Solo tabletop improvisation usually ends up being quite intimate even with the most maximalist of sonic results; there’s something distinct about the direct relationship between the performer and the actions they take that the listener can always pick up on, a lurking yet palpable personality. Intimacy arises differently from both of the two main recording approaches a solo improviser can take, a dichotomy well-represented by two Keith Rowe releases, The Room (Erstwhile, 2007) and Live at Fairchild Chapel (Idiopathic, 2015); the former evokes claustrophobic and microscopic sound-worlds through line-in capture, while the latter makes the performance space a perceptible presence in the music, shrouding Rowe’s prepared guitar clatter and ghostly radio transmissions in shadow. I provide these examples because Dylan Burchett’s bread, a single 37-minute improvisation, is somewhere in between the two, making use of both direct and overhead recording for a delicate electronic odyssey. A range of sound sources form the basis for the track (“motors, fans, contact mics, objects, hard drives, speakers, computer”); we hear sine waves and digital crackle materialize in the liminal space between action and result as Burchett’s array of devices are arranged and activated by hand. There’s a lot of perceivable movement near the beginning, but starting at around the ten-minute mark everything begins to coalesce into a sublime, crystalline drone, full of light mechanical whir and rattle. Burchett’s presence returns around halfway through, reaching around in preparation for new sonic activity as soft samples continue independently. There’s a tremendous amount of restraint at work here, and despite its undeniable abstractness bread’s subtlety make it an accessible, cozy mid-afternoon listen for anyone with an adventurous ear.
Silly Symphonies, Vol. 1 is one of those albums that can be succinctly and accurately summed up in just a few words—”solo game calls”—but that also far surpass such modest, concrete origins. The two sides of this short C12 are filled with the sparsely arranged sounds of synthetic bird chirps, smashed squeaky toys, and general piercing misuse, an freakish orchestra of real-time processed utterance.There’s no ambiguity in regards to where these sonorities originate, but that doesn’t make the experience of Silly Symphonies any less uncanny; as humans we are constantly projecting our qualities onto not just each other, but anything we happen to encounter, even things that couldn’t be more different from us. We hear the whines and cries of petulant infants in Williams’ duck calls, shrieks of anguish in whatever the hell is making the sound at the end of “Part One” (this track was featured on my Past Vocalisms mix, and, despite being produced using an external device, reminds me of the harrowing abstractions of Ami Yoshida), yet it’s all smothered by an impenetrable layer of artificiality that throws our perception well and truly out of whack. Williams’ approach works well for such a short release, but honestly I could listen to this bizarre shit all day, so it’s great to see that “Vol. 1” subheading.
There are no actual vocals on The Singing Work; instead, sound artist T. Liefhold encourages inhuman objects to sing, coaxing tonal reverberations and complementary textures from a variety of sources, and the resulting work is just as harmonious as what actual human voices could produce. In large part, Liefhold’s newest release presents music of rattle and clatter; taut strings produce resonant oscillations, footsteps rustle leaves and other natural detritus, occasional guitar notes falter and feed back into a restless din. But the unique presence that The Singing Work asserts is not one of shaky, uncertain abstraction, nor do its uncanny soundscapes attempt to evoke environments beyond our earthly perceptions. Instead, the space it occupies seems to be the machinations beneath our everyday surroundings. Liefhold strikes, plucks, and vibrates the mysterious contraptions that maintain the organic processes we take for granted, and with the field recordings he also incorporates we see a sublime coexistence of cause and effect, imaginary apparatuses interacting with their real-world results, a detailed yet peaceful cross-section of a world that’s at once industrial and natural.
Folk Music was pretty much a must-listen on genre intrigue alone; the New Brunswick project Women of the Pore refers to itself (themselves?) as “bunker jazz,” which in my opinion is about as captivating as invented names can get. Plus, the title makes me think of a favorite oddity of mine, Grim’s 1986 album of the same name, for which “folk music” is an equally inaccurate label. The anthology of 2019 material really does live up to that bizarre label, but not in a way you might expect. Putting the tape on for the first time as I was lying down in my pitch-dark room last night turned about to be an optimal setting for my first encounter with this mysterious music. What “bunker jazz” actually consists of is immediately made apparent: thick synth loops and drum machine patches form heavyweight grooves through which various samples, mostly of horns and other jazz instruments, are woven. The electronics are usually as primitive and minimal as even the most detached examples of minimal wave music, but their impact varies; on “Gems,” the synth arpeggios and percussion hit with abrasive, EBM-like force, while on “Defeating the Force of Violence” the progressive electronic swells channel warm, atmospheric synthesizer music both old and new, conjuring equal reminders of both Tangerine Dream and the Stranger Things theme song. This is what bunker jazz is: fragments of communal, collectively generated music trapped within sterile metal walls of industrial-tinged beat music. Over the course of Folk Music the various possibilities of this unique approach are explored in depth, from the extended hypnosis of “Eyes Which Cry Love” or the surreal stutters of “Sinking” to whatever the hell is going on in “Gravel Hill.” I’ve done my best to describe what’s happening on this thing, but there’s no other way to actually understand the strange, dark energy that’s evoked by this music than to experience it firsthand.
I don’t know if you guys were aware, but Lurker Bias dropped TEN wall tapes all at once on January 10th, one of the most ridiculously bountiful batches I’ve seen in a long time. What makes this even cooler is that LB isn’t even exclusively a HNW label; they’ve released a wide range of experimental music on tape, a lot of which I’ve reviewed here (Butoh Sonics’ Flickers of Light, Owen Davis’s Interference, Snek Trio’s Battement Développé) in addition to some of not only my favorite wall material, but some of my picks for the best of all time: notably Smisao Života Je Sloboda by Dosis Letalis, Static Universe by Dirac Sea, and Ushinawareta Tamashi’s side of LB_120. I’m still working my way through the tremendous ten, but one that instantly stood out was Lost Graves’ No Resting Place, a two-piece set of punishing lo-fi destruction. I first came across Lost Graves with Buried at Sea on Lost Light, and this new tape continues the project’s unique talent for incorporating both intensity and lushness with an addictive crunch. “Shattered Headstones” blasts the stereo field with stuttering layers of industrial-strength crackle and rough-edged drones, establishing itself with a loud and raucous presence—yet over its thirty minute duration seems to become less uncompromisingly violent, and the roiling chunks of static begin to sound like more of a meditative swirl. “Roaming Spectres” is a fascinating counterpoint, a cloud of kinetic fuzz emanating from a queasy, unstable inception.
Water Bucket makes the full list of materials and captured sounds used to create it—bucket of water (unsurprisingly), vibrator, microphones, amps, feedback, record player, radio, heater, kitchen utensils, bells, a drum, a wooden box strung with hanging wire, rain, wind, other objects, people, cars, airplanes—readily accessible, but such transparency does little to make the curious little album easier to decipher. Queue’s use of trivial objects, homey extracts, and an intimate, lo-fi approach to recording results in pleasingly messy piles of sounds both familiar and uncanny, humanly imagined celebrations of the mundane. But occasionally threatening the sanctity these delicate personal spaces are intrusions of the outside world; the seam between parts one and two of the titular piece is exposed by an unceremonious interjection by a radio news station, the transmitted words describing just one small facet of our constantly discouraging reality nearly shattering the fragile bit of peace that has been so reverently cobbled together. In the following two tracks, the samples become more soothing inclusions, but on “People and Animals” their out-of-place-ness is made clear, the languid folk tune slowly encroached upon by shards of feedback and a stuttering turntable stylus. “Rain on the Rail” acts as an unassuming but unsettling conclusion, stitching together domestic detritus with the ghostliest of threads.
The Bandcamp tags for DiscordMeansLiberation list both “blastbeats” and “blast beats,” a pair of descriptors that would be redundant in most other cases, but in this case it’s completely appropriate. I don’t know much about DML other than that they hail from Seville, Spain and deliver some of the most intense hardcore-influenced grind I’ve heard in a while, so I’m grateful for Rip Roaring Shit Storm’s vinyl release of their first two EPs (grouped together as an LP under the title of the more recent release). “Tsundoku” doesn’t waste any time in setting the intensity level for the rest of the album, forcing its way into existence with heavily distorted punk riffs and larynx-shredding screams. The band is equally skilled at minuscule blasts of scalding fury as well as (relatively) more reticent atmospheric respites—”Endorphin Fueled Euphoria” is the shortest track on the LP at only five seconds, breaking into dizzying, lightning-speed technical fury after a brief snare count-in, while “Indentured Servants” stretches itself across four minutes of punishing sludge jams and ends with a whirlwind of harrowing, mangled shrieks. DML occupies a sweet spot somewhere between the heavily hardcore-influenced, shrill “false grind” of bands I love like The Ergon Carousel and the earthier assaults of Weak Flesh, so DiscordMeansLiberation is exactly what I needed in this brand new year.