(Babysue) Ahhhhhh...sound as music. There are very few things that cause as many debates as artists who create peculiar audio explorations that few can comprehend and/or understand because the usual elements in music have been discarded. Music For Hard Times is the duo of Tom Nunn and Paul Winstanley. Using various instruments and effects, these guys use sound like paint...creating abstractions that are curious, sometimes spooky, and ultimately difficult experiences for the casual listener. The folks at Public Eyesore have very quickly made quite a name for themselves by being brave and adventurous enough to release these kinds of albums, knowing very well that they will only reach a very limited audience. City of Cardboard features seven improvisational tracks. These pieces are bound to confuse and confound even the most ardent music fans. If you're looking for something cute, catchy, and comfortable...this is not the place to find it. Nunn and Winstanley are creating pure art here. And although some would question whether or not it really is music...in our minds this form of sound is just as valid as any other. Mind bending cuts include "Obstacle Coarse," "Augury Spirit," and "Map of the Alleys." Strange and unpredictable. Top pick. - Don Seven
(Vital Weekly) The name Paul Winstanley vaguely rang a bell somewhere (maybe I was confused by Kiss' Paul Stanley), but this bass player is/was part of Plains, a large group of improvisers from New Zealand of whom we reviewed some releases before. Here he's one half of Music For Hard Times and gets the credit for 'bass guitar with extensions' on all seven pieces, whereas Tom Nunn plays Skatchboxes, Lukie Tubes, Resonance Plates, Crustacean, Ghost Plate, Harmonic Rods, Music Boxes and Friction Twister - not all the same time, but in various combinations on either of these seven pieces. His instruments are not of the kind you can buy in a music store, but of his own making. Boxes with objects (combs, toothpicks, washers, dowels etc.) that he can pluck scratch or rub along and which sound is amplified. These seven pieces are in the world of improvisation of the variety that I really like. The use of non-musical objects for musical purposes is something I always like and often see misused. That hideous group Stomp with their dust bins banging them like drums: I don't see a point in that. It's still a drum and says nothing about the sound quality of a dustbin. Luckily Nunn and Winstanley understand this much better and explore the surfaces of their objects - in which the bass is also another object really and besides: what extensions are there? We don't know - and create dense patterns of sounds/musical pattern. Sometimes drone like such as in the final two long pieces, 'Bad Volts' and 'Map Of The Alleys' and more scratching and hitting in the five shorter pieces. Nervous, hectic at times and mildly introspective at other times, such as in 'Shantytown Council'. They offer quite a diverse plate of possibilities on their home-made instruments without having it sound like a demonstration record of possibilities. Great work! - Frans de Waard
(Kathodik) Capita (sempre più raramente) d'imbattersi in opere che spiazzano, per concezione e risultati. In casa Public Eyesore, questo succede abbastanza spesso (una follia lunatica, visionaria e isolata, è sempre ben accolta). Il duo Music For Hard Times (Tom Nunn e Paul Winstanley), ci riappacifica stridendo con il termine impro, e con questi sette movimenti, si piazza fra gli ascolti più intriganti del 2014. Strumentazione homemade, un basso elettrico con estensioni, qualche effetto elettronico. Risonanze, strascicamenti, distese gelide, rincorse concrete e panorami che a dir isolazionisti non si sbaglierebbe più di tanto. Fremiti urbani inusuali e scultorei. Spettrali emissioni altamente suggestive, che troverebbero ampio apprezzamento da parte di Harry Partch. Mi lasciano basito, entusiasta e agonizzante (tutto nello stesso istante). Non scambiateli per una bizzarria da “Songs In The Key Of Z”, non c'è un cazzo da ridere. Un panorama di macerie e silenzi post-catastrofe (quella che più vi aggrada). - Marco Carcasi
(Disaster Amnesiac) Music For Hard Times consists of Tom Nunn and Paul Winstanley. Nunn has been developing, building, and playing musical instruments for many years now, and Winstanley has dedicated himself to developing all manner of extended technique for the electric bass guitar. Nunn focuses heavily here on his Skatchboxes, from which he gets scraped, ping-ey tones from amplified combs and nuts that are glued to cardboard resonators. He also plays his Resonance Plates, Crustacean, and Harmonic Rods. Winstanley matches him with his rig, and, by matching, I mean to say that it's pretty much impossible to tell who is doing what at times; this is a good thing, if one loves mystery and imagination emanating from the music that they're listening to. The sounds on Cardboard are generally somewhat quiet and mysterious, as the duo clearly pay close attention to what each other are doing as their improvisations unfold in real time. Disaster Amnesiac would compare the listening experience to the act of picking up a large rock and peering into the strange world that is heavy with previously unseen activity, or the summoning up of a deeper visual focus as one's perceptions delve into an abstract expressionist painting. In other words, Music For Hard Times never hit the listener over the head in order to get their attention. They simply get down to the Zen of their other worldly duo exchanges, and, if one is inclined to go along, one will surely find much intrigue. Kudos too, for the really neat sculpture which graces the cover, designed and built by Nunn and Winstanley for this release. - Mark Pino
(Monsieur Délire)This group is a duo consisting of Paul Winstanley (electric bass, effects) and Tom Nunn, a maker of odd home-made instruments that you scratch or blow into, and that often involve rods and metal plates. An hour’s worth of improvised happiness, dubious dialogues, and strange sonorities I had a hard time associating to instruments with names like skatchbox, lukie tube, and ghost plate. This soundworld is one of a kind. - François Couture
(Improvijazzation Nation) If you’ve been wondering where those chipmunks went, you’ll find them in the innards of this CD, no doubt… chewing their way through the “Obstacle Coarse” as they hone their molars in sheer sonic ritual. Sounds (to me) as if they picked up some kinda’ “demons” along the way… if you don’t believe me, listen to the edicts of the “Shantytown Council” – they’ll tear your head to shreds as they issue policies (much like our own politicians, I’d say). Beyond the shadow of (any) doubt, however, are the “boring” nuances of “Bad Bolts“, my personal favorite of the seven shredded tracks offered up for your sonic heaven/hell (whichever you prefer); 14:26 moments filled with every second of your wildest after-hours nightmare. For those who freak totally on great noise, this gets my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, though I’d caution those who are too deeply embedded in “normal” to move on to the next rack in the record shop. “EQ” (energy quotient) rating is 4.97. - Rotcod Zaaj
(Sound Projector) Listening to City of Cardboard by Music for Hard Times made me think immediately of Bart Hopkins’ Gravichords, Whirlies & Pyrophones book/c.d. combo from the mid-nineties. I often wonder just how many inventor types were spurred on by this tome to build sound-breathing monsters of their own. Though I’d imagine that by this time, instrument sculptor Tom Nunn was already at work, fashioning bagpipes out of puffer fish and marimbas from discarded kitchen tiles. For …Cardboard, Tom’s armoury of invented instruments is matched with the heavily doctored bass guitar and sundry electronics of Paul Winstanley (also of the large free collective Plains), for seven single take improvisations. And, even if you’re au fait with maverick master builders like Richard Lerman, Max Eastley, Harry Partch and Lethe (Dry Ice on Steel Tables / EitherOAR Records), you’ll still be riding in alien territory. This is due in no small way to certain friction idiophones such as the ‘Skatchbox’ and ‘Lukie Tubes’ doing their cantankerous level best to dominate the proceedings. The former: a cardboard box with scrapable objects stuck to the top, its opening magnifying any sounds made above (kinda like the dadaists’ Intonarumori??). The latter sees a number of cardboard tubes, which when pushed along a textured steel resonator plate (cushioned by inflated balloons), sets up vibrations in tube and sheet. Aided and abetted by ‘The Crustacean’, ‘Friction Twister’ and ‘Ghost Plate’, these weird sonorities are found at their most overloaded on “Bad Bolts”, where Tom’s blurred-hand manipulations replicate a crowded zoo of overagitated mammals and “Obstacle Coarse” where the listener is witness to what appears to be the chatter of those from the microbe kingdom… All this sourced from the contents of an office stationery cupboard? It certainly seems that way. But let’s not forget that giving 3D life and colour to these contraptions is surely down to the superb recording/mixing/mastering skills of Paul Winstanley. And that’s really only half the story. As on “Augury Spirit” and “We Travel the Spaceways” (not a Sun Ra cover!), a liberal smattering of reverbed presence from the desk suggests more of a sound picture/composition than a warts’n’all exploded view of the sound source itself. For these tracks, I’d defy anyone to deny that what they were hearing was a recently unearthed session where Robert Rutman (he of the steel cellos semi-fame), was discovered guesting with k-rock free cosmo-jazzers Annexus Quam !! Captivating sounds from humble sources indeed. Tom and Paul’s sheer ingenuity and innovation says that cardboard packaging will never be seen by me in the same light again… - Steve Pescott
(Chattanooga Pulse) In the search for new sounds, an inventive performer can play existing instruments in non-traditional ways—called extended techniques—or an actual inventor can just create a new instrument. There’s a good helping of both methods on City of Cardboard by the free-improv duo Music for Hard Times, comprised of instrument sculptor Tom Nunn and bassist Paul Winstanley, who employs “extensions” and electronic effects. One of Nunn’s unusual instruments featured here is the Skatchbox, which is a painted cardboard box affixed with various metal and plastic objects, such as washers and hair combs, that is played by rubbing a comb over it. Another is the Crustacean, which is a circular metal plate with thin rods welded to it, sitting on four balloons, each resting in its own pail embedded in a table. When played with a bow, the Crustacean generates a uniquely eerie sound, somewhat like a bowed cymbal but with more tonal variety. Readers, do yourselves a favor and look these instruments up on YouTube for proper demonstrations. The seven improvisations on City of Cardboard cover a wide spectrum of moods, typically going between two poles: one of playful, animalistic scampering, and one of a desolate uneasiness. Cardboard in an urban environment brings to mind a homeless person’s improvised shelter, but the album’s cover offers towering buildings made of cardboard, perhaps suggesting hollowness and artifice. This fits in with the parts that convey a bleak, artificial cityscape, like “Shantytown Council” which uses low hums and the sound of music boxes to create a delicate melancholia; “We Travel the Spaceways” also uses sonic space in a subtle way, without assaulting the eardrums. The fascinating City of Cardboard catches the listener off-guard in multiple ways, not only with its peculiar musical instruments and noises, but also by being piercing and affecting with its starkly grey mood, like a walk through an abandoned junkyard. - Ernie Paik
(Avant Music News)A city of cardboard is a squat made of discarded materials, an expedient settlement for living during economic hard times. Analogously, in this recording the duo Music for Hard Times (Tom Nunn on sketchboxes, resonance plates, music boxes, harmonic rods and other objects, and Paul Winstanley on electric bass guitar with extensions and electronics) build structures in sound out of homemade, jerry-rigged instruments. These structures are textural rather than melodic, consisting of drifting, atmospheric soundscapes in place of motifs stated and varied. As reflected in the seven tracks’ titles, the atmospheres are for the most part bracing—an icy wind modeled in scrapes and echoes, scratches and hums—but not without a certain austere beauty. - Dan Barbiero
(Ragazzi) Tom Nunn: Skatchboxes, Lukie Tubes, Resonance Plates, Crustacean, Ghost Plate, Harmonic Rods, Music Boxes, Friction Twister. Paul Winstanley: Electric Bass Guitar w/extensions + electronic effects. 7 Tracks. 57:46 Minuten Spielzeit. Wenn da auch die Sprache von 'Electric Bass Guitar' ist, so ist von 'normaler' Musik hier nicht die Rede. Das Duo mit Humor - Music for Hard Times - trefflicher Projektname, dreht an Knöpfen und arbeitet mit elektronischen Maschinen. Was als Sound dabei herauskommt, hat mit 'herkömmlicher' elektronischer Musik nichts zu tun. Eher scheint es, als höre man dem Gedärm bei der Verdauung zu, als grabe sich ein Maulwurf durch die Erde. Als entfalte sich aus der Puppe der Schmetterling und das beste Mikrophon der Welt fange den Klang ein. Vielleicht klingt es so auch, wenn ein Bauer am Brunnen den Eimer herablässt. Das Seil spannt, die Holzkonstruktion klangarbeitet. Als würden Geräte verschoben. Insekten gehen ihrer Arbeit nach. Die Natur wächst aus noch hartem, festen Boden. Hier singen Kreissägen bei der Arbeit, aufgenommen aus der Distanz von mehreren Hundertmetern. Da wird eine Industrieanlage demontiert und das Mikrophon wurde am Tor, weit weg, installiert. Intuitive Geräusche. Spannend wie ein Krimi. Kein Hörer, der ungewöhnliche Klänge gewohnt ist, wird davon erschreckt. Ganz im Gegenteil, wohl unterhalten sein. Partiell könnten Geräusche aus dem Album direkt als Filmmusik funktionieren, als Spannungsmoment, um Handlung zu forcieren, Atmosphäre zu entwerfen. Was in den Tracks, die lustiger Weise Namen tragen und in der genauen Spielzeit angegeben sind, als handle es sich bei "City of Cardboard" um 'echte' Musik mit konkreter Handlung und kompositorischer Entwicklung, passiert, ist der Ton gewordene Film.
Und doch ist dies Musik. Die Klänge haben ambiente Magie, passen perfekt in die Fahrradgarage zum Schlauchwechseln wie auf die Ohren beim Joggen oder Radfahren. Da ist nichts langweilig. Keine altbekannten, zigmal gehörten Strukturen werden hier aufgemacht. Dies ist ganz neu. Wenn es derart auch schon seit langem gibt. Und weil die Struktur der Klänge nicht ohne weiteres nachvollziehbar ist und stets spannend bleibt, ohne zu erschrecken, wagt sich das Ohr näher an diesen Sound heran, sitzt mittendrin, lauscht und ist ganz in Konzentration aufgegangen. Gerade, wenn es sehr leise wird, und das passiert häufiger, wird alles ringsum stiller, weil alles zuhört. Der Raum, die Instrumente, das Werkzeug, die Luft, der Staub. Alles hört zu.
Musik für harte Zeiten? Musik für immer und überall. - Volkmar Mantei