Other spaces: Language Systems / Offkiltered (2019)

The more abstract meanderings I had begun to explore at the tail end of the Dub albums (Dub An Dubberer / Dubber An Dubbererer / i!) seemed to draw me deeper into unchartable waters, a descent into a kind of musical madness where shapes loomed momentarily out of the fog only to dissolve or disintegrate back into formlessness.   2019 was like being fed slowly through an emotional meat grinder to say the least, and to avoid collapsing into total breakdown it became imperative that I keep focusing, to keep myself engaged in recording & creating as much as possible. 

People often talk in terms of ‘creative expression’ and the artist ‘expressing themselves’, but I learned for myself many decades ago that my process was more specific: for me, immersive creative activity, in whatever media, is a crucial neurological tool, a feedback loop that I form with my brain in the active principles of discovering new information and organising it into something symbolic.  From an autistic point of view, this is the equivalent of taking a chaotic jumble of objects and arranging them into something aesthetically calming – patternmaking.   

Language Systems (2019)

The aimless pastiche of sounds on Language Systems mirrored my internal chaos, and yet they provided a feedback loop that brought me a sense of equilibrium as I stitched these disfigured life-forms together.  My process was one of throwing anything at the wall, and finding a way to make any of it stick.  I seemed to look deliberately for the crippled, the disharmonious, the skewed and the skewered.  I surrendered to the doing, but gave all my attention to every undulation of sound.  Every sound mattered, but how it got there was unimportant – there was a place for all of it.

As I arranged these disparate sounds, each new element or layer hung tenuously around an underlying, invisible arhythmic pulse rather than any obvious beat, and the gaps and pauses moved in and out of focus according to this pulse.  Often in my music I am looking for the rhythm that exists in these rubbery spaces, rather than more precise dissections of time.  In pursuit of this I also often deliberately place layers of unrelated rhythm together, to further warp the experience of space/time.  In the midst of creating these sonic journeys I experience an internal swirling that lifts and carries me, like a whirlpool or a galaxy spiralling in space, or much as I imagine a conductor must feel in the midst of a swirling orchestra.

Gone Woop Woop opens with the fine tinkling, not of chimes but a set of circular drillbits with perfect pitch, tapped with a chopstick.  The keyboard is mashed through some harsh FX, the guitar twists in the background like a speared snake, and later a drumkit lumbers & limps the piece to its gradual conclusion.  Confusion Bombs is distinct from the other tracks, as a textural scape comprising only of layers of improvised bass guitar.  Under The Murky Whey, Tonight uses a jazz-inflected line on cello bass as glue, with waves of ambience washing through like stars wheeling overhead, while disgruntled saz and fizzling keyboard noises elbow and jostle, sometimes dissonant and other times more sympathetic to the atmospherics.  And Life Is Code For? traverses a full 21:21 minutes, and its opening sequence is an edited segment of Box Trolls, a textural drone experiment on cello by Heidi.  From there the piece becomes a sound collage, with found sounds as diverse as a basketball being bounced on wooden steps, a laser printer, water blooping inside a hose, a creaking office chair and ‘banging a stainless steel bowl with water in it’.

I play many instruments throughout the album.  A cheap Yamaha keyboard provides a lot of source sounds which I modified through other FX.  There is electric guitar, kemenche, saz and others like ukulele which have been warped beyond recognition.

Some other descriptors from the album notes:  A continuing process of impulse / response between myself and sounds as they happen. A jazz thinking, perhaps.  Sonic mobiles in which dangling moments of sound & texture gently nudge each other into unexpected musics.  Atmospheres that eddy into themselves, like the folded time in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Offkiltered (2019)

Offkiltered is part of the spill of ideas that also appear on the Language Systems album, all of which grew out of the more abstract moments on the ‘interpretive dub’ trilogy prior to that – a festering petri dish of sonic perpendicularities, all sprouting more or less around the same time.

Each piece orbits at different cycles within itself…atmospheric excursions through musical space, improvised rhythms, crude electronics, spacejazz ignorance, driftily skewed guitar textures.

Throughout these recordings I had been listening to lots of Can and Sun Ra in particular, Thelonious Monk, Harry Partch, Annette Peacock, Robert Fripp – all mavericks with musically elastic thinking.  Aside from their remarkable music, I am especially drawn to these people for their autistic interrogation of the creative process, and I am inspired by their variously lateral approaches, the attitude of discovery beyond the reliable.

Some elements from Language Systems have carried over to this album, for instance a renewed interest in the acoustic resonance of cello as a faux doublebass, stepping into more of a jazz riffing feel and even trying on a solo in places.  The soundcollage abstraction continues on Strange Attractors and Overlapse, the layering of disparate voices and beatless pulses.  I’ve also continued the use of primitive electronic textures.

In some ways this album is musically more coherent than the previous excursion.  I brought new attention to electric guitar on a few tracks, especially the moody tremolo textures on Some Spooks Ya Never Shake and The Mood. The Womb is entirely built around around a loose drumkit improvisation I did one day with brushes, then adding elements of keyboard and guitar as dark atmospheric washes – even without bass I think it is very effective.  Somewhat rawer guitar textures feature on the shaggy, lumbering experimental jam Departure, which began as an extended drum practice I happened to record, then explored some angular guitar improvisations on. I made more use of the drumkit in general on this album, and my loose unsophisticated improvisations formed the basis of several of these pieces.

The anomaly in this collection (which is why I included it) is Orkestra Of Exhausted Explanations – an imagined ensemble of cello, kemenche and piano, battered, bedraggled, depressed and weary of life – a comment on my exhaustion at constantly having to explain my intentions to people who habitually make assumptions & misinterpret my actions. Musically the piece definitely has an offkilter feel to me….like the orchestra on the Titanic…

As ever, the music illustrates my Aspergers mind trying to make sense of itself through sound, cycle & atmosphere. There are moments that reflect the fragmentation, dischord, disturbance & disintegration I was internalising at the time, but my hope is that the music still carries an overall sense of balance and enough space to find its own strange inner pulses & harmonies.

Probably not suitable for listening if you’re very drunk or seasick, but excellent for listening on headphones in more relaxed states of being.