Quality in depth – just look at that bench

March 2022

The Rossi Bar

The first unheralded act of the evening was Ninit / Polysicness, who literally agreed to play 24 hours before he stepped on stage, the first of two COVID stand-ins. A background thrum of cassette distortion seems baked into the start of the set, the sound is thick, warm, enveloping in that nicely saturated manner that iron oxide gives you. Barging their way into this comes a murky rhythm and some drums, the wash of background sound dissolves and the sudden clarity makes your ears pick up. Greg is stopped over afar too low table, it looks painful. He suddenly off and wandering round the audience in the creepy see through mask giving delayed words to us. The music canters off a nice rumbling uneven bassline and rhythmic piano-ish stabs giving way to arpeggiated counterpoint. There is some serious pitch adjustment to lead lines giving things an odd eerie edge. A general mutation as we progress through the set, each part built on one piece from the previous. Rhythms change, drums grow lumpy or staccato, holding back the drive or suddenly lifting us forward. In the middle of the set there’s a pause where everything fleetingly disappears save a child’s voice, just enough to give us a bliss of tension before the release of everything coming back and we’re off again. As we move through the sound gradually thickens back up, the parts get noisier. As we approach the end everything gets louder, more muffled. Slows down. Speeds up. More shouting. Riffs revisit. That tape ambience is back. More bass drum. More reverb.

With slightly more notice, our first replacement, playing second, was Monty Oxymoron. Opening with a flurry of Morricone-esque guitarish notes off his keyboard, bouncing off the delay, a sound somewhere between guitar, space organ and electric piano Monty was running up and down the keyboard, twinkles of top end notes. Razor edged bass parts. Pausing and slowing down for more retrospective passages, before a proper shimmer of space sounds held us blissfully for a minute or so, segueing into a lovely passage of jazz tinged spaceness. He had a very plastic looking electric tambura that droned in somewhere around here, giving him the opportunity to go right out into the further reaches. Little melodic flourishes, scary bass lines, then off on another extended pianistic improvisation. Then we have a pause while he reads some passages from his book “The Cosmic Brain Explodes” over the tambura backing. Then a flurry of super-fast trebly Tangerine-ish arpeggios herald the return of the cosmic jazz. He does some odd stuff with timbre where he almost disappears into a black hole, before emerging again, pulsating and twinkling.

So finally and the only person who knew he’d be playing 6 weeks – or even a week previously we had Alien Alarms. Starting in a twinkling manner that flowed on quite nicely from Monty’s set, with a vocal sample from what sounded like a documentary on that new-fangled electronic music. The melodic parts float over a sparse bass line, that seems to go missing for bars at a time without losing anything, the drums are constantly evolving, this is where the real movement is, the dynamism. Without straying into Aphex style erraticism, they shift, add dynamics imperceptibly, drive us on. The second track carries on the bassline becoming more constant, dropping into massive long slurred tones at one point. Gradually the tempo shifts upwards, the third track takes the longer bass notes, not so much notes as a bar long pitch bent single note at times. Over this is a queasy 16th detuned string part and something about vegetation. Track four gets all Marxist on us over something approaching super-fast drum and bass drums under super slow everything else, like that old joke about people dancing at 2 speeds at D’n’B raves put into very visible action. The final track has some very nice vocoder action, and continues the speed up, with some proper deranged pitch bent, well everything, basslines, pads, melodic lines all meandering all over the shop, the vocoder itself ending up washing out the voice into almost a complete synthetic wash.

Firelighter Funguscake

February 2022 The Rossi Bar Starting the evening of people playing under their own real names we had Martin Chick. Last time I saw Martin play he was surrounded by a load of bulky kit including an old Korg, this he slimmed down to a Modular synth and another box, the inevitable clutter of wires ensuring it’s not too tidy. Starting with a bass pulse on the 8s with bell on the ones, he blends in some white noise snares, warbling tinnitus pitch tones marshalling in more drums. A bit of random pitching ushers in a more minimal section that ends up feeling like a fence post being replaced after a storm. Slowly, slowly, blocks of bass or noise or stem whistle are folded in and left to drift off. The sound empties out; cuts of drum in and out, beep tone, bass teased back, then again out. Those blocks of pink noise back, flexatone. A steam kettle in another room washes out everything, building to blistering boil and end.

An SD card incident has removed two thirds of my recording of Kieran Mahon’s set, but hey, I streamed it on FaceBook Live, so can revisit that. Kieran hisself starts the set tucked down behind the upturned box hiding his modular from us – so a much sleeker look to his kit, a dreadbox perched on top. Mid-range drone modulates to wobble as buzzes and the sounds of a dinosaur in a cardboard box reverb subtly into our audio view. An untuned high stabbing on the 32s distracts from the indecent growling, everything goes back do drone, then we get some proper across the board pulsing. Then slowly we get a bit of the beeping sequencing peeping through – and that’s what we come to Kieran for. All around it science fiction shimmers and tones form and fade. Some time later a counter arpeggio assembles against the first and the two dance around each other. This slow unfolding is mesmeric. The sequences morph chaotically, pitches bend, timbres mutate. Shudders whip through, then all we’re left with is the ephemera. Echo thrums and a doorbell riff lead us on into the final section of  almost free improv clanking, finally a bass heartbeat grounds us  and a long arpeggio sends us blissfully off into space.

Finally we had R. Dyer to end the night. She started with what I suspect was an unplanned version of “Little Victories” with a new set of recorded good moments, they’re as funny as usual, the song as gloriously melancholy as usual, looped soprano sax lines weaving around each other over a low keyboard drone as Becca sings over the top. There’s a lot of new victories so we have a fairly extended outro involving washing up, Coventry, bells… other things. The second track starts with a strong keyboard bass line, organ notes, chimes, a couple of gently muted sax layers, vocals. Little raindrops is like an afternoon spent in the loft of your childhood home. “Canaries” was next, after a chat about the canary resuscitator, they were only retired in the late 80s. Who knew? It starts with a creepy creaking walking pace keyboard part, with some odd fx and singing from the canary’s perspective, an interlocking set of soprano layers, more singing finishing with the song of a toy canary. Starting with drum machine tambourine, unison soprano, I missed the name of the penultimate song. There is a sax solo in this one that really flies, lifts the spirits. “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. For “King Alfred’s Cakes” Becca’s harp became detached from its contact mic, so she performs it acoustically, no electronics(!) but it’s wonderful, so we don’t mind. Voice and harp, do we need more description.

Wiring not Driving

January 2022
The Rossi Bar

As usual all plans are provisional, so our last minute lineup change had Astral Engineering step up at the 11th hour. Excellent news. I’ve been enjoying the CD from 2020 over lockdown. Starting with a nice fat multi-layered drone to settle us down before hoofing off into a nicely spatial arpeggio with odd spinning tones and occasional bass line part. A detuned string synth melodic line wanders in before we segue nicely into the next piece. Slightly more insistent drums, and some piano that gives the impression of a space waltz without actually being one. Another creepy melody stalks this one. The next tune starts with a gated shimmer, joined by a staggered synth line and loping bass drum. It all gives way to an ascending synth line; and a key change that leads us off into the space bassline of the next tune. Occasional small craft whirr past us as space drones, the bass line gets some subtle filter work before some proper acid squelch activity occurs on it; this one could easily be 20 minutes long if I had my way. A white noise snare indicates the arrival of the final track with a clockwork hi-hat. The unfolding synth sounds like a CZ101 and we get a proper rolling bassline. It sounds almost like a played bass guitar at times, the way it seems to stand and then roll back into life.
Hear more from Astral Engineering on his BandCamp site: astralengineering.bandcamp.com/

Its Iplu’s first live show ever. He doesn’t seem nervous. His set starts with some field recordings, some subtle processing, some layering. It’s a little bit crunchy; gritty even in places. Some electronic whirps and understated uneasy drone. It’s not a drone it shifts slightly into discernibility, some tones, resonance. Having heard him speak, unlike most of the audience, I can hear his filtered voice amongst the ducks and tea-making. As the field recordings start to get busier the effects get less prominent, glass bells with a hint of something, and then it’s all tuned delay, hints of feedback loops, clanking. After about 15 minutes a glitched up beat starts, cd stammers and winds. A rhythm brings us out of our reveries. Its again heavily processed, I feel my head being slapped by it. Before it gets overwritten by a slow pad melody, some squelches eventually join and an LFO lifted bassline ebbs and flows. The final piece starts with reverbed bass notes on a piano, an occasional interspersed upper register note, a busy percussion part starts in, working around the high notes. A much busier high synth riff provides some melodic colour before we get a drop for some work on the percussion and it plays out with a slow build-up of parts counterpointing the synth melody before the drums are back for a fairly emotional climax.

Due to the lack of the regular sound engineer Meljoann’s vocals are a little low in the mix due to feedback issues, which robs is of some of that pleasure, but means we can revel in the joy of her backing tracks. She starts with her guitar strapped on. She starts with her customary “I hope everyone likes RnB”, before the backing track kicks in and she starts getting into some fretwork, the vocals are desperate. The bass is super fat and envelopes us, the drums thwack like benny hill swatting that bald bloke. It’s a fully warped sound, Jam & Lewis run amok with a PC producer. The second track eases up on the density for “Assf*ck the boss” an ode to the ways of call centre life. We get straight back into the high density and higher tempo for the next track “Trophy Wife” , this one comes on like a deranged mid 80s BoysTown banger with layers of resignation and an urgency of fidgeting trebly stabbing synths over another monstrous bass. Then we get a break with a word from The Mustics corporation, Meljoanns sponsor. I haven’t mentioned any visuals yet, Meljoann supplies her own, with advert breaks.
She has her own mythology, it’s worth checking out her videos on YouTube, you get a whole stream of life improvement videos from the Mustics Corp as well as well as her own more orthodox, but equally disturbing videos for the songs, anyway back to the set. The next track comes on like Prince wrestling a sea-serpent bass, occasionally the whole thing gets overwhelmed by a circling detuning queasiness inducing synth.
We get the second ad break, the Mustics representative staring malevolently at us while delivering her platitudes. The tempo goes right down for the ballad “I quit”, a two-note bassline, ghost synths, a heartful vocal and a stirring guitar solo. With proper posing. The final track “Business Card” starts with a bassline full of static, Gameboy beeps and really defies description once it starts, nothing sounds quite right, layers build and overwhelm us. It could really do with being VERY LOUD.

Apart from Meljoann whose visuals are an integral part of her set, the excellent visuals are from Chris midi_error, as we’ve quickly become accustomed to.

I think we’ll be seeing a lot of this

December 2021

The Rossi Bar

So Dolly Rae Starcore stands in at the last minute for someone laid low by The Rona, for which we are grateful, and happy. Starting with a stroke of the Zither and a massive boom off the mic. Arrayed before her on the table a selection of small percussive objects, two large brass singing bowls, her book and the sheath of papers from which she will read. She reads, pings the Flexatone shakes the shakers and reads, she gently strokes the singing bowl which booms beautifully. One of the singing bowls is a quarter full of water which modulates it when swirled. She reads, pings the percussion. The atmosphere builds, some unaccompanied sections, some densely swirled about. Chimes.

Andrew Greaves filling the middle slot, playing through his latest release, songs and improvisations based on loops of his father singing that were recorded on cassette before he died. The set starts with a manipulated loop of the singing all the consonants lost, murky, monkish. Over this a crisp rhythm track starts up. Slow organ rolls out and back, arpeggiates, the voice wanes. The organ parts thicken, overlap. The voice returns. The second part is structurally the same, it floats more. There is a lot more space and what sound almost like guitar parts. Dogs. A Casio organ solo emerges, the whole thing slowly dissolves into space winds.

The last time Xylitol played for us it was a set of DNW inflected fun played on toys and cheap synths, this time Catherine turned up with a laptop for a set of kosmische drum and bass. It’s got the same sense of fun as before but the tempos are ramped up. There are hints of Harmonia, pointillist interlocking rhythmic keyboard parts fix inside the drum parts before it gets abstractly into resonant pitch shifting frog drums. We nod our heads. The next track almost starts like an Irresistible Force remix, before getting into some serious rhythm scrambling and deranged bassline before allowing the piping melody line to whistle through. The last track starts with a high level of scrambled drums and repeated pinging keyboard parts, repeated to the point of delirium. All the melodic parts steamroller while the movement is all in the drums before eventually the melodic parts all break down into new patterns and the drum cycling starts again.

The wind chilled dew

November 2021

The Rossi Bar

Starting things off with lots of banging we have FROST. It’s unusual for us to have drums, and Dale has drums set up on the front of the tiny Rossi Bar stage, wires going off to a few devices, and the electronic pads. So he starts with a fairly open piece, rolling sprightly tight drums with pinging Raymond Scott sounds and a nice whistling melody over the top, from there he’s straight into more proggy territory, jerky beats, an elliptical sequence (backing track? I don’t think so by the way the sound modulates). There are too many beats to the bar, the timing is way odd. No melodic elements to this one, it’s all point/counterpoint. The third tune has a breathless Casio whine drone, with a more straightforward rhythm, this turns into a riff like Friske Frugt, it stretches out into a chiming section that alternates with something chiming in an altogether trickier time signature. The next starts with a chirrupingly tapped rhythm, that turns into some odd detuned riff, with pizzicato scattered rhythms and some buzzing hardcore on the cheap saw wave stabs. The last one is a full on prog action epic, that he somehow gets electric piano chords in amongst the staccato drum pattern.

Second up was Territorial Gobbing “down from Leeds”.  With his table of stuff, twin cassette players, a loop pedal, a springing ruler, desk bell, honker, file, matt with contact mic. He starts like some quick draw artiste with a cassette player in each hand, swinging each arm back and forth. Squalling feedback at us instead of bullets. Then we get a beautifully timed comedy patch of silence. Then we get into staccato snatches from the tapes, music, speech, reverbed, sped up, looped. Or not. A bout of rummaging gets us into a denser noisier passage while Theo tries to summon “Alex .. a … A.. Alex…. Alexa” He has a deft touch, the kind of comic timing we haven’t seen in an age, and an ear for when to let rip with a proper screech of noise. And he works hard at the table, I don’t think much is unused at the end.

Rounding the evening off we have Emma Papper, with laptop, Electronic Wind Instrument EWI5000, and clarinet. The first track is bouncing chimes and wafts of trilling synth with occasional tonal arpeggios with a hint of flexitone. The second has a percolating synth line, with a melody from the EWI that’s all slurred detuned washes that occasionally have stringy touches of Chi Mai sung out by ice bound sirens. The third is all angelic choirs and distant aliens that slowly shifts into focus, with some deep shifting detail. The next piece is harsher, winds and icy, gritty high pitched spines. Abstract and less comfortable. It feels like an ice cave, I can even hear the dripping, giving way to a landscape of slowly undulating tones. The next piece carries on from here with warmer vocal washes. The penultimate piece tends toward what sounds like overdriven guitar drones, with strings and hints of birdsong in its fluttering synths. The final piece brings the clarinet up off the table, meshing it against the shifting drones from the laptop, the backing shifts so slowly it’s almost imperceptible, giving the clarinet an evolving background to work on.

Joining the long list of people who have enjoyed playing at The Spirit of Gravity so much they’ve released their set afterwards here we have Emma Papper’s set from the November show: emmapapper.bandcamp.com/album/emma-papper-live-at-the-spirit-of-gravity

Spin ‘Em Enthralled

October 2021
The Rossi Bar

So we start the evening with Dan Powell with his mic’d up tray of objects, and eschewing his Raspberry Pi for a shiny new laptop for processing. I couldn’t quite see what he was up to a lot of the time, occasionally is hands moving around through gaps between things. Or picking up something to bong on it. Starting with some scrapes and tones, big reverbs that have note-ish resonances, there are some beautiful space wobbles and synthy warbles that come through over the scrapes and chimes. Some seem sourced from clashes or clatters from his small bits and bobs, transformed by his Max MSP patches out into otherworldly oscillations.  It all actually feels oddly unhinged, detuned, deranged – but calm, relaxed even. Interestingly not “right” in the best possible way. Ambient but not in that stoner vibe fashion. There are times it reminds me of the electronics in “Outer space with sounds”, primal but not brutish, something from the deepest unconscious of electronics. Properly unnerving.

Superficially rocking a similar setup to Dan, we had Nil By Nose with a cookie tin, mic’d up mat and small synth in a tiny box, it’s a very different output, fed through with a tonal line of feedback and distortion we come from a much more confined acoustic space. Thicker and more claustrophobic. Looping percussive clacks and ruler thrums, bringing in traffic from the upstairs street. Although it’s not a looper, it’s a very slowly decaying delay. At one point our masked hero bashes and shakes the tin onto the mat bashing out a rhythm that runs for a few bars, then a flurry of conversation, mangled up with intertwining repetitions, the feedback turned into a windy howl. Distorted thumb piano crushes play compression tricks on the whine. It sounds like someone shuffling office furniture.
Rounding off the evening we had The Founders as This Sound Bureaucracy with their not entirely reliable history of the spirit of gravity. Tony running his usual looping set up, nice circular washes with a rhythm of ball bearings falling down a glass staircase – we had Nick slowly letting us know he was going to be verbalising this evening. He started the set taping a slogan onto the front of the box/table Tony’s kit was set up on, there’s a shift in rhythm and Nick starts his historical tale. This probably the best sound I’ve heard from tony, its driving, Nick sync’d up, pauses working right, changes right in place. My introduction got a nice distorted launch. As Nick gets properly into the Free Butt years, Tony winds down the rhythms and transmutes into a staggering noise pulse “we were fields, all fields” getting its usual appreciative reception. Tony gears everything back up, only thicker and noisier. Sirens. “Stand aside Nietzsche”. Then as a bonus, we get “The Manifesto Of Experiential Music”, proclaimed over laser jabs, raucous trills, noise bolts and general horrible noises. I’ve never managed to work out if Rilke was taking the piss with this manifesto, its accurate to the point of mockery. Tony finishes off the evening with a turgid, lumbering, detuned rollicking rhythm of noise and destruction. While Nick finishes off his tapework in the inevitable fashion.
This was the first time we’ve had visuals from midi_error, which was a real improvement, the screen was a bit cobbled together – it will be better in November, but the visuals were great, from filtered landscapes to static straggling lines.

Our 20th Anniversary Year finally starts

September 2021
The Rossi Bar

The Rossi Bar Thee Founder Tony is the true editor of Gravitational Pull and he’s asked me to write reviews of the online shows we did, I’ve not done it. They’re still online at our YouTube channel, each one is about an hour long, I think we definitely grew into them and I just want to say Thanks to Tom from Ensemble 1 who edited the shows together and Chris midi_error who did the graphics. I think they did a cracking job and I’d recommend you watch them if you haven’t done already. Or even if you have. And obviously a big thanks to all the artists who took part.

David K Frampton and R. Dyer

Welcoming us back to the Rossi bar for our eventual first show of 2021, our 20th anniversary year we have David K Frampton with R. Dyer, David Frampton on synthesisers and R. Dyer on soprano saxophone. They start with slow pads of synths and Becca’s sax weaving in and out of them the heavy reverb lending it an odd 80s air, before Dave comes in with his distinctive heartfelt vocals, occasionally switching into a higher register. The second number picks up the tempo considerably with a heavily filtered arpeggio, that switches around between instruments before Dave starts singing, then we have a lengthy instrumental section featuring Becca again, some more vocals and then Dave gets stuck into doubling up the arpeggios. It ends up nicely stripping down to lengthy section with just the arpeggio a fat foghorn drone and sax flurries. The third is again a slower one, thick churchy chords, ticking drums, sax responding to Dave’s voice sometimes in response, sometimes swirling around it. After a while a bass drum subtly comes in, just giving it a little nudge of dynamism for the final section. There’s an impromptu quiz before the final song kicks off, upping the tempo again, a two chord riff with Dave singing before other things switch in, a burst of arpeggios, slow work from Becca, this one stuck with me for quite a while. Hooky.

Hardworking Families

Next up is Hardworking Families, starting with a bubbling burst of synth from a new tiny Korg, one of a collection of small things that Tom is using this evening, passing this through the Monotron delay, there’s a cassette deck, which isn’t actually introduced for a while and a contact mic we’ll most certainly hear from eventually. The burbling gets caught up into an effects loop mushing it into some quite nasty edges, before the delay mutes it down to counting station static. The contact mic gets some action, it s a big clunky thing and seems to produce some scraping and odd springing sounds. After this we get a passage of spacey drones and meeps veering into Forbidden Planet territory at times. These firm up into a harsher juddering tone that eventually spirals out to a proper bit of fat drone hard buzzing synth, with undercurrents of noise and whirring.

Ravine Machine

It takes a while to get set up for Ravine Machine, 2 projectors and a whole set of things that get used as sources for projecting and for shadowplay. I think one projector broke down during the set, but I wasn’t in the right position to see it. But undaunted Amy carried on, improvising with what tools (and candles) were available.  Scott has an interesting set of things, too; a small array of sound sources, autoharp, thumb piano all feeding into a hand built modular device of some kind. Is it a mixer? A synth? All of these things maybe. They start fairly quietly with a low drone, over which eventually we get a scratching rumbling loop that provides some creepy rhythmic body. Some backward thumb piano subtly chimes in for that sepia nursery haunted house feel. After being properly spooked out by that we get gentle washes of the autoharp circling over it. The whole thing slowly shimmers off into much gentler zones without much seeming to have happened the atmosphere lifts. And eventually, slowly, hardens as a tidal surge of noise washes in looping out and returning harsher and more resonant every time. Thin strings of feedback taper past, there’s an undercurrent of watery gurgle, that pulsing relentless thick wave of noise keeps returning and finally ebbs away leaving the remains to filter back through the pebbles of whatever this metaphor has degenerated into and ends.

Well, I think that was a pretty damn good start to our anniversary year, but next month will, of course, be even better!