The multi-talented Graham Dunning has, through no fault of his own, been a noticeable absence from this blog. How this lamentable state of affairs has come to pass is unfathomable. It’s certainly no reflection on the quality of his releases, whether the deeply considered free improv excursions with Colin Webster (check their most recent tape, Oval, on Tombed Visions for an unparalleled glimpse into their murky world), the astonishing Heath Robinson-meets-Derrick May bump of his mechanical techno outings (Auxon provides a good sonic record of this project although it really does need to be seen to be believed), the quirkiness of his ‘music by the metre’ releases (At Home With Spanish is a particular favourite), or any other of his bewildering amount of collaborations, projects and solo releases. True, getting to grips with his output can be a bit daunting – just as you focus on one release another comes flying past – but the simple fact is that I’m in awe of how Dunning manages to unlock his restless creativity.
Dawn into Dusk is a split cassette with Tom Wallace in which both artists present their take on the art of field recording. Released earlier this year, it was the fourth release on Daniel Lucas and Edward Kordik’s fab Earshots label, whose discography so far has highlighted interesting corners of London’s free improvisation scene (read my reviews of previous releases here, here and here). The attraction of this captivating tape comes from the massive difference in approach of the two artists. Wallace’s six pieces, culled from walks around the forests of South Asia at various times of the day or night, sit firmly within the tradition of wildlife recordings, with their attendant values of fidelity and clarity. Dunning’s cut, meanwhile, is a playback of ghostly urban soundscapes on trashed dubplates, full of gritty crackles, scratches and pops – ‘an absurd, abstract sound collage performed for an empty dancefloor’ as he puts it – at south London’s Corsica Studios.
South Asia versus London, rural versus urban, lo-fi crackle versus (relative) clarity – the differences between the pieces couldn’t be more marked. Yet listening to these two sides back-to-back, one is struck by the similarities between them. Sure, Wallace’s recording of the Kelimutu Volcano in Indonesia is as teeming with birdsong, hoots and animal cries as any Radio 4 nature documentary – not to mention being a gorgeous treat for the ears and brain. But his recording of the cicada chorus at dusk in Tarutao Island, Thailand, creates a sonic environment one might associate with sources closer to home – check out the splintered hiss near the start, that soon gives way to a piercing sine-tone like ring halfway through, all of which brings to mind some kind of electroacoustic improvisation at a basement in Dalston. Elsewhere the fuzzy drone and high-end chirrups of the Malua Forest Reserve in Malaysian Borneo seem to channel the ‘extraction music’ of the northeastern UK’s drone scene, as exemplified by Daniel Thomas’s Sheepscar Light Industrial label. Similarly, Dunning’s mix, with its clamour of voices and echoing hubbub, all swathed in a hissy vinyl fug, has a disconcertingly spectral feel, their contemporaneity replaced with disembodied, uncanny resonance. This could just as easily be a transmission from the distant past, the ghosts of a long-dead city in the Asian jungle played back through a wax cylinder. The constant shuttling between exotic and familiar across these tracks challenges our perceptions of what particular environments should sound like, while also reminding us of astonishing sonic diversity of the world around us.
Like an episode of The Archers corrupted by flesh-eating undead, You Are A New Creature, Dunning’s collaboration with Tom White, explores the potential of foley recordings to create sound collages of discomforting physicality.
Along with their usual tools of turntables and reel-to-reel tapes, Dunning and White deploy an impressive range of organic and inorganic gubbins – leeks, rubber gloves, lasagne sheets, rice, beef tomatoes and, apparently, human flesh – to bring their spontaneous compositions to squelchy, squishy life. There are two examples of this gut-churning mush-up on offer here, one recorded at the IMT Gallery in London, accompanying The Stuff, an 80s B-movie featuring a malignant yoghurt that zonks human brains and turns eaters into zombies, the other recorded a couple of weeks earlier at a different space.
Both amp up the body horror to full effect, although Battle Overall Perspective – the IMT Gallery performance – achieves a more fulfilling level of grossness, perhaps due to the additional contributions of Andrea Kearney and Stuart Tait (‘on crisps’) and Jennifer Pengilly (‘on rice drop’). It’s hard not to listen to this track in particular and think of fleshy bodies being invaded, transformed and corrupted into horrific hybrids – the panoply of queasy gurgles, itchy rustles and vomity heaves that the quintet produces is really something, evoking all sorts of associations from the canon of yukky classics, even if you haven’t seen the particular film that serves as its inspiration. Think instead of Jeff Goldblum’s ‘Brundlefly’, the globby shapeshifters of The Thing and the venereal parasite pervs of Shivers. And if its companion piece, Raking Leaves on Blacktop, lacks the sheer variety of nauseous sonics, it more than makes up for it with a concentrated blast of visceral lurch, the plasticky squeals and liquid spurts almost as pleasant as feeling a surgeon root around in your guts while under local anaesthetic. It ain’t painful, but you sure know they’re in there.
The tape is rounded off by the nostalgia fest of Reveille Bugle Call, in which the duo channel the spirit of classic John Carpenter synth soundtracks to create a thrillingly atmospheric goo, mashing up ominous synth chords with cheesy horror samples (screams, creaking doors, etc) and warped tape effects. It’s about as scary as an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer but as fun as watching back-to-back Friday the 13th movies at an all-night frightfest in your local fleapit. Who said experimental music couldn’t be fun?