2021

Last year’s round-up didn’t include anything on the environment or politics; it was difficult to write about it because it was all bad news. Things haven’t changed, and COP26 was a failure. Here’s the latest data on CO2 levels:

My political views have evolved from a mostly eco-socialist position to an increasing interest in anarchism. This started a while ago through reading David Graeber and Noam Chomsky, and has been supported more recently by friends in a Slack group who share thoughts and resources. The Anarchist Library has loads of resources online, including introductory texts by Emma Goldman, Peter Gelderloos, Pëtr Kropotkin and others. Anarchism can be described as the absence of rulers but not the absence of rules; it is anti-government but not anti-governance. With an increasing risk of societal collapse triggered by either the climate crisis or political tensions, or both, it is only pragmatic to learn about how societies can function democratically in the absence of government, and this is precisely what anarchism offers. That kind of organisational knowledge is what Graeber contributed to the Occupy Wall Street movement, as described in an article that’s part of a series published on the first anniversary of his death. Although I’m increasingly disillusioned with the current political system, I’d still be in favour of a green new deal, proportional representation, universal basic income and a 4-day week as a bare minimum of policies required to transition to a more sustainable way of living.

These are some of my favourite things from 2021:

AMKS Live (https://www.amks.live/). Semi-regular transmissions from the SKAM crew and associates. SDEM has put some of his mixes for the stream up on Soundcloud and you can find others on Leisure Complex’s YouTube channel.

Aurora Apolito (Matilde Marcolli) (2020) The Problem of Scale in Anarchism and the Case for Cybernetic Communism (Entangled Internationalism). An essay on how to scale up Anarchist social and economic organisation from the local level to national and global, that goes deep into complexity theory. It starts with some fascinating history on Cybernetic Communism – computerised systems for central planning that never quite took off, including the soviet OGAS programme, 1962–70 and Project Cybersyn in Chile, 1971–73. The essay explains some of the main measures of complexity – Kolmogorov (algorithmic) complexity, Gell-Mann’s effective (intuitive) complexity and Shannon (informational) entropy – as examples of the kind of conceptual building blocks that might be useful for understanding the problem of scale and for developing socio-economic networks based on alternatives to government and Capitalist market systems. Apolito says this is an exercise in ‘Mathematical Science Fiction’: “It is meant to envision the mathematical form of a cybernetic communist infrastructure of computation that would replace the profit optimization mechanism of markets.” On a similar theme, this recent book by Thomas Swann looks interesting: Anarchist Cybernetics: Control and Communication in Radical Politics.

Janet BeatPioneering Knob Twiddler (Trunk). Hitherto unknown gems of early British synthesis.

Can – Live in Stuttgart 1975. Until this, there were no official live albums by Can, due to various technical issues that dogged attempts to release recordings from the soundboard. This album is a cleaned-up version of a bootleg recording made by a fan, Andrew Hall, that had been in circulation for years. It’s a nice document of the band’s live work.

Nuno Canavarro – Plux Quba (Moikai, 1998). It seems like anyone who knows this album is a fan. I didn’t know it until recently. It sounds like The Chemical Brothers sampled/copied the tune from the track ‘Wolfie’ for their ‘Salmon Dance’, and maybe it also influenced I’m Happy, and I’m Singing, and a 1,2,3,4 by Jim O’Rourke, who was responsible for re-releasing it and bringing it to a wider audience. https://nunocanavarro.bandcamp.com/album/plux-quba

Stuart Chalmers – Suikinkutsu 水琴窟 (Fractal Meat). Japanese aesthetic approaches to garden water-features applied to a cave in the Yorkshire Dales. In place of traditional bamboo, Chalmers uses pots, pans, bin lids and cake tins to produce sound from the cave’s dripping water.

Among the older albums I played when in need of something comforting is Don Cherry’s Brown Rice (1975). Another is Neneh Cherry’s Raw Like Sushi (1989), especially the song ‘Manchild‘. In a recent article in The Guardian, Cherry explains how she wrote it, and says that when she played it to her dad he said, “Wow, that’s kinda jazz. You’ve got seven chords in the verse!”

The Command All-Stars – Provocative Percussion (Command, 1959). An easy-listening album by a label’s in-house orchestra, Enoch Light and the Light Brigade, designed for testing stereo hi-fi systems. Coincidentally, shortly after I first heard this, it was mentioned in an interview with Donald Fagen as something that he and Walter Becker liked.

The Congos – Heart of the Congos (Black Art, 1977). Written and produced by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry (RIP). Every track is a belter. I also listened a lot to another Black Ark production, Dr Alimantado – Best Dressed Chicken in Town. I’ll never tire of watching Perry at the controls in his studio in the documentary Roots, Rock, Reggae – bouncing, clapping and smiling while punching the tracks and effects in and out.

Whenever I buy albums in digital format, I scan them for replay gain and dynamic range. Replay gain, which measures average loudness, is useful when playing a mix of tracks from different albums because it minimises volume differences. Dynamic range, which measures the difference between peak and average loudness, is for information only and has no practical use. Looking at this year’s music, there are three things that have the lowest possible dynamic range of 0 dB, so these are the loudest tracks of 2021:

  • a0n0 – Unicorn’s Dream (SUPERPANG)
  • Lauren Sarah Hayes – ‘Kill the Pulsar in Your Head’ (Pulsar.scramble vol. 3, $ pwgen 20)
  • Victor Moragues – Inner Skin (Bandcamp)

The album with the highest DR, at 24 dB, is The Real Sound Of Small Talk by Kevin Drumm, which sounds like it’s made with granular synthesis, comprising a semi-random stream of pulses like water dripping and insectoid chirps.

Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin – Anarchism and the Black Revolution – The Definitive Edition (Pluto Press). Written in prison, originally self-published, now updated. A critique of ‘white anarchism’ and of racism in capitalism, the police and the criminal justice system.

Mark Fell & Rian Treanor – Last exit to Chickenley (Boomkat Editions). Quite different to anything else by either artist, this is a product of their adjustment to a more cyclic and slower tempo of life in lockdown while caring for their mother/grandmother suffering with dementia. It’s a long-form collage of field recording and music that takes its time to unfold.

Drew Flieder – Attractors. Music based on strange attractors – mathematical representations of the patterns of behaviour towards which chaotic dynamic systems gravitate.

Will Guthrie – People Pleaser Pt.II. Bewildering rhythms made with a mix of programmed and played drums together with samples, synths and effects.

Judith Hamann – Hinterhof (Longform Editions). A bit like Fell & Treanor’s Last Exit to Chickenley, this album represents the experience of living in and listening to a specific location – in this case, a hinterhaus apartment in Berlin. Hamann’s A Coffin Spray (SUPERPANG) is good too, based on cello overtones.

Mohammad Mostafa Heydarian – Songs of Horaman (Radio Khiyaban). Persian music by a Kurdish tanbur player accompanied by a drummer. This was a tip from Marc of Hive Mind Records, whose catalogue is well worth checking out.

The Human League – Dare (Virgin, 1980). I was familiar with the remix version of this album, Love and Dancing (1982), released under the name The League Unlimited Orchestra, but not the original. Perfect pop.

Screenshot from the video of Live at Mandako in Kumamoto

Eiko Ishibashi / Jim O’Rourke – Live at Mandako in Kumamoto (Bandcamp). Beautiful recording of an intimate performance.

Life Without Buildings – Any Other City (Tugboat Records, 2001). An interview with Sue Tompkins in Tone Glow was what alerted me to this album from 20 years ago. I knew of Tompkins from her collaboration with Russell Haswell but hadn’t heard Life Without Buildings. It was interesting to read about her process-based approach to lyrical composition. That interview was published in February, when the UK was in its 3rd national lockdown due to Coronavirus, and so this album lightened up the dark and dismal period of what felt like never-ending winter. I also liked Tompkin’s collaboration with Oswald Berthold (of farmersmanual), recur⁵ by tsx.

David Lowery – The Green Knight (A24). Really enjoyed this film version of the Arthurian legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. There are enough layers of symbolism and mystery given to telling what is essentially a short and simple story that it offers multiple interpretations, and makes me want to watch it again. It also makes me want to re-visit Lud’s church, in Derbyshire near the Staffordshire border, which is said to be the likely location of the green chapel where the tale of the Green Knight ends.

Luke Lund – Helikaalinen (Helical) (Fluf). Complex music based on mathematical and physical processes, with some really nice generative artwork on the CD too. I also enjoyed the other release from Fluf this year, the future made me hardcore by tuuun.

Motoko & MyersColocate. 2nd album by Wonja Fairbrother and Daniel Letson. Smooth, slinky and funky.

Milton Nascimento & Lô Borges – Clube Da Esquina (Odeon, 1972). Like the Nuno Canavarro album, if you know this you love it, and it’s one I should’ve listened to before but hadn’t. One of the greatest records ever.

I watched a few music documentaries, all good: Sisters With Transistors about female electronic music pioneers, In A Silent Way about Talk Talk’s album Spirit of Eden, Freakscene: The Story of Dinosaur Jr., The Velvet Underground, Tom Petty: Somewhere You Feel Free – The Making of Wildflowers and Other, Like Me: The Oral History of COUM Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle.

Else Marie Pade – Electronic Works 1958 – 1995 (Important Records). Early compositions by the Danish pioneer of musique concrete. Sustained metallic tones comprising different kinds of beating frequencies. Somewhere between the timeless meditative drones of Eliane Radigue and the in-your-face here-and-now of Maryannne Amacher’s otoacoustic work.

Bernard Parmegiani – Stries (1980) for 3 synthesizers and tape (ina GRM). This is the first complete recording of the three-part composition, performed by Colette Broeckaert, Martin Lorenz and Sebastian Berweck.

Hannah Peel – Unheard Delia (Electronic Sound). A translucent yellow 7″ record that came with issue 75 of Electronic Sound Magazine. Two compositions feature bits from an interview with Delia Derbyshire combined with Peel’s music. Download a rip of the vinyl here: https://we.tl/t-q7p84Zot6r

Ellen Phan – Visual Squash (anòmia). Electronic music based on the artist’s experience working in neuro-linguistic programming using equipment that measures the intensity of emotional states.

PRESSURE CARCASS – DISCO EXTERIOR. During an interview with Martin J Thompson about my album Disorganised and Unwanted, I mentioned that there weren’t many other albums with a similar proportion of mostly field recording and some effects. I struggled to remember any particular albums, so I failed to mention this one by Louis Johnstone (WANDA GROUP). No-one else does it like he does.

Nasser Rastegar-Nejad – Music Of Iran, Santur Recital (Lyrichord, 1964). A good quality recording of a virtuoso performance on the santur, a type of hammered dulcimer. You can get a vinyl rip of this album as FLAC or MP3 from here: https://music-republic-world-traditional.blogspot.com/2018/06/iran-music-of-iran-santur-recital.html Through the Trunk Records email I heard about the music of Michael O’Shea, who plays a related kind of instrument that he built from an old door and played with paintbrushes which he called Mo Chara (‘my friend’). See him in action in this appearance on RTE in 1980: https://www.rte.ie/archives/2019/0314/1036385-experimental-musician-michael-oshea/ And listen to his only album here: https://moshea.bandcamp.com/album/-

Jules Rawlison – Yield Point. The sound of what happens when you mangle virtual brass instruments, deforming pitch and timbre through stochastic processes applied to physical modelling.

Jim O’Rourke – Steamroom 53. I think the title ‘6 views of a secret’ suggests this is a Cubist piece of music, a single work made of multiple approaches to the same thing. It comprises six successive sections separated by silences. In Cubist art, individual objects are composed of multiple pictoral forms as seen from different points of view. In this Cubist music, multiple musical forms are composed of a single set of musical objects – wood block, organ, bell, and strings plucked, hammered and bowed. In musical Cubism, the temporal relations of the multiple views are inverted – succession instead of simultaneity, but the effect is equivalent – a kaleidoscopic collapsing of space/time.

Sambrasa Trio – Em Som Maior (Som Livre, 1965). A tip from Sasha Frere-Jones. Humberto Clayber (bass), Airto Moreira (drums) and Hermeto Pascoal (piano). If you haven’t seen the video of Hermeto Pascoal playing in a lake, then treat yourself.

SDEM – Fliter (SUPERPANG). Part of SUPERPANG’s new series of live performances, this is an absolute banger from SDEM. Two other albums were also great: RAG ORDER and SYNCAV.

Akira Sileas – Tricorn Centre (Hard Return). I like everything that Jack Chuter puts out on the Hard Return label. This is some nice techno. Other favourites were Cypro – I Have Eaten From The Timbrel I Have Drunk From The Cymbal, and en creux – The Water.

SOPHIEBIPP (Autechre Mx). RIP SOPHIE. This rips. Compared with most other Autechre remixes, this is quite a subtle treatment, but it brings out some of the best bits of this tune and of SOPHIE’s voice.

DJ Sprinkles – Gayest Tits & Greyest Shits: 1998-2017 12-inches & One-offs (Comatonse Recordings). I could’ve sworn this was released last year, maybe because it seems so familiar now, having listened to it loads, but it came out in 2021 alongside a re-release of Midtown 120 Blues which is equally good. Every track shows great skill and attention to detail. I particularly like ‘Useless Movement’ featuring the voice of Laurence Russell talking about a feminist critique of French literary theory, where the rhythm of the words is gradually looped and layered. The last track is amazing: ‘Admit It’s Killing You (And Leave) (Sprinkles’ Dead End)’ is a deep house tune nearly 15 mins long with a 5/4 beat that makes a political point through use of samples and has a weird glitchy breakdown in the middle. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

SYNALEGGComputer Series (OOH-sounds). In terms of which artists are approaching anything like Autechre’s recent output, it’s a close call between SDEM, William Fields and SYNALEGG.

Tokingake. A collective of artists and a label based in Japan that’s put out some of the most interesting sounds this year, starting with a collection of compilation albums including music by a0n0, IKTS, peeq / nankotsuteacher, Kenji Hamada, nzworkdown, Kagami Smile, and The Worst Vegetable Corner.

Valery Vermeulen – Trailer of Mikromedas AdS/CFT 001 (Ash International). Six sonifications of data streams generated from mathematical models of black holes. Sounds suitably dark and ominous.

Ben Wheatley – In the Earth (Universal Pictures). The first film I saw in a cinema this year after the end of the second lockdown. A supernatural tale set in a deep woodland whose unusually fertile earth is being studied by researchers during a pandemic. Part black comedy, part techno-pagan eco-mythology. The strongest element is Clint Mansell’s music, which is not just a soundtrack but a central part of the story.

Various artists – Get This: Thirty Tracks for Free – A Tribute to Peter Rehberg ($ pwgen 20). This album hasn’t yet been released; it’s due out in January. It’s the result of a collaborative project that I’ve been involved in for the past few months, which started out small but snowballed into something bigger and better than we’d anticipated. It features music by friends and fans of Pita, including many Mego artists. I’m looking forward to being able to share it with you.

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