Skip to main content

Usurper - The Big Five (Singing Knives)

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, something is stirring. Or at least it is in the world of Usurper, the
Edinburgh-based duo of Malcy Duff and Ali Robertson, whose sonic missives over the last decade have become increasingly-expansive exercises in performance that go beyond notions of sound art. Through a series of sketches, routines and goof-offs, all punctuated by noises off made by a bucket-load of acquired junk, Usurper's modus operandi falls somewhere between Samuel Beckett, The Goons and Tex Avery by way of John Hurt's experimental sound designer in Jerzy Skolimowski's neglected 1978 film, The Shout.

Following a busy year of monthly CDr releases on their own Giant Tank label, Usurper's cup runneth over, even more on this forty-five minute cassette released on the Sheffield-based Singing Knives label. A sequel of sorts to their 2012 Cdr, The Big Four, which referenced assorted quartets of personality traits, thrash metal bands and coincidence, this follow-up pieces together recordings made in various locations in Edinburgh's urban jungle during 2013 and 2014. The starting point was a Google search of the phrase 'big five' that threw up lists of the most hunted wild animals on the verge of extinction, psychological personality tests and pre-censorship American war comics.

The first side hisses cheerily into life with the word 'Snakes' exclaimed as if the opening of some undiscovered Ivor Cutler routine. As the word evolves into a little mantra of criss-crossing voices, the names of other animals are introduced. ' Mosquito'. 'Giraffe'. Monkey'. 'Elephant'. Except the way the words are spoken transcends their original meaning, so as the words are elongated, compressed and bent out of shape by all manner of inflections, they become a little symphony of pure form.

Accompanied by assorted low-key shakes, rattles and rolls, at moments it squawks. At others it grunts, exhales or else ponders a moment of silence. At others still, these primal utterings are overlaid with verite conversations between Duff and Robertson, cast as great white hunters on a mission. This is Usurper on safari, frustrated explorers in an absurd landscape where the wildlife announces itself with a signature verbal tic. Each word becomes a rumination, an accusation or a postulation, so in a series of ethnographic and anthropological eruptions and excavations, survival of the fittest is paramount.

The second side opens with colourful first-person story-book testimonies of life on the front-line before comic book speech bubbles are brought to life with a series of 'Blams' and 'rat-a-tats' spoken over what sounds like a regimented march over the back kitchen table. A toddler briefly joins in with his or her own sound effects before the two tribes move outside to spar among the traffic roar.

The pulp fictions become ever more fantastical, so the voices sound ridiculous, as if the miniature icons of Michael Bentine's Potty Time were rewriting history to make themselves appear more heroic. If at times this resembles a trashy and slightly grotesque take on Jackanory, the real collateral damage can be heard in the final on-location recordings. Like Still Game's Jack and Victor hanging out with the local Noise set, Duff and Robertson are in part strip cartoon brought comically to life. There’s something deeply serious going on here too in these fragments that speak volumes about how everyone’s an endangered species in a maladjusted world.

www.duffandrobertson.bandcamp.com


Product, February 2017

 
ends

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Peter Brook – The Prisoner

Peter Brook is no stranger to Scotland, ever since the guru of European and world theatre first brought his nine-hour epic, The Mahabharata, to Glasgow in 1988. That was at the city’s old transport museum, which by 1990 had become Tramway, the still-functioning permanent venue that opened up Glasgow and Scotland as a major channel for international theatre in a way that had previously only been on offer at Edinburgh International Festival.
Brook and his Paris-based Theatre des Bouffes du Nord company’s relationship with Tramway saw him bring his productions of La Tragedie de Carmen, La Tempete, Pellease et Mellisande, The Man Who…, and Oh Les Beaux Jours – the French version of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days – to Glasgow.
Thirty years on from The Mahabharata, Brook comes to EIF with another piece of pan-global theatre as part of a residency by Theatre des Bouffes du Nord, which Brook has led since he decamped to Paris from London in the early 1970s. The current Edinburgh residency has alr…

Suzy Glass – Message from the Skies

Freedom of movement matters to Suzy Glass, the arts and events producer currently overseeing the second edition of Message from the Skies.This animated literary derive around the city forms part of this year’s Edinburgh’s Hogmanay programme, and runs right through till Burns’ Night. Glass’ concerns are inherent in the event itself, which has commissioned six writers from different disciplines and experiences to each pen a love letter to Europe. Each writer has then paired up with a composer and visual artist or film-maker, with the results of each collaboration projected in monumental fashion on the walls of one of half a dozen of the capital’s most iconic buildings.
With venues stretching from the south side of Edinburgh to Leith, and with one city centre stop requiring a walk up Calton Hill, there is considerable legwork required to complete the circuit. It shouldn’t be considered a race, however, and audiences are free to move between venues at their leisure, visiting each site on d…

Romeo And Juliet - Shakespeare's Globe Comes to Glasgow

Open-air Shakepeares are a summer-time perennial of the theatre calendar, attracting picnicking audiences as much as midges. More often than not, such romps through the grass are frothy, heritage industry affairs designed to be accompanied by strawberries and cream and not to be taken too seriously. Shakespeare’s Globe theatre company look set to change such perceptions when they open their outdoor tour of Romeo And Juliet in Glasgow next week as part of the West End festival.

For the two young actors taking the title roles of the doomed lovers, it will also be something of a homecoming. Richard Madden and Ellie Piercy both studied in Glasgow prior to turning professional. Indeed, Madden has yet to graduate from the acting course at RSAMD, and, as well as facing the pressures of playing such a meaty role in close proximity to the audience, will have the added anxiety of being assessed and graded by his tutors.

“This is the end of my third year,” says Madden following a Saturday mornin…