My 2013 began with a review of The Pentaki Slopes by Kangding Ray. I have a strong memory of listening to this release as I ran through Tottenham to catch a football game, with the hard beats and synthesiser strobes running in perfect parallel to High Road’s straight line of kebab shops and off licences. Later in the year, the release resurfaced as a solid gym accompaniment, leaving me melting onto the rowing machine as I fell helplessly behind the record’s insistent tempo. Perhaps it’s the fact that 2013 has felt incredibly transient – I uprooted from my birth town of Basingstoke to move to the beautiful coastal town of Bournemouth, and then spent the second half of the year entertaining an 80-minute commute to a new job – but this year I’ve become even more aware of my listening context. More than ever, ATTN is a frantic snatching at present tense, taking note of time, mood, acoustic response as they fuse together in a flash, sometimes speculating as to what just flickered and dimmed on the periphery of my sensory awareness.
And where better to appreciate this than in the live setting, where moments cannot be recalled and thus fade promptly into myth? With this in mind, an evening of quadrophonic performance by Keith Fullerton Whitman and BugBrand at Bristol’s Arnolfini was an apt first live review for 2013, flinging little putty balls of modular synthesisers out to the far corners of the room and letting them rebound off the walls – there was so much to take in an I’m sure I missed a good half of it, but there was a certain enjoyment in feeling totally overwhelmed by having the output of four speakers crammed into my own biological stereo input. And for anyone who found that the tangle of wires and lights on modular synthesisers worked to alienate to the point of nonsense, Tom Bugs (aka BugBrand) was on hand via a subsequent interview to perforate the veil of science and confusion.
I attended several other events this year that took the impermanence of listening into active consideration. At The Moment Of Being Heard at the South London Gallery explored the role of anticipation and potential – silence as a beckoning for sound – in a selection of installations by Eli Keszler, Rolf Julius, crys cole and many more. Keszler’s work encapsulated the atmosphere perfectly: a looming web of taut metal wires strung across the gallery wall, whose silence lurked thick with the anticipation of those occasional growls of motorised attack, during which tiny metal beaters rattled the strings on rapid fire. Breaking The Mirror Of Silence (at Angus-Hughes gallery) seemed to allude to similar themes in its title alone – indeed, my memories of the night itself consistent prominently of Yiorgis Sakellariou’s delicate construction of dynamic extremes, with patches of quiet acting as preludes to sudden eruption – while Martin A. Smith explored the sonic potential that hibernates in the conceptual and the visual through his wonderful GV Art exhibition, NOISE and whispers.
And while it was a quiet year for Richard Chartier’s LINE label, one of my last reviews of 2013 acted as a fantastic conclusion to my excavation of sound from non-sonic sources. Liquified Sky drew its inspiration from the quantum behaviour of silicone oil and cloud chambers, paralleling scientific processes through a sound that convulsed and burst, rejecting my innate thirst for explicit and traceable causation. Observing the world on a much larger scale, Yannick Dauby’s 蛙界蒙薰 tapped into the potential for synthesisers to convey moisture and humidity, in a gorgeous conversational duet between frogs and modular electronics, while Voices by Kink Gong discovered a beautiful pliability in recordings of South East Asian rituals and traditions, crafting a mesmeric geography in the process. Between this, Xambuca’s tribute to the Ainu people and Master Musicians Of Bukkake’s Far West (which I discussed in a fantastic interview with MMoB’s Randall Dunn), I encountered a very organic and comprehensive engagement with other cultures, highlighting how Western terms such as “World Music” can be seen as blankets of cultural ignorance.
My explorations of place didn’t stop there, and as well as engaging in plenty of physical travel this year, I encountered many works that cast the anchor of my imagination in numerous other elsewheres: from Sebastiane Hegarty’s wanderings through Winchester cathedral (only 40 miles down the road from ATTN HQ) to Cathy Lane’s blustery and rickety reconstruction of the Outer Hebrides (all sheep and clanking metallic machinery), soaring further still to meet Jérémie Mathes in amongst the collision of volcanic rock and water on Lanzarote, and then seeking Budhaditya Chattopadhyay somewhere within the industrial heat haze of Bangalore. Naturally, I subsequently sought the comfort of interiors to counter-balance the ingestion of open air, reclining into the cosy acoustics of Pjusk’s cabin in the Norwegian mountains on Tele and joining Tom Jackson and Benedict Taylor on their improvisational tour of badly-lit rooms.
I ventured further inward from here, where the closed loop of introversion birthed the vibrant and sometimes disturbing shapes of escapism and abstraction. Yannick Franck and Craig Hilton filled their canvas with drones that quivered and spilled like pools of mercury on Flowers For L.P., while Rashad Becker’s Traditional Music Of Notional Species Vol. 1 felt like wet tongues slurping up the side of my head. Meanwhile, the likes of Petals and Steel Hook Prostheses seems to warn against an excess of internal thought, with the liquid textures of the imagination thickening into sinister hallucinations, machinery ghosts and shadows flickering across the walls. Often I felt uneasy and adrift in such company, devoid of the gravitation of explicit source instrumentation, grappling with sound that floated untethered from decipherable points of origin.
And thus, in order to avoid spiralling out of reality, I often turned to sound that plunged its hands into process. Luke Younger (aka Helm) talked of his return to the more tangible means of tape and feedback loops in an interview back in March, while Elsie Martins of Atom Eye thoroughly immersed herself in the hiss and concrète processes of the tape medium through The Otolith Sessions, which were beautifully documented in an accompanying colour booklet. Sly And The Family Drone’s hand-crafted noise was thick enough to chew, while Daniel Barbiero painted a sonic silhouette of his double bass through the tense application of pressure on uneven surface. And then there was the punctuative slaps of palm on drum skin that comprised Cut Hands’ African percussion workouts, which juddered through The Island – a series of abandoned police station cells in Bristol – when I witnessed him in action back in November.
Container (aka Ren Schofield) was also on form that night. His adaption of the techno template sounded even more invigorating when throbbing fresh out of Schofield’s equipment than it does in the recorded format, and he was one of numerous artists this year that took me to new perimeters to so-called “genre boundaries”: the insistent slur of Gunslingers’ clattering rock ‘n’ roll, The Body’s appropriately guttural adaption of doom (complete with both choral ethereality and a distortion that sounded like crumbling earth), Matthew Collings’ beautiful shoegaze iceberg, Bad Guys’ party invitation to all of hardcore’s sweaty, psychedelic sub-sets and Ashley Paul’s tightrope-walking version of the singer-songwriter setup, which sat like a brittle vase above a pit of squawking improvisation. Occasionally, her songs fell right in.
I could go on. 2013 has been the most active year of ATTN’s existence, and 2014 looks to be even busier. It will begin with livingvoid: a collection sonic self-portraits, congealing all of the aforementioned methods of interacting with audio into a memory stick of 80 minute-long pieces. We’ll see where we go from there.