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Spool's Out

Daphne Oram & More In This Month's Tape Reviews Column
Tristan Bath , May 26th, 2015 13:49

This month Tristan Bath delves into the past with a review of a new cassette of undiscovered work by Daphne Oram, new music from former Medicine man Brad Laner, returning London psych group Lasers From Atlantis, footwork from DJ Fullton, strange Japanese synth project mus.hiba and electronics from Petrels

Brad Laner - For Magnetic Tape
(Drawing Room Records)

Best known as the founder of Los Angeles 90s shoegazers, Medicine (who are often well summarised as being the States’ closest thing to a My Bloody Valentine), Brad Laner has been responsible for dozens of albums varying widely in style from the noisy squall rock of Medicine, to the trippy glitchy electronics of solo albums under his Electric Company moniker, such as Creative Playthings. For Magnetic Tape though, is far more in the vein of 'classic' experimental music, making heavy use of the piano and unusual playing techniques. The piece totals about 25 minutes over two sides of cassette, travelling from contemplatively plodded out, and often dissonant but sparsely strewn piano chords during the opening section, to wild free-jazz rumblings in the ilk of Cecil Taylor’s primordial improvisation trio heard on 1962’s Nefertiti, flailing electric bass and what sounds like a child’s recorder between a downpour of piano notes and restless drum taps. Presumably the piece is made of Laner ‘improvising with himself’ so to speak (no other musician is credited as far as I can see), but the result is far from lacking when it comes to cohesiveness, sounding as if it were recorded live. The ritual flails in all directions, comfortably hitting a finale at the end of the first side. The second is a cathartic 13-minute blast of bowed cymbals, scraped metals, and other anonymous metallic tones (perhaps the rearranged insides of a piano yanked to life with a violin bow?), coming across as a meditation session held in a busy scrapyard; the middle-ground between Einstürzende Neubauten and Rothko perhaps. Even in a discography as extensive and varied as Brad Laner’s, this humble tape stands out as something special.

Lasers From Atlantis - Lasers from Atlantis
(Extreme Ultimate)

This London band appear to have been lurking around the psych scene for a while, seemingly defunct for about three years, but have nonetheless deemed to put this cassette out on the Extreme Ultimate label. Recorded back in 2012, this music is takes the open-ended spacey jams of Space RItual-era Hawkwind to doomier depths, with crunchy overdriven bass and power chords adding weight to the vintage British psych modus operandi. ‘Oscillation Bomb’ has the feel of one of those gigantic sounding tracks from Acid Mothers Temple’s raw Cosmic Inferno offshoot, albeit with Jan Hammer unfurling vintage cosmic synth solos in the empty space above the riffage rather than the Speed Guru’s signature guitar squall. ‘Illuminated Trail’ hints at a gentler, nearly post-rock aesthetic with its prettily plucked guitar melody, but soon heads spaceward once more into a killer synth-heavy jam. The three tracks on the second side of the album - ‘Hopi Lori’, ‘Protectress’ and ‘Slaves’ - see the group further mutate into a stoner’s psychedelic dream of a sludge band. The ten minute closer, ‘Slaves’ in particular seems to abandon almost every semblance of the first side’s freewheeling psych band, hurling outright doom riffs at the listener while a distant distorted voice sing-screams. It’s practically more Hey Colossus than Hey Colossus. Apparently Lasers from Atlantis are reforming off the back of putting this tape together, so keep your eyes peeled for new gigs in the London area. If this music had disappeared five years back, it’d have been truly tragic. Lasers from Atlantis give space rock a massive kick up the arse and yank doom from off its high horse, launching stoner metal right into the heart of the cosmos. There’s a limited edition of the this tape which also comes with a copy of Extreme Ultimate’s excellent very own zine - you can pick it up at extremeultimate.bandcamp.com.

DJ Fulltono - My Mind Beats Vol. 1
&
mus.hiba - White Girl
(Orange Milk)

The latest batch of releases from Ohio’s Orange Milk label features three tapes from Japanese artists. This one further expands the label’s roster of experimental footwork releases. DJ Fulltono is a footwork/juke producer based out of Kansai (the region of the main Japanese island of Honshu where the city of Osaka is), and My Mind Beats Vol. 1 collects five raw trips into instrumental footwork. DJ Fulltono barely goes beyond adding several layers of syncopated rhythms to the mix, notably excluding the vocal samples that typify the work of Chicago footwork giants like RP Boo. ‘BC9FW’ sits on a jaunty beat, adding only a periodic stab of a single organ chord, and a deep, amorphous sub bassline. The gates of reverb occasionally get flung open, blasting the odd beat or organ line into an echoey church, ultimately resulting in a precise mix of footwork rhythms and golden age dub methods. It’s almost painfully simple once DJ Fulltono sets the gears in motion, but the seven minute track allures the listener, using the methods usually employed by footwork’s elite to confuse dancers’ feet to entrap listeners’ brains. The title track adds what sounds like thumb piano to the syncopated looping ritual, and closer ‘The Walls’ takes a melodic detour from the rest of the almost purely rhythmic record, riding a furiously vibrating chord movement with nonetheless restless Chicagoan boogieability.

Utau is a Japanese singing synthesizer that allows producers to not only play a virtual vocal, but also to string vocal sounds together into full lyrics. It was also quite wonderfully put out as freeware, meaning thousands of users have tried their hand at creating their own virtual singers, and in typically Japanese fashion, a mythology has been born, and there’s even a wiki of all the characters behind the vocal libraries. Tokyo’s producer mus.hiba features breathy virtual singer, Yufu Sekka, on every track on debut release, White Girl. According to her wiki entry, “she's good in snowball fights, but not good in sports. Her white coat, which Yufu never takes off even in summer, may be made of high-tech all weather material with a portable air conditioner. There is a rumor that she is a spirit of snow. She has a sensitive tongue.” Even disregarding how Yufu Sekka’s ‘collaboration’ with mus.hiba came about, this is a thoroughly excellent album of inventive and dense productions. At times the barrage of melodic ideas, syncopated rim shot hits and tinkling of jazzy keys is reminiscent of Flying Lotus, while the more dramatic peaks - such as the glorious grinding pads on the chorus of ‘Darkness’ - hint at the epic aspirations of M83’s. The entire time though, the voice of Yufu Sekka breathily punctuates proceedings rather than leading them (as a real singer perhaps would be more likely to), though there are exceptions, as on the excellent pop song ‘Maboroshi’. It’s a thoroughly successful experiment with integrating the Utau software and a fully realised self-contained alternative musical universe that goes beyond the usual confines of the sub genre dubbed vaporwave [sic]. Most importantly it’s simply overflowing with truly brilliant musical ideas, and at its best manages to be utterly beautiful despite perhaps aiming for merely ‘cute’.
Petrels -
(Bomb Shop)

This is the fourth edition in Bomb Shop’s Fuse Editions series, focusing on live recordings made at the Fuse Art Space in Bradford. This time, it’s London’s Oliver Barrett, aka Petrels, getting caught on tape. Petrels have put out several albums of excellent atmospheric and eclectic music, occasionally beaty, and always mired in cathedral-esque sonics. This tape sees the man armed with a noble setup of battered old synths, pedal, laptop, and contact-microphoned cymbal, and the result is two powerful long form pieces of electronic music. Part one dances armies of careening notes around the room, slowly mutating and glitching throughout twelve minutes that eventually swerves into a gut-wrenching wall of cathartic melodic noise for a finale. Tension is ever present in this music, open ended as it is while Barrett sits in conversation with a table of machinery, with - sonically - potentially anywhere and everywhere to go. Part two opens with more traditionally pretty tones, akin to Popol Vuh’s prettier movie themes, albeit pumped through a slightly dodgy amp. Randomly arpeggiated melodies enter the fray, and dense bass threateningly fills the room. The bottom eventually drops out though, and arpeggios cycle to a compellingly uncertain fade out.

Daphne Oram - Pop Tryouts
(Mondo Hebden / Was ist Das?)

The legend of Daphne Oram deepens with each passing year. She co-founded the BBC Radiophonic Workshop back in 1958 with Desmond Briscoe, but was to resign about a year later after witnessing the likes of Edgard Varèse demonstrate new experimental electronic musical techniques, and setup her own studio in Kent, where for years she would create countless soundtracks, and develop her own technique for electronic music creation dubbed ‘Oramics’. While researching for a book on Oram at Goldmiths college in London, Ned Netherwood - the founder of Hebden Bridge based promoter/tape label, Was ist Das? - stumbled across a recording labelled only as Pop Tryouts. After seeking out permission from the Oram estate, we’re presented with this cassette tape, featuring half an hour’s worth of demos and experiments created by Oram at her Kent studio circa 1972/3, toying with a melodic theme that would form a vital part of her ‘Bird of Parallax’ suite. The music was to score part of ‘Xallaraparallax’, ballet by the London Ballet Company (for which Oram received a fee of £150, or £1,700 in 2015 money).

The contents of the tape demonstrate Oram’s tireless process, repeatedly varying the haunting melodic theme on an ancient synthesizer over a bubbly proto-electronic rhythm dozens and dozens of times. The melody itself seems to owe much to Eastern european folk musics, but gets mutated and varied by Oram repeatedly througout the cassette tape. Side two even contains recordings of Oram herself going a cappella and whistling or singing the tune, coming across like priceless artefacts from a genius of seismic proportions in the throes of boundary pushing creation. Electronic circuitry aside, this music is intensely ritualistic and organic, flowing from Oram as if speaking in tongues. This tape represents the first for a new offshoot from the excellent Was ist Das label called ‘Mondo Hebden’, which will be putting out archival releases - and to boot, Netherwood’s book on Oram (which led him to these recordings) is out now in hardback. Pop Tryouts is an intimate set of recordings, helping to unravel the mystical genius of Daphne Oram just that little bit more.

It’s also worth noting, an exhibition in the Science Museum in London, exploring Oramics and the development of electronic music, comes to a close at the end of next month. Catch it while you can!

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