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

Clybourne Park

Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy Four Stars
It’s a case of whoops, there goes the neighbourhood twice over in Rapture Theatre’s revival of Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which opens in 1959 in the same Chicago suburb where Lorraine Hansberry’s drama, A Raisin in the Sun, which appeared that year, is set. Here, Robin Kingsland’s Russ and his wife Bev, played by Jackie Morrison, are preparing to move out of their now almost empty des-res following a family tragedy.
Unknown to them, the bargain basement price tag has enabled a black family to move in, with Jack Lord’s uptight Karl a self-appointed spokesperson for the entire ‘hood. Russ and Bev’s black maid Francine (Adelaide Obeng) and her husband Albert (Vinta Morgan), meanwhile, bear witness to a barrage of everyday racism. Fast forward half a century, and a white family are trying to buy the same house, albeit with a heap of proposed changes which the black couple representing the block’s now much more diverse community aren’t…

Michael Rother - Sterntaler at 40

"There's so much to do," says an uncharacteristically flustered Michael Rother. The normally unflappably beatific German guitarist, composer and former member of Neu! and Harmonia, who also had a stint in a nascent Kraftwerk, is packing for live dates in Russia and the UK, including this weekend's show at the Queen Margaret Union in Glasgow.
"It has always been my choice to take care of these things myself and not have a manager," he says. "Somehow for me the independent aspect of doing things is really important, but it has its disadvantages."
As well as playing selections from Neu! and Harmonia, the trio he formed with Dieter Moebius and Hans Joachim Roedelius of Cluster, Rother's Glasgow date will see him play a fortieth anniversary rendering of his second solo album, Sterntaler, in full. Rother will be accompanied by guitarist Franz Bargmann and drummer Hans Lampe, the latter of whose musical involvement with Rother dates back to Neu! days, …

Giles Havergal - CATS Awards 2019

Giles Havergal has always been the perfect host. During his thirty-odd year tenure as co-artistic director of the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, Havergal would be there in the foyer on each opening night, meeting and greeting with an old school charm that came to define the Gorbals-based emporium. While many directors prefer to duck out of view, only meeting their public once the first night stresses have subsided, in contrast, Havergal seemed joyously unfazed by such things. Only when he was acting in a show was he absent from his task.
All of which makes Havergal the ideal choice as guest presenter of this year’s Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland, the ceremony for which takes place at Tramway in Glasgow this Sunday afternoon. This year’s awards see a smorgasbord of productions and artists from the last year’s crop of home-grown shows celebrated by Scotland’s theatre critics in its annual ceremony.
With winners announced on the day, nominations include Birds of Paradise and the Na…