Original music by Joseph Suchy, Ekkehard Ehlers & John Burton
Leafcutter John [featuring Simon Bookish and Alice Grant]
Ekkehard Ehlers [featuring Joseph Suchy and John Burton]
The Staubgolds: Markus Detmer & Tim Tetzner (DJs)
Reviewed by: Josh Meggitt
Reviewed: 14 March, 2006
Venue: The Spitz, Old Spitalfields Market, London
I first heard the music of Ekkehard Ehlers through his ‘Autopoesies’ album “La Vie a Noir” – a double LP consisting of microscopically detailed locked grooves. His solo album “Betrieb” – sampled fragments of pieces by Schoenberg and Ives, chopped up, rearranged and subtly processed – added even greater menace to these already towering works. Equally earnest, 2002’s “Ekkehard Ehlers Plays” found him paying homage to various twentieth-century artistic figures, from John Cassavetes to Cornelius Cardew, with beautifully crafted, dense and dirty ambient sludge, while “Politik Braucht Keinen Feind” saw him digitally process his own compositions for bass clarinet and cello. Under the pseudonyms ‘Auch’ and ‘Betrieb’ he has produced several albums of precise minimal techno and explored warmer strains of electronic ‘pop’ music in the duos Marz and Heroin. He is indeed a restless musician.
It therefore came as little surprise to see him here previewing material for his next album of guitar-heavy, blues-tinged noise alongside previous collaborator guitarist Joseph Suchy and first-time improvising partner John Burton. The blues connection was made evident from the outset with a sampled vocal from blues song ‘Oh Death’ set beside slowly unwinding guitar and digital feedback trails. Ehlers and Suchy worked these into thicker hues of windswept grey, metallic hiss and distortion evoking barren, bleak western images. Initially Burton assisted with small percussive clangs produced both digitally and by a collection of handheld objects, and his playing of the blues harp was effective, yet he soon seemed to lose contact with the proceedings and his later contributions fell flat. No matter: Suchy and Ehlers carried on producing a wild storm of sound that finished more abruptly than prematurely.
With Burton off the stage Ehlers and Suchy got straight to the business of producing noise – big, loud swathes of it. As audience numbers thinned, noise levels increased and the sound became thicker (but in no way impenetrable); nonetheless, it wasn’t easy to decipher the intricacies. Ehlers’ music on record can seem thick and daunting yet repeated listings reveal fine detail; here it was heavy and visceral, but also frustratingly elusive.
Suchy played the first spot of the night with an equally slippery improvisation for guitar and effects pedals. Starting with prominent flange effects, I was worried I’d seen him before, busking late night at Oxford Circus. The flange soon disappeared, however, leaving traces of static and random glitch before being crushed with looped noise. Later touches of Hendrix feedback and licks mingled with all manner of inspired outbursts of electricity.
While John Burton failed to spark alongside Ehlers and Suchy, his earlier trio set as ‘Leafcutter John’ with Simon Bookish and Alice Grant on vocals saw him with greater confidence. Previewing Burton’s forthcoming Staubgold album, “The Forest and the Sea”, ‘Leafcutter’ and co. combined sparse, almost twee pop arrangements for acoustic guitar and voice with busier digital sections. Burton’s voice is surprisingly rich and it sat well beside Bookish and Grant; the narrative element provided an arresting structure to songs that might otherwise feel rambling. His use of sampled sounds – circling horse hooves on gravel, the wave-crashing finale – can be riveting, yet where the folk and the electronic seemed disjointed in a live context, it should cohere in the recording to make a most successful album.