Feature: Review of 2016

I realise this is coming out three weeks into the new year. That’s partly deliberate. While I’d intended to get this online within the first 10 days of 2017, I knew I couldn’t compile a proper retrospective without breaking free from 2016 first. Being impulsive and somewhat slapdash is something of a hallmark of the site, although my thoughts needed time to settle for this one.

In 2016, I got ATTN back. I’d spent 2015 dividing my time between the website and my book, squeezing in reviews and features between great slogs of research and writing, using the website as a place for recuperation and counterbalance. 300-word reviews provided me with bite-sized hits of accomplishment while I navigated a project which, at some points, felt like it might never end. Part of my time had also been invested in writing reviews for Rock-A-Rolla magazine, which sadly slowed to a halt during the first half of this year. This all meant that I suddenly had a lot of time to invest in the website again.

The biggest step forward has been starting the ATTN:Magazine event series. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, although given my shoddy record with logistics and self-organisation (I’ve something of a reputation for tumbling haphazardly through life and cobbling together everything at the last minute), I’d previously swatted the idea aside, fearing that the whole thing would be a panic-ridden disaster of double-bookings, faulty equipment and low audience turn out. Then my dear friend Dean Lloyd Robinson left town. This his fantastic Outsider Art nights to an end, which had been an essential refuge for weirder sounds in Bournemouth. And so, buoyed by a concerted effort to get my shit together – which largely involved filling my work commutes with some overly slick, corporate-sheened podcasts about productivity and organisation – I finally decided to take the plunge. So far, they’ve been fantastic.

I was partly inspired by many of the interviewees and live experiences I’ve featured on ATTN this year, all of which demonstrated how to imbue live events with intimacy, atmosphere and distinctive character. London’s ddmmyy series is powered by a curiosity for the artists themselves, as evident through their extensive interviews with performers and the thoughtful dialogues/contrasts that emerge through the assembly of each lineup. Hosting these events almost seems like a means of bringing the artists under their surveyance, allowing the hosts to examine their process and intricacies with greater scrutiny. I can still vividly recall my time moving back and forth between the anxious rasp of Matthew Sergeant’s [kiss] and Tom Rose’s Wisty, examining the tiny slithers of sound that floated through the dark spaces of The Yard Theatre.

My conversation with Bechdel highlighted some of the stale gender biases that still exist in the live music circuit and demonstrated how to craft an event series that pushes against them (something also explored, through statistics and a fervent desire for change, by the magnificent Female:Pressure). Sian Hutchings underscored the importance of building bridges between experimental sound and the uninitiated, using listening workshops with artists from different disciplines – painters, amateur orchestra performers – to remove the veil of aloofness and obscurity that can sometimes separate the sound art community from the world around it. Finally, the V22 Summer Club hosted a wonderful array of curious happenings at Louise House in London, the warmth and intimacy of the which was something I knew I wanted to replicate in my own events. I visited Louise House twice: once to host a double-film matinee centred on Maja Ratkje, and again to be spellbound by an evening curated by Full Of Noises festival. Both occasions renewed my faith in pouring my life into ATTN.

EN CREUX @ ATTN:MAGAZINE NIGHT 2, 10/01/2017

EN CREUX @ 2ND ATTN:MAGAZINE NIGHT, 10/01/2017

In 2016 I conducted more interviews than ever before. It’s no coincidence that 2016 has also been the year where I’ve reflected most intensely on my own relationship with sound: how I listen to it, how I articulate it, how I perform with it. I ticked several names off my interviewee bucket list, and many of those who I perceive to have achieved a state of mastery over sound actually spoke about their relationship with the unknown. Aaron Turner of SUMAC talked about the importance of writing and playing music that scares him as a means of escaping the safety of habit. Norman Westberg of Swans talked about correcting course and negotiating with the chaos of improvised performance. Will Brooks of Dälek talked about the revival of the band with the excitement of someone who, two decades in, is still identifying ways to surprise himself and stride toward new discoveries. Even for those with decades of exploration behind them, composition and performance never cease to be expanding, shifting and ultimately unknowable territories.

Elsewhere, Bethan Kellough reminded me that I’m not alone in wrestling with the articulation of sound, while enlightening me with new means of thinking about it. Sarah Davachi raised the notion that it’s difficult – and perhaps counterproductive – to try and encapsulate certain auditory sensations in writing. Am I obstructing my own listening experience by trying to rationalise it? Speaking of which, my exploration into the sounds made by animals – as aided by conversations with Tobias Fischer, Lara Cory and Robbie Judkins – reminded me to be cautious over my anthropocentric means of reasoning the role of animal communication (which, of course, is far more complicated than just functional calls for sex, food or attention). Perhaps the most immediate reflex of reason is also the most loaded with unconscious biases and over-simplified understandings.

Somehow, I need to reconcile this with my desire to retain the immediacy of my writing, capturing those flashes of imagery that arrive and dissipate before I have the opportunity to question them. Speaking to artists such as Alexander Donat and Laura Cannell ­– both of whom relish the gifts of working quickly, albeit in drastically different ways – reminded me to enjoy the act of creation without the hindrance of excessive self-scrutiny; write fast, let it be. In re-reading my January review of Aluk Todolo’s Voix, I can vividly recall the thrill of hurtling into the dark, carried on scuttling legs of improvisatory krautrock, twisting and turning through chicanes of syncopation, plummeting in freefalls of sudden change. Releases by Elif Yalvaç and Sarah Rasines absolutely had to be documented promptly, their shapes and implications disappearing almost as quickly as they came, while my review of First by Benjamin Nelson became a diary of ever-recalibrating understanding, with each paragraph documenting the eradication of a previous belief and the formation of a new one. Most bizarrely, Gate’s Saturday Night Fever dragged up memories of being 18, drunk and exhausted in the corridors and bathrooms of Basingstoke nightclubs, hearing muffled drumbeats ooze through the walls and press against my head, inhaling the stench of stale beer as it soaks into the carpet.

In the new year, my focus is already turning toward the other channels in which I can enact this quest to explore the articulation and appreciation of sound. Writing is only one of them. I’ve already had my first ATTN event of the year, with the wonderful en creux performing a debut Bournemouth set. The ATTN:Magazine Radio Show debuts on 24th January on Resonance Extra, through which I want to thread acts of spontaneity – raw field recordings, impromptu interviews – through a structure that ultimately feels finessed and carefully crafted. I’ll keep you posted via the ATTN:Newsletter if you like. Thanks as always for reading and sticking with me. Have yourself a rich and positively resonant 2017.