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 Eb.er, 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 Eb.er – “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. left.bank – “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)

Review: Sidon Coleman – The Box (self-released, Oct 5)

If you’re anything like me (not that I advocate for that), when you stumble across an unknown artist and read an introduction like Sidon Coleman’s to The Box—“This is my first album so I don’t have proper recording equipment and I really just made this for fun because I really like noises and stuff so I want to push the boundaries of what music can be”—you’re immediately hopeful for fresh, spontaneous artistry unhindered by technique or convention with the boundless joyful spirit of an all-inclusive love for sound. Though it certainly has no obligation to do so, this debut from the obscure Louisiana musician gleefully surpasses those high expectations. The Box is both outsider multi-instrumentalist sketchbook and carefully crafted composition, with Coleman building intricate, colorful, abstract webs of primitive drum noodling, absentminded guitar-practice improvisations, pocket electronics, and dust-smudged field recordings on each of the twelve vignette-tracks. The introductory “The Box Has Been Opened” is one of the best cuts, encapsulating the unpredictable toy-chest dreamscape that forms the album’s central essence in its loose, sprawling sound-space of ambient bustle and musical castoffs. Coleman’s collage is already well beyond what most artists’ would be on their first release, but there’s no shortage of experimentation here either; for example, “Forest of Dreams / sounDwaveS” is a reach toward something gentler and more narrative, while “In the Mind” approaches the abrasive aesthetics of tabletop noise. Rounded off by the humble, unassuming beauty of “Final Moments” and “Short Story: Syd / Closed,” this well-hidden gem is nothing short of unforgettable.

Review: DED – Ghost Noises (self-released, Oct 4)

If drumcorps’ For the Living was the result of large handfuls aughts scene-/tech-grind being jammed into an industrial-strength blender, Ghost Noises is the even more unspeakable horror-chum that oozes out after you toss slimy gobs of internet age nu-metalcore revival (wear a filtered mask when handling this shit, take one unprotected whiff and the insides of your nostrils will smell like Monster until you can scrounge together enough meth to snort the traces out) into the blades without cleaning them first. This newly introduced solo project from Detroit wastes no time in establishing its gruesome presence with “We Can Be the Change,” the longest and most ambitious track on the short debut EP. It’s unrelentingly overblown from the very first second, with buzzsaw midi guitars and heavy synths cranked so loud they tear at the noise ceiling and become a seething electronic maelstrom, savage bellows that sound like they’re blaring from the business end of a souped-up scrap metal megaphone, and… tender piano serenades? Yes, those bizarre stylistic counterpoints end up being a unifying thread throughout the ear-destroying breakdowns and spine-grinding chugs, an odd but decidedly effective choice for this powerhouse of brutality. Join me in being struck DED.

Review: Katz Mulk – Vital Attachments (Klammklang, Oct 1)

Much like with Human Heads’ In the Afternoon (which I reviewed earlier this year), but even more so now, I tried to take every possible out I could to avoid writing about Vital Attachments. Not because I don’t want to, of course, but because the uncompromising work of performance/visual/sound art paragons Katz Mulk and their creative offshoots is formidably indescribable. Sure, one could just list the various elements contributed by each Mulker that comprise these edited recordings from pieces commissioned for Counterflows and Experimentica 2019: Ben Ellul-Knight’s immediately distinctive free-associating robot rants (combined in gloriously uncanny harmony with Jess Higgins’ on “Never Been So”); agile electronic flits and flutters from the computer-based workstation of Ben Smith tracing every possible dimension of the two-/four-channel grid; the mesmerizing kinesis of Andrea Kearney’s space-spanning movements and interpretations; the palpable obstacles, complications, and connections created by Siân Williams’ physical sculptures. One might suspect that the latter two artists’ less sonically replicable, more presence-dependent actions are lost in this medium, but thanks to the expertly arranged recording setup during the original performances and an excellent mastering job by Alexander Pustynsky, the music captures enough nuance to establish the essential roles occupied by Kearney and Williams; this audio-only document is an undeniably different work from what it documents, yes, but in that difference it both does justice to and mirrors the simultaneously de- and re-constructive predilections of the project.

Kearney also contributed the abstract graphic score that formed the basis for these compositions (the cover art and other graphics, drawn by a different artist, were inspired by the original images), mostly consisting of sparse, gestural 2D geometry loosely structured with explicit verbal instructions—e.g., “look at the space from a low angle and feel the floor.” Live Eye TV’s Iggy Pot observes that “[i]t appears those words are directed to the performers, but they might be just as valid for the spectator, or in the case of Vital Attachments, the listener. While familiar rhythmic elements and sound tropes offer a leg to stand on or even dance on, the Katz Mulk experience continually subverts our vertical orientation, offering in its place the horizontal as a new location for the communal. Meanwhile, an echoing blizzard of vocals deconstructs the experience into philosophical quicksand demanding surrender to the supine as the unfamiliar becomes common ground (down).” These words apply to the whole album, but especially to closer “Host,” which is probably the best official track the project has released so far (and it even arguably has a chorus!). As Ellul-Knight commands, or perhaps implores, before descending into gratingly synthetic incoherence, “On the horizon, test the boundaries.”