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the topography of chance – curated by stewart lee

funny how these things work out.
a couple of weeks ago i saw comedian, writer, director, stewart lee appear on never mind the buzzcocks, and i said to my wife that its not that often his face is on tv these days, then a week or so later he turns up on have i got news for you, with his trademark mini-quiff and subtle humour.
then to top it all off, i get this most wonderful of packages through the inbox. for this ongoing series of released available via the sonic arts network, stewart has sorted out one of the strangest compilations i have in the ever increasing ireallylovemusic archive, thus blowing my theory that he is nothing but a lover of fair to middling indie bands out of the water.
based upon the somewhat grandiose, and possibility mad ideas put forward by the so called fluxus group who according to details provided, like to float portraits down rivers, the premise behind the compilation is based upon a book entitled an anecdoted topography of chance ( by fluxus artist emmet williams) in which williams tells the tale of all the objects placed upon the desk of artist daniel spoerri (have you googled any of this stuff yet ?). so, armed with the idea of random chance, stewart has put all manner of strange and wonderful sonic experiments together, wrapped the collection up in a book of maps displaying the location of the relevant artist involved, in the hope that will somehow inspire and draw the listener into the world of surrealism and idea.
i have to say, that not all of the selections would be the sort of thing i would actively seek out, but i have to say, i love the idea of the opening and closing pieces by magnetic migration music, who collect the discarded old school c90 tape that you see wrapped around fences/street lamps and play them, record them, and then naturally name the piece according to the location that the magnetic tape was found. simple idea, with fascinating random results.
other highlights include the wonderful eerie late night pub session tale, the burryman, by daniel patrick quinn (featuring duncan grahl), the innocent brilliance of bird song by giant sand, the strange but sympathetically treated ambience of jem finer and andrew kotting, john barley corn, which again seems to look to the folksong archives and use some old field recording and add some delicate overdubs of modern studio extras making the end result a thing of simple beauty. another jaw dropping track, is the stripped back acoustic guitar and female vocals of tells, whose track roundabout, is like something that they would sing to welcome the onset of spring. gorgeous.
for fans of the unusual, perhaps the best piece is the presence of mark e smith reading out the football results on the bbc, an event that was well documented at the time, such is the appeal that is mark e smith, the 3 and half minutes may not warrant repeated listening, but damn to have this put down for evermore on a release is very worthy.
of course, it has to be said, a collection as varied and eclectic as this, is not going to be going down a storm during that saturday night red wine session, despite the appearance of a couple of well known comedians, arthur smith backed by rothko, ‘i’ve seen your arse’, and the very enjoyable ‘allen road n16’ by simon munnery, which records the antics of a drunk after which simon tells us the story of the drunk, but for those out there who like to delve that little bit deeper than your usual rush job compilation, then this could indeed be one to track down.
tracklisting :

magnetic migration music – a loch, central scotland, (side a, side b blank)

rodd keith – how can a man overcome his heartbroken pain?

daniel patrick quinn featuring duncan grahl – the burryman

derek bailey – anecdote

evan parker, john coxon and ashley wales – evan parker with birds, track #1

giant sand – birdsong

jem finer and andrew k_tting – john barley corn

jon rose – the shouting fence

kombat opera – corby trouser press

rothko with arthur smith – i’ve seen your arse

simon munnery – allen road n16

tells – roundabout

thunderboy – (they) called it

the trachtenburg family slideshow players – let’s not have the same weight in 1978, let’s have more

rooney – into the lens or in the centre of the image

mark e smith – football results

magnetic migration music – borough, near tate modern, london (side b)
more detail : here