Ash 9.2 – Disinformation – R&D2

CD, 60:52, 8 tracks

Track listing:
R&D Track Nine (13:05)
Live at the Museum of Installation

R&D Track Ten (3:35)
Disinformation vs. Oubliette
VLF recording made in the workshops of Oubliette, T.I.G. welding apparatus operated by Rob Mullender, lathe by John McClafferty, ambient field disturbances by Network South East and Eurostar

R&D Track Eleven (3:35)
Data Storm 2
MF recording of unidentified data noise

R&D Track Twelve (3:51)
Artificial Lightning
LF accumulator noise modulating unidentified longwave background noise

R&D Track Thirteen (6:30)
Stargate (LP version)
HF recording of a type 2 radio emission from the sun

R&D Track Fourteen (10:05)
Theophany vs. National Grid
HF powerline distribution noise with intermittent lightning strikes

R&D Track Fifteen (15:05)
Ghost Shells 2
ELF/VLF recording of lightning noise from distant electrical storms and magnetosheric/near space reflections; Royal Navy data communications with nuclear submarines

R&D Track Sixteen (5:04)
National Grid (LP version)
VLF recording of harmonics of the ELF band radio emission from alternating current, modified live using an upper and lower side-band morse code filter

The second in the R&D series of releases from Disinformation.

The pioneering Disinformation* Research and Development series continues with the release of R&D2 on Ash International [R.I.P.] – a new CD of geomagnetic, space physics and atmospheric-electrical recordings. Featuring the sounds of phenomena produced by electrical and magnetic storms, solar coronal mass ejection, tropical and local lightning, and also featuring contributions from Oubliette, Network South East, Eurostar, the Central Electricity Generating Board and the Royal Navy – R&D2 represents a unique approach to maximising the creative potential of radio science. Disinformation publications have been favourably compared to the explorations of submariner Jacques Cousteau.

R&D2 cover artwork is derived from the Antiphony Video Supplement – images from the Disinformation 1997 UK Tour – the ruined remains of the RAF Air Defence Experimental Establishment acoustic early-warning system.

Rows of books around me stand,
Fence me in on either hand;
Through that forest of dead words
I would hunt the living birds –
So I write these lines for you
Who have felt the death-wish too,
All the wires are cut, my friends
Live beyond the severed ends.

Louis MacNiece, Epilogue


“…wonderful stuff…” Keith Cameron, XFM Radio, London

Weird Record of the Month, June 1998
“If you love the noise your refrigerator makes but you’re bummed that it isn’t a lot louder, Disinformation’s R&D2 (Ash International) is the album for you. An extensive collection of ‘radio frequency atmospherics and interference’, it kicks off with 13 minutes of AC electrical noise modified through a pitch shifter, and that’s only the beginning of its complete abscence of rock. It’s also got hits including ‘magnetospheric/nearspace doppler-shifted lightning impulse reflections’, a couple of tracks of broadcast noise, six minutes of solar radio emissions (originally released as a 12″ single – we are not making this up), and the like. It can be oddly soothing or deeply annoying, depending on your mood; for a fun trick, turn it up really loud and walk around listening to the overtones it makes at the back of your brain. Oh, and if that’s not enough for you, Disinformation also released a double-CD set last year called Antiphony, with various experimental-music types remixing their recordings.” [Douglas Wolk]

Magic Feet (UK):
“More techno than techno. Taking sound exploration to hitherto unchartered waters, this second installment of radio frequency manipulations marks another small brave step into what will increasingly be demanded of ‘music’ in the 21st Century. Think about it…who listens to ‘songs’ anymore? It’s all about sounds now, more so with each passing year. Also, with the tyrannical 4/4-kick drum now slowly drawing past its sell-by date, the focus is on formlessness, the more abstract and arrhythmical, the better. Which is where this album comes in. Far from dictating the arrangement, Disinformation herald the death of the musician’s ego entirely by simply presenting mildly manipulated, until now unheard of (literally), radio frequency atmospherics and interference. So what does it sound like? To these ears, fascinating, alien and new. Except it ain’t alien, it’s very much of the Earth, being taken from TIG welding sets, radio emissions from the sun, Royal Navy nuclear submarines, lightning storms etc. It’s the free-flowing, untouched by the hand of man, transparent, undeniable, matter-of-fact nature of these sounds that – pardon the pun – make this such a magnetic listen. We’re all visual voyeurs anyway, spying on other people’s misery every night on the news, so with this we become aural voyeurs, hearing the sound of radio waves amplified into the human audible spectrum. To give you a flavour of what to expect, opening track 9 (it’s a continuation of ‘R&D’, the first album, don’t ya know?) is called ‘Live at the Museum of Installation’. It was composed of “VLF harmonics of the 50 ELF fundamental radiated by alternating current electricity, modified live using an upper/lower side-band filter and Boss PS-2 digital pitch shifter.” OK, got that? Its 13 minutes sounds absolutely bloody magnificent. Some people talk of a wall of sound, others give you a wall of sound, quite literally. To listen to the album in a full sitting is a little boring, but pick any one track out, read the technical bumf that describes it, kick back, dig, while Ol’ Mother Nature does it to you in your eardrum in a way you certainly won’t have heard before. Maybe your humble reviewer has disappeared so far up his own arse to be rendered clinically insane, but doesn’t the end of the last sentence thrill you…? ‘In a way you will certainly have not heard before’: guaranteed sound without precedent. So, as the guy who coined the phrase ‘Techno’ to define this whole scene called one of his tracks, there is only one way to approach describing these sounds in words: it is what it is. At the start of the 20th Century, a handful of mavericks such as Luigi Rossolo and his Futurists, Thaddeus Cahill and Edgard Varese dreamed of making real the exact sounds found on this disc. During the mid-20th, Pierre Henry and Karlheinz Stockhausen edged ever-closer to the realisation. Now we are at their final destination with this type of recording and ready to embark on another journey of our own into the dominance of this style, slowly but surely, within our lifetimes. Music is dead, long live music!” [AMS]

VITAL (Netherlands):
“8 more tracks from Joe Banks, which continue where the first R&D CD left off (with Track 9, bacause the first CD ended with Track 8). In many ways this is a more gentle collection of material, and all tracks were recorded live from single sources of radio frequency atmospherics and interferences. It starts and ends ruff with VLF harmonics of the 50hz ELF frequency radiated by AC current electricity – apparently a very difficult signal to escape from if you’re busy recording VLF sounds. This signal is generated by all things electrical, most especially by power lines, so it’s very difficult to actually exclude them from VLF recordings unless you’re prepared to remove yourself far enough from civilisation and it’s power grids. It seems though that there are some isolated places within our great urban environments where it is less apparent – try the southwest corner of Richmond Park in London, for instance. Mr Banks uses high and low side band filters to modify the recordings in these two tracks, and additionally bungs the opening piece through a pitch shifter. The second track is a perverted, yet gentle piece for five performers: Joe (VLF band radio noise), Rob (on TIG welding), John (lathe) and additional ambient field disturbances by Network South East and Eurostar. It’s like a moment of static, frozen in time. This is followed by what could almost be the sound of a dentist’s drill when it hits the edge of a broken tooth. There are also two tracks on this release which appeared previously on (now deleted) vinyl, ‘Stargate’ and ‘National Grid’. I really like the piece entitled ‘Theophany vs. National Grid’ which sounds like something very compacted cracking very slowly – but is really High Frequency AC noise with intermittent lightning strikes. Lightning strikes create electromagnetic impulses which can be picked up by receivers thousands of miles away. Apparently there are about 2000 storms worldwide each day and the earth is struck 100 times a second when lightning strikes. This is what creates the flashing effect. Lightning strikes emit radio pulses in the lowest end of the radio spectrum, which travel great distances, following the surface of the earth as ground waves. What sounds like waves of static in this piece are really sounds produced by clusters of individual bolts of lightning. Ghost Shells Part 2 (Part 1 was released on a mini-LP Ash 2.7, probably also deleted) is a blend of pings, drips and whistles created, once again, by lightning strikes, but this time blended with Royal Navy data communications with nuclear submarines. For those of you who wish to find out more about these radio phenomena, I suggest you contact Mr Banks (via the label, I guess as there’s no other address given) or else get yourself a copy of the excellent double CD released by Irdial several months ago titled ‘Electric Enigma: The VLF Recordings of Stephen P. McGreevy’. Listening to the R&D2 CD inspired me to re-read the extensive notes included in this Irdial release, and despite the fact that all sources are listed on this ASH CD, I do wish there wasmore comprehensive information included with it. Perhaps Mr Banks is planning to incorporate some extensive text in a forthcoming release?” [MP]

Last Sigh (Belgium):
“R&D2 is the second installment in a series of works by Disinformation, dedicated to documenting the aural manifestations of electrical and magnetic phenomena. The CD thus features a total of sixty minutes of what may be termed “pure” ambience — recordings of “data noise,” “solar radio emissions,” natural and artificial “lightning strikes” and various “field disturbances.” There are of course numerous musicians who use noise as the source for their musical creations, however, this work by Disinformation is an animal of an entirely different kind. The tracks on R&D2 feature the source sounds unmanipulated; the art here does not lie in creating some kind of ordered compositions out of the seeming “chaos” of noise. Disinformation’s achievement is the recording of these phenomena of sound in themselves, and the pleasure of listening to the results derives from the recognition of the integrity of the recordings. The endeavor of capturing these obscure sound emissions may appear eccentric, but the experience of listening to R&D2 presents a thrill not unlike that of looking into a microscope or telescope for the first time. These recordings reveal facets of our world that are unfamiliar, although the sources of the recordings are almost mundanely familiar. As such, Disinformation’s work is not music by any common definition, rather their CD is to “music,” what documentary films are to movies. And yet, the various vibrating, soaring, humming, crackling, pulsating, gyrating and rumbling “noises” presented here, are not noisy in an irritant manner. The majority of the recordings are in fact rather subtle and subdued, and, if anything, the streaming nature of most of the sounds have soothing qualities. Disinformation was aided in their aspirations to create this album of radio scientific documentation, by such institutions as the Royal Navy, Eurostar, Oubliette, Netwerk South East, and the Central Electricity Generating Board; the finished work has been released by Ash International. ”

Under the Volcano (USA):
“Ash, the notoriously uncompromising UK label, has issued what may be their last release, as indicated by the abbreviation, RIP, which appears at the top of the accompanying press sheet. This would be a pity, since Ash is one of the very few labels left that makes absolutely no attempt to enter the mainstream. Like much of the work they have issued, the new Disinformation CD will appeal only to those interested in the most obscure realms of experimental music. R&D2 is indeed a fascinating work, built solely upon processed geomagnetic and atmospheric-electrical recordings. The sounds of electrical storms, lightning, and all manner of electrical and radio interference patterns have been looped, processed and reassembled within these 11 pieces, creating a body of work of considerable ambience. Pieces move from grinding electronic din to barely audible soundtext and short circuited field recordings. R&D2 is recommended to listeners of Hafler Trio, Aube, Gunter and other extremely experimental electro-acoustic sound painters.”

The Sound Projector (UK):
“Beautiful, majestic. A near-definitive statement from this unique documentary recordist and sound artist. This collection of further Research and Development investigations comprises ‘Space Physics, Atmospheric Electricity and Geomagnetism’, and I guarantee your whole being will be given such a shaking that your soul will vibrate back into tune with your lost cosmic brother…you will find (particularly on the recordings of the National Grid or solar emissions, for example) that you are hearing something bigger than you are, a massively scaled thing that will crowd you out of your house. It’s something so apart from everyday experience, and yet in such a different league to any contrived ‘Cosmic’ music that a thousand space-cadet festival Gong fans would be crushed to death by it. The intentions of Joe Banks are quite removed from any of that, almost nothing to do with making music.

The somewhat self-effacing Banks once laughingly said that if anyone went and bought the same powerful radio equipment he had, they could produce the same effects easily. Perhaps it’s just the extreme amplification that makes it seem like a gigantic form of feedback music to some people. Banks feels his methods are quite transparent, and lists (with meticulous precision and detail) all the sound sources and the equipment he used to monitor them; in the same way, Ordnance survey map references are given for the sites of antiquated military research that he visits. Only on track 16, ‘National Grid’ can I detect any evidence of a gestural intervention from the artist, as he modifies the sound ‘live’ using an upper and lower slide-band morse code filter. I’m persuaded that this is more than just achieving An effect. It’s arguable that most of the other recordings are simply documents, without intervention. But – breathtakingly – what an astounding scale everything is conceived on. A piece can include an unwitting ‘collaboration’ from passing trains (identified with the usual precision as Network South East or Eurostar vehicles), or the Royal Navy sending out signals to nuclear submarines; their interventions vary the noise signals and ‘contribute’ to the piece. The United Kingdom can thus be seen as a large network of mundane and functional activities, all unco-ordinated and unrelated to each other, until Bank intercepts the electric signals they happen to generate and captures them in his Disinformation net. This is (I would claim) more than simply serendipity, but an artistic intervention with a near-invisible aspect of the environment on a large scale, generating formidably powerful artworks. If anyone comes close, it might just be Christo with his Running Fence or wrapping projects.

Banks has an interesting tale of artist-engravers being employed during the Second World War to forge bank notes, in a bid by one side to unsettle the other’s economy. In wartime, governments will invest heavily in scientific ideas if they might lead to victory. The situation can generate interesting side developments in all fields; the internet is the most obvious example, conceived as a communications network that would still be in place in the event of nuclear war. A slightly more prosaic example is the development of avant-garde cinema in America. The US Army had invested heavily in 16mm film-making (to make training films, and documentaries); after VJ Day, surplus equipment and stock then became available to civilians at a very affordable price. Hence, Jordan Belson, Kenneth Anger, Harry Smith, Maya Deren, Bruce Baillie et al could afford equipment, and the beginnings of an artist’s cinema were made possible. In my mind I connect these things with some of Disinformation’s sphere of interest – the way that new (artistic) things can spring from something dedicated to a totally unrelated application. In short, Banks can make music from the dying embers of the Cold War – and thankfully refusing the foolish, speculative paranoia detectable in the Irdial-Discs set of Numbers Stations Recordings. Ruins of the sound mirrors are pictured on the sleeve of this CD, stills from the strangely moving Antiphony Video Supplement; these are remains of the RAF Air Defence experimental acoustic early-warning system.”

The Wire (UK):
“R&D2 sounds like Panasonic or Ryoji Ikeda, but these eight tracks are recorded live from interference on radio frequencies – the dynamo hum of the 13 minute opener stems from “VLF harmonics of the 50Hz ELF fundamental radiated by alternating current electricity, modified live using an upper/lower sideband filter and Boss PS-2 digital pitch shifter”. Other numbers track rogue frequencies inflected by electrical storms or Network South East, from barely-intrusive lo-fi prickles and, on “Data Storm 2”, a luridly grating unidentified signal, to the cyber roar of the “Type 2 HP solar radio emission”. Large scale events captured as chirruping micro-sonics.” [Matt ffyche]

Art Zero (France):
“Du bruit blanc des chaotations planetaires, Disinformation garde l’anecdotique et en restitue son coda. Traquant de maniere quasi-paranoïaque et obsessionnelle le son naturel, enregistrant “live” les interferences captees au hasard des quanta et des flux musicaux, l’ambient-bruitisme de Disinformation tient tout autant de la production technoscientifique que du desir musical. Cendres d’une societe interfacee, residus impalpables d’un recyclage sonore imparfait, la musique ne revele pas tant l’invisible que l’information au sens brut du terme. Faisant emerger des instantanes sonores le plus souvent tires d’interzones geographiques (vieux bunkers delaisses, plages terminales, centrales nucleaires abandonnees, appareils electriques au stade de developpement depuis des annees), Disinformation offre une vision tres proche du romancier J.G. Ballard (c’est-a-dire tout a la fois romantique et desesperee) d’une societe qui tente sans succes d’enfouir et d’oublier ses “freaks” technologiques.” [Jerome Schmidt]

Side-Line (Belgium):
“Radio frequency atmospherics recorded live. I suppose it takes a certain mindset to enjoy this type of sound audiocumentary cataloging and manipulation of static, to even hear the musicality of such a recording. Or maybe it just triggers some kind of response (positive or negative, depending on the individual) because sound, the tones within the static when it is manipulated properly (if at all), kick starts some rarely exercised portion of the brain. (For example, the music of Mozart can supposedly trigger intellectual growth in children.) (There must be a covert, government-sanctioned laboratory that is running static inspired tests on rats as I write this…) Anyways, to the disc at hand, R&D2 is, apparently, the second volume of these type of itchy, sizzling circuitry recordings. Some of the tones are brittle and annoying (tracks 2 and 3 in particular) and especially tweaked my eardrums: nauseau swelled, but I was fascinated and persisted to listen because, as noted above, sound can alter the mind (oh, great! So Disinformation are brainwashing those with open minds to…buy their CDs?). The first track on the CD, „R&D Track 9,‰ is pure bliss for the staticologists (!), pulsing, subtly shifting as the distortion increases, unknown elements layered into the mix; about halfway in, the sonic emphasis shifts from static to throb, kinetic and squishy–it is the bloodstream of the airwaves; these sounds are the result of “VLF harmonics of the 50Hz Elf fundemental radiated…” – no, I don’t have any idea what they are talking about, I only know that I like it. “R&D Track13″ is poisonous thunderclouds ripping the sky a new excrement passageway; as the sky fills with darkness, all sound is sucked into a vortex vacuum; this is all the result of solar radio emmisions. Quite a bit of variety leaves the door open for at least one of the tracks to sink its hooks into almost any willing listener…” [JC Smith]

Their previous release, “R&D”, somehow evaded review in our last issue, so I’ll take this opportunity to recommend that release as the preferable starting point to those interested in exploring J. Banks’ rich portfolio of elctrotextures. Like the former release, “R&D2” is a sampling of sound phenomena from the pervasive ether of our electromagnetic atmosphere as received by highly sensitive radio equipment. My favourite of these tracks are the more crisp and crackly, though more transporting are the other moments of distant ambiance. The selections reflect no shift in the tastes of their creator/discoverer from what was reflected by the first release. I could tolerate an “R&D3” before losing interest. ([F]