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

Autumn’s coming, and Daryl Worthington finds it’s bringing a globe spanning mix of radical sonics, ocean deep ambience and hyperactive ecstasy from the tape scene

Stice by Walter Wlodarczyk

In 2020 Temp-Illusion‘s Pend balanced making audible the oppressive forces that surround us while also giving clues to their vulnerability. The Iranian duo of Shahin Entezami (who works solo as Tegh) and Behrang Najafi (Bescolour) construct immense, swaggering monoliths of sound over the tape’s six tracks, while allowing fragile glimmers of light to poke through. Their ire was directed at the use of the media as a war weapon, and the release of Pend Reworks continues to unravel the oppressive machine. Entezami and Najafi have invited a globe spanning array of producers to remix the original tracks. And the sheer diversity of approaches and recontextualisations genuinely feels like a process of triumphant shared ownership. As Temp-Illusion’s compositions are opened up to be tinkered with and reformed, it hints at the possibility of wrenching any media into democratic domains.

Kenyan artist KMRU pulls a glint of fragile light from ‘Two Lands’ and flings it into the air. Completely scrubbing away the original’s harshness, and switching it into a moment of shimmering grandeur. Idelfon takes on the same track with drastically different results. Overlayed with Martin Luther King’s Three Evils Of Society speech and splayed beats, it turns into a ferocious protest rhythm as King’s defiance hijacks the electronic dread.

The b-side sees four radical reworks of ‘Caustic Surface’. Rojin Sharafi adds metallic percussion and trickling piano arpeggios, unbuckling its claustrophobic pressure into a richly liberated flow. Elvin Brandhi mashes the track into ‘Two Ships’ and drenches the product in her Autotuned vocals. It sounds like she’s wrestling with the machine, and ultimately winning as the dense textures cannot resist any longer, pinging out of rigidity into an unbounded, joyful deluge. Pouya Ehsaei flips it in yet another way, making entropy tangible as he plunges the track into cavernous depths and then watches it fizzle out and congeal into a beautifully warped new form.

The whole tape taps into a similar burnt ecstasy found in the recent Low and Bug albums. A knocking of sound into the red in the hopes it’ll finally collapse the old teetering edifices and allow something new to emerge. Sheer sonic intensity acting as last gasp attempt to shake some light out of the void. Beyond that though, the sheer breadth of artists involved in this project and the freedom with which they tinker with Temp-Illusion’s tracks feels like a very material reminder of art being a way to communicate around the usual borders.

Nick Zanca – Cacerolazo
(Full Spectrum)

Nick Zanca dove deep into his personal archive for Cacerolazo, but this tape shows that looking back doesn’t have to be shrouded in melancholia. At the heart are recordings taken on a European tour, under his former Mister Lies guise, back in 2013. Most pertinent among the snippets of conversations is a documentation of a demonstration in Istanbul which Zanca found himself caught in the centre of. The title of the tape, Cacerolazo, refers to a particular form of protest, participants gathering in a public place and striking kitchenware to create a din to voice their frustrations. The name specifically references protests in Chile, yet this use of a racket to voice disapproval is a wide ranging and well embedded one, similar forms for instance appearing in charivari or rough music. The clangour Zanca witnessed in Turkey crops up repeatedly through the album, mutating in form yet ever present. Whether rising electronics, contemplative piano or violent screams, Zanca’s arrangements give shape to the memory, blending his present self back into these recordings as a way of processing youthful exploration’s collision with political dissent. Walter Benjamin wrote of past revolutionary dreams layering up and imprinting themselves in unexpected places in the present, and there’s a similar sense here of Zanca trying to track a fervour across different times and spaces, from Turkish streets to the artist’s studio. It’s clearest on ‘Cacerolazo 3’, a rising swarm of frazzled electronics and babbling voice snapping back into the racket of the 2013 protest – so old and new, personal and social turmoil come as close as possible to existing side by side in a single moment. There’s a stunning array of sound collected in these pieces, vibrant textures slipping into idle chat, and the jumble they combine to create reminds me more than anything of the asynchronous narrative Kurt Vonnegut deploys in Slaughterhouse 5, as if disparate events are folding into each other to sketch an outline of whatever bridges the two.

Ursula Sereghy – OK Box

Prague-based Ursula Sereghy’s OK Box seems to challenge the listener to a different mode of perception, undoubtedly following its own internal logic yet making perfect sense. Sereghy’s background is as a saxophone player in jazz bands, but ‘OK Box’ sees her step into working solo, ‘experimenting with machines and sound design’, according to the liner notes. The pieces unfurl like a 1970s fibre-optic lamp, lines of ideas firing multi-directionally outwards from a centre but never totally unhinging themselves from the base. ‘Slug Tremollo (Defenders Of The Existent)’ is built on a choral line which sounds like it could be lifted from an Arvo Pärt composition. Cut up and reassembled into every possible permutation, it becomes a fluctuating hook spinning through the scattered arrangement. Other tracks sound like a big band refined down to the molecular and sprinkled across exploding glitch funk, flashes of meandering bass and wind instruments further bending the unhinged grooves, so that the closing three songs combine into something approaching a trance track getting ever more tangled up in its own contorted momentum. The whole tape seems to strive towards shedding hierarchies, pointing away from electronic music’s traditional unison and tight structures to something far more open ended and genuinely transcendent.

Pilgrim Raid – Anna Agenda

According to the liner notes, Pilgrim Raid’s Anna Agenda is shaped by nostalgia for growing up in Vietnam in the 00s. And the feeling the duo bottle more than anything here is the overwhelming youthful awe at every new sensation. Those pivotal years where your senses are racing your mind in a desperate attempt to hear, see and understand a zeitgeist which is constantly just out of reach. In that sense, while nostalgia is typically linked to what’s lost, here it feels much more like a celebration. ‘Cardboard Creek’ is an absolute rager, nodding to Vina House, a form of Vietnamese EDM, it swings from skyward facing trance into a widescreen string lament. ‘Alluvial Sky’ splinters from industrial laced hip hop into pitch bent mania, before climaxing in pure snare drum acceleration. ‘Nội Bài’ sits firmly in a Nintendo sound track zone but with a piercingly beautiful arrangement, while ‘Thiên thần và Ác Quỷ’ pairs the most addictively catchy melody with the most addictively gnarled synth sound. The whole tape feels like an attempt to reach ecstasy by flooding your brain with stimuli, so that ‘Đàm Vĩnh Kỳ’ manages to sound like five songs bleeding into each other without ever losing coherence or momentum. It’s a revelation, an overloaded celebration of the sheer vibrancy of everything.

Margenrot – Obkhod

Obkhod is a transliteration of the Russian word passing by, and Margenrot, aka Moscow-based Russian-Armenian Lusia Kazaryan-Topchyan’s tracks feel like palimpsests of the imprints different contexts leave on the self, as traditional Armenian music is woven through haggard electronics and wavering minimal wave beats. On ‘Nazani’, synthetic wildlife sounds flutter over hypnotic bass, while ‘Odnogogolsii 2.0’ seems in a state of constant slippage between sorrowful pop and the background chatter of existence. ‘Signal’ conjures a serene equilibrium, as though you’re sitting and listening to the nexus where organic and inorganic sound completely dissolves and the two blur into a singular pulse. Kazaryan-Topchyan seems to lasso overlaps of music, technology and organic sonics into her compositions, so her enigmatic songs and brittle beats come across as an attempt to process and solidify transient sensations and permanent impressions into coherence. With the musical archive now bigger and more instantly accessible than ever, it shows there are still unique paths to be ploughed through sound. A map of the way layers of sonic and cultural history tumble into each other as they lodge into our synapses.

Stice – Stice’s Satyricon
(Ramp Local)

“What do you think they say about you? Maybe they don’t think about you at all,” sings Stice’s Caroline Bennett (aka Crab) on ‘I Need Cash!!!’. A line of raw truth slicing through the track’s riotous cyber-slacker mess. It captures the teetering between vulgar and cutting honesty that defines Stice’s Satyricon, Bennett and producer Jake Lichter giving voice to internet-era neuroses across these pounding synth punk anthems. Bolstered by Bennett’s absurd videos, with an aesthetic equal parts Tim and Eric and a technicolour David Lynch, Stice seem like a Butthole Surfers for the uncanny valley. Bennett’s machine gun vocals refract through pop music’s electrified remains, dense layers of free association combining into disturbing coherence, as though she’s snapping the boundary between inner monologue and public self. Switching between smut and manic anxiety, the fraught intensity of the delivery ends up both as diagnosis and escape from perilously compressed nervous energy. The whole thing a triumphantly bizarre, unjudging mirror on our precarious, frantic times.

Helena Celle’s Correspondence Table – Glasgow Decentral
(Fort Evil Fruit)

Helena Celle’s Correspondence Table is the latest alias of Glasgow based Kay Logan (aka Outlet Archive, Time Binding Ensemble, Helena Celle and many more). Texturally, the ten tracks of Glasgow Decentral sound like a jungle tape stuck in a car stereo too long, compositionally, the beats sound like they’ve been scattered through a gnarled prism, shifting familiar surfaces into strange constellations. In a recent interview for tQ Logan stressed that her music was not about randomness, and I feel that holds true here. Listening to Glasgow Decentral kind of feels like putting your head inside a mischievously wired motherboard – your mind lodged amongst an intricately balanced system of inputs and outputs so that each event feels like it triggers a chain of others into action. It feels more dialogic than systematic though, revelling in a mesmerising back and forth between sounds rather than striving to hit a crescendo or linearly placed end point. ‘Backroad Angel’ sees a drum roll act as catalyst for an off-centre call and response between night drenched bass and metallic clatter. ‘Saint Enochian’ feels like dance track sowing the seeds of its own demise, as if the vibration of the beat that initiates it also shakes the whole thing apart. The relationships of causality and connection these tracks seem to imply as fascinating as the off-kilter beats they combine to create.

Daniel Spicer/Chris Gregory – Jubilate Deo/Bird Flight

The side of this split tape by occasional tQ contributor Daniel Spicer sounds like someone trying to play Terry Riley’s ‘In C’ with a band of uncooperative automatons. Dominated by intensely disciplined piano lines, which somehow sound repetitive without ever repeating, bells, electronics, and mouth harps flow through and warp the composition – creating a hallucinogenic affect akin to rippling water. Generally dominated by microscopic fluctuations and phasing, a couple of switches hit on the macro scale, the whole composition morphing in disarmingly triumphant fashion. There’s something gleefully rickety in the side long piece’s gait – like minimalism being played in the school assembly hall. Chris Gregory‘s Bird Flight is divided into three solo acoustic guitar works embedded in low key environmental recordings. His playing tends to come in flurries and gusts, from tentative, sorrowful strums into elegant glides of movement. It excels at evoking the birds alluded to in the title, Gregory’s guitar reflecting a deep observation of the stop-start clumsy grace that goes into getting a feathered creature to soar through the skies.

Voice Of Space – Maps Of Inner Space: Voice Of Space
Hatchback And Ocean Moon – Maps Of Inner Space: Journey In Onarimon
Pop Levi – Maps Of Inner Space: Invisible Music
(Lo Recordings)

This new triptych of tapes from Lo Recordings burrow down into thick, luscious ambience, vibrant sonics bridging the gap between internal and external worlds. Vol. 1, Voice Of Space unites the duo of Mark O Pilkington (of Teleplasmiste) and Jon Tye (from Seahawks/Ocean Moon) in sonic transmutation, the piece dissolving, bending and blending through different states. Beginning with gentle rustles somewhere between waves crashing and wind blowing, the tape slips through vaporous pads into more solid forms, arpeggios falling into glassy percussion before bell-like sounds arrive. It proceeds to dissolve again, rarely settling in one form and instead evoking constant material flux.

Vol. 2 is Journey In Onarimon, once again featuring Tye, this time in collaboration with California’s Hatchback, aka Sam Grawe. More fixed than Vol. 1, it uses stasis and suspension to trigger deep contemplation. A more bare palette of tones hover in perfectly placed serenity, a time freezing effect which seems to strive for prehension over comprehension as the music hits serene disassociation.

Vol.3 comes from Pop Levi, recorded at his home on a Greek Island. Where Vol. 1 and 2 tend to reside on gelling sounds together, Vol. 3 thrives in contrasts. Disparate synth lines exist in strange but never jarring symbiosis, creating gentle disruptions to the varied terrain that unfurls. Describing music as scenery would usually seem pejorative, but here it’s not – these tracks feeling like a richly detailed backdrop seeping from the periphery into a fully-fledged world which doesn’t need focal points or protagonists to be complete.

Neil Campbell v Territorial Gobbing – Bunker Tonsure Region


Bunker Tonsure Region unites Territorial Gobbing and Astral Social Club’s Neil Campbell for a pair of side long jaunts through gleeful sonic mess. There’s a heavy dose of ‘what actually is that sound?’ in these file sharing jams, really getting to the playful heart of what makes acousmatic experiments so fascinating – as sonics seem familiar until you actually try to pinpoint what they are. On A-side ‘Blinged-out Redcurrant Punnet’ a headspinning cacophony of bell-like sounds arrive about seven minutes in reminding me of Charlemagne Palestine’s Schlingen Blängen, but whether they’re actually bells, water spraying out of a pipe, industrial machinery or none-of the above, I really can’t tell. There’s more to this than a game of trying to pinpoint the sound source though. Whether it’s the off-kilter, glitchy funk that opens ‘Fulfilment Centre Slump’, or the way ‘Blinged-out’ slips into a psyche rock groove through the electrical detritus, these compositions are held together with a gleeful disavowal of slickness, and a contagious tactility.

A Farewell to Hexes – Rendlesham

(The Dark Outside)

In 1980 the village of Rendlesham, Suffolk was put on the map with two UFO encounters at the nearby RAF base. These events were far from trivial, two airmen suffering life threatening injuries in the first encounter, while the second incident saw increased levels of radiation detected at a site where one of the UFOs allegedly landed. These events form the inspiration for Adam Leonard, or rather, A Fairwell To Hexes‘s Rendlesham. More than anything these wonky synth jams conjure the homemade, hopeful skywatching spirit of John Was Trying To Contact Aliens, a world of garden shed laboratories and off balanced experiments. ‘East Gate Expedition’ is a ramshackle kosmiche banger, the stargazing synths conjuring an ambience equal parts PolyCement and Harmonia. The second side slips into a slightly more sinister place, closer ‘Aftermath’ featuring the voice of Attorney Patrick Frascogna speaking at a US court hearing in 2011 in an attempt to gain access to the medical records of John Burroughs and James Penniston – the two airmen injured in the first Rendlesham encounter. Juxtaposed against the sci-fi synths, it brings to light the layers of secrecy and obstruction that can surround the night sky.

Stick In The Wheel – Tonebeds for Poetry
(From Here Records)

Drawing a link from the Anglo-Saxons to autotune is the name of the game for Stick In The Wheel, aka Nicola Kearey and Ian Carter, on Tonebeds For Poetry. Opener ‘Long The Day’ submerges Kearey’s voice in electronics over baroque arpeggios. ‘Blind Beggar’ sounds like Vangelis taking on production duties for Shirley Collins, the collision between vocoder and folk form eerily uncanny, while the ‘Devil’s Nag’ is built from a midi file of a seventeenth century dance track, translated into a strange techno wig out. It feels like there’s more at stake in these tracks than smashing old folk forms into contemporary technology, though. Whether it’s ‘Ruins’ grime-like sparse use of a single synth sample, ‘Wierds Broke Its’ crunch of angst ridden grungy distortion, or their use of a startlingly apocalyptic tenth century poem on ‘The Seafarer’, Kearey and Carter seem to hone in on traditions which end up being buried in the archive due to their common folk origins. It means the blasts of auto-tune through ancient songs forms aren’t just there for novelty value, but highlight a living connection between types of music which at various points in history haven’t been taken seriously due to their unvarnished, working class origins.

(Hausu Mountain)

The distinction between hearing and listening is crucial in Chicago based sound artist Norman W. Long‘s practice, focusing on how the latter is an action fundamental to how we understand our world. BLACK BROWN GRAY GREEN is built from field recordings and environmental sounds captured in and around his home community of South Deering, which in his words is “a majority Black and Brown community that straddles residential, industrial and wasted space”. The sounds documented include the delicate calls of local wildlife, on ‘Recovering Landscape Community’ eerie high pitched whines which could be either electronic or organic, and the hollow resonances of open spaces. Long subtly spins these sounds through modular synth and effects, so that on ‘Southeast – Live 2019’, clangs and rings are gently netted together into percussive patterns. The approach seems less about abstracting sources than amplifying specifics – a magnifying glass to focus attention. Like Pauline Oliveros, for Long deep listening seems a vital social and political act. While BLACK BROWN GRAY GREEN is to non-Chicagoans a fascinating tapestry woven through Long’s neighbourhood, it also works as a blueprint for thinking what’s embedded in our audio environments. In Long’s words: “Disconnection is a process. That process is fuelled by white supremacy and capitalism. African Americans experience and witness this disconnection to our environment, economy, sense of self and place… I invite you to listen as part of the collective field because as we listen and sound we expand our awareness of our connection and disconnection.”

(Eli)zabeth Owens – Knock Knock

(Grimalkin Records)

(Eli)zabeth Owens has an exquisite control of timing and delivery on second album Knock Knock. A labyrinth of twists and turns creating a theatrical sense of tension and release. On ‘Once In A While’ they sing “I think of my father” as the final line before the song falls into a swirl of ghostly voices and haggard guitar, a reveal which completely upends the self-reflection held in the song until that point. This control of setting and mood fills these tracks with an endlessly compelling drama, Owens’ arrangements of harps, piano and electronics switching between swooning melodies and intricate bombast. ‘Cliffside’ somehow lurches from courtly dance into a duel between marching prog riffage and harp, while ‘Layperson’ jumps from showtune jauntiness into a glitchy anthem. The album forms a part of what Owens’ calls a coming of age saga, and the constant sense of misdirection in the songs captures that process as one that never neatly resolves. In an age of growing pressure to curate, streamline and soundbite what we present publicly, Owens challenges that simple dilution. Their multifaceted songs reflecting the full breadth of private experiences and emotions that go into constantly shaping our volatile, ever-shifting selves.

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