Soundchecks Music Reviews

Steve Aylett

review by Ian Shutter

This one's actually more like an audio-book of fiction, or spoken word anthology, than a proper album, but has some musical accompaniment, so it's nonetheless just as interesting as many ambient recordings. Not that brilliantly satirical writer Steve Aylett could ever be confined to the background, in any case. This 2001 CD of lively readings of short-measure, lavishly-themed fiction and frequently acerbic prose works (from the vaguely science fictional books Atom, Toxicology, Bigot Hall, Inflatable Volunteer, and Only An Alligator) is complimented by attention grabbing sound-scapes, perhaps owing more to Vangelis, Kraftwerk and the BBC's old Radiophonic Workshop than Brian Eno.

Aylett's vocal performance on several of the 19 tracks is engaging, particularly Furnace Deal, Infestation (performed in a hauntingly creepy whisper... but the text is thoughtfully printed in the CD sleeve), and If Armstrong Were Interesting. This last offers a winningly roguish and diversely imaginative listing of everything that the first man on the Moon coulda, woulda, shoulda done instead of being so well behaved. Atom's Journal, Plunder Parade, and Digging For Spuds offer terse descriptions of mind-bogglingly original, hallucinatory scenes - as much like snapshots of urban nightmare and hypnologic tableau from the reasonless realms of surreal fantastique, as compositions of literary merit. Each has its tensions ratcheted up, and mood enhanced, by Aylett's music.

This compilation also features repeatedly playable instrumentals Beerlight: A Room With A View, which has eerie synthesiser punctuated by helicopter overflight sound effects, and the highly atmospheric Through Walls, probably intended as aural backdrop to your reading of Aylett's novel Shamanspace. Portis Thruway and final track Alix's Trip are worthy of mention for the potency of their insidious psychotronic washes and electronic wheelies. Samples and repetitive quotations are well used on the likes of Crowd Control, with its steady ascension towards an apocalyptic rumble.

Edited by Tony Lee
for PIGASUS Press