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21st Century Field Hollers and Prison Songs

Bruce Russell


with the co-operation of

Ekskubalauron Press


The only reason you know this is because it is well-documented.’

Mark E. Smith

This album has been made entirely from samples taken from the Midnight Crossroads Tape Recorder Blues album, which I made with Ralf Wehowsky for A Bruit Secret. Like that album it is a tribute to the spirit of the blues, viewed through a prism of 21st century cultural criticism. It evokes an earlier era when the relationship between a performer and a song arose out of a community, not a property relation. In appropriating my own material I have short-circuited the prevailing ethos of piracy and bricolage, and returned in a sense, to my self.

Despite being made in New Zealand, and using some recordings from the Rhineland, the two places that are really central to this album are the Mississippi Delta and the island of Jamaica.

Spell it M… A … N…’

In 1943 a young musician known as Muddy Waters had his photo taken in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Dressed in his best suit, he cradled on his knee his most prized possession – not a guitar, but a record, with his name on the label. Muddy knew that any fool could rip up a juke joint with a guitar, but a man who made a record really was someone. I know exactly how he felt – and what led him to place the recording in that privileged position over the instrument. Generations of rock musicians after him knew that any fool could spank their plank in a bar, but to make a record was to be somebody - to have a legacy.

More even than jazz, the blues were literally made by the recording process. The immortality we all crave is offered by the recorded artifact, which lingers long after we ourselves are gone.

For the Bluesmen the long road from plantation obscurity to international fame was marked out first with 78 sides, and later singles and albums. I know plenty of rock musicians who have measured their days on earth in exactly this way, between records.

No one remember old Marcus Garvey’

In 1975 Winston Rodney and Jack Ruby made the second Burning Spear album, Garvey’s Ghost. To do this they took all the basic tracks of the Marcus Garvey album, cut earlier that year, and made dub versions of them. This was an established studio practice in Jamaica, usually to make flip sides for singles, but this was the first time it had ever been done to an entire album.

Despite the quite separate innovations arrived at in France by the likes of Pierre Schaeffer some 30 years earlier, it was the re-invention of many of musique concrete’s breakthroughs in Jamaica, that laid the foundations for many of the artistic innovations we now regard as somehow integral, or ubiquitous, within the music industry. In part this was due to their having arisen within the context of a truly popular music, growing out of a community defined at least in part by its actual relationship to that music.

The arrival of the dub and the version; the privileged position accorded the recording when the DJ/MC/toaster was elevated to the centre stage over the musician; the invention of the producer as auteur exemplified by the deification of Lee Perry; all these cultural phenomena announced the arrival of a new way of making and relating to music, which exploited to the full all the potential of the twentieth century’s innovations in recording technology.

Blacker dan Dread/Chant down Babylon’

It is in the spirit of hommage that I offer this re-configuration of my own evocation of the blues - as a dub album.

I use the term ‘dub’ here not in the common meaning as some kind of watered down white reggae with spooky effects, like a cross between UB40 and the Tomorrow People. This dub harks back to the styles of the 70s. It consists of the radical re-use of the recorded components of an existing work to compose something new, emphasizing elements that were previously backgrounded, and dropping into new contexts recognisable elements of the original to allow them to be reconsidered in a new light.

While making no claims for the technical proficiency of my studio work, or for the deep understanding of musical composition which it reveals, there is a case to be made that by reconstituting an established genre of work with an entirely new content, our understanding of the totality of possible music is, per se, expanded. This album takes a blues album, originally composed entirely using the simple techniques and technology of classic analogue tape composition, and remakes it using the ethos and tools of digital dub production. The results could not necessarily be understood on the basis of this archaeology of twentieth century sound recording alone.

There is no sea but the sea… there is no land but the land…’

Only a very adept listener could deduce exactly how and according to what rules the finished product has been constructed. However, having read this essay, and listened to the resulting album, I hope that some listeners will be drawn to listen to recorded music in a new way, with an ear for new possibilities, outside the expected parameters.

With the exception of Ralf’s sitar, all the instrumental sounds on this album were made with a steel stringed acoustic guitar. The other sound sources are my voice and a range of recorded media, including archival acetate discs and analogue ¼ inch tape.

These media give audible shape to the intellectual priority accorded to the recorded artefact, as defined by Muddy Waters’ publicity portrait. Recorded sounds are the raw material for the music, building the tradition separately established by Pierre Schaeffer and the Dynamic Duo - U Roy and King Tubby.

As the train pulled away from the station, it had two lights on behind…’

In the case of the tracks eponymously described as ‘dubs’, the sound of the media is amplified, edited and effected to form the basis of the track, over which other elements are introduced from the loops.

In the case of the ‘blues’, each loop quoted here had been used as an integral part of the composition process on Midnight Crossroads Tape Recorder Blues. For this project I re-recorded them at various speeds to the hard drive of my laptop. The various samples of each loop were then used to construct a new piece for this album. At this point the sounds were several steps removed from their ‘blues’ roots, but I feel that the spirit imbued in their fundamental particles was still there.

I had at one point about five years ago proposed making an album consisting entirely of samples of unrecorded or blanked twentieth century sound recording media. It was going to be a sort of secret history of sound recording, an archaeology of defunct media. The funding body to which I pitched the idea naturally turned me down. In a way, this album is a part realisation of that project, reconfigured through the prism of the blues.

Bruce Russell Lyttelton March 2006

21st Century Field Hollers and Prison Songs

Bruce Russell

  1. Black Car Blues 2.50

  2. Kate’s Blues #3 [Death Letter] 3.44

  3. Nigerian Delta Oil Well Blues 1.17

  4. Wehowsky Loop Blues 3.15

  5. Coronation Holyoake Blues in Dub 2.57

  6. Dirty Water Dub 3.27

  7. Hiroshima Tourist Blues in Dub 3.00

  8. Brakeman’s Blues 5.38

  9. Doctor’s Blues for Philip Samartzis 5.19

Tks 5 & 7 previously released as a limited edition lathe-cut single on cmr. These tracks include samples of acetate surface noise derived from archival recordings courtesy of Sound Archives/Nga Taonga Korero.

Tk. 2 originally released by Early Morning Records, Norway, on the 7” compilation ‘On the Road to Limited Edition’.

Tk. 4 derived from original sitar improvisations played and recorded by Ralf Wehowsky.

All recordings engineered by BR except parts of tk. 9, live Quicktime recordings by Vanessa Coxhead at the Physics Room.

All other recordings played and recorded by BR – acoustic guitar and vocals. Analogue tape loops sampled in this album were previously used in the A Bruit Secret recording Midnight Crossroads Tape Recorder Blues by BR and Ralf Wehowsky.

This album produced Nov 2005 – Mar 2006 in the Temple of Music Digital Annex, for w.m.o/r, thanks to Mattin.

Thanks to Kate for thinking this was better than some, also Mattin, Richard Francis, Ralf, the Physics Room and Askild Haugland.

All photographs by BR, except this one, by Palix…


Musika Radiklal Brasca _ Auskal Muturreko Musika

Bruce Rusell: 21st Century Field Hollers and Prison Songs (w.m.o/r 26)

Sábado, Julio 22nd, 2006

Bruce Russell; Avanzar retrocediendo…

Escribo hacia atrás. Miro adelante, pero voy retrocediendo, caminando hacia atrás. Así el panorama de nuestro mundo espiritual se me va ampliando delante de mí y nuestra particular situación cultural(…) se me hace también más clara. Y también más desesperante.”

Jorge Oteiza. Quosque Tandem…!

¿De qué hablamos cuando decimos música experimental, Dub, Blues?, ¿Cómo nos posicionamos ante las obras al emplear semejantes etiquetas?. El último trabajo de Bruce Russell nos invita a pensar en ello desde su experiencia con 21st Century Field Hollers and Prison Songs (w.m.o/r 26

Las etiquetas y las formas de catalogar, de llamar, determinan cómo nos acercamos a ellas. En el caso de la música o las creaciones sonoras ocurre igual. Debido a la fuerza constante de los medios respecto a la difusión y exposición de la música; en las radios, las revistas especializadas, la televisión, se generan casi implacables etiquetados y formas de referir a las creaciones hasta el punto de llegar a juzgar composiciones sin haberlas escuchado previamente, solo por referencias verbales y mediáticas.

Pero el sonido por su naturaleza esquiva y difusa se resiste. La música se resiste a solidificar. La energía sonora latente, se expande.

Siempre he pensado que en el terreno de la experimentalidad sonora estamos más cerca del arte que de la simple música. En arte es necesario situar el trabajo; tratar de explicar cuáles son los precedentes que abordan esa línea; dónde esta el nudo de la cuestión para finalmente lanzar la propuesta con el trabajo y su justificación. Eso es poco más o menos lo que ocurre con 21st Century Field Hollers and Prison Songs. O al menos así lo veo yo. Pero si digo que estamos más cerca del arte que de la “música” despista que las reconocidas fuentes sean dos tradiciones de naturaleza tan profundamente popular como el Dub y el Blues. Mantiene esa tensión toda la obra, y fundamentalmente por la explicación que acompaña el álbum. En ella esta una de las virtudes del trabajo; en cómo nos predispone a escuchar la composición.

El disco de Bruce Russell es muy interesante, debemos atender a el, a lo que nos muestra y a lo que literalmente nos dice en el texto.

Es uno de esos raros músicos que trata de explicar su obra, que trata de situar lo que hace; de dónde viene y a dónde va.

En este caso nos habla de Blues y nos habla de Dub. Nos despista, como golpeando las convenciones lingüísticas sobre estilos y géneros. Nos pone en la tensión entre las convenciones de creación popular - arte.

Lo interesante de esta obra está en colocarnos en la tesitura de tener que pensar qué cosa es el Dub y qué cosa es el Blues más allá de la superficie, para después entender con una nueva mentalidad un tipo de creación contemporánea; ese tipo de música libre. A través de ello nos ponemos en una nueva posición ante la creación experimental contemporánea. La radicalidad de la propuesta (innegablemente va a la raíz) consiste en romper esquemas mentales; ponerlos en movimiento para llevarnos a un terreno nuevo creado por él, donde podemos comprender.

Si asumimos que las ideas, los pensamientos y las actitudes mentales condicionan y determinan casi siempre como nos ponemos ante la creación, podemos decir que estamos ante un ejercicio autorreferencial; porque vuelve sobre su propio material sonoro previo reconstruyéndolo y porque mueve los prejuicios mentales que sobre la forma de esas tradiciones musicales tenemos para establecer su propio criterio.

Russell hace todo lo posible porque nos acerquemos y comprendamos. Deberíamos tomar ejemplo de ello.

Hay una cuestión importante al declararse inspirado en el Dub y el Blues. En un primer momento nadie reconoce estas formas en el disco. Nos quedamos con que el Dub es esa ocurrencia histórica y lo mismo con el Blues. Él va más allá; va al interior de esas formas de hacer música. Ver la estructura que subyace al “Dub histórico” (como aparición formalmente concreta en la Historia) y saber recrearla (repensándola, rehaciéndola, actualizándola para mantenerla viva en su momento social) en su tiempo. Valoro esta capacidad de mirada. Hay que valorarla. Necesitamos más trabajos como este.

Nos hace reconocer influencias germinales en corrientes tradicionalmente separadas, y a un mismo tiempo pensar aquellos sucesos como algo que va más allá de la pura forma específica, saber ver la propuesta fundamental de estos géneros.

Repensar que sea el Dub y el Blues en nuestro tiempo, pasa por llevar a cabo una experiencia con los medios técnicos y estéticos a nuestra disposición hoy. Esto es exactamente lo que hace Russell con este trabajo; acercando las dos tradiciones populares a otras de la considerada cultura con mayúsculas; la música concreta por ejemplo. Tal vez podamos ver en ello el sino de un tiempo (el nuestro) en lo que a la creación artística se refiere; una época que empieza a asumir las estéticas de la vanguardia de forma generalizada (Pasando por tanto de la primera línea de choque a la retaguardia) juntándola sin complejos con otras líneas más socializadas o populares; que nacen precisamente de amplios grupos sociales como las comunidades negras del siglo XX en Jamaica y en el Delta del Missisipi.

Se reencuentra consigo mismo en su trabajo previo, lo reescucha, lo recompone separando, juntando y acoplando en un nuevo orden que demuestra la riqueza de la composición actualizada. La idea estaba ya en Lee Perry (ese gran acontecimiento estético para la música popular del siglo XX) pero lo novedoso de este trabajo está precisamente en haber sabido trasladar esa práctica a una nueva experiencia contemporánea. Si el contenido sonoro, las texturas, los ritmos, los tonos, los timbres, responden a la estética de la música ruidista y de improvisación (es decir difieren en la superficie con el Dub clásico o el Soul) la estructura de fondo, la manera en que se pone ante su guitarra y la manera en que construye la composición ya estaban en la Jamaica de los 60-70 y en el Blues de Missisipi. La capacidad del Soul de establecer lazos directos con la emocionalidad del músico, lo que de herramienta expresiva tiene esta aquí todo el tiempo.

Volver sobre sí mismo, volver sobre su trabajo reciente MIDNIGHT CROSSROADS TAPE RECORDER BLUES es un gesto interesante ( y algo más que un gesto ) que debería llamar nuestra atención. En ello está latente la cuestión de mirar adelante ateniéndose a la tradición, sabiendo mantenerla viva actualizándola y sin mutilar las posibilidades de un presente cambiante. Este problema no es otro que el que trajo de cabeza toda la vida a Oteiza (Escribo hacia atrás. Miro adelante… nos decía), además de a otros muchos creadores estéticos de vanguardia. En un tiempo de la deslocalización y de desarraigo histórico de los creadores; en un tiempo de desligamiento histórico con la tradición precedente (que aunque no se logre semejante cosa, pues es imposible escapar de alguna tradición, se promueve como valor a seguir por los críticos y agentes culturales), en el que o se hacen cosas totalmente nuevas (habría que cuestionar esto) o se rescata lo viejo al más puro estilo postmoderno de estéticas de lo retro, deberíamos acoger este trabajo como un ejemplo de inteligencia y salud creativa .

Pero seguiremos esperando, seguiremos dejando que pasen el tiempo y las oportunidades y no habremos aprendido nada de obras y vidas interesantísimas de quienes nos precedieron, sin saber ver, miopes, torpes, débiles…


julio 2006

Muskiz (euskal hiria)


The Wire (U.K. August 2006)

Last year Ralf Wehowsky and Bruce Russell melded guitar, sitar, and analogue tape loops into a four-part tribute to the blues called
Midnight Crossroads Tape Recorder Blues. Inspired by the musque concrete of Pierre Schaeffer and the studio innovations of U Roy and King Tubby, Russell has rearranged Midnight Crossroads  into a new set of blues, dubs, and what he calls "blues in dubs". As Russell explains in typically erudite liner notes (elegantly housed in a glossy booklet alongside his stark arquitecture photography), 21st Century Field Hollers "takes a blues album...and remakes it using the ethos and tools of digital dub production". There are only a few identifiable instances of blues and dub inside the abstract experiments here, but Russel's approach produces fascinating sounds nonetheless. Russell uses Midnight Crossroads's tape loops as building blocks, altering each in different ways, but keeping them all distant and subdued. over these fading beds of hissing, clicky ambience, Russell sprays burst of noise along with an occasional steel-string pluck or reverberant sitar strike. The result sounds more like minimalist improvisation in the vein of Sean Meehan or Tim Olive than comved-over studio manipulations. "Black Car Blues" opens with soft, rippling sound interrupted  by harsh tones, stablishing the album's template of alternating restraint and outburst. "Wehowsky Loop Blues" provides jolts throught skipping loops and abrupt crecendos, like a dying maching trying to spatter back to life. "Dirty Water Dub" rotates near-comic siren blast thought an irregular cycle of airy silence and manic release. Eventually Russel's blues shed their abstract disguise: on "Coronation Holyoake Blues in Dub", noodly plucks shiver nervously, while the slow twang of "Hiroshima Tourist Blues in Dub" evokes early Loren Connors. That such familiar tones can drift into Russell's unpredictable abstraction is a testament of the album's latent powers.
Mark Masters

Basebog (Italy, June 2006)


Bruce Russell
21st Century Field Hollers and Prison Songs

E’ questo il blues del XXI secolo? Partiamo dall’etichetta: w.m.o/r è una netlabel spagnola che promuove sorniona musica libera e di orizzonti sconfinati. Produce ora un album di Bill Russell, ricavato da un lavoro quasi documentaristico precedente: ‘Midnight Crossroads Tape Recorder Blues’, serie di registrazioni analogiche raccolte da Russell e Ralf Wahowsky (A Bruit Secret) lo scorso anno.
In ‘21st Century Field Hollers and Prison Songs’ i campioni grezzi vengono filtrati, montati e processati in una strana intelaiatura, ottenendo risultati sempre diversi e talvolta sorprendenti. Russell, dopo un percorso autonomo negli scenari impegnativi del noise e dell’avant-rock, dell’improvvisazione post-punk e della sperimentazione del suono (nel trio neozelandese Dead C), si sta dedicando ad un’audio-installazione di 15 ore definita ‘progetto megalomaniaco’. Nel disco solista di ‘field hollers and prison songs’ c’è naturalmente commistione di tutto questo po-po di materiale, e nel definirlo il nostro si lascia scappare un ‘I call it a dub album’. Chi è avvezzo a questo genere di produzioni musicali sa bene che ‘dub’ è una parola grossa. Ma le tracce del disco riservano piccoli tesori per l’orecchio. Forse, nelle intenzioni dell’autore, è dub ‘Nigerian Delta Oil Well Blues’, ma il premio dell’eleganza va a ‘Brakeman’s Blues’: traccia sopraffina, fluida, equilibrata nelle risonanze e sofisticatamente dubbosa.
In queste canzoni si legge più facilmente la ricerca filologica sul 'dub' condotta da Russell, che rispolvera le primordiali intenzioni di una tecnica musicale approdata al blues negli anni '70, con i taglia e cuci di Winston Rodney e Jack Ruby. Sul fronte inverso, in quegli anni avevano luogo i primi esperimenti di musica concreta in terra giamaicana. Sono questi terreni fertili che diedero la fama incontrastata a produttori come Lee Scratch Perry, per citarne uno tra i più popolari. Soprattutto, da questi strani intrecci si preparava la strada (ma già lo aveva fatto la scuola concreta francese di qualche decennio prima) per l'elevazione alla massima potenza del DJ a vero e proprio 'master of ceremony', deus ex machina col dono del controllo e in grado di orchestrare il suono di qualsiasi sorgente (umana e non ).
Nell'album di Russell suona autentica ‘Coronation Holyoake Blues in Dub’, dove la chitarra e qualche campione vocale in primo piano rendono memorabile il contributo dell’autore ad una definizione del 21st Century Blues. Quando il discorso di Russell si fa concettuale tracce come ‘Wehowsky Loop Blues’ e ‘Kate’s Blues #3 [Death Letter]’ portano forse un po’ troppo lontano il livello di sperimentazione. Qui il rumore bianco (stranamente combinato a un loop tipo 8bit in ‘Dirty Water Dub’) diventa quasi rarefazione spaziale e proietta l’ascoltatore, già rintronato dall’astrazione impegnativa della composizione, nei regni sconfinati del cosmo più o meno conosciuto, forse percepito. C'è probabilmente coerenza storica se è in questa direzione che si orienta il ‘nuovo’ bluesman post-Y2K.

> brendax

Touching Extremes (Italy, July 2006 by Massimo Ricci)

- 21st century field hollers and prison songs (w.m.o/r)

One of the most intriguing methods to create new music is taking old materials and reconfigure them in such an unrecognizable fashion that it becomes "innocent" again. That's exactly what Bruce Russell did, as he used samples from "Midnight crossroads tape recorder blues", an album he released on A Bruit Secret with Ralf Wehowsky, who himself appears here in "Wehowsky loop blues" which contains radical alterations of himself improvising on the sitar. Apart from this (and some acetate surface noise in a couple of pieces) all sounds are derived from acoustic guitar and voice, yet what we hear is something crossing the border between cheap cassette experimentation and the illegitimate son of Pierre Schaeffer listening to a mangled version of the spliced-tape fantasies by Frank Zappa circa "We're only in it for the money". Most of this stuff is sublimely sincere, a joy for everyone's hidden desires of dadaist abolition of ordinariness in every aspect of sonic art. Russell forces us to rethink the whole process of studio work, applying coat upon coat of blue collar asymmetry over a series of naive collages that, after such a treatment, become nothing short of remarkable.

Bagatellen (June 2006)

Bruce Russell - 21st Century Field Hollers and Prison Songs



In an intriguing act of self-exhumation, Bruce Russell has plundered the carcass of his own (with Ralf Wehowsky) earlier release on a bruit secret, ‘Midnight Crossroads Tape Recorder Blues’ (a recording with which I’m not familiar), extracting elements that held for him a particularly bluesy resonance, re-recording them at odd speeds and then constructing loops to create (almost) entirely new works. That blues (and dub) feeling really does permeate the tracks, sometimes overtly, other times requiring a certain amount of aural perseverance.

But the fact that Russell does generally utilize loops makes for a certain ease of entry as even the harshest or most abstract nodules attain some familiarity with each repetition. The opening “Black Car Blues” creates a murky, gelid atmosphere with shards that may have been lifted from “Concret ph” knifing through the gloom. You could likely derive a good deal of amusement attempting to ID sources throughout the disc. I swear the second track, “Kate’s Blues #3”, contains a segment from Frith’s “No Birds”…but I could be wrong. On the other hand, if that’s not the loopy synth from “Space Is the Place” popping up on “Dirty Water Dub” (great title) I’ll eat my pixels. Many of the nine, shortish tracks (the disc as a whole is barely over a half-hour) are guitar-driven, allowing Russell to at least hint at blues wails and often more than that, though lines of any clarity are swiftly chopped into stew-meat. By doing so, Russell achieves a chewy, rough medium between song and tape collage where the loops provide the form but the elements from which they’re created simultaneously subvert any such suggestion. My personal favorite is the final cut, relatively lengthy at five minutes where the music seems to branch out into wider territory, abandoning any specific genre--fittingly, it’s dedicated to Philip Samartzis. There’s a sense of stepping outside an area whose hermeticism wasn’t earlier perceptible; a very strong piece.

It’s a quite enjoyable disc. Best of all, you can download it for nothing at Mattin’s site, as well as read the text and view the photos that are included in the booklet: w.m.o/r

Posted by Brian Olewnick on June 21, 2006 05:52 PM

                                           VITAL WEEKLY
                                           number   531
                                           week      25

Bruce Russell's '21st Century Field Hollers And Prison Songs' ties in blues, dub and musique concrete. The blues came in through his album 'Midnight Crossroads Tape Recorder Blues' (see Vital Weekly 471), which Russell made with Ralf Wehowsky. He played guitar and did some tape-splicing and Wehowsky his usual computer wizardry. On this new CDR, Russell returns to his own playing for that record and he uses his own elements again to create a new work, just like is done in dub music or musique concrete. The improvisational element is still present in this recording, but it is combined with loops made of the material and the crackling of recorded media, vinyl and acetates. The material is composed in a rather loose way, which keeps the spirit of both improvised music and dub alive. I think it's quite a fine work, showing another, sometimes ignored skill, by Russell. Franz de Ward

Paris transatlantic

Bruce Russell
Though the entire wmo/r discography, complete with liner notes wherever necessary, is available for free download, in accordance with label boss Mattin's views on copyright (which can be neatly summarised as follows: bollocks to it), there's something special about a CD(R) that comes along with an elegantly produced 20-page booklet. Especially when the words it contains have been written by Bruce Russell, who, in addition to being one of new music's most original and consistently impressive guitarists, is an articulate and intelligent commentator on his own work (not to mention that of others). For his second release on Mattin's label, after 2004's broodingly magnificent Los Desastres de la Guerras, Russell has "versioned" some of the recordings he made with Ralf Wehowsky for the A Bruit Secret album Midnight Crossroads Tape Recorder Blues into an austere and moving homage to the Mississippi Delta and Jamaica. But though the liners namecheck Muddy Waters, Winston Rodney and Jack Ruby, this is no cheap pastiche of Delta blues and dub, but rather an attempt to understand not the technique itself as much as the meaning of the technique that revolutionised late 20th century popular music, and apply it to his own work. Those familiar with the Bruit Secret album will recognise the soundworld, with its dusty, grainy analogue tape hiss, but will have a hard time working out how Russell has crafted the nine fine tracks on offer here. But that's all part of the mystery and beauty of the disc. Backwards guitar hasn't sounded so damn good since Fripp.–DW

w.m.o/record label

desetxea net label