Three Views from the Hemisphäre

Happy to receive another three cassette tapes from Philip Sulidae and his Hemisphäre label (the last three arrived in March 2019), once again aiming for the minimalist and uniform-type packaging and typography. If you look at them on Bandcamp they’re stark black and white, though if you own the cassettes you get a dash of colour on your serving dish. These three arrived 30th July 2019 and I see one of them has already sold out at source.

Bilocazioni (HNK010) is a split release, the label’s first so far, and while you could broadly locate it in the area of “field recordings” there’s more depth to it in the philosophy department, and all manner of wispy allusions packed into what appear to be sounds as insubstantial as that soap bubble. Carlo Giustini does it with tapes, a microcassette player, and a Sony Walkman; his two pieces may have started life at specific locations (the Library of Congress, and somewhere in Treviso) but barely qualify as the kind of “audio snapshots” that some phonographers used to settle for. To begin with Giustini has a delicious slightly “rotted” quality to his sounds, and listening to this material is like digging for root vegetables with a balsa wood shovel. Vaguely eerie, almost fantasmic; yet clearly rooted in the real world at the same time. I found both Nel Bene (dal piano di sopra) and Nel Male (carta straccia) highly compelling and listenable explorations, in spite of their minimalist approach and barely-there content.

On side two, we have two tracks by Banished Pills, who may be Edoardo Cammisa. He has one of those rather lengthy credit lists to his name which seems to be more frequent these days – I mean the odd mix of very specific named pieces of equipment, and allusions to method and technique, insisting on letting us know that he uses old and recycled found recordings as part of his layout. He also credits himself with “plant bio data translated into sound”, a phrase which is guaranteed to turn heads. You’re on the point of emailing him to ask him to explain further. Actually recasting “data”, especially if it’s born-digital, into sound is easier than you might think, and is another thing which sounds marginal yet is, I sense, becoming more mainstream by the minute. These recordings from Torino aren’t too far apart from what we hear on the A side, except that Banished Pills doesn’t opt for the diaphanous layers of mysticism, and his sound is much more clear. No less minimal though; and while the corners of the so-called real world can be glimpsed lurking under a white-washed pile of bricks (odd that this whole record appears to me to be unfolding inside an interior space where everything is painted white), this is sound art that conceals much more than it reveals. Intrigue, in other words, is a keynote particle to the whole experiment; in fact both recordings sound like documentary tapes of a very solemn mad scientist at work on some nameless foray into mysterious and possibly forbidden territory. I would say this particularly of ‘Nel Dolore (sul punto di precipitare)’, where close-miked objects create tiny sounds dotted around the all-white arena, along with other foreign bodies.

Both these Italian geniuses are really pushing at the envelope of this genre, whatever it might be, and these are splendid instances of thoughtfully-composed minimalistic work that do much to transcend their process.

Matthew Atkins made Spectral Terrace (HNK011) using minimal means, for sure. There’s a number of percussion instruments such as snare drum and cymbal which may be have been played with the brushes rather than the heavy stick, plus the ever-faithful small motors for that small drone effect so beloved of many a table-topper of the 21st century. Then there’s the processing in the form of a delay unit and computer processing. Actually as I make that list, it hardly seems “minimal” at all, yet this Spectral Terrace item is very much an “open field”, as the press notes describe it. I mean the arena is not cluttered with over-much debris or lumps of stray lead, and the actions and interventions of Atkins are small and unobtrusive. It’s as though he had stumbled on a metaphysical crime scene in some abstract space, and was determined not to disturb any of the forensic evidence, so the gloves and boots must be donned, as must the cover-all suit we so often see in those entertaining police-procedural dramas on the telly.

But that makes Atkins sound a bit clinical, which is the last word I’d use to describe Spectral Terrace. It’s a rich and intriguing piece of exploration, one which draws you in and fascinates from start to finish throughout its modest durations (12:46 and 10:20). Atkins comes close to succeeding with that mode which many aspire to, creating something which lies midway between performed / improvised music and sound art. His gestures, though small, just about qualify as something a percussionist would recognise as a way of clopping the skins. Meanwhile his mechanical buzzes, purrs and gentle washes delineate the abstract walls of his imaginary space with assurance and much attention to detail. I find that Matthew Atkins, who recorded this in London in 2018, also appears as MRM and Platform, and has a number of releases on the Minimal Resource Manipulation label (which appears to be operated by him). There’s a connection with Phil Julian, another very able “lower-case” type who has appeared on Hideous Replica. Of the two cuts, I slightly favour the first one – the title track – which is detailed, focussed, driven. It seems more unpredictable about where it’s going and where it might fetch up, which I like. The second cut is less adventurous sonically, but has the better title – ‘Lost Time In A Lost Place’ – which is very evocative, and also alludes to what might be the subtext of Matthew’s work on this occasion. Very good. From 30th July 2019.

For the third and last of the Hemisphare cassettes, we have Acte De Foi (HNK011) by two Europeans, the Italian Marie Rose Sarri and French fellow Philippe Lamy. I see Marie from Florence also records as MonoLogue and Moon Ra, and while the latter monicker might be deemed a cheeky swipe at Sun Ra, I think it’s in good faith. She hasn’t left much of a footprint in terms of back-catalogue materials, but Lamy has been active for a good 11 years with his sound-art actions. Acte De Foi was created with the now-standard mix of field recordings and computer processing, but it’s by no means a commonplace effort. Short tracks, each one quite exciting and an exercise in tension and strange effects…a lot of this may be due to their editing technique, which is very alert and agile, constantly responding to changes in circumstance and dragging the linearity of each buzzing filigree’d whoop down a strange turning when needed.

While the actual sounds created may not be all that innovative 100% of the time, this jigsaw-fragment quasi-narrative structure of theirs is strong and quite original, and I sense both Sarri and Lamy are injecting a hefty dose of their own quirky personalities into each espresso shot. Even those moments when almost-nothing seems to be happening on the tape have much merit, keeping us in a state of perpetual expectation. Quite dramatic, in a low-key way…I like the press note description which calls this “psychoacoustic improvisation”, whatever that means. I hope it refers to an intuitive way of working and the shared invisible bond which these two players seem to be blessed with. A nifteroo…one fave track is ‘Volte Face’, which is the French way of describing an abrupt change, a philosophy which seems to be one of the guiding lights here. From 30th July 2019.

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