Rich but minimal low-frequency drone. Heaving tides of blissed-out noise and field recordings of trickling water, smoldering fire, and birds. Deep sonic wavelengths written as a quadriptych study of our relationship with the passage of time. Turn it WAY WAY up and feel time’s heavy presence, both pinning you in place and slowly, glacially, pushing the entire universe forward.
Way-too-short EP from Belgium’s Lemones. Originally released in 2016 on clear vinyl 7″, and recently re-released by Moscow’s Post-Materialization Music label. This cassette is one of only 50 copies.
Lazy lo-fi shouty noise-rock. Thick and crumbly beats that go everywhere and nowhere. Plodding baselines and meaningless lyrics. “Young Professionals” (T-3) is the fan-favorite, but all four the tracks have something unique to offer.
Limited edition cassette from Christoph Petermann out of Berlin, released on Russia’s Monopolka label.
Solid weight heavy noise, but not overly harsh or hateful. The tracks are all pretty short for easy consumption (most clock in at a *exactly* one minute).
Static blasts under layers of reverb. Unintelligible screams and wails. Broken electronic toys. Crunching looped annoyances.
I wouldn’t call the music “funny”, but Petermann’s sense of humor clearly is clearly evident. He performs in Bermuda shorts, a leopard vest, sunglasses, and inflatable swimming pool arm bands.
A fine collaboration between two UK absurdist noise champions. Smell & Quim hail from Leeds and have been making unsettling lo-fi performance farts since the late 80s. Here they join forces with Bournemouth native and Head Cheese of Cheeses International, Steve Fricker aka Onomatopoeia. Fricker claims to only collaborate by mail, mixing and remixing each other’s works to create the perfect abomination.
Unlike other Smell & Quim releases which rely heavily on smutty and/or violent vocal samples, the tracks here are more “traditional” noise: pulsating electronics with low-frew rumbles and grumbles and only the occasional hellish gurgle. Don’t expect a wall-of-noise, though. Fluctuating dynamics evolving rhythmic patterns permeate these two pieces.
Appeasing The Great Porn God (T-1) is fairly pulverizing. Disorienting and discomforting, with transient pounding rhythms and guttural groans. Semi-subliminal themes of pornography, masturbation, and S&M. Nothing too overt or overly-discernible, though, so it’s safe for daytime.
Symphony in Labia Minor is an act in three parts, each featuring sonic baths of piercing static. Part I (T-2) is the longest and the most aggressive, but blends into an almost ambient swirl, not unlike a dishwasher. Part II (T-3) is the shortest and most pleasant of the three. A nice palate-cleanser of sorts before painful shrieks signal the beginning of Part III (T-4). The final track is a return to the harsher sounds of Part I, but for the first time we get a whiff of *actual* instruments, like a guitar and some sort of drum. The drastic dynamics and binaural brain-beating are both on display in the final act, making it my favorite of the three.
OK, I’ll admit it. I was pretty skeptical of this one. I mean, of course Robert Ashley is a genius, but a mid-nineties made-for-TV opera? And what’s up with the Victorian steam-punk woman on the cover. There’s just no way this thing is gonna be hip.
And I gotta say, after listening to the first few tracks, I was EVEN MORE skeptical. It really is an opera! Full of synths and bizarrely layered vocal arrangements so hard to follow that I had to read the liner notes just to understand. I didn’t think I was going to make it all the way through both CDs.
But then something happened, and I understood.
It wasn’t the plot that hooked me, because not very much happens. Scenes take place in mundane settings, like doctors’ offices, cars, and airline check-in counters. The main theme of the second act (as far as I can tell) is an enumeration of the contents of the main character’s purse.
It also wasn’t the very conceptual and supposedly deep symbolism, which I found strangely overt yet utterly confusing. The liner notes clearly explain that this whole thing is an allegory for 1492 Spain, and that characters represent concepts including “America”, “The Roman Catholic Church”, “Integrated Philosophy”, and “The Descendants of Jews and non-Jews (i.e. us)”.
No, it was something about the cold electronic minimalism that finally got to me. The staccato whispers and monotonous choral unison. Highly uncomfortable, but before long it becomes your world. It is all you know. How could music ever have been any different?
The fragmented points of view and sometimes unreliable narration of Ashley himself. Monologues cast out into the ether. Call-and-response dialogues that subsume themselves, crossing the threshold of tolerable similarity. Honest contemplation of the situation at hand.
The importance of eating pasta at every meal.
If you are looking for a “song”, drop the needle on Tarzan (cd2-2). It’s pretty catchy, although the protagonist hates it, and features Ashley narrating the lyrics while the are being sung below.
“The Doctor” (cd2-4) shows Ashley’s unique dialog style, in a form that is still intelligible and occasionally musical. For slightly more difficult listening, check out the Airline Ticket Counter scenes (cd1-2, cd1-6). But honestly pretty much every track is worth playing. Or maybe none are. I can’t tell any more.
A collection of recordings from Canadian sound artist and film-maker Brian Joseph Davis. Most of the songs utilize pre-recorded material from other artists, manipulated or recast in interesting ways. The album deals with themes of copyright and censorship.
Rather than being meticulously orchestrated, the works rely heavily on randomness: CD player skips, destruction by fire, and highly-fallible human memory. Unlike many other conceptual works, these are very entertaining to listen to, and cover a wide range of genres including choral, glitch, spoken-word, pseudo-punk, and the overwhelming ambient noise hell-scape that is the final track.
The liner notes on the back provide a pretty acurate description of what’s in the package, but I’ll summarize here:
Eula (T1): The Sony End User License Agreement sung by a choir.
Five Box Sets Played on Fast-Forward, Then Edited Into Songs (T2-T6): This one is self-explanatory. Metal, soul, and other indescernibles.
Ten Banned Albums Burned, Then Played (T7-T15): Yup. Beatles, Sex Pistols, Mahler, Prince, Louie Louie, and more.
Voice Over (T16): A script composed from 5000 film taglines.
Yesterduh (T17-T18): What happens when you pay people on the street $5 to sing “Yesterday”, then mix the results. The second version is a particularly inspired solo.
Minima Moralia (T19): Theodor Adorno’s Minima Moralia as a punk 7″.
Greatest Hit (T20): All the tracks on a greatest hits album, all at once.
This crystal-clear lathe-cut 7″ is part of the FLUXUS +/- series of recordings put out by Kommissar Hjuler on the Psych.KG record label. One of only 25 that were produced.
The A side features two stunning collaborations from Anna Homler and David Moss. Homler is a visual, performance, and vocal artist known for using imaginary languages to explore meaning and communication. Moss is a composer and percussionist who has also developed a unique vocal improvisational style.
“Steel Drum Song” (A1) features Homler’s characteristic vocals, soothing and strangely exotic, coupled with Moss’s faster and more rhythmic and utterances, almost like frogs or crickets. A steel drum melody serves to bridge the two worlds.
“Conversation” (A2) is just that — a passionate improvised conversation in two unreal and alien languages. The mood starts hectic and argumentative, but changes pace as Moss becomes low and guttural while Homler becomes more dulcet and comforting.
The B side contains the work of Kommissar Hjuler and his wife Mama Baer. Hjuler is German sound and visual artist, film maker, and police officer.
“Coming Undone” (B1) is a lumbering lo-fi free-folk-rock jam. Polyrhythmic bangs and whistles. Lyrics in English with German accents. Mama Baer is solo on “Mikrooganismus” (B2), a 40 second warbling screech and scream, maybe some footsteps?
Deathprod is the noise-ambient project of Norwegian artist Helge Sten, who is also a member of the avant-jazz group Supersilent. Sten uses the term “audio virus” to describe the variety of sound sources used on this album, including “old tape echo machines, ring modulators, filters, theremins, samplers and lots of electronic stuff”.
“Treetop Drive” was originally released on CD in 1994 and has been re-mastered by Rashad Becker and re-released on double LP just this year (2017). The sounds are as infectious as ever.
The first three tracks comprise three movements of “Treetop Drive”, and share many thematic elements, although the moods are quite different.
Treetop Drive 1 (A) is built around dramatic strings and synths, featuring the violin work of Hans Magnus Ryan. Solemn, repetitive, and trance-like waves washing ashore. Slowly shifting over times, growing more distressed and urgent as the feedback and distortion intensify, and then letting go, returning out to sea.
Treetop Drive 2 (B) contains the same pulsing overwhelming rhythm, but now harsh and machine-like instead of organic. A call-and-response with metallic grinding shrieks and sub-harmonic bass blasts.
The last movement, Treetop Drive 3 (C) has a faster pace, almost frantic in comparison with the previous parts. Like a windy, rumbling tornado, and equally bleak. It includes a quick clip of some anonymous conservative ranting about schools today teaching “death education”, likely a PSA for Teachers AIDS.
The final track, Tugboat (D), is colder and more barren than the rest, like floating far out at sea. The rolling black waves are still present, more still than before but no less ominous. Over time, the danger of the situation unfolds.
Compilation 7″ showcasing the wide variety of extreme sounds emanating from the West Coast (of Michigan) during the late 90s. From power electronics to skronk-rock to more power electronics, this little record has it all!
Each song has a distinct feel, but they all track together. Good luck playing just one!
OO Species: Sirens, grinding metal, wailing static.
Walled Lake: Low-frequency rumblings, train blues, Americana guitar, hypnosis. Bonus fact: Walled Lake is named for the backwoods town where Louie C used to buy alcohol, cigarettes, and fireworks as a teenager.
Flutter: Pure electronic cacophony, oscillator scribblings, overloaded circuit bending.
Lockweld: More distorted electronics and machine noises. Liner notes indicate “vocals” but they are unrecognizable.
Audible XXY: Semi-cinematic samples, electronics, and ominous tape loops. Like walking down a long dark hallway.
Better Disease: Good old fashioned Michigan skronk-rock. The best kind. Guitar, drums, sax, and screams.
G*Park is Marc Zeier, the most obscure member of the already obscure Schimpfluch-Gruppe. His solo work is a surreal blend of field recordings, musique concret, and tape loops.
This box set (1 of only 77) contains CD reissues of 5 of G*Park’s earliest cassette recordings, along with one CD of previously-unreleased improvisation with Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock. Also included are a glossy booklet of artwork and a bag of tea.
Lots of loops and layers going on here, a rich collage flowing directly through the sub-conscious (or un-conscious) mind of the listener. Flittery bird calls and heavy machinery, like a field trip through an under-construction menagerie. Ominous tones, drones, and groans confuse and disorient.
Quasi-rhythmic scrapes and clangs. Heavy breathing, snoring, gurgling. Dreamy nitrous-oxide induced bliss. The dental chair and all its drills, picks, blood, and bright lights feels so far away.
Hazy radio transmissions pulled from the ether. Distant memories of high-school football. Crunches, crashes, and sharp staccato piano snap you out of it, and take you somewhere else, somewhere darker.
This one pretty much writes itself. Eight self-describing pieces for prepared piano from NYC composer/improviser and CalArts grad Quentin Tolimieri. The piano is stuffed with various objects, then bowed (T1), plucked (T3), and hammered. Chaotic and bangy at times, smooth and melodic at others. The works each have a unique structure and pace which doesn’t dawdle and stays relatively busy, expect for the sparse one (T5). Best just to let everything flow over you, and not get too caught up in the notes. All tracks are under 6 minutes, except for the long one (T4).
Philip Samartzis is an Australian sound artist, composer, and professor in Sculpture, Sound and Spatial Practice at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. He and Andrew Curtis formed the group Gum in the late 80s to explore broken, looped, and layered vinyl. Samartzis’s solo work focuses digital processing of acoustic and found sounds to construct abstract sound environments.
This 2003 release — part of Staalplaat’s Mort Aux Vaches series — contains three pieces that mix synthesized and natural sounds in unsettling and often jarring ways.
Variable Resistance (T1) begins with disorienting binaural clicks, slowly tweaked. The sounds come into focus, crisp and precise, but only briefly. Before long some comforting and reverb kicks in, and more natural noises appear. Echoey drips, gasps, and rasps, like wandering through dark wet steam tunnels with a faulty flashlight. Ends with the sounds of a rough pummeling and wailing, as the track skips and glitches to a halt. The CD is not broken.
Deconstructed Windmills (T2) is calmer, starting with a long high-pictched buzz, giving way to sterile pulses and tones, like hospital equipment. This is replaced with ominous thuds, algorithmic blips and bloops. Brief interludes of glitchy static puncture the overwhelmingly vast drones.
Soft and Loud (T3) draws the most on acoustic sounds and recordings. The first movement alternates between crunching, bending, scraping, screaming metal, and utter silence. Organic sounds like gurgling water and crinkling fire mix with synthetic sine wave drones. Low vibrations like bad fluorescent lights. Broken voices. Drum ratatatat. Some moments are actually musical, with rich harmonies and quick repetitive glimpse of a melodies, but there’s always something off — the instruments are not what they seem, almost a mirage.
One synth keyboard and two guitars, in the hands of 3 close friends and master musicians. Guitarists Henry Kaiser and Chris Muir have been playing and improvising together for over 40 years (this album includes a track by the duo recorded in 1977). Here the pair are joined by keyboardist Bob Bralove who has worked as sound designer and digital music technician for Stevie Wonder and The Grateful Dead.
“Positively Space Music” is a genre-bending double CD packed with a wide variety of influences, including jazz, funk, ambient, and prog, all done in a very psychedelic spaced-out style. The trio fully embrace the wavy synth sound, and at times teeter on the edge of an 80s kitsch vibe. However, the group’s phenomenal musicianship and almost telepathic communication keeps things moving forward, pushing boundaries and exploring uncharted territories of Space and Music.
Grosse Abfahrt is a project started by Gino Robair to explore improvisation with large groups or musicians. The core of the group consists of Robair, John Shiurba, Matt Ingalls, Tim Perkis, and Tom Djll. On this album (whos title means something like “airship holiday souvenir photo album”) they are joined by Frank Gratkowski, Kjell Nordeson, Liza Mezzacappa, Phillip Greenlief, and John Bisschoff. The session was recorded at Mills College in 2009.
Given the nature of the group, and the wide variety of instrumentation (all kinds of wind, string, percussion, electronics…) I expected something pretty frenzied and cacophonous, but it’s actually quite subtle and delicate. The artists spend most of their time listening, and slowly build intricately layered soundscapes that breath and flow.
The album starts off sparse and droney, and slowly picks up some speed as it progresses. Tracks 5 and 6 sound are more energetic and skittery (although still short of cacophonous) than the others, as if the group took a quick espresso break before recording them. There is a brief frenzied climax on track 6 that really hit the spot, and then track 7 slowly unwinds, bringing us back to the vast, wide open spaces that characterize the first few tracks.
Marc Barreca has been creating electronic music since the 1970s. “Aberrant Lens” is his seventh album for Palace of Lights records, produced by label-owner K. Leimer.
Mixing sampled instruments, treated field recordings, and synthesized sounds, Barreca builds ethereal and exotic musical landscapes. Most of the tracks have a pulsing rhythmic quality, slow and soothing, supported by ambient droning bells and tones.
Barreca includes samples from a wide variety of acoustic instruments, including accordion, glass harmonica, and Indonesian metallophone, which are occasionally processed and often looped with long delays. The diverse instrumentation gives rise to many distinct textures, and provides plenty of differentiation to the album’s 12 tracks, a rare feat for an “ambient” album.
The source material for these two side-long tracks was first recorded by Sult, an acoustic improv trio known for amplifying the micro-tonal sounds of their instruments. Sult is Havard Skaset on guitar, Jacob Felix Heule on percussion, and Guro Skumsnes Moe on the contrabass. The sounds were then destructed, chopped, blended, and reconstructed by Norwegian sound artist Lasse Marhuag.
Have your Dramamine handy for this one. A disorienting jumble of grinding metallic sounds, like a rusty, salt-soaked steel ship battered by waves, careening rudderless through a maelstrom, helpless against forces of nature infinitely more powerful than it. Dense layers of whirring, wheezing, and sputtering. Pantry shelves collapsing, sending pots, pans, and cans tumbling, crashing against floor and walls. A few fleeting moments of repetitive bass thumps on the end of side A provide the only solid footing in the entire album, and leave you desperate for more.
Modern free jazz pushing the boundaries of structure and technique. Propulsive but not explosive, these three accomplished musicians find a comfortable yet still edgy middle ground between sparse and skronk.
The songs have a tight feeling of cohesion not normally found in this kind of improvised music. It’s as if the works already exist out in the ether, moving along with their own internal shape and inertia, passing through the musicians who give them voice.
Hubweber plays the trombone like an alto sax, with long blasts of notes in between gasps and gurgles. Edwards scratches, bows, and thumps the bass, achieving some bizarre reverberations and harmonics. Lowens provides many percussive layers simultaneously. Playing skittery textures during the more abstract moments, but not afraid to lay down a bursts of driving rhythmic beat when the mood calls for it.
Concern is Gordon Ashworth of Portland OR, and “Caesarean” is the second full-length release under this name.
Three drone tracks composed with beautiful yet simple instrumentation recorded to tape (cassette and 1/4″), processed and layered. The tape artifacts (crackles, warbles, rumbles) are elevated and emphasized, forming an integral part of the rich organic sound.
Faded fidelity, warm and weathered, like a long-lost and long-loved cassette churning peacefully in the surf, slowly finding its way ashore.
A1 builds upon a broken piano loop, incorporating clarinet splices before giving way to a brilliant drone emanating from a shruti box (similar to a harmonium) with a glistening banjo gleam.
A2 holds more radiant bellowing drones from the shrunti box, sharper and more focused than before. The banjos have lost their sparkle, and are now pensive and melancholy. Less of a buildup, and more of a slow cathartic release.
B evokes a synthetic cityscape. Birds and bells, distant factories and passing cars. A mix of soothing piano and sinister hums. Building and dissolving multiple times, as if experiencing the world by train, passing through a series of foreign yet familiar towns, separated by long, dark tunnels.
From Russia’s experimental Post-Materialization Music label comes this bizarre cassette of extremely lo-fi “ethnodub”. The album name “Taharrush Gamea” is Arabic for “group harassment”, and usually refers to mass sexual assault. Very little information about this album or the artist exist. Only 31 of these cassettes were produced, and the artist’s other albums have been released on recycled soviet-era reel-to-reel tape, and 3.5″ floppy disk.
The cassette is seemingly designed to make you wonder if your stereo is busted. It’s an hour of international pop music, played at the wrong speed through unreliable equipment, mixed with crunchy record scratches, cut-up tape loop squiggles, and spooky spoken-word. Broken electronics buzz and hum throughout, and the whole thing sounds like it was recorded underwater. Samples (actually entire songs) are appropriated from a variety of sources: Bollywood dance tunes, Eastern Orthodox chants, Thai power-pop, and (as the artist’s name implies) middle Eastern folk. The result is disorienting (to say the least), like a bad acid trip through the depths of the international library.
This 2009 release featuring David Tibet was originally composed as the soundtrack to F.W. Murnau’s 1922 silent film Der Brennende Acker (“The Burning Soil”). Listening to the four long tracks is like being bound and blindfolded, thrust into the center of a mysterious occult ritual, anxiously awaiting your inevitable sacrifice.
A begins with ominous druid drones. Melancholy pianos tinkle and horns bellow. Inner-ear whispers, possessed growlings, and manic incantations from haunted souls. Swirling ceremonial typewriters crunch under stomping feet.
B continues with sacred scrolls crinkling, tearing, tossed piece-by-piece into the flames. Rhythmic percussion shakes, ecstatic shouts speaking in tongues — the spirit of Noddy? Tapes speed up and swirl down, distorting and disorienting. Echoing scrapes and squeaks, far-off ringing of bells.
C picks up where B left off, with shamanistic synths and droning gongs. An explosion of voices and tape malfunctions. Motherly murmurs comfort you, guiding you through the strange unknown.
D holds the rabid climax of the satanic ritual. Whispered incantations, choral moans, ringing chimes. Angered shouts accompanied by violin warbles, building to a dramatic crescendo of shrill piercing blasts. Chaotic interludes of department-store muzak, simultaneously mundane and sinister. The chaos breaks, giving way to a few short minutes of completely innocuous smooth jazz — the true sounds of the underworld? The piece ends with broken radio transmissions in foreign tongues, slowly fading to quiet deathly ambience.