Tagged: cassettes

Press Play Stop Eject

Working in the 1980s, A. K. Klosowski produced music and noise with his largely hand-operated methods of pressing buttons and depressing keys to get playback from a bank of eight Walkman cassette tape players. He also used a drum machine and some effects. “Intuitive and spontaneous control” are the operative words for this practice.

He hooked up with Kurt Dahle, a member of the Dusseldorf synth band Der Plan, a record appeared in 1985 called Hometaping Is Killing Music (Dahle appeared under his Pyrolator name). I never heard it, but the present LP A. K. Klosowski Plays The Kassetteninstrument (GAGARIN RECORDS gr2035) predates that session, and is done solo.

Reading about it may be more interesting than hearing it; it’s certainly a great way of working, and while the album contains an entertaining and inventive set of tunes, it doesn’t go much beyond a primitive sampling set-up with added noise and beats. A.K. doesn’t push it far enough; or the set-up itself is limited. Klosowski manipulates his device, and his sounds, like modelling clay. It results in lovely imperfections, rough edges, things not matching, which I like. I never liked that school of thought that spent ages crafting a “perfect” loop or sampled beat, an approach which kills spontaneity.

Other writers have picked up on the theme that this represents an early pre-digital approach to sampling, and invoked Cabaret Voltaire and The Art Of Noise. I like this better than Cabaret Voltaire (who were too arty, and trying to tell us something) and The Art Of Noise (who were too synthetic, too layered with intellectual pretensions.) Klosowski has a directness – his noise is noise – and it may start with tapes, but doesn’t end there. His actions are imprinted instantly onto the record without studio “diddling” before and after. It may even be closer to the “art” end of early sampling, for instance Steve Reich.

Not every track here is “abrasive disco”. ‘Lamento’ is a very nice use of strange loops, mostly voices and strings, and not too far away from Canaxis (‘Boat Woman Song’). And ‘R H 2’ is as close as he comes to producing chaotic industrial noise.

Let’s not forget cassette tapes are at the heart of this inventive noise. Label owner Felix Kubin doubtless approves; his love-affair with the cassette tape was wittily and passionately expressed on his Chromodioxgedächtnis box set, which we noted in 2015.

From 31st August 2016.

Murder at the Disco

Here’s the latest sound missive from Rinus Van Alebeek. Although he regularly sends us things from his Staaltape label, we haven’t heard a solo tape by this fellow since January 2016. That item was quite obscure and I am still not sure what its title was, although it involved a collaging from his tape collection. The same observation might apply to the current cassette. The reason I think this is because of the note appended to the inside of the wrapper, stating “all sounds and words that are used can be found on the tapes that are part of my collection”, although this isn’t exactly a lucid or revealing statement in terms of what it indicates. It would be like me saying you can find the answer to the meaning of life on a page in a book in my library. It may well be true, but which page?

The A side is called Don’t Talk At The Disco, a 2014 composition which was put together in Italy. It apparently encloses six separate suites, with subtitles such as ‘Helmets and Gasmasks’ and ‘A romantic’s vision on death and the afterlife’. I’ve enjoyed this side enormously. It seems to be Rinus doing what he does best, assembling sounds that on the surface appear to be fitted together with a random logic. Yet the connections are there, and seem to make some kind of subconscious sense, even though I frankly own I have no idea what Don’t Talk At The Disco might be about. It proceeds at a leisurely pace, sometimes causing the listener to feel like one is floating about the grass on a sunlit day. A pleasant dream state ensues. Some identifiable sounds, some murmured speech, some intelligible speech, and sounds which are hard to name. Some piano music, near the start, injecting a sense of nostalgia. Tape manipulation, wrong-speeding, spooling sounds. Church bells, the sounds of the sea. A lot of silent passages. No outright loud noise; Rinus isn’t out to shock or confuse anyone with alarming juxtapositions.

This is a highly successful instance of audio collage which shows how it’s possible to bring out connections, meanings, allusions, and resonances in a very subtle manner, yet causing quite a powerful effect on the listener. Even feeling mystified, as I do, is surely a legitimate response. I’m always impressed how Van Alebeek achieves this strong result by such imperceptible means. I have an image of him lifting up delicate tape segments with tweezers, assembling them with the care of an entomologist handling dead insects.

“You might remember finding Don’t Talk At The Disco in your postbox”, remarks Rinus in his letter. “That was a release heavy with time-consuming collage artwork.” I don’t recall receiving anything like this in the mail, but he calculates that the price tag for each unique copy ought to have been 253 Euros (about £215 based on today’s rate), given the amount of effort he put into them. Realising he’d never recoup that money, he gave all the copies away instead. I mention this as another cryptical sideline on today’s item, hoping it might shed some light on this artist’s attitude to his work. I wish more creators would take a leaf from his book; so many are career-minded, have their eye on a main chance, or are simply too “grabby”.

While Rinus has alluded to pop music in previous releases – for instance The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, and Buddy Holly – I can’t find any such themes on Don’t Talk At The Disco, in spite of the title promising some sort of observation on the music realised during that fascinating period that peaked around 1978. The B-side does contains flashes and fragments of disco music, however, even though it might not be part of the same theme as the A side. Entitled Elvis, Ein Volk it seems to be a very unusual meditation on the Elvis Presley phenomenon as refracted through the associative method of Van Alebeek tape assembly. It was created two years after the A side, and realised in The Netherlands, yet it has many of the same surface effects – including the sad and slow acoustic piano music, the sounds of the sea, the murmuring speech, and the squealing tape manipulation sounds. To some degree it sets up a “correspondence” with the A side, through throwing out these similar noises and themes as a kind of call-out. There are also some snippets of dialogue, spoken in drawling American accents, by pundits reflecting on the cultural importance of Elvis, though these utterances feel quite isolated in the sea of sound-art, odd field recordings, and general ambience of mystery that surrounds them.

If submitted to a conventional music radio station as a documentary collage on Elvis, this release might not be accepted by the editorial board with open arms. However, I like to imagine that (as ever) Van Alebeek has somehow gotten closer to a more profound “truth” about popular music than a million banal documentaries on the subject that begin and end with a visit to Graceland. What that truth may be, however, I’m unable to articulate for you. Can Van Alebeek’s texts help? All he will comment on this piece is that it’s “A sad tale of political power struggles, diagrams, and road accidents”, which is a highly puzzling remark. 1 From 25th August 2016.

  1. Of course, historical scholars will be quick to point out that “Ein Volk” is the start of one of Adolf Hitler’s notorious slogans – Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuehrer. But I think this is just a small detail; there’s no substantial evidence here that Rinus is drawing parallels between pop music culture and totalitarianism, in say the rather heavy-handed manner of The Third Reich N Roll.

Light in the Sky

Here’s another solo cassette by Alwanzatar, Oslo’s one-man version of Gong, whom we last heard in May 2016 and his tape Archaic Mysteries Of Ecstasy. Where that release featured a lot of ritualistic mystery chants and strange archaic vocalisms, Live Ritual Proceedings Vol. III (UNDERJORDISKOTEKET UJD 005) is more musical and showcases his skills on a range of droning synthesisers. Among these are vintage instruments such as the Arp Odyssey, the Moog Minitaur, and the Korg SQ-1, fit to make any collector of retro keyboards fall to their knees in envy. Alwanzatar however doesn’t neglect the drum machine, and his approach to cosmic space drone is enabled considerably by the mesmerising rhythm patterns which he programmes into each performance. Accordingly, both these side-long performances from 2015 are compelling and enjoyable voyages into outer galaxies; where Hawkwind would have travelled to the same places in a huge inter-galactic cruiser with 18 stories and thousands of passengers on board, Alwanzatar gets there in his personal flying flivver powered by a single motor, enjoying the views of astral splendour outside his perspex dome. Even the cover art with its simple drawing and hand-lettering attests to this creator’s modest ambitions. While this may not be essential listening, I like the simplicity and directness of Krizla’s music; the sounds are good, there’s a clarity to the performance and its intention, and he remains dedicated to completing the task, no matter how long it takes. There’s also a strong sense of optimism and positive vibes from these cosmic drones. Very good. From 19th August 2016.

Lock Up The House

There Was Hardly Anybody There (SPINA!REC SR026) is the new cassette from Ilia Belorukov, still the heavyweight and principal saviour of Russian underground music at time of writing, and it’s a highly grim affair. He’s forsaken his usual improvising saxophone mode and gone for these four interminable pieces of horrifyingly monotonous and empty music of greyness and bleakitude. I think the saxophone played a part somewhere, but attenuated minimalism is the order of the day. “The reductionist sound was changed by cold synth noises and monotonic rhythms,” is how the label press sell us on this captivating episode.

The opening cut ‘He Needs Someone To Wake Him Up’ is just about survivable – a thudding, ominous, sequenced synth pulse spells out doom, but at least there are urban recordings on top to make it seem like something relatable to real life; the dog barking is one nice effect. And there’s even a minimal tune (if you can find it) passing by for a few precious seconds. Thereafter, remainder of tape is a descent into empty town-dwelling horror, including ‘If Any Man Comes…’, an emptied-out and all-bleached track which might just be the “room sound” from an underground bunker or torture chamber, or other scene of terror; ‘Ask Around, Someone Will Know’ which proceeds on its way to the beat of a remorseless military drum with a low tone moaning underneath, punctuated by occasional howls of anguish; and ‘Someone Has To Lock Up The House’, which is all-but insufferable – distorted synth purrs and buzzes which somehow create a vista of sheer emptiness and an atmosphere of futility that is hard to shake off.

Throughout, Belorukov seems determined to refuse any kind of aesthetic pleasure that might be derived from electronic music, and also stops dead the possibility of any forward movement or progress in each piece. The resulting sensation of confinement is certainly well expressed by the images of concrete walls and staircases to nowhere which adorn this release, but it goes beyond the confinement of a single body; somehow it suggests an entire society, a culture, trapped in a frustrating political deadlock where absolutely nothing is possible. Are things really that bad in Russia? Evidently so! Take note, readers in the UK, this fate awaits all of us in the post-EU world, so beware. And take this tape as a forewarning of what it’s going to feel like. From 15th August 2016.

Hate Yoga: a wacky black metal noise homage to legendary French Black Legions scene

Vergreuvbre, Hate Yoga, Australia, Australibus Tenebris, cassette (2016)

About 23 minutes long, this wacky exercise in cacophonous black metal noise hell seems inspired by the more obscure and demented projects of the French Black Legions / Les Legions Noirs from way back in the mid-1990s. (The band’s name itself hints at LLN worship.) Gosh, can it really be 20 years since that little scene set the black metal world on fire with the werewolf baying, the gurgling vocals, the suspicious snuffling sounds, the junkyard approach to composing and playing music, and the in-fighting that led to the scene’s dissolution? This album – Vergreubvre’s third apparently – barrels along at a solemn pace while ghouls and ghosts yowl, gibber and complain loudly and groaning-grinding guitars chung-chung-chung along half-heartedly.

While the tin says there are five tracks – and one doesn’t know what it wants to be, so it’s just called “Untitled” – the practical reality for most listeners is that one track bleeds into the next so you’re pretty much looking at a solid slab of near-industrial raw guitar grind and percussion bashing, accompanied by some of the most bat-shit strait-jacketed groaning and bleating you’ll ever find on this side of the nine circles of hell. Even those Americans calling themselves the Black Twilight Circle appear sane and restrained compared to this lot. At least the crazed lead guitar scrabbling in some parts of the cassette anchors the rest of the band to this physical plane of material reality.

With such a lo-fi presentation, the music is gritty and raw with a crunchy noisy low end and the vocals sound even more savage and rabies-infested than they might actually be. The torture is solid and relentless, and the sound is massive in parts. At the risk of sounding like a masochist, I hazard the band probably could have added some reverb effects to get a monstrously steamy, hellish steel mine-shaft ambience and a muddy sound. Towards the end the lunar mayhem starts to tire and would probably have fallen apart if the multi-voiced screaming hadn’t started up to keep the torture going. Everyone collapses in a hail of cymbal smasherama and croaking death-rattle. If you’re not feeling drained by this point, you either are not human or (more likely) you collapsed far back during the recording.

If you’re a self-respecting music fan willing to try anything once, you definitely have to try hearing this recording.

Four Walls Recorded

Here is the latest release from Crustacés Tapes, sent to us from Montreal – an art-tape label whose understated releases usually arrive with a printed card that’s been hand-decorated and the minimal text has been applied on with a John Bull printing set. Ryoko Akama is a new name to these pages, but she’s a well-respected composer and sound artist who runs a label of her own, Melange Edition, and also co-edits a publication with the foreboding name of Reductive Journal. She’s extremely minimal; proud of her “almost nothing” aesthetic, her plan is to create small sound events which I suppose are taking place on the fringes of human perception, often using small everyday objects (toys, balloons, bottles) to trigger them.

In the case of Hako To Oto (CRUSTACÉS #8), the small object in question is a music box. If you spin the tape, you might hear the occasional note issuing from said box within the confines of the “rural hotel room” in Portugal where it was recorded. Mostly though, you’ll hear a lot of silence, a lot of room tone…this is also part of Akama’s plan, creating “situations that magnify temporal/spatial experience with silence, time and space.” I found this release very testing, with nothing in the way of aesthetic enjoyment to reward one’s patience. But I expect I’m approaching it all wrong. It’s very clear she has virtually no interest in the music played by that music box, and wants the sound to break up the silence, or to punctuate the silence in some way. Maybe she intends this punctuation to take place on a grand scale, as though drawing a map of the hotel room, using sound as callipers.

In a way I have to admire Ryoko Akama’s determination to refuse conventional “beauty” in this work, and it obstinately declines to become anything more than just a tiny music box making occasional sounds in a silent room; no existentialist “meaning”, no transcendence through repetition, no deep listening, not even an appreciation of the silence, which Francisco López might once have insisted on. If any of this is near the mark, then it’s possible that Ryoko Akama is setting out a new benchmark for what minimalism might mean in the area of sound art. For more of her compositions, text-scores, installation pieces and so forth, see her site; she has performed Alvin Lucier’s Music on a Long Thin Wire, but that composition seems positively eventful compared to this. Arrived 29 July 2016.

Robert Filliou Sings Marquis de Sade: oddball spoken voice recording whose rationale is unclear and deliberately ambiguous

Robert Filliou, Sings Marquis de Sade, Goaty Tapes, cassette #73 (2016?)

Here comes one of those obscure oddball recordings that’ll have most of us worrying for the state of mind of their creators, wondering whether they really are as serious as they appear to be on the recordings themselves, are performing with their tongues rooted firmly in their cheeks, or have some ulterior sinister, possibly dangerous motive behind their choices of subject matter to inform their art. Sole performer Robert Filliou’s background is as intriguing as this recording, found in someone’s old basement and until now never considered part of his corpus of works: born in France in 1926, he fought for the French Resistance during World War II and later emigrated to the US where he worked at a series of low-paid jobs while studying for a master’s degree in economics at UCLA. He worked at the UN and embarked on his artistic career in 1960 as a member of the Fluxus movement, creating theatrical and film performances, sculptures and happenings. He later moved to Canada with his wife in 1977 and spent the last three to four years of his life living in Les Eyzies in southern France where he died in 1987.

Singing completely a cappella, Filliou performs excerpts in English translation from the various writings of that notorious late 18th-century libertine novelist / theatre critic the Marquis de Sade. Filliou takes us on a tour through time and space of the divers excruciating tortures and punishments that humans have inflicted upon one another, often under the pretence of carrying out justice. The artist isn’t a bad singer at all and with some training could have led his local church choir if the rector had been prepared to overlook his former French Communist Party membership or any fascination with the more lurid apocalyptic visions of the Book of Revelations. Starting with the Irish, the Norwegians and the ancient Celts, Filliou ticks off the bucket list of nations past and present and their particular associated brutal torture specialties: be it crushing people’s skulls with thick staves, disembowelling victims and filling up the cavities with salt, or feeding prisoners to horses crazed from starvation, Filliou dutifully covers most modes of punishment (thankfully, not in much detail) in a moderately high-pitched chanting voice that’s as deadpan grim and matter-of-fact as can be for this material. (Strangely he misses out on the infamous Chinese punishment known as the Death By A Thousand Cuts or the various imaginative Japanese tortures – but then Sade died a long time before he could have heard any of Merzbow’s music.)

Hear enough of this solemn monologue and you can’t help but giggle at the ambition and determination behind it. The most remarkable aspect of the recording is that Filliou manages to plough through Sade’s exposition of the most astonishingly devious and callous punishments ever to spring out of the human imagination without collapsing in fits himself. His voice becomes ever more trance-like and somnolent as if he were reading through the daily grocery shopping list for the hundredth time.

The cassette’s packaging limits itself to Filliou’s name, the title of the work and a swirling background of pale colours such as might be seen when blowing soap bubbles, so the rationale behind performing these texts (most of which is not attributed to any particular work or works by Sade) remains unknown. Listeners must decide for themselves what to make of this recording and what to take away from it. I personally chalk it down to Filliou being mischievous, taking the mickey out of himself and confounding people’s expectations of him and his opinions. On another level, Filliou’s performance and his impassioned summary at the end about what he has just done leave listeners uncertain about his view of Sade and human nature: does he support Sade’s pessimistic view of humanity, that humans are incapable of moral or spiritual improvement, or is his performance a critique of Sade’s philosophy and outlook? One also has to admit that Sade in his own way was brutally open and honest about the extent of human depravity, above all how much it is a natural part of the human expression, however much we fear it and try to deny or justify it.

Will Not Split

Two more cassettes from Kassettkultur are by Maja Ratkje and Bjørn Hatterud, both made at the same time and only ever sold together as a pair; “will not split” is the familiar rallying cry of antique dealers who hold a fine pair of ancient jugs. With the jury’s permission, we will mention them here together.

The first of these, Focus Foucault Foccaci (KULT 014), is not much more than a cassingle, and contains two tunes at five mins apiece. On one side the duo – appearing here as Solveig Kjelstrup & Maskinanlegg – appear to be adopting a quasi-ethnic stance with a performance based on percussion and a shenai-like reed instrument, to produce something Sun City Girls might have belched up as an interlude on one of their earlier ethnic forgery LPs. Or maybe it’s intended to remind us of Don Cherry and his bamboo flutes when he played with Ed Blackwell in 1969. At any rate it’s recognisable as music, which is more than you can say for the puzzling flip side. A nightmarish take on a patriotic song from the 1930s that was never written, or a national anthem for the smallest non-existent country in Europe, is put through the tape-processing treatment until it acquires a nasty and vaguely disturbing patina. The singing voice especially is something that creeps up your spine like a jellyfish. Not that the singer sounds especially menacing, but you don’t want him hanging around your house for long. Limited edition of 30 copies for this surreal slice of pie. Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje, to use her full name, is a genius composer, improviser and noise maker who never ceases to surprise me with the ease, expertise, and commitment with which she takes on each new and wholly unexpected project. Bjørn Hatterud should be notorious to all as a member of the Norwegian collective Origami Republika, a sprawling project of weirdness whose aim was to overthrow the known world through subversive, absurdist antics; it’s impossible to tell how many records they made, as they kept changing their name, and so evaded the confining boundaries of officialdom, keeping everything fuzzy around the edges. It’s a strategy that always pays off.

The second tape, featuring the same personnel, is called Malleus Maleficarum Maximum, and with its monochrome cover, gothic styled lettering, and supernatural title, it may fool some Black Metal fans into buying it. Boy, will they be in for a surprise! One side is a short fragment of ingeniously compacted music, perhaps using tape loops, that feels like a distillation of all 19th century classical music and opera that ever dared to flirt with a “heroic” theme (and thus drove its composers mad or deaf, or both). It becomes a nostalgic view of an imaginary past that never existed, now somehow transplanted into our ironic modern times for hipsters to wonder at. That’s the power of time-travel with which I credit these two deadly magicians. Part 2 is even more alarming. Voice elements are detectable here and it feels like human beings made this noise at some point, but it also feels like monsters and wild beasts were involved at some point. The ingenuity lies in the simple layering together of elements that don’t fit, and relentlessly bringing the thing in for landing against all the laws of sanity. I’m feeling unhinged just thinking about it…maybe there really is a “black magic” thing going on after all. As you all know, Malleus Maleficarum refers to “The Hammer of the Witches”, a 15th century guidebook for how to expose witches and then put them on trial, supposedly issued by the Catholic church. God alone knows what your basic witch-hunter would have made of these two musicians, if he’d been forced to endure this mind-melt of a cassette.

The Encrypted Gallbladder

Courtesy of the lovely Petter Flaten Eilertsen we received a bundle of goodies from Oslo. Included in the bag are four cassettes on the Kassettkultur label, proudly announcing their return after a “four year hiatus”. Among the releases is one oddity by Jono El Grande, a Norwegian composer who is entirely new to me. On the strength of Der Tod Der Gegenwartsmusik (KULT 016), however, we’re ready to award him the laurel wreath for madcap of the year, given his endearing zany antics on both sides of the tape. What greeted us was two short suites (circa. 11 mins apiece) of lively and demented stuff that freely mixes styles – pop, classical, jazz – with no reverence whatsoever, and a great sense of fun and discovery. In places it reminded us of Frank Zappa, back in the days when he knew how to have fun too; we say that because of Jono’s penchant for speeded-up tapes, strange voice interludes, excessively complex orchestration, and “impossible” speeds for musical performance. It’s possible perhaps that this work is mainly done by sampling and computer editing, but that matters not one whit when you’ve got such a tasty pizza with so many delectable toppings, served to you by a hilarious waiter on roller skates and dressed as a gorilla. Take a look at the cover art…also drawn by Jono El Grande…and you’ve got a strong visual equivalent of the music for your mental stomach to digest. This amiable loon seems to have spent much of his waking life forming “imaginary” bands and crazy music in his own mind, starting with The Handkerchiefs when he was aged ten, and a number of bands that only existed for one night – including The Terror Duo, Black Satan, The Pez Dispensers, and Acetaded Beat – before disappearing in the sky like so many fireworks. Be sure to seek out his earlier releases on Rune Grammofon and Rune Arkiv, if you find this polymath loopiness to your taste. From 19 July 2016.

Curriculum Vitae

The last tape in the envelope, which is a shame as I’ve enjoyed hearing these oddities – every one giving new and unexpected surprises, which is more than many labels can say these days. I Placca are the duo of Iritur’aràrcamu and Ben Presto, and their La La Vitea (TUTORE BURLATO #11) is a wonderful tape-jumble collage using everyday sound effects, field recordings, music, noise and what have you, creating a kaleidoscopic vision of modern life across six separate tracks. As ever with this label, the emphasis is on energy and humour combined with a decidedly skewed view of everything. Where some of the performers on this imprint shade that skewed view in darkness and grotesquerie, I Placca are more life-affirming and upbeat, and what is conveyed is that while life may be a little chaotic and hard to understand, it is not completely absurd and futile. Only once do our witty duo permit themselves to editorialise, and that’s on the final track ‘ochiesi’ which takes the sounds of the interior of a church (murmuring, whispering voices), and a choir singing a holy tune, then juxtaposes them with the bleats of a flock of sheep. A fairly obvious bit of collaging, in some ways, almost making a visual pun in sound. The chap who calls himself Iritur’aràrcamu is in fact Francesco Calandrino, whom we have heard in these pages on the Idi Di Marzo record he made with the French guitarist Jean-Marc Montera. Ben Presto is another luminary known to the world in the groups Cement Teddies, Larsen Lombriki, and Tofubibles; the duo’s common ground is that both have had works released by the Italian avant-garde label Setola Di Maiale. Matter of fact, I see they released Decidere A Te… for that label working under this same project name. It’d be nice to know who does what on this tape, given that both are clearly all-rounders when it comes to instrument performances, use of tapes, samplers, field recordings and live electronics, but on the other hand it’s also nice not to know. This is another highly enjoyable collaged vision of life that takes a lot of simple delight in finding, hearing, playing and editing sounds, without the need for processing or filtering or any of the other over-familiar digital tricks. Nice cover sketch of a strong man in red trunks and boots, too. Great!

One of nine cassettes received 4th July 2016 from Ezio Piermattei.