Cabaret Voltaire:

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The Attic Tapes 1974-1978 [Mute- Grey Area]

Slipstreamed out a little by the recent art world worship of TG, this 3CD release of early Cabs material is something of a crucial release. Never ones for the limelight and shying away from the expressionistic excesses of performance art that propelled TG into public view, CV got on with making experiments in their early years that are as provocative if not ‘better’ produced than the tracks they began to commit to vinyl from 1978. This collection of tracks highlights what’s missing in music-practice these days: a blissful lack of conceited self-consciousness and a determination to use the force of sound as a means to change consciousness rather than to trade in ‘sign value’. At times in this array of tracks there is almost a fourth member to the trio, a quite corporeal sense of a collective unconscious space into which anything doesn’t quite go but if you half try it will fit because incongruity and chance and alter-egos and hope-in-the-Aks have to have their space made. Beginning with test-tapes of ‘treated voice’ and ‘treated clarinet’ and ‘treated guitar’ etc the elements come together in a kind of form riven from intimacy; a kind of bashful exhibitionism (that TG never had) that relies on the strength of relation between the members to allow for an unembarrassed and improvisational approach bounded by the solitary beats of a drum box; beats that seem to demand that space be pointillistically filled rather than id-crowded out (cf Capsules, Oh Roger). Add to this tape-cut up tracks like Calling Moscow and The Attic Tapes which aren’t just pluderphonics, but anti-para state propaganda too, as well as the surrealist sci-fi stories read out in distorted northern tones on ‘Bedtime Stories’ and ‘Photophobia’, then we really do have to consider Cabaret Voltaire as harbingers of a future yet to come; unleashers, along with many others, of transformative productive forces that, in producing new listeners, produce new subjects. This is Cabaret Voltaire’s avant-popism: the sound forms are at times recognisable as ‘songs’ but the treatment of them, the discontented content, makes them unlyrical. At other times, when they leave the ‘song’ alone, the content becomes the form. Running through both is a use of language that, in the cut-ups, is clearly audible, but with the ‘songs’ is deformed yet intelligible, as with dub.This, then is a meeting point between the quoted language of the cut-up (mostly clearly presented) and the invented language of the narratives (mostly distorted) which has the effect of communicating a reluctance, a faltering of the powers of communication that are overcome by the use of unfamiliar sounds (treated guitar, treated clarinet). This aspect of avant-gardism, the self-critique of expression as power, not only accounts for the discrete aspect of Cabaret Voltaire at this time (one impending release on Industrial Records), it also informs the choice to make electronic music: the most powerfully overpowering technology is made unsure of itself, hybrid, disidentified. If we contrast this to the persistently hopeless state of institutionalised avant-garde music, a music in thrall to the technics of form that reduces music to the pinprick of opus, then with Cabaret Voltaire, the fear and attraction of expression leads to an unfiltered heterogeneity. The points of reference abound: from the treated upslash of reggae rhythm guitar to the music concrete use of found sound through ‘Krautrock’ and punk to the foreechoing of techno and retro elektronische (c.f Richard Kirk’s Sweet Excorsit and Xon projects in the late 80s). This melting pot can be heard on the Attic Tapes. Western Works or Darmstadt?

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