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Spool's Out

Spool’s Out: Your Tape Cassette Release Roundup For August
Tristan Bath , August 23rd, 2018 08:28

Tristan Bath dives back into the tapeosphere, emerging for you this month with a stack of party beats, tropical dreamscapes and freeform electronics

The fourth track of this collection by French artist Magnétophonique shares its title with great 1950s exotica tune ‘Quiet Village’. Despite the wealth of superficial differences between the two tunes - one’s a sparse oldies instrumental, the other a manic six minutes of gushing water sounds and cascading keyboard notes - the giddy tropical spirit is identical. This fantasy of a distant, lonely island brimming with greenery and life has never really gone away in the western imagination. What’s more, these fantastical tropical settings have been an increasingly prevalent influence on the grainy tapey underground of late. From Not Not Fun’s catalogue in general to the music of Belgian artist Lieven Martens (aka Dolphins Into The Future) to some of the lonelier psychedelic South American producers, and myriad field recordists visiting such regions, the tropics represent an inspiring getaway for electronic musicians.

Producer Charles Belpois originally recorded and released this music on a series of splits and a solo tape back in the early 2010s in Dijon and Lyon. This lush compilation of prize picks, however, is an apt summary of the Magnétophonique catalogue. While it’s certainly experimental in its aimless drift and intentionally low fidelity, this music is also overflowing with cosy colour and shimmering melodies - there’s even the odd chunky rainforest riddim. Take ‘Lush Islands’ near the head of the tape: it’s a beatless four minutes of colliding keyboard arpeggios, gleaming like bursts of light filtering through the canopy onto a forest floor. On the flipside, ‘Sunstroke’ has Belpois’ candescent melodies grooving over a straightforward beat, periodically morphing via simulated tape stutters. The track ordering of Une Cartographie Idéale seems to imply a narrative too, opening with positive tunes before ultimately descending into the lonesome side of living on one’s own tropical paradise by the end of side B. The chiming notes of ‘Hopeless Tropicalia’ are weighed down with longing, while ‘The Only Survivor Is Now Alone On The Island’ is resigned to solitude with its melody wandering slowly out of the sunshine and into the void. This one’s truly transportative, deeply introspective, and totally beautiful.

On Beholder (released by Room40 subsidiary A Guide To Saints), Sydneysider guitarist Julia Reidy seems to begin the process of expanding her soundworld out beyond lengthy minimal solo guitar trips. Her dissonant and delicate 12-string plucks remain intact, but on the lengthy ‘Syros’, she interleaves passages of synth drone into an erratic suite. Reidy’s fierce approach to plucking wipes away the semblances of folksy feel or soul, leaving behind only animalistic bursts of strings pulsating like hyperactive invertebrates. ‘Jfai’ is an even higher watermark - a gorgeously disorienting phantasm where Reidy pulls the rug right out from under you as she drops out the electric shredding mixed with windchime keyboard tones and swaps in the dreamy subterranean field recording.

The quarter hour title track closes the cassette with a more characteristically raw acoustic piece. Reidy runs her fingers up and down the fretboard while wildly plucking. A tectonic bed of electronic drone gradually pokes its head into view, and ushers us towards a final passage of mind-bendingly quick repetitions alongside synth hums. One of the key appeals of Reidy’s music is how rootless it often feels. She never references traditional folk musics, never leans on raga-like musings. She’s certainly on a different planet to the likes of John Fahey or Robbie Basho - Derek Bailey too, for that matter. Despite the constant fire and crackly energy, her guitar playing is far more focused and meditative than one might expect, coming from a place of deep concentration. Put in similar effort as a listener, and Beholder offers gigantic rewards.

You’ll all be delighted to find out that, as far as I can tell, L/F/D/M appears to stand for Love's Flaccid Disco Muscle. It’s the nom de plume of London musician Richard Smith, who’s been dropping tracks under the name for most of this decade. This latest one, aptly titled Lurid Attractions, is actually also the first tape by fresh new Catalan-based imprint, Label In Disarray, but L/F/D/M’s been already having a good year of it, this being his sixth release of the year by my count.

Lurid Attractions lives up to its title, sticking to L/F/D/M’s pre-existing blend of industrial and acid techno influences, presenting them with relatively little frills. If anything, the sonics are even slightly undercooked in comparison to the punch of top tier producers - but the music’s no less banging for it. L/F/D/M spins nifty little bangers ready for you to drop into that next techno set, drifting into myriad different modes along the way. ‘Nux f cl’ is a techno shuffle tune to pump your gut to, while ‘Poison E-S’ is a seven minute racetrack of old skool acid pulsations. Things get a tad odder on side B, particularly ‘Labyrinthine’ which never drops the beat and remains in a state of arrested development while L/F/D/M scurries wonky sound effects over a quiet throb. The red raw lo-fi disco of opener ‘Ha p’ is the clear highlight, but all round Lurid Attractions’s grab bag of styles is all very appealing (if a little straightforward) dancefloor fun.

Viennese producer Robert Schwarz issues his second tape of “exposures of the universal wonder of wind”, released via Antwerp’s wonderful Audio Visuals Atmosphere. As one might gather from the titles alone, these four pieces are based around field recordings of wind, with Schwarz extrapolating them and synthesizing around them to craft some off-kilter soundscapes. Each of the four pieces is based around wind sounds captured in a single location - Ranong in Thailand, the Bulgarian black sea resort of Shabla, and the Palawan archipelago in the Philippines - yet the context barely matters in practice. Wind as a unique aesthetic concept for music makes a lot of sense, rustling and wheezing its way slowly around a listener quite unlike anything else. Schwarz does add the seldom musical notes from his own gear, pricking the wall of unrecognizably processed palm trees rustling on ‘Wind 4’, but the musicality is more often teased out of the wind and not spread on top. ‘Wind 6’ is full of empty space in its middle, but bookended by gigantic throbs of gong-like bass, Schwarz taking contact-miked branches touching in the wind, and turning them into two colossuses in battle. Winds 4-7 cements Schwarz as a unique voice, toying with odd recording techniques and his strangely context-less ear for sounds to find that place between abstraction and earthly realism.

The third tape release by this free-electronics supergroup sees the trio in their most erratic, impulsive, and at times, orchestral. For the uninitiated Devon Hansen (aka Stefan Jós and Persuasion), Roger Tellier-Craig (also in Le Révélateur and formerly of GY!BE and Fly Pan Am amongst others), and Karl Fousek are all Montreal-based musicians working at the edge of electronic music. Since 2016 they’ve been emerging from their solo electronics studios, gathering their laptops and modulars, and assembling as trio for totally improvised sessions of abstract electronic explorations. As a group is easier to find yourself deep in uncharted territory, and like babes in woods, that’s where this particular unit seem to increasingly find themselves. Even the title of No Way of Knowing implies as much (and also gets me thinking about that mental little tune Gene Wilder sings in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory - but I digress).

The two nameless sides of No Way of Knowing drift along uneasily, each of the players slowly marbling their ideas into the bobbing ocean of synthetic sound in the room. Emotion and darkness seep through in such a bizarre way here, unobvious and unmusical like all the best early electronics did, telling wordless stories and intoning sonic poems you feel you could reach out and touch. There’s a synaesthetic quality to this music, made all the more psychedelic due to the trio of indistinguishable musicians at play, variously crossing paths and running in opposite directions. The second side gets more and more crazed as it progresses, opening with a din of breezy dissonance scattered with lethargic drones, and ending up spaghettified through a wormhole into lumbering malevolent noise. The wealth of sound reaches some almost Ligeti levels of epic cosmic cacophony (particularly around the head of the first side), lending this tape a vaguely cinematic feel too. Previous outings for the trio have been much more peaceful, or at least experimental in a more playful sense. The bassy shuddering of this one however, seems imbued with something heftier and more serious than before. It’s scary heading into the void - so take a tip from these guys and don’t go it alone.

This duo from Germany seem have some pretty lofty ideas about what they’re doing here. The notes for OCA’s Preset Music describe it as aiming to “display the juxtaposition of intentionality and non-intentionality in music and composition”, which as you might have noticed, betrays little actual info about how they made this music. They’re certainly well placed on Oakland’s most chilled tape label, Constellation Tatsu, comprising as it does seven lusciously weary synth to heal you. Opener ‘HeavenCent’ sets the mood with a couple of heavenly and very gradually evolving synth loops that variably interlock. A field recording of an American woman talking about hearing crickets enters at one point, but it largely rolls forward with a real majestic simplicity. More pointillistic arpeggios and jewel-like keyboard melodies bounce around elsewhere on the tape, such as the New Age getaways of ‘Nylon’, ‘MalibuNite’, and the far busier ‘Astro Pong’.

Two longer ambient pieces take up most of side two, ‘FallnAngel’ and ‘East Pond’, both moving very little and at an utterly serene pace. These two are the centrepieces of the record for sure, surrounding and engulfing the listener with keyboard bleeps that dangle like wind chimes, or as on ‘East Pond’, a round-edged organ stretched and veiled until it resembles a vaporous ghost floating around slowly more than an instrument. Maybe that’s more what the duo are getting at with their concept - removing the artist as much as possible until only some seemingly miraculous notes emerge from lifeless music gear into my ears. However it was created, this is one breathtakingly beautiful debut for the duo, well worth sticking on to melt those worries away.

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