Derek Bailey: Playbacks


Bingo Records 1999.  BIN004


This is one of a pair of releases in which guitar improv legend, the late Derek Bailey improvises over material sent to him by a range of artists.  The other one, Guitar, Drum ‘n’ Bass I’ll post another time.  It also works as a reverse of Thurston Moore’s Root project, where it was Moore who sent the music out.

I generally don’t find Bailey’s work that accessible, but in this context it’s much easier to deal with. Oddly, I once saw him play live and it made much more sense – maybe it needs more concentration than I can muster at home.

It’s also worth noting that he doesn’t play on two of the tracks.  John Oswald’s contribution was, as you’d expect, a cut-up of many older Bailey performances, which Bailey felt was complete when it arrived, and the hilarious last track where he talks (but doesn’t play) about his obsession with the name George.

Most of the other contributors, including producer Sasha Frere-Jones are luminaries of the 90s alt-rock scene, particularly people involved with Tortoise, although John French used to play with Captain Beefheart.  Even when the backing track is rather uninspiring, Bailey rescues the project – he seems to be able to play along to more-or-less anything.

Various Artists: Sonic Boom, The Art Of Sound



I spend a lot of time in art galleries, and of course am a bit obsessed by experimental music, so the Hayward Gallery’s 2000 “sound art” exhibition, curated by the always interesting David Toop was a must for me.  This post is the double CD compilation which came with the exhibition catalogue, and while it suffers a bit from the lack of accompanying visuals (and for you the lack of the catalogues extensive notes on all the artists), there’s enough here to maintain interest.

I’ll talk a bit about some of my favourites.

Firstly, Philip Jeck whose work revolves around having loads of old Dansette record players playing “distressed” records.  For Sonic Boom, the record players were all stuck on a single groove, and were switched on and off with timers, which produced a suprisingly effective audio collage.


Christian Marclay’s piece, Guitar Drag, needs a bit of explanation.  What he did was fix a guitar amp to the back of a flatbed truck, plug a guitar in and drag it behind the truck until the guitar was destroyed.  At Sonic Boom, this was a film, but here it’s only an except of the film’s soundtrack.  It’s surprisingly listenable, that is if you’re into experimental guitar music, and taps into the destruction of guitars by endless rock gods, but also the popular pastime of murdering black men in the American south (where this was filmed) by dragging them behind trucks not too many decades ago.


I’d like to post some Ryoji Ikeda here – I’ve been fond of his minimalist electronice for a long time, but everything I have is still available, so the extract here from his zero degrees album will have to do.

Lee Renaldo and Brian Eno need no introduction, I’ve talked about John Oswald before, and will post some Thomas Köner stuff at some point in the future.

This compilation is of course flawed, as was the exhibition it documents.  It’s incomplete because it’s audio only, and some of the tracks weren’t at the exhibition at all because what was wouldn’t have worked here.  Nevertheless there’s lots here which is worth a listen if you have a liking for the experimental, and a few rare gems from better known artists.

Here’s a tracklisting, lifted as usual from Discogs:

CD1.1 Scanner – The Collector
Composed By – Robin Rimbaud 4:00
CD1.2 Ken Ikeda & Mariko Mori – Miko No Inori
Composed By – Ken Ikeda 4:00
CD1.3 Pan Sonic – Alku 2:27
CD1.4 Project Dark – Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 2:40
CD1.5 Max Eastley & Thomas Köner – In Concert 6:14
CD1.6 Christina Kubisch – Oase 2000 7:36
CD1.7 Bow Gamelan* & Paul Burwell – Never Mind The Rowlocks
Composed By – P.D. Burwell* 4:00
CD1.8 Christian Marclay – Guitar Drag 4:00
CD1.09 Stephan Von Huene – Extended Schwitters 6:57
CD1.10 Angela Bulloch – Theremin 7:17
CD1.11 Chico Macmurtrie – Yoyo Berimbau 1:11
CD1.12 Greyworld – Studio 5 2:30
CD2.1 Ian Walton & Russell Mills – Mantle 7:01
CD2.2 Lee Ranaldo – El Oido (The Ear) 6:07
CD2.3 Philip Jeck – Off The Record 5:22
CD2.4 Brian Eno – Kites III (Extract) 7:19
CD2.5 Ryoji Ikeda – 0* :: Zero Degrees (1) 3:31
CD2.6 John Oswald – Mad Mod 2:12
CD2.7 Paul Schütze – The Head, The Soles Of The Feet, An Arm (Extract) 6:33
CD2.8 João Paulo Feliciano & Rafael Toral – Rlo I 6:58
CD2.9 Disinformation – National Grid 6:43
CD2.10 Max Eastley – Domain Of Presences
Mastered By – Peter Cusack 7:21
CD2.11 Heri Dono – Watching The Marginal People 2:00

John Oswald: Plexure

John Oswald - Plexure

John Oswald was a pioneer of what we now call sampling, although the term he used was plunderphonics. His early work which dates back to the 70s involved complex manipulation of samples to create new music, which only really worked if the listener was familiar with the original. For example he created a Dolly Parton track where he slows her down so that she sounds like a man, then makes her duet with herself. It was all done laboriously with vinyl, a tape deck, a razor blade and sticky tape. Plunderphonic meant music created entirely out of material from other music.

This album, Plexure, released only in Japan in 1993 although getting sporadic distribution elsewhere, is rather different. None of the samples have been manipulated, but in the twenty minutes the album lasts there are around a thousand samples, many of which last only a fraction of a second. It was intended to be a “review” of music issued on CD – i.e. the first ten years of the format. As such most of the samples are by big names. The transformation happens because of the decontextualisation of the sounds used and their often comedic juxtapositions. The samples are so short that while much of it is recognisable, your brain simply can’t process what’s happening fast enough to make sense of it.

As you might imagine, Oswald’s music has had serious copyright problems and has mostly been unavailable. Most bizarrely when Elektra commissioned him to do an EP celebrating their artists, even that wasn’t released because Jim Morrison’s estate wouldn’t agree to it. Michael Jackson was particularly irritated by his deconstruction of Bad into a piece Oswald called Dab.

Plexure is usually considered his best work. The original Plunderphonic LP, which has been pretty much continuously unavailable since its release is now available free on his web site although it takes a bit of hunting to find. Weirdly while it’s illegal to sell the LP, it’s OK to give it away.  He’s reworked Plexure for a vinyl release, and there’s an exhaustive retrospective, 69-96 which is now deleted, so maybe I’ll post that here some time.

This is music everyone should hear at least once, but I can’t say I actually play it more than once every decade.