Decay in a Box

The American label Helen Scarsdale Agency is greatly favoured by both this reviewer and nausika, and we’ve both had kind words to utter about the many exploits of Jim Haynes and his associates. In 2019 they’ve seen fit to issue a large-scale survey of the type of process noise that appeals to the label aesthetic, and put it out on 10 cassette tapes in a boxset. Before me I have the promotional CD for On Corrosion (HMS050) which features just ten cuts drawn from the larger collection, which I think pretty much amounts to ten full albums by the chosen contributors. I’d like you to note the title, which sums up quite neatly the continuing “theme” (if indeed there is one) of Haynes’ interest in life and art; he’d like to try and study decay and disintegration, and if possible capture some of its fascinating ravages on tape. A cursory glance through any one of his numerous releases of wonderful noise should be enough to convince even the non-initiate of the seriousness of his claims. This promo CD arrives adorned with suitable images, in case the point is not clear. The wrecked car on the front cover is one such, almost transformed into a species of sculpture by the context of its location in a bleak desert area with wire fences; the brown sand alone makes it a colour-field painting on a grand scale. Open up the triple gatefold of this pack for another car wreck, this time a vehicle flattened out into the shape of a once-lethal shark, now resting at the ocean bed of a junk heap with concrete blocks nearby for lunch. Powerful images for sure.

While Helen Scarsdale Agency has done the “ambient process drone” thing over time, especially in site-specific settings, this whole set leans heavily in favour of raw noise, post-industrial poundage, and the psychologically disturbing. Of the sample tracks here I much enjoyed ‘Punkt’ by Neutral, an abrasive hunk of Swedish rock-guitar noise with harsh vocals from Dan Johansson of Sewer Election with Sofie Herner. If the whole of Lagliv is as strong as this belter, you’ll need fireproof googles just to put it in the player. Alice Kemp, the UK sound artist, is allotted two cuts on this sampler, testament to the esteem in which her work is held; she’s new to me, though Stuart Marshall recommends her work (e.g. Fill My Body With Flowers And Rice). Hearing these two psychotic chillers, which cause hackles to rise on the back of my shaving brush, it’s no surprise to find she’s worked with the Schimpfluch-Gruppe, who are no strangers to darkness and terror.

Speaking of women artists making nightmarish post-industrial noise, nice to see She Spread Sorrow (Alice Kundalini) here too. As you know her record for Cold Spring made a strong impression with this listener. The icy calm with which she delivers her vengeful murmurs here assures me that a stiletto to the abdomen is only a heartbeat away. If you too welcome the inclusion of more women in the terror-industrial zone, you’ll be glad to see Relay For Death and their Mutual Consuming album. It seems these twin sisters Roxann and Rachal have a thirst for “bleak nihilism”. The six-minute excerpt here is a strong contender for icy-gloom epic of this season. Also more Schimpfluch connections to be found on Marc Zeier’s (appearing here as G*Park) piece, an excerpt from Nosode. Nosode is shaping up to be a bundle of dark tremors without pareil, making much use of treated voices and field recordings alongside sinister creaking sounds, with aim of implying violence and terror to unsettle listener.

Francisco Meirino is strong on the process-based approach to noise generation, regaling us with choice tidbits from his collection of damaged tape reels. Another process-heavy group is Fossil Aerosol Mining Project, an American agency whose previous well-crafted work has been much enjoyed in these quarters. With world governments finally beginning to acknowledge a global crisis in the environment, it’s good to see that the Fossils – with their strong recycle-everything ethos – were ahead of the curve all along.

Also good: pinkcourtesyphone, with a characteristic long-form drone of subdued mystery, and Himukalt, another women noise artist who is intent on wreaking vengeance on an indifferent world, Her ‘I Was Never Here’ is an excoriating end-of-relationship blast of hate, leaning heavily on a nasty echo chamber and ferocious thumping sounds to drive its point home. A righteous update on 1990s table-noise fer sure…

I’d love to have the 10-cassette box of this set in my grasping tongs, but for now this sampler will keep afloat my yearnings and yen for post-industrial noise and gloom tempered with eerie process-drones, decaying tapes, and psychotic episodes. From 24th October 2019.

Official product image from label website