Blastitude Number Five
number 7 april 2001
page 2

     

 

SPOTLIGHT ON SPITE by Chris Sienko
Whatís wrong with my head? Why on earth would I commit to writing TWENTY THREE reviews in one month, for one label?!?! Why now, of all times, when Iím up to my elbows in packing boxes and hidden U-Haul fees (windshield insurance, gotta have it, what ifÖ), would I do such a thing?
      Well, for one thing, weíre talking about a label thatís been around for a bit over a half a decade (I remember seeing posts about Spite on alt.noise around 1996 or soÖmaybe earlier, maybe later), and yet most people are only vaguely aware of it. Joel St. Germain has put out somewhere around 75 releases in this span of time, many of them among the best work available by the artists represented. Why on earth isnít this guy at the top of the noise food chain?
       Maybe the limited availability thing counts as an excuse. Most tapes are in an edition of 50. Many even less. But I donít know, when you think about it, do you even know 50 noise fans personally? 50 copies donít sell nearly as fast as youíd think in this game.
       Perhaps people used to the high gloss, elaborate design and packaging fandangos of companies like Alien8 are put out by the xeroxed paper covers and hand-dubbed cassettes with minimal info. I guess, but isnít the idea of noise (as with music) the SOUNDS themselves?
       Regardless, most people stumble onto Spite by accident, while theyíre compulsively filling holes in their Sukora or MSBR collections, and donít come back to visit afterwards. Personally, I think youíre missing out. The tapes are cheap, Joelís easy to transact with, and doesnít suffer from the "Iíll send those out next week" chromosome deficiency that plagues some tape only labels, and of course, many of the sounds are superb. Joel makes friends easily, and friends are more likely to give you the cream of their crop than collaborators or business partners.
       Despite the limited numbers of each item, many releases spanning far back in the early catalog are still available. Iíll start with 15 releases from the back catalog, and then talk some more about the recent onslaught of ten new releases that have come about in the last two months. Iím going to focus on releases by artists you may not be familiar with, rather than hit on the big names. Iím sure you can decide for yourself whether you need another K2 or Government Alpha or Reynols.

The still available older releases (all on cassette unless otherwise noted):

Dead Body Love: "Volcano God."
I have to admit it, I come to a Dead Body Love cassette with very high expectations. After hearing his "Maximum Dose" CD for PURE, and his 7" record for Self Abuse, Iím totally in awe of Gabriele Giuliani. Heís got a dense, snarling loop-based low end that doesnít compare to much on either noise or power electronic turf. The chromium hide glistening on the best DBL releases has a similar wild-hell aggressiveness as a No U Turn or Chrome label assassin. Without beats, of course.
       I guess thatís why this tape doesnít floor me like it would if it were by anybody else (also known as the "Post-1987 Pere Ubu output phenomenon"). When heís on, heís SO on, and if heíd mixed this a little different (thereís so little low end on this!), it might have really strolled through the pantheon with a blackjack and a bottle in one hand. But as it stands, itís not in the top 50 percent of the Dead Body Love bell curve. Sorry Charlie.

Grunt: "Europe After Storm."
Grunt is a passionate noise unit created by a very committed fellow named Mikko Aspa in Finland. If youíve read either Freak Animal magazine (also the name of his label) or any of his liner notes, you know heís committed to both the noise scene and politics, and in the case of this release, to the atrocities being committed in Kosovo. Along with the sound, which resembles very structured (almost "musically" composed, with a cinematic feelÖthereís even a stuttering sound that resembles the whir of a documentary film camera) Power Electronics, Mikko shrieks his earnest lungs out aboutÖsomething. Probably something really bad. The problem with this is the same problem I have with Rage Against the Machine. Perhaps it truly is recorded with a sense of urgency and a desire to change the status quo, to make people think more about the world around them. The trouble is, just like with Rage, I listen to this, and it doesnít really make me want to do anything. When drunken frat-boys and apathetic slacker slugs shout "Fuck you, I wonít do what you tell me" along with Rage Against the Machine, we have to ask, has the social order changed even one micron? Yeah, if anything, itís moved us further away from true action. The average revolutionary teen or pre-teen may have a lot of desire to change the world, but if you donít provide them a solid game plan or course of action, the desire and energy just gets dissipated before one petition can go around the cafeteria.
        Itís the same mentality that allows people to think that if they forward an email petition along, theyíre actually saving public television, making their outrage known about the oppressed women in Tibet, or saving rare species of animals that would otherwise disappear forever. The internet may not have destroyed social protest, but it sure took the vast majority of interested parties out of the picture, even while pretending to include them.

Humectant Interruption: "Live At RRR."
This is a 30 minute performance from the weekly "2:00 matinee" show that took place every Saturday at Lowell, Massachusettsí RRRecords store. Many of these performances were excerpted on an RRR CD titled "2:00 Matinee," but Humectant Interruption (the band guise of Joel St. Germain)ís performance happened after the CD came out. And besides, nobody got a 30 minute track on the CD, and it would have been a shame to have to excerpt this.
      Playing for an audience of none (guess it was an especially slow day in Lowell), Joel performs on "springs, toys, table, tapes," while RRRon watches (and later joins in by dropping coins on the amplified tableÖ "that was so much fun!" he exclaims at the end of the show), and Joelís mom reminds him that they canít stay all day, since there are still errands to be run ("My mom used to say that to me all the time," quips Ron). Itís a very austere recording, lots of scuffing and rumbling, coins spinning until they lay flat on the table, unidentifiable noises, the addicting (for that blessed few) sounds of junk. Throughout, thereís a whiff of Prick Decay in the air (the band, not the medical condition). As with all non-music recordings that us maladjusted few like to occupy our times with, the varied textures are pleasing to the ears in ways that music isnít. It would be kind of like stuffing velvet, sandpaper, rocks, springs, toys, tapes and a table into your mouth and calling it surrealist lunch. The package also comes with the list of rules for the RRR Saturday shows, which is probably the funniest piece of writing to infiltrate the noise scene since the liner notes to the first Cock E.S.P. single.

Rheum: "Solo Joint."
In Blastitude #5, I mentioned Rheum and the "Lavatory Improv" sound. This is lavatory improv of a distinctly darker stripe. Very abstract, and for the most part, Iím hard pressed to deduce what is making most of these sounds, due to both the non-pedal, non-metal nature of the sound devices, and due the fidelity of recording. This sounds like very very early Crawl Unit, dubbed onto cassette (59 cent variety), then converted to a RealAudio 1.0 file and played through 10 year old computer speakers, before being recorded to mini-cassette. In other words, even better than vintage Crawl Unit.

MO*TE: "Taste Die Mad."
The first track has some taped voices stitched into the background fabric, making it sound like someone trying to communicate with a broken CB radio by sitting on it. The rest roars through your head pleasingly but not in any real engaging way, more metallic and less billowy than Incapacitants, not as multi-dimensional as Merzbow or his kin. Iíve heard other MO*TE releases that I liked better (such as his now-gone tape for Labyrinth).

 

Smack Music 7: "Exchange In An Earthworm."
Tape from Karen Lollipop, the woman in Decaer Pinga that isnít Lisa (Iím so behind on all this stuff, I donít know whoís in the group anymore, apart from Dylan). Side one (and the start of side two) has superb use of tape loops (something youíll almost NEVER hear me say!). Thereís something about the repeated female voices, dis-TINCT-ly speaking certain phrases over and over, that leads me to believe these are probably from "learn to speak another language" records, but what it mostly reminds me of is Jean-Luc Godard. It sounds to me like a collage of voices youíd hear in the various rooms of the computer center in "Alphaville," even though itís all in English. Side two is live, and accomplishes a similar feel through spoken word bits and spooky keyboard atmospheres. Itís only a 20 minute tape, a tactic Iím coming to respect more and more in noise albums.

The DL Savings TX: "Full Time Marina (1932)."
John Olsonís solo project, before it was titled Spykes (see issue #5). It rushes out of the starting gate sounding very tac-like, with the vocalizing in the background giving this a precisely thought-out, agenda-less, and more abstract Power Electronics feel. The layers (and there are quite a few) shift tectonically, almost imperceptibly, but with each layer filling in a specific frequency range (high whine, earthy rumble, tv static). Side two comes on like a lackadaisical Vibracathedral Orchestra (though this tape predates that group), done while watching a documentary on UK Power Electronics. Itís in a big oversized paper sleeve with thick twine lacing up the sides. My fave DL Savings is still his track for the American Tapes 2cs "paint can" set, but this is better in the now because this is still available.

To Live and Shave In L.A., "Vixens of the Mortal Ring."
Live recordings arenít exactly Tom Smithís strongest suit. Many of To Live and Shaveís amazing studio albums, such as "30 Minuten Mannercreme," "An Interview With The Mitchell Brothers" and the dub editing terror of "Where A Horse Has Been Standing And Where You Belong" are so detailed they resemble microscopic computer chips. But most of the live recordings seem to have been recorded on a hand-held recorder, generally in the middle of an unenthusiastic audience, the microphone possibly hidden in the pocket of an overcoat for maximum Rerun-bootlegs-the-Doobie-Brothers sound quality. And of course, without a visual point of reference (TLASILA are actually pretty commanding as a live entity), things just sound even more homogenous.
       While I understand Tomís disdain of being called a "noise musician" in reference to his studio albums, I canít help but listen to "Vixens of the Mortal Ring" and think "live Whitehouse" (a group Tom has described as "a good heavy metal band"), as all the keyboard freakouts, oscillator whinnies and bass seizures boil down to an inseparable blare on this low-fidelity tape, overlaid with a lot of yelling. Tom is also uncharacteristically low-key on a lot of tracks, kind of laying back and moaning his lyrics rather than glam-tastically crooning and swaggering them through four sets of vocal chords. There are some great moments, but at 90 minutes, this is a really long bastard to sit through in one sitting. The liners are quite detailed, though, so you know where everything is coming from, and the enclosed declaration of anti-noise band purpose is funny: "Iím Tom Smith, and I am the better man," is at least as good as "My week beats your year" for sheer rock ní roll braggadocio. There are also some funny moments on the tape, such as one recording where the audience sounds especially unenthused. ("Do you want us to do another one? Donít lie," quips Tom.) The tape recorder is left on, so we get to hear the next act warm up while the band sits around the bar and bitches about what a lame group of people assembled that evening. Most Shave fanatics know the live tapes are for Shave fanatics only, and thatís why they buy them. Everybody else should hunt around used CD stores for the bandís CD back-catalog, especially "Where A Horse Has Been StandingÖ"

Expose Your Eyes: "Oh Dear, What Can The Matter Be?"
Youíre really not going to be prepared for this one. Itís a techno album. Not noise techno, not freaked out electronics like Jean Street or Wolf Eyes or Lode Runner. Techno techno. Four on the floor, almost gabber speed on side one, poom poom poom poom. Of course, because itís done by a noise musician, the melodies are more like squiggles, the rhythms of the keyboards donít really match up to the beats, and thereís some mad left/right panning tricks. Very much like the Basic Channel/Chain Reaction style (mutated 4 on the floor) if they had NO taste, NO restraint and NO discretion. No interlocking parts, tab "a" does not fit into groove "b." Phase patterns do not gently unalign, they skitter off tracks like a runaway train. Side two grinds and humps like Techstep (a la Panacea, Ed Rush, Problem Child) if Techstep only decided to keep it simple AND allow itself to be out of control. The "not in control of my own body functions" element to this tape is what really makes it the most scary.

CONTINUED

 

BLASTITUDE #7

  

up next: Spite. The label. By Chris Sienko. Part two.