"As you may have guessed, this isn’t really a record to casually sling on while reading the Sunday papers"
Wanna get weird? How about a supremely immersive and psyched-out early 70s masterpiece featuring spacey concrète-esque drones, manipulated bird noises and wild, Ayler-on-a-speed-bender free jazz instrumentation? …Sure!
It could only be Basil Kirchin, Worlds Within Worlds (Part I and II) being one of his earliest, rarest and probably most far-out releases. This Record Store Day reissue is the latest step in Trunk Records’ admirable quest to ensure that Basil’s singular artistic vision is given the recognition it deserves. It also serves to stick a big ol’ middle finger up at the money-grabbing punk who’s got an original press listed for nearly £8K on Discogs.
Such is the impact of Kirchin’s life on his work, no discussion of his music is complete without a biography. Born in 1927, he spent his formative years playing drums in his father’s big band before interest in the genre (both Basil’s and that of the public) waned at the close of the 50s. He then set out on a five month spiritual excursion to India followed by a stint in Sydney, during which time which he suffered the traumatic loss of his entire musical archive and a near fatal head injury.
On returning to England, he began composing experimental soundtracks for films, some real, some imagined. The money from the actual commissions meant that he could continue to earn a living solely from music, while the pieces he made for fictitious productions provided an unshackled creative outlet for his more avant garde work.
Said outlet then got a whole lot less shackled still when an Arts Council grant awarded to him in the late 60s allowed Kirchin to buy a high grade tape machine and directional microphone. He now started collecting and treating recordings he gathered from a vast range of sources, including the docks in his hometown of Hull, animals at the London Zoo and (most controversially) autistic children from the Swiss school where his wife worked.
"This is a record to be viewed and enjoyed solely in the context of the notes and textures that comprise it, free from any kind of outside social or political interpretation"
He then developed painstaking and entirely novel methods for tape manipulation in near complete artistic isolation, where he likely would have remained were it not for his discovery by weirdo jazz aficionado Jonny Trunk around 20 years ago.
With these new sounds and techniques at his disposal, Basil began exploring a spiritual theory he had been formulating since his stay in the Ramakrishna Temple years earlier: he believed that altering the speed of field recordings enabled one to peer into the numerous universes that exist alongside our own. Think of the leisurely-paced world of a slug, for example. Basil felt that stretching recordings taken from our dimension allowed us to experience this slower alternative realm.
Unlocking and probing these “Worlds Within Worlds” was the aim of the work presented here. As you may have guessed, this isn’t really a record to casually sling on while reading the Sunday papers. On the sleeve notes Basil instructs the listener to “isolate yourself: swim under water and breath in the music [sic].” And what wondrous, mind-melding, freak-your-Mama-out sounds you’ll find coursing through your bloodstream if you follow his advice.
Part I takes up the whole A-side and is dominated by a cacophony of drones and manipulated wildlife noises that could be the hubbub of the deepest, darkest jungle, could be some birds down the park in Hull. It’s post-musique concrète, pre-industrial and perfectly-Kirchin, a writhing mass of samples that ebbs and flows throughout the track’s length, sometimes being withdrawn completely then gradually built back up again in a new, equally beguiling form.
Cooly hanging ten atop this wave are the squirming sax tones of Evan Parker and off-kilter guitar noodlings of Derek Bailey. The recording process for the album reportedly involved Basil’s distorted electronic creations being played aloud in a recording studio while Parker and Bailey improvised. Their efforts were presumably then fed back through the various Kirchin-ators for Basil to have his wicked way with, the end result coming off something like Don Cherry and Jim O’Rourke vibing over Coil’s A Thousand Lights in a Darkened Room – but with more duck noises.
The track name, “Integration, (Non-Racial)…..“, reinforces the sentiments of the sleeve notes regarding how Basil wants his music to be consumed. This is a record to be viewed and enjoyed solely in the context of the notes and textures that comprise it, free from any kind of outside social or political interpretation. As in ‘this is a song about integration, and no, it’s not in any way a comment on that kind of integration.’
On Part II Basil’s input is more subtle, the field recordings now mostly absent and layers of treated instrumentation taking centre stage instead. This is likely the side that has made Worlds Within Worlds such a darling of the avant-garde free improvisation scene. Bailey and Parker duel like demented old jazz cats scrapping over the last of the bourbon, each trying to out-weird the other while being egged on by the occasional vibraphone contribution or snippet of percussion. Swinging it ain’t, but searing, raw and deeply emotive it most certainly is.
It seems to me that your take-home from “Worlds Within Worlds” will largely depend on how deeply you subscribe to the underlying philosophy; for the cynically grounded non-believer, it offers a fascinating insight into the mind of a true musical outsider, a man who made a remarkable contribution to the canon of electronic experimental music despite spending his life apart from even it’s most obscure circles.
But if you’re willing to follow Basil’s advice and go the whole heady hog, you’ll find yourself on an utterly unique trip traversing hitherto unknown sounds, emotions and universes. I recommend the latter – dive in and breathe deep.
‘World Within Worlds’ is out now via Trunk Records. Order a copy from Boomkat.
A. Part 1 – “Integration, (Non-Racial)…..”
B. Part 2 – “The Human Element”