2012 has been an electrifying year in my own personal narrative of sonic experience. Last year I opted to boil 2011 down to five key releases that had made the most prominent and frequent return to my speakers and headphones, but to apply the same method to the sheer volume of new sound I’ve encountered throughout 2012 would feel deeply dissatisfying, not least because the past 12 months has seen ATTN’s coverage branch out even further into the realms of live performance, gallery installation and festivals; events that are equally deserving of note in my retrospective. As a result, here’s a run-through of how 2012 panned out through the eyes of ATTN, unbounded in terms of the quantity of events and artists other than by my own abilities of recollection and my feature-writing stamina.
January began with the echoes of the year before with a belated experience of Eli Keszler’s Cold Pin, which came “clattering in jittery bursts over what sounds like a box of empty tin cans” (from our own review, in reference to Keszler’s drumming style), while growls of motor-attacked piano string plagued the stereo edges. My ecstatic reaction to this release somewhat foreshadowed what was to be a very prominent year for Bill Kouligas’ Pan Act label; while releases by Helm, John Wiese, NHK’Koyxeи showcased Pan’s consistent ability to pluck out some of the most distinctive and innovative voices in experimental sound, the label’s showcases at Café Oto proved that enthused audiences were taking note in their hundreds.
Later in January, The Narrow Garden by Eyvind Kang unraveled ribbons of middle-eastern melody into stormy string dissonance, while Will Long blurred harmony into the two tracks of Rosy Reflections: the former bringing phantom warmth to a bleak and bitter January, while the latter functioning as my sleeping music for many nights throughout the year, seeping into my subconscious like a recurring dream. Other 2012 works that proved to be fantastic sleep accompaniments Boto by Artificial Memory Trace, Chihei Hatakeyama’s Norma, the Robert Crouch and Yann Novak collaboration Fata Morgana and Bring Me The Head Of Kyle Bobby Dunn.
Meanwhile, other works drew me into a heighten state of alertness. I capitalized on the opportunity of a free house and 5.1 surround sound to put Automacité by Christian Bouchard through its paces: an immersive sensory overload (movie explosions, children’s voices, synthesisers, jet enginges) in swirling, ever-flitting sonic collage, as though a grenade had been placed right in the centre of my neatly-filed sonic memory bank and blown shards of everything to the fore. Russell Haswell’s FACTUAL put black metal and rave music through his twitchy, excitable grinder of improvised electronics, while Florian Hecker spun a tangled web of elasticated noise and recited libretto for Chimerization.
Several of my long-standing favourites put out releases too, providing re-asserted justification of their place in my record collection. Earth completed their double-album Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light with a much looser, more jammed-out second half, nudging to the fore the understated improvisational talents of guitar Dylan Carlson and cellist Lori Goldston. Meanwhile, Nadja introduced the live drums of Mac McNeilly (Jesus Lizard) in a triumphant and energetic transformation of the band’s sound, condensing their cosmically expansive jams into the context of an actual rock record.
Field recording also proved to be a more prominent strand for exploration than ever. Listening to Slaughterhouse by David Michael – an account of his visit to a functional abattoir, featuring the death and preparation of a cow in all its fiercely evocative sonic detail – could well have played a part in my move to vegetarianism. Away from the clammy stench of death and into the invigoration of travel and discovery, Roland Etzin’s beautifully arranged portraits of China and Russia on Transmongolian evoked an experience both personal and welcoming. Both releases came courtesy of Gruenrekorder, which will no doubt continue to enlighten me to soundscape treasures throughout 2013.
Speaking of treasures (a weak segue perhaps, but go with it), a whole host of beautiful packages came through ATTN’s letterbox this year. Fescal’s Moods & Views was almost too pretty to handle, comprised of fragrant oils and a flower made from traditional Korean paper, while Wist Rec followed up the stunning Book Reports (mini Penguin classics with 3” CDRs tucked in the back cover) with The Folkestone Lighthouse EP by Being: a jackdaw folder from which postcard pictures, literary extracts and a fact file came tumbling out. Also, Slip Discs provided me with a sumptuously simple cardboard sleeve containing the debut work of Points Of Light (an ensemble of poetry, warm electronic washes, crisp glitch and cello) onto which my initials were stenciled in silver ink. I picked up the CD during their label showcase at SOUND//SPACE: a temporary setup at in V22 warehouse in Bermondsey, which functioned as both a pop-up shop for sound art-related releases and a venue for live events, workshops, lectures and more. Soundfjord (the UK’s only sound art gallery) put the whole thing on over the Summer, rekindling the aspects of record-shopping that have now been forgotten in an age of online distros and Amazon: picking up and feeling prospective purchases, discussing musical preferences with the shop staff. I was delighted to see a whole host of LINE releases available (Richard Chartier’s ever-consistent label for sound art editions), many of which have featured among my 2012 favourites: Kippschwingungen by Frank Bretschneider, For/Not For John Cage by Lawrence English and tacky-plastic soundscapes of Chartier’s own Pinkcourtesyphone moniker on Foley Folly Folio.
An interesting aspect of SOUND//SPACE was how the tangibility and ownership of physical releases was put directly alongside the fleeting, instantaneous thrill of live events. Martin A. Smith put V22’s colossal empty warehousing space to fantastic use in an eerie live soundtrack to Inferno – the first ever Italian feature film – shrouding his aura of synthesizer drift and Gregorian chant in thick, musty reverberation. Other key live events included Ufomammut’s stellar start-to-finish performance of their 90-minute track ORO, an excitable improv collab between Maja Ratkje and Ikue Mori, a helpless collaborative battle between Oren Ambarchi and a drunken, rowdy Charlemagne Palestine, a blindfolded multi-channel experience of Francisco Lopez and an unforgettable night of sound works from Russell Haswell, Jim O’Rourke and Marc Hurtado at South London Gallery. Oh, and I was endlessly endeared by a weekend of psychedelic rock, barn-house drones and pissing on haybales at Supernormal Festival in Oxfordshire, too.
And then there’s the various installations that fell upon ATTN’s eyes and ears: Graham Dunning’s chance discovery of a 1960s family’s home recordings in For Posterity, Bruce Nauman’s commotion of weekly routine and future plans in Days, the hockey puck from outer space under the name of the BE OPEN Sound Portal and Ed Atkins’ Us Dead Talk Love at London’s Chisenhale Gallery, in which narcissism unraveled into a trail of poetic prose and computerized imagery.
With 2012 being such an intense intake of audio, I was delighted to be able to give something back this year too. ATTN’s SIGNALVOID compilation was released in August and features 263 one-minute tracks by over 100 artists, all based on the theme of “noise”. The collection is designed for shuffle playing; an scattered, far-reaching journey that zips between the convulsions of beat and noise of Luke Lund, the cathartic blasts of saxophone of Mr.Underwood, the Power Electronics cranium burst of Content Nullity, the gush of feedback of Alan Courtis along with contributions from a few of the names featured in this article: Martin A. Smith, Pinkcourtesyphone, Yann Novak and Slip Discs. Just like 2012 itself, SIGNALVOID is an exploratory journey that delves inside a thick tangle of sound while simultaneously striding out into the undiscovered, leaving me constantly buzzing with fresh flashes of sensory experience; it’s been an absolute joy to subject myself to such a vast expanse of audio this year, and I look forward to writing a similar article of double the length at the end of 2013.