Matt Shoemaker (1974-2017)

Last week I got the news that my friend Matt Shoemaker died on August 12th.  It was a bit of a shock, especially as he was only 43, and he has been on my mind quite a bit since. It has been difficult to deal with the fact that I will no longer see this wonderful man.  He was easy going, kind, gentle and intelligent.  And of course very talented. In addition to the human impression he has left on his friends, Matt leaves behind a legacy of recorded work that impresses and delights, as well as less known but equally wonderful visual work.

I knew Matt for around 20 years.  During that time, we interacted in a variety of ways.  He bought music from me at Anomalous Records. He provided me with videos and conversation while working for Video Isle.  He worked at Anomalous Records for a short time.  We played music together, both sharing the bill at concerts and playing together in private.  He was a pleasure to hang out and talk with as he was knowledgeable and passionate.

Matt was one of the few people in Seattle who I know that actually grew up in the area.  Although I don’t know too much about his early life, he did mention playing a space rock group as well as creating his own horror make up – fake blood and the like.  I met him in 1996 or 1997.  It was during this time that I had an actual store front for Anomalous Records and Matt was a regular walk in customer.  I suspect he had been working on solo music at this point already, but he didn’t make any mention of it until presenting me with a two CDR demo in 1999.  The following year trente oiseaux in Germany would release the CD “Groundless” and followed it in 2002 with “Warung Elusion”.  I don’t think the discs were a huge success, but they led to some international recognition and appreciation.  After a lull of several years, more releases started appearing, most notably from Helen Scarsdale Agency and Elevator Bath.  The final release in his lifetime came on the latter label in 2015.  But while his photography graces the covers of many of his releases, I was unaware of his drawing until the release of the “Wayward Set” CDR.  Suddenly another secret aspect of Matt was revealed.

Throughout these years Matt also presented his music at concerts.  Initially he was appearing on stage with a laptop.  This was how I remember him on Thursday October 28th, 2004 – the night that I did my first concert with the Moog Voyager.  It wasn’t too long after this contrast of my analog and his digital that he turned to collecting modular analog gear.  He proudly showed off many custom built and limited run devices which greatly enhanced his live sound as well as his recordings.  I believe he was utilizing this gear when we played together at his apartment in April of 2005 and twelve months later when we were joined by Jesse Paul Miller and Carl Lierman.  While those collaborations were private, Matt had a much longer running and frequent collaboration with another good friend, Dave Knott.  This grew out of the time that they were roommates in the Fremont neighborhood.  Billing themselves as Omake & Johnson, they initially attempted to keep their identities a secret.  Appearing in this configuration live a few times, they finally released a very limited CDR and slightly larger edition cassette on Matt’s own Human Faculties label.  Both Dave and Matt were members of the large ensemble I assembled to play graphic scores in 2006.  Matt left early on in the history of what became known as Eye Music, but I enjoyed his contributions and was disappointed when no longer wanted to play with us.

Layering on top of this was Matt’s employment at Video Isle.  Located in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, it is one of the few remaining video rental stores in the city.  During his years there Matt was influential in stocking unusual films and encouraging people to explore.  Even now you can visit the shop and still see stickers on DVD boxes that say “Matt’s pick”. I think working there allowed Matt an opportunity to be social, which was something I couldn’t offer him during the short stint working for Anomalous Records (he admitted it being a lot harder work there than he expected). He was in the public eye there and no doubt made many friends.  For me it was a very accessible way to interact and converse with him, especially as I moved to a house that was literally around the corner in 2003.

On topic that Matt especially liked to talk about was Indonesia and his travels there. He would spend extended periods exploring and getting immersed in the culture.  If I remember right, he was there during the Bali bombings, but luckily stayed away from tourist destinations.  He was interested in pushing further and digging deeper.  And he brought back a prodigious amount of music cassettes, many of which he later digitized and burned onto CDR for me.

These are just some of the memories that have come back to me. It is sad that he is gone, but I am glad to have known him and spent so much time in his presence.

The three albums of Matt Shoemaker’s work which were published by Elevator Bath are available for free download via the Bandcamp page:,, and

Nick Turco “Neon Shit” C47 (2009)

cassette coverThe first side is just an arpeggiator playing the same fast sequence endlessly and apparently without any change.  The second side, titled “Life Jam Neon Shit”, sees it return, but with the additional of a slower synth line.  A comparison to minimalist keyboard works such as Terry Riley’s “Rainbow in Curved Air” is inevitable.  However, this cassette has none of that finesse, skill or variety.  As such, Turco’s work comes off sounding flat and two dimensional.  A little tedious even.

Apparently the pink cover stock indicates this is “Part One” while there is an almost identical release with same cover on orange paper.  I suspect the music on “Part Two” is not much different that what appears on this first installment.  “Part One” has little enough variety, which gives little impetus to explore titles like “More Neon Shit” and “Get Your Neon Shit” which appear on “Part Two”.

Tree Tapes – TRTP-0306

Decibel perform compositions by Alvin Lucier “Still and Moving Lines” CD (2013)

CD coverThis album is unfortunately named on two accounts.  First of all, there are at least 13 other recording artists that have used the name Decibel.  Second, there is an earlier release by Alvin Lucier called “Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas”.  While it would be interesting to hear the Mexican avant-prog group Decibel performing that early work by Lucier, what we have instead are first recordings of Lucier pieces by an Australian group.

In the later years of Lucier’s compositional catalog, he seems to have fallen into a rut.  Over and over again there are pieces written for acoustic instruments and sine waves.  I can only guess it was an easy way out of writing commissions for varying instrumental ensembles.  But it lacks the variety of sonic situations that made him such an important figure in the 1960s and 1970s.  This CD is almost predictably opens with “Ever Present” (2002) for flute, saxophone and piano with slow sweep pure wave oscillator.  Despite my grumbling, it still does result in a lovely piece.  The spacious isolation of notes makes me think of the later Cage compositions, although the performance also has a tint of Feldman’s melancholy.

From here the pieces thankfully become more diverse.  “Carbon Copies” (1989) for saxophone, piano, flute and playback uses performer made environmental recordings as a pattern for action.  The composition dictates four sections.  The first is the environmental recording alone.  The second brings in the instrumentalists who are attempting to copy what they hear on their recording.  The third repeats this except that the original environmental recordings are only heard by the instrumentalist and not in the final mix.  And finally after this work up, the instrumentalists play from from a memory of that initial recording.  The results evoke a comparison with AMM for me.  It could be the stabs of piano drawing to mind John Tilbury, but more likely it is the glacial sense of movement as both of the wind instruments focus on continuous sounds to mimic the ambient recording.  So the version here is rather low key, which is in keeping with the overall timbre of the disc.  It would be interesting to hear a recording of “Carbon Copies” by Challenge, the group that originally commissioned this piece, as a line up including Anthony Braxton, David Rosenboom, and William Winant would probably be very lively and quite a contrast to this.

Drawing closer to stasis is “Hands” (1984) for organ with four players which preoccupies itself with subtle harmonic variances created by playing adjacent semitones in the midst of a large drone of sustained sound.  The motion reminds me a little of the drone at the heart of Jon Gibson’s “Visitations”.

But it is the closing piece on the disc, “Shelter” (1969) for vibration pickups, amplification system and enclosed space, which I feel is the most beautiful inclusion on the disc.  The piece is simple and poetic and the results reflect this.  Contact microphones are placed on the walls and doors of an auditorium.  These pick up the subtle vibrations from the surrounding environment, including other musicians rehearsing elsewhere in the music conservatory, filtered through the substance of the room.  The results are ghostly as the sounds are softened and seem to float through.

Overall this is quite an enjoyable, peaceful and meditative listen, and perhaps a stand out among recent CDs of Lucier’s music.  The recording quality is crisp which is important in a music where the highlights are found in the tiny details.

The packaging is a smartly designed black and white poster folded down to a square of about 5.75″.  So it will annoyingly not fit in with your other CDs.  I can appreciate the dislike of jewel cases, but it is nice to have something with a spine that I can easily file to find again.

Pogus Productions – 21072-2

R.I.P. Akifumi Nakajima

I have gotten the sad news that my old friend Akifumi Nakajima passed away in September. It seems the news is only just creeping out and took a while to reach everyone outside of Japan.  Nakajima was probably best known for his work under the name Aube, which was one of the more prolific, and for me most interesting, noise acts from Japan in the 1990s.  He had an impeccable sense of design and appreciation for the materials, taking packaging beyond just using regular old paper.  His label G.R.O.S.S. presented an impressive selection of international artists and was an important part of the Anomalous Records catalog.  I could really go on and on about his achievements and biography, but I think it is well documented online.

I would just like to add that I always appreciated his support and friendship, and greatly respected his honestly and commitment to quality.  In 2004, I spent two weeks in Japan.  Eight of those days were in Kyoto and I saw Akifumi almost every day.  Seeing the temples and shrines, as well as record stores I would have never found on my own, with him gave the city much more depth than I would have found there on my own.   It is heartening to know that he has left a vast recorded legacy for people to appreciate, but sad to lose such a good soul.

In memory of him, I want to share the recording of our one live performance together:

This is a little different than the noise music some may associate with him, and I suppose points forward towards the analog electronic revival that started to appear not long after this concert.

Unfortunately, this also comes in a wave of other deaths in the experimental community as albrecht/D., Bernard Parmegiani and Sten Hanson have also left this world.  All three had long and productive careers.  These are just more reasons to appreciate those that are still with us!

Eric Lanzillotta

Tarab “Take All the Ships from the Harbour, and Sail Them Straight into Hell” CD (2009)

CD coverWith a title that long, you would expect something pretentious.  Tarab’s music is on the contrary low key.  The Australian artist recorded sound in the San Francisco Bay for this album, although you would not know that as there is no mention of this on the release itself.  The press release is informative and I think that writing would have better used had it been included in liner notes with the actual release.  The secret location is Angel Island, at one time an immigration state and later a Nike Missile site, yet the notes allude to there being other locations as well.  And location does feature prominently here as the final product focuses on the sounds of rooms, with some additionally recorded by Jim Haynes and Matthew O’Shannessy.  Jim’s name seems appropriate enough one to bring up when discussing this album as it resembles Haynes’ obsession with rusted structures, decay and the textural sounds associated with them.  There are sounds from reverberant and seemingly empty rooms, rustling and scraping objects in them and general crunchy sounds.  The scraping comes and goes but never come together into a greater organization.  I feel that the compositional structure is too weak to work as a “piece” but has too much interaction and editing to work as a document of place – a pure listening experience.  There is a bit of mucking about, but it never coalesces.  There is even a section that appears to use digital delay in contrast to the natural effects achieved through most of the disc.  To me “Take All the Ship…” sounds unfinished and like it needed to be pushed further in one direction or another to come into its own.  The area it works in has been mined too much to excuse a bland work.  I can see more sense in going back to older recordings by the likes of Small Cruel Party than revisiting Tarab’s disc.  As for the visual end of things, the packaging is nice, but nothing exceptional.  There are worn surfaces and peeling paint inside and out, with the out also including a slipcover.  The inside cover has a short nautically inspired text which tries to set an atmosphere of doom in disparate sentences that fall between cut-up and Surrealist tendencies, but again don’t stand out.

23five – 014

RLW “Contours imaginaires” 10” (2007)

record coverBeginning with “Ombre d’erosion” on the A side, we find a shimmering and pulsing drone etched onto the grooves of this translucent slab of yellow.  It is appropriate enough given the label, although it is an area that Ralf Wehowsky is less known for having carved a reputation for extreme dynamics.  The B side shifts to a more manipulated and twisted sound which points to the fact that the entire record is “built from a few seconds of piano and vocals.”  The rest is imagination and from the abstractions appearing here, it would seem that imagination and creative manipulation have more to do with the final result than the specific sources – I feel that RLW could take a few seconds of just about anything and build it into a complete work.  That said, the first of the B side’s tracks, “Cellule imaginaire”, does offer hints of the original vocal material, although it is twisted into a backwards chorus.  The second piece on this side is “Erosion de l’imaginaire” which evokes the shadow world in between short wave radio station where fragments of voices and electronic signals drift together in sideband modulation.  The first side offers something to sink into; the second churns with uneasy yet subdued tension.  Unfortunately the cover artwork by Oliver Jakobi doesn’t do much for me, but I suspect that the unidentifiable images are likely to be digital distortions mirroring the processes of the music.

Drone Records – SUB-05

Violence and the Sacred “Scarcely a Pause in the Process of Butchering” CDR (2011)

CDR coverPerformed at The Fallout Shelter in Toronto on May 16th, 1986, this disc is the earliest of the mid-1980s improvisation recordings to be issued and is also the most abrasive. Vihuela (a type of guitar) and cello see treatment more in the manner of Derek Bailey and his cohorts, although still are in a sound world that is closer to the realm of experimental music, as they are mixed with synth, beatbox and various tapes which further the density of the music. Scott Kerr’s rhythms even take on an aspect of late Throbbing Gristle in “Time Collapse Agany” (also the name of a side project). St. Deborah’s voice is also more obviously manipulated than in subsequent performances and recordings, driving home the point that she was an off stage member of the group, perhaps embarrassed to be caught reading in public from “The Correct Sadist”, “Anal Pleasure & Health”, and Pat Califia’s hardcore lesbian texts. However, the tendency towards noise and a fascination with sexual deviancy exhibited by Violence and the Sacred are removed from the sound world created at the same time by the likes of Merzbow. You would have to slow down Masami’s junk noise quite a bit to land in the shifting morass of “Scarcely a Pause…”. It does retain the feeling of a aural collage with voices and musical samples coming and going while the live playing ranges from acoustic and musical to heavily processed and abstract. Unfortunately missing from this presentation is the “optical attack” that Potemkin and John Dubiel provided via slides and televisions at the one-off concert. Nevertheless, the original flyer is reproduced under the tray in the Digipak, which also features new and colorful artwork by Stephen Campbell. Dating from 2006-2007, the bit from Campbell’s “Extreme Sports Series” which graces the cover is an appropriately surreal vision of a tiger (lacerations magnified by a looking glass), his trainer (with eyes removed to a chest level ornament), a young person with a glassy look and their penned in area.

VioSac – VATS4

Violence and the Sacred “Arkinoid” CDR (2011)

CDR cover“Arkinoid” was original released on cassette by Sound of Pig in 1987 and like that year’s “Lost Horizons” was recorded live at The Fallout Shelter, although 2 months earlier.  Given the close proximity in time, stylistically these two releases are fairly similar, as well as both improvised.  Again the quartet uses synth, beatbox, tapes, cello and guitar with the mysterious St. Deborah’s prerecorded voice.  Here the narration pulls from Samuel Beckett and Alfred Jarry.  The majority of the disc does focus on instrumental passages, but overall does not strike me as significantly different from the previously reviewed “Lost Horizons”.  Most of what is said there also applies to this disc.  “Arkinoid” does features a bonus track recorded later that summer at Kathedral A which was previously released on the cassette compilation “A View from Somewhere” along side fellow Canadian artists Wigglepig, Sucking Chest Wound, Electrostatic Cat and John Oswald, among others.  Because of its similarity, although here using Friedrich Nietszche as a text source, it seamlessly fits in with the rest of the disc.  This would seem to replace the October 23, 1986 recording that was featured on the original cassette as the disc’s total time is around 51 minutes.  As with others in the series, this comes in a colorful Digipak reproducing portraits of the text’s authors, the original cassette artwork, a section of the original flyer, and a trio of video stills.

Viosac – VATS7

Violence and the Sacred “Lost Horizons” CDR (2011)

CD coverA complete mishmash of sounds competing, blending, overlaying and combining, this 1987 recording comes from a particularly active, at least from the standpoint of releases published, period of this Canadian group’s history.  Formed in 1985 to take advantage of an opening slot on a Chris & Cosey concert, the ensemble kept busy through the mid-1990s, eventually disappearing for a while after their 1992 CD for Artware Production in Germany, and finally reforming in 2006.  This disc reconnects the two halves of a live performance at The Fallout Shelter in Toronto which were originally split into two cassette releases for  Harsh Reality Music and Corrosive Tapes.  The music is created from synths, beatbox, cello, guitar and a fair amount of material from pre-recorded tapes.  While definitely in an experimental mode, it does avoid falling into the industrial or noise realms so popular at that time as it relies so much on free improvisation.  A comparison might be made to H.N.A.S., who were their label mates on Freedom in a Vacuum, and to whom they were absorbed for a one-off H.N.A.S. concert in Toronto in March of 1991.  But while H.N.A.S. would drift into the more musical and song based material, Violence and the Sacred keep to a queasy miasma with the voice taking the role of narration.  Read by St. Deborah, the majority of the text seems to be drawn from the influential proto-surrealist novel “Les Chants de Maldoror” by Le Comte de Lautréamont.  Her voice occupies a forward position, not being obscured by the musicians, although disappearing from the performance for several minutes at a time.  The more occluded voices come via the tapes added by the three musicians: Scott Kerr, Graham Stewart, and Ted Wheeler.  While many of these sources appear to be drawn from the detritus of popular culture, I also recognize bits of Jim Roche’s monologues and what might be a bit from a Jodorowsky soundtrack.  Besides the textual orientation of much of the disc, the music seems apart from the strictly experimental realm due to Ted Wheeler’s languorous guitar soloing throughout.  The shifting path does keep a consistent dynamic throughout, never becoming overly bombastic or minimal.  Packaged in a four-panel Digipak, the cover includes a few shots of Cal Woodruf and Wheazel Lizard’s multimedia (slids, films, video and projections) visuals from the concert.

Viosac – VATS8

Nurse With Wound “Images / Zero Mix” 2 x CD & book box set (2008)

book cover
book cover

An extension of the “Angry Eelectric Finger” trilogy of collaborative albums with Jim O’Rourke, (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