SOUND: Galactic Shampoo CDR (F.D.R. RECORDINGS)
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)
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
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.')
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!)
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.
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
(...as Caustic Window), the Analogue Bubblebath
EP (...as AFX), the Windowlicker EP (...as Aphex
Twin), and more....
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"...it 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?
CD (F.D.R. TAPES / HALTAPES / CORPROLITH)
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
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
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.
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.'
(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.
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
GURU GURU: UFO CD
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.
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.)
LETTER FROM GURU GURU
PELT: Rob's Choice CD
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….)
zine by B. Noring, K. Noring, J. Noring
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
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.')