Richard H Kirk
Earlier/Later ’74-’89

By Tom Giles

Along with Stephen Mallinder and Chris Watson, Richard H Kirk was Cabaret Voltaire (although Watson left the band as early as 1983). Along with Throbbing Gristle, A Certain Ratio and 23 Skidoo, Voltaire were at the forefront of the late 70s electro/punk scene (or whatever you want to call it). Unlike many of their contemporaries they continued to produce music well into the 90s, by which time Richard H Kirk had also made a name for himself as a solo artist in the emerging techno scene. From their origins as an experimental noise band in the early 80s, Voltaire had a formative influence on pre-Nine Inch Nails industrial, yet by the early 90s they were producing an album with the legendary Marshall Jefferson. Not an unimpressive contribution to English electronic music on paper.

These days, CV are going through somewhat of a renaissance, with the release of at least five box sets/retrospectives/unreleased compilations in the last few years. Earlier/Later is a selection from over seven hours of archive tape recordings presented to us with minimal post production (ie they've just copied them from tapes that have been kick around someone's car for fifteen years). Unsurprisingly, Earlier focuses on Kirk's 70s tape loop and delay experiments, whilst Later concentrates on his 80s proto-techno.

On the whole Later is a compilation of competent but rather uninspiring dance tracks. From a historical point of view the earliest tracks on the disc are interesting. Narcotics Rap (It Stinks In Here), produced in 1979 (and fortunately without the corny rapping the title suggests) is a fully formed piece of techno – and not techno in the sense that Kraftwerk are techno; it sounds like early stuff on Infonet, R&S or Warp. The album's opener Never Loose Your Shadow, made in 1983, anticipates the Trax sound by 4 years. Much of the later work on the CD sees Kirk beating tracks now well worn – an orchestra stab here, some 'trippy' speech samples there, simple but effective 4/4 drums everywhere. Whilst none of this material is terribly bad, it is mediocre at best.

Earlier on the other hand, is a much more interesting listen. Most of the pieces are from 1974-75 and as such represent some of Kirk's earliest experiments. As an album they certainly make interesting listening, and there are moments of great creativity. Most of the pieces are experiments with tape loops – a reel to reel tape is stuck together in a loop and played round and round the tape player. Some tape players allow simultaneous playback and recording which generates the peculiar twanging sounds heard through out this disc (check Radio Silence or El). Some of these experiments are successful: Cosmic Override 1 is immediately hypnotic, and leaves you wishing it was longer than a minute; Concerto For Damaged Piano is a wonderful soundscape of decay recorded on the last day of a crumbling empire.

Overall, the sound is oppressively bleak, grimy, and uncomfortable; the aural equivalent of a never-cleaned council flat sofa, sticky with dust. Not the kind of sofa you want to sit upon often, I dare to suggest. Whilst we are on the subject of council flats, does Kirk look like Steve Coogan's Paul Calf after a heavy night in the boozer or what?
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