Neil Campbell seems to simply exhale music. The always-brilliant and improbably prolific composer has recorded more fabulous albums than seems possible, and here’s another one. Maybe you know his techno-adjacent work as Astral Social Club, his rock-esque group improvisations with Vibracathedral Orchestra, his goofball noise with Smell & Quim, or any of his roughly ten-billion collaborations with folks like Julian Bradley, Campbell Kneale, Robert Horton, Noel Meek, Richard Youngs, Ashtray Navigations and on and on and on… but his solo music is, for me, where it’s at. His latest album (or at least, his latest this week) is a darker, more abrasive slab than I expected. These two mantras seem to be comprised of guitar-screech shards, oscillator whine and “riffs” caked over beds of solid industrial electro-chug. I’ve no idea why it’s named for the year that “Number One in Heaven” came out.
I’ve been a fan of the many projects of Peter Hope since I first heard “Hoodoo Talk”, his collaborative album with Cabaret Voltaire‘s Richard H. Kirk, released back in 1987. Hope‘s voice was (and is) maniacal and unhinged yet deeply soulful with the unmistakable roar of blues… he probably gets tired of Beefheart comparisons, so I won’t make one now. The music struck a chord with me then and made me a fan-for-life. Subsequent digging taught me that Hope led an un-Googleable industrial/funk band called The Box in the early 80s (sorta a bluesier & less didactic Pop Group), where he was backed by folks who fled an early incarnation of Clock DVA. But Hope has never rested on his laurels, and he’s spent his career continually challenging himself to make whatever sort of music captures his restless interest: he’s made albums of low-fi blues (with The Bone Orchestra), psych-rock sludge (with Flex 13), sorta blues/techno hybrid (with Hoodoo, a collaboration with Dave Lloyd and DJ Parrot), and other strange things that you’ll just have to hear for yrself.
The idea for Hope’s new album “grǫftr” (no idea how one might pronounce that… I choose not to try), if I understand it correctly, was to record improvised new vocals, live in one take, to accompany previously-recorded instrumental tracks by unsuspecting collaborators who only found out about Hope’s involvement once he sent the finished tracks to them later. There’s a lot of variety here. My favorite is the distorted croon added to bedroom techno by Meagan Johnson, aka Mrs. Dink, which sounds as if Hope’s voice was always supposed to be there. On another track, his echo-addled growl is coupled with repetitive analogue bleep by Glenn Wallis/Konstruktivists for a rather on-the-nose tribute to Suicide. Farther afield is an extended instrumental drums/horns/bass free-improv session by Derek Saw and Charlie Collins (both of The Bone Orchestra, and individually with Bass Tone Trap, Clock DVA etc) & Anton Mobin, which sounds as if Hope’s fractured breathy loops were present in the room with the trio all along.
The first time I heard the music of Rudolf Eb.er, I had the response that most people probably have: I had absolutely no idea what to think of it. There wasn’t any other music I’d heard that sounded like “Ho”, an album recorded by Eb.er under the name Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock and released as a CD on his Schimpfluch label in 1992… or like “Morx und Kotschlag” released on Ralf Wehowsky‘s Selektion label a year later. As I write these words in 2019, Eb.er’s work remains singular. His careful sense of spliced-tape pacing, his shocking dark humor and violently pregnant silences seem designed to discourage casual or passive listening, to throw listeners off and ensure that they’re never comfortable. Unlike more conventional noise, Eb.er provides no clear catharsis. I became a fan rather quickly, even though as a high school noob in suburban South Florida, I couldn’t pretend to understand what this stuff was all about.
Over the years, some through-lines have appeared: martial arts, meditation, ritual, and the frailty (and by-products) of human bodies. These elements have appeared in Eb.er’s sound work, but also in his paintings, photography and performance art. His most recent work is a large-scale three-disc set called “Om Kult: Ritual Practice of Conscious Dying”, which seems to be the major statement he’s been building to for the past several years. I spoke with Eb.er about what led him here, and what Om Kult is all about.
Howard Stelzer: You’ve previously referred to your work as “tests and training”. Tests for whom? Training for what, exactly? Are you testing and training yourself, or your listeners? In what ways are your albums tests or training?
Rudolf Eb.er: “Psycho-physical tests and trainings” was the complete term I used. Psychic energies of the human body is still today a main theme of my work. In my earlier work, under the moniker Runzelstirn & Gurgelstøck and with a background in martial arts, I tried to integrate breathing techniques and exercises for the rising and releasing of psycho-physical energies in my performances. The outcome was often unpredictable, hence the “tests and trainings”. These performances were very personal, but it happened to have an audience echoing and partially joining in. Of course the albums reflected this actions. The audio documents of the actions often became material that I integrated and processed in the compositions.
HS: More recently, you’ve referred to your work as “rituals”. In what ways (if any) are the rituals related to tests and training? Are they the same thing? Is there a continuum from training to rituals? Or, if not, how has the focus changed? Are you performing the rituals, and simply documenting them on records? Or is something else going on?
RE: The focus still lies on psychic energies, but the approach has changed. The tests and trainings had often a very aggressive nature, drawing from very negative emotions – including the somewhat deranged humorous outbursts. They also had a very abreactive nature and were “abreactive therapies” or “abreactive actionism” to me. The psychic energies were collected and pushed out in cathartic manner. From 2010 I begun to rather transform this negative energies, instead pushing them out directly. I begun with durational, static but very physical performances, or cleansing rituals, often with very simplified equipment such as rattles and tapes, during which I would slip into a state of trance. This progress of the work led me to my daily meditation practice and also to the study of various occult yogic scriptures in which I found some profound similarities to my own findings.
HS: I’ve been listening to your work for a very long time (I’ve heard most of it, I think!), and have noticed another change over the years: your earlier work had a certain specific pacing that was recognizably yours… long tense pauses punctuated by short bursts of action. The bursts became faster and more frantic as pieces went on. By contrast, your current work seems to be structured around sustained sounds, more vertical than horizontal. Can you talk about the evolution of the way you compose? Have your goals changed, and do the shifts in pacing/density reflect a shift (or refinement) in intent?
RE: The earlier audio pieces of the “abreactive-actionistic” era were often integrating partially processed audio documents of the tests and trainings I did. The cut-up compositions with the long tense pauses and sudden outbursts directly related to the actionistic body of work, the timing was of highest importance in these audio pieces.
With the changed approach of my work on psychic energies also the composition process has changed. Now I research sound that triggers certain effects on my nervous system. I test “psycho-active acoustics” that I create from pure frequencies and noise compounds, often including filtered field recordings of waterfalls and the like, on their impact on my psychic body – and then using them in possible psychoenergetic rituals. Not the time is as important here, but the moment.
HS: Earlier work used certain sounds as recognizable repeating motifs: a dog barking, an accordion, striking flesh with a short yell. Those motifs (if that’s how you thought of them) have gone away, and seem to be replaced by the sound of flies. Maybe there are other current sonic signatures I haven’t yet noticed. First of all, am I correct in hearing those first sounds as intentionally repeated across different albums? What was your intention with them? Were they symbolic? Are there sounds you find yourself returning to in recent work? If so, what do those sounds mean in the larger context of the work?
RE: There was always an ongoing process from one album to the next and to the next. The motives grew and morphed with the time, almost as if they had their own life. Snippets of sounds divided like cells and grew into something new. And of course I had my vocabulary of barking, beating and the like. I still now work with material I recorded over 30 years ago but my interests have moved on. Now I often work with the recordings of rivers and waterfalls, grass and hay, flies and bugs and the like. More sustained sounds, as you say. Sounds I use not in cut-up compositions but in correlation with certain frequencies. Besides of the changed approach sure also my surroundings play a role. Not only has that the accordion changed to rattles, the works I did in Switzerland had an overall taste of claustrophobia and isolation. Now it feels wider with more ground then walls.
HS: What do you mean by “conscious dying”? Why should a listener consider “how to die”? I’ve always thought that one simply ceases to be, but you’ve apparently had death on your mind recently.
RE: With “conscious dying” I’m revering to a meditation technique with which one prepares to eject and transfer the mind during the moment of death. This is a yogic method of “how to die”. The meditation technique is utterly interesting – and one never completes it to the last stage, unless one is dying. In my recent Om Kult 3CD series/set I took the theme of the practice of conscious dying as the main background. Not all works thereon are directly related to this theme, but created in the wider context of it.
HS: Has death been a part of your work all along, and it’s only now becoming explicit? Or did something inspire you to devote attention to it now?
RE: Death was inspiring me since I was a kid, but it is now that I devote explicit attention to death. Or better said since my change from the abreactive to the more transformative work. In the Brainnectar 2CD I explored the rising of psychic heat (and dripping of nectar). Death was present in some attributes of smell, heat and colour (often yellow) that I perceived within certain sounds. In the recent Om Kult 3CD series/set, studies and practice on the ejecting of psychic energies through the crown of the head was the main inspiration and background. Having death imminent, so to speak.
HS: “Om Kult”… how do you define a “kult”, and how does the trilogy of recordings relate to that idea? Are listeners indoctrinated into this cult? A cult implies worship; are listeners worshipping something by taking part in a cult ritual by listening to these albums? Is there something religious (or meditative, ecstatic, etc) about the albums? Or, do you think of the albums as having a use in some fashion… as tools, rather than a passive audio experience?
RE: The studies and meditation practices, including the practice of conscious dying, I derived from various cults or sects within the buddhist, bön or hindu religion, or outside main religions from the rather archaic shamanistic traditions. There’s no indoctrination or worshipping, but an expressed tribute to the roots of this knowledge. The albums sure have a meditative and ecstatic background, since I created most sounds as tools for the raising of my own psychic energies. I literally feel “ants” under the skin on the top of my head, forehead, below the larynx, the pelvic floor or elsewhere. In that sense my approach to noise always has a wider, probably occult, aspect to it. But of course I can’t tell how the listener listens. I know of some listeners using this records as tools, most will listen to it as some sort of artwork, I guess. it’s entirely up to the listener. I have a series of limited releases in mind, that could be strictly meant as tools, each consisting of just one single pure frequency and a certain noise compound. I have realized such tracks in my studies for noise-induced hallucinating, but haven’t released full length versions yet.
HS: ”Om Kult” is attributed to your given name, not to Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock… and the “Conscious Dying” album is attributed to “-“. What is the distinction between these three types of attribution? Is there different intent, or focus, with each?
RE: I’m not using the name Runzelstirn & Gurgelstøck since about 2009 with few exceptions. Conscious Dying stands for the newer work, if not using my real name. “-“ was a title. And then I was using Om Kult as title or name and label. I’m confused myself.
HS: Your work (both sonic and visual) has always seemed to me to have an undercurrent of bleak humor. Does it still? Death seems deadly serious to me. In fact, I’m terrified of aging and certainly of my own end. Are you? Is “conscious dying” something that you are doing right now?
RE: Humour is very important and being deadly serious is rather a hinderance. It needs humour to be creative. I think my work always had an undercurrent of humour, even if it is not as obvious now as it used to be. I’m not terrified by my own end. I’m sure glad it will come to an end. I could worry on how it gonna end, but for what? Fear is the worst force in life. Governments, institutions, banks, insurance companies they all know that and they all catch you right by your fear. With daily meditation one can have a constant relationship with death, that’s natural and great in many aspects!
HS: Finally…. what about your work do you wish more people would notice, comment on, or focus on? Is there some way that you think about what you do that, if you could, you would draw a listener’s attention to directly? Something that typically gets missed, as far as you’re aware?
RE: Difficult question. Everybody hears different. Some people seem to have potatoes on their ears or really do not care what crappy speakers they use. Other describe things they heard which not even me noticed when doing it. There is no typical response from people. But yes, one thing I wish is, people wouldn’t judge my work from the performative side so often, but listen to the audio work as such more carefully.
Brian Kinkade (Bitter A/V)
Universal Eyes (Universal Indians + Wolf Eyes)
One aspect of running this blog that I absolutely love is that it forces me to listen to new music by artists I hadn’t yet heard of. I’ve discovered so much great music this way! I hope you are, too, by exploring all the listings. My most recent mind-blower was this album by an English artist called Phil Maguire who runs the Verz Imprint label and concert series.
Now, for obvious reasons, I am especially interest in music made out of cassette tapes. There are plenty of people out there making interesting music out of those little plastic bastards. But I can’t say I’ve heard anything like Maguire’s “Defekt Fabrik” before. It’s raw and bloody and dense and just f’n exciting. I suppose I could do some research and learn more about the artist, and I probably will do that eventually, but right now I’m enjoying listening to it without contextual influence. The album was available as a cassette, but now that’s sold out… so the download is set to “pay-what-you=want”. Go hear it!
Here’s one I came across in my early-morning Bandcamp headphone explorations. Atrox Pestis is just one of the aliases used by Minneapolis-based artist Grant Richardson, maybe better known to noise nerds as Gnawed. For his Gnawed recordings, Richardson produces feral power-electronics gnarl… but in this incarnation, he indulges a more somber tone and unleashes gelatinous drone drift. I’m guessing that he’s a fan of Lustmord‘s Heresy and Mick Harris‘ work as Lull… honestly, who wouldn’t be? If you’ve got the stomach for oppressive Gregorian chant samples, howling wind and rattling chains, this checks all the right boxes. There always seems to be a screen door banging shut, bowed metal sheets or pipes being bashed together somewhere in the margins and the whole thing seems to be coated in a feedback howl slowed down to a pace that recalls the slime found in jars of gefilte fish. I dig it.
This self-titled album is a digital version of a cassette reissue of a lathe-cut 12″ LP from 2016. Can’t imagine that the original format was kind to the frequency range here.