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

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


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.


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.


TRADITIONAL MUSIC FROM OGYGIA: Ritual Drama of Ogygia’s Imperial Court (Lahmogie Institute)


This hand-stamped CDR came in a rectangular zip lock bag black and included white photocopied artwork with hand-stamped and hand-painted flourishes of black and metallic gold. I am hugely fond of this packaging with its humbly idiosyncratic pseudo-antique-pamphlet design. The recording and the aesthetic of the packaging does come across like the intimate ritual recordings of some obscure and isolated monastery-like place, just as the enclosed “Ogygian Court Drama: Live at the Lahmogie Institute” pamphlet describes. An 11”x17” paper is folded in half to form an 8 ½” x 11” 4-page booklet about the proceedings captured in the recording. The disc has 9 tracks of beautiful, quiet, peaceful ethnically-twinged thought-spacers all equally pleasure-inducing. It’s a stimulating and calming joy to listen to start to finish. Gongs, flutes, whistles, sitar (or pseudo-sitar), metals, zither?, organ, hand drums and strange voices make up the sound palette. There is a touch of foggy, misty reverb on most all of the tracks. Resonance of strings and metals is emphasized in the playing of instruments. Strings and resonant percussives are allowed to ring out and float over other elements. The album does indeed sound quite like some kind of court music, complete with dramatic arc. It’s really beautiful stuff that is thoroughly enjoyable to listen to when attempting some time in a calmed and thoughtful state of mind. It’s grounding and humble while also being highly stylized and impeccably delivered.


The wonderfully obscure Lahmogie Institute ( seems to be the home of Tuluum Shimmering, and this music seems to relate to aspects I’ve heard in Tuluum Shimmering music.


I have an LP of Tuluum Shimmering (Ulau Tau Spirit of Sun) which sadly I have not yet listened to, acquired at the same time as this disc. I’ll be getting that out very soon and finally hearing it, as I’ve recently ordered a phono preamp to enable use of my turntable. Tuluum Shimmering’s shop (!releases/c10qy) features some newer self-released recordings which have a strikingly similar aesthetic in the artwork as well as the sound. Releases in thematically cohesive series such as these Tuluum Shimmering / Lahmogie Institute recordings can be addicting. The theme & variation within chosen aesthetic parameters becomes increasingly pleasing to the eye as the releases multiply; especially when the music, too, continues to increase in enjoyability after repeat listens.

Alan Courtis & Aaron Moore – Bring Us Some Honest Food LP (Dancing Wayang Records)


In the discordant, jangly, textural multi-instrumental sounds on this album is a pointed concern with honesty. We’ve got an album title saying “Bring Us Some Honest Food”, and all of the track titles have the word “honest” included. I take it as the artists’ playful injection of thoughts regarding the debasement of art, food, and life activities. We have ice cream cones and hamburgers on the cover, and we’re talking about “pork pie” and “dishonest dessert”. Pork is nasty in most cases, especially when we’re talking about what is probably a greasy spoon sort of restaurant, or perhaps cheap canned pork, or a bag of pork rinds – which is what I’m imagining based upon the titles and the frequent hamburgers and ice cream cones on the cover. Pigs are also very intelligent creatures, so to stuff thousands of them into short, long buildings and subsequently harvest their flesh to make cheap breakfast for the masses seems disrespectful at best.

The food industry takes what could be “honest food”, and debases it through mechanization, monoculture, mass-marketing, and other monkeying. The music and film industries do the same in their own ways. The food industry causes environmental and biological pollution and numerous other imbalances. The music and film industries cause psychological imbalance and other sorts of chaos and squandered human potential. I suggest that these problems stem from various types of dishonesty. These kinds of thoughts are what I get out of the titling. I may not be correct, but I am amused when an artist’s work inspires me to run with lines of interesting thought without making me feel brow-beaten. The titles and artwork of this release speak of open experimentation with undercurrents of political / social topics of concern to the artists. It’s great when an artist overtly takes a stand or makes a statement about something, but to subtly tickle ideological sensibilities through playfully vague wordage and artwork is -in my opinion- often a classier way to make points, if that’s what they’re trying to do.

Aaron Moore‘s name I recognized from Volcano the Bear, a somewhat Nurse-With-Wound-like diversely experimental group whose work I’m not very familiar with but enjoyed much on the album The One Burned Ma. Aaron is a British multi-instrumentalist whose emphasis is in percussion. He has experimented variously with himself and with other artists including A Hawk and A Hacksaw, Tom Recchion, Boredoms, Thierry Muller, Gospel of Mars and others.

Alan – alternately Anla- Courtis is an Argentinian guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who many people may know from the group Reynols, and from collaborations and/or performances with a gigantic number of luminary experimental artists. Anla / Alan has been present on numerous releases across many iconic labels, and was the subject of a Wire Mag. article a while back (July 2014 – Yoshimi P-We on the cover).

About Bring Us Some Honest Food:

The sounds on this recording seem to be derived from lengthy improvised sessions which were edited and mixed with care. A wide breadth of approaches and sounds are present, focused mostly on a consistent shuffle of miniature mood pockets; a feeling or textural atmosphere is established, some variation is sought within it, and it is shuffled away as the next wave sweeps or plops in. Prepared piano, electric/acoustic guitars, percussion, misc. feedbacks, tapes?, coronet/trumpet, and voice are included. The lead track, “Portions of Honesty”, centers around a prepared piano and eerie drifting distant guitar textures punctuated with jittery, pensive percussion. I was surprised at the inclusion of vocal melody, though I struggled to pick out what words were being said. The piece is amorphous but tightly strung together, making it easily the most concise piece of the album. Some of the guitar playing (particularly “The Honest Waitress”) has a rustic, bluesy, western feel to it, which is slanted to the left with an oddness of its own. When the guitars are not utilized as a noise-making device, they are played with a melodic free-form approach which ambles through well-honed wandering-soul themes. “The Honest Waitress” is most representative of this free-form themeplay, spanning 7 minutes of a minor key picked mostly on a down-tuned acoustic guitar. Feedback and other textures sweep in and out as the acoustic 6-string shifts from foreground to background and back again at intuitively scheduled irregular intervals. “Honest Pork Pie” focuses more on strange noises and drones. Accelerating / decelerating delay pedal overloads are set against manipulated samples and other electronic garble, all skittering and noodling through the frequency spectrum at a steady metamorphic pace. Some weird muffled voice mumble-play occurs towards the end, as does some percussive sounds of cymbals. Side B, consisting only of “A Dishonest Dessert”, is a darker piece, and probably the most discordant of all. Hesitant subtle tones emanating from what sounds like reed instruments (oboe?) -OR- guitars played with a bow begin the piece. A chord is assembled between the 3 or 4 intermittent echo-laden random dronings of this mystery instrument. One of the album’s only clearly rhythmical segments starts in at about 5 minutes, with soft tapping on some metallic objects. Bells and other wooden percussion are rattling about in harmonious yet eerie combinations. Tapping drumsticks and hi-hat continue the rhythm as the sounds become weirder and a trumpet shows up. Really this piece wanders all over the place, and is a work of mostly live improvisation with a minimum of overdubs and effects added. There is a lot of open space and attention to the texture and tambre of the individual instruments. Panning is careful and consistent in the mix throughout the album, which adds nicely to the studious usage of reverbs and echoes all fitting to their respective audio elements.

Included in the LP are some humorously absurd / surreal notes written by Tom Recchion about each side of the album, which can add to one’s understanding of it all. These, to me, come across not unlike various non-reviews of albums I’ve read over the years in small online publications. Such non-reviews in the context of a blog work more for the entertainment of the writer and less for the information of the reader. Such things are usually only enjoyable to read when you’re not seeking to learn much about the actual thing they purport to be writing about. They are specifically-inspired random acts of creative writing, just as these liner notes are. The notes here by Recchion could count for whatever purpose you choose, and in the context of liner notes for an LP they are a welcome addition of content.

This is an interesting album in the tradition of live avant garde performance, meaning that it is -to me- less of a studio work and more of a work of instrumental performance relying upon the artists’ abundant musicianship and ingenuity. Though there is evident and consistent studio trickery afoot here, my mental image of this work is of a couple of highly talented improvisers working together utilizing their experience-wrought technical ability right there on the spot.

Listen / buy it here.

Basked Unit – LMNOP c50 (Old Frontiers)


Basked Unit as they appear on this recording make a low fidelity drone-space-wash sort of abstract drumless psychedelic music. LMNOP is the one-microphone-in-the-room variety of basement tape experimental/industrial psychedelia. Prime. The Unit’s small group of sound manipulators together improvisationally create dense atmospheric sound pictures, and spontaneously make a cross-fading slide show out of them.

Present group members Scott Johnson, Mike Pouw, Josh St. Denis, and Sean Gadoury work together adeptly, one member’s output never souring the overall mix. Improvisational choices are studied. Would-be awkward moments are subsumed into the stream of instantaneous drone-texture composition; rendered logical, made into sub-points and texture in the proceedings. These are very good improvisers with good ears.

The tonalities they choose to drape over the underlying earthy sound-murk are more than appropriately hypnotic. This underlying earthy sound-murk consists of various rumblings, statics, reverbed-out things of all sorts, drones, and feedbacks. On top of this dense foundational weirdness (which is akin in ways to the atmospheres of the previously reviewed PBK + ANLA COURTIS tape…) during some segments are magical tonalities loosely painted by effected guitars. There are times of doom, surrealism, and gnosis on this tape, performed sensitively and interspersed carefully, so as to provide a continually interesting listen.

The tape is sold out at Old Fronteirs. Possibly because it was released in 2011, but we’re really not sure. It could be because of anything, really. It may be possible to find it somewhere, though, so you should try if you’re interested.

Actually, I would be willing to trade my copy of this for something interesting or otherwise meaningful/valuable if the right offer came my way: d h a l pe t ri AT g m aIL do tc om

The label is no more, but Sean Gadoury still posts new collage artwork at his tumblr page on a fairly consistent basis as far as I can tell. His collages are nostalgic, surreal, playful, on the metaphysical / mystical side.

Check out the artwork and ancient history of Old Frontiers at the site: