Though my eyes got gradually accustomed to the darkness I was almost on top of the outhouses before I saw the thick blur of the deadly nightshade. It was like a lady standing in her doorway looking out for someone. I was prepared to dread it, but not prepared for the tumult of emotions it aroused in me. In some way it wanted me, I felt, just as I wanted it; and the fancy took me that it wanted me as an ingredient, and would have me. The spell was not waiting to be born in my bedroom, as I meant it should be, but here in this roofless shed, and I was not preparing it for the deadly nightshade, but the deadly nightshade was preparing it for me. ‘Come in,’ it seemed to say; and at last after an unfathomable time I stretched my hand out into the thick darkness where it grew and felt the shoots and leaves close softly on it. I withdrew my hand and peered. There was no room for me inside, but if I went inside, into the unhallowed darkness where it lurked, that springing mass of vegetable force, I should learn its secret and it would learn mine. And in I went. It was stifling, yet delicious, the leaves, the shoots, even the twigs, so yielding; and this must be a flower that brushed my eyelids, and this must be a berry that pressed against my lips…
It wasn’t till quite a while after recording the piece I was listening and felt yes this was a cathartic indulgence of a lost fantasy. You see I fell in love once with a scientist (a rational thinker) who taught me almost everything about listening. I was forever trying to get her to make music with me – and she would to an extent – singing like a laconic Julie Andrews or fluttering on a recorder with melodic aplomb. But if ever I tried to turn on the red light and roll tape the moment would disintegrate – as would, after nine years, our relationship.
She grew up playing the violin and she was brilliant, although I only ever heard her play once, I was struck by her fervour, her posture and her jaw jutting out – awful, awkward things to play they are. My best instrument is the clarinet – I cut my teeth playing Roma tunes, a story for another time.
As I was editing the music I imagined the clarinet and the violin as star-crossed us – talking, arguing, trying to outdo each other, there’s that section about six minutes in where the violin is exasperated (she always deserved better) with brittle strikes of glockenspiel, children thankfully never granted.
Look I’m not claiming anything as ridiculous as me channeling her that day, but I had never before played violin…
Tarquin Magnet is an album by Tarquin Manek.
A unique synthesis of time-dilating folk-jazz romanticism, brittle chamber dub and plasmic post-techno electronics, it’s the Australian’s first full solo release on Blackest Ever Black, but by no means his first contribution to the label: as one half of Tarcar (with Carla dal Forno), he has given us the dysfunctional dreamsongs of Mince Glace and ‘Eija’; and as one third of F ingers (with dal Forno and Samuel Karmel) helped summon the baleful backyard apparitions of recent LP Hide Before Dinner; while his own ‘Not Missing You’ features on the BEB compilation I Can’t Give You The Life You Want. Manek has been busy elsewhere, too: he released Th Duo, an LP made under his LST alias, on Another Dark Age earlier this year.
Still, none of this recent activity prepares us for the disturbed and enchanted environments of Tarquin Magnet. Its raw materials are the result of improvisation and domestic field recording, of literally grabbing at whatever’s available – clarinet, keyboard, dictaphone, mobile phone – and throwing it into the crock. And then, of course, untold hours of hunched and red-eyed editing. For all its rough textures and strange juxtapositions, this is masterfully mixed and arranged music: to adepts, and really to anyone listening at high volume, its deep spatial dynamics and higher dub logic will be powerfully apparent.
13-minute opener ‘Sassafras Gesundheit’ exists at a slight remove from, or angle to, the nocturnal abstractions of the rest of the LP. Doused in daylight, it’s the sound of a mind unraveling, or winding itself tighter for no good reason at all. It’s a love song too, but wordless, uninhibited, and – like all the best love songs – ultimately frustrated. Its apparent forward motion, driven by Roma sonorities and a recurring, faux-naif synth arpeggio, is circular, tidal: cresting and falling, contracting and expanding, lapping at the shore of infinite contentment but doomed always to recede. Desperate to move forward, but tethered to the past, it opens up the present moment like a portal or a wound. Hope gives way to exasperation, then exhaustion, as deep blue clarinet, dissonant violin and cold rains of radiophonic shrapnel mock and console across a world of echo and delay. Comparisons are pointless, but we won’t let that stop us: think Edge of Illusion-era John Surman meets Karel Goeyvaerts’ minimalist phase in a Firehouse, delivered with the no-fidelity recklessness of the best Oz/NZ underground traditions.
From here on in, Manek’s private wilderness is denser and harder to navigate: first the spooling tunnel visions of ‘Fortunes Past’ (like a scene from Arden & Bond’s Anti-Clock) and strung-out junkyard gamelan of ‘Fortunes Begun’, then Side Two: a total break from the recognisable and quantifiable, as sounds become totally divorced from their sources, and the atmosphere congeals into one of…not dread exactly, but certainly isolation and estrangement – black humour, and a sense of wonder (or something like it), notwithstanding. ‘Perfect Scorn’ is a tour de force of crack’d kosmische, pitched somewhere between folk-tale and science fiction: through queer electro-magnetic ambience a distress signal emerges, leading us back to earth, and to the corridors and causeways of a city empty but for its corroded, obsolete machinery and a few alcoholics immune to apocalypse. The programmers are all dead, but no one told the computers, which try to wrench courtly melody out of violently curdling webspace, performing to empty chairs, to an audience that isn’t there. Imagine The Shadow Ring or Small Cruel Party trying to find common ground with Dettinger or Pole, or the sound of a million servers crashing and taking our memories with them. This is what the future will sound like.
Manek’s psycho-acoustic landscaping culminates in ‘Blackest Frypan': a puzzle-box of insinuating, paranormal resonances, wrought out of plucked steel guitar strings, stifled screams and subaqueous bleeps. This truly progressive, THC-ushered marriage of wracked bedroom psychedelia, gloopy alien concrète and dubwise, third-eye-open sound design is a fitting finale to a record of singular and persuasive vision. By its end, Tarquin Magnet‘s central mysteries remain unsolved, but some lessons have been learned:
1. It’s best to forget everything.
2. Magnets repel as well as attract.