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Spool's Out

Spool's Out: September's Tapes Reviewed By Tristan Bath
Tristan Bath , September 16th, 2015 10:22

Tristan Bath is back with all of this month's cassette releases

Niagara - Canas

For a group of people making un-funky, understated, sketchy music like this, the Portuguese trio Niagara make strangely appealing sounds. Sparse ticklings of rhythm, distant rumblings of indecipherable sonic detritus and gently blissed out guitar and key explorations all play out across ten improvisations on Canas, bathed in a creamy warm shade of sunlight so often absent from such free music. Niagara happily throw in all manner of noises into their slowly simmering cauldron of sound but with calculated minimal precision that lends magic to every track. ‘Orion’ is little more than bubbling bleeping rhythms and droning keys, occasionally punctuated by flickerings of guitar. The same goes for ‘Incendiada’, although it is littered with hissing hi-hats and insurgent bassy funk licks way out of context. The results pay off in droves far beyond the means of a minimal free-electronic outfit, winding up for the most part wonderfully blissful. Absurd bubbly pops and clicks fire into an reverb-laden echo chamber, and cheesy keyboards cycle on in the mid ground, but the entire affair never comes across as anything less than sincere and happy just to be exploring. Closing track, ‘Vermelha’ veers off towards something resembling a climax, as drones, keys and guitars give way to zen-like percussive tinklings and shakers. Perhaps Lisbon is just that nice a place; so nice that even its experimental music can put a smile on your face.

African Ghost Valley - ARA
(Hylé Tapes)

This Switzerland-based, ‘Canada-European duo’ utilise samplers to craft their soundscapes, which cover a pretty wide range of tones across their debut tape ARA. ‘Cordillera’ blends pads and field recordings into a lush bed over which wonky synth lines tinkle, while opening track ‘Dunesl Ceremonies’ is a different kind of beast entirely, pulsating like an earthquake for an extended crescendo that delves deep into darkness. The title track and ten minute ‘Always Eat What You Kill’ (which takes up the entire flipside) aren’t as gripping as the opening pair of tracks, but the duo’s methodology, and the organic ways in which this music unfolds still make for a great listen. All manner of noise erupts from their samplers, and ultimately this is an impressive - albeit somewhat familiar - approach to freeform patchwork sound composition.

Alpįr - Tropic Daze
(JJ Funhouse)

A nom de plume for the man behind the brilliant Farbwechsel label based out of Budapest, Bįlint Zalkai, Alpįr sees the Hungarian producer turning his hand to old school Schulze-style arpeggiated Kosmische. This tape on relatively young Belgium imprint JJ Funhouse in many ways distils the synth epics of 70s Berlin School to its most potent possible form. Doing away with the quarter hour interludes, Zalkai deals almost solely in overlapping and interlocking synth arpeggios bouncing around in the foreground, while a smattering of drum machine hits and pads occasionally tower above in the distance. The entire cassette is brimming with awesome melodies and pulsing themes, which never outstay their welcome with nothing breaching the six minute mark - although ironically they easily could. Opening track ‘Bajo Alicia’ builds old school cosmic sounds into something nearing a danceable peak, but cuts after around 3:40, while the outright funky tune on ‘Tintipaģn Island’ has the potential to go way way further, and I foresee massive beats that never arrive. Ultimately, Alpįr’s choice to keep the cuts relatively slim is the right one though, with each of the nine self-contained mini-synth-onies resounding with the power of something much longer form, shimmering with masses of gorgeous melody.

Chicaloyoh / Terrine – Elles Sont Barrées Elles Ou Quoi?
(Was ist Das?)

By all accounts, the recent Tor Ist Das? festival held in Tormorden, West Yorkshire was a resounding success. The bill, put together by both Tor Bookings and Was Ist Das?, featured a bunch of killer artists from across Europe, including Richard Dawson, Bird People, Kemper Norton and Desmadrados Soldados de Ventura (a solo album from their bassist in fact features below). The latest tape, and first split release, from Was Ist Das’ label however, features two French solo artists who purportedly both slayed it at their Tor Ist Das sets during their recent joint UK tour. On side A it’s Normandy multi-instrumentalist Chicaloyoh (aka Alice Dourlen), who channels the heavy lo-fi drum machines and synth clatter of Throbbing Gristle, but with Mr P-Orridge’s maniacal ramblings swapped for Chicaloyoh’s intoxicating brand of chanteuse magick. On both the eight minute ‘Paroles Creuses’ and the shorter ‘Coeur De Sable, Ogre’, Chicaloyoh heads deep into darkness, swirling amassing magick synths over snappy drum sequences. The flip side from Terrine (Claire Gapenne of northern French noise-band Headwar) covers a broader range of sounds over five briefer tracks (all two to three minutes long), with buzzing childlike synth experiments smashed with field recorded bashes and church bells (‘Vaiselles’), intensely punishing noise rock (‘Mundial Consignar Late’ & ‘Indus Mauvais Goūt’) and head-nodding industrial beats (‘Runie’). Both artists manage to capture some of their uniquely playful brand of furious, noisy experimentalism - and in their hands it sounds as fresh and energising as ever.

Washington Phillips - Washington Phillips
(Death is Not the End)

Continuing their solid run of releasing stunningly beautiful vintage American gospel recordings on tape, UK-based label Death Is Not The End present 10 of the 18 known recordings by mysterious Texan gospel singer, Washington Phillips. Besides his at-times almost painfully beautiful singing, Phillips is noteworthy for the unique instrument with which he accompanies himself. These recordings were all made between late 1927 and 1929 in a makeshift studio in Dallas, so details remain muddy (beyond a handful of photographs), but the instruments appears to be some variant of a fretless zither or hammered dulcimer, plucked (rather than hammered) by Phillips. Far from sounding like the jaunty theme from The Third Man though, Phillips’ backing is a stunningly beautiful wash of aptly heavenly tones, raining from his instrument, and slowly decaying with occasionally Laraaji-like bliss. Several of the tunes appear to be self-penned (or at least adapted from other gospel/blues tunes as was the norm), and Phillips at times veers away from direct preaching (like ‘You Can't Stop A Tattler’). Phillips sounds like he was as rebellious as an African-American gospel singer in 1920s Texas could have been, purportedly preaching far and wide without getting officially ordained, and quite directly criticising the hypocrisy of sectarianism within the Christian faith on his tune ’Denomination Blues’ (not included on this tape). The legend of Washington Phillips and his music has inspired countless covers in the 90 years since these recordings, including the likes of Rosetta Tharpe, Ry Cooder, Mogwai and Will Oldham, and it’s easy to see why. Like the best gospel singers, Phillips’ devotion can bring a tear to your eye, whether you believe the message or not.

Otto Willberg - Got Gills?

Andreas Dzialocha - Solo (Slip)

We may have to reassess the term ‘bass music’. Coming via the Berlin-/London-based Slip imprint, these two tapes capture wildly opposing approaches to the stubbornly unexplored soundscapes of the stringed bass instrument, and the results are pretty stunning. Manchester-based Otto Willberg (who plays bass in explosive free-rock outfit Desmadrados Soldados De Ventura) reaches for double bass with something resembling actual spite for the traditional approach. Willberg attacks the his instrument with earsplitting bow scrapes right from the start of Got Gills?, going on to run through a stunning array of techniques and themes over nine tracks of ‘no amps, no overdubs’ improvisation. The manic strums and plucks on ‘1.10’ and ‘4.4’ seem to almost mutate the bass strings right out of shape, melting them into a stretchy spaghettified mess, while the droning arco tones of ‘3.2’ come across as practically gorgeous in comparison. ‘4.4’ gets so manic in its final moments that Willberg even starts groaning and moaning like something unholy. The tape closes with ‘2.1’ - five minutes of shuddering repetitions on a mere handful of notes - and it’s a startling pretty moment of minimal beauty at the tail end of such free form chaos.

Andreas Dzialocha’s methodology on Solo could hardly differ more from Otto Willberg’s, with the Berlin-based experimentalist channelling his electric bass themes through an array of filters, reverbs and compressors, randomly recomposing every note into unruly soundscapes. The scope of both high and low end noises on display is dizzying, and Dzialocha’s musical themes seem seethe with compelling menace, and the occasional flash of blissful splendour (the reverb soaked chiming on ‘6’). Far from a Solo, the tape’s in fact a duet between man and machine, covering swathes of sonic ground neither could cover alone. Frankly both Solo and Got Gills? deserve to sit alongside the likes of Okkyung Lee’s Ghil and Fred Frith’s Guitar Solos as vital stepping stones in tapping untapped sonic potential from long-serving instruments.

Philip Corner - Through More Than The Mysterious Barricade
(Sacred Tapes)

New York Fluxus composer Philip Corner - like fellow Gamelan Son Of Lion member Daniel Goode - has mastered several different strands of minimalism and improvisation during his long and illustrious career, with the most memorable focusing on music as a durational process. This recording made in 1995 at Amsterdam’s School voor Nieuwe Dansontwikkeling (School for New Dance Development) is no exception totalling over 90 minutes of music. It mostly features Corner playing piano, improvising extensively around ‘Les Barricades Mystérieuses’ (a Harpsichord piece composed in 1717 by French baroque composer, Franēois Couperin), but there are extensive passages where nought but percussive banging and clatter can be heard, along with the footfalls and echoing sounds of a group of improvising dancers led by Dutch choreographer Ria Higler (who has also worked with the likes of Z’ev). This all sounds far more academic than the tape ultimately comes across, which is a passionate and beautifully realised set of gently-paced piano improvisations, with several amazingly bizarre detours into dissonance and noise along the way (particularly the middle of side two). It’s a mountain of piano improv to dig into, but Corner always keeps it interesting, practically sparring with the dancers at some of the more aggressive points throughout, yet never far from the lilting romance of Couperin’s core theme. The ultimate resolution at the end of side two is a truly stunningly haunting climax too, including spontaneous choral singing from Higler and co. alongside a single repeated chord on Corner’s spontaneously prepared piano. Possibly the most essential tape yet in Sacred Tapes’ fast growing catalogue.

Scratched Glass - One

This instrumental collaboration between Atlanta-based artists Nicol Eltzroth Rosendorf and Retconned takes in a whole heap of varied tones during this brief four song tape, diving deep into outright bass worship/ abuse repeatedly throughout, and emanating an odd sort of fast-morphing drone. The music was made via a ’maximal process of time-stretching, sound collage, and reamplification’, which roughly translates to synth sounds and samples getting squished and stretched in the computer, then re-recorded out of amps - but the results are wildly unpredictable, and at times hint at some of the most exciting monochromatic drone music going. The clear highlight is definitely the unwieldy random blasts of sub bass, distant ambience and razor sharp tones of ‘Attic Bed’ (amazing music video above by the way), but the furious finale of ‘Prop’ (which opens as a more pretty set of angelic droney sounds) and the gothic blowout tension of ‘Mirror’ resound pretty amazingly too, invoking a cavernous gigantic space far beyond a stuffy studio. It sounds better overall than 99% of tapes do as well, having been mastered by James Plotkin. The major criticism is that, while you can’t often have too much of a good thing, you can have too little - here’s hoping a fuller length effort is in the works.