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Spool's Out

Spool’s Out: Your Cassette Tape Release Roundup For October
Tristan Bath , October 24th, 2018 13:05

Rifling through the month’s best cassette tapes, Tristan Bath stumbles upon a miraculous one-man free jazz outfit, bangin’ Philly electronic producer W00DY, Polish post-footwork and a new appreciation for John Cage

Earlier this month, an episode of the Spool’s Out radio show on Resonance FM focused on Italian sound artist Carlo Giustini. With several recent tape releases, made at his home in Treviso, he’s quickly established himself as a key voice in the field of adventurous and evocative field recorded sound art. On the show he talked us through his methods and philosophy.

Head over to spools-out.com, or the Resonance FM website to find out more about the show. This episode and others can still be streamed in full via the above, as well as via podcast.

The miraculous solo album by Toronto multi-instrumentalist Colin Fisher has a distinctly autumnal mood, drifting along through imagined deciduous woodland, communing non-verbally and instinctively with overloaded senses. It’s a visceral experience soaking up this record, and it’s all down to Fisher’s utterly innate sense of musicality. The Garden Of Unknowing is a collection of seven dark jazz pieces, with Fisher on guitar, drums, synth, bass, and tenor sax, overdubbing everything to create a thick web of interlocked Fishers. The music appears to have been entirely improvised too, which is all the more miraculous.

Fisher’s guitar (his lead instrument as far as I understand) is the album’s core voice, gifting luscious clean chords and fractured licks in abundance while Fisher replies to himself with impulsive scattergun drum blasts, skirting rhythms. Fisher also adds synth and sax to some tracks, the former adding some Acid Mothers Temple style cosmic flashes (criminally hitherto missing from jazz, might I add), and the latter comprising the sanest voice on the record carving solid melodies into the madness. There’s little that sounds quite like the clatter Fisher’s issued here – perhaps a few snippets of Bill Frisell at his weirdest, or Keiji Haino’s Fushitsusha at their very jazziest – but despite its sheer alien qualities, Fisher’s musical syntax is at its core familiar. The pieces scurry and ramble into all sorts of corners, and it’s impossible to imagine which tracks Fisher started with before layering and layering further instrumentation on top. It’s the modern jazz equivalent of a Norman Bluhm or Pollock painting, balancing impulsiveness with emotional precision. The way this one cycles through my walkman – musically impossible to follow yet constantly tugging me along until the unexpected tape flip arrives – is a singular feeling in the history of the weary little machine. Sad beyond sad; joyous beyond joyous.

The concept of the Groove series currently being issued by the outlines tape label from Wrocław, Poland is thus: label runner Pawel invites an artist to make two pieces circa 10 minutes long, preferably using footwork as a stylistic launchpad. It’s a killer brief in my opinion, giving artists some incredibly loose constraints within which they have entire artistic freedom. It’s the kind of brief that can really have an artist accidentally stumble into new territory, prodded just enough to wander into shrouded corners they didn’t expect to be visiting. Previous entrants to the series include Argentinean producer Aylu, Japanese artists Skip Club Orchestra and DJ Fulltono, plus German artist AGF. The latest two however, come from Poles.

Regular readers of this column will most likely know Fischerle. The project of Mateusz Wysocki has been constantly prolific and ever-shifting, exploring the fringes of concrete as well as some downright groovy beats over some 25 releases since 2010. For groove 7 Wysocki goes deep and dark, ignoring juke and footwork for something buried in the deep end. The rhythms over these two ten minute sides comprise more thuds than kicks, and microscopic hi-hats and digital tinkling where snares and claps could go. The backdrop is a vaporous wall of bass and glitched out samples. The B-side makes the best use of its duration, very gradually slotting in additional facets to the rhythm until it graduates from moody thuds to ghostly banger beats. Maybe this is what raves sound like when you’re half-deaf?

The contribution to the Groove series by Warsaw percussionist Hubert Zemler is a quite different beast. Zemler’s an exceptional drummer, and has worked with the likes of John Tilbury, Felix Kubin, and Ben Frost, plus remains a member of Wacław Zimpel’s LAM trio (all good tQ readers know all about Zimpel, I’m sure), so his investigation into footwork comes from place of almost scientific fascination with rhythm. Most striking however, is the constant presence of shuddering compressed bass. My tape player could barely handle it, leading to a wall of sludgy club bass pulsing on a single note throughout the first half of side one. The busy beats still just about machete their way through the compressed hellscape, snapping in typically head spinning Chicago patterns. Zemler makes some intriguing choices as the piece develops though, including some manic drums that almost sound like they’re malfunctioning, a dramatic Carpenter-esque whoosh during a breakdown, plus some piercing epic clubland bleeps that feel distinctly distant from the funkified and raw world of Chicago footwork. Side two is a bit less weird, although still heads into some confusing territory as Zemler cobbles together interlocking rhythms from sampled marimbas and drum machines alike into an ankle-breaking mess. At eight entries it’s anybody’s guess how many more Groove tapes we can expect from outlines, but I’d advise getting in on this fascinating series right now.

The relationship between entropy and composed performance John Cage tried to foster during his lifetime has always confused me. For one thing, it always seemed to this writer that musical chaos should perhaps be simple to find. One simply plays without thinking. Clearly this is not the case though, as instinct and syntax are not at all indeterminate, and conditions will always dictate the outcome in some small way. These new recordings of pieces by the composer though, have vastly advanced my understanding of quite what Cage was going for. Performed by percussionist Matt Hannafin, two of the four pieces date back to the early 60s, and the others to the end of Cage’s life in 1990. What they all do is strike a balance between chance and precision which eradicates the performer’s ability to act entirely instinctively. From 1990, ‘c Ȼomposed Improvisation For One-Sided Drums With Or Without Jangles’ is performed by Hannafin on a single frame drum, idling through a series of musical instructions quite tough for the layman to comprehend, but more importantly using a vast array of techniques to summon highly varied noises from the drum, and leaving plenty of open space in the room. ‘One4’, also from 1990, functions similarly, but the choice of percussion is left open and Hannafin performs it on a creaky terrified large cymbal.

‘Variations II’ (1961) and ‘Variations III’ (1963) are part of a series of pieces Cage wrote where the creation of the score is itself part of the process. The performer drops lines onto other lines, or scatters shapes across a score to create the piece which is then performed within certain parameters. Each of the ‘Variations’ is a vast open space, with ‘III’ comprising little but red raw wooden clave clatter, while the 20-minute ‘II’ uses a huge array of every piece of percussion available to Hannafin. The latter is bizarrely beautiful, creeping into some truly strange sonic territory in its final half of extended techniques. The purity of a solo percussionist, of reducing music down to simple semblances of rhythm, duration, and timbre, makes Cage’s more abstract methods refreshingly comprehensible. It’s what Genesis P-Orridge would call, “forcing the hand of chance”.

This second release by NYC-based duo Ariyan Basu & Ramin Rahni is a brilliant beautiful mess of chaos controlled into technicolor pop. Recorded by Tar Of at home in Gowanus, Brooklyn “with the aid of broken tape machines”, the six songs on Fana brim with narcotic melodic overload. The bed of these songs comprise manic lattices of samples from old tapes, recordings from India and Iran, and woozy synth lines, but overhead the duo are singing wonky pop songs. They slip into strange illogical shapes, plucking non-sequitur guitar lines between unpredictable vocal lines. Restful closing track ‘Satura’ is a great example of the duo’s lyrical interplay, breaking apart from each other to create interweaving vocal lines. The duo describe how they bonded over shared chronic anxiety in the early days of their relationship, and ultimately circumnavigated rather than confront it. It seems a good summary of the uneasy positivity and disorderly beauty of this music. ‘Like Roan’ opens with a din of voices and sampled detritus, the duo’s guitar and voices rising up above the racket with a kind of fractured sanguine hymnal. Okay, so there’s a clear comparison to me made to Panda Bear and Avey Tare from Animal Collective – the duo add AC-ish drums to the tunes, and their voices bare no small resemblance – but Tar Of aren’t so theatrical or feral or histrionic. Even at its most quirky and bouncy, on the trippy centrepiece ‘In A Thaw’, this is ultimately deeply intimate music.

The bottomless lexicon of dance music just keeps getting bigger, don’t it? The title of this self-released tape by W00DY goes some way to explaining the unabated energy in these productions, but the amount of colour and freneticism on display is far headier than the umph-umph-umph pummeling suggested to me by Relentless Kickdrum. Just like her music, W00DY’s based just slightly off the dance-music radar in Philadelphia. Mostly circling the seven minute mark, her productions pulsate with complexity, that titular kick bouncing in dozens of patterns per track while a dense wall of sounds battle it out over head. Pitch-shifted samples and glitchy snippets recall drum’n’bass and footwork, but W00Dy handles her material with a unique kind of energy-drink freneticism. Techno progresses too logically for this to be techno, and drum’n’bass is too funky. Even footwork was born of a clear mission to challenge dancers, but W00DY’s speed-fuelled post-footwork workouts are even a challenge for the brain. Beats stagger in and out of logical frameworks, as on the mindfuck that is ‘Unloveable’, only just dropping into a hip-shaking finale just in time to stop you losing your mind. The speed and complexity of what W00DY’s doing is thoroughly inspired, and potentially even quite important. W00DY’s absolutely mental material is uniquely potent at targeting both brain and body, picking up your heart rate and slaughtering your brain activity in a way best described by the title of opening track, ‘Catharsis’. Truly magnificent work.

Over the last decade, Austrian producer Jung an Tagen (aka Stefan Juster) has steadily graduated upwards from psychedelic tape underground staple (under countless previous noms-de-plume including Stefan Kushima and Cruise Family) to become a star of Vienna’s flagship label for experimental electronics, Editions Mego. His background as a visual artist is at the core of this music in live performance, using all manner of spectrally challenging visuals and to a push your retina to breaking point. His music often functions similarly, guiding pure synthetic tones into activity closer to optical illusions than anything else, leading to the emergence of some massively strange and woozy feelings. This tape captures a trio of tracks Jung an Tagen created during a residency in Frankfurt earlier this year, following his Agent Im Objekt LP which dropped in February. Rather than a full suite of tunes, this Residency Tape comprises three slight experiments whose effects far outweigh their humble presence on this little cassette EP. ‘Narrow Slits’ has ascending bleeps and digital white noise getting interrupted by sidechaining kick pulses; it’s an incredible simple proposition, but the effect is hefty in the ears of a deep listener. ‘Defector (3 Movements)’ is exponentially more powerful, and essentially must be heard on speakers. Juster guides a set of tones upward and downward in patterns mirrored and contrasted across the left and right channel, sliding up through the entire sonic spectrum from piercing highs to rumbling lows, often all at once. A drum pulse does enter, but it’s more to keep your heart from outright stopping it seems.

The 10-minute ‘Terminal Mechanics’ closes the tape at the furthest extremes of beatless Jung an Tagen noise, conducting a mindblowing orchestra of synthetic bells, seemingly slowly through a black hole until they spaghettify out of recognition. The tape itself has a sticker containing a poem by Austrian poet Ernst Jandl. The poem is an apt mirror for the music in many ways, a simple list describing a pile of paper on top of a table, tracking each item from the table down through the floor to the Earth itself and back up again in a confusing mirrored pattern. It flips perception, and erodes the boundaries between starts and finishes, leaving you with more questions than answers.

Prague-based artist and journalist Ondřej Běliček makes music under the name Dizzcock. It’s a pretty great name too, evoking Discogs, rude gestures towards one’s penis and a confused male chicken, all at once. This new tape on Baba Vanga (a label that champions all things Eastern European, electronic and strange) is a neat synthesis of Běliček’s key musical interests and combines myriad influences into something danceable and off-kilter. The label describe Unreal as a “nocturnal sonosphere”, and when you consider the modern reality of a Prague evening – dark, noisy, busy, bumping, voices bouncing around city corners, too many drinks, flashing lights, historical ghosts staring down at you from ancient stone buildings – they’re spot on.

Dizzcock hones in on complex moods rather than complex rhythms or tunes. Third track ‘Esketit’ is a great example – a trap bounce guides along a mix of revving electronic notes, a haunted-house keyboard figure and all sorts of ghostly voices. A snippet in the middle of the track seems to come from a 911 call made by a drug user in distress. “I’m too high,” they say. “I can’t feel anything.” It fits the mood of much of the tape, emotionally distressed by overwhelming darkness yet constantly moving and shaking on the dancefloor. There’s bangers galore here, gloriously integrating the bump of trap into a freshly trippy psychedelic sound palette. The “dark night of the soul” element of urban night-time is often overlooked in favour of partying. Dizzcock reminds us that they’re not mutually exclusive.

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