On his Twitter profile, Joe Murray describes the scraggy carnage of his Dictaphone collages as ‘Doofus tape fiddle’. It’s an apt description, both meaningless on the usual semantic level while making a perfect kind of imagistic sense. Murray has a poet’s ear for the inherent strangeness of language and the voices that makes it, but unlike (most) poets his focus is on those extra-linguistic elements – the grunts of boredom, howls of emotion and verbal spacefillers that we humans use as crutches for our inarticulacy, but filter out in the warp and weft of everyday conversation. In the Dictaphone, that imperfect, limited recording device cursed by PAs everywhere, Murray has picked a technology as imperfect yet flexible as language itself. That apparatus adds maximum estrangement to the syllables it records, so much so that even the most banal correspondence is rendered as odd as it were beamed back to earth from a remote lunar outpost. It’s this, perhaps, that’s the reason for Posset works standing out from that distinguished company that runs through larynx garglers like Phil Minton, Iris Garrelfs and Sharon Gal to tape wranglers such as Luke Poot and Duncan Harrison. All artists worthy of celebration, true. But a Posset release always does something slightly …else, merging humour with sobriety, innocence with worldweariness, indeterminacy with structure.
You get all this for sure in the 24 or so minutes of The Gratitude Vest, released by Gateshead’s Invisible City Records. Its two side-long collages were created in situ by a roving Murray and his trusty instrument, then stitched together post priori using free editing software – a methodology just sophisticated enough to let Murray create something more than a succession of lively hoots and hollers. As a result,The Gratitude Vest is a considered, often rather austere work that questions the potential of language as a tool for communication as much as it celebrates the sonic diversity of what comes out of our lungs and throats. Indeed, parts of it are downright eerie – the distorted screeches and squeals that open side A, for example, spattered with a pitter-patter of hollow knocks, or the odd worn out bells and groans later. They evoke the spectral cries of those electronic voice phenomenon recordings, as if Murray has left his Dictaphone running by mistake while he’s popped off for a mug of tea, allowing the not-quite-departed to escape from their limbo and into the spools. In between, a cascade of overlapping burble acts as an absurdist balance to the spookiness, spewing out in a hysterical torrent of glossolalia.
This voicerush is a continuing Posset obsession. Sounds and syllables are continually wrenched out of everyday usage and morphed into unrecognizable shapes, or repeated so much they become meaningless. At the end of side B, Murray cooks up a stew of disconcertingly-alien sounding phonemes – some of which seem to be computer-generated, others human, some with accents and others without, some possibly Chinese in origin, others maybe English – and serves it to us in typically deadpan fashion. It’s a tad bewildering, like a malfunctioning speechbot looping ‘round every sound fragment in its databank. Fortunately, there’s still enough of a sensory imprint left by the endearingly earnest children’s voices of the previous segment to avoid total cognitive overload.
Jazz Hands, Bloody Jazz Hands sets Posset in tandem with Sindre Bjerga, culled from two gigs in Newcastle, one in 2015 the other 2016. It’s a lot more knockabout than the vowelly sculptures of The Gratitude Vest, with plenty of the trademark Bjerga warp and woof to keep the energy levels up.
Bjerga must be one of the hardest-touring artists in showbiz, and that Dylan-like commitment to the road can give his recorded output a slightly prosaic consistency, culled as it almost exclusively is from gig recordings.
However, Murray’s presence helps cast a more unexpected note, with his mayhem keeping Bjerga clear of too many tried and tested gestures. There’s a whole farmyard full of squawks and shrieks at the very start of Side A, intriguingly titled Relax, A Plan Is Just a Plan, with an initial jolt of cassette squeeze and Dictaphone yell transmogrifying into a heaving gruel of spindle winding and tinny crashing. Side B (title: Static Runners – Electric Nosh) seems more subdued, although the rubbery farting suggest that someone may be playing silly buggers with inflated balloons, which is all well and good until they all start bursting. Never mind. Tears before bedtime are averted by a constant drizzle of radio barf and hissy distraction, as if someone had overdone the shrooms on toast at the local tea dance and left the Rotary Club crew slumped, glassy-eyed on their divans while the gramophone runs slowly down. Fun, you say? Don’t mind if I do.