June 5, 2014

Unheard-Of: Soundviews Volume One

The Globule is proud to present “Soundviews Volume One: Sources”, a lost nugget in the history of the American avant-garde. Spearheaded and assembled by alumni and friends of Olympia, Washington’s KAOS-FM, and a mysterious non-profit called “What Next?”, this 90-minute tape is a charming collection of recordings, interviews, and performances from the Pacific Northwest and beyond, circa 1990.

Several high-profile contributions dot the sonic landscape here, including avant-sound heavyweights like Charlemagne Palestine, Pauline Oliveros, Alvin Curran, and David Behrman. But the total unknowns are the real main attraction, embracing all manner of lowercase experimentalism, in perhaps the most engrossing/successful execution of the “cassette magazine” format I’ve ever come across.

Across the 43(!) tracks, sublime choruses of birdsong and cicada histrionics nestle cozily alongside fearsome metallic drones and empty extraterrestrial howling. Elsewhere, home-recorded interviews give way to spoken word experiments and concrete collage. On the whole, the collection has an organic, contemplative vibe, that taps a vein of uniquely American nostalgia throughout.

Many of these brief outings serve as proofs-of-concept for unique sonic scenarios, like David Behrman’s collaborative electronic performance environments, or the archival recording of Harry Bertoia’s recital on one of his legendary “Sonambient” metal sculptures. Other intrepid performers conjure bizarre aural landscapes from homebrew instruments like an arsenal of prepared music boxes (Jim Pomery – “Mozart’s Moog”) or an array of 50- to 90-foot metal strings played by hand (Ellen Fullman – “Immigration”).

Elsewhere, composition and performance are eschewed entirely, in favor of pure atmosphere. The collection is uniquely bold in its willingness to present sounds unadorned. For every bit of obscure instrumentation or cybernetic performance structure, there are plaintive, haunting field recordings of idyllic locales like Albion, Michigan and rural Alaska, which are mellow yet disarming.

The most successful tracks here merge the worlds of composition and chance like Carl Stone’s “Kuk Il Kwan”, where a passing plane’s drone melts into crunching dirt-road footsteps, before being subsumed by a riot of metallic, phase-shifted raindrops. His strikingly intimate appropriation of the domestic landscape recalls contemporary found-sound masters like Jason Lescalleet or Joe Colley.

The individual aesthetics on display during the tape’s 90 minute running time are too numerous to outline here. Luckily, every single track is lovingly annotated in an included 40+ page booklet with chipboard covers, printed black and white with abstract green and red overlays. The multilayered designs recall the work of an earth-toned Neville Brody or early entries in the Touch catalog. A tasteful artifact from an era notorious for its proliferation of tone-deaf art direction.

My only critique is that the whole thing is so earnest it verges on being downright folksy. But in the ever-expanding tableau of high-concept “experimental” music, being sincere and humble is a pretty revolutionary act.

Grab the whole thing w/booklet HERE

March 25, 2014

Unheard-Of: Ed Herrmann – Still Life in Concrete

The Globule is pleased to present another landmark recording in the canon of unknown US synth masters. An unassuming album of inspired modular improvisations that inhabits a world all its own.

Judging this LP by its cover, the odds are stacked against it. The pseudo-naive/tribal pastiche of its artwork makes it look like some third-rate Narada cutout (Pan flutes and DX7 come to mind), but a quick glance at the liner notes on the flip tells a different tale. Herrmann’s “Imaginary Electroacoustics” comprise a raw and lively approach to analog electronic sound-making; a surprising anachronism at the time of their 1987 recording.

Ed Herrmann is (was?) an audio engineer, composer, and modular synth enthusiast from Columbia, Missouri, who worked behind the scenes throughout the 80s and 90s on albums by the likes of Diamanda Galas, Peter Brotzmann, and Monte Cazazza. While those acts all revel in extreme performative excess, Herrmann’s approach on this LP is decidedly more playful, though at times equally intense. An obvious touchstone would be the post-concrete “systems music” of 60s pioneers like Gordon Mumma or the Columbia-Princeton axis, but with a lighter touch and more than a little bit of “outsider” charm. Herrmann’s extensive liner notes hint at this “academic” lineage, outlining each piece’s conceptual thrust. From the man himself:

“Whereas the virtues of digital instruments could be described as the ease with which programming, editing, and repetition are accomplished; the virtues of the analog instruments are those of an open system: flexible, interactive, non-repeatable. This record may be heard as a celebration of the spontaneous and unpredictable nature of analog electronics”

The album’s 5 tracks are a showcase of Herrmann’s unique brand of patch-cable wizardry, realized on an arsenal of Serge and E-mu modular systems. Several shorter pieces follow “early academic” tropes, composed of pointillist filligrees and lingering tone-clouds. Elsewhere, oscillations build to walls of hard sci-fi blasting, before crumbling into resonant clank and burble. Many of the tracks were recorded live, including one clarinet-triggered duet performance that’s especially dynamic.

Overall, a playful sense of rhythm and a varied palette of alien sounds keeps the album engaging from beginning to end. The album never falls prey to the hollow droning or nonsensical bleep-outs that tend to drag down similar “pure synth” efforts.

How this album has managed to duck the radar of the ever-expanding reissue sphere is beyond me. It dovetails perfectly with newly rediscovered synth-classics by the likes of Maggi Payne or Charles Cohen, but shares none of the acclaim. Listen to one of the album’s woolier tracks below, and snag the whole thing HERE while you can.

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  • Ed Herrmann - When Myth Shreds Rise

January 20, 2014

Tomes: “Domestic Animals: The Neoprimitive Style”

Published by MIT press in 1987, this short and sweet volume houses the collected creative output of Memphis/Alchimia alumnus Andrea Branzi and his wife/co-conspirator Nicoletta from 1984-86, under the loose banner “Domestic Animals”. A multi-faceted collection of interiors, furniture designs, speculative architecture, and one-off experiments, the mantra of the collection is “The Neo-Primative Style”, full of nods to both the natural world and the atavistic design impulse of early man.

In stark contrast to the overwrought luxury obsession that most of the design world was pumping out at the time, the Branzis managed to carry on the experimental, recombinant lineage of their forebears (think Archizoom, Superstudio, etc). They follow the “studio model” of the great 60s / 70s collectives by presenting finished prototypes alongside scale model interiors, plans for hypothetical living spaces, and even uniforms for neo-primitive living.

The centerpiece of the book and the collection is a series of chairs and benches, manufactured as one-offs by Italian studio Zabro. Logs and skins adorn and intersect with geometric plinths to form pseudo-functional pieces that operate more at the level of assemblage than furniture.

The interplay of the hard-edge, medium-grey bases of the chairs and benches with the unaltered branches and logs gives the pieces a kind of wabi-sabi charm, at times evoking Shinto gates or occult effigies. Though I’d seen individual pieces of this collection in print before, seeing all the variations on the theme together just reinforces what a stroke of genius the whole concept is, mostly because it couldn’t be any simpler. Whereas so many of their contemporaries had by 1985 fallen into either neoclassical ornamentation (See Michael Graves) or dramatic minimalism (Studio 80 et al), Andrea and Nicolletta maintain the weird “bricolage” energy that made them famous.

Elsewhere in the collection, curious families of chairs, tables and stands are constructed from synthetic future-bamboo, cast metal in stark white with joints spray-painted bright green or purple. With brightly lacquered surfaces and precarious stances, they’re like little mutant offspring of Hollywood Regency cliches, ratcheting up the blasé-luxe energy with new-wave abandon.

In addition to the more sculptural offerings, the book also reproduces several plans for poetically primitive living spaces. These colorful, enigmatic plans are compelling as compositions in and of themselves, whose function and color schemes seem more occult than domestic.

I’ve scanned and reproduced close to half of the entire book here because frankly the whole thing is worth seeing. A weird and compelling vision.

November 24, 2013

Unheard-Of: Gregg Wager – Adjacent Lines and Equal Parts

This week, the Globule is stepping out of its “zonked music” comfort zone to present a peculiar gem of solo piano workouts from LA mystery man Gregg Wager.

The specifics of this LP are pretty odd. I picked it up on a whim a few months ago, noting first and foremost its cover (pseudo-conceptual minimalist graphics on the front, and collector-baiting Raymond Pettibon panel on the flip). The presence of just 2 side-long tracks and its LA ’85 recording specs just deepened the mystery.

Expecting some 80s cassette murk or late-SST ill-advised jamming, I was more than surprised to find a pair of exuberant, extended solo piano improvisations.

It’s a suite of hypnotizing, home-grown minimalism, immediately evoking John Adams or Phillip Glass, or even the single-minded pointillisms of Charlemagne Palestine. Disciplined but lyrical, recorded with an upfront immediacy and a refreshing lack of virtuoso embellishment.

An insistent, staccato rhythm is the crux of both compositions, but there’s plenty of room for complex harmonic content. On the second side, the phrasing is looser, and more grandiose hooks and motifs begin to develop out of the percussive din. The conclusion heads into floating tone clusters of the more mysterious, wistful variety.

A simple concept executed well. Can’t hate.
Grab it HERE

November 17, 2013

Unheard-Of: Hydravion – S/T

This little-known slab of 1977 futurism features some epic synth-funk workouts courtesy of the woefully under-documented synth maestro Phillippe Besombes (of the NWW list-level collective Pôle) and a host of other players, including “Cooky Rhinoceros” (your guess is as good as mine).

Chunky synth lines, flanger-soaked bass riffs, and a loose n wooly jam style set this record apart from your standard space-rock outing. Jammy, epic synth and guitar lines coalesce over churning discoid stomp, with occasional flare-ups of full on prog-shred. The perfect soundtrack to a Moebius comic, or any other 70s Heavy Metal fare, with plenty of burly post-glam swag and blunted sci-fi vibes in equal measure. A spaced-out trip from a time when the future was a little more visceral.

Grab it HERE