Alex Rodgers

John Wall & Alex Rodgers – Soar

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Oh mate give this shit a rest
Why should you be allowed to think your dream means anything?

These words of poet Alex Rodgers come towards the end of ‘County Moods (part 1)’, the opening piece on Soar, his latest collaboration with musician John Wall. The question these words pose mirrors part of my own thinking while listening to the album. Interestingly, though, not because of anything specific that i was hearing.

Released by Entr’acte a few weeks back, it’s the first time that one of the duo’s albums has been issued with Rodgers’ texts included, here compiled in an accompanying book. This is interesting in and of itself, but it also serves as something of a challenge to several aspects of how i’d perceived their previous output. Alex Rodgers is one of the most enigmatic poetic voices i’ve encountered. On the one hand, his delivery tends to adhere to the same general tone, register and dynamic, yet he’s nonetheless very far from being impassive. On the contrary, he’s often disarmingly akin to a kind of East End manifestation of Viz comic’s gentleman thug Raffles, filling the air with mumbling, possibly-(probably-)inebriated purple prose before threatening to punch your teeth down your throat. Yet just as important is the nature of the words spilling out of his mouth, which veer between stream-of-consciousness and deeply-considered proclamation, thereby encompassing nonsense and profundity, embracing eloquence and profanity. i confess – and, in light of Soar, it does feel like a confession – that there have been many times i’ve felt that it’s not what Rodgers is saying that’s most significant but the way that he’s saying it: a periphrastic paradox melding the coherent and the incomprehensible – or to return to that opening quotation/question, a dream that, beyond its ability to provoke, bewilder and enchant, may well not mean anything.

Yet with Soar that possibility is emphatically challenged. By being published in this way, Rodgers’ elusive texts have been rendered tangible, made more concrete. Beyond this, considering that Rodgers’ words have always preceded Wall’s music – which responds to and essentially ‘clothes’ the words in a supportive, sympathetic soundworld – and, furthermore, that these texts are not always represented verbatim in the finished pieces (certain lines being elided or missing) has the effect of lending the printed texts the quality of an imprimatur, elevating their significance. At least, that’s one way of looking at it; another would be to regard the printed texts as the springboard for not only Wall’s but also Rodgers’ creative spontaneity, never so much reciting his own words as riffing off them, messing around further with their already inscrutable substance, structure and syntax. Read more

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Mixtape #49 : Untitled

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For the latest 5:4 mixtape, i’ve turned my attention to that most elusive of artistic statements, the untitled work. When i set out to assemble a shortlist of pieces in my library that had adopted the word ‘untitled’, it wasn’t immediately obvious what i’d find. Yet, with one or two exceptions and to varying extents, untitled tracks tended to yield a very particular type of soundworld: generally dark and/or monochrome in terms of their tone, tenor or palette, with slow, patient use and deployment of sound, often including extended periods of quietness, overall lending the music a pensive, deliberate quality. Above all, i found these pieces to be music highly abstract in character, and while use of the word ‘untitled’ can often provoke frustration when we encounter it in works of art (“doesn’t the artist know what they’re trying to say?”), the intangibility of such music seems to strongly justify the suitability of this word. However, artists use the word ‘untitled’ in ways that are as playful and deceptive as they can be aloof and distancing, and for this mixtape i’ve therefore included not only tracks that are simply untitled but also tracks that use the word ‘untitled’ as part of a longer title as well as untitled segments of larger titled works.

In the first hour, having begun with something of a red herring by Hecq, i’ve concentrated on calmer, darker examples that tend to focus on explorations of texture, from both static and variegated perspectives. Near the centre of the mix is the unexpurgated 15-minute Untitled Drone by Aidan Baker that isn’t just the highlight of his wonderful 2009 album Blue Figures, but one of the most beautifully coruscating exercises in slow-burning ambient that i’ve ever heard. In the wake of this, in the second half i’ve explored untitled tracks that are generally brighter and more colourful, introducing more beat- and pulse-based pieces, some of which even feature vocals (a real rarity in the world of ‘untitled’ music, it seems), and more overt use of instrumental sounds, both raw and cooked.

Throughout the mix, there’s a wide temperature range demonstrated in these pieces, from the warmth (not always gentle) and/or balmy intimacy found in pieces by, among others, Subsea, Zbigniew Karkowski & Kelly ChurkoJames Clarke, Sea Oleena, Ochre, Aphex Twin and 36 to the varying forms of chilly remoteness, some of it seriously aggressive, exhibited by the likes of Noto, CD-R, AutechreHelena Tulve, Nordvargr, Lethe and Christopher McFall & Ben Fleury-Steiner. And that playfulness i mentioned before – plus a fair amount of inscrutability – can be heard manifesting particularly in tracks by Natasha Barrett, John Wall & Alex Rodgers, Marc Behrens, DJ Yo-Yo Dieting, Øyvind Torvund and John Oswald.

Ultimately, though, i don’t want to labour these descriptive terms or indeed the putative aesthetic connections i’ve been making between them, as they may belie the fact, as i said at the outset, that these are above all strikingly abstract pieces of music, and their ostensible lack of a title (if indeed that is what it is) is perhaps all that needs to be said about them.

Two-and-a-half hours of unidentified musical objects; here’s the tracklisting in full, together with links to obtain the music (interesting to note how many of them are available free of charge: another ‘untitled’ connection…?). Due to the inherent ambiguity of some of the track titles, where relevant i’ve also included in the tracklisting the track numbers. As always, the mixtape can be downloaded via the link below or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Mixtape #36 : Best Albums of 2015

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A very HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all!

In keeping with 5:4 tradition, here’s the new year Mixtape showcasing music from each of my Best Albums of 2015. Three hours that demonstrate something of the sonic wonders that materialised last year. Enjoy! — and there are links to buy each of the albums featured in the last two days’ articles.

As usual, the mixtape can either be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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Best Albums of 2015 (Part 2)

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* Please note this list has how been superseded by the one on the Best Albums of the Years page *

And here, bringing 2015 to a truly glorious end, is the conclusion of my countdown of the year’s best albums. Read more

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The Dialogues: John Wall

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i’m delighted to be able to present the latest instalment in my occasional series The Dialogues. In this episode, i’m in conversation with the composer and performer John Wall, whose work i’ve very deeply admired for many years. Wall and i got together over the summer, and our conversation took place within his studio, affording him the opportunity to illustrate our discussion with numerous audio excerpts, many of which are included in the edited recording. In addition to exploring the techniques and development of Wall’s 22-year career in electronic music—during which time he has gradually evolved from working with chunks of sampled acoustic sound into a world constructed from tiny electronic slivers—we explore a variety of associated topics, including sampling, compositional decision-making, collaborations and many other related issues.

In addition to those played by Wall himself, i’ve included in the Dialogue a liberal selection of pertinent excerpts from throughout his output to clarify and elaborate upon some of the points made. A complete list of these excerpts can be found below along with their timings in the audio. The Dialogue can be downloaded from the link below or streamed via MixCloud. All of the music discussed can be obtained via Wall’s Bandcamp site; his collaborations with Alex Rodgers are also available from the Entr’acte label.

Finally, i must say a huge thank-you to John Wall and his partner Kay for their time and hospitality, and also to Allon Kaye at Entr’acte for his assistance. Wall’s amazing music deserves to be known about, heard and appreciated by a significantly wider audience, and it’s my sincere hope that this Dialogue can be a helpful and tantalising starting point for the unitiated, and provide some interesting insights to those already familiar with his work. Read more

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New releases: Gilles Gobeil, Åke Parmerud, Morton Subotnick, Tim Wright, Volker Hennes, John Wall/Alex Rodgers, Veli-Matti Puumala, Marko Ciciliani

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i’ve been kind of drowning in fascinating new releases lately, so i’m going to try and give something of a whistle-stop tour through some of the best. Beginning with a couple from the always wonderful Empreintes DIGITALes label. Canadian composer Gilles Gobeil is represented by Les lointains, featuring six substantial pieces created between 2008 and 2013. Gobeil’s particular take on acousmatics is extremely heavily inflected with sharp attacks redolent of industrial machinery. Big impacts litter his music, acting both as material element and structural marker; as such they become antagonistic pivot points about which each piece spasmodically turns and contorts. One ends up feeling rather small listening to these pieces, but not just due to their blunt force trauma; Gobeil also punctuates his music with periods of repose that are more void-like and ambient (albeit edgy), broad but delicate vistas that seemingly stretch into infinity, gradually becoming filled with raw material for the next episode of onslaught. The scale, the force, the immensity, the drama—it all adds up to a sequence of experiences that go beyond simply being immersive; one feels enveloped by these six pieces, surrounded on all sides by danger and beauty of utmost intensity.
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New releases: Mark Andre, John Wall & Alex Rodgers, Phil Minton & Simon H. Fell, Kreng

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If there’s one thing that many of the more interesting new releases i’ve heard have in common, it’s doing new and unusual things with conventional sounds, objects and forms. To this end, the most impressive disc of orchestral music I’ve encountered recently is Mark Andre‘s … auf … (Wergo). There’s actually something rather brazen about the piece, Andre rooting it in what is essentially a language of gesture. There aren’t many of them either: huge tutti accents, loud crescendo chords, gentle sustained pitches and extremely soft percussive textures comprise pretty much everything that we hear. Andre makes them the poles of an intense drama played out (in three pieces, both independent and parts of a trilogy) for over an hour, yet which never for a moment seems to tread water. Which isn’t to suggest that it’s relentless; on the contrary, a great deal of the tension arises from protracted periods of semi-stasis; for some composers these would be times of repose, but in … auf … the orchestra feels poised; energy and activity are implicit everywhere. Furthermore, the accents—which, due both to the actual dynamic but also to their contextual contrast, are on occasions exceptionally loud (the hammer blows of Mahler 6 meet the opening of Mahler 1)—do nothing whatsoever to dispel or release this pent-up energy, if anything injecting still more, acts of blunt force provocation like a boxer hitting their own face before a fight. Andre moves back and forth between these gestural poles in a way that sounds inherently chaotic yet—Takemitsu-like—each step forward is entirely convincing.
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Mixtape #28 : Speech

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For the last mixtape of 2013, i’ve decided to explore music in which speech is paramount. Within a musical context, spoken words can jar in much the same way as an actor breaking the fourth wall, unsettling us by (ostensibly at least) withholding abstraction in favour of direct reference. The range of pieces included in the mix is more eclectic than usual, drawing on offcuts, afterthoughts and outtakes (Hecq, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Kreng, Aphex Twin), filtered renderings, recreations and re-imaginings of speech (Cabaret Voltaire, Charles Dodge, John Hudak, Gregory Whitehead, Marc Behrens, Jean-Michel Jarre) as well as forms of non-singing (AGF and the peerless William Shatner). But most of the tracks exploit the spoken word through fascinating essays in obscure narrative, by turns sinister (Eugene S. Robinson), prosaic (Jóhann Jóhannsson, Anne-James Chaton), sexual (Andrew Liles), wistful (Steve Peters), intimate (Edward Ka-Spel), surreal (Olga Neuwirth, irr. app. (ext.)), poetic (John Wall/Alex Rodgers), combative (Frank Zappa) and philosophical (Adrian Moore).

A little over two hours of speech-inspired music and sound art; here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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