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

From computer voices to Indonesian harps, Korean zithers and euphoric improvisations, Daryl Worthington explores the month’s tapes

Mike Vest aka Lush Worker

It’s only in the last hundred years or so that communication and transportation have been seen as different things, the two words used interchangeably before then. It’s a fact that keeps ringing around my head when I’m listening to Lucy Liyou’s second album, Practice, released on Full Spectrum Records.

Philadelphia based sound artist Liyou created these tracks at a time when their mother was quarantined in Korea for two weeks last year en route to visit their unwell grandmother. Text-to-voice software seems to restore snippets of conversations and personal reflections, mapping out fragile emotional states.

Liyou was inspired by elements of their Korean heritage on the album, specifically pansori (Korean folk opera) and the soundtracks to Korean dramas. This seems most palpable in the way piano crescendos and diminuendos, cinematic electronics and blasts of noisy chaos interact with what’s being recited, the music actively creating moments of dramatic tension, suspense and release rather than acting as mere texture.

The machine voice’s flattening of intonation and personality transports words out of their context, and this distance gives the listener space to reflect on the raw emotion in the language it’s replaying. The album is first and foremost a brave sharing of the trauma and uncertainty that hit Liyou’s family in 2020, but it seems to challenge us all to think about the words we use and how they’re received. “Stop projecting, you’re hurting me,” the voice says on ‘Patron’. Hinting at the double meaning in the album’s title, practice as the things we do everyday, but also practicing to improve the ways we interact with those closest to us.

Poznan, Poland based Zaumne, aka Mateusz Olszewski, takes a less diaristic approach to communication on Dreams of Teeth Falling Out, released on Perfect Aesthetics. Sifting through movies and YouTube videos to pick out vocal samples, he nevertheless focuses in on the raw meaning of the words we use with each other by transporting them out of their context. Zooming in on phrases, cutting out sections of conversations and delivering them in vocal loops, “What we had was special” says a slowed down voice on ‘Permanent Ink’, each repetition of the line seeming to move it through a new meaning.

Sonically, his tracks draw a thread between the compositions of Gavin Bryars and the fragile headspaces of the early Burial albums. His palette of saxophone, guitar and piano samples are submerged in a dark blanket, yet like Bryars’ ‘Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet’, everything seems to be composed to accent and harmonise with what’s being said in the voice recordings.

There’s been a rich stream of experimental music moving away from abstraction to dwell on our lived experience coming out on cassettes for a while now. Liyou and Zaumne sit alongside Texas based composer Claire Rousay, London based Kate Carr and Greece born Daphne X in their deep explorations of the everyday, whether it’s the mundane sounds that surround us or the ways we talk to each other. Communicating the poetry hidden in the details of the ordinary.

EP/64 & Ben Vince – 57

(Avon Terror Corps)

EP/64 is an ongoing, fire spitting free improvisation project orchestrated by Bristol based Dali de Saint Paul. Each iteration sees her team up with a different set of musicians, creating ecstatic in the moment compositions never to be repeated, but for all our sakes occasionally committed to tape. 57 sees de Saint Paul working with long-term collaborator Dan Johnson on drums, and prolific composer, improvisor and member of London no-wavers Housewives, Ben Vince.

Recorded at the Island in Bristol close to a year ago, and just before lockdown started, the two sides of this tape almost feel as though the trio are soundtracking the coming storm, or perhaps unleashing one last defiant cry before the darkness descends. At points they respectfully float around, skilfully leaving space to stop one voice dominating. Mostly though, they unite with full burning force, a perpetual crescendo that rips through anything and everything. FX shattering de Saint Paul’s voice into a million razored pieces while Vince’s sax tears through the air and Johnson’s drums yank everything forward. These performances seethe with frustration and rage, but their euphoria shows there can be unity in our collective agitation.

Bamboo Mystics – Swara Suci


Bamboo Mystic, aka New Delhi based Rahul Jigyasu’s music is all about drawing lines between musical traditions, and on Swara Suci the focus is India and Java, while also pulling in rhythms and instruments from further afield. On opener ‘Pelog Baru’, he plucks at the Kacapi, an Indonesian harp, teasing out a cloud of overlapping melodies and patterns that seem to be coming from a similar headspace to that explored by Alice Coltrane. ‘Lucid Hunter’ pulls in a rich tapestry of vocalisations against a rustling beat, while ‘Rainbow Mother’ pits djembe against gamelan instruments to create a swaying, snaking percussive track that revels in the commonalities and contradictions between two traditions.

Swara Suci means pure notes in Bahasa Indonesia, and Jigyasu says his music is deeply inspired by the natural world on the Asian continent. Across these six tracks, he seems to reach to translate that ineffability into vibration. Pointing at modes of communication separate from that carried by data centres and cables, it feels reassuringly rooted at a time when everything seems mediated and virtualised.

Wobbly – Popular Monitress

(Hausu Mountain)

Wobbly, aka San Francisco based Jon Leidecker, is an active member of both Negativland and the Thurston Moore Ensemble, and in a career spanning four decades he’s worked with a who’s who of experimental music, from Cluster’s Dieter Moebius to Matmos. Solo, he deploys machine randomized compositional processes, but the results are far less academic than that sounds.

The hour-long suite collected on Popular Monitress is determined to evade any sense of icy cool minimalism or suave deconstruction, instead finding something warm hearted in weird abstraction. There are echoes of the vibrant synthesis of Morton Subotnick, the odd synthetic/acoustic hybrids of Mort Garson, or more contemporarily, the technicolour media overload summoned by London duo Sculpture. The best way to describe Wobbly’s music though, is it moves like a particularly vivid animation, a hyperactive artificiality that doesn’t quite exist in the same time frames as the real world. Whether it’s the tumbling elegance of ‘Trillionth Riff’, ‘Authenticated Krell’s beatless web of bleeps and strained electronics, or ‘Thoughtful Refrigerator’s odd balance between marching song, nervous twitch and sweet electronic vista. It’s pretty unusual for experimental music to leave me walking around with an uncontrollable grin, but very few experimental releases contain so much unrestrained glee.

Lina Tullgren – Visiting

(Ba Da Bing Records)

US-based Lina Tullgren can usually be found expertly crafting folky pop songs on electric guitar, but Visiting sees them step out of their usual comfort zone and pick up their childhood instrument, the violin. The results are three long form improvisations that exude a keening, droning, gravity bypassing energy.

The space between events in Tullgren’s playing allows every soft detail of the bow’s movement over string and wood to sound out. On ‘Gravel Foot’, long tones dominate, gently reaching towards the sky as Tullgren applies more pressure to the strings. ‘Centerline Rumblestrip’ meanwhile, has Tullgren plucking at the instrument, conjuring something akin to the crackling embers of a dying fire. There’s a remarkably patient control over the strings’ shifting timbres at play here, bringing to mind Tony Conrad’s violin compositions. Where Conrad’s work seemed to reach for some constantly ascending transcendence though, Tullgren’s compositions levitate in the same warm hues that ebb through their pop songs.

Serpente – Irmãs

(Alien Jams)

Portugal’s Bruno Silva has a career spanning jazz, free-form rock and, in his Ondness project, ‘melodic musique concrete’. His Serpente guise though, sees him focus intently on percussion and rhythm. The two side long pieces on Irmãs building dream-like lattices which step outside the grids usually constraining electronic music.

While ‘Da Clara’ traces a relatively linear arc, from single beats into increasingly complex polyrhythms and back down into soft chimes, ‘Para Celeste’ has a more unpredictable ebb and flow, flittering between swirls of intensity and calm. While the first side seems to forefront more organic sounds, the second takes a synthetic turn. Both tracks are connected through a remarkable lucidity, showing that rhythm is just as expressive as melody in the right hands. It’s as though these beats exist in an inaudible field, slight shifts in one subtly morphing all the rest. A slow-moving domino effect that keeps everything constantly in flux.

Hey String/Anna Homler and Elizabeth Falconer – blue thirty-seven

(Blue Tapes)

Hey String is the Korean trio of Jihyeon Oh, Jihyo Kim and Jihyun Park playing glockenspiel and gayageum, a traditional Korean zither. Over the six minutes of Firefly, their contribution to blue thirty-seven, they unleash a dense, precise canopy of sound as lush overtones build up around staccato hits before peeling back into languid arpeggios. Anna Homler came to attention with her cult performance art/installation/experimental electronics project Breadwoman in the 1980s, and since then has focused on vocal experimentation under her own name. Here, she teams up with Koto player Elizabeth Falconer for two tracks, ‘Sisu’ and ‘Overmorrow’, which see flurries of Homler’s voice weave in and out of clusters of Koto for an effect somewhere between incantation and folk ballad.

Split tapes are fairly common, but rather than giving both artists a side each, the Hey String and Homler & Falconer compositions run into each other. This might seem an administrative detail, but it has a big impact. Without the interruption of flipping the tape over, the three pieces start to merge together, Koto, glockenspiel, gayageum and voice tangling up into a beautiful forest of tones and drones.

Old Million Eye – Warm Alliance With The Outside
(Eiderdown Records/Feathered Coyote)

Brian Lucas, aka Old Million Eye is a visual artist as well as composer of odd drone hymns, and the colourful, feathery artwork he’s created for the cover of this new tape, co-released by Seattle’s Eiderdown Records and Austria’s Feathered Coyote, might just be the most perfect marriage of audio and visuals this column’s ever seen.

The tracks on Warm Alliance With The Outside are built on cascading, phasing loops of sound, while Lucas’ soft, woozy vocals hover over the top in overlapping motifs. It feels as though Lucas has poured his palette of electric guitar melodies, sparse percussion and keyboard sounds into a slowly spinning kaleidoscope, the gentle circular motion gently blurring boundaries to make new hypnotic patterns. It creates a subtle disorientation that means the sweetness of Lucas songs and voice never becomes cloying, instead forming wonderfully surreal shapes.

Nicholas Langley – Breakaway
(Superpolar Taips)

Singlehandedly trying to kick-start a cassingles revolution, the Cologne based Superpolar Taïps label is almost half-way through a mission to release 25 singles by 25 different artists. Using the C5 format, each artist is restricted to two 2:30 sides, and that challenge has pulled in royalty from the weird underground so far. The latest batch sees Brighton-based Nicholas Langley drop two sides of odd sci-fi electronics that sit somewhere between Mr Fingers’ synthetic warmth and, as the name of the b-side, ‘Neil Tennant’, suggests, the synth pop of the Pet Shop Boys. Elsewhere, Missouri based Whettman Clements supplies a rustling acoustic guitar lament with ‘Autumnal Colours’, contrasted by the bounding ‘Changed My Mind’ to capture both sides of the most polarising of seasons. Label founder Bleed Air meanwhile, supplies five minutes of smudged tape collages that feel they could evaporate at any point.

Earlier highlights in the series include Wales’ Master Musicians Of Dyffryn Moor’s distinctive kitchen sink drum circle experiments, Los Angeles enigma German Army’s dubby psych rock and Tiger Village’s odd glitch lounge concoctions. Superpolar seem to have gone out of their way to choose artists who typically work in longer forms for these cassingles, and the forced compression of their craft continues to throw up some wonderfully odd results, making it well worth keeping an eye out for what’s next.

Lush Worker – Immunosuppression / Preacher / Cygnus / Consort
(Cruel Nature Recordings)

With four albums spread over a special double cassette, Lush Worker, aka Mike Vest, who also plays guitar in Newcastle ritual rockers Bong, isn’t messing about here. Perhaps just as telling in this numbers game is that those four solo albums comprise 12 tracks over a two hour plus trip, all tied together by a looming, meditative scuzz. The albums: Immunosuppression, Preacher, Cygnus And Consort, were all recorded between 2019 and 2020, and they’re dominated by Vest’s frayed and charred guitar. Sometimes it’s left unaccompanied to meander through its own scorched echoes, as on ‘Empress Part 1’, others, like ‘Rapid Brand’, it’s joined by bass and drums in sludgy worship. There’s a lot of music here, but what’s most impressive is how volatile Vest’s playing always seems to be, never falling into mindless noodles. Twenty-minute highlight ‘Zudan’ is a case in point, lurching from stoned fug into weird lurching funk, before snapping back into hovering drift. It’s a dark, spectral psychedelia, as if the blasts of guitar could untether themselves from the spools and seep out through the speaker at any moment.

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