Welcome to the inaugural edition of Please Enjoy Responsibly, a monthly column where I’ll lovingly and slavishly celebrate all things noisy, experimental, and un-apologetically underground. Anticipate–nay, expect–that the format and parameters of this series will shift and change over time, and be forewarned that in these here parts, the past is as indispensable as the present; we’re talking about a genre lousy not just with stones-unturned, but with stones-unturned that almost nobody knows to disturb until months or years after the unnatural creepy-crawlies beneath them have lived, mated, and rotted away. That said, you, the reader, are a key contributor to this enterprise. The fact is that I’m going to overlook a lot of great stuff that you’re in the know about, stuff that everybody else should be listening to. Don’t keep these gems to yourself; please post them as comments.
This month, Please Enjoy Responsibly got all hot and bothered over blare old and new by the likes of Seers, Bob Bellerue, Fundstucke, and Nazoranai; a book of short interviews conducted by Joeri Bruyninckx also tickled my fancy.
STANDALONE TRACK OF THE MONTH
There’s a lot to like about “Der Zweite,” a cut from Live, Fundstucke’s recent Zeromoon release. The duo, based in Hamberg, Germany and Washington, D.C., operates in a mixed-medium realm where prepared bass guitars are as urgent as electronics and “amplified objects,” whatever those may happen to be. On “Der Zweite,” it’s tempting to believe that those amplified objects are, in fact, R2D2, C3P0, and an oven slowly climbing towards a temperature of 400 F. There a moments early on here where the players pepper the thrumming vacuum with bird song, clatter, and music box twinkle–but at around the five-minute mark, those aforementioned robots seem to take center stage, and a forest of squeaks, bumps, rattles, shifts, and taps threatens to flourish without quite taking the leap. There’s something special about that tension, and about how metallic Fundstucke’s clouds taste.
NYC NOISE ALBUM OF THE MONTH
The first noises you notice on Brokelyn (Love Earth Music) are scrapes: small and desperate ones, gushing in abundance, as if a blank cassette were struggling mightily to escape from a tape deck. The effect is reminiscent, in a way, of the accidental poetry of old celluloid movie reels. This is Bob Bellerue’s show–literally, since Brokelyn consists of two live sets–and he piles on with the clawing until a distracted synthesizer drone and a surge of ascendant up-pitches materializes. Notional ghosts and birds haunt a feedback drizzle where pulsations incrementally alter the tone and emphasis; in the second set, particularly, it often seems like a zipper is being opened and closed across an already malleable sonic fabric, or that fighter pilot afterburners are being powered up, and down, and back up again. Put out the cat, pour yourself a fine Chardonnay, and crank this one up on the Bose home stereo.
“NON”-NYC NOISE ALBUM OF THE MONTH
Writing is an imperfect science. Some ideas are beautifully realized at jump, and see publication immediately; others molder for weeks and months, to be junked or eventually jump-started. Others still arrive fully-formed, but can’t find a home. Music is no different; Seers, a creative partnership between noise mainstays Gerritt Witmer and Pete Swanson, is a case in point. The duo recorded and played out in the 2004/2005 time frame, and what would ultimately become From the Beginning…Until the End/Live Testament (Type) is finally seeing the light of day in a limited-edition 2xCD set. Theirs was a truly ego-free collaboration; in these carefully curated, variously piercing and near-piercing whines and drones, little sense of individual identities emerge intact.
An extended, burrowing performance, Live Testament showcases high-frequency quivers and digital-sand-through-the-hour-glass minimalist seethe, evoking an effect akin to barbed Zen. But From…, which trades heavily on the idea of “treated bells,” seals the deal with hedgerow bustles smuggling high notes that aren’t quite there. If the first untitled track suggests a UFO landing or an unwelcome alarm clock thundering on the far side of a time bubble, what follows is a celebration inter-dimensional rupture: tantalizing vistas of scree and electronically-enhanced tolls, steams of harsh wavelength whiplash, chime-slimed almost-dub, whirring drill bit white noise, and wan, feathery whistles that portend masterminded cataclysm.
HINDSIGHT IS 20/20
What a sweet, strange beast Nazoranai is; what a shame that I didn’t become aware of the project’s epymonous album (Idelologic Organ/Editions Mego) from 2012 until the first few weeks of 2013. In a very odd way, Nazoranai suggest a slowed-down, tanned-hide, minimalist take on Ohio’s Scarcity of Tanks. Together, singer, guitarist, and synth player Keiji Haino, drummer Oren Ambarchi, and bassist Stephen O’Malley fashion a sort of noise jazz theatre. Haino’s vocal outbursts curry the drama, but the musicians set the scene: Haino’s broad sword clangor and insectine electronics, Ambarchi’s deadpan flourishes and metronomy, O’Malley’s sod-level rumbles. The album is best at its bloodiest and most blustery, billowing insistently and on the verge of severing its moorings.
There was a time, a lifetime ago, when it was quite common for zines I cobbled together to leave my doorstep, and other peoples’ zines to arrive there: homemade, self-collated compilations of opinions, ideas, and invective. Spine-stapled, bearing a white cover stock slightly heavier than the interior pages, I Bake Your Pardon? I Never Promised You An Avant-Garden (One Kind Favor, $8) presented as a zine when it arrived in my mailbox, but turned out to be a different animal altogether: a series of sober, thoughtful interviews with luminaries of the noise and experimental undergrounds. Since Joeri Bruyninckx–a Massachusetts Institute of Technology visiting scholar and Maastricht University science and technology researcher–chooses subjects concentrated in the geographic regions where he spends the most time, the focus tends to be on Feeding Tube Records artists and oddballs residing in the Netherlands and thereabouts. So Mama Bar’s musings the anti-music she and husband Kommissar make together and separately are on the menu, as are Finnish musician Reijo Pama’s working methods. Maine’s Id M Theft Able–who, incidentally, dropped an impressionistic-panic attack of an excellent new album on January 1st–suggests that “Beethoven or Dr. Dre or any real musician are as much sound collagists as I am.” Kraus holds forth, cogently, on how the latent promise of the synthesizer was squandered as the 1970s gave way to the 1980s. Keith Fullertan Whitman declares his desire to use “the lexicon of dance music” for “something other than social lubricant applications.” Richard Youngs passive-aggressively expresses his disdain for the interview as a journalistic exercise.
The tone, throughout, is very dry and straightforward. It helps that Bruyninckx seems to know many of his subjects personally – his interview with Nathan Bowles takes place when the Black Twig Pickers member and a group of friends are caught in the rain and seek refuge from the storm in the interviewer’s abode – and that he’s as fascinated with the technical minutiae of recording as anyone on the Tape Op staff. I Bake Your Pardon ably gives voice to musical innovators whose insights and origins demand a greater airing. The only criticism I could level that I wish these exchanges were longer than the few pages granted to each artist. The only thing I would hope for, going forward, is that Bruyninckx expands this enterprise from a one-off to an ongoing series.