Speaking Charms

From 25th October 2013, a bundle from Nick Hoffman sent from his Oregon address. This one was even sent in a decorated envelope, and the images of butterflies and bees have a certain charm to be sure, but given Hoffman’s “occultist” leanings they also have a faintly sinister hum to their translucent wings. No matter, I am confident he wouldn’t actively direct a curse against one of his biggest fans.

Primary item is blue and gold cassette by Coppice and it’s called Epoxy (PILGRIM TALK PT26) because, like glue, it sticks to everything and doesn’t melt under high temperatures. The A side, ‘A Defective Index’, apparently refers to the transfer process by which these cassette tapes are produced and indicates that “artifacts” may have crept into the finished product. This is a little vague; am I hearing something that’s the result of an accident, or have the accidents been used to distort the musical recordings in some way? Even “musical” might be stretching things somewhat in this context, but the printed notes do indicate that a series of performances took place in Chicago in 2011-2012, and that at least four people were involved. These were the vocalist Carol Genetti, the composer Sarah J Ritch, and the all-rounder Julia A Miller (composer, electronic music, guitarist, poet, and teacher). They are all Chicago-based, but the Icelandic flautist Berglin Tómasdóttir also took part. Their contributions to the composition ‘Seam’ are represented on the B side ‘A Refracted Index of “Seam” with Girls’. And there’s another reference to “indexing” which I don’t quite get, but I do like the way this mysterious project is gradually disappearing into a mist of hints and allusions. Lastly we give credit to Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer, who are the actual members of Coppice, and perform in Chicago using a combination of electronics and bellows, although here they’re content to credit themselves with “indexing and arrangement”. When these verbal layers have peeled away, we’re left with a fascinating tape of very curious sound art, verging on the cold and inhuman in its utter opacity, with peculiar gaps, distortions, false starts, and very irregular patterns. Clearly there’s a concern with keeping things simple, to a very radical degree. There’s also the sense that the music is being discovered as much as it’s being created. It would be a brave man who would want to guess how this strange music is being built, but it’s utterly compelling to hear. It’s a wild guess, but I think Coppice – and their four gifted collaborators – are somehow finding their way out of many of the cul-de-sacs of modern music, tentatively exploring new ways of playing and composing, subtracting the cult of personality and moving towards a genuinely collective, ego-less work. I’m not exactly sure what I am basing all this on, but hearing this remarkable music gives me high hopes and more confidence for the future.

Secondary item is a purple and green cassette by Double Morris called Best of the Hightone Years (PILGRIM TALK PT25). Duo of Aaron Zarzutzki and Morgan Bausman surprise everyone with these charming home-made guitar-based songs of alienation, boredom and disaffection. They surprised me at any rate, since when Zarzutzki teams up with Nick Hoffman he tends to generate some of the most “blank” and bewildering improvised music I have heard in my life. Double Morris’s tape is by no means blank, but it’s still teetering on the brink of a nameless psychological void. Some hallmarks of these very odd post-post stoner songs: (1) a vague resemblance to USA 1980s underground rock, e.g. Minutemen, Firehose, Dinosaur Jr, as if that genre were reinvented by Mongolian tribesmen after consuming opiates; (2) distortion and poor recording used to deliberately mask the lyrical content, though the precisely-calibrated sense of urban boredom is still detectable in the flat and weary singing voice; (3) no attention whatsoever paid to “rules” of song construction, so songs end up ridiculously truncated with no repeat sections or versification. It’s as though the writer ran out of things to say, or couldn’t be bothered to express them, or even to finish the song. Great! These are very strong qualities which already intrigue me, and I’m certain I will come to love them the more I listen to this tape.

Tertiary item is Bruiser (PILGRIM TALK PT28), a solo CDR by the very wonderful Nick Hoffman, a release which he has cloaked in quite elaborate fold-out packaging where each image, printed across 12 panels, stands alone and makes the wrapper feel like a piece of Fluxus artwork or a conceptual artist’s book, notwithstanding the familiar occult theme here represented by distressed images taken from a book of medieval woodcuts and printed in assorted colours. In fact it’s as if the Hexen DVD had been repackaged by George Maciunas. Musically, these 2008 recordings from Illinois (processed in Oregon in 2013) present a highly baffling tableau of process tones, which appear to have been produced exclusively by computer programming. Hoffman may want to stress the term ‘programming’ so as to differentiate his work from laptop music, a genre which is now ubiquitous and which, although it involves computers, does not necessarily require programming skills. Hoffman’s sound art here alternates between tracts of total gibberish (a computer babbling to itself in its own language), imperceptible yet menacing low hums, and a very harsh crunchy noise of a sort which only the broken and hacked digital toolkit can produce. I’m basing that assumption on most of the similar crunchy outputs I’ve heard from the New York label Copy For Your Records, which harbours many cruel sound-artists evidently bent on wreaking havoc with digital methods and abused machines. Come to that, the first three tracks of Bruiser could comfortably fit that label’s profile, with no loss of earnings for either party. The fourth long track, meanwhile, might also have found a home with Winds Measure Recordings; its pale-white (ghostly) understated tones and carefully layered textures have a pristine beauty that I think Ben Owen would appreciate. But the whole record has a dark side too; I can never put my finger on why, but I feel that each Hoffman release I hear is like a carefully-executed curse against the world, a wizard’s rune or a witch’s spell.

Ben Owen might also appreciate the presentation of Miguel Prado‘s 45RPM single, a lathe cut on clear plastic. Miguel Prado is a conceptual sound artist who I think uses the diary form as a means of documenting his own life and transforming the narrative into his ongoing artistic statement. In short, he’s making himself into his art. His Kempelen’s Lesson (On Voice And Tape) (PILGRIM TALK PT27 / HERESY 04) is the result of mangling and reshaping a spoken word tape, taking great liberties with altering the playback speed, mixing it with musical interludes, and subjecting the whole meshugana lump to even further distortions, in the way of wild edits, unexpected gaps, and other interpolations. The titles ‘Criptolalia’ and ‘Glossolalia-Laden’ refer (respectively) to the development of a private language, and to the act of “speaking in tongues” often associated with certain religious fundamentalists. It’s clear Prado isn’t out to present a lucid scientific lecture on these subjects, but rather to demonstrate them – through his extreme manipulation of the very same instruments and agencies which can be used for voice capture. Just another spoken-word item, you may think? Au contraire, mon brave. This is one of the most chilling instances we’ve encountered in the genre; the whole record just sounds grisly and monstrous. It, like almost everything heard in this bundle, has left me with a vague discomforting chill which has endured for hours.

Pictured: Back Magic‘s Blood Plaza, previously noted here.

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