Spool’s Out: October’s Tapes Reviewed By Tristan Bath

Tristan Bath once again brings us every tape release that's fit for review

Luca Venezia – The Last Defender

(Dream Catalogue)

With the news that John Carpenter is to play his first live gig in Iceland (why always bloody Iceland?) following the release of his album Lost Themes, and what with Vangelis being instagrammed in the studio with GZA, the influence of the synth-era of movie scores now more than ever is at the forefront of our mass consciousness. This album represents by far one of the best channellings of this spirit, converging a vast array of synths (recorded in real time no less) for a narrative set of instrumentals that purportedly make up "the soundtrack to the obscure and never-released-to-screen motion picture, The Last Defender”. Luca Venezia, which should be too sexy to be a real name, doesn’t allow the influence of Carpenter or Vangelis to take over proceedings, allowing the glorious nine minute ‘Free Fall’ to cycle onwards in an uplifting crescendo way longer than a true film score would allow, and pursuing ‘Venus Crying’ to near-dubstep levels of amped up club ready energy. Washes of synth, slow climbing arpeggiations, big melodic themes: this music’s unbeatable in its ability to evoke a time, place and space. ‘Nemesis Of The Self’ instantly brings to mind a neon-lit fight scene, and ‘Light Becomes Dark’ is a ready made introductory scene amid a futuristic city in ruins. The brilliance of this cassette comes as little surprise though, considering Dream Catalogue is perhaps the only tape label releasing futurist synth music and vaporwave to currently hit this high a standard on a very regular basis.

Concrete/ Field & Wound – Concrete/ Field & Wound

(Invisible City Records)

Concrete/Field is the project of Manchester artist Mark Chickenfish, and Wound is the project of Bartosz Sz from Białystok, Poland. This well balanced split between the two dronesmiths on Invisible City stands out in a field often muddied by lack of focus and needless exercises in duration as both artists have so clearly fine tuned their aesthetics under a microscope. Concrete / Field opens with a beautifully understated mix of long-held organ notes and field recorded sounds on ‘A Cathedral’, following up with keyboards and fuzz encumbered with dread on ‘Spirits Of The Air’. Wound’s ‘Patterns Of Exposure’ perhaps stands out with its crystal clear mix of crisp tones and stereo swapping noise rhythms, blasting into a perfectly rendered echo chamber for six chilling minutes, while the climactic ‘Heavy Breaths’ takes amorphous digital drone to its doomiest extent over a ten minute trip through a sea of distortion out the other side into bassy serenity. The Gateshead-based Invisible City Records has been one of the most consistently brilliant drone-oriented labels since it kicked things off with Joseph Curwen’s Shunned House in 2014, and this split tape (their 17th release) is another essential entry, adding a missing shade to Invisible City’s fast growing palette of shapeless music.

Noel Meek – Living In The Time Of The Golden Circle

(End of the Alphabet)

After some compilation tracks, an ace 8” lathe cut of drones, and collaborative work as part of Noel Meek puts out his first solo full length on his own tape label in Auckland. New Zealand’s DIY underground has certainly maintained its unique sonic personality – gnarled, harsh and bathed in analogue hiss, and yet energised by a fervent punk energy while beaming rainbows of psychedelic colour from all angles – and Noel Meek embodies it all here, adding his own almost childlike twist to things in the process. Living In The Time Of The Golden Circle was seemingly concocted like the work of a mad scientist, chaotically wielding loopers, fuzz pedals, small keyboards and assorted electronics like he’s brewing up chemical cocktails. Opener ‘Spinning In Sand’ duels a pair of fuzzed out Casio-harpsichord tracks over various glitchy noises and burning organ drones. The likes of Birchville Cat Motel can spend a good twenty minutes building their noisy workouts to the levels of lo-fi satori Meek hits in a mere three or two here. In fact it’s perhaps his relative succinctness that defines his work. Even on the longer tunes like the nine minute ‘Save Petrol, Burn Cars’ – distant submerged bangings in the background and another pair of luminescent keyboards fuzzily gliding their way between a small handful of notes at random – he gets by with a sparing blend of relatively little. Less certainly is more (except when it comes to those fuzz pedals). Though intoxicating to listen to, the tape barely shifts from Meek’s playful aesthetic mix of sounds, never quite diving deep into darkness or succumbing to the dreamworld prettiness. The sparring organ lines of ‘Maps Of Maps’ are the closest proceeding get to gothic, while the menagerie of woozy synths on ‘Every Colour Is Bad’ almost comically bring to mind Pac Man’s ghost buddies, and closing track ‘Electric Jerusalem’ amasses a dense ocean of bobbing fuzz, eastern tones, and randomised sitar notes. Meek’s workshop of noises is epic fun, and his debut collection of mini noise ragas winds up being far more inviting than anything so damn weird has the right to be.

David Birchall/ Andrew Cheetham/ Colin Webster/ Otto Willberg – Night Streets of Madness

(Tombed Visions)

Recorded at the Islington Mill in Salford, this tape on Tombed Visions captures four of the best improvisers in the UK at what sounds like a revelatory moment. Drummer Andrew Cheetham, guitarist David Birchall, and double bassist Otto Willberg all play or have played in explosive free rock band (and basically greatest fucking guitar band in the world right now) Desmadrados Soldados De Ventura, while saxophonist Webster has been carving out his place as leading voice in UK free jazz. The opening sidelong track here, ‘Scene In A Tent Outside The Cotton Fields Of Bakersfield’ is something of a 23 minute masterpiece. It is almost symphonic in its musical scope opening with a four minute blitzkrieg of Webster and Birchall furiously wailing harsh shades of blood red. This suddenly drops to an uncertain game of weirdo oneupmanship, Cheetham bowing his cymbals, Willberg scraping away at his bass, Webster parping and scribbling melodic sketches with his sax, and Birchall slowly mutating from randomised string fiddling to shimmering drones that dramatically ushers in a stunning drum solo over a quarter of an hour in. The dynamics of the room captured by engineer Sam Weaver are absolute perfection (to the extent it even comes across on nasty lo-fi cassette tape), and Cheetham’s gentle drum solo is given beautiful space to breathe by both Weaver and his bandmates. The first side ends with a relatively heavy rocking climax, anchored by the brilliantly propulsive bass playing of Willberg. Even in the realm of free improvisation, music rarely sounded this brutally physical. Each of these four virtuoso instrumentalists is given the space to produce some of their best individual improvisations and solos to date, but Night Streets Of Madness works best when they play as one single instinctive entity, somehow twisting punishing impulsiveness into densely textured long form (spontaneous) compositions.

Kyle Landstra – Unshared Properties, Vol. I​-​IV

(Sacred Phrases)

Kyle Landstra’s garnered a pretty dazzling set of releases on many of the best tape labels for droney new age abstract expressionism, including Sonic Meditations, Feathered Coyote, Baro, Tranquility Tapes, and Cosmic Winnetou. This four cassette, two hour epic – yes, that’s four cassettes – is his second release for Sacred Phrases, and sees Landstra topographically exploring the properties of his gear. The first volume focuses on the Korg EA-1, which dates back to 1999, with endlessly moving, arpeggiated melodies which usher us through countless dense atmospheres. This sense of motion, combined with Landstra’s free-flowing improv-driven style, makes it oddly digestible for such long form music. The opening entr’acte – the 11 minute ‘Formless Elation’ – flies by, while ‘Trailing Luminosity’ seems to cycle through several hundred of the EA-1’s different textural settings. The second volume utilises the Yamaha QY-100 which, as more of a small sequencer with no keyboard but a huge amount of structural control, leads to slowly evolving textural pieces based on Landstra organically moulding repetitions, as if handling a potter’s wheel.

Volume three is the most primordial episode, with the aptly titled ‘Perfect Tranquility Of The Heart’ barely shifting from a single heavenly chord, and volume four has Landstra turn to German synth (and salad) maker Waldorf. One suspects Landstra made use of synth with chunkier more user-friendly keys here, particularly on the triumphant ‘Return To Sanctuary’, making use of bigger two handed chords and richer melodic textures. Overall Landstra’s is certainly some of the better work out there in the over-encumbered realm of contemporary new age synth music, applying the best meditative qualities of genre leaders like Iasos with the broadened palette of his more modern synth collection.

Makaya McCraven – In the Moment Remix Tape

(International Anthem)

Again, we find ourselves in Chicago. That city has been blocking up my inbox more than any other recently (and it’s a nice change from everything coming from either Brooklyn or Berlin), with a seemingly endless tirade of brilliant releases. I even had friend of the column, Plains Druid on an episode of Spool’s Out’s radio show over on Resonance FM recently. Suffice to say, drummer Makaya McCraven comes from the Windy City, and this tape sees Makaya himself along with nine guest producers remixing stems nabbed from his excellent debut of groovy spontaneous soul-jazz, In The Moment, released earlier this year. That album was all improvised, but in no way resembled cacophonous free jazz, it saw McCraven leading his band through 19 beaty jams culled from 48 hours of recordings across 28 shows. The multitude of chops and welds that have been applied here, in addition to dense processes and a load of brand newly synth lines amongst other elements, In The Moment Remix Tape uses the original tracks as more of a skeletal launchpad for psychedelic excursions. Besides McCraven’s powerful beats, it’s the vibes of Justefan that linger longest, and lend the entire tape that washed out, full-to-bursting feel of a J Dilla track. Just check the thick-as-oil groove on ‘Finance (Maker remix)’, or the sleepy vibe notes at the heart of ‘Sweet Tooth’. Elsewhere horns are separated and sing out in to space like Teo Macero’s treatments to In A Silent Way. Giving that they’ve received a bit more premeditation, the reworks on this tape are surprisingly more well structured than their free form parent tracks, and it leads to dozens of gapingly awesome moments, such as the smooth switch from the dreamily bossa nova treatment of ‘Slightest Right’ by Parisian producer Quiet Dawn, straight in to the beat-heavy hip hop re-reading of Melbourne producer, Amin Payne. In total, one of the most inventive and outright best beat tapes of the year

Pan Daijing – Sex & Disease

(Noisekölln Tapes)

Following on from a split tape put out by Huashan Records in her home of Shanghai, sound artist Pan Daijing appears to have delved much deeper far more quickly, crafting a dense sonic environment of overbearing static, hiss, muddy drones, veiled beats, and menacing pads. Everything on this tape sounds like it’s been dodgily dubbed via an old amp, then broadcast over AM radio during a thunderstorm. Pan also works as a performance artist in Shanghai’s fertile scene, and told Time Out: “I want to have the opportunity to do a dark, aggressive and sexual performance in a club." It would work nicely here, as Sex & Disease burns with dark gothic concréte aspirations (far superior to her earlier cassette tape it must be said). Two healthily techno-fied and groovy remixes appear at the tail end of the tape, like a tasty sweet chocolate treat for those of us able to brave the heart of static-gnarled darkness Pan’s crafted on this blood red cassette for Berlin’s Noisekölln Tapes imprint. Noisekölln are due to put out some ace-sounding stuff from our friend rkss too, so stay tuned!

Jack Sheen – Jupiter O.S.T.

(Infinite Scroll)

Manchester-based composer Jack Sheen is only in his early twenties but has already been awarded BBC’s Young Composer of the Year (back in 2011) and written some amazing symphonic chamber music. Rather than simply adding more strings to his proverbial bow though, Sheen’s elected to take on the unwieldy task of composing this soundtrack for experimental British short film Jupiter almost entirely using atonal percussion. Sheen’s nodded to the likes of Russell Haswell and Mark Fell when discussing influences, along with the more usual likes of Xenakis and Reich, so far from present a straight up set of overlapping rhythms and drones (or even the abstract and yet atmospheric experimentalism of Jonny Greenwood’s There Will Be Blood score), Sheen’s self-recorded array of tinkling skins, droning cymbals, bashed detritus and sample noises dive almost entirely into utter abstraction, punctuated by only the odd snap of an understated beat (the childishly traced opening to ‘Mars’) or a distant pulsing ride cymbal. It’s light years from the melodrama and big themes of the score’s closest cousin (in terms of both theme and instrumentation) – Mica Levi’s Under The Skin – and for Jupiter Sheen elects to creepily inhabit these six short tracks with truly alien transmissions that veer between dark ambience and rough edged noise music. This is a minor nugget by a singular young composer, and one most definitely worth keeping an eye on at that.

Delphine Dora & Sophie Cooper – Distance Future

(Was ist Das?)

One of these months I’m not going to feature a tape from the Was Ist Das label, I swear! They’re not making it easy though. This latest release is insanely beguiling, and features a collaborative session between West Yorkshire based musician Sophie Cooper and French improviser Delphine Dora. Recorded in the atmospheric confines of Todmorden Unitarian Church, Cooper reaches for her trombone alongside electronics throughout the tape’s 13 deftly chosen snippets from the performance, while Dora swaps her usual piano for organ and percussion, with both utilising their haunting wordless vocals throughout. The possible comparisons are few, yet brutally raw in nature: Keiji Haino’s Nijiumu albums, the sound of an Alfred Schnittke choral work reflected by an infinite number of ancient stone wall corners, small snippets of La Monte Young & Marian Zazeela epic vocal drones. Every moment in the unitarian church feels imbued with some truly ancient sounding ritualism. Cooper’s excellent trombone playing adds a rarely heard colour to proceedings, and Dora’s off-kilter percussion contributions (as on ‘Interlude 2’) yank the carpet out from beneath us just as we settle into the strangely alluring darkness summoned by the pair as they drone, sing and otherwise concoct strange sounds before our very ears. Distance Future is pure sonic magic, and the strangest part is, we’re never quite sure if we’re heading into, or escaping from the darkness.

3FoNIA – Mneme

(Pawlacz Perski)

The work of Polish double bassist Jacek Mazurkiewicz and put out on the Toruń & Warsaw-based label Pawlacz Perski, 3FoNIA explores the possibilities of his instrument with results hitting levels of surprising beauty similar to last month’s pair of solo bass tapes out on Slip. Side one’s 13 minutes exhumes all sorts of sounds from the body of a contrebasse, mutating the misunderstood instrument from unwieldy beast into thing of intense beauty via a host of unidentified digital processes. It’s almost exclusively (but unrecognisably) work produced on a double bass (save a few intact scrapes and plucks) and, for the most part, it resembles the shapeless drone of sleepy musique concrète, even though it retains a deeply organic core. The 12 minute b side houses a composition for bass with no effects of any kind, leaving Mazurkiewicz to use his impeccable bowing techniques to craft a chilling set of unsettling arco phrases, slowing down to gentle doomy drones in the middle (with 3FoNIA showing off some strange sleight of hand in the process that doesn’t sound at all humanly possible), and disappearing into the night at the end with a wistful set of zen pizzicato phrases. What with this and Otto Willberg’s Slip tape last month, the double bass’ potential seems explosive right about now.

Laughing Eye Weeping Eye – Once Was You

(Moon Glyph)

I’m not quite sure to what extent we’re supposed to buy into the whole mystical thing Laughing Eye Weeping Eye are going for – main singer/songwriter Rebecca Schoenecker also works as an actual tarot reader under the same name, but this spine tingling set of brief invocations has been giving me a hell of a lot of joy recently. Most of the tracks are built around Schoenecker’s singing and harmonium playing, with her ‘consort’ Patrick Holbrook sparsely throwing both plucked and bowed strings, plus the odd synth texture into the mix. It’s a hugely beautiful listen, drifting along like a Wicker Man dream sequence lead by Schoenecker’s wonderful voice. However, the brief addition of percussion during the closing moments of final track ‘Sunday Lake’ do make you wish they’d gone for tribalism over pastoralism a bit more. Either way I definitely want more of this. I may even enjoy a tarot reading who knows? (Also worth noting – this is yet another ace tape release from Chicago!)

Earth Jerks – The West Is A Mess

(Ba Da Bing!)

Aptly described on his soundcloud as ‘West Coast Flower Violence’, Earth Jerks is the solo project of San Franciscan Chris Dixon, formerly drummer for the now defunct Death Sentence: PANDA! Armed only with a keyboard and a few pedals, Earth Jerks brings to mind the likes of Vibracathedral Orchestra’s Bridget Hayden and Ashtray Navigations’ Phil Todd in their search for enlightenment via dense and low fidelity amplified noise. The two short and two long pieces here range from brutal ambience to ambient brutalism, with ‘Larger Than Life, The Living Flame’ busting out its drones at levels of gain too high for sleeping, but nonetheless hypnotising us over some 11 triumphant minutes, and ‘I’ve Got Something Man, That Your Fucking Money Cannot Buy’ spending its twelve-and-a-half minute playtime in a slightly less fuzzed out, dreamier place. The weird thing about Earth Jerks is how hard these drones actually rock. The keyboards-and-pedal epic retains its place as amongst the ultimate music to turn on, tune in and drop out to.

Micromelancolié – Punkt


Polish sound artist Robert Skrzyński is amongst the more reliable artists releasing at alarmingly prolific rates under a variety of names right now, and this tape under his field recording/ambient no de plume Micromelancolié is particularly noteworthy. The six pieces on Punkt never stray too far from a basic sonic bed of pleasant dissonance and field recorded audio footage that rarely presents itself as much more than a shade – never anything as obvious as bird song or rainfall that’s for sure. This framework is riddled with musical signage, from repetitions that verge on resembling a beat, to drones that nearly resemble a bassline, to near pretty chords which almost caress the listener. The entire thing remains off-colour though, and subsequently the music keeps engaging for every second of Punkt’s brief half hour running time. The title track’s vocal samples and crunchy battered microphone beats is a highlight, if only for pure weirdness, but the eight minute ‘Skin Eruption’ is undoubtedly the album’s centrepiece coercing a proper sense of dread from what ostensibly remains an atonal sound collage.

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