In The Last Days Perilous Times Shall Come

The second tape from Rinus van Alebeek and his staaltape label which arrived 4th July 2017.

The Last Day On Earth is credited to Midori Hirano and Kris Limbach. They have one half each of this split tape. My first obstacle as usual was getting the item out of its package. “Why can’t I just leave it to plastic cases, bare tapes and J-cards, like everyone else does, me sighs” writes Rinus in the enclosed note. Why indeed. This one arrives in a melted plastic bottle, and the tape is wrapped up in smoked cellophane. The packaging is already warning us that the last day on earth has already happened, leaving a charred globe behind. Evidently this is one of the artefacts that survived. It might have been a nuclear blast, or a meteorite. If the former, this package reminds us of the sad remnants of the survivors of the Hiroshima atom bomb (melted milk bottles, for instance; these can be seen in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum). My second obstacle was getting the tape to play at all. First attempts simply activated the auto shut-off mechanism. Then the tape itself started unspooling into the guts of the machine without playing. Finally, with the help of a penholder, I managed to twist the cassette back into action, but one side still played with an audible clicking and a wobble on the sound. But what first seemed to be defects soon added to the ambience of the playback.

Both Midori Hirano and Kris Limbach have been heard before in these virtual pages. Most recently, Japanese pianist and singer Hirano released And I Am Here for this same label, a piece of very romantic piano music and wispy vocalising. For her side of The Last Day On Earth, no vocals even, and we’re down to just a forlorn solo piano playing heartbreaking music in a very touching manner. She’s playing a score, written for the piece by Rinus van Alebeek (who conceived the entire release from top to bottom), but it’s not a musical score – it’s a piece of prose. Said prose is reproduced on insert (when you see the insert for the first time, it’s a message in a bottle). It’s a story, a vague narrative…the musician has to imagine they are a person on a certain day, with a feeling of boredom…there’s something about looking out of the window, not noticing the hours passing, the changing of light…and then seeing someone who looks exactly like herself. Hirano is required to think herself into this role, I suppose, and “play” it as a piece of music. There are some very modern music compositions written in prose, but I’m thinking of works emerging from the Fluxus school, and they are nothing like this; Fluxus denied narrative and character, and instead stressed absurdity and pointless actions, in order to undermine musical convention, or something. Once again I think this indicates how van Alebeek is his own man, standing apart from the shibboleths of “modernism” and unafraid to express his tastes for things like content, meaning, and expression, those human qualities which at one point the Serialists or the Post-Serialists (I forget which) wanted to destroy in the name of progress.

Berlin man Kris Limbach runs the Emitter Micro label, whose few releases we have received have been exceptionally radical experiments in minimal sound art and electronics, often calling attention to their very marginality by their packaging and presentation. For The Last Day On Earth he too has been given a score. This one is simply three paragraphs which describe in a very gentle yet precise manner what the implications of the idea might be; van Alebeek’s talent for oblique thought comes to the fore here. “There is no future and no history…” he muses. “It even makes me happy to know that the plants leave each other in peace”. From these fragments of quasi-philosophical ideas, Limbach fashions some equally fragmented moments of process based sound, which verges on indescribable. There might be small movements and objects of some sort involved. There are some audible mutterings passed between him and another (unless he’s talking to himself), perhaps discussing the successful completed rendering of each of the three paragraphs. It could be heard as the actions of a survivor, the last person on earth making preparations to stay alive – perhaps rigging up a makeshift stove to cook an uncontaminated can of food, or trying to send a radio message to any potential survivors. Completely non-musical, unlike the other side; this is micro-noise elevated to the level of fascinating sound art. I also like the fact that it’s rather broken and bitty; nothing resembling a continual sound, or a drone, which so many people settle for these days. It’s as though Limbach were chewing over the last pieces of modern civilisation, using his tape recorder for a mouth. And that’s about the most ridiculous simile I’ve ever come up with, but I’ll stand by it; it’s very fitting for this work.

“The Last Day On Earth, as a title…should not be given to Roland Emmerich” is part of the Alebeek score which Limbach worked from. Undoubtedly this is a reference to the movie The Day After Tomorrow, a highly successful film which has blighted the world for last 14 years with its bombast and cheap sentiment. For the antidote to that particular example of mainstream culture toxicity, look no further than this tape.

One comment

  1. Please note, when cassettes are transported over longer distances, it can happen that the tape unwinds inside the case. A simple act of fast forwarding and/or rewinding the tape can solve the problem.

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