Spools Out With Tristan Bath: Tape Reviews For August
, August 29th, 2014 03:36
Tristan Bath interviews the illusive Wyrm of the Tapeworm label and reviews all of August's cassettes that are fit to publish, and some that aren't
A Conversation with The Wyrm: Celebrating Five Years of The Tapeworm
The most incendiary experimental tape label in Britain, The Tapeworm, is celebrating five years of existence and over seventy stellar tapes of noise, concrète, and ambience. They've garnered releases from some top names on the scene - Stephen O'Malley, Philip Jeck, Daniel Menche, Dylan Carlson, Oren Ambarchi, Fennesz, and a tape of interviews with Derek Jarman to name a few. In its entirety, the project amounts to perhaps the ultimate celebration of the very anti-aesthetic of the format, creating user-unfriendly music designed to invoke the maximum listener engagement, and the label's now grown to include vinyl and book releases in its back catalogue. Decidedly monochrome, committedly analogue, and shrouded in mystery, I spoke with the anonymous Wyrm behind the label to talk about five years of hiss-ridden sonic exploration.
In summary, what is The Tapeworm?
Wyrm: The Tapeworm is a cassette-only label, commissioning known and lesser-known artists to create sounds specifically for the cassette format. We were born in a Balham garden. We issued our first two tapes on August 2, 2009. We are five. The label is designed to be like a mixtape from a friend, each tape being a new surprise, stylistically. We do not expect our audience to like each tape - we want to have as broad a scope as possible, like those tapes friends would compile for us when we were young… We are a core team of three – but the infestation has spread wide, with many people contributing to what we've been doing in one way or another for the past half decade. Technically, there are millions of us. We are helped greatly by the great Touch, who help us pull things together and push things out there. Importantly, we are editorially independent to them.
What was the initial motivation behind choosing tape?
W: Pragmatically, we wanted a format that was affordable to manufacture in very small numbers. Conceptually, we wanted to challenge the artists we approach to create music for a specific format – we are interested in how different formats require different creative or technical treatments. Romantically, and most fundamentally, we hold a long-standing daft love for the format.
How do the tapes get conceived and ultimately executed? You've said it's not usually from demos you receive, and mostly "via our own contacts and our networks in the wider worlds of music, publishing, design and literature".
W: The three Tapeworms have day jobs - publisher, artist, graphic designer - and typically find themselves meeting some very interesting and occasionally interested individuals. When we stumble across a friend, or a friend of a friend, or a colleague, or acquaintance, we ask them if they would like to contribute to the project. We request that contributors to adhere to the basic principals of the label, namely: The Tapeworm is a celebration of the cassette, the cassette form (audiobooks, cassingles, 80s avant-releases etc) and also of analogue over digital. Sometimes something happens immediately. Sometimes some time passes before something happens…
You don't tend to release the music digitally along with the cassettes. How come?
W: Pretty much everything we release is conceived by the artist with the tape format in mind, so to release digital versions seems to miss the point, sonically and conceptually. Also, we wanted to make the releases inconvenient - in an age of short, shuffling attention spans, and hot and cold running soundstreams just about everywhere, we wanted to make releases where the listener would have to work a little to engage with the sounds. Not that we are luddites - the label relies on modern technologies and communications. But, we are a tape label and not a label releasing music to be played digitally, with an accompanying dusty trophy displayed, unplayed, on a shelf.
What was it about certain releases that prevented you from releasing them on tape? For example, you released an album by drcarlsonalbion (Dylan Carlson of Earth) and the Hackney Lass as a vinyl with digital download. Why wouldn't that have worked as a tape?
W: The Wormhole - our sister label for lesser formats - releases the music that has come our way uncommissioned, fully formed, and better suited to other mediums. Dylan presented us with a perfect pop 45 - so, that's what it had to be!
Does The Tapeworm perform well financially?
W: Ha ha ha!
What inspired the label's very specific monochrome aesthetic, and its humorous attitude?
W: For our first releases, we could not afford to print in colour. So, we elected to make that a strength - only black and white, hand-drawn covers, and each tape packaged in the same format - Penguin paperback style. As for humorous attitude - I guess we simply like to have a laugh. Running a tape label in 2014 is a bit daft, after all…
After 5 years and 70 releases, which tape are you proudest of?
W: In one way or another am proud of every single tape we have put out. Many artists have entrusted their work to us, and I cannot think of one release where we should have done things differently. Well done everyone, then! Was amazed to sell 600 copies of the drcarlsonalbion tape - that's an achievement in itself, I guess. And then there are spectacular tapes, such as our Nam June Paik tape, which were a lot of work to pull together and then largely ignored by reviewers… Unfair.
What's been the greatest challenge running The Tapeworm?
W: Achieving world domination by means of releasing audio on tape. Getting there…
What can we expect from the five year anniversary celebrations?
W: We are celebrating our fifth anniversary in five ways. Firstly, on Tuesday September 16 we are putting on a show, The Tapeworm's Bunch of Fives at Cafe Oto. Only a fiver! Should be a blast. More details here. Secondly, Savage Pencil has designed us a Bunch Of Fives T-shirt. Punchy. Thirdly, we have two new tapes out - a dark archival release by CM von Hausswolff, and a contemporary live recording by the Spire collective. Our fourth way to celebrate is with a new release on The Wormhole - "Release the DATs" by BJNilsen - a digital audio tape (it's the future, mark my words!) in an edition of 25. And finally, we will be publishing two new books on The Bookworm this autumn. Zahntasia by amazing illustrator Stefan Fähler, and an amazing book on the history of presets in music production by Macro man Stefan Goldmann.
Threes and Will & Huerequeque - Blue Thirteen
This latest and thirteenth addition to Blue Tapes comes from a pair of Estonian noisemakers by the name of Threes and Will & Huerequeque, and while the weight of Blue Tapes' near-flawless roster to date brings with it hefty anticipation beyond that of any other label, these two easily live up to this. Getting through three collaborative tracks and a solo song apiece in thirty minutes, Blue Thirteen is restlessly propelled through an ocean of turbulent fuzz by the pair responsible, taking in near-danceable drum patterns, doom-esque guitar squall, and waves of acidic psych-noodling, all shrouded under a coating of concrete-grey lo-fidelity. Estonia's a country renowned for its natural beauty and picturesque cityscapes, and yet Threes and Will & Huerequeque capture the all-encompassing encroachment of the drab city, playing looping metropolitan mantras that gratingly struggle to overpower the monotony of their surroundings, over which they're powerless. 'Ikh Khüree' (an old name for Ulan Bator) explodes from whispering echo effects and emergent drones in to a doomy head banging drone fest with a psychedelic twist in the phasing guitars. The opening solo track from Huerequeque, 'Homöopaatiline epopöa' (homeopathic epic), lives up to its title with spiralling layers of noisy healing vibes, hovering above a monstrous monolithic drum chug, reflecting the ten minute closing solo track from Threes & Will, which unravels a perverted guitar noise jam over a mid-tempo drum beat. Blue Tapes rightfully name check Skullflower in their description of Blue Thirteen, as the bountifully theatrical noise rock of Matt Bower's guitar tempests and Stuart Dennison's epic percussive clatter are close aesthetic relatives. Skullflower's music dealt with terrestrial terrors though, and there's something of the celestial in Blue Thirteen's colossal noise. The colour-tinted psychedelic touches to Threes and Will & Huerequeque's noise thrust open the doors to the astral plane, like the pained ecstasy of an ancient Chinese torture victim, kept conscious by intravenously adminsistered opium. Unlucky for some? Not by any stretch of the imagination.
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma - Songs Of Forgiveness
Even in a world where relentless, restless, hugely prolific artists with discographies that read like novels, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma is a busy man. Although Tarentel - the seminal droney post-rock band he co-founded in the 90s - is now most definitely lying dormant (their last release was back in 2009), Cantu-Ledesma has steadily accelerated his work rate, releasing essential records with his kraut-influenced psychedelic trio The Alps, releasing ambient drone as Colophon, collaborating with Liz Harris (among many others), heading up the increasingly efficient and high quality Root Strata label, and cranking out harsh noise as half of The Holy See. Besides stiff competition from his extensive output though, the releases under his own name stand out as the man's finest work, incorporating abrasive-yet-melodic noise, muddy homespun distortion and, on this latest release, epically unwinding, ice-cold shoegazing fantasies. Born as a companion piece to his Songs Of Remembrance released earlier this year, Songs Of Forgiveness nods to the forlorn wintry guitar instrumental approach of The Durutti Column, stretching it to the furthest possible extent. While Songs Of Remembrance already hinted at the same aesthetic of blurry stalling drum machines, dreamy shimmering guitars, and messy production, that record was comprised of 21 brief two minute interludes. The two twenty minute cuts on Songs Of Forgiveness unwind throughout their duration with gradual dreamlike resignation. Both sides are spellbindingly powerful, soaking wet with nostalgia, and remaining largely, and irresistibly immobile in places. Both sides essentially play out one spiralling theme to its fullest possible extent for the first ten minutes before jump cutting to another for the second, and the first three quarters of the record are tear-jerking instrumental reveries; music for staring through rainy window panes to. The final ten minutes integrates some of the harsher noises and stranger echo effects teased on Songs Of Remembrance, with buzzing whirring analogue fuzz macheteing the stunning beauty of the last forty minutes to mercilessly dormant shreds on the floor. Tapes don't often come as breathtaking as this.
MARRECK - MECHANISM
The latest addition to the Gnod-associated Tesla Tapes' already awesome roster comes courtesy of Michael Hann, who shapeshifts on MECHANISM, from an eternally paranoid documentarian of droning cityscapes as heard on his releases as Rejections (for Jehu & Chinaman and Opal Tapes) to MARRECK, an almost malevolent purveyor of rhythmic analogue noise. 'DESCENDING' sees busy rhythms emerging from a swampy mess of high-pitched white noise and distorted drones, while 'HERDS' whirrs with siren synths above a pounding sequenced bassline, maturing into a nightmarish industrial rave. Each of the four ten minute tracks on MECHANISM utilise rhythm to craft some of the most listenable noisy abstraction in recent memory, encircling the listener and dismissing any preconceptions about how music should work. Though relentless, MARRECK's noise isn't razor-edged, and the submerged filthy rhythms beneath make it an unusually addictive release. Even amongst the lofty heights of the UK's current experimental electronic scene, MARRECK stands out.
Various Artists - How To Organise Your Life & Get Rid Of Clutter
(Memorials of Distinction)
This Brighton-based DIY micro label, run by one Josh Cohen (aka sAtAnic rituAl) has put out a homemade sixteen track compilation of lo-fi lushness from eight featured artists. Each copy was recorded over a horrific 1996 self-help tape of the same name, with chunks of the original audio still left between each song, spewing helpful advice on how to best organise your floppy discs and declutter your desk to best suit your company. 'Lo-fi' has always been a pretty open-ended description, pertaining as aptly to Beck and Sebadoh as it does to moments of early Aphex Twin, or Burzum's bedroom recorded black metal, and Memorials Of Distinction's compilation embraces this breadth, offering languid psychedelic folk, ramshackle indie pop, blurry DIY trip hop and Jandekian outsider songwriting. Highlights abound, with Sweden's Sofia DeVille opening things with a gorgeous dreamy blend of spare digital percussion, distant synths and Grouper-like vocals, before Smiling Diseases quickly follows up with a big-beat punch to the guys in the form of a filthy dirty slacker shoegaze anthem. Mad Kid Library Trap squeals angst-ridden vocals atop barely-played guitar and keyboards, with each element cut up and shaken out of recognition in post-production. His is a almost hellish outpouring of emotion, and to that effect, so is the entire tape. The seminar on the tape takes on a comedic edge by the end of the album, seemingly creating more chaos than it seeks to tackle as the announcer suggest dividing organising, and labelling almost every item in your possession. This bounteous collection of notable music leaves us - like the poor attendees to that tiresome seminar - no option but to sit back, and let the clutter of lo fi vibes wash over us.
AL-90 - SCR & Street Thunder - Galaxies
The washed out, smudged, and yet colourful cover for AL-90's SCR summarises the music therein pretty succinctly. Reckno have consistently delivered when it comes to tripped-out, inventively psychedelic electronica, never sacrificing too much melody in their self-proclaimed 'frontierless' pursuit. And AL-90's no exception. They smush deep brooding melodies with semblances of instrumental hip hop, spacey ambience and blurry house. 'Wiretapping' opens with worn synth lines and slow-motion beats straight out of the Boards Of Canada songbook, yet the production drops out, twists, warps and slows down way beyond the realm of the brothers Sandison. SCR is confident way beyond the norm for a producer's debut (although of course we don't actually know who the mysterious AL-90 is, so it could not be their first), with not a throwaway second on the entire tape. Diversions into near-atonality, such as the central samples of 'Brain Damage' don't jar in the slightest alongside the overwhelming beauty throughout the entire record, which comes to something of a head on the paradisical wobbly stasis of 'Stages Of Change'. This is truly music best served on tape, as is another recent Reckno offering…
Galaxies is a powerful trip through five snapshots of intimate psychedelic noise. Each composition features throbbing walls of unfolding looped and distorted tones, densely shimmering as they project deep into the cosmos for eight minutes at a time. The music suits the evocative cosmic titles such as 'Meteor Shower' and 'Star Collapse'. Surges of organic cosmic chaos seep from the speakers, emitting wave after wave sonic heat and light. Deep within the thick, amorphous swells of sound, it's possible to discern pointillistic ghosts of apparent source material, the washed out remains of a long-since morphed keyboard note, or the familiar fuzz of an amp with the gain cranked up to eleven - but largely the sources remain densely veiled amid static. By the climax of the twenty minute second side, 'Street Thunder' slashes up the music to create harsh white noise, and appears to leave the visible universe entirely behind and tear the fabric of space time to shreds upon exit. This brand of kosmische noise would go perfectly with the closing stanza of Kubrick's 2001, when Dr. David Bowman careens straight past Jupiter, into a wormhole and travels far "beyond the infinite".
Control Unit - Burn
(Fort Evil Fruit)
The Italian duo of Ninni Morgia and Silvia Kastel have been releasing fucked up transmissions of no wave-influenced industrial weirdness for the past half a decade, and this tape on Irish tape label, Fort Evil Fruit, takes them to uncharted ancient tribal depths. Guest percussion features pretty heavily, and Silvia Kastel's madwoman vocal delivery is more front-and-centre than ever, both perhaps stemming from reflecting on Julian Cope, who compared them with Pere Ubu circa Dub Housing. Kastel rambles discordantly, warbling away in a distorted airtight chamber throughout Burn, embodying the recitations of both David Thomas and Genesis P-Orridge, while Ninni Morgia's guitar scrapes, juts and yearns in the background, adding throbbing bass in places ('Yes Indeed'), and atonally squelching the strings unrecognisably through echo pedals elsewhere ('Domino'). Burn maintains an atmosphere of burgeoning insanity throughout, save for a few moments on side one - the title track - where they break step and ostensibly jam over something of a beat. Music this outright bonkers will always sound new, and while the comparisons with industrial, no wave and post-punk ancestors like Lydia Lunch, Throbbing Gristle and Pere Ubu are apt, they fail to encapsulate Control Unit's eerie prehistoric take on gnarled rock noise.
Thurston Moore - Sun Gift Earth
Recorded in a studio by London Fields, the line up on this Thurston Moore single matches that of Chelsea Light Moving – it was even also mixed and recorded by Justin Pizzoferrato. I got the chance to see the quartet featuring Moore, guitarist Keith Wood (Hush Arbors), Samara Lubelski and drummer John Moloney jamming together at a Sunburned Hand of the Man gig in Dalston's Cafe Oto a couple of years ago, and the content of Sun Gift Earth has much more in common with that freewheeling intimate sessions than with the razor sharp abrasion of the Chelsea Light Moving album. The first track is a forlorn seven minute 'Rosette / 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko', unwinding from an upbeat rock tune to a repeating coda lamentation over which Lubelski plays gorgeous violin alongside picked guitars much like she did during Trees Outside The Academy's most affecting moments. (The first song's title was supposedly inspired by the ESA's Rosetta space probe rendezvousing with the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet earlier this month.) The instrumental second track shifts from post rock melancholy to passages of crushing, near-sludgy walls distorted guitar. Moore opts for haunting melodies - perhaps in honour of the tape's dedicatee: Sun Ra - rather than his more normal rock band mode. Actually Moore is well known as a patron and fan of all things Ra-related (as evidenced in a conversation with The Quietus earlier this year), and this tape solemnly declares on its sleeve: "Dedicated to Sun Ra on the occasion of his centennial MMXIV". Yet more evidence that Thurston Moore at the top of his game, Sun Gift Earth is frenetic, and beautiful.
Carlton Melton - Live at Hebden Bridge
Back in 2012, California's current reigning space rock institution, Carlton Melton headed north to play a Was Ist Das? - a promoted date in Hebden Bridge during their European tour. The group's unashamedly Göttsching-influenced brand of synths-and-rocket-fuelled-shredding psych rock is well established, but on this night in West Yorkshire, the trio seem to have temporarily torn a hole in the space-time continuum, spewing psychedelic vibes unrelentingly into the cosmos. Over the course of the eighty-minute recording the band get less and less restrained, spending much of side one intensely immovable, and the second side rocking the fuck out. Get your fix of psychedelic/acid/space rock in one handy, pocket-sized dose - and definitely keep your (third) eye on the ever-improving, totally shroom-obsessed Triangle Sounds label.