Monday, 29 September 2014

Martin Archer - A man following his muse...

Martin Archer ducks the mainstream...
Some time ago - August last year to be more exact - I reviewed a strange and singular but nonetheless enjoyable release on Discus Records by the name of Juxtavoices - Just another anti-choir from Sheffield. My route to this odd record started with Combat Astronomy's Kundalini Apocalypse, an equally uncompromising but utterly different beast. Both these albums featured the talents of Sheffield citizen Martin Archer, and the Juxtavoices CD was one of a number of CDs sent to me unprompted by Martin following the Combat Astronomy scribbling for DPRP.

As I am constantly buried by my "to do" pile I have never found the time to write about the other CDs in the box. That, and quite frankly, I found the prospect of hour upon hour of challenging music that I had no frame of reference for a scary prospect. "Come on, ya big wuss, get on with it" the box kept saying to me, staring at me malevolently from the groaning shelf it sat imposingly upon. Now that what sounds like a rather good second album by Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere is on its way, that combo being another of Martin's projects, I thought it was time to man up and have a proper listen to the other CDs he kindly sent me.

Martin Archer has been part of the Sheffield jazz and improvisational scene since the late 1970s, starting the Discus Records label in 1993 as "a reliable platform on which to make (his) work available", and probably because other avant music outlets, if they existed, were very few and very far between. His work displays a true artist's vision and a questing intelligence, and thereby becomes something apart from the humdrum of the everyday.

There follows some brief thoughts on each of the releases I received last year, and rather than go to my usual OCD lengths with track listings etc, I have provided links to such information on the Discus Records website, which is also the place to obtain these audio oddities, should you be so inclined. The logical place to start then is obviously...

Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere
Discus CD40
This is the first self-titled album from this improvisational collective, released in 2012. A sprawling two and a half hour double CD, it features a vast array of musicians contributing electronic and acoustic instrumentation, including a string quartet, a wind ensemble, and appearances by the aforementioned Juxtavoices.



The sounds created take up a mantle passed on by Terry Riley and the looser improvisational end of Krautrock. I am also put in mind of Keith Tippett's Centipede. The end result is vast, loose, organic and thoroughly mesmerising. Prog fans will hate it!


The rest of Martin's postal surprise will be dealt with in order of release...

Martin Archer - In Stereo Gravity
Discus CD33
2008 saw this double CD unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Featuring longtime vocal collaborator Julie Tippetts (née Driscoll) in a relatively small nine-person ensemble in comparison to OUA, we are treated to Martin's unique take on rock improvisation.



Martin's home turf is reimagined as an agrarian Utopia in the drawing on the cover, and the wide open spaces depicted are reflected in the spartan space groove of the music, where avant skronking blends with motorik rhythms and sampling.

Inclusion Principle - The Leaf Factory Fallback
Discus CD38
Onwards to 2010, and Martin teams up with like-minded sound pioneer Hervé Perez for their second outing as Inclusion Principle. The pair use found sounds, laptops and saxophones to create strange dislocated ambient music concrète with a minimalistic bent.

No Soundcloud link for this one, but there are some brief samples in the attendant catalogue link.

Julie Tippetts & Martin Archer - Tales of FiNiN
Discus CD39
2011 saw the release of this haunting and evocative work. Julie Tippetts' rich tones tell tales of Gothic mystery over Martin's nine-piece ensemble that includes violins, cello, occasional fiery guitar, keyboards, electronica, found sounds, programming and a turntablist. The sounds they make are thoroughly modern and simultaneously ancient, and a contrast of tonal and atonal, resonance and dissonance. Deep and dark, this is a record that rewards studied listening. Oh, and it's another double CD, in gorgeous packaging, too!

Again, no Soundlcloud samples for this one.

Julie Tippetts & Martin Archer - Serpentine
Discus CD41
A 2012 release from the fearless sonic explorers sees their muse pack kit for all weathers, as no-one knows where they're headed.



Following the album title, Serpentine is sinuous and slinky. Completely unconventional in approach, the pair show a spirit of adventure that pushes the music into unchartered waters. For the most part it works, as Martin's combination of electronica, found sounds, rhythms and ethereal instrumentation weaves a Gordian Knot with Julie's strong voice to form an indefinable whole. Another one that rewards repeated listens. You will most likely not "get" it first time round. 

Martin Archer - Blue Meat, Black Diesel & Engine Room Favourites
Discus CD43
Fast forward to 2013, and a release by a band originally formed for a one-off performance.



You thought the version of King Crimson currently treading the boards in the USA, with its front line of three drummers was a new idea? Well, maybe in rock music it is, but here with his group Engine Room Favourites Martin Archer is one step ahead. "The concept of the group is to write music structured primarily around the four drummers / percussionists..." as it says in the information section. The brass, reeds, and piano of the rest of the band reinterpet scored music over the four-man percussion section. There are no guitars on this record - this is avant jazz band music like you never heard before.


Well, that wasn't so bad, was it? I found all that difficult music rather intriguing, to say the least. Anyway, that's it from me, and thanks to Martin for sending me all this weirdly intoxicating music.

There are many more releases to be found over at Discus Records along with biographies and sound samples.

Discus Records
Soundcloud

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