evenings - descending coma (monorail trespassing, 2007)
a tape i picked up at the suggestion of jon borges (monorail trespassing) on the latest vasculae engagement in oakland.  i'm unfamiliar with evenings other than this tape.  took me awhile to get around to listening to it, as they say.  admittedly, the artwork (mostly black with a woman's face barely visible) didn't grab my attention as much as the other titles i acquired at the show, so it sat patiently for a couple months.  as it turns out, patience is a big part of what this tape seems to be about, and the art aesthetic and titles make sense, especially when one opens to the interior of the tape to find a collage of foliage.  the other day, i threw it on my walkman on a whim with some cheap headphones while walking around my neighborhood.  i was expecting either drone or harsh noise.  this tape is both, in a sense, but also totally unlike either.  the sound is almost entirely comprised of a crumbling, bass heavy avalanche in slow motion--crackling/simmering high and midrange, and extremely low bass sludge underneath, like harsh noise slowed down a few thousand percent.  occasionally, there are wisps of resonant ambience on top but only in passing.  nonetheless, these touches add quite a bit, implying expansive textures that might emerge from the suffocating deluge but never quite do.  the sound constantly develops: sometimes quicker, as when a fault line slips, but mostly slower and geologically.  in fact, geological is the best term i can come up with for this album--while the crumbling tones remind me of the frigid, glacial soundscapes of thomas köner minus the dark ambient keyboards, the sound on "descending coma" has an element of blown out, heaving immediacy absent from köner's work.  it's not nearly as cinematic, musical and "epic" as köner or lustmord, which lifts a burden from the listener and allows for repeat listening (day one with "descending coma" involved least a dozen flips).  i don't particularly feel like i've been on a journey or gone anywhere while listening to this tape, and it doesn't particularly conjure a scene for me either.  the rawness and aggression of the work's extremely dense sonic pressures belie a subtlety and focus that demands less on the ears than other types of noise, giving this tape a functionality i might associate with ambient music, or forms of noise that can exist without active listening.  speaking of listening environments, after listening through 2-3 times on said walkman about town, i did a few spins on my home stereo and thoroughly enjoyed the bass-heavy experience.  later, i tried it on a tiny portable boombox that pretty much cuts everything under 700 hz and still found the noise powerful--the static flecks of dirt fluttering through the speaker implied the heavy churning movement underneath.  indeed, much of the power of this album is the ability it has to create the illusion of sounds that don't exist, either because they are too low in frequency or are glimpses of textures that might exist within the churning storm.  this tape is very functional, begs for creative listening, and offers a highly aesthetic, isolating style of noise that resonates with me deeply.  it might be a fun tape to check out on one of those rumbling gaming chairs, but that's probably unnecessary.


wet dream/liquid dinner - bedtyme stories (diatom bath, 2011)
a tape that knows how to hit the right note and hold it.  i have never heard of either performer although the tape was "mastered" by ged gengras, a dude i *do* know.  reason i use quotes for the word "mastered" is because it's pretty seriously blown out throughout, no fi in sight.  wet dream's side is more subtle of the two, a series of held tones that build into a wall of distortion; it's somewhere between drone and noise.  the vibe doesn't really have the anger of noise though; it's quite calming, and develops very slowly giving it a feel of a drone track that was completely blown out in recording, a feel supported by audience noise in the beginning--it's interesting to imagine the track without distortion, and i'm pretty sure it'd feel much less pretty to me without the bowel-churning avalanche throughout.  the trajectory and tension of the piece feels like a bit of a lead-in to the b-side, and the b-side seems like a bit of a lead-in back to the a-side, like two things that point at each other in order to point at something else, unseen.  weird thing: neither side really feels "finished" to me, but that positive absence of finality just makes me flip the tape.  the liquid dinner side is more passionate and melodic, beginning with a few rattles and churn as notes and drones emerge and develop.  the midway point offers a nice bashing low end and siren-like synth before launching into a stuttering/repeating melodic chime phrase that keeps restarting over and over until finally allowed to resolve, probably a single sample triggered again and again.  the sensation is like rewinding a music box repeatedly after a few notes.  it's anthemic and focused.  on the whole, this tape has that endearingly amateur bedroom "loop pedal and micro korg into tape deck" approach that is responsible for a helping of mediocre tapes out there, but when it works as it does here, it's diy charm learned and applied.  there's something about this tape that is both epic and personal, but vague/distant enough that i can listen to it a few times through without feeling as drained as i would with something more direct.  there's a nice "fuck it" vibe to this kind of lo-fi ambient/drone music: hey man, let's just lay a bunch of distortion on it, great.  also, it's a good example of a well-matched split that feels greater than the sum of its parts--i wonder if it's the same person on both sides?  hmm.


developer/orgasmic response unit - split (factotum, 2013)
developer - mt97cs (monorail trespassing, 2013)
developer - oobr004 (out-of-body, 2012)
developer - if15 (imminent frequencies, 2011)
breached hull/developer/diaphragmatic - east coast mission (foxhole atheism, 2013)
admission: i'm a wee bit into developer and the folks from the dayton, ohio area harsh scene.  i'll try to jot down a few remarks from limited knowledge.  this stuff is brutal, trashy, fun, stripped down, diy, and unpretentious in a way that is not quite like anything else.  it can be somewhat technical/fast without it being an end in and of itself, ditto for loud and harsh.  unstated mission statement as far as i can discern: just be awesome and make it look easy.  spun from this template, developer appears to be the primary proponent of cut-up noise from the batch; matthew reis' style could be described as jazzy/concrète/junk, perhaps.  the effect of these contrasting/complimentary styles chopped together in varying amounts and at different speeds/energy levels creates a balance between the heady and the visceral.  the building blocks of the music include somewhat comically generic bird/cricket style field recordings, cymbal/drum components, harsh contact mic noise/feedback, scrap metal abuse, and synthesizers.  compared to other cut up noise acts such as sickness or purgist, developer seems to have a more lo-fi/"fuck it" approach, which isn't to say it's sloppy, only working in a different aesthetic, like painting in gravel and sand versus clean, geometric lines and strokes in ink.  i liberally apply the adjective "organic" to music i like in the gravel/sand area, but i think developer qualifies.  a raw form of musique concrète figures into developer's pre-recording of the source material; the final mixer performance is where the intensity and dynamics of the sound emerge--a live collage.  also, particular to cut up in contrast to other styles of noise is that performers often explore very quiet dynamics for long stretches--chutzpah when it comes to this sort of thing.  my favorite tape from what i've heard of developer is if15, which seems to lean towards the field recording element.  it begins with a few out of tune guitar notes and ground hum buzz before moving into areas of field recordings of birds and what sounds like someone taking a shower, elements simultaneously relaxing and a bit amusing while building anticipation to the harsh parts, which are on the lo-fi side and mostly in the mid-frequency range but nonetheless satisfying.  it sounds live and explorative.  if15 also makes me wonder if there is some kind of bizarre environmental agenda to developer--the bird calls being obliterated by crushing bursts of static could be a crude approximation of heavy machinery rolling into an otherwise peaceful forest to erect fresh housing developments.  man versus nature.  i don't know, but it's funny to think about, and the ham-fisted-ness of this concept is very endearing in the unlikely event that it's the case.  most likely, it's my imagination running wild trying to figure out how reis pulls off the bird/harsh noise combo.  later developer tapes display heightened dexterity/"chops" and introduce an increasingly sundry array of sound sources and scuzz, including the aforementioned cymbals/percussion on mt97cs, lending a nice jazzy feel.  oobr004 steps up the power and aggression and (my copy at least) has great low end--it's probably the most technical of the batch i've heard and is highly effective.  the split with orgasmic response unit (a collaboration between diaphragmatic and being) is all-out most of the way and feels a bit less agile but no less energetic, with the brothers tandy on the front side laying it on dense and heavy with a slab of unrelenting sonic abuse.  within the hurricane, there is some interplay; i like hearing the harsh noise emerging out of areas of junk metal and vice versa.  overall, it's on the functional side, possibly because the collaboration appears to be parallel; it doesn't particularly sound like there's cross-processing going on but i may be wrong.  developer's side is harsh with one long stretch of constaint noise 2/3 in.  the first third's metallic textures of unknown origin are allowed to resonate before being gobbled up in an onslaught of mixer button smashing.  great!  lastly, the collaborative tape with diaphragmatic and split with breached hull:  breached hull is song/track-oriented with lurching industrial/noise beats and is fun to see live.  i admire their focus and commitment to "writing 'em out," though the tracks seem somewhat boxed in alongside the freeform developer/diaphragmatic style for my taste.  not hard to see it's all good stuff though.  vocals have a cathedral or two of reverb on them rendering them indistinguishable, nearly black metal.  when the vocals drop out for the final track, leaving repeating static bursts and microphone feedback, i find myself sliding into the bleak atmosphere.  the diaphragmatic/developer side features diaphragmatic's trash metal stylings tossed into developer's mixer as another sound source which cuts in and out but is still able to react and find enough breathing room of its own, though just barely.  this is a fantastic cross process and it feels like the energy from a live sound source on hand comes through in developer's cuts.  a word about nate tandy's (from diaphragmatic) foxhole atheism tapes, more of which i'll write a word about later: super great handmade trash packaging with any surface being a fair game for application of spraypaint--a nice contrast to the cleaner style of what i've seen from skeleton dust, luke tandy's (from being) label--both great.  final analysis: cut-up noise always puts a smile on my face, and i feel like some of the more visercal tapes should probably be packaged with someone to punch me in the face while i'm listening.  not advocating violence, though, just saying.

ps: orgasmic response unit is a great band name.


rafi bookstaber - still way (azriel, 2013)
a transmission from a dank little house in asheville with a muddy driveway sandwiched behind two other houses.  rafi's a good friend of mine and we play in a band together.  he's also one of those pals who has been an enormous impact on my understanding of music in the past decade; when a new tape shows up in the mail, it's an occasion to listen and learn.  his solo work seems to fall on a spectrum between light and lyrical on the one hand (greener pastures) and dark and abstract on the other (a gossamer veil).  historically, the dark and abstract titles have resonated with me the most, especially a gossamer veil and rafi's work in aswara with paul grimes.  the present cassette is interesting because it seems to fall between the two extremes--on the surface, the tone seems fairly light, but its slow pacing, enormous sense of quietude, and bare-bones nature reflect elements of rafi's more abstract work.  instrumentation on this tape is electric guitar with subtle looping/delay/reverberation effects--not as rhythmic as greener pastures and more understated, but still "plugged in," if you will, relative to a gossamer veil.  in fact, on still way, the playing is so quiet and unassuming without any moments of overt development that it's quite easy to let the whole thing slip by without giving it a second notice.  like a very tender and fragile flower growing in a sidewalk; if you aren't walking slowly, one might miss it or step on it.  both sides feel like snippets of longer "jams"--the sonic density at the beginning of "sun stream" on the a-side is held more or less constant throughout, with a few layers of subtle guitar loops gradually evolving underneath a lead guitar.  nonetheless, i'd hesitate to call this drone--everything still feels like a guitar, and it still feels folk-y.  on the b-side, "stellar sky," the line separating the loops and the lead blurs into a blissful aura.  the sound is both expansive (if you stand on it, you can see pretty far off into the distance) and intimate at once.  the titles and packaging are perfect in transmitting the feeling of open possibility; this is ecstatic music at its most subtle.  a heartfelt and enriching response to a world of "more, better, faster."

screensabers - 7 brothers (outside steppers session vol. 0) (rdc, 2004)
one of my all-time favorites, had to pull it out for a revisit.  basically it's 7 japanese kids who usually make really trashy breakcore, jcore, and gameboy chip noise (cdr, amnjk, etc) doing a capella outdoor recordings at 2 am.  it's all improvised and breaks down to a total cacophony because they're all going for it at once.  however, roles are pretty dilineated, there's usually a beatboxer or two, someone hitting a piece of cardboard or clapping hands, a couple melodic-focused fellows, and a couple "rappers" (almost all in japanese or gibberish).  there's plenty of "wicka-wicka" mock turntable scratching and little pop culture appearances including "rock me amadeus," more rap stuff, star wars, and, of course, the super mario brothers theme.  a couple tracks also have cool call-and-response bits and free-freakout imitated-animal outbursts.  the reason i love this recording so much is because of the unadulterated collective joy in it; everyone is having a blast and giggling the whole way through.  no attention to technique or anything.  super infectious.  it's a great reminder that music should be fun, and don't worry if it's listenable.  also, it's great to hear musicians (especially laptoppers) without their gear.  seems like more groups should try at least one album like this, just themselves and the outdoors.  it's pretty informative, and, after society collapses, it might be the best/only option for making noise.

aaron dilloway - post live at coda lunga (hanson, 2012)
fabulous "wtf?" recording i got from aaron at his latest appearance in san francisco, which itself was totally nuts (but that story can wait).  this is one of those "so when does the music start?" tapes.  it starts with what sounds like a room of bar chatter and stays that way for the duration, with the following exceptions (spoiler alert): the b-side begins with "blue velvet" in the background for a few minutes, after which the sound is reversed, "blue velvet" is heard backwards along with all the chatter.  also, for the last couple minutes of the b-side, the sound drops out entirely and is replaced by very a quiet field/interference loop which is not dissimilar to the tone of the "medusa" track on chain shot, a style of dilloway's that i really like.  okay, so the chatter.  it's interesting for a bunch of reasons: firstly, i can't make out a single word.  that, plus the "coda lunga" title makes me question whether this was recorded in an english-speaking country or whether the voices were somehow processed to make the language indiscernable.  having said that, the chatter *sounds* perfectly normal, it's just unintelligible, which allows me to focus on the musicality of the voices, the rising and falling of pitches, the general wash of sound, incidental sounds like glasses clinking, etc.  the overall effect is very relaxing and comforting and fills a very musical function: feeling less alone.  i feel like i'm at a very well-attended show with all my friends; it puts a smile on my face.  neat.  another interesting thing about the recording is the absence of music in it--seems almost impossible that there'd be this many voices at any occasion without *something* playing in the background.  so when "blue velvet" finally makes its appearance as the only song on the recording, it sounds quite beautiful mingling and echoing in the room and makes the party feel complete, so to speak.  and if there was music throughout, it'd probably be too distracting from the intermingling of the voices.  the quiet loop that emerges at the end seems poignantly lonely after 25 minutes of chatter.  as familiar as the sounds are, it's hard to tell what the intention or message is in this recording might be, if any: the possibility that it could be a joke recording is pleasant to think about; and, although i don't listen to it as such, it's in the back of my mind and improves the experience significantly.  this is also a lot more fun than most field recording albums i've heard, probably because it's actually a field recording of people having fun.  whatever the case, it really caught me in a way that another tape of 8-track scrap metal loops (as great as that is) might not have.  last remark: great thematic blue hue and recursive drawing for the artwork.


interference (vaald, 2013)
when the trade offer from vaald/hooker vision arrived in my inbox, i was flattered but unsure of what to expect, being almost fully unfamiliar with the labels' style beyond motion sickness of time travel.  i wrongly assumed i'd be acquiring something along those lines--dreamy, synthy, reverby.  instead, this is a really excellent harsh noise wall (hnw) tape, a genre i heard and developed a taste for fairly recently in the past year.  what i like about hnw is the monolithic and focused sonic, which appeals to me on an aesthetic level.  it's very simple: overwhelming sensory onslaught to the point of relaxation or transcendence.  i also find it very functional music, both demanding and not at the same time: demanding because of the complete lack of any musical element or development, but also liberating for those same reasons.  the listener role seems heightened more than other styles of music (or raw sound) in defining the hnw experience, both in terms of mental attitude towards it and things like listening volume, environment, and so forth.  on the other side of the coin, the choices an artist makes offer the ability to suggest or define context in interesting ways.  this tape goes for a more ambiguous approach than most of the hnw herd, offering something like a 'static tv field recording' package rather than the standard gore/misogyny aesthetic, which often feels unneccessary and/or unwanted for my taste.  having said that, there's a hilariously stark picture of a boss metal zone pedal next to a switchblade on the inside, along with another picture of a leather glove.  great!  i also like that i have no idea who the artist is.  as for the sonics, it's a bit lighter than some hnw, and there is some development, two things i have no problem with.  the a-side starts off with a pretty unthreatening wash of vanilla white noise with a spacious, reverb-y quality, more tranquil waterfall than stab-your-face-and-guzzle-vomit.  gradually, midrange frequencies are emphasized, but slowly enough that i'm not sure if i'm imagining the development.  in the last minute, the noise cracks in and out, a nice visceral and human touch.  the b-side has a somewhat harsher texture with more bass and reverb and some present drone-y frequencies in the lower midrange.  i guess you'd call this atmospheric hnw?  are there hnw sub-genres?  it reminds me a bit of enfermement by the hnw artist "a."  anyway, let's face it, hnw is super hilarious.  so serious, so extreme, your parents can't stand it, and it makes the chops required to play punk (or other noise subgenres, for that matter) look like dream theater.  bottom line: this is a great tape because it has a nice touch of nuance and humor in the sound and presentation but still "delivers the goods," if you get my drift.  last opinion i want to offer in regards to hnw and then i'll shut up: need more women involved in the genre.


power monster - live (rabbit ears or ram horns, 2012)
power monster from austin offers refreshing, unrelenting and unpretentious harsh noise which attacks at 110% and stays there.  this tape compiles two live shows (complete with super-enthusiastic audience applause) probably in or around texas (i didn't search the venues) consisting of scuzz and feedback mostly in the mid-high register that still manages that "gravelly-sand-blasted" exfoliant effect.  it's also very psychedelic and conjures up nostalgic memories of power monster playing my local subway station last summer.  just the right length to want to flip the tape five or six times before taking a nap or doing something else.

tve - bowling low in the dirt (ayurvedic tapes, 2013)
definitely the most memorable item acquired on tour last september, other than the piece of soap we traded a tape for in lowell.  this is probably the most lo-fi thing i've ever heard and sounds/looks/feels exactly like the title.  pure, uncompromising junk aesthetic--a thing very close to my heart.  to be specific, the packaging is all hand cut, typewritten, off center--the labels have random smudges and date stamps on them, case has a blotch of spraypaint and a sticker that says "bills due."  as for the noise, it sounds like a reel-to-reel being hand cranked periodically at almost imperceptably slow speeds, periods of empty tape hiss, and some periodic rattling or scratching of small glass/metal sounds.  medium blown out at times.  the activity does ebb and flow nicely, but for the most part, i leave it on and let it subtly ooze on; it's almost impossibly humble, low key and inevitably background.  and in a strange way, it's very beautiful in its hermetic organic way--a very wabi-sabi type of noise.  a great tape to forget you're even listening to stuff.

bad command or filename - split/union (headways, 2013)
another great tour acquisition, this time from may in asheville, nc.  having just come from ende tymes fest in nyc, i was hankering for more harsh noise and asked for some at static age (i'm so *that* guy in record stores).  the cashier kindly threw this tape on, but initially i really disliked it--too song-y.  a couple days later, on a whim, i bought it at harvest records on the other side of town; the unlikely combo of indie songwriting and harsh noise wall was too great to pass up.  and that's pretty much what it is: little couple minute folk-y, fairly evocative and convincingly-played indie guitar/vocal pieces separated by dense collages of noise, wall blasted distortion, stray frequencies, snippets of black metal, field or television ads, and a few gabber beats thrown in for good measure.  sounds terrible, right?  maybe it is for most people, but for me it was not only coherent, but also made perfect sense, something that might make one question one's own mental health (but what doesn't?).  the overall effect is overwhelming but satisfying largely because of the nakedness and feeling of living inside someone else's head.  after the hour-long tape, one feels like they've "been on a journey": drained, but with new perspectives for living.

penny royale - horse pplay (trepanner, 2013)
an act i didn't see coming at ende tymes fest last year.  penny's aesthetic approach is pretty radically different from just about everything else that could be called noise or experimental right now.  spoken word is a big part of it, and there's a bit of it on this recording.  death-mindful, lo fi, utterly downer poetry with failing reel to reel manipulation of broken music box melodies, wheezing harmonium drones, insane laughter, old and decaying found recordings of people talking.  yeah, the haunted house cliches--but it works for me and doesn't seem cheesy or put-on at all, just another way of channeling that societal and existential breakdown that seems to be the connecting tissue of much noise or post-noise (whatever that is) underground music these days.  the b-side is an especially visceral slice of scrape-y tape manipulation run through a spring tank, no less dark and unhinged.  also, i don't know what it is, but this project in particular has a very appalachian vibe to it.  this feeling of being alone in nature waiting for death, if nature is now a blown out shell of a factory instead of a hut in the forest.