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Unsound Adelaide Review 2014-Lee Gamble, Cut Hands, Morton Subotnik, Nurse With Wound

After the organised cinematic elegance of Snowtown: Live & Stars of the Lid in rarefied surrounds on the first night, it is a nice contrast to return to the stone & ferrous girder Queens Theatre amongst a motley assortment of our experimental music devotees. Go read Adelaide Festival Director David Sefton’s interview with ABC – I really like this quote:  “There is a definite ‘people coming out of their bedroom’ quality to it. Though I totally empathise – I am one of those people.”  David, there is little doubt you are.

First up producer Lee Gamble enveloped us in a blanket of deep space ambience, while visions of neuronal & synaptic firing illuminated the back drop.  But not satisfied to leave us in a drone driven purgatory, a subtle beat driven subharmony evolves and grows until we find our own physicality unconsciously moving to vaguely gabba-esque rhythms, maybe even some drum & debased if you will. There was an impressive range of creativity here that painted not only in the palette of modern danceable avant-garde but seemed to draw on almost militant elements I associate with the Swedish dark ambient-industrial scene of the late 1990’s.

Cut Hands is the latest brainchild of William Bennett of old school industrial pioneers “Whitehouse” fame.  Immediately the stylistic cues reminded me of the playfulness of Yello (with considerably less Geneva beige) bouncing against flashes of more melancholic Dead Can Dance tribal renderings.  Powerful, danceable rhythms from Haiti, Cuba & Africa with stygian noisescapes tapping into something primal and chthonic.  I need to stress, it is definitely its own thing, it is not a simple recasting of traditional form.   But it is probably the first time I have heard a serious considered electronic exploration of Vodoun polyrhythms since Rodney Orpheus’s side project Sun God. There is a sentiment that William to an extent is experimenting not only with the music, but with the listener and/or dancer. Our Western brains try to process rhythms one way, and sometimes our bodies process them another way. Compelling stuff.

Morton Subotnik , being the only octogenarian on the bill, is as “old skool” as you are going to get given his pioneering work in electronic music in the late 1960’s.  Organic and analogue, his up front unapologetic minimalist opening in Silver Apples of the Moon forced you to shut up and listen, which people did. He may have worked sans drums, but the kids seemed to get it – picking up on the subliminal rhythms, an almost invisible waltz to the ear.  He built his sonic creations in layers, expertly sound sculpturing and revelling in the lux/nox interfaces. The applause he received was only confirmation to me that those attending are not looking for the next wave of dance music, but are happy to look backwards and understand the genesis.

Finally Nurse With Wound addressed us all with an unusual musical violence. Not brutal and physical, but more like psychological stress positions. Implosions of sound, internalised, almost vascular in their journey. Stephen Stapleton promised the possibility of unforseen collaborators on the night and that came in the form of Hungarian vocalist Attila Csihar who is here for other performances within the Adelaide Festival.  His delivery of improvised echolalic screeches, intonations and electronically processed vocalisations added fuel to the screened backing film of incendiary near-snuff. The musical metastasis before us differed from some of the otherwise highly programmed acts previously in Unsound in that there was room allowed for error. Being principally improvised means that sometimes a musical passage was but a transition to moments of brilliance when the group telepathy was truly onto something – whether that be in the territory of deep drone or unexpected beat-monologue led guitar assaults in blue.

If the two Unsound Festivals to date are but scratching the surface of avant-garde musical ingenuity, then I say it is time to dig in the fingernails and draw blood with a third year.

Posted by Jonathan on Mar 10th 2014 | Filed in Events,Music,People,Reviews | Comments (0)

Unsound Adelaide Review 2014 – Snowtown Live (Jed Kurzel) & Stars Of The Lid

In stark contrast to the colonial decay of Queens Theatre that seems an ideal crucible for much of the Unsound line up, tonight’s first Unsound performance is instead within the more regal splendour of the Adelaide Town Hall. Pristine decorations, pipe organ, a reminder of days of Empire and our ties to Monarchy, it is almost ironic then that Jed Kurzel’s “Snowtown:Live” provides the undercurrent for a movie principally set in the suburbs of Salisbury North, in the boundaries of what was once the City of Elizabeth, named in honour of Her Majesty in 1955 as an experimental satellite town.

There is in fact a strange resonance to this unique performance of Snowtown: Live, here as part of the main arts festival in the city that housed the individuals that committed the Bodies in Barrels murders, as it is all closer to home for us.

Classic analog synths, live percussion & cello combined with a rich wall of layered guitars from Jed Kurzel’s ensemble, ambient feedback treatment reminding me strongly of Michael Brook but with considerably more isolationism. Images of housing commission homes, the corroding corpses of cars scattered on front lawns, the sickly sweet pastel shades of cheap lilac paint lining the interiors of dwellings.  How much is really a projected middle class distaste for a blue collar heartland, and how much is truly an awareness of the banality of evil given the events that transpired there?  It is a question I keep asking myself later in the interval amongst the glitterati of Adelaide arts personalities.

Musically there are themes that rise and return, one which reminds me of an unhinged reflection of Receurdos de la Alhambra, all melancholic tremelo, while another is underpinned in percussive panicked heart beats that switch between sequencer & skin.  Projected on the screen on the long road to Snowtown from the northern suburbs are the metal grain silos that appear like upright bullet casings, sentinels to the violence inflicted upon the eleven victims.

If Jed Kurzel & company’s sonic brilliance picked at a wound, then drone-ambient meisters Stars of the Lid were possibly the countering Balm of Gilead.  Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie weaved a most unquiet void that combined with the projected visuals gave rise to feelings of time running out to some uncertain end.  The wave wash of harmony felt like an unsung polyphony of Gesualdo-proportioned interplay. Treated guitars gave rise to a crescendo of sound synonymous in puissance to that of a pipe organ, otherwise laying silent in the background. And supporting this structure, and sometimes rising above it, were the Zephyr Ensemble, who we last saw at the 2013 Unsound Adelaide weaving their stringed alchemy under Demdike Stare.

I looked around and saw some slumped in a soporific daze, not in boredom, but as in a methadonic anaesthesia. I myself re-emerged several times into lucidity from this beautiful catatonia, awakening into a sound as though I was at the heart of a hornets nest.

If this is what it means to be Unsound of mind, then may this musical madness never stop.

Posted by Jonathan on Mar 9th 2014 | Filed in Events,Music,People,Reviews | Comments (0)

Adelaide Festival 2014 – Unsound Music Festival – Interview with Nurse With Wound

One of the most exciting developments of the Adelaide Festival has been the inclusion of the Unsound Music Festival within the program, to be held over three nights – an experimental electronic music & related visual arts festival traditionally held in Poland, but  making a welcome presence in the antipodes for the second year.

One of the major name acts secured for the Australian performances is pioneering avant-garde soundscapists Nurse With Wound, primarily led by Steven Stapleton, whom have over forty collected releases under their name over more than thirty years of creativity. were fortunate to spend some time with Steven to learn more about his approaches to the experimental music genre.


There was a considerable absence of live performances up until 2005 but there hasn’t been a lack of creative output. Do you have a preference between studio versus live performance, and do you see them as very different medium for different purposes?

They are completely different. Both are fun in their own ways and both are creative and rewarding, but the experience is very different. I prefer studio work, but recently in the last 4 -5 years we really got together as a band and enjoyed each others characteristics – it’s actually working out quite well now. The little bit of telepathy that happens between us makes it interesting, and we’ve done about 50 gigs now. We’re quite a hot little combo.

Is there a major change in approaches to improvisation as used between the studio and live performance?

Yes, its completely different. Live it is always improvisation and I have very little control over the direction of it – we have guests with our gigs, one to two persons per night, and they are usually people that I meet an hour or the day before the concert. People come up and we get talking and they tell me they are a performance artist – a poet or juggler or whatever, and they usually end up on stage with us. So hopefully the night or day before the gig in Adelaide I’ll meet some interesting people and they’ll come up and do some stuff with us. Take us off into a different direction.

Because the history of the band has been significantly marked by collaboration, is it just good synchronicity or is it something you actively seek out?

No, I really enjoy working with somebody. Again, I get fun out of doing it myself, and other people always bring interesting aspects to what you are doing – sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees yourself. I love collaboration, recently I have been collaborating with a lot of people. In fact in the last few years there hasn’t actually been a purely Nurse With Wound album, they have all been collaborations. But working with Andrew Liles is a real treat. Eberhard Krannemann from Neu! and Kraftwerk, working with him has just been a wonderful high, because I have always been such a fan of those bands.


So what music was significant in your own younger formative years?

Before I discovered the German electronic music scene I was into English psychedelic like the Pink Fairies, and bands like The Groundhogs. Stuff like that.

There used to be a club just down the road when I was a teenager, and it was a hard rock place called The Lord Nelson, just a pub but it used to have amazing bands playing there – in one week I would see Judas Priest, UFO, all these bands which are now really huge would be playing there before they had their record contracts. I really grew up on early heavy rock before I heard the first thing that changed my life and that was a German album, a Kraut Rock album called Psychedelic Underground by Amon Duul which just blew me away and still does blow me away to this day.

So what sort of music catches your attention these days?

Nothing. Really, I have tried, I have people around all over the world who send me anything new that they think I might like. I just eat CD’s, I just go through so many. But no, I can’t think of anything in the last 10 years or so that I’ve enjoyed.

I keep going backwards. Like for the last few months I’ve just been listening to Frank Zappa because I realise there was a point in his career that I lost interest in what he was doing and blanked him out. But I love his early records, they are a great influence on me in Nurse With Wound. Things like “Lumpy Gravy”, and “Burnt Weeny Sandwich” and those amazing records, and I discovered there were over 50 records of Frank Zappa that I had never heard. So that’s what I have been playing for the last year really.

I certainly relate – I used to be doing a dark ambient radio show in Sydney and my introduction point to Nurse With Wound was “Soliloquy for Lilith” , but having lost contact for a while and coming back and realising everything of Nurse With Wound that I have missed in the meantime.

I personally think the stuff I am now doing keeps getting better and better, but you know, I can’t really be objective about it!

Considering how many decades you have been going, how have you viewed and experienced the issues of copyright with regard to sound samples – how has this issue impacted you artistically over the decades?

Well, it hasn’t at all really, because it used to be called ‘stealing’ and then it became ‘sampling’, and it’s exactly the same! You know if a sample if used artistically,  I have no problem with that. I’ve never bothered to think about it to be honest.

Music that touches on surrealist and avant-garde expression, is arguably cyclic and may be even geographic – certainly here in Adelaide, having something like the Unsound Music Festival as part of Adelaide Festival wouldn’t have been on anyone’s radar until probably the last few years and it certainly  has found a receptive audience. Have you found that over the years that there seems to be a right time and right place for experimental music?

I have noticed that, that certain areas in countries become hotspots for a little while, and then the activity moves elsewhere, certainly. But we as Nurse With Wound, and certainly me, as I don’t have a computer and I don’t access to the internet I have never seen the Nurse With Wound website and I have never looked at the Brainwashed website. Indeed, I have never seen the film that John Whitney made of coming over to my house – I’ve never even seen that film. So I don’t know really much about what is going on out there, but I do have a whole bunch of people sending me interesting things continually. But I kind of like to live a very private life, out here in the country side.

How much of your work do you consider to be moments fixed in time, are they works you are happy leave as they are when they were composed, versus resurrecting them in a live context or reworking/remixing them.

It’s all down to whim, you know? One day I will say one thing, and I’ll mean it, but the next day I’ll change my mind. I just look upon my back catalogue as  ‘that’s what it is’ – I’m not going to fuck around with it, I might put a release with an extra disc or something, but I’m not going to remix anything.

I did notice a couple of years ago you did a ‘Sleep Concert’.

I’m still doing them!

It’s a format I’m more familiar with the likes of artists like Robert Rich and his album Somnium, with that deliberate intent to manipulate brain states. And while your music is often driven to trigger cognitive dissonance anyway, is sleep state & brain function manipulation something you are really interested in musically?

It is, yes, and I love doing those gigs. There is no better way to just space out to music then to be in a nice warm bed with 100-150 other people all going through a similar experience. And being able to just sit there and manipulate sounds, to even point them in different directions to think or dream, it’s fascinating, I love it. It’s a bit of a gruelling thing though, after about 5 hours I am really failing, so normally end up doing them for about 6 hours.

I’ve got one coming up in Ireland – it is the first sleep concert in Ireland, that’s in a few weeks and I’m looking forward to that one. And also its great to have them in unusual environments you know, an aquarium, or a train museum recently in Berlin – just all kinds of very relaxing environments. I would have loved to have done one in Australia, that would have been so good.

Perhaps the good folk at Adelaide Festival will take note for future possibilities!
Who will be in the Nurse With Wound line up for the Australian concert? 

Me, Colin Potter and Andrew Liles – just the three of us. But as I said, hopefully if we meet anyone that shares a spark and would be interested in doing  something with us, if I meet them they might end up on stage with us.

I noticed that Duplais Absinthe released an absinthe with some of your artwork on the label  – how did that come together?
Yeah, they did – and in return I got crates of absinthe!  In fact they did a presentation box, maybe 50 or something, and they gave me a half dozen of them. I’ve spent months painting these things up and I’m going to put them on Ebay soon, so anyone who wants an elaborately customised absinthe box with Nurse With Wound CD’s and a bottle of absinthe – look out for them!


Nurse With Wound play the Queens Theatre, Friday 7 March 2014 with Morton Subotnick, Lee Gamble & Cut Hands

The program  for Unsound Festival, part of the Adelaide Festival can be found by the following this link.

Posted by Jonathan on Mar 2nd 2014 | Filed in Culture,Interviews,Music,People | Comments (0)