“Tale,” the opening track from Telmetale’s debut C20 that takes up the entire first side, rises from the darkness like a whirling spectral apparition, composed of skulking drones and hair-raising prepared guitar plinks. The newly formed duo consists of guitarist Jacek Chmiel and multi-instrumentalist Kamil Korolczuk, who here contributes a mixture of moody modular transmissions and live magnetic tape processing, and their chemistry is audible in the music’s consistently evocative milieu of smoke and shadow. When writing about recordings with a similar approach such as qb and Rural Tourniquet, I like to bring up the idea that small-scale collective improvisation can end up being a unified pile of sound rather than a discernible musical conversation; however, in Telmetale, elements of both seem to manifest. “Tale” is a dense and harrowing amalgam of drones and AMM-esque nocturnal clatter, but on “Serotonin” the musician’s additions are separated in the stereo field, with plasticky tape frequencies butting up against tactile scratching. The duality of source is even more apparent in “Part II,” in which Chmiel’s guitar playing becomes much more sporadic. This promising duo’s first release is queasy and unsettling, but ultimately an intoxicating document of atmospheric free music.
The only times I’ve encountered the Ciat-Lonbarde Cocoquantus, a very unique custom-built electronic instrument, is during a deafening set by harsh noise legend T. Mikawa and as an element in Dirch Blewn’s Care Work cassette, which came out last year also on Soft Error. Here, on Hoan Kiem Chess Team’s most recent release, the Cocoquantus seems to take on a much more audible role, its “self-reconfiguring spasms” aiding in the restless electronic simmers that bubble up throughout Paskal’s Dream. The tape is an ersatz love letter to nature, a synthetic pastiche of a lush, life-filled swampland, its dense, intricate collages of bubbling growls and scrabbling crackles evoking something robotic yet undeniably organic—not far from the spectral image that adorns the cover. Assisted by the unusual sampling abilities of the Cocoquantus, the artist makes occasional forays into palettes that incorporate more purely natural elements, such as the closely-recorded creaking wood around which “Sleeper” is based, but as a whole Paskal’s Dream presents a dedicated, consistent atmosphere of sublime imitation, and despite its length remains completely engaging for its entire duration.
Sounds of a Boiler Room and a Laundry Room (Polish: Odgłosy kotłowni oraz pralni), the newest work from sound artist and phonographer Maciej Wirmański, was entirely recorded in the “kitchen” of his home—the quotes are present because as Wirmański states, the room is not really a kitchen by the contemporary definition at all, and is closer to what would be called a boiler/laundry room or utility room. From just the artist’s description, it’s immediately clear that this place has a special presence: “In this place time accumulate[s]. It is a heart of the house clogged with lodgments of unwanted things.” But as the subtle yet evocative 36-minute piece unfolds, we hear the indescribable energy of a “heart of the house” at work, as the sounds of the makeshift hot-water stove and washing machine simulate the pumping of blood throughout an organic system. The sporadic hum and rushing water of the laundry cycle, the clinks and snaps and pops of the heating stove, the way in which the small room seems to muffle, even embrace, the sounds within—Sounds of a Boiler Room… is an intimate portrait of a home from a uniquely limited perspective (limited in the physical sense, at least).
Dario Di Francesco’s cryptic introduction for his newest release on Sono Space doesn’t shed much light on the actual sounds that are heard, but it does add an interesting element of unintentionality. Are the recordings that make up Sistema an inadvertent result of Di Francesco’s search for this “certain frequency”? Or is that frequency an unattainable end, which he recognizes and simply states it as an abstract purpose to cast what is actually presented in an unusual light? I doubt I’ll ever know for sure, but I will say that the sounds and textures collected to form Sistema do their fair share of “caressing”; the Italian sound artist’s quiet compositions are constructed from the barest of hums, rustles, and taps (with the exception of that jarring saxophone loop in “Cromo”), sketching out a frail and insubstantial yet undeniably physical environment. Interjections of soft clatters and sweeping scrapes act as hooks that prevent the more delicate drones from drifting away completely, which gives rise to interesting contrasts on tracks like “Cerio,” where a pillowy, tonal air current lurks behind a dainty din of clinking metal.
So far, both of the Butoh Sonics releases I’ve heard (I have yet to try their 2018 self-titled tape, and it wouldn’t align with this observation anyway) are amazing purveyors of the theme or query their title posits. May’s Flickers of Light, with its simple but unsettling artwork of a someone unseeingly reaching their hand through darkness—and the music’s completely oppressive evocation of that same darkness—was a terrifying but enrapturing denial of its titular promise. What Do You Grieve For? is a more direct conveyance of the question posed by its name, a somber and—quite surprisingly—occasionally gorgeous 43-minute piece. It’s not clear which way is up when looking at the CD cover, and the guy contorted in mourning doesn’t seem to know either; but the music itself implies otherwise, relieving gloomy, uncertain, tense stretches with sublime feedback melodies or hypnotic string drones, answering the title with a demonstration of the sparse beauty of despair. As is to be expected, the latest Butoh Sonics document is harrowing and shrouded in shadow, but many of its best moments are the most meditative and harmonic the group has been yet.
Among countless other things, 2019 has seen many instances of experimentation and eclecticism within the goregrind aesthetic. With the punishing atmospheric noisecore of Cavatus and PKWST’s collaborative CD Ruins of Bronzemaw and the nightmarish, filthy death-doom of Miscarriage’s Imminent Horror, the horrifying qualities of gore that were once limited to a very formulaic set of tricks are now being transposed to a variety of new settings. Take Contorting the Infinitiated Forms for example, a barely six minute release that touches on genres from free improvisation to technical hardcore. Oxidase Nightmare’s debut doesn’t stick around for long, but its stylistic breadth is nothing short of dizzying, as the listener is whiplashed from the 1-2-3-4 snare count-in on “Contorting the Infinitiated Forms (Grief Across 600 Centuries)” to the squealing guitar fuckery of “Redistributed Enzyme Reduction” to some truly harrowing ambience on “Xenotype”—but it’s all united under a consistent atmosphere of brutality, rot, and viscera. It’s a testament to the sheer amount of ideas crammed into this release that I’m able to write so much about it.
As is oftentimes the case, the description of Exploded View provided on the release page already paints a clear, concise picture of the music. The 19-minute piece is the latest entry in the increasingly impressive discography of Elevator Bath founder Colin Andrew Sheffield and sound artist James Eck Rippie, and aims to explore “the intricacies of manipulated micro-samples.” Assimilating an arsenal of turntables, samplers, and found sound, the two musicians’s active improvisations conjure an immersive environment of claustrophobic tactility, piercing tones, buried sampling, and jagged pieces of heavily processed sound objects that cut like sharp-edged glass shards. Overall, there’s a unique feeling of zooming in, like the duo is simply making audible a minuscule sound-world with its own set of rules. What begins as a restless but reticent orchestra of shifting clicks, clacks, and rattles evolves into something much more once the lens of focus dilates and the once-isolated miniatures start to interact and combine with a formidable array of macroscopics. Though the atmosphere often seems synthetic or removed, a welcome touch of humanity is introduced via the appearance of various musical samples throughout, a familiar basis amidst the maelstrom of abstract textures.
But I doubt any of my musing puts it better than this: “Exploded View showcases the duo’s focus on fragments of audio—the shards of samples broken apart and re-shuffled, like the cut-up words and letters of concrete poetry. The new forms which emerge from these re-joined particles may be both jarring and confounding. But the delicate details found at every turn of this circuitous path are gratifyingly immersive.”
Writing about releases that are entirely emotional, visceral experiences is difficult for me, which is part of the reason I started this site in the first place: to hone in on the actual qualities of the music that produces these effects. Albums like Daydream, and other works that would be best described as post-black metal or “blackgaze,” are personally very hit-or-miss, a volatility I’ve parsed down to the way in which the softer, prettier, more melodic elements are incorporated into the atmosphere of darkness and isolation. In the case of Misertus’s debut album, the integration is absolutely seamless; blanketing blasts of anguished howls and pounding drums birth breathtaking stretches of densely layered guitar harmonies and invigorating major key motifs, which are either skillfully reeled back into the shadows or end the track on a happy note (as is the case with “Duskwinds”). The attention to detail in solo projects like this always amazes me, and the multi-instrumentalist known only as Tomas crafts each of the eight pieces with a deep reverence, creating clouds of cathartic emotion that are astoundingly immersive—I could get lost in the opening moments of “Fragility” until the end of time.
This abstract but evocative bit of poetry is one of the few things that adorns the page for Ash Charge’s debut tape, and the unfamiliar surroundings it describes are every bit as lethargic, psychedelic, and mysterious as the music itself. The four pieces hover around ten minutes each, and every moment is steeped in swampy, humid warmth, queasy rays of light, and gorgeous decay. Ash Charge’s fluid sonic collages flow with patience and purpose, paradoxically constructing a lush, developed environment from the most fragile of materials. On just the third track, hypnotic looping tapes groan out a glowing melody, barely audible recordings of an unidentifiable rustling sound lurk beneath the murk, and a sublime guitar fragment marred with lo-fi scuzz harmonizes with contorted speech samples—and the way in which these elements are combined and sequenced forms a completely enrapturing atmosphere.
The cover art for Daniel Ryan and Matthew Crowe’s split C27 is quite vibrant, but not in an overwhelming way. The colorful fragments of drawings and other bits and pieces evoke more of a sense of whimsicality, scattered-ness, hasty sketching; and the music itself continues in that realm, albeit taking a different form for each artist. On Ryan’s side, which opens with a frenetic maelstrom of scrabbling drum machine patches and hyperactive noise segments, the collaging of sounds seems natural and self-reliant. By this I mean that everything acts in relation to its surroundings: the restless rumbles of granular synthesis and claustrophobic contact mic drags (these are just guesses; identifying any of the abstract sounds here is a stab in the dark) flit around the stereo field like flies trapped in a jar—an abandoned experiment. Though Crowe’s three pieces are equally unpredictable, there’s much more of an authorial presence to the proceedings. Almost taking the form of a radio play, percussion samples and field recordings and other oddities are glued together in a strict sequence, and though many of the elements at work feel natural on their own the overall atmosphere is one of artificiality (in this regard I’m reminded of A World of Difference), something that becomes especially apparent with the arrival of piercing slices of feedback in “2.”