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Spool's Out

Spool's Out: Cassette Reviews For May With Tristan Bath
Tristan Bath , May 25th, 2016 07:26

Tristan Bath rounds up all of the essential cassette releases from homemade mechanical techno to a sonic portrait of Preston. Laurie Tompkins video still by Joel Wycherley

Skin Lies is the solo guise of musician (and occasional tQ contributor) Dustin Krcatovich. On a rainy and grey afternoon at his garage in Northeast Portland he recorded a live session for us in front of a small audience of close friends, creating blissful noise for twenty minutes. The resultant piece, titled 'Roughly Equidistant', features on the latest episode of Spool’s Out Radio broadcast on London’s Resonance FM. The episode can still be streamed in full via the above, as well as via podcast.

Preston Field Audio - Rhythm Tree Fell
(Concrète Tapes)

Conceived on a walk up Beacon Fell in Goosnargh, Lancashire ("every Preston kid’s favourite Saturday jaunt") Rhythm Tree Fell is a loving set of abstract sonic portraits made in tribute to the city of Preston. Side A compiles four different variations on a theme by Carl Brown (Preston Field Audio), the first of which is a gorgeous brass band version by the Leyland Band Ensemble. The perhaps ‘definitive’ version is the title track, where the theme plays out on layers of bowed and plucked electric guitars, parrying with cymbals and field recorded sounds from Beacon Fell before a small choir of Brown’s friends wordlessly sing out the theme. The closing track of the side has the tune again reinterpreted as a lovely solo piano piece, and there’s a murkier retooling of the theme (only in spirit rather than melody) as a montage of forest rustlings recordings titled ‘Profile of a Forest’.

It’s very much a two-part album, and the flip side of the record eschews the distinct melodic theme that made up side A, instead it is created from recorded sounds from around the city alongside synths and samples creating what Brown describes as "short sonic stories of our lovely old city". ‘Moon Kill Sun’ appears to stumble upon an urban drum circle in full swing, while ‘Songs Of Transport’ is audibly located in train and bus stations, and after some announcements the incidental rhythms of public transport lay a latent groove for Brown’s washes of foggy synths to unfurl atop. ‘Omeless’ spends six minutes alone on the side of the street with little but the footfalls of passers by and icy tones for company, and ‘Cafe Daydream’ seems to bring order to the sonic clatter and chaos of a cafe with sparing lo-fi keyboard notes and some deftly applied white noise. From the intensely personal melodic ghosts of the first side, to the fly-on-wall portraits of Preston on side two, Rhythm Tree Fell is frankly stunning. It succeeds every step of the way in documenting the city Brown assures us "has such huge potential to be the most beautiful", and the balance between grey characterless concrète and synthetic melody is absolutely spot on.

Olli Aarni - Muovia

The release of this and Manta by Nickolas Mohanna herald the return of the excellent Sydney-based Preservation label after a bit of a break. Finnish artist Olli Aarni has previously released on the label under various guises, but this latest pair of longer pieces under his own name are perhaps his most immediately cosy and lovable. Fittingly for the idyllic synthetic environments Aarni crafts ‘muovia’ is Finnish for ‘plastic’, yet there’s also a distinctly organic quality to the looping bloops and bleeps that populate these two sidelong tracks. ‘Kirkas Vesi’ (‘clear water’) strews crystalline blobs, popping bubbles, and watery melodies into its relaxed and open space. ‘Tyhjä Tie’ (‘empty road’) on the other hand is a more densely layered cake of murmured notes and fireside crackle - plus what sounds like distant string samples. Both sides are immediately beautiful and continue to be so for a quarter of an hour each.

Woven Skull - The Forest of Everything
(Cruel Nature Recordings)

This Irish trio have been slowly gathering momentum, improvising repetitive psychedelic jams that occasionally stray into weirder regions, and defy easy description. This half hour session recorded at Queens University in Belfast has them playing guitar, drums, and mandolin, and starts off as an instinctively building repetition. It soon crowns, and the rhythm drops out of the bottom leaving vacant space for the trio to reassemble into new and atonal shapes and polyrhythms. The mandolin is put to sitar-like use as a more melodic lead instrument in the middle half, but for the most part Woven Skull’s edge comes from their ability to rock without rocking, squeezing unexpected sounds from their relatively minimal setup (they don’t appear to do much when it comes to effects pedals). Woven Skull always manage to feel their way into some dead trippy corners, but this is easily one of their best recordings to date.

Klaas Hübner - Sog
Laurie Tompkins - Heat, War, Sweat, Law

The Slip collective of young composers, musicians, and experimentalists based between Berlin and London are on a bit of a roll of late. These two releases aptly demonstrate the way they translate lateral thinking about how music is made into strangely alluring practices. Klaas Hübner is as much of an engineer, or perhaps toymaker as he is a composer. Sog collects several recordings made between 2013 - 2016 in Zürich, Berlin, and New Orleans, each of which is pretty wildly different, utilising custom made instrumentation that ranges from whirly tubes and ceiling fans to cassette tapes and chunks of styrofoam. The common feature is a chant like quality, and straight from the get go on ‘single tube’, Hübner whirls a plastic tube over his head creating a simple (and surprisingly melodic) composition. The crisscrossing ticking of metronomes, industrial hiss and crackle of tape loops, and gong like tones of springs attached to styrofoam all make an appearance, but the drone of the whirly tubes is Hübner’s most compelling tool, appearing on two other extended pieces, the latter of which utilises a specially built 10m tall tower fitted with huge fans and tubing.

If Hübner is a musical engineer, then Slip’s co-founder Laurie Tompkins is child-like demolition man. He calls upon random detritus (the rustle of IKEA bags, cracked pots, broken piping) and a mob of yelling cohorts to back him up as he cries meaningless bloody murder in nine tracks that resemble surreal playground games as much as they do compositions. On opening tracks ‘Sweat’, ‘Heat’, and ‘War’, Tompkins’ vocalisations sit somewhere between Toshiro Mifune stepping on an upturned plug, and a violently angry toddler mid-tantrum. The sonic makeup of clatter and yelps is also partially supplemented by some fractured keyboard notes, and brief tracks ‘Law’ and ‘Implore’ see Tompkins summon some odd drones by vibrating his voice through something membranous, but most of the proceedings comprise percussive clatter and a mob of guttural yells lead by Tompkins himself. The closest cousin to this music is perhaps the odd chants and percussion smacks of Japanese ‘noh’, or at times the tinkled rituals of Balinese gamelan (see closing track ‘Regret’), but for the most part both Tompkins, like Hübner, sound precisely like nothing else. Totally strange, and even more brilliant.

Germany Army - Virunga
(Metaphysical Circuits)
Germany Army - Gone In Luxury
(Altered States Tapes)

The mysterious loosely knit American outfit known as German Army are in many ways avatars for the tape scene itself. Their release schedule is ridiculously relentless (they’ve put out over a dozen releases this year already), and the music is uniformly strange and unpredictable, veering from abstract power electronics, to actual vocal songs verging on gothic synthpop. While a lack of filtration is often the Achille's heel for these projects, German Army’s general hit rate has improved exponentially, and each tape in this trio of recent releases is well worth the time. General Survey On Growing Concerns from Danish label Metaphysical Circuits sees the group in a duo configuration, deep in the darkness, mired in unusually high levels of lo-fi hiss. Depressed synth pads sound on tracks like ‘Harendotes’ or ‘Ariten’, but for the most part General Survey leans less heavily on melody or distinct texture, punctuating brooding chambers of simmering white noise with wonky drum machines.

Virunga out on Toronto’s Summer Isle imprint finds German Army (lineup on this occasion unknown) delivering a more varied set ranging from forgotten midnight movie scores (‘Mzilikazi’), to yearningly picturesque tape loops (‘Bribery’), and some pretty Throbbing Gristle percussion and vocal duelling on the title track. Issued via Melbourne’s Altered States Tapes, Gone In Luxury is the most calm and collected of the lot, even breaking the four- and six-minute barriers (the vast majority of German Army tracks are one to three minutes long; unheard of levels of succinctness in the field!)

The environments crafted on Gone In Luxury whirr uneasily, or drift awkwardly, never quite diving headfirst into outright noise, or outright ambience, constantly retaining a few beats to hold your attention, with face melting results for deep listeners. Then again, that’s nothing new for German Army.

Graham Dunning - Auxon

The mechanical techno setup of London based experimental artist and improviser Graham Dunning has already been relatively well documented and celebrated online, via various videos and interviews much shared amongst the heads. So it seems relatively surprising that the first full length album by Dunning to utilise the setup has only just been released on the stellar Seagrave label. Stacking layers of revolving vinyls that are equipped with various contact mics and triggers, or at times set into repetitive locked grooves, Dunning makes use of two key things. Firstly, the inherent synchronization between like-sized circles turning at the same speed is the refreshingly simple to grasp concept at the core of the entire machine. Secondly, the way techno music itself works instantly lends itself to the system. Perhaps the biggest achievement of Dunning’s mechanical techno project - aside from the inherently interesting process - is that the music’s pretty thoroughly engaging, actually quite objectively fun, and pretty often fully danceable! The trio of longer tracks - ‘Old Hexagon Borderlands’, ‘Cyclops Acid’, and ‘Monogon’ - really aren’t a million miles away from a Robert Hood track gutted of its synths, weaving their way between beat drops. Shorter cuts ‘Rainbow Rythem’ and ‘Fictional Toxins’ start to get a bit more rhythmically complex and funkified, with Dunning’s custom built setup seemingly already maturing from plain and simple 4/4 minimalism.

Dunning’s background in out there improvisation, weirdo drone projects, and outright noise also work to his advantage. He’s never afraid of the occasionally aggressive and wonky sounds that emerge from his unwieldy creation. Final track ‘Grey Goo Scenario’ happily fades into outright noise and drops the beats away, and earlier tracks like ‘Regolith Scoop’ make extremely content use of the mechanical techno device’s many imperfections to make a confused and weirdly beautiful whirling storm of sound. Graham Dunning’s done so much here, engineering new types of music-making, while weaving strands of unpredictability and liveness into the looped beat music methodology. Though mechanical, Auxon sounds far more human than many of its techno forebears. With a start as strong as this, future mechanical techno releases already have a lot to live up to.

Planktan Sanquin - Mermuration
(Illuminated Paths)

It’s easy to forget Australia’s got an impressive backlog of gifted minimalists and glitch musicians - from Oren Ambarchi to laptop artist Pimmon. Also composing solely on computer, this strangely attractive release by mysterious artist Planktan Sanquin utilises many of the best assets of both, tuning in to Ambarchi’s love of pulse and Pimmon’s intense patience to craft an excellent pair of sidelong, two-part suites. ‘Sea’ opens with a glacial plucked sound that’s looped and shifted into all manner of weird and wonderful shades for over a quarter of an hour before segueing into ‘DeLooping Jane 1’, all the source material of which comes from a trio of Merzbow tracks (although you might not recognise them as Masami Akita’s work). Side B’s ‘Magnet’ and ‘DeLooping Jane 2’ do more of the same, riding confused loops and wobbly beats into the abyss before slowly digitally degrading.

Flower Orgy - American Ladyslippers
More Eaze - D0M​@​N3
(Never Anything Records)

This still relatively new label from Portland, Oregon, seems to be quite successfully seeking out fellow Americans from the outer fringes of their respective fields. First up, Flower Orgy - the project of San Francisco-based songwriter Nate Luce - most definitely has the ear for lovely lattices of words and melody, yet arranges them into woozy spasmodic arrangements. The drum machine on ‘Free’ isn’t setup right, drifting just out of sync too far in the foreground while Luce sings Brian Wilson chorals. ‘A Burning Log’ is similarly sweet and sour - sweet with soaring and lovely vocal melodies, soured by wobbly beats and dodgy bleeps. The bleeps go right of control on the glitchy closing track, which finds Luce in odd instrumental juke territory.

Austin-based artist More Eaze takes a similarly anti-instinctive approach to experimental composition, jump-cutting and montaging disparate styles into sincerely odd patchworks. It’s rarely sonically harsh, but the atmosphere is consistently weird as a brooding drone gives way to vocal samples, strings, chopped and screwed American primitive guitar, even swathes of uncomfortable quiet. More Eaze tries to push away traditional song structures just as Flower Orgy tries to yank the carpet out from under those cosy melodies. Both men however, sound all the more compelling after leaving those comfort zones.

Gregg Skloff - The Glacial Enclosure
(Eiderdown Records)

Oregonian double bassist Gregg Skloff has been playing his instrument since the early 90s, and while he’s played in all manner of configurations, this solo set where his bass is guided through myriad effects into murky chambers seems unusually blessed. Skloff bows and scrapes his way through most of the four long and slow textural pieces here. Notes are sustained in grinding arcs that last for minutes, and Skloff’s use of amplification and reverb effects adds a touch of metallic squall to the doom. Greek trio Mohammad have made some outright doom drone with cello and double bass in recent years, and Skloff’s solo rumblings touch on similar ground here. His is far more unhinged and far rawer though; the Haino to Mohammad’s O’Malley.

Jeremy Young & Shinya Sugimoto - Live At Microscope Gallery

Utterly stellar Danish imprint Phinery continue to gather together the absolute finest from an international underground network of musical oddballs, and the latest dozen releases for the label have all been well worth the price of admission. This beautiful live recording by American electronic artist Jeremy Young and Japanese pianist/sound-designer Shinya Sugimoto has an impulsive energy that helps it stand out. Starting out in the lethargic and overtly pretty tone of 'Noto/Sakamoto', Sugimoto coaxes snail’s pace lullabies from his piano and Young dabs the background with hiss and sampled detritus. The piano disappears, and the meditative paradise of ‘Movement 1’ disseminates into the hushed crunches, amplified objects, and unidentifiable noises of ‘Movement 2’. ‘Movement 3’ introduces weighty synthetic tones as Sugimoto and Young continue to rumble and tinker with indeterminately criss-crossing clatter, and ‘Movement 4’ brings things full circle as that sleepy piano re-enters the fray. The forty minute performances visits a wide number of uncomfortable atonal places between the cosier bookends of movements 1 and 4, but the challenging bump and grind does little to diminish the emotional lilt of those sugary piano melodies. In fact both extremes compliment each other with their contrast. Rarely for its kind the superb Live At Microscope Gallery is an immensely satisfying trip that holds up to repeat listens.