Spool’s Out: Cassette Reviews For July By Tristan Bath

Before the second wave of a pandemic can arrive, the first wave of lockdown inspired recordings appears! Tristan Bath rounds up this month's tape to find a potent set of isolation-inspired sounds

Lauren Doss portrait by Marcus Hessenberg

Beware thinking of Lauren Doss‘ debut solo outing under her own name as merely another entry into the vocal looping ‘genre’. Voices sees the British-American AV artist reworking that basic concept into something carrying fresh weight, and delving into some deeper places along the way.

These recordings stem from daily improvisation sessions, with Doss emphasising her vocal technique’s connection to dance and her own corporeal movements. As a result, the melodies dripping from Doss’ lips creak and arch like raised shoulders, a tilted neck, or a curling backbone.

There’s little semblance of choral music here, with the breathing rhythms and physical shape of her voice mimicking the inner logic of abstract painting. Furthermore, while some of the recordings have been ‘as was’ – i.e. raw first takes of improvisations –others have been augmented with instrumental tracks to replace original parts, or post-production processed until the voice disappears entirely (see the end of ‘Voices4’).

It erodes the space between the very live feeling of the performance and very synthetic and produced science of the studio space. One leaves the end of side B of this recording with a refreshed sense of the openness and possibility of the human voice. Doss paints in the air, as others have before, yet she’s happy to break free from all manner of musical and physical confines at the same time.

Another work built around walls of female vocal explorations, Cusp sees Estonian artist Man Rei turn her attention to the "postmodern fatigue from the overdrive of expected productivity." Largely comprising pitch-shifted vocal lines and field recordings pressed through FX pedal prisms into fresh new soundscapes. The output of Man Rei’s sonic arsenal is a quivering and uneasy surreality, her voice consigned to chant in vaporous musical shapes, while indiscernible source material creates cloudy surroundings. It’s like listening to a Gregorian mass taking place in the next parallel universe, bathed in reverb and hums. The lyrical subject matter constantly touches on all the paranoia and inhibition one might expect from the aforementioned theme, particularly prevalent too during a pandemic which left many of us with a heightened sense of guilt, despite all our free time.

There’s a horror in the search to live up to our own expectations, or perhaps in our inability to do so. "Maybe in the future they will have a cure for this," chants Man Rei on ‘Feverish’. "Until this time I will sleep it off." Not a million miles from Doss in its reliance on all the non-musical colour and texture one can summon from the voice, Cusp is a densely atmospheric soundworld well worth visiting if you’re feeling pressure-fatigue – just to know you’re not alone.

I must admit to succumbing to the romanticism of apocalypse in recent months. What with the creature comforts of my flat, footage of long-deserving statues being chucked into the proverbial sea, and the appearance of actual sunshine, it’s easy to think ‘maybe everything’s actually moving in a positive direction. One forgets the dystopia we’re very much and fully deep into in the UK. Hundreds of thousands bereaved across the country, half a decade of Tory rule ahead of us, compounding our own economic recession with Brexit, income inequality heading closer to feudalism with every passing day. Fear not, dear deluded walkman owner! UKAEA is here for a dose of harsh Threads-ian, Ballardian reality to bring you back up to speed.

Followers of Dan Jones’ UKAEA project will be fully aware of the artist’s power to turn skeletal techno structures into atmospheric missives from the underbelly of modernity. Thudding beats and industrial bass throbbing are encased with just the right amount of distortion, space, and despair on Bandcamp self-releases such as Remote Shed or Dead Paths to mutate bangers into moaners. Recorded and streamed during the COVID-19 lockdown in April 2020, Where The Tide Broke pushes UKAEA’s textural chops into centre stage, and sees those beatmaking urges at their most patient and considered.

Comprising a seamless hour-long session (here split over two sides of tape), Where The Tide Broke builds on dissonant deconstructed sounds, frozen in echo while synth lines spew and spiral like sirens for minutes at a time. At times, the vibe resembles the epic dissonance of the late Krzysztof Penderecki, albeit with kick drums and hi-hats gradually working their way in over five-minute stretches of dissolving loops and random distortion blasts. Midway through the second half, the grey apocalyptic squall is fully overpowered by busy drum machines pummelling away towards a crescendo of entropy. By the closing minutes, the kick has sped up and up into a machine gun of nightmarish proportions. This pandemic’s produced some very notable sessions and home recordings – but UKAEA’s is easily the most stirring and suitably nightmarish.

The first solo release in five years by Leo Chadburn (AKA Simon Bookish) manipulates voice and language in another way entirely, working to emphasise and reveal the nature of his own voice with two intensely different methods. Side A’s 20-minute ‘The Subject’ comprises a speedy vocal monologue akin to Samuel Beckett’s hovering motor mouth mini-play Not I in its sheer attack, with Chadburn’s stops to breathe snipped out of the reading to leave behind an impossibly fast run through his stream-of-consciousness. The text is, effectively, meaningless, the focus lying on the imperfect surface of Chadburn’s voice itself: warm, steady, delicate, and impossible to think of as anything other than human. It’s like a journey through a burning brain, throwing out imagery so willy nilly that the words disappear entirely, a life flashing before one’s eyes. Behind Chadburn’s voice, soft, deep and distant synthetic bass tones shimmer leeringly around the edges of the field.

The other 20-minute vocal piece – ‘The Object’ – does away with words entirely and is made up of a vast choir of Chadburns ooh-ing and aaah-ing, fading seamlessly into and out of each other to the point that no border is discernible for the entire running time. It’s a vast blast of breath from the artist, collected up and whizzed together from pebbles into a vast monolith of his very essence. It’s a whole new way to achieve what the artist describes as music as a kind of ‘self-portraiture’. In the era of the selfie, such a deep dive into a human being’s voice feels infinitely more intimate, revealing and unique.

From the folks who brought you tQ’s favourite Kraków-based label, Instant Classic, comes a little project carrying massive sonic weight. Canine Callgirls is a Polish instrumental trio taking open-ended improv strategies and shoving them into post-industrial backdrops. The music shimmers and drones onwards, with drummer Łukasz Ciszak slotting rhythms in underneath the mood on and off, and trumpeter Przemek Drążek dabbing his horn’s squeal overhead as the drama requires. Between it all, guitarist/ bassist Maciek Stankiewicz (along with Ciszak swapping instruments) build onward rolling towers of looped guitar lines, gentle feedbacking, rumbling bass licks, outright inward collapses into nothingness, and stuttering amplifier pops.

While the 18-minute ‘Amateur Barbarians’ is a freeform collage of moods, the 8-minute ‘Disinterest Rates’ is a brooding sustained moment of impending horror atop a slow drum machine. Doomy distortion files constantly past as a trumpet tries to soar and fails, dragged back down below by his bandmates hellish soundscape. It’s a brief little EP of a tape, but a reminder of the kind of freeform life darkness we’re all being denied from seeing at brooding little gigs Europe-wide in 2020.

Though recorded in 2019 and 2018, this split EP by German artists Felix​-​Florian Tödtloff and Jeans Beast sits well alongside some of the lockdown jams covered in this month’s column. It carries a feeling of music made in stasis, inadvertently soundtracking our current life during this in-between sort of time. Named in honour of the folk he met in the Volta Region of Ghana, Felix​-​Florian Tödtloff’s synth-heavy kosmisch droner ‘Volta’ unabashedly sets the controls for the heart of the same sun Klaus Schulze was shooting for and hits lift off.

After spending half its playing time riding brooding synth tones skyward breaking free from gravity, rhythmic bleeps and arpeggios hover into view and scurry through the foreground until we land at the other side of our trip, seemingly in churchyard, greeted with the dinging of an earthling bell. Jeans Beast spends the flipside murmuring bowed electric guitar through haunted tape loops. Periodically, the looping drops out, while the crackle of horsehair on metallic strings vibrates woozily.

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