Kit Downes & Tom Challenger: Vyamanikal (CD/Download – SLP024)
Klaas Hübner: Sog (Cassette/CD/Download – SLP025)
Matt Rogers: SK√-1 (Cassette/CD/Download – SLP028)
Laurie Tompkins: Heat, War, Sweat, Law (Cassette/CD/Download – SLP029)
Slip first came to my attention when label co-founders Laurie Tompkins and Tom Rose appeared on the rather fine Spool’s Out programme on Resonance FM last year. It was the restless nature of their curatorial vision that struck me – rather than refining a particular sound, Laurie, Tom and the label’s third member, Susie Whaites, who didn’t appear on the programme, seem content to rove all around all over the place in search of interesting stuff, with the label acting as channel to help get these sonic nuggets out into the world. That I’ve not managed to get it together enough to write anything about their endlessly fascinating releases has given me a constant, low-level throb of angst. Like a toothache. But no more, as Slip’s latest quartet is so good that I have no excuse for not getting right on it.
There’s noise, there’s silence, there’s art, there’s frustration in these four releases. There are household objects being turned into graceful sonic generators. There’s even Heaven 17. But can we just start with something gorgeous and beautiful? Is that OK? Phew, because if anything was tailor-made to meet the exacting criteria of gorgeousness and beauty, it is Kit Downes and Tom Challenger’s Vyamanikal. The duo travelled around five churches in Suffolk during a residency in Aldeburgh last year, Downes using the organs found therein to lay down soft-hued beds of drone and gentle clusters of chords, with Challenger adding minimal, ego-less sax figures. The result is an album that can only be described as a kind of cosmic pastoral odyssey, akin to a recasting Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians in the English countryside on summer’s afternoon. Listening to the Downes’ understated organ figures is like being borne aloft on clouds, as breathy sax hoots play across them in a hazy, solar beams and subtle touches of electronics ruffle up the smooth surfaces. Occasionally birdsong can be heard, as on Vistri, complementing the tantalisingly sparse reeds, like part-hearing the loveliest, most mournful unknown ballad as it’s played in the room next-door. Vyamanikal is understated, true, but even at the times when there seems to be little happening, it’s always enough.
If that all sounds a bit too calm, get a load of the crazed motherboard abuse that is Matt Rogers’ SK√-1. Eight slices of garish computer noise that take as their starting point chiptune’s dayglo rush, Rogers uses his compositional nous to shape those hyper-accelerated 8-bit bursts (no doubt gouged from the titular dirt-cheap Casio synth) into something more nuanced and enigmatic. There’s still plenty of that old Super Mario pacing, with saturated aural spurts vying with spliced blobs of squelch in cycles that push repetition to its most idiotic – and fantastic – extreme. SK√-1 ▪■ crashes through enough explosions and bleep to blast me right back to an amusement arcade on the Essex coast in the late-1980s, frantically whacking the ‘fire’ button of the Galaxians machine as the invaders swoop down in endless waves. The line between adrenaline rush and headache-driven fury is a thin one, however, and the fact that Rogers’ pieces never slip over the line into banality is credit to his restraint and instinctive sense of what works. SK√-1 ■■ is another good ‘un – at first, its glistening loops lock together beautifully, like some 18th century clockwork toy fashioned from silver for a European boy-prince. But, somehow, it changes pace halfway through, morphing from delicate grace into a grotty mass of digital gloop, like some airborne virus infecting its metallic workings and reducing it to a pool of sludge on the floor.
If Rogers’ semiconductor manipulations push simple digital tech to its limits, opening up new sonic portals in the process, Klaas Hübner goes even more basic, fashioning everyday objects into sound-making devices that are full of resonant potential. Sog’s eight tracks see Hübner reimagining whirly tubes, ceiling fans, styrofoam, and cassette tapes into elegant and fragile works whose evocative chorales belie their humble originals. This is great listening, Hübner’s compositions having an almost sensuous physicality even as they seem to float in space like clouds of hyper-intelligent candy floss. Aeolian harps for the modern office. You don’t need to know how these sounds are made – Schwarzwald 1’s itchy growls are mysterious and detailed, and the recurring coos and clicks of Hübner’s manipulations of tubes and fans are mesmeric enough even if the titles didn’t hint at how those enigmatic sounds came into being. The wide-eyed chants of Chateau Poulet, for example, switch up from childlike wonder to unsettling revenant howls effortlessly, its emotional heft matched only by the seeming simplicity of its composition. But it’s fascinating to cast your eye over the insert that comes with the release, in which Hübner sketches how each individual piece was conjured into life – to learn that, in fact, the aformentioned ghostly moans of Chateau Poulet emerged from a specially created 10m-high tower containing a mechanical system which, in turn, controlled several fans, each equipped with whirly tubes. Armed with this information, we become witnesses to a heroic endeavour of sonic engineering.
Finally, a tape from label co-founder and composer Laurie Tompkins. And it’s a cracker, a chaotic mishmash of arrhythmic percussion, gasps of synth and eruptions of hair-raising yowls, all adding up to an idiosyncratic take on leftfield music, underpinned by Tompkins’ restless energy. The release notes reference Heaven 17’s At The Height of the Fighting – indeed, the album’s title is an explicit call-back to the chants which provide an essential part of that tune’s structure. But Glenn Gregory’s suave croons are a world away from these giddy bagatelles, evoking as they do a hurricane in a Sheffield charity shop. I guess you could read these compositions as an everyperson’s cries of frustration in world falling apart around their ears (crushed by the wheels of industry, perhaps?) but I can’t help sensing a kind of maniacal glee behind this, an almost daemonic joy at the destructive urges that Tompkins is unleashing within himself. Heat marshals glowing shards of plasticky synth against a misshapen carry-bag rustling while the vocals grunt and cry in exhilaration, like dinosaurs mating in a valley full of bubble wrap. But the most fun is when Tompkins lets loose on whatever percussion implements are available, battering the life out of it with the kind of cack-handed abandon that would send anyone reared on the precise complexities of Rush’s Neil Peart running for the hills. Regret’s frenetic cowbell and barrel batter is one such example, but War is even better. Its outbreak of manic handclaps and thumping resembles Steve Reich’s Clapping Music remade by a rampaging horde of silverbacks, accompanied by what sounds like a casiotone nicked from a skip, then filtered through a cheap fuzz pedal. It’s brill.