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'Erewhon Calling:
Experimental Sound in New Zealand
'

Book

Erewhon Calling: Experimental Sound in New Zealand is a lavishly-illustrated new publication from the Audio Foundation and CMR. It is a survey of how a bunch of antipodean misfits and malcontents have forged new ways and new reasons to make noise, here at the end of the earth. Edited by Bruce Russell (the Dead C.), in association with Richard Francis and Zoe Drayton; the aim of this volume is to survey the full range of 'non-standard' audio practices in contemporary NZ culture. The book's remit runs from the borders of composed art music, through improvised noise, to deconstructed 'rock'n pop filth'; and every genre, every scene, every permutation of unconventional audio practice in-between. The aim is not to be comprehensive (there is literally too much vitality and diversity for any book!). The hope is to 'throw a good handful of gravel into the pool'. While not every eel will have been hit, the surface will have been rippled from shore to shore, which is more than anyone else has even attempted before.

Erewhon Calling makes room for many voices, allowing multiple and possibly conflicting voices and points of view. A range of artists and informed commentators mainly tell their own stories, describe their own work, and outline their own goals in working on the fringes of audio culture. The readers of this important new source book will be able to discern their own meanings and make their own connections from this thought-provoking and unique publication.

 

Reviews:

A beautiful blue book that smells as good as it looks – this compendium of ‘antipodean misfits’ is also a fine size to hold and read easily – you could try it in a tiny alcove for example – unlike the Sunday Star Times or an oversized Bible. It contains various writings on and by most of the central practitioners of this fuzzy, disparate ‘scene’ and attempts to act as some sort of significant comma in the tiny sentence that is afforded New Zealand DIY underground experimental music when the standard histories are written about the usual chain of cultural ‘icons’ whom we are expected to fawn frequently over. The book covers what is commonly called sound and visual art through to ‘experimental music’ and ‘deconstructed rock n pop filth’. It has biographical sketches, first person accounts of ‘scenes’, explanations of method and craft as well as the odd commentary from wise and usually affable analysers. Most of the content is rewarding in some way. The link between what is called Sound Art and what is usually called Music is quite clear – for example the Headless Chooks song ‘Gaskrankinstation’ originally started its public life as a percussive art piece and Alaister Galbrath writes one of the best articles on his difficulties building a fire organ and making noises out of stretched wires – in fact he makes his art sound not so much like an academic exercise but more like a curious musical scientist trying stuff out to see what happens. There is a strong effort made to distance the writing from perceptions of stuffy intellectualism by many of the practitioners – as though they want to keep themselves from the dusty University and align themselves with a more everyday industrious work ethic which makes them seem more noble than elite. Cambelle Kneale is explicit about this when he explains how he ‘hates cleverness’. The writers generally want to be able to communicate simply and without obfuscation – they are not interested in any kind of aloof, sneering perspectives – and that is one of the reasons why the book is so likeable. As a kind of receptacle of this whole scene the book is determined not to make itself too prickly or obtuse and it succeeds admirably. Although many of the DIYers are fiercely individual there is still a strong sense of community throughout. We get descriptions of cooperative relationships starting up and drifting apart in Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and of course Whanganui – at points this works as a self-help guide to combating the apathy and inevitable futility that might erode your confidence or desire in the face of large scale indifference. Relationships are constructed and projects are realised, in many cases, despite the surrounding environment rather than because of it. The book is also notably free of gossipy dramas and airings of any personal grievances which means the focus stays more on the music, art and it’s processes. While most of the people involved seem undoubtedly brainy we sadly never get to find out if they are good looking. They tend to favour blurry photos, darkened rooms or half covered faces – if they are sighted at all. There are no signed posters included. It seems the cult of non-personality remains strong with this bunch and because Woman’s Weekly and the Sunday News have not at this stage caught onto the underground music wave, oversaturation is not an issue. This means the biographical sketches are refreshing and insightful. Chris Knox is the highest profile musician written about – rightfully so – but the piece on him offers a fresh angle on the usual stuff with particular emphasis on his video art and his position as a multidisciplinary DIY godfather. Many of these experimenters share his impulse to be creative in more than way – for example we get Beth Dawson’s wacked out artwork, poetry by Witcyst, musical notation from Gate and see stills from a short film made by Kim Pieters. The Matt Middleton article by Stephen Clover does a good job of describing his impact and influence but doesn’t really communicate the perverse humour and sheer ferocious volume of his work. The long interview on the Audio Foundation website is still probably the best summary of Middleton’s history. The Pumice piece by Kiran Dass on the other hand, works better because it has a more personal, natural tone. It is based on a friendly interview and the fact that the two are former housemates provides obvious warmth and chemistry to the writing. The book acts as a great starting point to the strange and fascinating world these characters might creep queerly about in – it is possible to imagine them holding gnarled hands together and whispering aphorisms about meaning and decay whilst watching Armenian soap operas in the middle of the day. But conversely these makers might just as well be your neighbour waving while they mow the lawns. They might watch NZ’s Got Talent on a Sunday night. They might be making plaster casts of pineapples or having a Mexican dinner party. There are no easy stereotypes or generalisations to be made about these characters except a strong desire to make interesting stuff. It is tempting to think that if we make them Kings and Queens all of our problems might disappear. Or maybe we just shoot down a faster chute to hell. Some of the best parts are the descriptions of how the community was spread and obsessions were formed. Record stores like Crawlspace in Auckland get recognition for their role in not only growing interest among fans but supporting artists by giving them an outlet to make music available. The story of Peter Kings lathe records is even more interesting because we get multiple views on the experience of making records with a man who clearly loved helping others. We realise how important these contributions were in getting the ‘message’ out to other like minded musicians – that it is possible to make what ever you like no matter how far outside the mainstream your idea might be. Like this one, many of the stories here are about process – the medium can be as important as the message – the journey just as important as the end result. In this world the providers, enablers and creators all respect each other equally. We also get a fine bit by Jon Bywater describing how he came to be a discoverer and fan and (as well as Bruce Russell in the editorial) he comes closest to making any overall sense of the whole business of what he calls ‘unpopular music’. He also writes well on the frustrating cul–de–sac that many musical nerds find themselves locked into – whatever style they happen to fall in love with:“Precisely because musical preferences were socially powerful, and occasionally competitive, a certain moral seriousness could condemn the esoteric and popular alike. On the one hand, the obscure was always at risk of elitism and reduction to snob value…….On the other hand, I did find goads to avoid complacency about simply accepting what music was readily at hand.” His final comment is one of the only instances in the book where a writer looks forward – calling for a fresh approach to framing the debate and message around this kind of music. An overview of this scene is clearly not going to be tidy or easily codified – that is the nature of the beast – its very nature is as frayed, spontaneous and unpredictable as a half drunk hangover. Why this disparate bunch of self confessed ‘malcontents’ is so intimidating an experience to so many – the music and art contained within this elegant book are completely unknown to the large majority of New Zealanders – is not hard to work out. Most of the work makes a virtue of the fact that it is obtuse, dissonant or eccentric. There is a celebration of the strange detail – a bum note that startles you out of your airbrushed home or a humming overwhelming, crescendo that might just fry your eyeballs off or perhaps a simple crystaline melody played with all the control of an operatic ape. These are sounds that do not admire obscurity for its own sake but the forgotten single moment or the tangled mess of random wrong parts that make up a day. It’s authenticity and importance lies in its celebration and recognition of our ordinary differences and the fact that all of us – whether we are old, young, left, female, male, right, confused or insane has our own chance to make something unique, beautiful, absurd or ugly. The Audio Foundation deserves credit for bringing together thirty of the most underrated, interesting and creative individuals of last thirty years in this one action packed volume. Also kudos to Bruce Russell – he has been involved in three archival projects this year which present a strong argument in favour of a new non-rugby ‘meglomanical fervour’ of the kind which is justified and deserving of further credit and investigation by our own bloodless majority. If you are into either New Zealand art or New Zealand music then you should seriously consider getting this book. If you are into both then this tome is essential.
The Corner (24 Sept, 2012)

When I got the mail yesterday I was lucky: one parcel containing just this book and I was done with writing reviews for that day and nothing else arrived, I flipped through the book, mumbled 'ah interesting' and then grabbed all of the CDs I have - which is actually all of them, save Omit/Dust (anyone care to sell me a copy?) - of Corpus Hermeticum, as this seemed to be the perfect soundtrack when reading such a book. Its basically what the title promises: its about experimental sound from those two islands down under, with, according to Wikipedia a population of 4.430.400, but, oh boy, what a lively musical scene. Maybe it was co-editor Richard Francis who once explained it to me (maybe it was Greg Malcolm come to think of it): such small and remote area will very unlikely see any touring bands from say the USA or Europe, so 'we all have to be in bands ourselves', and probably that's why everyone has their own label to release music on. This book tells all, through chapters on cities (Christchurch, Dunedin, Auckland, Wellington), on musicians (Chris Knox, Alastair Galbraith, Vitamin S, Matt Middleton), on festival, gallery spaces and radio, labels (CLaudia, Metonymic, krkrkr) musicians about their own work and even a nice piece on Peter King, that man with his record/lathe cutting cottage industry. All of these through relatively short pieces that are easy to read. Not everything in a great style - some of this is merely summing up names of people playing with x, before moving to y and then shortly with z - but most of the times pleasant enough. Its about crude lo-fi drone music, free improvisation, laptop music: anything that one could call experimental, which is a great thing. No separation between genres as one can see within many other countries. You play laptop, therefor you are not improvising - that kind of thing. There is one downside, I thought, and that's the role of Bruce Russell himself. He's the editor of this book, but no doubt has played an all important role in the development of experimental music in New Zealand. Through his work with The Dead C, A Handful Of Dust and important labels as Corpus Hermeticum and Xpressway, and as an initiator of concert spaces, helping hand with equipment and all such like. Its mentioned in various pieces in this book, but I fear its a bit downplayed. Maybe a next book should be all about his work? That would be a great addition to this otherwise complete book.
Vital Weekly #846 (4 Sept, 2012)

In Erewhon Calling – Experimental Sound in New Zealand, editor Bruce Russell repeatedly states that the aim for this book was not to create a comprehensive survey of sound art and experimental music in New Zealand. I can’t help but wonder if he is being intentionally self-deprecating, as a reflection the national cultural tendency that he so accurately identifies: “we regard boasting about (or even referring to) one’s own achievements as the height of ill-breeding.” Is he scared of offending those he has neglected to mention? Is he fending off anticipated criticism? I can’t quite figure it out because, as far as I can tell, this is the most comprehensive survey anyone could hope to achieve. This is the Bible of sound art and experimental music in New Zealand. In this Bible, Russell has managed to describe a genre whilst leaving the definition of this genre ambiguous. He has intentionally blurred the edges around what it actually ‘is’ by including writing on the work and contexts of a vast array of completely different sound-makers – from Phil Dadson to Stink Magnetics to Michael Morley. This is a not a book to pick up and read all at once. It is a book to cherish, to mull over, and to ponder. Each essay is an education. Each illustration, each photograph, is deserving of careful study. The cleverness of it as a whole – which is, simultaneously, both a guide and a piece of art – is not something the reader can grasp immediately. The book is an object in its own right, a beautifully constructed piece of graphic design that is both humble and confident in its execution. At times it acts predictably as the textbook the editor assures us it isn’t, yet at other times it subverts the conventions of this form, challenging the reader with unattributed contributions and wayward prose. Staggeringly, there are fifty-one contributors to Erewhon Calling. The writing extends from essays and interviews and discussions all the way through to freeform prose poetry. The images are of paintings, photographs, comics, drawings, diagrams, posters, video stills, magazine covers, zine covers, and album covers. The content is all given the same egalitarian treatment: the same fonts are used; the same format is maintained; and images are given full plates (all in black and white), or sit tidily, captioned, next to the text. This rules applies throughout the book except for in the bits that aren’t like this at all, which – and this is genius – seem to have been chosen arbitrarily. Breaks in form and tone occur spontaneously. By my interpretation, the shape this book takes indicates just how it wears its politics on its sleeve. Hierarchies are established and then broken down – there is a predictable biographical essay on Chris Knox, tenderly penned by Byron Coley, and then, some chapters later, an essay of equal length on the little-known but massively prolific Matt Middleton, written by his long-time admirer Stephen Clover. Without the lexicon of recent New Zealand music history, a reader might assume the two men had equal weight in our story of sound. And why not? As a reader I was drawn to the moments in the book I recognised and identified with. Is this a country so small we could all find people we know between the covers of Erewhon Calling? I kind of hope so. In saying that, in some of the essays I was lost amidst the lists of names and places. At times I must admit that I did feel like I was trying to follow some of the authors’ rambling recollections of the not-so-distant past, which read as desperate efforts not to forget anything or anyone. This seemed kind of inevitable, and it didn’t really matter. Not really. If the whole anthology had been like this it would have made for a dense and unexciting read, but as it was, the memoirs shifted between the general and the personal in a way that gave me a much deeper understanding of the world these artists are and/or were inhabiting. I was equally charmed by Alistair Galbraith’s frankness about his own financial situation – “Everybody knows you can’t earn a living as an ‘alternative’ musician in New Zealand” – as I was by Su Ballard’s thorough descriptions of the ways different public art galleries in New Zealand had attempted to present sound art – her praise of Tina Barton and Laura Preston’s work at the Adam Art Gallery was a significant highlight. Daniel Beban, Nell Thomas, and Jeff Henderson manage to avoid accidental monotonous list creation by deliberately creating monotonous lists in their account of Wellington’s alternative alternative music scene. Their dedication to facilitating experimental sound in the windy city is communicated so clearly in the inventory of spaces they have run and the folks they have worked with. The vibrancy of the Wellington scene is then beautifully contrasted with the barren landscape of the nineties in Auckland. A piece by Andrew Scott subtitled “people arrived alone and left alone” beautifully captures the isolation that experimental music makers felt at that time in the big smoke. I remember that vibe so well… from behind the counter at Beautiful Music, where I briefly worked, I would visualise the city and only be able to identify a few spaces I wanted to be in – Artspace, Beautiful Music, Crawlspace – with nowhere else in between. Scott nails this, using a layered prose form that references The Flaming Lips multi track masterpiece, Zaireeka. There are also essays on the scenes in Christchurch (both pre and post-quake) and in Dunedin – rich portrayals of specific projects (including the Christchurch tram-based sound experience Trambience) and spaces (such as None Gallery, where artists are forging a new Dunedin scene). As I said, ignore Russell – this thing is comprehensive. I did find myself wondering about the audience for this book. I’m guessing it would be pretty niche. I’m an artist, my partner is a musician. I get it – we’re the niche. In saying that, there is a human-ness to the writing that means you don’t have to be a train spotter to get into it. There are moments like the one in the lovely candid conversation Campbell Kneale has about ‘sound art’ with Antony Milton, where Kneale says: “I make all sorts of things… music and paintings, but also dinner, wonky furniture, a home for my partner and kids. I’m a high school art teacher… None of these things are of greater or lesser importance in the grand scheme of things.” This is wonderful. It keeps it real. It’s this sentiment that makes me yearn for this to be the book that high school art teachers, like Campbell Kneale, start using as a reference in both art and music classes. Wouldn’t that be a coup?
Scoop (20 Sept, 2012)

Although New Zealand has a comparatively short history of original and indigenous music (outside of waiata, of course), there has also been a significant tradition of experiment in sound, which in one direction we might date back to Douglas Lilburn's work in the mid-Sixties when he founded Victoria University's electronic studio. From that lineage came the likes of John Rimmer, John Cousins, Jack Body (whose experiments with found sound and street songs of Indonesia are still compelling) and many others. In the Eighties there was a vibrant experimental scene - music rather than "sound" admittedly -- around Ivan Zagni in Auckland (Don McGlashan, Steve Garden, Avant-Garage, Big Sideways etc) and in Wellington the free-jazz leanings of the Braille collective, the legacy of which lives on in the iiii label. Running parallel there was also Bruce Russell's Xpressway label out of Dunedin which gave voice to the sounds of the Dead C, solo experiments by Michael Morley (sometimes as Gate) and Alistair Galbraith . . .And so it goes. Experimenting with sound has been quite a distinct and strong thread within the broader spectrum of New Zealand music, and sometimes it almost eases into the public domain (in bands like Bailer Space, Dead C, This Kind Punishment etc.) This collection of essays, think-pieces, fanzine writing and what we might call sonic autobiography charts an interestingly haphazard path but ultimately offers a thought-provoking overview of recent experimental work, and usefully has a weblink (here) to relevant sound samples. In his introduction, editor Bruce Russell says the aim was not to offer a "single-author text-book approach [which] could only ever be both inherently biased and too limited in perspective" but "to allow room for many voices . . . to make a collage from multiple and possibly conflictng voices and points of view". That seems an admirable attempt at inclusiveness, but on careful reading you sometimes get the impression that, for some of the writers, history began -- as it did in Billy Joel's We Didn't Start the Fire -- with the first thing they remember. There is an inherent bias and limited perspective, inevitable if you are writing about your own work or that of your friends. It actually falls to the more academic writers like Andrew Clifford -- who writes a crisp overview of sonic art festivals from Jack Body's Sonic Circus in '74 -- to offer the larger picture. Nothing comes from nothing, as Shakespeare wrote, and this historical overview allows us to locate some of the other rather more self-interested writers into the greater landscape. There is other excellent and evocative writing here -- notably Phil Dadson's poetic and focused snapshots of sound locations, and Peter Stapleton's broad swathe through Dunedin noise in the late Nineties -- and for those of us who weren't there, Zita Joyce writes a distinctive piece about music and videos which came from the Trambience project (tram rides) in the Christchurch in the 2000s which is one of the rare event pieces which went directly to the public.Kiran Dass -- through personal recollection and interview soundbites -- makes an excellent and compelling case for you to flick to the website to hear the experimental noise of Auckland's Stefan Neville aka pumice.There are other equally provocative profiles and sometimes slightly self-aggrandising (but no less interesting) pieces here, but you cannot help observe that for many of these artists/performers the word "experimental" equate almost directly to "noise", sometimes unmediated. That absence of the long view also means that many of those on the cusp of classical and avant-garde (and into that mix we might also throw John Psathis, Dave Lisik and others out of Wellington's Victoria University) don't get a look in, and they are certainly experimenting with sound through loops, samples, layering etc in much the same technical/technological way as some of those included. They just aren't as noisy. Perhaps once too often you get the sense that this is a small world talking to itself. That's no bad thing and Russell's intro allows/encourages exactly that. But there are also weak pieces too. Byron Cooley's fanview/overview of the career of Chris Knox from the Enemy onwards encompasses (as it should) his innovative handmade film/video clips as well as the use of tape loops in Tall Dwarfs' songs. But this is a thin piece -- based on a 1991 interview apparently -- which doesn't address the fact that much of Knox's output is lo-fi and fuzzed up pop, but pop in structure and intent nonetheless. And it seems absurd that Knox's most experimental outing -- the album Inaccuracies and Omissions as Friend, from 2003 -- should go unacknowledged. It's an essay in itself. It is however good to see Peter King's record pressing operation here alongside an essay on Unpopular Music by Jon Bywater. However Bywater makes a statement which some may well disagree with strongly: "I see no reason to disagree that if someone has found a comfort and pleasure in music that is disordered or overwhelming -- and that rewards high levels of cognitive engagement -- this is likely to reflect a relationship of greater toleration and criticality in wider situations." Frankly my experience has been the exact opposite. Those whose taste and inclinations run to "disorder" can be damning, judgmental, aloof and arrogant about other musics or, worse, mainstream audience tastes. There is a superiority evident that often has a moral tone and comes loaded with condecension. That makes the slightly heretical coversation between Campbell Kneale and Anthony Milton refreshing when Milton yawns about "sound art" and the pretensions which come with the field, and how, " 'What I do' has become calcified into a language that I find easy and natural to speak" and how he hates "cleverness". His sleeves up and doing it approach immediately makes you want to hear a sound sample (It is terrific, withering and willful noise.) So this collection of pieces sometimes feels like a conversation in a small room between mutual admirers, but also lets an important discourse collect in a specific place. However, it goes without saying -- but too often goes unsaid here -- that not every experiment is successful. 
Graham Reid (3 Sept, 2012)

Ideas. Perspective. Contention. Innovative use of texts. A broad spread of voice, age and geography. First person documentary and evaluation. Unique potted history. There is much to admire in Erewhon Calling: Experimental Sound in New Zealand, the Bruce Russell edited and Audio Foundation published compendium of thought, image and voice on and about our productive and long-lived experimental music community. There is a lot of good history here. Good as in factually sound, challenging and congruent with contemporary thought. Jon Dale is right to locate a distinct environmental (regional) element in Garbage and The Flowers after basing initial thoughts around a nationalist interpretation. The concept of "New Zealand music" is a crude and flawed one based on a history of similar interpretations in art, literature and film. Nationalism when applied compromises and subjugates specific identity. It was - as Francis Pound indicates in The Making of New Zealand – most likely a necessary transitory phase. Trans-nationalism, as used by New Zealand film historians, where external and internal influence are assimilated, interpreted and spun back outwards provides a better understanding of how creative culture operates in the era of modern communications. How else would you explain the experience of Branden W. Joseph in the book's opening essay, which describes his discovery and growing knowledge of experimental music from New Zealand, encountered through record shops in Cambridge (Mass.) and New York. The music now inhabits an international space where there are often no New Zealanders physically present, but where it is influential none-the-less. Kiran Dass's account of Stefan Neville and Pumice is a bit of a departure for her. It is a fine piece of localised biographical history with plenty of detail that is less personal (despite the echo of her own path) and judgmental than much of her work that I am familiar with (although the comments under the discography are classic Kiran). I'd like to see her attempt some history writing on a period she has no direct involvement with. The potential is definitely there. Peter Stapleton, whose attempt at a history of the free noise movement in Dunedin in the 1990s (of which he was a central figure) is flat and unwieldy, could learn a thing or two from her about structure and pacing. He evokes the time poorly and his analysis is thin, patchy and weakly argued, when it exists at all. Mostly he's just rendered down what was a fascinating time to a list. These are basic mistakes. Jon Bywater traces a simple personal path that ably locates the trajectory from more accessible (popular) influence to the lesser known (unpopular). The early part of which is often conveniently 'forgotten' by those wishing to fit into academia. Andrew Clifford's (incomplete) history of sound art festivals (he misses out Off The Deep End improvisational festival staged in Wellington's Thistle Hall in April 1985) is nonetheless intelligent, valuable and highly readable. There is also some thought in Erewhon Calling, I'd dispute. Byron Coley's narrow reading of Chris Knox flatters to deceive. It would take a book to describe fully Knox's influence. He certainly deserves more than the warmed up 1990s thinking Coley dishes up. The American critic's knowledge of New Zealand music history is scrappy, out-dated and limited as are the conclusions he draws from it. I don't say this lightly as he's been a good servant of our creative culture over the years. Andrew Scott's personal reading of the 1990s in Auckland sits somewhere between those two broad groupings. It had me nodding and shaking my head in equal measure. More on that soon, but first let me declare my interest. Stu and Gonzo Schmidt, who ran Crawlspace Records and its associated labels in Auckland from 1992 – 2001 and are recalled favourably by Andrew, are my younger brothers and I was a frequent visitor to the three Crawlspaces in Customs Street East and the two La Gonda arcade sites on K Road. The music they sold and enabled was the main source of sound for my stereo (and ears) throughout that busy and exciting decade. It was in effect a second row seat as the community at the core of this book rose and established themselves. Andrew is right in placing Crawlspace somewhere near the centre of the experimental sound community (especially in Auckland) in the second half of the 1990s, through the shop's role in encouraging and making available sounds from the wider country. It was as much a community centre as a record shop. People and ideas flowed through that place daily under Stu's watchful eye. Being more a listener than a talker helped. Several times a week I'd be on the phone to download that experience and it was rarely anything less than interesting. Scott is also correct in discerning a "gentle polemicising" in Crawlspace Records kaupapa. The shop actively sourced, stocked and sold one of the most remarkable arrays of music available in the city. Musicians and labels were valued and paid promptly for their effort. It was also an open space where the established and emerging alike were treated with equal respect. None of this was accidental. It was an extension of ideals discerned from the punk and post-punk era. Dan Vellor – a long time friend of the shop who contributes a well thought through and researched piece on the Geraldine lathe cut phenomenon – might be interested to know that one of the first Geraldine singles was Zooper's 1990 release of Doomed Destiny/ Tryst/ Digger. Zooper being Stu's pre-Crawlspace Hamilton trio. And that Peter King thought so much of Crawlspace's role that on the shop's closing, he donated a complete collection of Geraldine pressings (carvings?) up to that time. Stevie Kaye in an otherwise fine piece about The Wine Cellar draws the wrong conclusion about Crawlspace's closure. It wasn't due to high rents or cultural turnover, it was the rising exchange rate and exhaustion. Scott's piece is at times a little too trope-ridden especially in stating that Auckland lacks a history of music. Auckland's music history is one of the richest in the country and despite having long been painted adversely and one dimensionally, the city is an accepting and enabling centre which supports endeavour from throughout the country. Groups from all over can usually find an audience for their music – live and recorded - there if they persevere. Musical Auckland is a meritocracy. A contested meeting and trading place for different tribes in line with its Maori and Scots influenced history. What Auckland lacks are focussed written music histories. It is not perfect nor should it be immune from criticism, but too often that criticism comes from those who have never lived there or have engaged fleetingly and negatively with the city, defining themselves in defensive opposition to it usually by propagating narrow uninformed stereotypes of what is a complex multi-layered twining of communities. There is no one monolithic Auckland rather there are many Auckland's. The harbour city is forever absorbing immigrants from both within and outside the country. Many of those who come, end up staying. Gonzo and Stu are evidence of this having grown up in Paeroa later making their way north from Hamilton in the 1980s and early 1990s. There is plenty of evidence in Erewhon Calling to suggest Auckland has been a positive experience for musicians and fans. Too often the critical interpretation of the journey that creatives take stagnates around a constricted and inward looking sense of space and place wherein philosophical and psychological isolation is conflated to physical and cultural isolation. I would suggest that the first part of any journey outside your background (where ever it begins) is a lonely one, but that that road leads to the community sought and found. Too often the shadow of that early experience is cast over the whole experience. While I agree that the (late 1980s and) early 1990s was a down spot for related musical activity in the city, by 1993, things were looking up. The artists that Scott talks about as early influences – Sonic Youth and Nirvana – were drawing large crowds to shows in Auckland as the American underground exploded and our access to its music and the people themselves became more open than ever before. Key early groups such as Thela (on their first lathe cut record) from which Dion Workman, Rosy Parlane and Dean Roberts emerged from altogether rockier beginnings. A path Peter Wright traces well. By mid-decade, the busy and vigorous grouping of sound artists/ shapers/ etc that Scott talks about was rising, but it didn't rise in isolation. Another issue I have with interpretations of the time is the inclination to minimise the popularity of this music in the 1990s by playing the musical victim card. It jars with my memory of the packed shows The Dead C performed @Luna. One of which Marcel Bear (Empirical) opened with a shimshaw duo (with Rosy Parlane from memory). Marcel was also behind my favourite performance of the era wherein he manipulated the feedback from a hollow body guitar through a radio receiver in Peter Porteous' living room in Mount Eden. I remember a lot of activity of this nature in Auckland. Jeff Henderson, Dan Beban and Nell Thomas's fractured history/ action plan based on the free jazz/ poetry experience in Wellington in the 1970s is fascinating in reflecting the times in its style and intent. One of the pleasing aspects of writing from this broad community has been the outward-looking inclusive nature of recent investigation tracing sound trajectories back to pioneers such as these and Phil Dadson. A word of warning though. Just because a tradition exists doesn't mean that it's connected to contemporary activity in more than spirit. History is often researched backwards by people taking pieces of the past to justify the needs of the present and that is a mistake. The true picture is way more involved and "compromised." You need to start at the beginning (which will most likely be pushed backwards) and work forward. Erewhon Calling has particularly strong documentary with Alastair Galbraith, Mark Williams, Jo Burzynska and Su Ballard contributing well-observed, written pieces on their respective endeavours or involvements. These are well supported by an array of texts (drawings/ photos/ diagrams/ paintings) and less obvious writing, which, while they may take a little longer to surrender meaning will through the engagement provoked more clearly demonstrate intellectual paths, process and thinking. Hopefully they'll be more work and publications of this quality from the Audio Foundation. There is a much larger group of experimental musicians out there who haven't been included - the early to mid 1980s Wellington and Auckland post-punk avant garde for one - and there is still plenty of room left for a narrative history. The difference is that the job for those who come next has now been made a lot easier. Thanks to Zoe at Audio Foundation for the review copy. It's appreciated in these straitened times.
Mysterex (1 Oct, 2012)

New Zealand’s geographic isolation has caused a great deal of its music to develop a distinctive ‘edge of the world’ piquancy, a flavor that is especially ripe in its experimental music scene. Erewhon Calling: Experimental Sound in New Zealand is the very first compendium to shine a light on the “antipodean misfits and malcontents” of NZ’s outsider music scenes (many of whom are celebrated internationally, while being underappreciated at home). The book is edited by Bruce Russell (Dead C), and published by label CMR and NZ’s avant-garde sound archive, the Audio Foundation. Designed by Richard Francis, it’s wonderfully presented, highlighting a diverse range of artists and unorthodox auditory escapades. With the aim of surveying an extensive collection of non-standard audio adventures, Erewhon Calling covers a wide assortment of nonconformist musical fields. Its 40-plus contributors come from various music scenes: noise, electronica, free jazz, electro-acoustic, musique concrete, sound/art installation, field recording, and industrial (as well as plenty of mish-mash, “hypothesis-governed”, unclassifiable genres). The book is filled with an extensive array of personal anecdotes, artwork, photography, conversational tales, and a few high-minded commentaries, all bound by the simple premise of exploring architectures of nontraditional sound.  Articles from artists such as Kraus (“I want my music to be useful… for people like me and my friends: freaks, outsiders, weirdos, losers”) or Mr Sterile Assembly (“I make music because I don’t spin pottery”) reveal the pleasure of experimenting with strange sounds, negating conformity, and reconnoitering alternative pathways. Essays on Chris Knox, and on Peter King’s renowned lathe record operation, explore the crucial importance of these characters in the development of underground NZ music. Artworks, photography and diagrammatic instructions from the likes of None Gallery, Omit, Zoe Drayton, Beth Dawson, and Michael Morley, among others, illustrate the intersection of sound and art. They offer succinct, albeit multiplex glimpses of the varying modi operandi of musical/visual artists. Erewhon Calling‘s scope highlights the “nodes and connections” between NZ’s offbeat sonic alchemists. The sharing of ideas and pragmatic techniques between allies built the infrastructure for non-standard music in NZ (as it has throughout the world). Articles illuminating historic aspects of the Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland underground scenes highlight the collective strength of their communities, which enabled the influence of NZ experimental music to push well beyond the nation’s borders. Experimental music is, of course, haunted by the ghosts of academia and pretension, and Erewhon Calling doesn’t hide from that fact. A brutally frank discussion between Antony Milton and Campbell Kneale (“sound art… (yawn)”) kicks pomposity and high-minded ideals in the guts, and the surreal poetic ramblings of Witcyst and White Saucer offer irreverent viewpoints. More cerebral pieces amplify intellectual pursuits. Alastair Galbraith explores the technical aspects of his musical sculpturing, and Andrew Clifford examines interdisciplinary and inter-medial works. Each article in the book takes a different slant, and differing opinions are rife. But the diversity of outlooks reflects experimental music’s perceived virtues and imperfections with candor—dispelling stereotypical misconceptions, and reaffirming a few assumptions along the way. Russell points out that Erewhon Calling doesn’t aim to be an all-encompassing snapshot of NZ’s experimental scene. The hope is to “throw a good handful of gravel into the pool… which is more than anyone else has even attempted before.” Given that the majority of books written about the NZ music scene have been single-authored volumes filled with seemingly endless odes to Split Enz, the fact that Russell and the publishers have taken such a broad approach is to be applauded. There are some omissions, and voices you might have hoped to hear are absent, such as that of Wellington’s multi-genre noise-maker Rory Storm. Some howls from the caverns of frenzied, putrefied underground metal also wouldn’t have gone amiss. Still, as Russell notes, with a scene as dynamic as NZ’s experimental realm, it would be impossible to gather all the threads in this first tapestry. Allowing the artists to explain, in their own voices, what they’re doing and what it all means to them is the book’s very best feature. The collage of tales and images depicts a field of expression that is understandably ill-defined, and while the multi-voiced interpretations clear some of the smoke, many artists’ works still lack clear codification. The diversity of artists’ histories, conflicting truths and multiple perspectives encourage you to identify connections, find your own meaning, and draw your own conclusions. It’s a fantastic feature of the book, mirroring what attracts fans to experimental music in the first place. Erewhon Calling is a source book of ingredients both complex and simple, and a hugely important first step in honoring the innovation to be found in NZ’s experimental music scene. Fans of avant-garde music will be well aware that NZ’s underground scene has influenced endless spectra of noise, and has inspired independent artists and record labels worldwide. The hardheaded DIY culture that imbues so many of NZ’s artistic endeavors is exemplified in every article, demonstrating that geographical distance has not hindered creativity one iota. Erewhon Calling is the sound of “the edge of the world broadcasting back.” In its enigmatic and divergent content, the variances and disorder express the unconventionality of NZ’s most radical music perfectly.
Pop Matters (9 Oct, 2012)

 

 

 

 

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NZ$45 + post

CMR28
Book
Released August 2012

Edited by Bruce Russell in association with
Richard Francis and the Audio Foundation

Text / page works by Branden W. Joseph, Phil Dadson, Bruce Russell, Michael Morley, Byron Coley, Alastair Galbraith, Empirical, White Saucer, Clayton Noone, Andrew Clifford, Jeff Henderson, Daniel Beban and Nell Thomas, Su Ballard, Jon Bywater, Dan Vallor, Clinton Watkins, Witcyst, Andrew Scott, Campbell Kneale and Antony Milton, Vitamin S, Jon Dale, Mark Williams, Lee Noyes, Nathan Thompson, Beth Dawson, Sean O'Reilly, Kraus, Sean Kerr, Peter Stapleton, Stephen Clover, Dugal McKinnon, Omit, Peter Wright, Jo Burzynska, Ian-John Hutchinson, Kim Pieters, Paul Winstanley, Gentle Persuasion, Zoe Drayton, Simon Cuming, Stevie Kaye, Rachel Shearer, Richard Francis, Rosy Parlane, Kiran Dass, None Gallery, Zita Joyce, mr sterile Assembly, Ben Spiers.

Designed by Richard Francis (rfs.net.nz)
Co-published by Audio Foundation and CMR,
August 2012
ISBN: 978-0-473-21766-2

Soft-cover
192 pages (black and white)
Edition of: 900
Dimensions: 170mm x 240mm x 16mm
Individually shrinkwrapped

The Audio Foundation and CMR gratefully acknowledge the support of Creative New Zealand for this project.