Stuart Chalmers – Imaginary Musicks Vol. 1 (Beartown) & Vol. 3/4 (Hairdryer Excommunication)

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Imaginary Musicks in barely there editions on “no audience,” UK imprints. Volume 1 was released on tape by Beartown, on CDR and on Bandcamp, Volume 2 in a run of only twenty copies on a now-defunct label and Bandcamp, and Volume 3/4 doubled up on both single CDR and net editions.

If you are not pleased with this world or the sound it makes, then make your own. Stuart Chalmers, self-professed “sound scavenger,” reanimates junked cassettes with a brace of tape players, synthesizers and effects, reimagines societies that really exist and some that should, and then creates their musics, mostly sacred, some celebratory, some queasy, amalgamating East and West, popular and classical, very old and brand new.

On Volume 1, Chinese opera follows Tibetan chant, leaving it pleasantly unoccupied. Opium ambient gives way to quivering bamboo flute over slowly stiffening, humid air. A radio preacher testifies in the doldrums, his speech penetrating most dolorous drums. A narcotic gamelan pitter-patters, a bad railroad hotel nightmare is hazily recalled, and only gets worse as the day pile-drives into consciousness and the memory of a murky tiki lounge fleetingly surfaces. Conciliatory, Chalmers closes the first volume Shangri-La-like, with forehead cooling technicolour loops, lotus petal soft.

While the first volume travels in a relatively straight line over a little more than half an hour, Volume 3/4, released on CDR by Hairdryer Excommunication, is more than double the length and begins far more miasmatically with “Maelstrom”, an indication of the more freely-flowing, improvised nature of this collection, closer in spirit to an urbane musique concrète than a life in the bush of ghosts. Volume 1 was more carefully constructed, so to speak, whereas this collection is jazz, but a fourth or fifth world, dystopian jazz – noisy, droning, gnawing, moaning, gazoinking like reactor grade plutonium popcorn. Fragments of radio are broken off like pieces of dried-out bakelite, things squirm, spool and unspool, get tangled then untangled, are cut up, patched back together or left to bleed.

As a matter of fact, the two collections might each find its own audience. Or perhaps Volume 3/4 can be heard as a field recording of the places imagined on Volume 1. That being said, the impossibly fast-talking sports quiz show master of “Requiem,” whose banter unfolds on the satiny, orchestral pillow of a long abandoned Winter Garden, “belongs” more to Volume 1, and the spectral song of “Wind Voices” floats in from long away, from long ago, from a somewhere utterly unimaginable. It all ends with cozy English domesticity, however, a lovely time in the park with the family, enjoy a fireworks display.

Imaginary Musicks Volume 2? I´ll leave that one to you.

Stephen Fruitman

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About Author

Born and raised in Toronto, Stephen Fruitman has been living in northern Sweden lo these past thirty years. Writing and lecturing about art and culture as an historian of ideas since the early nineties, his articles have appeared in an number of international publications. He is also a contributing editor at Igloo Magazine.

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