As a testament to the random disorder and beauty of life, London’s Nurse With Wound (Steven Stapleton) functioned outside the normal musical channels for a decade, experimenting with tape collages of disjointed phrases, improvised music, electronics and found sounds on a series of intriguing, provocative, humorous and frequently entertaining self-released records. Between 1978 and 1988, Stapleton collaborated with such likeminded sonic adventurers as David Tibet of Current 93 and Tony Wakeford of Sol Invictus to produce a prodigious body of work that embraces surrealism in both content and graphics.
NWW’s debut, Chance Meeting (originally issued in an edition of 500), welds introverted, spacey guitar to converging hemispheres of intergalactic blips. Then, like much of the band’s music, it veers into sketchy doodles: between intermittent lulls of humming and buzzing, there are bursts of frenzied screeching, torture chamber screams, piano scales, women speaking French, etc.
To the Quiet Men From a Tiny Girl resembles a nest of vibrating insects, with clinking chains, someone practicing saxophone, an operatic soprano and other voices. “Ostranenie” suggests a house of a hundred rooms — with a different noise in each.
Merzbild Schwet is as challenging as a Buñuel film, with repeated lines (like “We have fallen silent…lost the power of speech…our heads are empty…”) as women laugh and sing. Other ingredients: clanking, ripping velcro, angry voices and something like a sick elephant honking.
Those first three albums were later reissued in a CD boxed set (Psilotripitaka), which also includes Ladies Home Tickler, another bizarre cut-up collage: snippets of sappy tunes, electrical noises and taunting laughter. Present the Sisters of Pataphysics compiles passages from the first three LPs.
The avant drippings on Sylvie and Babs — the most guest-laden NWW effort, with dozens of contributors as opposed to the usual one or two — include more laughter and repetition of the word “pardon.” The two Automating albums collect material from the many compilations to which Nurse With Wound has contributed. Slices of show tunes, repetitive background beats and advice like “Never eat anything bigger than your head” are sprinkled throughout. Volume II addresses the hierarchy of biological existence; one segment could be the soundtrack for a science fiction feature about giant rampaging tarantulas.
A pair of 12-inch EPs paired as an album, Gyllensköld bristles the coarsest of hairs with scratching and horror dungeon screams while Brained adds the demonic voice of Clint Ruin yet contains a movement that could accompany an underwater Cousteau documentary.
A Sucked Orange offers 20 experimental vignettes, many of which justify their titles: the scraping murmur of “Flea Bite,” the repetitive clank of utensils beneath a spoken loop of “It ain’t necessarily so” on “It Just Ain’t So,” the catchy ditty plinked out on “This Piano Can’t Think.”
Soliloquy for Lilith is Stapleton’s surprising chef d’oeuvre, a three-album box of contemplative, atmospheric experiments employing treatments of a stringed instrument of his own invention.
Over time, however, the group’s usual organized chaos gained a certain predictability. At the end of 1988, Stapleton moved to a farm in Ireland.
More accessible than much of Stapleton’s ’80s work, Rock ‘n Roll Station is rhythmic almost to the point of being dancefloor-friendly. The combination of rhythms, noise and ambience is in line with work done in the mid-to-late-’90s by artists on the Warp label. The title track begins with a clipped rhythm aided by random vocal samples; “The Self Sufficient Sexual Shoe” repeats the idea with male vocals replaced by female whispers. “Two Golden Microphones” is a multifaceted 17-minute sonic beast that throws together fragments of pop songs, surf instrumentals and tribal rhythms. “A Silhouette and Thumbtack (A Dance in Hyperspace)” slides from spooky ambience to a beat interrupted by random samples/noise. “R+B Through Collis Browne” works together female screams and guitar samples. The disc ends with three minutes of “Finsbury Park, May 8th, 1.35 pm (I’ll See You In Another World),” ambient-drone accented by a thumping beat.