Title: For Ute/Tower of Ghost
Format: 12" Single
Label: Fat Cat Records
Catalogue Number: 12FAT30
Year of Release: 1999
What is this about a resurgence in the popularity of the vinyl format? How odd. Surely it was never unpopular? The British press, having nothing much else to do, write terrible articles like this one: Daily Record article - and life goes on...
It may come as a surprise that I am not altogether happy about the recent publicity. If everyone loves vinyl again, who can I berate for not liking it? Who can I praise vinyl to ,without them saying, "We know... shut up already"?
I am also somewhat bitter not to have been asked to provide a soundbite for the likes of the journalistic pap linked to above, but I'm sure I'll get over it.
Anyway, here's a single that never bothered the charts much ("What, like Alien Sex Fiend did?" I hear you shout. I reply - "ASF's first single went straight to number one (albeit of the punk/indie chart)". Thus I win).
I bought this when it came out, as I already had a few quality Fat Cat releases knocking about, and was thinking at the time that Masami Akita, AKA Merzbow, had been criminally overlooked in the NME Awards God-like Genius award (again). I'd also heard of AMM some time before that through a friend who lent me 1966's AMMusic 1966, but as he also lent me some Popul Vuh at the same time, and I think I got them a bit confused with each other, and to be on the safe-side dismissed both bands as twiddly hippy nonsense.
How wrong I was!
There's a lot to dislike about AMM, from their early playing-in-the-dark ethos, to more recent internal disputes, hissy-fits and line up-changes. They're also massively pretentious. I saw them at the Instal festival in 2004, and The Wife and I had to rush out of the performance part way through suppressing fits of giggles as pianist John Tilbury dragged his thumbnail across a piano string like he was the only person in the entire world ever to have done such a thing and we should be grateful to be there to witness it. This whilst Keith Rowe, formerly guitar, now "electroacoustic improvisation" did his thang, and Eddie Prevost hit a few bits of his drum kit. Keith Rowe's 'thang', by the way, has been described as painting with his guitar, which may be an arch reference to his background as a visual artist, but sounds to me just like hitting and scratching the strings a bit. He augments this with the cacophony of the "perfectly ordinary reality", or a radio and laptop, to you and me. It was a bit Emperor's New Music to us at the time.
However, what was laughable in a live setting, actually sounds pretty good on record. For Ute is a 20 minute improvisation, which features some Derek Bailey-esque stuff early-on from Rowe, (who also, I presume, supplies all other noises that aren't piano or drum-based), some faintly ponderous low-end piano at the start, which changes to a lovely almost-riff a few octaves higher at the end, and smattering of tom and cymbal action from the Provost. And some quiet bits in-between. It's like The Necks without the tunes, and very good it is too.
Merzbow was playing at the same Instal festival, and was phenomenal. I admit to a bit of Wayne's World "We're not worthy" bowing when he came on, but don't let that colour your judgement of this review.
If you don't know what Merzbow sounds like, there's a sound sample at the bottom of this Wikipedia article, and Esoterra have a good review for more background. For me it's like jamming a cotton wool bud into your ear canal and jack-hammering it about. In a live environment, you could also feel your sinuses vibrate. The only way to regulate the sound was to retreat to a safe distance - in The Arches in Glasgow, where Instal is again this year, by the way - this was the next arch along, where some people congregated to listen, but not I.
Tower of Ghost is like the sample on Wikipedia, only 12 minutes long - listen to it as loud as you can, and when it finishes you'll:
a) have a big grin on your face, and
b) really appreciate silence again.