How to Slow Down Time / Robot Arms

Package of cassette tapes from Rinus van Alebeek sent from Berlin. It seems like we haven’t received anything from Staaltape since June 2020, and the very provocative Make Incest Great Again. But Rinus assures us that since moving to a new address, with more space, that he’s “back on the production line”.

The Anna tape is credited to Angelo Bignamini, an Italian fellow who we heard not long ago with his 8 Doublings for the Kirigirisu Recordings label. The cover is decorated with a familiar collage mix of newspapers and coloured tissue paper, while the inlay describes how the project came to be. I think we’re reading excerpts from an email exchange between Rinus van Alebeek and Angelo Bignamini. The founder of the Staaltape label is asking for “an impression of the next six months”, alluding to how things like the passage of time, the changing of the seasons, changes to one’s own personal life, can all be manifested as sound. The Italian creator’s interest is piqued, but it’s the long-term aspect of the plan that causes him to bridle slightly. Yes, he’s always creating and collecting snippets of sound – a perfect candidate for a “diary” project like this one – but he tends to process them instantly, rather than saving them up for a time-lapse study.

As it happens, he discloses, there are significant changes underway in his life and a certain amount of personal and physical upheaval is bound to result. “Everything will end up on the beach as usual”, he muses with a philosophical shrug at the vicissitudes of life. Angelo Bignamini expects that, over this six-month period, he will lose focus and maybe even forget why he’s collecting the tapes in the first place; and Rinus appears to be delighted with this prospect. “Losing the overview is part of the idea,” he writes by way of encouragement. I think it’s important to bear all of the above in mind when listening to this melange of field recordings, which may appear disconnected and even somewhat vague; in fact, every moment is somehow charged with a strange glow of significance, an annotation to an event which even Angelo himself has probably forgotten about – even though he was there at the time, presumably, to at least turn on the tape machine. As well as the meandering mix of music, speech, field recordings and other unknowns, there are odd glitches – tape wobble seems to be one favourite, unexpected speed changes another, along with the shifts in timbre resulting from these overlays, edits, and fades. Plus there’s the added Rinus twist of printing the finished album onto a pre-used commercial cassette tape, with the possibility of previous audio artefacts leaking in.

A charming and slightly dreamlike snapshot, or a series of snapshots, results; I’m finding it more rewarding than the mosaic snippets of 8 Doublings, and possibly it’s been a good outcome from the collaborative process for Angelo Bignamini to relinquish a degree of control. Anna, partially by accident and partially by design, is a revealing portrait built on depicting the process of change, from a very subjective point of view.

The second item is a split between Rinus van Alebeek and Toni Nakamura. On his side, Rinus offers “N”, based on recordings made in the Taranta area in Italy two years ago. Apparently it’s the final instalment in his “Noia-Noi-No” series, a work whose preceding parts seem to have eluded us. Texturally, it’s an astonishing listen, making use of wild extremes of noise contrasted with silence, and distorted recordings of things that make the familiar outside urban world appear alien, strange, even threatening. Van Alebeek always has a “nose” – and an ear – for seeking out the less obvious sources for field recordings, unlike so many other phonographers and documentarian types who settle for the everyday and the banal. He deliberately makes a virtue of defects in the recording process – tape wobble, distortion, clunky edits, strong variations in timbral shifts – emphasising them, even, in order to produce artistic statements and singular visions of the world around us. Almost every unexpected sound on this tape, evidently sourced from somewhere in the real world in real time, can be taken as a sign and meaning of something else. It’s not unlike the process used by Iain Sinclair, when he “reads” a wall in Hackney and assumes that the graffiti has just as much meaning as a street sign, a torn poster, and any other word he sees to which he can apply his literary mind. However, Rinus van Alebeek is not limited to reading words; and his free-associative, half-dreaming approach allows him to make many more unusual connections, and more effectively too. Tune in to “N” to learn something useful about the state of the cities, the condition of now; and try and apply the lessons to your own environment.

Toni Nakamura occupies the B side with “Robot Music”, 10 separate tracks of baffling noisy recordings, captured on the streets of Reggio Calabria and Messina. I think this one is in fact released on the Lonktaar label in Italy, run by Michele Mazzani and a magnet for all sorts of obscure and intense noise. He tells us that Toni Nakamura has never made a record before and this is his debut; he lives in the countryside near Reggio Calabria with his family, and has been collecting these sounds from the streets for about 20-30 years. It’s a perfect compliment to Rinus’s A side – plenty of distortion and recasting of familiar urban sounds into horrible noise, but if anything Nakamura is more surreal and, at times, more nightmarish. He seems to see everything around him as a parade of absurdity, a Dante-esque vision of bizarre and Hellish escapades. Found music, and found voices, are transformed into disturbing episodes, all the more unsettling for being slightly familiar. The fast edits and multiple layers of these fast-moving tableaux also contribute to the intoxicating effect, such that “Robot Music” soon starts to appear like a very bad acid trip, one crazy hallucination after another. I also like his somewhat “untutored” approach to analogue tape assembly manipulation, which is very raw and untidy, and makes the A side of this tape appear positively artistic in its careful craft of juxtapositions. Toni Nakamura is not out to shock us with noise, nor does he intend to terrify us with industrial visions of an urban Hell, but his work has an uncanny power.

Both of these creators have found currents of pulsing energy in the environment, surging away in the places where we least expect to find them. Rinus Van Alebeek may think we can harness this energy, and channel it; Toni Nakamura just loves the chaos of it. Recommended, if you can find a copy.

Both the above from 7th March 2022.