"Angular Music" is one of the best albums from the last half year, but in this era of micro-pressings, lathe cuts, and handmade cassettes, it would be easy not to notice. Nathan McLaughlin and Cody Yantis, the duo behind Tilth who crafted the album through a long distance collaboration, have developed a natural musical dialogue that goes beyond notes and noise to include a common idea of process and intent. Bristles of static, streaks of fiddle, spiraling tape loops, and plaintive guitar melodies flicker through “Angular Music,” creating a tapestry of sound that is difficult to categorize, but easy to immerse yourself in. The duo use tape and amplifiers not only as devices to capture and broadcast sounds, but to bring out texture and emotional resonance within the units themselves. That they do it so deftly is a testament to their collaboration, like they’ve tapped into some intuitive logic that makes sense even when it shouldn’t. Now with a third member, violist and drummer Joe Houpert, Tilth has further plans to continue exploring this fertile terrain.
"Angular Music" stands as active, enveloping music that can be splendidly melodic and alluringly ugly when it has to. The result is an album like few others and one that should find many more listeners than its mere 100 copies will allow.
For a limited time the LP is on sale at Experimedia.
With being in different states, how was the album created? While in the same room or a long distance collaboration?
McLaughlin: This was a long distance collaboration from start to finish. Cody is in Colorado and I am in Minnesota, and we had connected over a mutual appreciation for rural life and found that as we peeled back the layers we had an incredible amount in common. The very first track we did, “First Breath,” was just a trial to see if beyond these mutual interests if there existed an ability to make music together.
Yantis: Until I traveled to Minnesota for the shows in support of the LP release, I’d never met Nathan nor Joe in person. Joe and I had only swapped emails, and Nathan and I had emailed quite a bit and occasionally talked on the phone. That said, from the start of our correspondence, it was apparent that Nathan and I had a lot in common, not just in terms of music but also in our outlook and approach to life. But in many ways, the music was our real introduction and initial dialog.
Along with that, one of my favorite things about “Angular Music” is how it feels at times really composed and others freely improvised. Which was it? How did the pieces come together?
McLaughlin: Freely improvised with the ability to replay the parts. The music itself is pretty simple, so playing those melodies back is not too difficult. The arrangement of those tracks in real time, via reel to reel processing, becomes the challenge for me when playing live. Anyway the pieces came together out of our own individual studio practices, finding pieces that would go well with the mission of Tilth and then building them. You might tell from the record there is a fair amount of reel to reel processing, as there tends to be with a lot of my recent music, and that is important to mention. Tracks might go back and forth, then solidify with their tape counterparts because I do not use the tape as an effect or treatment – it is a compositional tool that should complement the human played music. I did all of the mixing on the album, so the masters would sit with me and I would send out mixes until we had settled on the right one that was within our mantra.
Yantis: Some tracks came together in a matter of days, others took the better part of a year. As “Angular Music” progressed, a structure in how we approached, edited, and arranged the pieces – and also some motivating themes and ideas – became apparent, and we continue to build on all of this as the second album comes together.
Nathan, you’ve collaborated with Joe in Loud & Sad before. How did the string of shows go with him as a member of Tilth? Any idea where his addition will take future recordings?
McLaughlin: Joe brings a certain energy to live performance that is beyond my ability. When I first started working with Joe back in 2005 or so, it started because my solo live shows were a bit dry and bringing him into those made them something more real and human. While he has that ability to go crazy and flail around, he also exhibits ability as a musician and improviser that are well beyond my own and in that he elevates everything. The show he played with us in Mankato, MN is proof of this, I wish there were a video of this because Joe needed a lot of stage space to get his job accomplished because of the energy he brought up there. I would say that show was a wild success, having a musician up there who can double as a drummer and a violin player is a special thing but having an anchor up there who kept kicking up the dial on intensity meant a lot as well.
Our new recordings feature Joe heavily, and the new ones seem a bit more grounded or less ethereal. His drumming is free but can be the underpinning a track needs, and his melodic contributions via violin round out our normal guitar and banjo set up nicely. Much like that live show, Joe cranks that intensity knob on the recordings too and is a force that pushes us forward.
Yantis: At one point, in the middle of a horn and percussion duet at that Mankato show, Joe kind of taunted or provoked me (vocally and musically), and I let loose in a way I’ve not really done before. The sonic results were wild – quite different from “Angular Music.”
Do either of you have formal music training?
Yantis: I have a decent amount, as I started playing piano when I was three, and I had about eight years of saxophone lessons beginning when I was around ten years-old. However, I’ve always been much more inclined to play “by ear” rather than reading and scoring music, and in regards the guitar, which I suppose is my primary instrument, I’m self-taught. It’s been in the last five years that I have really focused on creating music that is predominantly improvised, both in terms of performance and recording.
McLaughlin: Music lessons in elementary school, lots and lots of free time in college and some basic theory classes too. My mom is an organist, so I was lucky to have grown up with a lot of beautiful keyboards around the house.
It’s been said that Bill Dixon’s idea of “going to the center” was an influence for the “Angular Music.” How exactly did that direct the album?
Yantis: In regards to how the music actually sounds, Dixon’s influence may not be as clear, but there’s a lot of space and silence in Tilth, which often arises from Nathan’s and my musical dialog, as we grapple with and consider what the other is doing (“consider” is a very Dixonian concept). This is probably the most overt musical reference to Dixon, particularly when you think of his solo work or albums like “Vade Mecum I & II” that focus on the interactions between just a few musicians. That said, the use of space also comes from Nathan’s and my shared loved of nature and vast, open landscapes, such as the high desert of Colorado and the Minnesota prairie.
McLaughlin: One of the first things Cody and I discovered about each other was a passion for so called free jazz and country music. I had become pretty enamored in recent years with this idea of going to the center, Bill Dixon being the musical representation of that for me but in other parts of my life as well through the writings of John Woolman and Rudolf Steiner and how to apply that to daily living with regards to self development and my understanding of the world… and even my “work” when not making music.
Applying this concept of “stripping away” counters the direction we head as a society, it is swimming against the stream. That “less is more” has become a bit tired and abused, I find this idea of going to the center to be more effective as a means to find out what is really behind something. It does not necessitate that something be minimal, for example Dixon recorded plenty of music that was not minimal and I have as well. For example in the recording of this album we would find ourselves 8 tracks deep on a song, and realize the essence of the song really existed on only one of those 8. I would mute the other 7, and rebuild from there often times leaving behind the very tracks that originated the song. Sometimes you have to build up walls and layers to be shown the true essence, then be bold enough to dismiss what came before it for the purpose of progress, allowing our improvisations to enter into a compositional process.
When we think about the making of the album in the context of our personal lives, we had been focusing on this idea of fatigue as a means of going to the center for this album. Pushing yourself when you feel at the end, as a way to find the truth. For me it was knowing I had less patience when tired, and would not really tolerate unnecessary sound. It was also a product of just being in a really busy and intense environment, and trying to figure out how to have a private life within that requires this sort of “centering” exercise.
What’s the significance of the title “Angular Music”? There are moments that are surprisingly smooth on the album, so I wonder if it’s more of a conceptual approach.
Yantis: It comes from the writer John Haines, who homesteaded outside Fairbanks for 60+ years. The phrase “Angular Music” has to do with meaningfully rendering nature into words, a struggle and process that seemed kindred to what we are after in Tilth as we use sound to work through a range of ideas, motivations, and experiences. Haines has impacted my life and art over the past few years, and I think I’ve got Nathan hooked on him now. His writing is grounded, purposeful, and pared down, and he often speaks of reading one’s environment as though it is a book, believing that its narrative – which strikes him as “angular music” – holds crucial answers. Nathan and I are both drawn to nature not as an escape, but as a guide to being more engaged and observant in all aspects of life, and Haines is a great example of this. There’s a lot in Haines’s writing and life that echoes “going to the center”: pare down and banish waste so as to be more direct, honest, and meaningful.
McLaughlin: What we were doing at the time was heavily rooted in nature in that we both lived in rural areas and spent a fair amount of time outdoors. We shared our nature experiences with each other, trips from a canoe trip or a snowshoe hike. We had become friends, no longer acquaintances, involved in this sort of dance with nature. This was not your typical “I need to return to nature” sort of discussion, both of us had done that and did not need to rant about that too much as that is well traveled territory in these times of urban glorification. We did not escape to a cabin in the woods or go rogue, nothing antisocial. But more about what spoke to us in nature writing (for me with regards to John Muir and Richard Hugo) was the music in that life, the flow of things and and my own struggle to understand what was going on in the wider culture in this country compared to what was going on in the subculture I find myself involved with on a daily basis. – Ryan Potts, Experimedia
When asked what their favorite instruments are, it’s fitting that the duo of Matthew Collings and Euan McMeeken list Ableton Live and voice, respectively. In many ways, this encapsulates the Graveyard Tapes sound: a natural and indelibly human element being skewered and manipulated, only to become even more effective both musically and emotionally.
The duo began collaborating in 2010 to arrive at “Our Sound Is Our Wound,” a balance of song and sound that proves to be impressive in its depth and subtlety. Issued by Lost Tribe Sound, a label of which McMeeken says it feels “really nice to be part of something so special,” and it’s easy to see why: the CD comes housed in heavy book board and includes a 10 panel art booklet by Jamie Mills. It’s fitting that an album that balances distressed melody with textural depth also knows the importance of matching the abstract headspace music provides with the tactile meaning of a special artifact.
Experimedia exchanged emails with Collings and McMeeken about their collaboration as Graveyard Tapes.
Song and atmosphere seem to be equally important to you. Is that a tough balance to maintain?
Collings: For me, the setting for a song is of huge importance. In any music, texture, sound, and weight are what really draw me in as a listener, and lyrics come later; you need to find an interesting stage for them to play out their story. Most of the music I write is instrumental, and I even treat vocals in that way, simply as one more element of a larger picture. Working with Euan was always easy as he really understands this approach too. He would never be complaining that the vocals “weren’t loud enough” as some would.
McMeeken: I think that’s probably because for me vocals are not simply a way of relaying a message but are much more importantly part of the sonic landscape of a piece of music. Your voice is an instrument in its own right and I think it’s hugely important to know how to use it as an instrument within a piece of work. Just like any instrument I feel that vocals don’t have to be front and centre to be interesting and add to any given track. So I think Matt and I do have similar ways of approaching music. How vocals sound should always come last, for me, in the creation of a track and be used to make that track better. I blame Sparklehorse for my obsession with how a voice should sound. He got it right mostly even though he wasn’t a particularly strong singer. Which just highlights my point about the voice being a tool/instrument.
You both have many other music projects going on at the same time. How do you chose what to use for a Graveyard Tapes track?
Collings: Many of the tracks on the album started with a song and a structure from Euan, which I made great effort to pull apart at the seams, and then put back together again. Certain ideas just seem to sit well with Euan’s voice or this set of songs. We’d also have these intense bursts of creativity and create a mass of recordings, only later finding that these could make new pieces in themselves or be smashed into something new.
McMeeken: What was exciting for me is that Matt and I came from different backgrounds musically but share many of the same tastes. So it felt like what we created was a cross between our different work/worlds and it could easily have not worked and yet it did which makes the future exciting because the possibilities feel quite limitless.
The packaging for “Our Sound Is Our Wound” is very elaborate. How important is it to create a special, tangible product in today’s digital world?
Collings: I think it’s really important. Even though I still digest the majority of music digitally these days anything that is tangible and takes you away from a machine is very important. It also gives you a chance to work with more talented people, and create a whole thing, rather than simply music on its own. When you have something physical it will always mean more to you; I’m keen on reducing the amount of music and objects I have in my life. Something which digital technology really enables this is mass proliferation of “stuff” – pictures, files, music, video etc – that really has very little value to you, you only keep it because you can. I miss the days of having 5 cds and having to listen to them day in and day out because you had nothing else. Those are the things which really matter to me.
McMeeken: I still cannot help but miss browsing music shops and searching for the next great record to own. I am quite passionate about art and packaging and how things should look as I find digital files quite soulless. I know so many people who don’t own cds or vinyl, simply owning these files on their computer and it makes me kind of sad. Having books stored on your Kindle or whatever, music only on your laptop or ipad/ipod it misses the point for me. The feel and smell of a book, the excitement of getting home with your new music and getting to unwrap it and explore it whilst you listen. I guess it’s my age but I cannot get used to buying everything online even if it is easier in the busy world that we all live in as adults.
Matthew, you recently had Ben Frost produce a solo album of yours. He seems to be a very like-minded musician. How did that come about?
Collings: I lived in Reykjavik for 6 years and met Ben through my job. It being a small place it’s not that difficult to meet people…I was really interested in Ben’s work and I gave him a load of material I was working on, which he liked, so we just started moulding it together. At the time he would have been my top choice of person to work with, so it was a nice coincidence…This happened very slowly over a few years. We both have this understanding that a lot of great ideas come from doing things the ‘wrong’ way, and I think both of us are interested in pushing equipment and ideas to breaking point. I think he really understood what I was going for sonically and he really pushed me in a lot of ways which helped me move forward as a musician. It was really exciting working with him and I hope to do it again in the future. – Ryan Potts, Experimedia
FEATURE/// LOCAL SURVEY///
BABA VANGA RECORDS
“I first heard about Baba Vanga on a train from Budapest to Belgrade from a weirdo bum who spoke about how she saved his daughter from cancer,” says Peter Gonda who, with Lucia Udvardyova, formed the Prague-based Baba Vanga label which is named after the clairvoyant communist mystic of the same name.
The duo is preparing to issue their first release by the musician Střed Světa, but the label’s inception is rooted in the duo’s endeavors with Easterndaze, a hub they established to discover and document underground music in Eastern Europe. The website features podcasts, compilations, and reports from cities in the area that provide a distinctly localized viewpoint on the music.
With shades of Pete Swanson’s noise-swathed techno and hints of what a backwoods Astral Social Club LP would sound like, Střed Světa’s debut release is an exciting and unpredictable venture. It has ties to more traditional dance club fare, but they’ve become so distorted and inverted that the self-titled cassette becomes almost plunderphonic in nature. He works on the music in seclusion in a village near Prague.
Experimedia exchanged emails with Gonda and Udvardyova to further illuminate their involvement in the Eastern European experimental music scene.
When and how did you both get involved in music?
Lucia Udvardyova: I’ve always been into music, and liked to discover new or forgotten stuff and share it with people. This brought me together with Peter. We both have an affinity for radio, since we also have a weekly show on Czech Radio and collaborate with Resonance FM in London.
Peter Gonda: I’m a music freak too, starting as a radio speaker in high school and since then never letting go of the medium. Curiously I’ve never tried to produce music. Just sharing and searching for it.
Is the local music scene accepting of the experimental music you showcase with Baba Vanga Records and Easterndaze?
Udvardyova: We have started to do monthly Baba Vanga nights at this small gallery here with a capacity of about 20 people, so it gets pretty crowded! But in general, Prague has a relatively good concert scene, largely thanks to promoters like AM180, new club-oriented events like Seed, City Surfer, RARE or experimental events such as Wakushoppu and the Babel Prague festival. With Easterndaze, we have done events in Belgrade, Budapest, Košice or Bratislava, though of course people still tend to be drawn by international names rather than local ones, so it will take time to get others to appreciate what’s happening on one’s doorstep.
Gonda: The word “local” for us means less of a local scene concentrated around a town / district / club, and more something trans-regional, eclipsing borders, largely now via internet with all the people we have ever met during our Easterndaze travels. We are on a constant search for new tunes from the countries we follow and would like to share the best ones via Baba Vanga.
What releases do you have coming up on Baba Vanga Records?
Udvardyova: We are planning videos and remixes of the Střed Světa album, which we are excited about. The next releases should be by our Bucharest friends and respected visual artists, Somnoroase Păsărele who make very idiosyncratic music, followed by Bratislava-based noiseniks 1/x (onedivx), who are active in many other projects (Poo, Amen Tma, Angakkut). – Ryan Potts, Experimedia
After 45 releases the Japan-based label Home Normal has finally issued its debut vinyl album, a collaboration between Fabio Orsi and Pimmon, two well-known names in the label’s sphere. Hallmarks of Home Normal’s past releases – namely the acoustic manipulation of Chihei Hatakeyama and the digital reconstructions of Michael Santos – are particularly apt starting points in defining the lambent drones that circle “Procrastination.” The duo saves their boldest moment for the album’s final minute as churning digital distortion peaks after a long build, but before that moment erupts “Procrastination” is a study of unassuming subtlety. “I Wish You Were In Yallingup” adheres pensive electric guitar notes to shimmering grains of sound while stray synthesizer bleeps ricochet throughout “Garnacha.” As a whole the gaseous drones that Orsi and Pimmon create seep slowly into electronic treatments and glitchy textures, not unlike a recording that would have graced 12k’s release schedule half a decade ago. – Ryan Potts, Experimedia
"When ideas float in our mind without any reflection or regard of the understanding, it is that which the French call revery, our language has scarce a name for it." – John Locke
Procrastination haunts us. Even the most studious amongst us occasionally finds themselves trapped by a lingering daydream or escapist vision; one that absorbs us and removes us from the moment.
But procrastination often masks a industrious subconscious flow. I posit, procrastination is a disconnected deep-thinking, a sub-dreaming, a hidden imagination that trickles in the deepest caves of our brains, which eventually join the conscious rivers of our mind.
It’s procrastination that is to blame for the tectonic elegance heard on the debut collaborative effort from Italian musician Fabio Orsi and Australian laptopper Pimmon. After discovering a mutual admiration for their respective outputs, the two decided a collaboration was in order. Before long, Orsi passed Pimmon a set of recordings Pimmon felt “were, in my mind, fully realised”. Considering them as finished pieces, Pimmon was flummoxed as to what he might bring to the collaboration and he entered, as he calls it, “a zone of procrastination”. A deadlock ensued, as Pimmon ploughed through other projects unsure of how to resolve the question of the collaboration.
18 months had passed since the pair first exchanged files and Pimmon, whilst on break along the picturesque Margaret River found himself revisiting the files. Suddenly procrastination broke and the deadlock of directionlessness evaporated. The subconscious trickles had formed rivers and the rivers pounded together creating a tidal wave of sonic ideas that saw Orsi’s files transformed in quick succession. The source recordings shattered through a web of Pimmon’s processing devolutions, re-arranged and re-edited to reveal an entirely new perspective on Orsi’s sonic matter. – Lawrence English
Exclusive full stream of the final Jasper TX album An Index of Failure out January 22nd on Handmade Birds. Available to order now from handmadebirds.com, experimedia.net and soon at fine shops worldwide. A special edition of 500 on 180gram silver vinyl.
This is the final Jasper TX album. It is all new work, born from remnants of old failures, song fragments, ambitious attempts…yet after this mosaic of soundscapes has had time to age and resurface, mastermind Dag Rosenqvist has breathed new life into them, reshaping, adding, extending, building, and in the end, reconciling all of the many textures and pioneering sounds he has crafted over the seven + years he has been working as Sweden’s premiere dark multi instrumentalist, shifting from minimalist electro acoustic composition to enormous swells of gaze and layered post rock density. The final album, the final index of failures, is proof that there is indeed beauty found in our progressive ambitions.
Personal pick of the week. A must have for the personal stash.
Mutations Et Protheses
Rare recordings by pioneers of industrial noise music, 1979-1983, never released before on CD or LP. Etat Brut was an industrial/noise band from Brussels that operated from 1979 until 1983. The duo (Phillippe x and Philippe X, today academic scientists) released dozens of cassettes, various flyers and Xeroxed booklets. Some collective concerts were organized at that time with Club Moral and Pseudocode. Cassettes like Emissions 1 (1981) or Géométrie d’un assassinat (1982) were released on their own label, some others in collaboration with Danny Devos (Club Moral) or Jerry WX (2Tracks, Digital Dance). EB001 was released by Club Moral in 1986, a few years after the fact. The double cassette Mutations et Prothèses was released in 1981 (Etat Brut) and re-released by Club Moral in 1986. The two bonus tracks (only on CD) “Sollicitation Extérieure” and “Psychosomatique” are extracted from 4 IN 1, a cassette released in 1982 by Grafika Airlines, Brussels, including works by Pseudocode, Human Flesh and Mécanique Végétale.
It’s great to see New York’s Long Distance Poison get the opportunity to spread their wings on a delicious slab of wax. “Signals to a Habitable Zone” is a slow burner that takes multiple listens to fully appreciate it. This is deep music. Long Distance Poison carefully craft these synaptic journies, dropping in a drifting melody unexpectedly or sustaining a slowly-mutating droning passage to lull you into a false sense of serenity. Minimal rhythms eviscerate the fog, crystallizing an already potent vision. Over the course of these two side-long compositions it’s easy to get lost. Currents flow forward before reverting back on themselves. Dizzying sequences fit alongside baroque chord changes as Long Distance Poison continue inventing new ways to breathe life into these sprawling pieces. “Signals to a Habitable zone” is a great record and one that will definitely start to get Long Distance Poison the attention they deserve. Sink your teeth in and don’t look back. - Brad Rose, Experimedia
*Feature Review and Interview*
A moment, magnified and crystallized, slowed down for emphasis, sought and then returned to, forgotten then happened upon, draws close to begin again. The music of Kyle Bobby Dunn exists as charged moments, filled with emotion, drawn out to exhaustion before they whither, but linger for the listener long after, at times, without knowing.
Bring Me The Head of Kyle Bobby Dunn comprises two hours of extended moments; they sit and gestate with the listener for an eternity. On one afternoon, when I received this album and began listening, time had elapsed slowly, allowing genuflection, and deliberately. The music filled my house, my head, and I was drawn away from reality and then, without knowing, returned. It seemed to bring me at once in tune with the thoughts in my head, the places I’d like to be, the elsewhere I’m drawn away to, but upon returning me to familiar surroundings, I understood that the places I seek are here and the thoughts I have were always within reach. For many, on a constantly moving carousel, we look beyond and past what is right in front of us, breathing down our necks, bustling below us, to the next, which is irrevocably above and beyond what we take great pains not to see.
I think more than any other artist, Dunn connects me to this process of retrieving the forgotten moment. The feelings, images, and sensations conjured in each sliver of sound has such an enormous breadth that it bears returning to again and again. It’s the same set of emotions that drew me to releasing “Ways of Meaning” and now, with this new body of work, it’s even more amplified, enormous, and everlasting.
In order to clarify what I felt and understand where Kyle was drawing this well of emotion from, I asked Kyle a series of abstract questions that had no discernible answers to them. After rethinking this process, I sent over three questions concerned with origin and resolution.
MV: What do you find in creating your music?
KBD: There is a sort of monumental sense brought forth in the finished work. I feel I’ve defined some element of my life as clearly and explicably as possible, since I find talking out emotions and ideas very difficult. Sound and music are fine communication tools for us humans. I find some peace but it also exists in a rather sad, almost quiet hateful element.
MV: What/where do you begin with, or from? Is anything resolved?
KBD: I guess it’s obvious that I try and begin slowly and through that see where it can go. I’m often slower than everyone when it comes to deciding and choosing things. I’m usually sad with whatever is decided upon, so I am not sure if there is really any resolve for me. But it’s not about finding resolve or even some kind of phony peace within, I don’t think music can do that. It is quite simply, an effective communication tool, once again.
MV: Is the music more a result of the outer: places you’ve been, the people you’ve met, or the inner: memories you have, sensibilities, feelings?
KBD: Well it ties all those elements into one I think. This album is more abstract in terms of a place or person and their meaning to me. I do try and harness things to make them more listenable or maybe understandable for people, but I’ve never reworked something because I thought it wasn’t accessible enough. People will make of others works what they will, which is why people must refrain from talking too much about their music or going too academic. Yes it is personal, but that doesn’t mean the listener can’t find a personal element of their own with it.
Michael Vitrano, Experimedia
*Our favorite new record here this week*
Sick! Absolutely fantastic vinyl collection of raw and intense Dabke tracks on Sham Palace. Performed at weddings and parties across the Houran region of the Middle East, Dabke combines Electronic beats, mejwiz (a double reed bamboo flute) and vocal chants to create a style of dance music like no other. This awesome collection of tracks were selected from cassettes and discs found at vendors in cities throughout Syria over the past 15 years. Heavy stuff! On steady rotation here at HQ and an absolute must have in our eclectic personal collections. - Jeremy Bible, Experimedia
Dabke is the celebratory music and dance found throughout the Levantine Middle East. By the mid-1990s, a new wave of high-energy electronic dabke music had emerged — to be heard at weddings, parties and cassette-stalls region-wide. New wave dabke was first introduced to Western ears by way of Omar Souleyman and his northeastern Syrian sounds. This collection presents a hypnotic and diverse selection of electrified dabke dance cuts from a region in the south of Syria known as the Houran. The Houran refers to a swathe of south Syria and northwestern Jordan, beginning just below Damascus, and encompassing the Syrian cities of Daraa, Suweida, Bosra and the Golan Heights. Its populations include Syrians, Bedouin, Druze, Palestinians and Jordanians — and this unique confluence of cultures is evident throughout these tracks. Hourani dabke is relentless and commanding, driven by heavy rhythms and weaving synthesizers. Long passages of intense musical fervor are punctuated by fierce male vocals, belting out calls for the audience to dance, alongside the lyrical laments and tributes to love and lust. But the sound of the Houran is best defined by the mejwiz — a double-reed bamboo flute famed for its droney overtones as well as shrill, buzzing melodic lines achieved by circular breathing techniques. Historically, Hourani dabke was played with mejwiz, hand percussion and narrative vocal chants. Electronic beats have inevitably embellished the contemporary sound, magnifying the intensity — and the mejwiz players have taken their craft to the microphone, in order to maintain the instrument’s prominence over the resulting volume. The sampled mijwiz sound has its own specific qualities and in recent years, can even be heard in combination with its organic counterpart. The recordings featured in this collection were captured live to the mixing desk during weddings and parties throughout the Houran during the 1990s and 2000s, and represent a mere sliver of the sounds found in tape and disc vendors throughout the region. Limited pressing of 1,000.
INTERVIEW/// NATE YOUNG
As a founding member of the seminal Michigan group Wolf Eyes, Nate Young is to be forever embedded in the annals of experimental music. He’s also a hugely adept solo musician and his recent Regression series of records –worryingly slow, sparse, and downright genuinely chilling Noise that finds it’s horror in the circadian silences of the human body – are wonderful. We were lucky enough to catch half an hour with him in a charmingly shabby East London pub to talk about quitetude, New Age, and recording into rumblestrips before he played a wonderful, engaging set.
Josh Baines: You’re in the middle of a European tour to support the latest Regression album – do you vary the sets each night through improvisation, or do you have pre-prepared material to use?
Nate Young: It’s split 70/30; I always use that equation. Either seventy per cent of it is composed or seventy per cent of it is improvised, but I always leave room for the unexpected. I had some equipment break the other night so that was a more improvised show than normal. Generally though I go back and forth between the two. As soon as I get on stage I figure it out. I mean, sure, there’s sound check and sound check lets me know that everything’s working, and lets me know my parameters – how loud I’m going to be, or how deep the bass is, or where the mids and the treble are. I prefer to improvise when the sound is correct and when the sound isn’t correct and I can’t find my parameters I have to fall back on prepared specifics, stuff I know will work.
JB: How loud should one expect a gig like this to be?
NY: It’s not that loud really. I deal more with space and silence. In that sense, it’s subjected to the silence, how quiet is it going to be; is the audience going to be chit-chatting and am I going to be able to hear that, and I decide from there how loud or quiet I actually can be. What I’m doing now, with the silence, can become a bit awkward for the audience: they’re not sure sometimes as to exactly what I’m doing. For example, the other night this guy was like, ‘it wasn’t until half an hour into your set that I was sure that you were really playing because you kept dropping out to silence and everything was so slow.’ Maybe it was the wrong audience, maybe this audience was not familiar with my work. It all depends on familiarity with my work.
JB: Do you get audiences, then, expecting the type of material we heard on Burned Mind or Human Animal?
NY: Of course. They mean the best, their intentions are good, but it comes across almost as heckling. And it’s a shame. I feel kind of sorry for them in a way because even though I do this for myself and not for the audience so much, I see people getting confused and I feel sorry for anyone in that state of confusion. My advice is always, in terms of anything to do with abstract music, is to just listen. Just listen and wait. Like that guy the other night, it took him a half-hour till he was actually able to listen and I only play for forty minutes. He got it for ten minutes.
JB: Ok then, are you essentially here to educate the audience?
NY: It’s not really so much about education, I don’t think. But you could say that there’s a bit of demonstration in what I do and maybe that does go hand in hand with education. I’m not thinking about teaching anyone. I do get a lot of questions about what I’m doing after the gig and maybe a little bit of education happens there. I was with Keith Fullerton Whitman the other day and that guy is an academic maniac – he knows the ins and outs of everything. He taught me a lot, he taught the soundman at the venue a lot too. But I’m not in a position to inform anyone about academia.
JB: I’m intrigued as to how you delineate between noise and Noise?
NY: Well, with a lot of contemporary Noise or experimental musicians there seems to be this idea that sound has to be happening all the time. Without silence, though, there’s no way to gauge how loud anything is. It’s not like I’m stopping dead in the middle of my set but I’m definitely experimenting with the push-and-pull of volume so you can hear the difference between Noise with a capital ‘N’ and noise with a lower case ‘n’. That contrast is really important to me. It’s that contrast between loud and soft – it’s dynamics. That’s all it is. People tell me that there’s so much space in my music that it becomes confusing, they can’t figure out where it’s going or where it started, and I like that. I don’t mind total confusion by what I’m doing; even if they can’t understand what doing fully they know that there’s this long idea, this long pattern and they have a feeling that it’s there but they can’t quite get their ears around it. And, again, I like that. It’s how we hear everyday life. I really strive for this moments where math is involved, tuning. I always say that you can play with the universe or against the universe. Meaning that you can play dissonant or you can play melodic and I think it’s very important to play them both together. Otherwise there’s no harmony and it becomes even more confusing. Which maybe isn’t a bad thing for some people, but personally I like to combine the two and feel some sense of my place on the planet. Or in the universe! That’s a bit ‘New Age’ but it’s true. I like that: math versus dissonance.
JB: To return to the more prosaic world of the physical, can you describe the process of cutting records using a lathe?
NY: It’s basic really. The first experience I had with it was reading something like 101 Science Experiments for Children and it described using a paper cup, a needle, and a piece of flat, paper coated wax, and it just sings, you just push it forward. That’s how every record is made. I don’t think of it so scientifically, I think of it very artistically, more as a horizontal sculpture. Every cut is going to be different. It depends on the material that you’re cutting in to, how sharp your needle is, the angle of the needle, how hot or cold it is, how much humidity is in the air, all these things that factor into how records are cut. Especially on the lathe frontier. Of course mastering records and using acetate is a lot more scientific – they have instruments to measure these things. I don’t. I have to think, ‘Okay, it’s a pretty good day to cut a record, the temperature’s just about right.’ I have problems all the time. There’s no science to what I do at all except for the loose variables. It’s just a feeling, and I’m sure some people are very specific about it but I just try to feel it out. Not every cut is successfully, but I do think that every cut is a sculpture within itself and I think a lot of people have a hard time racking their brains around that. Maybe it skips, maybe it skates (mimes noise of needle sliding off record) but there’s still information on it. I’m doing a record cut on pieces of plastic plates and to me that’s really interesting that there’s information on this piece of garbage that you’re gonna have a meal on and then throw out. Here’s something that’s kind of far out: you know the rumblestrips on the side of the highway? I had this idea of organising those rumblestrips into patterns so when you drive on them it’s a record. I really think this would be amazing. That’s the beauty of records – it’s everywhere and it’s just a matter of playing it. Reading vibrations is really fascinating to me, and the reason I’ve been into record cutting is that abstract vibe.
JB: Aside from that abstraction, do you derive some pleasure from the physical act of cutting?
NY: It’s great. Before I was a musician I was a visual artist and always wanted to give sounds to these drawings and I found a way of making that possible. I get into the practice a lot. For example, the ‘chip’ that comes off the record is really fascinating to me and I’ll hold it up and think, ‘This is the negative space.’ Of course it crumbles right away but this is the essence of the sound and the sound is here. I’ve been experimenting with cutting on X-Rays recently and it gives me a really creepy vibe because, obviously, this is a photograph of someone’s bones. I get them from old hospitals and a friend of mine acquired a bunch of them and he passes them on to me. I’ve been using a heated stylus as well so you smell this stench as you’re looking at these bones, and you’re watching this chip come off and there’s some sort of physical and mental sensory stimulation. It’s disgusting, it’s eerie and it’s gross. But still really fascinating. In general, I think, some of the more gross things are fascinating, even if they’re toxic!
JB: Is selling CDRs and lathe cuttings at these shows simply a way of getting music ‘out there’ or is there an element of harking back to the pre-digital era?
NY: Experimental music is half people wanting the physical object and half want an example of work, so an MP3 for example. I was just in Japan and no one bought my LPs, they only wanted MP3s or CDs and that really shocked me. The reason being that they don’t have a lot of space so it’s easier for them to have an MP3 that they’ll actually listen to and experience. It’s the opposite in the rest of the world where people are so obsessed with records and not so obsessed with digital formats.
JB: Do you lament the fact that there’s now a generation of music listeners out there who have pretty much no inclination to go out and buy records and CDs?
NY: It’s a bummer. But I do the same thing, we all do. I’ve acquired more music that than I ever possibly could from going to a record store. In one afternoon I can acquire a record collection, versus going to a record store where maybe I’ll pick up one record I love. But that one record is going to mean so much more than those MP3s. That’s why I make the lathe cuts – you wont ever get another that sounds like this and I think that really touches on the important part of objects, records. I believe in what I’m doing, and what other people are doing, is important. It establishes a relationship with someone who might be interested in your music. Even if you don’t like the record you still think it’s a cool object. I mean, not every record is good. Kids, they like this New Age music…that’s fine…
JB: I was actually going to ask what you the likes of Emeralds, Dolphins into the Future…
NY: It’s very New Age, but it’s not new. Someone had a term for it the other day that meant something was a copy of a copy of a copy. I cannot remember what the word is, but I’d never really thought about it that way before. I’m not saying at all that Emeralds or whoever are copies of copies but I do think that they’re very similar to other artists – not to say that I’m not either, you could say that I’m post-industrial or whatever. New Age has never been my cup of tea, I will say that. I’ll listen to some waterfall sounds but not for very long.
JB: Is there something akin to the Nurse with Wound list for Nate Young fans to delve into?
NY: A Nate Young list? It’s just my friends. Off the top of my head, it’d include John Olson, Mike Connelly, Twig Harper, almost everything in Michigan. My list would be of Michigan based music because that’s where I’m from. I relate to these people on a level I don’t relate to other people on. I hope the NWW list is similar. Throw Andrew WK in there too. Good friend of mine.
Truth be told, I feel as though I’m almost unable to give high enough praise to this stunning edition. Joshua Bonnetta’s American Colour is a film that was shot on old rolls of 16mm Kodachrome film during a road trip from upstate New York (where the stock was manufactured) to Kansas. Coincidentally, moments of the film and recording were captured not far from my home here in Ashtabula, Ohio, after which the B-side of the record is named. The DVD, mounted on an exquisite uncoated gatefold sleeve, contains a film that explores the historic characteristics of the unique stock. The LP presents the accompanying score which, by use of violin, tape, processing and site-specific shortwave radio recorded during the photography, speaks as an homage to Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky Jr., the two violinists who invented Kodachrome in 1935. Reading Irene Bindi’s superb monograph, presented on the printed inner sleeve, while listening to the LP and taking in the film flickering on the screen, I found myself completely immersed in the spirit of this project. Utterly engrossing. This truly is the complete package. - Jeremy Bible, Experimedia