What Exactly Comes After Post-Rock?
Part Two of an Audio Journey: The Experimentalists

by Keith Henderson

From Aural Innovations #17 (September 2001)

(Go the end of this article to listen to a post-rock radio show in RealAudio while you read)

OK, I thought I was going to be much more prepared to write this particular episode than Part One last time, but here it is deadline time and I'm still making it up as I go along. Though looking back, there was only one thing that I had intended to mention and then forgot, and that was the funny organ-like instrument that a lot of post-rockers seem to have great fondness for, that being the farfisa. But then, I'm not even sure if I could identify a farfisa if it fell on me, so I'm not sure what elaboration on that statement that I could have offered. Ditto for the Hohner Clavinet. And the Juno 60. Some bands are proud of their collections of analog instruments and gladly list them all on their CD inserts - others just list "keyboards" or "synthesizers" and leave us civilians to wonder what it was they actually used. I can usually detect a mellotron, and the Hammond sound is pretty distinct, but get beyond that and my eyes start to glaze over.

It's difficult to clarify exactly what is so 'experimental' about these works and artists that you'll hear. I suppose I just wanted to point out some apparent tricks of the trade, (literally sometimes) bells and whistles that certain bands employ to provide the final 'touch-ups' to their sculptures of sound. As a result, I'm not fixated here as much on how rhythms and melodies are generated as I was last time. So while many times the music is subdued and moody, there will be a few times where things get anxious and excited. Some of the important sounds are 'kling-klang-y' or 'plink-plunk-y' - incidentals that you can't be sure didn't just happen to drift into the studio while the mikes were on. Lots more are amongst the sorts of textural elements that are common to all post-rock outfits... e-bow guitar for instance. For those that don't know (and I was one of those until quite recently), the 'e-bow' is a useful little device (often appearing to be some sort of sex toy) that produces a constant vibration in a guitar/bass string without requiring actual contact (like phone sex I guess). So obviously it's held in the right hand (of a right-handed guitarist of course) and oriented along the strings (normally parallel I presume). Subtle movements and positions can yield different results from what I can tell, and so e-bow seems to be to the post-rock era what the 'glissando' guitar technique is to the classic space-rock era. (And given that Daevid Allen once used a speculum to produce glissando during his Gong days, I suppose the sexual connotation is always going to be present.)

I don't have much more to say about 'experimentalism' than that. I have no historical sense of who did what first, who copied who, and what studio genius accidentally discovered some great new recording technique completely by accident (which I'm sure has happened). So I won't pretend that I do. Again, even for those bands that appear on this sampler, I only have one (or perhaps two) albums of theirs, so they're almost as new to me as they are to you. Or perhaps they're not new to you at all? If so, tell Jerry and then perhaps you can write Part Three for me and so I don't have to make myself look like an idiot anymore.

Well, let's see, what *do* we have here on this audio sampler? I compiled it several months ago now, so I'll try my best to remember what it was that I threw together. A couple of these bands I have written about in the past, including the opening salvo from Sabine, a band I still know nothing about biographically-speaking, but I still thought this was an interesting effort and "Perada" the kind of thing I was precisely looking for... a wandering ramble through the various textures and sensitivities made available to them via their instruments. Mirza and Asha Vida I wrote about also, so more detailed information about these pieces still reside in the AI archives, if you're so inclined. Mirza, especially, was responsible for leading me to seek out other like-minded artists, finding in them something familiar and yet something 'more' that told me that territory still remained uncharted in the realm of progressive and psychedelic music. Hochenkeit I believe Jerry wrote about, and each of us selected their latest work ('400 boys') to our "Best of 2000" lists. And neither of us even knew that the other had obtained this particular disc, so those recommendations are totally independent.

The Roots of Orchis are newly discovered (by me), one of those random names I caught on a particular mailing list or something, and then run across in a store or catalog. This "Channel 99" track really interested me since it's a cruelly bastardized reggae tune - sure, you can pull out any number of Ozric Tentacles discs and show how reggae rhythms translate to the 'psychedelic' world easily, but this piece shows you that there's more than one way to do it successfully. I was disappointed recently not to have made the journey to Pittsburgh to see the band Cerberus Shoal (from Maine), and I'm also anxious to get my hands on more of their works (I keep losing those damn E-bay auctions for their stuff at the last minute!). 'And Farewell to Hightide' is a very challenging album, and I struggled to decide where exactly to place them into my sub-classification, 'cause they seem to use all of the elements that I've tried to draw out from what I've decided Post-Rock must be. Unisex again was a 'catalog-description-too-intriguing-to-pass-up' purchase, and it fit nicely in here as something particularly spacey in the keyboard department. Plus, it's nice to hear a human voice every so often.

The Sea & Cake and Tortoise both make an appearance on this radio show, well-known Chicago bands related by the common inclusion of one John McEntire, a keyboard and percussion player that is also apparently the studio guru behind both of these (and presumably a bunch of other) bands. from this community, I've chosen one (the S&C tune) with the busy percussion style that was prevalent in the Part One show (if you remember) and another (Tortoise) with the most subtle of backing rhythm and all the focus on the little jabs and brushstrokes of other instruments that are randomly thrown into the mix. Calliope's 'in(organics)' album I thought was only an average piece of work, but "Umbra" was the best kind of poppy-post-rock I had come across, experimenting successfully with the turntable-scratching that I've only found tolerable before with Sky Cries Mary. Cul de Sac's 'Ecim' I found fortuitously in a closeout bin for almost nothing, and it was certainly worth the price. "Electar" experiments heavily with plenty of different guitar sounds and other sonic textures, riding along on an aural hayride of sorts. We round off today's show with To Rococo Rot (and friends), and I honestly have to say that I simply stole this single track off a Magnet Magazine sampler, and this is indeed all I've ever heard of this German band. So, because I knew they were well-known and also because I kinda got a kick out of this brief morsel, here you go.

So there it is... I can't really be sure if any recognizable common features will come to your ears and help you suss out exactly what's going on out there along the outskirts of the so-called Post-Rock Universe. I'm not sure if anything's coming across to me either. But when you're in the middle of the making of 'rock history' (God, that sounds overly haughty, doesn't it?) it's hard to develop the proper perspective I suppose. I'm sure in twenty years' time, all sorts of histories will be written that properly sum up what's currently happening in this vein. Or maybe everything I'm looking at is so completely inconsequential that all anyone will remember from this time (apart from Britney Spears' implants, I mean) is Radiohead with that awful and depressing whiny voice that so desecrated my speakers once upon a time (OK Computer, let's delete these files!). I just had to say that. Yes of course, I hate them because they're popular (Thom Yorke still sucks though) but that's really because their fans *should* be listening to *these* bands instead! Stay tuned for Part Three, where we'll take a final look toward "the Droners."

Post-Rock Radio Show: The Experimentalists

Download (9.8 megs)


[Track 1: 0:00-7:55] Sabine - "Perada" (from Sabine)
[Track 2: 7:55-14:10] Hochenkeit - "Give Them To The Ants" (from 400 Boys)
[Track 3: 14:10-18:05] The Roots Of Orchis - "Channel 99" (from When The Mosquito Stung The Crocodile)
[Track 4: 18:05-27:50] Cerberus Shoal - "Broken Springs Spring Forth From Broken Clocks" (from And Farewell To Hightide)
[Track 5: 27:50-33:25] Unisex - "In Among The Breakers" (from Stratosfear)
[Track 6: 33:25-36:30] The Sea & Cake - "A Man Who Never Sees A Pretty Girl That He Doesn't Love Her A Little" (from Nassau)
[Track 7: 36:30-41:10] Mirza - "The White Is Past-Clouds" (from Iron Compass Flux)
[Track 8: 41:10-43:30] Calliope - "Umbra" (from (In)organics)
[Track 9: 43:30-49:45] Asha Vida - "Poena Sensus" (from Nature's Clumsy)
[Track 10: 49:45-54:40] Cul De Sac - "Electar" (from Ecim Northeastern/Lunar Rotation)
[Track 11: 54:40-58:00] Tortoise - "Flyrod" (from Tortoise)
[Track 12: 58:00-1:02:10] To Rococo Rot & I-Sound - "From Dream To Daylight" (from Music Is A Hungry Ghost)

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