Illusion of Safety “Sedation & Quell” 10” (2007)

record coverLong 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

Big City Orkestre “Drone Gnomes” 10” (2006)

10" coverBCO 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

Daniel Menche “Radiant Blood” 10” (2005)

10" cover

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

Bunny Brains 88 “Squirrel Attack EP” 10” (2005)

record coverReferencing 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

Randy Greif remembers Damian Bisciglia

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.

in memory of Damian Bisciglia

the late Damian Bisciglia

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.

Can “Doko E” LP (2011)

LP coverNormally 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

Silvia Fassler & Billy Roisz “Skylla” CD (2008)

CD coverGenerally 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 “The Almond” CD (2011)

CD coverNate 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

Muharran 1392 LP (2011)

LP coverSagittarius A-Star is the follow up label to Qbico and has quickly unleashed a good number of LPs.  This particular gem was retrieved from the archives of Hartmut Geerken and finds him in a quintet recorded in the city of Heliopolis, Egypt during the month February of 1972, also known as the month Muharran in the Muslim year 1392.  Joining Geerken are Michael Ranta, Hubertus von Puttkamer, Omar el Hakim, and Salah Ragab.  Apparently this was a one off meeting of the minds as the group name seems to have only been applied now that this music is being published on vinyl 40 years later.  It is an interesting grouping and probably one whose members do not ring a lot of bells unless you read lots of little details on various records.  So a little background…

Hartmut Geerken is German born, but widely travelled and thoroughly educated.  Because of his great learning and mastery of languages he worked for the Goethe Institute in Cario (1966-72), Kabul (1972-1979), and Athens (1879-1983).  The years in Egypt seemed to be particularly musically significant as he brought Sun Ra there in 1971, and also co-founded the Cairo Jazz Band and Cairo Free Jazz Ensemble.  Over the decades he has also worked with Michael Ranta (on an extensive tour of eastern Asia), Embryo, a trio with John Tchicai and Famoudou Don Moye, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Sunny Murray, Don Cherry, Peter Kowald, Takehisa Kosugi, Toshi Ichiyanagi, and Sainkho Namtchilak.  His involvement with sound and visual poetry also has seen him collaborate with Robert Lax, Carlfriedrich Claus, and Valeri Scherstjanoi.  However, it has only been in the last decade or so that the floodgates have really opened up and allowed much of this work to be heard on record.

Michael Ranta is an American percussionist based in Germany who has worked with heavy weights Harry Partch, Mauricio Kagel, Helmut Lachenmann, Josef Anton Riedl, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Jean-Claude Eloy, Takehisa Kosugi, Toshi Ichiyanagi, and of course Hartmut Geerken.  He blew many heads as part of the group Wired whose sole release was the third LP in the Deutsche Grammophon box set “Free Improvisation” and which was produced by Krautrock legend Conny Plank.  His trio with Takehisa Kosugi and Toshi Ichiyanagi from 1975 was captured on a very obscure private LP that almost no one had even heard of until it was bootlegged in recent years.  Since that time people have gotten a little better about digging up his work including the overlooked “Mu V / Mu VI” LP that he self released in 1984.  In 2010, the Belgian label Metaphon rescued the earlier numbers of the Mu series of works performed by a line up similar to Wired.

Hubertus von Puttkamer remains a rather obscure figure although released the double CD “Weltmusik” in collaboration with Johannes Schmölling in 2004.  He apparently lived in Egypt around the period of the Muharran 1392 recordings and met the members of Agitation Free during this time and filmed them at the pyramids of Sakkara.  It was this band, as well as Sun Ra and Tangerine Dream that awoke in him the potential for the synthesizer which has used to create multitrack recordings over the ensuing years.  But music appears to just be his hobby as his professional proficiency is in laser measurement.

Omar el Hakim is an Egyptian architect and Tai Chi teacher.  According to Geerken, “he had crazy ideas, for example to construct half underground mud houses in the desert for cultivating fungi.”  He seems to have long since disappeared from the music scene and was last heard of teaching architecture in the United Arab Emirates.

Salah Ragab is considered one of the founders of Egyptian jazz. Among other things he was co-founder of the Cairo Jazz Band and Cairo Free Jazz Ensemble with Geerken, and was also in a quartet with Geerken and Puttkamer called The Cross which has apparently never released anything.  Ragab also had a connection with Sun Ra, but unlike the other characters mentioned above appears on a quite a few of Ra’s LPs.  As his music ventured out of the avant-garde, he’s had a number of other records out and like the others mentioned above, his work is slowly appearing on more releases these days.  Unfortunately, he passed away in 2008.

So now that the history lesson is over, what does the music sound like on Muharram 1392?  It is quite a free form affair that does not draw much from jazz, classical or Egyptian music.  The two sides constantly evolve overlapping textural sounds with a wide variety of instrumentation.  None is listed on the cover, but I think I hear piano, guitar, horns, maybe an electric organ or synthesizer and lots of different percussion.  It does seem to be a blend of European and Egyptian sources, but it could also be the approach to playing that lends certain things a little Arabic color.  Like I said, the playing is very open and languorous which makes me think of the very out moments of L.A.F.M.S. characters.  Panned heavy left and right it is possible to focus in on the individual elements of the ensemble as only a couple instruments will be heard in each channel with little bleed through.  As anarchic as the music is, it never veers into over the top aggression not lapses into ambient background.  There is always something going on and if you focus on one of the patterns for too long, you find that someone else has meanwhile changed instruments and varied the overall picture. The rather minimal musical material and lack of a specific direction makes for a beautiful hazy atmosphere which rewards close attention.

I’ve only seen one source mention an edition size and that was 200 copies, which kind of makes sense as just about all of the Sagittarius A-Star releases sell out immediately upon release.  Despite that tiny run, the LP does come in color jacket.  The labels are plain white (side A) and black (side B) with the A side marked by a rubberstamped letter.  I think it is mastered a bit low, but in the end that seems to suit the flavor of the music.  26 copies of this were also included in “The Geerken Box” which additional contains the LPs “Brasilia in Waitawhile” (with Famoudou Don Moye, Edison da Luz, Junior Cardoso, and Valmon Rodriguez da Silva) and “Stalllife” (with Russian sound poet Valeri Scherstjanoi) with some extra inserts, artwork and photographs.  Unfortunately I have not heard either of these other two LPs nor a lot of the other recent SAS releases, among which there seem to be a lot of winners.

Sagittarius A-Star – SAS #17