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Francesco Fusaro | Froz – Fin Qui 

Friday 18th March 2022 sees the release of Fin Qui, a new compilation by MFZ Records co-founder Francesco Fusaro aka Froz.

Fin Qui (Italian for “Until here/now”) consists of 14 tracks, released over the last five years, which span the musician’s forays into various electronic subgenres. Previously published as part of albums, singles or EPs, this new recontextualisation of Froz’s work can be considered both a ‘Best Of’ and a love letter to the legacy of electronic music. Speaking recently about the album, Francesco said:

“It’s a collection of my favourite pieces, which reference the sounds of labels such as Warp and Rephlex, and also hint at my love for the funkier, psychedelic and downtempo sounds of Odd Future and the like.”

The record is certainly varied. Album opener ‘Slowrave’ and its cousin ‘Session Twelve (Borders)’, which was created using only the Novation Circuit Groovebox, wouldn’t feel out of place if played at a cold wave club at 3am. Tracks such as ‘Piano & Claps’ may recall the signature melodic groove of Robert Miles, while ‘Steppin’ and ‘Wait What’ are evocative of the heady days of ‘90s jungle and drum & bass. On the uptempo ‘LDN B GOOD 2 ME’, Froz reflects on his love for London and the electronic sound he grew up with. ‘So Chilled’ is online-native chillhop, but with a sinister topline that might suggest your revision days are over. The pitch shifted vocal on ‘Procrastinator’ certainly seems to corroborate this.

Clocking in at just over 50 minutes Fin Qui manages to pack a lot of nostalgia-inducing ideas that would equally suit a warehouse acid rave, an intimate house party or a solitary late-night listen.

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Klein

Barbican, London, UK

The concert opens in a confrontational vein. A sharp spotlight fixes itself on the audience while a heated debate about gender roles, sampled from the BKChat LDN webseries, booms out of the PA. The atmosphere becomes increasingly disconcerting as the spotlight moves around the auditorium, momentarily blinding anyone it falls upon. Gradually, two choral voices fade in before collapsing into a hyperdigital crescendo. This primes us for the journey to come: a varied set that includes elements of theatre, noise, contemporary composition and ironic humour.

Visibly excited, South London musician Klein, who performs atop a scaffolding platform, jokes that “this is the last show I’m doing, so shake your bum. I’m becoming a librarian!” just before bursts of timber-shaking bass explode out of the speakers. The sound is often brutal, with feedback occasionally breaching the limits of bearability. 

Such moments of extreme tension are counterbalanced with phrases of quieter, more accessible compositions. One memorable piece is a duet between Klein’s trumpet and Khush Jandu Quiney’s haunting saxophone melodies. The stage, shrouded in a cloud of haze which is illuminated by flashing red lights, evokes an otherworldly Lynchian mood, as if we are witness to some late-night roadside emergency. Quiney’s bold silhouette breaks through the fog, acting as a visual anchor for the duration of the piece. 

Other credited collaborators include Bunny, Josiane M H Pozi, ​​Aminat D Seriki and Nellie Owusu can often be found grouped together on stage left, moving in time to the music or mirroring the rhythms of unintelligible time-stretched speech with their bodies. At one point the house lights go up and Pozi reads out intentionally bad jokes. Her forced, sarcastic laughter is then looped and used as a backing track. 

Rapper Jawnino, who also opens the show as a support act, improvises with beaters and a bass drum. His harsh blows, which are not backed by any other music, respond to a set of automated drums sitting on top of the scaffold. Programmed by Klein and kinetic sculptor Tobias Bradford, these snares and toms are played by robotic drumsticks. These and similar improvised segments stitch together more recognisable elements of Klein’s catalogue, such as the ethereal-sounding “Hope Dealers” from last year’s Harmattan album, the stems of which are triggered using a MIDI guitar.

The central focal point throughout the show is a large screen directly underneath Klein’s platform. Its projected visuals cycle through détourned videos, photographs and internet ephemera. During the swelling detuned synths of Klein’s new track “whos on the panel” the phrase “Hug A Hoodie” appears on screen. While the track title refers to a 2011 diss by grime MC Ghetts, which commented on exclusion in the music industry, the hoodie quote recalls former UK prime minister David Cameron’s much ridiculed attempt to reconstitute the Conservative Party’s image as modern and inclusive. 

When these recontextualised references are considered alongside unsettling synth pads, a pitched comedy sketch about racism and an elevator LED display prop that is always either ascending or descending but never settling on any one floor, the overarching theme of the performance reveals itself. For all the lip service paid by those in power, institutional racism is a huge factor in how our society functions and we have some distance to go before this can be overthrown.

Ilia Rogatchevski
Originally published by Wire, March 2022

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Linien II 1948–49

A new release from the Institute for Danish Sound Archaeology explores the pioneering sound work of Danish visual artists, Richard Winther, Hans “Bamse” Kragh-Jacobsen, Niels Macholm, Ib Geertsen and Gunnar Aagaard Andersen

Photo: Linien II in 1947 by Vittus Nielsen Ritzau / Scanpix.
From left – Ib Geertsen, Richard Winther, Bamse Kragh-Jacobsen; On top – Niels Macholm.

Linien II (Danish for The Line) was an artists’ association set up in post-war Denmark. Concerning itself with concrete art, the group consisted of Richard Winther, Hans “Bamse” Kragh-Jacobsen, Niels Macholm, Ib Geertsen and Gunnar Aagaard Andersen. Linien II operated in a new creative reality divorced from traditional subject matter. Its artists created ‘synthetic’ work and, in a utopian fashion typical of modernism, opposed ‘classical’ art, which was, in their view, full of superfluous naturalism.

Working in a constructivist style – not dissimilar to the paintings of Theo van Doesburg or László Moholy-Nagy – the Linien II artists wanted to achieve a synthesis between sculpture, film, and sound by extending the aesthetic problems of painting into the temporal field. Winther called this approach “space-time modulation”. At a time when Pierre Schaeffer was developing his own theories on concrete music, in the late 1940s, Winther and his group recorded their parallel experiments in concrete sound art.

Released by the Institute for Danish Sound Archaeology, Linien II 1948–49 compiles five sound works and two interviews (conducted with Winther and Aagaard Andersen by composer Ole Buck in 1971). Four of the recordings were made directly onto lacquer discs, in 1948 and 1949, at the privately owned Wifos Lydstudio. Originally produced for an exhibition at Den Frie Udstillingsbygning and two events at Politikens Hus in Copenhagen, the fragile originals have been stored at the SMK National Gallery of Denmark’s sound archive since the 1990s.


‘Bruitistisk koncert nr. 1’ (Bruitist Concert No. 1) by Bamse Kragh-Jacobsen employed the sound of a studio test-plate which, when played back, would emit sine tones of descending frequencies every fifteen seconds. An additional horn can be heard every ten seconds, after which Kragh-Jacobsen would begin a piano figure in a recurring A-B, A-BB, A-BBB, A-BBBB, A-BBBBB pattern. The figure starts over once the horn sounds again and so on until the end.

Winther’s ‘Maskinsymfoni nr. 2’ (Machine Symphony No. 2) employs a similar principle of dividing time, but does so by repeating the same four-tone piano chord – again played by Kragh-Jacobsen – for minute-long or half-minute intervals. In between these intervals, Winther can be heard using an electric buzzer and horn, while Niels Macholm rubs pieces of sandpaper against each other. The other works on Side A include Winther’s ‘Bruitistisk improvisation’ and an untitled sound poem by Ib Geertsen. The latter involved fireworks exploding during the session, which led to Geertsen audibly choking in the smoke-filled studio.

The fifth composition, Gunnar Aagaard Andersen’s score-based piece ‘Koncert for fem violiner og et lysbilledapparat’ (Concert for Five Violins and a Projector), takes up the majority of Side B. Originally conceived in 1949, the piece was performed by Gruppen for Alternativ Musik in the early 70s with alternate instrumentation: violin, oboe, organ, cello and horn. It is the only known recording of the work.

Above: Excerpt from the graphic score for Koncert for fem violiner og et lysbilledapparat, 1949.
Below: Spectral analysis of the recording of the work from 1971.

‘Koncert for fem violiner og et lysbilledapparat’ developed from Aagaard Andersen’s compositional studies at the Louvre, where he would subdivide canvases of the old masters into new geometric formations. These studies led to new abstract paintings and, eventually, the graphic score. Drafted on graph paper, each violin of the title was given its own colour and required to follow an ascending or descending figure based on a twenty-one semitone scale. The resulting composition is discordant yet interestingly precise. When comparing the score to a spectral analysis of the recording, Aagaard Andersen’s graphic notation is recognisable in the harmonic patterns created by the instruments.

If judged on musical merit alone, this album is unlikely to be enjoyed by a wide audience. It is, however, a very important document that chronicles a small group of visual artists who saw sound as an ineluctable medium for the development of their aesthetic principles. An extensive illustrated booklet, written by curator Magnus Kaslov, details the art historical context within which these recordings were made. For Kaslov, whether or not an individual work succeeds is not as important as “the seriousness of the experiment that must convince the audience of the project’s potential”. Along with the album, Kaslov’s text provides a window into a way of thinking that favoured presentation over representation; one of modernism’s last attempts to cast off the past and colonise the future.

Ilia Rogatchevski
Originally published by The Quietus, February 2022

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Other, Like Me

COUM Transmissions performance outside Ferens Art Gallery, Hull (1971)
Image: Cosey Fanni Tutti

Marcus Werner Hed & Dan Fox (Directors)
Willow Glen Films 2020, 82 min 

COUM Transmissions was a multidisciplinary art collective whose practice evolved from carnivalesque performances on city streets to transgressive actions in art galleries. Originally commissioned by the BBC, Other, Like Me was conceived as a documentary about COUM only, beginning in late 1960s Hull and ending with their infamous Prostitution show at London’s ICA in 1976. Somewhat inevitably, the project evolved to encompass Throbbing Gristle (or TG) – the pioneering industrial band that COUM mutated into as the collective’s experiments in music, electronics and performance art developed over time.

Founded in 1969 by Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, COUM was influenced by Dada and aimed to disrupt the humdrum order of daily life through theatre, music and the construction of situations by exploring taboo subjects like sex, violence and the manipulation of the human body. Making reference to the aforementioned ICA exhibition, Conservative MP Nicholas Fairbairn famously described the group as “wreckers of civilisation”, but this film shows the collective’s participants, in the words of its core member Cosey Fanni Tutti, as “even more civilised” than their detractors.  

COUM’s other prominent early members included Spydeee Gasmantell, Les Maul, John Lacey and Foxtrot Echo, all of whom appear in the documentary. Notably absent from the film are Chris Carter, who declined to be interviewed, and Dr Tim Poston, who accepted but passed away before the filmmakers were able to speak with him. The late Peter Christopherson is present mainly through stills, although some archival interviews were also used. P-Orridge died during production, in March 2020, making these interviews some of h/er last.

Many of the members maintained rich archives documenting their work and Other, Like Me makes great use of these materials. Forays into mail art, photos of early performances and images of Genesis and Cosey’s Merzbau-like squat at Prince Street, Hull are all worthwhile windows into their developing art practice. Throbbing Gristle’s 1980 gig at Oundle School also makes for entertaining viewing, particularly when a chorus of students start singing ‘Jerusalem’ in an effort to reclaim their social space back from the band. 

Those who have read Cosey Fanni Tutti’s 2017 memoir Art Sex Music or visited COUM’s retrospective at the Humber Street Gallery in Hull that same year would be familiar with the narrative of how COUM and TG are inextricably intertwined. 

Personal relationships between members, while discussed, are sidelined in the film. P-Orridge’s tendency for angry, violent outbursts is briefly alluded to by Les Maul, but the alleged abuse experienced by Fanni Tutti at the hands of Genesis, during their romantic and professional relationship, is relegated to a title card at the end. Both COUM and TG regularly used violence as their source material. It might have been useful to further interrogate the dynamic between abhorrent human behaviours and the art actionism that draws its power from them.

The post-TG worlds of Coil, Psychic TV and Chris & Cosey are skimmed over in around a minute. This is a pity, but understandable, too, as including those projects would have bloated and confused the principal narrative arc.

Ultimately, as John Lacey points out, “the idea of COUM is about companionship”. Other, Like Me is a concise and compelling story about dropouts and autodidacts who infiltrated the art world and changed music culture indefinitely. TG’s emphasis on timbre, frequency and volume, coupled with transgressive lyrical themes, deconstructed established notions of musicality and gave the world Industrial music. 

Ilia Rogatchevski
Originally published by Wire, February 2022

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A Bridge Too Far-Sighted? Exhibition Recalls Collaboration Of Thomas Leer & Robert Rental

In 1979, DIY synth pioneers Thomas Leer and Robert Rental made one album together for Throbbing Gristle’s Industrial Records. A new exhibition at the Horse Hospital explores the record’s continuing legacy

All photos: Karen Willey / encyclopaediaelectronica.com

From The Port To The Bridge is an intimate and engaging exhibition exploring the post-punk electronic pioneers Thomas Leer and the late Robert Rental. Originally staged at Greenock’s Beacon Arts Centre in 2018, the show made its London debut at the Horse Hospital this January. The exhibition chronicles Leer and Rental’s lives in music, pivoting around the recording and release of their seminal 1979 album The Bridge.

The show is curated chronologically with the narrative following a clockwise direction around the venue’s basement. The story is told primarily through large frames holding collages of press clippings and photographs. Generously detailed explanatory notes are mounted on the walls, but a zine, authored by curator Simon Dell and published by Encyclopaedia Electronica, is available to purchase for anyone who wants to dive deeper. There are cassette demos, backing tapes and original vinyl pressings displayed in the glass cabinets, but the biggest draw for many will be the instruments. For example, Daniel Miller of Mute Records loaned his noticeably weathered (but still functional) Korg 700S synthesizer, on which he wrote ‘Warm Leatherette’ and ‘T.V.O.D’. Many of the items, however, come courtesy of Thomas Leer himself or Hilary Farrow, Robert Rental’s widow. Also on display is the acid-coloured EDP Wasp, a synth which tended to spontaneously play itself when the temperature in a club rose too high, but one that also gave The Bridge its signature sound.

Leer and Rental, born Thomas Wishart and Robert Donnachie respectively, hailed from Port Glasgow, a shipbuilding town on the southern bank of the lower River Clyde. Both men showed interest in music from a young age with Thomas playing in a string of local rock bands. It was expected that they would follow their families into heavy industries, which were abundant on the Clyde at the time. Instead, they became gardeners and met while working at Parklea Nursery, bonding over their mutual love of Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and Cream.

After a period of hitchhiking across England in the early 1970s to attend the Glastonbury and Windsor Free festivals, the pair experimented with communal living. This eventually led to them forming a punk band, in 1976, along with Thomas’s partner Liz Farrow on bass and Andy Aitken on drums. Calling themselves Pressure, the group attempted to make their mark in London’s punk scene by playing gigs at the Man In The Moon pub on the King’s Road in Chelsea. However, after seeing Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Slits playing in Croydon in late 1977, Leer broke up the band. “They were doing what I wanted to do,” wrote Leer in the Overground fanzine some years later. “I split the band and decided that the proper thing to do was to bring the electronics back in again”. Punk, he felt, had run its course and it was time to go in a different direction.

Before moving to London, Leer came across Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, one of the first groups to use synthesizers in their music. Not being able to afford a synth, Thomas persuaded a friend who worked in a school science lab to make him a series of ring modulators and other modules. They were encased in little boxes with nails poking out of them so that they could be played by hand. It was this DIY ethic, along with punk’s primal energy, that gave Leer and Rental the impetus to push their work further.

Daniel Miller, who reissued The Bridge on vinyl and CD this year, gives credit to The Desperate Bicycles for educating many in the punk scene on how to make their own records. Miller used this knowledge to record and release the ‘Warm Leatherette’ single as The Normal in 1978. Leer and Rental also released singles around this time, ‘Private Plane’ and ‘Paralysis’ respectively, using only the rudimentary equipment set up in their homes. ‘Private Plane’ made single of the week in the NME that October. These tracks, along with Cabaret Voltaire’s Extended Play, The Human League’s ‘Being Boiled’ and Throbbing Gristle’s ‘United’ paved the way for the synth-pop era of the early 80s.

Miller and Rental first met at a Throbbing Gristle show at the London Film-Makers’ Co-op. Rental had produced soundtracks for Nick Emery’s films Burning Land and Facelift (both on show at the exhibition) and Miller was working in the film industry at the time. Finding that they had many ideas in common, they went on tour together as Robert Rental and The Normal, supporting Essential Logic and Stiff Little Fingers on the latter’s Inflammable Material tour throughout February and March 1979. Miller remembers the shows teetering from “very bad to absolutely awful” with punk audiences reacting to the duo’s electronic sounds by throwing lit cigarettes, glass, and chains onto the stage. William Bennett of Essential Logic, who befriended the duo while on tour (and subsequently formed the power electronics project Whitehouse) was inspired enough to create “a sound that could bludgeon an audience into submission”.

Facelift (8 min 30 sec), directed by Nick Emery, Sound by Emery and Robert Donnachie (Rental), 1977-78

Meanwhile, Leer was making music on his own using a recently purchased Wasp synth. He continued to make demos with Rental upon the latter’s return from tour. These recordings found their way to TG, who signed the duo to Industrial Records. Through Peter Christopherson’s connections with Hipgnosis, TG hired an eight-track recorder, mixing console and other recording equipment from Pink Floyd’s Britannia Row studio. Chris Carter set up the equipment in Rental’s Battersea flat, but gave them only a basic explanation of how the equipment worked. TG tasked the duo with writing and producing an album’s worth of material in two weeks.

These sessions materialised in The Bridge. The record has two distinct halves with the A side channelling punk’s energy via the duo’s motorik influences and the B side exploring ambient textures inspired by the tape delay operational diagram printed on the rear sleeve of Brian Eno’s Discreet Music.

Despite the record’s relative success (it sold over 7,500 copies in the first nine months after its initial release and reached #9 on the UK Independent Chart in 1980), Thomas and Robert eschewed playing live or even working together as a duo again, which jeopardised a licensing deal from EG Records. Rental released only one more single, Double Heart (Mute, 1980), before becoming disillusioned with the music industry and retreating into family life. Leer carried on making music and a significant part of the exhibition is devoted to his post-Bridge career with labels Cherry Red, Arista, and ZTT (as one half of the pop duo ACT, along with Propaganda’s Claudia Brücken).

Music archivist and exhibition curator Simon Dell does a good job of weaving together an engaging story of two quiet but obstinate Scots whose uncompromising vision and brief collaboration led to the making of a really unique record. Additional context is provided by filmed interviews, conducted by Dell and Danny Stoker, with The The’s Matt Johnson, Daniel Miller, as well as TG’s Cosey Fanni Tutti and Chris Carter. Andy Wishart’s fifteen-minute interview with his brother Thomas Leer is also shown. It’s a pity that only one pair of headphones is made available, which makes group viewing impossible, but luckily some of the interviews can be found online.

For a collaboration that lasted a handful of years and produced only one full-length LP, the legacy of Leer and Rental’s The Bridge has rippled through electronic music. Artists such as JD Twitch and Ekoplekz continue to champion their work with the latter even naming one of his tracks ‘Robert Rental’ in honour of the late musician. Outside of niche electronic circles, however, the duo’s work remains largely unknown. This exhibition, along with Mute’s reissue of the album, will surely help to rectify this.

From The Port To The Bridge is on at the Horse Hospital, London until 10 February 2022. The Bridge reissue is out on 8 April on Mute.

Originally published by The Quietus, February 2022.

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Disinformation – National Grid

My collaboration with Disinformation is going to be broadcast as part of the Transmission Ecologies series on Movement Radio tonight, 8pm GMT. It was recorded in 2018 as part of Disinformation’s ongoing National Grid project. Listen here http://movement.radio

Transmission Ecologies ft. Disinformation

Track List

Disinformation – National Grid – remixed by Bruce Gilbert – 1997
Disinformation – National Grid (VLF radio version) – (original LP version) – 1996
Pathé News / British Pathé – Pylon Men (documentary) – 1956
Disinformation – National Grid – remixed by Bruce Gilbert – 1997
Pathé News / British Pathé – Pylon Men (documentary) – 1966
Disinformation – Radiate + National Grid + Loran-C – 1999*
Moscow Popular Science Film Studio – Plus Electrification (documentary) – c.1960
Disinformation – Live in Moscow – featuring Mike Walter + Andy Knight – 2000
Moscow Popular Science Film Studio – Plus Electrification (documentary) – c.1960
Disinformation – National Grid – featuring Ilia Rogatchevski – 2018*
Disinformation – London Underground (VLF field recording) – 2002*
Disinformation – Bexleyheath to Dartford (VLF field recording) – 2002*

* NB: tracks remixed January 2022

“National Grid” is a pioneering and highly influential electromagnetic sound artwork, created by the artist project Disinformation, which uses interference from live mains electricity as both a literal and metaphorical source of creative energy. The lowest “G” on a piano keyboard resonates at a frequency of 49Hz, while live mains alternating current resonates (in the UK and Europe) at a frequency of 50Hz, manifesting as a very pure musical sine-wave. “National Grid” was originally recorded and performed, “played” live using the Upper and Lower Side-Band filter on a VLF-converted shortwave radio. Since then “National Grid” has been realised using direct line outputs from mains electrical transformers; with the 50Hz sine-wave being subjected to microtonal re-tuning techniques, which transform the slightly sharp “G” note into a rhythmically pulsing and deeply immersive and hypnotic low frequency sound mass. 

“National Grid” performances and sound installations are literally electrifying. The VLF radio version manifests as a work of exhilarating intensity, exploring the aesthetics and symbolism of electricity and of pure vibration; while the mains transformer versions manifest as highly site-specific three-dimensional sound installations, which produce a range of powerful physical, psychological and physiological resonances. Trebuchet Magazine described “National Grid” as (quote) “one of the most important and impressive sound art works of recent times”.
“National Grid” was first published on LP (by the record company Ash International) and first performed live at the Disobey club night (organised by the record company Blast First), both in 1996. The sound installation version premiered at the Museum of Installation (art gallery) in July 1997.

Since then “National Grid” has been performed and exhibited nearly 40 times – at (among others) the Royal College of Art (London), South London Gallery, Volksbühne (Berlin), ZKM (Karlsruhe), Kettle’s Yard (Cambridge), Hayward Gallery (London), Fabrica Gallery (Brighton), Dom Culture Centre (Moscow) and Fort Process (Newhaven). “National Grid” has been exhibited in an underground nuclear warfare command centre (the former RAF “Rotor” bunker near Anstruther, Scotland), and performed on the very desk in London’s Royal Institution where the scientist Michael Faraday demonstrated some of the most important discoveries in the history of electrical science. Several versions have been released on CD, and collaborative interpretations have been produced by Bruce Gilbert (from the punk band Wire), Jim O’Rourke (from Sonic Youth), the saxophonist Evan Parker, the noise musician (Paul) Nomex, and with the pioneering noise group Test Dept.

This podcast – produced by Disinformation for Transmission Ecologies – features original and collaborative versions of “National Grid”, including contributions by Bruce Gilbert, the saxophonists Mike Walter and Andy Knight, and the sound artist llia Rogatchevski. The podcast also features historic documentary material, exploring the history, culture and politics of electrification. The Pathé News documentary “Pylon Men” speculates that “in days to come, (electricity) pylons… may have their champions, eager to preserve them as historic monuments”, while Soviet propaganda footage discusses Lenin’s famous assertion – recently quoted in a notorious speech by the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson – that “Communism is Soviet power plus electrification”.

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Rewind 2021: Critics’ Reflections

I found myself reading a lot this past year, picking up books old and new. Juliane Fürst’s Flowers Through Concrete: Explorations in Soviet Hippieland provided an insight into hippy subcultures of the Soviet Union; Public House: A Cultural and Social History of the London Pub explored the pub as a social, political and architectural space; while Kenneth Womack’s Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles gave me an excuse to revisit familiar songs and put Peter Jackson’s documentary series into context.

The most influential book I read this year, however, was Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures. This is a comprehensive but accessible text on how significant fungi are to life on this planet. Suddenly mushrooms were everywhere, not least in the brilliantly illustrated children’s book Humongous Fungus. In October, my family and I participated in an urban foraging walk and workshop, led by Czech filmmaker Alice Dušová, in East London’s Lea Valley. Both the book and walk changed my outlook on nature, particularly its interrelationship with urban spaces, and helped to shake off my post-lockdown malaise. 

Ilia Rogatchevski
Originally published by Wire, December 2021

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Review: Mute Frequencies – Echo Chamber (self-released, Aug 30)

Conceptually speaking, London sound art collective Mute Frequencies’ first release firmly situates itself in reference and response to “times of pandemic,” but unlike many other creative works I’ve seen, heard, read, etc. with the same topic, Echo Chamber has a timelessness that will endure long beyond the times in which life is still significantly changed, or even when those changes either last and become old hat or disappear into faded memory.

The (re)new(ed) poetic interest in daily tedium recently embraced by artists of all kinds has delved even further into the unutterable truths hidden within our routines than we all already have in the process of experiencing the paring of our lives down to very nearly them and them alone, and this gorgeous 15-minute piece is just one of many artful odes to domestic mundanity that wordless remind us that the banal is not to be taken for granted; not necessarily appreciated, or derided, or avoided, but simply not neglected.

According to the trio of Ilia Rogatchevski and Laura and Kitsuné Rogatchevskaia, the more abrasive textures—seething emf clouds and cranked-up radios set to dead air—“periodically interrupt” what often presents as tranquility in an effort to “remind the listener of the unfortunate global context” that inspired the music, but to me, admittedly someone who is quite partial to “abrasive textures,” the intrusions play several important roles in supporting the familiar sounds of bird chirps, babbling children, and playground equipment in the breeze, none of which turn out to be so negative.

Beyond their “periodic” nature providing a loose, abstract sort of rhythm to glom on to, and their sharper edges engaging in compelling contrast-interplay with the outdoor field recordings, the sudden surges and swarms of electronics act as up-close, almost confrontational channels through which to experience the overall soundscape, much more tactile and therefore graspable than their ephemeral partners.

I’m sure everyone will find their way to their own meaning via these conspicuous conduits, but the purpose behind Mute Frequencies’ work here will inevitably surface, somehow, in any analysis; the eminent neutrality of their auditory lens leaves room for subjective interpretation, even as its very existence affirms the impossibility of these base, innate things ever being fully explained. Round and round we go.

Jack Davidson
Originally published by Noise Not Music, September 2021