Sunday, October 22, 2023

Underneath The Underneath - CD by Philip Sanderson

So following on from the last post about Klang 30 there is now a new CD out on the Klanggalerie label entitled Underneath The Underneath - A Vienna Souvenir which as the title suggests is a document of my time at the mini festival. The gig on the night was recorded on video and these can be found on YouTube but the sound quality is that of the built in camera mics so a tad tinny. Fortunately I had recorded numerous rehearsals and as these were given the odd bit of improv pretty much identical to the set so these were used for the CD. Alongside this whilst in Vienna I recorded various street sounds, the church bells ringing on a Sunday, the marvellous trams as they clattered by, the chinking of coffee cups and so on and these formed the basis for some new tracks. In a little more detail then.

01 Line D: The opening track is one constructed pretty much entirely from sounds captured in Vienna. Walking down one of the main shopping streets we came across and oom-pah band playing various well know songs such as  the "Rivers of Babylon" all accompanied by elderly couples dancing. The drum sound from the band was used as the basis for the number and then overlaid with the St. Stephen's Cathedral church bells and parts of the Sunday service all suitably manipulated oh and a touch of creepy Crowley for good measure.        

02 Coffee House Calculations: As the title suggests sounds from the many Vienna coffee houses forms the starting point for this track combined with a little synth doodling.  

03 Underneath The Underneath: The title track and one that formed the main part of my set. The track is loosely a variation on the number of the same name that appeared on the Ice Yacht Noisy Nylon tape last year. Loosely as it uses some of the same underlying structures but to slightly different ends. The main software used on this one is called Audiomulch a rather ageing app that hasn't been updated in a few years but with its unique granular synthesis tools can do things that the latest whiz band apps can't   

04 Lime Lament: Ah Harry Lime when was he going to make an appearance? I did toy for a while with using a number of samples from The Third Man but even subtly it seemed a little too obvious. Nonetheless dedicating track to him seemed appropriate. This is a variation on the opening number played on the night.   

05 Hodge (revisited): I recently on the Snatch Tapes Symphony lathe cut LP did a reworking of the old (as in 1979) Storm Bugs track "Hodge" and a live version seemed in order. Manipulating the original recording of a Soviet Block radio jamming signal through a software VCS3.

06 Funf Minuten: As with "Underneath The Underneath" a version of this track first appeared on Noisy Nylon here it is extended and the underlying Krautrock homage leanings teased out.  

07 Swing: A song - the only real song as in verse and chorus of the set, a one too many beers bierkeller version of  the number from the Not Even My Closest Friends tape.

The images for the sleeve come from a recent bout of collage work.

OK so can we hear some of this please? Well it is not on Bandcamp currently but here is a teaser. 

Where can you buy it?  Pretty much everywhere on line as Klang's distribution reaches far and wide. You can also get copies of the CD directly from me here in the UK. 

and here is a nice review from Vital Weekly issue 1412


I recently revisited Vienna, after thirty or so years, and, as before, I find this a charming city, with a lot of historical stuff to see and many places for coffee and cake. Judging by the musical content of this new Philip Sanderson CD, I am not the only one. In June 2023, he played at 'Klang 30', the annual (I believe) festival organised by Klanggalerie, a label that released more work by Sanderson and his previous Storm Bugs project. Three songs contain samples from the city, church bells, coffee cups, trams, and such. Three pieces were recorded during rehearsals, and "track 7 is a cabaret version of 'Swing'". I very much like his music, as it is a curious collision of styles; there is the musique concrète-like use of field recordings sitting next to rhythms, sequencers and vocals. I don't think pop music is the right word, but it's along those lines; a piece such as 'Hodge (Revisited)' could lean towards industrial music. When Sanderson sings, it is very accessible music, such in 'Line D'; when not, it becomes a bit more abstract, such as the 'Coffee House Calculations', with its coffee house sounds. As before, Sanderson's music isn't upbeat, necessarily, and yet it is also not dour. It's atmospheric and lighter than your usual dark drone music. The music is more instrumental than vocal, and once again reminded me of The Residents (in as much as I know of their recent work, which isn't a lot). The cabaret version of 'Swing' is, I think, an ode to the twenties of a century again, and maybe also an ode to the somewhat conservative life in Vienna, where everything seems a bit more formal. It's a fine CD, not his best, which accolade I reserve for his 'On One Of Those Bends' (Vital Weekly 1177), but a continuation of great music. (FdW)

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Klang 30

 So I received an offer from Walter of Klanggalerie to go to Vienna to take part in a two-day mini festival he was organising to celebrate 30 years of Klang. After some hesitation - this would after all be only my second solo live outing I said yes. 

Not being a regular live act, there were the usual doubts about what exactly to play but after much experimenting I settled on a selection of recent instrumental tracks all of which could be performed/generated on the spot without recourse to backing tracks. I would primarily be using the laptop as taking a whole analogue set-up to Austria would have been impractical. Watching a bloke hunched over and squinting at a laptop screen is never going to be that sexy and so there was the temptation to slap together some sort of accompanying video, but having seen too many wallpaper video backdrops one knows that these just add a kind of distraction unless there has been a real co-ordination/relationship between sound and image. So it would be just me then I recalled a little patch I had made that allowed one to switch between presets using a computer keyboard. Effectively every single key can be allocated to a variation and one has 50 plus keys to cut between adding a certain performative and visual what have you especially on rhythmic tracks. 

On the two-day bill were quite a few notable souls from the avant/noise scene though many like myself - Philip Sanderson (from Storm Bugs) were performing as solo iterations of their perhaps better known bands. A few minor technical difficulties on day one aside all went well and there was a healthy and appreciative crowd. I was first on on the Saturday and was a little worried that nobody would have arrived by 7.30, but the place was pretty much full and the set went down well with a appreciative comments being made after. Here are three videos taken on the night the sound is presumably recorded via the cameras microphone so isn't hi-fi but heh you get a good sense of the occasion.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Playing Catch Up

A few things to bring you - working chronologically backwards so to speak first up we have the newly published review by Ed Pinsent in his Sound Projector of the Ice Yacht release - Noisy Nylon. 

The Bride Wore Pink

This Noisy Nylon (SNATCH TAPES tch 223) tape by Ice Yacht sure is “noisy”. Philip Sanderson adopts one of his many aliases, Ice Yacht being by far the most experimental and daring, to produce seven new cuts on a very limited cassette which came out in May 2022 and is already sold out.

Other online voices have found this music to be somewhat “industrial” in nature, stressing the opinion by underlining it with their green biros, but to me Noisy Nylon sounds more like a very wayward form of electro-pop, a wilful misunderstanding of dance music, wanting only a Pet Shop Boys style singer to appear from behind the curtain and cavort lasciviously under the red spotlight. Interestingly, Sanderson felt compelled with his previous Ice Yacht item to provide plentiful written screeds describing his artistic aims and intentions (and pointing meaningfully to historic and cultural landmarks in experimental and pop music genres the while), but he remains pretty much silent about Noisy Nylon. Matter of fact, it might even be regarded as a transitional album in his recent prolific output; “this turned out to be a stepping stone to doing more long form musique concrete-ist style work,” is all he can tell us, pointing to the works which emerged after May 2022. So, after the four raucous pop-song stompingtons with which this album is front-loaded (some of them with wacky titles, like ‘Nitty Nora (Head Explorer)’) we reach the end of side two with ‘Break Their Legs so they can’t lay eggs’, one of the few cuts with a vocal refrain, and characterised by a slightly lighter touch after those four bangin’ tunes of keyboard hammering…it also has a haunting and evocative “theme”, something too dispersed and nebulous to be called a “melody”, so evocative that I would liken it to a missing segment from ‘Supper’s Ready’ except that I know Sanderson isn’t really that much of a Genesis fan.

The main event – length-wise, anyway – shows up at the start of Side B, with the Jim Jupp-styled title of ‘Running From Ghosts’ and lasting for a gorgeous 13:09 mins. Here Ice Yacht throws out some delicious experimental shapes, synth textures and crazy sounds, doing so in the framework of a drum-machine rhythm track that resembles Cluster fused with a microwave oven, or Ralf and Florian the day after that disastrous picnic in Hamburg. Yes, I can see how a track of this spiky ambiguity and remorseless drive could earn the “industrial” epithet. Me, I could happily listen to ‘Running From Ghosts’ on a perpetual loop for two weeks, in the certain expectation that I’d get a lot more work done around the house. There’s also ‘Jizzy Jazz’ tacked on the end, feeling a tad anomalous in this context – tasteful piano chords and disco beats, amounting to a slightly wacky and queasy take on soul-funk easy listening, spliced with experimental globulets and noisy-splatterfons…kinda misfires for me. No matter, as the bulk of Noisy Nylon delivers the oats to the virtual stable.

It remains to mention the cover painting – I thought “noisy nylon” was a cute way of referring to magnetic tape in a cassette shell, but as you can see the subject matter is about nylon stockings on a shapely pair of female legs – not exactly painted the way that Allen Jones would have done it in the 1960s, but there it be. A splendid tape…hear it on Bandcamp or demand a repress…

A few anecdotal afterthoughts.

The title 'Nitty Nora (Head Explorer)' was inspired by an exhibition I saw at the Conductors' Hallway gallery by Jenny Jones back in 1997. The exhibition included some knitted or crocheted computer monitor covers and I always assumed the title was a pun on knitting. Only later did I find that Nitty Nora - Head Explorer was a nickname given to the nurses who used to visit schools in the 1980s to deal with the pupils' head lice of which there were several outbreaks across the land. From the same source comes the title  ‘Break Their Legs so they can’t lay eggs’ which was a guidance for dealing with head lice by using a steel comb. 

Talking of 'Break Their Legs so they can’t lay eggs’ whilst not an overt reference to Genesis I am now rather fond of the Gabriel albums even if throughout the 1970s they epitomised everything that seemed to be wrong with the music industry. I even met Gabriel albeit very very briefly when I was staying in the flat above Crescent Studios in Bath one summer.  He seemed quite down to earth and un-diva like - he was later given a copy of the first Storm Bugs single - which I'm guessing he probably hated but he managed to make a few positive noises about. 

Going back to Ed's review it is interesting that he "could happily listen to ‘Running From Ghosts’ on a perpetual loop for two weeks" whereas in the Avant Weekly review it was the track the reviewer was "least enamoured with". Curiously (or not) this is the track on the tape I most change my mind about. 

Lastly the sleeve and title. For a long time I had named the painting on the cover 'Hockney's Sister' as the style was a tiny homage - though don't ask me to name a specific picture. The title came from eBay searches for vintage overalls - I have a small thing for old British Workwear cotton drill jackets and the like - these eBay searches along with faded boiler suits would often come up with lots of nylon house coats described as being either "rustily" or "noisy" nylon popular it seems in certain quarters and commanding surprisingly high prices. There seemed a tangential link between Noisy Nylon and the cover image and yes also with the tape itself though strictly speaking I think tape backings are made of polyester. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Best Before 2027 - The Storm Bugs Wire Review

just in this review from edition 471 of the Wire music magazine.

The Storm Bugs Best Before 2027

Bandcamp DL

Philip Sanderson and Steven Ball first started making music as Storm Bugs in 1978. creating DIY pop and tape collage, putting out cassettes on their own Snatch Tapes label until 1981. Using old reel-to-reel machines, scratched/ locked groove records, fuzzy radio recordings, poetic half-spoken lyrics warped by tape manipulations, their work tapped into a surreal and distinctly British sort of gloom, laced with dry humour. In 2002 they revived the project with The Bugs Are Back EP, and in 2017 with Certified Original &Vintage Fakes.

Now arrives Best Before 2027. Like their earlier work, the album sounds as though it was made with rickety recording gear, only now the aesthetics are early DIY digital - endearingly lumpy DAW production, preset reverbs and hyperactive, babbling vector synths. Opener "Table Matters-la reference to their 1980 EP of the same name) is a disoriented stomp pinned in place by a monotone rhythmic vocal: Dull, bored, numb, grey, frazzled, sitting in a ditch/A hat, and a bottle, and a creeping sense of dread". "European Coffee Lounge" continues the sardonic mood, boasting a ridiculously catchy chorus framed by churning, spasmodic synth sequences.

"Syntax" is a highlight, seven plus minutes of chilled synthpop with a softly crooning voice wrapping itself around lines like Cadge•gloak, curtal, palliard, patrico, jackman,whip-jack, drummer, click track", lending the words a ridiculous erotic charge. Keeping with the wordy theme, there's a loose and lumpy reading of "Leary Mann from The Vulgar Tongue 118571 by Ducange Anglicus, which works surprisingly well as an ode to contemporary British masculinity. "Pigeon In My Pocket" is a stranger, speedy muddle of noisy electronics and semi-nightmarish post-punk poetry.

The best gag on the album is "Generic Ambient Music", twinkling digital bells and a Vocodered voice cooing, "There's years, literally years, of it, that can be streamed online". Cheeky, clever and a silly bargain for £l on Bandcamp. Go get it.

Leah Kardos

Saturday, April 01, 2023

Dilly Dreamers by Philip Sanderson

A new release today on Astres D'or namely Dilly Dreamers by Philip Sanderson. It is my first lathe cut - each record and sleeve made by hand. There are 25 of them, 12 are available now from  Astres D'or and 12 will be available directly from the Snatch Tapes Bandcamp in due course. The 25th copy goes into the archive.

Thematically Dilly Dreamers is four long form sound pieces loosely inspired by the movement of bodies and trains through, in and around the circulatory spaces of Piccadilly Circus underground station. The sleeves were made using a kind of frottage from a braille map of the underground which was produced for a short period by TFL in tech 1990s. 

The snippets of text are 'riffs' on written guides/instruction intended to help the blind negotiate tube stations by highlighting the number of steps between features such as stairs, seats, vending machines and other tactile features of the underground landscape. The texts have a clipped dry poetic quality a tad reminiscent of the shipping forecast.    

At 80 euros this is my most expensive release to date but you are getting a one-off in all senses of the word.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

New Storm Bugs

There is a new album out by The Storm Bugs entitled Best Before 2027. Listen here.

Monday, January 09, 2023

The Postman's Hut

 There's something infinitely poetic about a small corrugated iron shed positioned seemingly at random in the corner of a field or for that matter a pillbox listing gently one a sea shore. Despite the privations that living in one of these structures would entail some part of me quite fancies the idea. Well it turns out that in the case of the corrugated  shed for a couple of hours a day that's just what postmen in rural areas did in the aptly named postman's hut. 

The postman of yesteryear hard a hard life they would set out either on foot or if lucky on a bicycle with often both a very large weight in their sacks and a wide area to cover to deliver the mail. The rural postman's role involved not simply delivering but also collecting and as such there would often be a lengthy gap between the delivery of the last item of post and the time of the last collection. What to do to keep warm and dry during this time - enter the postman's hut or shelter.

Lets quote from Hansard and the debate on Friday 24 February 1899 of the of Rural Postmen's Shelters. "What has been offered is to put up a hut for any walking rural postman who may need it at the end of his outward walk, provided that he is required to wait for not less than two hours, and that he undertakes to use the shelter provided. This is contemplated as the normal arrangement, but in cases where the outward walk ends at or near a post-office, it is sometimes found that the postmaster is able to provide the postman with shelter on his premises, and for doing so the postmaster is to be granted an allowance not exceeding 30s. a year. Stoves are provided in the huts, but the postmen are expected to find their own fuel. Some of the men are able to earn money by doing other work"

The postman's hut it would seem survived well into the 20th century and was a common sight in the countryside. One or two example still survive today. Here is a Postman's hut near Asterton photographed by Jeremy Bolwell. 

Another fine example complete with GPO sign near Birtley, Herefordshire by Michael Dibb.

And lastly one in Cwmystwyth (via Google maps)

Friday, January 06, 2023

Just what is a music release?

So a welcome start to the New Year in the form of an upbeat review of my Passionate Particles CD in the Sound Projector. The CD was released almost exactly a year ago and a 12-month gap between release and review might seem quite lengthy but it helps conjure the question for today’s post of what exactly is a music release in 2023? 

The word ‘release’ implies something pent up that is then let loose like a horse from out the stables. Time was in the heady days of pop music pomp that that was indeed a reflection of how the industry worked – there would be a build up to a record’s release followed by a blitz of media interviews, live appearances, poster campaigns, radio plays, pluggers working their patch, adverts and reviews all within a week of the disc coming out. 


This was for the lucky few of course at around this time in early 1972 (Jan 7th) the single Changes by David Bowie was released in support of the LP Hunky Dory that has been released in mid December 1971. RCA were apparently wary of spending too much money and energy on promoting the album aware that an image change for Mr B was in the works nonetheless a December and January release were the sure way to bury a record.


Arguably today for the big hitters little has changed a new release by the carrot topped one will be marketed in a very similar way albeit using social media in all its permutations. With so much to divert our attention a record company will have to work just that bit harder as the attention window has contracted. The intention now though is not so much to shift discs, which are little more for major artists than a nice sideline but peak streaming which is the only sort that makes money. 


But outside of the chosen few how has the model changed? For artists not in the top 5% physical sales are important and each week as the weekend looms the myriad of online stores will trumpet the release of a batch of new records with fancy die cut sleeves, coloured vinyl anything and everything to attract one’s gaze. The weekly music press so influential up until the early 1990s has evaporated and outside of the Wire music magazine the monthly magazines are retro focussed so who will write about a new release? Websites such as the Quietus have to some extent stepped into the void left by the demise of the music press. The Quietus claim to be independent but how and why certain releases get written about and others don’t is opaque they don’t even publish an address you can physically send a copy of your shiny new LP to. 


The Quietus does however produce original copy in contrast many music websites run on a shoestring are little more than fronts for online stores and don’t review releases so much as regurgitate sometimes verbatim the press release. Everything is of course brilliant and a must have purchase. 

If the written word doesn’t have the impact it once did what other ways can one get a release to have any traction. There are a myriad number of ‘radio’ stations, podcasts, Twitter feeds, YouTube channels, Instagram, Bandcamp pages and so on all of these will need to be worked to stand any chance of selling 5000 physical copies of anything. This number is coincidentally the initial disappointing sales of Hunky Dory before Ziggy. In most cases nowadays a couple of hundred copies will be shifted with warehouses groaning with unsold stock. 


But does any of this matter? There are in truth too many releases chasing the small number of people who still buy music either digitally or physically as opposed to streaming it. Right about now there will be an article somewhere championing the increase in vinyl sales and yes every year the sales do increase but from a very small base. Unless the internet collapses neither vinyl or CD sales are ever going to return to what they once were. There is also a very restricted capacity on new vinyl production and a large percentage of that is given over to repressing old releases. If you want to put out your latest effort on pressed plastic expect to wait almost a year.


So we return to the original question what exactly in 2023 is a release?  From the afore mentioned one can see that the industry maintain a digital facsimile of what was once mainstream practice but does that have much relevance to anybody else making music especially in the more left field fringes. 


From my own (anecdotal) experience with recent release ‘audience’ is quite a fickle thing. Releases on labels which have worked all the social media bases such as my On One of These Bends LP put out by Séance Centre have sold 300 copies fairly quickly whereas releases on other labels have struggled to get much beyond the 100 mark. Snatch Tapes has in the last three years put out cassettes (once more) but these despite good reviews have achieved (?) little more than sales of 30 copies. A digital only release will be lucky to gat to that number in terms of sales though in both cases streaming of tracks usually via Bandcamp is much higher and in many ways constitutes the audience.  


In this context the physical release then is more of a pretext to get/let people hear the music than to sell anything. Two or three plays of a track on WFMU will reach a much larger audience than the physical copy will. One guy who regularly does buy Snatch Tapes releases goes on to then post a track on his YouTube channel this has no noticeable impact on sales but does mean another couple of hundred plays. So a release that has negligible sales may over time reach and audience of a few thousand via various channels and in that context a review a year after release makes as much sense as one a week after.

Thursday, January 05, 2023

On Repeat

Looking at the Snatch Tapes Spotify Artists page the other day I noticed that a couple of songs had had in one 24 hour period quite a few plays – oh but hang on this wasn’t the seeds of a viral spread that would rival Kate Bush (only jesting) these were all attributed to one listener.  For a moment I wondered what madness might cause one person to want to listen to any track let alone one of mine over and over again before recalling that that was exactly what I used and millions of other people did and still do in their youth.     

Playing a song on repeat is in inherent feature of pop music. In days of yore it meant buying a 7-inch single and literally playing it till it began to wear out now one can just set the digital stream to loop. Whether analogue or digital the option for repeated playback of the same track is technologically determined. Before the record there were of course popular songs that musicians would repast on request. The family or wider social group might gather round the piano and go through favourites old and new. The number of times a song might be repeated was however limited by the musician’s willingness or physical ability to play a tune over and over. Technology changed all of that one could play a song 30 or even more times a day if one so choose and often as a teenager when a new release by say T.Rex was released one would do just that and no doubt contemporary youth might play Adel’s latest in just the same way.


But what happens during the process of repeated plays?  There are various stages – firstly there is getting acquainted – learning the ins and outs of the song its melody verse chorus and lyrics. These underlying musical fundamentals are filtered through the delivery and production of the track, the grain of the voice, the particular twang of the guitar or the drum break before the final chorus, etc. 


Most pop music is itself quite repetitive sticking whatever the genre to a verse/chorus/middle eight formula and so one is repeating something that is already quite repetitive. Getting to know the song and the nuances and inflections of every groove might only take five to ten plays and then what? 


The pleasure derived from the playback – and one wouldn’t be listening in the first place if the record wasn’t in some way intoxicating becomes mildly additive. No sooner is the track over than one wants to repeat it again and again though the rush can quickly diminish into a dull fix that barely maintains the high. 


Eventually the hit is dulled and one moves on to the next song. The groundwork has been laid however and with a little space and time hearing that same song again indeed even the opening bars many years later can re-trigger many of the same emotions. It is a form of self-indoctrination and guarantees some artists an income stream from plays of a song decades after they have been recorded as we want to hear that son just one or two or three more times. Noddy Holder has mentioned in interviews that the Slade hit Merry Christmas Everybody he helped pen is in effect his pension scheme as every year it provides a surprisingly large income. 

Playing old hits live can also be highly lucrative though one can see in the faces of some artists the pain in having to play that tune just one more time as they become a physical embodiment of a looped playback. “Please let me play something different, heh look I have a new album out” all falls on deaf ears as the crowd wait for the songs they know and played on repeat way back when. And lets not think this is just limited to the likes of Paul McCartney I recall a Faust gig where we nodded appreciatively through new material until almost reluctantly the band broke into It's a Rainy Day...

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Happy New Year and is that pop itch finally scratched?

So a happy new year and all that. Anyone paying attention will have noticed that in the last 9 months or so the Sanderson Snatch Tapes output has gone all 'long form', shifting away almost completely from the 3 minute pop song based format of Rumble of The Ruins and Closest Friends to a more musique concrète focus on noise sound (to use the Russolo term). 


Though this hasn't come completely out of the blue - the Ice Yacht releases have been all instrumental you could make a case that this is a return to something - maybe the more electronic days of early Storm Bugs but I'd prefer to see it as a forward rather than reverse gear. In truth the noise sound thing has been there all along but to get to the current location the pop itch had to be scratched. 


For the first ten years of my life music played very little part. There were no instruments at home aside from a mouth organ on which my father could play a tune but rarely did. My mother watched Top of The Pops and there was a mono dansette but it rarely got switched on, my parents had maybe 20 LPs - probably less. My convent primary school which I attended from 1963 to 1971 had many virtues but music education was not one of them. 


Come eleven  and a a move to a new school, mix in some stirring hormones and I rapidly became intoxicated by pop music. I can recall a party at my next door neighbour's hose in 1972 in which alongside ice cream and jelly a couple of T.Rex singles were played over and over. Soon I had a copy of Slider and the infatuation was in full flow. 


Of course one wanted to not only consume pop music but be consumed by it and make one's own. This remember was when Ziggy Bowie shaped the agenda and when pop music offered not only the three minute rush but the promise of a total reinvention of self. "Gotta make way for the homo superior" 


I was bought an acoustic guitar for my birthday. it was a spanish classical guitar with impossibly high action and a wide fretboard which I could barely get my hands around.  There was also a guitar book that promised you the pleasure of after a couple of weeks being able to play Greensleeves. I did learn the basic chords but the acoustic guitar didn't really inspire or rather I was more captivated by the idea of pop than learning how to play scales. 


There was also something else going on and that was a nascent interest in sound and electronic music. There wasn't much to go on. Stockhausen may have recorded Kontakte in 1960 but you'd be hard pressed to find a copy in the Medway Towns or anything else similar. What one did have was Faust, Neu, Kraftwek and of course Eno all radical in their own way though perhaps more musically conventional than one thought at the time. 


Alongside lamentable strumming on the acoustic guitar I also began "plugging inputs into outputs" experimenting with old reel to reel tape machines bough at the market and making the first steps towards something. Without any guide aside from what sounded interesting to my ears I began recording some nascent noise sound tracks. These were decidedly not pop songs even if that was the wider frame of reference or the field of activity. I had already recorded quite a few 'noise' pieces before hearing Throbbing Gristle but it is fair to say that TG made a sense of it all, somehow melding electronics and song.  


And thus we have the ingredients for Storm Bugs 1978-81 a sometimes curious combination of sound exploration colliding with or tainted by a pop sensibility. There was an early peak with the Second Storm Bugs single a kind of industrial rockabilly powered by a drum loop, but a ridiculous sleeve, non existent marketing and an absence of live gigs meant it all but disappeared without trace. 


Steven Ball (my fellow Storm Bug) and I took things a step further in the early 1980s when a session to record a local (to the Medway Towns) guitarist to play along to a VCS3 track we had made at West Square ended with almost a year spent making jangly pop music as Swoon Baboon. And so it would continue throughout the first half of the 1980s - on the one hand I would make occasional forays into noise with David Jackman and the boys from Alien Brains and The New Blockaders but then would spend the best part of 1985 working on pop songs in a flat in Islington with one of Nigel Jacklin's old school chums.


Ironically the best music from this period wasn't the pop music (which was with the exception of one or two tracks was mostly just competent) but the little bits of film music I did for arts school friends.  By 86 I had tired or even exhausted myself trying to make pop music and/or become a pop persona. Experimental film and then installation projects beckoned and I made no attempt at pop music for another ten years. 


But still the itch needed scratching and when I got a Mac in 1997 and began again to make music for its own sake though the majority of the output was short electronic pieces I was to an extent still beguiled by the three minute song, a soaring melody and a rousing beat. 


So in the last ten years the odd song began to creep in both with the rebooted Storm Bugs project and my solo output.  By 2000 with Rumble of The Ruins and the 2001 Even my Closes Friends the releases were predominantly song based. It is too simplistic to say that this was the music I had been striving to make in 1986 for there had been a lot of listening to all manner of songs in between. I had always know that pop music is inherently simple even simplistic but that is part of the beauty and appeal. It just took a long time to make something I was happy with.


Neither Rumble of The Ruins or Even my Closes Friends was any kind of commercial success and maybe just as well as I would have had to tour my sorry self around venues playing them and the whole live thing always seemed a lot of work - not the playing to an audience per se that can be quite enervating, but all the arranging/travelling/staying in hotels stuff. So the afore mentioned releases are not really pop as really pop music should be on some level popular but musically they finally scratched the pop itch to my own satisfaction - it only took 40 years. 


Since then it has been a process of clearing my head and making the space for some new noise sound music.


Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Snatch Tapes 2022

So it is round up time. It has been been a busy year for releases over at Snatch Tapes. 2022 started with the Passionate Particles CD released by Walter Robotka on Klanggalerie - a selection of tracks from the last twenty years. I thought this might introduce the Sanderson oeuvre to more people - It didn't but the CD had an upbeat review in Avant Weekly by Frans de Waard and got a few spins on WFMU and other fine radio stations. 
Undaunted by the slightly underwhelming response to the CD in Spring came the next Ice Yacht cassette Noisy Nylon limited to 30 copies - described by Keith Rodway as sounding more 'industrial' this turned out to be a stepping stone to doing more long form msuique concrete-is style work. The first manifestation of this was Redux a 30 minute reworking of Snatch Tapes material described by Eric Lanzillotta as being a little like Pierre Henry. Then came Lost With All Hands (the Legend of Goodwin Sands) an album of two 20 minute pieces. The title track was played by Carol Crow, Daniel Blumin and Tony Coulter at WFMU and was heard in one of the listening towers at the recent Sonic Cartogarphy conference at Chatham Dockyard. Then the Queen died and using a single bell toll as source material a 17 minute piece called The Ringing of a Bell was conjured. Lastly there was The Sunken Features of a Satellite - more long form soundscape that reworked the previous Pillbox release.
For what its worth my own favourite of the year was

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Green on The Horizon at BFI Southbank NFT3









That old Sanderson & Ball 'classic' Green on The Horizon gets a screening this week at NFT3 as part of a programme of Peter Greenaway related shorts entitled The Unreliable Narrator: Adventures in Storytelling, Documentary and Misinformation.

To  quote from the programme notes: Veracity and doubt play off each other to uncanny, witty ends in imaginative films by Greenaway, John Smith, Patrick Keiller, Steven Ball and Philip Sanderson. The voice illuminates and obscures in equal measure, dryly satirising the authority of the documentary narrator, and interrogating film language and the relationships between sound and image. Weird tales and odd instructions seep up through the gaps.

Steven and I shall be at the screening to make a brief introduction. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

New Website

I have a new website documenting all my various art work, be it music, single screen video, installation, Chronocuts, etc. It is called Rumble of The Ruins and you can find it here.   

Sunday, September 18, 2022

A ringing of a Bell

And so the Queen is dead, and the bell tolls 96 times – what can be drawn from this dull and dutiful repetition, dong, dong, dong, neither building nor climaxing, an endless anticipation, a ceremony of the senses, an everything of nothing, a shrill shell. 


Let us take just one single toll of the bell and see if out of that metal on metal we can conjure something befitting… 


I give you The Ringing of a Bell

released September 12, 2022 


Philip Sanderson: treatments. Unknown Bell Ringer: Bell



Monday, September 05, 2022

LOST WITH ALL HANDS (The legend of Goodwin Sands)

So in pursuance of my (further) investigations into noise-sound I have been working on a couple of new long form pieces namely ‘LOST WITH ALL HANDS (The Legend of Goodwin Sands)’, and ‘The Mourning After’.


Goodwin Sands is a sandbank off the coast of Deal in Kent notorious as the site of shipwrecks and the loss over centuries of thousands of seafarers’ lives. At first Goodwin Sands was nothing more than a handy working title for a piece I was making using various noise-sounds such as squeaky gates and bowed cymbals treated using granular synthesis. The shifting patterns and textures had some loose approximation or analogue with the dynamics of the sandbank and having seen a copy of a second hand book about the Goodwin Sands in a local shop I adopted the name, but the initial idea was not to represent or make a piece about the sands per se. 


The piece was taking form and as part of the general research one does around such things I came across a folk song by George Gilbert entitled ‘The Legend of The Goodwin Sands’ (1974) which originally appeared on the 1974 LP Medway Flows Softly - Songs of Kent by George Gilbert. The LP was one of those privately pressed LPs of folk music that were released in the 1960s and 70s. It contains a number of often humorous songs many of them based in and around places or events in the Medway Towns where I grew up. George Gilbert wrote all the songs and provides the inter track introductions. Many of the numbers on the LP feature a full band and other singers though ‘The Legend of The Goodwin Sands’ is just Gilbert himself on vocals and a wind/water background sound.  


With some suitable treatment the song fitted well overlaid in the centre of the piece I had already made. Fitted almost too well for no sooner was it part of the composition than the various noise-sounds which previously had maintained an abstracted relation to one another began to morph into representations of location sounds. A bubbling sound became water, the overlaid granular synthesized bowed cymbal the creaking of the vessels, other tones took on the mantle of wind and waves. In short the noise-sounds began to before my ears loose their autonomy and become illustrations of the text of the folk song. 


With some judicious mixing and copious editing I found a sufficient tension and distance between the song and the noise-sounds could be maintained to make the piece ‘work’, but it was close, had I started with the song and then added the noise-sound I fear all would have been lost (at sea) as it would have been difficult not to hear the noise-sounds as nautical sound effects from the off.  


In contrast with side A which as has probably been inferred took some time side B, ‘The Mourning After’ was a relatively quick affair employing pulse comb filters excited by a range of audio sources including location recordings in Kent, vocals and shortwave radio. I had been experimenting with the pulse comb patch for a good six months and had a number of takes none of which seemed to quite hot the mark, but having completed side one and with its theme in mind I had another go and managed to improvise the track in a couple of takes. 


Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Sunken Features of a Satellite

Revisiting noise.



1 The Industrial Revolution 

2 Revisiting Russolo – The Art of Noises

3 From Russolo to Schaeffer

4 Composing Noise-Sound



1 The Industrial Revolution 


It is over a hundred years since the idea of noise as something to be desired rather than kept to a minimum was first advocated. We can point to Marinetti’s 1912 Zang Tumb Tumb celebrating the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire, which in part inspired Russolo’s Art of Noises. Across Europe be it Futurists or Russian filmmakers such as Vertov and Avraamov noise and in particular the sounds of the industrial revolution were embraced as not only offering new possibilities beyond the then canon of Western classical music, but in some way signalling the modern and a confrontational cleansing of all that went before. 


Great - lets bow an old hubcap, scrape that oil drum across the floor, make some noise and welcome the future. But wait pitfalls a plenty are to be found in making noise. The first lies in the original act of inversion, the reversal of the term noise from unwanted to desirable. We might categorise this change as an example of linguistic amelioration. 


Linguistic amelioration of adjectives such as ‘bad’ and ‘sick’, become quasi-ironic positive endorsements enhanced by the negative shell they inhabit. Such ameliorations are not permanent transitions of meaning but require a degree of hip insider knowledge and are thus tied to small generational shifts in language use. 


More culturally charged linguistic ameliorations of nouns such as say ‘queer’ signal a reclamation of the word from its original negative and pejorative usage into an emphatically empowered positive. Here the ameliorations is usually initiated by those who were the subject of the intended abuse and the power of the relocation and repurposing of such terms lies in both their inbuilt historical memory of having been negative and in an ongoing recognition that many in society still view them as such and so they contain a continued act of defiance. 


Aside from occasionally being booed off stage noise makers and musicians are hardly a persecuted segment of society indeed it could be demeaning to those who are to make such a comparison and yet the investment in ongoing linguistic amelioration of ‘noise’ follows the process found in nouns far more closely than that of adjectives. 


Despite noise’s over a hundred year pedigree many noise artists who operate in what might loosely be called the popular music field (i.e. outside of academia and state funded studios) exhibit a strong desire to maintain the memory of noise as undesirable tied to an ongoing belief and indeed celebration of its perceived inherent provocative nature. We are noisy and proud of it. As such the sounds of the industrial revolution can all too easily become not so much empowered or a new vocabulary of sonic possibilities as imprisoned pawns in a parody of more culturally charged linguistic ameliorations. 


Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in the development in the late 1970s and early 1980s of noise and industrial music in Britain. It was Throbbing Gristle (TG) who coined the phrase industrial music, and though nearly all TG concerts would end with a vibrating wall of distorted sound TG were arguably a proto noise group rather than not a noise band per se. Outside of the full-on live finale regular rhythms, beats, vocals, lyrics, etc can all be easily distinguished in TG’s output, which for all the confrontational pose of the band was readily distinguishable as music/songs within the parameters of the day. The creation of TG relocated the activities of their front man Genesis P-Orridge from the (fine) art world that he and his then partner’s Cosey Fanni Tutti’s, COUM Transmissions project had inhabited into the stream of popular music. For though TG were never to trouble the charts their releases and gigs were reviewed in the mainstream music press (Sounds and NME) and their records were largely bought by listeners who also purchased the likes of PIL or Joy Division. 


If TG were a pro-noise band then it was to be a younger generation inspired by TG such as Whitehouse and Merzbow who would strip out the more conventional musical elements and focus on the remaining shell of noise. Following on from TG’s siting of their project within popular music the noise bands that followed were framed within the same context. Noise bands would often play at the same venues where rock bands played. This was significant in so much as it created an (oppositional) frame of reference with regard to popular music as opposed to say locating practice closer to Cage, Musique Concrète, Jazz, etc. Such framing helped encourage the repeated restatement of the original linguistic amelioration of noise as if it were a constant shock trooped antidote to popular music and culture. 


A thriving underground scene developed in the early 1980s of noise bands with matching graphics/artwork which taking their cue from the collages of leading TG member Genesis P-Orridge variously depicted death and destruction, mutilation, factories and urban architecture, bondage and fetishism, etc all photocopied in a reduced tonal range. If many involved with Futurism and in particular Marinetti had prior to World War 1 embraced the machine age and the cleansing effects of war and destruction DaDa responded to the horrors of World War 1 by a rejection of capitalism and the rational. 


Whilst Genesis P-Orridge’s collages were heavily influenced by DaDa TG’s overall image often tended towards the militaristic proto-fascist tendencies of Futurism. This mixed cocktail part Futurist, part DaDa with some added Burroughs and Lou Reed added in for good measure seeped into the very veins of noise music. The imprisonment of noise in a continual restatement and reinforcement of the original linguistic amelioration was now also inexorably linked with a visual and metaphorical depiction of destruction, death and decay hovering somewhere between celebration and condemnation. At times the emphasis would be more playful and DaDa whilst others would openly flirt with the more fascist overtones such as with Boyd Rice/NON. 


These tensions and tendencies are embodied in the sonic and visual output of almost every noise artist that emerged post 1980, and remarkably perhaps persist to the present day in the work of contemporary artists such as Wolf Eyes. Different artists of course respond in their own way to this approach and there are many subtle different sonic variations to be had, nonetheless the original linguistic amelioration and conceptual wedding to noise as noise frames so much of the output and restricts the creative possibilities and potential.    


The critical and audience framework in which noise music is received has tended to further reinforce the straightjacket that noise found itself in. Reviews of work containing noise will inevitably fall back on a range of nouns and adjectives the sounds is: spiky, deranged, glitchy, lo-fi, damaged, fucked-up, distorted, the beat: grinding, queasy, broken, disjointed, disfigured, the atmosphere created is woozy, bleak, dystopian, and so on. Similarly many audiences demand their noise gigs to be loud, confrontational, dark and dirty with stomach churning volume. Noise artists are expected to be at the very least self-declared bohemians edgy and excessive both in their habits and output, with many releasing literally hundreds of records and fans’ shelves groaning under the weight of vinyl box sets. What has noise done to deserve such a fate, and is there another way or other ways…?



2 Revisiting Russolo – The Art of Noises


So can noise be liberated from the straight jacket of linguistic amelioration and linked visual and metaphorical depictions of destruction and dystopia? Lets go back to the beginning and Russolo and his Art of Noises.


Whilst Russolo has become part of the historical telling of the birth of noise aided by that photo of the enigmatic boxes the Intonarumori which with their sound horns look for all the world like an early Reggae sound system Russolo’s contribution is nonetheless somewhat marginalised. Often depicted as a Futurist agent provocateur whose performances were accompanied by riotous response superficially it would seem that Russolo and The Art of Noises fits into the straightjacket of noise for noise sake. A closer examination reveals a lot more depth to the Russolo project than he is given credit for.


Though audio recordings (onto wax cylinder and then disc) were regularly being made during Russolo’s lifetime only a few muffled minutes exist of a performance from 1921. Similarly no original Intonarumori/noise machine survives and a couple of bars from a score. For a proper assessment of Russolo’s importance we must turn then to Russolo’s writings his Art of Noises (the Art of Noises Futurist Manifesto published in 1913, and subsequent publications in 1916 all translated from the Italian by Barclay Brown 1983). 


Russolo’s writing is in keeping with the Futurist manifesto style polemic nonetheless it is also analytical, unfortunately the power of the former often obscure the clarity of the latter. Many times when reading Russolo we have to go beyond the eye-catching Futurist rhetoric to read the finer implications of what is being said regarding noise-sound. 


Russolo starts The Art of Noises by heralding the new world of sound that the industrial age had ushered in “Ancient life was all silence. In the 19th Century, with the invention of machines, Noise was born. Today, Noise is triumphant and reigns sovereign over the sensibility of men”. Russolo then proceeds to a very short description of the evolution of music tracing its development over the centuries from the first single tones obtained from a plucked string up to an ever greater complexity of chords and finally “musical art seeks out combinations more dissonant, stranger, and harsher for the car. Thus, it comes ever closer to the noise-sound”.  


From the start then Russolo is not positioning noise in opposition to music per se so much as locating aspects of the “noise-sound” as embodiments of the trajectory in music’s development. “In order to excite and stir our sensibility, music has been developing toward the most complicated polyphony and toward the greatest variety of instrumental timbres and colours. It has searched out the most complex successions of dissonant chords, which have prepared in a vague way for the creation of MUSICAL NOISE”.


Following this analysis it is not surprising that Russolo then makes the call for the traditional orchestra instruments and the orchestral music played to be replaced by a new range of noise-sounds (produced by his own Intonarumori.) There is a degree of Futurist declamation regarding the demise of Beethoven and Wagner and of the need to shake up the Buddha-like audience but, in keeping with Russolo’s belief in noise-sound having the potential for much greater tonal and pitch variation than traditional instruments he then goes on to describe the sheer range and diversity of noise-sound. 


Somewhat paradoxically before listing as one might expect the soundscape of the city “the throbbing of valves, the bustle of pistons, the shrieks of mechanical saws, the starting of trams on the tracks, the cracking of whips…” he firstly turns to the naturally occurring sounds of thunder, wind, gurgling brooks and waterfalls. Putting aside the slight contradiction here with Russolo’s previous assertion of the world being all but silent before the industrial revolution. Though the headline is all about the more abrasive auditory pulse of the city and of war (reported via a letter from Marinetti as at the point of writing Russolo had yet to experience the horrors of war himself) the detail is that all noise-sounds be they man made or naturally occurring are worth exploring.  


Russolo without the aid of contemporary audio analytical tools identifies what it is that makes noise-sounds of musical interest and different from the tones produced by traditional instruments is “that the vibrations that produce it are confused and irregular”. This complexity and changing nature of the components of noise-sounds be they timbre, microtonal pitch, harmonics and off beat rhythms are what set them apart and are what the designers of and players of traditional instruments had over the years of refinement often sought to minimise.


Though Russolo is inspired by the complex tonalities in a range of noise-sounds that he hears a key aspect of his project is that he is not seeking to directly imitate or replicate them. Unlike many contemporary noise artists who bring on stage large sheets of metal, hammers, chainsaws, road drills and all the rest Russolo’s intention was to create a series of instruments that could extract what is of interest in a noise-sound and enable it to be played with the operator having control of a range of parameters. By harnessing the essence of what makes a particular class of noise-sound of interest be it made by man, machinery, or nature an instrument could be created that would then allow for the musical permutations and variations to be explored in a concert setting. 


Having indentified 6 families of noise-sounds Russolo then set about building a series of Intonarumori to generate them including the howler, the roarer, the crackler, the rubber, the hummer, the gurgler, and the hisser. The mechanical workings of the instruments were shrouded in secrecy concealed inside large wooden boxes from out of which only protruded the sound horn and the handle and levers used to operate them. The reasoning behind this enclosure was arguably twofold, firstly Russolo was approaching the project not only as a musical one but hoped to be able to make and sell the Intonarumori as a business and indeed at various points financial backers were close to supporting the project. As such patents were taken out and thus Russolo was keen for commercial reasons to keep the precise workings of the Intonarumori secret. The second reason for boxing in of the Intonarumori is more speculative but in keeping with Russolo’s desire not to imitate the sounds that had inspired him the concealment of the components was intended to focus attention onto the abstract audio quality of the noise themselves rather than the visual operation of the mechanism. 


Far from being just a Futurist agent provocateur seeking a linguistic amelioration that continually restates the abrasive nature of noise. Russolo set himself the almost impossible task of not only identifying a new sphere of noise-sounds but then also building the instruments to play them, composing and scoring music for the Intonarumori and, lastly staging concerts of the new music. All attempted needless to say with minimal funds and support. That the project was only partially successful in its execution is not surprising - Russolo’s descent in later life into poverty making a living from palmistry whilst living in a small attic all reinforce the legend but do little to enhance the intellectual contribution which was nothing short of a manifesto for a whole new way of approaching music through the exploration of noise-sounds. Lets just recap the key points.


1.            Noise and specifically noise-sounds are not defined by their anti-music or non-musical status, but rather can be viewed ”as embodiments of the trajectory in music’s development”.

2.            That though Russolo was inspired by the new vibrant sounds of the industrial revolution, the categorisation of noise-sounds also includes naturally occurring sounds such as “wind, gurgling brooks and waterfalls”. 

3.            For Russolo what differentiates noise-sounds from the tones of traditional instruments (played in a conventional fashion) is “that the vibrations that produce it are confused and irregular”.

4.            The purpose of creating a range of new instruments (the Intonarumori) was not to imitate specific sounds (say a car engine) but rather to offer a way of generating and playing noise-sounds giving the creator/musician control over a range of expressive parameters such as microtonal pitch and timbre.



3 From Russolo to Schaeffer


Russolo’s ideas are echoed (if not always acknowledged) throughout the 20th century in the work of John Cage, the Musique Concrète of Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry, and the electroacoustic practice of Trevor Wishart (to name just a few pivotal players). Many popular noise artists have also name-checked Russolo whilst not pursuing any of the ideas in the manifesto. A good example is Einstürzende Neubauten who for the accompanying video to their 1993 song Blume executed a nice recreation of the Russolo photograph of the room filled with (imitation) Intonarumori. In the background suitably suited gentlemen slowly turning the handles whilst in the foreground a woman rotates on a small dais whilst the lead singer sings to and around her. It is all very entertaining in a cabaret mecanique way, but has vey little to do with Russolo or his ideas. The music with its slow chord progression has a dusty romantic world-weary fin de siècle whimsy but there is no noise-sound to be heard anywhere. This is noise as style not to far removed from mainstream bands such as Depeche Mode who would flirt with adding a little noise to their percussion on tracks such as Master And Servant.


Going back to those who most clearly owe a debt to Russolo a key paradigm shift is away from music being something solely played by traditional instruments to it being created from noise-sounds. In 1976 Schaeffer wrote (distilling ideas he had been refining for 20 years) ‘The sound object, which may be any possible audible sound, is that which ranges from natural sounds to the noises of civilisation, from animal cries to human words”, meanwhile Trevor Wishart begins his 1994 book Audible Design by stating “Any sound whatsoever may be the starting material for a musical composition”. 


An obvious difference between Russolo and those that followed is in the means of producing noise-sounds with the former creating sounds from scratch in a perfomative setting with his hand cranked Intonarumori whilst in much Musique Concrète and Electroacoustic music pre-recorded sounds are manipulated. The manipulation of the Concrète would seem to be fundamental to the very identity of Musique Concrète, but as with Russolo the aim was never to imitate the sound by for example simple playback (with all the caveats about recorded sound being a representation of a sound and not the sound itself) but rather to create source material with which to experiment. As the practices of Musique Concrète morphed into those of Electroacoustic music computers rather than tape machines began to have an ever greater role and effectively became sophisticated instrument to ‘play’ noise-sounds. So if Russolo can be credited with the ‘invention’ of the noise-sound what of composition. 



4 Composing Noise-Sound


How might we organise noise-sounds. Though the origin and inspiration for noise-sounds be it in the roaring city or the babbling countryside may be chaotic or even random Russolo is clear that in terms of composition noise-sounds are to be tightly organised writing of “combing noises” and “selecting, coordinating and controlling all the noises” which “through a fantastic association of the different timbres and rhythms…will obtain the most complex and novel emotions of sound.” On timing in particular Russolo argues that “musicians, being freed from traditional and facile rhythms, must find in noise the means of expanding and renewing itself, given that every noise offers a union of the most diverse rhythms”. 


Russolo’s writing conjures an image of layered, controlled and composed noise-sound, alive with rhythmical excitations inspired by noise. Such is the exuberance of Russolo’s polemic one can almost hear this new music just out of earshot – almost. We shouldn’t however underestimate the task that Russolo was setting himself for though he positions noise-sound in a trajectory of the then developments in classical music the new vocabulary of noise-sounds would presumably require whole new forms of assembly. Russolo was keen to identify a dominant pitch in the noise-sounds produced by his various Intonarumori, but countering this was an encouragement of the exploration of microtones and glissandi with the instruments having two controls a simple crank handle to activate the mechanism, and a lever to vary the sound. If the Intonarumori would be unsuited to playing Beethoven’s 5th then equally all the musical apparatus of harmony, counterpoint, indeed the very language of music (up to that point) would need rethinking for noise-sounds. 


In most (conventional) music(s) several sounds/notes/instruments will occur simultaneously, but this is made possible in the context of a tightly controlled musical structure that defines the relationship between the sounds both vertically as in say the notes of a chord, and horizontally as in a chord progression. This is the beauty and the tragedy of much conventional music as once we know the formula and even internalise the logic it can quickly excite and fizz pulling us along in its train, but it can then also just as quickly tire as we find ourselves musically and emotionally dragged from one chord to the next in an increasingly predictable progression. Whilst nuances of execution and production can provide even the simplest of structures as those found in pop music with seemingly endless variations in the end it all becomes rather like drinking fizzy cheap lager in the hot sun - you just end up more thirsty.         


If noise-sound offers the promise of a quick escape from such strictures and structures we are left with the question of how exactly do we compose both horizontally and vertically. What are the parameters, why should any noise-sound go on top or under another, or indeed precede or follow it?  


Russolo looked to adapt the traditional methods of music scoring to suit the new music he wished to create and provides a couple of pages of examples along with a supporting commentary that suggests not only the limitations of conventional scoring without the addition of complex extra notation, but that Russolo favoured an overlaid form in which one set of sounds slide into another. Russolo’s compositional techniques, was underpinned by a classification of noise-sounds into "six families of noise": 


1: Roars, Thunderings, Explosions, Hissing roars, Bangs, Booms

2: Whistling, Hissing, Puffing

3: Whispers, Murmurs, Mumbling, Muttering, Gurgling

4: Screeching, Creaking, Rustling, Buzzing, Crackling, Scraping

5: Noises obtained by beating on metals, woods, skins, stones, pottery, etc.

6: Voices of animals and people, Shouts, Screams, Shrieks, Wails, Hoots, Howls, Death rattles, Sobs


Russolo felt these groupings represented sets of fundamental noises or building blocks from which all or any noise-sounds could be constructed through combination. Each Intonarumori was designed so as to be able to play or create sounds inspired by but not imitative of those in each family.


This model provides for a basic logic to noise-sound production though still offers little to answer the hows and whys of composition. We should of course be careful in suggesting that there might be a single answer or method to noise-sound composition, but a methodology or methodologies is needed if we are to achieve more than washes or walls of sound.


In industrial and post-industrial music the restatement of noise as noise often as not provides its own structure with sounds simply overlaid and/or overdriven to create walls of self-consciously abrasive texture. There is usually movement in the blocks that comprise the wall of sound indeed there needs to be sufficient to maintain an ongoing sense of edge throughout the 20 minutes or so of an LP side, but whilst continually refreshing the cacophonous energy is more difficult than it might seem nonetheless composition per se is often eschewed. 


The vacuum created by this lack of compositional engagement is in part filled by the continual restatement of noise as noise epithet and the previously mentioned accompanying dystopian visual and aesthetic contextualisation. Audiences often declare that such recordings and live performances offer a cathartic cleansing and there may be something to be said for this form of alternative ambient assault on the senses. A live noise performance on a large high quality sound system can be something like a fairground ride as one’s insides are literally shaken and jiggled by the audio with the performers intently twiddling knobs or screaming into microphones and/or labouring over metal sheets. It can be a grand coup de theatre that foregrounds the physiological effects of sound above and beyond other more musical properties. 


So what of other approaches to the composition of noise-sound? The inheritors of the Russolo approach would logically be the Musique Concrète  of Schaeffer and Henry. Schaeffer writing in his journals in 1948 as he begins to explore the possibilities of sound echoes Russolo in his quest for a “symphony of noises”. Exploring a range of sound making possibilities from traditional instruments to bicycle bells, and trains as with Russolo and his six families of noise Schaeffer moves towards a categorisation of sound in a bid to establish a new vocabulary. Through a period of extended experimentation with recordings of various sounds Schaeffer gradually formulates a definition of a unit of sound he calls the ‘sound object’.  


The theorisation of the sound object was refined and developed over the rest of Schaeffer’s life and required a number of intellectual somersaults The root cause for this somersaulting is that unlike Russolo who was inspired by the noises he heard around him but sought not to imitate them but to extract what was of interest and create noise-sounds (using new instruments) Schaeffer was working with actual recorded sounds – originally on locked groove discs and then magnetic tape. 


A recorded sound is a representation of a sound rather than the original sound itself, mediated on a technological level by the apparatus of recording and playback, and on a phenomenological level by the context of playback. Nonetheless the recorded sound speaks to and seeks to be imitative of the original sound. Not only that but it repeatedly calls to a causal relationship between the original vibratory source of the sound and what we are hearing – be it somebody striking with a hammer, playing a guitar, the creaking of a door, the puff of the engine as a train leaving the station and so on. 


Far from being made available as a potential flexible contributor to a symphony of noises the recorded sound is by definition captured and constrained. Like a specimen awaiting dissection Schaeffer found that through a range of processes such as editing fragments of the sound and then repeating them, or removing the attack portion of a bell sound he could to an extent liberate sounds from their imitative causal relationship. The manipulated sounds could then be put to the service of composition as  Concrète elements. The process was far from straightforward though and Schaeffer was continually seized with doubts and caught in a double bind whereby he firstly found interest in a particular set of sounds such as those of a train (for his Etude au Chemin de Fer), and then was frustrated by not being able to easily free the sounds from their causal origins with the results in danger of becoming either “anecdotal” an/or “dramatic”.  It is perhaps a little uncharitable to suggests that if you use railways sound as yours source material and then call your piece Etude au Chemin de Fer that then one shouldn’t be surprised if it impels the listener towards recognition of the original sound and potentially a dramatic reading of it. 


In practice Etude au Chemin de Fer which is credited as being the first ever piece of Musique Concrète is delightful but compositionally relatively straightforward in first isolating and then looping the off-beat rhythms (steam) trains make as they rattle over the tracks, puff and stamp as they tackle gradients, heave and pull out of stations and so on. The rhythmical sections are cut together with assorted whistles and steam exhalations, which provide short pauses between. The source material is instantly recognisable as being railway sounds, and indeed this would continue to be the case in a significant proportion of Schaeffer’s output. The theoretical abstracted sound object freed from its causal source recording would seem to have been more an aspiration than an actuality, what is of interest is how the off-beat rhythms would influence and one might go so far as to say unintentionally provide a template for how the samples in subsequent Musique Concrète pieces would be structured.


Turning to Schaeffer’s diary detailing his research as he starts to assemble the sections of Etude au Chemin de Fer he is at first dissatisfied with the rhythms of the engines “We are momentarily filled with enthusiasm. In reality, when we listen again, impartially, to what we have composed, obtained after long hours of patience, all we find is a crude concentration of rhythmic groups resistant to any regular rhythm”.  Schaeffer is seeking to impose traditional musical value on the material “I imagined I had extracted a three-four, a six-eight from the moving coach”. Specifically it is the irregularity of the train rhythm that is seen as a disadvantage “The train beats its own time, perfectly clear but perfectly irrational. The most monotonous of trains has constant variations of rhythm. It never plays in time. It changes into a series of isotopes”. But then there is a moment of revelation “what subtle musical pleasure a practiced ear could find learning to listen to, to play this new-style Czerny! Then, without the help of any melody, any harmony, you would only need to be able to discern and savour, in the most mechanistic monotony, the interplay of a few atoms of freedom, the imperceptible improvisations of chance . . . “. 


It is a good few chapters on in the diary before Schaeffer fully acknowledges “that my mistake had been in going back to musical instruments, musical notattion, musical thought patterns. Going back to noise would in fact have been the surest way to find solid, and at least unexplored, ground.“


If we attempt to represent the train rhythms in Etude au Chemin de Fer as text we might get – ratata tat ratata tat ratata tat tat, thwump, chop, huff, hump, thwump, chop, huff, hump, titoo, titoo, titoo, titoo, and so on. Two quick observatrions can be made the first would be the similarity such text has with Marinetti’s  Zang Tumb Tuuum, which of course inspired Russolo the second would be that these machine rhythms are precisely what  Russolo had in mind when he spoke of  “every noise offers a union of the most diverse rhythms”.


Somewhere between the irregular train rhythms and the vinyl locked grooves and tape loops of Schaeffer’s repeated phrases we get the origins of the rhythmic patterning one finds in so much electroacoustic music. It has a start-stop feel often punctuated by sudden rapid accelerations and then descending crescendos. Variations on this style of rhythmic patterning can also be found in improvised, algorithmic, generative, and electronic music. It is so prevalent that hardly anybody ever mentions it. 


Contemporary software such as Max/MSP and Pure Data offer a host of tools and patches to help produce sequences with varying degrees of randomness in terms of pitch, rhythm, tone and texture. Similarly what Schaeffer was striving for in terms of breaking sounds up into fragments or atoms that could then be re-arranged to create new sounds separated if not divorced from their sources is the principle behind a host of granular synthesis apps. 


So making music that embodies aspects of Russolo’s quest for an exploration of noise-sound and indeed his and Schaeffer’s imagined orchestra of noises has become from a technological perspective much easier. The would-be noise-sound composer may have been technologically enabled, possibly even too much so, but still faces the key compositional challenge of how to assemble noise-sounds vertically and horizontally.