Tape music is often so engaging to listen to purely because of its inherent physicality; artists work with sound in one of its most versatile tangible manifestations, looping and yanking and scraping it across the magnetic heads. These verbs—especially “yank”—are fitting when describing the first track on More Than This, Providence-based musician Dave Public’s most recent solo release. On “Same Old Scene,” distorted clatter, gargles, and other unintelligible noises are manipulated with merciless irreverence, and a tremendously disorienting and immersive effect is created by the way in which all of the sounds seem to be constantly being pulled in every direction at once. “Prairie Rose,” a more reserved composition that serves as a foil to its much rowdier predecessor, takes the same traits in an entirely different direction. While “Same Old Scene” envelopes the listener with dynamic chunks of gunk unfurling across the stereo space, “Prairie Rose” spreads itself out like a gossamer cloud, drifting along at a pace not nearly as frenetic or restless. “NL51217” is a logical conclusion to the tape, a 2017 performance in North Carolina that spans the entirety of Public’s repertoire amidst overwhelming collages of muddled field recordings, surreal sound poetry, and gelatinous muck.
Dark, hypnotic, and at times downright scary, Sufferer doesn’t relinquish its strangling hold save for the more reserved interlude track “Sparrow,” which is still shrouded in the same oppressive, nocturnal atmosphere as the more aggressive songs. Bathed in resonant low end and waves of distortion, Apostle’s palette of crushing blast beats, meditative rhythmic repetitions, and infectious breakdowns is united by an all-consuming production style. Bassist Cameron Austin’s vocals seem to originate from less metallic influences, and most of the lyrics are pretty easily discernible within his desperate, strained shouts, but they sound even more despairing as they struggle to escape the gravitational pull of the massive instrumentals. The band works up quite a racket for a three-piece, structuring their endeavors around droning blankets of guitar fuzz and relentless pounding drums. An overwhelming feeling of impending doom takes hold on “Nearer My,” some seriously nightmarish heights are reached on “Amor Eterno,” and the full potential of Apostle’s eclectic formula is reached with “Stasis,” a monster of a track that lulls with slowly developing grooves before crashing down into an insane climax.
As members of Reynols and Volcano the Bear, respectively, Alan Courtis and Aaron Moore are no stranger to outsider music. Throughout each musician’s career with those bands, their solo work, and a host of other collaborative endeavors (Dragon or Emperor, Guignol, Mutantea, Textile Orchestra, the list goes on), they’ve examined and worked with countless unusual sound sources, techniques, and performance settings. 2283 is their fifth release from the pair’s ongoing duo project, almost entirely recorded during a brief meeting at Moore’s apartment in New York, and sees the two artists both composing and improvising with toy instruments, primitive electronics, percussion novelties, and their own voices. It’s a bizarre and magnetic amalgam of minimalist free music and occult folk headspace, with each track falling somewhere between either end of that strange spectrum. The A side is quite reserved, the soft clatters, rattles, and rings swathed in a cloak of heavy silence; the space of Moore’s residence is a significant addition to the music, and through its lens the duo’s odd sonic interactions are even more elusive. The following side is more eclectic, with the almost pretty fingerpicked guitar and muttered vocal gravel of “347” and tribal ambience of “296” evoking my favorite Volcano the Bear moments, and though the final two tracks were produced by Courtis using overdubs there’s no drastic shift in presence that reduces or overshadows the impact of what came before.
Joe Murray, who performs and releases music as Posset, is one of the most prolific magnetic tape manglers active today. The strangled spoken words, gurgling mouth sounds, and disjointed dictaphone manipulations that pervade his work are more than capable of creating an enrapturing and very distinct atmosphere (see Totally Corporate!, one of my favorite records last year) but don’t seem to be the most versatile sound materials in a live improvised setting. A Jar Full, which sees Murray collaborating with avant-garde cellist and and artist Charlie Ulyatt, pretty much obliterates that assumption. Comprised of tracks made both through long-distance correspondence as well as direct live recording, the tape presents a pairing of instruments that hardly seems effectual… yet the results are astounding. The first side, composed of three tracks created by each musician playing over recordings sent by the other, documents a treasure trove of whimsical, dynamic improvisations, traipsing and trampling through typical duo conventions as Ulyatt’s bow squeals and percussive extended techniques call out, respond, and intermingle with Murray’s fast-paced cut-ups and impatient playback alterations. The untouched silence that squirms between the awe-inspiring conversational moments of “At This Lost Hour” and crippled cries of “High Head” is abandoned on “At the Angel,” the final track, which documents the duo’s first in-person live performance. It’s a restless, scrabbling conclusion to the tape, the audible space of the venue providing a welcome counterpoint to the claustrophobic sterility of the first side.
Apathetic, disastrous scourges on the planet though they are, human-made urban sprawls have the ability to produce some truly gorgeous sounds. On Across the Empty Lot, Japanese sound artist Shuta Hiraki documents two occasions of astute, attentive environmental listening, in practice simply capturing construction on a bridge and its surroundings but in actuality immortalizing a sublime instance of natural harmony. The unprocessed presentations that span the two sides of Across the Empty Lot are dominated by a persistent tonal drone that weaves itself through auxiliary intrusions of rustling leaves, chirping birds, distant voices, and the clatter of the construction itself. Similar to Ludwig Berger’s work Cargo, the spatial resonance of industrial processes (in this case, cement mixers) at a distance creates this almost organ-like hum, which provides an unexpected yet undeniable musical backbone for the other elements that appear in the recordings. Though already far from a trivial field recording, the meditative, calming effect of Across the Empty Lot is amplified by Hiraki’s faithful conveyance of such a beautiful sonic event.
Unlike The Invaders, the other Modelbau tape from this year I’ve heard, there isn’t nearly as much sonic permanence to be found in A World of Difference. Here, the seasoned, prolific musique concrète master works with fleeting rhythms, reverberations, and pulses, constantly projecting new elements into the mysterious worlds he creates. It’s not impatience or indecisiveness that lurks behind these unusual choices, nor do they lead to a lack of cohesion; instead, the effect is an endlessly evolving and shifting sound construction, a jittery, surreal collage of disparate injections that keeps you on your toes. De Waard’s segmented approach manifests as music that is difficult to describe summarily because of how unpredictable and disjointed it ends up being. The two fifteen-minute sides of the tape pulls together auditory items in an episodic fashion, progressing from decaying, low fidelity synth chords and mangled radio extracts to blasts of white noise and moments of textural tactility on the first to stretches of unadulterated field recording, unusually mixed folk music loops, and some truly strange electronica on the second. Like the cover, where aggressively uniform, flat, digital graphics are superimposed upon a distorted photograph, the music on A World of Difference is a disconcerting and inexplicably intriguing hodgepodge of contradictory ingredients.
No particular idea or central theme going on here other than all of these tracks being loud, harsh, and mercilessly deafening. Enjoy forty minutes of thought-drowning noise.
00:00. Systems. – “Stachybotrys” from Black Mold (Putrescent Tapes, 2018)
06:56. ltmrs – third untitled track from Improv (KV&GR, 2019)
07:37. Final Machine – A_R_1 (self-released, 2018)
17:23. T.E.F. – “Urnd” from Corrugation (Pitchphase, 2004)
20:22. Jugendwerkhof – “Blutstätte I” from Blutstätte (Low Life High Volume, 2018)
24:07. Halflings – “Secret” from Cough It Up (Friendship Bracelet, 2006)
27:24. Tinnitustimulus – “Tomanowos” from Roquefort (Anti-Everything, 2019)
32:22. Zebra Mu – “Sword Wielder” from Psychic Ditch (Tunnel Secret, 2018)
37:17. Pseudocommando – excerpt from A Home Beneath the Floorboards (Noise Virus, 2018)