Sunday, July 26, 2020

this heat

This Heat
This Heat
This Is/RER USA

emusic

by Simon Reynolds

This Heat are regarded as one of the archetypal post-punk vanguard outfits,  Which they were, but the fact is that this South London trio were just as much a post-psychedelic band, with audible roots in the UK’s progressive underground of the early Seventies. In 1975, even as Patti Smith and the Ramones released their debuts, This Heat’s drummer/vocalist Charles Hayward was playing in Quiet Sun, a jazz-rock combo led by Roxy guitarist Phil Manzanera.  This Heat’s slogan was "All possible processes. All channels open. 24 hours alert"  and those first two sentiments could easily have been endorsed by proggy weirdos like Van Der Graaf Generator, Gong, or Can. But the third plank of that mini-manifesto marked This Heat as true contemporaries of Scritti Politti and The Pop Group, its totally-wired tone of paranoid vigilance tapping into the atmosphere of tension and dread that suffused the late Seventies.

Political anguish-- fears of nuclear armageddon, of a right-wing backlash reversing the gains of the Sixties, of an emerging police state--suffused This Heat’s music, creating a vibe a world away from the whimsical meander of pre-punk noodlers like Soft Machine. Nonetheless you can still hear This Heat’s proggy past come through on their self-titled 1979 debut in the Robert Wyatt-like plaintiveness and Englishness of Hayward’s vocals and the undisguised virtuosity of his drumming, as well as in the group’s tell-tale penchant for disjointed structures. More postpunk DIY-noisy in spirit and sound are the contributions of Gareth Williams, a non-musican who supplied jarring blurts and abstract smears using broken-down instruments, effects-pedals, and a primitive form of sampling involving tape loops. This Heat could be propulsively, even convulsively rhythmic: the eerie percussive timbres and frenetic beats of “24 Track Loop” offers an astonishing audio-prophecy of 90s drum’n’bass, while "Horizontal Hold" cuts from blistering feedback, to a timebomb tick-tock of Cold War skank, to an abrasive funk-scrabble, But the group were equally effective making a kind of ambient music, albeit of a decidedly non-tranquilising sort. "Not Waving" sounds like Wyatt languishing in a dungeon where the rats scuttle morosely over the keys of a decrepit harmonium.

“Late-prog”, “post-punk”---either way you slice it, This Heat is a category-collapsing classic.


Thursday, July 23, 2020

futuredada

Various Artists
Futurism & Dada Reviewed
(LTM)
emusic

by Simon Reynolds

This compilation is a time capsule from early Twentieth Century Europe, when the continent swarmed with -isms: not just famous ones such as Cubism and Constructivism, but nutty lesser-knowns like the Nunists and Rayonists too. Although they differed on the precise details, these manifesto-brandishing movements typically called for an utter overhaul of established ideas of art, arguing that Western Civilisation, enervated and sagging into decadence, needed an invigorating injection of barbarian iconoclasm to renew itself. The material from the Italian Futurists on this anthology overlaps somewhat with LTM’s Musica Futurista collection, but includes a much longer version of “Risveglio di una Citta,” a symphony of scrapes and whirs woven by Luigi Russolo, the movement’s chief musical theoretician and coiner of the enduring buzz-concept “the art of noises.” His brother Antonio’s “Chorale” sounds like a conventional classical overture, except there’s this roar of turbulence that intermittently rears up, as though’s there’s a gale raging outside the concert hall. Wyndham Lewis, British futurist sympathizer and leader of his very own -ism Vorticism, recites a poem that once probably seemed audaciously “free” with its run-on stanzas, but now positively creaks with starchy quaintness. The Dadaist material, however, retains a good portion of its originally scandalous shock of the new. On the noise-poem “L’Amiral Cherche Une Maison A Louer”, Tristan Tzara, Marcel Janco and Richard Huelsenbeck unleash a polyphonic babble of multilingual nonsense, punctuated with circus-clown irruptions of  rude noise, enough to get your blood boiling with excitement almost a century later. Huelsenbeck also contributes a great reminiscence of the genesis of Dada, incongruously backed with a Indian raga drone. Kurt Schwitters’ life-long work-in-process “Die Sonate in Urlauten”, captured for posterity in 1938, is a tour de force of phonetic poetry, peppering your ears with flurries of phonemes and scattering consonants like confetti around your head. It’s oddly reassuring that works by the Socialist-leaning Dadaists have aged far better than the efforts of the Futurists, Mussolini fans almost to a man.
                                                                                   

Various Artists
Musica Futurista: The Art of Noises
Salon/LTM
emusic

by Simon Reynolds

As their name suggests, the Italian Futurists worshipped technology and urban life, while stridently despising the romanticisation of the pastoral and the pre-industrial past. They proposed a stringent program of modernism that would radically reinvent everything from from painting to politics to pasta (which their leader Filippo Tommaso Marinetti proposed replacing with an entrĂ©e of perfumed sand!). Music was not left unscathed. To put into practice his theories about a new form of composition called “the art of noises” that would abandon tonality and the traditional orchestral palette of timbres, Luigi Russolo invented brand-new instruments, the famous Intonarumori (which roughly translates as “noise-intoning machines”).  On Musica Futurista, the most exciting tracks are test-tone showcases for Russolo contraptions like the Gorgogliatore (“gurgler”), which generates a sproing-ing metallic rustle, and the Ululatore, which supposedly translates as “hooter” but sounds more like a peevish vacuum cleaner with a piece of sandpaper stuck in its craw.  When the Futurists relied on conventional instruments, their efforts suffered from being, well, not futuristic enough, such that you can you can see why Russolo went to the bother of building the Intonarumori. On Musica Futurista, there’s rather too much clunky piano bombast, heavy on left-hand basso profundo chordings, from figures like Francesco Balilla Pratella, who supplies a series of etudes entitled “La Guerra”. Apart from the Intonarumori offerings, the best tracks come from the non-musician Marinetti. His prose poem “La Battaglia Di Adrianopoli” uses onomatopoeia to recreate the siege cannons and machine guns of the Balkan Wars, and like “La Guerra” showcases the Futurists’ highly suspect exaltation of modern mechanised warfare. Also relying solely on that most ancient instrument, the human voice, his “Parole in Liberta” offers more abstract sound-poetry, although if you don’t understand Italian most of the liberties Marinetti takes with sense and syntax will necessarily be lost on you. Composed in the 1930s and constructed out of found sounds (water  splashes, motor cars,  weeping babies, birdsong, etc) and protracted stretches of near-silence, the 13 minute “Cinque Sintesi Radiofoniche” anticipates and preempts the post-WW2 musique concrete of  Pierres Schaeffer and Henry.  Bravo, F.T., bravo: this time at least, you reached the future way ahead of the pack.