Review: OMS – Twentieth Day, Tenth Month, Thirty-Eight Minutes, Forty-Seven Seconds (218, Oct 20)

Auspiciously introduced as “some histrionic bitch ambient for the ego,” the newest release from 218, my newest favorite label is just as ambitious, adventurous, and aspirational as one could possibly expect. Twentieth Day, Tenth Month, Thirty-Eight Minutes, Forty-Seven Seconds is the first and perhaps—so far—the only piece of music put out by OMS, a project about which there is absolute zero further information (other than the implied descriptors of “histrionic” and “bitch,” I suppose), and though I honestly anticipated the opposite, the barebones innocuity of the straightforward title is not at all reflected in the track itself, which is positively bursting at the seams with complexity, abstraction, and meditative maximalism. Despite evoking plenty of glorious, tranquil lethargy with its soft sweeps of expressive piano and plasticine new-age washes, “Autumn, Anno Domini” moves quite quickly, twirling and tumbling leisurely like a densely mosaicked sea turtle in a rushing ocean current; the first time, I was more than halfway through before I even really processed what was happening. There are some sharp edges here and there—sprouting boils of screeching dissonance, a jagged chunk of indulgent electric guitar noodling, hallucinatory vocal incursions—but everything always resolves in these beautiful intermittent structural wells into which the clashing, myriad assortments cascade and out of which sublime major-key distillations flow. A therapeutic think tank (the aquarium kind) for the thickheaded.

Review: Practical Uses for Worms – 电指挥官过渡 (self-released, Oct 18)

What is there to even say about 电指挥官过渡  (Electric Commander Transition)? Should I focus on enticing anyone who reads this to listen to it, or to ward them away entirely? Can one become a more complete person by burrowing into this relatively new genre that seems to finally be the absolute nadir of conventional musicality in an experimental context (“field recordings” from <20-view Youtube videos, random text-to-speech readouts, the most utterly unappetizing digital excavations possible), or is it just a fast-track to degeneracy? If you’re here, though, you probably gave up asking those questions a long time ago, so I suppose all I can do is give my fellow weirdos an idea of what you’re getting into. This seems to be the most official full-length so far from recently initiated Wilmington, DE project Practical Uses for Worms apart from August’s The Plastic Sutra (perhaps an unintentional companion for Daphne X’s upcoming The Plumb Sutra??), and is built on mangled, low-fidelity samples and extracts of voices speaking in both Mandarin and English—though the approach, to me, is a distinctly modern one, the low sample rates and bit-chopping echo the golden age of the beloved label. The one intelligible piece of source material seems to be an audiobook or other sort of reading of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, which crops up in “M1rr0r Cable CommAnder Sun Tzu mix,” but overall the short release seems to stake much of its intrigue on the obscurity of its origins. This is the internet-age equivalent of a delirious, surreal found-tape collage, as a whole rising above and becoming, in a way, distinct from its many disparate, individual parts, and while our fascination with the mysteries and resonances of physical objects, the intangible labyrinth of the net only becomes more complex and enigmatic as it continues to grow each and every day—how can one not stick a curious hand into the muck?

Review: Household Appliances – Everything in the Kitchen Sink (Unmapped Zones, Oct 16)

After dabbling in areas as diverse as minimal electronica, dusty bedroom pop, sprightly dungeon synth, and more throughout the various aliases grouped together on the Unmapped Zones page, Hemet, CA–based artist Joel Major (also known as Camp Wonderful and a member of Strange Visitors) turns to the crud gathered in the tile grout after all those recording sessions to generate Everything in the Kitchen Sink. Perhaps (aptly) named for the unspeakable smorgasbord of dirty dishes, soggy food leftovers, smelly oil-water, and other shudder-worthy detritus that eventually gathers in the sink basin of any dwelling occupied by procrastinators, the single-track release comprises pretty typical fare for “junk heap audio collage”: trivial field recordings captured with derelict dictaphones and damaged tapes; whirring, wiggling, warbling fast-forwards and rewinds; messy clumps and fumbling scrabbles. For a 10-minute piece it’s surprisingly varied, stumbling erratically from rotary clatter that could just as well be a rattling minecart grinding along a track as simply the amplified playback of a blank cassette. Major tends to use the wobbling tendrils of high-speed scrubbing in much the same way as the crude electronic pulses and buzzes that occasionally make their way into the mix, layering them overtop of the central churn as textural ornaments rather than structural destabilizers. Around six or so minutes in, fans of no-fi trash improv (think Ruda Vera, Filthy Turd, Liam Kramer-White) will find plenty to love in a brief vignette of ragged breathing and tape-rip revue before it decomposes into piercing whistles and swampy gurgles. Though the sole track is titled “Side A” and the cover art formatted for tape, there’s no actual physical edition to be found . . . I hope that changes soon.

Review: Das Synthetische Mischgewebe – Les Troubles (Pentiments, Oct 15)

As an aspiring label curator with a vision as big as my bank account is small, the release schedule of Guido Gamboa’s Pentiments imprint really speaks to me: barely more than ten entries since its inception in 2015, and yet every single one is a winner. So when any new stuff drops, one had better pay attention, because the Chicago artist/owner-operator is consistently an esteemed source for the best in sonic bricolage, field recording, sound research, and artful nothingness… and after this newest batch ten minutes is all you’ll need to reaffirm that reputation, because that’s the short, deceptively modest amount of time it takes to listen to this new 7″ by the inimitable German project (now solely represented by Guido Hübner), of which I can be quoted as commenting, “this is one of the best things I’ve ever heard.” All of the aforementioned stylistic realms are at least sparingly present in the two succinct cuts, and both Hübner himself and the amazing work he’s done here seem to nicely sum up the elusive appeal of the array of rickety but nonetheless present vestiges, continuations, and homages to 80s mail art/cassette collage that Pentiments makes so many contributions to—Les Troubles, though it sounds plenty fresh and exciting, brings to mind so much of the past (whether you were actually here for it or not). On “Marge,” scratches, shuffles, and sibilations both expansive and claustrophobic (somehow) spread outward into ambiguous dimensions in skittering, meticulous webs—sometimes it’s like putting your ear right up to a label printer, others more of velcro-rip and marble-track orchestra. “Raccord” is more overtly percussive and metallic, first stringing itself up with threads of brass bells raked across concrete and junkyard ambience before tunneling into a spiral of shrieking scrapes and agitated objects, tiny, intricate tinctures swirling together in enthralling unison—micro- made macro-. Enshrine me forever in this lattice of sublime textural tactility… please.

Review: Kelly Ruth – Simulacra (Pseudo Laboratories, Oct 14)

Many of us found new “worlds” in which to spend our time thinking, experimenting, and healing once the first lockdowns started to hit, but for sound and textile artist Kelly Ruth that world is more than real and concrete enough to break free of the abstracting frame quotes. Second Life (SL) is no revolutionary new technology (the open-ended virtual reality platform first became available to “players” in 2003), but the idea of audiovisual performances within video games engines, for the most part, is, and Simulacra, the first of Ruth’s sound work to be produced entirely via her SL avatar and in-engine materials, conspicuously engages with an ongoing conversation and loosely collective adventure in contemporary experimental music. This label-faithful follow-up to her 2019 debut shares that memorable tape’s uncanny but nonetheless concrete physicality, but whereas Forms was literally rooted in the tangible with its contact-based weaving tool amplification, Simulacra challenges that designation simply by existing. In between DJ sets at underwater dance club The Electro Squid, Ruth’s SL avatar toys and tinkers with functional replicas of looms and electronics, the effects of the game’s sound design and sample limitations actually complementing the shuffling machinery manipulations and “vocal” interjections with an almost comforting diminutiveness of stuttering loops, murky fidelity, and physical distance. I’ve never ventured into SL, so it’s difficult to visualize the actual virtual areas in which these performances are occurring, but at several points it seems as though Ruth’s avatar may be holed up in the Squid during the day, playing to an expansive audience of no one as the ocean seethes and bubbles outside. This is a must-listen. For EVERYONE.

Review: gbap – Dear Anton, It’s September… (self-released, Oct 12)

The first (and hopefully not the only) release by the “verbovocovisual” collaboration of collager/composer AP Monks and poet/performer Gary Barwin is a theatrical, unforgettable piece of music. Hailing from the halls of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario (also the past and/or present home of several online book club friends) Barwin primarily an educator, fiction writer, and poet—that is to say, his musical credits are sparse, which is a surprise given the impressive talents and techniques at work on Dear Anton, It’s September…. With dexterous vocal incoherence, meticulous sound design, eclectic instrumental accompaniment, and a consistent, overwhelming sense of dynamism, each of the tracks (all classified with a title, date, and opus number) a tightly tied electroacoustic knot of utterances both ecstatic and hellish. Even though the first two pieces are immediately engrossing, “ ‘A Breathing Garage… Oops, I Meant Collage—9.13.21’ (Op. 3)” was what fully sold me on this dense little oddball of a release, and it only gets better from there (the disturbingly spectral shroud of exhales, howls, bleats, and hisses is even reprised in one of the “Four Little Pieces” later on). Dear Anton, It’s September… unexpectedly but delightfully aligns with a trend of great new art brut–indebted releases beginning with  The Box and continued by Cardinal Bird and Zungsang; “ ‘To Scale Redux—9.28.21’ (Op. 10 1/2)” especially feels like a quintessential spoon-slop of artful incoherence still lurking at the furthest outskirts of the tired, archaic classical tradition—an aversion, or even a derision, that is perhaps implied by the rule-breaking numbering. The concluding “ ‘ “It gives relief to do something”—9.30.21’ (Op. 12)” is worth a mention just for the triply nested quote (Bar(th)win?), but it’s also a shrewdly sublime wash of near-intelligibility and digital decay. FFO: Sten Hanson, Cawa Sorix, Lily Greenham, Xuan Ye.

Review: Yan Jun – 这个。那个。我。 (self-released, Oct 11)

If by this point you haven’t at least heard the name Yan Jun [颜峻], the only question I have is which rock you’ve been living under—followed by a supplemental inquiry regarding the geological makeup of that rock, in the interest of further research into (and eradication of) materials that can somehow cut one off from the soaring micro-frequencies, defined spatiality, and humble quotidian beauty of the Beijing-based creative’s distinctive music. In and out of collaborative formations of various sizes (recent highlights include The Blind Match with Francisco Meirino, twice with Zhu Wenbo [朱文博], and Click Here (and There) for More Information with Sam Andreae and David Birchall) Yan has been both honing and widening his already eclectic supply of techniques and concerns, his pair of intimately domestic Amplify 2020 pieces, the voice-based subversions of Lanzhou, and the sparse improvised collage Revisiting with Kevin Corcoran all being examples. With all that said, however, it’s always of interest when an artist elects to “return to their roots,” so to speak, so reading that 这个。那个。我。(This. That. I.) was produced with only “a Mahjong tile–sized circuit board” [“一块麻将牌大小的电路板”] was exciting. The extreme modesty of the instrumentation used prevents this self-released CD from reaching the abrasive peaks of something like oh my God, and yours, but as always it is exactly that innate reticence and limitation that makes the results so compelling. I’ve previously shared some of my own stories of experimenting with circuits, and anyone else who has dismantled some broken appliance or old toy and amplified the guts will also recognize many of these sounds and textures on the lengthier bookend tracks: strangled, pinching squeals; microscopic clicks and clock ticks; electromagnetic hum. “我,” on the other hand, is a different beast, its only sonic variation created by “pulse, sweating . . . and electrical interference” [“其中的变化,部分来自脉搏和出汗,部分来自周期性的电流杂讯”] since Yan doesn’t move his hand from the board a single time. This “sandwich” contrast helps the release feel like more than just a circuit jam, even though (as mentioned) its being only that is also an important aspect of the appeal—just one of the many gleeful paradoxes that Yan’s work consistently both exemplifies and defies.

Review: Joke Lanz – Zungsang (Vice de Forme, Oct 10)

Though the pleasant major-key piano and organ fragments that begin and form the basis for “Zungsang Sankt Jokem II” might lull unsuspecting listeners into false senses of security, Joke Lanz’s newest solo tape Zungsang is not for the faint of heart (or even for the, uh, normal of heart). Though the Berlin sound artist has more recently tended toward gestural, instantaneous improvised music through collaborations with Dieb13, Ute Wassermann, Jonas Kocher, and others, many of his earliest recordings are some formulation of a partnership with the inimitable, infamous Rudolf, a creative connection that is fully salient in this termite-ridden shoebox of volatile brut collages (indeed, the entirety of side A is dedicated to Adolf Wölfli, the Swiss artist who is often identified as the originating example of “outsider art” or “art brut”). As already mentioned, sprightly loop pulses drive the opening track like a skeletal merry-go-round while torrents of brash incoherence—unhinged screams, guttural gurgling, blasts of noise—begin to spurt through the seams, while “Tschimberasso Südwand” is an unsettling stagger through a minimalist haunted house of ghostly trumpet shreds and displaced laughter. Lanz’s idiosyncratic, pseudo-rhythmic approach works well for the shorter tracks, but it’s arguably even more of an asset on the two six-plus minute tracks on the B side; “Dirty Looks” and its distorted electronic throb are almost punkish, and “Voices in My Head” is a hallucinatory romp through dark, surreal effervescence. Solo albums by experienced improvising turntablists do tend to be excellent (see Martin Tétreault, eRikm, Maria Chavez), so perhaps Lanz’s achievement in Zungsang shouldn’t be surprising… yet its appeal is defiantly surprising, novel, unexpected, whether your head is as empty as mine or not.

Review: Delicate Hand – Cardinal Bird (self-released, Oct 8)

“Indebted [eclectically yet sensibly] to Mark Fisher, Pauline Oliveros, and Peter Blasser,” Delicate Hand’s second release (following August’s 6 & 7) is a masterwork of murk, murmur, and mystery. The diverse trifecta of influenced listed by the artist seem to be more conceptual connections; as far as the music itself goes, I see cues taken, whether intentionally or not, from moldy corner-dwelling outsiders of all eras: Shadow Ring, Idea Fire Company, the Hafler Group, Barn Sour. Dominated by the omnipresent crackle of a dusty record spinning on a dinky old player, the first three tracks on Cardinal Bird don’t merely flit back and forth between the sublime and the surreal—it melds them, casually and cohesively, into a single complex conglomerate. Distorted mutters and nonverbals from answering machines running low on batteries, brooding piano, and restless mic shuffles melt and blur into each other on “Remember Hot Day,” while slurred, scraping string resolutions and intimate domestic creaks knit a warm, moth-eaten swaddling blanket on “Sick, Sweet Coffee.” Emf interference and loose connection hum, things that are usually avoided when using analog equipment, is frequently foregrounded and made unignorably inconspicuous, especially in “Grocery Store Tobacco,” a shifty, shadowy web of error and inconsequence, and “Corncob Pipe, Long Dead” is a fittingly rickety closer, almost rhythmic with its subtle metronomic thump concealed behind the amplified noises of indoor life. This is truly amazing and addictive stuff—”compulsively replayable” doesn’t even do it justice.

Mix: Electrophonography

This mix collects the spellbinding results of interpretation, intervention, improvisation, imitation, installation, interaction, and many other forms of joining electronics with organics, sterile digital impermanence with living, breathing space. It’s not a one-way street; almost as many of these artists extract the electrical processes coded within our surrounding environment as add to it. (Personally I think “electricity” is mostly, if not entirely, bullshit—oh so electrons are just zipping around everywhere? so where are they? oh they’re invisible, how convenient—but if it makes people feel like they’re in control of their lives, sure, I’ll play along.)

00:00. Rudolf – “Ishikiri (1)” from Om Kult : Ritual Practice of Conscious Dying, Vol. II (Schimpfluch Associates, 2018)

04:35. 谭硕欣 [Tan Shuoxin] – Simultanhalle: April 30, 2021 [excerpt] (self-released, 2021)

10:32. Network Glass – “novh1” from idiot/smiling (dingn\dents, 2019)

13:21. leftear – “Rainforest” from Half Nature (Zoomin’ Night, 2021)

20:47. – “sefar” from Zentrum Statisch (KOI8-R, 2019)

27:32. Anonymous – “KREC33” from Recordings, Disk 01 (SP, 2013)

28:45. Francisco Meirino – “Various On-Site Testimonies” from Recordings of Voltage Errors, Magnetic Fields, On-Site Testimonies & Tape Tension (Misanthropic Agenda, 2011)

33:36. Bella – “prei-prei” from HADRON (pan y rosas discos, 2019)

37:35. Max Hamel – B side [excerpt] of Sounds of Summer: Field Recordings of Solar Electronics (Refulgent Sepulchre, 2021)

44:41. Thomas Tilly – “Pre-Explosion I (Phonography and Interpretation)” from Codex Amphibia (An Interpretation of the Explosive Breeding Phenomenon (Glistening Examples, 2018)

50:16. No Artist – “Cmentarz żydowski w Podwilku II” from Dawne Cmentarze Żydowskie 2 (Szara Reneta, 2018)

55:27. Jero Route 66 and Shots – Live from Devil’s Den [excerpt] (Pauf Recordings, 2018)