Review: Max Nordile – Copper in the Arts (Gilgongo, Apr 14)

Though I don’t own many myself, I have to say a 12″ lathe is a fitting format for what might be Max Nordile’s best release to date, music and medium sharing a crude, homespun charisma. The famed Oakland-based junk-sound purveyor is usually working on multiple collaborative projects at any given time, but his most memorable work is often solo under Hair Clinic, his own name, or both, and in many ways Copper in the Arts is the culmination of all of it. All the usual suspects—wailing, broken sax ditties; dingy drones; tape-muffled clatter of knickknacks and doodads; fleeting environs—show up in spades across both distinct yet complementary sides of the slightly oversized slab, and while I’m not 100% sure which side is A (“Rats Are the Souls of Dead Landlords”) and which is B (title track) I can still say both are wonderful. The choppy lo-fi recordings seem specifically designed to blur and blend with the churning distortion of the lathe cut, often to the point of sounding like it’s stuck on a locked groove before some subtle new element starts to creep in. It’s both a tragedy and a blessing that this edition of fifty hasn’t sold out yet—go forth and support one of the best artists and one of the best labels doing it at the moment!

Review: Pentode – Ambiens (Djezmusic, Apr 4)

The most recent—and my favorite—of the four downloadable albums Pentode has already released in 2023, Ambiens is in many ways the opposite of my surroundings today. The air is warm and the people moving through it even warmer, yet these eight exactly-four-minute tracks are cool and crystalline. But their stochastically generated, near-static presence is distilled (and nonintrusive) enough to be either undercurrent or contrast for the heat they don’t possess themselves: a rare breeze in the scorching dryness or the freezer you recline against when the AC isn’t cutting it. Though there is some amount of artistic input with regard to the quantity of recordings and their uniform length, mostly the automatic output is left to its own devices, the start of each section marking a subtle shift in atmosphere, temperature, or tonality. In one of the best examples of this, the final bit ditches the digital crackle for smooth, soothing tones tied in a loop of lulling rhythm, fit to either put one to sleep or the exact opposite. A great option for anyone looking for stasis that doesn’t demand patience.

Mix: Weaving, Woven

This is a multimedia mix, in several senses. Attempts at documenting, dissecting, or preserving a practice that can be both art and artifice, empowering and oppressive, individual and industrial. 

00:00. Audio from opening sequence of La Libertad (dir. Laura Huertas Millán, 2017)

01:36. Sound Diaries – “Cumbrian Loom” / “Estonian Loom” (2012)

02:39. Agente Costura – “Maskerade Brigade” from re:flections 04 07 20 compilation (Attenuation Circuit, 2020)

05:51. Andrea Borghi – Tistre #3 (Dinzu Artefacts, 2019)

11:42. Shirts – seventh untitled track from Shirt Noise (Moon Myst Music, 2020)

17:53. Leo Correia de Verdier – “Stygn” [excerpt]

22:21. Kelly Ruth – “Nascent” from Forms (Pseudo Laboratories, 2019)

26:28. Natalia Beylis – Variations on a Sewing Machine no. 3 (Beartown, 2022)

30:41. James Wyness – “Textility” from Dead Sound Ethnographics (self-released, 2016)

36:50. Michal Fojcik – “Weaving Workshop” (2014)

37:30. Audio from opening sequence of The Woven Sounds demo (dir. Mehdi Aminian, 2019)

Further Reading/Viewing

Woman Interwoven documentary series

Mika Tajima, Negative Entropy

Paola Torres Núñez del Prado, Cross-Cultural Tangible Interfaces as Phenomenological Artifacts

Jodie Mack, The Grand Bizarre

Rajee Samarasinghe, Foreign Quarters

Review: Adriano Cava – Lineology (Mahorka, Mar 25)

Though Italy is home to a seemingly endless list of pioneering sound artists, any stylistic homogeneity among them is practically nonexistent. The work of Turin’s Adriano Cava illustrates well the general emotional and cathartic approach to concrete music that makes the country’s role in the global scene impossible to overlook; leading up to Lineology, the artist has been steadily refining a simple palette of muffled tape recordings, melody, and subtle processing, and perhaps here more than anywhere else they coalesce into a haunting, delicate sort of ambient electronica whose layered beauty sacrifices neither ease nor edge. Though both “Digital Lines” and “Magnetic Lines”—each a four-part, 25ish-minute suite—tend more toward a synthetic atmosphere than an organic one, there’s a profound human element present, a deep but nonspecific nostalgia that lets the soundscapes resonate far beyond just their dynamic movements and textural intricacies. The final section of “Magnetic Lines” is a fantastic conclusion, somehow delivering the album’s most conventionally pretty moments through spectral shimmer and bit-rotted digital loops. As if anyone needed yet another reason to support Mahorka—one of several labels that puts out music as both quality physical copies and free Creative Commons downloads—but here’s one anyway.

Review: Adam Matschulat – Formosa (Calling Cards Publishing, Mar 24)

This LP was a lovely surprise in light of my having heard Adam Matschulat’s previous two releases (credited only to his surname), Ulterior and Cutting the Stone on Resterecords, almost five years ago. Though I enjoyed those, Formosa, named for the region in Goiás, Brazil where the artist and his family spent childhood summers, is on another level entirely, its complexity and depth reflecting the nearly decade-long (and transcontinental) span of source recordings arranged in two meditative side-long pieces. According to Matschulat himself, much of his memory of Formosa is associated with the “safety” he felt there, a headspace reflected by the placement of the sounds themselves: so much of the familiar, soothing textures of leaves rustling, creatures calling, music being played, and vehicles puttering away are heard from a comfortable distance, leaving plenty of space for any listener to stretch their legs and/or ear canals. Our position in the soundscape is mobile too, though—no footsteps or other concrete signs of movement are audible, and yet the lens melts into new milieus with ease whenever it deems necessary. First it’s to better hear a concert; then it’s a humid trudge through the foliage while whining fly-buzzes orbit in a binaural halo, a sticky tension beautifully broken when we breach the treeline and cool off to the soundtrack of an impromptu vocal duet. It might be this moment that most reminds me of Ezio Piermattei’s Gran trotto (a disc with very few peers) in the way it celebrates the sublime in the mundane. The B side makes use of some of my favorite domestic sounds—the gurgle and hiss of a drip coffee maker—to introduce a lovely kitchen-based composition complete with crowing rooster and other birdsong drifting in through an open window. Anyone who follows this site knows how strongly I advocate for field recording as a vehicle for intimate personal expression, and anyone who listens to Formosa will not be confused about why.

Review: a0n0 – Underground Sea (farmersmanual, Mar 18)

Reviewing two glitch-based releases back to back may be a faux pas for one who likes to keep things varied (e.g., me) but neither Actoma nor this incredible full-length by Sendai sound artist a0n0, one of the few artists who has put out new material on since its revival some three or so years ago. In appropriate fashion, Calopteryx atrata was raw, and rough-edged computer music (except for short interludes like “A River Near the Forest” and “Jyogisan”), and for most of Underground Sea’s “Ultra Lite Mk3”  it starts to seem like the same will be true here. But the meticulously sculpted web of thick digital noise soon starts to reveal a warmth buried beneath, a network of thermal veins surging with a sublime fire that arrives in the form of “610”, a roiling, densely harmonic (and even melodic) drift. It’s pretty amazing how packed full this thing really is, each track holding you under its surface for what feels like an eternity, and yet as a whole the 28-odd minutes are over in a flash. Harnessing such harsh synthetic textures in ambient music is a rare approach, but it’s consistently successful enough that it should be; Underground Sea is even less overtly organic than the noisiest moments on Lilien Rosarian’s Every Flower in My Garden, and yet it mines from the same radiant essence, especially in the case of the gorgeous “The Day Plate Tectronics Stopped.”

Review: James Emrick – Actoma (Soda Gong, Mar 17)

Since the last thing by Brooklyn’s James Emrick I heard was Conject on Prensa Manual, a label notable for its highly conceptual and often austere material, I wasn’t expecting the softness that “MWLHWOF-4” immediately introduces to Actoma, a region of delicate ambience I associate with early aughts electronica like Vert, Pimmon, and Vote Robot. Though Emrick pretty much runs the gamut in terms of computer music techniques throughout the LP’s 36ish-minute run time, that gossamer candy-floss digital beauty is never fully abandoned. “Upqp” and especially “Skor” turn their focus to the plasticine contours of spectral processing, while “Nooumenon,” the record’s longest piece, combines those smooth textural surfaces with the more fractured topology of raw data–driven click and crackle. Some semblance of real-world tactility emerges in the granular mist of “Saxd,” but it doesn’t feel any more grounded (or grounding) than even the most thoroughly manipulated sounds. As is often the case, the album’s own liner notes put it best: “Perhaps Emrick’s greatest accomplishment is creating a music that remains rigorously committed to severe levels of abstraction while avoiding sterility and coldness entirely.” As if to prove this point, Actoma closes on its most left-field track with “Barrel Arbor,” which still manages to bookend extremity with serenity in a way that somehow frames the whole thing as a pensive closer. One for sleepyheads and AMOLEDs alike.

Review: Tenshun – Continuous Probability (self-released, Mar 4)

The history of “pure” turntablism—deploying the sounds of the device itself (motor hum, empty scratches, etc.) in a musical context—is a long and storied one, and is also a great example of a case in which innovation compounds upon innovation. By that I mean that even two-plus decades beyond the ostensible exhaustion of such an approach by legends such as Tétreault, Yoshihide, M (both Erik and Sachiko), Schick, and others, no one could claim that contemporary figureheads like Maria Chavez or Graham Dunning aren’t consistently breaking new ground to this day. Unlike many in the field both past and present, San Diego artist Tenshun (sometimes 10shun, real name Jonathan Calzo) has an extensive hip-hop background, much of his early career consisting of conventional DJ sets and beat tapes released in and around his Kilowattz crew. In recent years he’s become a prolific abstract improviser and experimenter, honing a basic but versatile performance setup of empty table with live modular processing; this assembly is what generated the dizzying assault of alien sound heard on the self-released Continuous Probability. All recorded live without overdubs on the same day, these sixteen tracks might be more like sketches if they weren’t so complex and fleshed-out, but each one is so thrillingly kinetic that any rough edges or lag points are near-impossible to pick out. The individual textures are all appealing in their own right, but Calzo keeps us too busy with the constant stereo shifts, cutups, and jagged layering for any to even come close to getting boring. A turntable is definitely the heart of this music, but then in that case the synth is the brain; this heavy, mincing real-time approach reminds me a bit of Eldar Tagi’s playing on Flock (with Patrick Shiroishi), and it’s something I hope more improvisers take cues from in the future. If your patch cables aren’t melting you’re doing something wrong!

Review: Renee Willoughby – 33 (Irrational Tentent, Feb 10)

Even after only hearing it almost a month out, I knew I needed to review at least one of the tapes in this fivefold batch, because a new Irrational Tentent update, especially the first one in over two years, is always breaking news. The selection, unsurprisingly, is both eclectic and extremely on-brand—reliably rustic electronics from Claire Cirocco’s  stalwart Comme à la Radio project, both new and reissued material from Gingko founder Shelley Salant (as Shells and Water Damage, respectively), and a fresh offering from the elusive, previously NNM-reviewed Faded Ghost—but for me the highlight has to be Renee Willoughby’s debut recording 33, a conceptual yet deeply personal exploration of loss, memory, and love, the kind that transcends the bounds of what is “possible.” The Detroit multimedia artist’s ritualistic weave of speech/poetry, voice/song, electronics, samples, and “lo-fi ghost technology” is a presence as simultaneously ephemeral and defined as a paranormal apparition, a thick, vibrant aura of all things past and present, real and not, alive and beyond.

For a piece of music as sublime as this, context isn’t necessarily crucial; however, in this case it’s about as close to crucial as it gets. 33, alt-titled “Her Shape Is Light,” is about the thirty-three-year-old Willoughby’s late mother, who died, also at thirty-three, when Willoughby was three. But words that might come to mind when death and/or mourning is dealt with in such a direct manner—”bleak,” “final,” “gone,” etc.—have no place here, where the curtains covering both sides of the mirror have been drawn. There are no rules, no boundaries in these unforgettable soundscapes, like liminality itself has been smeared back and forth across the threshold, and the result is beauty unparalleled. It isn’t a perfect comparison by any means, but Willoughby’s spellbinding, invocation-like ambience and meaning-rich yet obtuse mantras has shades of Ghost Food’s previously peerless “Ghost’s Come Home” and ROT GM. And at the heart of it all is a daughter saying “I want to talk to you” and “I love you” to one who will always never be there. All is impermanence, and yet we are all alive in the countless moments we breathed, are breathing, or will breathe, each and every one stretching across infinity, across the boundary said to separate “is” from “was,” across the space between a daughter’s arms and a mother’s embrace.

Review: Jackie-O Motherfucker – Manual of the Bayonet (Feeding Tube, Feb 24)

Close to five years ago now, Jackie-O Motherfucker’s most recent studio record Bloom was among the first fifty or so releases I reviewed for this site. Even then the music of PNW legends had been near and dear to me for some time, and now, despite a lack of any more new material, their influence is still felt in both my own life and the music I listen to. The ramshackle improvisational collective had many peaks throughout their tenure, but that of 1999–2002 (more like a plateau, really), which generated the hallowed trifecta of Fig. 5The Magick Fire Music, and Liberation, is truly one for the books. According to Byron Colley’s liner notes, Manual of the Bayonet “is hopefully just the first volume of archival recordings by this most excellent destructo-unit,” and so, assuming he is more in the know than I, it’s more likely than ever that any gaps in the JOMF oeuvre will be filled in, and richly so.

Interestingly enough, this LP from Feeding Tube not only offers fresh, unheard helpings of the hypnotic drone-folk jams that cemented them as New Weird America legends, but also looks ahead to styles that would be later explored in offshoot projects like Black Magic Disco and Evolutionary Jass Band. It would be hard to overstate the importance of John Flaming’s alto sax playing to the group’s sound at the time (I’m 90% sure it’s him playing it on “Amazing Grace”), and it’s present in spades here. Side B alone is “She Cuts Heart Shapes” is a real burner and an easy new favorite, evoking the irresistible dynamic build of “Black Squirrels” as it surges toward a majestic conclusion, and “Red Slipper Ritual,” well… if you’re already a fan, let’s just say it’ll make you feel extremely validated for that choice. Stuffed with both the catchall eclecticism of a faithful retrospective exhumation and the unified momentum of an album, Manual of the Bayonet is not to be missed.