Sounds : 14 January 1984

Applied science

'Auto-Da-Fe' (Walter Ulbricht WULP 002)****
'From Science To Ritual' (Plasma Tapes 004)***

TWO PRODUCTS, both retrospectives: one a crossbreed compilation of early industrial recordings and studio versions of material still featured in the SPK set, and the other a hasty spew of live recordings from 1981 and 1982.
SPK seem to be the only band working in that unfortunate cesspool, the post-industrial market, to have actually taken stock and thought about what they're doing. They long ago dropped the redundant drag of unbearable screeching about gas chambers/concentration camps/medicak imagery that so many others seem to love wallowing in.
Even so, 'From Science To Ritual' is one of those expensively thrown together arty-facts much loved by industrios. These must consist of the following: cassette plus in the region of three thousand inserts, consisting of a) photos of pretentious twats with cushions on their heads staring meaningfully at brick walls and pieces of broken plumbing and b) verbose nonsense on diffuse and dull topics such as torture, Turner's paintings and how relevant they are, alchemy and boring philosophy from boring French philosophers. How trooly all-encompassing.
'K's are in evidence everywhere: 'kapitalist', 'kode', produkt' and on and on and. The tape itself is very uneven: the earlier the date of the concert, the more turgid the recording. So the earliest piece, 'The Last Night Of Tibet', is standard wails and dustbins dying (though, of course, it does have the best title!).
But as time rolls on (profound, no?), you hear SPK starting to shift out of the sludge, discovering melody, dropping the 'K's, learning subtlety. Still uneven, mind, as their shows reveal. At times magnificent, but sometimes still trembling on the return to noise.
New pieces like 'Twilight Of The Idols' show just how far they've come since the days of titles like 'Corpse Shriek'...
'Auto-Da-Fe' is a much happier work. Put together with taste, like all the product this label releases, though even here the confusion of image lingers. Sado-masochistic drawings clash with witch-trial woodcuts: the Temptation of St Anthony impinges on a photo of Chinese prisoners; geometric patterns à la Faust LPs back onto 'nice family pictures' as in 'Holidays In The Sun' picture sleeve.
Is the only criterion to shock, to use such obvious imagery? Now, that is a useless passion.
Still. Side one is a definitive statement of what Graeme SPK called 'classic ultra noisel'. At the time it was released it sounded harrowing - or, for some, just unlistenable - but now it seems damned by association, due to the myriad groups effortlessly plagiarising the style.
As a throw-back, a look back (in anger?) to the band when they wielded the name Socialist Patients Kollective, side one is vital archive material for noise worshippers everywhere.
On side two, the crossover appears: noise turns into metal rhythm - ritual rather than industry - and tunes begin to creep in. It's a useful reminder that before the invasion of the unpronouncable German bands, homegrown product like 23 Skidoo and SPK had the world of springs and shears well and truly wrapped up.
Buy the LP, and marvel at how the newest wave is the same as the one before.


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