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David Toop is a musician, field recordist, author and professor of audio culture and improvisation. His first album, New and Rediscovered Musical Instruments with Max Eastley, was released on Brian Eno's Obscure Records in 1975. Since then, he has released dozens of albums, both solo and with collaborators including Paul Burwell, Steve Beresford, Toshinori Kondo, and Scanner. Among his many books are an early study of hip hop, Rap Attack (1984); a history of ambient music, Ocean of Sound (1995); and a memoir, Flutter Echo (2019). This fall, he has two new albums out on Room40, a collage of field recordings collected throughout his life called Field Recording and Fox Spirits and an immaculately produced series of sonic set pieces called Apparition Paintings. Matthew Blackwell spoke with Toop via Skype on October 14th, 2020 to discuss Edgar Allan Poe, the nature of field recordings, and the problem of time under capitalism.

 

Matthew Blackwell: Hello David!

David Toop: Hello Matthew.

How are you doing in quarantine? I was reading your book [that accompanies Field Recording and Fox Spirits] and you mentioned that you were actually happier in lockdown than you were in January. Is that still the case?

(laughs). Yeah, to an extent, I guess. It’s been an interesting time for everybody, and a difficult time. But I think generally I’ve responded to it quite well, which is partly because of current circumstances in the work I’ve been doing. So yeah, it’s been alright.

You say that you’ve been spending most of your time reading and painting. What have you been reading lately?

I’ve been reading a huge number of books, actually. I read a lot of Ursula K. Le Guin in the summer. I’ve been reading a lot of a writer of Nigerian ancestry, Nnedi Okorafor. I’ve been reading a very good history of American slavery. I’ve been reading a multi-part Chinese novel from the eighteenth century called Story of the StoneAnd a lot of research materials as well, for a book I just started writing a week ago.

Do you normally read so many books at one time?

I normally have like one or two books going. But at the moment I have a morning book, midday book, a research book, and an evening book or nighttime book. So that’s very much to do with the pandemic. Just a shift in work patterns, and more time I guess, but more composure to be able to read in that way. But I haven’t been able to read like this since I was in my teens or twenties.

I’ve found the same thing—usually I read one or two books but lately I’ve been reading four or five. I find it a bit frustrating, actually, because I’ll be in the middle of a lot of books, and rather than reading straight through one I’ll just jump between several. Can I ask which book about slavery you’re reading? In my day job I’m a professor of American literature, and I’m actually currently teaching a course on slave narratives.

Okay, yeah, I’ll have to go get it to remember the author. (David goes to get the book). Hi, I’m back. It’s called American Slavery and it’s by Peter Kolchin. Have you come across that one?

I have not read that one, no—the one I’m reading right now is The Half Has Never Been Told [by Edward E. Baptist], which is about capitalism and slavery. One thing that I was wondering in regards to [reading and painting], is that I was looking at your website for the London College of Communication, and it lists one of your research interests as “listening to silent media such as painting and literature.” Could you explain what that means? I was a bit puzzled by “listening to silent media.”

(laughs). I wrote a book in 2010 called Sinister Resonance, and in that book I focused on listening to paintings. Well, painting and also writing, particularly fiction. But paintings were at the heart of it. I concentrated on a Dutch painter called Nicolaes Maes, who was a pupil of Rembrandt when he was a very young man—a teenager in fact. Nicolaes Maes painted a series of paintings called The Eavesdropperwhich depicted scenes of people listening. Overhearing, in fact, overhearing people speaking, or overhearing the sounds of other people. And that set me on a path of thinking about the idea of paintings as a sort of recording device, an audio recording device that existed prior to the existence of audio recording and its invention in the 19th century. So that’s what that means, I guess. It’s a bit more straightforward with literature, because literature is full of descriptive passages about listening. So Joseph Conrad, for instance, is full of examples. Painting, obviously, is a little bit harder to grasp, and in a sense is, I guess, a controversial idea. I did contact a few art historians about the idea, but none of them particularly wanted to talk to me (laughter).

Really?

Well, it took them into realms of conjecture which they were not happy about. Which I suppose is one of the advantages of taking on a subject if you’re not a specialist—you can do things that would otherwise threaten your job as a tenured professor (laughs) to make wild claims of that sort. But anyway, that’s what that means.

READ THE WHOLE INTERVIEW HERE

 

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the concerts of Thurston Moore Group (usa) + Farida Amadou (b) on 10th & 11th November and Aksak Maboul on 18th Nov have been postponed - an update will follow soon. We'll get in touch with all ticket holders.

 

  • 2£020

PHILLIP SOLLMANN AND KONRAD SPRENGER

LAVALLÉE

Modular Organ System
The Modular Organ System is a computer-controlled pipe organ based on the techniques
of western church organ builders.


In 2017, Sollmann and Sprenger began developing the first prototype and explore the possibilities of this system ever since. Their interdisciplinary approach combines both composed and improvised music on this semi-installative Aerophone which also reflects the acoustic, architectural and social parameters of each specific site.

Sollmann and Sprenger’s project disconnects the organ from its “home” (the church) and adapts it to any performance location. The individual modules are distributed and then tuned for a given space and create an environment in which the audience can move freely.

In addition to traditional materials such as wood, leather and metal, they are applying unorthodox and unique technologies for example the use of glass, ceramics, various metals and plastics in different shapes. This creates a whole new range of sounds and also adds a sculptural element to the instrument.

For this installation they will present a new collaboration with Visual Artist Nico Ihlein, who developed several pipe-resonators made of ceramics and papermaché.

Phillip Sollmann (*1974)
Phillip Sollmann works as an artist and composer under his real name; As Efdemin he has released numerous albums. Since 2017 he has been working with Konrad Sprenger on the extensive project Modular Organ System.

Konrad Sprenger (*1977)
Konrad Sprenger is a Berlin-based artist, composer, and music producer. Sprenger has long-term collaborations with Arnold Dreyblatt, Ellen Fullman, Phillip Sollmann, Oren Ambarchi and luminary bands as Ethnostress, Rom, Ei and the art group Honey-Suckle Company.

Nico Ihlein (*1972)
Nico Ihlein lives and works as a visual artist in Berlin. His focus is on sculpture and installation, cooperation and ego trip, ornament, abstraction and jewelry, language without exit. He exhibits nationally and internationally.

The Modular Organ System is presented by the Goethe-Institut Brüssel in cooperation with LaVallée

  • Konrad Sprenger

Fearless. That’s how we’d describe Phew, a seminal member of Japan’s underground music scene since the late ’70s. Back then, the Osaka native was the singer in the short-lived punk band Aunt Sally, an absolute must for anyone who’s into the bolder sides of Siouxsie and the Banshees and PiL… if you can afford it. (Original pressings of the group’s only album are currently going for as much as €800.00.)

Her early solo efforts are worth a closer look as well, starting with a self-titled 1981 debut that was engineered by Krautrock auteur Conny Plank and co-piloted by Can’s own Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit. Other noteworthy collaborators from that era include Ryuichi Sakamoto and members of Einstürzende Neubauten (Alex Hacke) and DAF (Chrislo Haas), but Phew didn’t stop there. Aside from some latter-day sessions with Ana da Silva (The Raincoats), Jim O’Rourke, Oren Ambarchi, Ikue Mori, and Yoshimi P-We (OOIOO, Boredoms, Saicobab), Phew has unleashed a string of crucial poison-tipped cuts over the past four years, starting with the stellar 2017 LP Light Sleep.

It, too, is long sold out — an alternate universe where Alan Vega and Martin Rev toss brittle smart bombs at Nico. Fans of that full-length and Phew’s Voice Hardcore EP can now hear a fresh batch of previously unreleased material from this period on the Disciples compilation Vertigo KO. According to Phew, the “unconscious sound sketch was recorded in Japan from 2017 to 2019, a closed and obstructive time. It is not a presentation of a worldview, but a personal documentary music of the late 2010s. The hidden message of this album is: What a terrible world we live in, but let’s survive.”

 

A similar burn-it-all-down-and-start-again spirit runs through the following playlist of hardcore punk music from Japan, which Phew was kind enough to share along with a set of succinct liner notes….

READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE HERE

 

  • Phew

Across three decades, John Shepherd built a Nasa-style lab at his grandparents’ Michigan home to communicate with extra-terrestrials, beaming sets featuring Can, Kraftwerk and Neu! into space. Now the subject of an acclaimed film, he tells Ben Gilbert why and records an exclusive tQ mix.

“Imagine if we left behind the strife of Earth, reached Mars and built discotheques there, dancing our nights away in a state of cartoon perfection”, wrote David Stubbs in Mars By 1980: The Story Of Electronic Music. In 25 words, Stubbs mirrors the macrocosmic vision of John Shepherd’s 25-year space odyssey and the celestial soundscape he created for the lifeforms that, just maybe, call Olympus Mons, Eskimo Nebula and Caloris Basin home.

Now the subject of a rightly acclaimed and undeniably touching documentary, which won a Short Film Jury Award at 2020’s Sundance, Shepherd’s story is, in every sense, out of this world. Directed by Matthew Killip, John Was Trying To Contact Aliens covers a vast amount of ground, journeying from the banks of Intermediate Lake in the US to a distance of 500,000 miles into space, all within Killip’s measured edit, which brings the curtain down on this starry-eyed but deeply human tale in little more than 15 mins.

At the age of 21, Shepherd began to build a laboratory of instruments at his grandparents’ home in a bid to communicate with extra-terrestrials. From the early 70s to the late 90s, he used an array of technological kit more suited to a Nasa facility than a nondescript rural Michigan address to broadcast a fittingly galactic soundtrack into deep space. Shepherd transmitted DJ sets featuring Can, Cluster, Kraftwerk, Neu! and Tangerine Dream into orbit, mixing things up with Fela Kuti and Steve Reich, gamelan and jazz

READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE HERE

 

  • John Shepherd
Recorded at Westrand in Dilbeek, just outside of Brussels. The Westrand building is set in a nature reserve and was designed by Alfons Hoppenbrouwers ( ° 1930 - + 2001) in 1968 and was completed in 1973. Hoppenbrouwers was an engineer, architect, painter as well as a teacher and is often associated with brutalism in architecture. The Westrand building functions as a cultural centre, theatre and library and has open and publicly accessible spaces which have different polyvalent functions. There is a concrete children's playground with a pond, tunnels and ramps, a fireplace and viewpoints onto the nature reserve ( which is also accessible and in return offers views on the building).

“We were two very pissed-off persons. Steve was a very young pissed off person, and I was a getting-old pissed-off person. We sort of met on the pissed-off-ness, really.” Penny Rimbaud, drummer, producer, and co-founder of Crass, is talking about how he, along with vocalist Steve Ignorant, formed a group that is now considered one of the most influential punk bands of all time. Anarcho punk; peace punk; crust punk; black and white stencil art; dissing the Clash; being punx and being vegan; being punx and wearing all black—if you you can name it, you can probably trace it back to Crass. 

“At first, we didn’t have any ambitions, and we certainly didn’t think Crass would become what it did,” he continues. Rimbaud is sitting at his beat-up old wooden desk in Dial House, the 16th century farm cottage in Essex, England which he has preserved as a sort of arts-free-space since the late ‘60s, and which served as Crass’ home base from 1977 until the group disbanded in 1984

From his suburban home in Norfolk, Steve Ignorant adds, “I was working in a hospital and I went to see the Clash. At the gig, Joe Strummer said, ‘If you think you can do better, then start you own band.’ So, I said, ‘Yeah, I will.’” 

Ignorant decided to take a trip over to Dial house where he knew a former hippie who was engaged in what would now be called performance art. He found Rimbaud madly typing away on what would become Christ’s Reality Asylum, a stridently political, blasphemous, totally wigged-out piece that would form the core identity of Crass. “I said, ‘I’m thinking of starting a band,’” Ignorant remembers. “Penny said. ‘I’ve got a drum kit. I’ll play drums if you like.’ And that’s how it started.”

And now things have come full circle. One Little Independent records is re-releasing the band’s entire discography in two distinct versions. The first is essentially a re-release of their albums as they were originally released, untouched by the sands of time. The second, titled The Crassical Collection, could be considered the “Deluxe versions,” which include loads of bonus tracks, remastered sound, archival pictures, and reflections from various band members. To that end, we asked Rimbaud, Ignorant, Gee Vaucher, and Eve Libertine to walk us through the band’s six albums.

READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE HERE

 

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The life and times of a Palestinian punk-rocker-turned-hip-hopper in New York City

The following was originally published in Palestine in America’s 2020 Music Edition. Order a print copy or download a digital copy today!

One hot summer night on the west side of Manhattan in the early 1980s, on the roof of the boisterous, four-story nightclub called Danceteria, a group of teenage friends stood in a cypher writing rhymes on a notepad. They were an irreverent crew of rascals, the children of Manhattan artists —  an aspiring painter, Cey Adams; an aspiring guitarist, Adam Horovitz; and an aspiring actor, Nadia Dajani, along with their friends Dave Scilken and Adam Yauch, who had traveled all the way from Brooklyn to join — skilled in the ways of talking (or sneaking) themselves into clubs that they certainly weren’t old enough to be in. As they basked in the smoke of cigarettes and the club’s (probably illegal) barbecue grill, another crew caught Dajani’s eye from across the rooftop. She stepped away from the cypher to get a closer look. Under the light of the moon and the rooftop’s neon signage, their faces came into focus: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Madonna.

“They were at the top of their game, and they were all so famous,” Dajani says. “And I looked back at my friends and thought, ‘Well, I wanna be an actor, Cey is a graffiti artist, and Adam Horovitz and Adam Yauch wanna be musicians; I wonder if one day we’ll be them, and some young kid will be looking at us.’”

It’s a Dajani sense of ambition that runs centuries deep. 

The Dajani family is one of the most storied families from Palestinian Jerusalem, originating from a village just outside of Jerusalem called Dajaniya. It’s believed that the Dajani family are direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him.) The first to carry the family name was Sheikh Ahmad bin Ali, who, according to the oral tradition, came to the village in the 16th century after leading a diverse caravan from Fez, Morocco, through Jerusalem, and on to Mecca. Sheikh Ahmad presided over a dispute between two families in the village and ruled in favor of the weaker, poorer family. After the stronger family made hostile threats toward him, he sought to leave as he felt he was no longer welcome. Despite the village leader’s best efforts to persuade him to stay, Sheikh Ahmad had made up his mind. In response, the leader requested that he carry the village name with him on his travels, so that all whom he met would associate him and his righteous ways with the village. He then became known as Sheikh Ahmad Al-Dajani. 

Centuries later, in a different time and place, Sheikh Ahmad’s descendant and Nadia’s brother, Najeeb “Geeby” Dajani, would leave an enduring impact on New York City’s punk and hip-hop scenes.

By the middle of the 1960s, the Dajani siblings had all arrived on Earth. They were born to a Palestinian father and an Irish American mother — Magda, the eldest, born in America; twin brothers Najeeb and Tarek, born in Cairo; and Nadia, the youngest, also born in the States. In 1968, when the twins were seven, the siblings moved with their mother to New York City and eventually into the Westbeth Artists Housing community, located in Manhattan’s West Village. Over a century old, and originally the home of Bell Laboratories, it was reopened as an affordable housing complex for artists in 1970. Jazz legend Gil Evans lived there and entertained guests like his friend Miles Davis; Keith Haring’s first art exhibit took place at Westbeth in 1981; Vin Diesel grew up there; and seemingly all the important relationships in the Dajani siblings’ lives took root in its halls and on the surrounding streets. 

READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE HERE

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