Simon Fisher Turner
(MUTE STUMM 151 CD, 1996)

Review 1

by Matt Fftytche (The Wire, September 1996)

Ex-driver for Adam and the Ants; starring in Black Beauty and Michael Winner’s The Big Sleep; playing bass and guitar with The The; recording soundtracks for Derek Jarman’s The Last of England and Blue: Simon Fisher Turner’s CV reads like a random cut-up of 80s culture. Shwarma is an equally improbable blend of found sounds recorded from “Antigua to Tokyo, Jerusalem to Bangkok”; the pan pipes of Incantation’s Sergio Avila; the poetry from Quentin Stevenson and Nasia Hadon; vocals from Martyn Bates (Eyeless In Gaza) and Jocelyn West (Miranda Sex Garden); and ex-Wire member Bruce Gilbert’s noise sculptures. It has all the makings of a Wim Wenders-style concept album about trans-urban bewilderment, but manages to remain insistent through sheer sonic verve.

Shwarma opens with clanging bells and the sampled hum of public spaces, but quickly adds more incongrous layers of sound and context: distorted guitar mingled with radio hiss, a warm electric organ and thudding bass and clear female vocals, before sloping away into free sax warbles and global flute. The hallucinatory “Gong/Echo” sounds like a procession of Zen monks entering the body of a radio receiver before a closing ceremony inside a radiator.

Potentially a Babel of competing samples, Turner’s extreme drive towards clarity in the mix means that the differing textures – for instance, “Classical Piano”’s slow fusion-style melody on bass and guitar and abrasive radio snatch of Arabic singing – form part of a coherent aural stream. The clear, pastoral vocals of “Cut” take place within a violent electronic attack of bleeps and crackle, descending into faint radio and street sounds.

There’s an uneven tussle here between lyrical narrative and vibrant, post-Stockhausen sonic exploration. Recurring dramatis personae – Stevenson’s quavering, RSC-style poetic delivery; Hadon’s rich Iranian/Persian recitations; and the pseudo-pastoral yearnings of Bates and West (“A white blossoming pear/A hawthorn drying her hair” … hmmm) [“I didn’t write this stuff!” – Martyn Bates] – tip the album into sentimental voyage mode, where it occasionally coalesces in an ecstatic lyricism (the suspended, searing melodies of the canonic “Serial”). However, the general swiftness and obliquity of the changes (most of the tracks are only two or three minutes long) twist this potentially private arrangement out into a more public realm of cross-wired sonic information. A British ruralist fantasy soundscaped in the Interzone.

[What a “word-salad”! – ed.]