Thursday, 24 December 2015

Nocturnal Emissions - Duty Experiment (1995)

I find it weird to consider that this album should be twenty years old, and that even in 1995 it served to collect material from more than a decade earlier. I'm pretty sure I already sucked its dick (figuratively speaking) in an issue of The Sound Projector, back when I used to write reviews for them, but it still sounds good so fuck it...

It being 2015, Nigel Ayers should probably be living in a mansion by this point, a mansion at the end of a long road worn to dust by legions of pilgrims come to seek the advice of the wise one, but I've a feeling this probably hasn't happened despite a back catalogue of albums as long as your arm - particularly if you have very long arms - and albums which have frankly made most of the competition look shit; but people don't want the real thing. They want cunningly packaged cybernoise which makes you want to watch Blade Runner and which fits nicely on the Ikea shelving unit next to all those issues of Re/Search. Sadly or otherwise, Nocturnal Emissions were always a bit too much of a square peg to ever fit comfortably or lucratively into the round hole which opened up in their wake. I suppose people just don't like their rebellion reminding them that they are themselves commodified.

I'm talking about industrial music, in case that isn't obvious. Ordinarily I would pour scorn on the term and those who adopt it as just another tastefully distressed sales technique, but for once it sort of applies. Nocturnal Emissions always denied ever having been particularly industrial, and whilst it's true that their sonic obsessions shared little in common with either SPK or Throbbing Gristle in terms of subject, this first phase of the band - the Sterile Records years - was about as industrial as it gets. Duty Experiment comprises demos and out-takes which never made it onto vinyl back in the day, almost a lost album I suppose, and at its harshest this music resembles an industrial process, the sound of machines shorting out and breaking down - power electronics before it went all black leather Benny Hill. In all honesty, Throbbing Gristle were the Velvet Underground by comparison.

The music of Nocturnal Emissions has undergone a few changes over the years, from this factory floor racket to the more recent foreground-ambient works, but the common factor remains a sense of sounds having coalesced without human agency. It's something almost organic, far removed from the indulgence of conventional musicianship or composition, and I seem to recall Nigel Ayres having described the recording process as akin to channelling.

Anyway, that's what you get here, or some of that because it's surprising how much actual variety is to be found amongst this hour or so of distortion and noise. Even the once ubiquitous tapes of speech which appeared on everything to the west of Pierre Schaeffer for most of that particular year hardly make an appearance. Nocturnal Emissions tended to avoid repeating themselves, and unwittingly broke quite a lot of newish electronic ground in their flailing about in search of the perfect noise. Whilst arguably industrial musicians of a certain vintage claiming to have originated everything from acid house to German death reggae have become legion in recent years, and whilst I can't really see Marshall Jefferson sat thoughtfully nodding his head and taking notes as he spins Tissue of Lies, it has to be said that the Nocturnal Emissions back catalogue does seem to have foreshadowed a hell of a lot in a general sense, even without considering the proto-house of Viral Shedding. Some of Duty Experiment sounds almost like dubstep or grime in places, and regardless of whether or not this just emerges through natural pattern recognition, the proof of this particular pudding at least leaves a better tastes than whatever Porridge has decided to take credit for this week. One day the greatness of Nocturnal Emissions will be acknowledged, and this is as good a place to start as any.

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