Distorte is a collection of stories written by Pierce Gleeson

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Top 5 Albums, 2010

North Minnesota Logging Concern — Mass in B Minor

Eschewing their traditional “Naked Lumberjack Calendar” this year due to an untimely outbreak of fleas, the North Minnesota Logging Concern decided instead to record a choral performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor in order to raise money for the Lumberjack Widow’s Fund. This album was to be sold in local shops and businesses, and by the mens’ children in door-to-door charity assaults, but it made its way onto the Internet shortly after its first pressing and has become very well known, mostly due to the events that followed its recording.

The men called on a Harvey Bringly, unemployed local cousin of logger Frank Bringly, to help record the performance. Most of the album was recorded in the dining hall of their remote logging encampment, with orchestral backing provided by the effects buttons on Harvey’s KN-5000 Technics keyboard. As a result the recording has an understandable bare-bones and amateurish feel to it, but the vocals are, in general, well captured and remarkably well delivered. Particularly surprising are the strong alto and soprano performances from a typically barrel-chested roster. The background sounds of soup-tureens and dishwashers only lends a little atmosphere to what is normally a rather sombre choral experience.

Reports of the weeks following the recording are patchy and confused, but by all accounts a fractious element arose in the camp, disrupting work and unsettling the management. Attention spans waned, and many loggers began singing merrily at their work and bemoaning the lack of creative expression in their jobs. This disquiet spread rapidly among the workforce, culminating in the infamous events of the morning of July 12th, when managers awoke to find the entire workforce of forty-three men had disappeared into the forest, leaving no notes, no explanation, no trace but for the footprints leading off under the trees.

News reports flared for a few weeks, but when no sight nor sound of the men was forthcoming they soon fell off the front pages. For three months is was an unsolvable mystery — widows grieved and the logging company folded and that was the apparent end of that.

However, late in October the men entire emerged from the forest into the nearby village of Stome, thin, unshaven, and having choreographed a two hour long drag musical called The Axe and the Rose. Due to their immediate media profile the show was quickly picked up by a production agency, and advanced previews begin on Broadway in February. Although it has taken much of the focus of their embryonic first recording, we are all very curious to see what The Axe and the Rose is going to look and sound like.

Bronislawa Wysocki — Oil and Water

It’s a classic fairytale with a modern twist. Bronislawa Wysocki of the famous Wysocki oligarchy of Western Ustakia was raised in the traditional manner of royalty in that society. While the family rose to power only in the late 19th century, it was the done thing for the nouveau powerful of that province to adopt the habits and customs of the royalty they were usurping. These traditions rooted deeply, right up to the end of the last century it was considered only natural to remove one’s first-born daughter from the ostentatious society into which she’d been born, so as to protect her from contamination and provide a suitably humble and otherworldly bride to marry off to a business partner in the future.

As such, Bronislawa spent the first ten years of her life confined to beautiful if spartan rooms at the top of a specially constructed tower on the Wysocki demesne. Her education and physical well-being were tended to within the tower walls, and were focussed on those skills and qualities that would allow her to function in Ustakian society. She received extensive classical training from world famous cellist Mario Rosenstein, and was said to have excelled in that area despite, or because of, her limited horizons.

This life was, of course, entirely disrupted by the Ustakian coup of 1998. Most of the Wysocki managed to disappear into the woodwork, and pater familias Apolonius escaped with his wife, his only daughter and a handful of the family jewels in a small ship across the Baltic Sea, avoiding irate Denmark and finally ending up, for reasons unknown, beaching on a headland in County Waterford, Ireland.

He found himself with just enough gold to buy the disused lighthouse near the pier, and renovated it into a simple dwelling for his beleaguered family. Bronislawa was returned to her life of isolation in the topmost bedroom of the lighthouse, more difficult presumably after her few weeks’ worth of relative freedom. Her education continued at the hands of her mother, and her life changed little over the course of her teenage years.

In 2007 her presence was discovered by local farmhand Bags Foley, who espied her one evening, hanging over the windowsill, while he fished for mackerel off the rocks below. After many aborted attempts at correspondence, they struck upon a novel mode of interaction whereby he would fly notes to her using his remote-controlled helicopter, and she would write back by the much simpler method of balling her letter and flinging in down to his waiting hands.

It took only weeks for him to arrive one Friday under the cover of midnight, and fly up his helicopter with a piece of fishing line attached to its struts. Bronislawa reached out her cello bow and drew in the line, which was knotted to a length of bailing twine, which was in turn knotted to a piece of sturdy rope. Down she climbed and off she went with Bags Foley into the Waterford Friday night.

By the time they hit town, however, the pubs were shutting and the only thing left going was some techno in a dingy garage at the back of O’ Rourke’s. It was Bronislawa first experience of “live” music, and it had a profound effect on her. Friday night techno became almost a weekly habit for the pair, and their relationship blossomed like the girl’s appreciation for deadly tunes.

They married not two years later, Apolonius finally realising that the age of royalty was over, and keen to see his daughter handed off to someone who could support her. She released her debut album last month, a fascinating fusion of the two genres most impressed on her: classical orchestration and hardcore techno. It is a strange, beautiful album, and as a first release promises only great things for Bronislawa Wysocki in the future.

Manny Brothers — Towards the Continent

The July afternoon began not unusually for Noel Manny, when his uncles suggested a post-lunch trip to the beach to “swim off some of those rollmops.” Leaving his parents behind to wash up, he went out to his uncle’s Volkswagen Jetta with his togs rolled in a towel. Opening the back door, he was surprised to find the back seats entirely full of large suitcases, which his uncles explained contained “beach stuff.”

“It’s only two minutes to the beach,” one uncle said. Just hop in the boot. A trusting child despite earlier pranks by his uncles, Noel allowed himself to be shut into the boot of the car. He heard the double creak of his uncles sitting into the front seats, and then the car taking off down the avenue towards the main road. It was only after five minutes in the trunk he noticed a stash of water bottles, biscuits and bananas at his feet.

Two hours later the Manny Brothers arrived at the port of Rosslare, boarded the ferry without incident, and set sail for France. In a classic twist on their earlier albums, they had rigged the boot of the car with microphones and were recording Noels every keen, wail and protestation. The boy had enough experience with his uncles at this point to have simultaneously given up hope of getting out of that car any time soon, but also had learned that he need not fear for his life so much as he had on previous occasions.

Still and all, the crossing was a roiling one and the brother obtained much quality tape for their new album as they whiled away the twenty hours drinking gin in the ship’s bar. By the time they pulled a sobbing, furious Noel out of the boot in Le Havre he had drank and refilled most of the bottles, and was threatening all manner of violence on his uncles (all fortunately caught on tape). A week camping the coast of Brittany softened his anger somewhat, but he still insisted on walking the gangplank onto the ferry for the return trip.

The Manny Brother have turned these unique hours of isolation into another fine offering, the whole thing slightly tinged by the boy’s growing understanding of their process on this, their third album featuring Noel. The bare panic prominent in the first two albums has been replaced by a kind of tired resentment; the boy knows the score, but this doesn’t make him any more accepting of the situation in which he finds himself. I would not be surprised were the brothers to refocus on the younger nephew Paul in their next outing.

Water Babies

Another reality television show album! I am sorry. But the restrictive 16-or-over limit was finally removed from The X Factor this year, allowing an opportunity for talent that has so cruelly been ignored in previous years.

We knew the Water Babies were something special when they waddled onto the stage last August. Initially, of course, the first impression given by the group was that they were, technically, babies. But once they’d been coaxed into beginning their medley, this raggletaggle gang of two-year-olds in matching onesies were the talk of water coolers the country over.

They received a call-back of course, and progressed through the competition on the back of their remarkable good spirits and charismatic stage presence. While their choreography left something to be desired, their sense of entitlement brought them the combined personality necessary to excel in a celebrity-driven show propounding ego above all other considerations. We may, in fact, see the under-threes becoming central to the show’s performance in years to come, so well-prepared are they for the format.

There have been a few naysayers, of course. Most focus on ethical unanswerables over the effects of fame on an infant of twenty-four months. Concerns have also been expressed about the Water Babies’ large following of middle-aged men in parka jackets, but personally I think this just speaks to the universal appeal of the group.

The self-titled debut is a snappy pop masterpiece, occasionally undermined by the singers’ inability to articulate the lyrics, but overall more than compensating for this slight criticism.

Belturbet Water Treatment Facility — 20090213 0345-0439

And so here we are. Arguably the first piece of music ever created without human intervention or intention. But, you say, found music has been used for ages. True, but someone has always found it, treated it, isolated it. The intent has always been there. Let me tell you the story of the first orchestration ever given by a building.

The Belturbet Water Treatment Facility was finished in late 2008, and almost immediately serious problems in its construction became apparent to the engineers working there. Within the cavernous settling rooms, mostly located underground, concrete pillars began to show substantial water damage, with crumbling and discolouration visible in most corners of the room. It appeared that many tanks were improperly sealed and, moreover, pipes began rupturing during that cold winter, further adding to the leakage issues.

Specialists were called in by the construction company and, as a matter of course in their investigations, video recordings were taken in the most badly affected rooms. It was the wife of one of the young engineers, Patricia Kelly, who found herself entranced by an overheard segment of these recordings.

It seems that the camera, left recording for a number of hours, was positioned in such a way to capture perfectly every drip, spatter and groan coming from the pipes all over one large chamber. What resulted, in the fifty-four minutes sampled on the 13th of February 2009, was a spectacularly involving and emotive piece of music. She was astonished.

Kelly’s husband, a practical man to the core, refused to acknowledge any value in the audio. Patricia, after repeated listens, made a secret copy of the DVD and began showing it to friends and family. The fifty-four minutes was soon on Youtube, and even sooner picked up by the ambient-music community. It made a number of top-ten lists before it was extracted from the video by some anonymous and seeded as a torrent.

The album has become a sensation this year, and rightly so. It has never been identified as anything other than the work of Belturbet Water Treatment Facility, which, due to the repairs carried out in the summer of 2009, is unlikely to be producing anything else in the near future. A one-off, folks. Enjoy it.

Written by Pierce Gleeson
Posted on the 23 Dec, 2010