Tuesday, February 26, 2013

In FFFocus: Unstuffing Unicorns with Aloonaluna

Watery Starve, a San Francisco-based micro press started in late 2012, deals in “limited and unique releases of music, writings, and art.” Label curator and artist, Lynn Fister, marries all of these interests together in the beautifully packaged and thoughtfully presented 4-way split cassette release, Taxidermy of Unicorns, that just came out. Taxidermy of Unicorns features some of the leading female voices within the experimental cassette underground, including Motion Sickness of Time Travel, Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier, Birds of Passage, and Fister’s own, Aloonaluna project. Over their respective c60 sides, each artist is able to stretch out their highly personalized take on modern folk song forms and abstract sound creation, yet a decidedly cohesive listening experience takes shape over the course of the entire release. This cohesiveness is also present in the artwork and in the accompanying booklet where Fister’s writings outline the connections between their work. We recently had a chance to ask Lynn some questions about the art, sound, and ideas behind Taxidermy of Unicorns.


In the accompanying booklet for this release, you describe some of the shared qualities that you see between the four of you noting that, “These artists tend toward intuitive forms of music-making and delve into notions of the ambiguous female voice, whether through the vehicles of machine or body.” I would agree with that whole-heartedly and would say that this gives Taxidermy of Unicorns a very cohesive feel. In addition to these natural connections between the four of you, had you all discussed any sort of conceptual framework for this release prior to recording your individual sides?

Prior to this release, I think--all four of us--have followed each other’s music fairly closely. Well, at least I have with theirs, and each of us has collaborated previously with at least one of the group. I must say that Félicia, Rachel and Alicia are some of the most gracious musicians to collaborate with--as not only do they make time for so many projects, but I think they really consider the other people involved when working on their projects. They are all rather adaptive and mercurial . . . besides being really caring, friendly and sensitive people. So, this is to say that we all are pretty much in tune with the others’ work. To answer your question, there really didn’t need to be an overriding conceptual framework; I think it was more an organic development, though we all shared our music files openly with each other throughout the process of creating music for Taxidermy of Unicorns. I also knew I wanted the title to be this right away, without even hearing or working on the music yet. So this might of also set the tone.

Rachel and I have joked about us having a telepathic connection before. It’s funny, because I did have the title in mind from the get-go and had not shared what I planned to call it with anybody quite yet. Rachel wrote an email, talking about the four-split, asking about a possible title. She suggested it have something to do with unicorns, as she had just finished a Murakami book that inspired her to think about its symbolism . . . And I was like, yes, exactly. But, of course, I am a bit dark and I was picturing a dead unicorn, stuffed for all to see, and mounted as a trophy. Ha. I once passed a unicorn taxidermy at a novelty curiosity shop, just its head. I stared at it for a really long time, my reflection on the shop window morphing into the white unicorn. I felt half Echo/half Narcissus. I am now reading Murakami’s IQ84 as of late, waiting to hear about unicorns.

I think there’s so much weight to the unsaid. The natural compass when working with other people is often enough. Sometimes words are used to conceptualize a space. Sometimes they need not be there at all. I feel like textural music is a lot like that. The divisiveness between spoken words and the unsaid are blurred. With a space like that, I think it is up to the listener to make up how they would like to relate to it. There can be as much similarity or difference as you want. I think one reading of Taxidermy of Unicorns is that the music is all very similar. Another could be is that it is all very different from each other.

In an interview I did with Frank Baugh (Sparkling Wide Pressure) last year, he suggested that the tape underground “feels like a folk art movement.” You sort of allude to this as well within your write-up in the booklet with Taxidermy of Unicorms. How did you come to participate in this “movement” and, perhaps, how has it motivated/inspired you as an artist?

I would totally agree with the tape underground being a folk art movement! Besides folk as a musical style being echoic in the experimental underground, I think of folk art--as a subversive form or way of thought. It's music made for and by the common person, though of course you can also see/hear folk influence in academia and the conservatory as well . . . and vice versa. Things are not so dichotomous of course. I see cassette making being a cheaper analog way to present music, subverting the established, contemporary norm of a proper release on CD and/or vinyl. You don’t need a big pocketbook to release a cassette. You don’t need to be a virtuoso pianist or have a professional production studio to make beautiful or thought-provoking music. Some of the best music is being released on cassette now, given how much cheaper it is than releasing on vinyl. It also subverts the trajectory towards digital releases (which I really don’t care about; my mp3s are all dead to me, ha). This being said, I still like vinyl and would like to release some one day for others and my own music. But that doesn’t make the release better just because it’s on vinyl, just because someone spent more money on its release. It does look pretty sexy though! However, I still don’t know why people don’t take cassettes as seriously as a vinyl or CD release, just because of format and maybe limited distribution . . . I know, I know, I’m preaching to the choir.

So how did I get into this? Initially, I never really searched outward when making music past my immediate local community. That was before my move in 2010 to San Francisco. Where I lived for 10 years in Tallahassee, Florida, there’s a pretty strong and supportive music community, and I really didn’t have a desire to. When I moved to San Francisco, I lost this sort of artistic community I felt I had in Florida. I feel, and still do feel, very isolated in San Francisco, being a really established and competitive city. Today, I just got a letter from my friend Angela (I named a song after her on Taxidermy). She lived in San Francisco for a short time and is now back in Florida. She alluded to being back in the womb, and why, why would you ever want to go anywhere else perhaps. That moved me. She’s an incredible magic-realist painter and scientific illustrator and I miss her. I love Tallahassee. I loved it when I lived on a dock house with hardly any neighbors and moon jellies would wash up on the marsh.

Sometimes I’m here and I feel swallowed into a soulless void. These people are all trying to make it in a very beautiful, urban and very expensive context. It has become so unattainable for success/growth here, because it caters to an elite. Only the uber-rich can even buy a home in San Francisco. That’s gross. So, I found myself becoming more introverted and becoming less interested in the Bay Area art scene. I know I have only cupped my palm to my mouth and whispered at the surface, and there is definitely a lot of diversity here, but it doesn’t seem very community oriented at all; it seems very guarded. Ha, maybe I’m just bitter because no one seems interested in what I’m doing here. I don't know if it’s bitter or just an apathy that washes over you.

Because of my alienation toward my environment, I delved into my own head more. I've made more recorded music than ever. That’s also when I started to reach out to other labels and other artists for a sense of community. I am really grateful that Hooker Vision took me into their family! Because of them, I was able to start developing new friendships that have become very meaningful to me. I came to San Francisco not knowing anybody and with not a lot of connectivity, and I will leave here very soon with still not many close friendships in San Francisco, but so many have been built elsewhere. Weird how that works, but I guess that’s the internet. We can butterfly kiss with our eyelashes across oceans. And when I leave come summer, maybe only then I will finally meet and connect with San Francisco peeps. I’ll be like dayum, why did I move? Ha, probably not . . . I actually am really, really excited to move. New Orleans is whispering my name, and that city is so captivating.

The artwork and overall presentation of Taxidermy of Unicorns is impressive. Both the stitched and threaded elements on the cover and the collage art contained within are unique to every set of tapes. In an edition of 200, that must have been quite an undertaking? As a visual artist, does the immediacy and scale of things that tapes/tape culture provide(s) inspire you?

Yes, I’d say I’m very inspired by tape culture! I also really enjoy crafting, playing with glue, collaging, painting, etc. Curating a label marries these two deepset interests of mine: music and visual art. I don’t know if Watery Starve is forever, or even if playing music is something I’ll keep doing, but it keeps me alive and inspired for now.

In regards to the actual undertaking of making everything different in a pressing. . . Well, part of it is that I simply want every object to be special/unique to whoever’s hands it may land in. Someone throws it in the trash, someone finds it in the rubble. It was meant for them. It’s the only one. The other side of it is that I am really drawn to Gestalt psychology. Somehow, I think by creating relatively similar but unique artworks again and again leads to a more expansive whole as a larger artwork. Yip, I keep telling myself that with an edition of 200! 200 collages deep, a decrepit hunchback and my fingers rubber cemented together like I’m a crab.

I see the debate over there being “too much music” nowadays being played out over the internet on a regular basis. In the booklet, you take a favorable stance on the current musical climate stating that, “. . . access to recording and distribution via the internet has made art more readily available – and music is just getting better and better because of this access, as more voices than ever are able to surface hierarchical tropes.” What do you say to those who often cite the diminishing “quality” of music because of this access? 

I read somewhere once, that many people were really skeptical of the printing press when it first came out, because now anyone, anywhere could make books, print text, etc. They criticized the ease it would take to make a book, and now it gave access to more people to both write and read more books. I feel like privileged people always want to keep a lasso on the cultural canon, and a book-- a thing of the elite-- was now becoming a democratized vehicle for information. And people with cerulean or clergy blood running through their veins were crying because printing became vulgar. Hey, I don't have the time or the desire to read every book, sure, but I'm glad they are there. The more access, the more points of view . . . why would you want to exclude? Why would you want to hide your ugly stepsister under the stairs? Maybe I would find her beautiful? Maybe she just needs the sun to grow a little? Maybe we all do . . . 

Well, a definite parallel here to the printing press is the internet. Sure, the internet means that you can basically upload anything, (same argument for any form of media!) but you know you can pick and choose how you spend your time. It doesn't diminish the things you do connect with and learn from. I don't know, I feel really inspired by all these people creating. Even if I'm not a fan, I want them to create . . . and it's cool we can share it easily! I also do want to point out too, people also didn't suddenly stop making quality work, because it is easier to document and upload.

Anyway, I think it's sad that people think just because there's more, there's less worth. It’s like they want to harness a cultural canon or something . . . Keep the lasso on the moon! It's mine; it's not yours even though we both sit under it! Wow, it's a fantasy to think that only a few people are doing significant things. Geez, I'm such a commie, ha.

Not to change the subject, but what is documented really makes me think about what is undocumented. It's kind of like the unsaid. Maybe that's a different topic. Sometimes, though, it is nice to just go into the woods and play a song--or maybe not even a song per se--for no one but yourself and the trees. Ephemeral, undocumented moments. Can you believe it? Guess you'd have to go way far into the woods and under a canopy. Don't let the street or google camera catch you!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Through Dreams Beyond Humans: An Interpretation of Lumerians by Nicholas Zettel

Psychedelic music means “mind-manifesting” or “soul-manifesting,” an unfolding, or a becoming, an activity where the mind or soul can experience itself. The forms of psychedelic music fit this task, typically using repetition, extensive songs, and layers of sound to encourage reflection, to build a rich musical experience. One of the wonders of perception is that for each repetition of the same, each new point in time allows us to reflect on that experience. In this way, repetition in music builds fields for reflection and unfolding.

Frequently, psychedelic bands are compared to spacey or otherworldly phenomena, which translates the music’s potential for becoming into a realm that is entirely outside ourselves. Given the potential for psychedelic music to build templates for reflection and becoming, this focus on space or otherworldly features draws attention away from the ability of psychedelic music to transform our understanding or experience. Perhaps the best psychedelic music yields entirely internal rewards, rewards that encourage our minds, souls, our being to harmony or transcendence. Lumerians offer one such project, employing multiple releases and diverse sounds to explore the purposes of vitality (or, life-itself) and human creativity.

From critical vantage points, Oakland’s Lumerians are typically connected with otherworldly forms of psychedelic music, or space-rock. Throughout the course of 2012, Lumerians provided a set of EPs and a cassette that challenged their foundation of repetitive, driving rock music on their 2011 LP, Transmalinnia (Knitting Factory). While the second side of Transmalinnia dove into instrumentals that replicated the feeling of dream-states, the first side found the group translating their instrumental strengths into relatively short, catchy rock songs. The group’s execution of rhythmic excursions and organ and synth flourishes within compact statements was a testament to their songwriting ability, but their extended compositions on the second side would foreshadow their future. Taken in the context of their statement of purpose on Transmalinnia, the two shades of their sound would only be the beginning of their journey. This journey shows stronger ties to internal exploration, rather than otherworldly space rock.

Between their 2011 and 2012 releases, Lumerians explored their musical structures, backgrounds, and foundations, while completing the logic to their creative philosophy. Where the group’s philosophical and musical goals collide stands an underreported element of their music. While music fans focus on their spacey sonic developments, the group’s creative vision is typically not covered or explored. On Transmalinnia, for instance, the band offered a sonic program to translate the artistic vision of Eugene von Bruenchenhein into musical form. Similarly, their most recent releases offer detailed philosophical nuggets (or, opportunities for reflection).

While many psychedelic bands are christened with half-hearted, pass-the-bong colloquialisms, Lumerians offer a comprehensive creative vision alongside their music. Given the group’s musical development within their 2012 releases, their philosophical vision cannot be separated from their musical accomplishments. While one can certainly enjoy their music without thinking about their creative vision, their comprehensive vision enhances the experience of their music. Through their vision, we can understand how Lumerians stepped from celebrating the art of von Bruenchenhein, a man that created “a world of dreams, ideas, and visions traveling to far off undiscovered worlds beyond earth,” to exploring the structures and textures that allow us to experience alternate modes of consciousness. In this regard, Lumerians’ psychedelia is truly a manifestation of soul.

On their 2012 EP, Horizon Structures (Knitting Factory), Lumerians closed the year with a wicked set of angular, synth-driven dance music. One of the elements that sets Lumerians apart from other psychedelic acts is their embrace of key-based songs, as well as their robust approach to percussion. Accompanying their latest EP, the group offered another specific scenario for celebration and consideration (from their press summary at Knitting Factory records):

“Lumerians Horizon Structures EP leads off side A with 
“The Bloom” -- a long-fused charge of anti-apocalypse 
rock. Change is not the end. Life persists. The world is not 
ending, but YOU are. The notion of apocalypse places undue 
significance to the brief tenure of Homo sapiens. “Wintersong” 
affirms preparedness is acceptance of the inevitable. Side B 
closes with two heavily synth layered dance numbers. 
“Tawazula” and “Lazer Barn,” dances of creation and 
destruction in that order and out of order.”

Combined with Transmalinnia’s exploration of dreams, ideas, and visions traveling to undiscovered worlds, one might be forgiven for considering Lumerians to be spacey contributors to the psychedelic movement. Yet, their 2012 work deserves more attention for its emphasis on the earth itself, especially the idea that places the apocalypse in the center of a life-persisting change on earth. Not a change in which we focus on our own demise, but perhaps one in which we embrace the triumph of life in all its formations. Here we uncover the depth of vitality, and affirm that life itself persists in ways beyond our own understanding or existence. Accompanying their framework that embraces the use of dreams -- especially using forms of art to explore a world of dreams, ideas, and visions -- Lumerians add another dimension to their purposeful rock. We can use these artistic tools to explore life itself.

Telos is a purpose, or an end. One common mistake people make when they argue against telos is using the assumption that “an end” or “a purpose” results in some sort of pre-determination. Naturally, it is difficult for humans to wrap their minds around the idea that they are driven toward greater purposes without feeling that their ability to act or think is impaired. We want to feel “free” in some significant way --which, in itself, might suggest some specific human purpose -- but we do not want to focus specifically on the ends that humankind can achieve. Our own skepticism, or our perception of moral ambiguity in the world, leads us to ask, “whose end, or whose purpose?” How can we fully understand a greater human purpose without falling prey to humans that mislead us about our purposes?

In this regard, Lumerians’ embrace of dreams, exploring a world of ideals, as well as purposes or ends that disconnect the earth from humans, or disconnect our own sense of importance from vitality or life itself, provide a strong template for thinking about purpose. Remarkably, the goals of their releases in 2012 correspond with their philosophical statements. Between Transmalinnia and Horizon Structures, the group used Transmissions from the Telos: Vol IV EP (Permanent / Hands in the Dark) and The Weaning and The Dreaming tape (Sanity Muffin) to explore their own vision, expose the structures to their song-oriented LPs and EPs, to unveil their logic.

Following the second half of Transmalinnia, the four untitled cuts on Transmissions from the Telos show the band moving deeper into their instrumental territory. Here, the group combines laid-back grooves that show the fall-out of the dense sound of their LP, instead opting for rollicking percussion and playful key sequences. Alongside a playful fusion of psychedelic and jazz instrumental sounds on Transmissions…, the group present longform ragas and expansive, dark drones. It almost sounds like the band drew from each individual element that appeared on their LP, and expanded those elements into their own statements. With these instrumental sequences, Lumerians stretched their world, and added several different vantage points or signposts to their vision.

We can understand how to expand these vantage points by exploring the extreme poles. On The Weaning and The Dreaming cassette, the group presented two tantalizing titles for their tape manipulation compositions: “Consciousness without an Object,” and, “An Object without Consciousness.” Multiple sources have written about how the group built these compositions, which involved recording percussion, synth, and bass parts both forwards-and-backwards; each side of the tape is the full piece played in both directions (I call them “compositions,” even though there is basically one performance or construction, because the end result of the active tape manipulation is quite different on both sides. One wouldn’t necessarily know that it’s the same performance played forwards and backwards unless they were told). Their titles for these compositions provide the extreme poles for expanding our vantage points for exploring our purpose.

In philosophy, there are two extreme poles of perception that receive a lot of attention (and, form most traditional problems): realism and idealism. In their most exaggerated forms, realism upholds some realm of objects that exist independently of consciousness, while the most extreme idealists uphold perceivable realms that only exist through mind or consciousness. While these are extreme reductions on my part, Lumerians’ explorations of these two sides of reality are rich and continue to unfold with multiple listens. “Consciousness without an Object” leans heavily on sparse, backwards percussion, ultimately presenting structural outlines that lead into sparse synth drones and shimmering flourishes. These percussive blips, decaying in a surreal way thanks to the backwards tape, are beyond ritual or beyond repetition; they unleash sheer creativity, presenting a borderless plane for thought. By contrast, “An Object without Consciousness” is frantic, direct, vital, and engaging, emphasizing immediate, concrete experience that channels the rumbling, rattling hum of a world that exists through sheer independence.

These vantage points showcase numerous points of origin for a purpose-driven project. We need not conclude that humans striving toward a purpose results in one specific outcome. Rather, Lumerians show a strong communion with purpose-oriented projects by embracing the potential of each outcome, and ultimately, embracing the process that leads to those purposes. For this reason, Lumerians are one of the strongest psychedelic acts, not simply because their music corresponds to their philosophical and artistic vision, but also because their music offers a template for exploration that ultimately leads to action. This is why it’s important to take Lumerians’ philosophical hints seriously: if we follow their cues, and use our dreams, ideas, and visions to explore the world, and we investigate our purpose in a way that upholds life-itself (instead of simply upholding human existence), we can more meaningfully orient ourselves to the people, companions, objects, and places in our lives.

It is not a sucker’s game to associate psychedelic music with soul-building or mind-building exercises. Lumerians prove that through psychedelic exploration, we have a strong set of tools, sounds, and artistic forms that can orient ourselves to our universe. This orientation can ultimately lead us to better understand life and, as a result, become better humans, truly manifesting mind and soul.

Nicholas Zettel is a former contributing writer for Foxy Digitalis. He will be joining the rest of the Foxy D crew in the move over to the forthcoming Decoder website.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

FFFreakout #351 (Aired on 2/14/13)

Jack White "Take Me With You When You Go" from Blunderbuss
Yo La Tengo "Is That Enough" from Fade
Joey Scarbury "The Theme from The Greatest American Hero" (Believe It or Not)
Kraftwerk "The Model" from The Man-Machine
Billy Paul "Am I Black Enough For You" from 360 Degrees of Billy Paul
A.C. Newman "I'm Not Talking" from Shut Down the Streets
Swans "The Seer Returns" from The Seer
Goat "Disco Fever" from World Music
Thee Headcoats "She's Fine She's Mine" from Knights of the Baskerville
Holly Herndon "Fade" from Movement
Big Star "I'm In Love With A Girl" from Keep An Eye On the Sky
The Cactus Brothers "Lost John Deer" from S/T 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

FFFoxy Podcast #13

Piper Spray “Blaster” Telegraph CS (Orange Milk
RM74 “Spineless” Two Angles of a Triangle 2CD (Utech) [7.46]
Motion Sickness of Time Travel “Something to Find” split w/ Imperial Topaz CS (Tranquility Tapes) [12.00]
Call Back the Giants “On the Forth Day” Incidents of Travel 12” (White Denim) [23.55]
Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier “The Names” Dark Morse CS* (Shelter Press) [29.03]
Messages “Smoke Photo” Message Bag 2LP (De Stijl) [34.02]
Razen + Andrew Liles “Rabies Gum” Rope House Temper CD* (Kraak) [40.25]
The Lay Llamas “Space Jungle Mantra” S/T CS* (Jozik) [44.55]
Creation VI “Well Spring” Pantheophania CS (Cae-sur-a) [52.35]
Lazy Magnet “Rabbit Magicians . . . / Brain O' Made . .” Revisionist Desperate 3xCDr (self-released) [52.52]
Alastair Galbraith “One Method” Cry LP* reissue (Mie Music) [1.02.25] 
Michael Pisaro, Oswald Egger, Julia Holter excerpt from The Middle of Life (Die ganze Zeit) CD (Gravity Wave
Robert Turman “Reflux” Beyond Painting 2LP (Fabrica) [1.08.52]
Gog “Tasks Which Destroy Body and Soul” Ironworks LP (Utech) [1.20.40]
Remnants “Two Track String Loop” Surface Tension CS (Mazurka Editions) [1.27.14]
FNL “01” FNL CDr (Nada) [1.32.27]
Henry Dawson “Elmira Love” Brain Love CS (Orange Milk) [1.35.25]
Reed Ghazala “Silence the Tongues of Prophecy” (excerpt) Gravikords, Whirlies & Pyrophones CD (Ellipsis Arts) [1.38.00]
Mark Bradley “In” (Track #1) Temple Music CS (Golden Cloud Tapes) [1.42.42]
Chapels “It Was Snowing . . . " (excerpt) split w/ The Transplant Mountains CS (House of Alchemy) [1.45.36]
Sir Richard Bishop “Boxcar Serenade” The Unrock Tapes LP (Unrock) [1.55.18]

As mentioned at the start of this week’s podcast, with Foxy Digitalis shutting down its operations, we will, naturally and quite sadly, no longer be posting the FFFoxy Podcast on that site any more. As I’m guessing many of you that check out this blog already know, however, the Foxy Digitalis crew will be joining forces with Decoder to form a new website under the Decoder banner in the weeks ahead. While I’m not aware of all of the specifics at this point, I can tell you with 100% certainty that the FFFoxy Podcast will live on both here and over at the new Decoder site. There will be no significant changes to what we do: we are still going to do artist and label features; we are still going to have in-studio guests and performances; we are still going to “dig deeper into underground and experimental music from the past and present.” Secondly, while we considered changing up the name once again to signify a fresh start along with everyone else, we’ve decided instead to continue along as the “FFFoxy Podcast”. Sure, part of the decision was based on a desire to maintain consistency and to avoid any confusion for listeners, but, more importantly, we wanted to maintain that connection to Foxy Digitalis out of total respect and gratitude for what it has meant to us and to so many fans of weird and otherwise marginalized music. As I stated at the top of this week’s show, the FFF podcasts would have never become a reality were it not for Foxy Digitalis and the experience and exposure to new music that I gained both as a reader and as a contributing writer. It can be easy to buy into the cynicism surrounding music writing within the age of the internet, but Foxy Digitalis and its contributing staff of writers were a consistent source of inspiration, always seeking out, championing, and giving voice to artists and musicians working well off the beaten path of established “indie” publicity bullshit. So, it is in that spirit that we will continue on as the FFFoxy Podcast. We’ll keep you posted as details emerge regarding the new site.

For now, let’s talk about some of the music played on this week’s podcast that has really grabbed our ears and rearranged our headspace. For starters, we have to discuss the DOUBLE ALBUMS. Any small record label willing to throw down the coin to press up a double LP release in this day-and-age is taking a fair amount of risk, so you know that the label proprietors have either A) something they know is pretty damn special in their hands, B) recently inherited a sizeable sum of money, or C) their heads are so firmly placed up their ass that they are clueless of such concerns. Okay, okay, so it’s not as simplistic as that. But, I’d like to think that Fabrica and De Stijl Records, both run by folks of sound mind, modest pocketbook, and impeccable taste, had to know that they were sitting on something very special with their Robert Turman Beyond Painting and Messages Message Bag 2xLP releases that they recently put out on their respective labels. The music etched in the grooves of these records, as their titles imply, seems to carry a deeper, hidden meaning. Sure, you can attach such genre tags as drone, psych, loop-based, or even minimalism to them, but there is something at play with both of these albums that, well, goes beyond language. These albums offer a rewarding and transportive listening experience that unfolds gradually and with a decidedly mystical heft that is unlike most contemporary practitioners of said forms. As De Stijl notes, which we can quite comfortably apply here to Beyond Painting as well: “. . . Message Bag operates as a return to an unresolved system, as an alternative to the rest of yr choices, and bestows something that can’t be bought. We call it Wisdom.” Thus, both albums warrant the beautiful packaging and presentation that they were given and, more importantly, your immediate attention. I’m hoping that an album like Message Bag, given its December release date, doesn’t get lost in all of the end-of-the-year list mania and the ensuing quest for all that is “new”. This album is indeed special.

Another double album to mention, this one released on the CD format, though no less impressive or soul stirring as those cited above, is the latest from RM74 called Two Angles of a Triangle out on Utech Records. RM74 is the solo project of Reto Mäder, a sound artist based in Bern, Switzerland, who has released music under several other names such as Ural Umbo and Sum of R. On Two Angles of a Triangle, Mäder uses an incredibly broad sound palette, incorporating various acoustic and electronic sounds and textures, to weave complex, yet emotionally rich compositions that are, at turns, melancholic, exuberant, dream-like, and horrific. Despite this complexity, there is sort of an unspoken, unifying narrative feel that plays out over the course of these two discs. As Utech states in the liner notes, “Mäder is a singer/songwriter without words in the never-ending search for the third angle.”

Finally, let’s briefly talk tapes. We have received a wealth of top-notch cassette releases over the past few months. Sure, you can scoff at the overabundance of tape labels and tape releases all you want, but I’m still blown away on a consistent basis by a decent amount of the music that is coming out on this scrappy format. I’ve already discussed the small stash of goodness that Mazurka Editions has floated around the globe in a previous post. So, I’d like to tip the proverbial cap once again to Orange Milk, who we’ve previously featured on the podcast show, for releasing perhaps their most stunning batch of tapes to date, kicking off 2013 in fine form. While I’ve been enjoying trying to physically and mentally map out my own concept of what the hell “footwork” is while listening to the new releases from Foodman and Lafidki, I’ve been especially taken in by the blasted, lo-fi pop sounds from Russia’s Piper Spray and Orange Milk co-owner Seth Graham’s latest burst of sonic euphoria as Henry Dawson.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

FFFreakout #350 (Aired on 2/7/13)

ÉLG "City H" from Mil Pluton
Yo La Tengo "Well You Better" from Fade
The Bats "Sighting the Sound" from Silverbeet
The Dirtbombs "A Natural Man" from If You Don't Already Have A Look
Metal Urbain "Paris Maquis" from Anarchy In Paris
Joy Division "Shadowplay" from Les Bain Douches 19 December 1979
The Warped Wave "Twisted Mountain" from Oooh-ahhh
Ross Major "Black Bird" from Horatio Hymns
The Undertones "Get Over You" from S/T
Neil Young "Psychedelic Pill" from Psychedelic Pill
John Cale " I Wanna Talk 2 U" from Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood
The Cure "A Forest" from Seventeen Seconds
Otis Redding "Mr. Pitiful" from The Stax Story
Gary Clark, Jr. "Bright Lights" from Blak and Blu

Saturday, February 02, 2013

In FFFocus: Mazurka Editions

This past year saw a number of artists working in tape-based and loop-based sound design getting some much-deserved recognition. For starters, there was Aaron Dilloway and Jason Lescalleet, who both released arguably their strongest work to date with their respective double albums, Modern Jester and Songs About Nothing, not to mention their collaborative outing on Pan, Grapes & Snakes. Nathan McLaughlin continued to go to the center on his fantastic first solo LP release, The Refrigerator is Emotional, and over several tape and vinyl sides with Loud & Sad and Tilth, and his excellent split with Josh Mason, who also had a fine run of top-notch releases. And then there was Jeffry Astin’s Digital Natives, a project whose 2012 output is worthy of book-length analysis in terms of its sheer volume and methodology. The list could certainly go on . . .

Flying below the radar on the other side of the globe, a new Australian tape label, Mazurka Editions, was also doing their part to document similar-minded sound artists within their home country and abroad. Run by Jarrod Skene out of Newcastle, a town located two hours north of Sydney, which Skene describes as being “fairly quiet, provincial, currently in the throws of a process of gentrification,” but one that he further adds, “has gathered a bit of a reputation over the last decade or so as a closet for noise fanatics.” Newcastle, according to Skene, has been home to various members of the free-noise/improv unit, Castings, and their Spanish Magic label, which has likely contributed to this reputation within underground music circles. Currently, Skene points out, “the excellent Grog Pappy label continues to produce all manner of noise filth documents.”

Since starting to release tapes in mid-2012, Skene has established a consistent visual aesthetic with his Mazurka Editions releases using stark, yet elegantly abstract, black-and-white imagery printed on vellum paper. Like tape & loop-based music itself, there is something striking about the artwork in how it calls to mind blurred memories that are locked-in on a particular moment in time, playing on your perception of what the intended focal point is.

Sure, the majority of Mazurka Editions releases to date have been by artists that utilize tapes and loops in their repertoire to create various improvised and composed sound environments, both dream-like and disorienting. But, that by no means paints a clear, nor entirely accurate picture of what the label appears to be up to. The aggressive outbursts contained on the Teen Ax tape, akin to Wolf Eyes at their peak onslaught mode, alone proves that Skene’s interests are much broader. So far, with the exception of the latest Remnants tape, all of the artists he has worked with have been from Australia. He states that these are, “Artists I admire ploughing distinct paths through sub-genre quagmires.” He goes on to say that, “With Remnants, I'm a fan of both Ryan's solo work and also what he puts out with Imminent Frequencies. So I intend to release work from other overseas-based artists that follow a similar trajectory just as soon as I can.” 

Slated for release in the months ahead are tapes from the likes of Love Chants, Muura, mslmisslemsl, and Pleasure Bros. Skene also plans to get in on the action with his own solo project. “After many years of percolation, I finally have a (solo) project on the go. L.A. County Morgue made its live debut in December, and will have a release on Mazurka Editions sometime this year. Tape processing, loops, contact microphone effects/pedal gaze.”

For more information on Mazurka Editions, check out their website HERE. Also, select titles from the Mazurka catalog are currently available stateside at Tomentosa.

Here are some highlights from the Mazurka Editions catalog:

Mitchell Brennan eminent domain / mill no. 1 c16

Side A features a carefully constructed, multi-layered
synth piece, while on the flip-side Brennan weaves together
a tapestry of creakin’ and cracklin’ looped sounds built upon
the rhythmic churn of a printing press.

Cooper Bowman / Enak split c15

Cooper Bowman has a free-floating, plunderphonics/audio 
hallucination approach to sound composition on his side, dropping 
video game gurgles, snatches of dialogue of former MN governor, 
Jesse Ventura, giving props to Mean Gene back in his pro wrestling 
days, amongst other assorted sonic weirdness. Enak's side contains 
a jumbled mix of what sounds like competing AM radio frequencies 
vying for space in a crammed apartment.

Remnants surface tension c25

Imminent Frequencies label head, Ryan Marino, crafts 
loop-based pieces with the same sort of, yes, tension and 
disorienting force as Aaron Dilloway. A excellent 
tape in every way.