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Spool's Out

Spool's Out: What's Great On Cassette This September
Tristan Bath , September 25th, 2017 07:52

Tristan Bath, The Quietus’ Master Of Cassettes, guides us through the best new sounds on his tape deck this month.

Spool’s Out Radio #114: Unconscious Archives Pt. 1

Earlier this month on Spool’s Out Radio, we diverted away from the cassette tape underground to preview the upcoming Unconscious Archives Festival happening this month in venues across London including Cafe Oto and Corsica Studios.

The festival features several key experimental artists exploring fringe sound art and multimedia performance, including Graham Dunning, Ewa Jutska, Benedict Drew, Leafcutter John.

Head over to, 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.

Umbra - Unglued (Baba Vanga)

Belgrade-based artist Marija Balubdžić has participated in a diverse variety of musics over the years, conducting choirs, making noise poetry, and working with some far more academic electroacoustic methods and pedagogies. Her solo project, Umbra, synthesizes it all together, splitting constantly between sweet and sour, noise and melody. Three of the tracks on debut tape Unglued are improvised pieces for voice and looper recorded live in Belgrade. Umbra conjures textured crescendos of layered breaths and vocal stutters into a creepy mess on ‘Breaths I’, a ritual mass of sparse Ligetian hums on opening track ‘Pedal’, and wields an undulating web of serrated Wolf Eyes noises on ‘Rampant’. Her music is far more than your average ‘looper music’ though, never dealing in emotion as simple as the bliss-outs that litter the sub genre (eg Julianna Barwick) or solely in chaotic noise. Strangely unfurling goth-pop tunes plus some moody spoken word also appear on the tape. The latter comprises of a poem atop a creaky bed, Balubdžić musing on "self-mutilation" and "self-reliance" and pretty much everything other activity relating to the self.

The diptych of ‘Cetvrtak’ and ‘Bone Madamme’ are the high point though, ending side A and opening side B with mutilated pop music. ‘Cetvrtak’ starts as an almost cabaret-like tune, sung in Serbian over busy keyboard lines before riding out on a three minute coda of vocal gyrations and rumbling drum machines. Sung in English, ‘Bone Madamme’ is more sweetly melodic, resembling the darkest of possible Julee Cruise tunes. Building the tune into a loop of synths, vocals, and rhythms, Umbra finally slows it all down bit-by-bit, reaching in and directly fucking with your internal metronome.

Tutti Harp - Chmury (Purlieu Recordings)

Polish artist Maks Wisniewski makes abstract and grainy ambience - which sounds like something that’s been done to death. We’ve had so many Basinski-alikes, Fennesz-esque outings, and outright GAS rip-offs that I’ve been having a tough time getting properly excited about the genre recently. For his first non-Polish release though, out via Swedish label Purlieu Recordings, Tutti Harp opens up his sound world, veering away from those blurry long-form abstractions and into more minutely detailed atmospheres. Side A features three shorter, texturally varied tunes that skirt a heap of influences while still sounding fresh and new. The foggy tunes whir to life, and flow like wisps of smoke from my tape deck. ‘Mammatus’ is a melting tesseract of twangy notes and decaying drones, while opener ‘Cavum’ mutates from an almost Vangelis-like new age opening into a teetering wall of noise by its finale. ‘Cavum II & III’ take up the entire flipside of the tape, continuing with the emergent Tutti Harp sound of lush synth moods getting dirtied by clods of sonic detritus for a trippy quarter-of-an-hour. The music is in constant motion, and Wisniewski conducts it all restlessly from his mixer. A few uncertain techno beats almost breach the surface, but never quite fall into place, disappearing around the halfway point. Tutti Harps’ sound is a compelling one, mixing up lessons from glitch music and decaying minimalism into something ambient that manages to bubble with fresh energy.

Max Eilbacher - Music For PIano #7 (unifactor)

When he’s not shredding a custom-built bass in Baltimore’s just-intonation rock pioneers Horse Lords, your man Max Eilbacher is out on the fringes of experimental electronics, goading machines into making roughed up synthetic groans. He’s racked up a string of excellent albums of late (including last year’s brilliant Schizophrenia as Architecture), blending computer music with his own modular synth constructions. This latest one uses Max’s methods to interpret the piece by Japanese avant-garde composer Toshi Ichiyanagi, a composition dating back to the start of the 60s when it would be performed via strange extended techniques on a grand piano (Music For Piano #5, for example, involved throwing darts at the piano).

For this project, Eilbacher created a new version of Ichiyanagi’s score (itself an oddball mish-mash of open-to-interpretation graphics visible on the J-card) that his computer could play, firstly using electronic sounds on side A, and secondly field recordings on side B. "The system decides what sample to play, the position of playback, the order in which the samples are sequenced, the length of each sequence and how the sample's timbre is modulated," explains Max. Don’t worry, I don’t fully understand either, but the musical effect is striking across both sides. Each 19 minute performance heads from moment to moment with almost no sign of order, and it could all practically be the result of some malfunction in Eilbacher’s hardware. The sounds he’s prepared though, are fantastic ear food, even when your rational brain is crying out for some relief from all the random thuds and thousands of serrated sonic cuts. Dizzying, brilliant work.

Swoosh - Swoosh (Self-Released)

This new improvisational side-project by Felix-Florian Tödtloff of Berlin black metallers Sun Worship is self-issuing this cassingle to launch itself into your consciousness. The seven-minute ‘Waterloo’ opens up with two heavily feedbacking guitarists scraping and twanging their way into some tendril-like riff, a drumkit ultimately joining in for a slowly marching wigout. Flipside ‘Milk of Magnesia’ is even stranger, with a piercingly noodled guitar going at it over a soft synth repetition. There’s something in this music straight from that bygone era of New Weird American music, eg Sunburned Hand of the Man’s epic free-rock or Bark Haze’s guitar dronescapes, but this is definitely free-rock for the late-2010s. This music basks in a sort of lo-fi despair, prismatically skewing arena rock show tropes into tiny practice room acid trips. They’ve only this mere 12-minutes of music to their name thus far, but the Berlin-based project’s apparently heading out to start playing more shows and collaborate with local guests. This October in fact, Swoosh’ll be playing alongside Graham Dunning & Colin Webster at The Montague Arms in Peckham, London. Check out the event here.

Patrick Higgins & Josh Modney - EVRLY MVSIC (NNA Tapes)

Guitarist Patrick Higgins is one of the cornerstones of NYC’s avant garde music scene, sitting slap bang in the middle of that venn diagram where academic and hipster experimentalism collide. He’s shredded as part of (currently) trio Zs with Greg Fox and Sam Hillmer, recorded John Zorn game pieces, and composed his own scrapey atonal string music, among many other things. Violinist Joshua Modney is every bit as busy and virtuosic on his instrument (and has also worked with the likes of Zorn), and has been playing with Higgins for a while, even performing some of his compositions. EVRLY MVSIC is however the first appearance of the duo on record (well, tape).

Inspired by the "stimulus" of early music (of the European baroque era), Higgins and Modney duel guitar and violin across three improvised partitas. Their clairvoyant connection and sheer instrumental prowess by no mean make these melodically sound explorations though. Both players work their way outward from moody baroque sounding melodies to include primordial free-music noises. ‘Funeral’ opens the tape with Higgins lamenting his way through a forlorn marching figure on his guitar while Modney spends six minutes scraping aleatory atonal squeaks from his violin. The lengthy ‘A New Austerity’ is perhaps the most testing of the improvs, making copious use of empty space while both artists seem temporarily distracted by the idea of squeezing and stroking the wood of their instruments before the strings. The final three tracks have Higgins switch to electric guitar and start live-processing all the sounds in the room, ring modulating their shredding into overheating lightning strikes. The energy gets more frenetic and the sonic field gets denser - but that initial inspiration from the rawness of Early Music remains somehow intact.

moduS ponY - Phonogetic Ouch (Strategic Tape Reserve)

This mix of experimental composition, sonic cut-up techniques, loungey exotica, and math-rock by Californian artist moduS PonY is needless to say interminably strange. A pseudonym of musician Matt Ackerman, moduS ponY spends Phonogetic Ouch interleaving confusing looped spoken snippets and weirdo samples with some sunny guitar instrumentals. ‘Protein’ is for example, an almost straight ahead mix of guitar licks and ass-shakey rhythms with kalimba and a handful of added sample detritus thrown in around the space for good measure. ‘spilling Manwich on the gun debate’ though, takes a shard of some untraceable spoken recording, renders it near unrecognisable, and mirrors the vocal cadence with some distorted guitar riffing. ‘bananafest destiny’ sits between the two extremes, wedging oddball words - "duct tape" or "banafest destiny" - into an almost samba-like bed of guitar and drum notes. It’s more than just humorous genre-mashing though. Ackerman’s toying with recognisable words and sounds, rearranging them into original material (a la Burroughs). This is music that manages to be both hooky and thoroughly experimental, which is never an achievement to be taken lightly.

Entrancer - No Borders (Obsolete Future)

I’ve been reaching for this one almost instinctively the last few weeks. It’s an unassuming tape of ‘ambient acid’ from Colorado producer Ryan McRyhew, almost entirely untitled and contextless in its presentation (save that potentially political album title), yet there’s a delicate pacing to these pieces which slowly engulfs and digests the listener. Previously McRyhew was making music as Thug Entrancer, taking acid techno (particularly AFX) as a musical template for two LPs of impeccably realised revivalism. Dropping the ‘thug’, Entrancer aptly does away with the rhythms for the most part, slows the tempo down, and focuses in on conjuring dreamlike compositions for dubby bouncing synths. The general methodology isn’t anything new, but McRyhew is a real musical craftsmen, so No Borders has far more emotional heft than countless similar releases, and for the most part it’s utterly beautiful.

Front page photo of Umbra courtesy of Dragan Ilić