Mark Fell – UL8 (Editions Mego CD)
Peter Rehberg occasionally chucks great wads of CDs at me. This makes me happy.
They are incredibly varied and whilst it’s hard to for me to love all of the Mego output, there’s always something interesting going on.
The pinnacle of the recent batch for me has been the work of Mark Fell. This was described to me as being “total disco”, which it should be abundantly clear is WAY off the mark. But it’s probably what disco sounds like inside Peter’s head…
Fell’s roots are in Sheffield (pirate?) radio and then as half of Snd, a group who get lumped in with minimal glitchy techno, but I’m in no position to judge whether that’s accurate or not. Ian from Autotoxicity interviewed them I think.
UL8 is inspired by the speakers owned by the Fell’s older brother when he was about 11:
This project takes its name from the Celestion UL8 speaker. My older brother bought a pair of these when i was starting comprehensive school, and between his 10cc and Supertramp records i first encountered electronically synthesized sound at high volumes. I soon noticed a pattern emerging in my musical tastes which excluded guitars or drums. Instead I favoured almost exclusively the electronic textures and rhythms of The Human League, Fad Gadget and other synthesiser based music of that period. I was quite curious about this prejudice and would try to work out why Kraftwerk sounded so much better than a rock band of the time.
So began my interest in the texture of synthetic sound – there was something much more beautiful (and perhaps more emotionally charged) about a sustained square wave than any guitar solo. I began search out and replay sections of music which dropped to a single sound – these, for some reason, were the best.
I like speaker fetishism, it’s obviously a big part of reggae soundsystem culture. To me it represents a devotion to the physical side of sound, conjuring up visions of the spaces and places where music is listened to. Increasingly I’m giving up on my ipod earbuds and am trying to carve out special moments at home so that I can hear music through my fab new speakers (and an amp kindly donated by Mr Grievous Angel) instead. Recently a bit of Mark Fell has often been the last thing I’ve played at night…
UL8 operates with what seems like an incredibly limited palette, a practise that intersects nicely with what I was saying about Ekoplekz recently. If you can use every single sound in the universe, the skill is no longer about what you select, but what you leave out.
The opening track on the album seems to consist of two noises, sounds, waveforms, whatever you want to call them. One might loosely be described as percussive, one might be a synth line. But they are both so synthetic, so glassy, so technical that it all feels a bit like an uber minimal slice of computer noise – the soundtrack to a ZX Spectrum game loading is positively funky in comparison. But the stripped down nature of it all forces you to engage with it and slowly clears the room of anything else.
Tracks 4 and 5 are a bit more beat driven and have some pixellated hiss going on in the background, the clean minimalism being slightly eroded.
Tracks 6 to 12 are entitled “Vortex Studies” and go darker. Track 7 sounds like a computer rolling some ball bearings around one of those maze games and is especially excellent. 9 is mainly buzzing and is also ace. 12 is getting on for industrial.
Tracks 13 to 19 are entitled “Acids in The Style of Rian Treanor”, a reference to Hecker’s”Acid in the style of David Tudor” also released on Mego, which was itself a reference to Art & Language’s “Portrait of V.I. Lenin with Cap, in the Style of Jackson Pollock” (1980).
13 sounds like a dot matrix printer going down a plughole. The rest is as per previous tracks but more messy and harsh – these are shorter pieces and the gaps between them are less evident. 16 is almost getting into gabba territory. 19 could almost be power electronics if you included someone earnestly swearing over the top of it.
The final track is entitled “Death of Loved One”. It includes a bit of light relief in the form of an ambienty synth wash that is very 3AM under the strobes. Or at least it would be, but for the presence of a harsh squeaky noise several notches louder spoiling your reverie.
“Most of the tracks on both UL8 are procedures implemented on a computer to generate patterns and timbral data that I will typically mess about with as they go along. It’s all dead simple, I have no real interest in technical complexity. I find the best systems are the very simple ones, where it’s just a very few linked procedures. They sound complex, but could be summed up in a couple of lines of text.”
There’s a lot of technical language in Fell’s work that goes over my head – stuff about alogrithms and frequency modulation. I am not perturbed by this in the slightest – I enjoy the work on its own terms even if I don’t understand them. In my mind Fell becomes some kind of techno scientist mashing up strange equations to make freakily geometric music. Which is great. For all I know it’s all made up anyway, like that pretend professor that The Hafler Trio invented to give their sounds a gloss of academic respectability. Fell seems to do a lot of installation work, that probably means it isn’t all hype – I’d certainly be interested to check out his stuff in a gallery or similar space.
This interview in Fact Magazine seems to suggest that he’s wrestled with and resisted his engagement with academia and is still a raver at heart.
Mark Fell – Manitutshu* (Editions Mego 2×12″)
This is subtitled “*Ritual Songs From The Spirit Mountain”. Which sounds quite hippyish, but reading between the lines, said spirit mountain may be the rubbish tip in Rotherham (or an installation somewhere else?) which is photographed on the cover and the massive glossy full colour poster insert. I’m probably reading my own biases into his work, but it seems to me that beneath Fell’s boffin exterior lies a pisstaking northerner with a sense of humour that’s drier than a millstone.
Manitutshu* seems to be sort of a UL8 remix album, but also involves some rejected soft-synth presets Mark designed for Native Instruments.
The tracks here have a bit more light and shade to them I think, with the perhaps the slightest hints of funk creeping in here and there. You even get a female french spoken word vocal going on about various bits of hardware. It’s still minimal, digital to the core and messed up as you like though.
The track times and titles are still bonkers. Side B kicks off with “Acids In The… razor experiment” (51 seconds of buzzing and stuff), and ends with track of truly wonky beats lasting 1:47. The 6:23 sandwich filling in the middle is entitled “Manitutshu… parameter set 2, Linn Hi Tom, JazzOrg, vortex study performance overdub, and synthesis reminiscent of Duet Emmo”. This is engagingly rhythmic, though probably not one to request by name in your local discotheque.
Side D is one long track, a remix by Mat Steel, Fell’s partner in Snd. It commences with a simple loop that I find incredibly uplifting whenever I hear it, but that is very far from being shared with other people in this flat. There’s an incredible relief when the very simple loop starts being tweaked about and arpegiating (is that even a word? is it the right word?) a few minutes in. This final track is 15 minutes of very few things happening, in exactly the right order, and is brilliant.
When I play these albums I get asked if they do my head in. They do…