13 from ’13 (= ‘zero)

cassetteHardly a ‘best of’ or a ‘top ten’ (or even top 13). Here are 13 sonic experiences from 2013 kind of rushed because it’s time to get onto 2014. They come from all over the place and all over time:

1Ten Freedom Summers (3 nights in November at Cafe Oto). Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet with the Ligeti String Quartet and Jesse Gilbert…for its ambition, historical perspective and generosity.wls4001

2Head Slash Bauch (2002). AGF. I got this in Oxfam back in the summer. Fragmentary and unresolved music that I kept coming back to for the rest of the year. At the end of the year I picked up a BBC sound effects CD for 49p in the same Oxfam…’Trains BBC CD SFX 041’…just as unresolved and compelling on one listen but with less ‘depth’ I guess. Still…here from the ‘Trains passing’ section is Track 42 ‘Single diesel locomotive passes under a bridge.’ (with unidentified birds).

3. The sound of the wind passing through metal fins on the top of the world’s second highest outdoor viewing platform on the world’s fourth tallest building, Taipei 101 Tower.

4. All Comes to an End with Disco in Hell. This was one of a number of compilations that I made last year…mostly the content defined by which CDs I had picked up in charity shops. The title was a gift and now I can’t remember where from (though I know that Russia and Chris M were involved and maybe he can point me in the right direction). I have a sentimental attachment to cassette compilations and have carried this through to these. I even like that they have their physical manifestation in those much-unloved and derided slender silver discs…


5. That impromptu gig in Belo Horizonte…see https://likeahammerinthesink.wordpress.com/2013/09/

6. ‘Listening evenings’…an indulgence. Three or four times a year I get together with 2 friends and we listen to recorded music together. In strict rotation we play our tracks in the hope of surprising, educating, delighting. We usually get through about 30 tunes in an evening…almost too much but a pleasure from beginning to end.

7. Innocence is Kinky by Jenny Hval (2013). A great album and a stunning performance with her band at the Vortex in May.

8. Keith Tippett solo at Oto…see: https://likeahammerinthesink.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/keith-tippett-cafe-oto-30-iv-13/ But also so many other Cafe Oto gigs: Marc Ribot solo and Trio, Thurston Moore with John Edwards, Fire!, Little Annie and Larsen and on and on. And more in 2014…

9. The Necks generally…the new album ‘Open’ and 2 nights at Oto.

10. The Sixteen at Christchurch, Spitalfields, 17th December. For the space and a programme of Poulenc and Britten.


11. Musica Electronica Viva…Oto again. (Alvin Curran, Richard Teitelbaum, Frederic Rzewski). Because I should have known about them but didn’t and went along ‘blind’. http://cafeoto.co.uk/mev.shtm

12. Pictures of Sound; One Thousand Years of Educed Audio: 980-1980. (Dust to Digital 2012) Patrick Feaster. I have not really made my mind up about this yet…the CD is made up of sound ‘image’ (sometimes notation) translated into actual sound – hence the ‘educed’ bit. So as sound it can be elusive and as translation, somewhat melancholy. The book explains the process of doing all this and the author claims these are ‘ways you should be able to duplicate yourself…’ Hmmm. Here are some samples: http://www.firstsounds.org/sounds/

13. The last record I bought and the last record I listened to in 2013. (Complete with the cover it came in.) The over-familiar suddenly fresh and alive again and now stuck in my head still on the 3rd January 2014.




A rather wonderful sound installation called ‘Phantom Railings’ by an organization called Public Interventions on Malet Street on the wall of a small (private) park. The railings here (like many other sites) were removed during the Second World War to be melted down and re-used as guns or tanks…can anyone confirm that lots were dumped in the North Sea as they were the wrong sort of iron? Anyway, electronic eyes track passing pedestrians sounding out the absent railings as if they were being hit by a stick – so passers-by can make a mix by walking back and forth along the pavement. Seeing the Vimeo films on the website almost spoil the accident of finding this…but as Kurt Vonnegut used to say: ‘So it goes’.





Leafing through Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (as you do) my eye was caught by the word ‘gramophone’.

‘4.014                        A gramophone record, the musical idea, the written notes, and the soundwaves, all stand to one another in the same internal relation of depicting that holds between language and the world.

They are all constructed according to a common logical pattern.’

Fair enough.



A complaint: at Cafe Oto this week for two nights to hear the Marc Ribot Trio (with Henry Grimes and Chad Taylor). These were fantastic gigs full of inventiveness, virtuosity, attack and a bunch of other superlatives. There was both wonderful ensemble playing and great solos from all the musicians. I am for enthusiasm and I believe it is important that audiences convey their enthusiasm to the performers when the music has finished. Oto till now has been (mostly?) free of that old convention of applause for solos but on Tuesday and Wednesday nights I was thrust back into jazz club days where the flow of musical invention and development was interrupted by a lot of clatter from the audience. Neither ‘so it goes’ nor ‘fair enough’ apply in this situation.

Denovali Swingfest 2013. Scala, London.

The Scala

The Scala

Hard to keep to my idea of not writing ‘reviews’…and wondering why anyone would want to read anything else (or even that)… still…what an odd experience the Denovali Swingfest was. It meant being incarcerated in a dark dancehall in Kings Cross for the weekend,. And this was a weekend that turned out to be the closest that London had got to spring in the course of 2013. But maybe the other celebrants were not worried about this. What we were attending was after all a kind of Masonic meeting for the obsessed. I’ve been there before of course…recently Touch organized a similar (if more diverse) affair in the homelier Beaconsfield Arts Centre and ECM orchestrated a shrine in the form of a museum exhibition and a whole series of gigs in Munich. I didn’t realize I was in thrall to labels this way. And I’m not sure if I was really aware of Denovali until I happened upon this event. This was, in its way, more intense than either of these other events though…us listeners, the audience, needed more stamina and had to exhibit more commitment to the doctrine.

The Pirate Ship Quartet

The Pirate Ship Quartet









Saturday was something of an onslaught of guitars and decibels. The audience was quite prepared to stand for the duration – about 10 hours from the Pirate Ship Quartet through to Andy Stott (though this is guess work on my part as I bowed out at around midnight before Mr Stott made an appearance). It all began with dry-ice and maybe there should be legislation to prevent the use of dry-ice before 8 pm…and while we are at it someone should introduce a ban on certain guitar poses. I am thinking particularly of the one foot on the monitor position. Along the way there was fantastic noise/sound/music call it what you will. Body shaking bass form the Bersarin Quartett and a teeming wall of sound from Fennesz.

Bersarin Quartett

Bersarin Quartett

James Blackshaw

James Blackshaw

Greg Haines and Thomas Köner accidentally superimposed.

Greg Haines and Thomas Köner accidentally superimposed.









As if everyone had already read the script, Sunday’s audience immediately sat down and proceedings were more acoustic, quieter, and, from time to time piano based. If Saturday was relentless then the sound of Sunday was more reflective. The dub card was played with thrilling conviction by Greg Haines, complex polyrythms were provided by Poppy Ackroyd, resonating 12 string was served up by James Blackshaw and icy landscapes were evoked by Thomas Köner. I was left wondering why almost no one addressed us the audience (apart form Poppy Ackroyd…the sole women on stage for the weekend…coincidence? I think not).



Poppy Ackroyd

Poppy Ackroyd






I find it hard to separate the sound-space and the experience of that space from the making of the music. The Scala’s particular penumbral resonances made for a sometimes uncomfortable musical environment. By way of contrast my companion and I sought solace (more than once) in the unlikely surroundings of an ersatz pub newly arrived in Kings Cross Station… a ‘parcel yard’ miraculously re-instated on the first floor above the station platforms. This is a comfortable staging post for some on the way back to Hertfordshire and for us was a respite from the nether world of those dark dance hall days. Considerably better beer than the Scala…but when you sign up for a cult it is not usually for the quality of the refreshments.

William Basinski

William Basinski

Horizontal audience during Basinski's 'Disintegration Loops'.

Horizontal audience during Basinski’s ‘Disintegration Loops’.







Here is a link to a download of a live set from Bersarin Quartett.

And, on the off chance that one day TouchRadio will post the Fennesz set this is a link to that.

You can download a ‘Festival Sampler ‘ from Denovali here.

The running order for both days was:


The Pirate Ship Quintet (UK)

Petrels (UK)

Omega Massif (GER)

Fennesz (A)

Maybeshewill (UK)

Bersarin Quartett (GER)

Andy Stott Live (UK)


Talvihorros (UK)

Carlos Cipa (GER)

James Blackshaw (UK)

Greg Haines (UK)

Thomas Köner (GER)

Poppy Ackroyd (UK)

William Basinski (USA)

In and out of Touch

Touch 30. 5th & 6th December 2012






I don’t normally go to church…an occasional carol service and, once. the Pearly Kings and Queens Thanksgiving service at St Martin-in-the-Fields. But last week I found myself attending mass at the Church of the Holy Touch. This took place in a large cold room with a single ocular window at the Beaconsfield Arts Centre in Vauxhall, South London. I felt like a spy among the devotees who were attending a two-day celebration of thirty years of Touch.

Jon Wozencroft

Jon Wozencroft

Jon Wozencroft, the co-founder with Mike Harding, kicked off proceedings with an eloquent exposition of the Touch ethos talking about a triangular relationship between sound, the visual and the social of which this event was an expression. Sadly, the sound element of the next few hours let the equation down as various speakers struggled to be heard over the squeakiest floorboards I have ever experienced, the scraping of chairs and the low noise of trains passing immediately outside. All this felt rather ironic as the subject of much of the conversation was on the technicalities of dealing with recorded sound through mastering, changing formats and multi-channel playback. The more I heard of these discussions the more anxious I became and I wondered if anyone was going to rumble me as an imposter.

How do I listen to music? In the kitchen, through 2 cheap speakers, the sounds of the street creeping in, with a background of cooking noises and with occasional conversation interrupting. On an iPod through in-ear buds – never really isolated from external sound but insulated from it. On a computer through quite small powered speakers. On an evolved (rather than planned) hi-fi with ok components but with speakers positioned too high on top of bookshelves. The room in which this system is installed is the noisiest in the house. The sound from the road outside doesn’t just creep in here it crashes through the ill-fitting windows, a collage of traffic, human voices and sirens. In the car on a clapped-out cassette player. So I never hear recorded sound at home in anything like ‘ideal’ conditions. The formats for all these listening experiences are numerous: MP3 and all its digital cousins, 7” singles and LPs on vinyl, CDs, radio waves, cassettes and even, in extremis, shellac and, once in a blue moon, reel-to-reel tape. It is all whatever I can get my ears on.

As I sat in the big cubic room at Beaconsfield listening to the talks I thought back to the visit I made in the morning to Tate Britain on my way to the Touch event. I went to see and hear the Turner Prize winning installation by Elizabeth Price The Woolworths Choir of 1979. oints2It fuses sound in the form of a cut-up version of Out in the Streets by the Shangri-Las, finger clicks and hand claps with a series of still and moving images of gothic church architecture, 1960s girl groups and dancers and documentary footage from the fire in a Woolworths’ furniture shop in Manchester. These incongruous elements are edited together into a coherent and moving near-narrative and the sound is loud and immersive. This was the opposite of how I usually hear recorded music and, in its degree of scripting and control, at odds with how I experience most live music too.

Back at Beaconsfield the Touch events moved into another phase in the evening with performances in a brick-vaulted room situated immediately below the train tracks. This was the payback space for the big white echoing box upstairs where the talks had taken place. The pieces performed here were all punctuated by the sound of the trains passing overhead and this random element gave the performances an open-endedness that I had felt, with a different emphasis, in the Woolworths Choir installation. These moved from beautiful mixes of voice and cello (Hildur Gudnadottir) through a rich and elaborate turntable collage (Philip Jeck), a restrained and poignant audio-visual sequence (David Toop), a four-channel playback of field recordings (Chris Watson) to an immense ‘wall’ of effect and electric guitar (Fennesz).

Hildur Gudnadottir

Hildur Gudnadottir

David Toop

David Toop

Christian Fennesz

Christian Fennesz

So here was the culmination of the first day’s proceedings…something for both the faithful and the unbelievers. And on the second day (talks this time with amplification in the upstairs room and yet more enveloping sounds in the railway arch), Wozencroft ended the pilgrimage with a very lo-fi story of broadcasting on pirate radio in the 1980s with his friend Jon Savage and then launched into an improvised acapella version of Blue Monday. I felt this, at least, was in the spirit of my own listening habits.

Thomas Koner and audience on Night 2

Thomas Koner and audience on Night 2

And here’s one for Mickey Baker. 10. x. 25 – 27. xi. 12

Saint Etienne

Despite everything I can’t quite give up on pop music. There is lots of pop music from the past that still sounds great of course and, once in a while, some piece of current ‘chart’ music enters my consciousness (such as Video Games by Lana Del Rey which I felt a need to hear again this morning). It is not the kind of stuff I listen to at length or go to hear live very often. A lot of pop music still does that thing of using interesting and surprising sounds or combinations of sounds that make them seem fresh and dynamic – for a while at least. And there are very occasional great voices that emerge too. There are a few bands that I still follow for one reason or another. Let’s see….Stars because they are innocents out in the world and are still trying to discover the perfect pop song, New Pornographers because they are arty cynics doing the same thing, Broken Social Scene because they combine all of the above and extend the length of the songs. Maybe it’s just a co-incidence that all of these people are Canadian. Are Dirty Projectors pop? I suppose they are at the more ‘experimental’ end of pop.

The group I want to talk about here is Saint Etienne. Their first album Fox Base Alpha came out in 1991. I saw them on the television around this time and thought they were kind of pointless…retro-pop with an electronic twist. Then I heard Like a Motorway and I began to look at them differently. Maybe it was because I was listening to lots of Kraftwerk at the time and I saw connections…as if Like a Motorway was an answer record to Autobahn. Anyway, Motorway sounds like it is suffused with ennui and melancholy – the sound of lost and desperate youth. Sadly, it is that youfhful yearning that takes me back to pop. It is not very original research but I see on Wikipedia that Like a Motorway refers to the 19th century American folk song Silver Dagger and, having checked this out, I can say that the melody is lifted straight from it. (The Joan Baez version on Dylan’s Bootlegs Volume 6, Live 1964 demonstrates this well.) The fact that the song is a combination of two vastly different genres is, maybe, what makes it work so well for me.

I suppose at heart Saint Etienne are plunderers so it should be no surprise that they indulge in limitless borrowings and references. When they made a film with Paul Kelly (Finisterre) in 2002, its form was taken fairly directly from Patrick Keiller’s films London (1994) and Robinson in Space (1997). The political edge of Keiller’s films is replaced by a comfortable nostalgia in Finisterre and yet the film has an emotional punch that is in itself about loss. This melancholic longing leads them to the occasional off-beam statement. Their second film What Have You Done Today, Mervin Day (2005) was criticized for painting a rosy picture of the destruction brought to existing communities on the Olympic site and the piece they wrote and performed for the re-opening of the Festival Hall (This is Tomorrow, 2007) was far too close to bland MOR pastiche. The lyrics in the album Finisterre sometimes read like a psychogeographical manifesto. In the final song (also Finisterre) Sarah Cracknell sings:

‘sometimes I walk home through a network of car parks,

just because I can.

I love the feeling of being slightly lost…’

But this is followed up in the next verse with: ‘I believe in Donovan over Dylan, love over cynicism…’

I know it is trivial but this irks me every time I hear it despite my own localist tendencies.

Saint Etienne have returned to London themes many times and this always interests me. Their romanticization of London should probably be taken with a pinch of salt yet their enthusiasm is hard to deny and I am often borne along on the particularity of their reference points. They tend to do a similar thing with the idea of music…tapping into their fans love of music in all its profusion. (Another lyric from Finisterre: ‘I believe that, music in the long run, can sort out most things’) The video for a recent single (I’ve Got Your Music) shows this as does their latest album Words and Music by Saint Etienne with its elaborately constructed map made up of streets from song titles.  And they have a grasp of the notion of ‘fans’ too. No doubt having a fan club is an anachronism (and theirs, ‘Lovers Unite’, has now become an online only resource) but the spirit in which it was conceived pointed to a generosity (as well as a bit of business savvy) that is singularly lacking in other manifestations of the world of pop.

And they do some great tunes.



I recently saw a box of cassettes sitting on a wall by the pavement. I can’t remember exactly what tapes the box contained but have a feeling it was mostly MOR crooning of the kind in which I have no interest. The only tape that seemed to be worth taking away (more as a token of the finding) was Beatles Oldies, a compilation from the 1970s of early Beatles music – as the title suggests. Weeks later I got round to listening to this in the car as I drove in the rain along the north shore of the Clyde. The tape, it turned out, was completely blank.

I have found many bits of recorded music over the years on vinyl, cassette and CD. The first of these I can remember is one I have already written about (The Rentals, New York). Some I documented when I found them, others I just have a vague memory of where and when I came across them.

Here is one of the more thoroughly documented finds:


 Mid-December 2010. CDs found in the street (Balls Pond Road-north side). Cleared from a former squat.


1. Talking Heads, ‘Best of’. No cover.

2. Soundtrack to A. R. Rahman’s ‘Bombay Dreams’. No cover. Subsequently given to Oxfam, Dalston.

3. CDR of Janis Ian’s ‘At Seventeen’. One song only, labeled on CD ‘At Seventeen!’.

4. CDR ‘Selections – 4 – Ian’. Tracks as listed on sleeve:

         1. Mary J. Blige – ‘Family Affair’

         2. Burning Spear – ‘Wailing’

         3. Can – ‘Don’t say No’

         4. John Prine/Nancy Griffith – ‘Speed of sound of Loneliness’

         5. Drive-by Truckers – Danko/Manuel

         6. Dorothy Moore – ‘Misty Blue’

         7. Tammy Wynette/KLF – ‘Justified & Ancient’

         8. Proclaimers – ‘Sunshine on Leith’

         9. Glasgow Gaelic Choir – (title udecipherable).

         10. Lou Reed – ‘High in the City’

         11. Ray La Montaigne – ‘Trouble’

         12. Elvis – ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’

         13. Michael Chapman – ‘Postcards of Scarborough’

         14. Alabama 5 – “hypo Full of Love’

         15. Tindersticks – ‘Tiny tears’

         16. Cash/Neil Young – ‘Little drummer Boy’

5. ‘Hortus Deliciarum’ Twelfth Century Gregorian Chants by Hidegard von Bingen and Herrard von Landsberg. Performed by Discantus and Brigitte Lesne.


There are a number of categories of found music:

Detritus from low-end street markets.

House clearance.

‘Street Gifts’.


And, I suppose, lost.

I am always slightly amazed when I find this stuff. The ‘dumped’ category seems particularly strange but maybe that is because I hold music (and things) in too much reverence. The category I have called ‘Street Gifts’ is the easiest to understand. Around where I live things are ‘offered’ on the street all the time. It is how I tend to get rid of unwanted objects that I think should not go to charity shops…just leave it out on the pavement and see if anyone wants it. Sometimes people will knock on the door to check that they can really take it. Sometimes I leave a note. Here is an example of a this kind of find with a commentary written at the time:

30. iii. 12

Discarded CDs found in the street last Saturday: (selected from a crate full)

Gong. ‘Planet Gong’.

Pink Floyd. ‘Wish You Were Here’.

Linton Kwesi Johnson. ‘Reggae Greats’.


Gong….I didn’t like them much back at the time of ‘Camembert Electrique’ when we all sat around on the floor in our student flats. But maybe now they could be interesting for their longevity – stuck in some meandering channel of progressive rock out of time and place.

Pink Floyd…There must be someone who would want this and if there are no takers I could always give it to Oxfam.

Linton Kwesi Johnson…This is clearly the record I was ‘looking for’. 5 minutes earlier as I took some rather mundane photographs of blossom I had been singing ‘Inglan is a Bitch’ to myself. That particular track is not on this CD but the co-incidence of finding another album by LKJ is, in itself, uncanny. When I put the CD in my player back at home it was fine on the first two tracks then it began to stick and jump. This is, of course, a problem with found stuff – it is seldom in the ‘VG’ category, let alone ‘mint’. I cleaned this one up a bit and when I put it in the computer it played fine. But it is still a damaged and only partial document, missing as it is, the back cover.


My best find this year was on a Saturday afternoon on Kingsland Waste after the stalls had packed up. This has been fertile territory in the past…but has tended towards things like compilations of the Greatest Hits of George Jones and Tammy Wynette. This day turned up a 7” vinyl disc without its sleeve lying on the tarmac…never a good sign for playability. It is a four tack EP by Jeremy Robson with the Michael Garrick Trio from 1962 called ‘Blues for the Lonely’. Here is Cascades:


Disappearance 2

Balls Pond Road. 2010-2012

Disappearance 1

Shacklewell Lane. 2010-2012

9. i. 11

At the end of 2010 I started writing a log of musical encounters of a non-musical kind. This is the entry for one day in 2011…an early morning walk to the market then a longer walk to Stoke Newington in the afternoon.


Early morning, Ridley Road, Dalston, 9th January 2011.




Walk on 9th January 2011.

1. At the corner of Crossway and Stoke Newington Road. 2 discarded CDs in the gutter:

‘Lovetouch. 5th birthday celebration. Saturday 24th of July 2010. CD mixed by DJ Supamaks, RNB, Hip Hop, Bashment, Funky @ Hidden Night Club…’

‘Funky Nation’.

2. Stoke Newington Baptist Church sign:

‘Robinson Music Academy. “All we require is desire”…’

3. Net Music, Stoke Newington High Street:

‘Music lessons, Musical Instruments & Accessories, Music Books, Internet café’.

4. V.G. Foodstore, Stoke Newington High Street:

Indian cassettes displayed between the garlic and the yams.

[It occurs to me now that this route took me past the shopfront used in this photograph. When I moved to Hackney in 1984 it was still there on Stoke Newington High street.]


5. The Mind Shop, Stoke Newington Church Street:

CD – £2 – ‘The Mantle of Orpheus; Henry Purcell’s last songs and the songs of his fellow composers who survived him.’ The Consort of Musicke.

12” vinyl single  – 50p. – Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. ‘Perfect Skin’.

6. Lucky Seven Records, Stoke Newington Church Street:

12” vinyl single – £3 – Cocteau Twins. ‘Aikea-Guinea, Kookaburra, Quisquose, Rococo’.

7” vinyl single – £2 – The Members. ‘The Sound of the Suburbs’. VS242. In biro, on the label, the name ‘Alan McGee’.