As members of Reynols and Volcano the Bear, respectively, Alan Courtis and Aaron Moore are no stranger to outsider music. Throughout each musician’s career with those bands, their solo work, and a host of other collaborative endeavors (Dragon or Emperor, Guignol, Mutantea, Textile Orchestra, the list goes on), they’ve examined and worked with countless unusual sound sources, techniques, and performance settings. 2283 is their fifth release from the pair’s ongoing duo project, almost entirely recorded during a brief meeting at Moore’s apartment in New York, and sees the two artists both composing and improvising with toy instruments, primitive electronics, percussion novelties, and their own voices. It’s a bizarre and magnetic amalgam of minimalist free music and occult folk headspace, with each track falling somewhere between either end of that strange spectrum. The A side is quite reserved, the soft clatters, rattles, and rings swathed in a cloak of heavy silence; the space of Moore’s residence is a significant addition to the music, and through its lens the duo’s odd sonic interactions are even more elusive. The following side is more eclectic, with the almost pretty fingerpicked guitar and muttered vocal gravel of “347” and tribal ambience of “296” evoking my favorite Volcano the Bear moments, and though the final two tracks were produced by Courtis using overdubs there’s no drastic shift in presence that reduces or overshadows the impact of what came before.
Joe Murray, who performs and releases music as Posset, is one of the most prolific magnetic tape manglers active today. The strangled spoken words, gurgling mouth sounds, and disjointed dictaphone manipulations that pervade his work are more than capable of creating an enrapturing and very distinct atmosphere (see Totally Corporate!, one of my favorite records last year) but don’t seem to be the most versatile sound materials in a live improvised setting. A Jar Full, which sees Murray collaborating with avant-garde cellist and and artist Charlie Ulyatt, pretty much obliterates that assumption. Comprised of tracks made both through long-distance correspondence as well as direct live recording, the tape presents a pairing of instruments that hardly seems effectual… yet the results are astounding. The first side, composed of three tracks created by each musician playing over recordings sent by the other, documents a treasure trove of whimsical, dynamic improvisations, traipsing and trampling through typical duo conventions as Ulyatt’s bow squeals and percussive extended techniques call out, respond, and intermingle with Murray’s fast-paced cut-ups and impatient playback alterations. The untouched silence that squirms between the awe-inspiring conversational moments of “At This Lost Hour” and crippled cries of “High Head” is abandoned on “At the Angel,” the final track, which documents the duo’s first in-person live performance. It’s a restless, scrabbling conclusion to the tape, the audible space of the venue providing a welcome counterpoint to the claustrophobic sterility of the first side.
Apathetic, disastrous scourges on the planet though they are, human-made urban sprawls have the ability to produce some truly gorgeous sounds. On Across the Empty Lot, Japanese sound artist Shuta Hiraki documents two occasions of astute, attentive environmental listening, in practice simply capturing construction on a bridge and its surroundings but in actuality immortalizing a sublime instance of natural harmony. The unprocessed presentations that span the two sides of Across the Empty Lot are dominated by a persistent tonal drone that weaves itself through auxiliary intrusions of rustling leaves, chirping birds, distant voices, and the clatter of the construction itself. Similar to Ludwig Berger’s work Cargo, the spatial resonance of industrial processes (in this case, cement mixers) at a distance creates this almost organ-like hum, which provides an unexpected yet undeniable musical backbone for the other elements that appear in the recordings. Though already far from a trivial field recording, the meditative, calming effect of Across the Empty Lot is amplified by Hiraki’s faithful conveyance of such a beautiful sonic event.
Unlike The Invaders, the other Modelbau tape from this year I’ve heard, there isn’t nearly as much sonic permanence to be found in A World of Difference. Here, the seasoned, prolific musique concrète master works with fleeting rhythms, reverberations, and pulses, constantly projecting new elements into the mysterious worlds he creates. It’s not impatience or indecisiveness that lurks behind these unusual choices, nor do they lead to a lack of cohesion; instead, the effect is an endlessly evolving and shifting sound construction, a jittery, surreal collage of disparate injections that keeps you on your toes. De Waard’s segmented approach manifests as music that is difficult to describe summarily because of how unpredictable and disjointed it ends up being. The two fifteen-minute sides of the tape pulls together auditory items in an episodic fashion, progressing from decaying, low fidelity synth chords and mangled radio extracts to blasts of white noise and moments of textural tactility on the first to stretches of unadulterated field recording, unusually mixed folk music loops, and some truly strange electronica on the second. Like the cover, where aggressively uniform, flat, digital graphics are superimposed upon a distorted photograph, the music on A World of Difference is a disconcerting and inexplicably intriguing hodgepodge of contradictory ingredients.
No particular idea or central theme going on here other than all of these tracks being loud, harsh, and mercilessly deafening. Enjoy forty minutes of thought-drowning noise.
00:00. Systems. – “Stachybotrys” from Black Mold (Putrescent Tapes, 2018)
06:56. ltmrs – third untitled track from Improv (KV&GR, 2019)
07:37. Final Machine – A_R_1 (self-released, 2018)
17:23. T.E.F. – “Urnd” from Corrugation (Pitchphase, 2004)
20:22. Jugendwerkhof – “Blutstätte I” from Blutstätte (Low Life High Volume, 2018)
24:07. Halflings – “Secret” from Cough It Up (Friendship Bracelet, 2006)
27:24. Tinnitustimulus – “Tomanowos” from Roquefort (Anti-Everything, 2019)
32:22. Zebra Mu – “Sword Wielder” from Psychic Ditch (Tunnel Secret, 2018)
37:17. Pseudocommando – excerpt from A Home Beneath the Floorboards (Noise Virus, 2018)
There are a lot of possibilities in composing wall noise in terms of the kinetic identity the artist wishes to bestow upon their creation; some pieces blaze forward with drive and fury; others are stubbornly stagnant, clawing and fighting temporal progression like an anchor along the ocean floor. Still others, like Deconstruction, seem to move independently of a linear direction, instead expanding outward from a defined center. Arboreal (a.k.a. Polwach Beokhaimook) allows his delicate, crackling structures to worm their way through the soil like the plants that initially inspired the work, fanning out from the stalk or trunk which here takes the form of a contained, choked rattling sound. As you spend more time with the single track on Deconstruction, the emanating static seems to trade prominence with this interior point, the former’s more expansive stereo movements drawing attention away from the latter’s obstinate stasis. Also present is a barely perceptible hiss, which could either be just a remnant of the techniques used to create the wall or even a muffled nature recording; I’m not really sure. What is certain, though, is that it is one of several elements that casts this release as a lushly detailed and intimate examination of organic growth, imbuing this relatively simple framework of sounds with the familiar characteristics of life.
For all of its delicate beauty, Nate Scheible’s brand of ambient music always has undercurrents of tension, hints of uneasiness buried beneath the floating drifts of effects-laden keyboard drones and samples. Indices has none of the vocal elements that were explored on Fairfax, the Washington, D.C. artist’s previous tape release, but no less of the woozy subliminity and emotional resonance. “A01” unfurls with bubbling movements drenched in reverb, soft gossamer waves of sound expanding outward atop a base of dusty tape recordings and crackling artifacts, setting the stage for more reserved sketches of this wonderfully diaphanous atmosphere—which, although I’m no synæsthete, is quite in line with the soft pink that was chosen for the cover design. As each of Scheible’s carefully constructed miniatures progresses, they move past beginnings fraught with uncertainty and strangeness—such as the abstract manipulations that introduce “A03” or the stifled chokes at the start of “B02″—into gorgeous stretches of harmony and tonal resolution like a deep sigh and a flop down on the couch after a long day of work. As you can probably guess, this is the perfect tape for me right now. By the time those rustling branches (or whatever they are) that conclude “B03” fade into existence, I am ready to drift away.