Martyn Bates as Migraine Inducers
Dissonance/Antagonistic Music
(Beta-lactam Ring Records mt196, June 15 2007, 2xCd)

Review 1

by Keith Moline (The Wire, January 2008)

[Review of both Dissonance/Antagonistic Music & Songs of Transformation.]
At Face value, these albums, recorded two decades apart, would appear to map out the extremes of Eyeless In Gaza vocalist Bates’s musical concerns. His work veers between classicism and iconoclasm, beauty and noise, approachability and opacity. These records, however, are not the polar opposites of his aesthetic that they first appear. With Bates, there’s a thorn for every rose, a butterfly hovering above every pile of rubble.

Migraine Inducers was the fictional group name he adopted in 1979 to account for his cassette entitled Dissonance. It attracted the attention of a young fanzine editor Geoff Rushton (who later became Jhonn Balance of coil), among very few others. Packaged here with its rearrranged version made a couple of years later(known as Dissonance Americas) and a further reworking from 1994, it shows Bates indulging in a lo-fi experimentalism in the Faust/Nurse With Wound vein. While it’s a noisy, distorted mess for the most part, it turns up moments of oddly sublime beauty which his peers in UK cassette underground probably scoffed at. Bates never seems to be baiting his audience with a “listen to this if you’re hard enough” attitude. Juvenilia it may be, but it all sounds as unforced as breathing.

Songs of Transformation, recorded in 1997 but lost in the fallout of a record company reshuffle, is the work of the smooth, classy songsmith Bates, emoting coolly in a hushed tenor that at times recalls Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis. In some ways, however, it’s a darker, more difficult proposition than Migraine inducers. The sound of Max Eastley’s self-built instruments, particularly the ghostly metallic groan of his famous Arc, draws out the disturbing undercurrents of the English folk songs that comprise the disc. As with the Murder Ballads collections Bates recorded with Scorn’s Mick Harris, the collection has its pitch black moments, especially the closing pair of songs ‘Two Magicians’ and ‘Cruel Sister’. Here, the sepulchral reverb is pulled back, allowing Bates’s effective voice to insinuate the terrible secrets that lurk at the heart of the songs’ narratives.

Rewarding, but distinctly uneasy listening.

Review 2

by ? (Progressive & Psychedelic Music, 2007)

Only during a limited period of years (from late 70s until the 80s) tape was the new medium to publish private limited editions, through tape trade mostly and home experiments. Many such tapes contained dark or uncompromising avant-garde experiments. Martyn Bates was also part of this early movement. He himself was inspired partly by the German group Faust who in the seventies had already experimented with avant-garde sounds and improvisation and mixed this especially on their private recordings with acoustic folk. “There was a dynamic control to the entropy … an ugly beauty” the liner notes describe well. Early descriptions of Martyn Bates tapes described them as “ambivalent scale, cacophony pop, non-pop, din music, minus-beat, new noise, antagonistic music, co-incidental music, freeform anti-beat pop, sewer ambience”.

It is not all the time clear which instruments are used because everywhere can be heard some kind of distortion, which, in a ground-breaking way, became very much part of Martyn’s creative composing process which sounds as much like an abstract sound composition meditation as a direct fight with its possibilities. Most early experimental music is dark and rather industrial, and uses overdrives of distortion in voice, recordings, and saturating echoes; often they manipulate distortion devices until they almost break apart, frustrated with its limits. It is much more an art to make such experiments sound light, logic, and natural no matter how weird or strange, and to stop soon enough with uneasy strangeness. Like Faust, Martyn Bates does this on large parts of first the tape, and adds acoustic or sometimes amplified guitar improvisations to the free-form inspirations. I have the feeling the compositions are multi-tracked. At first the music sounds like rudimentary improvisation dealing with certain spontaneous, natural rhythmic pulses and drives. The music becomes almost mechanical like, with still certain randomness in the real-time recording, so with a danger to fall apart in chaos, while no real errors are made that spoil any moment. The guitar or keyboard pulses give enough drive in a way that the composer’s vision remains noticeable, steady and controlled in manipulating all that happens. To a degree the music sounds like a mechanical story in sound, where something is really happening, almost like a movie, like an industrial “ghost”, in a rather inventive and groundbreaking way of organized sound, organic with distorted effects, and always somewhat noisy. It is vivid abstract music, which sounds well and most remarkable that it is so well developed on the longest tracks, while keeping the listener curious for more. One could question that if Martyn Bates had the best studio conditions would he have created some different experience, but like I said before the distortion and noise became part of the result, so I shouldn’t put that question.

The other CD has even larger parts of improvisation, more than using collage. You can clearly hear the use of amplified, distorted guitar, and deformed voices by organized noise. And I think I even hear sax a few times. Also here on this album are interesting results, with a certain improvised nature, and with mostly long tracks. I also hear certain machines taking part in the sonic experience. And there might have been a bit of experimenting with speed or other tape deformations, but I am not sure if there was too much manipulation with this. Compared to electro-acoustic music, this result is more something like electric or industrialized distorted and mechanically driven free music.

The result on both albums reaches often vivid worlds with contrasting sonic challenges with certain intensity. At the same time, through its sometimes rhythmical and always natural drive control, and through combinations that are built up well, the controlled more or less instantaneous composing, with completely awareness of it all, makes init to something very special and intelligent. There is kept inward a sense of inner peace, as to no matter what happens, one quality that proves this recording to be something of a unique nature.

PS. Martyn Bates nowadays is most known for his later work with Eyeless In Gaza, but also has gained reputation as a solo artist.

Review 3

by Matthew Amundsen (Brainwashed, August 7th 2007)

Martyn Bates’ elusive work as Migraine Inducers issued before his involvement with Eyeless in Gaza finally gets released on CD. Originally circulated on cassette in a tiny quantity as Dissonance/Antagonistic Music in 1979, it later saw a marginally wider release in the United States in somewhat abbreviated form. The complete version of this legendary album is included here, as is a second disc recorded in 1994 with Gaza partner Peter Becker to complete the work.

Although released in a small quantity, it did not go unnoticed. In fact, an early fan was Geoff Rushton, who wrote of it in Stabmental as “violent, anti-music” and even asked permission to use some of it for a “suicide performance”. Haunting and gritty, this music may surprise Gaza fans accustomed to melody and structure. Bates himself called this work a “scream of frustration”, and the description is apt.

Using things like electric guitar, food blender, chair springs, various percussion, motors, marbles, radio, and voice, Bates creates a howling and rusty landscape unlike anything heard before. Tape manipulation, loops, and effects further splinter the chaos. At times it sounds like Bates is disemboweling his instruments, evincing every last sound they’re capable of producing like a shaman practicing a maddening form of divination through technological evisceration. When his voice appears, it is masked and mutated beyond recognition, pared down to its most primal parts. Even so, Bates isn’t above throwing in bits of melody with electronics or his guitar, yet these respites are brief, only serving to create a longing for structure that’s never adequately resolved. Bates further confounds listeners by not giving the tracks any definitive titles. Although he gives evocative suggestions such as ‘Child Squashing Frog’, ‘Mona Lisa’s Sister and Subsequent Burning’, or ‘Dead Seahorse With Sky Melting’, the nine listed titles do not nearly cover the 21 tracks found on the first disc alone. Clearly, the music is open to interpretation even as it sets the imagination on fire.

Becker helped Bates complete another version of Dissonance in 1994, included here as a second disc. Technological advances don’t overshadow the intent of the original, if they’re even utilized at all, and the duo do a remarkable job of unlearning or forgetting all of their musical accomplishments as EIG. The terrain they cover here is similar to Bates’ original, if a bit more studied and patient in places, yet it surprisingly recalls the previous work quite accurately considering that 15 years had passed since the original. While the yearning for some sort of closure is a different creative impulse than that which sparked the original, the harrowing results are much the same.

Despite their limitations in fidelity, these recordings still sound as fresh and bizarre as anything I’ve heard in years. Now that they’re available to a wider audience, Bates’ reputation as an innovator and restless investigator of sound is more deserved than ever.

Review 4

by Tony Dale (Terrascope Online, September 2007)

Bates’ very first recordings, predating Eyeless in Gaza and solo and collaborative works, were issued under the banner ‘Migraine Inducers’ and circulated on a handful of cassettes as Dissonance/Antagonistic Music in 1979, and subsequently in slightly wider release for the US in a tightened-up edit known as Dissonance Americas. It’s hardly a “long-awaited” release for the many (in the sense that for example the first Letters Written record on Cherry Red is long OOP and haunts the many with its absence) but represents the missing well-spring of Bates’ work for the true fanatic. The folks at Beta-Lactam Ring are obviously true fanatics, since they have released three editions of the Dissonance recordings of which one is reviewed here, The complete version of this legendary album is one disc the reviewed double CD version, as is a second disc recorded in 1994 with Gaza partner Peter Becker to complete the work. (Dissonance Americas is available separately as an LP only release.)

In the absence of any sleeve notes giving differentiation (maybe the giant PROMO! Sticker on the rear cover obscures the information), this review treats the disc catalogue-numbered MT196 as disc one, the original ‘Migraine Inducers’ recordings. This puts me at odds with some other reviews out there, but listening to the material and checking the Beta-Lactam Ring web site leads to this conclusion. Very clever – a migraine has been induced here before listening has even commenced. Disc one, remastered from cassette very nicely thank you, is an infant birth howl fabricated from guitar, various found objects and tape loops, with the occasional vocal abruptions like night noises from Bedlam. Sound sources are eviscerated and looped and lopped and processed for distortion, but the results have their own internalised rhythms, melodies and tonality. Noise is used as a working method to achieve an end, and not as an end in itself. Occasional moments of daftness, punkitude and even mutant jazz just add to the antagonism. It’s difficult to reference tracks, because the nine original tracks on Dissonance do not correspond to the first CD, which has 19 sections. Tracks with evocative titles like ‘Ship in Distance with Cerise Backdrop’, ‘Mona Lisa’s Sister and Subsequent Burning’ and ‘Church with New Shoes Squeaking’ could be anywhere within this structure. In the end though, the vibrations between transducer and listener speak for themselves; carve out their own narratives in individual skull-space. Revealed is a lost piece of the UK experimental underground, deserving of consideration alongside the work of Nurse with Wound, Coil, and Throbbing Gristle. Working methods mapped out here would carry over in subtle form to Eyeless in Gaza, and especially Bates’ uncompromising Murder Ballads, on which Bates and co-conspirator M. J. Harris of Lull took the legacy of the Child Ballads and slowed their discourse down to glacial pace over icy blasts of isolationist electronics.

Disc two (MT197a), by our working theory of what is going on here, is Eyeless in Gaza partner Peter Becker’s 1994 “completion” of the work, mixing the original with moments of almost Fahey-esque acoustic guitar beauty, and adding coloration in the form of additional keyboards and percussion. Without changing the aesthetic radically, the overall structure and editing are tighter and closer to Musique Concrete and the whole impression is of a more focussed and considered work, which, while holding true to the anarchic blast of the original, has passages that are calmer and less unhinged. Paradoxically, it’s this later version that seems more industrial, in the sense that there is a constructed machine narrative evident throughout. The structure is intriguing, with 20 quite short tracks – some as short as 30 seconds – and a culminating collage of around 20 minutes. This is the disc most listeners will return to for pleasure I think.

Even if I have the discs back-assward, what we have here is undoubtedly a major reissue, and full marks to Beta-Lactam Ring for doing such a great job with it, including a 16 page booklet with a fine essay on the work (though no detailed CD track listing). In the interest of further confusion, after this review was written, the following was noticed on the Eyeless in Gaza web site [listing has been corrected since – surely we don’t want to spread confusion – do we? ;-) – Jerry]:

Track-listing somehow got left out of the sleeve notes, but what you will find on the 2xCd release is:

Disc 1
Track 20: DISSONANCE REMAKE, part #1. [I think they mean Track 21 – td]

Disc 2
Tracks 9 to 19: DISSONANCE REMAKE, part #2. [Tracks 10 to 19 perhaps – td]

Make of that what you will – personally, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense or necessarily a lot of difference – and that’s fitting, I suppose.

Review 5

by Lord Lycan (Heathen Harvest, July 7th 2007)

“…it’s an amazing, long lost missing piece in the UK post-punk/DIY jigsaw.” (The Wire, April 2007). Freed from layers of sand, the ancient seal is cracked and the stone portal pried away. A hoary blizzard of slowly settling dust and mold is finally sliced by the first tantalizing glint of a mythological cache. At long last a lost experimental classic from the earliest days of the UK diy movement is delivered from legendary obscurity. “…violent anti-music: I think this is a brilliant tape…hauntingly beautiful and totally refreshing sound.” So wrote Geoff Rushton (aka Jhon Balance of the band COIL) in a 1980 issue his Stabmental magazine about Martyn Bates’s Dissonance cassette. Originally released as a micro-edition in the UK in 1979, the more definitive American version was released as a cassette in the US shortly afterwards. For the first time Migraine Inducers/Antagonistic Music sees a limited edition CD and vinyl reissue, appended by a bonus disc with the 1994 “completion” of the piece. Migraine Inducers/Antagonistic Music presaged Martyn’s solo career and his work as part of Eyeless In Gaza in a most unusual way. Rather than directly suggesting what was to come, the cassette, instead, suggested a composing and sound AESTHETIC that exists to this day. That first cassette-only cri-de-coeur would have you believe that Martyn would be the next Nurse With Wound.

Instead, rather like a more extreme Vice Versa or Human League, with Bates literally finding his voice, the later music (solo and with Eyeless In Gaza) evolved into a textural, fractured, DIY chamber pop INFORMED by the avant-garde, occasionally straying back into outright experimentalism (Pale Hands I Loved So Well, eg.). That Eyeless In Gaza (and let’s not forget Peter Becker) and post 70’s Martyn Bates manifested from Migraine Inducers/Antagonistic Music makes this bizarre and essential release even more of a precious find. If Martyn had not recorded another note, this would still stand as an extremely important early, incredibly forward thinking moment of sonic exploration. Dynamic, visceral and jagged but musical and deliberately constructed, Migraine Inducers/Antagonistic Music captures, maybe even defines the zeitgeist of the DIY attitude that was rising in the heady days of the late 70’s and early 80’s. An undeniable antecedent and a true revolution.

Review 6

1979 DIY noise beast reissued in full by Freek Kinkelaar (Vital Weekly, no. 589, September 2007, also published in Record Collector, November 2007)

Calling yourself Migraine Inducers might not be the best route to stardom. But then, this was released in 1979 at the birth of the DIY movement, which was all about making a defiant two-finger salute to stardom. A new generation of ambitious musicians armed with total artistic freedom released their music on the then-popular cassette format thus bypassing major record companies. Martyn Bates (of later Eyeless in Gaza fame) debuted with Dissonance/Antagonistic Music, a homemade cassette full of intense nervous fragmented soundscaping, not dissimilar to Nurse With Wound or an instrumental Throbbing Gristle. When the initial 12 copies had sold out, the tape was re-released slightly more professionally over the years and now, for the first time ever, as a double CD. Sonic exploration is the heart of this beautiful, stark masterpiece, which may not be easy on the ear on first take, but gradually grows and then, when you least expect it, proves itself full of harsh beauty.

Review 7

by Erik Lopez (Slug Magazine, Issue 225, September 2007)

Martyn Bates = Merzbow + NWW + The New Blockaders Lez Changez Blockaders
This is music for those who hole themselves up in a small room in a basement with poor lighting as a method towards self-realization. Like other amazingly versatile noise albums that have come AFTER it (Merzbow’s Aquamancer comes readily to mind), Migraine Inducers Dissonance/Antagonistic Music is a studied pastiche of all sorts of cultural detritus combed together with acoustic noises, scrapes, soft resonant beeps and short, bursting starry spaces. While not as jazzily punishing as Aquamancer, MID/AM is consistently engaged with blurring the line between background filler noise and a creative ensemble of startling awakeness. I could go on for days praising this album. When I first heard it, my mind kept on dividing itself over and over again with amazement with how fresh this album is, almost 30 years later after its initial cassette-only release. If you fancy yourself a noise connoisseur, pick up this album immediately, as it has reached that mythical status of one of my favorite albums of all time. Comes with a second disc “completing” the original release, a 16-page booklet and some fancy artwork. BOO YA!

Review 8

by ? (Babysue,2007)

This whopping double CD covers a lot of territory. So … if you’re looking for easily digestible catchy songs, you will probably get lost rather quickly in the thickets of this release. Migraine Inducers Dissonance/Antagonistic Music is an updated reissue of a cassette-only release (remember those?) that Martyn Bates put out way back in 1979 before he began his solo career and before he began playing in the band Eyeless in Gaza. This is a very odd album intended for a very specific audience. Packaged in a beautiful cardboard foldout sleeve with a booklet detailing some specifics about the music, this hefty package features compositions that go all over the place and back. The tracks on this album are experimental noise pieces in which anything can and does happen. As such, the music might best be described as modern classical. Rather confusing and perplexing at times, this package is bound to simultaneously baffle and entertain … .

Review 9

by Matthew Johnson (Re:Gen, August 30th 2007)

The early tapes from Eyeless In Gaza’s Martyn Bates are finally available, but will anyone outside of his diehard fans really want to hear them?

Originally issued on cassette in the early 80’s, this DIY release marks the earliest recordings of Martyn Bates, who would later go on to build a cult following both as a solo artist and as co-founder of Eyeless In Gaza. While his later career would incorporate everything from folk to industrial, pop to psychedelia, the recording originally entitled Dissonance and released under the moniker of Migraine Inducers is raw, low-fi noise. While it bears little in common with his later material, Bates is clearly attached to these early noise pieces, and even issued a new version, remixed and modified with Eyeless In Gaza partner Pete Becker, in 1994. The appeal of this CD version for fans is clear: Dissonance, in both its early cassette incarnation and later reissues, has been long out of print and nearly impossible to find, and Beta-lactam Ring has done a marvelous job putting this version together, complete with artistic cardboard packaging and a booklet featuring a detailed history of the recordings. Musically though, this won’t be a particularly enjoyable or illuminating listen for any but the most devoted Eyeless In Gaza fans. Though Bates employs everything from tape loops to glockenspiel, the primary sound source is electric guitar. While the artist’s ability to wring an astounding number of sounds and effects – ranging from spacey fuzz to industrialized clanking – from a comparatively simple set-up, there’s an aimlessness here, personified by Bates’ occasional rambled whistling that keeps the listener at arm’s length. As the liner notes state, this material “was never woven from a dark or maligned bolt like much of the difficult music of its day,” but that also means that it lacks the punch-in-the-gut impact of similar works of that era, like Nurse With Wound’s debut album or Controlled Bleeding’s extreme noise pieces. Dissonance is similarly abrasive, but lacks that intensity, less a scream than an extended, particularly textured bit of self-indulgent improvisation. The 1994 version, included here on a second disc, is more of the same, with additional studio manipulations and sudden, unexpected cut-offs emphasizing the material’s seeming lack of direction. Diehard Eyeless In Gaza fans will appreciate this, and so will devoted noise aficionados. Newcomers to either category, however, will be better off starting elsewhere.

Review 10

by Paolo Bertoni (Blow Up #113, October 2007)

Ben vengano le, pur tardive, ‘scoperte’ di figure di culto come Martyn Bates se finalmente fanno riemergere materiali che seguaci aspettavano da decenni. La prima esperienza solista di Martyn, transitato appena il tempo di un 7” in Reluctant Stereotypes, era siglata Migraine Inducers e Dissonance/Antagonistic Music era il titolo della cassetta, il formato per eccellenza del DIY, che pubblicò nel 1979 per la propria Ambivalent Scale. Nella nutrita discografia in coppia con Peter Becker come Eyeless In Gaza, più che nei cimenti in solitudine, non mancano momenti sperimentali, in particolare la gran parte del quasi tutto strumentale Pale Hands I Loved So Well, ma quanto oggi ristampato è senz’altro più estremo e palesemente legato alla allora fresca stagione post-industrial, per quanto Bates si manifestasse più vicino ad un approccio assimilabile a Nurse With Wound, quindi con riferimenti diretti alla tradizione concreta, anche se in maniera più acerba, istintiva e meno eclettica di quanto non facesse Stapleton. Le ingenuità che oggi il tempo sottolinea all’ascolto del primo CD, che raccoglie, con aggiunte, i pezzi dell’originale – curiosamente non c’è traccia dei nove titoli pur presenti sul tape – non rendono meno interessante il lavoro, non privo di rudi asperità e dotato di un tocco di adolescenziale bizzarria, e di altissimo profilo è il secondo dischetto che è una sorta di sequel congegnato con Peter nel ’94 ma che si direbbe registrato contemporaneamente alla cassetta tanto gli sono affini i contenuti e la dimensione strettamente lo-fi.