I’ll admit straight away that here at OBLADADA, we have a long-standing deep admiration for Basil Kirchin. Whilst he’s known initially as the drummer in his father Ivor Kirchin’s big band of the 1950’s, it’s the numerous weird tangents he explored from the late sixties until his passing in 2005 that really impress here. His music spans a unique bridge between jazz, electronics, improvisation, soundtracks, ambient sounds, library music, animal sounds and perhaps most controversially, recordings of autistic children.
The understated swinging grooves of early works like States of Mind (1968) and Charcoal Sketches (1970) are simply gorgeous. Abstractions of the Industrial North (1966) is a hauntological treasure, Particles (2007) a sumptuous later day look back to his earlier times. But it’s the wild expanded universe of World Within Worlds (1971/73) and Quantum (1970) where his truly individual, musique concrete like approach, fully take flight. Kirchin’s uniqueness has been celebrated by everyone from Tim Gane, Brian Eno, Broadcast and Drew Daniels along with countless others. But for me, Jonny Trunk, who’s curiosity and ultimately a friendship with Kirchin in his last few years, thankfully resulted in so much of his music being readily available again.
So, it’s fitting that this newly unearthed collection of previously unreleased material from the archives is offered up under Jonny’s very own Trunk Records. Everyday Madness feels like a newly discovered treasure that thoughtfully showcases Kirchin’s completely varied approaches.
Side A covers two cuts that feel like fragments or sketches from World Within Worlds early 70’s craziness. Pat’s Pigs opens out in a bizarre textural drift for over 8 minutes. Musical loose ends roll around listlessly and over-amped electrical buzzes, ebb and flow. Eventually a grimy guitar that feels like Robert Fripp is in the next room as jazz from outer space is slowly distilled. Primitive electronics wobble and whistle over the warm analogue glow. Quite what is going on is never made clear, but this immediately feels like the most out there and minimal space Kirchin has ever attempted to map.
Electronic immediately hairpins into an organ drone dappled lullaby. A child’s voice dissolves into unsettling laughter. Huge orchestral blobs duck and dive between excitable alien voices. The effect is uncomfortable, but the music exists on a knife edge between wild chaos and calm abstraction. Then quite unexpectedly, out of a hush, a charming nursery rhyme that feels very close to the start of Once Upon A Time (from Quantum) outlined with synthetic drum pads, draws things to a conclusion.
If these first two tracks showcase the changeling side of Kirchin’s oeuvre, then within 10 seconds The Suspended Forth is his heavenly side. Opening out like a balmy Pepperland fanfare, the entire 21 minutes of side B is quite remarkable. Recorded in 1968/69, it continually expands and morphs, zoning in on a gorgeous brassy figure that’s instantly breath-taking. Weird keyboard cul de sacs, new textures, spaces emerge, strings, marimbas bloom as this labyrinthine joy grows. As the title outlines, the piece delights in continually revisiting that very moment that your ear and brain recognise forward momentum in sound. As the piece grows, the edges slowly evolve more details as it effortlessly transports you forward… The final intense gong thrashed passage, proving that even with a layer of aggression, that there’s beauty dripping off everything here.
Everyday Madness feels like a glimpse into an artist at the absolute knife edge from one approach to another. The differences are so marked that it could easily be two completely separate musicians – given the range of ability and enquiry on display. Whilst the joy of The Suspended Forth immediately slots directly into one of the best and most fully realised of his many works, the strange vibes those two bizarre twins sharing Side A are completely wild. Whilst Everyday Madness, as the title suggests might not be the easiest introduction to Kirchin’s discography, it’s definitely one of hugely perplexingly beauty.
Everyday Madness is out on now Trunk Records