Laughing Hands

Resident archivist Jack Dangers digs out Australian avant-garde experimentalists Laughing Hands and their something album ‘Dog Photos’

I can’t quite remember, but I think I stumbled on Laughing Hands when I was looking for something by John Zorn, which ended up with me looking up Bill Laswell and the various projects he’s been involved with, one of which is Phantom City with Paul Schütze… who I discovered was a founding member of Laughing Hands.

They were an Australian avant-garde experimental electronic band. They recorded two albums at La Trobe University in Melbourne, ‘Ledge’ in 1980 and ‘Dog Photos’ 1981. As a slight digression, the Bill Fontana album ‘Sound Sculpture’ was mixed at La Trobe in 1978. He’s the guy who made an album of the fog horns of San Francisco Bay in 1982.

Anyway, there’s a track called ‘Seven’ on ‘Dog Photos’, and when I first heard it, I couldn’t work out how they’d done it. Whatever the main sound is, a blender or an electric drill, it really works. It builds tension along with the rhythm. Hearing something like that from 1981, and not knowing how it’s done, that really impresses me. 

I also like the artwork, their sleeves are mysterious, with elusive and interesting imagery. When I got hold of their first album, ‘Ledge’, I thought the image on the sleeve was either a still from a film like ‘Battleship Potemkin’ or a genuine photograph from the Russian Revolution. I typed in “famous Russian Revolution picture” into Google, and sure enough, it’s real. 

They also put out several cassette albums, like ‘E E: (The Welder’s Bible)’ in 1981. That came in a box with a Polaroid photo attached to the front. I do have that one, but I don’t want to start collecting casettes at my age, that’s another world altogether.

Vinyl-On-Demand did a nice Laughing Hands boxset in 2013 called ‘Tape-Works 1981-1982’, which had four vinyl albums and a DVD. One of the albums, ‘The Luxury Of Horns’ is under the name The Invisible College, and they gave themselves pseodunymns for that one, like Frank Tessla, Stephen Varese and Theo Zenakis, which give you a clue as to where their heads were at. ‘Ledge’ and ‘Dog Photos’ were also released on CD in 1989 by an Australian label called Extreme.

Paul Schütze’s post-Laughing Hands career is pretty impressive, with a lot of exhibitions of his photography, and commissions for sound art and installations all over the world. 

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