earthly delights archive

Reviews of Nocturnal Emissions TM and related records


Nocturnal Emissions - Invocation Of The Beast Gods
Nocturnal Emissions - Practical Time Travel
Randy Greif, Robin Storey and Nigel Ayers - Oedipus Brain Foil
Nigel Avers, John Everall and Mick Harris - Mesmeric Enabling Device
Nocturnal Emissions - Electropunk Karaoke
Nocturnal Emissions - Futurist Antiquarianism
Nocturnal Emissions / Origami Vs. Manipura - Mort Aux Vaches
Transgenic - Transgenic
Hank & Slim - The World Turned Gingham


invocation of the beat gods cd cover

Nocturnal Emissions
Invocation Of The Beast Gods

Staaltape, STCD006 (1989)

Not being able to read Latin, I am unable to make sense of the sleeve notes to Invocation of the Beast Gods, or Invocatio Bestiae Dei as it is alternately titled. Being sort of familiar with Nocturnal Emissions' back catalogue. and the esoteric ways in which the mind of Nigel Ayers appears to work, I believe the cover might describe the recording process of this album, which I suspect involves the sampling of noises made by furry animals. Why? because NE have done this sort of thing before, notably on Mouths Of Babes, which built some pretty dense atmospheres from the gurgling of sprogs. Here only some of the sounds are identifiable as being of animal origin, so don't buy this expecting to get Percy Edwards.

Right from their very early issues, Nocturnal Emissions recordings have a curious quality that sometimes suggests the music just occurs of its own accord, without human involvement on a level any greater than that of a reporter capturing the moment on tape. Even their mildly anomalous 'pop' phase - which gave us the bizarre spectacle of Mr Ayers singing rhyming lines over dance beats, and making announcements like 'this is the big sound of Nocturnal Emissions coming out of your speakers' - seemed faithful to their sense of ego-free reportage. True to this theory, one could almost say Beast Gods was written by the sampled wildlife.

As one might imagine, there's a lot of repetition and looping, and it's extremely relaxing, but happily remains too interesting to be insulted by the word 'ambient'. If there is any intention, as the title seems to imply, to capture the raw wonder of the natural world, then it succeeds admirably in a field where countless peddlers of new age aural laxatives have failed dismally.


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practical time travel cd cover

Nocturnal Emissions
Practical Time Travel

Earthly Delights CD001 (1998)

The music is entirely different yet still retains that quality of being created somewhere outside of conscious human involvement. Whatever practical time travel may be, all we have are disembodied titles like 'Electrostatic Field Equation' and 'Gravitational Repulsion' to suggest vague imagery for the meandering washes of tone and sound. If I might venture further (and someone please keep me covered in case I disappear up my own arse) this could almost be the experience of being as far from the grinding machines and noise of humanity as possible, drifting into the vacuum of deep space, carried away into the void by solar winds.

The recent BBC2 documentary The Planets instilled in me a sense of longing for places like Neptune and Mercury, which seemed impossibly rich from the absence of life and all its clutter. The universe is so vast, diverse and beautiful that frankly, who gives a monkey's if anyone else is out there. Who would go into a shop for something they've already got too much of at home? Ahem...such musings come back to me whilst listening to this CD, if that's any use to those of you wondering what it actually sounds like.



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oedipus brain foil

Randy Greif, Robin Storey and Nigel Ayers
Oedipus Brain Foil
Soleilmoon SOL66CD 3 x CD (1999)

Three collaborative CDs, each featuring a different combination of two of those named above. Robin Storey is best known from Zoviet*France and Rapoon, Nigel Ayers from Nocturnal Emissions, and I can't quite place Randy Greif although for some reason his name is very familiar, so perhaps he's a moonlighting Happy Monday or a lesser-known component of Wu-Tang Clan. Just kidding.

Those expecting three hours of spoken word advice on how to improve their golfing have probably picked up the wrong magazine, so it might not surprise the more astute reader to learn that these discs contain lengthy atmospheric pieces which drift and churn like the best of ambient without quite merging into a single amorphous mass of novocaine for the ears.

The instrumentation, which obviously varies from disc to disc, is ambiguous but largely electronic, with a few well-placed wind instruments, the odd rhythmic loop, and occasional interjections to mildly jolt the listener out of the inevitable mesmeric glow that comes and goes in waves. I'd be hard pressed to detail how each disc differs from its partners largely due to lack of space and the limitations of language, but differ they do, and on many subtle levels. I'm fairly certain I can identify the distinctive contributions of each individual up to a point, not that it matters beyond having some vague insight into the overall chemistry at work, and the reassurance that everyone pulls their weight.

If I have a personal favourite, it is the Robin Storey and Nigel Ayers set collectively entitled Perfidious Albion, which ends with 'Let Loose The Dogs', one of the more intense and nervy creations in this microverse. I've yet to feel truly comfortable about the term 'ambient'. It suggests something which is intended to provide an aural complement to your environment. Oedipus Brain Foil will actually take over your environment, if you listen for long enough, drawing you into a temporary pocket of reality where even the laws of physics feel unfamiliar and alien, and while no specific threat or comforting relaxant is offered, it alternately calms and disturbs without so much as a single raised voice. Awesome.



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mesmeric enabling device cd cover

Nigel Ayers, John Everall and Mick Harris
Mesmeric Enabling Device


I'm starting to wonder if we shouldn't change the name of the magazine to The Soleilmoon Projector. Here's yet another one from the label, to go with the other 500 reviewed herein. This time it's a collaboration between he of Nocturnal Emissions, Mick Harris of Scorn and John Everall who seems to have been in most bands formed over the last twenty years, but I remember best as one the few writers for the late Music From The Empty Quarter magazine that I could be bothered to read. Nigel does things to pieces supplied by John and Mick, who in turn do things to some of Nigel's stuff.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that this isn't the easiest of music to dance to, beyond doing the Standing Still, and neither could it be described as a relaxing Ambient drone. Although nothing overt or sudden leaps out from the vast fields of reverb, it's too dark to be comforting. If I might digress briefly, I once had the pleasure of knowing Tommy Docherty. Not the football bloke, but a less famous namesake who dabbled in making weird music on cassette. His finest moment was an eight or nine minute track called 'Words Cannot Describe', recorded with hopelessly humble equipment and somehow utilising sounds echoing along the interior of an enormous aluminium pipeline he'd found somewhere. The eerie sustained roar he'd produced bypassed the limitations of his recording equipment, and resulted in one of the few pieces of music I've heard which I was genuinely unable to play with the lights off, unless overcome with some perverse desire to shit myself.
Although I'm older now and less inclined to be spooked by such things, there are parts of Mesmeric Enabling Device which strongly remind me of Tommy Docherty's masterpiece, certainly in terms of power and tonality. Mind you, it isn't all variations on a slab, as the above might suggest. Among the cavernous expanses we find a few elements of the unexpected. There's some distant tinkly melody on the second of the seven untitled tracks, which actually rather detracts from the general atmosphere. Later on we get random heartbeats and a rhythm that suggests someone's typewriter has got sick of all those words and is auditioning for the office supplies Junglist posse. It's a rhythm, but not really a beat.

Mr Ayers seems to do well working in collaboration, and this holds its own alongside previous efforts with C.C.C.C., Robin Storey, and Randy Greif. I haven't tried listening with lights off as yet. It hardly seems a worthwhile experiment. By the end of the last track even a brightly lit room with the midday sun streaming through bay windows will seem like the setting for an H. P. Lovecraft finale. The protagonist finally tracks down the subterranean horrors responsible for the cavity wall insulation of the house he inherited from that uncle, the one nobody liked to talk about.


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electropumk karaoke

Nocturnal Emissions
Electropunk Karaoke

Earthly Delights CD002 CD (2000)

The title comes from a description of an Emissions gig which appeared in this very magazine! Nocturnal Emissions' live performance at The Garage last year was a frustrating affair because despite its being far too quiet and over an insubstantial PA, the tape of the event sounded like I'd attended something worth getting very excited about, even if this was far from apparent on the night. This CD collects seven tracks from five different NE live sets performed in recent times. I don't know if these gigs were as problematic as the one I saw, but whatever the case, it's made for a fucking fantastic CD.

As Nigel Ayers has stated elsewhere, his live material has of late been quite different to the studio produced albums. The live setting is after all a very different one to the privacy of your own noise cave, so he's chosen to present an updated and remodelled incarnation of the Nocturnal Emissions that produced Songs Of Love And Revolution and Shake Those Chains, Rattle Those Cages,.. and. Lordy - I find it hard to contain my excitement! 'Bring Power To Its Knees' and 'No Sacrifice' are the oldest original numbers here. They're still immediately recognisable even though the original sounds of echo delayed beat boxes forcibly introduced to their own arses is replaced by smooth skittery sequences and frenetic sampling.

'No Sacrifice' is actually one of my desert island discs. Very few groups have managed to deliver direct and simple statements of anti-establishment leanings without sounding like worthy but dull bores (see four million drab anarcho-punk bands as of 1983) and NE not only managed to do it with conviction but came across as positively poetic in the process. 'No Sacrifice' is one of the most joyful celebrations of not getting a job at McDonalds (or whatever) that I've heard, put together with the irrepressible joy of a kid in a toy shop and delivered like Mark E. Smith without all those french fries on his shoulder. A hard act to follow, but he's succeeded by avoiding a simple reanimation of the vintage model and - Lumme! - it's as good as the original!
The other tracks are largely new to me, or at least were as of the performance at The Garage. Confusingly, there are covers of 'Venus In Furs' and The Pink Fairies' 'Do It', neither of which sound particularly out of place. There's also the Stephen Hawking sampling 'Imaginary Time' and 'Di For Me' which goes into pornographic detail with some er... eccentric observations about the death of Prince Chuck's late war-zone visiting main squeeze, Although the technology is all new, Nigel Ayers still seems to approach it with the same haphazard enthusiasm that informed his last beat music albums all dem years ago, and as a consequence still doesn't sound like any of those other drum machine and sequencer acts. Also, his singing has improved, in that you could call bits of it 'singing' which wasn't always the case. With the crooning and the odd chuckle prompted by something in the audience, this is almost Las Vegas without the cheese, the fruit machines, or the mob.

Electropunk Karaoke is punk rock spirit in the truest sense, rewritten for the 21st Century. It's packed with sly humour, warm electric beats and is entirely lacking in the clichés that might be wheeled out by less able dabblers in either the techno or ye olde punque roque of which this is a distant cousin. Play it loud and often, as the man says.


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futurist antiquarianism

Nocturnal Emissions
Futurist Antiquarianism

I was left a little unconvinced by NE's attempts at drum & bass via the Transgenic single reviewed last issue. It wasn't so much that it didn't have its own merits, but calling it drum & bass just reminded me a little of arts-council-grant-getting-serious-composer Tim Souster on a South Bank Show years back. I know nothing about Mr Souster beyond this TV appearance where he announced the creation of some highly important work which had taken thematic juxtapositionality (or summat like that) from punk, which was big at the time. Cue five minutes of video featuring a green mohicaned and leather studded theatrical type on a motorbike, snarling vocodered opera into the camera along to a symphony of Yes type keyboards. Now, I'm not usually one to complain or make unkind remarks about the endeavour of a serious artist but - doll me up in stockings and suspenders and make me pick up the soap in the showers at HMP Wandsworth - what a complete and utter utter utter utter pile of toss. There are good reasons why few artists deviate wildly from their chosen field of expression, and this is why Showaddywaddy never made a skatecore comeback, and Tony Hart's gangsta rap album Str8 Ballin' 4 Tha Muthaphukkin' Streetz only exists in an alternative universe.

Anyway, this time Nigel Ayers has pulled out the stops and wholeheartedly thrown his lot in with the drum & bass camp, and it works! Without specifically ripping anyone off, the rhythms are appropriately frenetic, doing that snare-with-coffee-jitters thing in the right places. The extraneous effects and atmospherics, utilising what sounds like bird song on a few occasions, while never overly intrusive, have enough going on to render them of greater impact than the usual drone-forest-bore wallpaper found on discs by Photek and suchlike. As drum & bass goes, I personally prefer the nuttier stuff like Panacea (despite an off-putting but valid remark made recently by a friend that every time he hears Panacea he expects a badly miced up voice to chip in with "Alright sarf London, this one goes out to the Millwall massive...") mainly because the airy-fairy variant is just too wishy-washy. Futurist Antiquarianism is obviously closer in spirit to that drifty-swirly variant of the genre, but manages to succeed where others have often failed. The textures are good and well-stewed, being evocative of imagery other than a spotty herbert with his finger glued to the gain button of a digital reverb. There's something instantly memorable about the distant refrains in the same way as was the case with some of My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts - they sound like you've heard them before somewhere, even when you know full well that you haven't.

It is actually embarrassing to give yet another glowing review to NE, even though I have avoided the word 'ambient', but it can't be helped. Another fine album that sounds as good as it sounds different to its predecessors. Hopefully, the next one will be an absolute stinker and I'll be able to sleep easier, but on the strength of this, it sounds like NE's uncharacteristic contribution to New Orleans bounce (or whatever) is still a long long way off.


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morte aux vaches

Nocturnal Emissions / Origami Vs. Manipura
Mort Aux Vaches

Netherlands, Staalplaat (2000) CD

Mort Aux Vaches, meaning 'death to cows' is apparently a show on VPRO radio, and here are two broadcast sessions from that show, one by NE, and another by er... someone else. Someone or some persons who might possibly be named as above.

Origami etcetera kick off with some remote ambience suggesting isolated mountain passes, and suchlike, before bringing in a modest rhythm section and then going all screeching metal on us (as in car crash rather than Tygers Of Pan Tang). It's good of it's kind but not startling. If anything it sounds like a better recording of what NE were doing on their early albums: contrasting harsh noise with relative quiet and serving it all up on a bed of cranky fucked-up rhythms.

The NE half opens with more samply loopy stuff before Steptoe & Son percussion heralds the overdriven sound of the skipper playing harmonica while his ship goes down, finally breaking into a couple of recent live favourites. 'Bring Power To Its Knees' is similar to the live recording already released on Electropunk Karaoke, with some monkeying around here, and jiggery-pokery there. Finally, there's a welcome and lengthy rebooting of 'No Seperation' with Nigel almost crooning over a steel band ambience. It's impressive that something so obviously programmed has the feel of a late night jazz workout (or so I would imagine) despite being played by robots. It's probably down to the unfussed way sequences drop in and out of the mix, the uncharacteristically relaxed feel of drum machines chattering away to each other, and Nigel's absent-mindedly wandering off into songs about his Aunty Mary, whose name conveniently rhymes with hairy, dairy, and canary.

In its entirety, this CD is probably a little patchy, but the last fifteen or so minutes compensate for any minor inconsistencies earlier on. Also, the last two NE tracks sound great when you're knackered or on the verge of passing out from prolonged alcohol consumption. Mind you, a little more information on the weirdly shaped card cover would've been nice.


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A full CD of Nigel Ayers demonstrating "what happens next in drum and bass". Or not as the case may be. I couldn't quite get the hang of the Transgenic single, until I ignored the distracting claim repeated above. The same is true here, and this is actually an extremely convincing disc once one's expectations are checked in at the door. Firstly, the packaging is great. The disc comes in a card cover sealed in a hazardous materials specimen bag. The usual sleeve notes come in the form of instructions, dosage recommendations, details for obtaining repeat prescriptions etcetera. Any significant traces of rock'n'roll drug-ism, or art-irony, have been flushed away with the used bandages and expired medication. There's no suggestion of this being chemical as in spacey and tripped_out. It seems more like some horrendously toxic product that has either been withdrawn from legal usage, or is used only as a last resort to treat the few conditions worse than its side effects.

I love it - it's that same deadpan, or I suppose in this case, bedpan humour exhibited in the declaration "contents may vary from those listed" on the cover of NE's Drowning In A Sea Of Bliss. Although there are a few drum and bass flourishes, the odd techno moment, none of this is done by conventional means. If drum and bass is Manet, Transgenic are Picasso. Most of these tracks use rhythm as a foundation, but not as a rhythmic foundation, if you see what I mean. The beats seem to be there in order to focus the listener's attention, which, once fully engaged, will inevitably notice that although the drum programmes may be along for the ride, there's no-one driving.

Like many of Nigel's greats, this seems to have evolved under its own volition, unstructured by conscious human intervention. What with the grinding non-sequiteurs of bass noise, the squeals and virtual clanks, all reproduced in high resolution sound, Transgenic is a fitting sequel to Spanner Thru Ma Beatbox. It's the sound of techno after the extinction of the human race, the machines keep churning out the beats and the bass, evolving into degraded forms with an incomprehensible agenda that is quite unrelated to keeping people in cycling shorts bouncing into the early hours of Sunday morning. Funny how Godflesh have turned out to be Elton John all along. I think this is a cracker, but then how could I possibly resist an album which features tracks called 'Oligonucleotide', 'Chromosome Sequence', and 'World Bank Schistosoma'?


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hank & slim

Hank & Slim
The World Turned Gingham

Rumours abound that this is actually Robin Storey and Nigel Ayers. Well, if so, how come all the tracks are credited to Hank Sterman and Slim Fenster, veteran musicians with a long and shared history described by the cover notes? Was it Ayers and Storey who, as the cover describes, in 1962, were unceremoniously fired from the Grand Ole Opry because 'all those electronic noises were scaring the cowboys'. Of course not. Ayers and Storey would probably have been toddlers at the time, so go on, smarty-pants, explain that one!

With the possible exception of a few Swans tracks, the influence of country and bluegrass has had an unusually low profile within the sphere of ambient, experimental, and avant-garde music. Perhaps everyone just knew that whatever they tried would inevitably sound rubbish in comparison to the pioneering efforts of those latter-day frontiersmen Hank & Slim. Having come out of self-imposed retirement the duo now capably demonstrate why P. Orridge in Roy Rogers chic wouldn't have worked. The years clearly haven't dimmed the powers of these masters of the steel guitar and multiphased oscillator. Clearly the golden years of Hank & Slim had a profound influence on the music of both Nocturnal Emissions and Zoviet France, which probably explains those absurd rumours. This music is at times, almost impossibly rich and evocative, with all manner of lonesome strangeness going on amid windswept layers of electronic prairie. Slide guitars drift past like tumbleweeds, suggesting hidden melodies once plucked out around some distant camp fire

. What seems to set Hank & Slim apart from those who dabble in less-countrified variations of this genre, is an expert ability to maintain the balance of mood. Although disorientating and electronic, it never once descends into doomy-noise territory. Rather, it captures, true to its roots, that wistful melancholia you only find in the best Slim Whitman or (post_teen idol) Ricky Nelson recordings. Although The World Turned Gingham is a largely instrumental album, it speaks volumes. Those forlornly echoing loops and treated samples could only have been crafted by men who know how it feels when your wife runs off with a carny roustabout, the dog takes sick, and you find a family of possums has taken up residence in your truck and eaten all the electrics clean away. An absolutely brilliant album, quite frankly.


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Sound Projector
music magazine

Nigel Ayers interview from Sound Projector 7





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