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

Daryl Worthington speaks to a tape label expanding the possibilities of footwork, and reviews some of the most intriguing tapes of the Autumn, from world-building electronics to light triggered synthesis and a trumpet/cello/drums power trio

Bella, by Wendell Wagners

For Wrocław-based Pawel ‘Paide’ Dunajko, curator of the Outlines and Guides labels, footwork is a world of possibility. Although the two imprints take the 160bpm sweetspot as a starting point, it’s a stepping stone rather than a limitation.

From his initial encounter with the genre, via DJ Nate’s ‘Hatas Our Motivation’, Dunajko started to explore more minimal Japanese footwork producers, such as DJ Fulltono, CRZKNY and Skip Club Orchestra (who created the first three releases on Outlines in 2016 and 2017). He also started to find elements of footwork in more unlikely places. “At that moment, I associated the footwork sound extremely strongly with what Mark Fell and SND were creating. I felt that finally this abstract, repetitive and radical sound from their productions had found its more danceable embodiment.”

As Dunajko explains, Outlines started as a quest to contribute to footwork’s ongoing story. “On the one hand I wanted to pay homage to the culture that has been my greatest passion since 2010, on the other hand I wanted to filter this sound through other interests that are equally important to me. I wanted to see if it would be possible to take this formula, of music dedicated to competing dancers, away from this context and create a continuum in which this music could flow, looped endlessly.”

Outlines releases, whose catalogue includes a tape from Chicago’s Jana Rush, has tended to stay within beat driven terrain, even if algorave, dub techno and minimalist twists have been applied to the Footwork blueprint. The Guides imprint is more open-ended, as shown by Otomoni’s intricate, almost ambient tapestry from earlier this year, Super U. “In Guides, I try to liberate this formula. The invited producers have more space to showcase their potential, but the starting point is still the hovering spirit of the Windy City and its music.”

French producer SNKLS’s Glu River, Outlines’ latest release, is one of the most radical expansions of footwork so far. Apocalyptic in places, it’s a world of metallic shards as percussion, raw bass, and glass blown synth sounds. The intricate rhythmic lattices are still present, but liberating beats combine with dystopian dread and harrowed, barely recognisable vocal samples. It’s like listening to a utopian future trying to blast through a post-industrial landscape before your ears.

Bella – Tinku
(Buh Records)

Rio de Janeiro-based Bella plays an instrument called the Twins, a pair of devices that generate sound waves from oscillations between light and shadow. On Tinku, it delivers a stunning audio field, clumps of distorted bass frequency perforated by sudden surges in treble. For most of the tracks, Bella invited artists from across South America to collaborate. On opener ‘A morte pode ser o unico real’, Inés Terra’s vocalisations resonate through the machine’s oscillations, as if both got trapped in a church’s cupola and are bouncing of the walls into each other. ‘Luminescencias’ has Peruvian composer Ale Hop deliver spectral clangs and ominous descending riffs on guitar against an electronic-babble. For ‘Benzedura,’ vocalist Ava Rocha assembles a web of voice, initially her words seem almost sound poetryish, before they coalesce into mantras over contorted organ sounds. Bella explains of the collaboration with Rocha over email: “There is no language, but an invention of sounds that are close to a language. It is a prayer. Something that reminds me of my grandmother and her mothers and grandmothers, who make a murmur while healing a person. That’s what Benzedura is about. That voice that heals.” Tinku is an album that bridges divides – between sound and light, electronics and organics. It celebrates the messiness in the act of translation, its vibrant noise and at points disorientating collisions finding there’s as much to be said interference as in messages themselves.

Ryterski – Gaymers’ Cheatsheet
(Pointless Geometry)

Ryterski, aka Warsaw-based composer Rafal Ryterski takes inspiration from gaming on Gaymers’ Cheatsheet. Track titles reference Final Fantasy materia and Pokémon, while Gaymers refers to communities of LGBTQ+ gamers (both computer and board) and the spaces they create to play. Rysterski’s music blends rave materials: floor bending bass lines, space warping breaks and hyper speed synths, into a hi-nrg future carnival. Focusing on digital instrumentation, his sound design is intricate and vivid, teeming with a synthetic lifeforce which is endlessly propulsive. ‘Hoen’ is a swirling web of trancey sequences. ‘Caramel’ is an IDM banger so finely detailed it belongs in a gallery as much as a club. If psychedelia’s origins come in a strive to manifest the listener’s subconscious, to make it visible, Ryterski’s music twists the boundary between inner and outer in a different way. Its multicoloured, adrenaline generating intensity grabs you by the ears and launches your mind into a virtual realm. Not so much mimicking the sounds of video games as replicating their ability to immerse us in other spaces. In doing so, he draws a line between gaming and clubbing’s origins as sites of possibility away from normality. Rysterski creates reality hacking music that is vibrant, bold, and utterly compelling.

Kinked and Señor Service – Reincanto/Real Bwoy

This split from Kinked and Señor Service feels like it’s following a similar quest to Urusla Le Guin’s Music And Poetry Of The Kesh. As if the two producers, real names Lapo Sorride and Umberto Passinetti respectively, are using a DAW to record the traditional music and customs of a community of fictional post-human creatures. Kinked’s side begins in a dialogue of squeaks, beeps and synth rises which feels positively dialogic. From there it blends into percussion and burbling bloops, rhythms forging peculiar configurations through the synthesized vocalisations. Señor Service’s side is more robotic and more melodic, a labyrinthine dance of chimes, flute-like instruments, jagged rhythms and globules of speech. Where Kinked’s productions feel like documentations of the day to day of a society of digital lifeforms, the flip is filled with more drama. As though the colourful heroes from your favourite platformers are collaborating in a community theatre group in their spare time. These soundscapes are playful, fully realised and endlessly engaging. The closest your Walkman is ever likely to get to becoming a Virtual Reality machine.

Johnny Coley – Landscape Man
(Astral Editions)

“No one ever finishes that jigsaw puzzle sky. There’s always a piece missing,” says Johnny Coley, midway through ‘Wrong Dollar’, the opening track on Landscape Man. Spoken over a fabric of wilted, morphing country, plucked mandolins and bouzouki melting into swirls of slide guitar, his snaking narratives sit in the middle ground between weighty existentialism and vulnerable perplexity. His lines have a rambling quality, but that penchant for digression is a strength. A radical move in a world which over values simple answers, Coley invites us to search out questions with him rather than prescribe narratives to us. While the trippy soundscape from his musical collaborators is surreal, Coley’s words are not hallucinatory, they’re deeply personal incites, anecdotes effortlessly slipping from the mundane into the philosophical. It’s clearest in the awkward romance on ‘Soundbodies,’ the album’s closing track. “I forget about crumbling, rotting infrastructure because my baby taste’s so good.” Coley’s words are laden with doubt, they’re written from a position of admitting perplexity rather than claiming authority. Embracing mystery and sharing the act of thinking through it.

Tokio Ono – Individuals
(Not Not Fun)

Yokohama-based producer Tokio Ono creates routes of escape through his productions on Individuals. The opening tracks sit in an intricate dubby mode, acres of negative space filled with intertwined percussion and knotty, hovering bass lines. As the album progresses, these minimal beginnings unfurl in streams of esoteric instrumentation, the cumulative effect something like Yasuaki Shimizu jamming with Basic Channel, perhaps mixed by Jon Hassell. Ono has a knack of gently immersing attention, not so much demanding we take notice as gradually making our surroundings peel away. On ‘Memorandum’ twinkling arpeggios enter a serene tension alongside stumbling percussion. ‘Home With No Doors’’s pinpoint guitar riff anchors a maze of multicoloured sounds. Snippets of traditional rhythm, melody and instrumentation seep in, borrowed to reshape the productions and create something unfamiliar from the loosely familiar. Ono makes time dilating music, pulling your mind into a world of vibration that’s as playful as it is inventive.

Richard Skelton – Shear Planes

Richard Skelton’s new tape, Shear Planes, is part of the composer’s Moraine Sequence of recordings inspired by glacigenic landforms. There’s a temptation to call these two sidelong pieces of constant sound drone, but I think that’d confuse density for monotony. These swirling compositions are in a state of constant flux, as if multiple time frames are converging. The A-side, ‘Shear Planes (<)’, is dominated by walls of mid-frequency akin to an orchestra being smelted. About four minutes in, there’s a flicker of what could be a metallic breath. By the end, swarms of tone have emerged from the original motif as if Skelton’s instruments are curling at the edges. B-side, ‘Shear Planes (.)’ opens with a razored tone, a moment of sharp clarity which is quickly sucked into a ghostly tumult. Midway in, something starts pulsing, the source unclear but its troubling affect undeniable. The edifices Skelton constructs here are immense, but they’re not unchanging. Skelton’s music engages with a nature of volatile processes rather than bottle-able idylls, geological events which become more nuanced the closer you look into them. ‘Shear Planes’ reflects a vast world, but also an impermanent one.

Egg Meat – Egg Meat EP
(Alien Jams)

“This is not a spoken word tape,” say the liner notes on this self-titled debut EP from Egg Meat, aka Laurel Uziell from Tooth Rust and Georgie McVicar. Nevertheless, with poetry over the top by Danny Hayward, human voice and language are inescapable here. Egg Meat’s tracks are slurred, anchored in solid beats but collapsing before your ears. Even ‘Climate and Resilience’’, the closest they come to straight, icy techno, feels like it’s being tripped up in a lethargic malaise. Hayward’s words have a similar effect, occasionally locking into something superficially narrative or descriptive, there’s also ambiguity, a sense of glitch in meaning that’s impossible to escape. It’s tempting to situate Egg Meat against the current vogue of sprechstimme, but it almost feels like they’re doing the opposite. Through McVicar and Uziell’s ruptured minimal wave productions, this tape feels like an attempt to engage with the excess of meaning in language and sounds, rather than being autobiographical or painting a picture of the world around. Egg Meat don’t so much describe as destabilise the machinery of comprehension itself.

Sun Yizhou & Zhu Wenbo – Find An Ant
(Steep Gloss)

Find An Ant documents a live performance from Beijing based Sun Yizhou and Zhu Wenbo, the former playing turntable (with no records) and electronics, the latter on tabletop guitar (no plucking), transducers and speakers. As the liner notes explain, this improvisation took place “back to back”, with neither player knowing what the other would be using before the event. Such an approach, I’d imagine, pushes a focus towards sounds themselves rather than being distracted by the objects and gestures that created them. Similarly for the listener, the recording triggers a different way of listening. Electrical noise, whistling high-pitches and transfixing overlaps of scrapes and rustles emerge, linking together in transfixing patterns. The sounds they create become triggers for the imagination. Midway through comes a rattle which triggers mental images of a poorly secured gate swinging in the wind. Feedback starts to sound eerily like wildlife. The tape is filled with precarious interactions, you can hear that the duo have to leave space, balancing hearing what the other is contributing while offering a response. It’s the polar opposite of talking over each other, and it’s wonderful to witness, even from a Walkman in East London a continent and several months away from when the original event took place.

Old Believers – Old Believers
(Self released)

Based in Bergen, Norway, Old Believers are a cello, trumpets and drums power trio, made up of Bjorn Ognøy, Jard Hole and Espen Lund whose solo tape Aetonal was one of Spool’s Out’s tapes of 2021. The cello and trumpet are incinerated through amplifiers, disintegrated into charred mess and then flung out in swaying riffs. The first side of the tape works in monolithic marching grooves, haggard yet triumphant, think something like Sunn O))) jamming with Tony Conrad and the Dream Syndicate and you’ll be halfway there. The second loosens up, becoming less locked to the beat, but no less gnarled. There’s more to Old Believers’ music than just doom-drenched hypnosis though. Through the noise Lund and Ognøy extract a torrent of radiant and unfamiliar frequencies from their instruments. It’s most potent on ‘The Ringing Reverberation of Psalms,’ a flurry of rising trumpet triggering a snap of pure elation with it. Hole’s drums, meanwhile, elicit meditative back drops rather than bounding into the tumult. Old Believers make music that evokes a house burning down. It’s charred black, buckles and warps in your ears, but bathed in a violent glow that’s as transfixing as it is unsettling.

José Vale – Shinjuku Station Freaks
(Cara Podre)

Cara Podre are a new tape label, based in Porto. Their debut release, from guitarist José Vale, is inspired by the early Japanese noise scene, where artists played on the streets, and, outside Shinjuku Station, the album’s title a homage to this community. Vale channels the resourcefulness of these pioneers, using lo-fi means to create something uniquely vivid. He doesn’t try to recreate noise legends textures by mimicking their gear – another album from earlier this year, R​á​dio Serenata, is a suite of mournful guitar jams recorded direct to mobile phone, Vale finding the potential in contemporary limitations rather than aping historic ones. This new tape is equally proudly non-studio in its experimentation, with fragments of recorded voices collaged through wrecked guitar riffs. ‘Nara’ is a frequency bath, aggressively filtered so it oscillates from aquatic to metallic via robotic squelch. Later come bit-crushed sludge grooves, and on ‘Fuck That Dream’, a gorgeous lament, albeit one that sounds like it’s being played through the rafters of a haunted house. There are echoes of several eras of Keiji Haino here, especially ‘Watashi Dake’, as well as The Dead C. It’s an album which your ears need to adjust to, to acclimatise to the fidelity that Vale works in. But when they do, it becomes clear ‘Shinjuku Station Freaks’ contains a vibrancy which couldn’t be expressed any other way.

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