Tagged: field recordings

Shadows and Light

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Last noted the Norwegian free-noise-rock-a-boodle combo Staer with their self-titled release on Discorporate Records, and here they are again with another aggressive blast of bass-heavy riffing and attack-mode drumming on Daughters (HORSE ARM RECORDS HAR CD10). The threesome of Kristoffer Riis, Markus Hagen and Thore Warland are joined by sax player Kjetil Möster for these 2012 live-to-tape studio sessions, and it’s a joyously black-toned blast of unkempt splurginess which spills out from their collective blowhole, where feedback, reverb units and bass drums tend to rule the roost, and the keynote emotion is a hearty embrace of despair and pain. Look elsewhere if you want remorseless stoner or grindcore sludge played by formulaic rules; Staer are much more “artistic”, and have a strong concern with using their musical limbs to perform clever dynamics and acrobatics, in the form of stop-start rhythms and illogical guitar stabs. They also like to control their excessive noise bursts, causing them to jump like fish on a line. It takes some nerve on their part to title one of their tunes after a line from a favourite Bowie song (‘Flashing Teeth of Brass’), but I’ll overlook this. A good avant-stomper for your elephant boots, and packaged in a silkscreened box thing. A vinyl edition is also available from Gaffer Records.

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A curious work is Lemuria (CRÓNICA 083-2013), a collaboration between the sound artist Enrico Coniglio from Venice and the photographer and field recordist Giovanni Lami of Ravenna, here working as the duo Lemures. The record is a puzzling mix of field recordings and minimalist drones, and you know how commonplace such methods are these days. So perhaps on one level this is nothing very special, and yet the scant aural information they give us is presented in such a very deliberate order that it does implant strange impressions in the brain. It’s as though we’re just hearing the traces of an event that has long since passed, or are being given a handful of unconnected clues to solve a complex detective story. An episode of CSI in sound; aural forensics.

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Ryoji Ikeda for me bestrode the late 1990s like a colossus, except that he did it entirely in digital sound rather than standing bodily over the entrance to a major port with his mighty legs astride. His Matrix album for the Touch label was one of the highlights of punchy minimal precision in electronic music for the year 2000, and if he’d been left to design the world’s millennial fireworks exhibitions, he’d have done everything with advanced virtual reality techniques, setting off Roman Candles of the mind that would have amazed half of Europe with their neatly-arranged orange patterns bursting across the night sky. Well, it’s probably fair to say he’s found his spiritual home on the Raster-Noton label, and his Supercodex (RASTER-NOTON R-N 150) is the latest item for that label – the last one we heard was Test Pattern in 2008, and it so happens Supercodex is the final part of a trilogy which began in 2005 with Dataplex. Apparently all the music here is constructed from cannibalised versions of his own earlier works, plus other art installation pieces thrown into that cauldron, and portions of his current Superimposition project too. When other musicians do this kind of “melting pot” rendition of their own recent history, we can usually expect a sticky gumbo of over-processed nonsense, but Ikeda avoids the problems that can arise from pointless statement and restatement, and somehow manages to pare everything about his work back to the fundamentals. The essence of his work, already ultra-minimal to begin with, is recast here in a form that’s even more clean, white, and precise. If he was a chef in a fish restaurant, I’m confident that he could fillet a large bluefish in 20 seconds, using sharp stainless steel knives and laser beams, and then repeat the process to produce the fillet of a fillet. At the end of this culinary experiment, there might not be much food on your plate in terms of cubic volume, but it’d be full of compacted goodness – one bite of it would nourish you for 48 hours. There’s also some concern to explore the sound of data and the data of sound, which probably means he’s capable of rearranging the parameters of a sound file using a hexadecimal editor. If any of the above is true, or makes any sense, then Supercodex lives up its name – a super-music, a species of futuristic hyper-music built out of its own source code.

I’m Lost: losing and then finding oneself in five expansive sound dramas

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Tarab, I’m Lost, 23five Incorporated, CD 23five 019 (2014)

Well if Eamon Sprod is lost in this album, what hope is there for the rest of us as we try to follow him about on this set of field recordings all chopped up, fragmented, distorted and amped up to an extreme? – but no matter how far the soundscapes take us, we somehow find our own points of reference in recognisable sounds. The album’s seemingly modest and low-key title turns out to be deliberately layered: “I’m Lost” could be interpreted in a narrow physical sense but it could also be read in other ways. There is the loss you feel when you lose loved ones or your relationships break up either intentionally or through neglect or simply because the other people have moved on. There’s the loss you feel when your youth becomes a distant memory and familiar objects, cultural and technological items associated with your generation and knowledge are superseded by other cultural ephemera and become obsolete. There is loss on a greater scale as well: buildings are demolished to make way for new ones, industries change and certain kinds of work become redundant, valuable history and advice are forgotten, countryside is submerged under cables and concrete, and the world is soon brought to the brink of another global war by yet another lot of incompetent politicians and their unseen puppet-masters. (Well at least one thing doesn’t change!) Through this work of five meditative pieces, Tarab demonstrates that the concept of loss contains within itself an openness and potential for creativity and inventiveness as new associations, directions and goals are free to form and connect.

The album is at once quiet and noisy as scraps of unrelated field recordings of industry, the natural world, domestic life and urban environments are pashed together with no thought for how they blend (or not) together. Of course the more you listen to this recording, the more your ears and brain start to accept the unusual and random juxtapositions for what they are, and structures and links arise spontaneously in the music that are unique to it and to your ears. Other listeners will make their own associations. In this way, you’ll find your own supports in the music but they’ll be unique to you as a listener.

Listeners become aware of the environments in which they live and the detritus they unthinkingly leave behind. The lost and forgotten, the things that seem innocuous at first but which have serious consequences for us later on (things like plastic rubbish left on the ground, scooped up by the wind or washed through stormwater drains into the ocean where it might choke a sea animal that swallows it), the things we try to ignore or forget but which have a habit of annoying us and demanding our attention … Tarab scoops all these up into these five expansive and highly absorbing sound dramas.

Repeated spins of the album do eventually result in your finding yourself as a unique being, free of all past associations and structures. Isn’t that a paradox, that to know and find yourself, you have to be lost?

Contact: 23five Incorporated

A Brushcodile’s Scales

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Two more delightful lovely records from Kayaka, the Japanese creatrice who is Kaya Kamija and sent these along from her Berlin address in October 2013, both modest in presentation yet quite profound and inventive in their musical scope. It so happens they are both released on Ostroga Records, a micro-label based in Russia, one of whose packaging strategies apparently include fastening the sleeves together with staples or sellotape. Silvestre (OSTROGA OTR-025) was made in Galicia during 2012, and may reflect something of Kayaka’s experiences travelling / dwelling in that part of Spain, not that you would know as the odd music we hear is not especially “Spanish” in tone and more resembles a psychedelic version of gamelan crossed with other exotic world music, what with its quarter-tones, irregular rhythms, and assorted non-Western idioms. A one-woman production, I expect it’s been realised with her intuitive and mysterious approaches to playing her electronic devices, creating percussion loops out of unlikely sources, and blowing her clarinet – which she does with the colour-sense of a Henri Matisse cut-out and the free brushstrokes of a Franz Kline. What a unique sound she wrings from that woodwind stick – if only she’d lived at a time when Rudy Van Gelder could’ve captured that sound at Englewood Cliffs along with a crisp rhythm section. But there may be some field recordings and found music too; it’s hard to be sure, due to the hazy mix and dreamy tone of the album. Yes, it’s a pleasant dream too. Each track stands alone as a piece in its own right, creating a unique mood or tone-poem, evoking beautiful landscapes and nature-visions, quite often populated with colourful beasts such as the “brushcodile”, the “salamandra del portal”, or the charmingly eccentric “cows on a river”. If those cows aren’t standing on the surface of said river of their own volition, I’d be deeply disappointed. Gentle, understated, but Silvestre is daringly innovative in places and emerges as uniquely her own work. For more of her bass clarinet work, may we recommend Bass Clarinet Songs if you can find a copy.

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Estol Voice / Untitled Mix (OSTROGA OTR-022) is a split album where Kayaka turns in six unusual cuts on her half, Estol Voice, apparently layering field recordings of childrens’ songs, chants, dialogues and clapping games on top of her self-made sounds to build elliptical, unpredictable compositions. These clonkoid rhythms she lets loose like crippled turtles in a marsh leave enormous gaps, meander down unexpected pathways, and are characterised by a slightly abrasive and peculiar “grindy” sound arising from her primitive electronics and more of those wonderfully idiosyncratic clarinet blarts. I like the rough-hewn “thrown-together” qualities of these tape assemblages, even if they are a tad less satisfying than the mysterious dream worlds of Silvestre; there is an unfinished quality which adds charm, as much as the lo-fi recording quality and the generally surreal atmosphere she concocts so elegantly. Unlike Silvestre, Estol Voice is much of a piece and effectively uses the same basic approach spread across six songs, with the exception of one cut which features a ploinky electric piano backdrop which, in this context, is about as unexpected as a purple spider dropping down the chimney on a single strand of platinum web. Vitaly Malakov‘s half of the split, Untitled Mix, is a rather uncertain journey which may combine low-key field recordings with odd static and rumbly white noise; I do like the multiple layers and the ever-shifting textures on offer from Malakov’s barbecue pit, but the captain of this airliner doesn’t appear to know where he’s flying next, apart from his preference for steering into bad weather and braving electrical storms. Still we must acknowledge that Malakov, also a member of Kromeshna and Light Collapse, is the label boss of Ostroga, so on evidence of above he’s clearly doing something right.

Climatologies Old and New

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Emptyset
Recur
GERMANY RASTER-NOTON R-N 151 CD (2013)

More masterful manoeuvring through interstitial zones of perennial instability where explosive power is condensed into potential energy and refashioned into new refinements of Emptyset’s unmistakeable dystopian techno. Even the introduction section – so commonly the dilettante’s excuse for a lie-in – affects Poseidon’s shockwave stride across a sandpaper beach. But belabouring neither the science nor the scientism behind such feats, the pair pares down all data to the point of obliqueness and lets the music do the stalking.

‘Recur’ alludes both to an impersonality – that of a natural occurrence – and elements of Emptyset’s MO: their return to Raster Noton (and to form) after their Collapsed 12” for the label in 2012, as well as the increasingly divergent orbit of their off-kilter tempos: perpetual rhythmic derailment by great white noise blasts; the tug of super-gravity on the radiant thrum of nightmare factories. The sonic possibilities may not be endless, but destructive ones are. Plus it sounds fantastic when the paper shredder’s going.

Quite averse to re-inhabiting a familiar coordinate, the hull-breaching heard hitherto is hinted at here as part of an upwardly mobile theme and variation exercise: ‘Fragment’ – to choose just once – makes this clear through the application of alternating modalities to their signature arrhythmic bursts. You may think you’ve heard this before, but listen more closely. One clear and significant differential to earlier work appears when Recur is weighed against their earlier LP, Medium, with power accruing unequivocally to the newcomer. This provides optimism for the power-up potential of future releases: (as scarcely imaginable as is that that their work could permit further refinement) which could assume increasingly diminutive proportions as Emptyset’s craft approaches singularity state.

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emiter
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POLAND MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO072 CD (2014)

Initial impressions of Polish sound artist Marcin Dymiter’s Emiter project were of Emptyset steamrolled to a steaming hiss; mechanised rhythms forsaken for more organic emanations: misshapen bulbs and tendrils sprouting from shocks of black gas that unbalance and subsume the unwary over the course of four extended pieces; the sum truly towering over the mire of so much whine-fed peer work.

I was quickly surprised to learn that Dymiter also purveys post-rock plangency as Niski Szum, whose maudlin marathon of many dour landscapes: Siedem Piesni Miejskich, I recently enjoyed reviewing. Though the sad guitar is stored in case for the time being, Air – Field – Feedback expresses a similarly peripatetic spirit: drawing the listener through subtly differing phases of the night sky, which is liable to erupt in sudden chaotic events (the titular ‘feedback’ in other words) to distract the ear from more subtle tonal changes that signal transition. The listener might not even notice for minutes at a time the extent of their drift from their last known location.

Emiter’s sources are the traditional elements: wind and sea being two components in this meteorological tapestry of varied quality recordings that interact aloofly; remaining crisp and distinct amid a climate that alternates between beatific and brutally clear. As is his wont, Dymiter carefully adorns all this with electronic pulses, textures, clippings, cuttings, blasts, drones and surging whines; adding up to an even signal-to-noise ratio and a relaxing listen that will still prevent passivity.

Zo Rel Do: a curious and intriguing mix of drone folk and electro-acoustic improv

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Mohammad, Zo Rèl Do, Antifrost, CD AFRO 2064 (2014)

Mohammad is a Greek trio employing cello, contrabass and electronics to create a curious fusion of drone folk and electro-acoustic improv. “Zo Rèl Do” is the first part of a trilogy exploring the music and sounds of the musicians’ homeland and immediate neighbouring areas in western Turkey and parts of Bulgaria and Romania.

We start off with some field recordings dominated by a solo flute melody and conversations that might have been recorded in a market-place. These are swept aside by low booming scrapey string instruments, deep and rhythmic, with a very minimalist melody loop: the music is a bit like an acoustic doom folk version of Sunn0))) at times. A scratchy spitting drone accompanies the raw and sonorous dirge-like march. The track seems very serious and solemn although there are moments when it appears not to be taking itself too seriously and almost parodies itself.

“Kabilar Mace” takes up the repetitive circular structure, applying it to a drunken seesaw melody and torments it with a nagging grinding string accompaniment. The two opposed melodies can be very amusing to listen to as one tune insists on going its own sedate way and the other buzzes around it like a jumpy pooch. The music steadily escalates to an extreme intense and quite deranged level with the odd pause or two to let off steam.

Subsequent tracks stick to the minimalist template of repetition (with variation), building up to an almost hysterical climax, and the sound lurches about clumsily as if in an empty and dark room feeling for the light-switch. One later track gives the impression of nearly falling over in a heap. “Samarina” in particular sounds a bit like the aforementioned hooded ones playing unplugged after having gone on one or two too many benders; this is probably the most memorable track in spite of it not sounding quite as accessible melodically as the others – it does have a certain mournful grace. The album concludes with what could be a barely audible recording of night crickets that might be overlooking a secret nature ritual.

While this is a fairly short recording, “Zo Rèl Do” has a massive sound and a clear ambience that emphasises the rough-hewn texture of the music. The mood alternates from bleary-eyed somnambulist slouch to solemn and serious to something suggesting a wry sense of humour at work building up the music to a near-insane, mind-transforming level. Though the music does not vary a great deal, the mood and humour behind it keep this listener transfixed, wondering what surprises these Hellenes might pull out next from within their instruments.

The thought has just occurred to me that Mohammad’s objective is to bring listeners deep into their world of native folk and other influences and to take their audiences right to the edge of infinity by mixing serious solemnity and playful teasing in equal measures. Beyond that edge, we become merged with the fabric of the cosmos itself and are at one with it.

Contact: Antifrost,  Mohammad

Polarlicht: giving us soothing low-key ambient electronic soundscapes

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Monolyth & Cobalt, Polarlicht, Time Released Sound, CD TRS041 (2014)

In spite of its name which translates from German into English as “Polar Light” and the artwork of cracking ice viewed from above, this recording is not really much of a cold and forbidding Ice Age ambient soundscape opus to be filed in among other Arctically or Antarctically inspired works; it turns out to be a slow, relaxing and gently immersive journey through glitch electronica worlds sculpted by one Mathias Van Eecloo, the man behind Monolyth & Cobalt. The recording was made in Brittany over a period of some 18 months from April 2012 to October 2013.

There may be allusions to maritime exploration on the album and the fact that the work was recorded in Brittany – an area with connections to the sea – might have some significance. “Blooming Stones” sets the tone releasing this listener to drift on gentle grey seas with rhythmic bell chimes and something of a slow undulating sea-shanty melody.  The tracks conjure up quiet landscapes of muted grey or light sandy colours where the sea raises barely more than a murmur of white wave froth and washes blue-grey up pale beaches. Even the skies are a restful pale blue colour. Not much happens and we are whisked from one track to the next to inspect new low-key soundscapes.

Track 4 promises to be a bit more interesting than previous pieces with a mechanical rhythm loop and some off-kilter noises suggesting all’s not quite calm and serene, and any moment we may run across some rusted toys or machines still able to play a melody after years of disuse and deterioration. Following after is a track where instruments seem to be more recognisable yet still unidentifiable – there could be a banjo in the music – and a sighing siren vocal is present as well. As the album progresses, the music broadens to include acoustic guitar, harmonica (or something very like it), violin and field recordings or found monologue in tracks like “Et Ces Arbres” and “Verhaal”.

The most interesting track on the whole album turns out to be “Birds (Are Some Holes in the Sky Through a Man can Pass)” which features some beautifully resonant string instruments, one of them possibly a harp or a zither, delicately trilling against a seesaw rhythm.

True, the general tone of the album rarely rises above mildly stimulating and the criticism could be made that the whole recording is just too mild and placid to hold most people’s attention. Sooner or later, someone will start wishing for something pacey and exciting, like a great white shark lurking in the unassuming grey sea. Folks with short attention spans will drift away leaving a few willing to follow Van Eecloo and to let him take his own time describing the vistas before them.

It doesn’t really matter that I fail to see the polar connection this music makes: it’s very soothing, low-key and minimal, and there are some interesting acoustic surprises in later tracks that add individuality and a distinct folksy flavour.

Contact: Time Released Sound

Some of the World around us

The lovely Mark Vernon of Glasgow duo Vernon & Burns continues to supply us with audio goodies, including a recent-ish vinyl delight called Sounds Of The Modern Hospital which I have yet to catch up with. For now though here is Framework Seasonal Issue #5 (Summer 2013), an audio periodical accompanying the Framework radio show, this issue compiled by Mr Vernon and subtitled ‘Location recordings by East Midlands tape recording clubs (1959-1978)’. On it, we have an outline of an unusual UK phenomenon from a time when enthused amateurs would make their own tape recordings, armed with portable battery-operated tape recorders, and did it in a semi-organised way by joining local “tape clubs”. Two such clubs – I had no idea these things even existed – are represented here, the Leicester Tape Recording Club and the Derby Tape Recording Club, and hence we have 40 aural snapshots and field recordings of life in the UK as captured by their roving set-ups and questing microphones, and now lovingly preserved in Vernon’s personal collection.

Unlike today’s field recording types who are mostly self-styled artists in search of some sort of mystical or aesthetic experience, these tape recording club members were simply interested in documenting things around them, much like any 20th century Brit who owned a Polaroid or Instamatic camera. They taped fairgrounds, factories, zoos, markets, trips to the beach, sports events, dances, parties, and – since it’s probably fair to say this activity isn’t too far away from the harmless pursuit of the gentle trainspotter – railway stations and trains. Some of the recordings have added live commentary from the members, an unobtrusive audio caption just to put it in context. What we hear is like a low-key form of Radio Four, except all the material is generated by the public instead of by the so-called experts, and – despite the apparent banality you might expect – it’s absolutely fascinating and a compelling listen. Given the current interest in audio recordings of under-appreciated urban sounds previously held to be too “commonplace” for our attention (The London Sound Survey is the place to start with that), this release is a timely gem.

Another dimension which Vernon calls attention to is the sound quality itself: the tapes “bear many traces of their age and origin: tape hiss and distortion, harsh pause button edits, wow and flutter.” Vernon correctly identifies these characteristics as an inherent part of the integrity of the records, and, implying that we should appreciate and enjoy these aural qualities, has done nothing to correct them or clean up the tape quality. Come to that, there is nothing in the way of editorialising or commentary in his strictly factual description of the collection, nor in the arrangement of the tracks; he has adopted a correct archival approach of objectivity in the arrangement and the presentation. That said, the collection has obviously been curated with a lot of loving care; after all, the material comes from his personal collection, and he allows the warmth and idiosyncratic personalities of these tape clubbers to shine. This is an understated release, but also an unalloyed joy. From 3rd October 2013.

More detail on the Tape Club phenomenon

It’s a thin line…

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Devin DiSanto
Tracing A Boundary
TASK RECORDS TR001 CD (2013)

This is an odd one. At first, this sounds like a fairly standard airy slab field recording. Someone, presumably DiSanto, is going about his business. We can hear the sounds of people and traffic in the background, and what sounds like DiSanto rummaging around. Occasionally there are more dissonant sounds, a loud hissing, for example, which suggests some other activity. There’s the odd twang of a guitar and ukulele at around the 35 minutes mark. Not exactly the most dynamic thing I’ve ever heard, but actually quite engaging. There’s looseness to it, a lack of focus that renders it pretty engaging, not engaging the deep listening way that you might listen to a more intense nature recording, but the kind of pleasure you get on those afternoons when you can hear the neighbours bustling around in their backyard and you can’t help but eavesdrop.

Yet there are several things that hint this might not be as lackadaisical a recording as you might expect on first listen. The first thing is the number of musicians credited on the back of the CD. Trumpet, trombone, two guitarists and a ukulele – not to mention a bass clarinet credited to DiSanto himself. Then there’s the fact that, as well as these musicians, a group of different people are credited as ‘performers’. Finally, there are the periodic vocal interventions from Desanto, mainly announcing lengths of time. So, for example, at around the 13-minute mark, he says ‘Eight minutes’.

What is going on? If I’m honest, I have no idea. But I like it. It’s as if Disanto has assembled his musicians for a Wandelweiser-style quiet performance, but one where the process of setting up and preparing to play is as important as the playing itself. By doing this, it unpicks the conventions of this kind of performance. It seems to conflate the bustling, workaday nature of preparation with the intense focus of the playing – an act which itself combines as it does the physical acts of plucking or bowing with the intellectual activity of listening and responding to other musicians – into a single plane of action.

Or it might be something completely different. There’s no talking, for one thing – apart from the aforementioned vocal interjections – which undermines my thesis that we’re eavesdropping on preparations for a performance. It’s all very mysterious. But it is a playful mystery, like Tom Waits’ ‘What’s He Building?’ as performed by the cast of The Good life. It’s something that invites us as listeners to join the dots that DiSanto has left for us, pushing us to bring our own view of what we think this piece should be. An enigmatic, beguiling and yet strangely satisfying work.

Common Bloop

Another odd package received from Tape Noise which arrived here 2nd September 2013. We’ve had a number of these over the years, most recently noted by Darren Wyngarde in a review which also brought forth a supportive comment from one Belle Blue, calling our attention to the unique position occupied by Tape Noise and his community art venue ‘No 10 Decimal Place’. For this latest bundle, Tape Noise sent us a couple of CDRs instead of cassette tapes. The usual practice, if I understand it correctly, is that each cassette tape exists in an edition of one single copy, made available for sale on eBay, under the series “ONeOFF”. These mini-CDRs also have hand-made covers, hand-decorations on the disc surface made with a Sharpie pen and with little attempt to conceal the brand of CDR. The contents, when spun, are likewise pretty inscrutable; low key murmurings, ill-defined events, field recordings that aren’t much more than eavesdropping, bizarre poetry recits, distant droney grumbling…nothing is explained, no context is given, no “track titles” or anything so boringly conventional. Not much to listen to; hardly anything to hear. I’m slowly beginning to get the sense that Tape Noise releases are about as non-musical / anti-art as it’s possible to be.

That said, there is in fact a wealth of contextual detail in the enclosed hand-written letter from Mr Tape Noise (decorated with his own doodles and drawings supplied by his young daughter), which identifies CD 1 as Common Bloop and CD2 as The Cabbage; and now that I look more closely, I can see these titles are indeed written in brio on the covers, in very small handwriting. According to these annotations, The Cabbage “starts with a live recording from a Weird Garden gig in Lincoln at Decimal Place…where a few people from up here have put together some experimental music events. Pete Rollings has helped a lot. I shall see if I can send more of his stuff to you. The other two steam engine field recordings were done in Norfolk from Yaxam and they are un-edited as I always find it so easy to lose the original quality of the recording once you start messing about with it.” I think these statements should persuade you of the seriousness of Tape Noise’s intent, and there are numerous clues provided as to his defining aesthetic.

Further indications are given in another enclosure, this one written in red ink on top of printouts from eBay pages. Here the creator reflects on the place of art in the marketplace, what “publication” actually means in 2014, how art may tend to be defined by those who buy it as much as those who create it, and what happens to the buyer and seller in the process. He positions all of this in the context of social media, mobile phones, and the web, which he claims have “really shaped the way people interact, with regard to selling their second hand goods and home made stuff, with both positive and negative attributes…it is worthy of investigation I think.” He illustrates the trend of his arguments with a diagram which proposes the marketplace as a three-tier structure, comprising Cloud Street, the High Street, and the Underground. A ruler at the side of this chart indicates some form of metric. Notice how the Underground layer contains skulls and bones within the measurable portion of the diagram, yet there seems to be even further activity taking place at a much lower level – a level which evades the scale, and is quite literally “off the map”. I have included numerous scans and photos, for the curious reader to investigate further. Suffice to say this project is asking quite pointed questions about the fugitive and intangible nature of art, yet doing so through a continuous (and presumably quite prolific) stream of tangible product.

Hermit Crabs

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Here’s a teamup between Ian Holloway, the English mystic who I think resides in Swansea, with the American fellow Banks Bailey, nomad of the Arizona desert zones. Strange Pilgrims (QUIET WORLD FORTY FOUR) is a single half-hour cut, for the most part assembled and montaged by Holloway using as a starting point a field recording of a Hermit Thrush sent to him by Banks. True poets have already identified this bird as significant; according to Walt Whitman, the Hermit Thrush stands for the voice of all Americans when he wrote a threnody on the death of Honest Abe Lincoln. Said Thrush also trills a melody in part of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. I say this to confirm smart choice on part of Banks. But that’s also a considerable burden to place on the beak of one poor bird. Can Holloway up the ante on these poetic predecessors? He’s man enough to try. He radically repurposed the song of that bird through extensive treatments, making cutups and varispeed interventions, until he had “what sounded something like a bamboo flute”. Holloway then proceeded to add his own field recordings to the tableau – mostly of a water-based nature – and additional wispy, ambient electronic drones of his own manufacture. This “blending” approach is nowadays a commonplace among many musicians and sound artists, so what I claim is distinctive about Holloway is his (a) his sense of atmosphere – Strange Pilgrims reverberates with a spooked-out, twilight vibe that verges on the occult – and (b) his deft, light touch in making these subtle assemblies. He didn’t just throw sounds together in ill-suited juxtapositions; rather, he worked hard to achieve a perfect equilibrium between the natural sounds and the electronic / digital interpolations, aiming for due diligence with the Thrush as much as the environmental feeling. He succeeded. This unassuming gem weaves a potent spell and casts a strong mood. Perfect listening for the midnight hour. Cover art is from “a found stained glass window”. I wish Holloway could have named which church he found it in, unless he found the window lying under a bramble bush. Clearly it’s modern. Maybe an ecclesiologist could identify the image for us. From September 2013.

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Recent missive from underground Italian electronics duo st. ride is Conquistare Il Mondo (NIENTE RECORDS VOLUME 11), a title which translates as “conquer the world” and which is underscored with a cover of two pennants at sea which may mean something to a mariner or swimmer; anyone well versed in flag signals is welcome to write in with useful information, please. Given the Marxist bent of these highly critical Italian creators, the title may well refer to the current state of monopoly Capitalism and its inexorable grind, but may also be an ironic comment on this band’s chances for financial success on the order of One Direction – not that they’re actively seeking same. As regular readers may know, we’re very keen on st. ride’s “primitivo” approach to belching forth fiery tranches of synthesized and rhythmic noise. What strikes me about Conquistare Il Mondo is that the abrasive edges I usually expect to hear (I have a special tin helmet which I wear when playing their records, with their name painted on the front) have been slightly mollified in favour of strange, detuned, continuous drone effects and remorseless pulsations, such that you’ve only got to put the CD on and the entire air is filled with invading flying saucers in a matter of moments. The pace and tempo varies from a torpid, malevolent gloom to a species of joyless dance music, where the practice of hopping about and rubbing your shirtless sweaty body against others in the press of the rave situation is reduced to a mechanical, meaningless action, where the exact inverse of good-time party vibes are what you take home on the ride in the cab at 4 AM. These clear-eyed sharp-headed Genoese bastards Edo Grandi and Maurizio Gusmerini may not be your go-to guys when you need a fun-loving DJ set for your 18th birthday party, but they sure as hell pass on a palpable sense of ugly, growling discontent with the modern world, without even muttering a single lyric to aid their case. All studio recordings on this one; arrived 20 September 2013.