Graham Lambkin - Dumb answers to miracles. He explores the cracks which burnish the underside of contemporary music, poetry and visual art. His work teases the fragile threads connecting the psychotic, the absurd and the mundane; often bringing them to the point of near ruination
Graham Lambkin, Millows, Penultimate Press, 2011.
"The third release in series of publications focussing on the art of Graham Lambkin.
'Millows' features previously unpublished archival works from 2004.
Graham Lambkin's oeuvre has long explored the cracks which burnish the underside of contemporary music, poetry and visual art. His work teases the fragile threads connecting the psychotic, the absurd and the mundane; often bringing them to the point of near ruination.. Throughout his 20 year canon of published work, Lambkin has continuously played with the themes of horror in the everyday, whilst mocking the comical violence inherent in us all.
Millows throws light on a previously unpublished division of Lambkin's work: that of the ceaseless experimentation in self-portraiture. Dating from 2004, the Millows series employs the simple arsenal of camera, computer, printer and alcohol, to test the mettle of the author's personal frontiers. Through a simple process of image over-printing, Lambkin's profile is pushed through fields of distortion and false persona; the sickly wash of colour and chaos only returning to a state of relative calm once the ink cartridge expends its worth."
"Mark Harwood is an Australian now residing in London. He ran 'Synaesthesia' - a record store and label out of Melbourne for 10 years. He now operates 'Penultimate Press' which launched itself in 2009 with the publication of Graham Lambkin's 'Dumb Answer to Miracles, book+cd. Penultimate Press is now assembling a follow up book consisting of new drawings by Lambkin along with other planned works by various humans in a state of healthy decay. He is also a member of the band 'The Harwoods'. Mark was invited to contribute an episode to Glossolalia as an over view of Graham Lambkin's recorded history. Serving as an illustrative mechanism also for the recent book release.
Graham Lambkin was raised in Folkestone, a small town in Kent, England. It was in Kent he and Darren Harris started making music at school as The Heart Tower Singers. They made a tape and sold it at school. They didn't sell any copies. Following this, The C&B was formed who made two tapes and a 30 minute video, and then came Footprint - one tape produced. C&B/Footprint happened at the same time.
Graham entered the public consciousness at 19 when he formed his band The Shadow Ring (again Graham and Darren) who adopted the name from lyrics heard on The C&B's 'Kent Custer'. The band was memorable and built an rabidly passionate fan base because of its sui generis approach, blending elements of folk, noise, cracked electronics, and surrealist poetry, while radically changing the overall formula with each release. Tim Goss originally recorded some stuff for City Lights LP but this was not used. He then re-appeared 3 years later on Wax Work Echoes CD.
Later on their unique mix of vaudevillian frivolity, radio play dramaturge, monty python absurdity and playful sonic experimentation left many bewildered taking a decade for the entire scope of their work to form a true dialogue with the external world. A decade of increasingly skewed and inspired work culminated in 2003’s I’m Some Songs, constructed long distance as Lambkin had relocated to the US in 1998. Over the last few years, Lambkin has primarily worked under his own name, most notably with Salmon Run, Softly Softly, Copy Copy and the Breadwinner - a collaboration album with Jason Lescalleet.
"Composer Walter Marchetti once made a statement to the effect that he was seeking to reach the “bottom” of music. Some more diligent attention to this task might lead him to the music of Graham Lambkin. Already marking out a glorious bottom with his former band, The Shadow Ring, Lambkin has pursued a music so removed from prescribed aesthetics that one is flooded by the beauty it seems to ruthlessly avoid. He puts the mundane to tape and carves out its horror, its sweetness, and its unsettling ambivalence. Shrouded in a disarming naiveté, the music leaves the listener ill-prepared for its very adult take on being-in-the-world".
Lambkin's visual art has graced many a record sleeve over the last 15 years, mostly for the underground noise/rock/folk in the UK and US, and has been enthusiastically appreciated via a handful of obsessives eg: ajourneyroundmyskull.blogspot . His work explores a diverse range of 'surface' based techniques, resulting in a schizophrenic array of pictures, paintings, collages, self portraits etc. Ongoing explorations aside, all works retain the unidentifiable Lambkin thumb. The thumb itself remains attached, the thumb opposed to the others crafted all this. The mind moved, the hand shifted, the thumb agreed. The thumb of some end up in glass cases, famous thumbs, significant thumbs.
Graham has also made name for himeslf with his writing. Text was at the center of all the Shadow Ring recordings and throughout their various sonic shifts text remained the constant. Initially used as verbal polaroids of domestic surrealism. By the end of their career the text had morphed into psychologically unsettling word plays and conceptual jigsaw narratives. The 'Lighthouse' double vinyl LP unfolds like a radio play, whereas the follow up 'Lindus' could be easily be 'read' as one of the most disconcerting audio books unleashed unto the public in the guise of 'music'. Graham has mentioned he "was inspired to start writing/recording after finding out about people like Mark. E. Smith, Marc Bolan, Syd Barrett, Peter Hammill. Bolan's 'Warlock of Love' book was inspiring, as was Hammill's first book 'Killers, Angels Refugees' later on. Bolan and Smith had the biggest impact".
Text has remained integral to Lambkin's work, but only in recent years has the 'sonic' and the 'text' separated. His musical works, 'Salmon Run' and more recently 'The Breadwinner' rely more on instrumental, field recording and collage techniques with the vocal component pared down to laughter, groans, muffled grunts and other non-linguistic forms as in the case of Salmon Run. In 2009 a solo cd 'Softly Softly Copy Copy (Kye) and a book 'Dumb Answer to Miracles' (Penultimate Press) were released. The cd was instrumental the book all text.
Graham also runs the Kye label having founded an outlet for his own works along with those of the unlike minded including Belgian sound artist Moniek Darge and Call in the Giants which features Tim Goss also of the Shadow Ring."
Graham Lambkin, Dripping Junk, Penultimate Press, 2009.
"Penultimate Press is proud to announce the publication of Dripping Junk- an all new collection of graphic work by Graham Lambkin. The 100 drawings gathered in Dripping Junk were made over a period of five days during a recent trip to Miami FL.
Lambkin's eye and pen guide us through a confusion of local observation. We find ourselves transported to the opulent sands of South Beach, the strip malls of Dade County, and the many tourists spots one would expect to engage. Yet Lambkin allows us to view these sites through his own distorted lens. This is not the Miami of common expectation. Lambkin throws us headfirst in to a hallucinogenic netherworld where logic and common sense cower in the shade of the palms. A world where fantasy and reality mix effortlessly and are drank as the cocktail of choice. A world where the skunk ape is king.
Dripping Junk contains 100 black and white drawings printed on high-quality paper and comes as a beautiful limited edition large format hardcover book of 250 copies. The first 100 are signed, numbered with cd attached. The remaining 150 are numbered with cd.
These writings entertain as much as they baffle, happily wandering the glorious pastures of open bewilderment. The ordinary dons the fantastic, the uncanny flirts with the comical and a private world is open to those with an explorative constitution. What response can one gain from such writings? It's this uncomfortable familiarity or comforting unease that haunts the entire oeuvre of Graham Lambkin. The beautiful odd. The eldritch normality. The leek in milk sauce."
"Drop dead gorgeous hardcover art book of 100 drawings that Graham made on a visit to Miami. The drawings are pen and ink and all have titles written beneath in Graham's enchanting hand. Everyone knows Graham is one of my favourites and one of the very few great all around artists around. Although he excels at many things, he might be at his best when combining words and music (ala The Shadow Ring) or words and images (ala this book). I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't love this. The CD is perfect too, loops of beach guitar and beach. Put the CD on repeat play, get yourself a bottle, and spend an afternoon with Dripping Junk, enjoying yourself for a change. In a world where everything is 'different' and yet somehow the same, Graham is indeed a unique voice in music, visual art, and writing. Lovingly deluxe edition from Mark Harwood at Penultimate Press. I think Potato Museum actually changed my life for the better. Why not?" - Anti-naturals
Graham Lambkin, Dumb Answer to Miracles [book+cd], Penultimate Press, 2009.
'Dumb Answers to Miracles' is the first official publication of writings by Graham Lambkin. Previously 20 copies of a signed private edition entitled 'Tomb of Speed' were circulated amongst friends, collegues and mail order customers. This collection gathers all the 'Tomb of Speed' writings, a handful of Lambkin's lyrics he wrote for the band Shadow Ring and many unpublished works."
"Just a beautiful book of Graham's writings. One of the first things that drew my attention to The Shadow Ring were the very odd and excellent lyrics, often flowery odes to mundane household tasks or domestic situations, and a very real sense of time passing you by whilst your own life stares you in the face. Dumb Answer To Miracles is Graham's first book of writings and you get 50 or so short pieces laid out like poems or song lyrics. (Some, in fact, are Shadow Ring lyrics.) I work very hard on my own writing and I think one of the hardest and most important things is to find a voice of your own and Graham has that in abundance. The CD is a 15 minute sad and slow manipulation of some sort of choral piece. I have both the signed and numbered edition and the regular edition. Cheers to Penultimate Press for this beautiful hardcover edition and for putting faith in genius." - Anti-naturals
Graham Lambkin, Amateur Doubles, Kye, 2011.
"Amateur Doubles is the brand new solo LP by Graham Lambkin - a two-part improvisation recorded in a Honda Civic. Dangerous, tedious, pointless and timeless, Amateur Doubles is a perfect snapshot of life on the open road. Expertly mastered by Jason Lescalleet, Amateur Doubles arrives in a high gloss full color gatefold, on clear vinyl, in an edition of 500"
"..it's almost impossible to describe exactly why Lambkin's particular brand of sound collage is so potent. The volatility of the scraping textures and the odd, frighteningly beautiful bleeding between mumbling voices and fractured, muted melodies cutting in and out of the recording. Did I mention that the album--a masterpiece among Lambkin's discography: a discography of masterpieces--was recorded in a Honda Civic? Amateur Doubles affects me in a way no other album this year has, or could expect to." - Forest Gospel
Graham Lambkin/Jason Lescalleet, Air Supply, Erstwhile, 2010.
"The Two Ls, Lambkin and Lescalleet, team up for this rather stunning follow up to The Breadwinner. The sound palette on Air Supply is a bit more musical and all the better for it. Most of the eight pieces have a drone center of tonality as well as the sort of tightly edited cinematic events that we expect from men of this caliber. The CD walks us into this mysterious world with the oddly named, Because The Night (Patti Smith! The Boss!). It is a beautiful piece of dark and sublime atmospheres, which pervade the whole of Air Supply. Although surely overused as a metaphor, this recording really does have ambience of a Surrealist dream. There is one of those very quiet/ VERY LOUD juxtapositions between 68˚/69˚ that I find quite annoying, but the rest of the music is very haunting and mysterious. The title track, which finishes off the CD, is a melancholy closer to a great record. The Last Man. The cover is a tribute to one of the best bootleg LPs ever released, Air Structures by Fripp & Eno on Impossible Recordworks." - Anti-naturals
"The material for Air Supply was mostly recorded in and around Lescalleet's house in Maine in early 2010. The duo wanted to make a leap away from the territory they'd explored on The Breadwinner and the subsequent handful of live concerts, and the results both build on their earlier work and stand in sharp contrast. Air Supply showcases a wide range of material and styles, but the malevolent undercurrents remain present throughout, creating a paradoxically luxuriant yet stifling atmosphere and setting up a soundworld that feels essential for one's ongoing survival. The gorgeous drawings throughout the package are by Lambkin." - Erstwhile Records
"KiC regulars ought to be well-aware of Graham Lambkin and/or Jason Lescalleet, whether through either's solo work, Jason's nmperign collaborations, or their excellent 2008 joint jaunt The Breadwinner. Air Supply is then the second installment in a planned trilogy for Erstwhile, presenting some familiar themes, yet also a new, unique sound, relative to The Breadwinner.
It's obvious that Lambkin and Lescalleet are keen listeners, masters of warping what they hear, transporting outsiders to a distorted version of their reality. On The Breadwinner, the duo employed samples from Graham's domicile, editing them into an environment that, while clearly treated, still bared strong resemblance to actuality. The creaking and dripping of 'Listen, The Snow is Falling,' for instance, could just as easily be found in my apartment one December morning, synthetic hums notwithstanding.
In contrast to The Breadwinner, on Air Supply, the alterations are more pronounced, inducing a surreal sonic world. Few would mistake the noises from the first half of 'Layman's Lament' for organic, but even still, the production is clearly richer, especially the lower tones. The duo appears to almost go out of their way to subvert one's aural surroundings. Toward the end of the aforementioned track, avian sounds are introduced, followed by a wooden cadence, but as soon as any rhythmic comfort is found, a blast of feedback launches the listener into the next track. On 'Color Drop' and '69° F' the sound of a computer selecting a sample is easily discernible, once again reinforcing a detachment from ordinary field recordings. The titular track too proudly displays its manufactured nature, wherein the first few seconds noticeably speeds up, like when a turntable's motor is initiated.
Many observed that The Breadwinner sounded much more like a Lambkin album; an album grounded in field recordings, augmented around its edges by Jason Lescalleet. So then, one might say that Air Supply is more so a Lescalleet long-player, featuring more prominently his manipulations. But despite these difference, the principal theme-an uneasy reinterpretation of the everyday-is ever present and equally as compelling as their formative work. This is easily one of the best albums of the year."- Killed in Cars
Graham Lambkin, Softly Softly Copy Copy, Kye, 2009.
"Graham’s long-awaited follow up to Salmon Run does not disappoint. Like myself, Graham has no interest in making the same record over and over again and Softly… explores a bold new territory. The two 20 minute pieces present Graham’s take on Musique Concrète. There are a lot of field and location recordings mixed with other tapes and a few real instruments (piano, guitar, and violin). The overall effect is very disorienting, like a long exhausted train journey where you awake once in a while for a few minutes to a new, beautiful, and odd situation. Was it a dream? The pace seemed a bit hectic to me on my first few rides, but with Graham’s sure hand on the tiller, I soon learned to appreciate the speed of his driving. The Lambkin Sound Universe continues to explore the cracks and corners that others ignore and his editing and sound choice are top notch as always. The soothing, and sinister sounds of home. Another giant. Hats off! Bottoms up!" - Anti-naturals
"I've listened to this an awful lot over the past couple of weeks, enjoying it immensely yet finding it unusually difficult to write about. I think it has to do with the disjunction between the relatively common and identifiable elements Lambkin sets into play and the subtle nature of their relatedness, an ineffable sense of rightness about the structure. One hears water sounds, bells, strings (Samara Lubelski on violin), guitar plucks (Austin Argentieri), wind, none of them all that attention-riveting in and of themselves. But the groupings, the layering and the sequencing are fantastic, endlessly surprising and sometimes quite moving. Two tracks, each about 20 minutes long. The bulk of the first plays the bells against water and wind recordings, the latter seeming to incorporate a good bit of microphone abuse (or perhaps it's just rough-edge contact mic work). It's extremely immersive, though; the listener aurally plunges through the jagged space, banging from this crag to that, glimpsing a clearing here and there, then back into the smoke and rock. There's a pause about twelve minutes in as if an aperture has been reached, after which one emerges into a somewhat more electronic area, large and hollow, less congested. Vinyl static, birds and rushing water appear. Howler monkeys? We may be in a zoo, or dreaming we're in one. Wonderful work.
Coming into this release, a natural question was whether Lambkin, following his brilliant "Salmon Run" would continue to make use of extracts from obscure classical recordings. Part of me was hoping he wouldn't, that "Salmon Run" would stand apart as unique item. Listening through "Softly Softly Copy Copy" for the first time, I was pleased that this seemed to be the case...until the last five minutes of the second track. But, I have to say, I'm very glad he chose to revisit that area as the results are gorgeous. The piece begins with similar material as was heard in the first: some violin, birds water, deep clatter. It's airier, though, and more rough and tumble in assemblage, less a drop through the abyss, more splayed out in horizontal space. There's more of what sounds like distorted vocalizing, grunts and moans not so dissimilar from Ashley's dream-speak. The howler monkeys and bells reappear; we seem to be back where we were at the end of the last track and it's every bit as absorbing. But then, at about the 15 minute mark, Lambkin shifts to a gentle sequence of backwards tapes over hushed dronage and random clicks and whistles. A harsh second or two of noise ushers in that sole classical ladling, several low, throbbing notes on the piano (I've no idea as to the source)--this is shockingly beautiful enough, but he layers in what seems to be a female voice or, more precisely, the intake of her breath prior to speaking and the "sh" sound of her first word. Both the piano and the voice are looped, providing a irresistibly lush cushion that segues into a soft, harmonium-like section, then quiet water, ending the piece. Very, very beautiful.
One of the best things I've heard this year, do yourselves a favor." - Brian Olewnick
"Water flows all over Graham Lambkin’s Softly Softly Copy Copy. It’s the star of the album’s first track, and part of the supporting cast in the second, and remains one of the most clearly recognizable sounds within Lambkin’s mélange. In his collages, Lambkin obfuscates the ordinary and magnifies the incidental, creating new contexts with the sounds that surround him. Softly Softly Copy Copy may be all about symmetry in its title and organization (each of the two tracks runs exactly 20 minutes and 40 seconds), but the music lacks such obviously logical order. Birds intermingle with violins, and water is interrupted by a dam of electroacoustic gristle. You can never be sure what you’ll hear next, much less why you’re hearing it.
Lambkin’s use of environmental and animal sounds projects a back porch vibe, and though all the sounds weren’t collected in his upstate New York environs, it’s easy to imagine much of the disc as a documentation of Lambkin’s surroundings. Meditative moments feature calling birds, a bubbling stream, and wind chimes in the distance. Menace makes its appearances, too, whether in the form of a huffing, growling animal or the noisy ambience that Lambkin introduces into his menagerie. His sound sources were disparate in original location, but in Softly Softly Copy Copy‘s final mix, the whole spectrum seems to exist in a single setting. The more abstract ingredients, whether the mangling of tape, manipulation of microphone, or natural sounds recast in new light, both accompany the domestic and obliterate it outright. The incorporation of this wide array follows an erratic path, and while specific sound combinations and evolutions make sense, the larger trajectories of the album’s two tracks can be confusing. Intrusions can feel as brash as a bulldozer through a backyard, or a draft through an old window frame. As a whole, Lambkin’s lo-fi collage sounds more concerned with compilation than cohesion. This makes for some compelling and surprising music, as well as intermittent frustration.
Samara Lubelski’s somber violin opens the album’s second track, with various sounds packed into the spaces between the strokes of the bow. There’s little timbral or thematic continuity between the accompaniments, but the violin keeps things cohesively afloat. Softly Softly Copy Copy could use a bit more of such glue for the sake of the album’s unity. This disc puts the listener in some interesting spaces, and blurs the lines nicely between the familiar and mysterious, which makes the inscrutable arrangements on the disc all the more irksome when they arrive. The entire disc is steered via Lambkin’s enigmatic musical compass, and if one can resist the urge to play backseat navigator, the route is a fascinating one." - Adam Strohm
Graham Lambkin/Jason Lescalleet, The Breadwinner, Erstwhile, 2008.
"My good friend Mr Lambkin teams up with Jason Lescalleet. This collaboration has been in the brew for some time. ‘What would they get up to?’, I wondered. I’d heard vague stories of tape loops circling Graham and Adris’ apartment and frozen expeditions in search of The Perfect Sound. Months of editing later, we have this bouncing boy: The Breadwinner. And a winner it is. Graham and Adris’ apartment and the surrounding area turns out to be the main instrument used by Graham and Jason filtered through live manipulations as well as the expected (of these two) careful editing. The eight pieces are like sonic sculptures of domestic life with its mixture of tedium/ hopelessness and unexpected flashes of beauty. A dangerous kitchen indeed. Someone in the back of my mind whispered ‘MZUI’ and there are similarities to that Dome related project, although the textures and sound of The Breadwinner is much more deliberately edited. There are a lot of great moments. I particularly liked Two States, which sounds oddly sexy. Great manipulations on that one, boys! All in all a brilliant debut by this new power couple. I hear from a tiny monkey that work has begun on a follow up. Exciting!" - Anti-naturals
"Scott Foust -- musician, philosopher, aesthete, owner of Swill Radio -- wrote a manifesto on behalf of "The Anti-Naturals" in which he chastises hyper-capitalism and champions the political implications of aesthetic thought. Rather than labeling aesthetics as symptomatic of capitalism (a relation made obvious when choosing one product over another because it's "cuter"), Foust believes that aesthetics can be reasserted as a critique of capitalism. He considers the artificial and the construction of self/society as something positive, while ideas of "authenticity" or the state of being "natural" are like carrot-dangling, basically an attempt to get consumers to keep buying shit and perpetuate capitalism. You could be that lucky one who hits the jackpot or becomes a millionaire! But probably not. Foust instead argues for a "total aestheticization" that acts as critical insight for all of life -- that is, if I'm reading it correctly, to depict all of life in an idealized or artistic manner so as to celebrate social and cultural constructions rather than passively accept or ironically dismiss them.
Having worked with Graham Lambkin on various projects (Tart, Elklink, The Shadow Ring), Foust considers Lambkin an "Anti-Natural" artist. Although Lambkin claimed not to understand Foust's theories in an interview with Steve Kobak (on which this review relies heavily), there are similarities that he and, by extension, Jason Lescalleet share with it. In fact, if there's one overriding theme to The Breadwinner, the duo's collaborative debut, it's the aestheticization of domesticity. Aside from the title itself being a reference to the home, the album consists entirely of sounds from Lambkin's flat -- the radiator, the creaks in the floor, the silence/noise of the various rooms/hallways, the neighbors talking through the wall -- all edited down to roughly 50 minutes from eight hours of tape. According to the interview:
Even outside acoustic events found their way to the duo’s recording regimen, as the pair fed the sounds inside to an internal recording system and slowed their pace to a crawl. Sometimes the pair overdubbed noises on a never-ending tape loop, recording themselves while playing the tape back and layering audio until it became a sonic blur. At one point, Lescalleet brought old reel-to-reel machines to Lambkin’s house and the pair ran tape from room to room.
Lambkin and Lescalleet are editors of the best variety, so recording sound was only half the story. Through tape manipulation and various editing techniques, The Breadwinner falls even closer in line with The Anti-Naturals theory by appropriating the mundane (for aesthetic reasons, of course). The result sounds like an inadvertent exploration of dislocation and displacement, much differently than musique conrète and minimalist compositions or the real-time experiments of, say, nmperign or Sunn O))). It's actually most similar in spirit to Lambkin's work from last year, Salmon Run, but while that album saw him invading public-domain classical works in a concise, direct way, most everything on The Breadwinner feels a little off and uneasy, a little smeared. Even Lambkin's own invasions this time around -- on "Listen, The Snow Is Falling" and "Lucy Song" -- are either more timid or directed at himself. It sounds simultaneously like self-parody, pastiche, and compromise, but it's all the better because of this.
On the other hand, Lambkin and Lescalleet seem to share a similar sense of dynamics and variety. In fact, The Breadwinner is precisely the type of album one would expect from a collaboration between these two. It may not be as exacting and colorful as Lescalleet's wonderful solo album, Mattresslessness (in which silence, pacing, and color play larger roles than heard here), but it has a similar construction that blurs the distinction between treated and non-treated sounds. Furthermore, both artists also seem to acknowledge the recording equipment as vital elements in the overall presentation of the music. The quality of a Dictaphone or Casio SK-5 (a sampling keyboard used for the album) will certainly have a different quality than a standard Shure condenser mic. This isn't about clarity or fidelity, and Lambkin and Lescalleet not only acknowledge this, but subsume it.
With an album as seemingly dense as The Breadwinner, it's easy to read into superficial aspects, like the connections to composer Robert Ashley (the album cover is an homage to the LP version of Ashley's Private Parts) or how the album's subtitle reads "musical settings for common environments and domestic situations" (note the "for" instead of "from"). But there's really no single epiphany here, nothing really to "get," no crucial subtext to be discovered. Instead, it's just about finding appreciation in sound and sound construction, even with few narrative qualities or emotional signifiers to grasp. It's about vicariously living in Lambkin's permutated apartment through the sounds, placing yourself in a restless context to which you can either give in or analyze. The former may provide the temporary release that could very well expand your aesthetic tastes, while the latter will likely get your head in critique mode. In both cases, you'd be that much closer to The Anti-Naturals." - Mr. P.
"Edgar Varèse once said that “The present-day composer refuses to die,” and it’s true. One might even argue that nowadays the composer can thrive like never before. Liberated by home computers from the need for massive financial or technological resources and freed by alternate distribution means from the obligation to satisfy patrons, conductors, grant committees, or peer review boards before reaching the 500 people worldwide who give a shit, the circumstances are there for composers with a modicum of gumption to bypass the politics and struggle and simply get on with their work.
But Varèse might have added this caveat: “From now on the modern-day composer must descend from the ivory tower, work some crappy job that has nothing to do with his or her art, and live like everyone else.” While some try to transcend or escape this circumstance, Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescalleet have made it a cornerstone of their art. The Breadwinner is subtitled “musical settings for common environments and domestic situations,” but they’ve also made these musical settings from common environmental sounds and domestic situations. While both men are credited with using microphone, tapes, and Casio SK-5 (a cheap sampling keyboard), the main sound sources are the contents of Lambkin’s apartment; the utensils, people, and records within it, and its essential parts were fair game, as were any sounds that happened to come through the window while the two men wrangled with their reels of tape.
The duo work with sounds so mundane, one normally filters them out; one of the key elements of “There and Back” is a stirred drink, and “Soap Opera Suite” makes liberal use of a creaky door. Which might sound like an explicit homage to Pierre Henry’s “Variations on a Door and a Sigh,” but brings to mind another composer’s quote. John Cage once said that “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four,” thereby implying that one could plumb rewards from the mundane by simply trying harder. The addendum here might be “if it’s boring after four, slow the tape down so that it lasts eight.” Lescalleet has often used tape speed manipulation to transform his material, and here that intervention makes the sounds of murmured conversation and stuff being moved across a table waver on the edge of strangeness; it’s as ordinary as ever, yet subtly — or not so subtly — off. Introduced surreptitiously into a domestic situation, The Breadwinner is likely to bring it to a halt. The rest of my family is pretty numb to most of the racket that comes out of my office, but the distorted gurgle running water on “Two States” totally freaked one of my teenagers. Lambkin and Lescalleet never explain their point of view, never give away their perspective on the sounds they’ve martialed, and they even withhold the auditory acknowledgement of what they’re doing until the penultimate track, when they insert the sound of a tape reel precipitously stopping. It’s up to the rest of us to keep listening harder." - Bill Meyer
Graham Lambkin, Salmon Run, Kye, 2007.
"I’ve never been a fan of the concept “lo-fi.” It’s a positively bizarre idea to apply to music indiscriminately, regardless of tone or form or content. For indie rock bands to even use the concept as a descriptor does nothing other than strive for a past that they misunderstand. Aping the past is a sin egregious enough, but to mimic something prima facie, misunderstanding -- or worse, and more likely, choosing to not attempt to understand -- is outright disgusting. Music, in my mind, should be more than smiling fun stylizations, and the choice to consciously lower music’s fidelity is symptomatic of this endemic, falling back on this crutch instead of making something truly worthwhile. If I don’t get to hear every nook and cranny of the music, and there is no contextual reason for it, I probably don’t need to listen at all. Regardless, this is only tangentially related to the review at hand, but let’s think of it as the Greek chorus bringing us up to speed and setting the scene for what’s to follow.
Just around the time I acquired Salmon Run, I was becoming fascinated with things that sounded old, decayed, forgotten, empty. The mere act of entering a space that is, in actuality, all of those things feels at once dangerous, adventurous, and alienating. And its hard to deny that it’s the aural aspect that manifests those responses. To know you’re in a setting devoid of what was once full of life and commotion brings the silence up to the level of suffocation. You can trace most sounds back to yourself, but the outliers are outright terrifying. Environs such as these evoke a conflict in the mind, one of nearly complete comfort and safety, yet at the same time imbued with absolute unfamiliarity and danger. Our mind knows that it is only in places such as these wherein terrible fates await us.
But this sounds like our natural, "primitive" state. Everywhere was dangerous. Outside the tenuous safety of numbers, even the most familiar of haunts held potential destruction. An unseen, misunderstood predator could be lurking; a foe as unassertive as a broken leg from a misstep always threatens. And in order to have a modicum of preparedness against inscrutable adversaries, we perk up our ears for inexplicable sounds. But, for the bulk of our experience, this results only in unnecessary, extraneous alarm. In essence, in order to survive, we must make peace with the feelings of utter helplessness and loneliness. Of course, these are obstacles that we (who have CD players and listen to Graham Lambkin) have been almost completely divorced from. It is only the most deviant experiences that can rekindle that spark of absolute fear.
On Salmon Run, we are subjected to a carefully constructed array of sounds that evoke in the same way an abandoned site does. Greeting us on this psychological journey is a haunting contralto aria and accompaniment, a loose thread of which is immediately and uncannily picked up by a mélange of tinny, disturbing sounds in the middle distance, only to be replaced by the same accompaniment, absent our diva. Was it her breakdown we heard but clearly should not have? Has she been replaced by a castrato, with a chorus of mourners to usher him/it into the horror? From here, we are treated to peaceful, reassuring noises, lulling us into a lazy sense of safety until they are deftly juxtaposed with indefinite but jarring sounds of human misfortune. The splash of a soothingly warm bath, but just outside we can hear a nemesis with steely implements. Chirping birds and wind chimes, but deeper we find a growling terror. A library of classical music codified to foreshadow horror. Unintelligible mutterings and screams. A (relatively) small set of sounds such as these are the currency of Salmon Run. In this seemingly simple way, with this mostly pedestrian vocabulary, we are witness to a sum much greater than its parts, one unlike anything you’ve heard." - Leveer