David Toop is a musicologist, writer and improvising musician. He worked with Brian Eno on his first recordings in 1975, for a split release with instrument maker Max Eastley, New and Rediscovered Musical Instruments, released on Eno’s Obscure label.
More recent recordings, such as Life on the Inside (Sub Rosa, 2016) – made to accompany an exhibition by Pierre Besson – and Live at White Cube (Vinyl Factory, 2015), both vinyl-only limited editions, have been small press affairs.
Entities Inertias Faint Beings, itself limited to vinyl and digital, is more fully realised, in the lineage of career highlights such as Pink Noir, Spirit World (Virgin, 1996 and 1997) and Black Chamber (Sub Rosa, 2003).
Toop says this music “existed already (as) spores…or dormant clusters of digital files” accumulated during recent periods of solitude and reflection: “radio waves in a kettle, … cicadas burst(ing) into life as a helicopter flew overhead”, texts such as Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World and Clarice Lispector’s novel Agua Viva, Ozu’s 1934 silent film A Story of Floating Weeds, Japanese photographer Tomatsu Shomei (“images of black light and blistered skin”) and a Noh play in which “the spirit is compelled with drum and plucked string”.
And the remarkable thing is, the music on this album really does seem to carry the imprint of such sense impressions.
Its lovely opening cut, “Dry Keys Echo in the Dark and Humid Early Hours”, is a limpid microcosm of electronic glinting and membranophonic percussives with a very brief lick of Dave Gilmore-style guitar to heighten an implicit melodicism. Short as it is at 2:40, only three of the other ten cuts are longer: most are just as fleeting, penetrating and indelibly striking.
“For a Language to Come”, at 06:24 one of the longest pieces, is comprised entirely of multiple layers of close-mic’d noise, a brittle seethe of contact sounds and scrapes with a late injection of wavering tones. And “Pieces of Wood and Iron, Phials of Odours” works the same vein, with analogue electronics queering intimately sourced sounds.
“Sea Slug” (1:40) is a glitch plug-in with unexpected, and unexpectedly lovely barbs of acoustic guitar, and “Unspeakable Within It” focuses on re-contextualised sampled sound incorporating wet mouth noises and dry pickup scouring, like Matmos at their most abstract.
Each piece is a microcosm of marshalled sonic indeterminacy, but Toop’s unique aesthetic frames self-generating or uncontrollable sounds with implicit significance. Most transcend their makeup. Only “Compelled to Approach” is little more than the sum of its 02:32 of scratchy ambience, electronic drone, lamellaphone and late guitar twangs.
Opening the vinyl side 2, “Ancestral Beings, Sightless by Their Own Dust”, the album’s 07:48 epic, features mournful sarangi (played by Sylvia Hallett) over gentle electronic pianism and grainy crepuscular drone, all occluded by the pall of a dark, almost nightmarish coda. It segues into “Setting Stones”, a slice of ambient digitalia, in which Emi Watanabe’s flute accompanies short readings, by artist Mariko Sugano, from an ancient text concerning taboos associated with stone setting in Japanese gardens.
Toop’s recherché influences and the openness of his sound palette both make even an exercise in relatively conventional close-grain electronica such as “Human Skin and the Stone Steps”, with its currents of rotor rustle, intriguing, and the introduction of identifiable sounds – in this case, the abstract saxophony by John Butcher (Toop: “music as a scientific exploration of the body, the instrument”), on the conjoined “Things Just Went Sour Gradually All at Once” and “Invertebrate Drawings”, opens up the album’s intricate weave of alien and identifiably human sonic filigree.
It’s not clear who else might be involved, but I do know that Rie Nakajima also contributes to certain pieces, and it’s tempting to hear the constant whirr and intermittent environmental contacts of her motorised micro-objects’ everywhere, burrowing into Toop’s sonic microcosms, as Toop puts it himself, like “small mechanical beings (like cooking with paper, wire and batteries)”.
David Toop with John Butcher saxophone; Sylvia Hallett sarangi; Rie Nakajima motorised objects; Mariko Sugano voice; Emi Watanabe flute.
Twinkle³ with Sidsel Endresen – Debris in Lower Earth Orbit.
Chris Abrahams – Fluid To The Influence.
Rhodri Davies and John Butcher / Common Objects – Routing Lynn / Whitewashed with Lines.
Fennesz + Biosphere + Philip Jeck + CM von Hausswolff + Hildur Gudnadottir + Thomas Köner + David Toop – Touch.30 Live at Beaconsfield, Dec 2012.
Buy Entities Inertias Faint Beings direct from Room40.