The Bench is back! Thomas Bench, to be precise, the previously mysterious noise auteur behind the Hardworking Families persona, whose Worse Than A Stranger and Happy Days, releases I found pretty compelling when I reviewed them at the arse-end of last year. Bench has put out a few bits and bobs in the intervening months– a chunky live recording, and a couple of interesting slices of sound design for theatre pieces (check the Bandcamp for deets). But these two tapes are his first full-length outings since then, I think.
Noise Club #11 is Bench’s contribution to last year’s titular project. It invited 12 people (Robin Foster, Henry Collins, Farmer Glitch, Foldhead, Ed Dowie, Graham Dunning, Joanna Pucci, Ian Watson, Rosena Wenoah, Joined By Wire and Laurie French, as well as Bench himself) to submit audio samples to the group, which would then be used by each participant to create a tape. Bench says of his piece: “we were only permitted to use those samples in the production of our tapes: no extra audio. What you hear here is what I made out of those 12 samples by layering, cutting-up, filtering, processing, tape-warping and looping them”.
Bench’s tape contains two, concise pieces, of around 15 minutes each. Scratching and squelching is the order of the day, with Side A’s Lawns & Mon sounding like several reels of Foley sound tape thrown in the washing machine and set to the maximum spin cycle. Vocal fragments exhort us to SHIFT AND BLEND, before warping tape slurs and detuned drones seep out in viscous slime. Every time things threaten to get too meditative, an avalanche of cut-up debris interrupts the flow, trapped wind blocking the digestive flow in the sonic gullet. Sometimes there’s a groovy, pulsing throb, but Bench is too canny to let this settle either, mangling things with wince-inducing whines and gravel-path scrunches. The whole thing ends with a righteously gastric bloop and creak, as if Bench is twisting a sack of fresh guts into the shape of a family pet, a ghastly travesty of balloon-animal artistry.
The flipside, The Perfect Pineapple, gives us swirls of computer code bleeps booted about by clumping static and boot-boy rhythms. Imagine a re-shoot of The Italian Job where Camp Freddie and a bunch of bruisers break into Turin’s central computer room and have a right royal piss up. ‘Ere boss look what happens when I pour a can of Watney’s Red Barrel into the processor cabinet. You’re only supposed to blow the bloody diodes off, mate. Meanwhile Benny Hill moans and groans in the corner as his skin mags get shredded along with the urban traffic planning database. As for the Carabinieri, they aren’t interested. They’re too busy jamming out a prog-sludge soundtrack to some dubious Giallo remake of Wuthering Heights in which Cathy strings up a Vespa-riding Heathcliff by his ankles and tickles his armpits with a bread knife. Meanwhile back in London Mr. Bridger frantically tunes his radio, desperate for news. But all he hears are strange drones from the outer reaches.
Dylan Thomas sees Bench and partner in crime Dylan Nyoukis take their respective scalpels to one of their live duo performances, in support of the Bohman Brothers. Gawd knows what the original Bench ‘n’ Nyoukis set sounded like, but these rehashes are a hoot, upping the garish grunts and scuffish noize for a truly ear-grating double-header.
Truly a wonder of no-audience underground cut ‘n’ splice, the feeling of being bounced around in a tiny metal box while all manner of fucked-up cacophony resonates is strong. It’s a bit like being a tiny person inside one of the humbuckers on that guitar that Christian Marclay dragged round a field. Occasionally human voices can be heard; sometimes they’re snatches of conversation, as if Bench or Nyoukis have taken their dictaphones on the bus and hoovered up whatever’s going on around them. Other times there fragments of what could be self-help tapes. More often than not, these samples are warped and mugged-out beyond recognition, murmuring through the din in an adenoidal, synthetic slur. Of the two, Bench’s take on things is marginally less hectic than Noukis’s, I reckon, but they both have their own scrambled grandeur. Definitely worth diving into.