2017

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Ruth Garbus - Video Piano

Deceptively simple minor-key singing from Ruth Garbus. She sounds dispassionately lost, much like Alison Statton from seminal post-punk outfit Young Marble Giants. The difference is, this is nominally folk music, in as much as she's accompanied by her acoustic guitar. You won't convince me of that though. It's from the 2010 album Rendezvous With Rama, and it's an absolute gem.

Ruth Garbus - Video Piano
(alt)

Feb. 11th, 2017

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Anarchist Republic of Bzzz - All One

Cross-cultural music is a bit of a minefield. All too often it reeks of appropriation, of wearing someone else's medals. It's gap year music. The Anarchist Republic of Bzzz are entirely unlike that. They're a genuinely international outfit bringing together talents such as Seb el Zin, Luc Ex, Arto Lindsay, and the twin drum backing of Onur Secki and Ismail Altunbas. The band throw jazz, hip hop, and middle eastern styles in a noisy experimental mix in a way that sounds positively dangerous. At a stretch, you could say that this feeling of danger is the new orientalism, that it's music that trades off actual strife to give it an edge, but to me this sounds like good old fashioned international solidarity. Punks and anarchists everywhere say hi. Enjoy the menace of All One which sees Juice Aleem duetting with Kurdish singer Rojda Aykoç. From the 2016 album United Diktaturs of Europe.

Anarchist Republic of Bzzz - All One
(alt)

Feb. 10th, 2017

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ぬりえほん Coloringbook - Laflaysiil

Take a few thousand short samples from other songs. Stitch and layer them by hand. Repeat this process for over a decade. ぬりえほん Coloringbook has just released the preliminary results of this process, the album Infinite Variations (Demos), and it's probably the most meticulous and most arduously assembled work of plunderphonica ever.

With most sample-based music it's obvious that it's been created from various sources. Not so with this. The craftsmanship in hiding the seams is extraordinary. That's not to say that it sounds naturalistic. Laflaysiil starts as a cascade of twinkling trip-hop stars, princess pink and adorned with online glitter, all smoothed over by a sheen of kitsch. It's massively intricate but still tremendously pretty. At least it is until the wicked stepmother starts to elbow her way into the frame. The bar has been raised.

ぬりえほん Coloringbook - Laflaysiil
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Feb. 9th, 2017

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Taraf De Haïdouks - Turcească

None of your wimpy folk music today. Turcească, or 'Turkish Dance', is amongst the most exuberant and most demented pieces of music you will ever hear. Taraf De Haïdouks are a troupe of traditional musicians from rural southern Romanian, and quite simply they play the everloving fuck out of their instruments. It's music to drive away anguish with merciless speed, the devastating polyphony forever falling over itself to reach the next beat. Utterly amazing.

Taraf De Haïdouks - Turcească
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Feb. 8th, 2017

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Áine O'Dwyer - The Little Lord of Misrule

For her 2012 album Music for Church Cleaners, Áine O'Dwyer was given access to the organ at St Mark's in Islington. The thing is, it's a working church. It wasn't going to close its doors just so that she could improvise at the manuals. No, she had to share her time with the cleaners.

All of which makes it an absolutely fascinating album. There's little in the way of religiosity. The building is full of people doing very ordinary and very un-church like activities. That includes on The Little Lord of Misrule a small child who has accompanied a parent to work and is playing noisily throughout. It's a genuinely fascinating and rather subversive piece of work.

Áine O'Dwyer - The Little Lord of Misrule
(alt)

Feb. 7th, 2017

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Pussy Riot - Make America Great Again

It's always interesting to hear what Pussy Riot are doing. They're in a very unusual position where even if their music is not what you'd actually call 'good', it can't fail to be of cultural value. No wonder other bands resent them. It's understandable, but it misses the point. They're not really a band, more an art collective/protest group who have chosen music as their medium.

Likewise, we shouldn't expect their music to be stylistically constant. It's tailored to the situation. When they had to evade the Russian authorities they were hit and run punks. Now, with a bit more leisure to do their work there's no need for that. Even so, it's a bit of a shock to hear Make America Great Again, recorded by Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina. It's sunny beach pop, catchy and facile, St Tropez by way of Rio. Released as part of the XXX EP just before the 2016 US elections it's not exactly what you'd call subtle, and arguably nor should it have been. Still, the tone is so starkly at odds with the current climate that it will probably be remembered as a failed experiment. More Molotov cocktails in future please.

Pussy Riot - Make America Great Again
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Feb. 6th, 2017

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Odd Nosdam - Hey Friend

Hey Friend is a track with a very distinctive mood. It's from David "Odd Nosdman" Madson's 2016 release Music For Raising, and is built around a repeating monastic chant. Even with most surrounding rhythmic elements stripped away, there's something obviously not quite right about this. There should be drums there, drums that would help you make sense of what's going on, but instead you're left with this voice that's gone deep into itself to find this beat. Experimental music with a deep chain of echo and bleeding reverb and maybe a seed of 1980s keyboards. You want to hear this.

Odd Nosdam - Hey Friend
(alt)

Feb. 3rd, 2017

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Holy Fuck - Chimes Broken

Holy Fuck make great rhythms. If you're going to have hypnotic analogue synth parts, there is nothing better to pair them with than some uninhibited drumming. Throw in some echoing wordless vocals and you've got some magnificent sonic space being filled. I'd really recommend listening to Chimes Broken from the band's 2016 release Congrats.

Holy Fuck - Chimes Broken
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Feb. 2nd, 2017

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Black Eyes - Someone Has His Fingers Broken

Aw damn what a great bit of noise punk this is. Black Eyes were equally dedicated to both words of the genre, making music that was both angry and danceable, and full of atonal squall. I love the way the deformed shredding of the opening guitar solidifies into something resembling a melody. Someone Has His Fingers Broken is post-hardcore goodness from the band's eponymous 2003 debut.

Black Eyes - Someone Has His Fingers Broken
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Feb. 1st, 2017

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Oval - Sensa

Oval were the undisputed kings of '90s ambient glitch music. They took the sound of skipping CDs and made it pretty. By the time of their 2001 album Ovalcommers however, they were no longer quite so ridiculously good looking.

Here's a track from that album. Sensa is still true to the band's more ambient past. Rather than showing conventional structures, it's instinctive music, each moment a reaction to the previous. It has the same disturbed surface that listeners had come to expect from the band, but underneath things had changed dramatically. Instead of the smooth, still substrate for the cracks to refract across, it's now the sound of oversaturated media. It's rich and it's noisy. Back then most listeners weren't prepared to see the beauty in noise, and this has remained a much underrated recording. Time to reassess.

Oval - Sensa
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Jan. 31st, 2017

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Robert Wyatt - The Red Flag

CHAPTER 3,757
In which the author is drunk and typically bolshy

So here's the thing about The Red Flag: for years if you heard the tune you knew exactly what you were getting. You were getting the de facto anthem of socialism. Okay, maybe if you were German you might be getting a folk song about a loyal fir tree with some faithful leaves that last all year round, but that was the exception.

And then more and more people started singing O Christmas Tree.

Sure, some of them probably did it because it seemed like a nice tune, and some of them did it because hey, it's Christmas, we'll sing anything with that in the title. But some of them did it very deliberately because they wanted to overwrite the cultural association with leftist politics and claim the tune as a Christmas carol. Am I being paranoid and ridiculous? It's hard to deny that it really does suit the weak and base to haul the sacred emblem down, etc. We're not going to get that tune back without a fight, and the only way to do that it to listen to it and to sing it.

So here's the song of the peoples' flag and the peoples' struggle, sung by Robert Wyatt on his 1982 album Nothing Can Stop Us. Do you know someone who might have been persuaded that the song is an embarrassing old relic? Join in, sincerely. Lend them your strength. We're in this together.

Robert Wyatt - The Red Flag
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Jan. 30th, 2017

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John Foxx - Burning Car

I thought I'd revisit a teenage favourite today to find out how well it's aged. I've probably not heard the stark electronic classic Burning Car in 35 years, when I last put its picture disc back inside the flimsy plastic sleeve for the final time. Picture discs had notorious poor fidelity back then, and my old record player would have done it no favours at all, but I was still surprised to hear the clarity of the production. It's a properly disconcerting contrast between the harsh electronics and Foxx's lush yet expressionless voice. Is it still as sonically shocking as it sounded to my more innocent ears? Well actually yes, kind of, in places at least. In the pursuit of innovation it's also a little rhythmically awkward, even gawky. But that's fine, I think. This was never music that was going to fit in anywhere, and considering that it's basically electropop it's to its credit how uncompromising this still sounds today.

John Foxx - Burning Car
(alt)

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