With New Nacht Pop, devoted magnetic tape artisan Christian Schiefner presents his second self-released collection of musical works, this time working with the percussive sounds of lightly struck ride cymbals and hi-hats. True to form, Schiefner’s diligent tape-to-tape layering technique transmogrifies those rattles, taps, and reverberations into stretches of beautifully spectral, sonorous drones, whose ghostly yet slightly metallic qualities are reminiscent of the mystery-steeped compositions of classic musique concrète mainstays such as François Bayle or Bernard Fort. New Nacht Pop is a more focused release as a whole than the more eclectic Listening Stations, with each track exploring the varied possibilities of this versatile sound source. “For Green Tea Tapes” captures a nocturnal, brooding atmosphere of tantalizing tension, distending the spacious forms of decaying cymbal agitations into immersive soundscapes. The following tracks delve more into tactile textures, incorporating the distinctive noises of speed manipulation and some others much harder to identify (like the unassuming but dense cascade of clatters and clicks around which the title track is based). Much like its album cover, New Nacht Pop transfers recognizable physicality to an alien sound-world of the dark and incorporeal.
The kind of technicality at work on Collapse is not that the kind that draws too much attention to itself or hinders the flow of the music (neither of those things are always negative; Executive Distraction Tasks’ Finished With Grind provides tremendous evidence). This new act out of the UK is largely driven by the boundless, raucous energy of hardcore punk, with plenty of driving snare hits, speedy power chord riffs, and briefly anthemic moments—just try not to scream along to the opening lines of “Husk.” But Tendrils spends just as much time twisting this tried-and-true bag of tricks into the sort of complex, contorted shapes they want their music to take on, and thus the energy is maintained through even the most angular of breakdowns. Disarming time signature changes and high-pitched wah stabs abound, all held together by a snarling production style that makes the growling rhythm section sound menacingly oppressive. Dan Couch of Helpless is the newest addition to the band, delivering stark, disturbing, Wasteland-esque imagery in a mixture of powerful, jagged bellows and higher-pitched screams (I can’t help but be reminded of Jon Parkin). Collapse barely reaches ten minutes, but from its invigorating start to a roiling finish there are no breaks along the way.
It’s not often that I review two releases from the same label this close together. But in the case of Forced Growth, the new tape from Systems. (also known as Harrison Phillis), and Sterile Garden’s Events Without Reference, not only are both albums fantastic but I also found myself drawing connections between the observations I made about each. The latter, though fragmented and schizophrenic in structure, sticks to a more reserved sonic palette and volume level, Forced Growth tears through cut-up tape collages and distorted nature recordings with blasts of chunky harsh noise. Overwhelming and disorienting in its restlessness, the album refuses to maintain any particular sound for an extended period of time, even seeming to forcefully hack them apart and wrench the mangled pieces away. “Substantial Rule” is a great example of how Phillis gives his pieces identity and atmosphere without much restraint or audible patience; the recurring appearance of the distorted voice samples establishes continuity while the more abrasive assaults roar, contort, and disintegrate atop it all. Forced Growth is an ideal combination of merciless mordancy with a palpable sense of composition and purpose.
Sound artist Peter Kutin’s TORSO installation is composed of four speakers on a biaxial rotating structure, their output captured by carefully placed static microphones that transfer the sound they pick up to a four channel PA system. With sounds specifically chosen for this work, Kutin examines the effects of acceleration and spacial feedback on audio sources in motion, a disorienting and hypnotic effect that comes across in the dizzying, rhythmic oscillations immortalized on the Dinzu cassette release. The initially insubstantial presence of heavily processed drones and spectral vocal treatments gains ferocity as their movement changes speed, accumulating strength even as hints of fragility and instability are sown by the sounds’ passage past the microphones. “Part II” presents an extended study of this evolution, with quiet wails gathering volume as they are gradually plagued by squeals of feedback. The recording of the installation also captures another crucial element: that of the human audience, whose subtle coughs and shifts ground the alien sounds that are emitted by Kutin’s elaborate sonic windmill.
Peter Kris of German Army’s second outing as Concrete Colored Paint (after his split with tape skronk duo Tap Water on Lighten Up Sounds earlier this year) is titled Free Association, a phrase that could have a variety of meanings for this particular work. Firstly, some of the only information provided on the album page is that many of the sounds were recorded in Puerto Rico, a country well known for its efforts to become a freely associated sovereign state. Kris once again captures more than just the sounds of the environments he records, evoking the stuffy humidity of the Caribbean and a sense of endless space as the songs of sea birds fade into the distance. There’s also a “free association” between Kris’s use of field recordings and his more musical additions to the pieces: the fuzziness of it all makes it difficult to pinpoint where the purely diegetic sounds end and the external contributions begin, an ambiguity that gives off more beauty than confusion. You get the sense that he’s carefully playing along to whatever musicality he hears in the recordings he’s collected, using formless drones and loops that easily blend into the warm, hissing sonic backdrop already present, constructing vivid, comforting soundscapes.
At only five and a half minutes, Cavatus and PKWST’s first collaboration is over pretty quickly—but I highly doubt that it will fail to make an impact on any listener. The horrifying depravity of these two artists’ aesthetic vision on Ruins of Bronzemaw should come as no surprise considering their recent collaborations and releases. Though both musicians’ bodies of work have a broad stylistic history, Cavatus made his first foray into gore on last year’s Dinosaur Maker, also on LLHV, and PKWST’s Roman numerals series touches on similarly dark, disturbing territory. This new release, though, is a different beast, and its unhinged, insane deconstruction of goregrind, industrial, and harsh noise makes for some of the most intense music either artist has produced. “I” begins things in a truly murderous, unceremonious manner, irreverently smashing together detuned guitar chugs, clashing rhythms, deafening blasts of chunky distortion, and disgusting gore vocals to produce a stumbling musical Frankenstein. True to form, the album is mastered too damn loudly, but anything else would just be insufficient. To listen to Ruins of Bronzemaw is to be pummeled into submission by said ‘musical Frankenstein’ until you’re nothing more than the bloody mess shown on the cover, a task happily accomplished through overwhelming volume, nightmarish atmosphere, and, of course, unapologetic grossness.
Events Without Reference is restless and impatient in a very similar manner to many spastic harsh noise records, but the sounds that Jacob Deraadt, who releases music as Sterile Garden, makes use of are not nearly as brash or abrasive. Up until the final two, the tracks feel like disjointed sketches of decaying textures, the disconcerting sonorities of crumbling caves and abandoned factories carefully scraped off the walls and glued onto woozy tape loops and synth piddles. This scattered structure is not a weakness for Events Without Reference; the skittering vignettes construct a palpable atmosphere without staying in the same place for too long or avoiding new sounds in order to expand upon a certain combination. As a result, the tape has a presence far beyond its muffled, fuzzy, diminutive sounds, tracing the ghostly outline of a sound-world that’s fragile but formidable. And when “Crisis of Belief,” the longest track at seven minutes, hits, its much more lethargic progression is a welcome detour, slowly scraping and skulking along a concrete floor and dragging any debris it collects along with it. Deraadt’s delicate, dusty sonic palette is often one of frailty and weakness, full of sounds that feel like they could fall apart at any moment, but as exemplified by “Cynics Prayer,” those often result in some really beautiful moments.