Who are MR STERILE ASSEMBLY? They’re pretty unique actually, uniquely excellent… Mr Sterile Assembly are from New Zealand, they have a minefield in their playground, and their latest album, Transit, is something we rather recommend..
MR STERILE ASSEMBLY –Transit (Skirted) – They sound like a more frantic Gong – a slightly stressed day on that planet – or maybe a band on the run from the raggity zaggity crowman of planet Ring? They sound good from the off; hold the front page, we got one here.
There’s a slight sense of claustrophobia, a threat of some sort, with song subjects based in the harsher realities. The album opens with the menacing, urgency of Hibakusha, a song written about a real-life survivor of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they have delightfully awkward sound that continually evolves and never fails to challenge. Gone a little Wilco Johnson messing with The Ex right now: intricate clever rhythmic weaving, that old school Pere Ubu new wave weird-punk art-fuelled feel, and all the while with details and tunes (and clever moves) all of their own…or maybe Cheesecake Truck? Dog Faced Hermans? Their combination of sometimes intricate time changes, female voice, dark-edged melody and real-world lyrics can even be reminiscent of Thinking Plague.
They’re rather unique actually, uniquely excellent. Mr Sterile Assembly are from new Zealand, they have a minefield in their playground, (a mindfield?), they’re exploding things in your mind, they’re forever shifting, changing shape, never retaining a status quo. Gong at their most edgy, at their probingly subversive is probably the nearest thing you can pin on them in terms of a positive comparison – playing with fire, to question and to learn…. This latest album stands out far far more than previous things we’ve heard from these rather creative New Zealanders; this is great, even with all that paranoia and that electric Orwellian warning and the monitoring of your every logged-on communication check in, the watching of everything you ever say or do tagged there by the Man in cyberspace…
Mr Sterile Assembly have a sound that somehow is oppressive and delightful both at the same time. They sound paranoid, they sound switched on, they sound aware, they also sound like thoroughly decent people, inviting people, come join our band – a Crass-like collective you’d really like to be part of and muck in with (Crass always sounded like they’d be such hard work to be part of: this gathering sounds inviting). And even when the sound is getting a little frantic and the saxophone is sounding a little like a maniacal goose, they still flow so well. Mr Sterile Assembly are never aggressive in terms of musical style, never pecking at your head. They may be throwing out questions, but it’s not just head-on arguing. They’re too artistically intriguing to be about mere confrontation as they take you on their ever flowing, ever shifting, ever thrilling musical/lyrical ride… All open mouth expectant, man swallows his own tail, all clever time changes and awkward song structures (along with a fine dress sense).
The band are mostly drummer/vocalist Kieran Monaghan and bassist/vocalist Chrissie Butler – the two piece are augmented by a number of guests and scuttling collaborators. Transit is a cohesive, challenging album, hardboiled but somehow never difficult to listen to, an album that at times is brilliant, an album that’s always very very good (and complemented by good artwork/packaging). They may be from the other side of the world and we may not get that much of a chance to see them live, but this is an album and a band that you do need to go explore.
Here is the original Organ Zine post from August 1st 2011. (LINK IS DEAD)
“MR STERILE ASSEMBLY : Transit
By Steph Gray
They’ve said it themselves: this is not lounge music. But if you like the idea of ‘outsider punk’, appreciate jazz, poetry and math rock precision, ‘Transit’ is for you. The fifth release by the Mr Sterile Assembly, it is both an album and an exhibition of artworks. Charismatically assertive two-piece Chrissie Butler and Mr Sterile secured the talents of Dean Hapeta (aka Te Kupu), Jeff Henderson and Maria McMillian among other collaborators for this production. The result is a literate, rich and engaging double album. Each song is accompanied by an art-piece. My favourite is Pop Sickle – dedicated to the Waihope 3 – and matched by Stefan Neville’s eponymous etching. And if you like information with your art and music, the Assembly have added a third layer by published hyperlinked lyrics on their website. As sources of allusion and inspiration, the links are a mad romp around the Assembly’s creative process, taking you to Hone Tuwhare’s poems, NZ nuclear-free legislation, and an image search for ‘Israeli wall’. The Assembly are celebrating this release, and their tenth birthday, with a national and international tour to Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. ‘Transit’ was mostly recorded with Mike Gibson at Inca Studios and released by Skirted Records and Tenzenmen.”
Here is the story of Transit, the fifth album by mr sterile Assembly. There are links to individual pages with interactive lyrics. The story of how the album came into being, plus reviews, images, and any additional detritus associated with this release. cheers
Transit, the fifth album by mr sterile Assembly was released March 25 2011. The album took just over one year to complete from its inception point in late December 2009. The Assembly had recently complete a small Aotearoa NZ tour with the Czech group Uz Jsme Doma, in which an offer to the Assembly was made to tour Europe sometime in mid-2010. Offers like this spawn plans, and one of these was a recording project.
Two surprises in one day: dollars and departure.
An application was made with CNZ for a recording grant, the idea to record the duo bass and drums unit, in preparation for the tour. However, and much to our surprise, the day the letter of astounding confirmation of $$ came on the same day Sarsha Doulas decided to quit. The tour almost happened but due to personal reasons had to be abandoned at the eleventh hour.
From band reproduction to project.
This caused some serious rethinking on how to approach the project. What developed over the coming months was a growing project of fantastic proportions. We wanted to maintain the energy and feel of the twin bassists so we approach a sterile member from previous times, Aaron Lloydd, to plunk the strings. We knew he had a solid and creative understanding to our approach. Next we contacted another sterilite, Jeff Henderson, to add saxophone on a number of tracks, and Nell Thomas to add special tonal colour on a couple of tracks. Nell plays a a Javanese instrument called a Gender, and we felt this was a perfect instrument to add depth to a particular song, Stella, based on an story of some dear friends in that country.
Mike Gibson was enlisted early on to the initial recording of primary bass, bass, drums track, and to mix and master the final collection of songs. Dean Hapeta aka Te Kupu became deeply woven into the development of the album. He offer Matakahi Studio to us so we could add all lyrics, additional sounds, and the sax tracks. During a number of conversations, we also came to the conclusion that there were spaces available that called out for extra words. Dean listened intently over months to lets the ideas grow, and his response to the challenge of these four songs is spectacular.
Inca studios and the NZSIS
Working with Mike at Inca studios also took on a particularly delicious an ironic feel. When I first met Mike to discuss the project, he almost incidentally commented that the studio use to be the home of the NZSIS, the government security intelligence service. The main record room that we were situated in was the old safe, the home of all those secret files from years gone past of union activist, conscientious objectors from previous international armed conflicted, and any other ‘radical’ who opposed the government of the day. That we should find ourselves in this space, performing our songs about the governments attempts to survey citizens, of this countries role in international spy rings, and the police’s employment of a particular individual as a failed covert spy to protest activity couldn’t be more perfect. (note:the SIS still is a functioning arm of the NZ govt, it simply relocated to a different building)
As well as having Te Kupu’s text in the songs, mr sterile collaborated over several months with Wellington poet Maria McMillian on the song Drought. Maria was invited to this collaboration as not only do we consider her a poet of fine standing, but the commitment to her political activity of opposing the privatisation for water would inform the similar content of the song further. The word’s were ferried back and forth over months, being stretched and teased into existence, then edited down into the form on the album. This reworking process continued up until moments before the words were committed to the recording.
Once the mix, which took several weeks, the mastering, and completing of art design, all the finished work was sent to Dualplover in Australia for the final stage of making the actual product. We were in the very capable hands of Swerve, who helped soothe the anxiety around the possible design slips that could happen as we were including two booklets into the final complete package. Additional support and help with the OZ release is from Tenzenmen, a specialist in d.i.y releases from Australia, Asia, and now us.
The evolution of the art work
Running alongside the audio process, the task of conceptualising, compiling artwork, and designing the artwork and packaging was explored. In an organic fashion, similar to the way many things evolve in sterile, the final design took many months, multiple edits, and a massive effort to execute what ultimately because a stunning and beautiful package.
After some initial abandoned design ideas, the concept to approach individual artists to illustrate the songs was almost accidentally stumbled upon. We looked through our contacts, aware of the vast array of talented friends, and matched songs with artists whom we thought could respond sympathetically to the intent and meaning of the words. And we were astounded and humbly impressed at how much they stood up to the mark, the quality of the art work, and the enthusiasm we received from each artist was incredible.
Building an exhibition.
While the art was coming in, the idea sprung into life that this part of the album deserves more that to be rendered into cd booklet size and never seen in its true form. The idea for the exhibition was born. A close friend, James Kirk, was approached to frame the work over a number of months, not all of it easy, but the quality of displayed art work was astounding, James also facilitated the contact with a photography who would take the highest quality photos for our reproduction in the books.
We’d like to say thank you
The craftsmanship executed from musicians, the sound engineers, artist, and the framing easily lived up to, and surpassed our Everest like expectations. the creating of this album was one stunning experience after another, not always easy, but ultimately extraordinarily rewarding.
We are incredibly grateful to all the amazing people who have participated in this project.
We thank you all individually:
- Aaron Lloydd
- Andrew Ross
- Campbell Kneale
- Dean Hapeta aka Te Kupu
- Deborah Barton
- Garage Collective
- Kate Whitley
- Kerry-Ann Lee
- James Kirk
- James Robinson
- Jeff Henderson
- Maria McMillian
- Mike Gibson
- Nell Thomas
- Roger Morris
- Stefan Neville
- Tao Wells
The album was launched at the Wellington Gallery, The Russian Frost Farmers on March 25 2011
We toured the album extensive within Aotearoa, we also took Transit to Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and returned to Java Indonesia. While in the township of Blitar, south east Java, a music video was made for the song Stella. The story of a young women from Blitar having a baby, moving to Singapore to get work as a transient migrant worker, while leaving baby back at home. A reflection on the globalised process of cheap labour for wealthy countries, everybody through travels with a very real human story.
After the launch we presented to firstly the Hamilton, and then latterly the Dunedin Fringe Festivals. The art work was couriered and installed with help from local to write the text around the art works. We then arrived to deliver a seminar discussing the process of developing this project, the content of the songs, and to play a few tunes.
Our show won two awards in Dunedin, and one award at the Hamilton Fringe. Below is a clip made by a Hamiltonian (thanks) from the Saturday afternoon discussion.
ICOT13 – The International Conference on Thinking
In January 2013, the International Conference on Thinking was held in Wellington. We submitted an abstract, which was accepted, to present our thinking around the processes involved in this Transit project.It was a 75 minute break-out session that was well received.
A video for the song Transit, made by Wellington photographer and film maker John Lake. This clip includes a crowd fund choir from across the world. Click this link for more information
WHERE: The Russian Frost Farmers Gallery, 2 Eva St, Wellington CBD
Cost: NIL!!! album $20
With guests DJ P-Pants!
Transit, the 5th release by Aotearoa New Zealand’s mr sterile Assembly is stonking.
Dubbed as “one of the most interesting, if hopelessly below-the-pop-culture-radar bands in New Zealand,” the irrepressible two-piece of mr sterile and Chrissie Butler have reeled in a swathe of Aotearoa’s finest musicans and artists.
Mixed and mastered by the fine hands of Mike Gibson, the sound is a rich weave of heavy bass and drums built around multi-layered vocals. Jeff Henderson, of screaming jazz improv sax fame brings the melodics, alongside a scattering of Nell Thomas (Orchestra of Spheres) on the gamelan gender and the solid bass grooves of Aaron Lloydd. Dean Hapeta aka Te Kupu, Upper Hutt Posse, has been a key collaborator on the project, recording all the vox, sax and extra sounds as well as contributing his own vox and text. Lyrical collaborations with Wellington poet Maria McMillan have also found their place.
The gathering of the 11 images for the 11 tracks has been a momentous effort. Eight of the works have been commissioned specifically for Transit. The artists, Andrew Ross, Deborah Barton, James Robinson, Campbell Kneale, Stefan Neville, Kerry-Ann Lee, Jeff Henderson, and Garage Collective, responded as they desired, creating a powerful collection to accompany the songs. Two works are from artists Tao Wells and Roger Morris, who have gifted established works to be tagged to the songs. The eleventh art work is a very special Wayang puppet received as a gift when the Assembly played in Java on their south east Asia tour in 2007.
In 2011 mr sterile Assembly will tour the exhibition across the country in between tours to Australia in April, and Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia in July.
I am a man to gather data’s dust
I am a man of sneaky schemes
I am a man of hidden intent
Who is secretly sent, I stoop to any means
I convey the secrets of acquaintance & friends
The ambitious talk & the radical plan
I am entrapment to the wait of police hands
I am a man of sneaky means
I am a man to gather trouble’s trust
I am a man who earns a buck
I am a man with powerful friends
Who’ll use any means while I’m in good luck
I travel & meet, I sleep & I play
I live this deceit, and live on good pay
It’s espionage in the bold light of day
Don’t believe what I say I am a man of errant luck
Gone, it’s all finished!
It’s all public and kaput!
Leaving Robert named
Crowned king of ill-repute
Hard drive got corrupt
Reveal the evidence in email
It was the
Scores of police contact
That tore away the veil
Is, Is he? Isn’t he? Isn’t he? Is! S P Y
I am a man of tradition unmasked
I am a man with a decade laid waste
I am a man whose friends have all split
This Judas kiss tastes of shame & disgrace
I collected & kept, I passed it along
The gossip & gas in the big hunt for wrong
To the powers in power who plan & respond
Who have left me & gone
With the fallout of this famed disgrace
This song is about a chap from the city of Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand, who was ousted for being an undercover informant for the NZ police. For 10 years he toured the country, at quite some expense to the NZ tax payer, gathering trivia and detail on the actions of various activist groups. This James Bond was uncovered when his partner at the time was asked to fix his malfunctioning computer. She discovered years of contact with the police.
There is an article here from PEACE RESEARCHER giving an in depth look at this story
Super big thanks to Garage Collective who created this beautiful image to accompany the song.
The years sliding quickly to timely demise, with a new one hot on its heals. It seems it would be good to take this chance to quickly update a few recent happening, info on how the album is progressing, and maybe a few other incidentals along the way.
The Album is progressing slowly and surely, we have had to reevaluate our timetable a couple of times. We are spending a lot longer on the mixing that we had initially planned. The song-mix tally to date is that we have 1 song left to mix then we are at the final tweaking stage. From that point mastering follows quickly. We anticipate this’ll be done by the end of the year. We’re not stressing, it’s worth the wait and we are learning ever such a lot along the way.
We have fully compiled the art for the album. Our design includes two booklets to accompany the disc, each song with a original work of art accompanying the track.9/11ths of the artwork has been generously provided, upon invitation, to illustrate and illuminate the overall concept of the song. We have artwork by Roger Morris, James Robinson, Kerry-Ann Lee, Tao Wells, Campbell Kneale, Stefan Neville, Andrew Ross, Deborah Barton, Garage Collective, Jeff Henderson, and Suhartono(big story around this piece coming later). To the left is a sneak preview of the beautiful art supplied by Kerry Ann Lee to accompany the title track TRANSIT.
Our intention for 2011 is to tour the physical artworks with our performance. There will be a few interesting logistical aspects to figure along the way, but it will be a fun opportunity to present the art and music , while touring the cd, and at the same time I hope this will open up a few new venues for us to play.
We have just been featured in the Dec/Jan edition of a online music magazine from the states called Perfect Sound Forever. This interview took place of several months, and now contains one or two inaccuracies (there is no text on the album now sung in Te Reo) but we have four songs with front man Dean Hapeta, from the legendary Upper Hutt Posse, adding fantastic text and vocals to these track. These inaccuracies are due mainly to us changing our minds/plans/ideas along the way. This interview a nice overview of the last 10 years of the Assembly and beyond. Thanks massively to John Lockwood for the offer to participate in this, and the editing and authorship of this article.