This month’s Electronic Sound magazine contains my feature titled ‘Parallel Worlds’ examining worlds beyond electronic sound, into pre-electronic and post-electronic music. It coincides with the release of the Oscillatorial Binnage album ‘Agitations: Post-Electronic Sounds‘ (Sub Rosa) where classical electronic sound techniques are explored acoustically. A blogpost on the main Miraculous Agitations blog offers some additional perspectives, focussing on a Victorian proto-electronic toneshaping device called ‘Le Vibrateur‘, patented by the mysterious Eugene Ernest Bornand in 1879, and viewed here through the gauze of modern electronic soundmaking.
Also this month, one of my earlier blog posts about arbitrary microtonal scales from hollow rocks is republished by The Silo.
Oscillatorial Binnage’s ‘Agitations: Post-Electronic Sounds‘ is finally released via Sub Rosa. The album has been in-the-works for some years, and is now available as download or on CD (which is accompanied by an illustrated booklet).
The recordings are entirely post-electronic, arbitrarily microtonal music created using mechanical assemblies of found objects, resonated with electromagnetic force fields. Distribution has been slowed by the pandemic, but it’s available on Bandcamp (and also directly from me – see below). Mirroring the current situation, the album envisions an apocalyptic paradigm shift scenario, necessitating adaptation in the face of adverse conditions (in this case, an imagined post-electronic situation: how might musicians create exploratory electronic music, with its emphasis on waveshaping, filters and modulation processes, without any synthesisers? This album provides the answer).
Oscillatorial Binnage is Fari Bradley, Chris Weaver, Toby Clarkson, and myself. We’ve been performing together for fifteen years, during which time we’ve introduced many unusual new electroacoustic instruments, along with the concept of acoustic hacking. ‘Agitations‘ features the electromagnetic resonators that I’ve been developing since 2004. We’ve given many workshops around the world, teaching participants how to access the hidden frequencies of scrap objects using coils and force fields, and how, by acoustically combining workshoppers’ apparatuses all together, even more complex sounds can be produced: communal apparatuses are fertile instruments for ‘miraculous agitations’.
Miraculous agitations are instances of complex sonic progressions, usually emerging from clustered vibrating objects (see previous blogposts for more explanations). Obtaining these emergent states requires patience, but the probability of such states occurring increases with the size of the apparatus. In 2013, Oscillatorial Binnage spent a week at Maggie Thomas and Bob Drake‘s Borde Basse studio in the south of France, loaded up with as many salvaged/adapted objects as we could haul. Over the course of our stay, we gradually coaxed elusive ‘miraculous’ states to emerge from our vibrating apparatuses, not without some grind (Bob, engineering the proceedings, notably had a box of headache tablets on standby).
In France, where the bulk of material was recorded, Bob and Maggie’s array of microphones captured many moments when our apparatuses would become locked into resonating grooves. The album collects all these instances, recorded entirely acoustically without any electronic processing. These moments – technically known as ’emergence’ – are one of the principal advantages post-electronic apparatuses have over electronic synthesiser-based equivalents: the possibility of unexpected sonic events arising from an infinity of real-world physical variables. Another benefit is the economical, recycling aspect: all soundmaking and filtering modules can be found for free.
The CD edition is available either through Bandcamp, or alternatively, can be obtained from me here (see contact page) for £11 with free P&P for the UK. The limited edition [now sold out] includes a foreword by Nicolas Collins (author of ‘Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking‘).
An artist’s book has been published to coincide with Room40‘s digital re-release of the three volumes of Aki Onda‘s Cassette Memories sound project. The limited edition 23-page ‘I Lost My Memory‘ contains Aki Onda’s photography and his story behind Cassette Memories. I supplied a supplementary essay entitled ‘Tape, Psyche, Montage and Magic: The Cassette Memories of Aki Onda’ exploring Onda’s work and the esoteric uses of tape. Some further information can be read on the main Miraculous Agitations blog.
‘I Lost My Memory‘ also reveals, for the first time, the long-lost identity of an anonymous author writing in 1932, who battled memory fugue to pool his memories for a book of the same title: ‘I Lost My Memory: The Case as the Patient Saw It‘ (published by Faber & Faber).
Extreme detail of Van de Moortel’s ‘Bomb Culture’ (2019)
Noise, forever fizzing at the edges of musical vocabulary, forms the topic of an essay I’ve written for Joris Van de Moortel‘s new artist’s book ‘A Dubious Pilgrimage‘, out now. Van de Moortel is an artist/musician who terms his performances ‘Messes’, riffing on the Catholic Mass but with messier sacraments that assail guitars, amplifiers and other unsuspecting instruments to the point of overload.
The essay is titled “Van de Moortel’s Goception in the Mess: Byways in the History of Noise’s Ongoing Transmutation into Music”, and this noise/music transmutation is viewed through the lens of the literary work of a Victorian chemist and would-be poet John Carrington Sellars titled ‘Chemistianity (Popular Knowledge of Chemistry)‘ (1873). The made-up word ‘goception’ is deployed by Sellars in that work to signify chemical reaction – a neologism precariously invented by him to achieve poetic flow.
With chemical reactions – or ‘goceptions’ – in mind, a longer blogpost over at the main Miraculous Agitations blog examines some instances where artists have used physical copies of The Wire magazine as raw ingredient in artworks. The Wire is a catalyst Joris Van de Moortel often uses in his creative work, most explicitly in his ‘A love affair with Excess’ series where distressed snippets of text from The Wire‘s ‘Excess All Areas’ special 2019 issue are squirrelled into mixed-media artworks. My ‘Bomb Culture’ history of musical explosions text was thereby transformed into an artwork infused with Van de Moortel’s own performative lore.
Strangely, a Wire magazine feature I’d written eight years previously was artfully collaged in Allen Fisher‘s concrete poetry book ‘SPUTTOR‘ (2014). But maybe this isn’t so strange given The Wire situating itself within experimental culture? The fact that I’m by no means a regular contributor to the magazine suggests this is just the tip of an iceberg, and that artistic, collage, poetic/concretic, decoupage and personalisation uses of The Wire are to be expected? An interesting topic to investigate…
A blogpost over at the main Miraculous Agitations blog introduces two very different projects I recently contributed to. One of these projects is titled Project Symbiosis, and, as it happens, the process of symbiosis forms the underlying theme of that blogpost (which is prefaced by a meditation on perceived ‘impossibilities’ pervading acts of promotion in my own recent wrigglings).
Project Symbiosis is a CD+booklet curated by Brighton-based audiovisual artist/author/filmmaker/circuit-constructor Ian Helliwell. It contains ten different interpretations of the same graphic score, including the original recording by the score’s composer, Malcolm Pointon. The exploratory score, Symbiosis, was published in Practical Electronics magazine in 1975 as an exercise in electronic music-making, intended to be realised on a ‘Minisonic’ synthesiser – its circuit also published by the magazine a year earlier. A supplementary booklet gives details on all the different versions (available via Public Information). I supplied a microtonal version of Symbiosis.
From the experimental to the (nominally) chart-bound: this year I was given the opportunity, to paraphrase David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, to patch myself back into the world’s mixing board of humanity by reworking a radio-friendly track about human relationships (whatever they are), entitled ‘Floundering’ by musician and sound artist Kalou aka Samuel Shelton Robinson. It appears on Kalou’s new album The Sculpture Garden, idealised as a cassette release (but also available as download). Kalou’s output ranges from postmodern experimental montage to quirky pop, zested with neurosis. The Sculpture Garden is Kalou’s most commercial release, and it rather obscures its creator’s deeper interests in offbeat sound engineering.
Ian Helliwell, and surprisingly, Kalou too, touched upon issues of visibility, audience engagement and ‘undergroundness’ on two separate broadcasts on Resonance FM last month, on William English’s Wavelength.
As a freelancer, many pitches and proposals become little more than yelps into an abyss. At the end of 2019 I’ve decided to relinquish a continually rejected article by posting it in full at the main Miraculous Agitations blog for people to read. Ironically, it’s about noise and the ways anti-noise campaigners promote their cause. In fact, like a nest of rejected Russian Matryoshka dolls, the blogpost also contains the essence of my BBC radio documentary pitch on anti-noise campaigning which has been rejected in various forms over the years. In all, the text implicitly questions how we process noise – in all senses of the word – and the paradoxical ways that noise might be countered (with passing reference to the instrumentality of celebrity and popular culture), all presented via deep archive archaeology. The core of the piece concerns The Darlington Quiet Town Experiment, one of the ‘noisiest’ anti-noise campaigns ever seen in Britain, and something I’ve been collecting material on for many years.
The odd synchronicities that often arise whilst engaged in long-running archival research is also in evidence – subtle links between disparate sources; ethereal silver cords amidst the noise. One unusual discovery was of the earliest published story by stage and television’s Mark Gatiss – ‘The Anti-Noise Machine’ – an extraordinarily rich science-fiction nugget penned by the writer/actor aged eleven.
Filmmaker William English (of ResonanceFM‘s radio show Wavelength) has just released an artist’s book loosely themed around Leicester, or rather, Leicester-as-a-state-of-mind. I worked on its graphic design, and even supplied a rather discursive foreword. It’s titled ‘Perfect Binding: Made in Leicester‘ and to encapsulate the essence of it is tricky, but a new blogpost over at the main Miraculous Agitations blog offers some perspectives on it. Anybody interested in the psychologies behind mid-20th century counterculture will find much to chew upon.
My talk was about the pre-history of electronic music, but also acknowledged the ongoing dynamics that bring about thwarted histories in the historical continuum. Thwarted histories are discovered whilst scrounging across auctionhouses, second-hand bookshops, bins, and other venues at culture’s tail end – the histories I presented were excavated in this way… They included Johann Baptist Schalkenbach’s electrical music, Alfred Graham’s Victorian feedback device, the first electronic sequencer of 1925, and Delawarr Laboratories thought-to-frequency Multi-Oscillator. It has been an enduring source of surprise to me that these unknown episodes I’ve excavated have not found wider interest among publishers (I did self-publish a comb-bound edition of ‘The Magnetic Music of the Spiritual World‘ in 2015) and in the light of this I’ve come to theorise that ‘thwarted histories’ have an almost occult aspect wherein their essence of neglect can somehow persist into the present-day. The question is: how can this thwarting force be grappled with? Possible answers were touched upon during other talks at the salon…
In contrast to The Wire‘s Minimalism special last year, this month’s issue is themed around ‘excess’. I contribute a short history of the use of explosives in music. Some additional coruscations on this topic can be found on the main Miraculous Agitations blog.
A new blogpost over at the main Miraculous Agitations blog examines a few 1860s publications of the Brighton printer and publisher J. F. Eyles, and reveals a very curious ‘pre-postmodern’ text (described as a “wild bit of writing”) appearing in an 1860 issue of Eyles’ newspaper, The Brighton Examiner (one of the many interesting newspapers not yet available online as a digitised resource, currently existing only as restricted/fragile volumes held at The British Library).