In the ’90s, London guitarist Derek Bailey would sit at home and improvise along with jungle and drum-and-bass music playing on underground radio stations. The DJs would repeat music, then suddenly drop off and talk aimlessly—it was all fodder for the anarchic genius of Bailey, who would supplement the chaos of the radio with his own vast, discontinuous, living musical text. British improviser and author David Toop released two tracks of Bailey’s—“Lower Clapton Nocturne” and “Upper Clapton Nocturne”—on a 1997 compilation called Guitars on Mars, while John Zorn enlisted DJ Ninj to produce backing tracks for Bailey’s 1996 album Guitar, Drums ’n’ Bass in an attempt to duplicate Bailey’s homemade world with studio production values. The Glasgow-based label Scatter has released forty minutes of the original material, including the previously released “Nocturnes.” Recorded and duplicated on cassettes, the divergent sources achieve a kind of lo-fi unity, evidently the ideal quality for the material: jungle on jungle.
The brief opening tracks (under two minutes each) seem to start and stop in mid phrase, like jolts from a compound nowhere. The four-minute “4” develops further, matching Bailey’s chiming harmonics and sudden clanging dissonances with smooth, high-pitched, rapid drumming and strangled distant vocals, the whole becoming more plausible.
The longer tracks suggest fully developed collaborations in which Bailey’s electric guitar is as distorted as the disparate drumbeats, bass patterns, electronica, and harsh voices issuing from his radio. The eleven-minute “7” is a summit, with somber opening chords prefacing both the electronic buzz and the melody developed by Bailey, who integrated his guitar sonically and rhythmically into the distorted electronics of the radio signal. When the opening pattern later repeats, Bailey is literally creating an arrangement. The interactivity is, of course, an illusion, but one feels, in these mad squabbles, that Bailey has found his ideal collaborators, unknowing if not unwilling.