“Anyone could make this” is never a valid criticism of any piece of art, but it often becomes egregiously inaccurate and misrepresentative when it comes to abstract forms of music like noise, which as a genre is too often the punchline for sneering accusations of pretension or pointlessness. For me, it’s difficult to imagine listening to something like Peace Doctrine’s second self-titled tape and thinking it’s anything but virtuosic; of all the many forms of noise music, cut-up noise is one of the most difficult to get “right,” and it’s certainly no easy task figuring out how to even make these sounds in the first place. This new project from Matt Gomes, which flared into conspicuous existence with June’s C20 debut on PRESSORTAPE (also self-titled), doesn’t just flirt with negative space via jarring stop/starts or stitch together dizzying assaults of disparate samples, instead focusing on filtering diverse flavors of harsh distortion and feedback through meticulous sound design and clever left/right channel play. My immediate thought was that the music could use a more robust mastering job, but the (relatively) quieter presence of these eleven tracks quickly grew on me, settling somewhere between violent cacophony and airy detachment, all the while running merciless circles around your head. I probably bring up Jesper Forselius’s Blod project too often, but I think the comparison is reasonably apt here in that both artists seem to blare their caustic blasts from somewhere quite far off, and yet the sharp edges refuse to dull even the slightest bit. A promising (to say the least) new project with releases on two equally promising new labels? 2021, as I’ve said many times already, seems to be the year of noise.
There are quite a few keywords that, if included in an album description, are instant attractors for me, but the same isn’t really true for bands, because most comparisons between artists—especially those made by the artist themselves—are notoriously unreliable. That being said, if C.C.C.C. is brought up in any capacity, I’m automatically all in, and Space Beyond Space, the most recent tape from relatively new Finnish duo Fricsvel, thankfully does not disappoint. The aforementioned comparison was made as part of a demonstrative stylistic continuum between the legendary Japanese project and Skullflower, and for the most part it tracks; the two ten-minute slabs of psychedelic mayhem evolve from unstable pedal-distortion rumble and sheet metal shriek to fleeting bouts of delirium, whether it’s the distant, deranged vocal specters at the end of “Within the Outer Planes” or the hallucinatory layers that shift and smother on “History of the Afterlife.” Despite these presumably being studio recordings, they still feel sweeping and gargantuan, and would sound just as majestic flooding the cavernous confines of a massive warehouse venue as they do on cheap earbuds or portable speakers. Fricsvel members Veikko Rajanen and Mikko Ahokas faced multiple tall orders with this release in living up to the high expectations set by both the introductory text and the memorable cover artwork, but their soaring conjurations easily surmount them all. See you on the other side of the asteroid belt.
Founded and operated by Roger H. Smith, the musician behind the prolific Chefkirk project, Control Valve was active for a little over a decade from its inception in 2009, closing just when netlabels are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. Distributed in individual lossy downloads a la fals.ch, the many releases in the label’s impressive catalog span the gamut of DIY experimental music in the 2010s, and now they’re all archived and available for name-your-price download on Bandcamp (there’s also a lot of great stuff on archive.org as well). Here are my personal highlights.
Pregnant Spore – Garden Performance (2012)
Though it’s undoubtedly a drop in the ocean of Angel Marcloid’s staggering discography, Garden Performance is hardly a throwaway release. It’s a colorful mass of volatile noise tinkering, bursting at the seams with boisterous glitch storms and mangled preset patches. I use the word “tinker” because manual exploration feels like the sole structural element here, like Marcloid is simply experimenting with a new tabletop setup and just happened to get some pretty spectacular results, but at the same time much of the music feels so much larger and more elaborate than that. Great stuff.
AODL – Bed Store Morality (2013)
As many of you have probably already heard, avant-garde music legend Peter Rehberg died today, and I’ve been honoring his immense impact on the global scene by revisiting some favorites. I don’t know much about AODL, or the artist’s primary Eucci project, but the dense digital chaos of Bed Store Morality is very much in the spirit of Rehberg’s gleeful electronic maximalism; in recalling an R/S gig at Cafe OTO in 2012, Mark Harwood writes, “An insanely ecstatic Risset effect laden monster which propelled itself around the room, shocking the ears of all. It was described in an online review as ‘a horrible, twisted mesh, like barbed wire being fed into your ears under high pressure.’ Pete got so excited at one point he jumped up on his chair with one fist pummeling the air.” May he rest well, and may his influence forever flourish.
_whALe_ pLAtE_ – Image Is Everything (2009)
Image Is Everything may consist solely of sonified raw image data, but no matter how much actual artistic involvement there was in producing this material, it was certainly selected carefully, because there isn’t a single dull moment across all three tracks. It might just be the fact that I’m a total sucker for the most caustic noise possible, and a lot of this release fits that bill; at times it’s more like a massive drill is burrowing into your head than music, but hey, if you’re reading this that’s probably an enticing pitch.
Marlo Eggplant – Crisis as Opportunity (2012)
The continent-hopping Marlo Eggplant is a name that’s unfamiliar to many, but extremely familiar to few. She’s established herself as a leading figure in the international scene, always reinventing her processes and performances to keep things interesting over the years. Crisis as Opportunity is a release that simultaneously feels primitive and complex; much of its duration is filled with brutish lo-fi noise and other, more musical bits and bobs, but—unsurprisingly—still present is Eggplant’s deceptive complexity, lurking at the edges of a structural sound collage as piecemeal and purposeful as the cover art.
Slime Street – Bloody Haze (2013)
Finding much information at all about Slime Street is next to impossible, but this forgotten outsider noise masterpiece speaks for itself. Haphazardly sculpted from screaming circuit bends, innocuous field recordings, humming faulty connections, and more scraps of sonic junk, the four pieces that comprise Bloody Haze are rough-edged and raucous, and even strangely rapturous in their unhinged abrasion. The brutal “Stalking Scum” is like a gruesome defilement of a pristine pile of recently discarded home appliance innards, mercilessly pushing the boundaries of tolerability—just how I like it.
I first encountered Berlin ensemble The Pitch via their 2015 live album Frozen Orchestra (Amsterdam), released just a month after their studio debut, and which features an impressive guest roster of Lucio Capece, Valerio Tricoli, Okkyung Lee, and others in addition to the core lineup of Baltschun, Nutters, Olsen, and Thieke. The sublime Sofa release, which remains a staple on my always rotating set of reliably somniferous records, demonstrates the group’s ability to conjure arresting drone meditations that sounds massive and frail at the same time, gathering both density and diaphony from their subdued string-based approach. KM28, a new cassette from formidable new improvised music imprint Tripticks Tapes, documents a live performance from October of last year that presents a few apparently novel directions for the musicians, namely forays into just intonation tuning and duo/trio subsets. Besides “Frozen Just,” a reimagining of a 2018 piece originally recorded with the prodigious Splitter Orchestra, and “Just Pillars (String Redux),” each of the sections of KM28 is titled for the materials used to create it, i.e. various combinations of vibraphone, clarinet, bass, sine wave generator, and custom magnetic tape delay systems. Though the former two tracks will feel the most familiar to existing fans—and the sustained, crystalline trance of “Frozen Just” especially is an otherworldly high point of the whole tape—the more adventurous excursions introduce welcome diversity to this often deliberately glacial music. The pair of cassette delay experiments are particularly strong; despite making use of effervescent electronic textures atypical for The Pitch, they ultimately feel just as relaxed, contained, and purposeful as the rest. What a lovely evening this must have been for those lucky enough to witness it.
I have never heard of Bizarre Audio Arts, which has apparently been “destruyendo oidos desde 1995” (destroying ears since 1995); nor have I heard of Iwate Yamagata, the “obscure” musician from Japan and Ecuador (!!!); nor have I heard of Yusuke Furusawa, another artist whose photographs are included in a booklet packaged with the cassette and presumably on the cover; nor have I any idea of what Hanada Will Say “RON” means. But even if you’re anything like me, who despite not wanting to admit is always desperately scrambling for context and background information, any and all frustrations will be washed away by the searing molten metal avalanche that is the primary noise palette on this thing. After a brief introduction, “Hyper Object: Thomason” sets the stage for the sort of high-octane psychedelic chaos that is to come, whipping up densely layered storms of howling feedback squall and pummeling mid-range churn. For much of its duration Hanada Will Say “RON” settles into a hypnotic static dynamism on par with the most legendary of harsh noise classics; unrelenting hyper-currents of dense, caustic distortion form a base of shifting scrap-metal sands for contained sound events within the blurring onslaught (it’s nearly impossible to tell when one track ends and another begins), which range from screeching industrial clamor and soaring errant tones to sluggish loops and haunting samples. It’s a wild ride, to be sure, and I feel like having a better understanding of what the hell, if anything, is going on here thematically or conceptually, but I’m content to wallow in ear-destroying ignorance for the foreseeable future.
Haunted Home is a concise but dense display of do-it-yourself rough electronics sound design, manifesting across the three bite-sized tracks in the form of simmering static, broken rhythms, and howling abrasions. “Spectre” introduces the infectious structural character of the release right off the bat with its restless volatility; it finds shaky footing on a half-materialized obstacle course of needle-drop punctures, rumbling bass transmissions, and metallic-tube air drones, all the while threatening a coalescence into something more cohesive that never quite occurs—I’m oddly reminded of “There and Back” and its sister track on Lambkin and Lescalleet’s The Breadwinner. The false hints at coherence continue with “The Messenger,” which introduces punchy beat fragments that sound like a hard-hitting EBM track put through the “deconstructed club” blender. With the way it seethes and surges it could be the score to some bleak cinematic post-apocalyptic romp, or perhaps an extra-dramatic walk through an industrial city at night. “Enemies Known & Unknown,” the side-long closer (the whole release would fit comfortably on a C14), is a sort of deconstructed power electronics affair, a shifting mass of strangled bellows and distant noise that succeeds as both an aggressive assault and an atmospheric meditation. Haunted Home certainly won’t feel like “home”—at least, I hope it won’t—but everything in moderation, right?
I doubt anyone would expect otherwise from a release titled Total Scorn of Life with “Orgy of Wounds” as its first track, but Nicaraguan duo Reflection of Misery’s debut demo is a dark, ersatz nightmare. Almost every sound on this thing has something… not quite right with it, the magnitude of this uncanniness ranging from slightly off-kilter to deeply unsettling. On the aforementioned opener propulsive drums and crunchy, classic-sounding tremolo guitars rise out of and fall back into ominous ambience—often at the most unexpected moments, just when you’ve become acclimated to whatever’s happening. Despite this comprising the band’s inaugural public recordings, the style and songwriting indicate a deep appreciation for the tropes, textures, and general spirit of the black metal genre as a whole, pulling from so many different influences that the result is both nostalgic and timeless. “Miasma in Decadent Wombs,” beyond somehow outdoing the preceding title’s grotesqueness, is a more focused track that shows off the two musicians’ instrumental chops, as well as their ability to conjure a tremendously hypnotic onslaught of riffs and blasts that retains a shining simplicity. It’s all one big smear of soot, ash, and hellfire-scorched bones, and yet there are also so many memorable bits that anchor our wayward minds: the jarringly hard-panned bell hits in “Orgy,” the halftime climax of “Miasma,” the slinky, lumbering groove that false-starts “Wrong,” the creeping dread and demon-babble of “Perpetual Deluge of Pus,” et cetera et cetera. From the first inhuman growl, Reflection of Misery makes the most of skeletal but worthy production and hacks open a path to an exciting musical future.
We’ve had plenty of both rain and heat here in Ohio the past few months, and I’d wager most other places are seeing similar changes; both erratic extreme weather and rising temperatures are only going to get worse. But these mixes sometimes have to be about silver linings, and everyone can appreciate the oddly tense, electric tranquility of being sheltered away during a soaking summer storm. It often seems to speak with its boisterous growls of thunder and musical pitter-patter, but ambiguous messages are hard to decipher when you’re just trying to make sure your basement doesn’t flood or your windows don’t cave in.
00:00. Yume Hayashi – “B” from What the Summer Rain Knows (Avocado Tapes, 2016)
03:16. Kevin Drumm – “Humid Weather” [excerpt] from Humid Weather (Hospital Productions, 2012)
06:52. Ourson – “Rainy Wednesday” from Collected Natures III (Psøma Psi Phi, 2019)
08:03. Daphne X – “First the Thirst” from Água Viva (tsss tapes, 2020)
16:06. Marek Hlaváč – “Artificial Rain Falling on Real Metal Plate” from Changing Weather (self-released, 2021)
19:17. Henry Collins – A side [excerpt] of Prepared Rain (zamzamrec, 2020)
25:02. Jeremy Hegge – “Parched Earth, Wet” from Six Days in Townsville (self-released, 2018)
27:45. Abby Lee Tee – “Sleet” from At the Beaver Lodge I (self-released, 2021)
32:38. Audiosmogg – “Solo for Two Cans in the Rain” from Superior to a Lesser Extent (Bleeding Ear, 2019)
36:08. Faust – “Meadow Meal” [ending] from Faust (Polydor, 1971)
The eponymous debut from dejSOMAjzla (pronounce it however the hell you want until proven otherwise, I always say) is modestly labeled “IDM,” or “intelligent dance music.” Despite it being one of the worst musical descriptors ever conceived, the infamous label does tend to draw in a wider audience, but at the same time I don’t think it’s quite accurate here—if intelligent dance music is a thing, then this is galaxy-brain dance music. There isn’t a single millisecond of dejSOMAjzla that isn’t fractured and fragmented into microscopic shreds; silence abounds, everything is relentlessly impermanent, and there’s little to no rhythm to latch onto… and yet the music still feels so full and present, like something much larger is being shakily transmitted via a faulty channel, yet despite being splintered into tiny, nonsensically arranged pieces, its holistic energy remains intact within the invisible bonds between them. Each of the three tracks begin with such erratic arrangements that it often sounds as if someone is using a sampler as a punching bag, but the sporadic surges of harsh digital artifacts and electronic pulses soon begin to exude that aforementioned energy, slowly gaining an inexplicably decipherable cadence in their complex subatomic dance. This feels like something that could have come out on fals.ch back in 2000, but that doesn’t mean what it would for most other music; this sort of tinker-glitch is timeless, so if it sounds fresh it is fresh, and—well, you’ve been reading all of this (I hope), so you already know.
Information about the relatively new Paris-based label 2035 Records is sparse, but their small yet formidable catalog speaks for itself. Static-jazz freakout session 18 Luglio was already among my favorites of the year, and now I’ve been introduced to Phanes, a duo whose approach to collaborative improvisation on their debut self-titled release is even more unexpected and uncompromising than that of Where Is Mr. R?. “00000001” (all of the track titles are binary values) is the longest track by far and takes the “metronomic” descriptor to a new level; throughout the six-minute track, electronics operator Luca Ventimiglia and drummer Augustin Bette play what sounds like a game of sci-fi racquetball, any complexities only emerging within the confines of the obstinate tempo. It turns out that each piece is produced with some variation of that adherence to repetition, and piece by piece more of the character of each musician’s contributions is revealed in fleeting snippets, every section a taut, unique cell of volatile incessance. Even in the most mechanical of moments, when it more closely resembles a recording inside a futuristic clock store or a painfully slow copier spitting out pages, there is enough innate imperfection and flexibility to the music that it’s unlikely one would ever mistake them for anything other than a human creation. One could place Phanes somewhere in an complex stylistic family tree, that would imply their sound is a combination of things, and it actually feels more like a distillation than anything: the outermost membranes of electronic and improvised music boiled out, reconstituted, and delicately reshaped.