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

Bombastic autodidactic musical theatre, contorted spoken word and text-to-speech intimacies, there’s a world of strange narratives burbling from the tape scene this month, writes Daryl Worthington

Dasom Baek

The Falt label has a knack of perfectly syncing audio with presentation in their releases. Each tape comes wrapped in a 35mm print which label founder, Christian Schiefner (who creates music as Chemiefaswerk) cuts and pastes by hand. He apparently has shoeboxes filled with these photographs, all taken over the last ten years.

Sonically, the label’s releases tend to sit in an intimate zone of field recordings, bare instrumentation, and sparse collages. As though each artist is remixing a snapshot of their surroundings. Packaging and music work in snippets, which isn’t to suggest a lack of depth, rather a tendency for intense focus on the intricacies of a single object. Melding them together, placing them under a magnifying glass, or folding them into new shapes.

For New Ruins, released on Full Spectrum earlier this year, Marsha Fisher, dove into Christian praise cassettes salvaged from local secondhand shops to make elegiac, flowing loops which seemed to offer a salvation to be found in the gap between the celestial and the mundane. On a Falt release Stolen Lighters, Fisher’s music sounds far more distressed. Opener ‘The Last Time I Played Drums’, moves like a broken mirror, minuscule fragments of voice and shattered percussion scarping against each other like someone sifting through the wreckage.

‘Goth Roosters’ throws some bird calls into the gentle tumult, while ‘Two Loops’ closes the tape with nothing more than a meditation on soft crackle and hiss. It’s seldom clear what Fisher’s sound sources are, but their soothing disorientation is never in doubt, the frame becomes twisted and presents a new perspective and response on the world of sound.

Joining Fisher in Falt’s latest batch is Rasmus Östling’s On Second Ave 15:27 NYC. In contrast to Fisher’s interrogation of reality through loops, the Turku, Finland based artist works in delicate montages and overlaps, sequencing them together into long narratives. Like Fisher, Östling shifts and interrogates the boundary between background and foreground. Midway through the second side what sounds like a crisp packet rustles up close, as church bells ring barely perceptibly in the distance. The first side opens with a piano playing in the next room while what could be cutlery scrapes upfront. Other moments of more traditional musical instrumentation arrive, acoustic guitar, organs and most frequently, a morose whistle. Each time they share the stereo field with an array of incidental sonics, making it tough to draw a clear line between the two.

Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy’s Déformation Processionnelle takes a different orientation again on time and space. Built around ultra-minimal percussion and barely there tones, the whole tape seems carried by an invisible pulse, like a vibration that can only be perceived through the objects it disturbs. On ‘Toujours Une Corde’ the effect is something like the most discreet techno track you’ve ever heard, the sheer sparsity in these sounds sucking out all background noise and obliging your mind to lock in.

In her book Queer Phenomenology, Sara Ahmed writes that “The work of inhabiting space involves a dynamic negotiation between what is familiar and unfamiliar, such that it is still possible for the world to create new impressions depending on which we way turn, which affects what is in reach,” this resonates with both sound and image for Falt, their releases slightly altering the angle of observing the familiar world so new impressions can seep through.

Max Syedtollan/Plus-Minus Ensemble – Four Assignments (And Other Pieces)

Four Assignments (And Other Pieces) sees self-taught, Glasgow-based composer Max Syedtollan create pieces with the complex, twisting, overlapping narratives you’d expect to find in a B.S. Johnson novel. Opener ‘Four Assignments’ is a gleefully meandering fable, digressing through rapid blasts of history and a deluges of biographical information as a strange adventure story unfurls. London/Brussels collective Plus-Minus Ensemble provide the musical accompaniment with gleeful gusto, going from off-kilter string and woodwind overtures into thrilling crescendos on the cusp between farcical and the ramshackle sublime. ‘The Remainder By Tom McCarthy’ dwells on memory’s fragility, the narrator faltering as they recite the text, in turn mimicking the protagonist who wakes up from a coma and can’t remember his life before: “He knows the basic facts, but can’t remember any of the basic sensations. He’s lived but he can’t fill in the detail.” It’s a disarmingly poignant piece, the narrative a sombre if surreal counter to the opener’s bombast, ending up vaguely reminiscent of the strange textual flows of Robert Ashley. The album ends with ‘Grass Jelly No. 3’, an equal parts morose and jovial solo piano number which is inexplicably unsettling. This tape is an absolute masterpiece in its life-affirming weirdness, equally capable of making you laugh or cry. It’s a joyful, total outlier, like musical theatre approached with an anything’s possible ambition and seeing no limitation to the worlds an autodidact can occupy.

Lucy Liyou/Yska – A Need/A Want
(Notice Recordings)

“Don’t touch me,” says a text to speech voice, flung into a spin of ruptured percussion. Later, a microscopic loop of ‘I love you’ sprays out like a glitch in a voice note. Lucy Liyou and Yska’s A Need/A Want revels in exploring the emphasis and intonation of words and music, messing with spacing to shift meaning, stretching out the gap between sonic context and language to reveal the inbetween. Liyou is on piano and production here, while Yska plays guitar, and they create an elegantly swirling collage. Five minutes into ‘A Need’ Yska’s six strings fall into a beautiful, echo drenched waltz as the synthetic voice recites, “We are dancing, but I can’t see you." The instrumental patterns reach into and stretch out the odd pauses in the phrase left by its machine reinterpretation. Seconds later the voice asks, “Haven’t we met before somewhere?” over a surreal bed of cut up piano and bleeps, as though suddenly startled from a serene slumber. Elsewhere come liberating blasts of distortion, desolate duets between piano and wildlife, and a swooning slow-burn emo-ambient ballad. At points diaristic, there’s something about this that closes the gap between the personal and universal. The whole thing is a snapshot from the blur of everyday dramas, traumas and triumphs.

Martyna Basta – Making Eye Contact With Solitude
(Warm Winters Ltd.)

Martyna Basta has a remarkable ability to make music that moves through the air like leaves falling to the ground on Making Eye Contact With Solitude, the Polish artist building gentle flurries and swirls from field recordings augmented by violin, zither, harpsichord and her own voice. The first three tracks, ‘Awakening’ and ‘Memories Of Unwanted’, and ‘Unknown Reel Tape’, have a symbiotic connection. An ebb and flow of strums and chimes leaking into each other through a backdrop of crunches and strange squeaks. Eventually Basta starts to sing through the elegant swirl while metallic sounds jangle in the background, it all finally gelling together into a lulling crescendo. The final three tracks take on more of a mantra, almost choral like quality, switching between gentle stutters, long elegiac tones, and shimmering plucked strings. The Krakow based artist describes these tracks as a “way of making peace with myself and the reality around me,” and there’s a powerful sense in this music of embedding in surroundings. Fixating on the movements of air and matter and finding solace through full emersion in the flow.

Dasom X Violeta – Absence
(Kit Records)

Keeping in the realm of gorgeous ebbs and flows comes Dasom X Violeta, the duo of Seoul based Dasom Baek on traditional Korean flutes and Bueno Aires resident Violeta Garcia on cello. The pair gently eke out a paranormal world through this unconventional instrumental union, hitting startling levels of dynamic intensity despite the limited palette of frequencies available. Second track ‘남​(​南) : C’ sees the acoustic instruments sounding remarkably alive as they lull through an elegant, twisting turmoil mimicking the pace of human breath. ‘Emptiness’ begins with barely present vocalisations which sound as though they’re pressing up against the mesh of the speaker itself, slowly settling into a strange, swarming rhythmic pattern. ‘0$0LAR’ shifts into a shimmer of hisses and rattles, before the cello arrives and agitates the whole thing into a frantic blast of movement. Combined, Dasom and Violeta conjure something which sits in a spooky, hair-prickling zone, but it doesn’t feel sinister, more like the pair are tracking the path of some benevolent poltergeists as they move through the room and agitate inanimate objects to motion. Finally trapping the movement on ‘Virtual0ve’s supernatural dance of interweaving flurries and ripples.

Aastiage – 1996/2000
(Zabte Sote)

Aastiage is the duo Ata ‘Sote’ Ebtekar and Shadi Ziaei, and 1996/2000 compiles tracks they recorded over those years while they were both living in San Francisco. According to Ebtekar, the project aimed to reunite lyrical content with electronic music, creating genuine electronic pop instead of dance music with acapella vocals over the top. As Sote, Ebtekar has released a stunning sprawl of zeitgeist twisting music over the last two decades, and it’s fascinating getting access to these tracks and hearing another angle on his work. There’s a nocturnal warmth suffusing these songs which brings to mind the vibe found on Leslie Winer’s ‘Witch’, while the music constantly feels like it’s straining at the boundaries of what a pop song is. ‘Flesh & Blood’s beat and synth bass funk seems like it’s constantly trying to shuffle off into a new plane. ‘Just Fine’ sits somewhere between industrial and trip hop, slithers of distortion adding a layer of blistered harmony. Ziaei is the perfect foil for Sote, her gorgeous vocals somewhere between dreamy shoegaze bliss and post-grunge angst, while her guitar playing has a ruthless efficiency. She ends up a powerful centre of soulful gravity, so that even when ‘Color A Dream’ throws in a barrage of beat jumps and twists, it’s never able to override the melodic heart. The genres 1996/2000 overlaps undoubtedly date it to the turn of the century, yet listening to it now there’s also something remarkably out of time about it. It achieves its aim of being an intervention on its context, unashamedly embedded in its surroundings but rearranging the scenery into a uniquely effective hit of dopamine.

Yol – Viral Cats And Dogs

(Crow Versus Crow)

Passive-aggressive emails, personal space violations, any and all engagements with AI customer service assistants. The world’s full of annoyances that only amplify its persistent low-level background anxiety. On Viral Cats And Dogs, Yol seems to grab every frustration, irritation, and throat acidifying stress floating through the air and channel it through his larynx. Recorded in a vacant retail unit in Hull, these seething spoken word pieces spiral out from manic obsessions, fixating on absurd events and mangling them into lacerating rants as though his odd observations are innocent bystanders caught in the fall out of misplaced aggression. On ‘Sun Roads Neighbours’ it’s a demand “to shout the sun into existence”, while ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ is hounded by a plastic fork with a nugget on it. At points Yol stutters, cuts up or gets stuck on a phrase, hinting at sound poetry in the way flow is interrupted and language untethered, but it’s not so much an abstraction as a jarring interlude to make the knotted up frustration more tangible. While the voice dominates, it’s backed by a soundtrack of what seem like nervous habits and twitches, whether its incessant rolling and tapping of unspecified objects, or a spectacularly wretched sounding wind instrument. This might all make the tape sound dark, but it’s amazingly therapeutic, as if Yol is going through this body contorting ritual so we don’t have to. This explosion of twisted, clenched frustration acting like a sponge, absorbing the rageful irritation and recycling it into ragged catharsis.

Katz Mulk – Vital Attachments


Vital Attachments documents a suite of live performances from UK-based performance group Katz Mulk, recorded at the 2019 editions of the Counterflows and Experimentica festivals. Similar to the Yol album, these tracks seem to contort bodies and spaces. Dense slabs of rhythm and vocals twisting and wrenching through the air. Opener ‘Amateur’ starts with a stab of synth bass and vocals which splinter and break into uneasy polyrhythms, like a post-punk song dissecting itself and flinging the components out for everyone to see the grisly truth under the hood. ‘Inelegance’ has Ben Ellul-Knight describe someone losing their ligaments over Ben Morris’ arrangement of stabbed metallic shards, conjuring a disconcerting, frantic paralysis before falling into a miasma of unsettling electronics. The pieces were performed based on a graphic score by Andrea Kearney, accompanied by dance. Even without those visual components though, this tape creates a remarkably vivid, intensely unsettling terrain through audio alone. Dread filled sonics, cracked beats and shards of spoken word crumpling around your ears as though Katz Mulk are twisting lumps of unfiltered id and delirious energy into mangled architecture.

Tom Yum Mona Lisa – Reverse Curse
(Rubbish Tapes)

Tom Yum Mona Lisa is Leeds based noise artist Basic Switches, and Greg Saunier, drummer from Deerhoof, and this tape was apparently recorded in the former’s cat’s bedroom. For Reverse Curse, they construct two gloriously unpredictable sonic universes, rickety homemade jams aligning into a surprisingly cosmic head space. Basic Switches’ music is built on instruments she “made or found”, and that comes through right away here as ‘Cat Pouches’ opens with a clangour of what sound like toy keyboards over the booming depth of an acoustic drum kit. The mess intensifies, a litany of squeaks, barks, woozy electronics and gossamer vocals floating out and congealing into a glorious anti-groove. As the din continues it makes increasing sense, until eventually it gets to somewhere akin to a Sun Ra keyboard solo if it were transcribed to a series of made-up instruments. ‘Hail Satan’ has a similarly stunning diversity in its palette, lurching through almost theremin like tones, strange growls, and ending up like an imaginary b-movie soundtrack. The tape’s J-card gives some hints as to what the instrumentation is, crediting “guillotine squeaks, Vymethoxy Red Spiders and a baby cat”. The breadth of sounds here, and the strange logics that compel them together is like Radiophonics played with the contents of a toy box. Somehow lifting a melange of junk and clutter into a wonky transcendence.

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