Sunday, 7 May 2017

Juxtavoices - Warning: May Contain Notes

Warning: May Contain Notes is the third release from Sheffield-based Martin Archer's Juxtavoices, described by Martin, quite succinctly I feel, as an "antichoir". While the largest proportion of the strange collage of sounds emanating from this CD derives from the large ensemble of human voices, this is not choral work in traditional sense.

If you arrive at this album having never heard Juxtavoices before, you may well be shocked, but also hopefully intrigued by its sheer otherness to indulge its excesses for a while. I am lucky for I knew what to expect, having already experienced their first album Juxtanother Antichoir From Sheffield some four years ago.

Juxtavoices is a large conglomerate of singers and performers from the Sheffield avant music and arts scene, and it includes both trained and untrained voices. Although the pieces they perform are scripted, the finer details of the works are improvised, with whistles, chattering, moans, whoops and hollers coming at you across the stereo spectrum in the most unexpected of places.

We start with Ascent which does just that, slowly climbing a metaphorical staircase to arrive at a rarefied summit. This album was recorded at various locations over a couple of years, and this first piece was recorded at The Golden Lion, Todmorden, which I can only assume is a pub. It must have made an odd accompaniment to a leisurely pint, is all I can say!

The music and texts of the pieces were contributed by four of the choir, and my one criticism of the packaging is that a lyric or text sheet is not included, nor as far as I can see is it provided via an online link, which given the labyrinthine and near-cacophonous nature of a lot of this album would have been a rather useful addition, even if space necessitated it being in highly truncated form. The PR sheet informs me that the compositions "include troubled seascapes, exploding islands, futurist wars, curious wordplay on the subject of aging disreputably, letraset abstraction, a reinterpretation of early Cabaret Voltaire recordings, and a terrifying ascent into the very jaws of hell". Indeed! you can probably work out which is which from the track titles.

There are so many layers and strands to these works that it will take several listens before you can have any familiarity with the album, which is why I have had this review copy for over four moths before I have been able to even begin to get below its extremely densely packed surface. A piece like An Imp Unity of Dyads, with its musical interjections from percussion, bassoon, glockenspiel, and concertina, contains righteous declamations, multi-voiced spoken words, snatches of song, chatter, and choral harmony, all seemingly reading from different scripts, yet sounding completely deliberate. A unity of two parts perhaps? I have absolutely no idea what it is all about, but it sounds like nothing else on Earth. Planned anarchy, if you will. As the album progresses it gets ever more abstract, and To You & Me, Krakatoa is as unnerving and as cacophonous as an exploding island. At least I understand this one!

The DVD is an essential part of this package, for the videos that accompany the pieces, put together by audio-visual contrarian Bo Meson do help one unravel some of the more baffling aspects of the CD, where one is left to one's own imagination. Ascent, with its treated colour negative collages of rockets lifting off, and in some cases exploding catastrophically, certainly upped the ante of my cerbral cortex while listening to that one again! We learn via newspaper clippings, adverts from the time and old newsreel that the highly creepy RMMV Asturias is a soundtrack to the maiden voyage and seagoing history of what was then, in 1926, the world's largest motorised ship. Or at least that's the gist of it, although quite how the frequent appearances in the video of a segment of a debt recovery letter fit in, I'm not sure.

The final track Western Works is Juxtavoices' interpretation of three early tracks by fellow Sheffield oddballs Cabaret Voltaire, whom every punker worth his or her bondage trousers will know for the superb alien disco smash Nag Nag Nag. Some of us even bought a couple of their albums back in the day. Needless to say, what Juxtavoices do with the Cabs' avant derring-do is as utterly different as it is fitting, given the source material. I will describe it no further, you'll just have to buy this very strange offering, and find out for yourself.

Tracklist - CD
1. Ascent (9:04)
2. RMMV Asturias (13:41)
3. An Imp Unity of Dyads (9:57)
4. Helvetica (15:25)
5. To You & Me Krakatoa (11:17)
6. Atavistic Ennui (10:29)

Total running time - 70:42

Tracklist - DVD
1. An Imp Unity of Dyads (9:58)
2. Ascent (9:02)
3. RMMV Asturias (18:21)
4. Helvetica (21:36)
5. Drawn From No Well (18:44)
6. Western Works (19:41)

Total running time - 1:37:22

Line up:
Julie Archer, Martin Archer, Jon Ashe, David Bartholomew, Ian Baxter, Mick Beck, Nathan Bettany, Geoff Bright, Chris Bywater, Clinton Chaloner, Julie Cole, Laura Cole, Emma Cooper, Paul Coupe, Edward Eggleston, Kat Fletcher, Sharon Gill, Alan Halsey, Matt Harling, Lyn Hodnett, Maria Kalnars, Christine Kennedy, Bo Meson, Tamar Millen, Geraldine Monk, Rick Moran, Liam Murphy, Tim Plant, Marion Rout, Liz Searle, Wolfgang Seel, Walt Shaw,  Jan Todd, Jane Tormey, Caroline Veal, Peter Veal, Linda Lee Welch, Gillian Whiteley.

Walt Shaw - Electronics and percussion
Nathan Bettany - Oboe
Mick Beck - Bassoon, tenor sax
Gillian Whiteley - Concertina
Martin Archer - Glockenspiel, baritone sax

Discus Music - Juxtavoices page
Facebook - Juxtavoices

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