Pete Swanson (USA) with Gate and IRD

At the Physics Room, Friday August 10th 2012

IRD
IRD
The Physics Room has been at the forefront of Christchurch fringe culture since 1996 – providing a project space for installation artists and performers of various different mediums. Currently located at a temporary site on the corner of Sandyford and Colombo Streets, the space is divided into a light, open gallery and a dark, enclosed performance area with this particular event hosted by Auckland-based ‘Innovative Audio Culture’ organization Altmusic.

Christchurch-based multi-instrumentalist Rory Dalley (aka IRD) opened the evening, creating a clattering maelstrom of sound from broken audio equipment and an assortment of percussive objects. Bending and shaping cassette and turntable noises with traditional maori harakeke (i.e. flax) instruments into a fractured cacophony.

Gate
Gate
Legendary Dunedin underground figure Michael Morley was next – performing under his solo alias Gate. Known for significant New Zealand underground acts the Dead C, Wreck Small Speakers On Expensive Stereos and others, Morley is a huge figure in underground circles. A captive audience was enveloped by Morley’s guitar and effects orchestrations – creating a harmonic, slow moving drone that evolved at the speed of molasses.

Pete Swanson
Pete Swanson
Portland, Oregon’s group Yellow Swans were known for creating intriguing, improvised experimental noise built upon Pete Swanson and Gabriel Mindel Saloman’s electronics, guitar, drum machines and vocals. After seven years playing around the globe and releasing a huge catalogue of music, including several collaborative albums with brilliant Australian group Gray Daturas – the duo called it quits in 2008. In a solo capacity Swanson’s performance was heavy on the bassy rhythmic pulses, psychedelic and swirling sounds created a frequency overload in my head, rattled my teeth and even prompted a few audiences members to dance.

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.

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

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.