Phil Minton A Doughnut’s End

[Fataka; 2015]

Styles: solo singing, human
Others: Stine Janvin Motland, C. Spencer Yeh, Feral Choir

There’s a lot to be made of 2015’s crop of vocal music, especially given how widely that descriptor could be applied. From the timbral madness of C. Spencer Yeh’s extended technique all the way through to the auto-tuned euphoria of Sicko Mobb, the voice has been pushed, pulled, and expanded beyond the reaches of human capability, delivering incisive music across a number of genres and disciplines. The abstraction of that most ubiquitous and instinctive of musical instruments has been a pivotal part of what this year has sounded like to these ears: the impossible made possible, the future now, the distinction between man and machine collapsing. To put it in a Baudrillardian sense: “Technology evolves, language changes, the voice breaks, fate overtakes us.”

Phil Minton has been exploring the liminality of the human voice for the best part of four decades, with a series of solo records (the “doughnut” albums) beginning in 1982. He is described as a singer in the biography on his website, but his latest solo work, A Doughnut’s End, bears little semblance to any traditional notion of song. Utilizing a number of unorthodox techniques — utterances, gasps, belches, whistles, etc. — Minton has forged an alternative lexicon, one that seemingly forgoes the constraints of tradition and language. The result is a perverse, evocative set, the kind of performance that forces a reaction and demands attention be paid to it — music that has the power to cause unrest and revulsion in the listener.

It’s a simplistic observation, but what really sets A Doughnut’s End apart from much of the year’s vocal-centric music is the lack of mechanical or scientific enhancements; which is to say, no autotune, no cutting or looping, no overdubs. Therein lies a paradoxically human aspect to the album: Minton’s methods undoubtedly register as anachronistic, and the sheer breadth of sounds produced here — the high-pitched warble of “this is a good place to stay” and the multiphonic gurgling in both “breaking news” and “there’s a reason” are two noteworthy examples — lie firmly outside of the typical functions of the throat and mouth. And yet, the lone voice placed front and center offer a vulnerability that manifests itself in the numerous imperfections with the recording itself (pauses for breath, audible straining to reach notes at both extremities). An air of fragility lingers throughout, a reminder that even Minton’s finely honed, idiosyncratic delivery is all too susceptible to the inevitable pitfalls of existence.

The “doughnut” records were never merely concerned with physical limitations, however. For all the vocal acrobatics and constant striving to take the voice into uncharted territory, there has been an emotional core in each successive album — namely, one that animates inward feelings of disgust and contempt. In the accompanying notes to A Doughnut’s End, Minton talks of the thread that ties his experimental tendencies to the world around him:

On some tracks I use voice placings and constraints for improvising that I’ve been involved with since A Doughnut in Both Hands[…] but less optimistic than forty years ago. Then I thought stuff would get better. I’m writing this a few days after a bunch of slush-spraying doughnut-scoffers got to run the UK for another five years.”

A Doughnut’s End, then, captures an ineffable resentment, albeit with an obliquely humorous edge. Maybe Minton’s native tongue fails to fully conceive of this. But then again, this is the same man who has a track called “i have given this much more thought than blair did before he decided to invade iraq.” The primal outpouring of A Doughnut’s End is all-consuming, and without language to dirty the proceedings, it is as much a personal meditation as it is a display of pure virtuosity.

Links: Phil Minton - Fataka


Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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