| GUM : Vinyl Anthology
23five005, Double Compact Disc
published in 2004
$17.98, plus shipping
In 1986, an Australian fellow by the name of Andrew Curtis posted an advertisement in a couple of record shops around Melbourne expressing a desire to start a band with somebody who shared his interests in Industrial music. The only person who answered the ad was Philip Samartzis, who has since gone on to international acclaim for his pristine electro-acoustic compositions published through Staalplaat, Synaesthesia, and Dorobo. Back in the late ‘80s, the Curtis and Samartzis collaboration resulted in the sonically volatile project simply called Gum. With little expertise or training, the two gathered up what objects they were familiar with, in particular thrift store turntables and soiled records. Eschewing their original attraction to the giants of Industrial Culture, Gum quickly developed an aesthetic privileging the caustic rupture of skipping records and smoldering surface noise, predating the current avant-turntablist aficionados like Philip Jeck, Janek Schaefer, and Otomo Yoshihide.
Within a handful of recordings made during the brief span between 1986 and 1990, Gum piled thick layers of electrically charged static channeled from their locked grooves. These spiraling repititions and arrhythmic palpitations were suspended in the instant moment of ecstatic release as an infinite crash of overstimulation. Thanks to RRR and Korm Plastics who had published Gum tracks on a couple of 7" compilations, Gum received a considerable amount of notoriety during the last gasps of pre-digital cassette culture. Since then, the two parted ways with Curtis turning his passions to photography and Samartzis infecting his students at RMIT with his cravings for immersive and tactile experiences through sound. Yet, Gum’s Frankensteinian grooves had remained a secret history within the prolific oeuvre of Australian sound art. With the publication of Gum’s Vinyl Anthology, 23five Incorporated uncovers the bulk of Gum's work, including all of the material from their self-published albums Vinyl and 20 Years in Blue Movies and Yet to Fake an Orgasm as well as those aforementioned compilation tracks and plenty of unreleased material.
March 10, 2005
Strange the noise-turntablist thing didn't really happen sooner than the 80s (outside of the academic artworld). It seems so obvious. Punk teenager staring at her record player long enough has to see the elegance of the solution. Instant noise, unpredictable results, low investment, direct response to a glut of commercial recordings that don't speak to her -- making them your own. The turntable stylus becomes a mystical sort of microphone/decoder ring amplifying tactile heiroglyphics in the grooves that, if incomprehensible, are readily alterable for the greater good of sonic nihilsm and resistance. Asking for it. No technique required. Found poetry. Misuse the turntable, abuse the records. Aural dystopia at arms reach, bought for a song (to destroy a song), physically and sonically post-industrial poetic.
In contrast, it was around 1980 when Brian Eno and painter Peter Schmidt (in the kind of moment that comes with or is necessitated by an unhealthy surplus of maturity) attempted to codify their most successful working habits, constructing a deck of playing cards with fortune cookie commandments. Pulling cards randomly in the studio would help counteract the staid "common-sense" reactions resulting from high-pressure studio stress. They say things like:
"Bridges -build -burn"
"Humanize something free of error"
"Emphasize the flaws"
"Work at a different speed"
"Repetition is a form of change"
"Honour thy error as a hidden intention"
"The card", said Eno, "is trusted even if its appropriateness is quite unclear". In his liner notes to the collected Gum recordings Jim Haynes romantically describes the young Philip Samartzis' (one half of the shortlived post-industrial duo known as Gum) 'eureka-in-the-bathtub' moment as an Eno-inspired Eno-esque encounter with a badly warped copy of Here Come The Warm Jets. The neat irony. And so the story goes that as Samartzis attempted to play his damaged record and the mottled opening bars of "On Some Farway Beach" gave way to the mangled infinite loop resulting from the stylus' entrapment in a locked groove pattern in the vinyl, Samartzis heard his calling to create music of damaged vinyl, textural abrasion, emphasizing repetetition and the distance between surface noise and drowned signals. Emphasize the flaws. ^&*(^(!*%@&*^!%@
But if the "Oblique Strategies" were a working technique ultimately concerned with unlocking the artists' itentions, let us in good faith acknowledge an important disconnect here: Gum were a couple of bored, curious Australian teenage Throbbing Gristle fans in (Andrew Cutris and Philip Samartzis) perhaps more initially concerned with the punx-as-fuck act of 'playing' destroyed vinyl then the resulting kunstwerk or the processes of artistic invention. Which is not to say they weren't bright, weren't on to something, didn't have some inkling of the rich, sexy semiotic intrigue of the thing. But Gum were (and Eno was not so much) anarchic composers of blemish. With Gum the error in the transmission was treated as no "hidden intention". Rather Gum's music plays out as a resistance to, if not disavowal of, the composer's will, the scraps and leavings of authorial intentions vandalized. Vandal art may well be beautiful, but that's not all there is to it is there? Gum plundered and derailed the original intentions of others to satisfy their need for mayhem. Emphasize the flaws? Gum created a music predicated on randomness and error, free of syntax and ego, and therein the idea of 'error' loses all semantic relevance. Murdered records bring noise without facility, without the trappings of rockstar posture (and all that "music" stuff).
Gum's music consisted entirely of locked grooves, vinyl surface noise derived from the duo's destruction of thrift store acquisitions. You could say that Gum were early "turntablists" before there was a scene or a school for such a thing, before the instrumentalists' concern for technique spoiled it, before the community of practice turned it into "an artform". They presaged serious turntablists and noisicians like Philip Jeck, Otomo Yoshihde, Martin Tretault, Merzbow, Janek Schaefer. At their best, Gum rendered absolute minimal abstractions into foreground role, musically, playing off the residual, vestigial remains of sounds that threaten contextualization but routinely fail to deliver. Exquisite sound poems like "Smooth Torture in Exile" hold all of the manufactured memory that old vinyl carries, mangled just enough so the sounds don't divulge their sources and muddy the waters with 'reference'. The sounds come to represent only themselves and, as this collection demonstrates, these stand up to time. The results of decomposition, trusted even if its appropriateness is quite unclear.
With the Gum releases largely out of print, Vinyl Anthology collects most of the recorded output, rarities and several live performances on a two-disc set that is as important to the history of plunderphonia and turntablism as it is an exhausting and frustrating listen. The ten cuts on Disc One comprise the Vinyl LP and include two outtakes and a 20-minute 1987 live performance. Disc Two includes several pieces done for compilations originally pressed by RRRecords, Korm Plastics, and some never having seen the lights of day (including a complete dismantling of TV Eye, their failed submission for a Stooges tribute record that sounds like a prototype for Wolf Eyes' Dread). Also included are the recordings of Gum's second album, 20 Years in Blue Movies and Yet to Fake an Orgasm. Some of it is of only passing interest, boring and montonous in hindsight. But if occasionally marred by tiresome stretches of incidental moodiness ("Melted Limp Fallout"), the best moments outrun the arch-conceptualism of similar practictioners like Christian Marclay with an exhuberant recklessness and an inability to strike a detached posture -- a saving grace. In contrast to respected art-world turntablists like Marclay (working at the same time as Gum) or Schaefer, whose works exist primarily in phenomenological explorations of process and medium, most of the tracks on the Gum set are unfocused, messy, exhiliratingly amateur, rippling with enthusiastic damage, frenzied and visceral manipulations of sound that are occasionally allowed to be fragile and lithe, even pretty (for a moment). There is no unified theory, a lot of missteps. There is also no shortage of gold. As with the cassette tape-based recordings of Aki Onda, the strongest pieces (like "Okefenokee", "Banning", and "Smooth Torture in Exile") make poetic and musical the residue of the medium itself in addition to the underlying recordings (which in the case of Gum are almost always obscured beyond recognition).
Gum were at their least interesting when attempting to be clever or blatantly conceptual. The few willfully transgressive pieces with a 'point' (god save us from music with punchlines), like 1-800-GUM (a phone sex recording served on a severed bed of Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly" soundtrack) or bits of the "Live at Hard Times" track (beginning by pitting the BeeGees' "Staying Alive" against shards of locked groove noise) that take easy targets, slings simpleminded arrows, generally age less well than those pieces unmarred by the missteps of young artists concerned more with heavy-handed 'saying' than listening.
Still, if some of the titles, samples and sonic colors (e.g. "Outfits for Agony") betray a misanthropic, uncritical youthful fascination with darkness and violence (of the horror movie cliche vareity) the bravery and meticulousness of much of this material suggest that the punk experiment went slightly awry: if the seeds of Gum germinated in a fascination with destructive action, these 'authors of error' were clearly not content with the mere process and fell in love with the sounds themselves. By the second record it is clear that they had lost themselves in curisosity, in sculpture, in honoring and ornamenting their dis-constructions as legitimate standalone work.
Curtis is now a photographer. Samartzis records stoic, immersive musique concrete-inspired records on Staalplaat, Dorobo and his own Microphonics label, and is also a lecturer at RMIT university. If Samartzis' current work is solid and defensible, smarter, leaner, I can't shake the feeling that his juvenilia is simply more inspired (even when it was bad). This collection is an essential document of abstract turntablism and noise for that small community who feel such things to be essential. At high volumes it will also piss off your parents more effectively than the last nordic black metal record you just bought. I promise. -- William S. Fields
February 17, 2005
Sometime back in pre-history, around 1986, in a far away, semi-mythological land (Australia), young Andrew Curtis posted an advertisement in a local record shop looking for someone who shared his passion for industrial bands. The ad was answered by an equally young Philip Samartzis and Gum was born. Though both were ardent fans of the music, it didn't take long to become evident that the trappings and general downcast and glum aura associated with the industrial scene weren't good fits for their personalities so the two forged on into improvised turntablism, albeit often with rock undertones. A couple of albums and several contributions to various compilations resulted. Those and a few more odds and ends are collected in this handsomely produced, very enjoyable 2-disc set.
Disc One includes the ten tracks originally issued on the Vinyl LP as well as two outtakes and a 20-minute live performance from 1987. With a couple of exceptions, the cuts are short, two to four minutes. I continue to have the growing suspicion that there's something genetic, or something in the water, that causes Australian sound artists to be particularly keen on sonic separation as that aural clarity is heard throughout this set. The very first piece, "Stormy Weather" (no, not that one) leaps into one's face, a-crackle and roaring, a mass of sound that reveals, upon a moment's consideration, six or seven layers in play, high to low, foreground to background, like a sliver of Xenakis' Bohor. While not every piece completes the 18 year journey without showing signs of wear, as a whole the performances sound remarkably fresh and works like "Outfits for Agony" (yes, some of the titles betray a bit of youthful indiscretion…) are just stunning in their richness. A distant, pounding drum, multiple strata of flute-like hums, captured CB conversation—all make for a thrilling, very cinematic soundscape. Oddly enough, in some pieces you also get a whiff of Terry Riley's mid-60s experiments, recalling things from "Mescaline Mix" (not available at the time of this recording). The live track is a kick as well, opening and closing with "Stayin' Alive", detouring and rhythmically deconstructing various songs, advertisements and other detritus along the way. After they finish, someone from the crowd shouts, "Play some music!"
The second disc includes several pieces done for compilations (not all accepted) and the contents of Gum's second album, the felicitously titled, 20 Years in Blue Movies and Yet to Fake an Orgasm. Indeed, the first track features porn dialogue over an increasingly funky backdrop; maybe not the most original idea—even then—but still pulled off with enough glee to work. The highlight here, for me, is "Okefenokee", a riveting throe of a piece from 1990 (late period Gum), all whooshes and chitters whirling about over a freight yard full of shuddering rumbles. A massively impressive slab of sound. The 20-minute "Banning" is just a single-minded yet multi-faceted machine, brutally gouging a path through the rubble, eventually joined by frenetic drums and bells. Yoshihide and Tetreault achieved this kind of intensity a couple of times last time I caught them; hard to imagine any other turntable tag-team doing so. The final selection is Gum's most blatant allusion to their industrial rock roots, working off a loose cover of Throbbing Gristle's "Blood on the Floor", quickly appropriating the beat and chorus and basically going nuts rocking out with them. Nerds on the loose! It's great fun and a rollicking way to tie up what is, in total, an excellent, ear-opening look into the early career of Samartzis, one of today's most rewarding sonic adventurists (Curtis, according to the fine liner notes by Jim Haynes, has returned to his first love, photography). Highly recommended. -- Brian Olewnick
Issue 12, September 2005
Before Phillip Jeck's woozy nostalgia, or Thomas Brinkman's cutting of locked grooves into the vinyl, Gum, the Melbourne duo of Andrew Curtis and Philip Samartzis recognized the unique and giddy possibilities of utilizing turntables as a sound source and compositional device in the late eighties. Covering their entire recorded output between 1987 and 1990, this 2cd anthology features numerous diverse and playful approaches to this new form. The first cd in particular begins with cascading white noise and static, an indistinguishable noisy structure, whilst the next features dreamy low pitch woozes, which is followed by quite percussive pieces as the needle repeatedly hits the same point over and over followed by booming atmospheric drones with hidden wisps of melody. This, their debut release from 1987 is quite exploratory and unexpectedly proficient. And then out of the blue comes "1-800-Gum," a previously unreleased track from the second disc replete with sleazy phone sex action, happy riffing and cheeky funk. Yet their humor was never really in question with song titles like "Testicle Stench," "Involuntary Orgasms During the Cleaning of Automobiles," or their hilarious covers of the Stooges "TV Eye" (not surprisingly rejected by the Au Go Go Hard to Believe Stooges comp) or Throbbing Gristle's terrifying "Blood on the Floor" and "Melted Limp Fallout." With little more than a few record players (no technics mk 1200 in sight) tape decks and effects pedals Gum has tapped into the hidden grooves of the vinyl and in doing so created a series rich exploratory and experimental works that stand the test of time. -- Bob Baker Fish
April 10, 2005
Gum was the late 1980s project of two locked groove-obsessed Australian youths. Seduced by the sounds of their warped and scratched records, Andrew Curtis and Philip Samartzis developed a conceptually challenging way to harness the hidden and embarrassing music of phonographic media gone wrong.
They, along with people like Christian Marclay, Emil Beaulieau, and Boyd Rice, became the first to take a turntable's archaic playback mechanism to task as an instrument, capable not only of an easily-manipulated and virtually inexhaustible bank of noise, but also of almost automatic syntactic headfuckery. The plunderphonic, Negativlandian impulse had already begun to assert itself in 1987, but Gum's purely phonographic stance brought that same brand of pop culture commentary and exploited sound-bytes in immediate collision with things purely visceral. The duo scratched, sanded, baked, burnt, and otherwise mutated their thrift store finds, assembling a collection of locked grooves and blasted sound chips that essentially gave forgotten records new life, fodder for a kind of surreal puppet circus where strung-up corpses grind out stunted, nervous repetitions of a living dance. Gum's trajectory moves from something like a punkier incarnation of the plunderphonic phenomenon, to amateur industrial klang, to wildly successful sound collage efforts that in many ways predict the sounds of today's turntable namedrops: Philip Jeck, Martin Tretault, Janek Schaefer. Curtis and Samartzis put more emphasis on the process end, that is the abrasions and mutations of the records and their precise recombination, than on any kind of re-contextualization of recognizable sources. The few tracks to actually show their age are in fact the ones where the duo's intent appears too transparent, their motives too easy: phone-sex dialogue featuring Curtis set to an effected Super Fly soundtrack or a live set where the Bee Gee's Saturday Night Fever becomes the rhythmic template. Elsewhere, the simple and arresting power of the duo's surface scavenges, and their queasy track titles ("Testicle Stretch," "Smooth Torture in Exile," "Arm Fuck"), become more than adequate in communicating a hilarious, dystopian, and ultimately beautiful worldview. Especially on the longer tracks like "Banning" or "Melted Limp Fallout," Gum achieves mysterious and immersive sound environments that feel perfectly suited to the present day and help to explain Samartzis' future work as an accomplished sound artist. Vinyl Anthology collects everything Gum released plus several unreleased and live tracks; it is indispensable document for fans of turntable-based music, punkers, noisers, and pop theorists worldwide. -- Andrew Culler
Number 454, Week 52
Long before DJs were the superstars (and why they are, I am still trying to figure out), working with vinyl as musical material was something that was delt with by the more experimental musicians. That was long before anyone thought of 'turntablism.' The use of vinyl goes back to just before the second World War when John Cage started working with them. In the old cassette days of the eighties, vinyl was used, maybe, but I'm guessing here, as a poor man's medium: no instruments were required, just a record and means to record the result on. Non and Christian Marclay are the best known musicians in the 80s working this way. Australia's Andrew Curtis stuck notes in record stores in Melbourne, seeking people to form a band, and only one person responded: Philip Samartzis (the latter now known for his releases on Staalplaat, Dorobo and Dr. Jim). Curtis and Samartzis called their musical project Gum and they started to work with old turntables and likewise old records and if we are to believe Jim Haynes' liner notes, this was by accident. Samartzis had a bad copy of an Eno record and it skipped. Gum produced two LP's and were twice featured on 7"s (one on RRR's Testament boxset and a split 7" for Korm Plastics). Now this entire lot, plus a couple of unreleased tunes, aswell as one live track, are released on this double CD. This sums up the entire history of Gum and it's good to hear all of this again (haven't played the records in ages!). Gum deals with both the musical content of vinyl aswell as the material of vinyl. Crackles and surface noise became as much music as the locked musical grooves of the record they are using. Each of the tracks is a minimal set of tunes, with a more destructive edge to it than say the lush turntable preparations of say Philip Jeck. Gum, named after an SM magazine, uses sometimes taped voices from sex films, but it's always hard to notice it somewhere, except in the surprising more musical "1-800-GUM." Fans of Jeck, Yoshihide or Schaeffer wondering what the roots of these musicians are, should definetly check Gum out. It's defintely a true archeological music source to them. -- Frans de Waard
March 10, 2005
Philip Samartzis is a sonic artist of international repute, having performed widely in his native Australia, Japan, Europe and the United States. He currently holds a position as co-ordinator and lecturer in sound at the School of Art, RMIT University in Melbourne, one of Australia's leading educational establishments. There he is engaged in research into surround sound and immersive environments for installation art. However, his earliest explorations into sound manipulation were far more humble.
In 1986 a young Australian by the name of Andrew Curtis posted an advertisement in local record shops across Melbourne, desperately seeking someone who shared his passion for industrial bands such as Cabaret Voltaire, Whitehouse, and Throbbing Gristle (whose "Blood on the Floor" is covered and included here). The only respondent was Samartzis. A meeting was hastily arranged and a friendship quickly established between them. It was not long until the aurally hostile and decidedly lo-fi GUM was born – a vehicle for their shared enthusiasms and desire become participators rather than spectators. In the same punk rock spirit that motivated their champions, expertise and training took a back seat to youthful exuberance and an "everything but the kitchen sink" mentality. The pair took to the thrift stores that dotted their neighborhood and bought up barely functioning turntables and old worn out LPs. Isolated, geographically and ideologically, from the rest of their industrial brethren, increasingly finding that scene too elitist and arrogant, their obsession with mysticism both tiresome and banal, GUM's principal concern was simply enjoyment. Their modus operandi was the locked groove, those discovered in bargain bins and manufactured by the swift movement of a Stanley knife. Augmented by an overdose of slap-dash FX, GUM created a catalogue of static, noise and hiss, alongside the occasional, but not so subtle, social comment.
Tracks like "Testicle Stretch" more than live up to their billing, inducing an almost physical pain via a barrage of Merzbow proportions. However, there are a few relative diamonds in the rough, as the delicate plaintive piano loop of "Injected by a Certain Amount of Charisma" (ony of several amazing titles) gradually accelerates away into the ether before imploding. "1-800-GUM" sees the group exploring territory frequented by arch media pranksters Negativeland – a recontextualization of phone sex and sexuality features a woman serving up lascivious phrases over a cheesy '70s funk soundtrack, with Curtis himself supplying the feeble, distracted responses up until the point of cacophonous rapture.
This anthology of GUM's complete works from 1987-1990 is comprised of their two self-published albums Vinyl and 20 Years in Blue Movies and Yet to Fake an Orgasm, a few 7" singles, and several unreleased pieces. It has been lovingly assembled, replete with liner notes from label boss Jim Haynes (regular Wire contributor and associate member of San Francisco's Jewelled Antler collective) and is a fine way for devotees of a new generation of turntabilists – Phillip Jeck, Janek Scaheffer, Otomo Yoshide et al – to investigate the genre in its embryonic stages. It also provides an alternative historical view of Antipodean music. During a time when most of GUM's peers were choking on the dry ice of Goth, GUM are proof that there were other options available for those on the fringes. -- Spencer Grady