Tag: Alien Alarms

Twice in the pit; never on the poster

August 2023
The Rossi Bar

Far Rainbow start the evening, mostly ‘cos of drums, but also so they can get home with the trains and that. This is one for watching, experiencing. In the first review I wrote for The Spirit of Gravity, I described Brown Sierra as “more electrica than electronica”, and there’s an element of that with Far Rainbow, Bobby has no synthesiser or laptop, but a collection of devices and transducers. His setup a continuation of the composed pieces he did back for us in The Scope days. But it’s not all about Bobby, Emily has her drum kit which is played with an equally diverse array of devices. Sticks, beaters, parcel tape, whisk, seashell… it’s also sent through a fairly hefty delay, and played very quietly. Their set starts with Emily crumpling paper on the snare while Bobby has a rattling can in what looks like a paint pot shaker, cymbal washes, somewhere it sounds like the ghost of a train is coming, the hint of a chimed melody. Bobby goes through his motorised things whirring noisily into the transducers while Emily builds her improve-y scrapings into a crescendo, occasionally a multiply echoed thwack of a stick clatters around the room, or there is a tinging pattern to remind us of the kits more orthodoxly percussive nature. Someone has a bag of stones which they rattle, I’m sure. Ah, it’s Emily. She brings the volume right down. Bobby has a nice modulating warble going on with feedback controlled into something akin to throat singing and a bird song recording. Bobby gets some small metal objects into the shaking can which give us a maraca-ish rhythm to work against before he breaks out the electric hairbrush, which was a particular highlight. A lot of questions right there. Emily builds up the cymbal shimmers behind the whining, then slides the beaters onto the toms, still slowly building, the cymbals seem to have entered the effects chain and continue to shine away. Then we get into the tape ripping into her effects chain. It all wind down with the ghost train, gentle snare scraping and a slow high pitched whirring drone that fades in and out.

Once again standing in at the last minute for someone unable to make it along, we have Alien Alarms. Making full use of the Rossi Bar’s famous bass cabinets to really work everything in the room that isn’t fixed down…. these days Jim sets his controller sloped away from him so you can see what he’s up to, this works really nicely as 1) he’s not just a bloke sat behind a laptop 2) it’s fascinating trying to match his movements over the buttons with what’s coming out the speakers as he chops up the lines running through the song – not just the drum tracks but vocal parts, bass parts, melodic lines particularly work well taking on new forms as he gets stuck into the meaty bits of the songs. The first song is a version of the first thing he wrote as Alien Alarms, all proper bass and field recordings from lockdown. The next few tracks are part of his AI themed album, the first “We must make more of us” starts with a hit that is almost stunning in its intensity. It also has a slap bass part he played. A big fan of Marcus Miller it seems. Some nice chopping on the vocal line with this one. “The Machine of Death” follows, darker, naturally, very intense with a buzzing dip into the subs again. Almost nothing is happening above the mid-range, but what there is, is disorienting. Even the vocal parts are deep. Then into an excellent version of “The Spirit of Gravity off the new compilation “A Poem in Six Parts”. He gets proper psychedelic chopping this up towards the end. That’s followed with his nicely skewed version of “Avril 14th” the final song starts with a rolling hip hop break, with carillon and squelches that gets quite quickly a teensy bit breakcore, the chopping gets quite frenzied in this one, beats zooming in from all sides.

Rounding off the evening were a Spirit of Gravity super-group, Screaming Alice, Howard our press person and Andrew who designs our posters.  Set up with twin tables of synths including Howard’s infamous original Wasp. Their set started off with some nice swooping synths, bass woooshes and a chattering buzz that all faded out as a funereal kick drum, proper thudding waded in. a double tempo bass line came in, and the wasp returned with some pulsations as the drum switched to the 4/4. Some counter lines building up a rhythmic backing then a drop and these seriously nasty screams slid across. And a messed up voice started talking to us. The drums morph, the bass lines start shifting timbre, the bass becoming a melodic line. Dropping back to drums and voice we get a new gurgling bass come in, that starts all rhythmic then slows down to a warping drone for another drop. We get a radiophonic spirit scream going back and forth across the stage while a bass burbles enigmatically. The scream drops to a drone and a two note percussive synth line starts in to be washed away by a helicopter drone, gull-song and seascape. The helicopter drops to a purely sonic wash about the limits of hearing. The players bouncing ideas back and forth. A rhythmic part comes in being modulated all over the place sonically from bass to mid-range, squelch to stab, and before we notice the drums have snuck back in. Driving counter rhythms lurk up. Splashes of colour, the sounds shift again, and everything seems to shift up a gear, before dropping away again. We’re well into the world of machines for a groove that doesn’t last anywhere near long enough before the drums drop away and they start messing about with the sounds again, then – ooh, its back, slightly new but still with that energy., an offbeat that amazingly sounds more like a skank than a trance pulse, and it’s all on the move again. Figures flitter briefly into view and are gone, odd notes – sheep! The sheep put in quite an appearance, making me think of a banging version of “Chill Out”. The sheep leave but the banging backing stays on. Other odd sounds rattle of squirm across the field of view, then all the rhythm drops away and we’re left with psychedelic sheep, and pulses of energy, delayed organ notes, boops and burps and finally slow LFO sweeps… really quite nicely, a fusion nothing like what either has done on their own.

Nocturnal Lee

Febrary 2023
The Rossi Bar

The first act of the evening is Alien Alarms, he’s set up with his launch-pad angled towards us so we can get some idea of what’s going on, and it’s really interesting you can get a much better feel of the way Jim is interacting with the rhythm tracks when you can see what’s going on, beats starting, chopping, and he seems to be really going to town with it for us, stammering the vocal parts and really getting into messing with the beats. The first track is quite slow, tooth rattling sub-sonics and eerie synth, someone deep voiced talking about the wheel of life, the beat almost stalling. The second uses Sun Tzu read by a woman, guitar parts by his son, and singing by Jim. There is an early 2000s nu jazz feel to the top layer undermined by the intricacy of the beat and the dubbing fx. The third is “Less of almost Everything” off the album, again Jim sings, it seems slow, the bass is vast. The fourth track is his track for the upcoming Spirit of Gravity compilation, its starts ponderously, pianos come in, the beat stops and starts becoming more energised each time, the bass turns to a buzzing drone and the beats get almost up to DnB levels underneath. No hi-hats to make it take flight, big piano chords break it up. The vocal samples speed up and it ends on a lovely piano figure. The Aphex Twin cover he dedicates to Lou, it’s even more frenetic than usual as he gets right into the beats and doesn’t have vocals to distract himself with. It ends up with him chopping up the melodic line as well as the rhythm. The final track is the last one he did before getting into his AI work, strings, breaks, bass: a kind of frenzied tribute to Shut Up And Dance, in my mind at least.

Following up closely behind we have Hannya White for her Spirit of Gravity debut, she got in touch with us by sending a track for the radio show, which we loved, so invited her down to play. It starts with breath and a mono-tonal, metronomic bass. She murmurs dogs bark. Bits of the room vibrate. Unexpectedly a flurry of drums breaks in and disappears, this becomes predominant. The dog may now be a piano. I can hear her words more clearly. They layer, the drums are constant. The second track starts with drums. Not what you’d call a rhythm, not at first, a very 80s sounding bass synth, the drums like a double time grime pattern. Something erratic is happening over the solidifying drums. The third starts Star Trek-like, a hammering bass drum confuses us and the filters take away the melody, she talks, pizzicato strings, bowed strings. Fire. The fourth starts with slurred strings and earthquakes. Spaceships, vocal drones. Atonal strings and held breaths. The next starts with an organ sound: bass-y rhythms with stabs laid around them, that falls apart to pin point piano and voice, jazzy cymbal, bits of that organ. The sixth steps everything back up with a fat bass-y pulse, rattle-y drums, kettle whistle, woodblock syncopation and voice. Scary sounds come in from the cars in the woods. The bass falls away and all gets proper creepy and we run away. We finish with possibly “Hauling it down to Mexico” which was our choice. A creaking bassline, screams, Bernard Herriman strings, highway running drums. The whole set is a soundtrack of deranged wonder, shifting, powerful & slightly terrifying.

We finish with the return of Rashamon, for his first set at a regular Spirit of Gravity show for around 10 years. Lee starts with a gated shifting synth, big drones underneath, some of his trademark use of film dialogue intact, then off into song-land a repeated intricate synth figure, some Vangelis string synth, before a big bass kicks in. There are some heart-melting melodic lines before the drums roll in. There’s a classic breakdown and everything returns, a bit darker ; a bit more intense than the first time around. The second breakdown is all bass and weird detuned sounds floating around. When everything comes back the intensity is again ramped up, the melodic line subsumed under the newer tonalities. This segues straight into a lighter arpeggiating line, the weird noises tailing slowly off into piano lines and returning first as radio interference then as rhythm. The third track starts with a skipping bass drum and snare pattern with vocal sample, before a monstrous buzzing hardcore bassline comes in. it drops again, leaving just an echoed stab over the drums before returning in a much more subdued form with a melodic line over it; everything locked together, everything rolling. I stop making notes and just nod my head…. The next starts with a piano vamp under-tracked by Trek bridge noises and a high two note motif that gives it just enough melodic structure. Another piano part comes in and the two notes expand out into a full line. There are reverbed drums, unobtrusive; some dialogue I’m not sure is from the room or the speakers. The final track starts by layering up some heavily indistinct drums over that, it keeps the two notes, a swirl of arpeggios twist away underneath, nagging at the shape of the piece, synth-y drones float in, the drums fade away and we’re left with the sequences and bridge noises. Sublime.

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.