Category: Recent arrivals

New promo CDs in The Sound Projector box

Esoterica

We have not encountered the work of sound artist Manuel Knapp before, but this Vienna and Tokyo-based fellow has a few scattered releases of electronic noise to his name dating back to around 2008, some of them in conjunction with Tim Blechmann. His LP Azoth 1 (VENTIL RECORDS V0004) does indeed contain some powerful blasts of ear-splitting, scorching noise, but he does it in a very structured and composed way, tempering the extremes with other textures, layers, and moments which are almost melodic in their approach. In this instance, he’s working entirely within the computer, radically departing from his analogue noise roots to experiment with the digital realms. Azoth is realised with freeware plugins for manipulating digital audio, by which I suppose is meant filters and processing tools and digital synths, some of which might even be downloadable from the web. It’s Knapp’s plan to push these tools to their limits, using them for purposes which their authors did not intend.

I’m happy to report Knapp does a very good job of this. While the opening moments of Azoth’s side A were rather irritating – where the limitations of the puny digital tools were clearly exposed – by the end of Side A, and throughout Side B, he’s cheerfully demolishing the world around him as we wallow in a gloriously wild and unfettered orgy of bombistas. Manuel Knapp certainly has his own authorial signature, which is not easy when we’re dealing with the many variant poisons of harsh noise that glut today’s market; it may have something to do with his attention to structure, the use of extreme dynamics, the deliberate programming of musical elements and root-note drones, and a very adventurous spirit when it comes to manipulating these chunks of digital audio and freeware tools. He’s like a bull in a paintbox, a kid in a Play-Dough factory, and a pair of eyes without a face.

I’d like to recommend this album as a product you can rush out and buy, but I’m not sure if I can. To begin with, it costs 666 Euros, a high price which reflects the fact that there are only 15 vinyl copies available for sale. Each one does have a hand-made work of art for a cover, but even so…and why invoke the “number of the beast” for a record which, although noisy, has no discernible satanic connotations? At the hour I write these lines, 5 copies of the vinyl are still available, though I’m mystified as to why the label wish to tell us that this particular pressing and retail deal was their “fastest break-even ever”. Why the heck should we care about their business plan? For those of you disinclined to spend such a high figure on one record, it is possible to hear some of Azoth on their Bandcamp page. Peter Kutin, who is well represented on this label, assisted with the mixing and mastering. From 3rd October 2016.

  1. “Azoth” is an alchemical term. See also Our Glassie Azoth, the superb Welsh noise-drone act whom we interviewed in 1998 and whose records are highly recommended.

Kutin Edge

Ambitious piece of modern sound art by Peter Kutin (last noted in these pages for a split record with Asfast) and Florian Kindlinger in the shape of Decomposition I-III (VENTIL V0001)…this particular item emerged as a double LP on Ventil in May or June 2015, but for some reason we did not receive a promo copy until 3 October 2016. In one sense this might not matter, as the complete suite of Decomposition has been growing and evolving for a few years now, its separate parts presented at various European festivals and art centres since 2014. This double LP is the best way to get the narrative of the piece though, as it leads the listener through a three-part travelogue of internalisation, self-examination, and alienation, probably leading to some profound form of metaphysical despair by the end of it.

The story is told over four sides with the titles ‘Absence’, ‘Introspection’ and ‘Illusion’, and the plan is to subject the listener to some pretty harsh and bleak environments which they must endure, forging their soul on the anvil of endurance. “Territories antagonistic to human life”, is how they would describe their choice of surroundings. It’s kind of like field recordings, because the basic sounds were captured in places like a desert, a snowy waste, a glacier, and an abandoned mining village with wind blowing a howling blast…in these extreme zones, they find the existential misery they are seeking to capture. But they also argue that “field recording” is a “moribund” genre in any case, and they’re out to change all that with their radical new approach to pushing recording gear and microphones into places they’re not supposed to go. We’ve got to admire rough-tough artistes who are prepared to throw down the gauntlet with this kind of reckless thinking, and Decomposition I-III has a lot going for it in terms of the vivid and stark nature of its sound surface. I also like the very contrasting clashes between nature and civilisation that are reduced here to extremely simplistic arguments, the better to bring home the intended messages about estrangement and the searching questions about mankind’s place in the world today.

Christina Kubisch is credited here too, though she worked only on side four, the 18-minute ‘Illusion’. For this she was commissioned to record “electromagnetic signals” from the city of Las Vegas, later to be reprocessed by Kutin in the studio using just edits and splices. The plan was to use Las Vegas as a gigantic form of synthesizer, the entire city unwittingly participating in a bizarre sound art experiment. The artists speculate on the fact that Las Vegas used to be a desert not so long ago, and presumably this makes it fair game for inclusion on the set, conceptually linked to their other recordings of hostile terrains. That den of gambling and vice certainly sounds bleak and remote here, reduced to a series of clinical robotic pulses and whirrs. Bizarrely, in places, the piece turns into something resembling 1990s glitch or avant-garde techno with its mechanical rhythms, but this may simply be a by-product of the process. ‘Illusion’ won the Karl Sczuka prize for best radiophonic composition of 2016, and well-deserved too.

Popular Belief

Superb set of compositions by the American composer Eric Wubbels is called Duos With Pianos Book I (CARRIER RECORDS CARRIER 030). We’ve received many release from this New York label Carrier Records and enjoyed every one of them. Members of Wet Ink Ensemble, previously noted in these pages for their work with Sam Pluta, accompany pianist Wubbels on this set of compositions dated from 2007 to 2014. The press notes characterise Wubbels – who happens to be co-director of Wet Ink Ensemble – as “a rare virtuoso of extended piano technique”, and there’s abundant evidence on the grooves that follow. But he’s also a hyper-intelligent composer with a conceptual depth that enriches every one of these pieces.

For instance ‘Shiverer’ – a compact but dense explanation is given in the CD notes for this equally dense music. It’s something to do with “relationships between the instruments” and the way they play. Piano and flute in this case. Right away it’s clear Wubbels is a composer who understands how instruments actually work, and the extremes to which they can be pushed, an adventurous spirit we’ve been missing since the time of Charles Mingus. Wubbels admits this is a “dfficult” piece, but the main problem for players is the complex co-ordination of ideas and actions which they have to achieve. In these eight minutes we’ve got a rich flow of traffic, of ideas compressed into notes, and the sparks fly when one or more of these bundles intersect. Further, Wubbels has the notion that he’s making the musicians pass through “a series of gates” – a metaphor which would please those who like to interpret Mark Rothko’s paintings in that way – and through technical skill and mental effort, a spiritual epiphany may be reached. Whew.

‘The Children Of Fire Come Looking For Fire’ arrives in two long parts. Scored for violin and prepared piano. While previous piece seemed like it could almost pass for very advanced 1960s classical avant, this one owns up in its opening seconds to its contemporary “noisy” influences. Josh Modney’s violin scrape throughout is intense – acoustic Merzbow on the cat gut! Rarely heard such wild atonal screeches on that instrument. But this sound of his didn’t just “happen” one fine day when they strolled into the recording studio; rather it’s the result of months of planning, rehearsals and hard work which Wubbels instigated. It earned Modney a printed dedication; one senses it was a painful process for him. Apparently this piece is derived from a small section of a Brahms piano piece, where Wubbels has zoomed in on a few precious seconds of music and used its form as the basis for an entire compositional structure. To put it another way, he’s taken what he calls a “contrary motion wodge shape” from Brahms and repurposed it into these 25 minutes of astonishing music; I can’t understand more than the gist of his explanatory notes, but once again it feels like he’s pushing something to the utmost limits, when he speaks of a “neume that functions on every structural level…from global trajectories to micro-gestures”. This approach seems very comprehensive, and no doubt accounts for the remarkable richness of ‘Children Of Fire’’s content; it’s like reading a thick 400-page treatise on an abstruse subject, and quite often the challenging ideas are presented with tremendous speed. Yet it’s not incoherent or disjunctive; even though highly structured and near-abstract, this comes over as a very convincing argument, thought-through from start to finish.

‘Doxa’ is another two-parter, scored for prepared piano and prepared vibraphone. Only the most minimal of notes are supplied by Wubbels for this mysterious piece; almost like two lines from a modernist poem. Part I = (mind cannot be grasped). In stark contrast to the busy-ness of the previous pieces, Doxa part I is a blank canvas occasionally decorated with bursts of light and colour from the two percussion instruments, chiming into the silence as if reluctant to disturb the stillness of the atmosphere. The carefully-programmed silences in this piece give us a chance to breathe, finally. True to its title Part I does convey something of a mental problem which can’t be solved, a philosophical investigation into a metaphysical conundrum. Part II = appearances/phenomena. Even more restrained than its brother, but at least the sound it makes is continuous, a beautiful limpid near-drone of crystal-clear music which slowly grows in richness and complexity. With its relatively limited range of notes and the repeated patterns, ‘Doxa Part II’ is like Morton Feldman enriched with vitamins and power drinks.

Lastly, the 20-minute ‘This Is This Is This Is’, two alto saxophones with a prepared piano. Dedicated to the writer David Foster Wallace whose thinking had quite an influence on the composer Wubbels; indeed he’s decided to try and articulate, in music, a particular type of consciousness that was propounded and advocated by Wallace. It’s something to do with moving beyond the habits of thought patterns which we all accumulate in our lives, and also trying to transform everyday life into something sacred and meaningful. Certainly ‘This Is This Is This Is’ does seem, in places, to zip by at the speed of thought, and there are no end of repeated patterns in the music. A sense of struggle is conveyed, Wubbels trying perhaps to break free from the very shackles of his own ideas. “Extended repetition as a force against habit,” as he would have it; and if this music doesn’t represent a significant advance on the repeated arpeggios of Philip Glass and Steve Reich, then I’ll eat my hat. From 7th October 2016.

The neoN Demons

Striking set of contemporary avant-garde music by the Norwegian Ensemble neoN on their self-titled debut album (AURORA ACD5084). The confidence, enthusiasm and boldness of their playing is remarkable for a debut set. Jan Martin Smørdal and Julian Skar formed the Ensemble around 2008, recruiting from fellow musicians trained at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo; they’ve been playing concerts ever since, mostly in nearby parts of mainland Europe at venues and festivals, but in 2016 they made it to New York. There are nine musicians, two composers (both represented on this album) and a conductor.

All five pieces are worth noting. ‘Travelling Light 2’ is composed by Kristine Tjøgersen; it “might take place inside a camera lens” according to the sleeve note by Jenny Hval. I found it a fascinating conundrum in musical form. Huge gaps where you least expect it punctuate the weird microtonal sounds. Mini-droning effects from woodwinds, obsessive whines from strings and percussion. The composition deals in vaguely obsessive repetitions of a phrase, or an idea. I can’t quite grasp it. A wonder in miniature, aided by the strong dynamics of the performance.

Jan Martin Smordal composed ‘My Favorite Things 2’, a “game of other people’s memories” according to Hval. To me it resembles a clunky steam engine from the 19th century being constructed in sound and lurching into life. A chamber piece that “shunts” along in an endearing manner. Piano and percussion act as the pistons, the flute and woodwind provide the steam. I like the unexpected pauses, the broken metres, the crisp sounds. But the whole album is beautifully recorded that way.

It’s no surprise to the world that we can consider Oren Ambarchi, the Australian musician who developed his own unique sound on the amplified guitar, a composer nowadays. He worked with James Rushford on ‘Monocots’. This is a wild and wacky one…sound effects of water are poured into a carafe and the mysterious gasping whispering lady is briefly glimpsed. An acoustic guitar wanders around in a detective novel. Vibes and flute create wonderful plangent chord shapes in the background. This “develops” a bit better than what we’ve heard so far. A real structure to it, but an oddball one, which is why I keep thinking of it as a detective film noir or mystery novel. If Morton Feldman had been asked to score Farewell My Lovely…this might have been the result. Highly unusual and very special. Now I must check out the Wreckage album (2012) by this pair, on the Norwegian Prisma Records label.

For their fourth outing, the Ensemble have a crack at one of the Grand Bosthoons of Minimalism, the great Alvin Lucier (who bestrode the Lovely Music label like a gigantic Bird and Person). We feel bound to expect a certain degree of ascetic restraint. The players do not disappoint on their rendition of ‘Two Circles’. The 18-minute piece feels like a dream of New York streets and how they used to be in the 1960s. Maybe they were cleaner, longer, narrower, and emptier. They never were that way in reality, but in this dream music anything is possible. If you accept that premise, enjoy the long shadows cast by odd shapes and all in black or white. Lengthy tones sustained and explored to create very tasty dissonances and flavours in the air. Strings, woodwinds, vibes – all merged into brilliant morass, a cloud with solid steel edges. Probably the “best in show” ribbon should go to this majestic slice of modernity.

But there’s plenty surprises still to come, on the final piece ‘Kunsten A Tvile 2’ composed by Julian Skar. Here the ensemble get pretty manic as they effectively turn themselves into a crazy typewriter operated by the world’s most breathless stenographer. The piano and percussion section emulate the keys of that outsize device. Around us we have strings and woodwinds creating a nightmare of unfinished work, forming its own wild tornado right there in the office. This the sort of thing that Sam Pluta and Wet Ink Ensemble should have a stab at, or associate themselves with in some way. The piece is structured to deliver to very alarming upbeat sections with the frantic typewriter effect, and these are surrounded either side by clouds of avant-garde ambiguity. But the wailing woman won’t be placated either.

This really is a very rewarding set, extremely well recorded and produced to a very high standard by all concerned. I feel that Ensemble neoN have a very clear intent and have spent a lot of time honing their craft. The results should do much to reinvigorate contemporary music, an ambition in which I hope they succeed. From September 2016.

Bells Never End

Andreas Usenbenz
Bells Breath
GERMANY KLANGGOLD KG021 LP (2017)

Though frequently indistinguishable from one another, drone and ambient recordings are often categorised in terms of tonality and resultant emotionality; ‘dark’, ‘blissful’, ‘atonal’ and so on. Notable for its indifference towards such niceties, Andreas Usenbenz’s Bells Breath explicitly positions itself within the frame of early 1960s Minimal Art and its abandonment of pre-existing frames of reference in order to provide a fresh experience of art as one of ‘self-awareness on behalf of the audience’. I have to confess to being confused by this description, as it sounds uncomfortably similar to the kind of rationale employed to promote bible-based ecclesiastical dogma in pre-literate societies. Is it a sly dig at the religious pretensions of self-appointed ‘experts’ in the art industry?

Deeper theological mysteries might be discerned in the two sides of this clear vinyl artefact, which are inhabited by a Holy Trinity of pieces of a cold, metallic aspect akin to Jacob Kirkegaard’s otological ilk: endless glacial, hypnotic whorl set out to either sedate and stupefy listeners into catatonic passivity (a mission it manages in mere minutes on this chilly, grey day at least) or to convey them into a realm of supra-linguistic contemplation. Either effect is complemented by the record’s situation between four black-and-cloudy ‘art print’ panels that telegraph the music’s sublime and mundane effects.

As the title suggests, Usenbenz fashioned the piece for an installation from recordings of bells tolling in the Minster church in Ulm, Germany, to mark the 125th anniversary of the church spire’s completion. He follows a familiar process of layering the decelerated tonal recordings to achieve a deepening effect – though to these ears one more akin to an opiate of the masses than the gesture of heaven-bound ascension that might better befit the piece’s architectural paradigm. That said, the Minster church is a Lutheran one, so a protestant might conceivably argue that Usenbenz’s pensive radiations are better suited to a more critical theology than that provided by the pomp and drama of Catholicism. Either way, it makes for a captivating listen, however many such records one has listened to.

Annoyed Hibernation

Christoph Erb / Frantz Loriot
Sceneries
PORTUGAL CREATIVE SOURCES CS356 CD (2016)

Creative Sources is a super-prolific label; due, possibly, to its founder, Ernesto Rodrigues’ curation policy of literally going into partnership with the artists on each release. It’s an interesting list of artists on their website, too. The names immediately popping out on the front page are Lawrence Casserley, Hannah Marshall and Axel Dörner and all in collaboration with other European players. Already there may be up to fifty further titles available since this item was published. This particular title is a cracking disc of free-playing, in which Messrs Erb and Loriot set up an environment of high anxiety, tension and disquiet. Sceneries is full of strident events, sudden dips in weight; as if the ground were suddenly falling away under your feet, cacophonic interludes, disconcerting melodic information appearing from the shadows like Victorian ectoplasm, only to mysteriously disappear again moments later. This is achieved with the most modest of means – Christoph Erb plays tenor and soprano saxophones, while Franz Loriot pushes himself to his limits on viola. Erb founded the Veto Records imprint, through which he has released his collaborations with other improvisors such as Fred Lonberg-Holm, Michael Zerang, Jason Roebke, Frank Rosaly, Jim Baker, Keefe Jackson, Tomeka Reid and Jason Adasiewicz. Frantz Loriot works with “acoustic &/or electric viola + preparations + fx set + tapes” in groupings such as Der Verboten, Notebook Large Ensemble and Systematic Distortion Orchestra, as well as in duos with percussionist Christian Wolfarth, and clarinettist Jeremiah Cymerman, plus other loose groupings involving Christian Weber, Christian Kobi, Theresa Wong, Pascal Niggenkemper and others.

There are five separate tracks, recorded by Daniel Wehrlin in May 2015 at a venue in what appears to be a housing co-operative in Kriens, Switzerland called Teigi Fabrik. Great interplay between the two musicians and along with moments of risk-taking there is that feeling that you only get when seasoned and experienced practitioners are in the room. What is immediately obvious is these two chaps have drilled so deep into their respective instruments that initially, it is hard to square what you’re hearing with the instrumentation they use. In an inspired move, on the second track, “Floating In A Tempest”, Christoph Erb physically moves away from the recording microphones and we hear the acoustic reverberation of the space they are using. At the end of “Annoyed Hibernation”, I imagine that Loriot’s viola is making a noise closer to that of the desperate swallows of someone drowning than any sound I’ve heard produced by that instrument before. Judging only by images on Loriot’s own website, I would suggest that he may amplify his viola as part of his technique, but this is not stated in the sleevenotes, so it may not be the case here.

To be more general, this is an area where, in the loosest sense of the terms perhaps, free jazz overlaps with electro-acoustic improvisation. The production is crisp and clear which affords us an unblinkered view of this sonic whole. The Alexander Calder-esque, or Pop Art-reminiscent sleeve design is by Carlos Santos. One of the best jazz/improv records I’ve heard in a long while – strongly recommended.

Tender Are The Ashes

Martin Kay is the Australian sound artist who came our way in 2014 under his Mountain Black alias. That release, Closing In, was a baffling and inscrutable piece of sound art, which may or may not have been based on field recordings. Today’s record, Stadium (AVANT WHATEVER 018), is very much based on field recordings and is also highly site-specific; it was created at Melbourne Cricket Ground, and concentrates mostly on voices. Come to that, voices are the conceptual thread running through the work, starting with the sounds of the crowd of cricket fans enjoying the game, but also including fragments of individuals, e.g. families out for the day chatting to each other, and on one track, the mechanical voice of the lift which takes the spectator from one level to another. He’s so intrigued by the workings of the building itself (a trope used by some other field recordists, though not as widespread as you might think) that he even records the ventilation system and starts exploring fences, railings, and various obscure parts of the stadium, such as the highest point in the seating bank that a human being can reach. At all times, the voices are audible – but often at a distance, or filtered through the layers of mechanical sound, or muffled by the surrounding architecture.

Kay then proceeds to follow his nose (or his ears), and takes his mics outside the stadium and into the local suburb of Richmond in Melbourne. In so doing he gets to a nearby railway station, a living room, the Yarra river, and a church – which is where the record finishes. Kay’s explanation is that he is following a “trajectory”, and that he “traces their lines of flight upwards and outwards”; he seems to be saying that the sound of these voices carries everywhere, and that if you live in Richmond there is virtually no escape from the haunting tones whenever a match is being played, so it must be hell for non-cricket fans in the summer (or whenever they play – I have no interest whatsoever in the game). In pursuing this trajectory, it has to be said Martin Kay fetches up in some quite lonely and remote sounding places, and a certain flavour of desolation creeps into these long and mysterious sounds. It may be simply because he’s so far away from the action, but there seems to be a deeper emotional pull at work here. By the time he gets to Saint Ignatius Church, all that ends up on the record is a faintly grim and empty white-noise drone, some of it caused by very distant traffic.

At one level Stadium can be read as a decent piece of process sound-art based on field recordings. Its documentary approach is reflected in its utterly prosaic titles, which are short sentences describing precisely where the recording was taken (lacking only a grid reference which Chris Watson might have supplied if he were doing this project). On another level, Stadium tells the story of a simple journey, which takes Martin Kay like a young Odysseus from the “thick of the action” into a quiet and solitary place, one associated with spiritual contemplation. Gradually the sound of the cheering cricket crowd evaporates through this journey, and the traveller ends up alone and far away from the teeming mass of humankind. From 26th September 2016.

Crow Call

As the quiet crow flies (FARPOINT RECORDINGS fp058) is a team-up between two Irish improvising duos – The Quiet Club, and crOw. As far as I can make out these four guys know each other quite well and the record came about after the four of them were forced indoors during a terrible storm in 2015. The notes stress the warmth and friendliness of the situation, “an unexpectedly free evening in each other’s good company”, failing only to mention the possible presence of a bottle of Jameson’s hard by. It is this warmth which emerges on the record, a continual piece of improvised music some 33 minutes long. All four of them play in the so-called “electro acoustic improv” mode, by which I mean there is use of amplification, e-bows, effects pedals, loops, and live electronics, taking place alongside the acoustic elements which include stones, objects, toys, and the alto saxophone of Cathal Roche. If you were expecting a portrait of the 2015 storm – most likely they are referring to “Storm Frank”, which caused horrendous damage sweeping cars into the sea and leaving many homes without electricity – you may be slightly disappointed by the quiet and understated music in these grooves, which is a slow and thoughtful exploration of sonic interplays and long tones. However, the packaging is extensively decorated with evocative photographs (by Doreen Kennedy) of landscapes, grey clouds, and skies, and the listener can’t help but hear echoes of weather and oceans (and the cries of seagulls) in these abstract sounds. This may indicate that these players, unlike some more recondite EAI players, have not lost sight of some basic truths which help to root their work in the real world, and they’re not afraid to tell stories in their music. This is refreshing; one gets tired of all that non-associative music, which often ends up blank and empty, and As the quiet crow flies is bound to connect to any human being who has travelled overseas, gone for a solitary walk on the hills, or even simply gone outside. Limited to 500 copies, from 19th September 2016.

Contusion

On Zashomon (HYBRIDA 06), we’ve got an exciting team-up between Miguel A. García and Japanese player Seijiro Murayama. Seijiro used to be the drummer in Absolut Null Punkt (or A.N.P.) in the 1980s, performing with the ferocious guitar monster K.K. Null, to produce some memorable LPs of experimental rock noise. He’s also performed with Keiji Haino, Fred Frith, and Tom Cora, and more recently teamed up with contemporary French improvisers and composers, including Jean-Luc Guionnet, Eric La Casa, Stéphane Rives, and Eric Cordier. Zashomon plays as a continuous 40-minute piece, although the track titles indicate a four-part structure to the work, including the intriguing third episode ‘One Perjury’…both players credit themselves with “electro acoustic composition”, and in places it does feel quite pre-arranged; the work is full of carefully managed changes and shifts in tone, allowing for quieter events to contrast with the continual stretched of rich electric drone-noise.

Early on there’s a fantastic piece of interplay between drums, synths quietly pulsating and buzzing, and what may be an electric guitar plucking occasional notes; the dynamics here are astounding, real moments of tension and vast gaps of white space in the puzzling music. After the duo settle for a slightly less bold exploration of textures and drones, but there’s still a lot of air and space in the music (especially compared with García’s default position which is to try and occupy as much space as possible), and there’s a taut mystery in the air. Murayama shows his mettle; he has that iron discipline that allows a musician to create a stern, unwavering sound, and keep the emotional register carefully in check. Consequently, his minimal percussion stabs ring out like hailstones on a wintry day, and his alien voice – a bullfrog’s murmur slowed down to the rate of a creeping snail – add a terrifying dimension to the record. At times, García is almost relegated to the position of an admiring acolyte kneeling before the feet of this high priest of minimal improvisation.

The bulk of the record presents a close-up and intimate study of…something, perhaps the craggy face of a lost tribesman or the details of an ancient monument, but it ends with about ten minutes of glorious release which creates a near-epiphany; off-centred drumming, an eerie but uplifting layered noise which may be erupting from the clouds like mutated thunder, and twisted vocal whoops from the Japanese half of the act. A very strong combination and collaboration, packed with strikingly original sounds and bold playing. Limited to 99 copies. From 19th September 2016.

Crude Cassettes

Herewith one large envelope of Miguel A. García-related material from 19th September 2016.

The cassette tape Harigams (CUT#35) comes to us from the Polish label Wounded Knife. The story of it is that Miguel A. García was touring Europe with the French saxophonist Sébastien Branche, and during the Warsaw leg of the trip they recorded a studio set with the drummer Wojtek Kurek from the experimental duo Paper Cuts, and Mateusz Wysocki (sometimes called Fischerle), armed with his laptop of sound samples and field recordings. On the A side, an understated but dense cloud of smeared, fizzy, electro-acoustic noise was the result, a rather subdued and slow drone where it’s hard to say where the saxophone leaves off and the electronic elements begin. The musicians seem to be hampered by uncertainty, but at least their efforts create a fairly pleasing trance. At length, a more restless note creeps into the day’s work, and attempts are made to coarsen the surface with harsh electronic whines and bubbly, crackly emissions from the bell of Branche’s sax. Things improve somewhat on the B side, where the abrasive textures continue and the general flow of the music is subject to more ebb and flow. There’s a nice sample of some vocal music thrown in by someone, but it’s done tentatively, and you wish it could last for longer. The noises are generally pretty good, but the performers are not organising themselves. There’s a general lack of spirit and courage that prevents this music from really catching fire.

Another cassette tape Crudo (NYAPSTER 019) was recorded by García with Carlos Valverde. García and Valverde have performed and recorded together as Cooloola Monster, and their Canciones Del Diablo is an all-time classic in the blasphemous / supernatural noise stakes. On this occasion (as far back as 2011) the harsh pair locked their noisy antlers together and recorded a piece at Radio Bronka in Barcelona, under the general rubric of “Fuck The Bastards” – not sure if this refers to a regular broadcast on that station or a music festival or what, but it’s a good piece of anti-social hate-mongering, not unlike the sort of slogans employed by Crass and Flux Of Pink Indians in the 1980s, except they did it in an anarchist context. The word Crudo is of course entirely apt for this burst of coarse filth, and for about 23 minutes you’ll wallow in scads of black feedback and ugly electronic scabrousness. That sense of nagging insistence, like being attacked by a remorseless sewing machine or other torture implement, is one of García’s strongest characteristics, and in Carlos Valverde he has clearly found a kindred spirit who shares his sadistic tendencies. The cover art – a single word written in black – is spray painted on through a stencil, and the cassette is issued in a Poly-Frosty-Flexi case.

The split tape on Rypistellyt Levyt (RL-016) is not exclusively a Miguel A. García item, but he’s on the B side. At time of writing, this small Helsinki label only offers three releases on its Bandcamp page, but it’s been active since 2009 or earlier, starting out with CDRs but then specialising in cassettes, and has been home to such Finnish obscurities as Neue Haas Grotesk, Supermasters, and the jazz group Horst Quartet. The A side was recorded in Helsinki in 2015, and features our good friend Ilia Belorukov, the ubiquitous Russian, wielding his sax and electronic setup in the company of Lauri Hyvärinen, the Finnish improvising guitarist. The label describe this noise as “slowly unravelling acoustic and electric sounds”, and point out that it was recorded in a concrete bunker, as if that really made any difference. It’s a dud in any case; the duo’s attenuated electric whines and clattering junkyard scrabbles completely fail to cohere for me, but it sounds as though Lauri Hyvärinen has a unique approach to playing the guitar.

On the B side, Miguel A. García is doing it live in Mexico with Héctor Rey, about a week after the Helsinki gig took place. Rey from Bilbao is not unknown in these quarters as he runs the Nueni Records label, which every so often sends us a CDR missive containing obscure and challenging minimal / improvised music. We haven’t heard much of his own work, but his Myxini from 2012 (on the comp Radical Demos #4) impressed us, because of the utter seriousness with which he approached the problem of simply plucking a string. It was as though his very life depended on him sounding the right note. On this Live At Umbral set he’s playing violin and percussion while García supplies electronics, and it’s an extremely subdued set punctuated with much silence and hesitancy. There’s that same sense of deliberation (some might call it paralysis) that I recall from Myxini. When the duo do manage to make a noise together, it’s as if they’re looking at each other with doubtful expressions, asking each other “is this okay?”, as though they were questioning their very right to make improvised music before an audience at all. The duo “work on their sound from a sculptural perspective” according to the label blurb, which may be their way of trying to express in words the deliberation of this stilted approach to playing, likening the musician to a sculptor carefully chipping away at a large slab of marble. They manage to stretch this shilly-shallying out for 17 uneventful minutes, and you’ll need a lot of patience to get to the end of it. Limited edition of 50 copies was released in March 2016, and has already sold out.

The tape Absquatulate Azimuth (BC023) is an old one from 2015, and long sold out. Bicephalic Records is an American tape label and many of the releases feature cover drawings by the owner, August Traeger, who also appears on this split. On the A side, García turns in three variations on a theme he calls Stripes (For Windowpane)…probably one of the most unsettling and confusing sets I’ve heard from the man. It’s got the familiar sense of obsessiveness and the determination to explore an unknown area, but he’s really pushing against the limits, particularly on the spooky third part. Feels like something that members of Nurse With Wound would’ve welcomed in the late 1970s…a real creepster. Apparently the work is derived from “original raw sound sources by window pane”, if that means anything to you.

August Traeger is a new name to me, but he’s a video artist as well as a musician, and also trades under the name Somnaphon. His two contributions are no less creepy than the A side, and ‘Eating Borrowed People’ has a spooked cinematic vibe which I attribute to the sound effects of echoing footsteps and suspenseful chords in the background. But the footsteps are irregular and troubling; no human has ever trod the pavements of the world and created such an unnatural rhythm. I preferred this contribution to ‘Logistic Maps (Subset 2)’, a rather routine bit of glitch and scrambled low-key techno which barely hangs together, but even so Traeger has a nice line in producing synth tunes in the background which make the flesh creep with their queasy, off-centred nature.