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Phil Phactor

Eleven Eleven – “Eleven Eleven” – [FPE Records]

Phil Phactor   5/29/2019   A Library, Cassette

Kendra Amalie, 12-string guitarist and RYT 200 yoga teacher, is at the helm for this collection of four hazy, lazy, sometimes blissful improvisations. Opener Illusion of Separation wields guitar, cello, drums, trombones and electronics for a spaced-out stumble through the desert in the white-hot midday sun. Inferior mirages pulse and vibrate, is that a radio tower in the distance? On the flip side, Angh Oya Tung melds floating synths, disembodied voices, and a steady drum pulse for a pure bliss experience, highlighted by a wonky bassoon solo. Closer Prayer for an Infinite Skein is 10 minutes of slow burn highlighted by the cello playing of Taralie Peterson (Louise Bock, Tar Pet, Spires That in the Sunset Rise) and Amalie’s fuzzed out guitar, followed by an equally epic come down.

Tsembla – “The Hole In The Landscape” – [NNA]

Phil Phactor   4/3/2019   12-inch, A Library

Tsembla is one Marja Ahti, a Swedish Finn (or Finnish Swede). She makes the synthetic sound real and the real sound surreal. On the opener Gravitating Bones, moody subterranean drones suddenly give way to bright, emotive chords, and that’s only the first of about 237 curveballs coming your way on this album. Once you get over your fear of getting lost, you’ll be able to enjoy the ride. The warped post-dub of Splash Erosion (A2) evokes the sound of several alarm clocks going off at once, but in a good way. Penumbra (A3) explores some questionable traditions before moving into a Broadcast vibe (there’s them curveballs again). On the flip, Instant Granite (B1) gives me some severe Mouse on Mars flashbacks, with its slippery, squiggly percussion. Closer Desert Lake starts with a choir of meowing cats and disintegrates from there. Always melancholy and yet strangely soothing, this is the rainy day album of an alien civilization.

Davis / Frith / Greenlief – “Lantskap Logic” – [Clean Feed]

Phil Phactor   3/27/2019   A Library, CD

Two telepathic long-form improvisations courtesy of Evelyn Davis on pipe organ, Fred Frith on electric guitar, and Phillip Greenlief on alto and tenor saxophones. Davis previously played organ as part of the tragically short-lived Drone Church, alongside Crystal Pascucci and Kimberly Sutton on amplified cellos. There are drones here too, but rather than stasis, the feeling is one of constant struggle, between the tethers of tonality and the dark depths beyond. Recorded in the Mills College chapel, this is a beautiful record, but not an easy one. Deep, deep listening.

Cold Beat – “A Simple Reflection” – [Dark Entries]

Phil Phactor   3/6/2019   12-inch, A Library

Yep, it’s another synth-pop album from Dark Entries. This time it’s HANNAH LEW (ex-Grass Widow) and her band Cold Beat doing an album of EURYTHMICS covers, and–let me tell you–it’s a real stunner that gets deeper with every listen. Lew’s vocals are at the core here, pitch-perfect, exquisitely phrased, and–of course–drenched in reverb and wrapped up in a cocoon of lush synths. You can safely drop the needle anywhere, but some highlights include She’s Invisible Now (A3), which hints at that Widow feel with its slightly warped synths, cold vocals, and motorik beat. Guitars come to the fore on Never Gonna Cry Again (B2), a nifty little minor-key groover that could almost sneak into a late 70s classic rock album. And if it’s that 80s synth(-etic) bliss you’re after, check out Invisible Hands (B3). (P.S. – Plenty of Eurythmics in B Library… *ducks*)

Tuttle, Andrew – “Andrew Tuttle” – Room40

Phil Phactor   2/20/2019   A Library, CD

Andrew Tuttle is from Australia, but you wouldn’t know it from this enchanting slice of post-Fahey Americana. Tuttle layers his banjo and guitar filigree over luminous drones to predictably trance-inducing effect. On Meterological Warning (T5), he’s joined by viola and prepared lap guitar, while The Coldest Night (T8) sees the addition of electric guitar and trumpet. Soothing stuff.

Spiegel, Laurie – “Unseen Worlds” – [Unseen Worlds]

Phil Phactor   2/20/2019   A Library, CD

Laurie Spiegel is a pioneer in the field of electronic music. In 1973, she began exploring computer music at Bell Labs, where Max Matthews and Richard Moore had recently developed the digital-analogue hybrid GROOVE (Genered Realtime Operations On Voltage-controlled Equipment) system. From this work came the album The Expanding Universe, released in 1980. With its clear tones, open harmonies, and mechanical rhythms, The Expanding Universe presented an optimistic, almost utopic vision of technology. In contrast, Unseen Worlds, created using Spiegel’s own Music Mouse software, is altogether darker and more amorphous, with a focus on texture over melody. Hurricane’s Eye (T7) stacks layers and layers of organ-like tones to create a thick, murky, mass of sound, a modern-day requiem. Check out the frankly-terrifying stabs of noise on Riding the Storm (T9), and DO NOT MISS the epic, 14-minute closer Passage (T12), in which harmonically-rich drones, synthetic voices, and ominous clangings rise and fall evoking the grandeur and power of some strange, cosmic machine.

Dalt, Lucrecia – “Anticlines” – [Rvng Intl.]

Phil Phactor   2/15/2019   A Library, CD

Lucrecia Dalt is a former geotechnical engineer from Colombia, now settled in Berlin, who has previously collaborated with Julia Holter and Laurel Halo. While her early work has been described as “experimental indie pop,” on this album she leaves the “indie pop” behind. Dalt is an exceptionally skilled sound designer, deftly weaving industrial aesthetics into the conventions of minimal electronics. The result is a sound all her own: raw, rough, tactile, but also precise, polished, icy-cold. And then there are the vocals (T1, T3, T5, T6, T9, T11), spoken-sung and subtly processed, they draw you in and push you away at the same time. These are short tracks (1-3 minutes) that nonetheless evoke a sense of geologic time, of a stasis that masks the presence of tremendous power.

Hay, Emily / Liebig, Steuart – “Nomads” – [Pfmentum]

Phil Phactor   2/6/2019   CD, Jazz

Emily Hay and Steuart Liebig at the 2016 Norcal Noise Festival

Almost 75+ minutes of bass/flute/vox improv explorations from these two veterans of the scene, both of whom are well-represented in our library. They waste no time getting started with Santa Ana Noise Festival (T1), a 90-second blast of rumbling bass and rapid-fire treble that quickly makes their intentions clear. What you notice right away is Emily Hay’s unique ability to switch effortlessly from flute to voice and back, often several times in the same phrase. Flute lines, caterwauls, trills, screams all part of a single organic mouth-instrument. Saint Mark’s, which follows, is more stately, almost operatic, but a subtle menace pervades the proceedings. My favorite track might be the 17-minute Shapeshifter Lab 01 (T4), in which both performers skillfully use electronics to broaden their palette and flesh out the sound. Plenty here for adventurous ears!

Klangwelt Station – Music Exhibition, The – [Listermusic]

Phil Phactor   1/27/2019   A Library, CD

Klangwelt (World of Sound) Station is a European trio composed of Meinrad Kneer on double bass, Dick Toering on guitars, and Johanna Varner on cello. While this is their first outing as a trio, Toering and Varner have collaborated previously, developing what they call “a new approach in improvising, based on classical and minimal music, and world music.” This disc is a set of 13 fully-improvised tracks, most of which clock in at 3-5 minutes. The variety of plucked and bowed strings on offer can fuse together to become one long string (à la Ellen Fullman) or fracture into something resembling a Bartók folk dance. The acoustics of the Church of Oostum in the Netherlands, where this was recorded, bathe everything in a beautiful resonance. Unique and very special stuff. Bassist Kneer also runs the Evil Rabbit record label.

Beauty School – “Crust Immersed” – [Weird Ear]

Phil Phactor   9/19/2018   A Library, CD

A bashing, clattering, scraping mess from this trio of Bay Area weirdos,  namely Tom Djll on trumpet and electronics, Jacob Felix Heule on percussion and electronics and Matt Chandler on bass guitar (ex. Burmese). Group noise has the potential to sidestep the wank-factor inherent in solo noise, and this release is a good example. It’s difficult to tell who’s doing what, but you can hear that everyone’s listening, stretching their capabilities, and competing to deliver the most brutal blow. The result is chaotic, claustrophobic, and abrasive, not to mention a bit of an endurance test. The first track is 10 minutes, and they get longer from there. Originally released on cassette, Tom Djll made this CD-R just for us. Should be deeply satisfying for both free jazz-ers and noise freaks alike.

Alto! – “LP3” – [Trouble In Mind]

Phil Phactor   9/19/2018   12-inch, A Library

Pit veterans Alto! return with their third LP and they’re sticking with their track naming strategy, which means we start off with ‘Piece 14.’ Bells and hand percussion are soon joined by a chunky synth melody and then—woah, is that a whistle—we’re off into Señor Coconut territory. Do not miss the killer flute solo a little over halfway through. There’s the occasional sinister guitar stab, but combustion will have to wait, as this weirdo world groover stays the course. The next track, ‘Piece 12,’ opens with some late-night minor-key guitar noodles, and then BOOM, depress the pedal and it’s just non-stop doom riffage. Eventually the dust settles, and we’re back to our Tunisian opium den. A bongo player emerges out of the shadows, and it’s all over. Or is it? The flip is marked as two tracks, but they track together to form an extended percussion and synth workout in the vein of the opener. Has the torch of the mystics been passed?

Shep and Me – “Nasturtium Inertia” – [Dear Skull Records]

Phil Phactor   9/5/2018   12-inch, A Library

Vinyl re-issue of a 2009 cassette and our first release from the (now-defunct?) Dear Skull label. This is dark, drony music for the nighttime. More specifically, this feels like Loren Mazzacane Connors meets The Microphones, as plaintive melodies rise up from the murk of lonely guitar lines and scratchy field recordings. Gets deeper with every listen. A project of Matthew Himes, who also records as Mole Hole and runs the Lighten Up Sounds label, which appears to still be going.

Raghu, Palghat / Subramanium, V.V. – “Bhavalu / Impressions” – [Nonesuch Records]

Phil Phactor   8/29/2018   12-inch, International

South Indian (Carnatic) instrumental music played by an ensemble featuring Palghat Raghu on mrindagam, the Indian barrel drum, and V.V. Subramaniam on violin. The violin was introduced to India in the late 1700s, and it’s fascinating to hear its sound was radically transformed through the use of ‘alternate’ tunings and modified techniques (including the use of oiled fingers to facilitate slides.) The mrindagam has a sharper and more powerful sound than the tabla, and it often takes the lead, for example on side A. The music of the north and south are both based on ragas, or modes, but in the south these are supplemented by composed, and often intricate, melodies upon which further improvisations are built. As a result, the music on this album requires a little bit of focus on the part of the listener, but it’s well worth it!

Khoury, Mike – “Tocsin” – [Detroit Improvisation]

Phil Phactor   8/22/2018   A Library, CD

A set of three pieces for solo violin, with and without electronics, all composed to accompany the dances of Leyya Tawil. On the first track, Tawil’s footfalls share sonic space with Mike Khoury’s barely there harmonic flutters. There’s a lot of space in this piece, and you’re left to imagine the visual element. The second track opens with a slow, repeated chime, but quickly grows into a sprawling morass of wailing drones as Khoury utilizes electronics to double and triple up on himself. Eventually, everything fades away, and the piece ends on the same note it started. The last track is similar to the first one, with Khoury upper harmonic explorations mingling with the suggestive sounds of bodily motion, both dissipating into the reverberant space. This limited edition CD-R was released on Khoury’s own Detroit Improvisation label, founded in order to document his personal journey as an improviser.

Xu/Xu – “Alma” – [self]

Phil Phactor   8/1/2018   A Library, CD

Xu/Xu is apparently pronounced “FuckYouSlashingFuckerYou,” and is the alias of a certain Hidinori Noguchi from Japan (no relation to the coffee table, I presume). A palette of clattering, claustrophobic percussion, deeeeeeeeep rumbling bass, glitched-up white noise, and cavernous reverb undergirds these three very satisfying tracks of post-Basic Channel technoise experimentation. The middle track (Concha) is the funkiest of the three, bringing to mind an especially-deranged Vladislav Delay, but none of these are going to fill a dancefloor. A jagged edge of an EP, that stabs you at every opportunity, and is over far too soon. (Limited edition of 10 CD-Rs with hand-painted aluminum plate.)

Hennies, Sarah – “Embedded Environments” – [Blume]

Phil Phactor   7/24/2018   12-inch, A Library

Sarah Hennies is a composer and percussionist currently based in Ithaca, NY. She is a part of the long-running experimental percussion trio Meridian, alongside Tim Feeney and Greg Stuart. She writes:

“Percussionists are unique not because we lack ‘an instrument,’ but because we are the only instrumentalists with the freedom to define ourselves. In this malleable space lies a commonality between percussion and queer/trans identities in that they are most easily defined by what they are not. A queer person is not straight, a percussionist is not a cellist, a transgender person is not cisgender.”

Okay, but what does it sound like? This LP is made up of two sidelong pieces for four percussionists. Side A, “Foragers,” is the quiet side, beginning with a soft, low rumble that continues…and continues…and continues. Other sounds emerge, twinkling, outer space sounds that could be electronic, but they’re not. And then the whole thing fades away. Side B features the title track and is the loud side. Much more obviously drum-derived, this is crashing and cacophonous but somehow also calm and meditative. Both pieces were recorded in a large grain silo, which subsumes everything in a massive, cavernous wash of reverb. Fascinating stuff.

Duncan, George – “Mondegreen” – [Kinda Is Records]

Phil Phactor   7/11/2018   A Library, CD

Lo-fi bedroom shambles from the mysterious George Duncan and an array of fellow travelers. Lots of jingle-jangle guitar along with banjo and tambourine and a sort of studied sloppiness that brings to mind nineties slacker rock or maybe Sunburned Hand of the Man at their most subdued. Duncan’s voice is a bit of an acquired taste: nasal, often trembling, sometimes reaching for an intensity it can’t quite pull off. (So, par for the course.) The mood is mostly hushed and confessional, with some goth moments as well as the occasional acid flashback. Tracks 3, 10, and 14 feature some quite beautiful string playing. FCC on 2.

Applebaum, Mark – “Speed Dating” – [Innova Recordings]

Phil Phactor   6/13/2018   A Library, CD

Mark Applebaum teaches at Stanford and his compositions are said to pose “challenges to the conventional boundaries of musical ontology.” He has also given a TED talk on boredom. Both of these facts come to mind when listening to the first three tracks of this CD, which comprise the piece “Three Unlikely Coroporate Sponsorships.” The composer is credited with playing ‘rant,’ but it’s a strange sort of ranting. Each movement starts with a spoken brand name, repeated, slowly morphing into other words, related in sound but not in meaning, decorated with cookie cutter glitches and delivered at hyper-speed. It’s something like a manic version of Amirkhanian’s text-sound compositions. It’s certainly not boring, but is it enjoyable?

The other tracks are more conventional, at least on the surface. Clicktrack (T7) delivers an array of percussive sounds arranged in Cagean fashion. Skeletons In The Closet (T4) features eight analog synths squelching and belching away, and the title track (T5) is your source for classic dissonant string sounds.

Louise, Sarah – “VDSQ Solo Acoustic Vol.12” – [Thin Wrist]

Phil Phactor   5/23/2018   12-inch, A Library


There’s a gently flowing Appalachian stream and then there’s the vastness of the cosmos, and hovering somewhere in between is Sarah Louise. Something about the way her 12-string is tuned bathes all that rapid fingerpicking in a soft glow, so that you’re never quite sure if you’re listening to John Fahey or Tangerine Dream. This record is from 2016 and is part of VDSQ’s solo acoustic series. 2018 sees a Thrill Jockey release as well as an LP reissue of her 2015 cassette on Scissor Tail. All tracks are in the 4-6 minute range.

Usiende Ukalale: Omutibo From Rural Kenya [coll] – [Mississippi Records]

Phil Phactor   4/18/2018   12-inch, International

Omutibo is a style of Kenyan folk music that combines storytelling with intensely rhythmic fingerpicking guitar. It was developed by guitarist George Mukabi in the early 1950s, who took inspiration from the traditional nyatiti lyre and sukuti drum. The style proved to be wildly popular, and Mukabi sold hundreds of thousands of records throughout East and Central Africa. Over 50 years later, Cyrus Moussavi (Raw Music International) traveled to Kenya to visit many of the original musicians and record them in their homes. While George Mukabi himself is not featured here (he passed in 1963 at the age of 33), we do hear music from his son Johnstone. Joyous, life-affirming songs, and an essential document.

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