Review: Max Hamel – Sounds of Summer: Field Recordings of Solar Electronics (Refulgent Sepulchre, Jan 23)

There are a few easily replicable sound events with which I am hopelessly obsessed. One of the easiest to conjure is the pressurized, astringent hiss of liquid trapped between a drip coffee pot and its heating element, a simultaneously violent and meditative emission that pairs well with the mundanity of an aimless afternoon. Side A of Max Hamel’s Sounds of Summer harnesses textures of a similar character; generated with room recordings of custom-made automated solar-powered circuit machines that produce volatile, ear-wracking noise based on the subtle fluctuations of sunlight they receive, the tape embraces the blurring of preparation and passivity that has resulted in so many compelling releases in recent years. Like Yan Jun’s feedback systems or Henry Collins’s “prepared rain” percussion assemblages, Hamel’s complex setup exists inexorably within the space in which it is placed, in a way simply demonstrating another method of environmental appreciation—one with an additional and conspicuous degree of abstraction compared to straightforward microphone capture. But in another sense, Hamel is simply an observer, documenting the soundscape of the day with an ear for both “pure” as well as adapted experience, and from this perspective even the most piercing tones produced by the circuitry reside in the same dimension as distant conversations, nearby traffic, and the breeze drifting in through the open window. Whether sharp, caustic fizz-garbles or crisp, sterile sine tones and clinking metal are the central elements, these are undeniably the sounds of summer.

Review: Native Instrument – live ateliers claus 04 (les albums claus, Jan 22)

I’d never heard of Native Instrument (the collaborative project of field recordist/composer Felicity Mangan and poet/improvisor Stine Janvin) before coming across this release, and so I unconsciously expected something along the lines of Musica Sveciae’s Fornnordiska klanger, which sought to replicate prehistorical musical traditions. This 4th installment in Brussels imprint les albums claus’s live ateliers claus series, however, reveals that the duo’s name refers to a nativity beyond that which can be possessed or identified by humans, a primality that hints toward evoking the volatile majesty of nature. Mangan has previously proved her mettle in the area of phonographic assemblage that transforms familiar sounds—birdsong, buzzing insects, rustling leaves—into an abstract, multifarious mass of textures (think Abby Lee Tee’s recent work, an earthier @c, or that sweaty pestilence that begins Murmuüre’s “Disincarnate”) and this live recording is no different. Even though the performance took place in the same year as Native Instrument’s first and only studio album Camo, the interplay between Mangan’s prickly swarms of croak, chirp, and click and Janvin’s mixtures of throbbing electronics and processed vocalizations feels much more developed here; it’s livelier, more agile and organically-paced, and therefore much more enjoyable. This music lurks at the ambiguous crossroads of observance, improvisation, and techno (if you happen to know the GPS coordinates, please let me know; I hear it’s lovely this time of year).

Review: Dan Gilmore – Pulped Memoir (Hologram, Jan 21)

Whether he’s muttering half-nonsensical fragments of mundane conversation or crouched in a corner with an old tape recorder, Careful Catalog operator Dan Gilmore sticks to the shadows when making his “music.” Unlike Undercovers, the other album of his that I’ve heard, which consisted entirely of his voice—trivial, mumbling speech about eminently forgettable topics—Pulped Memoir widens the lens to a much wider array of sound materials, most of which are pleasantly drenched in blankets of fuzz and dust. Piecemeal opener “Dinner Theater” fluidly progresses through a variety of minuscule sonic events, the imperfect cone of sound capture directed toward radio broadcasts, screeching metal clatter, and chimes, the many spots and spaces in between filled in with the complementary frailty of body shifts, whistling, and playback manipulation. Pulped Memoir is a reasonably short release that is nonetheless unconfined by any unifying approach; whether Gilmore is stitching layers of tentative Connors-esque electric guitar phrasings and low-end squawk (“Transition Lenses”), muscularly pulling together erratic tape ephemera like that cruise ship scene in Spider-Man: Homecoming (“Autumn in New York”), or sticking to a single, unidentifiable source, as is the case with the title track, which devotes its entire runtime to a stretch of meditative, languid cacophony somewhere between the New Blockaders and an instrumental lullaby that progressively grows sharper and more crystalline. I hope I’m doing this CD justice; we’re only a month in to 2021 and I’m already prepared to declare it release of the year.

Review: Peea – Ins0lemnia (self-released, Jan 20)

If there were some kind of mutant parasite-worm that lived in a thrift store, gorging itself on shelves full of cheap toys (musical and otherwise), moldy old records, and broken appliances, this is the steaming multicolored goo it would shit out. That’s praise, in case it wasn’t clear. Peea themselves don’t shy away from recognizing the slipshod nature of their music in frank terms either; it’s described on Bandcamp as “cathartic naive/incorrect lo-wave no-bit ni-fi posed-punk shit-art.” Amid these haphazard smorgasbords of confused outsider stumble, one thinks of messy daycare walls carelessly covered in pictures drawn with crayons clutched vertically in fists, cartoon channels chopped up into frenetic nonsense by a poor TV signal, clumsy collages of bits of sound no one wants: the samples that come built into little plastic keyboards, warbly introductory fanfare to some dated language audio course, random sermon recordings, the works. According to the artist, Ins0lemnia is their first release in three and a half years (whether that refers to the project itself or the individual/group behind it, I’m not sure), and even more cruelly it’s over in less than twenty minutes, leaving the listener to painfully sober up much too soon and find themselves knee-deep in a Walmart dumpster with a mouth full of trash—and at that point there’s not much else to do other than hit play again.

Review: Vindfængsel – You Can’t Regret What You Don’t Remember (Nazlo, Jan 17)

Even if you haven’t been following this increasingly unwieldy wall of text for long, you’ve probably figured out—whether from the Kidz mix yesterday, or Temporary Places a couple months ago, or Outcast on the Ivories back in June, or any random reviews in between—that the fastest way to my heart is with a tape recorder, a piano, and the auditory majesty of nature itself. You Can’t Regret What You Don’t Remember (both a false statement and terrible advice, by the way) opens with such a cardiac shortcut in the form of “Swiet Niezdiesznij,” the longest and most conventionally beautiful of the five tracks that comprise this debut release by Russian project Vindfængsel. It helps that the drifting, sighing ambient suite reminds me of some specific favorites: the repetitive piano serenade, somber and elegiac, that acts as both melodic ornamentation and structural anchor evokes the Idea Fire Company’s “The Island of Taste”; the layered major-key progressions near the end when the small plastic-fan-like noises hit the same tender spot as both Mémoire vide and Michael Brook’s sublime score for The Perks of Being a Wallflower. After this sweet-but-not-saccharine introduction, things become darker, more mezzanine and psychedelic, while retaining a strong harmonic backbone; “Ghostly White Spiral” is a ghostly, almost ritualistic murk of airy white noise and light metal percussion, while “Night’s Blade Solar Wound” concludes things on a seething, ominous note with smothering industrial gloom and stereo field paranoia. The immersive soundscapes of You Can’t Regret What You Don’t Remember certainly provides the sensation of entering some place deep and forgotten. It does not, however, acknowledge the possibility of any sort of exiting.

Mix: Kidz

Whether or not you agree with the act of procreation on ethical grounds, most of us can concur that—much like the somewhat analogous case of house pets—it doesn’t do any good for your beliefs to affect how you treat a conscious, emotionally sentient being that has already entered this plane. But the fact is, this happens all the time, just in the reverse of what you might expect: children are either shielded from the “bad things” in the world because they’re not ready to handle them, held in a sterile gossamer cocoon of safety before eventually being jettisoned alone into the merciless void of self-awareness; or they are neglected and cast away completely because their presence is a burden or inconvenience. It’s unfortunate for every child ever born that their parents couldn’t take the time to consider what a fucked up thing it is to create a new consciousness for one’s own personal gain, and how much of a responsibility it is once it’s here, until after the deed was done, but they were born nonetheless, dragged out of blissful nothingness to think and hurt and struggle and cry with the rest of us. In the face of that profound violation, we owe them the respect of treating them like the intelligent, fully perceptive individuals they are, rather than slinging the the cloying condescension of baby voices, sugarcoating, age-based exclusion, etc. And yet, despite being walked all over and denied decency since their first breath, they remain the most creative, wisest, and happiest of us all. Here are the beautiful sounds of bittersweet existence.

A treasured gift from one of the wonderful young people with whom I had the honor of working

00:00. IT IT – “Pig Death” [ending] from IT IT (self-released, 2016)

00:39. Matinee Orchestra – “It’s a Fantasy World / Everyone Has the Right to Protest Even If No One Listens” [excerpt] from Matinee Orchestra (Arable, 2006)

05:21. Ludwig Berger – “After Nature” from Cargo (Canti Magnetici, 2019)

09:54. Áine O’Dwyer – “The Little Lord of Misrule” from Music for Church Cleaners (Fort Evil Fruit, 2012)

17:45. John Collins McCormick – “Oh Boy” from No Most Fatigue (self-released, 2018)

18:25. Horaflora – “Lunacy in the Garden of Forking Paths” from Eaves Drop (enmossed, 2020)

20:46. Raven Chacon – “MVHS” from An Anthology of Chants Operations (Ouidah, 2020)

22:39. Manja Ristić – “Spring” from The Nightfall (Naviar, 2018)

28:42. Ezio Piermattei – second untitled track from Gran trotto (Chocolate Monk, 2018)

32:19. Nina Ryser – “Whoever Listens to This Tape…” [ending] from I Hope All of Your Dreams Come True (Ramp Local, 2016)

32:33. Climax Golden Twins – first untitled track from Locations (Fire Breathing Turtle, 1998)

35:26. Mémoire vide – “B” from Mémoire vide (Affenstunde, 2020)

Review: Naturaliste – Temporary Presence (Almost Halloween Time / Gertrude Tapes / Public Eyesore / Unread, Jan 15)

Sitting conceptually somewhere between Partial’s LL and R.O.T.’s Klein Eiland (and musically between early AMM and Melkings), Temporary Presence is a release that is claustrophobic only in regard to its origins. The recordings were captured over the course of a night in a rented-out music store, an approach that certainly implies some essential limitations, but the four inimitable members of the long-running but sporadically active Naturaliste project transform their finite supply of materials into shifting masses of abstract sound that extend well beyond any possible permutation of four-walls-and-a-roof. Plenty of the participating personnel have made names for themselves in the field of convention-defying instrumentation, especially inventor and miniature installation engineer Bryan Day, but the stuffed shelves and corners of the unidentified shop offer many a traditional flavor for the bubbling stew: considered strikes on both the inside and outside of a classical piano, jagged rakes across the strings of an off-tune zither (at some points I was fully convinced the next thing I would hear would be “ME is a meadow meal”), extended-technique violin, and more. As if the diversity of the purely “musical” elements wasn’t enough, Temporary Presence also evokes both defined and undefined space with additional auxiliary intrusions intentional and otherwise; a cavernous, spectral recitation here, the horn of passing car there; uncomfortably close clatter one moment, distant and detached din the next. Some say their spirits still haunt the building to this day— “Oh don’t worry about all the shit falling off the shelves for no apparent reason, we have a bit of a ghost infestation. No, no, they’re not poltergeists, not pranksters; they genuinely believe they’re making music.”

“Review”: Absolute Table Field – Clowncar Bleedthrough (Neutral Archive, Jan 19)

In place of a review for Clowncar Bleedthrough, the new album by Absolute Table Field (loud, restless electronics by artists credited only as Bruno, Alex, and June), I will simply quote its accompanying written material, in order to avoid committing thought crimes against the Orb. Thank you for your understanding.

I’ve been doing a lot of shredding lately. I’m cleaning out some of my storage boxes. I don’t want to leave all this stuff for someone else to have to deal with once I’m gone.

The shredder we have here in our convent is a small one. I knew the volume of materials I was going to shred would demand a heavy-duty shredder. Fortunately, we have such a shredder at our provincial center. It shreds about 10-12 sheets at a time. The manual claims it can shred even staples, paper clips, and credit cards—though I’ve never tested that claim.

The shredder sits in a small windowless room in the basement. The only other things in the room are a two-drawer file cabinet (where the large plastic garbage bags are kept) and two small chairs to put your stuff on while you stand and shred. When you turn the shredder on, it makes a loud noise—like a hungry dinosaur. When you begin feeding the paper into its jaws, the noise gets even louder as it devours your pages and then spits them into the attached garbage bag. Here are a few of my thoughts while shredding…

1) Shredding is a violent act. Shredding entails a deafening racket and a brutal ferocity. The shredded paper is indecipherable. The pages are virtually gone. Of course, I’ve seen police dramas where forensic detectives glue the shredded paper back together and solve the crime. But my shreds are destined for a recycling center.
2) Shredding is a painful act. It’s not easy to shred certain materials. As I feed the machine, I glance at the pages and find myself saying, “This is my life! These pages represent years of my work and ministry. And in one instant, they’re all gone! Wow!” At times I feel as if I am being shredded. So painful is shredding, I often won’t even look at the papers I’m feeding into the machine so I can’t see what I’m shredding.
4) Shredding is a freeing act. Ironically, shredding also gives me a sense of exhilaration. Shredding is a profound act of letting go. When I shred, I find myself saying, “I don’t need this stuff anymore. That part of my life is over.” I find this extremely freeing.
5) …[S]hredding is a grateful act. As I shred, I find myself thanking God for my life that these pages represent. “Thank you God, for the gifts of writing and speaking… for your consistent inspiration… for my little successes… for my disappointments and failures which (I hope) have made me more humble and compassionate and trusting of You… Thank you, God, for my whole life which has led me to where I am now and who I am today. Amen.”

Have you ever used a shredder? If so, do you have any thoughts about shredding? 

Review: Arturas Bumšteinas – Amazon Fishing with Yahoos (sirr-ecords, Jan 17)

Of the select few musical works out there that aim to vividly capture the mundanity of human existence, even fewer accomplish the task with as much simultaneous specificity and eclecticism as Lithuanian sound researcher Arturas Bumšteinas’s new release Amazon Fishing with Yahoos. Interestingly, both seemingly contradictory qualities originate in the limited focus of the work’s source material: “soundtracks of various Youtube videos of tourists fishing in Amazon river,” along with occasional instrumental intrusions. In other words, if you’re like me and don’t know much about fishing, your brain will spend much of its time, at least on the first time through, trying to pick out the sonic signatures of the pastime, but in the process it is rendered vulnerable to the surreal or unexpected, of which Bumšteinas has mined plenty from his supply of “virtual-field-recordings”: okay, that’s the sound of someone reeling in the line, the boat’s creaking and— wait, was that a noise from Minecraft? Now gas motor growls in concert with droning high-pitched flute and koto? Sure, why not. Amidst the restless soundscape that is not quite cinéma pour l’oreille, not quite phonography, and not quite collage (it’s too strangely fluid), one’s mind is restricted to the liminal perceptive space between watching footage of an activity and actually doing it (in this case, fishing) while Bumšteinas’s creative and endlessly unpredictable arrangements run circles around it in its confused state. Hilarious, wholesome, mildly disturbing, inexplicably addictive, and ultimately life-affirming, as these sorts of things so often are. Another amazing and singular release from sirr-ecords, and an abstract audio-documentary for the ages.

Also, I swear I hear the guitar harmonics from the intro to Yes’s “Roundabout” around 25 minutes in.

Review: Pool – Hard Labor (Makeshift Encounters, Jan 16)

Pool, the ragtag unruly electronics quartet from Providence that features musicians such as Ren Schofield (Container, Form a Log) and Eric Grieshaber (VOSP, Soft Target), is one of those modest units that doesn’t make any hullabaloo over either their materials or processes despite the music being presumably freely improvised (which, as many of us know, is often enough to engender decades of arcane academic writings and insufferable artistic elitism). Instead, the noisy, multifarious transmissions the band generates are better thought of as “hard labor,” which is also the title of their most recent release, a CDr from local Rhode Island DIY label Makeshift Encounters: there are few ways to ground these dense rackets of sparking electrical chatter and metallic din in any sort of familiar image besides the hyperactive industrial cacophony of a bustling construction site. The cover art, I think, illustrates the paradox that arises from the clash between the confined, intimate domesticity and clattering activity that Hard Labor evokes in equal shares with its depiction of what is most likely the aftermath of a fierce battle with a clogged shower/bath drain (the tool pictured is a plumbing snake)—a meeting of the bodily and the external that is disturbing for reasons beyond detached human hair just being gross. The single half-hour-plus track is a piddling phantasmagoria of junk, trash, and grime, everything you’ve shoved into the farthest corner of the garage or scraped off the bottom of your shoe lovingly molded into a nonrepresentational sculpture that would leave any four-year-old’s backyard art project in the dust.