I’d never heard of Native Instrument (the collaborative project of field recordist/composer Felicity Mangan and poet/improvisor Stine Janvin) before coming across this release, and so I unconsciously expected something along the lines of Musica Sveciae’s Fornnordiska klanger, which sought to replicate prehistorical musical traditions. This 4th installment in Brussels imprint les albums claus’s live ateliers claus series, however, reveals that the duo’s name refers to a nativity beyond that which can be possessed or identified by humans, a primality that hints toward evoking the volatile majesty of nature. Mangan has previously proved her mettle in the area of phonographic assemblage that transforms familiar sounds—birdsong, buzzing insects, rustling leaves—into an abstract, multifarious mass of textures (think Abby Lee Tee’s recent work, an earthier @c, or that sweaty pestilence that begins Murmuüre’s “Disincarnate”) and this live recording is no different. Even though the performance took place in the same year as Native Instrument’s first and only studio album Camo, the interplay between Mangan’s prickly swarms of croak, chirp, and click and Janvin’s mixtures of throbbing electronics and processed vocalizations feels much more developed here; it’s livelier, more agile and organically-paced, and therefore much more enjoyable. This music lurks at the ambiguous crossroads of observance, improvisation, and techno (if you happen to know the GPS coordinates, please let me know; I hear it’s lovely this time of year).
The Electronic Revolution is an essay collection by William S. Burroughs that was first published in 1970 by Expanded Media Editions in West Germany. A second edition, published in 1971 in Cambridge, England, contained additional French translation by Jean Chopin.
The book is divided into two parts.
Part one, entitled "The Feedback from Watergate to the Garden of Eden" invokes Alfred Korzybski’s views characterising man as "the time binding machine" due to his ability to write. Burroughs sees the significance of a written word as a distinguishing feature of human beings which enables them to transform and convey information to future generations. He proposes the theory of "the unrecognised virus" present in the language, suggesting that, "the word has not been recognised as a virus because it has achieved a state of stable symbiosis with the host."
Part two, "Electronic Revolution" concerns the power of alphabetic non-pictorial languages to control people. It draws attention to the subversive influence of the word virus on humans and dangerous possibilities of using human voice as a weapon. Recording words on tape recorders and employing the Cut-up technique can easily lead to the false news broadcasts or garbled political speeches causing confusion and psychic control over individuals.
The basic idea of language as a virus has been widely used and quoted from several of Burroughs' interviews. Here is a passage from the text:
I suggest that the spoken word as we know it came after the written word. (...) we may forget that a written word is an image and that written words are images in sequence that is to say moving pictures. (...) My basis theory is that the written word was literally a virus that made the spoken word possible. Doktor Kurt Unruh von Steinplatz has put forward an interesting theory as to the origins and history of this word virus. He postulates that the word was a virus of what he calls biologic mutation effecting a biologic change in its host which was then genetically conveyed. One reason that apes cannot talk is because the structure of their inner throats is simply not designed to formulate words. He postulates that alteration in inner throat structure were occasioned by a virus illness ....
The referred German Doktor Kurt Unruh von Steinplatz is another of Burroughs' inventions.
The book influenced numerous musicians in the industrial music scene of the 1970s. Richard H. Kirk, of Cabaret Voltaire, employed many ideas and methods from the book, saying, “A lot of what we did, especially in the early days, was a direct application of his ideas to sound and music.” He described it as "a handbook of how to use tape recorders in a crowd … to promote a sense of unease or unrest by playback of riot noises cut in with random recordings of the crowd itself."
Brief interview with Anton Lukoszevieze
Why did you choose to commission a piece from Jim O'Rourke for Apartment House, and how did you know his work?
I have known of Jim for a long time, mainly through his work with Merce Cunningham’s dance company, who I also performed with at the very end of their time. But I had never actually explored Jim’s own work. I came across the work String Quartet and Oscillators and was rather taken with it, and I wrote to him asking if we could perform it, as we subsequently did. I then asked him if he had any other scores I could see and he sent me a solo cello piece and a new work for strings with audio playback, 12 Dollars is not a lot. Later on, he composed the new string trio on this album. Subsequently, I listened to more of his music and have really enjoyed it. He has a very particular sensibility and an acuity for creating sounds and musical episodes. I think of him very much as an experimental composer.
Can you describe the trio score Jim sent you, and how the piece works?
The score is a series of 48 single pages, each with 4 circles on, for violin, viola and cello, which are con sordini (muted). Each circle is a sound event, consisting of a natural harmonic (though sometimes an artificial harmonic can be played) which can be held for any duration. Within each circle are indications such as whistling, humming and singing combined with the bowed harmonics. Each player works around the page clockwise or anti-clockwise. Occasionally there are fermata (pause indications). The vocalisations are either in unison with the harmonic or intervals of a 4th or a 5th. Some pages are also repeated when indicated. Each circle represents the 4 different strings of the instruments. So, the score is like a permanent mobile of sonic events, creating unpredictable sustained harmonies. As a musician one is constantly listening, not reacting and reacting to the sound world one is within. Originally we performed a 15 minute version for the BBC radio, but I thought a longer version would be an interesting thing to try, and we did. I had no inkling whatsoever that Jim would send a score such as this! He is full of surprises.
Anton Lukoszevieze talks to Jim O’Rourke
Why did you write for a vocalising string trio?
A year or so ago, I was re-listening to a few choral works by Martin Smolka, who uses whistling a lot, and was struck by how such a simple and always “on hand” thing is rarely used, and it had stuck in my mind. When I started mapping out what I wanted to do for Apartment House, I was thinking a lot about the realities of rehearsal, rehearsal time, and how these all affect how to approach a score. With that in mind, I also wanted an element that offset the skill and care being taken in playing their instruments by asking AH to sing/whistle, something that is possibly unnerving.
You studied composition. Do you disregard everything you were taught, or was it helpful?
It was helpful both in the ways it is meant to be and/or in forcing me to define why I felt resistance to it.
How do you manage a multiplicity of activities?
I guess I just don’t think of them as a multiplicity, they all sum up in the same place.
What are your favourite TV series?
As a kid, Columbo and The Prisoner. Only in recent years have I caught up on some of the more recent series and I really liked The Wire.
Does studio-based production influence your compositions, or maybe not?
Absolutely, they all feed into each other.
How do you feel about duration in music?
30 years ago, when I first met Henry Kaiser, I was hanging out with him when someone came up to him and asked what time signature a particular Captain Beefheart song was in, and Henry answered “They’re all in 1”. That pretty much sums it up to me even now.
At this stage in your life do you think intuition is possibly the mechanism for creativity?
I have to admit that I don’t think about “creativity” or “expression” because I think these happen naturally whether you want them to or not. If anything, I think trying to be creative is a trap. I am probably more motivated by problems than by any desire to create.
Derek Bailey or John Fahey?
Well, Derek was and is a towering figure in my life, and my life would have pretty much not have happened if he hadn't shown kindness to a stupid kid.