ISSUE #1         OCTOBER, 2000  
 page 2 of 8


360 SOUND: Galactic Shampoo CDR (F.D.R. RECORDINGS)
I've only listened to this once, and I've also heard a couple cassette releases by 360 Sound, so I'm gonna kinda generalize here. 360 Sound is one of the many projects emanating from the Des Moines, Iowa home of one Brian Noring, C.E.O. of F.D.R. Recordings. Heavily into an improvisation / sound-art / home-taping / junk collage / cutup aesthetic, Noring seems to have a tape recorder going 24 hours a day. Amongst all this strange sonic detritus, 360 Sound, for which Noring is joined by one Shawn Kerby, almost sound like a rock band -- there's rock rhythms on the drums, there are 'inside' guitar licks, and new-wavey chords played on Noring's beloved casio keyboards. In fact, there's a circa-1973 'space rock' intent lurking in the corners here (check the title). There's even vocals on two or three tracks -- nervous, paranoid vocals that sound like they might be improvised as well. Overblown reeds enter into the picture too, creating a messy free-rock vibe. It makes me think of some more 70s outcasts, like the Los Angeles Free Music Society copping licks from Ralph Records. Which of course didn't happen -- the LAFMS were originals -- but such a collision might have happened in the minds of Noring and Kerby -- I don't know what all they listen to.

APHEX TWIN: Selected Ambient Works 85-92 CD (REPHLEX)
I remember when the second Selected Ambient Works release (SAW 2) came out. I was working in a cheesy record store in a mall, and we were sent a promo of it by Sire Records. It was the first Aphex Twin release I'd gotten my hands on after reading interesting articles about this mad genius limey techno music savior. The release was nice -- mysterious color photographs serving as song titles for eerie-'ambient'/pretty-'ambient'/not-pretty-at-all-but-still-'ambient' soundscapes. There weren't any photos of the artist, which gave the name 'Aphex Twin' a sort of prog-band aura even though I knew from the music press that it was just one guy named Richard D. James. Of course, the "prog-band aura" was coming from the music too -- sure, it was 'techno' music, y'know, from 'rave culture,' but it also sounded like it could've been created on synthesizers in 1974 by some keyboardist from some Canterbury band on some British record label. (EMI?) And not that that would be a good thing either, which was part of the mystery of the record.
          I played it in the store and young women shopping for Garth Brooks or Natalie Cole or whatever it was we sold 98% of the time would ask "What is this?" I'd tell them, thinking wonder of wonders, maybe they're slightly interested, after all a lot of SAW 2 could be described (in a general sense, even) as pretty. But after they heard "Aphex Twin" and weren't able to connect it with anything they'd seen on TV they'd just say something like "It's very strange," the tone of their voice just dripping with heartland-values dismissal-of-the-different knee-jerk sarcasm. And people ask me why I don't like working in record stores.
           End of digression. Those around here who cared were mighty intrigued that this 'cool' double-CD had a "2" in the title. "Have ya heard the first one?" was a common question, but word quickly got around that SAW 1 "wasn't actually ambient," that maybe the title was just a joke by the always-joking Aphex Twin, because the album wasn't more beatless drifting sci-fi soundscapes, but stuff with all kinda techno beats that actually sounded like it could be played for dancefloors. Yet another example of how major labels create opinion: Sire Records, by giving the second installment a strong promotional push to record stores and college radio, defined "ambient" as a certain sound for a lot of listeners (basically, techno music without beats), and when this SAW 2 definition of "ambient" was compared to the definition made by Aphex Twin's earlier, self-released and therefore less promoted 'ambient' album, people, including me, kinda wrote it off. (Of course, a select few people worldwide heard the two CDs in the proper order, because they were attuned to the 1985-1992 techno underground as it was happening. I was paying no attention whatsoever, so it wasn't until Sire Records started marketing him that I heard of him. By then, I'm sure, the British / continental / overseas / worldwide techno underground had already made their own more informed definitions of the genre tag 'ambient.')
           It's been a few years, and I never really listen to SAW 2 anymore, because while it may be cool and atmospheric and yes, genre-defining, Aphex Twin without the beats just isn't all that exciting or compelling -- once you file it away on the shelf, it has a way of sitting there for a mighty long time. That's where SAW 1 comes in -- I borrowed it from a friend a month ago, listened to it several times, made my own cdr of it, and it still shows no signs of being filed away any time soon. Maybe it isn't 'ambient,' but then again, maybe it is -- it's much prettier than the other kinds of techno that have hit rave consciousness -- my wife even commented while it was playing "Why does he make music like this that's so pretty, and then turn around and make music that's so ugly?" By "ugly" she meant things she had overheard me playing like the "Ventolin" remix cd, and the whole demonic "Come To Daddy" bit. (Demonic enough to be played in the home of a snuff film murderer in the otherwise totally terrible Hollywood flick 8MM!)
         So this disc proves that original definitions of 'ambient techno' included beats, flying in the face of my johnny-come-lately ambient-techno-can't-have-beats paradigm that I've inferred from marketing campaigns. Of course! Why not? This is a pantonal pancultural kinda world, right? And, on that note, the 'ambient without beats' music first fully exposed on SAW 2 is here on the first disc too for certain passages and all of Aphex Twin's music offers several other twists on the formula as well, so I'd say he just intends 'ambient' to designate a less aggressive, less 'ardcore, less demonic 'pretty music' side.
         And: this is very pretty music. When I put it on I almost sigh it's so nice and wistful sounding. It's like a trumpet solo on a ballad by Miles Davis -- not sonically, of course -- one's acoustic and one's electronic, to name just the first difference - but in the weight that both carry as they play, the sense of melancholy in the hanging notes and melodies, as if the music is soaking into and hovering alongside the emotion in the room. This is probably my favorite single full-length album by Aphex Twin, though I've also liked Surfing on Sine Waves (released as Polygon Window), Compilation ( Caustic Window), the Analogue Bubblebath EP ( AFX), the Windowlicker EP ( Aphex Twin), and more....
          One album involving Aphex Twin that I don't like much is the Richard D. James Album -- it seems too pop, too by-the-numbers in its (classical electro pomp)+(crazy drum and bass)=(my most accessible record yet) formula. And I don't know what to say about "Milkman" makes me smile, and you could describe its lush orchestration as 'Pet Sounds in the 90s,' but it's not that funny. I'm also not too excited by the Mike & Rich album, the album he did with Mike Paradinas aka µ-zik aka whatever other names he's got. Ya gotta love the kid's-game graphics and it's an import CD on Aphex Twin's label Rephlex -- it seems like a really desirable underground-music artifact -- but what it really sounds like is a bunch of five-minute verse-chorus funk instrumentals. You could say it's 'a 90s version of Cluster's Zuckerzeit,' because it's electronic and all, but you could also say it's 'a 90s (instrumental muzak) version of The Best of Mandrill and/or the sixth Genesis album.' I will admit that it's grown on me a little after the (crucial) third and fourth listens... Still not the most exciting set of tunes I've heard, but charming aspects emerge...Almost every song has a section where someone breaks into a funky keyboard solo. These playful live riffs, somewhere between the Mario Brothers and the Doobie Brothers, should be played for all the bores who constantly claim that 'anyone' can make 'techno' with a 'sampler and a keyboard.' Sure that's true but a) who cares? and b) not just 'anyone' can take a sampler beat and over the top of it play a funky-ass Doobie Brothers keyboard solo that creates a funky-melodic escape hatch into some other kinds of musics (a (w)hole you can plug into for your next blast), now can they?

A three way split release from the ever prolific Brian Noring and friends. He sent me this in a package with a copy of his zine Scraps, and the CD was inside the zine, so maybe it comes with the zine. If that's the case, I suggest you order a copy today, 'cause that's one underground culture bargain if I ever saw/heard one (see the review of Scraps). EHI is Brian Noring, from Des Moines, Hal McGee is Hal McGee, from Gainesville, Florida, and Separation is someone from Buffalo, New York. Noring plays in a lot of different underground styles, as described just four or five hundred pixels above me, scroll up or click here if 'yr' lazy. EHI could be said to be his 'harsh noise' outlet. This disc opens with a five-minute volcano of noise called "Man Eating Man." Sorta typical, maybe, the good ole Cock ESP/RRR 'extended-squall-or-eruption' approach to an amplified metal noise piece with some sort of violent and/or smutty title, and we all know how typically even the most smutty/violent amplifed metal noise can hit you just right. "Man Eating Man" does the trick pretty well too. On the second track Noring pulls off a great atmospheric layered-keyboard tune (there is a repeating melody) that sounds like Martin Rev and Keith Rowe jamming with the Residents! (The Residents mercifully don't sing, but I bet inside in my stereo they're building a really cool stage-set and rehearsing some insane choreography right this minute.) (It's got a nice title, too: "The Mouth of the River.") Third and fourth tracks almost reach found-object status by being takes on one low-end synth-or-feedback churn, dressed with psychedelic pulsing effects and mixing. Compares favorably to Gate. For EHI's last track, it's back to extremely harsh and screaming noise territory for another five minutes.
           Hal McGee is a longtime collaborator with Noring, through the mail and on annual pilgrimages to Des Moines from his Florida home. Hal does kind of a heavy drone that is collaged with noisescapes that can be harsh but more likely bubbling and sorta trippy-mellow noise. That said, his first track on here is a very harsh series of high-voltage industrial buzzes, edited in crude Godardian cut-up style. There are some near-subliminal sounds (menacing voices?) mixed in over/under the buzzes to add to the unease. The second track, on the other hand, isn't 'harsh noise' at all, it's just 'pretty' tinkling keyboards
(more proof of the not-quite-secret Cluster influence on Noring/McGee), overdubbed to play a spacily spontaneous quasi-classical theme, like a music box ballerina being heard during the comedown of a tea high. For the rest of his contribution, two tracks and 17 minutes, McGee cranks out an overdubbed one-man free-music buzz factory. It's all about overdub soul, channeling/amplifying the inner aura of a multitrack tape recorder by running feedback hums and fuzz-song through it, not unlike the work of Phil Todd as Ashtray Navigations. One track (this time "tracks" meaning tracks on the multitrack recorder this time, not tracks on a compact disc record album) takes on a quasi-melodic-or-riffic role and the rest of the tracks (3 to 7, depending on if he has a 4-track or an 8-track recorder) are overdubs creating pure psychedelic lamination over the 'theme.'
          Last (compact disc track ten) comes the contribution by the 'noise' 'act' from Buffalo, New York called Separation, a single epic track (clocking in at 25:22) that makes a very fitting close. It's the kind of lost lonely piece for quiet and intermittent guitar feedback that you can fall asleep to, or at least listen to the cicadas outside along with. Brav-friggin-O to all concerned.
          OBLIGATORY PACKAGING-RELATED COMMENT (it's like the opposite of a record review in Beer Frame, gettit?): It doesn't look like a cdr, but a fully-pressed cd, which is rare for F.D.R. -- however, money was saved on the packaging, as it comes in what looks like a sandwich bag with two pieces of printed green construction paper serving as covers....hey, works for me.... -- Matt Silcock



Track Four is the title track, ten minutes long, and even though it's recorded in 1969 by a German three-piece power trio, almost the whole thing could pass for NNCK or AMM if you played it for someone without telling him/her that. It sounds like someone bowing a contrabass or cello really low and thick and 'laminating' it with some quiet guitar hums. But the thing is, Guru Guru were longhairs with electric guitars, they were playing rock clubs and had to come on like a rock band, so if they were gonna do a free-form improv for ten minutes, they had to have an excuse for it, a concept. On the album opener "Stone In" the concept was to just jam on a slow heavy groove with Ax Genrich playing non-stop psychedelic guitar solos and, to make it a 'song,' have the drummer sorta wail out the song title every now and then. On "UFO" their concept was to sound like a UFO, a concept that allows all sorts of sci-fi space sounds (just ask The Dead C): roaring rocket engines, or the noise of asteroid showers, or the vast quiet groan of deep space on a slow night, to name just three possibilities. To make things more confusing, as the track is finally truly building and the power trio drum crashes of Mani Neumier have entered the stew, the band mixes in some musique concrete over the top at a much louder level, a confusing recording of what sounds like a docked boat bumping against its pier.
       "Der LSD-Marsch" starts out as free-form as "UFO," but even if it's three different letters, the concept of "LSD" allows for just as many space sounds as "UFO" does. Ah, but structure is with us in just under two minutes, with the entrance of a funereal bass pattern by Uli Trepte. Add a nutty panflute solo by...Don Cherry? No, but I don't know who. Probably Neumier, 'cause the drums enter with a heavy 'marsch' beat right as the panflute exits. Ax comes in too, chiming on one Black Sabbath note for a long time and then expanding said note into some bubbling low-end psych-blues licks and we're back into "Stone In" territory. That's the whole album, it's short, it's a monster. You can have your 'stoner rock,' your Nebulas and Fu Manchus. (Okay, I'll admit I've never heard them, but I have this sneaking suspicion that they write songs, instead of concepts, and once you've heard a stoned power trio like Guru Guru digging through the heavy murk of their very heavy power trio concepts, it's hard to just go right back to songs.)


PELT: Rob's Choice CD (VHF)
The latest from these revered Virginians. You've gotta be in the mood for their sound; when I first put this in, it just sounded like, you know, guys with guitars and 'etc.', maybe some beards, even hats, doing drone / feedback / etc.soundscapes for thirty minutes at a time. So what? The second time I listened, I had it in the 5-disc player on shuffle and when one of these monstrous tracks would come on after something from Blue Oyster Cult's first album, Selected Ambient Works 85-92, One Hour by Cluster, or the occasional Angus MacLise, they would floor me. It sounded like much much more than before: murky, hazy, thick, steaming clouds of whuh, like a little storm system going on right there next to the bookcase in the other room. It may not quite stack up to their apex, Empty Bell Ringing In The Sky, but hey, the tracks that were making their presence known in the other room were two more performances of "Empty Bell Ringing In The Sky," the Pelt standard which may indeed be the only 'number' from their 'repertoire' they're gonna play from now on. One took place in New Orleans and one in Austin, Texas (for which they were joined by Tom Carter of the Charalambides). Packaged in typical simple / attractive / glossy VHF style. (Notice how the label is designing their releases so that their spines will all look of a piece when shelved together? But who organizes their CD collection by label? Well, I'll admit I've got all of my ESP-Disk reissues on ZYX shelved together…arranged by serial number, no less….)

VHF Records
Klang Industries

SCRAPS zine by B. Noring, K. Noring, J. Noring
Also from the F.D.R. Recordings camp in Des Moines is this fine zine. Home-taper free-musician Brian Noring contributes rough but interesting and inspiring typewritten'n'xeroxed notes about his corner of the musical underground. His wife Kathy has illustrated each issue with pasted-up 'scraps' from other magazines, full-color shots from various glossy lifestyle and nature magazines. I like to think of these scraps as analagous to a 'stab' by a hip-hop DJ, a sharp image thrown up on to a white background that hits upon a page-turn like a riff sampled off an old record in a hip-hop mix. Fashion ads are used to create their usual 'found mannequin' effect, although in Ms. Noring's work it's somehow weirder than usual; other shots take on their originally intended poignance and then some because they are separated from whatever editorial 'message' they were originally packaged with. Brian, along with the writing, contributes many illustrations of the B&W xerox variety, also to striking effect. More than one page sports a xerox of simply crumpled paper that creates a nice 'terrain' effect--and the smeary grey thing on page...let's see, got the zine here, so counting the front cover as page 1, the inside front as page 2, and so on, it would be the smeary
grey whatsit on page....17 is a good 'un. (Okay that bit was so Richard Meltzer that he can sue me if he wants.) It reminds me of a William Burroughs painting (not the shotgun ones, but his actual 'ink-blot abstractions') -- you may know William Burroughs as a writer and Brian Noring as a home-taper avant-underground musician, but they're probably both even better as visual artists. (I mean it about Burroughs, as an abstract expressionist painter he might even be better than Pollock, and we all know how 'difficult' it is to finish a Burroughs novel -- in fact, most of his books work best when only 40-100 pages are read and the rest is thought of as not a book by William Burroughs but another fine painting by William Burroughs....a big dense word painting (the colors and images are supplied by the cumulative effect of the words spread out over a couple-few hundred pages -- if you look at it with the retina it's a strictly black and white painting but if you look at it with the mind and imagination (non-retinal) it's all kinds of colors and images etc. Cf. Marcel Duchamp's concept of 'retinal art.')



Skeleton/Scorpion by Matt Silcock


ZORN RELEASES 7,000TH ALBUM (AP) Avant garde composer / alto saxophonist John Zorn reached a milestone last Tuesday when the 7000th album featuring his composing, John Zorn, proud parent of 7,000 record albumsplaying, production, or a combination thereof was released. In this case his credit was 'producer,' the album being a CD set of pieces composed for Korean lute by Chinese /American violinist Chinh Hi Pullup, released on Zorn's label Avant.
         On Tuesday, a crowd of professional avant-gardists gathered in the Avant offices to salute the trail-blazer. "This is an exciting day," said Jim O'Rourke. "It's been a lot of fun. We've been getting psyched, listening to previous landmark releases, like number 6000 here, this really wild triple CD of performances of Zorn's game-piece 'Jai Alai'." Several of the 38 improvisers who appear on the 1996 release were in the room, and O'Rourke pointed them out as he listed people from the CD: "Henry, Ikue, Buckethead, Diamanda, Patton..."
         Indeed, rock star Mike Patton had flown in from Northern California, and revealed to Blastitude: "I actually hope to become John Zorn before too long. I know I used to play funk-metal, but I still think I've got a decent shot. I'm not sure how I'm gonna make 7,000 albums though. Right now I'm only at like 17."
Neither Bill Gould or Trevor Roy Dunn were invited (bassists for Patton bands Faith No More and Mr. Bungle respectively). "I guess we're too 'MTV' for His Highness," said Gould from his Marin County home.
         Okay, I could go on and start making Bill Laswell jokes but I think you get the drift. None of this is true. It's satire. Bill Gould might not live in Marin County.



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