by Dave Skipper
Despite various challenges and changes to plans – as experienced in different ways by so many people, and far worse for many compared to me – I look back on 2020 with gratitude for a good and productive year. With so much less activity, I was able to read more books and listen to more music than ever before. I also took an online course on research and writing techniques, and released two noise albums that I’m really happy with. Looking ahead to 2021, I am hoping for more of the same: reading, writing, listening, and recording. Below are some highlights and stats from the last year…
Across the end of 2019 and opening months of 2020 I carefully dissected my archive of ~150 live recordings, extracting all the potentially releasable fragments and sections. The first of these to see the light of day were 3 tracks released as a digital album on Ochiai Soup’s bandcamp. Soup is the best noise/underground venue of Tokyo, and all donations via their bandcamp page go towards helping their survival into the future. I have another 2-3 album’s worth of material that I culled from my archive that I hope to release in one form another in 2021.
Then more recently my first concept noise album אֵלִיָּהוּ [Elijah] was released on CD by φonon. That experience has given me a lot of fuel and inspiration for further studio noise projects, and I can’t wait to get into recording/composition mode more often going forward, having focussed my sonic creativity almost exclusively on live performances for much of the last decade. This shift has been a definite positive for me from the COVID-induced restrictions of 2020.
Before these albums, I also contributed some tracks (in the form of a mini-concept suite called Vortex in Your Cortex) on φonon‘s compilation release Mutually Exclusive Music 2.
So I want to give a special thanks to φonon (especially Jun Morita) for the opportunity and invitation to create music for them to release, and as ever to Ochiai Soup for being such a wonderful space that has introduced me to so many amazing artists over the years and for allowing me to organise many gigs there.
I was able to catalogue, digitise, listen to, and rate almost my entire collection of 600 noise/experimental music releases (on CD, cassette, and digital) that I have accrued over the last decade. A lot of this stuff I had never gotten around to listening to, so I discovered some real gems along the way. I’ll be writing a separate post at some point about my top 20 or so albums.
In terms of albums that were released in 2020, here are my favourites (in alphabetical order); most of the links take you to the respective bandcamp pages where you can listen/purchase/download the albums:
Astro – A Story of the Labyrinth (remix for SOUP edition) [ochiai soup] – absolutely scintillating ‘electro-acoustic brutal ambient’ from one of the supreme masters of noise
Astro – Anonymous Soundscapes [Fantasy 1] – more superb pieces from my favourite noise artist
Final Machine – Remora [Flag Day] – this is an incredible album: detailed, layered, intense, wonderful blend of harsh textures; probably my number one pick from 2020
K2 – Burst After Burst (6CD box set) [Urashima] – re-release of classic junk metal explorations from Japanoise legend K2, originally released on cassette from 1990-96
Merzbow – Green & Orange (6CD box set) [Slowdown] – previously unreleased sessions and outtakes from Merzbow’s classic late 90s era, well worth getting hold of this great set from the midst of his vast catalogue
V.A. – Flowers in Concrete (Side Japan) [ochiai soup] – this is surely the ultimate contemporary Japanoise compilation; everyone is on fire here, and the superb mastering by Soup’s own Nishiyama-san makes each track leap out and grab you full throttle!
V.A. – Music For Abandoned Cold War Places [zerok] – tasty dark ambient compilation album, a genre I have long had a soft spot for and hope to explore more this year
I acquired a hundred or so books in 2020 (most of them second-hand or gifted), and read about half of them. Most of them are theology books, but I’ve also been building up a nice collection of books about noise, sound, and experimental music. A lot of this material will be feeding into specific research and writing plans that I have, topics that will go deeper into areas of connection between the Bible/theology and noise.
Probably my favourite book of the year was also one of the shortest: Theopolitan Reading by Peter J. Leithart. It’s an introduction and overview of how certain key themes and ideas in the Bible weave their way throughout not only the biblical text itself but also the world around us and everyday life. Paradigm-shifting stuff.
I didn’t achieve all my writing goals for 2020 – I didn’t blog weekly, I didn’t start some series/articles that I had intended to, and I didn’t finish other series/articles that I thought I would. But I did manage 43 posts altogether, and the readership continues to grow overall. By far away my most popular article of 2020 was First Father of Music: more than 500 hits makes it my most-viewed article ever. Rattling Bones, from 2019, had over 400 hits in 2020. Hopefully this year I will start and finish those series/articles that I had wanted to last year!
I also mentioned above an online research/writing course that I took. To complete the course I need to write a short publishable research paper, and that is high on my agenda for the first half of 2021. I’ve honed my thesis statement, got hold of a good batch of research materials, and am excited to delve into this project properly! I’m hoping that this paper will start to pave the way for pushing ahead with my eventual book-writing plans. I don’t want to write at either a pop level or in ‘academicese’ – I want to provide enough meat for the serious thinker while also being accessible and thought-provoking for the more casual (but interested) reader.
So keep an eye on this blog in the coming year for updates and the fruits of my labours, God-willing.