petriblog

Intermittent D.I.Y. music / art / life writing projects.

Category: Music reviews

Address change, etc.

Address has changed. Check ‘about’ page for that. Unintended extra-long hiatus due to moving & schoolwork & life businesses. If you’d like anything reviewed it’s probably best to try electronic submission for now rather than sending things to me that may not be reviewed for another several months. I have quite a stack to get to and probably won’t get to much or any of it until May 2016. Do check over the older writeups for notable artists and labels to check out.

Pixel Hexing – video art collection (2014 Bicephalic Records)

PHXNG

Watching this DVD tonight was a tremendous pleasure for my weary mind. I found the diversity and the relatively short durations of the videos to be a perfect combination. Each artist’s piece is unique, with approaches spanning from vhs-trash to digital-trash to surreal quasi-HD digital environments and textures. The sound pieces all differ nicely, giving the viewer / listener a diverse yet cohesive experience. The sounds are all abstract works, with many wearing their electronics brightly on their sleeve in sync with aspects of the video. I thought it was an excellent snapshot of what at least a faction of the current video art scene is up to, what is possible, what people have thought of, what people are thinking about, -that sort of thing. As I ramp up toward doing more of my own video work, I found this DVD very inspiring and thoroughly stimulating. The moods and textures change visually and aurally over the course of what can’t be more than an hour. I’m not sure it’s less than an hour, but for having 12 artists it seemed to pass quickly. The credits and title menu are even pleasing to watch. Fantastic work by all artists involved, and strongly recommended.

Regosphere / Xiphoid Dementia – Subterranean Transmigration CD (2014 ANNIHILVS & Phage Tapes)

SUBTRAN

This is a 2014 split CD with Regosphere on tracks 1, 3, and 5; Xiphoid Dementia on 2, 4, and 6 – with the material coming from recordings done in 2011-2012. The artwork is beautiful in content as well as presentation; crystal-crisp photography of ice, caves and machinery populate the imagery, and it’s all professionally printed in full color on glossy stock, as this is a jewel case non-CDR release likely produced in quantity of 300 or more. Annihilvs and Phage Tapes did an excellent job presenting these two artists’ work.

I’ve been familiar with Regosphere / Andrew Quitter for about 5 years, and his label Dumpsterscore Home Recordings. Andrew also has roots in Illinois, in Peoria, which is only about 30 minutes from the small town I grew up in. With Andrew I feel a type of mid-western solidarity. It has been our plight to be birthed into this grayed and constricting environment, and it is our compulsion to noisily soothe / exorcise the demons and neuroses thereby incurred. Andrew’s sound work began in 1998 with his power electronics / noise / industrial project Suburbia Melting. He retired this project in 2012, continuing onward with the Regosphere moniker instigated in 2007. Since 2003, his label Dumpsterscore has released more than 100 recordings on various formats by artists such as Robe, Shalocins, Andreas Brandal, Chefkirk, Swamp Horse, Lavas Magmas, Flesh Coffin, Cracked Dome, and Cory Schhumacher. He has also released a number of drone / ambient works under his own name. Throughout his many projects, Andrew demonstrates a fantastic audio production ear and sense for the aural realization of dark psychological territories.

Regosphere begins the disc with “Psychic Surgery (Second Procedure)”, a dark science fiction wrongness built of a deep droning synth, numerous sharp digital flitterings, shrieking / howling voice and other hallucinatory textures. High pitched modulating electronic textures maintain a sweeping/swooping staticky cloud as the venomous distorted shrieking exercises itself alongside a recurring metallic clang. An amount of the high frequencies sound reversed, so there are intricacies of texture that reveal themselves in each moment, like listening to a stream of water as its microscopic clicks, plops and trickles change their aural shape.

On his next track, (#3) “The Devil’s Icebox”, Regosphere posits an excellent ambient-industrial doom drone piece, which at its apex features subliminally shiver-inducing frequency shift and/or panning. Fizzing and high freq. wavy pulses echo in all directions. An irregular electronic bass drum thump keeps non-time. Distorted scraping, jangling of fibrous metals, distant eerie tones; all fluctuating, trying out various positions, juxtaposing placement in the stereo field, spreading themselves out like fungus. There is the feeling of a mindless insidiousness bent on infection and degradation. I am drawn to think of creatures annihilating each other with no second thought, parasitic infections that make disgusting macabre spectacles of their hosts, bottom-feeders who relish the consumption of putrified organic matter. This music speaks to me of the instinctual, unquestioned, unstoppable urge to drag downward – degrade – destroy – corrupt – poison – kill – consume – spoil.

On track 5 he does a somewhat quieter piece focusing on more minute textures, putting the listener afloat in a contemplative darkness. Electronic drones resembling distorted guitar weave throughout a morphing panorama of field recordings, tape manipulation, metals, and higher frequencies of electronics.

Xiphoid Dementia is Egan Budd, who also leads the Existence Establishment net zine & label. He has been doing Xiphoid Dementia since 1999, releasing only a handful of albums between 2005 and now. (None shown @ Discogs between 1999 and 2005 – Discogs knows all.)

Xiphoid arrives at track 2 with a piece called “Despondency Aquifer”. This is dark ambient psychedelia that brings Clive Barker, Coil, Lustmord, and other great dark ambient or heady occult-flavored artists to mind. This piece is a dreamlike technological / psychological crackup ritual; an intense inter-dimensional mind-bend, an incredible agoraphobic paranoia, terrifying disembodiment, etc. The production is crisp and has a digital feel. There seems to be a mixed aesthetic in this track that includes recordings from both high and low fidelity sources, or perhaps it’s just that there are mic-recorded as well as direct-line-recorded sources. At about half way through the 10+ minutes of the track, the pummeling of drums begins. Feverish drum pounding weaves in and out of an increasingly dense cloud of fearful dream-drone. Punctuations of snare drum occasionally double up on the bed of deep floor tom sounds. The piece eventually fades out the drumming and over-arching drones, giving way to the more atmospheric elements of pensively clanged metals and electronic nightmare / breakdown-in-reality church bell, all clothed in cathedral-sized reverbs.

Track 4 – Xiphoid Dementia’s “Beneath the Foundation”, is a sparse dark atonal ambient piece with intermittent heavily reverbed screaking, rumbling, shifting tones which rise and/or fall, and a small amount of sampled electronics. It’s an environment pic which auditorily visualizes vast interiors in states of disrepair, ominousness abound.

On the final track (#6), “Mineral Ressurrection”, Xiphoid Dementia continues on the subtler current initiated by Regosphere’s “Coffin Dust”. This piece has a deliberately arranged quality to it, with movements and swells of tension which give way to relief, and once again climb back up to mystically gloomful assemblies of texture and tonality. I’m reminded of some certain instrumental segments of SPK that I’ve heard, though Xiphoid’s piece here is heavier and more abrasive. His pieces on this album also remind me somewhat of one of my favorite industrial albums, Wake of Devastation by Decree. For that matter, there are probably more similarities to instrumental works by Front Line Assembly or Delerium – both of which Decree’s central figure, Chris Peterson, was a member. The similarities to these artists in Xiphoid’s work are contained in the clean / beautiful audio production, carefully placed synth textures, spacious reverbs, sparkling electronics, consistent use of line overload, and thunderous enunciations with timpani / massive percussion. It breaks rank from the other pieces, which have mostly a slowly evolving pattern of behavior. In the other pieces, the elements tend sneak in slowly, build on themselves, shift and change shape. This piece has a discernible structure, albeit an irregular one, with a few distinct sections. At its height, there are short 2-to-4-tone motifs played in synth tones that recur and reflect each other, with sculpted pauses and dynamic builds adding to the significance of each tonal / textural statement. The artist has excellently balanced the etherial space-tones pronounced in shimmering lazer-synth against the deep viscous rumbling synth which rolls in with each wave of timpani and noise. This final piece is an excellent closer to an impressive and perfectly proportioned dual-artist release.

Of the two artists, I would put Regosphere closer to Earth, whereas Xiphoid Dementia delves into other dimensions and psychic territories overlapping those of Earth. Both artists are speaking of similar notions in their work, of course, and this disc is a great encapsulation of the overlap between their respective creative patterns.

Buy from Existence Establishment, Phage Tapes, Dumpsterscore Distro.

Big City Orchestra – Kapellmeister CDR (HalTapes – Jan 2015)

Kapp

Big City Orchestra is a prolific (over 160 releases since 1985) group many would likely recognize as part of the 80s experimental cassette scene. From various readings and conversations with older friends, I gather they were enjoyed as a favorite by many. I get the impression that they have many tricks in their bag, and that is what makes them so impressive and special.

Please enjoy Big City Orchestra’s Discogs bio:

“One of the most idiosyncratic and original groups of the past two decades, BCO is not your standard Orchestra. Situated in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, the band has released an enormous catalog of recorded material over the past two decades. Formed in the late 1970’s the ensemble continues to maintain a free-flowing roster of artists from around the world that collaborate on specific projects. Categorizing the Orchestra into any given genre can be a task, as releases continue to surprise even the most devout listener. There is never any way to precisely classify the next BCO release. An album of authentic sea-shanties? A wall of noise? A shimmering downpour of lullabies whispered to the wind? A humorous or thought-provoking album of Sound Collages? Vocal excursions set to make Rod McKuen blush? We press play, leaning forward with slight apprehension. We await the first wave of blissful deception. We are perpetually rewarded.”

This CDR was released by Hal McGee, who was involved in distributing & releasing their music in the early / mid 80s. I assume this release results in part from that years-old positive connection.

Hal(“Ear Tampons” – poignantly preposterous?)

My first exposure, of two total exposures, to Big City Orchestra was a CDR called Beatlerape, consisting of a bizarre collection of alternate takes on and / or cut-up-collagery of Beatles songs and recordings. I don’t know if it’s ‘rape’, but what they do to Beatles music on this album is quacked out and could by many be called “wrong”. Demented looping, demented voices, demented juxtapositions of sounds. I very much enjoyed it off and on for several months in the car’s cd player. I know I’ve heard another Big City Orchestra recording, but I don’t recall which one. This matters because I remember thinking the second Big City Orchestra album I heard was pointedly different from Beatlerape, as is the present specimen, Kapellmeister.

Kapellmeister is a great mixed bag of lo-fi collage, psych, plunder, field recordings, found recordings, electronic junk bits, eclectic instrumentation / approach -but cleanly sectioned into the 10 segments they list on Side A and Side B. Track 8, “OOOOH JACK”, is a cutup of cleanly recorded, quietly speaking christian television preachers set against an ominous early-80s-industrial-mechanical-plodding backdrop. The clips of christian people are cut and assembled in such a way as to slather, playfully and mockingly, the christians’ pretensions of purity with humorous sexual innuendo. It’s simultaneously hilarious and darkly hope-crushing? This piece is on par with all of the other pieces for level of interest, pacing, composition, content, etc. Every track has its own intriguing qualities. Wonderfully surreal yet entertaining and non-tedious. Simple yet engaging and surprising. These things are hard to do with abstract sound work. I dare call it sophisticated, prodigious, genuine. The rawness of the black & white artwork is pleasant, with strangely bleak torn paper collage and digitally manipulated images by Rafael Gonzalez. There’s a cerebral surreality to the haloed white blob (photoshop air brushing likely) over the faces of an idealized couple from the..1930s? This roughness is tied together nicely with the text and with the two pillars of the repeated collage item showing two half-faces close together, reflecting their similarities and differences. These considerations tie the cover together with symmetry and an even distribution of dark and light. In comparison to a number of Hal’s other releases, this HalTapes specimen nicely balances pragmatic non-aestheticism and a tight sense of design. I enjoy the non-aesthetically charged design of the information side of the slim jewel case’s insert.

In his description for his album B12, Hal McGee -designer of this disc’s insert- tells a story about packaging design for audio recordings:

“After my three year hiatus from recording (92-95) I noticed that a lot of noise artists were doing special deluxe package releases. It seemed like every fuckin’ release by Aube had like a dead fish attached to it or a pubic hair or a bag of sewage water or some such shit with deluxe printed sleeve, etc etc etc. I purposely made the cover of my “B12” cassette as shitty and amateurish-looking as possible and I fit four of them onto one sheet of paper so that at Kinko’s each cover would end up costing me like 2.5 cents.

HalB12

I sent a copy of “B12” to Aube as a trade and told him here is my “anti-deluxe two and a half cent cover”. He was not amused and told me he would not trade with me again. This is the same young upstart who had told me previously that I had been one of his influences from the 1980s. Hahahaha. Uppity bastard!”

I presume to an extent Hal’s current design tendencies align with the thinking embodied in this frank, funny outburst. The emphasis is on what you’re doing and less on the capturing or distillation of some grand wizardly vision into an even more grand wizardly package that sells at inflated prices. This is the dichotomy of process vs. product, or maybe something less clear cut than that. I greatly enjoy both approaches (super-art-packaging and more straight forward packaging) depending on the specific example. It’s unfortunate, but for now I’m dreaming of a future time when I can support more artists putting out special deluxe products. I’m not able to spend so much money any more on music, so I don’t often acquire music releases with special (expensive) packages. Right now I can only get the occasional regular old ordinary issue releases; no fancy boxes, no extra inserts, no 3-D glasses, no diesel-soaked papyrus, no vials of blood, no hand-made folded special-stock paper delicacies. Many DIY artists and label-people have simple aesthetics based around their financial limitations; a lower budget usually costs a bit in impressiveness of appearance, but the money saved by simplifying package design can be used to release music more frequently, or for other projects. I have an interest in understanding different approaches to creative work. As long as the work comes from a genuine and specific place I’ll probably find it at least worth examining.

This CDR/tape/download is a truly excellent recording demonstrating all sorts of creative and technical prowess. That being said, it’s also presented in a remarkably unpretentious way. It’s adventurous and consistently engaging, while still being quite abstract and not the least bit catchy, unless you find certain tonal drones catchy. I rarely put in a recording and find it so impressive on a first listen. When this happens, the recording’s charm usually grows over time rather than fading.

Listen below – the download is only $1 minimum – worth more than that, though.