Among many other things about the fascinating pursuit of phonography, I’m especially interested in the argument that there is more to the identity of a particular identity than simply the sound it captures. As Salomé Voegelin’s Wire article “Collateral Damage” puts so succinctly, artists who abide by this philosophy are “challenging the myth of the invisible figure with a microphone in work that celebrates presence rather than absence.” None would support this more than Kate Carr, whose various experiments in the areas of intersection between sound, place, and people deal heavily with the role of an individual in the auditory profile of their environment. “City of Bridges,” her newest piece, brings together sound documents gathered in the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, with live manipulations of materials such as magnetic tape, zither, and wires. Not only does Carr make her recordings of cafes, vibrating structures, and various other vignettes entirely her own with her unique ear for incidental harmony, but the live mixing method used to construct “City of Bridges” gives it a whole new dimension of organic individuality. Soft, brooding drones expand and contract amidst quiet rattles and whispers, tension is eased with soothing sounds of muffled conversation and brief musical samples… despite the undeniable distance introduced via the deconstruction of the recordings, the city feels like it’s just outside the window, rivaling even the urban intimacy of I Ended Out Moving to Brixton.
On 2017’s People Pleaser, abstract percussionist and improviser Will Guthrie combined the intricate drum patterns of releases like Sticks, Stones and Breaking Bones with the irreverent electroacoustics of experiments such as Spear to create a unique hybrid of styles, a colorful and unpredictable collage of clashing sounds that easily became one of my favorite albums not just that year, but ever. After some forays into collective improvisation on 2017’s Cheval Rétréci with the titular duo and Junko Hiroshige and last year’s spectacular Mosquitoes and Crabs with Hong Chulki, as well as the Dream Spink cassette that delved back into his pure-percussion roots, Guthrie re-examines his arsenal of tactile clangs, fractured electronics, and other instruments on Some Nasty. While this tape is still a mishmash of a wide variety of elements, its combinations are much less schizophrenic than on People Pleaser, instead adopting a more meditative ambience that presides over the clatter. This is especially apparent on the B side, where some particularly hypnotic sounds similar to that of steel drum frame Guthrie’s steadily accelerating drum attacks, into which fleeting bits of distorted feedback are also woven. I’d love to know what exactly his recording process is, because there’s no way he’s playing all of these things at the same time, but it sure as hell sounds like he is. Despite the newfound reticence of Some Nasty, it fortunately doesn’t abandon the entertaining surrealism that made People Pleaser so great; especially on side A, with its ambling rhythmic interplay and bizarre voice samples, the fun is still here.
As with the Crackle! mix I posted a bit ago, this one has a record that sort of exemplifies the concept. In this case, it’s Reynols’ 2000 release Blank Tapes, a collection of sublime collages constructed from the amplified sounds of the titular materials. To work with magnetic tape as a sound production source is to also work with insubstantiality, to carefully manipulate a fragile medium to repeat, change the speed, or otherwise alter a variety of sounds, and nothing captures that tenuous atmosphere than the use of tapes with hardly any recorded sound at all. This mix assembles my favorites of these adventures into the barest and most delicate of sonorities.
00:00. Reynols – second untitled track from Blank Tapes (Trente Oiseaux, 2000)
06:42. kNN – first untitled track from Several Audio Tests for Magnetophones and Magnetic Tapes (Falt, 2018)
11:18. Darksmith – “One” from Gypsy (Mom Costume, 2014)
14:15. Graham Lambkin – “Tape 2 (2001)” from Draining the Vats (Pineapple Tapes, 2006)
18:16. Andrea Borghi – “Entertainment – Omaggio a D.F. Wallace” from Musica per Nastro (Spectropol, 2012)
19:58. Giovanni Lami – “PPK4” from Bias (Consumer Waste, 2016)
26:57. Brian John Mitchell – “28” from Slang Vol. 3 (Veduin Hiss, 2018)
30:48. Termite Acropolis – “A Character to Develop New Moles” from Dedication in Vinegar (Round Bale, 2016)
34:51. Diurnal Burdens – “Cessation” from Cancelled Tangents (Falt, 2019)
I’m sure many of you would agree that record labels, even small independent ones, are often the source of the some of the most eye-rollingly hyperbolic and pretentious pieces of music description out there. I get it, you have to push the music, but personally, hearing that this release is “the end of forty years of hardcore’s aim” or that it’s “an aural abomination of near-incomprehensible horror” (yes, those are both real quotes) isn’t going to sell me on anything. On the other hand, the owners are often the best equipped to write about releases, because they are hopefully passionate enough about the music to distribute it. I think this is the case with Polish tape label Pawlacz Perski, who really nail it with their description of Ostrowski’s newest outing Further Fluctuations as an artificial entity that “gradually begins to behave like a living organism and make unpredictable decisions.” Though the album is firmly planted in its electronic beat music roots, with soft, bleepy percussion loops slowly evolving amidst ambient elements, there’s also an acute natural quality that goes beyond the beats themselves. The way Ostrowski layers several at a time to create kinetic amalgams with their own autonomy, flowing freely past any rhythmic constraints to approach complete fluidity. From the dizzying bedlam of “Chaotic Inflation” to the soothing atmospheres created by centerpieces “Projection” and “Cepheid,” Further Fluctuations is a lush tour-de-force.
The first release I heard from Naps, the ambient project of Philadelphia artist Jason Calhoun, was his split with Ben Lovell’s Lung Cycles. While both sides impressed me, I was immediately drawn to the delicate atmospherics of Naps’ drones and field recordings, the two components introducing beauty both on their own and through their textural interactions. Better to Give picks up right where the split left off, with Calhoun exploring how found sound can affect and alter the presence of the ambience he so masterfully constructs. “Blind” is an almost disarming introduction, with closely captured crackles and crunches of leaves establishing an unusual contrast with the weightless drone that lurks behind. Better to Give doesn’t waste time with aimless experimentation, though; other than some tape hiss and occasionally tactile recordings, the pieces are dominated by Naps’ trademark sublime, seraphic tones that seem to simultaneously shift and stay the same. This isn’t meant to understate the value of the more abstract inclusions. Rather, Calhoun elects to accompany his sleepy hums with just the right amount of auxiliary elements to keep the tracks engaging, allowing for Better to Give to score a late-night drifting off or a midday reading session with equal effectiveness.
Although Italian composer and sound enthusiast Renato Grieco has an impressive resume in the world of contemporary sound art—his musical and artistic ventures include Double Goocher Shop, whose self-titled tape on Regional Bears was one of my favorite releases last year; countless collaborations with improvisers and electroacoustic musicians such as Giovanni Lami, Valerio Tricoli, Olivier di Placido, and Elio Martusciello; and the founding of the Phonurgia association with fellow artists SEC_, Giulio Nocera, and Andrea Bolognino—his solo offerings are surprisingly few and far between. Other than a short cassette on Falt last year, Alta Moda Animale is Grieco’s only studio release on which he is the sole composer. And considering how amazing it is, I hope it will be the portent of many more. The word that primarily comes to mind across the seven adventurous pieces is “deconstructive”; Grieco breaks down recordings of anything from musical performances, in which he plays double bass with several other musicians, to abstract electronic cut-ups and mysterious vocal samples both organic and synthesized. My favorite moment has to be the end of “Matta Nettipattam,” where a robotic text-to-speech voice mechanically imitates a drum beat with disjointed utterances of “kick… snare… snare… kick snare…” The ceaselessly eclectic LP recalls the surreal machinations of classic musique concrète, the indiscriminate dada collages of LAFMS heavyweights like Le Forte Four and Joseph Hammer, and a host of other notable influences, but ultimately Grieco carves out a niche that is all his own, finding unmatched beauty in the disorientingly disparate.
Since their formation in 2011, French quintet Pauwels (from what I can gather, their ranks increased from four to five members when drummer Bob K joined in 2013) has populated their discography with a somewhat sparse but unquestionably consistent series of releases. Perhaps the best of these is 2015’s Elina, certainly my favorite from the band, which embodied the zenith of their eclectic blend of raucous noise rock, meditative grooves, and elements borrowed from a wide variety of genres such as sludge metal and hardcore punk. Poena Cullei is Pauwels’ first release since their split with Uns in 2016, is an extremely well-recorded live performance that burrows even further into that hypnotic rhythmic sensibility. The forceful drumming sculpts the band’s noise-laden soundscapes of guitar feedback and electronics into driving motorik and complex tribal pulses, and all five members display a knack for knowing exactly when to release the tense atmospherics they’ve so masterfully constructed and embark on headbang-worthy percussive excursions. The almost pensive nature of many of the drum patterns make Poena Cullei feel much more elusive and mysterious than the albums that preceded it, a marked evolution in presence that perfectly complements the band’s indefatigable idiosyncrasies.