Tagged: cassettes

A perfect and absolute blank

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Conceptual process piece of the month is a cassette tape (LOVE THE CHAOS LTC016) by _blank, released on the Spanish experimental electronica label lovethechaos. Every so often we hear from a sound artist who has hit on the idea of “playing” non-audio files in the computer; it seems to me I have encountered many instances of it. For instance, Keith Moliné did it with Andy Diagram on Ley, and Yann Novak did it on Presence at the Torrance Art Museum. In this instance, _blank has taken 186 photographs of cassette tapes, saved them in the JPG format, and then exported this to the RAW format – which happens to be compatible with sound editing and image edition applications. When we spin the tape, we’re “hearing” image data. What emerges is flat and pointless process noise; no shape, no pattern, and resembling an irritating form of white noise interference. To be honest, it sounds very boring indeed.

The work is bolstered by a short art history essay on the theory that “colour, light and sound are intrinsically related”, as originally set forth in the works of Pythagoras and Aristotle. We are invited to see parallels in the work of Renaissance scientists (Newton) and painters (Arcimboldo), before jumping ahead to 20th century experiments in the area of avant-garde cinema by Lis Rhodes and Guy Sherwin; also Daphne Oram and her Oramics system, and inevitably the UPIC tool developed by Xenakis. Not unrelated, I suppose, would be the GenDyn program which Russell Haswell and Florian Hecker have experimented.

I’m quite prepared to believe that colour, light and sound are indeed intrinsically related. But I also doubt that this theory can be demonstrated by this random recasting of computer data. By migrating image data into another format which might be playable on another digital media rendition tool, you aren’t experimenting with the actual physics of colour or sound (which is what Newton understood); you’re merely tweaking file format specifications, and swapping data between players. It says more about the limitations of computers than anything. If you succeed in creating halfway-interesting sound art this way, I would suggest it’s more by luck than design. Still, _blank is unperturbed; these experiments are also finding their way into other avenues now, including cinema, with their “ongoing research on the boundaries between film and video.” The cassette itself is issued in a cover where all printed words (except the name of the creator) have been struck through, as though we had hold of a heavily-redacted top secret document from the CIA archives.

Through the Fog: a hard plod through black doom music

Though the Fog

Longing and Silence, Through the Fog, Sylvan Screams Analog, cassette (2013)

Originally released independently as a demo in 2013, this debut recording of San Francisco Bay Area one-man band Longing and Silence has been picked up by the up-and-coming Sylvan Screams Analog label and turned into an album with an extra track. Now the full glories of LaS can be enjoyed by audiences far beyond the act’s homeland. Well, admittedly these “glories” might take some time to sink in as LaS happens to be one of the more miserable depressive black doom metal bands. Songs proceed at a slow dejected foot-dragging pace, the drumming is drained of life and energy, and mournful buzzing guitars chug away while the harsh rattling vocals sigh and scrape through the lyrics. The atmosphere is a deep black fug through which living things struggle to move or swim. The odd thing about this album is that the sound seems reminiscent of some of the ambient batty acts of the French Black Legions of the mid to late 1990s but that may be an effect, accidental or deliberate, of the quality of the production on the original recording.

Most tracks are fairly long with the shortest at just five minutes if you disregard the short opening track which is called … “Opening”. (Talk about a grand entry!) After this, the album begins its doleful journey in earnest. Tracks are repetitive to the point of monotony although if you listen to each track quite closely, you’ll be surprised at how much change and variation are present in the details of the music. There can be surprisingly melodic moments though they’re hardly likely to have you whistling or tapping your fingers. One track “Wasted Days” could even be a bit rock’n’roll if it were sped up a bit as the solid-as-steel riffs and melodies have a hard edge and their texture has slight crunch. The bass is dominant throughout most tracks which tends to make the music a bit less black metal in sound if not in spirit and concept.

The B-side of the cassette starts off in a more lively manner with bonus track “Sinking Vessel” placed first instead of at the end as is the normal custom with such pieces. A cold space ambience, courtesy of some discreet background synth tones, helps shape the song and provides mystery and depth. The music still plods but not as slowly as before. During instrumental sections, guitars and synth tones share equal time and the duetting is surprisingly affecting and emotional. “Sinking Vessel” could almost pass as potential singles material as there are some very distinctive slash-guitar riffs and the track is song-like in structure. The title track is another highlight here: it’s a  completely ambient piece done with synthesiser and acoustic-music tones and effects highlighted by wistful raindrop guitar notes.

The album could have been edited for length as the repetition and monotony in half the tracks are more off-putting than immersive. I sense that the artist was striving for something to absorb the listener’s attention completely and, since repetition has (too often) been the standard way of mesmerising listeners and opening up their consciousness, used minimal and repetitive music structures to try to achieve that trance result. If it weren’t for the bonus track, the album would be a dreary affair; as it is, there’s more depth to the music and the listener is led to think that there must be much, much more to this LaS act than meets the ear. I certainly think so. It’s too soon to tell with just this one recording whether LaS is rethinking the musical direction taken with this depressive black doom style or plans to plunge ahead farther into the thick dark clouds of melancholy and repetition.

Contact: Longing and SilenceSylvan Screams Analog,

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.

Ruidos Sombrías

“I want to send you some more new records”, so said an email I recently received from Miguel A. García. He’s making so many lately that he’s afraid of sending out duplicates. I asked him to send me pictures rather than titles – it’s easier for me to identify them that way. In the meantime I need to take up the slack and look at this bundle-maroo which he sent on 22 November 2013, which is chock-full of grim noises. One of them, Asto Ilunno, was already sent to us by Nick Hoffman and was reviewed here.

Sohorna (OBS RD#1) is a split with Oier Iruretagoiena and is #1 in a series called Radical Demos, subtitled “places, objects, electronics”. Yes, field recordings, electronic music, miked-up objects, the mixing desk…these are the commonplace tools of your young sound artists these days. García uses them like pickaxes and delves deep into the coal mine of ultra-processed sound…coming up with four stern lumps of pitch-black seething and grumbling. You’ll be lost in the abstraction of it all within moments. Iruretagoiena has just one cut, the 26-minute title track, and it’s one of those horrifying onslaughts that jangles the nerve-endings and induces unbearable tension and fear in the listener, with no remorse. Thank your lucky stars only 100 copies of this exist. Score so far: 5 points for the steady droning sound, 50 points for the cruelty.

On icgs el (NADAcdr nada 14), García changes identity and slips on his xedh guise (I assume it involves wearing a wrestling mask, much like El Santo or Mil Mascaras) to join forces with his old sparring warrior buddy noish (Oscar Martin) and the fab Lali Barrière. Lali must one of the few women experimenters who is not only well respected in the areas of improv and computer music in Spain, but can also square up to these two macho bastards in the arena, probably matching them drink for drink in the cantina. Close-miked objects, hacked software, feedback and “raw electronics” are the basic components of these two 20-minute slow-motion punchfests. By and large, a less “grim” experience for your ears than Sohorna above, but that’s a relative term. I like the fact that every moment of the aural canvas is filled with activity of some sort – fizzing, burbling and writhing about like a rag-tag assembly of bizarre wildlife cavorting about in an unknown landscape. On the first track, that is; the second piece has more in the way of minimalist tones and desiccated longeurs inserted into the continuum, at which point the music loses some of its momentum for me. Score: 10 points for the “witches brew” impressions this conveys, plus 5 additional points for the ego-less collaborative dimension.

Hiztun! (ATTENUATION CIRCUIT ACM 1008) is quite a grabber…from the start, we know we’re back on more cerebral hard-core experimentation turf as it’s published by our conceptual German friends Attenuation Circuit, and as such comes packaged in one of those sandwich cartons which you could also use for storing half a piece of Ryvita. This one is an all-radiophonic piece, created using radios, and intended for broadcast on the online experimental radio station, Hots!. García does it brilliantly, bringing a portable radio set for use as a receiver / FM tuner but also as an additional sound-source in his murmuring electric broth, and a third time when he plays back voice tapes through the speaker (and re-records them, I might add). The spirit of the work is “hacking” into radio technology, a strategy which I think we can all approve of as that was the basis for much 20th-century experimentation and discovery in sound – just ask Theremin, Stockhausen, Keith Rowe or Hugh Davies. Hiztun! is an exciting and dynamic listen with its remarkable textures and contrasts, alien voices drifting in from the ether with their foreign-language barks, stray music phrases likewise wandering in, and moments of high tension when you can hear the creator flicking his switches live on air. Dramatic! Score for this gem: 80 points for innovative manipulation of the crackling ether, 20 bonus points for its raw-edged exposure of the processes involved, plus an additional “silver antenna” award for radical reinvention in radiophonic art.

Lastly we have the untitled split tape (ABOS4-137) on A Beard Of Snails Records. The first side is Star Turbine, a duo whose name are new to me, but this Danish-Norwegian pair of improvisers are certainly stirring a fine pot of beans with these live recordings from London, Reading, and parts of mainland Europe. Poulsen and Bjerga have only been working as a team since about 2011-12, but have already made about six full-length albums of their own and have a couple of European tours etched in their passports. Unlike your average Joe Drone types, they have a unique approach to manipulating their broken electronics and cracked objects which produces compelling sensations; the music creates the hoped-for mesmerising experience, without having to resort to oversimplified methods like one-note drones. Plus they even seem to have a sense of humour, if I’m reading these interspersed electric doodles correctly. Hope to hear more from these two astral travellers in due course.

The flip shows our man García noising it up with Swiss creator Valentina Vuksic on Live At Radio Ruido, NYC. What we got here is three extracts from a lengthier performance recorded in a radio studio. Oddly enough I was expecting their side to be a brutal blast of heaviness that would beat Star Turbine into a cream puff, but in fact the Gar-Sic team are just edged out from the top spot due to a deficiency of engagement and innovation. There’s something slightly tentative about the duo’s work here, as though they’re padding around each other like two mismatched ocelots, and I appreciate that neither of them may have felt completely at home on the New York turf. Even so they belch out plenty of feedback, stuttering, hissing and buzzing noise combined in tasty textural layers, enough to satisfy the hungry anteater who’s in search of more tasty noise-ants which he can scoop up with his sticky tongue. Score for this tape: 100 points for latterday cosmic explorer vibes, but this is mostly due to Star Turbine’s input. Regrettably, García loses 10 credibility points for treading water on his side. The label gets a “best in show” ribbon for its preposterous name and for publishing this tape in a garish pink shell. Now that’s class!

Crossed Wires

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Got more nice CDRs from the German label Attenuation Circuit from 28 November 2013. One of them is part of their Concert Series, and it’s an exceptionally fine volcanic eruption of delicious semi-dangerous noise performed by a noise “supergroup”, of sorts. The team of elektrojudas, Sustained Development, Kim Jong-Un and EXEDO call themselves Knark Esion, and their Disturbed Communication (ACC 1010) is a lovely wodge of dynamic, rough-edged and snaggletoothed improvised blat. How long have this quartet been working together? They’ve already got it down; no meaningless, wasteful feedback blather or egos getting in each other’s way. Instead, taut discipline and high-performing band dynamics are the watchwords. Through combined synths, electronics, drum beats, voice samples and guitars, frightening images of destruction of instantly evoked, including the usual hideous fantasies I am regularly haunted with – collapsing buildings, attacking helicopters, and a general brouhaha among the populace. As observed, I wouldn’t want you to think they’re just creating 25 minutes of formless howlage, which as a genre has been done to death since 1990 onwards in any case; instead, they leave enough space for all the broken pieces of the jigsaw (very large pieces, probably made of concrete or steel) to lock together effectively. Except that the jigsaw, when assembled, makes no sense whatsoever to eye or brain. There’s also enough space for the listener to insinuate self into gaps, providing that is you don’t mind near-misses from runaway trains, being scorched by blasts of flame, scathed by falling boulders, or nearly being munched to a pulp by large electronic crocodile teeth. I’m clutching at images of violence and broken-ness to convey some of the sense of this electrifying performance, but even so I can’t seem to encompass the grandeur and towering melancholy which its creators share, creators who start to assume the proportions of disaffected Pagan gods, tearing their own creations into pieces and howling into the cosmos as they do so, before retiring to some nameless Valhalla to drink red wine from the skulls of the fallen. The label notes allude to “the use of noise as a sabotage of cultural codes”, a subversive approach which is well and good, but I think Knark Esion are aiming for something far less cerebral than that, and this is the sort of powerful grotesquerie that really feeds the fires in your bones and your belly.

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Colin Webster is a young improvising sax player based in London and who is a member of The Uniteam All Stars and also plays in Anthony Joseph and The Spasm Band; I think we last heard him on Languages, whooping it up with Mark Holub and Sheik Anorak (Stuart Marshall praised his guttural barking on those live Vortex recordings). His Antennae (GAFFER RECORDS GR039) cassette is more of a process-thing, where he’s keen to showcase a tight range of very minimal saxophone sounds where the stress is placed on his own breath and the “mechanical noises” that result from his operations on the sax, performed under the discipline of what I take to be very strict rules. To this end, he’s insisted on close-miked recordings to allow us to hear every nuance of the real-time creative endeavour he has undertaken. This is by no means the sort of “reduced improv” music which is excessively quiet and where event and drama is all but lacking; on the contrary, Webster not only has a pulse, but he scuttles about like an entire sackful of hopped-up cockroaches who have been spoonfed cocaine in large doses. But it’s also incredibly austere sound art, with a very limited range; recognisable musical notes are not really allowed here, and it’s as though he stifles them at birth rather than let them escape from the bell of his instrument. I admire the rigid control that is presumably required to do this, but Antennae remains a very tough listen, a true bowl of gruel for the lugs. I think he’s done something for Richard Sanderson’s label too, so watch this space for notice of that item. This arrived 18 October 2013.

The Drid Machine Turns You Up

So, in October 2013 I reviewed the cassette from Clifford Torus – a maniacal avalanche of raw avant-rock boulders from threepiece Horacio Pollard, Kjetil Brandsdal and Anders Hana, released on the label Drid Machine Records. That same month I received another copy, this time sent by Kjetil himself in Stavanger, plus five other goodies on this label. Note the sumptuous screen-printed covers, many with eyeball-rattling graphics and imagery. If you’d found tapes like this on the shelf of Rough Trade Ladbroke Grove in the late 1970s, they’d have been snapped up like hot lobsters. Let’s peruse said rotary ratmeisters from Norway and find what noises we can.

Noxagt live tape Kill Yr. Ego, Oslo 13.08.03. (DMR9) is a fine black bat of violence flying in the urban night. Noxagt have been Norway’s premier Underground power trio since about 2001 onwards, but all I’ve got to show for it personally is a seven-incher from 2000 which is in fact not the trio but an earlier incarnation of the “project” when it was simply a showcase for Brandsdal’s solo work. Boy, have I been missing out on some seriously poisonous rock. Here the trio is in fact a four-piece – drummer Lauritzen and Nils Erga on the viola joined by vocalist Anderson, and as title may indicate they’re keeping the spirit of Sonic Youth aflame on these 2003 recordings. Actually they’re a lot punchier, more compressed and determined than Sonic Youth have ever been, and on this blistering tape when you’re not being physically scorched by gasoline-fuelled feedback, you’ll be pounded repeatedly in the mush by the remorseless percussive attack of bass guitar and drumming. Once you get past a little audience banter at start of tape, it’s a non-stop assault course from then on. Commandos only for this ride, slugger, and be sure to bring your bulletproof helmet.

DMR8 is a split venture where Freddy The Dyke and Blodsprut cleave the cassette in twixt, doing so under a beautiful collage artwork created by Yasutoshi Yoshida. Visually it’s one of the finest realisations to have been printed in this genre (i.e. decapitated / mechanised heads with blood and veins laid bare). Freddy The Dyke is known to us for their solo LP which came out this June on Skussmaal, one track spun in these quarters though not yet reviewed; they’re a guitar and drum duo from Stavanger, name of Bendik Andersson and Gaute Granli. Here on ‘Hamenikashe’ and ‘Tambacounda’ they produce a hugely entertaining row where the frequent whoops of joy from their vocalising indicate the degree of illicit fun that was had by both during the sexed-up, sweaty, orgasmic session. Unlike MoHa!, the “other” Norwegian drum-and-guitar pairing 1, these grinning gorks don’t propose to pummel us alive with an excess of flatulent noise, and in fact most of the energy comes from the intense drumming and the singing rather than amplified blooey. A sort-of stripped-down version of Boredoms with elements of Lightning Bolt thrown in. I only regret the brevity of the tape, wanting more of this.

Speaking of MoHa!, here’s Anders Hana from that combo who is also one half of Blodsprut along with Patrick Petterson. Unashamed “grindcore” is their trade, which in this instance means very short tracks, devilish screaming, and drumming that defies belief with its intensity and speed. There may be a guitar or bass or synth in here too, but it’s so tightly locked-in to what the drummer is doing that I find it hard to credit a human being with “playing” an instrument at all. Blodsprut’s fiendish brand of grindcore takes the “genre” into another century and another dimension, seeming truly to have been spawned in Hades – at any rate, a very efficient and mechanised region of that diabolical kingdom. After this ultra-violent episode, you’ll be only too glad to return to Freddy The Dyke for their brand of “fun”.

Can’t find out much about Abuseman and his Greatest Hits (DMR10), but from cover blurb it suggests this puzzling collage of electronic tunes and samples was created at Banan Studios by Mr. Bernaise. Not that that’s very informative. Unlike what we’ve heard so far, this is not a tape of guitars and ferocious drumming, but instead a fun-loving concoction using synths, drum machines and studio ingenuity to produce highly entertaining instrumentals, with a high degree of professional polish in the production. The creators here play with pop-art “weird” sounds and 1960s exotica in a way that clearly indicates they have no small love of a certain strain of library music – anything by Piero Umilani from the 1970s probably floats their boat – and the only thing it shares with our remorseless rockist friends above is the same sort of driven quality, where some of the tunes proceed with an airless intensity that only well-programmed machines can deliver. High production values, sharp editing, upbeat tempos and melodic treats galore make this item the poppiest lollipop in today’s envelope…

Now we have my favourite marginal loon-boon of DIY weirdness and noise, the one and only Horacio Pollard. The cover of his Frequencies of Seizure (DMR11) first fries your lids with its ghastly dayglo orange tones, then opens out to reveal overprinted images of the Korg DD1, which I gather is one of the more coveted pieces of 1980s drum machine hardware. Pollard here offers two suites of non-stop electronic zaniness, characterised by looping rhythms, chugging beats, and scads of grotesque noises smeared into the mix like so much melted cheese scooped from the top of a five-day old pizza. Pollard as ever manages to be absurd, entertaining and repulsive all at the same time – it’s frequently hard to position yourself as a listener in the face of this much great / ridiculous music, and you won’t know whether to guffaw or groan. Who can resist the fun-charged pull of these primitive patterns and primitive, near-ugly sounds? Pollard is one of the few creative people on the globe (Romain Perrot is another) who understands that “good taste” is the very death of art, and as such he needs to be cherished like a Siberian Tiger, albeit one whose pelt is made from artificial dayglo blue fur.

Last item of the batch is second live tape by Noxagt, Checkpoint Charlie, Stavanger 08.03.03. (DMR7) This time the Sonic Youth quotations are again made explicit by opening track title ‘Thurmaston’, followed by further titles which do more than hint at rampant group sex and violent perversions – Norwegian style! The band is back to trio formation here, and I for one find this a lot more enjoyable without the shredded vocals of Anderson spitting on my parade. There’s more opportunity to savour the remarkable string work of Nils Erga with his melancholic, depressed viola that scrapes out the inner chambers of the heart as surely as David Cross did in 1973 King Crimson. Meanwhile Brandsdal and Jan Christian Lauritzen turn in exemplary performances of dynamic, heavified slugging with the bass and drums, and each song works away obsessively in its narrow frame. A very harrowing attack is the trademark of Noxagt on this performance; the trio won’t rest until the operation, one involving much blood-letting and painful organ replacement, is fully completed whatever the cost to themselves – and to the patient. Labour-intensive rock at its hardest; Noxagt never short-change their audience.

  1. I’m about half-right here; they use electronics as well, but you get the idea. Manic noise is the dominant characteristic.

Wargthron (Demo 1): channelling the spirit of primitive raw kvlt black metal

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Wargthron, Demo 1, Sylvan Screams Analog, cassette SSA018 (2014)

Channelling that good ol’ primitive super-raw kvlt black metal vibe here is a mysterious horde (of maybe one guy? or a couple?) hailing from the wintry ice-scapes of … Atlanta, Georgia, in the southeastern subtropical realms of the US. We-e-ell, I guess them folks down there experience a real light dusting of overnight winter snow in mebbe a hunnerd years. Thrumming steamy BM super-hornet guitars, barely-there percussion and deeply buried rasping ghost vokills along with monotonous rhythms and the most skeletal of riffs and melodies recall the early years of the French Black Legions or Norwegian BM legend Ildjarn on this debut offering from Wargthron.

The recording divides into two parts and repeats on the B-side of the cassette (so you never have to rewind it if you prefer one part over another). “An Ancient Fortress of Blood” – how kvlt is that?! – is a slowly menacing shadow creature, grimmmer than grimm, glacial yet unrelenting in pace, the percussion counting down to that moment when ice tendrils, making their steady and stealthy way, penetrate into the deepest parts of the listener’s brain and freeze it forever. The blood runs cold, the heart stops beating, skin turns an icy-blue colour and anyone foolish enough to touch the victim might suffer severe frost-bite in the finger/s that make contact. The music becomes more hellish and unbearable as it creeps up on you: guitars slash away repeatedly, demons roar and gloat in anticipation of possessing yet another human soul, and the atmosphere is so overpowering it leaps into another dimension to continue the torture.

“Bless the Heavens with Darkness” turns up the pace and intensity early on but ends up mixing the faster parts with slower music that might almost sound like a continuation of the first track. The guitars lollop faster and at a more shrill tone but the steaming buzz texture and dark murk are still present. The malevolent monster voices growl and roar continuously.

According to the sleeve notes, the songs were recorded in “utter darkness under shadow of the dead moon” on Christmas Eve in 2013 which might explain their repetitive nature: obviously if you can’t see what you’re playing, it’s best not to stray too far from the most essential chords, rhythms and beats in case you want to return to them but have forgotten the correct fingering positions. The Wargthron man definitely was not expecting or wanting any toys, games or the latest version of Grand Theft Auto from Santa Claus; this music would frighten the reindeer so much they’d bolt right out of the solar system and the fat guy in the red suit would be lost among the galaxies forever. The atmosphere reeks of ancient and evil corruption, the black void from which Wargthron appears and then disappears into comes across as infinite and gravid with deep hostility towards humanity and intent to wipe out this upstart anthropoid species forever. The music hums with a deep and intense power and this force, hungry and brimming with deep hatred, leaves a lasting impression in the imagination.

There’s only a very limited print run of 44 copies and I already have No 43 so you have to be really fast to get the last copy!

Contact: Sylvan Screams Analog

Amulet: the deep and the commonplace in mystery ceremony revealed by iPhone recordings

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Oren Ambarchi, Amulet, The Tapeworm, cassette TTW 65 (2014)

Korean director Chanwook Park made a short movie not long ago using a cameraphone so it was only a matter of time before a musician made an album with an iPhone. The surprise is that of all people I can think of who might do it first, Oren Ambarchi should have been the one. (Though he may have been preceded by others and I just haven’t noticed.) This is a really intriguing effort from Ambarchi: it’s an ambient soundscape, sometimes industrial-sounding, that includes what field recordings, whirring cymbals and other percussion or intrusive background noises that he opted to leave in.

In spite of its fairly short length, the recording seems expansive and blackly cavernous. We start with sharp metallic drone and buzz rolling across a huge flat plain in pitch-dark atmosphere on Side A. A rhythm of sorts is established with a loop of mechanical dolly clicks and there are other little noise effects that tinkle and thrum. The work or parts thereof must have been done live as indicated by audience applause somewhere in the middle of Side A of the cassette.

On Side B, the fragments of delicate metallic bell, gong and chime along with a quiet background and the static nature of the music, suggestive of a soundscape snapshot, give the impression of an ongoing mysterious ritual. You end up concentrating so closely that your mind becomes completely entranced and for a brief while you become part of the scene. Whichever side is played, and depending perhaps on the frame of mind you’re in, whether you’re tired and need soothing or you are just curious, the atmosphere can be quite intense and your anticipation of what might come with the drones keeps you hooked. A motor stutter vibration helps to concentrate your mind as well.

Anyone who is familiar with Ambarchi’s activities and the musical company he’s been keeping over the years might see the two sides of the cassette as representing the polar opposites his music has often straddled - Side A is very black and sinister, and Side B is tranquil – and the cassette and vinyl 7″ formats certainly lend themselves to such an interpretation more so than if the music had been released as a mini-CD. So I’d caution TSP readers not to allow a little knowledge about Ambarchi’s history and the choice of music format to influence their listening experience too much.

I don’t know how familiar Ambarchi is with recording music on his iPhone, if this is something very novel for him and if he will continue recording in this way on occasion, so I’m prepared to give him some leeway with the loose free-form structure of the music. The editing in parts can be crude – that audience applause cuts out very sharply – and any beginnings and endings are determined by the cassette format and the length of the tape. Had the musician and the label thought of the idea at the time, this music might suit a Moebius-trip cassette format, to be played continuously according to the whim of the listener.

Savage Pencil provides the odd(eye)ball cover artwork which plays up the voyeuristic role that the listener is forced into, in listening to this music that might serve as accompaniment to a secret ritual or ceremony. Whether the ceremony is a long drawn-out process involving animal sacrifices or just one’s bed-time routine being read to by a preschooler eager to show off by making up stories about a moon-worshipping rabbit family s/he sees in the picture-book, “Amulet” will be an ideal mystery backdrop. There’s something of the profound and the commonplace in these recordings.

Contact: The Tapeworm 

Three Spooling Dans from France

Nicolas Marmin sent us three split cassette tapes from his KommaNull label in France which arrived 18 October 2013. Note the uniform packaging of these Spooling Dans. Each tape resides in a corrugated card carton which when flipped open will reveal the cassette in a paper slipcase within, the pearl of tapedom sitting in the oyster of the hypermarket. It so happens our first pearl (KOMMANULL SPLIT K7_3) is of pinkish hues.

Häk and his Music for Molekularsynthesizer finds German synth-mangler Häk issuing forth a pleasing variety of electronic sounds – some crazy, some outer-spacey, some just plain obnoxious. Certainly no shortage of effects, textures and surfaces on his half of the tape, but it’s a tad under-developed in the way of compositional design, apart from letting the piece continue and accrue further layers of effects, until it reaches a tipover point and collapses in a welter of noise. However there is a sense of exploratory fun in the work as knobs are twisted and crazy whoops sputter from the devices, and the sense that Häk is something of a kid in a sweetshop, restlessly trying out a shiny new toy. The fun aspect is undercut somewhat by the grim buzzy drone noise which closes out the tape, a testing episode of process-based grind, but as noted Häk has many varied approaches to offer.

Alan Courtis occupies the flip with his Untitled piece. Argentinean peripatetic loon Courtis has produced so many records now and worked in so many micro-genres that I’ve given up trying to understand one-tenth of what he does. One moment a throat-singing guitarist, the next an electro-acoustic tape boffin who does his best work with a household blender. At all times he’s been informed by a sense of absurdity which always gives his work a slant, an offbeat edge. Here we have something so indefinable passing over the tapeheads that my ears are getting bent out of shape trying to get a handle on it. Right away you notice his sound is much “dirtier” than the pure electronic beeps and tones of Häk, but that may be due to excessive processing and transformation. We’re dragged unwillingly across very unfamiliar terrain and there’s no clear end to this weird journey through tunnels of murk. I’ve often thought that Courtis underperforms as an editor or a composer, but here those deficiencies are somehow turned intro strengths, as this odd and episodic perambulation wanders through a series of unexplained vistas. This tape is probably a reliable psychic indicator of what’s happening to Courtis’s inner being on account of his frequent travels, not least the nauseating effects of air travel. I need a cup of strong tea after this one.

Next split is a blue item (KOMMANULL SPLIT K7_2), the sweet sweet blue of the sea.

BoneyFM’s self-titled album is 14 tracks resulting from collaborative actions between Lil’ Oof who provides the raw material in form of tapes, and Finkelstein who processes them, while Eran Sachs contributes a mixing board to two tracks. A confusing jumble of half-baked electronic sounds emerges, chopped up into short and unfinished pieces, arranged in no apparent order. Interesting sonic collisions may emerge from this wreckage, but they feel more like accidents. The creators can’t seem to decide if they’re going for all-out table noise, or a radically deconstructed recreation of avant-techno. A very broken and disjunctive listen; sorry chums, I just don’t get it.

Suboko offers a single 30-minute piece from a live recording at La Bascule in Rennes, from 2011. This is Laurent Berger, who’s also a member of Sun Plexus and the “minimal wave” four-piece band Ich Bin; plus Pascal Gully and the turntabler Nicolas Boutine. We have heard them before when they collaborated with some German brass players as the K-Horns, but this little slice of mayhem shows them at their unhinged and primitive best. I suppose one could also characterise this as a very broken and disjunctive listen, but it’s much more enjoyable than BoneyFM. The players are energised and focussed, and determined to give us an honest portrait of urban sprawl in sound, whatever the cost to themselves. It’s got the same vibe I find in APO33 and pizMO, the sense of a chaotic but juicy performance which has no defined boundaries and revels in the joys of uncontrolled electronics. Plus it just keeps going on and on forever. You may find the grim, industrial-ish caste of this music a bit wearisome, but it’s an honest and raw performance.

Of greenish tint is our tertiary item (KOMMANULL SPLIT K7_1)…

Ravi Shardja (also associated with GOL and Oleo Strut) is another French musician who has come our way before with the double LP Grun Ist Grau for Grautag Records. While that item might have shown his industrial landscaping skills, his half of the split tape La Ferme Vous-Meme is apparently more of a cut-up sampling item, with a baffling jumble of instruments and voices producing a nightmarish version of modern pop music, with insane beats and ugly sounds wrought from guitars and synths. No less unpalatable are the distorted voices, sometimes screaming in agony from the harsh transformations they must undergo. Shardja makes his mixing board work overtime until you could cook a three-course meal on the overheated desk, and pushes his array of sounds to their utmost limits. The album may have its melodic moments, but these too are rendered quite bizarre (almost comical) by means of edits and juxtapositions. Even so, this is so far the most “entertaining” listen of the bunch. You could play it to someone who’s an expert in obscure Burmese movie soundtracks, and just watch their brows furrow as they try and name the tune.

Enregistrement Temporaire is another name for Marc Nguyen Tan, who improvises on a modular synth to produce his Clusters Animés. All I can say here is that it’s a piece of great beauty, a very subtle melodic work, innovative and imaginative and with a lot of intriguing details to hear as it passes through its compositional stages. It may also be somewhat untypical of Tan’s other work. He’s more well known as Colder, an Electro-Beat thing under which name he has a lengthy catalogue from 2003 onwards, and has been involved in dance and remix projects besides finding time for film, TV and dance work. For me, Clusters Animés is the pick of the bunch from these tapes and shows there is a contemplative side to this young man’s work. Other listeners find parallels here with Nurse With Wound or HNAS – what may be emerging as a “surrealist” sub genre of electronic music.

Blaksmoke / Part 1: tiny packet of black metal energy

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Blaksmoke, Part 1, Soulthief (2013)

Sometimes I wish most BM bands would deliver albums as tiny and packed full of zest as this one. At just over seven minutes, Blaksmoke‘s debut full-length deserves to be at least twice or even three times as long. Some folks might even wish for longer – there’s so much energy on this teeny-weeny record, it could sustain a much longer effort – but we could be pushing our luck. This is a raw recording of rock-out black metal, very punk in its production and in the furious energy it zings out in all directions. The percussion is wild and all over the shop and chainsaw guitars grind away in search of a victim to zoom over and cut up.

Each track seems a lot angrier and more abrasive than the previous track until everyone, musicians and listeners alike, can take no more. This isn’t to demean the first track, simply called “I”, which is a cacophonic racket of bashing drums and lawnmower guitar on speed. Deep vocals roar around the joint as if trying to gain a foothold on the racing music and finding none. Occasionally a rhythm develops but this is only temporary. The second track is a growling song of spiky string scrabble and evil demon groans. Like the first song, Track 2 ends quite abruptly – recording and production finesse obviously isn’t a big priority with Blaksmoke. Given that one of the Blaksmoke guys, Wikkid, recorded the music, produced the album, distributes it and has two solo projects (Alcutraz and Wikkid) to tend to as well, perhaps we should thank our lucky stars that he has time to issue product of a good consistent standard like this recording. The third track is more relaxed (well, at first anyway) and more death metal in its ambience and style though without the pummelling blast-beat rhythms of that genre. Past the halfway point, something spooks the two musicians and they go off on a bonkers chaotic tangent, drumsticks whacking furiously, strings shredding manically and vocals swept up in the storm. Wonderful!

This is a tiny pocket of roaring primitive BM and I wish - I dearly wish! – that there’s a lot more of it where it came from.

Contact: Wikkid, wikkidblackmetal@gmail.com