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Spool's Out

Spool's Out: Cassette Reviews For April By Tristan Bath
Tristan Bath , April 11th, 2019 07:30

From the 'uniquely identifiable sonic fingerprint of Elvin Brandhi to the double bass and field recordings improv of Imanishi and Serrato via Massimo Pupillo's debut solo album, here are the cream of this month's cassette crop reviewed by Tristan Bath

A recent episode of Spool’s Out radio featured a specially-made collage built from a day trip to the Kent coastal town of Whitstable by London-based artist, Beachers. Asimov In Whitstable was entirely built from "either second hand tapes bought on that day, or field recordings taken on a cassette Dictaphone."

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.

Welsh musician Freya Edmondes has already issued a pile of groundbreaking spontaneous electronic sounds as half of Yeah You, and more recently half of Bad Maths, but this is her solo as Elvin Brandhi, and it’s even more disarming than usual. Years now of playing bassy clubs and dingy venues around Europe can be heard in the sounds Elvin Brandhi pushes out of her gear. She reaches new depths of cavernous thuds and rinsed out future grime melodies on the phenomenal beast of ‘REAP SOLACE’. Danceable beats emerge from a slurry of cataclysmic sounds on ‘I SAID IF’, and ‘IMBRED WAILE / OCDC’ utilizes a massive array of sampled snippets, beat crushed voices, and digital detritus in a stream-of-consciousness collage.

Elvin Brandhi is still very much operating with the spontaneity that fuels Yeah You (a project where songs can get improvised and captured to tape during the drive to Tesco), but this project goes further down the route of coercing digital technology for disorienting purposes. Every shred of sound on this tape is stretch or skewed or crushed or pixelated, giving Elvin Brandhi a uniquely identifiable sonic fingerprint. Considering how damn weird this thing is too, it’s downright miraculous how much it still bumps. I guess she was paying attention when jamming with Tony Allen back in 2017.

There’s actually something so freeing about the vintage soundtrack format. It’s what makes this outing by the duo of Nicholas Langley & Dark Half so breezy, letting their musical ideas flow freely, funnelled directly into an aesthetic place that requires so little of them to feel complete. As with the entire Spun Out Of Control label, this is the soundtrack to an imaginary movie – in this case a gritty desert road cop flick titled Rebel Convoy – and lifts happily wholesale from the aesthetics of Brad Fiedel, John Carpenter, and giallo cinema. And it’s mostly an impeccable soundalike effort for sure – just check out the wispy synths and liberally reverbed guitar noodling on ‘Twilight’ and tell me you don’t instantly picture an 80s Californian desert heist. Modern beats come in too sometimes, but hey, it’s all in the name of fun anyway, right? There’s even a weird little dream sequence and a note-perfect closing credits theme. I’d watch Rebel Convoy in a heartbeat, and even though it doesn’t exist, this is almost evocative enough all by itself anyway.

One of the most beautiful aspects of free improvisation is the lack of inevitability. So much of music is about predicting the next beat, or following a melody along, but the deepest improvisations can practically turn time – in constant forward motion as it always is – inside out. This long distance meetup between Masayuki Imanishi in Osaka and Marco Serrato in Sevilla does just that, rejecting any ideas of what music, jamming, or sound are supposed to be and do. Imanishi wields an array of field recordings, plus "speaker and contact microphone", while Serrato mans a double bass.

As a listener, feeling around blindly for the duo’s sonic crossover points throughout is where the proverbial ‘action’ happens. Distant engine-like low end rumbles open the record, and the similarities between rippling arco bass and some mysterious crackling field noise trigger all manner of pleasant sensory confusion. Serrato’s throttling bass bowing gives long passages of the record a hefty sense of muddy doom, while Iminashi’s recordings of construction work, city bleeps, and goodness knows what else, seem to come from a dystopic future metropolis. As an experience, Caura triggers all manner of sensory memories, from trudging through a rainy field to jumping at the sound of a car backfiring. As a duet piece, seems to push both parties out of any familiar comfort zones, and right out there into the unknown, which as ever is energizing and frightening in equal measure.

Ukrainian duo Bad News From Cosmos have been making music together for nearly a decade now. This one is in fact a reissue of music made back in 2015, but they seem as active and great as ever judging from their bandcamp page – and yes, this is great stuff. Hailing from the Black Sea port city of Odessa, Andrii Hrachov and Iryna Bodnar’s music is built from cosmic synth and drum machines, plodding along simply and blissfully beneath a starry night sky.

Unlike their back catalogue, which I’ve now been getting acquainted with, this is almost entirely instrumental, with five tracks named after astrological signs (e.g. ‘♍︎’ or Virgo) taking up most of this release. They’re humble little cosmic tracks made right to Tascam; safe spaces of keyboard presets, bouncy basslines, and warm electronic chords wobbling in and out of step. It might all be mid-tempo and unimposing, but it’s far too warm and cosy to be called middle of the road either. Things close beautifully with Iryna finally singing on closing track, ‘Sharp as the wave’, melting away over the horizon like the sun setting on a happily uneventful summer evening.

Following years shredding bass with Italy’s greatest modern experimenters Zu, plus countless collaborations with the likes of Brötzmann, Ambarchi and Corsano, it’s surprising that this is the first solo album proper for Massimo Farjon Pupillo. Like the rest of his band, Pupillo is an instrumentalist and improviser skilled beyond question. Just like the Zu mothership did on 2017’s Jhator though, Pupillo’s eponymous solo debut sees him spread his wings and take flight into the vast open space above our heads.

The entirety of side A comprises a 20-minute epic: 'The Great Archetypical Figure Nested Inside The Catastrophe Of Your Life'. The ambient melodrama contained therein actually outdoes that histrionic title. A galaxy of synth tones swarms out of the abyss throughout its duration, punctured by sparse bass thuds like the heartbeat of a Blue Whale. Quite how Pupillo creates his music remains a mystery, though one could imagine a lengthy pedal chain following his bass, or perhaps it’s just a couple of samplers. While there’s a vast symphonic feel to the tectonic ambience Pupillo wields on the opening side, the first of side B’s two pieces is a far more awkward and leering beast. A flurry of bleeps cycle across the stereo field while icy drones scurry around the foreground, before vast ocean liners of bass scrape right through the mix.

The album closes, surprisingly, with a version of Current 93’s 'All The Pretty Little Horses'. (Yes, it’s a traditional tune, but this is clearly based on the C93 versions.) Pupillo delivers an anxious vocal through a glitched out beatscape buoyed by bass booms, and bleeding out into a subdued soundscape of scarred digital samples. It’s definitely not what I was expecting from the Zu bassist, but this is one hell of a debut. As throughout his career, Pupillo injects drama and spirited depth into all of his music, and can make even the most simplistic ambient bed of bass wig out feel like a transmission directly from heaven or hell.

Okay, so the idea of a modular synth album made in a planned out process by two guys called Phil and Barry might not sound so exciting. But hear me out.

Kitty Wang is a duo comprising Barry Cullen, "noise enthusiast based in Belfast", and Phil Porter, "an audio worker based in Munich", and from the sounds of it they’re both pretty well versed in the technical aspects of playing oscillators and modulators. This music was somewhat more ‘designed’ than ‘composed’, the process designed under the influence of remixing as a means to make music.

The duo’s original modular jams were "cut and arranged into clocked patterns on a computer", then broken into fragments which were played back through the modular system, then "clocked by pulses from the original arrangement", then… Okay I’m losing you.

Essentially, the duo arranged and rearranged various improvisations methodically, and while the untrained ear won’t most likely pick out the minutiae of ‘what happened’, the result elevates the work beyond your average synth bro down. The synths cough and splutter at times, such as on the catchily titled ‘kw6b2(moments)v2.2’, death rattling atop a rinsed out lattice of droning modules and rhythmic whirrs puncturing through thing envelope veils. It may have all been made with plenty of premeditation, but Kitty Wang feels like the work of a ghost in the machine, spluttering computer music out in bizarre alien shapes, occasionally stepping into briefly droning chords or stomped out marches.

Playing together in Spires That In The Sunset Rise for nearly two decades now, Ka Baird and Taralie Peterson are two sides of the same coin in musical terms. Spires has always been an open ended experimental ensemble (previously it had four members), their early work falling close to that whole ‘New Weird America’ thing. This album though, is made up of outright free jazz duets, Baird chiefly manning a piano while Peterson takes charge of the reeds. Neither half of the duo leads proceedings too much, though Baird is holding the reins on ‘X stat fourtytwo’ with a climactic hailstorm of bashed out chords. Elsewhere Baird sings and plays flute, and Peterson switches to clarinet, voice, flute, or percussion. ‘X stat twentyfive’ seems to have it all going on at once even, the artists chanting, yodelling, and screeching over a shaker with flute and piano jabs.

Despite the ostensibly challenging melodic content of the improvisations (i.e. batshit crazy freeform piano and sax shredding), the energy and vibe of the performers feels joyous... perhaps even ‘ecstatic’ as suggested by the title. It rubs off on you as the listener too, making those ears prick up with excitement as the duo hurriedly leap about from idea to idea.

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