So, the other week I put on a promoter hat and organised this gig:

The image on the poster is off one of the walls at Castle Howard, and I’m sorry to say I’m not sure of the artist (although it is possibly Antonio Pellegrini). For the actual gig, it was great to have my mate L’s band through playing, as well as an excellent other set from Etai Keshiki, with York duo …And the Hangnails offering a really great set of what turned out to be, indeed, heavy blunk (Can’t help myself dept: whimsical mashing of the words ‘blues’ and ‘punk’ which someone had used to describe them). We had a compère and everything.

Aside from the venue business, trite wordplay and some flyering, I took the opportunity to re-animate a zine I shelved a few years ago. The zine is called Conductive Jelly, which appeals to me more and more as a title the more and more I roll it around. Here is an extract from the first Conductive Jelly (2005), explaining the name:

This pamphlet gets its name from the intriguing list of instruments played throughout Matmos’ dizzying The Civil War collection. It’s used on the track “the struggle against unreality begins”. This is what Conductive Jelly #1 was inspired by:

“This song began when our friend Keenan Lawler sent us a recording he had made of himself playing a steel guitar in a sewer pipe underneath Louisville, Kentucky. We liked the idea of “sound in a tube” so we paired Keenan’s noises with the sound of blood in Martin’s carotid artery. To gather that sound we borrowed an ultrasonic doppler flow detector from the Exploratorium, rubbed conductive jelly on Martin’s neck and then angled the flow detector against his skin, picking up the blood flow as interference which sounded rather like a 70’s modular synth.”

[A link I included in CJ1 originally is now broken, but at time of typing you can read about Matmos here:

This delayed edition of Conductive Jelly had further blurb:

In 2005, Conductive Jelly #4 was supposed to be completed. Musical happenings in Leeds & otherwards, some commentary, some abstractions…

(Conductive Jelly was basically word scribbles inspired by groovy music from the globe and the then music scene blooming algally from LS12 (“Twice as cool as LS6!”). From sound and into text, attempting to bring forth little science fictions, quests for lost civilisations, allusions to the supernal oneness of the spacetime universe and the infernal twoness of quotidian existence here on earth in the early part of the 21st century…

…there was a manifesto plotted, maybe I should have scribbled it down too, but I think it was along the lines of the most music & art (as in ‘This is, like, THE MOST, dad, y’dig?’) being transient, anti careerist, spontaneous livin…

…driving it all was a fear that we might end up like Jonathan Pryce’s character Sam Lowry in Brazil, dreaming of escape to the forest even while being tortured slowly to death because the form was filled in properly…)

…time passes…

…moves to new cities, jobs, schools, came and went… music periodically wafts life into the smouldering embers of hope. Six years later to nearly the day, round the spiral, provoked by a gig in Leeds that put boot to bits, Conductive Jelly is reborn.

The purpose remains to explore strange new soundworlds, all that Star Trek spangled psychotic reactions fiery elephant dung thing, based, at this time, here in York.

I may engage in some future amalgamatification of all blogs, zines and written ventures into some uber-website/book crossover project, but I’m not in a great rush to that. Next week, I start teaching high school English, something I am approaching with approximately equal measures of keen enthusiasm, abject terror, web-based browse denial and an unprecedented – for me – flurry of writing activity.

Meanwhile, here are some photos from the gig. The low lighting and my HTC Hero didn’t get on brilliantly, but well enough to capture the noise & movement, as well as the Red Room/Black Lodge-esque stage of the Basement Bar at York’s City Screen.

Eagles-related discussion. "No, '...AND The Hangnails'."

Castrato Attack Group. Your argument is invalid.

Disorientate the photographer: Etai Keshiki, at the Fenton

Apologies to Etai Keshiki, for whom none of the photos on the night came out as more than a hardcore screamo blur, appropriate though that might be… the photo of EK here is from a gig at the Fenton, which was put on by Big Spaceship Presents. Big Spaceship is well worth a look, as they dig a gargantuan groove. With which I concur, like, the most.

This review is over two weeks late – I’m blaming ASH CRISIS ELECTION CHAOS distractions.

SO Tuesday 13 April 2010, to the Miller, SE1, for an evening of drone sounds, psych-rock and “atonal pointillism” with Faux Amis,  Alexander Turner, Moon unit and Chora!

Time was (a few years ago) that such a gig would have had me clutching for the pen to scribble down some fever’d cosmic visions, suggestive and suggested sci-fi snippets, some of which were subsequently published in a short-lived music zine Conductive Jelly what I wrote.  I may dig some of those out for your edification (threats!…) There were retrofuturist sparking transformers, drumkits imagined as CGI monsters, images of ruined machine-age civilisations overgrown with creepers, like Deep Thought in the Hitchhikers film.

A lot of it was meant (in my head, anyway) to be read aloud, not really as stories but word string theory excerpts, playing with the zounds as a sort of written accompaniment to the percussive/drone/abstract alinear anti-pop sort of things I was being introduced to by my pals. Luke, who played guitar in a band I was in, had started doing such sonic experimenting with Andreas (from Moon Unit). Indeed they still are doing it, Lanterns be their name, and they can be found on myspace. I did some “sleeve notes” for one of their early recordings, and very kind
of them to let me near their work it was too.

That, reader, was then. However, at the Miller, I sat watching and listening and they, the words, just weren’t there. In a little flash of insight I not only recalled the memorable phrase ‘dancing about architecture’ (and that’s a great site, by the way) but I jumped a step along and did not feel a second’s remorse for having to re-cap my pen and pocket my book and just sit there basking in the sound. Different things inspire me to write, and it clearly wasn’t meant to be the music on the night, then, but it was inspiring in a different kind of way, in that it was a pleasant realisation of having found oneself in a superb new chapter or even volume without noticing.

The writer Amiri Baraka came out with this great idea of an ‘expression-scriber’, which would allow every kick, elbow, scream grunt and itch to be recorded… It struck me, as it has many times before when at their gigs, that the ‘stick a contact mic on it’ ethos of artists like Chora, Lanterns et al comes very close to that kind of immersive total expression.

Thusly, enough of this wittery. Go to their websites and check them out, buy their CDs and records. Here are some photos from the gig (taken on my phone, I know the quality’s variable). If you really want some more words, you can click on the photos for additional commentary.

And a noiseriffic time was had by all!

Had a most beguiling walk through a near-deserted City of London yesterday. On a fine Bank Holiday Monday, there were only a handful of tourists. At times it was like wandering through our own fiefdom, or at least a giant hall of mirrors.
Tower 42, and I can't remember the other buildings... in EC2N.
That’s Tower 42 and, er, some other buildings in EC2N.

We were heading towards the Barbican Centre. In the bright sunshine, the water features and early-1980s buildings caught some hint of what future might have been intended when it was built…

…although in wind and rain, and even just a bit of cloud, it looks pretty bleak… but we agreed you’d probably still live there if money were no object.

Inside the arts centre bit, we queued for about an hour to see an installation thought up by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot. Basically, four and twenty zebra finches (ish) are flittering about a walk-through aviary, the which is furnished with amplified bass and six-string guitars, and cymbals with contact mics affixed. The birds fly about, work, nest and play, with a soundscape occurring ‘naturally’ as a consequence of where they land.

Apparently this is a very popular YouTube clip, and it’s been featured on CuteOverload, but I wasn’t aware of this til after… we just saw it in the listings mag and thought we’d have to get along.

And how worth the wait was it? Well, well worth it! The suspense was mounting as the queue edged forward. Numbers allowed in the room at any one time are limited to 25 so as to not freak the birds out, and there was a pretty healthy queue all afternoon, just in case you’re in Landn taahn and thinking of going. The entrance is a chain curtain with a flickering strobe, the entrance passage was darkened and echoing with high trills. We figured this must be to give the birds the illusion of another flock, or a bunch of bats or something, to stop them all just flying off from their enforced ambient session band internment.

Despite the prominent signage forbidding photography, once inside the aviary virtually everyone had their devices out and clicking within 10 seconds. It was really amazing. The birds were fearless, carrying on as if there was nothing at all unusual about the situation. Nests had been constructed in the bridges of the basses (they didn’t seem to like the six-strings in the same way)…
The finches snapped above were sitting on the strings grooming each other. Well, the male ones (coloured) were actually doing all the grooming.

The “soundscapes” were great. It was very relaxing, both in the sense of being so close to these little bundles of life whizzing about, and with the delicate noises coming from the instruments brushed by wing or foot. There was no constant twang-thrum-tishhhh, more kind of abstracted little snippets of sound, perhaps as befits somethings so small and precise. Baths (and feeding) took place on the cymbals, which gave great little washes of sound, the finches never seeming to arrive on their own:

Periodically the finches would all decide to fly about from one spot to another, resulting in neat little pseudo-chords from the random plucking, or leaving one finch to hop about on the strings in what one might fancy was a thoughtful solo. Occasional duets…

Jazz odyssey:

‘…this is Derek Smalls… he wrote this…’

Perhaps the best moment of all was when we were standing next to one of the guitars and a pair of birds just flitted straight on to Julee’s coat, which was folded over her arm.

I had to try and capture it for posterity, and got about three snaps quickly by pretending to read text messages very close to my face. This is the least blurred – sorry for the unflattering angle, Ju! The birdies must have been there for about a couple of minutes, for what purpose we had no idea, but they were clearly fascinated. It was mutual; a very beautiful moment, and I felt throughly Franciscan. The two ladies watching this from the other side of the guitar were greatly enchanted also, their cooing a counterpoint.

After that we gradually made our way out, enjoying animated discussions of exactly how many finches and instruments we would need. There was still a huge queue. Everybody’s heard about the birds…

How the holiday weekend flew by!