Josh Ronsen of Austin sent his brekekekexkoaxkoax CD last year; further evidence of the Texan improv scene has arrived in the shape of The Zanzibar Snails, whose CD Introdewcing The Zanzibar Snails (MYH01, first release on the MAYYRH RECORDS label) is a collection of ‘live improvised abstractions’. The core gastropods are Nevada Hill and Michael Chamy, who do live electronics and guitar work, joined by sax player and fellow mollusk Mike Forbes. Unlike Ronsen, these fellows (from visual arts and journalism backgrounds) may be based in McKinney or Denton, although the label’s in Hurst and they recorded this live in a shopping mall in Dallas, before a clutch of bemused shoppers. Arrives in a card wallet printed with some fairly nauseating visceral shapes, poised midway between psychedelic lettering and medical photographs; Nevada Hill, the visual half of the act, also included one of his mini-comics in the envelope, filled with dense imagery which mixes urban features (pavements, hydrants, drains) with more of these oozing intestinal shapes. The music, once heard, may follow similar paths of slow-crawling exploration of these internal realms.
I see Pogus have issued the work of another little-known electronic music ‘veteran’ of sorts; Felix Werder, whose The Tempest (POGUS P21044-2) contains three works originally composed and recorded between 1971 and 1974. Werder was a Berlin-born fellow whose life was uprooted by Nazi occupation, and lived in various places before settling in Australia around the 1950s. This accounts for the Melbourne-based performers on the recordings. Although the presence of the EMS VCS3 and Synthi equipment (noted in press release) does light up a few of my printed circuits, the early signs aren’t looking too good for this one – the music seems rather cold, academic and conservatoire-based on preliminary spins, but things may improve.
Got another three releases from Winds Measure Recordings in NY State, which (based on available evidence) deals in focussed, minimal, electronic sound art. Ben Owen has realised radio>in (wm 02), which seems to be minimalist process-based work using signals from FM radios and a mixing desk. ea are an electro-acoustic sextet who have put out balancing act with controlled dynamics (wm 05). I seem to recall hearing them (or a group with same name) on a Polish label years ago; turns out they have an international membership and they’re all interested in field recordings which they transform with computer manipulation. For this one, they appear to be working to a score that guides improvisations – the enclosed chart refers to permitted dynamic ranges. Andy Graydon is another process fellow, working with sound and video. He too favours field recordings, electronics, and processing, and I see he also plays the ukulele on his at bay (wm 06), but my guess is he won’t be turning in a George Formby impression. These CDRs are all immaculately packaged items in letterpress sleeves and very limited quantities, reminding me of the tiny artists’ books you used to get at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.
Also from New York state (Bedford Hills in fact), comes Ron Crowcroft with two soundwork collections he’s been working on since 2001. Flux (moronmusic 01) and Reflux (moronmusic 02) contain bewildering snippets and suites, using samples layered and edited perhaps inside a computer. Flux, mainly doodling electronica, seems a little pointless on early spins, but Reflux is a lot livelier – at least it gives the listener several things to digest at once. Crowcroft is not averse to using ‘house’ beats, but the alienating melanges he spins around these rhythmical structures are avowedly anti-entertainment. He has a cute line in absurdist titles too, like ‘My electric chair’, ‘Lotion Switch’ and ‘She’s In Pain’. If you have any trouble finding these at your local branch of Virgin Records, the curious among you may wanna drop an email to Ron (crowcroft [at] fsmail.net) and enquire politely about their availability.