21 Tracks for the 21st Century is a series of playlists organised in collaboration with Q-O2, a Brussels-based space for experimental music and sound art. Each time, we invite one artist, thinker or musician to prepare a playlist of those sounds, songs and pieces of music that will best equip their listeners to approach what is left of this young century. This month: Swiss-born experimental sound artist and writer Christof Migone.
Christof Migone is an artist, teacher, curator, and writer based in Toronto, Canada. His research delves into language and voice, bodies and performance, intimacy and complicity, sound and silence, rhythmics and kinetics, translation and referentiality, stillness and imperceptibility, structure and improvisation, play and pathos, pedagogy and unlearning, and failure and endurance. Current and ongoing investigations include microphone hitting, book flipping, tongue extruding, record releasing, word hyphenating, para-pedagogical positioning, careless curating, noise making, sequitur following, paper passing, interval counting, incontinence tracking, rhythm repeating, phone licking, machine fingering, playlist compiling, silence listening, and dozens of dozens.
Migone is a founding member of the artist-run centre Avatar in Québec City. With Alexandre St-Onge he runs Squint Press. He was the recipient of the Glenfiddich Artist Residency with Marla Hlady in 2019, and he is currently curating a 12-year project with a 12-word sentence as its title, You And I Are Water Earth Fire Air Of Life And Death (2020-2032), which takes the form of a 12-hour event every 12th of December, from noon to midnight.
- I Am With You — David Garland
'I Am With You' – I couldn’t think of a more simply put profound statement. An apt way to introduce a shared listening. The whole Control Songs album is great; confidently quirky (meant sans pejorative tinge). So is his work from the same period with The Worlds of Love (trio with Cinnie Cole and Ikue Mori); in fact, the 'One of Two' track from their 1989 release nearly made the list too; plus it features Ikue singing, a rare treat. But I went with the buoyant 'I Am With You'.
- Third Gear — Annie Anxiety
I was a big fan of what was coming out of both Crass Records and the On-U sound stable in the 80s. Couldn’t have predicted that a mix of both approaches would work. But hearing the Adrian Sherwood production treatment on Annie Anxiety’s singsong disabused me of that notion. The record was revelatory; to this day, the whole album remains an intense listen. The percussion and voice combine to give it an undeniable propulsive force – it’s rolling down the hill, picking up speed.
- State Assembly — New Age Steppers
Love the way the song does not quite start until it’s about a third of the way in. The instruments conversing in bits and spurts, and slowly, through the piano and bass lines, the piece emerges. Throughout, it keeps a languid pace peppered with little sonic jolts. It’s one of the instrumentals on the album, so it unfortunately doesn’t have Ari Up’s wonderfully gripping vocals that are present on most of the rest of the album (a notable exception is 'Crazy Dreams and High Ideals', which features Mark Stewart on lead vocal).
- The Fatal Glass — General Strike
From approximately 1987 to 1994 I did a weekly radio show at CKUT-FM in Montreal. This was its theme music. It perfectly captured the musical territory I was trying to cover in that show. It has a walking pace, but the walking’s not done on this planet (it’s fitting that Sun Ra is covered elsewhere on this album).
- Tractatus — Tibor Szemző
The lazy humming, the suspenseful bass line, the synth washes, the snippets of radio recordings in various languages – all blending into an unhurried dozing, pondering, wondering. An everlasting favourite, every listen never fails to captivate. It might reference Wittgenstein’s 'Tractatus', but the only philosophy here is one of a welcome lulling.
- Gu She’ Na’ Di — Anna Homler
The voice sits way above the mix, it’s kind of insistent, like a solo clamour, while the music is so nocturnal. But the seeming incongruence quickly vanishes, the two juxtapose perfectly. The Breadwoman spellbinds.
- Speakers R-4 (Sounds) — RB Boo
'Sounds … that’s what the speakers are for', what more needs to be said? So basic, it’s genius. I often play the video by Jonathan Toomey (YouTube) that accompanies the track in the first class of my Introduction to Sound course. It sets a tone.
- La Nimpro — Terrine
Don’t be fooled by the wonky piano at the beginning, it’s soon to be obliterated. Noise can at times be so immediate, so accessible, so uncompromising, so satisfying. Had the pleasure of seeing Terrine (Claire Gapenne’s solo project) at the LUFF in Lausanne in October 2023; it was a challenge to find a recording that matched the precise and playful stutter grooves she produced that night, but this track is a good example of the kind of noisily nonsensical (or nonsensically noisy) sounds this prolific artist conjures.
- 0419.2 — New Tendencies
Love the extreme frequencies – all clean, springy, elastic. New Tendencies is Matt Nish-Lapidus. Tones creep up in the background, but the beat remains, relentless. It’s an abstract landscape that is frozen by a kind of vertigo.
- Drums — Laurie Spiegel
Rhythmic textures are a recurring attractor. Polyrhythms might follow a rigid structure but my ears get lost in them nonetheless – in a kind of beyond-pattern listening. I had the privilege of interviewing Laurie in her Soho loft in the early 90s. It was for a series called Turning Point I had been hired to produce for syndication on campus/community radio in Canada. The interview was about her Music Mouse, sadly the original recording has vanished (or, I should say, I haven’t found it yet).
- Conversation — Ana da Silva & Phew
Still on a rhythmic tip, this one has ominous layers scurrying around the main constant beat of synthesized drops. Complex, like any conversation of any worth. Not negligible, any track that has some kind of lineage to The Raincoats is a bonus.
- yawa sdlrow — Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe
Minimal pulses galloping. He describes himself as 'fumbling through the dark one foot in front of an other'. He is shuffling at a rapid pace here, exploring the energetic groove for the duration. Two steps ahead, no steps back.
- CHORDS for organ — Ellen Arkbro
Organ drones with some bite often satisfy a recurring thirst for immersive aurality. Just before the one-minute mark you realize, oh, this is not going to be plain and static, it’s going to awash you. This is one example out of many others I could have included, from the same artist but there’s so much amazing work being done with organs these days (or maybe it’s just me finally catching up to it) by Jocelyn Robert, Sarah Davachi, Kali Malone, Fujita, Blake Hargreaves, Tom Johnson, Charlemagne Palestine (of course), amongst others.
- A Coffin Spray — Judith Hamann
This track has a compelling undertow that befits the elegiac theme. The tempo of breath as it frailly fades, or as it desperately seeks some kind of presence post-mortem. Similar to the organ, the cello is currently replete with wonderful composers and players: Lucy Railton, Anne Bourne, Leila Bordreuil, Julia Kent, Maja Bugge, etc. Solo cello soothes the soul.
- Towards the Diamond Abyss / The Navigators — Maria W. Horn & Mats Erlandsson
Slowly evolving, wordless narrative. There might be a rudder on the ship, but no one is tending it (to the benefit of our ears). Bass as anchor makes a sparse but impactful mark towards the end.
- or things maybe dropping — Lia Kohl
The mix of musical and soundscape elements are deftly handled, thanks in great part by the insistent tapping/knocking. Suspenseful.
- thinkstill — Kee Avil
The angular guitar, an overall strangeness, subtle electronics. Vulnerable voice, breathy and barely there at times, then piercing, fiercing its way foreword. Distant relatives: Mecca Normal, even early Gang of Four.
- Electronic Superhighway — Salenta + Topu
The intimate recording, the oozing ambiance. The title of this particular track is an intriguing mismatch with the music which is so acoustic, so pensive – though the cello does inject some urgency. Piano somewhat reminiscent of Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru, but each remaining distinct. Strange in a way to have them as label mates, but that speaks more of the expansive, eclectic tastes of Futura Resistenza’s Frederic Van de Velde.
- Walk This Earth — Ali Beletic
A straightforward song in a way, but it sticks with you, musically and lyrically. The whole album is replete with these moments. I’m less sure about her current musical work under the Alivenique name, which she dubs a 'meta-pop-art musical project', but I applaud her for embracing a radical shift in direction. The fact that she is a visual artist as well (as are others on this list) is no surprise.
- Once You Know — Tymon Dogg
An encapsulating meditation on time. Happy to see this recently rereleased and available digitally. I was tempted to include Joe Crow’s 'Compulsion', another long-time favourite. Unsurprisingly, both songs have the ability to hit a similar core in me, yes, it’s partly nostalgic, yes melancholic, but ultimately ineffable. His track 'Lose This Skin' on The Clash’s Sandinista is also a classic.
- Afqid Adh-Dhakira (I Lose Memory) — Nadah El Shazly
To end, we return to the pitch-shifted vocals with which we began. I was tempted to pick 'Palmyra' from the same album, which has an earworm melodic line, but the link (albeit tenuous) to David Garland was too compelling – the needs of the mix supersede all. Plus concluding this list with an album’s opening track, with all of its moody layers and sections, gives me permission, as it fades out with a flutter of rapid pulsating percussion, to avoid putting a period at the end of the sentence.