Small Blue Torch

As I understand it, small blue torch is the duo of [Campbell] Kneale and Eso Steel‘s Richard Francis (though line-up changes in this scene are not uncommon). Both are among the finest of new zealand’s current sound artists. Offering an epic double cd-r compilation as their american debut, Small Blue Torch create lovely drones and soundscapes with occasional bouts of abrasiveness and industrial/mechanical percussive repetitions. Their work is often meditative but still more dynamic than the bulk of either artists’ catalog. SBT offer haunting feedback which floats symphonically between the speakers, and with the exception of one out of place saxophone excursion, the duo create an often deeply pleasing environment. Some of the tracks are mastered to end abruptly, which is a bit disconcerting for close listening, but all in all this is great modern stoner music, best when played kinda softly
Dan Vallor: Muckraker #9

Small Blue Torch started as Campbell Kneale’s first real recording ‘noise’ band, and was quite aggressive in their approach (Kneale describes these sessions as ‘[We would] get together on sunday afternoons, demolish equipment, record live-in-the-living room and release the odd thing’. When Kneale relocated from Dunedin to Eellington, he formed the much calmer and controlled Lugosi

Discography (picks in bold)

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Ben Spiers

Ben Spiers is a highly productive Wellington based experimental musician. He is a member of Campbell Kneale’s Celebrate Psi Phenomenon collective, half of the duo Seen Through with Antony Milton, a member of recording/performing outfits Empty Mirror and Kaosphere Orchestra, an occassional member of Cave Of One, 1/3 Octave Band and Kneale’s Birchville Cat Motel, and has recorded as a duo with Bill Wood.

Discography (picks in bold)

  • Untitled Split Cassette [W/ Campbell Kneale 1999 Celebrate Psi Phenomenon]
  • There Is No One Who Can Return From There Cd-R [2002 Last Visible Dog Lvd038]
  • Again Cd-R [2003 Transient Recordings Tr003]
  • Dark Field Cd-R [2003 W/ Bill Wood Celebrate Psi Phenomenon]
  • Spin You Cd-R [2004 Transient Recordings Tr005]
  • Cinders Cd-R [2004 Pseudoarcana]

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Wings of Vengence

One of Campbell Kneale’s Birchville Cat Motel Off-Shoots – this time a solo grind-core project.

Discography (picks in bold)

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With Throats As Fine As Needles

New duo comprised of Celebrate Psi Phenomenon / Birchville Cat Motel‘s Campbell Kneale and Pseudoarcana / A.M.‘s Antony Milton.

Extended fluttering organ drones, shifting like sonic sand dunes, elemental forces dragging melodies and chords out over thousands of years, the glacial flow of sound, warm and dreamy, recorded live in old bunkers and tunnels, these two tracks of primieval ur-drone, reverberate and shimmer, like clouds of crystal shimmer, meditative and tranquil, a gorgeous almost static haze! some more perfectly pristine drone music from these two masters!
Aquarius Records

Discography (picks in bold)

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Sunship

The New Zealand band voted ‘most likely to die from a dog attack’
Campbell Kneale

Discography (picks in bold)

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Ascension Band [February 2004]

On the eve of the Wellington fringe festival i spoke with [band organiser] Dave Edwards and [composer / conductor] Nigel Patterson, two of the main culprits behind the ascension band, a ‘chamber-orchestra’ ensemble pushing electronic and standard instrumentation in usual avant garde directions with their performance ‘electric symphony’. firstly we have dave edwards introducing the ensemble and how things came together.

Dave Edwards: i’d played solo at the 2002 meatwaters festival, doing my songs/spoken-word/guitar/weirdo thing, and Kieran Monaghan (Meatwaters organizer and Mr Sterile frontman) invited me to do something for the 2003 event. i’d always wanted to play with a big group so that was my opportunity.

I wanted to get a mixture of people from different backgrounds, with and without musical training, and tried to think of something that everyone would be able to get behind. John Coltrane seemed like a good reference point since most of the local people into ‘interesting music’ (Kieran’s preferred term) get into Coltrane on some level. Some people have a grasp on the amazing harmonic structures he’s using, while self-taught punks like myself can just enjoy the visceral kick. And there’s the whole thing of coltrane as a beacon of artistic integrity, always pushing forwards etc.

So the idea i came up with was to play something based on his big-band piece ‘Ascension’, since that was kind of his inter-generational summit meeting. we took the opening melody as a reference point for people to throw in here and there, and used his structure of alternating sections of everyone playing at once with solo sections where each person could make their own individual statement. Except it didn’t quite work like that on the night; we didn’t have a rehearsal and so it was a bit chaotic and didn’t reach as high a level of energy as it could have. definitely good in parts though. We had about 12 people in the band, including a conductor. one interesting phenomenon was that some people who said they’d be in couldn’t make it on the night, but others joined in at the last minute. We got Campbell Kneale (aka Birchville Cat Motel) on drums and clayton thomas from sydney on double bass, so they were great surprise additions.

So with that performance standing as an odd curio or interesting failure rather than a brilliant masterpiece, when meatwaters 2004 came around i was keen to give it another try. i kept the ascension band name but came up with a different piece, which was a loose structure in three movements: first movement everyone improvises together, second movement just one or two people at a time, third movement big monster rock riff that i’d come up with years before on a nylon-string acoustic guitar. i’d been meaning to write a song using it but never did. so we had a rehearsal this time and played the gig, with about half the band from the previous year and half new people. nigel asked to take over as conductor which was fine by me as he’s got a lot more ensemble experience than i – i’m not really a musician as such, more a writer/artist with a guitar, and there are big gaps in my technical knowledge.

We were lucky enough to have ian goldsmith catch that performance on video, and there was a good sound mix from the desk so it became the ‘live 2004’ album on dvd. i’ve been making on average an album a year since i was 19 (i’m 26 now), and i try to make each one a reaction to & development on from the last one. my previous album, ‘loose autumn moans’ was mostly acoustic guitar with a bit of cello, violin and harmonica, deliberately sparse, so going into electricity & bigness (and adding the visual dimension) was the logical reaction to that. it’s going from sepia tones to full colour. but everyone in the band has their own idea of what it all means, that’s just my particular angle.

From there it seemed like something worth keeping going so we’ve been jamming semi-regularly since and played another gig in december at the newtown community centre which is kind of our home base. there’s always someone who can’t make it on a given night but then someone else joins in – it’s never had the same lineup twice. and now we’re in the fringe festival.

You’ve mentioned the meatwaters festival quite a bit – can you give our readers a little detail?

Dave Edwards: meatwaters is an annual event organized by kieran monaghan who leads the punk/cabaret ensemble mr sterile. it’s a real mix of stuff – punk bands, electronica, alt-country, death metal, free improvisation etc, usually over about three nights. it’s hard to say what they all have in common but the festival always has a definite ‘feel’ to it. it’s been going since 2001.

how you actually go about physically performing?

Dave Edwards: everyone’s got their own performance style. it can be anywhere from a full theatrical presentation with costumes and stage moves down to someone sitting completely still. personally i like to move around a bit, i do get slightly annoyed at a gig when the performers turn their back to the audience or sit in front of a laptop and their only movement is the occasional swig of beer. but that’s just personal preference.

one good thing with ascension band is that there’s such a range of different approaches and individual styles, in movement as well as sound. we should also have some video projections to illustrate the piece we’re doing for these shows (which nigel can tell you more about).

Nigel Patterson: “evolution” is a five-movement symphonic piece tracking the history of evolution, and combining a macro classical form with modern orchestration. it’s basically a symphony in the standard form – but instead of using violins and woodwinds etc, we use two electric guitars, two keyboards, two bass guitars, two vocalists, two trumpets, computer, tone generator, piano and drums. “evolution” draws its sonic palette from experimental, free-jazz, noise, industrial, punk and contemporary classical musics. it’s less free-improvised than our previous performances – it’s an attempt to compose a piece allowing for improvisation within a macro structure.

Often with modern improvised music the listener is almost totally reliant on the absolute properties of the music: eg the new weird and wonderful noises that you never knew that instrument could make. but by utilizing a programmatic approach we hope to create a piece of music that is both stimulating in an absolute context – ie sounds and textures – as well as realisable in a programmatic context, by telling the story of evolution. our main objective: a realizeable statement of modern music.

how you see the wellington fringe festival (and the musicans involved in the ‘happy’ scene) fitting in domestically and in an international scope? creation are actually planning a christchurch fringe festival for later in the year, so i guess in general the new zealand underground seems to be pushing towards consolidating our fringe cultures at the moment.

Dave Edwards: the fringe seems to be mostly theatre events but there’s always music in it too. it’s up to anyone who wants to do a show to make something happen. i’m just hoping we can get a bit of an audience along – our tickets are cheaper than most other shows so people will definitely get their money’s worth. it’s also going to be my last project in nz for a while as i’m heading over to melbourne after the shows, then hopefully further afield to do my oe. trying to go out with a bang maybe.

one of the ideas with a big band is that there are so many interesting musicians in wellington it would take months or years to collaborate with all of them, so why not get them all together at once? having said that, ascension band contains only a small fraction of the interesting players in town, and it’s also partly about bringing some new faces onto the scene (which can look a bit incestuous at times). as far as the international scene goes, getting the music out around the world has to be the goal – nz’s just too small in terms of number of people who enjoy ‘weird shit’. it’s something i’m just starting to get into, and it’s not really any harder than finding an audience locally. the internet’s a great tool. and there’s bound to be a good album from these fringe shows.

on the other hand playing live is where the most fun is, and that has to be for the locals & visitors. it would be great to take ascension band on tour later in the year if we could get some funding for it. a three or four piece band on tour can find couches to stay on, but a ten r twelve piece would need some outside help. touring would be great though – i do feel it’s easy to get blase in wellington since there is a lot of good stuff happening on a regular basis. the best live venue i’ve come across is the kaponga backgammon club in south taranaki. but that’s another story.

Ascension Band plays on friday 25th of february, 10pm at happy, and friday 4th and saturday 5th of march at newtown community centre, 7.30pm. admission $6 full price, $5 unwaged, $4 fringe card holders.

The band also has a dvd available, ‘Live 2004’, of their performance at the meatwaters festival last september.

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.

Ming

One of Campbell Kneale’s (Birchville Cat Motel) many sideprojects, who so far have released material of a long, winding and aggressive nature in short lathe-cut runs.

Discography (picks in bold)

  • Versus The Great Satan Cd-R [2003 Carbond Records Cr83]

  • Mauve Stars Cd-R [2004 Digitalis Indistries]

  • Namaste Cd-R [2004 Nidnod 12]

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Keiran Monaghan

Kieran Monaghan Is One Of The Key Figures In The Wellingtons – If Not NZ’S – ‘Adventurous Music’ Scene. A Driving Force Behind NZ Punk During The 90s, He Currently Plays Cabaret ‘Chamber-Punk’ As Mr Sterile, Drums For Sunship And Various ‘Improv’ Ensembles, Edits The Local Indymedia Zine, And Writes Voluminous Quantities Of Witty And Politically Astute Poetry
– Taken From The Pseudoarcana Catalogue

Monaghan Has Also Made His Name Organising The Comically-Titled Meatwaters Festival (A Play On The Ill-Fated Mainstream / Hippy Sweetwaters Festival) And As A Guest Member Of Campbell Kneales’ Superb Birchville Cat Motel.

Discography (picks in bold)

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Ohm

Ohm is a quartet that includes Campbell Kneale as well as Stefan Neville of Pumice. Their Live at the Crown, packaged within a hilarious upside-down variation on the Who’s Maximum R’n’B logo, is one of the most beautiful albums i’ve heard this year. With live drone and drum improv of the highest order, ohm create a wistfully psychedelic feel. there’s an astonishing chemistry and compositional sensibility within their improvisational method. Nicely recorded and beautifully played, Ohm show extraordinary mastery over their instruments with brilliant drumming patterns. their overall sound rivals the best of the Dead C and Thela‘s improv work.
Dan Vallor: muckraker #9

Discography (picks in bold)

  • ‘as sure as moons is cheese’/’egg jelly up’ 8″ lathe-cut [dirtlove]
  • ou cassette [1996 a stabbies and the rocket recordings]
  • jones cassette [1997 a stabbies and the rocket recordings]
  • live at the crowd cd-r [1997? last visible dogLVD008]
  • re:moon cassette [celebrate psi phenomenon]

See-Also