Tag Archives: Tapes

Gerritt Wittmer: Unknowns

Gerrit Wittmer_Unknowns

Gerritt Wittmer: Unknowns
No Rent Records (2016)

I attended the Sound as Consequence symposium at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art over the weekend. Listening to individuals like Joel Stern, Eric Demetriou and Julian Day wax lyrical about non-cochlear sound, and auditory experiences in the institution confirmed that for me abstract sound is a powerfully emotive experience. And this experience is often overlooked.

Take this stunning tape by a veteran of both the Sound Art and experimental music scenes. Gerritt Wittmer sculpts an intricate trellis of field recordings, drones and ephemeral misamsa. Abstract in the extreme but firmly rooted in its own logic and narrative. Vague ticking builds into monolithic drones and jackhammers riding on subway cars through dusty tunnels and then expiring in a whir of malfunctioning machinery. Chimes ring-in demonic voices that talk themselves into near silence, a subtle hum. Suddenly feedback. A scream. Heavy breathing. Lonely footsteps.

Side B polevaults into bass driven walls of noise, grating metal and contact mic’d surfaces. The hollow hum of air conditioning units, scrapes and rattling builds into a full blown symphony of scree. Cut to air hissing out of tyres, or possibly the sound of some desolate landscape at 3 in the morning, no moon, no stars. Just a scratch that becomes a rhythmic itch that becomes a noisy pulse that dissolves into a soprano drone. One final ‘note’ that leads you home.

Confused? That’s where the excitement lies; teasing out the relationships between so many disparate sounds, allowing the waves to take you where they, and you please. You can’t have this sort of experience within an institutional context. You aren’t allowed to lose yourself when the white cube demands that you assess the social, political, racial, and gender contexts that each individual brings to the experience. I believe there is more to this than the cerebral.

Music as beautiful and mysterious as this deserves the undivided attention that comes with your own private experience. Headphones or loud speakers, darkened rooms and comfort. Dare I say that if you are willing to give in to recordings like this one by Gerritt Wittmer, there is potential for something akin to a spiritual experience. Discourse  in a gallery context hasn’t focused on topics like that since everything became ‘post’ something else.

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Prurient: Cocaine Daughter

Prurient_Cocaine-Daughter

Prurient: Cocaine Daughter
Hospital Productions (2015)

I am in love with this old school Noise cassette right now.

Noise nerds will be familiar with Dominick Fernow and his Prurient project. Newbies should imagine a pale geeky kid in America’s midwest making ears bleed with only his voice, an amp and a microphone. He moves to NYC where he adds creepy synths and industrial drums to his mix, before settling in LA to produce a unique hybrid of goth, new wave and harsh noise. Dave and I talk about him a lot on the Antidote Podcast. Fernow has myriad fantastic side projects, too.

Cocaine Daughter was recorded back in 2011, in a Kansas City hotel. Its gritty textures paint a picture of Fernow alone in a dingy room at 3am still wearing his leather jacket, surrounded by pedals, wires and digital paraphernalia while paying tribute to Merzbow, Whitehouse and Cabaret Voltaire.

The emphasis is on dark waves of sound that swell towards synth driven miasma. Fernow expertly combines white hot static with sci-fi whirs, metallic clangour and walls of digital abrasion. It’s like your head inside a jet engine, immense layers of sound sucked through a gash in the hull and spat into your ears. Analogue tape and computers smash together and crumble into the void.

The overall vibe is gothic in nature, largely due to the damaged keyboards that constantly shift speeds and whine like klaxons in the murk. Occasionally some semblance of melody picks itself up out of the rubble to stop Cocaine Daughter from boiling over into aggression – this is no Harsh Wall Noise recording. Instead, the tension simmers in your speakers, thickening the air and hazing your vision. There’s none of Fernow’s spoken-word-slash-tortured vocals or industrial drumming on here, which is unusual for a Prurient release.

When this was recorded in 2011 the noise scene had peaked. The sun was setting on its entrails. Cocaine Daughter is a glorious reminder of how thrilling the sound was, and hopefully a reminder of what it could be again. I miss these sorts of Noise recordings, when things felt dangerous, anarchic and nihilistic. I’m having lots of fun listening to it.

The greatest thing about ‘Noise’ is that it’s void of meaning. Sure, much has been written about anti-capitalism and anti-authoritarian stances in relation to Noise, but the reality is you can project whatever you want to on it. Adolescent weirdos see it as aggressive; nerds try and force social politics on to it; but I’ve always appreciated the purity of its ‘nothingness’. It’s just white hot static that smudges all thought from your mind. If you’re willing to give in, you can have a transcendent experience.

Cocaine Daughter was released in a run of 150 copies. I hope for your sake Fernow reissues it sometime soon.