The Ghost: The Hole
Tombed Visions (2016)
I know next to nothing about The Ghost. I stumbled across a review in Tristian Bath’s consistently top-notch Spool’s Out column in The Quietus, which opened with a quote from Tombed Visions, the label that released this cassette: “This is the new Queer improv and it is unreal how fucking good it is.”
New Queer improv? I’m in!
This 40 minute avant-jazz freak out ain’t for the faint hearted. It’s restless and abrasive, and even its quietest moments are angry as hell, which is perfectly justified against an opening monologue warning that homosexuals will destroy the fabric of society. The Hole was released pre-Trump, but listening to it now this piece of 1950s propaganda supporting a white, Christian, heterosexual patriarchy strikes home harder than ever. Its fear mongering message could be applied to any group bearing the label of ‘Other’ – black, muslim, female, the list goes on….
Perhaps my favourite thing about The Hole is that you rarely hear such abrasive, experimental music being made by Queer artists. The scrunching sax, collapsing drum kit and junkyard rubble are a far cry from the spandex and mirrorball cheese of most ‘gay’ music. There is absolutely nothing Camp about The Ghost, nothing sexual either. Even Harsh Wall Noise artist Richard Ramirez, perhaps The Ghost’s closest sonic relative, cultivates a Tom of Finland aesthetic drenched in cheap thrills.
I realise I’ve done little to describe the actual sound of this tape, and to be honest I’m not sure sound is the main point of this release, but as a sonic reference point The Hole calls to mind Sun Ra’s wildest freak outs minus the funk. I’m reminded of the Art Ensemble of Chicago as well, but way, way heavier. The muscular Saxophone work of Mats Gustafsson is also present, without his sense of groove. The Ghost combine all of these references into violent cauldron of political revolt. And their protest is absolutely thrilling to listen to.
Frank Bretschneider: Isolation
Minimalist music demands patience and focus. There is no room for casual listening. It’s all or nothing. Submit and engage, or don’t bother at all. Isolation is the perfect name for a record that can only truly be enjoyed in solitude, isolated from your surroundings.
Slip on some headphones, press play and sink into Frank Bretschneider’s muffled world of microdrones and flocks of static. Follow him down under the water, where the reverb has been sucked out of all sound. A singular hum; a subtle bass vibration; a wisp of digital feedback. These tiny noises resonate in the very centre of your brain. There are no bearing points. They simply exist, vibrating gently, keeping you buoyant but senseless.
But this isn’t the extreme end of minimalism explored by the likes of Chicago veteran Kevin Drumm (check out his awe inspiring Trouble record released in 2014). Every so often Isolation’s facade cracks and reality snaps back into focus. Like the moment halfway through White Light when Bretschneider suddenly cuts off his sustained note and speckles of reverb ricochet off into space, opening up your entire sound world.
The dance between such subtle sounds plays tricks on your mind. At times you hear melody, faintly, over there in the corner amongst the space dust. But as quick as you notice, it’s gone again like chasing butterflies in a dream.
That’s how Bretschneider keeps your attention. He’s a tease. Sounds bloom into stains of hiss and static, then dry out into steamy tendrils of nothingness again. Repeated listens reveal that Isolation isn’t quite the minimalist work you might have originally thought.
Kevin Drumm: Everything’s Going along as Usual and Then All Shit Breaks Loose.
Self Released (2014)
This guy can’t do much wrong at the moment. Following my last post, which suggested that noise had become familiar if not gentrified, I should probably highlight that Kevin Drumm is someone who continues to surprise and inspire with his sonic experiments. The dude has been crazy productive of late too. From the stunningly minimalist Trouble out on Editions Mego; to The Abyss, his seriously psychedelic and epic collaboration with Jason Lescalleet; to the atmospheric Wrong Intersection; to the abundance of self released stuff he’s posted on his Bandcamp of late. And there’s Everything’s Going along as Usual and Then All Shit Breaks Loose, which might be self released and limited to only 60 physical copies (digital copies also available on his Bandcamp page) but don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a collection of offcuts and experiments.
Everything’s Going along as Usual and Then All Shit Breaks Loose contains everything we love about Mr. Drumm in an 80 minute double CD release. The greatest thing about Kevin has always been his versatility and willingness to experiment. that strength comes to the fore on this record. We get white noise Kevin on the opening track, a multi-layered wall of hiss and static, each surface shifting in volume to create a sonic quicksand. Later, on Panoramic Carnage, he spews up a maelstrom of synths that crackle like a Tesla Coil on heat. Social Interaction is 4 minutes and 20 seconds of droning dread, followed up by 22 minutes of sea-sickness inducing sub-bass vibration on Lower. Meanwhile, the Sinking Quarrel is a shimmering example of Drumm’s experiments in ‘quietness’, and Awful Deep comes off like some sort of misdirected field recording, where tape hiss devours any natural ambience.
Despite its length, the variety on Everything’s Going along as Usual and Then All Shit Breaks Loose means it never gets boring. There are plenty of noise ‘artists’ who could learn something from this. Do yourself a favour and give Kevin a few pennies for a copy of this stunning release.
Lasse Marhaug: It’s not the end of the world
Quasi Pop Records (2007)
I recently went with a friend of mine to see HTRK play a live show. They were supporting Mika Vainio, whom I was also excited to see. My friend has only a little experience with the world of noise and experimental music, and while she bravely dealt with Vainio’s incredible onslaught of electronic debauchery, she turned to me at one point and asked, “When would you actually listen to this ‘music’?” I was embarrassed to say that I often listen to noise as a way to help me sleep. I can happily listen to noise records while I’m working, too. I find it has an amazing capacity for helping me distill my thoughts. I can reach a zen like focus when ‘music’ lacks form, lyrics and melody.
Why am I talking about this and not Lasse Marhaug? Because her question got me thinking about how quiet the noise scene has been of late. Pardon the pun. Even Merzbow isn’t releasing his usual amount of material. Many artists are using their abstract techniques to warp more conventional genres. Marhaug’s work with the Cellist Okkyung Lee being one example. Even Mika Vainio’s recent records have pursued dub-infused creepiness rather than the jagged explosions of sound he played live the other night. So, I’ve found myself digging into the past for my noise fixes. And currently I’m dabbling in It’s Not the End of the World.
Originally released on CDr in 2006, I picked up a second hand copy of this 2007 reissue for a few of bucks at Ditch Records in Victoria B.C during a work trip to Canada last month. It’s a perfect example of how exciting noise was nearly ten years ago. For a while I thought that perhaps I’d outgrown the genre, that I’d grown accustomed to its sound and now it was just another musical genre. But listening to records like It’s not the End of the World I realise that’s not entirely the case. The artists themselves might be more interested in pushing their boundaries these days – with success, I might add – but I still find these early records exciting. Vibrant. Weird and alive.
Marhaug is uber playful on this record. The tracks are short and prone to ADD unlike the focused walls of noise he has released on later records like The Quiet North. He flits about from Merzbow-ian swirls, to feedback drenched chaos akin to Prurient, to the menacing chugg of Kevin Drumm. The strongest moments come when he seizes on an idea and rides it into a repetitive rhythm that eventually starts to sound almost like a melody, or riff.
There’s a restless humour on this record, nicely reflected in the Dada influenced cover that features a collaged cow with a trombone for a head. Marhaug is acutely aware of the noise scene’s origins, and the exciting role that chance plays when slamming disparate sounds into each other. Dada’s interest in chaos and irrationality are ever present in the world of noise. And, I’m sure for many people the idea of listening to this record, and actually enjoying it might seem a tad irrational. And that’s totally OK.
Jar Moff: Financial Glam
I loved Commercial Mouth, Jar Moff’s first release on PAN. We chatted about it on The Antidote where David wasn’t so keen, but goddam I think it’s a fun record. Financial Glam is even better and I can’t believe it’s taken me a full year to write about it.
Greek born Jar Moff trades in a style of abstract ‘sampledalica’ championed by the likes of John Weise, but his aesthetic also shares a musicality with artists like Jason Hammer. Composition is significant to Jar Moff, and the result is a sound collage that feels smooth and purposeful, never disparate. The point isn’t to come up with shocking juxtapositions. Instead he arranges unusual combinations of sound into dynamic shapes that morph around eachother. This record feels like it has strong narrative, and based on the title it’s easy view the work as a response to the economic desolation of his homeland.
Financial Glam lifts off with a gentle, electronic pulse like a subdued Wolf Eyes jam. Swathes of gnarled synths and strings begin eating away at the perimeter. Electronic clatter slowly takes over and we’re off on a Willy Wonka ride into a sonic jungle. Jar Moff’s knack for composition is what keeps this melting pot of samples from blending into a muddy, brown soup. He builds a forward momentum rather than slamming you with whiplash inducing dramatic turns. Moff’s collection of sounds rise and fall in smooth complexity; often dischordant but never jarring.
In fact, the over all effect is similar to a free jazz improvisation, potentially enhanced by Moff’s tendency toward fractured saxaphones and other reed-fuelled debris. Combined, all the disparate elements feel like part of a greater whole, and the snippets of ‘real’ instruments breathe life into what could easily be an electronic shit-sammy (at times, you can literally hear the muscians taking a breath before firing off a brass blast).
The B side is a more musical trip. A damaged guitar groans in despair over an off kilter drum beat, while an arrangement of out-of-key synths hovers around in the background. Eventually Moff introduces a more desolate arrangement of samples including irrationally triggered drum pads, something that sounds like a hammer drill, an annoying buzz, cheap feedback, spastic high hats and other musique concrete effects. hold on to your hats, kids.
This record should be a stomach churning, motion sick trip, but Financial Glam never feels like a road to nowehere. Everyone should take this ride.
Roly Porter: Lifecycle of a Massive Star
This year I’ve listened to more great music than I’ve been able to write or think about. Perhaps it’s my involvement in the Antidote Podcast, perhaps 2013 has been a great year for weirdo music, more likely it’s a combination of both. This Roly Porter record is one of those gems that almost slipped me by.
It starts off slowly, rising from the murk in a swirl of synths. It’s like the soundtrack to a thousand alien spacecraft descending on earth while its population stands mesmerised in disbelief. From there we wander through fragments of deconstructed Jungle and Rave references, calling to mind Lee Gamble’s sonic experiments. Rhythm is eschewed for ambience penetrated by blasts of noise and sonic shrapnel. The entire monster moves at the pace of Doom but the feeling is one of meloncholic catharsis rather than crushing defeat.
If there’s a noise scene at the moment it’s dug it’s way back underground (probably hibernating for a revival helmed by a new cast of misfits), and instead we get artists like Porter applying the aesthetics of noise to an electronic world with closer ties to rave culture and chill out rooms. Pete Swanson, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement and a large chunk of Pan’s amazing catalogue are pursuing similar interests. Roly Porter is another fantastic example of this shift. Don’t let Life Cycle Of A Massive Star pass you by.
Rashad Becker: Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I
Over on The Antidote Podcast, Dave and I have recently found ourselves pondering the definition of Noise, spurred on by a mesmerising record by icelandic Sound Artist Bjarni Gunnarsson. This has coincided with a book I’m reading at the moment called Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation which suggests that Noise music as a genre is defined by loud, relentless and ‘harsh’ slabs of sound.
I’m not sure I agree, because the first thing anyone who isn’t familiar with this sort of ‘music’ would think upon hearing Rashad Becker’s positively weird record, is that it was noise. And you know what? They’d be right. IT might not be harsh or loud but there is nothing recognisable on Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I. It’s synthetic and bizarrely composed. There’s nothing to sink your teeth into except a fluctuating molasses of micro tones. Melody? Natch. Rhythm? Depends how many drugs you’ve consumed. Is it loud and relentless? Nope, but it’s definitely noise.
Imagine the cut n’ paste nature of John Weise, but slowed wayyyy down and based on non-sensical sounds rather than field recordings and samples. Throw in a pinch of the gloopy bleeps favoured by the likes of Black Dice and you’ll get a vague idea of the soup that Rashad Becker has cooked here. When I listen to this record I find myself thinking of soft, soapy bubbles floating around and then quietly bursting. Every track on this record is composed from little bubbles of sound, each one individually pulling itself free from the whole and spinning off into it’s own orbit where Rashad manipulates them until they disintegrate. Sometimes they fizz out into black holes of delay; sometimes they pop and splutter into nothingness; sometimes they gently fade away…..
Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I isn’t an easy listen. It’s up there with the truly abstract Rene Hell record also released on Pan this year. But Becker’s expertise as a sound engineer makes this a nerdgasmic experience for fans of the experimental. Since the late nineties, Becker has developed a fine reputation as a recording engineer, having racked up credits on something like 1200 Electronic, Dance and Experimental records. His experience shines through on Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I; every individual sound is unbelievably crisp and clear, existing in its own little dimension. Even the space between each ‘note’ shines in a way that only a professional can master. The precision adds to the curious nature of this strange little record without dipping into academia. Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I might not be loud but it’s definitely not ambient. It might not be harsh, but it’s definitely Noise. A beautiful noise.