An extension of the "Angry Eelectric Finger" trilogy of collaborative albums with Jim O'Rourke, irr.app. (ext.) and Cyclobe, this set presents much related material that either feed into or was drawn from that project. Originally, "Zero Mix", which is the first CD in this set, was presented as a limited edition picture disc available only to those who pre-ordered all three collaborative LPs way back around 2004. "Zero Mix" was probably seen as auxiliary as it was the source material which the three other acts worked with for their individual albums. As such it is a little spare, but certainly does not come off as a backing track. Quite the contrary, it bears resemblance to some of NWW's more reserved finished releases of recent years. Created by the duo of Colin Potter and Steven Stapleton, the disc begins with a soft repeating deep chord, possibly the very low end of a piano, over which what sounds like a bicycle provides short cranks overhead, perhaps in reference to Jacques Berrocal's "Rock'n'Roll Station", which NWW covered some years back. The three tracks are untitled however giving very little to reference like so many of Steve's titles. The opening piece does gradually become thicker with the addition of more creakiness, little tones, and what sounds like it may be extended horns in the bass range before becoming more active at the end. The second track is more active featuring more noisy sources and a warping of the sound similar to hand scrabbling tape, although probably accomplished digitally, yet retaining the low end pulse at the bottom. By the end of the disc, the sound field is enriched by flute and saxophone, which although uncredited on the thick CD sleeve itself, are revealed at the back of the book to be provided by Hansi Fischer and the late Tim Belbe, both of the legendary German jazz-rock Xhol, who lend an open jazz feel in the midst of more experimental territory. Somewhere hidden in the swirl of sounds is also a guest appearance by David Tibet, although at what point in the disc, I cannot tell.
The second disc, "Requital for Lady Day", seems to be an extension of the first disc's direction, and does give Belbe and Fischer credit for the title track, which gives very little outward appearance of any connection with Billie Holiday [that said I seem to remember Steve wearing a Billie Holiday t-shirt pretty much every day of his first visit to San Francisco]. Again the tracks here are low key like the overall feel of the first disc and pair with it well. "Requital" has the flute sounding very languorous in its long and soft tones. The second track's title, "Ocean [for 'Saucie' Redpath], gives more focus to the slowly undulating sounds which move like waves throughout the entire set. Both albums come in very thick miniature LP sleeves which are sturdy enough to make extracting the actual discs a little difficult.
Accompanying the CDs is thick, 220-page, hardcover book that is slightly larger than CD size at about five and a quarter inches square. As I mention above, this is yet another extension of the "Angry Eelectric Finger" trilogy of albums. One to each spread are 100 riotously colorful artworks that were painted directly onto salvaged junk LPs made for an exhibit in Ireland. A significant number of the images are bisected by a elaborations on a squiggly line, often in a horizontal, but sometimes in a vertical, orientation. Another common, but less prevalent, theme is the use of a traced hand, frequently with an eye in the palm. Of course following the obsessional pattern of Babs Santini artworks in general, there are several cases of abstracted genitals as well. The book is finely printed, in Hong Kong no less, on glossy stock which helps retain the eye popping quality of the colors used. I might also add that the dust jacket, which reproduces small images of the artworks used for the four original LP / CD releases (the fourth being "Zero Mix" itself) on the inside flaps, hides underneath it a nice embossed cover. Text throughout is little, although each circular artwork has a title written on its inside edge. That only suggests a preference for internally and directly reacting to the art and music without the mediation of verbal framework.
From what I can follow, the "Zero Mix" CD and the "Images / Zero Mix" book are both produced in editions of 1500 copies. Like many releases on Beta-lactam Ring Records, there is a more deluxe sub-edition with extra music, which the current review focuses on. The additional material here is the "Requital for Lady Day" CD, a CD sized insert signed by Steven Stapleton, and an oblong, cloth bound, two part box. This special boxed edition is stated as being in an edition of 400 copies, although it is not numbered anywhere on my copy. The box itself is a bit awkward measuring approximately 14.5" by 7.5" by 1.5" with a hard foam insert to hold the discs and book in place. Kind of an obnoxious size for storing with other audio releases. In contrast to the colorful contents, the box itself is only marked by the artist name and release title embosses on the lid with no ink, or at least a dark black.
Beta-lactam Ring Records - mt103/mt201/mt202
Long since reduced to the core of Dan Burke, and having shed more famous members such as Jim O'Rourke and Thymme Jone, IOS is still serving up multilayered works, demonstrating how much of the group's sound stems from Burke's own explorations. The two pieces that make up this release forgo the shock tactics of the earliest releases and focus on a more diffuse malaise. Two other reviewers have made a comparison to the work of The Hafler Trio, and that is easy to see as the central component on this record is the type of rich drones so prominent on later releases from H3O. However, IOS sidesteps the pseudoscience and pomposity that come as baggage with any of Andrew McKenzie's work. Anyhow, "Sedation" is unsurprisingly, given its title, the more subtle of the two beginning as it does in the most faint manner, shifting after a swash of static-like sounds which ushers in a fuller but still diffuse, calm atmosphere. Progression continues slowly, adding layers to the sound which occupy distinct sections of the frequency range. After the half way point, drifting bass tones which remind me of the earlier Organum shimmer through. "Quell" retains more of the tension that I associate with Illusion of Safety as the drone are more machine-like, although less abrasive than the work of Vivenza. The track starts with medicine chest's question in George Lucas' film "THX1139": "What's wrong?" From there it sets free the anxiety lurking within. As a coda to "Sedation", "Quell" ends with a very airy trailout as if to prepare you to flip the record back to its A side. Of course there is more detail found on both sides, but I don't feel that an in depth analysis of every component allows staying focused on the overall atmosphere. Has Illusion of Safety softened? Perhaps not, and more likely this is a rare gift from Dan which allows a deeper sinking into the drone without the usual jarring wake up call. The record totals around 20 minutes and is pressed on translucent yellow vinyl which is wrapped in a full color jacket.
C.I.P. / Complacency - CIP 21
BCO have been active over 30 years now during which time they have unleashed a massive amount of releases. Unlike a lot of artists working in the same time span, and with the same pace of output, Das is continually exploring new directions. In other words, BCO releases have a lot more variety than those of Merzbow and Muslimgauze. Despite using the word "drone" in their title as well as being on Drone Records, it is not a drone we find on the A side. Instead that there is a really peaceful take on gamelan with the rather silly title "Cockiness Breeds Carelessness". Is it possible they are taking a pot shot as the serious nature of most releases on this label? Hard to say for sure as humor is common thread throughout the history of this band. Anyhow, I am not clear if they are using actual gamelan instruments, or something they built to sound similar, which is quite possible and in line with the creative directions taken by the group outside the purely sonic aspects. The rapid chiming falls together in a beautiful rhythm over a simple percussive pulse and faint notes of flute while wordless female vocals float above. Given that seven performers are credited (Ninah Pixie, Jesse Burson, Kerri Pidnow, Peter Martin, Melissa Margolis, Mike Dringenberg, and Das), I am probably failing to tease out a few elements. Then again, a few of those might be reserved for the second side, "Rope Coiling Log". This side presents a more hazy atmosphere with a dominant harmonium like drone, a slow bass pulse, a rather subtle shimmering, and some distant cavernous sounds. These sounds mix together in a more ambient environment then the first side with less forward motion which fits the overall release title better. It is a nice mysterious B side which works because it is a contrast with the A side. They compliment each other as the X and Y axis, as the sides are labeled on the cover, of exploration. One moves forward in a horizontal direction, while the other's focus is on vertical accumulation. "Drone Gnomes" is a further installment in Drone's Substantia Innominata series, again pressed in an edition of 500 copies, this time on nice marbled blue vinyl. Running about 15 minutes on each side, this is probably more of a mini-album than a single.
Drone Records - SUB-05
Although often associated with deep bass sounds, the A side of this brown 10" focuses more on the mid-range with a buzzing high-tension drone. It is the sort of sound that you would associate with being inside of a electrical power line transformer. Certainly the "Radiant" part of the title fits with the sounds in this track. The second side lets some sparks fly, but more intermittently and above repeated notes played on the low end of the piano, as well as a subtle mid-range drone. It is a contrast to the first side as it offers a pulse and stays away from creating a static field. Both are supposed to fit into the concept of the Substantia Innominata series of 10" records, of which this is the first installment. The concept is stated as embracing "the prospect of infinite possibilities for artists to create music about the intangible such as: the unnameable, the unspeakable, the unthinkable, the unidentifiable, etc." Given the history of Drone Records, I would say that this statement could probably just as well apply to a lot of their earlier 7" releases. Likewise, clocking it at around 9 minutes per side, it about the same duration as some of those 7" entries. But maybe letting the grooves expand over a large surface is better for the fidelity in the end as 9 minute sides seemed to be pushing the limits for 7" records. As for the packaging, it is a nice match of matte brown paper and brown vinyl with streaks of green, black and possibly white. The cover art comes courtesy of Robert Schalinski of Column One and evokes the collage work of his countryman Max Ernst. Pressed in an edition of 500 copies, "Radiant Blood" has hung around in print longer than the smaller runs of the earlier 7"s - a format that Drone Records has now put to bed after 100 titles. This 10" series, now up to 17 releases, as well as a new series of four-way-split LPs look to be the way forward that Stefan Knappe wants to pursue.
Drone Records - SUB-01
Referencing 1988 in their name, which they have apparently retroactively changed to Ultrabunny, this harks back to the noise rock of the late 1980's, despite being recorded in 2004. At times they remind me of Butthole Surfers, no doubt due to the wacky vocals and somewhat wayward approach to the rock form while still laying down a motorik punk groove. The record comes elaborately packaged in Bruce Licher letterpress jacket, which is made gaudy by affixing a glitter encrusted vinyl sticker smack dab on the front cover. Honestly, I think this elements suits the band better. Their free and loose, not to mention rough, approach seems like it would have been better matched by a really cheap sleeve that didn't contradict the approach found on the two tone (half clear / half red) grooves inside. There is definitely a goofy aspect about the band which makes it seem that they are anti-high class. But maybe the mixture makes sense to what appears to be a band ready to take in a number of influences and directions. In any case, there are only 333 numbered copies, of which 88 were included in a deluxe boxed edition with an extra 8.8" record. Given that even the "regular" edition pulls together so many inserts and packaging elements, a bit of thought was given to the whole release.
Equation Records - E=mc6
When I shared the sad news about Damian's passing with Randy Greif, he emailed me this and asked me to share it.
I don't remember the exact circumstances I first met Damian... it was more than a couple of decades ago, during his days with Points of Friction and the beginning of his releases on cassette under the name of Agog.
I do remember how impressed I was with both his audio work and his elaborate packaging (which were works of art unto themselves).
When he showed me his collages, I immediately knew that I would love to have some on the covers of my own releases, and was happy and honored that he agreed to allow that. I used two of them that were already in existence for the covers of Bacteria and Gravity (the LP on RRR) and Shadowtraders (the cassette on my own label). For the cover of the Fragment 56 CD (which Dan Burke collaborated on), I got to watch alongside of Damian as it was pieced to together especially for the release. He was so meticulous, creating a beautiful image I was quite proud to have.
Damian's own cassette releases stood out from the crowd with their attention to detail and subtlety. I was regularly asking him when the next would come out, but he explained that it took him well over a year, as he would endlessly be re-working it-- not one to be satisfied with his own work easily. His attention, of course, was apparent when listening to his amazing work. We talked about collaborating on a project, and finally got around to it. Damian brought to my place strange and lovely instruments he put together to get unique sounds. I remember one was a type of auto-harp, but played with the blades of a small, hand-held electric fan. (Beautiful!)
We recorded several hours of improvising onto DAT, and the results were often more than intriguing. The idea was to edit that and re-mix it for a release, but sadly, we each got distracted with other events in our lives and we never got around to it.
The last time I ran into Damian was a few years back at Amoeba Records after a Nurse With Wound performance. He seemed energetic and enthusiastic, and we once again talked about getting together to do some music. Like so many casual plans, it fell by the wayside for a later time. Now there's no more "later time". I think I'll dig up that old DAT and give it a listen. Maybe it's time to edit and remix it, but without Damian's input it certainly won't be the same.
I am sad to report the death of Damian Bisciglia. He took his own life earlier this week. He was only 52 years old, but leaves behind a great legacy of work.
I first became aware of Damian in the 1980s when a friend wrote his name and number on a piece of paper for me. He mentioned Points of Friction and thought we should meet each other. At that time I did have the nerve to call people out of the blue. So it wasn't until several years later that I got in touch with Damian. I knew of his work as Agog and his visual art from the cover to Randy Greif's "Bacteria and Gravity" LP released by RRRecords. I think it was probably through Randy that I first heard Agog as I got the "Putting Legs on a Snake" cassette from him.
The music of Agog was homemade musique concrete - amazing tape collages. It was really outstanding work that stood above a lot of what was coming out of the cassette culture at that time. Damian's work was superbly recorded and edited, and lovingly packaged. The packaging in a way was his downfall as he spent so much effort on it, that he made few copies of the cassettes on his own Spagyric label. The only cassette that was easily available was a split cassette with Zan Hoffman published by N D magazine in 1990. He also did a cassette for the legendary Broken Flag label, but it was towards the end of their first run and very few copies seem to have been made of that either. Probably the most heard was the Agog track on the five 7" box set edition of RRRecords's "Testament" series. His own cassettes reached fewer and fewer people over the years as his packaging grew more and more elaborate. Visiting him at his parent's house in the late 1990s, I was blown away by the creature sculptures that he was showing me. My amazement increased as he split them open to show me the cassettes that lived inside of them.
With so little available and such high quality, I wanted to do what I could to share his music. It ended up being a three year project, but I was able to release the only Agog LP on Anomalous Records in 2001. By the end of that year I was able to reissue one of the Points of Friction cassettes on CD. Both were very special releases for me. They didn't sell particularly well, but represented what "anomalous" meant to me.
But I am failing to mention Damian's work as an improvisor. He was a collector of junk materials and built his own instruments and sculptures. At times he would put himself down for only having these non-instruments. Perhaps this contributed to his shyness towards performing. I only saw him perform in front of an audience once. That was at Anomalous Records in 1994 in a duet with Joseph Hammer. Need I even say that it was amazing? His association with Joseph went all the way back the beginning of the 1980s when Points of Friction was formed with Kenny Ryman and Tim Alexander. After the group broke up, he worked mostly solo, but did collaborate through the post with Minoy, Adam Bohman, Johannes Bergmark, and Zan Hoffman. In recent years Mitchell Brown roused him to more activity helping encourage the reformation of Points of Friction and releasing a new CD of their music.
Damian's music and art remains little heard and known for the most part. I congratulate Mitchell Brown, Fredrik Nilsen, Dylan Nyoukis, Seymour Glass, Hitomo Arimoto, Ron Lessard, Eric Blevins, Zan Hoffman, Daniel Plunkett, and the others that helped get bits of his music into the world. I hope that his music does not disappear with his passing.
Earlier this year, Points of Friction played for the first time in a few years. Damian was excited about the event and excited about music in general. I got the impression that he was ramping up for more activity. Obviously there were other things that troubled him though. His life has sadly been cut short. I am thankfully for all that he gave us and will miss him.
Thank you Mitch for passing along this sad news. Thank you Nils for first pointing me in Damian's direction all those decades ago. Thank you Randy for helping me pick up that thread. Thank you Joseph for all you did.
|Long standing cassette culture figure Don Campau sent me this link to his words about Agog including a download of the music.
|Dylan Nyoukis has reposted my words and added a few of his own with the bonus of an audio clip of a track that he and Damian did together via the post.
Normally I try to avoid bootlegs. Artists are usually getting screwed over enough as it is. Can has tempted me out of that standard a few times now and in the end I couldn't resist this latest 'fan club' record (as the sales person at the record store called it). Can's official albums, at least up to "Soon Over Babaluma", have been such an important piece of my listening for decades now. Having listened to these records over and over and knowing them inside and out, I have of course had a desire to here more. Unfortunately little has been forthcoming from their archives. So many bands have scraped the bottom of the barrel releasing all manner of things that should have stayed unreleased. But here is a major band known for their extended live performances and improvisations as well having their own recording studio, and they never let anything out. Not even bonus tracks on the reissues of their albums, when at least they could have included the two non-album b-sides from their early period. Thankfully a few things have been leaked over time including BBC sessions and live recordings. However, most stunning, and rare, have been some of the full length studio recordings. This LP is the latest of those to appear with any semblance of availability. The music must have have come from some close source as the sound quality is excellent even if it does have some tape hiss (which makes sense given the technology of the time). The LP is named after the track which appeared on the "Limited Edition" LP (later reissued as the double "Unlimited Edition"). But where the original release gave us only a two and a half minute tidbit, this LP is the whole 36 minutes. Well, the first bit of side one sound like it might be another piece, but the majority is one long jam in the studio. One thing that becomes obvious when hearing these full recordings is how much Holger's editing really shaped the official albums by Can. Anyone really closely listening to the song "Mother Sky" on "Soundtracks" should be able to pick up on how things were stitched together. Let alone the more subtle work on other tracks throughout their discography. Holger had a knack for isolating the best bits and putting them together as a complete album. Which is why I think there have never been bonus tracks on the CD reissues of those albums. Probably another part was the limitations of the LP format specifically in not accommodating 40 minutes pieces. Which brings me to one shortcoming of the LP at hand. The track listing on the back cover is simply "Doko E Part One" and "Doko E Part Two". And that is literally what it is. The music stops at the end of side one to pick up again on side two where it left off. The edit was at least good and is not totally jarring, but I can see how this would be better as an uninterrupted piece. Sometimes people's fetish with vinyl can cause little hiccups like this. Still I am very glad to hear this whole piece which the officially released very is but a very tiny excerpt of. The music is really solid throughout and a lot more energy fueled that the restrained, but excellent, "Future Days" album which was recorded around the same time as "Doko E". This title track was seemingly edited down simply for the reason that there so little room on "Limited Edition" to feature so many great pieces. Again it is criminal that a band of this calibre has so much amazing music in their archives which has been withheld, especially when there is so much substandard music by other artists out there. One unique aspect of this particular session is that Damo sings almost entirely in Japanese and he is a lot more comprehensible when speaking his native tongue. At least as far as I can tell. My understanding of Japanese has slipped a lot from lack of use. 'Doko e' roughly translates to 'going to' which lines up with the one phrase in English heard here, "Go back to Germany." However, I do seem to remember the lyrics for this song being included in Pascal Bussy's "Can Book", one of the only times that Damo's lyrics were committed to print. The rest often remaining a mystery even to the other members of Can. A lot of this is no doubt due to Damo's heavy Japanese accent. I became acutely aware of this some years back when I saw him 'solo' and I couldn't even understand what he was saying when introducing his band without any music behind him. Anyhow, despite claims of long time withholding, Can have finally made the first dip into their archives since "Unlimited Edition" for the release of "The Can Tapes". Unfortunately the longest tracks on this new triple CD collection fall short of 17 minutes, leaving full length performances like those on "Doko E" still unavailable. The closest we get is the 29 minute version of "Spoon" on the recently expanded CD version of "Tago Mago" (which even sounds like it might have been edited). I hope these things are a portent of more to be unleashed, but given the time it took to get here and the remaining member's advancing age, I don't expect too much. So I broke down and bought "Doko E" for now. Hopefully it will be obsolete some day.
FPK&S Records Nara - FPK&S 014
Generally speaking pure electronic music, i.e. that not trying to emulate traditional instruments or music, really started to go downhill for me with the introduction of computers. A few computer assisted things stand out from the old days, like the work done at EMS in Sweden, but overall the general current of electronic music was not helped by digital means. Mego really brought back some of the essential punch with glitch filled noises and chaotic composition when they started up in the 1990s, for me really peaking with the early releases by Hecker. While the label always remained too varied to apply any generalizations with regard to style, this type of work is what captures my ears the most. This duo CD continues on this path mixing contrasting layer of electronic sounds which have a complexity which keeps this interesting. The sounds shift and recombine not unlike Voice Crack, who not coincidentally find their sounds extensively used on the track "Schwarzschild". Ranging in dynamics, the music avoids the sudden jump cuts of Merzbow but still packs a serious punches in some places. But this depends on the playback volume as listened to quietly the music can be become subtle.
Editions Mego - D]MEGO 001
Nate Wooley is primary known as a player of free improvisation with his chosen instrument being the trumpet. For this 72 minute piece, Wooley switches gears radically in the creation of this large form work. He is still using the trumpet, but has layered up to ten recordings of non-extended and non-processed performances. The liner notes included with the disc are quite brief leaving much of the particulars to the imagination. However the Pogus web site reveals much more detail stating that is was "recorded in different mutes, tunings, with different microphones, and in different rooms," as well as talking about the layering process. The results are rich in tone beyond a pure electronic drone with a result that sounds more like an organ, with hints towards the end of the piece that sound like voice. The obvious comparison is to the work of Phill Niblock although without the extent of microtonal variation. In its place we hear a slow progression of layers intermix which if anything give the barest suggestion of Alvin Lucier's explorations with beat tones. Perhaps compositionally it comes closest to La Monte Young or Somei Satoh except that it lacks the pauses that appears in some of their works.
Pogus Productions - 21061-2