I was excited to come across this on accident one day glancing at the Cathartic Process website. This is a re-release of two collaborative cassettes from the late 80’s made by Hands To (Jeph Jerman, also recorded with City of Worms, Blowhole, and others. Ran the Big Body Parts label) and PBK (Phillip B. Klingler). I came across this not long after I had spent a few months listening heavily to cassettes from this time period.
The reason I went on this 80’s tape scene bender was that I had spent 2-3 months leading up to this time listening heavily to the Hands To recordings “Circumscription” (my favorite), “Nazha”, and “Turn Back the Sun”, along with a few more recent recordings (artwork pictured below) that I had ordered directly from Jeph Jerman.
(Hands To – Flatline 2 x 1-sided vinyl. Ultra-deluxe hand made artwork. Petri supply.)
(Blowhole – Gathering – Blowhole is an avant garde jazz ensemble with Jeph on drums.)
(Monument Valley, City of Worms – Whime, Linguala, Sound 6, and Assemblages)
(all very enjoyable and recommended)
This wave of enthusiasm for his work made me want to dig into the history of the 80’s tape scene again, primarily to seek out more of Jeph’s recordings as Hands To or City of Worms. I did some looking around at Hal McGee’s website, had a nice session of reading at Don Campau’s online archive of 80’s cassette culture, and listened again to one or two of Hal’s fantastic “Homemade Alien Music” podcasts. With my friend (Phil Klampe of Homogenized Terrestrials) I enjoyed some great conversation and a good look through his fairly substantial collection of old tapes, and he lent me tapes by Maeror Tri, Malok, Minoy, and City of Worms. I also borrowed a few issues of Hal McGee’s Electronic Cottage zine (which Jeph wrote a number of interviews, reviews and other items in), an issue or two of ND, Audio Drudge, File 13, and a couple others that escape me. In the midst of this streak I dug up the PBK recordings Macrophage / The Toil and the Reap, and Shadows of Prophecy / In His Throes and had a few good listens to them, too.
…So I was much more than primed to hear this. Verfall & Melachoir are beautiful shifting streams of nameless, faceless shapes across the frequency spectrum. On both of these there is the familiar, earthy, low fidelity rumbling heard often in Hands To and PBK’s recordings. The sound is of layers of field recordings likely recorded at various locations with hand-held cassette recorders, mingling with manipulated atmospheric sounds likely recorded at home with a 4-track. The field recordings seem to be from many sources, including road noise, wind, metals clanging, machine/power tool sounds? The “atmospheric” sounds seem to include different types of feedback and other atonal, somewhat echo-effected, or otherwise washed-out textures possibly originated by synthesizers, guitars, samplers, or processed field recordings. There are throughout both recordings bits of tape warble (damaged tape used for its strangeness, or subtle yanking of the tape as it is played or recorded?), and occasional sounds of the pause, stop, or fast forward button being tickled. It may be of note for some that Al Margolis (If, Bwana), president the Sound of Pig label, which originally released Melachoir, plays on one of the pieces on the Melachoir tape.
A stew of impressions and/or observations:
Fierce distorted noise blasts, delayed tinkling sounds, tiny dropouts of dry confrontational midrange overload, warbling high-pitched stringlike sounds, characteristically blurry low end sounds filling out the bottom end, muted or burgeoning energy (not sure which), a guitar bowed with a stick, the tape speed is upped or lowered in order to reach the timbres arrived at, mesmerizing sound; eerily tranquil, mid-pitched ninth-chord type of drone that sits muffled in the middle between the rumble and the twinkles, odd tones, reverbed fizzing sounds akin to short wave radio static, reflections in the reverb sounding similar alternately to wind through a screen door, or the ruffling of a plastic bag full of polystyrene peanuts, machine-like grating sounds skittering, a sample from David Lynch’s The Elephan Man, (I think) colored by the pleasingly degraded sound of a television’s speaker being recorded at a distance, a repeated false start of what sounds like a bad tape is gradually encroached upon by various textural backdrops, a din of reverb and panned feedbacks, delayed/reverbed flange which is looped on the descending side of the flange only.
It could be said that these two recordings are typical of this period of these artists’ work, and I don’t see that as a negative thing. They reinforce each other’s strengths synergistically. These tapes are thoughtfully composed, fascinating mixes of great, rare sounds. There is, to me, a psychedelic, transporting quality to the din of textures. I always enjoy what I feel to be the head-clearing effects much of these two artists’ works have, and to anyone I would enthusiastically urge that these artists be explored individually as well as with this fortunate re-release of their collaborations.
PHBTK double cassette is still available at the Cathartic Process website – $11 w/shipping:
Strongly recommended recent interview/profile on Jeph Jerman:
Strongly recommended interview/profile on PBK:
Related to the 80’s hometaper scene (downloads/listens & plenty of interesting information on under-celebrated artists of many styles) :
A film (probably the only film) about the 80s cassette scene (includes irritating commercial interruptions, but is good quality & full length):