Spool’s Out: Cassette Reviews For August By Daryl Worthington

From babbling dictaphone freakouts to spectral vocal music, imaginary landscapes to IDM-tinged jousting beats via a trio working with resonating snares, the cassette scene is as peculiar and vital as ever this August

Julek Ploski

In the Italian tape scene a group of artists are bridging echoes of Jon Hassell’s fourth world explorations with online dérive and jam band flows. They’ve appeared in this column a few times through tapes on Artetetra and Riforma labels. But two recent releases from Babau, the Italian duo Matteo Pennesi and Luigi Monteanni, who also run Artetetra, feel emblematic.

Flatland Explorations Vol.2, released on Discrepant, is a peculiar beast. Dewy soundscapes and heavily effected vocal utterances mix through rhythms that feel equally informed by video games and non-European music traditions. It resonates with Hassell’s concept of amalgamating music from cultures outside the global north with electronic production as a way of firing the imagination, but there’s a significant nuance with Babau. They don’t seem interested in sampling and tracing from source so much as the diverse sonic imprint global connectivity has downloaded into our minds through soundtracks and Youtube videos. They play with the already corrupted, a fourth world music picked up through the interface. The duo scraping at the layers of culture encrusted onto the perimeters of the internet to create their imaginary ethnography.

On Loooongplay, Babau team up with fellow Italian producer Bienoise, aka Alberto Ricca. A gravity-free excursion, chiming arpeggios float through flurries of digital and organic detritus and pseudo-celestial saxophone. Vamping patterns keep the whole thing in a beautiful state of constant elevation and strange associations. A cosmic epiphany sucked out of a valley that’s only uncanny when looked on from human eyes.

According to the release notes, Loooongplay is informed by ideas of musical interactions as ways to discover and show places and settings. Babau and Bienoise fired arpeggios into Max MSP patches which extended those patterns, the trio playing over the outputs. The album feels like it’s mimicking the nebular form of the Cloud, tracing the information currents between the bricks and server infrastructure. The most obvious reference is Carl Stone for their knack of making something new from the pre-existing, but Babau and Bienoise feel more informed by reticular flows. Following the waves of stimulation and proliferation wrapping around us and enclosing them into the lush drifts captured here.

Conal Blake, Regan Bowering, Li Song – Music for Snare Drums and Portable Speakers
(Infant Tree)

Music For Snare Drums And Portable Speakers’ title reveals the tools Conal Blake, Regan Bowering & Li Song work with, but it doesn’t capture their mesmeric effect. Their process is built around a changing exploration of resonance, feedback and motion, a recent live performance seeing the trio swing snare drums and mics from a venue’s ceiling to create a richly textured miasma. What’s most intriguing about this tape is how the effect of their process lands when you take out the visual component. The A-side was recorded live at Hackney Marshes. At the centre a feedback whine takes on a pendular gait, swaying in a way that’s tentatively melodic, almost voice-like. Thicker snare vibrations amass alongside trembling low-frequencies, reaching looming stasis within the outdoor sounds that surround. The second side, recorded indoors at Cafe OTO, dwells in a less serene, more possessed zone where chirrups, rattles and clunks splutter out of a ghostly ether. Taken as audio alone with no idea what the three players were doing, it has a supernatural edge, objects animating seemingly of their own accord through fields of resonance and feedback. Their music toys with cause and effect, action and response, visible and invisible motion with joyously eventful results.

Julek Ploski – Hotel *****
(Orange Milk Records)

It’s easy to fixate on the sheer audacity of the medieval meets IDM synthesis Julek Ploski assembles on Hotel *****. Sound-system bending drops melt into baroque tinted pageantry and back as though a mega club perforated the ornate gardens of the Chateau Versailles, but it’s the details and nuance that really make these tracks. On ‘Tajemnica’ (featuring Natalie Schchepanskye Erotic Pleasure) moaning strings herald a jump into future jousting music. On ‘New York, Poland’, elaborate synth and drums unfurl at gabba speeds before a whistle signals a transition into a groove channelling the horse propelling hyper-real energy of Game of Thrones’ Battle Of The Bastards. There’s something about this tape that feels loosely parallel with cinematic excesses striving for epic realism, but underneath Ploski’s melee there’s an ultra-precise sense of craft, a dramatic sense of tension, release and event that goes beyond sensory overload. Even the mischievously placed boing on ‘Hometown DJ’ feels meticulously sculpted and timed. The heft of this music doesn’t so much bludgeon the senses as propel finely detailed and borderline preposterous fusions into mundanity melting clarity.

Lucie Páchová – Крънджилица

Крънджилица began when Czech field recordist Lucie Páchová used Bulgarian census data to travel to remote villages listed with zero population. After hiking to these deserted places she stopped off at Krandzhilitsa, a town with just ten inhabitants. Revisiting over several years, she recorded sounds and interviews to get the raw materials for this tape. Far from an empirical documentation, her compositions oscillate between flurries of activity and sedate diffusions in a mirage-like choreography. Insect buzzes meet vibrating metals, background creaks and croaks become lead protagonists while human voices lurk in-between. Páchová amplifies messy overlaps, exploring what acoustic events might convey beyond language, music and noise. In Olga Tokarczuk’s novel Flights, a character ruminates on two ways of looking at the world. In one, people and objects are seen for purely what they can do. The other is a panoramic “more general view, thanks to which you notice links between object, their network of reflections.” This resonates with Páchová’s work; she unearths a bristling world beyond what’s inscribed in population statistics.

Nandele & A-Tweed – Xigubo

Mozambique-based producer Nandele has a unique touch for creating kaleidoscopic beats which, though stemming from DAWs and sequencers, thoroughly transcend any gridded confines those tools might prescribe. On Xigubo he teams up with Rome-based producer A-Tweed, and he’s clearly found a kindred spirit, one who adds a ferocious, industrially warped edge. The tape’s name references a traditional Mozambican warrior dance rooted in colonial resistance, and across these four tracks, influences from Mozambican and Zulu culture are welded into a ferocious juxtaposition of cascading electronics and stark minimal wave patterns. It peaks on ‘Machava’s’ ebullient electronics and pounding drums, a throbbing web of rhythms and timbre which reinforces sound’s ability to unify, convey and propel even at its most disorientating. Xigubo is a lightning strike of sheer energy, an ecstatic vibration that rips through rigid shape and fixed structures.

Emergence Collective – Fly Tower
(Redundant Span Records)

Instigated in Sheffield by Juliana Day, Rob Bentall, Tim Knowles and Zebedee Budworth, Emergence Collective has a revolving lineup of thirty musicians, their music improvised and played largely unamplified with a key to start in the only instruction. An ongoing practice of shared exploration rather than a fixed ensemble, that open-endedness shapes their recorded work. Fly Tower is named after the site where it was captured, a four-storey high room used to hoist scenery at the Abbeydale Picture House in Sheffield. Across these three tracks, saxophones and guitars weave through hammered dulcimer and nyckelharpa – a bowed and keyed fiddle. Dislodged from time, fragments of older and folkier traditions seep into contemporary ones in their compositions with seamless grace, ornate patterns ambling through the reverberant space they’re enclosed in. Their music echoes The Necks in terms of pace and elegance. Though working in more undulating and fluid forms than the Australian trio, Emergence Collective’s swirls and eddies are equally unhurried, meandering into the air on their own time.

Andra Ljos – Megalithic Statues of Vishapakar
(Not Not Fun)

Vilnius, Lithuania-based Andra Ljos’ music is simultaneously breezy and deep as an ocean. Megalithic Statues Of Vishapakar is inspired by bronze-age statues found in the Armenian Highlands, track names referring to places where these monuments have been discovered. For Andra Ljos, real name Aleksandra Evseeva, who has Armenian heritage, these relics act as a stimulus for richly layered peregrination, her music carrying a vividness that goes beyond imagined soundtrack. The pieces here don’t emulate the ancient, nor do they come across as an attempt to bolt contemporary and folklore together. They’re rooted in letting the mind wonder and roam, in creating immersion in physically unreachable places and times. On opener ‘Artanish Bay’, there’s a Twin Peaks-y atmosphere in the gloomy echoes and reverbs, while the prismatic organ stabs on ‘Gemerzek Settlements’ slip into labyrinthine patterns. In her tracks, gently emerging and ceaselessly shape-shifting keys, percussion and wind instruments delicately trickle out and accumulate hypnotic mass without ever losing their exquisitely struck equilibrium.

Courtis Posset – Micro-Glottis

Micro-Glottis is the second release by Courtis Posset, a collaboration between Anla Courtis, from Argentine noise-rockers Reynols, and Joe Posset, a Newcastle-based wielder of voice deconstruction and Dictaphone mayhem. The pair recorded improvisations to microcassette, filesharing rather than posting the recordings (thanks to the high costs of shipping between continents) for the other to perform over and create the intricate webs of extended vocal technique captured here. Following the thread of unnerving proximity between throat and mic laid out by François Dufrene and Henri Chopin, Courtis-Posset create a similarly peculiar intimacy and flood it with eerie movements and discombobulating communication. Growls and groans duel with creepy ululations and elasticated glossolalia, these emissions rendered ever more alien as the fidelity of their recording devices buckles under the weight of what they’re trying to capture. Like a pair of modern-day Lettrists they break the tools of sense making apart and use them to build an eventful place full of weird interactions and ungraspable sentiments.

Forces – Chimæras

The track names on Finnish composer Joonas Siren’s new album Chimæras, recorded under his pseudonym Forces, reference both mythological chimeras and multinational arms dealing conglomerates. These firms, Siren explains in the release notes, are convoluted entities with different limbs producing relatively benign consumer technology alongside their more sinister sides. For all the heft and intricacy in his new tape’s wildly abstracted electronics, recorded using a selection of digital synths Stockholm’s EMS studio, there’s also something a little ridiculous in its vertiginous sound design. Razor edged pulse-modulation collapses into almost cartoonish squeaks and bleeps. Human voices get stretched to inhuman extremes. Monolithic synths slip into clowning motifs. At its best, on ‘Leidos’ and ‘Lilith’, it manages to be both ludicrous and grandiose all at once. Rather than aping a complex entanglement of industry, technology and doom, it feels like Siren is trying to mimic an epic-scaled absurdity running through the military-industrial complex. There’s something Dadaist in the way he subverts and rewires convention, timbres and sequences. By highlighting the incongruous in such spectacular fashion, his productions reflect a world of misfiring logic and bizarre relationships.

Ayami Suzuki – Passages
(Lotano Series)

Ayami Suzuki & Rob Noyes – Classic Fevers & Chills
(Akti Records)

There’s a tendency for solo vocalists working with electronics to reach for ethereality, but while Tokyo-based Ayami Suzuki’s work is bathed in spectrality, her vocal pieces on Passages resist being subsumed by the effects and cavernous echoes she works with. It’s clearest on ‘Mugenkaidan’ and ‘Denkmal’, where synthetic additions are less prominent than elsewhere. As vocal phrases get sucked into a swirl, she modulates the tone of her voice so that each new note and melody line shines rather than blurs, a constant reassertion against the slow rising echo. It’s a gorgeously harmonious, head-fixing journey of a tape, where Suzuki stamps herself out as an active protagonist in reshaping the ether rather than disappearing into it.

On Classic Fevers And Chills, Suzuki teams up with American guitarist Rob Noyes. Here, her voice is shorn of effects, amplifying its dynamic range and spectral quality. Opening with focused strums from Noyes, Suzuki sits in a surprisingly melodic pocket, wrong-footing us into thinking they’re going to deliver a typically structured song form. Things quickly unbuckle across the seven tracks, Noyes guitar entering increasingly unbound flurries of picking and strums to evoke what I imagine a Ben Chasny country record would sound like. Suzuki rides these waves, her voice meandering and soaring. Guitar and voice flow through and over each other. Knitting together and cradling a turbulent serenity.

Angela Wai Nok Hui – The Plum

Angela Wai Nok Hui’s The Plum is simultaneously placeless and familiar. A blissful surrealness summoned by setting recognisable and alien sounds into close proximity with each other and the listener. The side long composition on the A-side unfurls from see-sawing bell tones and glitched vocals into quivering wind on a glass bottle drones. The tape-only B-side is a twenty-minute recording of a pan boiling. It’s more transfixing than you’d expect, sucking your attention in to detecting every fluctuation and movement in the bubbling water. Both sides are a music of noticing, lulling our minds into detecting something recognisable in the unusual and vice versa. It’s so effective because her music spins cocoons, wrapping around and immersing your mind in a time and space equal parts intimate and strange.

Cowboy Builder – Organs EP

While the drawls and serrated edges in Cowboy Builder’s music carry echoes of The Fall and The Country Teasers, there’s a jam band’s sense of exploration in the Edinburgh-based four piece’s songs that’s all theirs. Opener ‘Alcohol’s’ booming drums and looming held tones evoke the moment of a hangover when everything is shrouded in a tender fug and the embarrassing memories of the night before are intangible dread rather than concrete recollections. A similar tension, between agitation and contemplation, mundane claustrophobia and a restless yearn to escape it drenches the EP. The pair of percussionists add a spiraling motion, oscillating from stately pulses to polyrhythms bashed, rattled and thwacked out on inanimate objects as though they’re trying to harness tedium into escape. The organs, guitar shrapnel and drawling vocals follow a similar path. Cowboy Builder find light in our doomed realm precisely because their cranky levitations are realised through battered people and machines rather than despite them. Their music is damaged, but they ride that damage into something remarkable.

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