A Journal Of The Dark Arts
The entire ’70s/’80s slipstream falls under VHS Head‘s knife, on his newest, and best, for Skam Records.
Having every option is almost the same of having no option at all. Such is the dilemma facing modern musicians and producers, who have a teeming universe of samplers and soft-synths at their fingertip, not to mention nearly every sliver of audio that has ever been recorded to sample from. I mean, Pierre Schaeffer would be having a conniption. Karlheinz Stockhausen, if he were starting today, would never sleep or eat, and would MAX-encode himself into an early grave.
More and more modern musicians are thriving on limitations, somehow limiting their options so they can get down to it, to the act of making music. You can see it in the sparking hardware of industrial techno; in the laboratory configurations of acid resurrection and modular twittering; in the sputtering leads and electronic-improvisations-laid-straight-to-tape of Ekoplekz; in the MIDI revolution. Even lo-fi music could be seen as a poetry of limitations.
For his VHS Head project, Blackpool producer Adrian Blacow has limited his scope to sourcing all of his audio from his old, musty, clam-shelled VHS collection. Particularly old horror movies.
If you have spent any time at Forestpunk, (and if you haven’t, welcome), you’ll know that we love rotting tape, old weird horror movies, sample-based music, tape collage and musique concrete, so it is with maniacal glee we receive this behemoth from one of our favorite artists.
What is first, and most interesting, about Persistence Of Vision is how different it sounds from many artists who are mining a similar aesthetic vein. If you listen through some of the artists we talk about in our Horrorscores series, you will find artists like The Duke St. Workshop, who are making anachronistic soundtracks for non-existent films, or artists creating the atmosphere inside those films, like Nate Young and his mechanical laboratory, or patron saints of Forestpunk, Demdike Stare.
Instead, VHS Head cuts up his VHS collection into a staggering, muscular breakbeat bricolage.It is unclear what is sampled and what is original, and that is part of the fun. You can play trainspotting with some of the tough, gravelly vocals, that you just know came from some Dolf Lundgren sort, like on “Don’t Look In The Closet”, and speculate as to whether the raging funky synths are homemade, or just the sickest production music you’ve ever heard. Persistence Of Vision also could serve as a fine guidebook to some horror movies you haven’t seen, as at least a couple of the titles are movie references.
Either way, VHS Head reveals himself to be a most deft, perhaps THE most deft, collagist around. He creates Max Ernst dreamworlds of Tiger Headed Men whizzing by on floating cars, to fight erupting demonic hordes.
What is so intriguing about this project’s modus operandi is it just goes to show how malleable the past is. While some snip segments of hypnotic audio to create headnodding kaleidoscopes, like LA’s Stones Throw/Leaving Records scene, and others chop and smear it to make disturbing soundworlds, VHS Head makes it jerk and pummel and twitch and pull.
Of course, all theorizing aside, concept does not make music work, and VHS Head stands on it’s own, apart from conceptual underpinnings. His beats are the main thing that stand out, to me- they are full and robust and punchy and have a great groove to them, which really ties the flickering stream of chaos together. On top of that, some of the basslines on this record are the best i’ve heard all week, ranging from growling to ATARIcore. The synth leads are bloody, burning acid leads, full of squelch, hands on the knobs – really letting you feel the BITE of hardware.
Most of Persistence Of Vision keeps to a rather adventurous, exciting pace, sounding as if you’re running through back alleys, with burning barrels, or racing along on a hovervehicle. It occasionally veers into newage lounge exotica, on tracks like “Farewell Africa”. I think BoomKAT put it well when they said, “The results sound something like BoC and OPN beat up by Nicolas Collins after he lost on a phet-and-slush puppie-fuelled DDR session.”
Speaking of Boards Of Canada, it’s worth noting that PoV is out on Skam Records, which was an early home for BoC, as well as Autechre, Gescom and Bola. Major props to Skam for taking a chance and putting this out, and for taking the time to cultivate artist’s careers. This type of frenetic cut ‘n paste glitch/idm is not entirely in fashion, at the moment, but it would be, if people were to hear it, and hear it properly.
Persistence Of Vision is definitely in a trajectory with James Ferraro‘s NYC Virtual Hell, or Oneohtrix Point Never‘s R Plus 7, as well as with the buttonjacking of footwork and juke. It’s also sonic cousins with the kodachrome sci-fi pastoralism of Boards Of Canada or the lo-fi technicolor murk of Tobacco. If you dug Ultima II Massage, a few weeks ago, you NEED to hear this!!! It also sounds like a vampiric cyborg version of Moon Wiring Club‘s queasy trap music.
Persistence Of Vision is inspiring. The amount of detail and time that must have gone into sampling and stitching together all of this source material staggers. VHS Head show us how it’s done, how to put things together, regardless of genre or era, in a musical and interesting way. He inspires us to handpick our own samples, to choose the best, to make them our own. He inspires us to watch more old, weird horror movies.
VHS HEAD –Persistence of Vision