Bruce Russell on ‘Time To Go’ [Volcanic Tongue]

Of all the profound ways in which my life had changed in that epochal year (and since the preceding Christmas I’d become an enemy of the state, among other things), seeing the Clean was the biggest. I can still recall the certainty with which I knew then that they were at that moment the best fucking band in the world. I still don’t understand how I knew it, and in many ways I’ve spent a significant portion of the last three decades trying to disprove that hypothesis, but I haven’t done it yet. Maybe the Fall were better that year. But the fact that the last sentence contains ‘the Fall’, and starts with ‘maybe’, should alert informed readers to the enormity of what I was experiencing. It was like falling in love.
– Bruce Russell – From Volcanic Tongue

Bruce Russell (The Dead C, Gate, A Handful Of Dust etc) has put together a short but witty (and mighty acerbic!) article on the Volcanic Tongue: Underground Music Mail Order and Shop website detailing the back-story to ‘Time to Go – The Southern Psychedelic Moment: 1981-86’ – a terrific compilation Bruce put together for Flying Nun capturing some of the lesser-heard treasures from New Zealand’s South Island in the early to mid 1980s. Have a read, it’s a nice little insight into how the compilation came about and the general enthusiasm Bruce has for music of the era.

It’s that kind of ‘it came from the sky’ vibe that frankly defies categorisation. You can smell the reality. These people were very literate in rock music terms, they were literate in literary terms too, and they took drugs. It was what we did to rebel. Listen to ‘Russian Rug’. You don’t produce that kind of whacked-out blending of Pierre Henri with ? Mark and the Mysterians, without engaging in the desperate ‘datura-to-San Pedro’ sub-sub-culture which characterised the South Island of New Zealand at that time: and we invented home-bake heroin, don’t forget.

– Bruce Russell – From Volcanic Tongue

And If you haven’t already; checkout/pick up the compilation itself. Contains some of my favourite tracks by the likes of Pin Group, The Gordons, Scorched Earth Policy and Wreck Small Speakers On Expensive Stereos – not a dud in the lot!

Wreck Small Speakers On Expensive Stereos

Wreck Small Speakers On Expensive Stereos were a Dunedin-based duo consisting of Michael Morley (Guitar/Organ/Vocals – before forming the Dead C, 2 Foot Flame, Angelhead, Tanaka-Nixon Meeting, The Weeds) and Richard Ram (Bass/Guitar/Vocals) – though in an early video recording Morley states the group had formed ‘Up North’ before heading to Dunedin. The duo released a handful of handmade cassettes and had an affiliation with Bob Scott’s Every Secret Thing label, with both album releases and compilation appearances. Their most well known material is the River Falling Love EP which was released on Flying Nun in 1986 before being expanded and re-released by US label Ajax in 1993. Morley formed the Dead C in 1987, effectively bring an end to Wreck Small Speakers.

Featuring performances from other Dunedin musicians: Denise Roughan (Recorder/Vocals – Look Blue Go Purple, The 3Ds, Ghost Club), Ivan Purvis (Guitar – Love In A Gas Oven, Alpaca Brothers), Lesley Paris (Drums – Look Blue Go Purple, The Puddle, Olla), Bruce Blucher (Drums – CyclopsTrash, Fats Thompson, Brown Velvet Couch, Alpaca Brothers) and Martin Kean (The Chills, Doublehappys, Fats Thompson, Stereolab). The groups recordings are based around strong rhythm tracks – usually plucked bass guitar and drum machine, with shout-sung vocals, fractured guitar riffs and organ squeels, with samples and other sound manipulations added into the mix. Though experimental, Wreck Small Speakers retained a high level of musicality and accessibility.

Both their creative genius and the quality of their songs really shines through on the groups lo-fi cassette recordings. The slinky, funky bass and proto-rap vocals on ‘Over My Skull’, the low-key beauty of River Falling Love highlight ‘All Of This’, and Denise Roughan’s wonderful appearance on their most well-known song ‘Rain’. Small scraps of the bands fairly substantial discography have appeared in the digitally archived era, however if ever there was a Flying Nun associated act that could use an anthology release it would be Wreck Small Speakers – its been almost two decades since Morley’s Dead C band mate Bruce Russell released A Child’s Guide To Wreck Small Speakers on his own Xpressway label.

Discography (picks in bold)

  • My Blue Fairy Godmother [1983 Wrecked Music WRECK14]
  • 3.V.M. EP [1983 Wrecked Music WRECK20]
  • Over My Skull Cassette Single [1984 Every Secret Thing EST 06]
  • Cave Cassette [1984 Every Secret Thing EST 21]
  • Worlds Fall Apart cassette [1984 Every Secret Thing EST 24]
  • A Summer In Taradale Cassette [1985 self-released]
  • River Falling Love ep [1986 Flying Nun FN068]
  • A Child’s Guide To Wreck Small Speakers Cassette [1988 Xpressway XWAY03]
  • River Falling Love Reissue [1993 Ajax AJAX 029]

See-Also

A Handful of Dust

For their first Christchurch performance together in a very long time, A Handful of Dust (otherwise known as long-time influential New Zealand fringe musicians Alastair Galbraith and Bruce Russell) played the excellently TelstraClear Club, a ‘Yurt’ structure put together for Christchurch Arts Month. Click here for the photoset.

Bruce Russell
Bruce Russell

The show featured Alastair Galbraith explaining the bizarre history of the Glass Harmonium and with both Alastair and Bruce performing solo sets before they came together for an ear-bending finale.

RST

Aka Andrew Moon, the head of Imperial Recordings and ex-drummer for Flying Nun legends Goblin Mix. Moon worked with RSW London in the late 80s, forming Celine, but its been in RST that Moon (now as a solo musician) has found his sound as a guitarist.

Second full-length offering from this nz master of squeal ‘n sheen guitar textures. Guaranteed to pin your head to the floor with calm, carefully abraded and composed blocks of unrelenting noise. Confounds the armchair cynics who claim the guitar is devoid of meaning, in RST’s hands it is reclaimed and made to do new work creating thermal pools for your mind.
– Bruce Russell on the ‘Warm Places’ release

Discography (picks in bold)

  • Event Horizon 12″ Lathe-Cut [1995 Imperial Recordings]

  • Acceleration Stations Lathe-Cut 10″ [1995 Imperial Recordings]

  • ‘Retrograde’/’Retrograde Motion’ Lathe-Cut 8″ [Imperial Recordings]

  • ‘Voltage’/’Garden’ Lathe-Cut 8″ [Blue Silver Records]

  • ‘Containment’/’The Problem’ Lathe-Cut 7″ [Imperial]

  • R136a [1996? Ecstatic Peace E#89]

  • Warm Planes [1998 Corpus Hermeticum Hermes032]

See-Also

Bruce Russell

The man behind Xpressway, corpus hermeticum, and a significant part of the Dead C, Russell finally (after years of eclectic collaborations with a broad selection of New Zealand and international artists) released his solo album on his own Corpus Hermeticum label in 2003.

Discography (picks in bold)

See-Also

Peter Stapleton

Peter Stapleton is one of New Zealand’s most referred underground musicians. As a member and song-writer for The Vacuum, Scorched Earth Policy and The Terminals, Stapleton has amassed a body of work like no other, and established himself as one of new zealand’s most distinctive drummers. Under his own name, Stapleton has also collaborated with Bruce Russell and Kim Pieters for several experimental releases.

Discography (picks in bold)

    Last Glass [Collaboration With Kim Pieters, Bruce Russell Corpus Hermeticum]
    Sex/Machine [Collaboration With Kim Pieters, Bruce Russell Metonymic]

See-Also

Xpressway

Xpressway was formed by Bruce Russell in 1985 to release his then-fledgling Christchurch band the Dead C, live archival recordings from This Kind Of Punishment and the debut solo material from Alastair Galbraith. Over the course of the next 23 (mostly cassette-only) releases, Xpressway, Russell and his comrades themselves formed an ever-growing niche-market of dark, brooding releases, mostly in lo-fidelity form, but full of character.

Xpressway was the label that set the careers of Stephen Cogle, Peter Stapleton and Brian Crook (between them being a major part of Victor Dimisich, Scorched Earth Policy, the Terminals and the Renderers), the Jefferies brothers and David Mitchell in motion, quite an achievement. Their brilliant compilations Xpressway Pile-Up and Making Losers Happy were re-released by overseas labels in the early 90s, hastening the influence of these inspiring 23 releases.

Russell ended the label once they had achieved global recognition, as he had always intended Xpressway to be a stepping-stone toward competent distribution, and they had achieved that by the early 1990s with American labels like Siltbreeze, Drunken Fish, and Kranky and European labels Turbulence, Ajax and Raffmond picking up a fair portion of the labels many talented musicians. Russell then launched Corpus Hermeticum – an outlet for even more challanging music (mostly by his own personal pool of musicians, but expanding into even overseas experimental and underground musicians).

Compilation Discography
Picks In Bold

  • Xpressway Pile Up [1988 XWAY5]
  • I Hate Pavel Tishy’s Guts [1989? promo issued in 2 versions XWAY6]
  • Xpressway Pile=up [reissue with extra tracks 1990]
  • Making Losers Happy [1991]
  • Whats That Noise? 7″ album [1992]
  • I Hear The Devil Calling Me 7″ album [distributed by drag city 1993]

Contact Details

A Handful Of Dust

One of Bruce Russell’s (Dead C) darkest outfits, often dealing with distinct imagery and motif’s in their music and especially pro-nounced in their liner notes (most of which are distributed through Russell’s Corpus Hermeticum label). Essentially a Russell solo show, but Alastair Galbraith and Peter Stapleton are both regular contributors.

Discography (picks in bold)

  • Concord [Corpus Hermeticum Hermes001]
  • Philosophick Mercury [Corpus Hermeticum Hermes002]
  • The Eightness Of Adam Qadmon Cassette [Corpus Hermeticum Hermes003]
  • The Seventhness Lathe-Cut 7″ [Corpus Hermeticum Hermes004]
  • Music Humana [Corpus Hermeticum Hermes005]
  • Three Dances In Honour Of Sabbatai Sevi, The Apostate Messiah Lathe-Cut 7″ Ep [Corpus Hermeticum Hermes006]
  • From A Soundtrack To The Anabase Of St-John Perse [Corpus Hermeticum Hermes009]
  • ‘Authority Over All Signs Of The Earth’ Lathe-Cut 7″ Single [Corpus Hermeticum Hermes010]
  • Now Gods, Stand Up For Bastards [Corpus Hermeticum Hermes013]
  • Topology Of A Phantom City Cassette [Corpus Hermeticum Hermes020]
  • Urban Psychogeography, Vol Ii: Jerusalem, Street Of Graves [Corpus Hermeticum Hermes029]
  • ‘A Little Aesthetic Discourse’ 7″ Single [1992 Xpressway]
  • Concord [1993 Reissue Imd]
  • Now Gods, Stand Up For Bastards [1996 Corpus Hermeticum]
  • Topology Of A Phantom City [1997 Corpus Hermeticum]
  • Spiritual Libertines [1998 Corpus Hermeticum]
  • Jerusalem, Street Of Graves [1998 Corpus Hermeticum]

See-Also

Campbell Kneale [December 2002]

First off, describe your music in 10 words or less

Antarcticish.

Please substitute my use of the genre label ‘noise’, i’m not particularly fond of it myself..

Neither. ‘noise’ is term usually used by kylie fans to make generalizations about music that threatens them. or nu metallers to describe soundtrack-making, punk-prog bands with beards and turntables. neither of the above have any right to use the word.

You have a huge catalogue – not just under the ‘Birchville Cat Motel’ moniker but a number of other side-projects. if somebody was interested in delving into your releases — where should they start, and why?

That’s a very big question. Tsk.
In spite of the two-car-garage sized back-catalogue (i forget how many… maybe 50-60?) every Birchville Cat Motel release is different and has its own unique voice due to the fact that Birchville Cat Motel is more about a methodology, or means of making music, rather than creating a ‘sound’ easily identifiable as Birchville Cat Motel. the early recordings were very loud and caustic, as time has progressed, the aesthetic matured and personalized, and i began to find that i was increasingly drawn to the complexities of quieter textures. i have my personal favorites which i’m sure will prompt heated debate amongst my peers. on a desert island with only my own records for company i would choose…

‘we count these prayers’ cd (corpus hermeticum, nz) 2001
probably the best guitar-based record i ever made. the balance between dissonance, consonance, and slow motion, junk-crush is pretty compelling. a subtly illuminating record.

‘crestfallen’ 7″ (killer records, norway) 2001
an oceanic kinda drifting thing made up from largely acoustic instruments and tweaked kitchen gadgets. my favorite ‘sunset’ record.

‘summers seething pulse’ cd (elsie and jack, uk) 2003
actually it’s not due out until the end of december but it’s a real doozy. a very creamy platter of headsauce. amplified picture framing wire and electric wallpaper are only some of the first-class doo-dads i invented for this release. rock’n’rolls very own birdman contest.

new zealand actually has quite a collection of ‘textural’ musicians. with the success of alistair galbraith, the dead c, roy montgomery, wreck small speakers etc, how do you think people in know perceive new zealand on an international scale?

well, with all due respect to all those luminaries listed and not to deny the impact they have had on the perception of nz music overseas… they represent the ‘old farts scene’. although i am very familiar with their material, i personally don’t feel any real affiliation with these artists with regards to my own work.

these folk were making cutting edge records 15 years ago. the international record-buying public know a shitload more about nz underground music than your average nz music journalist. the dead c are still invisible to the nz music media in spite of having influenced an entire generation of musicians from sebadoh to sonic youth, let alone little old me. other than the odd bunch of records i sell at a live show, all of my records go overseas to a large audience of enthusiasts who know all about your neighbor who dubs cassettes of his band off in editions of 20.

who do you see as your contemporaries?

if by ‘contemporaries’ you mean ‘lunatic noise buddies’, then my contemporaries are many. i mean, if you think of ‘music’ as a small subset of ‘sound’ you get a better idea of the scale of sonic ground ripe for exploration. in october i performed at the lines of flight festival in dunedin which covered a healthy swag of artists who are prominent within the new zealand and international community. bruce russell, sandoz lab technicians, peter wright, nova scotia, cm ensemble, k-group, omit, esosteel… all of whom have many top-notch releases are very visible within their respective non-genres internationally.

overseas there are communities that run parallel to the new zealand thing too… europe, uk, usa, japan… and it is becoming easier, not to mention increasingly beneficial, for many of us to network with the various organizations involved for distribution of our records and touring. the upcoming european tour is all about creating contacts and forming a live circuit to get more of our music over there. we get paid well, sell lots of records, and perform to large enthusiastic audiences. whereas, i have pretty much ‘retired’ from playing live in any regular sense here in nz. i don’t feel compelled to play for 4 people any more.

do you consider your music to be more influential or recognized overseas than in new zealand?

on my most recent tour of japan i visited record shops in tokyo and a number of other cities that had a whole celebrate psi phenomenon section! i met bands who shyly stated in their very best english that they had been profoundly influenced by my records! it was a truly humbling experience. i discovered first hand that new zealand underground music is treated with near-reverence everywhere except new zealand. my upcoming tour of europe i will be stopping by finland, sweden, denmark, belgium, germany, and the uk. i have significant fan-bases in all of these countries. most of my records go to the usa.

to contrast, in nz i have only just started to have shows where more than a small handful of people come along. not that long ago i was billed in a local gig guide as a visiting us guitarist!

a lot of musicians credit krautrock, japanoise and the likes of the berlin avant garde scene as important influences. do you feel any particular ‘scene’ has influenced your recordings?

nope. the last record i paid money for was motley crues ‘shout at the devil’.

i like some japanoise-related stuff like merzbow, msbr, and guilty connector and i performed with some of them in japan which was quite a thrill.black-psych like fushitsusha. i played with some of the japanese onkyo dudes here in nz recently… toshimaru nakamura, sachiko m, tetuzi akiyama, and otomo yoshihide… they were incredible! i loved them… but i don’t know if they have influenced me. our respective music forms are very personal. time will tell. i don’t think my music can really be internationalized the same way that new zealand ‘rock’ is.

Birchville Cat Motel is not really influenced by music. i’m more fond of second-hand shops, train stations, old atlases, antarctica, siberia, alaska, poppy z brite books, dodgy heavy metal…

so do you consider your music visually descriptive? or is there some other kind of connection your going for here?

there is some other kind of connection going on. but its a lot less tangible than simply transcribing visual experiences into music. i guess godspeed you black emperor are a prime example of a band that is operates very successfully on this level… undeniable filmic and you almost feel miffed that you can’t see the pictures that should accompany this music. for me, the experiences i like to work with are those brief fleeting ones, like childhood aromas unleashed from an old cupboard, that infuriating elusiveness of not quite being able to place a certain sensation. utterly evoCative but impossible to fully apprehend. at these moments you become not just a person in a particular moment, but you connect with something much larger. a personal history, full of things that nobody else could understand, and that you couldn’t really describe in words.

i’ve always sought to find inspiration in my location. currently that location is suburban lower hutt. suburbia has a nasty reputation for being a congregation point for soullessness but i have come to disagree. i have seen brief glimpses of a very deeply ingrained spirituality here, not connected with any obvious religious affiliation, but connected with the big patterns of human existence. work, sleep, travel, children, hospitality, home decorating… what would probably pass as ‘boring’ or ‘insignificant’ to your average e-popping, superficially urbanite, ravebunny, again links people with a much larger pattern of life that has continued unchanged, other than on the surface, for countless generations. i find the mundane beautiful and very grand.

when you played with the touring japanese, did you play alongside nakamura’s no-input desk? his performance here in christchurch with greg malcolm was quite spectacular.

yes. i had been aware of nakamura’s no-input thing for quite a while and i was pretty excited about the possibility of being able to perform with him. his purity of sound and the purity of intent demonstrated in his work has always struck a chord with me (not a power-chord you understand). i did some recording with akiyama as well… he’s a fascinating guitarist. very little of what he does sounds like an acoustic guitar.

i understand you like to keep your recordings pretty minimal – what kind of toys do you use to forge and alter your recordings?

i have no personal aversion to overdubs. in fact, most of my music is constructed using layers of overdubbed improvisations. i used to have an old fostex reel-to-reel 8 track. it was cool but it was becoming expensive tracking down tape and dats to master onto. i switched to computer after i got back from japan.

using the computer to record with certainly has opened up new possibilities, but to be honest, i’m not sure i want all those possibilities. sure, its great to be able to record tape-less, mix automatically, master straight to disc, and spit out a cdr at the end of the process, but the ability to ‘alter’ sounds i find hugely distracting. i use the computer as a recorder… that’s all. a bit of eq, a hint of spatial clarifiCation, but most of those effect knobs make everything sound like wimpy shit. fine if you want to make electronical but as hard as it may be for some to fathom, i’m not interested in the slightest in electronica.

do you think the likes of pro-tools and other digital manipulation applications have helped or hindered the course of experimental music?

um… helped. the digitization of experimental music has seen it become the new punk rock… its strengthened the diy ethic of self production, self promotion, self dissemination. (the old punk rock works for the factory nowadays)

do you have any opinions on any of the more commercially leaning bands such as the ‘drone based’ spacemen 3, godspeed your black emperor! etc or so-called ‘slow-core’ bands like bedhead and low?

spacemen3 suck. fucking boring english twats. history should confiscate their reputation.

i’m pretty fond of gsybe. they’re like everything that radiohead could have been if they weren’t fucking boring english twats. very cinematic. movie-ish. enigmatic and black.

bedhead, never heard of them. are they english? low. zzzzzzz… twats. what about the melvins?!? aren’t they slow-core?

promotion time: plug a new release on your label (celebrate psi phenomenon) that you’re not directly involved with.

‘shutupalreadydamn! a tribute 2 prince’ double cd

everybody who ever heard this says it’s the best compilation they own! 20-something new zealand and international envelope-pushers getting very loose and covering the little-sexy-purple-muthafucker. it is absolutely stunning what people have done with some extremely non-representative source material. hits! hits! hits! everything from Birchvilles faux-arena rock, to cm ensembles drifting church organ liturgies, to sunships sex-murder-mass destruction, to matt silcocks… um… ‘rap’ to… oh oh, it’s just so damn good all over. the best thing about the compilation is that it is very funny, but never crosses that fine line and becomes a ‘joke’. it’s unusually respectful.

any national tour plans for once you get back from europe?

nope.

would anybody come?

hahaha. no actually, that’s entirely true. i am hoping to lure some international like-minds to new zealand with the promise of marmite, well-paying shows, and mature, respectful new zealand audiences. if they are silly enough to fall for my slick stories, there could be a tour with japanese head-crusher msbr, norwegian vintage-horror-flick improvisers del, and maybe even uk bedroom, laptop-astrologer simon wickham smith. we will see.

Omit

Blenheim-based underground experimental musician of notorious repute:

Outdated synthesizers, delay pedals and tape loops to shape plastic signal patterns and oblique modulations to evoke sprawling voids of nightmarish emptinessrn

Jim Haynes in the Wire issue 223

Has recorded on Bruce Russell‘s Corpus Hermeticum, as well as extensively on his own Deep Skin imprint.

discography
picks in bold

  • intromit cassette [self-released]
  • overcast cassette [self-released]
  • alienation cassette [self-released]
  • open spaces cassette [self-released]
  • signals cassette [self-released]
  • disfunctions cassette [self-released]
  • inception cassette [self-released]
  • ionspheres double-cassette [self-released]
  • fluid cassette [self-released]
  • transmogification cassette [self-released]
  • retraction 7″ ep [1993 stomach ache021]
  • quad double-tape / triple-cd [corpus hermeticumHERMES024-026]
  • the invision state lathe-cut 7″ ep [trinder]
  • rundowns cassette [self-released]
  • ‘fore-casts’ 7″ ep [1992 w/ dust fisheye] rn
  • zero lathe-cut double-7″ [self-released]
  • frequency drop points types lathe-cut 7″ ep [aegri somnia vana]
  • ‘complacency’/’dissipation’ lathe-cut 7″ [self-released]
  • slow movement 7″ [w/ k-group]
  • interior desolation [1998 corpus hermeticumHERMES030]
  • transfusions cassette [self-released]
  • storage [2001 collaboration with k-group fusetron]
  • rejector [2003? anomalous records]
  • tracer double cd-r [sysecular]
  • tracer double cd [2005 reissue helen scarsdale hms005]