Sunday, 10 January 2010

Sword Heaven - Live at Little Brothers (2007)

For some reason, tribal elements have over the years come to gain quite some currency in noise and general experimental music, and have been readily adopted by, to name a couple, William Bennett and Eye Yamatsuka, and so, so many more. Sword Heaven likewise are, in a very real sense, tribal, but go beyond employing tribalism as a stylistic device; instead, their sound is base, primal, more evocative of anything tribal than 77 drummers or imaginary befriended noisicians from the Dark Continent.

Like Machinefabriek's Zink, Live at Little Brothers was released on Cut Hands, and it was another excellent addition to their catalog. Luck has it live shows are exactly what capture Sword Heaven at their very best, with all the sweat and the bodies and the monstrosity and the filth. So what do we have here? Well, Sword Heaven is the duo of Aaron and Mark, who respectively play percussion and noises, and both of them are also prone to screaming their lungs out a bit. Performances (and tracks) typically play like immense crescendos, building up from a single smash on a drum, a distant, muted scream, a hiss and a squeak, to gradually grow and grow and grow, eventually erupting, turning into complete chaos, cymbals crumbling into dust, drum kit breaking down, vocal chords straining, the crunch whiteing out.

Live at Little Brothers features exactly two such cuts; Intro - Tongues, and Faceless Nameless (the latter of which would later appear in some sort of definite version on Entrance, released through Load), both of which are exactly that: a cleansing sort of experience, orgasmic, madness creeping in, insanity, and then a blinding white light and you lose it all. Of course, a live recording is nothing like a live experience, and Sword Heaven live recordings tend to sound slightly muddy maybe, slightly less vibrant, and there's less ringing of the ears (well, you can turn the volume up though), no smell of sweat (unless you romp about yourself a bit), no pale bodies stumbling over each other, falling on stage and joining in with the band (on Faceless Nameless, some ten people join Aaron in smashing his kit), but I can't really mind. It's so energetic, so incredible, so destructive; it can only be loved.

Live at Little Brothers, of course, is sold out from Cut Hands, but you can get a copy for virtually nothing from Discogs still. Just give this thing a shot and see if you think it's worth it. Pretty much anything from their catalog is worth it, with their best release probably being the Piles 7" on BloodLust!, which features a couple of minutes from a 2006 live show; arguably their very best moment. In any case, enjoy!


Machinefabriek - Zink (2007)

Those who picked up on (or at least read about) Machinefabriek a couple of weeks ago already know that there are many different sides to this project. Rutger Zuydervelt has (quite successfully) explored anything from quite relentless noise to highly diverse but also very musical albums filled with sketches of songs (such as Manchester, but also Huis, for instance) and largely drone-based works. Zink falls, more or less, into that last category.

Zink was one of the first releases (one of the first batch of three, along with Cahier and Oubliette) on the relatively new Dutch Cut Hands label, which has so far released excellent recordings by such established artists such as Suishou no Fune, Sachiko M, Astro and Sword Heaven. They got off on the right foot, too, though; Zink is easily one of the highlights in Zuydervelt's discography, both sound- and lookswise. It came in a small 3" CD case with a small zinc plate glued to the front and a smaller plate with the word zink engraved in it glued on top. A small transparent insert on the inside provides us with all the further information we need.

Zink was edited down from a live session at Club Babel in Utrecht recorded on December 30, 2006; the only gear Zuydervelt used were a guitar, a mixing deck and effect pedals. The track starts out fairly subtly, softly and transparently, with some slight, soft tapping sounds; some minutes later, humming, guitar-based drones gradually start building up, layering and layering to create the most beautiful drones; lush, spacious, slightly unsettling, bitter sweet. They roll on deliberately but softly, just below the grain of distortion, only dipping into it occasionally. Ultimately, the drones fade out to make way for those remnants of soft sounds, the lingering memory of the drones; a finger softly touching a guitar string, a tap, a click. A minimal reprise of drones near the very end wraps up the track beautifully.

Zink was released in an edition of 75 and has long been sold out, unfortunately, for those who would like to get their hands on an actual copy. My best advice is to keep track of Discogs, though I'm not sure when and if a copy'll pop up. Besides, older Machinefabriek releases sometimes go for the most outrageous prices. Meanwhile, just enjoy this rip.

Lo! (34 megs)

Kiyoshi Mizutani - Scenery of the Border (2005)

Much like probably everyone, my interest in Kiyoshi Mizutani's solo works was originally sparked by a voyeuristic sort of curiosity. Mizutani, of course, was originally part of Merzbow from the early 80s, a noise outfit that needs little - if any - introduction. Yet the first Mizutani album I stumbled over (in a now unfortunately defunct Dutch experimental music store called V2) was Yokosawa-iri - a collection of (mixed) field recordings. I picked it up then, if not simply to have it, to spin it maybe once just for the sake of it (at the time, I hadn't come to love field recordings yet) - but even upon first hearing, Yokosawa-iri revealed itself to be a work of immense beauty. And so, I fell in love with field recordings.

While Yokosawa-iri was (and is still) a beautiful record, a wonderful achievement, the absolute highlight in Mizutani's output (field recordings or no), and my absolute favourite field recordings album ever, is 2005's Scenery of the Border: Environment and Folklore of the Tanzawa Mountains. Released through the absolutely brilliant and/OAR (who also released beautiful works from the likes of Sawako, Francisco López and Dale Lloyd, among others), this double album attempts to capture the beauty and essence of the Tanzawa Mountains (a mountain range in the Kanto region) in 24 choice cuts - and it succeeds wonderfully.

Capturing beauty or any essential quality is as much the goal as the ultimate challenge in recording environments. Managing to record not only what is symbolic and evocative but also quintessential and true requires skill; taking any given environment as it exists, a virtual infinity of sound in space and time, and framing it, cropping, cutting it down to a captivating and essential still image. This is exactly what Scenery does; in those two dozen scenes, it paints a startling and insightful picture of the Tanzawa Mountains. Ranging, as per the title, from purely natural sounds to sounds more human, the recordings conjure up visions of striking, unseen beauty.

What Mizutani achieves in sound is perhaps most interesting of all; while the album also features cuts filled with more familiar sounds (such as the fairly straightforward bird song on Birds at Yozuku Path), elsewhere we hear stranger, unheard things. Among the highlights are, for instance, the recording of the Ohdana waterfall, which is almost - but not quite - an endless stream of white noise, so arriving at what loud sounds Mizutani originally arrived at artificially in Merzbow, naturally. Similarly beautiful are the tracks on which we hear human interference, both directly (like on Yabusame of Murou Shrine in Rain) or indirectly (Kurokura Power Plant). Most strikingly, there, is how these sounds, even if familiar, still come across as sounds wholly natural; Mizutani never emphasizes human aspects, or communicative aspects of human elements, instead choosing to lay them down objectively, as parts of the natural world rather than anything apart from it.

Scenery of the Border came in a little cardboard foldout in a plastic sleeve, the artwork featuring some photos of the Tanzawa Mountains made by Mizutani himself. An enhanced portion of CD2 also included a map of the area and reference points for where all the tracks were recorded, and an additional batch of similarly beautiful photos. Unfortunately the album is sold out from and/OAR, but if you're lucky you can still find a copy from Discogs or the like. Well worth it!

Lo! (274 megs)

A huge thanks to Nanoko for letting me host this file on MF; thanks!