Ø + Gay Beast

[Sähkö, 2008]

The internet tells me "Ø" is pronounced "ohm", "Oleva" means "The Existing", and "Sähkö" means "Electricity".

Mika Vainio is the gentler, beat-producing half of Pan Sonic, and that's just what this solo project sounds like. Chilled-out atmospheric tones, and glitchy, dubby drum machine patterns, minus most of the industrial noise of Pan Sonic.

#6 ("Resistor") is a very repetitive piece that sounds a lot like Pan Sonic, #7 ("U-Bahn") features Kraftwerk-like cold, pulsing melody lines, #2 & #5 ("Conjured"?) are dubby industrial pieces, and #4 ("Frequency") is a short one reflecting the noisier side of Pan Sonic.

On the atmospheric side, the opening and closing tracks (#1 & #12) are very similar, thick textures -- very good. #11 is very thin and sparse, as is #9 (ironically titled "Mojave"), which is evocative of Burzum's cold atmospheric work . A lot of the atmospheres seem to be informed by the sonic texture and harmonies mapped out in Pink Floyd's "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" (#3).

rhythmic: 6, 7, 2, 5, 4, 3 (Pink Floyd cover)
atmospheric: 1, 12, 11, 9

Gay Beast
Second Wave
[Skin Graft, 2009]

Angular, mathy no wave with very intelligible singing. Like Frank Zappa and Arab on Radar playing emo. Like Mike Patton singing for Hella. But sloppier than all that, and more gay. And recorded worse. The synth sounds and mathy music remind me of Nintendo. The vox are a bit off-putting to me, but they might take this music to a new level for differently-minded folks. There's some sax on here too.

recommended: 8 (instrumental), 5 (mostly inst., includes DEVO cover!), 6 (vox), 10 (short inst.), 1 (vox), 9 (vox)

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Phroq, Collapse [Ground Fault, 2005]

Digital noise ranging from harsh density to quiet sparsity characterizes this album. Computer-generated clicks and chirps, paired with the severely tinny sound of contact mics, dominate the quiet sections. The loud sections are idiomatic harsh noise -- these same sound sources blown-out and obscured by over-loaded reverb and distortion plugins, creating an unrelentingly heavy assault. As these descriptions imply, much of the album is a series of textures - textures which rarely develop within themselves, and which are comprised of sounds that are seldom significant beyond being constituents of the whole. The sequencing and layering of these essentially static textures creates the most significant forms of the pieces.

In this way, "Psychotest, Last Attempt" (#6) sensitively collages digital clicks and rumbles with matching field recordings of rain, insects, birds, and dirt bikes. The piece starts digitally, slowly layers various field recordings on top, then holds steady while at least one 70-second field recording loops about 3 times. It returns to digital clicks, this time with more rhythmic variety, as an outro.

"The Litigation" (#8) shows the most sophistication in manipulating sound. There is less straight texture in this piece. Individual sounds carry more meaning, and strings of sounds begin to resemble phrases rather than amorphous grains. The contact mic rustling near the beginning is slow enough, and interesting enough, to allow rhythmic significance to emerge. Coming in over the top of that is what sounds like some sort of data file opened in an audio editor -- erratically changing digitally distorted tones and noises. Though chaotic, it too reveals itself in something approaching coherent phrases. And so on. The extra depth in each texture adds immensely to the interest of this piece. The variety of sounds spans the spectrum from harsh noise doused in reverb and characterized by wildly shifting feedback tones, to crackly digital sounds blended with field recordings, reaching an eai-level of minimalism at points.

When Francisco Meirino writes, "The collapse of your expectations and reactions to music leads to noise," perhaps he is referring to the unmusicality of the sequences of textural blocks which make up most of the album, and the even more alien nature of the uncomfortably quiet, single texture "Attempt" pieces. For my part, I prefer the longer pieces in which ideas are able to fully develop and resolve on this macro scale (#6), and especially when they also possess more facundity on the smaller scale as well (#8). Are these pieces not noise for this reason, and is this success or failure for Meirino? And what does it mean that the most overtly "noise" sections of the music are the most expected, the most predictable? Noise, after all, is a fairly established genre. It is perhaps worth noting that Ground Fault categorizes this album as part of "Series II (medium)" rather than "Series III (loud)", which includes the genre "Noise" along with "Extreme", "Harsh", and "Power Electronic". This table of genres, printed on the inside cover of the album, is rather thought-provoking.

Contemplation aside, at it's best, this is some great electronic music with which it is worth engaging.

recommended tracks: 8, 6, 2



Father Murphy, ...and He told us to turn to the Sun [Boring Machines, 2008]

Father Murphy is a truly Italian band, calling upon two of Italy's great legacies in their music. Clangorous guitar through slapback reverb evokes the bleak spaghetti western landscape while somber chanting in three-part harmony colors the music with the solemnity of a Catholic mass. Obtusely delivered obscure lyrics call to mind Syd Barrett, and reinforce the naming of the trio's Madcap Collective (a cooperative Northern Italian record label/distributor). The Italian accents and Rev. Freddie Murphy's uniquely nasal voice are quite charming, but don't detract at all from the seriousness and intensity of the singing, even with such curious lyrics as, "You are such a back spine to me!" or "It ain't monks with no cap." Sparely instrumentated, the vocals and guitar are usually backed up with nothing other than harmonium chords and emphatic downbeats from the minimal drums. The best tracks ("Go Sinister", "So Now You Have to Choose Between My Two (Black) Lungs") set a heavy mood with three-voice chanting over one- or two-chord somber desert dirges. "So Now You Have to..." is actually the second half of "I Ran Out of Fuel and a Viper Just Bit Me," which exemplifies Father Murphy's off-kilter take on a more traditional rock music approach. This two-part song ends with a fantastic stoner rock guitar riff worthy of Boris or the Melvins. "At That Time I Guess We Misunderstood" ends with a brief section reminiscent of the White Stripes in which Freddie screams out vocals in his wonderfully nasal, Italian-accented voice over sparse, heavy guitar and drum accompaniment. I wish this album had a few full songs of this sort of music! A really enjoyable album from start to finish, this is Father Murphy's most consistent, and possibly their strongest musical statement to date.

3, 4-5, 7
6, 2, 8



2008 favorites

excellent/memorable shows by local musicians other than myself at local venues (chronological)
• Fogel/Nishi/Winant, Yasi Perera, Allbee/Baker @ 1510 8th St, Oakland, 1/13
• Jon Raskin Quartet & Quintet (Allbee/Robair/Shiurba/Cremaschi) @ Climate Theatre, SF & 21 Grand, Oakland, 1/15 & 11/6
• Breezy Days Band, KIT, Bay/Oslo Double Trio, High Places @ ATA, SF, 1/23
• Mute Socialite, Ettrick, Little Women @ 21 Grand, Oakland, 1/28
• Peter Evans, James Fei, Damon Smith & Weasel Walter @ Hemlock, SF, 1/31
• Sextet (Aspelin/Davignon/Dryer/Greenlief/Lindsay/Nishi), Sophistifcuffs @ 1510 8th St, Oakland, 3/8
• Allbee/Greenlief/Nakatani, Brzytwa/Fogel/Nishi, Marielle Jakobsons, Pink Canoes @ 21 Grand, Oakland, 3/21
• Joe Colley, RHY Yau, Elf Ass, Sudden Infant @ Terminal, Oakland, 5/9
• Core of the Coalman, Midmight, Trampoline Sequel, Arachnid Arcade, Sudden Infant (Godwaffle Noise Pancakes) @ ArtSF, SF, 5/10
• Kaseki/Nishi, Chan/Evangelista/Vittum, Wiener Kids @ 21 Grand, Oakland, 5/22
• Butcher/Djll/Perkis/Robair/Shiurba @ Hillside Club, Berkeley, 6/5
• sfSound w/ John Butcher & Gino Robair @ ODC, SF, 6/8
• Wolf Eyes, Deathroes, Chronicles of Lemur Mutations, Basshaters @ the Compound, SF, 6/19
• Tony Dryer w/ Pigs in the Ground @ Fort Gallery, Oakland, 6/26, & w/ Allbee/Heule/Shiruba @ 21 Grand, Oakland 12/12
• Core of the Coalman, Bran (...) Pos, Dirty Branchez (Composers Decomposed) @ Heco's, Oakland, 6/28
• Bullshit Detector, Dye Mark, Theremin Barney, Heule+Nishi @ Pharoah Maybelline's Sound Trough, No Toilet, SF, 6/29
• Djll/Perkis, Raskin/Nishi, Shiurba/Rosenberg, Brown/Fei, RTD3, Dijkstra/Greenlief, SL Morse (Skronkathon) @ 21 Grand, Oakland, 7/13
• Neung Phak, Thai Cultural Center Musicians @ Cafe du Nord, SF, 8/6
• Anderson/Brown/Dobson/Mendoza/Schott @ 21 Grand, Oakland, 8/7
• Moe! Staiano, Bubble & Squeak @ Temescal Arts Center, Oakland, 10/7
• Allbee/Josephson/Lindsay/Walter/Winant, Wiggwaum, Death Worth Living @ 21 Grand, Oakland, 11/19

favorite albums
1. Phil Minton, No Doughnuts in Hand [Emanem]
2. Core of the Coalman, AsoltMusket [BOC]
3. Christian Weber, Walcheturm Solo [Cut]
4. Stephan Bodzin, Bremen Ost/Station 72 [Herzblut]
5. various - Living Is Hard: West African Music in Britain, 1927-1929 [Honest Jons]
• Dryer/Heule/Lindsay, Idea of West [Creative Sources]
• Basshaters, Teeth on Concrete [Occidentalize(d)]

top stouts consumed in 2008
1. Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout
2. Raven's Eye Imperial Stout (Eel River)
3. Jopen Extra Stout
4. Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout (North Coast)
5. Old Engine Oil Black Ale (Harviestoun)
6. Central Waters Brewhouse Coffee Stout
7. Stone Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout
8. Lump of Coal Dark Holiday Stout (Ridgeway)
9. Rogue Shakespeare Stout
10. Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout

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John Edwards, Volume [Psi, 2008]

"...she waited for the real men carrying their double basses. The ones that bring the deepest sounds able to vibrate enemies to tears."
(from the liner notes by Marek Tuszynki)

John Edwards is a master of quickly rotating through traditional and extended techniques in a completely fluid way. He shifts from arco to pizzicato to bouncing the screw of his bow between the strings to rubbing the body of the bass with his hands without so much as a pause to indicate he is changing his handling of the instrument. With this vast vocabulary at his fingertips he is able to brilliantly create free jazz-inspired frantically rolling messes, as on the opening and closing tracks of Volume ("Matter" & "Meshes"). This is Edwards at his best -- aggressive as hell, manhandling his double bass, a real man vibrating his enemies to tears.

For the rest of the album, he eschews such hyperactive technical montages and focuses on a particular sound or technique for a longer period of time. This works particularly well on "Battery", in which he hits the strings with the screw of his bow for the entire two-minute track, hanging out on a quick bouncy rhythm for most of the piece, and morphing into something approaching a walking bass line for a brief variation. On the longer tracks, he never sticks to a single idea for much longer than the two minutes of "Battery". Contrary to the tendency in electroacoustic improvisation and reductionism to simplify structure as much as possible and work with a very narrow range of techniques or sounds, Edwards improvises more freely. He is often possessed by flights of fancy, which lead him drastically away from the material he was working with. It is then up to him to bring musical coherence to the piece, to which end he often sharply returns to the initial material, treating the new sounds as an interlude or otherwise distinct part, as if following an A-B-A structure. It is interesting to witness his musical mind at work in such a way, but the results often fall short of creating an interesting or even sensible structure. My favorite tracks ("Saddles", "Battery", "Meshes") all stick to more limited material structurally. The notable exception is "Tunnel", which starts with a totally brutal, crackling arco drone, mostly unchanging for two and a half minutes (pure sonic bliss for me), then abruptly shifts to quiet creaking sounds and moves through a series of other variations from there. Somehow these transitions make a lot more musical sense to me. The quiet sounds seem like a direct and natural response to the heavy, grinding arco, and don't leave me wondering whether a new track has just started, as I do every time I listen to "Pin Drop". He isn't left with any loose ends needing to be forced back into the fold, though he does, typically, end the piece with ten seconds of the initial buzzsaw drone.

Great playing on this disc, and very well-recorded with a stereo mic set-up. A nice addition to the canon of solo double bass recordings.

recommended tracks: 5, 9, 4, 7, 3



yam yad

Yam Yad is so damn good. I found a copy a couple days ago while getting some coffee at Mama Buzz, and it's been improving my life ever since. Zine-style booklet with drawings and poems. Matt Vollgraff's drawings are really great -- abstract works calling to mind the style of black metal, Dr Seuss, Yes, Orthrelm and Dali. They unfortunately suffer a fair amount of degradation from the photocopying/scaling process -- ask to peek in the guy's sketchbook next time you see him for the real deal. The real motherfucker is the writing by Jorge Boehringer. Outside of a few Core of the Coalman songs, I didn't even know Jorge was involved in writing. It's hard to even imagine how he has time to write based the amount of live shows I see him play and the number of CDRs of new recordings he passes my way. None the less, these poems are great. Mostly rather absurd and nonsensical, full of fifty-cent words and crude jokes. I had been reading Kora in Hell by William Carlos Williams up until I found Yam Yad, so there is some sort of correlation in my mind, but I don't think that's entirely coincidental. Something about the style seems quite akin to a lot of 1920s avant garde poetry by Williams, Mina Loy or even Gertrude Stein. Of course I know so little about poetry there are probably far more apt comparisons. I said they were nonsensical, but they're far more intelligible and evocative than the prose poems in Kora in Hell. They seem very meaningful and relevant to me, which is beautiful for so many reasons. I saw another pile at 21 Grand, but the stacks are shorter each time. Grab one quick.

I, forty, boric, put forth a counter-preposition
a flamenco dancer's shoes laid down a flat footed iambic
to which I lies from the penitentiary

"Ghastly shackles cannot halt the abosmasal motion created by the thinness of your prospects. Bile moves through the fourth stomach! Shove your rolls of quarters up your own ass, mine is full and the work you demand out of proportion to the pay!"

(from "Zymurgy")



Unmusical Postscript Eye Eye

Nice collection of noise vids. I can remember being at about half these shows, but I kind of like the ones I wasn't at a little better. Unfortunate mistakes in my past concert going choices or do the videos pale in comparison to the real experience? Probably both.

RHY Yau's set was a good one. Screaming into his little talk back buddy fed through an array of speakers, as he's prone to do. The video is a good reminder, but it doesn't quite capture the brutality I heard at the time. Most of the weird feedback tones, which were one of the more interesting elements, got swallowed up somewhere before the camera's mic. Man, the audience looks bored. Maybe they collectively ate one too many pancakes, though these were the days when the pancakes made you say mmmmmm instead of uhhhhhhhnnnnnn. (I'm glad to say either.)

Crank Sturgeon's screwball tabletop set is probably my favorite of the bunch. How did I miss that? Some hooligan wearing nothing but a mutant fish head on his own head and a long ribbed tube on his dick, screaming like a fool, ranting about his tube and working the pedals. Nice combination of silly brutality and other parts that are sort of eerie, sort of mellow and possibly more musical. Goofy video effects only add to this already goofy performance. Poor Shannon caught in the vortex between two sturgeons! Goofy, but the music is good enough that his shtick works.

I remember liking the Cotton Museum set a lot at the time, but the recording doesn't do much for me. As Cardew said, “Documents such as tape recordings of improvisation are essentially empty, as they preserve chiefly the form that something took and give at best an indistinct hint as to the feeling and cannot convey any sense of time and place.” Or, more humorously, “News has to travel somehow and tape is probably in the last analysis just as adequate a vehicle as hearsay, and certainly just as inaccurate.” [http://www.ubu.com/papers/cardew_ethics.html] Actually, this set is growing on me after listening to it again while taking the time to look up the exact wording of that quotation... Very nice.

Ettrick at noise pancakes Oct 30, 2005 (same show as the RHYY set). Ah... This was our 7th show, and now we've got around 54 under our belt. How much, and how little, has changed. I've lost 30-40 pounds, for one thing. Hidden in the menus is some secret footage of Ettrick with Weasel Walter about 4.5 months after this show. So much better, in my opinion.

I can't watch Power Circus without thinking that maybe, when I wasn't paying attention, Marilyn Manson started making really good music. Or maybe I'm in an alternate world where he took a left turn sometime before making Antichrist Superstar. The world would be a better place. Harsh noise, terrified screams, ironically cute melodies.

The T-113 set is another I wish I would've caught based on this video. I get the impression that there was a big rocking sound that isn't quite cutting through on the video. Gives me the same sort of feeling as the great Hisseaters set I saw at noise pancakes a few months ago. Best part is the finger countdown to signal the end of the set, and the resulting triumphant celebration.

The Tarpita Fleisch set is the same sort of thing she has done at most of the shows I've heard, but done particularly well on this occasion. Is the video cut into the show recording the thing to which she was performing a live score?

Mummers... Buried beneath the Jawa costumes and yucking it up is some good music. Mournful delay pedal sax lamentation floating under skittery minimal drums. Takes a turn toward dark ambiance. Ends with some sloppy hard bop I could kinda do without. But man, another set I should've seen.

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