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Emission Control, in London SE5, the headquarters of Sterile Records and the Nocturnal Emissions project between 1980 and 1987.
33 1/3 scale relief model (2018)
Thursday, 4 January 2018
Tuesday, 28 November 2017
..here is the easy-read version :
Tissue of Lies
The Nocturnal Emissions (great name) are Nigel Ayers (voice, guitar, violin, tape) and Caroline K (voice, bass, synth, rhythm). Daniel Ayers plays computer program & synth on two tracks.
This is their first LP and it’s quite amazing! It’s not like anything I’ve ever heard before – the nearest I can get is TG (very early) and Faust (Tapes). The sound quality is very open, as in TG’s 2nd Annual Report and this adds to the atmosphere and feel of the music.
Ah yes – the music! This is going to be awkward, but I’ll try … A sparser Nurse With Wound (circa Chance Meeting), only not as harsh, and some tracks have rhythms and coherent vocals (in the audible as opposed to lyrical sense). The non-rhythmic tracks tend towards After Cease to Exist type music, or even Schnitzler’s Schwarz, and the vocals range from Genesis P-Orridge to a sort of female John Cooper-Clark! I think that an "Industrial Faust" is probably the best way to describe them; they haven’t got the sense of humour, but they’ve certainly got the ideas!
Fruiting Body LP
When I first put this record on the platter I fully expected to be treated to another attempt to blend rock rhythms with mechanised electronics. The first track, “Smear Campaign”, had a kind of throbbing bass undertone that supported an unintelligible female voice, and so the illusion continued. Until suddenly I realised that there were no drums, no guitars, no voices singing, no keyboards lines, no lyrics. I thought I was listening to Stockhausen’s “Telemusik” or “Hymnen”. I switched gears, this was electronic music.
And damn good electronic music at that. The Nocturnal Emissions create an intense gumbo of electronic sounds, mixing voices, radio sounds, crowd sounds, loops and industrial noises into a mature new music. They are a few steps removed from This Heat and begin to approach a sort of electronic music classicism that hasn’t been popular for 15 or 20 years. My comparison to Stockhausen is significant because they sound a lot like the kind of stuff he was doing in the sixties. but the Nocturnal Emissions are a new group, they have thoughts of today, and rather than playing up to a sixties idealism that embraced universal
harmony and peace in the world, they re-invent this collage approach to electronic music by using the sounds and ambivalence of Earth 1982. There are no points to be made by this music, they are not saying anything. They are showing us a form of art, a type of technological music that is the result of our world. They mount an equaliser on the known universe and tune it as they wish.
This is brain music. It is sophisticated. Extreme. Well done. Three of the tracks were done live, although you wouldn’t realise it by listening. America has Mnemonists, Michael Gilbert, Negativland and Robert Ashley. Britain adds the Nocturnal Emissions to their list of esoterica in experimental music.
A rhythmic urge, reminiscent of the loudest of discos, weaves throughout the proceedings as the typical barrage of sound crunches through on top.
NE have taken their inaccessible best and thrown it into the melting pot with a set of pumping rhythms. The result is the frustrated son of mutant disco. That overused term has given birth to an even more mutated slant on the black American beat.
Mood music for the intelligently subversive, a chorus of tingling memories thrashing against that driving, never ending beat. But this is not sell out! No mere commercial alternative, just the opposite. NE use the accepted areas of the dance idiom and reshape the rules by introducing just about everything that, in theory, shouldn’t be there. If they’re dancing in hell, which I’m sure they are, it must be to music like this.
Nocturnal Emissions -The World is My Womb
Nigel Ayers' and Caroline K's 1987 album is an early example of the spiritual ambient-trance music that has proliferated in the European underground throughout the '90s. Nocturnal Emissions' affinity for ancient folk songs adds a distinctive accent to the music's ritualistic grandeur.
Propaganda and Persuasion
Imagine the soundtrack to a Hieronymous Bosch painting . . . grisly screams, primal groans of anguish, remorseless beat of the torture machine, gurgles of malefic ecstasy, life histories played back in minutes on Judgement Day, mocking parodies of your most cherished beliefs. Four anonymous figures on stage preside over the assault using a mixture of prepared tapes, electronic instruments and percussion.
This was the sound of the Nocturnal Emissions, the only white band to play (underneath the Atlantic Road railway arches) in Brixton during the '81 riots, the band who, on the night of the '83 election results took over the Ritzy Cinema and played their music with a widescreen backdrop combining the TV announcement of the catastrophic results with snatches from their 16mm film The Foetal Grave of Progress. The first band ever to use metal bashing - with a female metal basher, laying waste to washing machines and cookers, rolling in broken glass on stage.
'When we saw Test Dept in the same railway arch bashing metal we stopped doing it. It was becoming too fashionable.' Says Reg Sailyne, otherwise known as Nigel Ayers, longest serving member of the Emissions. 'Two years later, Depeche Mode, the Eurythmics, 23 Skidoo and ten thousand other hopefuls were bashing that metal.'
If you've never heard of this band - who have a large cult following - it's possibly because of this anti-commercial stance and the fact that they only work through small independent record companies - usually their own, Sterile Records. In fact they've been around for five years now.
'The Emissions have been working as a collective since 1981' says Nigel in his broad Derbyshire accent, 'making records, cassettes, videos and performing live with multi-media shows in Italy, Holland, France and occasionally the UK'. Besides railway arches they've appeared in such bastions of kulcher as the Tate Gallery and the ICA, and their early scratch video works have been cited as pioneering work by the likes of Howard (Rock Follies) Schumann. Their record label has also featured music by Test Dept, SPK, The Band of Holy Joy, Portion Control 'and many other obscurities.'
But can art change the world? 'All art is used for propaganda and persuasion. Our enemies recognise this power even if we don't. So everything we do on our own terms helps to build our own confidence and that of our class as a whole. We are denying the official version of reality with our own version, and seeing what we have to do has encouraged a lot of other people to start doing things for themselves?'
Four years ago, industrial music pioneer Nigel Ayers underwent a fundamental re-evaluation of himself and his music. He wound up changing the name of his Sterile Records label to Earthly Delights – and the music of his band, Nocturnal Emissions, went from subversive to sublime. They had a harsh sound and a truly confrontational attitude. During their early years they would launch frontal noise assaults. In fact, just five years ago they ranted and raved about society on their album, Songs of Love and Revolution, with beatboxes cranking in the background. But Ayers’ self-examination led to a new kind of sound. The band’s clattering music evolved into droning meditations on natural cycles, which made for great listening late at night or first thing in the morning. Rather than throwing the worst ugliness of industrial society into their listeners’ faces, the Emissions began offering visionary alternatives. Instead of beatboxes, there were church organs and the processed sound of birds and other animals; instead of verbal tirades, there were no words at all.
“I think this genre called industrial music with its hard rhythmic electronics has become totally brainless,” an exhausted Ayers complained during a stop on Nocturnal Emissions’ recent tour of the midwestern United States. “What attracted me to it in the first place was that nothing was quite happening like that, so I found it interesting. (But) as the format became increasingly ritualised, it became like a supermarket product.”
Ayers was a former sculpture student in London when he founded Nocturnal Emissions out of what he considers his “childish ambition to put a record out. I did it at home with broken tape recorders and whatever means necessary.” One means he used to get the record out was his record label, Sterile, which has since released the work of like-minded groups like Lustmord. Another means was a mail-order house to give his label overseas distribution. Creating the label and distributing the records allowed Ayers and his group control over their work. “I don’t think we could ever be accused of compromising our work,” he said. “Not ever. Not that I’ve always liked everything that we’ve done, but I know who’s to blame.”
From 1982 until 1985 Nocturnal Emissions toured Europe extensively, recording several live cassettes and attracting a large following…
…On their final early-period recording, Songs of Love and Revolution, the group was growling sometimes didactic wards (“get rid of the rich, get rid of the ruling class, get rid of the state”) over beat boxes and simple synthesiser patterns, according to Ayers, a part of it was tongue-in-cheek; it was just general commentary on all the new industrial bands popping up at the time, and on the recording industry that was speeding such product into the trough. “I think we worked with rhythmic music,” Ayers said. “We used that as a medium – the rhythm wasn’t the be all and end all of the music. I always felt our stuff was kind of an ironic comment on the industry, Since then, our ironic comment has kind of turned into the industry itself.”
Ayers was becoming disillusioned with industrial music and its harsh electronic rhythms by the time Songs of Love and Revolution came out, and although he doesn’t say so directly, perhaps also with the negative energy from which the music drew its inspiration. He felt it was time for a change, so in 1985 withdrew from the music scene altogether for two years. “We reached a point where we were beating our heads against the wall,” he said. “You’ve made a statement, what’s the use of repeating and repeating it?”..
Prior to 1987, Emissions albums espoused some political or social viewpoint, but Ayers grew tired of what he describes as his “tendency to get dragged into ideologies. As soon as you make a statement, you get bundled in with a whole bunch of people making a similar statement and the original statement gets lost along the way. It’s counterproductive.”
Consequently, Ayers began to see lyrics to Nocturnal Emissions songs as “distracting”.
For reasons he calls “selfish”, Ayers turned to producing a different kind of sound, a dreamlike music that is far easier to listen to, and far more moving, than his earlier, harsher works. While earlier Emissions records used contrast between seduction and confrontation - bits of beauty embedded in tar, so to speak – today they offer pure seduction, with Ayers exploring the “connection between dream states and waking states, bringing a dream world into reality, breaking down the barriers.”
Ayers described the creation of recent Nocturnal Emissions albums as a collage process in which the group drew together various obsessions and ideas and hunches until something concrete formed. The process is a bit like trying to recall old memories, working through associations to reach the very structure of consciousness. “I think we’re creating a whole new form of music,” he said, “our work is an invocation for the listener to interpret.”
Released in 1988, Spiritflesh was the first offering by the new emissions. He record “came out of a long, hard thinking, a personal examination of my own motives for working within music.” Ayers played church harmonium, chime and music box on the record, and used samples of chimpanzees, cattle, and African and European wild birds. While generally ambient, the music is not like Brian Eno’s work; it is atmospheric, but impossible to relegate to the background.
Listening to Spiritflesh is sort of like having your ear underground, tuned into the sound of the Earth and the seasons. That description might sound like New Age, but the music doesn’t. It has an eerie edge that makes one wonder if listening to the Earth and the seasons too intimately might drive the average human being insane. “There’s always a dangerous intrusion of the real world into our music,” Ayers said. “We’re looking into the relationship between people and the environment, the kind of feedback which happens between people and locations. Underneath it all, this planet has got its own message.”
England's NOCTURNAL EMISSIONS...evoke distinctly different noises that have long since made the term "industrial" obsolete. They conjure music for the mind, creating a meditative atmosphere that can help listeners take a closer look at themselves, their work has made them a highly regarded cult group in both Europe and the US, with people travelling miles to experience their live performances.
"Any fool can press a button. The point of technology is why and how you use it. Our work is a step beyond the myth of technology, behind the sales blurb, to see what it really does."
In 1985, Nocturnal Emissions' Nigel Ayers decided to stop playing in a group, strip down his own music, and tune back into the natural world, focusing on, as he stated in one interview his own "magickal development."
'"Development" may not be the best word,' Ayers elaborates. 'What I mean is an increased consciousness of what (Nocturnal Emissions) call the 'magical self' and its purpose. To me, this is to do with stripping away the programs of compromise as a social/economic unit and functioning in a completely made-up world of my own.
'Being tuned in is only a starting point. The goal of our work is to turn the world upside down and give it a good shaking.'
The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s: 58
Drowning in a Sea of Bliss
Nigel Ayers’ impact on experimental music might not be obvious at first glance, but look a little closer and it’s pretty clear that without his guiding hand things could have been very different. As boss of Sterile Records, Ayers brought Lustmord, Maurizio Bianchi (aka M.B.) and Coil’s John Balance to the attention of dedicated music fans for the first time, but he wasn’t only a keen listener. As Nocturnal Emissions, Ayers, initially aided by his brother Danny and Caroline K, reinterpreted the wide range of music he heard around him as bone-crunching noise, industrial sound-collage, crunchy, grim electro and queasy drone. Drowning in a Sea of Bliss initially surfaced on vinyl in 1983, but was picked up by the fledgling Touch label in ’86 for a cassette reissue (oh, the 80s) and was a startling example of not only that label’s early dalliances but also of Ayers’ unshakable creativity. Few other records have managed to bolt together this kind of world-map of influences and emerge with such a jaw-dropping and weirdly coherent haze. Though Ayers never achieved the same following as Nurse With Wound, Throbbing Gristle or Coil, it doesn’t make Drowning in a Sea of Bliss any less crucial.
This is the big sound of Nocturnal Emissions coming out of your speakers
The announcement first came out of my speakers in 1983, courtesy of Viral Shedding, the fourth album by Nocturnal Emissions. This was a group who had first appeared just as Throbbing Gristle imploded, and thus, along with Test Department, Konstruktivists, 400 Blows and others, were saddled with the 'Industrial' tag. They were all a bit noisy you see. Nocturnal Emissions' first few releases could almost have been recorded directly off the shop floor at Fords, were it not for the subtle suggestion that there was a lot more going into this music than just amplified noise. Around the time of Viral Shedding it seemed like everybody had learnt that their synths could approximate dance music, so beats and melodies were creeping in, but of the whole bunch, Nocturnal Emissions produced the only album that made a truly dirty funky noise. This was not Sheffield synth-pop. If earlier tracks like 'LD-50' represented the horror of the animal labs where unspeakable experiments were carried out in the name_ of eliminating bodily odour, the difference was that now they'd got James Brown strapped into the Shampoo tester. lt was an incredible album, and far more listenable than I may have just implied, not least because of how radically different it sounded compared to earlier works. Yet it remains consistent with the rest of the NE back catalogue which is punctuated by a number of equally dramatic changes in focus. A greatest hits album by this group would sound like a compilation, if not for the consistency in quality, innovation and an indefinable but distinctive undercurrent of subversive humour, captured best by the name itself which was chosen to imply something that happens secretively and perhaps unconsciously, outside the realms of the polite conversation that defines consensus reality.
Ten industrial albums YOU must own.
Nocturnal Emissions – Spiritflesh
“‘Ambient’ means background music. My music shifts from background to foreground, so I wouldn’t consider it ambient. I consider what I do to be a subversive music, because it messes with people’s heads in unexpected ways.”
I think this selection may come as a surprise to many. It certainly did to me, but having listened again to many of the so-called “classic” industrial albums I found that many of them had utterly failed the test of time, whereas much of Nocturnal Emissions’ output was far far better than I remembered it.
The Noccies (as we will not call them) have an impressive history dating back to the late 70s. I think for many people (myself included) there was a tendency to dismiss them as yet another group who contributed tracks to every compilation going and who you would get around to investigating further… eventually. In retrospect this was to everybody’s loss.
In fact this is a key point – Nocturnal Emissions didn’t contribute tracks to compilations because nobody would release their stuff as an album, but because collaboration, networking, and participation in collective action was always a primary part of their modus operandi. As Nigel Ayers (the main, and mostly the only “member” of the “group”) once said of the early days of industrial:
“I see my own work in two contexts, one is for me to do the work I personally find satisfying and rewarding. The second is to undermine the structures of capitalism. So I have both individual and collective aims in my work. They may seem to be contradictory, but if you think about it, they aren’t. Whether I shared these motives with the ‘industrial movement’ is debatable. While many of the early industrialists dealt with ‘transgressive’ material, I think the effect has been that rather than public consciousness being raised, sado-masochism has become far more marketable. I think time has shown that the motivation for most of the so-called ‘industrial movement’ was essentially careerist.”
“The cultural phenomena that interested me, was a very much an ‘underground’ thing that worked through a number of informal networks of tape exchanges, squats, mail art, zines, etc. The ‘successful’ industrial bands had little to do with this phenomena, and instead participated in issuing the kind of ‘style sheets’ of correct listening, reading and thinking that you get in the Industrial Culture Handbook.”
It is also quite telling that Nocturnal Emissions’ output was never tainted with the totalitarian chic exhibited by many of their contemporaries. Indeed, whilst clearly being interested and involved in many of the diverse currents flowing through the underground, Nigel never let this detract from the music:
“Music is a means of communication. The point is to make it, to use it, to listen to it. Not to study or theorise about it.”
As with anarchopunk, many of the denizens of industrial culture collapsed under the weight of their own ideologies (or failing that, mythologies). Albums became impossible to just listen to* – the whole intellectual context had to be weighed up. Various industrial acts would announce in interviews that they were giving up music to work on books which explained their worldview – but none appeared.
It is somewhat galling, having waded through acres of cutting edge dark mysticism** as a young man, to find Nigel being so bang on and pragmatic from the outset:
“My record company advised me to emphasise the ‘magick’ side of my music, in order to sell more records. I know this is a strategy adopted by many of the other groups they distribute and it seems to work for them. Personally, I don’t know that I have an aspect to my life that isn’t magick or even magic. As a practicing occultist, I’d describe my belief system as sceptical.”
Nigel is also slyly aware of being ahead of the game so many times over the last few decades that his past regularly comes back to haunt him. Most Nocturnal Emissions interviews are peppered with references to their influence on progressive or experimental music, which vary from the hilariously outrageous…
“In fact, every major musical movement in the past 20 years was all my fault. I am to blame for it all.”
…to pure statements of fact: Nocturnal Emissions were arguably the first group to use metal bashing, produced early “scratch video” before the name was coined, were cited as an influence on everyone from the Prodigy to Bjork and bizarrely seem to have somehow influenced the lyrical content of one of Boyzone’s biggest hits.
And so, without further ado, to the music. By the time Spiritflesh was released in 1988, Nocturnal Emissions had already produced several albums of electronic music which varied from noisy to funky. Displaying his usual perversity, Nigel chose to ditch electronic dance music immediately before the acid house revolution and produce a series of utterly compelling atmospheric albums which are often referred to these days as being “ambient industrial”.
Spiritflesh includes drones, birdsong and other recordings of animals, percussion, effects. It is by no means the assault on your ears that industrial music is supposed to be. I am sure that if you described those elements to most people they would dismiss it as new age cobblers. In fact, the album is incredibly involving… enveloping. I think this is because Nigel is able to combine the white light of ambience with a darker undercurrent, so the whole carries just enough weight and intensity. Too little and it would be cheesy in the same way that the whooshing positivity of trance is cheesy. Too much and we enter camp “hammer house of horror” cliches or the outright nastiness of much of the industrial scene.
I’m reluctant to get into a track by track dissection. The album sucks you into its own world but allows you the freedom to wander about. It is easy to forget that nobody else was producing music quite like this at the time, because so many people have been producing derivative versions ever since.
No Commercial Value
… Nigel Ayers, aka Nocturnal Emissions, one of the most under-rated electronic artists to have emerged in punk’s aftermath. I’m not hamming it up. Why the reverence afforded to Coil, Throbbing Gristle and Nurse with Wound should so far have eluded Nigel is a mystery to me. He’s a master of sound, inherently DIY and has had an undeniable influence on modern ambient, noise and techno. “Every major musical movement in the past twenty years was all my fault,” he told The Sound Projector in 2000. “I am to blame for it all.” And if you’re going to be that facetious, you’d better have the talent to back it up.
Nocturnal Emissions was formed by Nigel, his brother Daniel and his friend Caroline K in the late 70s from the ashes of their former band, The Pump. They released Tissue Of Lies in 1980 on Sterile Records, Nigel’s now defunct record label (which also brought Maurizio Bianchi to our attention). The band were together until 1984. Since then, Nocturnal Emissions has been just Nigel, save for a few ad-hoc contributors
“Caroline used to say, before she died, ‘Why do you bother calling yourself Nocturnal Emissions? It’s just you sitting in different chairs?’ But people have multiple personalities, don’t they?”
Maybe this is why people have had so much trouble defining his sound. A whole load of obscure genres have been ascribed to him over the years. The tag that feels the flimsiest is also the one that’s stuck the fastest: industrial. A lot of genre names are disingenuous but there’s something particularly frustrating about this one, perhaps because it doesn’t really stand for anything sonically. “I’m totally fed up with industrial music now,” Nigel said in 83. “We’ve only really been linked with that because we use electronics. We’ve got no fascination with (the) Moors murderers and we're not particularly interested in industry either.” While Nigel was involved in the industrial scene in a social capacity, it’s hard to know how his music qualifies.
If there is a theme or objective of Nocturnal Emissions, it’s to draw attention to systems of ideological control and undermine the structures of capitalism. They were the only band to play a gig in the midst of the Brixton riots of ’81. On the night of Thatcher's re-election in ’83, they took over Brixton’s Ritzy Cinema and projected the ensuing TV announcement over their NSFW film, The Foetal Grave Of Progress. Nigel was a pioneer of the scratch video format. And even since swapping Brixton for Tyneside and subsequently the comfort of the English countryside, Nigel’s remained an energetic campaigner for political change.
Nocturnal Emissions: www.earthlydelights.co.uk