Spool’s Out: Tape Reviews For April With Tristan Bath

The space between sound worlds dominates the month’s best cassette releases as reviewed by Tristan Bath. Includes musical tributes to Dundee’s architecture, Burrougshian jungle mixtape collage, sound art from Calcutta and just intonation explorations from Hungary. Live photograph of Iku by Jiří Šeda

The weekly Spool’s Out radio show on London’s Resonance FM just hit its 100th episode. We celebrated by interviewing one of the show’s most often played and beloved musicians, Kiwi noise head, End of the Alphabet label runner and general interesting and lovely bloke, Noel Meek. He described his origins as a dancer, relayed how he ended up collaborating with Richard Youngs, Lasse Marhaug and Neil Campbell, and talked about visiting the Master Musicians of Jajouka amongst other things.

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.

Iku – Fugue: Some Temporal Patterns Other Than the Forward March

(Genot Centre)

Out via Prague-based Genot Centre, Fugue is the debut by Frankfurt’s Iku. Approaching its theme of recursion as a means of loose structure and guideline for mood rather than musical tool per se, this is anything but minimal. A slow mass of myriad textures and sounds pass through your speakers during its running time, and the ambient tag does do it some justice. Such gentle floating tones and soft backmasked noises open side B on ‘Trusting The Eyes Too Much’, but then again ‘They Call Me A Thief’ isn’t quite furniture music. A guitar starts up, and some voices manipulated into becoming an introspective pocket choir appear, only to reappear later alongside more soulful Autotune. ‘Original Song Plz Don’t Be Mean Or Judge’ is again another take on richly textured abstraction, a tense mix of samples and icy synths hinting at some real horrors just out of sight. And then ‘Fall Down Never Get Back Up’ is different again, perhaps the best track on the tape, seamlessly drifting from Iku’s chipmunk vocal angels into a bitcrushed downtempo coda.

‘Your Ears Should Be Burning’ closes Fugue with the sudden appearance of hitherto submerged dream pop. Bubbling keyboards and delay-pedal bleeps get into a heavenly locked groove, and Iku starts singing with Inga Copeland levels of introversion – "I don’t want to be your friend / I just want to be your lover". Is that… Radiohead? She continues: "Forget about your house of cards / And I’ll do mine". It’s one hell of a nifty reframing of the In Rainbows track, nimbly hijacking Thom’s wonky intimacy. Working at an odd confluence between ambient music and pop, Fugue is a supremely promising debut that could lead the artist into any number of new directions.

Andrew Wasylyk – Themes For Buildings And Spaces

(Tape Club Records)

Under the alias of Andrew Wasylyk, Scottish musician Andrew Mitchell issues this instrumental document of eight architectural sites in Dundee. The promo material cites "romanticised memories of a post-war cityscape" – something myself and more than a few tQ disciples are enthralled by on a daily basis – thus British concretescapes are thrust centre stage, framed as flawed relics to optimism rather than bleak grey blocks. It’s made from familiar instrumentation, impeccably realised by Mitchell whose slick production chops should be on the radar of regular readers of this column (he’s half of Art Of The Memory Palace, featured in the column in February). The eight lush, melodic pieces are centred around a piano, assisted by smatterings of guitars, bass, drums and keys, topped off with some fantastic string or brass arrangements. The effect is a concise invocation of a generous spirit Mitchell discerns in the architecture.

Jóhann Jóhannsson once completed a similarly catholic score of moody melodic vignettes for a documentary on his adopted home city, titled Copenhagen Dreams. While that score employed the help of typically Scandi, methodically designed, icy celeste and woodwind for colour, Themes For Buildings And Spaces is dabbed by warm brass and some cosy snare sounds; the sound of community. It has its handful of haunted moments (‘Ghosts Of Park Place’), and closing piece ‘The Howff’ is utterly forlorn, but largely Themes For Buildings And Spaces is a reminder that grey overcast skies actually help keep the warmth in.

Alexandre St-Onge and Jon Vaughn – Démembrace

(Magnetic Domain Tapes)

A duo meetup between Canadian sound oddballs Jon Vaughn (VC Vibes) and Alexandre St-Onge (Shalabi Effect, Et Sans, Feu Thérèse), Démembrace sits right on the outer fringes of lunacy. The tape continually whirls through its nine (potentially randomly) allotted sections, the onslaught of scarred noise pretty much never letting up. The duo conjure a varispeed bed of ripped and torn sounds plus scattergun synth tones, constantly interjected with guttural groans, moans, and monster yelps. The vocalisations get given a bit more space on nine minute track ‘Forming’, where we get to hear the various pieces of analogue groan and vocal chord gulp come together into a noisy hurricane piece by piece.

The affair is certainly from the Aaron Dilloway school of mix-and-not-even-match noise music, devoid of any noise-bro masculinity, yet also far too maddening to be academic or pretentious. In short, it’s fucking madness personified; a cataclysm of sonic shards which is going to offer masochistic respite to some, and some potentially vomit inducing headaches in others.

Fischerle – Post​-​functional Dub Objects



(czaszka (rec.))

Edinburgh based czaszka (rec.) is becoming one of the most reliable tape labels in the UK, consistently getting the tone just right in terms of roster, design, and music. The target aesthetic appears to be a mix of cold monochrome and gnarled industrial entropy, pretty thoroughly embodied by this latest batch. Varsovian artist Mateusz Wysocki has comfortably conjoined murky electronic rhythms to concrète collage in the past, but Post​-​functional Dub Objects is perhaps his most user-friendly outing to date. The four greyscale modular-and-sample jams awaken over metronomic minimal beats, produced to keep the party at more than an arm’s length at all times. ‘Palto’ sounds like a Terrence Dixon set is going on at the other end of the Underground platform you’re standing on, and ‘Oktawon’ resembles Moritz von Oswald if he deemed synth bleeps the right ingredient to bleed into a session. ‘Coup de grâce’ is a more languid track, focusing on a slowed loop and groaning electronics akin to a longer cut from Actress’ Ghettoville. The mood is one of over encumbered lethargy on Post​-​functional Dub Objects, Wysocki proving that deftly picked shards of sampled colour can exponentially increase the emotional potency of those (increasingly common) modular workouts.

By comparison, the abstract soundscapes of Anupal Adhikary and Subho S. Sharma are infinitely more challenging. The duo from Calcutta manipulate tapes and interleave field recordings with unidentifiable tones, dislodged from reality into epid long form wig outs of confusion. There’s no small amount of Nurse With Wound style dadaism here – if you’ve ever wondered what Homotopy To Marie would have sounded like if made by a couple of Calcuttans armed with tape players, this could just about be your answer. The album seems to grow increasingly dark and dislodged from the real world, opening with layers of ritual music street recordings, disappearing down a rabbit hole into deeper and deeper territory where human fingerprints soon fade into memory. By the penultimate ten minute piece, the music is moulded into little more than lumbering bass tones and fiddled clicks. The finale then introduces some mutated voices once more, a spaghettified take on those streets that opened the tape. A momentous statement from JESSOP&CO., and most definitely a perfect example of dislodging.

Gosheven – Leaper

(Opal Tapes)

The solo project of Balint Szabo, Gosheven focuses on utilising just intonation, Pythagorean tuning, Koto tuning, Meantone temperament – "and other non-typical tuning systems" – on his guitar and keys to craft music outside the realms of standardised Western practices. On paper, one might expect the Budapest resident’s music to sound either freakily energetic like Baltimore’s just intonated rock band Horse Lords, or perhaps delicate like a piece by Lamonte Young associate, Lou Harrison. The reality is utterly original and verging on indefinable, although emotionally it packs one hell of a punch despite sounding constantly somewhat out of tune to my ears.

Aside from the innately psychedelic effect of wonky non-standard tunings, Szabo interjects some voices and synth tones into several of the tracks. ‘Memory Failure’ feeds his instrumentation through fluttering delay to create an undulating soundscape. The likes of ‘Excluded And Abused’ and ‘Whisper Of The Valley Breeze’ add vocals to the mix too, including Szabo’s own tender spoken words performed intentionally genderlessly. ‘Sublime Fragility’ and ‘Waves Of Innocence’ both overlap various drones with some fragile (Autotuned) singing, evoking an eccentric kind of paradise. Closing track ‘Unbalanced Holiness’ introduces organ keys and vocoder singing for a church-like epilogue.

The artist describes how Gosheven is an attempt to detach from "the substantially distorted and unwholesome male ideal that he has been absorbing since he was born", going on to suggest Leaper documents "an important stage of this ‘caterpillar turning into butterfly’ metamorphosis." The lightly sketched protagonist on the album is certainly no specific gender, and the music sits between enough times and geographies to fit its status as music for metamorphosis. This is strange and alien music, but above all else, it’s powerful.

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EP64 – LIVERPOOL 29​/​10​/​16



(Pale Master)

The creation of a new tape label, while always cause for celebration, can also be unnecessary. Fresh Liverpool tape imprint Pale Master however, could well call it quits after these mere three releases and still rank among the best UK labels of the year for me. According to founder JC, it was set up "primarily to explore the interplays between physical entities and virtual realms: to work towards a reclamation of the encoded artefact." It’s fitting then that JC’s first release on his own label should be a beautifully messy cut-up collage compiled using an archive of over 150 pirated jungle, garage, and hardcore mixtapes from 1994-2002. The process of compiling mad mechanic rhythms from tapes, by human hands, and then made into new music, is the very essence of re-coding a musical artefact. The half hour collage is snipped into six 5 minute partitions, and the level of entropy fluctuates throughout, with snippets randomly starting and stopping. The source material is largely unidentifiable – a fucking thunderstorm of jungle beats and jazz samples all issued in overlapping scattergun shots, amped right up to distort – but the experience remains in that era’s spirit: heavy, hard, and kinda funky.

EP64 (aka ‘ephemeral project /64’ it would seem) are an improvising Bristol trio aiming to create a feedback loop between human(s) and machine. Vocalist Dali de Saint Paul and drummer Dan Johnson freely improvise a ritual wig out while Nick Janaway mans a laptop, taking the sound in the room and reconfiguring it into mutant long form call-and-reply. At times he farts back a chipmunk version of de Saint Paul, at others he twists the sound into unrecognisable new bleeps and digitones. The tape documents one full live performance in Liverpool, and it sounds like one hell of a gig to get lost in. The lines between the live and processed material blur, but at the group maintain a pounding tribal core. They approach it all with good humour too, not to mention mad energy (particularly Johnson who goes all John Bonham ‘Moby Dick’ solo on ‘0100’). Cosmic freakouts minus guitar, bass, or keys should really sound at least somewhat minimal, but these simply don’t, sounding periodically even Hawkwindian. Absolutely essential.

THE EMPIRE NEVER ENDED is a great big slab of ridiculously hefty techno, throbbing its way from London producer UKAEA’s gear in single takes. A neverending barrage of robotic kicks batters the underbelly of the music in 4/4 so damn hard it practically sounds like 1/1, while polyrhythmic synth notes tinker away up above, crisscrossing erratically. The effect fits with the cybernetically bent outlook of the other tapes in Pale Master’s first batch, wherein the new possibilities allowed by symbiotic relations between humans and music machines encourage new levels of weirdness and heaviosity. Also worth noting that UKAEA’s music here is also exclusively comprised of totally mental bangers that could make Surgeon’s record bag seem tame.

Mt Accord – In Reverie EP

(Colour 8)

Issued via (aptly) self-described "phosphorescent" London label Colour8, this debut EP of vignettes by Mt Accord demonstrates a simple-yet-effective approach turning feeble sounds into palatial dream sequences. ‘Fear Of God’ is pretty much just the creaky sound of trackpad clicks bathed in echo while a benign synth drones underneath – but the effect is a tantalising textural portrait of a moment frozen in time. The musician describes aiming to reflect on such moments – walking on the beach, shopping at the supermarket, reading in silence – and said reflections fracture and reassemble the everyday and homely into magic. Over half the tape’s running time goes to the 16 minute title track, a synth meditation occurring over (what appears to be) the sounds of the artist’s own very quiet room, including coughs and police sirens passing by outside. The meditation gradually evolves from oozing melody loops to include some chiming tones and eventually a final ascent through a cloud of heavenly tones.

Various Artists – Volume 1


The first mixtape by Bristol label Ceramics (run by Hamish Trevis, aka Kinlaw) features tracks from the first ten artists to contribute guest mixes to their stellar Soundcloud page, and thus runs amok around the electrono-sphere, grabbing maddening digital abstraction and misty beats both off the shelf and shoving them into the same glorious plastic casing. Gramrcy issues a surprisingly pretty track of billowing shiny notes, followed and countered straight away by far less friendly cubist antirhythms by Preston/Read. Joane Skyler contributes an utterly nutty 8-bit acid shredder, while rkss continues down a path of conducting sonic chaos like she’s channeling Conrad Schnitzler and Prospero all at once, guiding us through a deconstructed extra-terrestrial rave before leaving Infinity Frequencies to close with a creaking 3 minute string loop. As a survey of differing shades of solo electronic production, it’s pretty tough to get any better than this.

Woodbender – The Fountain A Conduit

(Audio. Visuals. Atmosphere.)

As always knocking it out of the park with the three departments cited in its name, the Antwerp based Audio. Visuals. Atmosphere. label is pretty much the definition of a well curated experimental tape imprint. The design is always clean and impeccable (for the most part completed by label runner and graphic designer Niels Geybels), and the curation is right on the outer edges of sound art yet all appear to be part of the same musical family tree. Comprised of Jon Unger and Martijn Pieck, Dutch duo Woodbender could barely make more challenging music on paper. The pieces on The Fountain A Conduit are long form, coarsely textural work outs of gentle noise and grainy effects which nonetheless end up emanating an overall sense of poise and beauty. Unger provides some truly beautiful guitar tones to keep things from collapsing into a concrete mess, as on the perfectly balanced second track, ‘The Flood Moves The Earth Back And Forth’ where soaring ambience grinds up against fuzzy crackle.

‘Blue Hour Hidden In Plain Sight’ is imbued with more menace, the more musical elements permeated with darkness up against gnarlier noise gyrations. 21 minute finale ‘Any Familiarity Of Place Is Stolen By The Humid Air’ goes in pretty much every direction in the duo’s arsenal, shimmering in beatless space, experiencing all moods possible within the allotted timeframe. If that weren’t enough, there’s a half hour digital bonus track of ‘Sessions (Improvisations)’, full of ideas matching much of the album proper in quality. Magnificent sonic grub for both head and heart.

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