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Spool's Out

Spool's Out: Cassette Reviews For October By Tristan Bath
Tristan Bath , October 15th, 2019 08:31

The tapes are eating themselves in this month’s Spool’s Out, with Tristan Bath finding the month’s essential cassette releases almost exclusively assembling collages of into suitably sour soundworlds for the shitshow that is 2019

Photographs of Preston Bus Station by BDP

I once lived in a house covered in ivy. The climbing plant encased the red brick, shielding us from the street and vice versa, a reminder of the luscious greenery long lost to urbanity. Ivy’s also the plant that sits atop the head of Bacchus – the ancient god of lairiness – and to this day encircles pub signs, ushering Brits to local watering holes where the promise of intoxication awaits.

Most importantly though, it is also the first half of the blithely free-associated name of Ivy Nostrum, a solo musical project by Paul Margree, the London-based writer behind fantastic underground music blog, We Need No Swords. His second album under the Ivy Nostrum name, Self Own, is out on cassette with Gateshead’s bleak & brilliant Invisible City Records, works DIY black magic with domestic trivialities and found sounds, weaving an inescapable set of soundscapes that clamber up the walls and close in on the listener like the creeping of vinous inebriation.

Ivy Nostrum’s tools of choice include unrecognisable tape loops snipped from charity shop finds, kitchen glass clangs, cardboard box drums, pitched down electric toothbrush whirrs, and much else noisy household detritus. Opener ‘Fragile Whiteness’ is a sprawling ten-minute moaning drone beamed straight from hell into a corral London living room. The mesh of moaning toothbrushes and tape loops builds to a slow torrential climax with glassware clanging across the outro. The second track is in fact just a collection of multi tracked kitchen glasses clanging away like chimes tickled in the wind. The sense of doom looming throughout the record is at moments truly terrifying, such as the crescendo of electronic buzzing and field recorded traffic on ‘Lost Empathy’, or the ghostly slowed down breathing on ‘Carceral State’, resembling a demonic spirit hiding in the walls of the upstairs bedroom.

A ‘nostrum’ is a Latin-rooted word referring to some form of a remedy made by an unqualified individual, possibly implying a sense of trickery. It’s like that time I insisted a prairie oyster would help a hungover mate feel better, rather than the inevitable nausea I knew it would in fact instil. Despite the name being a happy accident of word association, the name Ivy Nostrum fits perfectly to these droning assemblages. Self Own feels like venturing into a greyscale world of terror and dark beauty, hidden beneath the mundane of everyday. Wine glasses dance possessed around empty kitchens, charity shop tape loops contain ensnared spirits, and the traffic outside hisses like the approaching of inescapable apocalypse.

INTERSTAT sees Slovak artists Jakub Fiala and Adam Badí Donoval meet up for a tape of improvised recordings as part of a series dedicated to "letting intuition, chance and choice lead their process". Tensions run high throughout the tape, hoovering up all natural light along the way. Presumably manning synth, guitar, and a wreath of effects (thought it’s unclear) Donoval and Fiala conjure happenstance ambience that periodically ventures off on some batshit noisy diversions. The second Roman-numeralled track impulsively trots along with buried doomy notes lingering inside a delay pedal chamber until they spiral out of control a few minutes in, feedbacking into a frenzy. The 14-minute improvisation tails off with stumbled guitar pluck rhythms and key textures circling as nightmare mutates into dreamstate. Elsewhere, sped up samples glide over frozen notes, and icy reverb turns studio chatter into haunting whispering.

The pair’s subtle stream of consciousness sometimes erupts into moments of breathtaking bliss, like the poor-connection-crackle and melodic interleaving guitar on ‘VI’, but the most memorable facet of this music is a dark and murky one. ‘VII’ is a Ligeti-like chamber of leering dissonance, including choral samples to boot. It’s all incredibly unfinished, spontaneous, and murky, but hey – that’s the point.

Glad to be able to report that up in West Yorkshire, the outer reaches of the cosmos are still being channeled into live psychedelic rituals. Ireland-based Natalia Beylis has already appeared in this column at least once this year, spinning improvised yarns in a far-reaching folksy duo with violinist Agathe Max. Recorded during a trip to the other side of the Irish sea though, these two duets see her focusing on a low-key electronified kitchen sink psychedelia performed live on stage up North. Embla Quickbeam joins Beylis in Todmorden for the first side, a 27-minute trip into rural concrète where the hissing of greenery gathers via a table of gadgetry. Essentially a slow mass for cooing birdsong and cackling wildlife, the pair duel field recordings at varying levels of intensity, building up and down for the first and final thirds respectively. The centre of the performance though sees a rush of static fuzz wash up from below, engulfing the nature noises for a momentary lapse in the peace.

The flipside has Beylis in Leeds a night later, linking arms with the legendary Neil Campbell (Astral Social Club plus many more) for a distinctly more dramatic outing. Almost as if under the spell of the city as opposed to the countryside, the 22-minute ‘House Back’ chugs along with the assistance of synth pulses next to the mass of recorded warblings summoned. Bird song soon disappears in favour of human murmurings, gibberish announcements, and all manner of distorted crunching tones. It’s the yin to the previous night’s yang, swapping a psychedelic snapshot of blissful countryside for a cataclysm of woozy electronic tones and human chaos.

Cardiff-based artist Jaxson Payne spent several of the last few years focusing his music solely on a (brilliant) electronic-drum-kit-based project called dtub. Far from that project’s danceable mindfuck of delicately orchestrated breakbeats, this first (self) release by the artist under his own name since 2010 explore happenstance and sonic serendipity in the era of source material overload. The music on the snappily titled In Order To Solve This Particular Problem You Must Solve All The Problems comprises a wealth of audio nabbed from vinyl, cassette, and YouTube, and allotted into stacked collages. The effect feels surprisingly fresh considering it’s essentially a cut-up piece, sitting somewhere between the frank methodology of John Cage’s Indeterminacy and the sheer intimacy of ASMR – criss-crossing voices and vinyl hisses sure have a dizzying effect.

Like the seashells on the cover – and perhaps especially unsurprising considering Payne self-describes himself as a gardener too – it really is the work of a musical magpie proudly lining up its finds for us to check out. Ghostly voices creep out of a hissy vinyl, a choir seem to sing a funereal march in reverse, bitcrushed babies cry out for their mothers, dogs bark away en masse, American YouTubers bid us farewell, say hello, or say they love us. The wealth of all human emotions is all out there for us to find in sonic form – trying to make sense of the mass of material though, would be a fool’s errand. Payne’s personal gallery, his magpie’s exhibition of found material, is all the more compelling for its uncontrived spontaneity, playing out in near-random stacks of experiences from our shared collective memory.

Multi-instrumentalist composer Nick Storring has a peculiar way of organising his musical ideas. Considering the music on Qualms was originally created for a 2016 choreographic performance by Yvonne Ng in Toronto, the music feels crafted (and aptly so) more like a lighting scheme than a musical score. Melodies and structural ideas sometimes puncture through, but above all, Qualms is a dense mood; one you practically feel you could stand up and walk around inside. As on previous releases, Storring deploys a truly orchestral amount of instrumentation here. That means cellos and electric bass, sarangi, glockenspiel, keyboards, kazoos, thumb pianos, flutes, melodicas, drums, and much else besides. By working so hands-on, Storring makes all the sounds richer and more full of beautiful imperfections, audible immediacy, and an emotive dissonance than a composer merely putting notes to stave, or a producer prodding digital blobs around a DAW would ever get.

The piles of multi tracked strings or jangling thumb pianos heave and murmur like a sleeping whale, spending much of side one appearing and disappearing in tectonic waves of sound akin to the breath of a whale in a coma. Slow shifts in drama of course appear, with vibrating percussive rhythms flailing between softly-defined sections at certain points to punctuate the original choreography. The piece is split into two sides – one 19-minutes, the other 23 – and the second sees the piece move from slow vacillation into more gamelan-esque forward motion for some of its running time. The piece still mostly however, hovers between places and notes, stretching out like spiderwebs between droning arco strings in slow-rolling tidal waves of Storring’s madman DIY gamelan orchestra.

A tape of a sound recording of a location-specific performance piece for a bus station. Simple right? Preston Field Audio (aka musician Carl Brown) put together this soundtrack for a performance by artist Keith Harrison in Preston’s iconic bus station. Recently renovated, the Grade II listed bus station is a key work of space-age brutalism built in 1969. As with any bus station, it remains one of the key ventricles of the city, pumping along and guiding much of the urban activity with a ritualised precision (well, mostly). The actual live performance of Conductor comprised some 32 bus drivers "performing slow sequenced movements from the bus bays, mirrored simultaneously by the actions of volunteers in the passenger concourse", while PFA’s original soundtrack played over the station’s PA system into the echoey concrete of the space. The music itself is made up of sounds from the station, including processed samples of the beep tones that signal announcements, while the performance also called for the buses to beep those epic horns at distinct moments. PFA’s studio version (documented on side B) shows the piece building from compiled barely audible bus announcements, pivoting into a set of bus station announcement bleeps reworked into a Discreet Music ambient chimes, then disappearing off eventually into distortion. The live recording however, is compellingly murky, blending the studio noises seamlessly into the unique echoey cavern of the bus station. It’s an intriguing performance, and a beautiful soundtrack – besides the tape, anybody in Preston should check out a video installation documenting the performance here.