In October 1995 a collaboration occurred between Wire's Bruce Gilbert and Band of Susans' Robert Poss and Susan Stenger at London's Disobey club. As one might expect from such a line-up, the trio attempt to create an all-out sonic assault involving Gilbert on slide guitar and audio manipulation, Stenger on bass and oscillators, and Poss on guitar.
manchesterlondon offers two versions; one is more-or-less documentary evidence in the form of Manc, a direct recording from the evening; the other, Variation, is mixed and manipulated by Paul Smith.
Once again, manchesterlondon emphasises the fact that structure is essential in any 'sound-based' work that aims to keep the attention for any length of time. Manc certainly isn't 'pop' and it's often not pretty, but this release offers more than noise terror, continually creating semi-abstract structures—the assault on the ears being underpinned by Stenger's clanging bass riffs and Poss and Gilbert's wandering guitars. Hints of melody sometimes creep into the mix and repeating patterns struggle to the surface, battling against the background hums of noisy textures. Initially it's heavy going but it soon takes on a hypnotic flavour.
If anything, Variation improves on the original and adds another conceptual layer that encourages melodic structure. The mood is more reflective—quieter and sometimes restrained. The ending is simply breathtaking; layers of harmoneous textures play around each other as flanged guitars edge in and out of the mix, held together with a thoughtful bassline.
This release may not be one for the stereotypical casual listener but Gilbert fans will definitely be impressed with what is probably his best release since The Shivering Man. Those who are a little more conservative in their tastes might have to decide whether they are 'man enough' to take the plunge. After all, there's no room for 'pop wusses' in manchesterlondon.
Craig Grannell (June, 2000)