Vital Weekly, the webcast: we offer a weekly webcast, freely to download. This can be regarded as the audio-supplement to Vital Weekly. Presented as a radioprogramm with excerpts of just some of the CDs (no vinyl or MP3) reviewed. It will remain on the site for a limited period (most likely 2-4 weeks). Download the file to your MP3 player and enjoy!
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MANINKARI – CONTINUUM SONORE (CD by Basses Frequences) *
CHIHEI HATAKEYAMA – NORMA (CD by Small Fragments Recordings) *
JASON KAHN & BRYAN EUBANKS – ENERGY (OF) (CD by Copy For Your Records) *
DAVID KIRBY – CITTAKERNERA (CD by Copy For Your Records) *
MITES – PASSING RESEMBLANCE (CD by Copy For Your Records) *
FERRAN FAGES – LIFE BEST UNDER YOUR SEAT (CD by Copy For Your Records) *
POKEMACHINE, TREE PEOPLE, FREDOX SPLIT (Book+7″ by Le Petit Mignon)
VARIOUS ARTISTS – HANS TRAPP (Artprint + 7″ by Le Petit Mignon)
AUTOMATING – GIVENS (CDR, private) *
COMPEST – HYBRIDE (CDR by Tosom) *
JEAN-MARC MONTERA & FRANCESCO CLANADRINO – IDI DI MARZO (CDR by Eh?) *
SHACKLE – THE SHACKLE STICK (USB device and card game) *
VILE PLUMAGE – THE PLAN BE VILE, CONCEIVED IN SHAME (3″CDR by Filthy Turd)
FILTHY TURD – A ROTTING THROB / RANCID AND TRMBLIN (cassette by Urine Soaked Rag)
THOMAS BEY WILLIAM BAILEY – UNOFFICIAL RELEASE (book review by Harold Schellinx)
MANINKARI – CONTINUUM SONORE (CD by Basses Frequences)
Right. So I made a very sloppy mistake in writing this band name in Vital Weekly 815. Its surely Maninkari and not Naninkari. I know now also that this a duo of two brothers, Frederic and Olivier Charlot, who have profound love of percussion instruments, but apart from the intro they only use traditional instruments like cymbalom, alto, bodhran here to deliver what are asked for by Basses Frequences to deliver a drone record, so there is a lot of manipulated field recordings and electronics, perhaps coming from those traditional instruments. The result is indeed what one calls drone music. Traditional drone music partly rooted in acoustic music with lots of sound effects and partly in (computer?) treated sounds thereof. Lots of reverb obviously, since that’s the glue that cements a fine drone record. Maninkari walk the small, dark path through the woods, but its not a risky walk: they know which path to take. None of the bigger cliche’s of this kind of music are hidden anywhere in this music. The darkness, the sustaining sounds, the extensive use of reverb, the bit on the acoustic instruments – insert more reverb – so it may seem that I don’t like this very much. Actually I did enjoy it quite a bit, playing it a couple of times before actually starting to write about it. The darkness, the whispering of voices, the melodramatic playing, its all very nice. Yes, perhaps a bit cliche altogether, but nevertheless very nice. So these things go then, I think. (FdW)
CHIHEI HATAKEYAMA – NORMA (CD by Small Fragments Recordings)
Following solo releases on Room40, Kranky, Under The Spire, Hibernate Recordings, Magic Book Records, Home Normal and Own Records, and as one-half of Opitope, with releases on Spekk, the name Chihei Hatakeyama should not be an unknown name. Here he has another new release and its also the inaugural release for a new Japanese label Small Fragments Recordings. Hatakeyama plays electric guitars, vibraphone and piano, and no doubt a bunch of electronics on the side. Here he has six tracks, and unlike his previous release – well, at least the one that I heard, ‘Mirror’ (see Vital Weekly 794), this one seems less conceptually inclined and ‘just’ six pieces in the period 2008 to 2012, put together on one CD, perhaps because they hit together quite well. If all things ‘ambient’, ‘drone’ and ‘atmospheric’ is all of your cup of tea, then you won’t be disappointed here. The beautiful, calmly gliding atmospheric drones work quite well. On a sunday morning, with sun gazing all over the sky, coffee, a good book, this is perhaps all anyone would want. Sit back, relax, enjoy. That is all great, all fine. Should you want to look at such notions as ‘new’, ‘innovation’ or ‘doing something out of the ordinary’, then this is not the right place to be. There isn’t a single idea in here that we haven’t heard before, neither by Hatakeyama, nor by the likes of his, with releases on the labels mentioned. Now, you could consider that to be a downside. Maybe I do. But not right now, not on this quiet sunday morning and I prefer to leave the bigger picture of ‘new’ music to worry about another day. (FdW)
JASON KAHN & BRYAN EUBANKS – ENERGY (OF) (CD by Copy For Your Records)
DAVID KIRBY – CITTAKERNERA (CD by Copy For Your Records)
MITES – PASSING RESEMBLANCE (CD by Copy For Your Records)
FERRAN FAGES – LIFE BEST UNDER YOUR SEAT (CD by Copy For Your Records)
The right choice, I think, is to move from a CDR label to a real CD label, especially now there are pressing plants which deliver a quality CD in a quality digipack in any edition, from 100 copies onwards. Copy For Your Records made this move and here are four (four?) of their recent releases, all in super limited editions, all in digipacks. First off we have a duet of Jason Kahn and one Bryan Eubanks, of whom I never heard. Kahn is of course someone of whom we have reviewed a lot of music, always on the improvised music side of things, usually armed with percussion, or laptop, or analogue electronics. Here however he gets just credits for ‘electronics’, just like Eubanks. Maybe I can assume this is a duet for two modular synthesizers? That’s what it sounds like at least, although there might be additional field recordings. Or perhaps that’s the audience? In any case, its a vibrant work of bouncing oscillations, sharp sine waves and its played with fine, quick changes throughout. Not always they keep an open ear towards something such as ‘composition’, since it bounces around on end, and as such its perhaps less drone like than I would expect from Kahn. Perhaps in all its nervosity and hectic a bit long?
I have no idea who David Kirby is. I assume not any of the ones I found easily on wikipedia. Maybe an artist website mentioned on the cover would be nice? Kirby gets credit for four tape recorders and nothing else. What’s on those tapes is not easy to describe, but you could perhaps safely say its a very extended version of The Beatles ‘Revolution Number 9’. Bits of reversed tape, bits of wrapped tape, bits of voices, bit of tape decay, street sounds including hip hop rhythms, classical music, everything I guess, except ‘turn me on dead man’. Its hard to see heads and tails here, and its hard to say wether this is all the result of meticulously composing or a more or less random mixing of randomly stuck together pieces of reel-to-reel together. At sixty-eight minutes and fourteen seconds this seems a bit long to me, and its no doubt best enjoyed when played in one go, as one flow of sounds, coming in like a summer rain: loud and sometimes endless. But then: who has the time or energy to play such a long work all the way through when there is perhaps so much more around, and Kirby could have made his point easily in half the time?
I am not sure if I heard of Mites either. Its the alter ego of Grisha Shaknes and alike the others the cover is giving that much information, but its the only CD to have three titles in stead of one, but just as with the others its not easy to grasp what is going on, what the input it, what sources of manipulation are used and the outcome is not unlike that of Kirby, however it sounds less randomly put together and more composed. I might be entirely wrong, but I think there is a great deal of field recordings at work in these compositions and I somehow don’t think there is a lot of digital processing going on here. Like the Kirby release, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn there is a certain amount of old fashioned cassette or reel-to-reel recorders at work here. Everything is paced out more, and placed somewhere in a mass of hissy textures and smart old fashioned drones. The final track is the longest and here there is a fine sense of loops being used, but at times it seems to be a bit long to get the ball rolling in this piece. Maybe it could have used a bit more editing here and there and make the whole thing a bit stronger? However following the chaos of the big city sound collage offered by David Kirby, this is a breath of fresh air in the country side.
If there is a concept is at the bottom your musical work you’d better have some liner notes and Ferran Fages has that. Its all about being ‘intended to be heard through loudspeakers placed in non standard positions (e.g. fencing walls, corners, the ceiling) allowing each channel to behave as an independent mono signal.’ And of course you are free to alter the position of your speakers. The sound source are either sine waves generated by a laptop and ‘richer harmonic sounds by electronic devices and contact mics’, all of which is played according to some graphic score. As said this is a highly conceptual work and not easy to get into when playing it at home (no matter how you place your speakers) – gaps of silence and then passages of loud piercing sine waves and scratching the surface, divided along the stereo spectrum. Probably more headphone music than speaker music I was thinking. I quite liked the idea behind it, but found it hard to enjoy the actual content as a piece of music to listen to. Maybe I’d prefer this better as a sound installation, in which one could walk around for a while? (FdW)
POKEMACHINE, TREE PEOPLE, FREDOX SPLIT (Book+7″ by Le Petit Mignon)
VARIOUS ARTISTS – HANS TRAPP (Artprint + 7″ by Le Petit Mignon)
I’ve written in praise of the releases on this label before which makes this review difficult – or merely repetitious. The first takes the graphics to a new dimension – not hyperbolae but simply the images (by Fredox) are three dimensional and the release comes with glasses to view the rather disturbing images. Insects, death, machinery… Three people’s side? Identification was difficult, is mechanical barely recognizable beats of what sounds like extremely noisy live improvisation / performance, the other side starts more slowly, again sounding like a live and improvised performance, races to a final crescendo. Noise as a recognizable performance. I think the “Various” artists 7 inch is something if not of a joke then critique of “comps” within the genre of noisy PE, as on two sides of a 7 inch 45 rpm there are over 50 “artists” whose range varies to the extent of it being a very mixed sonic landscape, or like some mad dish made by a drunk in which every item of a kitchen was included, potatoes, corn flakes, onions, baked beans, washing powder, bleach,….. (not so much a metaphor but the history of how I met my wife)… Anyway- the graphics here on a large fold out poster consists of a wonderful silk-screen of black over prints, the reverse of which displays the names of the performers in a text based / typo graphic improvisation. I recommend anyone reading this to visit staalplaat’s site and read and view more, as this reviewer cannot do these productions the justice they deserve. Though if I can end by saying that within the spectrum of noise PE releases – production ranges from home printed and produced releases through to professional fine artists and skilled manufacturing companies of high quality, anyone who is thinking of doing a release should note these extremes and not fall into a moribund middle ground under the illusion that they are multi talented and anyway graphics is easy. These releases and this label represent an example of just how to do it at its finest. Check it out. (jliat)
AUTOMATING – GIVENS (CDR, private)
Following Automating’s very recent release and review in Vital Weekly 841 there is now also the other release which is also up at bandcamp. But here in a sort of handmade package (sheet music folded and an ancient black and white picture stuck on top). The other big change is the fact that we have thirteen songs/pieces/compositions here which last about seventy-four minutes unlike the other which was one super long piece of close to eighty minutes. However the whole notion of things being massive, heavy and drone like is also present on this disc. Sasha, who is being Automating, likes his computer processed field recordings to be loud pushing against the ear-drums, and rough edged. ‘Careful’ is certainly no keyword here, but nor is ‘composition’ or ‘structure’ very much. In these pieces, things simply start and usually stay there. There might be the odd radio voice in there, but otherwise things move very slowly, just as with that main work of a couple of weeks ago. However its not right to understand this work as noise ambient. Its still more ambient than noise, I should think, be it that its all of more intense kind. Maybe some of the longer pieces here could be a bit shorter and it would make the whole album a bit stronger. Its not always necessary to fill up a CDR with seventy-some minutes, just because you can. Do the work that you feel is most strongest. Automating holds a promises but doesn’t always fulfill them. (FdW)
COMPEST – HYBRIDE (CDR by Tosom)
This is surely one of the stranger releases I heard in some time. Behind Compest we find Martin Steinebach, who is also the man behind Monoid, Stillstand and Conscientia Peccati, all of which have a distinct different approach towards music. As Compest the interest lies within ambient music, which I guess is not very odd, but its rather the way its been created. Now I may assume Steinebach doesn’t have an orchestra at his disposal, but he uses the sounds of violins and celli quite extensively here, along with quite dark and sinister electronics, such as in the third (untitled) piece. The fourth one deals more with wind instruments, playing sombre and melancholic tunes, before unsettling electronics set in. Unsettling, but highly atmospheric. I have no idea what he uses. This might be, for all I know, a sample pack of classic instruments, Garageband or something lifted from a bunch of classical records – although somehow I don’t think that’s the case. But its the way that Compest uses additional electronics sounds, effects and/or instruments that makes this the off ball. All of the four pieces are a bit long and seem to kind of drift for a while. I am sure Compest is aware of that, but I may assume this is the whole notion of the music. To get pieces adrift, let them explore the air for a while, before making a soft landing if possible. I thought this was rather a nice release, if perhaps a bit long and without seeming to hold my attention all the time. But its that rather curious mixture of sounds and instruments that I particularly enjoyed. (FdW)
JEAN-MARC MONTERA & FRANCESCO CLANADRINO – IDI DI MARZO (CDR by Eh?)
Although I am not entirely sure, I don’t think I heard of Jean-Marc Montera (electric guitar, fx) and Francesco Calandrino (lo-fi stereos, manipulated audiocassettes, field recordings, clarinet) before. Already recorded in March 2009 in Palermo, Italy but just now released. I am not entirely sure why this, why now. The six pieces, totaling just under an hour, are at times a wild affair, such as in the chaotic opening piece, and at such not really my cup of tea, but when they tone it a bit down, and let things work in a more natural, easy way, its quite nice. The whole thing is a bit raw, from the low end of the technical spectrum, but also at times a bit too long for my taste. I think this release could surely have benefitted from a some strict editing, making things a bit shorter and more condensed. Its alright, this one, but surely not the greatest I ever heard in the area of improvised music. (FdW)
SHACKLE – THE SHACKLE STICK (USB device and card game)
A duo of Robert van Heumen (laptop) and Anne La Berge (flute, electronic, voice). Both are quite known in the world of improvised music and them working together is perhaps nothing new. However the way they work is quite interesting. Along with the USB device you get a card game. There are twenty musical variations cards, each in three different parameters. A conductor shows one of these cards for ten seconds and then musicians start improvising, unless a player produces a ‘cancel’ card; then a new card is shown. Players have also a ‘next’ card, which they can use when they like to play something new. A bit like Eno’s ‘Oblique Strategies’, but then completely different. It directs improvisation in a great way, I think. The card game is designed beautifully by Isabelle Vigier and it would be great to try this out one day. The card game is made up to between two and five players, but on the USB device there is of course just La Berge and Van Heumen. The short movie sees them performing the card ‘Chuck’, and then there three further pieces of music, with titles that don’t seem directly related to the cards, but no doubt were generated of using the cards. I mean: why would they otherwise be part of this package? This is some excellent improvisation, with La Berge’s flutes clearly the central point and Van Heumen processing of the flute, along whatever else he does come up within the space of his computer. He gives the music a great vibrant character, whereas La Berge’s playing brings a more introspective element to the table – at least at times – she can be nasty as well. This is, overall, a great imaginative work, of great music, great concept and wonderful execution. (FdW)
VILE PLUMAGE – THE PLAN BE VILE, CONCEIVED IN SHAME (3″CDR by Filthy Turd)
FILTHY TURD – A ROTTING THROB / RANCID AND TRMBLIN (cassette by Urine Soaked Rag)
I mentioned elsewhere the Scylla and Charybdis of production in the genre of Noise / PE and “Experimental” music… islands which should not be avoided, be engaged with; one or the other and not sailed through between, as such sailing has to be the middle of the road self considered “musicians” and “artists”. FT occupies the other island from that’s of Le Petit Mignon… this “release” comes with a plastic bag of dirt and scraps of torn paper with crayon and the text ”ENJOY or not, its up to you!” Darren Wyngarde – our Darren inhabits or perhaps infects a part of England that benefited from the attentions of the Luftwaffe in WW2 – and now is source material – literally – for these poorly recorded field recordings and twangy guitar low life. Best in the meandering distorted tapes…often reversed .. noise … vocal nonsenses and looped shit.. No its not a “comment on” and nothing like the six towns of Arnold Bennett- Wyngarde’s work continually documents the existential disaster of post-war urban planning and polices that has created these wastelands of dirt and JD sports, shopping arcades, polluted rivers and supermarket trolleys. Though the Beer will be cheap and the fish and chips nice and greasy… Does Wyngarde – “enjoy” these works – I often wonder why people live in shit holes… maybe its home to them, I suppose they are like the creatures in Sartre’s No Exit, though Wyngarde’s involvement is far more complex or more simple, how he creates what he does, how he survives and communicates his survival in the manner he does, in these works, is remarkable. The work, like the environment is ignored as it’s a nihilistic filth to anyone with sensitivity. It’s what Gilbert and George’s work only makes a pretense at. Shabby chic, as its known, is where the young middle class inhabit terraced houses of inner cities, London and Bristol for instance, where the kebab houses, urban litter, graffiti and vomit are a cultural de rigor … though these inhabitants can retreat at the drop of a hat back to middle class detached suburbia, or some Spanish villa… Wyngarde’s art is not this, but the real McCoy. Not the art of G&G or Banksy… but the broken reality of places which are not places at all, soundscapes which are pure detritus – an oxymoron – as such language is out of place amidst this shit. (jliat)
Address – non given.
THOMAS BEY WILLIAM BAILEY – UNOFFICIAL RELEASE (book review by Harold Schellinx)
(used with permission from: http://www.harsmedia.com/SoundBlog/Archief/00785.php)
Unofficial Release is the title of a recent book, in which the American (in his own words) ‘multi-disciplinary artist and cultural researcher’ or ‘psycho-acoustic sound artist and writer on saturation culture’ Thomas Bey William Bailey reflects at length on the phenomenon of ‘self-released and handmade audio in post-industrial society’.
That’s a bit of a windy way to say that in his book the author sets out to track the stories of – especially – ‘purist’ factions within the larger domain of DIY audio-publishing, in a realm that spans a broad spectrum of (pop/rock/electronic/experimental…) music from the late 1970’s onward; often (but not exclusively) in the context of (world wide, exchange) networks of collaborating and/or competing groups of artists; networks, that form the source and, to a big extent, also the works’ target = audience (which, I presume, at least partly accounts for the adjective ‘post-industrial’ in the book’s subtitle).
Unofficial Release is a laudable enterprise. I’m quite sure that almost all of Vital Weekly’s viewers will have their pretty good own ideas on the subject of Thomas Bey Willam’s book. [ I hope I’ll be forgiven, but I will just call him Thomas in what follows. 😉 ]. Let me also make it clear from the beginning, that – whatever its shortcomings – this is an interesting and worthwhile book, that harbors a lot of fascinating facts and observations. Often I agree, sometimes I disagree a little, sometimes I disagree a lot; and sometimes I (think I) do not understand; which must be due to Unofficial Release’s style, that looks & feels academic, but on the whole lacks the rigor and precision necessary for (academic) depth. Which, mind you, is not a problem per se: for me it made reading (and re-reading) Unofficial Release into a rather spectacular-ish roller coaster ride.
Early on (page 16) Thomas states that by unofficial (1) audio he means: “audio in which every phase of the creative process, with the possible exception of creating the recording medium itself, is handled by the creators proper: with no reliance on disc duplicators, printing presses, mastering and post-production facilities, professional graphic design services and so on”. That’s an awkward formulation, but it does clarify that in the pages that follow, ‘unofficial release’ actually is meant to be synonymous with ‘handmade release’ of audio works: releases for which the recording of the work, the duplication of the recording and the packaging of the result, were all done by the artists themselves. (That should explain my use of the word ‘purist’ above.)
This drastically limits the subject: taken to the letter it will exclude pretty much all releases on vinyl and audio CD, as well as the independent releases on cassette tape (who knows how many? Thousands? Tens of thousands?) that come with printed covers and were produced with the help of a ‘commercial’ tape duplication service. Therefore Thomas’ definition also excludes outsider musicians like Jandek (who self-released a massive oeuvre, but always on vinyl albums and later on audio CD) and other maverick geniuses/curiosities. He justifies this exclusion by pointing out that the DIY work of musicians like Jandek and his ilk have already been extensively documented elsewhere (fair enough), but also, curiously, adding that he chooses to focus on “those who have struggled to make as authentic an expressive corpus as possible without seeking […] any form of assistance from third parties”. Personally, I’d hardly consider delivering a master tape to a record pressing plant and ordering a couple of hundred copies ‘seeking assistance from third parties’… In the context of the book, far more relevant seems the fact that self-releasing artists like Jandek are and remain loners, that auto-publish their work because of a deeply felt urge to be heard, but definitely not in order to get social and become part of a network of ‘kindred spirits’.
For some, to me not very clear, reason, the book is divided into two parts: a Play part (‘Developments and Perspectives’) and a Pause part (‘New Challenges’). After an introduction in which Thomas explains what motivated him to embark on the research for Unofficial Release, three of the Play part chapters are dedicated to the history and practice of mail art. I am pretty sure that in the days before the arrival of the cassette, audio did circulate within postal art networks on reel-to-reel tapes. But it was the cassette player/recorder’s rise to the status of ‘common household item’, that made the exchange of audio by mail as easy as that of letters, cartoons or collages. Thomas interviews Andrej Tisma and Rod Summers, whose VEC audio exchange program (active between 1978 and 1983) forms a wonderful bridge between mail art and the subsequent ‘audio networks’, that (other than Rod’s project) were far more focused on the exchange of (some form of) music. Rod, quite tellingly, says: “When home-produced music became the dominant content of the works being received for the VEC audio exchange program, I stopped the activity” (page 62).
The self-releasing art/music networks that we encounter in and between Unofficial Release’s lines all have an undeniable, ex- or implicit, idealistic ‘socio-political’ edge: by handmaking their works, in a way such that each copy becomes a unique ‘gift’ that is shared through the network, and by staying far from the ‘official’ market controlled & exploited by the ‘official’ culture, the self-releaser (consciously or not) takes a political stance.
Ideally, the autonomous (2) composer/musician will, as a latter-day Partch, also built his own instruments and carve his recordings in, say, clay scooped from public gardens. And though in these past four decades some may have gotten close, and several – no joking – these very days are getting even closer, this über Zen-ish ideal will/can be reached by a mere handful at most (3). In almost all cases ‘autonomous musicians’ will have few second thoughts about their art being totally dependent on the commercially produced consumer technology that is unleashed upon them by the ‘official’ culture’s capitalist allies. In this sense (as the author is well aware, page 79) the ‘autonomous (subcultural) art networks’, besides the ‘self-organizing (pseudo-)anarchy’, also share the intriguing (parasitical) gadfly/leech-like qualities of, for example, the very influential squatters network in the Netherlands of the late 1970’s / early 1980’s.
This is a paradox, faced by whatever pseudo-anarchic unofficial alternative to whatever something official in today’s ‘post-industrial society’.
And mostly, it’s just ignored.
‘Why We Tape: Cassette Culture As A Real Alternative’ is one of the book’s key chapters. What made the compact cassette so successful? Though (cassette) tape – like the vinyl record – by now (in our parts of the world) as a day-to-day household thing for music consumption has become obsolete, it is most certain to survive as one of several media (magnetic tape, vinyl, digital formats …) that sound artists/music producers nowadays may choose to work with; because of their physical characteristics and specific properties; some of which are very real; others, arguably, largely imaginary. Much already has been said on magnetic tape, of which the playing and spooling, within or without the confines of a cassette, is an obvious image and metaphor for time’s unwinding. Unofficial Release adds some more: anthropomorphic quality… pareidolic design… the ‘tape in a box’ as a metaphor for stuff inside our very selves… Thomas then turns a somewhat different corner, when (page 80) he states that it has been not so much the control over the production’s medium, as the “control of the [interpersonal] distribution process that really differentiated the new Cassette Culture from other independent initiatives”.
Self-releasing handmade works became viable for musicians and other audio artists, when, from the early 1970s onwards, compact cassettes and the equipment necessary for their recording and playback, gradually were getting cheap enough for all to buy; and then quickly became ubiquitous, not in the least thanks to the industry’s massive promotion and advertising. It inspired an army’s worth of musicians and artists (with all imaginable gradations of technical skill, ingenuity and talent) to self-release original audio works on cassette, which, indeed, was not a use for cassette tape that had been foreseen by its developers; and this in turn happened not in the least thanks to the DIY/fuck all attitude that these artists’ generation adopted from the protagonists of the seventies punk-rock wave.
The cassette’s ultimate moment of glory was brought about, at the dawn of the 1980’s, by the ‘personal stereo experience’ of Sony’s Walkman, a prime example of a technological innovation bringing consumers a something, of which they themselves didn’t know how desperately they were in need of it.
Originally DIY releases in punk & post-punk style (many of which were handmade at least up to and inclusive their cover) appeared pretty much exclusively on vinyl. The cassette release boom came a bit later, along with a surge in (often noisy and/or electronic) musical experimentalism, for which even the smallest possible of vinyl editions (usually somewhere between 300 and 500 copies) in most cases proved to be way overestimating what the artist’s share of the market (family, friends, fans & kindred spirits …) was able and willing to handle. In other words: in view of estimations of expected sales, the choice for copying by hand of some tens of cassettes over the pressing of a couple of hundreds of vinyl platters, usually was an utterly realistic one.
Having unwound the cassette, the author immediately tackles the dawning of the digital age, in a chapter (‘Laser Sharp. Self-released audio goes digital’) dedicated to the CD(-R), the blinking silvery plastic support of digital audio (that for many years enabled the ‘official’ music industry to propel its profits to mega-heights), and its virtual follow-up, the online stored mp3’s (that, sooner or later, will lead to the dismantling of that same ‘official’ music industry, which, in its current form, has become obsolete and cannot but cease to exist). The switch to digital was readily adopted by almost all self-releasers. Of course. For self-releasing obviously was (and still is) foremost about content (that what is being released), and only a little about the carrier of that content (the format in which it is being released). Thus pretty much all cassette labels went the way of the then still Amsterdam based Staaltape: they dropped the cassette and switched to CD(-R). Only recently there has been an interesting revival of self-release on cassette and/or vinyl (not always solely for reasons of nostalgia and exclusivity), while CD(-R) now by many is considered as being inferior from a design & ‘experience’ point of view. That is: not so much the sound quality is being questioned (though some do), as the object-ivity and durability of the CD(-R) as a (collectable) thing. Generally spoken, though, in the current state of affairs, any format can, and will, do; though handmade of course is an adjective that will not be easy to maintain with respect to fully digital web audio releases.
Thomas switches from the digital present back to (post-)industrial music, a genre whose bloom in the 1980’s was accompanied by a world-wide avalanche of unofficial, handmade, industrial-ities: in print, on cassette & on vinyl. It is here that one encountered sounds, music, words & ideas , that because of their extreme (be it perverse, sexually deviant, dope-and crime-related, left-anarcho-terrorist or right-fascist) and (officially) offensive character, one can hardly imagine being released otherwise than through these unofficial networks.
After a foursome of informative chapters, each of which centers around a conversation with a veteran key player in the global autonomous music network – Vittore Baroni (Italy), Frans de Waard (the Netherlands), Al Margolis (USA) and GX Jupitter-Larsen (Canada) – the Pause (‘New Challenges’) part of the book opens with reflections on why the Mini Disc format ‘failed to make an impact’. In the chapters that follow, Thomas takes us on a tour of subjects including but not limited to: ‘Incorrect Music’, Song Poems, Mingering Mike’s imaginary records, artifical scarcity, the art of packaging and (very) limited edition unoffical releases’ packaging as art, the (literal) drenching of records in artist blood and other fetishes, satanists’ use of heavy & black metal music as a weapon of attack, the hyper-releasing of e.g. a Merzbow…
Reasons for self-releasing one’s music vary, but the main ground (seldomly mentioned explicitly) surely remains this: it is done, because it is possible to do. That self-releasing actually might be considered an act of resistance and opposition (viz. the ‘official’/major music-industry or even the ‘less official’ independent labels), will often be little more than an afterthought that might add (for those that are sensitive to such things) a whiff of ‘street credibility’ to the enterprise. A pretty large group of (would-be) artists will consider self-releasing merely as a ‘first step’ in a future recording career. Other musicians and groups in the long run will release part of their work through more ‘official’ channels, while continuing to ‘self-release’ projects that are deemed too ‘experimental’, too ‘extreme’ or ‘too lo-fi’ for ‘official’ releases.
But whatever we call it, and whatever way we cut the pie: Unofficial Release puts a spotlight on what the author in the very first line of his introduction calls self-determined art. Even though self-determined as a term is even worse than unofficial, we know what he is getting at: a beast that, by its very nature, is not easy to pin down.
Nobody is in control. (The book has a somewhat curious chapter on self releasing and censorship.) There is nobody to decide what sort of stuff deserves an unofficial release, and what parts of it should be tossed even more directly into the bin. The ‘chaotic, non-purposive character’ (page 100) of the global autonomous audio network is both the phenomenon’s force, and its weakness. It accounts for the “adventurous listenership”, that attracts groups of music fans fed up with much of that what is officially released. The size of such groups will not likely ever be able to account for ‘million sellers’; but it also should not be underestimated.
Much – even: most – of that which over the past decades has been unofficially released, is pure crap. Rubbish; indeed: bin-stuff. And then there’s a lot that is mediocre. But you and me, of course, are into ‘it’ for the good stuff 😉 and for the occasional works of pure genius. Where to find these, will, as always, depend on your taste; and on your willingness to dig more or less deep.
The good stuff… In this blog (which, indeed, is itself an unofficial release and a fortiori part of these very same autonomous network(s) (4)), I usually refer to what I consider to be the good stuff as ‘non-academic experimental music’ (though after having read Adam Harper’s Infinite Music, another recent, interesting and equally ‘chaotic’ music book, I currently tend – slightly tongue-in-cheek – to replace the ‘experimental’ by ‘post-experimental’).
Maybe the most important conclusion annex thesis of the book is made in the very beginning, on page 15, where the author states that the global autonomous music network played a pivotal role in ‘the survival of radical sonic eclecticism into the 21st century’.
It is as difficult to ignore its economic irrelevance, as it is difficult to ignore the cultural importance of this global, alternative, autonomous, underground musical scene. It is a parasite, that because of its economic irrelevance, is left to bloom freely, at a pace and in whatever way that convenes, without rules and without laws other than those implicit in its own conventions (which, admittedly, sometimes may be a pretty hard nut to crack 😉 Meanwhile, though, and at no extra cost, the network continues to happily infect official art and academic institutions, in a continuous process of free exchange through a growing group of actors that choose to be active in both worlds.
A loose network of networks, that came into existence some 35 years ago, almost as a side effect; as an unmistakable by-product of the commercial development and marketing of consumer audio technology; a web-like network, really, that – exchange and copy-based – resembles an analog, bike-speed version of the digital, light-speed world wide web. No wonder, therefore, that once the digital web had become ‘audio ready’, most of the actors in the ‘autonomous audio’ network readily adapted the digital web as their new tool and homeland. At this moment in time, that network is larger and more active than it ever has (or could have) been before. It is also far more elusive than it ever was before.
It was an agreeable coincidence, that while writing these words & thinking about the ever-increasing dematerialization inherent in web-based networks, I found a package in my snail mail box from Ken Montgomery, a mail art, cassette culture and autonomous audio network veteran based in New York. It made me realize how good it feels to, every now and then, find some news & sounds that one can actually touch … Like the invitation to join in Con-Mythology, a series of events in NY, between July 24th and 30th, celebrating the music and art of last year deceased Conrad Schnitzler, who (as we read in Unofficial Release, page 159) “despite his pedigree and potential for exploiting [his] ‘star connections’, [always] has remained one of the most steadfast proselytizers of hand-made music”. Or like GenKen’s lovely and very colorful (artist throwing money out of the window) I hear the Sound of Hardware Shopping CD-R, the title of which is a pretty complete summary of the disc’s sonic content, except that these words alone miss out on the real fun. And on the pig and the parrot
Thomas did not want to write a complete book. And so, no, Unofficial Release is not complete. It is also far from an easy introduction to the subject, and probably best accessible (and most enjoyable) for those that already have some knowledge about e.g. cassette culture. Large parts of it read like collected notes on the (many) themes that the book touches upon; most of these themes might (and, thinks I, eventually should) be developed, into what each could be a book (or thesis) all by itself: questions of censorship and self-censorship in autonomous audio, and its role in the former communist parts of Europe; the emergence and development of audio networks on the web, and how these relate to their ‘snail mail’ ancestors; history & sociography of e.g. (post-)industrial music or satanist black metal, as genres that would have been pretty much unthinkable without these global & underground ‘autonomous music’ network; etc., etc. … Enough material here for many now & coming generations of graduate students to write and write and write their papers on …
[ Thomas Bey Willam Bailey. Unofficial Release. Self-released and handmade audio in post-industrial society. Belsona Books, 2012. ISBN 9780615611273. 382 pp. ]
notes __ ::
(1) I find the term unofficial an unfortunate choice. Quite obviously it is meant to refer to artistic work that, in one way or other, is done outside of the official art/music circuit. The problem of course is, that what in this area official means, is far from fixed and clear-cut. There is a vast ‘terrain vague’ between the institutions, contexts and events that are obviously official, and those that are obviously unofficial. A major deal of the most interesting ‘unofficial’ art/music indeed can be thought of as living in this ‘cultural wasteland’.
(2) When writing on the subject, ‘autonomous’ is the term that I prefer.
(3) OK. True. I will have to think deeply about naming a concrete example of such an ‘autonomous-to-the-extreme’ artist, and I don’t have one ready just yet. But I’m sure I’ll be able to find you at least one…
(4) From that point of view an interesting detail is, that – as far as digital publications go – the SoundBlog, in which this text originally could be found, is probably as close to ‘handmade’ as one can possibly get. That blog does not use any third party software for its creation, nor for its maintenance. All entries are – and are bound to remain – hand coded.