Like its earlier Downstream entry (see the highly recommended “Le Saint Jean,” January 7, 2004, here), Soundvial‘s “Steven Head” MP3 has all the makings of a short indie film — well, a very short indie film (at just over six minutes), and one without any visuals. The track manages to tell a story of sorts, with little more than some occasionally unintelligible spoken audio and a soundtrack of slow-going electric guitar, a bit of percussion (a spare jazz kit), and these subtle textures that make themselves apparent only on the second or third listen. Prominent among these latter elements, of course, is the buzz of the haircut that is the putative subject of the recorded narrative, but others include extended runs of reverb that loop around like water in the ears, and filters applied to the spoken segments that may or may not simply be unintended consequences of recording slyly (to MiniDisc?) on the go in a cramped space. The dialog is a conversation at a barbershop, plus the phone call that precedes it: a study in intimate but cautiously unrevealing old-world exchanges. Fans of Scanner will dig it, but so will fans of Jim Jarmusch. (More on the Soundvial duo, Ken Reisman and Matt Simon, at soundvial.org. The “Steven Head” MP3 is downloadable directly here.)
Kwook, with his nonsense syllable of a nom-du-MP3, knows that much as a word repeated ad nauseam becomes almost alarmingly meaningless, a sound repeated on end becomes a potent rhythm track. The self-descriptive “Washerloop,” off his four-song Immiscible EP on the One netlabel (downloadable free here), starts with a washing machine but becomes pure techno even before the light comes on to signal a call for detergent.
In part this is because your standard everyday laundromat is a natural minimal-techno engine, an armory of things that rattle as they rotate, things that being mechanical have inherent, often eccentric, rhythms, even if they do not adhere to what we think of as a proper downbeat. “Washerloop” is fine field-recording techno also because the recognizable sound elements are matched and eventually subsumed by a more artificial brand of throbbing, roiling sound.
What “Washerloop” achieves with the noise of a Sunday morning laundry session, “Apolloguiltly” does with deeply distorted vocals, virtually unintelligible, as if they’re being tapped in an aquarium. Where “Washerloop” goes for dance-floor agitation, this track beatifies its source material, ascending from the mundane concerns of the muffled conversation toward something heavenly, the come-hither voices of the Information Age sirens. “Psychopomp” achieves similarly haloed ends with more traditional instrumentation; the elegant stretch of ambience could easily be transferred to church organ.
The only disappointment on Immiscible is the opening track, a pulsing shunt of pop-minimalism with the generic spirit of a lesser Tangerine Dream score. It’s built on bland synthesized sounds, washes of silicon waves, pointillist riffs played with all-to-familiar preset tones, unearthly choral harmonies sung by eunuch androids. The rest of the EP, though, especially “Washerloop” and “Apolloguiltly,” more than make up for this misstep. (More on Kwook, aka Simon Bennet of Perth, Australia, at kwookyworld.com.)
Promise to not make a habit of it, but this week’s Friday Downstream link is the same as last Friday’s: the BBC’s Mixing It radio show, at bbc.co.uk/radio3/mixingit. Same link, but new show, as each Friday brings a brand new broadcast. This one features — in addition to fine commercial recordings by Sion Orgon (real-world sounds warped until they sound like avant-garde chamber music), “underground hip-hop” mainstay El-P jamming with jazz musicians (among them Daniel Carter, William Parker and Matthew Shipp) and Mira Calix (mixing live insects and orchestra) — live studio performances by, and conversation with, Californian tuba player Tom Heasley, whose deeply reverberant solo works are often reminiscent of whale song. Heasley talks with the Mixing It hosts about his early improvisation experiences on tuba with one of jazz bassist Charlie Haden’s large-scale ensembles circa 1984, the influence of Robert Fripp (whose 1970s “Frippertronics” work make him think, “I could sorta see doing something like this with a tuba”), his prized loop sampler (“[It] records 14 seconds of music, and then you can overdub over that, and it just constantly mixes together and it becomes other things”) and the differences between a tuba and a didjeridu, which he also plays. More on Heasley at, naturally, tomheasley.com.
An hour-long live set by Ben Recht (aka Local Fields), recorded earlier this month at the Enormous Room in Cambridge, as part of the weekly Beat Research club night, has been put up online. Recht pithily summarizes the recording as “rock anthems and 3step,” and the most memorable stuff is downright melodic. It’s a (vocal-free) mix of something along the lines of the Cure’s pop sensibility (samples of hooky, loosely strung electric bass and guitar, used to groovy effect, with touches of goofy synths) and the Feelies’ rhythmic richness (myriad segments of lockstep and crosswalking beats). But there’s more going on, the best of it these spare asides, or bridges or tangents, of stark clubfoot techno (perhaps what he meant by “3step”), quirky gizmo action and subtle metrical gamesmanship. It’s unfortunate so many bands get so much attention by aping ’80s new wave acts; all the while, a guy like Recht is quietly channeling that mess of early electronic songcraft into something unique. If his name is familiar, that’s likely due to the coverage his work on the Audiopad musical interface received around this time a year ago. Recht is a PhD candidate at MIT, crunching numbers on the cutting edge by day, but by night (or at least this Monday night) he’s an electronicist with a taste for pop. More on Local Fields, including the downloadable live MP3 set, at localfields.com. More on Beat Research at mashit.com/beatresearch. And more on Recht’s academic research at his MIT homepage, here.
Another day, another international netlabel with deep archives. The Germany-based Stadtgruenlabel has been doing free monthly releases of minimal techno all this year. And though much of it is more techno than minimal, more chunka chunka than sublime churn, an initial tour of its catalog reveals various items to recommend. There’s “Desko,” off Dataman‘s six-track Abstrahism, the label’s fourth release, which shifts its various paces against each other in ways that confuse the mind’s ear about foreground and background. Yatsuo Motoki‘s “Offshore,” from the five-track Circular Motion set, eventually achieves loungey sameness, but how it gets there is worth experiencing, a slow build from silence to metronomic sheen. And of course, if chunka chunka is your flavor, then download the label’s eighth and most recent album, Frank Biedermann‘s eager-to-please Wookie Woods. Check them all out at stadtgruenlabel.net.