Spool’s Out: Cassette Reviews for May by Daryl Worthington

Hooligan trombone, microtonal synth-wave, time-dilated dub and sweathouse drone. Daryl Worthington finds worlds within worlds in the cassette scene this month

Sipaningkah, photo by Alexia Webster

I’m writing this surrounded by cubes. My cassette shelves are empty, their contents spread across a bunch of boxes waiting for a removal van. More than ever, tapes seem an indulgent folly. Most releases now have a digital option, this could all be neatly stored on a portable hard drive. Spool’s Out could be FLACs Out.

Why hoard physical media? The joy of surface noise? The option to listen to music offline in an increasingly online world? Both are partly countered by the fact that although I still listen to the actual tapes when I can, a lot of these releases I’ll most often hear digitally. The tape just sits on the shelf. Anecdotally, I know this is true for others as well, whether it’s tape, CD or vinyl.

The attraction, perhaps, is the object itself. The majority of tapes I get now are professionally duplicated rather than home dubbed, so it’s not about holding onto handcrafted artisan goods. Still, there’s some kind of connection to the physical thing. With the tape underground, there’s a sense of risk in the release. An idea that someone decided to take a chance putting out a little piece of their private space. An alternative to normative ideas of sound and reality in small editions. This doesn’t just happen on tapes. But it does happen a lot on tapes. The physical object is a reminder of that connection. A little piece of someone else’s world.

Cassettes might be a logistical nightmare, but they’re a reminder there’s ways of being more wholesome than say, the vampiric London rental market. It seems to be particularly acute this month, a whole slew of releases from beats to trombone solos via field recordings which make their own self-contained worlds.

Sipaningkah – Langkah Suruik

Currently based in Jakarta, Sipaningkah, aka Aldo Ahmad, looked back to his roots, and the Minangkabau culture from the area in West Sumatra, Indonesia, where he grew up, for Langkah Suruik. Alongside playing traditional instruments, he also invented his own, called the “Tasauff”, inspired by different Minangkabau stringed, drum and gong instruments. Langkah Suruik flies relentlessly forwards from this base of tradition and invention. First track ‘Imbau’ opens with a screaming horn, a juddering statement of intent for the album’s charge through undulating and unrelenting rhythm, ruptures of harrowed strings and, on the closing two tracks, Sipaningkah’s voice for two meditative songs which soothe the fierce energy accumulated until that point. Shuddering electronics enter on occasion, such as the queasy synthesis on ‘Maharam’, while ‘Hantaran’ unearths something suspiciously close to minimal techno in Minangkabau percussion patterns. Sipaningkah locates the future in tradition and vice versa. He shows Minangkabau music isn’t static, it’s ripe, ongoing, in dialogue with the present and capable of springing remarkable surprises.

Zofie Siege – Gems In Dirt
(Nuova Materia)

On ‘Inquipit’, the opening track on Zofie Siege’s Gems In Dirt, jaunty flutes dance around melancholic lute strums, the bounciness gradually subsiding and congealing into a sombre tapestry. On second track ‘Doors Leading to The Empyrium’, a sinister rhythm enters around growingly nocturnal sounds. Later, on ‘Spit And Speeches On Stage’, a cackle announces a descent into a freefall of croaking brass and tick tock strings. Originally released as a download in 2021, Gems In Dirt is France-based Siege’s second solo album. It’s unplaceable music, lush and menacing, pastoral and ominous all at once. Acoustic instruments duel with synthetic so it’s tough to tell where one begins and the other ends. There’s singing occasionally, but it’s buried, more a haunting than a top line. Although containing hints of dungeon synth, as well as the medieval realms conjured by Richard Dawson on Peasant, Gems In Dirt feels like a private fantasy that’s remarkable in scope. A hermetically-sealed Danse Macabre manifesting through your tape deck.

Temir Alcy – Temir Alcy

It’s not uncommon for music to defy borders, but Temir Alcy specifically sound like they’re melting geopolitical boundaries. The duo, producer Enir Da and multi-instrumentalist Charles Lmx, open their self-titled debut with a bed of extra-terrestrial synths. From there things get more earthbound, second track ‘Erund’ is a sunburnt synth pop song whose pitch bent backing vocals and intricate polyrhythmic sequences melt into a fourth world bliss out led by Albanian çifteli. The traditional two stringed instrument continues bringing vibrant microtonal colours to following track ‘Une Lueur Pas Comme Les Autres’. Elsewhere, ‘Atydia’ and ‘Depth In Blu’, the former a minimal-wave-esque instrumental, the latter a glitching ballad, are grounded by monophonic synths, yet even these rigid backbones trip out of equal temperament. On ‘Lorsque Le Jour Pleure’ Elen Huynh’s vocals creep through glitches and flicks of tabla-like percussion. Temir Alcy could, reductively, be described as microtonal synth wave. It’s placeless music, where difference is embraced rather than smoothed out.

Natalia Beylis – Lost – For Annie
(Outside Time)

Place is integral to all Natalia Beylis’ music, but Lost – For Annie is her most direct following of the threads binding surroundings yet. The side-long title track starts with a deception. Birds sing, some recorded near Beylis’ home in County Leitrim, Ireland, others sampled from bird song LPs, as becomes clear when a narrator enters. When the avian chorus departs squelching footsteps and gusts of wind remain, what was vibrant has become desolate. The piece responds to an installation by Annie Hogg on the destruction wrought by large scale commercial farming, something that’s also affected Beylis’ neighbourhood. Through a web of delicate ambiences, field recordings and a choir performance captured in 2014, Beylis conveys Leitrim’s flux, and the serene stability that persists beneath it. The B-side collects three pieces Beylis created for a collaboration looking at the history of sweathouses in the area. Opening with a montage of interviews about these disused landmarks, the album closes with a droning organ, held notes wilting and peeling in response to the air they’re moving through. A moment of respite and repose, it perhaps captures what Leitrim means to Beylis. Lost – For Annie is a record about what’s around. Beylis shows her surroundings are doused in histories, transitions and mixed emotions. She avoids romantic pastorals for the mucky complexities of a spot on the map. A contested space between stability and change.

Tintin Patrone – Bocklos Am Wegesrand
(Het Generiek)

Trombonist and performance artist Tintin Patrone was inspired by hooligan chants for her new album Bocklos Am Wegesrand. While voices and concrete sounds appear, the album is dominated by Patrone using her trombone to portray the conflicted states of her muses. On ‘Aufmucken’, slippery glissandos suddenly freeze into a bed of moaning, elongated drones. Things get increasingly warped and cacophonous, but a morose undercurrent remains. Patrone not evoking the calm before the storm so much as the quiet distress underneath, perhaps. Occasionally ranting voices enter, yet in the context of Patrone’s playing they sound like frustrated screams into a void. The piece’s second half is more violent, slams and what sounds like a gun cocking arrive, while the trombone gets more harrowed. This teetering between elegance and mayhem propels the entire tape. Patrone could have chosen to depict hooligans as a mindless racket. Yet the nuance and gentle variation in her music paints a more complex, strangely moving picture.

(Pointless Geometry)

SSRI is Łódź-based duo Sandra Mikołajczyk and Igor Gadomski, resident DJs on Warsaw’s Radio Kapital who are releasing their own productions for the first time. Firmly rooted in dub tradition, there’s similarities with Holy Tongue and Jay Glass Dubs, but more than anything Mikołajczyk and Gadomski seem attuned to the reality bending possibilities of bass and echo explored by Edward George’s Strangeness Of Dub radio shows and DJ sets. SSRI’s productions are drenched in an awareness that repetition, abstraction and effects can send tremors through psyches as much as soundsystems. Opening with ‘JUUUUUUNG’s widescreen shimmer and huge acoustic drums, bass loaded rhythms soon take over. ‘BEEEEEEAT’ is perfectly poised, spoken samples and subtle percussion accenting the dusty beat and coaxing your limbs to start moving in independent time signatures. ‘FLETUWA’ begins in aeolian echoes before the drums and bass arrive in entrancing shapes. Closer ‘DOB’s glitching tapestry peels away into a rhythm which unites Cologne electronic sheen with Jamaican dancehall traditions without sounding anything like dub-techno. SSRI work with familiar components, but they alchemise unfamiliar outcomes.

Nick Granata/Dawn Terry – Betwixt & Between 10
(Betwixt & Between)

Betwixt & Between is Jacken Elswyth’s tape label, and the first side of this split comes from her Shovel Dance Collective bandmate Nick Granata. ‘My Chainmaker Lad’ and ‘Nailer’s Song’ are arrangements for traditional songs associated with the trades of chain and nail making, while ‘The Lord’s Nailmaker’ is an original composition. They’re songs of strife and striving, for the first and third tracks, Granata sings sorrowful melodies over methodical, repetitive instrumentation. It evokes the almost mechanical rituals of the work they describe, finding both comfort and despair in routine. ‘Nailer’s Song’ provides relative relief in between. Swelling organ and violin have an effect akin to climbing a hill and getting a glimpse of a sweeping green pasture. While the lyrics lament toil and poor pay, there’s a sense the music is channelling the weightlessness that comes from genuine free time. The tape’s reverse contains a single composition, ‘I Still Love You And I Always Will’, by Dawn Terry. With held accordion notes and wordless vocals she erects a flickering monolith, an eternal return of keening distress and yearning whose spell is only broken when she whispers the title unaccompanied. Whether work or love, Terry and Granata show that more than stories, songs can embody ways of experiencing the world whose resonances are timeless.

Fangyi Liu – Dian Qi Xia
(tsss tapes)

Acousmatic describes sounds one hears with the originating source obscured. This not-knowingness is something Kaohsiung, Taiwan-based musician Fangyi Liu revels in on Dian Qi Xia. There’s a teasing quality to his compositions. Full of ambiguous crackles and mechanical signals, clicks, whines and rustles, they conjure a peculiar sense of place, simultaneously intimately close with the workings of electronic devices and outside in the wild. There’s a sound which could be a motor struggling to start or someone twanging some cutlery, electronic fuzz moves like feet dragging through gravel. Most perplexingly, what I think is a radio plays with a perplexingly animalistic quality. Ebbs and flows in intensity make hints of rhythmic patterns emerge. I assume many of the objects Fangyi Liu uses are things we’d find, discarded and under-used, in our homes. But he arranges and recontextualises them into two wonderfully cryptic compositions.

Lizala Vi – Volume One
(House of Saturn)

Liverpool-based Lizala Vi’s debut Volume One is music of vortices in dead spaces. The audio sources on the two side long pieces range from field recordings in Croatian national parks to airplane cabins, via recordings at an ex-Brazilian consulate which has become a hub for Liverpool’s experimental music scene. The first side is a collage, Vi’s voice drifting through vaporous tones and scrunchy, tapping, clicking sounds. Through coos, hums and hushed singing she gives shape to the air, gently redirecting its flows, existing in it rather than belting over it. There are echoes of Akio Suzuki in the patience with which she plays with sounds and space, gently finding intrigue in what could be overlooked. Side B is a single field recording taken on a flight from London to Croatia. As far as I can tell Vi makes no intervention beyond the act of recording itself. We hear voices and engine hum, coughs and, once more, the movement of air through and around the cabin. It captures an eventfulness that can only be found in uneventful situations. The two sides have an odd symbiosis, there’s something in what’s composed on the first side to be found in the second. It’s an auditory parallax effect, movement slowed to stasis, stasis wound up to activity through a gentle manipulation of perspective.

Figūras – Quadrat

Figūras is the long-running project of Riga, Latvia-based curator and visual artist Kaspars Groševs. Over the years, he’s moved from using archaic synths and drum machines into more contemporary sequencers and samplers. Quadrat collects recordings from the last 5 years, from two tracks composed on an iPhone in a Kiev Airbnb to reworks of cassettes of his older recordings, soundtracks, and a pair of remixes of a track by Irish artist Vivienne Griffin. It’s cohesive despite this diversity, highlighting a consistent practice through different contexts and tools. ‘Zhilet’ and ‘Hoffmann’ contain hints of jungle breaks, but imbued with the warm, crunchy hues of old analogue technology. Other tracks, such as ‘Nyeve’, carry a Nexciyan sense of depth. Groševs applies gestalt principles to the frequency range, on opener ‘Pa Ce​ļ​am Uz Bolder​ā​ju​.​.​. (feat. Bobijs Velns)’ growling bass throb is perforated by prickling percussion, everything ringing out clearly while remaining part of a homogenous whole. Groševs’ tracks are richly layered, they carry a sense of accumulation. It’s not lo-fi or retro, more an aura of past and present folding into each other in dusty high definition. It might be instrumental electronic music, but Quadrat feels deeply storied.

Man Rei – Doer
(Crash Symbols)

The releases of Frankfurt-based Man Rei, aka Kristin Reiman, always have a dreamy quality, but on Doer they fully embrace the surrealness that gives their music a weight beyond somnambulant drift. As ‘Choir Of Solitudes’’ web of icy vocals subsides, we stumble into a mirage of strange synth runs to open ‘Bona Fide’. On ‘Hung’, their voice twirls over a muted guitar before a discombobulating pivot into a vocoder choir. ‘Cicadas’ has ominous percussion emerge from nowhere, as if a mischievous spirit is hammering on the walls of the (probably virtual) church where Reiman is tracking their vocals. These colourful diversions persist throughout, encasing their lushly layered, frisson-inducing vocals with a sense of eerie dislocation. Even ‘Recto-verso’’s sparse, swaying vocal melody sounds processed through a poltergeist controlled autotune. Man Rei’s music holds an apparitional quality, at once ephemeral and proximate. Juxtaposition and strange transitions creating a captivatingly spooky intimacy.

Microcorps – Macrocorpse 2021-2024
(The Tapeworm)

On the latest release from his Microcorps project, Alexander Tucker paints techno tracks with oil paint consistency. Macrocorpse 2021-2024 collects modular synth jams from the last few years, with Tucker feeding his own voice and acoustic instruments into the propulsive machine stew. While each track has a fixed, gridded pattern as its base and a clear direction of travel, everything within those vectors blurs and runs, acoustic sounds smudging into greasy synths and stuttering machine drums. Second track ‘LIIOI’ has strings cracking through frayed beats. On ‘KDAK’, snaps of pure electricity spark out, their immensity momentarily freezing the beat’s propulsive energy. ‘NEKR’ opens with a foreboding cyborg horn blast which bends into an eerie machine siren song. It’s music of peculiar surfaces, simultaneously metallic and liquid, organic and synthetic. EBM which conjures images of unstable bodies rather than fixed bags of flesh and bone.

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