December 2013

The End of the Year

The end of the year is approaching, and in a tradition as time-honoured as lumps of charcoal and brightly lit trees, we thought we'd put together some kind of list of cultural highlights from the preceeding twelve months. Without further ado...

Top Five Books of the Year 
selected by Josh Lustig

Lieko Shiga, Rasen Kaigan
I've written about this book already on this blog. It is an epic, psychedelic journey, populated by the elderly, deep holes and pot plants. Shiga's cross-processed colour makes the whole experience that little bit more surreal.

Carolyn Drake, Two Rivers
Carolyn Drake's stunning self-published book is an odyssey through Central Asia. Her images bubble and flow over the french-bound pages like the two rivers of the title - the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya. The colour palette is muted yet rich, made all the more tactile by the uncoated paper. 

Gita Wolf and Sunita, Gobble You Up
Beautifully hand screen-printed onto thick craft paper, Gobble You Up is an ancient Rajasthani fairy tale retold by Wolf and illustrated in the Gond style by Sunita. A cunning jackal gets hungry and begins to fill his belly with a menagerie of unlucky critters. Exactly the kind of joyous publication I've come to expect from Tara Books

John Cage and William Gedney, Iris Garden
Weaving together stories by John Cage with images by William Gedney, Iris Garden unfolds and overlaps like a Cage composition. Images of Cage himself sit beside scenes of domesticity and glimpses of South Asia, whilst Cage's whimsical stories are intertwined. 

Muge, Ash
40 unbound black and white images based upon the Taoist teaching of Lao Tze’s “Theory of Nature.” Questions are raised not just about man's relationship with nature, but to our relationship to all things. Muge (aka Huang Rong) seems to want us to see beyond the object or scene he is depicting and the loose prints encourage reshuffling and a shifting of understanding.

Top 10 Albums of the Year
selected by Oliver Barrett

More of a cross-section of stuff I've listened to most this year rather than any kind of definitive list (then again it's all pretty much arbitrary anyway). I've probably listened to way more stuff that didn't come out in 2013 this year, which isn't to say the last 12 months have been short of great stuff in any way. Each year is better than the last. In no particular order...

Hey Colossus - Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo
Jon Collin - High Peak Selections
The Knife - Shaking The Habitual
Okkyung Lee - Ghil
Fire! Orchestra - Exit!
Roscoe Mitchell / Tony Marsh / John Edwards - Improvisations
Skin Graft - Enemy
Jenny Hval - Innocence Is Kinky
Matana Roberts - Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile
Marnie Stern - The Chronicles of Marnia

And an honourable mention to 'Strangeways' by Pseudo Nippon which came out in January and which I've probably listened to more than anything else this year - a perfectly arranged pop song. I made a playlist of the tracks I could find on soundcloud:

Top Five Live Performances of the Year
Selected by Max Bondi

Pete Swanson / Mark Fell at Birthdays - Jan 2013
Mark Fell may not be the most captivating of live performers, flat-capped and standing behind a sole laptop in the basement of a bar in Dalston, but when the sounds emitted from the PA are this arresting - visceral, cerebral, complex patterns of sculpted electronic music - it hardly matters. Followed shortly after by Pete Swanson, fist pumping in the middle of the crowd to his own unique brand of gnarly and beat-driven noise, it was a pretty great way to kick off the year.

Akio Suzuki & Aki Onda at Cafe Oto - June 2013
Two masterly Japanese sound artists playing together for well over two hours, this seemed to exist outside the usual constraints and expectations of a live performance. Akio Suzuki played everything; strange homemade bells, pipes, percussion. Aki Onda wandered, setting off tapes, changing the sound and shape of the room. By the time it was over, no-one was quite sure what had happened.

Russell Haswell + Others at LCMF, Peckham - August 2013
While there were undoubtedly other highlights of the excellent London Contemporary Music Festival, this was unfathomably the only one I went to. As brilliant as Steve Noble's drum improvisations and other assorted performers were, it was Russell Haswell, playing brutally loud uncategorisable noise in a car park in Peckham that stole the show.

The Necks at Cafe Oto - November 2013
A band I'd been waiting to see for a long time, the Necks did not disappoint. Two sets of beautiful, mesmeric improvisation from the piano/drums/bass trio from Australia, hopefully the recording of this trio of gigs makes the light of day. 

Emptyset at Ambika P3 - December 2012
Ok, ok, yes, this was in 2012. But as I'm writing this in December it seems unfair to exclude it, and anyway, we make the rules round here. This installation in the enormous, cavernous space at the University of Westminster was something pretty special. Using the same techniques and sounds as heard on Medium and the recent Recur on Raster-Noton, Emptyset had set up a huge stack of speakers and microphones within the room, both recording and responding to the resonance of the space. In near-darkness, except for a slowly phasing bulb, thunderous wall-vibrating rumblings were felt more than heard, as static and noise built up and washed away in patterns and figures that may or may not have repeated. I don't know, but it was loud, and it was great.