Buffal0-based label Desire Path Recordings‘s latest release Megrez, by Portland-based duo Nite Lite, is a fitting addition to the label’s young, but steadily growing and always stellar catalog. The vinyl-only release (limited to 300 copies) shares many qualities with previous releases by the label, i.e. inventive use of field recordings, re-configurations of spacial reality through sound, and subconsciousness ruminations explored via collage. Thus, Megrez serves to further elucidate what seems to be Desire Path’s emerging ethos.
Listeners will recognize many of the sounds that were collected via field recording for this record. None of them are unique or uncanny, instead they are all echoes of what is ignored or hardly noticed everyday by everyone. Similarly to Mira Calix’s utilization of natural organic sounds to weave weird rhythmic tapestries, Phillip and Myste French of Nite Lite (who were formerly the masterminds behind the now defunct, but still revered Stunned Records) use those same type of sounds to remarkable effect but in a subtler, quieter way more in the vein of Australian duo Solo Andata (also on the Desire Path roster).
The sounds here, for the most part, are naked or– in audio production terminology—dry, meaning very little manipulation is applied. Now it very well may be that there has been substantial treatment and/or processing of these sounds, but, you see, it doesn’t sound that way to the listener, which is it what makes it impressive. Instead of obliterating their pristine field recordings with tidal waves of delay, or avalanches of artificial reverb, or mountains of mangled modulation, Nite Lite–in John Cage’s immortal words—“let sounds be themselves.” The duo’s creative contribution comes in the skillful arraignment of the sounds into eerie soudscapes of the subconscious. Ducks, footsteps, overpasses, human voices, clicking, clapping, clucking, and more all blend and fold into one another until an orchestra of mostly mundane worldly sounds is made into a magnificent audio mosaic.
Is there something that the duo is implying by presenting this seemingly random juxtaposition of organic clatter? Perhaps, like the universe we inhabit, what may on the surface appear as random clatter is in fact ordained by skillful unseen hands revealed only in brief moments that can easily be missed. This is just one of many interpretations that Megrez will perhaps suggests to its attentive listeners.
Full disclosure: I am a sucker for solo-instrumentalist avant-garde pieces. I’ve found that immersing myself in these type of performances allows me to slip out of objective reality to the point where I could go and, say, listen to Torture Garden on repeat for a full day (true story). While I appreciate any music that pushes boundaries, solo performances where artists manage to channel deep emotion through an instrument that they have personally mastered just seem to make a deeper connection with me as a listener. Cellist TJ Borden’s album Poor Form and Extenuating Circumstances is one of those types of performances.
With this album, Borden, who is a Rochester native, exhibits a unique style, both in composition and performance. Even if you’re unschooled in the cello you can tell very quickly that Borden is inventing new and unconventional ways to play this instrument. In other words, you’ve never heard a cello played like this and that’s because you’ve probably never heard a player like this that is clearly classically trained but also just as comfortable in the anything-goes realm of noise. Thus, you’ll see Borden play both with New Music outfits like Wooden Cities and also in noisier collaborations like the Freeman-Cain-Borden trio.
The 14 tracks here, which are titled simply by their number, display a darker tone due in part to Borden’s enigmatic and often furious performance which often devolves into sonic chaos. The album offers many exceptional moments that are incredibly intricate and will astound the astute listener, such as “2″ and “13.” Musically and technically speaking, Borden’s execution is top-notch and fascinating to listen to. Such a wide range of style and emotion are on display, making the album wholly unpredictable. At times the playing seems to recall a solo Eyvind Kang, both in sound and construction of the songs.
The sound of Borden’s cello is also of note; it isn’t the crisp, clean electric cello sound that most ears are familiar with. Borden’s cello is very raw and full of body, which adds to the setting of the album’s mood. The sonic presence that this album exudes is so much larger than one would expect from a solo performance that, by the end, one can’t help but wish to see Borden perform in a live intimate setting.
Michael Vitrano is head of Desire Path Recordings, a label based out of Buffalo that has released music by Kyle Bobby Dunn, Charlamagne Palestine & Janeck Schaefer, and Nite Lite. Here are some releases that he enjoyed from 2012.
High Aura’d, Sanguine Features (Bathetic)
Anxiously awaited this as his Mooncusser cassette was one of my favorites from 2011. Sought out John. Splendid human being. Became car soundtrack. Traveled everywhere with it. Bought LP. Continue to be in awe.
Nathan McLaughlin, The Refrigerator is Emotional (Senufo)
Exchanged some music with Nathan and he sent me some cassettes and his LP. Put it on, walked into other room, stopped, came back, sat down, stayed.
Paul Buchanan, Mid-Air (Newsroom)
Of Blue Nile. Fragile voice with fragile piano for the fragile psyche. “The buttons on your collar/The color of your hair/I think I see you everywhere.” First words, first track.
Coppice, Holes/Tracts (Consumer Waste)
The most original music being done right now. I don’t know how they make the “music” that they do.
Kane Ikin, Sublunar (12k)
Kane is one half of Australian duo Solo Andata. I will listen to anything Kane (or his Solo Andata partner Paul Fiocco) create forever. Sublunar has seemingly little in common with his work in Solo Andata, but there is a mood explored here which bears some resemblance to Ritual, the album Solo Andata put out with our label.
Kyle Bobby Dunn, In Miserum Stercus (Komino) and Bring Me The Head Of (Lowpoint)
An everlasting moment and everything else washes away. To me, Kyle is making some of the most important music of our lifetime.
Andrea Belfi, Wege (Room40)
Blistery. Bric-a-Brac. Belfi.
Grasshopper, The Day America Forgot (SicSic)
How this duo is not well-known is beyond me. House of Alchemy put out an excellent tape of theirs called Miles in the Sky, which was my introduction. This release takes their unique sound even further into the sky.
Hallock Hill, The Union/Hem of Evening (MIE Music)
Adam Richards runs the Buffalo-based label House of Alchemy with his wife Katheryn. His recording project is called Chapels. He also records in the groups The Circle and the Point and Air Loom. Tune in to hear Adam guest host The Upstate Soundscape tonight (wed., 12/26) on 91.3FM WBNY at 8pm. Stream at WBNY.org.
David Kilgour- Here Come the Cars (De Stijl- reissue)
Of anything on my list, I definitely spun this the most in 2012. Perfect song craft, pure and simple. It’s so unassuming, it kind of just nudges you here and there until you realize that you’ve spun it four times in a row and you’re ready for another go.
Vanessa Rossetto- Exotic Exit (Kye)
Following up last year’s excellent Mineral Orange is this astounding piece of work. Her deft handling of sounds both random and exacted is dazzling. It all melds together to create 3 sweeping and engaging pieces of music. Field recordings mixed with hunks of composed sound, or so I guess. Either way, dive in. It’s intoxicating.
Henning Christiansen- Fluxid Behandlung Op 189 (Kye- reissue)
Major reissue of late 80’s Fluxus sound works. Jarring, odd, engulfing soundscapes. Unpredictable, mildly erratic and totally compelling. Essential.
Aaron Dilloway- Modern Jester (Hanson)
Aaron Dilloway/Jason Lescalleet – Snakes and Grapes (Pan) Modern Jester is pretty much perfect. From start to finish, you are treated to some of the finest electronic quackery I have heard. Abrasive, gritty, elaborate and spot-goddamn-on. Probably the best thing I have heard all year.
Riding shot gun with that substantial album is a heavy collaboration with Jason Lescalleet. His set here in Buffalo this summer was above and beyond. This album gets deep and murky. These are two of the best modern sound composers out there right now. It’s a menacing slow burn. Wow.
Josh Mason/Nathan McLaughlin – “3440″ split (Tape Drift) What a tape. Mason’s side is liltingly cyclical, minimally evolving with minute, subtle flourishes. Piano, then some guitar. Deliriously just outside of repetitive. Something tiny is added with every lap. Coma sounds. Perfect coma sounds. McLaughlin offers lonesome banjo plucked with menacing deep bass looming behind. Plaintive, then dark until distortion washes it all out. It goes from minimal to sub-minimal and then turns to disorienting. It’s a puzzling and remarkable tape through and through.
Can- The Lost Tapes (United Artists- reissue)
It’s not very often that an essential band opens their vault and comes out with 3 CD’s of unreleased material that ranks amongst their finest. Vibrant, visceral, urgent. We now live in a world with three more CD’s of Can. That’s a damn good thing.
The Congos/Sun Araw/M. Geddes Gengras- Icon Give Thank (RVNG Intl)
This record is the soundtrack of a dream. I find myself in a trance within the first few minutes of dropping the needle, every time. It’s a magical hybrid of different worlds. Reggae vocal lay over outer limits psych grub. It’s like jumping into warm ocean water.
Venn Rain- multiple releases
The soundtrack of 2012 for me. In and around everything else on this list and all the other great recordings from this year, I was listening to Venn Rain. Half a dozen glimmering, mournful, hazy, cassettes: each one a comfort, an escape into tranquility. Get all of it.
Pedestrian Deposit- Kithless (Arbor)
They played a breathtaking set here in Buffalo this spring, on edge from beginning to end. This record rides from terse, tense minimalism to cathartic release with lots of space in between. Skin-crawling and beautiful. Essential sounds.
Hanel Koeck- Piano Music (Robert & Leopold)
Not only is the music fantastic but this has the packaging and concept of the year for me. Improvised piano, every aspect of the piano. After the recording the piano was disassembled and a piece of it is included with each cassette. Completely engrossing.
Work/Death- Phone About to Ring (Three Songs of Lenin)
He played a devastatingly good set here in Buffalo In July. A batch of new releases came out this summer as well. They’re all great but this one is astounding. There is a good amount of menace here. The electronic yelps slowly build to a crowd of howling. Everything is vibrating. Drone and sound at its finest.
Needles is the host The Upstate Soundscape radio show. Here are 10 releases that he dug from 2012.
Sax Tape, S/T
This insane 60-minute romp came from Guelph’s Bry Webb. An unbelievable collage of looped beats, sonic twirls, and honking saxes. Funky, twisted, and psychedelic, this one hit all the right notes for me.
Alfred Brown, Music for Moving in Slow Motion (Asthmatic Kitty)
Probably one of the most graceful records of 2012. It could easily serve as the score for one of Terrence Malick’s majestic films.
Cinnamon Aluminum, We Ate the Wrong Crab Spirit (Level 4 Activated)
This Buffalo trio (now a four piece) perfectly straddles the line between experimental and pop. The songs on this album are as catchy as they are whacked out.
Venn Rain, Bioharmonics (House of Alchemy)
It’s hard to put my finger on what exactly I like about this cassette, but I just found it totally compelling. Four very simple recordings, all of which are mesmerizing.
M. Mucci, Days Blur Together
60 minutes of true drone bliss from Guelph-based M. Mucci. One of the most patient and refined pieces I have ever heard. Very few pieces present listeners with this type of challenge and subsequent reward for committing to it. Basinski-esque.
Phillips-Borden, System Vandross
A really discombobulating listen. Following the intersection of Borden’s crazed cello and Phillips’s turntable manipulation is like trying to walk on shifting ground in the dark.
Tony Conrad and HangedUp, Transit of Venus (Constellation)
Such a simple formula. Big sloppy drums combined with thick vibrating drones. The result is what I always imagined the Theater of Eternal Music would have sounded like. Great for both sitting in a chair and zoning out to or flailing around the room and breaking shit.
Damian Valles, Non-Parallel (in Four Movements) (Experimedia)
I am a sucker for any sample-based drone. Valles’s re-use of classical avant-garde sounds from the Nonesuch label is a fantastic example of the possible directions sample-based sounds might go in the future (even if they don’t sound at like sample-based works).
Thoughts on Air, Random Tandem (Old Frontiers)
I had the pleasure of hanging out with Scott Johnson (ToA) one night in Hamilton this past summer. We traded some tapes, and this was one he gave me. The art work immediately blew me away but it wasn’t until driving home the next day hung over with the window’s down and music blasting that I actually heard this amazing double cassette. The graceful tones poured out my windows down the QEW. Then I got stuck in traffic on top of the Rainbow bridge in 90 degree heat with no air conditioning. A faint mist from the falls blew over me ever so often. I just sat there listening in a sweat induced trance. This tape will always run through my mind whenever I cross that bridge.
Loud and Sad, Fales Intimacy (cae-sur-a)
At times, there is so little going on in this cassette, which is what I love about it. You can really only absorb this by listening with all your might.
Over the next couple of week’s we will posting several [2012 in Review] lists that feature the favorite releases of some notable people from the Upstate experimental community.
First up is Michael Mucci, host of Sounds from the Tall House on Guelph, ON’s CFRU 93.3 FM. Every Sunday morning at 10am, Michael graces the airwaves with a radio show that features all kinds of experimental music and sound, focusing especially on long, improvisational pieces that you don’t often hear on the radio. Perfect Sunday morning radio.
This is the work of Steven R. Smith, a perennial favorite of mine. I always look forward to his releases and this one doesn’t disappoint. So far, this is a download only release, but hopefully that will change in the near future.
This year was, as always, a year full of new discoveries. A friend gave me a copy of Julian Cope’s book Japrocksampler which may just end up costing me a few hundred dollars chasing down some amazing records from Japan. This record isn’t on that list (and I’m not suggesting it should be), but it is a great record of solo guitar explorations. Bluesy, but not in the traditional sense, he’s also capable of blasting out sheets of feedback reminiscent of Keiji Haino.
Swans, The Seer (Young God Records) + live show Oct. 25/12 @ Lee’s Palace, Toronto
A good friend of mine let me hear this record and convinced me to go see the band in Toronto. I had seen Gira solo a few years back and he was intimidating as hell with just an acoustic guitar in his hands. The guy is intense and that’s probably an understatement! Swans was hands down the best live show I saw all year. I haven’t been knocked out by a live band like this in ages. I went home exhausted after being subjected to their sonic beating for almost 2 hours. Oh, the album’s pretty damn great too.
This record kind of caught me by surprise, having never heard anything by Robert Turman before. Seeing his name associated with folks like Aaron Dilloway was probably what caused the surprise. There’s no harsh noise here though. It’s probably closer to minimalism than anything else with its shaky kalimba, piano, and drum machine tape loops. A mesmerizing record to say the least.
There are a few musicians whose music just makes me stop and listen; I can’t do anything else, not reading, not writing, not thinking of other things, just listening. It’s almost tranquilizing in its effect on me. These two tracks contain many of Skelton’s signature sounds (circular patterns of various bowed stringed instruments, for instance) but seems to stretch out into some new territory, especially on the second track “Cappanawalla.” The strings are there, but something unusually menacing, too (organ? synth? or maybe some recordings slowed way down?). Truly wonderful.
A fantastic guitar soli release by this Boston-based musician. I’m never quite sure what to expect from him (past tape releases on his own Private Chronology imprint saw him manipulating tapes, synths, and field recordings to great effect). Here, it’s just him and a guitar (if you listen closely though, there’s some really nice tape manipulation/delay happening too). Stunning packaging by the folks at Wagtail. I really hope Reuben has some more guitar work in store for future releases.
Hallock Hill, The Union/A Hem of Evening (Mie Music)
Hallock Hill is Tom Lecky, once of Upstate NY, but now residing closer to NYC. The Union was previously released in a small CD run a few years back and I didn’t get a chance to hear it. Mie picked it up, repressed it on LP and added a new album A Hem of Evening” to make this a double LP package. Hallock Hill plays solo guitar music, but it strays quite a ways from the well-worn guitar soli/Takoma school. This is a really beautifully recorded, played, and packaged record.
Gasoline Gathers Hands, Gathers Friends, S/T (No Shade)
Finally, a release I was able to get my hands on! After who knows how many limited tape runs that go out of print before I even know they exist, they drop this LP. Hamilton is home to some of the nicest musicians around and these fellows are no exception. They’re also fairly damn talented at creating some serious vibes from creeping slow jams to all out noise murk.
Gates is the work of Bryan W. Bray from Toronto, also of Gardenia and Orca. Gates is a decidedly darker, harsher project. This one has some black metal and harsh noise overtones. Mr. Bray has been putting out fantastic releases for some time now and its great to see them getting some wider recognition and attention. The packaging for this tape is also stellar.
Hanged Up/Tony Conrad, Transit of Venus (Constellation)
I hadn’t heard anything from the Montreal duo Hanged Up in years, but I was quite excited when I saw their name added to Constellation’s Musique Fragiles series. Doubly excited when I saw the name Tony Conrad. A great collaboration here that has all the hallmarks of a Hanged Up album, with the added benefit of Mr. Conrad’s searing violin….actually it sounds like the former are just trying to keep up with the latter!
It’s been a productive year for Alfred Brown, a Buffalo-based electro-acoustic composer and audio engineer. First, he contributed the excellent Music for Moving in Slow Motion to Asthmatic Kitty’s ambitious Library Catalog Music Series. Now he has put the finishing touches on a project that apparently had been hibernating inside his personal audio vault.
According to Brown, The Seagull: A Song Cycle was originally intended as a soundtrack, but then evolved into a “wordless song cycle of sorts” based around Anton Chekhov’s late-19th century play, The Seagull. And while Brown does not provide much contextual insight into the connection the play and his album share, it turns out that the lack of any artistic précis does nothing to prevent one from enjoying thisfirst-class instrumental production.
Masterfully composed and elegantly arranged, The Seagull will undoubtedly appeal to aficionados of the orthodox strain of ambient (Ambient with a capital ‘A,’ that is). Listener’s who revere the music of Stars of the Lid, Kyle Bobby Dunn, Nicholas Szczepanik, and of course Eno, will recognize that Brown is the real deal and he should perhaps earn consideration as a future appointment to this exclusive pantheon of neoclassical prodigies. Time will inevitably tell.
For now, it is clear that Brown’s training as an audio engineer plays an important role in his ability to construct drones that are at times faint, at other times vigorous, but always layered very carefully and teased out with long, sustained tones that glisten like elongating icicles in the sun. Ellen Fullman, and the trademark sound of her long string instrument, is a definite reference point here. In fact, it’s only a mild exaggeration to say that tracks three through eight flow as if all sound emanates from a single captivating string. That string then bends, rises, and sways under the graceful guidance of the unseen performer. The listener can either focus intently on the gentle fluctuations in rhythm and tone or absorb the cycle as a whole, which is very possible to do since the songs wisp in and out of one another in very fluid manner.
The Seagull: A Song Cycle, put out by ACrawlsPace (a sub-label for Abandoned Buildings), is the second strong release from Brown in 2012 and it will be very interesting to hear what’s in store for him in 2013.
The catchiest and most fully rounded songs on Settlers’s first album Goth Dad—“Point Breeze,” “Cicada Summer,” and the title track—function in a similar fashion: a nifty picked melody works itself out against a background of driving drums and laves of reverb-heavy distortion. This Buffalo group’s songs don’t develop like classical music, repeat like minimalist compositions, or offer the thematic exploitation of pop music; instead, as in the case of “Cicada Summer,” the musical substance (all of which was captured via 4-track in the basement of the Jungle Gym, a house venue on Buffalo’s West Side) is thickened through instrumental addition, and–after it has achieved a surfeit of density–it is meditated upon. Subtraction, rhythmic spacing, or key change is used to free the listener from the nervous excitement induced in the tracks’ more tightly wound moments.
Vocals aren’t vocals in the sense of pronounced lyrical content, but rather like voices carried on breezes; over the course of their journey they’ve somewhat dissipated and it would appear that what the voices are saying is less important than how they’re saying it. On the latter count, there is more than a hint of longing, melancholy, and homesickness; nonetheless, it avoids becoming schmaltz through balance with the music’s ecstatic presentation.
The Los Angeles-based duo No Age provides an obvious comparison (though Goth Dad is closer to the fragmented punk blusters/ambient blossoms of Weirdo Rippers, than the lush pop of Nouns) not only in terms of technique but also in terms of quality of feeling. It’s probably no coincidence the band’s website features a video of a skater (slo-mo, summer day) as visual accompaniment to the songs. The whoosh, clank, and roll rhythm of skateboarding lends a real world similitude to the inner life depicted in Goth Dad.
The tunes, when not moving about frantically,
“. . . as in a wanton freak”,
engage the listener more patiently:
“. . . perhaps to show its black and golden wings
Pausing upon its yellow flutterings.”
As Keats interpreted the schizoid temperament of the goldfinch.
Attempting to decant the significance of the music’s movement into a proposition is a tricky business, but, taking a speculative leap, I’d say the driving emotional force of Settlers is found in the frenzied state of imposing oneself upon experience and taking in as much as possible, in order to make up for that which one is constantly pouring out.
Several tracks (“Sleepy Dan,” “Dirty Eyes,” and “Days Park”) never make it past the gnarly intention present at conception. “Doing Nothing,” another in this mode, may be the most aptly titled song on the album. Meanwhile, the album’s two heavier tracks (“White-Out” and “Dead Kids”) edge into that goth-surf-garage stuff you may remember hearing at the Mohawk Place circa 2000.
At times a somewhat unbalanced first set, but, like other promising first sets, Goth Dad offers an abundance of charm that makes up for any lack in execution.