I’m excited to announce, just a week after the Loom mini-album CD-R, the premiere of another long-in-the-works release from David Fylstra’s project Wasting Seasons: Things Go Away. This limited CD-R release is comprised of a track containing elements field-recorded in Columcille, Pennsylvania in summer 2013 in addition to studio recordings from 2013 and 2015.
The soundscape contained herein captures a crucial and not-too-frequent biological event: the end of the 17 year life cycle of cicadas on the Brood II clock (among fifteen broods of periodical cicadas are known to still exist). A periodical cicada spends most of its life underground, feeding, biding its time. After 17 (or for some broods, 13) years, the adult form finally emerges from the soil, mates, lays eggs, and dies, all within about two months from burrowing up into the light. During this period, in July 2013, David brought his laptop and a mic into the woods, as the adult cicadas were starting to die off. The recording was processed and added-to with sounds from noisemaker toys, melodica, acoustic guitar, and effects pedals. Things Go Away is meant as a sonic reflection on the impermanence of things, of the cicada’s strange, mostly-subterranean life, only fully realized in its final hour– it is a dark and beguiling meditation indeed.
Like any sound art piece, Things Go Away challenges your preconceived notions about listening in some subtle ways. The chorus of cicadas calls is so thick and diffuse, you might not recognize it at first, in the same way that you might, walking in the woods, suddenly becoming aware of the ambient sounds of a nearby city, though they always were there, just pushed to the back of your mind. It is not hiss from the recording medium you are hearing, but an invisible army of creatures singing in unison, some of them for the last time. The noisemakers being to clatter and rattle, joining in like so many other insects. The slow wash of a plane passing overhead becomes like a surge of feedback. Then the ghostly broken chords from guitar start up, conveying a cinematic feeling of dread and wonder at the strangeness of life itself. Just mesmerizing, and woefully short. Give this one a look, right now!
Manchester’s Halftribe mines a ethereal techno vibe rife with tactile, dubby pops and clicks to lovely effect on his second full-length Daydreams in Low Fidelity, off ARCHIVES, run by Spanish producer Warmth. A label like ARCHIVES (who put out Purl’s fantastic Form is Emptiness last September), truly goes to show how much a good cover design/artwork/photograph can bolster my (or anyone else’s) interest in a release. In this case, the hazy, soft-color cover photo was taken by Brian Young, who works with custom filters to come up with a distinctive gazey visual feel. It’s definitely a far cry from some arty low-light club– this is headphone music meant for outside, walking around or sprawled out on the grass. Obscured-by-distance field recordings of kids at play and chirping birds are situated comfortably alongside masterful use of samples (see the title track for that, in particular) and glitchy micro-sounds. A real pleasure to take in– gentle but never lulling.
Conjoining Currents: Dub Techno, Dream Pop, Shoegaze
Another fantastic transmission from Los Angeles-based imprint Spring Break Tapes: Live On Leave Us, the latest from drone outfit Bus Gas (here, Thomas John Flaherty, Daniel Nickel, Eric Nyffeler) hooked me outright. The piercing guitar tone that opens “Top Ten Funerals” sounds, and an achingly emotive march to oblivion has begun. It becomes a landslide, longing and rage gathering power in an engulfing cloud. The B side “Infinity Cymbals” follows much the same trajectory– of building from a cry to a purifying wall of sound before collapsing into ashen silence. For Live On Leave Us, the trio abandoned the improvisational approach of their past work in favor of carefully worked-out composition. The layered loops and droning form a blown-out immensity that blots out the sky, overtakes you, leaves you with your head bent downward, a patient audience to eternity.
Long-active sound artist Alan Courtis’s newest outing Los Galpones [The Sheds], off Brooklyn’s Fabrica Records surely deserves recognition as one of the strongest noise releases of the year. Noise in this sense does not mean no-input-mixer delirium or laptop-generated static, but, rather, a vicious and insistent electro-acoustic sound collage: metal against metal, string violence, murky rumblings. The sinister tribal pulse present on past collections (either on his own or as a member of Reynols, most notably) like 2007’s excellent Las sales fundentes [The flushing salts] reaches a fever pitch here, like on the hammering “Estiba”. The dissonant hacking of the violin on “Corralon” sends shockwaves through the gloom to wicked effect. Courtis’s usage of found metal objects creates a corrosive trance– I suppose you could call this the psychedelic krautrock or punk rock of free-improv music…
Though Courtis has managed to chug along at the rate of about three or four releases a year since the mid-90s, this is by no means a routine effort in the vein of a “keeping busy” one-off collaboration. A minor masterpiece to start off 2017.
James Murray remains one of the most consistently eclectic presences in the international netlabel circuit; if you have not checked out 2015’s grainy drone epic The Sea in the Sky, get on that! His most recent, Killing Ghosts, off Home Normal, continues the thread of downcast downtempo electronica from last December’s Eyes to the Height, but with a chilly bent that rather suits the slowly evolving nature of the monochrome, breathy pads. There are many fine moments to ruminate over here: the vaporous techno daydream of “First Hand”, the enveloping dread of “Living Ghosts”…Murray again proves himself a sound art auteur of rare imagination. I could go on, but I would rather just leave you to get lost in these desolate expanses…
Conjoining Currents: Ambient, Experimental Electronica, Sound Art
Label: Home Normal
The electro-acoustical ebb and muffled field recordings of Billy Gomberg’s Transition have a quiet intensity to them that feels preparatory to something. A few minutes into the closing section on side B, and you might feel very specific images coming to mind: early morning in the industrial part of town. The faint hum of generators. Distant trucks passing. These are soundscapes for low light and empty streets. It’d be redundant to just call this “drone”, when really, its stirring, mind-manifesting mixture of tones and field ambience makes it a zoney sonic portrait. It barely matters how it was achieved– its organization is all of a piece, the collected moments seamlessly melding together. Reminds me a little of the minimal, diffuse calm conjured by the likes of Andrew Chalk, Christoph Heemann, David Jackman (Vacant Lights, one of his releases as Organum, particularly comes to mind), all those other characters. Highly unique and highly recommended.
Last December, I received some pretty exciting news: Portland-based duo Sceptre Fretpen released their newest cassette Plugh on Sparkwood Records. The last I heard of them was in the way of a self-titled, self-released cassette in the vein of lo-fi IDM, a murky hauntology I found pretty unique. Plugh keeps the ball rolling on their vision with an immersive electronic dreamscape more luminous and clear than what’s come before. Loping, skittering beats, chiming background business on guitar, and oceanic synths dive and surface with each other in a cosmic dance. There’s a majestic, free-flowing feel to this one. Languorous, submerged intermissions like “Diamond Center” and “8th Floor” feel like the slow approach toward the gateway to another realm. Elsewhere, though, on more rhythmic tracks like “Insects” there’s a playful sensation of toying with simulacrum.
Definitely worthy of not only your time and a spot on your shelf, but of repeat listenings and your future attention.