Sunday, 22 May 2016

A Rest Before the Walk - Keith Seatman - Review

A Rest Before the Walk cover art
Click to listen/buy.

And so I rest before my walk. I put Keith Seatman's new album into the player and begin my ritual. I know it will be good for me. I have been Around the Folly and Downhill

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1. We all had our dreams. Keith Seatman seems utterly adept at capturing them in the laser grooves of the compact disc. The distorted stretched bells and terrifying backwards sounds combine throwing me beyond the black lodge and into nightmare.

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2. These Strange Tales and Lost Paper Trails indicate that Keith Seatman is, as I have long suspected, the love-child of Delia Derbyshire and John Carpenter. The wonderful panic stricken keyboard loops mingled with swooping low whistles and metallic gongs out-halloween Halloween. I am scared to go outside now.

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3. But There's something outside, someone whispering in the glowing feedback. A voice telling me that something is outside. The music is building. Sounds moving left and right. I am terrified.

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4. Once more with the whirligig. That will be fun. A whirligig is fun. Huge beats and metallic loops combine with a beautiful xylophone. A spell is cast  - I am thrown into the whirligig. "Never no more will we dance will we sing in a whirligig ring to the old woman's tune on a bucket with a spoon in the moonlight on mondays." I am caught up in a ritual of Seatman's choosing. I cannot turn off. Must not turn off.

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5. One of the Broken Folk Douglas E. Powell tells me that an Empire is falling. His soft voice resurrecting the ghost of John Foxx appears reassuring but there is a deeply sinister edge to this song. We sing and dance in the dark. What are we trying to hide? Where have the Broken folk gone? They are standing behind me as I listen.

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6. An ancient voice from the past rides on a wave of throbs and cracks Made by Sun and Ice

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7. If I was out and about I would Race you to the top but I am running on the spot, my heart thumping backwards. My legs flying behind me. The drum calls me on but I am lagging, pulled back by the forces I cannot see. Everyone overtakes. The mist swirls. The dark board wobbles. I float to the top but not on my own steam. Something has allowed me to rise. The view is obscured by the deepest mist. The moon rises. I drift on the wind. Frequencies from the ether call to me. Try to bring me down. I drift on the wind.

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8. "Watch your step!" I fall to earth with a bump. I am forced into a mechanical ritual of Thinking, Doing and Moving. Angry notes make me dance against my will. "Look before you leap" chant the invisible children. I will not sleep tonight.

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9. I should have done My Morning Ritual. The beautiful voice of Douglas E Powell suggests what could be done. I could be dancing barefoot on the kitchen floor, dancing in the meadow. He tries to entrance me. He succeeds. I am happy right here right now. But should I be? For they tell me that's the way that it is. I spin myself so dizzy for a while.

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10. I wish I wish I wish all musical experiences could be like this one. I am being taken to so many places on my rest before the walk. The enormous joyous beats transport me to an idyllic 1980s that is better than I remember - before drifting on strange frequencies into cosmic horror

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11. The beautiful sound of birds and train distort under the thrust and push of the machine. I am Waiting for Mr Fieldpole. The landscape distorts as he approaches, his head tilted to one side, hat askew, his feet tramp against the ground, louder than any step I have heard. He smiles at me. His teeth sharp and glinting. His eyes a dark purple. 

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This ritual is opening doors to things I do not understand.

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12. Maybe she can help. She holds the sun in her hand. But she stands next to Mr Fieldpole. He defers to her. The electronic beeps and calls only increase my anxiety.

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13. I should be  reassured as I move Along the Corridor 1st on the Left Room 2882 but the terror increases. As this soundtrack of imagined horror grows. The assured synth rhythms and loops collapsing into low swoops. A phone rings. Answer the phone. Who is calling? Who is in 2882? Why do I need to go there. Answer the phone. Answer the phone. Answer the phone. Who is coming down the corridor?

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14. I was told that I would need a Rest Before the Walk. But I am exhausted now. My heart is racing. What is it? It would appear I have walked in circles. I shake the bones in my bag. Cast them on the floor. The shape they land in gives me no comfort. I am trapped in a delicious hell of Keith Seatman's making. It would appear I have come full circle. But I haven't moved. I have been sitting, headphones on, lost in this electronic ritual. 

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The Ritual does not end.

I begin again.

I loop. 

Lost in Keith Seatman's electronic dreams.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

The Footbook of Zombie Walking - Phil Smith - Review

Phil Smith
Triarchy Press

Phil Smith (aka Crab Man) used to walk sideways. Now he stumbles, shambles and groans.

In his fantastic book Counter-Tourism:The Handbook he encourages us to see the world in a new way, to re-view the familiar through our own mischief, to play with established sites, to usurp the rules set by the heritage industry and question the geographic and historic hegemony. He enables us to recognise that history and our expectations of landscape are a construct and that we would have much more fun if we fabricated our own. Above all Phil Smith encourages us to play again, (in the case of some atrophied readers he may be encouraging us to play for the first time) to rip up our guide books and write a new narrative over the landscape.

He encourages us to slip into liminal spaces, explore boundaries, discover that the most interesting places are often the least visited. In his dérives he has uncovered ways of enjoying the world anew.

There is something distinctly spiritual about his books. Phil Smith encourages us to re-engage with an environment we mostly ignore. Since reading Counter Tourism and On Walking I often find myself contemplating the pleasures of getting lost. Leaving the path or the motorway and exploring unknown spaces. I enjoy finding out facts and folklore about unfamiliar locales and revel in lying about overly familiar places. These experiences are akin to laying a transparency of magic over the landscape.

With his new book The Footbook of Zombie Walking his approach has evolved further. The journey through the landscape is explored through the myth and tropes of the Zombie. But rather than this being an exploration of elaborate Zombie role play (which I was expecting) it becomes something far more eye-opening, spiritual and ultimately moving.

The book uses a structure that those of us familiar with Phil Smith’s work will recognise: observation, italicised records of discoveries, suggestions for exercises to enhance your dérives and academic cross-referencing between discoveries on the walk and his own extensive knowledge. However, owing to the focus of the book being on the Zombie, it delves into very strange and enlightening territory.

For some, Zombie movies are revolting excesses of gore and violence, they appear repetitive and often cheap, they revel in death and decay, and they celebrate the post-apocalyptic life. For others the films appeal for the exact same reasons. The Zombie film is about rebirth. The rebirth of the landscape, the body and the mind. It is this notion of starting again - of our overly familiar environment becoming a brand new place of unexpected possibility – of our own minds and bodies being agents and vessels of this change - that appeals to us.

Walking and Zombies might not seem well-matched bedfellows but on reading this book I am surprised that this has not been covered before. The majority of Zombie films contain more walking and landscape than Peter Jackson’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies combined. Zombies can only walk and the survivors, with defunct technology all around them, are forced to do the same. The Zombies see a world full of possibility and food and the survivors see a ravaged shell, full of danger. Both parties are invigorated and changed by the transformation of their world. Phil Smith enables us to see our own world through these eyes.

I am a Zombie Apologist. (I have become recently acquainted with the term “apologist” when I discovered that there is a sub-genre of religious literature known as Christian Apologetics – these books are written to appeal to non-Christians who view the violent excesses of religion with suspicion. The Christian Apologist edits or re-interprets the nastier bits of religion to make it more palatable to the liberal, anti-slavery, sexually tolerant post millennials. It therefore seems an apt modifier to use next to “Zombie”.)  When speaking to those who think of undead film and literature in the same way that I consider football (i.e. not at all) I find myself avoiding the Zombie in my explanations. This is similar to the way that football aficionados try to win me over with talk of atmosphere and camaraderie to get me to watch a match whilst avoiding mention of the game itself. I find myself talking of survival, metaphors and “It’s about family really.” A classic defence of “The Walking Dead”, when met with “Hasn’t that got Zombies in it?” is “Yeah, but it’s not really about Zombies.” The Zombie cockerel has crowed three times. Not only does Phil Smith reveal this to be an utterly cowardly riposte he also encourages us to embrace the Zombie in our lives and perambulations. Phil Smith is less Zombie Apologist and more Zombie Evangelist.

Zombie films are about transformation. Primarily two things are transformed: the body and the landscape. The book acts as a guide to how we can engage with landscape, community and our own selves in a different way. The Zombie’s shambling gait is a portal to new experiences and ways of seeing.

The Footbook of Zombie Walking revises our view of the Zombie, but, strangely and movingly for such a fearful and stupid creature, it allows the Zombie to guide us into a new way of living. This is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for the post-millennial generation – we can find enlightenment through the Zombie in much the same way that Pirsig finds it through embracing the mechanical.

This fascinating book does require some knowledge of Zombie films due to the myriad references made throughout, I would suggest as primer material that you read The Walking Dead graphic novels by Robert Kirkman, and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Watch Night of the Living Dead (both the original and the 90’s remake), Dawn of the Dead (both versions), Day of the Dead (the original), Les Revenants, Shaun of the Dead and see where that takes you.

Embrace your inner Zombie and see the world anew.

Seek it out. Consume. Stumble. Groan. See the familiar as though it is new.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Take a trip down The Delaware Road

And we begin...
Reading Town Centre - A dark damp Saturday in November 

The fireworks are exploding around me in time with the mundane tunes of the now. 
I push past the gawping hordes looking out at the Oracle, illuminated by exploding gunpowder expense in this empty ritual to vacuity and excess.
South Street Arts Centre calls. 
Warm red brick.
The old Labour Exchange playing host to ghosts of an imagined past.
The launch of The Delaware Road.
These are not your eyes.

He sits at a table.
Face furrowed in concentration.
This is how it happened.
The lights dim. 
Words weave. 
Tongue and teeth. 
Spit and fury.
Magic and drama. 
Poetry and song. 
Tape and video. 
Valve, magnet, beep, button, loop, moog. 
Sine waves. Liminal waves. Waves of half remembered nostalgia.
We are dragged under the waves into the deep, into and down the Delaware Road.

This unique event was a mesmerizing mix of film, music and poetry. A piece of ritual that at times captured the essence of the UFO gigs with the psychedelic oil projections, dry ice and beautifully weird music.

Surrounded by Smarties they flew their ship onward.

The album that this ritual launched has been in constant use in my house since the gig. Calling up the electric spirits of the 70's, moving me from synthesised ecstasy to mystic knowing to utter joy with each track.The Delaware Road is the brainchild of Alan Gubby, the curator of Buried Treasure, a relatively new but achingly successful record label based in Berkshire.

Hold, hold bare up thy rapture.

The album straddles various genres but is held together by a sense of displaced nostalgia. The title itself is unsettlingly familiar. The Delaware Road, I have been there, I know it.

After several attempts Loose Capacitor make the line go wiggly.

At various stops on the Delaware Road we visit the world of synthesisers, loops and electronica - from the beauty of The Twelve Hour Foundation with Hundreds Twelves and Units; the aural poetry of Ian Helliwell's Water Gardens (his manipulation of ancient sound boxes was a joy to watch); the unsettling joy of Trouble and Strife's The Shag (an instrumental paean to the glories of the thump of glam rock); the electric 80's film noir of Robin LeeAsterion's Que; the freakish mix of sweet loops and demonic possessions in Monoslapper's Twit to the toe-tapping brilliance of  Loose Capacitor with their superb "Theme to Robins Nest".

A watcher in the darkness.
 The road was navigated by Dolly Dolly, his account of this lost aural ritual punctuating the acts. An extract of this poem is on the album. This little snatch of brilliance makes me long for a full length version.

Some people are able to pronounce Revbjelde. I am not one of them.
 The album also plays host to the incredible Revbjelde. This mix of occult chants, didgeridoo, voodoo beats, scratches, mandolin and strings at times seemed like the lovechild of Beats Antique  and the instrumental adventures of the Beastie Boys on Ill Communication  (Tidworth Drum) but it was something far more unique. If I were to sum up the experience of listening to Revbjelde in one word, that word would be: lovelushsmokylicious.

Joining the haunting sounds of Revbjelde is the sublime Howlround's  Cradle Cheat (with their tape hanging all over the shop).  We are also joined by the wonderful Dandelion Set who deliver music that matches their clothes (see above).

The man with long hair escaped the screen four minutes and thirty seven seconds after this picture was taken.

The other houses on the Delware Road are populated by Folk Horror - the Rowan Amber Mill's Buzzard and the Nightingale is a haunting piece of music with harp and vocal used to conjure a dream of mist and heather, whilst the brass of Tongues of Fire is the sort of thing that wouldn't be out of place on the narrow streets of Summerisle.

I will never forget this gig.
It was eye and ear opening.
The album is a joy.
Delaware Road is a place I will be visiting again and again.

Buy it!