Earth Horns / All Records Collapse

Quite an intriguing burst of dark electronic and sample noise from Violet, whose Violet Ray Gas and The Playback Singers (ZEROMOON zero008 / SENTIENT RECOGNITION ARCHIVE SRA 10) is released in a digipack covered with Futurist-inspired monochrome images full of harsh diagonals and fuzzy dreams of the machine age. Jeff Surak arrives here from Washington DC, a hero of the 1980s cassette tape scene when he used to release music under his 1348 alias and ran his Watergate Tapes label. Consequently we can hear much stern authority and grainy power in these grim process-works. My fave so far is the opener ‘All Records Collapse’, with its implacable radio voice plucked from an indeterminate Eastern European zone, but ‘Snakehead Lapping’, ‘Plague Numbers’ and ‘Marionetki’ all communicate the requisite doses of futility. Two long tracks at the end, ‘Violet Ray Gas’ and ‘Interior Ghosts’, are somewhat more musical than atmospheric, shaped from queasy long-form drones tempered with alien sounds. Surak strives to offer ‘near-silence’ and ‘full-on tonal Brutalism’, with all shades in between.

Further long-form minimalism of quite a different sort from the estimable Yoshi Wada, a significant minimalist composer whose small back catalogue has been made available in recent times by EM Records in Japan. If you’ve been following the saga of his customised bagpipe and pipe organ instruments, you’ll need Earth Horns with Electronic Drone (EM RECORDS EM1081CD / OMEGA POINT OP-0007) as another piece in the jigsaw puzzle. This 77-minute recording from 1974 never made it onto an LP; in any case it’s extracted from a much longer performance, nearly three hours long. Seiji Kakizaki’s photographs document various contemporary performances, showing enormously long pipe-horns built by Wada extending across the gallery space of The Kitchen in NYC, and even more impressively at Nassau Coliseum, where they assisted at a Merce Cunningham dance event. True, these stately and solemn long-tone drones may not have the immediate ‘grabbing’ excitement of his teeming bagpipe recordings, but the record makes good on the label boast of ‘hypnotic ritual power’. Packed in a triple gatefold wallet with the usual informative sleeve notes.

German experimenter and conceptualist Frank Rothkamm has released Frank Genius Is Star Struck (FLUX RECORDS FLX10), a record I can only describe as avant-garde disco and sample music. He put it together in 1990-1991 using Atari software to programme his samplers and synths, he calls it a ‘digital cantata’, and apparently it even has autobiographical elements layered into its wayward sounds and rhythms. I’m totally unfamiliar with the language and conventions of breaks, beats, house, old skool, and all myriad variations thereof, but even I can tell there is something fundamentally warped about this music, hearing past the surface sheen of the poppy beats to discover discordant and disturbing anti-melodies lurking within. As ever, the sleeve notes and press (quite possibly prepared by Rothkamm himself) are ambiguous, leaving it deliberately unclear as to where the joke leaves off and the conceptual art begins. “File under Dialectic Poptronics”, we are advised…

GX Juppiter-Larsen has released the letters F and G in his ongoing Zelphabet series, his attempt to subvert the language of common sense by undermining the Western alphabet, one letter at a time. On each disc, selected contemporary sound artists, mayhem merchants and noiseniks contribute a segment; the packaging gives it to us raw, no explanations, dates, press, context or anything other than a name, title, and a website address. Cover images are once again monochrome nightmares from a very dark children’s alphabet book; F for Funicular (I’m guessing), G for Gate, the latter depicting an iron gate which leads straight into a concrete wall. You have been warned. On Letter F, we have the suffocating abstract noise of Failing Lights; 20 minutes in his ‘Submarine Twilight’ will soon have you pounding on the walls of your cell, screaming for air. Fin‘s ‘Works for Magnetic Tape’ is ten minutes of deconstructed tape-editing that would make Pierre Schaeffer turn in his grave; impossible for the human ear to get a purchase on this collaged rubble, which has probably been very carefully pieced together to give the impression of sheer inchoate chaos. Francisco López‘s ‘Untitled #210’ made me think of mutated alien wolves making their way through the snow, while Frans De Waard‘s ‘Meet Melt’ sees him forsaking his usual tranquil minimalism in favour of a very busy tape construct which might have resulted from multiple overlays of sonic snapshots fetched from a shopping mall. As you can guess from all the above, opacity is the order of the day with these Zelphabet records; we really should just listen to them and unleash their hideous power, remaining ignorant of things like source material, working method, meaning, context or intent. On Letter G, we have Giancarlo Toniutti with a rather nondescript episode of formless drifting; unbearably harsh table noise from Government Alpha; utterly bewildering pranksterism from G*Park, who appears to be one of the Tochnit Aleph tricksters; a found voice-tape cut-up set to sinister music from Gregory Whitehead, which is too chilling for words; and GX Jupitter-Larsen himself, with ‘Explosion 2008’, a five-second blast which convincingly puts a full stop to everything. These Zelphabets are emerging as very strong statements, veering from stark nihilism to truly intensive gazes into the abyss of unknowability. A lot of contemporary sound artists like to imagine they can flirt with these things, but Juppiter-Larsen gives us the real deal.