Simon Harper reports on a slice of aural adventure from Birmingham, linked to a showcase for the city's artists in Milan.
Birmingham's music scene has much to be proud of. In among the bands, the venues, the promoters and the punters, there is a thriving music community here.
What's more frustrating, then, is that this prodigious scene often refuses to look outwards - collectively at least - in favour of a life within the city boundaries.
But relief comes in the shape of a project entitled Binary Oppositions. A compilation album of songs by Birmingham-based acts, it is the aural accompaniment to a new exhibition at Citric Gallery in Brescia, Italy, which features the work of ten visual artists living in Birmingham, dissecting the theme of direct contrasts.
"The exhibition investigates lo-fi culture in a hi-fi world, through works that address the analogue and the digital, nostalgia and the new, the handmade and the industrially produced, the manual and the electric, exploring themes such as tradition and progress, myth and rationalism, folklore and technology, history and modernity," explains curator Matt Price.
"To accompany the exhibition, though also working as a stand-alone album, Static Caravan is releasing a compilation album that resonates with the themes of the exhibition."
Issued by one of Birmingham's most respected independent record labels, it's a truly home-grown affair, even down to the album artwork, designed by Ben Javens of the Outcrowd Collective.
Featuring a host of our most talented, creative and inspiring bands, Binary Oppositions is the perfect opportunity to promote Birmingham's prospering music scene on an international scale, and this could be the chance Birmingham has been waiting for its music community to go global.
A gallery edition album will be made available before the end of this month - a sonic treasure trove of all that is great from Birmingham's best musicians, packed with intelligent and adventurous music on the neatly crafted songs that have been captured for this project.
"Birmingham is a city with a strong musical heritage," says Geoff Dolman, head honcho of Static Caravan, who curated the album in tandem with Matt. "Since the beginning of the 1990s it has been particularly well known for its electronica, sonic art, electroacoustic and avant-garde music scene. It is a broad and loose community that is largely based in the suburban villages of Balsall Heath, Moseley and Kings Heath."
It's not surprising, then, that the compilation pulls together disparate strands from the city's creative core, being effortlessly diverse yet somehow combining to produce a coherent whole, and there's an ebb and flow to the 21 tracks which is locked in the electronic pulses and grooves of this ambitious venture.
It comes framed by two specially commissioned compositions by Helena Gough, whose musique concrete explorations appear to mimic the cut-up splendour of Coventry-born sonic innovator Delia Derbyshire - a member of the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop and chiefly responsible for realising Ron Grainer's theme to Doctor Who.
Elsewhere, Binary Oppositions is a melange of musical styles, from otherworldly bleeps and beats, mechanical pop, off-kilter mini symphonies, folk-inspired vignettes and some dissonant, noise-laden jams.
In the past decade, Birmingham's well-spring of electronica artists have been the focus of considerable attention from the music press, being deservedly lauded for their invention and resistance to conventional music-making processes. Acts such as the inimitable Broadcast, former 4AD darlings Magnetophone, and Pram - who perform as part of the Town Hall's opening season next month - are joined by Brian Duffy's circuit-bending heroes Modified Toy Orchestra, Mike In Mono and Seeland.
Misty's Big Adventure fly the quaintly eccentric flag for Birmingham's more conventional pop-orientated line-ups, despite being far from conventional themselves. In frontman Grandmaster Gareth they have a true magpie at the helm, and their kitchen-sink approach chimes with some of the most quintessentially British pop acts, while their bouncy, energy-packed live show is irresistibly good fun.
A host of other Brum-based names are littered across the album, including Birmingham Post favourites Shady Bard, whose song Long Term Solutions to the Seagull Problem is quietly representative of the more naturalistic side of the recordings contained within. Its brittle folk-pop sits neatly alongside the synthetic robot-pop, subtle electronica and soaring post-rock found on the album courtesy of acts such as Dreams of Tall Buildings, Micronormous, the Young Baron and Juneau Projects.
A world away from the city's most recent chart-bound successes such as Editors and The Twang, Binary Oppositions captures this exotic, esoteric and fiercely original music from bands which have emerged from Birmingham in recent years - the gritty yet alien reality of a city which often basks in the nostalgic fuzziness of past successes.
This is an altogether different view of Birmingham - it shows a city where anything is possible, and where creativity is rife among its artists and musicians.
A special event is taking place on Wednesday to launch the album, at Vivid, Birmingham's leading media arts agency located near the city's Custard Factory, with live performances from Micronormous (Matt Eaton from Pram), Mike In Mono (Mike Johnston, ex-Plone and current member of Modified Toy Orchestra and ZX Spectrum Orchestra) and a DJ set from Dreams of Tall Buildings.
It falls just before the exhibition opens at Citric Gallery on Saturday, October 6, while there is a special launch for the album in Milan the following evening. All in all, it looks set to put Birmingham's finest sonic adventurers on the world map for good, with each of the ultra-limited 500 copies sure to become a part of Birmingham's rich cultural history.