April 25, 2006

rainy day #...

I just got back from a road trip down the West Coast and through the
southern lakes area. It was the first time I'd been to the McKenzie
Country - amazing place, the interior of the South Island. Sharp
looking mountains around, all eroding, and unusual colours - brilliant
blue water and red berries on weeds. I think the wind might get to me
after a while though...

Listening to a bit of classical music these days - I really like Claude Debussy, he's got quite a different style from anyone else. Also into Duke Ellington, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Charlie Patton, Memphis Minnie, Beethoven... loving the oldie discount CDs. I picked up four CDs of Charlie Parker for $3 the other day. And the great thing about listening to this early 20th century music is that it helps what came later make more sense. I think we as a culture are beginning to adjust to life in the 21st century ($1.80/litre for petrol on the road trip) - and also able to stand back and look at the 20th with some perpective. John Lennon said 'before Elvis there was nothing' - I beg to differ.


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April 04, 2006

antler juice, combat wombat, duke ellington

Here's some music writing I've just done. And I bought a bunch of great oldie stuff cheap: Duke Ellington, Chopin, Beethoven, Shoenberg, Lightning Hopkins, Louis Armstrong, Woody Guthrie... great times. Chris Palmer told me I had to listen to Bela Bartok, so now I have - and he doesn't pull punches. The issues I have with classical music are that a) some classical players forget how to improvise and b) a lot of people who get into classical music never go past the 19th century. But to me Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Shostakovitch, Stockhausen, Xenakis, Terry Riley et all are just as valid. I'll also have to track down some Douglas Lilburn for a New Zealand perspective.

Anyway, here are two album reviews I wrote this evening (what? I actually did some writing??):


Combat Wombat – Unsound System www.combatwombat.org

Reviewed by Dave Edwards

Australian hiphop’s been one of my great recent musical enthusiasms since I lived in Melbourne during 2005. Combat Wombat’s second album Unsound System is my pick of the bunch as far as albums go, from what I’ve heard so far.

The great thing about Aussie hiphop is its regional distinctiveness – this is totally different from the Maori/Polynesian hiphop that we have in New Zealand, and nor does it retread American clichés. They sound like Aussies, and white Aussies at that. In using their own accent they’re up there with The Fall.

As you can guess from the name, Combat Wombat are a politically driven band who find their subject matter in issues such as racism, environmental destruction, and the right-wing John Howard government (complete with plans to build nuclear power plants and a Star Wars programme, new union-busting legislature, combat troops in Iraq, and a Christian fundamentalist at the helm) facing Australia today. ‘Now our Haiti’s underwater and our soil’s full of salt… but we got the alternative energy / for a nuke-u-lar free autonomy’. They take pride in their activism, and their website has a section devoted to it.

A sequence made up from samples from a right-wing talkback radio station offers several alternately hilarious and horrific passages. MC Izzy phones in to talk about the Woomera Detention Centre, one of Australia’s shameful open secrets where ‘illegal immigrants’ are detained. The DJ’s response: ‘well bugger them’. He tells Izzy she’s ‘a very left-wing lady’ and goes on to argue that because the three ships which landed in Sydney cove in 1788 bringing convicts and colonists resulted in the near-annihilation of the indigenous Aborigines (‘over 50 different tribes with over 100 different languages’ adds Izzy), the same logic applies to modern-day immigrants. ‘You let these people into our community and you’ll have a million on your doorstep overnight’. This is cutting right to the heart of darkness in Australian culture. ‘The aborigines lost their country. They lost their country. We arrived and took their country’. And it’s the ‘happy to be a rightie’ DJ who says this, reminding me of O’Brien in 1984.

Combat Wombat describe themselves thus:

‘Armed with only samplers, mics and turntables, powered by solar energy and an uncompromising belief in Truth over Spin, these desert nomads are the real deal, creating an album that reflects the frontline activism they have become famous for. Unsound System is a bullet to the dark heart of the Australian psyche.

‘Sonically rugged and funky, Monkey Marc's beats draw their influence from 70s reggae, Public Enemy's Bomb Squad and the golden era hip hop of the early 1990s. The album moves from A-grade head thunkin’ hip hop to seriously heavy dub reggae.

‘They’ve travelled and toured Australia constantly, lending their expertise to a wide range of causes; working with traditional owners in the Western Desert to oppose uranium mining on Aboriginal land; providing sound systems for Reclaim the Streets parties and blockades across the country; running workshops in isolated desert communities in Central Australia; assisting with the setup of the Warumpi Studio in Papunya, Central Australia; and showing farmers how to convert their vehicles to vegetable oil.

’ Monkeymarc and Izzy have embarked on more adventures thus far than most encounter in their lives. Marc grew up in various countries, including Yemen (where his family required a bodyguard equipped with a semi-automatic to accompany the kids trips to the pool) and had flown over 26 international plane trips before the age of ten. After working as a geologist at a gold mine in Cue, Western Australia, Marc had two hair-raisingly close brushes with death in one week (house fire and car crash), causing a complete re-evaluation and a move from working the mines to other ventures. Izzy grew up with one parent working for ASIO and subsequently the family moved home consistently – she ran away at 16 to a life on the road. Izzy and Marc met in Darwin as they forged new paths for themselves.’

Unsound System has been described as a new stage of maturity for Aussie hiphop. Certainly it’s well written, musically imaginative, great beats & rhymes, sounds like nothing else, and has a solid structure as an album. Highly recommended.


Antler Juice www.postmoderncore.com

Reviewed by Dave Edwards

New Zealand label Postmoderncore takes the plunge into the 500-copy world with its first ‘proper CD’, Antler Juice.

Postmoderncore, run by Sam Stephens aka Tangent Precipitate aka the Unknown Rockstar, has been around a few years now, releasing CDRs and making material available free on its website www.postmoderncore.com . The roster has included the acoustic folk stylings of Richard Whyte, the autodidactic free jazz of Rick Jensen Trio, the Last Exit-ish punk of the Shambolics, a spoken word album Salad Bones featuring young Wellington poets, and more. Wellington alto & baritone saxophonist Jeff Henderson, who looms large on the New Zealand improvised music scene, released his first solo albums via the label.

Antler Juice consists of a single 25-minute improvisation recorded at the Relay 03 event in South Korea in late 2005. Sam, who spent a year there teaching English as a second language, is teamed up with Korean electronic musicians Jin Sangtae and Choi Joonyong. The trio have between them laptops, contact mics and an ocarina. The photo inside the Korean hanji paper sleeve shows three young men seated, Sam the westerner with cheekbones and close-cropped hair.

The piece begins with the quiet setting of mood as the sounds begin to coalesce. The piece gets more agitated as it progresses, and shows plenty of variety, making good use of textured noise and samples from local media. There’s a strong sense of place, presenting Korea as a media-saturated landscape with an industrial sense. And we’re hearing Koreans and a New Zealander meet.

The strength of the album is in the definite structure of the 25-minute piece, and the sense of restraint inherent in keeping it short as an album. Possibly reflecting an Asian spacious aesthetic? Repeated listens show good dynamics and evolution, and there’s a great moment 2/3 of the way through where someone lets out a yell. The piece finishes without any recording of crowd reaction, so we’re free to speculate how it was received.

Sam describes the Relay series thus:
‘The series takes place in Iri Cafe in the Hongik area of Seoul. It is organised by Ryu Hankil aka Daytripper. It is currently the main event for fringe and improvised music in Korea.
‘For Relay performances, video artists often work together with musicians. It also often involves groups of musicians collaborating without any prior knowledge of who they would be playing with. Performers at Relay include Korean nationals, foreigners living in Korea, and occasional overseas guests.’

He describes the Korean music mainstream as

‘Pretty crap. Full of K-Pop, which is even worse than J-Pop ! Apart from
that there is the traditional music scene, which is amazing. There was
some kind of classical avant-garde scene, which I heard intriguing
little snippets of on the radio on the Korean Concert station. Then
there was some fringe folks doing punk, and other different music (maybe
metal and things, I dunno really), in Seoul and probably a couple of the
other big centers.’

Here’s Sam’s manifesto:

‘The goal of postmoderncore is sharing musical creativity with other people. postmoderncore is a protest against the idea of music as a commodity, and the use of copyright to control and curtail creativity – it’s pro-sampling and pro-creative commons. postmoderncore has no ties to particular genres of music, simply releasing artists and albums that deserve to be available to the public.
‘At the time of writing, postmoderncore has 52 releases. All except for Antler Juice are under Creative Commons licenses, available for free download, and on CD-R. Antler Juice is under copyright because of the need to attempt to recover costs!’

This seems to me a plausible strategy, and certainly something aiming towards some kind of greater good. And as well as supporting Postmoderncore’s efforts, Antler Juice is a great little snapshot album that is well worth hearing and buying on its own merits.


Wellington gig on Sunday went well by the way...

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