Since 2005, local label Tompkins Square has brought us the Imaginational Anthem series, a showcase of guitarists playing in the American primitive style (Vol. 2 reviewed here). For this 2019 compilation, the ninth in the series, singer/songwriter Ryley Walker takes a broader interpretation of the project’s original theme, and curates a lineup of artists exploring both the traditional fingerpicking and more experimental – even electric! – styles. The works collected here bring strange, fresh sounds to the series, while still keeping its spirit. Listeners may recognize the work of Kendra Amalie (featured on our most recent Live from the Devil’s Triangle Vol. 22 compilation), her guitar accompanied a full band on the bold “Boat Ride” (T5), while Dida Pelled offers a silly, sweet cover of Norma Tanega’s “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog” (T4). I’ve already made my obsessive love for Angel Marcloid’s Fire-Toolz project pretty clear here, so I see no reason to stop now: her offering “World of Objects” (T8) shuts down the argument that a guitar can’t sound modern – this spacey, proggy jam is from another galaxy, another age. My favorite track sprouts up at the end, as Dave Miller plugs in and gets heavy on “Seedlings” (T10). Something for everyone in this “deep-fried black hole” of a mix.
Marja Ahti is a Swedish electroacoustic composer working in Turku, Finland. We’ve come across her work before, both from her solo project Tsembla (reviewed here and here) and from her collaborations with Kemialliset Ystävät. On this 2019 LP from Hallow Ground, the first release under her own name, Ahti draws inspiration from a quotation by the French surrealist writer Rene Daumal where he describes the inner workings of an animal – its structure, its metabolism, even its blood red color – as the inverse of that of a plant’s: the animal is the “vegetal negative.” Ahti explores these ideas – form, energy, color – with her palette of sounds. Tones made with analog synthesizers provide rhythmic patterns, field recordings of natural and manmade environments manifest energy, and carefully played bowl gongs and a harmonium exude warm washes of color. There’s also instances of inversion, as the synths imitate organs (T4), or as ocean recordings find their echoing alien counterpart (T1). Each of these four works rewards close listening, strengthening their pull on your awareness from the inside out.
Mention “vaporwave” in a lobbyful of KFJC DJs and you’ll likely hear a chorus of groans. So how is that this cassette from Nonlocal Forecast – which deals in many of the 90s-obsessed sounds associated with the particularly obnoxious millennial microgenre – totally rips? It’s because we’re in the capable hands of Angel Marcloid, the creative genius behind the blazingly great project Fire-Toolz.
Those upbeat smooth-jazz jams that played during the Weather Channel’s local forecast segments throughout the 90s to this day fill me with a strange and primal sense of comfort, and reading some other reviews of Bubble Universe!, it seems I’m not alone. For me, the corny tunes eased my fears during what seemed like the impending end of the world, the chipper soundtrack to a repeating SuperDoppler radar animation of a hurricane on a direct path towards my hometown. Marcloid’s intricate compositions completely capture the sound and feel of those songs: the tinny rhythms, the cheezy synths, and – most dated of all – the unabashed optimism. Just as you let down your guard and begin to get into the intricate grooves, she’ll lay down some seriously smooth guitar stylings (T1, T4). As the tape plays on, it concerns itself with more than atmospheric conditions, blasting off into the cosmos. It’s impossible not to get down during “Classical Information” (T7) and don’t miss the sparkling mind-blower “Triangular Format (Feat. Fire-Toolz)” (T5), but it’s all brilliant – hit it.
KFJC DJs are masters of the “superimposition,” Cy Thoth’s term for a live mix of multiple records at once. So here’s an advanced challenge:
Choose 42 records. Cue up eight at a time. For each record, using a chart inspired by the I Ching, determine whether to press play, press pause, change its playback volume, or switch it out for another record.
Follow this simple procedure, and you’ll have performed John Cage’s 1952 work Imaginary Landscape No. 5. For this 2015 release from Estuary Ltd., label founder Mark Cetilia (of Mem1, recently added to our library), commissioned fellow artists to create 42 original works to be used as source material for a new imagining of Cage’s piece, here spread over two CDs.
In contrast to the jazz records Cage used to create the original version, Cetilia’s source material is far more abstract. Overall, the tracks on CD1 have a subtler feel – icy drones (T5), ocean waves (T6), glacier caves (T15), electronic birds (T10) and insects (T14), treated piano and guitar, organ (T20), and some serious ASMR mouths sounds (T3) – while the tracks on CD2 are propelled by livelier rhythms, from dance beats to dogs’ barks to noise textures.
At the end of each CD is an instance of Imaginary Landscape No. 5. For the first, Cetilia uses the 42 tracks each pressed onto a 7″ record to create an analog version of the piece (CD1-T22). For the second, Cetilia used software to edit the original files to make a digital version (CD2-T22). Each landscape matches the material on its disc, with CD1’s analog version softened by a sea of surface noise, while CD2’s digital version cuts abruptly from one sonic idea to the next.
MZ.412, the Swedish black industrial project fronted by Henrik “Nordvargr” Björkk, commemorates “30 years of death” with this 2018 album. Nordvargr is by now a towering figure in extreme music, having built his reputation over the decades with his countless projects – Folkstorm, Toroidh, Anima Nostra, among many others – and as one of the flagship artists of the legendary Cold Meat Industry label. With MZ.412, Nordvargr and his collaborators, here Drakh (Jonas Aneheim of Beyond Sensory Experience) and Ulvtharm (Jouni Ollila), work with elements black metal, martial industrial, and noise to forge a new form of dark magic. On Svartmykr, the first MZ.412 release in 12 years, the trio conjures Helheim, the Old Norse realm of the dead, and its master, the goddess Hel. The gateway to the underworld opens with soaring choruses, thundering drums, sweeps of strings, fearsome vocals, the wrath of Hel herself; a vision so vast that it loses definition, dissolving into blackened noise. Hidden within the darkness is a spirit’s wolven voice on “Helblar” (T5), a treacherous sea of icy waves that rise and fall on “Ulvens Bleka Syster” (T6), and, when the waters recede, the beautiful, despairing guitars of “Burn Your Temples, True Change” (T7). The last three tracks return to the massive sounds: the violent upheaval of “She Who Offers Sorrow” (T8), the powerful declaration “We Are Eternal” (T9), and the blazing light of stars in the album’s final moments (T10).
2017 demo tape from this hardcore punk band from NYC. Seven short bursts of fury driven by absolutely vicious, bloodcurdling vox. Sarah, Tess, Carlos, and Anjelica threaten to melt the flesh of any capitalists, social climbers, rotten hypocrites, and cop callers in the vicinity, so get out of their fuckin way!
FCCs: T2, T3, T4, T6
This 2016 sci-fi concept album is the defining work from LA experimental hip-hop group clipping. Over the ten years of its existence, the harsh noise-meets-hip-hop trio has found unlikely fame, thanks in part to the success of frontman Daveed Diggs, who rose to international superstardom as a member of the original cast of Hamilton. His aggressive rapping is supported by the extreme noise-inspired beats of producers Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson.
Splendor and Misery (named for an unfinished Samuel Delaney novel) tells the story of an uprising on a space-slaveship that leaves behind a single survivor, Cargo 2331. With nowhere to navigate, he hurtles through the universe alone, saved from complete madness by half-remembered rap verses, old spirituals, and his relationship with the ship’s onboard A.I. Highlights from the space odyssey include the gospel hymns “Long Way Away” (A6) and “Story 5” (B5), the stunning reworking of a traditional slave song on “True Believer” (A8), and the violent climax “Baby Don’t Sleep” (B6). Blasts of noise, stirring spirituals, secret ciphers, hidden codes, modern references, and ancient myths are all threads in the tragic story, a struggle for freedom that transcends genre, time, and space.
FCCs: B2 B4 B6 B7
Two contrasting noise situations on this 2019 split cassette from Nadia (Ashley Bennett of Portland, ME) and Apologist (Rose Actor-Engel of Philadelphia, who runs No Rent Records with partner Jason Crumer). On Side A, Nadia leads off with two tracks of concentrated rhythmic energy. Somewhere within “Predictions” (A1) lurks a dark, rustling beauty, but it’s impossible to grasp: a high-pitched tone sharpens into an icepick point, bores into the brain, and demands our total attention. Through “Absolute Zero” (A2), resonant waves furiously collapse into a single, massive point source. After the intensity of the A side, Apologist offers a measure of peace. “Carte Blanche” (B1) emits warm melodies, treated vocals – both solo and in chorus – and ringing bells, while “Concession” (B2) concludes with a quiet meditation of organ, chimes, and forest field recordings.
Cleveland-based noise artist Amanda R. Howland weaves an elaborate web on this 2018 cassette from Philadelphia’s No Rent Records. On Side A, “Spider, Milk” opens with a bang and then settles, slowly extending silken strands that capture recordings of fluttering melodies or muffled voices, a slow build to a final violent struggle. On Side B, “Batshit, Silence” drops us back into the action, as hurried footsteps stride into a piercing feedback storm. Distorted signals howl through subarachnoid spaces before lurching into – as promised – a sudden silence.
Valise is the solo project of Marilee Armstrong-Rial, a multimedia artist based in Providence and NYC. I’d heard good things about this cassette, sold out long ago on the website for Philadelphia’s excellent No Rent Records label, so when I spotted it on the shelf at a shop in New York I scooped it up. Within seconds of pressing play, I fell in love – it’s been awhile since I’ve heard a release with an opening act so arresting. An everyday scene – the sounds of a city crosswalk – dissolves into an anesthetic ambience; later, we reawaken to mechanical breathing, the distant singing of hymns and carols, and crystalline melodies. Side B features more rhythmic passages, with kinetic beats and heavy low-end pulses, paired with Armstrong-Rial’s warm vocals. Together it calls to mind a noisier, more abstract version of Valet‘s subdued psychedelia. I find myself returning to this tape again and again, completely under its strange spell.
This double 10″ release commemorates the 40th anniversary of The Haters, one of the earliest and loudest progenitors of noise in the United States. Formed by G.X. Jupitter-Larsen in 1979, The Haters is a performance art project exploring physical and sonic destruction in endless forms. On Forti, Jupitter-Larsen pulls previously unheard material from performances throughout the project’s history and reworks the sounds into new compositions.
Side A features a recording of a 1989 performance in Denver, where a calculator installed with amplifiers was repeatedly drawn over sandpaper, creating persistent pulses both vicious and vibrant. On Side B, from a 1999 San Francisco performance, we hear Jupitter-Larsen’s original instrument the Untitled Title Belt – a wrestling championship belt fitted with microphones, distortion pedals, and noise generators – belting out pure buzzsaw bliss. Side C draws from the 2009 work “Audiothecary,” where noise emanates from a balancing scale fitted with amplifiers. From this seemingly simple setup comes a massive sound: screams and strings, a full orchestra of horror. Side D comes from a 2019 performance featuring another original analog instrument, the Totimorphous Ubiety Guide, a contraption made of springs and rods played by two musicians; a divining rod leading through a dark mine to metallic drones. This excellent retrospective arrives in advance The Haters upcoming 40th anniversary show in Oakland next month.
Rogue Squares are noise artist Carlos Giffoni and Elaine Carey of the LA experimental group Telecaves. This 2018 cassette, the duo’s first release, contains six concentrated doses of drone crafted from modular synths and treated guitar. Lodged in the core of these tracks are ambient soundwaves with the contrast cranked way up. Soft contours sharpen into hard edges, then, into defined shapes, that serve as the patterned surface for synthworms for writhe, wriggle, and wreak destruction, reaching peak infestation on T5. Released on Paul Haney’s (Rust Worship) label Obsolete Units.
Our library has more than a few instances of an experimental artist – from rock guitarists to electronic composers to harsh noise wall builders – getting their hands on a secondhand organ and invoking its goofiness or grandeur or both on a one-off release. With this 2017 cassette, Russian singer/songwriter Sasha Mishkin joins their ranks. Hailing from Petrozavdosk, Mishkin usually crafts strange, synthy pop songs, but seated at the pipes he spins folk and classical forms into gorgeous “music for the romantic gnome inside of us.” Side A of the tape holds the three-part “Hegenberg Concerto” (T1-T3), a web of complex classical figures filtering through an outerspace echo, but jazzed up with sudden UFO sound effects or an occasionally placed cheesy lounge chord. Side B features Mishkin’s vocals, on a dark and lovely waltz macabre (T4), a Beethoven tribute (T6), and the exquisite closing hymn “In the Alps” (T7).
Dreamcrusher is the project of Brooklyn-based noisician Luwayne Glass. As a teenager growing up in Kansas in the early 00s, Glass formed the Dreamcrusher sound – heavy dance beats turned up so far in the red that they’re mangled nearly beyond recognition – and dubbed it “queer nihilist revolt music.” This 2015 cassette EP from Obsolete Units begins with the swarming static and crushing pulses of “Aura” (T1), and then swerves into the hopeless hip-hop-inspired beats and vocals of “Imponderabilia” (T2). “Vitaal” (T3) heaves with an industrial churn (T3) that relents on closer “Mirror” (T4), as a thick wall of noise is stripped away to reveal a mournful chorus that comes in waves before it dissipates and disappears. Extreme harsh sounds – the constant distortion is at times reminiscent of another NY noise project (who frequently share a bill with Dreamcrusher), Uniform, recently added to our library.
Howard Stelzer is a sound artist from Massachusetts who works with cassettes as his instrument, both in his solo work (here) and his collaborations with Campbell Kneale, Frans de Waard, The Cherry Point, and others. This 2014 CDR release from Obsolete Units holds a single 54-minute work. During the first half of the piece, layers of recorded hums, buzzes, and echoes cast the dimensions of a vast interior space. Halfway through, a metallic rumbling emerges, and with it the realization that this space has only one exit, and that gap is slowly, mechanically, fastening closed. Air and light rushes out with a high frequency roar, the space seals shut. There’s nothing left to do but fumble through the void to hit the eject button.
Once upon a time, in a little planet called Earth, lived a vomitory breed called the human race. They were the worst kind of bastards on this side of the galaxy….
This 2018 LP revives of one of the strangest and most obscure works from the archives of Trax, the Italian mail art network active in the 1980s that counted Merzbow and Colin Potter among its members. The Cop Killers was a collaboration between three Trax operatives – or “units” as they called themselves – Vittore Baroni, Daniele Ciullini and Mark Phillips. The trio met IRL in Florence in 1982 and live mixed their cassettes together into a single work. The 90 minute take is presented here in its entirety, original hiccups, fuckups and all.
Baroni wrote the original script for this “spoken word industrial opera,” about a future world where those who show signs of peace or happiness are met with torture and extermination by an army of killer cops called, confusingly, The Cop Killers. Baroni’s narration – in English and the “dead language” Italian – details the gruesome, pornographic violence of the sick society. His vocals are sped up and slowed down, and collaged with Phillips’ minimal synth rhythms, Ciullini’s ambient spacey textures, sci-fi sound effects, snippets of recorded voices and sex sighs. Images of the d.i.y. art and materials from the original traded tapes are included in the LP’s liner notes; together it’s a fascinating artifact from early underground cassette culture.
Deux Filles is the experimental ambient project of Simon Fisher Turner and Colin Lloyd Tucker, formed in the early 80s and recently reunited in 2016. The inspiration for the project came to Tucker in a dream: the pair would become two French teenage girls who forge a friendship after experiencing horrible personal tragedies, together working through their grief with their music. Turner and Tucker fully embodied their alteregos, frumping it up in wigs, bows and pearls for the hilarious album photos (and even one live performance), and developing an elaborate backstory for their doomed characters. The filles released two albums in the 80s – 1982’s Silence & Wisdom and 1983’s Double Happiness – both attracting a cult following over the years, and now widely available again on this 2012 double reissue from Les Temps Modernes.
While the concept is a total joke, the music on these two records is anything but. Both albums offer beautiful, reverb-laden guitar ambience, that recalls the later work of Roy Montgomery or Liz Harris (A1, B1, B2, B3, B6). On Silence and Wisdom, there’s also serenades with whispered French vocals (A2, A5), melancholy piano melodies (A6), and fleeting samples of voices of young girls singing and playing or a twinkling music box (T10). But the mood darkens at times, with chants (A7), ragas (A9), and the eerie flute and voices of the title track (A14). These psychedelic hallucinations intensify on Double Happiness, as sounds and voices, like ghosts from the girls’ sad past, mysteriously appear. Maybe they are summoned by the recordings of spells and chants, hypnotically looping? The duo even tries to lead some chants of their own, and almost make it through with a straight face. But just as the haze feels too heavy, the tension breaks, with the light guitar of “Zacinthos” (B11) or the shimmer of “The Sun on the Sea” (B16).
Kali Malone is an American electroacoustic musician and composer currently based in Sweden. As a master’s student at Kungliga Musikhögskolan, she studied alternative and ancient tuning systems, and for her thesis she worked as an apprentice to an organ tuner in Stockholm. It was during this time that she learned to play the organ and composed the four pieces on this album for Ascetic House. Malone recorded the dirges in a small rehearsal room at her school, using closely placed microphones to capture the sound. Stripped of the usual heavy reverb and volume, her playing has no hint of the gothic or the gospel. The organ radiates a warm, intimate sound, and yet there’s still an unsettling tension, created by her use of unusual intervals and fluctuating durations of the tones. Gorgeous work, at once comforting and confounding.
For three decades, Hiroshi Hasegawa has pursued sonic chaos in many forms: the improvised madness of C.C.C.C. with his (now ex-) wife Mayuko Hino, the psychedelic synthcraft of Astro, and several other radical projects. In the early 90s, Hasegawa pursued a different kind of noise with his solo project Mortal Vision, releasing a few works under this name, including 1992’s Nacht Musik, originally released on cassette on Aube’s label G.R.O.S.S. In 2016, the Italian noise label Urashima reissued the tracks from that tape on this all-black-everything LP. Mortal Vision stands out from Hasegawa’s work – and the entire early 90s noise scene – for its focus entirely on the sounds of heavily treated electric guitar. Heavy feedback sputters and spirals, waves of distortion shift from soft to shredded, complex patterns converge to single point, a long-held note. Despite the source instrument, not a trace of rock, punk or any wave of music at all can be detected in these singular dark visions.
Norwegian free jazz drummer Paal Nilssen-Love brings together a killer lineup for this one: saxophonist Akira Sakata, guitarist Kiko Dinucci, and Japanoise legends Kohei Gomi (aka Pain Jerk) and Toshiji Mikawa (of Hijokaidan/Incapacitants). New Japanese Noise is the companion release to New Brazilian Funk (recently added to our library); both are recordings of explosive live sets recorded at the 2018 Roskilde Festival in Denmark. “Stiff Upper Lip Jeeves” (T1) blasts off with propulsive drumming, furious sax, damaged guitar, and – bubbling up into whatever free space is left over – brilliant rainbow electronics. The energy just barely lets up with the rock-inspired grooves of “Up the Line to Death” (T2), “Eats, Shites, and Leaves” (T3) finds Sakata’s strangely beautiful clarinet figures beset by rustling, then raging, rhythms. In the showstopper “The Bone People” (T4), Sakata’s maniacal growls summon a storm of howling evil spirits. The quintet bows out with a(nother) blast on the encore “Birdsong” (T5).
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