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Ashtray Navigations & Anla Courtis - Protozoic Rock Express
CD (Leeds, UK / Buenos Aires)

-Part I
-Part II
-Part III

Phil Todd: acoustic guitar, oscillators, moog sampled harmonium,& casio sampler
Anla Courtis: electric guitar, organ, hawk-bells, e-bow & found metals

(Chattanooga Pulse) While most musicians measure time with beats, for the duo of Phil Todd—known as the main force behind the prolific Ashtray Navigations—and Anla Courtis (known as a member of Reynols), their complicated, collaborative drones have their own subtle rhythms that slowly form crests and dips; it’s more like the breathing patterns of whales instead of the hummingbird’s heartbeat of, say, pop music. The new album Protozoic Rock Express was compiled from recordings made between 2004 and 2010 in Leeds (U.K.) and Buenos Aires, Argentina, which are the respective homes of Ashtray Navigations and Courtis. The gentle unraveling and slow reveals provide a soundtrack for strange meditations and also aural Rorschach inkblot test mind-movies; armchair psychologists doing self-analysis can likely amuse themselves by trying to understand why these sounds inspire the personal, fabricated visions that they do. For example, the 22-minute “Part III” uses tones that resemble the rising and falling pitches of disaster sirens, like those that provide warnings for tsunamis and tornadoes. Interestingly, when these tones are overlaid, they create tension, but there’s enough space to zoom in on individual tones, which have their own odd tranquility to them. Atop the drones are some lightly popping sounds—exploding transformers, miles away?—distorted guitars, ominous rumbling and synthetic non-human yells that evolve into screams. Just a few peaks emerge within the long piece, like when the tone pitches climb to their highest notes (an old musical trick for representing an emotional peak) or when there are quicker variations in tones. On “Part I”, there’s a blurry sound-fog, made with drones or vibrating pieces of metal, with a few sharp details that sparkle—tinny tinkles, squeaks or shakes of hand-held percussion—like potentially salvageable shards, temporarily illuminated in a giant landfill trash heap being manipulated by bulldozers. “Part II” could be a bizarro universe raga, with what sounds like harmonium drones along with string and oscillator drones, with a slow envelope effect being just one driver for its atypical cycles. Things happen on both a micro and macro level, and regarding the album’s immersive experience and potential psychological mirror, your results may and should vary wildly. - Ernie Paik

(Babysue) Truly far out stuff that'll make you feel like you're taking a trip to another universe and beyond. Divided into three sections, Protozoic Rock Express will certainly take you to places you've not been before. Ashtray Navigations is Phil Todd, a man who's been involved in the undercurrents of music since the 1990s. Todd plays acoustic guitar, oscillators, moog, sampled harmonium, and casio sampler. Working with him on this album is Anla Courtis, who plays electric guitar, organ, hawk-bells, e-bow, and found metals. The list of instruments utilized in these recordings does not really give a good indication of the overall sound. These compositions have a great big huge sound. They're hypnotic. They're drone-like. And in many ways, they're kinda overwhelming. We hear tons of experimental and progressive bands, but we've never heard one that's quite like this. Traditional melodies and song structures are irrelevant here, as the overall sound is what's important. Recorded in Leeds (UK) and Buenos Aires (Argentina) between 2004 and 2010, this is a total excursion into non-commercial sound manipulation. Most listeners will either be turned off or confused by this music. Todd and Courtis are playing for a very select group of people, those who welcome and embrace sounds that are unfamiliar and strange. Some folks that tread into this sort of territory come up with sound that is odd, but not listenable. Express is amazingly listener-friendly and just goes to show that it's the manner in which you do things that matters most. For a totally tripped out experience, you won't do much better than this. Provocative. Wild. And amazing. Recommended. Top pick. - LMNOP

(Vital Weekly) I’m going to assume that, if you’re reading this, you already know who these giants are. But just in case you’ve lived in a cave without Wi-Fi for twenty years: Ashtray Navigations is the long-running “band” name of the singular Phil Todd, a living goddamned treasure whose music from the early 90s all the way until today, a hundreds-strong catalogue that shows no sign of slowing down or running on empty, is worth as much of your time as you can spare. Argentinian guitarist Alan Courtis was a member of psych/rock/noise/drone/conceptual-art/??? band Reynols, but for more than a decade he’s become a super-prolific serial collaborator. In fact, Courtis has worked with such an impressively disparate group of musicians (a few examples to prove my point: Andy Bolus, V/Vm, Masami Kawaguchi, Richard Francis, Ralf Wehowsky, Usurper, Tom Dimuzio, Alan Jones, Pain Jerk, PBK… see what I mean?) that it’s nigh impossible to predict what his next recording might sound like. And so we have “Protozoic Rock Express”, a Marvel Team-Up of molten drone that is just as fabulously gooey as you want it to be. The credits state that it was recorded in both Leeds and Buenos Aires over a period of six years, implying a long-distance and long-term collaboration, but you could’ve fooled me if instead, you’d told me it was recorded live in a cathedral somewhere, or as a single take in the courtyard of a disused European castle, I’d believe it; or in a dark cavern below the surface of the Earth (or perhaps on a Siberian Earth Curve). Todd and Courtis’ mind-meld is rather perfect. However, the “rock” part of the title seems to have vanished under immense gravitational pressure the players will into being, apparently taking the “express” part with it. This album is time-stoppingly slow; it doesn’t “rock” so much as it establishes cranial space and commences delivering serious delta waves. The first untitled track sets the tone with a thick layer of molasses. Some drums and cymbals can be heard in the background, giving a faint hint of forwarding motion… but then the music takes on raga-like inner-space-psychedelic moods that explode in thick clouds of narcotic reverie. When the second track ended, I glanced up to see how much time had passed and was shocked to find that the whole thing was just 11 minutes long. What? Not an hour and a half?! Ah, but the last track is a 22-minute behemoth is immense beyond what came before it, volleys of feedback sent above the clouds as every vacuum cleaner on the planet is switched on at the same moment by the people below. In short, this is a monumental album, better than the sum of its (quite excellent independently) parts. Never mind the inaccuracy of 2/3 of the title; this is not rock and it’s the opposite of express… but “protozoic”? Sure. These 40+ minutes could be a re-enactment of the music made before humans existed. - Howard Stelzer

(Lost In a Sea of Sound)The pressure is heavy on Protozoic Rock Express. A sonic current steadily pushing through the subsurface, and within the intensity, clarity and detail escape like air breathing from volcanic vents. A dark droning composition filled experienced aural stitching. Life pulled from the darkness then placed like breadcrumbs along the path. Two artists across an ocean, their patience and care over multiple years produces a heavyweight masterpiece. Three tracks on Protozoic Rock Express divided into forty five minutes. Phil Todd is the force behind Ashtray Navigations, playing acoustic guitar, oscillators, moog sampled harmonium & casio sampler. Anla Courtis plays electric guitar, organ, hawk-bells e-bow & found metals. Together these duo creates a fantastic sonic landscape. The severity of these sounds in perfect balance with the aural facets lifting above the depths. The beauty of Protozoic Rock Express is it's ability to provide contemplative meditation, but never sinking so deep as to drown thoughts with the music itself. - Robot Rattle

(Xactionmusic) Whenever writing new reviews, I always try and jot down a few notes to remember my initial reaction and expand on those ideas, but very rarely do I come across something so wonderfully disorganized, so chaotically meditative (if that even makes sense), that it’s almost impossible to stop listening – but here I go. Protozoic Rock Express is, so far, one of my favorite dark-ambient albums – as this release, from Ashtray Navigations and Alan Courtis, must have been born from some industrial junkyard, where corroding machinery and dilapidated tonal structures captivate the dark-industrial soundscape; ravaging through mechanical empires with virulence. The label which released this, Public Eyesore, so far has a comparably small discography but some of the greatest artists to come from any experimental label, and Ashtray Navigations and Alan Courtis are exemplary. Released in 3 parts, each composition perfectly connects with the deconstruction of its preceding environment; constantly pushing its designs rather than looping them, which is always refreshing as most artists try and construct something conventional; which only fall into the hands of mediocrity. Part I is a fantastic display of dynamically treated sounds and discordant screeching timbre resonating into pits of thick distortion. Suddenly, towards about 8 minutes or so, we start to hear warm, deep tones echoing from either a cello or viola, I don’t have very good ears for that sort of thing, but it perfectly flows into the next ‘Part;’ as the clatter of metallic death rings through the valley of dying circuitry. The dirty electronics and minimalist aspirations of Part II benefit from its simplicity; emerging and sub-emerging from below and above while adding dimensions of organic and cello-like instrumentation – on top of monotonous vibrating tones. Faint, high-pitched sounds echo through the spaces of despair while bright chimes cascade through the industrial cinema – as tonal modulations of sonic cadence venture through this intriguing world. I thoroughly enjoyed each moment Protozoic Rock Express had to offer and highly recommend this to anyone a fan of dark-ambient and industrial rolled into one. - Sutter Greaves

(Sound Projector) On Protozoic Rock Express (PUBLIC EYESORE 144), two of our personal favourite musicians collaborate and make a record for the American Public Eyesore label. Phil Todd is Ashtray Navigations, who continues to release his home-made music in prolific quantities and remains impossible to pigeonhole, although the last time I heard him play live he was exhibiting a certain convincing take on psychedelic rock and letting fly with his considerable guitar skills. In the earlier days of TSP magazine, we often associated him with long-form drone noise, which he produced using his own DIY methods and which sounded like nothing else in that genre. As to Anla Courtis, the eccentric genius from Buenos Aires, following his exploits with the bizarre Reynols project he pursued a solo career where he too has been exploring the possibilities of his guitar and also rethought himself as an electro-acoustic composer. On this release, they both play guitars, plus there’s synth and moog work from Phil, and various sampling keyboards; Anla plays organ, percussion, and bowed metals. Since the record is reported as being made in Leeds and Argentina, it’s not clear if they ever met up in a studio and it might has been patched together from separate contributions. This Protozoic Rock Express is certainly not “rock music”, nor is it an “express” train; turgid and monotonous, it crawls along with the pace of a sluggish tow-truck overloaded with concrete blocks, trying to make its way through a dark swamp. Divided into three parts, the music is interminable and shapeless, but once you get past these basic obstacles you should find enough immersive drone elements and interesting instrumental details to engage the body’s dimensions and passions. There’s something to be said too for the remorseless manner in which the music unfolds, barely giving a man a chance to breathe as it covers the whole listening platform in its thick green slime and overcharged fug. And I like the way the artworks combine and incorporate the doodling styles of both musicians. If I’m reading the dates (2004-2010) correctly, it either took them six years to make it, or perhaps it combines old recordings selected from a number of years. Arrived 8th January 2020. - Ed Pinsent

(Downtown Music Gallery) Both Phil Todd, aka the eclectic and unplaceable Ashtray Navigations, and Anla Courtis, late of Argentinian experimental band Reynols, have spent considerable years probing the outer limits of sound. Courtis in particular has quite the refined, if bent, ear, attaching himself to like-minded collaborators (Lasse Marhaug, Pablo Reche, Tore H. Bøe) and as well as those of unlikely provenance who gamely twist each other’s inclinations (Makoto Kawabata, Christof Kurzmann, Gunter Muller). Todd’s explorations similarly reflect a restless work ethic and mojo that is anything but consistent; he’s equally traded in industrial musique concrète, lo-fi psych-rock, face-slapping noise, collagist surrealism, electroacoustic improv, and much that is considered strange, obtuse, and fringe. In other words, these two were made for each other, and this multivalent recording showcases a marriage made in heaven. Divided into three related but separately constructed segments, Todd and Courtis find a meeting point where their aesthetic demands share common ground. The first section, all tingling raw materials soldered with modular tool-and-die, is like taking a subway ride in to the abyss, where shrouded entities skulk the darkness planning apocalyptic ceremonies, their visages mere shadows in the windows, dirtied hands manipulating cracked and broken circuitry. Part two reveals Todd’s stark guitar thrums, which eventually become subsumed in the droning matrix beggared by Courtis’s random acoustics and Todd’s thickening electronic processing, embroiling the coarse, grey atmospheres in a drone resembling nothing less than a great, mutating didjeridoo summoning forth primordial gods. A slowly evolving sinewave achieves critical mass on the powerline axis of part three, the duo exorcising their demons in an empty, industrial wasteland. Thankfully, the entirety of this music resists the desire to become either mindless noise or blank aural wallpaper; its ragged textures suggest something more prickly, scouring, denser. Brillo ambient? Seemingly static but always changing, the finely-sculpted worlds on display reveal how Todd and Courtis stimulate our cerebral cortexes on a visceral level, rather than bludgeoning us into submission, with truly engrossing results. - Darren Bergstein

(Revue Et Corrigee) En attendant vouz pourrez écouter le duo d'un des membres de Reynols, Anla Courtis, avec l'anglais Phil Todd et son alias Ashtray Navigations, dans leur album, paru en 2019 sur Public Eyesore, enregistré entre 2004 et 2010 à Leeds et Buenos Aires, et ressorti des étagères Revue et Corrigée. Musique aisément dense pour trois longues pièces pas faciles, gonflées à bloc de feedbacks épais en tout genre. Cette fois, on retourne à la poussière, a la noise, tout en restant dans le psyché sur la magistale "Part II", qui fait le lien quelque part avec l'Acid Mothers Reynols dans un élan dronique. C'était sans compter la puissante pièce de clôture qu'il va bien falloir que vous découvriez. Deux très bons disques pour lecteurs peut-être pas faciles à convaincre, car nous constatons souvent, jugeons parfois, mais jamais à votre place. - Cyrille Lanoë

(Salt Peanuts) Noen ganger blir man sittende som limt fast i stolen over musikk man aldri har hørt før, og som man ikke helt vet om man liker, eller forstår noe av. Og slik var det da jeg puttet platen med Ashtray Navigations (Phil Todd) og Anla Courtis i spilleren. Jeg kjenner ikke de to fra før, og er ikke sikker på om jeg kommer til å sjekke hos mine platepushere etter andre innspillinger med de to. Men for den som er blodfans av argentinsk dronemusikk kan det hende dette er en innertier. Vi får tre «strekk»: «Part I», «Part II» og «Part III», og de to musikerne trakterer akustisk og elektrisk gitar, oscillators, moog, samplet harmonium, casio sampler, orgel, hawk-bells, e-bow og diverse metallobjekter. Og hele veien er dette musikk som beveger seg som sakte bølger mot en sandstrand, som man kanskje finner mye av rundt Buenos Aires hvor deler av platen er innspilt, og i et helt annet landskap enn Leeds, hvor resten av platen er gjort. Mens de fleste musikere er opptatt av improvisasjoner, rytmiske figurer, melodi og beats, er denne duoen mer opptatt av deres kompliserte, samarbeidende droner hvor de lager egne subtile rytmer som sakte danner et landskap. Noen kan kanskje kalle det hvallyder, mens jeg foretrekker å sammenligne musikken med bølger som sakte glir inn på en vakker og varm sandstrand, og mens jeg lytter meg gjennom platen for tredje gang lurer jeg på om jeg noen gang vil forstå hva de to egentlig holder på med. Joda, jeg har hørt lignende musikk tidligere, flere ganger, men jeg har aldri greid å få helt tak på hva musikerne vil med det de fremfører. Det går liksom litt for lang tid mellom høydepunktene. Men jeg er temmelig overbevist om at musikere som Jon Hassel og Brian Eno har vært viktige inspirasjonskilder for de to, og kanskje hadde jeg forstått mer hvis for eksempel Hassell hadde vært med og lagt noen trompetlyder på toppen av dronene. Men etter hvert som musikken «åpenbarer» seg, oppdager man nye elementer som er spennende å følge med på. I «Part II» dukker det opp lydbilder som kunne stamme fra en didgeridoo, sammen med det elektroniske, og det er egentlig i dette sporet hvor det skjer mest. I «Part III» høres mye ut som om man befinner seg i nærheten av en flyplass eller et industriområde, hvor det foregår arbeid med boring eller lignende, eller ligner det kanskje mer på de lydene man utsettes for når man får sjekket kroppsdeler i en skanner (?). Men det er fascinerende å lytte til, og enda mer fascinerende tror jeg det hadde vært å oppleve denne musikken i levende live når den blir laget, for det blir en litt lang «avstand» mellom utøverne og oss som lyttere når man skal avspille platen i sin CD-spiller. - Jan Granlie

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