Tagged: cassettes

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.

Flocci Non Facio

About a jillion points shall be awarded to the cassette Gara Delle Facce (TUTORE BURLATO #09) performed by the trio Flocculi. Its members Devid Ciampalini, David Lucchesi and Ezio Piermattei turn in a two-part performance across both sides of this short tape and in the process they defy human reason with some of the uncanny zany sounds that emanate from their agitated bodies. Percussion, oscillators, guitar, voice, tape and objects are all used in imaginative ways to maximise a sense of the bizarre and a sense of fun in equal proportions, and the spirited nature of their antics doesn’t let up for a moment. I suppose there could conceivably be a danger that this form of free and open playing could easily become self-indulgent and even “wacky” in a meant-to-be-funny sense that doesn’t translate; or it could become an exercise in forced “energy” music which degenerates into the usual skittery-improv chaos and clatter. Amazingly, neither scenario comes to pass and the music remains light and fleet-footed. This may be because none of the musicians are trying to prove anything about such unhelpful notions as “extended technique” or the “value” of free improvisation, and are simply playing together in ways they enjoy. But I speculate. Ciampalini is unknown to me, and Lucchesi the guitarist has surfaced on an obscure CDR as part of DeA in 2014; but Piermattei is of course more familiar to us, not only as the owner of this tape label but as Hum Of Gnats, poisucevamachenille and Autopugno, aliases under which he has made unique and funny records which to one degree or another exhibit his obvious facility for making uncanny sounds and music with his voice, and his tape overlays. Flocculi is yet another project he can be proud of. They may never surface again as a trio, but for 30 delicious minutes here they have unleashed several exciting and tasty events in sound upon the earth, with an obvious passion and enthusiasm for their work, and everything is played with a simple transparency which is highly refreshing. Things may get noisy, but never distorted; the spirit is liberating, never chaotic. The title translates into English as “Race Of Faces”, and that’s putting it mildly. Highly recommended!

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

Muscle Tones

Next we have Sindre Bjerga’s Attractive Amplification (TUTORE BURLATO #06). One recurring feature across many of these Tutore Burlato tapes is the strong interest in tape manipulation, and Norwegian Bjerga who has been doing live on-stage cassette tape mangling for some years is clearly a natural choice for the label. This release contains two suites, ‘Flicker and Burst’ and ‘Reverse Energy’, taken from live recordings in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. We find Bjerga on fine form in both escapades, and this is an improvement on the last thing we heard, For The Automatic People on LF Records, which misfired in places. You can expect a riotous and confusing explosion of colours, sparks, and chaos; much like a firework display, except the Roman candles are laced with mild hallucinogens. Sindre Bjerga knows how to have fun and entertain an audience (in an extremely offbeat way, of course), but he also carries himself and us down uncertain and darkened pathways, where the outcome of the journey is not clear and perils may lay in store at any turn. It’s achieved through a combination of voice elements, noises, and very extreme interventions in the natural running of a tape machine; the retardation effect, caused by slowing the capstans, is something he is determined to make into his own signature sound. Like Lovely Honkey, he also shares a similar interest in changing old pop music cassettes for fun and profit, creating his own warpoid brand of off-the-cuff karaoke singing right there in the room. The total effect of all these strategies is almost certain to affect your brain in strange ways, and derail logical thought processes.

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

The Non-Existent Knight

The cassette Sharp Intake Of Breadth (TUTORE BURLATO #07) by Lovely Honkey is the next item I’ve pulled from the big July bag sent here by Tutore Burlato. This surreal and queasy mess is another recording which seems very much like something Ezio Piermattei would favour, and seems to occupy similar areas of strange humour and indigestible noise, arrived at by means of tape manipulation, layering, and juxtaposition of unrelated elements. Plus there’s the grotesque voice, which on more than one occasion resembles someone being seriously ill – groaning, howling, and clearly on the point of vomiting out their intestines. Lo-fi noise, broken electronics, damaged cassette tapes, and heaven knows what else – the detritus of modern consumerism is meat and drink to Lovely Honkey in his quest to reduce all around him to absurdity. What always impresses me about this sort of thing is the deliberation and poise with which the lunatic in question goes about their task, proceeding slowly and carefully through the rituals of their inexplicable antics. Thick, acoustic porridge noise-spew results, a potage which lays heavily on the belly of the listener. One other aspect of the Lovely Honkey plan is to ridicule pop music history to an extreme degree, and the singer’s nightmarish deconstruction of Black Lace’s ‘Superman’ (an easy target if ever there was) on side A here is not something you will forget in a hurry. The cover artworks also contain insights into the warped, visceral humour of this creator – look closely at the front cover to examine the background to this knight in armour, and you may do a small double take. Can’t find out much factual information about Lovely Honkey, although he has performed and recorded with Neil Campbell and may in fact be half of Acrid Lactations; other releases have surfaced since 2008 on Poot Records, Total Vermin, and Chocolate Monk.

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