Sean Paul Tremens – For The Bees (CD / Concrete Rapture, 2009)
Small scale re-enactment of Stockhausen’s legendary Helicopter Quartet, performed by gluing tiny radio microphones to four African bumblebees kept in a large tupperware container. While impressed by the concept of Stockhausen’s original work, the practice left me somewhat cold; I wanted so much more than just a string quartet with vertigo. In that respect, Tremens’ work is faithful to that which it pays homage. In theory: both an amusing satire of a musical landmark, and a legitimate study of the recent trend for down-sizing. In practice: four bees in a tin. Utter nonsense.
Go! Go! Michigan! – Go! Lo-tech (CDr / Go Lie Down Records, 2008)
Once upon a time, Japanese ex-Fluxus artist Yasunao Tone pioneered the use of ‘wounded’ CDs – scratched, broken, painted-on discs played on customised CD players to dizzying effect. Before him, Boyd Rice pioneered the use of locked grooves on vinyl records to hypnotically unsettling effect. Before that, Pierre Henry, Pierre Schaffer and the rest of the musique concrete crowd pioneered the use of magnetic tape splicing to revolutionary effect. So, what’s left? How about wax cylinders? It’s almost too obvious. The results? Exactly as you’d expect given that the album consists of 10 attempts to play badly damaged wax cylinders of ineptly sung nursery rhymes. Thomas Edison must be spinning in his grave (at around 90rpm).
Various Artists – Greengrocery (LP / Institutional, 2010)
Surreal spoken word compilation. Eleven different people with fruit and vegetable agnosia attempt, without success, to describe the merchandise on offer in a North London grocery store.
The Olfactory Band – Arrivederci Aroma (CD / Home Improv, 2005, reissued 2010)
Collective of little known European improvisers, subjected to various overpowering odours in the studio during recording. Inevitably, the scents have a significant influence on the music: ‘Sweat’ is 5 minutes of itchy, claustrophobic and damp scribbling and scraping, whereas ‘Freshly Baked Bread’ is light, warm and yeasty. As a colleague discovered, it’s fun to listen to this for the first time without knowing the track titles and attempt to guess the smell. He got ‘Bad Eggs’, ‘Brand New Car’ and ‘Old Leather Shoe’ just about right, but was pretty wide of the mark for ‘Herring’, ‘Wet Dog’ and ‘Pavlova’. Entertaining and thought-provoking stuff.
The Khabarovsk City Radio Orchestra conducted by Ivan Skobrev Plays the Music of Mrs Vickers’ Year Three Music Class, John Masefield Primary School (CD / Vigorous Handshake, 2010)
An intense and atonal journey through 15 original compositions, varying in length from a brief 20 seconds (I Love My Cat, for 20 glockenspiels) to an exhausting 23 minutes (the relentless cacophony of Jemma Is Not Your Best Friend She’s Mine). Thoroughly hard work to take in one sitting, but ultimately worth the effort – repeated listens reveal many new details, layers and subtexts not necessarily appreciated on first pass. Would undoubtedly be interesting to experience in a live setting.