Demdike Stare, the enigmatic sonic alchemists Sean Canty and Miles Whitaker exist as a genre unto themselves.
They occupy a grey zone of DJing, sampling and composing. You can picture them living in some moldering, musty temple, stacked to the rafters with old LPs. From this citadel, they are weaving worlds out of library music, obscure soundtracks, old jungle and breakbeat, new wave and field recordings. This temple would be like The Gyre in Clive Barker‘s Weaveworld in the subterranean tunnels of The Raw Shark Texts: A Novel.
Demdike Stare’s mixes are an event, like a solar eclipse or a nuclear winter. They drop unexpectedly, like an otherworldly monolith, with little fanfare and no information. These are not like other mixtapes, and they provide an essential insight into what the Stare are doing, and a portal into the world at large.
We are living at the end of time, the end of history. We are dancing amidst increasing heaps of rubble and debris, as 150 years of Capitalism piles up around our ears.
So… much… Product.
Hoarding is the sickness of our times.
And look at how vindicated we all feel when watching a hoarding program on the telly, when that poor squalid misor sees the error of their ways, and agrees to have a team clean out their cave. Normalcy has been regained, and all that stuff can go to the rubbish heap, where it belongs. We blame and victimize the hoarders, for daring to think that they could possibly use that trash for something, while not much is being said about the illness of those making the trash in the first place.
Examining Demdike Stare’s mixes, and their music in general, cuts right to the heart of several cultural issues, that are especially apparent in the realm of electronic music. The first i would call Futurism vs. Appropriation; the war of creation vs. sampling. Listen to Post Collapse, or any other of Demdike Stare’s murky soundworlds, and contrast against the chrome-polished machine funk of Daniel Avery‘s Drone Logic that i’ve been going on about lately. I like them both, but they’re going about completely different aims, that goes back to the very beginning of electronic music; the French musique concrete, and the German synthesis (that is a rough geographical simplification, only for illustration, please bear with me).
A quote, from the sainted Pierre Schaeffer:
For Musique Concrete, the essential character of music as a human activity is such that the listening experience and the ‘ear’ are crucial things. For Electronic Music, the priority is the idea, the system, the perfection of control, of precise rationalization… to become scientific.
One aspires to be more machinelike, more precise, with complete control over every component of sound. The other, the concrete angle, is more humanist. It is seeking soul, THROUGH the machines.
Let’s face it, folks. There’s no going back, no return to some idyllic Eden from which we never came. We can’t undo several thousand years of culture and ideas (unless they are all eradicated in a cataclysm, which could happen). It becomes our goal to figure out exactly what we want, what we’re trying to achieve.
Which brings us to our next point, the subtitle of this article: Bricolage vs. Pastiche. Pastiche is merely re-creating something which has already been made. I don’t mean for that merely to sound condescending or leading, as it has its own value and its own rewards, it just requires a different mindset and uses a different part of the brain. The pastiche comes with it a kind of cozy nostalgia, which i am also prey to and enjoy, but it is also deadly, and WILL ultimately push a culture into degeneracy. It’s the old argument of “a decade comes back every twenty years”. What will they be remaking in 20 years time?
Bricolage is defined as “combiningg sometimes anonymous things that have already been used, and also giving them new purposes and meanings. Bricolage is able to create new meaning from the old while pastiche is just referencing the old for what it means.” It’s a bolder, and weirder form of referencing, because it doesn’t come right out and tell you what it’s doing, what it’s trying to achieve. Bricolage are strange, cut-up surrealist worlds of conflicting and harmonious form, with their own dream logic and laws of physics.
Much like the mixes of Demdike Stare.
Canty & Whittaker’s art, for me, best illustrate the experience of being an artist and fanatic, living and working in 2013. We’ve got all these tools, all these ideas, all these resources, and the question remains, the question always remains: what, then, to do about them? You’ve got to get clear. You’ve got to have an idea. The way that Demdike Stare butt up private press new wave LPs against musty old academic synthesizers tracks, further smudging and disorienting them with waves of delay, distortion and reverb, or the way that anonymous film samples run into fluffy-smooth-and-sultry ’70s soul-jazz, are the closest approximation of the listening habits of every music fanatic that I know, at least. We’re all listening to everything, sampling everything. The world is breaking into a blacklight prism of increasing wyrdness, and Demdike Stare are ahead of their fold.
Post Collapse doesn’t come with a track listing, and i wasn’t able to identify a single one. It seems besides the point, really. Trying to figure out what the hell is going on seems to be the point, or just enjoying the ride. Wondering where their Library breakbeats come from, where they get their Tijuana brass, wondering if it’s even a whole track that i’m hearing or if it’s cobbled and assembled from bric-a-brac keeps me awake at night. It makes me foam at the mouth, makes me dive for hard-drives and records and tapes, wondering what i could do with them, what treasure they contain.
Demdike Stare make me want to listen to music.
There seems to be a few copies left, so grab ‘em while you can from Boomkat.
Artist: Ghetto Hexes.
Personnel: Gavin, Max
Label: self-released (bandcamp)
Release Date: 12.7.13
File Under: electro-soul//ghetto witchcraft
It is easy to get lost in an infinite sea of possibilities. It’s like standing in the center of a labyrinth, with 1,001 radial pathways; you stand, frozen in indecision. Recording yr first record can be like this, endlessly mixing, remixing, mastering, remastering, fucking with the arrangements, ad nauseam, until you are old and grizzled as a spruce tree, with nothing to show for it.
This is triply true in the world of electronic music. It is tempting to spend hours building custom drum racks, researching plug-ins, layering effects…what was designed to bolster our creativity instead becomes a prison. Eventually, you’ve got to break out. You’ve just got to act.
To counteract the overwhelming possibilities, Portland’s Ghetto Hexes, an avant-garde electro duo of Gavin Miller and Max (whose last name i do not know) decided to record a hasty debut, with live electronics laid straight to tape. This is how they put it:
These songs will soon be on an album. The idea was to try something electronically processed, free of a laptop or any thing that could/would be copy and pasted. Think of this as writing in pen.
I hope all you people that listen to this tape find someone else to git sticky and slippery with.
released 07 December 2013
We’re glad they did, as this is exactly the kind of thing we’re all about; rough-hewn, noisy electronic music, sweat- and trance-inducing in equal measure. Gavin Miller (at least i think it’s Gavin) plays the role of High Priest and Master Of Ceremonies, sexy soulful swagger that recalls Genesis P-Orridge, Prince & Alan Vega, over a skeletal substratum of dirty beats and distorted bass.
It’s tempting to get all philosophical about the future of electronic music, about the need for something tangible, something real to relate to and the elusive natural of that quality known as SOUL . These are topics we talk about often, and feel strongly about, but Bury My Heart//At Wounded Knee flies in the face of such stuffy academia. This music parties, it bleeds and rages. It sounds like knuckles torn on brick. It smells like sweat, chalk and electricity.
Tastemakers (more like tastefakers) will tell you that Witch House is dead and gone, and you are irrevocably backwards and square for liking such a trend. “That’s Over!” “That’s so over!” They would have you believe that we should all merrily march back to the shopping malls, to the Sam Goody’s and Mrs. Fields’, as we succumb to the inevitability that we all should be listening to hyperclean Pop music, that we all liked R. Kelly and Britney Spears all along, white teeth and white shirts have triumphed in the end, so get over yr adolescent rebellion and CoNfOrM.
Fuck. That. Shit.
This is our fucking revolution, and we are not going anywhere. This is music by mutants, for mutants, for the painfully skinny and possibly dangerous. Ghetto Hexes describe themselves as “three (although i only count two) impoverished magicians trying to make a living applying it to music.” What is magick, if not a war against rationality and common sense? We breed in the dark, because the dark is full of possibilities.
Culture has always been made in dingy basements and rundown cafes, by poor people entertaining themselves, dreaming of a better life, until the wealthy swoop along and buy it from us, and we can’t afford to go anymore. This is music for the faithful. Get thee to thy knees.
Full disclosure: Ghetto Hexes are some friends of ours (although more like acquaintances, distant cousins. Let’s call them new friends), but does that impair our ability to be critical? Hell no! Would we bullshit you?
Here’s the facts (as a matter of opinion):
Bury My Heart could be the soundtrack to a make-out session, but it is unsettling at times, also, like on the lengthy album opener “1/2 Measure”, which sounds like it could be an outtake from Bad Lieutenant.
This may be Ghetto Hexes first album, but it reeks of confidence and swagger. They’re brand new, just getting off the ground, playing small shows around Portland. This is the perfect time to introduce thyself, while it’s still close-knit and intimate.
Bury My Heart//At Wounded Knee is available as a pay-what-you-like download, and there’s a limited number of physical tapes, so act fast. It’s bound to become a collector’s item.
Golden Gardens is a waterfront park in Seattle, where you can escape the grind of a major metropolis, hike through wetlands, and watch the sun set over the Olympic Mountains, across the Puget Sound.
Golden Gardens is also a dream-pop duo from Seattle, made up of Gregg Alexander Joseph Neville and Aubrey Rachel Violet Bramble. Like their namesake, Golden Gardens is a breath of tranquility in a harried urban existence.
Golden Gardens are otherworldly. They “come to you across the forest with messages of alchemy and wisdom. Told in song, such high and mystic things…..”. High words, but there is a bewitching, transportive quality to their music. Beneath waves of reverb and icy synthesizers, there is a depth, that keeps you coming back, that keeps you searching, keeps you guessing.
It would be easy to merely list off a list of band that Golden Gardens sound like, succumb to the old marketing ploy. “You already like these things, this is a no brainer”. Yes, Golden Gardens DO combine the best parts of the Cocteau Twins, ethereal harmonies and closeknit chemistry; the faded grandeur and possible decadence of Disintegration-era The Cure; the dreamy fusion of Human and electronics of Love Spirals Downwards Flux. The key phrase in the preceding sentence is the best of. The pair have created a beguiling chimera of goth, synthpop and airy dancefloor trance that not only stands to be wildly successful, but also stands to give each genus a shot in the arm and some fresh blood.
What makes Bellflower work is good old-fashioned songwriting, like the wave the chiming guitar announces the siren-like chorus on “The Ghost Of A Total Stranger” or the way “I’ll Burn Alone” dissolves into a skeleton of synth bass and strings. You won’t find a lot of hooky earworms here, instead it’s more of a slowburn evolution, as is typical of Shoegaze. Bellflower is a bewitching wall-of-sound, mesmerizing and hypnotic, that you can listen to repetitively. Some of the beats sound overtly digital, and could stand for some additional mastering, which is the only thing that might possibly break the spell.
Golden Gardens are ramping up, regularly producing music, playing shows, and gaining new fans all the time. Their process has become much more fluid and organic since Gregg Neville moved to Seattle from Florida. The pair still record tracks independently, as they are introverted sorts, but the ability to mix in the same room has made this a real band, and one to watch out for. They’ve been getting love and support from Portland DJ’s DJ Wednesday and DJ Curatrix at the Brickbat Mansion night at The Lovecraft, and the limited physical editions of the last 2 EPs have sold out nearly immediately. Luckily, as of today, Bellflower is available as an official digital download. Now i won’t have to be slavishly chained to my laptop, and can have a social life again.
Goth was my first love, when i was hypnotized by Dead Can Dance‘s exoticism and The Cranes‘ witchcraft, so it is refreshing to see the genre getting some recognition. I’m talking the pretty 4AD/Projekt Records variety, not the cheezy Gothic Rock that tended to fill the nightclubs. Darkwave/shoegaze/dream-pop are all basically dark psychedelia for romantic souls. More introverted and comforting than Techno, less sunshiny than Reggae or Jambands, this is music for the in-between spaces, the in-between people, which is, of course, what we’re after, at Forestpunk.
Let Golden Gardens tear the veil asunder.
Label: Alrealon Musique
Sounds Like: A warehouse in a black hole.
File Under: Soundscape, Field Recordings, Musique Concrete, Abstract, Dark Ambient, Dub
On Environs, Laica takes you on a journey down long concrete corridors, into a cavernous factory at the center of all knowing. The machinery of night pumps, groans and bilges; you can hear the distant sound of the sea.
In the music of Laica there’s a sense of something more concrete having been deliberately and forcibly rubbed away, leaving just a vague impression of a more tangible piece of music.
- Laica’s bandcamp
Laica has already been engaged in rubbing out the melody, leaving only the shell of music. Environs takes this goal to its conclusion, removing instrumentation all together, weaving two colossal sound collages out of only field recordings and sound manipulation.
Whenever the brain hears sounds in sequence, it will attempt to supply imagery for what’s going on. It’s one of the unique properties of listening to soundscapes/field recordings; it really is like watching a movie with the video turned off. Its disorienting, leaving you to figure out what’s going on, which makes it a much “hotter” (in McLuhan’s sense of the word) media, forcing you to provide yr own story-arc. It’s highly creative and imaginative work. When a producer is manipulating real world sound, it makes our sense of reality go all wonky. Recognizable sounds, like birdsong or footsteps, take on a sinister, unheimlich edge – it’s like watching yr mother melt in front of yr eyes.
Laica chops, slows, layers and slurs his recordings, dipping them in cavernous reverb, resonators, and placing them in granular suspended animation. Every producer alive must learn how to manipulate recorded audio; the future imagined by musique concrete and the Italian Futurists is here, and the whole world, and all of recorded history, is now our symphony and our plaything. It is essential to learn to do these things well, to master the tools of our production. Luckily, Laica shines in this regard; there’s not a harsh digital contour in sight, no tell-tale sampler artifacts, nothing to break the mood.
Environs is a place, like another dimension superimposed on top of our own. It’s like the infernal mental hospital, from Grave Encounters, or Leyland Kirby‘s haunted ballroom. It’s a murky, subjective place; you can’t see very well. Environs is an industrial record, in the original sense of the word; it is like listening to the sound of machines. The huge reverb suggests that, wherever you are, it’s HUGE. It starts off well enough, almost friendly, as you pick out recognizable audio, some sense for the brain to hold on to, but by the time “Environs II” rolls around, yr in another world, with it’s own physics, as clanging pipes and wrecked piano innards are sprayed around yr ears, as everything you see shivers into mist.
Environs is an unsettling listen, more dark ambient than dark ambient. More irreal than surreal. It doesn’t come right out and tell you what it’s doing, just unfurls in a sonic psychodrama. It’s a sound collage, but it still has tendencies that would appeal to fans of other dark electronic arts. I heard traces of Loscil and Murcof in it’s dark heart, and another reviewer mentioned Aphex Twin and Autechre. The closest cousin i can think of is this year’s The Stranger – Watching Dead Empires In Decay, with its industrial clanking and foggy terrain, like something out of Tarkovsky‘s Stalker.
Like one of the stalkers in that film, or the Navidson family in House of Leaves we cannot help but go into these strange sound realms, once we know they exist. The greatest opportunity is the chance to free music, to get away from this dreaded nostalgia and worship of past forms, and to create something new and different, to finally start pushing music forward again and increase the vernacular.
Laica’s music has been catching on. His Puls tape, on Rano Records, made FACT Magazine’s Top 30 tapes of the year, and there is a remix version of Environs that i plan on featuring at some later point, as i’ve been digging it quite hard. Perhaps other’s feel as i do, and are ready to climb on board, and experience something different, to plunge into otherworldly sounds and experience something wild.
Strongly recommended for fans of sonic psychogeography everywhere.
Using: TAL Bassline, FXPansion Geist, Sugarbytes Thesys
Part of the intents and purposes of Forestpunk is as field guide and production notes, as a sort of DIY invisible academy. You see, i ran out of money ages ago and have had to learn to do everything for myself, from fixing a van or a dishwasher, to programming CSS and jungle beats. After running across the blog a New York based Musician and Visual Artist Tom Moody, i’ve been inspired to start posting some of my own productions, with notes on some of the techniques i’ve used and what i’ve learned from the experiment. It’s as much for my own benefit as yr own. It’s incredible, and satisfying, how often i use this space as a way to recall something, some record that i particularly adored or the track listing for some mix. These are just my notes and memoirs, and hopefully some of y’all might find it useful, as well.
As you may or may not know, i’ve been making electronic music under the name dessicant. It’s intended as post-techno tensile post-punk ritual, taut and jittering beat excursions mixed with retro exotica and okkvltist tendencies. I am combining my love of the ephemeral, the haunting & occult, and ferocious, pummeling beats and noise. It’s a kind of hypnosis, a virtual seance. My goal is to make the world a stranger and more hypnotic place, to rend holes and portals, to let some inspiration shine through.
I compose (when making electronic music) almost exclusively in Ableton Live, with a modest arsenal of VSTs and occasionally slaving an outside platform like Propellerhead’s Reason. I am running a MacBook from my friend’s deceased Grandmother, that is perpetually running low on space and is very loud, but gets the job done. When i’m not feeling lazy, or when i’m at a desk, i use an Akai Pro APC40 Ableton Controller, whose faders don’t get enough juice, and i have a TASCAM US-1800 16-in, 4-out USB 2.0 Audio Interface soundcard and a pair of Rokit Monitor Speakers. It’s a modest studio, but i was stuck with an acoustic guitar missing a string, a Hinckley & Schmidt water jug and a handheld tape recorder for over a decade, so i couldn’t be more thrilled.
Like nearly every producer working today, especially those just learning, i spent my first few years making tracks utterly bewildered by toys and gimmicks. I had gone to school for sound engineering for a couple of years, and had worked as a stage hand and occasional soundguy, so i was pretty familiar with routing and the concept of multi-tracking, but the sudden abyss of infinite multi-tracking and signal processing made my inner child gorge himself at this digital feast, fat and sticky with Impulse Response reverbs and modular DSPs.
On top of this, i have played music my whole life, starting with piano lessons, choir and marching band, but had never undertook the sacred act of original composition ’til my moody early adult years, after a few too many religious epiphany at Phish shows and raves. I have been listening to music obsessively and exhaustively since i was 13; i have a collector’s mind and a completist’s instinct. In short, i am well stocked on ethnomusicology and theoretical know-how, yet to this very second, the mystery of writing a song still eludes and fascinates me.
Getting into Ableton changed things for me. It was not until spending 9,000 hours, staring at magnified waveforms, washing over my irises, did the subtlety of musical arrangement make itself known to me. Finally, my rebellious Aquarian self encountered Structure, and with it, its stern twin, discipline.
To be short, i started to learn what i needed to know, in which case, i started to have an idea of how to learn it. I started to structure a learning system for myself, using all the world’s best music as a torch to guide and motivate me. My battlecry in life is, if you do something often enough, eventually you will get good at it.
Any producer working today will tell you that creativity is all about limiting possibilities. It’s about restriction; the age old quality-over-quantity. When i first got into making tracks, i was buried in a deluge of deep virtual instruments, and was lost in a maze of filters and digital delays, and forgot about the integral point: what was i trying to say? Once you figure out what yr message is, it becomes way more accessible to create it. My first point of advice, for producers of all walks of life, is pick a few tools and learn to use them to the utmost. I am still in the practice of learning this myself, and it is greatly helping my ability to concentrate and puts the emphasis on where it belongs: musicality and engineering.
TIP #1: Pick A Few Tools, and Learn ‘Em
This week, i have been focusing on step-sequencing, or figuring out how to make my machines funky. Again, like many/most/all modern electronic musicians, i started off by copping samples from other people’s works, but sampling is an art form all it’s own, and there are a number of situations where composing each part is preferable. You get way more control over each element, plus you get the benefit of learning how to write badass music yrself (that’s what you want). Plus, often when i would snip some soulful segment from a ballad that would catch my ear, there would be miner irregularities, that would cause the samples to drift. Syncing up live audio and sequenced electronics can be its own special kind of hell, and dedicated and talented crate diggers and mixologists deserve their own medal.
I’ve decided to focus on two powerful step-sequencing programs: THESYS Midi Stepsequencer and Fxpansion Geist, the former an old school analog-style melodic sequencer and the latter a deep and vast drum machine. Either of them would be capable of making a great electronic album, all on it’s own, (albeit with some work, in THESYS’ case) and both have the capacity to route MIDI to other channels and instruments, although it takes some work on the AU version of THESYS for Mac.
I’ve been enlightened, lately, by obsessively listening to Daniel Avery‘s Drone Logic inspired by his “gimmick free machine funk” as Andrew Weatherall put it, and have been investigating the possibilities of the grid. The exercise, on “i miss new orleans,” is how to get machine drums and basslines to play nice with a sliver from a soul track, some slight wordless moaning and voodoo blues guitar from New Orlean’s Papa Mali, taken from “Sugarland”, a track i recently fell in love with, thanks to American Horror Story: Coven.
Amazingly enough, i managed to find several solid clips, that clung pretty tightly to the downbeat, making it possible to sync up the funk with my regimented drum machines. I wrote a number of patters on Geist, using mostly 808 tom toms, and then re-recorded them by routing the audio to another track and recording the patterns as clips. I picked a few slow-n-steady techno riddims, and a few complex, bouncy hip-hop patterns to develop into. My goal, by splaying New Orleans funk, that most elusive spirit, on the grid was to learn some new rhythmic patterns, to develop beyond boring backbeats and house cliches. I started off just screwing around, then started to think of a rapper friend of mine, and decided to flip this into a hip-hop beat, and a structure started to emerge.
Once you are working with audio clips, arrangement becomes more like painting with sounds. I would highly advise that you get into the habit of re-naming yr channels and clips, and color-coding different samples, to make it easier to pick them out in Song Arrangement mode.
Tips #2 & 3:
I start off with just a trancey sample from the song to start, run through a resonator to give it that rainbow sheen, and automated a quick dub delay. I come in with a half-step kick drum, and a surprisingly krautrocky beat and guitar lick, to get into the meat of things. If you listen closely, you can tell that the audio is overblown, as this is a rough edit, and i have not done any panning, EQing, compression, reverb or levelling yet. There are several clips going at once, and nearly all of them have some heavy bass frequencies. I will most likely add variable EQ to each track, and scoop a little 250 Hz subbass from each track, as there are essentially 8 bass drums happening simultaneously. I like my hip-hop (and electronic music in general) quick and dirty, but digital distortion is the kiss of death to many amateur professions, and mixing yr audio will do a lot to make yr stuff sound more ‘finished’ or ‘pro’, and stand apart from the imitators.
The bass sound you are hearing is a soft-synth called Togu Audio Line Bassline 101 with some bitcrushing. I cannot help but add a touch of the wyrd and the sci-fi to all that i touch, as i am a mutant, even to this smooth and slick expedition. The bass-line, simply moving between D and A, has an 1/8th Note up-and-down arpeggiator, making it move like nearly every other element of the song. I start off writing a bass part in E and B min, to finally conclude that this song is in the key of G. Those chords don’t fall into the fundamentals of the G chord, and sounded discordant and unnatural. I decided to not get all Scriabin here, and went with a simple D power chord, instead.
Tip #4: Don’t Get Too Fancy With Yr Basslines
Last but not least, that sparkling celestial synth towards the end is Rob Papen’s Predator, trigger by Thesys. I started off in the wrong key, like with the bassline, but settled on a simple descending motif, once i figured out where i was. I’m not sure if that part will stick around, but it’s an interesting development, and i just wanted a quick rough sketch, to send to my rapper friend, to get his pen moving, to give us both something to do during this uncommonly cold early winter.
Notice also the smooth entrance, and the harsh, abrupt cutoff. I faded in the audio a little bit, at the beginning, and just stopped at the end. I highly advise you experiment with fades and cross-fades, as they will make the bazillions of little clips hang together more gracefully, sound more natural and musical to the ear, and are just classy, in my humble opinion.
Tip #5: Experiment With Fades And Crossfades
And that’s about it! Now i’ve got some rough ideas of how to structure the song, an intro, a verse, a possible chorus, maybe a breakdown. I’ve listened to the song 10 or so times, on a variety of speakers, and have some ideas of how to mix it eloquently, and am starting to think about how to carve out some space to fit an MC.
So if yr feeling bored or frustrated with songwriting or production, if yr feeling stuck or overwhelmed, i recommend pick a technique or piece of gear to focus on, to start with. Each knob, every fader, has the possibility of yielding a moment of inspiration, of unlocking the creative daemon and unleashing it on the world.
We’ll make sure to come back and share, if we end up with some finished product.
Did you like this article? Find it useful? Let us know! Leave comments for future areas of investigation, things you’d like to know more about, stuff yr stuck on, gear that should be featured, and we will do our best to find out and share our experience.
Magik Markers are a good representation of where the underground is at, at present. They released over 50 albums, splits, CDRs, and tapes of raw, unfettered psych noise before going on hiatus after 2009′s Balf Quarry.
With Surrender To The Fantasy, Elisa Ambrogio, Pete Nolan, and new bassist John Shaw, return from the desert with 8 quick, sharp, fast songs, all the better to further their mission of disorienting noise.
It’s a good thing, too, as the trio are hellacious songwriters. Ambrogio is the queen of hooky, memorably, melodic guitar lines; this is psych rock, sure, but not limited to Hendrix-isms and Grateful Dead rehash. At times, tenuous tone resembles the tenuous, baroque post-punk of Felt, and the serrated edge of Tom Verlaine on Television‘s Marquee Moon, managing to sound both cheap and classic at the same time. It forms a brambled bedrock for Ambrogio’s vocals to hover over, disembodied and far away, sultry and deadpan at the same time. It actually made me WANT to know what she is saying, which is a minor miracle as i could usually give two hooves for lyrics. It all speaks to the allure of Magik Markers incantations.
Half of Surrender To The Fantasy was recorded in the attic of Dinosaur Jr.‘s J Mascis, in Amherst, MA, while the rest was cobbled together from damp practice spaces all over the East Coast. It definitely sounds lo-fi, which means it sounds real and honest, made by real musicians for real music lovers. It makes me like it more, as is the case with most of the funky artifacts that come out of Drag City’s stables.
To be honest, i know i have heard Magik Markers before, during the psychedelic deluge of the 2000s. I remember Thurston Moore was quite smitten, and seeing their name next to new wave psych warriors like Wooden Wand, MV & EE and Mouthus. I remember liking what i heard, but i can’t remember what i heard, just vague impressions, like some far-off dream. Hearing these songs, these melodies, these voices, these fingers on strings and sticks on stretched skin, compels me. It makes me want to go back and hear that landslide of ferric tape and etched wax. I feel like this is the way, the opportunity; for noise and experimentation to meet craft and musicality.
So many thanks to Drag City for being kind enough to reach out and remind me of why i love psychedelic music so much, and of the glories of this bunch of wizards. Magik Markers are clearly married to their music, and this kind of devotion must be rewarded. If yr new to the show, this is a great place to climb on board and discover a whole new wyrd continent.
Grab A Copy: Surrender to the Fantasy
Do you remember the first time you saw Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within? When you first saw that CGI hair blowin’ in the wind, and it felt like the ground dropped out from beneath yr feet and you were shook with the sheer possibilities of what the future might hold?
We are entering an age where humans co-habitate peacefully with the machines, like those lovable robot maids dreamed up in the past. Where technology is employed in service of our humanity, and not the other way around.
Electronic music used to be guilty of the highest order of techno-consumerism, where only the brightest, shiniest gadget of the moment was allowed, and everything else was derided out of the club, like Carrie White, pre-conflagaration. Only the one or two trendiest trends were permissible. We were living in service to our machines. And the hybrids, the remix albums and early digital sampling, had all the subtlety of bad green screening, just horribly OFF, glitched out, frayed around the edges, not believable in any way, and not particularly attractive (although there have been plenty of artists who have attempted to make digital grit aesthetic, like the CD skipping experiments of Oval and Markus Popp).
The New Electric Gospel by Lord Numb, otherwise known as Alan Castallero, is truly both human AND technological. The electronic beats are still rigid and lockstep, chained to the grid, but Castallero and Co. (i’m not sure if there’s other humans playing on this release or not, although i know he has a live band) fill the spaces between with grace and light, with a deft touch and a keen ear. It is like watching a stunning computer animation of a ballerina dancing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or driving through a believable hologram of the Black Forest.
Lord Numb have vastly stepped up their game since we last saw them with their debut Robots Need Love Too. There were sublime moments on that missive, as well, and we share a lot of similar roots and aesthetics with Castallero: a love of Eno & Bowie, Kraftwerk and Devo, J. G. Ballard and crumbling tower blocks, cyberpunk and retro-futurism, guaranteed a special place in our heart. With that release, the cyborg assimilation was not yet complete. It still seemed like mid-’90s industrial rock guitars, in the style of Ministry or Nine Inch Nails, with digital post-production stitched on top. It has real moments, like the icy synthpunk of “Life Under Ice”, but it didn’t hang together as a whole.
With The New Electric Gospel the transformation is now complete, creating a fully immersive listening experience that will plunge you into the dark waters of Alan Castallero’s metaverse. It’s a world where robots fall in love, and appliances start revolutions. Full-on British surrealism meets the dancefloor, and has a real potential of infecting the mainstream with its plague of lovely madness.
Lord Numb’s production skills are getting mighty, The New Electronic Gospel will tenderly caress yr earlobes with breathy reverbs and hypnotic sine waves. The electronics (at least some of them) sound warm and analog, never sharp or jarring, which is pretty much the entire battle when it comes to recording digitally. It works to cast you under it’s spell, sets a mood and keeps you there. You can listen, over and over, and I highly recommend you do so.
As i mentioned in a review of the excellent Chicago motorik/psych band Cave’s new album, Threace, over at Freq. zine, after 50 years of living with drum machines, we are getting frighteningly precise at placing notes. All music breathes with a pulse, even if it’s a funky, jittery off-time-signature. The way you dance around the downbeats is what qualifies as soul, and you can get very detailed, indeed, like the way “The New Electric Gospel” breaks down from a romantic new wave number to pulsing, sparking analog devotion, that sounds like Johnny 5 singing during a meteor shower. Once you get a solid foundation down, you can start to experiment with different structures and textures, and actually drive music forward. You can actually experiment and explore.
I’m almost in awe of how much Alan Castallero has developed in the last 12 months. He’s been playing live shows all over Europe, and this music sounds entirely confident and self-assured. With The New Electric Gospel, Alan Castallero has taken a great step towards realizing his dream, a world where humans and machines can dwell together in harmony.
The New Electric Gospel is available as a pay what you like download from Bandcamp.
Label: Self-Released (bandcamp)
Release Date: 9.13
Sounds Like: Aki Onda, Nonhorse/G. Lucas Crane, Francisco Lopez
Central Complex takes you on a dreamquest through the soul of Central America, by way of Wellington, New Zealand. Bird sounds, street scenes, snippets of drunken conversation and delirious, diseased-sounding mariachi brass are strung together with a vibrating silver thread of tenuous, droning synths. He manages to consolidate 5 months of journeying into 26 minutes, a trawl through the annals of Taare’s unconscious.
It’s like passing through Roberto Bolano‘s Juarez to visit Burroughs’ Cities Of The Red Night. Surreal, uncanny, twisted and poetic.
Tape collage and drone music broaden the horizons of what is possible to express with “music,” moving beyond the predictable trajectory of pop/verse-chorus-verse songwriting, expressing new and intricate emotions. They make a rhythm of our footsteps, our heartbeats, the slow intake of breath. This is a continuation and a furthering of the mission started by Stockhausen and Schoenberg, in the middle of the 20th Century, and is vital for the development of music.
Sound artists are creating new, weird worlds out of their daily lives, in dadaist jump cuts and surrealist juxtapositions, as the ear struggles to identify recognizable sounds. Closer to irreality than surrealism, the sounds are bent and skewed, leaving the listener to figure out what the fuck is going on. It will mess with yr head. It will change the way that you see/hear the world.
With the prevalence of iPhones, cheap laptops and PaulStretch, it sometimes seems like everybody considers themselves a field recordist and sound artist. What’s to seperate a release like Central Complex from simply scrolling through Freesound and Archive.org?
Firstly, and most importantly, Nathan Taare is concerned with substance over style. He has a story in mind, ahead of time, or at least discovers one in the making, and uses all the production tools at his disposal to bring these creations to strange, limping life. He’s not like, “I’m gonna make a drone record,” and fall asleep on his NanaKorg for 2 hours. There is actual MEAT on these bones.
Secondly, and almost as importantly, is the lengths that Taare went in procuring these sounds. During his 5 months in Central America, he got involved with pirates and money launderers and spent a day in a Mexican prison. He would record his adventures during the day, and mix the audio at night. As if traveling halfway around the world and spending 5 months on the road weren’t enough, Taare did some of the post-production in his Toyota, and some in a storage unit. This kind of guerrilla record making and going to extreme lengths is commendable, and exactly the kind of thing this blog exists to support.
It’s an interesting thing, how yr ears can seem to pick out care and craftsmanship, even if you know nothing about an album was made. You can sense the attention to detail in E/N/T: the album art (made by Taare himself) seems slick and finished, even going so far as to make a shirt, and he actually took the trouble to have Central Complex mastered (by Thomas Lambert of Sonorous Circle). It’s polished and presentable, but it’s still weird as heck. Central Complex is poised to actually break out of the noise ghetto and actually reach some people, disorienting the way they think about the world, and raising some awareness of the shadow of Central America.
Just to be clear, although this sounds like a harrowing listen, Central Complex is not a “dark” listening experience. This is not noise, dark ambient, or industrial music, not case in somber monochromatic hues. It’s extremely colorful, actually, it’s like viewing the jungle through tinted lenses while high on dramamine. It’s not “dark”, it’s disorienting. It holds to a dream logic all its own.
Many thanks to Nathan Taare for reaching out, and for making careful music, and to Timothy Blackman for pointing him in this direction. Here’s to a long and fruitful collaboration between NZ and the PNW.
Label: Static Caravan
Release Date: 5.11.12
RIYL: John Carpenter/Alan Howarth, Pye Corner Audio, Ghost Box, Yves Malone
You are watching snow-encrusted pine trees rush past a rain-splattered car window on a battered color TV with rabbit ears. The mood music is tense; it is impossible to tell, just coming on to the scene, if you are watching a crime being solved or perpetrated.
You are entering the world of Lexicon Of Paragon Pines, a soundtrack for imaginary film from The Duke St Workshop, based on “cold cases,” unsolved mysteries, from the ’70s.
Welcome to a new edition of Horrorscores, where we transform yr daily, workaday world into a walking nightmare, if that’s yr bag (and if you’ve managed to find yr way here, it probably is). For this installation, we present this dusty auditory oddity, full of queasy analog synths, knocking knackered drum machines, melancholic piano interludes, field recordings, all slathered in an attractive tape scum.
There’s not much biographical information to go on, and that’s part of the charm. Lexicon Of Paragon Pines could just as well be some unheard gem from the days of oversized plastic clamshells, but it seems to be of modern origin. The producer/composer pays exquisite attention to anachronistic detail; there’s no breakbeats or dubstep wobble to break the spell. It places you inside a late-’70s/early-’80s thriller, and keeps you there. It reminds us of what was so great about those original soundtracks and movies, and invites us to take another appreciative look.
I’m not gonna lie, i’m full of fanboy fanaticism for this type of document. It makes the world weirder, it makes you wonder. Yr not sure what is going on: is it a relic? Is it a homage? The producer’s not telling; Lexicon Of Paragon Pines speaks for itself, in a world of it’s own. The musical themes, alternating between synth jams, either industrial atmospheric thrillers or funky synthpop, and moody piano instrumentals, are augmented with field recordings, a phone ringing, a door slamming, the sound of children on a playground. It breaks the 4th wall, and you forget that you are “merely” listening to music, conjuring events in yr mind’s eye. It activates a visionary and imaginative property of listening to sounds that is not possible in straightforward “pop” music or watching film. You are free, required, to supply your own imagery.
There’s a lot that can be said, both positive and negative, about this kind of homage. On one hand, the thoroughness and authenticity of the aging is staggering. On the other, as the music critic Simon Reynolds laments loudly in Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past, what has become of the future, and who will create it?
This IS the future, or at least part of it, the future is just turning out to be a much stranger place than anyone imagined. It is built upon the debris of the past, and we are forced to reckon with it. After a couple hundred years of capitalism, we are left with mountains of refuse to sort through. It can either be treasure or so much trash, depending on how we deal with it.
Let’s face it, a lot of older thriller/horror films are not that good. The pacing frequently makes a snail seem manic, by comparison. The acting can be goofy and unbelievable, and the special FX are beyond cheap, red food coloring smeared in vaseline. The filmmakers often did not know what they were doing. They were just trying to make a movie, with limited technology and no budget.
Yet i have a fondness for cheap, made-for-TV fare. As a child, i would be scared stupid once a week watching Unsolved Mysteries, with its dramatic re-enactments and morbid piano themes. It would set the tone, leading me into the fascination that will burgeon into full-on bloodlust as a teenager and was a little more put-upon by the world. There are gems amidst the rough, coarse textures of Kodachrome nostalgia. Odd bits of atmosphere, here, a compelling character there. I just like the mood of horror movies.
Duke St Workshop get that mood just right, and brings it into yr living room. Start here, and got lost in these frozen forests, then go back and re-watch some of yr old faves. Listen to the sound design, look for inspiration. Do Something with the past. Make it yr own. In that way, we can make the present, and thus the future, into whatever we want it to be.
I cannot recommend this album highly enough! I’ve been listening to this, on a gritty grease-caked boombox all week; even my roommates like it (giving them a respite from the non-stop barrage of horrible noise and chintzy library music). The CD is long since sold out, but is still available as a download.
Stay tuned for more bloodchilling wonder…
As the whole world tunes in to watch the 50th Anniversary episode of Dr. Who, we bring you an excellent documentary about the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop, the wizards responsible for the Time Lord’s sound FX, and a lot more.
The Radiophonic Workshop was convened in 1958 to provide effects for BBC Third Programme. From the start, they were affiliated with much of what we hold dear @ Forestpunk: musique concrète, jazz & Samuel Beckett. They were engaged in making sounds they didn’t exist. They were scheming up the future, and providing the soundtrack for a generation of dreams & nightmares.
Much of what the Workshop accomplished was done with amazingly little equipment, with a lot of iconic themes being made from household objects like rulers, ping-pong balls, springs and string.
“The idea that you’d go around looking for something that sounded cool, that might, if you slowed it down to half speed, or sped it up to double speed, would make a sound that you wanted, or you’d be experimenting. That’s a kind of organic way of making music or recording sound.”
- On Delia Derbyshire, composer of Dr. Who theme
With more and more options available to even the most humble home studio, it is becoming increasingly important to learn to limit yrself, to hone yr ears and master each piece of equipment or recording technique. Although it is an intangible, ephemeral quality that is impossible to measure, CARE and CRAFT speak through a producer’s work. It is a return to QUALITY, a symbiosis of the Human and the machine.
I’m taking this opportunity to launch a new phase of Forestpunk, one of the main reasons this blog exists. I am simply a humble scribe with aspirations towards making timeless art. I’ve been obsessed with sounds and how they’re made since the turn of this century, around the same time i ran out of money. I’ve been working with a $0 budget for over 10 years, working with hand-me-down equipment and an insatiable thirst to broadcast.
As i survived my 20s, i managed to get a humble recording rig together (the liminal Dimension X Studios), i finally got the ability to record and process audio, and everything you see on this site are like field notes for a DIY masterclass. You can do just about anything you like, but you’ve got to learn to FOCUS.
This begins a series of production tutorials, sharing some of the resources i come across in my rambling. We have the opportunity to make the greatest art of any generation before, but we must cleanse and purify ourselves, refine our senses and our aesthetics, and our motivation for making art.
There’s tons of little tips and tricks buried within this documentary, as well as countless anecdotes about the colorful personalities that made up the original BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
There comes a moment when the technology comes closer and closer to the imagination creativity of the writer, and in the end, if you’re not careful, it overtakes. Suddenly serendipity, which before was from your own sweat and blood but YOU created something, and say “Goodness me, that’s great”. Serendipity comes from pushing one of these 397 buttons on this synthesizer, maybe I’ll get something out of it. Now at that moment, the machinery is driving the creativity, and the creativity is not driving the creativity. Maybe that’s where the golden age stops.
This also marks the beginning of our bringing you full movies that we find around. It is our perpetual, unending task (that deprives us of sleep and REM dreaming) to find the best content that is available, and share it with y’all.
Expect lots more film, film reviews, books and magazines, book and magazine reviews, tips, tricks and tutorials, on top of the usual album and concert reviews.
Forestpunk is growing.
Happy Birthday Dr. Who! Much love to the Alchemists Of Sound! Here’s to the imagination, and to a new Golden Age.